Belfast Telegraph

Jo had an amazing smile that filled the room... her death is a harsh reminder of the risks politicians face on a daily basis

DUP man remembers a parliamentary colleague who always fought for her beliefs and says the demonisation of public representatives is party to blame for her murder

By Ian Paisley

The murder of Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, is utterly tragic. The thought of a caring young woman and mother doing her public service and being brutally murdered is appalling on every level imaginable. The compassionate words of her husband are a beautiful witness of how good will always triumph over evil.

I met Jo shortly after she took her seat in 2015. She had an amazing smile that filled the room and was an incredibly pleasant and energetic MP who got stuck right in from the get-go to make her mark. I spoke to her just a few days ago in the chamber and asked her how campaigning was going in her constituency. She was typically enthusiastic about the cause she believed in.

In Northern Ireland we are probably, in a sick way, more exposed to the reality of public attacks on political and other public servants. We have seen a number of our MPs, councillors and other elected representatives gunned down over the decades, while other public servants in the police, fire and ambulance service and civil service and judiciary were wrongly regarded as "legitimate targets".

Thankfully, those days are largely gone, though some of us still live with the threat of attack just because of who we are or the job we do. And today, while one form of terrorism may have gone, another terrorism of an Islamic nature poses fresh challenges and threats to us.

I am a member of Parliament's Speaker's Advisory Panel on Security. I am one of a small number of MPs and peers who sit on this private committee, along with the director of security and other intelligence and security experts whose job it is to consider security issues as they affect parliament and its members.

It would surprise many people just how vulnerable parliament and parliamentarians are and the sort of threats that we face weekly and that need to be addressed. For obvious reasons, I can't go into the details of what our committee considers, but in the past year we have had to reissue to all MPs and peers and their staff fresh security advice and put in place a new security arrangement available to MPs at homes and offices so as they can have more protection. Yesterday, we reissued a handbook on security precautions as a reminder to MPs of actions and precautions that they should be taking on a daily basis.

No MP wants to be so shielded from the public that they cannot be approached. In fact, the very nature of our democracy is that we are the voice of our public, and so we must be open and accessible to the public. The very reason why my colleague Jo Cox was so easily murdered was because of that openness. Being a man or woman of the people means that you are amongst the people, and, unfortunately, that means some of the very nasty people want to use the vulnerability to strike.

In the weeks ahead we will find out more about the nature of the person who murdered Jo Cox. But we all know it had nothing to do with anything legitimate. It was totally wrong and without one piece of logic or legitimacy.

We have seen other attacks and threats made towards MPs via social media by trolls. Indeed, there isn't a single day that goes past where I don't have to block a troll on social media because the public we live amongst thinks that because you are a public representative it gives them the right to abuse you with filthy language and horrible sentiments and abusive allegations.

Why is our society like this and are we likely to see more of this occurring? My view is that we are witnessing the extension of years of abuse of public representatives that makes this sort of murderous attack almost inevitable. After all, if for decades the public are fed a diet of stories that says public representatives are nothing but scum who are all in it for themselves and who really only get reported when a mistake in their actions can be identified no matter how much good they have done, then little wonder some crackpots think politicians should be attacked.

Let's face it, the Labour Party were not exactly at the front of the referendum campaign, which has largely been regarded as a Tory versus Tory event. So the idea that Labour politicians would be in the frontline over that issue seems hardly plausible. But if an extremist hears all MPs are nothing but useless cockroaches on society who all in it for themselves, then who can legislate for what might happen?

I know every week my colleagues and I issue tons of press statements and other public statements about an extensive range of issues. Most are completely ignored by the media. But if one issue of controversy arises that is, in the scheme of things, insignificant, you can trust the Press to be all over it like a rash and pushing it to the very extreme.

It's quite a sad reflection on our news outlets that the only thing they think sells is this type of reporting. Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming the media for this murderous attack. But I am suggesting that the nature of the dog-eat-dog world that they feel is easier to report has created the political atmosphere that gives oxygen to those who feel emboldened to abuse and attack and, in the extreme case, murder, politicians.

Perhaps in the weeks ahead we will start to see the emergence of a change in the nature of how politicians are reported and a new climate of respect for them. We are doing a largely thankless job for the motivation of public service. Certainly not for the money or the plaudits. However, I won't hold my breath. The sympathy will quickly give way to the snide remarks and the cynical viewpoint once more.

  • Ian Paisley MP is a member of Speaker's Advisory Panel on parliamentary security

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