Honestly, who cares if someone kicked Paul Murphy?

Perhaps the following confession makes me some kind of dangerous far right extremist, but here it is anyway: I do not care if someone kicked Paul Murphy at a protest the other day.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that society is based fundamentally on some sense of solidarity – that we should seek to treat others as we might wish to be treated ourselves. And in that spirit, I think that we can confidently assert based on the public record, that Paul Murphy would shed no tears were it me, or you, who received a kicking at the hands of his own band of supporters, slash goons.

Just ask the former Tánaiste, Joan Burton, who spent several hours in a car at one point, unable to exit it, sources close to her say, for fear of physical violence from a crowd that included Paul Murphy himself. Mr Murphy was found not guilty of false imprisonment for that incident, but that does not make him innocent of intimidation using, in that case, the perceived threat of violence. Mr Murphy described those events as a legitimate protest. When people in the United States and elsewhere rioted and burned whole cities over a perceived grievance in 2020, did the good Deputy stand with democratic norms? Or did he stand with the rioters?

There are few people in this world with less of a leg to stand on, when it comes to opposing politically motivated violence, than Paul Murphy.

To be sure, it would be broadly preferable, at least in theory, if nobody had kicked Deputy Murphy, if that is indeed what happened. Not least because, I assure you, he is delighted that someone did. What better way to establish one’s revolutionary credentials, after all, than to pretend that being jostled at a protest by working class people who can be written off as “far right” is the equivalent of taking part in the battle of cable street. If you kick him, you’re damaging your own cause, and elevating his. It’s just that this particular rule doesn’t seem to apply the other way around. When Black Lives Matter protesters burned whole shops to the ground, the global progressive attitude was summed up in the phrase “mostly peaceful protests”.

Well, Paul Murphy was the victim, we can say with some confidence, of a mostly peaceful protest.

It is not that long ago, after all, since the far left in Ireland and elsewhere started proudly proclaiming that it was just and right to “punch a nazi in the face”, albeit with a broader definition of “nazi” than that which was understood by those who actually fought nazis in the last century. When you legitimize that kind of conduct, and indeed praise it, you can hardly start crying when the “nazis” punch back, can you?

But that is not how this largely rigged game is played.

We are supposed to condemn, and have fainting fits, because Paul Murphy got a little bit of jostling and rough treatment from a small group of protesters. He was not, I hear, alone in that: A source close to one of the rural independent TDs, much more closely aligned ideologically to the protesters than Murphy is, tells me that one of their men, too, received “dogs abuse” from the protesters, who seemed to him to be angry with politicians in general.

People are angry in this country, for reasons which we need not list here. That anger is expressed by different people in different ways: Some of us write articles expressing it. Some write to their TDs. Some sit sullenly, waiting the coming election. Others protest. Even amongst protesters, there are differences: Some will hold signs and chant slogans. Others will play the hard man, or hard woman. This is all normal in a democracy. As I say, it would be preferable if nobody was kicked, but pretending that a TD getting a kick from a protester is somehow a sign of impending fascism is a fantasy that only the most hysterical will willingly indulge.

Here’s some unfortunate news for the scandalised: Stuff like this will increase in the coming months and years, not decrease. And it will not increase because there has been an outbreak of fascism amongst the population, as some would like to theorise. It will increase because there is an increase in desperation and anger as people cannot pay their bills, and see their country change radically, and often for the worse, around them. It will increase because when you tell people that their dissenting views are fascist and far right, they hear that you are calling them your enemy. And most of all it will increase because of people like Paul Murphy, who have for their whole political lives legitimized and encourage the idea of “direct action” when it suited them to do so.

We are supposed to care about this kind of thing, as if it is the public, and not the political system itself, which is undermining confidence in the civilised and democratic way of conducting politics.

But what are you to do, if you are told for example that a peaceful protest near a hospital is illegal and intimidating? What are you to do if you are told that a public meeting about immigration into your town is racist and bigoted? How should one react, when told that the real threat to civilisation is not the policy decision to shutter power plants, but that the “far right” is on the rise? When all kinds of legitimate dissent are pathologised, relentlessly, as they are in Ireland, eventually someone is going to kick a socialist. If only because in the moment, doing so might feel cathartic. That’s the world we’re building.

What do they have to lose, after all, the Murphy kickers? Is their cause going to suddenly become less accepted politically? Are the media going to – wait for this now – turn on them more? C’mon now.

When you strip people of all incentives for good behaviour, you get bad behaviour. This is neither new, nor hard to understand.

So no, I don’t care if Paul Murphy got a kick up the ass. All I’d say to those who did it is this: You helped him politically, and in media terms, more than you helped your own cause. And that’s the bigger tragedy, really.



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