Elected Wicklow councillors given personal safety advice

Sgt John Fitzpatrick (left) pictured with former Chief Superintendent John Quirke.

Myles BuchananWicklow People

THE Crime Prevention Officer (CPO) for Wicklow, Sgt John Fitzpatrick, provided a presentation in the Council chamber on personal safety measures the elected members should consider should they receive any personal abuse or threats of violence.

A report published by the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) in May of 2021 revealed that 60 per cent of the abuse directed at elected public representatives took place over social media, 33 per cent was face-to-face and 36 per cent involved threats to kill.

Protests outside the home of politicians is also a growing phenomenon, including the home of Wicklow TDs and Ministers. Sgt Fitzpatrick highlighted a number of cases, including the recent protest outside the home of People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy.

He also highlighted the case involving outspoken Laois Councillor Aisling Morgan who claimed people threatened to kill her after saying some people in council houses have never worked and never will.

Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, Cllr Tommy Annesley recalled receiving a ‘smack in the jaw’ over a planning application he had no involvement with.

Sgt Fitzpatrick advised: “You are the best assessor of risk and if a person’s behaviour frightens you then doing nothing is not an option.

“Learn to look for the signs. Often it is not just one signal in particular but a combination of a number of features of a person’s behaviour which raises our sense of fear.”

The warning signs to look out for include Intimidating non-verbal behaviour, which could also involve exaggerated hand and arm movements, prolonged eye contact, standing too close, saying things which we find illogical or sit outside our own frame of reference, repeating sentences over again and an actual threat of harm to you or your family or property.

Regarding home visits, the elected members were advised to see if the meetings can be carried out by phone or email instead. Possibly a colleague could attend instead or the councillors could try and organise the meeting in a public space, such as a community centre.

If a home visit has to take place, Sgt Fitzpatrick stated: “Arrange the home visit during normal working hours and make sure that a responsible person knows exactly where you are. Also carry out a mini ‘risk assessment’ on the property before approaching.”

The elected members were told to avoid seeing people in their own home, where possible, unless the person concerned is well known to them. Ordinarily, unexpected doorstep callers should not be invited into a property unless known and trusted. Unexpected callers should be encouraged to make formal appointments.

“If you decide that you will be open to home visits, you should also review your home security which should include carrying out a formal risk assessment. The Garda Home Security Check List Challenge is a good start. Consider a monitored alarm, physical security, lights, CCTV.

“I can provide more in depth security advice should you require it.,” said Sgt Fitzpatrick.

Office security measures were also provided against bomb threats, threatening calls and emails,. suspect packages and aggressive visitors.

Regarding social media, Sgt Fitzpatrick added: “Online abuse is traumatising , frustrating and emotional. Seek support from friends, family and colleagues. Take a break from social media if needed

“Documenting online abuse helps with patterns and personal impact. Blocking users stops abusers from seeing your posts. Encourage others to report abuse also.”