Jude Collins

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Orange Order: marching to a different drum?

I was listening to the Nolan Show yesterday as I drove to the meeting of the British-Irish Secretariat yesterday and the difference between the two events couldn’t have been more marked. In the MAC Theresa and Eamon were all sweet reasonableness, feeling good about what’s been achieved and hungry to achieve more. On the Nolan Show,  a couple of bare-knuckle fighters were having a discussion about how the Orange Order had broken the terms of its march past St Patrick’s Church. It’s what you might call shadow and substance, the shadow being with Theresa and Eamon. 

It’s an interesting institution, the Orange Order. I once said in a broadcast that it was an anti-Catholic institution and was told by a prominent Protestant clergyman that such a statement said more about me than it did about the Orange Order. And I expect lots of people listening agreed with him. But then again, that wouldn’t mean I was wrong. I expect the same will happen to what I now say.

The Orange Order is an anti-Catholic organisation. Anyone who has  taken even the most cursory reading of its founding and history will see that that is the case. Anyone who looks at the rules that govern it (I really don’t have to go into those again, do I?) will see that that is the case. Republicans in general and particularly Sinn Féin say that there are just a handful of contested parades, and that otherwise they have no problem with the Orange Order celebrating its culture. I disagree. If I’m right that the Order is anti-Catholic, then it isn’t simply at flashpoints that it becomes anti-Catholic  - it’s anti-Catholic everywhere.

“Total hogwash!” you're saying. “For the vast majority of Orangemen and their families, the Twelfth is just a good day out - they have no wish to engage in anti-Catholic sentiment”.  That's probably true. Many people belonging to the Order have, over time, detached their awareness of the Order’s nature and replaced it with what the Order delivers - a bit of craic in a boring summer. 

But that doesn’t mean the Order’s nature is changed and it doesn’t alter the fact that there are some 3000 parades by the loyal Orders each year. The great bulk of those parades are intent on reminding Catholics/nationalists/republicans that ‘their side’ was hammered in battle hundreds of years ago. And then people affect to be surprised that Catholics/nationalists/republicans should object to the thousands of parades. 

I believe there are many unionists  increasingly embarrassed by the Orange Order, its refusal to talk to the people it is offending, the general ugliness of many of its bands and the sneaking suspicion that what I and others say is in fact the truth: the Orange Order is an anti-Catholic institution. In a state where respect as well as equality are claimed as core rights, it’s really time it packed up its sectarianism in its old kit bag and left the stage. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Eamon and Theresa: dancing in the dark

There was a meeting of the British-Irish Secretariat today.  It was held in the MAC in Belfast and it had two big political beasts (metaphorically speaking) performing: British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and Irish Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.  Theresa said that British-Irish relations had never been better than they are now. And thanks to the British, Irish and US  governments, terrorism had ended. Fifteen years from the Good Friday Agreement,  the big priority for the next fifteen would be to fix the economy and provide jobs. 

Tanaiste Eamon said the Good Friday Agreement had “put the politics of the past in the past and left it there”.  When he was fifteen or sixteen, he said, people were still talking about the Civil War; he, on the other hand, wasn’t interested in the past - he was interested in the future. 

There were then a series of questions from young people .One youngster asked what did Theresa and Eamon think was the biggest achievement of the Good Friday Agreement. Eamon said an end to the killings was its big achievement, and made reference to tit-for-tat killings.  Theresa said “I agree”.

I know I should have been cheered up by the meeting but I found depressing.  As I sat and listened to the young people’s questions and the two  politicians’ careful answers, it struck me that the whole operation was a dance of sorts. In the middle of the room was a big smelly gorilla, scratching itself and glowering, while the speakers danced round it, eyes averted.

What gorilla? The gorilla behind the Troubles, the gorilla at the heart of our differences. Partition, British Presence, Irish Unity - it has several names. Quite right, Eamon and Theresa, we all want to press on to a better future, one with jobs and economic stability and equality.  But if we’re so petrified by the possibility of sinking back into our bloody past that we can’t even tell ourselves what it was about, there’s little chance we’ll push on to a future with our eyes wide open.  And heading anywhere with half-shut eyes is hazardous.  

Friday, 26 April 2013

David Cameron - just a dad. Honest.

When you hear David Cameron weaseling on about football, you begin (or continue) to be worried about his reasoning abilities as a prime minister. Before ever the FA had delivered its verdict on Luis Suarez and Teethgate, Cameron was in there like a shot announcing that the normal three-match ban would definitely not be enough. When Suarez got hit for ten games, Liverpool FC not unreasonably said that Cameron’s statements before the decision were likely to have influenced those who handed Suarez ten weeks. 

Oh no, Cameron said. Oh no no no no. “I made my own views clear just as a dad watching the game. I’ve got a seven-year-old who just loves watching football...Bringing up children is one of the toughest things we do but you can’t wrap them in cottonwool and hide them away from the world, they do see these real-life examples and they repeat them back to you.”

Where to start?  David old chum, when you make your views clear you do at as the Prime Minister of England. If you were just a regular dad, you wouldn’t be reported in the newspapers.  And if you can’t see that your urging of a heavier ban wouldn’t have put pressure on the FA to come up with something thumping, then you shouldn’t be running a country. As to your child watching TV - does he react to everything he sees on TV? Say in an average game, there are - what -  twenty free kicks. These are usually not for biting but for pulling people’s shirts, elbowing them in the face, kicking their shins, jumping on their foot, complaining loudly and persistently to the referee.  Does your wee lad “repeat those back” to you? As a keen soccer fan he must be watching them every week of the season. And what about movies where people get shot - you figure maybe he...No, stop me somebody, stop me. Let’s just say Cameron is one more toff climbing on the footballing bandwagon who then denies doing any such thing and presents himself as a “dad”.  I wonder how many bad habits his child picks up, just watching Dad around the house. Or even watching him on TV arguing the case for nuclear weapons.

I think I’d better go into a darkened room and lock the door behind me. I’m getting this terrible desire to seek out a prime minister and bite him. 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Micheal Martin: a far-seeing bird?

Micheal Martin reminds me of the Skibbereen Eagle. Not in appearance, more in tone and self-image.   You remember that newspaper’s famous declaration in 1914: “We give this solemn warning to Kaiser Wilhelm: The Skibbereen Eagle has its eye on you”.  Micheal is a wee bit that way too.  In his speech at Arbour Hill last Sunday, Martin announced that the British and Irish governments had taken their eyes off the North, showing “a clear and dangerous lack of commitment”. 

Well, well. He’s right but sort of in the same way that I’m right when I look out my window at 9.00 am and announce that it’s daylight. When the northern state was formed, Britain passed over the running of it to unionist politicians and what followed was fifty years of discrimination and gerrymandering. During that same period the southern government - almost always Fianna Fail - made patriotic noises at regular intervals but did nothing to right the wrongs of the north or to make any movement towards the realisation of the goal of unity it claimed to revere. And of course when the crisis came in 1969 Jack Lynch, the Fianna Fail leader in whose footsteps Micheal would one day follow, announced that south could not stand idly by. Which it then proceeded to do. 

Micheal has declared the north’s political institutions to be in a  “dysfunctional state” and that this provides a dangerous vacuum. The Irish Times this morning features his warning and accepts it unquestioningly. This, from a party leader in the south where under Fianna Fail the state crumbled under the weight of  corruption and mismanagement, leaving future generations to pick up the tab.  

A blind man on a galloping horse could tell you what Micheal is really concerned with in his Arbour Hill analysis. He wants to underscore the ‘Republican’  in his party’s strap line ‘The Republican Party’, and in doing so lay claim to be the party that really cares about all of Ireland, not just the southern state. In other words, to win back those southern voters who currently see Sinn Féin as the only party which gives a damn about Ireland as distinct from the 26 southern counties. 

Will it work? Well, when the SDLP abandoned its post-nationalist stance and emoted about its concern for the entire country, it didn’t work. The voters looked at them and then at Sinn Féin and decided to go for the real thing rather than the lite version. It’ll be interesting to see in the next opinion polls if Micheal’s Arbour Hill speech makes a difference. My guess is it'll prove more of a cock sparrow than an eagle.  

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Let's reconcile but don't forget we're British

What does ‘reconciliation’ mean? In everyday language it suggests that people who for a short or long time weren’t getting along together have now made up their differences. Does it mean the same thing in politics? Presumably.

Sinn Féin is pushing forward with a reconciliation programme headed by Declan Kearney. It’d be fair to say that  the bit in Gerry Adams’s Ard Fheis speech where he spoke about working class republicans and working class loyalists uniting to pursue mutual concerns was part of that reconciliation programme. Sounds good to me, especially when we remember that the thirty years of the Troubles were conducted - and suffered - very largely by people from and in working-class areas. The middle classes - again, for the most part - remained blessedly free from the impact of the conflict and so had an insulated view of what was happening. In which case it makes sense that the working class, who suffered most, should be the focus of reconciliation. If that’s what people want.

“Eh?” you say. “ ‘If that’s what people want?' Of COURSE it’s what they want”. Mmm - maybe. There are people so bigoted they can’t entertain the idea of getting closer to those who were their political and sometimes paramilitary enemies. These people feel more comfortable within their own insulated bubble, confining their contact to those of a like mind to themselves. It's cosier, less stressful.

But there are others who are open to new thinking, who  see the need for new approaches to people who were pitched against them for decades. Recent comments from the PUP suggest they are open to such thinking. Their very existence suggests they don’t feel the DUP (or UUP) are reflecting their concerns or working for their benefit. 

But there are at least three problems with the PUP position.

  1. They are electorally very weak. So weak, in fact, they’ve changed their leader almost as often as some people change their socks. Given that, what they have to say may not reflect the thinking in unionist working-class districts.
  2. The PUP has made it very clear that this coming-together, this reconciliation should be carried out at a social level and not a political level. I don’t know what that means - do you? Is it suggesting that the people we elect to represent us have no part to play in achieving reconciliation? On the face of it that’s absurd. Everybody has a political perspective, even if s/he isn’t aware of it. Politics is about pursuing particular goals for your society and reconciliation is one of them.
  3. The PUP, having finished saying that politicians or political involvement won’t work in terms of reconciliation, goes on to say that the position of Northern Ireland within the UK for the foreseeable future must be accepted by all sides if reconciliation progress is to be made. Whiffs of having your cake and eating it. Having dismissed  politics and politicians as facilitators of reconciliation, the PUP immediately poses a precondition:  anyone working for cross-community reconciliation must accept a common political viewpoint: that we’re all British and we’ll be staying that way for as far ahead as we can see.

        In other words, they'll allow into the Reconciliation Tent only those who carry a ticket with                  'British’ stamped on it. If that’s the case, the PUP have nothing to contribute to reconciliation and not much to anything else. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Does the Observer know about Marian Price?

Did you know there was a hunger-strike in progress at Guantánamo Bay? Neither did I until I read it in The Observer  last Sunday. Prisoners are on hunger strike because half of them - some 86 - have been cleared for release, only it hasn’t happened. The Observer  editorial highlights the case of a British man, Shaker Aamer, who has been cleared for release yet is still being held in Guantánamo.  The paper notes that Barack Obama in 2009 promised he would close the detention centre: “The existence of Guantánamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained”. The paper goes on to widen its argument, commenting on the damage done to democracy by such detention. “It is a fundamental principle of open and democratic societies that those accused or suspected of serious crimes should be submitted to due legal process within a reasonable time period. Indefinite detention of those cleared of any crime, or if those authorities have insufficient eveidence to prosecute, is a gross violation of human rights”.

I wonder, then, what The Observer  would make of the case of Marian Price. She is facing two charges - (i) that she allegedly provided a mobile telephone for a terrorist purpose in March 2009; and (ii) that she aided and abetted a meeting in support of an illegal organisation on 25 April  2012. She had been granted bail but Owen Patterson revoked her licence. 

Is four years a “reasonable time period” to be kept awaiting legal process?  Is the imprisonment of people on the decision of a British Secretary of State something that looks like justice to you? Gerry Adams in his Ard Fheis speech called for her release and that of Martin Corey, who’s been imprisoned three years now with no reason provided. But Sinn Féin are caught in a cleft stick here, since both Price and Corey are vocal critics of the party and the Good Friday Agreement. Naturally they hang back from shouting too much about the release of two people who would probably repay them by denouncing them as sell-outs.

That’s not a good decision. I remember asking a young Dublin barrister how he felt about taking on cases of people he knew were guilty. His reply was that he sought out such cases, because even those apparently guilty are entitled to the full support of the law.  The same applies in the Price-Corey cases. For the very reason that Price and Corey are their political opponents/enemies,  Sinn Féin - and every other party - should be exerting themselves to the maximum to secure their release. As John Donne told us not to ask for whom the funeral bell tolls because “it tolls for thee”, so with Price and Corey. While they are in prison without trial or jury,  we are all interned. And that should worry us all. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Crime and punishment: Barack Obama

I was on Sunday Sequence (Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster) yesterday morning with Catherine Clinton, an American academic  from Queen’s University.  Our topic for discussion was the Boston Marathon and subsequent events. It was an interesting conversation -  Catherine is an intelligent  woman, and when you’ve William Crawley as presenter, you know you’ll have another thoughtful  voice in the debate.

My immediate reaction to the Boston Marathon deaths was that they recalled the Omagh Half-Marathon a couple of years back. I took part in that race and only later discovered that PSNI officer Ronan Kerr had been killed in a booby-trap bomb. So it was easy to empathise with the sense of shock and outrage the people of Boston must have felt after those explosions. 

But  the explosions in Boston called for more than just feelings of grief or even anger. For example:

  • President Obama was impressive in his determination to locate those responsible and let them feel the full weight of justice. What he didn’t mention and the media conveniently omitted is that his orders have led to the release of drone bombs in Pakistan which have killed over 3000 people. Of these it’s estimated that 1.5% were ‘high-profile’ - i.e,  active military enemies of the US. The pain and grief of the remaining 98.5% innocents were just as real as that felt in Boston. But the media didn’t mention the irony of a man speaking of the ‘evil’ of the deaths and mutilation of the Boston bombs, when he himself had been responsible for ‘evil’ on a far more massive scale. 
  • The two suspects - one of whom was killed, the other shot through the throat - were just that: suspects. Yet the way that it was reported, it seemed their guilt was beyond question. What ever became of being innocent until proved guilty?
  • The flooding of Boston with over 10,000 heavily-armed men, to search for and engage a 19-year-old fugitive was massively excessive. I kept waiting for Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis to appear wearing a sweaty t-shirt. The ‘lock-down’  which confined millions of Bostonians to their homes was highly theatrical, with the authorities essentially saying “We’re the guys in the white hats, you just stay clear and we’ll sort this out for you”. Then when it was all over, the confined people were let out and patted on the head and told they were the salt of the American earth. I call that infantilization and a very bad precedent for future, similar events. 
  • While we were on air, somebody texted in to castigate me for introducing drone bombs into the discussion of the marathon explosion. They’re entitled to their view - even my massive vanity concedes that not everyone loves me. But I’m convinced that US drone bombs have everything to do with what happened at the Boston marathon. Both killed innocent people, the difference being that the drone bombs were launched and continue to be launched on the say-so of the US president, that they cause death and destruction on a far more massive scale than in Boston, and that nobody came after Barack Obama as he hid in a backyard boat hoping he wouldn’t be shot dead like his brother. What’s more, no one in the media (that I’ve read/seen) mentions the hideous irony of Obama posing as the defender of life while dealing out death in distant parts with no sign of pity for the innocent.  I’d say that was a parallel well worth drawing, and it’s to the shame of the mainstream media that they haven’t done this. 

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Stormont: what d'you think of it so far?

I generally view The View (BBC TV) a day after it’s aired. While Hearts and Minds went out in the early evening, The View  has been exiled to the post-10.00 pm wilderness, so I usually tape it.  Anyway, it was yesterday before I got to hear that businessman on the programme, with his take on the Stormont Executive. It was, to put it mildly, damning. The man said he just got on with his business, doing what he could, ignoring the politicians who for him were an irrelevance, spending their time arguing over the past and offering nothing to the present or future. 

He was impressive in his understated sincerity and to some extent I found myself agreeing with him. Martin McGuinness likes to recall the first time he met with Ian Paisley in Stormont, as First and Deputy First Minister respectively, and how Paisley said “You know, we can do a lot better ourselves than these British ministers coming over here”. But as that businessman sees it,  they either can’t or aren’t doing better. 

It may be because it was the area I was involved with during my working life, but education seems the one area where the Stormont Executive has made a radical move, with the abolition of the 11+. But even that consists in catching up with what happened in Britain over 50 years ago; and should you ignore that awkward fact, you’re still faced with  the DUP and the UUP (I’m not really sure what the SDLP position is) condemning the move with some intensity. And of course there's free travel for the oldies, which Peter Robinson I think claims as his achievement, but again, they've had that south of the border since the days of Charlie Haughey.

Maybe there have been striking advances in other areas but  I can’t think what they are. Doesn't mean they aren’t happening, but you’d think  the Minister responsible and his/her party would be trumpeting any achievements from the rooftops. As for the progress made by  the cross-border bodies, I'm frankly underwhelmed. 

And yet, despite all that, I'm still an admirer of devolution. Maybe it’s like democracy itself:  devolved government is the worst of all systems, except for everything else. 

Friday, 19 April 2013

I got those lonesome, homesick A5 blues...

In the wake of bombs like those in Boston earlier this week, people say all sorts of things. Remember the Omagh bomb?  British and American politicians hurried to the town to join in the general sense of outrage and to assure local people of their support in rebuilding. Nothing would redress the terrible loss of life but  everything possible in material and emotional terms would be done to restore the town. Simpleton that I was, I believed their reassurances. 

It didn’t happen. Talk to business people in Omagh and you’ll find that no flood of American or British money came in to transform the stricken town. Walk down the main street today and while you don't get a sense of deprivation, you're a long way from the hum and bounce of a town that's thriving. And now this week, the decision to build the A5, running from Derry past Omagh to Aughnacloy has been put on hold because, we're told,  the Department of Regional Development screwed up in assessing the road’s impact on the environment. The road will now be built in two years’ time. Maybe. MAYBE.

It is indeed a big maybe, a MASSIVE maybe. For a number of reasons.

  1. It’s  west of the Bann. That’s the place where a lot nationalists/republicans live,  a place that’s got a touch of the political desert for unionism. Few or no votes to be won there by unionist parties. So why would any unionist Minister bust a gut in the interests of people opposed to his/her party's political thinking? 
  2. Danny Kennedy of the UUP is in charge of the scheme and Sammy Wilson is the Finance Minister. Sammy is on record as being agin the scheme - not against building roads, but just not there. Kennedy was on TV on Monday night and sounded as pumped up  about the project as a balloon that's had an argument with a bull-dozer. Best not look to Danny as an A5 saviour.
  3. Several dozen farmers along the route, most of them unionist, are opposed to the A5 scheme. Tens of thousands of business and non-business people in the area, most of them nationalist/republican,  are very much in favour of the scheme, which would provide a much-needed injection to employment and business. But do you think the superior numbers will mean anything? That the will of tens of thousands is bound to win the day?   Uh-uh. We’re talking power here, not a head-count of population. 
  4. The southern government originally promised £400 million towards the building of the A5. A couple of years ago it announced that, um, it’d done some sums and they’d now be giving something under £50 million. Considerably under. It’s kind of like the thing about urging people from the south to be ‘patriotic’ by shopping  in the south rather than the north. Of course the Dublin government recognises that all of us  on this island are Irish, it’s just that some are more Irish than others.  Count yourselves lucky to get a quarter of what we promised. 
Maybe at this point you’re half-thinking “Well, tough on the Omagh ones, and the Derry ones too, but we’re not going to be spending much time driving on those roads anyway”. Or maybe you’re thinking “Since those sodding southerners have gone back on their promise, of course it won’t get built, but that's life”.  I don’t blame you if you're thinking along those lines. But here’s the question: do you think the decision to build or not to build will be made on environmental or financial grounds? I think not. They’ll be factors, of course. But in the end it’ll come down to a political decision. So if I were a businessman in Omagh, or someone who longed for a Derry-Dublin road that’d match the Belfast-Dublin road,  I’d be opening a big box of chocolates before settling down to press Play on  my favourite escapist  movie. Because in my gut I’d know that once more, west of the Bann is at the end of the line.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Long Kesh/The Maze: a shrine to terrorism?

So - the Long Kesh/Maze site will very probably get the go-ahead this morning. A long time coming maybe, but better late than never. 

There were two politicians on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster this morning disputing the whole idea. You might think that, as the BBC is to balance what that guy who walked the tightrope between the Twin Towers was to death-defying,  one of those politicians would have been unionist and the other nationalist/republican. Wrong, I’m afraid. They were both unionist  - Tom Elliot (UUP) and Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) - and they couldn’t have disagreed more. 

Tom said the site would be a shrine to terrorism and it was all the DUP’s fault, so it was (btw, have you noticed how Tom pronounces ‘h’ as in ‘H-blocks’?); Jeffrey said that Tom’s party were the ones that signed up to the deal in the first place and what’s more, Noel Thompson was lying in the way he was presenting the project. Bang, wallop, thump, and all you’re left with is the feeling that the UUP and the DUP have some way to go before they find unity in their political thinking and Noel Thompson must be hoping he can meet Jeffrey up a dark alley some night soon. 

The justification for the site’s development, as presented by Jeffrey, was that there’d be loads of other stuff too - the Royal Ulster Agrticultural Society, a WW2 aircraft hangar - loads of stuff that would kinda diminish the impact of that pesky H-block and hospital area where the hunger strikers died. Sorry, Jeffrey. They won’t. Whatever they say, people coming to visit the site will have one central matter in mind - the hunger strikers. 

Will it be a shrine to terrorism or a peace and reconciliation centre, showing us a better way for the future? I think Tom’s nearer to the truth on this one than Jeffrey. It may not be a shrine to terrorism - we don’t remember the hunger strikers for what they did before they were sent to prison and embarked on their fast - but it will be a place where those visiting will be reminded of the matchless courage of ten men who decided that they’d rather die than be classified as common criminals. The woman laid to rest yesterday out-stared all ten men until they died, but in doing so unleashed world-wide sympathy for the dead men and gave birth to a new and powerful force in Irish politics, a force that continues to grow. 

Whatever the pressures that squeezed the DUP into going along with the development of Long Kesh, they must have been formidable, for given a choice, 99% of unionism would follow David Ervine’s advice and flatten everything on the site. It might be possible to kid yourself that Ulster-Scots provides a balance to the Irish language, but  there just isn’t anything to provide a balance to the sacrifice of these ten men. The Long Kesh development, like Kilmainham Jail, will jolt visitors into awareness of the courage and selflessness of those who died there. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Thatcher and Boston: how art shapes life

Funny the link between what we might loosely call art and life, and how one affects the other.   Years and years ago a song called ‘Ding-dong, the witch is dead’ was written and performed in a much-loved movie. Then it’s resurrected today and suddenly everyone is full of tortured conscience: should we play this song, is it offensive in the light of Margaret Thatcher’s death, but she wouldn’t have wanted censorship, not much she wouldn’t, tell that to the Shinners, oxygen of publicity and all that, we are the BBC and we always strike a balance so play five seconds of it and fill in the rest with a mini-history lesson. 

All that over one little children’s song.

But in that case there was/is a link but not a causal one between art and life. ‘Ding-dong the witch is dead’ didn’t cause Thatcher to die. But what about this, now?

You know the way we’ve all been shocked by those explosions at the end of the Boston marathon. I love Boston - was in it last summer and it was a delight; and I quite like running, although my total maximum is a half-marathon, not a full one. Now I could go on - and maybe I will just a little - about how we feel more deeply about events, especially sad or tragic events, when they’re televised. Reading about them in the paper isn’t quite the same thing. And of course we feel more deeply about events which happen to people like ourselves. President Obama has never made any secret of his orders for the use of drone bombs in Pakistan, which have led to the deaths of thousands. And was it in Pakistan that around 70 people died in an explosion the same day as the Boston marathon? Such things get nowhere near as much attention as Boston, because what’s far away and dissimilar in culture from our one seems, well, less human. Logical in our compassion, aren’t we?

But get this one. I bought next week’s Radio Times  yesterday and as usual flicked through the movies listed for showing. Anything with four stars gets my attention so when I saw one in that category called Four Lions  I checked the detail. It’s scheduled for showing next Monday night but my guess is it might just get pulled before that.

If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know what’s coming next. It’s by TV satirist, the wonderful Chris Morris, who made The Day Today and Brass Eye. So what’s Four Lions  about? Well would you believe it’s an “audacious jihad comedy” about a gang of four whose plan it is to bomb the London Marathon. The Radio Times says Morris’s film is “fast, very funny and disturbing mostly in the sense that, despite wanting to create murder on a vast scale, the suicide bombers are actually a likeable bunch”.

Did they say “likeable bunch”?  That seals it. Art will next Monday affect life once again and the movie will be pulled. But think positive. It’s scheduled for Film4 and not the BBC. Think of the agonising, think of the compromise finally reached had it been Auntie:  showing five minutes of the movie and giving a lecture during the remainder of the scheduled time. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Being in bed and falling out

I’m just off The Nolan Show (BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster) where I was talking to William Crawley (Nolan’s in the US) along with Alex Kane about the fractious relationship between the DUP and their partners in government, Sinn Féin. 

There are a lot of traps we can fall into when talking about political opponents. The most popular trap here in the north is to say in so many words “They’re both to blame”.  On the law of averages that occasionally will be the case but it’s far from the norm. Either William or Alex compared the bad blood between the parties to partners in a marriage. If it is, then it’s a marriage where one partner wishes it didn't have to be in the marriage and the other is rather keen on making a go of it.

Take the DUP.  Have you ever seen a DUP politician on TV alongside a Sinn Féin politician? Everything about their body language and often their words suggest that they find the present company odious in the extreme. They may be in the marriage but they don’t mind holding their nose when they have to appear beside their republican spouse. Not so Sinn Féin - or, to their credit, members of the UUP (or ex-members like Basil McCrea or John McAllister). 

Arlene Foster of the DUP has been busy doing her M Thatcher impersonation,  lecturing the Sinn Féin leadership about saying one thing while their Ard Fheis grassroots say something else. Oh dear. That’s because some Ard Fheis delegates (around 12 I think) said  they weren’t inextricably de-linked from physical force. Maybe best pass lightly over the numbers giving this answer and the choice of sample, and instead wonder, as someone on Sluggerotoole did the other day, what answer might come from members attending a DUP annual conference, if asked would they reject the use of physical force should a democratic majority in the north voted for the end of partition?  Come to think of it, that might be an interesting question for some enterprising journalists to put to leading DUP politicians. How about it, guys?

The fact is,  the leading people in the DUP are more worried about their core base than Sinn Féin are about theirs. Like it or lump it, the DUP is in bed with republicans. When you hear these anti- Sinn Féin outbursts, always remember that the DUP is saddled with one overwhelming concern: East Belfast. If they’re going to win back the leader’s lost seat there, they must periodically remind the electorate that while they may have been forced into bed with the Shinners, they’re definitely not taking sinful pleasure in it. Never, never, never, never.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Sniper at work? Or consistency?

Jeffrey Donaldson

I know, I know - one shouldn’t keep beating out the same old tune on a drum. But I’ve just heard  a short bit of The Nolan Show and consistency has elbowed its way once more to the front of my thoughts. 

William Crawley (presenting in place of Stephen Nolan) had Gerry Kelly and Jeffrey Donaldson on, and William queried Gerry  about the fact that some delegates at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis were wearing badges saying ‘Sniper at work’ .  Gerry’s response was that he hadn’t seen them, that he wouldn’t wear one himself, and that the media seemed to be very interested in this matter while rather less focused on unionist attitudes to commemoration of the Ulster Covenant,   Larne gun-running and related events. Jeffrey not surprisingly disagreed. He said it showed that there were still unreconstructed elements within republicanism intent on “rewriting history...It is wrong to glorify those who took life during the Troubles”. 

On the face of it, a credible stance. But then (as I suspect Gerry Kelly began to say with five seconds in which to say it), there’s this old consistency thing. If it’s glorifying the taking of human life to wear a badge with ‘Sniper at work’, what is it when you devote most of a year to men who threatened force and smuggled in guns under the benign gaze of the RIC in the early part of the last century?  If it’s wrong to glorify (such a big word for a badge) republicans who took life during the Troubles, it must surely be equally wrong to glorify members of the UDR by constructing monuments to them in Lisburn, for example. Or to glorify the British Army which shot down fourteen innocent people in Derry. Or to rejoice in victory at a battle that happened over three hundred years ago.

I accept that Jeffrey is sincere in his wish that violence shouldn’t be glorified. He is, after all, a committed Christian. But either he is being

selective in his condemnation of those who engaged in violence or he has a terribly, terribly bad memory. Consistency, Jeffrey. Try it. You’ll like it.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Ding-dong: the sound of democracy

The one thing you have to admire in people is consistency, even when you disagree with them on  other things. There was a shining example of same on TV a few days ago. 

As you’ve probably noticed, there’s been some nervousness and even consternation in Tory ranks over the fact that the song “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” has been surging up the charts. “Lacking in respect” “Bad manners” “Tasteless” were the kind of words used to describe it. So should the BBC  (especially) play it as part of their pop chart programme or should it, in the interests of respect/manners/taste,  be omitted? Well, Auntie came up with the answer: they’d play about five seconds of it and then have a chap explain why it would be lacking in respect and the rest of it to play the whole thing.

And the consistency part? It came from a Conservative MP. In his thirties, I’d have said. Missed his name. But he said no, no, no - the song should be aired in full. Mrs Thatcher wouldn’t have gone down the BBC road. She believed in democracy and a core part of  democracy is not to censor out stuff just because you don’t like it.  The song mightn’t be complimentary to Mrs Thatcher but she’d have been the first to insist on its right to be aired. 

That’s a tough stance to take but a consistent one. Have to hand it to Mrs Thatcher on that one, wouldn't you say?. ...What’s that? You’re an actor?  So? ...And you used to make quite a good living.  Glad to hear it. On the radio and TV. I see. As a voice-over for when anybody from Sinn Féin came on. Right. So why were you required to do this voice-over?... You’re kidding. Really? The whole party was censored from being heard?  For SIX WHOLE YEARS? Geddoutahere!  Whose bright idea was this? I mean, who were the government at the time?...I see. The Conservatives. Led by Margaret Thatcher, eh? Mmm. OK. Well, there you are now. Funny old world.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Oh I tell you, I'm so disillusioned (bites lip to hold back tears)

Maybe it’s that people are getting a bit narky waiting for spring to put in an embarrassingly-late appearance, but I’ve just read three articles looking back on the Good Friday Agreement fifteen years ago, and all three say the Agreement was next to useless. They concede that it did bring to an end the near-daily catalogue of death and destruction, but other than that they’re deeply disillusioned. 

Why? Because, they say, when they signed Yes they had to swallow hard over such things as the release of prisoners and the positioning of ‘terrorists’ in government.  As Mary McAleese might say, “Wow!”.  Where in the use of that term is there any concession to the fact that these ‘terrorists’  believed, like so many Irishmen and women before them, that Britain had no right to administer its rule in Ireland and that violence was the only option available?  If you can’t see that perspective on the Troubles, as well as your own, maybe you shouldn’t be writing about the subject. As to ‘terrorists in government’ -  gimme a break. Africa, United States, South America, south of Ireland: again and again history presents us with examples of people who were considered ‘terrorists’ but when negotiations had been completed, were voted into government. Anyone who’s shocked/saddened to see Martin McGuinness or Gerry Kelly or others like them in  government has a mental vacuum where historical knowledge should reside.

The other disillusionment much penned nowadays is that we have a sectarian stalemate in Stormont, with Sinn Féin in particular totally uninterested in making Northern Ireland a better place. How they know republican motivation I’m not sure. But if you try to guess at it through observing republican actions, you’d surely draw a different conclusion. In fact   you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to notice that Sinn Féin have repeatedly made overtures of reconciliation towards unionism, overtures which have been received sometimes deadpan, sometimes frostily and as often as not with  contempt. The fact is, this talk of tit-for-tat, sectarian gridlock because of the two big parties doesn’t add up.  Remember when Paisley was First Minister and referred frequently with horse-laugh disdain to his ‘deputy’?  And the  way in which McGuinness responded with a smile and courtesy towards the other man? And can you imagine Paisley reacting similarly, had the shoe been on the other foot? And have you noticed how McGuinness has repeatedly stood by Robinson, in personal as well as political terms, while receiving little or nothing in return?

I don’t believe the Good Friday Agreement  delivered all that it seemed to promise - few things do, as George Mitchell pointed out to us this week. But it has brought peace, it has  persuaded republicans to do what other parties and governments were forever urging them to do -   seek their goals through political means. And it has moved a considerable degree of control - not all, but a considerable degree - from  English hands in Westminster into Irish hands in Stormont.  Even if the  Agreement hasn't fulfilled every rosy expectation, that in itself is no small  achievement. 

Now if the DUP could be persuaded to defrost even a little...

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Fifteen years on: republican progress?

If you’re a unionist, you may or may not think that things are on their way to hell in a handcart, with nationalists/republicans gaining on all fronts while unionists’ culture and sensibilities are being dulled into numbness. And if you’re a nationalist/republican?  Well, there are two views you can take.

One, that those favouring justice and and national unity are on a slow but steady line of progress. The old Orange state has indeed been dismantled, relations between Ireland north and south, and Britain, are better than they ever were. The Catholic/nationalist population is growing steadily as the unionist population declines, so that by the next census it’s perfectly possible there will be a Catholic majority in the north.

The second view is less sanguine. I had an email from a friend the other day which listed the sense of frustration among those republicans who reject the Sinn Féin analysis of the situation.  He argued that as the old Nationalist party was replaced by the SDLP and the SDLP by Sinn Féin, so Sinn Féin will eventually be replaced by those republicans/nationalists disillusioned by a lack of progress over the past 15 years. “Those who go down the road of compromising with British rule inevitably get replaced. The reason: it never delivers Irish unity”.  Far from seeing progress in winning unionists to see their place in a reunited Ireland, he believes that republicans/nationalists are faced with “An increasingly ignorant, unforgiving, obdurate, inflexible and hostile unionism”.  

It’s a credible commentary as to where we are a decade and a half after the Good Friday Agreement.  However, it ignores one thing: that if a true republic is to be created in Ireland it must include and respect that “ignorant, unforgiving, obdurate, inflexible and hostile unionism”. It is true that there are few signs of change in unionist attitude. By and large, the DUP still regards all things republican as loathsome and finds it hard to adopt a civil air when in the presence of republicans. And while there has indeed been a dismantling of the unionist state, there has been little evidence of major change via the cross-border bodies. 

Perhaps the answer is in a comment from Gerry Adams about thinking in terms of 40-year blocs. To an individual 40 years is a long, long time. In terms of history, it’s but the blink of an eye. Perhaps republicans/nationalists need to see movement towards unity in those terms.

Alternatively, of course, my frustrated friend might be right.


Monday, 8 April 2013

Farewell, Baroness Thatcher

I know people who have (and wear) ‘I still hate Thatcher’ t-shirts. I haven’t one myself but I always understood what they meant. What baffles me are the people who think she was a great leader. 

She replaced a crippled Britain with one where greed and selfishness were dominant.  Remember ‘Loadsamoney’? You got it. She destroyed not just the livelihood of thousands of British workers but the very communities in which they lived. She made decisions which resulted in policemen on horseback charging down striking miners. She claimed some windswept islands thousands of miles away as British and gave orders for the deaths of all on board the Belgrano to reinforce her point. She spoke of the Long Kesh hunger strike as the last sting of a dying IRA wasp and in the cause of giving them the label ‘criminal’, allowed ten men to die. She told people that there was no such thing as society, only people and their families. 

So apart from the fact that all the men in her cabinet were scared shitless of her, where’s the greatness? I hope God shows greater mercy to her than she showed to others.

Mother Britain sings mum

I’ve some reservations about raising the question of the financial benefits to be derived from the ending of partition in Ireland. Not because I don’t believe they’re there, but because I believe other arguments are stronger, like the right of the Irish people, rather than their next-door neighbour,  to decide how Ireland is ruled, regardless of how the sums add up. That’s what happened with German reunification.

But the financial question and Irish partition came up again in Derry last Tuesday. At a meeting looking at the impact of the Good Friday Agreement and looking forward, Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson said she was convinced that duplication of services on both sides of the border clearly made no economic sense. But what is needed, she said,  is a clear picture of what  money the British government gives us and what money we give them in taxes of various kinds, but the British government won't provide these. If they did, the economic argument could be examined for its validity. Will this happen? I’m beginning to doubt it. Despite repeated requests, the British government won’t release the figures on what the subvention to the north costs Westminster. 

This refusal of the British  to come clean on the facts of a case is part of a pattern. Ask the Finucane family - they’ve been trying to get the British government to hold a public inquiry into the death of their father, Pat Finucane, but the British government keeps refusing.  Mind you, even when you have a public enquiry like Saville into Bloody Sunday, you still don’t get to the root of the matter. Do you really believe that the decision to shoot dead in broad daylight thirteen innocent people, and fatally injure a fourteenth, was taken at the level of colonel? That it doesn’t go higher than that? And then there are the dozens, maybe hundreds of people whose loved ones were killed under circumstances that suggest British collusion. They too face a blank wall when they try to get information from the British government.  

Why do the British do it? Why does the British government resist all efforts to get them to come clean on matters that relate to Ireland?  Because they can. Because politics is about power and Britain has the greater power in these matters. And you thought right and wrong entered into judgement on these matters? Go away and take a running jump at yourself.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Tale of an Admiral (maybe)

Understanding the past is a tricky business . A recent commenter (is that the word?) to my blog on Patrick Pearse mentioned Ruth Dudley Edwards’s book on Pearse. I haven’t read it so I can’t be certain as to what it says.  But I could guess by looking at Ruthie’s track record, notably her admiring account of the Orange Order, The Faithful Tribe.  The fact that her late husband Paddy Cosgrove wrote an admiring biography of Margaret Thatcher might also give a hint of the flavour to be found in Ruthie’s thinking and writing. 

But it’s actually a book headlined by today’s Sindo  that’s caught my attention. The headline is ‘New book sheds light on dark deeds of republicanism’ (no surprise there) and the book’s called Voices from the Great Houses:Cork and Kerry.  It’s by a woman called Jane O’Keeffe, and she’s put together interviews done by her husband with people from those same great houses. The Sindo recounts the killing of Admiral Boyle Somerville by the IRA in the 1930s. The interview is with Tom Somerville, the admiral’s great-great-nephew, who tells how local young men who wished to join the Royal Navy would go to the Admiral to get a reference, which he cheerfully did. The IRA saw this as recruiting young men to serve in British navy and they shot him.

Those are the facts of the matter. His great-great-nephew goes on to give other reasons for his killing: (i) the IRA wanted to give some momentum to its flagging campaign of the time; (ii) he was an admiral and a Protestant, so his death would generate headlines. The great-great-nephew also claims the admiral “was simply trying to do a good turn in helping to get employment for local boys, rather than to recruit for the Royal Navy”.

The great-great-nephew may be right in his interpretation of the Admiral’s motives. He may, on the other hand, be wrong. How he knows them, he doesn't explain. It certainly seems as though the Admiral was someone who was making it easier for young men living in the area to join the Royal Navy, which sounds like part of the recruitment process. Likewise, the IRA may or may not have wanted to generate momentum for its campaign through the killing; and the fact that the Admiral was a Protestant may or may not have been a factor in their decision to kill him. 

What’s at issue here is the interpretation assigned to the Admiral’s role in recruitment and the motivation ascribed to the IRA’s actions. His great-great-nephew goes with the decent man/morally bankrupt IRA interpretation, which allows the Sindo  to produce its usual anti-republican headline. But little or no attempt is made  to offer other possible interpretations to the thinking behind the event. The great-great-nephew gives no evidence other than his belief that the Admiral thought that way and that the IRA thought in another way.

History, Napoleon said, is an agreed myth - and, he might have added, a myth that’s used to shape the present and create the future. Never let it be said the Sindo  hasn’t done its little bit to nudge things its desired direction. 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Was Pearse mad?

Among the tens of thousands of words spoken during interviews for my book Whose Past Is It Anyway?,  those of Ian Paisley Jr  are among the most memorable - particularly his thoughts on the Easter Rising. 

“I’m an avid student of history, so I’ve absolutely no difficulty in exploring the Easter Rising further.  As I say, the more we study, the more we learn from it, and hopefully we learn not to repeat it. Regarding attendance [at Easter Rising centennial commemoration ceremonies], 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.”

Then he gives his thoughts on P H Pearse. 

“I studied what happened with Pearse. I think he was a lunatic...I can only say that Pearse was, in my view, a madman. In his own writings he compares his blood sacrifice to that of Christ’s. Those are the words of a lunatic. I mean, he was going there deliberately to die. You go into battles to win - even if you know you’re going to die.” [Laughs].

So was Pearse a little bit insane? 

Hardly. For a start, his famous speeches about the need for the blood of young men to nourish Ireland’s soil were typical  of the rhetoric that was used at the time. The same images were used of those who died that same year at the Somme and in other Great War battles. 

My second reason for believing in Pearse’s sanity is that Pearse was right in his predictions. In a final letter written to his mother on 1 May 1916 from Arbour Hill Barracks, he writes:

“We have preserved Ireland’s honour and our own. Our deeds of last week are the most splendid in Ireland’s history. People will say hard things of us now, but we shall be remembered by posterity and blessed by unborn generations.”

Which is precisely what happened. Hard things were indeed said about them.

“We said a week ago, with the scant knowledge we then had, that the connection between this disloyal movement and Germany was now complete; that the manner of Sir Roger Casement’s capture proved that German gold and German influence had all along been at the back of the sedition mongers in this country”. Belfast News Letter Tues 2 May

“No terms of denunciation that pen could indict would be too strong to apply to those responsible for the insane and criminal rising of last week. .. Were it not for the glory which has irradiated the Irish arms in the fields where the battle for human freedom is being fought [in the Great War], our heads might now hang low in shame for the misdeeds of those who have been the willing dupes of Prussian intrigue. - Irish Independent, Thurs 4 May

The Irish News  speaks of “ the terrible week that began with the seizure of a few public buildings and the posting of that unhappy ‘Proclamation’ “ and talks of the Rising in terms of ”the catalogue of the week’s blunders, disasters, crimes and retributions.”  - The Irish News, Thurs 4 May. 

But as history shows, Pearse got it right when he foresaw  defeat in the Easter Week battle but victory in the war for freedom, at least for most of the country. 

Above all, Pearse’s sensitivity and sanity shine through in his final letters to his mother and others from prison. Consider this poem, The Wayfarer, written on Tues 2 May 1916 in Kilmainham Gaol, the day before he died.

“The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart has shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun, 
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by,
Some quiet hill where mountainy men hath sown
And soon would reap”.

Lunatics don’t write like that. Beannachtaí na Cásca oraibh.    

Friday, 5 April 2013

How to be transparent

Transparency - lovely word, isn’t it? A word without jagged edges, a word that’s almost a sigh, a word that puts nothing between you and its meaning. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of it about.

Let’s take two examples - both fairly current at the moment. 

On 19 March 1988, two British soldiers, Derek Wood and David Howes were beaten and then shot dead when their car was intercepted in a funeral procession in West Belfast. When the recent motion expressing sympathy for these two men was widened to sympathy for all victims of violence in the Troubles, the DUP got very upset. Despite that upset the wider motion was passed.

The question no one chose to address in the Belfast City Council debate  is  fairly obvious: what were the two soldiers doing in the middle of that West Belfast funeral? OK, perhaps City Hall the other night wasn’t the time or place for an answer to that question -  but what about over the past twenty-five years? The only answer I’ve been given is that the two men “stumbled” on the funeral - that is, they got sort of lost and by mistake drove into the middle of it. Frankly, that sounds absurd. The first thing a British soldier arriving in the north would get during the Troubles was a clear notion of where to go and not go. There have been allegations that the two men were FRU operatives on reconnaissance.  There are also allegations that even the families of the dead men have been kept in the dark regarding their role. 

Given the detail which we have available on the horror of the two men’s deaths, you’d think that some detail would be available as to why they were there, what was the purpose of their presence, who sent them if they were sent.   Astonishingly, not so. I’ll be happy to be corrected but this window’s transparency looks to have been totally blacked out. Why?

The other, unrelated question no one can get answers to is “How much money does the UK Treasury give to the north each year?”  The prompt unionist answer is  £10.5 billion. Prompt but less than transparent, it seems, because it’s based on some dodgy British Treasury calculating which even they admit is flawed. For example, the British claims its expenditure on the north is just over £23 billion. But then it appears that some £5.7 billion never gets here. Over £3 billion gets spent on British forces in Afghanistan, War pensions,  Royal palaces, Royal travels - stuff like that. 

Equally muddy is how much money gets sucked out of here. You’d think, since they’re receiving it, the British would know how much we pass to them annually. But if they do they’re just not telling. The Department of Finance and Personnel here estimate  we cough up  £12.7 billion each year. So if you do the sums with that, you get Britain propping up this place with under £5 billion, not the £10.5 billion usually quoted.  And even that doesn’t allow for all the corporation tax and VAT generated by the many big British firms here. The bottom line? The facts and figures about the financial advantages of being part of the Union are as muddied as a pig-stye window. 

You think that these two matters are so important, the truth should be demanded and given? Me too. But it ain’t. The blinds are firmly down on both cases. I'll let you guess why.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

A councillor, his high horse and his withered fig-leaf

Oh dear oh dear. When you’re climbing on your high horse, it’s important to check that your fig-leaf is thick and flourishing. Otherwise people will see, um, through you.

I was just at the Rice Krispies stage this morning when the voices of two Belfast City councillors joined me from Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster. They were having a debate. Or to be more exact,  Christopher Stalford (DUP) was attacking Mervyn Jones (Alliance). 

It appears that the DUP had put forward a motion  expressing sympathy with the deaths of two British soldiers killed in West Belfast 25 years ago. Mervyn Jones’s party, the Alliance Party, put forward an amendment, condemning violence from whatever quarter. This ignited Christopher Stalford and his party, who found such a widening of condemnation shameful. No matter that Mervyn Jones in the debate described the two corporals’ killing as vile - to amend the motion was still terrible, shocking. Was the Alliance Party saying that state violence was the same as terrorist violence? That the death of security force members was equivalent to the death of a terrorist?  Was the Alliance Party saying Mairead Farrell was a victim?  Jones suggested that, since she’d been brought into the discussion,  in one sense she was, and there was a  need to include all who had suffered. Councillor Stalford was even more disgusted. The Alliance Party had become so consumed with hatred of things unionist it ccouldn’t bring itself to support a DUP motion. 

Oh dear Number Three.  A whispered word in your shell-like ear, Christopher. If you’re going to sound high-principled, be sure no one can peek at your real motives. “Faux outrage”,  as Stan Collymore might phrase it,  is a poor, withered fig-leaf that exposes to all the iris-scorching truth: the DUP must hammer, hammer, HAMMER at the Alliance Party at every turn, because they need to, they have to, they MUST win back that blankety-blanking East Belfast seat.  

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Nigel Dodds and 'child abuse'

It’s good to see the DUP’s Nigel Dodds concerned about child abuse. There’s something particularly cowardly and cruel about taking helpless children and submitting them to your selfish desires. Hellish wouldn’t be too strong an adjective to use of such actions. Right?

The abuse Nigel is concerned about is the dressing-up of children in dark glasses and semi-uniform by their republican parents. As abuse goes, it doesn’t seem immediately cruel. Children love to dress up. When we were small, my sisters were forever getting into their mother’s shoes and clanking around the place; and I, like my classmates, was constantly to be seen darting around the Christian Brothers school-yard pretending to be a cowboy shooting Indians in the Wild West. 

No, the abuse Nigel has in mind here is that the parents are inducting their children into a view of life and in particular the situation in Ireland. They’re encouraging their children to believe, however indirectly, that violent struggle against occupying British forces is commendable. That, as Nigel and many others would see it, is child abuse. 

But then one person’s abuse is another person’s revered creed. In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins claims that teaching children about religion amounts to a form of child abuse. Again, the act itself seems relatively non-abusive but, in Dawkins’s book, the belief behind it, being inculcated, is where the abuse lies. As a committed Christian, Nigel  would probably reject such an interpretation as a vile slur. 

So what it comes down to is what you believe in. If you hold something to be valuable and noble, you’ll want to pass it on to your children. It might be religious faith, it might be atheism, it it might be a way of looking at the world, it might be politics. In fact, if you didn’t pass it on, your conscience might trouble you. 

Ultimately, then, Nigel is saying he doesn’t like republicanism, especially republicanism which has suggestions of violence behind it. Just as lots of other people don’t like Orangeism and the history of sectarian violence behind it. And as Nigel is concerned for the welfare of children he believes are being abused by republicans, so Dawkins is concerned for children who are being abused by Christians and Catholics might be concerned about children who are being abused by anti-Catholic Orangeism. 

If you believe the philosophy behind the dressing-up is misguided or evil, you will condemn those who induct children in such a philosophy. If you believe the philosophy behind the dressing-up is noble or glorious, you will rejoice in the chance to dress children up in the garb their fathers wore. Simples.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Mr Edwin Poots and his disagreeable tweet

The DUP’s Edwin Poots may not cut what the Italians call a ‘bella figura’ but that’s no reason to attack him when he opens his mouth to express a view. Although in this case it’s his fingers he’s opened, so to speak, with what has now become a famous tweet. As republicans marked the anniversary of the 1916 rebellion on Sunday, Mr Poots tweeted: "Had forgotten it is the 97th anniversary of a failed rising by subversives."

This got a number of people going, in particular the SDLP’s Conal McDevitt, who told Mr Poots it was time he decided whether he was going to be part of a decade of reconciliation between parties or the opposite. I think Conall’s being a bit demanding.

For a start, it is possible that Mr Poots forgot Sunday was the anniversary of the Easter Rising. We all forget anniversaries. I forgot one last year and the love of my life has been making me pay ever since.  Mr Poots isn’t a republican so it is possible the whole thing just slipped his mind.  Who are we to claim we know the spaces inside Mr Poots’s head better than the owner of that head himself? Back off, Conal. 

Then there’s his description of the Easter Rising as 'a failed rising by subversives'.  Well, that’s how he sees it. His fellow-DUPer Ian Paisley Jr believes, after careful consideration, that Padraig Pearse was a lunatic. He told me so during an interview. And I’ll bet every last man and woman in the DUP would agree with Messrs Poots and Paisley on all counts.  After all, Pearse and his associates were trying to subvert the union with Britain. The DUP view of things was quite popular at the time, especially in newspapers like the Belfast News Letter and the ironically titled Irish Independent. And yes, the men who seized the GPO were, inside a week or so forced to surrender. Most people would call that a defeat. 

Except that it was a defeat that led to victory in the war.  Within six years of the Rising, republicans  had succeeded in achieving independence for twenty-six out of thirty-two counties. But again it’s worth emphasising - Mr Poots’s failure-thinking is not unique.

Let’s be frank: most people who got annoyed with the Poots tweet did so because they disagree with its judgement. I disagree with it myself.  But that doesn’t mean Mr Poots isn’t entitled to his views. I could call him a bigot, as that other DUPer Nelson McCausland called me when I wrote something he didn’t agree with; but that’d be pointless and stupid.  Besides, Mr Poots may well have been hoping for a backlash from nationalists/republicans. Just the thing to keep the backwoodsmen happy and voting right. 

But my basic point remains:  even if you think Poots’s point is loony-tunes bunkum,  he’s entitled to have it and express it. Now if he’d tweeted “Just remembered this is the 97th anniversary of a glorious republican Rising”, that’d have been something to shout about.  

Monday, 1 April 2013

Paolo di Canio: head coach as fascist

One of my sons is a Sunderland fan. Since he’s in New York, I haven’t had a chance yet to ask him what he thinks of the appointment of Paolo di Canio as the team’s head coach. I know what David Milliband thinks of it, since, although he’s about to depart for New York himself, he was since 2011 a director on the Sunderland board. Now he’s resigned over “past political statements” that di Canio has made.

Which were? Well, Virginia, Paolo has declared himself to be a fascist. When he played for Lazio, he was pictured giving a Nazi salute to adoring fans.  He has made no bones about being “a fascist but not a racist”.  And he has received support from an unlikely quarter - Stan Collymore, former star of Nottingham Forest and other clubs. According to today’s Guardian, Collymore has tweeted : 

“Faux outrage as always on twitter. No Italian ex footballer ever called me N*****. Just plenty from the wonderful UK shires."

Odd, the sources from which sane comment comes. 

Which leads me to ask when it was the great British public started judging their sporting men and women by their political stance (di Canio)? Or private life (John Terry/George Best)? Or drinking habits? (Paul Gasgoine, Best again) or their belief in reincarnation (Glen Hoddle)? The defence is that these sporting heroes are models for youngsters,. True enough. But they’re modelled for their playing skills - not for their wife-beating or thoughts on the after-life. If a brain surgeon is operating on me, I just want him to be really good with that scalpel or drill. His views on other matters are his affair. 

Paolo di Canio will be judged (I hope) on whether he can perform the miracle of keeping Sunderland from dropping into a lower division next season. That’s it - not, as Collymore puts it, “faux outrage”.