The Northern Ireland Local Government Association has raised concerns about the abuse and intimidation of candidates in this year’s local council election campaign.
The body, which represents councils and councillors across Northern Ireland, is urging the general public and voters to debate and disagree respectfully as candidates canvass and campaign ahead of tomorrow’s election, regardless of political views or ideology.
It comes as a survey earlier this year by NILGA found that over three-quarters of local councillors in Northern Ireland (76%) have experienced abuse in their role, while a further 52% have said they have been intimidated by members of the public and ‘trolls’ on social media. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) said that they had been abused or intimidated on social media while 53% said it had occurred in person. Reported incidents ranged from damage to personal property, the erection of threatening posters, abusive graffiti, and death threats.
Ahead of tomorrow’s poll, NILGA are reminding the general public to treat all candidates with respect and dignity as final canvassing and campaigning takes place.
Alison Allen, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Local Government Association said:
“Some of the reports and incidences of abuse and intimidation in this election campaign we’ve seen so far have been deeply concerning. Any incident of abuse, intimidation, or even violence is wrong, illegal, and must be condemned by all. We’ve seen during this campaign the theft and destruction of candidate posters, intimidation of party candidates and activists and being told that certain areas are ‘no-go’ areas, and even violence being committed against some candidates.
“This is worrying and deeply undemocratic. Parties and candidates have the right to canvass in their constituencies and seek to engage with local voters. As we move into the new mandate, it is sadly clear that abuse of our elected representatives is being normalised. Tougher legislation and punishments are required to discourage online trolls and abusers, who feel emboldened by anonymity and being behind a screen, from harassing elected councillors.
“In the new mandate, work must be continued between councils, statutory agencies, and other levels of government to ensure that councillors and other elected representatives are sufficiently protected while carrying out their roles and to ensure that potential candidates are not put off representing their local areas.
“NILGA will continue to work with the PSNI, the Department of Justice, our MLAs, local wellbeing providers and experts, and colleagues across the local government sector to create a safer environment for all councillors and to deter abusers from harassing and intimidating elected representatives.”