I’ve spent a long time getting my head around the incident involving Joan Burton in Jobstown last year. She and her staff were accosted by a large group of people who were protesting against the introduction of water charges. This culminated in her being trapped in her car for a considerable amount of time. One of the protesters was Paul Murphy TD. Charges have now been brought against Murphy and several other protestors.
Full disclosure, I’m a member of Fine Gael. I support water charges and have paid mine. Also, I have little time for the far left. On the other hand, I hope my party loses at least twenty seats because of how the introduction of the water charges was handled. Spectacular incompetence merits a spectacular punishment. Further, I have little respect for Burton herself, who seems to relish appeasing the right wing of my party more than her own voters.
All that being said, my initial response to that incident was to name it an attack and hope the law would come down like a ton of bricks on those who attacked her. It was an emotional response and is revealing of who I am and what my values and prejudices are.
What are those values and prejudices?
-I dislike Paul Murphy intensely, but it is an emotion I don’t have for the far left in general. I have no illusions about my party being in the van of those tackling fascism if that disease ever infects this country. It’ll be the far left, kicking ass and taking names. And the far left do have a habit of pointing out that capitalism is absurd. It is important for those of us who defend capitalism to hear that, because capitalism is indeed absurd and cruel and wasteful. It is incumbent upon us then, to ameliorate that intrinsic absurdity and have good arguments for why this awful thing is better than the utopia promised by the far left.
-I dislike and fear mobs, whatever their ideology. I have certain ideas about what constitutes an appropriate protest. It should not have to resort to violence to make the point that pure numbers should. Yes, that might contradict my previous point and it opens me up to accusations of conservatism. Both are true, but only to a degree.
-If Big Phil Hogan had been in the car, and not Joan Burton, would my emotional response have been different? Unfortunately I think it would have. I fear I am not as free from sexism as I’d assumed I was. That’s something I have to own and work on.
-Then there’s my hypocrisy. Would I have cared as much if the person attacked was Gerry Adams or Nigel Farage. Almost certainly not. Well actually, no ‘almost’ about it. I would now be using the same euphemisms currently used by Murphy’s supporters; disruption, inconvenienced, blockade, sit-down protest etc.
-Fear and confusion. That attack scared me. I wasn’t even there and it scared me. And it confused me because a citizen should not be impeded by a mob, but the last thing I want to see is the Gardai wading into a situation with jolly abandon. Yes, I’m a woolly-headed liberal as well.
-And finally disgust at the government I voted for and support, being so incompetent and tone deaf regarding the introduction of water charges. I on the one hand, want this Fine Gael and Labour government reelected at the next election, but I want them also to pay a huge price for how poorly they’ve dealt with this issue.
That is the emotional part. It doesn’t even touch on my cynicism. I don’t want the protesters jailed purely because it might hurt FG and Labour electorally.
In the end, I fear this issue comes down to a clash of opinions. I can say what I like about what happened in Jobstown, but it won’t influence a single person. Because I suspect I am not alone in reacting emotionally to it. And then convinced ourselves that our emotional response is both rational and correct. So I’ve gotten my head around it, but the rest of me still isn’t sure.