Jude Collins

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Mary, Mary, right for once

The Tanaiste, Mary Coughlan, it seems, is in a bit of bother. At this stage I should declare my, not so much my interest as my disinterest. If Mary Coughlan were to be abducted by aliens and never seen again, speaking from a political perspective, you wouldn’t find me sobbing my little heart out each night that followed. By and large, there’s something about Mary that makes me want to shout at the TV. But on this occasion I think she’s being unfairly pilloried.

It seems she has suggested that a lot of the young Irish people who are now emigrating are doing so because ‘they want to have some fun’. Her political opponents have clapped their hands to their brows and cried horror and havoc and the cold-blooded monster to say such a thing. That’s partly because they want to nail Mary politically and in doing so damage the Fianna Fail-Green Party coalition and maybe provoke a general election, and partly because the people shouting have never themselves emigrated. I have, and the truth is, it is fun.

Or rather, there are fun aspects to it. You’re far away from your ma and da. You’re starting from scratch in terms of friends and colleagues and work. You’re surrounded by new things, some of them better than their equivalent back home. And above all, you’re probably making more money than you would if you were sitting at home looking out at the rain.

The making-more-money bit is an important bit, but it’s not the only bit. There’s something exhilarating about getting out from under the shadow of your family and the people in your town or locality, and being the kind of person you happen to feel like being, without someone pointing out that your granda was had up for stealing hens back in 1914, so what the hell would you know about anything?

Give Mary a break. Of course the economic melt-down is part of the reason thousand of young Irish people are going abroad to work. But there’s also that element of they-can’t-see-us-now-yeeha! to it. Tragedy laced with laughter. It happens.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Past, present, future

Northern Ireland In The Shadow Of The Peace Process
A few blogs back I wondered why some unionists hate the Irish language so much. Today I find myself wondering why some unionists hate Gerry Adams so much.

Now it’s important to remember that not all unionists are declared unionists. You’ll get people from a nationalist background who present what they hope will be accepted as a reasonable façade, a perspective on politics which appears fair-minded and balanced - that is, they talk of the need to focus on bread-and-butter issues, to disown violence, not to be bogged down in the bloody past, to get on with life. But if you scrape back the smooth skin on the top of their political creed you’ll find that underneath it boils with a hatred of Gerry Adams.

There could be all sorts of reasons for this. I suppose if a loved one was killed by the IRA and you thought Gerry Adams was the head of the IRA at the time, you might hate him. But in my experience, people who have lost loved ones to either loyalists or republican paramilitaries tend to be forgiving, open people. In fact I know one person who lost a family member through IRA actions who holds Gerry Adams in considerable esteem. But then that person isn’t a unionist, declared or undeclared.

The reason for the hatred usually relates to Gerry Adams’s past – that he hasn’t said he was in the IRA, that he hasn’t said he’s sorry for all the things the IRA did. Again, I’m convinced that’s a skin. What the unionists who hate Gerry Adams really dislike is less any violence he may have been associated with and more his success in moving republicanism into politics and doing so, at least in the north, with spectacular success. It’s the future these beneath-the-skin unionists are worried about. If they talk a lot about the past, that’s because they hope that if they can rewrite the history of the past forty years here and show republicans (as led by Gerry Adams) as cruel and/or stupid and/or damaging to everything decent people hold dear, then that that might cripple the future of republicanism on this island. This hope rests on the belief that the public are stupid and won't notice the rearrangement of the historical furniture.

They say nothing succeeds like success. True. And nothing succeeds in arousing hatred like success.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Eddie turns

I thought Eddie McGready was going to burst into that old Joan Baez number ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ this morning. “For everything there is a season” Eddie said. “A time to stay and a time to go”. And Eddie is going. The South Down MP is in good health, the SDLP (he says) is on the rise and will eclipse Sinn Fein, so Eddie is…retiring.

Mmm. At first I assumed it was Eddie at his wily best: wait until Margaret Ritchie had become leader of the SDLP and so tied herself to Stormont, then at the point where she can’t avail of it, announce there’s a Westminster vacancy coming up in the SDLP. But according to the Irish News, nothing of the sort – Margaret is almost certain to be the SDLP candidate for South Down and will be pitched in an all-woman no-holds-barred fight with Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane.

Great stuff for the headline writers but aren’t public representatives supposed to give up on double-jobbing (or treble or quadruple jobbing, as it used to be in the case of John Hume and Ian Paisley)? And if they are, as SDLP leader isn’t Margaret R going to have to forego the delights of hearing her own voice echo around the near-empty Westminster chamber for the more intimate environs of Stormont? Or maybe she’s decided she’d prefer to be an absentee leader. Stormont is such a cockpit of constitutional adversaries, the SDLP leader might feel more at home in Westminster, oath of fealty to Her Majesty and all. Could it be that Margaret is getting ready to lead the SDLP into its (second) bright new day as a post-nationalist party?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Upholding the law

Colm Murphy Convicted in Connection with IRA BombingAh, the past. When you could get a bag of fish and chips, a cigarette and the Beano for 6d and tuppence back in change. And when that old saying ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ actually meant something.

Those days are gone, I’m afraid. ‘Anger as Omagh accused is cleared for second time’ is the headline in today’s Irish News, and on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning, a similar line was taken. Colm Murphy ‘walked free’ from the Special Criminal Court in Dublin when it was found he had no case to answer over the 1998 bombing of Omagh. Why did the case against Mr Murphy collapse? Because, it seems, some detectives had fabricated evidence – they’d tried to stitch Mr Murphy up. But on the BBC Radio Four programme, Jeffrey Donaldson insisted that there was plenty of evidence only unfortunately it was Intelligence Services material and was inadmissible. The Irish News quoted Labour Party spokesman Pat Rabbitte: “Even in the investigation of the most heinous offences, investigating officers must remain within the law and there can be no shortcut to convictions”. You get the message? Perfectly good evidence was blocked by an unfortunate technicality and If the long and normal route to convictions had been followed, there’d probably have been a different result. No sense of outrage over corrupt cops faking evidence, no acceptance that justice might have been done when Mr Murphy was set free.

Weird, isn’t it? Upholders of the law are deeply angry that, um, the law has been followed. It would appear that it’s not only paramilitaries who’d like to act as judge, jury and executioner.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sensitive northerners

Rugby Union - France v Ireland RBS Six Nations Championship 2010I know I've blogged on this before but I caught the tail-end of Seamus McKee talking to Trevor Ringland and Tim Pat Coogan on BBC Radio Ulster's 'Evening Extra' yesterday. They were discussing 'Ireland's Call', which the Ireland rugby team use. If they're playing at home, they get 'Ireland's Call' AND 'Amhrán na bhFiann' played. If the game is abroad, they get 'Ireland's Call' only.

The Australians have a phrase for it: cultural cringe. The notion that whatever is native, local, your own, is somehow deficient. If there's another country in the world that is so embarrassed by its own national anthem it arranges for it not to be played at an international sporting event or accompanies it by a tune magicked up by a pop composer, I haven't heard about it. If northern unionists don't like to hear the national anthem, that's unfortunate. But to not just expect but succeed in having the national anthem banished for that reason - that really does seem like the unionist tail wagging the national dog.

Think about it. The northern unionist component of the national rugby squad is what - 20%? Yes I know it's less but let's say it's 20%. In the north, the nationalist population is somewhere around 45%. Do you think there's much chance that the union flag will flutter at Stormont alongside the tricolour, much less be banished and replaced by a flag invented by a pop artist?

In the few minutes I heard on 'Evening Extra', Trevor Ringland said he thought 'Ireland's Call' was great, Tim Pat Coogan thought we needed an all-Ireland song contest to pick a NEW anthem, and Seamus of course thought it was such a healthy debate.

Do you ever get the feeling you're living in an Alice-in-Wonderland world where daftness is presented as common sense and self-abasement as sweet reason?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A bunch of nutters?

Sony Radio Academy Awards 2006If you want a good laugh, it’s sometimes worth listening to Stephen Nolan, especially around 10.30 a.m., when Gerry Anderson comes on and says outrageous things about him. This morning, though, Nolan was less laughable than lamentable.

He had a man called Damian on the line, talking about last night’s bomb outside Newry court-house, presumably left by dissident republicans. Other callers had labeled those who left the bomb ‘criminals’; Damian disagreed. Whether it was dissident republicans or the IRA or the UVF or the UFF, he said, there was no point in trying to simply criminalise these people, because they were acting out of political motives.

Nolan’s response was to tell Damian that his analysis would be found deeply depressing by the majority of people in Northern Ireland. The implication was that Damian’s analysis was wrong, dissident republicans were simply criminals, and to suggest they had any political thinking behind their actions was, well, kind of subversive.

I was a poor Latin student at school but I do remember one sentence from Caesar’s Gallic Wars: 'Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt' - Men readily believe that which they desire. We might wish that dissident republicans were a collection of mindless psychopaths. Alas they clearly aren’t, which makes the Newry attack all the more challenging. Meanwhile, when people hide behind clichés to avoid the truth and Stephen eggs them on, they and he do a grave disservice to the rest of us.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Gerry and Jesus

Northern Ireland Delegations Meet With Tony BlairWhat kind of Christians would be offended by a television programme exploring the life and teachings of Jesus? Well, some unionist Christians would be, if the programme in question was called ‘The Bible: A History’ and presented by Gerry Adams. The day after the programme was shown, one woman contacted a radio phone-in. “That man was born evil, he lived evil and he’ll die evil. And I hope he roasts in hell”.

Her views, less colourfully expressed, are shared by a number of unionists. Adams, they say, masterminded the IRA campaign of violence that led to the death of thousands of people. How dare he appear on a programme and try to draw comparisons between himself and Jesus!

In fact the Sinn Fein man’s role in the programme was to discover the historical Jesus and to ponder on the value and applicability of his teaching. As part of that he visited the Holy Land, where he was able to draw implicit Irish parallels by learning how the Jews coped with the occupation of their country by the Romans, and how present-day Palestinians cope with the occupation of their land by the Israelis.

Closer to home, he met with Alan McBride and Geraldine Finucane. McBride’s wife and father-in-law were both killed in the Shankill bomb in 1993; Finucane’s barrister husband Pat was killed by a loyalist gang in 1989, as he sat having dinner with his family. McBride is well-known for his openness to those who have hurt him – his meeting with Gerry Adams was part of that. Finucane, in contrast, can’t forgive any of those involved at any level in the death of her husband (‘Right up to the Cabinet table’), but concedes we must learn to live with our enemies.

So why were unionists like Jim Allister, leader of the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice party (TUV) so incensed by Mr Adams’s appearance? Because they argue that the violence of the past forty years was exclusively the work of republicans. Attempts to draw comparisons between Adams and Jesus are ‘blasphemous’. If you take a broader and more historically accurate view, then you list the IRA among a number of warlike groupings, including the RUC, the UDR, the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries, and you come to a conclusion similar to that articulated by the Sinn Fein president: ‘We all have a lot to forgive and a lot to be forgiven for’.

Footnote: In the course of the programme, Mr Adams had extensive discussion about the life of Jesus with Dr Helen Bond, a senior lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh. On her website Dr Bond credits Gerry Adams with a new insight into Judas: Adams is convinced Judas was ‘turned’, pressured into co-operating with the occupying forces against his own people. A new light on an old story. Nice one, Gerry.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Home from Rome

Pope Benedict XVI's end-of-year speech to cardinals and bishops - Rome I was in at the BBC breezy if not bright this morning. The occasion was a discussion organized for the Radio Ulster religious programme ‘Sunday Sequence’, involving some twenty-five people. Bishop Noel Treanor was the main figure present, closely followed by (Baroness) Nuala O’Loan (yes, she of the nemesis-of-Ronnie-Flanagan fame) and a range of other informed and notable Catholics. ‘Whither the Catholic Church?’ was the ostensible title of the discussion but since it had abuse victim Marie Collins among those attending, and the twenty-four Irish bishops were just back from their confab in Rome with the Pope, it focused largely on the Ryan and Murphy Reports about sex-abuse in the Catholic Church.

We were asked to have ready thoughts on what we’d say to the Pope if we were given just two minutes with him. I’d planned to ask Karl if he was aware the Catholic Church was leaking young people at an alarming rate, and did he think that the news clip showing elderly men in full regalia kissing the Pope's hand was likely to convince many young people that they were missing out on a new and exciting way of looking at the world. Somehow the two minutes with His Holiness didn’t emerge and I opted instead for wondering aloud why the words ‘Sexual abuse’ and ‘cover-up’ produce a reflex ‘Irish Catholic clergy’ response in the public mind, given that the problem of abuse is one shared by other churches and society in general. Our presenter William Crawley declared abuse knew no boundaries, then moved smartly away from my point. Maybe he was fearful that people such as the Ian Paisleys (Senior and Junior) would get annoyed, given that they, as in days of yore, like to present the problem in Catholic-clergy-corrupt-Church-of-Rome terms.

Child sexual abuse is indeed a problem within the Catholic Church. But to focus on that sin alone or to pretend that it’s confined to the Catholic Church is to become obsessed with sexual sin. Which, oddly, is what many of us thought the Catholic Church did throughout the 1950s and after.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

That's that room. Now for the rest.

Roman Catholic MassJackie McDonald telling Orangemen to not bother their heads trying to march down the Garvaghy Road, Edwin Poots or was it Nelson McCausland attending or was it talking about attending a GAA football match, the coldest winter in years in the midst of global warming - is there nothing constant, rock-like, onto which we can cling in r this world of alarming flux?

Ah yes – step forward Ian Paisley. No, not the one with the equine features who had some confusing dealings up about North Antrim - we’re talking here about his daddy, the Big Man himself. He’s writing in the News Letter and he’s explaining how sinful the Church of Rome is. Just like old times.

‘This week 24 Irish bishops, who know all too well what sin is, met the Pope in Rome in order to see what the Holy See intends regarding the unholy mess that secret sin, suppressed and shielded by Mother Church, has wrought in the lives of hundreds of people. The victims want a full apology from Benedict and they want it delivered in person at the scene of the crime – in this case Ireland.’

Don’t you love it? In print you’re not aware that the voice has grown shaky, the body bent, the features more weary. We’re back to the 1950s, when Ian would produce a born-again priest called Father Arribe or some such, to tell the congregation about the appalling stewpot of corruption that was the Catholic Church, followed by Ian’s own thunder against the Whore of Babylon.

Of course, Ian is right. There has been corruption in the Catholic Church - sexual abuse and cover-up and hypocrisy. The Ryan and Murphy reports have made that clear, and according to Ian there’s more of the same due to come out of Germany.

The only thing that casts a teensy shadow over Ian’s impressive hectoring is that he doesn’t mention the Free Presbyterian Church. Or the Presbyterian Church. Or the Church of Ireland. Or England. Or the Episcopalian Church in the US. I once asked a prominent evangelical Protestant during a radio discussion if he thought there weren’t child abusers within the ranks of the various Protestant denominations. Like Ian, he dodged round that one with some speed, declaring even more loudly that the Church of Rome was rotten.

Isn’t it time the investigators went in and checked out the state of sexual morals within other Churches than the Catholic Church? We’re told child abuse is a crime that’s found in all sections of society, so it’s hard to believe it stops when it gets to the porch of Protestantism. ‘Clergymen and Paedophiles’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘Priests and Paedophiles’, but I expect we’d get used to it. And anyway, there’s not much point in cleaning out the mess in one room if you haven’t worked up the courage to peep into the other rooms of the house.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Mud and how to sling it

Dear Willie O’Dea – I’m going to miss him. Remember the time he was filmed pointing a huge Defence-forces gun with the caption ‘Go ahead, punk, make my day!’? How we laughed. Or the time in Europe when he’d been speaking to some mainland MEPs for several minutes before one of them asked if they could have a translation into English. But now Wee Willie has screwed up, not so much by swearing lies about a Sinn Fein candidate owning a brothel, as by allowing the story to surface at a time when the Greens desperately needed to look moral and Fianna Fail desperately needed to be propped up by the Greens. Alas, poor Willie, we knew him well – ‘a was a fellow of infinite jest. And that MOUSTACHE…

Mind you, the way Enda Kenny was getting all puffed up with indignation, you’d think he was the one who’d been accused of running a brothel. Besides, southern politicians for years have been saying the first thing that came into their head about Sinn Fein people’s involvement in violence, things for which they have no evidence but felt safe in saying because Sinn Fein tended not to sue. And if it’s more recent unsubstantiated claims you want, have a look at what’s been aimed at Gerry Adams over recent weeks. Never mind Enda Kenny being in the brothel-running business; someone new to the Adams story would have concluded that Gerry Adams was the one accused of abusing his niece, and not the girl’s father, Liam Adams.

So to sum up: the Greens act moral but only when they feel they’ll look bad if they don’t; Fine Gael gets all upset about a Sinn Fein councillor’s good name while at the same time declaring themselves so morally superior to Sinn Fein, they couldn’t possibly serve in government with them,; and the whole affair’s reported by a press that has no compunction in receiving balls of mud from unnamed sources to fire at the leader of a party they detest, all the while adopting a we-only-do-this-because-we’re-concerned-for-the-public-good demeanour.

Cheesh. Compared to that lot, Wee Willie begins to look like an honest liar.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Passport to kill

My son had a terrible time getting a Canadian passport. He had no problems with the Canadian government - he was born in Canada and thanks to the their civil service, which makes British and Irish civil servants seem obstructionist and boorish, his passport was soon winging its way to him by special, to-be-signed-for delivery. It never arrived. Somehow, someone else now has that passport and is making their own uses of it.

I thought of my son's experience this morning when it emerged that Israeli secret agents had not only murdered a Hamas commander in Dubai but had stolen British and Irish passports to help them do their vile work. Since the discovery of the theft, the British have been making loud protesting noises; the Irish, as far as I know, haven't uttered a squeak, or if they have you may be sure it was of the 'Oh please, we don't want to create a fuss but would you mind terribly not doing that again? Except you have to?'
Hamas rally against assassination of senior commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai Informer Stobie Shot Dead in Belfast
It's important to keep our eye on the main issue here - the execution of a man by the Israeli government. You don't hear too loud protest from the Americans, because they themselves engage in the same kind of death-dealing when the opportunity presents itself, and if it involves some 'collateral damage', what the hell. You don't hear too loud protest from the Irish, because the Irish government doesn't want to annoy anyone, especially the Yanks, and they know that if they start shouting at the Israelis, that might upset the US. And you don't hear too loud protest from Britain, because Britain kills people - even its own citizens - when it figures they're getting too much in the way. Sometimes it uses its own army - remember Bloody Sunday? - and sometimes it uses proxy assassins - remember Pat Finucane?

So while it's a serious matter that one government should be involved in the theft of passports from the citizens of another country, it's the merest diplomatic blip compared to the brutal fact that those who tell us they uphold the law break it when they decide they want to, and to the fact that those who urge the abandonment of violence and the pursuit of goals through exclusively peaceful means are hypocritical beyond words.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Nice Mike parachutes in

In the wake of the George Lee debacle in the south, there’s a general agreement that it’s not a good idea to expect a celebrity candidate, especially one from the media, to fit smoothly into the political machine. George certainly didn’t and the pain of his recent walk-out will make political parties slow to rush in to a repeat performance.

Except it now looks highly likely that Mike Nesbitt, late of the UTV parish and then the Victims’ Commission parish, will be selected as the Ulster Unionist candidate for Strangford in the coming Westminster election – the seat held hitherto by one Iris Robinson. It’s certainly a winnable seat. It belonged to John Taylor (since assumed into the House of Lords) for many years and Iris’s spectacular activities in the sexual and commercial field mean the DUP are really up against it this time.

But is Nesbitt a good choice? If you’d asked a similar question about Lee in the run-up to his election, you’d have got a resounding Yes. The good burghers of Dublin South just loved little George to bits and voted him in overwhelmingly. Nesbitt is also a good media operator – in fact considerably better than Lee, who exuded a certain narkiness in most of the time – but will he make a good politician? As Bill Clinton might have said but didn’t, it depends on what you mean by ‘good’. He’ll be good on TV, which is how the public judge politicians by and large. But whether he’ll be good at working within the system of constituency surgeries and helping devise legislation, I don’t know. Probably not – most journalists are better at broad-brush stuff than tedious nuts-and-bolts.

But if you’re an Ulster Unionist, fret not. Remember it’s Westminster that Nesbitt is aiming for. If he gets there, nobody will care whether he’s a good committee-and-House-debate man or not: what distinguishes any debate involving Northern Ireland in Westminster is the fact that politicians of all other stripes clear off as if threatened with bubonic plague, so the chamber echoes to the sound of half-a-dozen N Ireland MPs debating an issue to an audience of maybe two, knowing all the while that nobody else has heard them and that in any case, nothing they say will make a blind bit of difference.

So good luck, Mike. You’re a nice guy and if wife Lynda joins you on the stump, you’ll draw the crowds who enjoy a bit of eye-candy. But is it conceivable, do you think, that some day unionism will awake from its slumber and see that being part of a parliament where you’re a valued 20% of the representation beats being in a parliament where you’re an ignored 2% of the representation?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

An bfhuil Gaeilge agat?

Belfast Irish
What is it about the Irish language that so many unionists hate? Well, the fact that it was a baffling language spoken in prison by republicans is one reason. Another is that Gerry Adams has a habit of breaking into Irish when he’s speaking publicly, and a number of Sinn Fein people often open their speeches with a few words of Irish. Then there’s the fact that Irish has traditionally been the language of the native, an identifier which marks them off from the planter.

All of these are reasons but none of them is a good reason. Republicans also had a reputation for studying a range of political thinkers during their time in prison, but most unionists don’t hate political philosophy. The occasional words in Irish by Sinn Fein people are always inoffensive and often welcoming, which makes those who get annoyed by them look churlish and even stupid. And if Irish as part of Irish culture is rejected because it’s part of Irish culture, that tells us more about the rejectionists than anything else.

And yet the hatred lives on. There was talk at one point that Chris McGimpsey, a good unionist, could speak Irish, but he hurried to disabuse people of any such notion. Not a single Protestant/State school in the north of Ireland offers Irish as a subject or even as an extra-curricular activitiy. And now unionists are furious that £20 million has been secured from the British for the development of the Irish language. Nelson McCausland is quickly on TV, emphasizing that there’s also money for the development of Ulster-Scots, and won’t that be great. The TUV leader Jim Allister accuses the DUP of having promised that nothing would be delivered from Hillsborough for the Irish language and having failed unionism by allowing a £20 million ‘side-deal’ to go through. Republicans/nationalists might point out that this £20 million is a stop-gap to cover the non-appearance of the Irish Language Act promised at St Andrews.

Cut it which way you like, there’s no disguising the vigour of the loathing for Irish that thrashes around in the entrails of unionism. A parallel might be that of a thirsty man refusing to accept a beautifully-chilled beer because he’s noticed an opponent enjoying the same brand ten minutes earlier.

It’s true what they say: the most terrible wounds are those which are self-inflicted.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Abuse and avoidance

SNAP Protests For Better Sex Abuse Laws

Here we go again. The twenty-four Irish bishops are in Rome this week to meet with the Pope concerning the fall-out from the Ryan and Murphy reports. This morning, a spokesman for the victims or survivors of child abuse was on the radio, calling on the Pope to see to it that all the bishops mentioned in the Murphy report should be made resign. As I write this, I’m looking at a list of the most popular stories on an Irish news website and there in the top five I see a picture of the ominous-looking Fr Brendan Smyth with the tag ‘Child abuse monster Father Brendan Smyth ruined my life’. That tag summarises much of the reporting on child abuse in Ireland. Newspapers in particular catalogue the vileness in detail, with no effort made to analyse the nature of the problem or what might be done to address it. All cries of disgust and indignation, no rational consideration of what the Catholic Church and Irish society is facing.

So a few points that should be factored in to discussion but hardly ever are:

1. Our society completely rejects the notion of adults engaging in sexual activity with children – and rightly so, in my opinion. However, there have been and are societies where sexual activity involving children is viewed in a very different way: the most obvious example is the society of Ancient Greece.

2,. Child sexual abuse – in fact sexual abuse of anyone, I believe – is a cruel and contemptible crime. But it isn’t, as we so often hear people say (and as Gerry Adams said on TV on Friday night) , the worst conceivable crime that could be committed against a child. Ask yourself: would you rather your child was killed than sexually abused? I wouldn’t. Would you rather your child was mutilated – had his/her hands or nose lopped off, say – than sexually abused? I wouldn’t. Vile though sexual abuse is, we do our rejection of it little service by classifying it as the worst conceivable thing that could happen.

3. The present scandal involves members of the Catholic clergy and their sexual abuse of children. However, (i) there is no study which shows that Catholic priests have a higher rate of such offences than clergy in any other denomination or in the general public. In other words, a link between celibacy and abuse remains to be established. (ii) Some 6-8% of Irish adult males are believed to be child abusers; the Murphy Report showed almost exactly the same figure for priest abusers or alleged abusers in the Dublin diocese.

4. Since most charges of child sexual abuse against Catholic clergy relate to crimes committed decades earlier, guilt or innocence is established solely on the testimony of those making the charge. Does the absence of any other kind of evidence - material evidence for example - mean that certainty beyond reasonable doubt is assured in cases where clergy are convicted? I ask in honest ignorance.

5. Children and adults sometimes lie. Catholic clergy, I’m confident, sometimes lie when charged with child sexual abuse. Equally, those bringing charges, I’m confident, sometimes lie about the occurrence of abuse.

These are five points which, as I say, I’ve rarely if ever seen or heard discussed in a public forum. They don’t change the fact that child sexual abuse was perpetrated by members of the Catholic clergy, and that what they did was horrible and weakens immeasurably any pronouncements by the Catholic Church concerning sexual morality: of all sins, we feel a particularly deep contempt for hypocrisy. But if there’s to be renewed discussion of child sexual abuse in Ireland by Catholic clergy, it would help if such discussion would include attention to the five areas above, and would do so in a rational rather than in a mob-mentality way.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Don't sing that!

Rugby Union - British & Irish Lions Training
The Ireland rugby team got their asses whipped in Paris yesterday, which was a pity, especially as they'd done so well last year and in the first period of this game against France they looked fairly impressive. But. BUTBUTBUT. Defeat on the field is one thing; self-abasement in the lead-up to the game is another. In place of 'Amhran na Bhfiann', the national anthem, we got 'Ireland's Call'.

Is there another country in the world that is afraid to play its own national anthem? Personally I think 'Ireland's Call' has all the stirring, motivational qualities of 'Puppet on a String' (take a bow for both, former classmate Phil Coulter), but that's beside the point. Even it were wonderfully inspiring, 'Ireland's Call' is still not be the Irish national anthem. So why do we play the Coulter piece? Because it might upset some of the Irish players. That is, some of the northern Irish players, who, um, don't like the way it calls for Irish freedom. Mentions a Saxon foe (if you translate it). Offends their sensibilities. And how many northern Irish potentially-offended players are there on the team? And why are they so important that the rest of the team and the Irish supporters must, shame-faced, nudge the national anthem off-stage? I dunno. But imagine if someone suggested that 'God Save The Queen' or 'The Marseillaise' should be ditched, because some of the team didn't like it.

Then again, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised. There are Irish people who think the words of the national anthem should be changed because they're too bloodthirsty. And there are Irish people who think the national anthem should be ditched permanently. Truly, we are a people with a deep, wide streak of self-loathing.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Late Late Tabloid

World Leaders Attend 61st United Nations General Assembly

For the first time in ages, I watched RTE's 'Late Late Show' last night. I knew Gerry Adams would be on, so I persevered through appalling rubbish to get to him. At one point presenter Ryan Tubridy asked the guest how she felt about her mother dying. WHA'? In fact several of the interviews seemed to be aimed at getting the guest as upset as possible, so the audience in the studio and at home could experience an intense emotional moment. It was tear-jerking TV at its most shameless.

The interview with Gerry Adams was very disappointing, mainly because Tubridy, in the guise of being a tough-nosed interviewer, kept tossing in comments and jumping to a new topic. At one point he was querying Adams if he'd ever lost a night's sleep over things the IRA had done and the Sinn Fein president linked the situation in the north over the last thirty years to experiences Tubridy's grandfather might have had (he was in the IRA in the early part of the twentieth century). "Oh come on - that was a totally different context - not the same at all!" Tubridy protested.

I'm not surprised, because the need to draw not so much a line as a chasm between the activities of the 'old' IRA and the IRA as it manifested itself in the north from the early 1970s to the early 1990s is a central article of faith of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Labour Party in Dublin. The name may have been the same, the objective the same, the modus operandi the same, but southern politicians and media remain terrified that people might see the conflict over the last forty years as being a continuation of the conflict of the early 1920s. The simpler solution is to classify republican violence since 1970 as an outbreak of mass criminality. That's the approved model, as put forward by the Gregory Campbell school of thought, and suits those on both sides of the border for whom constitutional change would be seen as disaster.

Gerry Adams was generally clear and effective in his answers but I couldn't help remembering how he demolished a whole panel of Late Late critics about twenty years ago and thinking how relatively ...frail he looked and sounded last night.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Feeling the pain

UN Secretary General Meets With Special Envoy To Haiti Bill Clinton
I’m not sure I should feel the way I do about Bill Clinton. The news that he’s been hospitalized and had two pieces of stainless steel inserted into his body ( surely an uncomfortable procedure no matter what route is taken) should provide me and millions of others with a grim satisfaction. After all, this is the man who as governor of Arkansas refused to commute the death sentence of a mentally-handicapped African-American in case it’d look too liberal and damage his chances of election to the presidency. This is the man who ordered the bombing of civilians in the former Yugoslavia and whose sanctions against Iraq led to the deaths of some 250,000 Iraqi children in that country. This is the man who did things in the White House with a young intern and a cigar that may have seemed like a good idea at the time but which did little for the dignity of his office. This is the man who, when the Lewinsky scandal broke, stared into the lens of a TV camera and told the American people with impressive sincerity: ‘I did not have sex with that young woman’. Finally (and for me unforgettably) this is the man who saw fit to compare the struggle to establish reconciliation in Ireland with two drunks who keep vowing they’ll get off the sauce but always end up heading back to a boozer.

There are so many reasons to dismiss this man as at best ‘sex between two Bushes’ and at worst a war criminal, but none of them quite work. When I saw the breaking news yesterday that he’d been admitted to hospital and had two stents inserted in his arteries, instead of murmuring ‘So – God is not mocked!’, I felt a spasm of sympathy. There’s something about Bill - the lop-sided grin, the white hair, the red face, maybe the big nose that should stop him being good-looking but doesn’t – which disarms hostility. The man has charm which morphs into something beyond warmth when he’s sympathizing with those who’ve been bereaved or suffered other loss, as in New Orleans or Haiti. “I feel your pain” he tells people, and they believe him.

His ruthlessness, his womanizing, his lies: all that, somehow, gets burnt away in the power of his presence. “Be liked and you will never want” Willy Loman tells his son Biff in Death of a Salesman. He could have been thinking of Bill Clinton.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Paddy on-stage

Opening Day Press Conference - 2008 Sundance Film Festival
I remember about eight years ago seeing a Martin McDonagh play – ‘The Beauty Queen of Lenane’ - in London and thinking at the time how energetic and amusing his use of language was but how old-fashioned and caricature-ish his presentation of life in the west of Ireland was. A good laugh if you secretly loathed the west of Ireland and its people, a bit of a pain if you didn’t. I remembered ‘The Beauty Queen of Lenane’ when I read a review of another play of his ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ in today’s Guardian. This one is about Mad Padraic, an INLA man who is torturing a drug pusher and gets enraged when his (Mad Paidraic’s) pet cat is killed. Balancing Mad Paidraic is Mairead, a ‘gun-toting teenager so seduced by the erotic pull of violence that she wants to form a terrorist splinter group, Wee Thomas’s Army, to fight for an Ireland fit for moggies’.

It’s probably not a good idea to criticize a play you haven’t seen but what the hell – the tone and content seem reasonably clear from this review. Paramilitaries are a psychotic bunch, they get drawn into violence because it gives them a sexual charge, their violence is coupled with a maudlin sentimentality, and they live in a mad, mad, mad, mad world different from the rest of us. It’s a neat way of responding to violent Irish nationalism, and one embraced with enthusiasm by a lot of ‘educated’ Irish as well as English people. McDonagh is half Irish, half English; since he’s employed the English side of himself to present this picture of crazed Irish terrorists, perhaps he’ll balance it with a thespian picture of blood-crazed British troops – say, the Parachute regiment – going on a shooting spree or torturing unfortunate natives unlucky enough to fall into their hands. Too far-fetched? Or maybe McDonagh believes it’s just violent Irishmen should be labeled ‘psychotic’ when they use physical force to achieve political ends? Whatever the reason, I’m tempted to think that McDonagh’s skill with language doesn’t really compensate for the moral laziness of his vision of Irish people.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Big Boys Remember

Last night’s ‘The Boys of St Columb’s’ on RTE television: let’s get the vested interest out of the way first. I’ve completed twenty-four interviews with former classmates and staff from St Columb’s during the 1950s and am hoping to publish them in book form sometime this year, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of our escape into the world.

Now the programme. It had about eight famous faces from the 1950s and early 60s, and while it reminded us that the school had two Nobel Prize winners, it told us more about the people contributing than it did about the institution. John Hume did a typical “I owe it so much” speech; Phil Coulter tried to pretend he was a working-class lad who played pop on the chapel organ; Eddie Daly was honest but unspecific about being lonely; Jim Sharkey did a diplomatic tip-toe through, expressing his gratitude; Paul Brady sketched himself as awfully artistic and unfairly picked on; and Seamus Deane presented the priests as uniformly brutal. It was left to Eamonn McCann – how astonishing! – to talk about his experiences with humour and insight. His conclusion: that there was a disjunction between the College, with its traditions and old ways, and the outside world where pop culture and and the coming upheaval of the 1960s had already started to shake society into new patterns. Even if you don't agree with his thesis (and I'm not sure I totally do), you have to admire and wonder that the one person capable of producing an analysis of the time was the one figure who, in his every word and gesture, was clearly an outsider. The other contributors - with the possible exception of Seamus Deane - were insiders, . But not McCann. A rebel then, a rebel now.

As for the film itself: the recollections were listenable. My former colleague at the University of Ulster Vinnie McCormick put it best: the film’s second half dwelt on Bloody Sunday rather than St Columb’s, and in doing so seemed to exploit the horror of that day. The link between slaughter and institution wasn't there, and the film seemed to exploit the suffering of that day because it offered image impact.

Needless to say, my interviews will present a far more complete, sensitive, complex picture.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Et tu, George?

Is it catching? I'm beginning to think it might be. First there was the DUP practically self-combusting in the heat of Iris's passion and the payment of £25,000 cheques to teenage boys, then Sinn Fein and the Liam Adams affair and strenuous efforts to make it seem as if Gerry Adams was going soft on sex-abusers, and now Fine Gael and the case of the crashing star George Lee. George, you'll remember, was a stellar acquisition for Fine Gael and a supernova when he swept home as TD for Dublin South on the first count. And now George has quit both the Dail and Fine Gael, aiming a couple of pretty serious digs at FG leader Enda Kenny and the party's economics man Richard Bruton as he left.

There are several lessons begging to be learnt from the Lee affair. Lesson One: people don't appear to listen very closely when it comes to politics. I'll bet the average punter in the south would be hard put to list one major economics proposal that George Lee thinks should be implemented. That's because George doesn't do specifics. What he does best is looking worried and being critical of the government of the twenty-six counties. If he presented FG with as few concrete ideas as he has the public, it's no wonder they didn't use him. Lesson Two is that co-opting media stars to run for your party is a dodgy business. There's talk of this happening here with former UTV presenter Mike Nesbitt being sent in as Ulster Unionist candidate to challenge Peter Robinson's seat at the next election. Not very smart. Broadcast presenters are really good at apparently being expert on a whole range of things, when in most cases their expertise extends to ten seconds after the programme ends. Listen when they talk about something you know something about yourself, and you'll see what I mean. Lesson Three: the lines of division within political parties has to be seen to be believed (consider, if you will, the bruised hearts in the SDLP who voted for Alastair McDonnell last Sunday). There's a good story told about Winston Churchill on his first day in the British House of Commons. 'There' said a more seasoned colleague, giving a wave to the benches behind them, 'are your enemies'. Churchill was puzzled. 'Surely you mean over there are the enemy' he said, pointing towards the political party on the other side of the House. 'No' his mentor told him. ' I meant your own party'.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Sieving out the scruff

The airwaves are full of much information and comment on the Transfer Test (don't mention the 11+), with suggestions as to how it could be improved NEXT year. As someone who's had four children pass through (and pass) the 11+, I have strong views on the subject.

1. The 11+ and related transfer tests such as those administered this year do NOT measure intelligence. Two things should clue us into this massive fact. One, teachers have their children practise 11+-type tests for a full year - or more - because they know this will improve the children's chances of success. Can intelligence be improved in this way? Obviously not or it wouldn't be intelligence. Therefore the 11+ and its contemporary reincarnation don't measure intelligence. Two, we hear that children who this year sat both tests - the one run by Catholic schools and the one run by Protestant schools - have in more than one case had results that contradict each other - i.e., very good in one, very bad in the other. Clearly at least one of these tests isn't measuring intelligence.
2. Even if these tests did measure intelligence, that does not provide grounds for having 'bright' children educated in separate schools from their 'less-intelligent ' peers. Teachers manage to teach the 'bright' and the 'less bright' in one primary school and even in one class. Why can't that mixed-ability teaching (if that's what it is) be continued in secondary school? For the same reason that middle-class people don't want 'social housing' built near them (cf the successful efforts by middle-class people in the Culmore Road area of Derry recently to keep out social housing).
3. If 11+-type tests are in fact measures of intelligence, then the middle-class are innately more intelligent than their working-class counterparts, for they have a significantly higher success rate in these tests than their working-class counterpoints.
4. Division of children at eleven (or any other age) is not about ability but about proximity. Middle-class parents simply don't want their children hanging around or even being in the same area as working-class children, for a range of reasons - the working-class youngsters are dirtier, they're coarser in their manners, they use rude language, they've less respect for private property. Oh, and they haven't the same educational or social aspirations as their middle-class counterparts. All of these are interesting reasons but few if any are educational.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Lady in Red, Doctor Blue

And the winner is...Margaret Ritchie! Step forward, little lady - you done good. Well, you stopped Alastair McDonnell becoming leader and for that a lot of hearts are grateful (mainly in the SDLP). But will Ms Ritchie be any good as leader of the SDLP? All these things are relative. Standing beside John Hume, Mark Durkan looked awkward and callow; standing beside Alastair McDonnell, Margaret Ritchie looks petite and approachable. But then, standing beside Alastair McDonnell, a piles-plagued pit-bull might look petite and approachable.

For some politicians, nothing in their political life becomes them like the leaving it, but not so the disappointed Dr McDonnell. He had offered to radically reshape the SDLP, he said, but the party apparently wasn't ready for that yet. In other words, he wasn't made leader not because he wasn't good enough but because THE PARTY wasn't good enough...You have to admire such granite-hard self-belief, especially when it sits on such gossamer-thin evidence.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Abroad thoughts from home

Back in the 1970s in Canada, I remember talking to a Winnipeg broadcaster called Bill. He was known to everyone in Winnipeg and like all celebs, would be greeted in public places by people who didn't know him. Now it happened on one occasion that a total eclipse of the sun was best seen from Winnipeg, so US television stations linked to him talking about it and describing local reaction. Bill told me that he'd never received such response from local Canadians - they'd seen him on Canadian TV dozens of times but when the US channels featured him, Winnipegers fell over themselves to tell him "Saw you on TV, Bill!" He felt more than a bit uneasy about that, he said. What was it about Canadians, that they saw Canadians and Canadian work as meritworthy only when they had been endorsed by the big neighbour next door?

I thought of Bill's misgivings yesterday, when I had a piece on the transfer of policing and justice featured in the London Guardian's Comment Is Free section. I was pleased that it had appeared and that I had access to people who would normally not read me, and I let quite a few people know it was there. At the same time I had to remind myself that to see Britain as the only important court of validation is a sad and self-deficient view of life, and one that Irish people in particular have to struggle against. As George Bernard Shaw said a long time ago, the British look to the Irishman to play the fool and he often obliges.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Prescient or what?

And so the DUP have finally persuaded all their members to climb into the big four-poster bed called ‘Deal’. Or so we’re told. The clincher, informed sources tell me, was the saving of the Presbyterian Mutual Society savers. As it happens, I know a few Presbyterians with funds tied up in that society and more decent, agreeable people you couldn’t meet. So on a personal level I’m happy for them. However, two points bear mentioning. One, the PMS was in the mix for a deal weeks ago – months even. I know that from talking to people involved in PMS negotations with the British government and unionist politicians. So to attribute it, as RTE’s Tommie Gorman appeared to do this morning, to a last-minute clever move by Peter Robinson is to give it a false spin. The DUP have been working with PMS people for months now, knowing that it had real vote potential. And good luck to them. But if anyone was ever in doubt as to whether the DUP was a Protestant party for a Protestant people, that doubt came to an end last night.

Incidentally, I saw the revered Irish News’s chief political pundit on ‘Hearts and Minds’ last night. He agreed that a deal looked very likely. He didn’t mention that, some three weeks ago in his column, he made it abundantly clear that there would not, could not be a transfer of Policing and Justice powers before the Westminster election. Not sufficient will, he explained then, and not sufficient time. As I noted in an earlier blog, don’t believe what anyone tells you about what’s going to happen. Especially if they’re chief pundit for the revered Irish News.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Two little boys and the police

Is that light I see? Or the sun streaming through a hole in Peter Robinson’s head, put there by his ever-faithful MLAs? The temptation is to see the wearisome sight of the DUP dragging its wounded-animal carcass towards the finishing line as good news. (Note to self: we’ll have to get some fresh metaphors soon – the present ones stink of overuse.) But actually that’d be too optimistic. The only two worthwhile questions to ask are (i) Will the DUP ever become a truly power-sharing partner in office with Sinn Fein; and (ii) Will the brooding Jim Allister’s party eventually eclipse the DUP, as the DUP eclipsed the Ulster Unionists?

The answer to (i), I’m becoming more and more convinced, is No. Evidence, if evidence were needed, was supplied by Ian Óg Paisley this morning. He was debating with Lil Alex Attwood about the PSNI, as it is at present and as it should become. Lil Alex was saying how improved the figure for Catholics in the ranks was - 28% from less than 10% ten years ago - but that in the clerical staff ranks it was still only 11% Catholic, up from 8% ten years ago. Ian Óg was not impressed. The problem as he saw it was that over 2,000 Protestants had been deprived of the jobs that were rightly theirs in the PSNI because those jobs had been taken by Catholics.

I didn’t hear Ian Óg talking about the Parades Commission and the rights of Orangemen to troop their sectarian colours where they will, but after this morning I can see there’s no need for him to do so. There’s a perfect match-up between the problem with Orange parades – It’s the fenians’ fault, refusing to allow decent Protestants to walk the Queen’s Highway – and the problem of PSNI recruitment – It’s the fenians’ fault, refusing to allow decent Protestants to take their rightful place in ‘our police service’.

Mercifully, you have a choice in reacting to all this. You can feel depressed that we live in a state where the largest party (at present) hopes to thrive by slapping down the Orange card. Alternatively you can feel happy that the sectarian nature of that card and its use becomes clearer by the day.

As for whether Jim Allister’s TUV will ever eclipse the DUP: I don’t think so. Paisley’s smile was bad (remember those great stagtites of spittle that Ian Knox used to draw in his Irish News cartoons?) but Allister’s ghastly rictus is a grimace too far, surely, for the decent unionist people of this state.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

All MLAs on deck!...Oh OK, 60% of you then.

It looks as if Peter Robinson has been restored, if not to rude health, at least to the leadership of the DUP. The announcement that he’s gone back to captaining what looks suspiciously like a political Titanic also made it clear he did so on the advice of his solicitor, Paul Maguire, who says he did nothing wrong. Mmmm. Why do we need to know the name of his solicitor? And when we know it, are we meant to draw any conclusions? Don’t ask me – I only live here. But I think the general public are pretty convinced he has some explaining to do, regardless of what Mr Maguire may opine. By the way – wasn’t Peter supposed to be looking after his wife in her ill-health? Maybe she’s better. Or someone else is looking after her.

Another mystery: how many, if any, DUP MLAs voted agin the settlement Peter Robinson brought to them t’other night? The BBC seems pretty adamant the number was fourteen, although they did their case little service by getting Tuesday and Monday mixed up, allowing wily DUPers like Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell to duck and weave as well as stonewall about whether the party was (hopelessly?) split.

The scariest part of the DUP story is how quickly bad stuff can happen – from hero party to zero party in a matter of days. At the turn of the year the DUP was big and brash and laughing hard at how it was stymieing Sinn Fein at every turn. Here we are at the start of February and the DUP are on the ropes, bleeding from more wounds than we once thought it had places. And Shaun Woodward isn’t doing much to staunch them. In the British House of Commons today, he pressed home the point that British patience isn’t endless, that offers of £800,000 ( I thought it was a billion? Cheesh) won’t be on the table forever, and that those who allow things to fall apart will be punished by the electorate. Now where have I heard that before? Ah yes - a few short weeks ago, Peter Robinson was telling us that if Sinn Fein walked away, they’d suffer the wrath of ‘the community’. The question sits up and begs for an answer: who’s suffering now?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Déja vu, Pierre?

This is Groundhog Day, and if you’ve seen the movie you’ll be tempted to draw parallels between Bill Murray’s repetition of the day until he got it perfect and the repetitions up at Stormont. Well, turn your back on temptation because the comparisons are false. The repetitions in the film had a valuable purpose – so the character played by Murray could see that a life which used others to aggrandize oneself was a life of no value. The repetitions up at Stormont are going in the opposite direction.

Gradually, from the murk and gloom of conflicting interpretations, a clear picture has emerged. Everyone- Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance, the two governments – all want Policing and Justice to be devolved NOW. The DUP, however, are still looking for ways to provide themselves with a parachute in case Jim Allister opens the aircraft door and tries to throw them out. Everything is being held up, repeated to the point where we all want to scream, not by a desire to get things right a la Bill Murray, but by a desire to get things rigged so the DUP can come out looking as though they’ve once more wiped Sinn Fein’s eye.

It’s a grim conclusion but one we’ll have to get used to, as we sit and drum our fingers: the DUP are incapable of respecting republicans/nationalists

Monday, 1 February 2010

A lull rather than a resolution?

With things political on the verge of a breakthrough, it’s probably churlish to be gloomy but I am. That’s because in my interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Sunday Sequence’, I stressed the importance of respect between partners. It applies to any partnership, be it man and wife or a business partnership. If you have one party in the partnership continually grabbing opportunities to tell his /her friends about the latest occasion when they got one over on the other half, or how they hoodwinked other half into believing something which the fine print contradicted, hahahahaaaa, then you don’t have the foundations essential for a successful partnership. And if, after being subjected to this thinly-veiled contempt, the put-upon partner walks out, it’d be perverse to declare that the partnership failed because the put-upon one walked out.

Anyway, a few hours after my radio interview, I watched ‘The Politics Show’ on television. Featured were Sammy Wilson of the DUP alongside John O’Dowd of Sinn Fein. With a deal nearing completion between the two parties, what’s Sammy busy doing throughout the interview, down to his final words? He’s busy goading O’Dowd and Sinn Fein, annoucing that it’s good they’ve learnt not to try pushing the DUP around, that they now see threats don’t work, etc., etc. This, mark you, at a point when things have been resolved between the two. With that kind of attitude deeply imbedded in Sammy’s party, it’s hard to believe that the final rupture between the DUP and Sinn Fein has simply been postponed. When that unhappy day comes, I hope no bone-headed commentator comes on to apportion blame equally and to tell us ‘the two parties just couldn't agree’. Poppycock and horse's feathers. There's one party that has failed the agreement test and the respect test consistently, and looks set fair to go on failing: the DUP.

Thanks, Sammy. That's really cheered up my Monday morning.