Misplaced sympathy for Joan Burton

comment1It was all so horrifying. The defenceless lady trapped in her car, the baying crowd jeering and banging and leaping, like gibbons throwing faeces, the heroic Garda almost overcome by the designs of a mob. Is this Ireland, a civilised country? Anywhere else and they wouldn’t have tolerated such scenes. Those protestors were lucky there weren’t shot down where they stood, as happened in Ferguson.

And what sort of gall lets figures like Paul Murphy claim that it was a peaceful protest? How could anyone say it was a peaceful when poor Mrs Burton was, as she said herself, “frightened”? That dear lady was trapped in her car, unable to congratulate those students she was so concerned to see, and not at all interested in using them for political capital. When you come down to it using fear as a tactic is terrorism, and there is no doubt that poor Mrs Burton did feel terrorised. It seems obvious and correct, of course, to compare the water protestors to ISIS following the incident, as certain journalists did. It is a short step from throwing an egg to chopping off a head.

Respectable classes

The image of the crowd baying at the windows of poor Mrs Burton’s car struck a chord amongst the respectable classes, with many commentators expressing their sympathy, their disgust, their worry. I suppose seeing a middle aged lady trapped in her car by the plebeians made a few ask “could it be me next?”. It does seem to be the thin end of the wedge. Our always inspiring Taoiseach claimed that the incident, which involved the breaking of a necklace belonging to Mrs Burton, amounted to kidnapping. Mr Murphy, a Socialist Party TD, who was pictured sitting on the ground beside the lady’s car, stood in as proxy: a figure who has been elected to receive much of the criticism aimed at the crowd. The Tánaiste indeed blamed the protests and the intimidation on the presence of Paul Murphy as did large sections of the press.

One of the recurrent themes in the commentary on Mr Murphy is that he is middle class. They pointed out that the recently elected TD for Dublin South West was educated in two private south Dublin schools, that he completed a law degree in UCD, and that he comes from an established middle-class family, including an Uncle Michael, who was a “popular radio personality” on RTE. Interestingly enough the Murphy family originates initially from Castlebar, the beating political heart of the nation, which has produced not only the Kenny, but also the Haughey dynasty. At the heart of this media commentary lay the accusation that Paul Murphy was a traitor to his class. How could he align himself to the rabble against the interests of his fellows, how could he roll in the slimy street with the proletariat? How could an elected TD side with the people? It seems outrageous, I admit.

Is it cynical to suggest that Mrs Burton could have left at any time she chose to? The Garda seemed to remove her remarkably easily when the decision was taken to do so. Is it somewhat misleading to describe the protests as violent when the most threatening incident seems to have been a water balloon landing on her car? Does it seem that perhaps the incident was blown out of proportion? Could it be a cynical attempt by the media to portray water protests in a negative light? How could anyone suggest such a thing? It was probably the most horrifying event to happen in Ireland for the last 169 years.

Mass mobilisation

The mass mobilisation of people around the water charge issue – there were, after all, one hundred thousand people marching through the streets of Dublin a few weeks ago – along with the surprise election of a socialist TD, Paul Murphy, really does seem to have rattled the Irish political and economic establishment. Yes it’s alright to complain about water charges, as many within the media had been doing, but don’t actually do anything about it. Perhaps large sections of the chattering classes believe it finally is time for the great unwashed to pay for their own baths. Or perhaps they are worried that even more people will take to the streets of Dublin on 10th December in an even larger protest. This would, after all, interrupt prime Christmas shopping time, and bring further terrorism to the streets of Dublin.


What compelled me to write this article were the media reports that presented Mrs Burton as an innocent frightened victim. It is remarkable that the media have suddenly become interested in fear. It seems to me that real fear is worrying about whether your children will be sleeping in their beds tomorrow, or the council will have evicted you by then. Real fear is taking a JobBridge placement even though you are qualified for a salaried job. Real fear is knowing your insurance scheme will be useless if you develop a serious illness. Real fear is thinking if you don’t get enough money for a hostel you might freeze to death on the street tonight.

And where did this sympathy for Joan Burton come from? If she is willing to preside over a system of massive reductions in social welfare spending, if she is willing to consistently break election promises, if she is willing to grin over the government sanctioned exploitation of workers through the JobBridge scheme, if she is willing to repeatedly attack the poor and middle income members of Irish society in favour of the wealthiest, why should we have any sympathy for her? She should expect to be attacked on the street. She should live in continual fear. If you impose a massive fall in living standards upon a people for the sake of securing the investments of domestic and international speculators you have no right to complain when the people turn on you.

What has taken place in Ireland over the last five years is not a short-term, unwanted, yet necessary fix, but, a deliberate, systematic and ideological attempt to reduce the living standards of Irish people and open the country even further to international ownership of public utilities. We should not be surprised that politicians are starting to be harassed by the public. We should only be surprised that the public haven’t been more violent in their response. Hopefully politicians will now live in the fear they have fostered upon the Irish people.