My response to the Slugger Begrudgers

July is holiday time so this will be a short, sharp column and – for a welcome change – it won’t be about cross-border cooperation. I want to reply to the bloggers who respond to my ‘Note from the Next Door Neighbours’ when it appears on the excellent and (rightly) award-winning Slugger O’Toole website of Irish and British politics.

I have to say I find the relentless flow of negativity from (most of) these people, and their obsession with the minutiae of the ‘national question’ in Ireland, both dispiriting and breathtakingly boring. I suppose I should be grateful that they’re only blogging rather than shooting at each other. But I really wish they would move on and start dealing with the political and economic issues that matter to the great majority of people.

Take my May ‘Note’.  This started with the Queen’s visit to Ireland, but was really about ‘impact assessment’: the useful mechanism by which policy makers can begin to ascertain whether or not a cross-border approach to tackling a particular problem in the two parts of Ireland can bring ‘added value’ beyond what might be achieved in a single jurisdiction. Most of the Slugger O’Toole respondents weren’t remotely interested in a useful thing like whether it makes practical sense to cooperate across the Irish border. What they wanted to do was to have an old-fashioned sectarian slanging match – sparked off by my throwaway line on Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott calling Sinn Fein supporters ‘scum’ – about whether the UUP or Sinn Fein were the more bigoted party.

It got to the point where the founder-moderator of Slugger O’Toole, Mick Fealty, had to intervene to plead for some rationality: ‘Dear God, people. [What about] impact assessment? Take your squalid faction fighting to where it is appropriate.’

Then there is the business of pseudonyms. I find it very hard to take somebody called ‘Socaire’ or ‘Turgon’ seriously. Why can’t these anonymous bloggers have the small courage of their convictions and put their names to their opinions?  I remember when I was a journalist covering Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s, I developed a lifelong antipathy to policemen wearing mirror sunglasses, men whose eyes were never revealed to the public whom they spent so much time terrorising.

I feel something similar about anonymous bloggers: it’s like talking to a man in a mask. I will not waste my time engaging with a spineless contrarian who hides his opinions behind a pen-name. Is there something peculiarly Northern Irish here – something dating from the faceless haystack burners and cattle killers who called themselves ‘Defenders’ or ‘Peep o Day Boys’ back in the 18th century?  It might just about have been understandable at the height of the Northern ‘troubles’, but not in these largely peaceful times.

And on the relatively rare occasion when the blogger has a good case to argue, the anonymity of his presentation totally undermines his credibility. I remember a long and detailed critique of a column I did in January which was itself extremely critical of the Republic’s health service.  A very senior Irish Department of Health official and I (despite being on different sides of the fence on this one!) agreed that although the blogger (‘Mack’) had some interesting things to say – slightly undermined by his inability to remember the names of the people he was citing! – we couldn’t take his overall argument too seriously because we simply didn’t know who he was.

I’m going to finish with a quote from the distinguished Irish economist, John Bradley, which I strongly agree with (although maybe we are both showing our age here!). ‘The new electronic media – Twitter, Facebook, blogging – has fragmented conversations into tiny bits that are plucked out of cyberspace and make it difficult to think deeply about issues, read longer papers, or examine issues in the appropriate context.  Most blog sites are a cacophony of harsh, personal points of view that sail past each other and then the participants lose interest and move on to the next burning issue of the day.  The medium tends to dominate the message.   Nobody listens any more.  Every point of view is regarded as carrying equal weight.  Research simply cannot be done this way.  People need to read and think.’

Andy Pollak

PS.  In the list of North-South educational ‘heroes’ in my June ‘Note’, I inexcusably omitted Marianne McGill, who has been running the Civic-Link programme of jointly engaging schools in both Irish jurisdictions in community action for the past 12 years. This pioneering Cooperation Ireland-run programme has been one of the highlights of North-South school and youth work in Ireland, and Cooperation Ireland itself is widely recognised as being among the trail-blazers of cross-border educational cooperation for nearly a quarter of a century.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Was trying to make sense of the CCBS accounts in their “annual report” / glossy magazine, none the wiser, anyone else want to have a look and explain them?

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    39 Abbey Street, Armagh.
    I will be there during the week. I will call in there and report back to Slugger.
    I dont suppose I need an appointment….or do they close for the Twelfth fortnight?

  • nightrider

    The website is a hoot, i love this OBN (see Private Eye) award winning pseudo wank fest;

    WHAT THEY SAY…
    The Centre for Cross Border Studies and its researchers are to be congratulated on their terrific record of achievement over the past 10 years. They have been at the forefront of policy research and development on a cross-border basis at a time of very significant change on the island, providing leadership and energy and dynamism in this key area. They have added to the knowledge base and brought together policy-makers, academics and researchers to seek practical solutions to issues of real relevance to people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
    — Sir Bruce Robinson, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service

    Pass the sick bag Alice

  • nightrider

    of real relevance…

    pure shite.

    Please can someone makes sure the above bollox appears on the BBC or whatever so we know where all the money is draining to.

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Yes I saw that.
    But oddly the pics I reffered to on Facebook Page seem to have disappeared. Maybe a glitch.
    Anyway Im looking forward to visiting them during the week.
    Maybe we should all go together. Another Slugger Day Out.

  • Drumlins Rock

    A wee visit could be fun :)

    Waded through part of the last report, have to say the Deputy First Minister did quite a good interview and avoided most of the usual OBN, obviously I don’t agree with all he said but at least he acknowledged Unionists exist and still need won over to the benefits of cross-border developments.

    So far the rest of the report ignores us completely, with it is giving me a feeling my views would not be very welcome at their many conferences, could be wrong but it wasn’t so much that there was a Nationalist/Republican agenda (although lets say a soft green tint was everywhere and occasionally it raised my unionist heckles) but it was more the old condescending treatment, Unionist are just nationalist who havn’t saw the light yet.

    Its strange Sir Bruce, our oh so neutral Civil Servant head, so wholeheartedly endorses a outside group which has a political agenda of sorts, maybe he could give one to Slugger as well :)

    BTW another day has passed, and still no reply from Andy, my re-posted comment has, surprisingly, also not been allowed, maybe some of us should go visit him in person! Are we invited Andy?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “The Centre for Cross Border Studies is an independent company owned jointly by QUB, Dublin City University and the Worker’s Education Association (NI). It is based in Armagh and Dublin, and researches and develops co-operation across the Irish border in education, health, business, public administration, communications, agriculture, the environment and a range of other practical areas.” .. QUB source

    Ah, that ‘independent’ word again. Any time I see it now my bullshit detector goes into full operational mode :)

    Would this and other ‘peace process’ bodies exist without massive injections of EU dosh?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “maybe he could give one to Slugger as well”

    DR, don’t expect SO’T to get a Brucie Bonus; there’s too much exposure here of NICS shortcomings.

  • Drumlins Rock

    From the chairman’s remarks, and with the prominence of the EU logo it is clear that’s where most of the money comes from, and it seem almost all the rest comes from public bodies of some sort,
    “Once again, the Centre has to thank a long list of financial supporters, partners and advertisers. First and foremost is the Special EU Programmes Body. Without the generous support from the EU INTERREG IVA programme, managed through the SEUPB, the Centre would simply not be able to do its work. The SEUPB is living testimony to the European Union’s huge solidarity with Ireland and Northern Ireland as the island continues to work to find ways of sustaining its remarkable rise out of the ashes of 30 years of conflict. The
    Irish Department of Education and Skills continues to fund the Centre despite severe financial constraints, a tribute to its continuing commitment to the vital role education plays in building cooperation and mutual understanding across this island. Financial and other support for the Centre’s associated organisations – Universities Ireland, the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENS) and the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) – has again come from the nine universities, the 34 teacher education providers, the Northern Ireland Department for Employment and Learning, the NI Department of Education, the Irish Department of Education and Skills, the Higher Education Authority, InterTradeIreland, the NI Department for Regional Development, the Irish Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and
    the International Fund for Ireland.”

    Have noticed another wee thing, when talking about cross border work in other countries it always refers to between Germany and Denmark, Italy, Austria & Slovenia, Portugal & Spain etc. ie. between nation states, therefore surely they should also refer to their work being between the UK & Ireland? not just within Ireland, it certainly seems to regard our border as very different from the others.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Nevin, we have barely started!

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    The Peasants Revolt we have started seems to be going along swimmingly. It looks like my visit to Armagh will be early next week. It will give me something interesting to do while Mrs FJH chooses a hat for a wedding.
    As Nevin points out none of this nonsense would exist without the Common Market or whatever its called these days pumping moolah into it.
    Its impossible to take a wee walk round QUB without tripping over delegates from the Middle East, Iraq, South Africa and Afghanistan who are here on some fact-finding jamboree to see how we “dunnit”.

    To be absolutely serious, we all know people who have been broken and hurt by a squalid conflict.
    We all know (or know of) people and organisations who have done very well out of the Troubles. There are “politicians”, “academics”, “journalists” and “ex-prisoners” and many many more who are living in bigger houses today as a consequence.
    But ths largesse is not confined to paramilitary circles. Slush funds and danegeld money funds “community” groups.
    But the respectable “academic” community also have their snouts in troughs and are thinking up ever more ingenious ways of getting more snouts there (advising a Truth Commission for example sounds like a nice little earner).
    These “reports” arent actually meant to be read. No sirree.
    They are meant to be held strategically until the photo opportunity passes and then quietly tossed in the re-cycling. Then the hosts at one of these jamborees become guests at the next vol au vent event, now hosted by the previous guests.
    Some self congratulation.
    Some mutual congratulation.
    Dont offend the wrong people by not inviting them.
    Provide politicians with a photo-op against a big sign with the word “Peace” on it. Invite some primary school children (photogenic ones only of course) to Stormont to let off a few balloons.
    Its worked for years.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “researches and develops co-operation across the Irish border” .. CCBS

    Looks more like integration than co-operation. Perhaps what it says on the tin isn’t what it does ;)

  • Drumlins Rock

    FJH, can I join you on that visit? and we can do a report on it after, fully declaring any hospitality ( Andy I’m easily bribed, a good coffee and chocolate muffin would be lovely ).

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    I wonder how many individuals dipped into their own pockets for £8.50/€10 for a copy of Journal #6. After all, it’s available to download free.

    There’s an interesting erratum re. p167:

    “The proposed international conference on cross-border training (now taking place on 26-28 October 2011) is an outcome of the EU INTERREG IVA programme (as part of the INICCO group of projects not of the EU Leonardo programme.”

    The bad news for those thinking of attending this little junket is that it’s being held somewhere in the Northern Irish/Irish border whereas I’d have plumped for the Région Provence
    Alpes Côte d’Azur.

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Drumlins Rock, we need to set something up where a cross community group of Begrudgers investigates the cross community “industry”.
    We dont have each others emails but Im certainly up for all that.
    “My people” need to talk to “your people”..thru the usual back channels.
    I am definitely up for that.

    Specifically Armagh will be difficult. As the family will be there (apparently Armagh is a good place for wedding related stuff), my time will be limited.
    But on the broader question of cross community begrudgery I am all for an alliance against the menace of conflict resolution.

  • Drumlins Rock

    FJH, have asked Mick to pass my email on to you, but as a clue I’m a male person from a plantation era bovine enclosure at AOL dot com, you group idea sounds interesting, wonder can we get funding!

    Chat soon.

    PS still no word from Andy!

  • pippakin

    Its possible Mr Pollak has gone on holiday, its also possible he is in hiding. It was silly to start a thread like this and be unavailable to defend it.

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Thanks DR, I will be in touch as soon as your people get to my people.
    You will receive an email (also from aol.com).

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    The great thing about Healing Thru Amnesia is that we dont have to do anything at all except get funding.
    We dont even have to supply accounts because….well the whole point is to forget.
    Pippakin, the whole point of the Conflict Resolution golden halo Community Relations people is that they are neither used to defending their position or even have any desire to defend it.
    They have had it too easy too long.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Pip, I’m 100% sure he has read many of the comments, and it would have taken no time at all to respond, holidays or not, in fact he should only be doing it on holidays as I strongly resent taxpayers money be used to attack free speech.

    The fact that he also has posted the attack on the CCBS own official website moves it to another level, where you have the the interesting sight of fulsome praise of the organisation from the head of the Civil Service no less, sitting right beside an attack on “slugger Be-grudgers”. Makes you feel a little bit persona non gratis.

  • pippakin

    DR

    People or indeed blogs that rock the boat are often if not always persona non grata. In such circumstances I consider it quite honourable.

    FJH is right the do good industry generally but the conflict resolution branch in particular have got away with it for too long. Cross border cooperation hardly requires a whole quango either. Its a small step to not notice if the police investigation crosses the border it should need nothing more formal than a phone call, similarly it hardly requires a whole new branch of freebies to extend hospital availability to whichever facility is nearest and best rather than insist a sick person travel miles to a hospital. Its the same across the board.

    To post a scathing attack on Slugger commenters use of pseudonyms, as if they are only used here, and then lack the backbone to defend the position is, if there is no rational explanation, just plain cowardice.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “In such circumstances I consider it quite honourable.”

    pippakin, I was quite chuffed when an NIO press officer pointed me out as ‘the blogger’ when I’d moved out of earshot. She was chaperoning ladies and gentlemen of the media during a Royal visit – and a member of that august body took great delight in briefing me shortly afterwards :)

  • pippakin

    Nevin

    Well done! It was a sure sign of the changing world, bloggers, the good ones, are the future, but I hope there will be room for all. For instance Mr Pollak is every inch the professional and his blogs reflect both his position and his own opinion of his position, my own little effort on the other hand is and will remain strictly amateur and I with any luck at all will remain both amateur and anonymous.

    I have no problem with the professionals indeed the way the media now handles the news readers would be lost without them but I hope the independence and contrariness of the blogosphere remains.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Pip, that rant above is anything but professional.

  • vanhelsing

    Fitz,

    I have also asked Mick for forward my email onto you. Feel like I’m just copying DRs recent homework here..but I think he forgot a couple of weeks ago [he is just a man]. Perhaps a triumvirate is possible? I’ll bring the buns if someone buys the coffee :)

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Pippakin, the MSM, especially the local press, is not only a declining resource, it is often also too close to those with power and influence. Bloggers can help fill in the gaps but they need the MSM to take their stories to a wider audience. We’re all agents of compromise :)

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    vanhelsing,
    sorry for delay in replying (you know what Bingo Night is like)…….no problem.
    As yet Ive received no emails but will reply when I get a chance (more likely Thursday than tomorrow).

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Nevin (10.26pm) is of course right.
    But we cant be complacent. One of the striking features of today has been that the Westminster “village” is very small. But the Leinster House “village” is even smaller which allowed scandals to happen…..and the depressing fact is that the Stormont “village” is smaller still.
    There are probably less than 500 real movers and shakers on the Norn Iron “scene” which is actually a lot fewer than the number of friends some of our politicians, journalists, PR gurus and wannabee media types (with an entrée to every political party) have on their Facebook page.
    That should worry us.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Why should it worry us FJH? that is life, everyone works through networks, we have developed a fascinating one right here that is not without some influence. I work through Orange, Church, historic, unionist, community, networks etc. none of them make much difference in themselves but build up relationships, and they all overlap quite a bit.

    Just winding you there, I am worried about that “inner circle”, they obviously ran the show without question during direct rule, and many of the same types are still there, the assembly has changed some things, Connor Murphy’s NIW appointments were an example, although even that was merely bringing stray sheep back into the fold. It would be fun drawing up the connections and working out what is natural and what is not.

    The internet makes the research so much easier if we had someone good a putting it is an easily understood format it could be an interesting exercise. One of the main networks seems to be the old IDB, also the banks and big accountancy firms, with the unions also providing willing recruits, have been trying to get on those lists but no luck as yet!

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Its funny you should say that because I conducted a fascinating Facebook experiment just about an hour ago.

    There is indeed an “inner circle” but a different one to Direct Rule days but many of our “finest” former inner circle people have wasted no time in re-positioning themselves to deal with new realities. With new DUP and SF backed folks getting appointments, the old “middle ground” guard have had to re-double their efforts to catch the eye.

    Take for example Platform for Change, honourable enough in itself and I am a big admirer of one of the prime movers but if you look at the list of people signed up to it, you will see very few from the top tier of local politics.
    They are essentially people on the lower rung of networking.
    The irony about “networking” (and Ive tried a little myself since retiring) is that you dont actually need it if youve already “arrived”.
    If youve ever stood with a cup of tea and a vol au vent in the Long Gallery at Stormont and thought “ah thats a person I should get to know” you will quickly note that he/she is already moving to network with someone more important who will help him/her.
    Indeed Harry Enfield has a sketch show character who tells people at parties “Im very important and you are not important at all and Ive just seen someone much more important than you who I really must talk to…please go away”

    But back to the Facebook experiment. I urge you to try it.
    As you know I am a “People Person” but in my political persona on FB only 53 people can stomache my presence.
    Now of course “Facebook Friend” is a very elastic and devalued term but try this.
    Search a UUP member at random
    a SDLP member at random.
    a AP member at random
    a DUP member at random
    a SF member at random
    a wannabee media tycoon at random
    a journalist at random
    ………and note the non political friends who seem to attach themselves to everyone. And just note the number of “friends” they have.

  • Drumlins Rock

    It appears this is not the open discussion site I thought it was.

    Bye.

  • http://andrewg.wordpress.com Andrew Gallagher

    Did I miss something?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “a spineless contrarian who hides his opinions behind a pen-name”

    This is very strong language, Andy. Some might label me a contrarian on occasions when I don’t automatically accept ‘conventional wisdom’ or the ‘official’ version of events, past and present.

    Some of the better insights are to be found in the bowels of the comment zone, especially those from whistleblowers and submitters of FoI requests. In these instances you can appreciate the value of pseudonyms as officialdom, in its various guises, can use unlimited sums of taxpayers’ money to scapegoat the innocent.

    Some might accuse the BBC of spineless behaviour when I’m told it’s legal eagles advised against the broadcast of this story during the course of its investigation into the relationship between a politician and a developer. As a journalist, you’ll appreciate that the withholding of certain facts can easily skew the thrust of a story.

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Freedom of Information….Ive only really ever made two or three requests but is a body like The Cross Border Study Whatever subject to it.
    It is after all in receipt of public money despite all that independent company stuff.
    As I will shortly be submitting a request for funds to Mr Pollak to aid my Healing Thru Amnesia initiative, I need somebody from the South to “get on board”.

  • Turgon

    This thread seems to have died out but as one of the “spineless contrarian(s) who hides his opinions behind a pen-name” I thought maybe I should respond.

    I started using a pen name because almost everyone else on slugger at the time did. I claim no importance for myself: my views stand or fall on their merits and those alone.

    In actual fact my comments on a number of issues would carry more weight if I used my real name and explained who I was. However, that is not in the spirit of slugger: as I stated above my views stand or fall on their own merits.

    I have a very specific reason for not using my own name. My real job involves meeting people from all sides of the community and I feel it might make people feel uncomfortable if they had been arguing with me and then met me in my real (completely apolitical) job: a job which has some benefit to the community. As an additional aside my wife has always insisted that I remain pseudonymous as she still has concerns about security in the context of those involved in any form of politics. I think this is excessive but I defer to her concerns.

    If Mr. Pollak wanted my name he only need email and I would provide him all my details. That said I in no way regard myself as important enough to merit contact from Mr. Pollak.

    I care little if Mr. Pollak has no time for me. I do find it a bit odd, however, that an ad hominem attack on myself has been allowed on the initial part of a blog. Mick has always defended my decision to use a pseudonym and indeed has discouraged me from dropping it.

    As a final personal remark. No I have not gone away. I was on a family holiday and had no internet access. I will endeavour to provide further begrudging insights into the heart of darkness which is my own twisted sectarian world view just as soon as I have read my way back into some interesting things to comment on. In addition I am going to get my hair cut and buy my younger son a new bicycle for his birthday. After all that I hope I can begin begrudging again.

  • pippakin

    Turgon

    Completely agree with you and apparently Mick, a pseudonym allows a frank exchange of views among equals which imo is as it should be. Blogs make that possible in a way that no other media can.

    Btw your wife is right a sense of caution when dealing with strangers is definitely the safest way.

  • http://myplasticarmy.blogspot.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Welcome Back Turgon.
    I hope you agree that your fellow members of the Begrudgery/Awkward Squad fought the good fight. Once again the Community Relations Industry fulfils its task of uniting us all…….against them.
    You will be pleased to know that I went undercover in Armagh recently and got to use the word “begrudge” three times in conversation with the chap there.
    But interesting how we both perceive our “noms de guerre”.
    Certainly when I worked, my duties were apolitical and could only properly be carried out in an apolitical and professional way……with daily reminders that colleagues and those that we dealt with were neither good or bad people depending on political or national affiliation.
    Likewise freed from “work” it is the same in my hobbies…good and bad folks from all walks of life. My political views perhaps known in greater or lesser extent to some of the inner circle would be an unnecessary distraction. And within the context of hobbies…irrelevant.

    And yet (in itself) I have no problem with people knowing “who I am”. Unlike my wife who is in some ways worried about my attendance at SDLP, Alliance and (most recently in East Belfast) UUP meetings.
    In truth in 12 we made a conscious decision that we be apolitical which has only recently been re-visited since my retirement and the kids being grown up.
    But I do find it an odd parallel that Mrs Turgon is of the same view.

    But really this nom de guerre thing in Mr Pollaks original post is a red herring. The Name is Not the Thing.
    People like Mr Pollak (as his organisations brochures show) are used to dealing with “important” people who know “important stuff” and know other “important” people.
    He is not used to being criticised by………forgive me……a Nobody like you or me.
    Thats frustrating for him as you appear to know “stuff”.
    And might actually be “important”.

  • Alias

    It is simply stupid to use your real name online. It is very easy to offend people in forums on the Internet but it is very hard to defend yourself if that person turns out to be a nasty piece of work. You will encounter far more lunatics in one month online than you will ever encounter in the real world in a life time. Being anonymous, you’ll never even know you encountered them. You can’t be libelled, threatened or stalked as an anonymous person, and therefore you don’t have to deal with any of that stuff. If the price of that is that some civil servant and some quangocrat huddle together and snigger, then that’s no price at all. And besides, I couldn’t care less about ‘influencing’ others since I am more interested in other peoples’ views on NI and would be almost horrified it I thought my own idocyncratic political views had any particular impact…

  • Nunoftheabove

    ‘Alias’

    Why would you be almost horrified ?

  • Alias

    Because my nationalist conservatism has become too radical in a post-sovereign country and, being conservative, I’m not keen on radicals!