I unequivocally condemn the charges being laid against the Jobstown protesters in regards to the ‘false imprisonment’ of Joan Burton during a protest against water charges last year. Investigating and prosecuting crime is, of course, important, but it cannot be used as an excuse to harass people over non-events and prevent them from making their views known to their alleged ‘representatives’.
A major problem with our political landscape is the willingness of politicians to simply ignore and avoid constituents who are unhappy with their decisions. I felt this attitude was rather strikingly displayed by Joan Burton during the Jobstown protest as she, apparently, made no effort to engage with the protesters crowded around her, despite having ample opportunity to do so.
It can, of course, be intimidating to have to speak to people who strongly disagree with you, and it is uncomfortable for anyone to have their decisions vocally criticized, but going into politics is a voluntary act, and if you want to have an influential position in society, you have to be willing to show some respect and compassion for the people who have elected you. By electing you, they have entrusted you with a great responsibility and it is your duty to listen carefully to them and try to balance their interests as best you can. It may not always be possible for you to rectify the situation immediately, but you should at least be willing to try.
This is especially the case when people have been driven to desperation by adverse economic circumstances. People generally do not go out on the street to protest because they have nothing better to do with their lives. They protest because they are at their wit’s end and don’t know what else to do. When protesters prevent a politician from leaving a place this is because they want that politician to engage with them and acknowledge their position. This is the only way they can try to make themselves heard in an atmosphere where politicians are all too often insulated from seeing the pain their decisions cause others.
I don’t believe that the people in Jobstown wanted to hurt anyone or even to really cause any trouble. They wanted a person who was supposed to be looking out for them to truly see how difficult their lives were and how much their policies were hurting them.
If a politician is unable to deal with that dissatisfaction, I’d suggest not making the policy that lead to that ire in the first place. You are the person in charge, so either own what you are doing, or admit that you were wrong and reverse the decision.
If I had been in Joan Burton’s situation, I definitely wouldn’t have stayed in my car for two hours. I’d have climbed onto the roof, listened to the people whose welfare I am, after all, largely responsible for, and tried to bring my own point across. They’re just people who have had to put up with a lot, and the least they deserve is a bit of your time.