This morning I re-watched the journalistic car crash that was the John Connors interview on Friday’s Late Late Show.
As John – an actor, Republican and filmmaker, who also happens to be a Traveller – went toe to toe, the interview quickly stopped being about John’s heritage or Ryan’s privilege, and instead became about those who weren’t there at all.
And it is in how we treat those who are not present that we learn where we are as a society in relation to our prejudices; Ireland may have made progress in recent years, but the conservative Catholic ethos still remains.
There is still a hierarchy, and it is slavishly adhered to by many in the media.
Take Paul Williams, a man who apparently told John Connors on film that as an ethnic group, Travellers bear a collective responsibility for criminality in their ranks.
Now in case you need it clarified for you, ascribing collective guilt is one of the oldest and most racist statements one can possibly make.
For instance, by that logic all Irish people bear responsibility for the campaign of bombing that tore through the British mainland in the seventies, eighties and nineties.
Which, of course, is nonsense.
By Williams’ racist logic we also bear responsibility for things like apartheid and the Crusades, given that the majority of Irish people are white and nominally Christian.
But John wasn’t even allowed to bring up what Williams said on the public record and why?
Because “he’s not here to defend himself.”
The same was then said of the local authorities that moved quickly to block the movement of any Travellers onto their land following the Carrickmines fire, in which ten people died.
Then, breathtakingly, Ryan asked John why publicans weren’t in a hurry to serve Travellers alcohol.
So the integrity of neither Williams nor local authorities may be questioned, but Ryan had no problem inferring that Travellers – who, let it be said, also weren’t there to defend themselves – are violent drunks.
Even John’s own experience of racism was questioned, as was his anger towards the system and the society that has not only allowed it to fester, but has in many cases actively encouraged it.
Here’s some of the tweets that were made on the Late Late hashtags during the interview – ranging from openly racist to simple, yet staggeringly ignorant, this is what Ryan believes John has little or no reason to be angry about.
In insinuating that Travellers as an ethnic group are violent drunks or criminals and that they deserve that reputation, Ryan is kowtowing to the racist logic of the sensationalist Williams, but of course, this cannot be discussed.
Because imagine if Williams did what Iona and John Waters and Breda O’Brien did when they were called homophobes by Rory O’Neill on the Saturday Night Show?
What if he sued? How much would it cost? What would that do to Ryan’s career?
Notice nobody asks what would happen if a Traveller sued, as in our society they are granted no standing. Williams can say what he likes – even if it’s racist, or even if it tars Sinn Féin’s voters as terrorists, for instance – but he cannot be called racist for making racist statements on the public record.
This is the legacy of Pantigate, it is what columnist (note: not journalist) Breda O’Brien, journalist and former member of the Broadcasting Authority John Waters and the Iona Institute in general, whose fear of homosexuality is the very definition of homophobia, have left us.
(As both are based on fear, being homophobic or racist are not necessarily bad things in themselves – it is the repression of and the imposition of one’s own values on others, and the denial of the rights of others that is reprehensible.)
Irish voters have in recent times indicated that they are abandoning the vicious, venal, hateful and judgemental attitudes fostered by the church and implemented for generations by politicians as they divided and conquered and created hierarchies that suited themselves.
But as yet the system itself has not changed – The Lads are still in control, and despite the fact that they are a minority, the likes of Iona still call the shots.
Every time they call the lawyers in, journalists jump and eventually they toe the line. When “they” are not there to defend themselves, the lawyers will do it for them, and as a result the questions can’t even be put.
Maybe John and the family of those who died in Carrickmines should call the Iona lawyers and see what can be done about the imposition of collective guilt and responsibility on Travellers, or Muslims, or Africans, or anyone else.
My guess is very little.
Irish media doesn’t tell the truth to power.
Instead, cowed by the fear of legal proceedings, it restricts itself to telling the truth that power wants people to hear.