Cahair O'Kane: Newry plane stunt the lowest of the low

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair is a sports reporter and columnist with the Irish News specialising in Gaelic Games.

Down secretary Sean Óg McAteer was visibly upset on the line on Sunday as someone pulled a stunt that was the lowest of the low. Picture: Sportsfile
Down secretary Sean Óg McAteer was visibly upset on the line on Sunday as someone pulled a stunt that was the lowest of the low. Picture: Sportsfile Down secretary Sean Óg McAteer was visibly upset on the line on Sunday as someone pulled a stunt that was the lowest of the low. Picture: Sportsfile

FOR about five seconds after he’d ensured Henry Hoover was about to get the workout of its life at The Crucible, the Just Stop Oil guy sat up on the table like a stoat unsure of quite what he was supposed to do next.

It took the security guards time to react. So with his powder emptied and no other armoury at hand, he just stayed put, the printed £4 Primark Essentials t-shirt getting a good airing to the world amid what looked like a failed gender reveal for an impending arrival.

Behind Cilla Black’s old Blind Date screen, which they’ll be glad to see has been recycled, his female co-conspirator was met by a firm waist-high tackle from the match referee that prevented her from doing the same.

The snooker, like. Seriously? This sleepy Sunday evening of sports, helping old people nod off to the sight and sound of a gently caressed cueball since 1985?

Beamed to living rooms for two weeks a year and forgotten for the next fifty, it is the most harmless thing known to man.

You can miss eight hours of it and miss nothing all at once.

Nobody protests at the snooker.

But these oil protestors have something to say and you’re going to hear it.

We ought not to trivialise the impending end of the world quite so much. There’s just so many crises in the world that it’s really quite difficult to know which ones to choose when setting your moral compass.

Should we care more about the horses, for instance?

My favourite of the 118 people arrested at Aintree for delaying the Grand National was the woman gripping the fence tightly in her floral ankle-length dress having clearly forgotten the dress code.

They have a point. Horse racing can be cruel on the animals.

It is through noise and protest that they stopped jockeys battering the horses with whips.

A study in 2020 by Professor Paul McGreevy of the University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science found that a horse would feel as much pain as a human when it was whipped.

If somebody was lashing me with one of those yokes every time I momentarily slacked off in the course of a normal working day, the legs sure would be sore. Would it increase the appetite for doing what I wasn’t doing to earn the slap in the first place? Unlikely.

Horses die all the time on the racecourse. 178 of them in the UK last year. It’s a huge industry that has a great back-scratching relationship with gambling. Together they won’t be easily torn down.

Radio shows have been falling over themselves to get the jockey and the animal welfare activist on together and have it out.

The racing folk have tried to turn it on the protestors, reapportioning blame to them for their actions seemingly causing an increase in the number of fallers – and subsequently deaths – at the first two fences.

Their internal scripts appear to have been widely disseminated.

The activists want to ban the sport.

Jockeys and owners and trainers want to know what happens the 50,000 horses involved in the industry when they ban it, to which there hasn’t yet been an answer.

Yet the discussion is live, as it should be. Without noise and protest, the adjustments that have been made wouldn’t have been.

In everyday life, people here have become very stoic and accepting of things just being the way they are.

Encouraged by this, the British government, historically so good at things like truth, reconciliation and justice, now want to ban the right to protest as well.

More power to the teachers walking out tomorrow, and the nurses and doctors and train drivers and anyone else that has done the same.

It is disruptive to other people’s lives but it gets to the point where you have no other choice.

Plus, what would the Daily Mail do for a front page if some low-paid malcontent wasn’t making life difficult for their millionaire friends by walking out on the job?

The GAA is a democracy of sorts and within that, the right to protest has to be built-in.

Never was it more effective and visible than when the Offaly fans sat on the field in Croke Park 25 years ago. Had they taken their discontent sheepishly out through the turnstiles that day, Clare would almost certainly have been given the game and Offaly’s collection would be an All-Ireland short.

If things are wrong, there are ways and means to say that they’re wrong.

Without the ability to do that, democracy itself ceases to exist.

What is not ok is the cretinous action of whoever flew a plane overhead in Newry during Down’s game with Donegal on Sunday.

The streamer tied to it called for the removal of Sean Óg McAteer as Down county secretary and made a very unflattering reference to go with it.

It was the absolute lowest of the low.

An anonymous but long-running social media account had posted in the run-up to the game about how it would happen but nobody took it seriously.

Whether the individual behind that account is responsible isn’t crystal clear, but it’s at least very coincidental that the wording of their posts before the game lined up with the message carried by the plane on the day.

It was an inhumane act of cruelty.

I wasn’t in Newry on Sunday and wasn’t aware of it until a couple of hours after the game had finished.

Nobody is revising history to pretend that everything in Down has been perfect the last few years. There have been issues.

But nothing within a million miles of justifying what happened on Sunday.

People that were close to it say Sean Óg McAteer was visibly distressed and upset as he stood along the line. Who wouldn’t have been? 

It was a scummy, rotten act to pull.

Whoever flew that plane over Newry had no right to do that to another human being.

If I was able to name the person that did it here I would, so that they could wear their shame the way they should be made to instead of skulking off hiding, deleting their Twitter account after first making it private.

The right to protest has to exist.

But there’s a way to do things that upholds a thread of common decency. This was not it. Not even in the same universe as it.

Ulster Council should throw everything at finding out who booked that plane and make sure they never set foot on GAA premises ever again.

We don’t want people like that anywhere near us.