Jude Collins

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Three things about the lolly we get from London

It depends on who you’re talking to. Some people, they say we’d be scuppered without money from Britain. Others say we’re losing millions by duplicating everything north and south.  So let’s make a modest start, look at the economic argument and see how the economic case for union stands up. (Health warning:I tend to get the head staggers if too many sums are thrown at me too quickly, so if you’re that way inclined too, proceed with caution.)
  1. Unionists politicians say we get £10.5 billion annually from London. That sum’s arrived at by calculating  the gap between the money we raise here in the north and give to London and what they give us. OK. Pretty solid money, that. Except it’s not solid. That £10.5 billion is calculated by the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) here. They do it by using a report that the SNP said in 2006 was pro-union and designed to score over all opponents. The Scots Nats drew this conclusion from information leaked by the same economists who produced this dodgy report. To make things even dodgier, while unionist politicians present this £10.5 billion as money that comes here, the fact is that the sum includes money which is directed by Whitehall departments, not money which is overseen locally. Key point: the claim that we get £10.5 billion annually from London is built on sand. 
  2. So why don’t we just ask London how much more money they give us than we give them and be done with it? Get it from the horse’s mouth? Well, that’s tricky because the Brits simply won’t say how much money we generate. That makes it a bit hard to work out the difference between what we generate and give them, and what they give us. There is a local estimate made by the Department of Finance and Personnel  here that says we generate £12.7 billion. But that’s just an estimate. For example it doesn’t include corporation tax that’s paid by companies with headquarters in Britain. And  the calculation of the amount of VAT, of tobacco duty, of alcohol duty paid is based on information drawn from a survey of (wait for it) 147 households here. Once more, shaky figures.  We need firm facts if we’re to do the sums.
  3. A final point (for now). The British government says it needs £23.2 billion  to run the six counties. Right. Except that this includes money we never see - money that goes on the British military, royal palaces and royal travel, among other things.  So  that’s another shaky/dodgy figure. 
 The core fact is that for whatever reason, the amount we give the London government in taxes and the amount they give us  - both are shrouded in a mist of uncertainty. If the economic reason is THE reason for union with Britain, shouldn’t Britain quit acting coy and spit out hard, verifiable data so that we can look at it and do the sums? Maybe they’ll come out in favour of continued union with Britain. Maybe they’ll fall well short of favourable.  But it really is time we were told the facts of our financial life. We’re all adults here, aren’t we? 

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Northern Irish - Promised land or no-man's-land?

Maybe it’s because it’s still February (how long, Lord? How long?) and the weather’s turned cold, but I find myself this Wednesday morning thinking grimly as to what bright spark came up with the wheeze of including ‘Northern Irish’ as a category in the census forms. Because it clearly is placed with exquisite precision as a middle ground in which, if you’re of a delicate disposition,  you can park yourself. British? Nah - that’s for the head-bangers who get pissed on the Twelfth and love getting into sectarian punch-ups.    Irish? Nah - that’s for the crazies who tried to bomb a million Protestants into a united Ireland and failed. I’m not going to link myself with that  lot. Which leaves me with Northern Irish and sure what could be better? By ticking that box I show I’m not an extremist on either side, but view this wee country of ours, all six counties of it, as the gem that gets my affection-juices flowing. 

Some people don’t like me for it? Makes it sound as though I’m inching away from my Britishness and next you know there’ll be a tricolour flying over Belfast City Hall? Too bad. Some other people don’t like it, because it sounds as though I’m trying to hew out an identity that is peculiar to here  - that I’m answering Thatcher’s question and saying no, we here are not as British as Finchley but at the same time we’re not those muddle-headed bankrupts south of the border either? Too bad there too. 

A long time ago, when the Ulster Unionist Party was just beginning to feel the DUP pinch its bum, they devised a slogan “Decent people vote for the UUP”. That’s really what the Northern Irish people are saying: We’re decent balanced people, we see our Irishness but we also see our Britishness, and what’s wrong with that?

Well nothing really. It’s just another way of saying “I’m a unionist but a nice, liberal one. And I’m pleased to say that some very decent people - including Catholic people, for goodness’ sake - think like me”.

What was it the Bible said about this sort of thing? Ah yes, Revelations 3:16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth”. “

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Concern with bread-and-butter. Oh, and flags too.

It’s interesting the illogical knots in which people can tie themselves sometimes. When Sinn Féin people talk about the need to hold a border poll, their unionist opponents tell them to wise up, a re-united Ireland is far from the minds of most people. The days of emotional dreaming are done. It’s jobs and mortgages and the other bread-and-butter issues that people are concerned with now, not some out-moded impractical allegiance. “Fair enough” you might say. “Sometimes you need to get food on the family table and other things must be suspended”. It’s a view I don’t share but I can see why it makes sense to some people.

If you’re one of that some,  ask yourself: what issue in the past three months has stirred people here most profoundly?  The horse-meat scandal? Child sex-abuse? The dearth of jobs?  Uh-uh. It’s the flags issue. That’s the one the DUP- UUP leaflet urged people to get mad as hell about. That’s what brought people onto the streets, blocking roads, singing songs, attacking the police. Flags. It doesn’t even have to be a sensible issue: the 17-times-a-year vote has no more to do with ‘ripping down’ imperial culture than my big toe has, but it still got hundreds if not thousands of law-breakers onto the street. 

So approve or disapprove, it’s something other than jobs that moves people from time to time. There was no spilling onto the street to protest about lack of investment or jobs. It was the flag issue. The truth is, for better or worse, people can be worried sick about their job and at the same time indignant about non-economic matters. It’s seen in the flags issue and, since you ask me, Virginia, in the indignation felt that people like Marian Price can be incarcerated or released on the whim of a British Secretary of State who shows few signs of being pleased to have the job she has.  But the lovely Theresa is learning - she must be - that you don’t need a weatherman or an Oxbridge degree to know which way the wind blows. Because you’ve concerns about an empty belly doesn’t mean your neck supports an empty head. 

Monday, 25 February 2013

Looking for something stupid and cack-handed? Try Portstewart

OK - no politics today. Well, sort of but not full frontal politics.

A year or so ago I found myself in what some geographical illiterates call  'the North-West' - in Portstewart, to be exact. Up for the day, a nice walk along that fabulous beach, a bit of lunch. Now as you maybe know I think golf is a dumb game but I’ve no objection to their club-houses as somewhere to get a bite to eat, especially Portstewart Golf Club which has a nice view of that amazing beach.  Anyway I was inside and heading up the stairs to the restaurant when I heard a loud voice from below calling “Remove the hat, sir!” I looked down and it was an official-looking chap staring up at me. “No hats to be worn in the club-house” he informed me. As one easily over-awed by authority, I immediately plucked off my sun protector and went and had my meal. But with every biteful I kept kicking myself for my compliance and wondering why on earth they had this rule. So on the way out I put my hat defiantly in place and headed for the exit, and there was the chap who had demanded my hat-removal. So I asked him why the rule. “It’s the policy here, sir”.  Yes I know, but why? After a couple of more versions of ‘It’s the policy here’, he confessed that he hadn’t a clue but he was under instructions.

That was some time ago, and I’m old enough and ugly enough not to let these things bother me. But a case I heard of recently has made my blood simmer if not boil. A family group went for a meal in Portstewart Golf Club restaurant. As it happened a young boy in the family suffers from alopecia - his head is totally without hair, and so he habitually wears a cap.  No sooner were they in Portstewart Golf Club than the official was on the spot telling the youngster to remove his cap, adding by way of explanation “For the ladies”. So the boy, who is understandably attached to his hat in emotional as well as physical ways, was forced to remove it. Alopecia on view.

Now I don’t blame the guy who carries out this dumbest of club-house rules-  he’s following orders and probably glad of the job. I do blame the nineteenth-century ninnies who devised the rule and who appear to believe that respectability has something to do with taking off your hat on their holy ground. And who, in implementing that rule, show all the flexibility and sensitivity of a rhinoceros’s arse.  Is there some reason these people  would rather bully a vulnerable child into compliance than use the space between their ears where other people have a brain? Maybe you can think of one. I can’t.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Malachi, me and that movie

I'm just back from a debate (?) on  BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence. My sparring partner was Malachi O'Doherty, who is a good example of someone whom I like but whose opinions on most things I disagree with. This time we were disagreeing about the film Mea Maxima Culpa, which is (or certainly was) showing at the Queen's Film Theatre.

The film is about a Father Laurence Murphy of Miwaukee, who abused a group of deaf children in his care over a  number of years. Some of the boys, now elderly men,  told their story through sign language, with actors doing a voice-over. There was something truly chilling about the little gasps the men made and the slap of their hands as they signed the story of their suffering. The film brings to life yet another shameful episode of clerical sexual abuse of children and the arrogance of some of those in power in the Catholic Church at the time (1960s/70s).

Where I part way with Malachi is over the fact that the film presented the Catholic Church as a uniquely corrupt institution from top to bottom, with corruption allowed unchecked and its lay members held in check by the threat of damnation. This is simply untrue. To take the Murphy case (two other cases featured as well), the film notes that in 1974 some boys from the home went to the police and then the District Attorney's office with their complaint against Murphy. So too did Fr Thomas Brundage, the judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The film notes the fact that the boys went to the civil authorities and were ignored, and leaves it at that.  It doesn't follow-up on this failure by the civil authorities, which could have stopped Murphy and his abuse in its tracks. Nor does it mention that Brundage contacted the District Attorney's office with his concern. Nor does it mention Brundage's claim that many of the other boys from the home not featured in the film contacted him and expressed their gratitude for his efforts on their behalf.

The other point of difference that I have is a wider one, and one rarely referred to. The film overall gives the impression of an institution, the Catholic Church, which is peculiarly prone to the crime of sexual abuse. This is not the case. Figures on this matter are hard to come by, and when you ask for them you are sometimes greeted with hostility. I recall a UTV programme a few years back, in which I was one of the audience. The panel was a group of experts, including Dame Nuala O'Loan  (and my apologies that I can't recall other people). I asked the panel if anyone knew how the level of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church compared with the level of abuse in other faiths and in the general population.  No one could or would give me an answer. Immediately following the programme, I was approached by three Protestant clergymen - two Presbyterian, I think, and one Church of Ireland. They admonished me sharply for daring to raise such an issue - the problem was one unique to the Catholic Church, they explained, because of the rule of celibacy for priests. When I asked for some research that would support this claim, I was told it was unnecessary - they knew it was so.

In fact there are some figures. A study from Stanford University scored the incidence of Catholic clergy sexual abuse over the second half of the twentieth century at somewhere between 2-5% of clergy. The rate of child sexual abuse in the general population is about 8%. The US Department of Education reported that nearly 10% of students in Grades 8-11 had reported incidents of sexual misconduct by teachers.  Yet none of this has prompted attention or investigation from the media.

It would be safe to say that most people believe with my Protestant clergymen that child sexual abuse is unique to the Catholic Church, as is cover-up of these crimes by the Church. Films like Mea Maxima Culpa  go a long way to reinforcing this impression. Which prompts the question 'Why?' Perhaps it's lazy journalism. Or maybe it makes a better story to set child abuse exclusively within the the Catholic Church - all that stuff about crucifixes and confession and candles and the rest. Or maybe it's a plain old-fashioned desire to put the boot into the Catholic Church. There are people in our society who made their names doing just that.

If the Jimmy Savile scandal inflicted suffering on untold numbers of vulnerable children, it also did one good thing. It showed that widespread sexual abuse of children and minors isn't confined to the Catholic Church and that other institutions do just what often happened in the Catholic Church: they experienced child sexual abuse and they tried try to cover it up for as long as possible. Mea Maxima Culpa brings alive real suffering and baffling evil. The existence of such suffering and evil to an equal or greater extent in other areas, it ignores.

But don't take my word for it. Newseek  in 2010 quoted Ernie Allen,  president of the National Center for Missing and Exploted Children in the US: "I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others",

Not many people know that. Some don't want to.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

An interview with Davy Adams

[This is an edited version of the interview in my book 'Whose Past Is It Anyway?']

Davy Adams was involved in the struggle from his earliest years. No, not the political struggle - the struggle to put bread on the table. He is one of ten children and that was their everyday worry - getting the money to survive and endure as a family.

But his home was a political one, in that his mother always insisted that they vote: “She said it was the one time everyone was equal”. Although his home was the only Protestant one in a small row of houses, it was set in a wider predominantly unionist area. “Three-quarters of the population could have sat at home and the unionist guy would still have swept home with the vote”.

His parents never had any fear that their children would be swept into paramilitarism or “become enthralled by Paisley or any of his people”, because they believed their children were too sensible. They were right, with one exception: their son Davy, who joined the UDA. He speaks of a resentment among working-class unionists about how deprived other people were. “We had nothing either, and it was as if we were living in the lap of luxury. And then you would know people who were killed, people who were in no-warning bombs or shot on the least excuse or no excuse at all...I joined the UDA very late, in relative terms - I would have been in my early twenties - and it flowed from knowing people who had been murdered and decent people who had done no one any wrong.”

He says his thinking these days is massively changed. “In fact I’m not even sure that I would have a party political mode of thinking. I would be unionist because I happen to think that’s where the best future lies. According to the Good Friday Agreement, and I stick very much by that, if the majority on both sides of the border voted for a united Ireland, they would get no reaction from me. If there was a proper united Ireland out there, that would benefit us all and suit us all, where the pain and hatred and nastiness could be set aside or left behind, that would be no problem for me”.

He doesn’t believe the Stormont Assembly is achieving much in real terms, but “I think they’re doing an awful lot in terms of building understandings and building relationships, not only among themselves, but ones that bleed down into the wider community”. 

A bad way of commemorating centenaries would be to be too militaristic or celebrating subjugation. “There are no more multi-racial,multi-ethnic, multi-religious communities than there are within the UK. That’s what unionism should have been pointing out for years and should be pointing out now. So a bad commemoration would be singular, it would be triumphalist it would be about subjugation, it would be harking back to supposed good old days when unionists ruled the roost completely - that to me would be a bad commemoration”.

He would like to see republicans invited to commemorations of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, but he’s not too optimistic that the invitations will be offered or, if offered, accepted. “It would be great if people from all sections took part in each of the commemorations, but even if that doesn’t happen, I don’t think that’s a recipe for disaster necessarily. I think it can still be handled”.

He thinks 2012 is a good opportunity for unionists to reflect on unionism, although “no one can say that unionism hasn’t spent forty years reflecting on unionism. An awful lot of it had to be forced on them, but it happened none the less”. 

He believes there is “widespread ignorance” in the unionist community about 1916, and a few television programmes about it would help. “What we need is a straight historical piece - or two or three - on the Easter Rising, what foreshadowed it, what brought it about, what followed, the Civil War even. And you know, the state that came from it wasn’t exactly in line with Irish republicanism - I would argue it wasn’t within a beagle’s goul of Irish republicanism.”

He believes we should spend less time dwelling on the pitfalls of the centenaries and more on what can be done with them.

“There’s a great opportunity for education here and understanding other points of view - about how people got to the position they were in, how people ended up with their beliefs and allegiances, and how people who have different allegiances don’t necessarily have to be enemies, even such starkly different allegiances as those to an Irish Republic or those to a Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom”.
He’s very much opposed to “one-eyed presentation” of events - providing a unionist-weighted programme, then a republican-weighted programme, and then claiming you’ve created balance. “Each programme should be a historical analysis, a straight historical analysis pointing out benefits, faults, why people made the decisions they did”.

He believes that what both unionism and republicanism have to learn is Irishness - “the breadth of Irishness. It doesn’t stop at a certain religion or a certain set of political views, and it never did until relatively recent times. My father was born before partition, and a lot of his modes of reference were in an Irish context.  He’d say ‘Ah, you wouldn’t meet a dafter man if you walked to Dublin!’ And if you’d asked him if he was Irish he’d have laughed at you.  ‘Do you think I’m Australian or something?’ That was lost, so we all have to learn that Irishness doesn’t belong to one, almost singular identity”.

He acknowledges that it’s hard to project oneself into the past and understand it. “But it’s not impossible. I think we underestimate ourselves far, far too much in Northern Ireland. We just say, ‘Ah, Jesus, we can’t trust ourselves to do this that or the other’. And often, almost subconsciously,you can attract the reaction that you expect - not that you want but that you expect. Instead, why not go for it? Let’s go for it and do it properly, and do it hoping for the best and planning to get the best from both sides of the community”.

He thinks republicans and nationalists in the north may go a bit overboard “to prove how Irish and republican they are [Laughs]  Whereas down in the south, they’re far more relaxed about it. I think the commemoration in the south will be a relaxed thing - probably far, far better done in terms of presenting different sides of the story accurately”.

The Battle of the Somme commemorations, he believes, have always been something that unionism has claimed ownership of, although that may in part have been due to nationalism “pushing it away”. “It never should have been treated like that. It was a sacrifice made by people from all arts and parts of Ireland, and from all religions and all politics, so I think it has real potential for being commemorated in the proper sense and it has far more legitimacy for being commemorated right across the communities.”

He sees the Great War as being imperial. “You know the old one - ‘Lions led by donkeys’. It wasn’t quite the case but that certainly has got a grip now on people’s understanding of that event”.

But in terms of the centenary commemorations generally? He’s optimistic. “Minds are broadening - I’ve no doubt about that. You’ve only to look at who’s sitting up in Stormont together. That has set a great example to the rest of Northern Ireland. The centenaries are going to happen, they’re historical events, let’s look at them, let’s commemorate them. And let’s try and do it in as reasonable and as sensible a manner possible, with an underlying notion of using them to help better understanding across communities.”

A rose by any other name...

I think Herr S Freud would have enjoyed this one...(No prizes for the eagle-eyed, sorry)

Friday, 22 February 2013

Action and reaction

Ill-informed Person:  Why is there unionist opposition to the appointment of Rosa McLaughlin as Vice-Principal of St Mary’s College in Derry? I thought unionists weren’t interested in Catholic education.
Know-it-all Person:  It’s different this time. Rosa McLaughlin was once in the IRA and served a three-year prison sentence. 
Ill-informed Person: But she’s out now.
Know-it-all Person: Oh yes.
Ill-informed Person: So what’s the problem?
Know-it-all Person: Well, there have been suggestions from unionist quarters that someone who’d been in the IRA would be sort of, um, corrupting the young if she/he taught them.
Ill-informed Person: How so?
Know-it-all Person: Afraid I’m not clear how.
Ill-informed Person: If Ms McLaughlin is down to be Vice-Principal, what has the Principal to say of her appointment?
Know-it-all Person: ”Ms McLaughlin is a more than capable teacher and she is in school working this week despite the difficult situation she has been facing”.
Ill-informed Person: Sounds like the Principal is happy enough with the appointment.
Know-it-all Person: It does indeed. Can we talk about something else for a while?
Ill-informed Person: Certainly. Who is Nigel Lutton?
Know-it-all Person: He’s the ‘agreed’ unionist candidate for the coming Westminster by-election in Mid-Ulster. And before you ask, the by-election was called  because Martin McGuinness gave up his Mid-Ulster seat, as part of Sinn Féin ending double-jobbing.
Ill-informed Person: Right. So this Mr Lutton -  he’s a well-known politician then? An MLA perhaps?
Know-it-all Person: Well no. Although he is a cousin of David Simpson.
Ill-informed Person: Who?
Know-it-all Person: David Simpson, the well-known DUP MP. 
Ill-informed Person: What’s he well-known for?
Know-it-all Person: Well in this instance for what he said in the House of Commons in 2007.
Ill-informed Person:  Which was?
Know-it-all Person:  That Francie Molloy was involved in the killing of Nigel Lutton’s father in 1979. Mr Lutton Sr was a part-time RUC reservist. 
Ill-informed Person: Why did Mr Simpson make this claim in the House of Commons?
Know-it-all Person: Parliamentary privilege
Ill-informed Person: What’s that?
Know-it-all Person: Well, apparently you can say nearly anything about a  person in the House of Commons  under parliamentary privilege. 
Ill-informed Person: Why not say it outside the House of Commons?
Know-it-all Person: Because you’d need proof or you could be sued.
Ill-informed Person; Had Mr Simpson proof?
Know-it-all Person: He said the police told him.
Ill-informed Person: But no proof beyond that?
Know-it-all Person: Not as far as I know. Mr Molloy has strongly denied the charge and challenged anyone to make the claim outside Parliament. 
Ill-informed Person: And has anyone taken him up on it?
Know-it-all Person: No. 
Ill-informed Person:  I see. So who’s standing for the Shinners then?
Know-it-all Person: Francie Molloy.
Ill-informed Person:Eh?
Know-it-all Person: Francie Molloy. The veteran Sinn Féin MLA and deputy Speaker up in Stormont. 
Ill-informed Person: So did the choice of Mr Lutton as ‘agreed’ unionist candidate happen before or after the Shinners chose Mr Molloy?
Know-it-all Person: After. 
Ill-informed Person: I see. Then is that why unionists chose Mr Lutton as an ‘agreed’ candidate? That his father was killed, probably by the IRA, and David Simpson claimed, without evidence, that Francie Molloy was involved?
Know-it-all Person: You may say that. I couldn’t possibly comment.
Ill-informed Person: So have the unionists a chance of winning this seat? And is it true that Willie Frazer may also stand as a unionist candidate?
Know-it-all Person: Oh yes.
Ill-informed Person: Oh yes what? That the unionists do have a chance of winning this seat or Oh yes Willie Frazer may also stand as a unionist candidate?
Know-it-all Person: Oh yes both. 
Ill-informedPerson: And how highly would you rate either Mr Lutton or Mr Frazer’s chances of being elected?
Know-it-all Person: About that of a snowball in Hades.
Ill-informed Person: So you’re saying Mr Molloy may well retain the seat for Sinn Féin?
Know-it-all Person: He may well indeed. In fact do you notice my hat?
Ill-informed Person: What about it?
A: I will eat it for lunch if he doesn’t. Although we must await the outcome of polling on 7 March.
Ill-informed Person: How wise you are. Go raibh maith agat.
Know-it-all Person: Failte romhat.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mid-Ulster: a tale of two candidates

So now we know. Sinn Féin some weeks ago chose their candidate for the Mid-Ulster seat vacated by Martin McGuinness:  they picked veteran republican Francie Molloy, who was director of election for Bobby Sands and is currently deputy Speaker in the Stormont Assembly. The two unionist parties, after much to-ing and fro-ing, have now come up with an agreed candidate: Nigel Lutton. He’s a cousin of the DUP’s David Simpson and his father, an RUC reservist, was shot dead by the IRA in 1979.

There are a number of things to be kept in mind about this by-election. The first is that Nigel Lutton relates to David Simpson in other ways than that they are cousins. In 2007,  David Simpson in the House of Commons named Francie Molloy as having been involved in the killing of Nigel Lutton’s father.  The fact that he made the claim - which he said the police had given him - meant that he was protected by parliamentary privilege. That is, he couldn’t be charged with slander. Of course, if you have proof of your statement or claim, it stops being slander. 

How has Molloy reacted? He has denied any such involvement and has challenged anyone (with Simpson in mind, I should think) to make such a claim outside the British parliament. The implication is that he would sue them. 

So why did the DUP and the UUP choose Mr Lutton as their candidate? Well, the claim is that he helps highlight the plight of victims of the Troubles, and certainly Mr Lutton exemplifies just that. It's striking, though, that their choice was made after Sinn Féin had made theirs, so you may be sure Mr Lutton was chosen with Mr Simpson’s 2007 House of Commons claim in mind.  The death of Mr Lutton’s father will now be a feature of the election campaign.

Statements made under parliamentary privilege are or can be deeply disturbing. The example that jumps out in terms of the north of Ireland is that made by Douglas Hogg in 1989. After a briefing from senior RUC officers,  he claimed that some solicitors here were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”.  A few weeks later, Pat Finucane was shot dead in his home. Sir John Stevens, who authored a major report into collaboration between security forces and loyalism, said Hogg’s comments hadn’t been justified. 

One of the cornerstones of the British justice system is that you are innocent until you are proved guilty. The fact that David Simpson made his claim under parliamentary privilege strongly suggests he had not got proof of that claim, any more than Hogg had of his. Yet the UUP and the DUP appear to have chosen their candidate with the notion of targeting Francie Molloy’s reputation. Had their sole objective been to highlight the unhappy state of victims of the Troubles, there are many others - unionist others - they could have chosen.  By choosing Mr Lutton, they have put the notion of people being innocent until proven guilty under near-breaking-point pressure.

What’s almost equally dismaying is that the two unionist parties know that their man has practically no chance of winning. And of course if Willie Frazer were to come off the fence and stand, they’d have less chance still. 

Footnote: As always, I welcome comment on and argument with this posting. But please, in the light of the response to my posting last Friday, engage with the argument and skip the insults, OK?

Whither the flags protest?

Where are the flag-protestors going? Nowhere fast, it would appear. There have been dwindling numbers, which is not surprising, since pretty well everybody accepts that Belfast City Council isn’t going to accede to their demands that the Union flag be reinstated to fly 365 days a year.  If they did, it would be a signal that democratic decision-making can be stopped in its tracks if you defy the law loudly enough and often enough. But when you know your objective is never going to happen, it’s common sense to stop standing about in the cold codding yourself you’re doing something useful.   

But I do agree with the flag protestors’ Jamie Bryson on one point:  "I view this as a cynical attempt to use the UDR parade and the protest to undermine each other and create divisions within our community” Jamie says. Well no, I don’t quite agree with him. The aim of unionist politicians is not to undermine the flag protest movement. The aim is to kill it. It’s embarrassing them as well as harming the international image of Belfast and local trade.

Maybe I’m just getting forgetful, but were there 1,000 people on the streets this time last year, commemorating the two UDR soldier killed by an IRA bomb in 1988? Perhaps there were. But if there weren’t, then it’s hard not to see unionist leaders using the anniversary of the two men’s deaths as anything other than a weapon with which to club the flags’ protest out of existence. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Tears, idle tears

There’s a difference between crying wolf and just crying,and last night Enda Kenny made it clear that he was on the verge of tears as he talked about the Magdalene laundry and that good old close-harmony tear-jerker, ‘Whispering Hope’. “Too hard!” you say. “The man was moved”.

Right. In the recent polls his party were moved to a place lower than (I can hardly bring myself to say this without reaching for a grubby hanky) Fianna Fail. But there’ve been others who’ve opened the tear ducts in public. 

Ed Muskie, you’ll remember if you’re old enough, had tears streaming down his face in  1972, when he stood amid the snow of New Hampshire and defended his wife from criticism. He always claimed it was snow melting on his face, not tears; but either way it finished his presidential hopes. Maggie Thatcher had a dewy eye twice - once when her son Mark got lost in some remote place, and once when she got the heave-ho from Downing Street. “It’s a funny old world” she said as she bit her lower lip.

And on the subject of biting lower lips (their own), both Bill and Hillary Clinton could turn on the taps when necessary. “I’m so proud of her” Bill said, wiping away a tear when Hillary won the New Hampshire primary in 2008. Earlier in that primary, Hillary herself got a bit lachrymose. “I just don’t want to see us fall backward as a nation. I mean, this is very personal for me. Not just political”.

In Australia, Prime Minister Bob Hawke blubbered on TV when admitting to an extra-marital affair. “I’m only human” he told the interviewer. It worked - he won his fourth consecutive election victory the following year. 

Nearer home, you’ll remember,  QE2 got some stick for not crying when Princess Di came to a sticky end in that Parisian tunnel.  Both David Cameron and Ed Balls  claim to be wet-faced  heaps when they watch The Sound of Music.Jeffrey Archer, novelist,  Tory and former jail-bird says he gets very weepy watching washing-up liquid ads. “There is one where a mother washes up with her little girl. I always wanted a daughter - I burst into tears when I see it”. Fianna Fail's Senator Tom Fitzgerald was full of tears when Charlie Haughey resigned from office, and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was overcome during an RTÉ interview in 2006 as he considered his past: "It was a very dark period for me, a very sad period for me". Cue widespread sympathy for Bertie.

Will present-Taoiseach  Enda’s choke-up last night result in a Fine-Gael-favouring swing in the polls? If it does I’ll be inconsolable.  

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Psst, Mike. Wanna bet?

Mike Nesbitt is a nice man. Or he was a nice man when he used to work for the BBC. At that time I found him pleasant, friendly and intelligent. Have I changed my mind since those far-off days? Mmm, not sure. But he’s certainly doing all he can to get me thinking differently.

Since becoming UUP  leader he’s managed to lose Ken Magennis, David McNarry, John McCallister and Basil McCrea from the party. These losses came for many reasons but principally because of thinking which sent Mike into a huddle with Peter Robinson, after which they selected an ‘agreed‘ unionist candidate for the coming election in Mid-Ulster. Were these losses worth the possible gain in selection agreed-man Nigel Lutton?  Mike thinks so because...

Well, the because of it is a bit hard to spot.  Nigel Lutton is not going to beat Francie Molloy of Sinn Féin to the seat in Mid-Ulster. Willie McCrea in his, um, not-totally-gracious speech after being defeated by Martin McGuinness for the seat in 1997, warned the electorate of Mid-Ulster that if they lay down with dogs, they would rise up with fleas. For sixteen years now the voters of Mid-Ulster appear happy to carry on scratching,  including scratching their voting mark against name of Martin McGuinness. 

But Mike Nesbitt is now hopeful all this may change. 

“Nigel Lutton has worked for many Catholic victims. He’s worked for WAVE, which is absolutely across all sections of our community, he has worked for victims in Mid-Ulster, both Protestant and Catholic, and I see no reason why you would assume that Catholics or indeed that some nationalists would not vote for Nigel Lutton, particularly nationalists who would prefer that their Member of Parliament sat on the green benches once in a while”. 

Basil McCrea begs to differ. In fact, he believes the selection of an ‘agreed’ unionist candidate will work against unionism. “From the experience of Fermanagh/South Tyrone we have seen that unionist unity candidates tend to energise the electoral opponents more than their own supporters”.

I think Basil (another nice man) has got it right on this one. Those of you who know me will know that I am not normally a betting man. But I am prepared to bet Mike Nesbitt  £50 at odds of 5-1 that Nigel Lutton, despite all those Catholic and nationalist votes he sees swinging behind unionism, will be defeated on 7 March. Over to you, Mike.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Polls apart

In the run-up to the 1997 Westminster election, the Labour Party used play over and over the pop tune Things Can Only Get Better by D-Ream. It was a bouncy, driving number and it caught something of the rising hopes of the Labour Party at the time. Is it possible that the Fianna Fail party have been sitting  in smoke-filled rooms for the last couple of years,  listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass? If they have, it’s worked. According to the last opinion poll, Fianna Fail were at 26% - the most popular political party in the twenty-six counties. 

You heard me -  Fianna Fail are top of the heap. Ahead of everyone, including Fine Gael (25%) and Sinn Féin (18%), with the Labour Party vanishing at speed  with 10%.  That’s Fianna Fail, the party that lost 51 seats in the general election in 2011, the party that arranged for the twenty-six counties to  morph from Celtic Tiger to €85 billion-in-debt arthritic mouse. The party whose very name, two short years ago, was enough to bring the southern electorate out in hives. How did they do it, you may be wondering. How did they climb out of the pit that just two years ago looked as though it might be their grave?

Well, there are a number of reasons. One is their leader. Brian Cowen was generally acknowledged to be a smart man but he looked...rough. Biffo, they called him, and Fianna Fail couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. So they installed instead Micheál Martin.  Micheál is the opposite of Biffo. He’s a soft-boiled-egg man.  Close your eyes and you could be listening to Jack Lynch. Or even, accents aside,  Enda Kenny. Both  guys are difficult to hate. It can be done but you have to work at it.  A bare 1% separates their parties  and you could say  the same thing about their leaders. Peas from the same pod. 

While the two parties grew from opposing sides in the Civil War, that was a long time ago. Now, it’s the similarities between them that impress. Remember how Fianna Fail warned that, due to the mess they’d made of things, hair-shirts were going to be the order of the day? And  Fine Gael  threw its collective hands up in horror, before winning the election and implementing those very same policies. A final binding element for both men and their parties? They are united in detestation of Sinn Féin. 

That’s because Sinn Féin  could do the one thing successive governments in the south have been desperately trying to avoid:  bring the north down south. Not literally but by being an all-Ireland party,  by walking in muddy boots all over the traditional  carpet of southern politics, by raising the north as an issue in the Dail.  Sinn Féin have done terrible things to the blood pressure of Enda and Micheál and even little Eamon. 

So. Is that it? Will Fianna Fáil arise from their political dead and win power next time out with an electorate sickened by the gap between Fine Gael rhetoric pre- the 2011 election and Fine Gael action post- the 2011 election? Who can say? Sometimes it seems that much of the electorate in the south is suffering from political Alzheimer’s, given its readiness to forget the truly mortal sins of the Soldiers of Destiny. Maybe, when the next general election rolls around, Fianna Fail will return to power as though nothing had changed. If Peter Robinson could survive Irisgate and those 40,000 leaflets, why not  Fianna Fail, despite their taking a wrecking ball to the south’s economy? 

But Sinn Féin can take one consolation from that 18%. There was a time when wise heads in the north explained that the Shinners had peaked in Northern politics when they hit 19%. There were people who predicted - even bet money - that Sinn Féin would lose their remaining four seats in the 2007 election to the Dail. 

The one thing we can be sure of is that we’ll be surprised. Otherwise we’d scrap elections and save money by using opinion polls instead. Scottish independence would be dead as a dodo, the Irish border would be permanently in place, and we could all stay at home and watch the Brit Awards. But we don’t and we won’t, because,  as  Chuck Berry sang so long ago,  “You Never Can Tell”.

Friday, 15 February 2013

More questions than answers

I have a question: why is Sean Kelly hated so much by unionists? “He murdered nine innocent people,you idiot!” might seem a reasonable reply. Except that my dictionary describes murder as “the unlawful premeditated murder of one person by another”. What Kelly did was unlawful - he helped carry a bomb into a crowded area of people - but the premeditated bit is slightly less clear. He was bent on killing people, but the people he killed weren’t those he had premeditated on killing. The reason behind the bomb was that it would catch a UDA meeting that was said to be happening above the fish shop in the Shankill. Those were the people that Kelly and his companion Thomas Begley were intent on killing, not the people in the fish shop. Then the bomb went off prematurely. The evidence for this is that they very nearly were both killed themselves in the blast. If that is the case - and it seems to me impossible to construct it any other way - then Kelly was not guilty of the premeditated killing of the ten people  - including his companion - who died. He was guilty of the premeditated intention to kill the UDA people but failed. Only if you ignore that fact does the unique hatred he generates make sense. 

Here’s another (unrelated) question: why does Peter Robinson say the arrest of Kelly puts the whole peace process in jeopardy? Oh, that’s easy. It might mean that the young man shot was the victim of an IRA unit - a non-dissident IRA unit. A they-haven’t-gone-away-you-know unit. Which would be terrible, because the IRA is supposed to have decommissioned and disbanded years ago. Mmm. Assuming that the First Minister got that one right - a big assumption -  why was he not on his feet saying the peace process was in jeopardy when the flag protestors, who by general consent were being supported in their actions by the UVF, were going about their merry work? Not a peep out of him. Or at least not a peep about that. Lots of peeps about the Alliance Party, and after them about Sinn Féin and the SDLP being deliberately provocative. But the UVF? Ach sure they’re OK. They’re on the side of the forces of law and order. Even if they did toss a petrol bomb into a car in which sat a police officer. 

And a last one. Why are the DUP and the UUP fielding a joint candidate in Mid-Ulster? It clearly can’t be about winning the seat, since last time out  Sinn Féin won by a country mile over the combined unionist vote. That was back in the days when Martin McGuinness was the hate figure of unionist politicians. In fact, I can still see and hear Willie McCrea make his gracious acknowledgement of defeat, when Martin McGuinness first won,  by telling the Mid-Ulster electorate that if they “lay down with dogs they would get up with fleas”. In which case there must have been a lot of scratching going on in Mid-Ulster over the years.  But back to the question: why are the DUP and the UUP field a joint candidate? Who just happens to have some fairly noticeable links with the DUP? Because Mike Nesbitt clearly has a political death-wish. Not content with a party that’s in tatters anyway, he now is busy shooing that party towards the gaping mouth of Peter Robinson,who will swallow them whole before congratulating the unionist community on their wisdom in singling out his party, the DUP, as the only true voice of unionism. 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Will Buckingham Palace go green?

“I’m sitting by the telephone/Waitin’ for a call from you” - aren’t those two lines from some old song - Fats Waller, maybe? Anyway they’re true of me this morning - I’m sitting here waiting for a call from the Nolan Show. (Which, like Fats Waller’s call, may never come. Life’s like that.)

If I am called, the topic for discussion is this request by Tourism Ireland that Buckingham Palace go green for St Patrick’s Day. I gather they’re not actually talking about Buck House being given a paint-over: the play of several green lights on the building should do the job. 

What will I say? Well, if I get the chance I’ll point out that the whole aim behind this request is to boost tourism figures. Under that heading, it’d be a considerably cheaper option than QE2’s visit to Dublin. Like the greening of Buck House, the royal visit was sold to the Irish people as a way of generating increased tourism. Yes, it’d cost the state somewhere around €25 million euro, but think of the money from increased British visitors, who’d flock to follow their monarch’s footsteps. Except that what actually happened over the past year was, British tourism to Ireland went down 3%. Oops.  Sorry about that €25 million, folks. 

It’s not just Buck House that’s been asked to go green on Paddy’s Day. Sydney Opera House, Niagara Falls, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Little Mermaid statue in in Copenhagen, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio  - all are going to go green. And if it’s good enough for Christ the Redeemer, you’d think it’d be  good enough for Queen Elizabeth. 

The objection that’s being raised is that the queen doesn’t do commercial stuff. Right. Like,  monarchists don’t keep telling us how useful the Royals are in drawing tourists from around the world? And we’re forever hearing of various members of the royal brood heading off to somewhere “on a trade mission”. Though I would have thought the sight of Prince Andrew would be enough to stop the strongest trade deal square in its tracks.

But it’s here, in our own tormented little corner, that the main opposition will surely come. Having Her Majesty’s residence lit up all in green!  How dare they.  Where’s the respect? And what about those of us who don’t subscribe to a green agenda?

Relax, guys. I’ve thought this one through. If Her Maj does give the thumbs up to green spotlights on Buck House come Paddy’s Day, that could be counterbalanced by having it bathed in orange on the Twelfth. All right? Even the Alliance Party could hardly improve on that - perfect balance. And in the intervening months, Buckingham Palace will be its normal creamy-white self. So that’s green, white and orange. Sunds like a nice combination of colours to me. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ian Paisley Jr, 1912, 1916 and all that

[This is an abridged version of the interview with Mr Paisley in my book 'Whose Past Is It Anyway?]

I have to wait an extra half hour to see Ian Paisley Jr., I’m not sure why. But eventually I get to the inner office and he leans back in his chair and eyes my microphone. Am I planning to broadcast this? I reassure him that no, as I mentioned in the letter it’s for getting interviews for my book.   I start by asking him if politics was discussed in his house when he was growing up. “Funny enough - not at all!” He laughs at his own joke for a few moments, then becomes more serious. 

“I grew up in a situation where there were police guards at our house, where for a period of time I had to go to school in the back of a police car. So that obviously had an impact, especially when I was a very young child. When your father carries a weapon - a gun - and you see that as a child, it does provoke thoughts as to why.”

He goes on to contrast that with his daughter’s experience of growing up. 

“Two years ago my daughter said to me ‘Dad, I’m doing something in school in my history class. What were the Troubles?’  It was a word she’d never heard, because it was history she was talking about, it wasn’t actuality. She was fifteen then and her words were quite inspiring”.

When we talking of the signing of the Covenant, he stresses the range of people who signed it: “The tycoons of industry, influential religious figures on the Protestant and Evangelical and Episcopalian side. Not only captains of industry and people of religion, but major politicians, from prime ministers down - I mean really significant figures. My grandfather signed the Covenant in his own blood. I think I’m entitled to say what that means to me, not to be told by someone what it means to me, and I think that will be the feeling that will influence most people”.

I ask if commemoration of the signing of the Covenant - or other centenaries - might deepen division between people here. 

“We’re a divided people anyway. What is important is how it’s handled and how it’s managed. The fact that the union is so safe now - for a whole host of reasons, including the outcome of the political negotiations and the economic situation that we find ourselves in today - means that I don’t think commemoration poses a threat”.

We move on to the subject of the Easter Rising. 

“It was very much a case of ‘England’s disadvantage, Ireland’s advantage’, and there’s the view that the Easter Rising was the stab in the back.” He has no problem with the Irish government - “the current Irish government in the Republic of Ireland”  - organising commemoration and celebration of the event. “But there was hardly anything of a Rising in Ulster, and to try to portray something up here that didn’t occur would be the airbrushing and rewriting of history...I’ve absolutely no doubt that some people will want to usurp the occasion and use it as a political tool; we have to caution against that and say that would be silly. That’s why I think the government in the south should take command and drive it. If they don’t, they will be the biggest losers”. 

Would he be interested in attending any of the ceremonies around the Easter Rising commemoration? 

“I don’t see why I would be inspired to attend. I’ve read about that history. It’d almost be like going and celebrating and understanding what happened in some of the death camps. I’ve always wanted to avoid going to Auschwitz. I’m just saying there are parts of history I’ll learn about, read about, understand. There are dark parts of history that wouldn’t inspire me to want to go and see it, or to want to go and commemorate it, but I would still want to understand it.”

He sees the commemoration of both the signing of the Covenant and the Easter Rising as preludes.

“I actually think that 2020 - whatever happens around that celebration or recognition - is probably going to be the most telling one. Because that was about cutting the island and saying that’s how the succession will be handled, that’s how it will be cut. I suppose these are two dry runs - 1912 and 1916 - for how we handle the big one in 2020.”

He stresses the complexity of history, both for unionists and nationalists. 

“I studied what happened with Pearse. i think he was a lunatic. There are other people, however, who fought at the Easter Rising who had what I can only describe as noble ideals...I’ve seen the same thing all over the African continent where people awoke and said ‘No, we want to move away from this imperialism’.  I can understand that. But I can also say that Pearse was, in my view, a madman. In his own writings he compares his blood to that of Christ’s. Those are the words of a lunatic. I mean, he was going there deliberately to die. You go into battle to win - even if you know you’re going to die”. And he laughs again. 

He doesn’t think any of the centenaries will do anything to change people’s views. “There might be a few people around the fringes who’ll say ‘Ah I get it now!’  Will it make republicans become unionists or unionists become more republican? I doubt it”.

He believes that, as the government in the south should “drive”  2016 commemorations, so the government in Westminster should “drive” centenary commemorations. “Can an Executive that’s made up in the way ours is drive it? I don’t think it can, because of the complexities and differences that exist”. 

He doesn’t believe that the centenaries will lead to a fresh version of the Troubles. 

“I heard all this before Her Majesty’s visit: ‘Oh, this could spark things off. It’s not the right time.’ It happened, it passed and I think it’s been an acclaimed success. While I don’t know if these centenary commemorations will be on the same par, who knows? But they have the potential to be really positive and they have the potential to be positive marketing tools as well. Why not seize the opportunity?”

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Never mind the Pope - God save the Church

I'm just off The Jeremy Vine Show  on BBC Radio 2, where I was debating the needs of the Catholic Church. My sparring partner was a young (I think) Englishman who appears to embrace the Church as it is. Maybe it's different in England. In Ireland, the Catholic Church is on the ropes.

Let's, with an effort, leave aside the clerical sexual abuse scandal - not because it doesn't matter but because it has been highlighted already as a ghastly stain on the Church. (Mind you, you're more liable to be abused by a relative than by a Catholic priest.) A number of things about the Catholic Church in Ireland appall me.

1. Its attitude to young people. Or rather non-attitude. Young people of Catholic background very largely find the Church at best boring and irrelevant, at worst cold and repellent. The Church's response? Nothing. Zilch. Rien. I know there are honourable exceptions to this but for the most part, young people leave the Church to the oldies.
2. Democracy. Or rather, non-democracy. From the Pope at the top to the parish priest at grassroots level, there's an obsession with keeping control, making sure those seen as further down the faith ladder don't come tramping where they don't belong. The windows of the Church which John XXIII tried to fling open have been nailed shut. Priests like Tony Flannery, Owen O'Sullivan, Brian D'Arcy have been silenced. Even to discuss topics such as celibacy, women priests, homosexuality is, to use Thatcher's word, out.

3. The liturgy. The Mass for young people particularly, but for older people too, is often a total yawn. Pope Benedict's intervention recently, making sure that jaw-breakers like 'consubstantial' were inserted into the wording, sums it up. And no, I don't know the answer to it all. But I know what I don't like.

I could go on but life is short. Anyone who thinks that by clinging to the orthodox, following the rules 'faithfully', putting your brain in neutral, is deluding themselves.  There are good and even heroic priests  and Catholic people in Ireland. But as an institution, the Catholic Church in Ireland is a mess.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Pope Benedict packs it in

The most telling tweet I read today was from Alastair Campbell. It said “Anyone who thinks religion not relevant to modern life (writes a pro-faith atheist) just look at how Pope announcement is dominating all”. And he was right. When the news of Pope Benedict’s planned retirement broke, Twitter had tweet after tweet after tweet on the subject. I’ve never seen it that one-topic.

So. Am I glad or sad he’s going? I could say ‘sad’, in that I believe he’s a sincere and holy man, and a man of considerable intellect. But my main emotion is one of gladness. Despite his quiet charm (which floored most of Britain that time he visited them) and despite the great charisma of Pope John Paul II, their terms as Pope were not good for the Catholic Church. In the early 1960s, that extraordinary man Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council to, as he put it, open the windows of the Church and allow the fresh air of renewal to invigorate it.  Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI did all they could to close those windows. Dissent, even discussion was forbidden; good and thoughtful people were not allowed even to discuss such burning issues as married priests or the ordination of women. I don’t for a moment believe that either of those steps would remedy all the ills of the Catholic Church, but to block discussion and real involvement by gifted people was misguided and counter-productive. 

So will I feel bad as Pope Benedict rides off into the sunset? Not really. He’s 85 years old. In any other profession to retire at that age would be seen as long overdue. I have no doubt that Benedict did good things in his term of office - among them addressing the issue of child abuse -  but he didn’t do the kind of things that would bring back to the Catholic Church people (particularly young people) who have abandoned it, nor did he encourage structures that would have allowed the Church at grass-roots level to be the people of God rather than the parish priest. The one thing the Catholic Church truly needs is a vigorous and abiding blast of democracy, and neither the present Pope nor the one before provided that. In fact they did all they could to block it. 

The question now is, will the next Pope provide a new beginning? I’d like to think so, except that the overwhelming majority of the College of Cardinals, who vote in Gregory’s successor, have been appointed by John Paul or Gregory. The sign are not good.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Chris, Gerry, the Pope and lies

Funny old thing, lying. When I was a youngster I used read books where Englishmen would blow their top if accused in this way. “Are you calling me a liar, sir??” Pistols at dawn and all that. And of course we were brought up with a catechism which told us that “No reason or motive can excuse a lie”.  Which always presented me with a problem on those occasions a female looked me in the eye and asked “Does my bum look big in this?” 

Ten years ago Chris Huhne got his wife to take a speeding fine for him and lied that she’d been the driver of the car at the time.One thing has led to another, and now from being a runner for the top post with the Lib Dems, he’s had to resign his seat and is probably on his way to prison.   Closer to home and on the back of an opinion poll, the Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has told journalists “I have watched Sinn Féin in the North, all they have been about there is getting votes and securing power”. Later on in the same interview he added “I have no interest in just winning votes”.  Would you say Micheal himself believes both those statements?

Which brings us to Gerry Adams and the Pope. Gerry Adams has repeatedly said he wasn’t in the IRA, a statement which the media world  and beyond have declared a lie. And while Pope Pius XII has been denounced by many as anti-Semitic during WW2, a report in today’s Observer suggests that he wasn’t, and in fact arranged for fake baptism certificates to be issued to hundreds of Jews hidden in Italy, got fabricated Vatican documents to 2,000 Jews in Hungary identifying them as Catholics, and was involved with the hiding of 4,000 Jews in convents and monasteries across Italy. Or to put it another way, Pope Pius XII concocted lies about thousands of Jews.

And I haven’t even mentioned the matter of pleading “Not guilty” in court. If you know you’re guilty and say you're not, that’s clearly a lie. But you’ve employed a lawyer to fight your case; if you start by pleading Guilty, the show is over before it’s started.

You see where I’m going with this? Strictly speaking, lies are woven into the fabric of all our lives. Lies can be told to impress the electorate, lies can be told to save lives, lies can be told to protect yourself from prosecution. Not to mention a kick in the teeth should you say “Yes, your bum does look big in that. Enormous, in fact”.

So I do hope the next interviewer to ask Gerry Adams the well-worn “Were you in the IRA?” question will keep those complexities in mind. Even though I'm certain they won’t. And that’s the truth.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Gerry Adams on the Marian Finucane Show

   I caught only part of that interview today of Gerry Adams on the Marian Finucane Show. What I heard followed the usual pattern, much of it about Adams’s past in or not in the IRA. And there was some stuff about him having a holiday home in Donegal, which I gathered by inference is something you’re not supposed to have, and about him having been treated in a private medical clinic in the US, which apparently is something you’re not supposed to do either, and where did you get the big money for that anyway?

But while those were interesting questions and the way Adams dealt with them was interesting, I thought the key moment of the interview was when Adams said a word I don’t think I’ve heard on Finucane’s show before. I can’t remember what the question was but I remember the Sinn Féin president’s answer.

He was talking about the day the British Army came to his family home and arrested, I think he said, his father and his brother. “They wrecked the place completely.  They shit on the couch, they urinated on the curtains, they smashed religious pictures and statues. They wrecked the place completely”.
I’ve put that in quotation marks although I’m not sure if those were his exact words. But that was the essence of what he said. 

I thought it was remarkable because it brought alive, maybe for the first time to a southern audience, what life was like for many nationalists and republicans during the years of the Troubles. Everyone or nearly everyone has a home. And most people have small things - pictures, ornaments, furniture - that they’re fond of and sometimes proud of. What Adams’s sketch of what happened to his parents' home did was ask an unspoken question: How would you react if some people came into your home and did that?  To which he might have added “And how would you feel if 30,000 British soldiers took over South Dublin?” 

I do hope that helps bring home to southern listeners the sense of helpless rage that so many people must have felt, after being paid a visit by British squaddies. Of course, in comparison to the lives that were taken on all sides during the Troubles, the trashing of a house is nothing. But it’s still an interesting question to ponder: How would you react if that happened to your house?

(I know I shouldn’t but my inner teacher demands I do: the past tense of “shit”, Gerry,  is “shat”, not “shit”. Just sayin’, like.) 
Here's the interview link - thanks to Paul Evans : http://www.rte.ie/radio1/marian-finucane/

Normal service etc

Apologies if you've recently posted a comment that doesn't show. There's some glitch in the system which I'm hoping will be repaired swiftly.  Meanwhile, take out your 2-minute packet of popcorn, settle back in your two-minute seat and have a good laugh/nod approvingly/ shout obscenities at the clip below...

Friday, 8 February 2013

Michael Noonan: man of analogies

I expect you have an Economics degree. You haven’t? Me neither. Which means we’re probably equally confused by the deal the twenty-six counties has just brought back from Brussels.

Michael Noonan at a press conference  yesterday explained what it was and what it wasn’t.  It wasn’t what Pearse Doherty said it was - kicking the can further down the road, agreeing not to pay off a huge chunk of debt more or less right now but agreeing to pay off a huge chunk of debt several decades later. 

Michael used two homely comparisons that an economic illiterate like myself can at least try to grasp. The first was “Supposing I said to Pearse ‘I’ll lend you €1000 and you can pay me back next month or  in forty years time' - which do you think he’d take?”  I could follow that. Pearse would take the second option, because in forty years time even youthful Pearse mightn’t be around. I had a private thought that Pearse’s children and grandchildren might be around and mightn't thank him, but I pushed that out of my mind, seeing Michael hadn’t mentioned it. 

The other homely analogy was with, yes, Michael’s home. He explained about how he’d bought a house forty or something years ago, and it cost him £3,000. So he paid a manageable mortgage for several decades, but when it came to paying off the principal sum, it was just a month of his wages as a teacher. Inflation, you see, after forty years, making what looks big potatoes forty years ago turn out to be small spuds today.

I found those two analogies helpful as long as I didn’t start thinking around them. The “I lend you €1000” one, for example. Great in one way - but the €1000 is still going to have to be paid off, so I’m saddling my yet-unborn children/grandchildren with my debt.  Mmm. Don’t like the sound of that much. And by the way, if you get a loan from people, don’t they usually ask you to pay interest on it? My bank does, anyway. Funny Michael didn’t mention the interest. He probably forgot, what with all that chatting up and out-manoeuvring all them foreigners.

The one about the house is a good one too - even with the housing crash, we still marvel at the price we paid for our house thirty or forty years ago, compared with what even a modest house costs now. But then I began to think about the many ‘How To Manage Your Money’ columns in weekend magazines that I’d read over the years, and how they’d all urged me to get shot of debt - on my credit card, on my car, on my house - as quickly as possible, because interest piles up the longer you leave it. In fact, I remember doing a tot-up on my own house and discovering that with interest, I was paying more than twice as much for it. And I remember not too long ago - oh happy day! - when  I finally got finished with the goddam mortgage, and the relief of taking that particular financial albatross from around my neck. 

So I was just wondering, like: has Michael done a tot-up of how much money the Irish people will be shelling out in interest over the years? And we’re really talking years and years here - I’ll certainly be dead before the debt is finally paid, and chances are you will be too, except you’ve got a face still spattered with adolescent acne, in which case why aren’t you out having fun instead of reading this?

I’ve thought and thought about it and I’ve decided that there’s a curse on the Irish people. One minute they’re one of the richest countries in the world, the next they’re landing head-first in the financial basement. And it’s going to take until 2056, I think Michael said,  before finally getting out of that basement. So here’s the thing: what did the Irish people do to deserve all this suffering and deprivation, to be handed on from generation to generation? Well, nothing really. It was the banks and the big developers who somehow landed the twenty-six counties’ people in this awful financial debt. So what else would you call it, if  from earning a decent wage you’re suddenly told you’re up against the wall and you and the fruit of your loins will have to start paying huuuuuge sums, even though some other sons-of-bitches ran the debt up, not you? And the government manages to present this information in a way that makes it look like a huge success

I think Michael should take on that curse idea as well as the lending-€1000-to-Pearse and his Me-And-My-House story. Blame it all on a wicked fairy, Michael. We’re as likely to believe that as the line we’re presently being spun. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Scot Nats: from vision to nuts-and-bolts.

Well, well, well. You have to hand it to the Scot Nats. Not only have they screwed an independence referendum out of David Cameron, to happen next year, but they’ve now provided a detailed programme of what would happen until Scotland formally declared itself an independent nation. And that would be? The Spring of 2016. To quote our former President of Ireland: wow. And wow again.

Needless to say,  the opponents of the Scot Nats, the Labour party and what’s left of the Tories, are full of condemnation for this sort of talk. It’s a distraction, they say, from the real concerns people have, which are economic.

Well, if they’re right, the Scottish people will ignore all that planning-for -independence  and let the Scots Nats know so at the polls next year, when their independence referendum is held. Of course, Labour and the Tories in Scotland assume that the Scottish populace are incapable of thinking of and dealing with two things at the same time; that they can be and are concerned for their jobs, for housing, for education - all the bread and butter stuff - while at the same time having a real and passionate interest in whether they should run their own country or not. 

All of this, of course, will have considerable repercussions for us in the north of Ireland. Alex Salmond has given the Scottish population a two or was it three-year run at the independence referendum. If we can manage to  um, screw assent from the lovely Theresa Villiers, then we’d be having our own independent Ireland referendum around, um, Spring of 2016. Should the Scots vote in favour of independence, they will be putting in place their full independence in the same year and at the same time of year that we’ll be (i) Commemorating the men and women of the 1916 Rising; and (ii) Looking across that narrow strip of water and noting how the removal of Scotland will have turned Great Britain into Not-Quite-So-Great Britain. 

All this is predicated on the Scots voting for independence next year. If the polls are to believed, at present 47% of Scots don’t want constitutional change and 32% do.  So are the Scot Nats not counting their cake before the thing is even baked?

Well not necessarily. They have over a year in which to turn around those figures, if as I say they’re accurate. There will be the mother and father of all debates about the issue in Scotland,and assuming that the Scottish people are open-minded and prepared to look at the facts, a year could seem a very very long time in politics, especially for Labour and the Tories. 

Should Scotland vote for independence? I think they should, not because   I’ve done the math, as the Yanks say, but because I think grown-up nations should be allowed to act grow-up. But the worst that could happen from the point of view of pro-independence Scots is that the case for independence will have been looked at carefully by Scots, compared with the present arrangement, and a decision arrived at. That’s so much more adult an approach than dealing in slogans or pointing to media polls.  

And what’s sauce for the Scots goose is surely sauce for the Irish gander?  If the Scots were to make decisions by opinion polls, they’d scrap their plans for implementation of  independence and they’d bin the whole idea of a referendum as well.  But being a sensible people, they know that decisions are best made in the ballot box. And that its verdict, whatever it is, will be respected by all Scots.  

Would it be asking too much that our border poll should follow similar lines and after careful and extended discussion, the choice made by the people and the democratic verdict of the people accepted?  History offers us a dusty answer to that one, I’m afraid.