TDs get briefing over personal security

Senior gardaí are giving politicians specific security advice on coping with threatening phone calls, personal security, worker risk assessments, and constituency office defences amid heightened fears they could be attacked by the public.

The formal security guidance will be given at a closed-doors meeting next Wednesday after a series of recent incidents, including a surge in hate mail and one former senator who was warned she would be shot.

In an email to all TDs and senators last week, Paul Conway, the superintendent of the Houses of the Oireachtas, said that, due to requests from some politicians, private advice would be made available over how to cope with and respond to threats.

Supt Conway said a sergeant from Pearse Street Garda Station would hold a closed-doors meeting with TDs and senators next week to respond to the concerns.

“As part of a general security guidance to members, a talk on personal protection and crime prevention will be given on Wednesday, June 20, by Sergeant Sean O’Sullivan, crime prevention officer at Pearse Street Garda Station,” wrote Supt Conway.

“The talk is aimed at members and their staff, and will cover general guidance in regard to constituency office security, threatening phone calls, personal security, and conducting risk assessments.”

While the meeting is not in response to a specific threat against TDs and senators, it comes after a series of difficulties in recent years which have seen the potential dangers to politicians gain centre stage.

One of the most high-profile incidents happened in January of this year, when 28-year-old Stephen French of John McCormack Avenue, Walkinstown, Dublin, was spared jail for threats, in a series of online messages, to kill former Labour senator Lorraine Higgins.

French, who apologised for his actions, wrote messages online three years earlier, including one that he would fill her “rat’s mouth with lead”.

Ms Higgins later said she had been “scared stiff” by what happened and “rarely left the confines of Leinster House” while in Dublin due to her fears of being attacked.

Last October, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger received hand-written messages calling her a “baby killer” and saying she should be “put in hell where you belong R.I.P.” for her pro-choice views.

The safety of politicians has been repeatedly highlighted since former tánaiste Joan Burton became the subject of controversial protests in Jobstown in 2014, regarding water charges.

And in 2013, a man was able to run past Oireachtas security — which has since been improved — with a Samurai sword.

Critics have said politicians must be able to withstand legitimate criticism, and that this could be limited further if increased security is imposed to tackle genuinely serious threats.


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