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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Picketing of Private Residences

Senator McDowell has spoken very eloquently on the thrust of the Bill and I commend Senator Byrne for bringing this forward. I also have sympathy and agree with the intention and thrust of the Bill. All persons should be able to live in their homes at peace and without fear of abuse, attack and harassment. Some people have spoken about us as politicians, as if we are some sort of precious beings within these Houses. However, we have county councillors throughout this country who are also having their homes attacked. I am thinking of Councillor Vincent Jackson in Dublin where protesters turned up at his house a couple of weeks ago. He was not at home at the time, and he is a foster parent on top of being a parent himself. One can imagine the vulnerability of those children within those four walls on that particular night. People have to think about the consequences when they turn up. They do not know whether that politician could be looking after an elderly parent, or a child with disabilities, so people need to think carefully when they turn up to a person's home.We also have Councillor Eugene McGuinness in Kilkenny. He had his car attacked and his windows broken last week. These are very serious incidents where people think they can turn up to politicians' homes and cause damage. I believe there is CCTV footage of the second incident and I hope gardaí apprehend and charge those individuals who committed that crime.This Bill does not do what it intends to do. Section 2, which outlines the offences, prohibits targeted protests within 200 m of any residential dwelling, rather than a dwelling that houses, is believed to house, or is owned by the target of the protest. Of course, this is nonsense and would likely prohibit protests outside Leinster House or Department buildings, or maybe protests would have to held some place in a field in Kildare or Leitrim. The figure of 200 m is way too high.People tend to be poor at estimating distance. From Leinster House 200 m takes one physically into Merrion Square Park or onto the Trinity campus. If one were in the canteen 200 m possibly takes one onto Stephen's Green. That might need to be looked at. Somewhere between 20 m and 50 m would be much more appropriate.The Bill needs quite a lot of work. I would like to see tighter provisions and protections for the right to assembly and freedom of speech included within the Bill, while also criminalising the threatening behaviour, which we have all condemned, directed at individuals and their families.As regards our Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, returns, I have not put down my home address. I told them I cannot put down my home address because I foster children. I do not want the children I foster to be in an unsafe space. I have had the parents of some of those children writing to me here, and at my office address. My personal home is not on my SIPO returns and I have told them why I cannot have it on my SIPO returns while I am fostering. I am trying to protect the children. It is nothing to do with Sharon Keogan and where she lives. That is immaterial as far as the public is concerned. The children I take care of are more important to me than any protester. If someone wants to come and protest he or she can protest outside my office. I have already had it burned down. You can knock yourself out if you want to come and protest at my office. I believe in free protest and people's right to protest, but I think the family home needs to be off the market.

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