A new report highlighting the levels of threats and harassment faced by councillors has been described as a “cause for huge concern” by Galway councillor Mary Hoade.
The report, released on Monday by the Association of Irish Local Government, in partnership with Crime Management Group, showed that more than 70 per cent of respondents have experienced threats, harassment, and intimidation in the past three years.
“The results provide a stark depiction of the experiences that many councillors have had and continue to face,” said Mary Hoade, a Fianna Fáil councillor on Galway County Council and the president of the AILG. “The key findings and statistics are cause for huge concern.”
The report found that councillors have routinely experience threats of violence, death threats and threats of sexual violence, and threats are sometimes directed against councillors’ family members
A total of 60 per cent experienced threats via social media, while 33 per cent experienced threats in a face to face setting; 71 per cent said that they were not prepared or only moderately prepared for handling the threats; while 48 per cent have considered or are currently considering leaving their role because of such threats.
“While councillors fully appreciate that they should be challenged and scrutinised as part of their role as public representatives, no councillor should have to face threats to their personal safety or receive threats directed against their families,” said Cllr Hoade. “It is not acceptable and completely undermines the principles of free speech, democratic engagement and debate.”
The survey also found that only seven per cent considered current preventative and response measures to be effective; while just 17 per cent of respondents received advice or intervention following reports to their respective party, local authority, or social media platform.
Cllr Hoade [pictured above] said the AILG is concerned that such intimidation of elected members will prevent people from seeking to run for election, and cause others to drop out of politics.
“We need to ensure councillors understand the fundamentals of personal security awareness and the risks associated with their digital footprint, so they are able to recognise and be better prepared for threats, and occurrences of harassment and intimidation,” she said.
The AILG is also calling for more effective liaisons between local authorities, political parties, councillors, and social media providers so it is “clear what providers are able to provide by way of interventions where threats are made on their platforms”.