Nelson McCausland: Nazi slur against MP Soubry was wrong, but unionists have tolerated worse
Where was the outrage when an Irish President, Catholic priest and Sinn Fein said the same, asks Nelson McCausland
On Monday Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a prominent and vociferous Remainer, was subjected to chants of “Soubry is a Nazi”. She was standing on College Green, opposite the House of Commons, and was being interviewed for the BBC News Channel by Simon McCoy.
As she was speaking a group of protesters in the background shouted the slur and they continued as she returned to Parliament.
The former Conservative minister said: “I do object to being called a Nazi.” And afterwards she called for the protesters to be prosecuted under public order laws.
The matter was then addressed in the House of Commons by various politicians, including Speaker John Bercow.
The Press Association reported that: “Police are investigating whether any criminal offence was committed when Conservative MP Anna Soubry was branded a ‘Nazi’ by Brexit protesters outside Parliament.”
Meanwhile, BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith tweeted: “Is this what it’s come to? Anna Soubry faces Nazi taunts.”
From that tweet you might imagine that “Nazi taunts” were something new, and one Brexiter responded by tweeting: “Leave voters like me have been called Nazis for over three years. Where is your outrage over that?”
That is a legitimate question, because there have been many such attacks on Brexiters and, last year, The Guardian published the headline “Archbishop of Canterbury suggests ‘Brexit in fascist tradition’”.
The College Green incident has been covered extensively in the media and, while I and many other unionists disagree with Anna Soubry on Brexit, we can empathise with her about the Nazi slur.
We can do that because we too have been subjected to such Nazi slurs — and we have been subjected to them for decades.
We understand how hurtful and demeaning such Nazi slurs can be, because we too have been hurt and demeaned. During her term as President of the Republic of Ireland Mary McAleese visited the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz and said: “The Nazis gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational hatred of Catholics.”
Later that year Fr Alec Reid, a Redemptorist from Clonard Monastery in Belfast, turned on victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer, whose father and four relatives had been murdered by the IRA, and said that unionists had treated nationalists “like the Nazis did the Jews”.
At a very personal level, Gregory Campbell was the target for Ogra Shinn Fein in 2009 when the Sinn Fein youth wing portrayed him as a Nazi.
Its website published a mocked-up picture of the DUP politician with his head superimposed on the body of a man in full Nazi uniform.
Sinn Fein cannot easily dismiss that slur, because it was only a decade ago and the leaders of Ogra Shinn Fein at that time are now probably quite senior members in the party.
In fact, the “Nazi” taunt has been used against unionists by some nationalists and republicans for more than 50 years. One placard at an early civil rights march in 1968 carried the slogan ‘Ulster Scot Sieg Heil’ (sic).
The difference is that Anna Soubry was taunted by a handful of extreme activists, whereas in our case the “Nazi” slurs came from a head of state, a prominent churchman and the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.
Now, in the end the President and the priest had to apologise, but I can’t recall any apologies from Sinn Fein or the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
We have seen the outrage in relation to Anna Soubry, so why was there not the same level of outrage when the people being subjected to such hurtful abuse were ordinary unionists here in Northern Ireland?
Were we of less value than a Tory MP?
I welcome the fact that the mainstream media, the twitterati, a plethora of politicians and a multitude of Remainers have expressed their outrage over the slur against Anna Soubry, but I just wonder where all these people were when unionists were being maligned and I wonder where they were over the past few years when Brexiters were being similarly abused.