“the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned…”

It’s worth remembering that Anna Lo presaged her first frustration with live in Northern Ireland by telling the Irish News, that “I’ve had enough of the inability of this society and its political leaders to escape from the past.”

Now here’s Tom Kelly defining the real failure to respond amongst Northern Ireland’s broad political leadership, but particular an opportunity evidently unseen by the First Minister to live up to the title he so jealously guards.

First the ‘offence’:

What kind of language or tolerance did our “good and the great” expect to hear from a firebrand, hillbilly, Calvinistic street preacher? The Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle looks like a magnificent monument to the glory that is James McConnell- a man called to ministry at a mere seventeen and whose website pays testimony to his congregations ability to pay off vast sums of money. McConnell seems a totally sincere man albeit blighted by that special form of myopia only gifted to those single minded and ignorant enough to believe themselves. And McConnell does believe himself.

He declares that like Christ- “I can afford to be intolerable.” And to an extent he can. We live in a free country and with that comes free speech. Nothing McConnell said, however distasteful would have him arrested in the USA. What gave media fuel to McConnell’s offensive comments were his close connections to senior DUP members.

Then the ‘politics’:

Quite rightly those charged with governing over us- impartially and without fear or favour to those of all religions and none; were asked where they stood in relation to McConnell’s comments. Their answers to that question should have framed what type of country we have spawned. They could have defended the erratic evangelists right to say what he said as part of free speech without agreeing with the sentiments of what he said. But they didn’t. They weighed in two feet first into a barrel of tripe that belittled their status as public representatives. Had they attempted to act statesmen like – McConnell would have looked like an out of his depth-ageing preacher with all the credibility of David Icke.

The First Minister added to the flames by making clumsy off the wall remarks about trusting Muslims to going shopping. In truth, it’s doubtful if he meant those words as they came out. His estranged partner in government, Martin McGuinness was presented with a penalty kick that he could not refuse. Robinson’s slowness to clarify his remarks and issue an apology were more to do with the current state of his relationship with McGuinness than any defence of McConnell. That he eventually met with and apologised to the local Muslim community was overdue but to be welcomed –as neither Sinn Fein or the DUP seem to find the word “sorry” easy to locate in their respective lexicons.

And ‘finally’:

There is no doubt Anna Lo exhausted from a gruelling election felt the pressure once again but that too is the fault of our society – politics and media included – that seems to have made her the focal point for every racial or minority issue, conveniently forgetting, she is a MLA who happens to be Chinese not because she is Chinese. As we are stuck here for better or worse, the late Maya Angelou may offer some solace “The ache for home lives in us all- the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” After this week we can only hope.

It was probably the clarity of the US Constitution on the matter of separation of church and state which helped JFK formulate his authoritative answer to the problem… Ironically, his address also noted that “it was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom.”

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