The emergence of a video showing a group of men mocking the murder of Michaela McAreavey has caused widespread shock and outrage across our society.
It was brazenly misogynistic and sectarian.
Sitting amongst numerous cans of Carlsberg, men, both young and old, laughed and clapped in this collective expression of hatred which they had obviously learned off by heart.
As the reaction to the video filled my social media feed last weekend I felt more sad and depressed at the emergence of this display than angry. Primarily because of the impact it would have on the family and friends of Michaela McAreavey. Many will recall the image of the devastated Harte family speaking to the media outside their home in the aftermath of that tragedy. How could anyone add to that grief, to the life sentence that any family suffers in these circumstances, by sitting down and penning such sick words?
Secondly it felt like we were stepping back 20 years, to a time when sectarianism was much more widespread. When death and this vile sense of humour were more openly intertwined.
We hope that we’ve moved past that, that this hate speech is in the past and will not see the light of day again. We have now seen it once again, not posted by anonymous trolls online in some corner of the internet, but on full display in a relatively public space. That is what is most shocking.
However, the response from across the community has demonstrated that we now live in a society that has zero tolerance for this behaviour and that is what we should take heart from.
Linfield and Portadown Football Clubs are to be commended for their swift responses.
The Blues immediately dismissed a coach that appeared to be involved in the video and stated that: “Linfield FC is totally opposed to sectarianism, bigotry, racism, prejudice and all forms of discriminatory behaviour and there can be no place within this club for any of these forms of offensive and unacceptable behaviour.”
Many local businesses that witnessed their own workers being involved in the incident did not hesitate either and a number of these employees had their contracts terminated immediately. Others are under investigation.
What we see in this video is of course not representative of the wider Protestant community, many of whom took to social media to make it clear such vile sectarianism was not in their name and they fully backed the swift and decisive actions of the businesses referred to.
The Orange Order has launched an investigation and some of those involved in the video have resigned from the organisation.
However, there have been widespread calls this week for the Order to go much further and remove archaic rules within that organisation that single out the Catholic Church and Catholics. For example, Orange Order members are not allowed to be married to a Catholic or attend a funeral of a Catholic friend.
In 2019 the Orange Order in Scotland recognised that they had a duty to act and got rid of the rule that prohibited its members from entering a Catholic Church.
Dr Michael Rosie, a sociologist at the University of Edinburgh, stated at the time that: “It is getting rid of a rule which people were not comfortable with, an anti-Catholic message instead of a pro-Protestant one.”
The anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth praised the move. Director Dave Scott said that “the ban could cause a lot of tensions within families and friendships so the fact it is being lifted is both welcome and positive”.
He added: “It also recognises the realities of our day to day lives in Scotland were people marry and build relationships across old religious and cultural boundaries.”
Elsewhere in the US, Canada and Australia, members of the Order are allowed to marry Catholics.
Therefore the question does need to be asked of the Grand Orange Lodge in Ireland: why they have not done the same as other Orange organisations across the world?
Already many members of the Orange Order here ignore the rules that ban them from entering Catholic churches. Many grassroots Orangemen that I know of in rural areas attend Catholic funerals and marriages out of respect and because of friendship with their neighbours.
We have heard references in the media this week to members that have married Catholics but have not ‘officially’ notified the organisation about it.
These rules simply have no place in the modern society in which we now live.
The existence of the rules are of course still used and promoted by sectarian elements such as those we saw on display last week.
We are weeks away from the start of another summer and this will add more pressure on those who have influence to do something about the anti-Catholic messaging and the burning of political party posters and flags on bonfires.
Many bonfires pass off peacefully and are free of this paraphernalia but there are increasing calls for a tougher stance to be taken against any displays of hatred that feed the sectarian beast, whether that be in July or August.
Maybe the public response to this awful incident will be a catalyst for reform and for a wider no-tolerance approach to sectarianism.
One can only hope.