A brave new orthodoxy. Whatever you say, say nothing.

Eamonn McCann’s class war may be a touch whiskery these days but it still helps him  punch a big hole in one of our brave new orthodoxies.

A little while ago, a friend attended a session of non-sectarian training sponsored by her employer. Each must respect the “culture” of the other side, it was explained. For example, the Orange Order was an expression of the identity of the Protestant community: to disrespect the order was to disrespect Protestants.

My friend intervened to say that she regarded the order as a bunch of bigots quite undeserving of respect. Shock and dismay all round. Such hostility to the Protestant community was intolerable. “But”, she piped up, “I am a Protestant.”

She was told to take a course in “single-identity work”. She’d have to learn to love her local lodge before she could engage fully in efforts to bring the communities together”

When did this patronising twaddle become compulsory and what can be done to undermine it?   As Gladys rightly says below,” liberal” is a dirty word in Northern Ireland. (Eamonn would agree actually), the kind of liberalism that says a plague on all your communal prisons and doesn’t believe the revolution is just round the corner, even for the sake of argument.

In the 1970s, the entire liberal constituency used to meet in a telephone box in Donegall Place before they blew it up. Eamonn’s Trots probably met in a brown paper bag. In the bad old days, it was plain orthodoxy for the “Liberal elite” (there’s another one for you ) to sneer, show  contempt, patronise , despise even, the lumpenproletariat  of sectarianism. Not nice and a poor analysis  but some kind of therapy was needed and at least we weren’t  killing people.  In its way it was an admission of impotence.  But being in a minority has never stopped Eamonn. He’s right. Polemic is better than sneering.  But taking them seriously with courtesy and acceptance is better than both. Bad for the blood pressure though. Swallowing them whole is a different thing altogether.  Who was that who shouted “Alliance party?”

We’ve a long way to go it seems before  we’re  back in the mid 1960s.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London