Editorial 31.1.04

Those involved in the vigorous lobby to stymie British Foreign Office efforts to have the Iranian authorities rename Bobby Sands Street in Teheran deserve enthusiatic support.

Devious as ever, the Brit diplomats have been trying to persuade the Iranians that Bobby Sands Street, on which Her Majesty’s embassy stands, must go if the Mullahs want to lose the ‘axis of evil’ tag. Already, the Iranians — who are, admittedly, no advertisement for democratic government — have made overtures to their Arab neighbours by renaming a thoroughfare provocatively named after the assassin of Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat.

However, there can be no attempt to link the two street namings. Bobby Sands is a legendary icon of liberation and justice whose fame stems from the fact that he gave his own life for his cause rather than take the life of another.

That’s why streets in his honour can be found from Cuba to Italy, and from France to America. In fact, the only place where you won’t find a street named after Bobby Sands is in his native Belfast.

True, some local communities have banded together to give his name to their local street but while Belfast officially boasts a Queen Street and a King Street, a Windsor House and a Churchill House, a Royal Victoria Hospital and a King’s Hall, we have no Bobby Sands bridge, building or boreen. It’s time that changed.

Those who claim that unionist culture and heritage isn’t getting a fair crack of the whip should try to travel from one side of our city to the other without going down a road or street which isn’t named after a British or unionist warmonger. We suspect that, starting from Royal Avenue, they won’t get as far as Queen’s University unless they avoid Great Victoria Street. And yet, Belfast remains a Pearse and Connolly-free zone.

It’s not so much that the heroes of Irish history are relegated to second-class citizenship but that they don’t figure at all, even when the smallest cul-de-sac or slip road is to be named.

Over recent years, great work has been done in forcing Belfast City Council to erect impressive bilingual street signs across nationalist Belfast. Though Council guidelines still make it unnecessarily difficult to get enough signatures to ensure bilingual signs go up, proud communities are winning the right to have their Irish identity recognised. Fair play to them.

But there should also be a concerted campaign to have the nationalist experience reflected in the names of the streets we walk and the buildings we use. There are very real hopes that the Conway Mill, that great symbol of nationalist endurance, is shortly to get a multi-million pounds funding package. When it rises in all its splendour, shouldn’t the new Conway Mill and the street on which it rests take on the proud name of Bobby Sands?

The narrow-minded US authorities responsible for holding former West Belfast man Ciarán Ferry in jail for the past year are making a mockery of the American war on terror.

They are also undermining repeated claims by the American administration to be four-square behind the peace process.

For one-time political prisoner Ciarán Ferry is no more a threat to US security than a jar of peanut butter. In fact he exemplifies the ‘huddled masses’ who have traditionally fled discrimination and harassment in this part of the world in order to better themselves in the US.

In his adopted city of Denver, Colorado, where he settled with American wife Heaven and daughter Fiona, he proved himself a model citizen.

Until that is, the Homeland Security goons decided he was too dangerous to be on the streets. In the intervening year, not one shred of evidence has been produced to show that Ciarán is a threat to society. In fact, the testimonies which have been made on his behalf by political and business leaders in the US portray him as a hardworking family man who deserves to be given back his freedom now.

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