So anyway, I’m in a Barcelona hotel lobby on a brief stop-over before returning to the corner of Ireland that time but not Britain has forgotten. And since I haven’t read a newspaper in nearly two weeks I pick up a copy of the global edition of the New York Times and I read this article by Paul Krugman. You’ve probably been reading Krugman since you were an infant puking over your mother’s knee but I discovered him only a couple of years ago. He does have a habit of cutting to the heart of the matter.
This article of his was called ‘It’s witch-hunt season’ and it was all about how someone like Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio lout, is considered a part of mainstream US Republicanism. Krugman says Americans shouldn’t be surprised that Limbaugh is rabidly anti-Obama: the Clinton years should have taught them how such people think. Response to the Clinton presidency showed that “a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals – even very moderate liberals – legitimate. Mr Obama’s election would have enraged those people even if he he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn’t, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage”.
So I sat in that Barcelona hotel lobby and I asked myself "Now why does that sound familiar?" and in a trice, my thoughts had google-earthed across Europe to dear old Ulster. There, a significant number of unionists (I'll come back to that) don’t consider government by Sinn Fein – even very moderate Sinn Fein people – legitimate. Maybe you’re old enough to remember the gasp of horror that went up when Sinn Fein nominated Martin McGuinness to be Minister for Education? There are those who'd claim that had to do with Mr McGuinness’s paramilitary past. Except the vitriol directed at his successor, Caitriona Ruane, is if anything more intense. And have you checked recently the rage-levels recorded at the idea of Mr McGuinness becoming First Minister?
Krugman talks about ‘a significant number of Americans’ being irrevocably opposed to liberals and seethingly opposed to a black liberal like Barack Obama. I hate to say it, but it's at this point that the parallel between the situation in the US and the situation in the north of Ireland breaks down. Because it’s not a significant number of unionists who detest Caitriona Ruane and it’s not a significant number of unionists who see a red mist descend at the very idea of Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister. It’s all of them. Like the marching season here, the witch-hunt season is a year-round affair.