C: Alexander Savin (CC BY 2.0 https://bit.ly/3buagvw)

Are Irish Extinction Rebellion protesters being paid to protest?

Our colleagues in the rest of the Irish media have adopted an approach to covering extinction rebellion which can at best be described as friendly, and at worst be described as outright propaganda. This article in the Irish Independent over the weekend certainly falls into the latter category.

The fear is that asking hard questions of the protestors might lead the public to conclude that journalists are sceptical of the protest’s aims, and that simply won’t do. It’s one thing to privately joke about extinction rebellion doing rain dances or whatever, but to openly express scepticism risks being attacked on social media as some sort of climate denier, and we simply do not have journalists willing to take that risk.

So, it should not surprise you that there will be very little coverage in Ireland of this:

“Extinction Rebellion is paying activists up to £400 a week to lead the protests that have brought chaos to the streets of Britain, documents seen by The Mail on Sunday reveal.

Protesters have received payments totalling more than £70,000 in four months alone.

But the eco-protest group privately fears it could face a six-figure tax bill if the money, which is given as expenses, is deemed to be payment for work done on XR’s behalf.

A document entitled Finance Policy And Processes seen by this newspaper in a ‘work in progress’ version states: ‘The maximum claim for volunteer living expenses is £400 a week (or £200 for someone volunteering part-time). No more should be claimed than a volunteer needs to cover basic living expenses.’

The document states that claims ‘may cover a maximum period of four weeks’, but adds: ‘Further applications may be made to cover additional periods of time.’

Tamsin Omond claimed a total of £1,340 for November and December last year. Educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, the granddaughter of Dorset baronet Sir Thomas Lees is an actor who also works in public relations, and chooses to use gender-neutral pronouns, including Mx in place of Ms or Mr.

Mx Omond’s expenses claim was based on being out of pocket after giving up some clients to spend more time campaigning”

Extinction Rebellion is a global organisation – much like, say, Amnesty International, which has a global umbrella organisation, and a local Irish organisation. It would be very surprising if protesters in the UK were being paid, but protesters in Ireland were not.

The news implications for this are clear: Extinction Rebellion protests are covered by the rest of the Irish media as if the numbers of people (however small) taking part is reflective of a public desire to push policy in a certain direction. The fact that a few hundred of them are willing to camp for a week in Merrion Square, it is implied (if not outright said) is evidence that there is such demand for radical policy change that people are willing to get out there and make themselves heard.

If protesters are being paid, though, that would put a rather different spin on things. For one thing, it would show that if you are rich enough, you can pay a group of people to make your demands more popular than they are. For another, though related thing, it would pose the question as to exactly how much demand there would be for change, or how many would be at these protests, if there was no money in it for them.

RTE, in particular, has gone out of its way to present Extinction Rebellion as a popular movement, even going so far, as we revealed last week, as to be very careful to only show shots of the protest that make it look vastly larger than it is. The number of hard questions asked by the state broadcaster of the protesters is, well, zero.

The basic principle that we should apply, in a democracy, is that when people are demanding radical change, their proposals should be firmly interrogated, and their motives and backing fully explored. That does not necessarily mean that coverage needs to be hostile, but it does mean that claims should not be automatically accepted simply because a media organisation is in sympathy with those claims. That has not happened in Ireland to date.

So, are the Extinction Rebellion protesters in Ireland being paid? And either way, why won’t anyone in the media ask them about it?

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