13 Aug 2022

OPINION: Laois Offaly TDs destroyed by cancel culture lynch mob with nobody shouting stop

brian stanley charlie flanagan Barry Cowen

Laois Offaly TDs Barry Cowen, Brian Stanley and Charlie Flanagan

Cancel culture has left its mark in Laois Offaly this year leaving the careers and reputations of Brian Stanley, Charlie Flanagan and Barry Cowen in tatters.

These three politicians have dedicated most of their adult lives to serving their constituents in Laois and Offaly and the people of Ireland.

They come from different political persuasions and disagree on many issues but they all share the common goal of representing their people and the people of Ireland for the betterment of all.

They have all been poll toppers. Thousands of people have decided that each has been best placed to represent them in the seats of both local and national democracy in Laois, Offaly and Ireland.

People voted for them because they built reputations of being capable of helping them overcome issues in everyday life. Countless problems present to politicians in Ireland from potholes to people who are considering suicide.

For many people, the politician is the person to turn who cut through the red tape and solve problems caused by the State or other organisations.

The voters and Laois and Offaly have decided that all three can make a difference in national politics that they can be good servants for Ireland.

The people, they say, are not stupid when they go to the polling booth. The belief of voters in Laois Offaly has been proved generally correct. All three have been deemed fit to be senior members of Government or play pivotal roles in the Oireachtas and within their parties.

Charlie Flanagan has served in three ministries under two Taoisigh in the Departments of Justice and Equality, Foreign Affairs and Children. He was an opposition spokesperson for the party. He has chaired the Fine Gael parliamentary party. He has represented Ireland on the international stage.

Barry Cowen served as a spokesperson for his party in opposition and helped negotiate the historic programme for coalition Government between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. He was then made the Mister for Agriculture. He previously worked as a county councillor holding the fort in Offaly while his brother Brian served as a Minister and subsequently Taoiseach.

Brian Stanley had a long career in local Government which saw him negotiate an agreement with Fine Gael, Independents, Labour and a Progressive Democrat to form a five-year rainbow coalition on Laois County Council. He has a record of working hard on local issues but also being inclusive and able to work with others.

He also helped elect Rotimi Adebari in politics in Portlaoise. Adebari subsequently became Ireland’s first black Mayor.

He was a Sinn Féin spokesman on different national issues when Sinn Féin was a less significant party in the Republic. In 2020 was deemed capable enough to chair the important Dail Public Accounts Committee by Mary Lou McDonald. It holds Government Departments and other agencies to account for wasting public money.

This just skims across their record of contribution to their communities and country.

But in our social media world who cares what somebody has done or what they can do if they can be a target for cancel culture. These three men have endured first hand torrid experiences at the hands of cancel culture in 2020. 

An internet search says cancel culture (or call-out culture) is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles - either online on social media, in the real world, or both. 

Social media it seems has given everybody the right and licence to cancel another human being’s reputation at the slightest hint that you may not agree with their view or their actions.

Trumpism has added fuel to the fire.

The three Laois Offaly TDs are decent people who have had their reputations shredded since the start of the year and they will forever be tarnished and damaged by what they experienced at the hands cancel culture lynch mob. It is also important to note that the internet never forgets.

Charlie Flanagan was the first in the line of fire in 2020.

His proposal that there be some type of commemoration of all those involved in the War of Independence may have been ill-conceived but by God did he pay a heavy price.

The Mountmellick native received a torrent of abuse as politicians began to back out of a memorial service which was primarily aimed at marking the contribution of the RIC to policing prior to independence. He was called every derogatory name under the sun. He was accused of honouring the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries. MORE BELOW PICTURE.

His reputation was shredded. He did not lose his job but Fine Gael had a bad election because the mob turned on his party.

In hindsight, what was Charlie Flanagan’s great heinous sin - to remember dead human beings killed in a vicious conflict where many of the protagonists on both sides were Irish Catholics? For this, he was painted as a pariah in media, social media and on the streets of Ireland.

While he was not sacked by his party leader, he was not given great support either. He was allowed to swing as he was hounded.

Nobody shouted stop.

Next pound of flesh on the butcher’s block was Barry Cowen.

The Fianna Fáil Offaly man got into a right tangle during the year not long after being appointed Minister for Agriculture.

Drink driving is not excusable anymore, nor was it excusable when the Offaly man was stopped by Gardaí on his way home from an All-Ireland Final in 2016. There were other issues around the circumstances of him being stopped and that he was driving on a provisional licence.

These issues can't be overlooked and he did receive a driving ban. 

In a court of law, a second chance is given. A driving ban is used to ensure that a driver does not do the same thing again. Most people don't err twice after facing such punishment.

He also deserved a second chance when he came into the line of fire over the issue.

Dep Cowen did not make a great job of explaining his mistakes. He should have come out in the open first and told all.

But he is a human with the faults of character and weakness that we all have. We have all done something we would undo or do differently. 

However, Dep Cowen was remorseful, genuinely apologetic and said he would and had learned lessons.

Was this honest admission and expression to be a better human being good enough to quench the cancel culture to catch fire? 

Not on your life.

Barry Cowen got it in the neck for all sides. Once again the pack could smell the scent of blood and the feeding frenzy began. Keyboard warriors from all corners of Ireland unleashed their fury on Mr Cowen.

Irish media weighed in with the by now customary, thinly veiled, lofty judge and jury approach from the moral high ground that is built on shifting sand.

Of course, other politicians, lots of them, weighed in snarling and barking. Inevitably from the opposition, but also from his own party Fianna Fáil, and from his partners in Government Fine Gael and the Green Party who wanted 'Cowen's head' to take the pressure off themselves.

None had the backbone to accept Mr Cowen’s apologies or his bona fides that he had learned lessons.

The impact on him or his family didn’t matter. He had committed a great wrong that must be punished severely. He was sacked by Micheál Martin.

Nobody shouted stop to the cancel culture.

Up next for the noose is Brian Stanley. Cancel culture protagonists of many hues sniffed out another prey with impressive speed this time.

Dep Stanley has made some serious mistakes in the space of a week. Some he realised quickly, others he will look back on and realise his poor judgement and response.

When Brian Stanley tweeted about the IRA attacks he was not seeking the rearming of the IRA or calling for a new arms struggle or for more lives to be sacrificed at the altar of Irish unity.

But he opened the door to justifiable criticism. It was poor judgement and insensitive and showed a lack of awareness.

However, he made an apology within 24 hours and deleted the tweet.

That didn’t matter to a hungry mob of cyberbullies, politicians and journalists. The opportunity presented for a full attack, to 'get the boot in' and Stanley took incoming from all sides.

For many, he was taking incoming for being a Sinn Féiner on the weekend when Sinn Fein showed well in the opinion polls.

There was hypocrisy at the heart of much of it. Very few honed in on the killing of 18 Auxiliaries in Cork in 1920. Is their blood any less precious than the 18 Parachute regiment soldiers bombed in 1979 that was the focus of much of the onslaught on Stanley?

History will likely show that the Auxiliaries of 1920 were to the people in the 26 counties what the  Parachute regiment represented to the Catholics in the North during the Troubles. MORE BELOW PICTURE.

He looked like avoiding further 'mobbery' until the ‘second tweet’ about Leo Varadkar was discovered. His use of sexual orientation in the 2017 tweet was wrong. He did not see the problem it raised coming on the day he was challenged at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee. He reacted badly.

Does that make him homophobic?

Does a comment about Chinese chicken on local radio make him racist?

Dep Stanley has a reputation for working for all members of his constituency in Laois Offaly. His door is open to all creeds, races, genders. He has worked for the LGBTI+ community.

But who cares about what he does for people when you have a garbled tweet which can be used to call him homophobic and everything else under the sun.

The pack must feed. The pack must get their pound of flesh. 

Brian Stanley must be cancelled like Charlie Flanagan had to be cancelled as Barry Cowen was cancelled.

These men are not criminals, they are not nasty individuals, they are not extremists with extreme views. They represent a down to earth constituency where character, hard work and level-headedness is valued.

They made mistakes which they paid for very heavily in the kangaroo court of cancel culture.

It all fine thinking, they’re fair game because they are politicians but the job of being a public representative relies on reputation. To have reputation shredded on flimsy grounds undermined them but also undermines our democracy. It offers the opportunity to attack all politicians with little justifiable cause other than to inflict harm.

Politicians are among the worst offenders. Many profess to be Christian but few have any grasp on the concept, never mind understanding of, the practical meaning of forgiveness. 

I, as a journalist bear responsibility. I am a member of a profession that needs to catch a grip on itself. We are not the judge and jury. We are supposed to be reporters. We are the askers of questions. When we join the cancel culture crew we lose independence. We lose credibility. We are no longer journalists with ethics. We are just part of a lynch mob.

Unregulated social media is where the real challenge lies. It is where many of the cancel mob hide behind keyboards anonymously wielding the axe on all and sundry looking for blood. Nothing substantial is being done to control this. 

If this cancel culture is damaging society another key question must be addressed. What happens someday in Ireland if the pack circle around public or even private figure who cannot cope with the punishment faced for making a mistake?

What will the fall out be if a real corpse is left the wake of the pack?

Don’t dismiss the concept. It is already happening in Ireland. Why have young people taken their lives due to bullying or for other reasons where they might even have made a mistake.

The idea that the cancel culture venom will lead to a suicide of a public figure in a similar way is a real possibility. In fact Brian Stanley raised this very issue in the Dáil in 2013.

The pressure heaped on people by the mob is incredible and without restraint. Someday, somebody will not be able to cope.

If that does happen it will be too late to shout stop.

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