The Nolan Show last night discussed the hundreds of rubber tyres and pallets that have been dumped in New Mossley, where the young people are busily gathering them to make an early start for the Eleventh Night bonfire. Yes, you read aright. Five months before the event, the energies of young New Mossleyians are directed at building a fire.
Jim Wilson, described as a social worker, insisted to Nolan that this was an expression of the alienation of these young people – they had nothing else to do. This was corroborated by a film clip of Nolan meeting with the young people. Nothing else to do. And then this sense of pointlessness was conflated into the claim that republicans had made gains on every side while unionists/loyalists had been repeatedly short-changed.
Seated in the audience, I was asked by Nolan if loyalism had a chip on its shoulder. The answer was obvious: they had. Despite Nolan quoting figures showing Catholic/republican unemployment as several percentage points higher than that in the Protestant/unionist areas, Jim Wilson insisted that loyalist perception was what matters. They wanted to feel hard done by and they would feel hard done by, regardless of evidence.
There were two points that I managed to squeeze into the discussion. One is that the residents of New Mossley – the people who actually live there – don’t want hundreds of tyres and pallets polluting the eye for months on end, yet they’re powerless to do anything about it. Are they being well-served by their representatives? It wouldn’t appear so.
The other point I made was that I feel sympathy for the young people involved. Building the biggest (and illegal) bonfire in the world and placing an Irish tricolour on top at least has the advantage of sticking two fingers up to the better-off world of officialdom. The tragedy is that this is the best we as a society appear able to offer them. These young people have as much right to a decent education as you or I, yet here they are with burning tyres the focus of their energies. There won’t be too many of these New Mossley youngsters applying for admission to a degree programme in medicine or accountancy or business in a couple of years’ time. Yet they are as deserving as we are of a decent education and decent job prospects. Instead, what does our society offer them? A chance to hoard tyres and pallets for five months, have a spectacular bonfire in July. And when the flames die down and nothing’s left except empty beer cans and a massive heap of ash, they’ll be exactly where they are now – stuck in the same social and employment cul-de-sac they’re now in. No progress. Not an inch. Going nowhere.
The ploy of measuring young loyalist alienation against that of republican areas is a distraction and a myth. The tyre-gathering is a symptom of a twisted society which doesn’t give a damn about the lives or life chances of these and so many other young people like them. The sooner we stop tut-tutting at their behaviour and address the deprivation that lies behind that, the sooner we’ll realise that their myopic world-view is our responsibility, our shame.