Public Affairs

Safeguarding participation in public life

An Oireachtas task force has recommended that the Houses of the Oireachtas strengthens collaboration with law enforcement amid a rise in abuse against members and concerns about their safety.

The Task Force on Safe Participation in Political Life state that due to the health of democracy relying on equal and diverse representation, proposals within a report have been produced to “safeguard and support participation and promote civil discourse in political life”.

Published in May 2024, the report makes a suite of recommendations to tackle increased abuse aimed at those in involved in political life.

The report is produced in tandem with a UCD academic survey of Oireachtas members and staff published in February 2024, which found that there is a high prevalence of abuse against both – 94 per cent and 72 per cent respectively. The survey found that such abuse has a negative impact on Oireachtas members and political staff, who are reported as feeling anxious and afraid (89 per cent and 75 per cent respectively).

Within the report, the task force recognises that abuse in political life is increasing due to the “anonymity provided by digital platforms, and often driven by misogyny, sexism, racism, and intolerance”.

From this analysis, the task force recommends a “strategic and coordinated approach” to address this challenge. Specifically the task force recommends that the Houses of the Oireachtas leads in coordinating a sustained response, in partnership with relevant stakeholders, through the establishment of a Senior Officials Oversight and Implementation Group (SOIOG).

To safeguard those involved in political life, the report recommends that the Houses of the Oireachtas reviews and strengthens security arrangements and ensures mechanisms are put in place for enhanced cooperation and information sharing with An Garda Síochána (AGS). In this regard, a memorandum of understanding is scheduled to be agreed in November 2024.

The task force also recommends that the Houses of the Oireachtas produce an opt-in social media monitoring service in 2024 to monitor and report online threats and harassment for Members.

The report acknowledges that “members of the Houses of the Oireachtas have a responsibility to… facilitate robust but respectful debate through their interactions in Dáil and Seanad Éireann and wider political debate”.

Consequently, the existing codes of conduct for TDs and senators are recommended to be reviewed, commencing in autumn 2024.

Regarding the role of AGS, the report also highlights the need for a “structured and coordinated intelligence-led approach” in discharging its responsibilities, providing crime prevention advice, and responding appropriately to reported incidents.

“Reporting should become the ‘norm’, with clear mechanisms established for this purpose and a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach applied across the criminal justice system, political life, and civil society.” Task Force on Safe Participation in Political Life

The Houses of Oireachtas, in conjunction with AGS, aims to facilitate information sessions on workplace security measures, with the first session commencing in the Dáil in autumn 2024.
The report states: “Reporting should become the ‘norm’, with clear mechanisms established for this purpose and a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach applied across the criminal justice system, political life, and civil society.”

To implement this, a forum with representatives from social media companies, Coimisiún na Meán and AGS is tabled to meet in autumn 2024 on the collective response of online abuse.

A rising trend

Political violence has increased in recent years throughout Europe, with Germany’s Federal Police (BPOL) publishing a report which indicated that there were around 60,000 politically motivated crimes committed in 2023, with culprits predominantly emanating from the far-right.

Holger Münch, the president of the Federal Criminal Police Office stated: “Politically motivated criminality has almost doubled within the last 10 years and continues to increase,” and continued, “parts of the population are tending towards radicalisation. These tendencies include attempts to delegitimise the state and its monopoly on violence.”

A February 2024 publication by the European Parliamentary Research Service stated that 85 per cent of European female parliamentarians are subject to psychological violence, with 15 per cent subjected to physical violence.

Following publication of the report, the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD, stated: “Democracy must allow for debate, disagreement and different opinions however, when disagreement strays into abuse and intimidation, this stifles healthy debate and must be challenged.”

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