I had the slightly surreal experience last week of sitting in Belmullet Court House, half-reading ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, and half-listening to Judge Haughton and the Gardai dispensing their own form of ‘justice’.
Now I’m not sure how many people reading this will have read the above book, but to ridiculously over-simplify (please indulge me a few lines), it’s about a mental institution where the patients are terrorised into submission by the ‘Big Nurse’, who while all the time doing her job very professionally, robs them of their dignity and keeps their characters completely suppressed, thereby keeping them docile. Then one day a big character arrives on the ward and disrupts things completely, and nothing is ever the same again… I’m not going to ruin the story, but if you haven’t already, you should read it.
Anyways, this gives an image of systems logic, circular logic that justifies itself and its existence. A logic that tries to grind people down who don’t fit with its provisions. During the week, people were called ‘disingenuous’, ‘a pillar of the community’ (with heavy sarcasm), and had the sincerity of their religious beliefs called into question by the judge, among other things – all within a certain context of course, otherwise you might think these comments a little unfair. This idea tries to take people’s dignity, their integrity, their confidence and sense of self-worth – basically the idea of breaking down the individual until they lose themselves, and can then be controlled. This is all for their own good, of course.
But this doesn’t work when you break it down and look at the court as something fundamentally opposed to us, another obstacle to be negotiated (rather than a neutral arbiter); then that power goes, then they can’t impose probably their strongest sanctions, shame, fear, the inevitability of having to bow your knee…
This is what Maura Harrington said to that after she got a ‘barbaric’ nine-month suspended sentence (for doing 160 euro worth of damage to a net which shouldn’t have been there in the first place), which was activated after she refused to sign a bond :
“Given the continuing imposition of the proposed Corrib Gas Project, the reality at Glengad is that Justice and the Law are mutually exclusive. My reality exists in the interest of Justice, and I can live with it. You Judge, must live with your reality and that is an appalling vista.”
Her husband Naoise O Mongain clapped and was held in contempt of court, then brought back to talk to the judge, where he insisted on doing his business through Irish (as is his right), but the judge didn’t want to engage with this, just wanted to get it ‘these games’, as he called them, out of the way. Kind of like his attitude to us all through the week. Small gestures, but significant all the same. Despite what he’d like to think, the court and its rule are usable by others too.
And far from grinding down people in the campaign, court provides a space where people meet up, it tightens the group, facing up to injustice together, there’s even a social element to it. People’s restraint under the heaviest of provocation, the invasion of the area, has been incredible on the whole.
I’m not naïve enough to say that the courts can’t do anything to us, but it doesn’t hold this big fear for us any more, it’s not a huge dark unknown, and that takes away a serious weapon from them.