In a week of apologies, it appears that ‘sorry’ isn’t the hardest word

VINCENT BROWNE was utterly indignant on his programme on Tuesday night as he launched into the Irish Times over the column in which Kevin Myers used the term “bastards” in an offensive and distinctly insensitive way.

It is wrong and grossly offensive to refer to any child as illegitimate. The term bastard was used inappropriately, possibly for shock value in order to bolster his argument but the shock merely obscured what he had to say. Kevin realised that he overdid it and he apologised fully. That should be the end of it.

Very few children who might find it offensive are likely to have read the column. But they could ultimately be the beneficiaries in that the controversy has highlighted the unacceptability of such stigmatisation.

This controversy can be linked with an outbreak of sorry politics in which people are being asked to apologise for various things - whether they were personally involved or not. The latest bout began with the demands for President Mary McAleese to apologise for her remarks about the Nazis giving “to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational hatred, for example, of Catholics”.

There was nothing wrong with what she said, except that she did not say enough. If she had said “Catholics or Protestants” there would have been no problem because the bigotry and intolerance there is on both sides of the religious divide.

An Garda Síochána apologised to the family of Dean Lyons for wrongfully arresting and charging him with the murder of two women in Grangegorman in Dublin in 1997.

Tony Blair apologised to the Conlon family who spent 15 years in prison for a crime that they did not commit. Guiseppe Conlon only went to visit his family and he spent the rest of his life in jail.

What made Blair’s apology so meaningful was that it was not politically necessary, and it therefore seemed all the more sincere. Blair did not have to apologise personally because he had nothing to do with that miscarriage of justice. But he did so under the mantle of his office, and he certainly went up in my estimation. He was particularly convincing and the appreciation expressed by Gerry Conlon was especially moving.

The Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four have all been exonerated and received some compensation for the years they spent in jail.

It was the Master of the Rolls Lord Denning who refused to question the police evidence in a judicious way because he felt that even considering the possibility of police corruption would open up an “appalling vista”. Later he had the contemptible arrogance to suggest that all that hassle would have been saved if they had capital punishment.

“We shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released,” Denning complained in August 1990. “If they had been hanged, they’d have been forgotten and the whole community would have been satisfied.”

There was no semblance of justice in Denning’s vista. That was truly appalling. It was the British judiciary who should have apologised for Denning!

In March 1921, Thomas Whelan was executed in Dublin for his supposed part in the killing of Lieutenant GT Baggallay on Bloody Sunday. There was another British officer in the same house, but the IRA left him alone because he was not on their list. The officer later mistakenly identified Whelan as one of the assassins, and he was convicted and hanged.

Paddy Moran was also executed under similar circumstances for supposedly killing Captain Peter Ames in Mount Street at the same time. Moran had an opportunity to escape from Mountjoy, along with Frank Teeling, who had been wounded and captured in the Mount Street operation. Teeling admitted his own involvement but informed the court that Moran was not involved. Moran believed that he would beat the charges, but he was being tried in a military court and the testimony of his witnesses did not stack up against the word of a surviving officer.

When Ames was killed in Mount Street, Moran was on the other side of the Liffey in the Gresham Hotel, where he was in charge of the IRA team that killed two other officers. Thus, he was hanged for the wrong crime.

ON the issue of British military justice, people should see the 1980 movie, Breaker Morant, which is about an Australian soldier who was executed by a British military firing squad in February 1902. It was an outrage, but Lieutenant Harry Morant got a soldier’s death by firing squad.

His last words were: “Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!”

Despite all the latest brouhaha, the word bastard can be used as a term of endearment. For instance, the American soldiers who were abandoned in the Philippines by General Douglas MacArthur in 1942 proudly called themselves bastards:

“We’re the Battling Bastards of Bataan,

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,

And nobody gives a damn!”

During the infamous Bodyline cricket test series between Australia and England in 1932-1933, the English bowled at the bodies of Aussie batsmen. This resulted in numerous bruises and injuries. The batsman Bert Oldfield sustained a cracked skull. The Australians were so annoyed that there was even talk of pulling out of the British Commonwealth. It just wasn’t cricket!

In the heat of one test, the British captain, Douglas Jardine, was called “a bastard”. Jardine went to the Australian dressing room afterwards and complained to the captain, Don Bradman, demanding an apology.

“Fair enough,” said Bradman, turning and shouting to his teammates, “Oi, which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?”

Vincent Browne was using the word with the same kind of frequency on Tuesday night. Of course, he was complaining about the Irish Times allowing Kevin Myers to use the word in the most offensive context. Vincent repeated the most objectionable parts of the column a number of times, and he asked listeners who agreed with Myers to phone in. This was presumably to provide balance in his coverage of the issue on the programme.

Surely that was similar to what the Irish Times had done in publishing the Myers column in the first place. Thus Vincent Browne was essentially trying to do the same thing for which he was savaging Geraldine Kennedy, the newspaper’s editor.

The politically correct crusaders of today are ultimately of the same ilk as the people who insisted on categorising those born out of wedlock as illegitimate in the first place.

Kevin Myers was guilty of insensitivity and for this he has apologised.

Some of those who have been complaining loudest may have ulterior motives - either to detract from the validity of other aspects of Myers’s overall argument, or to undermine Geraldine Kennedy’s role as editor of the Irish Times. Let’s not allow ourselves to be fooled by people with their own agendas to perpetrate other injustices.

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