“Whataboutery” is a curious Irish political phenomenon. Its brilliance is its deceptive innocence, a simple query designed not to elicit information but to actually delay something happening without confronting it directly.
Consider, if you will, the recent debate on the introduction of water rates, where a very significant outbreak of Whataboutery was recorded. The minister, John Gormley, announced that each home would have a free quota of water, based on the number of people in the home. “But whatabout if it’s a home with an old woman who has a lot of cats who need to be washed and if she can’t wash her cats she’ll get upset and die? Whatabout if it is a house with teenagers who like to take hour-long showers and if you don’t let them they’ll start using crack cocaine and looking for pedophiles on the internet? Whatabout if it is a scientist who is working on a new form of nuclear power in his backshed and needs loads of water to keep the fuel rods cool and he can’t afford the water and so his reactor goes critical? Doesn’t that mean that water rates will lead to the nuclear annihilation of Dublin? Well, I’m against that, and if the minister isn’t he doesn’t care about ordinary people!”
There’s also an Ulster derivative of Whataboutery, highlighted by the late David Irvine, with a unique Northern twist. Ulster Whataboutery takes the form of a twisted game of outrage Snap! where the players harangue each other with a list of outrages and slights against their own particular community, going back through history until reaching the first incident of a neanderthal marching provocatively past another neanderthal’s hole in the ground and denying him parity of esteem, or unless a player collapses from soda bread and deep-fried Mars Bar deprivation. The winner gets a one year internship in the University of Massachusetts John Hume School for Peace and Sleep Inducement Studies.