AIMING FOR THE TOP Edwin Poots announcing his intention to put himself forward as a potential successor to current DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster, who will soon step down from both roles. Pic: Twitter/@edwinpootsMLA
On The Edge
DURING this decade of centenaries isn’t it hard to comprehend how six counties of our lovely island are engulfed still with sectarian division? Ironically, the latest battle lines to be drawn are within the Democratic Unionist Party: a party whose tribalism has ensured the continuance of extremist views. (Unfortunately, these views are more often than not held in the most deprived areas of northern Ireland, in a mirror image to nationalist and republican extremism.)
This is now compounded by the potential rise of Northern Assembly’s Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots, an outspoken creationist. He has put his name forward for election as leader of the DUP in the aftermath of the heave against Arlene Foster.
Even though On the Edge is a graduate of that great bastion of Irish Catholicism, now called NUI Maynooth, the notion of believing that the world was created on a Sunday 4,000 years ago is an imaginary bridge too far. That is, notwithstanding the fact my philosophy degree introduced me to Aristotle’s theory of ‘a first unmoved mover’. Unfortunately, the rather appealing notion of a benevolent grandfather with a big beard sitting on a fluffy cumulonimbus no longer cuts mustard with this ageing agnostic.
Of course, no more than here in the south, Northern Ireland is framed around democratic principles and purports to be a pluralist society. Unfortunately though, the deep division caused by plantations and partition have fostered fundamentalist tendencies that permeate many aspects of its culture, blurring the lines of its political and religious discourse.
Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole last week described it succinctly in his article, ‘Earth calling Edwin Poots – we have a problem’: “As a religious believer, Edwin Poots is entitled to his own faith. As a prospective first minister of Northern Ireland, he is not entitled to his own facts.”
O’Toole was referring to a BBC radio interview in 2007, when William Crawley (Sunday Sequence) asked Poots, “How old is the earth?”, and he replied: “My view on the earth is that it’s a young earth. My view is 4000 BC.”
So, if that is the case, it all started around the beginning of the period when those famous early farmers were about to cultivate the fields around Belderrig, in northwest Mayo. Or, indeed, when the Corn King was ritually sacrificed on the side of Croagh Patrick (then called Cruachán Aigle) in thanks to the panoply of deities for that year’s harvest.
Using a really simple example in his article to illustrate the fundamentals of Poots’s beliefs, Fintan O’Toole writes: “On a bend in the Shannon in Co Limerick, there is a graveyard with three burials. One of them has been dated by radiocarbon analysis to 7530-7320 BC; another to 7090-7030 BC; the third to 6610-6370 BC.”
However, he argues, if you happen to be Mr Poots, the above scientifically proven radiocarbon dating is fake news, an ‘elaborate hoax’.
FRANKLY, it is way too easy to caricature and ridicule bizarre beliefs. Much of our national media narrative these days is post-religious and more often than not scoffs smugly at these type of believers.
However, as O’Toole rightly argues: “This is not about intolerance of religious beliefs. It is about the need to recognise that discourse in a democracy has to be based on rationality and respect for evidence.”
Even the late Reverend Ian Paisley – a hero of Mr Poots – realised after years of spewing out hellfire and brimstone, that some scintilla of progressive and pragmatic policies was needed to create a sustainable future for the people of Northern Ireland. Why else did he make that leap of faith with his former enemy, the late Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness? Ultimately, the unlikely union of the Chuckle Brothers gave us all some hope.
With the ongoing fallout from Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol, this is most certainly not a time for regressive thinking.