Jude Collins

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Running and cogitating

Well phew. And pant and gasp. Yesterday I did the Omagh Half-Marathon on behalf of Trócaire ( and thanks yet again to the generous sponsors of my run, we smashed the £1000 target and are currently sitting around £1750. If you haven’t donated and would like to, you can do it at  http://www.trocaire.org/sponsor-me/judejcollins/omagh-half-marathon .

What was it like? Long. And painful. I gather there’s a torture technique, used in places like Iraq, which involve slapping hard on the soles of the victim’s feet. That’s what it was like. There must be an answer in terms of cushioning your ageing soles against ground-smack. If you know tell me, or my running career just did its swan-song yesterday. 

This morning I was on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’s ‘Sunday Sequence’ with Andrew Dougal, CEO of NI Chest Heart and Stroke.  Appropriately enough we were discussing - no, not torture - charities and their place in our society. Andrew naturally argued the case for them and the good they do. Who could quarrel with that? Seeing a need and responding to it goes back to the Good Samaritan. But - and this was what I argued - this often opens the doors for government to cut back on funding for the area in question. What does it say about a society when it spends billions on weapons of death and leaves the purchase of cancer-treatment equipment to local generosity? Reverse it for a year and let’s see. Have the government pump money directly into hospital equipment/addressing poverty and have a Defence-Forces-in Need day, where celebs can dance and sing and dress up, and the donations be passed on to the Defence Forces. Or does our society believe in giving death-dealing equipment more support than it does life-giving? 

What we didn’t get round to discussing - and I wish we had - was the philanthropy of massively rich individuals. In one sense as well as being fashionable in the US of late,  it’s a good thing; in another it’s a display of power, of the loaded one’s pity for unfortunates not as rich as him/herself. Doing good, as someone once said, “with thunderous stealth”. With probably some tax advantage lurking in the shrubbery.  Until governments decide to arrange long-term policies so that the injustice at the heart of these matters at home and abroad are addressed, we'll be saving one beaten-up beggar and there'll be another ten thousand waiting down the line. 

We see people’s principles, George Bernard Shaw said, not by what they profess but how they live their lives. If the same goes for societies, the Western World has some pretty ghastly principles.  

Friday, 29 March 2013

President Obama: should we listen but not see?

I sometimes have to struggle to stop myself going with the more-pleasing vision of things,  rather than accept the sadly-more-sour reality. An example? I found myself moved when Barack Obama made his victory speech after being elected president for the first time. That huge crowd, those Afro-Americans in tears, the great hope of a bright new day after the bumbling and bellicose Bush.  I was glad, too, to see him win out over Mitt Plastic-man Romney. In his second and final term, I thought, Obama'll come through. He'll live up to that bit about talking to one's enemies rather than resorting to force against them. 
And today I feel myself being nudged towards the more-pleasing vision. The American president tells us  "The people of Northern Ireland and their leaders have travelled a great distance over the past fifteen years. Step by step, they have traded bullets for ballots, destruction and division for dialogue and institutions, and pointed the way toward a shared future for all...On behalf of the American people, I salute the people and leaders of Northern Ireland and the model they have given to others struggling toward peace and reconciliation around the world."
Gives you a warm glow, doesn't it? The man who overcame all the odds to become American President, supporting us in our peace-and-reconciliation efforts. A warm glow providing, that is,  you don't look at Obama's drone-work in Pakistan. No, not home-work, drone-work.  There, well over 3,000 people have been killed during his time in office. The claim is that the drone-attacks are taking out  (aka killing) the bad guys - al qaeda activists. There's truth in this. There's also the awkward fact that if a drone demolishes a house containing an al qaeda activist and at the same time demolishes a house next door containing, say,  six adult males who are leading peaceful lives,  those six adult males are counted as al quaeda activists. This gets round the tedious notion of having to talk about drones doing "collateral damage". Mind you, we're still left with a lot of dead women and children but hey, nobody's perfect.

So that's the reality. The man who's praising us for our drive towards peace and reconciliation, and promising his support and that of his country as we do so, is in charge of a foreign policy that kills people in their thousands, many of them innocent people, and then lies about what's been done. This man is also ultimately responsible for Guantanamo Bay,  a torture centre which he promised he would close if elected. 
I know the world of politics and power is a rough old world, but I think there's a strong stench of hypocrisy comes with high words from a man who presides over so much continuing pain and death, much of it inflicted on innocent people. And I know T S Eliot said humankind cannot bear too much reality. But sometimes you have to grit your teeth and see the world as it is. Fifteen years ago a peace process was put together, with considerable American help.  It looks as if the Yanks were implementing a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do policy. 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Alan Shatter, his wife and some gardaí

The south’s Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, has a soft voice and an ego as big as the Ritz. When four representatives of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors ( AGSI) walked out on him at their conference, he said he was glad he hadn’t brought his wife, presumably since she was even more sensitive to the “discourtesy” of the garda representatives than he is.

AGSI president Tim Galvin sees things a bit differently. With more than a hundred garda stations closed last month, he said to Shatter: “You told us the lack of consultation in relation to the first series of closures would not be repeated and that we would be updated and kept informed. Twelve months on nothing has changed. Your words were lies”.

And wouldn’t you know it: power sucks up to power. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has expressed his outrage at the “discourtesty” to Shatter and there’s talk of tough disciplining of the four representatives who walked out. 

All this bluster, of course, is to put the frighteners on the upcoming conference of rank-and-file gardaí who are traditionally more militant than the AGSI. We can only pray that they tell Shatter where to put his umbrage.

Of starfish, masochism and a final call

OK people. Der Tag minus 2 and counting. Forty-eight hours from now will find me girding what are left of my loins and heading towards my native town of Omagh. Shortly after getting there I will force my ageing body into two hours of serious pain which will end either with a discreet funeral (no flowers please) or my form collapsed in a corner of Omagh Leisure Centre sucking on a free bottle of Lucozade and trying not to slip into unconsciousness.

Either way it'll all be in, as they say, a good cause. I'm indulging in this masochism to raise some money for Trocaire, who do sterling work in the developing world. OK, OK, I know - it's all only scratching the surface of things, governments should be driving global reform, trade should be organised so that charities to developing countries become superfluous. But they aren't and it isn't.

It's like the man who came on this young boy on the beach.  There are hundreds of starfish hpelessly stranded in the sand and he's picking them up one by slow one and throwing them back in the water. The man says "I can see you've a kind heart but you do realise  there are thousands, maybe millions of these stranded starfish all along the coastline? What you're doing will really make no difference".  The kid picks up another starfish and lobs it back into the sea before replying: "Well, it made a difference to that one".

So please, please, PLEASE click your way to the donation site. You'll see my goal is £1000 - not a lot of starfish there - and I'm still that bit short of it. If you don't want to think of your contribution as pushing me over the line, think of it as pushing me over a cliff. OK? But. Just. Do. It. You'll be literally saving/making lives that, without you, would struggle to get through another day.

The site is   http://www.trocaire.org/sponsor-me/judejcollins/omagh-half-marathon

Time is running out. I'm in your hands.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

I'm doing this for you. Honestly.

It’s a clenched-teeth laugh, the way politicians try to dress up self-interest as selflessness/ sacrifice in the party’s/country’s interests/ a decision taken with a considerable degree of reluctance.

Take David Milliband. He’s quitting British politics and going to the US.  His wife is American, both his children were born in America. But nice young(ish) David still makes it sound as though he’s clearing off for the benefit of his brother and the Labour Party.  It seems he ‘passionately’ wanted Labour to return to power and that he’s ‘proud’ of his brother Ed’s leadership. (David’s wife, on the other hand, is mooted to have described Ed winning the Labour leadership as an act of ‘unforgivable treachery’.)  While David’s been kicking his heels on the back benches of the House of Commons, he's managed to make near to £1million (on top of his MP's salary) on the speech-giving circuit  (£20,000 a pop, apparently). But if you think that's nice money, get this.  In the country he’s heading for, CEOs in big companies earn an average of nearly $13 million. You don’t need to be a mathematical whizz-kid to spot the difference. David’s on record as saying he felt he could be “most helpful to the [Labour] Party on the front line, in South Shields and around the country”. It’d be reasonable to assume that pulling  an annual $13 million salary would be even more helpful to the David Milliband household. 

Meanwhile, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were in Downing Street, trying to persuade David Cameron to let them lower the the corporation tax here. The south of Ireland has a 12 1/2% rate, as you probably know, while the north here is saddled with the British rate of  24%. Again, you don’t need to be a mathematical genius to see which is more attractive to investors. Cameron didn’t say yes - he said I’ll tell you after the Scottish referendum, which is well over a year away. Did he say that because he’s concerned for our economy here in the north? Uh-uh. He did it, not surprisingly, in Britain’s interests - or more specifically in England’s interests. Peter and Martin were disappointed, it’s said. They shouldn’t be. Yes, they’re right that a corporation tax of 12 1/2% , like that enjoyed by the south would have been beneficial here in the north. But surely they weren't  surprised that Cameron acted with an eye to England/Britain’s welfare rather than that of the north. Self-interest: that’s what David Milliband went for, that’s what David Cameron went for, that’s how the political world works.

Which is another good reason for us running our own affairs. 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Immigrants - what a shower, eh?

I’ve just come off the Nolan show on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster and I’m still hopping mad. Not because of the show itself but because of the topic. It was David Cameron’s immigration speech yesterday. 

David McNarry, who quit the UUP and, in search of a home, found UKIP, was also on, doing his best to make a case for (i) a lock-down on immigration into Britain; (ii) an exit from the EU by Britain. Both daft proposals, but UKIP have got the wind up Cameron, especially since the Eastleigh by-election, when UKIP took a massive 14% bite out of the vote. 

Cameron in response used his tough-on-immigrants speech - not unlike Enoch Powell’s infamous rivers-of-blood speech in 1968.   The impression left by Cameron’s speech was that immigrants were entering the UK and sucking on its life-blood through abuse of its social services. What's more he, Cameron,  was the man who would put a stop to it.

As is often the case with the British prime minister, pure waffle. The facts from his own government departments contradict him. Contrary to Cameron and popular mythology, immigrants to Britain over the past ten years are not welfare scroungers. Of the two million immigrants , a total of some 13,000 claimed Job Seekers’s Allowance - about half the rate of the indigenous population. Contrary to Cameron and popular mythology, immigrants are not a burden on a sorely-stretched NHS.  In fact, most immigrants are healthy young people who have little reason to use the NHS. All of 0.06% of the NHS budget goes on immigrants. 

Their contribution to the British economy, meanwhile, is considerable. The people who come to that country are in the vast majority of cases intent on securing a job. When they do, they pay taxes, they help revive the economy, they add energy and hard-work to the drive to bring Britain out of recession. And as the British population continues to age, they add their number as young people to support the increasing number of old people.

On the Nolan Show, David McNarry said he hoped I wasn’t associating him or UKIP with “rivers of blood or anything like that”. I didn’t get a chance to answer that so let me do so now. I am.  Powell’s speech and Cameron’s speech and the thrust of UKIP policy is anti-immigration. That’s not just misguided. It’s dangerous. 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Irony? No thanks, we're English

The English comment from time to time on the American inability to do irony but from time to time they show themselves numb to its existence. There’s a good example in this morning’s Guardian. The headline is ‘England-only MP votes needed for English legislation, commission says’ and it’s a report which looks at that old chestnut, the West Lothian question. Why, for example, should Scottish MPs be able to vote in the House of Commons on an issue affecting England but not themselves? This of course is what happens when you have devolution, so a commission headed by Sir William McKay says there should be restrictions on the rights of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs to influence or determine purely English legislation. It seems 81% of English voters either agree or agree strongly that Scottish MPs shouldn’t be allowed vote on English laws. 

You can see their point. No country likes to feel that foreigners are making decisions for them. The article goes on to remember how this controversy erupted a number of times in the past - “Once when John Reid, the Labour MP for Hamilton and Bellshill became English health secretary in 2003”.  You could see why the English were cheesed off - Scottish health was a matter for the Scots in the Scottish parliament, but English health was a matter for the English and the Scots in the UK parliament. 

And the irony? John Reid was Northern Ireland Secretary of State from 2001-2003. In other words, the people of the North of Ireland were having their affairs looked after by a Scottish MP. Although the Scottish bit was a coincidence - mainly they’ve been English. Humphrey Atkins, Peter (Clementine) Brooke, Douglas  Hurd, Tom King, Peter Mandelson, Theresa Villiers...To list more is beyond my energies. But while Northern Irish MPs are as much use in the Commons as a gaggle of eunuchs in a harem, the (usually English) Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has all sorts of powers -including the power to send people to prison.  Ask Marian Price if you don’t believe me. Meanwhile the scorching irony of the  situation - the endless procession of English/Scottish/Welsh Secretaries of State flying in to decide the affairs of the people on this side of the water - just passes the English by. 

You’d laugh if it wasn’t so serious.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Education? Mike'll fix it

So.  Now it can be told: Mike Nesbitt is going to sort education here. “Give it to us and we’ll fix it” he declares.  Mmm. That merits some thought. 

Firstly, is education here broken? I don’t think so.  I’ve seen the inside of more schools and classrooms here than most people, and  by and large, the pupils here are being served by teachers whose efforts sometimes qualify as heroic and habitually qualify as organised and intelligent. Which bit needs fixing, Mike? Anything to do with the odious 11+? 

Or maybe it’s dealing with the pressing problem of empty school places. I saw and heard John O’Dowd talk about same this morning on the telly and he made perfect sense. He said when he would decide which primary schools would close, he made clear that economics and numbers were only one or two among a range of criteria, that the schools which seemed under threat would have an opportunity, along with the surrounding community, to make the case for their continuance, and that only in the light of those conversations would he decide next autumn which would have to close. Sounded eminently reasonable to me. Maybe Mike things differently.

Of course the UUP leader is the product of the grammar school + Oxbridge system, which existed during his time and still exists to cream off the quality and the devil take the hindmost. A lot of working-class parents have been brain-washed into believing that their children “wouldn’t be fit” for the intellectual demands of grammar school, and the general population of the UK has been brainwashed into believing that an Oxbridge education is as good as it gets. In both cases, total balls. Ability responds to a whole range of elements, including expectation, support and self-belief. The child who was a bumbling  C-  can become an A+ or an E, depending on what and who surrounds him or her. As for Oxford and Cambridge colleges, many of the lecturers there  are so busy doing their research that their teaching is appalling, their rapport with students non-existent and their famous one-on-one seminars with students little beyond the student reading aloud an essay s/he’s written and the lecturer/prof  pointing out weaknesses. There are exceptions, of course, as there are in any situation; but the notion of Oxbridge invariably giving students a stimulating and wonderful education is a dreaming-spires myth. 

So I’d suggest Mike’s educational background might be more of a liability than anything else, in terms of the fixing-education issue.  Certainly he's done and said nothing so far to suggest he’d see to the heart of things where others have failed. No, what Mike’s doing is trying to grab at a Big Idea and use that as a life-belt, because he can feel his party and himself being whirled relentlessly towards the plug-hole of history. Let the UUP fix our education system? I wouldn’t let them fix a puncture on my bike.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Learning Irish: talk about pointless

What do you think of Gerry Adams’s Irish? You know, when he stands up in the Dail and talks for the first minute or two in the Irish language, before lapsing into English? 

Some people like it. More say they find it embarrassing - so clumsy, so unmusical, so...Northern. Get that last bit? Denounce the use of Irish because of the accent of the speaker. Especially if it's northern.

Although I can see why the nay-sayers say nay. Gerry Adams’s rumbling bass  in truth is not the most musical of sounds, and compared to the Irish of, say, Michael D Higgins, it’s primitive. But so what? God gave us all a voice (and  face) with which we're stuck.  Gerry Adams’s Irish may be unmusicaI or sometimes halting but it’s a damned sight better than my Irish. Or maybe even yours. Follow the criticisms lobbed at his Irish to their logical conclusion, you end up saying if someone can’t speak glittering, graceful Irish they shouldn’t speak it at all. Which is a bone-headed thing to say in any language.

Meanwhile that man of wisdom Kevin Myers was last week lamenting in his column that he hadn’t been able to appear on an RTÉ’ programme last week which examined the Irish language. It seems the poor man was chopping logs and would you believe it, a sliver of wood jumped up and hit him in the mouth really, really hard. (No, Virginia, it is NOT polite to say what you've just said.) Kevin’s view  on Irish, which he would have given if he hadn’t got that dig in the gob from the wood? Criminal waste of money. Stupid trying to revive it. Exercise in futility and hypocrisy. 

Dear Kevin, like so many others, works from the basis of Irish-as-something-useful, which is the wrong place to start from.  Not everything has to be ‘useful’. I’ve a photograph of my parents on the wall which I glance up at now and again. Some days you’ll find me out in the garden staring at my wind-whipped crocuses and daffodils. Other days you’ll find me reading a bit of poetry. None of those activities falls into the Useful category  but I wouldn’t be without any of them. In fact, some of the most important things in our lives don’t qualify as Useful :  giving a child a hug, listening to music, looking at a great painting.

So if Irish never becomes the everyday language we use to get things done, I’ll not be too bothered. On the other hand, if steps aren’t taken to ensure that the Irish language survives, I’ll be leppin’ mad. Each language has its own  unique take on the world. The very thought of letting something which comes to us across so many centuries, that delivers the world to us in a uniquely Irish way - the very thought of letting something so glorious and complex die is verging on sacrilege.

But if you're talking about the teaching of Irish, there's room for thought. Back in the 1950s tough-knuckled Irish teachers  taught many of us quailing  before them just one thing: to hate the language. Mercifully the brutality of those  days is gone;  but wouldn't it be great if we could teach Irish here the way English is taught in the non-English-speaking world?  Because at the present time, continental visitors  put our Irish fluency to shame with the fluency of their English.  

It’s good that all those buildings all over the world got lit up in green last Sunday. It’d be even better if the elegance and wonder of the Irish language could be spot-lighted in a way that’d help us see  the treasure  we have right under our nose. And then change language admiration for language mastery.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Health provision: it'd make you sick

Maybe you saw it. It was on BBC Newsline 6.30, I think, some days ago: a map showing how the proposed development of hospital provision would look here in the north. The suggestion seemed to be that hospitals would consist of a series of central hospitals, like the RVH and Altnagelvin, with satellite hospitals linked to them. 

Two of these hospitals caught my eye: Altnagelvin and the one in Fermanagh. Why? Because they were so close to the border. Clearly the Health Minister has in mind organising things so that the best care is available to people in the north through careful planning of provision. Fair enough - nothing makes more sense. You have to have your development and provision in the place where sick people need it. 

But for the greater part - in fact almost entirely - the concern is with people living in our little northern statelet only. There are exceptions - for example the radiotherapy unit in Derry also serves patients in Donegal and Sligo. But by and large the north plans for the provision of health services to people north of the border, the south to people south of the border. Where facilities are shared, as in Derry, it’s on an ad-hoc basis. In other words, the isolated case is so blindingly obvious, it’s accepted. 

Imagine if you had two businessmen working in the same village, offering the same service. From time to time it’d be glaringly obvious that co-operation would allow them to secure a contract that, acting alone, they never could secure. What would the businessmen, if they had half a brain, sit down and do? They’d map a strategy, looking at possibilities for working together over the next ten years, say, and they’d build their businesses with this co-operation-to-mutual-benefit built into it.  They wouldn’t wait for the opportunity to come up and bite them in the bum, galvanising them into action. They’d have foreseen or even created opportunities by joint planning. 

Is that happening now? I’m open to correction but I very much doubt it. Edwin Poots is fearful of what his electorate might say if he got too close to the Health Service in the south and was seen to be planning medium and long-term provision, as distinct from immediate needs. In fact our health service in the north is built as though we were exactly like the rest of the UK. We’re not. For a start there’s a large body of water lies between us and them, making the journey to avail of services across that water daunting. The obvious logic is that more attention - planned, long-term attention - needs to be paid to using and developing all of the health facilities on this island. Sick people don’t give a damn if something doesn’t look well politically speaking. They just want the best provision.  And a major part of that is, how easy is it to get to the treatment. Right now we’re wearing blinkers - or rather the two health departments are wearing blinkers - that allow them to see only that which is directly beneath their noses. I bet  Edwin Poots’s party doesn’t do its political planning in such a perversely purblind way. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Victims of the Troubles: should they decide the punishment?

It’s probably not unique. There likely are parts of the world where, when the judge has passed sentence on the guilty party, he/she turns to the victim or a relative of the victim and asks “Any other punishment you’d like to add?” There may even be countries which sign international treaties and then ask some (although not all) of those  who’ve suffered - “Even though the terms of the treaty have been fixed and ratified years ago by both sides, would you like us to change it in some way?”

That’s essentially what has happened with Jim Allister’s bill in Stormont yesterday. Even though the terms regarding those involved in the conflict have been agreed,  that will now change so that anyone with a prison sentence longer than five years will find it difficult if not impossible to be hired as a political advisor. To give Jim Allister his credit, he’s probably thinking of the pain the victims feel and how appointment of someone as a political advisor might add to that pain. He’s less likely to be thinking with his barrister brain about the notion that democratically-determined rules will change at the behest of the victim. 

But why stop at political advisors? Why not block the path of ex-prisoners towards other kinds of work?  Stop them becoming taxi-drivers (oh, right - they’ve blocked that already,  you say?),  stop them becoming teachers or accountants or dentists or doctors?  Or even politicians....Whoa, whoa. That doesn’t fit. There are a number of politicians in Stormont, from the Deputy First Minister down, who make no secret of their paramilitary involvement in the past. Shouldn’t there be a campaign to have them removed? They didn’t all serve five years and more of prison sentences but that’s probably only because they weren’t caught. They’re all Shinners anyway, so to have them removed would serve a dual purpose: cater to the pain of the victims - or at least the victims of republican violence -  and at the same time get us back much nearer the old days, when a puny Nationalist opposition squeaked and squeaked again as the unionist majority steamroller rolled over them again and again and again. 

At the risk of repeating myself: victims are the last people who should be allowed decide how those found guilty should be punished. That’s because by definition they are victims and therefore would find it hard - in some cases impossible - to be dispassionate about allocating even-handed punishment. Nor should any group or individual, however much sympathy they deservedly elicit,  be allowed to arrange for changes to international treaties. In fact, for the reasons I’ve given, they should be the last people allowed to do so. 

If, however,  you think they should be the first,  you’ll have to make sure all victims get to rearrange what’s been agreed, not just those with the loudest voices.  Right?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Can I interest you in some quality Death?

Psst - care to buy a gun? No?  Just as well, actually, as I don’t have one for sale. But I know 
where you can get one. And much, much more.

Because arms sales is a massive business which brings in ( wait for it) $1.000 billion 
annually. Hold that thought for a second. If they suspended sales for a year and took the 
money that would have gone into weaponry, they could solve the deficit problem for dozens 
of countries at a stroke. But that’s not going to happen. 

So what death-dealing kind of weapons get sold and by whom? Well, you’re spoiled for 
choice. If you’ve got the money you can get  not just guns but light, medium, and heavy 
tanks; self-propelled artillery; self-propelled assault guns, guided missile patrol boats, fighter 
and bomber aircraft that can go at speeds above Mach 1, helicopters, surface-to-air missiles, 
surface-to-surface missiles and anti-ship missiles such as the Harpoon, the Silkworm, the 
Styx and last though far from least, that old faithful from the Falklands days, the Exocet. 

That’s a lot of death-dealing weaponry. So who’s doing all the selling of this gear? Well, surprise, surprise, the United State of America leads the field. Odd, eh? The US spends a lot of time worrying about the build-up in arms throughout the world, and from time to time has to send its soldiers to fight and die in places like Iraq and Afghanistan; yet it’s top of the league by a country mile in the sale of death-dealing weaponry of all kinds. After the US we get Russia, coming in with a measly 17%, France with 8% and the UK with 5%. At least, that’s what a report for Congress said last year. To its anxiety, there are signs that UK sales are slipping. Talk about incompetence -  Cameron’s coalition can’t even keep up with selling instruments of death. 

Who buys all this stuff? Well, 39% is sold to developing countries. You heard me. Countries which could well do with food or financial support or decent infrastructure get instead weapons with which to kill each other or their neighbours. Next up after that we get that fine democracy Saudi Arabia, which accounts for 21%. The United Arab Emirates gets a measly 6%, India 13%. 

You see the pattern. Where Western interests are strongest ( that is, where there’s oil), the US and others happily set the arms sales cash register ker-chinging, and please just forget all that mealy-mouthed nonsense about democracy and human rights. If you or I were to sell so much as a revolver and were caught, we’d be bunged into jail;  the US and the UK can sell hundred of millions worth and nobody says a peep. And should anyone complain, there’s always an MP or some such to point out that jobs would be lost if the arms trade was curtailed. And of course sales go to countries that should instead be spending on building the national infrastructure and feeding its people. But hey, if you’re going to go into the weapons business, go into it big-time and you’ll stay safe. 

And of course there’s nothing teaches like example.  That rocket-launcher seized in Derry a few weeks back came from Russia with love. The people who planned to use it must have felt considerable moral encouragement when and if they looked at the arms sales enthusiasm of the countries which mouth the make-peace  mantra. When big bucks are at stake, morality goes to the wall. 

Monday, 18 March 2013

Cardinal Napier: it's good to talk

There are certain trigger words that drive people wild - their wits go out and reflex responses set in. This weekend and this morning Stephen Nolan’s radio show was knee-deep in trigger words. What words? “Catholic clergy sexual abuse”. Stephen did an interview with Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa, in which the cardinal raised the question of whether paedophilia is simply a crime or whether it’s a psychological illness of which the paedophile is himself a victim. 

That question hasn’t been answered, or if it has been I haven’t come across it. If I am in control of my actions, I must be held responsible for them. If I am not in control of my actions, I cannot be held responsible for them. The nearest - but imperfect - parallel I can think of is alcoholism. Some believe alcoholism is a disease and requires treatment - the alcoholic is in the grip of something he can’t control. Others believe an alcoholic is a drunk who chooses to abuse himself and often others and should be punished.

Cardinal Napier went on to say that someone who was abused and then went on to abuse is at least partially not responsible for their actions. I’m more dubious about that - in fact I’d disagree with him, certainly if he’s suggesting that when  a person has been abused it’s inevitable that they go on to abuse. There are a lot of people who’ve been abused who don’t  go on to abuse, so that notion of the inevitable repeat of the crime falls down. I suspect the cardinal was trying to indicate that past experience can shape future experience. That’s certainly true. But the inevitability bit doesn’t stand up. 

So. I look forward - among people who are prepared to deal with the subject in a rational way -  to discussion of this crime-or-condition issue, with expert opinion being fed in. Victims should be part of this discussion but we should keep in mind that because they have been wounded so deeply, it will be harder for them to deal with the subject dispassionately, which is what it needs.

One other matter related to child sexual abuse that’s not been addressed and should be: is the level of abuse among Catholic clergy higher than in other Churches or religions, or in the wider community? Put bluntly, is your child more likely to be abused by a Catholic priest than they are by a minister, a rabbi, a scout master or their uncle? Ugly, yes, but for that very reason in need of some facts and figures. 

Saturday, 16 March 2013

A night with David Norris


I was late for David Norris at Colaiste Feirste last night but I’d no bother finding the room where he was performing: the rolling, booming tones were unmistakable and echoed down the hallways. He was being interviewed by William Crawley as part of Féile an Earraigh, and over 90+ minutes he was incorrigible. A question - or sometimes no question - would set him off, and anytime Crawley tried to intervene, the Dublin senator would place a restraining hand on the BBC man’s arm or knee and keep rolling along at full volume. 

He was there promoting his book A Kick Against the Pricks, but you could tell his heart was in his own performance rather than gaining sales. He grabbed at Crawley, he stood up, he shook hands with an audience member and told that meant they were now lovers, he imitated the mincing walk and high-pitched voice of gay men he knew, he slid in double entendre after double entendre. It was like watching Frankie Howerd with a beard and a posh Dublin accent. 

Much of the time was spent telling the audience about the lies and smears the media invented against him during his presidential candidacy (see clip above). Other times he spoke of his love of the British monarchy, imitated an encounter he had with Princess Anne’s husband, claimed blood-relationship with just about every earl and nobleman in Ireland back to St Patrick. It was an over-the-top, occasionally hilarious one-man show. During the questions-from-the-audience bit, I asked him what he thought of the media’s treatment of Martin McGuinness during his presidential bid. As with nearly every question asked, he started with a half-answer and then quickly rolled away into a breathless, complicated tale of something that had happened to him.  Think of trying to lift mercury with a fork and you’ll have some idea of what it was like. 

In many ways Norris is representative of a southern view of the north - two warring tribes locked in irrational combat, with sensible people ( for example his part in the Peace Train campaign) trying to counter this irrationality. Oh, and how good it was we’ve all moved on from those dark days. It was hard to disagree with the second part; it was hard to listen to, let alone agree with, the first part. 

There are those who say Senator Norris likes the sound of his own voice. Not so. He loves it. And there’s no denying his presence in a room unfailingly adds to the gaiety of nations, in every sense. You get the feeling he’s making stuff up as he goes along, but he does it with such toffish gusto it’s near irresistible. Next you know, you’re nodding agreement with his monarchist/libertarian/they’re-an-odd-lot-up-there take on politics. 

And then on the way out, I met a woman who said she'd read an article I'd written about Marian Price and how much she'd liked it. She'd been at school with Marian Price - "An ordinary wee girl" - and now she was in prison or prison hospital, and might well end her days there if the whim of a British Secretary of State dictated so.  The road from David Norris doing his on-stage stand-up to Marian Price in a prison: that's a long, long road. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

End of 'No Pope there'

The bit I liked best was when they announced - in Latin - the name of the new Pope and everyone in St Peter's Square, including the media, sat with their lower jaws hanging. Who'd he say? Who he? I love it when the experts are found clothes-less.

So what else is there to be cheerful about this papal election?  Here's a few.

1. It was almost mind-bending to see the amount of space and time - non-critical - that was spent on the retirement of Benedict, the run-up to the election, the election and its aftermath. Normally the media follow "Catholic Church" with "clerical sexual abuse", as though abuse were confined to the Catholic Church. Refreshing, I'd say.
2.  The new man - it seems odd to be saying 'Francis' - is a Jesuit, which in my book is one up for him. Certainly in Ireland, and historically, Jesuits have been fearless and selfless, by and large. If you want a good example, check out Peter McVerry. They've also a reputation for being smart, which is nice. 
3. From what we're told, he's a man who's a bit impatient with pomp and splendour. Let's hope he carries that into his papacy. It's a bit hard to think of Christ's top man on earth, his Vicar/Viceroy, surrounded by riches and splendour, when the Man Himself was the polar opposite.
4.  He's from South America, which is a place I know little about (as anyone will tell you, and sometimes me); but it's far, far away from the Roman Curia and that can't be bad. It'll make it easier, I hope, for Francis to bash a few heads together and let them know fings ain't going to be wot they used to be.  I hope.
5. He's Argentinian - or is that 'an Argentine'? - which will add an interesting little wrinkle to the Falklands/Malvinas story. I was briefly on the Nolan Show this morning and Stephen asked me...well for a moment I wasn't quite sure what he was asking me. Then it turned out to be a question - I think - about the fact that Francis might be on the side of Argentina in the Malvinas question. Cheesh. I live thousands of miles from Argentina and I'm on the side of Argentina. Francis is from  there. 

But anyway, let's hope the media at least give him a honeymoon period, if that's the kind of term I should use for a celibate Pope. I guess it's just a question of time before some commentators start demanding to know why he didn't lead an assault on dictators Bignone and Galtieri, but for now there's a definitely positive air within the Catholic Church. And it's been a long time since that was the case. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Peter and Sammy vs The Judges

Here’s an interesting question for a cold Tuesday morning: why did Peter and Sammy get so het-up about judges this past while? You know what I’m talking about - the way flag protestors didn’t get bail and a charged republican got jail. Why was it such an important item for them to raise?

Well, it could have been because they want judges to be held more accountable for their decisions. This seems to me reasonable - there is an awful lot of tomfoolery connected with the judiciary here and in Britain. In a blog a while back, I questioned the reasoning behind a judicial decision some year ago and I got responses demanding to see my law degree, did I think I knew better than the judge in question, what kind of a big-head was I? And I haven’t even mentioned those daft wigs and robes they wear. (Yes, yes, Virginia, just like cardinals, except cardinals have a small little cap and judges have a very big wig.) So I’m with Sammy and Peter on the need for openness and the explanation of judgements. 

But why are Peter and Sammy hot and bothered now? After all, the juryless Diplock courts were a feature of life here for decades (tell me they’ve abolished them, please) and yet I don’t remember Peter or Sammy being critical of a judiciary which dispensed with a jury and did the finding guilty/not guilty (but mainly guilty) themselves. The reason for the present DUP agitation can be summed up in two words: East Belfast.

That’s the seat the Alliance took from Peter Robinson and that’s the seat he must, on peril of his political life, win back next time. So if getting annoyed with a judge over not granting bail to flag protestors is necessary in order to reassure a section of loyalism that the DUP is their bestest friend, then that’s what they’ll do. Perhaps Peter and Sammy would like to get a bit more glasnost into the judicial system. But you can bet your life savings that they would far prefer to win that pesky seat back again. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Just do it.

Everything’s relative. If I think I’m overweight, I look at Stephen Nolan and realise I don’t have a problem. If I suspect I’m arrogant, I listen to Sammy Wilson for five seconds and I realise I’m quite meek and mild. And when we think we’re having a hard time getting by during this recession, we should have a look at India. 

Some one-third of the world’s poor people live in India. We tend to think of Africa when we talk about poverty: the fact is,  the poverty in eight Indian states exceeds that of the poorest 26 African countries. 

India’s also a country where class/caste divisions flourish, with malignant results. If you were living as one of what are called the Scheduled Tribes, you’d find that 81% of your group lived in poverty. More than 1.5 million Indian children suffer from malnutrition and 43% of children under five are underweight. It’s even worse than sub-Saharan Africa - in India, 828 million people live below the poverty line. Compared to them, the poorest of us live in luxury. And don’t forget -  India is among the top three economies in the world. It doesn’t take an Einstein to work out that wealth in India is very badly distributed. 

Which is why I’ve done something very foolhardy: I’ve agreed to run the Omagh Half-Marathon on Saturday 30 March for Trocaire. At my age, you train for this kind of thing very, very carefully, and you feel it as the mileage grows and grows.  So what I’m saying is, if you’ll agree to sponsor me - and I do hope you will - then the pain you’ll feel, relative to what I’ll feel and am already feeling, is nothing. And what to you is a modest contribution could and will make a massive difference to the lives of people who are feeling the lash of real poverty every day. 

Of course there are all sorts of arguments for not sponsoring. If India’s a thriving economy, let the Indians look after the Indians. If I give money to Trocaire, it’ll go to sustaining the jobs of those who work in Trocaire or to corrupt Indian officials when the funds arrive. There are all sorts of excuses for not shelling out a few quid but in the end, we know in our hearts whether we’re being reasonable or just plain tight. 

So go on - open your wallet and your heart. It’ll take literally a couple of minutes and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done at least one truly human thing for those whom the Western world and the Indian elite treat as slum dogs. 

If you like me, click the link and help out. If you detest me, click the link and think of the exquisite pain you’re inflicting on me. But one way or another, don’t close your heart and your mind and sail on to a new site. People’s lives depend on it.  I’m aiming for a total of £1000. Your aim, as the old lavatory joke used to say, can help.  

Here's the link. Just do it. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Taking care in a new Ireland

I wonder how many of the people who voted  for Francie Molloy on Thursday believe in a united Ireland? What’s that - all of them, you say? Right. And how many of them have a clear vision of what that new Ireland might look like? Mmm, you could be right. Not too many.

OK, here’s a little experiment. Close your eyes and imagine you’re in your 60s,  70s, maybe 80s. You have Alzheimer's. You’re not sure who your loved ones are when they come to visit you. Sometimes in the middle of the night you get up and get dressed, because you think you should be going to work even though it’s 3.00 a.m. Other times you think your mother is still alive and you’d better get home quickly or she’ll be wondering what’s happened to you. And then, in the middle of all this mental confusion, a bombshell. The place where you’ve been staying, the little bit of familiarity and routine that you were clinging to - it’s all swept away. The nursing unit you’ve been living in is to be closed and you and everyone in it will be farmed out elsewhere. 

What's that? Sound like the south of Ireland, where the health system is a joke?  Uh-uh. This is the north. This is the NHS,  one of the reasons some people cite for remaining in the UK. This is a real-life, eyes-open NHS unit in Derry. The Trust there plans to shift the six remaining residents and put them into private care homes. The families are resisting because (i) their loved ones are likely to be in an agitated/bewildered state with the move; (ii) it all looks part of the increasing movement to privatize the NHS; and (iii) they don't like the idea of putting their loved ones into the hands of those who make a business out of others' misery. 

I said at the start that not many people who are in favour of a united Ireland actually think through to the kind of state they’d like to see created. They might want to start by looking at health care on both sides of the border ( yes, both - as this case shows, the NHS in the north is being dismantled bit by bit).  In fact, now that we have devolved government, wouldn’t it be great if we were able to work towards the kind of health service that a new Ireland might offer? Maybe if we start with some ghastly examples on both sides of the border, we’ll begin to develop a picture of the kind of united Ireland we really want. It wouldn’t be the south’s system and it wouldn’t be the north’s or Britain’s. It’d be ours, and surely to God we could do it better. Maybe time to make a start?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Robert Ballagh and Geraldine Finucane: talent and determination

I was at an event last night that impressed me and depressed me at the same time. I was impressed by the quality of at least two of the people in the room, and I was depressed by the energy and  quality of both people.

The event was in the Gerard Dillon Gallery - the new bit of the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road. The occasion was a display of works/ paintings by that remarkable man, Robert Ballagh. I interviewed him for my book and was struck then by the quiet gentleness of the man. We did the interview in his studio, and he'd obviously taken time off from his work to talk to me. Nothing in it for him, but he was the essence of relaxed receptivity. At the event last night he noted that his painting career, spanning from 1968 to the present day, covered the Troubles. And he talked, again with self-deprecating humour, how he was moved out of his comfortable view of the world and his country by what was happening in the north back then and since. If you're in Belfast or near it, I urge you to go over to the Culturlann and look at the range of work he has on display there. It's all - or nearly all  - for sale. (And dammit, the one piece that caught my eye and my heart yearned after is not for sale.)

The reason for the sale of this wonderful range of works by Ballagh was embodied in the second person there last night who impressed/depressed me: Geraldine Finucane.  In real life she's smaller than on telly, but you sense that unstoppable quality she's had to show in trying to get to the truth about the shooting dead of her husband back in 1989, as he sat having dinner in his home with her and their  children.  She was there because Robert Ballagh has been generous enough to gift all the paintings/works on show to raise funds for the Pat Finucane Centre.

There were lots of other important people there, including Michael Farrell, the lawyer, civil rights activist and former leader of People's Democracy (ask your granny), but Ballagh and Finucane shone out particularly. Like all truly good and gifted people, they have a modesty, almost a shyness about them, while maintaining a focus that cuts through distractions.

I felt privileged to be there. And as I say depressed, but I took that out on the cat when I got home and I'm quite cheerful now, thanks.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Peter and Nigel: a tale of two conversions

“Between the stirrup and the ground
I mercy asked and mercy found”.

It’s always good to see and hear a conversion. This past few days we’ve had two for the price of one. You remember how the flag protestors made it clear it wasn’t just the flag being “ripped down” they were upset about, it was the way politicians seem to have abandoned them?

Good news, then. Those politicians have had a change of heart. After years of neglect, they have suddenly found conversion, repentance, as they sense that they are in danger of falling from their high horses. A day or three ago, we had Peter Robinson criticising the rough deal that was being doled out to loyalist protestors in terms of bail, when compared to a republican who was granted bail. “Lack of impartiality!” was Peter’s cry, which must have cheered the hearts of many nationalists,  who for so long have felt the police were less than impartial.

Then this morning I hear Nigel Dodds on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster, explaining vigorously that there really really must be impartiality, that release of loyalist protestors who were in no danger of doing anything unlawful (give or take the odd road-block) should be released on bail. He was quite worked up about it, I thought.

And then I asked myself: have these two last-minute conversions got anything in common? Might they have, at the heels of the hunt, any similar motivation? And you know, I think it’s just possible they might have. Last time out, Peter Robinson lost his Westminster seat to Naomi Long - that can’t happen again. And Nigel Dodds can feel the hot breath of Gerry Kelly on his collar as his, Dodds’s, majority shrinks and shrinks and shrinks. Call me a hardened cynic, but might the two men’s sense of outrage link with their desire to get back into their seats at all costs, even it involves appealing for mercy to people who’re convinced they were abandoned by them years ago? Just askin’, like.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

What Hugo Chavez did

It’s started already and he’s hardly in his coffin. “Populist”, “controversial”, "eccentric" - those are just some of the names the media have used of him so far. You’d think that a man who had turned the political tide in South America, let alone in his own country, would get a better epitaph than that. 

Hugo Chavez became President of Venezuela in 1999 and soon made it clear that things were going to change in his oil-rich country. He started with the price that was paid for Venezuelan oil, so that between 1998 and 2008, it increased by 660%. The money thus derived was used to eliminate three-quarters of the extreme poverty in his country and to provide free health and education for everyone. 

But of course his big sin in Western eyes was that he stood up to the US.  Fifty-four countries around the world allow the US to detain and torture people they, the Yanks, dislike. Chavez refused to be one of them. The US followed its usual procedure and supported a coup to overthrow him, despite the fact that the Venezuelan people had chosen him at the ballot box. 

But Chavez’s influence went beyond the borders of his own country.  In 2005, it was reckoned by the BBC that three out of every four people in South America now had elected a left-leaning president. This “pink tide” had one common denominator: a determination to break what used to be called the “Washington consensus”  which pushed for open markets and privatisation, and was led of course by the US.

Like all politicians, Chavez had his faults. He alienated the middle classes in his own country as well as the powers-that-be in the US.But whatever his sins, the example he set to the rest of South America that they didn’t have to be a lucrative back-yard for the US and that they could play their own tune rather than dance to the one provided by the US, the real difference in health and education he made for his own people - all these far outweigh what wrong he may have done. He was a heroic figure and his death at 59 is a loss not just to Venezuela but the world. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.  

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The importance of serving sauce equally

There’s nothing like listening to your First Minister waxing moral as you chew on your Rice Krispies. I had this instructive experience this morning, as Peter Robinson explained to Noel Thompson on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster that he wasn’t bending Chief Constable Matt Baggott’s ear with that recent meeting, he was just pointing out some facts. Which when boiled down amounted to one fact:the  police service - oh, and the judicial system - were treating loyalists much more harshly than they treat republicans. For example  loyalist bail denied,  republican bail granted. Where’s the equality?

Indeed, Peter. We’re all behind you on that. We can’t have a system where one section of the public is treated differently from another. Like, Matt Baggott has played a waiting game with flag protestors who broke the law week in week out, and I think I said he came across in a TV interview with all the ferocity of a week-old lamb. But I’m willing to accept I could have been wrong. Any policy that puts Willie Frazer and Jamie Bryson  behind bars can’t be all bad. 

But of course the ultimate test will come in about four months time. If Ardoyne residents or any other nationalist community decides to block the intrusion of bigots in bowler hats,  will Matt be patient and allow his plan of prosecution to come to fruition around four months later? Or will he give instructions for his men to wade in there and apply the law at the business end of a baton?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Why I'm off pollsters for Lent

So - whaddya think of the latest opinion polls from down south - exciting, eh? I mean the recent ones that show Fianna Fail clambering out of the coffin and stuffing cotton wool into the hole in its chest where everybody thought the stake had been planted.  Mind you, I’m biased. I love polls.

The main thing I love about them is the snapshot quality they have. My father wouldn’t have liked them. He was a cattle dealer, and before he’d buy a beast he’d get up close and personal with it. Prod it in places that I didn’t always want to look, check the mouth, feel the belly - thorough scrutiny before reaching his decision whether to buy or not. Polls aren’t a bit like that.  They give NO information about the political parties or what they have to offer the public. Instead they say ‘Say cheese!’ and flash-bang-wallop, you’ve got your public opinion snapshot. 

So here’s my Lenten resolution: I’m going off polls. Sexy though they are, I suggest they be banned for the next six months, say. Or better still, a year.  And instead of pollsters spending all that time and money trudging around asking members of the public to say which party they like most right now, get the parties to discuss - maybe live on television - an agreed set of issues that are of  actual importance to people. Like, how much of the budget should go on public health. Or how much on education, or how much on the armed forces. (In Britain, you may have noticed, they’re thinking of cutting a chunk off the social services and sticking it onto the armed forces. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear what each party thinks of this?). And yes, what’s your thinking on a united/partitioned Ireland.

In the end, like so much else, it comes down to what a party thinks of the public. If they think the public are generally thick, then popularity contests, opinion polls, and making sure your hair is nicely combed will be the focus of the politicians’ energies. If on the other hand they think the public are their adult masters,  they’ll be willing to explain clearly  to these adults what they’re up to and why.  Guess what? The’ll find the public have a real appetite for real politics.

So ditch the grin for the camera, guys. Give the pollsters their P45. Instead, explain yourselves, particularly regarding past record and future plans. Because believe me,  some of you have an awful lot of explaining to do. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Nigel Lutton, his father and his Uncle Joey

I’ve just watched a News Letter  online interview   with the elusive Nigel Lutton, who is the agreed unionist candidate for Mid-Ulster. Nigel was most conspicuous by his absence (as was his chief opponent, Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy) on the BBC’s The View earlier this week. 

I’ve written already about the fact that Nigel was selected after Sinn Féin had nominated Francie Molloy as their candidate. The prominence that was given to the fact that Nigel’s father Eric, an ex-RUC man, was shot dead by the IRA in 1979, and to the fact that Nigel’s cousin David Simpson (DUP) had used parliamentary privilege to name Francie Molloy as implicated in that killing, made it clear that Nigel’s candidature would be used as a spear to stick into Sinn Féin. There is little hope that Nigel will win the seat - it’s got a whopping Sinn Féin majority - but  the DUP hope it will do two things: (i) wound Sinn Féin via Molloy, by highlighting Nigel as a victim of republican violence; (ii) make it easier to gobble up what's left of the UUP. 

But while the world and his mother knows of David Simpson’s charge against the Sinn Féin candidate, there’s been rather less talk about Uncle Joey. Joey Lutton was a member of the UDR and was convicted of involvement in a number of atrocities as part of what was known as the Glenanne Gang. His crimes included a gun attack on Clancy’s Bar, which killed three people, and another on the Eagle Bar, which killed one person. 

Clearly Nigel isn’t responsible for what Uncle Joey got up to, but it’s interesting to note the prominence given to cousin David’s House of Commons claim against Molloy (no evidence) with the deathly silence on Uncle Joey’s actions (lots of evidence). 

Nigel says in the online interview that “It [the matter of victims] has came [sic] forward so often in this campaign” and that “every victim is the same” and that he isn’t ready to shake Francie Molloy's  hand at the electoral count on Thursday because “there’s been no apology [for killings] from republicans”.  Mmm. But Nigel,  if "every victim is the same", wouldn’t the loved ones of those killed by Uncle Joey and the Glenanne Gang be equally entitled to apology? 

Nigel wrapped up his News Letter  interview by saying “I am an ordinary person” and it’s true: in his ill-at-ease interview he looked very ordinary. But he’s not. He’s been selected as someone who will highlight the suffering of victims of the Troubles. One provision:  they must be victims of the IRA campaign. Victims of Uncle Joey and the UVF/UDA need not apply.  

Friday, 1 March 2013

Micheal gives us our report card

There’s something vaguely risible about the notion of the Fianna Fail leader coming north to tell us us how badly we’re doing. He’s glad we’ve settled down and stopped killing each other but he’s disappointed at the lack of progress in the last fifteen years. He says there should be more cooperation. And he talks of “the risks for peace" of the SDLP “with the Dublin government” and how brave all involved were. 

He’s right - or half-right, anyway. No, make that one-quarter right.  The SDLP did take political risks for peace.  But while they faced political risks, people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness faced life-threatening risks. There was - and maybe in some quarters still is - a risk that erstwhile comrades would try to kill them. Yet they pushed on and transformed politics in this sad little neck of the woods. That's what I call taking risks.

Micheal kind of forgot that. Just as he forgot to mention that successive Fianna Fail governments were worse than useless in their support of the nationalist people of the north. You could say it started with Jack Lynch’s famous ‘We’ll not stand idly by” speech in 1969, but it goes back beyond that. The south abandoned northern nationalists to their fate at partition, and the rest was empty rhetoric. Sure, Bertie Ahern put in a prominent display in the final days before the Good Friday Agreement, a bit like Charlie Haughey put in a prominent display the time that Stephen Roche won the Tour de France. 

And it’s not as if Fianna Fail corruption and incompetence stopped there. They ignored the north and they financially destroyed the south. With, of course, some help from bankers and developers. We must give credit where credit is due. But let no one say that Fianna Fail were behind the door in bringing the twenty-six counties to its knees.

And now Micheal, its leader, is crossing the border to give us our school report and really, you know, he’s disappointed. “Could do better - much better” is the essence of his judgement. 

I’m not sure how healthy Micheal is but one part of his anatomy is truly sturdy - his neck. Brass, in fact.