WHEN IS A PROTEST NOT A PROTEST?

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When is a protest more than a protest ? I should say when does a protest become an attention-seeking power play? Bernie Smyth , the pro -life protester appears to have crossed the invisible line and has entangled herself in a criminal case involving the harassment of  Dawn Purvis , director of  the  Mary Stopes  women’s’ advice centre..She has been convicted of that offence and will be sentenced shortly. The invisible line was crossed and  apparently become something of a hissy cat-fight at the doors of the abortion advice centre. It was duly deemed harassment . A type of coy bullying , I suppose.Two women took a  personal disagreement to its ultimate conclusion in the courtroom. A personal disagreement, then. What makes one woman decide to get out of the house and barrack other women making their own personal choices?

If we needed another demonstration as to why Northern Ireland can never really be truly described as properly “British”, there it is on the streets again. We’ve already had all the palaver { I almost typed pavlova} about the gay Bert and Ernie cake where the bakers refused to  produce the comestible because the proposed  pro-gay  slogan on top would have compromised their Christian beliefs . No one ever asks whether or not the shop-owners personal  beliefs offend anyone…well you know ..I might be offended by their beliefs….you’d never know…I mightn’t like people believing in gods or strange ancient Stone-age tracts….that’s just me , but there are plenty like me I’d imagine…. but we just let them get on with their business of baking cakes or whatever else they want to do. People  are so easily offended..Should it ever matter what a customer or a seller believes?  I think that part of it should be kept neatly wrapped up inside their heads.I don’t want to know anything about their personal thoughts or habits, just as I don’t want to be hassled by someone pushing religious tracts  in my face when I’m out buying a piece of fish. Why is it such a big deal anyway? Then there’s the flags incident, a subject we’ve talked in an out of the proverbial hell. What’s left of that argument lives  on in a little caravan somewhere  on Twaddell Avenue in Belfast : a sad little corner of a lost mythical Empire of the Mind, awaiting some way to save face and scuttle  back into the shadows.Elements in the local DUP party  are now attempting to bring a “conscience clause”  into the legislation to allow such bakers with differing views  off the hook.It sounds like a charter for a pick and mix “Britishness” in Northern Ireland.  It could be construed as a “bigots charter” too and could bring basic human rights legislation into total disarray. I’d imagine someone could put up that argument too.

We don’t really seem to appreciate the real thing here.The rights of the UK are anathema  to certain minds here.The idea of keeping your personal beliefs to yourself and making civil laws that protect everyone else  from your odd beliefs doesn’t seem to sit too well with  some of them.

There’s something in the Irish character , or at least  that truculent   part of it ,in the makeup of   all the people right across the board,  that can never really bind itself to that British  “live and let live ” ideal  that is acceptable by a majority of ordinary  people in the rest of of our neighbouring UK.Of course there are many who actually do live by  that “live and let live” philosophy here ,  but they do not appear to be as vocal .We all pay for a Health Service, for example,  that was set up to benefit everyone from  the very weakest and least fortunate people in society , upwards, and yet if a woman becomes pregnant ,and  for reasons unique and personal to her own situation , requires and personally “wants” nothing other than  a termination of the pregnancy, she must travel away to a city somewhere else in the UK for treatment.She cannot get the same service her counterpart across the water receives. Being a “British” citizen in Northern Ireland is not the same as being a “British” citizen in Leeds. The strange thing is that the parties in Northern Ireland who actually support this stance are those who readily accept the political trappings of the Westminster Parliament . You might say , they don’t mind being British as long as it’s on their own little specialist terms.

Sinn Fein is the odd man out in this one.Of course they do not attend Westminster in any case.They basically feel it would taint their sense of Irishness, which has been a long-term stance . They are the  square peg the round hole in this scenario in that they appear to be almost unreadable in the abortion debate. That’s probably because the party is not quite so homogenous as it it might first appear.

Sinn Fein is in a curious position of alone,  carrying both  a pro -abortion and an anti-abortion policy throughout Ireland .Maybe they are attempting to keep everyone onside but appear as neither fish nor fowl on this issue.It could probably prove divisive. That’s how it appears to me but maybe I’m misinformed.You might call it pro-choice / anti-choice  if you like, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that a large proportion of  Sinn fein’s support base is drawn not just from a “fuzzy”  nationalism but also from  many of those who are nominally Catholic by upbringing.Well , everyone assumes that they are a “Catholic” party in some way, don’t they, although they have sometimes crossed swords with the church.? I would say that most unionists see Sinn Fein as a Catholic party . They are the largest party in Nationalism at the moment so it follows that there must be a large proportion of their support base who have a very addled or  schizophrenic take on their support/non -support  of abortion. Are they for it or against it? If  they are for it , are they still supporters of the teachings of the “One True Original   Church”{ before Henry V111 decided to get a divorce and start his own branch}., or do they keep their feelings to themselves and have a pick and mix  attitude to their beliefs? Maybe they just don’t tell anyone .

There is a certain hypocrisy involved in living in Ireland anyway .You are assumed to be from one tribe or another. It’s almost expected by upbringing. Things are not as simple as they once were anyway .There are many new secular ideas and viewpoints which do not sit well with many people who are conservative by nature and there are many new nationalities, races  and religions to get used to. Maybe that’s what causes these spats between women in the street, when you’d imagine they should be supporting the welfare of women as a gender, together. It’s a bit like the more conservative  womenfolk in Russia abhorring the idea of feminism and seeing it as a masculinising of their society. Their idea of the  female ideal, except possibly for some of the younger generation,  is not one that anyone in England  or Ireland would recognise nowadays…..

All the sudden social changes of the past few years have left a lot of society in a very confused place . These confusions are becoming more and more apparent on the street with ensuing protests.

Shakespeare put it like this in Hamlet …”the lady doth protest too much”…

Sometimes , methinks  there’s a case for less protesting and more live and let live..

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