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Civic event without the civility from First Citizen Niall

By Liam Clarke

Published 02/12/2011

We need to learn the value of "the hard swallow and the weak smile" in order to soften division.

That recommendation was made by Professor John Darby, who wrote just before the current peace process.

We are good at standing on principle and making a principle out of everything, but the sociologist believed that we would be better served by a willingness to put up publicly with things we don't necessarily endorse privately.

Darby thought civility through gritted teeth was a price that our first peacetime generation should be prepared to pay in order to get on together.

Practising forbearance would create goodwill and grow into genuine tolerance.

Taking offence and constantly drawing lines in the sand, on the other hand, risks watering the dormant seeds of conflict.

Swallowing hard and smiling weakly would have been useful virtues for Niall O Donnghaile - Belfast's Lord Mayor - this week.

When he heard that a member of the Army Cadet Force was one of the youngsters due to get a Duke of Edinburgh award from him, O Donnghaile withdrew from the event. He said it was to "avoid any unnecessary sensitivities", but it caused a fuss which other politicians made the most of.

The duty of a First Citizen is to avoid this sort of squabble and lead from the front to ensure that civic events pass off smoothly.

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