To blog or not to blog…?

There is a short piece in today’s Sunday Life which quotes a Belfast City councillor accusing Slugger of “fanning the flames of sectarian hatred”. The thread that caught the councillor’s eye concerned the continuing attacks on Orange Halls across Northern Ireland.

Update: It seems I rather hastely ran to ‘print’ without checking whether or not the article was published. It was not. My apologies to all for the confusing arising

In that thread, an individual commenter left remarks which could have been construed as incitement to further attacks. They were brought to my attention by telephone, and removed before that conversation was ended.

We understand there is now a police investigation aimed at identifying precisely who made the remarks and to determine whether there was criminal intent behind them.

Before continuing, it is important to clarify something which the councillor’s remarks, if taken in isolation at least, might otherwise obscure. Broadly speaking, the blog is what is written above the line; comments are a ‘right of reply extended to the public as a courtesy.

It’s a crucial distinction, not least in law. We have guidelines for what is acceptable, and they bite a long way before we get near the legal line. But, partly as a result of this incident, we are working on toughening up the registration requirements for commenters in future.

There is generally a tendency of commenters to veer (sometimes at 180 degree) away from the original topic and into their own prefered territory. This is as true of some Slugger commenters as it is to those reading blogs on the Washington Post. Indeed, as Pete noted a couple of years back, Joel Achenbach considered his blog into have developed into two distinctive parts:

My contribution to the blog is what I call the “Kit.” The commenters’ part is called the “Kaboodle.” Some of the everyday Kaboodlers make references to “our blog,” as though they’re co-proprietors. It’s obvious at this point that the Kaboodle is trying to take over the blog. And it won’t stop with me: I can picture the Kaboodle rambling across the countryside, panting heavily, stomping through people’s gardens, tinkling on little kids’ tricycles, etc. The general trend in blogs seems to be the diminution of the blogger and the elevation of the commentariat.

On Slugger this tendency is particularly pronounced when it comes to discussing anything to do with Protestant culture, and in particular the Orange Order. Take this threaded commentary which came in response to blog on Mairtin O’Muilleoir’s determination to find good things to say about the Orange Order.

This, however, is not reflected in the blog output. It is true that not everything Slugger puts out on the Orange Order is supportive. It has been a critical player in some of the difficulties of Northern Ireland’s past, and there have been occasions when the behaviour of some of its members have not come up to, what are in theory, its own very high standards of civil tolerance.

But on this issue of attacks on Orange Halls Slugger has been rigorous in documenting the extent and the seriousness of each attack as they have occurred.

Last March we began a thread documenting all apparently sectarian attacks on churches, and communities. The prompt was a nasty attack on St Columcille’s Catholic Church in East Belfast, but it quickly became obvious the extent to which the Protestant, rather than the Catholic community was bearing the brunt of these often very low level attacks. S

Since then attacks have been reported in Maghera, Killygullib (2 in 10 days); urine attacks on a parade in Glengormley; three halls in South Derry; the 242nd attack since ’89 took place in Lurgan and brought condemnation from Sinn Fein, and the details of which were carried on Slugger. Fair Deal followed up with his own detailed analysis.

Attacks on a chapel in Bushmills and Orange Hall in West Belfast, were followed by attacks on two Protestant churches in South Derry. The Irish News reports all this has cost £4 Million in the previous five years. Then two more in South Armagh, another in Moy, and then a ABOD banner returned by Republicans.

Killygullib gets hit again. We report fifty attacks in three weeks. Sinn Fein councillor Dessie Ward condemns people intent on dragging us backwards. Still they keep happening, this time in Derry and Strabane. Which brings us the thread under discussion, simply noting a second attack on an Orange Hall in Portadown in 24 hours.

This is by no means all of the stories we’ve carried on this disturbing theme, but we’ve been very careful to make sure we’ve gathered as much of the detail as we could as things progressed.

That the issue has largely been ignored in public debate may be as much of a recognition that such sectarian attacks are extremely difficult to attack, not least since there is a widely held perception that for some bizarre reason, Catholics cannot be sectarian.

According to Malachi O’Doherty, it’s not a view that the late Cardinal O’Fiaich subscribed to. He “defined the mechanics of sectarianism in Northern Ireland for many when he said that Protestants were more sectarian in religion and Catholics were more sectarian in politics.”

One way of dealing with this all of this is to just to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening. We certainly would avoid the risk of putting Slugger into legal jeopardy. Another is to close debate on such controversial matters. Several thoughts previously noted on Slugger come to mind. One from the Polish artist Krystof Wodiczko:

“I left Poland in search of democracy and found it was more like a phantom always shifting and constantly lingering on the horizon. Once it is given to someone, it changes. In fact, it needs to be remade every day. It requires the consistent disruption of silences and the [utterance] of things that people do not want to hear.”

And Czeslaw Milosz from Pete’s post yesterday:

“What is articulated, strengthens. What is not articulated tends towards the non-being.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty