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‘I won’t accept it!’ Dáil unifies around Michael Healy-Rae after emotional appeal over online abuse

Kerry TD’s mother ‘never said anything bad about any human being’, he told House, but she was still the subject of taunts

Michael Healy-Rae has raised the issue of anonymous online abuse in the Dáil after an image of the TD's late mother was shared online. Video: Oireachtas TV

It was three weeks to the day since Michael Healy-Rae went on Kerry Radio and angrily condemned the faceless people posting vile personal comments on social media about him and his family during the local election campaign.

He was particularly upset when he saw images of his beloved mother Julie, who died eight years ago, being used to taunt him in the most vile and derogatory way. His wife and sister, private people, were also subjected to abuse.

“It’s bullying, it’s intimidating, it’s nastiness. It’s taking Kerry into the gutter,” he said at the time. “Call it out for what it is – the politics of horribleness, the politics of hatred and of nastiness.”

Michael was mad as hell then, and he wasn’t going to take it any more.


He’s still livid now.

And Dáil Éireann is right behind him.

The moment the Independent TD got to his feet at Leaders’ Questions, it was clear he meant business. “I won’t mince my words about this issue, Taoiseach, and I will be very factual and I am going to call something out here today, and I want to see what you and what your Government and what the rest of the people inside in this House think of it.”

The TDs were all ears.

Deputy Healy-Rae wanted to know why is it becoming acceptable in the Ireland of today for people to go on social media and say whatever they like about whoever they like? He looked angry. He sounded angry. He glanced down, took his mobile phone out from under his reading glasses and held it at arm’s length.

That just because a person can “put this godforsaken stupid thing in front of them and go online and say whatever they like” and have thousands of people “swallowing it up and believing it”.

He was disgusted.

“And they can say outrageous things. They can say hurtful things. They can attack people’s families. They can attack individuals.”

His eyes were narrowed, facial muscles taut, fist clenching and unclenching as he spoke. “And if you want to know why I’m cross today, Taoiseach, I’ll tell you why.”

Michael had the Dáil’s full attention. He was pushing an open door. Preaching to the converted. Taoiseach Simon Harris and the other party leaders listened intently because even before they heard his “why”, they already understood. They knew exactly where Michael Healy-Rae was coming from because they have been there too.

Many times. And counting.

“A person can say whatever the hell they like about me because it won’t bother me,” he said, leaning forward and fixing his gaze directly across the floor at the Taoiseach, who nodded slowly and sympathetically.

But he doesn’t like it when they attack his family and friends.

He didn’t want to be mentioning specific people. “But I am going to say this, and I’m going to say it and it’s not easy to say, but I’ll say it.”

There was a strained silence in the chamber. Clearly something had happened which truly and deeply upset him.

“My mother died in 2015, and she was a highly respectable woman. She could speak seven languages. She never said anything bad about any human being. She supported all of us in every way she possibly could,” said Michael, thin-lipped, furious, but keeping it together.

“And she was a nice lady.” He emphasised every word, voice beginning to thicken as he relived his upset. “And when I saw her image being used one night in a derogatory way, in a political way, that pushed it over the line for me.”

His brother Danny sat motionless to one side of him, and on the other a sombre Mattie McGrath twined his fingers and studied his hands.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for one very thick-skinned TD was the attempt to traduce the memory of his mother. But there are many more examples of the type of treatment that politicians – among many others in society – must endure.

“I am against people coming out and telling barefaced lies,” fumed Michael, referencing some of the “horrible” things which were posted about people during the local elections in Kerry. “And that’s supposed to be socially acceptable in Ireland today?” he shouted, quivering with rage. “Well, I won’t accept it!”

He urged politicians to push back against this behaviour and refuse to accept it too. Does the Taoiseach have to take it because he is a Minister and leader of a party?

“Does that mean to say that you have to have lies accepted about you, and that people can say horrible things about people they really don’t even know? It’s ridiculous, and I’m asking you: will you please try to do something to bring a bit of normality into this situation?”

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle gently indicated his time was up. Michael, red faced, finished with a passionate closing line. “People cannot be telling lies, BLATANT lies, about people” he cried, voice going up half an octave as he spat out the B word.”

“Hear, hear,” chorused Deputies from all sides as he sat down.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald leant over from the other side of the aisle.

“Well said, Michael.”

The Taoiseach stood.

“Well said indeed, Deputy Healy-Rae, and thank you for saying it.”

He was sorry to hear of the abuse Michael and his family had to put up with. The comments about his late mother were “utterly despicable and reprehensible”, and no politician on any side of the House would disagree.

“Hear hear,” responded Michael’s Dáil colleagues.

Simon Harris is no stranger to online (and offline) abuse. Neither are his fellow TDs, particularly the women.

He said there was a serious issue in this country with the level of misogyny and sexism found in the sort of vile online abuse targeted at people “by faceless online users who seek to intimidate people, silence people, stop people saying something, get inside their minds and knock them off their stride”.

He outlined the measures the Government is taking to combat this abuse. The Media Commission is leading the way, looking at ways to curb the transgressors and also to hit the social media companies platforming them in the pocket.

Perhaps the surprise of Leaders’ Questions was that it has taken so long for Dáil Éireann to witness the real anger and frustration felt by politicians at this constant and spirit-sapping barrage of insults, lies, innuendo and threats.

The Healy-Raes are often accused of noisily grandstanding in the Chamber with their hold-me-coat bluster delivered with gusto for constituency consumption. On Tuesday this was real cold, genuine fury over the “faceless cowards” who are allowed to run riot online. Michael Healy-Rae’s pain was raw and compelling.

The Taoiseach said he too was very concerned about the impact all this was having on people, not just public representatives. “It’s okay, by the way, to say it impacts us,” he said. “Breaking news – politicians are human.”

As Michael Healy-Rae had so eloquently and passionately demonstrated.