Jude Collins

Thursday, 31 October 2013

You don't understand - so what?

I was over in Cambridge last weekend to attend a graduation, and not for the first time it struck me how different the English are from us.  For a start, they look after their villages better. Where we have gone for ribbon development  -  house after house after house fronting the road on both sides of the village - the English villages have a shape which in many cases preserves buildings from the past. Development is done in such a way that the centre of their villages are made up of old stone buildings arranged to give the village a heart. Put bluntly, the English take better care of their present and their past. 

But the thing that impressed me most about the difference between us and them was the graduation ceremony.  It was held in the Senate House of Cambridge University, which we were reminded was build in the eighteenth century. We were also warned about the graduation ceremony itself. There’d be none of your clapping and whooping that you’d get at an Irish graduation ceremony. No cameras either. A guy in the row in front of me showed a brief glimpse of his camera before the ceremony started and a flunkey was onto him like a flash. “No photographs, sir. It’ll be thrown away!”  The camera was quickly resheathed. 

Then there was the language. Apart from the warning about where to go in the event of an emergency, there was scarcely a word of English spoken from start to finish. All Latin. There was a great deal of hat-doffing and bowing by Proctors, Deputy Proctors, Pro-Proctors, University Marshals and Esquire Bedells. The graduands in groups of five approached the degree-conferrer, who sat on a sort of throne. When they got there, the Dean of their Faculty (I think) put his hand out and the graduands each put a hand on top of his. Then the Dean did some Latin-talking to the degree-dispenser, apparently telling him that he was OK with these students of his getting a degree. Then - and this was the bit that really stuck out - then the graduands knelt one by one before the conferrer and put their hands together as if in prayer. The degree-conferror then put his hands around the graduand’s hands and said (in Latin of course) “OK, I’m giving your degree now  - aren’t you glad?” Or words to that effect. The graduand responded in Latin, stood up, took a step backwards and bowed, before exiting the stage.

Did the fact that nine-tenths of the audience hadn’t a clue about what was being said upset them? Not a whit. Was there whispering and sweet-opening and babies crying during the ceremony? Uh-uh. Hushed silence would describe it best. The more baffling the ceremony, the more impressed they were. I spoke to a couple of young graduands later that day and mentioned that I thought a lot of the ceremony was ripe for a Monty Python sketch. Oh no, I was told.  They liked it. “It’s amazing to think that these traditions are eight hundred years old. Don’t change a thing!” It was as if the 1960s had never happened. 

George Bernard Shaw said all professionals are in conspiracy against the laity. Right again, G B. The ceremony, like those associated with the opening of parliament or the crowning of a monarch, was performed with military precision. Any tendency towards spontaneity or impatience with poncing about in fancy gear doffing your cap and kneeling in supplication  - all that got  sucked out of the graduand by the surrounding atmosphere and respect for traditional structures. I’m told the House of Commons is similarly designed to cow any new MP with a tendency to be rebellious. 

It’s called soft power, and the English handle it with an aplomb that not only tells you the tradition was and is good, but you’d better respect it if you know what’s good for you. No wonder they created an empire on which the sun never set. And it makes you wonder why the Catholic Church, after centuries of the Latin Mass, opted for the vernacular. Who needs to understand?

PS Here's a video of before and after the graduation ceremony. 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Newspapers and painting the historical picture.

 The News Letter  is the oldest daily newspaper in the English language, a generally respected mainstream organ.  But you’d never guess that from its editorial yesterday. The paper accuses “even moderate nationalists” of pushing “an emerging narrative” (I think I hate that word) of the Troubles, with a murderous British state and the IRA the only reasonable response. 

Where have they been hearing “moderate nationalists” say this? Nowhere, I suggest.  But of course that’s a red herring.  What’s really on their mind emerges in the third paragraph. It’s the “latest reports of state collusion”.  It’s a lie, this collusion talk, The News Letter  says. The truth is “a restrained British state overwhelmingly abided by the rule of law in the face of terrorist depravity”. It goes on to call on moderate unionism to support “a group of academics”  who are challenging the nationalist bid to retrospectively legitimise terrorism. All hands to the pump.

You see what they did there? One minute we’re talking about a British state which colludes in the killing of its own citizens. The next we’re concerned with these nationalists who are intent on presenting the IRA as reasonable. Uh-uh. Sorry, guys. Stick to the original topic or you’ll lose marks. The topic you’re concerned about is Anne Cadwallader’s book Lethal Allies  and the locked-down, screwed-tight and carefully-rivetted cases of collusion presented there. State forces, acting with the knowledge of those at the top of the RUC and of top government officials, killing innocent Catholics by the score.The DPP ignoring glaring evidence when ‘security force’ killers were involved and blocking cases from coming to court. Pieces of evidence going mysteriously missing. In cases that got to court, the fact that the accused was a member of the ‘security forces’ conveniently omitted.

The News Letter is right in one thing: there is an effort underway to rewrite the history of the Troubles. To rewrite the history which would present a restrained British state attempting to counter IRA depravity, with an occasional low-level bad apple giving the security forces a bad name. To substitute for that the truth of what happened in the 1970s to over 120 innocent Catholics. Because collusion was not, as the News Letter  would like us to think, “low-level”. Read the book. Instead of  providing diversions with talk about border Protestants being killed - for which there is a case to be answered  -stick to the topic. Border Protestants weren’t killed by the state forces paid to protect them. Don’t try to throw people off the scent by talk of  “serial killer republican thugs”. Read Cadwallader’s book. Suspend your efforts to present a restrained British state under assault from psychopathic republicans.Instead address the appalling tale of over 120 innocent people killed with state support and approval. Read the book. Then tell us which part isn’t true. 

You bet recent history needs to be rewritten. Because the lazy accepted one collapses in the face of Cadwallader’s research. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

President Michael D Higgins, lunatics and idiots

“We in Ireland are also aware that redressing the consequences of conflict takes steady, careful work, involving as it does not only conflicting memories and narratives of the past”.

That’s President Michael D Higgins speaking in El Salvador.  As he reminded his audience, he’s always had an interest in the triumph of truth and justice in that far-off country. 

That’s good to know. Living on an island we tend to be a bit  insular in our thinking and it’s good to view the world beyond our narrow borders.

On the other hand, you can get excessively engrossed elsewhere. Someone (no, Virginia, I can’t remember who and I’m too lazy to check) once distinguished between a lunatic (from the Latin for ‘moon-struck) and an idiot (from the Greek for ‘one’s own’) by saying the lunatic is one who strides along dangerous ground, eyes firmly fixed on the heavenly firmament; while the idiot  is one so caught up in the local, they cheerfully milk their cow while war rages all around. 

I would never call President Higgins either a lunatic or an idiot - he’s patently neither - but I do worry a little at his tendency to champion causes far from home while giving rather less attention to matters nearer to hand. For example, President Higgins spoke at the University of Central America where six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered by government forces in November 1989.  Anne Cadwallader has just produced a book called Lethal Allies  which carefully charts government and state forces’ collusion here in the deaths of over 120 people in the ‘Murder Triangle’ in the early  1970s.  I do hope the President finds time to speak out against these state killings so much nearer home and  20 times as numerous. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

It goes all the way to the top

Sometimes you wonder.  Back in 1988, an IRA unit composed of Danny McCann, Sean Savage and Mairead Farrell were shot dead in Gibraltar. They were planning a bombing mission but at the time of their killing all three were unarmed. But that wasn’t the story that was put out: officially, they were three deadly bombers who made moves which led the British team which killed them to fear for their lives. Did the publicly-funded BBC, renowned throughout the world for the impartiality of its news reporting, push further into this version of events and discover the truth? Nah. That was left to Thames Television, a commercial station. Their ‘Death on the Rock’ showed conclusively that all three were executed while unarmed. 

Which brings us to this weekend. The former journalist Anne Cadwallader, who was a researcher with the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, has produced a book called Lethal Allies. In it, using detailed and irrefutable evidence, she shows how time and again members of the RUC and UDR were involved with the killing of over 100 innocent Catholics in what was known as the Murder Triangle. You may respond with a shrug and say “So what else is new?”  Rumours of ‘security’ force collusion have been rife for decades. The difference is that Cadwallader has checked and rechecked and footnoted in detail her sources for claims and there’s just one conclusion you can come to  (providing you’re not Jeffrey Donaldson, that is): the deadly work of loyalist murder gangs was at best given a green light by the authorities and at worst was actively assisted by them. There’s even a case of a policeman who was involved in a murder hurrying back to his desk so he could take a statement about the killing from a witness.

A few rotten apples? Read the book and see if that’s what you still think. According to Cadwallader, what was going on was given a nod and a wink by people at the very top of security and government. Read and weep. And weep again that it takes individual journalists like Cadwallader in conjunction with the Pat Finucane Centre to dig up the buried evidence. Where was the BBC? Where was our mainstream media, north and south? Pass.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Come into the parlour...

“O wad some Pow’re the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!”

That was Robbie Burns’s prayer and when we hear or read it, we nod solemn assent. The truth - about ourselves - will set us free.

But only, of course, if that truth is palatable. One of the most irritating habits of radio interviewers here is when somebody visits and they’re asked “How are you liking it here?”  The required answer is “Oh we’re having a wonderful time. And the people - they’re so friendly!”  And we mount massive advertising campaigns, telling the world to come and visit us, you’re more than welcome. 

What we really mean in that last case is “Come and visit us, and remember to spend plenty of money when you’re here. We need it”.  As for being the heart of hospitality, try walking into a rural Irish pub as a stranger. Most of the time it’ll be like the pre-shoot-out bit in an old Western - sudden dip in the conversation, eyes taking you in sideways, then conversation resumes pretending not to have been checking you out. 

As for racist - well, we do racism really well. In the US, the Irish were among the most active in those opposed to Afro-Americans. At home, we pretend not to notice the colour of people’s skin when it’s really the first thing we take in. The two cases in the south recently highlight it nicely, when the gardaí removed two Roma children, at different location, from their parents, on the assumption that their fairer complexion and hair colour must mean they’d been abducted. Then when DNA tests proved otherwise, they’re handed back to the distraught parents. Like, consider yourself lucky you got away with it this time.  Meanwhile the Justice Minister Alan Shatter is doing all he can to dump the blame on the police, nothing to do with me.

The last thing we want is to see ourselves as others see us. We’d rather kid them, and ourselves, that our arms are open wide and our hearts filled with respect for those who look different from us. Providing, of course, they’re the President of the United States. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

About last night

I was on The Nolan Show  last night and had the privilege of shaking hands with Alan McBride before the programme began. I thought he looked pale and tired; little wonder, given the memories that must have been stirred for him and others on the twentieth anniversary of the Shankill bomb.

The programme dealt with the subject sensitively, I thought.  In fact, the film clip of the immediate aftermath of the bomb, intercut with interviews with those like McBride who had lost loved ones and shots of those they had lost, was harrowing. A shot of a child, with all her life possibilities cut dead before they could properly start, another of Alan McBride’s wife in her wedding dress were almost too painful to look  at. I’m assured that the families find solace in viewing such clips and remembering that day of loss. As someone fortunate enough not to have lost immediate family in the Troubles, I found them painful as a knife. 

I had a chance to speak briefly during the programme. I tried to say something of the above and to add that with regard to the plaque to the memory of Thomas Begley: that’s what armies do. That’s what cenotaphs are about, that’s why all those names are listed in stone, that’s why there are poppy-laying ceremonies on Remembrance Day. There are people here whose loved ones were taken from them by the actions of the British armed forces who must accept that other people see these forces in a different way from them. Likewise, painful though it may be, the people of the Shankill have to accept that the Ardoyne community and particularly the former comrades of Thomas Begley see him as someone who died in a cause which they honour. Until we can accept these different loyalties and give each other the emotional elbow-room to express them in a quiet, dignified way,  we’re on the road to nowhere. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Bombing and reactions

I wonder how those who lost loved ones in the recent conflict here feel about the Shankill bomb commemorations.  Perhaps they feel a sense of solidarity, identifying their own suffering with the suffering of those innocent Shankill victims. Or perhaps they feel like the victims of the Dublin/Monaghan bombs:  why are other acts of carnage remembered and theirs forgotten?

Nobody who has heard Alan McBride, who lost his wife and father-in-law in the bomb, could fail to be impressed by his response to the  appalling loss that was inflicted on him. Rather than find new ways to condemn those responsible for the bomb, he looks for ways to help those who have suffered and to work so that such things never recur. The loss of a single life to violence is a terrible thing. The loss of so many in a tightly-knit community is catastrophic. And yet McBride has somehow risen above this and gathered good out of what was bad. I was listening to a Protestant minister, I think it was, talking on Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh this morning. He was asked how he regarded Thomas Begley, the bomber killed in the explosion, and he said he’d prefer to focus on the Shankill people and their suffering. When Alan McBride was asked a similar question a couple of weeks ago, he said that he’d been hurt on the first anniversary of the bomb by the sound of bands apparently celebrating what had occurred. As to a monument or more accurately a plaque to Begley, he said that if this was done quietly and without deliberately adding to the pain, he saw how it might help those who had loved the dead man and he had no objections to that. It’s those kind of sentiments that for me mark McBride as a man of outstanding forgiveness and compassion. 

What made the Shankill bomb so brutal? Because it killed innocent people. The IRA said that their goal was not those people in the fish-shop but a UDA meeting scheduled to take place above the fish shop. However, as has been pointed out to me, that still leaves the question - beyond the obvious dangers of carrying a bomb into a densely populated area - of how the UDA meeting could have been bombed without loss of innocent life.

It’d be true to say that Thomas Begley and Sean Kelly are hate figures in the Shankill. Others outside the Shankill remember Begley and treat Kelly with respect. Appalling? Before you decide this, consider these words:

“The destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.”

That’s Sir Arthur Harris speaking during WW2, commonly known as Bomber Harris or Butcher Harris.  He was decorated and a statue erected to his memory. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

John McAllister gives Sinn Féin a lecture

OK, confession time: I like Basil McCrea and John McAllister. I've met both of them and there's something innately and genuinely charming about both of them. Basil has a boyish air of innocence  ('Who, me sir? Scoff the cake??') and John has a rural solidity and quiet friendliness. Granted, it doesn't always come across on TV but that's how I found them. They've also shown the good sense to leave the Ulster Unionist party which is struggling to be hard-line and look liberal at the same time. So I'm well-disposed towards both men.

Maybe that's why I admire John's comments at a Sinn Féin conference in London. The fact that he attended and spoke are both good. It's what he said that is a wee bit harder to swallow.

He asks Sinn Féin to embrace the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, just as 175,000 Irish people have embraced the UK's capital city.  That injunction has two stumbling points. The first is that republicanism by its nature is opposed to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Any action it takes is motivated by a desire to free itself and the people of the north from Mother Britain's embrace. The second is that of the 175,000 people in London, it's a safe bet that if economic circumstances in Ireland allowed them to live and work at home, they would be on the nearest plane. They don't so much embrace London as accept it as a fact of life when you come from a divided country.

John also urges Sinn Féin to drop this nonsense about a referendum on Irish unity - sure the polls show only 3.8% of people want constitutional change. Right. That'd be like the polls said that Fine Gael would sweep home with its referendum to abolish the Seanad. Saying stuff to a man or woman with a clipboard is one thing; being in a ballot-cubicle where you can affect historic change sought for centuries is quite another. And even if constitutional change were rejected, wouldn't that clear the air about present positions on the border?

John also says Sinn Féin should start talking about 'Northern Ireland', not 'The North' or worse still, 'the north'. Mmm. Maybe if there was less talk among unionists of The Province, and if the local BBC didn't see fit to call itself Radio Ulster, not to mention the University of Ulster, such a request might find more receptive ears. But even it didn't, using 'the North' or alternatives to 'Northern Ireland' is simply to say that you don't believe a state carved out along strictly sectarian lines, run by a system of gerrymandering and discrimination until the roof came in, and maintained even now by Britain's claim to legislate for its next-door neighbour, is a desirable state of affairs.  There are worse things this state could be called than 'the North'.

John says he wants to create “a Northern Ireland for all, in the new Ireland and in a new era in the history of these islands”. Has a ring to it, doesn't it?  But it'd take a bit of parsing before you knew what it meant. Especially that bit about 'a Northern Ireland in the new Ireland'.  So is that constitutional change you have in mind, John?  

I said at the start that I liked Basil and John. Actually they can be very annoying in the views they have. But to be honest, that contradictory element in people is less than rare. Sometimes the people you disagree with politically can be genuinely nice people. And vice versa. So nothing personal, John, but we can only do business when we all know what we're talking about. 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Need some money? Sorry, no go.

Another instance this morning of the dog being paralysed by its own tail. Steven McCaffery in the Detail.ie and Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh both cover the story of £80 million that’s in the Social Development Fund and that can’t be released to help people in need. For why? Because the DUP and Sinn Féin can’t agree over how it should be spent. Typical, eh? The two big parties, stubborn and dead-locked, one’s intransigence matched by the other’s bull-headedness. But hold. What would the two parties do with the money? Let’s look a little closer. 

Sinn Féin says it thinks the money should be allocated on the basis of need. The DUP says ‘No comment’. EH? Did I hear aright? The DUP don’t think distributing money on the basis of need is a good idea? Well they don’t actually say that. Just ‘No comment’. However, in the past they have talked about pockets of need in Protestant areas that should be addressed. Jim Wilson of East Belfast believes the money should be split 50-50. What could be fairer than that?

Give us a break, Jim. Nobody in their right mind would disagree that there are  Protestant areas that are up against it - high unemployment, low educational attainment, all the bad stuff. But hey - official figures - that’s official  figures, not Sinn Féin figures - show that in this state, 16 out of 20 of the most deprived wards  are in Catholic areas.  

Which is where that paralysed dog came in. The DUP feels it daren’t respond to that need because if it does, it’ll look like they’re giving all the goodies to themuns and virtually ignoring arens.  What they should do, of course, is pluck up their courage and distribute the money according to need as officially defined. Having done that and provided money that’s vitally needed, they should turn with Sinn Féin to look at these pockets of Protestant deprivation and see if something radical can be done that will turn them around. In the meantime the DUP should show that it’s in charge, not some sectarian tail that’s making the DUP dog look as if it's sectarian as well.  Which of course it's not. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

It's him again - hold the front page!

I've been thinking about Joe Brolly and I have a job in mind for him. Yes I know - you've been thinking about him too. But I've been thinking not so much about what he's said but the attention it has got. In the past few months Joe has been on everybody's lips.

The first one - so famous even Peter Robinson made a glancing reference to it in his speech at that GAA dinner - was that rant he went into at half-time, where he damned the 'cynicism' of the Tyrone Gaelic football team, their manager and everyone involved with them, because one of their players had fouled an opposition player. Suspend the rightness or wrongness of his comments and reflect on the attention his words got. When who won and who lost are buried in the tip-heap of time, Joe's words will go on resonating.

The second, of course, was that "They can like it or lump it" comment. Amazing.  He didn't do a rant this time - in fact he was quite quiet-spoken on Radio Foyle. But in no time the social media as well as  mainstream media were stuffed with Joe  reports, Joe comments, Joe Joe Joe. So much so that Peter Robinson's speech got lost in the heavy traffic.

Then there's that kidney donation to a colleague. A heroically selfless act - and there can't be a person in Ireland that hasn't thought and/or talked about it.

Joe is by profession a barrister as well as a Gaelic football pundit.  The job I think he should consider is setting up his own PR company. "But lots of people hate what he says!" Yes, Virginia. But nobody ignores it. Which is the holy grail of PR work.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Joe Brolly has a go; Tanaiste says "Me too"

Sometimes reality breaks through the mesh of the media and the results are refreshing. They can also be embarrassing or infuriating or revelatory but they are always refreshing, because they’re the voice of real life, not the media’s version of real life, and that in itself is refreshing. 

Such a rare moment came yesterday when Joe Brolly spoke about the fact that Dungiven’s GAA club is named after Kevin Lynch, a local man who was a member of both the local hurling team and  the Derry county hurling team. He was also a member of the INLA and one of the ten men who died on hunger-strike in 1981. Joe said that he was proud that the club was named after Kevin Lynch and that it was nobody else’s business what name the club chose. “If they don’t like it, they can lump it”.

You don’t hear that kind of blunt language on air as a rule. To be fair to him, when the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore spoke at a function in Derry last night he tiptoed delicately towards endorsing Joe’s stand: “I think these are issues that the GAA decides. What we have to work at here is how we build bridges, how we move beyond the difficulties of the past”.

Joe’s remarks have been greeted with outrage from the TUV’s Jim Allister. And I’d feel fairly safe in suggesting people like Gregory Campbell would be equally aghast. In which case  I sugggest Jim  and Gregory  be taken by the hand and brought on a guided tour of Belfast. They could start at Windsor Park. Maybe view the Queen's Bridge, check out the King’s Hall,  look up at Windsor House, make their way down Royal Avenue,drive out to Carnmoney and zip along Prince Charles Way. Lots of people, it’s true,  think this royal naming is a very good idea. Others, like nearly half the population of the state, think it’s a pretty imperialist idea. But the bridges and buildings and roads have been named and I haven’t heard anyone from the nationalist or republican community saying they were outraged or demanding a name-change. 

Joe Brolly says the Dungiven club was named after Kevin Lynch because he played for the club and for the Derry Senior hurling team. I expect that’s true. But I also expect that part of the reason the club was named after him was that he was one of ten men who died on hunger-strike rather than accept that republicans were common criminals.  You have to believe very firmly in an idea if you’re prepared to die for it, in this case very slowly and very painfully.  So that kind of heroic resolve may well have been part of what the club admired in this local man.  Unionists of course will argue that the INLA and the IRA were groups of common criminals. Republicans, nationalists and most GAA members, I’d venture to suggest, see things rather differently.

The part of Joe’s remark that strikes home with sharp-edged truth is “It’s none of their business”.  The ‘they’ he’s referring to are those who would presume to tell the GAA, Sinn Féin, the Catholic Church, Catholic schools, the southern government - all sort of organisations and institutions to which they do not now  belong, never have belonged, and have no intention of ever belonging to - that they would presume to tell  these groupings how to manage their affairs.  

Fact: Gaelic games are not played on a competitive basis in any State/Protestant school, except you include Integrated schools. No unionist politician I can think of plays Gaelic games, no unionist that I know of attends Gaelic games. And yet unionist politicians would presume to tell the GAA how they should act, what names they should or should not use, what rules should govern their organisation. What next -  the proposed names of children born into republican/nationalist families  to be submitted to the likes of Jim and Gregory for approval, before proceeding with the infant’s birth registration?  

There comes a point where, if you dance to the piper’s every tune, the piper begins to feel contempt for you. Joe Brolly has just called time on the dancing.  

Friday, 18 October 2013

Roy Hodgson and the space monkey

Sometimes the politically correct lot  give me a pain in the butt. There is the coterie that thinks it would be a good idea to take Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn  and remove the many references to Nigger Jim.  A sort of posthumous reproof to a great writer, using today’s customs and standards. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And there was the minor furore the other day in the House of Commons when Scots MP Jo Swinson, who is pregnant, wasn’t offered a seat by any male colleagues during Prime Minister’s Question Time. Not to mention the danger that offering  a seat might have been seen as sexist as well. 

But the thing that really gets my goat (and I’d like here to make it clear that I once had a pet goat) is the inconsistency of the PC Police. When Ron Atkinson, not knowing his microphone was open, called Chelsea star Marcel Desailly a “lazy, thick nigger”,  he was bundled off his TV pundit slot quicker than a Robbie Keane penalty. When Richard Keys and Andy Gray thought their microphones were off and made derogatory comments on the woman assistant referee at a game, that was the end of Richard and Andy in the big-time TV commentating. 

Now Roy Hodgson, still flushed from his success in squeezing England into the World Cup finals next summer, has been caught with his verbal pants down. It seems he made a half-time joke about a space monkey - I’d never heard it before, had you? - and some mild criticism of it was made, in that the space monkey was paralleled with Andros Townsend. So is Roy going to get the boot? Er, um - look, everybody knows Roy hasn’t a racist bone in his body. But isn’t that what they said about Big Ron? He still got the boot. I’ll bet Richard and Andy would argue that they have nothing but respect for women in sport, as linesman or anything else. But they still got the boot.  Roy though - Roy's different. 

England needs him. Badly. So the PC brigade will swallow hard and say of course Roy’s anti-racist, look at all the different countries he’s coached in, there was no insult intended, in fact Roy is raging  that this is taking the gloss off his team’s masterly display in beating Poland. How dare they interpret his monkey joke as racist. 

My own view is that we’re far, far too quick to detect and denounce non-PC language. But if we’re going to dish out sauce to the Ron, Richard and Andy goose, consistency demands that we dole out sauce to the Roy Hodgson gander. And I would like to stress that I say that as someone who numbers geese of both genders among his best friends.  

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Peter Robinson and the GAA

Good news. Peter Robinson is to attend a big dinner at Queen’s University tonight. It’s organised by Co-operation Ireland and it’s to give public recognition to the GAA’s efforts to forge better community relations.(The EU beat them to the punch, so to speak, when they yesterday recognised the exemplary role of the GAA in Irish society). Last Friday Martin McGuinness and Robinson sat together at Ravenhill to watch Ulster defeat Leicester in rugby.  So you could say tonight is a tit for tat.

But is there any point to these tittings and tattings, these shoulder-to-shoulders? Not in practical terms. They don’t change the fact that Peter Robinson weaseled out of his agreement regarding a peace centre at the Maze/Long Kesh. It doesn’t change that Gregory Campbell is using the cover of the House of Commons to make all sorts of unsubstantiated charges about sexual abuse and what was it, a hundred republicans?  It doesn’t provide jobs for those who are jobless or help those struggling to find the money to pay the mortgage. 

But it’s better than a  sneer and a turned back. That’s what the DUP used to offer, when it refused to sit in the same studio as Sinn Féin, let alone meet with them or converse. So to that extent tonight is highly desirable.

 Unfortunately, for a people who pride themselves on being practical and hard-headed, we seem to attach more importance to meetings and symbols and gestures than we do to building on those in practical ways to effect real change. Just one personal example: I took part in a debate last summer with some Young Unionists from the UUP. It was good for them and me to see that we actually were human beings rather than some sort of two-horned, cloven-hoofed anti-Christ. But the unhappy truth is that neither party left the discussion with any shift in their thinking - and yes, Virginia, I do include myself in that.  Let’s not dismiss the importance of the symbolic but for God’s sake let’s not kid ourselves that it’s worthwhile in the absence of substance. As a wise unionist once said: “It’s deeds, not words, that count”. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Caitriona takes a kicking

Caitriona Ruane is taking a pummelling, this time from the SDLP and the unionist representatives on the Assembly Commission. It seems Ms Ruane wanted to provide answers to MLAs’ questions in both Irish and English. The Assembly Commission voted her down, the SDLP representative voting with the unionists on the Commission and only the Alliance member siding with Ms Ruane.

I find myself mildly conflicted by this. On the one hand, Caitriona Ruane will have to accept that the ruling has been made by a democratic vote - just like the flags issue in Belfast City Council. On the other hand, the Assembly Commission is wrong.

If you check the St Andrew’s Agreement  of 2006 you’ll find that it committed the British government to work with the incoming Executive to protect and enhance the development of the Irish and Ulster-Scots languages.

If you check the Good Friday Agreement, you’ll find that amendments to it commit  all hands to ‘recognise the importance, respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland the Irish language, Ulster Scots and the languages of the various ethnic minority communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland’.

I wonder how those in the Assembly Commission who voted down Caitriona Ruane’s wish to speak in Irish as well as English square that with their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement?  I suspect they can’t. When Caitriona Ruane wanted to get her complaint included in the Assembly Commission’s annual report to the Equality Commission, she got another thumb’s-down. 

Maybe the Assembly Committee, as well as re-reading the Good Friday Agreement, might want to check out the system in a place like Canada. There, the English-speaking majority make a genuine effort, in terms of public documents, speeches and the like to support the minority French language.  They might also want to remember the late Monsignor Denis Faul’s contention: ‘There’s nothing like a touch persecution to energize the faithful’.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The police, 1987 and Áine Adams: the gorilla in the toilet

It’s sort of fun being a blogger. You get compliments from some people, more often you get brickbats from others. The most common brickbat I get fired my way is that I’m an unthinking mouthpiece for republicanism. Especially the IRA.  If you took these kind of charges seriously you’d be heading either for your solicitor or a mental hospital. Fortunately I don’t take them seriously. I openly concede that I approach the political world from a nationalist/republican perspective but I like to think my brain isn’t totally addled.

At the same time there’s a background implications that goes with the brickbats. It is that the mainstream media are balanced, objective, conveyors of the whole truth. If pressed, there’ll be the concession that some - say the Indo -  are, how shall we put it, not totally cheerleaders for republicanism. But a broadcaster like RTÉ or a newspaper like The Irish Times is free from such selective bias. 

Which makes an article in this morning’s paper a bit disruptive of that  take on our media. It’s by Gerry Moriarty, and it tells how Gerry Adams is “under pressure” over the Liam Adams case. It tells how Adams has always escaped from tight political corners but this one is different. And its concluding paragraph tells the reader about “claims that Adams acted in a calculated self-interested fashion to avoid charges of with-holding information about child sexual abuse and to save his ‘political skin’ ”. 

You’ve heard it all before. And you know that there are people in the media who, if they found evidence that Gerry Adams had picked his nose in 1962 would use that as a weapon to demand his removal as president of Sinn Féin. What makes the article interesting - and so many other articles like it - is the failure to mention the role of the police in all of this.

Surprising, isn’t it? Clearly it’s vital to everyone living in the jurisdiction - and beyond - that the police act in an even-handed and lawful way. Everyone by now knows that the police in 1987, instead of responding to the complaints of sexual abuse reported to them by Áine Adams and her mother, tried instead to turn her into an informer. Who were these police people? Was there much of it around? Are any of the people involved still working in the PSNI? These are surely matters of greater importance than who leads Sinn Féin.

Because if there’s another story of public interest attached to the Liam Adams case, the conduct of the police must be it. They were in possession of the crucial facts of the case in 1987 but ignored them and pursued their own tout-creating concerns. You’d think that an impartial, high-minded media would have latched onto that immediately and pursued the trail as far as possible. Nah - doesn’t fit the narrative, that. So much more fun trying to nail the top Shinners man.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Liking Enda Kenny


It’s hard not to like Enda Kenny. Even admire him. There he was on Saturday night, at a specially-convened Fine Gael conference that was supposed to be celebrating their victory in the referendum on the Seanad. But was he embarrassed about ending up with a referendum defeat on his hands? No chance. ‘Fine Gael - Getting Ireland Working’ the big banner behind him said, and you’d be forgiven for believing that that was just what had happened. Or was happening. Or was going to happen. Maybe. 

Two moments stood out, I thought. One where the Taoiseach referred to the Seanad and how, having accepted the democratic will (as distinct from ignoring it and mounting a coup d’état), his government was now (big pause here for effect)...going to extend Seanad voting powers to all graduates!  Woo-hoo, yippee, long live democracy. 

The other part was where he talked about the good shape the ‘country’ was in. “Ireland is on-track to exit the IMF-EU bail-out in December 2013!”  Thunderous applause, even from the woman doing the deaf sign-language.  Mind you, the budget on Tuesday will be tough, but Ireland is on-track to exit the IMF-EU bail-out! Great stuff...Um, does that mean the southern state is going to be - whisper it - debt-free in December 2013? Yerrah man, debt-free, have a bit of sense would you? It means that the south will be able to go back to the markets, that’s what it means! Yippee, hooray...Um, what will they do when they get there? To the markets I mean. Well, it means that, er ah diddly-dee, it means that  the state will be able to go to the markets and borrow there!  Now, great news or what? 

It really is hard not to like Enda Kenny. It must be the way he tells them. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Reasons for ringing the Ombudsman

So now three DUP MLAs have requested the Ombudsman to look into Gerry Adams's role in the Liam Adams saga. I wonder why.

It could be that they feel it's important to be part of the great battle against child sexual abuse and this is their contribution. Or it could be that they feel the PPS  isn't doing its job the way they'd like to see it done. Or it could be that they believe Gerry Adams is a very bad leader of Sinn Féin and they hope in this way to have him replaced by someone better. Or it could be (and I'm putting my money on this one) that they have their eye on elections next May and are limbering up to appeal to the backwoodsmen. Adams-bashing is big with the backwoodsmen.

Whatever the reason, from a DUP point of view it must seem logical that they take every opportunity to...I was going to say 'chip away' but that's copyrighted...to weaken the leader of the main party you're in government with. Yes I know that sounds nuts but it would almost certainly resonate with the bwm. But in doing so, the three DUP amigos have forgotten something rather important.

With each blow  they aim at Gerry Adams's reputation, they are strengthening Sinn Féin. Sounds counter-intuitive, as they say nowadays? Well, it's just that patently opportunistic actions against Sinn Féin only stiffens the support of those who are Sinn Féin voters and possibly adds to their number. If the DUP truly wanted to weaken Sinn Féin at the polls, they should start saying they think Gerry Adams is a very fine person, they admire the work he's done to bring about and maintain peace, and that he leads a party they are happy to be in government with. If they did that, Sinn Féin voters would begin to think Sinn Féin must have abandoned every republican value, seeing as how the DUP were now so fond of them.

Worth a try, guys.  Although if you do, there's one big catch: your backwoodsmen  will almost certainly have a collective heart-attack. Still, you can't make a political omelette without breaking backwoods hearts.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Remembering Thomas Begley

Once again the subject of the Shankill bombing comes centre stage. Plans have been announced for a commemoration of Thomas Begley, one of the two young men who carried the bomb into the Shankill fish-shop and who was himself killed in the explosion. Now a commemoration is planned for him later this month, a few days before the anniversary of the bombing.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there are trigger words here which drive people into paroxysms of outrage, and ‘the Shankill bomb’ is one of them. To the people of the Shankill Begley was a murderer, the essence of evil, a man who helped bring about the deaths of nine people. To republicans, he was an IRA volunteer who was involved in a military operation in which he lost his life. Everything else - the assertion that a postponed meeting of the UDA was the intended target, the premature explosion which took the life of one of the bombers - is shaped by these two contrasting views. 

Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the explosion, was on TV recently and I thought he spoke honestly and with understanding. He said that when he heard a band playing in the Ardoyne on the first anniversary of the explosion, he felt deeply hurt. He acknowledges that Thomas Begley was some mother’s son, but that his commemoration should not be thrust in the faces of those who suffered through his actions. 

That seems a fair and in the circumstances noble reading of what happened then and what should happen now. An acceptance that, for whatever reason, the relatives of those killed in our conflict have been hurt to a depth most of us can only wonder at; and an acceptance that those actively involved in the conflict, while reviled by one side, are seen as courageous and worthy of commemoration by the other. 

We can only hope that the note struck by Alan McBride will be echoed by others commenting on the event. Commemorations don't have to be marched up to the door of those who've suffered  to the sound of yelled slogans.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The truth or the whole truth?

As time passes, I’m finding myself drawn more and more to the how-about-if-it-happened-to-you school of thought. That’s to say, if an action is proposed by unionists,  they should first ask themselves “How would we feel if this were done to us?” And vice versa - republicans should consider how they would be affected if unionist were to do what they’re considering. 

I find this notion pressing in on me this morning after reading an article in The Irish Times by Margaret Urwin.  In it she notes an article in that newspaper last month by Prof Henry Patterson, titled ‘Could Dublin have done more to defeat the IRA?’  Ms Urwin’s point is simple and worthy of consideration: “He [Prof Patterson] omitted to mention the critical point that the Border was porous in both directions."

She concedes that some IRA people did flee south and find refuge, but she notes that 50 people were killed in the south as a result of loyalist attacks in the other direction, and hundreds more injured. “Yet not a single loyalist was convicted for any of these murders”.

She notes how released documents show that from September 1974,  four specialist panels of RUC and Garda officers were set up and met on a monthly basis, co-ordinating counter-paramilitary actions: “What is striking about the record of the September meeting is the total absence of any reference to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings only four months earlier, in which 34 people lost their lives. Nor was there any mention of possible future forays into the Republic by loyalists. The discussions concentrated entirely on IRA violence”. In fact, the commander of the British army in the north expressed the view that “any action designed to put pressure on people north of the Border would be the wrong response to the situation."  In short, a decision not to arrest loyalist paramilitaries was taken. 

Maybe the work of academics like Prof Patterson should be more comprehensive. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Thinking big with Ian Óg

Are we a parochial people? I would say so. We think in local terms, sometimes at the expense of the bigger picture. I remember an ex-student of mine complaining that there were no English teacher jobs going. “But I thought I saw an ad for an English teacher in Enniskillen the other day” I said. 
“That’s no good - I’d have to leave Belfast if I got it” the young woman told me. And if you haven’t seen the Gaelic football rivalry between different clubs/parishes in Tyrone or Derry, you’ve led a sheltered life.

There’s a plus to all this. The fact that people tend to stay as close to their place of origin as possible makes for tightly-knit communities. Nobody gets born, married or dies without, to a greater or lesser extent, the whole community being part of it. People fit into a network that sometimes extends back several generations. 

The downside is that we begin to think that all things of value reside where we reside, and the further we get from our home base, the more uneasy and critical we become. I remember going to Canada in the late 1960s and noticing that a lot of the men wore big, obvious rings. Graduation rings, I think they were. Instead of accepting that this was part of their culture, I inwardly felt contempt for people who had such poor taste in personal accessories. 

We’re told we all now live in a global village. If that’s true, it’s a village with a lot of very high walls between neighbours. We’re used to the parochialism of those who think that south of the border is a foreign country, that they talk funny down there and that they’re all lazy shysters who would steal the eye out of your head. Ian Paisley Jr was on the radio this morning. He was being asked about the up-coming development of the Frosses Road in north Antrim - he’s the MP for the area. Naturally he was all for it, emphasised the value of it in many ways. Then he was asked what he felt about this money coming at the expense of the development/non-development of the A5 road as a western transport corridor. I can’t remember Ian Óg’s exact words but he said in effect that he couldn't care less about the A5 development, he was just pleased to have the Frosses development.

No politician opens his/her mouth without thought at some level as to how this will go down with his/her constituents. You can see how Ian Óg believes his constituents think. It's called the laager mentality.

Monday, 7 October 2013

How to conceal information

I’m just off the Nolan Show, where my old sparring partner Malachi O’Doherty (actually he’s younger than me) was worrying about Gerry Adams maybe not having told the police quickly enough about a conversation he had with his brother Liam. You’ve probably read about the case in the papers or heard about it on radio or television. What you’re much less likely to have heard about is an article that appeared on the Guardian website yesterday.  It’s about a gap in information too.

Only on a bigger scale. A much, much bigger scale. It seems the British Ministry of Defence has been unlawfully withholding thousands of files (that’s right, thousands) that should have been declassified under the 30-year rule. A lot of these documents concern what happened here in the 1970s and 1980s. In what has to be the understatement of the year Huw Bennett, who was an expert witness in that Mau Mau court case a while back,  where the British government ended up forking out compensation for barbaric treatment of  Kenyans  - Huw says “ It [the withheld information] has major implications for understanding our past”.  Right. And the HET is particularly interested: “There could potentially be documentation about every case we are interested in”.

Mind you, the British Ministry of Defence has previous on this. Eight years ago it said it couldn’t release tens of thousands of files because they were stored in a building where they’d found asbestos. Later they said they couldn’t move some of those files into the National Archive because they had been destroyed “as a result of water damage”. 

You get the drift? If it’s a piece of information that Gerry Adams might or might not have given to the police earlier, it’s headline stuff. If it’s countless files being held illegally by the British Ministry of Defence, it literally isn’t worth mentioning.  But sure why would they? Yes, the  British Ministry of Defence is in breach of the Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act; but hey,  the law provides no sanctions for such suppression. 

If you’re going to steal, steal big. If you’re going to conceal, conceal big. It’s safer that way.  It’ll also be less talked-about.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

That Seanad referendum: five things to think about

Well, that's that then. The electorate have delivered, in Enda's word, a "wallop" to Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, and a pat on the back to Micheal Martin. Who was it said "The people have spoken - the bastards"? Glad it wasn't me.

Meanwhile, a few thoughts about any future Seanad.

1.  It should/must be democratic. If you believe in democracy, you'll be appalled at the present situation where 1% of the electorate cast ballots for people to take posts which pay €60,000 a year and which have the most lax of requirements. Talk of 'reform of the Seanad' will be meaningless until it's changed so that people like me, who happen to be graduates of the National University, have a vote, while those who are not graduates of NUI do not. If it's not built on the basis of total democracy, the rest will be irrelevant. Except, of course, you're a fascist or Blueshirt or some such.

2. The new Seanad should do something useful. That is to say, it should bring something to 26-county politics that isn't there at present. It might be that it will be composed of people with expertise in a number of relevant areas, who can advise the government of the day. I've often wondered how politicians here, in Westminster, in the Dail, can move smoothly from being Minister in one department to Minister in another. Do none of these jobs require any prior knowledge/skills?

3. The idea of the Taoiseach of the day nominating a number of senators is unacceptable and stinks of patronage. Micheal Martin, basking in the warmth of his unexpected victory yesterday, was busy explaining how the Taoiseach's nominations to the Seanad should be representative of minorities, in which he included "people from Northern Ireland".  Until the Seanad has some real influence - in this case, so it could further the interests of the people in the north of the country - the window-dressing of northern worthies turning up once or twice is unworthy of consideration. Don't patronise us, Micheal. We're not a minority. We're part of the Irish nation. And the Taoiseach should have NO nominations. Rien. Zilch.

4.  The three parties who backed the wrong horse - Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin - should ask themselves what they were thinking of when they did so. Clearly it was contrary to the wishes of most Irish people, or most Irish people who voted. Did they believe the polls and turn a deaf ear to the people they met? In the case of Sinn Féin, the fact that Gerry Adams was in favour of retaining the Seanad while other Shinners - notably Pearse Doherty - were opposed to its retention might bear closer scrutiny. There's a tendency to think of Gerry Adams ("He's 65, you know") as near-to-if-not-over-the-hill and of Pearse Doherty as a potential party leader, a young vigorous man with a firm grasp of economics. Careful thought about the validity of both lines of thinking might be profitable.

5. Until the Seanad is reformed, the present batch of senators should be banned from the airwaves, particularly television. The sight of them leppin' and whooping with joy, in the belief that their current gravy train will keep on rolling - led, of course, by the ghastly David Norris - was just a bit stomach-retching. And any actor who speaks their lines for them should have their tongues cut out and nailed to a piece of wood outside Leinster House.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

"Everywhere there's lots of piggies/Leading piggie lives" - old Beatles song

Sometimes the Stormont foreground is so crisis-ridden, we forget the important background work. That’s where the calm everyday business of government goes on,  where the machinery is kept cranking by nameless people. Well, except your name is Mary McArdle or Paul Kavanagh.  If that's your name you lose your job.

Their mistake, you see,  was they belonged to the wrong party. If they’d belonged to, say, the UUP or the Alliance Party or DUP, they’d have been OK. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance they’d not only have had a job, they’d have been related to the person who gave them the job. 

Some figures. Of SDLP MLAs, some 21% employ relatives.  The UUP beat that - 23% of them keep it in the family. Alliance notches 25%, and one-man-band Jim Allister employs his daughter. But the DUP make them all look like amateurs. Of their 38 MLAs, 33 employ relatives. That’s 61%. All working away, bringing home an honest crust to feed the family.

Take the DUP MLA Robin Newton, now. He told the Nolan Show he hadn’t interviewed his wife for her job as his office manager because she was well-qualified anyway. “My wife’s previous experience and whole career has been based on working as a personal assistant to someone at a fairly senior level in commerce and the running of a small office. Carol and I have worked together and it seemed to be a natural progression”. His wife and son between them brought home over £60,000.  Oh, and his daughter got nearly £14,000 for doing some, um, research and secretarial work over an 18-month period. Nice work, as the old song said, if you can get it. 

It’s becoming a bit like the house of Windsor, up in Stormont. If you’ve got the royal blood coursing through your veins, the job’s yours and the public money that goes with it. Interviews? Open competition? Testing the ability of one applicant against another? Sure what would you bother with that carry-on for.  And don’t say it’s illegal because it isn’t.

But hold. There may yet be changes.  Pat McCartan, chair of the Independent Financial Review panel, says one option that might be considered would be ensuring that there is open competition for any jobs. One option. Might be considered. Don’t you go giving yourself a hernia there, Pat, rushing at it. Sure who’s better equipped to put their snout in the public trough than an MLA’s own family? 

By the way, did you know that George Harrison's mother came up with that final line of the Piggies song: "What they  need's a damn good whacking"?  Don't know what put that in my head.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Balanced and fair - two different words

“Fewer of us see ourselves as Orange or Green – instead we worry about dissidents stirring up fear by naming a park after a hunger striker, or stand-offs about parades...”

That’s a balanced comment from a Belfast Telegraph commentator, making it clear that we’re  learning to move away from tired traditional allegiances and rejecting the ‘extremists’ on both sides. What a pity there aren’t more taking that attitude, eh?

But hold on a minute. What about this comment?

“Within loyalism and the UVF there are clearly people who are not just aggravated by the issue around flags or parades.  They’re aggravated by me and Sinn Féin being in government. They’re opposed to the political institutions - there’s an inability of a minority within loyalism to accept the concept of equality”

That was Martin McGuinness in an interview with David McKitterick of The Independent  (no, not the Irish Independent - are you kidding? The London Independent).  It paints a slightly different picture from the Belfast Telegraph piece, wouldn’t you say?

So let’s look a little closer at that  Bel Tel piece. The claim that more of us are seeing ourselves as something other than Orange or Green certainly isn’t reflected in voting figures, otherwise the Alliance Party’s leader David Ford would be looking a lot more cheerful than he does. And that naming of a play-park after a hunger-striker - how is that “stirring up fear”? The columnist doesn’t say but the usual line is that Raymond McCreesh was  found in possession of a weapon used in the Kingsmill massacre. Get the implication? That  McCreesh was involved in the Kingsmill massacre. Which conveniently overlooks the fact that during the Troubles, weapons moved around. The gun used in one attack often turned up later in an unrelated incident.  In short, the ’fear’ the Bel Tel  piece talks of has at best shaky foundations.

Now let’s look at the McGuinness interview. Are there people in loyalism and the UVF who are aggravated by Mr McGuinness and Sinn Féin in government? You bet there are. And there’s more.  The full truth is that  virtually all DUP representatives, and probably a few UUP, are aggravated by Mr McGuinness and his party being in government. In fact quite a few unionist politicians still find it impossible to be civil in the presence of Sinn Féin politicians. This despite the fact that they spent decades lecturing republicans on the need to adopt the democratic path, seek a mandate from the public. So when republicanism enters politics and gets a whopping mandate, what’s the reaction?  Sullen resentment and minimal co-operation from unionism. 

Why does all this matter? Because there’s a lie, a big fat porky pie that gets repeated and repeated in the mainstream media, until even when we know it’s a lie we begin to think maybe it’s true. That lie is that there are equal faults on both sides, and the path to the future is to move away from both. Uh-uh. No political party is perfect, but the equal distribution of blame is a cop-out.  One example: unionism has been convulsed with outrage over that republican march through Castlederg ( a majority-nationalist town, incidentally), to the point where Peter Robinson went back on his word about the peace centre in Long Kesh/The Maze.  What else could he do, when these people were daring to commemorate men of violence, even honour them?  Contrast that attitude with the attitude of the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mairtin O Muilleoir, who has backed the idea of lighting up in red Belfast City Hall on Remembrance Day. So to commemorate republican dead is a deal-breaking outrage, a show of contempt for victims and unionists;  commemorating British dead is accepted by republicans and even facilitated by the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor. 

When the day comes that the mainstream media reject this dumb-ass notion of a balance of bigotry, the sooner we’ll be able to address reality  and, who knows, resolve our differences. Meanwhile if the dumb-ass version of events forms the foundations of the Haas talks,  then the House of Haas is doomed. 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

"Not fit to govern" - it's official. It's in the papers.

The media, as you know, are the watchdog of our society. Without them, we would be at the mercy of corrupt governments. But we have them and they bring us information that is vital to our healthy democracy.

Take the Liam Adams case. Liam Adams has now been found guilty by a court of law of the sexual abuse of his daughter. The case was reported in detail by the press, radio and television, bringing us quotations from the witnesses for the defence and the prosecution on a daily basis. We needed to hear all this because...That’s right. Because he is Gerry Adams’s brother. If you don’t know that by now, you’d need to check with the hearing equivalent of Specsavers, because since the get-go, Liam Adams has never just been Liam Adams. He’s been Liam Adams, Gerry Adams’s brother. 

And of course we needed to know that, because, because, um, because it tells us more about Liam Adams. No, sorry, strike that. Because it tells us more about Gerry Adams. That the leader of Sinn Féin could have a brother like that, well, I mean. Flawed pedigree and all that. It’s a bit like a man up the country I once went to interview. It’d all been agreed, I thought, but when I arrived the man  wasn’t having any. No interview. I was at a loss until he eventually let slip that he’d had a falling-out some fifty years earlier with an aunt of mine. So since I was her nephew, there’d be no interview. I tried to tell him that maybe this was a bit unfair - punishing me for my aunt’s actions. Didn’t matter. No interview. Clear off.

In this case it’s clear off Gerry Adams. “Not Fit To Govern” one headline declared. Mmm. So  Martin McGuinness, who by his own admission was a senior member of the IRA, is fit to govern and has been doing so with some success for several years now; but Gerry Adams in some hypothetical future time will not be fit to govern because he didn’t go to the police quickly enough for the media’s satisfaction. 

None of  this, of course, has any connection to the fact that the latest polls in the south show Sinn Féin, the party Mr Adams leads, as being the second biggest in the state, and Mr Adams himself the second most popular leader. None at all. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Five things we learnt from last night's 'Prime Time'.

  1. Miriam O’Callaghan is no Pat Kenny.  While Pat Kenny was awful as presenter of The Late Late Show  but very good presenting Frontline,  Miriam O’Callaghan is a blonde waste of space on any programme (and no, Virginia, I’d still say that even she’d snuggled up to Martin McGuinness and given him a big kiss a couple of years back). She spent most of her time  last night saying “Wait ‘til he finishes” and “I’ll let you come in after” as Richard Bruton and Micheal  Martin ignored her and went on shouting stuff across her.
  2. They don’t build lecterns like they used to. First Micheal Martin dropped his notes and tried surreptitiously to paw them back within grabbing-distance, using his foot. Richard Bruton dropped his notes as well but pretended not to notice, but came within a whisker of sending his pen pinging across the studio. 
  3. The referendum for the abolition of the Seanad is a ferocious waste of public money. They’re printing and delivering a pamphlet about it to every single home in the twenty-six counties, including the tens of thousands of families who don't know how they'll keep a roof over their head. Even if the decision is taken to abolish the Seanad, it won’t kick in for two years or more. 
  4. The best metaphor of the night came from a man opposed to Seanad abolition. He said that because a fire-escape wasn’t used didn’t mean you broke it up and sold it off as scrap metal. Which is true. If irrelevant.
  5. The Seanad is and always has been an anti-democratic waste of money. It represents 1% of the people in the south; and it pays senators over €60,000 a year for aping Britain’s House of Lords. It’s about as much use as a fire-escape on a bungalow and should be sold to a willing scrap-metal dealer, not in two years’ time,  but within twenty-four hours of Friday's referendum which will (I hope) consign it to the scrap-heap of history. 
Footnote: I say all this as part of the 1% who actually has a Seanad vote.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

How to say No when you need to

Relationships are a funny thing. Sometimes you can have one partner who wants to dominate and the other partner who wants to be agreeable. Which is the more commendable? On the face of it you’d say the one who wants to be agreeable. But hold. This can mean that Partner No. 2  concedes and concedes, believing it’s the only way to harmony.  Not good thinking. Because when that happens, not only does the dominant partner get encouraged to go on dominating, s/he grows in contempt for what soon comes to be considered as spineless Partner No 2. 

Which is why I am pleased to see two decisions being taken in recent days. 

The first is the response of the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents’ Association (CARA) to the recent Orange Order offer. Listen guys, just you let a few of us march past those shops and know what? We’ll sit down and start talking to you about future marches. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except that it’s actually saying “Join us in showing your contempt for the Parades Commission and its rulings”. It’s saying “Give us what we want and you don’t want, and we’ll talk to you about what we want in the future”. Joe Marley of CARA  responded in the best way possible: “I think it would be insane for the Parades Commission to overrule their original determination. What I would say to the Parades Commission is do not capitulate to unionist/loyalist violence, the threat of violence, intimidation and law-breaking, because that’s what’s occurring here on a nightly basis since the 12th of July”.  

And if you don’t believe Marley about the threats of unionist/loyalist violence, ask yourself this: why did the Orange Order not turn up to its arranged meeting with the media recently? Instead they were replaced by some unionist politicians and several members of the UDA and the UVF.  Which was about as subtle as a raised club.

The second decision that  is good for everyone is that taken by Sinn Féin on the Long Kesh/Maze site's future development. Martin McGuinness in so many words said “No peace centre, no economic development”. That’s a sensible stand for at least two reasons. One, because the architect of the peace centre has publicly declared that, particularly given his own background, he would have nothing to do with the construction of a ‘shrine to terrorism’. So that oft-cited claim can be binned.  And two, because Peter Robinson and his colleagues sorely need reminding that when you commit yourself to something, give your word, you’re supposed to keep it. Were Sinn Féin to roll over on this one on the grounds that they want to develop good relations with unionism, they’d simply be encouraging Robinson and Co to pull similar stuff whenever and wherever they felt like it. But that hasn't happened.

Who knows?  Out of  these sensible refusals may well grow  a smidgin of realism, next time unionism (in whatever form) comes to the table.