Saturday, 23 June 2018

Newton Emerson and his 'class-based insult' of the Orange Order

The Irish News, Northern Ireland's leading nationalist paper
Last Saturday the columnist and commentator Newton Emerson devoted part of his column in the Irish News to the arrangements for an Orange lodge to transfer its banner to the home of the incoming Worshipful Master.  In so doing he described Orange brethren as 'plebeians' and suggested that their middle-class 'betters' would laugh at them,
Irish News columnist Newton Emerson

I blogged about this and said that it was a 'class-based insult' and now Emerson has admitted that 'of course it was a 'class-based insult' and that it was intentionally a 'class-based insult'.

Newton Emerson has returned to the subject in the Irish News today and has written:
The Orange lodge mentioned in last week's column over a planned parade through a mixed residential neighbourhood in north Belfast has been in touch to clarify reports.  Cavehill Temperance Lodge says it is not new but a reconstituted lodge last open in 1976, there have been parades in the area before, this one is not so much a parade as processing a banner to the lodge master's house and it has nothing to do with the flagging of lampposts in the area.
With master appointed annually, processing of banners by reconstituted lodges looks like a way of pulling 'traditional routes' out of thin air.
At least the brethren are not that bothered about me calling them 'plebeians', unlike tribune of the people and former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland, who has demanded I acknowledge this was a 'class-based insult'.  Of course it was a class-based insult. I really don't see how I could have made that any clearer.
Emerson has summarised the clarification from the Orange lodge, albeit with no acceptance or admission on his part of previous error.  He has then gone on to introduce in the second paragraph something that is purely the product of his own fervid imagination.  However my previous post was primarily about his use of the word 'plebeian', which I described as a 'class-based insult'.

Today Newton Emerson has confirmed that he intended his words to be a 'class-based insult':  He wasn't 'mis-speaking' it was an intentional insult.  Here again is what he says:
Of course it was a class-based insult, I really don't see how I could have made that any clearer.
So the 'smug snobbery' of his original column shines through again this week and it is still extremely unpleasant, albeit typical of many in a 'liberal elite' which is thoroughly illiberal.

I was then amused by Newton's description of me as a 'tribune of the people, a term that in the original Latin was 'tribunus plebis'.  Newton really does have a fondness for that word 'pleb'.

Newton also says that I had demanded he 'acknowledge' his words were a 'class-based insult', which he does but in fact I had demanded that he 'apologise' for it.
Unfortunately there is no apology and so the culpability is compounded.

Finally Newton has assumed that because the clarification from the Orange lodge was about the 'floating of the banner', 'the brethren are not that bothered about me calling them plebeians'.  That is a big assumption and I suspect an erroneous assumption. 

The focus of the brethren and their political representatives will have been on countering the unfounded criticisms from Sinn Fein, along with the Alliance Party, SDLP, Workers' Party and Green Party.  In that situation the opinion of Newton Emerson or any other columnist matters very little.  It is of secondary importance.

However I have spoken to several members of the lodge who said they do deserve an apology and they are absolutely right.  

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Are Sinn Fein behind the Union flag court case?

A legal case has been taken by a Tyrone nationalist to prevent the flying of the Union flag on court houses on designated days.  The person taking the case is named Helen McMahon.

In making her case she argues that the flying of the Union flag from Omagh Court House on designated days, as set out in the Flag Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 goes against the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

The case has now been extended to include all court houses and if she were to win, depending on the judgment, the same arguments could then be applied to all public buildings.

Martin O'Rourke QC told the High Court that the flying of the Union flag on the set days defies a commitment to ensure equality for the identity, ethos and aspirations of each of the two main communities in Northern Ireland.  He then referred to the nebulous 'parity of esteem' phrase in the Belfast Agreement.

Now there may be many people named Helen McMahon who live in and around Omagh.  For all I know there could be dozens of them, although I doubt it.  So let us park the Union flag court case for a moment and move on.

Here are some pictures that appear on the Facebook page of a woman named Helen McMahon, who was educated at St Brigid's High School in Omagh. and who may or may not be the woman behind the legal case to take down the Union flag.  We simply don't know. 

On 28 March 2018 this Helen McMahon updated her profile picture to the above but that is not the only affirmation of her political views.

She is clearly a supporter of the Sinn Fein MP Orfhlaith Begley, who represents West Tyrone and who was elected  on 3 May 2018 in the by-election that followed the resignation of Barry McElduff.  The day before the by-election Helen McMahon changed her Facebook profile picture and stated her intention to vote for the Sinn Fein candidate.  So this Helen McMahon is not only a republican but also a Sinn Fein voter, or so she says.

But there's more about this Helen McMahon. Here she is now out in May 2016 with a team of Sinn Fein election workers, during an Assembly election.  Such was her enthusiasm about working for Sinn Fein that she changed her profile picture to feature a selfie taken by Sinn Fein MLA Declan McAleer.  That is Helen in the middle of the row behind Declan.

There's another photograph on her Facebook page just before that one and it's dated 4 April 2016.

So here are some people dressed up in republican re-enactment uniforms and there is Helen in the back row behind the three teenagers?

Helen McMahon's interest in Irish republicanism even stretches back to 19 March 2011 when she posted a video of IRA hunger strikers, one of a number of videos about members of the Provisional IRA.

Now this Helen McMahon from Omagh is also someone with an ear for music and her choice is extensive and varied.  As well as the pop and country she has an ear for Irish rebel music, including the Irish Brigade singing The Sniper's Promise and the SAM Song, one about an IRA sniper and his armalite rifle and the other about an IRA rocket.

Now we don't know if this Helen McMahon, a Sinn Fein activist from Omagh. is the same person as the nationalist Helen McMahon from Omagh who is taking the court case.

Neither do we know who is funding the judicial review and if the applicant received legal aid.

However it would be interesting to know more about it because it would help us to understand whether the court case is a further attempt by Sinn Fein to poke unionists in the eye, which is how unionists and many others will see it.

The Sinn Fein position is that the Union flag should only be allowed to fly on public buildings if there is an Irish Tricolour beside it.  Their alternative is no flags at all, with the Union flag removed from all public buildings in every part of Northern Ireland.  

Poking unionists in the eye seems to be a fair description of what Sinn Fein are about.

The advent of Mary Lou and Michelle hasn't made much difference.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Orange Walk

An Orange parade at Shaftesbury Square in Belfast in the 1920s
Orange parades in Scotland are often referred to as 'Orange walks' and I wondered if that term was ever in general use in Ulster.

The thought was prompted by some words written by the Irish republican socialist James Connolly when he watched the Twelfth parade in Belfast in 1913.  He wrote:
The Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne is celebrated in Belfast by what is locally known as an Orange Walk.
That led me to look back at some old newspapers and it soon became clear that the term Orange Walk was once used more generally in Ulster.

The Northern Whig (8 June 1957) reported an Orange demonstration in England and this was headlined:
To-day is Orange walk day in Birmingham
A report in the Northern Whig (21 April 1954) about a Junior Orange demonstration in Bangor was headed:
Orange walk and car rally big attractions - EASTER 'DOUBLE' DREW CROWDS TO BANGOR
The Northern Whig (22 July 1927) contained a letter to the editor, which began:
No single phenomenon of our great 'Orange walk' has provoked more lively discussion than that unique instrument 'the big drum'.
Reference to an Orange walk in Castleblayney appeared in a report in the Northern Whig (17 July 1908):
What did Finnigan mean when he said, 'Let them alone until tomorrow?' - That meant he would be at the Orange walk in Castleblayney.
An earlier reference to an Orange walk appeared in the Northern Whig (13 July 1870):
There was, he said, present that day a lady who was at the first Orange walk in the County Down, when the Orangemen walked to Kilmegan Church with the Earl of Annesley at their head.
The Northern Whig (28 August 1868) reported a court case in which a witness said:
I never saw either a party riot or an Orange walk.  I was in this town on 1st July.
All the newspaper report above were from the Northern Whig but other newspapers used the term as well and this is from the Belfast Weekly News (26 July 1879), reporting on the Twelfth in Castlecaulfield:
So long as the law of the land sanctions processions they will have their Orange walk.
There seems to be overwhelming evidence of the widespread use of the term 'Orange Walk' here in Ulster as well as in Scotland. ... but any other references you may have would be appreciated ... perhaps from books, or songs or poems, as well as newspapers.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Irish News columnist describes Orange brethren as 'plebs'

Irish News columnist Newton Emerson
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly  has objected to an Orange lodge parade in the Ballysillan Road area of North Belfast.  The parade has been organised by Cavehill Temperance LOL 1956 and will make its way from Joanmount Gardens up to Kilcoole, where some of the Orange brethren live..

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly
In stating his objection, Gerry Kelly argued that there had never been a parade in the area, which is totally untrue.

In fact there have been similar parades in the past by Orange lodges and bands and that is not surprising.  There have been Orange brethren living in the estate since it was built and parades to or from the home of the Worshipful Master of a lodge are quite common.  

Kelly's claim was false.  It's what they call 'fake news' or in this case 'republican propaganda'.

Unfortunately the Irish News columnist Newton Emerson seems to have accepted what Gerry Kelly said as being the truth, obviously without checking its veracity. In his Saturday newspaper column he described the application as 'a ludicrous application by a new lodge ... where there has never been an Orange parade before' and he said it was an 'attempted act of intimidation'.

These are just two of the errors in what Gerry Kelly said and in what Newton Emerson has written and those errors will be addressed in due course but there was something else in Newton Emerson's article which I found grossly offensive.  He wrote:
However, the brethren still have a problem.  Their proposed route includes some of the steepest streets in Northern Ireland, of a gradient the modern plebeian will struggle to climb unaided.'
Having described the area as 'mainly middle-class' he then refers to the route as being problematic for the 'modern plebeian', a word which is often shortened to 'pleb'.  Newton Emerson's choice of that word is very revealing

Andrew Mitchell MP
was at the centre of 'Plebgate'
The word plebeian comes from ancient Rome where the common folk were the plebeians and the elite folk were the patricians.  

The modern significance of the word was highlighted a few years ago in the case of the Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, who was alleged to have described a policeman as 'a pleb'.  The controversy became known in the media as 'Plebgate' and the use of the word 'pleb', which Mitchell disputed, was interpreted in the media and by many others as a class-based insult.

The difference here is that Newton Emerson can't dispute his use of the word 'plebeian' because it is there to be seen in black and white in the pages of the Irish News.  

As regards its current meaning I will defer to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary which explains both  plebeian and the abbreviated form pleb: as 'a member of the lower social classes.

The descriptions 'pleb' or 'plebeian' are generally recognised as 'derogatory' and all of this raises the important question:

If it was a class-based insult to call a London policeman 'a pleb' is it not a class-based insult when the word 'plebeian' is applied to members of the Orange Order?

I understand that Newton Emerson now lives in North Belfast and will therefore be familiar with the topography of the area, hence his reference to the steepness of the streets.  However he is not that well acquainted with the area or else he might not have written the paragraph.

The members of the Orange lodge, some of whom live in Kilcoole, are very well aware of the steepness of the streets.

As local residents themselves they know the area, better than Newton Emerson or Gerry Kelly, and they are used to walking around those streets, whether coming home from work, or going out with their families or visiting neighbours and friends.

As if the use of the word 'plebeian' was not bad enough Newton Emerson then wrote:
Should this attempted act of intimidation proceed past the drawn blinds of suburbia, marchers might just hear the distant laughter of their betters - for a Protestant, the most devastating residents' protest of them all.
Well that makes it perfectly clear that this is a 'class-based insult'.  The members of the Orange lodge are 'plebs' and other people are 'their (middle-class) betters', who will laugh at them.  

I looked up that word 'betters' in the dictionary and it was defined as 'one's superiors in social class' - so there we have that word 'class' again.

What Newton Emerson has written just oozes a smug snobbery that is extremely unpleasant.  

He describes himself as a 'liberal unionist'  but the use of the word 'pleb' or 'plebeian' seems to be the very antithesis of genuine liberalism, as is the suggestion that 'their betters' might laugh at them.

That brings me back to the phrase 'class-based insult' and an arrogant mindset that is prevalent in the ranks of the 'liberal elite'.  

The members of the Orange lodge and indeed the members of the Orange Order deserve an apology.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Naomi, you certainly don't speak for me and my wife

Naomi Long MLA
Naomi Long MLA, the leader of the Alliance Party, has attacked recent statements about marriage, which were made by Dr Stafford Carson, the convenor of the doctrine committee of the Presbyterian Church.

Dr Stafford Carson
Tonight BBC Newsline broadcast a short clip from last night's programme The View.  In this Dr Stafford Carson said:
'We believe that marriage is much more than just about love.  There is a whole structure, there is a whole purpose to marriage, that has to do with family, that has to do with procreation, that has to do with God's will for us.'
Last night the focus was on 'same-sex marriage' and much was made of the decision by Lord Alderdice, a former leader of the Alliance Party, to resign from the Presbyterian Church.

Today a new avenue was opened up by Naomi Long, the current Alliance leader who was responding to what Dr Carson had said.  She was described as 'a Presbyterian who has no children' and said:
'To suggest that my marriage is in some way invalidated because we have no children is profoundly insulting and hurtful.'
In fact Dr Carson said nothing about a marriage being 'in some way invalidated' just because the partners in the marriage have no children.  That is a misrepresentation of what he said and bears no resemblance to it.

Naomi Long referred to her marriage as one in which there are no children however they are certainly not the only married couple with no children.  

Mary and I have been married for 43 years and we have no children, not through choice, because we wanted very much to have children.  Yet we would not disagree with one word of what Dr Stafford Carson said about marriage.  He was simply explaining what the Bible teaches about marriage.  

There was nothing 'profoundly insulting or hurtful' in what he said and neither did he say nor imply that the marriage of a couple with no children is in any way 'second class'.  

I know that my wife would have been a wonderful mother but that was not to be.  However she has been a great help to many children down through the years and she has devoted countless hours to working with children and young people, something she continues to do today and all in a voluntary capacity

Before posting this I spoke to her about Naomi Long's comments and she immediately said, 'Write something about that.'  That's why I can say that I am writing for both of us..

It is disappointing that Naomi Long and some others have misrepresented what Dr Carson said, because what he said about marriage was based on the Word of God.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Gospel campaign in the King's Hall, Balmoral

I came across this photograph of the King's Hall on the Old Belfast Photographs Facebook page.  The hall was packed to capacity and there was what appeared to be a boxing ring in the centre but this was not a boxing match.  The information with the photograph stated that the photograph was taken in 1946 during an evangelistic campaign by Redpath and Lester.

I recognised the name Redpath as that of Alan Redpath (1907-1989), pastor, preacher, evangelist and author, but who was Lester and what was the occasion?

Alan Redpath
The answer is that this was during an evangelistic campaign in Belfast in September 1946.  It was called the Christian Challenge Campaign and was organised by the Irish Evangelisation Society.  The series of meetings started in the Assembly Buildings but it was unable to accommodate the crowds and so they moved to the King's Hall, with six thousand people in attendance on some of the nights.

The meetings ended on 27 September and the previous morning the Belfast News-Letter carried an account of one of the meetings.  It opened with these sentences:
'Standing in the gallery of the King's Hall last night, I looked down on more than 6,000 people who had come from every part of Belfast, and from further afield, to attend a Christian Challenge Campaign service, held by the Rev Geoffrey Lester and the Rev Alan Redpath.  It was a remarkable sight.  Every corner of the vast hall was crowded to capacity.'
In the language of that time, the newspaper reported the words of one of the people present at the meeting:
'One of the twenty cripples, for whom seats had been reserved, said afterwards that the service had left on him a very deep impression. 'We may be crippled in body,' he remarked earnestly, 'but anyone who cannot understand and appreciate the message of Mr Redpath must be suffering from a crippling far more terrible than anything we have experienced.'
At that time Alan Redpath was pastor of Duke Street Baptist Church in London and the other person was Rev Geoffrey Lester (1916-1998)  He had served during the Second World War in the ranks of the Irish Guards but after being invalided out of service he trained for the ministry and after some years on the mission field was an evangelical minister in the Church of England.  Geoffrey Lester was also noted as a soloist and song leader.and it was in that capacity that he accompanied Alan Redpath.

I must admit that I had never heard of Geoffrey Lester but having read some of his obituaries I can warm to the man and his strongly biblical views on a wide range of issues, some of which have been in the news recently.

Ulster had known the blessing of the 1859 revival and had been visited by many great American evangelists such as D L Moody and R A Torrey.  It had also experienced a measure of revival through the ministry of our own W P Nicholson in the 1920 and 1930s.  As a result Christianity in Ulster was strongly evangelical.  Sadly since then we have seen a general downgrade, spiritually and doctrinally, with many churches shaped more by the world than by 'The Word'.

However our God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  His Word is unchanged, His Son is still mighty to save and what He has done before here in Ulster, He can do again.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Has the BBC given up on balance?

Mark Carruthers
I watched The View on Thursday night and in particular Mark Carruthers interviewing Peter Robinson about a lecture he had given at Queen's University. 

Mark tried to needle him, repeatedly, more so as time went on, trying to drive a wedge into the DUP but Peter Robinson was the measure of him and answered in a way that was calm and measured

After that Mark Carruthers moved on to the two commentators in 'commentators' corner' and it was two of the regulars, Alex Kane and Fionnuala O'Connor, who were there, Mark told us, 'to run an expert eye over another week'.

Alex Kane
Alex Kane, a former director of communications with the Ulster Unionist Party and now a columnist in the Irish News, was broadly dismissive of what Robinson had said.

Meanwhile the veteran journalist Fionnuala O'Connor, who is also a columnist in the Irish News, was downright disparaging of Peter Robinson, playing the man rather than the ball. and bypassing the content of the lecture.  She was equally disparaging towards Arlene Foster.

(I say 'veteran' because about forty years ago I was described by Fionnuala in a newspaper article as 'a fresh-faced bespectacled young man', the only time in my life I was ever described as 'bespectacled', and it stuck in my mind.)

Fionnuala O'Connor
Of course, being 'commentators corner' neither Alex nor Fionnuala were ever really challenged by Mark Carruthers.

Alex Kane used the word 'stupid' and Fionnuala used the word 'struggling'.

So there it was and I wondered if The View has just given up altogether on balance and breadth of views.

Now to be fair, the female commentator isn't always Fionnuala O'Connor.  Some times it's Allison Morris, who also writes for the Irish News and prior to that the Andersonstown News, and sometimes it's Professor Deirdre Heenan from the Ulster University in Londonderry.

But in the little world that is 'commentators' corner', some things never really change and that includes the relentless negativity week after week.

That's why I usually watch the Sky News 'Press Review' each night at 10.30.  One of the delights of that programme is that they manage to provide a real variety of views, from right across the political spectrum.  Kevin Maguire and Andrew Pierce can argue the bit out, in a humorous and good-natured way, and they also use Dan Hodges, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Polly McKenzie, director of Demos, Labour supporter Susie Boniface and  Conservative commentator Alex Deane..  

Andrew Pierce and Kevin Maguire
They even have a good range of committed Brexiteer commentators on the programme, including Brendan O'Neill from Spiked Online,  and Carole Malone.  This is especially important when Brexit is such a controversial issue in British politics. It is even more significant in Northern Ireland politics.

As a result, it's interesting, it's intelligent, it's engaging and it's informative.  It's generally bright and rarely boring and that's the way it should be.