Former Galway poilitician Lorraine Higgins has said that the upsetting experience of receiving death threats and online abuse was a line that should never be crossed, and she hopes it would not deter other females from entering politics.
Ms Higgins who is now the Deputy CEO of Retail Excellence spoke yesterday after a Dublin man escaped jail for threatening to shoot her, in a series of aggressive online messages.
Stephen French, from John McCormack Avenue, Walkinstown, Dublin, pleaded guilty to three counts of threatening to kill or cause serious harm to Ms Higgins, and two of harassing her.
In one email, he told Ms Higgins: “I’m also going to put bullets up your f***ing a*** and watch you bleed like a river.”
A court was told that Ms Higgins was left “scared stiff” and in a position where she “rarely left the confines of Leinster House” while in Dublin.
The offences happened between July 16 and August 21, 2015.
The accused had entered his plea previously and the case came before Judge Anthony Halpin for sentence at Dublin District Court on Tuesday.
Judge Halpin gave French a suspended six-month sentence, saying the courts had to send out the message that public representatives had the support of society and to warn people not to send them abusive comments. Judge Halpin said the offence required a sentence but noted the accused had no previous convictions and suspended it for two years.
Following the sentencing, Ms Higgins said she was a firm believer in the right to freedom of expression but there is a line that should never be crossed.
“I note the outcome of the case and while I am no longer involved in politics I do wish to move on from the experience and put it behind me.”
Ms Higgins tweeted last evening that she hoped what she went through would not put other women off entering politics.
“I sincerely hope my experience will not deter women from entering politics. We need female participation now more than ever.” The court was told the accused was living with his mother, a widow.
In her victim impact statement, Ms Higgins said that following the threats she temporarily removed her social media accounts, deliberated about what she was saying publicly and in debates, and permanently disabled email and social media notifications to her mobile phone. She also “seriously considered not contesting the 2016 General Election”.
“At that point, I realised I was paying a rather large price to be a public representative,” she said.