The issue of abortion is a very emotive one in Northern Ireland and the opposing factions are prone to use strong language to make their points.
But DUP’s Jonathan Bell went too far in comparing the number of terminations carried out with the millions of people killed by Hitler during the Holocaust. That is an odious comparison and one unworthy of a senior politician like Mr Bell, who is a junior minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
Mr Bell, of course, is entitled to take a strong stance against abortion. That is a view shared by a significant number of people in the province. But he is experienced enough to know that his language was intemperate and unjustified. As a rule of thumb, for any politician to draw comparison with Hitler on virtually any issue — never mind something as terrible as the Holocaust — is almost always going to be wrong and will demean whatever cause he or she is espousing.
Given our own recent history, it is not unusual for our politicians to be passionate about issues and to have strong and unbending convictions. But the passion and conviction too often boils over into language which itself causes controversy. Surely it is the job of professional politicians to take the heat out of issues and instead shine light on them. They should lead by example and by reasoned argument, and not seek to inflame the situation.
Imagine the outcry at Westminster if an MP of Mr Bell’s standing was to invoke the same comparison with Hitler. There would be immediate calls for the remarks to be withdrawn and for the demotion of the person involved. We give our politicians more licence in their language, but they should learn from past errors of judgment and take a more statesmanlike attitude to issues. They don’t have to care less, just take more care of how they express their views.