THE Douglas Murray book, “The Madness of the Crowds” should be required reading for all A-level students.
The book examines gender, race and identity, and today’s society’s crusading desire to right perceived wrongs and to weaponise identity, both accelerated and cultivated by social and news media.
In this part of the world, the weaponisation of identity is nothing new, even referencing Northern Ireland will send some readers in to a tailspin. However, the very essence of the Good Friday Agreement is the concept that jurisdiction and identity can be considered separately. As a young man growing up in a border town, where your hurls were broken by the British Army and guns pointed at you when you walked home from the GAA field, I understand our shared and complicated history.
It is in this background that I approached the Sean Cavanagh comments over the weekend and the faux levels of outrage propagated by those key-board warriors, including some representatives of Sinn Fein, who, might I add, were part of the negotiations that resulted in the enactment of the Good Friday Agreement.
As with most things, context is important: the five-second video of Sean that is circulating on social media was part of a wider two-minute answer about the governments, north and south of the border, and their respective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is likely to impact the GAA season.
Sean was quoted as saying, “Up here in the UK it’s a bit bizarre as well because we all probably are watching Leo [Varadkar] and watching the GAA’s announcement and see ourselves as part of that. But equally, in terms of the day-to-day living, we’re waiting on the announcement from Boris [Johnson].”
The reality is, Sean misspoke. What he meant to say was, “Up here it’s a bit bizarre,” and his overall point was 100% correct: notwithstanding what Leo and the GAA President say, the relevant legislation that applies to Northern Ireland is The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020.
Whether the overall point he was making was correct or otherwise mattered little to the social media mob who had the pitchforks already out. The level of faux outrage from some Twitter users really irked me; those same people who cheered Sean to the high heavens when he put on a Tyrone or an Ireland jersey and defended him to the hilt when on the pitch he dropped faster than the Dow Jones during a financial crisis.
These same people are now screaming blue murder while making some extremely defamatory comments about the man. In some examples, the hypocrisy is so blatant even Donald Trump would be embarrassed. These purveyors of the “cancel culture” have just a few tweets earlier used the hashtag #BeKind and #ItsOKNotToBeOk while 280 characters later they are tearing strips off a person for some perceived wrong.
Last year, a video circulated of the Tyrone team bus returning from a Championship match with some players singing, “Come out you Black and Tans,” when they passed by the Lisgenny Flute band in Aughnacloy, the town where Aidan McAnespie’s life was cut short by a British Army bullet. Cavanagh rightly declared at the time that he was ‘embarrassed’ by the whole incident with Mickey Harte apologising afterwards.
I wrote in previous columns about my local GAA club Bredagh and Ballynefeigh Apprentice Boys Flute Band working together to provide food parcels to those most vulnerable in South Belfast. This is the type of Society I want to be a part of: an inclusive and understanding one, not one that ‘cancels’ one of its best sportsmen because he simply misspoke. The reaction of some political ‘leaders’ added unnecessary fuel to the fire and stoked tensions further. It did occur to me seeing the juvenile online comments, ‘Is it any wonder these same political representatives can’t form a consensus government in the south?’ Some purported social media ‘influencers’ were that appalled by the comments that they posted about it and then quickly deleted the post, which included wording which could in no way be described as ‘delightful’.
In the concluding paragraph of his book, Murray references Martin Luther King JR’s 1967 Atlanta speech entitled, “Where do we go from here?” which included the remarkable plea, “Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, “White Power!”, when nobody will shout, “Black Power!”, but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.”
Whether you call home the UK, Northern Ireland, the north of Ireland, the occupied six, overseas or something else entirely, let’s not attack others for how they describe this place, whether intentionally or otherwise. Those who have berated Cavanagh should consider again the principle of consent and self-determination that we enjoy, noting that we should strive to think independently and to always reject the madness of crowds.