Fine Gael Councillor John Dolan called for the introduction of a code of ethics for the use of social media by councillors at this week’s Athlone Municipal District Meeting.
Councillor Dolan introduced the motion in response to an incident which occurred days before An Taoiseach Enda Kenny travelled to Moate to officially open the new section of the Greenway. At that time an individual posted a message on the Facebook page of Independent Councillor Michael O’Brien which expressed that there should be a crowd waiting for the Taoiseach in order to throw stones at him.
Councillor Dolan said that people from Moate had taken grievance with Cllr O’Brien due to the fact that the councillor ‘liked’ the message. Mr Dolan said: “Facebook is used by us all. It’s a great form of communication but needs to be used wisely. We can’t prevent posts, but they need to be corrected and definitely not ‘liked’. The Taoiseach deserves the respect of all people no matter what party he is from.
“We have a responsibility and must be careful how we use it. People don’t want the county or area to be perceived negatively. I think there should be some guidelines on social media use. Someone ‘liking’ a comment is condoning what it says.”
Councillor O’Brien was absent from the meeting due to flu. In his absence he did receive some support.
Councillor Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran said the matter should not have been raised publicly since it had already been dealt with privately by Cllr O’Brien: “I disagree that a code of conduct is needed. What goes on with ‘bookface’ is none of our business. It is up to people how they respond. He is not the first Taoiseach and won’t be the last getting stick on Facebook. I can see where Cllr Dolan is coming from, but we can’t keep introducing more red tape.”
Fianna Fáil Councillor Aengus O’Rourke said that there are already legislative procedures in place to deal with this, and also pointed to the fact that Cllr O’Brien had rectified his mistake. “If we break the law or incite danger there are actions for recourse available already. The councillor tried to undo it by ‘unliking’ the comment. Things happen, and I don’t think we can manage that to the extent that this motion suggests.”
Speaking the day after the meeting, Cllr O’Brien strongly defended his actions and accused Cllr Dolan of dragging up an issue that had been dealt with already: “I use Facebook on a daily basis,” he said. “I’m active on it and find that it’s a good platform to inform people of the work I do in my capacity as a County Councillor and community activist.
“When I post something on Facebook there can be a lot of interaction as people press the ‘like’ button or make a comment. I generally acknowledge comments by pressing the ‘like’ button. Sometimes with my busy schedule I can find myself scanning down through comments and liking them at a quicker pace, which was the case on this occasion. On this occasion I ‘liked’ a comment, and when it was raised with me I immediately ‘unliked’ the comment.
“I want to make it very clear, I never commented negatively about anyone. I pressed the ‘like’ button and subsequently ‘unliked’ it, so I don’t understand why Cllr Dolan should raise this now or feel the need to bring forward this motion. I don’t agree with anyone throwing stones at anyone, people who know me know I’m a peaceful man.
“I do feel though as I’m under political attack from Cllr Dolan with this one and I’m quite disappointed with him, I dealt with this weeks ago and he still feels the need to raise it again”.