Former Government minister Regina Doherty has said a man who threatened to burn down her house with her children inside was surprised that she was upset.
The Fine Gael Senator was speaking after a new study found that 96% of female politicians have received an abusive message or phone call.
The abuse detailed in the study from NUI Galway found that the abuse includes threats of physical or sexual violence.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Senator Doherty outlined the worst threat she ever received.
“A person contacted me on a number of occasions telling me they were going to burn my house down with my four children in it,” he said.
“Because the person left voicemail messages and the telephone number could be traced, we took it seriously because it wasn’t just some anonymous egg on Twitter.
“First of all, you are immediately afraid. This was a good few years ago and my children were smaller not that it makes any difference now that they are older, the threat is still the same.
She said the “bizarre thing” about the incident was that when the Gardaí began to investigate, “the Gentleman didn’t really think I would be that upset by it.”
“It was late one night and he was just annoyed,” she said. “I think I had been on the then Vincent Browne show and he was upset about something I had said.
“He was real sorry, you know? And it wasn’t just once. He had rang my office a number of times.”
Women in politics
She said the abuse puts a lot of women off entering politics.
“I am a determined, relatively sound in my head, kind of person,” she said. “But you do question yourself constantly – Is this actually worth it? I could go and work for Aer Lingus in the morning and not have to take this kind of grief.
“But it strengthens your resolve and it kind of reminds you why you get involved in public service in the first place and what it is you want to achieve – but not everyone is like that.
“At our local elections – and this is how pervasive it is because it isn’t just people who are at national politics – we couldn’t get an awful lot of our first-time local election candidates to run for a second term because it just wasn’t worth it.
“That is not good.”
Senator Doherty said she is excited to see that European Commission Executive Vice-President Margarethe Vestager will today announce new online protection proposals and noted that the Irish Government aims to make changes to our data protection and privacy laws in the coming months.
“We have had an explosion of social media and technology in the last maybe 10 or 15 years and so there are new platforms for people to say either anonymously or totally without any repercussions what they like about absolutely anybody,” she said.
“So they can spread untruths, they can just unload, they can say anything if they have a few glasses of wine in their belly and there are a lot of people who have dissatisfaction in their own lives and see nothing wrong with taking it out on somebody else – and public figures are easy targets.”
She warned that the lack of regulation allows people to vent their discomfort, disease, and dissatisfaction on others online.
“I can see no other reason why a normal, ordinary person becomes something completely different behind a keyboard or a smartphone,” she said.
“I am trying to balance that. You meet people on the street and nobody ever treats you that way when you are walking down to SuperValu or outside the Post Office – they just don’t but they treat you in a whole different way online and they see no problem with it.”
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