Sunday, January 15, 2023

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

People should have to verify their identity before being able to send messages and make comments on social media, the Minister for Social Protection has said.

Heather Humphreys made the call in response to reports of female politicians being abused online.

She said there is a case for verifying accounts in order to make users more accountable for what they say.

A debate on harassment and the safety of public representatives was held recently after a bag of cow excrement was thrown at a junior minister and a TD at a public meeting.


Gardai have offered security advice to members of the Oireachtas following the incident, with Minister for Justice Simon Harris saying an attack on any public representative is “an attack on our democracy”.

Ms Humphreys told Newstalk’s On The Record programme on Sunday: “I think that we shouldn’t have to accept comments from people who we don’t know who they are.

“Some of them don’t even have names, they’re anonymous people, and I think that there should be a requirement, if you’re going to put online media or put online comments in that domain, that they should be accountable for what they say.

“Because you have to be accountable for what to say when you’re speaking publicly… Why should people be allowed to make comments and we don’t know who they are?”

The Fine Gael minister was responding to an Irish Times article in which female politicians anonymously spoke about their experiences of abuse online and in person.

“It shouldn’t be happening,” added Ms Humphreys.

“We should try and stop it, and we should try and deal with those perpetrators.

“There’s not that many of them, but it’s very upsetting for people when (there are) nasty comments. Some have had to go to court over it. It’s not acceptable and I feel we just need to deal with it.”

General Election Ireland 2020
A man was given a suspended sentence for harassing Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill during the 2020 general election campaign (Brian Lawless/PA)

Last summer, a man pleaded guilty to harassing Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, having sent her 13 messages, including three explicit videos, during the 2020 general election campaign. He was given a one-year suspended sentence.

“Whether it’s intended frivolously or in a more threatening way, sending unwanted sexual content is not normal,” Mrs Carroll MacNeill said following the court case.

“As little as I ever like to admit it, there just can be an additional complexity to being a woman in politics; there shouldn’t be, there needn’t be – but there can be.”

There have also been incidents where protesters have gathered outside ministers’ homes in recent years.

Ms Humphreys said she hopes that stories of harassment will not deter women and others from getting involved in politics.

“I hope that it won’t deter women from getting involved, because we need a balance in decision-making in all walks of life, and it’s important that this doesn’t stop them.

“It’s not easy sometimes, it’s very difficult. If you’re a rural TD and you have a small family, there’s no doubt about that.

“But I certainly want to see more women getting involved in politics.”

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