THIS HATE WE SHALL MAINTAIN
Of all the human emotions hatred must rank as the most ugly. It seems to release a toxic into the body that distorts the features in a manner that a contortionist would be hard pressed to achieve. All hatred presents an ugly face. Even hatred of things that are quintessentially bad cannot put a smile on. Hate is simply a self-destructive emotion.
Yet there is no shortage of it. What Ardoyne schoolchildren faced yesterday as they made their way to school on the first day of the new term was hatred most pure. It was the ultimate negation and corruption of human love. We may be excused for thinking that all the pot-bellied porkers of Loyalist Belfast were hauled out of the drinking clubs to play their role in constructing a barricade of wobbling fleshy bellies aimed at preventing Catholic children from getting to school. 'The hatred in their faces just numbed me' - the words of Philomena Flood, who with her child braved the malevolent gauntlet, summing it up.
A television news reporter spoke of two emotions - hatred and fear. The cameras focussed on the loyalists when the word 'hatred' was announced and then switched to the children for the word 'fear'. It constituted a powerful imagery that rapidly raced around the world accompanied by footage of big heavy men screaming sectarian obscenities at defenceless kids. On the hate-etched faces of each thug I could see a Thomas Hamilton of Dunblane notoriety. It led me to comment to a friend last night that 'these people would gas us'. It was a view from which he did not dissent.
Before the summer holidays when the school conflict started Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein compared the situation to 1960s Alabama. Some felt he was over-egging the pudding for propaganda reasons. Yesterday to their horror they found that he was right. Prior to the recent summer there were people in the nationalist community who felt that Billy Hutchinson of the PUP represented a radical departure from the hate filled sectarianism of loyalist politics. Now they are furious at him for his role in yesterday's events. It conjured up memories of David Trimble's victory jig with Ian Paisley on the Garvaghy Road. Insensitive, provocative, and utterly tribalistic.
For all those genuine people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement in a hope to overcome sectarianism in this society, there must be a sense of severe disappointment. It has often been said that the Agreement institutionalises rather than transcends sectarianism. That it further polarises two suspicious communities and locks the competing political leaderships into a never-ending spiral of winning more for their own side - always measured against the losses for the other side. Yesterday's events in Ardoyne will for some confirm the validity of this.
The courage of the people of Ardoyne is formidable. But I doubt - and my friend last night who is the father of an eight-year-old girl agreed - that I would take my daughter through that gauntlet of hate. But as Brendan Mailey, a spokesperson for the parents of the affected children, made clear, it is a matter of choice for the parents involved. Those of us fortunate enough not to have children attending Holy Cross Primary School can only support in full whatever decision the parents concerned reach.
Meanwhile, as the loyalist equivalent of Basil Fawlty and Mr Bean continue to give strategic and PR advice, loyalism is likely to muster the bellies for yet another round. Another glorious battle in defence of its heritage. Another chant with which to regale us throughout future years - 'No Surrender to the four year olds.'