Enough ‘one-side-is-as- bad-as-the-other’ bunkum
Two weeks ago I found myself talking to a man who takes, um, shall we say, a Fine Gael/PD/DUP line on law-and-order. The subject of drug dealers came up and he was off.
“People say to me ‘Did you hear about that gangland shooting the other day? A man shot dead in a turf war over drugs. Isn’t it terrible?’ I say ‘What's terrible about a drug-dealer being shot dead? I think that's great!'"
It's a line that gets a nod of assent from more people than you might like to think. What’s scarier still, it finds its way into media reporting. On Tuesday morning, RTÉ radio reported that a man had been shot dead in Finglas the previous night. The dead man, we were told, had had a drug problem; and then the report went on to tell us about the man's brother. Ten years ago, the brother had been given eight years in prison for mugging and killing an elderly man as he prayed at the grave of his late wife. At the trial, the brother apologised for his actions but said that he had been high on drugs at the time.
You might think that who your brother is or what he gets up to has no relevance to what you are or get up to, and you'd be right. But by the inclusion of such information, the listener is led to a subtext which hints that the Finglas man shot dead was a drug addict, his brother was a drug addict and a murderer, and while it's unfortunate such people feel the need to shoot each other up, let's not get too weepy, they’re all part of the same violent, brutal world, and now there's one less of them. Such reports don't go so far as my Fine Gael/PD/DUP friend, but they're heading that direction.
The man in Finglas wasn't the only person to die on Monday night as a result of a violent attack. A 15-year old Catholic called Michael McIlveen also died. He'd been subjected to a brutal attack by a gang of around a dozen men in Ballymena at the weekend, and on Monday night efforts to save him failed. In reporting the event, the BBC noted that the murder ‘followed' an attack on a Protestant man in the Dunclug area of Ballymena a while back. Get the subtext? This murder is part of a pattern of sectarian strife in the area, with Catholic thugs as much to blame as their Protestant counterparts.
To her credit, Wendy Austin on Tuesday’s Good Morning Ulster challenged this line, asking a community worker if it really was a case of one side being as bad as the other. “Or is it that Ballymena is something of a cold house for Catholics?" (You might, of course, want to question if ‘cold house' isn't a little mild to describe a place where people attack you with a baseball bat and take turns jumping on your head when they find out you're a Catholic.)
Predictably, the man she was interviewing slid away from her question. Could you blame him? Catholics in the area have repeatedly asked for anonymity when talking to the press about the killing, in case they'd be identified as the next victim for similar treatment.
The unionist-aligned establishment has wasted no time weighing in behind the one-side-is-as-bad-as-the-other line.
The MP for the area, Ian Paisley: “Any reprisal or upping the ante would serve no purpose other than to make matters worse. I would call on all sides to pull back from the brink before tragedy is multiplied by catastrophe.” Note ‘all sides’.
PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde: “There are people from the next generation who are prepared to go out looking for people, on both sides, it's a two-way thing". Note ‘both sides’.
The Church of Ireland's Archbishop Lord Eames: “It is one more example of the bitterness of both sides of the spectrum". Note ‘both sides’.
The facts tell a different story. Two weeks ago a Catholic youth was stabbed in the centre of Ballymena. Last year dozens of attacks were made on Catholic-owned property in the Ballymena area. Catholic churches and schools were attacked by paint bombers and arsonists. In the nearby village of Ahoghill, a number of Catholics were forced from their homes after loyalist attacks. Our Lady’s Church in the Harryville area of Ballymena has been the focus of sustained sectarianism over the years, and last summer the petrol bombers and paint bombers were back.
Is there a comparable record of repeated and murderous Catholic attacks on Protestant people and Protestant property in the Ballymena area in recent years? If there is, it's been oddly under-reported. There are, you may be sure, Catholic bigots in Ballymena, but to present the situation in that town as a case of two equally-culpable warring factions, rather than a minority Catholic population subjected to primitive and murderous sectarianism, is to present a lie as the truth. The fact that this both-sides bunkum is offered by the great and the good, and the media, under the guise of balance and fairness, makes it all the more sickening.
Nor does this distortion stop at Ballymena town boundary. Watch the reporting of events at Stormont next week. The record shows that republicans have done all and more than was required of them by the Good Friday Agreement, are willing to enter into a power-sharing executive and are ready to vote for Ian Paisley as first minister. The record also shows that the DUP keeps finding new reasons for not going into a power-sharing executive, has done nothing to bring about loyalist decommissioning, and next week will refuse to so much as look at or speak to Sinn Féin, let along enter a power-sharing executive with them. And how will that be reported? What calls will be made by the great and the good? Why, one side is as bad as the other, of course, and both sides must learn to compromise and come to an agreement.
As long as those in positions of influence are incapable of delivering an honest diagnosis on this society and its problems, so long will this society remain sick.
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