Sunday 21 July 2019

Socialist TDs' defence of an aggressive rally discredits real left-wing politics

Socialist Party TDs Joe Higgins, Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger. Photo: Tom Burke
Socialist Party TDs Joe Higgins, Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger. Photo: Tom Burke
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Did you know you're an establishment stooge if you condemn aggressive protests like the one that happened in Jobstown, Tallaght, on Saturday?

It means you're vilifying the working class and casting aspersions on ordinary, decent people who are just trying to send political elites a message.

That's according to some of the commentary from the Anti-Austerity Alliance, and its supporters, in response to criticism of a protest in which Tanaiste Joan Burton was surrounded, spat at, had a water balloon thrown at her head and was trapped in her car for three hours.

If you're opposed to the sort of naked intimidation that was on display in Jobstown, it means you must be right wing, and a cheerleader for austerity and inequality, because anyone with any real left-wing credentials has no problem with those kinds of tactics.

What happened, according to Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy, was merely a reflection of the deep frustration and seething anger that exists in disadvantaged communities which have been betrayed by the Government. His party colleagues, Ruth Coppinger and Joe Higgins, have reiterated this line, and insisted that the protest was entirely peaceful.

"Joan Burton is not a victim, she is a member of the elite and the establishment of this country," said Ms Coppinger on 'Morning Ireland' on RTE Radio 1 yesterday.

The implication is that Ms Burton is fair game. That it's entirely reasonable to attack her as she goes about her business. Well, it's not -and anyone with any real left-wing credentials who didn't want to discredit left-wing politics in this country would recognise that.

If TDs like Ms Coppinger, Mr Higgins and Mr Murphy feel that intimidatory protests, like the one that happened in Jobstown, are legitimate, they should defend them on that basis. That would be an honest position to adopt.

But they haven't done that. Instead, they have insisted, despite all of the video evidence to the contrary, that what transpired was "peaceful and disciplined". Any acts of undeniable aggression that occurred, they have downplayed as being somehow separate to the protest.

While the Socialist Party TDs who have wholeheartedly defended Saturday's protest have accused the media and Government TDs of vilifying working-class communities, it is they who have disparaged them.

They have implied that people in those communities have no problem with the sort of physical intimidation that occurred. That working-class people are somehow incapable of holding a peaceful protest at which no missiles are thrown, no misogynistic abuse is hurled and no one feels unsafe.

That, to me, is deeply offensive and paints those communities in a hugely derogatory light, reinforcing negative stereotypes that may exist about working-class areas.

Mr Murphy claimed that the graduation ceremony which Joan Burton attended was not marred by the protest. He should speak to Independent Senator Katherine Zappone - whom no one could accuse of being a Government apologist - who has said she felt so fearful that she called gardai twice to ask for reinforcements. He should also speak to the college's CEO, Liz Waters, who also has no political allegiance and told Newstalk yesterday that she was terrified.

While Mr Murphy and his supporters have implied that any criticism of the ugly scenes in Jobstown amounts to a vote of confidence in the Government, this is not the case. It is not difficult to oppose the Government's austerity agenda, and the disproportionate impact of cuts on the vulnerable and marginalised, while also condemning threats and intimidation against politicians whose policies you disagree with.

It is also possible to raise queries about some aspects of the Garda response to the protests in Jobstown. Mr Murphy has claimed that children aged seven and eight were pepper-sprayed by gardai. I asked the Garda Press Office yesterday if it could confirm or deny whether this had happened. It evaded that question, saying instead that anyone with any complaints about the actions of gardai was free to contact the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission.

Video footage of a young woman, who attempted to block the Taoiseach's car on Sunday, being hurled by a number of gardai into a bollard is also concerning.

Anyone who engages in heavy-handed or aggressive actions should be equally condemned. Those in the anti-water charges campaign who criticise gardai but make excuses for protesters do a disservice to the movement and the people they purport to represent.

Irish Independent

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