Leinster House is beginning a crackdown on cranks to ensure people who continually make calls or emails to staff working in parliament can have their access cut off.
The new policy for dealing with “unreasonable behaviour” has been formulated to contend with a growing problem of individuals bombarding the Oireachtas over the phone, electronically, or even via the postal system.
A business case for the policy said it was designed to protect the “health, safety, dignity, and well-being of staff” who are forced to deal with people who make a nuisance of themselves or who find themselves the subject of vicious online abuse or trolling.
It said soundings had been taken from other government departments and public bodies who said having a policy in place helped to provide reassurance to staff that unreasonable behaviour would not be tolerated.
However, one department warned it could be quite tricky to implement as individuals could for example easily switch to using a different phone if their original number or email address was blocked.
The Oireachtas business case for the policy said they had also consulted with the Data Protection Commission over the legality of retaining the names and contact details of people who engage in crank behaviour.
It said: “The [Oireachtas] Service has a legitimate interest in processing the data and processing the data is necessary and proportionate for the performance of our functions and to help protect the health, safety, dignity and well-being of individuals at work against risks arising out of or in connection with their employment.”
A copy of the policy said the type of behaviour that was considered “unreasonable persistence” including making excessive and disproportionate demands on staff members either in writing or by phone.
It said repeated contact in which employees were dragged into “lengthy telephone calls” were also being cracked down along with “lengthy, complex letters” that demanded immediate and comprehensive responses.
Other behaviours included continued correspondence on matters that were already dealt with or demands that another staff member investigate it instead.
Attempts to obtain “copies of confidential files” or seeking personal information from staff will also be targeted as well as any effort to “overload a person or division with excessive or voluminous correspondence”.
Unreasonable or irrational arguments are also flagged including “placing too much emphasis on trivialities or focusing on immaterial or irrelevant details”.
At an even more serious level, the policy deals as well with use of physical violence or threats of violence against staff members, along with cases of bullying, harassment or the making of “derogatory, sarcastic, or defamatory remarks”. The policy said this included material posted on social media as well as “online trolling” of staff members of the Oireachtas.