Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns says she always brushed off online abuse – until she encountered it in real life.
Speaking to The Anton Savage Show on Newstalk this morning, the Cork South-West said online abuse was like water off a duck’s back to her during her first year in Leinster House.
Over time however, the constant attacks began to weigh on her – and when she was faced with in-person abuse, things took on a more sinister tone.
She told Anton that, when you’re a politician, ‘It’s to be expected you get a lot of people trying to take you down’.
“It is [difficult] for me personally,” she said. “I get a lot of abuse online; I think most politicians do.
“For the first, maybe, year or so I thought, oh it doesn’t really bother me. It was like water off a duck’s back.
“Who are these people? They’re just trolls, most of them don’t have pictures on their account and they don’t have real names.
“But I think eventually it does penetrate. For me, it was without me realising it. Eventually, I was like this actually is quite difficult.”
She said the online abuse “becomes something different” when you encounter it in real life.
“It’s like, that could happen in person,” she said.
“I think most TDs have [encountered it in person]. For me, that was the moment where it changed. It made me feel like those people online could be real people.”
When asked what happened to her in real life, she said: “It’s something I’d actually prefer not to discuss. It’s one of those things that actually, unfortunately, brings more abuse on politicians from what I’ve seen.”
Deputy Cairns said a lot of the abuse directed at her is related to her policies.
“Of course, when people are in politics, oftentimes they’re trying to drive the kind of change that will negatively affect some people,” she said.
“One of the core policies of Social Democrats is Sláintecare. We believe that everybody should have healthcare at the point of need, based on how much you need it, not how deep your pockets are.
“The current system we have very much benefits some people financially. There’s a lot of money in private healthcare.
“We’re constantly driving the kind of change that would see a national health service that will negatively affect a lot of people who are making a lot of money now.
“So, it’s to be expected that you get a lot of people trying to take you down. I think we need to see it for what it is, that’s what it is, and really not let it affect our work.”
Reporting from Marése O'Sullivan