The evening of Sunday 18th October would be an eventful one for me as I engaged in a Twitter exchange with the Justice Minister for Northern Ireland. It began after I stumbled across a tweet by a young Alliance Party member attacking peaceful protesters at Stormont on the day before.
My immediate reaction was one of shock given his choice of language. “Your little cult gathering put lives at risk..you absolute moron” proclaimed the young politician. He was clearly terrified and equally as upset, so I thought it best to bring the matter to the attention of his party leader Naomi Long. I had also assumed, quite wrongly, that by requesting to lodge a complaint it would add a degree of seriousness to my contact.
Not the response we were expecting…
Hang on. A party colleague had just used disrespectful language towards a section of the Northern Ireland electorate and now the leader of his party is chastising me for raising the matter with her? In my first interaction with Mrs Long, I soon became aware of the level at which she was going to attempt to conduct this exchange at, so rather than ‘go low, I went high’.
The point I was trying to make in that tweet was that, in a democracy, you can’t pick and choose what you deem to be OK to protest at, or gather for. A good example is the funeral of the late Republican, Bobby Storey. This occurred during full lockdown in NI and looked a bit like this..
Mr Storey was a member of Sinn Fein, and whilst I wouldn’t argue for or against his funeral, the point remains that the law that Mrs Long supported being harshly enforced upon peaceful protesters at Stormont on Saturday past, wasn’t enforced against a Republican funeral. This sends out the signal; ‘do as we say, not as we do’.
Here is footage of the peaceful, anti-lockdown, protest I refer to:
You can actually hear the speaker saying, “complete non-violence”, as the police launch their attack. Given the fact police say they intervened because of a lack of social-distancing – I’m at pains to see how breaking social-distancing guidelines to enforce social-distancing guidelines even makes sense. But with COVID-19 we have all witnessed a complete departure from the science into a world of quasi-science with lots of draconian measures to enforce this tea-leaf reading’esque narrative.
At this stage the Justice Minister, in a rather infantile manner, would tweet the dictionary definition of “moron” at me. I innocently believed she provided the definition in support of her colleague until she would set me right about that by saying “And I am talking to you”.
My crime? Complaining to her about her colleague referring to peaceful protesters as ‘morons’ and attempting to demean their gathering as a “little cult”. For my trouble, I then get called a moron too.
I had to nip myself. Here was the Justice Minister calling me a moron on Twitter for going to her with a problem. What was actually going on here?
One minute after the above tweet this guy also called me a moron whilst noting that I had misspelled “complaint”.
This was immediately ‘liked’ by Mrs Long,
At this stage I was becoming deflated. In a few short minutes I had went from wishing to raise a case with the Minister about one of her colleagues to being insulted by the same minister. Is this the best Northern Ireland can offer up for Justice Minister? I was mesmerised and gutted at the same time.
I withdrew my ‘like’ immediately
I’ve had dealings with several MLAs recently. I’ve reached out to and had a response from the CSA Ian Young and many other civil servants. All those communications have been dignified and respectful. Maybe I was naive in expecting this exchange to be of the same calibre? I certainly wasn’t prepared for such a “corner-boy”, bullish attitude, that I can tell you.
The tweet made from the account “Phil-A” was made at 7:43PM. It was immediately ‘liked’ by Mrs Long. Ten minutes later, at 7:53 pm, I took a screenshot of the “like” and tweeted the following:
It would be over an hour later before Naomi would remove her like after I had highlighted it several times. So definitely not “almost immediately” and impossibly *before I highlighted* it to her as that was when I took the screen shot.
I went as far as to ask her to point me to the tweet she claimed to have made to me “almost immediately” wherein she apparently told me she’d removed the “like”. I was left with an eerie silence. The silence continues 7 days later.
I didn’t see the moron bit
According to the MLA she was only able to read and comprehend the first 5 words of the tweet, the last word “moron”, she missed, apparently. Isn’t that ironic? Given that my complaint to her was about a member of her party calling protesters ‘morons’ now of all of sudden her selective vision kicks in and she can’t see the word at all! If you believe that, I’m knocking out a few bridges at good prices. Apply within.
the alliance party goes Trumpian on Twitter
US President, Donald Trump, is renowned for his ‘foreign policy by Twitter’ rants or picking fights with world leaders on the platform. This dangerous childishness has, thankfully, escaped most leaders of the western countries, until now. Mrs Long conducted a complaints process on Twitter and deemed there to be no case to answer. The complaint was that an underling attacked hundreds of the Northern Ireland electorate, labelling them as ‘morons’ and part of a “little cult”. The Justice Minister saw no problem in the language used but instead ruled against me for bringing the complaint and labelled me a moron for my trouble. Classy stuff, eh?
I wasn’t aware, up to this stage, that my complaint had been lodged. The old fashioned way of lodging a complaint is in writing or via email. For the first time in my long online career a complaints process had just taken place on Twitter and without my knowing.
commissioner’s ruling on the use of “moron”
The ruling referred to above came from “Local Government Commissioner for Standards, Marie Anderson” in 2019 report.
The ruling found that whilst the use of such language is “disrespectful” and that “councillors must ‘show respect and consideration for others'”, a politician using the term is protected under the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights).
It is therefore not becoming of a party leader to condone such “disrespectful” language towards peaceful protesters, whether she or her party agrees with their actions. If the Justice Minister wishes to defend her colleagues’ right to “freedom of speech” then it is hypocritical of her to do so whilst he attacks others’ rights of “freedom of speech”, “freedom of expression” and “freedom of assembly”.
some protests are OK just not ones about Covid
Just last month Mrs Long would tweet her full support for “freedom of expression” and get this, the “right to protest”. “We have seen democratic norms overturned..” and we should “guard [our democracy] at all times [and] defend it at home”.
Fast-forward 4 weeks..
Naomi vigorously defended her underling’s right to free speech to attack protesters. Four weeks earlier she vowed to defend the right to protest.
Twitter user @Bilko47 would ask Naomi had the law changed about wearing face masks outdoors given that it isn’t mandatory to do so.
She has “sympathy with their cause” but just isn’t “in favour of protests during a pandemic”. So she supports democracy, sometimes, occasionally, when it’s cool to do so.
“#DemocracyMatters. We should guard it at all times:”
But…not “at all times” that was obviously a typo. I assume she meant,
#DemocracyMatters. We should guard it whenever I deem appropriate. There may be times when #DeomocracyDoesntMatter but you morons will do what you’re told.
If you live in a democracy protests and freedom of expression MUST be allowed. Even if you disagree with them. That is the definition of a democracy. Recall Mrs Long in defence of the junior party member?
One of the team began doing a bit of digging into Naomi’s previous tweets to see if she had ever used the word “moron” insultingly towards anyone else. She felt that by doing so she could determine if insults were the exception for the minister and her party, or the rule. For your delight, here is a little slideshow of the Justice Minister of Northern Ireland at her finest!
The reason for this article wasn’t because I was called names. Goodness, if being called a moron was the worst I’d ever been called I’d be doing very well. The issue is, being called a moron by someone that holds such an office as Justice Minister and to be called such for doing little more than raising her awareness at a junior party colleague using the term in a disrespectful manner towards the electorate. This was then followed by how the minister would deal with the matter. What does that say about us as a society? Have we really regressed to the degree that we elect such an infantile, disrespectful person to a high office? Is that really representative of the best we’ve got?
To say that I was left gobsmacked by Sunday evening’s exchange is an understatement. The minister’s childish insults, apologia for disrespectful language from one of her juniors, liking a tweet calling me a “moron”, then denying she did so purposely, whilst going on to call me a moron anyway, her abruptness and total lack of professionalism, left me reeling and depressed at the state of Northern Ireland politics. Whilst the Alliance Party itself is a small fringe party, the role of its leader is of utmost importance. In charge of Justice we have a lady who conducts complaints procedures via Twitter in an à la Trump fashion before and after attacking the complainant.
I found the whole ordeal disheartening and something you would expect to see in a kids playgroup. When the leader of a political party behaves in such a juvenile, disrespectful manner, it’s understandable why her junior party members feel enabled and emboldened to do likewise. One can imagine the foot-stomping, dummy spitting antics her ministerial colleagues must have to contend with on a near daily basis working with her, given what the electorate have to contend with emanating from her Twitter account.
NI Admin Team