The Connolly Youth Movement’s bloated claim to represent Irish youth notwithstanding, the stance that it took yesterday in DCU during the awarding of an honorary doctorate to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern helped crystallise what the polar opposites in this standoff actually stand for.
The three Connolly Youth protestors stood four square against the accumulative avarice and self-aggrandizement that has come to be so identified with the brand of political leadership served up to the country by Bertie Ahern during his time in office.
Reading from a prepared statement the protestors said:
On behalf of the youth of Ireland, our friends and our families, we as students and as members of the Connolly Youth Movement cannot be idle and cannot let an event like this go ahead unchallenged . . . We are opposed to the celebration of a corrupt politician who ... ruined the lives of so many young people. An architect of the financial crisis which lost so many young people as a result of suicide and emigration.
Strong stuff but hardly a marginalised opinion amongst the more deprived sections of Irish society. How the protestors and not the former Taoiseach were booed by the body of the hall is perhaps best explained by collective stupefaction. Not for the first time in history did the cry Give us Barabbas ring out.
Ahern is an affable character whose hand I would shake and whose whiskey I would sip, but that should not immunize him from the type of resentment vented yesterday. The anger of the Connolly Youth Movement seems even more on the money as a result of the cavalier response it received from the former Taoiseach who described the protestors as having "nothing better to do this morning, so it was nice of them to come along and say hello to me.”
Dripping in crass class chauvinism, Marie Antoinette could not have said it more pompously. Obviously, Mr Ahern is determined to remain tone deaf to the concerns young people have about his political record, wholly oblivious to the harm caused, thus validating the protest against him.
The Connolly Youth Movement might be populated by young people but it is not a young movement. Formed in the early 1960s, but having gone dormant for around a decade, it has reemerged since the turn of the century. Currently it is aligned to a breakaway faction from the Communist Party of Ireland which calls itself the Irish Communist Party. I have zero interest in the internal affairs of the Irish communist movement. The Life of Brian imagery conjured out of splits to the raucous cries of deviationism invariably cause me to obviate between laughter and eyes glazing over. Might as well be the Westboro Baptist Church for all I care.
Over the past few years I have come to know some of the Connolly Youth. Despite negative depictions in the conservatize blogosphere the vast bulk of them do not suffer from Histrionic Personality Disorder. They are not narcissists and attention seekers but conscientious activists who unfailingly put the shifts in. Nor are they, as again depicted by the right, puritans haunted by the Mencken thought that somewhere someone might just be having a good time. Having been on the booze with them, I can attest to their lighter side. Their sense of humour, lack of preciousness, ability to wind up and banter endears me to them even if I am not remotely interested in their political ideology. At least when you go out for beer with them they like to talk trash like the rest of us instead of tub thumping.
Being grateful that I am well beyond the age of thinking I know everything, it is uplifting to learn from younger people. In that respect I find that my daughter's non political ‘weirdo’ friends - as I often say to wind her up - are a source of insight, vision and perspective. So I enjoy the company of the Connolly Youth activists and feel safe in their presence whether at a rally or a leaflet distribution.
For this reason I am relieved that what they did yesterday did not expose them to the risk of prosecution, unlike on a previous occasion when they were ordered out to perpetrate brownshirt-like thuggery against political opponents.
Activists should be steered away from prison not into it.
⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.