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I never heard of Dr Niall McElwee until about four days ago when it emerged that he had been forced to resign from his job at the Athlone Institute of Technology where he had been lecturing in the area of social care and child protection.
It seems that he received a conviction for a sexual offence in Amsterdam two years ago, but hadn’t informed his employers. Now, the whole country is agog that a sexual offender is lecturing in child protection. Other people are raising dark mutterings about illustrative material that he used in a previous lecturing post at Waterford IT. It seems the material might have included explicit photos illustrating the physical trauma of child abuse, and some people found it offensive. He was told not to use it in future.
Now, you know my views on offending people: it isn’t a crime. I offend people every day, sometimes just for the sake of it. Before making a judgement on Niall McElwee, I would like to know exactly what the offensive material was, and I would like to know who he was showing it to. If he obtained it illegally and it was illegal to possess it, we should be told, but I haven’t heard anyone suggesting that. If it was for the purpose of teaching a class of professionals, I don’t see the problem. After all, if lecturers could never show offensive or disgusting material, then student doctors and forensic scientists wouldn’t get much of an education, would they?
I don’t know anything at all about the case in Holland, but I would like to know what exactly Niall McElwee did. From the news reports, it seems he got shitfaced drunk, blundered into a bedroom occupied by four young American girls, propositioned them, climbed into bed with one of them, got kicked out again and generally made a total fool of himself. He was subsequently arrested, and convicted of sexual assault, but maybe that’s not the entire story. Did he do something else apart from entering a bedroom occupied by four people, drunk, in his socks and underpants and making a complete offensive nuisance of himself?
It worries me. It worries me, not because I know what McElwee did, but because if everybody who ever behaved badly could be convicted of a sexual offence, the prisons would be full of sexual offenders, both male and female. And also because the definition of a sexual offence varies from one country to another. Before sacking somebody, we should be looking at what constitutes a sexual offence in this country. It’s almost impossible in places like Saudi Arabia or Iran to go outside your front door without committing a sexual offence. If McElwee had been convicted in Iran of the sexual offence of Having unIslamic dirty thoughts and wearing a knowing smirk, would the Athlone IT have called him a sexual offender and sacked him? No they wouldn’t, but why not? After all, he’d still be a convicted sexual offender.
Are we all agreed that a sexual offence is the same in Irish law as it is in Dutch? That’s all I’m asking. Tell me more. Tell me what he did. I need to know before I can start demanding his head on a platter like the media and the rest of the Irish blogosphere.
Worse, let’s look at the print media for a second. The Irish Independent is a disgrace to journalism. I think we all agree about that. It’s axiomatic, so to speak. Here’s what the Independent’s headline says:
Female colleagues complained about shamed childcare expert.
I read and re-read the article, trying to understand the relevance of the words.
Is that relevant? No.
Were the complaints upheld?
So what exactly is this headline meant to convey? Do you need to ask? Of course not. It’s meant to say Pervert!
I read this story, written by Maeve Sheehan, an incompetent, cynical disgrace to a profession that was once respected. I presume this name is invented — at least, I personally wouldn’t want anyone to know I was behind such a dishonest article, but hey! that’s just old-fashioned me. The story is full of innuendo and entirely empty of fact.
If you look deeper into the story, here’s what you read:
. . . three former female colleagues wrote to the Minister for Education asking for an inquiry into his appointment and rapid promotion at the institute. Five years ago he was accused of bullying and harassment by another female colleague – a claim that was never substantiated.
What’s this about?
The bullying accusation was never substantiated, so that’s gone.
Three former colleagues wrote to the Minister.
Their complaint was that he’d been promoted too quickly.Ã‚ I’d call that envy.
They were female.
Does that make their word more believable? Who gives a shit if they were women or men? Why is it relevant?
Bad, poor, smear journalism.
There you go. McElwee might well turn out to be an abuser once we get the full information, which we don’t have yet. But I’m not going to take the word of a bottom-feeder like Maeve Sheehan for it. To expose corruption and abuse we need solid, intelligent journalists with integrity. Unfortunately, the Independent doesn’t have a policy of hiring people who possess intelligence or integrity, or even people capable of writing coherent English. This is a pity. Reporting like this undermines the credibility of whatever decent journalists are left.
I still vividly remember Fr Brendan Smyth, an evil old bastard who raped and abused children for generations. Smyth precipitated the collapse of a government and threw the entire country into convulsions from which it still hasn’t emerged. Brendan Smyth was a manipulative rapist. So was Fr Sean Fortune. So are George Gibney and Derry O’Rourke, former national swimming coaches.
Now, forgive me, but I find it hard to equate McElwee’s behaviour with any of the aforementioned bastards, and yet the whole country is aghast at the notion of such a man lecturing in child protection. I realise that the girls in the room were under 18, and I also suspect that, as a parent myself, I would probably want to smash his face in for his behaviour, but still, the level of smugness among the media people is becoming unbearable.
Let me ask you this: if you had to fill out an application for a job, and if it had this question on it, and if you had to answer it truthfully under pain of severe electric shock to the genitalia, how would you be able to answer?
Here’s the question:
Did you ever, in the entire course of your life, whether under the influence of alcohol or otherwise, make unwelcome sexual advances to a member of the opposite sex?
My opinion? Nobody in the entire country, man or woman, would have a job. (Except, of course, employees of Independent Newspapers who, as we all know, are entirely above reproach).
I’m not saying Niall McElwee should have remained in his position. I’m only saying I don’t have enough information yet to form an opinion, but I’ll tell you this much: what we’re seeing at the moment isn’t informed public opinion.
What we’re seeing is a lynch-mob baying for blood.