Eamon got it right

In my earlier post about sporting loyalties, my comment has attracted attention:

My definition of an NI liberal incidentally is someone who wants the Republic (when it is the Republic only) to come in second and even sometimes first. An NI bigot is one who wants the Republic to come in last.

I’ve just remembered the most memorable comment ever on the subject, from sports lover Eamon McCann – ideologically consistent, but just a wee bit unexpected. It was on that day in 2005 when my daughter and I were in her London flat with her English mates watching Northern Ireland vs England at Windsor Park, remember? We ended up on the floor screaming. Not usually like me, I can tell you. Anyway, here’s Eamon’s wonderfully generous piece in full text. Inscribe it on your hearts.

Rooting for England

(Eamonn McCann, Sunday Journal)

“Here’s hoping England give Norn Iron a good spanking,” Andersonstown News editor Robin Livingstone breathed a fervent wish at the beginning of the week.

Many Nationalists across the North will have been wholly in agreement. Few will be fooled by ex-post-facto claims of satisfaction that, in the wondrous event, it was England took the spanking…. Certain politicians pressed for a quote on Thursday morning made the best they could of their sad situation. Those who’d most fanatically hoped to see the North hammered were the ones with rictus grins now affixed to their faces as they forced themselves to say, sure, they were pleased the oul’ enemy had left chastened and chased, with a flea in the ear and no points in the bag.

At the beginning of the week I took part in a handful of radio programmes in which I expressed my hope-against-hope that Lawrie’s lads would eviscerate the Brit mixum-gatherum of millionaire mediocrities. One common Nationalist reaction was sheer incredulity. Ah, come on, you can’t mean it…

Dunphy, Dunseith and Cooper separately suggested there was a stark contradiction here: militant Nationalists cheering on England (never-ending source of all our ills, and so forth) against an Irish eleven.

Maybe. And maybe not.

Take a closer look at Robin Livingstone’s rant.

He would be disappointed, he reckoned, if “the bottomless pit of enmity and the cavernous morass of malice that I bear towards Our Wee Pravince has not by this time articulated itself to everyone who knows me.”

The scornful mimicry of a supposedly distinctive Protestant/Unionist accent may not be as bad-minded as Bernard Manning jeering at the speech-patterns of “Pakis.” The Andytown editor won’t have seen it like that. But the parallels are close enough to be concerning.

Recalling “a flight attendant with a Ballymena accent” welcoming passengers to “Northern Ireland,” Livingstone, “looked up from my book and fired off a dirty look (which) went fizzing past her averted head like a badly-aimed RPG.” We won’t ponder the significance of that choice of simile, for fear of being driven to a disturbing conclusion, but might wonder instead at the derisive reference, again, to an assumed Prod/Unionist accent.

I have a minibus load of nieces from Ballymena. Brilliant broad Ballymena accents, every one of them, that they are not the slightest bit coy about. But I hope they take care to speak sotto voce in the vicinity of Robin Livingstone. He might fire off only verbal missiles. But you never know how others within hearing range might opt to ape him.

“The dread words ‘Northern Ireland’ never pass my lips,” he continued. ” I physically wince every time I hear them.”

Does he now? He must do an awful lot of wincing.

What’s the name of the Assembly the Andytown News is mad keen to see up and running again? The Northern Ireland Assembly.

What Executive did politicians the ‘paper admires serve in with distinction? The Northern Ireland Executive.

What police force has Robin Livingstone’s preferred party pledged to endorse as soon as a few changes (NOT including a name-change) are in place? The Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Strange as it might seem to mainstream broadcasters, the attitudes aren’t contradictory, but complementary.

It’s because some Nationalists are uneasy at their own acceptance of Northern Ireland that they feel they have to make a show of rhetorical opposition to it.

It is because, in practical terms, they have endorsed the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland State that they denounce symbolic representations of it all the more loudly.

The campaign to obliterate Northern Ireland having halted, they turn to battle on who’ll rule the roost within it. Communal hostility replaces the struggle for an all-Ireland. This is a pattern of play which corresponds ever more closely with the political mind-set of the Mad Mullahs of Orangeism.

It’s in this context that militant Nationalism comes to be expressed in a desire to see blue noses ground into the dirt, even by Brits. In fact, especially by Brits.

It is now the main perspective of a growing tendency within Nationalism that a united Ireland can best and maybe only be brought about by England hammering the Prods until they see that there’s no point persisting with, as Robin Livingstone would put it, Our Wee Pravince, and reconcile themselves instead to an all-Ireland arrangement.

It makes sense for such Nationalists to roar England on as they suppress Northern Ireland.

Except that it didn’t work out like that at all, did it? Nor will it in the real world.

Wonderful result at Windsor on Wednesday. Pity the Free State let us down But shouldn’t we be used to that, too, by now?

September 12, 2005
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This article appeared in the September 11, 2005 edition of the Sunday Journal.

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