My father was fond of saying “This country has gone to the dogs”. That was about fifty years ago, and we hadn’t at that point entered the Moral Age. That’s where we’re living now: in an age when moral sensibilities are highly tuned. What would have slipped past in my father’s time now gets seized by the lapels and booted severely.
In some ways this is good. The majority of people, particularly young people, simply will not accept talk which appears to show bigotry or racism or prejudice of any kind. It’s no longer OK to make references to race or religion in derogatory terms, it’s no longer acceptable to even mention certain identifying facts: for example, to say “This man is black” or “That woman over there walks in a funny way” or “I think that man/woman is a Catholic/Protestant”. What you might consider a statement of fact can, depending on context, be seen as highly insulting.
I welcome the increased alertness to bigotry and prejudice. There was a time when we all had to smile and even join in Paddy jokes, to show how open-minded and good-humoured we all were. Now we don’t.
But there’s still a problem with the selection of matters for condemnation. What we choose to become furious about can often say more about us then the incident itself.
We see this in the legacy of the Troubles. Victims of republican violence – for example, Jean McConville – are constantly selected and held up for condemnation of their killers. Victims of state violence – for example, Joan Connolly – are generally overlooked.
Which brings us to the furore over the Lord Mayor having a leak some months ago. He was caught short, tried to get into his office, failed, and spent a penny down a side-street. For this, the PSNI issued him with a ‘community resolution’ notice – and no, I don’t know what that is, other than that it’s some sort of law-enforcement reprimand. Jim Allister was seen on TV doing one-finger typing as he put in writing his detached judgement of John Finucane’s action.
Let me declare to having some skin in this game. I too have on occasion found myself in an overloaded state and have relieved myself in a quiet yet public place. I’ll bet most men reading this – and perhaps some women – have done the same thing.
So here’s my point: have the PSNI – literally speaking – nothing better to do? They might for example choose to concentrate their energies on the many ATM machines that keep being ripped from walls and taken away. They might consider whether the UDA and the UVF are proscribed organisations and if so, attend to prosecution of their members. They might look at their own recruiting figures and see how balanced the PSNI now is in its cross-community make-up. They might even look at some of the posters on lamp-posts which show John Finucane and others in the cross-hairs of a rifle.
Or they might ask, as many of us probably have, who leaked this leak information and why just now? Since I assume it was only Mr Finucane and the hawk-eyed PSNI who were involved in the original, who made the matter public? And would its release just now have anything to do with the general election?
Finally, maybe we should all ask ourselves if we don’t live in a slightly demented stateen. Here we have a man having a discreet leak who is quickly called to account by the police; while the same man, as an eight-year-old child, watched his father being murdered as a result of police collusion, and yet he and his family must still wait for the full truth about that slaughter.
To paraphrase what was said of Lord Byron: our stateen is mad, bad and has a skewed notion of what matters.
And now perhaps you’ll excuse me – I’m stepping behind this ditch to commit an illegal act.