Nationalist and unionist cynicism is responsible for these grotesque caricatures

They say that the creepiest place on earth is the Aokigahara Forest in Japan, home to the damned hordes of yūrei, or ghosts of the dead.

Drawing the short straw for Northern Ireland in any cabinet reshuffle must often feel like a one-way ticket to that mythical Sea of Trees: Once a Secretary of State goes in, they seldom make it out. Certainly not with a plausible reputation.

James Brokenshire, now officially in a reflective mood, must be mournfully aware of this.

Theresa Villiers and her genuinely endearing, strained smile have been missing, presumed dead, for almost a year now. Occasionally, within the dark spaces of Hillsborough Forest Park, something rises up and rattles around the woods in a terrible, shrieking crescendo.

But, nobody hears. Nobody listens. Nobody talks.

Lenny Kravitz’s iconic hit ‘Fly Away’ was fittingly released in 1998, but the risk of our own politicians deciding to roost up in the treetops of temporisation was downplayed by Arlene Foster on Tuesday:

“We will [actually] keep working over the summer months to try to get agreement and come back again in the autumn.”

Foster’s deciduous words are genuinely upsetting. Their textured bark generates a feeling inside that essentially says “So, you mean… that’s that, then?”

The entire process is a delicate one but putting the Talks resolution on the long finger, this time, is another poke in the eye for a loyal and (increasingly) masochistic electorate.

Theresa May should just pull the plug entirely. The entire mess might just finally drain away and wash out into the Irish Sea. Charlie Lawson wouldn’t have to worry about how many counties there are in Ulster then.

All that would be left are the gnarled and wet roots of blackened hope, and the chainsawed tree-tops of circumcised progress.

If anyone anywhere possesses a scrapbook of a time when our parties were actually able, or willing, to be pulled, pushed and cajoled, they’d smile thinly.

Fond moments, with meaningful Memories of Mo and Pictures of Peters, Hain and Mandelson, would stare up from the pages inside. (Scratch that last one – sure we didn’t really like him that much, did we?)

If those seminal figures of the peace process embodied the terms Strong and Stable, then their recent contemporaries in the office of Secretary of State have been to look like painted pastiches with a poisoned chalice.

But make no mistake: it is the artists of nationalist and unionist cynicism who are responsible for these futile caricatures.

The image of Foster’s Saturday morning wedding trip and Adams’ afternoon attendance at the equality march was indeed a beautiful marrying together of two distinctive styles; a post-conflict post-modern composition you might call it!

An oceanful of warnings and ramifications and blame have been frequently uttered in the first half of this week. Michelle O’Neill yesterday sought to clarify the current impasse, citing it as a “consequence of the DUP supporting the prime minister”.

The grand old Oak Tree of her party, An Máistir Puipéad, Gearoid, stared stoically ahead. You could barely see his lips move.

The DUP leader said on Monday that“[Sinn Fein] can lead us inexorably towards direct rule, and they know the consequences of that.” When Mrs Foster spoke to the media her collar was up, the tone was raised and her words sparkled sharply like the bejewelled suit of Elvis himself.

Brokenshire yesterday began that relentless garden path expedition to Direct Rule, by implying that he might soon implement an NI Budget from Westminster itself.

Yes; a little less conversation and a little more action please. Thank you very much.

The restless irritation of the Thistle and The Dragon across the water should also be calmed. There is no threat from this inconsequential Island outpost.

On talks that have gone on for far too long, a logical person would now surely expect a focus on the finer details of deals, compromises and potential legislation and implementation.

But the timeless Us and Them politicking has obscured our vision: We’re seeing, not enough wood, but too many trees.

The political waters lie cold and still at the moment, numbed by the chilling effect of the latest deadlock. But the worry of what lies beneath is bubbling beneath the surface.

It’s clear that life vests will be mandatory if our Political Institutions have any chance of staying afloat, in our very own Sea of Trees.

  • Croiteir

    Can you sum that up in one paragraph and let me know what exactly your point is, too much verbiage

  • Granni Trixie

    I think he’s saying “you couldn’t make it up”. And he’s right.

  • Karl

    Very true. One group committed to the demise of the country want to pass laws that exist in all the other countries in a union which they hate and the other group that thinks the union is brilliant, is refusing to pass those same laws.
    SF are more British than the uber British in NI and the uber British in NI are doing all they can to mark themselves out from the British and align with ROI health services and tax law.
    SF should designate as unionist and the DUP as nationalist.
    We live in interesting times.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I think he is trying to say UNIONISM as won for the time being in the UNITED KINGDOM of the FREE DEMOCRATIC VOTE and its up to others to accept such facts and work politically with it to the benefit of all our people ??????

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ever since the advent of NICRA, the opposition to Unionism has effectively been more British than Unionism itself. But then poor John Redmond was probably more “British” than carson, which is why “advanced nationalism” preferred the northern Unionists to boring old constitutionalist politics.

  • babyface finlayson

    He is saying theDUP can’t see the wood s for the Theresa

  • SeaanUiNeill


  • DB McGinnity

    Many years ago when I worked in mental health when there as a fight between two patients. One protested: That eejit claims to be Lord Lucan, and how can he be when I am?” This phenomenon is called psychosis
    that has been inherent in Ireland since: The Bull of Pope Adrian IV in 1155 Empowering Henry II to Conquer Ireland. And the arrival Richard de Clare,
    2nd Earl of Pembroke. This madness never went away. Since then Ireland has been filled with psychosis that cannot be appealed to by reason. Please do not try to reason this.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Seaan’s eloquently monosyllabic response might be lost on you but then so much is.

  • 05OCT68

    Karl GB has progressed re: LGBT rights, abortion & indigenous languages. Progressive western policies that other countries take for granted. SF (& I’m not a shinner) have aligned themselves to progressive policies, you could just as easily make the argument that want the social policies of say Sweden. What’s missed is that NI has moved very little. Just because GB has liberal policies SF don’t have to be against them.

  • 05OCT68

    Won!?!?, that’s an attitude that I as an Nationalist will continue to oppose. Why does Unionism need a win to feel secure?

  • Zeno3

    I read on another thread that Germany had just passed legislation to allow gay marriage last week. There is going to be a legal challenge to that in their courts and they are only the 15th European Country to pass the law. So an awful lot of countries are not “progressive”.

  • 05OCT68

    Not unusual that Germany is late to the party given its large Catholic & Evangelical population. My point would be is that GB has a more European outlook than Unionist NI. SF a party opposed to the EU has had to change/modify/ditch that position given the fact that most Nationalists are pro EU.

  • Zeno3

    There are 43 Countries in Europe not counting Russia. So NI is not in a minority regarding SSM. That’s the bit I found odd. No one mentions that when NI is being called backward.

  • Nevin

    We’ve had a form of shared administration since 1985 yet no mention of James Brokenshire’s opposite number, Simon Coveney, Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade:

    “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said yesterday that he stands ready to introduce the necessary legislation at Westminster to allow an Executive to be formed once the necessary political agreement is reached between the parties.

    The Governments can support and encourage but, in the final analysis, it is only the parties themselves that can make an agreement with each other. All sides may now wish to reflect on how progress can best be made and I would encourage the parties to maintain dialogue with each other over the coming weeks. .. DFAT 4 July 2017

    It would appear that James and Simon, as well as Theresa and Leo, are keen to keep Stormont as an arm’s length body.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I think this one word thing is very much a first for me.

  • 05OCT68

    It’s the GB comparison that’s important here, NI is part of the UK .In signing up to the GFA SF have accepted that, for now, NI is British. They see no dichotomy in wanting the same freedoms that other Britain’s enjoy. Fundamental freedoms should be the same across the regions, devolution yes on matters of tax, health & education etc. Unionism has ignored the fact that Britain has progressed & it’s Unionism’s fault that NI is not as British as Finchley. You only have to look at the reaction in Britain of the DUP/Tory pact.

  • Salmondnet

    Northern Ireland is a hell of a lot more British than Finchley, or indeed London

  • 05OCT68

    Naw it’s not.

  • babyface finlayson


  • SeaanUiNeill

    My concern is that without fully unpacking what I’m discussing my comments would become just as pointless as most of the terse posters on slugger. Without the orange or green lenses I seem to see much too clearly to sum complex things up in soundbites. But don’t let me stop you……

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But what does “British” actually mean in the manner in which you are using it? And how can someone living apart from the British landmass be more British than someone actually living in Britian? Simply on the geographical point it is important to remember that we are not living in Britain, as any examination of how Britain is customarily used will reveal. In this context it is of some interest that the Wikipedia article on “Britishness” does not mention NI once:

    We are at this time living in something called the United Kingdom of Great Britain, (composed of England wales and Scotland) and Northern Ireland (which is six counties in the north eastern part of Ireland). When we are mentioned on the BBC news, there is an unconscious default in most speakers to describe us as “Irish” I usually find. Of course around half of the people in these six counties would consider themselves as “British”, and have the right to have this self-description respected by the other half in a mutual respect clause enshrined in that Belfast Agreement, but no such requirement under international treaty has been demanded of those British living in Britain itself, who seem to regard us as, well, “Irish.” Telling them that they are in some incomprehensible manner less “British” than us is hardly the most sensitive way to effect the mutual recognition of a cohesive Britishness.