Hamill’s Beat - Making excuses for casual bigotry

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“I love to go a wandering up to the chapel door and it’s as I go I love to sing, ‘The Sash My Father Wore.’” Sung to the tune of ‘The Happy Wanderer,” that’s a snippet from a song I heard as a boy, growing up in Coleraine. It’s one of the least offensive lines from the song, so it’s just as well I can’t remember the rest of it.

It came into my head when watching film of a loyalist band traipsing around playing sectarian tunes outside a Catholic church in Belfast on the 12th of July. Social development minister Nelson McCausland disgracefully sought to excuse the bandsmen conceding only that, “It can be argued that the band was naïve or thoughtless or unwise.”

Really! How pathetic!

It’s our casual acceptance of bigotry that keeps it alive and allows it pass on through the generations.

The snatch of song recalled from childhood also illustrates this blasé acceptance and how prejudice is nonchalantly passed on to children.

Most intelligent nine or ten year olds knew perfectly well that the song was ignorant and wrong.

That was its attraction.

Even immature boys knew its tune was dull and its lyrics weren’t too clever – it was its shock value they liked.

As Nelson McCausland would probably have put it, singing it was “naïve,” “thoughtless” and “unwise”.

But a loyalist band with adults in an Orange parade is in an entirely different category from naughty boys.

The bandsmen weren’t nine or ten year olds enjoying the shock value of knowing a dodgy song.

It must have been fortuitous for them that when the parade stopped they found themselves outside St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street.

They say they didn’t know it was a church but it was the perfect spot for an impromptu performance of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic songs popular with some Rangers FC fans.

The most offensive part of their repertoire was the Famine Song.

I also recall from childhood hearing Orangemen insist that their rules said they should avoid giving offence to Catholics. If that’s correct then we should soon be hearing from the Order what disciplinary action they propose to take against the offenders in this case..

A question also arises as to whether or not the band’s behaviour was an offence under incitement to hatred legislation.

That’s a matter for the police.

Politicians who can only come up with mealy-mouthed excuses for casual sectarianism are doing us a serious disservice.

It’s yet another failure to show leadership when it’s desperately needed.