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Tom is right, some lines just should not be crossed

By Lawrence White

Published 25/07/2015

Frankie Boyle protest
Frankie Boyle protest

Well done to Tom Hartley for joining in the protests against comedian Frankie Boyle appearing at this year's Feile an Phobail in west Belfast.

The former Sinn Fein Lord Mayor obviously decided that loyalty to his brother was greater than loyalty to the festival he helped found; or even to the party, which has been relatively quiet on the appearance of the controversial comic.

A Down's syndrome support group named after Tom's brother Stephen has been in the van of the campaign to get Boyle axed from the Feile because of his past record of poking fun at people with the condition, and even more tasteless jokes about Katie Price's disabled son Harvey.

Boyle, as anyone who watched him on the Mock The Week panel show knows, can be very near the knuckle but also very funny. However, those performances were sanitised compared to his live shows, and he is finding out that there are boundaries which should not be crossed.

Remember Billy Connolly, perhaps the funniest Scottish comedian ever, who incurred public wrath for his comments on Iraqi hostage Kenneth Bigley shortly after he was executed by his Islamic extremist captors.

There are just some jokes that the public at large are not prepared to accept.

Tom's appearance at the protest picket outside the Feile offices - actually holding a poster calling for the show to be cancelled - will be a great boost to the other campaigners.

He, like the others on the picket line, was simply calling for the Feile organisers to show their humanity and recognise that someone who pokes fun at people unable to personally reply because of their disability is not really the sort of headline act suitable for a community festival.

So will Tom's voice carry more weight than that of other protesters? Perhaps, but there can be no certainty.

The Feile has always had a strong Sinn Fein influence, and it is a party that is not easily swayed. It is also adept at gauging the public mood, and if it is felt that Boyle's appearance will not damage the party's standing in its heartland, then he will be on the stage on August 7.

But it will do the protesters' cause no good to portray this as a challenge to the authority of Sinn Fein or the Feile organisers, or even an attempt at censorship.

Instead, it should be seen as an appeal for common sense - or more precisely common decency - to win the day.

The protesters are raising their voices simply because they care about their brothers, sisters or children who are unfortunate enough to have a disability. They don't want anyone to poke fun at them or thinking that it is all right to poke fun at them.

They know the difficulties that those with Down's syndrome - and the people who care for them - face in their lives, and it is no laughing matter.

Surely their argument must win the day?

Belfast Telegraph

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