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Terrorists will have last laugh at judge’s joke ruling

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Date Published: {J}

At what point can we declare that the terrorists have won and just let them take over the running of things? Almost every day brings them new victories. I’m not talking about murders and bombings, those are only weapons. You win a war against a civil society by turning it on its own citizens. And so a stunning victory was achieved this week in the courts of England, when a man was criminalised for making a joke.

Could it happen here? When the new law against blasphemy came into force at the start of this year, as an exercise in satire I blasphemed over Twitter against about every religion I could think of. I wasn’t charged – perhaps no one was paying attention then. Now that comparable behaviour has led to a criminal prosecution in the UK though you can pretty much guarantee that the stupidity will infect our own lawmakers and judiciary.

The point is not that his joke was also made on Twitter, but that this made it obvious it was a joke. Perhaps I should begin by explaining what Twitter is, as many – including the judge in this case – have no idea. On one hand it’s very public, in that anyone who joins can post remarks to it. In another sense it is quite private; your posts are only normally seen by people who know who you are.

Paul Chambers was planning a trip to Ireland to see his girlfriend when he heard that his local airport had been closed by last winter’s bad weather. "Crap!" he wrote, "Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!" Now that wasn’t a very funny joke, but it is quite obvious that it was meant in jest, as a way to vent his frustration. And yet he now has a criminal conviction – which has effectively destroyed his career as an accountant – for "sending, by a public communications network, a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".

Clearly ‘menacing’ is the word at issue here. And clearly it was not menacing, because (a) it is patently not intended to be a realistic threat, (b) menaces are sent to the person or persons you are trying to menace, not to your friends (though it is "addressed" to the airport in that he is pretending to speak to it, it was in no sense sent to the airport), and (c) one never prefaces a terrorist threat with the word "Crap".

It is also clear that this law was not intended to criminalise casual speech. Yet Judge Jonathan Bennett chose to ignore intention and instead give it the broadest imaginable interpretation, because he was satisfied – and these are his exact words – that the message was of a "menacing nature in the context of the time we live in".

In other words: "I must deliberately misunderstand all jokes as serious expressions of intent, because terrorists want that." Effectively, he’s doing their bidding. In that he is cooperating in the eradication of free thought and speech, the judge may as well be a terrorist himself.

 

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

images/files/images/x3_Courthouse.jpg

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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