Monday, February 26, 2007

Was Croker a turning point?

I wish I'd been there. Not just to see Ireland hammer England at their first-ever encounter in Croke Park, but to hear the respectful silence as the British national anthem, the Éire national anthem and "Ireland's Call" were played.

There had been huge fears of hissing and boo-ing, but the crowd was statesmanlike. What a tribute to our nation - one spanning two jurisdictions and (at least) two mainstream cultures.

Ed Curran has written an inspiring account of how he experienced Saturday's political and cultural détente. Give it a read.

Away from election fever, the Big question Northern Protestants should be asking ourselves is: what can we do to show an equal amount of goodwill to our southern compatriots? The answer to this question will answer, in part, the question that is the title of today's post.

What a great age this is to be Irish.

Friday, February 23, 2007


"Republican Sinn Féin" - the breakaway rebels for whom the Provisional IRA is just too cuddly - are going to demonstrate outside Croke Park tomorrow because they don't want the English rugby team to set foot in there. Let them demonstrate. It's a free country. Freer than they would make it if they had any political power.

They say the English team's presence in Croker represents an "unnacceptable normalisation of relations between England and Ireland". Surely everyone with two brain cells to rub together wants as much normalisation - on both sides - as we can get!

The truth is these guys are still fighting someone else's war. Do the Big thing. Don't join them. We've moved on.

A step in the right direction

The UDA has been criticised heavily on some blogs for publishing a pamphlet in which is acknowledges the atrocities it committed were dreadful and suggests the IRA should admit that its campaign of terror "was not the pure and idealistic liberation struggle it was so often portrayed as being".

The UDA, the UVF, the LVF, the INLA and the other terror groups should disarm immediately and support the forces of law and order, and until they do so my enthusiasm for their words and actions will be muted, but even so I welcome the statement and agree with their words on the IRA. Republican paramilitaries murdering fellow Irishmen has always been hard for peace-loving Catholics in NI to swallow, and Republicans would add so much to what they've already done for peace and reconciliation if they were simply to say that, in retrospect, their campaigns of violence were wrong and are regretted.

I think we're five years away from that. The English are going to have to acknowledge their sins in Ireland as well, most of them pre-1922 (with some notable exceptions). But the day will come, and it'll be a Big day.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tackling the anthem

So the Six Nations championship returns to Dublin this Saturday when we host England at Croke Park. Ravenhill, the traditional national rugby ground, has been deemed too rickety, and the Gaelic Athletic Association - which normally regards rugby as a "garrison sport" - has, pretty magnanimously, consented to the use of its premier venue for this season's internationals.

In 1920, Croke Park saw the random murder of 14 people by British crown forces as retaliation for the murder, by the IRA, of 14 British soldiers in front of their families earlier the same day.

And so it is, 87 years later, that many dread the singing of Britain's national anthem "God save the Queen" at Croker this Saturday when the English players line up against the Irish team. Fair enough.

Interestingly, Northern Ireland's contribution of players to the Irish national team has been so big that it was deemed appropriate some time back to introduce a special anthem, "Ireland's Call" instead of the Éire national anthem "The Soldier's Song" which has fairly bloodthirsty, antagonistic lyrics. I saw this as a Big move - and also a logical one since the nation of Ireland is composed of two sovereign jurisdictions, and to use the national anthem of one is to alienate the other.

There are voices calling for the English to forego the singing of their anthem this week (see the public comments at the end of the Belfast Telgraph article linked above). As a Big move, I think England should sing another song, but for a different reason. That reason is this: "God save the Queen" is not the English national anthem; there is no English national anthem. GSTQ is the national anthem of the United Kingdom. The English have no right to hog it, and to sing it as they line up against the Scots and Welsh is as ridiculous as hearing France sing "Ode to Joy" as they prepare to hammer Germany.

So let the English sing "Jerusalem" or some other quintessential dirge. Anything except GSTQ. Or "Greensleeves".

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When good men do nothing

To be legally binding, Portugese referenda require a 50% turnout. The country's abortion vote at the weekend drew a mere 40% to the polling booths, and of those 59.3% said they want to legalise unborn killings up to 24 weeks for any reason.

That's 23.7% of Portugal's voters, or - if you assume a normal distribution - 18% of the population.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Jose Socrates says he wants to press ahead with legislation to make non-medical abortion legal. If his people allow this, Poland, Éire, Spain and Malta will be the only EU states with such bans. I'm not the greatest fan of the Roman Catholic church (as an institution), but I applaud and support it for its rock-solid stand on convenience killings.

The villians in Portugal may turn out to be not Socrates or the 18% that were yes-voters, but the 60% who said nothing. Bit by ugly bit, Europe is casting off its Christian moral heritage and, as rudderless as it is faithless, enjoying its slide into a mudhole it mistakes for enlightenment.

In a society where the man on the street seems to have so little power, the Big thing is to remember that politicians are there to work for us, not the other way around. Silence lets them get away with murder.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Marching Orde-rs

Apparently the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde has been getting his end away with an English detective while his wife wasn't watching. We only know this because he's fathered a lovechild.

He's said it's a personal and private affair which doesn't affect his ability to do the job. But he's cheated on his wife - the woman he promised to "cleave to, forsaking all others". That's a more serious oath than any promise he's made the people of Northern Ireland, and he's broken it. How can we be expected to trust him?

Even more sickly, he says his family is supporting him. Sorry, but I don't swallow that one. Any wife would be boiling, surely. So is he a liar as well as a cheater?

Sorry, Hugh, but it's time for you to go. In the wonderful words of Douglas Adams' departing dolphins, "So long, and thanks for all the fish".

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

United we stand

No - not politics, marriage. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and usually not my greatest hero, has come out with strong stuff on Tony Blur and his government's weak views on marriage and family stability.

The Blur government's moral ethics in this arena are summed up well by the words of Education Secretary Alan Johnson (himself twice married), "We have to recognise that the modern family is not always a married family. Marriage can provide stability, but it's not for everyone" (well, not if you want to screw around, not if you can't commit, not if you want to be able to ditch someone when they hit a rough patch, and not if your self-discipline is flawed).

Rowan Williams says the chattering classes are "trading off the inherited capital" of previous generations who worked at marriage and stayed together. Dead right. Not all our parents' and grandparents' marriages survived, but the vast majority did whereas it's 50:50 now. Not all their marriages were happy, but they stuck with each other because they'd promised to, and that provided a rigid framework which benefitted their children, wider family circle and society in general. Of that I'm convinced.

Now the UK government is made up very extensively of divorcees (and in that sense representative of society), but that doesn't mean they have to disown the benefits and the very ideal of marriage.

I myself am divorced and suffer the unending pain it brings. Like all divorcees I share a part of the blame for the breakdown of my former marriage, but I also know I was let down badly by someone who'd said she'd always be there for me. This generation has the misfortune to live in a time of a consumerist approach to all things, including marriage, and - to most people - today's marriage vows are not "till death us do part" but "till one of us wants out".

At its heart, you see, marriage is not about feelings - which can yo-yo - but about commitment through thick and thin. Long live marriage, and may future generations rediscover its true meaning and benefits.