“What’s the word on the street, Huggy?” asked detectives Starsky and Hutch in the old American TV series. And Huggy Bear, played by Antonio Fargas, always knew, that is the hip, slick dresser always knew “the word on da street, man.”
The perceived wisdom, of course, is that the street is where the real truth is always told, and even the dogs on the street know things. 
What a clever canine population we have.
Words, now, though can mean anything. I read with interest the reaction to the lively exchange between Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson and Secretary of State, Karen Bradley when she arrived at Balmoral Show last week. Shrill, according to one (male) reporter, who was taken to task. Would he have used that adjective if describing two men in a robust discussion?
Articles pointed out that women, still, are described variously as feisty, ditsy and even emotional, whereas such descriptions are never attached to men.
And the term “ambitious” if applied to men is a compliment, but an ambitious woman is, er, something rather different.
And why are Protestants always staunch but Catholics are devout. And in the modern parlance, I’m a gammon. Which some people take offence about.
Only words?
There can be no doubting, however, some of the words and descriptions attached in the last week to a couple of local clergy, Monsignor Peter O’Reilly and Dean Kenny Hall, from St. Michael’s and St. Macartin’s. And far from being the true word on the street, some of the treatment of two decent men is in the gutter.
Words have now become weapons of abuse, and the street is now the superhighway of the internet.
I must speak up this morning in support of these two men for their courageous efforts in creating better community relations in their Enniskillen parishes. Neither man is compromising his religious principles, but rather they are acting as good neighbours and encouraging their flock to hold out the hand of friendship across the traditional divide.
For this “crime”, the brave keyboard warriors take to social media to insult and demean them in messages circulated locally. One man who represented a Unionist party at an election (and lost miserably) labels the “green Dean” as someone who should be ashamed of himself and the Dean’s critic called for people to stop paying into all C of I churches.
This is the sort of angry and bitter word on the street that does nothing to advance any cause. When did reconciliation become a dirty word? 
If people want to express opposition to anything, on theological or any other grounds, then they are perfectly entitled to do so. But surely with respect, no?
I find such abusive rhetoric abhorrent, especially as there are numerous instructions in the Bible about the corrosive effects of anger; the gospel of Matthew tells us: “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement,” and Ephesians: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger.”
Both the Monsignor and the Dean were instrumental in the very powerful and positive imagery of the Queen crossing from the Church of Ireland to the Catholic church a few years ago. I don’t read too many posts demeaning the Queen that they profess to be loyal to. (Too busy watching the Royal wedding possibly.)
I was reminded of the two men’s treatment when I read this quote this week, in another context: “When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. The misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth, just like you did.”
Don’t go along with the old saying that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Names and words can, and do, hurt. But I think the Monsignor and the Dean are strong and principled and when they think something is the right thing to do, they have the fortitude to do it; especially when there are many, many people support them quietly and privately.
Much of what’s been said in recent days has been a specific and a direct result of the controversy over a proposed memorial to the victims of the Remembrance Sunday bombing in Enniskillen. And when I use the term controversy, it pains me that this is what it has become. And yet, the two church leaders are among those working genuinely behind the scenes to get a resolution to this sensitive issue in a sensitive way. Others are, too, I’m glad to say, including political figures who don’t want to see this become political or sectarianized.
I have expressed my genuine opinions on this issue, and to my regret I’ve been misrepresented by some. I don’t wish to rehearse again my points of view, but would point out that I do believe there should be a memorial to the Enniskillen victims. It was a dark day in my home town’s history, and the lessons of it should not be forgotten; neither should the lovely people whose lives were taken. But there are genuine issues to be resolved, and I repeat that not all the relatives I spoke to were entirely happy with the plans outlined.
It’s important to stress that the vast majority of good people on both sides of the community in Enniskillen have no objections to a memorial, and with proper dialogue and goodwill it will be achieved.
Aside from this controversy, and the disrespectful abuse of local clergy, we seem to live in a nastier society where people can use social media to vent disgraceful stuff. It’s surely a failure by them if they can’t at least disagree agreeably. Some of it is pure hate, and one wonders who the first person will be around here to suffer the consequences of a prosecution.
In the meantime, let’s remember that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing. So let’s stand up for those people who continue to do the right thing and stand with them in the face of intimidation.