Switch on your TV and you can’t miss it. Since last week every presenter who inserts him or herself into the glass rectangle in the corner of our living-rooms has the crimson symbol pinned in place. It’s poppy-time again.
Our most famous poppy-wearer – and for a brief time, non-poppy-wearer – was/is of course Donna Traynor. Thinking it was a woman’s right to choose, the BBC Northern Ireland presenter chose not to wear a poppy. It didn’t last long. Quiet management words were inserted in Donna’s ear and today the poppy is attached to her breast as to every other screen-visible BBC breast. It may not be always worn with pride but it’s worn without demur. Some say Donna was rescued from a false consciousness about the poppy; others that she was she told to either wear it or take a hike.
Some awful guff has been been written about people like her who dislike the idea of poppy-wearing. In the south, the official line is that the state was guilty of a historic injustice by failing to honour those Irishmen who gave their lives in the two world wars and we must now do all we can to redress that. In the north, unionist politicians like David McNarry tell us we owe a debt:
“Locally we also remember the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of the Regular Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the RUC and PSNI who risked their lives to protect this community from anarchy and who are still engaged to this day in the fight against terrorism. Supporting the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal and wearing the Poppy with Pride is a small token of our thanks and gratitude and a public way of saying ‘We will remember them’.”
Succinctly put, David. Firstly, we’re being urged to honour ‘the men and women of the Regular Army’ – that is, of the British Regular Army, those Irish people who became part of the British Army and fought with it. Secondly we’re told to honour the UDR, the RUC and the PSNI.
I know it’ll come as a shock to David and others like him, but those who believe in Irish independence from Britain have a logical difficulty with honouring those who fought world wars in the ranks of the British Army, an army that for decades and centuries has enforced British rule in Ireland. And it’ll come as an equal shock to the Dublin 4ers to discover that those who believe in Irish independence as well as civil rights have a difficulty honouring the UDR and the RUC, who for decades were part of a system that ruthlessly repressed one-third of the north’s population.
The McNarry/Dublin 4 strategy is to paint those who disagree with them as recidivists, unreconstructed romantics who nurse a psychopathic streak. George Bush would have liked them: if you’re not for us you’re against us, and so a friend of murder.
Meanwhile, on Donna’s breast the poppy sprouts, year after year. The organisation she works for prides itself on its tradition of even-handedness and balance. Except, of course, you try to resist the party line. Then it’s ‘Get back on song or there’s the door’.
Will I tell you something really shocking? Not a single liberal voice in our society has been raised to denounce such Stalinist treatment.