By Suzanne Breen (for the Irish Independent)
Sectarianism met misogyny on the outskirts of an east Belfast Orange hall last weekend, and what unfolded far surpassed the worst stereotype some regularly complain their opponents foist upon them.
A group of loyalists decided that a fitting way to celebrate Northern Ireland’s centenary was to glorify the strangulation of a young Catholic woman.
There was nothing about Michaela McAreavey or her murder which could in any way even begin to explain, let alone mitigate, this.
She was not a public or political figure. Nothing she ever said or did was controversial.
She was never hateful or unkind towards any individual or community. She was everything that those who sang about her clearly are not.
She did not even die in Northern Ireland. She was killed in Mauritius when she disturbed intruders who had broken into her hotel room.
That some loyalist reckoned this was good material for a song, and then penned one, is beyond me. That others learned the words and sang them with glee and gusto is almost incomprehensible.
There is clapping and cheering, fist pumping and table banging as the words are sung. Indeed, some bang so vehemently that the beer cans bounce on the tables.
This is not a bonfire on the Eleventh Night with people coming and going in the dark streets where it’s all a bit of a jumble.
This is a brightly lit hall in Dundonald with tables and chairs.
There are Orange Order banners leaning against the walls. Many of those present are wearing shirts and ties.
There has been unreserved condemnation from unionist politicians across the board. They cannot be faulted in their response.
Linfield Football Club has also taken swift action, removing John Bell as a coach.
The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has branded the video “utterly abhorrent”.
It said the behaviour of those involved has “no place in our society and certainly do not reflect the ethos of our organisation”.
Launching an inquiry into the incident, it said that if any members were involved they would be disciplined.
But there are key questions for the institution to publicly answer. Nobody in the room is seen to intervene during the singing.
Did anybody speak to the men about their behaviour afterwards and reprimand them? Were they asked to leave the premises? If not, why not?
Surely those belonging to an organisation committed to temperance, scriptural studiousness and brotherly love would step in when they witnessed the way the event was progressing?
Two of the men involved, Andrew McDade and John Bell, issued a statement on Friday apologising for their “offensive, vile and wholly abhorrent chant” after the video went viral.
They spoke of their “deep shame and regret”.
The nouns and adjectives used were the right ones, but for me it was all self-serving bull***t.
“This incident is not reflective of who we are as people,” they said.
That’s odd because McDade’s Facebook bio read: “What you see is what you get”.
Days after the video was recorded, there was no sign of any shame, sorrow or regret when the men wrote about the event on social media.
McDade was furious, but it wasn’t with himself.
“Pure bouncing at UTV 18:00 news, not even a mention about the Centenary Parade on Saturday at Stormont, pure tramps,” he posted.
In their statement, the men said the Facebook live video “was not streamed with the intention of broadcasting any offensive chants whatsoever, rather it was generally broadcasting from the room”.
That sounded to me, first and foremost, as a carefully worded defence against potential legal action.
Their letter of apology to the Harte and McAreavey families isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
After a mask-slipping event, this is a face-saving exercise.
Of course, nobody is perfect. People make all sorts of mistakes in life. But this wasn’t somebody shouting, ‘F**k the Queen’ or ‘F**k the Pope’; yelling ‘Up the Ra’ or ‘Up the UVF’; or singing a republican or loyalist song.
It was middle-aged men mocking the murder by other men of a young, honeymooning bride who never harmed a soul in her life.
The barrel was well and truly scraped by the misogynistic, sectarian cretins who danced on a young woman’s grave last weekend as they celebrated the foundation of the state.