Slugger O'Toole http://sluggerotoole.com Conversation, politics and stray insights Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:35:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why the No side should be looking up in Scotland-by John McTernan #indyref http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/16/why-the-no-side-should-be-looking-up-in-scotland-by-john-mcternan-indyref/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/16/why-the-no-side-should-be-looking-up-in-scotland-by-john-mcternan-indyref/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:07:47 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80309 The most important three words in any campaign are not ‘Vote For Me’, but ‘Hold Your Nerve’. The independence campaign has reached what Sir Alex Ferguson used to call ‘squeaky-bum time’. The polls are closing – we are told. The No campaign needs to be positive – opine commentators. Scotland is so different, so progressive – pant assorted lefties breathlessly. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Now is the time for the campaign against separation to hold its nerve. All successful campaigns are based on the right political strategy, that in turn requires a clear-sighted analysis of the fundamentals. On this basis the No campaign have reason to be confident.

First, there has never been a time when support for independence has been a majority proposition in Scotland. Ben Page of IpsosMORI has a fascinating chart showing opinion on the question across 30 years – the Yes and No lines flat-line. There has always been a solid 60/40 rejection of separation. The ‘momentum’ for independence is simply the turbulence of the margin of error in polling.

Second, Scotland is not politically different from the rest of the UK. Voters strongly support both a welfare cap and an immigration cap. Like the rest of the UK they reject unilateral disarmament. Scotland is not a Scandinavian style social democratic country. But then neither are Norway, Sweden or Finland – currently all with right wing parties in government.

For this reason, the third point to make is that the SNP have made a quixotic choice to try to win the referendum campaign from the left. They look at the undecided voters and see that they are D/E Labour voters. They reason the only way to win them over is to be more Labour than Scottish Labour can be. They conclude that the way to do that is to out-left Labour. Renationalise Royal Mail. Increase benefits. Bring in a million migrants. Bold policies – that is in the Sir Humphrey meaning of the word. There is no electorally successful space to the left of the Labour Party in Scottish or British politics. That is the abiding lesson of Bennism. Working class voters are no hankering for sentimental leftism.

Fourthly, there is a pretty good defence of Britishness out there in the referendum campaign. Ironically it’s being made by Alex Salmond. He wants an independent Scotland to keep the pound and the Bank of England. To preserve the monarchy, the BBC and the NHS. Even to keep the non-nuclear defence bases and contracts. Can anyone imagine Edinburgh’s own James Connolly making a similar case for an independent Ireland? Of course not. Salmond understand that the UK, its values and the institutions that encode those values, is incredibly popular in Scotland.

Finally, to paraphrase Clinton’s campaign chief James Carville, ‘It’s the No campaign, stupid’. Of course it’s going to be negative. Faced with an opponent who says six fantastic things before breakfast, what would you do. You have to beat an untruth to death. It’s not pretty, but it is effective in the long run. You have to trust the people – Scots are canny folk and they know that something that seems too good to be true is just that. Or as they say in Glasgow – our heads don’t button up the back.

In the end, it comes down to the fact that who we are, what Scotland is, comes from a shared history and a shared endeavour. In 1968 Her Majesty’s Historiographer of Scotland J.D. Mackie wrote:

underlying the whole situation are the facts of inter-marriage, the development of great common services, the amalgamation of business firms with the mutual exchange of populations and, above all, a long common experience in peace and war and imperial enterprise have integrated the two countries [Scotland and England] very closely.

He could have written that in 1868, and a version of that will be written in 2068.

John McTernan served as political secretary to Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and as Director of Communications to Former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard

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#Villiers, re-hashing Larkin and victim typologies http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/16/villiers-re-hashing-larkin-and-victim-typologies/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/16/villiers-re-hashing-larkin-and-victim-typologies/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:50:53 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80305 If nothing else, Theresa Villiers statement on power-sharing contains some odd language (see the first quote Mick has cited here).  The nuances in “…there are inherent weaknesses in a system in which it is very difficult to remove one’s rulers by voting and to choose a viable alternative…” actually jar with the mother-and-apple-pie follow-up about about consistency with power-sharing and inclusivity.  A central tenet of democracy is that voting in elections removes ‘rulers’ and replaces them with whoever gets elected (which may or may not be the same people). The alternative, which may be the intended threat here, is direct rule. While this is probably more sloppy rhetoric, than anything else, to then say “…it is so firmly within the Assembly’s competence to deal with those matters…” is merely to invite ridicule (ask Richard Haass).

If one thing is abundantly clear, either from the creation of a northern government at the time of partition, or merely in the recent incarnation of an assembly at Stormont, functional government at a six-county level has never been achieved (you can backfill your preferred alternative of an united Ireland or UK solution here). Even Villiers’ own assertion about “inherent weaknesses” could be read as an implicit recognition of the failure of Unionist government prior to the introduction of direct rule in 1972. Whatever patchwork solution(s), if any, she may have in mind (only official unionist, nationalist and ‘”other” oppositions would seem to fit the criteria), it is hard to say how it would make Stormont seem any less of a transitional arrangement than it already does. Much of that is par-for-the-course for whoever’s Westminster desk happens to have the brief for the north.

Her comment on victims, though, is heavily laden with the same flawed logic that the Attorney General tried to apply. Her belief that there should be “…a proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries…rather than the almost exclusive concentration on the activities of the state which characterises so many of the processes currently under way,” is simply a re-fresh of John Larkin’s complaint about how “we have very good tools, subject to the point I’ve made about the passage of time, for critiquing the state, but we don’t have them for bringing to account those who have committed offences against the state”. Neither statement stands up to any serious scrutiny and I’d previously dismissed Larkin’s as being ”…absurd to the point of being completely misleading.” The Newsletter is reporting Victim’s Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, as being equally unimpressed by Theresa Villiers’ version.

What is really absent in both Larkin’s statement and it’s re-hash by Villiers is a failure to evidence any sense of victim typologies. Certainly, for some, there are differing attitudes towards the appropriateness of the inclusion of all fatalities under a single ‘victims’ category. But that, at least, evidences an implicit, if generally primitive, understanding that there needs to be a mapping of a diversity of responses to differing victim typologies. Recognising that there are different types of victim allows for the possibility of developing and curating appropriate responses to meet the different needs of victims and the communities around them. In many instances, indeed most, of those fatalities caused by republicans and loyalists (well, those officially outside the security forces anyway), there is little dispute over the circumstances of their deaths, notwithstanding the language used legitimising those acts and the hurt it can still cause. In many of the cases of those killed by the security forces, it is the actual circumstances in which they were killed that is normally at the centre of ongoing disputes with the state over the official versions of how they died. As a specific victim typology, they require a significantly distinct response, which is different and not higher up or lower down a hierarchy. Theresa Villiers statement wasn’t it.

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Trouble at NI21 mill… http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/16/trouble-at-ni21-mill/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/16/trouble-at-ni21-mill/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 08:25:09 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80302 Having a good idea (NI21) is not the same as putting it into action… Trouble in Holywood and Clandeboye

Gerry Leddy, who had been involved with the party since its inception almost a year ago, said that he could not tell people to vote for its European candidate, Tina McKenzie, as he had “no confidence” in her.

In a message posted on his Facebook page, the former North Down and Strangford constituency association treasurer said that Mrs McKenzie, who is the party chairwoman, was “a lady I have no confidence, faith or trust in”.

He added: “I could not ask a voter to vote and support this candidate.”

Mr Leddy went on: “My position from [the] party stand point is untenable as soon as a valid NI21 candidate is appointed for Holywood and Clandeboye, where I am standing as an independent, to oppose me.”

NI21 leader Basil McCrea played down the departure, which comes in the wake of another member, Shane O’Hanlon, quitting the party with a blast at the leader, and one of the party’s prospective candidates being put out by the party after being told that he had described his political views as “to the right of Hitler”.

Mr McCrea said: “I wish Gerry all the best in his endeavours.

These could just be teething problems, but my own sense is that in not looking for policy definitions of what the party stands for NI21 has risked falling into the all things to all men problem…

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Villiers: What Stormont needs is the revitalising influence of an opposition… http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/16/villiers-what-stormont-needs-is-the-revitalising-influence-of-an-opposition/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/16/villiers-what-stormont-needs-is-the-revitalising-influence-of-an-opposition/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:30:00 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80296 Another day in Northern Ireland, another Groundhog.. Theresa Villiers is make a speech today saying it is time to make progress on the past and on a future that could bring NI political life back to the cryogenically sealed democracy unit currently operating at Stormont..

“Political institutions the world over adapt and change. As the founding father of modern Conservatism… the Irishman Edmund Burke… once put it: ‘A State without the means of change is without means of preservation’.

And there are inherent weaknesses in a system in which it is very difficult to remove one’s rulers by voting and to choose a viable alternative,” she stated.

However, Ms Villiers insists that parties must agree a way forward. The coalition Government in London would not take the decision for them.

“This Government is clear that we would welcome moves that facilitate a more normal system at Stormont that allows for formal opposition, so long as a way can be found to do this which is consistent with power-sharing and inclusivity.

“But we also believe that if or how this happens really has to be primarily for parties in the Assembly to take forward, not least because it is so firmly within the Assembly’s competence to deal with those matters that might characterise an opposition.”

Both worthy sentiments, and true. But also impossible without large amounts of political energy, imagination and driving ambition. Liam Clarke also reports:

She pointed out that Executive spends £30 million a year on “legacy issues”. This, she said, placed a heavy burden on the police, and absorbed the energy of politicians, such as Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

“As we approach another marching season there is no doubt that an agreement on the way forward on flags, parading and the past even in outline would send a powerful global message about the ability of Northern Ireland’s politicians to find solutions even to the most divisive of issues,” she said.

She added that it would also “free up the space for politicians to focus more on other issues that are critical to our future such as rebalancing the economy, reforming the public sector and building a genuinely shared future.”

There’s no doubt that Irish democracy was re-vitalised by the eventual and almost complete defenestration of the Fianna Fail old guard in the last general election in the Republic. However northern nationalist memories of being in opposition were not happy ones.

If anything comforts nationalists about the new arrangements it may be that the loudest voices on the tiny opposition benches are unionist rather than nationalist. Although it ought to be instructive that they are, pound for pound also to be numbered amongst the more effective MLAs in the Assembly.

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Jon Snow and Peter Hain appearing on 1 May, the opening day of Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/jon-snow-and-peter-hain-appearing-on-1-may-the-opening-day-of-cathedral-quarter-arts-festival/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/jon-snow-and-peter-hain-appearing-on-1-may-the-opening-day-of-cathedral-quarter-arts-festival/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 21:39:58 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80290 While there’s lots of great stuff going on in the 15th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival from 1-11 May, there are a couple of political events on the opening day that might interest some Slugger readers.

CQAF 2014 programme sunflowerHaving heard Jon Snow speak before in Belfast, I can strongly recommend the opening event on Thursday 1 May with the Channel 4 News presenter’s lunchtime talk in The Black Box. £8 including lunch.

Six hours later Peter Hain will step onto the stage in the Waterfront Studio. His period as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland between 2005 and 2007 came back to prominence recently with his role in the On the Runs process. Expect him to address that as well as giving his perspectives on South Africa where he grew up, and commenting on Israel and Palestine. £10.

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“it struck me that there was an air of inevitability about the whole thing…” http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/it-struck-me-that-there-was-an-air-of-inevitability-about-the-whole-thing/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/it-struck-me-that-there-was-an-air-of-inevitability-about-the-whole-thing/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:44:54 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80288 Alex Kane with some much needed perspective on the events at Elizabeth Windsor’s gaffe in, erm Windsor…

…what we are now seeing in the changing nature of the relationship between the British/Irish governments and their collective political establishments is also inevitable. This is the story of two countries going out of their way to indicate that, irrespective of the toxicity of political relationships in Northern Ireland, they will work together and find common values and benefits in each other’s culture and shared history.

They are coming to grips with dealing with the past and accepting that progress is always possible.

No one in Northern Ireland, particularly Sinn Fein and the DUP, should underestimate the significance of what is happening at levels above them. In essence, London and Dublin are saying to Belfast that change is inevitable if done in a calculated, measured way. And it is the inevitable outcome of their decision in 1998 to jointly underwrite the Belfast Agreement.

As Kane points out, there’s not much call for either party of OFMdFM to crow one over the other. This was a celebration more than anything else of the primacy of the relationship between Dublin and London (which is one reason why SF has abandoned most of its responsibilities at Stormont in search of real power in Leinster House).

He finishes…

So here’s the question: are the local parties up for change? No, let me nuance that – do they really want change? I suspect not. They are too old and too set in their ways. And that, of course, begs another question: from where will the change come? At this stage I don’t have an answer, because we still don’t have any genuinely post-conflict parties.

But I do know that change will come because I hear enough people telling me that change is necessary. It’s a longer process than I anticipated back in 1998: that said, it is inevitable and it will happen. What I’m no longer sure of, though, is whether it will be a change for the better.

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‘Silver Liberties’, Sinn Féin and the Ciste http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/80272/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/80272/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 09:04:24 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80272 One of the artistic injustices of the Troubles has been righted this week with very little fanfare indeed.   Down at the Ulster Museum, an artwork, entitled ‘Silver Liberties’, by Lancashire born artist, Conrad Atkinson, has been hung this week.  Back in 1978, it was the piece, created to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, which the porters refused to hang because it featured four panels, three of which were in the colours of the Tricolour.    There’s been no great blaze of publicity as you would expect about the righting of a great artistic wrong – no poster or postcard and it’s not very well signed in the museum.  But seek and you shall find.  Judge for yourself if the porters-cum-curators of the Ulster Museum were right back in 1978!

I heard this interesting story while attending an information event by Ciste Infheistíochta na Gaeilge/Irish Language Investment Fund, a fund which was set up in 2010 as a result of negotiations arising out of a brief crisis in the process.

I’m not one for praising Sinn Féin these days - but credit where it’s due.  The party leader secured a fund of £20m in 2010 to be divided between the Irish Language Broadcast Fund (£12m) and an investment fund for capital projects to develop resources and infrastructure for the Irish language community.

On the evidence of Monday evening’s presentation in Belfast City Hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor, Mairtín  O Muilleoir, the Ciste is having the desired impact.  Cultúrlainn/Cultural Centres have been built in Annalong and Newry while Carntogher in County Derry is a landmark development in the sense it sets the standards for isolated rural communities through Ireland and shows what can be achieved by an effective committee.

Other plans were unveiled at the event – a new Cultúrlann adjacent to the site of Ireland’s Camelot in Armagh, Aonach Mhácha, a massive expansion of Derry’s Cultúrlann Uí Chanain while in Belfast Raidió Fáilte is planning an iconic building for its new headquarters on a site overlooking the Westlink in the Lower Falls.

These are transformative projects for the Irish language community in the North. Not one of them is being 100% funded by Ciste as that fund’s maximum limit is 50% of the costs.  In each case the local committee had to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds from other sources.

If there is a but, it is that there is no similar fund south of the border and worse than that the political imagination isn’t there to create one.   What the Ciste has done in its own way is to embolden communities to take those first steps towards imagining a new future for themselves.   In the south, there is still no Cultúrlann similar to the Falls Road facility in Dublin and no likeliehood that there will be one in the near future.

I don’t care what party is involved for I will always applaud a can do attitude – and castigate the penny pinching approach evident in the cuts by Foras na Gaeilge on organisations and magazines. I don’t attach an iota of credibility to claims by Sinn Féin that these cuts are being imposed because of Fine Gael/Labour austerity.  They can’t slam the cuts on the one hand after heralding them as a new era in Irish language development across the island when they were announced. 

I don’t doubt for a moment that cuts are having an impact but Foras na Gaeilge is an analogue cross border body in a digital age to borrow a politician’s quote, and Sinn Féin has to take a share of responsibility for that.

Let’s not go back there.  The Sinn Féin initiative regarding Ciste is well worth the investment.   It’s a model that should be adapted by other parties and in other jurisdictions because regardless of any other consideration, it offers value for money to the tax payer, among which are many thousands of Irish speakers.

Monday night’s event heard a call by Conrad Atkinson to artists throughout Ireland to contribute works for inclusion in an art auction to be conducted by Ciste to raise money for further Irish language development.  The art auction will be held in America and the target to be raised is $1m.  I hope they achieve it.

It calls to mind what Dr. Finbarr Bradley, c0-author of the Irish Edge said at a conference recently.  ”Less and less people are looking for stuff, more and more they’re looking for meaning.”   According to Dr. Bradley the Irish language plays an important role in that in the context of Ireland.  In this art auction, perhaps we have a marriage of the two quests?

 

 

 

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Could fracking actually be environmentally good for us after all? http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/could-fracking-actually-be-environmentally-good-for-us-after-all/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/could-fracking-actually-be-environmentally-good-for-us-after-all/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 08:43:24 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80281 Could fracking be good for us? -Ben Webster in the Times yesterday (£) with an unexpected output from the IPCC…

Shale gas can help the world to avoid dangerous climate change if it replaces coal in power stations, according to a United Nations report.

Global emissions need to fall by at least 40 per cent by 2050 and almost to zero by 2100 to have a good chance of limiting the increase in the average temperature to 2C, above which the UN says there could be catastrophic impacts.

But ominously perhaps, he also adds:

Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, said: “This is the first IPCC report that will be largely ignored by most policymakers. It will have no influence on governments’ energy policies that are now almost completely dominated by energy security and economic considerations. Around the world the climate issue is being pushed to the margins of decision making.”

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Come on BBC NI give us the bad news on our beaches…? http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/come-on-bbc-ni-give-us-the-bad-news-on-our-beaches/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/15/come-on-bbc-ni-give-us-the-bad-news-on-our-beaches/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 08:37:08 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80277 So, here’s what the listeners to Radio 4 got this morning on the new Good Beach guide report, picking out Northern Ireland as a noteable weak point in the overall UK figures…

Then this from BBC NI… Northern Ireland beaches’ water quality ‘acceptable’… Clearly good news elsewhere has meant lots of detail on a general improvement which (tellingly perhaps) relies on a drop in rainfall and a concomitant in the total outflow from surface water sewage…

This is certainly bad news from a tourist point of view (even if there is a nugget of good in there for Newcastle), but it also hints at further structural problems in the water system, which clearly need to be addressed…

Like the proverbial falling tree in the forest, if sees it then it hasn’t happened…

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Educational Underachievement-Part 1: Are Protestants getting left behind in education? The statistically based answer is an emphatic ‘No’ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/14/educational-underachievement-part-1-are-protestants-getting-left-behind-in-education-the-statistically-based-answer-is-an-emphatic-no/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/14/educational-underachievement-part-1-are-protestants-getting-left-behind-in-education-the-statistically-based-answer-is-an-emphatic-no/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 19:58:57 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80266

Since the publication of the third Peace Monitoring Report by Paul Nolan earlier this month, the issue of the educational performance of working class protestant boys has been centre stage. Yet the two inconvenient but still overarching statistics that should define the parameters of this discussion have largely been ignored:

Firstly, that the actual attainment gap between Catholics and Protestants is quite small, with 63% of Catholic pupils and 60% of Protestant pupils securing 5 ‘good’ GCSEs (more on that deployment of the adjective ‘good’ later on in this series.)

Secondly, that Catholics form the overwhelming majority of all children entitled to Free School Meals failing to obtain five ‘good’ GCSEs.

In the academic year 2011/12 (the year in which the statistics included in Nolan’s report were recorded and repeatedly cited since, the most recent from which NISRA generated data can be publicly obtained), 1,329 boys entitled to free school meals (FSM) failed to achieve the minimum academic requirement of 5 ‘good’ GCSEs. Of those boys, 835 (62.8%) were Catholic.

When girls entitled to FSM are included, a total of 2,405 Catholic and Protestant children entitled to FSM failed to obtain 5 ‘good’ GCSEs, with 1,552 (64.5%) of them being Catholic.

The fact that almost 2/3 of children entitled to FSM who fail to obtain 5 good GCSEs are Catholics sits very uncomfortably with the Belfast Telegraph headline (3/4/14) which screamed that ‘Protestants get left behind,’ an erroneous narrative that continues to dominate the local media.

I addressed many of the themes arising from this issue back in an April 2011 article when I noted the narrow sectarian agenda being peddled by the DUP ahead of the Assembly election, when the party pledged to develop a strategy “to assist Protestant working class boys” with no reference to seeking to assist the greater number of Catholic working class boys who fail to reach the basic 5 ‘good’ GCSE qualification threshold.

Introducing a sectarian agenda to the discussion over educational underachievement and low attainment is the surest way of ensuring that the discussion that needs to be had will be lost in the quagmire of our sectarian discourse.

There is an issue of underachievement and low attainment in working class protestant communities, and that must be effectively tackled just as the continuing problem of underachievement and low attainment afflicting the greater number of working class catholic communities must be addressed.

But what must be established from the outset is that the religious background of children should form no part of a schools or community based programme seeking to ensure that all of our children- not least those born into relative socio-economic deprivation- are provided with the support to have the opportunity to realise their full academic potential through our education system.

I intend on addressing some of the key issues which should be informing debate on this topic in subsequent articles in this series to appear in the coming days.

 

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Cartoon – Mission accomplished http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/14/cartoon-mission-accomplished/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/14/cartoon-mission-accomplished/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:08:10 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80259 Martin McGuinness, cartoon, Brian John Spencer

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“That’s the only way I can put,” he said “they sleep with the victims.” http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/14/thats-the-only-way-i-can-put-he-said-they-sleep-with-the-victims/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/14/thats-the-only-way-i-can-put-he-said-they-sleep-with-the-victims/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:43:38 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80254 I was struck by Michael D Higgins’ interview with the BBC’s Fergal Keane:

He said he could not ask the families of victims to put the past behind them. Society could not afford to wipe out the memory of violence, he said. “I think that there is very significant work to do,” he said.

“Affecting a kind of amnesia is of no value to you. You are better to honestly deal with the facts that are standing behind you as shadows… we must be of assistance to each other in coming to understand how we get to a new place.

Brian Rowan has a powerful piece in which he reflects personally on a new production called Quietly from the Abbey:

From my own reporting experience, I will always remember an interview with a former loyalist life sentence prisoner; remember it because of the words spoken and what they meant and, then, what happened next.

It was part of the debate about prisoner releases versus victims rights – and I interviewed him as we edged away from conflict and began that journey towards peace. He described to me prisoners sleeping with the victims.

“That’s the only way I can put,” he said “they sleep with the victims.”

Just think of those words – SLEEP WITH THE VICTIMS, meaning, of course, that they couldn’t sleep with their conscience – that he couldn’t sleep with his conscience.

The prisoners, he told me, “have to live with what’s happened in the past”.

Billy Giles spent long years in jail and, six months after that interview, he took his own life – no longer able to sleep with the victims, no longer able to sleep with what happened.

It put me mind of this story from the US:

Volunteers in dark green hooded sweatshirts spread out across the National Mall on Thursday, planting 1,892 small American flags in the grass between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Each flag represented a veteran who had committed suicide since Jan. 1, a figure that amounts to 22 deaths each day.

This is one of the largely unheard corollaries of war: the real distress in men like Billy Hunter and Brendan Hughes, who clearly internalised much of the distress they’d caused to others in the past.

We hear surprisingly little from these men and women, never mind their victims.

There are in fact, only a limited amount of things that can be done for them, although undoubtedly just hearing their voices and their experiences is an important part of ‘letting go’ rather than healing as such.

What we noted back in 2003 was not that far removed from what still needs to happen now:

Turning to the future cannot mean burying the past. As John Dunlop warns us, ‘It would be callous for a community to travel into the future and leave grieving people behind.’

The greatest tribute to those who have suffered, however, is to build on their sacrifices. Since the peace process began, Northern Ireland has had lavished upon it a degree of attention that dwarfs both the size of its population and the seriousness of its problems.

Presidents and prime ministers clear diaries for the leaders of parties representing a few hundred thousand people. The media follow the peace process with great respect and curiosity. Martial politicians attract attention as they spar for the cameras, stentorian-voiced.

But the world’s attention is now moving on and the mundane work of reconstruction must begin. This is not about grandiose gestures, nor sudden cures. It is both more modest and more patient.

‘Universal peace is like the desire for immortality: so difficult to achieve that religions promise immortality not before but after death,’ Umberto Eco warns us.

‘However, a small peace is like the act of a doctor who cures a wound: not a promise of immortality, but at least a way to postpone death.’

There is no fix all cure for what was done to us, or what we did to each other. Reconciliation is partial and unpredicable process. It is neither moral or right to demand it from people who have already lost so much.

We need much more of the empathy, compassion and imagination that Rowan traces here. It’s how we avoid becoming the same glassy eyed automatons that walzed us in to the troubles forty plus years ago.

And it is also how new stories of who we are and what we can do will begin to take root.

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“Post-nationalist Ireland has arrived.” http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/13/post-nationalist-ireland-has-arrived/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/13/post-nationalist-ireland-has-arrived/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 16:21:59 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80251 [Once more into the breach then - Ed]  In yesterday’s Irish News, Patrick Murphy posited three theories to explain what he describes as “the latest dismantling of Irish political and cultural nationalism.”  That would be Martin McGuinness, et al, at Windsor Castle in white tie and tails, and the GAA deal with Sky.  From the Irish News

The first theory suggests that the process has been largely fuelled by Britain’s determination to give political cover to the PIRA’s defeat in a futile and unnecessary war.  In a standard neo-colonial tactic, London agreed that friendly natives should govern the place on their behalf.

So, the theory goes, the politics and pomp of recent years have been a public relations exercise to rewrite history (defeat dressed as peace) re-define Irish culture (Protestants have their own language) and replace the opportunity for normal politics with formalised sectarianism (Britain was the good guy all along).  All three were packaged as improved Anglo-Irish relations.

Britain then selectively applied its own legal system for political effect.  This week, for example, a man was charged in connection with the Omagh bombing (undertaken by dissident IRA) but there will be no new inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombs (undertaken by mainstream IRA).

A second theory suggests that the collapse of the Catholic Church means that nationalism is no longer a holy day of obligation.  Since penal times, nationalism has been associated with Irish Catholicism, as exemplified by this newspaper’s 1891 Pro fide et patria motto (for faith and fatherland).

With the fide fading, the patria could do what it wished.

With the Church’s decline, Sinn Féin not only became the guardians of nationalist morality, it now uses its new authority to exercise a similar form of social influence.

These days, only Sinn Féin can define and forgive nationalist sin, a point appreciated in Britain.

A third strand of thought argues that nationalism’s usually sectarian and apolitical nature rendered it too superficial to survive.  It was a form of territorial Catholicism, with little social or economic awareness.

Thus, when the concept of Irishness was re-defined for political purposes, our largest cultural organisation, for example, had no social or economic landmarks.  So, the theory goes, the GAA abandoned the sometimes dubious morality of a declining Church for the more lucrative immorality of capitalism – and Sinn Féin’s £60 million for Casement Park helped to smooth the transition.

As Patrick Murphy goes on to say [Here's the history part - Ed]

But perhaps this was inevitable, because maybe Irish nationalism is nothing more than a manipulative middle class fashion for sourcing money and power.  A book has already been written on this theory: The Clanking Chains (1919) by Brinsley McNamara.  These days you can read his novel for free online.  Read it.  Literature often explains events better than political theory.

You can accept these explanations or develop your own.  Either way, we can only appreciate where we are by understanding how we got here.  These theories suggest we are back to 1603 when, after nine years of war, self-interested Irish chiefs surrendered to Elizabeth I.

Through the foggy dew of Ireland’s feeling of inferiority, Britain has once again emerged victorious.

In that case, this is not progress.  It is not even change.  It is just the same old story, with some new explanations.

Indeed.

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The route to better government is clear. Why don’t the parties take it? http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/13/the-route-to-better-government-is-clear-why-dont-the-parties-take-it/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/13/the-route-to-better-government-is-clear-why-dont-the-parties-take-it/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 11:46:03 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80245 Nuff history  – Ed.  Thanks to Alan and Chris Donnelly for presenting significant data on how Northern Ireland is faring. The third CRC Peace Monitoring Report by Dr Paul Nolan reads  authoritatively, quite depressingly and utterly unsurprisingly. At around the same time, some polls have been published which broadly reflect the results but with the odd chink of light showing through.  This post as much as anything is a plea for better qualified analysis and fuller discussion about this evidence than anything around so far.

Broadly what I’m reading is this:

Political attitudes are still significant but  no longer decisive for defining the state of community relations and personal wellbeing.

 Satisfaction with the Assembly is not consistently dire – but Protestants are less satisfied than Catholics.

 Many poor Catholics are still poorer than most poor Protestants.

 Despite all the bad news, hope springs eternal and – here’s the thing –  the people  in general are  more advanced in their opinions than most  politicians. How can this phenomenon be exploited?

I understand the danger of conflating different polls and surveys and comparing apples with pears. Low opinion of politicians is hardly limited to NI and blaming politicians for everything is far too easy an option. But the purpose of surveys is to enhance understanding.  Thus my appeal for better and more analysis. It seems too much to hope for that this should come from the political parties  – publicly at least – though no doubt they comb the evidence  to help their positioning.

 

Next, to summarise key content. First,the Nolan Report’s “ ten key points”. Reading this there are no surprises, but there are hints of remedy  in 4 -5 and 8 and grounds for optimism in 9.

1. The moral basis of the 1998 peace accord has evaporated.

2. The absence of trust has resulted in an absence of progress

3. There has been some increase in polarisation

4. A culture war is being talked into existence

5. The City of Culture year presented a different understanding of culture

 6. Failure lies in wait for young working-class Protestant males.

 7. Front line police have been the human shock absorbers for failures elsewhere.

 8. The rebalancing of inequalities unbalances unionism.

9. At grassroots level the reconciliation impulse remains strong

 10. No one picks up the tab Failure in Northern Ireland comes cost-free.

POLLS

 ( Quoted in Nolan) An August 2013 Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk opinion poll delivered a massive vote of no confidence in Stormont politicians. With only 9.4 per cent of those expressing an opinion rating the performance of Stormont as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, the Assembly’s net approval rating sank deep into minus figures to -59.9 per cent. Gerry Lynch, an analyst for the pollsters LucidTalk said “this is the sort of score which a politician could expect after being arrested on serious criminal charges.”

The Telegraph’s latest Lucid Talk poll of 16-24 year olds earlier his month, looks a bit brighter. Are kids naturally more resilient or just naïve?  On better relations and a good place to live the headline breakdown is about 60:40 in favour; on politicians nearer to 50:50. But when applies to Protestants and Catholics separately, the proportions are reversed: many more young Prods are more pessimistic and dissatisfied than young RCs.

A NICVA SURVEY  by Ipsos Mori at end of March.

68% of respondents said economic policy was important when considering what party to vote for, and 56% said constitutional issues were important.

In relation to who they would trust with the economy, respondents were most likely to trust voluntary and community groups (73%), followed by the business community (55%). Respondents were least likely to trust the Northern Ireland Executive (39%).

 

Lots of analysis. Now  where are the plans for action?

 

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What makes a good local Councillor? http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/13/what-makes-a-good-local-councillor/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/13/what-makes-a-good-local-councillor/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 11:40:43 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80242 Over the coming weeks hundreds of people will be seeking a job with an interview panel of thousands asking questions about their ability to deal with local problems, create jobs and run local services. But, this year will be a little bit different as local councils take on a lot more powers.

Speaking about the changes to local councils the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, Derek McCallan, made the point that as a community we need to place much greater focus on the work of councils saying;

We all know the old adage that councils are perceived by some as being no more than births, bins and burials. We want to challenge that myth. Councils are the civic hub of our communities and will have new powers to plan, drive invest in and develop local places, from cities to hamlets, from coastlines to creative industries.

Below are some of the new powers that new councils will be taking on from April 2015 and should be a useful job specification for voters to judge who would be the best candidate to deal with these issues.

Community planning

This will provide a framework within which Councils, departments, statutory bodies and other relevant agencies and sectors can work together to develop and implement a shared vision for promoting the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area based on effective engagement with the community.

General Power of Competence

This will enable a council, in broad terms, to act with similar freedom to an individual, unless there is a law to prevent it from doing so.  It would provide a council with the ability to act in its own interest and to develop innovative approaches to addressing issues in its area. So when you think about this it gives councils power to do anything, like say for example, if they wanted to build a leisure centre they could borrow the money to do so. The scope here is massive.

Planning

Local development plan functions

Development control and enforcement

Roads

Off street parking (except Park and Ride)

Urban regeneration and community development

Functions associated with physical development (e.g. environmental improvement

schemes)

Area based regeneration (such as Neighbourhood Renewal)

Some community development programmes for the voluntary and community sectors

Housing

Registration of houses in multiple occupation

Housing unfitness responsibilities, including repair and demolition notices

Local Economic Development (transfer from Invest NI)

Start a Business Programme and Enterprise Shows

Youth Entrepreneurship (such as Prince’s Trust and Shell Livewire)

Social Entrepreneurship

Investing for Women

Neighbourhood Renewal funding relating to enterprises initiatives

Local Tourism

Small scale tourism accommodation development

Providing business support including business start up advice along with training and

delivery of customer care schemes

Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

Other

Some elements of the delivery of the EU Rural Development Programme;

Authority to Spot List to enable Councils to add a building to the statutory list on a

temporary basis, subject to ratification by the DOE;

Authority to draw up local lists of buildings that are of architectural and/or historic

interest;

Armagh County Museum;

Local water recreational facilities;

Local sports (greater involvement of local government in local sports decisions);

Donaghadee Harbour

Slugger commentators-who would you pick to deal with these issues? What do you think makes a good councillor?

 

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Sinn Féin to the fore for the photo, to the rear of the movement http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/sinn-fein-to-the-fore-for-the-photo-to-the-rear-of-the-movement/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/sinn-fein-to-the-fore-for-the-photo-to-the-rear-of-the-movement/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 18:40:14 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80240 Sinn Féin, with the shamelessness we’ve become accustomed to from Establishment politicians, were to the fore in today’s ‘LáDearg’ parade in Belfast with several aspiring candidates behind a banner proclaiming the party’s support for an Irish Language Act in the north.

Shameless because the several thousand protesters who paraded in colourful good form from the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road to the Custom House Square were expressing their anger at decisions in which Sinn Féin members had participated and, indeed, hailed as positive earlier this year.

Among the marchers, for instance, were the soon to be unemployed workers of Iontaobhas ULTACH, Altram and POBAL, who were campaigning for an end to the axing of their funding. When this decision was announced in January by Foras na Gaeilge, a body whose board boasts four Sinn Féin members, it was hailed by no less than Rosie McCorley MLA, the party’s Irish language spokesperson in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Apparently this new ‘All Ireland’ arrangement would herald a new era for the Irish language. Well, it’s certainly done so in the north as the Irish language community’s mainstays for the past number of years, since well before the Good Friday Agreement, are shortly, as of 30 June, to be no more.

It’s almost three years since Coláiste Feirste took the Department of Education to the High Court demanding the right to free travel from County Down and north Belfast to the high performing Irish medium secondary school. There the lawyers for the then Minister, Caitríona Ruane, argued that the Good Friday Agreement was an aspirational document and therefore the Department or the Minister were not liable to implement the free travel rule for Irish speakers. In many cases half empty buses go to some fee paying Belfast schools leaving the Coláiste Feirste students with a bad case of Rosa Parkes syndrome. At least she got on the bus.

Despite a favourable ruling by Justice Treacy, the children from Ardoyne are being told they will not get free travel. They are being advised instead to walk to school, down the Shankill Road, wearing their green school uniform. It’s easy to see that no Sinn Féin politician would enforce their own child to run this gauntlet. This case was made by a courageous Coláiste Feirste student from the podium at the parade. It’s hard to know such was the crowd whether the Sinn Féin banner bearers stuck around for that speech.

Earlier today the editors of two Belfast based Irish language magazines destined for the axe, thanks to the Foras, spoke at a public meeting in the Cultúrlann voicing their disappointment at the decision to withdraw meagre funding – £16k annually in the case of An tUltach. The Sinn Féin members of the board of Foras na Gaeilge have been conspicuous by their silence in the defence of these magazines. In the case of An tUltach, this year celebrating its 90 anniversary, it was a particularly cruel blow as the committee had made great strides in addressing a number of issues, including distribution and web presence in the past year. Yet the Foras pulled the plug without ceremony and the funding runs out at the end of June. Nós mag has recently won a significant design award – it too has been told it’s to go to be replaced by a yet to be specified ‘lifestyle’ magazine.

No doubt Sinn Féin members of Foras na Gaeilge are too busy running for election to be immersed in the detail of the effect of their actions/inactions – but it won’t escape the attentions of Irish language speakers voting this May, north and south. It’s not likely to have any substantial effect though as the party will likely increase its share of the vote and seats in council and Euro elections as, down south at least, it is making the most noise.

Back to that banner.  It’s by no means clear that Sinn Féin has any notion it will ever see the enactment of an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland in the short or long term.  There appears to be no coherent strategy to bring it about – except to occasionally wave it in front of Unionist politicians in order to cause the red mist to drift down over their field of vision as they, inevitably, say never, never, never.  The fact that they were pictured behind the banner in today’s parade on the front page of the BBC NI website won’t hasten the day that the legislation, promised in the St Andrew’s Agreement, will be enacted by Stormont.

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While Britain and Europe’s tectonic plates move, we argue about Orangemen and Ardoyne http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/while-britain-and-europes-tectonic-plates-move-we-argue-about-orangemen-and-ardoyne/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/while-britain-and-europes-tectonic-plates-move-we-argue-about-orangemen-and-ardoyne/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 14:37:40 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80229 [This is taken from Andy Pollak’s monthly blog www.2irelands2gether.com]

What is the strategic issue causing senior people in the Irish Department of Foreign affairs to lose their sleep these nights? In the week that Michael D. Higgins paid the first ever, spectacularly successful state visit by an Irish President to Britain, it is the possible break-up of the United Kingdom and its exit from the European Union.

In September the Scottish people will vote on independence.As Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s advisor on Northern Ireland, wrote in a thoughtful article in the Financial Times recently [‘A broken union would unsettle NI’, 5 February], a Yes vote would open up the constitutional question in Northern Ireland at a very delicate time. The Good Friday Agreement did not settle that question but was rather an agreement to disagree about it and nonetheless to share power. Unionists continue to want to remain in a united British kingdom, and nationalists and republicans continue to seek a united Ireland. Sinn Fein would up the ante in the wake of a Yes vote and in the run-up to the anniversary of the Easter Rising by demanding an early referendum on the border on the same principle as the Scots.

Such a vote would have a particularly destabilising effect on the unionists, whose natural ties are with Scotland rather than England. They pride themselves on their common Scottish Presbyterian heritage, their Ulster-Scots way of talking and their common passion for Scottish dancing and football, and their children go in their thousands to Scottish universities.

The numbers in Scotland are so far not enough to deliver a Yes vote, although the momentum is in this direction. But the real nightmare is the second, related scenario: the issue of Britain’s EU membership. Things would get very complicated indeed if – while an independent Scotland was applying for EU membership (a process that would take some time) – the rest of Britain was proceeding to pull out of the Union after the referendum promised by David Cameron in 2017. Would we end up with England, Wales and Northern Ireland outside the EU, and Ireland and Scotland inside?

As Powell puts it: “With borders at both Stranraer in Scotland and South Armagh on the border with Ireland, Northern Ireland would find itself in real difficulties, and not just commercially. What has enabled the free movement of people in these islands, including Ireland, since 1922 is the Common Travel Area, where all the jurisdictions have the same rules on entry from outside. With a patchwork quilt of memberships of the EU, we would have to impose travel restrictions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between Scotland and Northern Ireland. The notion of policing those two borders is a nightmare, and that is what really bothers policy makers in Dublin and Belfast.”

Whatever about policy makers in Belfast, it is not something that the people of Northern Ireland and their newspapers are discussing. I looked in vain in recent weeks and months for serious treatment of this vital topic by any commentator in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter. There was plenty of argument about earth-shattering issues like where and when Orangemen should parade during the coming ‘marching season’, but nothing about the tectonic plates shifting the constitutional relationships affecting this province, these islands, and the wider continent of which we are – notionally – a part. The Irish Times – through its former foreign editor Paul Gillespie – and even faraway Al Jazeera has been discussing these issues, but not the media of our ‘wee province.’

Of course, all this may be academic. As Powell also points out, it looks probable that the people of Scotland will vote to remain in the union and thus will accept the solution on identity found in the Good Friday Agreement: nationalists and republicans can be Irish and still part of the UK. “Trying to be Sinn Féin, or ‘Ourselves Alone’, in Scotland, and raising new borders makes very little sense in the modern world,” is Powell’s opinion.

Whether Britain will go it alone by leaving Europe, as current opinion poll trends seem to indicate, is another matter. What is certain is that that Northern Ireland will be ill-informed about and ill-prepared for such an eventuality. If and when we look around after such an huge event, we will notice that we are, once again, facing Churchill’s unfortunately all-too-prophetic words of nearly a century ago: “The whole map of Europe has been changed … The mode of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous changes…but as the deluge subsides and waters fall, we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.”

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Art of the Troubles at the Ulster Museum http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/art-of-the-troubles-at-the-ulster-museum/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/art-of-the-troubles-at-the-ulster-museum/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 14:12:19 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80215 The Ulster Museum’s Art of the Troubles exhibition is now open and runs through the summer until 7 September.

Ulster Museum Art of the TroublesA variety of styles, “sides” and periods exhibited: sixty works from fifty artists.

Reactions to atrocities, depictions of politics (a particularly grim triptych by Joseph McWilliams of Sammy Wilson, Ian Paisley Snr and Peter Robinson) and peace talks, as well as reflections on how society dealt with conflict.

The no photography rule was being strictly imposed in the gallery this afternoon, but you can catch a glimpse of some of the works in Chris Harrison’s earlier Vine, on BBC News NI and on the News Letter website.

And you can listen to Phillip Napier’s droning artwork too.

A thoughtful exhibition of artwork that somehow we didn’t see enough of during the Troubles that’s well worth a visit if you’re up in Belfast with half an hour to spare.

This major new exhibition brings together the work of 50 artists from Northern Ireland and beyond including Joe McWilliams, Willie Doherty, FE McWilliam, Rita Duffy, Paul Seawright, Jack Pakenham, Micheal Farrell and Richard Hamilton. The exhibition features a broad representation of artists’ responses to the Troubles.

Art of the Troubles offers avenues for exploring the way in which the Troubles have been viewed by a range of artists and for reflecting on the manifestations and impact of violence and division in our society. The exhibition comprises 60 works, including paintings, drawings, photographs, videos and sculpture. It explores a broad range of themes including violence and destruction, suffering and loss, traditions and life in the midst of turmoil.

The exhibition has been developed in partnership with Wolverhampton Art Gallery and includes many works from the collections of National Museums Northern Ireland and the recently gifted Arts Council of Northern Ireland Collection. Also incorporated are loans from the Imperial War Museum’s Northern Ireland Collection, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, as well as works from private collections and artists themselves.

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Lissadell, always romantic. But the jinx lingers http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/lissadell-always-romantic-but-the-jinx-lingers/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/lissadell-always-romantic-but-the-jinx-lingers/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 13:34:07 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80212 It is surely the quintessential Irish story of romance, divided family loyalties,  declining wealth and fierce litigation. Over Lissadell  it has extended  through the painful transition from   the Anglo-Irish  to the meritocratic blow-ins of today who so often try to ape the  style of the ould dacency.  And still struggle continues, with the successors every bit as determined to hold on to what they have, as ever were the old gentry. The latest battle of the new era of Lissadell has resulted in expensive defeat for Sligo County Council and victory for the clever new lawyer owners.  But If they are trying to capture the romance of the past through insistence on their full rights of ownership they are surely doomed to failure.

Many a time I think to seek

 One or the other out and speak

 Of that old Georgian mansion,

 Mix pictures of the mind, recall

 That table and the talk of youth,

 Two girls in silk kimonos, both

 Beautiful, one a gazelle

Two girls Constance and Eva Gore Booth, Constance later Markievicz being  the black sheep of a family of colonial governors and officials, most recently as head of the British Foreign Office ( Constance’s nephew)  and another as High Commissioner to India in the 1990s. Both  were characters as well as diplomats. Nephew Paul for instance  was a Sherlock Holmes freak who acted out Holmes’ great struggle with Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls.  WB Yeats whose   grandfather was rector of the church up the road at Drumcliffe inflicted one of his crushes on Constance. In  Easter 1916 he recorded her evolution to revolutionary in human terms which surely  would be thought  sexist today:

“That woman’s days were spent

In ignorant good-will.

Her nights in argument

Until her voice grew shrill

What voice more sweet than hers

When, young and beautiful

She rode to harriers?”

However it was her gender that  saved  her from execution after she cried for her life at the court martial.  Although elected as a  Sinn Fein abstentionist to the new Dail in 1918, she couldn’t resist sneaking a visit to Westminster to inspect her coat peg as the first woman to be elected an MP.

After independence the struggle was endless between the state and the Gore-Booths over debts and land management, with the State taking over most of the land right up to Lissadell’s splendid porte cochere.  Was it just about economics or was there a hint of persecution? Probably more the former but it didn’t look good.

In the early 1980s you could still call at the house as I did a couple of times . Miss Aideen made us tea in the crumbling kitchen and showed us round the dusty rooms. She remarked on a set of curtains in a reception room . “Dickie gave us those, “ she said sadly, “ Dickie” being Earl Mountbatten from down the Sligo road at Classiebawn castle  Mullaghmore, assassinated in the harbour a couple of years before.  Classiebawn was  the Irish  ancestral  home of his wife, and the Irish seat of the most imperial of Victorian British prime ministers  Lord Palmerston.   Aideen’s sister  Gabrielle had been  Mountbatten’s  land agent.

A terrible grandeur has vanished. I see the Gore Booth family  papers are in PRONI, well worth a browse.

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After the Visit, the greater epiphany? http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/after-the-visit-the-greater-epiphany/ http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/04/12/after-the-visit-the-greater-epiphany/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 23:28:29 +0000 http://sluggerotoole.com/?p=80207 What we saw in Windsor Castle this week was a delayed act of official reconciliation that should have taken place fifty years ago but was held up by the Troubles. It was in reality the unfinished business of closing a sequence of turmoil that began over a century ago, whose shadow is finally lifting only now.   Carping like that below fails to recognise that such formalities can only be afforded when the reconciliation they celebrate is safely secured. So what now?  Let’s rewind a sec.

 ”The centenary commemorations for the outbreak of the Great War have overshadowed the events which preceded it, and which go a long way to explaining how we got where we are now. It is the reason why the Irish question wasn’t resolved a hundred years ago by parliamentary means .It’s the centenary of the passing of the Third Home Rule bill, which was nullified from the outset by the political classes’ capitulation to militant Unionism.”

Melanie McDonagh in the Spectator reminds readers of 1912 -14, the period of the Home Rule crisis when it seemed Britain was on the brink of civil war over Ulster. In his new book Fatal Path from which she quotes, the historian Ronan Fanning is still cross about this. Plenty of people were at the time and since. But  however widely held, this orthodox view doesn’t seem to me to give fair weight to the Unionist case or to recognise the substantial differences which set them apart from the island majority – differences a good deal greater than they are today.  In 1910 -14 it wasn’t all about British Conservatives cynically playing the Orange Card.  In a polity which was not quite yet a full democracy, Conservative diehards deeply felt that the Liberals had violated the basic tenets of the unwritten British constitution by whittling down the power of the House of Lords and then assenting to an internal break-up of the Union.

I’m puzzled when Irish historians harrumph about the Ulster rebellion while politely defending their own. Why shouldn’t the Ulster Unionists have had the same rights to fight to remain within the UK as the nationalists had to leave it? What act of primordial nature made Ireland an indivisible political entity and one naturally separate from Britain? It took a further 84 years for that point to win acceptance, in what is easily the most important political outcome of the Troubles, far surpassing the politicisation of Sinn Fein.

Of course had the miracle happened and some sort of deal had been done over Home Rule, it would have been wonderful in the eyes of posterity. But this would have meant the Nationalists accepting what they were still in denial about in June 1914,that partition on some basis was inevitable. The War intervened and that game was never played out.  The Nationalist party leader John Redmond   can today safely be regarded  as too trusting and honourable a figure. But to republicans he became and remains the very archetype of constitutional nationalism – a loser with  great contacts.

People still argue the toss over whether it took force to achieve independence. Fanning believes force was necessary. But the contrary is appealing,  just as it can be argued that the armed struggle massively held back  reform rather than won it.  But revolutions are not made in text books. The violence factor is seldom absent in human affairs. The desire to fight for freedom rather than wait on someone to grant it is not completely rational even when it is  calculated, as it was  in 1916.

The value of the counterfactual is not  to commit the futility of denying  what happened  but to explore the alternatives which were real and  present  before the events  took a different turning. The aim of pursuing them  is to try to forestall the undesirable  repetition. In the words of the splendid old  cliché : “s/he who does not know history  is condemned to repeat it.”

So there’s lots to chew over about this formative period just before the whole world  darkened.  Three issues in particular fascinate me. Why did nationalists make so little effort to try to persuade unionists into Home Rule over the decades, relying instead  on negotiating over their heads with the  British? This error was to be repeated in harsher conditions by the Provos’ failed strategy of bombing the Brits out of Ireland.

Secondly isn’t it odd that Home Rule (which still provided for Irish MPs at Westminster although many fewer) was taken for granted as bringing the Union to an end , whereas today, devolution is regarded as  the Union is new form. And to be really counterfactual,  would the State and the Unionists have  really come to blows in the North in 1914 any more than they did in the South that year (the minor bungled  incident at Batchelors’ Walk notwithstanding)?   It took a very determined act of aggression at the height of the war  by the IRB cell of the  Volunteers to achieve it in 1916, not any act of the  distracted government.

What has all this to do with today? The historical theme still has great resonance, as the Republic honourably wrestles with how to incorporate Unionism into its story of Ireland without damaging its own creation myth.   The answer lies  in its recognition  of the colonial transplant as an intrinsic  part of the body of Ireland, a transformation that suits post-revolutionary republicanism as nicely as everybody else, allowing for  a twinge or two of unease from perennially  suspicious unionists.

It’s intriguing  to see how the Irish government are tasking their Advisory Group on the Decade of Commemoration – to treat Unionism   fairly and indeed generously  but not going so far as to be neutral.

The commemoration will be measured and reflective, and will be informed by a full acknowledgement of the complexity of historical events and their legacy, of the multiple readings of history, and of the multiple identities and traditions which are part of the Irish historical experience. There must be full acknowledgement of the multiple identities and traditions which are part of the overall story and of the different ideals and sacrifices associated with them. Official events must within reason be inclusive and non-partisan, but the State should not be expected to be neutral about its own existence. The aim should be to broaden sympathies, without having to abandon loyalties, and in particular recognising the value of ideals and sacrifices, including their cost.

It would be great to see unionism displaying this sort of confidence in return. The missing players of course, are the new best friends, the British.  After the state visit what sort of walk-on parts are contemplated for them in the Irish commemorations? There’s been talk of it but have I missed the detail?  The welcoming approach of the Dublin establishment  deserves serious consideration and is an ideal peg  for launching a new exploration along the path  of our history to discover where it might take us.

 

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