Belfast Telegraph

Ferry fall mum needs sympathy, not a backlash

By Gail Walker

Last Wednesday night and Thursday morning was one of dreadful sorrow as we read the news of the poor woman, who had apparently fallen with her baby from a ferry into the icy waters of Belfast lough. Mercifully, Dawn McCann had been rescued, but where was the child?

We could imagine the terror and the horror, the terrible mental and emotional turmoil the woman must have been in to do such a dreadful thing.

And then we learnt the truth. There was no baby. Perhaps there was a doll. And then came unconfirmed reports that Mrs McCann, a mother-of-six, was "an attention seeker".

It was hard not to feel anger at the needless turmoil - not just to the rescue services, eye-witnesses, the crew of the ferry, but also to each and everyone of us. Mrs McCann is reportedly facing an angry backlash from her community in Belfast's Sandy Row. Put bluntly, we all felt we had been "had".

It's a natural response, but how desperate and isolated from the rest of humanity do you have to be to get a doll, a pram, buy a ferry ticket and then commit your deception. That's just not a selfish character flaw, a quirk; no, these are acts of soul-corroding despair.

While we don't know the details of this particular case, the surprise is that there are not more attention seekers. Because, let's face it, thousands of our fellow citizens feel marginalised, ignored, without a voice of any kind, without a place, or a sense of self-worth.

The economy is little more than a Darwinian jungle. The family has broken down. Our communities exist largely on government notepaper, nowhere else. It may seem a bit extreme but we're rapidly developing an existentially dispossessed, socially ignored underclass.

In the old days, people had a trade, a position, a proper job that, however lowly, somehow defined them. But now, what about those who can't hack our so-called new meritocracy where you have to interface, develop skill sets and offer 24/7 commitment in order to have even the most humdrum of jobs that barely pays the rent?

What if - due to lack of education or, let's be honest, a simple lack of ability - you can't fit into our Brave New World? Who's going to listen to you? In these heartless times the world where everyone knew their place seems increasingly attractive. At least they had a place.

No wonder there are some looking for "attention" - be that literal, institutional, or just the sense that somebody, beyond (and only if they are lucky) a small family gives a hoot whether or not they live or die. We like to think that we live in a more equal, classless society, and true the day when we automatically respected retired colonels and bishops, listened differentially to our natural-born betters and voted for their sons is long gone.

But let's not kid ourselves that we aren't busy developing a new, even more cruel class system: the successful and the unsuccessful: those who have made it with their beautiful toys (BlackBerries, iPads) and the drones whose role - if fortunate - is to serve the new masters of the cyber universe with caffeine-based beverages.

They are extras in the lives of the successful - there to clean a toilet, see people to their seat. And, as we all know, extras rarely get a chance to speak.

Who cares about them? Or what they think? Who understands their fears? Their lives of quiet desperation? We just feed them more MacJobs, more anti-depressants, more forlorn "training".

No wonder you can feel the sense of despair in the air - a despair beyond mere recessions (we've had those before), a hopelessness that for many identity, worth and, indeed, their very self is slowly and deliberately being erased. And despair is the enemy of the soul. We are living in a very different 'politics of identity'.

No wonder some people are staring at literal and metaphoric dark waters, desperately seeking "attention".

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