Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Home visit

I see the President of √Čire, Mary McAleese, is due to visit her home town of Belfast - the Shankill Road, of all places. Not the most √Čire-friendly of places, mind, but all the more opportunity for bridge-building.

You'll recall this visit was rescheduled from a while back when the President compared Auschwitz and Nazism with hatred of Catholics in Northern Ireland. Unionist politicians accused her of being anti-Protestant and spat their dummies out for weeks after.

She said it in a radio interview and - within hours - issued the most contrite apology I think I've ever seen, apologising unreservedly for not balancing the statement by mentioning the ill-will that just as often goes in the other direction. I thought she showed great humility and feeling, and I'll never cease to admire her for it.

As Big Ulstermen we have to understand that, as a Falls Road Catholic, it was the ill-will from Protestants that she felt first-hand as a child, not the other way around, and when - in the heat of a radio interview and the emotion of the Auschwitz anniversary - she reached for an Irish comparison, it was that which came to mind first.

I'm glad her visit today is a second attempt. Because if it had been arranged in the wake of the faux-pas it would look like a sop to Protestants. But the fact is: she's coming home to Belfast and reaching out, literally, to the "other side". Welcome home, Mary.

8 Comments:

At 2:29 p.m., Anonymous beano said...

I'm sorry but I feel her need to compare the situation in Northern Ireland to Nazi Germany is an example of what the expression "MOPE" was invented for.

Even comedians know it's wise to balance their jokes about one community with a similar number and level vis a vis the other, you'd think the President of the Republic of Ireland, especially being from Belfast herself, would bare such sensitivities in mind when public speaking.

 
At 4:49 p.m., Blogger United Irelander said...

beano,

Most comedians use examples from their own life. As John said, this is what she herself did. The unionist attitude was atrocious considering the vitriol that people like Paisley and Trimble have said about Catholics and the Irish state respectively.

And, as Maca pointed out on my site today, she also made reference to Dublin if you read her words in full and I didn't see a backlash from Dubliners:

"I think you're absolutely right. And that's a very important point worth remembering. The Nazis didn't invent anti-Semitism, they used anti-Semitism, they built on anti-Semitism but they didn't invent it.
It was, for generations, for centuries, an element of the lived lives of many people who, on the surface, lived very good lives, I mean many of
them would have regarded themselves, for example, as very good Christians.
But they gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews, in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmit it to their children, an
irrational outrageous hatred, for example, of Catholics, in the same way that people give to their children, an irrational outrageous hatred of
those who have different colour, and all of those thing, all of those hatreds in the wrong circumstance, on a street in Dublin, they can outcrop as I have seen and heard, of a little child from Somalia being pelted with rotten eggs. They can outcrop in a knife being taken in a fight and someone from Eastern Europe being knifed to death. It's a toxin you see, it's a poison, and it can be in weak and diluted form, but even in that
weak and diluted form, it's still capable of surviving long enough for a Nazi-type era to come along, and to force it into concentrated form, and in concentrated form you get Auschwitz, you get Birkenau, you get Darfur, you get Rwanda. That's what you get when you don't stop the toxin."

I thought you wrote a very good post John although personally I don't feel she should have apologised in the end.

 
At 5:07 p.m., Anonymous beano said...

There's a difference between the Northern Ireland one and the Dublin one. The Dublin one seems to be one specific example. She didn't even refer to some people in Northern Ireland, it's just as if everyone here brainwashes their kids to hate Catholics.

If a young upstart like me can recognise the need for balance you'd expect the same sensitivity from a President.

"I don't feel she should have apologised in the end"
Hardly surprising.

 
At 5:59 p.m., Blogger United Irelander said...

"Hardly surprising."

You will find that I'm not alone in thinking that. I wonder if you were so critical of the remarks made by the Doc in the past and wee Davy Trimble who spewed vitriol about my state? I somehow doubt it.

As much as you'd like to believe this was some nefarious plot to bash protestants, I don't believe you or other unionists really believe that.

"There's a difference between the Northern Ireland one and the Dublin one. The Dublin one seems to be one specific example"

Whats your point? The fact is, Dubliners didn't slate her for not referring to Cork.

"She didn't even refer to some people in Northern Ireland, it's just as if everyone here brainwashes their kids to hate Catholics"

She said, "For example"...

"But they gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews, in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmit it to their children, an
irrational outrageous hatred, for example, of Catholics, in the same way that people give to their children, an irrational outrageous hatred of
those who have different colour, and all of those thing, all of those hatreds in the wrong circumstance, on a street in Dublin, they can outcrop as I have seen and heard, of a little child from Somalia being pelted with rotten eggs"

It doesn't even compare to some of the things unionist politicians have come out with...

 
At 8:59 p.m., Anonymous John said...

Hello UI, I wrote to her immediately after her remarks, asking her to balance them. In my view she did right to apologise, although I grant you she said nothing incorrect - just too one-sided (and statespeople should be expected to be balanced, especially those in Presidential offices). The Trimble comments you quoted shocked me a bit, as he's not naturally a vitriolic guy. That must have been insulting for you guys. BU.

 
At 10:43 p.m., Anonymous beano said...

The only thing I can remember DT saying is that the republic is a mono-ethnic, mono-cultural state. I hardly see that that can be called "offensive" - they may have embarrassed our neighbours but c'est la vie, it's not like he was wrong.

 
At 2:59 a.m., Blogger United Irelander said...

beano,

Trimble's exact comments were that we were "a pathetic, sectarian, mono-ethnic, mono-cultural state".

He is also quoted as saying, "If you took away Catholicism and anti-Britishness, the state doesn't have a reason to exist."

Hardly the kind of thing you expect to hear from a Nobel Peace prize winner!

 
At 7:11 p.m., Anonymous beano said...

OK, OK, I concede: the word 'pathetic' might have been a bit harsh.

 

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