Belfast Telegraph

Online videos help highlight hidden bigotry

By Liam Clarke

Putting videos online can have unintended consequences. Here, it opens a window onto what would previously have been private, or isolated, moments of bigotry and bitterness.

Perhaps it's a good thing if it helps people see how they appear to others. It happened with the Druids at Ardoyne Fleadh when, a beery, boozy rebel night descended into sectarian abuse. The band called for not only British soldiers but their "Orange brethren" to go "home to England".

It is the sort of thing that would have slipped by before the age of instant online access. In the cold light of day, it was indefensible and, to their credit, nobody really tried to defend it.

The Druids claimed it had been taken out of context – an old fallback of people caught saying the unacceptable – while the Ardoyne Fleadh organisers described it as sectarian and pledged that it would not be repeated.

Unionists wanted a prosecution, but at least they got an acknowledgment that a line was crossed. It was progress, too, when a less-publicised, but arguably more offensive, rant by loyalists against Martin Og Meehan, the Ardoyne republican, was removed from YouTube following criticisms from other loyalists. Mr Meehan comes from a troubled family background. His father, Martin senior, was the first Provisional IRA member to be jailed and was in and out of jail throughout the Troubles, as well as spending time on the run.

This absence allowed Mr Meehan senior's second wife, Briege, to physically and sexually abuse her stepdaughter, Mary, when she was a young child and her father was in jail.

The whole thing was aired in a sensational prosecution in 2013. Last Sunday, it also erupted onto streets of Belfast, when Martin Og took part in a commemoration march past loyalist counter-demonstrators.

At first, the heckling was political, even sectarian, in tone, but later it took a more personal turn. Mr Meehan was taunted by name about the abuse in the most graphic terms and the whole thing was put up on YouTube. It has now been taken down.

That is better than nothing, but it would be better still if such incidents didn't happen in the first place.

They show a sickness in our political culture. Politicians need to show a lead in combating it by showing civility to each other.

Deadlock and name-calling at Stormont can help poison the atmosphere on the streets.

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