Very few countries are indifferent to their near abroad. Powerful states, such as China or the United States, circumscribe the independence of their neighbours in ways large and small. Weaker countries keep beady eyes on their bigger friends. What do we in the United Kingdom see when we look at the Republic of Ireland? A country which has just had an election where Sinn Fein topped the polls.
This is a party which is either the political wing of the IRA or is controlled by the “army council” of a terrorist organisation that certainly hasn’t gone away. What should we make of Irish voters electing a party whose armed wing is directly responsible for 2,000 murders? Is this a matter for outrage, and if so, where is it? Everything about the Irish general election is discouraging. When asked to comment on the status of the all too extant Provisional IRA, Simon Byrne — the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland — was altogether too political a policeman: that’s “not for me to comment”, he said.
If UK officials are habitually mealy-mouthed about Sinn Fein and the IRA, what has the reaction been further afield, from Ireland’s European Union partners? Austria, Poland and Hungary have at various times all been sanctioned by EU institutions for their delinquent electoral choices. Yet however disagreeably or otherwise voters in those countries have behaved, none topped the polls with a party responsible for 2,000 violent deaths. Wherever the outrage is, it’s not in Europe, as there hasn’t been a word out of Brussels.
During the Brexit referendum and its years of contention afterwards, the refrain of “Ireland hasn’t been thought about” was constantly heard. Whether or not that was so, it seems very curious that none of the people outraged by the supposed silence on Ireland then are speaking out now.
Pompous, self-satisfied Irish academics such as Brigid Laffan — “Director and Professor at the Robert Schuman Centre and Director of the [EU’s] Global Governance Programme” — can seethingly tweet about the UK being a “rogue state” but keep quiet about the electoral success of a transparently rogue party. There has been and is no outrage about what Irish voters have done. Their election campaign saw the mother of one — post-“ceasefire” — IRA victim, whose son had his face beaten off his corpse with iron bars by the men who murdered him, plead that the party which contains and stands by those men should stop smearing her dead son. Those pleas went unanswered by Sinn Fein, a quarter of Irish voters, most journalists there (and almost all here) and, of course, the silent EU.
We are silent where we should speak up; we are hysterical over comparative trivia
Where then, in this censorious age, is the outrage? Well, of course, there’s lots. Take just two examples. First we have Craig Ramage, whose name you hear for the first and last time. A regional BBC radio football pundit, and ex-player, Mr Ramage made some off-the-cuff racist comments about black football players. Summarily dismissed, Mr Ramage, we can confidently predict, will be neither forgiven nor rehabilitated. His crime will not go unmentioned and its obscene nature cannot be redeemed.
Moving a few steps down the moral plane, we have the matter of the unfortunate, although unnamed, BBC Parliament “aston” programmer. This unknown person captioned the legend, or “aston”, for a picture of black, female Labour MP Marsha de Cordova with the name of Dawn Butler, a Labour deputy leadership contender.
In a news story about Ms de Cordova, George Osborne’s London Evening Standard then used a picture of Bell Ribeiro-Addy, a third black, female Labour MP. This served as an important teaching moment for the BBC, which along with the Guardian duly gave grave and solemn attention to what might otherwise have been mistaken for a mere coincidence of meaningless accidents.
What these two stories have in common is copious attention, moral instruction and a curious asymmetry. Take the appointment of Suella Braverman, a woman of Asian heritage, as attorney general in the latest government reshuffle. The response has, in dank places, been vitriolic, “genderised”, racialised and even defamatory. Yet, although, unlike the mistaken astons, this abuse was intentional and widespread, no wider moral lesson has been drawn by our public moralists.
The grim men in Ireland should teach us a lesson. We are silent where we should speak up; we are hysterically unserious over comparative trivia. The application of morality matters. We’ll learn that one way or the other.
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