Niall Harbison. Founder of Lovin’Dublin and its longstanding Director of Bad Opinions. Purveyor extraordinaire of a Dublin divided based on its appetite for gentrification.
Ostensibly, the topic of Harbo’s latest opinion piece appeared somewhat agreeable. Its title? ‘Why the Guards should get whatever pay rise they ask for’. At face value, the argument is that they should be supported in their support of better pay and conditions. And I’d largely agree with that.
I agree because it’s consistent with my feeling that all ordinary workers have been pushed to their limit over the last decade as expectations upon them have soared, concurrent with plummeting pay, conditions and resources. LUAS workers, Dublin Bus workers, teachers, SNAs, nurses, junior doctors as a small sample of those affected.
There are two problems with this piece, however.
Firstly, the overwhelming inconsistency from its author. This is a man who has consistently utilised both his own public persona and that of his website to deride, belittle and ultimately drive public opinion against public sector workers in particular. His disdain for striking LUAS workers was ubiquitous. Readers were treated to memes characterising the drivers as overpaid buffoons by comparison with doctors, using exaggerated pay figures to highlight this apparent injustice. Soon afterwards came a “hilarious” piece of content depicting just how easy the job is – even a brick could do it. Oh, how we laughed.
The notion being peddled in Monday’s piece is that there are levels of professional acceptability – those who deserve respect and those who do not. It doesn’t matter if transport workers deal with abuse, or more broadly have found themselves adjusting to tougher demands as funding has waned. In Harbo’s eyes, you’re a Prole and you should know your place. Of course rank-and-file Guards deserve adequate pay and conditions and yes, their work is often dangerous, but that simply doesn’t justify belittling other workers.
The piece rapidly descends thereafter from well-meaning-albeit-hypocritical rhetoric to staggeringly shortsightedness presented as fact. “No guns. No over-excessive use of force. No overarching use of their power…with a smile on their face. All this done with the mutual respect they have with the general public”, he continues.
I’ll conclude from this paragraph that he managed to miss out on the decades-long phone tapping and ongoing whistleblower scandals, the appalling case of Mary Boyle, the audio recordings of Gardaí joking about threatening to rape a Shell to Sea activist, the death in police custody of Terence Wheelock, the relentless intimidation of working class communities and countless examples of overzealous policing (perhaps best evidenced in the infamous “RoboCop”, Donal Corcoran).
Ask Clare Daly for her opinion on ‘no overarching use of power’.
Ask journalist Gemma O’Doherty, dismissed from INM for her coverage of the Whistleblowing story, for her opinion on ‘no overarching use of power’.
Ask the 17-year old boy in Jobstown for his opinion on ‘no overarching use of power’.
The point I’m trying to make here is that there’s an important distinction between saying ‘ordinary guards deserve a pay rise’ – an agreeable perspective for most people – and ‘their work is entirely flawless and shouldn’t be questioned’. That’s an outlandish position to take, even for Harbo.
Of course, we’re talking about a personality who has managed in a few short years to polarise inner-city children (for having a swim), drug users (for interfering with his ideal aesthetic), the entire North Strand area (for resembling wartime Beirut, apparently), parents who take their kids to music festivals, people who drink in airports and local authority housing residents at large (for having the temerity to want to live in the city-centre with the TechBros).
It hasn’t affected business at LovinDublin, though. With 200,000 Facebook followers, their message is heavily consumed, no matter how divisive. The site is mostly food and culture orientated, but these opinion pieces and derisory satire takes reach very large numbers of people.
Perhaps one day, Harbo will decide to acknowledge Dublin as a diverse city with a large working-class population whose perspectives he and his website almost exclusively ignore. Broadcasting the view, however, that some workers are higher, mightier and so much more deserving of respect than others only continues the class-blind narrative.
As long as that narrative continues, I’ll challenge it. Even if it’s from a much lower pedestal.
Eoin Ó Faogáin is a regular columnist for The Bogmans Cannon