Jude Collins

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A good deed in a naughty world?

Not once but twice in the last forty-eight hours I’ve heard the idea expressed. Two decent people, both nationalists, both SDLP voters,  saying that the Michaela Harte horror-story could produce good by bringing  the two main communities here closer together. Nice idea, drawn from the Pollyanna school of political thinking. 

The analysis is based on the fact that Peter Robinson, Arlene Foster and a few other unionist politicians called at the Harte family home in recent days to express their condolences (less talk of how many if any attended Michaela Harte's funeral  yesterday). The unstated argument is that these politicians have been touched by the tragedy of a lovely young woman  murdered on her honeymoon and wanted to respond to what had happened in human terms. By doing so, they have crossed another bridge on the journey towards tolerance and empathy, and that old prejudices are gradually being removed.

 The alternative interpretation is that politicians always perform actions in the glare of publicity for a reason, and nine times out of ten those reasons are shaped by political considerations, not human ones. Did Peter Robinson et al say "My God how horrible - the poor Harte family - we must visit them and support them in their pain"? Unlikely. More likely they asked themselves “How will we look if we don’t show solidarity with this stricken family?” The answer they got was “Bloody awful”.  And so Robinson and Co turned up and did the decent thing. And of course Martin McGuinness and republican/nationalist politicians turned up/made their voices heard in sympathy for reasons that weren’t devoid of political considerations either. The difference is that  nationalists/republicans had a shorter distance to travel before empathising with a Catholic GAA family. 

Too hard on unionists who have been honourable in doing this difficult good deed? Maybe. But the Pollyanna school of political thought, which would convince you that were we nicer to each other, political divisions would melt away,  really does deserve to be hit with a large stick every time it raises its silly head.  


  1. Got to say, yes, you make a lot of posts out of being cynical about everything unionist/prod/whatever being calculated or non-genuine..

    Maybe your right..

    Obviously, I'm a alliance/unionist type, so I take issue with that. When that poor girl was killed, it didn't matter who she was, what passport she had, who her dad was, what way she voted.. this was a lovely young person killed days after her wedding day.

    How anyone who has been married, didn't cast their mind back to a similar imagined scene in their own hotel room on their honeymoon and shudder in horror shocks me. The more I read about her, I wasnt aware of her until this, but the more I read of her and her family, how they are such nice, decent people makes it even harder. Everyone knows someone like that and can relate...

    Now, Peter Robinson, I have little time for him, but I dont think its fair to suggest that he's a cold hearted sod.. he's got children of his own too, so I'm sure he can emphasise... surely the level of being married (maybe different in his mind now) or having had kids transcends the political head which would have been on his shoulders too?

    the line "The difference is that nationalists/republicans had a shorter distance to travel before empathising with a Catholic GAA family." gets me, if you'd stuck the word politician in there.. then maybe.. I doubt for one second anyone would be unmoved by this tradgedy that has happened to two families.

  2. Thanks for thoughts, Ryan - you clearly are a man more optimistic about political human nature than I am. I repeat: I don't believe any politician, with the spotlight on him/her, acts without some thought, probably most thought, to how it will play with the electorate. That's human nature. Add to that the fact that unionism, or certainly unionist politicians, have been happy to think of the GAA and all its works and pomps as an organisation not to be encouraged `(for decades you wouldn't have got so much as a GAA scoreline on the NI BBC), and the notion of P Robinson or other unionist politicians seeing the Harte tragedy in purely human terms strains painfully on one's credulity.

    I'm happy you see me as a critic of unionism. That's what I am.

  3. Well, that's why I read your blog.

    By all means be a critic of unionism, but please don't be a critic of unionist people.. Just because I favour a union with GB doesn't make me less human.

  4. Indeed no. And I don't think I've ever suggested otherwise - for you or any unionist. That would be monstrous.

  5. This is a deeply cynical post; the tone of which I find rather disappointing and unfair. In regards to Peter Robinson – who more often than not is a figure of negative criticism on this website – I can tell you that many people across Northern Ireland, both within and beyond the Unionist and Nationalist community, were deeply impressed by Peter Robinson’s eloquent, compassionate and moving tribute to Michaela McAreavey at Stormont yesterday. I would imagine that had Peter Robinson not made his statement yesterday you would no doubt have found reason to criticise his absence: either way, the man simply cannot win in your rather cynical and quite sad estimation. As a friend of the Harte family I can tell you that many of my fellow friends were deeply touched by the fact that Robinson and so many other representatives of the Unionist and Protestant community in Northern Ireland have extended a genuine hand of friendship during a time of immense trauma and sadness.

    Peter Robinson is a human being and I have absolutely no doubt that he displayed genuine emotion as he paid a moving and compassionate tribute to Michaela McAreavey yesterday during the opening proceedings at the Assembly. It may be difficult for you, as a critic of the Union, but the First Minister deserves a degree of credit and recognition for the positive manner in which he endeavoured to transform his party into a more moderate force supportive of cross community initiatives. Peter Robinson has increasingly sought to reach out a hand to the nationalist and Catholic community of Northern Ireland, and for this I believe that he should justifiably receive praise from both his supporters and detractors. I am quite sure that as a human being and as a father, Peter Robinson, like many people across Northern Ireland, was genuinely moved by the tragic events surrounding the death of a beautiful and vivacious young bride murdered on her honeymoon in such dreadful circumstances. This should not be in any doubt, and to be quite frank I think that it is wrong to presume that Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster’s primary motivation for visiting the Harte family home in order to express their condolences was compelled by political reasons. If one is to consistently cast doubt upon the motivations behind the actions of people who try to reach out a hand of friendship and understanding across the divide then, as a post-conflict society we will never move forward. If Robinson’s motivations were purely motivated by political considerations then why did the DUP not publicise the fact that they were involved in talks with the Irish and British governments to try and expedite the repatriation process for Michaela? Surely, publicising such valuable help would have won the party a degree of kudos from the electorate? Rather than being so negative and cynical of human nature, perhaps you should offer an acknowledgment of the positive behavior of various Unionist politicians in the past week to the Michaela McAreavey tragedy. I would assume, and hope that your ‘critical eye’, for want of a better description also falls as heavily upon those within the nationalist political arena of local politics as it does for those within the Unionist sphere. If not, then your ‘commentary’ is rather pointless. I am a nationalist.

  6. Simone - many thanks for your detailed response to my blog. I always appreciate feedback, even and sometimes especially if it's critical. I'm in a bit of a rush at the moment but I'd want to make a couple of points.

    (i) I don't think you'll find that I ascribe solely political motivation to Peter Robinson or other unionist politicians. What I say is that political motivation is rarely absent from their actions when they act in a public manner. They'd be very foolish if they didn't pay political repercussions of actions due attention.
    (ii) If you re-read the blog you'll see I include Martin McGuinness and all other politicians in my judgement that political thinking is always part of their calculation on public actions.
    (iii) I'm not in favour of the union - I'm a nationalist/republican - so it would make little sense for me to criticise the stance that I espouse. The idea that by being critical of everyone, or even balanced in your criticisms, makes you somehow right is a very shaky notion. The middle of the road is a dangerous and daft place to occupy.
    (iv) Finally and maybe most importantly, if you re-re-read my blog, you'll see that I in no way underestimate the pain the Hartes and McAreavys must have endured over Michaela's death. If they found consolation from Peter Robinson and Co's appearance, I'm delighted. My comments are strictly aimed at exploring, as I see it, PR and Co's motivation in making this public gesture.

    I'm actually not very cynical at all. But I'm also not very naive.

  7. I just want to thank Simone for her post here. It is a moving and eloquent demonstration of the will of a younger generation of people who are the future of Northern Ireland and emphasises rightly that the only way towards reconciliation is to accept without suspicion, recrimination or cynicism any hand that is stretched out in sympathy or friendship. We as a generation are not naive to the motives of politicians either, but unlike those still reeling from a conflict based not so much on ideals as suspicion, fear and hatred, we do have enough faith in ourselves and each other to realise that we can live in friendship and respect, not merely co-exist in a status quo as we hope for the return of a romantic Ireland that's dead and gone or a London-centric 'glorious empire'.

  8. Thanks as ever for your thoughts, Ryan - always interesting. You should know by now that whatever I am, romantic I ain't. Whatever about London-centric glorious imperialists, it's a mistake to think that nationalists/republicans are dreamers living in a Celtic twilight Yeats-on-Valium world. On the contrary, a lot of Irish nationalism/republicanism is based on sound common sense.