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Opinion Is it any wonder protests turn nasty when they make fools out of those who believe?

Like many, events of last week and last weekend have shaken my certainty in Irish democracy. The wicked go unpunished and the good go unrewarded.

THE PEOPLE WHO blocked the Tánaiste in at the weekend have no respect for democracy, I heard the Taoiseach say. And I won’t disagree with him. Speaking personally, my belief in democracy has been tested greatly over the past seven days. It’s difficult to maintain respect for something that is treated with contempt and a word that is a prostitute to everyone’s service, even though I retain a naive belief.

The belief I am talking about is the fragile one that keeps men and women from violence when their hearts swell with the desire for more, or when their passions rise at the sting of injustice. It keeps volunteers and peaceful organisations meeting and talking and trying and marching.

It is the life spirit of democracy that drives people to come home from work or from college and give their evenings and weekends to meetings and marches – for nothing but the belief that it will, eventually, count for something. When someone talks about naivety in politics, they are talking about that belief, and they know how easy it is to crush it or to make it look foolish.

The epitome of citizenship

Last week, an article was published on this website under my name. In fact, it was co-written with a young man. The article was about the fourth report of the Constitutional Convention, which the Dáil was to discuss last Wednesday.

For those who don’t know, the Constitutional Convention was an Oireachtas-sponsored meeting of 66 randomly-selected citizens and 33 politicians that met over 12 months until last February. It was set up to deliberate on (mainly) political reform in the wake of the financial crisis and to make recommendations for referendums.

The grassroots movement Second Republic, with which I am involved, had lobbied for it and the participation of citizens in the act of reforming our republic was particularly important to us. At the heart of the exercise was recovering democracy itself.

The other, unnamed, author of the piece last week was a young man in his early 20s. We met through our mutual work in Second Republic and for the two years I’ve known him he has worked day and night in pursuit of political reform.

He volunteered for work observing the meetings of the Constitutional Convention. He made submissions of his own putting forward ideas for reform. He tweets TDs, speaks at public meetings, joined a political party, and participates in civic society.

When I was nominated for a Volunteer of the Year award 12 months ago, I was proud to have him beside me at the awards’ ceremony and to share the nomination with him. He is the epitome of the kind of citizen that any one of us would want in a Second Republic.

So, how has the Government responded?

The Government’s response on Wednesday was of particular interest to him and all of us in Second Republic. This report contains recommendations for reform of the way TDs and ministers are elected as well as the right for citizens to be able to call referendums on their own.

Dry stuff to many, I know. But serious and important issues, we all agree. And the kind of thing that this young man has been working to see discussed in the Oireachtas for more than two years now, for no benefit to himself.

It was the work too of the 66 volunteer citizens who formed the Constitutional Convention. They gave up their nights and weekends for more than a year. Every month, they travelled from all parts of the country and stayed overnight in Dublin hotels, away from their families and homes, for no pay and no reward except doing what was right by their country.

So, last Wednesday, with a Government response to the Convention’s report set on the Dáil agenda, the young man I am writing about made sure he had a place in the public gallery so that he could witness the debate for himself. It was his achievement, after all. The fruit of his labour as much as anyone else’s.

I’m sure that you have guessed by now that it never happened. Statements on the Mairia Cahill affair ran for five hours followed by a (predictably doomed) Fianna Fáil motion on the HSE, which ran for another two hours.

So, this young man sat in the public gallery of the Dáil for hours on end waiting for the deputies below to give just five minutes to the question of reform and democracy that he had worked for years to bring about.

When the lights came down at 9.30pm, he rang me shocked and angry from the street outside, lost for words. There wasn’t even an acknowledgment, he said, that it had ever been on the agenda at all.

So much for his citizenship. So much for the citizenship of the 66 volunteers on the Constitutional Convention.

That’s the commitment to reform that we hear so much about.

That’s the commitment to democracy, too.

Our citizens deserve more than this.

Is it any wonder that people despair? 

It has taken me the better part of a week to digest the casual treatment that the Dáil demonstrated last Wednesday. It wasn’t until an exchange of email with a very kindly woman in the Taoiseach’s office that how I really felt about this came out in me.

I’ve been in communication with this woman since last March asking when the Government would respond to this report. She assured me again on Monday that the Government was committed to making a response and would do so at the earliest possible opportunity, as she has been saying to me for nine months now.

I replied to her relating the same story that I have told to you. And I asked her if she could relate it to someone who might care a scintilla as much as that young man does.

Because, like many, events of last week and last weekend have shaken my certainty in Irish democracy. The wicked go unpunished and the good go unrewarded. I will remain undeterred but I find myself asking, is it any wonder that protests turn violent when they make fools out of those who believe?

Oliver Moran is a 36-year-old software engineer from Cork.

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