29 June 2015
Brave acts cast the spotlight on bigotry of others
Mary McAleese with husband Martin and Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson (left) viewing the memorial window at the opening of the Museum of Orange Heritage
It was good that the Orange Order invited Mary McAleese, the ex-president of the Republic of Ireland, and her husband, Martin, to the official opening of their Museum of Orange Heritage last Wednesday. And it was good - though not surprising - that they accepted.
In spite of a few gaffes, there is no doubting that both McAleeses made sincere efforts to reach out to the loyal institutions with such initiatives as an annual Twelfth of July reception she gave at the presidential residence.
"The culture of the Orange is not my culture, but it is the culture of my neighbours," Mrs McAleese said. It was important that "we don't live in ignorance and mythology, but we do live with true understanding of each other," for, as she had found on her visit, there were many points of intersection between the two cultures of nationalism and unionism.
I would like to think that the Carrick Hill Residents' Association will take her advice and turn up at Schomberg House in order to learn about their neighbours' culture, but I'm not very hopeful.
It seems to have been some of them who complained that they could not bear to see in their area a billboard that merely advertised the museum.
JC Decaux, which hires out the billboards, caved in immediately and removed a poster saying nothing more offensive than: "We want to share our history so everyone can share the future."
A spokesman for the Orange Order said the removal was baffling and "deeply disappointing" and that it was "extremely concerning that a museum which is Peace III-funded, promoting outreach and providing a greater understanding of our shared history, should be the cause of such contention".
The Carrick Hill residents' most prominent spokesman is Frank "Dipper" Dempsey, who - as Nelson McCausland has pointed out - in 2012 presented a medal at an IRA D Company reunion to Billy McKee, who was pushed off the IRA army council in 1977 and has been a stalwart of Republican Sinn Fein (the political wing of the Continuity IRA) since 1986.
So, people who at the very least are unoffended by having a spokesman with such links, cannot bear to see an advertisement for Orange outreach. There's a word for that: bigotry.
And then there's JC Decaux, which has form. In 2005, Professor Liam Kennedy, who has issued reports on child abuse by the IRA, the UDA and the UVF, stood in the general election in West Belfast on an anti-paramilitary platform.
He paid Decaux to put up two billboards showing a photographic image of two men in balaclavas carrying out a punishment beating: it had previously been used by the Northern Ireland Office. The image was also on the election leaflets the Royal Mail delivered without a query.
JC Decaux cancelled the contract. Unofficially, they told a member of Prof Kennedy's team that they were afraid their poster sites might be vandalised by the people targeted in the poster. In other words, they were afraid of paramilitaries.
Officially, they issued the explanation: "While the company fully understands that the posters in question related to human rights, on reviewing the images we felt that they were inappropriate and could cause offence."
As Prof Kennedy and several journalists pointed out forcefully, JC Decaux was saying that "we must acquiesce in the power wielded by paramilitary organisations". There's a word for that: cowardice.
As Jenny McCartney commented in the Daily Telegraph at the time: "Kennedy's posters can't find a site for display, while those of Sinn Fein and the PUP are emblazoned all over Belfast. While courage is a rare quality, it often acts like a kind of intense spotlight on those around it. When you come across someone who has it, such as Mr Kennedy, you really can't help noticing the shabbiness of the people who don't."
This time there has, apparently, been no explanation forthcoming from JC Decaux, but the billboard has gone anyway.
I hope the outreach of the Orange Order and the McAleeses acts as a spotlight on the bigotry of some residents of Carrick Hill and on the craven behaviour of JC Decaux.
The Orange Order might like to know that Liam Kennedy sued JC Decaux for damages. They settled out of court.
Ruth Dudley Edwards