Free Speech; An Exercise in Restraint

By Patrick Brogan

The creation of The National Party, along with the success of Donald Trump and UKIP has caused society to question the nature of free speech. Should free speech be allowed for all, regardless of what is being said? This is a bit reckless I think.

Free speech is often described as the cornerstone of a democracy. Indeed, there are many examples of when individual freedom of expression was hampered that later lead to a society suffering or even failing. There are also examples of people being allowed to espouse their doctrine when really they shouldn’t have been. The open nature of democracy sometimes leads to its own downfall when conditions are right. Hitler, Mugabe, Erdogan and numerous South American dictators attest to this.

Why is Freedom of Expression Important?

It is important for a number of reasons. Think of it like a valve for society. If it wasn’t there, so much tension would build up and lead to an explosion of unfiltered anger. There are other functional reasons a state needs free speech. At the moment, I am writing an article on the Garda whistleblowers. There is a lot of detail involved in the various stories, but here’s an example of some of the terrible facets to show what happens when people are ignored. Back in 2007, a woman named Mary Lynch was attacked as she drove her taxi. The assailant, Jerry McGrath, was given bail after the assault. The details recorded on the Garda PULSE system on this incident did not give the full severity of what happened. McGrath later went on to attack a 5-year-old girl in his native Tipperary. He was also released on bail for this crime, too.

In December of that year, Jerry McGrath murdered Sylvia Roche Kelly in Limerick. There are many ways this murder could have been avoided. Some of it goes back to freedom of expression and the way it is dealt with within the legal system. Mary Lynch repeatedly tried to warn Gardai, and anyone else who would listen, of how dangerous McGrath was. She seen in him something dangerous, a hatred of women that would lead to either rape or murder. How right she was. If those investigating the case had of taken her more seriously, instead of fobbing her off, Sylvia Roche Kelly would more than likely still be alive today because McGrath would never have gotten out on bail. Mary Lynch’s freedom of expression was ignored and look what happened.

The reason we know so much of the details surrounding this case is because a Sergeant named Maurice McCabe came forward and tried to let us know what happened.  He saw many issues regarding this case, not least those surrounding the problems with the PULSE system. He was initially ignored by his station and then he presented the evidence to the Confidential Recipient, Oliver Connolly, with no satisfaction. It wasn’t until many years later when McCabe produced these details to politicians and reports were conducted that the PULSE system and its failures were addressed. How many crimes could have been prevented if those in the Garda had taken these issues with the seriousness they deserved when he first came forward we may never know.

A Jaded  Paradigm

Are you left-wing or right-wing? Alt-right or communist? This is what political discourse is nowadays. Does it matter really? I don’t think so. Both left and right-wing politics have been shown to fail on plenty of occasions. We really need to move on from these jaded arguments. The media is clinging onto antiquated notions because it suits their agenda. It’s as simple as that.

The problem with this view of the world is that instead of commentating on what happens and given informed analysis the media tends to spin stories in a way that suits their long-held narrative. The mainstream media has failed in doing the basics of its raison d’être. How can anybody trust it now? This is a large part of the reason why the far-right parties have risen in the manner they have. Communism has been shown to be a disaster. Centrist and soft-right parties have also failed the people. What other direction is there to go other than far-right? People seem to forget, we have had that before and that failed too. We have moved in circles and people do not seem to realise all of these systems of government failed, not just fleetingly, but persistently and fundamentally.

We really should have moved on from this debate a long time ago. There are other forms of governance out there. Whether they would work or not is up for debate, but on paper, some of these are just as valid as the right v. left debate if not more so. The powers that be would lose too much money and power if they even entertained these ideas. If we take anarchism, just as a random example, and start to debate, certain issues come more into focus. Even if nobody believes in anarchism and it is seen to be extremely flawed, we are now exposed to some uncomfortable truths about society and how it works. We will question bureaucracy more and maybe even do away with it. I can’t imagine for a second this prospect ever being entertained in Brussels, can you?

Do We Fear the  Correct People?

We shouldn’t fear anybody, really. However, this is something extremist groups successfully manipulate. There is always one group to despise and fear, one group at the root of all social problems and benefitting from a vast conspiracy. For National Socialist Germany it was the Jewish, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe it was the old colonial white farmer. For the modern far-right movement it is Islam. The fact that the Middle East is in turmoil because of Western forces and predominantly Muslim countries like Morocco and Mali have a long standing tradition of a much more moderate form of Islam are not considered. No, Islam is evil, end of.

Are the Muslims the people we should worry about in this country? Most far-right people in Ireland claim they are worried about the destruction of Irish culture. I cannot think of any historical references of when Islam or any Muslims attempted to subvert Irish culture. I can reference the British doing this, though. Many times, actually, and not just in Ireland. Things have changed and relations between Ireland and our island neighbours are better now than they have been in hundreds of years. Is the lesson to learn here that ideas are not racial, people are not born with ideology and it is a culture that forms this? Yes, that’s what happens. Is there a violent element in Islam? Yes, like every other religion and culture. I would argue that Christian fundamentalism is far more dangerous, both historically and in the present. But, this is finger pointing and counter-productive.

Who are the National Party?

Sometimes it’s very tempting for the media to brand nationalist parties as racist. UKIP, for example, are often put in this category but, and I could be wrong about this, has Nigel Farage ever said anything racist publically? To my mind, no. Others are clearly racist, Trump for example. The National Party can also be classed as so. One its members was photographed in Nazi salute pose. They want a total clamp down on immigration to the country. It would be interesting to see what would have happened Ireland if other countries followed this course of action. Their grasp of economics is weak and they don’t address the real cause of this country’s hardships in recent years, the financial system. They would rather single out the weakest in society. They are an angry mob with nothing to offer.

As for the leader, Justin Barrett, he’s not a man that inspires confidence. He’s had numerous failed attempts in politics. He wants to make Ireland a “Catholic Republic” which I imagine is something akin to Sharia law. Oh, the irony.

Why We Should Tell Them to Piss Off

So, should everybody have free speech? I think it’s such a precious commodity and if you abuse it you’re out of the club. The National Party would be the very people that would seek to abolish free speech so why should the rest of us sit back and watch them take it away? Would we let paedophiles preach on every street corner about the benefits of inter-generational love? No, because children would be at risk. That is a very clear example of what I think most people would agree is good censorship.

I have heard people make the case that not everybody is weak willed enough to go along with everything they hear. There are a few obvious flaws in this statement. Firstly, there are those that actually would go along with what they heard if it was persuasive enough. I’m not for a moment suggesting that everyone that supports far-right parties are mentally challenged, but they are the very people that would be preyed upon. The disgruntled, frustrated masses.

Secondly, for those that already have racist inclinations, hearing people in the media sharing the same message of fervent hatred legitimises their thoughts. And thoughts lead to actions.

It amazes me how people turn to the worst possible option in these cases. In the UK, they complained about not having their voices heard in Europe, so they turned to UKIP, a party that tried to limit the political spectrum with every chance they had. The Americans complained about the elite, so they voted for a supposed billionaire that lives in a gold building with a gold throne. UKIP turned their back on the British people when it came to figuring out what happens in a post-Brexit society, the really difficult bit. Trump has already broken a few promises.

Maybe the point is they were the only possible alternatives. This also comes down to the limiting of political debate as mentioned earlier. The public are to blame for this. They should have demanded more. And it will be up to the public to clean the mess up.

So let’s not go down the same route as Britain and America. Let’s demand more from our politicians, we do pay their wages after all. I’m not here to plead with people to do this and that. I think people, for the most part, should be free to make their own decisions. I believe it was this choice being taken away from them that led to people turning to those dangerous people on the fringe. So, I don’t believe politicians should dictate to people on how to live their lives. If Barrett and his cohorts are against abortion well then don’t do it. If they are against gay marriage, don’t marry somebody the same sex as you.

However, I think this is something everybody should get behind, standing up for your freedom of expression. If Barrett and his cronies come-a-knocking I will point to the above picture and tell them to fuck off.


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