Analogical Inexactitude

One of the arguments used in support of a hereditary head of state is that each monarch has undergone preparation, a sort of apprenticeship, to enable them, when they accede to the throne, to fulfil the constitutional role.

The training does not always succeed in preparing the heir, or others in line of succession for the job, as demonstrated once again by the recent nazi emblem gaffe of the boy, Prince Harry, not of course forgetting those made by more senior members of the British royal household.

Leaving aside those by president George W. Bush, other heads of state not based on heredity can slip up as did President Mary McAleese when she made a clumsy, not quite apposite, link between the Holocaust extermination of millions of Jews, underpinned by racial hatred engendered in the nazi education and propaganda system and the antagonisms between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

She apologised however, saying that her remarks were not properly balanced, having failed to mention that sectarian hatred of Protestants also existed in some Catholic communities in the Six Counties.

The ire of Unionists, especially of Protestant fundamentalists, roused by her statement, was not entirely placated by her full apology. They seized upon the statement, protesting that they did not foster such hatred, which for some of them at least, is clearly hypocritical.

Nevertheless, Mary did make a careless error, out of character, regrettable, in view of the esteem that she has earned in her years of office.

Those who leaped to castigate her need to explain their toleration of those in their communities who did foster and generate the hatred which was manifest in the 'burning out' of Catholic residents in Bombay Street in Belfast at the start of the violence in 1960s/1970s and that shown in recent times to Catholic children in the Ardoyne on their way through a Protestant area to primary school.

Raised in East Belfast's majority Protestant community in the 1920s/1930s I was aware of the acute antipathy, displayed by many of my peers, to the Catholic minority, so I'm sure Mary McAleese (whom I have had the pleasure of meeting at Ireland's Consulate General in Cardiff) would be able to recall such attitudes and how they pervaded communities, having herself been raised in Belfast.

She will know, as I do, how pervasive antagonisms can be, and although at times may spontaneously arise, the ground is laid and propagated by individuals and organisations.

I myself grew up in the established Presbyterian denomination and now, as an unbeliever, am opposed to many religious beliefs and practices and to faith-based schools in particular. My view is that it is wrong to indoctrinate young minds with any belief system, either parentally or through the education system. Acceptance should be left to individuals at an age when they can reason the pros and cons for themselves.

By keeping schools separate from religious organisations, all children, irrespective of colour, race or creed, can be taught tolerance and respect for each other, thereby creating a homogenous society on the basis of equality.

: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, south Wales, 9 February 2005.

: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran.

Samuel H. Boyd