Posted By: June 04, 2014

Brian Feeney. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, June 4, 2014


LET’S get two items straight at the outset. First, until last night Robinson had not apologised to the Muslim community for his stupid, condescending and ignorant remarks and secondly, the equally ignorant ranting of Pastor McConnell is not a matter of free speech, a description some DUP apologists would try to dignify his incoherent ramblings with. Robinson thankfully has been doing the backstroke for the past week during which time he initially issued that nauseating weasly politician’s faux apology which always begins with ‘if’. His was worse than most. He actually said that, ‘if’ anyone thought he had said anything derogatory he ‘would be hurt’ and he would apologise, but he didn’t because he didn’t think so. According to Muslim leaders his socalled ‘private’ apology was in much the same terms. Meanwhile Pastor McConnell has been eating humble pie rushing post haste to the two Pakistani men attacked in a loyalist district of north Belfast and offering to pay for the damage to their home. At least unlike Robinson, he seems to have some inkling of the damage he caused. As for McConnell’s inflammatory speech – you couldn’t call it a sermon – it falls into the category of the unanimous judgment of the US Supreme Court case, Schenk v United States in 1919, a judgment written by Oliver Wendell holmes. The most famous line in the judgment states that free speech doesn’t give you the right to ‘falsely shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.’ That judgment came in a country famous for enshrining free speech in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The judgment was overturned in 1969 to outlaw speech which would be ‘directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action’. The point is there is no absolute right to free speech. Here we have had the incitement to hatred Act since 1970, useless since you have to prove intent. There is also the UK Racial and Religious hatred Act 2006 but again proof of intent is required so Pastor McConnell can sleep easy especially since he has the first minister and sundry DUP supporters ready to spring to his defence. No wonder, because the DUP has a long shameful history of hate-mongering during the worst years of the Troubles. Indeed the DUP lobbied strenuously to water down the Racial and Religious hatred bill 10 years ago so that various Free Presbyterian ministers could continue spewing out anti-Catholic hatred. Racial and sectarian hatred are two sides of the same coin which people in the DUP regularly flip as it suits them. Unionists have a problem here as you can readily see from the regular racist attacks the UVF and UDA organise in districts they control and it’s not just because immigrants interfere with the housing benefit scams loyalist paramilitaries run. There’s a ready market among Unionists for hate-mongers: it’s a tradition going back centuries. It’s not that Fenians are in any way innately better disposed towards immigrants of whatever origin. Loyalist districts are not the only places where racist attacks happen. Given the right climate Nationalists would be just as pre-disposed to victimise incomers. There’s the clue however – the right climate, and that’s down to political leadership. Unlike the DUP Sinn Fein work hard to combat racism. Murals plastered in Republican districts remind readers that Irish emigrants suffered from attacks in the past. Those districts are places where the novelist Meera Syal says the causes of racism flourish, those causes she says being poverty, ignorance and fear. Sinn Féin have developed a climate in such places where racism is deplored and condemned. In a tribute from an unlikely source, normally the hammer of Sinn Féin, Fintan O’Toole wrote on May 27, ‘Sinn Féin is the reason that Ireland, almost uniquely, does not have a far-right populist party.’ Of course by ‘Ireland’ O’Toole means the Republic. If he was taking a balanced view of the whole island he would have had to say that the DUP, after decades of assiduous cultivation, has created the climate where the only far-right populist party in Ireland flourishes…