Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Seeing through the Jobstown spin

Has Ireland always been such a divided, class-based society?          
Protesting against Irish Water in
Galway city centre two years ago

Or is it only in recent times that people are beginning to wake up to divisions and prejudices which have existed for generations?

For centuries, our people were united by colonisation. It was far easier to band together when we had a common enemy as subjects of the British Empire, when virtually all of our ancestors were treated as second class citizens in their own land.

It’s easier to unite against your rulers when they bind you into a life of poverty, persecute you for your religious beliefs, kill your language, deny you land ownership rights or force you into exile.

Far more difficult if the “enemy” is within.

A century has passed since the martyr James Connolly warned the Irish people that their struggle for freedom would be in vain if they replaced the British Empire with a new set of landlords, financiers, and capitalists.

God knows what he would make of the Irish Labour Party in 2017.

It’s far more difficult to unite when the corrupt politician up the road is securing jobs for the boys, the dodgy Garda Sergeant is deleting penalty points for the chosen few, or your local banker throws money around like confetti because he’s on a massive bonus for handing out unsustainable mortgages.

It’s the double standards people find most sickening.

We didn’t see bankers being hauled out of their beds at dawn for bankrupting the country or teams of Gardai raiding their homes and offices to find evidence of illegal or immoral practices which cost the country billions less than a decade ago.

It took a protest movement over water of all things, specifically the privatisation of water, to open people’s eyes to the divisions among us.

People asked, rightly, why it took Irish Water to mobilise so many people to take to the streets after years of witnessing the bank ‘bailout’, the IMF-EU ‘troika’, cuts to health and mental health services, a rise in homelessness, or the imposition of the unjust Universal Social Charge.

Celebrating the Jobstown acquittals in Dublin on Saturday
For many, though, Irish Water came as the final straw. They were sickened to see the people at the top on such massive pay scales, the perception that metering contracts were being allocated to the ‘golden circle’, and that yet another unfair tax was being imposed on ordinary people who just couldn’t take it any more.

It was amazing to attend the huge Irish Water demonstrations across the country, even in conservative Galway, and to see people who had never been galvanised before come together at street protests for the first time.

Nobody expected the campaign against water charges to attract such huge support and, clearly, it was troubling to the people at the top of Irish society to see so many people travel from all over Ireland to bring our capital to a standstill.

By the time a group of protesters sat down in front of a Minister’s car at Jobstown, in West Dublin, the State had become alarmed. Irish Water was in a mess, the State wanted a way out, and the Government was looking for ways to smear the protest campaign.

By blocking a Minister’s car or hurling abuse at the President, protesters could be denigrated and labelled as the “sinister fringe”.

And there’s no doubt that some of the abuse directed at politicians damaged the protest campaign as well as scaring more moderate protesters away.

Videos were circulated of people using foul language against politicians which should have no place in the political sphere. Tensions were high, as people accused the Irish Labour Party of betraying the working class in a way which would have had James Connolly spinning in his grave.

There was no excuse for personalised abuse against the then Tanaiste, Joan Burton, but did Gardai really need to raid the home of a democratically elected politician in the dark of night?

No matter what people think of Paul Murphy, he has a mandate to serve the people who elected him and he could easily have been called in for questioning as he made his way to the Dail. It’s not like the Gardai didn’t know where he worked.

A stark warning from James Connolly,
heroic leader of the Easter Rising
Did the Gardai really need arrive in a fleet of cars to haul a 15-year old boy out of his bed at dawn?

They could have talked to him on his way home from school, but they wanted to make some sort of statement in front of his family, neighbours, and friends.

That boy spoke brilliantly about his right to protest afterwards and about the perception among his neighbours after witnessing the blue flashing lights descend upon his home.

Did Gardai really need to hype up the evidence, when it was clearly contradicted by so many people who had video cameras at the scene?

Did they really need to charge people with “false imprisonment” when in fact they just sat down on a road in front of a Minister’s car and caused her some inconvenience for a few hours?

Much has been made since of the fear experienced by Joan Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connelly when they were allegedly trapped in two Garda cars for three hours in Jobstown in November 2014.

People talked of the “terror” they experienced, which seemed to be in stark contrast with the reality captured on photos and videos at the scene.

With some honourable exceptions, few people in the media have asked about the fear experienced by people who took part in a sit down protest and ended up facing a charge which had a possible penalty of life imprisonment.

Few have asked about the inconvenience and cost involved in a ten week trial when the evidence seen by the jury was clearly so at odds with the claims of some witnesses on behalf of the prosecution.

With Chas Jewett, one of the leaders of the
Standing Rock protest in the United States

Few have defended the legitimate right of people like Paul Murphy TD to protest against what they saw as an unjust charge, even though there was no excuse for banging on the Tanaiste's windows or the foul language used.

“There are lots of ordinary people around the country who are delighted by the verdict,” said Deputy Murphy at a meeting in Galway this week. “The establishment cannot take it when they are beaten by ordinary people.

“Ordinary people have been able to see through the lies. There has been no reference to us as victims, the fact that ordinary people were arrested and handcuffed at dawn in front of their own children.”

He pointed out that the defendants were fortunate others had filmed the protest, because it was video evidence which undermined the prosecution case.

“I think the mainstream media response to the Jobstown trial has been helpful because it shows how out of touch they are. It’s a case of ‘them against us’ and we live in a completely divided society.”

There clearly were some unsavoury elements to the protest which caused Ms Burton and her adviser to be detained against their will for three hours.

But charging people with false imprisonment – and threatening them with life in prison – was so out of kilter with what really happened that afternoon at Jobstown that the jury did not need to be swayed by social media or anything else to see through the smoke and mirrors.

Had James Connolly been around to accompany Joan Burton to Jobstown, there is little doubt as to which side he’d have been on.

Burying Irish Water during a protest in Galway city centre
a couple of years ago
“I thought the Brits were bad but, I’ll tell you what, that lot in the Dail are worse,” said Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six when the Jobstown defendants celebrated their acquittals with a rally in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

A simplistic slogan, perhaps, from a man who knows far too much about injustice, but doubtless he is not the only Irish person to feel like the impoverished animals looking in on the pigs at the end of ‘Animal Farm’.

Have Connolly’s dire warnings come true, a century on from Ireland’s uprising against our own version of Farmer Jones?

Blog post from 2015: Protest has a vital place in a healthy democracy http://ciarantierney.blogspot.ie/2015/02/protest-has-vital-place-in-healthy.html

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook at http;//facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia

Find Ciaran's website: http://ciarantierney.com

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