Centre Report on the Abuse and Harassment of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and Political Staff

16 May 2024. Our Centre is pleased to share our report detailing the abuse experiences of members of the Oireachtas and political staff.

Executive Summary

In February 2024, we conducted the first ever survey in Ireland with currently serving Oireachtas members and their political staff. Our objective  was to examine the prevalence of abuse and harassment (including on-line abuse), experiences of abuse/harassment, and the impact of abuse and harassment for those who participate in political life. The survey is further intended to provide a benchmark for future studies tracking the incidence of abuse and harassment against politicians in Ireland. The survey was distributed to all 220 members of the Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann and to 580 political staff, with 61 (28%) and 200 (35%) completed questionnaires respectively.

Overall, the survey found a high prevalence of abuse against Oireachtas members (94%) and political staff (72%), with the most frequent type being the use of abusive language (52%). These incidents are having a clear negative impact on Oireachtas members and political staff, who are reporting feeling anxious and afraid (89% and 75% respectively) and have considered their role in public life (43% and 26% respectively). Additionally, 55% of Oireachtas members have increased security at home, while 60% of political staff requested increased security at constituency office. Abuse was also found to have an impact on political participation with Oireachtas members hesitating to come forward with a particular opinion (51%), avoiding engaging in a specific policy area (45%) and restricting their freedom of speech on a political issue (33%). These findings suggest the need to develop measures to improve the political climate and promote civil political discourse.

In particular, the key findings of the survey are:

Prevalence of abuse

· 94% of the Oireachtas members and 72% of the political staff who responded to the survey reported that they experienced some form of threat, harassment, abuse or violence.

· 73% of the Oireachtas members experience abuse on social media frequently and 22% occasionally.

· 36% of Oireachtas members occasionally experience abuse when socialising in a personal capacity and 35% at social events while participating as politicians.

· Almost 25% of political staff occasionally experience abuse on social media, 28% at their constituency office and 40% when canvassing for an employer.

Experiences of abuse

The most frequent types of abuse for Oireachtas members are:

· Use of abusive language (52%)

· Use of prejudicial slurs (38%)

· Publication of false information (34%)

· Comments on physical appearance (35%)

· Spread of malicious and false rumours (27%)

· Persistent unwanted telephone calls/messages (21%)

The most frequent types of abuse for Political Staff are:

· Use of abusive language (33%)

· Comments on physical appearance (13%)

· Persistent unwanted telephone calls or texts (12%)

· Prejudicial slurs (gendered, racist, homophobic) (10%)

· Malicious and false rumours (5%)

· Unwanted approaches/attempts to contact (5%)

Impact of abuse

· Incidents of abuse resulted in 89% of Oireachtas members and 75% of political staff reporting feeling anxious or afraid

· 49% of Oireachtas members increased security at home

· 45% hesitated to come forward with a particular opinion, worried about being in public and reduced social activities

· 40% reported avoiding engaging with a specific policy area

· The effects of these incidents were such that 43% of the Oireachtas member respondents reported that they have made it less likely that they will run for office in the future

· 28% of political staff requested increased security at their constituency office

· 11% feared about being physically attacked

· 10% reported suffering from serious mental and physical health impacts

· 26% of political staff reported that these incidents have made it less likely to continue in their role

Issues linked to abuse

Asked if any specific issues were related to the abuse experienced, Oireachtas members reported:

· Immigration (67%)

· Women’s Rights (47%)

· Housing/homelessness (40%)

· LGBTQ+ issues (40%)

Political staff reported the following issues connected to abuse:

· Immigration (46%)

· Housing/homelessness (40%)

· Women’s Rights (27%)

· LGBTQ+ issues (25%)

Reporting of abuse and awareness of support mechanisms

Overall, there are good levels of awareness of supports, and in particular of the Security Allowance and the Workplace Support programme, with 79% and 75% of the Oireachtas members being aware of these

· 75% of Oireachtas members have reported instances of abuse. Of these reports, 90% were submitted to the Garda

· For Oireachtas members, the main reasons for not reporting an incident were feeling it was not sufficiently serious (64%) and that they did not think that reporting would lead to any solutions (57%).

· 83% of political staff are aware of the Workplace Support Programme

· 39% of political staff have reported an instance of abuse. Of these reports, 80% were reported to the Garda and 80% to the employer

· For 67% political staff, the main reason for not reporting an incident was feeling that it was not sufficiently serious, followed by 44% thinking that reporting would not lead to a solution

Gender dimensions

Our statistical tests indicate a significant association between gender and type of abuse. In particular, women members of the Oireachtas are more likely to experience digital harassment, to be subjected to prejudicial slurs, to be threatened with sexual violence, to be sexually harassed, to receive unwanted sexual approaches and sexually explicit messages, and more likely to receive comments on their appearance.


Our statistical tests indicate that older members of the Oireachtas are less likely to experience any type of abuse.


Overall, improvements in political culture appear necessary for a broader shift towards more civil political discourse. Positive reinforcement and modelling of civil discourse are potentially likely to contribute to such a shift. Similarly, engagement with communities is likely to promote civic education and dialogue on respectful political discourse.


Tackling the high prevalence of abuse and harassment against politicians and political staff requires evidence-based policies. This in turn points to the need for further research to (i) deepen the insights gained by the present survey; (ii) provide systematic evidence on the abuse and harassment experienced over time. In this respect, the present survey can constitute a benchmark for future studies; (iii) connect the various findings from different studies on abuse and harassment in Irish political life; and (iv) develop new and innovative methodologies for the study of prevalence of abuse in political life.


Significant rates of abuse are related to social media presence, despite recent measures to deal with harmful online contents (e.g. DSA, OSMR, HHCA). In conjunction with further research on trends and patterns of abuse against politicians, more targeted efforts should be made to protect politicians from social media-enabled abuse.

The gendered nature of abuse should be addressed with specific and targeted measures and integrated in all actions to remedy or mitigate abuse. For instance, approaches to media and political literacy should incorporate the gendered dimensions of political abuse. Since women are specifically targeted, the impact of abuse on female participation in politics should be emphasised.


The survey indicated three different kinds of impact of abuse: emotional/psychological impact, impact on the political ambitions of politicians and political staff; and societal impact in terms of silencing debate on certain topics/issues. There is a need for (i) more in-depth research to explore these different kinds of impact and their broader implications; and (ii) to develop specific measures to mitigate these impacts at the level of the individuals affected and at the level of society and political culture.


Although there is good awareness of reporting mechanisms and supports, these are unevenly taken up. The development of a specific guide for reporting and seeking support may enable Oireachtas members and political staff to make the most of the resources available.

Click here for access to the full report.

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