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Death of my schoolmate Leanne is no laughing matter

By Leesa Harker

I love comedy. I write comedy. To me, there's very little that is off-limits when it comes to taking the mick. However, the disgusting "joke" on Channel 4's American sitcom Black-ish is no laughing matter. It's abhorrent. Even Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said republicans had "sincere regret and sorrow" about the Shankill bombing. And that's saying something.

I can't say I'm surprised it has surfaced on American TV. Americans part-funded the IRA and their terrorist atrocities. I am sure, in some dark, dingy Irish bar in the back streets of New York, the news of the bombing of a "fish and chip shop" was celebrated with a clinking of whiskey glasses.

The romanticism that Irish-Americans have about "the struggle" is well-known. And, from 3,000 miles away, they can cherry-pick the details. No need to dwell on the two children that were murdered that day. Or a family almost wiped out. Or the other innocent victims that were out on a Saturday afternoon, walking along a busy shopping district. They can sit in their homes and excuse the horrors - it's for "the cause".

Except the day the horrors came to their front door. It's a different rhetoric for 9/11, isn't it? I can't imagine we will ever see a "joke" about 9/11 on TV. And rightly so. It isn't funny. Do you know what else isn't funny? Going into school the Monday after the Shankill bombing and literally looking around to see who was missing. Who was dead. They were still shovelling up body parts when we were in assembly and got the news that a young girl, a student at my school, had been murdered. And several others in hospital injured.

Do you know what else isn't funny? The memorial assembly we had for Leanne Murray, when the teachers were crying, but trying not to show it. They played Julian Lennon's Salt Water and the place was in silence. Except for the pupils in Leanne's class, who were sobbing loudly and hugging each other for support. It's an image I will never forget.

Something else not funny? Leanne's poor mother, Gina, who has never had peace. The worst happened and, since then, she has seen Leanne's death be celebrated and tried to be justified - and now, she has her daughter's death being made into a joke on TV.

I would like the writers of this "sitcom" to look at some images of the aftermath of the Shankill bombing and watch Leanne's mother being interviewed on TV. Joke material? I think not.

In an increasingly unkind world, we must never lose our moral compass and, in the case of these writers, they definitely have.

  • Leesa Harker's play Maggie's Feg Run is at The Mac in Belfast from February 13-25, 2018

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