English Premier soccer clubs include the Remembrance Poppy on their home and away jerseys at this time of the year to commemorate the war dead of the British and Commonwealth armies. Stoke City’s James McClean is a native of Derry. For him, commemorating an army that has caused mayhem in his home city is a step too far. He has been consistent in refusing to wear a poppy since playing in the Premiership. It has caused him immense personal pain, and he suffers verbal abuse and has projectiles thrown at him on pitch.
In a statement he said: “If the poppy was simply about World War I and II victims alone, I’d wear it without a problem. I would wear it every day of the year if that was the thing but it doesn’t, it stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in. Because of the history where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that.”
The Royal British Legion supplies the Remembrance Poppy. It is a charity that provides ‘financial, social and emotional support to members and veterans of the British Armed Forces, their families and dependants’.
Some people refuse to wear a poppy because they detest war and will not glorify it by wearing a poppy. The funds raised by the poppy campaign are used to support current British army personnel, most of whom have not been engaged in either World War. Refusing to wear the poppy does not show any disrespect for the hundreds of thousands who laid down their lives, including thousands of Irish, during World Wars I and II.
What about commemorating civilians killed in wars? We should especially honour those who fall into that great wartime euphemism – collateral damage. Why not remember the millions of innocent people who have been blown to bits by armies around the world? Instead we glorify wars.
Some British Army veterans have been critical of the Poppy Appeal saying it has become ‘excessive’ and used to ‘marshal military support for British military campaigns’. They have also been critical over the pressure that public figures come under to wear a poppy. BBC employees are instructed to wear poppies, with studio guests also encouraged to wear them.
So what about being a conscientious objector? Does it matter? Should it be respected? Is soccer vilification acceptable? Is political vilification acceptable? Where is the line of demarcation between doing what is ‘expected’ and doing what is acceptable to one’s conscience?
Liadh Ní Riada, Sinn Féin’s candidate in the recent presidential election, said she would wear a poppy as President of Ireland. Apart from the fact that the office does not lend itself to such an action, it raises serious questions about who knows what’s going on in Sinn Féin.
Offaly TD Carol Nolan left Sinn Féin over its abortion policy. The party does not seem to harbour conscientious objectors, despite embracing Republicanism. The same party is using party policy to suspend Peadar Ó Tóibín TD (Meath West) from the party for six months because he did not support abortion legislation. If there is an election in the meantime, another candidate will stand for the party, and Mr Ó Tóibín will be permanently expelled if he stands as an Independent.
“My instinct on this has been that it’s possible for people who have different views on this particular issue to coexist and to work together on many other issues. We’re not there yet obviously within Sinn Féin; whether we achieve that in the future I don’t know. My objective is to find out if that can be achieved,” he said.
The Government is saying to doctors and hospital personnel that they have no choice when it comes to implementing abortion services. There is no room here either for conscientious objectors. How many saw coverage of the 800-plus doctors and healthcare professionals who protested recently against this issue outside the Dáil? It didn’t receive much media attention.
Is this the kind of society that we now live in? Where the great word ‘choice’ can only be exercised if it suits a certain agenda? We live in a republic yet silence certain sections of society to suit our purpose.