Jude Collins

Monday, 28 February 2011

Will February matter in May?

I’ve got in-laws who live south of the border, most of them in Dublin. Over the last forty years we’ve visited them regularly, had a meal, checked out the shops and the sights. They’ve come north of the border to Belfast too; but the visit ratio is around 30: 1. Over the last twenty years they’ve come a little more frequently – say 25:1 -  but nothing you would notice.

Why? Their main reason, especially in the early years, was that they didn’t want to be shot or blown up.  That’s understandable. When you watch TV and see only reports of violence coming from an area, you tend to associate danger with that place. But it’s more than that. Although they’ve never articulated it, my in-laws exude a sense of uneasiness, of not being at home (yes I know, I KNOW they’re literally not) when  they’re here.

Contrast that with our appetite for visits south. Dublin has a grace and charm that Belfast can never aspire to. The accent is easier on the ear, the people more relaxed, the atmosphere more...cheerful. Even, in the midst of their economic nightmare, optimistic. When I was a child, my father used to take us on a summer Sunday from Omagh to Bundoran and the seaside. As soon as we’d crossed the border into Donegal, we always gave a spontaneous cheer.  I don’t actually punch the air any more but I still feel my spirits lift as I move south.

I say all this because the BBC’s Mark Devenport has been busy spinning a theory about the impact of Sinn Féin’s electoral success south of the border on the north’s upcoming elections.  Consider, Mark says, Sinn Féin’s movement into ministerial office in the north and how that was supposed to impact on their electoral fortunes in the south in 2007. It didn’t happen.  Far from electoral success, Mark notes, the party’s Dail representation dropped from five to four TDs.   His suggestion is that in the coming election in the north,  Shinner success  south of the border could well have little resonance.

But then as a lad, Mark never crossed the border between Belleek and Ballyshannon and gave a yelp of delight or felt his spirits lift, yes totally illogically,  at the sight of a green post-box. The truth is, we in the north are more impressed by the south than they are by us.  Even now the violent conflict is largely over, they’d rather watch from a safe distance; and  they quite like the way the southern media paints Gerry Adams as in need of a sat-nav to find his way to the Dail. In point of fact,  it’s the other way round – southerners need a northern map.  Being less provincial and less partitionist, nationalists in the north are more aware of what’s going on in the south, respond to it, argue over it, visit it.

So while there are commentators who’ll tell you that Sinn Féin success over the weekend may well prove irrelevant to what happens north of the border in May,  I don’t buy it.  Check Facebook, check Twitter, check your own experience. Thousands of nationalist homes in the north followed every twist of the south’s election campaign,  thousands more did a good deal of yelping and air-punching when Adams and Doherty featured in the top-five vote-getters in the south, and regardless of what Tony O’Reilly’s  Sindo  may say, even the dullest northern dog noted that Sinn Féin near-quadrupled its numbers in the Dail last Friday.

When it comes to elections yes,  it’s the economy, stupid.  But it’s also momentum.  And while it may stick in some craws,  SF have the big M  now. 

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Don't ask ME to move on...

Tectonic plates - seismic shift - electoral tsunami...Have I used all the available metaphors/clichés for  the south's general election results?  Oh right - I forgot the most important: 'This marks the end of civil war politics'.  It'll no longer be Fine Gael (Free Staters)  vs  Fianna Fail  (republicans). That's because Fianna Fail has been cut, sliced and diced by the electorate; people are now concerned to elect politicians who will look after their jobs, their income, their pensions, and save them from the vice-like grip of the ECB. It'll be right-wing vs left-wing politics from now on. And don't say 'But the Labour party will be in coalition with the Blueshirts - how can that be right-wing?' or my cat may hear you and give himself a hernia.  And especially don't mention that the shrivelled remainder of Fianna Fail will be on the opposition benches alongside the left, opposing the government moves to implement plans originally drawn up by, um, Fianna Fail.  It's a bit like working on your right hook for some months and then punching yourself in the face.

But while attention to one war may be finally petering out, attention to another remains as stubborn as ever. I was watching an episode of Madmen the other night - that's the series about a Madison Avenue advertising company in the early 1960s - try to keep up, would you? The plot in this episode centred on a Honda account being brought to the company by a group of Japanese businessmen. It's a major acquisition, but then one of the advertising company goes all racist, who the hell are these little bowing buggers, who won the war anyway, I'll never forgive them for what happened to my buddy on that destroyer in the Pacific, Hiroshima sure socked it to 'em, etc etc. The other advertising people try to shut him up, tell him it's over, you hear,  OVER, the war is FINISHED, we're working with these people now,  act civilized for God's sake. Etc, etc. No good. The racist one is locked in the past, some fifteen years earlier.

Similarly there are those who just can't let go of the conflict here in the north. During the election campaign  Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd lost no opportunity to  raise the hare of  Gerry Adams's membership/non-membership of the IRA during the Troubles. On his programme yesterday Vincent Browne mixed congratulations to the newly-elected Adams with comments on the killing of Jean McConville in the early 1970s. And on the same programme former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald, who with Thatcher devised the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the hope of reversing the Sinn Féin electoral tide of the 1980s,  demanded Adams explain why Sinn Féin hadn't made electoral progress in Dublin? When Adams hesitated  (kind of understandably, since Sinn Féin was fresh from getting three candidates elected in Dublin)  Fitzgerald told him 'It's not a trick question, I promise you' and then went on to say he admired Adams's skill, the way he'd moved his party from violence. 

I'm afraid this calls for one more metaphor: Mired In The Past. The Madmen chap who saw not businessmen but  kamikaze pilots was stuck in a past that was fifteen years old. O'Dowd, Browne and Fitzgerald, for whatever reasons, saw not the president of a party that's been sharing government in the north for five years, could well become the north's largest political party in May,  and on Friday last had some  fifteen TDs elected to the  Dail -  they saw a psychopath with a bomb in one hand and an AK47 in the other, aching for a chance to get in some fresh mayhem.  

Cmon, guys. Adams is a POLITICIAN, one who on Friday got, what was it, the second-biggest voter-endorsement in the state. Criticise him for his policies, go ahead. Attack his attendance record,   build a case for economic illiteracy if you have a neck that's sufficiently brass.  But enough of the increasingly wrinkled-and-bent references to events and a time when a lot of voters weren't even born.

Friday, 25 February 2011

All their yesterdays...

So  - who’s going to win? I don’t know.  I could say Fine Gael will do spectacularly well, Labour will do well, Fianna Fáil will do disastrously but better than Sinn Féin, yet Sinn Féin will still do well.  But if I did I’d be basing my prediction on the polls and the polls, as you know, can get it horribly wrong.

The truth is, no one knows what the voters’ verdict will be. That doesn’t stop the pundits pretending. Yesterday on RTÉ  Stephen Collins predicted that Sinn Féin this time out would get ten seats. That’s Stephen Collins of the late unlamented Sunday Tribune, which has been to Sinn Féin what global warming has been to polar bears. The fact is, predictions are shaped by your political perspective. If you want Sinn Féin or any other party to do badly in an election, when you scan the entrails prior to an election, your eye will be drawn to or even construct signs of cock-up. And the other way round – if you hope a party will do well, you run the risk of over-estimating their chances.  So before you swallow a journo’s prediction, have a think about the journo in question’s past and present political loyalties.  I’m not suggesting you shoot the messenger  - however tempting that may be - but a quick check of their credentials could show their prediction in a new light.

In fact, regardless of elections, it would be useful if the background of journalists was made explicit. We ask it from other people, so why not from journalists? There are, of course, journalists who have come into existence through a kind of virgin birth and have remain unsullied throughout their lives. People like Liam Clarke, Henry McDonald, Ed Moloney,  and Charlie Bird have always been meticulously neutral in all they’ve said and done. Other journalists, a quick look back shows they had links with Republican Clubs and/or Official Sinn Féin and/or the Workers’ Party, so of course their writings reflect that bias; but Liam, Henry, Ed and Charlie have always floated like recording angels above such things...No, no, I haven’t checked their records.  What would be the point? If they had been involved with Republican Clubs, Official Sinn Féin or the Workers’ Party, I’m sure they would have told us. Wouldn’t they?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Pass the manifesto, Reilly

I Iike Vincent Browne. I remember him when he was a lanky lad of twenty at UCD, where he was, among other things, a leading light of the college Fine Gael party. I met him at Feile An Phobail a few years ago and confronted him with his youthful past. He hung his head in mock shame and murmured “It’s true, I’m afraid. All true”. His programme on TV3, ‘Vincent Browne Tonight’, is easily the best general election commentary you'll find south of the border. It certainly makes its supposedly funny and slick rival on RTÉ,‘The Eleventh Hour’, look sad and flimsy.

What makes the programme work? The short answer is ‘Browne’. He breaks through the polite facade of discussion to show his incredulity at much of what he hears. Last night was a good example. Fine Gael’s deputy leader Dr James Reilly (don’t forget the Doctor) was emphatic: Fine Gael had never said they’d take unilateral action in their dealings with bond-holders and Europe. Browne insisted they had: “It’s in your manifesto” he told the bearded Doctor. “No it isn't” the ex-sawbones said. “Show me where in the manifesto it uses the word 'unilateral'. We never said at any point we’d take unilateral action”.

 Other presenters would have left it at that but not Browne. He told the Fine Gale guru to pass the manifesto, thumbed through it for several minutes while Reilly obligingly rumbled on about negotation, sitting down, discussion, rhubarbrhubarbrhubard. “Here it is” Browne said, and read out the paragraph which did indeed contain the word ‘unilateral’. The overweight Fine Gael health spokesman had the grace to look flustered but only for a moment, after which he tried to maintain that ‘unilateral’ and ‘negotiated’ were the same thing. As a bonus last night the show also had a screamingly funny skit involving Browne, Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea and Micheal Martin.

Given that audiences fall off dramatically after 10.00 pm, I don't know why in God's name they push the programme back to an 11.05 pm starting point. But maybe we should be grateful for Browne at any hour, and the brain and bite he brings to political discussion. Just imagine if we had someone half as good this side of the border.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Three Amigos

I  was in Dublin yesterday morning and as I walked along Stephen’s Green, a cluster of United Left Alliance people were being interviewed by the media – notably Joe Higgins  and Richard Boyd-Barrett.  Last night I watched the Leaders’ Debate on RTÉ and there was no sign of either man. Or of the leader of the Greens or of Sinn Féin.  In fact, watching the debate you might have concluded that there were just three parties running in this general election.  Why were the smaller parties air-brushed out?

Two reasons – the polls and programme logistics.  The polls tell us that the parties which voters like most are  Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil respectively. (Yes I know, it seems daft to use the word ‘popularity’ and ‘Fianna Fáil’ in the same sentence but that’s what the polls say.) So on the basis that FG, Labour and FF are the top three, they get to go on TV.  Programme logistics say that five leaders  debating on TV  (adding the Greens and Sinn Féin to the list) doesn’t work because there are too many for developed answers.

Logistics, eh?  Five politicians  are too many? Odd then how every day,  thousands of teachers conduct discussions in classrooms of twenty or more hormonally hyped-up teenagers.  Nor do teachers get paid anything like the kind of money Pat Kenny or Miriam O’Callaghan make.   It’s simple: if they need more time in a five-way debate, then make the programmes longer.  Or sharpen the questioning.  There’s no logic to the notion of whittling back to three leaders. Why not four? Or Two?  Showing just three suggests that these are the only three which matter, which could impact on the United Left/ Sinn Féin/ Green vote. Democracy my arse.

But as poor old Brian Cowen used to remind us, we are where we are.  Last night’s debate did make one thing clear:  the three leaders featured are a third-rate lot. Ninety minutes of relentless finger-pointing and yet party plans remain  as obscure and leaky as ever. As to leadership qualities – a yapping Micheal Martin, a plank-like Enda Kenny and an impossibly pompous Eamon Gilmore – the heart sinks. The ECB/IMF boys will do a Tiger-Woods-on-the-twelfth-green when they meet up with Enda and Eamon after the election : they'll chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out.  

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Two 'outsiders'

I was listening to RTÉ radio this morning and they were doing an archives thing about one of the periodic internecine feuds that tear at the entrails of Fianna Fáil. When I tuned in, a FF-er was screeching in a thick accent that somebody or other “should go back to Kildare!” Not “Go back to Kildare and check you haven’t left the cooker on” or “Go back to Kildare and take the road for Drogheda” or “Go back to Kildare and see if there’s any word of Paddy Reilly”. No, just “Go back to Kildare!” Delivered in a yelp of rage.

This is a condition known as uber-provincialism and it’s been around for decades. Back in the 1960s, an uncle of mine from Ballinascreen, Co Derry, got very indignant when he heard Bernadette Devlin had visited the town and made a speech on a local issue. “Sure she’s not even from here!” he spluttered. When Mary McAleese first ran for the Irish presidency, there was quite a bit of steam jetting out of overheated brains. One well-known commentator declared that, if elected, Mrs McAleese would be a “ticking time-bomb”. Geddit? She’s from the north, that’s where they have explosions, she’s a bit nationalist, therefore…

The current target of uber-provincialism is Gerry Adams. You don’t normally hear opponents come out and say “We don’t like you, Adams – you’re from the north”. It’s more often slipped in obliquely. “You’re not up in Stormont now, Gerry” was a comment I heard from one of his opponents. Not the same as saying “You know, you shouldn’t be here at all, if you belong anywhere it’s up there shouting at them unionists and what’s more mind your own business” but the message gets across just the same: “He’s…different from us, isn’t he? He…doesn’t belong, does he?’

Commentators are more direct. Miriam Lord spent one column a few weeks back referring to him as ‘Jarry’. That’s how he pronounces his name, you see - slap my thigh and split my sides! JARRY! Nearly as much of a laugh as Micheal Martin’s take-off of those Chinese. Eoghan Harris doesn’t mind Adams’s accent, doesn’t even mind his economics, apparently – it’s his morality that upsets Eoghan. And I heard a commentator this morning declaring that Sinn Féin were being impeded in their progress by the presence of Adams in the election, because he brought with him ‘baggage’.

He does too – northern baggage. A radio panelist the other day said that yes, Bertie Ahern had his faults, but we should never forget what he’d done for the peace process in the north. In other words, Bertie has baggage, but his bag is a big shiny suitcase with his name and “I ended the Troubles” on it. When Gerry Adams’s baggage is referred to, southern commentators hint that his suitcase is marked “I started the Troubles”. Hero Bertie, villain Gerry : it simplifies things.

And distorts. If you were to believe commentators, the peace process has been fathered by at least half-a-dozen people: Bertie, Albert Reynolds, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Ian Paisley, David Trimble – the list goes on. The truth is, there were two people at the heart – the real, beating heart - of the work that brought the peace process into being.

The first was John Hume. For his pains Hume was vilified on a steady basis by a cohort of southern hacks, most of them employed by Tony O’Reilly. But the SDLP leader stuck at it and eventually, the cease-fires came into being and the rest is history. John Hume took enormous political risks for what he believed in and it paid off.

But there are political risks and there are life-threatening risks, and it was the second person who made the peace process possible who took the life-threatening risks. He kept on taking them for some fifteen years, until eventually the apparently-impossible had been achieved – the Good Friday Agreement. Everybody carries a range of baggage, but history will mark Adams’s suitcase with “He took the risks that made peace and joint authority possible”.

But don’t expect the uber-provincialists to give him credit for that. So much easier to keep throwing stuff at this awkward, destabilizing, goddam it radical bloody Northerner with his bloody accent and his bloody beard…

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Looking after money - and money people

Money talks but most of us don’t like talking about money, but I feel provoked this sunny near-Spring afternoon.

I’m fresh from Facebook and reading an interesting suggestion re TV debates and interviews. Since we know the political allegiances of politicians who are involved, and when someone contributes from the audience the presenter often insists they reveal any political links or allegiances, then what about journalists? There’s an assumption that journalists/commentators come from some sort of God-above-all-paring-his-fingernails realm where objectivity is in-built - a very silly assumption. So shouldn’t journalists be asked to declare their allegiances so we can filter what they say through that fact? And presenters: since many of them earn over €100K and some political parties want to tax such people fairly robustly, shouldn’t presenters come clean re (i) income; (ii) political leanings?

The other money item I note today is a report in The Guardian which says that, while bankrupts in the twenty-six counties have to wait twelve years before they’re free of pursuit, in the UK you’re out of the woods after twelve months. Got that? – TWELVE MONTHS. So if I break into your house and steal, say, £5,000 and am caught, I’ll be bound for prison. But if I am a businessman and leave you holding a debt of £5,000, or £50,000 for that matter, I’m free as the wind after twelve months, providing I spend less than a year in Britain. If I’m a banker, on the other hand, and put a small A-bomb under the national economy, nothing happens to me. No sorry, I mis-spoke. Something does happen. I get a fat waddly bonus.

And oh, I forgot. If I'm a senior European bond-holder and lose a massive amount of money, no worries. The Irish tax-payer gives me it back.

Money - ya gotta love it, eh?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Bluster, flannel and smokescreen, said the politician...

I think they do it on purpose, politicians. I really do. Especially when they’re dealing with questions about the economy. We’ll leave aside the Pat Kenny penchant for asking Gerry Adams if he was ever in the IRA, which clearly is the thought on the minds of voters in Louth every morning as soon as their eyelids part: “Never mind is my job safe – was Adams in the IRA?” I’m talking about normal questioning patterns, when someone like Michael Noonan, considered to be a wise man in the economics area, is asked what Fine Gael’s intentions are if they get elected to office. What will they do or say in terms of Ireland’s debt?

Cue Michael looking very wise and soft-spoken, murmuring about drawing down funds and last year the percentage points and this year 0.15 that interest really joint decision Fianna Fáil people of this country the ATMs recipe social disaster economic illiterates creditors EU Olli Rehn three per cent six per cent €37 billion and as I say the position of Fine Gael has always been clear on this.

Noonan is the worst offender, probably, but the others aren’t far behind. So it was totally refreshing to listen to David McWilliams address the matter last night on RTÉ’s Prime Time.

First, he said, distinguish between the EU and the ECB. The EU is made up of politicians, who like ourselves are democrats and respect the democratic will of the people, including the will of the Irish people. The ECB – the European Central Bank – have no interest in democracy and are motivated only by how much they can get out of people, including and especially the Irish people. McWilliams knows about the ECB – he used to work for them. So with that distinction in mind, the solution is for the Irish people to call a referendum, as to whether they should be expected to carry all the weight of the debt which Irish banks incurred via reckless loans from the ECB. When the Irish people answer such a referendum with “No, we refuse to carry all the financial weight for a joint cock-up” – and that’s what they’ll do, as sure as Eamon Gilmore’s face is red – then Ireland should go to the EU and say “Here is the democratically-expressed will of the Irish people regarding this debt – support us in this stand”. Being democrats, McWilliams believes, they will. And Ireland will then have a debt burden that’s bearable, unlike a debt burden that’s impossible, and that will get more impossible except there’s a radical change. Tinkering with percentage points is a total waste of time.

How come McWilliams can present the problem and a credible remedy inside approximately two minutes, and politicians like Noonan have had weeks, nay months to do so, and have failed? Two reasons. One, Noonan like many of the other politicians, isn’t clear about what is wrong, much less about how to make it right. Two, Noonan and others like him don’t want people to understand what the problem is and how it might be fixed, because that’d be committing themselves to making a stand, and if they take a stand omigod er um the Europeans might get annoyed with us and then what would we do?

Pardon me if I repeat: McWilliams presented a clear picture of the problem and a clearly-articulated possible solution. If our politicians can’t or won’t explain the crisis in equally unambiguous, no-pissing-about language, do they really deserve to get a job paying €100,000 so they can lead us even further into the mire? Answers on a P45, please.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam?

Why, I wonder, did nobody say that yesterday’s leaders’ debate on TG Ceathair was a waste of time? Or maybe even provocative? It was conducted in Irish  and as we know learning Irish is a fruitless pursuit and using it only alienates northern unionists. Right?

Well no, not really. In fact completely wrong. Learning Irish is truly worthwhile, helping keep alive an ancient language that is gloriously expressive and part of our national identity. So it was satisfying to see Enda Kenny, Micheal Martin and Eamon Gilmore able to debate in Irish, and by doing so endorsing the language.  Right?

Well, almost right. The fluency of the three men involved was impressive (did they learn off any of their answers, I wonder?) and the pity is that most of us needed sub-titles to follow the debate.  Unlike Monday’s debate, yesterday’s excluded the Greens’ leader John Gormley and Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams. Gormley’s fluency I suspect is limited, as is that of Adams. So maybe both were secretly relieved they weren’t invited to the debate.  Ironically Kenny, perhaps the most fluent of the three last night, plans to make the learning of Irish optional after Junior Certificate, and in doing so will inflict a terrible wound not just on Gaeltacht areas but on the language itself.

Which brings us to Sinn Féin and Irish. You’ll hear some people say they cringe when they hear Gerry Adams speak Irish – partly, they say, because his Irish is wooden and hesitant, partly because, like other Shinners, he uses it to upset unionists. They’re right about the wooden and hesitant part – but does that mean he shouldn’t use it? If you don’t dance gracefully or sing sweetly, should you stay seated with your mouth shut? And what level of fluency would be required before Adams or any of us would be judged acceptable?  As to alienating unionism,  consider public prayer by Muslims. This sight upsets some people; mercifully, the rest of us dismiss them as bigots, incapable of accepting diversity. Likewise, what kind of troglodyte thinking gets annoyed when it hears a few words of someone’s language? Imagine being similarly annoyed at hearing a French person use French or a Spaniard Spanish. And speaking of provincialism: might Peter Robinson find time to shift his critical gaze from Catholic schools onto Protestant schools, not one of which – and there are hundreds of them – offers the Irish language to its pupils?

So good for Kenny, Martin and Gilmore, and good too for Gormley and Adams – you don’t have to be Olympics-level to make a worthwhile contribution. And shame on those who sneer at imperfect fluency, and shame too on those who lock the minds of their young against a language so subtle, sweet and liberating. 

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Effing and blinding about RTÉ

I remember a stupid conversation I had some thirty years ago with a colleague. A very dull  but popular film was showing locally and my colleague insisted it was outstanding. Why, I asked. “Because for the first time ever in a major film, the word ‘fuck’ is used” he told me.

I thought of his absurd answer when I read an Anonymous response I got to yesterday’s blog: “Why would an intelligent, educated man like yourself want to use such a pitiful, senseless word that seems to have spread like a virus in everyday speech?” An interesting question.

In an essay in the 1940s, George Orwell noted that several decades earlier, the use of the word ‘bloody’ was considered daring in educated society but was now widely used. He predicted that the word ‘----‘ (that’s what he called it) would one day become equally common among the educated classes. As usual, Orwell was right. Visit Queen’s University or the University of Ulster and listen to the conversation of undergraduates: the word ‘fuck’ is used as a noun, verb, adjective, dangling modifier – it peppers what they say like measles. As my blog critic says, the word is used widely and senselessly.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to effect. In the mid-1960s, I remember having a conversation with Brian Friel. He was loud in his criticism of the novel Billy Liar, enormously popular at the time, because the word ‘bloody’ was used far too often. Swear words, he insisted, should be used sparingly, for maximum impact.

I agree. Excessive use of the word ‘fuck’ dilutes its impact so it no longer becomes a weapon worth using. But there are occasions when it’s valuable and yesterday’s blog was one such. Confronted with the breath-taking bias of RTÉ’s Eleventh Hour panel in their response to the leaders’ debate, I found myself struggling for words to convey my outrage. Anger is best channelled, especially with an element of humour, I find. And so I wrote the blog, using the word ‘fuck’ twice and the acronym ‘ wtf ' three times.

So there’s my answer, Anonymous. I don’t think the word in question is senseless or pitiful, if used properly. There’s no such thing as bad language, only language used inappropriately, and the judgement language of 'The Eleventh Hour' 's panel  was somewhere between inappropriate and inane. RTÉ’s betrayal of its role as a public service broadcaster demanded a full-frontal, Anglo-Saxon-word response.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Telling it like it wasn't?

Wtf, as they say on Facebook and other places. Or “What the fuck?” as I sometimes say to my nearest and dearest. I said it again last night, not after the leaders’ debate on TV, but after watching the response to the leaders’ debate on  RTÉ’s The Eleventh Hour , which featured Keelin Shanley with what she called  “a panel of dispassionate political journalists” – Sam Smyth, Katie Hannon and Michael Clifford.

Like most people, I’d been watching the debate with an eye on two people in particular: Enda Kenny, to see if he would put his foot in it now he’d finally agreed to appear on a TV debate; and Gerry Adams, to see if he would repeat his 2007 debate performance, which was widely adjudged to have been not his finest hour.  What I saw was Enda Kenny performing pretty well: on occasion he looked a bit physically small, even wan, but in his exchanges with Eamon Gilmore he clearly triumphed.  Gerry Adams seemed a bit nervous, drinking an amount of water and moving his feet around, but in his contributions he was clear, concrete and specific – a world away from his exchange with Michael McDowell in 2007.

So then I tune into The Eleventh Hour’s dispassionate trio. What, I repeat, the fuck?  Sam Smyth judged Enda Kenny to have done really well, but as for Gerry Adams: “What was he doing there? He really doesn’t know anything about economics”.  Katie Hannon said Kenny did really well, but Micheal Martin landed "killer punches” on Gerry Adams. Michael Clifford said Enda Kenny was very good, while Gerry Adams simply trotted out stock phrases and his sums didn’t add up.  Keelin Shanley agreed and showed two points in the debate where Martin attacked Adams. For some reason, Adams’s response in both cases had been edited out.

What the fuck, I murmured to myself. So I switched to Vincent Browne Tonight  on TV3.  He has four panellists. All four declared that Adams did very well and Browne himself agreed. The Irish Times  this morning figured Adams was fluid and had a command of detail; even its ghastly columnist Miriam Lord conceded that Adams did very well, more than held his own.  On RTÉ radio this morning, commentators agreed that Adams had put in a very effective performance.

So wtf?  Why this chasm between the response from the Dispassionates on The Eleventh Hour  and that from everywhere else? You tell me. But please: don’t tell me The Eleventh Hour  response had something to do with Sam Smyth’s insistence a week or so ago that Gerry Adams would be a disaster in the televised debate. That would suggest that the programme made a frantic effort to spin the event so it fitted into Sam’s cock-eyed prophecy and that, if true, would open up an appalling vista. Wouldn’t it?


Monday, 14 February 2011

Five leading men

Political commentators, by and large, are cowards, and when they’re not cowards they’re ignoramuses. If the outcome of a contest is uncertain, nine times out of ten they’ll sit on the fence and the tenth time they’ll call it wrong.  So you’ll notice there have been very few people telling us who is going to come out smelling of roses after tonight’s five-leaders’ debate on RTÉ.

There is, though, a willingness to say who will do badly. Gerry Adams, the southern media have decided, is a hopeless debater who knows nothing about economics, so he’ll be made mincemeat of by the nimbler leaders like Micheal Martin of Fianna Fáil and Eamon Gilmore of the the Labour Party.  They could be right. If you keep writing something long enough, like the room full of monkeys typing Shakespeare, you’re bound to be right eventually. There isn’t a single mainstream newspaper in the south, or even a single media commentator in the south, who highlights the merits as well as the weaknesses of Sinn Féin. Personally, I’ve found events rarely follows the picture people have in their head, so I wouldn’t be astonished if Gerry Adams does rather better than the pundits predict.

But does the Big Debate matter? The answer is probably yes. It won’t convert those who’ve their minds made up but there are a lot of people out there who oddly haven’t yet decided which party will get their nod.  Tonight they’ll tune in and, depending on who they like the look of, the sound of,  the user-friendliness of, they may well vote his way in just under two weeks’ time.

Daft, I know. Also dumb, foolish and dangerous. Debating ability has little relationship to political judgement, and looks are only that – looks.  John Edwards was an effective debater and was smiling and handsome, and look what happened to him: extra-marital affair while wife suffering from terminal cancer, career explodes in mid-air, finito. I’m not sure how many of the five men in front of the cameras tonight have fathered a child outside marriage but  we need to resist the temptation to judge by appearances.  What looks good tonight may look a lot less wonderful twelve months down the line. 

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Unhappy about an app...

I spent £1.19 on an app the other day. It’s called ‘Confession’ and contrary to reports in the media, it’s not a substitute for going to Confession to a priest. Instead it aims to help you prepare for Confession by taking you through the ten commandments and asking you questions relating to each.  The app has got a lot of media coverage,  as it’s been presented as an alternative to Confession which as I say it’s not. But now it’s got even more coverage, because a group called Truth Wins Out, which campaigns on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, says the app is “promoting anti-gay spiritual abuse”. What’s raised the hackles of TWO is one of the questions it asks: “Have I been guilty of homosexual activity?”  TWO says gay Catholics don’t need to confess homosexual activity.

Well they don’t have to if they don’t want to.  Equally, the Catholic Church is entitled to declare that homosexual activity is a sin and should be confessed. Different religions and faiths have their own code of right and wrong, and what seems daft or excessive to outsiders usually makes perfect sense to believers. If we are committed to tolerance we need to allow people, including gays, to follow their consenting preferences; equally, if we believe in tolerance, we need to allow faith groups and organizations the right to draw up their own list of what they consider sinful or not. As it stands, it looks very much like WHO is being intolerant of the Catholic Church’s views on homosexuality, rather than the other way round.

Note I’m not saying I’m in favour of this app, incidentally.  Its checklist approach to the ten commandments and the phrasing of the questions it asks under each commandment heading tend to be legalistic and depressing, the opposite of what a living faith which believes in a loving God should be. I’m sure I’ve wasted £1.19 in stupider ways but I can’t think when. 

But that still doesn't make TWO's outrage justified. 

Friday, 11 February 2011

"That's just what I was thinking!"

The crocuses are coming up in my garden. Because I’m the opposite of green-fingered (orange-fingered?),  the patch where they grow – as you can see -  is lumpy and weedy and overgrown. But just when you think winter is going to go on forever and they’re never going to show, up pop these flashes of colour – purple and yellow, and is that a sliver of white? A modestly glorious sight.

I thought of my crocuses when I was watching the Late Debate on RTÉ last night. Not long ago, when Pearse Doherty opened his mouth about being tougher over the financial terms imposed by Europe, every other political party  - Labour, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil -  jumped on him and beat him unmercifully. Nonsense, economic illiterate, cloud-cuckoo stuff. It got to the stage where you began to think “Well if ALL these guys say we gotta settle for what we’ve got, except maybe a teensy tweak to the interest rate on repayments but no more, we should be on our knees  thanking Europe that they’ve rescued us. Maybe that’s how it is”. Then suddenly, it’s not. There it is,  the Sinn Féin analysis, above surface, in vivid colour. And a growing throng of people hurrying to admire it and say that was their view all along.

On the Late Debate last night, we had Shane Ross who knows a thing or two about economics, Constantin Gurdgiev who lectures in economics at Trinity, and knock me down with a feather duster and tickle my navel, Peter Matthews, a banking expert who’s a Fine Gael candidate in the election - all nodding hard and supporting what Pearse Doherty was saying.  Add them to the list I’ve mentioned in other blogs:  Fintan O’Toole, David McWilliams, Paul Krugman, Michael Lewis...

Admittedly Pearse Doherty looks like a man in serious need of sleep. Whether it was that or over-eagerness to underscore that he was no longer a lone voice, at one point he told viewers he was “no financial expert”.  Not a good idea if you’re your party’s finance spokesman: people want to hear a voice of authority. You don’t think Enda Kenny or Eamon Gilmore  have any training or background in finance? Less modesty please, young Doherty.

So there we are. It looks increasingly likely that, after the election, the arrangement with the EU just doesn’t make sense and will have to be rejigged AND the big bond-holders in Europe will have have to absorb at least some of the punishment now being felt by the Irish taxpayer. Constantin Gurdgiev summed up  the present impotence of the Irish government in the face of Europe: “As a Russian person, I find it shameful”.

Some clinching proof that an end is coming to the wintery consensus among bigger parties that the will of our European masters in all things must be observed?  Try the recent thoughts of two people convinced they’ll be running the state after 25 February.

“There’s no reason why these (European) banks shouldn’t take a significant discount” -  Joan Burton (Labour)

“The bond holders should share responsibility for the banking crisis” – Richard Bruton (Fine Gael).

It’s getting crowded round the flower-bed these days.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

"Liability management exercise" - that's what they're calling it now

How would you like to be involved in a “liability management exercise”?  Mmm – I thought as much.  It’s three words you’re probably familiar with, strung tight together so they rub each other into a state of excited importance. I  heard the term used by a financial commentator on RTÉ radio this morning, even though he knew people were having their breakfast. Later in the interview, he explained that it meant making people liable for their losses; later still that he was referring to the ‘senior bond holders’ whose losses the people in the twenty-six counties have been loaded with. In short, he was talking about the need to ‘burn the bond-holders’, not the Irish people.

Sound familiar? Well when Pearse Doherty suggested exactly that earlier this week in a discussion with Brian Lenihan and Michael Noonan, both the Fianna Fail and the Fine Gael financial experts expressed disdain for Sinn Féin policy. Eddie Hobbs was taking a similar line on RTÉ television the other night – Sinn Féin didn’t know what they were talking about and they’d get torn to shreds in the leaders’ TV debate.

This conflates two matters: that Gerry Adams is a poor TV performer when talking about the south’s economy, and that Sinn Féin’s plans for the Irish economy don't make sense.

It’s true that Adams can seem hesitant in the face of questioning, especially when those questions are of the Mastermind variety – that is, they require the recall of economic facts.  When he stumbles or doesn’t know the answer – for example,  what VAT  in the South is – this is seized on as Sinn Féin economic illiteracy. The truth is,  it’s the people making this judgement   who show fundamentally flawed awareness.

That’s because facts today are less than ten a penny. The internet groans with a universe of factual information, available at the touch of a button. What’s needed are not Memory Men and Women; what’s needed are people – leaders – who can construct a credible policy from those facts.   Unfortunately, excited by reporters’ questions, many politicians  content themselves with firing salvos of facts into thin air, as though that proved they were economically competent. At the same time, a number of commentators and politicians have begun to tiptoe round to the Sinn Féin position, that the Irish taxpayer must simply refuse to take on the debt of big bond-holders

Meanwhile, we await the debate between the five party leaders -  Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, the Greens and Sinn Féin.   If questions to the panel can flush into the open the specific plans of each party for economic regeneration, rather how many numbers they can juggle in their heads without passing out, the electorate might finally be able to make a bias-free decision about who they will vote for.  

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Voting? Not for the likes of you...

Are you Irish? And do you live abroad? Good news, then. This year, you’ll be able to cast your vote in the south’s general election. It’s something a lot of people have campaigned for, for a long time. Canadians, Australians, the British – 115 countries allow their emigrants to vote in their elections. So I’m sure you’re pleased to know that you can vote in the election later this month. Unfortunately, it’ll be an online vote and purely symbolic – it won’t count at all in terms of electing candidates.

That’s a pity, because it’s estimated that there are over three million Irish passport holders living abroad, 800,000 of whom are Irish-born. Many of those are reluctant emigrants, forced to leave Ireland in search of a job. That fact alone might be a strong incentive for them to be interested in the outcome of the election and to cast their vote, if they had one. Latest word is that Micheal Martin now says he favours extending the vote (a real vote, not an online pretendy vote) to Irish emigrants for the presidential election. Not as good as being allowed to vote in general elections but better than listening to Enda Kenny's reasons for his TV debate no-show.

You may have noticed that even less attention is being paid to another bloc of 800,000 Irish people with a vested interest in the south’s politics. The last I heard, none of the parties in the south, with the exception of Sinn Féin, was arguing that Irish people living north of the border should have a vote. So an Irish person in Brisbane may well get a vote before one living in Belfast.  Do they not believe that Irish passport holders in the north would be interested in voting in a presidential election? Or are they happy to live with the absurdity that the person who’s been Irish president for the last fourteen years was unable to unable to vote for herself at any point?

Political reform? Sounds like a good idea. And like charity, it works best when it begins at home.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The truth that dare not speak its name

It’s terribly confusing, isn’t it? Let an interviewer ask a question about the economy, the politicians open their mouths and for the next five minutes you can’t move for budgetary commitments, policy-making skills, 0.182, gross domestic product, gross national product, three billion, NAMA, the structure of the funding facilities, banking liabilities and they do it in Canada, you know. On RTÉ’s ‘The Frontline’ last night, there were finance spokespeople from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, and they all dived into a verbal pot of financial jargon, where they bubbled and spouted for around an hour, leaving nothing behind except a suspicious smell of ignorance.

There’s one big question that must be answered before we get down to the detail of whether Eamon Gilmore has bigger cojones than anyone in Europe or Micheal Martin is Bertie Ahern in disguise. That question is: can the people of the twenty-six counties afford it? It’s a question Fintan O’Toole raises in The Irish Times this morning, and in answering it he refers to the by-now-famous article by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair. The south of Ireland is groaning under a vast debt – some €800 billion – which everybody knows Ireland won’t be able to repay. Not today, not tomorrow, not in twenty years time. Yet we have hour-long discussions like that last night, where there’s round the houses and up and down about what interest rate should be paid, how Irish people must accept the broad outline of the bail-out, how it’s tough but if we dump 80,000 public servants we’ll be on our way to safety.

We won’t. A state plunged in the deepest debt is not going to pay off that debt if it can barely pay the interest on what’s owed. The south will NEVER struggle to safety under the terms of the IMF/EU bail-out, and all the fiddling and pretending we need to buckle down won’t change that. Economic experts like Michael Lewis and Paul Krugman and David McWilliams and Fintan O’Toole have made that clear time and time again, yet our politicians keep dancing away from the truth, tossing little smoke-bombs of figures in the air in the hope they’ll hide their financial cluelessness from the public.

That’s the single point that demands repetition: we can’t pay and the proposed IMF/EU medicine will kill us. Once we accept that truth, we can start deciding what needs to be done. An unpalatable truth indeed but guess what? The political party that speaks it, loudly and clearly and repeatedly, will reap a mountain of votes from a grateful people.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

How the Markets fell in love with Prince Charles

Sometimes I feel ashamed to be a Catholic and one such occasion happened last week. Prince Charles visited Belfast and as we all know, he’s an expert on architecture (“If it’s new it’s awful”) so what building did he request to see? Of all the buildings in all of Belfast: St Malachy’s Catholic Church. Now he could have been shown round it by the local parish priest or by a local expert in Church architecture or by one of his own architectural flunkies, and then gone home. But no. He was shown around by St Malachy’s parish priest, but quickly in attendance also was a flurry of Catholic clergy led by Bishop Noel Trainor. All were ‘presented’ to the Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, as were, inevitably, a few SDLPers led by Alastair McDonnell.

Why did Charles Windsor choose St Malachy’s to view? Because it’s in the Markets area, a strongly nationalist/republican place, and if he’d tried visiting there a decade or two back, some people might well have tried to kill him. So this was to show how much times have changed and how Belfast Catholics now like royals. Yes it’s true that perhaps 80% of the nationalist population of the area aren’t Catholics in any active sense of that word. It’s also true, as my former columnist colleague Brian Feeney pointed out on BBC Radio Ulster this morning, that the conflict here never was about religion and that efforts by Church leaders to present themselves as speaking for the population were fraudulent. But hey, let’s forget the past, shall we? Prince Charles and his second wife Camilla visited the Markets area and visited a Catholic church. As commentators like RTÉ’s ineffable Tommy Gorman told us, Charlieboy’s visit is highly significant because it smoothes the way for a visit to the south of Ireland later this year by his mother, probably in May. And that will be significant because it will be the final sign that relations between Ireland and Britain have been normalized.

George Orwell, you who invented the term doublespeak, are you listening? One country has over 5,000 troops stationed on the territory of its neighbour, against the will of the majority of the people. It exercises political control over the north-east corner of that neighbour, against the will of the majority of the people. And politicians and the media now tell us relations are ‘normalized’? Come off it, chaps. The present situation is normal only in the sense that this bullying dominance has been going on for nearly one hundred years. If normal means decent or mutually agreed or permanent, then only the likes of Tommy and the clergy and others of a unionist disposition who swarmed to greet the Colonel-in-Chief last week could cod themselves that we're on the brink of normality.

Footnote: Having soaked up the unctiousness around St Malachy’s, the Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment that killed thirteen people on Bloody Sunday hurried to Palace Barracks, where he decorated some British soldiers and wished well to others getting ready to 'serve' in Afghanistan. Stand by to be told that relations between Britain and Afghanistan are nearing normalisation. If it can happen here without nationalists standing up and shouting 'Bollocks!', it can happen anywhere.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Owen Patterson said WHAT?

Politicians are fond of telling reporters they don’t respond to hypothetical questions or deal in hypothetical situations, but you’d never guess it from unionist response to Owen Paterson’s comment on BBC’s ‘Hearts and Minds’ last night. Patterson was asked what he thought of the prospect of Martin McGuinness becoming the First Minister after the May elections. The British Secretary of State’s response was a kind of posh shrug: "How that election turns out is absolutely not for me as Secretary of State to comment on. It is up to local people to go to the polling booths and vote." He then added that if McGuinness did become First Minister, it would show how well the political process here had worked.

Cue fierce indignation from unionism, notably David McNarry. He’s calling on Paterson to step down because his comment shows he’s out of touch with unionist opinion. Eh?

The agreement that the First Minister should be nominated by the largest party in the Assembly was an included section of the St Andrew's Agreement. So now McNarry is saying that for Patterson to even suggest McGuinness’s nomination as First Minister means he should resign? For God and Ulster’s sake, David. Paterson is stating the bleeding obvious that's all. That’s the agreement. There are some things nationalists and republicans don’t like - for example, they weren’t exactly doing handstands when Ian Paisley, the epitome of right-wing unionism for forty years, became First Minister. But they swallowed hard and accepted it as part of the package.

McNarry and other unionist heel-draggers’ objections come down to the tired old unionist cry of ‘We don’t accept your spokesperson!’. For years we had it with the DUP and their refusal to speak to elected Sinn Féin people; then we had it with Orangeism and their refusal to speak to residents’ groups if they were headed by the likes of Breandán Mac Cionnaith or Gerard Rice. To say such a stance is arrogant would be to understate it. It's anti-democratic.

So take a deep breath, guys, and see if you can leave those sad, stupid days behind. And keep in mind two things. One, the positions of First and Deputy First Minister are co-equal in every way - got that? Relax. Two, it's a hypothetical situation. It may never happen - Martin McGuinness may never become First Minister. Why give yourself political ulcers worrying about a hypothetical situation?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Ah banks. Where would we be without them? Bonnie and Clyde would have a very dull plot, heist movies wouldn’t exist, Patti Hearst might never have left her California mansion and tiger kidnappings would be spectacularly futile. Oh, and the south of Ireland wouldn’t be saddled with a debt containing so many zeroes, thinking about it makes you cross-eyed.

But the banks were victims too, right? I mean the economic storm that engulfed the globe just hit without warning; until the last minute it looked as though the boom would go on forever. The banks were as shocked as the rest of us when the roof fell in.

Not so, it seems. If Lisa O’Carroll in today’s Guardian is to be believed (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/ireland-business-blog-with-lisa-ocarroll/2011/feb/02/ireland-merrill-lynch-research-note-irish-banks), the Irish banks added cover-up to the bad management that is now crucifying the Irish economy. She reports a claim that in March 2008, US investment bank Merrill Lynch issued a highly critical report on Irish banks, but quickly withdrew it when those same Irish banks got in touch and threatened to take their business some other place. Instead Merrill Lynch is then alleged to have toned down its report, fired the guy who wrote it and six months later issued a report in which they said that Irish banks were profitable and well-capitalised.

So not only have the banks, with the aid of the Irish government, done their best to screw this generation of Irish people and several to come; it would appear they’ve used strong-arm tactics as well, to conceal the truth from us until it was too late.

Thanks, guys. Now it’s pay-back time.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Three-and-a-half weeks: it could drive us mad

Is three-and-a-half weeks too long for an election campaign? There’s an argument that says it is. For a start, campaign reports tend to nudge aside other TV programming. Dangerous. Do that for long enough - say, for three-and-a-half weeks – and a lot of people get mad. They start out angry with the parties that’ve cut their wages, slashed their benefits, killed their jobs; they end up mad as hell with every party of any stripe that shows its face on TV, blocking the normal diet of EastEnders and the Renee Zellweger movie. Result: on election day they stay at home, catching up on why Shirley won’t marry Phil and mouthing the punch lines from Bridget Jones’s Diary. Just as well we don’t all live in the US, then, where the election campaigns last two years. By polling day we’d be putting one foot through canvassers and the other through our TV screen.

Meanwhile, back in what passes for the real world, the media are busy assigning political parties to their stereotype roles. Fianna Fail of course are the villain and yes, Brian Cowen would have made a better gang leader than Micheal Martin but you can’t have everything. Fine Gael and Enda are the slightly dim shareholder, oops sharecropper who’s been kept down by the villain for so long but figures his salvation is finally at hand. Labour and Eamon Gilmore are the sharecropper’s best buddy, except that this best buddy figures he’s twice as smart as the sharecropper and had better get a sizeable piece of the action, soon as the villain bites the dust or mebbe sooner. The Greens are the pretty girl who likes gathering flowers in the sunshine and goes for the occasional dip in the nip in the nearby lake. And Sinn Féin? They’re the plumb crazy guy that everybody slaps their thigh and laughs at fit ter bust when he says this town is gonna soon be a ghost town, ‘ceptin’ folks gets organised and stands up to the villain’s ornery friends from the neighbouring territory that’s stealin’ our cattle ‘n’ burnin’ our crops.

Can the slightly dim sharecropper really be as dim as he looks? Will his best buddy try to plug him and grab all the land for himself? Will the townsfolk believe the plumb crazy guy before it’s too late? And where is that lake anyway?

Three-and-a-half weeks: it’s too long, I tell you, too long.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

I'm sorry, I haven't a clue

Sinn Féin are going to miss Arthur Morgan. He was on RTÉ’s ‘The Frontline’ last night and he showed why, with the exception of Pearse Doherty, he’s the most effective Sinn Féin TD in the Dail. He’s lively, unafraid and above all, he talks about the economy in human terms. While the other politicians on the show spoke of jobs stimulus and going forward and interest rate renegotiation, Morgan spoke of local people setting up businesses, people getting a job, people paying tax into the exchequer as their business – a shop, a garage, a bakery – grew. Real stuff that listeners could picture and almost smell.

I know we’re all supposed to be well-versed in the economic system by now so we shouldn’t have to need people like Morgan presenting it to us in human terms, but that’s a myth – the well-versed thing. Most of us want to see and hear politicians who say things that relate to our lives. People like Harold Wilson, with his talk of the pound in your pocket, knew that. Richard Bruton, who’s often accepted as some kind of economic Svengali, is incapable of doing it. Arthur Morgan, maybe because he’s part of a family business, can and does.

Probably the most-admired economic commentator in Ireland is David McWilliams. He’s been hailed because when everyone – politicians, journalists, heads of banks – was saying that the boom was getting boomer, McWilliams warned the state was heading for disaster. And so it proved. So what’s he saying now?

‘Make no mistake about it, this 'bailout' will sink Ireland. We are witnessing a monumental struggle between the innocent average Irish person and the guilty creditors of the bust Irish banks’.

First, notice the way he writes – down-to-earth presentation of what’s involved in the IMF/EU bail-out . In fact, he says, we should stop calling it a bail-out –it’s the EU giving us enough rope with which to hang ourselves.

Second, note what he’s saying: the supposed bail-out is a disaster. The Irish people are assuming bank debt as their own, and in the process laying a spine-cracking burden on themselves, their children and probably their grandchildren. Our only hope is to toss aside that burden, and the only way that can be done is by sluicing out the Dail and removing those who support this disastrous bail-out/neck-noose.

There aren’t many people speaking as clearly as McWilliams or Morgan, although Morgan will be gone as from today, as soon as the Dail dissolves. When he warned of the coming crash, McWilliams was a near-lone voice. Now he’s warning of the death-sentence offered by the EU bail-out, he’s still alone.

Or nearly so. What he’s proposing sounds like a good match with Sinn Féin policy: don’t tinker with the EU/IMF loan deal, reject it. When Eoin O Broin articulated his party’s policy on TV3’s ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ last night, Browne told him he obviously hadn’t an economic clue.

Which must mean McWilliams hasn’t a clue either. So remind me: what did they say a couple of years back, when McWilliams warned of the oncoming train-wreck? Ah yes. McWilliams, you haven’t a clue.