Decency is only for decent people


Your columnist Una Mullaly’s piece on why we should be concerned about abuse driving people from public life has a peculiar qualification. That “Politicians themselves can only expect decency when they are decent” begs the question of who gets to decide what’s decent: is that decided by an individual voter or this columnist, a Twitter poll or the editor of the Irish Times?

If your views run counter to the prevailing winds, are you fair game? Is it ok to abuse holders of minority opinions or office holders that the loudest, most woke, most right-on voices deem to be not decent? Is hounding the wrong type of person from office fine, even when that person has been elected, if a loud enough minority of the right sort disapproves of them?

Criticism of party or government policy has long since been replaced by commentators criticising the motives or humanity of the proposer of the policy. The commentary doesn’t work from the premise that policy X is ineffective for reasons A, B or C. Instead it’s that the party and people proposing it don’t care or aren’t in touch with ordinary people enough to know what’s really needed or the effect it will have on their lives. This criticism is despite the fact that politicians in Ireland, of all parties and none, have far more contact with ordinary people than most columnists. It should also be kept in mind that columnists are entirely relying on their own clairvoyance to discern the level of caring on the part of people they don’t actually know.

So why is that so many people feel disconnected from and such anger at those who have been elected? Could it be because that same commentariat have spent years telling the public that those who are elected are out of touch. Meanwhile those who aren’t elected – but have a public profile in lobbying organisations, whether an NGO or some self named instititute, whether public or privately funded – are the real representatives of public opinion. That marches matter more than votes, that vehemence is a better guide to the right solution than any objective measurement of effectiveness. As this is the new approved model for reflecting the public mood, should it be any surprise that others have adopted and adapted that model of street protests in recent weeks?

If your columnist is genuinely concerned about the background to this situation and its consequences they could start by looking at their own part in this. Sadly, it seems the adage of “I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it” is out of fashion.

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