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Tragic death throws spotlight onto anonymous social media attacks

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Date Published: 28-Dec-2012

 The tragic death of Shane Mcentee has cast a shadow over the entire political system. When news filtered around Leinster house of his sudden death, it was shocking. And then when details emerged that he had taken his own life, it was awful beyond words.

There is no set profile of people who commit suicide and the reasons are often very complicated, impossible to discern. But, on the face of it, Shane Mcentee seemed so unlikely. he was an innately decent man who wore his emotions on his sleeve. Generally, he was seen as very solid although prone to sometimes saying things without first thinking them through.

It is known that he was very upset about the reaction to comments he made after the Budget. In an interview with The Sunday Times, he excused the cut of €400 respite care grant on the basis that you could get a room for a week in a top hotel for €700. What he was trying to say that with prices falling in society as a result of the recession, the fall was relative as people could get more bang for their buck these days.

But it sounded bad and he received a barrage of criticism for it on the radio, on the phone and through social media. There has been a lot of commentary since the weekend that all of this was a factor in his decision to end his life. To be quite honest, it’s not possible to tell or reach any kind of conclusion on this, as we just don’t know the full facts or circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

But one of the repercussions has been a renewed scrutiny of the role that social media and more traditional forms (radio shows and even the humble telephone) have played in recent political discourse.

I spoke to quite a number of politicians from all hues over the weekend and they were all at one on a number of points. The first was that the volume has been pumped up on vitriol and vile comments since the recession started. It’s not hard to see why. People have lost jobs and are struggling with debt and are worried about making ends meet and are angry. But the anger becomes personalised and sometimes manifests itself in personalised abuse of the politician involved.

Liam Twomey, a Fine Gael TD from Wexford, is also a family doctor. He made the observation at the weekend that the anger has almost become self-perpetuating. Among the angry people, he said, you sometimes find people who have very well paid public jobs and whose mortgages have been found out. he said if they really looked at their own situation compared to others they would find that the anger is misplaced and that they have assumed a common conception without examining it.

The second has been the growth of social media and the huge popularity of Facebook and Twitter. Many of the politicians (mostly younger) have gone onto the platform. But every time they or their party has been involved in a controversy, they have encountered a blizzard of abuse. That in itself is a problem but the worst part of it is that a lot of is comes from those who use a pseudonym, which allows them hurl abuse under the cloak of anonymity.

This has become a real problem on Twitter and Facebook. The Cork South Central TD Jerry Buttimer was subjected to horrible abuse on Facebook after the Budget, some of it bordering closely on incitement to hatred. The Roscommon TD Frankie Feighan got similar treatment over Roscommon hospital.

When the Minister of State at the Department of Communications Sean Sherlock introduced regulations that would have implications for online copyright, he encountered a huge campaign opposing it from the tecchie and web community. Which was fair enough, except that a small proportion started personalising the abuse in a horrible way.

Politicians are sentient – and sometimes sensitive – human beings and are prone to the same fears, anxieties and shock as anybody else is. And there are idiots out there who hide behind the cloak of anonymity and think that politicians are fair game for any abuse and lies and insults and hate they can conjure up. And obviously they aren’t inured. I spoke to half a dozen TDs over the past few days who were deeply hurt and upset by the stuff they had to deal with.

The Minister of State who has responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch pointed out to me over the weekend that you should never assume that politicians – because they are public figures and more used to being at the eye of the storm – are resilient to the kind of personal abuse that has become common since the recession and the advent of social media.

It must also be added that it’s just not an online phenomenon. Anger and venom has become the currency of some radio talk shows. And there are also anonymous telephone calls. It’s just a sad fact that modern society provides far more opportunities for those who want to use the poison pen.

For more of Harry McGee’s column see this week’s Tribunes

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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