Alison O’Connor’s Erratic Empathy

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It’s been a trying week for Alison O’Connor, who discovered twitter is mean, a fact that should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever been on twitter. More specifically she is referring to the fact that people responded to this particular tweet with mockery and derision.

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The Jobstown verdict, in which a jury found people not guilty of a silly charge for which there was no evidence (aside from the fertile imagination of crooked cops), has been causing a more general furor among the commentariat. Having ran through a number of possible explanations for how a jury didn’t reach the ‘correct’ verdict (a number of long-prison sentences for causing a government minister to be delayed slightly), they eventually decided on two explanations:

1. The charges were too severe (because they failed to stick).

2. Them social medias is killin’ the judicial systemz (by depriving broadsheet journalism of its monopoly on trial coverage).

It is the existence of social media that concerns O’Connor, whose screed begins blandly enough:

I have always felt that the privilege of being a journalist is that you get to write things that are read by an audience, or if you also broadcast, to say things publicly.

I’ve always felt that the privilege of being a Sheffield Wednesday midfielder is playing in the middle of the field for Sheffield Wednesday.

Alison continues:

But what ended up happening that day in Jobstown was good old-fashioned bullying, just as it is online. There it is an opportunity to express utter contempt for those who do not hold the same “pure position” as they do. To describe it as political expression is nonsense.

A key part of the approach by the militant wing of this protest group was an exceptionally successful campaign to utterly dehumanise Joan Burton. By doing so it made it perfectly alright in the eyes of these people to put the former tánaiste through such an experience.

This experience was being delayed for a few hours in a car, while surrounded by a battalion of Gardaí, with air support. This strikes me as being a fairly liberal interpretation of dehumanisation.

How was she not to know that things might not get out of hand and that the car could not have been overturned?

Yes! Moreover, how was she to know that none of the protestors were suicide bombers? Or that Paul Murphy wasn’t about to rip open the door with his teeth in a bid to devour the women within?

Seriously though, the 180 Gardaí would have been provided some fairly strong re-assurance that the car wasn’t in danger of being overturned.

However, it’s not just Joan Burton who is feeling the brunt of the bullies, but Alison O’Connor herself, who was subjected to a series of accurate descriptions of Alison O’Connor.

The replies covered a wide range. I was called an asskisser, poor little snowflake, unable to handle it, an ignorer of perjury, a liar, a victim, part of the MSM conspiracy (had to look that one up, it’s mainstream media apparently), an attention seeker (trying to get myself on the radio or television), smart arsed, privileged, naïve and unable to see outside my own privileged social set.

All of these things are entirely correct, except for the existence of a mainstream media conspiracy. Most Irish media commentators are so firmly practiced in the art of sycophantic group-think that a conspiracy would represent a needless formality.

The article ends on a defiant (albeit childishly petty) note:

Anyway the good news is I’m off on holidays for a few weeks. Needless to say, given my privileged position, the vacation involves a private yacht, casinos and a bevy of servants. In the event I think I may well take the advice of one of the many who tweeted me in the past few days. It was: “Get off Twitter if you can’t ignore the nutters.”

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There really is little of note in this article. O’Connor is such a blandly typical mouthpiece of orthodoxy that she could be replaced with an algorithm and nobody would notice the difference. However, two things did catch my eye, in the course of what was largely a self-indulgent whine, which are significant in terms of the off-hand, dismissive way in which she mentions them. The first is this:

There are many questions to be asked about the trial, chief among them the decision by the DPP to bring charges of false imprisonment which potentially carried a life sentence. Those on trial have been cleared of the charges, and they were a heavy weight for those six men to bear in the intervening years.

Why then does this, a years-long trial in which bogus charges were inflicted on six innocent people, largely as a result of Garda perjury, merit only one throwaway paragraph? While a heated protest in Tallaght, and people making fun of Alison O’Connor, is deemed to require an entire, indignant column?

None of this is not to ignore the true suffering of the people in Jobstown and other places like it during the austerity years, and their legitimate desire to protest about what they had to disproportionately endure.

It absolutely fucking is. Indeed, to get a real insight into O’Connor’s feelings towards places like Jobstown and the right of their inhabitants to protest one should instead look to this 2015 column, written at the height of the anti-water charges movement:

The anti-water-charges movement has ‘jumped the shark’ in the sincerity of its protests. That is the phrase that comes to mind as I observe the antics of some of the protesters, who have brought the movement into disrepute. I just wish they would shove off and let people, including those employed by Irish Water, or our democratically elected representatives, get on with their business.

This paragraph, in a way, cuts through the bullshit and shines a light onto O’Connor’s real views. Despite a half-hearted, and entirely rhetorical, acknowledgement of the suffering that places like Jobstown have suffered at the hands of austerity, those plebs should ultimately know their place well enough to ‘shove off’ and let their betters ‘get on with their business.’

One of the defining tropes of a declining neo-liberalism is its entirely managerial nature in which politics becomes a competition between competing brands of the same politics. Beyond this ‘debate’ there lies an ecosystem of vapid pundits, the Noel Whelans and Alison O’Connors of this world, who derive their lifeblood from commenting on this shallow, tedious game.

Places like Jobstown really don’t enter into this world (nor, of course, do most places or people). Indeed, for people like O’Connor, Jobstown or Knocknaheeny are every bit as strange and exotic as Timbuktu or Kyrgzstan. When they do enter the world of politics, they are vilified as ignorant bullies who need to ‘shove off’ and let the middle-class managerial elite get on with the job of governance.

Alison O’Connor’s political utopia is a small room wherein she and her buddies discuss the sock decisions of a handful of enlightened despots.

 

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