Perhaps one year soon Armistice Day will pass without a modest symbol of respect and remembrance inspiring a single display of hatred and intolerance. Unfortunately 2010 wasn’t that year.
First we had the so-called ’Green Brigade’ and its illiterate protest at Celtic’s decision to display a poppy on the club's famous hooped football shirts. Now the Andersonstown News reports that Relatives for Justice, a republican victims group, has asked BBC Northern Ireland to ban poppies in the interests of ‘neutrality‘.
Last year it was that newspaper’s columnist, ‘the Squinter’, who took anti-poppy bile to a new low, by describing the British Legion’s fundraising campaign as a “three week orgy of ‘up yours fenian face’”. I posted on that occasion, lamenting the tendency to perceive a simple act of remembering as a hostile political act.
There’s no particular need to rehash the same old arguments for the Relatives for Justice campaign. It’s enough to note that there are also more hopeful stories, as Remembrance Sunday approaches.
Margaret Ritchie, the SDLP leader, will wear a poppy at the ceremony in Belfast. The BBC reports that she will become the first nationalist leader to do so. She calls it an act of ’reconciliation’. Hopefully it’s also intended to represent how much history is shared between the traditions in Ireland.
Certainly a cross-border service held in Drogheda last Saturday acknowledged a legacy of common sacrifice.
Such gestures offer hope, that a time when respect and tolerance for the act of remembrance can become the overwhelming norm, is not so very far away.