Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The flight now landing ...

I've done a few stupid things in my life, to be sure, but I'm still well short of the guy who landed a commercial flight at Ballykelly MOD base today.

He was flying the Eirjet plane, with 39 passengers aboard, on a scheduled Ryanair flight from Liverpool to Derry when he eyeballed the Ballykelly runway, six miles from where he was meant to be going. A Ryanair spokesman said this was an "error by the Eirjet pilot who mistakenly believed he was on a visual approach to City of Derry airport". Personally I wouldn't trust this guy to be on a visual approach to his own kitchen. He needs a guide dog.

How many Ulster politicos are as sure of themselves as Captain Eirhead? There's a lesson here for us all. Maybe we should aim to be 90% sure of ourselves instead of 100%, checking our coordinates instead of going "ram stam".

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Joint sovereignty

It's not about pot, but is it a cure for the hallucinations of the DUP?

After the euphoria of the Good Friday Agreement, the 'hand of history' and all that, we had a semi-devolved government which worked OK but was blown apart by the alleged scheming of UK government agencies along the lines of a Cold War novel. The fallout from this political Nagasaki is still settling.

Although the IRA has disarmed, the biggest elected party (the DUP) refuses to believe it and therefore refuses to work with Sinn Féin (many reckon it refuses to work with Sinn Féin and justifes this by refusing, against all odds, to believe the IRA has decommissioned). The only word they can say is 'no'.

So while the wee boys are squabbling in the playground, headmaster Tony Blur and housemaster Peter Hain are threatening to introduce joint sovereignty (by UK and Éire), which is to Ian Paisley the equivalent of inviting Osama bin Laden to run the London Borough of Hackney.

I hope Blur's strategy works. I hope it shocks the DUP into being as committed to democracy as Socialist Republicanism now claims to be. If the "D" in its name has any meaning, it must recognise the electoral mandate of Sinn Féin and the SDLP and set about working with them to create a fully devolved, representative, partnership-style government in Belfast.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Things are getting Óglaigh

How many armies is a nation state allowed to have? Irish Defence Minister Willie O'Dea reckons only one. Gerry Adams & Co agree. Trouble is, they're referring to different armies.

Sinn Féin proudly sells t-shirts with 'Óglaigh na hÉireann' motifs. Whereas they might argue that every party activist is metaphorically a 'soldier of Ireland' (the literal meaning), the title is of course that of none other than the Provisional IRA, the terrorist organisation widely believed to have been largely peopled during the Troubles by the same folk as Provisional Sinn Féin.

The rift goes back to the early days of the Irish Free State in the 1920's when Sinn Féin broke away from the mainstream Fianna Fáil party and now, several splinters later, claims to be the only legitimate government of Ireland.

It's interesting to see how Sinn Féin's rebelliousness is not just against the British, but equally against the elected government of the sovereign state they want Northern Ireland to be annexed to.

Wille O'Dea has written three times to Gerry Adams, asking him to bin the t-shirts, but he's done nothing so far. Three other letters to Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the SF rep in Dáil Éireann, have gone unanswered. (Statesmanlike, what?)

Actually, Sinn Féin have got themselves into this pickle by failing to bring this detail of their activities into line with the declared policy of Socialist Republicanism to use exclusively democratic means. Democracy means respecting elected governments and their institutions. It means recognising the sovereignty of the nation state and, in this instance, accepting there is only one legitimate Irish Army, namely the one trained, equipped, managed and controlled by the elected government of Éire.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I caught 10 minutes of Tony Blur's speech on global terrorism yesterday and sat open-mouthed because he was talking sense eloquently. I missed the bit where, having posed the question as to whether a Muslim terrorist is a true Muslim, he said, "They are no more proper Muslims than the Protestant bigot who murders a Catholic in Northern Ireland is a proper Christian. But, unfortunately, he's still a Protestant bigot".
Oh-oh! Red alert in Ballymena. Ian Paisley has taken the hump and called the remark "ill-thought out and provocative". But would he have done so if Blur had talked of a Catholic bigot who murdered a Protestant? I think not. Yet both happened many times. Other than the colour of their bigotry, not a lot separates Michael Stone and Seán Kelly.
By responding this way Paisley is just heaping ridicule upon himself from Downing Street - not exactly helping the cause his voters elected him to pursue.
How much better, how much more conciliatory the following response would have been: "The prime minister's remarks are accurate but incomplete. I would remind him that bigotry in Ireland is a shared problem, and to portray it as one-sided is to ignore half the problem which he and I need to help resolve".
I once heard one of the Corrymeela leaders say that no one in Ireland had ever been killed because of transubstantiation, one of the big doctrinal differences between Roman Catholicism and Post-Reformation Christianity. He was right because church teaching differs in the detail but not in the substance. (As someone with reasonable exposure to churches outside these islands, I'd say Irish Catholicism places much more emphasis on divisive doctrine than mainland Europe where there's much less praying to Mary and much more ecumenism).
The truth is that, in Ireland, 'Protestant' and 'Catholic' are religious labels for cultural (indeed tribal) differences and essentially have nothing to do with religion. And so it is that Seán Kelly and Michael Stone both killed even when their respective flavours of Christianity teach the 6th commandment "Don't kill". They prized the label but not the faith.
Whatever tribe you're from, look at the essence of what your church has taught your ancestors down the ages. It's a good message. Turn away from hatred and anger and simply accept God's forgiveness (further reading here). Forgiven people can do Big things.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The day after

"Hey Gerry, trouble sittin' still, boy?", George W. seems to be saying at yesterday's St. Paddy's bash in Washington. Personally, I don't know what 'secondary security screening' at US airports involves, but I think I'll just opt for the primary version if given the option. Trouble is, you don't get given the option, and if you're on the US 'terrorist watchlist' you have to be prepared for a bit more than a few leg pats and a polite request to take your laptop out.

Anyway, back in the real world the Big Ulsterwoman and I went out for a good evening last night, downing - ooh - three pints of Guinness (a major feat when you reach a certain age, believe me). The atmosphere was great, and the music even better. I even had a few tears in my eyes when "The town I love so well" came on the PA, even though I'm not from Derry and, if I was, wouldn't be from that side of town. Ah, but sure it's what being Irish is all about. Forget your troubles, forget political differences, concentrate on the essentials. Goodwill to all, etc.

To all my readers - a happy 'day after'.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Psychle paths

The only thing standing between me and a defibrillator is a good bike ride most days. And I love it. Mainly because, where I live, I can ride and ride and ride without having to dodge juggernauts and weave to avoid teenage mums who haven't passed their pushchair proficiency test.
(Reminds me of a good joke on the old TV ad for Fairy Liquid ... mummy with her hands in the sink while the little girl at her side says, "Mummy, why are your hands so soft". Mummy puts down the frying pan, stubs out her cigarette and says, "Because I'm only 12".)
Anyway, the reason for starting this post was to link you to this, which is a photo collection of the UK's stupidest cycle paths. Town planners can be such dippos. Enjoy.

The 1916 Easter Rising

It'll be 90 years ago next month that members of the Irish Volunteers militia, a forerunner of the IRA, staged a military 'putsch' in Dublin to oust the British from Ireland - the 'Easter Rising'. Pádraig Pearse read out the proclamation of the Irish Republic, and about 500 people were killed, mainly Irish. The putsch was a military failure but a qualified political success in that, six years later, the British ceded three quarters of the island to self-government producing, shortly afterwards, the Republic of Ireland as one of two jurisdictions that now make up the Irish nation.

Ninety years on, should we celebrate the Easter Rising? Those who agree point to the bravery of the rebels, and independence from Britain as the birthright of every Irishman. Those who disagree say it glorifies terrorism, something which has blighted Ireland for four hundred years.

I hold to the view that terrorist acts are wrong even in pursuit of the most noble political goals. There are those who contend that, in 1916, the democratic route was not open to Pearse, Connolly et al. This was, shamefully, true in that era of world history. Thankfully it's no longer so. But the Bible - God's instruction manual for all people in all ages - tells us all to honour those in government over us and to pray for our oppressors, not to murder or subject them. I believe this means we can defend ourselves with measured force against physical attack, but it doesn't confer the right of insurrection. Please allow me my opinion on this most emotive issue, and consider whether it may have some merit.

Whatever the truth of the matter, we mustn't let the past divide us for the future. We are where we are, and God expects us to deal nobly with the situation we find ourselves in. Let's not fight our great-grandfathers' battles by allowing different angles on their situation to set us at each others' throats.

Although I've never lived in Éire, my chest swells with pride when I see what Irish people have achieved since independence, and the country is becoming a finer democracy with every year that passes, something that cannot be said for Northern Ireland. That's why I'm praying for Messrs Adams, Paisley and Blair and urging them via this blog to let Ulster be governed by northern Irishfolk, not from London, and I believe that partnership, to whatever degree, with the very republic spawned by the Easter Rising is not something to be feared.

As members of the Irish nation, in whatever jurisdiction we find ourselves, let's not celebrate violence in any glorified form, let's raise a glass tomorrow to the future we can build together using respect, debate, openness and faith.

Update: some well-voiced alternative views here (comments).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mass gathering

I am delighted to see that Protestant church members, led by their respective ministers, attended mass today in St Colmcille's on the Upper Newtownards Road to show solidarity with their Catholic friends and neighbours after some misguided people had daubed the chapel with racist slogans and smeared shit on the pews.
Many 'experts' are surprised at the levels of racism now seen in Ireland, north and south, but why? Non-Northern Europeans are being brought to our shores for the first time in any real numbers in the form of Poles, Czechs and Baltic people (following EU enlargement) and Filipinos (due to the nursing crisis). And what are they coming into? Europe's only apartheid society, that's what. One where ethicity is at the heart of everything we do - and even determines who we're prepared to trust.
What school you attend, what party you vote for, the names you give your children - even the way you pronounce the word 'government' is all a function, not of your moral value systems, not of your social status, but of the ethnic heritage of your great great great great great grandparents. Think about it! It's so 19th century, of course, yet it's being perpetuated every day by children who didn't even see the last one.
Which is why it warms my heart when I see people moving deliberately outside their comfort zone to bring some to others who, in truth, aren't ethnically that different after all (some day I'll explain this). In the meantime, keep on being Big.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sitcom psychosis

A weird thing happened this morning. As I woke I realised I was singing the signature tune to "Dogfood Dan and the Carmarthen Cowboy". In fact I'm still doing it. I can't stop. Of course, singing any TV signature tune is reason enough for a check-up from the neck-up, but for those of you of years too tender to recall this most cringingly awful of sitcoms, I can assure you it probably holds some title or other for being the worst moment in the otherwise fine history of BBC Light Entertainment. But then again, this was the era of "On the Buses".
Screened in 1988, the idea having been taken from a play of the same name several years earlier, DD&CC featured two archetypal long-distance lorry drivers, one from Hull and one from Carmarthen  - all check shirts, Yorkie bars and CB radios - each hauling a lorry-load of dog food to each others' home towns once a week. They always stopped in a transport caff half way and got to know each other. Having reached their destinations, each used to go out on the town, and each ended up 'befriending' the other's wife. Being 80s BBC, it was all very innocent (in those days you still had to use your imagination which, call me a weirdo, was far better than having silicone shoved in your face).
Although they talked to each other about their exploits, and to their wives about their truck-driving friends, the use of false names ensured the dimwitted characters never made the connections. Combined with the use of no-name stage actors, this inflexible plot was clearly never going to go anywhere, and the BBC - in its wisdom - pulled the plug after 7 episodes, each one more numbing than the one before. Stripped to its bare essentials, DD&CC was a typical sitcom mix of the audience knowing things the actors didn't, the problem was terrible characters, stiff acting and a framework that was never originally intended to be anything more than a kiss-me-quick-style stage comedy. It was a bit like trying to turn Charlie's Aunt into something to rival Fawlty Towers - it was never going to happen.
One thing, though, has stayed with me all down the years. The Yorkshire driver, played by Martin Storrey (yes, exactly), proffered this enigmatic phrase "By the cringe!" at least once per episode which, I gather, is some sort of East Riding version of the Mancunian "By heck" or, as we say in Norn Iron, "Goodness, how eminently surprising". Anyway, this stupid saying somehow entered my active vocabulary and has refused to leave ever since. At some point, nearly all new friends I make become very puzzled by this turn of phrase, and I end up having to tell them all about this really shite sitcom from 20 years back while they shift nervously in their seats and wonder whether my pockets contain any pills I should have been taking.
It's all very life-inhibiting really.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Crime doesn't pay

News came today that the home battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment are being stood down with hefty redundancy payments and, for full-timers, generous pensions.

Talking of retirement pensions, RTÉ say police, gardaí and customs officials today cordoned off a leading Republican's 'farm' straddling the Armagh/Louth border in a widespread operation which saw guns, computers, contraband goods and huge amounts of cash impounded.

As new chapters open for two relics of our troubled past it's ironic that a single day would see (superfluous) law enforcers rewarded and (alleged) lawbreakers brought to book.

There's no place for any gangsterism in 21st century Ireland, and maybe ordinary decent Republican socialists will now pause to reflect on whether the élite of their movement favour wealth dispersal as much as Karl Marx did.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The real 'Love Ulster'

There was a very flattering comment on yesterday's post about this site reflecting something of God's love which they don't see in other places. No, don't leave yet, it's the most important thing you'll read today.
I hope that's true, because it's the main reason I started this blog, but I can't take any credit. That's because whatever 'love' or 'goodwill' etc that I have the privilege of passing on honestly doesn't come from me. I was a right pain in the nether regions before I gave all the mess over to God and decided to believe that Jesus was exactly who he said he was. And I - previously such a doubter and a cynic - have stayed convinced for 12 years, and counting. The goodwill that's there comes from God, not me, because I can assure you it wasn't there before!
And, lest I be misunderstood, this isn't a sectarian thing. I know many Catholics who know and love the Lord and who have helped me along the way.
And while we're on the subject, I'm convinced God wants to transform Ireland, that seed-bed of spiritual blessing to mainland Europe in the 1,000 years following St Patrick. I'm convinced he wants to see a revival of true faithfulness in churches, chapels, cathedrals and tin shacks from Malin Head to Mizen. And I'm convinced he wants to translate that into real social and political reform north, south, east and west. But most of all, he wants you and me.
None of this will happen through brow-beating or guilt trips. It won't happen by focusing on our problems alone, or by working hard on intricate solutions to worldly problems. It won't happen by people with fashion bypasses telling us the end of the world is nigh. It won't happen by simply attending church or mass. It'll happen as people just like you and me set down their guilt and their fears and ask Jesus to make them new, to take them forward from wherever they are. To everyone who asks, it happens. And, believe me, it's a whole new world. Thanks for reading this far.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Facing the truth

Unfortunately I wasn't able to watch "Facing the Truth" on BBC2 last Saturday, which was the first in a series of 3 programmes hosted by the BBC's Fergal Keane and featuring Archbishop Desmond Tutu moderating discussions between terrorist murderers and their victims' families.
In the programmes Tutu remains in the background, allowing the parties to face each other across a dining-style table. (Read a write-up here, and programme details here). The killings include those by Michael Stone, the infamous Milltown Cemetery killer, Clifford Burrage, a British Army officer who killed Michael McLarnon whom the Army claimed was an IRA member, and Joe Doherty, formerly jailed for the murder, by the IRA, of Captain Herbert Westmacott, the highest-ranking British soldier to die in the Troubles.  
Whereas all parties from all three programmes (recorded in Ballywalter House, Co. Down) said the experience had helped them to a greater or lesser extent in the process of dealing with their hurt and - in the case of Clifford Burrage - guilt, the programmes produced no quick fixes, no final resolutions.
Interviewed about the project, Fergal Keane - who incidentally is surely one of the finest journalists of his generation - said the most surprising aspect of the project was that there were no outbursts of anger or resentment at any stage. Given the huge losses sustained and the burden of guilt - spoken or unspoken - which must surely be felt to varying degrees by the killers, this says a lot about human nature - that in our hurt and loss we're still able to treat the perpetrators with dignity.
I've long thought that massive suffering does that to you. Maybe Jesus' brother James wasn't wrong when he wrote "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials" - they seem to make people Bigger. Not perfect, just Bigger.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Higgy wiggy, let's get Biggy

I see Alex Higgins has finally crossed the fine line into complete insanity - or has he?
Fashioned into a politico image called Higgy Stardust (can you believe it?), he's now fronting up the Make Politicians History campaign which actually focuses on something pretty important, namely that one third of Belfast's voters, well, don't.
Apparently, 84,684 of Belfast's 220,000 potential voters have been abstaining, the naughty tikes, and Alex - sorry 'Higgy' - is, like, going to really change that in a sort-of crucial sort of way.
I've been saying for a long while that Ulster's politicans do not represent the real people of the 6 Counties. Real people want social action, with politicians encountering each other, not fighting three-hundred year old battles.
Note to politicians: Even if you do succeed in making the other side admit they're bleating apologies for human beings, do you really want to be top dog in a society where half of it is beaten and bleeding?
Rant over. Over to you, Higgy - right on cue.