Belfast Telegraph

Mutual respect the only way forward for all of us

By Alf McCreary

By the time you read this, I will be in South Africa after working on a project with Christian Aid to help some of the poor and the dispossessed people in this beautiful country.

As 'The Twelfth' gets underway throughout Northern Ireland I will be making my way home from Cape Town via Johannesburg, Paris, Dublin and eventually Belfast.

No doubt I will be reflecting on my visit to South Africa, but I will also be thinking about home, and hoping that for the most part, The Twelfth will pass over quietly, and that those people who see it as a family day in midsummer will enjoy themselves.

While the vast majority of parades pass off peacefully, there is always the danger of confrontation in Belfast, and the possibility of civil disorder. I hope that this does not happen, but there are always those on both sides who are not happy unless they are attacking their perceived enemies.

One of my particular regrets is the way in which the road outside St Patrick's Catholic Church in Belfast has become a contested area. For many decades the Loyal Orders marched past this church without incident but recently it has become a 'cause celebre' for some people, and also a depressing spectacle for all of us.

This week I looked at a photograph from the stand-off at the church, with members of the congregation holding a large banner with the word 'Respect'.

They were justified in doing so because some of the so-called bands accompanying The Twelfth marchers had shown the church great disrespect, which should be no part of life in our society.

The word 'Respect' was apt, for this is one aspect of public life in Northern Ireland which is conspicuous by its absence. As a province we have a good work ethic, business and community ingenuity, and a warm hospitality for visitors in our midst.

In short we have almost everything except respect for one another, and this is why we are still living through violence and confrontation at a time when we should be combining all our talents and energies in helping to create jobs and to make this province a better place for all.

This lack of respect is most apparent in our political life, and particularly in some local councils and also at Stormont.

Our politicians continually behave as if they were in the bear-pit of party confrontation, instead of showing some courage and dignity in reaching out to the 'other side' and trying to respect other people's views.

This is most apparent at the very top where our First Minister and Deputy First Minister seem to have little respect for each other, and appear to be trapped in an unhappy relationship where a political divorce is not just possible.

Nevertheless, I retain some respect for Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness who have almost impossible jobs, but they need to rethink how they present themselves to the general public, and not just to their party faithful.

The same applies in other spheres, and recently we have seen the damage that was done by ungracious words of Pastor James McConnell about Islam, and he was not the only one.

Perhaps on This Twelfth, and beyond it, our political and community leaders might think more deeply about respect, and to pay it more than cursory lip- service.

Otherwise we will continue to be snarling at each other in a historical vacuum, while the real world passes us by.

Belfast Telegraph


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