Saturday 3 December 2016

Radio: Katie's courage is a true light in the darkness

Published 22/11/2015 | 02:30

SIPTU general president Jack O'Connor
SIPTU general president Jack O'Connor

'We were enjoying the concert. We were saying to each other throughout the night, you couldn't get over how many people were there, how diverse they were… how happy and relaxed the atmosphere was."

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Those are the words of Katie Healy, who attended a gig at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris last Friday. Sounds nice, doesn't it? Under normal circumstances, Katie would be talking about some funny incident or minor annoyance from her night out to Shane Coleman, filling in on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 10am).

Instead, she was at the centre of a real-life nightmare and barely escaped with her life, as Islamist terrorists stormed the venue and cold-bloodedly executed dozens of people. Fun turned to horror in an instant, with Katie giving this chilling account: "I felt a splash on my shoulder and was covered with something. I turned to David to say, 'Did someone spill a drink?' Then I realised there was gunfire. It was that simple. People were getting shot around us. We fell to the ground, David covered me and the shooting just didn't stop."

Her boyfriend David, though wounded himself, bravely shielded Katie. But as she admitted, it wasn't even his heroics which saved her. The terrifying fact is, the pair are still alive through "pot luck", as the murderers passed them by. She added: "There's no way that we should be standing here today."

This was difficult to listen to, and difficult for Katie to tell. But she showed tremendous courage in bearing witness to the crimes of barbaric losers that she rightly called "cowards". Her humanity, guts and big-heartedness were a credit to herself, her family and, yes, the culture which shaped her.

Sadly, not everyone acquitted themselves so well. Saturday with Claire Byrne (Radio 1, 1pm) had a round-table discussion about Paris, getting off to a solid start with the well-informed Tom Clonan.

Things began to wobble when Mick Wallace came on to justify his infamous tweet - made while the massacre was going on, remember - but that wasn't the worst part. Wallace is a joke anyway; the fact he was even elected is embarrassing, and he often seems to speak before his mind has woken up.

The real low-point was the performance of anti-austerity hero Paul Murphy and Siptu lifer Jack O'Connor. Both described the attacks as barbaric, but some of their other remarks really stuck in the craw. Literally within his opening sentences, after a few lines of sympathy for the dead and dying, Murphy declared: "It is true to say that Isis is a Frankenstein creation of Western imperialism."

Now I can understand, while still abhorring, terrorist killings for political reasons. But how in the name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi can Western interference ever, in any way, be used by Isis as reason or justification for mass rape, infanticide, sectarian genocide, slavery, crucifixion et cetera et cetera. Crucifixion, for God's sake!

Hold up, though, this wasn't the worst of it. Jack O'Connor didn't even get past his first sentence before going: "We'd have to be very concerned about the degree to which xenophobic forces on the right would exploit this situation." Paul also pontificated: "The main thing I'm concerned about now is the backlash against migrants and Muslims."

Really, this is your first instinct? I agree the mass of Muslims aren't to blame for this, and shouldn't have to apologise for Isis. But is it normal, in the event of a horror show like Paris, that one's primary concern is some hypothetical backlash that probably won't take place? I don't know if Paul and Jack have been paying attention, but catastrophes like last Friday, and Charlie Hebdo in January, actually are happening. In real-life. Anti-Muslim sentiment, while no doubt genuine, hasn't erupted in violence, bar a few small incidents, despite huge provocation. (Note: provocation is not justification.)

But hang on, we still haven't plumbed the absolute depths. O'Connor swiftly moved on to, "Europe and the West has been on the wrong side of the debate about what is, since the Holocaust, the biggest single crime being committed in the world ­- what has unfolded in relation to Palestine."

He actually said that: the biggest single crime in the world. This after 70 years of Pol Pot, Pinochet, Vietnam, Mao, Saddam, the Balkans… oh, and who are that shower of savages destroying the Middle East? Oh yeah, Isis.

This is on the point of moving past obnoxious wrong-headedness, into outright insanity. When did socialists become so wilfully dumb and blind? Ideology always trumps reality and humanity, no matter what the circumstances. Was it always like that? George Orwell would beg to differ. Dozens are in critical condition - so technically, victims are still dying - while Murphy and O'Connor come out with this garbage. It was despicable, nauseating and some other words I'd like to use but won't. Instead we'll play a word game. Rearrange these terms in the correct order: odious clowns, what a pair of, throw up, they'd make you.

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