Waterford City and County councillors have agreed to self-regulate their social media accounts in a bid to discourage abusive and unsavoury content.
The move was initiated and worded by FG general election candidate Cllr John Cummins and presented as a joint motion by 21 council colleagues before being unanimously adopted at its monthly meeting. It is also set to be circulated to every local authority in the country for consideration.
The motion said the councillors have “a responsibility to show leadership in efforts to improve the civility of public discourse on political matters”.
Cllr Cummins said it is imperative that politicians “should lead by example and behave respectfully towards others, not least during a General Election".
Along with regulating their own submissions, the councillors must ensure “that any inappropriate comments left by members of the public are removed in a timely manner". Signed declarations indicating agreement or non-agreement with the measure will be published and updated annually on the council website.
Cllr Cummins said he made the proposal following “derogatory” observations made on Sinn Féin Councillor John Hearne’s Facebook page last November. The comments strongly criticised FG Senator Paudie Coffey and former FG councillor Hilary Quinlan and included references to issues surrounding Waterford hospital.
“They were particularly unsavoury as Mr Quinlan was unwell at the time," said Cllr Cummins.
Cllr Hearne said he was unaware of Mr Quinlan’s situation and removed the content and apologised as soon as he was informed.
Cllr Hearne also agreed that “some of the comments directed at Paudie were completely out of order. Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully”.
In drafting the motion Cllr Cummins did not seek support from the council’s six Sinn Féin members, with several Independents also “accidentally” omitted.
Cllr Hearne and his colleagues nonetheless supported the motion, adding that party whips also should convene to install “a code of conduct for debates during meetings”.
Sinn Féin Cllr Conor McGuinness said that since being elected last year "I have been consistently shouted down in the chamber".
Some establishment figures don’t like being challenged and it shows in their behaviour.
Labour Cllr Tom Phelan said he has seen some “very nasty stuff” masquerading as political commentary online and also supports the code extending to the chamber. “Once you start shouting you’ve lost the argument”, he said.