James Hume: An emerging talent with a steely purpose

Another chance below to hear the interview I conducted with emerging Ulster Rugby prospect James Hume for http://www.insideireland.ie  :

This piece took a bit of organising. Being a part-time sports journo (blagger some might say-that’s how they say blogger in Belfast, by the way!) can be a challenging preoccupation. I only had a short window to meet my interviewee during a busy pre-season for Ulster Rugby. It was worth it, though.

I arrived at the reception of Kingspan Stadium at half nine on a wet Friday morning in the pouring August rain and was directed with a smile to the players’ training room and meeting facilities. I raced around and found a drenched Henry Speight being put through his paces by a photographer. I wondered to myself if Henry had been warned about the notorious northern Irish weather before putting pen to paper and actually muttered something in that spirit to the affable Aussie winger. Henry, it turns out, is aware of the great summer we’ve been enjoying this year, but alas arrives in Belfast just as the local climate has reverted to type.

But no, Henry wasn’t my interviewee. I’d come to at Ulster’s unrivalled facilities to meet James Hume (you can listen to the full interview below-, an up and coming Irish rugby star who’s sailed through the underage representative ranks. I was immediately impressed with James’s assuredness. The youngster greeted me with a firm handshake and calmly settled into our interview like an old pro. If only I’d been as confident and mature when I was twenty!

In a short but thorough interview, we discussed James’s hopes and ambitions for the new season, his experience with the Irish under 20 set-up-including his recent appearance at the under -20 World Cup-, James’s rugby heroes and the warm way he’s been accepted into the professional fold by his colleagues and teammates.

We also touched on James’s extensive knowledge of incoming Ulster Skills coach, Daniel Soper. For those who don’t know, Soper coached James at Banbridge RFC and enjoyed an extremely successful spell together when Soper guided RBAI, Hume’s alma mater, to three Ulster Schools’ Cup victories in a row. Pretty impressive stuff, although that’s hard to say for a Campbell man! There’s sure to be further glory ahead as Hume continues availing of Soper’s expert tutelage at Ravenhill.

James also revealed his thoughts on the recently announced Celtic Cup competition-the replacement for the now defunct British and Irish Cup-and the potential opportunity it offers young players to gain competitive experience and game-time away from the intense cauldron that is the Pro 14.

The new competition has been conceived as a vehicle to give ‘A’ and Academy players from the Celtic nations and clubs a chance to gain valuable playing exposure before breaking into their first team set-ups. Elite development and the provision of a pathway to professional rugby are essential components of any rugby system and it’s heartening to see Irish provinces benefiting from this exciting development. David Nucifora, in particular, will be delighted.

Hopefully James Hume will be one of many exciting young Ulster prospects to make their breakthrough this season. Young players, after all, are the future of Irish rugby and the health of the game in Ireland rests in their hands. After spending an enjoyable half-an-hour with the talented and articulate Hume, I was left with the abiding impression that Ireland’s new generation is more than up for the task. Our chat ended and James joined Henry and the others for a scheduled walk through in the rain.  As I departed an inclement Kingspan, I was reassured that the weather may be overcast but the future is definitely bright.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

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Bruce Almighty

On 2 August I had the pure, unadulterated pleasure of seeing Iron Maiden play in Belfast. It’s the third time I’ve seen the heavy metal giants live and, as always, the show didn’t disappoint for even a moment. In fact, the rock veterans have taken their show to new, unprecedented levels and the band now has few peers for theatre, spectacle and live performance. Indeed, I can think of few rock contemporaries capable of coming close to matching Maiden as a live act.

In observing this greatness, I couldn’t help but contrast Maiden’s near flawless, uber-polished set with the first time I’d seen them: 1996 at Belfast’s now decommissioned Maysfield Leisure Centre. Don’t get me wrong. Maiden were fantastic that evening as well, but their more recent outing as part of the Legacy of the Beast World Tour was a simply tremendous gig: loud and raucous, but also wonderfully melodic and lyrical as well.

That Maysfield concert seems like a world away in contrast. The modestly sized venue wasn’t even full to capacity and that tour happened during Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson’s six year absence from the band. Dickinson’s replacement, Blaze Bayley, is a decent enough singer but he’s no Bruce.

Indeed, the recent gig illustrates perfectly the profound wisdom of Bruce rejoining the band in 1999, alongside Adrian Smith. Call it providence, chemistry or whatever you fancy, but Maiden are infinitely better with Bruce at the helm. The band’s spectacular and consistent ascendancy since Dickinson’s return to the fold is no mere coincidence. He is among the most eminent front men in the business, possessing one of the most recognisable and powerful voices in rock.

All the fan favourites were there: The Trooper, The Number of The Beast and Fear of The Dark. The set also included a few curve balls and some numbers that hadn’t seen the light of day in a while; notably Sign of The Cross and The Flight of Icarus. The stage and light shows are as spectacular as ever. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the overall show has ever been stronger. There’s no doubt anyone unfamiliar with Maiden’s canon could enjoy this show without needing much of  a reference point in terms of the music.

But what makes it all work so majestically is the band itself. Steve Harris still gallops around stage like a man possessed, keeping it all neatly together. Maiden’s three guitarists, moreover, are a joy to behold; working seamlessly in perfect sync and harmony. They literally never miss a beat and any group would be lucky to have them, especially the brilliant Smith. Bruce, as we know, does performance and showmanship every bit as well as poignancy; while the evergreen Nicko is perhaps the unsung hero of the piece. Individually these guys are undoubtedly supremely talented. Collectively they are simply mesmeric!

What’s even more impressive is that Maiden can still perform at this level despite having so many miles on the clock. Even the baby of the band-Bruce-has just turned sixty, after all (how wonderful to see him looking so well after his recovery from illness). When any band has been around this long, it’s inevitable, however, that questions are asked about how much longer they can continue. Sure, we’ve been asking that about the Stones for what seems a lifetime! Fans will hope that one of the best bands around has plenty left in the tank. There’s no doubt Maiden have much more to offer and some modern acts could learn a thing or two from the masters about giving fans what they want. How long can Maiden go on for? On the evidence of the Belfast show, they’ll be around for a while yet!

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

 

 

 

 

Play It Again Sam!

Sad news has emerged from the world of rugby with the dreadfully unfortunate confirmation that Wales and Lions’ legend Sam Warburton has been forced to retire from the game at the ridiculously young age of 29. Generous tributes have been liberally and predictably offered from all corners of the globe. It’s a reflection of the unanimous esteem in which the Cardiff, Wales and Lions’ stalwart is held by the game he’s graced with such class for the best part of the past decade.

Warburton is indeed a colossal loss to rugby. Since the announcement, there’s been fervent debate in Twitter land regarding whether the Cardiff Blues openside can legitimately be considered one of the genuine greats. And indeed there are strong points of view on both sides of what’s been an impassioned argument. People sometimes get bogged down in detail and complexity when attempting to make such subjective assessments, to such an extent they often can’t see the wood for the trees. Others foolishly fall back on statistics to prove their point. Lies, damned lies and…….

For me, it’s much more straightforward. My definition of sporting greatness is infinitely more simple, but as a test, I’m adamant that it works. In fact, it’s virtually infallible! My test of rugby greatness is this: the ability of a player to transform the fortunes of a side just by their mere presence. The capacity to not just improve a team but make it immeasurably better by your place within it. Consider all the modern day greats of the game: Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Brian O’Driscoll, to name but a few. They all inspired teams to success and achievement through brilliance, influence and talent. Those players possessed individual skills that elevated  teams beyond collective limitations.

Sam Warburton was undoubtedly in that mould. Maybe not the flashest, but he always delivered when it really mattered. The Wales flanker improved teams significantly and decisively by his presence. Sam was obviously a tremendous technical rugby player, strong in the tackle and an imperious operator at the breakdown. That was Warburton’s bread and butter, of course. The former Wales captain was also a much more prolific ball carrier than he was ever given credit for. However, as all rugby fans know, it takes much more than technical proficiency to be a truly great Test back rower. Warburton also possessed the hardness and resilience necessary to operate at the coalface of his sport. ‘The Mongrel Dog’ as they call it in New Zealand.

Warburton also had that intangible, undefinable quality; the attribute that’s so devilishly elusive in life but we all know it when we see it. Leadership. Some forwards are born to be captains: Johnson, Fitzpatrick and McCaw spring immediately to mind. Warburton too. There’s no doubt about his place among that pantheon. Most great captains are wonderful rugby players, but alas not all great players are captaincy material. Sam Warburton was both. It’s a delicate balancing act. The best captains need to have enough intelligence to understand the tactical and technical nuances of the game, an instinct to make good decisions under the most acute pressure and have an ability to inspire the players around them through words and deeds. Diplomacy is vital too. Who better than the softly spoken Sam at getting into the ears of the most stubborn of referees?

In making a case for greatness, Warburton’s accomplishments with the Lions are surely enough to get him there if nothing else. Emulating that other great skipper of the modern era, Johnson, leading the tourists on two separate expeditions is a magnificent and monumental achievement in itself. But it’s Warburton’s record with the Lions that stands out like a shining beacon. A series win against the Aussies, followed by a superb draw against the world champions in their own back yard. Gee, that’s not a bad CV for a guy who’s been forced to retire the wrong side of 30! It’s an interesting debate, but I know which side I lean towards. A modern great of the game? Unquestionably! It’s the end of the road, playing wise, for one of the good guys but what a career he’s had. Play it again Sam. I’ve no doubt Warburton will excel in whatever he turns his hand to next

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

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By Blackcat [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Respect Earned The Hard Way!

‘Passionate.’ That’s the adjective once commonly used to describe the Irish rugby team. The term was particularly prevalent among the rugby giants of the southern hemisphere. Prior to any big game against opponents from south of the equator, rival players would queue up to tell us how respectful they were of the fighting Irish and how they were  wary of the ‘passion’ Ireland always brought to the party. These extremely patronising descriptions made the cream of Irish sport sound more like horny Love Island contestants than elite sportsmen.

The curious thing about the ‘passion’ label is that was applied long after Ireland became genuine and legitimate contenders on the international stage. In the old amateur and semi-professional days such condescension was perhaps forgivable, but even as the golden generation of Irish rugby was strutting its stuff on the Test stage, opponents could still be heard routinely rabbiting on about Ireland and their famed passion.

I used to wonder about this bizarre tendency. It was excusable when Irish results were unremittingly poor, but why did such attitudes prevail when the men in green were regularly winning in the Test arena? The answer was delivered in the context of Ireland’s unremarkable record against the All Blacks-just one win recorded in countless attempts; last November in Chicago. Before a New Zealand Test a few years ago, I read an interview with a former All Black international explaining the apparent lack of recognition afforded to Ireland’s finest. ‘In order to gain our respect,’ he explained, ‘you have to beat us.’

Well, the vernacular surrounding Irish international rugby has changed markedly from the well worn and tiresome platitudes of the past. Opponents from near and far are falling over themselves to fawn over Joe Schmidt’s record breaking outfit. Recent results tell a magnificent and unprecedented story. Three Six Nations Championships, a Grand Slam, a first win over the Springboks on South African soil and the aforementioned maiden win over the world champion All Blacks is a truly formidable record. And now, remarkably, Ireland’s first ever southern hemisphere series win (against a revitalised Australia) contested over three Tests has just been achieved.

And to think there were idiots calling for Schmidt’s head not so long ago. The absurdity! Ireland’s favourite Kiwi has built a relentless and formidable squad, one capable of consistently overcoming anyone in world rugby. Number two in the world and on merit. And this side is taking Irish rugby to uncharted territory; places the golden generation could only dream of.

At the turn of the century, we marvelled at the infusion of youngsters like Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara who entered Test rugby without the fear and inferiority complex that blighted their predecessors. But the current crop is the product of an even more impressive harvest. Today’s youngsters literally expect to win every game they play. Take James Ryan. Ireland’s new dynamo of a second row has only lost one match as a professional rugby player. Consider that for a moment!

But this is what we’re dealing with. Schmidt and his squad of modest and humble superstars are taking Irish rugby to new, exciting places. The overriding concern of the Irish coach post the 2015 World Cup was to build new depth and resourcefulness into the Irish squad. And while some positions remain relatively callow, there’s no doubt Irish rugby is in as strong a position as it’s ever been. Winning plaudits from all corners of the globe and primed for an assault on rugby’s premier competition. The trophies, of course, tell their own tale, but if you need substantive proof of the esteem Ireland’s players are currently held, just listen to the respectful way opponents are now talking about them. Respect that’s been earned the hard way!

PS The football World Cup has kicked off in far away Russia and the tournament has thus far been characterised by a series of upsets and unexpected results. Despite the unpredictable start, few are expecting too many surprises come the business end of the competition. It’ll be the usual suspects in with a chance of ultimate glory. Or will it? They always seem to fall short and are perpetually addicted to underachievement, but England are due to perform in a major tournament one of these days. Maybe, just maybe, 2018 will be the year?

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

No Longer Once in a Blue Moon

They didn’t do it with the style and panache we expected, but Leinster duly prevailed as anticipated on 12 May to win an incredible fourth Champions Cup. The muted celebrations after the game told a tale of relief and quiet satisfaction more than exaltation. Indeed, anyone who didn’t know the outcome would swear that Leinster had lost such was Johnny Sexton’s sullen demeanour. One wonders if the perfectionist Irish fly-half actually enjoys days like this or is he too caught up berating himself over perceived errors and looking ahead to the next challenge to savour the moment?

But Leinster did indeed win and what a magnificent achievement it is. Some of us are old enough to remember Munster’s travails in the early years of this competition (or its predecessor to be more precise), when buckets of blood, sweat and tears were expended in the search for the elusive holy grail. All those great performances and victories only to come up short. So near and yet so far! Leinster on a quadruple? Damn it, Munster fought so hard to win one!

Some are even old enough to remember the glorious time when a team of semi-professionals from Ulster blazed a trail for the Irish provinces in the European Cup in the year the English clubs boycotted the competition. Believe me, it was no average achievement as European giants like Toulouse and Stade Francais floundered in Belfast’s cathedral of pain.

In those days, it seemed absurd, inconceivable that an Irish province would ever win four European Cups. The achievement is put into clear context by the numerous obstacles that were put in place to prevent this very eventuality from occurring. The old Heineken Cup was a truly wonderful rugby tournament, adored by fans all over the world. But the English and French club owners didn’t share the supporters’ affection. Some perceived a Celtic bias.

The Anglo-French clubs, financed by tv sugar daddies and billionaire benefactors, were rattled by the illogical success of the Irish provinces. Despite pouring a fortune into the game, the European Cup was a competition they couldn’t buy easily. Unable to beat the Irish as regularly as they wanted, the Anglo-French owners were left with only one option in their myopic minds: to destroy European rugby’s pride and joy.

Maybe they were jealous of the provinces’ success. Maybe they resented that the old ERC was based in Dublin. Whatever the motivation, the moguls were set on dismantling the Heineken Cup. And when the English Premiership clubs unilaterally sold their European tv rights to BT Sport, the writing was on the wall for the European Cup as we knew it. Determined to get a bigger share of the tv and monetary spoils, the English/French clubs and their sympathisers eventually brought the curtain down on the ERC and facilitated the establishment of the EPCR in its place.

Initially, the ploy worked well. The new competition was dominated by our Anglo-French cousins, the first three tournaments being won by Toulon and Saracens; clubs that are the very embodiment of the new European order. Meanwhile, the Irish provinces struggled to get out of the pool stages and it seemed the days of Irish glory in the European Cup had been permanently consigned to the past.

But then something curious happened. The Irish provinces stormed back into contention, culminating in the superb fourth tournament win by the best team in the continent. You see, as it turns out, there are some things that money can’t buy. Irish rugby’s strength is that it controls its players. Once the IRFU made the bold and visionary decision to centrally contract its star names and ward off the avaricious advances of club owners, it set a template for rugby governance that’s the envy of the world. The rewards are there for all to see: two Grand Slams and six Champions Cups tells its own tale.

In all of this, Leinster lead the way and the province is building a legacy that has the potential to last years. The Blues are currently reaping the benefits of a veritable conveyor belt of talent. Brilliant and fearless youngsters like Jordan Larmour, James Ryan and Dan Leavy are the product of an unrivalled schools system that’s producing not just quality but massive strength in depth. The rest of Europe can only look on with envy at the wondrous production line that is the Leinster Academy.

Massive credit goes to Leo Cullen, a coach who was openly questioned in his first season in charge, but has become the first person to win Europe’s premier competition as player and coach. What a story! Cullen’s double act with the ever modest and self-effacing Stuart Lancaster has delivered the goods time and again. Such vindication for the former England coach after his World Cup nightmare. Few would begrudge his ebullience at the final whistle. How sweet his redemption must taste.

But the real plaudits are reserved for the Irish system. It’s been a testing season for Irish rugby for reasons we all know but the Irish have finally rediscovered the winning formula. It’s an incredible achievement given how the odds are stacked against them. Something tells me that we won’t need to wait for a Blue Moon for the next Irish European Cup triumph.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

By justinhourigan (flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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A Legacy of Peace!

It may have escaped your attention but today (10 April 2018) is the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). With the institutions the Agreement spawned currently mothballed now and for the foreseeable future, any sense of celebration or euphoria has been sensibly put on hold. No doubt, the powers-that-be hoped that this landmark would be an affirmation of stability and progress, a proclamation of enduring hope, but recent political events in Northern Ireland have underlined what a precarious and fragile business peacemaking undoubtedly is. Still, the unavoidable reality of the present political mess shouldn’t detract from the epochal achievement that is the GFA.

I remember the referendum and campaign like they were yesterday. Having not long secured the ability to vote, the whole event was rather novel and it was impossible not to be caught up in the sheer sense of occasion, the notion that something truly historic and unprecedented was happening. Mine wasn’t a generation that was especially political (unlike today when youngsters start online petitions about everything from protesting against wars to the price of their favourite tea) but not participating in the referendum wasn’t an option here. Most people I knew had serious misgivings about the GFA and its fundamental flaws but there was an impetus behind the campaign that reflected an overwhelming desire for change. We were determined to end the madness of the previous years. It was a vote for a better future. A vote for peace.

It was a euphoric time. And 20 years on, it’s easy to feel deflated and despondent in comparison. Our politicians have failed time and again to deliver on the palpable promise of those heady days. In the midst of petty bickering and disputes over relatively inconsequential issues, it’s hard not to feel disillusioned about the state of local politics. And yet it’s equally easy to forget how massive a triumph the GFA actually represents.

To understand the Agreement’s achievement, you have to put the negotiations in the unremittingly grim context of the time. The ’90s was a dire period for Northern Ireland. Shankill, Greysteel and countless other atrocities haunt everyone who lived through those bleak years. Yet, in spite of the inevitable bitterness and hatred that such events inspired, old enemies sat down, talked, listened and, against all odds, negotiated a political compromise that offered something for everyone. It was no mean feat.

The wholesale disillusion and cynicism that infects any discussion about the GFA is derived from unrealistic expectations regarding what the Agreement could deliver. In the halcyon days post the Agreement’s signing, many deluded themselves that the centuries old Irish problem had been solved, that we were all going to let bygones be bygones and live happily ever after. Such a preposterously idealistic vision was always going to get brought back to earth by the much more nuanced reality. There’s a propensity to look in the Agreement for answers it wasn’t able to deliver and, indeed, never intended to provide.

You see, the Agreement was never meant to be a perpetual and immutable solution to all  Ireland’s ills. In fact, it wasn’t really a settlement as such. Not a permanent one anyway. The GFA was a carefully calibrated and constructed compromise that gave something to everyone who bought into it. Although equality was of course one of the GFA’s central tenets, the Agreement didn’t seek to make everyone the same. One of the great fallacies of the last 20 years is the notion that the GFA meant we could forget our divided history and embrace a common and identical future.  Nationalists weren’t being encouraged to become unionists or vice versa.

Rather, the Agreement provided a framework where both the main traditions in Ireland could pursue their mutually exclusive and divergent agendas, but in a context of power-sharing and peace; in a climate of mutual tolerance and respect. It was about providing space for traditions and communities to respect one another and find ways to work together on areas of mutual interest. True reconciliation was indeed an integral aspiration but in 1998 such considerations were necessarily long term. Much more important 20 years ago was the fostering of  practical and meaningful cooperation; allowing the constitutional issue to resolve itself in the fullness of time.

And it’s those core concepts of mutual tolerance and respect, of parity of esteem; that have suffered so horrendously in the intervening years. As we survey the present wreckage and inertia that characterises modern northern politics, respect is indeed wholly conspicuous by its absence. How on earth can we work on trust and partnership, let alone reconciliation, if there isn’t even basic courtesy and respect? Given the calamitous mess we’re in, therefore, how do we define the bitterly disputed legacy of the GFA? And if there is a legacy, have we really squandered it?

For all our difficulties in Northern Ireland, we’ve come far. We must  remember that. It’s something we tend to overlook in this part of the world. It’s a Northern Irish thing. We blithely ignore our progress and fixate obsessively on our seemingly intractable problems. The glass is always half empty. But on the 20th anniversary of one of the key moments in modern Irish history, it seems more apt to focus on the positive side of the ledger.

In 1998 it seemed implausible, inconceivable even, that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness could ever be in government together, let alone have a mutual affection and partnership. There was too much history, baggage and animosity. Sinn Féin and the DUP working together? Sure, don’t pigs fly too? And yet it happened. As did so much else besides. You only have to look around Belfast city centre to see how a haunted town has been transformed into a bustling, busy and, yes, increasingly cosmopolitan place. Would any of those breakthroughs have happened without the GFA? Don’t believe it.

So, how should the Agreement be assessed, twenty years on from its codification? Despite its legion of problems, the story of the GFA remains a narrative of success. Of course, there are flaws but its constitutional and political architecture endures in spite of those issues. The most common gripe has always been that the Agreement institutionalised sectarianism; that the GFA created as many problems as it actually solved. There are no shortage of believers in the idea that Northern Ireland’s vast political problems have been exacerbated by the GFA and the awkward idea of ‘constructive ambiguity’ utilised by successive governments to smooth its rocky implementation.

While the idea has plenty of merit, it’s hard to dispute the notion that the Agreement delivered emphatically on its main purpose. If peace was the elusive prize, surely we can withstand a few forks in what was always going to be a difficult road to travel. It’s said that the price of liberty and peace is eternal vigilance and this truism was evidenced within months of the GFA when the Omagh bomb shattered the optimism of Good Friday. However, as we reflect on 20 years of the GFA and the new political dispensation it created, awful events like that have largely been consigned to the past.

Northern Ireland is transformed from where it was 20 years ago. Our peace might be imperfect and Brexit has certainly added another layer of complication to an already  vexed political process, but it’s wrong to discount and squander the gains of the last two decades. Flawed as it undeniably is, the Irish peace process has delivered the goods in so many lasting ways. In terms of legacy, a whole generation has grown up since 1998 that knows nothing of the Troubles. The dark days of the past are something those young people read about in history books. The GFA’s legacy is a legacy of peace. And that’s not too shabby.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

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By https://www.flickr.com/photos/robertpaulyoung/ [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I Believe In Justice

I have an idea. It’s a little out there but hear me out. Why bother? Why bother with a criminal justice system? Why bother with courts of law? Why bother with statutes and legislation? Why bother with a police service? Surely, such antiquated institutions are no longer fit for purpose in the modern world. Instead, why don’t we just try people on Facebook and in the court of public opinion? It’s a genius idea and works out much cheaper than the status quo. It could literally save billions all over the world.

I’m being facetious, of course, but having observed events during the last few weeks I’m starting to think there are those who might favour this drastic course of action. As everyone knows, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison were unanimously acquitted of all charges made against them. Increasingly, though, the modern world is ignoring such realities in its insatiable desire for vigilantism and rough justice. Seemingly, our moral arbiters don’t worry so much about such trifling matters as innocence and evidence in the unforgiving court of public opinion.

It was codified as far back as the Magna Carta (and been firmly established since) that free individuals possess an entitlement to be judged by a jury of their peers. Are we really going to squander and relinquish this centuries’ old right because we now have Facebook and Twitter? That’s not very prudent. Not that I’m taking sides in this argument. I’m not taking a position on the case because I don’t have to.

It’s the jury that heard the evidence and it’s the jury’s opinion that matters. Everyone else’s view is completely and utterly irrelevant here. At the end of the day, it’s hard not to feel an enormous amount of sympathy for everyone involved in this deeply unfortunate and regrettable incident. One of the most prominent sentiments expressed in reports following the conclusion of the case was that it produced no winners. Never have truer words been written.

But you don’t have to take sides to be shocked by the sheer vindictiveness and extremity of some social media opinion expressed these last few weeks. “Let’s ignore due process and make our own mind up anyway based on snippets we’ve read on the internet and in social media.” It’s the mentality of the mob. What makes this such a minefield is that most of these utterances are obviously well intended and heartfelt. They come from a good place. But misplaced and uninformed opinion can still be sinister even if meant well. Moral certainty and polemical views can be extremely dangerous entities when borne out of ignorance and denial of basic facts.

It’s almost like we’re seeing a confrontation of old and new values. The modern world thinks everything can be solved through the prism of social media and soundbites. Even the most substantial topics are glibly reduced to memes and status updates these days. Wars, elections, corruptions and scandals: social media has you covered. Who cares if the facts haven’t been checked? Interested in activism and social change? Don’t join a political party or pressure group. Sign an online petition. Why worry if the petitioner has failed to do his or her research?

So much of this stuff is undeniably positive. Social media is a wonderful innovation and has done much to empower our generation and give it a voice. It’s quite remarkable how social media outlets cut through formality and bureaucracy to give a voice to the formerly powerless and disenfranchised. What other medium would give an unfettered platform to idiots like me?!

But with great power comes great responsibility. We must resist the excesses and lust of the mob. This isn’t Salem. Nor is the Jackson-Olding trial a reality tv show. Law can’t be reduced to memes or tweets. Even in the modern world, some matters are too substantial and important for status updates. We’re dealing with real lives, real people and their livelihoods. And perhaps the most precious thing of all: their reputation. There’s a reason why those antiquated institutions mentioned above have survived the test of time. And why they will remain long after Facebook and Twitter have been relegated to footnotes in history. We tamper with these values and standards at our peril.

# I believe in justice!

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey