Friendship Is The First Casualty

They say that in War, the first casualty is Truth.

I would say that in Civil War, the first casualty is Friendship.

Back in the 1960s, it seemed everything was normal. From 1963 to 1970 I was on a scholarship to a grammar school. One of the few from the working class parish and district. And relevant to say that the street in which I lived was a mixed street…predominantly Catholic at one end and predominantly Protestant at the other end. We lived in the middle.

Of course in the 1960s, we did not know the word “Demographics” but the street was changing. Protestants were moving out as (in their eyes) the street was going downhill. Arguably you could say that it was a slum area and the Belfast City Corporation was bigoted and re-housed Protestants first. And they tended to move out to places that were unknown to us…Rathcoole, Dundonald, Glencairn. We spent Sundays getting the number 13 bus to Andersonstown and walking around the construction sites at Lenadoon and Suffolk, hoping that one house was destined for us.

For a child, everything is ideal. There were reminders of the Past. …the dark days of the 1920s and 1930s. Mrs Crossan and Mrs Masterson sat in our house drinking tea and talking about the B Specials, the Black and Tans, Christy Clarke, and people being burned out of their homes.

My father advised me to be careful because our “mixed street” team played football in the Falls Park, Ormeau Park, Lady Dixon Park, Botanic Park, Grove Park and Woodvale Park. We just went… the traditional “jumpers for goalposts” game against other kids from North, South and West Belfast. I cant honestly say that we ever played in East Belfast. It was just familiarity and logistics. Were the other teams Catholic or Protestant……some certainly were one or the other….but I suppose most were also “mixed” as Catholics lived seemingly at ease at Annadale, Crumlin Road, Lisburn Road.

There was a kinda protocol about living in a “mixed street”. You could never (certainly as a Catholic) be entirely yourself. In July, the British flags would fly from windows at the Protestant end of the street. Behind us and to our left was Protestant area and to our right and in front of us was Catholic. As the 1960s progressed, there were fewer British flags, maybe just three ….in part it was the demographics and in part it was the changing times. The newer Catholic neighbours might open their doors and Irish rebel songs would blare out.

The protocol was effectively just good manners. The Protestants were Sunday observers so it was not considered good manners to play football or street games on a Sunday. And we were all happy to go our separate ways to church and school.

It was all very…civilised.

I suppose everyone thinks they are unique. But there is something about the decade 1963-1973 which seems particularly unique to me. Grammar school began (1963) with the Beatles “She Loves You” at the top of the British charts. The Summer of Love (San Francisco and Sgt Pepper 1967) is a half way point. And the final years to 1970 when the Beatles split up. …Grammar School/High School were the Beatles Years.

To emphasise the line drawn in the sand on the weekend of 15 August 1969…the Troubles broke out in violence at exactly the same time as people my age were heading to a place called …Woodstock in upstate New York.

More significantly 1963 took me away from the neighbourhood school and the “mixed street” to a Catholic school. Certainly I met boys from posh areas like the Malone Road and Antrim Road and out of town boys from Bangor, Portaferry and Lisburn but there were just as many working class kids from other Belfast areas, Short Strand, Ardoyne and Ballymurphy.

I was in a strange limbo…never fully at ease with the slum and never really at ease with the Grammar School and compounded by Protestant friends leaving the area and my family moving out in early 1970 when our house was finally knocked down. Leaving school in 1970 and starting work and the Troubles in full swing within a few years, it was unattractive proposition to go outdoors after dark and the petty harassment of the Brits (don’t get me started on the Paras, the Black Watch, the Grren Cowards and the Inglorious Gloucesters). Keeping myself to myself was a better option than being a “social” .

It would be several years before the notion that a workplace should be neutral really caught hold and was initially enforceable by legislation.

Easier to enforce in the relatively sophisticated atmosphere of the government upstairs offices where I worked rather on the shop floor in the basement with the trappings of Britishness such as the walls with fading newspaper pages commemorating the 1953 Coronation.

As in the Seamas Heaney poem, there is a protocol to working in a “mixed” office. No talk about Politics but in 1972, on the 7th Floor at Dundonald House and watching “Bloody Friday” take place, the discomfort was obvious …my colleagues ill at ease at a Catholic in the midst as IRA bombs exploded in the city. Eventually a good hearted boss found someone willing to drive me the five miles into the City Centre. The Public Transport was suspended……..a driver whose silence made his feelings known.

The “don’t talk about politics” rule produced a kinda blandness. We spoke but said nothing. Clichés like “where will it all end?” after a bombing , “I don’t understand all this” after a shooting and then we all went home to our homes in unionist Newtownards or Catholic Armagh……..and we could talk freely to our parents and spouses as we saw the bombings and shootings on the News.

It was all just a Big Lie.

In the “mixed street” in 1966 we all seemed moderate. In the “mixed  office” of 1976 we all seemed moderate. I am sure in the 1980s we gave the impression every election day that we couldn’t wait to vote for the Alliance Party but in reality we voted UUP or SDLP and even DUP or Sinn Féin….and nobody seemed to suspect.

But that is the trouble with being bland. Those unionist neighbours who in the 1960s we called friends would be supporting the Ulster Workers strike in 1973. And in 1981, moderate Catholic famers voted for Bobby Sands in Fermanagh-South Tyrone which was a big shock to their Protestant neighbours.

That’s who we are ……unionist/Protestant and nationalist/Catholic. What about the “LetsgetAlongerists”? . Beneath the front, they are just like the rest of us. Which is why I would rather have honest unionists than dishonest letsgetalongerists.

This is the prologue to Civil War. The failure of…Nuance.

Look at United States of America. Friendships are broken. It turns out that the “moderate” in Georgia voted for Trump and that making America great again is just a code for bigotry. It turns out that the “moderate” in California supports the NFL players who are kneeling down.

People post messages on Facebook to tell their friends that if they support a different position, the price will be losing a friend. And I would certainly be wary of making new American friends on social media.

It looks to me that USA is beyond the point of no return.

 

 

 

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McElduff …Laughing All The Way To The Dole Queue

Sinn Féin’s favourite comedian, Barry McElduff has resigned as MP for West Tyrone. It is the first thing he has ever said or done which made me laugh. Whether or not you believed he disgraced himself with the Kingsmill stunt, the real point is that he embarrassed Sinn Féin and that is a complete “NO-NO”. He had to go.

What does a 51 year old former Sinn Féin MP do? Well, there is always one of those “community worker” jobs that Sinn Féin loves so much or he could simply be re-assigned to another role in the “movement”.

As a comedian of sorts, he might get a guest appearance on “The Blame Game” alongside Tim McGarry, Jake O’Kane and the other one. None of them have ever made me laugh either.

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“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene…Joleeeeeene!!”

Probably the only “Jolene” you know is the one in the Dolly Parton song. A friend of mine does a very good karaoke version.

There is also Councillor Jolene Bunting, an Independent Unionist councillor on Belfast City Council. She is only in her 20s but has not exactly on the progressive side of Politics.

She is in the news again. She is a supporter of “Britain First” and its Deputy Leader, Jayden Fransen, who is a regular visitor to Norn Iron…and its courts. It must be easier to get arrested in Belfast.

A few months ago, Ms Fransen who is a total no-mark found herself and her controversial videos re-tweeted by  President Donald Trump.

A visit by Ms Fransen to Belfast saw her being filmed sitting on the “Lord” Mayor’s big chair in the Council Chamber and she is wearing the robes of a City Councillor. Seemingly a guest of Councillor Ms Bunting.

The combination of Barry McElduff and Jolene Bunting is probably a better reflection on the under-belly of Norn Iron than any lesgetalongerist Tourism promotion.

Don’t take too much heart in Barry and Jolene being lone voices from our troubled Past. They are both part of the Present…and depressingly part of the Future.

I note there are over 1,400 comments on various Slugger O;Toole threads about Barry McElduff. No doubt this is a reflection of the relative importance of a Westminster MP who is a member of a major Party , compared to an independent unionist in a council chamber.

Perhaps it is also a reflection of the agenda of the main players on Slugger O’Toole.

But no doubt in their fair and impartial way, one of the movers and shakers on Slugger would like to start a thread on Jolene. Just for the “Record”.

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Every Loser Wins

I am…as you all know…a very stable person. I am also…as you all know…a genius. And I know most of the words to the American National Anthem. So as long as nobody demands to see my birth certificate, I am very well qualified to be President of the United States of America.

Due to last week’s high winds SKY TV (and CNN) are currently unavailable so I have not my regular dose of Trumpisms.

This new book by Michael Wolffe is interesting. A new book wont change many minds in rural Georgia or urban San Francisco.

The idea that Trump (and Melania) expected and wanted to lose the 2016 Election confirms what I always thought. Sometimes LOSING is better than WINNING.

During the Scottish Referendum, I floated the notion here that a narrow defeat (it was 46-54)  for Scottish Nationalists would be better than a narrow victory. Nationalism NEEDS Resentment. Whether it is Scotland, Ireland or Catalonia, we need a list of Injustice. So don’t get me started on Oliver Cromwell, the Glorious Revolution, 1798, the Famine, 1916 Rising or the Troubles.

To some extent, the Scottish Referendum was eclipsed by the BREXIT Referendum. But the Little Englanders who have spent forty years resenting “Europe” had been demanding a Referendum and they got it…and against the odds, they won. And they have looked uncomfortable since.

Just look at Nigel Farage at 3am when the election results were coming thru and at that stage, he conceded defeat. It looked like a narrow win for REMAIN and Nigel seemed happy enough. He had after all made his career thru blaming everything on Brussels. But by 8am, when the BREXIT victory (52-48) was confirmed, Nigel realised that leaving Europe was inevitable and that his career and influence were over.

London liberals in Entertainment and Media blame their defeat on all those fears and lies stirred up by Johnson, Gove, Farage and the rest. Oddly these are the same liberals who stirred up fears and lies to defeat the Scottish nationalists. What goes around …comes around. Karma…as the posh people say.

So what about that Donald Trump campaign in 2015/2016, Certainly the Republican Party had fed the Tea Party monster for years. But it was always thought that the evangelicals and the gun-owners were just voting fodder and the Establishment Republicans would keep them in check.

What started off a few years back with Joe the Plumber led to the Sheriff in Arizona, the rancher in Colorado and the judge in Alabama.

The lunatics had taken over the Republican asylum. Even to the extent that Trump’s valiant attempts to lose the nomination and then lose the Election, failed miserably.

He got himself elected. And it is impossible to transfer a family business with tight personal loyalty to running a nation which has the scrutiny of Congress and the Media.

The happiest man in Washington DC must be Vice President Mike Pence. Can Trump recover enough in 2018 so that there is no civil war in his Party (Republicans against Bannon nationalists) that leads to Alabama-style melt down in mid-term elections?

Will the Special Prosecutor get close to the Russian truth to make Trump cut a deal…immunity from impeachment and /or prosecution in exchange for his resignation?

Do politicians actually go into an election wanting to lose?

Well consider the recent BBC documentary which aired a few months ago. It followed three Labour MPs from the announcement of the snap General Election by Theresa May until the week after the election in June.

All three MPs thought that the Labour Party was heading for defeat. And it was all Jeremy Corbyns faultOne Stephen Kinnock (son of Neil and Glynis and heir to their European Commission pensions) was standing for re-election in Wales…a safe seat. The others, a woman in Yorkshire feared for her seat (not very realistically I think) and the third, a woman in West London seemed resigned to losing her marginal seat.

The story of the six week campaign was support draining from the Tories and Corbyns Labour Party gaining support.

The result. The Tories losing their overall majority and dependant on support from Democratic Unionist Party was a  major surprise. The look on young Kinnock’s face as his own party…HIS OWN PARTY!!!! did well and his refusal to do interviews until he had digested it all.

It was clear that Kinnock would have been happier if the Labour Party had done badly and he and his fellow anti-Corbyn faction could get a new Leader and no doubt he fancied himself as a leading member of the new leadership. Of course that would have entailed fellow Labour MPs losing their seats. Well….I suppose he would not have been one of them.

Sometimes it is just better to lose.

 

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Stupid Bazza!

The trouble with being a self-styled “joker” is that a lot of people just think you are a pain in the arse.

So…Barry McElduff MP for West Tyrone. He is either a funny man or a pain in the arse. I have always gone with the latter version.

A Sinn Féin MP doesn’t really have a big job. Basically the entire job consists of getting elected. And doing nothing (the seven MPs are abstentionist and like to put two fingers up to Westminster because they apparently have principles). His entire job consists of doing nothing and he couldn’t even get that right.

Over forty years ago this month, the IRA murdered ten Protestant workmen in a blatantly sectarian act at Kingsmill in County Armagh. It was an atrocity.

Of course there were  a lot of atrocities during the Troubles…the Shankill Butchers, the Glenanne Gang (loyalist), Ballymurphy , Bloody Sunday (British Army). Claudy. La Mon (IRA).

Odd that Barry should tweet a video of himself with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head. It was coincidence in this anniversary week. But now he has been suspended for three months by Sinn Féin which means that he wont be able to attend any Party meetings. Just what the man who doesn’t have to do anything really needs….do even less.

Of course there was the usual qualified apology…

It is easy to slam McElduff. That is why Slugger O’Toole and Belfast Telegraph are doing it. And it is why I am doing it.

Most people in Norn Iron. We are not all sectarian. But most of us are tribal. We have all seen the graffiti “Paras 13 Derry 0” (Bloody Sunday). We have all seen the graffiti “IRA 22 Paras 0” (Warrenpoint). We have seen the murals commemorating sectarian killers, flags on lampposts to mark out territory and other flags and election posters on bonfires to show contempt.

Sinn Féin has apparently a “Respect” agenda. Demanding that DUP politicians like Gregory “Curry My Yogurt” Campbell respect nationalist and republican values. Barry McElduff has certainly let DUP backwoodsmen off the hook.

The Tribalism dictated that Sinn Féin circled their wagons in defence of McElduff. Pragmatism dictated that by the weekend, senior Sinn Féin figures were distancing themselves from him. And by yesterday afternoon at a special meeting, Tribalism and Pragmatism combined to suspend Barry McElduff from Sinn Féin for three months.

Welcome to the Real Norn Iron.

 

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2017: That Was The Year That Was

No this is NOT a return to Blogging. It is a review of the year 2017 and an acknowledgement that “Keeping An Eye On The Czar of Russia” is still well read despite no entries from June this year.

This Blog is on the British Library’s list of Blogs worth reading and also recommended reading at some universities.

So this is really my annual Message to the World….Urbi et Orbi as the Pope says.

Oddly, this is the year I stopped caring.

Let’s start with Brexit. I am thoroughly enjoying the Chaos. In 2016 I voted to leave the European Union. To be honest, I never liked it (“rich mans club” as we lefties said in the 1970s) and I never liked the stealth used to diminish national sovereignty in favour of European Union. I never liked any manifestation, Common Market. EEC, EEU, EU or simply “Europe”. I can understand people loving France, Germany, Poland….and even Belgium….but who actually loves Europe more? Have you ever cheered Spain to beat El Salvador in a football match? Have you ever cheered on England to beat Australia at cricket?

The great thing about BREXIT is that my single vote was counted twice. It was a losing vote as Norn Iron voted to remain and was a winning vote as the “UK” voted to leave. Hooray and a second Hooray. Having spent a lifetime trying to weaken the concept of a “United Kingdom”, the Referendum Result was good news. England basically put a gun to its own head and pulled the trigger.

As any 12 year old at a Catholic grammar school in Norn Iron was taught in 1964….England’s problem is Ireland’s opportunity. Spanish Armada, English Civil War, Napoleon Bonaparte, First World War……..BREXIT.

And watching Teresa May, Boris Johnson, David Davies and the rest…..well I feel even better.

Even more amusing is Victoria Coren-Mitchell rejoice at making up the word “REMAIN” in an episode of “8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown”.  Or her hubby David Mitchell rant about post-BREXIT Britain on “The Big Fat Quiz of The Year”. Poor Victoria. Poor David…..I suspect that they wont need to scavenge in dumpsters and sleep in doorways. Appearances on “Countdown”, “Upstart Crow”, “Only Connect”, “Have I Got News For You”, “Would I Lie To You”, “Question Time”, “The Peep Show” should keep the post-BREXIT wolf from the door. It will of course be different for the people in Middlesbrough, Stoke and Sunderland….the poor and disconnected who voted for BREXIT will suffer. But isn’t it clear that the liberals who despise the poor and stupid who voted to leave have actually more in common with conservatives in the City of London who voted to remain.

The working class in rust belts in England cant look to liberal comedians. There is a disconnect. Likewise the working class in rust belt USA rejected Hillary Clinton and Meryl Streep.

And yet the year has been a roller-coaster. A Norn Iron election that weakened DUP and strengthened Sinn Féin and SDLP. And a Westminster election that put three nails into the coffin of SDLP (I am not sure they can ever recover).

Losing all three Westminster seats and three powerful voices was a disaster. The constant in-fighting and the impotency after the Good Friday Agreement…yes aided and abetted by back-stabbing by the two governments finally took a toll.

Really it is the small stuff that SDLP cannot handle. A member defects to Fianna Fáil. Three Belfast councillors ….socially conservative perhaps….are expelled in an abortion-related issue. And Abortion has the capacity to damage the SDLP (a “pro-life” Party with members who support choice) so if and when in 2018,  younger SDLP members rush off to Dublin to wave “Repeal the Eighth Amendment” placards, the reaction by Party HQ will be interesting. Their next move as always will be self-destructive…hopefully nobody will accept a peerage and a place in the House of Lords.

The good thing about SDLP is that they have their hearts in the right place…on their sleeves. The bad thing is that they are hopeless. Oh yes I will vote SDLP time and again because Fergus, Donal and Declan are guys like me. And Mrs FJH will vote SDLP because Ciara, Sarah and Noreen are women like her.

Sinn Féin…well they have an air of invincibility but are just as hopeless as SDLP. They can win elections, even occasionally be in government but never actually in power. And of course they are a bunch of chancers. This seems under-scored by the fact that I have seen too much of them in the past six months.

Don’t be fooled by the appearance of unity. They are a strange coalition. Felons and Féilons. The Felons are the old foot-soldiers from the 1970s and 1980s who THINK that being on first name terms with the SF leadership and sauntering along the Falls Road, wearing (one size too small) Antrim GAA track suits, means they have any real influence.

The cultural types with their bodhráns and tin whistles in An Cultúrlann and movers and shakers at An Féile (the West Belfast Festival) are the other side of the SF coalition.

The Hairy Arsed and the Half Arsed. The Jailic speakers and the Gaelic speakers…but ultimately useless.

Sinn Féin have invested too much in Demographics. Yes there are more nationalists than ever in Norn Iron but the other side of that coin is that there are fewer in the Republic of Ireland. Around 10% of the population (and 15% of the workers) in the Republic  were born outside Ireland.

Using my over65 Senior Smart pass to travel around Ireland, I see no evidence that the Slovakian girls in Burger King are nationalists. Nor are the lycra wearing cycling yuppies knocking me down in the Financial District interested in Irish unity. Nor are those yuppies at Google Headquarters at the Grand Canal interested in anything so passé. Yes maybe if I get the 122 bus to Cabra or the DART to Kilbarrack or the LUAS to Drimnagh….yes I will see blue and black Dublin GAA bunting. And I guess  they are nationalists.

But increasingly as I travel in Ireland, tourists ask me for directions and it feels like I am a stranger here myself.

So still no government in Norn Ireland. I hope Stormont is not abolished. There are a lot of problems here…housing, health and the rest and to their immense credit, the staff in constituency offices do a lot to mitigate a lot of suffering. Closing them down and sacking MLAs is an easy populist option favoured by shock jocks posing as journalists on Radio Ulster…but it gives a free pass to British Conservative ministers and the higher ranks of the Civil Service.

As always the old and poor are vulnerable. Prescription charges, rates……free transport for people over 60 (you can take my free travel pass from my cold dead hand!!!) and the rest.

The Norn Iron Office have probably got a list of wannabe Vichy-lite collaborators …and certainly some of our great and good would love to serve on a 10-person advisory board…the ultimate quango. Lets be honest I could write down the names of ten people who have been loitering with intent of a quango for years……….and I would be right about seven of them. And most of the people reading this would be able to name a few. Whatever happened all those Platform for Change folks?

Still …on the bright side, there is Donald Trump. Another failure for liberal elites. Really …whether its David Mitchell in England or Meryl Streep in USA or any “letsgetalongerist” in Norn Iron, they just don’t get it.

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Maurice Hayes RIP

No this is not a return to Blogging. Just a passing reference to Maurice Hayes who has been rightly lauded since his death a few days ago.

He has been praised by no less a man than Brian Dimbleby-Walker on Slugger O’Toole. Dimbleby likes to eulogise and I note that today on Slugger, Dimbleby wonders why the Democratic Unionist Party is not rushing to join in the praise for Maurice Hayes. We can only speculate.

I recall Slugger (via Dimbleby himself) eulogising a freemason journalist from Norn Iron who was “well respected in the wider freemasonry of journalism). Yet in August 2011, journalist James Kelly (aged 100) died an did not get a eulogy on Slugger O’Toole. It is too easy for me to rattle Mick Fealty’s cage wth speculation as to why Jimmy Kelly was not mentioned on Slugger. Suffice to say that it was not Mick Fealty’s or Slugger’s finest hour.

So it is interesting at least to see Dimbleby-Walker question DUPs silence on Maurice Hayes.

Slugger Pot…DUP Kettle.

 

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