WATERFORD’S councillors have agreed to regulate their social media accounts in an effort to curb online abuse.
The move comes as the General Election campaign heats up. It follows the revelation (Waterford Today, Jan 22) that online abuse had been a factor in Minister John Halligan’s decision to retire from politics.
It has also emerged that Senator Paudie Coffey had been subjected to “derogatory” comments online before he decided to withdraw from the election.
The move was initiated by FG General Election candidate, Cllr John Cummins, who said he was prompted to make the proposal following observations made on Sinn Féin Councillor John Hearne’s Facebook page last November.
particularly unsavoury as Mr Quinlan was unwell at the time
The comments strongly criticised Senator Coffey and former FG councillor Hilary Quinlan and included references to difficulties at University Hospital Waterford.
“They were particularly unsavoury as Mr Quinlan was unwell at the time,” said Cllr Cummins.
Cllr Hearne said he was unaware of Mr Quinlan’s situation and had removed the content and apologised as soon as he was informed. Cllr Hearne also agreed that some of the comments directed at Senator Coffey – a former FG TD and junior minister – were “completely out of order”.
“Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully,” he said.
The self-regulation move was unanimously adopted at the council’s monthly meeting and has been circulated to every local authority in the country for consideration.
The motion said the councillors have “a responsibility to show leadership in efforts to improve the civility of public discourse on political matters”.
should lead by example and behave respectfully towards others
Cllr Cummins said it is imperative that politicians “should lead by example and behave respectfully towards others, not least during a General Election”.
Along with regulating their own submissions, the councillors have agrred to ensure “that any inappropriate comments left by members of the public are removed in a timely manner”.
Labour’s Tom Phelan said he has seen some “very nasty stuff” masquerading as political commentary online and supported extending the code to the council chamber.
Sinn Féin Cllr Conor McGuinness said that since being elected last year “I have been consistently shouted down in the chamber”.
“Once you start shouting you’ve lost the argument,” said Cllr Phelan.