There was anguish written on the face of Kingsmill survivor Alan Black and it was real. No doubt about that. And now that the furious waterfall of typing has slowed to a dribble, we should look calmly at what caused it.
It is settled ground that it was not the content per se of Barry McElduff’s video that caused the issue, it was the perceived intent behind it. Without a malign double meaning it is just a video of a well known ‘character’ with a loaf of bread on his head.
What we know is that Barry walked into a shop late at night, not on the anniversary of Kingsmill but the day before. With a nod to some of the greatest hits in his comedic back catalogue, i.e. balancing foodstuffs on his head, he affixes a loaf of Kingsmill to his pate and asks where the shop keeps the bread. More Mr Tumble than Bill Hicks but there you go.
So let us give real consideration, just for a second, to the possibility that there was no hidden meaning. Let us consider that there are hundreds of atrocities in our troubled history and millions of ways in which a politician, any one politician out of many, could inadvertently make obscure reference to one of those events, even on the night before an anniversary.
It really is not that statistically unlikely. To consider the odds of the particular Kingsmill scenario alone and conclude that it’s unlikeliness meant it was deliberate, is to misunderstand the nature of random coincidences.
You are forgetting that if you line up literally millions of possible coincidences that could happen, with the same result, eventually over time one of them will happen.
Why did he not explain himself, asked Naomi Long? Well in Barry McElduff’s world, balancing things on your head does not need an explanation; it is self-evidently funny, particularly with the new spin on this occasion of a reference to the ‘Fred, where’s the bread?’ advert of yore.
It was not a joke that really lends itself to explanation. The explanation he thought required was to rule out any double meaning, which he did. Those who suggest a double meaning do not explain how it works. The name Kingsmill is not relevant to any of the rest of the sketch.
So yes, it is entirely plausible that there was no intent. Add to that the basic oddity that McElduff would pick Kingsmill of all events as his very first foray into victim-mocking (regardless of his previous fondness for the IRA) the lack of nods and winks from his followers to indicate that some hidden message had been received, and the public retweeting of this supposedly explosive video by the former finance minister, who has shown no predilection for enjoying such macabre jokes at any time before.
It is primarily in the victims’ families’ interests that we should consider that the harmless interpretation of the video is the right one, and to give that possibility a fair hearing rather than jump to conclusions.
If I were genuinely seeking to comfort the families and set aside the opportunity to have a swipe at Sinn Fein, I would be explaining to them that there are sound reasons to conclude that McElduff didn’t mean anything by it. They need not necessarily suffer the trauma that concluding otherwise might bring.
But that careful approach didn’t happen. The reason it didn’t happen is because a Twitter storm developed and began to create its own force for the argument that mal-intent was behind the video.
By the time the furore reaches the victims themselves all possibility of mistake is dismissed as naive.
All silence is deemed uncaring so politicians add their voice, and which way are they going to go? The force is so great that it becomes a PR disaster to resist it and swim against the flow, so even Sinn Fein swim with it and eventually sideways with a wrap on Barry’s wrists.
That in itself gives the final push to the prevailing narrative and pushes it over the edge. The counter-narrative, perhaps the truth, is irretrievable.
All of that is very well if you’re Jamie Bryson or Jim Allister. But let’s not kid ourselves that we’re supporting victims’ families.