Today saw me back in Dublin for the second time this week for the same type of thing: solidarity with the Parisians done to death last Wednesday by the goondas of clerical fascism. This morning's event in the grounds of Dublin Castle was organised by the NUJ, a body of which I am a member despite various attempts to have me booted out, ironically, for observing the precepts of freedom of expression.
A couple of hundred people turned out brandishing Je Suis Charlie posters on a sunny but cold morning. The Garda Commissioner was there as were government ministers, newspaper editors, journalists and the Lord Mayor of Dublin. The French ambassador to Ireland was also on the platform and addressed the crowd. It was a pretty high profile turn out. The Irish establishment it seems has signed up to the concept of free speech having previously spent decades devising and implementing censorship and blasphemy laws.
My disdain for the Labour Party notwithstanding, I was glad to see Tanaiste Joan Burton on the platform. I think it is important that government figures publicly commit themselves to freedom of expression so that when the moment comes, as it assuredly shall, it can be made harder for them to introduce the censorious measures that will further muzzle society and prevent it discussing in depth the things that concern it. I could not desist from wondering if she had the same thoughts I was having about her party’s history of suppressing freedom of expression most notably through Conor Cruise O’Brien, the country’s most notorious censor in modern times. I further contemplated how Frances Fitzgerald might reconcile her support for free speech with her plans to introduce new laws aimed at muzzling ideas she does not like.
If that sounds churlish too bad, but I am allowed to say it because free speech is chic this week. We know ministers blow hot and cold, tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what you need to know, their commitment to anything honourable, invariably transient. During the summer when I stood in Drogheda protesting Israeli terrorism and the mass slaughter of mostly Muslim civilians, there were no Labour or Fine Gael luminaries in sight. But there were no cameras either, which perhaps explains it.
This morning, the names of the nine journalists, two police officers and the caretaker who died were read out by two members of the French community in Ireland. The secretary of the Irish NUJ, Seamus Dooley, commented on the location, right beside the Chester Beatty Library, as “a symbol of creativity and multiculturalism where the jewel in the crown is the 6,000 piece Islamic collective, which reflects the true spirit of Islam.” Dooley described Wednesday’s events in Paris as the absolute blasphemy, murder in the name of a deity. He also recalled Veronica Guerin and Martin O’Hagan, Irish journalists murdered because of the job they did.
The wider threat to journalists was a theme revisited by NUJ Irish chair Gerry Curran:
In the past two decades 2,000 media workers, 900 of whom were journalists died as a result of work related incidents. Only 30 per cent died as a result of being caught in cross fire or in a war or crisis zone. 70 per cent or over 600 journalists have been targeted and murdered in the past twenty years. Many more have been seriously threatened, injured or tortured. We live in a world where journalists are the prey of those who do not want their activities reported.
It was important that the Irish NUJ organised today's event. When journalism is tardy in rallying to the defence of journalists, others will hardly step into the breach a la galloping cavalry. About now Seamus Dooley should be in France, where he will be meeting with fellow journalists and attending the unity March in Paris tomorrow. Irish journalism, much battered by censorship laws, and not always robust in pushing back, is asserting where it stands on this very important matter.
Come Monday the matter should not be laid to rest with the dead as they are placed in their graves. The NUJ should now do two things:
- press to have the Irish Blasphemy Law consigned to the Ark.
- publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in its own magazine, The Journalist.