From top: Jobstown protest; Dan Boyle
Recently I met up with the woman who ran my constituency office. We meet far too infrequently these days. There’s often a lot of catching up to do, and many memories to reignite.
Those memories, for the most part, have been good. Recollections of characters whose personalities often frustrated us, but always entertained. Few of these people brought with them any political benefit, but that rarely mattered. We had determined that whoever came to the office we would try to help, however we could.
She was excellent at her job. I couldn’t ask for a better representative for whenever I wasn’t there. Nor could I have gained anyone more expert in those areas where we would get frequent requests – health, social welfare or housing.
Of course the memories weren’t always idyllic. Towards the end of our time in government, she became the receptacle of the public anger, and frequent abuse, for things that were not, at all, of her making.
On one occasion that anger, or use of that anger, turned into a physical threat for my Secretary. A group of Social Justice Warriors (I can’t remember which posture politics collection it was) decided one day to occupy my office. They chose to do so on discovering I wouldn’t be there.
I was elsewhere at a Green Party think-in (phones off and on the table), when events started at my office. A gang of four or five invited themselves into the building, proceeding to intimidate my secretary.
Outside of their general ignorance, they had an extremely poor understanding of who a public person was, or indeed what a public place was. My secretary felt threatened and certainly felt imprisoned, during what ended up being a six hour ordeal.
I continue to feel guilty about my negligence to her, as her employer then, in ensuring that she operated in a safe work environment. I decided not to contact the Gardaí, feeling that drawing attention to this would have been to justify the action in the eyes of the perpetrators.
I now regret not having done so. There are many legitimate reasons to protest. There are similar number of ways to engage in protesting. This flexibility should not presuppose that any form of protest, using whatever form of trite sloganeering, in whatever location, is always acceptable.
I recount this experience so that it can be contrasted with events, that have followed in the aftermath of the Jobstown trial.
There’s no denying that the response of the State in this trial – the investigating and arrest procedures of the Gardaí and the direction by the office of the Director of Public Prosecution – was completely over the top. Nor can it be argued that a certain level of vindictiveness accompanied this decision making.
The purpose of protest should be firstly to identify inequity. To highlight the failure of those with the means and resources to tackle such inequities. Ultimately the aim should be towards eliminating such inequities.
Those who engage in posture politics seek to freeze their protest at the intermediate level. Ending inequities removes the need for permanent protest.
It also eliminates the ego driven nature of some organisers of protests, where their self perception sees themselves as enemies of the establishment, but the establishment often views them as useful idiots, used to deflect more serious damage being caused to the body politic.
The questions we should be asking isn’t whether protest is legitimate, but whether it is effective.
Neglected communities in our society have seen their labour, their access to opportunities and need for resources undermined. These days it is their anger that is being abused, and not for their betterment.