It took a few days for things to crystallise, but a consensus has developed regarding the O’Connell St. riots. Republicanism has by and large gotten off lightly. Sinn Fein were nowhere near the march, and Republican Sinn Fein members are now largely accepted to have been in a minority of those involved. The blame then was shifted to “thugs in Celtic jerseys???, thus allowing people who should know better to say “these were not republicans, but mere thugs???, as if the two were mutually exclusive.
“Thugs???, “Scumbags???, “Skangers???, “Yobs???, “Louts???. The repeated use of these words to describe the rioters helps point the way towards the Middle Ireland consensus. Blame it on the scumbags, on those who the English so charmlessly call the “chavs???. I felt a touch of it myself, I’ll confess. After all, I don’t set cars alight and smash windows, and I’m angry when others do. Where I’m normally less than indulgent of the Gardai when their tactics stray towards the heavy-handed, a part of me last Saturday thought a little heavy-handedness might be all to the good. Sure, it’s the only language the scumbag understands, isn’t it?
This is a visceral reaction, and having experienced it myself, I can hardly get sanctimonious with those who share it. But am I alone in noticing a certain brute Social Darwinism in discussions of the rioters? Consider the following, by one Eoin McMahon, from today’s Sunday Independent.
“A class has emerged that has no roots and no legitimate code of conduct. This class allows its children to mitch from schools and shoplift for drinking money, palms off its problems on others and takes no responsibility for either the long or short-term consequences of its behaviour. The traditional early-afternoon drinking culture that has always been a feature of this class, resulted in our state forces being subjected to a riot and other random acts of criminal damage in the city centre last weekend???
That the Sindo is prone to this sort of thing is hardly news: the hysterical tirade is practically the house style. I mention this article because it seems to be in tune with what I’ve been hearing all week. This is the authentic voice of class resentment, brimming over with disgust and blinded by anger to its own inconsistencies (such as, for example, the fact that a look into any Dublin 4 pub on a rugby Saturday will swiftly indicate that early afternoon drinking is not a one-class issue). It is the voice of a man who has newly discovered, and found unpleasing the existence of the thugs, the skangers, the scummy proles who have left their ghetto, their station in life, and invaded the public space where, it is understood, they do not belong. As a Family Law practitioner, I meet members of this segment of society all the time, though not as often as my colleagues at the criminal bar. Crime and family breakdown (insofar far as a “family??? can be said to have existed in the first place) are so common as to be banal matters. This class has been around for a long time, and precious little was the attention paid to it by the likes of Mr. McMahon. But now, with important matters like tourism, our standing abroad, and our self-image to be worried over, a stand must be taken.
“Previous generations of the Working Class respected their parents and authority, and the discipline meted out to wrongdoers made us realise the negative consequences of our actions in addition to teaching us self-control. We need a return for a less accommodating society; zero tolerance is required against wrongdoing and underclass parental feckless???
This is boiler plate stuff. First lament the present, then invoke the past. Finally, the core message of the article, “Order Must Be Imposed??? – not content with aping the policies of the 1930s, Mr McMahon adopts their language too.
Now I am no fan of the liberal apologia, which attributes blame only to the privileged, and makes excuses for all others. I understand that in seeking a target for blame for a broken window, you could do worse than the man who threw the brick. But I am alarmed at where discourse like that quoted above appears to be leading us. There is an underclass in Ireland, which is both disenfranchised and irresponsible, the two being opposite sides of the coin of social exclusion. We would all, myself and Mr. McMahon included, like to see that underclass eliminated. But whereas I would hope to see this happen through improvements in the lives of its members, others are less patient, and just want the skangers to go away. By whatever means necessary. Order must be imposed. I have yet to hear the word “vermin??? applied to the rioters, but I imagine it won’t be long in coming. And it unfortunately is precisely the correct metaphor for use by the likes of Mr. McMahon.