Thursday, 29 July 2010
I was watching a witless BBC interviewer talking to Dwain Chambers yesterday, after he came fifth in the final of the European Men's 100 metres. Old Dwain was trying to put the best face he could on his disappointment, saying he'd enjoyed every minute of the Games and it was good to be competing at this level, blah-de-blahety-blah. That's when the thick-skulled interviewer said 'So you don't mind losing?' For one glorious minute I thought Dwain might take him by the throat but it wasn't to be.
Now the muscular Dwain isn't a man you'd normally link with the DUP's Nelson McCausland but there is a connection - trust me. Earlier yesterday, at lunch-time, we had Nelson visiting the Scoil Samhraidh Mhic Reachtain on the Antrim Road. That's Nelson the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, who believes that Ulster-Scots is a language, as distinct from Ian Óg Paisley who thinks it's 'just bad English'. You're both wrong, boys, ach sin sceal eile.
I missed Nelson's little speech to the assembled Summer Schoolers, gathered like myself to learn Irish and other cultural and artistic skills. But I caught the last ten seconds and in it a smiling, affable Nelson told the assembled audience that he was delighted to be there, that he wished the Summer School every success and he was all for 'such events as this throughout the province'. Just as the moron BBC interviewer felt the need to lob in a dumb and irritating question - 'So you don't mind losing?' - old Nelson felt the need to inform us that he sees Northern Ireland as Ulster and pshaw, those other three little counties, sure they don't really exist, Ulster we have and Ulster we hold. His audience, a tolerant and generous people, applauded him warmly despite the geographical misnomer. Me, I was wondering what response Martin McGuinness would get if he attended an Orange Order meeting and began talking about the Six Counties. But then, unlike the Scoil Samhraidh Mhic Reachtain, the Orange Order wouldn't dream of inviting someone whose politics are radically different from theirs, so they're safe from any such jibe. At the same time, I keep having this image of Dwain getting a headlock on Nelson - I know it makes no sense but I still keep having it. And, I'm ashamed to say, enjoying it.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
So Ian R K Paisley, aka Lord Bannside - what was it that first attracted you to the creature we call Democracy? Was it a vision you had on a hillside about twenty-five years ago when you took the salute from several hundred men displaying (no, don't laugh) their rifle licences? Was it that time you posed with a sledge-hammer, quite like but of course seriously different from the loyalist death squads who used to sledge-hammer down front doors before storming in and killing their unfortunate victims, except you merely vowed to 'Smash Sinn Fein', a legal political party? Maybe we do best to leave your mind a mystery, for in that place there are dark corners and twisting ways which would leave most of us gasping for breath and wishing we'd never come.
Whatever it was that led you to this moment, Your Lordship, it is indeed good news to hear that you would accept Martin McGuinness as First Minister, if the voters should decide to make Sinn Fein the biggest single party. It's a bit less good news to be told, as a number of DUP politicians have informed us, that the unionist people would not accept Mr McGuinness in that role. That is to say, having spent about thirty years urging republicans to leave the path of violence and commit exclusively to democratic ways, unionists (according to their politicians) will simply reject the decision of the ballot box if it doesn't produce the result they see as their God-given right - viz, to have now and always a unionist First Minister.
Of course, this anti-democratic unionist stance may change, now that IRKP aka the good Lord has decided that he is a man who respects the decision of the electorate. Especially as those unionist politicians who've said a republican First Minister simply cannot be will probably be so impressed by the purity of heart displayed by the former DUP leader, will know that he speaks only for the welfare of the people of the six counties and not at all with any notion of damaging the present DUP leadership - overcome with this realisation, they will very likely fall on their faces, heap cinders on their heads and call upon God and the electorate to forgive them their wrong-headed ways.
By the way, isn't it odd how in common with other Protestant fundamentalists, IRKP cannot call any man Father but God, and yet he experiences no pain, physical or spiritual, in having other men and women call him Lord?
Monday, 26 July 2010
I recall seeing Alex Higgins in the flesh, as they say, on two occasions. The first was about eight years ago on a flight to England. He sat at the front, spoke briefly to someone who came looking for an autograph and looked like a seriously ill man. The second was about two months ago, as I passed his pub in Sandy Row. He was standing outside it, listening to another man, and looked even more frail than the first time I saw him. Given his once-fiery temperament, it was like a memento mori to see him on both occasions – a reminder that just beneath the skin, for all of us, lies a grinning skull.
I can’t say I liked the man - he lacked the boyish charm of George Best, with whom he was often compared. Best too burnt his life out early with drink and women. And there’s a violence link as well: Higgins told Coalisland-man Dennis Taylor that he would have him shot, and Best is reputed to have beaten his wife. But while, no matter what you heard of him, it was hard to dislike Best, it was always fairly easy to recoil just a little from Higgins.
He was found dead, we’re told, alone in his flat in Sandy Row. Maybe, unlike Best, he stayed too close to his roots, too close to an out-dated culture that told him being a man meant being a brawler, a boozer, someone with a whiff of the vicious. For all that it’s sad to see the gifted spark which lit up snooker world for a decade and more finally quenched. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam - May he rest in peace.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
President Mary McAleese is a woman who, in a number of ways, I admire. When the BBC was making a documentary about Queen's University's 150th anniversary, she was a major contributor and over several days I got to talk to her and watch her interact with others. Outstanding intelligence and humanity at work. So when I heard she'd been the guest of honour at a PSNI passing-out parade, I was interested. Why was she there?
Well, the reason she WASN'T there is that she's interested in policemen. Or that she figured they'd like to see her, or that Matt Baggot might make her and her husband a nice cup of tea. She was there because QE2 is planning to come to Dublin next year. The presence of the President of Ireland (well in practical terms the president of the twenty-six counties, since none of us north of the border is allowed to vote for her) at the ceremony, the pictures of her and Matt Baggot smiling and complimenting each other, the President's denunciation of the people who had 'set their faces like flint' against any reconciliation - all that is meant to make nationalists feel good, that their top woman has definitely got a toehold and a voice north of the border. The flip-side of which is that when QE2 comes to Dublin she needs must be wined and dined at Áras an Uachtaráin, she must be greeted with courtesy and warmth by the populace, and above all, nobody must MENTION THE WAR. Or if they do, it's all done now and we're all friends together, right? That old Irish question has been answered, finally and completely. Right? And isn't it great?
President McAleese makes an important point when she says the time has come to put aside old enmities. Sad to say that can be done only on the basis of justice and democracy. The fact is, Britain rules the northern corner of this island and the majority of Irish people don't want that. Over 5,000 British troops are stationed in the northern corner of this island and the majority of Irish people don't want that. It'd be nice if such uncomfortable facts could magically vanish and we could welcome the head of state of our nearest neighbour the way any civilized country should. But it's not going to happen while Britain insists on maintaining its political and military grip in Ireland. If President McAleese thinks that attendance at a PSNI passing-out parade will mute the almighty outcry which will accompany such a visit, then the woman from Ardoyne, for all her intelligence, is sadly out of touch with nationalist/republican feeling throughout Ireland.
Friday, 23 July 2010
Which raises a question I’ve raised before: why do the unionist/Protestant community here recoil from the language? We’re told it’s because it’s been hi-jacked by republicans but that doesn’t make sense. Nobody can hi-jack a language; it’s there and available for everyone. Yet even the most enlightened of Protestant grammar and secondary schools in the north don’t offer Irish as a regular subject on their curriculum.
My own suspicion, and it’s no more than a suspicion, is that unionists turn from it because a race memory tells them to avoid going native. If you’re part of the colonizing power, the one thing you must guard against is becoming integrated with those you rule. In twenty-first-century Ireland, such attitudes make no sense, and yet the unionist/Protestant population here go on turning their backs on the treasure-house that is the Irish language. They’re afraid that, were they to enter, their otherness would be fatally compromised and they’d be faced with, well, an appalling vista. So they sit outside the treasure-house and either pretend it’s not there or, like Sammy Wilson, throw verbal stones at it.
It’s tragic what insecurity can do to a people, isn’t it?
Thursday, 22 July 2010
I wonder if former Justice Minister Michael McDowell has seen Billy (Spider) Kelly box? Back in 1950s Derry Billy was a champion fighter largely through his ability to bob and weave, which left his opponents punching empty air and eventually defeated. I ask the question because Mr McDowell has suggested that the Twelfth of July should be a national holiday north and south. It’s a startling and original idea. A national celebration throughout the country would certainly send the strongest possible signal to the unionist community in the north that their culture is a part of Irish history and that they will have a secure place and identity in a new Ireland. It would also take the sting out of any triumphalism that traditional Twelfth supporters might be tempted to display. What’s the point in trying to provoke your nationalist neighbours when they’re out there celebrating alongside you?
There’s just one catch with this McDowell plan: the Twelfth belongs to the Orange Order and the Orange Order is an anti-Catholic institution. So the tens of thousands of people in the south who McDowell envisions as wanting to celebrate the Twelfth would not be allowed to do so under the banner of the Orange Order. You wouldn’t even be able to do it if you were married to a Catholic or if you had attended a Catholic place of worship. So you see, Michael, not only can you not beat them, they won’t let you join them – except you're a non- Catholic.
Sometimes the price is hardly worth paying. The decent, non-racist people of Alabama could, if they chose, ride alongside the Ku Klux Klan and help them set fire to the burning cross on someone’s front lawn. This would unsettle the KKK, it’d show that non-racists wanted to win them over rather than disown them – but would it make sense? Marching alongside a racist organisation doesn't mean you've won it over. Vice versa, if anything.
Back to the drawing-board, Michael old chum, back to the drawing board.
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
So Ian Óg Paisley has decided that Ulster-Scots isn’t a language. Well whoop-de-doop. In doing so he’s aligned himself with the majority of middle-class unionists who are simply embarrassed by the efforts of people like Nelson McCausland to push for Ulster-Scots parity with Irish. “Ulster-Scots is a language” Nel insists. C’mere a minute, Nel, I have information for you. It’s not. OK? It doesn’t have its own grammatical construction, its own sentence formation, its own vocabulary - it’s not a language. Ian Óg says that while he loves it, it’s ‘just bad English’, which shows that he doesn’t understand it either. It’s not ‘bad English’, Ian Óg. Linguists abandoned the idea of ‘bad English’ about fifty years ago. It’s a dialect, and a very interesting one too. We’re very fortunate to have it as part of our speech inheritance and we all should be proud of it, and use it in appropriate situations where it can add meaning and colour to what we are saying. But Paisley the Lesser is right that it’s not a language, wrong that it’s ‘just bad English’ and very wrong for keeping his large mouth firmly closed when hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money was being pointlessly pumped into the dialect on the grounds that it was a language. Cud ye nat hev opind yir bake a’ the tium, Ian?
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Asda is a big corporate bully. That ws my first reaction to the news that an employee had been sacked for telling some people playing music in the store car park that they should be playing ‘The Sash’. The employee makes a joke, the management don’t like the joke, the employee gets fired – a typical muscle-display by a big employer in lean times.
That was at first. Then I began to think: who’s bullying who here? If the employee was serious - was trying to push people into playing music that suited his tastes rather than theirs – then he was completely out of order. He may not have liked the music but it was none of his business to suggest an alternative, especially if he was a store employee. If he wasn’t serious, as some reports suggest, and it was a ‘jocular remark’, then it’s probably time he was taught that sectarian banter isn’t funny. Not then, not now, not ever.
Yesterday some locals blocked entry to the store, demanding the man’s reinstatement. Billy Hutchinosn, the former PUP MLA for North Belfast, says the man shouldn’t have been sacked. “He is a well-liked person, he is a bit of a character. People going to Asda love going to his till.You can’t sack people for this sort of behaviour’.
Oh yes you can, Billy, and being a bit of a character or well-liked makes no difference. You want my suggestion? Do the generous thing and take him back, but with a clear warning that a single sectarian peep out of him or anyone else and they’re out on their ear permanently. Because right now, the bullying is by those picketing Asda rather than the store itself.
Monday, 19 July 2010
Some adults shouldn’t be let near children. I don’t mean the ones who beat them or sexually abuse them; vicious and cruel though such people are, what they do is so obviously wrong and contrary to the child’s interest, even the dullest of youngsters can see they are an enemy. No, the truly dangerous adults are the ones who fill children’s heads with ideas that sound good but would disgrace the brain of a donkey. There are lots of such ideas, such as ‘ ‘Bullies are always cowards’ and ‘School days are happy days’. But the biggest, daftest, donkey-disgracing lie is an unspoken one. It’s the lie that permeates the reward of a child for his or her attendance. This boy/girl didn’t miss a single day of school all year – give him/her this medal! Leave aside the fact that you’re rewarding the child for being healthy; you’re also implanting in the child’s mind the notion that attendance is a good in itself.
This morning’s Venerable Organ isn’t concerned with children – it deals with politicians. Its front-page headline is very excited at the fact that Michael McGimpsey and Gerry Adams are the two lowest-attenders at Stormont debates, and that top of the class for attendance is (no, don’t laugh) the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone. Just as a child could be in class every day the school’s open and still be as much value to the situation as a bulb with no electricity, so too with attendance at a political forum. John Hume knew that, which is why he hardly ever bothered to turn up at Westminster during his years as an MP. He knew that his presence wouldn’t change a blind thing and that he could serve his constituents better by being elsewhere doing other things.
Poor Patsy. The Venerable Organ has devoted at least three full pages to the virtues of attendance and in doing so has filled the Mid-Ulster MLA’s head with cruelly-misleading ideas about what matters and sad to say, poor Patsy will in all probability believe them. Some newspapers shouldn’t be let near politicians.
Friday, 16 July 2010
The good people of Derry are whooping and hollering with delight this morning. Or at least some of them are: there are those who think competing for the UK City of Culture is a betrayal of their Irishness. If it is, it’s a betrayal that’s been going on in different forms for a long time. Check on the number of Catholic school principals in Derry - particularly females – who’ve reached for an MBE or an OBE when it’s been dangled in front of them. Or consider all the Irish boxers from a nationalist/Catholic background who’ve cheerfully fought for the British, British Empire, British Commonwealth titles down the years. The two Spider Kellys - father and son, both Derrymen - come to mind. Clones-man Barry McGuigan even managed to hop over the border so he could have the privilege of fighting for UK titles. If you reject the Derry bid on the grounds that it’s part of the UK City of Culture competition, logic demands that you reject what all those boxers – and school principals – were happy to do.
In the end, it’s about money. Some people see culture as important in its own right - I’m one of those myself. But there are others who only see it in £ signs, and that’s probably the majority of Derry citizens. So what will the spin-off be financially between now and 2013? An answer can maybe be found in the experience of Liverpool, which in 2008 was named the European (note that - not UK but EUROPEAN) City of Culture.
In 2006, the unemployment rate in Liverpool was 7.1%. Two years later, the city was named European City of Culture. In 2009, 10% of the workforce was unemployed. So even after the European City of Culture title has had plenty of time to make its impact felt, the unemployment rate (always a good indicator of prosperity or its absence) went up some three per cent.
Derry’s not Liverpool or Finchley either, but the Merseyside experience should put a brake on the euphoric projections for the Foyleside city in 2013. Let’s hope that champagne wasn’t too expensive.
Thursday, 15 July 2010
‘Derry – the UK City of Culture!’ That’s what they will probably announce tonight, and I know I shouldn’t find that funny but I do. Not because Derry isn’t a cultured city. It is – certainly in terms of song and dance, it always has been. When I was incarcerated in Bishop Street during the 1950s, we had visits from the Little Gaelic Singers, and even though lust made it difficult, we couldn’t help but thrill to the harmony produced by those rows of girls. The college itself had a formidable choir which sang Palestrina Masses and more, and back then the Derry Feis had the same fierce level of competitiveness it enjoys today.
You notice the dominant characteristics of the culture back then? Right - Irish and Catholic. What culture the Protestants of the city had, or if they had one at all, was a mystery. And the Derry bid to be UK City of Culture fifty years later is still overwhelmingly Irish if not Catholic. Of course you have that video where the two guys stand side by side and say ‘I’m from Derry’ and ‘I’m from Londonderry’, and I’m sure the Different Drums of the bodhran and the lambeg feature somewhere in the bid, but Derry’s claim to cultural fame is still notably unBritish. With its tradition of song and well-founded sense of grievance, it's more like Cork than Sheffield or Nottingham.
So yes, the town Phil Coulter loves so well probably will get the award today. Regardless of the merits of the bid, the Brits would feel uneasy about not giving it to the city which only weeks ago finally wrung an apology of sorts from the British PM for the murder of fourteen of its citizens by British troops. And when they are declared UK City of Culture, will this Irish nationalist city feel uneasy about the UK bit? A little, maybe. But they’ll make a joke about it as they do about so many things and pass on, eager for the financial benefits that should flow from the award. If their MP can swallow a vow of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and her successors, Derry people can swallow a little piece of UK for the sake of some big bucks.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Is there a connection between violence and poverty? We know there’s a connection between educational attainment and poverty. Those who pass the Eleven Plus – or the new do-it-yourself tests set up by the grammar schools in recent times – are overwhelmingly middle-class, and despite much mouthing from politicians, young people from poor backgrounds still have the odds stacked against their finding a place in third-level education. But what about violence?
I came back to Ireland from Canada in the summer of 1979. That was just weeks after Mountbatten was killed in Donegal and eighteen British soldiers killed at Warrenpoint. Canadian friends used to contact me, fearful for my safety. I tried to explain to them that I lived in a middle-class suburb of Belfast but they didn’t seem to understand.
They should have. When people say ‘West and North Belfast bore the brunt of the violence during the Troubles’, they mean that working-class areas bore the brunt. The IRA – and the loyalist paramilitaries – found their base in parts of cities - and in rural areas - where there was little affluence. Today, the same rule applies: you get rioting in the Ardoyne area, not the Malone Road area.
So are those rioting doing so in protest at the poverty in which they live? Or is it a response to the indignity of having a triumphalist, anti-Catholic organistion coat-trail past them year after year? Maybe it’s a mixture of both. The middle-class are largely non-violent, tolerant, willing to sit down and discuss issues in a detached way. That’s because they’re comfortable, don’t want too much change which might jeopardise that comfort, can’t in the end see what all the anger is about. Those living in more materially-deprived areas see privilege entrenched, see authority as ranged against them, are prepared to confront issues with every weapon at their command. In a phrase, they've nothing to lose.
George Bernard Shaw believed that the way to counteract a revolutionary was to give him £50,000. That was nearly a hundred years ago. It’d cost a lot more than that today to convert the anger of the Ardoyne into sweet reasonableness.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Should the BBC be going to Specsavers? I was listening to BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ (a lot of Ulsters in there) this morning and they were reporting on the rioting at Ardoyne shops last night. A group of people blocked the road in advance of the Orangemen coming back and parading through the area, and the PSNI moved in wearing full riot gear and dragged them clear. Rioting followed.
This morning, Karen Patterson had a senior police officer in the studio, who talked about the cost of the policing operation (£650,000) and said that what was needed was a ‘systemic solution’, whatever that is. Karen asked after the condition of a woman police officer hurt in the rioting. The senior police officer admitted that some civilians had been hurt, in particular a woman hit by an iron bar (i.e., the rioters hurt her, not the police). We had Gerry Kelly MLA on saying that ‘the parade is the issue’ and Nigel Dodds on saying rioting was never right, not now or ten or fifteen years ago. Both politicians denounced last night’s protestors.
What we didn’t have was a single interview with a single protestor. The TV cameras showed them with big signs reading ‘WE’RE RESIDENTS, NOT DISSIDENTS’ but no attempt was made to establish if this were true. No one spoke to them to find out why they saw fit to block the road, what they hoped to achieve, whether they thought they were damaging the community. We were told that among the protestors were members of éirígí. Why then was none of them asked questions? The last time I checked, éirígí was a legal political organisation. Come to that, why weren’t there live cameras down at the protest? That way, we could have seen for ourselves what the protestors and those behind them were doing and how the police responded, rather than being given a heavily-edited film tape.
We’re told repeatedly that these people are anti-social thugs, but it looks increasingly as though they’re something more. The job of the media is to seek out the truth and report it. If they aren’t getting the cameras down to show things as they happen and they aren’t seeking to hear the views of those involved in rioting, you begin to think they’re perhaps nervous of what they might see and hear. And correspondingly, what we might see and hear.
We had all this twenty years ago with the ludicrous broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin. Are we now going to have more of the same sort of thing, except this time it’s not the British government that’s muffling the media, it’s themselves.
Monday, 12 July 2010
"It's absolutely unbelievable what happens here over the Twelfth period". You might think those were the words of an indignant nationalist or Catholic, fed up to the back teeth with the 3,000+ Orange marches that are held here every year, not to mention the bonfires and drinking and tricolour-burning that form a backdrop to all this. But that's not the source. The words were those of a unionist woman ringing into The Stephen Nolan Show this morning, angrily demanding to know why the British army wasn't brought in last night to protect the unionist people of Belfast who were celebrating their heritage?
The BBC reports that last night a car was set on fire and sent trundling towards police lines, a shotgun discharged injuring three police officers and that in toto there were twenty-seven police officers injured. Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly was on the Nolan Show condemning the rioters, as was Ruth Patterson of the DUP. What no one confronted head-on was the backdrop to these clashes. If every year you have around nine months of marching, culminating in the lighting of giant bonfires, hundreds of marches by thousands of flag-waving unionists, fiery speeches condemning nationalism, republicanism and Catholicism - if you have all that, is it any wonder that some young republicans/nationalists/Catholics lose the run of themselves?
The Orange Order is, in its history and its constitution, an anti-Catholic organisation. That's why it was founded, that's why it continues to exist, that's why, for example, it opposes the visit to Britain of Pope Benedict next September. We could of course pretend it's not anti-Catholic, that it's just a happy family outing one day a year, that it's an Orangefest which all can enjoy. We could, but it'd be childish to do so. Closing our eyes won't make the monster go away or turn into a cuddly Orange rabbit.
Friday, 9 July 2010
Why did Iris Robinson leave office? That’s the £840,000 question. The reflex response is to focus on the giant sum and to link it with the Swish Family Robinson image, but that’d be unfair. Mrs Robinson will get her money (i) because she has served a specific amount of time in Westminster and at Stormont and (ii) because she retired on ill-health grounds. There’s no disputing the time spent as a public representative. She held the Strangford seat since 2001, and she’s been an MLA since Stormont and power-sharing was established.
So was it mental health problems that caused her to resign? Well, a rooster crowing and the sun coming up each morning doesn’t mean the rooster caused the sun to come up. Likewise Iris’s resignation happened at the same time as revelations about her teenage lover and money being shovelled around in a suspicious way surfaced, but that doesn’t mean her resignation was caused by the teenage lover/dodgy financial stuff. The thing is this, though: while it’s easy to see how teenage lover/dodgy financial stuff could cause her to resign, it’s not clear what mental ill-health factors could have caused her to resign. And what if the mental health problems arose as a result of the adultery and the dodgy financial stuff – would that make a difference to your judgement on the pension arrangements?
It’s something we’re not good at but we need to separate the actions of the individual in claiming the money and the system that makes such a claim possible. Do I blame Iris Robinson for reaching out for her nearly-a-million goodbye money? Not for a moment, whether she resigned because she was ill or whether she resigned because she was caught with her designer drawers down. I do blame the system, if it allows a woman who was caught up in a sex-and-money scandal to put her fist into the public purse.
And that’s what, rightly or wrongly, an awful lot of people are thinking this morning.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Life imitating art, eh? A crazed killer on the run, leaving messages saying he WILL have revenge ‘cos his girl done him wrong with a cop. Pictures of the wanted man, biceps bulging and eyes glittering with menace. Dozens of heavily-armed police officers – one-tenth of the entire armed police force in Britain - armoured cars brought in from – where else? – the north of Ireland, a stool-pigeon in handcuffs being protected by a phalanx of bullet-proof shields – it’s like O J Simpson on the run while 24-hour news covers his progress. Except of course Raoul Moat isn’t black and he comes from the North-East of England (so colourful, all that talk of ‘bairns’ and ‘giving yasel’ oop, son’). And did I mention the village under siege and the children of the local school huddled together fearfully, knowing there’s a monster out there somewhere?
I’m not sure why but my instinct is to smell a big fat rat somewhere in this. If he’d been an Al Quaiada figure, in possession of a small nuclear device, the media attention could hardly have been more complete. Raoul Moat can’t be the first criminal who’s said the police are corrupt and he’ll get his own back on them. He’s certainly not the first man to have shot a love rival or left a note full of passion and tormented betrayal. And maybe I’ve been conditioned by the old gangster movies, but I feel more than a twinge of sympathy for this man, so completely outnumbered by the pursuing police, whose pathetic mother tells him through some shamelss red-top: “You’d be better off dead, son” and who once was the sweet-faced child that we see in newspaper photographs, looking out at the world, hopeful that life would give him happiness and belonging.
I hope he gets away.
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
If you check the papers these days, you’ll notice they’re full of young and not-so-young people wearing dark gowns and funny hats, grinning with delight. Beside them family members, grinning even more widely. Good for them. When I had students, I’d duck attending the graduation ceremonies (the essence of tedium and lies) and emerge to congratulate and meet parents. They deserve their big day, even if it includes silly hats, processions and speeches.
But it’s not the graduation ceremonies that I want to bludgeon today. It’s the free degrees. Normal students have to work for years if they want a degree (I know – I’ve got five and it was hellish hard labour all the way); but if you’re famous, the university will give you one FOR NOTHING.
Take Roy Keane, for example. A fine midfielder, a fierce tackler, a good laugh as a manager. So what does the University of Ulster (or was it Queen’s) do? They make him a Doctor of Law. Eh? Say that again. Roy knows NOTHING about the law of the land but the university says ‘Here, Roy. Take this scroll, it testifies that you know lots and lots about law’. Likewise with politicians and politicians’ wives and ageing rock stars and TV actors and…On it goes.
Why, if a university thinks someone is a valuable member of the community, don’t they give them a medal or a scroll that says ‘We think you’re doing a great job’. There’d be some logic to that. But not a scroll that says ‘’You’ve studied for four or five years and are now a learned person in this area’, when in fact they know damn all about the area and the university knows they know damn all.
One day, I know, a student will stand up as the latest TV personality approaches to receive their Doctorate in Literature, and will shout “Goddamn it! I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” and will rush to the stage and rip the scroll from the honorary ( aka phony) doctor’s hands. Now that’s a graduation ceremony I’d be glad to sit in on.
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
OK. Some questions for you, prompted by a TV programme I saw last night (about which more later):
Q1: Is a dog for life or just for Christmas?
Q2: What would you say about people who get a dog and then neglect it –don’t walk it or make sure it’s properly fed and housed, don’t protect it from abuse, don’t give it affection and reassurance throughout its life?
I’m going to take a chance and say you’d reply ‘For life’ to Q1, and to Q2 you’d say that anyone who gets a dog and doesn’t stick around to walk it, feed it, house it, protect it from abuse or give it affection throughout its life is a shameful swine and should never have got a dog in the first place.
But what if I’ve got a dog and then there are other pressures in my life? I’ve got a new boss who makes me work late so I’m tired when I get home. Or I’ve got involved with a drama group or a political party, and there’s simply not the time to check the dog has been fed properly and is in his kennel or to pat it and tell it its a great fellah each evening. Am I still expected to do all those things for the dog I got?
Again I’d guess your answer would be “Look, the dog is helpless, it depends on you. Once you take on the commitment of owning it, you are saying ‘I’ll look after this mutt, give it a home, meet its needs no matter what. I can’t see the future but regardless, in getting this dog, I commit to meeting all its needs’”.
OK. Now back to that programme on TV last night. It was Pat Kenny’s ‘Frontline’ on RTE (and incidentally, Kenny is like a man released from prison, now he’s allowed to deal with serious issues and avoid the Late Late Show froth). The question under discussion was ‘What constitutes the family in Ireland today?’ There was considerable input from all sorts of advocates, notably gay and lesbian groups. But I want to sidestep any number of fascinating issues, because viewing the programme pushed one disturbing question to the front of my mind and it simply won’t go away. I wonder if it’s easy for other people to answer, because while I think I have an answer, it’s a very disturbing, against-the-grain one.
My question is this, then: If we agree that a dog is for life – getting one means commitment to caring for it all its life, regardless of what else pops up in our own lives – shouldn’t the same apply to every child brought into the world? And doesn’t it apply equally to the man and the woman who originally conceived that child? We wouldn’t tolerate excuses or reasons of changed circumstances for a dog-owner neglecting his/her mutt – you get it, you look after it. Yet we find all sorts of reasons for couples splitting up and walking away (by the man or woman – usually the man) from the daily attention/care/love required by a child they’ve brought into the world.
Odd, really. We wouldn’t accept reasons of changed circumstances for failing to follow through on commitment to give a dog all that it needs all its life, but we accept as normal the failure to follow through on commitment to give a child all that it needs all its life.
Dogs before children? Sounds daft.
Monday, 5 July 2010
How excited are you - extremely? Moderately? Not at all? Of course it’s hard to say what will come out of the meeting – what specifics, what practical decisions. Maybe they’ll be decisions that’ll trigger other outcomes that’ll balloon into something truly transforming. Maybe. Meanwhile, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that today’s sixth North-South ministerial council meeting in Dublin will be about as successful as a castrated mouse faced with an elephant in heat.
There’ll be twenty-six representatives from north and south, including Brian Cowen, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, and the economy will top the agenda. “We must work together energetically in whatever ways we can for mutual benefit” Mr Cowen is reported as saying. “The ongoing work of the North South Ministerial Council can play an increasingly important part in our strategy for economic recovery and can realize benefits for all of the people, north and south”.
Do you tell me that, Brian. And when you say “our strategy for economic recovery”, are you talking about the south’s strategy or the north and the south’s strategy? And would there be any chance you could explain just what is the south’s strategy, and how working with the north will benefit both sides? …The what? The penalty points system?....I see. You’re going to see if working together, politicians from the north and south can find a better way to prosecute northern drivers caught speeding in the south.
Mmm. You know, sometimes you have to take a big bite of the truth, however nasty the taste. The North-South councils, we were led to believe, would be the engine which would bring about greater and more effective cross-border development of Ireland as a unit. They’d start with small matters, OK, but these would gradually increase in number and size until we’d all see the benefits of acting in a united fashion. That was twelve years ago, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. And here we are, or rather there they are, looking at prosecuting northern drivers who speed south of the border. Does that look like an issue that’s important in moving towards to national unity?
If we insist on travelling up cul-de-sacs or along roads that have misleading sign-posts, we shouldn’t be surprised if we don’t get any nearer our destination. And if we refuse to admit when a road is a cul-de-sac or a wrong one, we’re fools.
Sunday, 4 July 2010
I don’t always agree with Fionnuala O’Connor but on ‘Inside Politics’ today on BBC Radio Ulster, she made a point that should be made more loudly and more often. The reason it isn’t is because the BBC doesn’t much like this kind of point. The ideal commentator on our airwaves (and that means BBC Radio Ulster – there is no other radio outlet for political discussion) is someone who (i) assumes there are two (and only two) sides to political difference here; and (ii) is so even-handed, it’s barely possible to tell which foot they kick with. The BBC calls it balance; the rest of us call it bland.
So anyway, Fionnuala stepped briefly outside that pretty pretence today, with her comment. She was talking about Orange Order marches and she noted that unionists often drew parallels between their culture (Orange marches) and nationalist culture (GAA games), arguing that the latter is subject to controls that the former aren’t. Fionnuala noted that the parallel is a false one, for the very good reason that GAA games don’t get played along the road.
That’s the key point. All this you-attack-our-Orange-Hall-your-GAA-club-gets-burnt-down talk is pure pig-swill. Yes, the GAA play Amhrán na bhFian before games and fly the tricolour - but they do it inside GAA grounds. Any marching is confined to a circuit of the pitch before throw-in. The Orange Order insists on getting onto the roads and streets that are supposed to be shared spaces and marching, forcing everyone to make way until they’re done. You’re in a hurry somewhere? Tough – just wait until we’ve finished marching, and notice we’ve police here to see you do. In addition, the Order likes to seek out roads where they’re far from welcome, like the Ormeau Road or the Garvaghy Road. GAA games are confined to nationalist areas.
Can you begin to see that there’s maybe a teensy bit of difference between the ‘two sides’ in this case? Good. Well done, Fionnuala.
Saturday, 3 July 2010
I read a comment on a discussion board yesterday which suggested that the proposed visit of QE2 to these shores would help to pave the way towards British withdrawal from Ireland. Either the ways of international diplomacy are so Byzantine that I can’t begin to grasp them or this commentator is talking through his armpit. The planned visit would do the opposite: cement British rule in the north of Ireland, by showing that the south of Ireland accepts without demur such an arrangement.
Some say that nationalists are doing their own cause damage by opposing such visits as this. They believe that what nationalists and republicans must do is avoid antagonizing unionism, engage with it, explain to unionists what a united Ireland would look like and actively persuade them as to its advantages.
Nice idea but I don’t see it working. There are, however, a number of ways in which unionists might become convinced that their future lies in a united Ireland.
Nice idea but I don’t see it working. There are, however, a number of ways in which unionists might become convinced that their future lies in a united Ireland.
One is if British withdrawal were to take place, or plans announced that such a thing would happen on a specific date. Dr Johnson believed that the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. Likewise, were Britain to quit Ireland, the mind of unionism would be focused so sharply, it’d almost certainly find ways to live with and within a united Ireland. Opting in becomes easier when there’s nowhere to opt out to.
A second is if the prospect of being part of a united Ireland were to become more attractive – markedly more attractive – than remaining within the UK. At present the British (and particularly the English) attitude to unionists is that of a pretty girl stuck with the attentions of a suitor who has personal hygiene issues and a hair lip: she doesn’t want to tell the suitor to clear off but finds his presence inconvenient and irritating. That kind of response for long enough can tend to dent the enthusiasm of the most ardent swain. Eventually unionism might discover the emotional and financial cost of remaining in the UK is more than it can bear.
A third is if unionism decided that influencing its own future was more important than traditional ties. As things stand, the impact of MPs from the north in Westminster is miniscule to non-existent. The emptiness of the debating chamber when matters Northern Irish are discussed shows that. Within the UK, unionism is less than 2%; within a united Ireland it would be nearer to 20%. That, combined with other chafing features of continued union with Britain, might some day strike unionists as a poor bargain.
Until that day, we’re told that a referendum on continued existence within the UK is available to those in the north every seven years. So when are we going to get one? If nothing else it’d clarify whether all Protestants are devoted to the UK and whether the sizeable number of Catholic unionists claimed by such as Ian Paisley Sr actually exist.
Meanwhile, should nationalists and republicans be nice to unionists? Of course they should, but not because they want to seduce them into a united Ireland. They should treat them with respect and warmth because they're our fellow-countrymen and women.
Friday, 2 July 2010
I’ve just come off the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster, where Gregory Campbell and myself were commenting on Ian Paisley Senior’s latest pronouncements. In an interview with the BBC World Service, the former DUP leader says he stands by his belief that the Pope is the Anti-Christ and he is convinced unionists will never allow Martin McGuinness to become First Minister. Gregory, asked about the views of his former party leader, ducked and dived on both questions. At first he claimed he hadn’t been asked if he agreed with Ian Paisley on the Anti-Christ thing, and then when reminded by myself and Nolan that he had, he said Anti- meant ‘In the place of’. What about the dictionary definition wich describes the Anti-Christ as the one opposed to Christ and dedicated to spreading evil throughout the world? Nah. I suggested that if Paisley sees the Pope as the Anti-Christ because he claims to forgive sins, the same claim is made by every Catholic priest in the world. Are they all Anti-Christs? Gregory ducked that one too. Very wise. Might have sounded a bit anti-Catholic.
As to the idea of Martin McGuinness being First Minister, Gregory like his leader insists it won’t happen. He could be right: it depends on whether the DUP and the UUP detest each other more than they do republicans. But the key question is, do the DUP and Gregory accept the Good Friday Agreement? Because according to the GFA, if Sinn Fein are the largest party, McGuinness is entitled to be First Minister. You’ve probably noticed the direction in which this train of logic is chuff-chuffing: democracy is OK, as long as it delivers the results we want. If it doesn’t, it’s a non-starter, a not-to-be-tolerated, a a well you know a sort of a political Anti-Christ. And as decent Christian people we just couldn’t stand for that.
Thursday, 1 July 2010
When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, some unionists (aka the DUP) were deeply sceptical about it, seeing it as a vehicle for Irish reunification. Should they have been worried? Not so far. Yes, there are cross-border bodies, but most of us don’t know what they are, how often they meet, what they do when they do meet. Then there’s that referendum which was to be held every seven years, so we could vote on whether we wanted to stay as part of the UK. We’re twelve years since the Good Friday agreement and there are still no signs of any such referendum. “But sure it’d be divisive!” is the whine you get when it’s even mentioned. Like, we’re not divided now?
But the single biggest obstacle to reunification is the population of the south. I was talking recently to a man reared in West Cork but living in the north for the past thirty years and more. His diagnosis of his fellow-countymen: far from being Cork rebels, they see the north as a place apart and they’ve swallowed the British line, energetically promoted throughout the Troubles, that one side up here is as bad as the other. If the north is depending on those in the south to work for Irish reunification, they’ll be waiting.
Except. Except that I remember the early years of the 1960s. I lived in Dublin then and the Wee North was seen as a weird place full of hard-faced people who talked funny. And then, from about 1962 onwards, a series of books and TV programmes came out, remembering the events of fifty years earlier – the run-up to 1916. Five years later all hell broke loose and people who’d dismissed Irish nationalism as old-fashioned rubbish were transformed. That was the fiftieth anniversary We’re now just six years away from the centenary of 1916. Don’t bet against a similar transformation taking place. Except, of course, the south’s political parties manage to manipulate the legacy of 1916 and using double-talk and double-think, douse its flame.