Sunday, May 28, 2006

Passport palaver

Everybody's getting hot under the collar because FIFA has said all Northern Ireland team players have to carry British passports. Naturally, the world soccer body is a bit touchy about ensuring players have the necessary nationality credentials to play for a certain side. And naturally they've struck at the heart of the Irish question right and proper.

Technically, of course, FIFA's right: Northern Ireland is part of the UK. A lot of people wish it were different, but FIFA's interested in facts, not aspirations.

I'm proud to hold both passports and have no trouble with my Irish/British identity mix. If I had to do without either of them I'd feel cheated out of something special. It's comforting that Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires all those it may concern to let me pass freely and to render me such assistance as may be necessary. On the other hand, the one with the harp makes my Celtic heart sing.

I'm happy enough to be British, but somehow it undersells my Irishness. In truth, you see, the Ulster Protestant is as far removed from Middle England commuters culturally, ethnically, politically and genetically as he is from Corkonians. And yet he's no less British than a Surbiton commuter and no less Irish than a Kilkenny priest. Maybe that's why he can be so insular, especially when fired up by divisionist Unionist politicians.

I remember the West German government in 1974 recognising "eine deutsche Nation, zwei deutsche Staaten", and that's exactly what we have in Ireland today. One nation, two jurisdictions. Not that there's any further similarity between either state and the evil regime that was East Germany, mind, but if we recognise the distinction between nation and jurisdiction two interesting consequences emerge which can help us towards reconciliation:

1. The Irish Republic does not have a monopoly on Irishness;

2. Ulster Protestants are fully Irish and equals within the Irish nation.

Through understandable reactionism, the newborn Irish Republic rejected most things British and embraced all things Gaelic, even all things Catholic, while the Northern Ireland government did the opposite. The entrenchment on both sides produced terrible results. Fortunately, today, the Catholic hierarchy in Éire has a much reduced influence on the affairs of government and public life, and immigration has teamed with the Celtic Tiger to tame the dominance of Gaeldom in Éire. (In fact, note that the Gaels were but one set of invaders to Ireland). Éire today is much more multi-culti than many Ulster Protestants realise.

Those same Ulster Protestants have a birthright as part of the Irish nation as well as citizenship of the United Kingdom. They need to be allowed to feel more comfortable with both of these without being threatened from south of the border or east of the Irish Sea. This is a prerequisite to productive cross-border cooperation under the Good Friday Agreement, because as long as people feel threatened they'll not contribute their best.

Politicians (especially MLAs): do the Big thing: stop the divisive rhetoric and start uniting us under our pan-Irish identity.

Monday, May 22, 2006

First Minister first time around?

Gerry Adams is set to nominate Ian Paisley today as First Minister of Northern Ireland. Although obviously a political move, Adams is showing he's doing all he can to implement the GFA, and I have to applaud him for that. Paisley, it seems, is set on saying 'no'.
Unionists have to move into the positive or face being sidelined by the two governments and, worse, world opinion. Whether or not Gerry Adams used to command terrorists, as some contend, his electoral mandate, and that of his party, is undeniable. The days of paternalistic Unionist hegemony are gone for ever.
Has the Democratic Unionist Party really embraced democracy? We'll see this afternoon.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

25 years is a long time

Apparently Paul and Heather McCartney are set to divorce. There will be a lot of people lining up to take pot-shots at Heather, branding her a gold-digger. Amazingly the couple didn't sign a pre-nup, so under English law the lady's entitled to half Paul's fortune. Paul, however, was the first to defend her from jibes about greed. How right he is about that will be seen over the next year. Personally, I predict a major legal battle, but maybe that's because I've become a bit cynical in that department.

We all were a bit stunned when the wedding was announced. Paul and Linda has the one indestructible showbiz marriage around, and when she died we were all shocked. Paul couldn't face life alone, I think, and so he embarked on another marriage too soon (IMHO). His second wife is 25 years younger than him, and will all the good will in the world that's too much. It's a whole generation.

Anyway, I hope (perhaps aginst hope) that they get back together again. Certainly, if they don't, the only ones to win will be the lawyers.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Living together

No, not a homily on the ethics of cohabitation. Archbishop Robin Eames has said the peace process will only succeed if people learn to live together. He put it like this: "Unless you get people at the local level where they are, living and working and loving and being with their loved ones, politicians can do everything they like, but they will never bring about reconciliation".
I agree. How often we just ignore the other side - on the school bus, as we pass cars parked by a church. We have to move on from that.
However, reconciliation doesn't mean agreeing on everything. Like a family which has arguments sometimes, we have to learn to stick together while not seeing eye-to-eye all the time, running that fine balance between stating our views respectfully and being open to other angles on things. This takes good manners as well!
Eames has set a pretty good example himself, demonstrating a good working relationship with his Opposite number, Dr Seán Brady, even though they have some differences in the detail of their inherited theologies. (So what, I say. I think they both know Jesus is who matters).
The question for us is, what can I do today at a local level to engage meaningfully without selling out my own principles?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Good out of evil?

Not a week after 15-year-old Michael McIlveen was beaten to death with a baseball bat by a gang of sectarian ne'er-do-wells, Ballymena has seen many hands being stretched across the cultural divide - an encouragement to all peacemakers.
First, DUP leader and local MP Ian Paisley not only denounced the attack - the minimum you'd expect - but went to pray with the grieving Catholic family. Yesterday, Michael's uncle paid tribute to Paisley for his contact with the family and invited him to attend the funeral. The idea of Ian Paisley attending a Mass would have raised eyebrows in the past, but the time is now right for him to do this - as a sign of solidarity with the Catholic minority in Ballymena and as tangible evidence of rapprochement between Ulster's two cultures.
I want to pay tribute to Big Ian for this act, and to the McIlveen family for accepting it at a time when you could certainly understand it if they never wanted to have anything to do with a Protestant ever again. God bless them all.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Recognising justice

I'm absolutely delighted to see Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin encouraging four men accused of kidnapping a dissident Republican to submit themselves to the court. (They failed to turn up at court last week).

This is important for two reasons. The first is that, to my knowledge, it's the first time that SF has publicly indicated support for, and submission to, the criminal justice system in the 6 counties. The second is that they're encouraging what are quite possibly PIRA members to turn themselves in.

This is a huge step for Republicans, yet it merited only a sidebar feature on the BBC News website. Unbelievable. Anyway, for people who like the 'choreography' epithet so often applied to the Ulster peace process, this is Gerry and Martin stepping out boldly onto the open dancefloor.

I hope Unionists have the sense to reward this move quietly with some rapprochement of their own.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Kill your speed

Yesterday saw even more people are killed on Ireland's roads, this time a young couple from Co Armagh whose BMW went out of control in Dundalk town centre at 3 a.m. yesterday morning. My condolences to these people's families.
It's ridiculous to suggest that governments are responsible for the spate of road deaths we're seeing on both sides of the border. People are driving like maniacs when sober and like imbeciles when tipsy.
I'm not commenting on any one incident, but our young people in particular are showing an unsettling penchant for irresponsible speed. It's probably fairly safe for an experienced driver to do 100mph in a modern, well-equipped car on the M1 in good weather when there are few other motorists about, but to overtake on a blind hill or a devious corner doing even 30 is insanity. And yet it happens countless times each day.
Let's be clear: although the provisional licence system needs overhauling, these deaths have nothing to do with Bertie Ahern or Peter Hain. When a driver has 2 tonnes of high-powered steel at his disposal it is his responsibility - and no one else's - to make sure it poses no danger to himself or others.
Have a good journey.