On Friday Paul Murphy was interviewed by Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late show. Murphy, a former member of the European parliament was elected to Dail Eireann in October and has been stridently opposed to the imposition of a water charge on an already beleaguered citizenry. He’s participated in and organised anti-water charges protests and has been instrumental in its ascension.
The interview began cordially with both Tubridy and Murphy exchanging pleasantries. Murphy then described his upbringing and the circumstances that attracted him to socialism. The first issue concerned the arrest of Paul Murphy which has been characterised as political policing by several people. Despite the fact Murphy committed no illegality at the Jobstown protest 6 officers forcefully detained him at 7am on a Monday morning which has been perceived by some as an attempt to intimidate him, Tubridy suggested Murphy revelled in the arrest, and Murphy resentful at the implication responded by stating he had important affairs to attend to that day. Following that, Tubridy ran a clip containing footage from the Jobstown protests where Joan Burton, the Tánaiste was subjected to scathing criticism and a blockade preventing her from leaving the area for over an hour. The clip also showed Murphy, in accordance with the Gardai’s wishes instructing the protestors to let her go, the people acceded to Murphy’s request and the protestors dispersed with Burton then moving into another car and leaving the area. The implication of the video being that Murphy was somehow complicit, which just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. You’d be forgiven for thinking the protest was organised by Murphy considering the coverage that surrounded the incident, but it was an impromptu rally which he attended. He also played no responsibility in the blockade, and complied with the Gardai’s wishes to defuse the situation. The next clip involved a man spewing ableist vitriol at President Higgins in January, and implicit in the showing of that video was that Murphy was culpable in someway despite it being extraneous to Murphy. It’s a glaring example of guilt by association: Because Murphy and the individual involved share an opposition to water charges, Murphy a prominent figure of the movement shares responsibility for it despite not inciting that kind of vitriol. The last dispute concerned the sentencing of 5 people over the breach of a 20 metre zone, the injunction granted by the high court prevents citizens from protesting within 20m of where the water installation workers are installing water meters; a clear inhibition on people’s freedom. Murphy has denounced the sentencing and expressed his solidarity to the incarcerated. One of the men sentenced was the person responsible for the abuse shouted at President Higgins. Tubridy tried to conflate these two separate incidents and asked Murphy does he support him with the veiled assumption that outrage at his imprisonment is unwarranted. One does not have to justify one’s previous bad behaviour to stand up for one when their civil liberties have been infringed upon; the fact that 5 people have been imprisoned because of an innocuous protest is an indictment of the Irish justice system. Murphy also expressed a position that should be uncontroversial, namely that he would brazenly violate injunctions depending on their merit which resulted in people levelling accusations at him that he has no respect for the law.
Lawmakers are not infallible, and when laws are enacted that are antithetical to a free and democratic society, civilly disobeying them is a moral imperative. Submissively accepting laws that violate people’s freedom is not indicative of respect for law, but respect for elitists who impose draconian laws. Finally Tubridy documented all the things Murphy is opposed to and condescendingly asked where’s the “pro in Paul Murphy” despite him being an avowed socialist. In addition to his support of socialism he’s pro-workers rights, he’s pro-Palestine and he’s pro-accountability for the bankers. The interview was more reminiscent of an interrogation than an objective interview and the aggressive approach adopted by Tubridy is anomalous from his usual style which is reserved and deferential. Droves of people took to social media to condemn Tubridy for his appalling interview, even people unsupportive of Murphy construed the interview as biased.
It certainly lends credence to the notion that RTE are not impartial when it comes to anti-water charge protestors.
While it’s true that there have been rare examples of abuse from anti-water charge protestors neither the Gardai nor Guardex, (contracted by Seirra GMC) have been immune to abusive behaviour. However there’s been distinct differences in the reactions to the incidents. On the same day Joan Burton was subjected to a blockade, a Garda viciously assaulted a protestor. According to the woman assaulted she didn’t intend to block Kenny’s car and later thanked one of the Gardai who calmly restrained her, despite this another Garda proceeded to violently throw here into a bollard and it clearly constituted excessive force. It received infinitesimal coverage and was rationalised by the same people criticising the protestors. Furthermore people were eager to contextualise the actions of the Gardai, but didn’t afford the same benefit to the protestors in Jobstown. More violence from the Gardai occurred during the December protests on O Connell Bridge, where on more than one occasion they shoved protestors to the ground, the media again didn’t deviate from convention and it received paltry coverage.
Reports also emerged that private security company Guardex violently intimidated local residents of the Stoneybatter community. Contrast the relatively apathetic reaction to these incidents to the hyperbolic rhetoric which ensued after the Jobstown incident and you see a glaring imbalance. Some claimed it was “attack on democracy” The Taoiseach maintained that the blockade “almost amounted to kidnapping”, another Fine Gael TD claimed Ireland may face an “ISIS situation” and described protestors as “parasites”, and Burton later said when she was inside her car during the blockade she was worried by “the parallels with fascism”. Of course it would be naive to assume this wasn’t studious, the exaggerations were designed to malign the anti-water charges movement, with the hope of them having a dissociative effect.
Both the arrests of Paul Murphy and the sentencing of the 5 people who violated an injunction may well have been an attempt to deter protestors, we can’t know for certain but it’s likely to embolden protestors instead. On Saturday members of the public engaged in a peaceful protest expressing their support for the citizens sentenced, and there are plans for large scale protests in March. Contrary to the assumptions some are labouring under, the water protests have been very peaceful considering the impressive scale of participation. Civil disobedience is a tactic that should be deployed, but judiciously.
Blocking traffic especially at a time when people are trying to get home from work is frivolous and undermines the movement, it just aggravates people and makes them less sympathetic to an important cause. Conversely, sit-ins, protests in shopping centres and refusal to pay the water charges can elevate the movement; logical strategies are key in attracting attention and maintaining the growth and development of the movement.
The anti-water charges protests are a powerful demonstration of democracy, while some have expressed incredulity at the disdain for water charges, they can’t be examined isolated from austerity. The austerity imposed on European countries was a form of collective punishment and structural violence, where innocent people who had no influence over the economic disaster bore the brunt of it; the undemocratic imposition of water charges was the tip of the iceberg for Irish citizens, people just can’t burden another tax. The anti-water charge protests should not be the end, but should act as a catalyst for even more vehement protests against the incumbent government who have been pitifully subservient and amenable to EU impositions. Activism genuinely works, and history is a testament to that.