Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Protests – I’m not a fan but lets not get carried away

Everybody is talking about protests. All of a sudden they are the great debate of our time. We should perhaps be concentrating on this issues but then we tire of these so quickly. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a protester. In fact the only time you might have seen me near a protest was when I took a wrong turn or needed to get to the other side of the barrier and away from the protesters. You see I am a very simple person. I like political organisation and would much rather spend my time on a canvass or devising a strategy than shouting a slogan on a street. Now don’t get me wrong, everything has a time and place. I just believe you either argue your point politically or you start a revolution. So Ill either be working the system or I’ll be on a barricade in a full scale revolution. I just don’t do the in between measure of shouting at people.

So that’s my background and it’s only fair to point it out. All of that said there is something a bit strange within the reaction to our recent protests. Once again let me declare my bias, it is my firm belief that no politician should be personally abused or harassed, no name calling and no belittling. My point of view is formed on the basis that no matter how much we might dislike a politician or incumbent they were elected and hold an office we should respect as the office represents the people. Now, we can all argue that they don’t represent the people anymore, that they sold out, that they abused their position etc BUT either we accept the system or we don’t. Either have your revolution or accept that the people vote and this is the best system we have. Abuse your opponent or one day people abuse those on your side. Politics must be about respect.

Now then let’s consider the response to recent protests. This is not the first time politicians have been attacked or held up by protests. It has happened in the past yet anyone would think it’s completely new. There is a great story about Brian Lenihan senior escaping out of a toilet window during protests in Trinity College. While we might not condone the actions of some protesters we know it goes with the job so why the scandalised reactions? Perhaps because sometimes it fits the narrative. One of the reasons that violence is so useless in a protest is that it hands an advantage to your opponent. If I were in government at any point and people were protesting then the best thing to happen would be that some of them abuse someone or break a law. The large, quiet protest is what any government fears most. We need to also recognise however, that people do have a right to protest. We need to acknowledge that wherever you gather large groups of people a minority will often act up. This is not unusual. We must be careful on two fronts. We do not want to become an ungovernable state driven by a violent mob but equally we do not want to become a state that ignores people and seeks to brand many with the actions of a few.

The water protests have been peaceful in the main. I have passed by some and saw no difficulties whatsoever. I also know many ordinary people who have taken part. The attempt to brand them all is ridiculous. The suggestion that it’s all Paul Murphy or Sinn Fein is equally silly. It just fits a narrative that hopes to divide opposition and get ‘right thinking people’ to stay away. The problem is that even if they did stay away it doesn’t mean they will pay or don’t want to see the protest succeed. Protests happen and politicians should face them and deal with them. These are not small isolated protests, they are large groups of people from across the country. When that happens you need to listen and deal with the issue. Pretending it’s just an imaginary thing made up by a violent mob is just fooling yourself. The more you fail to deal with it the angrier a crowd will become. The angrier people get the more accepting they are when people abuse you.

I may not be a protester type but I can condemn actions without vilifying them personally or dismissing the point they are trying to make. Then again, I admit to being a bit of a lunatic. As I say if I felt I had to revolt it would be done properly. If I do have to get through a protest I will. I will walk right through it. I will not sit for two hours in my car. I’ll get out and walk because I’m a bit mad, Id face the questions and if someone wants to hit me or abuse me then let’s see where that gets them. I have walked through a few protests in my time, I’ve been jostled and name called but I’m still here to tell the tale. It might not be pleasant and I might condemn it but let’s not get carried away, it’s not the end of the world folks.

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