Jude Collins

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Small bombs and big bombs - there's a difference

Even though it’s nearly twenty years since the IRA ended its campaign, there are those in the south and the north who still draw back their garments, as it were, when Sinn Féin passes. As did Prince Philip with Martin McGuinness, presumably because he believed that McGuinness was a leading figure in the IRA at the time of the killing of his uncle Louis Mountbatten, along with several innocent people. Tonight on RTÉ, Miriam O’Callaghan will interview Martin McGuinness. You’ll remember that Miriam is famous for her question to McGuinness during his presidential campaign: “Do you go to confession?”

This drawing-back-of-the-garments thing has to do with the moral repugnanace Prince Philip and Miriam and lots of other people feel for the violence involved in armed conflict, especially when innocent lives are taken in the course of that conflict.

Now, follow me to London, if you will. During the week a memorial pavilion was opened in London’s Green  Park by Queen Elizabeth, with her husband Prince Philip in attendance. It features work by an artist called Liam O’Connor and it depicts the bronze figures of a British bomber crew from the Second World War.  It was created to honour the courage of these bomber crews, which had a 50%+ casualty rate of young men killed and seriously wounded during WWII. The strategy for such crews, devised by Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, was to carpet-bomb German cities such as Hamburg, Cologne and Dresden. The claim was that this sort of bombing would weaken German morale.  As a result, thousands of German civilians died horrible deaths in firestorms brought on by the raids. Nor were these firestorms an unhappy side-effect of the bombing – the RAF deliberately created them by first dropping incendiaries, then high explosives. The argument was that this would hasten an end to the war – the same reason given for the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans.

There are two issues here. One is the justification of these actions on the grounds that they helped hasten the end of war. This is a the-end-justifies-the-means argument and so is morally suspect. It is also based on conjecture – we can’t know whether such actions in fact helped end the war, we can only guess.  The second is that to use this argument and to honour those depicted in these bomber crews stinks of hypocrisy.

The IRA bombing campaign – including the Real IRA’s bombing of Omagh – aimed not to kill civilians, though in several notable cases – Omagh, Enniskillen – it did, killing dozens of innocent people. The bombing raids on Germany and in Japan  were deliberately aimed at killing civilians, and killing them not in their dozens but in their tens of thousands. And yet we have the drawing-aside-of-garments in moral detestation when a former IRA leader passes and statues set in pavilions to honour the courage of bomber crews for killing thousands of civilians.

The taking of human life – any human life – is a terrible thing. But for political and moral leaders to express revulsion at small-scale, often-unintended killing, while building memorials to mass-scale killing always intended, is to display hypocrisy that takes the breath away. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

Putting meat on the bones of a united Ireland

Billy Leonard is a republican. He is also a Protestant. Maybe it’s the Protestant work ethic inheritance that’s prompted him to do what (as far as I know) no one else has done: he’s thought in detail and written about what is meant by the term ‘a united Ireland’. Oh, and he’s outlined in  practical terms just how he thinks that might best be achieved.

I was at the launch of his book Towards a United Ireland  yesterday and it was at once an inspiring and a depressing occasion. The depressing first: it occurred in the Linenhall Library and the attendance was skimpy. The Belfast Telegraph  and those who get it to do their thinking for them would say that’s because virtually nobody cares about a united Ireland any more. Leaving aside the question of the BT’s poll validity, it’s odd then that so many people, north and south, vote for a party that has national reunification at the centre of its policies.  My own explanation for the few in attendance would be that we’re a lazy people. We like talking about things but we’re not so keen on actually thinking about them or going where we believe our ideas might be challenged – or even verified.

Despite the depressingly thin numbers, I found myself full of admiration. If you read Dr Leonard’s book (and unlike Dr Ian Paisley, Billy’s doctorate is a real one), you’ll see that he doesn’t content himself with broad brush-strokes or rallying cries.  He’s looked at what the term 'united Ireland' means, what the implications are for political representation,  the dangers of excessive government in an island as tiny as ours. And lots, lots more.

If nationalism and republicanism is to argue the case for a united Ireland with their unionist neighbours, they need to know – literally – what they’re talking about. To take one example: it’s to the shame of all the political parties – including Sinn Féin -  that they haven’t commissioned costed research as to how a united Ireland would be better for its citizens economically. We frequently hear the claim that duplication of services is manifestly wasteful. What we don’t hear is what the difference would be in carefully-accounted pounds and pence.

Whether  you agree with him or disagree, it’s hard not to salute the courage and focused thinking of Billy Leonard. And if you’re genuinely interested in the idea of a united Ireland, then you should show that interest by reading his book.   You'll find it for sale in unbigoted bookstores and on his website www.billyleonard.ie 

Thursday, 28 June 2012

White gloves? There was more to it than that...

While you were enjoying the footie, there was I, slaving away, trying to explain the facts of life to the people of Britain...

Events, dear boy, and how to 'analyse' them

Is she gone yet? Can we come out now? Yes I think so.  The ‘analysts’ are busy at work, interpreting the body language and the significance and the symbolism and the rest of it.

I watched UTV's report of the Tuesday visit and I felt it’d be putting impossible demands on my digestive system to follow much of the coverage yesterday and make sense of it. But thanks be to God, post-event we now have ‘analysts’ to do our thinking.

One such is at work in today’s Irish Times, talking about ‘another rolling Sinn Féin propaganda bandwagon’. Eh? I thought this was supposed to be an embarrassing encounter for McGuinness and Sinn Féin, that it was a sell-out of republicanism, etc,etc?  Seems not. Well, not in that bit of the analysis. Later on we’re told that yes, it’ll cause ‘some discomfort for Sinn Féin’. So it’s an uncomfortable bandwagon, OK?

Much is made of the difficulty the queen had in shaking McGuinness’ s hand, with her husband’s uncle (and her cousin, apparently) Louis Mountbatten having been killed by the IRA. No mention of the reservations McGuinness might have felt, in view of the fact that fourteen of his fellow-townspeople lost their lives when the British army shot them down in broad daylight in the streets of their city, and no British soldier has been charged with their murder – or even identified by the British Army. Some involved, in fact, have been decorated and promoted. But the ‘analysis’ doesn’t talk about that. Just as it doesn’t talk about the fact that  the queen met with victims of republican violence but not, I gather, with victims of British army violence or victims of loyalist death squads acting in collusion with the British army.

The’analysis’ ends noting the presence of the poet Michael Longley at the Lyric Theatre meeting yesterday, and quotes from his poem ‘Ceasefire’’. It’s the bit where Priam, king of Troy, is given back the body of his son by the son’s killer, Achilles. The poem ends with the moving lines ‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done/And kiss Achilles’s hand, the killer of my son’.

You get the parallel? All the pain is being carried by the queen, none by McGuinness or anyone on the nationalist/republican side. Oh dear, I can feel my digestive system rearing up again. It’s telling me that while that kind of ‘analysis’  would have been common in British army press releases at the height of the Troubles, it’s hardly what we should expect from self-respecting Irish journalism.

But hey, this kind of  ‘analysis’ isn’t unique or confined to the print media. Apparently Martin McGuinness is a special guest talking to Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ on Saturday night. So what do you think? Will she go to confession before or after the show? 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Doing a victory war-dance: big mistake

‘It’s not what happens to you but how you react”:  I think that was one of Maggie Thatcher’s favourite remarks. She herself reacted to being booted out of Downing Street by famously saying  it was a funny old world and leaving with a tear in her eye, a woman clearly nursing the belief that she’d been hard done by.

In football it’s the same. When a team-mate misplaces a pass or doesn’t do just what he wishes,  Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo tends to throw his arms in the air and glare. I am a genius, you are a fool, why are you making my life difficult? Contrast this with the reaction of Argentina’s Messi, indisputably the greatest player of his generation. When a Barcelona or Argentina pass goes awry, he scurries after it and tries to recover from the mistake of his team-mate. At the heart of true greatness there’s a discernible modesty and respect for others.

Which brings us, inevitably, to the queen’s visit. Writing in Monday’s News Letter in an article headed “Sinn Fein woe sealed with a handshake”, Alex Kane does a kind of victory war-dance around today’s scheduled hand-shake between the queen and the Deputy First Minister.  To Alex,  McGuinness isn’t the Deputy First Minister, he’s merely “Peter Robinson’s side-kick”.  And McGuinness’s party?  “Sinn Fein has been trapped, stuffed and mounted and unionism is stronger today than it has ever been”. The handshake is the final acknowledgement of this stuffing, apparently, “Martin, bless him, is still one of her citizens and subjects. Three cheers, say I!”

What do you think - what has happened to unionism over the past twenty years?  Is it more secure within the UK, now that the Government of Ireland Act has been removed?  Does sharing power with people it once expressed loathing of suggest that those people have been stuffed and mounted?  Does Sinn Féin’s dominance of nationalist politics in the north and increasing strength in the south suggest a party that’s been to the taxidermist? Most important of all: can you imagine Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams or any of the leading lights of Sinn Féin doing that kind of ya-sucks-boo, thumb-on-nose routine,  in the face of unionism?

Sometimes when you’re feeling uneasy or unsure of your place, there’s a temptation to get shrill and confuse voice volume with strength of argument.  Methinks our Alex doth protest too much.  Bless him.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Football, royals and unionism

I've been out of circulation for a number of reasons but not, as one unkind person said, because I was still celebrating England's defeat in the Euros. To be honest, I felt sorry for poor Ashley Cole and Ashley Young - it's the kind of world-is-watching nightmare that must be very hard to shake. Although the mood was lightened by a text I had from an unnamed but witty source who said 'Police hunting the Twitter Troll who racially abused Ashley Young and Ashley Cole are appealing for help in locating the Twitter user known as @JTChelseacaptain'.  It's a mixture of sympathy for the unhappy England team that were so TOTALLY outclassed by a team that (probably) won't win their next game, much less the final, and admiration of the Italians. Even if you are English, you'd have to feel privileged to have witnessed, live, even on TV, that Pirlo penalty, against one of the world's great goal-keepers Joe Hart. Italian cool to the power of 100... You can relive it here if you want ...  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wr8tJ1wdxE

Right. Just when I thought there was little or nothing left to be said about QE2 and that McGuinness handshake,  Féilim Ó HAdhmaill  puts an intriguing posting on Facebook.  Always an astute commentator, Féilim notes

"The visit of the British Monarch to the North to celebrate her jubilee raises an important point though. Can you be a unionist and anti-monarchy? It's clear you can be - those who view themselves as British socialists presumably, since the idea of hereditary inequality must be anathema ro them. But maybe there's not enough of them to make their voices heard? It seems to me (as an anti-monarchist) that that was the greatest trick played by the English monarchy - to convince enough ordinary people that their identity depended on the continued existence of a privileged group of parasites at the top of the food chain. Would love to see a proper debate develop though on the whole concept of monarchy (outside of the issue of union with Britain or not) in today's world."

It's a good and original point. The British monarchy is, as he suggests, a ridiculous con-job. It's still officially anti-Catholic (no taigs on the throne, whatever about the house), anti-women (only use 'em in succession stakes when you've run out of wonderful males like, um, Prince Charles) and of course anti-democratic (you get the job because of the family you belong to, not because of any qualities or qualifications you bring, and the people who fund you have no say in it). But if you were anti-monarchy and yet a unionist - what then? Ian Paisley (Sr) has always made a point that his loyalty was to the crown, and the Protestant crown at that, and that if a Catholic should occupy the throne (relax, Ian, it ain't going to happen), then his bond of loyalty would be sundered. But there must be unionists out there who object strongly to the pampered royals and yet believe in the link with Britain. Or are the two inextricably intertwined? I hope not. Whatever argument you might put up for union with Britain, it must be an Alice-In-Wonderland mind that sees merit in the idea of a continued, endless royal reign by the Windsors.  If that really is their name...

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The sky is falling - he's going to shake her hand!

God but we Irish are a simple lot. A pebble gets tossed in our pond and we act as though it’s the mother of all tsunamis. Settle the head, people. Breathe deep. Stop screeching and ask the one question worth asking.

But first, a few points.

1.   Gerry Adams said meeting the queen would be a big ask for republicans.
2.   Gerry Adams said the meeting would be very, very significant.
3.   There are yells of indignation at the decision from some in the republican community.
4.   There are mocking comments from some in the unionist community.
5.   Hardly anybody – unionist or republican – says it’s insignificant.

But before deciding if the meeting/handshake between Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Martin McGuinness is a Good or a Bad Thing, there’s another question MUST be answered:  what does the meeting/handshake mean? What is  its significance?

It could mean “You were my enemy, now you’re my friend. Shake”. We used to end quarrels as schoolboys that way.

It could mean “I want to do business with you, and since business people normally shake hands when they meet, I’m shaking yours”. That’s what people do when they’re doing business. (See Richard Nixon above.)

It could mean “We in Sinn Féin used to give out about people in the DUP not shaking hands with us (some still don’t), so it’d be a bit absurd for us not to shake EAMSCG’s hand”.

It could mean “I am Deputy First Minister for all the people in the north of Ireland and I’m shaking hands with the unionist people I represent in mind”.

It could mean “I was your enemy but now I’m your humble subject. Please forgive me – I was wrong, so wrong”.

You see what I’m getting at, I expect. McGuinness’s move is a mirror from which you can take any meaning you decide to attribute to it. In itself, shaking hands is simply pressing flesh.

But Gerry Adams says it’s more than that – it’s “very, very significant”. I don’t agree – or at least not fully. If it’s very significant that’s because people choose to give it significance.  When the queen visited the south,  most of the people there appeared to think it was terribly significant. Some said they were deeply moved when she laid a wreath and bowed her head at the memorial to those killed by the British. I found it neither moving nor significant, because no one yet has told me what it means, just as virtually no one has come near telling me what the coming handshake means.

So here’s my take.

Sinn Féin are seen as having missed the boat last year when EAMSCG visited the south and they didn’t meet her. Now they see their mistake and are busy catching up. Could be. Although it also could be that they held off because their meeting would have been lost in the welter of gasping southern emotion. This way, they’ve turned the meeting into a  one-on-one and full attention, a big spotlight is given to their action.

Who will benefit from this meeting? Well I’d say Sinn Féin hope they’ll benefit. As my old stablemate in the VO, Brian Feeney, pointed out yesterday, this gesture is  aimed at the middle classes in the south, to reassure them that Sinn Féin is safe, because that’s the meaning the middle classes will probably take from this. And having reassured them, Sinn Féin hopes they’ll vote for them. The party knows this will prompt howls of rage from the unreconstructed fringe of republicanism, but then if Martin McGuinness carried a banner saying “Lizzie Go Home!” they’d still have howled their contempt. So electorally, they’re a lost cause. What matters to Sinn Féin is making further electoral inroads in the south, and probably the north while they’re at it, and they reckon this will do the trick. Some may fall off the Sinn Féin campaign wagon at one end, but more, they hope, will join it at the other. In short,  Sinn Féin see the meaning the middle classes will attach to this action and they act accordingly.

Cynical? An abandonment of principle? If it is, you’d better include Michael Collins in your condemnation. When he was running his ruthless campaign against the British and was the most wanted man in Ireland, Collins used to ride his bicycle around Dublin. And when he encountered British soldiers, he’d chat amiably and often give out about the inconvenience caused by these damned murderous republicans.  Cynical? An abandonment of principle? Only if you’re very, very simple.

Friday, 22 June 2012

One Executive, some councils and a handshake

had two conversations this week which linked, sort of. Let me explain. 

The first was with a  unionist, a  decent, civilized man, who asked  me “Well – is Martin McGuinness going to shake hands with the queen, then?”  I told I didn’t know but my guess was that he would at some point. What’s more, when and if he did, he and Sinn Féin would be looking for something in return. I  resisted the temptation to add: “And the bigger the something-in-return, the better”.There are people out there who find it easy to mistake generosity for weakness and reasonableness for capitulation. Sometimes the pigs-might-fly brigade need reminding that a political party and a punchbag are two different things. 

The second conversation was with another unionist – again, one of a  civilised demeanour. We were on a radio discussion about local councils and whether power-sharing and good relations were developing as they should. The main point I tried to drive home was that the media do need to report what’s happening and not get carried away by the notion of balance. It’s fair reporting to interview someone who says 2 +2 = 4, but that doesn’t mean that, in the name of balance, you have to interview another man who says  2+2 = 5. 

If you’re going to be fair in your reporting of what’s happening in local councils, you have to face unpleasant facts.  In this case, the facts are that some unionist-dominated councils act in a manner which’d send you checking your calendar  it wasn’t 1972  rather than 2012. 

Take, if you will, the case of  Antrim councillor Adrian Cochrane Watson and his reported views on  a  Sinn Féin mayor in this borough with a 40% Catholic population” “Pigs will fly before Antrim  allows a Sinn Féin mayor. Yes, it’s totally undemocratic but I’ll never promote Sinn Féin”.  

Or  consider the case of  Craigavon councillor Woolsey Smith, who’s reported as saying he won’t accept power-sharing on that council before Sinn Féin  “prove itself a democratic party”.

Or check unionist-controlled councils like Lisburn, Newtownabbey Ballymoney or Castlereagh. Peter Robinson has much to say about breaking down barriers between Protestants and Catholics, but judged by their actions, these Unionist-dominated councils aren’t listening to him.

There are two shocking things about this. One is that councillors like Watson and Smith, who shrug off any suggestion of power-sharing with republicans in “their” council, are seen as legitimate members of the unionist family.  Maybe a wee bit extreme but ach sure,  these things take time. Fourteen years down the road from the Good Friday Agreement and changing the views of neanderthals needs more time? Pardon me while I restrain my cat.

The second thing – and in some ways more shocking- is that the media by and large don’t confront these dinosaurs. If power-sharing at local level is raised, rather than look at the facts, whataboutery hares are raised and there’s much talk about Martin McGuinness and the queen, Gerry Adams and the IRA, the Northern Bank and republicans. We’ve mentioned unionist failings, quick now, let’s get some republican failings to balance the issue… Except that’s not balance, that’s evading the issue. 

The man who wanted to know if Martin McGuinness would shake hands with the queen went on to talk about how much things here have changed and how English people are now coming as tourists. So different, he said, from the dark past, That all this had been achieved without Martin McGuinness shaking the queen’s hand seemed to have escaped him. 

Maybe it’s wrong to talk about power-sharing. Councils run leisure centres, arrange bin collections – it hardly merits the name of power. Stormont itself is less than muscle-bound too. If someone else holds the purse-strings, the power that’s left to you is pretty puny. 

But  the amount of power involved ultimately doesn’t matter in this case.  What matters is that when Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson stand together and behave in a civilized, co-operative way, they offer a model to the general population of how to behave.  At the grass-roots level, councils provide a model that in some ways is more powerful, in that it’s closer to home. There are those in the unionist population who, if they hear their councillors express suspicion or even contempt for republicans, they feel justified in adopting similar attitudes. The councillors then look over their shoulder, note that they’ve got a backward-facing electorate and act accordingly.  And so the vicious cycle continues. 

Meanwhile the media need to get over this notion that if they criticise one side, they must manufacture some quid pro quo to make themselves look mature and balanced. Report the facts and skip the ersatz balance bit, guys. It’s your duty.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The New Irish

A week or so ago in Dublin, 4,000 new Irish citizens were created. Do they know what they were getting into? Their new status allows them to carry an Irish passport and to vote in referendums, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter told them. “You entered this room as citizens from over 100 different countries. You’re going to leave this room all being citizens of the one country.  You are now truly part of the Irish family, truly part of Irish society living on this island and part and parcel of what makes us, as a State, what we are.”  In their oath of citizenship, the new citizens declared “I solemnly swear my fidelity to the Irish nation and my loyalty to the State. I undertake to faithfully observe the laws of the state and to respect its democratic values”.

Boy, I’d hate to be a Lithuanian or a Nigerian trying to make sense of that. Take Shatter’s statement: “You’re going to leave this room all being citizens of the one country”.  Right. And that one country would be, Mr Shatter? Well, Ireland, naturally. But, I ask in my Lithuanian or Nigerian persona, where does Ireland begin and end? And when I swore that bit about fidelity to the Irish nation, how come I had to add “and my loyalty to the State”?  Talk about talking out of two sides of your mouth at the same time.

And by the way (back in my Irish persona again), how come that 4,000 immigrants to Ireland have at least one advantage over those of us born and bred and living here   - they can vote in referendums?

It’s past time someone asked Mr Shatter or Mr Kenny what they mean when they talk about “Ireland”, what their feelings are about the fact that part of Ireland is controlled from London, and that some 5,000 British troops are stationed on the country to which 4,000 people recently swore fidelity in Dublin.  

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Judith gets a fáinne. Don't be fooled.

So Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie got her silver fáinne. Big deal. I got one of those earlier this year and Caral Ni Chuilin didn’t tell ME I’d done something very, very significant.  Anyway, I bet they let Judith Gillespie see the questions before she sat the exam. Imagine the row if the Belfast Telegraph headline had been “Top Cop Flunks Leprechaun Language Test”.

Besides, what about motivation? It’s not what you do so much as the reason for your actions that counts. I got my silver fáinne because of my sensitive appreciation for as well as startlingly-fluent mastery of our native teanga (see what I mean?). Judith Gillespie got hers so she can listen in on what the Shinners are saying about her hair at Policing Board meetings.

 Ah, God be with the old days, when republicans could shout encouragement and instructions from cell to cell, without fear that the authorities would understand a word. All gone, lost forever. The cops will know every syllable we fluent speakers utter. Come back Rule 21, I say, or whatever it was that stopped the Trevors playing Gaelic games, and while you’re at it, put in a new one blocking them from having further access to our personal conversations as Gaeilge (need I say more?). Brendan Behan got it right, and it’s as true of the verbal world as of the physical: there is no situation so bad that the arrival of a policeman (or policeperson) won’t make it worse. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Those black armbands...

The relatives of the Louginisland killings were on the radio this morning and they seemed really pleased that yesterday the Republic of Ireland team wore black armbands to commemorate those shot dead while watching the Ireland-Italy game in 1994. It seems poor recompense for the loss of a loved one but they seemed genuinely moved by the gesture.  There are already critics online saying the FAI is being selective in its choice of victims to remember but that’s balderdash. The fact is these people were totally innocent and were killed while watching an Ireland-Italy game on 18 June 1994.  Yesterday was 18 June 2012.

It’s worth asking, though, why these six people were killed.  A couple of days earlier, the INLA shot dead three UVF men on the Shankill Road. On 17 June 1994, the UVF retaliated by shooting dead a Catholic taxi driver in Carrickfergus and two Protestant civilians in Newtownabbey, under the impression they were Catholics. The Loughinisland massacre on 18 June was another part of the UVF retaliation.

Now you’ll no doubt have noticed the difference between the INLA killings and the UVF killings: the INLA shot dead members of the UVF, the UVF shot dead people who were (or they thought were) Catholics. All killing is terrible but it’s not hard to see which group’s killing is the more heinous. And that kind of killing was, broadly speaking, UVF and UDA strategy: they’d kill so many Catholics, the nationalist and republican population would  be terrified and put pressure on the IRA to cease operating.

It’s a shameful but by no means unique strategy. When Harry Truman gave the OK for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he knew tens of thousands of innocent Japanese would die but he went ahead, arguing that it brought the war to a speedier conclusion. Likewise, the British bombing of German cities such as Dresden, where at least 25,000 civilians died. Likewise US drone attacks on Pakistan, still happening and often aimed directly at mourners and funerals, have led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians, including children.

So there’s no point in saying the UVF or the UDA were uniquely cruel in their targeting of innocent Catholics. They were doing what Americans and British authorities have been doing for decades: taking innocent human life as a way of achieving military goals.

Not that such a fact makes Loughinisland any less disgusting morally. But there’s a lot of it about, a point maybe worth keeping in mind when next you hear people express their loathing for the killing of Mountbatten or the Omagh bomb.  If you’re busy killing innocent civilians yourself, spare the rest of us the hypocrisy.  

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Torchlight itinerary goes south

Why did the Olympic torch cross the border? Or the chicken cross the road? You could get as many answers to both questions as there are people. But if we concentrate on the torch, most commentators seem to agree it was A Good Thing. 

Why?  Because it shows how warm is the friendship between Britain and the south of Ireland and how animosity between them is receding fast. The fact that Shankill boxer Wayne McCullough, who got a silver Olympic medal for Ireland in 1992, passed the flame to Dublin boxer Michael Carruth, who got a gold for Ireland at the same Games, is seen as an embodiment of that new spirit. Simples.

Except I don’t get it – torch or detour. Simple soul that I am, I was under the impression there was one Olympic torch, lit in Greece and then passed from hand to hand, from country to country, until finally the flame in the host country flares above the Olympic stadium. Remember the poignancy of Muhammed Ali lighting that final flame in 1996?  That greatest of athletes, bringing the torch to its final destination. Now they tell me it’s not one torch, it’s hundreds, maybe thousands. In fact if you carry it you can keep it, providing you cough up several  hundred quid. Then you can position it in your bedroom or flog it on eBay, as some apparently have done.  Somehow I feel disillusioned about the torch. 

I’m also a bit iffy about the flame travelling south of the border. The Olympics are being hosted by Britain, and well done them. There must have been some pretty heavy lobbying and arm-twisting over a sustained period to make that happen. But in the end Britain prevailed and I take my hat off to them. However, since  the south of Ireland isn’t part of Britain, why send the torch there?  If you’re intent on temporary export, wouldn’t sending it by Eurostar to Paris or by boat to Calais be nearer its final London destination?

Now if the south of Ireland were part of Britain, or even part of the British Commonwealth …Hold on. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the torch travelled south as a way of demonstrating that Britain is open to the idea of a united Ireland within her Commonwealth, or even within her British Isles. Granted, it was Michael Carruth and not Eamon O Cuiv who appeared in vest and shorts at the border crossing, but the British like to do these things with a subtle touch. So maybe the torch going south is saying “Lead, kindly light, back into the arms of Mother Britain”. 

Maybe. On the other hand, maybe that’s a total misreading. Perhaps in fact it’s the other way round. Maybe, rather than signifying that all of Ireland is or could once more be a part of Britain or the British Commonwealth, the McCullough-to-Carruth torch was meant to highlight  the possibility of Irish reunification and independence.  Maybe the Olympic flame travelling throughout Ireland was used as a thumbs-up to the spark of freedom that has burned in so many Irish hearts for so many centuries. Maybe it was a first step in getting Irish people north and south to see that their best interests are served when the border is effectively ignored. 
Mmm. Or maybe the torch is intended to dazzle so we won’t see the real picture. The one thing that didn’t feature in all the talk of friendly gestures and hands across the border was the fact that Britain runs the north of Ireland. Yes, I know we have the Executive at Stormont, but we also have 5,000 British troops. And because Westminster holds the purse-strings, Westminster ultimately calls the tune in the north. But it’s a bit like the emperor’s new clothes – no one likes to say it out loud. Maybe if we stop talking about it, it’ll cease to be an issue. That convince you? Nah, me neither.

So here’s my suggestion. Anytime anyone talks about the torch, or the possibility of Martin McGuinness meeting the queen, or Wayne and Michael, or any other stuff like that,  there should be a rule that requires them to first explain how they view the continued claim to jurisdiction of this little island-corner by Britain. Yes I know  the Belfast Telegraph  tells us 93% of the population in the north wouldn’t dream of coming out from under the wing of Westminster, but the Belfast Telegraph  tells us many things, week after week, not all of which are strictly factual.  Meanwhile, if we keep closing our eyes to the source of our difficulty, we’ll remain in a dream-world where facts are never faced. 

Friday, 15 June 2012

Assist the peace process: adopt a warship

OK, I’m assuming you weren’t listening to BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh’s Nolan Show  this morning. Now answer me this: what do you think of if I mention ‘the old ship Caroline’? If you’re as old as me, you’ll have thought of the good ship Radio Caroline and listening to it, or maybe you’ll remember that slightly daft film made about it a few years ago. But that’s not the Caroline ship that was discussed this morning. Apparently somewhere in Belfast, there’s a disused British battleship called Caroline. It was built in Birkenhead, was involved in the Battle of Jutland where over 8,000 men lost their lives, and commentator Fionola Meredith wants to bring unionists and nationalists together by using public money to restore it.

Eh? A British battleship that helped kill people in the course of a futile imperial war will help bring people here together?  Pull the other one, Fionnola.

Besides,  wasn’t there a ship called the Titanic on which millions of public money have been sent? And more millions on refurbishing some boat or other that brought people to the Titanic? And now Fionnola wants us to spend money on a THIRD ship, because it’ll bring more tourists? Well I suppose it might work for tourists who confine their interests solely to things maritime. They’d have a whale of a time trekking from the Titanic building to the boat that brought passengers to it to the warship. On the other hand if their interests extend beyond boats and ships, they might think one ship was enough and doesn’t this town have anything else to see?

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the warship Caroline will bring lots of tourists. If so, hooray.  But the idea that we, who’ve slowly and painfully emerged from a period of bloody conflict, could be brought together by honouring the memory of a warship that helped in the mass slaughter that was the First World War,  kinda takes the breath away. In our discussion, Fionnola called for more imagination (I think she was talking about me). I’d say anyone who thinks  a British battleship will bring us all closer together needs to turn down the temperature on that over-heated imagination before they lose the run of themselves entirely.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Teofilo Stenson, Alberto Juantorena - and Dev

Funny how the mind works. The great Teofilo Stevenson died on Monday, and when I heard the news I thought of another great Cuban athlete, Alberto Juantorena, and then I thought of Dev. Let me explain.

Stevenson  was three times gold-medal winner in the Olympics as a heavyweight boxer, and he almost certainly would have got a fourth if his country hadn’t boycotted the 1984 Games. But Stevenson was more than just a great athlete. In the West and particularly in the US,  the usual progress for a talented amateur is to the ranks of the professionals.  Not Stevenson. He was offered huge amounts of money – a million dollars was talked about. His reply: “What is a million dollars compared to the love of eight million people?”

Alberto Juantorena was  another Cuban athlete idolized by his people. He was a big man, said to have a nine-foot stride.. He competed in the 1976 Olympics and in a unique performance won both the 400 and the 800 metres. At the height of his fame, he was visited at his home in Cuba by a journalist. The reporter wondered aloud why Juantorena and his family chose to live in a house packed with relatives – parents, aunts, uncles, cousins. As a hugely successful athlete, surely he could afford a home where he and his wife and children could have some privacy?  Juantorena looked surprised. “This is my family. Why do you want to take me away from my family?”

And Dev? Well I don’t know if Dev was ever an athlete, and even thinking about him in a singlet and shorts makes me feel a bit weak. But on St Patrick’s Day in 1943, he made a speech which has been repeatedly referred to and mocked, as showing Dev to be absurdly backward-looking. “The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit”.

If you read the speech in full, it does indeed have a certain old-fashioned tone to it. But you’ll also notice that de Valera was outlining his vision of a country that  valued other things than the material. Yes, thousands had to emigrate when Dev held power; but our present financial mess shows what happens when pursuit of wealth dominates everything else.  Stevenson’s refusal to turn professional, Juantorena’s love of his extended family,  Dev’s vision of a country wise enough to put relationships and things of the spirit above material wealth, all share the same theme:  money, at the national and the personal level, should be  servant, not master.  There’s more to life than capitalism.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Republican- and unionist-dominated councils: you mean there's a difference?

I see where Derry unionist politicians are being true to the spirit of their forebears. At the council meeting on Monday night, Sinn Féin’s Kevin Campbell was appointed mayor, with the UUP’s Mary Hamilton as deputy mayor. To say Ms Hamilton took up her new post with grace and dignity would be to stretch the truth. She saw fit instead to reject any move by Councillor Campbell to put the chain of office on her and got the Council’s chief executive to do it instead.  Not to be outdone, the outgoing DUP mayor, Maurice Devenney, didn’t put the chain of office on the new mayor. Devenney said “I wouldn’t get too worried about this as this is normal”.

I suppose it all depends on what you think of as normal. Back in the 1950s, it was normal for the Derry council to be manipulated and gerrymandered so that the unionist one-third of the population somehow managed to have two-thirds of the council seats. That was back in the days when to say you’d been to a Catholic school at an interview meant you could forget about getting that job, and where discrimination in terms of housing eventually sparked the Civil Rights movement.

In fact, here’s an interesting question for Councillor Devenney or Councillor Hamilton: if the Civil Rights movement hadn’t been started, what would this little corner of ours look like today? Judging by Monday night’s shenanigans, exactly as it was in the 1950s and ‘60s. Would Derry City Council be a model of fairness and friendliness? Would jobs and housing be awarded on the basis of ability and need? Not if you look at the operation today of those councils throughout  the north where a unionist majority operate.

Where there is a nationalist/republican majority, as in Derry, the major posts are revolved, in line with representation. In short, power is shared. In those where unionists are a majority…forget it. In council after council throughout the north where unionists dominate, power-sharing doesn’t come into it. In fact  there are unionist councillors throughout the north who respond to openness and power-sharing by continuing to drag their feet and block the exercise of power by nationalists/republicans wherever possible. Last Monday in Derry was a good example of how they react to power-sharing. All this more than fourteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

You’d think there’d be a media uproar, wouldn’t you? Here we have this stark contrast between the actions – not words, actions – of nationalist/republican-majority councils and those dominated by unionists. Yet the media, ever alert to snubs to QE2 and past actions by republicans, fail to cross-examine or even question unionist politicians and councillors who hold this not-an-inch attitude. Or  maybe the media have decided to dodge this one.  Walk on tiptoe past the issue, let the gorilla go on sitting on the sofa scratching itself.  Life’s easier that way.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

RAAD - different from a distance?

Why does RAAD flourish? Or even exist? The authorities would say because they’ve cowed the local population, people are afraid to speak out against them or name them. RAAD would say it serves a community purpose: it puts the fear of God, or at least of pain and/or death, into the drug-pushers. Who’s right?

Well, maybe both. If you lived in a community where you knew who was administering punishment beatings, who was sometimes killing people, would you stand up and denounce them, name names? It’s always easier to wax moral about matters from a safe distance.

But it’s not all based on fear. Even where drugs aren’t concerned, people can feel driven to distraction by some social problem that nobody in authority appears willing to take on. I once knew a woman who moved into a new house. For a time she and her family were thrilled by their new setting. Then the next-door neighbours began to make their children’s life hell. Taunts, abuse, even stones. The woman brought her case to the police but was politely told to get lost. If these people weren’t caught in the act of making her existence and her family’s hell, there was nothing could be done. She even thought of selling the recently-bought house and moving out again but the practicalities of life made that impossible. Then someone suggested she have a word with Whatshisname.  If she had a genuine complaint and was in despair,  Whatshisname might have an answer. So after weeks of agonizing, she had a word with Whatshisname. One morning  a week later the family from next door woke to find all of their windows had been broken.  Inside forty-eight hours they’d moved out.  From that day to this, the  woman is full of praise for the window-breakers who solved her problem.

Morally dubious? Rough justice? You betcha. But when you’re faced with a problem that’s driving you and your family crazy, and when those appointed to solve that problem shrug their shoulders, maybe you’d be less fastidious about who solved it for you and how.

Maybe RAAD is a bit like the Duke of Wellington’s troops.  You remember how he famously said  “I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me”.

Monday, 11 June 2012

That handshake - big deal, small deal, no deal?

John Hume’s famous line about not being able to eat a flag has always struck me as odd, given that flags aren’t for eating. At the same time I think that we here in the north sometimes attach too much importance to symbols. And symbolic acts.

Take the flag that flutters…I nearly said flutters proudly, but flags don’t have feelings so I’ll just say flutters above Belfast City Hall, above Stormont and half-way up a lot of lamp-posts here in the north. In one sense they matter, since they leave no room for a similar flag reflecting that portion of the population that sees itself as Irish.  On the other hand it’s only a bit of cloth, so running it up or running it down or leaving it to rot doesn’t change the people below or the beliefs they hold.

The same goes for symbolic acts. The one that’s obsessing a lot of people at the moment is the possible meeting of Martin McGuinness with Queen Elizabeth and the possible handshake they could exchange. The word at present is that Sinn Féin are a bit iffy about it until they’ve received some quid pro quo – they’ll look for some concession from the unionist side in return for what Gerry Adams calls “a big ask” of republicanism. 

Whether or not that’s what they’re doing, I remember when Sinn Féin used to…not complain, but point out that  DUP people refused to share eye-contact with them, let alone a hand-shake. As far as I know there still isn’t a photograph of Peter Robinson shaking Martin McGuinness’s hand. Or any other major unionist come to that.

Personally, I don’t think it matters a damn. When communism prevailed in the USSR,  Western leaders including QE2 and the President of the US  used to meet with its leaders and shake hands. Nobody accused the Royal One or the Prez of having turned communist. It was seen as merely civilized behaviour with those whose ideas one rejected. They shook hands because that was the way people normally act when they meet someone. If I shook hands only with those whose ideas matched mine, my fists would stay in my pockets a lot of the time..

So to come back to Martin McGuinness and the queen. It's not the act of hand-shaking that is significant, it's how people interpret it. Dissident republicans would – if it happens – point to it as another example of Shinner capitulation to  British rule in Ireland. So too would die-hard DUPers.  But if you think about it, if I or anyone else were to shake hands with the queen, it would occupy at best thirty seconds. There’s nothing about the digit-squeeze that’d preclude me from spending the rest of the day, month, year planning the downfall of British rule here. I don’t say that’s what Martin McGuinness is doing, but I do say there’s nothing in that handshake to prevent such activity. If you’re going to read significance into an act of hand-shaking, you’d be as well to make sure your reading is accurate. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Mr Nelson goes to Dublin

There are two ways (at least) of looking at the invitation to the Grand Master of the Orange Order, Drew Nelson, to address the Irish Seanad. One is to go with the argument of Senator Martin McAleese.  He believes that to engage with those like Nelson who are “pivotal to the success of upcoming centenaries”  will allow the Seanad to contribute successfully to the centenaries and result in reconciliation between the unionist and nationalist traditions.  Another, contrasting argument would be that Drew Nelson heads an anti-Catholic organization with a shameful history and rules which make clear that sectarianism is still a strong element in its make-up, and to allow him to address the Seanad is to confer a misplaced honour.

I tend to the second line of thought. It is possible to treat with the Orange Order as though it were a benevolent organization that makes possible an annual day of music and ice-creams. And there is some truth in that view of the Order. For thousands, maybe tens of thousands, that’s what the Twelfth is. But of course the Orange Order doesn’t march only on the Twelfth, there is much more to it than music and ice-cream, and to pretend that its history and ordinances don’t exist or are entirely benevolent is to be one-eyed at best and blind at worst.

However, Senator McAleese is following a path prepared by Sinn Féin. That party has chosen what Gregory Campbell, I believe, describes as “love-bombing”. That’s an inspired phrase. It catches the determination of republicans to turn former enemies into friends, and it pin-points the fear some unionists have that such an approach could prove destructive of unionism. Senator McAleese himself has a good track-record in making friends with people such as loyalist leader Jackie McDonald, which, when you think about it, is an amazing turn-around. It’s also Christianity in action: love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, etc.

There are two ways that all this -  Sinn Féin’s outreach to unionism, the Seanad’s embrace of Duncan Nelson and the Orange Order – could end.  For the first time in Irish history, the goal represented by the Irish tricolour could be achieved: reconciliation between the nationalist and unionist traditions in Ireland. Were that to be whole-hearted and permanent, political reunification would be a logical final step.  On the other hand, it could end as Animal Farm  by George Orwell ends. The animals, who thought they were on their way to freedom from human tyranny, peer through the farmhouse window at a meeting of their pig-leaders with the humans. “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”.

Dissident republicans believe that is exactly what has happened and continues to happen; the rest of us hope and pray they’re wrong.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Sovereign - what a big word!

Some words have, what’ll I say, a complete sound to them. Like “sovereign”.  The word rolls around in  your mouth like a gob-stopper. There was quite a bit of sovereign talk over the past week. 

There was sovereign as in “Her Sovereign Majesty The Queen’s Cor-blimey-don’t-time-fly Diamond Jubilee”. There was a lot of that, and of her loyal subjects getting quite moist, not just from excitement but from the rain pelting down on the Thames and them, turning what should have been a sunlit royal procession of stately barges and choirs of fragrant babes into a wind-and-rain-soaked multitude, singing babes turning blue with the wet and cold as the the non-heir to the throne and his second wife grinned and did little knee-bends to the sodden strains of “Land of Hope and Glory”. Normally the BBC can make this kind of occasion sound like a fairytale with prefabricated ancient elements laced in, but this time even it was struggling to avoid televising a total royal washout. 

The thing is, like Danny Morrison said on Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh last Saturday,  not all of us get the point of monarchy. Why use  genetic Russian roulette to appoint your head of state? Anything could pop out. A lovely surprise. Or a nasty shock. Granted,  the British people do seem pleased with the present incumbent – more than pleased, they’re weak-kneed with pleasure that she’s spent sixty years of selfless “service” to the state. You might think that unimaginable wealth and luxury and working about eighty days a year and being transported and entertained and fawned on everywhere you turned  – you might think or even say “That sounds like a very, very cosy number”. But it’s not, apparently.  It’s selfless service. 

Anyway most British people appear to like it. Gives them a sense of continuity, apparently. There’s the occasional blip or even earthquake, like the Diana business; but who thinks of Diana now?  On the other hand, there’s Charles. They’re not too keen on him. They’re even talking about skipping a generation to avoid him, which would of course be to move the hereditary goalposts a teensy bit, leaving you with  a monarchy that’s hereditary except when you don’t too much fancy the cut of the jib of the next in line, in which case it’s kind of hereditary leap-frog. 

The other sovereign thing featuring last week was Irish sovereignty. As in “Goodbye Irish sovereignty, hello Frankfurt”. Of course, long before the invention of the EU,  ‘way back in the 1920s,  the Irish people got a kind of sovereignty south of the border and no kind of sovereignty north of the border. More recently we’ve had all those treaties – Maastericht, Lisbon and now the Fiscal Treaty. All with one thing in common: they took a big bite out of Irish sovereignty. 

But hey, maybe we just have to learn to live with it. Maybe those who say we must never have another European war are right, and maybe first fiscal union and then political union are the price that must be paid.  Certainly there’s no doubt that Germany is now leading a drive towards a more integrated Europe, and since Germany went from a handful of states to a united country in the second half of the nineteenth century via monetary union, you can be sure a United States of Europe is getting less unthinkable with every treaty. 

Some of us, of course, remember a time when the EU mantra was that as much power as possible should be devolved to the local level. Now we’re headed in the opposite direction: power is getting sucked to the centre, with the rich and powerful dictating the European tune. 

Except, of course, enough people say “Not another red cent” and mean it, and freeze that movement in its tracks. But that’s unlikely. Isn’t it? 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Stop, Sydney, you're depressing me

Sometimes I feel depressed, occasionally by personal matters but more often by public. One such occurred a couple of decades ago, when Gerry Adams helped carry the coffin of Thomas Begley, one of the two IRA men caught up in the Shankill bomb blast. There was a relentless onslaught on Adams for doing this which showed ignorance, wilful or otherwise, of the republican movement and how it thinks and operates. The Shankill bomb, as most people know, was intended for a meeting of UDA members above the shop where it exploded; that it exploded prematurely and resulted in appalling carnage of ordinary innocent people was obviously not the intention. So as far as Adams was concerned, carrying Begley's coffin was a mark of respect for someone who'd died on an IRA operation. Except you were outraged that Sinn Féin and its leader should be supportive of the IRA in general, it's hard to see how you could view Adams's carrying of the coffin as anything more than an outward manifestation of what everyone, including unionists and loyalists, had always known.

As I say, I get depressed when I hear this kind of irrational outrage. Today I'm a bit down in the dumps to note where John O'Dowd, the Education Minister, is under fire for having given a lift to a funeral to Martin Corey.  Corey was imprisoned for involvement in the killing of two RUC men in 1973. He was released under the Good Friday Agreement, but had his licence revoked and is at present imprisoned in Maghaberry.  According to the Portadown Times,  O'Dowd drove (or was driven) in his ministerial car to Maghaberry,  where MLA  Raymond McCartney collected Corey and drove him to his brother's funeral. (I know it sounds confusing - was it O'Dowd or McCartney who took the man to the funeral? But that's how the Portadown Times  presents the story.)

Now for the depressing bit. Unionist MLA Sydney Anderson  is, yes indeed, outraged. "This was a public failure of every child in Northern Ireland on the part of the Education Minister as he is tasked with overseeing the education of children so that they can make a positive contribution to future generations"

In the name of all that's sweet and true, what sort of gobblydegook rubbish is this? Corey is in prison because the British Secretary of State has decided that's where he wants him, just as Marion Price is in prison on the same grounds. The prison authorities sanctioned Corey's temporary release to attend his brother's funeral. O'Dowd and/or McCartney gave him a lift to the requiem Mass and burial. And Corey has returned to prison. End of story.

Or should be, except that Anderson sees this as a failure of all the children here. A word in your shell-like, Sydney: ninety-five per cent of the children here won't even have been aware that Corey existed, let alone got a lift from O'Dowd/McCartney. And even if they had, the man had been sanctioned to travel and attend his brother's funeral.  Nothing illegal has happened, a close relative has been buried, the terms of release were observed. Somewhere, somehow, Sydney, there must be something more deserving of your outrage. Meanwhile, if you could stop using the burial of one man and the attendance at his funeral of another as an occasion for talking Grade A tripe, it'd lift my spirits no end. Good man, Sydney. I knew you'd see sense in the end.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Mops sweated brow...

Phew! That was a close thing. Well no, not really a close thing – a win by nearly  20%  isn’t close. At the same time, I thought for a while there that that damned Adams and his crowd, not to mention that stuck-up amadan Shane Ross, between the pair of them and the Cusack love-child with a face on him like a cherub with crow’s-feet  – between them I thought for a while we were for the big drop. I did, as sure as I’m standing here I did. The heart was cross-ways on me – it’s bacon-slicer time, says I to myself.  If we hadn’t produced the goods, Angela would have had my arse for breakfast. But thanks be to the dear divine God and his blessed mother we’re home and hosed, that’s the important thing. I know we could have done a Lisbon and run the whole thing again if nip had come to tuck, but that’s a last resort. Wedon’t want to keep using it too often or people might notice.

Hogan, the big baldy culchie,  was all for a public victory bash, give the troops an arm round the shoulders and a pat on the rear for all their efforts, but I told him straight I was having none of it. Hogan reads too many bloody papers telling him he’s the real head honcho and is the man that pulls my strings. Well let me tell ye, it is I,  An Taoiseach, that’ll be doing any pulling’s  in need of doing around here. I move on a different plane and the sooner that big latchico gets that straight, the better. And I know lepping about shouting yee-ho only gets up the noses of the ones you’ve beat, and by God they don’t forget. “Get you in the long grass” is what that brings on you. So far better, says I to myself, far better do  the dignified restraint thing. In public, that is. In private is another matter. Once we got the door locked and the curtains pulled on Friday, Fionnuala and myself were doing somersaults and high fives and a number of other things I’m not going to discuss.  Just let me tell you, it was only mighty. Pure mighty.

I’d half-intended to invite Gilmore over, have a kind of discreet  hooley, make as if I actually like the little gobshite.  Only after watching the way he conducted himself during the campaign, I made damned sure I didn’t stand within so much as a hundred yards of him.  Didn’t he spend most of the campaign leaking support, losing practically every voter he ever had to those bloody Shinners? You’d think by now he’d have worked out how to get the upper hand on his erstwhile comrades but no, he let Mary Lou and that schoolboy one with the glasses, Peadar Toibin, run rings round him,   rings I’m telling yeh.   And  him turning purple  on the television when he couldn’t think what to say next.

Anyway, thanks be to the dear sweet Jesus and his divine Mother, the whole thing is out of the way at last. From here on we can cut  cut cut, and none of them can blame us for we’ll just point at the Treaty, it’s the Fiscal Treaty, lads, ye voted for it and ye got it. It’s the ones in Europe are playing the financial tune entirely now, it’s the Germans are doing the sums, so don’t bother blaming me any more.

God, I think I’ll sit down for a bit,  the oul’ heart is hammering. Post-traumatic stress,  it must be. Here, would one of ye get me a double whiskey.  And isn't it the mercy of God we'll have no more voting for a couple of years itself.