Belfast Telegraph

That spirit of goodwill is still missing in our lives

By Alf McCreary

"It is pitiable to see flags flying from lamp posts day and night for weeks and months on end. The whole spectacle is tacky and shabby ... and displays an underlining sectarianism and essentially bullying mentality.

"To use any flag in a sectarian way – intentionally or unintentionally – is an affront to civilised community life."

These are not my words, but they are the comments of the highly-respected Church of Ireland Gazette, a small weekly paper that punches well above its weight.

The Gazette, in a well-reasoned editorial this week, refers to the UN Declaration of Human Rights that "all human beings are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood".

I would amend that slightly to "a spirit of goodwill", and this is precisely what is missing in so many walks of life in Northern Ireland.

In general we are regarded rightly as a warm-hearted and caring people, and therefore I am continually amazed why so many Ulster people complain about so much, and why they can be so bloody-minded towards one another.

Take the parades, for instance. Most pass off peacefully, and only a few create enormous tension, bad blood, disruption and atrociously bad headlines.

I am sure that many people like me often wonder why those on both sides cannot close their eyes for 10 minutes and just let 'the other side' walk back home to Ardoyne or to Portadown Orange Hall via Garvaghy, and be done with it.

The world will not end, and life for most people will continue as normal.

Sadly, that is far too simple a solution for those among us who want to go out of their way to offend or to be offended. What about flags? Every day I drive past Union flags and Irish Tricolours, and I hardly notice them. They are now like much of the graffiti that disfigures our province.

You would think that those who say that they care about flags would take better care of them. Of course they don't. Tattered Union flags and grubby Irish Tricolours are a disgrace to the cause they are meant to serve. With a little goodwill we could well live without most of them.

We could do with a lot more goodwill between our politicians and councillors, most of whom behave like ill-mannered children, particularly when they know that the cameras are on them.

Our public representatives are now vying for world leadership in grandstanding and in pandering to the lowest common denominator.

We could also do with more goodwill to some of our better politicians who have some of the most difficult jobs in the world. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are not perfect but they are still keeping their difficult relationship going for the benefit of all of us, and with little thanks.

I know that I too criticise them at times, but how many people could do a lot better?

One area where there is more goodwill than in any other period in my lifetime is in church affairs, despite the disgraceful feud in Ballynahinch Congregational Church where Christ has been truly crucified.

On the other hand, our main church leaders have been standing together for many years, as they did this week in the UK City of Culture – Derry/Londonderry.

The churches, too have their faults, but they continually symbolise the need for goodwill. This is the only way forward for all of us.

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