Irish Republican News · December 28, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Coalition targets internet critics


The 26-County government has been accused of planning to introduce censorship and free speech ‘chilling’ measures following the tragic death last week of Fine Gael’s junior minister at the Department of Agriculture, Shane McEntee.

It is believed that Mr McEntee came under heavy criticism in the aftermath of last month’s unprecedented austerity budget announcement, and that this may have contributed to his shock suicide near his home in County Meath.

The current government has recently tapped into a wellspring of public anger not seen since the collapse of the previous Fianna Fail/Green Party government, when ministers were routinely spat upon and shouted at by members of the public. Fine Gael and Labour politicians have been excoriated for their austerity attacks on Ireland’s poorest while preserving their own salaries, expenses and pensions, which are among the highest in Europe.

At one time Mr McEntee enjoyed strong personal popularity in his Meath East constituency. But a tsunami of anger over government cutbacks were fuelled by comments he made on highly controversial cuts to respite care services.

In December’s announcements of the state’s fiscal plans for next year, it was revealed that the annual grant to those receiving respite care -- state assistance for those caring for terminally ill family members -- would be cut by 300 euro to 1,375 euro.

Mr McEntee told a newspaper interviewer that: “You could stay in a top hotel for 700 euro a week,” adding: “People just have to get on with it.”

His remark fuelled a torrent of personal abuse, while Fianna Fail described it as “callous and crass”.

At his funeral, there were suggestions that the trenchant criticism, as well as condemnation of his department’s failure to tackle a disease killing Irish Ash trees, came as a grave psychological blow.

Speaking at the funeral, Gerry McEntee particularly pointed the figure at internet commentators.

“Shame on you people who made comments online -- I hope you are not proud of what you have achieved,” he said.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton, a friend of Mr McEntee, called for an end to the practice of text messages being read out on TV and radio without those who sent them in being publicly identified. Another government figure, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, told state-run radio this week that his government wants to “control the internet”.

The various statements have been viewed with concern by free speech activists, who compared the proposals to moves recently announced by the Chinese government to declare certain blogs “illegal”.

Green Party TD Dan Boyle said he couldn’t take Fine Gael suggestions on anonymous comments seriously, as Fine Gael had long encouraged party members to contact radio stations with pro-government comments.

“Fine Gael has long run campaigns of ‘ordinary’ people texting,” he said.

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© 2012 Irish Republican News