Wednesday, November 8, 2017

No poppy for the innocent victims

For an Irish footballer who lives in England, it’s a source of annual abuse. 

For An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, it’s become a new cause for
An Taoiseach brandishes a poppy in the Dail

And for a small, but brave number of high-profile people in Britain, including Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow, not wearing one is a courageous statement in the face of a wave of xenophobia and jingoistic nationalism.

The red poppy.

Is it right to wear one on Remembrance Sunday?

And is it ever right for an Irish person to wear a symbol which honours the members of the British Army?

An Taoiseach broke new ground when he became the first Irish leader to brandish a poppy in the Dail this week.

It hardly came as a huge surprise, given that this is the leader who tweeted about remembering “where he was when Princess Diana died” on the day two homeless people passed away on the streets of Dublin.

The Irish people clearly have a very problematic history with the British Army, even though more than 200,000 men and women from this island served with the crown forces during World War One.

Is it right that we remember their sacrifice?

Others will point out that the same army executed 14 leaders of the Easter Rising, taking out some of the greatest minds of 20th century Ireland, in the midst of that war.

Is it really appropriate that the leader of our land should wear a poppy to commemorate an army which caused so much pain and suffering in Ireland?

Footballer James McClean doesn’t think so. Growing up in the Creggan, he knew all about the 14 innocent people – marching for civil rights – who were gunned down by members of the British Army in his part of Derry City.

On Saturday, the 28-year old Derry native was the target of abuse when he claimed that fans of Huddersfield Town threw bottles, coins, and lighters at him during an English Premier League game. His ‘crime’ was refusing to brandish a red poppy on his team shirt.

James McClean
Just over 48 hours later, he claimed the adoration of Irish fans when he picked up the Confederation of Republic of Ireland Supporters Clubs Player of the Year award for 2016/2017 in Dublin.

On Saturday night, he was dismayed that the most widely watched football programme on British TV, Match of the Day, singled him out for criticism after he picked up a yellow card for a challenge on rival player Tom Ince.

He noted, wryly, that the TV cameras failed to notice the missiles being thrown in his direction after came on as a substitute in his side West Bromwich Albion’s 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield.

“Convenient how match of the day cameras pick up my tackle. But fail to pick up bottles, coins and lighters being throwing in same incident,” he tweeted on Saturday night.

In a separate post on Instragram, he said that those who launch objects from up in the stand were “cowards not hard men”.

He is consistently singled out for abuse during club games in England in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday.

What the abusers fail to grasp or choose to ignore, though, is that McClean grew up within yards of one of the worst atrocities carried out by the British Army during ‘The Troubles’.

He was not even born when 14 unarmed protesters were shot dead by British paratroopers on January 30, 1972, a day which became forever known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Derry.

After the initial shock, trauma, and despair, a deep sense of injustice ran through the communities of the Bogside, Brandywell, and the Creggan, where McClean grew up.

People used to say that the massacre was the biggest recruitment drive the Irish Republican Army could have asked for and helped to prolong the conflict for another two decade.

Bloody Sunday in Derry. One of the worst atrocities
of The Troubles in Northern Ireland

The local people had to wait almost 30 years before the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, stood up in the London Parliament and apologised to the people of Derry on behalf of the British people.

“What happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss,” said Cameron in June 2010.

“Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

For anyone who was in the Bogside that day, marching for civil rights in a sectarian state, the idea that anyone among them should wear a poppy to honour the war dead of the British Empire was laughable.

McClean says he is not “anti-British” and he would wear the poppy if it honoured the British dead of World War One and World War Two. But he cannot wear it because it remembers those who died in other conflicts since 1945 and he would find it impossible to honour those who killed innocent people in his neighbourhood in cold blood.

“When you come from Creggan, like myself, or the Bogside or Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history,” he wrote in 2015.

“Even if, like me, you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.”

He said it would be an act of disrespect to his own people, the people of Derry City, if he was seen to wear a red poppy on Remembrance Sunday.

McClean’s refusal to wear the poppy comes amid some soul-searching across the UK over the way in which the poppy has been hijacked by some ultra-nationalists who target anyone who dears not to wear one on British TV.

'Crimes of Britain' have released their own version of the poppy

Last weekend, England cricketer Moeen Ali was criticised vehemently because he had not worn a poppy during a team photo. It turned out that he had worn one earlier in the day and that it just fell off his jacket, but that did not wash with those who engaged in Islamophobic criticism on social media.

The original idea behind the wearing of the red poppy was to honour the one million British soldiers who died, and the two million who were seriously wounded, in the First World War.

Remembrance Sunday now includes all British soldiers who fought in all wars, including the paratroopers who committed the atrocities on the streets of Derry in 1972 or those who executed the 1916 rebel leaders in Kilmainham Gaol.

A few years ago a campaign began to promote the wearing of a white poppy, which would honour all victims of war. That campaign seems to have evaporated in the wave of nationalism which seems to spread across Britain in the wake of last year's Brexit vote.

Money raised via the Poppy Appeal goes to the Royal British Legion, who help out those who have suffered terrible losses and injuries in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

It seems that the British Government would rather ordinary people direct their ire at hate figures such as James McClean than focus on how poorly they look after 21st century veterans when they return home from war.

I’m acutely aware of the sensitivity of publishing this blog on the day a ceremony took place to mark the 30th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb, in which 11 people were killed and more than 70 injured. That IRA bomb was one of the worst atrocities of ‘The Troubles’ and can never be justified. But the red poppy honours the people who caused so much heartbreak and loss just 50 miles up the road in Derry.

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  1. Doesn't have a problem taking English money from the English 'system' though? How convenient. Lot's of convenient things in this discussion, convenient to forget crimes on the republican side, convenient to accept pardons, and clemency but not be willing to accept apologies or offer clemency for someone else. Easy to criticise those who would rather move on from the past, just easier to keep hatred alive and feed off it. I guess it sells stories. Huh, back to money again.

    1. I don't think it's about "keeping hatred alive" and feeding off it"

      It's about acknowledging the very real damage caused to communities by the British Army all across the island of Ireland, including in particular Derry City.

      Atrocities like Enniskillen and Omagh were appalling, but they were carried out by 'terrorists' acting illegally. 'Bloody Sunday' was carried out by representatives of the British State.

      I'd have no problem with a white poppy to remember all victims of war.

      But now the "Poppy Fascists" go mad every time a sportsperson or TV presenter refuses to wear one.

      Quite simply, it would be impossible for James McClean to wear one and look in the mirror at night. If he only cared about money, he would bite the bullet and wear one, rather than face such sustained abuse from fans of Sunderland, Wigan, West Brom, and any team they happen to be playing against come November.

      Those who abuse him haven't a clue. Remembering the 14 who were slaughtered by the British Army on 'Bloody Sunday' is not feeding off hatred. It's just pointing out why the red poppy is such a terrible symbol in one corner of Northern Ireland.

      And what about the hypocrisy of Nigel Farage? Wearing a red poppy while attending far right conferences in Germany?

  2. Well-written article. I personally find it offensive to see Irish-born people wearing the poppy on BBC- apparently they won't allow you to go on camera without one. While I sympathise with the families of honourable soldiers who died in the world wars, the atrocities committed by British soldiers in Northern Ireland should never be honoured. Just to be clear, I am not an IRA sympathiser. WSS needs to educate himself. The fear that I had as a child passing through the north on my way to visit my relatives in Donegal was very real. Fear of the men with guns at the border. Men who were known to shoot first. James McClean is 100% correct in not wearing a poppy.