Over the past number of days a controversy has been brewing within Young Fine Gael over the attendance of its current president, Killian Foley-Walsh, at the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) conference in Washington DC last week. Elements of the Irish media and members within Young Fine Gael and the Fine Gael party have branded the YAF as ‘far-right conservative’ and have stated it is unacceptable that the president of Young Fine Gael attend an event that has associations with ‘US reactionary conservative elements’.

So what is YAF? The Young America’s Foundation is a conservative youth organisation, founded in 1969. Its stated mission is “ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defence, free enterprise, and traditional values.” It’s conservative roots align it historically with the Republican party and it had a strong relationship with Ronald Reagan.  There is nothing within its Mission Statement or within its history to show that it is a ‘far-right’ conservative organisation and to brand it as such is factually incorrect and highlights a use of language and forethought that questions competencies on so many levels.

The Independent’ quotes Fine Gael TD Noel Rock, who is also a member of YFG, saying: “I don’t understand how any young person would want to align themselves with the present Republican administration – this certainly doesn’t represent the progressive Young Fine Gael members I know.”

Well here are some facts for Mr Rock:-

Fact: Not all YFG or Fine Gael members are pro-abortion

Fact: Not all YFG or Fine Gael members are pro-same sex marriage

Fact: Not all YFG or Fine Gael members are ‘liberal’ and not all are ‘conservative’

However, based on the commentary I have read over the past few days it would appear that many within Young Fine Gael, and some within Fine Gael itself, consider any form of conservative ideology as tantamount to treason. Lest we forget, Fine Gael brands itself as a party of the progressive centre. This means it is a party that holds both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ views on a broad spectrum of issues. Surely this is the way it should be within a ‘centrist’ party, where diverse views are both welcomed and debated.

It is apparent to me and to many others that there appears to be a campaign afoot to silence those who question liberal or progressive ideas. Labels such as “far-right” and “alt-right,” which once might have served to strip a person of his or her livelihood and personal reputation, have become such common terms of abuse against conservative thought or ideology that they’ve effectively become meaningless. Now, activists are claiming that the mere act of making an “okay” hand gesture could mark you as a “white power” extremist—or at least someone who is “alt-right-adjacent.” The goal of this perversion of language is to drive up the number of people who may be classified or branded out of hand as extremists and thereby disqualify even the mildest forms of dissent as de facto hate speech. As far as I am concerned this use of language and rhetoric doesn’t mend divisiveness within society. And doubling down whenever anyone questions anything only serves to further alienate.

I would say to members of Young Fine Gael that a truly healthy and truly democratic party needs a respectable conservative faction within it.

In relation to the current controversy, I would caution against insinuation and disingenuous action.

‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’

By Karl Hutchinson For MOOT