Paul Williams: ‘Taking the law into our own hands, no matter how tempting, solves nothing’
The unprecedented mob attack at a repossessed farmhouse near Strokestown is now the subject of what will undoubtedly be a hugely complex, difficult and prolonged Garda investigation.
The sheer size and scale of the onslaught in the early hours of Sunday, which was clearly well-planned, suggests as many as 30 people are liable to criminal charges for participating in the actual crime.
The number of potential witnesses in possession of knowledge of the incident – if they dare to speak – is likely to be many times higher than that.
Despite the initial tacit public support the vigilantes have received over the past almost 48 hours – albeit based on sparse background information about the incident – it will be imperative for the State and the Garda to bring this criminal case to a successful prosecutorial conclusion.
The simple fact is that no matter how emotive the issue may be, society cannot tolerate such a flagrant violation of the law of the land.
History over the past five decades in this country has consistently shown that vigilantism in any guise is unacceptable because it attempts to corrode and undermine the very society it claimed to be protecting in the first place.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan articulated this indisputable fact when he warned yesterday: “This is a very dangerous road to go down and vigilantism cannot and will not be tolerated in this State.”
The optics of angry citizens resorting to vigilante violence against an impersonal bank responsible for evicting a family from their home in the run-up to Christmas inevitably arouses an ambivalent response in a society that has good reason – countless billions of euro worth – to despise financial institutions.
People being evicted from their homestead arouses a sense of revulsion that runs deep in our collective DNA and can be traced all the way back to the Great Famine, which looms prominently in the history of the same area where it is estimated that 3,000 tenants were evicted from the local Strokestown estate between 1841 and 1861.
Seen through this lens and in a vacuum of information, the silent majority – many of them among the 23pc of the electorate who supported Peter Casey – will interpret the attack as justified: the boiling-over of a decade of simmering, silent anger at the universal hardship wrought as a result of bailing out the banks.
The reality is that tacit support for this type of violent, misjudged intervention – vigilantism – sets a dangerous precedent in favour of mob law which creates an even greater societal problem.
In the 1980s in Dublin, the well-intentioned Concerned Parents Against Drugs (CPAD) was infiltrated by the Provisional IRA who commenced vigilante attacks on suspected drug dealers and addicts.
But very soon the same ‘Vigies’ utilised the ‘respect’ – fear – their status as Republicans garnered on the streets to line their own pockets by taking payment from drug pushers in return for a ‘licence’ to sell heroin in the same streets.
Taking the law into our own hands, no matter how tempting or morally arguable, solves nothing. There is very good reason why society is governed by law. Thomas Hobbes, the father of modern political philosophy, warned that in the absence of a lawful authority, civil society would descend into a “war of all against all” and where the life of man would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.