Ireland getting to be a Scary Place, for Women, even Women, who Serve in Government?

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Fine Gael TD tells court: ‘I had to question my personal safety for the first time’

12th May 2022

‘I am a 41-year-old woman. I am the mother of a young boy. I am married. I am a public representative. I was elected as a councillor to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in May 2019. At the time of this series of incidents, I was running as a candidate in the 2020 General Election… for the Fine Gael political party. Trying to deal with this incident in the middle of a campaign was extremely difficult.

Let me say at the outset, and with every respect to the court, that I do not wish to be here. I do not wish to use my time, the court’s time, that of the DPP and An Garda Siochána and everyone else involved…

But because some man thought it was okay to invade my life and my mind and my sense of security, because of whatever twisted purpose he got out of it, I have to use my time to pursue it. I do not choose to be sexualised in this way, to be in media articles with sexual content.

© Provided by Extra.ieFine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill after the hearing on Wednesday. Pic: Collins Courts

But because some man decided to send me sexually explicit videos, it is there for ever more for everyone to see. All of this is without my consent. I do not want to be a victim. I perceive that this impacts me negatively professionally, as well as the very personal impact…

The personal impact on me is difficult to describe. I have been keen to downplay it at every turn, including to those immediately around me. I didn’t want them to have to worry – either about my safety or about how it might affect me, because we all just needed to get on with the job…But what happened gave me an awful fright at a time when I was very much in public, trying to make myself available personally to as many members of the public in Dún Laoghaire as humanly possible. I had to question my personal safety for the first time, and that’s something I have never been confronted with in my life before, in such a direct way.

I don’t like to admit it but it rocked my personal life and my sense of security.

It also made me very aware of how my family and close team treated me differently, whether it was intentional or not, everyone was just suddenly on a higher alert, more concerned and more protective of me, my physical being and my emotional wellbeing.

No one should have to get unsolicited sexual content. It greatly impacted me in the process of trying to become an elected representative.

When you are running in an election, one of your key objectives is to meet as many people in the area as possible…

© Provided by Extra.ieGerard Culhane, 43, of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassing the TD at unknown places within the State on dates between January 13, 2020 and March 26, 2020. Pic: Collins Courts

But that morning, suddenly and without warning, I was afraid for the first time. And it was more than that, but I haven’t been able to put into words really what exactly it was that I felt. Because for the first time I felt there was a real, actual risk to me. I felt it, and I couldn’t see it. I didn’t know where it was, I didn’t know what the nature of it was. Okay this was just a video, but what next? Was it just a video? Was it a precursor to something else? Was this person far away, or were they just over there? Were they crossing the road towards me?

What were they going to do? Would they be waiting for me somewhere? Was I going to be hurt? Was I going to be attacked? Was my failure to respond a tacit invitation to send more?… It was a sort of cold sense of dread no matter where I was… In my mind, whether rationally or not, this person, whoever they were, now had every opportunity to simply walk up and see me up close and be near me. And this terrified me.

I just didn’t know where it would go and I thought, I’m not putting up with this. It meant my reaction changed at home when I got another message, that my family could see the impact, that they had to ask: ‘Is it another one, it is him again?’

…The wider effect that this had was of course on my family.

By nature, my family is protective, of course, as any family is; my husband, my parents, my sister. But this shook them…

My family were concerned – for something of this nature to creep into your family, into your home, into your day-to-day life – that every time I looked at my phone at dinner, sitting on the couch watching TV with my son, out on a walk with my husband and my dogs, coffee with my mum, that they were asking “Has he messaged you again?”.’

 

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