The local government representative bodies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) and the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) - have called for immediate action to ensure the safety and well-being of elected representatives.
In a joint statement - a first for the organisations – they call for steps to be taken against the abuse and intimidation suffered by councillors in carrying out their duties, at a combined meeting hosted by Derry City and Strabane District Council at the Guildhall in Derry/Londonderry recently.
Both organisations emphasised their commitment to work together to address this critical issue.
Reacting to the ongoing abuse and intimidation of councillors across the island of Ireland, the two local government representative bodies said in a joint statement:
“Councillors continue to experience high rates of abuse & intimidation, often involving violence. This is wrong, illegal, and must be condemned by all.”
“We urge our Governments and statutory bodies to work together to ensure that councillors and other elected representatives are sufficiently protected in-person and on-line while carrying out their roles, and to ensure that potential candidates are not discouraged from representing their local areas and communities.”
“As representative organisations, we will continue to work with councils, local wellbeing providers and experts across government and statutory bodies to create a safer environment for all councillors and to promote a respectful and inclusive political environment for elected representatives.”
President of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) Cllr. Matt Garrett said:
“This is an important joint statement by both representative bodies across the island of Ireland.”
“It is unfortunate that both organisations have had to come together to call for the stamping out of such intimation and abuse of elected representatives carrying out their day to day constituency work. That is how severe the situation has become, online and in person.”
“Our own survey at NILGA published earlier this year 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.”
“It is clear that there needs to be tougher legislation and punishments to discourage the likes of online trolls and abusers, who feel emboldened by anonymity and being behind a screen, from harassing elected councillors.”
“This abuse just has to stop. It has become an all too common and familiar problem and I commend both bodies for coming together to start to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough.”
President of the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG), Cllr. Pat Fitzpatrick added:
“This joint statement is a historic move by both organisations driven by the critical need to highlight the ongoing battle that councillors in particular face in going about their day-to-day business.
The results from our own AILG survey illustrate the daunting reality of life as a councillor in Ireland today, with 48% of respondents having considered leaving their role because of threats and harassment. A further 60% of respondents experienced threats via social media, while worryingly over 33% experienced threats in a face-to-face setting.
In recent months we have seen disturbing and extreme cases of threats and abuse highlighted by some of our members who have spoken of their personal experiences.
While local councillors fully appreciate that they should be challenged and scrutinised as part of their role as public representatives, no councillor should have to face threats to their personal safety or receive threats directed against their families. It is not acceptable and completely undermines the principles of free speech, democratic engagement and debate.
“By safeguarding the well-being of councillors, both north and south of the border, we are safeguarding the democratic process itself and ensuring that all our local communities thrive.”
For further information please contact:
Brown O’Connor Communications