Demonising Dissent


STJulien Mercille hi resFrom top: yesterday’s Sunday Times editorial and Dr Julien Mercille

It’s Monday.

It’s Beefcake O’Clock.

It’s Mercille on Monday

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

An important report on the anti-water charge movement was released last week, written by Rory Hearne from Maynooth University. It surveyed 2,556 people and concluded that Ireland is witnessing the ‘birth of a new civil society’, an important development.

The most significant consequence of the anti-water charge protests is that they are democratising the country. This is why elites are worried and have reacted hysterically: they want this popular movement repressed, and quickly.

There is nothing surprising in this. Power always fears real democracy, in which people have a say over what affects their lives. It directly threatens power systems where decisions are taken at the top and imposed on the population.

Yesterday, in yet another example of elites’ hatred of real democracy, the editors of the Sunday Times wrote a revealing piece entitled ‘Politicians “of the People” Doth Protest Too Much’.

They are dismayed that the Dail, ‘the institution responsible for drafting laws which the citizens are expected to obey is increasingly populated by individuals who believe such laws do not apply to them’.

They are appalled that some public representatives, let alone ordinary people, dare challenge government policy and power. They state that ‘this lawless attitude is spreading like a virus, particularly among the “can pay, won’t pay” brigade’, referring to the anti-water charge movement.

The notion of a ‘virus’ spreading and ‘infecting’ the country is a recurrent theme among the powerful. It is code for saying, ‘we need to smash this resistance movement to our rule, otherwise, others could get ideas and join the protests, and we’ll lose control and be kicked out of power’.

That’s how dictators in the Middle East were thinking during the Arab Spring. That’s what demonising Syriza by European and Irish elites is about. That’s what the US war on Vietnam and elsewhere to prevent ‘dominoes’ from falling was about, and there are countless other examples past and present. The point is always the same: don’t give oxygen to incipient protest movements, or they could spread like wildfire.

The editors give a few examples of those they want to see put in their place:

Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, for attempting to search US military airplanes at Shannon airport and refusing to pay their €2,000 fine.

Joan Collins, for being one of 15 people arrested at a protest against the installation of water meters. The editors were outraged that after being released from garda custody, ‘she didn’t go to work—she returned to the protest’.

Richard Boyd Barrett, Tommy Broughan, Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty, for announcing they will not pay their water charges.

And as always, Paul Murphy, who declared, ‘I’m elected to break the law’.

The editors’ conclusion is that such TDs have ‘nothing to offer other than protest’ and that ‘Sinn Fein and a raggle-taggle bunch of left-wing independents are addicted to populism and publicity stunts. They are nowhere near ready to govern, and voters in search of a stable government should reflect on that’.

Another thing we could reflect on is the extreme aversion of elites to democracy and people power. Before anyone says this is conspiracy theory, re-read the above paragraphs: it’s not a conspiracy, it is stated explicitly.

The establishment has indeed good reasons to be worried, as revealed by the survey’s key findings:

54% of respondents had never protested before joining the anti-water charge movement.

This means that the water protests have overcome and eliminated atomisation: people do not feel they’re just alone being frustrated and know there are some channels formed to organise and voice their discontent.

Everybody is aware that people around the country are opposed to Irish Water. In November, more than 100 local Right2Water protests took place in Ireland, gathering over 150,000 people. A third of households liable for water charges still have not registered.

No matter the outcome of the water protests, the human and institutional networks formed will outlast them and serve to organise other campaigns on other issues. This is why the current movement is so significant.

– The main reasons for protesting are that ‘austerity has gone too far’, the need to ‘stop the future privatisation of water’ and to ‘abolish water charges’.

This may sound obvious, but it may still come as a surprise to some politicians so out of touch with popular aspirations that it’s almost comical.

For example, the Labour Party’s Eamon Gilmore declared not so long ago that he could not understand the protests, saying: ‘Well I find them hard to understand because in fact the water meters are being installed to enable households to reduce what they will have to pay’.

Go figure. War is Peace, Freedom is Salvery, and Water Meters Save you Money.

92% said they wouldn’t pay their water charges and 83% said they would vote for broadly left parties in the next election, including the Anti-Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit, independents, and Sinn Fein.

A clear majority said they had voted for government parties in 2011 but would not repeat that mistake again. 78% said the most effective way of changing things in this country is through protesting, against only 28% who said it is by contacting a political representative, pointing to the high level of disillusion about the political class.

In short, if there’s one thing that unites this country, it is lack of trust in the political class. Organising the protests into an effective force for change will remain an ongoing challenge, but with potentially far-reaching consequences for real democracy in Ireland.

@JulienMercille is lecturer at UCD and the author of The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland (2015, Routledge). His new book, Europe’s Treasure Ireland (Palgrave), will be out in July 2015.

53 thoughts on “Demonising Dissent

  1. fluffybiscuits

    The elites are doing their level best to stifle the water protestors. Policing has become political and the jackboots are on the ground to carry out the blueshirt wishes

    1. Jonotti

      Political policing.

      Were just missing fat cat bankers and DOB controlled media and it would be BINGO.

      1. yrtnuocecnareviled

        We’re paying the piper.
        A man who doesn’t even pay tax here calls the tune.
        Dance Enda, Dance!

  2. GOS

    This series of Monday posts really doesn’t add to Broadsheet. It’s not informative and adds nothing not available on many other sites.

    In the first para it refers to an ‘important’ survey by Dr Rory Hearne. It’s not an ‘important’ survey. If you’re going to be all about truth then state the full affiliation/position of the people you quote. He’s a PBP candidate and his survey is not, from what can be gleaned online, something which has gone through academic procedures to ensure objectivity in design, execution and reporting.

    And irrespective of whether he was correct in defending himself against being a false-booster of the economy, Dan O’Brien’s point about transparency in data from those claiming academic credibility for their work stands unrefuted.

    Piketty made his data freely available which led to ferocious attacks, and equally strong defences leading to a more robust and influential outcome.

    1. Mr. T.

      To process this comment, please select from one of the following options:

      I am a:

      1. Banker
      2. Member of Fine Gael
      3. Greedy business type who dodges their tax
      4. Someone who never pays their suppliers
      5. A pawn in the capitalist game who thinks a suit makes them important
      6. Works in a PR company dedicated to countering popular opinion
      7. Member of Fine Gael Youth

      1. GOS

        None of the above and very amused by the idea that a restrained comment on a piece that is designed to engage constructive comment could inspire someone to be so arrogantly dismissive.

        As long as you think that anyone who disagrees with you is the devil you’ll continue to fail to persuade people.

    2. Sham Bob

      Well the Sunday Times editorial pictured is behind a paywall, so that’s one thing it’s adding that’s not available on other sites.

  3. Drogg

    It is embarrassing that this government is holding on when they know they should just call an election. People don’t want them in power, it was the same when FF held off on calling an election when they knew everyone wanted them gone. Its this holding on to whatever little power they can for as long as they can that shows what they really care about.

  4. Mr S

    Is mercelle’s column going to become a regular Monday event? If so, the content is going to get very thin, very quickly.

    Today he’s simply paraphrasing the report of Rory Hearne, himself a fairly over exposed political activist.

  5. Mac

    “Elites’ hatred of democracy”!? So highlighting the hypocrisy of Dail deputies refusing to follow laws passed by our democratically elected Dail equals “hatred of democracy”? Mercille is pathetically biased. Can’t wait to see how many votes he and his hero in Maynooth get in the next election.

  6. Unreconstructed

    That ST editorial reeks of fear. I know it is cliche to say it now but stable government gave us the bank guarantee, the crash and numerous other calamities over the years. The ultimate stable government is that of a single-party state with no dissent, no choice and no options. Is that was the ST is advocating? Did the ST call the FF-PD governments of 1997-2007 populist at the time (which they were) or is populism okay as long as it is not left-wing populism? Many of those TDs mentioned are clowns but they are required in our democracy, if for no other reason to draw attention to causes that those like the Sunday Times would rather didn’t see the light of day.

  7. Odis

    “Ireland is witnessing the ‘birth of a new civil society’, an important development.” – Sounds good.
    Can I have a “New era of democracy” with that?

  8. DD

    One of Murdoch’s rags telling Irish citizens who they should not vote for.

    What a ridiculous concept.

  9. yrtnuocecnareviled

    Plenty of seagull commenting here.
    Swarm in, sh1t on everything but add nothing but noise.

  10. ivan

    I’ll just comment on the editorial.

    ‘Stability’ is what the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ voter looks for. Stability (at least Irish style) does not guarantee fairness/accountability – it guarantees, at best, more of the fuppin’ same sh*ite.

  11. antigonite

    The only “elites” in fear here are the elites who have the time to be water protesting in the middle of the day and who have gained zero traction with the main stream public. Most people now realise that the USC and other taxes are more costly on a personal and family level than the water charges and that when any degree of thought is put into the provision of water and re-investment in infrastructure, the charges make sense. Water protesters have representatives who are encouraged to forgo any nuanced thought or argument except repetition of conceptually flawed slogans. It took a while but the protest movement is becoming a parody of itself and lacks any credibility.

    1. Wayne Carr

      Damn straight, no traction with the “main stream (sic) public.” They’ve only gained traction with the “fringe” public.

      And they’ve achieved nothing. We’re now being charged far more for water than we were going to be charged before the protests began.

  12. jet

    This is a very important comment, explaining why UCD has fallen out of the world’s top 200 universities.

  13. Mac

    This should be read in conjunction with the lead editorial from the ST yesterday which was about the Moriarty tribunal report and lack of follow up by this government. Could Mercille not be arsed referring to that because it doesn’t fit his conspiracy theory?

  14. Lidia

    I shall be voting for instability at the next General Election.

    Political stability is what has delivered unaccountable government. Large majorities mean debate – real debate, not half an hour of shouting followed by guillotining of legislation – is completely lost.

    A Dail with no majority, with politicians from all sides having to discuss and parse every piece of legislation is what is needed here. Consensus will be found where it is needed, and the unfair and dishonest practises of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and Labour will be rightly consigned to the bin.

    Ireland needs political instability.

    1. Rob_G

      I would disagree – look at Italy, where they have a general election about every 18 months, and nothing gets done.

      Any minority Govt in Ireland would be supported by the worst parish pump chancers (think Healy Raes and Michael Lowry).

      1. MNartin Ryan

        Any income tax payer who supports the water protest is mad.
        If the users don’t pay the charges the taxpayers will end up with the bill.
        For their own water and and that of those professional protesters who never pay for anything.
        Come on PAYE workers pay the water charges and don’t be caught paying for their water as well as their dole/medical cards/housing and everything else

        1. Lidia

          I work, and pay tax, and protest against Irish Water. You can try to pretend water protesters are ne’er-do-wells all you like, but we are actually representative of society in general. The problems with Siteserv and Irish Water are there for all to see. I, for one, will not be paying Irish Water a cent while that money is guaranteed to pay bonuses and consultants’ fees and whatever else is going on there that benefits only the people at the top of the jobs-for-the-lads heap.

          The economic crash, fuelled by the property bubble here in large part, resulted in many of the people you are now referring to as ‘professional protesters’ being thrown out of work and onto the scrapheap, where insult after insult has been piled on them. It’s a great trick, actually, create the problem that results in their losing their jobs and then blame them for it.

          You need to think a little bit harder about what is going on in this country, and a little bit less about feeding your ego by taking cheap shots at people who are legitimately protesting something they think is unfair and – very possibly – dishonest.

    2. Clampers Outside!

      I’ve thought that too, we need to reduce the number of TDs in the country a little more first, I think.

      They are being reduced to 156(?) from 166 in the next election, but knock another 16 off, I say arbitrarily, I admit.
      I think it would help avoid Rob_Gs concern, just a little mind.

      1. ahjayzis

        Knock em down to 120, reform the Seanad into a proper, democratic (list system) overseeing second chamber, limit the use of the three-line whip (which makes any debate completely academic), introduce something even approaching local democracy and government and then we can talk about stability.

        In the meantime this broken, over-centralised, micro-managing, vote-once-every-five-years system of governance has failed too many times to count and fostered enough corruption, it needs a good jolt of instability to force it to modernise and democratise. No ‘democratic revolution’ can take place if all we really care about is f**king ‘stability’. Stability isn’t an unqualified virtue.

  15. declan

    I love how the word elites get’s thrown around. It’s them verus us. It’s so bland.

    I especially can’t wait for our new glorious elites to discover their vices. Rather boringly I think Sinn Fein will be normal and go down the old ireland route, petty corruption and darker stuff like they’ve done already.

    Paul Murphy will be the interesting one. He’s the guy who’ll surprise us I think

  16. Truth in the News

    The Establishment and Political Elite are alarmed, no wonder, the day of
    reckoning is not far away, there is a lot at stake, soft jobs, cosy living and
    cartels, both of the political and monoply hues, add to this the pay offs, pensions
    and perks.
    There needs to organised an alliance of those that have organised the opposition
    to stealth taxes, even inluding those who oppose pylons to develop a common
    plarform to develop a Programme for Democratic Reform that will really
    Commemorate the 1916 Rising and root out the imposters who have ruined
    this Nation by actions and decisions nothing short of Treason,

  17. 15 cents

    this julien chap is spot on once again. his truths really rustle some feathers, as you can see from the comments rubbishing him without substance, just with sheer negativity

  18. Michael Smith

    Difficult to take any of the high-horsers seriously here since it should be ‘politicians do protest’ not ‘politicians doth protest’. If you’re going to invoke Shakespeare portentously, do it right. NY’s Daily News made exactly the same mistake recently.Twits.

  19. jet

    Regurgitation of a survey and a misinterpretation of an article dressed up in an catchy headliner and a pretty little picture…. more popcorn than feather ruffling methinks.

  20. Mr. T.

    All you little be-suited minions and PR interns who only comment when there’s a good post underlining how corrupt our political and business groups are, do you all realise we can spot you a mile off?

  21. Sham Bob

    That editorial insults the intelligence of it’s readers, even naturally right-wing ones, with it’s twisted logic and blatant smearing. Is there any chance they could sell the culture section on its own and stop pretending they’re relevant to Irish politics?

    1. Mac

      That would be the Irish political system that’s been focused on revelations from the ST’s front page stories on Siteserv for two weeks running? Good point Sham.

    2. Lidia

      So it insults the intelligence of “even naturally right-wing ones”. Smearing the rest is okay? Says something about you, and not much about anything else.

  22. Ger Nalist

    How about Mercille and Hearn do one of their surveys on academics in Irish universities – and see if they can find a single one that isn’t a leftie from central casting.
    It’s frightening to think our kids are being “lectured” by the modern equivalent of the loony left

    1. Lidia

      By ‘loony left’ I presume you mean intellectuals who are not neo-liberals and libertarians in favour of a wholly sink-or-swim policy of economy over society? No thanks, I’d prefer if our children aren’t taught by the rabid right.

        1. Lidia

          You’re closed to preference, you just see ideology even when it’s not there. Step out from behind your ego.

  23. Mike Baldwin

    That was my thought. Mercille’s position is incredibly biased and seems designed to push some kind of personal agenda, perhaps a run at the next GE? What is UCD’s position on lecturers offering opinion pieces to national media? I’m not implying that muzzling lecturers is a desired route but surely there are guidelines for employees, much like many private sector firms have social media guideline for public facing staff…..

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