Jude Collins

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A word, Mr President, in your ear.

As the yelps of outrage about the Nigella thing are still pouring in I’m tempted to discuss the topic yet again. But to be honest, if I have to write about the two multi-millionaires and their quarrel again, I don’t know if I’ll have the will to live afterwards. (And don't say you can help me on that front - join the queue),

So instead let me write briefly about a topic I was discussing on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster this morning with two people for whom I have a high regard: Nick Garbutt (even though he once was editor of the VO) and Catherine Clinton, ex-staff member at Harvard and currently at Queen’s. Both of them are delightful people and I think we disagreed on nearly everything. 

The topic was Obama’s Waterfront speech. I desperately wanted to like it but it was too full of ‘hope’ s  and ‘dream’ s  and other such for me. Ten out of ten for form, three out of ten for content.  

What was wrong with it? Where to start. Take education: he told us that we had a choice - go with integrated education and make for real peace and a cohesive society, stay with separate schools and go downhill. Well thanks, Barack, but I know the schools here. I spent my working life in and out of them.  They don’t promote sectarianism or division or any other such. Quite the reverse. In our discussion, Nick Garbutt pointed out that it wasn’t the teaching of sectarianism that was the problem, it was the separateness. A good point, except of course you’d have to think about all-girls’ or all-boys’ schools, you’d certainly have to think about secondary and grammar school education, you’d even have to think about streaming classes within a school. You’d also have to say that parents who send their children to a Catholic school (or a Protestant one, or a Jewish or Muslim or whatever faith) were doing those children a disservice. I disagree. If a religious faith is real it’s an extremely important part of people’s lives, and naturally they’d want to hand that important thing on to their children. Does bunging kids into one school out-balance that? Not in my book.

Besides which, most of us didn’t go to integrated school. Most of us here went to a Catholic or state (effectively Protestant) school: so do we consider ourselves bigots? I think not. It’s always somebody else we see being made more bigoted by separate education, not us. 

Last point (I have to clear out the garage): are we a client state of the US? There’s no doubt the Americans, especially Bill Clinton, were vital to the success of the peace talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement. Plus there’s always been a very strong emotional and even financial tie between Ireland and the US. That said, is this how the deal works  -  that they help us and that gives them the right to come in and explain what’s wrong with the way we’re doing things and tell us how we should do them?  Imagine that on a personal basis.  Your friend helps you out when you’re in trouble and you’re truly grateful. But then the friend drops in  from time to time and tells you and your family how to organise your lives. EH? 

Or put the boot on the other foot: Peter Robinson /Martin McGuinness pop over to the States, say a few funny things about the weather there, then tell the assembled Americans they’ll really have to stop torturing and detaining without trial people in Guantanamo Bay. And those drone-bombs that kill fifty innocent people for every suspected ‘terrorist’ it blows up: you really should stop that, guys. Uncivilized. And by the way,  what about the proportion of blacks and Hispanics in jail in the US  (51%) compared to the proportion of blacks and Hispanics in the general population (25%)?  Not good enough, guys.

Can you see it? Can you imagine the onslaught of the American media if Robinson or McGuinness tried any such thing? So what gives Obama the right to come and lecture us on morality?  The answer is simple: power. If you’re big and powerful enough, you can tell anyone you choose what they should do. You can even force them to do it, kill their leader and put in place ‘regime change’ in the name of democracy or some suchlike hypocrisy. 

I’m told Obama’s done good things in his domestic policy. Terrific. About time US citizens got a  decent healthcare system. But there’s little doubt that Obama’s foreign policy has been a huge disappointment to many people. And even at home, as someone pointed out, Obama presides over a US society that is more divided now that ever it was. And this is the man who’s come to tell us how to get social integration? Pull the other one, Barack, would you? There’s bells on it. 


  1. What's this continuing obsession you have with the V O(aka the Irish News)?Is there some hidden trauma that you wish to share with us?!

  2. Nothing hidden at all, Anon 14:44. (Incidentally I haven't mentioned it in a looong time). I used to do a column for them and oh my, how happy I was! Poor but happy. Then I foolishly wandered off onto a new ship which sank inside no time, and the VO repulsed me, even though I returned in sackcloth and ashes and knelt in the doorway in Donegall Street. "Baksheesh! Baksheesh, for the love of Allah!" I begged them but they just cast me aside like a used kleenex. I'll have to stop now - I can feel the tears welling up just thinking about it. Oh how foolish I was. I may never be so happy again. Or poor, but what's poverty when you're happy?

  3. Jude
    For many it was only reaching 3rd level education or entering the world of work that brought contact with those from the other side. Others remained in their closed communities and retained their fear and bigotry.
    Separation breeds fear and lack of understanding.
    This is a perfect example of how your ideology blinds you to what is obvious to us non zealots.

  4. Gio - "separation breeds fear and lack of understanding". Mmm. I've never met an Aboriginal Australian but I don't feel any sense of fear. As to understanding, all our understanding of everything is partial, in both senses of that word. As for your hint that I'm a 'zealot' - I'm afraid you've slipped a few notches in my estimation of you as a judge of character. On the other hand, I find myself liking you even more. Strange thing, that. I'm sure I've mentioned it before - I find myself genuinely well-disposed towards people whose political views I don;t share, and sometimes the other way round. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts - even if you do gobble up my precious time responding....I feel a period of comment-response drought coming on.

  5. Jude
    An Aboriginal Australian will never pose any threat real or imagined to your way of life so there is no breeding ground for the fear to take root in.Centuries of mistrust here inevitably lead to children being wary at the least of those 'others'.
    How should protestant kids learn about catholics and how should catholic kids learn about protestants?
    Through books and the internet?
    I am happy to withdraw the 'zealot' remark. Let us say you are an apologist for certain fundamentalist views and for physical force republicanism.Is that better?
    I appreciate your responses to comments and often find them more interesting and reasonable than the blog pieces, but I daresay you get fed up with us poking you.

  6. Jude, you obviously have your own personal/vested reasons for retaining two separate streams of education along religious lines here in Northern Ireland.
    However, it is disingenuous in the extreme to suggest a potential move to integrated education should somehow warrant a similar inquest into "all-girls’ or all-boys’ schools, secondary and grammar school education, and streaming classes within a school."
    Single-sex schools and streamed education (within the classroom or in terms of grammar or secondary establishments) are not, and never have been, key drivers for the smog of distrust, suspicion and misapprehension that exists in this part of the world.
    Separate schooling along religious (and therefore cultural lines) is one of the primary reasons why prejudice and a disconnect between the 'two communities' has been allowed to fester.
    Division has been ingrained in the psyche - in this case, literally from a young and impressionable age.
    Anyone who tries to blur the debate or misdirect our attention from this longstanding fact (like some kind of pseudo intellectual magician) does everyone a disservice.
    In any case, why should anyone fear children integrating from an early age? Why should we fear a dismantling of the longstanding barriers that exist here?
    And who benefits most from the division and intermittent cultural agitation that runs at the heart of NI society?
    Which political leaders and parties will pay dutiful lip service to the concept, but ultimately do nothing to turn a welcome notion into reality?
    Nick D.

  7. Gio - you're right about the Aboriginal example. So let's make it unionists (and stop using the word 'Catholic' or 'Protestant' in talking about political allegiances). There are hundreds of thousands of unionists I'll never know. Do I fear them? No. Hate them? No. Disagree with their views? Yes. And yet I' the product of the Catholic school system here, long before EMU schemes or shared education or other links. And I'd say 98% of my contemporaries would have similar views. So Catholic education clearly doesn't necessarily produce bigots. Integrated ed? Absolutely fine for those parents who choose it for their children - I can see many arguments in its favour.
    'Apologist'? Go back to 'zealot', please. I know apologist means someone who defends a controversial point of view but there are a lot of people who would take the 'apology' bit and see it as defence of the indefensible. Likewise words like 'funadamentalist' - the connotations are stone-age, creationist, hell-fire-and-brimstone. No thanks - want no part of any of those. I'm an apologist for 'physical force republicanism'? Really? I'd be interested to have you tell me where I wrote or said that. I'm not a pacifist ( which actually makes me probably a non-Christian, but let's leave that) and I can see circumstances where people would feel justified in engaging in physical violence. In fact, every country with an army believes in physical violence to attain political ends. But don't try saying I've advocated physical force republicanism, except you want to wind up in a court-room.

    1. Jude
      Now now no need to get the lawyers involved, they are rich enough.
      Would the circumstances where people feel justified in engaging in physical violence include the 30 long years here from 1969 on?
      The fundamentalist views I was referring to include those pertaining to abortion. Even early abortion seems unacceptable.
      As always I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong.

  8. Anon 04:13 - what are you doing out of bed at this time of the morning??
    Now. Leave out the 'personalised/vested' bit. If I have an opinion it's obviously personal. How I could have a vested interest in Catholic education I'm sure I don't know. I'd be interested if you have information I haven't.
    You say I;m up the left for referring to single-sex schools, streaming etc as dividers because these don't breed a " smog of distrust, suspicion and misapprehension that exists in this part of the world." So you assume Catholic schools do. That's an assertion, not an argument.

    You talk about 'fearing integrated education'. There may be such people but I;m certainly not one of them. So direct that criticism where it's relevant, if you must make it

    "division and intermittent cultural agitation" . You're right there. I'd suggest a more obvious source of same for the last few centuries here has been the Orange Order, an anti-Catholic supremacist organisation. Don't need to look beyond this morning's headlines to see its effect on society here

    Final point NIck (sorry- just spotted your name at the bottom - why not put it at the top?) : the source of division here is a political one: slightly over half the population want to maintain the union with Britain slightly less than half (and please, don't quote me opinion polls - if ever there was an agenda it's those pollsters) believe that self-government by the Irish people would be better. That's it. And we tie ourselves in knots looking at symptoms of this problem and trying to make them seem the source. On this Monday morning, when the PSNI have shown a weary old one-lot-handled-this-way-other-lot-handled-that-way, and the OO makes up its own rules for when it plays its 'religious' music, regardless of Parades Commission rulings , you'll be nearer the source of the problem than by focusing on schools and schoolchildren.

  9. Gio - quite obviously the people who engaged in violence here over the past thirty years felt they were justified in doing so. Why engage in it otherwise?

    As to abortion, I've mixed feelings but I'd ultimately find myself in the anti-abortion camp since I've never had anyone explain to my satisfaction how/when life begins if it's not at the moment of conception. I'm aware that's lumped in as fundamentalist but I think it's a mistake to do so, not least because the term is used as one of abuse rather than explanation.

    I agree lawyers are too rich - but they are quite handy when it comes to getting people's minds concentrated.

  10. Jude,can we infer from your response to Gio that you personally were opposed to "physical force republicanism " but you can sympathise with those who took that route?