Wednesday 12 December 2018

Wrong time and place to display Army hardware

Putting military images on the big screen at Croke Park is just not suitable for a family audience, writes Jennifer Whitmore

DEFENCE FORCES: Irish Army Rangers in training
DEFENCE FORCES: Irish Army Rangers in training

Jennifer Whitmore

My husband brought three of our children to watch the Galway vs Clare hurling match last weekend in Croke Park.

It was my young daughter's first time in the national stadium, and she was understandably excited.

But her introduction to our national game was marred by a promotional video shown on the large screen as part of a half-time tribute to mark the 60th anniversary of our army's peacekeeping efforts. My daughter came away from the game perplexed, sad and "a bit scared".

This tribute itself was well placed - it is only right that we acknowledge and applaud the important contribution of Irish troops to peacekeeping efforts globally.

It was with justifiable pride then that, as part of the interval programme, defence forces personnel carried our county flags on to the pitch while the Army Band played.

However, one of the videos that was played a number of times on the big screens as part of the celebration struck a chord that was at odds with the occasion - and was, in my opinion, unsuitable for younger members of the audience.

This was a slick homage to the Army Ranger Wing - a polished production accompanied by surging rock music and an ominous voiceover in Irish. The video seemed to take its slow-motion production values from the more jingoistic sort of Hollywood action film. It opened with a shot of an army Jeep driving through what looks like the Curragh, before proceeding to close-up shots of guns being loaded, a knife being sheathed, and masked soldiers with laser precision weapons stalking woodlands, battering down doors and firing grenades. It ended with a recruitment message to join the team.

The camera lingered over gleaming military hardware with an admiring gaze. I'm not sure what this glossy 'Call of Duty'-style production intended to achieve at a GAA match.

How did my children react to the video? Well, my boys, aged 10 and 11, thought it was really cool. My seven-year-old daughter said it made her a bit scared and sad because of all the guns. When I objected to the video on Twitter over the weekend, my comments were met with responses claiming that I was being disloyal to our defence forces, and that my 'middle-class whine' failed to recognise all the sacrifices that these men and women make for country.

For my objections, I was portrayed as being disrespectful to our military.

Those responses have a worryingly transatlantic, militaristic tinge to them. They also missed the point entirely.

Our men and women of the defence forces have a well-deserved reputation for being professional soldiers and peacekeepers - and as a nation we owe them the highest respect.

I have no problem with the fact that the Defence Forces run recruitment ads. I understand that soldiers must prepare for wars, and if necessary fight them, and that the use of weapons, and sometimes even deadly violence, is a part of their job.

My real issue is with the GAA and the type of content it has allowed to be shown on its big screen at Croke Park.

The content of this video is not suitable viewing for young boys and girls - it's the sort of stuff that in a cinema could come with a minimum of a PG warning.

And yet, the GAA allowed it to play out, loudly and repeatedly, and with gunshots ringing throughout the stadium. At a family sporting day-out, this was definitely a case of the wrong time and place.

Stick to sports, GAA, and let parents and children enjoy the matches without being fearful of what be shown at half-time.

Councillor Jennifer Whitmore is the Social Democrats Dail candidate for Wicklow

Sunday Independent

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