Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Should be a way back for Jimmy Carr, as another public resurrection on the political stage shows

SDLP's Jimmy Carr resigned over allegations of posting X-rated pictures on swinger sites, but what he did pales considerably against the tax-dodging shenanigans of his comic namesake
Comedian Jimmy Carr
Independent Unionist Paul Berry

There are two Jimmy Carrs from both sides of the Irish Sea who have, in recent times, had embarrassing aspects of their private lives exposed in public. One is an English comedian who, in spite of his anti-establishment pose, was revealed to be engaged in a complex accounting scheme to pay as little tax as possible.

The other Jimmy Carr is a Northern Ireland politician, whose career lies in tatters after tabloid revelations that he posted images of himself on swingers' websites as he sought sex with strangers online.

The career of the comedian known as Jimmy Carr, who in spite of some outrageous, close-to-the-edge gags is actually quite funny, has not suffered from the tax-avoidance scandal and continues to pack out audiences across these islands, as well as appearing on television shows such as Nine Out Of Ten Cats.

However, the prospect of the other Jimmy Carr making a comeback appears slim after he was forced to resign over the lewd messages sent on a council-owned tablet computer prior to last month's local government elections.

Yet ask yourself this question: which of these Jimmy Carrs has committed the greater offence? In the case of the stand-up comic/TV presenter, his use of the tax-avoidance scheme deprived Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs of much-needed money needed to help fund schools, hospitals, roads, social welfare and other public service building-blocks that make up a civilised modern society.

In spite of being part of the "alternative comedy" tradition in Britain, Carr was secretly joining the ranks of the tax-dodging traditional Tory-supporting comics, pop, rock and sports stars who used to whinge and whine about paying their dues while forever threatening to leave the country if Labour ever got elected again.

In contrast, Derry's Jimmy Carr committed no crime and harmed no one, only his own public reputation.

Although he was foolish for using council-owned property to seek out others for sex, Carr's misdemeanours pale when compared to smug, tax-dodging celebrities.

On hearing that he had been forced to resign his seat, the moral philosophical advice of John Stuart Mill came to mind (that adult individuals should be free to do what they want in a free society as long it doesn't bring harm onto others). Ex-councillor Carr harmed no one but himself through his actions.

During these dark nights of the soul for him, ex-councillor Carr might take solace from the example of another councillor in Northern Ireland, who was recently elected in North Armagh: Independent Unionist Paul Berry.

It was heartening to see Berry interviewed by BBC reporter Maggie Taggart during the local government elections last month.

The ex-DUP member was all beams and smiles in front of the camera after being elected on the first count for the new super council incorporating Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon.

His triumph was an interesting signal even from the traditionally socially conservative unionist grassroots and suggests that this section of the electorate is less concerned about the personal lives of its politicians than we might imagine.

None of the above is to suggest that it was wrong for a Sunday newspaper to have exposed Berry's encounter with a gay masseur in a Belfast hotel in the southern outskirts of the city several years ago.

The Press was in its right to do so because it highlighted hypocrisy within the DUP, which back then (and still now) was promoting homophobic policies and uttering anti-gay statements almost on a weekly basis.

For unionist voters, however, all is now forgiven and Berry is back – even if he is no longer the DUP's rising star. Perhaps his very respectable vote indicates that unionist voters are actually more liberal and tolerant when it comes to matters of sexuality than the Free Presbyterian Church or the Caleb Foundation might have you believe.

In that sense the political resurrection of Paul Berry is a progressive development, even for those on the left or within nationalism who oppose his hardline unionist stance.

A rival unionist that councillor Berry used to harangue when the latter was in the DUP once issued some wise words after the Good Friday Agreement.

"Just because you have a past doesn't mean you can't have a future," implored David Trimble as he sought to persuade first his party and then the entire unionist community that republicans should be given the space to come in from the political cold, eschew violence and pursue purely peaceful methods.

The SDLP certainly welcomed Trimble's advice to his party and his people back in 1998. They and the rest of Northern Ireland should pay heed to those words again when they consider the future for ex-councillor Carr and others.

Because, at present, this young man is being treated as a greater criminal than those who directed campaigns of mass murder, gave orders for widows and mothers to be "Disappeared", or from the sidelines wound up sectarian murder gangs during the Troubles.

The time will come when the foolish behaviour of Jimmy Carr – Northern Ireland's Jimmy Carr – should be put into some proper and fair perspective.

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