Irish Examiner view: Tip-of-iceberg demo in Cork city  must be peaceful

The necessary focus on averting a recurrence of the violence seen in Dublin last weekend may curtail the protest
Irish Examiner view: Tip-of-iceberg demo in Cork city  must be peaceful

Members of An Garda Síochána are forced to draw battons as an angry anti-lockdown protesters tried to break through errected barriers to a meeting spot at St Stephens Green in Dublin on Febraury 27. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

That peaceful protest is an important, legitimate thread of democratic participation is a truism. It must be. 

It may be absolutely predictable to underline it but the essential word in that sentence — peaceful — defines differences as polarised as night or day, as polarised as a functioning society or mayhem. 

When protest becomes street violence, democracy fails particularly as that violence is often a consequence of, on one hand, disengagement or, on the other side of the fence, resolute deafness.

There are all too many examples today of what happens when mass street protest meets a determined, well-resourced autocracy. 

Just last Wednesday, at least 38 people were killed in Myanmar on the "bloodiest day" since that country's coup a month ago. 

Over recent weeks Russian police used force to disperse and to try to silence supporters of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny. 

Analysts suggest the Putin regime is immune to these protests unless, or until, his facilitators — senior officials, high-ranking military officers, or the intelligence services — "wobble". 

The same dynamic is in play in Belarus where Kremlin proxy President Alexander Lukashenko depends on Putin's survival. 

Those protests are echoed in Hong Kong and India, each outbreak symptomatic of a do-or-die discontent. 

It may seem incongruous to link Naypyitaw and Ballyhea, a tidy north Cork village yet both are, or were, stages for legitimate public protest. 

Some Naypyitaw demonstrators paid with their lives but between March 2011 and last March — a year ago on Monday — the Ballyhea protesters lost nothing but time and shoe leather. 

A peoples' protest against bailing out the Bondholders in Ballyhea, Co Cork, in March 2011. File picture: Des Barry

A peoples' protest against bailing out the Bondholders in Ballyhea, Co Cork, in March 2011. File picture: Des Barry

Sadly, though absolutely correct the Ballyhea campaign did not achieve its objective; persistently reckless bankers were rescued with public funds and we're still paying. 

That failure must have exacerbated the feeling that our body politic can be as deaf as it is hidebound. 

That discontent did not end last March when those protests ended. It may have metastasized and may well find expression in Cork on Saturday where an anti-lockdown demonstration is anticipated.

Though headlined as a protest against the pandemic lockdown it will probably, just as the water charges demonstrations were, be a potpourri
expression of discontent. 

That the Environmental Pillar group last week felt it necessary to abandon talks on food and farming policies is one such subject. 

That the Government is pig-headedly persisting, despite advice to the contrary from many sources including its own officials, with its housing shared equity scheme is yet another. 

Abject broadband and highly-questionable mismanagement of this utility another.

Ironically, the necessary focus on averting a recurrence of the violence seen in Dublin last weekend may curtail the protest. 

Many, many people unhappy with many, many things might have marched had the protest not seemed, like the Dublin one, veering toward the unhinged universe of QAnon. 

Just as myriad voters unhappy with the established, conventional parties vote for them only because they cannot contemplate voting for Sinn Féin today's demonstration will probably be smaller than it might have been if its origins were more easily recognised as normal.

Government should resist the temptation to offer a sigh of relief should that transpire. 

The pandemic is today's dominant issue but when it passes, as it will, there will be an election of reckoning when that mixture of stasis, complacency, and sectional interests that passes for Irish politics will be in the firing line. 

Let us hope that today's protest is peaceful but let us hope too that government, even at this 11th hour, recognises that it is only the tiniest tip of a growing iceberg.

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