New Year predictions? I’ll give you New Year predictions. Back in the early 1970s, republicans would sometimes encourage each other with a posting in a local newspaper declaring “On to 1973 – the year of Victory!” Or 1974 or 1975. Those who survived learnt that it hadn’t happened. Those who didn’t survive didn’t know it hadn’t happened.
Another prediction: John Hume in in 1972, in the aftermath of Blooday Sunday. His heart heavy with that cruel slaughter, the SDLP leader is said to have declared “It’s a united Ireland now or nothing”. It hasn’t happened.
Or this one. Ian Paisley in the 1980s, standing with a sledge-hammer, waiting to have his photograph taken so they could make posters with the slogan “We’ll Smash Sinn Féin!” It hasn’t happened. Or Ian Paisley addressing a vast gathering at Belfast City Hall, roaring defiantly that as far as interference in Northern Ireland’s affairs by the south of Ireland was concerned, it wouldn’t happen - not “Never, Never, Never, Never!”. It has happened.
Brian Feeney, columnist with the VO, predicted - took a bet, in fact - that there’d be a dramatic rise in Catholic numbers when the 2001 census figures for here were announced. It didn’t happen.
Eoghan Harris, columnist with the Irish Independent, predicted some years ago that Fianna Fail would ‘mop up’ the four remaining seats of Sinn Féin in the south at the next election. It didn’t happen ( for a thousand reasons, ach sin sceal eile).
By now you’ve probably noticed a pattern in all these predictions: they were all wrong. In fact, I can’t remember any outstanding prediction which actually proved accurate. I can think of a lot of commentary which explained events and pointed to signs which clearly indicated what was going to happen but that was always AFTER the event. Media people are particularly good at this. They’re not so hot at looking ahead. Which of them foresaw the collapse of the Soviet empire? Or the Arab Spring? Or Barack Obama? Or Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness?
The truth is, future events are uncertain because they’re shaped by human beings, and human beings are an infuriating, baffling, maddening, totally unpredictable bunch. What is to be is hidden from us, and will continue to be until it happens, and if we can recognize and accept it when it does, we’ll have done OK.
Bliain ur mhaith daoibh - Happy New Year. But no predictions, no promises.