Thursday 21 February 2019

Acolytes of Jobstown cult doth protest too much...

Using the acquittal of the 'Jobstown Six' as ammunition, the Left are trying to reduce politics to the level of a social media fight

Paul Murphy: Most people don't like what they have seen Photo: Collins Courts
Paul Murphy: Most people don't like what they have seen Photo: Collins Courts

Eilis O'Hanlon

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy seems to be on a one-man mission to prove Andy Warhol wrong. In the future, the New York pop artist predicted, everybody would be famous for 15 minutes.

Murphy's 15 minutes have been used up multiple times. Once exhausted, he simply gets a new supply to keep his face in the news.

He had his 15 minutes when he sat down in front of former Tanaiste Joan Burton's car in Jobstown in November 2014, then brandished a megaphone to negotiate the conditions under which she would be allowed to leave.

Murphy had another 15 minutes of fame when he was charged with false imprisonment as a result of that protest, and a further 15 minutes when he went on trial along with the rest of the group known then as the Jobstown Seven.

Currently he's stretching out his latest 15 minutes after being cleared on all charges following a two-month trial which he appears to believe is one of the great injustices of our time. Lord alone knows how much Paul Murphy would have milked it if he'd been found guilty. The country would never have heard the end of it.

Last Wednesday's grandstanding performance in the Dail during questions to the Taoiseach was his latest bid for celebrity victimhood. Murphy rose to his feet and launched into another of those Single Transferable Speeches that the Left loves so much, accusing the guards of engaging in a conspiracy of such labyrinthine malice that it makes the "9/11 was an inside job" crowd look like amateurs in comparison. He even used Dail privilege to state that "numerous gardai lied under oath" and had an "agreement to commit perjury".

Those comments have been referred to the Committee on Procedure by the Ceann Comhairle, who was concerned that they may have crossed a legal line.

Murphy, together with fellow Solidarity TDs Ruth Coppinger and Mick Barry, has in turn complained to the Ceann Comhairle about the Taoiseach's use of the word "thuggery" in relation to the Jobstown protest, claiming this is defamatory. The irony of complaining about being maligned in the chamber while using Dail privilege to malign members of An Garda Siochana evidently escapes him.

Irish politics has never been more ill-tempered and divisive. The question is whether the mood of public debate is so nasty right now because the issues on which different sides disagree have never been more urgent and schismatic, or whether the way in which the debate is being conducted is creating, at the very least encouraging, that air of vindictive dogmatism.

Listening to Paul Murphy and others sound off from the opposition benches last week, reinforcing one another's self-pitying, self-aggrandising view of the world, it's hard not to conclude that this whole Jobstown story has become the political equivalent of one of those arguments on social media.

It has the same "more heat than light" quality; the same reduction of complex issues to slogans and slanging matches. Not only is the Left adept at using social media to whip up hysteria among their more frenzied supporters, they're now going a step further by trying to bring down Irish politics itself to the simplistic level of a Facebook spat, where emotion wins out over reason every time. It's all about who can make the most noise and grab the biggest headlines.

We've already seen what's been dubbed the "twitterisation" of news. Now we're seeing the twitterisation of politics, in which conflict is an end in itself, and everyone who agrees with the speaker is a saint, and everyone who disagrees is a devil or, more likely, Hitler.

It's been going in that direction for a while now. Even the way that Left deputies sat in the Dail last year wearing identical sweatshirts with the word "Repeal" on the front was another way of trying to transform complicated policy issues such as the future of the Eighth Amendment on abortion into little more than emotive hashtags.

Arguments are reduced to memes. Nuance is replaced by emojis. Everything is abbreviated, simplified, shriller, sillier.

They knew that political slogans are not permitted in the Dail, any more than advertising. If deputies can wear anything they like to promote their current campaigns, then why not allow companies to sponsor TDs to wear ties advertising chocolate bars or breakfast cereals as well? The rules can't be different for them just because they think they have right on their side. Everybody thinks they're right.

It's not only populists on the Left who are dumbing down political discourse. Donald Trump also appears to believe that being US president is a distraction from his main occupation as an internet troll. The rot is coming from the top down. Sensationalism is king.

The Left may wish to paint the Jobstown trial as one of the great scandals of our time. Unfortunately for them, most people can tell the difference between being found not guilty and behaving with basic decency. Paul Murphy wishes the fact that he was cleared of charges of false imprisonment led inevitably to a conclusion that he and his fellow protesters acted with heroic, noble decorum that day in 2014.

He knows that unless he gets public backing on the second point, then he will have failed in the primary aim of gaining control of the narrative of what happened that day. His problem is that the public is having none of it. They accept absolutely that he is not guilty of false imprisonment, because that's what a jury of his peers concluded after weighing all the evidence; but they also know that he was part of something unsavoury that day, and no slogans will change that. The Left won the legal battle, but it didn't win the moral argument. That goes on, and they're losing it.

The Taoiseach got that pitch perfect in his response, telling Murphy: "You are not a victim here… You had a fair trial and you were acquitted, but that doesn't mean your behaviour was right."

Basically he was saying: "You got what you wanted, so stop pretending that you aren't loving it."

Doesn't that sum up where most of us are at with this whole sorry saga? That's what the Left is spectacularly failing to grasp.

They might have the power to turn politics into a glorified Twitter catfight for a while, but they haven't learned the deeper lesson of social media, which is that, the more extreme and intemperate the argument becomes, the more inflated the claims of conspiracy and corruption, the more that ordinary people turn away and decide that this pressure-cooker atmosphere is not for them. The silent majority goes, well, silent.

Social media is daily confirming the adage that there's nothing to be gained from mud wrestling with pigs because you only get dirty and, anyway, the pigs like it.

Politics is going the same way. This silent majority looks at the way debate is being conducted and concludes: You're welcome to it, we have better things to be doing with our time.

It's not that they've changed their point of view. If anything, it's been confirmed.

They simply stop arguing with you. Because there's no point. They'll be shouted down, hollered at, drowned out. Why put yourself through the ordeal? These are the people to whom the Taoiseach was speaking last week, no matter how much Solidarity deputies might object to the specific words that he used.

Paul Murphy's actions at Jobstown may have broken no laws, but most people didn't like what they saw regardless. It's not a class issue. It's not about the right to protest. They just didn't think what Joan Burton and her female assistant were put through was right.

The acolytes of the cult of Jobstown are overplaying their hand, and they're doing so because, in the squashed, mean little echo chamber where they hide from awkward reality, the reverberation of their own voices is easily mistaken for the approving roar of a crowd.

Sunday Independent

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