From Irish Political Review: September 2008

Editorial Commentary

A Showcase of British Culture…

was to be the essence of the handing over display at the end of the Olympics in China. Patrick Murphy in the Irish News of 30th August said that all it (the performance and the culture) amounted to was "nothing more than a red bus, David Beckham and some woman singing". It was worse than that. There was a troupe of dancers. One assumes they were a troupe, in spite of appearances. About twenty people ponced about the place in no particular order or direction, and with no obvious rhyme, rhythm or, indeed, reason. Beckham was accompanied by an old man from Led Zeppelin trying to play raunchy rock on guitar. The others on the bus, apart from some child who won a Blue Peter competition, were half naked but otherwise purposeless. All that was missing was Gary Glitter—though some wit has suggested that they are saving him up for the Opening Ceremony in 2012—"do you wanna be in my gang?…"

What does Ulster Unionism…

make of all this, one has to ask; and indeed Mr. Murphy in the Irish News asks exactly that. Brendan Clifford, in this magazine, has said that British culture is shopping. Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail says it is shopping and stabbing. Beckham, for all that he may be a good footballer, is, alongside his wife, an international shopping brand. Belfast, though full of tanning parlours and their human products, has not quite adopted the full British culture of individual, isolated, but uni-formed shoppers. There is still a society in both Catholic areas in general (despite the virtual police condonement of anti-social behaviour), and in many Protestant communities. Experiments with late night and Sunday shopping have virtually collapsed, though they still keep the shops open in almost empty streets.

Nationalist/Unionist divisions…

are mostly expressed in differing attitudes to the Battle of the Somme although there has been a, so far unsuccessful, attempt by the Belfast News Letter to connect with current British Imperialism by having Victory Parades for Iraq and Pakistan around the Province. But, back when the issue was current, pro-imperialism was far greater in the South because it was thought out by the likes of Arthur Griffith, John Redmond and, in the end, Michael Collins. The remaining substantial difference was religion: the reasonable Protestant fear of Rome Rule. But that is gone forever.

In 1969 the Free State Army…

found itself completely inadequate to the task of helping defend Nationalist areas in the North against any British Army support for the RUC and the B-Specials. To be fair it set about righting that deficiency in quick time. After all the only war it was ever likely to be called upon to fight was one against the British. But this all came to an abrupt end when Jack Lynch crumbled before the British Ambassador and had politicians and soldiers arrested and tried. The Army was set up in 1922 as a force for internal repression. Fianna Fail altered the nature of the force during the Second World War so that it could combine with local militias and guerrilla forces to combat a British invasion. After that it was a subsidiary force of the United Nations when that body still had notions of aiding the weak—such as the Congolese under Lumumba or the people of South Lebanon.

Irish soldiers…

have more recently come into line with the Anglo-American view of what the army of a small country should be used for. So we have seen Irish soldiers in Britain's adventure in Sierra Leone and America's adventure in Afghanistan. These involved very small numbers, but they were all about developing a new military culture in Ireland. The result is a full-scale adventure in Chad in circumstances which only a self-deceiver could see as anything other than support and cover for French Imperialism.

Brian Cowen…

may have signalled the way that things were going in his speech to the Royal [sic] Irish Academy in late 2000, as Ireland was about to sit on the UN Security Council:
"On the Security Council Ireland will be making decisions on issues of international peace and security that come before the Council. Critical to all these decisions will be the ongoing ability of the international community through the UN and its cooperation with relevant regional organisations to deploy resources for conflict prevention, peacekeeping and crisis management, including humanitarian operations. Over recent years we have seen too many examples of the international community standing aside as helpless witnesses, seemingly overwhelmed by a sense of moral defeat, hesitating to become involved while innocent people suffer. Sometimes the failure to act is a failure of political will other times it is because the capabilities are not there. For a long time Ireland has shared the concerns of successive UN secretaries-general, and many like-minded member states, about the need to ensure that the UN's capabilities in these core areas of its responsibilities are strengthened. "

The Armies of smaller nations…

can be geared for the effective defence of their territories while performing useful social tasks at the same time. It would be a foolhardy state that tried to attack Sweden or Switzerland, Vietnam or Cuba. But the US and the UK do not like these sorts of armies. They generously offer to train armies which are useful only for backing up imperial adventures and for internal repression. They must necessarily be useless should the US or the UK decide to attack them. They must also be handy should US-financed elections not be sufficient to produce the right results. Such strategy was developed at Fort Benning in Georgia (USA) for Latin America. This is still the source of policy for many former members of the USSR, with results we have seen in the other Georgia. Britain "trains" its client armies in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Jordan, and several West African states. It now has begun to "share its expertise" with officers from Ireland. Time was when the Curragh was proud of turning out officers for African countries.

Sinn Fein…

has suffered a series of resignations by senior figures in recent times, mostly by disillusioned Republicans. Former Mayor of Dungannon, Barry Monteith, said: "I no longer share the belief that this [Sinn Fein's] strategy will lead to Irish unification. It is not solely about policing." Also to go were former Newry MLA, Davy Hyland; Mid-Ulster MLA, Geraldine Dougan; Garvaghy Road Spokesman, Breandan Mac Cionnaith; Fermanagh MLA, Gerry McHugh; Fermanagh Councillor, Bernice Swift; and Sinn Fein press officer, Eamonn Mac Manais (Irish News, August 6). It may be significant that there has been a serious leakage of members and an increase in so-called dissident activity in Fermanagh, but not in Tyrone or Armagh, which were much more active in the Provo war.

The Strategic Investment Board (SIB)…

in the North should not be confused with the Irish Development Authority (IDA). The IDA is a popular and successful body which brings industries, large and small, to the country. The Strategic Investment Board is there solely to develop the privatisation—Public Private Partnership strategies of the New Labour Government in London. And, it has to be said, none of the Parties in Stormont have any problem with this. In the Irish News (August 21) Newton Emerson complains that the SIB's Chief Executive is paid £213,000 a year, £20,000 more than the President of the World Bank. But that reflects the importance of a job designed to abolish the large tracts of Socialism that were left untouched by Thatcherism and Blair during the War. It seems we are now reaping the 'Peace Dividend'.

The Union Jack…

was flown at a recent festival on the main street in Letterkenny. Fianna Fail Councillor, Damien Blake, called those who objected bigots. He was replied to by J. Woods of Gort an Choirce in the Irish News of August 28: "A brief recollection, now, of why it's not just any old flag left to flutter in the breeze. Some of the atrocities carried in the name of the colourful Union Jack, that even a naïve councillor should be aware of: Bloody Sunday, the Croke Park massacre, the burning of Cork, the Ballymurphy massacre, the Gibraltar killings, the sinking of the General Belgrano full of young conscripts, the degradation and murder of innocent Iraqis and, just a week ago, the slaying of four children in Afghanistan by British soldiers."

Stormont and the PSNI's irrelevance…

is illustrated by the fact that the Stormont Government has not met for months and nobody notices. The police, meanwhile, are invisible. They appear only after an event, if then. And occasionally their vehicles can be seen near their barracks. But there are more MI5 spooks wandering the streets than all the active paramilitaries put together. Funny old world!

Annoying the dead:

Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Bishop Bill Murphy of Kerry have complained to the National Library that opening its archives to all will allow Mormons to get the necessary details to re-baptise dead Catholics into the Mormon Church. Meanwhile in England, Peter Tatchel and the lads are up in arms about the proposed exhumation and reburial of Cardinal Newman prior to his canonisation. Newman shared the latter part of his life with Fr. Ambrose St. John for whom he declared great love and next to whom he is buried. A Senior Catholic, Austen Ivereigh, put the matter in context on the BBC's Sunday programme: "I don't think anyone disputes that Cardinal Newman deeply loved Ambrose St John. He did say after St. John died that the grief is comparable to a husband losing a wife or a wife losing a husband, but he did not mean that the relationship with Ambrose St John was a marriage like a gay relationship. It is simply wrong to read back from today's categories…"

Financial state of Northern Parties:

According to the Electoral Commission, DUP donations jumped significantly—from £12,166 in 2006 to £190,144 last year. Excess income was £40,446. The SDLP had an income of £663,674—almost double that of 2006—but its deficit increased to £130,691. The UUP had a deficit of £405,647 in 2007. A statement of the Sinn Fein account from the Commission said £298,710 was brought in through donations in 2007 compared with £103,377 the previous year. The returns also revealed Sinn Fein had an income of more than £1 million in 2007, including donations, grants and contributions from elected representatives. The party has 27 Assembly members, five MPs and an MEP. Ministers in the Assembly give their salaries to the party. Its largest expenditure was on wages, administration and conferences, with a total of £41,092 devoted to security costs and £25,741 to political development. Sinn Fein's balance sheet showed a surplus of £108,330. (Belfast News Letter July 31)

Greaves School:

The only report in the Irish Times from the Desmond Summer School was on Saturday, August 30th, where the paper reported from the previous night's session that Oxford University Professor, Dr. Simon Prince, had said that there had been no need for the Civil Rights demonstrators in Derry in 1968 to take to the streets. Dr. Prince refuted the claim that he had said this during one of the Saturday sessions. The Irish Times ignored this as well as views of interesting characters from the time such as Sean Garland, Edwina Stewart, Seamus O'Tuthaill, Michael Farrell, Seamus Rattigan and others.

Michael Collins was…

the inspiration for changing the GAA's Rule 42 allowing the playing of Rugby and soccer in Croke Park according to former GAA President, Tom Kelly. Kelly, who was the man most responsible for pushing through the change, made the claim at the Collins Commemoration at Beal na mBlath on August 24th. He claimed that the opening up of Croke Park helped to heal the wounds of the Civil War!?

Former IRA prisoners…

may lodge appeals against IRA membership convictions. According to The Guardian on August 24th, 300 Republicans may adopt this course in order to be able to secure visas for the US, Canada and Australia and to avoid discrimination. A former IRA prisoner questioned by this magazine said he had no problems getting into the US (a visa is not required) and in Ireland the only body discriminating against former IRA Volunteers seeking work in the Simon Community—though the chances of a job at Arlene Foster's office would probably be pretty slim. Former or current IRA membership is a positive asset in many cases. Nevertheless, a great number of convictions were based on Confessions extorted under torture and it is as well that the scale on which this happened be exposed.

Rip-off Ireland?

There has been a recent flurry of letters and comments in the Southern Province about rip-off prices in restaurants. Pat Murphy, of this parish, some time ago expressed his astonishment at the practice of people going out to eat and then getting upset about the size of the bill. The notion of going to a restaurant without having some idea of the cost was beyond his understanding or indeed that of most people. But part of the Celtic Tiger culture among the "haves" was not to worry about prices. A woman on RTE radio recently described the wonderful feeling of no longer having to have a conscience about paying 400 euros for a pair of shoes. Affluence among a sizeable minority is a serious cause of inflation. This is also experienced when there is an influx of idle rich foreigners into places like rural Spain and France.

And Finally!

It has emerged from Belfast City Hall that a couple of youth workers were called out as an emergency a few weeks ago to tackle a dozen youngsters in East Belfast who were verbally abusing trainee police officers at a local barracks. Poor dears!

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