Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Profile for Brian Walker

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

Latest posts from Brian Walker (see all)

Brian Walker has posted 1,568 times (9 in the last month).

“Poll: Scotland on the brink of independence” Time to panic?

Tue 22 April 2014, 11:55am

Tweet For Scotland on Sunday to strike such a headline shows it’s time to panic says the Speccie. “Mr Darling and his allies in Better Together have to wake up to the fact that they have managed to blow a 20-point lead in a few months and the gap between the two sides looks like […] more »

The Easter Rising: romance and regret but no barrier to reconciliation

Tue 22 April 2014, 12:18am

Tweet in response to David McCann’s very personal and sincere post, I must say that the Rising is part of my history but not part of my cause. I approach it with fascination and regret. Regret for the delayed victory for physical force it represented. But how could it not inspire? The world was in turmoil; nothing would […] more »

More evidence that the Westminster village is waking up to the threat of Scottish independence

Thu 17 April 2014, 1:07pm

Tweet John McTernan is among the shrewdest of political strategists. As quoted by David McCann, he offers  “don’t panic” advice to fellow strategists. What’s missing here are reasons for Scots to vote No. The McTernan view isn’t cutting  it with leading commentators on the centre left and right. Martin Kettle in the Guardian The psychological impact in England, […] more »

The route to better government is clear. Why don’t the parties take it?

Sun 13 April 2014, 12:46pm

Tweet 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 […] more »

Lissadell, always romantic. But the jinx lingers

Sat 12 April 2014, 2:34pm

Tweet 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 […] more »

After the Visit, the greater epiphany?

Sat 12 April 2014, 12:28am

Tweet 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 […] more »

It takes the threat to Cameron’s survival to wake Westminster up to the threat of Scottish independence

Thu 3 April 2014, 9:51am

Tweet Signs are emerging that the Westminster village, which usually treats north of Hampstead Heath as terra incognita, is at last waking up to the  real threat of Scottish independence.  The contrast couldn’t be starker between the obsession of the English right wing with a phantom referendum over Europe and the real one in Scotland that […] more »

The Scottish referendum. The British identity that dare not speak its name

Sun 30 March 2014, 7:42pm

Tweet   The best article I’ve seen about the dearth of a cultural identity debate in Scotland by Alex Linklater, son of the great Magnus. Could Scots learn a thing or two from the Irish? Or maybe not?  You’d have thought the Scottish cultural air would be thrumming with an accrued history of intellectual fighting […] more »

Lamentation over the Boston tapes does not prevent us dealing with the past

Sun 30 March 2014, 2:19pm

Tweet Newton Emerson ‘s bleak assessment of how to deal with the past deserves serious attention (£). The Boston College tapes make a mockery of all high-blown talk about “dealing with the past”. The idea that a formal process of investigation, truth recovery and historical assessment into 3,700 Troubles deaths could work at all, let […] more »

Reliance on the Boston tapes would be a long term mistake

Sat 22 March 2014, 6:56pm

Tweet I have no particular sympathy for this frail 77 year old grandfather. There may indeed be short term gains in bringing the case to court. The reliability of the Boston tapes as evidence will be tested. Will corroboration in any form be produced? If the tapes are regarded as sufficient in this case what […] more »

Latest comments from Brian Walker (see all)

Brian Walker has commented 1,085 times (13 in the last month).

  1. Comment on The Easter Rising: romance and regret but no barrier to reconciliation
    on 24 April 2014 at 6:48 pm

    . seann . but doomed to fail. by the lights of the times and situation..

    Nice point about the Wild Geese who benefited from the Treaty of Limerick for which there was no equivalent that I know of in 1916

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  2. Comment on The Easter Rising: romance and regret but no barrier to reconciliation
    on 24 April 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Harry says:
    “The men of 1916 were soldiers, their nation recognises them as such today. The definition of who constituted an Irish soldier was not the preserve of the men of Aldershot or Whitehall.”
    A perfect statement of misunderstanding, I’m afraid.
    What their nation does today is irrelevant to my point. This is ideology not argument and is one of the reasons why we get so tangled up with our history today.
    Sorry but you can’t self-define your status, just like that or argue teleologically i.e.backwards from a desired conclusion or an ultimately achieved result. The invocation of the Irish people and Irish tradition may be a splendid spur to action but it isn’t enough. It lacked the legitimacy of facts on the ground that the insurgency later created or the democratic validation which you could say- just about – that the election of 1918 gave to the IRA campaign. Even there of course the sources of legitimacy weren’t clear and came into direct conflict in the civil war. It took time for the Dail to become an effective challenge to British rule, It failed for example to win the recognition of the Americans and the others at the Versailles Peace Conference.
    Now you may say they deserved recognition and were honourable and so forth. This again is strictly irrelevant. I am not saying they deserved execution because they were bad people. I am making the limited point that the legal government of the day was faced with an armed rebellion in time of desperate war and inflicted much less severe punishment than many other states before, during and after.

    Other sentences were commuted, Willie Pearse who was a brother not a leader, should have been spared. The quality of the contemporary debate about the executions was high and impressive and centred on the use of martial law and the speed of the executions. Even General Maxwell predicted the political fall-out. It’s interesting to note that the prosecutor of the 1916 leaders served as legal adviser to the British administration to 1920 and then served as a Free State High Court judge until 1936. His 1916 role was therefore no anathema to the successor government..( His papers are in the Republic’s National Archives but are not open to scrutiny. Pity)

    On your comparisons..

    The Free Poles etc were the legatees of a defeated state still recognised as a legitimate government by the Allies.

    . . Would you say that the Russian – speaking Ukrainians who have an undoubted cause and are now occupying buildings are belligerents and should have their Donetsk republic recognised? If you do Putin would agree with you. He too might create a new reality but he lacks the appealing balm of sacrifice and victimhood

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  3. Comment on The Easter Rising: romance and regret but no barrier to reconciliation
    on 24 April 2014 at 12:38 am

    Re leniency over the 15 executed. You can’t move the goal posts at will. Just by putting on a uniform and calling yourself a republic doesn’t qualify you for belligerent status in anyone’s law. I admit that republicanism has always between good at imagining a reality in order to make it so.

    I continue to marvel that British sensibilities had not been so coarsened by war that old Liberal values still survived. Contrast that with the ruthless behaviour of the Germans in Belgium and the Austrians in Serbia in 1914, to name but two examples. The Irish although not quite “us” were nevertheless close enough not to qualify as an enemy and therefore as a belligerent.

    Things changed of course. From 1919 the legitimacy of British rule in Ireland weakened well before the Treaty not only because of the IRA campaign but because Sinn Fein showed it was able to paralyse the British administration and even take over some of its functions such as with the Dail courts.

    When reprisal killings were authorised by Lloyd George in 1920, the moral authority of British rule vanished – again in my opinion.

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  4. Comment on The Easter Rising: romance and regret but no barrier to reconciliation
    on 22 April 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Well now of course I haven’t said all that can be said about the leaders or anything else.

    Seann.. The climax of Pearse’s life was the Rising and he expected, indeed longed, to be judged on it. Otherwise, St Enda’s would have been only a footnote in the story of the language movement. Pearse may have been a committed educationalist but even here he seems to have over compensated with a certain shrill Irish Irishness. I admit that’s a matter of taste.

    He was no monster. The Proclamation is a moving document and he had a hand in it I believe. His surrender is well documented and impressed those who talked to him. He reminds me of a very different character the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who following John Henry Newman taught in UCD for a while 25 years or so previously. There is a similar strain of private ecstasy put into words suggesting suppression that both had in common – in Hopkins case non- politically. I decided to call a halt before going on to Kevin O Higgins.

    I could have reflected that Desmond FitzGerald must have been a disaster as chief cook in the GPO if he was anything like his son Garret. A few years ago I spent a pleasant hour with Garret going through his fathers’ collection of British imperial comics and stories of derring-do. That’s as close as I got to the people of 1916

    Nevin.. as usual you really know what I mean. The self sacrifice..

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  5. Comment on “it struck me that there was an air of inevitability about the whole thing…”
    on 15 April 2014 at 6:44 pm

    I’m not quite sure what Alex Kane is saying .Yes, he’s right to register the gap between the metropolitan centres and the northern periphery which will not be allowed any longer to put a drag on the relationship between the States. And about time too. But I’m not with him when he says: “One thing is clear: the Assembly will not survive if the DUP and Sinn Fein cannot find it within themselves to govern together in the best interests of everyone in Northern Ireland.”

    The Assembly will survive unless the parties themselves pull the plug. They have absolutely no incentive to do so. We are in limbo (or maybe purgatory, old school theologians?) not in hell . With slow recovery on the way in the south ( yes it is), the other Dublin parties will be entitled to point out that if SF continues to make a bog of governing in NI despite all the money thrown at them why should they be trusted with a share of it in the Republic? Other than that, bribery from London is just about finished and despite warm words at the banquet and Downing St. I wouldn’t count on anything more coming from London and Dublin at all -with the Union under threat and post bailout politics dominating the south and elections, elections and more elections to win or lose .
    . NI has never had less impact outside its own territory. “Change is inevitable, “ says Alex. If so, from below, surely. Sadly there is so little pressure to change built into a political system in which everyone wins prizes.

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  6. Comment on Lissadell, always romantic. But the jinx lingers
    on 13 April 2014 at 10:31 am

    There’s a contrary view of Constance to Yeats’ I can’t resist quoting Kevin Myers’ column in the Sunday Times, attacking the idea of 1916 “celebrations.” I know, I know, over the top for most people but all the same, a great provocative read…

    “In her fine work Renegades, Ann Matthews quotes nurse Geraldine Fitzgerald, who saw Constance Markievicz with a pistol in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “[W]e] saw a policeman walking down the footpath . . . we heard a shot,” the eyewitness recalled. “The countess ran triumphantly into the Green, saying ‘I got him’, and some of the rebels shook her by the hand and seemed to congratulate her.” Good stuff, though perhaps the cigarette should be edited out: we don’t want to give children wrong ideas.
    So when the royal party arrives at St Stephen’s Green, some lucky person is going to have to explain why we erected a bust to this aristocratic lady (born at Buckingham Gate, London, a stone’s throw from the palace) for shooting dead an unarmed peasant from Clare as if he were a mere pheasant at Lissadell….”

    “Anyway, there’s absolutely nothing to celebrate about this period, whether on the rolling pastures of Picardy, the iron ramparts of Verdun, the Lakes of Masuria or in the smoky streets of Dublin, as civilisation was butchered on the cannibal-altars of national pride and imperial hubris. Europe can only contemplate this period with a deep shame at the many millions of lost and ruined lives.
    The Easter Rising admittedly brought in its train fresh freedoms: the freedom to murder policemen emerging from mass, to expel thousands of Protestants and even burn down the Protestant orphanage in Clifden, the freedom for the new Irish government to execute 77 captives, the freedom to impose a Catholic ethos on the entire population, and the freedom to censor. In 1956, a Labour justice minister boasted in the Dail that 6,169 books were on the banned list. That decade, hundreds of thousands of people fled this republic, which had effectively become western Europe’s only failed democratic state.”

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  7. Comment on While Britain and Europe’s tectonic plates move, we argue about Orangemen and Ardoyne
    on 12 April 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Nice one isn’t it?

    Comparisons.. Norway and Sweden..
    Both countries are members of the Schengen Area, and there are therefore no immigration controls. However, only Sweden is part of the European Union, so there are customs checks. These are performed by the Norwegian Customs and Excise Authorities and the Swedish Customs Service. These checks are sporadic along the Norway–Sweden border. Both countries emphasise checks against other countries.

    But the UK isn’t part of Schengen. Could Ireland, Scotland and rUK negotiate a new temporary common travel area? I’ve also heard an eminent legal authorities arguing for the EU to keep the customs union for Scotland until full EU membership is negotiated and a decision is reached on any in-out referendum for rUK.

    Pretty tricky stuff. Is it to be back to the pre-1965 Irish border, when the UK and Ireland negotiated a free trade treaty?

    The Swiss have just voted in a referendum for immigration controls to the annoyance of Brussels. What we could be seeing is a far looser EU. I agree it’s all very hairy. The London government is refusing to discuss the options even hypothetically in advance of the September referendum.

    I’m with Mr Micawber on this..

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  8. Comment on After the Visit, the greater epiphany?
    on 12 April 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I hardly expected my analysis to be welcomed with open arms but I’m pleasantly surprised to see how retrained and limited are the criticisms. The appeals to democracy which Unionists are held to have violated are no kind of clincher as there was no agreement over the territory to which democracy applied. I’ve gone only a little further here than orthodoxy in the Republic which amounts to a considerable victory for revisionism. This revisionism is of course about more than history, being more concerned to promote harmony between different traditions today. Whatever the flaws in revisionism for historians, I do think it’s broadly true that southern nationalism made a fundamental error in underestimating unionist power right up to the GFA – ironically at a point when that power can be seen to have considerably declined.

    We are now it seems to me in a state of some flux when the unionist majority has almost disappeared but political debate of an emerging new situation is suppressed for fear of reviving past horrors. If they chose to keep playing the zero sum game , unionism and nationalism are left with a choice, whether to stick to core identities in the hope of somehow toughing it out, or wooing the other side with concessions to win a new margin for victory. They could of course abandon the game but the contours of a new game are far from clear. For that they’ll need greater support from the metropolitan powers than warm words and an invitation to dinner.

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  9. Comment on Whatever you do, don’t mention the war dead…
    on 10 April 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Note that Mary wrote in full of her late husband Sir Geoffrey, Leeds born, fellow philosopher and former vice chancellor of Oxford University but nevertheless ….

    “Though people sometimes talk as if the Troubles began in the 1970s, this is far from true. They were centuries old; and the Irish have extraordinarily long memories. (I did not live for nearly 50 years with an atheist but fanatically Protestant Ulsterman without becoming aware of this.) (I did not live for nearly 50 years with an atheist but fanatically Protestant Ulsterman without becoming aware of this.)

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