Public political discourse has been tainted

The murder of British Labour MP Jo Cox has sparked a wider debate on abuse directed at elected representatives

US vice president Joe Biden (L) will visit Ireland today. Photograph: The New York Times

US vice president Joe Biden (L) will visit Ireland today. Photograph: The New York Times

 

The murder of Labour MP Jo Cox serves as a reminder of the toxic and sometimes dangerous situations politicians find themselves in.

Her death, a particularly senseless and incomprehensible one, has sparked a wider debate on the abuse directed at elected representatives.

Contempt for politics has become somewhat contagious. Often members of the public have a deep-rooted hatred for a certain politician based not on their policies or performance but on a perception they have of them.

More often than not, that perception has little basis in reality. It is one borne out of a dislike of someone’s voice, their dress sense, their gestures.

It is a worrying trait. Public discourse has become tainted by the belief that politicians are property - that their personal lives, family, their homes and their staff are somehow fair game.

It is reasonable and appropriate to criticise or attack politicians for their performance or their policies, and the current discussion should not be seen as an attempt to prevent protest or silence debate.

Democracy is the cornerstone of our society, but it should not be used as a cover-up for abuse.

This discussion should be the beginning of a reasoned and rational debate on the relationship between politicians and the general electorate.

In Ireland’s case the problems stem from a cynicism with politics created by the economic downturn.

Politicians enjoyed the unwavering trust of the electorate but abused it with catastrophic consequences. The resulting distrust has now festered into a deeply divisive, often abusive political environment.

The threats now issued at politicians from the often faceless “Twitterati” is disturbing. Social media has intensified that hostility and made it personal.

Of course there are politicians who hog the media spotlight, who abuse the privilege bestowed to them. But more often than not politicians are good people who work hard.

It goes beyond personalities, though. There is a deep-rooted misconception about politics (and indeed the media for that matter) and a blanket distrust of it.

The cynicism goes unchallenged because it is easier and more politically attractive to agree with the theory that politics is bad and that those involved are not to be trusted.

It is time to begin the conversation about the players and the game. It is unfortunate that it took the death of a mother-of-two to start the discussion.

Biden, bin charges and a game of golf?

After years of promises, US vice president Joe Biden will visit Ireland today.

And what a time to land on our shores. Mr Biden arrives just in time for the summer statement. No Mr Vice President, this is not an announcement extending the summer period or a promise of nicer weather.

It is the Irish version where our sunnier Ministers (well one of them at least) tell us how bright things in the economy look. Few storm clouds ahead, they will say, but all-in-all it will be rather pleasant.

This is similar to the weather forecaster telling you to take out the sun cream but to bring your raincoat with you.

The vice president also arrives at a time of political unease . . . over bins. While the US Senate debates gun possession, the Dáil will discuss the introduction of higher waste charges that are unaffordable for many families.

The increased charges are due to come into effect on July 1st, but Minister for Housing Simon Coveney is to pause them for 12 months.

That will give plenty of time to discuss how the officials in the Department of the Environment failed to see this mess coming.

Having watched the policy on water charges crumble before their eyes surely the Department should have been aware of this and moved to address this problem sooner.

Or maybe it is just like the vice president himself says: “If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30 per cent chance we’re going to get it wrong.”

Meanwhile, Mr Biden’s aim of playing golf with Taoiseach Enda Kenny does not appear on the agenda for his visit.

The diary of the vice president and Taoiseach are pretty packed over the next few days so a round on the course does not seem to be on the cards.

We hear there is a good game of golf to be had in Doonbeg, Mr vice president. The owner would only love to have you.