Saturday, January 28, 2006

It's good to talk

I was on the phone pleading with a customer to put some business my way when I heard those familiar beeps indicating an incoming call. "Sorry, let me put you on hold for 10 seconds", says I desperately trying to remember the code for switching calls. Amazingly I got it right, and on came the familiar rubber voice of my answering service. "Hello, I'm a bored middle-class housewife who accepted peanuts from your phone company to record inane crap for them. Oh, is that the time? You have one new message. To listen to it, please press 3, then 6, then #1, then the square root of 62.8 ".

I fumbled with the keypad - so difficult now they're no longer on the desk in front of you - and on came the voice of the Big Ulsterwoman who was standing, judging by the background noise, on the central reservation by the Stockman's Lane turn-off. You know, just by those new yuppie flats. "Hi, call me on the mobile. Byeee". Then Wendy Craig returned. "To automatically call the person who left the message and get billed a quid a minute, press 3. Alternatively, come round to my place for some hot ...". Flinching at such frivolous use of a split-infinitive I punched the button, and Beloved's mobile started to ring.

"Hi, sweetie", came the familiar voice of someone definitely not 'up the junction' in the automotive department. "Just wondered what your e-mail was about". Eh? "The one you just sent me". Oh, er, I was just asking whether you wanted to use my car or yours on Saturday week. "Oh, mine. Isn't this wonderful? I've set my Internet account to text me whenever you send me an e-mail". Well, that's progress, dear. "Yes. If Maggie calls tell her I'll ring her tonight. And don't forget to get some bacon on your way home. Byeee". Click. "You have been billed two pounds forty-seven for this call. And I'll be wearing my leopard-skin corset ...".

Not all technology is useful. Maybe there are some people whose lives would be unliveable without e-mail alerts and the ability to conduct three phone calls at once, but I contend that unless you're a City financier these things are more likely to frustrate than enhance your quality of life.

Smarting in the face of financial ruin, I hit the keypad to take me back to my customer.

No surprise there. Got sick of waiting. Or maybe Wendy rang him ...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bloody Sunday departure

I'm delighted that this year's Bloody Sunday Memorial Lecture - organised by Nationalist/Republican people in Derry - will be given by Alan McBride, a Shankill Protestant whose wife, father in law and seven others were blown to pieces when the IRA detonated a bomb in Frizell's fish shop in 1993.
It was Big to invite him, and it was Big to accept. He's said that he's going to lay down a challenge or two for the Nationalist community, and that's probably no bad thing either. We should remember, however, the challenge that the DUP still has to rise to - namely to share devolved power with the representatives elected by the people Alan is being Big enough to address.
There's been enough hurt in Ulster. For goodness' sake let's move on.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

No Plan 'B'

Ian Paisley is in London today trying to persuade Tony Blur of the merits of the DUP's 16-page mysterious unpublished document entitled, we understand, "Facing Reality". We're told it contains proposals on a way forward without power-sharing.
Why is our time being wasted like this? Lord knows, over the last 40 years we've tried all the conceivable models of government (except a united Ireland), and they've all failed to deliver because of one thing only: it was always 'them and us' . Whether Unionist rule, direct rule by the English, whether Vanguard, Sunningdale, Weston Park, Leeds Castle, Belfast Castle, Scrabo Tower, Devenish or Dunluce (my head hurts), none of it has been government by the people for the people.
Listen up, Ian, Tony and anyone else who thinks they have a say: the answer is easy. It's so simple you don't need a room full of think tanks, PhDs, MBAs, PR men or lifestyle gurus. Let Ulster be governed by Ulster people. Locally. In Belfast. Full devolution. No ifs and buts. The full monty. We're grown-ups. We can handle it.
So what if Ian Paisley is First Minister? So what if an ex-terrorist or two take up ministerial posts. That's democracy, and given a free press it'll all shake down well into a stable system of autonomous government. Let us unite around what we have in common - an Ulster heritage proud and free. Most of all free from unwanted interference.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

SF 'wants to back police'

It's been a long time coming - and no one's sure if it's really on its way yet - but New York Congressman Jim Walsh has said he reckons Sinn Féin wants to back the police force in Northern Ireland, although the timing may be uncertain. The encouraging thing for me is not the words, but the fact that he was saying them just after meeting Gerry Adams.
This is a commonly used tactic for testing the political waters, much beloved of statesmen everywhere. By floating a radical idea through a willing third party, you can gauge reaction without ever having to associate yourself directly with the idea. If it's machine-gunned you can agree it would have been a mad idea; if it's met with open arms - or at least indifference - you know it's a generally acceptable idea that won't ruffle the wrong feathers.
So, if your reading this, Gerry: it'd be a Big move and I'd encourage you to do it. Get your guys to take their seats on the local Policing Boards too, we need you to help shape Ulster's policing too, not just approve of it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The fine line

In the rather public "has the IRA gone straight?" debate between NI security minister Shaun Woodward and the police service I see Woodward has hit back, saying "there are complex assessments to be made in distinguishing between criminality by individual PIRA members for their own gain and criminality carried out by PIRA members which is authorised by the organisation."
Basically, he says he's convinced the PIRA leadership is trying to take the organisation straight but that certain members are still involved in organised crime.
In the bad old days IRA discipline was rigorous, and people obeyed down the command structure because there'd be a bullet and a back lane in Armagh waiting for you if you broke rank. But now the bullets are gone (and even if there are any left the rank and file know the organisation can't use them without blowing away all its political credibility), yet the IRA clearly has to find a way of bringing its members into line and keeping them there.
The IRA truly is an albatross around Sinn Féin's political neck, and a certain faction within its membership seem uncontrollable. The IRA has no purpose any more, and the Big thing for Gerry Adams and "P. O'Neill" to do is to disband it. I think this is politically feasible within the Republican movement in the next 2 years.
I believe it could be the key enabler to major political and cultural progress in Ulster. With the right moves from the UK and Irish governments, Sinn Féin could then find a way to support local policing in Ulster. That would in turn make it entirely undefensible for the DUP to continue to refuse to share power with SF, providing the setting for a devolved power-sharing government in Ulster which, as readers know, is a goal I hold dear.
But it starts with IRA disbanding. Do the Big thing, P.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

PSNI trumps Woodward

Only a wee while after British NI minister Shaun Woodward said the IRA had ceased all illegal activities, the police force has now stated publicly that, although the IRA has stopped punishment beatings and killings, it's still (I paraphrase) involved in organised crime, in common with other (ex-)terrorist groups.
So who's telling the porkies? Is the PSNI really engaged in "political policing", as Sinn Féin has been quick to allege, or is it merely stating what it knows to be true, whereas Shaun Woodward was pushing the Tony Blur bandwagon uphill by talking up Republican restraint and reformation in order to steamroll Unionists into an all-Ireland a.s.a.p.?
Without commenting on the merits or otherwise, my bet's on the latter. Just look at the Westminster newsflow over the last 2 months: de-facto re-partitioning of Ulster from "A to B" between Annalong and Bellarena, effectively leaving West Ulster to Sinn Féin and East Ulster to the DUP, healthcare and social services reorganised in such a way as to facilitate easy assumption into the Éireann system and, at a more everyday level, the prospective abolition of roaming charges for cross-border mobile phone traffic.
It's quite obvious the British government's PR machine is set on churning out as much "the 'Ra's gone straight" messages as it can and is currently engaged in hyping out of reasonable proportion each and every news item or statistic that supports this assumption - all in a back-door effort to exert pre-negotiation pressure on the DUP to enter a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Put bluntly, the message is "Take your choice, Ian: share power with Gerry now or be ceded forcibly by 2010".
I reckon that, as far as the British government is concerned, it's that simple, and that Shaun Woodward's merely a puppet within Tony Blur's "Paisley management" strategy. I suppose we can't expect too much from a guy whose parents couldn't spell Seán.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sense at last

Well whoopidoo. Peter Hain and Tony Blur have finally got the message that their proposed de-facto amnesty for terrorist crimes committed pre-1998 is immoral and wrong, and they've abandoned the plans. Maybe now we can get back to having a national government which fully endorses punishment of all crimes that contravene national legislation, whether north or south of the Irish border.

Of course, this is not just bad news for IRA and UVF terrorists still scared to come home and face the music, it also means that members of NI and British security forces who used their positions to commit terrorist crimes will also have to face similar music. And so they should.

Today's a good day for democracy, and it's a good day for law and order.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Are you going to Nobber?

Forgive me for straying a wee bit off topic so early in the year, but I see residents of the village of Nobber in County Meath have stumbled across a few 10th century Celtic crosses during a graveyard clean-up and reckon they're now up there with Newgrange in the tourist stakes. For English readers, Newgrange is what Stonehenge wants to be when it grows up ;-)

Still, if archaeology fails to put Nobber on the map, certainly the name offers some deep potential.

Freedom fighters?

The Big Ulsterwoman is (gasp) English. Well, we all have our faults. As part of her rehabilitation therapy I recently took her to a traditional musical evening at a nearby pub. The band played all the songs you'd expect, and we had a great Guinness-assisted time singing along to the Irish Rover, Whiskey in the Jar, The Leaving of Liverpool and all the other greats.

And then the singer announced a song honouring 'freedom fighters' and my thoughts sped back to 1981 West Belfast with housewives banging bin lids on the pavement as Bobby Sands & Co lay dying, and a UTV interviewer was informed, "Ah, shor th'are freedom fighters, so th'are".

No. They were terrorists, many of them calculating murderers. To style a terrorist a 'freedom fighter' is to lend him, deliberately, a deceptive air of moral integrity. A man who murders a policeman, whether an RUC man or a B-Special or Garda Jerry McCabe, displays no moral integrity and breaks God's 6th commandment. Life is sacred, even the life of terrorists. Unfortunately, in 1981 Sands & Co regarded their own lives, too, as expendable in a proud quest to be treated as political prisoners (instead of common criminals). To afford them 'Robin Hood' status is misleading, and to honour past murder is to encourage it in the future.

But the 21st century has started well. The true heroes of modern-day Irish nationalism are not terrorist murderers, but adept politicians seeking to change opinion through logical argument and by displaying openness, inclusiveness and a willingness to find common approaches to shared problems. One day there'll be songs about them, songs Big Ulstermen of all persuasions will be able to sing along to.

Tony Banks

People of principle make a refreshing change to our media-driven world, and I love a politician who speaks his mind. Like Tony Banks who died yesterday. He was one of a small breed of British politicians who used sound-bite politics not to feed us superficial crap but to keep everyone's feet on the floor. He had the guts to go against the flow - a Labour politician who was a friend of Tory David Mellor just because he liked him - and speak his mind with a candour which disarmed high-and-mighty opponents.

Here's a few of his witty remarks. Let's keep the fire burning.

Monday, January 09, 2006

My favourite Irishman

One attraction that graced many an Irish blog last year was an invitation to vote for your favourite Irishman of all time, with most of the praises going to people like Wolfe Tone, Eamon de Valera, Padraig Pearse; even Mary Peters and George Best.
Each of us comes this way only once and there's surely not one of us who hasn't spared a thought for what history will make of him or her. It's interesting that, for many people, their image in the great record of world history is made or broken by things they said or did, often during a small part of their lives - even an instant. We don't know, for instance, whether King William III had a good sense of humour, all we know is one day he killed a lot of Catholics near Drogheda. Similarly, Bobby Sands is known for the fact that he starved himself to an early death on a principle he held dear, not for what a wit he may have been in the pub. More pointedly, Oscar Wilde is remembered for being a poof, and Jean McConville for being murdered by the IRA, yet there must have been so much more about these people that was interesting and of value to us.
Every person has a public image, and a wise man does well to guard it. But there's always so much more behind the image, so much we don't see. The reason I mention this is that I believe everyone has their moments of being a hero, usually in their private lives, and often inwardly in ways others don't notice. The woman who overcomes alcoholism or cancer, the man who survives the death of a child, the young man whose parents live in different homes. It all requires strength and calls forth great character.
That's why my favourite Irishman doesn't have a name - because there are too many and because even the most unlikeable characters can have their moments of Bigness. In everyday terms, the Protestant who walks up an unfamiliar drive to pay his last respects to a Catholic neighbour and crosses himself at the funeral, and the Catholic schoolteacher who runs a youth club for Protestant kids (like me, once) are living out the kind of respect and tolerance that Ulster aches for and which all of us - in our hearts - want to see.
Although Georgie and deV were big Irishmen, the Big ones are often everyday folk. And the best thing is, everyone can be a hero.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Spies like us

OK, the posts proper start next Monday, but in the wake of the Denis Donaldson affair - the IRA ex-prisoner and senior Sinn Féin official who recently admitted to being a British spy for 20 years - I see the police have called at the homes of several prominent Sinn Féin members to warn them that the IRA are (allegedly) investigating them as potential spies within the Republican ranks.
Bluff or not, this is a tactical twist worthy of Frederick Forsyth. If the PSNI are telling the truth, it's jolly nice of them to tell these guys - people who probably look to their own ranks for security and couldn't give a stuff about the PSNI. If it's just all one great big Crown Forces bluff, you have to admire the sheer cheek of it ...
Turning up on a high-profile visit banging on the front doors of well-known Republican activists to let everybody know (or make everybody think) their own people have them on a hit-list they know nothing about is the political equivalent of sending a 7.5 Richter seismic shockwave through the entire Republican movement - turning the latent terror potential within the movement back on its prominent members until they disappear up their own armalites. Possibly.
Actually it's potentially so devastating, maybe it's got to be a ruse. But, like most great ruses, there may be a grain of truth in it that's simply been blown out of proportion for effect.
Something tells me it ain't over yet though.

Happy new year

A happy new year to all my readers. My aim this year is to write posts most days - from next Monday onwards - on politics, current affairs and also do a bit of humorous writing, mainly on Fridays so we can hit the weekends with spirits that are light enough to do Big things.
I want to hear your opinions too. Whether you agree or disagree with what I have to say, all comments are welcome. If you disagree very strongly, go and have a nice cup of tea first. No, I haven't bribed Nambarrie into using amphetimine food additives, but I work hard at lifting myself out of inherited thought patterns, and experience tells me some points take a bit of time to seem worthy.
Anyway, I also reserve the right this year to talk bollocks from time to time. I'm only human.