Sunday 20 October 2019

It's that time of the year again - all aboard the poppy-go-round!

Stand up for your beliefs: Leo Varadkar wearing a shamrock poppy in the Dáil this week
Stand up for your beliefs: Leo Varadkar wearing a shamrock poppy in the Dáil this week
Shamrock poppy
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It has been rather interesting, even amusing, to observe the hysterical reactions from the usual circles to the sight of Leo Varadkar wearing the 'shamrock poppy' in the Dáil earlier this week.

Varadkar is one of the new breed of politicians who like to boast about being more in tune with younger elements of the electorate than his fusty colleagues, and we all know that he's extremely careful about how he presents himself to the country.

So, he must have known that the sight of him wearing the controversial symbol was going to cause consternation and in this current febrile climate, where everyone seems to have their emotional antennae dialled to 11 as they seek out reasons to be offended, it was a gutsy move.

It was certainly a bigger statement than those ridiculous socks he wore when he hung out with the ludicrous Justin Trudeaux.

Shamrock poppy
Shamrock poppy

Socks and lapel pins - maybe his next big statement will be a novelty tie? Or perhaps a spinning dickie bow or a flower that squirts water at people?

But I digress.

For a political operator who is always careful to stay in step with popular mood, wearing the symbol was a surprisingly definitive stance and one which, with dreary inevitability, was greeted with horror by nincompoops on social media.

'Leo really would love to be able to fly the Union Jack over the Dáil,' thundered one fragile soul, while some other rather historically confused people even managed to spin this into the Taoiseach secretly supporting the Black And Tans. That is, you have to admit, a damn fine piece of tortuous logic.

Yes, it's that time of the year again. We've waved goodbye to Halloween, and it's another six weeks before Christmas. So, according to Calendar of Seasonal Kerfuffles, it's time to once more hop on the poppy-go-round; the annual bun fight where pro-poppy people accuse the anti-poppy people of being ungrateful bastards and the anti-poppy crowd portray their opponents as West Brit wannabes and bigots.

It's a pointless argument and one which will never be solved, because you can't solve people's opinions. If someone thinks the poppy is a sign of allegiance to a war-mongering Imperial British regime, there's very little you can do to change their mind.

Take, for instance, the reliably hysterical Robert Fisk who asked recently: "For who are they commemorating? The dead of Sarajevo? Of Srebrenica? Of Aleppo? Nope. The television bumpkins only shed their crocodile tears for the dead of the First and Second World Wars."

Um, isn't that the point of the poppy?

Expecting the people of Britain and Ireland to mark the deaths in Aleppo is as ludicrous as expecting the people of Aleppo to commemorate the Somme, or any of the other charnel houses of Western Europe.

Every country has its own history and every country's history is grim. But it is their history and they should be allowed to mark solemn events in whatever way they see fit without feeling morally blackmailed into shoehorning every global war into the mix.

But, much as it pains me to admit, I also agree with Fisk about the ridiculous ubiquity of the poppy on TV.

Channel 4's Jon Snow was the most high-profile presenter to buck the poppy trend and he received absolute dog's abuse for his decision. Apparently, he hated the UK. He was a traitor. He was showing contempt for the people who gave up their lives so he could be a selfish Lefty Quisling.

Frankly, the hysteria around Snow became so bonkers I was waiting for people to demand he show his birth cert to prove he wasn't a Muslim sleeper agent.

The problem with the poppy is that it means different things to different people.

The people I know who wear one (I have a shamrock poppy but I don't really want to wear it now, in case it looks like I'm taking fashion tips from Leo) are predominantly working-class Dubs who come from areas which supplied a large portion of the 200,000 Irish people who fought in the Great War - and there's not a West Brit amongst them.

They don't get annoyed when someone doesn't wear one because they are adults who understand that individuals have to make their own choices.

That's why we should all have such admiration for James McLean - regardless of whether you agree with his decision. Every year he receives death threats off the pitch and coins thrown at him when on it. He regularly tops polls of the most hated footballers in England as a result, but he's not going to change his stance anytime soon and should be applauded for his honourable defiance.

The poppy comes with plenty of excess baggage in the North, and no reasonable person should condemn someone from Derry choosing not to wear it.

Most of those who don't wear one make that choice because they simply don't really care and that is perfectly fine - in a free society you have the right to pick and choose what you care about and nobody has the right to demand otherwise.

This is where the hardliners get it so wrong. Both camps don't just think they are right, they also feel morally superior to the opposing side and that's why opinions aren't easily swayed.

Today is Armistice Day, and I will wear my poppy. But it's none of my business what other people do.

It really is that simple - wear it with pride if you want, or don't wear it at all. But don't let the bullies make that choice for you.

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