A royal gesture and an incident in the street

Some years ago, a priest I know and who is, in all sorts of ways good, declared that the majority of priests of his generation – 30s-40s-50s –  were quite happy with partition in Ireland and quite liked living in the UK. This seems reinforced by this morning’s announcement that four Catholic priests in the north have been awarded/given baubles (MBEs mainly, but I think there was a BEM in there- no, Victoria, I don’t give a flying fundament what it means, apart from the obvious British Empire bit in the first two letters).

Now these men who have been thus awarded  – with the full support of their bishop – are doubtless good men. But they do need  to remember that they set an example. And the example they have given in this instance is that we should gladly receive imperial awards from the Queen of England (who can’t , btw, be a Catholic). I find that simply incompatible with the notion of Irish nationalism. And of course the priests involved are at liberty to be as British as they wish. But they should keep in mind that it may be setting a bad example.

In contrast today- and I’m not sure what the connection is, but I think it’s in there somewhere – I passed a guy huddled on the street in Belfast. I thought I had no change so I passed him by and tried not to catch his eye. Then I discovered I’d two £1 coins, so I doubled back and passed them to him. As I did so and he mumbled his thanks, two young guys (listen, Virginia, EVERYBODY is younger now) passed me and one of them, in a Dublin accent I think, said “See his eyes?”  I wasn’t sure I’d heard him aright, so I asked him to say again. “See his eyes? Heroin addict!” And he moved on, chatting with his mate.

What was my instinct? To find a large stick, chase after him and hit him on his stupid head very hard. Why? Because he essentially was subscribing to the notion of “the deserving poor” and if there’s one thing drives me up the walls it’s people who are into notions of “the deserving poor.”

Putting aside the amount of heroin you could buy for £2, there is the more fundamental question: do we need to check out beggars? Should we make sure they are genuinely poor, and that having been given our money, they will hurry home and put food on the table for their family? No, no  and no again. When you give whatever puny, inconsequential sum you drop in the hat, you’ve done your bit.  Forget whether the guy was really without a red cent or whether he was a banker who’d fallen on hard times or whether he  was using the money collected to buy booze or drugs.

“The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” I also suspect he loves one that just gives and doesn’t do a means-benefit test on those he’s give daylight and night-time and air and water and food and yes, life to.  We get it all for free, even if we are the most appalling horses’ arses.

What does that all have to do with MBEs for Irish people?  I’m not sure, except that we probably expect the recipients of our largesse to be suitably grateful, to be deserving of what we have given them, and above all to be grateful to us for being so gracious as to bend down and press our puny, paltry piece of silver into their sad little hands.

Footnote: there were five of them, you say, not four. Which is important because…???

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