Northern Ireland news

Murder of Sir David Amess an ‘attack on democracy' – Lord Dodds

Nigel Dodds survived two attempts on his life during his political career. Picture by Michael Cooper/PA Wire
Rebecca Black, PA

A veteran DUP politician who survived two attempts on his life during his political career has described the murder of MP Sir David Amess as an attack on democracy.

Lord Dodds said the murder had caused shockwaves among politicians across the UK.

“It appears completely random,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

“Why was it Jo Cox, why was it David Amess? Many hundreds of MPs hold constituency surgeries, particularly on Fridays and at weekends.

“This is an attack on democracy, not just an individual – people trying to silence and shut down political opinion and debate, democracy in the United Kingdom.”

Northern Ireland’s chief constable, Simon Byrne, has contacted elected representatives in the region to discuss their security following the murder of Sir David.

MPs gathered in the House of Commons on Monday to pay tribute to Sir David.

Lord Dodds said there was a determination across the political spectrum to “carry on and not let these people win”.

He also called for a social media crackdown on online trolls, saying that politicians, particularly women, were “abused on a daily basis”.

“It has got a lot worse and social media companies have to take responsibility and stop these anonymous trolls that whip up hate and hysteria,” he said.

“Surely now we must realise that the level of political discourse must be lowered in terms of its toxicity, the abuse here in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom as a whole. That must happen now because otherwise there are people out there who feed upon this kind of hatred to inflict awful acts such as we have seen.”

Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long said the murder of Sir David was a “reminder of the vulnerability that all of us face in public life”.

She said while work had been done around security at constituency offices since the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, politicians spent a lot of time in church halls, community centres and in the community.

“Politicians want to be available and accessible and approachable, you want to be able to have people come up to you and be able to talk to you about the issues they are concerned about, but at the same time there is always a tension there about what happens if someone comes up and they’re violent or aggressive, and you don’t really have much in terms of defence or protection,” she told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show.

Ms Long has spent 20 years in politics, and said she got her first death threat 19 years ago.

She described her car being attacked with golf balls after attending a vigil over a racist attack, as well as getting spat on, jostled and getting locked in the grounds of a church after a constituency surgery.

She also revealed that she has had to review her own security within recent weeks due to threats.

“If (something) like what happened at Sir David Amess’s office happens, it’s very difficult to see how even somebody there at the surgery could really do much to protect you. I think we have got to change the discourse around politicians if we are really going to change the way that people interact with us and hopefully understand that while we all have different views and opinions, and it’s fine to robustly challenge those views and opinions, violence against politicians ultimately is an attack on the democratic process,” she added.

Meanwhile, SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon spoke out over the weekend after staff in her North Belfast constituency office felt “harassed and intimidated” when a group of anti-vaccine protesters arrived to deliver a letter.

The PSNI is investigating the incident.

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Northern Ireland news