I have a confession to make: I once voted for Fine Gael. There, I said it. It is a long time since I have seen the error of my ways, but the events of the past week provide yet another depressing reminder of that party’s insistence upon stifling conformity.
The President of Young Fine Gael (YFG), Killian Foley-Walsh, and YFG’s social media officer, Chloe Kennedy, were traduced last week in both the mainstream and social media for having the temerity to attend a conservative political conference in Washington DC organised by Young America’s Foundation (YAF). Although I do not know the two in question nor do I share their political views, I could not help feeling sympathetic towards them.
Hugh O’Connell of the Irish Independent, who broke this non-story, wrote dryly that “many members [of YAF] are opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage”. Imagine that – conservatives opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. In the case of Foley-Walsh, it did not seem to matter that he himself has publicly expressed support for same-sex marriage. The problem is that he is pro-life. That is sufficient basis for him to be purged from the Fine Gael party.
This should come as a surprise to no-one. When Lucinda Creighton – one of the very few genuinely courageous and principled politicians our country has seen in the last two decades – defied Fine Gael on the abortion issue, she paid for it with her very promising ministerial career. The party brooks no dissent – and particularly on the abortion issue.
Having been forced out of the party, Creighton lost her Dáil seat to Kate O’Connell, one of Fine Gael’s most outspoken pro-abortion advocates, who employs her sister, Theresa Newman, as a parliamentary advisor. The aforementioned journalist, Hugh O’Connell, is married to Ms Newman.
In this instance, established members of Fine Gael weighed in to clobber Foley-Walsh and Kennedy. MEP Maria Walsh told O’Connell that she would be writing to YFG to demand that its president resign. TD Noel Rock also criticised them. It should come as no surprise that both of these politicians are pro-abortion.
The real defining characteristic of bullying relates to a power imbalance”
The fact of the matter is that this conference was an event very much in the conservative mainstream in the US. It is of course the case that the Irish media leans overwhelmingly pro-Democrat and anything associated with the Republican Party is treated as reactionary.
However, the Irish Examiner really took the biscuit. In an editorial piece entitled ‘Rise of the right built on hate and fear’, the Examiner – seemingly oblivious to the irony of its headline – suggested, while simultaneously attempting to deny the suggestion, that there was “a commonality” between the attendance by Foley-Walsh and Kennedy at the conference and the recent mass-shooting in El Paso, Texas.
This is pretty despicable stuff by any standards, but anyone espousing a socially conservative view – particularly in relation to abortion – is regarded as fair game by our media.
The Irish Examiner and Irish Independent published the names of these young people, with an accompanying photo of the YFG president, lest there should be any doubt as to their identities. This is the modern-day equivalent of reading names from the pulpit. The very people who (rightly) criticise the conformist and judgmental attitudes of some priests historically are found to be no better themselves – to be exact, they are hypocrites.
Their calculated attempt to smear a young man had the desired effect. Here is a flavour of some of the Twitter responses to the piece: “right wing goon”, “fascist”, “nasty piece of work”, “vile little creep”. Most of these come from people posting messages such as “love not hate” and calling for anti-bullying programmes.
When others tried to draw attention to their hypocrisy, they rather predictably – in Orwellian tones – said that they were merely calling out hate.
Those who could formulate some criticism other than straight-forward name calling, claimed that their problem was with Foley-Walsh attending a conference that was addressed by the Vice-President of the US. In their eyes this was proven treason against the “values” of Fine Gael and modern, liberal Ireland. Lest they need reminding, Leo Varadkar met with the very same Mike Pence and his wife. In fact, he shook his hand, stood and smiled with him for photos, and breakfasted with him. But Foley-Walsh and Kennedy were allowed no such leeway.
Their calculated attempt to smear a young man had the desired effect”
The real defining characteristic of bullying relates to a power imbalance. People say nasty things to others all the time, but what sets bullying apart is when one who is in a position of strength uses that position to attack another who is in a weaker position.
Here we had seasoned journalists, with the power and backing of national newspapers whipping up a storm against a young person with whose politics they disagreed, and elected TDs and MEPs straining at the bit to grab the nearest microphone to denounce the young fellow, who has none of the power enjoyed by his detractors.
What kind of message does this send out to young people considering a political career? We constantly hear about the dearth of young people in politics – is it any wonder?
The choices faced by young aspirants to political life are two: dissent from the mainstream manifesto and be metaphorically tarred and feathered (unappealing) or assimilate into the conformist, woke – and ultimately incredibly judgemental – culture of successful modern politicians. How oppressive. How boring.
Is it really any surprise that most are completely apathetic towards politics? Is it any surprise that dissenters must constantly second-guess every tweet and utterance and association, lest an informer is waiting in the wings to bring about their downfall?
In George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother was the embodiment of the Party, always keeping tabs on everyone.
In Fine Gael, as in Orwell’s dystopian vision, thanks to its allies in the journalistic thought-police, it seems that the party is always watching.