Jude Collins

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Last night's 'Prime Time': hooray, no Miriam.

James McClean

RTÉ’s Prime Time was worth watching last night,  and not just because the presenter was the cool and thoughtful Richard Crowley rather than smiling Miriam O’Callaghan, who brings new meaning to the term “confessional state”  and new depth to the old song “Ma, she’s makin’ eyes at me”.

Admittedly the first part, about the south’s coming referendum on the EU, was a bit of a snore. After twenty-five minutes, Micheál Martin, Pádraig MacLochlainn and Eamon Gilmore had still not managed to explain it, let alone why you should or shouldn’t  (or in our case, can’t) vote Yes or No. Although Gilmore did give me one moment of philosophical sadness as I watched him: imagine not believing in a God and choosing to spend your brief flicker of existence making daisy-chains of clichés  in an RTÉ studio.

But the second half was good, and good and clear as well. It focused on the problem that’s driving the IFA bonkers: more and more players like Darron Gibson and James McClean are opting to play for the south rather than the north, where they were born and reared. Eamonn McCann came on (couture tip, Eamonn: wear that woolly hat ALL the time) and argued with regret that Ireland would soon have an Orange team in the north and a green team in the south, and that the seeds of that were to be found in the Good Friday Agreement set-up, which is equally sectarian in its nature.  A second Eamon, Eamon Dunphy, argued that young Catholic players from the north felt more “culturally comfortable” playing for the south, and cited as evidence the concentrated vitriol of that  infamous night in November, when the north vs south game in Windsor Park produced crowd bigotry so thick, you could have pulled off a bit and chewed it.

I always find the reaction of southern people who attended that game very encouraging. When they’ve actually been on the receiving end of northern bigotry, they’re much less likely to do the oh-stop-whingeing thing to northern Catholics. Besides, as one of the southern football people effectively said, them’s the rules. No matter where you’re born in Ireland, the rules say you can play for the south if you want to. Simple as that. It’s like the granny rule -  you may mock it but it still stays the rule, and sport is sport because people play by the rules. Or should.

If you’re still not convinced Gibson, McClean aren’t entitled to head south, check out an article by Daniel Collins, whom I’m delighted to discover is a relative of mine, at   http://oneteaminireland.blogspot.com/2011/06/player-eligibility-in-irish-context.html
He explains, with forensic precision, why and how the law allows young Irishmen in the north to play for the Republic of Ireland. Put like that, it sounds a no-brainer. But then who said brains were the strong point of the IFA?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The rich are different

Stunned, that's what I was. Stunned and disoriented, when I read in this morning's Indo that thing about better-off people. Like the child in the poem, my parents kept me (or tried to keep me) from children who were rough. It was never quite explained why but I guessed from hints that these people, besides being poor, were likely to be a bit iffy on the moral front. Especially in matters of private property: i.e.,  they  were liable to lift and pocket anything anytime they got a chance. Naturally, that's the law by which I've governed my life - keep a sharp eye on  the less-well-off,  they have no principles because, as George Bernard Shaw says in Pygmalion,  they can't afford them. Only now this Indo report has turned all that on its head.

According to the paper, psychologists at the University of California in Berkeley have found that better-off people are more likely to lie or side-step the truth in a job interview, more likely to cheat in a game of dice, and more likely to act unethically in the work place. Oh, and when they are driving, they're more likely to cut across other drivers and less likely to stop for pedestrians.

Can you adam-and-eve it? And here was me, assuming  all the stuff about bankers and property developers was black propaganda driven by the politics of envy.  I'm going to have to lie down in a dark room until the shock of all this wears off.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Nice try, judge, but...

Judge Nicholas Crichton

There's a judge in England who's got plans for heroin users in this little north-eastern corner. No, that's unfair - he has plans but he's implementing them in England and he thinks it would be a good idea to implement them here as well. I'm not nearly so sure.

Why so? Well, the judge's plans are focused on pregnant heroin-users, which means he's ignoring some four-fifths of the heroin-using fraternity (or sorority, if you prefer), since four-fifths of heroin users are male. That said, the judge does claim some success with these women, who give birth to babies that have to be detoxified because they've developed a drug habit while still in the womb. Pretty ghastly, eh? Normally the child is taken from them and put into foster care, which leaves these unhappy women mad with rage and grief, and many of them go on to have another child to replace the one taken away - or so the judge intimates. His system is one where the mother is supported by social workers and the judge himself and a coterie of people who try to help the unhappy mother turn her life around. The judge claims that, based on a very small sample, they have success: one in three of such mothers  takes on her responsibilities and stays clean, whereas in a control group without that kind of support, only one in five or six is rescued from despair.

I don't agree with the English judge - one Nicholas Crichton -  for several reasons. While one out of three is better than one out of five or six,  it still means it's a system that fails two out of every three mothers involved. It's also a system that hasn't been properly researched - even Crichton admits his faith in it rests on a very small sample. With another judge, for example, the whole thing mightn't work (apparently  Crichton is highly charismatic). So to start rolling it out in other areas at public expense sounds a bit shot-in-the-dark to me.

But there are two other, even bigger reasons why I don't feel overly excited by his programme. One, it doesn't question the fact that drugs are illegal. The war on drugs has been fought for decades and even governments themselves now admit that it's an abysmal failure. Until some form of legalisation is thought out, we're only codding ourselves and using massive police resources sending people to prisons - which are, invariably, stuffed with drugs. Clever.

The second reason I think the judge is missing the point is that he doesn't really address the whole drug-abuse link with poverty. Put bluntly, people who have little or no money are more likely to try to escape from their ghastly surroundings by drug abuse.  Until the poverty issue - in short, inequality in society - is tackled head-on, progress on the drugs front will make little headway. But do you see any signs that our society is becoming more equal? Nah, me neither.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Shock-horror - Michael McDowell doesn't like the southern media!

Like me, you probably woke up this morning fretting about how the economic situation north and south would affect the peace process. Good news. Michael McDowell, late of the late Progressive Democratic party, has explained that the down-turn won't knock the peace process off-course. I'd say Hooray, except then I remember this is the same Michael McDowell who, in the   election declared Gerry Adams to be an economic illiterate. Then about two years later Michael's own  economic analysis collapsed around his ears. It's also the same Michael McDowell who warned the people of the south that hidden agents of violent republicanism lurked under the surface in all sorts places - accountancy, medicine, the law -  covert Provos in every profession,  ready to spring from under the bed and up-end the state. It must be getting a bit stuffy down there by now.

But while of course we all miss Michael, his cudgels have been picked up by Pat Rabbite.  You'd think that Pat,being a former Stickie, would be light years away in his thinking from right-wing Michael, but that's not how the Labour Party in the south operates. Pat, astonishingly, seems to dislike the southern media and quotes McDowell on the subject:

"Our media are stridently demanding to determine the political agenda. They are increasingly trivialising, distorting and denigrating our political process and discourse. While posing as impartial ringmasters, the media are cracking the whip at hapless aspirants for, and holders of, public office who increasingly oblige as performing seals, tamed lions and pirouetting elephants - all in the utterly vain hope of assuaging the hand that holds the media whip".

Phew. Duffy's Circus lost a great PR man when Michael went back to the bar after being ejected from politics. Funny thing is, I find myself agreeing with what he says, while at the same time stunned that the criticism is coming from the former Minister for Justice.   Eh? That's the same media that presented the PDs for years as the guardians of the state's moral compass? The same media that rejected any question that didn't have the letters 'IRA' in it when interviewing Martin McGuinness during the presidential election campaign? Sorry, Michael. My cat has just run up the curtain and is making a screeching sound that's a bit like laughter. Must go disentangle him.

Friday, 24 February 2012

That supergrass trial - who's guilty?

I knew at least one supergrass  – Eamon Collins, who later was killed, very probably by the IRA. Eamon was a likeable man with a hunger for the spotlight and in the end, he bought it at the price of his life. I thought of him yesterday, when the loyalist supergrass trial  collapsed in the High Court in Belfast.

It’s easy to see the supergrass as making his own decision to inform on his former comrades. Certainly Eamon Collins made a calculated decision not only to inform but to ignore the IRA’s warning afterwards that he live south of Dundalk – he had been living in Newry for some time when he was killed. But he and the Stewart brothers, who were the supergrasses at yesterday’s trial, made their decision not just jointly with each other, but jointly with the state. In effect, the state bribed them into informing on their UVF comrades, offering them a hugely lighter sentence in return.

The point I’m making is that the state – the police -  in the past and yesterday dangled a bait for supergrasses to turn state evidence. There’s something instinctive in most of us which recoils at the notion of informing. In Irish history, the word ‘informer’ has a particularly despicable ring. The state could of course argue that the informer is helping them put killers behind bars and in return is deserving of the reward of a much lighter sentence. Another way of looking at it is that the state is bending the law – we know you committed crimes that deserve ten or twenty years in prison, but we’ll let you off with three -  to achieve its ends. And of course when the unhappy informer, as happened in the case of Eamon Collins,  is brutally killed on a cold January morning, the state shakes its head sadly and says it's a despicable murder. Which adds hypocrisy to law-bending.

I took no satisfaction from the exultant UVF people emerging from court yesterday. They too had turned on a comrade – Tommy English – and killed him, and God knows how many more. But it should have been obvious to the authorities for the past thirty years  that supergrass trials, as well as being morally dubious, inevitably come to an undignified and ultimately bloody conclusion. And it is a conclusion in which the state’s hands are crimson as well.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Oh please, please - not the old tit-for-tat crap again

Davy Adams ( late of this parish and of the late UDP) is a man I like. I interviewed him a couple of months ago and he was accommodating in every way. He also has some things worth saying, as well as a few others he should say but doesn't, and the odd thing that's rubbish.  All three qualities you can see in an article in this morning's Irish Times. 

The central point he's making is that the way leaders of opposing groups behave towards each other is very important. Why? "Because the critical mass of communities and core constituencies - who must be brought along - take their mood directly from the top". The examples he uses are Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, and Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson. He has a point. We learn by example. Where I would draw back is when faced with Davy's phrasing: "...take their mood directly from the top". Mmm. In my experience, people are capable of thinking for themselves more than we give them credit for, providing they aren't subjected to a steady diet of misdirecting media. There's no doubt that many republicans are encouraged to work towards civility and even warmth with their political opponents, but I'd like to think they've worked it out to a great extent by themselves and aren't just "taking their mood directly from the top". Whether the example of Paisley and Robinson will encourage unionists to  approach their republican neighbours with greater amiability, I'm not so sure.

Which brings me to a second point of disagreement with Davy Adams's article. He's extending his leadership-example thesis to cover the early days of building towards the Good Friday Agreement. "It should be remembered that the peace process began as a result of the personal chemistry between Albert Reynold and John Major, and was brought to (theoretic) fruition by the equally friendly triumvirate of Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton".  I don't know if I'd disagree with much of that, even though I don't know what 'theoretic' means. The people mentioned did play their part in moving things towards  Good Friday, 1998.  What I disagree with is what Davy doesn't say here. Spot the missing leaders? You got it - John Hume and Gerry Adams.  There is absolutely no doubt that the peace process and  the Good Friday Agreement grew out of  the talks (much condemned in the southern media especially) between Hume and Adams in the late 1980s and early 90s. What's more both men, and particularly Adams, always displayed a positive, open attitude to their political opponents.

And that brings me to the third and maybe most crucial disagreement I'd have with Davy's article. He talks about the "post-settlement period when the main local actors were barely speaking to one another" and there was an atmosphere of "outright hostility". The clear implication is the old, tired tit-for-tat lie: one side was as bad as the other. The fact is that the republican leadership in the post-settlement period - and in the period preceding the Agreement - went out of their way to be civil and courteous in their dealings with the DUP, but again and again were rebuffed. When Paisley and McGuinness become First and Deputy First Minister respectively, which of the two was clearly more respectful, agreeable and working for harmony? I'll give you a clue: it wasn't the one that's resting in the Ulster Hospital at the moment. This wearisome Alliance Party stance of holding all sides as equally remiss may sound balanced and BBC-ish; in reality it's  balderdash.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The amazing Fr Eugene O'Neill

It's amazing what you read in the papers. A-ston-ishing. The most recently example was yesterday in The News Letter, which reports a Glengormley priest - Fr Eugene O'Neill-  as saying that no priests under forty-five are interested in removing the border. Apparently it was on the back of a "Thought for the Day" he did on BBC radio. Can you believe that - members of the Irish Catholic clergy found wanting in their commitment to Irish republicanism? Those of us old enough still get a tingle when we remember the stirring words of Cardinal Cahal Daly, back in the heat of the conflict, when he used deliver those blistering criticisms of the British army and the RUC, as well as the depth of understanding he showed for the Irish people's centuries-old struggle to run their own affairs. And to think that all that is now turned on its head: according to  this forty-five-year-old priest,  priests like him and younger just don't care about a united Ireland!

And there's more - quite a bit, in fact. Fr O'Neill says many Catholics are "rethinking their nationalism" and wondering whether "as Catholics they necessarily had to be nationalist". He'll find it hard to untangle that one. As I remember my own baptism, part of the ceremony involves a clear commitment to active republicanism throughout adult life or else face excommunication.   Eugene also says that the Queen and the British government are far nicer to people of faith than the Dublin government. In fact, he draws a comparison between the anti-Catholic sentiment in the southern state and the persecution of Catholicism in some former Communist countries.

I actually think he has a half-point there. In the south there is indeed an anti-Catholic Church bias in the media, for reasons too tedious to repeat; but that it's comparable with persecution of the Church in Communist countries? Get a grip, Eugene... But shhh - he's talking again.

"For my generation of priests and everyone below us the national question is irrelevant- literally irrelevant...no one is interested in the national question".

Ach ach achone - has it come to this? The Catholic clergy, especially the hierarchy, men on whom those struggling for a united Ireland always knew they could depend, all the way from the local parish priest right up to the Pope - to think that they've now turned their back on the whole project. A thought too deep for tears.

Well, that's it, then. Sinn Féin and any other party interested in the notion of sovereignty resting with the Irish people - forget it. Go home. You're wasting your time. You may think that people will get excited about commemorating the centenary of  Easter 1916 and the programme of the first Dail in 1918,  or that they'll turn out in huge numbers, the way they did when the body of Kevin Barry was re-interred in Glasnevin cemetery some years ago. Hah! No chance. They'll be at home discussing Greece and whether the euro will last. As Eugene himself says, "Don't we have any values beyond the economy?"

The answer,  Eugene, is No. And that's why I expect they'll cancel all those centenary commemoration plans that were in the works before your News Letter  interview. Total waste of money.

So there you are. Truth hurts. I would add that Ireland is lucky to have clear-thinking, informed priests like Eugene, but that'd be to flirt with a discussion of values  and skirt dangerously close to the subject of nationalism. So I'll just make my excuses and go rejoin all those other Catholics  checking out the state of the FTSE 100.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Just what we need -another golf course. Thanks, Alex

You can be too modest, too.  You can go around all the time saying "I am a worm and no man", and then next thing you discover you have greatness thrust upon you. Or if not thrust, at least breathing so close, you can feel its hot breath on your neck.  I'm referring, of course, to the fact that Minister of the Environment Alex Attwood reads my blog.

You doubt my word? How else to explain that I do a blog titled 'How to play golf and get rich', and next day virtually, little Alex has got the news media all agog about will he/won't he give the green light to the development of a hum-dinger, top-drawer, out-of-this-world golf links up about Bushmills?  Coincidence? I think not.

And not just  a matter of links. There are going to be chalets - really nifty sort of golfing second homes. There's going to be a five-star hotel set in lovely scenery - it's going to be wunnerful. I expect the sellers of The Big Issue  will hurl their magazines in the air and break into spontaneous dance when the news breaks. And when the 23,000 people that are homeless here get the word, they'll probably tear up those scrawled appeals of theirs and replace them with "Vote for Alex- He's good for golf!" And of course the 50,000 young people who emigrated to Canada and Australia from Ireland last year and the 50,000 that are expected to do likewise this year must be kicking themselves - they could stayed far nearer home and gone up north to whack a ball around Bushmills. Couldn't they?

Well, no. The one thing you can safely say about this golf links is that it will have a no-scruff-allowed policy. Somebody on radio this morning suggested that in this time of economic cut-back, there wouldn't be a market for this kind of luxury. Ha. And ha bloody ha. The answer is that there may not be a market for middle class and working class people, who are feeling the ever-sharper bite of the recession, but there are still enough super-rich people to fill the Bushmills hotel before tootling out for a restful-yet-fun 18 holes. Some natives might get lucky and find a job cooking or serving grub to the safe-from-recession golfers. The Easter Proclamation may have stated "the right of the people of Ireland to the ownerships of Ireland", but of course they didn't know what was going to be carved out, up in Bushmills, one hundred years later.  Nice one, Alex. You're doing a great job. And  keep reading, OK?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

How to play golf and get rich

What price patriotism? Well, if you judge by the reports on the coming Scottish independence referendum, the price will be the pound in your average Scot's pocket. If s/he thinks that independence will be financially good for Scotland, it'll be thumbs-up; if independence means less money, it's thumbs-down.  Maybe it's as well they didn't tell William Wallace that before he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

But since that's said to be the deciding factor here as well ("I get better social benefits in the UK, that's why I'm a unionist"), maybe it's time we got serious about it. With the south of Ireland now an economic basket-case, the prospect of political union with it brings out the average unionist in hives.

Only whoa a minute. A recent report from Failte Ireland shows that the average golf visitor to Ireland is worth three times as much to the economy as an ordinary tourist. What's more, 84% of British golfers thought they got "fairly good" to "very good" value for money on their visit, and even more European golfers felt likewise. And the Yanks were in No 1 spot, in terms of overall satisfaction with their Irish golf trips.

So now - the ball, so to say, is in our court. Put all the unemployed, north and south, to work until they have transformed Ireland's green and pleasant land into a zillion greens and fairways.  When we've golf courses coast to coast, the tourist money will  refloat all our submerged boats. And  since Ma'am did so well last time out and brought so many tourists to Ireland in her wake (she did, didn't she?), let's put a few spare billion her way, on the understanding that she takes up golf immediately, even if it doesn't involve killing animals; then invite her back on a golfing spree.   Once they see her at it, can you imagine how many golf tourists will be gagging to follow suit?

Write it now and put it  above the mantelpiece: "It's the economy, stupid patriot."

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Talking with the 'dissidents'

I like Brian Rowan - always have.  I used to see him in and around the BBC, and unlike some in that institution,  he was friendly with everyone, regardless of rank or importance.   He was also a good journalist, invariably clear and informed. These days he's making a stir because he chaired a political discussion in the Waterfront Hall recently, which included Ciaran Cunningham from the Republican Network for Unity (RNU). The group rejects Sinn Féin's strategy and the meeting was seen as ground-breaking, since it gave the RNU a platform to articulate its views and defend them.

Brian Rowan believes strongly in the worth of this: "It is a massive piece of work and may be that there are those who are not interested. But we will only find the answer to that question if a place for talking is established, and if everyone is invited into the room".

I'm with him completely - there should be room for every political voice, particularly those with whom we most disagree. That's what made the BBC and RTÉ broadcasting ban on republicans so stupid. But there are two areas that Brian has skipped around and they have to be faced.

The first is the danger of over-estimating the value of discussion. It's good, in that it forces participants to clarify their thinking. It's good that the beliefs of all sides are challenged,  and where there are flaws, these are exposed. That said, I can't think of a single example where political discussion with opponents has changed the mind-set of those involved. "West Belfast Talks Back" always hosted people with strongly anti-republican views (as well as those with strongly pro-republican views), but I don't think any of those evenings ended with a panellist smacking his or her forehead and saying "Oh God, what a fool I've been! Now I see where I went wrong!". In fact you might even argue the reverse. As the Rev David Latimer cheerfully pointed out, his attendance at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis didn't make him any less of a unionist.

The second issue that's been gracefully skirted is the core one: the use of violence. It's clear that Sinn Féin have committed themselves to a non-violent path towards national reunification. You might almost say they've chosen the Christian path: they've beaten their swords into plough-shares and have extended the hand of friendship to those who have most reviled them. Not so some other republican groups, sometimes called "micro-groups",  sometimes "splinter groups", sometimes "dissidents".  I was on a BBC radio discussion programme with Ciaran earlier this week and it was notable that the key question - "Do you believe in the use of violence to achieve your political goals?" - was somehow avoided.

Maybe with good reason. If Ciaran Cunningham or anyone else were to answer "Yes" to that question, they might  find themselves in a court of law. So I understand why Brian and others avoid it, but it really is the core question. Martin McGuinness condemns the violence that ended the young life of Ronan Kerr, not so much because he, McGuinness, is a pacifist, but because he believes such violence is futile and achieves nothing at this point in our history.  The people who believe in such violence or carry it out think it does achieve something at this point. I very much doubt if they believe they can defeat the British army, but they hope it will do one thing and they believe it will do a second thing.

They hope that their violence will draw increasing numbers to their ranks - people who are impatient or disillusioned with Sinn Féin's strategy. And if that doesn't happen, they can console themselves with the belief that  they are keeping the flame of violent republican resistance alive, so that another day or another generation will receive it and force a British withdrawal from Ireland. No other means, they believe, will do the job.

So as I say I applaud Brian Rowan's efforts to make room for all voices. But he (and we) would do well not to over-estimate the persuasive powers of talk; and he/we would do well to remember that it's not the issue of social justice that is the point of disagreement,  it's the use of violence.

Friday, 17 February 2012

You can call him Al - or just misguided

Al Hutchinson, who is no longer officially our Ombudsman but is keeping the seat warm until his successor is installed, has stirred the pot of the past in recent days. He has suggested “dealing with the past”  by issuing an amnesty for deaths in the Troubles. But the amnesty in each case would be conditional on the relatives of victims agreeing to it.

Hutchinson is half-right. He argues the case for an amnesty on the grounds that it’d be impossible to investigate and prosecute the thousands of cases that the Troubles have thrown up: a moment’s thought tells you his pragmatic view has merit.  Likewise, a moment’s thought tells you that his views on the role of relatives of victims are foolish to the point of being ludicrous.

Let’s try to  first clear up a few points on this matter.

1.    If everyone involved would stop using the term “murder” when referring to those killed in the course of the Troubles, it would be helpful. Whether we like it or not, those who kill people in the course of a war – or political conflict, if you prefer the term – are viewed differently and treated differently from those who kill people in a private or personal dispute. The Troubles was indubitably a political conflict or war, so let’s view all killings in that context. We don’t talk of British bombing raids during WW2 as being murder operations.  Likewise, then, with Claudy or Ballykelly.
2.    But be it killing in a private quarrel or in a political conflict, we should remember that the pain felt by those who loved the victim is every bit as raw and deep.
3.    What’s more, it doesn’t matter to the bereaved relatives if those who did the killing were paramilitaries or the state forces. The loved one is still gone, cut off before their time. The relatives of those slaughtered by both paramilitaries and state forces deserve our equal compassion.
4.    However, in terms of social and political implications, the killings committed by the forces of the state are more horrifying than those committed by paramilitaries. Where those who are sworn to uphold the rule of law themselves breach that law, all claim to a civilized society is forfeit.
5.    Back to our friend Al.  As I said, he’s right that there are simply too many cases to cope with and that some other answer must be found. But even though it sounds sensitive and compassionate, he’s totally wrong in suggesting  that amnesty be at the discretion of the relatives of the victim.

Why? Because relatives of victims are the last people who should be given a role in deciding whether a case come to court. Likewise, they should have no say in the punishment meted out to the perpetrator.

That’s because justice demands objectivity, not the subjectivity of pain. It is precisely because the relatives of victims have suffered and are suffering so much that prosecution and sentence –the central features of  judicial procedure – should be taken out of their hands.

If you doubt that, answer me this: what if some of the relatives were Christians?  Christ, as we know, urged his followers to love their enemies, do good to those that hated them. Under those terms, the recommendation from relatives would be that the killer be pardoned.

More likely, it might work the other way. Relatives  lacerated by pain could well call for the most severe penalty possible – life imprisonment or even the death penalty.  Our society could end up with lucky killers in some instances walking free, unlucky others being incarcerated for the rest of their natural lives.

That’s not to say that relatives wounded by the loss of a loved one shouldn’t have the right to confront the killer or enter into dialogue with him/her, or otherwise try to come to terms with what has happened. But they should have no say – none whatsoever – in whether a case come to court or what sort of punishment should be handed out.

Amnesty: yes, worth looking at as a way of coping with the past. But amnesty conditional in each case on the approval of the victims’  relatives: under no circumstances.  The deeper the pain, the slimmer the chance of dispassionate justice being administered. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Barry and John: was your journey really necessary?

How important is the wrapping on a present? Or the print lay-out of your newspaper? Last night the BBC's 'Spotlight'  took Barry McElduff and John Laird to Edinburgh to learn more about the move towards Scottish independence. We got nice shots of the underbelly of a plane taking off, flowers,  Barry drinking from a glass and John Laird chewing his grub, a few guys playing at a pub session - oh, and a few jokes exchanged between Barry and John. The two men came back shaking their heads and saying they'd learnt a lot from their trip.

Eh? Lucky them. I learnt nothing. Nothing was said that couldn't have been said at least as well and probably better in a five-minute discussion in a TV studio in Belfast. There may be a great deal of complexity to the Scottish question or it may be clear and stark, but the visit left me none the wiser as to which was the case. The nearest the programme got to an articulation of the case for Scottish independence was a brief chat with a Pakistani-Scot who's an MSP and, we were told, is tipped as a future leader of the Scots Nat party. He said it was insulting to compare his party's drive for Scottish independence with the IRA's campaign for Irish independence, since the IRA was a group engaged in "mindless thuggery".  You can only hope he has a better grasp of the Scottish question than he has of the Irish question.

Am I being too hard? Do people need to have the pubs and dinner tables and plane underbellies and little jokes before they'll absorb information on a political question? I don't think so. If the topic is important enough - and what could be more important than national independence? - and views presented thoughtfully enough, most people, in my experience, are more than willing to listen.

Next time, guys, just put Barry and John in a room and ask them to say three interesting things about Scottish independence and its relevance to us. It'd save a lot of time and even more public money.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Willie Frazer: marching to the beat of a different drum

What is it with this marching thing? Is it restless legs syndrome? Ants in the pants? Or just good old-fashioned in-your-face-and-community coat-trailing? Willie Frazer and his FAIR group are intent on commemorating the appalling killing of workers at Kingsmill by having around seventeen bands march through the Whitecross area of Armagh, where sensitivities on both sides are still raw. There are people and families who, if these marching bands parade through, will feel that the memory of their loved ones is being trampled on.

So why not commemorate by staying in one spot? That's what's happened on other occasions. There is a monument to those who died in the Kingsmill massacre and to the best of my knowledge no nationalist or republican or stupid moron has tried to destroy or deface  that monument in any way. Likewise, commemoration ceremonies at that memorial were held year after year without interference of any kind. Now, though, Willie Frazer and Co believe the right thing to do is to send marching bands through the area. To fail to do so, Willie figures,  would in some way dishonour the dead.

A brutal fact, Willie: the dead are dead. The memorial services, the marching bands if they materialise - those are for the living. And as you well know, marching bands in this country often end in bringing to the surface the worst qualities in living human beings:  triumphalism, resentment, disorder.  It's hard to know how to handle the past but one thing is certain: no situation is so bad that the presence of a marching band - let alone seventeen - couldn't make it worse.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Can Celtic survive the Rangers meltdown?

I’m not sure if you can hear me over the yelps of delight at the melt-down of  Glasgow Rangers Football Club, but I’m sorry to see it happen. I SAID I'M SORRY TO SEE IT HAPPEN....Not because I’m very good at singing “The Billy Boys” or that it'll feel kind of pointless to spew sectarian venom or worse towards Neil Lennon. I’m sorry because it takes two to tango.

When I was a youngster the big Derry boxer was Billy Spider Kelly.  Spider didn’t really pack much of a punch but he was a tremendous defensive fighter. His opponents kept trying to nail him but Spider would duck and weave and bob, making them punch air again and again.  I remember reading an article at the time which explained that, besides not scoring points by missing him, his opponents were doing something very tiring: they were swinging and missing, swinging and missing.  Do that for long enough and you become exhausted.

Which brings us to Rangers FC.  If they drop out of the Scottish league or stop being the other half of the stupidly-named Old Firm,  then Celtic FC have a problem - they'll be punching football air.  What game is going to pack the ground if Rangers aren’t there. St Mirren? Hibs? Celtic could find themselves with no one to test their mettle against, and that inevitably will lead to a weakened club and lowered standards.

A while back there was talk of Celtic and maybe Rangers playing in the Championship south of the border. If the talk had become reality,  it would have been good news for Celtic and Rangers and bad news for Scottish football. The teams left north of the border would have been without the two teams guaranteed to test their mettle.

So the implosion of Rangers leaves Celtic in something of a quandary.  If Celtic stay in Scottish football, they’ll inevitably become a less attractive team to follow, without the shadow of Rangers to add edge and bite to their game. If Celtic do link up with a league south of the border,  it might be good for Celtic but Scottish football games, without either Celtic or Rangers, will become about as attractive as  IFA or FAI games. And we all know how capacity-crowd pleasurable they are. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

That Buncrana killing and two big lies

That was a shocking case in Buncrana, Co Donegal the other day, wasn’t it? A young 24-year-old, the father of two children, shot dead by a group called Republican Action Against Drugs. A Derry priest says that near to 40 people – including this young man -  have been driven out of Derry by the group.  This man made the mistake of coming back, apparently, and has paid the price. The group “are imposing their law on people as judge and jury and now executioners” Fr Michael Canny says. How can this be allowed to happen?

Simple – because there's a degree of support for it in the community.  The official line is that these people have intimidated the community, have no support but people are afraid to speak out against them. I’m sure that’s partly true. But I’m equally sure that there are people in the community who know the stupidity and hopelessness of the “war on drugs” that we’re told is being waged here and throughout the Western world. Can there ever have been a longer and more unsuccessful war? Everyone knows that drugs, soft and hard, can be bought.  When a parent sees his or her child at risk or suffering from the ravages of hard drugs, they feel desperate and helpless. To hope the police or the judicial system will solve the problem for them and their child is hoping for the impossible. And so, when they see a group which drives drug-pushers out of the community, do you think they draw back and say “But this is lawless! This is abhorrent!” Uh-uh. They may not say it aloud but they are glad, very glad that someone, anyone is lessening the chances of their child’s life being ruined. They don’t give a damn if it’s against the law or encouraging the law of the jungle, or even if it results in the death of one of the drug dealers. A similar attitude obtained during the Troubles, when the IRA and other groups knee-capped anti-social elements in the community. If you see every other avenue  closed to you, you turn to the people who will solve your problem for you, and very glad you are to do so.  The wider ethical issue of an orderly society governed by the forces of law and order? The hell with that.

The case of this unfortunate 24-year-old raises two issues, then. One is the international war against drugs, which is unwinnable, and it’s time the authorities stopped mouthing platitudes and tried another route. The other is the question of support in the community for groups like Republican Action Against Drugs.  The “republican” tag is a joke;  but so too is the claim that nobody wants them or their judge-jury-executioner approach. As long as the problem remains and people see the forces of law-and-order failing to act with similar swift effectiveness, they’ll have the support and even gratitude of some - in fact quite a few -  in the community.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Gissajob? Um...what Quarter do you live in?

There was a glut of voices on the radio the other day, each eager to comment on ‘The Estate’, a TV fly-on-the-wall documentary about Ballysally  housing estate near Coleraine. Some callers claimed it left out all the good stuff, some said it was plain depressing, some that it was good because it allowed disadvantaged people to speak for themselves. One point in particular hooked my hearing. A caller claimed that at the heart of Ballysally’s problems was a four-letter word – JOBS. The people in the estate had none and from this flowed their other ills. 

No truer word. So how is the Good Friday Agreement working generally, in its promise that  equality of employment opportunity would prevail here? Well, if you’re a Catholic, this might be a good time to put aside the paper and go for a walk…You’re gone? OK. “Labour Force Survey Religion Report 2010” from the OFMDFM  says that 61% of long-term unemployed people are Catholic;  the 2008 Annual Average of Long-Term Unemployed, from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, showed that 29 of  the 38 electoral wards most affected by unemployment across Northern Ireland  have at least 85% Catholic population. 

Grim figures indeed, but in some ways grimmer is that not much is being done about it. Take  the draft regeneration plan for Derry, which naturally is concerned with employment: it targets Protestant male under-achievement in education but doesn’t mention targeting Catholic inequality in employment. 

You get more of the same when you look at efforts to secure private investment in the north. During  2010/2011, Invest NI  managed to secure NOT A SINGLE JOB in West Belfast.  Yet  year after year, south and east Belfast attract shedloads more money via Invest NI than does north or west Belfast.  You’re not surprised, you say? What private investor is going to go into an area that s/he sees as in need of a facelift or gripped by sectarianism? Perception rules.  But you’re still left with some sick-bag facts in terms of public sector jobs. There again, the big  projects keep heading towards the Titanic Quarter of Belfast and away from north or west Belfast. Exhibit A: Belfast Metropolitan College. A lot of people thought for a long time than West Belfast would get that one.  Uh-uh. Titanic Quarter claims the prize. Exhibit B: the Public Records Office. Some simple souls believed the Public Records Office would locate itself at a rejuventated Crumlin Road Gaol. No, no, no,. It went – you guessed – to the Titanic Quarter. 

This is doubly unfortunate, because when a project like the Public Records Office is located in an area, it brings with it a tourist trail,  sets a precedent that other investors may well follow. And vice versa -  non-location encourages non-investment. Of course east Belfast has its own employment problems,  but  they’re dwarfed by those that paralyse west and north Belfast. 

You’d think that this kind of employment imbalance would draw yelps of outrage from some political party, if only to score points off their opponents. Alas,  all is still on dale and hill. My suspicion is that in our desire to bury old animosities, we’ve reached the point where  raising an old issue like employment inequality might be considered backward-looking, smelling of yesteryear. And yet I was talking to a senior trade union official a while back who insisted that lots of firms here operate with very uneven Catholic:Protestant figures for the work-force. Cases aren’t brought against them because people, including those involved, fear the repercussions of kicking up stink. 

Let me confess  my own bias: I’ve always tended to see the whole We-Built-The-Titanic-How-Wonderful thing as rich theatre-of-the-absurd material. But even allowing for that, there still is something crazy that,  decades after fair employment legislation and fourteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, we’re still talking about the dice being loaded against Catholics in search of a job. Shouldn’t somebody be shouting they’re mad as hell and not going to take it any more?

Friday, 10 February 2012

What David said about Peter - is he half-right?

All political careers end in failure, we’re told, but there’s failure and then again there’s failure. Having led his party to the slaughter-house run by the DUP,  David Trimble peeled away at the last minute and ended up in the House of Lords. He  even was tipped at one point for a post in David Cameron’s Cabinet.

So maybe Trimble is shrewder than he seems – his party may have been fed into the mincemeat machine but he wasn’t. So when he questions Peter Robinson’s actions, it’s probably worth weighing his words. Trimble says that Robinson’s pleas for greater Protestant-Catholic integration in education, his attendance at a GAA game  - these gestures aren’t really directed at Catholics.They’re directed at Protestants of the more liberal stripe, who can’t at present bring themselves to vote for the DUP.

Just because you’ve led your party into a room where the walls are red with blood, or rather shooed them in while you skedaddled, doesn’t mean you can’t be right in some things. Or half-right. While Trimble’s almost certainly right that Robinson is aiming at soft-centre unionists and doing so by projecting himself as an all-together man, Robinson also has his eye on those Catholics who have the political conviction of a wheelie-bin and would vote for Beelzebub if they thought it would consolidate their material circumstances. It’s not, as claimed, some 30% of Catholics, but there is a sizeable number. Likewise, of course, there are Protestants who may eventually see merit in voting republican or nationalist.

Will they? Nobody knows. Not me, not you, not Trimble, not Robinson. What we do know is that we’re in a period of flux, with the ice that existed here for decades melting, revealing a landscape that emerges in the most unexpected forms. What we can be certain about is that there’ll be no going back. Not just to violence but to the old, weary, sour Orange state. Insofar as Robinson is taking us away from that, then Well Done Peter. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

England's call - no, not for you, 'Arry

No, don’t laugh. It could have happened to a bishop. When England hired Fabio Capello, they thought he was just the man – great record of working with successful football teams, a no-nonsense guy who’d bash some sense into inflated English footballers’ heads. Oh dear. Four years and £24 million later, it turns out he did nothing for the England team. Let’s see, now: manager who’s successful with practically all his other teams draws a total blank with England team. Is it Capello’s fault or might it be…No, no, don’t go there. And stop sniggering at the back.

The thing is, what now? Well, it looks like ‘Arry Redknapp is favourite, fresh from his that-money-was-only-resting-in-my-account trial. The bookies have stopped taking odds on him, especially since Rooney tweeted that Capello was a ‘top manager’ but the next one “must be English – Redknapp for me”.

Trouble is, ‘Arry has escaped the clutches of the vile Inland Revenue, but he’s manager of Spurs at present and their top man Daniel Levy is notorious for driving very hard bargains. So it’ll cost more than that £24 million that was thrown down the drain if they want to get ‘Arry. And there’s so little time. Omigod. What to do?

Fear not - I have an idea. Did  you see where David Cameron yesterday said the reason British industry is in the doldrums is, there aren’t enough women in the board rooms? What England clearly needs is a woman manager.  With all due respect, I offer you – Her Majesty. She has said she’ll serve her country as long as she possibly can, and this is one case where her country needs her. True, she’s more into the killing-animals sort of sport than soccer, but don’t forget, both Wills and Harry (as distinct from ‘Arry) have both attended at least one soccer match. They could get down with the guys and give her regular ground-level reports on how the players are feeling about things. And her husband, of course, could help with tips on how to denigrate the opposition – those Asians with their slanty eyes, the Scots who are always drunk,  the Indians who haven’t a clue. The confidence in the English dressing-room would hit an all-time high by the time Phil the Greek was through.  And best of all, Her Majesty wouldn’t ask for a salary. Well, no more than the £40 million she gets each year already.  It’s a match made in heaven.

Come on, let’s be having you – and please, don’t  say you’re going to support the Republic of Ireland this summer. Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, ENG-ER-LAND! 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The day Winston Churchill said the wrong thing

The relationship of Ulster unionists to Britain and its leaders is a fascinating one – enough there, as the psychiatrist in Fawlty Towers remarked, for a whole conference. 

Take Winston Churchill. Great British leader, told off de Valera good and proper for sitting out the Second World War,  had a father Randolph who told the unionists  in 1886 he was 100% their friend. Right? Well maybe not quite right. Because as the man formerly known as Paul Bew details in an article in today’s Irish Times, on this day exactly one hundred years ago - 8 February 1912 -  Winston Churchill did an unspeakably foul thing: he addressed an audience of nationalists in Celtic Park, Belfast, and told them of his support for Home Rule: “History and poetry, justice and good sense, alike demand that this race [the Irish], gifted, virtuous and brave, which has lived so long and endured so much should not, in view of her passionate desire, be shut out of the family of nations and should not be lost forever among indiscriminate multitudes of men”.  Or,  put more briefly, “I support Home Rule for Ireland”.

Oh dear. Cue an angry loyalist crowd waiting for him outside his hotel. “The roar that greeted the attempt to start the motor car was as angry as had been heard in Belfast for many a day” was how it was reported at the time. For five minutes his car was trapped in Berry Street and  shipyard workers and others loyal to the Crown jostled it and shouted words that can't be repeated in a family blog. So loyal were these unionists, in fact, that some seven months later tens of thousands of them would sign the Ulster Covenant swearing to resist with force any attempt to give Ireland Home Rule. Who were they going to resist? Why, the forces of the Crown, of course. To which  they were unswervingly loyal.

Make that two conferences.   

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ian Paisley in hospital - so how do you feel?

It’s a funny old thing, identity. Who are you? Are you the primary school child who got bullied or had a toilet problem? Maybe you’re the young stud or sexy thing who turned heads? Or the middle-aged pontificator,  or the ageing reactionary, or the bewildered figure in the old people’s home?  They could all be you and yet each is sharply different.

It’s an issue that intrigues me and it flared up again when I heard yesterday that Ian Paisley had been rushed to hospital and is in intensive care. Most of us have grown used to the later Paisley: the hunched, hesitant figure, eyes closed, groping for words. But it’s wrong as well as inaccurate to present a person’s life in that selective way. Ian Paisley was also the man who led the charge, a bull in clergy clothing, against the civil rights movement; he was the man who ended the career of UUP leader after UUP leader for being too soft, and promised  he would smash Sinn Féin; he was the man who said "Never, never, never, never!" and kept the pot stirred here for decades. He was seen by many Catholics as the epitome of bigotry.

And yet all those former identities fall away,  as I hear news of a sick old man in a hospital bed, his family fearful and maybe tearful, all that former strength  utterly shorn from the north’s Samson.  He’s not a man for whom it’s easy to feel sympathy, and no doubt he’d reject it if he could, but this morning, I feel sorry for Ian Paisley’s family and – to my mild astonishment -  for Ian Paisley himself. 

Monday, 6 February 2012

A lovely book and why west of the Bann is different

I recently got my hands on a super book by a man who, like myself, survived five or more years in St Columb’s College, Derry. It’s called Sporting Greats of the North West, and it’s by Richie Kelly. It does what it says – remembers great sportsmen and women from that part of Ireland (and in his case the North-West is the North-West – Coleraine, Derry, Donegal). There are some superb photographs in it – Billy ‘Spider’ Kelly, Charlie Nash, Jimmy Delaney, Jobby Crossan – faces and names that, like pop songs of the time, take you right back to that time, that place when we were all a lot younger.

When the pleasure of the book had subsided, it started me thinking: the different mentalities that exist east and west of the Bann. Take someone like Richie Kelly himself: in the north-west every sporting enthusiast would know him, from his Radio Foyle work and from his own sporting days; in the north-east even sporting enthusiasts may know little or nothing about him. Let me put it bluntly: there’s an ignorance about and a prejudice against the North-West from those who live east of the Bann. It has historical roots: some of the most bare-faced discrimination and gerry-mander occurred in the north-west.  There’s also the lousy infrastructure between the North-West and the rest of the state, whether that be Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. Hence the ‘greening of the west’ that’s occurred in recent years, with Sinn Féin and/or the SDLP effectively repartitioning Northern Ireland with a semi-circle of green. 

But it’s not just a physical distance or even political opinion that divides the north-west from the north-east: it’s a psychological barrier. The journey to Belfast, for many nationalists, is to uncomfortable unionist territory. They won’t admit it to you, of course – in many instances they won’t even admit it to themselves. But when I hear people talk about how different people in the northern state are from people in the south,  I’m surprised they never mention how different people  in the North-West are from those in the North-East. And although I’ve lived in the North-East for over thirty years and it saddens me to say it, the people of the north-west have a vigour, a charm, a lightness of being that makes those east of the Bann, by and large, look leaden-footed and dreary. 

Friday, 3 February 2012

Our Time, Our Place?

We've begun to get really good at breaking new ground. Or at least our political leaders have. Peter Robinson was at that GAA McKenna Cup Final and Martin McGuinness is all set to follow Caral Ní Chuilín's example and attend a soccer game in Windsor Park. But because we're intent on these new and commendable moves, there's a danger we'll draw back from pointing out things that we see as wrong with those from another tradition. In other words, from finding just about everything wrong with the other lot, there's a risk we'll find nothing wrong with them.

This morning was a case in point. Jim Rogers was on the Stephen Nolan radio show, upset that the 'Our Time, Our Place' tourism initiative hadn't included the Twelfth on its list of tourist attractions. Jim said the Orange Order was making all sorts of efforts so the day could be enjoyed by everyone and we should be accentuating the positive and that he was pretty appalled that the tourist board hadn't highlighted the Twelfth. I begged to differ but with little noticeable effect.

So OK,  let's get the nice stuff said first. It's perfectly understandable that people should relish a big day out, a dash of music and colour and yes, why not, a few jars, to break the monotony of a long summer. And there are people who see the Twelfth as just that. But.

There's no point in looking at the Twelfth with one eye closed. In its history and constitution, the Twelfth is an anti-Catholic organisation. If you believe that's debatable, consider the following:

* The Orange Order was born out of a loyalist paramilitary organisation, the Peep O' Day Boys, at the end of the eighteenth century.
* Throughout the nineteenth, twentieth and into the twenty-first century, it has repeatedly been involved in violence against Catholics, a violence often fuelled by alcohol.
* The founding documents of the Orange Order say "An Orangeman should... be somebody who has hostility towards the distinctive doctrines, the superstitions, the priestcraft and spiritual despotism of the Church of Rome".
* It doesn't allow Catholics to be members, or to have a Catholic spouse, or attend Catholic religious ceremonies.
* It pledges loyalty to the British monarch provisional on that monarch being a Protestant.

I could go on but you get the drift. Twist and turn as much as it might,  the Orange Order is faced with a history and a set of rules that are shamefully anti-Catholic.

There's nothing can be done about history - it's happened. But if it expects to be recognised as a half-respectable organisation, let alone included on a list headed 'Our Place, Our Time', the Orange Order had better take a very large red pen and a pair of scissors to its constitution and do some major redrafting.

And by the way, Jim - the Orange Order doesn't march just on the Twelfth only. If only. Two thousand - or was it three thousand? - marches every year. Can you imagine? Oh sorry - you don't have to. You experience it every year.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Sectarianism: the secret we keep from ourselves

I was on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh recently, discussing the topic “Sectarianism: our dirty little secret?”   Well, secret it ain’t. Anyone who hasn’t noticed sectarianism here  needs help, fast. The question is, when should we put our hands up and admit to it?

Well, not when we’re trying to sell ourselves to the outside world. Say you want a big multi-national to invest here. You can’t very well list all your virtues and then add “Oh, by the way, we hate all taigs/prods”.  Or even most taigs/prods.  If you clean the house before the visitors come, it makes sense to present your good qualities to the outside world – and we do have some – and shove the damning stuff under the sofa.

No, the real problem begins when you start to kid yourself about sectarianism. When, for example, you go on and on and on about the Titanic, while refusing to admit even to yourself that the shipyards were always a cockpit for sectarianism. And not two-way sectarianism. It wasn't Protestant workers were beaten up at the shipyards, no Protestant workers were thrown in the water, no Protestant workers were sent fleeing for their lives. So next time you hear the BBC or some other media outlet glory in the Titanic  (daft idea, anyway – we built this wonderful ship that sank on its maiden voyage), keep in mind that they’re twisting history in a – that’s right, sectarian way.

We had something a bit like that last night. Arlene Foster of the DUP was on, talking in encouraging tones about the gas supplies beneath the ground in Fermanagh, which allegedly could supply the north with power for the next fifty years. I’ll resist the temptation to ask if there’ll be a Northern Ireland in fifty years and simply note that Arlene never once mentioned the word “Leitrim”. Does she really think these exploration bozos are going to go in there and develop the gas right up to the border, then down tools and start afresh on the other side in Leitrim? Give us a break, Arlene. If ever there was a case for cross-border thinking, it’s this one.  Whether the people of Fermanagh and Leitrim will gain from any such boom is…I was going to say ‘a moot point’, except it’s not. Rest easy: as with all of Ireland’s resources to date, the bulk of the profits will go into the coffers of exploration company.

Denying the unpalatable truth about yourself is deeply harmful.  If you’re overweight, it’s stupid to tell yourself you're thin. And vice versa. Likewise, we’ll never beat the demon that is sectarianism until we admit to ourselves that it’s there.  And then do something about it.

You could go the Trevor Ringland route and do one little non-sectarian thing every day, to make our world a shinier and happier place.  Alternatively, you could admit the most unpalatable sectarian fact of all: it was on sectarianism - literally a sectarian head-count - that this state was founded. All the nice modern buildings in the world with ship-like shapes won't change that unhappy fact.  So maybe it's that seminal piece of sectarianism we should be addressing. Or better still, redressing. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Of referendums and nasty surprises

Referendums - tricky little divils, aren't they? On the one hand, there's no denying that they clearly give the people a chance to express their will. On the other hand, the people's  will may prove to be embarrassing to the point of government destruction.  Leo Varadkar, the Fine Gael TD and Minister,  was expressing himself on that the other day. He said that sometimes referendums  are undemocratic. EH?  Well, he explained, they can give a particular result but for the wrong reasons. He was talking about the possibility that the people of the south, if they got a referendum on Europe, would give a thumbs-down, not so much to express their views on Europe but to express their views on the parties presently governing their state.

He has a point. At by-elections, for example, it's common both in Britain and in the south of Ireland for the electorate to pound the government candidate into very fine dust and scatter it to the winds, not because s/he is a poor candidate, but because they want to give vent to their feelings about the government. A protest vote, as they say.

But isn't that exactly the point? People's reasons for voting for a candidate or a party or a referendum issue are complex, unpredictable and frequently mixed. There was a time when Catholic clergy would, directly or indirectly, urge their flock not to vote Sinn Féin, because that party had not denounced/renounced violence. Lots of people ignored the advice. Some would have done so because they supported the armed struggle; others would have done so because they liked Sinn Féin's emphasis on equality; others would have voted for a mixture of both. Or for other reasons completely. Complex, you see.

There's also the anti-democratic tendency of past governments in the south to repeat a referendum if they didn't like the results the first time round. And then there's the awkward fact  that if a referendum on capital punishment were held in Ireland tomorrow, there's a good chance most people would be in favour. An item allowing the householder to shoot dead burglars might well get the thumbs-up as well.  How would you feel about that?

So as I say, they are tricky little demons, referendums. But then so is democracy itself: it's a maddeningly  imperfect way of governing. But in the present context,  with the south of Ireland's semi-sovereignty  being sold down the Swanee,  it makes sense to let the people who are on the receiving end of such decisions have their say. Either that or we say "Aw, the hell with democracy - let's slip on our blueshirts again".