DEATH threats issued against Tánaiste Leo Varadkar are being taken seriously by the gardaí, we learned this week.
While threats against senior politicians in this country are nothing new, many of us thought those dark days were largely left behind by the Peace Process.
Mr Varadkar is no stranger to negative attention or publicity. Who can forget that viral video of a woman throwing a smoothie in the Tánaiste’s face, as he was being interviewed for a short film on coronavirus restrictions in Merrion Park last September?
He joked that he thought it was the singer Avril Lavigne because she was carrying a skateboard, and he seemed to take it all in his stride.
But these latest threats appear to be of an entirely more sinister and indeed serious, nature.
So serious, in fact, that the Tánaiste has reportedly been allocated round-the-clock armed security – and a level of protection that is, in fact, higher than our current Taoiseach’s.
Some of the threats were issued – not surprisingly – in the increasingly toxic space that is online media.
But others were not.
Gardaí believe that some of the those threats emanated from members of far-right groups, the likes of which we have seen participating in the anti-lockdown protests in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere.
It is believed that some of the death threats may even be of a homophobic nature. No surprise there, perhaps, as many of the far-right groups operating in this country have expressed ultra-conservative and often morally orthodox views.
But some of the threats may indeed have their origins in northern politics, too. In January, police in Northern Ireland confirmed they were investigating an incident which saw the Tánaiste’s home address daubed on a wall in East Belfast.
It seems our Tánaiste has enemies in many quarters. There is no doubt that his strong personality and refusal to shy away from controversial comments have made him an easy target for his opponents.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin does not seem to draw quite as much vitriol, either online or in the more traditional media.
But becoming a target for people’s anger is nothing new in politics. Various public figures have been ‘egged’, ‘caked’ and even had to witness protests outside their homes. Two years ago, the then- Health Minister Simon Harris claimed his wife had been followed home, with their young baby, so that protestors could identify his home. A home which was subsequently picketed by a not insignificant number of people holding posters with slogans, including the chilling ‘Bring It To Their Doors’ hashtag.
There was a fear amongst politicians that such tactics – employed only occasionally in decades past – would become a more regular, and very unwelcome, tool of the disenfranchised.
But those tactics have moved up a gear this week. Death threats which result in our politicians needing armed security are not something we want to see becoming commonplace in Irish politics.
And the mayor of Galway also announced this week that he was stepping down from public life due to threats made against him.
Sadly, the type of division we have witnessed in American society, encouraged by a disgraced president, is finding its way across the Atlantic.
We need to take a stand against these horrendous tactics. We do not want a society which encourages violence against those who are simply doing a job for which they were elected by a democratic system. And we do not want people to be discouraged from entering politics because they fear for their safety, or that of their family. What kind of society will we have if the only people drawn to politics are either those who cannot find a satisfying career in the private sector or, worse still, already have enough wealth or power to create a ring of steel around them?
Whether we agree with our politicians or not, we must ensure that those who issue such threats are weeded out and exposed for the bullies and anti-democracy cowards that they are. If they disagree with how politics is being delivered in this country, then let them put their own names forward, and join the debate, not seek to stifle it.