The Orange Order and some unionist politicians, when the subject of swaggering parades comes up, like to point out that some people go out of their way to be offended. They may be right. Some people are excessively touchy, just as some people like to remind us who is in charge in our North-East Nest.
I thought of this as I saw a story in a newspaper this morning. It involved Stephen Rea, who I believe is one of the greatest Irish actors, on stage or screen, ever. Rea has had his knuckles rapped by no less a figure than Jeffrey Donaldson. It seems Rea was pretty cheesed off with Arlene Foster and used industrial language to express his level of outrage:
“Fuck her” the Belfast Telegraph reports him as saying (although the newspaper reports it as “F¨¨¨her”, so he may have said “Find her” or “Feed her”.) Rea goes on “She pushed it right back to Brookeborough, right back to ‘wouldn’t have a Catholic about the place’ – that’s what Brookeborough said. It’s an outrage and she hasn’t apologized for it.”
Jeffrey believes this is pretty ghastly talk, and links it to Gerry Adams saying that the notion of equality would be the Trojan Horse that “breaks the bastards” (Yes, Virginia, the BT reports that as “b*******” , so it may have been something else entirely.).
Is Jeffrey right to be outraged? I think he has a case. We shouldn’t go around using Anglo-Saxon words about political opponents. Maybe some words as Gaeilge but not Anglo-Saxon ones. But the interesting thing I notice in both Arlene’s case and Stephen Rea’s case is that what they said after “fuck” and “bastards’ (I’ll have to stop this) is not seen as something worthy of reflection.
I think both are. Is Gerry Adams right when he says that the principle of equality would be something unionist politicians couldn’t cope with? I think he may well be right. Witness the outrage over the union flag flying on only eighteen occasions over Belfast City Hall, witness the outrage over republicans commemorating their dead, and other examples I’m sure you can provide for yourself. This is a serious charge. If unionists are capable of coping with equality, they should make it clear how they have done so and how they plan to continue doing so.
Likewise with the Arlene crocodile remarks and what they reveal regarding DUP attitudes to the nationalist/republican electorate and their representatives. Is Stephen Rea right in claiming it brings us back to the time when there shouldn’t be a taig about the place? That’s probably overstating it – but the direction of travel of Arlene’s crocodile comment certainly isn’t towards a bright new day when Sinn Féin are respected as the political choice of the nationalist/republican people. To refer to them or their electorate as reptiles does bring us back to a time when Catholics were seen as a kind of sub-species. And no, she hasn’t apologised. She’s said she’s sorry she said it, but wouldn’t you be sorry if you were a unionist leader and had galvanized the nationalist/republican electorate?
And should Gerry have used the word “bastards”? No, but it’s good he said what he said about equality, and a pity it was ignored by unionist commentators. Should Stephen Rea have said “Fuck her”? No, but he’s got a strong case in saying her comments have plunged us back towards Brookeborough days.
So hey, Jeffrey. Focus on the criticism implicit or stated in both instances. Dodging the central thrust of what was said is just a fucking waste of time.