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Anger is everywhere. We need more imaginative forms of justice

The word ‘anger’ isn’t big enough to cover the naked aggression some people see as their entitlement

A young woman who cycles to work in Dublin describes the daily challenge when the cycleway turns left at a bridge but she has to keep straight ahead while manoeuvring into the car lane. On a recent morning, a van driver slowed to a crawl beside her and with the window open screamed “stupid c**t” and “f**in’ stupid b*tch” in her face, violently and repeatedly.

Several listeners to this story had experienced similar unprovoked acts of aggression but were reluctant to describe the resulting deep shock and humiliation – mainly because what can feel like a physical punch to the victim often sounds like a non-event to others.

The screaming van driver in that case was probably about 20 years older than the four teenagers who attacked 17-year-old Alanna Quinn Idris and a friend in Ballyfermot in December 2021, leaving the young woman unconscious with a broken cheekbone and permanent loss of vision in one eye.

She told the sentencing hearing on Monday that she felt “embarrassed, mortified and heartbroken ... overcome with flashbacks ... I’ve never been the most confident girl, but I had a little, until my attackers took that away”.


Sentencing Josh Cummins, who is now 19, and one of the four, Judge Pauline Codd described the attack as unprovoked, shocking and egregious.

While that catastrophic attack and the verbal assault on the cyclist were on a vastly different scale, the root of both was the same. What the cyclist was describing was not mere testiness on a bad morning; it was naked aggression of a kind that she reasonably feared could end in a physical assault. And there was nothing she could do about it.

The word anger does a lot of heavy lifting for people seeking to explain a spectrum of screamingly entitled or criminal behaviour. In one video of the Dublin riots, as mobs surged down O’Connell Street the male voiceover used the word angry repeatedly, like a hopeful prompt: “They’re getting angry now. They’re getting angry. Getting angry, getting angry …”.

Soon after, sections of the “angry” mob were pulling a driver out of a bus, demanding to know where he was from, telling him to go back to his own country and threatening to kill him. Then they set the bus on fire.

There was a glimpse into bus drivers’ daily lives when that driver’s colleague described how a few months before, a motorist had cut in front of the bus he was driving, blocking it at traffic lights, then threw a punch at him through the open window of the cab.

Last January David Murphy, a Dublin secondary teacher and part-time referee, described an under-16s camogie match in south Dublin where an aggressive parent started cursing at him over a particular decision – “You’re not f**king seeing it right, that’s my f**king daughter.” The father was eventually removed from the sideline, but what baffled Murphy was that the daughter’s team was ahead and went on to win the game. Afterwards, the implacable father sought out Murphy again to shower further abuse. It wasn’t the children who were challenging the volunteer referee’s authority, said Murphy about the soaring levels of aggression, but grown men and women who encroached on the pitch and “think they’re right in every way”.

The word “anger” isn’t big enough to encompass the physical and psychological violations of all those lives and their enduring effects not only on the immediate victims, but on all the impressionable young people entertaining their inner Conor McGregor.

Many are convinced of their entitlement to their “anger” because it has become normalised under the guise of legitimate fury at their circumstances or the Government or some weird “authenticity”. Seven years ago, long before he grandly declared this country to be at war, McGregor was threatening to kill his MMA opponent’s “f**king team, you [Nate Diaz] and them b*tch kids”. Many who consider themselves ordinary decent people saw nothing wrong with that. Naturally, he now fancies his chances for the presidency.

Anger can be a useful emotion. It drove the suffrage, anti-slavery and anti-apartheid campaigners, and drives the #MeToo, pro-choice and gun-control movements. In free and fair elections it underpins the removal of corrupt or incompetent governments. It can turn a lonely victim of injustice into a survivor.

The problem is that the word is used almost interchangeably with aggression where the aim is to overwhelm, antagonise, intimidate and demean. And unless the aggressor physically punches someone as McGregor did, there is nothing to be done. It cost him a day in court and a €1,000 fine but we can only speculate about what it taught him about empathy.

In that context, stories of imaginative justice of the kind doled out by Judge Timothy Gilligan in Parma, Ohio can be cheering. When Rosemary Hayne ended up in his court for hurling a bowl of hot food and sauce in the face of a takeaway employee, Gilligan reckoned a jail sentence would merely cost the taxpayer money while teaching nothing of value to Hayne. His elegant solution was to sentence her to 120 days in custody – but with an offer to halve the sentence if she consented to walk in the employee’s shoes and work 20 hours a week in a fast-food restaurant.

Hayne agreed. As of last week, unsurprisingly, no one had offered her a job. But that shouldn’t stop us dreaming of a day when aggressive behaviour in all its forms is called out in a way that carries meaning for the perpetrator.