The Belfast rape trial ended last week. The past few weeks saw the mix seethe, as preoccupations intersected in Belfast’s Court No. 12: crime, celebrity, sex, power, class, sport. All of it.
The verdict has been a beginning, not an end. A beginning for rallies in support of the complainant all over Ireland, for instance. A starting-point for conversations? That’s less clear.
On social media, which revealed its resemblance to a digital cesspit in the aftermath of the verdict, there were calls for lessons in consent, statements issued, gloating, retractions, deletions . . . if there were tone-deaf or plain wrong reactions available, then there were plenty of people to produce them, and nothing would, or did, stop them.
If one wanted a better handle on the matter, however, the best place to start was Paul Rouse’s outstanding piece for this newspaper on Friday.
Rouse asked — and answered — a question about the meaning of this entire story, by setting it in context: “When it comes down to it, that meaning is to be found in a poisonous culture of contempt and entitlement that corrodes all else. The question is: how pervasive is that culture?”
On that score, while it’s dangerous to judge by an absence of commentary, the silence from many rugby pundits and commentators does them no favours. The culture of contempt and entitlement, correctly identified by Rouse, is sustained by the absence of condemnation; this is a case when an embarrassed silence doesn’t cut it.
In fact, it seems ironic that a GAA county board and a League of Ireland team have been far more proactive in their condemnation of a couple of social media messages referring to the verdict, for instance, than the IRFU has been with the case in general and what it says about the culture among its players.
A Laois footballer and Drogheda United player were deservedly rebuked for their tweets: the soccer club saying it was “horrified” by what was attributed to Luke Rossiter, while the Laois County Board wanted to “disassociate” itself from Gary Walsh’s comments.
By contrast, there has been little in the way of official communication from the IRFU, on specifics such as the presence of Rory Best, the Ireland team captain, at the trial in Belfast, along with fellow internationals, Iain Henderson and Craig Gilroy.
For those who would prefer to resume the conversation on sport, and sport alone, they might want to consider the ways in which the narrative is already moving: a couple of days after the verdict, a juror was in hot water over remarks made to an online outlet about the case, for instance.
A scarcely believable development came when Paddy Jackson’s lawyers indicated that they intended to sue Irish politician, Aodhán Ó Riordain, for a tweet about the verdict which he subsequently deleted. This led to a slew of other messages inviting Jackson to sue their authors also, as well as some puzzlement as to why Ó Riordain was singled-out.
These developments are likely to keep the case in the public eye, something which will discomfit some people — specifically those to whom Rouse’s “culture of contempt and entitlement” is everyday life.
This is a darker side to privilege and complacency, and to the lip-service you hear from Paddy Jackson’s sneaking regarders about the modern world. These are the lads who feel you can’t say anything now; who tell you ‘it’s a different world, sure you can’t look sideways at a woman nowadays, I’m telling you’; who shake their heads and say, sadly, that it’s not like the old days.
Which is exactly what was wrong with the old days. Can the new days be any better?
Na Fianna know man to call on
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