The tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement has led to acres of self-congratulatory newsprint all over the world. The underlying story being peddled is that Northern Ireland has miraculously become a tolerant, caring, sharing place, where former enemies have patched up their tribal quarrels and resolved to work in peace for the good of all.
This is, of course, simply not true. Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided place, where levels of bigotry and intolerance unknown in the civilised world are so commonplace as to pass almost without comment.
One little instance did not entirely pass with out comment, though. The Newsletter on 9 April printed this gem of naked bigotry:
"A meeting of North Down Borough Council’s Corporate Committee turned sour last month when DUP councillor John Montgomery offered up a tub of the dairy product for examination.
He blasted the retailer for branding it ‘Irish whipping cream’ produced in ‘Irish pastures’, when a closer inspection of information on the back showed it was churned out in Northern Ireland.
His proposal to write to the company to complain was passed by two votes at a town hall council meeting a fortnight ago – stirring up a backlash from ratepayers and opposing councillors.
Mr Montgomery told the News Letter yesterday: “I was in Marks and Spencer last month looking for some cream, and was in a rush, so I had no alternative but to pick up what was labelled ‘Irish cream’.
“But when I got it home, I read it was produced in Northern Ireland, and I feel it’s a shame Northern Irish produce is not getting its full recognition.”
Mr Montgomery added this was simply a case of promoting the work of Northern Ireland farmers for the good of the Province’s economy.
However, many of his council colleagues poured derision on his motion to write to the store, branding it a “silly” waste of time.
Independent Unionist Alan Chambers was said to have suggested that Mr Montgomery submit a personal complaint to Trading Standards instead of involving the whole council.
DUP alderman Leslie Cree abstained from the vote and said he found the debate “puerile”.
Alliance councillor Tony Hill added: “[Mr Montgomery] is from the DUP, so by criticising the fact that it said ‘Irish’ and not ‘Northern Irish’ on the cream, it’s quite obvious what the intention is.
“It was discussed by Alliance councillors and we felt it was a ridiculous matter to raise, and far too minor for council when we have more important things to discuss.”
Defending himself, Mr Montgomery said yesterday: “This affects the livelihoods of producers in Northern Ireland, and anything that affects them impacts on the country. It’s not a waste of time.”
Marks and Spencer were yesterday unavailable for comment."
In a nutshell, Mr Montgomery is telling us that he "had no alternative" but to buy "Irish" cream as he was in a hurry – the implication being that his normal instinct is to boycott any "Irish" products. He attempted to justify this by claiming that he would prefer that Northern Irish products should be promoted. Yet the cream was a northern Irish product, so what was his problem? Is he assuming that, like him, other unionist bigots would not buy something that they think comes from the south? Does he waste Council time railing against products imported from England or Scotland? If not, why not?
It seems also that he is angry that anything produced in Northern Ireland is described as "Irish" (He should be very upset with the largely Protestant linen industry who have always marketed their products as 'Irish linen').
And thirdly, he is prepared to waste ratepayers money on his bigoted campaign. Shame on North Down Council that they supported him, but congratulations are due to unionists Alan Chambers and Leslie Cree for not supporting him.
This blog awards its Bigot of the Week Award to John Montgomery.