Mary MacAleese, it appears, is virtually beyond
proud are Northern nationalists of having one
of their own in Áras an Uachtaráin
that few if any of them would ever dream of publicly
criticising her. Even if they did, they know that
such is their community's regard for "our
Mary" a rebuke from within would be adjudged
as bordering on sacrilege.
their part, unionists have long since given up
on passing comment. So often have their complaints
been dismissed as being motivated by sectarianism
- in fairness, a charge that on occasion has had
foundation - that they no longer feel it worthwhile
making the effort.
Southerners, I suspect, are a lot more indulgent
than would be the case if their President hailed
from the Republic. Conscious of Northern hypersensitivity
and wary of being accused of anti-Northern bias,
for the most part they choose to keep their comments
upshot is, apart from a few brave souls in the
Southern print media who occasionally take her
to task, the President enjoys the happy circumstance
of being either lauded or ignored - but almost
never criticised. In short, she has virtual free
rein to say whatever she likes.
sheer inappropriateness of her remarks in 2005
at the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary
of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp,
where she managed to insult both Jews and Northern
Protestants, should have alerted everyone to the
problems inherent in this situation. Left to her
own devices, the President flagrantly abused the
suffering of others to make an erroneous point
and displayed, as well, a serious lack of judgment
and a tendency towards hyperbole.
deterred by unionist outrage at her likening them
to Nazis, nor, it would appear, subjected to any
censure from the Government, the President has
continued periodically in a similar vein.
often uses international platforms - hijacking
at will the genuine plight of others - to draw
attention to what she perceives to be past ills
visited upon the Irish people in general and Northern
Catholics in particular by both the British and
week's presidential visit to Scotland was a case
in point. Speaking at St Catharine's homeless
project in Edinburgh, she told an audience: "I
have my own brief personal experience of homelessness,
of losing a family home and of feeling that awful
insecurity that comes from such awful turbulence
in a life." As a well-briefed media was aware,
she was referring to a sectarian gun attack on
her family's Belfast home in the 1970s, which
caused them to move to Rostrevor in Co Down.
the pPresident cannot possibly believe there is
any equivalence between her own experience and
that of the type of people catered for by a homeless
is bound to realise that the plight of a prosperous,
middle-class family having to flee their home
at the height of a civil conflict is light years
removed from the daily trials and tribulations
of those who live on the streets and rely on charitable
organisations for shelter.
seems more likely that Mrs MacAleese saw her visit
to St Catharine's as another opportunity to wallow
in retrospective victimhood and, via the aforementioned
media briefings, draw attention once again to
the oppression of Catholics in Northern Ireland.
only to put things in their proper context, she
might have pointed out that - traumatic and frightening
as their experience undoubtedly was - her family
was only one of thousands on both sides of the
religious divide who were forced to flee from
their homes during the Troubles.
has not been her only noticeable omission.
someone who has made public comment on everything
from Sinn Féin's acceptance of policing
to the GAA's opening up of Croke Park to other
disciplines, it was strange the President had
nothing to say publicly about last year's attack
on the Love Ulster parade in Dublin.
need hardly be said that the British did not escape
mention during her visit to Scotland.
again, there was talk of the discrimination faced
by successive generations of Irish people who
travelled to live and work in Britain.
always, the President's citing of past wrongs
by the British was accompanied by an appreciation
of the friendly relationships that now exist between
the two islands.
this perpetual drawing of attention to the marked
contrast between past and present has the effect
of lending a distinct air of qui s'excuse s'accuse
to any address.
there is a suspicion that unionists might feel
insulted by something the President has said,
we are conveniently reminded of how she has reached
out to the unionist community.
if she were to reach out to the thousands of victims
of IRA violence and start highlighting their suffering
to international audiences, it would do more for
healing relationships than any amount of cosy
chats and cups of tea with select groups in Áras
with permission from the author.