Belfast Telegraph

Lampooning English Press cartoonists should really learn where to draw the line

The UUP’s Chris McGimpsey thinks mockery has gone too far

I had an appointment with a surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital last week. An erudite man and an Alliance voter, he asked me if the negative racial stereotyping of Ulster Protestants in the English 'quality' Press was annoying me as much as it was him. I confirmed my assent but explained that it should surprise no-one.

The cartoons adorning the English media at the moment, decrying a deal between the Conservative government and the DUP, have taken the abuse to a new level.

It seems that the chattering classes of today, like the landladies of the past, have a resolute position. Where the government is concerned, they can attract support from the Welsh or the Scots, but no Irish need apply.

They forget that some 40 years ago Gerry Fitt MP helped keep a Labour government in power for a couple of years.

To be sure, the cartoonists are no longer as blunt as Punch magazine of a century ago wherein we were always depicted with simian features, shillelaghs and bizarre clothing. Nevertheless, we have received a jolly good thrashing at the hands of the cartoonists.

Inevitably Ulster Protestant males are depicted as evil Orangemen. In one cartoon, four Orangemen - one of them sitting on a large bag marked 'SWAG', another one of them a horse - are interrogating a young boy as to his religion.

In a terraced street the Prime Minister is giving bags of money to a large Orangeman in front a mural which includes a Red Hand of Ulster with a £50 price tag. In a car nearby sits a smiling skinhead in a sweatshirt with tattooed arms. Money floats in the air.

All the images stress blackmail money for the over-dressed an overfed Orangemen. One image shows Arlene Foster leaving Downing Street with a large smile and an even larger wheelbarrow filled with money. Theresa May is tied up in Orange collarettes, gagged and with a ball and chain on her leg.

And so it goes on. The theme is all about blackmail. Even the more subtle depiction of Theresa May carving 'Tories + DUP' in a loveheart on the trunk of a tree has Arlene beside her shaking the money tree eagerly awaiting the notes to fall.

In an open society with a free Press, politicians need to expect criticism, some of it unfair, and the cartoonists play their part in this. But many of these renditions have crossed the line.

The portrayals are vicious and they are not simply of a politician, but of Ulster Protestants in their entirety. This form of art is depressing. And panders to the baser instincts of the readers.

The Belfast bar scene where Guinness is now free forever and the DUP are all lying on the floor in a catatonic state, suggests a lack of knowledge of the average Ulster Protestant, DUP member or supporter. But then everyone knows that we all drink far too much on this island.

These cartoons would appear to have been critically acclaimed in England. It is a sad reflection on our united kingdom. And whereas it must be difficult for the English to have to share their country with the Irish Protestants of Northern Ireland, the mindset we see here does not auger well for the future of a country which claims to unite four nationalities, and many racial, ethnic and linguistic groups in a liberal pluralist democracy.

Perhaps some day the English will mature and we will no longer face such racial abuse.

Unfortunately, I have my doubts.

  • Dr Christopher McGimpsey holds a BA (Hons) from Syracuse University, New York, and a PhD from Edinburgh University. An Ulster Unionist, he is an Alderman in Belfast City Council. He drinks ­Guinness and has a number of tattoos on his arms

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