Thursday, 24 March 2011
Holding their cultural and moral noses...
Two politicians – one based in the north, one in the south – spoke publicly yesterday and got a mocking reception. The first was Nelson McCausland, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, who said the Belfast Festival should have more sacred music on its programme. He got a fairly frosty interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ for his pains: was that his role, was he the festival director, wasn’t he trying to be prescriptive about what was put on the festival programme?
The second was Gerry Adams. It was in the Dail and Fine Gael were getting a grilling about the Michael Lowry affair, and the way money had been shuffled around so it got from Denis O’Brien’s account to Lowry’s. Adams stood up and accused the governing party of being involved in a clear example of “money-laundering”. The words had barely left his lips when the chamber erupted in mocking laughter that made his next words inaudible.
First, Nelson McCausland: I’m with him. Not that I like sacred music. The classy stuff, like Bach’s Mass in B Minor, is something my small musical brain can’t quite take in. As for the more gospel choir-y stuff, except it’s got a bouncing, hand-fluttering yeah-Lord thing to it, I’m yawning. My defining memory of sacred music is ‘Songs of Praise’ of a late November evening, with the rain slicing down and the dreary church music making me want to reach for my father’s cut-throat razor.
But none of that means McCausland isn’t entitled to his view. Much of the negative reaction came, not because his critics resented his intrusion as that they despised his musical tastes. Had he said “I think the Belfast Festival could do with some more Puccini opera” or “I wish we had rather more ballet”, you’d have had a totally different reaction. Nelson’s taste may stink in the views of his detractors but he’s entitled to express it. The resentment against him is, at heart, that of cultural snobbery.
As for the reaction to Adams: he shouldn’t have used the term “money-laundering” during his speech. Not because he wasn’t right – the Lowry case, if we’re to believe Moriarty, involved massive and complex money laundering. But by using the term, Adams allowed his opponents to drag attention away from the point he was making and back into a slanging match about the IRA and the Northern Bank and what happened in 1978. The people mocking him were keen to get clear of the noose of corruption and he gave them their chance.
That’s not to say he should have kept quiet. Au contraire. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition, you can be sure, is as riddled with dubious activities as was the Fianna Fail party. The trick is to nail such hypocrisy with appropriate language. But then as Gerry himself points out, he’s on a learning curve in southern politics. Think how far he’s come since that famous TV debate in 2007. Better still, think of the politician who was so scathing of Adams during that TV debate. He was Justice Minister at the time and his name was Michael McDowell. He and his party now? In the dustbin of history. Gerry Adams and his party now? Adams has topped the poll, his party have trebled their numbers. Go figger.