JUST once, unionism should be allowed first dibs when it comes to claiming historical heroes. Forever forced into being in reactive opposition to republicans, they invariably end up associated with the dregs of history.
Take this week's unveiling of the statue of legendary 19th century anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass in Belfast: the event on Monday turned out to be a Sinn Féin-only occasion, with not one unionist politician in attendance – stunning, when you consider Douglass is a figure revered world-wide as a warrior for social justice.
I'm not going to regurgitate Douglass's amazing life story: suffice to say, having been born into slavery, he escaped to become a renowned writer and statesman, who travelled the world in his quest to end slavery.
It's therefore fitting that Belfast hosts the first statue of him in Europe, given that he visited the city twice in 1845 and 1846, writing: "Wherever else I feel myself to be a stranger, I will always know I have a home in Belfast".
I'd suggest that the ill-informed minority within the PUL community put away their Confederate flags as, historically, they've an equally valid claim to Douglass and his campaign to end slavery. It's no accident his statue is situated beside Rosemary Street First Presbyterian Church, as that was the congregation who welcomed him, and it was from there he delivered his speeches.
How welcoming we are to today's immigrants remains a matter of contention. Proof of this was the comment by Tukura Makoni – policy officer for the African Caribbean Support Organisation in Northern Ireland – that nobody in power had bothered to contact his organisation about the erection of the Douglass statue, indicating we still have some way to go before claiming real inclusivity.
Sadly, the work of Frederick Douglass remains ongoing, with the UN estimating last year that up to 50 million people still lived in modern slavery. Eighty percent of forced labour cases are found in the private sector, with forced sexual exploitation representing 23 per cent, and almost four out of five victims being female.
And this isn't happening in far-flung places, but quite possibly in an ordinary-looking house at the bottom of your street: 27 brothels in 11 locations across the north were raided by the PSNI's Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit in November 2022.
The women involved are most often foreign and trafficked here to be exploited by crime gangs who take their passports and deny them access to even the most basic health services, fearful of their activities being discovered by the authorities.
Often overlooked is the fact this disgraceful business wouldn't be possible but for the men who visit the brothels. I wonder how those men would feel if it was their sisters or daughters who were being abused?
LAST Saturday, Belfast Pride attracted thousands of members of the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters.
As always, it was the one 'march' during the year where all were welcome, and it passed off without incident apart from one very nasty instance where a hate preacher screamed abuse at the passing parade.
What made the situation worse was the sight of PSNI officers standing around, appearing to protect him. I suspect this wasn't the reality: rather, it was yet another example of the dysfunction within our police force, where ordinary officers are paralysed from acting, fearful of making a mistake as they know they'll be hung out to dry by their spineless superiors.
The individual concerned has been guilty of vomiting his bile on Belfast's streets for many years. When my wife saw the clip of him on the news, she realised he was the same man she'd come across while on a shopping trip, verbally abusing young people in central Belfast.
On that occasion, she temporarily disabled his speaker by pulling out his power cable whilst walking past. I can't express how proud I felt of her, as this was completely out of character, and would have taken real courage on her part.
Hopefully, Belfast City Council will follow her example and enact long overdue promises to deny such idiots any electronic amplification, limiting them solely to their bilious vocal cords.
Having denounced the actions of the hate preacher on my YouTube channel, I had the expected backlash from self-professed 'good Christians', certain I was in the pay of Satan and heading for hell.
What they seem incapable of understanding is such a fate holds no fear for me: what would truly terrify me is the thought of being forced to spend eternity with them.