Editorial: Online abuse by anonymous republicans happens without scrutiny
The Irish health minister Stephen Donnelly says that Sinn Fein have weaponised social media. The Fianna Fail politician said: "I believe they have had a very sophisticated campaign for many, many years now." Sinn Fein responded that this was nonsense and said that its politicians have not faced threats, but also “serious attacks".
The extent to which SF has any control over the array of anonymous republican accounts on Twitter, for example, is unclear. It denies any such influence. But whatever the source of these accounts they have no equal in Northern Ireland in terms of their scale and the ferocity of their abuse, and the speed with which they pile on hatred to individuals who criticise them, above all towards unionist voices and representatives.
The abuse of female politicians such as Carla Lockhart MP is well documented but often victims have lower profiles, or none. IRA victims are targeted too, such as Ann Travers and Anne Graham, both of whom lost siblings to its terror.
If comparable packs of online abusers in Northern Ireland swarmed on groups such as ethnic minorities spraying abuse on them it would rightly cause an outcry. Yet this republican digital onslaught passes with barely any scrutiny.
Who can be surprised that yet another Orange Hall has been attacked (this time a repeated target, in Keady). When unionists have been demonised as bigots for so long and in so many forums, now on internet platforms, by those whose bigotry in fact knows no rival, it is little wonder that youngsters think of unionism as deserving at best verbal or written abuse, the vandalism of their property, and at worst human violence.
Republicans pose as progressives, but are extreme nationalists with extreme prejudices, unembarrassed about, indeed proud of, a violently sectarian past.