Jude Collins

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Walking and repenting

Apologies, blog-readers - I'm off walking the Compostela de Santiago in a futile attempt to purge my many sins - will be back and annoying by the start of June at latest.

Keep the faith


Friday, 18 May 2012

Donegal and Angela

I was in Donegal at the weekend and I asked a man how he planned to vote in the south’s up-coming referendum. “Well,” he told me, “ if  Sinn Féin say no about something, I  say yes”. This man grew up in Donegal, lives in Donegal, works in Donegal.  That’s Donegal, the county that’s been neglected perhaps more than any of the twenty-six counties by succeeding governments. Even during the boom years, I remember another Donegal man’s lip curling when I mentioned the Celtic Tiger. “Well if there’ s a Celtic Tiger about, he hasn’t come up this way”. Except that he added at least four expletives as emphasis. Now that boom has been replaced by bust,  Donegal is experiencing what it’s always experienced, only to the power of ten. 

What to do? Well, you’d think that Donegal people, of all people, would declare themselves mad as hell and not prepared to take any more.  Uh-uh.  As the man made clear at the weekend, sometimes people cast votes on the basis of blind loyalty or antipathy. He detested Sinn Féin, so no matter what argument they advanced, he was agin it. 

Maybe it’s understandable.  Economic matters – and the Fiscal Treaty is definitely about economic matters – are sometimes hard to understand. Junior bond holders, senior bond holders, the IMF, the EFS, the markets – it makes my head hurt. So it’s easier to fall back on personality and prejudice for or against when you’re asked to make a decision. 

They were trying to get beyond all that on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics on Sunday night. Eamon Gilmore was explaining that the Fiscal Treaty was all about stability and growth, Gerry Adams was saying that the treaty would sustain not growth but  austerity for the next twenty years. “It’s like saying ‘We’ll end this famine by starving the people’ “ the Sinn Féin president said. 

The central plank in the Eamon Gilmore argument for saying Yes was that it would mean the south would have the option of going back for a second bail-out if needed. Gerry Adams claimed that the south would still have access to bail-out funds  even if it voted No, because the south of Ireland would still be in the eurozone, still be in the EU, and Europe wouldn’t be prepared to risk the contagion that an Ireland starved of funding would present. 

Who’s right? I don’t know. But I do know that Fine Gael and the Labour party ran their election on the charge that Fianna Fail had sold out on Irish sovereignty, by doing the deal they did with Europe. Now that they’re in power, Fine Gael and Labour appear intent on passing total control of fiscal policy to Europe. In other words, Europe in the shape of the German government will tell Ireland what its budget should look like, what sort of gap there should be between spending and borrowing. What’s more, the south’s government, supported by Fianna Fail, will surrender to outside powers what’s left of Irish fiscal sovereignty, and they’ll make sure it stays that way by cementing it into the constitution. 

Maybe they’ve got it right. Maybe we are headed for a United State of Europe, and part of that would have to be uniformity of spending and borrowing across the EU. Maybe John Hume’s post-nationalist era is about to dawn.  But shouldn’t the people of the south be told that? Don’t they deserve to know that Pearse’s dream of an Ireland of equals, freed from outside interference, is over?  That 2016 commemorations will be about looking at how totally out-of-date Padraig Pearse’s thinking has become in the course of recent years? And how the coming referendum, if voted through,  will be the visible sign of that out-of-dateness?

Here,Frau Merkel,  lock us up and swallow the key, would you?  We know it’s for our own good because our government has told us it is. And one thing we’ve learnt since the general election is, our government never tells lies.  

Thursday, 17 May 2012

On being hurtful

Two interesting soccer-related pieces in today’s Irish Times.  Davy Adams  (a good man, in my experience,  and a good writer) has a go at James McClean, not, mark you, because McClean has chosen to play for the Republic of Ireland, but because of his reasons  for so doing. Davy goes into some detail about McClean saying  that Derry is “a nationalist city, where everybody supports the Republic of Ireland. You’re brought up that way”.  Davy says that’s a wrong thing to say – a “hurtful barb” according to the piece’s headline – when around 18% of the city probably wouldn’t support the Republic. And as for McClean saying “as a Catholic, you don’t really feel at home in the Northern Ireland squad” – well, Davy figures that the IFA “bends over backwards to ensure that Catholic players in particular are made feel welcome”.

Come on, Davy. Give us a break. You know exactly what McClean meant – he meant “All my mates and neighbours and all the people I hung around with and played with – we all supported the Republic”. And you know the IFA is bending over backwards to welcome Catholic players because so many of them, for a range of reasons, are heading south.  If McClean didn’t feel at home in the NI squad – and he did play for them at youth level – there must have been some justification for it.  Maybe check with Neil Lennon?

The second soccer story is about the fact that the Republic of Ireland  team, when they play Italy in the Euros next month, will wear black armbands to commemorate those who died in the Loughinisland massacre. Remember that?  Several UVF gunmen entered the Loughinisland bar, where patrons were watching the Ireland vs Italy game  eighteen years ago to the day,  locked the doors and then went round the bar killing Catholics – six of them, the oldest being 87-year-old Barney Green. The gang knew they'd be Catholics, because they were watching a game involving the Republic.  Nobody was ever charged with the crime, and many of the families of the victims are convinced the RUC investigation destroyed evidence and that there was a strong smell of collusion.

As I say,  Davy is a good man and I like him; but when it comes to soccer and hurtful, he just doesn’t get it. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Body parts: talk about a cover-up.

Eh? Surely I misheard: the PSNI have been storing ‘body parts’ since 1960? When questioned they  refer to these bits as ‘human tissue’ but the fact remains that they’ve been storing parts of people – arms, legs, even skulls. Of course there was no PSNI in 1960, so it was the RUC that did most of the storing.

Now we’re told that these bits were to help with investigations and that the PSNI are really sorry and are busy informing the relatives of those whose parts they hold. I’m baffled. Why do you need to hold onto an arm or a skull to help you with an investigation? And an investigation of what sort of crime? And how come none of this was mentioned before now?

Let’s be honest: the police put the fear of God into most of us. If you see one of them  when you’re driving along, your heart does a skip and you stab at the brake pedal. If one calls to the door, you answer with a sense of foreboding: what have I done, what’s gone wrong, omgwtf?  What we need to do is remind ourselves – and maybe more importantly, remind the PSNI – that they are our servants. We pay them. So if you’ve got a servant who, for whatever reason, has been storing body parts, shouldn’t you have been told? Even if the part doesn’t belong to a relative of yours?

I keep checking the date but no. It’s not April 1. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Joey Barton - he's for real

I've been trying to decide why I like Joey Barton. I know I shouldn't. He's a generally vicious man, if the accounts of him off-field and on are accurate; and his performance in that final game against Man City didn't cover him in glory. First an elbow in Carlos Tevez's face, then a kick at the back of Aguero's leg, then efforts to head-butt  Kompany, and finally an effort to get at Mario Balotelli.  Mr Mayhem, you might well say. And yet and yet.

I think it's the fact that he's real that makes me like him. On TV,  it's all handshakes and playing hard and be a good loser at the end. None of that crap for Joey. Every so often he makes it clear just how he feels. You may be sure Tevez exaggerated that elbow in the face AND he delivered one to Joey first;  that kick didn't exactly cripple Aguero, as his stunning last-minute goal showed; Joey never did get to  head-butt Kompany and he was never nearer Balotelli than twenty feet. He says he was trying to get one of the Man City team sent off with him when they retaliated (which they didn't), to even things up, which makes sense if not good sportstmanship. And as for his comments on Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker - wooo-hooo! At last someone has come out and said what the Match of the Day pundits are really like  - boring and sanctimonious and matey to the point where you want to heave into the toilet bowl.  Old Joey just put into words what lots of people were probably thinking, except it would have been a hanging-offence to bad-mouth two such idols of the great British public. And that bit about having better hair AND better shirts on TV than Shearer - looooved it.

Good old Joey - the football world would be a drabber place without him. He's the real deal.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Europe - who's in charge?

I enjoy elections. I enjoy them so much, I was delighted when the Fianna Fail wheeze of introducing electronic voting machines backfired, leaving them (and the taxpayer, of course) with machinery that couldn’t be used and cost a packet to store.  If we’d had electronic voting in the north, we’d have missed the fun of Fermanagh/South Tyrone last time out, when checking and challenging and nail-biting ended in shoulder-hoisted Michelle Gildernew with the fingers of one hand raised (her majority) and a smile so wide, it practically met at the back of her neck. 

Likewise I’ve enjoyed watching the coverage of the recent French election. I don’t think they’ve gone electronic but they sure get their results out quickly.  Not nearly as much nail-biting on this one but it was still a joy to see Nicolas Sarcozy looking as though he’d swallowed a wasp and the new president-elect, Francois Hollande looking like – well more like your local school principal than the new President of France. 

Will he make a difference to his country? Will his “C’est Maintenant” turn out to be as limp in the long run as “Yes We Can” in the US? Hollande’s a socialist, which as he said in his victory speech should raise the hearts of those working men and women throughout Europe who are feeling cuts that go to the bone while the fat cats slip off to bask in the sun. On the other hand, Hollande may turn out to be a socialist the way Tony Blair was a socialist. One commentator warned that while Hollande might talk bravely of growth and stimulus for the economy, the reality would prove something different. If there is change, it’ll be at best "incremental and certainly not transformational". Nearer home that thoughtful economist Eamon (‘It’s Berlin’s way or Labour’s way’) Gilmore has explained that Hollande’s attitude to the Fiscal Treaty and stimulating the economy is exactly what the government in the south of Ireland have been about. Which if true would mean Hollande is already bound hand and foot, a prisoner of Germany and fiscal austerity. 

So don’t go getting your hopes up too high, now that Nicolas has collapsed electorally back into the arms of Carla. The reality rarely matches the election rhetoric. I’m glad France chose Francois but I’ll postpone dancing the street for just a little while. 

Instead I’ll sit indoors, close my eyes and think very very hard to see can I come up with an answer to a question that’s been plaguing me. It’s this. The EU is a voluntary union of twenty-seven sovereign states, working as equals for their mutual benefit. Right? Then how come we continually see Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Sarcozy (now to be replaced by Hollande) explaining what must happen next and why it must happen their way? Maybe while I was out making the tea, the newsreader announced that the EU had elected the leaders of Germany and France as its president and vice-president respectively. A sort of New EU, the way Tony Blair refashioned Labour into the much-loved New Labour. Or put it another way: Europe has become a restaurant, with Germany and France writing the menu and the remaining twenty-five countries in the back kitchen sweating and swearing in an attempt  to keep pace with the demands of the front-of-house maitres-des. 

And who are the customers whom we must all strive to please? Why, the markets of course. After Hollande’s election there was much talk of how the markets would react to France and to the austerity-rejecting Greek election. Not to mention the swapsies Russian election, with Putin and Medvedev changing seats. The message coming through was loud and clear: if you don’t elect a leader who is market-friendly, your country’s a dead duck. 

But but but. I thought it was the markets that, a few years back, joined hands with the property speculators and the banks to lead us into the toxic mess in which we’re damn-near drowning right now? …Oh, right. I see. I was out making the tea when that was explained as well. Mmmm.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Vincent Browne - an inconvenient truth-teller

There’s a very thought-provoking article in today’s Irish Times  by Vincent Browne, but before I get to that, a more general point. Have you ever heard anyone suggest that someone who claimed to be the victim of Catholic clerical sex abuse was making it all up? That’s not to say  - NOT TO SAY – (capitals there for the hard of hearing) – that widespread Catholic clerical sex abuse didn’t happen. To the shame of those clergy involved, it did. But in all the charges made against Catholic priests, I’ve never read a line where someone – a journalist or otherwise – suggested the possibility that the claim was a fabrication, aka a lie. Why do you think is that? There have been a number of cases where such claims have not stood up in court but I doubt if you could name one of them. Not surprisingly, since they receive very low-profile if any coverage. And yet the lives of those innocent priests are in many instances destroyed.

But back to Vincent Browne. His article today has to do with one of the few cases where a charge of sexual abuse has been proven a lie – that against Fr Kevin Reynolds. In an RTÉ programme, as you know, the priest was accused of rape and of fathering a child on an innocent victim. Reynolds denied the charge, offered to take a paternity test before  the programme was aired, but was ignored. The programme was aired, he took the case to court and RTÉ was forced to retract and compensate him. All of this was considered in a report by Anna Carragher, late of this parish. Browne today lambasts the report and the Minister behind the report, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte.

What’s Browne talking about? Wasn’t the report highly critical of RTÉ – and rightly so? It was, but Browne points out a number of things that he believes are disgraceful.

1.The report was legally precluded from looking at how RTÉ  handled the issue after the programme had been broadcast. This, Browne says, showed “hubris, arrogance and sheer incompetence” that matched the making of the programme itself.

2. The person conducting the enquiry – Carragher – had no experience of conducting such enquiries south of the border. The result is a report that’s incoherent and inconclusive.

3. A few examples: questions were not asked of all the relevant people, witnesses were not cross-examined, and reporter Aoife Kavanagh was implicitly identified as the major culprit.

4. The report talks about the tone and style of the programme but then doesn’t evaluate these. No comment is made on the slapdash way RTÉ approached a major story-  e.g., no consideration of the proofs that’d be needed to substantiate the main elements of the story. 

5.The report accepts that the programme-makers had “no commercial motivation” when making the story, even though the question of ratings was clearly important to the makers. (Ratings, by the way, are what attracts advertisers, and you don’t get much more commercial than that.) The ambush of Fr Reynolds in a church car park, the secret filming of the priest, Browne says, aimed for drama rather than a logical case against the priest.

6. What about the fact that the RTÉ board didn’t set up an independent inquiry into  the whole affair, neither in response to Fr Reynold’s pre-programme denial and offer to undergo paternity tests, nor to the post-programme proven libel of the priest.

7.  Pat Rabbitte, the minister involved, expressed his doubts about the credibility of the RTÉ board (where the buck, one would have thought, stopped), but then a few hours later was content that the board had said they wouldn’t do it again.

Browne is a relentless critic of those things in southern – and northern – society which he sees as wrong. By highlighting not just the wrongful accusation of this priest but the response of the state to those involved in the accusation, he has done the state some service.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

That meeting in Dublin

The meeting in Dublin of over 1,000 members of the Catholic Church must give heart to those who (as Martin McGuinness says he does) love the Catholic Church and are concerned for its direction. There’s no doubt that many Church members feel their Church is in a mess and that the hierarchy aren’t doing much about it.

An example: the only two bishops to have spoken on the Cardinal Brady affair have been Archbishop Martin in Dublin and Bishop Donal McKeown in Belfast. Martin has called for an independent public inquiry, McKeown has said the debate about the past needs to be wider. I think they’re both wrong.

We’ve had enquiries around Catholic clerical abuse of children until they’re coming out our ears. A better idea, if you must have another inquiry, might be this: are the Catholic clergy alone in the child abuse arena? Or are other Churches, other faiths,  humanists, atheists, the general public as likely to be child abusers as your local priest? This is an urgent matter, since at present Catholic priests in general feel singled out  and stigmatized by the presence of abusers in their ranks.

Bishop Donal McKeown is right in one respect: there are many ways in which children can be abused. They can suffer poverty, educational discrimination, domestic neglect, physical abuse and even death at the hands of adults. And we do well to keep that in mind. But having said that everyone – Workers’ Party, Sinn Féin, the state – should reflect on the abuses they inflicted, Bishop McKeown then narrowed his criticism down to those who engaged in violent action for ‘the cause’ (his word) and didn’t report paramilitary acticities to the authorities. This is an old and inaccurate representation of the conflict that wracked this part of Ireland over the last forty years: that it was all due to a  small group of merciless psychopaths who dealt in murder and mayhem. Bishop McKeown is an intelligent and educated man who knows his Irish history. He should know better than to talk in such a blinkered way.

Martin McGuinness made one distinction in his Stormont speech on the topic which is important: there’s the Irish Church and there’s the Vatican. Catholics in Ireland have not been well served by the Vatican since the early 1960s and the suppression of Vatican II’s vision. The meeting of 1,000 Catholics, clergy and laity, in Dublin at the weekend suggests that the vision lives on and may even gather strength. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Being nice is not enough

There’s something about Church of Ireland people that I tend to like. The late Canon Eric Elliot, for example, whom I knew reasonably well,  was as modest and Christian a man as you could encounter.  There are exceptions but C of I people generally strike some sort of responsive chord in me.

 Maybe I’ve been lucky. This possibility of this took shape when I read how last Sunday,  St Anne’s Cathedral was stuffed with Orangemen celebrating the signing of the Ulster Covenant. Now the Orange Order is, as some of us have maybe noticed, an anti-Catholic organisation.  In its ordinances and in its history, it has been opposed to Catholicism at every turn. And I won’t attempt to outline the dreary repetition of Orange violence against Catholics charted in Andy Boyd’s book Holy War in Belfast. Yet here was this same Oranger Order in a C of I cathedral. Doing what? Celebrating the people who had made the signing of the Ulster Covenant a success. Because from the point of view of unionism it was a success. By threatening violence against the British state, it helped ultimately carve out the six county-state. To recap: an event which ushered the gun into twentieth-century Irish politics was celebrated by an anti-Catholic organisation in a C of I cathedral. That seems to me a long way from the gentle Canon Elliot I once knew. 

Another man I quite like is Micheal Martin. He’s not Church of Ireland but like Canon Elliot  there’s a modesty to the man, a a lack of pretension that’s appealing. As you know, he’s the leader of the Fianna Fail party which has broken its bones recently on rocky electoral ground. Maybe that’s why he was in the papers this week, talking tripe. 

Mild Micheal is reported as being at Arbour Hill a week ago,  telling his audience that it was historically dishonest and incorrect to equate in any way the heroes who fought for Irish freedom in 1916 and in the subsequent war of independence, with the actions of the Provisional IRA. “The terrorist campaign that was waged in the North was not a clean fight”. 

The implication being that Easter 1916 and the subsequent years involved a “clean fight”. Mmm. Probably the first person to be shot dead in the Easter Rising was a fourteen-year-old called Gerald Playfair. He was the son of the commander of the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park.  He was running to alert the authorities that the fort had been seized when a pursuing Volunteer shot him dead.  And the Irish Times  on Monday carried an article about a historical dispute going on at present about whether in Cork in 1922,  the shooting dead in 1922 of 13 people all Protestant, aged between 16 and 82 years, was motivated by sectarianism.  

Now you might say no amount of historical revisionism, wilful amnesia or media indifference could change two brutal facts such as those above, or other brutal events that happened during Easter 1916 and the war for independence. But you’d be too late about saying any such thing, because that’s what Micheal has already said at Arbour Hill.  He condemned the Provisional IRA campaign as being “unclean” and concluded with – yes, you guessed it: “No amount of historical revisionism, wllful amnesia or media indifference could alter that fact”. 

So you see,  it’s a mistake to assume that because someone is modest and friendly that they’re not prepared to fly in the face of historical fact if they believe it suits their purpose. The Church of Ireland has always been happy to provide a friendly home for Orangeism, Fianna Fail, who have rediscovered that they’re “the republican party” has always been desperate to deny any “old” IRA /Provisional IRA continuity. 

So I’m glad I knew Canon Elliot but I’m sorry he belonged to a Church that aligns itself with an anti-Catholic organisation. Just as I like the Cork mildness of Micheal Martin but I’m sorry he’s keen to gloss over the acts of brutality that are a feature of any armed conflict. 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Come on, you reds! Or maybe not...

You going to watch the FA Cup Final today?  I will, although every so often I remember talking to the guide at the Nou Camp a couple of summers ago.  He asked me what Irish soccer club I supported. When I said, um,  none really but that I always liked to see Arsenal win, I felt  uneasy. Was it healthy that as an Irish person, my footballing loyalties ignored every Irish club and clamped onto an English one? And I got to thinking how, at primary school, we used to play Cowboys and Indians, and how as teenagers we were really into Elvis and Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochrane. 

Get the pattern? In soccer, in archetypal heroes, in pop music, I’ve spent most of my life ignoring the soccer, the legendary heroes, the music of my own country. Some say that’s fine- my own sons say it’s fine. Why wouldn’t you want to enjoy good American pop music, or jazz, or films, or writers? Why cut yourself off from a broader vision of the world? They’re half-right, I think. 

There are people who are so insular, they focus solely on whatever is Irish-made and reject all foreign influences and attractions. That’s pretty sad. But I think the danger most of us suffer from is that we tend to dismiss what is our own and position ourselves as little English people or little Americans, passing over what is Irish as being almost by definition not worth bothering about. Except, of course, the Irish product has been approved by London or New York or other influential outside capitals. Then we'll applaud it.

 I used to see Anything But Irish attitude when I taught  media studies. In discussion of tabloids and broadsheets, students invariably referred to the Sun or the Times newspapers –very rarely to the Sunday Life or the Indo  Irish Times. It’s as if  anything we have ourselves must be at best so second-rate, it’s not worth bothering about. In short, we’re so in thrall to cultural empires – Britain and the US – it seems perfectly natural to position ourselves culturally as English or American.

There’s a term for that kind of thing: soft power. And the great majority on this island, north and south, can’t wait to bend the knee and adopt the cultural trappings that soft power says we should. 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Cardinal Brady - should he stay or should he go?

Talking about child abuse and the Catholic clergy, if you don’t follow the majority line, is to take your head in your hands these days. But here goes.

The airwaves and the headlines are presently dominated by the Cardinal Brady affair from 1975. Fr Sean Brady as he then was took notes at a meeting with a young boy who had alleged sexual abuse – and, there are claims Fr Brady also was involved in gathering evidence regarding the case. There are calls from right, left and centre now for him to resign from his position as head of the Catholic Church in Ireland because of this.

OK. I’ll say this three times so no one misses it. Sexual abuse of children is a disgusting, perverted action. For clergy of the Catholic Church to engage in it is shameful beyond words. It is more than understandable that those who suffered in that way should be emotionally wounded for life and they have my full sympathy. (I know those are three different statements but I expect you get my drift.)

That  said, let’s consider the facts. Is this a legal matter? That is to say, did Fr Brady in 1975 break the law of the land? If he did, like anyone who breaks the law, he should be brought before the courts, tried and a decision made by a judge and jury as to his guilt or innocence.

I’m not a lawyer but I’m going to assume he hasn’t broken the law of the land, since those most opposed to him don’t highlight any legal charge. If it’s not a legal matter, two things remain – one a question of morality, the other a question of leadership.

Morality first. Did Fr Sean Brady in 1975, by acting as notary and (possibly) gathering evidence on the case, act in an immoral fashion? There’s only one person knows the answer to that, and that’s Sean Brady. We can speculate that he knew this, he should have that, but in terms of his moral guilt, there’s only one question: did he act in accordance with his conscience, or did he act contrary to his conscience? I don’t know the answer to that, you don’t know the answer to that. Only Sean Brady knows the true answer.

The second question is that of leadership. There have been calls on all sides for Cardinal Brady to resign and allow someone else to lead the Catholic Church in Ireland. Many of the people making the calls are non-Catholics, or  former Catholics, or even in some cases people who have consistently been hostile to the Catholic Church.  It seems to me astonishing that those people should now feel such concern that the Catholic Church is well-led by an appropriate clergyman – i.e., someone other than Brady.  Surely who leads the Catholic Church in Ireland is a matter for the Catholic Church in Ireland – and I don’t, repeat  don’t mean the Catholic clergy in Ireland. I mean the Catholic Church in Ireland, comprised of all those people who are sincere Catholics.  I’ve been casting around for a parallel to the calls from those outside the Catholic Church for a change in leadership and the only one I can think of is the Orange Order’s attitude to residents’ groups. Remember when they used to (they still may) refuse to talk to the groups because they didn’t like the spokesperson the group had identified? Quite rightly, the groups said it was their business who they appointed as their spokesperson.  Something similar applies here. It may be that Cardinal Sean Brady is not the best person to lead the Catholic Church in Ireland. It may be that he is.  In either case, it’s a matter for members of the Catholic Church to decide, not those who consider it irrelevant, those who once thought it important but no longer do so, or those who detest it.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Pass the passport, please...

So – what colour’s your passport? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. Mine’s is red, which doesn’t necessarily tell you a lot. But big news this morning is, if I were a university-age student and had an Irish passport, there’s a good chance I’d get a place in a Scottish university without paying fees. Why? Because students from the EU get exemption from fees in Scotland.  Except, that is, they’re from England, Wales or Northern Ireland….Hold on. Shouldn’t that mean students from here, regardless of whether they carry a British passport or an Irish one, will have to cough up the fees? They kicked this one around on Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh  this morning for fifteen minutes at least and were as far ahead at the end as the start.

But as so often is the case, it’s not what’s happening that is revealing, it’s how people react to it. They had some people on air from my own alma mater, St Columb’s in Derry, and not surprisingly the students there are clutching their Irish passports and hoping they’ll be able to swing it. More interestingly, they talked to people  at Grosvenor High School in East Belfast , and they were talking in very similar terms : hoping  to God this thing comes off because it’ll make a huge financial difference.

I’ve been in Grosvenor High School a number of times over the years. I can’t speak about now but then it was an impressive place. Well-organised, friendly principal, hard-working staff.  In the entrance area, they had if I remember aright, signs in every language saying “Welcome to Grosvenor”. Did I say every? Um, not quite. No “Cead mile failte” in Irish. Not even a “Failte”. Tells you something, that, I think: the school was prepared to identify with any language in the world except  Irish. In short, it was making clear it had no Irish identity. Now their students are busy filling in forms to get Irish passports.

Sort of astonishing, isn’t it? Students from a unionist background applying for Irish passports so they can study in Scotland, a country that looks as though it just might go for independence and shatter the Union. We do indeed live in interesting times.