Patsy McGlone is from the ‘party of civil rights’ yet seems to oppose the right to protest

Book burning in Western Europe has rightly long been seen as the apotheosis of intolerance, a symbol of everything that we, by definition, are not.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 2:23 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 2:27 pm
Protest against a Pride parade in Belfast in 2014. Now Christians want to hold a similar demonstration at a Cookstown Pride but Patsy McGlone MLA thinks the Parades Commission should intervene. Would he show the same disdain for a pro-life group demonstrating against a march in favour of abortion?

It was extraordinary therefore to read last week that a school district in Canada had arranged a ritual burning of books from its library stock which were deemed to have ‘outdated content’ and carry ‘negative stereotypes’ about native peoples.

Apparently one of the books burned was the dangerously provocative Tintin in America.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this ‘flame purification ceremony’ (for that was how it was billed) was that it was carried out by people who regard themselves as progressive.

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Without any apparent sense of irony the organisers declared that they were “bury[ing] the ashes of racism, discrimination and stereotypes in the hope that we will grow up in an inclusive country where all can live in prosperity and security”.

Tintin fans clearly need not apply for inclusion in the new Canada.

Book burning may not have reached Northern Ireland yet, at least not officially sponsored book burning (the IRA certainly managed it on more than one occasion), but intolerance of allegedly ‘outdated’ views most certainly has.

Thus, according to SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone, people who hold traditional views upon marriage and believe that homosexuality is sinful should not be allowed to manifest these views in a proposed public demonstration against the forthcoming ‘Pride Parade’ in Cookstown on September 18.

Is this because Mr McGlone fears violence or disorder?

Not at all. He would surely not be unaware that the organiser of the proposed demonstration, the Reverend Marcus Leckey of the Free Presbyterian Church, is on record as saying that his members will treat Mid Ulster Pride “with the utmost civility”.

No, Mr McGlone thinks that the Parades Commission should “step in”, ie. ban the demonstration, because “this intolerance has no place in Mid Ulster”, thereby showing that his cognitive dissonance in relation to what ‘intolerance’ means is at least as advanced as that of the book burners in Canada in relation to their understanding of what the words ‘all’ and ‘inclusive’ mean.

The Reverend Leckey and his small band of Free Presbyterians are for Mr McGlone “a small group of people who insist on pushing their unwelcome agenda long after the rest of society has left them behind”.

No place for them in the SDLP’s ‘New Ireland’ then, nor presumably for Muslims or Orthodox Jews either for that matter.

Patsy McGlone funnily enough is, as is his civil right, a long standing campaigner against abortion and referred in a tweet in 2019 to the “undemocratic Westminster imposition of abortion on the North”.

And he would be far from alone in such views in the SDLP.

Would he have shown the same disdain for a pro-life group demonstrating against a march in favour of abortion in the Republic a couple of years ago, or indeed such a protest taking place now somewhere in Northern Ireland?

Sinn Féin of course have long championed the right to stage counter demonstrations, especially to marches by the loyal orders; however they have also sought to have many of those marches banned outright or drastically curtailed. Civil rights have always been for their supporters only.

Whilst the fundamental contradiction of the ‘party of civil rights’ now opposing the right to peaceful protest is apparently lost upon the SDLP, the deeper story here is the co-option by all significant forces and political parties across Nationalist Ireland of a liberalising project with which someone like Justin Trudeau would be more than proud to be associated.

That such an extreme change in Nationalist Ireland’s official attitudes and discourse has occurred over the course of a mere couple of decades — to the extent that Fine Gael of all parties is now championing the right of children to self certify their gender — is something which sociologists will doubtless be studying for many years to come.

Like Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland who has ordered public buildings to fly the EU flag rather than the British one, even though many SNP supporters voted for Brexit, this new found attachment to the nostrums of extreme individualism, added to extreme intolerance of opposing views, upon the part of virtually all Southern parties, the SDLP, Sinn Féin, and, in recent years, the Alliance Party, is about deliberately promoting division in our society and the view that those with the ‘wrong’ views simply do not belong.

‘Wrong views’ might not only mean traditional conservative ones on the sanctity of the family, but also pro-Brexit opinions, opposing the protocol, and, perhaps, any hint of unionism at all. That this does not bode well for the future of Northern Ireland is an understatement.

The burning of books could be the least of our worries.

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