Rarity gives public displays of feeling greater impact

Morning View
Morning View

A veteran Belfast councillor has called for a limit on the number of official displays of sympathy and mourning at Belfast City Hall.

Jim Rodgers makes a strong case for such a curb.

It is entirely understandable that after a massacre or a disaster people want to express their abhorrence and condolences.

The fact that there have been, it seems, an increase in such worldwide horrors enhances the sense that something must be done, and that we need at least to express our sympathies.

But there are problems with such an approach. If condolence books, for example, open too frequently, they lose impact.

Mr Rodgers said that there has been a decline in the number of people signing such books the more that they are opened. This is not a surprise, but it does underscore his point that it would be helpful to establish criteria.

Mr Rodgers cites the opening of a book to mark the murder of 200+ people in an Isis attack in Baghdad last Sunday. That heinous crime was the worst suicide bombing in Iraq to date.

But there have been hundreds of suicide bombs in that country since the 2003 invasion. Thousands of people have died.

There will be suicide bombings again there and elsewhere.

If Belfast opens a book for that, will it do so if 90 people die in an attack elsewhere, and if so, what about if 53 people are killed the week after that and so on?

As an example, periods of silence used to be for nationwide memorials such as remembering more than one million British servicemen who died in two world wars. Such displays of respect are more significant when they have rarity.

Sinn Fein is often pushing for displays but it is a party that is prone to sentimentality (for those global atrocities that it deems to be worthy of such remembrance).

Mr Rodgers is right too about illumination of City Hall. It is a wonderful new feature of the central Belfast, but should be used sparingly to maintain its impact.