If Taoiseach Micheál Martin found a moment yesterday to read the international news pages he may have had the briefest moment of peer envy. He may have envied Chinese President Xi Jinping’s capacity to silence critics.
Ren Zhiqiang, aged 69, had earlier this year described Xi Jinping as a “clown”. He was immediately charged with corruption and after he “voluntarily and truthfully confessed all his crimes” was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Whether he survives China’s prisons and lives to be 87 is an open question but his career as a thorn in Xi’s side is over.
Should our courts align themselves so perfectly with the interests of our political leaders, some of the conversations in reopened pubs might focus on the sentences Éamon Ó Cuív or Marc MacSharry, maybe even Jim O’Callaghan might expect for relentlessly challenging their party leader.
Would they fare better or worse than opponents from outside Fianna Fáil? Who knows?
That thought, even at a time of darkening autocracy, is preposterous — but maybe we take it too much for granted that it is preposterous. The idea of a government using the courts to jail opponents may seem unremarkable in China or Belarus, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Israel, Hungary and Poland too but once again the stability and rule of law underpinned by our democracies and the EU can be seen for the great protection and privilege it is.
Cherish it to preserve and protect it.