Republicans And Citizens.

Watching the American Presidential election process is a depressing experience. Not least because of the Money involved.

One of the fault lines in American politics is the relationship between People and Government. The Americans seem obsessed with Tyrrany …not least their own potential to be tyrants. It strikes me as a very pessimistic view of their nation…and themselves. American citizens ARE the Nation.

So Bernie Sanders may or may not have a hard time persuading Democrats that Government is actually a good thing which can bring benefits…Education, Health Care, Jobs etc. Even if he persuades enough Democrats to put him on the ballot paper in November, he is unlikely to persuade enough Americans to put him in the White House.

Hillary Clinton takes a more nuanced approach. She is the political savvy. She can do Democratic rhetoric. But she is bought and paid for by the special interests.

The debate is mirrored on the Republican side. Donald Trump can ramp up the rhetoric about migrants, guns, foreign policy and he might persuade enough Republicans to put him on the ticket but ultimately the Republican establishment will be hoping Mario Rubio…talking rhetoric but politically savvy will be on the ticket.

Put simply…a mainstream Republican will beat Sanders and a mainstream Democrat will beat Trump.

The nightmare chaotic option (for the American establishment) is that Sanders and Trump are Presidential rivals. The “safe option” for Stability is more of the same…Clinton versus Rubio.

Deep down in 1776, Americans did not rise up against British Government Tyranny …they rose up againsr what they saw as the Tyranny of Government itself. The devotion of some to the original clauses in the Constitution means they have not fully moved with the notions of Democracy that are held in Western Europe.

How is it that anti-Government militia menin Oregon can be described as “good patriots”. Seemingly opposition to Government is a “patriotic” act.

But is it any different in Ireland where a man convicted of tax evasion is described by Gerry Adams as a “good republican”. The phrase should be enough to ensure that the style of Sinn Féin personified by Adams will only make limited breakthru in the General Election later this month. It will resonate with Republicans but cant play well in the mainstream. And of course Sinn Féin cannot talk about tax increases while seemingly condoning evasion.

To some extent, I have a (very limited) tolerance of Gerry Adams position. The suggestion is that Slab Murphy was a useful ally to Adams and the “doves” in Sinn Féin in the years around 1998 and that he was instrumental in winning over “hawks” to the Adams side. That may well be true but hardly a reason to give him a free pass on the country’s….(the Republics!!) tax laws.

Mary Lou McDonald tries a different tack. Slab is a “typical country man”. The suggestion is that farmers and the like are abit careful with their pennies…and not averse to doing everything “cash in hand”. Whether all countrymen would agree with this stereotype is one thing …and equating Slab with lovable rogue Dinny Byrne in Glenroe is another…..but I dont think typical countrymen have plastic bags containing hundreds of thousands worth of cash in their cowsheds.

A third tactic seems to be to claim Slab was convicted in a non-jury trial. But as solicitors defending dodgy bankers often point out the evidence in complex cases are often too complex for the somple monds of the general public.

Which brings up the question of whether Irish bankers are good citizens of the Republic. Whatever happened all those 1980s bank managers in rural Ireland and suburban Dublin, who persuaded typical country men and Dublin business men to open accounts in Newry and Derry? Did any go to jail? Are they “bad republicans” as well as “bad citizens”. And those Dublin bankers who were sent down at the end of last year….has anyone said they were “good bankers”?

It seems to be that the evidence of public inquiries into banking practices in USA, Ireland and Britain has produced enough evidence to suggrst that a lot of people should be in jail…and yet curiously, the numbers of convicted bankers in prison systems seem small. Why?

And there are reports that celebrities and others avail of aggressive tax avoidance schemes. But for those who broke the law like Lester Piggott, can we justify it on the basis of “he is a good jockey”.

Would Gerry Adams sayits “Liam Lawlor was a good politician?” Or would Mary Lou prefer us to say “Liam Lawlor was a typical politician?”

I have read about these in newspapers….reported by journalists and yet the evidence heard at the Leveson Inquiry suggests that phone-hacking was rather more widespread than subsequent convictions suggest. Would any hack say “Andy Coulson was a good journalist?”

Sinn Féin are of course hypocrites…it is their most endearing quality. Who else would rightly campaign to save one side of Moore Street, Dublin and not campaign against the selling of dodgy tobacco on the other side of the street. Is Moore Street in Mary Lous constituency? I am surprised she has not noticed. Maybe she would call the vendors “typical Dubliners”.

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BoobySands Gate

Sometimes you have to laugh. Mary Lou McDonald publishes a flyer and seemingly nobody did any proof-reading.


“Booby Sands”. Sinn Féin are a slick organisation. It is entirely reasonable that critics of Sinn Féin take advantage when the slick staffers make a mistake. This should have been spotted.

I do not take the view that the Internet can influence serious political discourse. What the Internet does well is Sarcasm, Satire and cheap Point Scoring…and I will happily join in. And indeed I have already. Twitter was made for this.

So…we have the “boob” jokes, the “tit”jokes and the “storm in a D Cup” jokes.

Of course, the quality has not been maintained during the day.

Not a good day for Sinn Féin of course. But the response of the likes of former SF press officer and veteran spoofer from West Belfast….Danny Morrison…is of course over the top. He states that Fine Gael would not be impressed if opponents made light of Béal na Blath and the killing of Michael Collins.

Lets be clear…those amused by the mistake…are not in any way amused by the death of Bobby Sands. And as I have said earlier in this week, Sinn Féin supporters are traditionally the most aggressive tweeters and trolls on the Internet.

Danny Morrison being outraged is a nonsense. Of course Mr Morrison was around in 1981 and his role in the Hunger Strike is a matter of some debate in Sinn Féin and other republican circles.

As a republican myself, I object to Sinn Féin trying to link the events of Easter 1916 to their own election campaign. And linking the Hunger Strikes to Easter 1916 is ridiculous.

But ….the actual quotation from Bobby Sands has been mis-used…the quote is actually very inclusive. “Republicans and Others has their part to play….”

Indeed….people dont have to vote Sinn Féin to play a part.

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The Fiftieth Anniversary Of The Fiftieth Anniversary

There is something about the Centenary of the Easter Rising that gives me a feeling of deja-vu. i have seen it all before. Remakes like Steve Martin’s “Sgt Bilko” and David Jason’s “Still Open All Hours” are rarely better than the original. So it will be interesting to see how the critics judge the 2016 Production.

For that is what it is…a production.

At Easter 1966, I was 13 years old…almost 14. And I lived in a long “mixed street” in West Belfast. The street was the first of a series of mixed streets. The streets to the west of us were Catholic …the heartland of Raglan Street, Leeson Street and the Pound Loney. And the streets behind us were mixed and then Protestant.

My parents married in 1951 and were one of the first Catholics in the street. The Union Jacks flew at one end of the street every July. On the Twelfth morning an Orange Lodge from Sandy Row marched with a band into the street to pick up the Lodge Master.

Every Saturday lunch-time two nuns would come into the street and they would get threepence at our house #24 and my father would tell them that the next Catholic house was #42. So that even at ten years old I was aware of the differences.

It was to be frank…a slum street…especially our row of houses which leaned backwards. Our row of houses was knocked down in early 1970 …my parents had always assumed that they would be compensated (they dreamed of £700) as the M1 …Westlink was being built. As it turned out they got nothing at all except a Housing Executive house in Upper Springfield Road.

There was a protocol to life in a “mixed” street in the 1960s. The Catholic children went round the corner to the Catholic school and the Protestant children went to their school…I dont think I ever saw it.

And while the number of Union Jacks dwindled as the street became more Catholic, it was as much to do with the closing of the local RUC Barracks and the inability to provide a 24-hour watch.

Certainly emboldened Catholic neighbours took to playing Irish rebel songs on record players and leaving their doors open. While moderate Catholics considered this to be very bad manners, the alternative view is that “themmuns” had it their way for too long.

There was an unwritten rule about not playing football on a Sunday as it would offend Protestants but that rule changed with the Demographics….and on balance thats a pity because I liked that our street football team played impromtu matches in all parts of the city….on a Saturday morning we would walk to Botanic Gardens, Ormeau Park, Woodvale and once Falls Park. And there was a curiousity about looking out the back bedroom window at the boys going to that once-a-week meeting where they had a a strange sailors uniform.

It was after all circa 1965 and we all liked the Beatles and Manchester United. Oddly nobody ever mentioned Celtic and Rangers. Why is that? All I can say is that it is part of that protocol…what people thought behind closed doors might well be different.

And yet there were times when it seemed to touch us. That football team needed a set of cheap jerseys and the cheapest available was Green…and we bought them but the Protestant boys drifted away.

And much much earlier…I was maybe four years old and in a neighbours house watching TV….and they had me standing up singing God Save The Queen. No doubt they enjoyed that. My parents said that I couldnt go back as it was too late at night for me. But really it was because they didnt like me being a source of entertainment.

So we had this curious reality of Catholics being second class citizens but (as we thought) the worst excesses of unionism had long gone. The Unionist Prime Minister, O’Neill was visiting Catholic schools and taking tea and cake with the nuns.

Of course after the eleven plus, I went to the local Christian Brothers grammar school. And I met a new kind of boy. Indeed not just the boys who lived in Glengormley, Andytown, Bangor, Lurgan and Portaferry….but the boys who lived much closer to me in West Belfast…..Leeson Street area, Clonard and Beechmount.

Going into houses in Leeson Street, Clonard and Beechmount, it was obvious there was a very different protocol to life there. The houses often had republican as well as Catholic icons on the walls….and as my father became aware of the names of my new friends, he would often say …ah thats a grandson of XXXX XXXXX “a 1920s man” or a son of XXXXX XXXXXX, a “1950s man”.

My father did not particuarly mind my new friends. Indeed there was an admiration for such men…..often pointed out to me on summer night walks….older and middle aged men who watched GAA games at Corrigan Park or wore “fáinne” at An Ard Scoil and the men with pioneer pins who had fought for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.

And besides there was no violence in the mid 1960s and violence wasconfined to the history books.

So no big deal that some of the boys in my class and some of the boys in the junior Legion of Mary had militant republican backgrounds. To be honest, I dont think I really knew the full extent of this until Easter 1966.

Certainly at least two teachers…one a lay teacher and the other a Christian Brother …suspended our Religion and Maths class to talk about being schoolboys in Dublin, fifty years previously.and while you might be buying these weekly installments of re-produced newspapers from 1916, I urge you to visit a library and look at the special edition of the Sunday Press (Easter 1966) …I still recall it spread over our living room floor.

My parents, sister and I watched the Parade on Falls Road. …opposite Falls Baths. The younger brother of my best friend was in the front line. …dressed in his GAA colours and carrying a football. He would have been 12 years old. Whatever happened him? He is not a politician but he is one of the best known figures in “Civic Society”

And within the parade was a school-friend. Whatever happened him. Within a decade, he would be killed “on active service” in the streets of west Belfast.

The issue of 1916 north and south is different. In Dublin, it is a symbol of (eventual) victory and in Belfast a symbol for nationalists of a glorious “lost cause”. The cause of Irish Freedom …and as causes go, its a damned good one….cant be right in Lifford and wrong in Strabane. It cant be right in Banna Strand and wrong at Murlogh Bay.

It is either right or wrong and I choose to believe Easter 1916 was right.

Parades are usually for Victors…look at Poppy Day. Shame is for the Defeated. There are few or limited parades for German veterans.

Yet look at the American Civil War. There were plenty of veterans of that conflict (1861-1865) in 1916. And indeed they were still having veteran campa at Gettysburg around 1929.

Yet ….the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy were more open about parading their lost cause…a very bad cause ….years after Defeat….or was the South really ever defeated until Martin Luther King a century later….or has it really been defeated at all?.

HISTORY is not merely about Events. It is the ongoing interpretation of Events. And effectively this Centenary of the Easter Rising is the second time in my lifetime that this Event has been interpreted. …twice by the Republic of Ireland “establishment” and people and twice (by default) northern republicans of the specifically militant kind. Mainstream nationalist/republicans of the type who wont be giving first prefernce votes to Sinn Féin have been deliberately marginalised  by the SF organisers….and/or have marginalised themselves.

But a word of caution …the 1966 Belfast commemorations were organised in the Clonard area and the first killing of the (modern) Troubles was John Scullion in the Clonard area…in 1966 in Clonard…a full three years before the date usually given as the commencement of violence. Mr Scullion was killed by loyalists who were targetting one of the main organisers and Mr Scullion was shot dead instead.


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Easter Rising: South and East Belfast

So….Oxford Street, Belfast…the old Christian Brothers Primary School and the launch of the programme of events to commemorate the Easter Rising and the connexion to South and East Belfast.
There will of course be events in other parts of the city of Belfast and Norn Iron.

Three young people…two male and one female…looking very smart in Irish Volunteer and Cumann na mBan uniforms.
But surprisingly few young people. The attendees were mostly male and as old as I am. Most seemed to be “ex-prisoners”.
The question….to what extent is this event inclusive to South and East Belfast…to nationalists and republicans (I was the only member of SDLP present) and to what extent was the event a “Sinn Féin” event.
The event was hosted by Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, MLA for South Belfast. As is his way, he name-checked several people in the room, including Tom Hartley, Bobby Storey, Deirdre Hargey and Niall Ó Donnghaile.
He noted that the Taoiseach had just announced the General Election and Ó Muilleoir looked forward to good Sinn Féin performances in 2016, on both sides of the border. i thought it better not to reveal my “Team SDLP” tshirt and shout “Vote SDLP!!!”
A young woman led the singing of Oro Se Do Bheatha Bhaile and Ó Muilleoir introduced the keynote speaker, Bobby Storey, referencing his contribution to another phase of the republican struggle.
Bobby Storey referencing South and East Belfast figures who had fought the Rising…the Corr Sisters, Joseph Campbell (an “Intelligence Officer ” which Bobby seemed to find amusing) and of course Charlie Monahan, drowned during gun running.
Good that he pointed out that the republican ideals were actually Belfast ideas from before 1798 and the role of people like Dennis McCullough, the IRB and Gaelic League in Belfast.
For me, the Easter Rising is a stand alone event but Storey stated that the centenary of the Rising will be linked to the 35th Anniversary of the Hunger Strikes in 1981.

Martin Ó Muilleoir then name-checked all the other people he had missed out first time around…Geraldine McAteer and Dermot Kennedy (who will be the Sinn Féin candidate in Strangford in May.
Tom Hartley spoke briefly about the history of Oxford Street CBS.

And then the young woman singer led us in our National Anthem.

Was it inclusive? No.  But there are limits to how inclusive an event commemorating Easter 1916 can be. It certainly has to involve more than Sinn Féin and cant be about other “phases of the struggle”. Nor can it be about the Somme…or unionists…it is about the German allies of our Republic.Nor is it about the War of Independence or the Civil War.

It is about the Proclamation, it is about the three week period between the landing of Roger Casement to the execution of James Connolly.

It is not entirely Sinn Féins fault. While SDLP are absolutely right that the Easter Rising does not belong to one Party, the SDLP has not thrown itself fully into full hearted commemoration or celebration of the birth of our nation state.It is too nuanced….with the false god of “shared history” paraded before us.

Learned academic papers and seminars and re-appraisals are all very well but basically, we need a parade.

EDIT….Niall Ó Donghaile has contacted me to say that there were some unionists at this launch and probably some people who are not political.


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Blogging Is A Funny Old Game

I have now been publishing this Blog for four and a half years and I still dont understand how it works. Things tend to follow a pattern and yet sometimes there is no pattern.

I blogged on Sunday night about Fermanagh-South Tyrone and it seemed very routine. Yet when I woke up on Monday morning I already had a normal day’s views. Usually “overnight” is when American readers view this Blog but Sunday night-Monday morning a lot of local people were reading. It seemed a bit odd, even more so as stats went thru the roof all day Monday.

Neither Monday or yesterday was “best day ever” but certainly Monday-Tuesday was the best 48 hours ever. Although some of this can be attributed to being quoted twice in “Irish News” yesterday, it still seems odd…as I am no longer promoting the blog via Facebook (my Twitter presence is very limited) and I had published nothing since Sunday. Even more odd is the fact that more views generally means I get more comments….but comments are much the same.

I am not complaining of course. Blogging is always a leap in the dark. But there is something cosy about writing a blog ….a bit like Terry Wogan broadcasting to one person. Even Wogan would be uncomfortable with someone telling him that he was broadcasting to …three people.

So at least for a few days, I will have to raise my game….and be almost “responsible”.

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Fermanagh-South Tyrone: Sinn Féin Crisis

It is hard to see the Sinn Féin Convention in Fermanagh-South Tyrone as anything other than a disaster. I dont envy the SF Press Officer who has to spin this one.

To recap, last May, SF were confident that Michelle Gildernew would retain the seat at Westminster. Their trolls embarked on a particuarly nasty “social media” campaign against John Coyle, the SDLP candidate. And…Karma being Karma, Ms Gildernew lost the seat to Tom Elliott of UUP.

It was always likely that Ms Gildernew would seek election to the Assembly in May and as Bronwyn McGahon MLA announced she was standing down, the scene was set for Michelle Gildernews return.

But the scene was complicated by sitting MLA Phil Flanagan having an expensive little Twitter-related problem of his own.

So at a recent selection convention, Gildernew was duly selected along with Sean Lynch MLA and John Feeley,a local councillor. Flanagan lost out.

There was however a discrepancy in the figures and a second convention was called. This time Lynch, Feeley and Flanagan were selected and Gildernew and McGahon who changed her mind, lost out.

So this leaves Fermanagh-South Tyrone without a Sinn Féin female candidate. And more seriously for vote management it means all three candidates are based in County Fermanagh and the South Tyrone part of the constituency will be allocated to one of the Fermanagh men.

Does it matter? Yes. To maintain three seats, vote management is vital and committed Sinn Féin voters in Dungannon and along the Clogher Valley will feel aggrieved.

The position of SDLP looks the same…the sole candidate is Fermanagh man, Richie McPhillips but it is actually a very different situation. Committed SDLP voters thru the constituency will know that the best way SDLP can regain the seat lost to SF in 2011 is a single candidate.

SDLP will also feel that they lost the seat by around seventy votes in 2011 and will be confident at having a solid vote (2014) in all six DEAs in the constituency, Sinn Féin lost their aura of invincibiliity in 2015 and now in 2016, their reputation for good organisation is in tatters.

What happened? Well Michelle Gildernew may be at the Sinn Féin top table but she committed the cardinal sin of losing the totemic seat won by Bobby Sands in 1981. And Phil Flanagan may have tweeted an expensive libel about Tom Elliott of UUP but seemingly the Party at national level is more forgiving of Michelle Gildernew than the rank and file in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. And seemingly the rank and file is more forgiving of Phil Flanagan than Party HQ.

But it aint over yet. It might well be the story of another selection convention (a third one) and membership instructed by HQ to vote again until they get it right. Or more likely, one of the three selected men will be persuaded to stand down in the interests of sInn Féin and they can even claim a high moral ground that it is all about gender balance.

Last week, I was telling anyone who would listen that Michelle Gildernew would move to Mid Ulster but overnight she has made it clear that she is not so doing….and her “heart is in Fermanagh-South Tyrone”. I think Michelle Gildernew will be on the ticket. But the damage is done and the bad blood in the constituency and between national and local Sinn Féin is too obvious to ignore.

Of course….she could always take a seat in the “House of Lords”

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So “Sir” Terry Wogan is the latest celeb to die.

I cant say that I ever liked him (in so far as it is possible to actually “like” or “dislike” a person that I have never actually met). Actually that pretty much defines “celebrity”.

The majority of people reading this will not be old enough to remember a life without Terry Wogan (he has died aged 77). But to a man of 63, I can actually recall a life before Wogan.

I have often joked that I remember Terry Wogan when he was called Eamonn Andrews. And actually that makes a bizarre kinda sense.

For in September 1959 when our first TV set was delivered, Eamonn Andrews was already a fixture on BBC…the host of “Whats My Line”, “This Is Your Life”, “Crackerjack” and presenter of the Saturday afternoon BBC radio sports programme.

The Andrews defection to ITV in mid 1960s was a big thing. He never really got the hang of the Sunday night chat show. Modelled too much on the new fangled American show, Johnny Carson it was simply too dependant on the ability of (too many) six guests on a sofa engaging with Andrews and each other. Notoriously Lee Marvin never uttered a word.

Andrews fared better with a revised “This Is Your Life” and a televised sports programme but ultimately his best years were in the 1950s and 1960s at the Beeb.

Eamonn Andrews was Irish. And unashamedly so. He wrote “thank you” cards in green ink to his guests and was one of the main forces behind the scenes when RTE (then Teilifís Éireann) was established around 1961. And seemingly a regular Mass-goer at Quax Road in Kilburn, the main church of London’s Irish community.

As Eamonn Andrews eased into retirement, Terry Wogan was getting to be the acceptable face of Irishness on the BBC. Originally a disc jockey on Radio One, he sensibly eased into TV with things like “Come Dancing” and “Blankety Blank” but essentially unscripted early morning radio was what he did best …the invention of “Wogan Towers” (his home), the “first Mrs Wogan” (actually his only wife) and an understanding that the listening audience had their own obsessions…notably the TV show “Dallas”.

I dont know if it was Talent or Greed but he never seemed to be off TV…he even made the Top 20 singing “The Floral Dance”nobody did BAD TELEVISION better than Terry Wogan. Indeed he rejoiced in bad television….which explains his long association with the Eurovision Song Contest….and in tackling a thrice-weekly chat show…he made the same mistake that Eamonn Andrews had made two decades before. For a chat show depends on the co-operation of the guests and notoriously Geoge Best was not helpful.

But compare and contrast Eamonn Andrews and Terry Wogan. Just how Irish was Wogan? Well his success depended on his accent and charm….yet he was rather too fond of the “United Kingdom” entries in the Eurovision Song Contest…and he was “TV Royalty”….golfing buddies with Jimmy Tarbuck and Ronnie Corbett…..and then there was that knighthood thing. “Sir” Terry Wogan was probably a Conservative voter. He had gone native.

Of course for the British viewing public in the 1970s, it cant have been easy to see Irish people like Andrews, Wogan, Val Doonican and Frank Carson and hear accents and maybe those who had the acceptable faces of Irishness are owed a debt. It is just that Wogan lost something along the way. Or maybe he just gave it up.

There is always a place on the BBC for an “Irishman” so long as the “Irishman” conforms to a certain profile. Thus twinkly Graham Norton is the logical successor to Andrews and Wogan. Right down to the Eurovision Song Contest and the “UK entry”.he has come a long way from being Father Noel Furlong.

Dara O’Briain…he may speak perfect Irish and be more intellectual than the rest but his “stand up” will eventually become full-time TV presentation. An Irishman for the 21st century.

For an Irish person to succeed in London….whether as a TV celebrity or a hospital nurse requires a degree of compromise.Those of us who considered leaving West Belfast for North London in the 1970s were often put off migration by the degree of compromise.

The notion of “Europe” has maybe undermined a sense of Irish citizenship and re-invented Irishness as a cute ethnicity. Thus Irish accents on BBC and ITN News as reporters or financial or medical experts is routine.

Should I mention Eamonn Holmes? In the mode of Wogan, he seems to spend every waking hour on TV. He dors not seem very selective. He has come a long way from Cavehill Road in nOrth Belfast via UTV studios to the increasingly pompous and irritating Sky News presenter every morning.

Still….Terry Wogan….RIP.

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