Only in Belfast.
One of the great tourist attractions in the City over the past few years is Crumlin Road Prison.
Genuinely historic of course and more so because of the Troubles. Indeed it is iconic in “Republican” history. Tom Williams was hanged here in the 1940s and his body only re-patriated to the Republican Plot in Milltown Cemetry in West Belfast a few years ago.
Ironically it faces on to the heartland of Protestantism in the Lower Crumlin and Lower Shankill. A tunnel under the Crumlin Road linked the prison to the Courthouse.
But it has become an unlikely visitor attraction. Especially for the Republican/Catholic community who identify with the privations there much more than the Unionist/Protestant community for whom it was a symbol of (their) Law and (their) Order.
Of course as well as being of political significance, it was also home to non-political killers, car thieves, wife-beaters, drunks and fraudsters.
I cant say I see the fascination except as a place of pilgrimage…and that actually points up the DUP attitude to The Maze-Long Kesh site becoming a “shrine to terrorism”
Yesterday, Crumlin Road Prison got Visitor #100,000….and his wife. An elderly couple from (I think) County Offaly in the Republic.
And there to mark the occasion was Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Norn Iron. And Jennifer McCann, the Sinn Fein MLA who is Junior Minister to Martin McGuinness.
And the Stormont Press Officers, who have arranged the photo opportunity, hand over bouquets of flowers to Robbo and Jenny, who hand them over to Mr and Mrs Visitor.
All very predictable.
But this is Norn Iron. The Press is there and they get to do interviews with Robbo and Jenny, while nervy advisors stand around.
See….Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Norn Iron has been here before. More than once. He was committed to prison for an illegal demonstration or whatever…and would not pay the fine. A big act of principle no doubt. Unfortunately he had forgotten that he had his wallet with him and the court officials simply took the money he owed out of the wallet…as Peter said, he did not make that mistake the second and third time. All very amusing but not easy to see Peter Robinson as Nelson Mandela.
And then it was the turn of Jennifer McCann MLA for West Belfast. She too had briefly been an inmate. …in the holding cells and taken thru the tunnel under the Crumlin Road for her Court appearances.
A reasonable journalist might have wanted to know more. But alas the Norn Iron journalists are on-message and dont want to be black-listed by the Stormont Press Officers.
But just to set the record straight…Jennifer McCann was found guilty at her trial and sentenced to twenty years….for shooting a policeman.
I dont suppose Mr & Mrs Visitor were given this information about the woman handing over the bouquet, when the Press Officers set up the photo-opportunity. And more than likely, they would have been unconcerned. It might even have added a sense of occasion.
Let me make it clear, I am not in any way bothered by Jenny’s conviction. She was elected…democratically in West Belfast in 2007 …the same election at which I was (still) giving my #1 vote to her Sinn Fein colleague in another constituency.
If I lived in West Belfast in 2007, more than likely Jenny would have got a vote from me.
What niggles me is that I am old enough to know her history.
And that increasingly new voters…probably anyone under thirty years of age dont know this kinda stuff.
Of course, you may legitimately say that it is no longer relevant.
And I can legitimately say that History is always relevant.
Surely we can all say that there are vested interests here…DUP and Sinn Fein, allegedly enemies! who conspire with each other and the Press and indeed the Irish and British Governments to ensure nobody ever points this kinda thing out to the Public.
Our feel-good narrative is all that matters.
And their jobs, of course.