“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.

Since the rumours of Gove’s most recent nail in the educational coffin began to surface on Twitter yesterday, I’ve been trying to translate my utter despair into written word, but my mind has continued to return to the above quote from the great novel at the centre of this story.

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A heartfelt plea to friends and young people everywhere – please, don’t listen to Russell Brand!

There are a great deal of people on various social media feeds today sharing the Jeremy Paxman/Russell Brand interview with declarations of affinity for Brand’s ‘fuck the system’ attitude. If you haven’t seen the interview (link below) it really is worth a watch, Brand makes some very good points and Paxman really does have the most wonderful beard, but the comedian’s ultimate message is one that infuriates me into an uncontrollable typing frenzy (exhibit A).
I’m all for raising political awareness and encouraging people to voice any disillusion they might have with the current political climate, as I hope was Brand’s ultimate motive, but by encouraging people not to vote he will do more harm than good.
However broken the system may be it is the only one we have and by not voting you may do more damage than you can imagine – every vote wasted by the young and socio-economically deprived might as well be a vote for the Tories. I’m not saying vote for the best of a bad bunch, spoil your ballot paper if you must, but for your own sake vote!
As Sinn Fein say, vote early and vote often!

It’s the only way your voice will be heard no matter how angry your tone. Its all well and good for Russell Brand to sit in a cosy hotel room enjoying the luxuries of his fame while denouncing the political system but we won’t all have the opportunity to announce our discontent so publicly, no matter how many Facebook friends like our online rants or shares of this interview (yes I am aware of the irony, thank you). We can mouth all we want on social media about the ‘lies, treachery and deceit’ but unless you go out and vote with your feet in the next general election in 2015 it will count for absolutely nothing.

Get on the electoral register and vote.
For anyone who still believes that voting won’t make a damn bit of difference, open a history book to any page and enlighten yourself to how much better things would be if people had decided not to vote on issues such as health, education, welfare, justice, social equality or foreign policy.
In particular I’d ask all women and Northern Irish Catholics to bear in mind the struggle and human sacrifice that was made for your right to vote.
The system still isn’t perfect but Christ, its been a hell of a lot worse.

Sure it’s great for the town…

Join the Library

Join the Library

Talk about coming full circle.

Last week the global spotlight sprang on my little hometown of Strabane when a photograph of this rather genius piece of graffiti began trending worldwide on Twitter, even reaching the attention of Academy Award winner Minnie Driver.

The original scrawl which decorated the side of this electricity sub-station in the Ballycolman read ‘Join the IRA’, not an uncommon sight in Strabane, but it achieved much greater media attention after a local man, naturally dubbed ‘Strabanksy’, altered the piece of graffiti to read ‘Join the Library’.

It was a strange but wonderful thing to see Strabane making headlines for reasons other than bomb scares, stabbings and shootings as it has done in recent months. For a place declared the eighth worst to live in the UK by Channel 4’s experts Kirstie and Phil in 2005, a town which once boasted some of the highest levels of unemployment in the industrial world, and whose only great claims to fame include semi-successful Eurovision stars and being the most bombed town outside of WWII, it’s quite nice to be put on the map for something a little more light-hearted, positive, even hopeful.

Locals have become almost immune to the paramilitary propaganda that cover the walls of the town, how refreshing to see a new message much more reflective of modern day efforts for a more peaceful, prosperous Northern Ireland.

The online responses to the photo spoke loud and clear ‘Books beat Balaclavas’, surely music to the ears of staff at the local library who admitted in a statement last week “We’ve never had a better advertisement”.

Strabane Library: “We’ve never had a better advertisement”

Strabane Library: “We’ve never had a better advertisement”

What a shame then, that Northern Ireland Electricity very efficiently repainted the wall of the sub-station, destroying the first masterpiece of our very own Strabanksy, stating that it is company policy to remove all graffiti from their buildings. With that in mind, I wonder how long it will take them to paint over the freshly scrawled ‘Join the IRA’ which reappeared this week.

What did I tell you, full circle.

Back to the dark ages...

Back to the dark ages…

However opportunist and illicit his actions, Strabanksy’s message on the sub-station wall is one to be celebrated. You should join the library and books do beat balaclavas, they prove much more useful when it comes to applying to college or university, or getting a job, or raising your children.

Strabane should be making a new kind of history for itself now that we’ve, hopefully, left the Troubles in the past.

Here’s hoping Strabanksy and others like him will continue to put our little town on the map for the right reasons.

Why do the haters hate?

Hatred: The EDL rally in response to the Woolwich attack. (taken from ITV.com, credit Neil Lancefield/PA Wire)

Amid the aftermath of the Woolwich attack this week, as the shock and horror of the whole thing subsided, and questions were raised, there was one in particular that stuck with me.

This attack was an act of terror, extremism, hate.

We call it senseless, unjustifiable and unforgivable.

But those responsible didn’t think so. They called for an audience, displayed their bloodied hands to the world, they had a message to convey, to them it made perfect sense, it was an act of justice, a necessary evil.

What is it that makes people, human beings, hate so much, to such extremes that they could take another human life so violently in the name of some higher purpose?

They are born, kicking and screaming into the world just like the rest of us. They must learn to crawl, talk, walk like everyone else. They must make mistakes, learn what hurt, heartache and forgiveness feel like. They are taught what is good and what is bad. Is that where their path in life diverges from ours? Is there a moment in their lives where the decision they must make will cut a fork in the road, one good, one evil? Or is it something that happens gradually over time, is it a series of decisions, like wrong turns in a maze that brings them somewhere dark and angry?

Why do the haters hate?

 

We throw the word around a lot, freely, unthinking.

We hate our jobs, our boss, our parents, siblings, best friends, our hometown, our hair, thighs, knobbly knees. We hate our exes, we hate the old guy who creeps on schoolgirls at the bus stop, we hate Michael Ball, George Osborne, the Go Compare adverts. We hate brussel sprouts, PPI cold callers, cyclists, motorists, people who don’t understand the concept of personal space. We hate people who are self-obsessed, attention seeking, fake, people who lie, cheat, bully. We hate animal cruelty, child abuse, wife beaters, husband beaters, traffic wardens.

But we don’t always mean hate. It’s not always something as extreme as hate. Mostly, we’re just annoyed or irritated by these things temporarily, sometimes irrationally, in our otherwise blissful little lives.

 

To hate, is “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest”.

We’ve seen a lot of hate in our modern, civilised era. We’ve seen planes crashing into buildings, school children fleeing indiscriminate gunfire, bombs explode on crowded high streets, buses, tubes.

To most of us, it is all senseless. The kind of hatred that pulls the trigger of a gun or pushes the button to detonate a bomb, that kind of hatred is difficult to understand for those of us whose greatest grievance in life is discovering that a chocolate chip cookie is actually raisin.

As infuriating as that can be, to my knowledge, there has never been bloodshed over the chocolate chip – raisin hoodwink.

So where does hate come from? If not from confectionary.

Religion always seems to be at the centre of these things.

I don’t understand this, how something that teaches of the importance of love can as a consequence, be the source of such evil. I’ve never understood it.

I’ve grown up in the middle of it in Northern Ireland, hating the kids on the bus who wore a different uniform, without really understanding it.

I was dropped into hatred at the age of eight when I moved to the North and found myself on one side of a divide I didn’t understand. But in hindsight, I don’t think any of us really understood what it meant at that age.

I remember tracing the letters ‘IRA’ onto the steamed kitchen window one evening, I was so big and clever. My mum just looked at me, “Do you know what that means?”

I didn’t. And when she told me, like the good history teacher that she is, I never wrote those letters or any like them anywhere again.

Perhaps that was one of my moments, had I drawn a different conclusion from the lesson on the political history of Northern Ireland which my mother fed me that evening, perhaps I would have gone on writing those letters on windows and walls, and who knows where it would have led? Had I been taught the same lesson by my father, who as a Dubliner, is in general much more fantastical and nationalistic in his take of the North’s political divide, perhaps I would have taken a different point of view. Had I been brought up and taught the same lesson in a different house, a different townland, where the curbs and gable walls were painted and flags and bunting flew from the streetlamps, who knows where I would be, what I would believe, or who I would hate.

Pretty much every biblical lesson I can recall from my misspent Catholic youth taught that anger and hatred and violence were generally frowned upon by the big man upstairs. In all shapes and forms, hate and evil were a no-no.

That is the long and the short of it. That is the enduring sentiment that I took from the years of religious education spent doodling in my jotter and endless Sunday mornings staring into space and anticipating the fresh scone bread cooling on a rack in my Granny’s kitchen.

It is the lesson that my parents, grandparents, godparents and teachers all instilled in my pliable young mind.

Be good.

Treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Forgive those who trespass against you.

I don’t remember any footnotes by those teachings, any asterisk following the commandments.

 

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. There is no commandment greater than these” * [Mark 12:31]

(*except the gays, hate the gays loads.)**

 

Religion doesn’t teach you to distinguish between who you should hate and who you should love, it teaches you to love all, regardless of colour, creed or sexual orientation. Granted my knowledge of Islam is pretty sketchy, but from what I gather, the same basic principles apply as they do in Christianity and in Bill & Ted: “Be excellent to each other”.

So why do people who hate homosexuals or Muslims or Women use religion to justify their own prejudices?

Why do idiotic groups such as the EDL, BNP and UKIP tell us that Islam is to blame, Muslims are behind the death of a British soldier? How is their hate and disposition to violence any different from the hate of the two extremists who spilled blood on a London street earlier this week? These political groups have launched a campaign of hate and incited violence against a religious community who have absolutely nothing to do with the extremists responsible for the Woolwich attack. Mosques have been attacked up and down the country, innocent Muslims have been threatened, spat at in the street, attacked.

Yet the EDL, BNP, UKIP do not distinguish between the murderers with blood on their hands, and innocent people going about their day to day lives. And all the while Islamic religious groups have cried out the same words that the people of Northern Ireland have cried out in the face of political violence: Not in our name.

Senseless, unjustifiable, unforgivable.

But those responsible don’t think so. They call for an audience, don balaclavas in the face of the police and the world’s media, they have a message to convey, to them it makes perfect sense, it is an act of justice, a necessary evil.

Funny how two beliefs at opposite ends of a spectrum can meet in the middle.

 
(** Incidentally, I believe gays should absolutely have the right to marry. However, in an entirely selfish sense, I hope that they choose not to, because in the ever more likely inevitability that I will end up rocking spinsterhood I’d like someone fabulous to go dancing with on a Saturday night).

And we thought we were making progress…

At the centre of all the trouble, Belfast City Hall earlier this year.

At the centre of all the trouble, Belfast City Hall earlier this year.

Week long protests.
Twenty-seven officers injured (and counting).
Bricks and other missiles thrown.
Cars set alight.
Alliance Party offices attacked.
Homes of Alliance Party Councillors attacked.
Death threats.
Pitch invasions.
Thirteen people arrested.
Belfast Christmas Markets suspended.

…Because of a flag.
Loyalists are throwing their toys out of the pram over restrictions introduced on the flying of the Union Jack over Belfast City Hall, and today with all their shouts and protests they are literally ruining Christmas.

Of course the sane, balanced, right-thinking among us will immediately realise how ridiculous all this is, but for the die-hard Loyalists taking to the streets and launching a campaign of violent protest the City Council’s decision to raise the Union Jack on designated days only, is “an attack on their cultural identity”. They are so dedicated to maintaining the importance of their cultural identity that they set fire to Tricolour to prove how serious they are.

It’s difficult not to make light of the situation (Oh come on, a Northern Irish story, of course there’s going to be a ‘situation’ or two along the way) when you look at the seemingly ludicrous basis of all the trouble, but the severity of this bump in the political road in Northern Ireland can’t be ignored either.
Anyone from Northern Ireland will understand the important part flags have to play in our little state – they fly from lampposts, mark curbs and gable walls in every town and village, they tell us where we are safe, and were we aren’t necessarily so.
It’s a strange, and frankly embarrassing, thing to admit in 2012, but it remains the truth, there are still areas of Northern Ireland where people of a certain religious or political background have to watch their back, that they avoid wherever possible, where they are simply not welcome. It’s been bred into us, an underlying fear, however unfounded, that grips us when we suddenly find ourselves in the wrong part of town or in the wrong pub.
Even here in Liverpool I still get a knot in my stomach when the Orange Order march through the city centre. The beat of a Lambeg drum and my fight or flight reaction goes into overdrive. Thankfully there does not appear to be as much ‘fight’ as there once was. I know in my own home village the 12th of July sees a mass exodus of those who don’t wish to celebrate it, flight is the safer alternative. It’s a compromise.
Northern Ireland is a state built on compromise, and all this flag nonsense is just one more step necessary for the peaceful cohabitation the majority now hope for.

Nationalists at Stormount originally requested the flag be taken down from Belfast City Hall permanently, but compromised for a restriction to designated dates only. Unionists claim Nationalists, and the agreeing Alliance Party “should have left it alone” rather than, as Sammy Wilson so finely put it, “open a Pandora’s box” of trouble.
Diplomacy aside for a moment, if Nationalists had “left it alone” every time there was a risk of tension or violence in Northern Ireland Catholics would still be living as second class citizens in a land occupied by a foreign government, policed by ruthless militant paramilitaries and raising young men and women simply to put them in the ground with a flag draped over their coffins.
…Ahem.
But that is the reality of it. A great many people have died in the name of politics in Northern Ireland, it has taken decades just to get the opposing sides to sit down at the same table and simply communicate, whole communities have been destroyed and still struggle to recover economically or emotionally from the devastation of ‘The Troubles’. But for the majority, ‘The Troubles’ are now in the past. After the murder of police officer Ronan Kerr in April last year, the two communities of Northern Ireland came together to tell the paramilitary organisation responsible “Not in Our Name”. A dramatic change in attitudes from the No Surrenders and Tiocfaidh ár lás of olden days.

I can understand the personal importance a flag can hold in creating a sense of cultural identity, I hang a Tricolour from the wardrobe door in my bedroom here in Liverpool, but in the grand scheme of things, for Loyalists to suddenly declare ‘No Surrender’ over the flying of a piece of coloured cloth over one building in one city is just as ridiculous as it sounds.

A thirteen year old boy was arrested during the violent protests this week. He would have been born the year of the Good Friday Agreement, the same as my little sister and I’m proud to say that she is practically oblivious to the political divisions of her homeland. She is an ordinary teenage girl concerned only with regular teenage stuff and the usual petty problems of school, friends and family, just like the majority of thirteen year olds in Northern Ireland. It’s a reassuring sign that actually, despite the current situation, we are still making progress.