Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Ruth Patterson and Castlederg parade: pretend you are the other side

Ruth Patterson
Ruth Patterson

Let me go over a few basic lessons for those slow at the back. This thing isn't called a peace 'process' for nothing. We aren't going to wake up one day and find, hey, it's all over. The business of 'peace' is about constant, daily, persistent acts of self-control. Yes, there is a reservoir of pain and hurt and fury and disappointment and frustration and grief big enough to drown Europe. We all know this.

The World Police and Fire Games, the Titanic, the City of Culture, the Odyssey, the new stadia, the Belfast Poet Laureate, the G8, the energetic new Lord Mayor of Belfast, the Queen's visit and that handshake – these aren't really the relaxed, self-satisfied expressions of a settled culture and body politic that they would be in other places. In ordinary circumstances they wouldn't happen here. Everything militates against these things. They are, rather, very determined acts building one upon the other to create visible structures which will help the rest of us imagine what an ordinary society looks like.

That it is possible to travel from one side of the city to the other without being beaten to death. That there are stadia everyone uses. There is civic life. There is a shared history. There is food. There is music. There is social life. There is the outdoors. There are, in short, parks, bicycles, rivers, schools, children, families. In one word, people.

Peace is about everyone pressing on. We could all spend our days grinding our teeth, making stands, taking positions, getting absolutely nowhere. We tried that for 40 years. Better people than us at being nay-sayers and militants wore that policy threadbare.

It didn't work for them and it won't work for those nowadays who are mere amateurs at intransigence.

Try Not an Inch Won't Have A Catholic About the Place for intransigence. Try Hunger Strike for intransigence. Try guns. Try bombs. Try funerals.

Those things don't work.

Nor does mouthing off.

Give me a microphone. I could spend every single column venting my worst opinions on what happens here in this place I call home. So could you.

I don't, though. Not only would such a thing be against my better judgment, be inflammatory, offensive to many, damaging to my own well-being and counter-productive because it would be a barrier to living alongside people who need to live beside me.

I would not be doing my job which, as deputy editor of this newspaper, is to fulfil something of a public duty. The poet John Hewitt defined patriotism as 'keeping the people in good heart'. I don't know fully what 'in good heart' means. But I know what it doesn't mean.

It doesn't mean hate. It may mean allowing room for grief and remembrance. It doesn't mean slabber. It doesn't mean making things worse.

So I can say. The Castlederg parade was and is a mistake. It makes things worse. Everyone knows it makes things worse. I can also say that Ruth Patterson's absolutely astounding Facebook comments were and are a mistake, making things worse because they turn the proper grief of victims into bar-room threat and vile fantasy. Her comments were a mistake. But the other thing about the Peace Process is there is no holiday from it. There is no Time Off or Time Out. But there is Time Up.

I can't think of anyone in any job who would have posted those comments on Facebook as part of their job and still be working for the company. Yes, she's apologised and admitted a lapse of judgment. It is for a court to rule whether she broke the law.

But how is it possible that someone who made those comments wouldn't already have resigned from party, post and seat? Is self-righteousness so thick?

I don't know in what company her views would be tolerated. I don't recognise her views among my circle of acquaintances or among those I admire as decent people trying to raise families. I don't recall, among the many people across the divide I have interviewed in the aftermath of bereavement, opinions held such as she expressed.

But it's not about Ruth Patterson. It's about the rest of us and how we move relentlessly on, nailing it down every single moment of every single day, without let up, talking it up if needs be, even in the face of disaster.

Churchill said KBO. Look it up. Sorry. But if we want peace, that's just what we've got to do. We could all shout ourselves hoarse about what sons of bitches the 'other side' are.

From now on, we are all the other side. Get used to it. Pretend you are. If you can't say anything good, keep your mouth shut. Don't crawl. Argue for what you think are your rights. But keep the people in good heart.

Especially if you are an elected representative. Don't dare let yourselves and the rest of us down. We're all just hanging on by our teeth. We don't need a kick in them from anyone.

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