The Media And The Water Protests




Irish Independent coverage (top) and Dr Julien Mercille.

Isis, crisis and kicking against the bricks.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

The Irish establishment has reacted hysterically to popular opposition to the water charges. In an almost comical performance, the media has focused laser-like on Joan Burton’s feelings while trapped in her car and on the protests’ alleged ‘violence’. But it has turned a blind eye to the violence of austerity across the country.

We’re not supposed to talk about it because it lends direct support to the protests, but the background to the recent events is that since 2009, austerity has attacked communities, families and individuals throughout the country, and the poor and vulnerable have paid the heaviest price.

Here is a short list:

-There are now 1,230,000 people suffering from deprivation, or 27% of the population—up from 12% in 2007.
-Between 2009 and 2014, health spending was cut by a mind-boggling 27%. On top of that, we know that privatised, for-profit health care systems result in more people who die, worse care, and more money wasted, but the government is doing nothing apart from cutting even more.
-Communities have been faced with a string of cuts over 2008-2014, including:
-Violence against women programme: -38.2%
-Women’s organisations: -48.7%
-Projects for youth: -44.1%
-Community development: -43.6%
-Voluntary social housing: -50.0%
-Drugs programmes: -37.0%
-Family Support Agency: -32.5%

-The number of people sleeping rough in Dublin is at its highest since records began, having tripled in five years. There are 700 homeless children living in emergency accommodation; the number of homeless families in this situation has more than doubled in the past year.

We could go on, but the point is that it should come as no surprise that people are out in the streets trying to force politicians to back off. It would be surprising if it didn’t happen.

But we were told that the protests signaled that we in Ireland were ‘heading to an ISIS situation’, in reference to the violent fundamentalist Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. In a ‘sinister twist’, a ‘sinister fringe’ has ‘infiltrated’ and ‘hijacked’ the protests (Tom Brady, Niall O’Connor and Fionnan Sheahan, Irish Independent). The protesters are responsible for the ‘creeping anarchy’ threatening the peace by engaging in ‘rampant law-breaking and thuggery’ (Stephen O’Byrnes, Irish Times).

TD Paul Murphy has been a special target, described as a ‘ridiculous’ and ‘immature’ posh kid who is ‘privately educated’ and ‘unapologetic about the ugly antics of protesters’. The Irish Independent pictured Murphy on the front page of its Weekend Review with a big communist logo in the background. Clearly, he must be friends with Stalin, no? (Kim Bielenberg, Fionnan Sheahan, Irish Independent).

The fears of Joan Burton when trapped in her ministerial car have received an incredible degree of attention. If that passion for details was applied to the hardships of ordinary people living under austerity, there would be no secrets left about how bad austerity is as an economic strategy.We have been told that Burton was ‘abused’ and that her ‘necklace was broken’. She said ‘I was frightened’.

But if the media was serious about discussing feelings of fear and abuse, it would investigate those of the hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country suffering from deprivation, or who fear losing their jobs, or fear not to make ends meet because they lost their jobs, or fear to end up on the street because they can’t make ends meet, or fear they can’t provide for their kids because they can’t keep up anymore. Or look at those who fear death from cancer because waiting times are too long because the health care system is privatised and wasteful. Or those who fear they will have to emigrate because there are no jobs available in Ireland.

But the media cares about the interests of those in power, so it won’t talk about that. The focus is on the two hours Joan Burton spent in her car.

There has also been much talk about the ‘intimidation’ and ‘violence’ associated with the protests. There have been endless assertions that: Throwing a water balloon is violent; throwing an egg is violent; tapping on a car is violent; shaking a car is violent; intending to shake a car is violent; a megaphone is very suspicious.

The media likes to narrow it down to those questions only because it diverts attention from what really matters. It ensures that we don’t ask the questions that should be asked:

Is suicide or depression due to austerity-induced unemployment violence against the unemployed? Is lack of access to a rape crisis centre closed by cutbacks a form of violence and intimidation against victims? Is being forced into homelessness humiliation and intimidation? Is someone forced to die of cancer because of waiting lines a victim of violence? Is enforced deprivation intimidation?

The media and the establishment may reflect on those matters. Everybody else knows the answers.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at UCD and the author of The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland (Routledge).

The Media And The Water Protests (Julien Mercille,

Previously: Julien Mercille on Broadsheet

32 thoughts on “The Media And The Water Protests

    1. Jim Hacker

      Excellent bit of analysis-cuts right through the bull and spin being shoved down our throats at the mo. While I don’t condone JB being delayed by protesters I condemn the developing narrative that’s been spun since then. Especially the gradual creep in details that makes the whole protest sound like Berlin circa May 1945.

  1. scottser

    so we’re all anarchists now?
    now, where did i put my stripey jumper and roundy bomb with ‘bomb’ written on it..

  2. Gers

    Thank you Julien, that indeed needed to be said. Boycott the Indo until they start asking the right questions. And RTE too when we’re at it!

  3. Ronan

    I have no difficulty with the piece, and I’m sure there has been increased deprivation in communities all around Ireland.

    What I don’t agree with, however, is the notion that we somehow had an option. ‘Austerity’ in the context of Ireland was nothing more than the necessary row back of 7-8 years of giveaway budgets.

    1. Kevin

      That is simply false.

      7-8 years of giveaway budgets?

      Are you saying the taxpayer was ‘GIVEN’ ~€75 Billion of THEIR OWN (tax) money over 7-8 years and now that had to be redressed. That somehow we needed to give bankers €75 billion back to them?

      And we had no choice?

  4. Blonto

    Don’t jump to conclusions about the press and politicians being too pally pally. We have free and independent media outlets. It’s not too cosy. Nope. And RTE is not a state broadcaster. Ryan even said so himself so it must be true.

  5. Leaning to the centre

    The violence of austerity?
    What about the violence of Dublin traffic,
    the violence of shitty weather,
    the violence of things that look like Ireland and bad parking posts?

  6. Mayor Quimby

    amazing how a Doctorate in a non-scientific area (social”science”) means whatever you say is taken as gospel. It’s just your opinion man

  7. Mikeyfex

    Marc Coleman had him on the other night in a Tubridy-Sinead O’Connor style switcheroo because Mercille wrote a book pointing out all the wrong things commentators (including Coleman) had written in the years up to and after the crash. He gave him enough of it but unsurprisingly Coleman interrupted and spluttered all over the place.

    1. Atticus

      Really? I’m surprised he went on to the show. I’m not surprised he interrupted and spluttered throughout it though (what is the deal with that? He can’t string a sentence together without spluttering all over the place).

      Interesting that BS didn’t mention the show, especially after the two of them went toe to toe here in the comments section.

  8. Niallo

    Mans right.
    Our “system” of government is not and has not been functioning for a long time.
    The meeja are merely a propaganda instrument.
    However, I fear a change of government will do little to fix this…

  9. markgdub

    Both images come from Irish Independent, as do the majority of the quotes.

    A large shareholder of said newpaper’s parent company is Denis O’Brien.

    He also owns the water meter installation company.

    We know he has been heavy handed in his approach to bending editorial to suit him.

    So, it is a bit facile to say “Irish media” when Dr. Mercile’s research relates to Denis O’Brien’s “blog”.

  10. Paolo

    “There has also been much talk about the ‘intimidation’ and ‘violence’ associated with the protests. There have been endless assertions that: Throwing a water balloon is violent; throwing an egg is violent; tapping on a car is violent; shaking a car is violent; intending to shake a car is violent; a megaphone is very suspicious.”

    If a mob surrounds your car in Jobstown it is terrifying! End of story. People turning a blind eye to the yobs throwing bricks, threatening meter installers and spitting insults at anyone and everyone are betraying those decent people who are protesting in a peaceful and constructive way.

    1. Derval

      Maybe it’s supposed to be terrifying, dear.
      Otherwise it doesn’t communicate how angry people are at being treated like shit and having their lives stolen from them by scumbag politicians in cahoots with wealthy businessmen.

  11. Emily

    I don’t disagree with him but think it’s interesting that the media are not allowed to criticise protesters. I don’t agree with water charges but this ‘violent fringe’ (and I think that’s a good way to describe them, because it’s not all of us!) should cop on. I am angry but I don’t agree with violence, or throwing bricks, or screaming ‘you fucking bitch’ at Joan Burton while she’s locked in her car. I don’t think that’s peaceful and I think we, as a people, are better than that. And why not question Paul Murphy? Doesn’t every TD get torn apart by the media? Should he be any different? Isn’t he leading these protests that get people arrested? Should it be OK for him to be taking a government paycheck but acting like the leader of the revolution? Sinead O’Connor was bang on when she said we need a full-scale revolution but through peaceful means.

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