The refusal of People before Profit TDs, led by Paul Murphy and Richard Boyd Barrett, to applaud President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, was a matter of some comment yesterday. Much of that comment, of course, was based around the emotions stoked by the war. The overwhelming majority of Irish people, after all, feel a kinship with, and sympathy for, the Ukrainian victims of an aggressive Russian War of Conquest. And in Ireland, to be blunt, and fair, we have a long and dubious tradition of shouting down dissenters and regarding them as a kind of national disgrace. It was always obvious that Murphy et al would be roundly denounced for refusing to clap. Indeed, they were likely counting on it.
In this instance, however, the precise issue doesn’t particularly matter, and nor does our predilection for groupthink.
After all, if Murphy and People before Profit were principled dissenters, they would have the courage to just state what they mean and what they believe. One look at the mealy-mouthed nonsense they came up with to justify their inaction yesterday shows that they are not, in any way, principled at all.
One might suspect that the truth is that they view the war in Ukraine as a proxy conflict between NATO on one side, and Russia on the other, and, if forced to choose, they might not-so-secretly like to see NATO getting a bloody nose at the hands of the Russians.
This was the default position of the far left throughout the long decades of the cold war, and there is no reason to suppose that it has changed now.
So why not just say it? It’s what their voters believe, after all. And they may well find support from some people on the self-styled “anti-globalist” right who seem equally convinced that, well, if Putin is opposed by the World Economic Forum, he can’t be all bad.
The excuse Murphy offered reveals the depth of his seriousness:
PBP TD Paul Murphy has said he and other PBP TDs did not clap Volodymyr Zelenskiy's speech as they cannot support further sanctions on Russia which hurt ordinary Russians and bolster the Putin regime at home. More on @IrishTimes shortly.
— Jack Horgan-Jones (@JackHoJo) April 6, 2022
“It’s not about Putin, it’s about ordinary suffering Russians”.
This, of course, is not what Paul Murphy or his fellow travellers say about Israel. When it comes to the Israelis, Murphy would pile on sanctions. He would expel the ambassador. He would boycott, divest, and sanction – and has sponsored several bills to do just that. It is not what he would say either about sanctions on Apartheid South Africa, which he believes were amongst the most moral acts ever enacted, though presumably they had similar impacts on ordinary South Africans – black and white – as the present sanctions may have on ordinary Russians.
So why does he not worry about the impact of sanctions on ordinary Israelis? Why does he not worry that sanctions, in that case, might bolster support for the Israeli Government, which he openly opposes? If sanctions are a dangerous and unreliable tool which might hurt Russians, then why are Israelis different?
If we treat Paul Murphy as a serious politician, then the only conclusion we can draw is that he doesn’t mind hurting ordinary, innocent, Israeli civilians. There is no other reasonable interpretation of the dichotomy between his stance on Russia, and his stance on Israel.
But of course, we should not treat him as a serious politician. Because he is not one. He is a performing clown.
Paul Murphy no more believes the statement about sanctions that he made above than he believes that free market economics and unfettered capitalism is the solution to the housing crisis. What he believes, though, is that it will win him attention, and that attention will translate to votes.
The reason for not applauding Zelenskyy was simply that it would get him condemned, and that getting condemned means getting a right to reply. It meant that Paul Murphy would, once again, be on the radio and the television, bleating meaningless platitudes about Imperialism and the military industrial complex and NATO, and bolstering support from the poor, deluded 2-3% of the public who think that he has the slightest intention of doing anything to change any of the things about which he is complaining.
The truth about Paul Murphy is this: That if there were, ever, a fully socialist Ireland, he would denounce it as not socialist enough. That if there were, ever, an openly left-wing Government, he would denounce it as right wing. That if there were, ever, an anti-Imperialist American regime, he would denounce it as Imperialist. And that if there were, ever, a peace deal in the middle east, he would denounce that peace deal as oppression of the Palestinians. It is the same tune, played over and over again, regardless of the circumstances. He has no other trick. If Sinn Fein lead the next Government, Paul Murphy will be calling them right wing sell outs within three months, at minimum, while falsely claiming that he had high hopes for their success. It will be a lie on both counts.
It is not true to say that Paul Murphy is an “embarrassment” to Ireland, or anything of the kind. After all, outside of Ireland, nobody knows who he is. It makes no difference of any kind to world affairs, or to the people of Ukraine, that he did not applaud yesterday. He will never take power in Ireland, or hold any Government office, because that would involve being responsible for things. What he is, though, is a leech.
He, and his party, leech off public anger. They stoke it. They feed it. They tell people that they are oppressed and abused, regardless of circumstances, and feed off the anger of those who are unfortunate to maintain themselves in office, and comfort. They add nothing constructive, whatsoever, to Irish politics, or Irish society. Democracy requires that we recognise them as legitimate representatives of the Irish people, but it does not require that we take them seriously. And we never, ever, should.