On Tuesday (23 November) the Irish News excelled itself in terms of cultural bigotry and sectarianism. Page 18 carried the daily editorial, along with an Ian Knox cartoon and the Brian Feeney column.
Above the editorial was the newspaper's long-standing Latin motto 'Pro fide et patria' or in English, 'Faith and Country' or 'Faith and Fatherland'. The nation is of course Ireland and the faith is Roman Catholicism.
Some parents at Ballykeigle in county Down want to develop their small country school with a strong Ulster-Scots cultural ethos and that was reported elsewhere in the newspaper. However Ian Knox could not help himself and immediately produced a cartoon mocking the initiative. This was the latest in a series of cartoons, stretching back over several years, in which Ian Knox has mocked Ulster-Scots culture. Indeed his cultural prejudice towards Ulster-Scots culture is weel kent but is it the sort of cartoon that contributes to the building of a shared and better future? The answer to that question is 'no' and indeed I can't think of any other mainstream newspapers that would tolerate such prejudice. However it's nothing new for the Irish News, which in this context seems to pander to some of the baser elements in our society.
There are already a number of schools which integrate Ulster-Scots language and culture into the curriculum and indeed that is simply a reflection of the cultural rights of children, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ballykeigle parents simply want to take it on to another level. Irish culture is embedded in Roman Catholic maintained schools and in Irish medium schools; so are the cultural rights enjoyed by Irish children to be denied to Ulster-Scots children?
Surely, if we are to create a shared and better future, it must be cased on principles such as equity, diversity and tolerance. Sadly the Irish News has failed to grasp that vision.
The rest of the page is taken up with an article by Brian Feeney in which he engages in a sectarian headcount, condemns a recent statement by Peter Robinson as 'puerile', and generally regards unionists as pretty dense and incompetent. Again it's standard bigotry from Brian Feeney, whose articles often have a rather nasty aspect to them.
I don't know the reason why Brian is such a bitter individual although it may have something to do with his past failure as a nationalist politician. But whatever the reason, his contributions are rather unpleasant and sectarian. They are often the sort of thing one might expect in the Andersonstown News but certainly not in a mainstream newspaper.
And so back to the shared future. The Irish News does pay lip service to that shared future but by providing a platform for prejudice and pandering to prejudice it actually works against what it would claim to promote.
In sharp contrast the Belfast Telegraph commented on the Ballykeigle issue in a much more thoughful and reflective manner and made some interesting points. As a society we need informed debate about cultural traditions, which are central to a shared future, and newspapers can do so much to provide a platform for that debate. Sadly it seems the Irish News is not up to the challenge.