The Blanket

Ministers of Silly Words

Anthony McIntyre • 4/7/2002

Our elected representatives seem to be striving to outdo each other in language to depict the situation in the Short Strand. The SDLP’s Alasdair McDonald claims it is like the Warsaw Ghetto of World War 2 and Joe O'Donnell of Sinn Fein compares it to the days of civil war Beirut. If one set of combatants were to throw a canister of tear gas at the other someone with an eye on a new Government Department of Dunces will pop up to tell us that what stands before us is the Auschwitz of our times.

What is taking place in the Short Strand on a nightly basis is of serious concern for the people who live there. Constantly fearful of attack, permanently concerned about their safety and the lives of their children, alarmed, given the RUC reputation, that the forces of the state - more concerned with smashing the heads of former republican prisoners like Pod Devenney than with providing security - will allow the area to be overrun all aggregates to form a legitimate conclusion which allows for comparisons to be made with 1969 and the anti-Catholic pogroms of three to four decades ago.

But this is a far cry from likening it to the obliteration that existed in both Warsaw and Beirut. Although Pod Devenney was lucky to escape with his life and the children of Martina McGuigan were fortunate to escape with their own, no one has been killed in the Short Strand nor have there been forced major population movements. In terms of the international historiography of conflict it is unlikely that the area will acquire even the status of a footnote.

Beirut and Warsaw were cities completely engulfed by war and widespread destruction accompanied by significant loss of human life. The devastation in both was massive, the death toll in their hundreds of thousands. It is the politically crafted contorted imagery projected from a gross distortion of language that ensures that the people of this place are depicted pejoratively as MOPES (Most Oppressed People Ever) usually by people who would not bat an eyelid even if the Short Strand were to be razed. It is not the residents of the area who are responsible for this imagery but their politicians who appear ever eager to inflate the seriousness of the situation which in turn can enhance their own status. It is as if they, with their honed political entrepreneurial antennae, sense a market for stories of oppression which they can buy into with their below standard goods.

There needs to be some sense of perspective. People who lived in Beirut or Warsaw would have loved to swap their regime for a Short Strand type of existence. Imagine any one today who went through the Warsaw uprising or the Lebanese civil war trying to convey the horror of their existence to an international audience claiming ‘it was like the Short Strand in Belfast in 2002’. If the audience were inclined to listen any longer it would only conclude that both Warsaw and Beirut no longer merited reference in history books as great historic events.

While it might be somewhat unpalatable for bloated political egos to have to swallow, their Belfast is increasingly being seen elsewhere, as one writer recently commented, pretty much like any other European city - only blighted by a squalid sectarian problem. Replacing the need to state what is with a penchant for the ridiculous only invites ridiculing of the needs of people going about their daily lives in a climate of adversity.




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To accomplish great things,
we must not only act,
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Index: Current Articles

4 July 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Is Class Politics a Possibility?

Billy Mitchell


What Values Drive Irish Republicanism Today?
Paul Fitzsimmons

Ministers of Silly Words

Anthony McIntyre

Has the Peace Process Delivered?
Davy Carlin


30 June 2002


Remembering the Future

Ciarán Irvine


Behind the Scenes at the World Cup
Billy Mitchell

Conformity - A Disease

Anthony McIntyre

Aldergrove Solidarity
Davy Carlin




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