A Wexford councillor has opened up about her experiences of online bullying in the wake of a comment on social media which accused the councillor’s family of “intimidation” and “harassing authority”. Speaking at the monthly meeting of Wexford County Council (WCC) at Carricklawn, Councillor Mary Farrell said the comment, which related to a story published on The Wexford People’s Facebook page in July, had caused great upset for her and her family.
The story in question, posted on July 24 of this year, concerned touring companies putting up posters in Kilmuckridge and Cllr Farrell’s opposition to this practise. But while the councillor had no issue with the content of the story itself, the reaction to it had caused her to speak out.
“The Wexford People put the story on Facebook and that was fair enough,” said Cllr Farrell. “But the abuse afterwards I received in relation to that post, I’m sick and tired of it to be honest with you. Three years ago I experienced a tirade, a barrage of abuse, I received physical threats, threats to my life and to my home, now this has started again.”
Cllr Farrell then read out the Facebook comment in full. It read: “While the suggestion of the councillor is reasonable, however, this is a councillor who I heard, some members of her family have constituted themselves into bullying and harassing authority in Kilmuckridge area. They have assumed power over the law enforcement and willy nilly bully and intimidate the locals. If these allegations were true, the councillor must make amends and speak with those involved in these, in her family ..Most WexCoCo Councillors are very decent people...’”
Continuing, Cllr Farrell said she could accept people commenting on her as an individual but when her family were involved it was more difficult to accept.
“If somebody wants to take a shot at me I have put my head above the parapet by putting myself forward for this job and if someone doesn’t like what I say, fair enough. But to make accusations about my family and to say they’re intimidating and bullying in my local area is something I feel needs to be addressed,” she said. “I think it’s outrageous we have to endure this sort of social media bullying and harassment, and personally, as a female here, I have had enough. “
Cllr Farrell said she had notified county secretary Michael Drea at the time in the hope he could have the post removed but said she had heard nothing back in the interim.
As the chair of the Wexford Women’s Coalition, Cllr Maura Bell voiced her support for Cllr Farrell. “As public representatives we all have to have a thick skin now and again but I do think the support, help and advice from the council is needed in some cases,” said Cllr Bell.
“This is not just a women’s thing, this is everybody, we all get online abuse, verbal abuse on the street, so we all need to support each other in this, but we really need the support of the council itself to back us when this happens. That post should have been taken down by The Wexford People.”
There was further support from Cllr Lisa McDonald who praised her colleague for speaking out on an issue which has become all too commonplace in modern society.
“It takes guts for Mary to tell her story, so many of us have to put up with type of abuse, for her to come in and say this is a watershed moment, we all need to get behind her and support her. The media need to get behind her and support her because it’s all too easy these days to talk about negative comments that take place and then all of a sudden people’s families are affected by it, and then the next thing you have is your children asking you to give politics because they don’t want to see you or them putting up with that level of abuse.
“I’ve been involved in politics and I’ve grown used to it, but for people coming in it’s not the right image and we all need to pull together to try and resolve it.”
Micheal Drea, who had only recently been appointed to the role of county secretary at the time of the story’s publication, said he was aware of Cllr Farrell’s issue and was endeavouring to address it. And he said online abuse was something a lot of people in the council buildings were encountering of late.
“It’s an issue that staff of WCC on a weekly basis are exposed to also. Coming from the housing department I have had to deal with staff on numerous occasions in extreme distress, in tears, that needed reassurance, comforted, some staff needed to be sent home, that is what online abuse does; numerous staff have been named, it’s totally unacceptable. As a council from a staff perspective, from a member’s perspective, we need to take a unified front.”
That outlook was shared by Chief Executive Tom Enright who stressed his full support for Cllr Farrell and all those subjected to online abuse.
“This type of behaviour is totally unacceptable, these are cowardly attacks done by nameless, faceless people and sometimes they can be serious threats against those who are doing their best to provide a proper service, and they’re often done by people who should know better and should know the impact they’re having on people,” said Mr Enright.
“People are not given a chance to defend themselves. We support you Cllr Farrell on this, it shouldn’t happen, you’re putting yourself out there as a public representative to help people and you should not be subjected to this kind of abuse.”
Editor’s note: at the time of publication, People Newspapers have had no communication whatsoever from anyone in Wexford County Council in relation to the Facebook post in question.