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Photocall Ireland

'If you are in favour of human rights, you must want them for everyone - including prisoners'

‘It is a mark of true sincerity, therefore, for politicians to take up unpopular causes like that of Leon Wright,’ writes author Frankie Gaffney.

THERE WAS controversy when TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly decided to act as observers at a court hearing for a convict accused of assaulting prison staff.

The Irish Independent, using a typically anonymous ‘senior source’, sensationally branded the young man in question as “one of the worst, if not the worst that the prison system has ever come across”.

Most media reports similarly dwelled on severity of the defendant’s past crimes.

All such commentary studiously diverted attention from the real crux of this matter, the reason for Clare Daly and Mick Wallace’s concern: human rights.

Yesterday, revealed the same prisoner had his ear bitten and torn by a prison officer during an altercation.

You can take one of two positions on human rights: you are for them, or against them.

If you are in favour of human rights, you must be in favour of them for everyone.

No exceptions.

You must be in favour of them for your enemies. You must be in favour of them precisely for the people you despise the most.

Those who are against upholding the human rights of ANY individual, no matter what they have done (or have been accused of doing) align themselves not with law abiding citizens, but instead with the Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots, and Pinochets of this world.

Deciding on an individual basis who is worthy of consideration as a human being and who isn’t is the essence of murderous totalitarianism. It is fundamentally incompatible with the most basic values of democracy.

Lest it be said that I’m being insensitive to the plight of victims, it should be noted that I’m no stranger to violence myself. I’ve been the target of very serious attacks on a number of occasions.

I’ve been punched, kicked, cut, bottled, battered with steel bars. I’ve been hospitalised – and even had to undergo emergency plastic surgery to correct the worst of these injuries.

I know what it’s like. I know the physical and psychological trauma that violence causes.

I lay the blame not on the perpetrators, however, who at a very young age were pushed into a spiral of criminality and violence they had no way of escaping.

I lay the blame for the fact so many impoverished, uneducated and disenfranchised young men become embroiled in brutality squarely at the door of those who created this environment.

To wit, the successive Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael administrations who have been in government since the foundation of the State. It is they who formed the brutal social landscape of the city I came of age in.

Furthermore, they did little or nothing to ameliorate the horror that engulfed the inner-city from the 1980s on. On the contrary, they fueled this perfect crucible for savagery through their polices of prohibition combined with educational and economic deprivation.

Lest you think I’m proposing some sort of “nanny-state” that molly-coddles its citizens, absolving them of any personal responsibility, just remember that private schools receive State funding. The big financial speculators – gamblers – got bailouts. And in the midst of the worst homelessness crisis in the history of the state, instead of building social housing, this government siphoned money into the hands of private landlords and developers as a matter of policy.

We look after one segment of our population already. The wealthy and privileged do not suffer the consequences of their mistakes, they are not even held to account for their crimes.

It is only the poor who have to deal with negative effects of the so-called ‘free’ market. As it stands, we have socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.

If violence truly does appall you, you should want to stop it happening to anyone else.

You should want to prevent re-offending.

To do this, the State must adopt evidence-based approaches. Needless to say, none of the evidence suggests further brutalising people or depriving them of their human rights will achieve this.

Punishment for punishment’s sake is not merely useless and cruel, if it in fact leads to more violent offending, creating more victims, it is evil.

PastedImage-17813 File photo: TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace

It is ironic that Wallace and Daly, and indeed the left more generally, are often accused of populism (for their stance on issues like water charges, for example).

There are few policies less popular with voters than standing up for the rights of violent criminals.

Politicians depend on the goodwill of their electorate for their career – for their livelihood.

It is a mark of true sincerity, therefore, for TDs to take up unpopular causes like this.

This stands in stark contrast to the establishment politicians, who are willing to pander to the most vile agendas in order to cynically flatter the prejudices of the electorate.

When politicians champion the rights of those society deems worthless, those who have no voice, it is a sign that they truly are concerned not just with re-election.

Not only with playing the game of popularity and public perception. It shows they actually want to break the cycle of violence, whether that violence emanates from disturbed young men – or from the State itself.

Read: Ireland’s ‘most dangerous’ inmate had ear bitten and torn by Mountjoy prison officer

More: Wallace and Daly back violent prisoner whose ‘human rights were breached’

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