Irish News

Wednesday 23 July 2014

'Fallout from Budget and cyber abuse' troubled late Minister

This respite care thing, they are destroying me,' McEntee told friends days before taking his life

MAEVE SHEEHAN

Published 23/12/2012|05:00

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Friends and associates of the late Minister of State Shane McEntee have claimed that "abuse" directed towards the Fine Gael TD on social media websites was a factor in his tragic death.

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Mr McEntee, who was widely held to have been a compassionate and sensitive man, is said to have been deeply affected by the online abuse, although experts say there is always a complexity of issues surrounding suicide, and death is never the result of a single factor.

A former Fine Gael TD in Meath, John Farrelly, now a councillor from Kells, yesterday told the Sunday Independent that Mr McEntee was "desperately upset" by a barrage of online abuse that followed comments the late minister had made in relation to cuts to the respite care grant.

A Fine Gael TD in Roscommon, Frank Feighan, said: "I feel that there is a frenzy out there and I feel a lot of it is generated through social media."

Mr Feighan added: "I think it is something that we all have to contend with. It is an issue that must stop. I don't mind people having reasoned debate, but this seems to be frenzied, continued and is causing huge concern not just for politicians, but their families."

In relation to a controversial cut to the respite care grant in the Budget, Mr McEntee, in a newspaper interview said: "You could stay in a top hotel for €700 a week," and added: "People just have to get on with it."

As part of the general cut and thrust of national politics, Fianna Fail subsequently issued a statement calling on Mr McEntee to "immediately clarify his callous and crass comments".

However, the issue was immediately seized upon by the mostly anonymous contributors to various online websites and forums, who posted a stream of abusive comments directed towards Mr McEntee.

It is understood that some of his staff in Leinster House attempted without success to remove or have removed the more vile of the comments posted.

Yesterday Mr Farrelly said that he had also briefly discussed the issue with Mr McEntee. "We didn't talk about it that much, other than [for him] to say that 'this respite thing, they are destroying me'," Mr Farrelly said.

The minister was said by friends to have been under stress at the time of his death. According to sources, he had agreed to see a doctor. Friends said that several issues appeared to be weighing on Mr McEntee in the weeks and days before his death, which is in accordance with expert opinion on suicide.

Earlier this month there was a fatal traffic accident in Slane, Co Meath, in which an elderly pedestrian was killed. The town is a notorious black spot for traffic accidents.

Mr McEntee was said to have been devastated by the death. As a local TD, he had campaigned for years for a by-pass, but last March, the planning application was rejected, setting the planned by-pass back by a decade.

He had also worked tirelessly to have homeowners whose properties were affected by pyrite excluded from the property tax.

Mr McEntee was also particularly pre-occupied lately with ash die-back, a disease in the native tree that has been slowly encroaching on Ireland's forests. According to one friend, he was frustrated at the slow pace of the Department of Agriculture in detecting its progress across the country.

While people do not decide to take their own life in response to a single event, however painful that event may be, and social conditions alone cannot explain suicide either, it is likely the issue of cyber abuse will now become the focus of greater attention.

In the wake of a number of recent high-profile teen suicides linked to online abuse, the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said laws existed to punish those behind such harassment.

Mr Shatter has admitted that there were some problems in bringing successful prosecutions against bullies under present legislation, the Non-fatal Offences against the Person Act.

The difficulties involved proving that the harassment was persistent. Mr Shatter has asked the Law Reform Commission to look at the difficulties and make suggestions for improving the use of the current laws.

In the Sunday Independent today, the former Meath football and friend of the McEntee family, Colm O'Rourke, writes: "Yet he was more than a party man, he loved people. People want to blame someone for every fault and politicians in general are treated badly. . . It is totally unfair and unjustifiable and Shane at times had not a tough enough skin. . .

"Mainly he tried to do too much, he gave willingly of everything he had and felt badly if he was not able to solve all problems."

Sunday Independent

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