BRIAN FEENEY, a small, green, angry political commentator of the Northern Irish persuasion, is given to making venomous attacks on me.
He once told an audience that the opening section of my book, The Faithful Tribe - which described at length the first Orange parade I'd ever attended - was obviously invented, as the name of the Belfast field where the marchers congregated was wrong. He snorted disbelievingly when I said I'd made a small error, not told a big lie.
Last week, he said in his Irish News column* that 'Ruth Deadly Edwards' had been let down by all her heroes: "Trimble, the Orange Order and now Paisley." Weary correction: Trimble, whom I admire for his courage and decency, did not let me down; the Orange Order was no more a hero to me than Ballinamallard Knitting Circle; and I've been denouncing Paisley as a bigot and a wrecker for all my journalistic career.
But facts don't bother Feeney. This article was an attack on me, Kevin Myers and Conor Cruise O'Brien for being "fundamentally anti-democratic" by opposing the shifts in opinion of the Northern electorate that have brought victory for the DUP and Sinn Fein. (Eoghan Harris was mysteriously excused as a late convert to a republican-loyalist deal.) I'll leave my comrades in obloquy to speak for themselves.
I'm in favour of a deal rather than no deal, though I'm gloomy about the prospects of success for a power-splitting arrangement between religious and political bigots which institutionalises sectarianism. But what I enjoyed was Feeney's nerve in implying that to be critical of the way people vote is to be anti-democratic. This from the man who wrote last year that: "To advertise their political dementia to the world, unionists have repeatedly voted for a man regarded as a ranting buffoon to be their tribal leader." Quite, Brian. If you had added that "to advertise their moral dementia, nationalists have repeatedly voted for a hypocrite known to be a terrorist leader to be theirs", we'd be in complete agreement for once.
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* Link to the Slugger O'Toole website: Criticism is valid, and necessary, in a democracy, relating to Brian Feeney's article, referred to by Ruth.