This was the headline that greeted the group of 11 students and young professionals shortly after landing in Dublin Airport recently on a crisp Monday morning at 6 am. They had set off from Washington Dulles over 6 hours before and had spent the previous 7 days at the Young America’s Foundation National Conservative Student Conference in D.C. One of the members of their group, whose name has since been insidiously dragged through the dirt, happened to be the sitting President of Young Fine Gael (YFG). Other members included 4 leaders of Free Speech Ireland – a student-led, campus-based organisation; the Communications Director of YFG; and the co-founders of the Conservative Dissent and Director of the Edmund Burke Institute – an educational think-tank.
Of course, the article was no surprise. As one of the 11 aforementioned individuals I had briefly been made aware of the ongoing ‘investigation’ by Hugh O’ Connell of the Irish Independent only hours into the first day of the conference.
Firstly, let’s get something straight. Young America’s Foundation is not a far-right organisation, it is a mainstream conservative organisation which I have become internally familiar with over the past 12 months. In fact, YAF provides an accurate description of themselves on their website which reads “Young America’s Foundation is committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defence, free enterprise, and traditional values. As the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement, the Foundation introduces thousands of American youth to these principles. We accomplish our mission by providing essential conferences, seminars, educational materials, internships, and speakers to young people across the country.”
Hugh O’ Connells hit piece missed this description and instead he embarked on a solo run with a resolute mischaraterisation of YAF being a big nasty “right-wing” organisation with, and get this, “far-right White House adviser Stephen Miller among its alumni”. There is it – “far-right”. The buzzword of now. An over-used discrediting tool of progressives and left wingers alike but rarely attributed accurately. This case is no different. Stephen Miller is a conservative with a strong approach to border security. This strong approach makes you far-right today, of course.
“The press office of the governing political party in Ireland asked the national broadcaster not to run a story which would embarrass them. So much for an independent media”
Prominent conservative media outlets also ran the story and Fine Gael was embarrassed. A source within Fine Gael told me “in their frantic attempts to kill the story, the Fine Gael press office asked RTE not to run it”. Let’s reflect on that piece of information. The press office of the governing political party in Ireland asked the national broadcaster not to run a story which would embarrass them. So much for an independent media.
Of course, Hugh O’ Connell has questions to answer about his own conflict of interest. Is it a coincidence that the husband of the parliamentary assistant (and sister) of Kate O’ Connell TD (who is fiercely progressive), just so happened to become aware of the President of Young Fine Gael attending a conservative student conference in the US, and then attempted to carry out a hit job on him? Coincidence eh? When O’ Connell cites ‘internal Fine Gael sources’ how stupid does he think we all are?
Add to this some articles written in the Irish Examiner and Limerick leader that bordered on defamatory and you begin to see a pattern. There is an intolerance to conservatives among the media and political classes in Ireland.
It’s so severe that slapping terms such as ‘alt-right’, ‘far-right’, and ‘right-wing extremists’ on anyone who holds pro-life, socially conservative positions is regularly occurring. The college campuses are no different and free speech is becoming a contested concept among elements of the left and right alike.
“If you do not subscribe to progressive, and at times radical left doctrine, you will be ostracised, shouted down and taken out”
The reality here is this; YAF is a conservative organisation that poses no threat to anyone other than those entrenched in dogmatic progressive ideas. People who fit this description are prominent in Fine Gael and Young Fine Gael today due to the party’s recruitment of activists around the time of the marriage equality referendum and more recently the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment. This same ideologically possessed crop of political and media ilk detest conservatism and conservatives, as was displayed by FG MEP Maria Walsh who was quick out of the traps to call for the YFG President’s resignation. She added “Quite frankly, Mr Foley-Walsh, given his position, should not have aligned with this conference.” Well Ms. Walsh, frankly, needs to consider her own position within Fine Gael and the European People’s Party (its EU parliamentary grouping) that has members of Austria’s People’s Party and Viktor Orban’s Fidesz as members. The EPP has a strong centre-right Christian democratic ethos so perhaps somebody should tell Ms. Walsh.
Oppressive ideological enforcement in the media, in politics and on our college campuses is now commonplace. If you do not subscribe to progressive, and at times radical left doctrine, you will be ostracised, shouted down and taken out. But this is not the way it will remain.
Across the country, people and students are fighting back and attempting to open our society to healthy debate and discussion again. It was a humbling moment for me personally when my colleague and I founded Free Speech Ireland upon which we immediately received messages from students all over Ireland wishing us well and telling us stories of their terrible experiences on campuses.
Beneath the surface of media and political corruption lies an agenda being ruthlessly pursued by people who have scant regard for our democracy, our freedoms and our right to express ourselves and our opinions as we see fit. I am grateful for the support that I and all other 10 attendees at the YAF conference have received over the two weeks from YAF and prominent US media because apart from a few noble journalists in the Sunday papers and the folks at Gript, the Irish media was happy for us to be demonised and thrown under a bus. They care not for facts and truth, but only for the gratification of pushing what they perceive to be a virtuous political agenda at all costs.
No more. From now on, we will push back, and we will be heard. The need for social, media and political alternatives is very great. Perhaps Gript can provide at least one of those alternatives so that attending conservative conferences in the future won’t be so taboo and unpalatable to members of our media and political classes.