A few months back an extraordinary situation unfolded in a far from extraordinary town in a rural part of Ireland. The situation punctuated the conviction of a man for the sexual assault of a young lady. Just before and after the sentencing took place a crowd emerged. When I originally read this story I assumed that I was about to be told about the convict being attacked by an angry mob. Far from it.
The crowd was there in support with the convict. This might be considered loyalty for a dear friend or relative, I guess? I don’t approve of what you did but you’ve shown remorse for this horrendous mistake and I shall stand by you? They hugged and back-slapped, shook hands and shared words of support.
This was a man who has not shown remorse. Who denied the incident to the end. Whom a court decided drugged a young lady, took her to a secluded place and sexually assaulted her. Sexual assault is one of most horrendous of crimes. Let’s not understate this.
I’m not interested in this convict. I’m interested in the action of his supporters and the people of Listowel.
Now catholic priests don’t have a leg to stand on in the Ireland of 2010. And the guy who went to the court to embrace this convict led down every catholic in the world. I somehow don’t remember that part in the bible. Counselling a man who feels he was perfectly right to sexually assault a young lady in the dead of night.
What emerged during and after this case was that a large proportion of the Listowel community had hounded and harassed this lady. This poor victim. From the moment she reported the crime this continued. Our country was divided once again. People in Listowel in support of the convict. Every other person outside of that town in support of that victim. I mailed the rape crisis centre in Kerry to pass on my support to this young lady and was joined in thousands of Irish people, the vast majority of whom were from outside Listowel.
And so the situation calmed. Or so we thought.
Today’s Irish Independent reported that this victim continues to be harassed in her home in Listowel. Several incidents have taken place, involving the door of her home being kicked down and her side entrance being forcibly opened. It took some time but the council have now provided her with extra security locks and flood lights. Gardai, the Irish police force, are reportedly supportive and I hope they bide their time and take those responsible down.
The Gardai get an awful lot of slack when they make mistakes. I guess that’s true of all police forces? Well this week I shall be mailing the Garda Ombudsman and the head office of the Gardai to congratulate them on a wonderful job last Friday evening.
In the county bordering Listowel, an armed man walked into a bar and threatened staff and customers with deadly force. A newly formed, armed wing of the Garda happened to be in the area and were quickly on the scene. They entered and were threatened by the gun-wielder. The Garda made the decision to shoot this man and did so without placing his life in danger. The man is in a stable condition in hospital.
In the Ireland of 2010, a police officer shooting a criminal remains an extraordinary event. These brilliant Gardai handled this situation with control and due care for the assailant, the customers and themselves. They are a credit to the force and should be commended for their work. In my opinion we have no right to say No when No should be said if we do not say Yes when Yes needs to be said.
And then a parallel stuck me.
Should the harassers in Listowel be allowed to inflict this undeserved punishment upon the young lady that was sexually assaulted? If someone kicked in your door? If this continued? If this was reported to the authorities and they were unable to collect enough evidence for a conviction?
A gentle Indian man once wrote a letter to the government of the British Empire. It explained that violence should not be met with violence. His reasoning? ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’.
Gandhi showed the world the power or an unarmed group or peaceful protesters who stand up and say No! The Listowel situation shouldn’t be met with vigilantism, in my opinion. But there are other options. There must be decent people in Listowel, lots of them. People who can stand up and say No!