Monday 3 March 2014


In the hope that I might make them proud, my parents sent me to a distant private school. The one thing they never considered was how much of an ‘education’ I’d get on my journey home after school each day.

I’d have a long walk to the tube station, a train journey and then pick up the double decker bus. Sitting upstairs in the corner seat of the back row, I did my level best to remain invisible, but it was just about impossible. The bus stopped outside a Comprehensive school where the kids wore green uniforms, and then at another where they wore purple uniforms. My plain grey uniform blended fairly well into the background, and most days passed without incident, but sometimes a lad in a green uniform or a group of boys in purple uniforms would spot me and ask me which school I went to.

God help me if that happened to be the same day that I had to travel with my trombone, which I played in the school orchestra. They’d laugh and mock and beg to have a go on my trombone, and I’d end up wrestling them for control of the huge shotgun-shaped instrument case.

Sometimes standing out from the crowd became just a little too scary, and I over-compensated by replying aggressively. Other times the questions started out aggressively and headed inexorably towards a fight.

Whatever the outcome, every single day of my school life I lived in fear of that bus ride, yet if my mother were to read this now, it’d be the first she’d ever heard about it.

As kids we were all assured by grown-ups that if we just told them who the bully was, everything would be okay. Just say the name and nothing bad will happen.

Yeh, right. Don’t know about you, but when I was a child, that line never worked on me. To schoolchildren, adults appear as distant ignorant beings who have no idea how the world works.

How the hell could they guarantee that if I named the bad boy who was hitting me and tearing up my homework, he’d somehow turn into a benevolent angel the next day and leave me alone?

Worse still, how could I name names, when the only thing universally agreed upon by my parents, my teachers and my fellow schoolmates was that being a sneak was the worst kind of behaviour? Nobody should tell tales on another. If you do nobody will ever trust you again. You’ll be disliked, dismissed as a social entity and still get beaten up anyway.

It takes real courage to speak out, and sadly the situation doesn’t become any easier when you’re an adult. If you think that you’ve been unfairly fired from a job, do you fight back? Do you really want that job back? What will your work environment be like? Won’t you always be the one who said everyone else was a lying good-for-nothing?

Probably best to move on. Easier to keep your mouth shut and get on with your life.

Yet these days I see the whistleblower as something of a 21st century folk hero. While we little people cower in the shadows of the intimidating twin towers of state and corporate industry, we feel frightened and insignificant.

Of course we find it impossible to believe that everything done for us is in our best interests, yet equally it’s exhausting to even think of fighting back. So we keep our heads down and plod on, until somebody stands up and declares an injustice.

Whistleblowers are as vital today as the freedom fighters of yesteryear. On paper it’s not always easy to like them. Edward Snowden is a gun-loving libertarian whose political beliefs make Ronald Reagan look like Leon Trotsky, yet he had the moral fortitude and innate sense of justice to alert the world to the global über-surveillance being undertaken by his beloved USA.

Doubtless, in a weak and passive way, we already knew that our calls, texts and emails were being collectively observed by various nations’ intelligence agencies; we suspected that war crimes were being perpetrated in Iraq and Afghanistan; we never doubted that world leaders were all listening into each others’ secrets, but if it weren't for the likes of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Bradley/Chelsea Manning, we’d never have the proof.

Given the roles that resistance and intelligence operations played in your recent and distant history, I’d have thought that Ireland had a profound respect for those willing to put their heads above the parapet. I wanted to believe that the Irish valued those willing to speak out.

Sadly here, as everywhere else, the whistleblower gets a raw deal. After the recent debacle at GSOC, how eager will the next Garda be to step up and voice disquiet about internal corruption?

Did the Irish State learn nothing from the discovery of mass child abuse perpetrated by the foot soldiers of the Catholic Church?  After that dreadful scandal, we all now know that no institution should be beyond reproach, however vital to or ingrained within Irish society it may be.
Indeed, if the Church and An Garda Síochána are anything to go by, the deeper ingrained the institution, the more it needs to be regulated.

Whistleblowers relinquish their right to a happy life. By speaking out against injustice they abandon any notions of freedom for the rest of their lives, opening themselves up to the horrors of exclusion and intimidation as the establishment fights back.

Some of them, such as Karen Silkwood, make the supreme sacrifice, losing their lives in the process, so that we might live in a better world.

We don’t have to like them, or even agree with everything they say. But we do need to respect their work, be grateful that somebody else has the courage to fight on our behalf and occasionally, just once in a while, we need to stand up ourselves, and state the truth, however uncomfortable it may be.


The Guru said...

Well said Mr Adley. I have personally experienced the pain of 'speaking out' and the irony of being labelled the one in the wrong. As with the Snowden affair I am often astounded by the audacity of the seeming moral outrage of the powers that be, when they have been caught red-handed.
Three cheers for whistleblowers!!!

Charlie Adley said...

Thank oh Guru. happy and unsurprised to hear that you have spoken out, sad that you suffered the consequences. Less surprised by the shameless charade played out by 'affronted' governments. As I said in the piece, we know, they know we know yet don't care we know (eat your heart out Donald Rumsfeld) and despite the Snowdens and Mannings, the conceit continues.