Belfast Telegraph

Sectarian circus that passes for council politics

By Fionola Meredith

When will it all end? The answer is never. Never ever will we escape the damnable circus of provocation and counter-provocation that passes for politics in this mad-house we call home. It's like a chronic mental illness: long periods of low-level dysfunctionality punctuated by spikes of psychosis - but the basic craziness is ever-present.

I mean, just how sick in the head do you have to be, to name a children's play park after a terrorist? This is a place where kids are supposed to have simple, carefree fun, running around, playing chase, not kneeling in reverence before the questionable memory of a dead republican. We don't need endless discussions, and we certainly don't need the Equality Commission to make some pompous pronouncement about the importance of neutral spaces, to know that calling the park after Raymond McCreesh is seriously messed up. It's a no-brainer.

I mean, where do we go after this? Are loyalists going to be clamouring for their local dump to be renamed the Billy Wright Civic Amenity Centre?

Even within the warped logic of republicanism, the decision doesn't appear to make sense. If you want to venerate your dead, if you want to remember murderous young men as warrior-gods and martyrs, you don't stick their names on a playground with two swings and half a see-saw, do you? But there's a deeper agenda - less romantic, more pragmatic - at work here. After all, it's an inspired way to wind up, taunt and generally horrify unionists, who, as usual, run shrieking into the trap prepared for them, thus appeasing and reassuring the core republican vote.

Forget the sanctified claptrap mouthed by SF's baby apparatchik Megan Fearon in the Assembly debate, all that misty-eyed guff about McCreesh inspiring Nelson Mandela. She's learned well from the master of bogus sentiment, Gerry Adams. Supremacy, at all costs, is Sinn Fein's prime objective, and they'll grab any tool handy - even the memory of one of their revered folk-heroes - to help do the job.

Confirming the play park will stay dedicated to McCreesh was one of the final acts of Newry and Mourne council before it's subsumed into the new Newry, Mourne and Down super council, though I doubt that it's the last we'll hear of the subject. Now we learn that one of the first steps taken by the new Mid Ulster super council is to ban Remembrance Day poppies for sale in all council buildings. In an attempt to take the bad look off it, they've banned the selling of Easter lilies too. Different place, same motive. What's wrong with selling poppies? Nobody's going to be forced to buy one if they don't want it. But out they go regardless, a sneaky backward kick aimed at the other side. (Gerry, would you ever keep that Trojan horse under control?) And all done under the twin principles of neutrality and equality, which is the kind of language we're supposed to speak now.

The re-organisation of local government was supposed to be a fresh, forward-looking start; instead, it resembles some kind of screwed-up relay race, where the batons of bitter sectarianism are passed on to each new gathering of public representatives.

Unfortunately, with elections coming up in May, we can expect more, not less, of these absurd provocations, on both sides. Elections are a big trigger for tribal paroxysms, as the parties go to extreme lengths to posture and perform for themselves and each other. Meanwhile the rest of us stand on the margins, shaking our heads in silent frustration.

I know I'm not the only person who feels like banging her head off a brick wall. There are a lot of us out there. Some of us vote, more out of a weary sense of civic duty than any great enthusiasm, but many of us don't. We are non-tribal - yes, honestly. Whatever our backgrounds, we don't identify with either side.

We just do not care. This is hard for tribalists to understand. They have a desperate desire to put us in our designated boxes. They parse our words in an attempt to discover the underlying sectarian allegiances at work, crying 'aha!' when they think they've caught us out. People only make sense to them if they can be divided up into orange and green; that's the nature of their disease.

Meanwhile, out there - beyond these shores - the rest of the world goes on, in all its colour and marvellous complexity. But here we're locked into our own two-dimensional little asylum. And it's the lunatics who are in charge of the key.

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