A failure to communicate?

Last Sunday was the 60th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech but has the peace process produced anything comparable?

Immediately after WWII, many were in denial of the new geo-political realities but Churchill encapsulated it with his speech at Westminster college. Speeches have often summed up a mood or helped people understand complex political issues. For Unionists two 20th century examples would be the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant of 1912 and Harold McCusker’s speech in the Anglo-Irish Agreement debate.

However has any political leader managed a speech to define the period of the peace process? David Trimble’s Nobel speech fell flat. Hume’s instantly forgettable. Ahern has many political skills but speeches isn’t one of them. Blair has delivered a number but none seem to stick in the mind except possibly the seven broken pledges. Although Blair did give the now cringe-worthy “hand of history” sound-byte. Adams and Ervine disappear into process speak. Even Paisley, a man who can command every oratorical device hasn’t delivered anything memorable.

Is this communication gap contributing to the public malaise about political developments?

  • Pat Bateman

    What about the DUP’s Boots McKee’s famous and heartfelt opus to Larne Borough Council’s Public Services Committee (Oct 04)

    “Certainly I have to say that certainly, not being au fait with the issue, that I certainly, and I make no apologies for saying it, would have to say, certainly that I must say that as a public representative I am more than apprehensive…” and so on for twenty minutes every Monday night at 8PM.

  • heck

    not quite a speech but are the quotations from the writings of Bobby Sands memorable?

  • DK

    “When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “Yes, but is it the God the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?”-Quentin Crisp

  • lah dee dah

    The silence is deafening!

  • Jill Robinson

    Churchill’s grandson wrote:

    “In the case of his great wartime speeches, my grandfather would regularly devote an hour of preparation to each minute of delivery. Thus it was not unusual for him to spend 30-40 hours preparing a single speech. What politician does that today? Perhaps that is why, even fifty years on, his speeches have the power to stir and thrill those who listen to them.”

    More here: http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=809

    Makes you wonder, did folks have more time in Winston’s day? What are our politicians doing that they can’t write their own speeches?

    It’s a universal thing. And not so recent. I recall my own disillusion when I learned that J.F.K. had somebody else write for him: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

    The irony, the irony 🙂

  • Brian Boru

    Well, I think it could be said that Trimble didn’t enthusiastically argue for the GFA in the referendum campaign and that may have contributed to the half-hearted Unionist support for it at the time, and the decline of it since. The UUP were presenting it almost as “it could have been worse”, instead of pointing out the concessions Unionists had gained, including Articles 2 and 3 scrapped, principle of consent enshrined in the Irish constitution, a far safer NI for his community, and ultimately economic benefits that would accrue from the implementation of the GFA (which sadly never had a very prolonged period of implementation to allow for the latter to happen). So to some degree I suppose oratory matters, but I also think that many Unionists are just too set in their ways to support any kind of compromise with “themuns”.

  • topdeckomnibus

    Pat Bateman

    As far as sleight of mouth speechifying goes, I commend to your attention:

    Mr Borley. Solicitor to Thanet District Council, Kent.

    The issue was the evidence given by Councillor William Hayton, of Thanet District Council and of Kent Police Authority, at Aldwych High Court 1998.

    Former Councillor Margaret Mortlock was suing former Councillor George Richard Maison for libel (she won).

    Hayton was called by Maison. And allegedly he told the High Court that there was no procedure of inquiry in place against Maison. This to imply that if there was no inquiry there had been no offence (the matter of assaulting nigh 80 year old Mrs M in a Council committee meeting)

    The fact is that in August 1997 Kent Police Authority had called on the Chief constable (david Phillips of the later short term Rosemary Nelson Decd case deployment) for inquiry and report touching on Maison, a paramilitary clad figure assaulting Mrs Mortlock 1996 (for which CID were refusing a confession from Swindells the convicted murderer of retired MI5 officer Ken Speakman), the Deal Barracks bombing, sabotage of backup generators, paramilitary activity within Territorial Army and paramilitary live fire training at the 6th Thanet Rifle Range (one of the neighbouring property owners being Bill Leadbeater the son of Mrs Mortlock … small world)

    It may be the case that the Chief constable was refusing to inquire and report. Thus strictly speaking there was no process of inquiry by police. But that is not the whole truth is it Cllr Hayton ?

    So facing a complaint to the Standards Committee of Thanet Council the council solicitor sort of prejudiced the outcome with his advice which (as I recall) ran something like this.

    “There are only two categories of witness in the High Court. Fact and Expert. Cllr Hayton appeared as a witness of fact with respect to the allegation that Cllr Maison had assaulted Cllr Mortlock during a committee meeting.

    The idea that Cllr Hayton was under a duty to ensure he told the High Court the facts is quite flawed. In effect if Cllr Hayton had checked his facts by asking other people then he would have been giving their evidence and not his own. That would be hearsay and inadmissible.

    So Cllr Hayton had to give his factual account as he alone saw it.

    he was under no obligation to check if his facts were correct”

    Cllr Neville Hudson helped the cause by with holding the case file of evidence from the knowledge of the Standards Committee.

    Some time after Cllr Hayton’s exoneration and more research … a letter to the redoubtable solicitor Borley.

    “You pointed out that there are only two categories of witness. Fact and Expert. Further inquiry has revealed that Cllr Hayton was on honour withdrawal from the committee meeting at the time of the alleged assault. The conditions for honour withdrawal (when a matter is discussed in which the councillor has an interest) is that the councillor withdraw beyond sight and earshot. IE Beyond the point where they are a witness of fact.

    That yields that the only condition Cllr Hayton could have given evidence was Expert by virtue of his elected offices.

    Why did he not tell the High Court about the call for inquiry by Kent Police Authority ? And why did he not tell the High Court about inquiry concerning the allegation that Maison ran a mail intercept at Thanet Council ?”

    And yes .. that was the cue for the eloquent silence.

    More on the letters at


    I have heard that Tony Blair’s head hunters have approached Mr Borley with an offer of a speech writer position

  • fair_deal


    “Articles 2 and 3 scrapped, principle of consent enshrined in the Irish constitution, a far safer NI for his community, and ultimately economic benefits that would accrue from the implementation of the GFA”

    That sums up the themes the UUP ran there 2005 election campaign on (plus of course “The DUP are evil, evil I tell you why wont you listen to us they are evil”).