The Irish Times view on violence against politicians: democracy is being corroded

The invidious impact of abusive behaviour is highlighted by a survey of Oireachtas members and their political staff

The attempted assassination of Slovakia’s prime minister Robert Fico is a reminder of the inherent risk to democracy from those who resort to violence to achieve their ends. Few details have emerged about his attacker, but he was politically motivated, according to Slovakian government sources.

Ireland has seen little of this sort of political violence since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998 brought the Troubles to an end. But it would be foolish to assume that we are now in some way immune to it. There is no shortage of evidence that the tolerance, respect and on occasion affection that define the public’s interaction with office holders is on the wane.

This week also saw reports that a Green Party councillor was attacked last week while she was out canvassing in Dublin’s north inner city for next month’s local elections. Another councillor, also a woman, was attacked in Hartstown in Dublin on the same day.

The perpetrators of these attacks clearly crossed a line into potential criminality. But more insidious are the actions of those who seek to intimidate politicians while staying within the letter of the law; protests outside politicians’ homes while their families are inside being a particularly nasty example.


The invidious impact of abusive behaviour on the body politic is highlighted by a survey of Oireachtas members and their political staff by UCD academics. They found that a significant number of them reported experiencing abuse, albeit based on a relatively small and self-selecting sample. Much of the reported abuse was via social media and misogynistic in nature. A significant amount emanated from right-wing and anti-immigration sources.

The survey also found that high and sustained levels of abuse cause politicians to limit certain political activities such as canvassing, reduce their online presence and avoid contentious topics.

This is clearly corrosive to politics and the health of our democracy. For this reason, the publication of the report of the Task Force on Safe Participation in Political Life, which included the survey, is timely and welcome.

Chaired by former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, the taskforce has made recommendations around supporting and protecting public representatives including a more coordinated response from the Garda.

It also wants social media companies to take action over harmful content aimed at politicians. The call is presumably made with little expectation of success given the firms’ track record. But it is clear that these platforms are at the heart of the problem. They are both a vector for hate at an individual and often anonymous level, but also a vital tool for those pulling the strings behind the scenes, both domestically and from abroad.