Let us not force our politicians to avoid public engagement

The meeting at Gort last week.

The meeting at Gort last week.

I don’t think that our politicians should have to alter their footwear in the morning to ensure they are wearing something comfortable to enable them to make a quick getaway.

Nor do I think they should have to vary their routine to and from their engagements lest the familiarity should enable someone to attack them.

Nor, should they have to be concerned about meeting someone near a kitchen because of the proximity of knives and sharp implements.

Nor should they have to make sure they cannot enjoy the serenity of an empty carriage or bus lest they should be attacked on public transport.

But alas, this is what they have to be thinking, because of the increasing number of incidents in which public representatives are being attacked and violated online and in person; in private and in public; for the sake of a viral video on social media or to sate the bloodthirst of someone who genuinely feels they are to blame for all that is wrong with the world, and therefore should be punished.

It is ludicrous that it has come to this, even at local level. All of this has come to a head because of the disgusting scene in Gort last week in which two bags of excrement were thrown at Minister Anne Rabbitte and Deputy Ciaran Cannon. Both of them were among a hall full of locals at a protest meeting against the proposed biogas plant in Gort. Both are well capable of robust discourse, but they should never have been the victims of such an attack.

Instead of the meeting taking a landmark stand against the proposed biogas plant planned for the environs of Coole Park, the emphasis was instead focused on the actions of an individual who threw the bags. In the interim, the man has contacted media, including ourselves, to try to explain the frustrations that led him to take this action, but worthy as his concerns may be, none of them merits being printed or justifies taking the action that he did.

Now, the incident has expedited a warning to politicians from Gardai about the dangers of such behaviour, and the fear that it may lead to copycat and even more serious acts against public representatives.

Fresh security advice to politicians this week has encouraged them to consider a personal alarm and to vary their routine, including travelling to work.

The information was sent to all members of the Oireachtas on Monday via email and included personal security advice from An Garda Síochána. The email said the information was being circulated following a security incident last week involving the two members of the Oireachtas at Gort.

Politicians have been advised by gardaí to check their routes and avoid areas that they feel uncomfortable driving through alone and to lock car doors while driving.

Gardaí have also said politicians should avoid empty carriages while using public transport and to wear comfortable shoes in order to be able to move quickly. Other advice included avoiding leaving or returning home at exactly the same times, avoiding walking the same routes, parking in the same spots and holding clinics or meetings in the same place every week.

The advice provided by An Garda Síochána also includes what a politician should do if a constituent may visit their home and it outlines that they should consider a personal alarm.

Ireland is fortunate in that we are still able to have access to our politicians, local and national. There has never been any great need for intensive security detail to be deployed days in advance of an otherwise spontaneous visit or walkabout.

The incidents in the UK in the past few years where two MPs have been murdered serve as a warning to the road we will go down if we cannot ensure the safety and ability of politicians to participate in open meetings of local public interest.

Lose that, and we lose a lot.


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