Tuesday, 31 May 2011
So does that make Gregory a dinosaur? Uh-uh. No siree bob. Any time a politician opens his mouth, if s/he's smart (and Gregory is smart), s/he thinks first what impact this will have on their constituency. Gregory's constituency is the hardline element of the DUP, the backwoods boys, so the 'hard man' act, as Kelly called it, fitted the bill nicely.
It also provided a DUP smokescreen, something Nolan suggested to Gregs. According to Wikileaks, the DUP was in talks with Sinn Féin for three years before entering power-sharing: this at a time when they were telling the public they wouldn't touch SF with a very long barge-pole that had an extension attached to it. When Nolan made the Wikileaks suggestion, you could almost hear Gregory moan. He immediately began accusing Nolan of taking his questions from texts sent into him and no, I don't know what that text reference means. Nor, I suspect, did Nolan. But that was OK, because it served its purpose. It was a brisk return of serve, a quick counter-punch, a timely distraction. Clever, nimble Gregory.
Things ended with the DUP man admitting that Sinn Féin had the right to appoint anyone they liked at Stormont and that they had the right to fill the mayor's chair in Limavady with anyone they chose, but he Gregory had the right to criticise them...You get that? Even cleverer. Q: What are your reasons for criticising? A: Because I have the right to criticise. Mmm. You know there's something missing in there, but Gregory has wrapped his answer in so much smoke, it's hard to say what it is.
So no, Gerry, Gregory ain't no dinosaur. Dinosaurs aren't as nimble as fleas and they don't have a special place in the heart of a big chunk of the DUP electorate (well they do but not as warm a place as Gregs). The important thing this morning was to spend as little time as possible on the Wikileaks thing , because it suggested the DUP had spent several years lying its head off to the electorate. Gregory did that quite brilliantly.
Monday, 30 May 2011
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there is a difference between people and their politics. I don’t mean by that the obvious, that politics divides people. It can and it does. If I believe in capitalism and you believe in socialism, if I value union with Britain and you yearn for Irish ‘independence’ (I put that word in quotation marks for EU/IMF reasons), then naturally those differences will divide us. No, what I have in mind is the fact that if you can peer past someone’s politics, you often discover an interesting and different person from the one you had in your head.
I was reminded of this for the umpteenth time yesterday, when I found myself in the company of a person whose view of the political world is chalk to my cheese. We didn’t talk politics, or not directly, because you’re right, politics permeates everything to some degree. But by talking the way people might if they met on a train or in a pub, I soon discovered a human being surprisingly like myself, coping with or enjoying many of the same pains and pleasures.
George Bernard Shaw made this same point a lot more vividly, except I haven't his quotation to hand and am too lazy/busy to be bothered hunting for it. In essence he said that very often, you find that those who share your political thinking can be a pain in the arse, while those whose political thinking you firmly reject can often be people towards whom you instinctively warm.
In the words of a politician whom I really detest: it’s a funny old world.
Sunday, 29 May 2011
“So what Irish football club do you support?” The questioner was the guide at Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona, last summer. Questions like that make you think. Or they do me.
What Irish football club (soccer, that is) do I support? Um, none. I support Arsenal, I told the Camp Nou man, and I could see he was looking at me as if I was a bit unbalanced. After all, I’d just been impressing on him that I was IRISH not ENGLISH, that there was a serious difference.
Did it, does it make sense for an Irishman to support an English soccer team like Arsenal? I suppose you could argue that Pat Rice, an Irishman, has been a prominent figure at Arsenal for years, or that Liam Brady works with the youth team – but so what? Isn’t there something a bit...colonial about my gazing past local clubs and supporting an English team? In my defence you could say that Irish club football north and south is crap, and you’d be right. But it still doesn’t let me off the hook.
And it goes beyond soccer. When I was a child in the 1950s, we used to cavort around the Christian Brothers school yard in Omagh playing...Yep, cowboys and indians. Tkoooo, tkoooo, wooo-woooo-whooooo, you’re dead! And when I was a boarder at St Columb’s College in Derry, what sort of music did I listen to on my crystal set? English and American pop music. And when I went to UCD and attended The Four Provinces dancehall on Harcourt Street, what sort of music did the showbands play? Third-rate versions of English and American pop tunes.
I sometimes have spirited arguments with my sons about this. I try to explain my unease that I should have taken my boyhood heroes from the Wild West of America and my teenage and youthful music form England and America, by-passing things Irish as somehow not worth wasting time on. They argue that it made sense, of course I sought the international best. What would be the point in cutting yourself off from American film, American music, American mythology, any more than you’d cut yourself off from French cheese or Spanish onions?
Their argument doesn’t quite convince me. My fear is that it’s rooted in cultural cringe. Anything native has to be second-best /primitive, things from the seat of power, the imperial centre, are bound to be better.
If you could untease this cultural cringe without referring to me as “an evil old cunt” (the thoughtful estimate of one comment-poster a few blogs back), I’d be in your debt.
Saturday, 28 May 2011
How will the anti-Irish knuckle-draggers cope now that Niall Ó Donnghaile has been installed as Belfast’s new Lord Mayor, I wonder? Given that a single word of Irish can be seen as a subversive signal (see the brilliant blog http://ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/irish-ireland-meets-english-ireland-in-the-eurospar/ for a southern version of the same problem), every time they use Ó Donnghaile’s name they’ll have committed the treacherous act of which they complain. Added is the confusing fact that QE2 AND President Obama both used Irish briefly during their visit here, and the knuckle-draggers must knitting their sloping brows.
It’s not just knuckle-draggers, of course – the otherwise-intelligent people who run our Protestant/Controlled schools have such a low opinion of Irish, not one of them offers Irish as a subject. I once did a small piece of research into why no Protestant/Controlled schools here play Gaelic games. All of the PE Heads said yes, they’d be happy to offer it, but the thing was, the parents would never agree. Presumably the same applies to the teaching of Irish. At present it’s an exclusively Catholic-and-Integrated-schools thing. The excuse given is that “republicans have hi-jacked the language”, so to use or teach it would be to align oneself with those who shouted orders for a volley of shots at IRA gravesides It wasn’t clear how they felt about Angela Merkel who speaks, of course, the same language as Hitler, or Carla Bruni, who is fluent in Mussolini’s tongue. As well, of course, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Francis of Assisi respectively.
A final thought, beyond Gaelic games and Irish-speaking: what saintly lives do Robin Newton and Ruth Patterson lead, that they can occupy the high moral ground from which to look down on the new Mayor? Some found deputy Mayor Patterson’s noli me tangere act (see film clip) sad. Personally, I thought it hilarious.
Friday, 27 May 2011
Well, looks like it’s started again – if it ever stopped, that is. I mean the education debate. The new Education Minister, John O’Dowd, was on the BBC’s ‘Hearts and Minds’ last night and two things immediately became clear: Sinn Féin have no plans to row back on the abolition of the 11+ that began with Martin McGuinness; and the new Education minister will probably be a bit harder to push around.
Now, my blog yesterday got so many people hot and bothered, and in some cases into farmyard hissy-fits, I’m slightly nervous about raising today’s topic of education. It’s a real divider and not just along political lines: class is key. There are those who believe that telling two-thirds of the population they are educational failures at 11 is a bad idea, and there are those who treasure the grammar school system as it stands and will do anything to maintain it.
Maybe we should look at this under the doctrine (this column is getting doctrines these days like teenagers used to get spots – yesterday the doctrine of transferred malice and doctrine of secondary effect, today this)...where was I? Yes, it looks like the doctrine of the greatest good of the greatest number might be worth applying here. When and if you do, it becomes obvious that the 11+/grammar school system flies in the face of that doctrine, catering as it does for the greatest good of about 30% of the population, and even that’s debatable, if you think beyond exam success, as O’Dowd rightly did last night.
As I’ve said on other occasions, I feel uniquely qualified to talk about the 11+, having failed and passed it on the same day (sort of). When I did the exam, the Christian Brother said a letter would arrive home if you’d passed, no letter if you’d failed. I waited that morning for the letter, and waited, and waited. No go – I’d failed. I remember crouching behind our hayshed and bawling my heart out, certain I’d screwed up my life before it’d even got properly started. My mother’s consolation meant nothing. Eventually I was dried off and sent to school where, lo and behold, the Christian Brother had got it wrong. The results had in fact come to the school, I’d passed, and grief was transformed into euphoria. Passing? It’s sweet. Failing? It sucks.
I’ve taught in grammar schools or their equivalent and I’ve taught in comprehensive schools. The latter looked a better experience for several reasons, including the fact that there’s a wider social range among the youngsters and a less career-fixated atmosphere. But maybe I was just lucky in the schools that employed me.
Sinn Féin and, presumably, John O’Dowd’s position is that transfer is best done at 14 years of age, not 11. But why change schools at 11 OR 14? Why can’t they run from 5-18? Yes, it’d mean bigger schools. Nothing wrong with that. Most youngsters I’ve spoken to, and most teachers, tell me they prefer big schools – less of a goldfish bowl. Not perfect, of course, just as big cities aren’t perfect. But they offer a kind of freedom with their greater anonymity which many people enjoy.
The important thing is to delay funneling children along one route or another, one school or another, one selection of subjects, as long as possible. There’s no knowing when a kind word, a teacher gesture, a moment of insight will transform the reluctant, obtuse teenager into an eager, bright-eyed boy or girl. What matters in education, above brains and ability and all the rest of it, which we can’t measure anyway, is attitude. And when that becomes right, all things are possible.
But what hope of that, if the DUP and others are determined to keep sending two-thirds of youngsters to bawl at the back of the barn? You get a lovely view of your educational worth from there, I can tell you.
Thursday, 26 May 2011
|Judge Tom Travers and his daughter Mary|
Consider three situations. In the first, I take my recently-serviced car out, the brakes inexplicably fail, I hit your teenage daughter and kill her. In the second, I take my car out and, while busy changing radio stations, I hit your teenage daughter and kill her. In the third, I take my car out, search for your daughter, deliberately hit her with my car and kill her.
You don’t have to be Thomas Aquinas to see that while the grief of family will be terrible in all three cases, the morality in each case differs. In the first, there is no guilt involved, since I didn’t intend to kill your daughter. In the second there’s some guilt, since I drove carelessly and that resulted in your daughter’s death. In the third case, I am totally guilty – I set out with the intention of killing your daughter and that’s what I did.
Which of these categories does the killing of Mary Travers fit into? She died from a single shot during an IRA attack on her father in 1984. Tom Travers, a judge at the time, was shot six times but survived.
It’s clear that the IRA attack was aimed at Judge Travers, not his daughter. In other words, the IRA was guilty of deliberately trying to kill Judge Travers but not guilty of trying to kill his daughter. A reasonable case could be made, then, for placing the paramilitaries in the second category, guilt through carelessness , in terms of Mary Travers’s death. But since the intention was to kill the judge and not his daughter, IRA guilt in terms of her death is at worst that of the reckless driver.
None of these distinctions was evident either on the front page of the Venerable Organ or on RTÉ’s ‘Liveline’ programme with Joe Duffy yesterday. The grief and anger of Mary Travers’s sister Ann were palpable and understandable, but no effort was made to examine whether Mary’s death was intentional or not. Why not? Well, we’re immediately in the twilight world of conjecture. Certainly neither the VO nor Joe Duffy could be described as champions of republicanism; equally certainly the references to Sinn Féin having a ‘murderer’ working for them - one of the people involved in the attack on Judge Travers 25 years ago - were calculated to damage that party.
I could go on and consider whether ex-paramilitary prisoners should be employed at Stormont, or at what level, or whether they should be given a job at all, anywhere; but that’s work for another day. For now my point is a simple one. The event on which the controversy rests – Mary Travers’s killing – has been presented in a way that takes for granted the maximum guilt of those involved in her death. That has skewed any rational discussion of who Sinn Féin or any other political party may employ. That’s shameful and dangerous.
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Dear Sir Alex,
You may not know me – the name’s Kenny, Enda Kenny. No, I’m not actually a woman, at least not the last time I looked, ha ha ha. Enda is a common enough name for a bloke here in Ireland although I’m not a common bloke myself, any more than you are, because I’m An Taoiseach of Ireland, which means I’m the boss man here, just like you at Man U. And like you, I had to wait a long time before I finally got to knock the other lot off their fecking perch, and like you too I had to listen to those who said I didn’t have it in me, but sure wasn’t it all the sweeter for the wait and being able finally to prove the begrudging gobshites wrong?
Which brings me to my reason for writing. Let me be honest and say soccer isn’t really my game, I’m more of a Gaelic football or hurling man: you maybe saw me giving my very good friend Barack a hurley-stick as a present the other day. I offered to give one to Michelle too. I put my arm round her waist and said “How would you like me to give you a camogie stick, Michelle?” but she misunderstood and Barack had to tell the heavies to get off the top of me or I could have been seriously injured. But here, that’s all in the past. I’m not a soccer man as I say but I am a big fan of your management style and I’m wondering if you could help me out.
Thing is, a couple of days ago I made a speech introducing my good friend Barack Obama to a big mob of people in front of the Bank of Ireland – no, they weren’t trying to get their money out, you’re a gas man, Sir Alex, you really are. There was about 25,000 of them there and I made this speech some of my aides had written, and I remember thinking at the time, jaysus, this is going down powerful well, me introducing your man Obama and at the same time telling them that I am Il Duce, sort of thing, they must follow my lead and I will take them forward to great things. Only then, holy Mother of God, what happens next day but some little fecker from some little rat’s hole of a radio station checks my speech, and hasn’t half of it been pinched from a speech by Obama himself a couple of years ago! What kind of shagging eejit I must have looked, with your man at my elbow and me like a class of glove puppet or parrot or fecking echo, repeating nearly word for word what he’d said three years earlier.
So of course now I have this fierce credibility gap and that’s why I’m writing to you. I know you’re playing the Barcelona team next Saturday and from what I hear, they’re going to be a hard nut to crack. That means you’ll have to give your boys the most powerful motivating talk that ever was on God’s green earth. So what I was wondering was, would there be any chance of you recording your wee pep-talk and sending a copy over to me? I could then take out the bits where you use names like Giggsy or Scholesy or whatever and put in Paddy and Mick, and instead of a soccer game I'd make it about Ireland and getting off our knees and taking on the world and all that inspirational guff. And since your talk would be in the privacy of the Man Utd dressing room, no nosy fecker could check what you said and the disaster I had last Monday evening could be avoided.
You’re probably thinking ‘What’s in this for me?’ and the answer to that, Sir Alex, is Plenty. Just name your price. We’re funneling so much money into European banks, a bung of a million or two directed towards your good self won’t even register on our financial Richter scale.
PS I meant to say - that gong you got, the ‘Sir’ bit? I was sounding out my good friend Her Majesty, the Queen of England and Empress of India when she was over here, and I asked her about maybe extending the system to this state. If she wanted us to rejoin the Commonwealth or anything first, no problem. The way the plebs here went mad last week during her visit, I’m convinced they’d walk on their knees through pigshit if they thought they’d get a Sir or a Dame from the queen at the end of it.
Finally, may I say I thought you were massive the other night on TV. I saw the way you whispered to your aide to make sure and get the little bollix that raised the question about Giggsy - brilliant! Most of the media here would lick your arse for sixpence, or my arse anyway, but I still admire your style. I mean, what’s the point in having power if you can’t put the fear of God into the media?
Finally finally, I want to extend my sincere apologies for that 5-0 scoreline the Republic inflicted on the Northern Ireland team last night. As a former Rangers man, you’ll have been outraged at the sight of tricolours being flaunted all over the Aviva stadium, and so was I. I'm going to introduce a no-flags policy (well maybe visiting flags but no home flags, definitely) and I'm working flat out to stop players from the north registering to play on the Republic of Ireland team. What do they think they are anyway – Irishmen or something? Anyway, Sir Alex, to echo my very good friend British Secretary of State Owen Paterson, I am profoundly sorry.
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
|Barack drinks the black in Moneygall|
1. He hasn’t got a drink problem. That’s to say, when he pulls on a pint, he doesn’t leave a moustache of froth on his upper lip, or if he does he makes sure it’s clear before the cameras see it. Plus he made sure he took a manly swally first time, not one of these effeminate sips. Somebody probably tipped him off about the old Irish tradition of taking Guinness sippers round behind the jacks for a kicking after closing time.
2. He’s good with babies. Admittedly those could have been planted Moneygall babies, drugged to the eyeballs so they didn’t start screaming blue murder the minute he touched them; but he did do a nice little bouncy-bouncy motion with them and he knew to warn the father not to stick the dummy back in the baby’s gob after he’d dropped it on the ground (the dummy, not the baby).
3. He’s got enormous feet. If you were watching when he was sitting with Enda Kenny on those two chairs, his trousers were hitched and his ankles and shoes were on display. Cheesh. Size 12 at least.. That’s Mother Nature for you. The guy likes to play a little basketball so she equips him with big solid feet : that way, when he lands after a jump, he’s got lots of contact-acreage to keep him upright. I didn’t see Michelle’s feet, which is probably as well. You know what they say about women with big feet.
4. He calls older men ‘Sir’, even when they’re not Sir Tony O’Reilly or Sir Bob Geldof. I was in the States a few years back and during a conversation my son's friend kept calling me ‘Sir’ and my present wife ‘Ma’am’. At first I thought he was taking the mickey but he explained that this was considered good form in his family, every-day courtesy, so I put down the chair. Still not sure I like it. If everybody gets called ‘Sir’, Tony and Bob are going to end up feeling their Buck House grovel was hardly worth it.
5. He can make a really great speech. After College Green, RTÉ interviewed a number of people and they all said he'd been terrific, they felt so much better after it, inspired even. So did I. I was striding around the living-room punching the air and roaring “Is feidir linn! Is feidir linn!” when the present Mrs Collins came home from work. “But what did he actually say? Is he going to give an amnesty to Irish illegals in the US? Is he going to send us some Yank firms with jobs? What about those rendition flights at Shannon?” She's a bit like that, the present Mrs C – always going on about the need for specifics. I ignore such small-minded thinking. “Is feidir linn!” I continued chanting until, just before EastEnders, I fell over the cat and hit my head on the edge of the coffee-table. Great orators have that kind of effect.
Monday, 23 May 2011
The family and friends of lawyer Rosemary Nelson, however, are less enlightened. Today, they and the general public will look back to 1999, when Mrs Nelson was killed by a car-bomb. At the time, the authorities blamed loyalist paramilitaries; Mrs Nelson’s family, friends and a lot of others claimed there was collusion between loyalists and British security forces. Certainly a year before her death the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Param Curamaswamy, stated on television that her life could be in danger. Later that same year Mrs Nelson confirmed the death threats, including threats made by RUC police officers.
The report released today will reveal all. Or will it? British Secretary of State Owen Paterson has held up publication while the document was screened for “matters of national security”. In oher words, we’re checking to make sure we, Britain, and our forces, don’t come out of this looking any worse than absolutely necessary. So although I hope the family and friends of Mrs Nelson, and the wider public, get the full story, I’m not holding my breath. One thing’s sure: no police officer, past or present, will spend a day in prison for the murder of this woman.
Thank goodness the President of the United States doesn’t favour killing people he doesn’t like and has heeded the calls here to leave the past behind.
Sunday, 22 May 2011
Like most of us I have a sharp ear for a compliment, so when I got a message yesterday asking “Are you the only one with a titter of wit?” you may be sure I gave it my full attention. I assumed – rightly as it turned out – that the comment referred to my critical view on air of the queen’s visit. For a few minutes I patted myself on the back, the way you do, but then I began to wonder if I knew what I’d been talking about. I’d criticized the queen’s visit and yet I hadn’t seen her during her time here. Not once. Nor, for that matter, had a great number of the commentators who formed the chorus of the gushfest that greeted her. I know, because I was watching a number of them gushing as they stared at a TV screen.
Is this leading somewhere, you’re wondering? Yes it is. Well over 95% of what we know about politicians, heads of state, prime ministers, presidents, what are laughingly called ‘dignitaries’ - all come to us via the media. They and the world get chopped up, carefully arranged, put in a parcel with a particular colour of bow, and then we get them. One tiny example: I was in a discussion on RTÉ Radio One yesterday and one of the panel was former Irish ambassador to Britain Noel Dorr. Noel, being a wily old cat, waited until the end before dropping in a final highly-civilized comment that made my criticism on the Anglo-Irish Agreement sound like the biased rantings of a stuck-in-the-mud northerner. Nothing I could do about it – we were out of time. Nice one, Noel.
That’s the nature of the media – they give a time-and-space limited view of the world. When I was a child, I used puzzle over the fact that every day, exactly fifteen minutes of news happened. Every single day, down to the second, the number of things happening in the world fitted into a fifteen-minute slot. Amazing.
Some people will tell you that bankers are the most powerful people in our society, others that the big multi-nationals are. Uh-uh. The most powerful are the media. We’re like blind men and women and the media tell us what the world looks like. Remember shortly after the invasion of Iraq, how we got those groups of people cheering a welcome of the Americans? And then it turned out they were a small unrepresentative group: all over Iraq there were scores, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who hated the US and its troops.
That selective view of the world is on my mind as we gather ourselves for yet another gushfest. Who’s to say? Maybe there are thousands of ones with a titter of wit out there, only their voice doesn’t get to be part of the media package. Maybe – it’s possible – you’re one of them.
Friday, 20 May 2011
Nil nisi bonum de mortuis dicere - speak only good of the dead – is a difficult command to follow. In fact impossible. There are clearly people who are dead – try Hitler, Stalin, some of my old teachers – who test that injunction to destruction. But they’re dead quite some time now and that seems to make a difference.
Garret Fitzgerald is dead less than twenty-four hours and the commentators have been following the Nil nisi injunction to the letter. Praise of all kinds from all quarters is being heaped on him. One politician – I think it was Seamus Mallon – said he was one of the great political figures of the twentieth century. I suppose it’s no more over-the-top than to go “Wow!” when an Englishwoman says three Irish words.
He’s indissolubly linked with the Anglo-Irish Agreement which hugely annoyed the unionist population here, and for some that was enough to make the Agreement a good thing and Fitzgerald a hero. Others like myself saw the Agreement as a British-Irish effort to block the electoral rise of Sinn Féin. In that attempt it and he were successful certainly temporarily. Did the Anglo-Irish Agreement pave the way to the Good Friday Agreement? Probably not. The Hume-Adams talks and the IRA ceasefires did that.
Was Garret a great politician? I don’t think so. He failed as often as he succeeded in electoral terms. His efforts to make the south of Ireland a more secular society had partial success, although Gay Byrne could probably claim as much credit on that score. Garret’s claim – or the claim of others for him – that he understood the north particularly well, having a republican father and a northern Presbyterian mother, is shaky. There are lots of people whose parentage is similar and who haven’t a clue about northern politics.
He was regarded, former Fine Gael Taoiseach Alan Dukes said last night, with feelings of “amused affection” by his peers and the public. That got it just about right, I think. When I studied at UCD in the mid-1960s, Garret was a lecturer there. He was the epitome of the absent-minded professor, only on speed. He thought at lightning pace, moved at lightning pace, talked at lightning pace. A lot of students didn’t know what the hell he was talking about most of the time but they still enjoyed him and were amused by him.
It’d be easy to remember his strenuous efforts to block the electoral path of Sinn Féin while at the same time calling on republicanism to embrace electoral politics. It’d be even easier to remember his very Dublin-4 dismissal of Charlie Haughey as a man ‘of flawed pedigree’. But I prefer to remember him before all that, lecturing in economics in UCD, circa 1965. He delivered his lectures in a tumbling, word-running-into-word non-stop torrent, which occasionally even he would feel uneasy about. On one occasion he had been hammering on full-speed for some ten minutes, scarcely drawing breath, and everyone in the lecture hall was scribbling flat-out in a hopeless attempt to keep up with him. Eventually Garret paused, looked over his glasses and asked in his naive way: “I’m not going too fast, am I?” A voice from the fifth row, belonging to one Seamus McCotter from Swatragh Co Derry (one of Charlie Haughey’s many northern cousins, as it happens) responded in an audible whisper: “You’re goin’ like a fucking ‘puter!” [= computer]. Garret seemed genuinely baffled when the lecture theatre exploded in a yell of laughter.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam - May he rest in peace.
Thursday, 19 May 2011
You missed it, you really really should have come. It was brilliant - I was wearing this green dress and I could tell, everybody was looking at me – phenomenal stuff! Granted those tables were a bit useless – reminded me of the hotel where Peter and I had our wedding reception. But apart from that it was an OK dining-room. And then when Her Majesty got up and spoke in Gaelic! I’m still not sure what she said but it definitely wasn’t that chucky thing you people used to use, LOL! It was something nice or maybe funny, Peter said, like “The prawn cocktail was gorgeous” Or “Your dress outlines your bellybutton, Mrs President”. Whatever.
But OMG, when I heard Her Majesty doing the words in the leprechaun language, I'm like “Wow!” Nobody heard me because I said it very softly, and anyway all the cameras were all on the McAleese woman and can you believe it – SHE was saying ‘Wow!’ too. Spooky or what? Anyway, we were all truly moved and touched, to think that Her Majesty could read those three or four words in phonetic-Gaelic. And at her age! What does it show? Well, that she’s got great eyesight for starters. And it also shows how far we’ve moved on, doesn’t it? She’s sending a signal. The next time you stand up in the Assembly…What do you mean, you’ve left it? …Oh. I see. Well, the next time one of your colleagues stands up in the Assembly and begins speaking in jail Gaelic, unionists won’t have to shuffle their papers or cough or laugh or anything else, because now Her Majesty has used some of that language, it’s been, well, sort of cleansed really, hasn’t it. Disinfected. Hijacked back from republicans. I’m starting Beginners’ Gaelic at our local Orange Hall in September. For sure.
The rest of Her Majesty’s speech was even more terrific. She said, no, no, she didn’t say she was sorry, she said there were things that if they had to do again, they’d do differently, and some things, if they had to do again, they wouldn’t do at all. As Peter said to me afterwards, it was a question of filling in the dots for yourself. She could have been talking about the day her troops in Londonderry fired on that unruly mob OR she could have been talking about the Anglo-Irish Agreement! Really brilliant footwork, Peter said afterwards.
The McAleese woman hugged me, you know – hugged me, in front of the cameras and everything. I swear I didn’t know where to look. Peter said it was a sisterly gesture but sometimes Peter doesn’t know his arse from a Japanese koi carp. My bet is she wanted to feel my dress material so she could guess what it cost. Anyway, in her speech she banged on quite a lot about the peace process and the people that’d created it, blahblahblah. But guess what? She never once mentioned you, Gerry. Or Martin. If you had been there, you could have jumped up and said “Now listen here, Mrs President” – you could have done that bit in Gaelic, couldn’t you? – “I was a key player in the peace process. Me and Martin were the ones that took the real risks for peace”. Anyway, you didn’t because you weren’t there. Missed opportunity. Shame, really.
I’m not saying everything about the evening was perfect. I wasn’t crazy about the fiddle-de-dee music they played afterwards, and near the end of the proceedings, when Peter stood on the table and did his impersonation of the Doc imitating Willie Whitelaw, I thought to be honest it was a bit embarrassing. But overall, it was a historic night. For starters and most importantly because it was the first time people had seen me in ages and my green dress really rocked the room. And secondly because there must have been about a zillion words from people, what with before the speeches and during the speeches and after the speeches, about peace and the future and friendship and kisses and make up now and – I loved this bit - DON’T MENTION THE BORDER! And they didn’t. Not once! LOL or what?
At the end, when we were coming out, we saw Seamus Heaney standing at a wastebasket, kind of muttering to himself and tearing something up. Peter went over to him and they had a wee chat for a minute. So in the car I asked Peter, I said, what was that all about? He said it was a poem Heaney was tearing up. “A poem?” I said. “How do you mean, a poem? What poem?” “The one” Peter said “with the bit in it ‘No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen’.” OMG – we laughed and laughed all the way home!
You missed it, Gerry.
A tired but happy
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
I’m not a man readily given to exclamation marks but WHAT A GUSHFEST! Not to say hushed we-are-all-Richard-Dimbleby obsequiousness. I was in Dublin yesterday and both from the sidelines and from on-air debate, I heard more fudge and near-grovel than I want to hear for the rest of my days. The commentating world seemed to go all moist and John Brutony, who, you’ll remember, grinned like a watermelon and declared the day of Prince Charles’s visit to the south the happiest day of his life.
Historic, a line beneath the past, even “the end of history” – the words came tumbling out of those assembled to pass comment. The point I tried to make on BBC Radio 5 Live and on Channel 4 was that talk like Taoiseach Enda Kenny's about this day marking “an end to the centuries of division and divisiveness between our two countries” flew in the face of the facts.
I don’t know any historian who’d deny that the source of the ill-will and bloodshed between Ireland and England through history has been rooted in England’s claim to political jurisdiction over Ireland. Is that claim still exercised? No and Yes. No, it’s been abandoned in the south of Ireland and yesterday sort of symbolically confirmed that, although you’d think after sixty years, Britain would have noticed. But Yes, Britain still claims and in fact exercises political jurisdiction over the north of Ireland. You may see that as a jolly good thing or you may see it as a dreary bad thing, but it’s there. Pretending it isn’t and spouting dutiful and poetic tributes to the visitor from Windsor is no substitute for facing up to reality. The source of the bitterness between the neighbours still exists and it continues to distort the relationship. If those drawn to violence see a blank refusal by those in power to even acknowledge the continued existence of the problem, there’s a real danger they’ll feel confirmed in their analysis and conclude that only a terrible, transforming gesture will resolve the situation. Now there's a thought to make us all truly weak at the knees.
Meanwhile, I wonder will Paddy Power give odds that our curtsying commentators will run out of epithets over the next twenty-four hours?
PS Here's my Channel 4 News interview on Tuesday 17 May 2011
PS Here's my Channel 4 News interview on Tuesday 17 May 2011
Monday, 16 May 2011
Have Sinn Féin backed off in their opposition to the royal visit? Commentators like Sam Smyth say they have. Smyth figures the Shinners have sniffed the wind of public opinion and are trimming their sails accordingly. There may be something in what he says. I was down in Kildare on Saturday and Sunday, running in the Kildare Half-Marathon ( yes, 1 hour 49 mins, thank you, and you can still sponsor me any time over the next month at http://www.mycharity.ie/event/judes-half-marathon/ , but MUCH better to do it now) …Where was I ? Right. I chatted to several people at the Kildare Half-Marathon and they said they thought the visit was fine, no problem. In fact, a number of them used the same statement, word for word: “It’s time to move on”. Gerry Adams is a politician who know how to make the best of a bad job and he claims that, while still opposed to the royalfest, what the queen has to say during her visit will be crucial.
He’s wrong. Except the queen were to say something sensational, which she won’t, the core message of her visit is an unspoken one. Every hour of her visit tells anyone who’s listening “Partition is fine”. Spoken words have really no chance against that.
In the south, with the exception of Sinn Féin, all the political parties are indulging in massive doublethink. The people who now speak of friendly and equal relations with our neighbour – people like Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin – are the same people who, in a few short years, will be busting a gut to honour the men who gave their lives for Irish independence. Takes some doing, eh? One part of your brain says “Partition is fine’ and another part yells “We honour the men who died for Irish independence”.
The last time a British monarch visited the south of Ireland was exactly one hundred years ago. That visit too was received with public cheers and flag-waving. Five years later a group of men intent on wakening the Irish people from their sleep-walk seized the GPO and the rest, as they say, is history. Maybe, along with its unspoken message, this visit is sending an invisible invitation to dissident republicanism: “Do something drastic”.
Friday, 13 May 2011
EH? How can you have forgotten being fourteen, Gerry, Arlene, Danny, David and Alastair? Or were you ever fourteen? Fourteen is the worst of ages – ask any teacher. It’s when puberty has seriously kicked in, the hormones are bouncing and ricocheting around the young mind, heart and other parts. One minute they’re screaming with laughter, the next minute they’re just screaming. They sulk, they cry, they push boundaries, they break rules, they worry about sex, death, world hunger and if that girl/guy two seats back fancies them. In other words, they are at the peak of their irrationality. You don’t believe me? Ask any teacher which would they rather face, a class of 12-year-olds or a class of 14-year-olds.
And it’s at 14, the centre of the whirlpool, the core of the twister, that Gerry, Arlene, Danny, David and Alastair think young people will be able to make decisions about the direction of their lives.
Dear God. Let’s pray the new Education Minister remembers what fourteen feels like.
|Neil Lennon, Glasgow Celtic manager|
Note: this post was put up two days ago and deleted at some point over the past twenty-four hours. Who by? Pass.
Neil Lennon says he’s been targeted by the hate-mongers in Scotland and in the North here because he’s a Catholic. He’s wrong. Well no, that’s a bit harsh. He’s half-wrong. Or half-right, if you like. It’s true that Glasgow Rangers for years operated a policy of No Catholics Need Apply, just as Linfield did. But over the past decade and more, both those teams have employed Catholics, on and off the field. Being a Catholic on its own is not enough to get the bile boiling. Hatred in Scotland and here in the north of Ireland is, like football itself, a unit of two halves. In the Glasgow Celtic manager’s case, the second half that releases the rage against him is that he’s Irish.
Not Northern irish, which is how the British papers, even broadsheets like The Guardian describe him. Being Irish and Catholic = Irish nationalist = for some people unacceptable, to the point where they’d like to kill you, especially if, like Lennon, you’re high-profile. You don’t have to say you believe in Irish reunification by violent means, you don’t have to say you hate all unionists. You just need to believe that Irish reunification makes sense. More accurately, you just need some canary-brain to believe that you believe in Irish reunification. Lennon, to the best of my knowledge, has never spoken a public word on Irish politics but sure luk, isn’t he a fuggin’ taig from Lurgan, and you know what they’re like, IRA every wan.
The excuse that’s sometimes put forward for activities like those of the shaved chimp who made Wednesday night’s attack is that Lennon is a ‘combative figure’. Right. A combative figure who played soccer for Northern Ireland, a team followed by bigots who chanted their contempt of him every time he appeared on the field. A combative figure ready to captain Northern Ireland until death-threats drove him out, whereupon some ‘respectable’ unionists expressed disappointment that he should let a mere death-threat push him away.
One last thing on this and then I’ll shut up on this, because I’ve a feeling I might start screaming: the one-side/ other-side talk is an insult to the listener’s intelligence. You like to say it’s on both sides really, you like to compare Celtic and Rangers in terms of bigotry? Walk off the nearest high building, would you? That or check which team for decades didn’t just shut the door but nailed it closed against Catholics. Check which team manager has had bombs, bullets, physical attack on at least two occasions launched against him. Then come back and try your stupid-arse one-side/other-side argument and be prepared to be laughed to scorn on every side.
The Lennon case shows there’s a cancer in Scottish and Northern Irish football, it’s there’s because there’s a wider cancer in Scottish and Northern Irish society. It’s called hatred of Irish nationalism.
Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Somewhere in his writing, that great Irishman George Bernard Shaw says that the Irishman, faced with a group of expectant English people, tends to play the fool. I thought of Shaw this morning when I heard that Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, when she visits the twenty-six counties next week, will be entertained by Riverdance and Westlife.
With the help of two big gins I can usually get myself to tap one foot in half-hearted time to these groups, but that’s it. Maybe it’s because I don’t like the way Westlife, an Irish group, sing in an American accent. Maybe it’s the way Riverdance have turned Irish dancing into a thigh-pumping line of Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. But hey. Westlife and Riverdance have made mountains of money over the years and you don’t do that by refusing to amuse a visiting monarch.
Or president. There was an occasion back in the 1980s, when President Ronnie Regan visited Ireland and my old music classmate Phil Coulter was scheduled to play for him. Alas, when Phil arrived at the Munster castle where Ronnie was staying, the bodyguards who had never heard of him turned him away. No music today, thanks. A cruel friend commented that Phil had sold his soul for a mess of pottage and then didn't even get his pottage.
It’s the old dilemma, isn’t it? Do you try to live your life by standards of self-respect or, confronted by power/the English/the Americans, do you grab the chance to make money/further your career? The south’s bankers and developers made their choice; next week Riverdance and Westlife will make theirs.
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
|Tom Elliott, UUP Leader|
We had our last book-club meeting of the season last night (Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, and very good it was too) and after we got to discussing politics. All those present, I’d feel safe in saying, were nationalists, but not everybody in the room saw things, post-election, the same. At least one person was convinced that unionism was in a confident, up-swing mood - if you were a DUP unionist, that is, unlike the endangered species, the lesser-spotted UUP. The physical force threat to the state of Northern Ireland which flourished for some thirty years has quit the field. The forces of law and order now have the backing not just of unionists but nationalists and republicans as well. And nationalists/republicans have pledged to accept the status quo here until such time as a majority – maybe even a majority of unionists – decide they want to change it. Which will be when hell freezes over.
As I say, that was one view. The other was that unionism here is in a state of bewilderment and it’s getting worse. On the inside, it’s being hollowed out. The state that was deep Orange in colour has gone an upsetting tinge of neutral. In gerrymander, in housing, in jobs, in government, the old certainties have been wiped near-clean. On the outside, there’s a deep suspicion that the Tories are going to start cutting the annual subvention to a point where the benefits of links with Westminster will be harder to spot than a copy of Á la recherche du temps perdu with Tom Elliott's name on it. And when you go to Westminster as an MP, it feels awful the way everyone clears the House of Commons chamber the minute a debate on your beloved wee region is mentioned. It gets so you begin to ask yourself: inside and out, bone-marrow to skin, what is the point? Until one day you realise there is an alternative and you sit down with the Shinners and others to plan a new Ireland.
Two views of the present and future. Take, as Hughie Green used to say, your pick.
Monday, 9 May 2011
|Pat Sheehan MLA|
When Auntie Maggie went on at me, I used to murmur to myself what they now say ask in online discussions – wtf? I cared what I thought, not what they thought. And on Saturday I thought it again – wtf? So we had to wait an extra twenty-four or forty-eight hours - it really isn’t up there with world hunger or HIV as a problem. And if we believe it is a problem let’s fix it for us, not the “nation” across the water.
Fussing about the delay was a distraction, just as the prediction efforts of the TV pundits was a distraction. Pure guesswork and most of it off the mark. I was in the King’s Hall early Saturday afternoon and I asked Sinn Féin’s Pat Sheehan about the prediction in some quarters that his seat – Gerry Adams’s old seat – was at risk. Sheehan smiled and reminded me that a unionist candidate in South Belfast that very morning had predicted she’d take the fifth seat and was now busy wiping egg off her face. “I usually wait until the results are in and then give my predictions” Sheehan said. Quite.
So who won? Well the DUP made the biggest seat-gain, and its leader firmly fenced off the unionist middle ground by dedicating the party win to the late Ronan Kerr. Even more significantly, the softening of the DUP line was exemplified by Nigel Dodds referring on TV to Gerry Kelly as ‘Gerry’, although Dodds’s body language suggested he’d rather be sitting beside a dry toilet that hadn’t been emptied for the past month. But middle ground is now the DUP ground of choice. Jim Allister is the wrecker, they are the builders. Better still, they’re building on their terms, with Sinn Féin having been forced to accept the police, forced to accept the state and with a bit of luck forced to polish the queen’s shoes when she visits the south later this month. Sinn Féin, for their part, presents the election outcome as consolidation, although as always they’re looking ahead to next time. In an interview on Saturday morning Gerry Adams said the party had already had a meeting about the next Assembly election. You can be sure Foyle, Mid-Ulster and North Belfast were on the agenda for that one. Maybe even some table-banging. It’s easy to be dismissive of jam tomorrow, but this jam the Shinners can see and smell already.
Whether earned or not, the last Executive got the tag of being if not impotent then a bit less than priapic. An SDLP politician I spoke to on Saturday figured that the last lot of Stormont ministers were keen on getting power but useless at using it – with the exception, naturally, of the SDLP minister. Papa Paisley (God, he seems a long time ago) was fond of quoting that bit from the Bible “By their fruits shall ye know them”. I suppose we may all offer a decade of the rosary that the next set of ministers is as good as the SDLP thought their man was, in the last one.
[This article also appears in The Belfast Media Group newspapers this week]
Friday, 6 May 2011
Maybe it was the lack of gouge and head-butt during the campaign or the failure of the media to treat the election with half-decent attention. (RTÉ on its nine o’clock news bulletin the day before the election had an item on AV in Britain, nothing on the North.) Either way, there’s a noticeable quickening of interest, now that the votes are in. Lots of breath-holding and teeth-gritting. This is the point where most pundits back off and make vague sounds. However, as my critics will be happy to remind you, I'm good at making predictions, not too hot at getting them right. With that health warning, here goes.
The DUP will do less well than they’d like. They might even shed a seat or two. Overall, though, they’ll emerge as the biggest party. Considering Peter Robinson's year, that'll be some achievement.
Sinn Féin will do better - they could pick up, on a good day, three or four seats. They’ll be well short of top party but if they hit or pass 30 seats the DUP will begin to twitch.
The SDLP will do OK - might even pick up a seat or two. People like Conal McDevitt are user-friendly enough to counteract the lead-weight that is Maggie Ritchie.
For the UUP it's crunch time. They were in bad shape before Tom Elliott, they look even flakier now. Melt-down is a real possibility.
Alliance will do OK but not as well as they’d like to, given David Ford is Justice minister role and Naomi Long is in Westminster.
The Greens? Forget it. The positive tide the Shinners will get from their southern success will turn into a dirty, choking backwash for the Greens.
I’ll be watching in particular Oliver McMullan in East Antrim, Sinn Féin generally in North Belfast, whether Fred Cobain gets choked to electoral death in said constituency, my native West Tyrone where Barry McElduff could give lessons to a bag of weasels (that's a compliment, Barry - some of my best friends are weasels). Oh and South Belfast, to see if Sinn Féin can do some real building work in a middle-class constituency.
The council elections? No results until next week and a totally different can of, um, councillors. Sinn Féin will do very well and Balmoral will send Mairtin O Muilleoir back to the Dome of Delight.
Not all politics is boring.
Thursday, 5 May 2011
Feeling cynical? Here's some ammo. "Don't vote - it only encourages them". "If voting changed anything, they'd have banned it years ago". Very droll. With an element of truth. But 99.9% bullshit.
Politics is the best we have. Of course it's possible to wish things were better. If you're a unionist, it'd be nice if the last forty years hadn't happened and Basil Brooke's great-grandson was being groomed to take over and keep the taigs where they belong. If you're a nationalist, it'd be nice if the last forty years had resulted in a reunited Ireland, with a transformed south as well as a transformed north, where bigotry and discrimination were as popular as drink-driving and self-harming. But that ain't where we are right now.
On the other hand, tthings are better. The Orange state, as Sinn Féin frequently points out, has been dismantled. The DUP has decided it makes sense to work for the common good with those they disagree with. The sight of fourteen Sinn Féin TDs arriving in Stormont to pose for a picture with their northern colleagues sent a strong signal that reunification is still central to Shinner policy.
Are we near to reunification? No, but we're a lot nearer than we were forty years ago. Are we near to equality? No, but we're a lot nearer than we were forty years ago. The catch with sitting by the TV being cynical is that other people get out and shape things the way they want them. If we stay ferrymen, it's because we choose to stay ferrymen.
And don't - pu-LEASE don't say "I think it's going to rain today". Remember whose anniversary it is today? Remember the four votes that pushed Michelle Gildernew over the line in Fermanagh/South Tyrone last time out? Get off your jaundiced arse and down to the polling centre this minute.
Wednesday, 4 May 2011
Five things we know after the Leaders’ Debate last night:
1. Maggie Ritchie has reverted. For a while she had gone a bit Thatcher – the naturally grinding voice transformed overnight into a near-whisper. It mustn’t have worked because last night she was back at her biting-the-big-Halloween-apple best. As for other features of her speaking style, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that she seems to have inherited Mark Durkan’s phrase-making speech-writer: “Marty has a case of Peteritis’ and “David Ford is a little lapdog for the DUP”. The audience loved it. The bad news is that Mark Durkan’s speeches were peppered with clever one-liners but he still failed as party leader and his party goes on sinking deeper beneath the waves.
2. Politics here isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be. Time was when you could rely on the DUP to go a bit ballistic when it came within 100 metres of a Sinn Féin representative. Now Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness prop each other up in debates, and any cut-and-thrust is reserved for fellow-unionists or fellow-nationalists. That can be fun to a degree (see No 1 above) but you have to be careful if you’re Peter Robinson. Tip too much the other way and go on excessively about the harmonious-working-relationship with the Shinners and your backwoods boys will tear you to pieces for a taig-lover.
3. TV debates are like knock-out Cup games – anything can happen on the night. Last time out Robinson and McGuinness were streets ahead of the other three; this time Ritchie and Elliott at least got the best laughs. Especially Elliott, when he said he wanted to put on record that as UUP leader he would not take the post of Deputy First Minister to Martin McGuinness as First Minister. Presenter Mark Carruthers didn’t say “Too right you won’t, Tom son!” but he came near. Very near.
4. Peter Robinson agrees with me. Not about everything, true, but he does believe that the media are in part to blame for a dull campaign and that starting a leaders’ debate at twenty to eleven and ending it at ten past midnight is dumb, dumb, dumb. Exactly my point in yesterday’s blog. (Thinks: can I sue the FM for breach of copyright?)
5. Politics is about policies but it needs emotion too. Grace under pressure is one thing but dull enumeration of how many houses your manifesto says your party will build can send people off in search of the late-night movie. I hate to say it but I’m beginning to miss Ian Paisley. Sorta.