Joe Brolly and the Freedom of Expression

Published on 17 April 2021 at 13:41

In what has since become a popular area for social media discussion in the past few weeks, Joe Brolly was recently removed from a panel discussion relating to the future of the North. More importantly this involved a debate as to the role the DUP would play in any such future, along  with the extent to which their views and outlook would be incorporated in to any such solution or arrangement. 


In the past, this political party has faced numerous accusations of homophobia, corruption among other such controversial views, which have been for the past year either waived or ignored as being part and parcel of the organisation. During the aforementioned panel debate however, Joe Brolly a man who can only be defined in the strictest sense as being outspoken, raised his concerns as to this apparent unwillingness to call out such inappropriate views in the modern context. 


This led to his subsequent ejection from the Claire Byrne show, an event which he has since described as extremely embarrassing and to have destroyed to a certain degree the level of respectability for his opinion in serious circles which he may have maintained beforehand. The justification for such was that there was no representative for the DUP present to argue their side, yet this raises a question as to whether the special treatment of this political party affects the freedom of expression entrenched within the Constitution.


It has often been argued when the looming spectre of a United Ireland emerges, the DUP and Unionists more generally are not emotionally mature enough to hear of the ever increasing likelihood of a unified island and what may come with it. Yet as has been provided for in the modern precedent of constitutional cases on the freedom of expression, it allows not only for the statement of fact but also to make comment on topics as well as providing for discussions of relevance to the public in doing so.


Unfortunately however, this has not always been possible as moderators of Claire Byrne’s ilk have been hesitant to draw controversy and ire in the form of even the most reasonable debate on the future of the Northern portion of this country. 


While this is understandable in terms of the lingering memories of destruction and loss of life, which was an all too unfortunate reality for many people in the not so distant past, circumstance and the consequences of the Brexit referendum may require a change to this approach. The DUP cannot continue to be treated as a special case when it comes to rational discussion and debate, here and also in the UK.


Without such debate and the exercise of our freedom of expression and opinion, solutions and the process of ensuring all parties involved are mature enough to accept the will of the people cannot emerge.


This special position which has been accepted for decades at this stage must be challenged and this has become ever clearer in the power in which Unionist politicians still maintain over their constituents. This was evidenced recently in the vitriolic sentiments expressed by such politicians which set off a series of riots, which were quickly forgotten following the passing of Prince Philip by the media at large.


This is due to the fact that while the media and public figures of a Southern or Nationalist outlook have been forced to tread on eggshells to avoid such an outcome. Their Unionist counterparts by virtue of their unimpeachable special position, have never been held to the same degree of accountability.


While Joe Brolly has always been deemed a controversial figure, subsequent interviews alongside his twitter response, have shown that he is a figure with a wealth of knowledge on the subject and at the very least, has the capacity to contribute positively to the conversation. His statements in relation to the unwillingness of the public to condemn the darker aspects of Unionism in particular, will hopefully lead to a reconsideration of how the debate is structured in future.


While it is very rare in the modern democratic tradition that a political entity is entirely made up of intolerable standpoints and views which have no place in a well structured democracy, there are aspects of the DUP which have been overlooked and as a result given tacit acceptance which must be reconsidered in the next few years. 


Without such a change in tact, it seems likely that the conversation, as well as any forthcoming solutions to the ever pressing issues which the island of Ireland will face in the coming years will stagnate. Opinions expressed by Mr Brolly, who least we forget is an accomplished barrister with decades of experience.


Including a two parliament system and to move ahead without DUP support as was done for the Good Friday Agreement when faced with the obstinate opposition of Ian Paisley, have come to be overshadowed by the apparent conversation of the individual in question exercising his inherent constitutional freedom.


In conclusion, it seems that a time has arisen in which the norms of the Irish political process must be scrutinised, not only in terms of real policy but also in the approach favoured by the media. The current position may seem relatively peaceful and amicable, yet this is only in contrast to what has come beforehand, which was an unprecedented time of death and destruction, which all Irish citizens regardless of their political leanings can form a consensus as to their opposition of a return to such.


Yet the future seems more uncertain than ever, with the apparent lack of interest in the politics of the North, expressed by the current majority Tory government headed up by Boris Johnson. There is no economic aspect involved, which was present during the era in which the North was the shipbuilding capital of the world headed by titans of the industry such as Harland and Wolff, which was present when the initial decision on partition was made.


Instead the North has become somewhat of an inconvenience for the UK in their hopes of a clean Brexit, making the inevitability of the situation increasingly evident. When the time comes, the parties on either side of the border must be ready to come together for an all encompassing solution. The only way this will become possible is if the discussion begins now and the norms demonstrated quite clearly in the past few weeks removed in favour of a rational and fair discourse.

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