Save Ulster From Obloquy

Save Ulster From Obloquy

Cartoon by Ian Knox.

On May 22 2015 Ireland voted YES. Overwhelming, both as a spectacle and an act, all but one Irish county endorsed the plebiscite. Ireland won itself the affection of the world.

This is a ratchet event, one scene in the rolling theatre of progress. The west is witnessing a tidal wave of judge and popular decisions to open the institution of civil marriage to gay people. The Irish vote makes matrimony universal across the British-Irish archipelago; save that is for Northern Ireland that is.

Where Ireland won the affection, Northern Ireland takes the tacit disapproval of the world.

As America, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico and more and more European countries march forward, Northern Ireland is fighting to make concrete of the old order, to bend backwards even the arc of change.

Once again I experience Belfast blush, that reddening sense of ignominy when Northern Ireland is serially brought into disgrace and disfavour by riotous or homicidal delinquents.

Just as public disturbances brought and continue to bring us into disrepute, so does disturbing political policy.

In the YES aftermath Northern Ireland has faced a fearsome cavalcade of obloquy, being described as the 'last bastion of discrimination'.

The Irish Times published an article, 'It's not easy being a Yes Roscommon voter post-referendum' (Roscommon being the only one of 26 states to vote N0). Likewise, it's not easy being from Northern Ireland.

You cannot underplay the significance of retrogressive public governance. Indiana lawmakers enacted a 'conscience clause' and were ridiculed and boycotted into the basement of global standing. A tech firm pulled out on a 1,000-job investment.

That's what could lie ahead for Northern Ireland. The greatest threat to Northern Ireland is a bad name and ill-repute.

Do you know what obloquy, as written earlier, means? It means heavy criticism, contempt, denunciation and the bringing of disgrace on oneself. Obloquy is the greatest threat to Northern Ireland. Terence O'Neill said on December 9 1968:

"The bully boy tactics we saw... Incur for us the contempt of Britain and the world - and such contempt is the greatest threat to Ulster."

Speaking in August 2007 Christopher Hitchens said that deeply conservative US States get boycotted and mocked for backwardness, meaning change is inevitable. He said:

"Take the case of the so-called 'Intelligent Design School', they want equal time; they used to want to ban evolution, now they want equal time in schools. So they've brought with their Discovery Institute friends from Washington, moves on school boards and courts in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and the most conservative county in Pennsylvania, around the town of Dover. And they have been humiliated in each case, in Kansas, in Texas, in Oklahoma and in the most reactionary part of Pennsylvania. Thrown off the school board by the electorate and thrown out of court as flat out unconstitutional by the judges in all cases Reagan republican appointees. And I don't know what they're going to do next these red-necks, I don't know what they're going to do."

And here is the key bit that applies to Northern Ireland:

"But I know why it doesn't work, and why it's not going to work, because maybe there are many parents in Kansas who say, 'Well I personally think that God made the rocks and only made them 6,000 years ago,' they don't want that taught to their children in school. They don't want to come from a state where they get laughed at when they say where they're from, 'Oh'ho you're from Kansas! That's the place where...' They don't like that. It was the same with the confederate flag issue, quite apart from the racism quite a lot of people didn't want to come from a state that had the confederate battle flag on its... Among other things they won't have their conventions in your state. You'll suffer for that too. You'll get laughed at when you travel, they don't want this. And nor should they have to put up with it because of a handful of crackpots. No I don't say there aren't a lot of devout people in his country and science just negates religion, but I say that the influence of religion as opposed to scientific rationalism is hugely overestimated."

Ireland may be governed by an ecclesiastical minority, but it's actually a pretty advanced, cosmopolitan place. That's the challenge, to drown out the atavism and anti-progress with kind of positive action we saw when Belfast and the people of Northern and southern Ireland did a #MarchForEquality.


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