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Saturday 3 December 2016

Sinead Ryan: Threatening a life is a crime - even if it is in cyberspace

Lorraine Higgins
Lorraine Higgins

Ironically enough since she has introduced a bill to ban cyber-bullying, I heard about the latest threats made to Senator Lorraine Higgins via her twitter account.

She chose an online forum to show the latest death threats she has received (already having been subject to others earlier this year) which included "blowing her nose off" and "fill a rat's mouth with lead".

The hate writer had even included a description of the gun he or she would use to commit the crime.

However, as it is an offence under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997, to "make to another a threat, by any means, intending the other to believe it will be carried out, to kill or cause serious harm to that other or a third person", they have already committed a crime subject to a €10,000 fine or 12 months in prison on conviction.

GESTURE

Last year, a Donegal man got two months added to his five-year sentence for aggravated burglary, for "making a cut throat gesture" and mouthing the words, "I'm going to kill you", at someone he didn't take a shine to in court.

Death threats are already a crime. But is it considered in the same vein if it's made on email or Facebook as it is in open court?

Are the authorities taking it as seriously? Are they even able to, given the added difficulty presented by anonymity?

Lorraine has been in the media over this stuff before and, having met and spoken with her on the issue, I have to question whether she should have aired it again, in a public, online forum which she is trying to have regulated or if it's just adding grist to the mill of a sad, vile and possibly mentally ill mind.

But the answer though has to be yes, as I also question the resolve of our authorities to deal with this issues.

The words "by any means" in the criminal code should clearly include all online forums, even if the Act was written before any of them really existed.

But I wonder whether the gardai have the will or means to track it through, compared say to a death threat made in a public drunken brawl witnessed by someone independently.

I'm not going to head down the gender route here, because, quite frankly, it is entirely besides the point that Lorraine is female, or indeed, a public figure.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has also been subject to similar threats, as has Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty, who had menacingly been threatened with her house being set on fire with her children inside it by a cowardly idiot.

I called Regina to see if she had prosecuted her perpetrator, given that it is a crime on our Statute books, requiring no further legislation to prosecute it.

"There's always been a few loopers - you nearly become removed from it," she told me. "But there's a line between being obnoxious and making a threat about my kids. What kind of muppet does that? But as I had no way of knowing whether it was serious or not, I had to report it."

Like many anonymous keyboard warriors, the perpetrator turned out not to be the brightest penny in the box and the guards were able to easily trace and pay him a visit.

She didn't press charges; the man claimed he "didn't think she'd take it seriously", according to gardai; he lived a very long distance from her constituency and appeared to consider it all a bit of a laugh. Regina let it go, reassured by the gardai it was over and done with.

PROSECUTED

Well that's alright then. You're a TD, you get paid a shed load of money by the taxpayer and you have to acquire a bit of a thick neck about these things.

Actually, no. Not alright. Ever. I understand Regina's position, but I would have prosecuted. The whole way.

Then again, I'm not going to be subjected to the same opprobrium for so doing. Politicians get an unmerciful bashing and put up with most of it.

In the past, I haven't hesitated from simply re-tweeting my abusers' comments and letting the mob crash down on them. B

But perhaps it will take a few actual convictions to make the case that threatening someone's life or family is a crime - even on the internet.

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