Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: If you insult the memory of the dead, you're unlikely to be welcomed back into public life with open arms

Editor's Viewpoint

In any democracy, great store in placed on the right of citizens to free speech.

Some views may run contrary to popular opinion, but that does not mean they should not be held or spoken.

But with freedom of speech comes a responsibility to ensure that it does not abuse or offend others.

GK Chesterton once wrote: "To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it." This quote could have been written in response to the actions or comments of two controversial figures in Northern Ireland.

Former Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff was forced to resign earlier this year after he released a video of his balancing a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of one of the most horrific mass murders of the Troubles, the shooting dead of 11 Protestant workmen at Kingsmill.

Mr McElduff said he was unaware of the anniversary date when he made the video and that he never intended to cause offence to those bereaved. If that was true, he was the victim of a cruel alignment of the stars on that night.

Coming back into politics to stand in the local government elections next year understandably has drawn criticism, and Mr McElduff can hardly expect any less.

Controversial media commentator Jude Collins, it appears, has been dropped as a regular panellist by the BBC. His comments that Patsy Gillespie, who was chained to a lorry bomb, ordered to drive it to an Army checkpoint and then blown to bits by the IRA, knew he would be a target because he worked for the Army - and that the Omagh bomb victims were not murdered because the Real IRA telephoned a warning about the bomb but named the wrong location - were bound to cause distress and anger.

Those who were bereaved or injured in the Troubles deserve the utmost sympathy. No one, especially those in the public eye, should add to their pain. Trying to justify hurtful comments by dancing on the head of a pin rightly brings criticism on the heads of those who do it.

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