Senator condemns 'abusive mobs' as he introduces Bill to protect private homes from protest

ireland
Senator Condemns 'Abusive Mobs' As He Introduces Bill To Protect Private Homes From Protest Senator Condemns 'Abusive Mobs' As He Introduces Bill To Protect Private Homes From Protest
Protesters outside Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's home. Photo: Collins
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James Cox

A Wexford Senator has condemned the "large vocal mobs" who protested outside the homes of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, as he introduced a Bill to ban targeted protesting at individual's homes.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne is bringing forward a Bill that would make it an offence to engage in targeted protesting outside an individual’s private residence.

Mr Byrne told BreakingNews.ie: "This has been something we have been looking at for a while, it’s happened before and this [protests at Mr Varadkar's home] sort of accelerated it, the Bill was bubbling along in the background.

"It moves to make targeted protests outside an individual’s private residence an offence. By that it means that you’re clearly identifying an individual at their private home."

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Mr Byrne said these protests have been worsened by "a range of extremist groups and those views have been amplified by social media".

He said protests against a politician's stance should be conducted outside their constituency office or Government department.

How would they feel if a large vocal mob gathered outside their home and started screaming obscenities?

"There are protests almost every day outside Leinster House on a wide range of issues, most of them are peaceful, and we’re fortunate to live in a country where we can protest peacefully.

"With every right comes a corresponding responsibility, and how would they feel if a large vocal mob gathered outside their home and started screaming obscenities? It’s just not acceptable."

Mr Byrne added: "We shouldn’t have to legislate in this area, you would think that people would have enough cop on to know that you shouldn’t be protesting outside an individual’s private home.

"It’s unfair on the targeted individual but equally on their neighbours and anyone who has to pass by. Those who shout most loudly about their rights, if they know anything about law they should know that with all rights come responsibilities, and it’s about time they started to learn about their responsibilities.

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"Most protest in Ireland is peaceful and people who engage in protest wouldn’t do it otherwise, but we have seen some groups, mostly on the extreme right some on the extreme left, who have engaged in what could be deemed unacceptable protesting."

Mr Byrne said he and a number of Oireachtas colleagues were targeted with abuse by protesters after a memorial service for British MP David Amess, who was recently killed while meeting with his constituents.

"Quite a number of us at the Oireachtas attended a service for the late David Amess, there was genuine cross-party shock that a public representative could be killed simply carrying out his duties, what happened was as we were walking back from the church we were confronted outside the gates of Leinster House with a very abusive anti-mask and anti-vaccine protest.

"I think you will find that every politician will defend the right to peaceful protest, but that comes with some responsibilities and unfortunately there are some people who don’t seem to understand what those responsibilities are."

Mr Byrne feels politicians should always be accessible, but expressed concern about the trend in protests at individuals' homes.

"I never want to see a situation in Ireland where people feel that they can’t approach their local politicians, politicians in Ireland have always been very accessible to the public. If people want to walk up and ask something, even to the Taoiseach, our politics have always been that accessible and that’s important.

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"The way that we have seen things trending recently with violent abuse on social media and protests outside individual’s homes, protests becoming less peaceful, there are obviously causes for concern.

'Unrepresentative minority'

"Again it has to be stressed this is a tiny unrepresentative minority, they wouldn’t have the courage to put their own names on a ballot paper, but unfortunately it is a real threat."

He feels social media companies need to do more to combat groups promoting violence and threatening protests, something which he said will be addressed in the forthcoming Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

On the targeted protesting Bill, Mr Byrne stressed that he feels it shouldn't be necessary at all, but has become important in the current climate.

"I would hope so. I know that there is a legislative backlog, but I do think as part of measures to protect people it is something that is necessary.

"One would hope we’d never have to use those laws, you’d hope people would cop on and realise you don’t protest outside somebody’s home, protest outside their office or their department or Leinster House, a person’s home is their own private domain.

"We shouldn’t have to be bringing forward laws like this but when we have a small minority who don’t understand the law and have no idea about responsibility, I’m afraid we need to take action."

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