Michael Pattwell: No offence... but sorry seems to be the easiest word nowadays

In the name of all that is good and holy, have people anything else on their minds or anything better to do? So asks Michael Pattwell in his weekly column, as he reflects on recent complaints submitted to the ASAI
Michael Pattwell: No offence... but sorry seems to be the easiest word nowadays

APOLOGY REQUIRED? Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) does his Adolf Hitler impression in ‘The Germans’ episode of Fawlty Towers.

THE Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) received six complaints in relation to an advert that Paddy Power, the bookmakers, published.

It was considered to be racist, offensive, anti-English in sentiment, stirring up anti-English feelings, and both highly insensitive and bigoted towards English people.

Complaints included that the content was confusing, inciting to violence, inflammatory, harmful and hostile and bordering on incitement to hatred of all things English.

Complainants also considered the advertisement to be unhelpful in the context of Brexit.

In the context of an Ireland versus England Six Nations rugby game, the advert read: “Dear England, sorry for the last two years of pain, suffering and humiliation. Another 798 years and we’ll be even. Paddy Power.”

In the name of all that is good and holy, have people anything else on their minds or anything better to do?

The advert was, for me anyway, both clever and funny. Have we become so sensitive that we have to examine every single thing under a microscope in case there is the slightest chance that it might offend somebody?

Paddy Power said it was never their intention to cause offence with the advertisement and expressed its regrets “for any offence caused to the complainants in this instance”.

They went on to say that they “did not believe that offence was a rational response to the advertisement” and that it was created as a satirical joke in the lead-up to the game.

A more serious question arises, however. Does this mean that we can never again refer to the 800 year occupation of our country in case it might offend an Anglophile? Must history be revised to the extent that we have to bury the truth?

Could this sort of thinking be behind the proposal (thankfully, it seems, unsuccessful) that history, as a school subject, should no longer be a core subject in the Junior Cycle in secondary schools?

Education Minister, Joe McHugh, is now reported to be pushing ahead with moves for History to be given special status on the Junior Cycle curriculum. This means students will be obliged to study it.

History is really about learning about ourselves. If the decision by the ASAI is to be followed to its logical conclusion, it would mean that we should forget about Parnell and Isaac Butt and their work towards achieving Home Rule; we should forget about the 1913 Lock-out; the 210,000 Irish men and women in the British forces — and more in other allied armies — who participated in World War I; the 1916 Rising, votes for women; the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Should we never again refer to the Soloheadbeg ambush, regarded as the first action in the War of Independence, in case we insult any descendants that might exist of the two misfortunate RIC men that were killed?

As we are within one year of remembering the 100th anniversary of the Kilmichael Ambush (Last Thursday, November 28, was the 99th anniversary) should it be washed out of our history? Seventeen RIC Auxiliaries died in the engagement and there must be descendants of those men somewhere who might be offended if we are seen to “celebrate” the event.

I wonder what would the ASAI rule if a complaint were made about the The Germans, the sixth episode in the TV comedy series Fawlty Towers. It is remembered for its line “Don’t mention the war” and featured John Cleese doing a goose-stepping walk when he is impersonating Hitler and the Nazies. I wouldn’t give it a snow-ball’s chance in Hell.

Has political correctness (PC) gone mad or, as one newspaper columnist put it, are we just a little nicer and just a little kinder? I’m inclined towards the former.

Some of the consequences of ‘political correctness’ are interesting.

1. The BBC has dropped the use of the terms Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD) on one of its programmes and decided that the terms ‘Before Common Era’ / ‘Common Era’ are more appropriate.

2. The European Parliament introduced proposals to outlaw marital titles such as ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ so as not to cause offence. It follows that other language versions of them would be banned too.

3. In several organisations, any terms using the word ‘man’ as a prefix or suffix have been ruled as not being politically correct. ‘Manhole’ is now referred to as a ‘utility’ or ‘maintenance’ hole.

4. Comic book rogue Dennis the Menace has been given a politically correct make over. Gone are his bombs, catapult, water pistol and peashooter — and in their place is a simple boyish grin.

5. Spotted Dick — a common dessert — has been renamed to avoid embarrassment. It is now called Spotted Richard, after UK council bosses feared the original name might cause offence.

6. A school in Seattle renamed its Easter eggs ‘spring spheres’ to avoid causing offence to people who did not celebrate Easter.

7. A UK council has banned the term ‘brainstorming’ — and replaced it with ‘thought showers’, as local lawmakers thought the term might offend epileptics.

8. A UK recruiter was stunned when her job advert for ‘reliable’ and ‘hard-working’ applicants was rejected by the job centre because it could be offensive to unreliable and lazy people.

9. In 2007, Santa Clauses in Sydney, Australia, were banned from saying ‘Ho Ho Ho’. Their employer, the recruitment firm Westaff (that supplies hundreds of Santas across Australia), allegedly told all trainees that ‘Ho Ho Ho’ could frighten children, and be derogatory to women. Why ? Because ‘Ho Ho Ho’ is, it appears, too close to the American slang for prostitute.

10. Some U.S schools now have a ‘holiday tree’ every at Christmas, rather than a Christmas tree. That one reminds me of the story that somebody once complained that; “The churches are getting into the Christmas lark now”.

Have you noticed that demands for ‘apologies’ are flying around now like confetti at a wedding (I almost said “snuff at a wake” until I realised that that practice no longer exists. I think wakes are non-existent now too — it is “lying in state” or “reposing” now.)

Foremost amongst the ‘apologisers’ must be our Taoiseach. This year alone he has apologised over;.

1. Comments he made concerning conditions at the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford.

2. For the “humiliation, the disrespect and deceit” shown to the women and family affected by the Cervical Check controversy.

3. For the “litany of failures” in how cervical screening in Ireland operated over many years.

4. For his comments to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin where he likened him to a sinning Catholic priest. He said: “I offended people who I never intended to offend. I want to apologise for that and withdraw it.”

5. He is also on record as having apologised on behalf of the State to people who were sexually abused in day schools before 1992.

6. For the State’s delay in acknowledging that it had a responsibility to protect the children who were abused.

Perhaps next in line is the Minister for Health, who has apologised to the Dáil for an answer he gave to the House on September 18, 2018, about the National Children’s Hospital project. In February, 2019, the minister apologised for not being fully forthright in keeping the Dáil up to date on the cost of the project.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One on the morning following Leo Varadkar’s apology to the victims of the Cervical Check scandal in the Dáil, Minister Harris also apologised for being unable to reassure women with concerns about the cervical cancer screening scandal.

“It’s been a very, very painful time for so many people, but people have been really, really hurt. Women were looking to me and others for reassurance that quite frankly we weren’t in a position to give them and for that, I am very sorry,” he said.

In January, 2018, the Health Minister apologised to the hundreds of patients waiting on trolleys that week.

By-election candidates in recent weeks have had to offer several apologies too. Verona Murphy, Fine Gael candidate in Wexford, has issued a number of apologies over remarks she made about asylum seekers, as more comments she made about refugees were reported.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme she had linked asylum seekers to ISIS and called for them to be “deprogrammed”.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Fianna Fáil candidate, found herself in the wars over comments about travellers too.

Hardly a day passes now without an ‘apology’ of some sort from one or other of our politicians featuring in a news item.

We elect them to help solve our problems and it seems to me that these apologies are nothing more than an admission of failure. It is not good enough.

Contact Michael at pattwellsverdict@eircom.net)

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