Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Tom Lehrer, they say, gave up on satire the day they awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger, on the grounds that nothing he Lehrer could compose would rival the absurdity of reality. He should have been at Tynecastle stadium in Edinburgh on 11 May this year. That's when a Hearts supporter called Wilson, followed by the cameras, ran to the area where Celtic manager Neil Lennon was standing, lunged at him and struck him on the head. Today in court, the charge that Wilson had been guilty of a sectarian assault aggravated by religious prejudice was dismissed.
I mean, as my granny would occasionally say, wtf? Wilson admitted in court that he had lunged at Lennon, that he'd struck him on the head. But was religious prejudice involved? Nah. Had he shouted a sectarian remark on the occasion? Nah. Not even one? Nah. In fact, Wilson was just, sniff and sob, overcome with remorse. "I regret every moment of it" he told the court. Especially the bit where he was pulled off Lennon, presumably. But no, seriously, he assured the court that it was "not my normal behaviour". Eh? Cue another granny wtf. He doesn't normally jump on Celtic managers. Or thump them on the head. And not shout sectarian remarks at them. Well that's all right then. Dunno why they bothered to bring the man to court. He's obviously a deep-down decent man who got a wee bit, um, over-excited.
So. You may be sure those who detest Celtic, hate Lennon and send him bullets and death-threats will have taken note of today's proceedings. Even if the cameras are trained on you, you've a good chance of getting off if you say you don't know what came over you, it's not a bit like you, and sectarian, no no no no no.
Oh Tom Lehrer - you thought you'd seen it all. No you hadn't. Say hello to Mr Wilson.
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
There are two apparently contradictory reports in the Irish Times this morning. One says that house prices in the South excluding Dublin have fallen 40% since 2007. In Dublin the prices have dropped 49%. Clearly, an awful lot of people are an awful lot poorer. The second report notes that the number of pupils being registered in private schools in the state is increasing. In St Gerard’s in Bray, for example, one of the most expensive fee-paying schools in the State, enrolment is up this year again, and over the past decade the school has increased its intake by 28%. Mount Anville, Wesley College, Belvedere – all up. If you want to send your off-spring to a school like this, it’ll cost an average of €5,000 if the little dear is a day pupil and over €15,000 if s/he is a boarder.
How can this be? How can people be suffering massive losses in terms of the value of their property while schools – which have in many instances raised fees – take in higher numbers? Simple: this recession is like a swimming pool. If you’re in the shallow water – you have minimal resources – when the water-level takes a sudden dip, you’re going to be banging chin, elbows, knees off the bottom. If you’re in deep water – you start with plush resources – you can take a huge dip in levels and still have lots of room to swim freely. Both groups of people – those at the top and those at the bottom – will complain bitterly at the collapse of the economy. But it’s the ones that have little who’ll really end up getting hurt. The ones with plenty will go on staying afloat, doing damn near everything the way they used to.
Indeed, indeed – the world is ill divided, them that works the hardest is the least provided.
Monday, 29 August 2011
The Donegal Gaelic football team shouldn't feel too bad about losing to Dublin in Croke Park yesterday, and not just because they made it a very close thing until the final period of the match. They should feel good because they provided a national service at Croker yesterday. They gave us all a laugh. No, two actually.
Laugh No 1: Maybe it's because the 1912 Covenanters weren't talking about the six counties when they said Ulster Will Fight, or maybe it's because so many Belfast unionists own holiday homes in Donegal, but in the days leading up to the game BBC Northern Ireland were in danger of pulling a mental hamstring. Normally, in accordance with their little Isle-of-Man type map of the six counties, the Beeb's interest in Gaelic games drops off a cliff once a team from Northern Ireland isn't competing. But with Donegal, well sure you see, it's Ulster and it isn't Ulster, so we're really behind them, or are we no we're not yes we are, no, yes... A terrible strain on the brain, having to think like that. But truly funny to watch and listen to. It's probably just as well Donegal were beaten yesterday. If it'd advanced to the All-Ireland final, the whole double-think experience could have given Auntie a stroke and that wouldn't have been funny.
Laugh No 2: RTÉ's Pat Spillane. Is there a dafter man in Ireland? There he was yesterday, getting red-faced and spluttery as only he can, giving out about "the shiite football" (yes, two 'i's and pronounced as shee-ite, a pun you see, God, Pat, you're a caution) being played by Donegal. It was a crime against the sport, Pat declared. The man should go on the stage. Here's Donegal, given no chance against dazzling Dublin, and they devise a defensive strategy that stops Dublin in its tracks for three-quarters of the game. And Pat denounces them! Let me put my arm around your manly Kerry shoulders, Pat, and whisper a little secret: the idea of a football game is to beat the opposition. OK? Not to play pretty patterns and lose. Donegal, astonishingly, amazingly, very nearly pulled it off, and personally I thought a lot of that hand-passing was incredibly skilful. But then my sense of humour isn't nearly as highly developed as the bould Pat's.
So thank you Auntie Beeb, thank you Pat Spillane, but above all thank you, Donegal, thank you, thank you, thank you. A sodden nation, on the brink of another merciless autumn and winter, is indebted to you.
Sunday, 28 August 2011
The recent arrest of lay magistrate Delia Van der Lenden and her retired Dutch naval officer husband was what you might describe as an own goal by the PSNI. Mrs Van der Lenden said after their release that either the PSNI targeted them for "malicious reasons" or they had lousy intelligence. I'd say most people would go along with that, and let's be honest, the couple's impeccably middle-class appearance probably helped as well. It's a sad fact but we're more prone to believe in people with clean fingernails and nice houses than those with dirty fingernails and coarse voices.
But the part of this case that I found most interesting was the fact that reports of the arrest of the Van der Lendens invariably mentioned Mrs Van der Lenden's son, Ciaran Cunningham, a republican political activist who was given six years in 2004 when he pleaded guilty to collecting information likely to be useful to dissident republicans. Two questions.
1. Was Mrs Van der Lenden appointed a lay magistrate before or after her son's conviction? I ask because I know someone who applied to become a Prison Visitor, and the forms they had to fill in asked all sorts of questions about the applicant's family, yea, verily unto the second and third generation preceding. The implication behind the questions was, if you had any skeletons in the family, you weren't going to do any Prison Visiting. So my guess - kick me if I'm wrong - is that Mrs Van der Lenden got the lay magistrate green light before her son Ciaran got arrested and sentenced.[NOTE: WELL, I GUESSED WRONG - NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME. RELIABLE SOURCES HAVE JUST INFORMED ME THAT MRS VAN DER LENDEN'S APPOINTMENT PRECEDED HER SON'S ARREST AND CONVICTION. I STAND RED-FACED AND IN ERROR. PERMISSION TO KICK GRANTED.]
2. Why do relatives matter in judging people? I can see how my record - what I've said and done - would affect my suitability for certain posts. But why should the activities of any of my relatives affect it, for good or ill? Should I suffer because my son or sister or cousin gets up to something the authorities disapprove of? I've no control over their actions. The very idea runs counter to natural justice. Taken to extremes, you could find yourself turned down for a job because your great-uncle was once up in court for shop-lifting. I know this way of judging happens unofficially among stupid people ("Oh, s/he's one of the Murphys, I taught the older brother, they're a bad lot"), but that it should operate at official level is outrageous.
Friday, 26 August 2011
Did you see that little news item about Wales around the beginning of August? It featured a report issued by researchers in Harvard which argued that if Wales had been independent since 1990, the people of that country would be nearly 40% better off today. “Opponents of independence and further devolution have often misused the current economic problems to suggest that small countries would struggle for survival in tough economic times. Many conclusions of this report blow these assumptions out of the water”. The report was commissioned by Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party.
Interesting, eh? A major argument advanced by unionists – in Scotland, Wales and here in the north of Ireland – is that to remain part of the UK is to our economic advantage and to break the link would be economic suicide. Irish nationalists and republicans take a different view. They insist that to have two systems of everything on this small island is economic lunacy. In fact, the economic argument is one of the main reasons urged by Sinn Féin for an end to partition or at the very least fuller cross-border integration of services. Martin McGuinness raised it in a speech the other week: “The way forward out of our current economic morass is through integrated economic structures for the island. We cannot expect to reach our full economic potential by maintaining two economic and political structures for a population of six million people”.
Is he right? I suspect he is but I don’t know. Maybe somewhere in the bowels of Stormont, locked in a royal blue box, there’s a report similar to the Welsh one, showing that an end to partition would save millions and cut out the massive waste involved in two separate systems. Or maybe it shows the opposite. But if a report of any kind exists, nobody’s talking about it.
Not that the economic argument is the be-all and end-all of partition. I remember speaking to a West German shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was lamenting the amount of money it would cost West Germany to integrate with East Germany and bring their separated brethren up to an acceptable economic level. But while he complained and fretted, he took it as read that German partition must end, the price must somehow be paid. And that’s what happened.
So it’s about time that we in Ireland resolved this one. Enough of the partition is wasteful/partition makes pounds-and-pence sense claims. An independent body should be established, speedily, to measure the cost involved in running two separate systems of health, education, transport – the lot. Building on this, a calculation should be made to show the savings, if any, from integrating the two into one. If the results add up in support of one system, great. If they don’t, so be it. It’ll then be time to stop loitering in what has proved a blind alley, time to ask ourselves if there are other reasons for national unity that transcend economics. In the meantime, anyone found arguing for or against partition on economic grounds should be flung into a dungeon, shackled to the wall and the key swallowed by Uri Geller, to be regurgitated and used for release only when said report is published.
Thursday, 25 August 2011
With good news you gotta take the bad news. So good news this morning. It appears that Campbell College in Belfast is launching a major drive to recruit boarding pupils from the south. Excellent. The more that people north and south get to know about each other, the less likely they are to believe in stereotypes . The bad news? Well, you’ll have to cough up over £10,000 (€12,500) a year to send little Sean north of the border. That’s the boarding fees at Campbell. Bad news, eh? But good news: it’s a lot less than if you sent him to Clongowes Wood in Kildare (nearly €17,000 p a) or Blackrock College in Dubline (€17,500).
Not only are the fees cheaper – sorry, less expensive – nothing cheap about Campbell – but - more good news – you’ll be exposing him to the proud tradition of rugby playing at Campbell – treading in the footsteps of great men – the exquisite Mike Gibson and current international Paddy Wallace, to mention two. The bad news? Well, Sean will never develop Gaelic football or hurling skills. That’s because Campbell College, in common with all Protestant schools in the north, has not and will not play any part in competitive Gaelic sports.
There used to be something on the NI Curriculum called EMU – Education for Mutual Understanding. It seems in some quarters, on the sporting level, EMU is as dead as the dodo.
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
It's my guess that when Jim Wells goes home in the evening, he's as nice a man as you could find. Not a bit stiff or tight-lipped or monotone. Chances are he's a ray of sunshine, glancing cheerfully off loved ones and domestic appliances in the Wells household.
Why, you ask me, don't the rest of us see this sunny side of Jim? Because Jim isn't Marilyn Monroe. What I mean by that is, while the camera loved the blonde bombshell, the camera does not love the member from South Down. In fact it appears to have a grudge against him and takes every opportunity to show him in stony-faced, grouchy terms. Far from fair, indeed. I emphasise this contrast between Media Jim and Domestic Jim because a few months back I was up at Stormont and I heard Jim deliver a short address about the developing world. Well strewth and blimey! You'd have hardly recognised him as the same man: eloquent, witty, smiling, at ease - all the things that the camera and microphone rob him of.
So I beg you to take these things into account when you judge what Media Jim had to say about the GAA people who were packing shoppers' bags in South Down. Even had Jim said "I love puppies and warm woollen mittens", chances are it'd still have come out sounding grim and begrudging. Besides, Jim was right to say the supermarket baggers should have worn armbands saying "Bryansford Ladies GAA Club" and not simply "Bryansford Ladies". It was courting confusion in the shoppers' minds. They could have been "Bryansford Ladies Devil Worshippers" or "Bryansford Ladies Vivisectionists", for all the good people of South Down knew. Had they for an instant suspected this was the hideous GAA at work, they would have kept their money in their pockets and packed their own bags. As it was, they were left enveloped in a cloud of consumer confusion.
So all right, Jim may have sounded tight-lipped and unforgiving, maybe even a wee bit divisive in his remarks about the GAA the other day, but keep in mind two things: he isn't Marilyn Monroe, and it's not his fault the Ladies GAA of South Down choose to skulk in the supermarket shadows, armed with anonymity and cruelly deceptive plastic bags.
Monday, 22 August 2011
It’s amazing the things people know. I was listening to the radio this morning and Marian Finucane was on RTÉ asking some reporter on the spot if Colonel Gaddafi’s "42-year reign of terror' was definitely about to end. How did she know that, I wonder? Maybe Marian is right, and from the moment he took power Gaddafi made the lives of all Libyans hell. Or maybe he made some of their lives hell. Or maybe he improved some or all of their lives. I just don’t know. Do you? And if you do, will you tell me your sources?
My caution is built less on cynicsm and more on experience. Take my blog the other day about QE2’s visit yielding huge tourism benefits for Ireland. Nobody at the time, as far as I know, stood up and said “Bollocks, it'll do nothing of the sort”. But it now seems that’s just what claims of boosted tourism were: Grade A bollocks. Re Libya, I do know that the media report of the struggle in Libya has presented it as Rebels (good) vs Gaddafi (bad). Which may in fact be the case. But then I think: why the Western interest in Libya? And the answer of course is oil. And then I see reports that say NATO bombing of Gaddafi’s forces were what made the difference so it actually wasn’t just Rebels (good) vs Gaddafi (bad), it was Rebels + NATO (good) vs Gaddafi (bad). And then I see shots of the rebel forces with huge automatic weapons and large tanks, and I wonder where those came from. And then I remember a clip of the American Secretary of State standing up at a press conference and announcing “Gaddafi must go”, ’and I wonder again why is the Secretary of State of a country thousands of miles from Libya so firm in announcing what should or should not happen there. And the little word "oil" pings on like a light-bulb in my head.
The reporting over the next few days will build to a crescendo, with much interest centring on the whereabouts of the arch-villain Muammar Gaddafi, and whether he’s been captured or killed. Me, I’m wondering why we’ve all decided it’s OK to invade other countries (didn’t WW2 start because Hitler invaded Poland?) and whether regime change in a country is or is not OK, depending on what the US says. And/Or whether there's oil involved.
Saturday, 20 August 2011
George Orwell was very good on memory and politics. In both Animal Farm and 1984, he shows how those ruling had a way of saying something and then, when events turned out otherwise, saying something different and/or denying they'd said the original thing. They did it so convincingly, the animals/people ended up wondering if they'd imagined that the original thing had been said at all.
Oh George, thou should'st be living at this hour! Remember when the visit of QE2 to the south had been announced, one of the BIG reasons given for having her come calling was that it would help tourism? "A visit like this gives us media promotion that money just couldn't buy!" we were told. People would see the royal person visiting various places and they'd be so excited by the lovely - and peaceful, don't forget peaceful - background, they'd be online booking their holidays before you could say "House of Windsor". Well now. Today's Irish Times tells a different story. It seems there was no upsurge in British visitor numbers, according to Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn. In fact, some half a million fewer Brits made their way to Ireland compared to last year. This despite the fact that "Fáilte Ireland has made attracting back British visitors a key part of their strategy to return the tourism industry to growth".
Two thoughts perhaps. One, let's not be quite so trusting with the world of officialdom/the media. If I heard once I heard ten times that QE2's coming would do wonders for tourism figures. Because people keep saying something doesn't make it true. Two, let's hope Fáilte Ireland's campaign for next year goes with the slogan "Ireland - a monarchy-free zone". With a bit of luck it should add around half a million visitors from the neighbouring island.
Friday, 19 August 2011
Do buildings talk? I was at Milan Central Railway Station last week and it seemed to me it didn’t so much talk as shout. And while it was shouting, it gripped me by my shirt-front and gave me a good shake to show who was boss.
Its frontage is grey and muscular, packed with warrior figures carrying shields or swords, wrestling with lions or each other. And it’s big – very big and very, what’s the word… squat. Unshiftable. A building that says it’s here to stay and don’t even think about arguing the point. No surprise, then, that Mussolini had a strong hand in its design. He didn’t just make the trains run on time. He made sure the Milano Stazione Centrale told everybody just what was what.
There are steps leading up to the station (of course there are) and at the entrance you see maybe half-a-dozen guys of Indian or Pakistani background, trying to sell stuff. Cheap stuff. Little green rubber figures that inflate when flung against a strip of board, fragile-looking plane models that are remote-controlled, little hand-held machines that go cheep-cheep as they blow rainbow bubbles. How do these people make a living? Even if their profit margin is 100%, it seems impossible that they can sell enough to keep body and soul together. The contrast between their powerlessness and the muscle of the building they’re standing in front of couldn’t be greater
They say Milan Station is a bit like the Union Station at Washington DC. That’d make sense - it’s another power centre. But as I looked at the Milan building, I was reminded of one nearer home: Stormont. The same grey-white stone, the same squat design, the same pretension to authority. Admittedly, Stormont doesn’t have the massive figures that comprise the front of the Milan Station, but then Milan doesn’t have the long intimidating walk that Stormont not so much offers as thrusts upon its visitors. With, of course, father-of-unionism Carson on his pedestal out front. The message of both buildings is the same: we are in charge and we’re staying in charge.
When power-sharing was being planned, the location of the new Assembly was the subject of some debate. Republicans at first said that the old Stormont building had too many echoes of the past to be suitable for a new beginning, but unionism won that argument - Stormont it was, Stormont it will be. On the other hand, by bowling up to the front door in black taxis and by holding events like the annual Poc Fada competition (trophy: the Edward Carson Cup ), republicans made it clear they were setting up camp on the holy ground of unionism. A bit like reaching up and tweaking Il Duce’s nose.
When you bend your head back and look up at Milan Station’s giant steel canopies, thoughts of power and poetry fill the mind. In the end Benito Mussolini died at the hands of his fellow-countrymen. They kicked his corpse, spat on it, then hung it on a meat-hook from the roof of a Milan petrol station so the populace could more effectively throw stones at it. Percy Bysshe Shelley, who loved Italy and is buried there, wrote a great poem about power, ending with the lines “Round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
The monument to power in Shelley’s poem is fallen, forgotten. Milan Stazione Centrale and the Stormont building still stand. But the hubris that created them both has been swept away and we’re all – ALL – the better for it.
Yes, buildings talk, but you mustn’t believe everything they tell you.
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Every time I see a picture of Michael Gove, I want to punch it/him. Yes I know, violence doesn't solve problems, we must try to seek a peaceful resolution of our differences, blahblahblah, but I still want to punch the little shit. At the same time, he has raised a really important issue in British education: what history should be taught, and how. Of course, being Gove, he shows his bias immediately. He says that history in British schools should "celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world and portray Britain as a beacon of liberty for others to emulate". Can you believe this man/little shit? His starting point is that Britain Is Best, and from that everything else will follow. (And yes, I saw that bit where "these islands" suddenly becomes "Britain", and like you probably, I now want to punch AND kick him, but I'm trying desperately to stick to the central point, about teaching history. )
A group of history professors got together the other day and discussed Gove's plans for history in schools at the Edinburgh international book festival. They didn't think much of them. History classes would become propaganda classes, they concluded. One of the debaters was a RW Johnston, who's described as "South Africa-based". He warned against Gove's plans, but then ruined things by lamenting how skewed the teaching of history is now in South Africa: "Black people are portrayed as martyrs, heroes, victims, and the whites are simply bastards. It is just as much a distortion as was Afrikaaner history".
Now I think I want to punch RW Johnston. I'm agin the Gove line too but this man Johnston clearly has a bad dose of Alliancepartyitis: come now, people, there's much to be said on both sides. Oh really? Whatever about the portrayal of blacks as martyrs, there's little dispute that people like Mandela WERE heroes, RW. And it might just be that the whites are portrayed as bastards because exploiting a country (a continent, actually), ripping out as much of its resources as possible, degrading its people to the level of near-animals is just the kind of thing that bastards do. It's all got a gratingly familiar ring to it: which of us is perfect, we've all got faults, it's not black and white it's grey (no it's not), oh look at them they're a bunch of Most Oppressed People Evers (MOPES). Sometimes, RW, there are real victims. Sometimes a system is set up by one side which is a bastard of a system and is kept in place by a set of bastards. And then to blame the victims for denouncing it!
Gove may be a miniature excrescence but you have to hand it to him: he has raised an important issue. Discuss.
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
There's a touch of the poet about the Rev Mervyn Gibson, I think. Poets are the misers of words: they use them sparingly, and when they do, they make them work really hard, often doing two things at once. So too with the Reverend Mervyn Gibson. He's declared that the Parades Commission ruling that an Orange Order band marching through a nationalist area should play only 'Abide With Me' was the kind of thing you'd get in a jihad or holy war. The Parades Commission was acting like the Taliban or a group of mullahs.
See what he did just there? Very good, very economic. He managed to insult not one, not two, but three groups of people with the same words. He insulted the Parades Commission, by suggesting they were unreasonable and even fanatical. He insulted the followers of Islam, by implying that to be a mullah is to have an unreasonable, even a fanatical attitude to others. And of course he insulted the nationalist people enduring the Ballymacarret Orange marchers, by implying that the Orangemen should be given their head and allowed to play whatever comes into their little minds to play.
I like that. If you're going to put the boot in, put it into as many people as you can with a single lash. Good man, Mervyn.
Friday, 12 August 2011
Oh no. Oh please. It’s a bit like Hubert Humphrey all over again. Humphrey, you probably remember, was a US presidential candidate back in the middle of the twentieth century. He was known as the Happy Warrior because just when people thought he’d packed it in, hey, there he was again, bouncing on-stage, still smiling. Ditto Gay Byrne. When he quit the Late Late Show the assumption was, that was it. But oh bless my soul no no no. Oh not at all, not at all, NOT. AT. ALL. Gaybo kept doing guest appearances and special one-offs and TV series where he asked people what was the Meaning of Life. And then he was the Roads Tsar. And now he’s considering running for President of Ireland. Con-sid-er-ING.
If he does run, that means the starter’s sheet will show two Gays (Byrne and Mitchell) and three people connected with the arts - Michael D Higgins (poet and philosopher), Dana (if she runs – Eurovision Song Contest winner) and Gaybo (wife Kathleen Watkins once a harpist). Which leaves Gay Mitchell out in the cold, except his story about his mother rearing nine children and getting up at four in the morning to clean offices warms the cockles of not just your heart but his as well. Mind you, Gay Mitchell’s mammy rearing nine and cleaning offices has as much to do with his suitability for the Aras job as my father’s being hired out at Strabane Hiring Fair would have if I applied for a job as an astronaut, but my word, it’s a funny old world, is it not? Fun-ee. Old. WORLD.
OK, decision time. Who’s going to win, now that Norris has been squeezed out and all is changed, changed utterly? Well, I’ve a soft spot for Dana because she was once just a wee Derry girl with a gap in her teeth and a nice voice, but the southern electorate won’t wear her. For three reasons: she’s a traditional Catholic, she’s a Northerner and she’s a woman, and they’ve had one of those up in the Aras for the past fourteen years, and they’ll be damned if they’ll have another. Gay Mitchell? A nice man no doubt but since his own party were, um, what shall we say, tepid about him running, it looks bad. Michael D? A grand twinkly wee man, but he probably peaked when Minister for the Arts with the Saw Doctors singing about ‘Michael D rockin’ ‘em in the Dail’. Besides, he keeps saying things like “As a candidate, I offer a vision of a radically inclusive citizenship, in a creative society, worthy of a real republic – making us proud to be Irish in the world,” and most people stop listening around the word ‘inclusive’ and go to see if there’s some beer in the fridge.
Now before you start shouting, yes, I do know there are other good decent people running for President, in fact they’re so good and decent I can’t remember their names and I’ll bet you can’t either inside the next three seconds, one, two, three, there, what did I tell you? Which leaves us with (possibly) Gaybo. The man who was so "completely unpolitical" he couldn’t shake Gerry Adams’s hand. The man who lined up four or more opponents to give the Sinn Féin president a verbal mugging, only here, didn’t the Late Late audience started applauding Adams’s every word. The man whose radio show presented the North’s years of conflict as Up There and in a way that made quite a few of us Up Here groan and throw stuff at the tranny.
But let’s be brave and face the future. If Gaybo runs it’s perfectly possible that by Christmas we could all be talking about President Byrne. As things stand, the pollsters say he’d walk it. But maybe – let’s be optimistic – maybe out there, there is a man or woman getting ready to enter the race, a candidate who will look the 1916 centenary in the eye and talk about the 32-county Ireland Pearse and Connolly hoped they would buy with their lives. Oh, please, say such a one is waiting in the wings. Otherwise we could all be facing a full seven years of Gaybo. Or even fourteen. Merciful hour. Mer. Ci. Ful. HOUR.
Monday, 8 August 2011
I remember having a conversation with Mary McAleese when she was still a non-President and living in the north. I asked her did she miss living in Dublin where she’d worked as a law professor and – for a time – in RTÉ. She said she missed some things – the happy confidence of the people, particularly the young people, and how she’d have liked her own children to grow up with that confidence. Which goes to show you: some wishes do come true.
Confidence: it’s a magic potion. With it you can achieve all sorts of things, without it you can fumble the simplest task. It’s the key ingredient the public schools of England infuse in their pupils. Although it’s not always an attractive quality. Some of the clipped-tone British Army officers who inflicted themselves on this part of Ireland during the Troubles were from or pretended to be from such schools and they were a serious trial to Christian values. The same kind of manicured English accent used to afflict the world of academia, of business, of the media. It’s not so prominent now but it’s still there. And in Britain, look at and listen to Cameron’s cabinet.
These days when I speak to young people here –anybody under forty is young, OK? – they tell me that while there may have been a time when their parents or grandparents settled for a back-of-the-bus position in this state, their generation won’t tolerate the thought, let alone the deed. It just won’t happen. Cheering up, wouldn’t you say?
I’m on holidays – a house-swap and as a result I find myself reading stuff I normally would pass over. One example: an account of the Freedom Rides that took place in the US southern states fifty years ago, as the struggle for racial equality caught fire. Did you know, for example, that many Southern whites insisted that racial incidents occurred only because of meddling by outsiders – especially the outside media? Or that most Southern whites really believed in the pre-Civil War South image projected by Hollywood : a civilized plantation owner composing poetry at his Louis XIV desk while his slaves sang in the cotton fields? Or that in New Orleans, white mothers formed a boycott of the primary school and lined up to scream abuse at anyone brave enough to break it? To summarise: the distant past a happy place where everyone got along, trouble something stirred up by a bunch of outsiders, screaming bigots frightening schoolchildren. Sound familiar at all?
But all that’s fifty years ago in the Southern US. This year, those who struggled for equality there have gathered to remember those times and celebrate the end of segregated restaurants, segregated schools, segregated water-fountains. Lawdy, there’s even a black President of the United States!
But before the hallelujas start, let’s think: are African-Americans equal citizens today? Well they have that magic confidence ingredient - Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, among others, taught them that – but the facts are a bit less encouraging. There are more black men in prison in the US than there are in college . If you’re a young African-American, you’re ten times more likely to find yourself behind bars than your white counterpart. There’s a gap of over 10% between white males who have jobs and black males who have jobs. In education it’s worse: white people are seven times more likely to get a degree than blacks.
It makes grim reading. On the surface, African-Americans seem to have made progress towards equality; dig a little and the prejudice and injustice are still deep-rooted.
Sound familiar at all?
Without confidence, communities have no chance. But having it doesn’t mean the game’s over and won. It’s only starting, and you have to fight for every point.
Friday, 5 August 2011
I may not know much about the law but I know an ass’s arse when I see one. Two in fact.
The first ass’s arse belongs to Justice Minister David Ford. He’s been called on several times by different groups to release Brendan Lillis. Mr Lillis was a former life sentence prisoner who got his licence revoked in 2009 because the cops figured he was connected to a kidnapping. He was never convicted of this crime because he was too ill to stand trial. So here we are two years later and Mr Lillis is still in prison and now so ill, he’s down to less than six stone. So will David Ford allow him to be released? Uh-uh. Ford said he’s “been advised” there aren’t sufficient grounds for freeing him. I don’t know what that means but I don’t think people should be in prison for two years for crimes they haven’t been convicted of. Nor do I think that a sick man whose weight is heading towards five stone would be a danger to the public. Mr Ford appears to think otherwise. Either that or he knows Lillis is no threat and is innocent until found guilty, but he’s afraid the Alliance Party will be seen as soft on crime, so tough luck, Lillis, you stay behind bars. What was that line from Pope (the poet, you fool, not the pontiff): “And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine”. Indeed.
And if you think that’s a picture of an ass’s arse I’ve just sketched, try this. UTV and other media organisations have been told they must give their footage to the police of last July’s rioting in Belfast. Judge Piers Grant says this must happen because it could be used to help identify rioters. Well doh. That’s the very reason it SHOULDN’T be given to the police. Not because you don’t want the cops to catch criminals but because you don’t want the cops to catch criminals by any old means they like, let alone go on a fishing expedition. UTV have made noises about this court ruling, saying it’ll put their reporters and camera people at risk. Too right it will. Next time out, they’ll be seen as the photographic arm of the police and treated accordingly. Put it another way: they’ll be unable to do their job, which is to let the public see and hear what is going on. You might call that gagging the media. I’d call it a huge ass’s arse sitting on the notion of a free press/media, farting loudly.
Thursday, 4 August 2011
Tragedy and comedy have a habit of linking arms and marching onstage when we’re least expecting them. Certainly the gruesome twosome have put in an appearance at the collapse of David Norris’s bid to become President of Ireland. Norris was the front-runner even before he announced his candidacy so a lot of people must have told pollsters they were going to vote for him. The question is, whyohwhyohwhy? It can’t have been because they thought he’d make a good president. The post calls for dignity, empathy, a willingness to listen, a past record that suggests a person of substance. David Norris may have all these qualities but they're less than easy to detect. What I’ve seen on my TV is a loud-mouthed man with a posh accent, forever appearing on chat shows, fond of parading around Dublin with his admiring mates every June dressed in early-twentieth-century clothes to prove he’s read a book that 90% of the Irish population haven’t read and don’t want to read. None of that signals a person the Irish people would truly like to have up in Áras an Uachtaráin.
My guess is that because Norris is gay, a lot of people were fearful they’d been seen as homophobic if they told pollsters “I wouldn’t have him if he came with a year’s free groceries”. So when asked would they cast their vote for him they answered “Yes I said yes I will Yes”.
But Norris, unhappy man, dealt them a card that trumps the homophobic card and that’s the child-abuse card. He made the initial mistake in 2002 of talking about relationships between men and boys, and the further mistake of writing what was essentially a character reference for his Israeli friend who’d been charged with a serious sexual crime against a minor. His 2002 article said nothing that clashed with either history or fact, as far as I know, and his character reference for a friend/former partner seemed more an act of courage than anything else. The charge that some pundits make is that he sent the letter in his role as a public representative. Eh? He was in the Seanad for a number of years as the representative of the University of Dublin (Trinity, you thick). That means he was elected by a small body of graduates. So that makes him a public representative? The whole notion that graduates of Trinity or of the National University of Ireland can elect people like Norris, while ordinary Joe Soaps can’t, is so undemocratic it’s as laughable as a man eating pig’s trotters in public every 16 June. No, Norris first commented on sexual relations between men and boys and then stood near a man charged with child abuse. Result? The air was filled with the smoke and scream of liberal tyres as political hand-brake turns were performed.
So yes, I’m delighted Norris won’t be the embodiment of the Irish nation but I’m sorry to see his bid for election flattened for half-baked reasons. To slightly amend what they said when the movie-star Gloria Swanson died: sic transit gloria David.
The question now is, if word comes through that Dana has decided to run, will Gay Mitchell use unChristian-Democratic language?
Wednesday, 3 August 2011
If you’re interested in the use of words, check a headline in today’s Guardian: “Cross-party committee attacks defence cuts”. Beneath that it says “Defence select committee warns Britain’s influence will decline unless the armed forces get adequate resources”. I’ve quoted the psychiatrist in Fawlty Towers before and I’ll quote him again: there’s enough there for a whole conference.
Defence. It’s a nice word. Most countries use it for the organisation that takes young men (and now some women) to train them so they become really good at killing. It makes them fit, it makes them obey, it sends them (in the case of Britain and the US, to mention two) to countries far away (or sometimes, as we know, next door) to do some killing or at least some lethal threatening. They have to call these people something so they call them the Defence Forces.
The Guardian article notes that the cross-party committee is cross with government ministers who promised that “cuts will have no effect on what the armed forces can do”. Pensions may suffer, wages slashed, benefits curtailed, jobs eliminated, but none of this will apply to the armed forces because…well, because they need to be able to kill people and the risk that they themselves might be killed must be minimized, otherwise they'd be no good at killing, would they? You know it makes sense. The report quotes from the National Security Council (there’s another nice word, 'security') which says that ‘Britain’s national interest requires the rejection of any notion of the shrinkage of UK influence in the world”.
Eh? Isn't it a bit late for that? Britain’s influence in the world has been shrinking since - let’s be generous – the Second World War. That’s nearly seventy years ago. Yet now we have the opposition attacking the government for not spending more on defence forces, because those defence (i.e., attack) forces need the money to keep Britain’s influence from shrinking, even though Britain’s influence has been imitating a deflating balloon over the last century.
It's like party night at a verbal contortionists' conference. Defence= attack, shrinkage = non-shrinkage, influence = we need to be able to send guys with guns anywhere in the world anytime we chose.
There’s only one thing madder than the politicians who spout such deranged lies and that’s the population which believes them.
Monday, 1 August 2011
My last blog on Windsor Park seems to have touched a sore spot with some people; once the name-calling starts you know you’ve hit home. One of the main problems with Windsor Park, although not the only one, is that the British national anthem is played before games, even though the Good Friday Agreement has acknowledged the right of nearly half of the north’s population to see themselves as Irish.
At the same time it’s a complicated question, the whole national anthem thing. There’s the cringing embarrassment as the camera pans along the faces of Irish soccer players during the pre-match playing of Amhrán na bhFiann: most of them clearly haven’t a clue what the lyrics are, in Irish or English. Then there are the Gaelic matches at Croke Park and elsewhere, when a sizeable number of gobshites feel they owe it to their county to start roaring encouragement some ten bars before the end of the anthem. And is there another country in the world that’s afraid to play its national anthem in case it’d upset some of its own players an/or supporters, and puts in its place something as awful as ‘Ireland’s Call’?
Recently, in fact, there have been demands that the Irish national anthem be removed altogether – excised from every occasion because its lyrics are too bloodthirsty. Since no more than one in ten Irish people know the words, that shouldn’t be a problem, but apparently it is. Yet if you check the verses, the most bloodthirsty line is surely “ ‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifles’ peal’. Tame stuff compared to the American national anthem, which has ‘the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air’, quickly followed by “Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution/No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave’ - in case you missed the point. In Italy, where I am now, they sing what in Italian sounds lovely but in English translates as “Let us joint together – we’re ready to die/Let us join together – we’re ready to die/Italy has called!/ Let us join together – we’re ready to die/Let us join together – we’re ready to die/ Italy has called! / YES!’ I think we get the message there. And the anthem that’s taken up so enthusiastically in Windsor Park? Middle-range bloody, I think: ‘O Lord our God arise/ Scatter her enemies/ And make them fall’. Sounds to me like a call on God to do a spot of killing, except you interpret ‘fall’ as stumble and graze their knees.
The fact is, the Irish national anthem is no more bloody-minded than most others. What’s behind the call for its abolition is not the bloodthirsty bit, it's something else - specifically two lines before the bit about the cannon’s roar. They go: ‘See in the east a silvery glow/ Out yonder waits the Saxon foe’. Geddit? Our national anthem refers to England/Britain as a foe. And as we all know, especially since that visit from your woman in May, we’re not foes at all, we’re friends now, and whatever you do, don’t mention the war. Or the constitutional question. Or political jurisdiction. Or five thousand British troops.
If I’m honest, though, I too would like to see the Irish national anthem changed, along with every other national anthem in the world that glorifies violence or encourages the domination of the weak by the strong. Maybe the UN could do it - a sort of simultaneous musical multi-lateral disarmament. That might bring a few more taigs to Windsor Park.