Michael Pattwell: Intolerance such an unpleasant trait in modern-day liberalism

Though the Age of Enlightenment may well have passed, liberalism seems to have taken on a life of its own, so says Michael Pattwell in his weekly column
Michael Pattwell: Intolerance such an unpleasant trait in modern-day liberalism

CONDEMNED: Noel Grealish TD came under fire for his comments on immigrants remitting money back to their families last week.

LIBERALISM is said to have originated in The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th through to the 19th century.

Scholars of that period believe Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, was the first work of the Enlightenment period, though in France they prefer to regard the Enlightenment as having existed through the reign of Louis XV (from 1715) to the French Revolution in 1789.

The ideas of the Enlightenment undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Church and paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

In time, all of this led to what we now call liberalism, a movement that is very much alive to this very day, and in its purest sense should be expected to represent liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, religious tolerance and the separation of church and state.

In particular, it could easily be said to represent a negative reaction to absolute monarchy and to the dogmatic influence of the Catholic Church. In truth, it is hard to find fault with that philosophy, though I do find myself questioning whether those who claim to be supporters of liberalism today fully understand what true liberalism means.

Put another way, liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law.

Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights (including civil rights and human rights), capitalism (free markets), democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

Though the Age of Enlightenment may well have passed, liberalism seems to have taken on a life of its own and in current times, certainly in Ireland, is very much alive. Based on the ideas of John Locke (1632-1704) — regarded as the founder of liberalism — each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property and governments violate those rights at their peril. Very much part of modern liberalism is the right to free speech, but of all that liberalism entails, the right to free speech is constantly denied to those who may not agree with the views of the so-called liberals.

The Kerry TD, Danny Healy Rae, was interviewed on the radio one morning last week about the utterances of his colleague, Noel Grealish, in the Dáil in relation to immigrants remitting money back to their families in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Whilst I don’t particularly support the same Danny Healy Rae (I do like his brother, Michael) I must say that his defence of Grealish’s right to ask the question was very apt.

Healy Rae reminded us, the listeners, that the behaviour of those who campaigned for the revocation of the 8th Amendment and for the introduction of abortion, last year, was very little short of scandalous in the way people who campaigned to retain the prohibition on abortion were vilified and labelled.

Indeed, the reaction to Mr Grealish’s question seemed very much over the top and the “racist” and “racism” words were flying in from all directions. I don’t think that was fair and whilst I would have preferred that the Galway West TD had outlined why he had asked the question in the first place, I would defend his right to ask it.

One commentator even suggested that because Grealish already had the answer to the question he shouldn’t have asked it publicly. She is forgetting, however, that a TD’s question in the Dáil is not just for his own information but is for the whole of the electorate or for as many of them as are interested.

Now that I have dared to defend the right of a TD to ask a question —particularly one that some may regard as not being ‘politically correct’ — I know that I will now probably feel a backlash from some keyboard-warrior/liberals. So what is new?

I would have to clarify, however, that there is nothing wrong at all with immigrants here remitting money to their families in their home countries. As was said many times in relation to Mr Grealish’s question, we in Ireland should be the last to complain about that. In my own lifetime, my own father emigrated to the United States in January, 1955. He went to prepare for my mother and the rest of us children to follow him later in the year. In fact, he didn’t like it there, including the existence of conscription — he had three young sons at home, including me — and by the following Christmas he was back home with us. In the meantime we wanted for nothing and the money arrived to my mother absolutely regularly.

It shouldn’t be necessary for me to declare that I have no objection to any legal immigrant coming here from wherever, regardless of creed or colour, and I, like everybody else, come across, on a daily basis, immigrants working away in any manner of jobs. In fact, many of them are doing work that many of our own people won’t do. Look at the number of workers in meat factories (tough and unsavoury work, dealing with offal, bad smells and other unpleasant conditions) who have come from far away places.

I have never experienced bad manners or any other form of unpleasant behaviour from any immigrant worker. I have, from Irish workers. It seems, however, because of the anonymous keyboard warriors hiding in the long grass, that it is necessary to declare how we feel about the growing section of our population who hail from foreign parts.

Political correctness seems to be dominating our lives more and more. In the same newspapers that reported on the Grealish incident last week there was another story, involving a Fianna Fáil senator, Lorraine Clifford-Lee. The by-election candidate for the Dublin-Fingal constituency has been criticised for comments she made about the traveller community nine years ago. In the face of calls for her resignation from the senate and that she step down from the by-election, she had abjectly apologised and agreed she was wrong when she made the comments.

Is there any room for people to change their minds?

At the same time, the newspapers last week reported on another politician and by-election candidate who made unfortunate remarks some five years ago. Fine Gael candidate for the Dublin Mid-West constituency, Councillor Emer Higgins, wrote a letter to residents in her area in 2014 and described the decision of the Council not to go ahead with a Traveller housing scheme as “a victory for the community”.

This, of course, as well as the Clifford-Lee complaint, is purely playing politics with whatever bit of muck that can be dug up.

Which one of us, away back in the years before we copped on to ourselves, didn’t use words that should have been unacceptable at the time but were in fact quite common until we, in time, realised it?

When I was a child, the Travellers were usually referred to as “tinkers”. A tinker was, in fact, a fine craftsman and the word was never intended to be disrespectful. Then the word “knackers” came into our vocabulary and it took some time before the good work of the Pavee Point organisation helped us to see the error of our ways. Pavee Point is, in case anybody doesn’t know, a government-funded non-governmental organisation based in Dublin, that was formed to improve the human rights of Irish Travellers and to bridge the economic and social inequalities between Travellers and settled people.

The same applied to the “n” word to describe black-skinned people and, to be truthful, when I was a boy, it was quite unusual to see a black person and when we did we stared, quite unheedingly, at them. In fact, we only saw one very rarely where I lived in a country town and the few that we did see were usually young students in UCC when, on the rare occasions, we came into the city.

I don’t deny that I am probably more conservative in my approach to certain issues than many of my fellow citizens. On many issues I have changed my mind too and that is not something I would ever apologise for.

I recognise and appreciate the right of those whom I would consider ‘liberals’ to hold their own opinions and indeed to campaign and advocate for them.

I do, however, expect — indeed, demand — that those who consider my values to be out of date to extend the same courtesy to me and, as I do for them, to stand up for my right to my opinion.

Contact Michael at pattwellsverdict@eircom.net

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