Response to housing crisis protests suggests many Irish people hate their own
"Put an Irishman on the spit and you can always get another Irishman to turn him."
Words attributed to the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, and highlighted this week by Blindboy Boat Club of the Rubber Bandits, in the aftermath of the 34 North Frederick Street protest.
The old adage plays on the well-worn Irish concepts of begrudgery and notions. The ideas that nobody truly deserves anything, and that suffering is simply a state of being that we should all accept. The vicious response to a protest which was aimed at drawing attention to the housing crisis confirmed that Shaw's wisdom holds true.
The protest, which saw housing activists Take Back The City occupy a Dublin building that has lain derelict for three years, spawned many talking points: Gardaí in balaclavas, private security showing up in an untaxed van, five arrests, several injuries, and a much bigger protest the night after.
New Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, two days later, released a statement in which he acknowledged that the use of "fire retardant hoods" — which, to the uninitiated, just looked like masks — was "not correct", as risk assessment dictates that if hoods are worn, they should be accompanied by helmets.
However, the Irish Times reported that officials within An Garda Síochána claimed their colleagues wore the masks to prevent being identified on social media.
So whether the masks were worn as part of a risk assessment that suggested there would be threat on the ground level, or purely to conceal the identities of those dispensing the law, remains unclear.
Either way, plenty of voices on social media maintained that the Gardaí had done nothing wrong, and that the activists, if anything, were lucky not to sustain even more severe injuries. For the crime of occupying a building that had been derelict for three years.
Those activists, fighting for the rights of all Irish citizens to have a roof over their heads and a place to call home, have been lambasted from several corners. Some have characterised them as jobless hippies. Others have painted them as posh middle-class students.
I'd love to salute the Comment Section Brain Geniuses suggesting that people protesting after 7pm don't have jobs to go to — but I physically can't clap that slowly.
Perhaps the most accurate designation for these people would be "concerned, civically-minded citizens who know their rights and are prepared to exercise them".
What set of circumstances has allowed the Irish people to feel so negatively towards a movement that is so obviously for the social good? When did Homelessness: good or bad? become a legitimate debate? When did we start looking at other people and thinking "I would actively prefer it if you did not have a house".
Just how naive do you have to be to think that protesting shouldn't be allowed? What kind of future is at the bottom of that slope?
As one often does when looking for answers, you could check your TV. Specifically,
TV3's Virgin Media's Tonight Show hosted by Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper. When debating the North Frederick Street protest, their guests included Niall Boylan and John Leahy, a Renua County Councillor from Offaly — which, to be fair, is a bit of a distance from North Frederick Street.
"To suggest that it's okay to basically trespass is bizzare" - Broadcaster @niallboylan4fm weighs-in on the debate surrounding the housing protests on Frederick St and the #TakeBackTheCity movement. #TonightVMT pic.twitter.com/BJt9eZJCJE
— TonightVMTV (@TonightVMTV) September 13, 2018
Is it unusual that such a high-profile programme couldn't get a single representative of the state — not a TD, not a Senator, not a minister, not a councillor, not a guard — to defend the state's actions?
Is it similarly unusual that they instead selected a shock jock whose typical modus operandi is to upset as many people as possible, and a guy from a political party that has no seats and regularly polls at 0%?
No, it's not unusual. Not in Ireland. It's entirely par for the course. A real conversation was never on the cards.
At one point, Boylan compared the occupation to if he left his car in his driveway and someone else decided to start using it. Matt Cooper asked "That's a bit facetious now, isn't it?"
Facetious... Facetious. He's Niall Boylan. If you didn't want facetious then what did you have him on for, Matthew? What did you think was going to happen?
Leahy, for his part, mitigated the Gardaí's heavy-handed approach by saying that a lot of the protestors were wearing hoodies. Indeed.
Elements of the media are alarmingly disinterested in an honest representation of the facts. By allowing for facetiousness and strawman arguments, the real human rights issues at play are obscured.
As long as the media makes it look like a reasonable position to think that peacefully protesting homelessness is wrong, there will be people who take that as a signature on a permission slip to be as hateful as they can. Maybe our TV stations don't understand this. Maybe they do.
But these people are everywhere, and I would love nothing more than to sit them down and ask them some questions.
Do you genuinely not care about homelessness? Do you believe that some people, for whatever reason, deserve to live without a roof over their heads?
Do you believe it's right that over 3,000 Irish children have nowhere to call their home? Why is that right? How could that be right?
Do you believe that the people who are protesting this state of affairs are bad people? What is it about wanting to make sure everyone is housed that is bad, exactly?
How is the right of a property owner to let a building go derelict for three years more important than the rights of your fellow man not to starve in the cold? How do you justify that to yourself?
Is it possible that you simply don't want to be reminded that so many people are suffering while you do nothing? Is it possible that you'd like this all to go away, even though you know it never will unless you do something?
I'm seriously asking.
When the IRB and the ICA took the GPO in 1916, public opinion was not on their side. The tide only began to turn when heavy-handedness by the British regime exposed the true ugliness of oppression for all to see.
As apathetic as the Irish public can seem, it has proven over and over that it will undo the status quo when the system squeezes too tight.
Rising rents, rising homelessness and this week's protests suggest that moment is fast approaching. Eventually, those slagging off today's protestors will realise they can't pay back their mortgage. Or they'll have a family member that has to leave the country. Maybe they'll fall on hard times and be evicted themselves.
The protestors who fight today do so in the hopes that you won't have to fight tomorrow. We'd do well to remember that.