Boris and FosterThere are certain tunes that need to be pensioned-off from their role as tired musical cues in TV documentaries about specific eras of recent history. Enough. ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks when we’re talking ‘Swinging 60s’; ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’ by The Pet Shop Boys when we’re talking the Yuppie 80s; and ‘Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves’ by The Eurythmics when we’re talking the rise of feminism. This is nothing to do with the individual merits of the individual songs – I personally love the Ray Davies songbook and recognise what a landmark in pop culture the first Kinks hit really was; but ‘You Really Got Me’ has been so overused as lazy shorthand to retrospectively define a moment in time by unimaginative TV producers and editors that both it and the endlessly recycled Pathé footage of Carnaby Street boutiques it seems permanently conjoined with have now gone way beyond retirement age.

As for the Feminism Theme Tune, it’s not a song I ever cared much for anyway; had it not been taken up by the same guilty parties for the same reason as the other two pieces of music, it would probably have been justly forgotten. I only really rated The Eurythmics when they were doing their electronic ‘Synth Pop’ stuff in 1983/4; the minute they hit big in the States and started wearing that archetypal mid-80s badge of MTV honour – i.e. black female backing singers in leather skirts – they ceased to be of interest. Hiring Aretha Franklin to duet with Annie Lennox on that particular hit was a further indication of the clout the duo wielded at the time, but I don’t exactly think it’s up there with ‘Respect’ or ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ in the Queen of Soul’s illustrious back catalogue. Anyway, where does Arlene Foster fit into all this, you might well ask – or not, as the case may be.

I suppose I was looking ahead to how the last, say, ten years of politics in this country might be looked back on in a decade or two from now – and what tunes the TV producers of tomorrow might choose to frame their documentaries; I had a scary premonition that ‘Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves’ may be exhumed once again to soundtrack a period in which talk of glass ceilings for female politicians would rightly seem nonsensical. I remember at one point in the 2010s, it belatedly dawned on me just what a change had occurred. Women were leading almost all of the political parties that were impacting on people’s lives. Regardless of one’s personal opinion of either the politicians in question or their respective parties, it seems churlish not to recognise the electorate was witness to a quiet revolution. Tellingly, the party which was the keenest to promote the theory that women in politics were thwarted in their progress at every turn by toxic masculine MPs was the only one not led by a woman; indeed, Labour remains the only major political party in the UK not to have been led by a woman. I wonder why? Maybe because, outside of the Identity Politics bubble that has become Labour’s comfort zone, people don’t place such great emphasis on their sex or use it as an excuse to obscure their true failings. They just get on with it.

The Conservative Party leader (and Prime Minister) 2016-19, Theresa May; the SNP leader (and First Minister of Scotland) from 2015 onwards, Nicola Sturgeon; the Plaid Cymru leader 2012-18, Leanne Wood; the DUP leader 2015-21 and First Minister of Northern Ireland 2016-21, Arlene Foster; Sinn Féin leader from 2018 onwards, Mary Lou McDonald. The Green Party has been led or co-led by a woman since 2008, most prominently by Caroline Lucas; the Liberal Democrats had a few months with Jo Swinson in charge until she famously lost her seat at the 2019 General Election; and even UKIP had a woman – Diane James – leading it for 18 days in 2016. At the 2017 General Election, all four corners of the UK were led by women. What’s that crunching beneath the heels on the floor of the debating chamber? Must be the glass that fell from the ceiling when it was smashed, I suppose.

Sturgeon aside, the woman who had the most longevity – and courted the most controversy – as leader of a UK political party has finally fallen on her sword after six eventful years, Arlene Foster. Faced with little option but to step down following a vote of no confidence in her leadership by her peers, the now-ex DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland has hardly left Ulster a better place than she found it when succeeding Peter Robinson in 2015. Co-ruling the Northern Ireland Executive with Martin McGuinness until the Sinn Féin man’s resignation in January 2017, Foster demonstrated all the worst bullish hallmarks of Unionist intransigence at this key moment in Northern Ireland’s recent history. The scandal of the Renewable Heat Incentive project – one Foster had been cheerleader for during her stint as the Province’s Minister for Enterprise and Investment – eventually cost the taxpayer the best part of £490 million and was mired in corruption; McGuinness pressed Foster to step down but she refused and played the sexist card by accusing her detractors of misogyny. McGuinness’s resignation and the scandal plunged Stormont into a state of suspended animation it didn’t eventually stir from until last year.

With her joint stewardship of the Executive scarred by the three-year deadlock, Foster received a glimpse of power beyond Stormont in the aftermath of the 2017 General Election, when Theresa May’s decimated majority forced the desperate PM to broker an ‘agreement’ between the Conservatives and the DUP, a glorified Lib-Lab Pact for the Brexit era. This mirage of importance on the mainland gave Unionists their greatest sense of punching above their weight since Ian Paisley had withdrawn support for Ted Heath’s Tories in the wake of the Sunningdale Agreement on power-sharing, an action which played its part in Heath’s loss of power in February 1974. However, the DUP were to learn getting into bed with the Tories wasn’t so much the beginning of a beautiful affair as a shoddy one-night stand; as soon as the Conservatives won a landslide in 2019, they dropped the DUP like the proverbial causal conquest.

At the time of the 2017 agreement, the company the Tories were now keeping certainly provoked many questions, not least the DUP opinion on certain social issues – chiefly abortion and same-sex marriage, both of which have been traditional no-go areas for Unionists. Seemingly out of step with progressive thinking in Ulster, let alone the rest of the UK, the DUP suffered a serious setback at the 2019 General Election, finding itself for the first time since partition as the minority Northern Ireland party at Westminster. Yes, Sinn Féin MPs famously don’t take their seats there, but Nationalists now outnumbered Loyalists on the list of Northern Ireland politicians elected to Parliament. With Sinn Féin electoral successes to follow in the Republic, the prospect of a united Ireland suddenly seemed closer than it had at any time since 1921.

And then there were the realities of Brexit implementation on the Province, the threat it posed to the Good Friday Agreement, and finally the resumption of serious civil disorder on streets where not much of an excuse is ever really needed for a tear-up. Foster decided to jump before she was pushed, though the move by 80% of MPs and MLAs within her own party to oust her being apparently prompted over fears of Foster becoming ‘too moderate’ perhaps tells you all you need to know about the future direction – and survival – of Unionism in Northern Ireland. That said, Arlene Foster’s tenure in power has been just as bogged by scandal, corruption, controversy and failure unrelated to her sex as those faced by her female contemporaries in other corners of the country – which surely proves the sisterhood did indeed achieve political equality in the end.

© The Editor


Like many who participated at the time, I can’t honestly say the European Union loomed very large in my life (if at all) before the Referendum of June 2016. Yes, I occasionally wrote about it on here because it was a topical story, just as I was aware it had been a running sore on the Conservative Party for the best part of forty years, something that provoked intense – and what seemed to me, disproportionate – passions in separate Tory factions; but the EU was not something I personally lost sleep over or frothed at the mouth about. Like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ or ‘Bake Off’, it was largely irrelevant to me; I didn’t really care one way or the other, and the fact I voted Remain reflected my ‘oh, well – better the devil you know’ attitude rather than revealing any deeply-held opinions. I only really took notice of the EU whenever the Tories returned to power and it proved to be the one factor that threatened to split the ranks and damage the brand. For them, it just wouldn’t go away.

Most looked on at this peculiar obsession and couldn’t really understand why it was an issue that got so many Tories so hot under the collar. When David Cameron announced there was to be a referendum on our membership of the Union, it appeared to be a move designed in response to two pressing factors, neither of which meant much to those without an investment in either. For one thing, the Tories were haemorrhaging votes to UKIP and their more traditional base was as opposed to Dave’s pro-Europe stance as it was to his socially liberal policies; secondly, the PM was evidently determined this issue would not bring him down as it had brought down previous Tory tenants of No.10, so here was an opportunity to finally lance the Brussels boil festering on the Conservative body politic once and for all with a (to quote Nicola Sturgeon) ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ vote. Thank God for that. It had become a very boring ongoing saga for far too long and was not a subject that would register much beyond Tory circles the moment it was done and dusted.

Imagine my surprise the day after the Referendum, then, when so many of my Facebook friends suddenly supplanted their regular profile pictures with the EU flag as though the EU were some über-cool band they’d just discovered; indeed, imagine my surprise when so many of them, who had previously never aired any political opinions on the forum, had transformed overnight into Great Political Thinkers, little Edmund Burkes, one and all. Grand pronouncements on the issue replaced enjoyably frivolous trivia, as if Facebook had abruptly changed channels from ‘The Generation Game’ to ‘The World at War’ with the flick of a switch. The unexpected rush of love for the EU on social media reminded me a little of the way in which the imminent closure of Woolies provoked a rash of sentimental shoppers to flood through doors they’d summarily ignored for decades. Yes, the usual suspects had been vocal in their support before the Referendum result, but now it seemed the majority of apolitical folk I followed had become possessed by this newfound passion that evoked unwelcome memories of the vicious tribal splits that characterised opposing camps during the Miners’ Strike of 1984; and their fury has multiplied as the rest of us who voted Remain have gradually realised just what a rotten shower the EU really is.

Since that moment, the approach to every issue has been cast in the black & white Brexit mould, whereby all is politicised in the most aggressive and divisive Us and Them ideology. We, the good people are virtuous, unsullied and pure; our enemies are the worst people who ever lived – like, literally Nazis. Brexit has narrowed, shaped and defined political and social discourse for five years now, and it appears there’s no letting up; even the pro-lockdown/anti-lockdown debate languishes in its toxic shadow. For many of us whose natural home had always been leaning towards the left, this atmosphere opened the floodgates for the lunatic fringe to seize control of the argument and edge the rest of us towards the no-man’s land of the middle ground, branded ‘far-right’ for not submitting to the propaganda, and painfully severed from friendships that had been fine before battle lines were drawn by the malignant hands of others. The instinctive response to BLM being put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize should be to wonder why the KKK haven’t received the same accolade, for there is no discernible difference between the ultimate aims of the two other than the former have successfully exploited the fear of being labelled racist by duping every conceivable institution and corporation in the West into supine compliance with their odious dogma. Yet whether through ignorance, reluctance to risk cancellation, or simple cowardice to reject the mantra of the herd because the herd offers an illusion of safety and security that social exclusion doesn’t, many continue to be blinded to the uncomfortable truth – and this is part of the 2016 fallout.

However, the past week has offered a sliver of hope that threatens to shatter the narrative. Unlike many Brits post-2016, I had never regarded ‘Europe’ as a single entity, which is what it suddenly became the day after the Referendum result – a myth the EU has always been keen to propagate in order to validate its existence. Personally, I like different European countries for their differences, just as I like the four constituent countries of the UK for the same reason. A huge landmass viewed as a de facto ‘One Nation’ that rides roughshod over independent sovereignty doesn’t work; it didn’t for Europe in the long run when much of it fell under the sprawling bureaucracy of the Holy Roman Empire, and history shows us how rarely it has successfully worked for the USA. The European Union has repeatedly tried to sell itself using the ‘one-size-fits-all’ idea, but it was always a sham. The way in which the institution has treated Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal in recent years whilst simultaneously favouring Germany and France has made this blatantly obvious. Continents are not countries and the EU is not a democratically-elected government.

Attempts to apply its official principles to the issue of the coronavirus vaccine have exposed the unattractive reality of the EU to many of those who proclaimed their love for it five years ago. The leading cheerleaders of the EU project dragged their heels when it came to a vaccine rollout, forbidding member states to import vaccines without EU permission, and resulting in the European Commission pointing the finger at Oxford-AstraZeneca to obscure the fact that EU officials hadn’t moved with the same swiftness as the UK when it came to ordering the antidote. Both Germany and France have tried to cover Brussels backs by badmouthing the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab at a time when their respective populations sorely needed it; and then the EU badly misjudged the global mood by falling back on emotional blackmail and trying to use the vaccine as a weapon in Brexit trade wars, making it look petty and vindictive, prioritising trivial grievances over the lives of the European citizens in whose interests it has claimed to be acting.

The below-the-belt attempt to threaten the Northern Ireland Protocol, the survival of which has been central to disputes over Brexit, made it look like a hard border on the island of Ireland was something the EU was prepared to invoke whenever it suited them and brought the authentic EU attitude to Ireland into the open. For the last few years we’ve been repeatedly warned by Brussels how Brexit would be the harbinger for the Troubles Part II, yet the EU throwing its toys out of the pram by sanctioning vaccine for Eire and refusing it for Ulster, theoretically erecting the very hard border it has repeatedly claimed Brexit would disastrously lead to, managed the impressive feat of uniting the DUP and Sinn Féin in condemnation. The vaccine issue has been a PR disaster for the EU all across its fiefdoms, yet none more so than in the very ex-member state it has been determined to punish for having the nerve to expose its sales technique as bullshit. Five years on from Brexit, perhaps now is finally the moment when Leave voters can say ‘told you so’ without fear of a spontaneous backlash of the kind we’ve become accustomed to. Silver linings and all that…

© The Editor


The seemingly forced resignation of Sajid Javid as Chancellor, substituting one casino capitalist for another, has understandably owned the front pages when it comes to Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle; but perhaps the removal of Julian Smith as Northern Ireland Secretary should warrant a little more attention than it has so far received. Having played his part in the restoration of the Executive at Stormont after three years of suspended animation, Smith’s stated Remain stance and conviction that a no-deal Brexit would have an especially disastrous impact on Ulster probably didn’t help, regardless of the key role he appears to have played in helping repair an apparently intractable situation.

However, this Downing Street regime isn’t merely engaged in the traditional power struggle between No.10 and the Treasury (see ‘Yes, Prime Minister’); as the PM demonstrated when expelling 21 rebel MPs from the Conservative Party last year, any divergence from the Cummings script that can be perceived as disloyalty is swiftly dealt with. Julian Smith’s dismissal highlights how a minster’s better-than-expected performance cannot even save them if they express an opinion contrary to the consensus. Indeed, following the favouritism extended to the DUP as a means of shoring up Theresa May’s decimated numbers in 2017, it’s a miracle anyone has managed to bring the opposing factions together again. But perhaps the scant coverage given to this particular dismissal also reflects what a busy, transitional time it’s been on the island of Ireland lately; maybe the appointment of the third Northern Ireland Secretary since 2018 was bound to be overshadowed by other events.

A week which saw Northern Ireland’s first same-sex wedding ceremony take place also saw 52-year-old Paul McIntyre charged with the murder of Lyra McKee, who was shot dead as she observed a riot on the infamous Creggan estate in Derry last April. The province was united in its outrage at the death of the 29-year-old journalist, with the priest conducting her funeral earning a standing ovation as he angrily noted the assembling of Northern Ireland’s political class in its Sunday best at the service; Nationalist and Unionist politicians could be brought together to virtue signal their disgust at a senseless murder, yet couldn’t overcome their differences to revive Stormont, mothballed since the resignation of Martin McGuinness in January 2017.

As a rising star of political journalism and a prominent gay rights campaigner, Lyra McKee had seemed to embody the changing climate in Ulster, highlighting the coming of age of a socially-liberal generation too young to have experienced The Troubles and too focused on the future to be weighed down by inherited sectarian baggage. That Lyra McKee should be cut down by a gunman representing a diminishing number of ideological antiquarians was a cruel blow, yet not without its significance; the overwhelming revulsion at the backward-looking violence of her killer underlined just how much the gun and the bomb have been comprehensively rejected by the Nationalist community bar a tiny handful of dead-end dissident Republicans.

Just as recent social legislation in the Republic has now been belatedly echoed in Ulster, the post-Brexit political frontrunners of the North are finding shared aims in the South. Sinn Féin, for so long tarred by the toxic brush of its terrorism associations, has successfully shed its past reputation and repositioned itself on the political spectrum to the point where it has now become established as the dominant party on the island. The result of last weekend’s General Election in the Republic, hot on the heels of more Nationalist than Unionist MPs being elected to Westminster for the first time ever, saw neither of the two parties that have dominated Irish politics since partition – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – gain a majority. The former won 38 seats whilst the latter managed 35. Yet, sandwiched between them with a staggering 37 seats, is Sinn Féin. The party that was traditionally accompanied by the suffix ‘The political wing of the IRA’ has smashed the mould in the Republic after a century, mirroring aspirations and ambitions on both sides of the border.

Although many hinted the new, broader appeal of Sinn Féin – binning the old romantic Republicanism in favour of focusing on left-of-centre social issues (particularly housing) – might secure the party a record showing, the pitiful placing it had suffered during last year’s European elections hardly suggested it would ascend to the position it now holds in Eire with such rapidity. As things stand, neither Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael can contemplate a formal coalition administration with each other, but one of them will have no choice but to enter into such a partnership with a party that won almost a quarter of the vote, a party that was seen as something of a pariah in the Republic not so long ago.

Over the border, Sinn Féin’s detachment from the party’s old allegiances on home soil was further emphasised by the news that Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and her Sinn Féin colleague Gerry Kelly have received death threats for their appearance at a recruitment event for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. O’Neill’s response to dissident dinosaurs still associating the province’s police force with the RUC or even (more accurately for those spending their days living in the past) the Black and Tans, was succinct. ‘These people have no politics, no strategy and nothing to offer,’ she said. ‘They are at war with the community and are now threatening political representatives…These groups have nothing to offer.’

Those who had directed the armed struggle brought it to an end with the Good Friday Agreement, though this was a bitter pill to swallow for some lower down the pecking order who’d had a good war. Obstinate opponents continuing to cling to ye olde Republican mythology have been very much in a minority ever since; and as the country moves further away from 1998, let alone the savage carnage that typified the three decades before it, dissidents will find little support in their retrogressive attempts to preserve the spirit of 1916 in amber. Even the old-habits-die-hard singing of ‘rebel songs’ has been severely admonished by Sinn Féin’s leaders in Dublin and Belfast, recognising the negative connotations such dirges have and how contradictory they are to the aims of a party with its eyes fixed on the road ahead rather than behind.

The question of Irish Unification is in the air again as a result of all these events, something that was undoubtedly kick-started by Brexit. Standing still and maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. However, Boris Johnson’s fanciful idea to revitalise the province – i.e. building a literal bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland – has been scuppered by the realisation that the proposed route of the 28-mile site would risk disturbing a WWII munitions dump in the middle of the Irish Sea. A more realistic proposition would be a plebiscite on unification, something that – regardless of Sinn Féin’s strong foothold in both North and South – is bound up with the Good Friday Agreement and would still require the British Government playing a substantial part in proceedings. After all, we remain the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But for how much longer?

© The Editor


A recurring Remainer tactic of the last three years that has come to the fore again during the current Election campaign has been to blame the result of the 2016 Referendum for making the nation more dangerous, volatile and violent than it has ever been before – well, before the collective memory of those born in the 90s, perhaps. Barely a day goes by without being told how Britain is an unprecedented cauldron of toxic nastiness populated by trolls, bigots, fascists, racists, Nazis, and phobics of every conceivable variety. Granted, strolling through certain quarters of the capital bereft of a stab-proof vest might not be advisable in 2019; but one doesn’t actually have to travel back to a distant period of genuinely barbaric British history such as, say, the 17th century to trash this shaky theory. 1977 – a mere 42 years ago – will suffice.

I’ve devoted a good deal of the past week’s online downtime to watching news broadcasts from 1977 on YouTube. Why 1977? I can’t even remember how it started now, but it has become something of a nightly addiction. Even though I was there at the time, the vivid memory has received a jolt when reliving it in cyberspace. As a ten-year-old in 1977, I was more concerned with whatever I was watching or reading or playing than ‘the news’, that byword for boring in the minds of most children that age. Thanks to ‘John Craven’s Newsround’ being cannily sandwiched between ‘Scooby Doo’ and ‘Blue Peter’, however, I was exposed to some of the bigger stories of the day by default, so many of the ones I’ve revisited these last few days were familiar, even if the finer details eluded me in 1977.

Growing-up in a city that contained one of the dominant football clubs of the era meant I was exposed to the beautiful game as well as its uglier aspects. A fixture guaranteed to provoke trouble in and around Elland Road – such as the traditional grudge match against that other United from the ‘wrong’ side of the Pennines – was not really advisable for a child to attend. Manchester Utd had one of the worst reputations for hooliganism in the country back then – indeed, in September 1977 the club were temporarily expelled from the European Cup Winners Cup following fan trouble at an away game at St Etienne; footage of the chaos is quite retrospectively chilling, almost as if you can see the elements that led to Heysel – just eight years away – in embryonic form.

When Leeds and Man U were drawn against each other in that year’s FA Cup Semi-final at Hillsborough, local shopkeepers were boarding-up their windows as fencing was erected on the terraces for the first time in anticipation of a war. In the end, the game passed without major incident; but footage from a league fixture that same season between the two rivals paints a more accurate portrait. With hordes of Bay City Roller-lookalikes rampaging through the streets outside the ground and police on horseback galloping around them, it looks more like a warm-up for the Poll Tax Riots than the preamble to a sporting occasion. It’s also a timely reminder that, unlike now, this wasn’t a problem restricted to lowly lower league clubs, but afflicted the biggest in the land. It’s impossible to imagine such scenes taking place outside the corporate complexes of Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge today, which reminds the viewer how much the English game at the highest level has changed in 42 years.

Violence on the streets wasn’t restricted to being pre-match entertainment in 1977, however. Aside from images captured in the aftermath of an IRA bombing, the main visual representation of the Northern Ireland Troubles which viewers on this side of the Irish Sea received usually documented pitched battles between bottle-and-brick-throwing children and the British Army. Generally taking place in the more poverty-stricken corners of Londonderry or Belfast, the shocking aspect of these clashes is just how young the participants really are, looking just like me and my schoolmates – same haircuts, same clothes, same age. And once the shock of that sinks in, another sight hard to imagine now also hits the viewer: latchkey dogs. Without fail, any footage of such street battles from the period will have at least one giddy mutt dashing around the melee. And that’s one more thing now happily consigned to history.

Anybody declaring how unsafe the streets of 2019 are should be made aware of this stuff. And if it wasn’t a match-day within the vicinity of a railway station or football stadium (and if one resided on the UK mainland), there might not be a respite from a scrap if the National Front happened to be marching into town. There seems to have been at least three major marches by the far-right shit-stirrers in 1977, with the one that took place in Lewisham in August of that year yielding the greatest quota of violence. Most of the archive footage dredged up for documentaries on racism in Britain appears to have been shot in Lewisham that day. The formation of the Anti-Nazi League to counteract the NF whenever they decided to target a neighbourhood with a large ‘immigrant’ community meant that any such event from ’77 onwards ended in conflict. The film from Lewisham, in which police and protestors from both sides are battered, bloodied and bruised by fists, truncheons, bricks, bottles and (in one memorable moment of improvisation) a dustbin, demonstrates that the tempers we keep being told are at boiling point in 2019 well and truly boiled over in 1977.

Those tempers weren’t always provoked by the incendiary subject of racism – which was far more ‘in yer face’ in 1977 than it is now – but political ideology too. Industrial disputes wielded as bargaining chips by powerful unions were daily occurrences; British Leyland probably didn’t enjoy more than one strike-free week during the entire decade. But the worst dispute of 1977 was one that had begun the year before and didn’t end until the year after. It took place at a South London film-processing lab called Grunwick.

Grunwick paid pitiful wages and imposed long working hours on a predominantly female Asian immigrant workforce. When the mouse roared, a small strike that had passed-by largely unnoticed gathered pace as sympathy from other unions was garnered; these unions then began sending bus-loads of flying pickets to show solidarity and prevent ‘scabs’ from crossing the picket-line; this necessitated police involvement – including the notorious SPG – and also attracted those members of the Socialist Workers Party up for a fight. By the summer of ’77 the scenes of opposing forces squeezed into the narrow residential streets leading to Grunwick beggar belief. The clashes are some of the ugliest and brutal of any industrial dispute – predating the Miners’ Strike at its worst by a good seven years – and Grunwick itself became seen as a microcosm of everything that was regarded as wrong with British industry. But it is the level of violence on display that seems so characteristic of 1977.

The same media sources that are today repeatedly telling us how toxic the atmosphere in the country is in 2019 were also at it in 1977 – though then it was Punk Rock rather than Brexit held up as being responsible. Perhaps some began to question this narrative when The Sex Pistols – sold as the worst of a bad bunch – belied their public image by staging a free Christmas Day concert in Huddersfield for the children of striking firemen. Yes, even the firemen were on strike as the year drew to a close. 2019 is not 1977 by any stretch of the imagination. Just take a look on YouTube. And take a look at your average Remain or Leave march. Take a look at the flag-wavers permanently positioned outside Parliament. Not exactly reminiscent of Lewisham or Grunwick or Belfast or Elland Road in 1977. In fact, not remotely comparable. My advice to contemporary scaremongers is to take a tip from a Stranglers hit of 1977 and get a grip on yourself.

© The Editor


Certain phrases that shouldn’t be taken literally nonetheless have a habit of painting vividly silly and very literate pictures in my strange head. Mention a customs border in the middle of the Irish Sea and I immediately see a sad, lonely little Jobsworth with a clipboard standing on a floating Checkpoint Charlie midway between Liverpool and Belfast; I then see goods being dragged onto said edifice by teams of burly individuals as though it were a swimming pool-based prop on some insane Brexit-themed edition of ‘It’s A Knockout’. Actually, more ‘Jeux Sans Frontières’, thinking about it. But I digress before I begin. Naturally, DUP opposition to Boris’s deal brought me here.

It goes without saying that the Democratic Unionist Party has been punching way above its weight for the past couple of years. The dominant force in Ulster Unionism, which was elevated to a position of unprecedented prominence at Westminster in order for Theresa May to shamelessly make up the Tory numbers in 2017, played a key, calamitous role in events leading up to the suspension of regular Stormont business almost three years ago; but Mrs May’s magic money tree rescued Arlene Foster and her henchmen from the fallout over the Renewable Heat Incentive affair and gave them disproportionate clout at the Commons whilst the party’s rightful home of the Northern Ireland Assembly remained mothballed.

The DUP’s main objection to the current PM’s solution to the backstop problem seems to be based upon the drawing of a distinct line between the mainland and Northern Ireland where Brexit is concerned. The DUP doesn’t want the special concessions that keep Ulster’s ties to the EU far tighter than the rest of the UK’s will be; DUP thinking is that the nation’s future relationship with the EU should be the same across the whole of the United Kingdom, as though the overemphasis on ‘Britishness’ that is a traditional hallmark of Unionism implies there has never been any divergence between Northern Ireland and the other three constituent countries of the UK – and any sign of one now is somehow selling-out to Nationalists or, even worse, the dreaded Dublin.

Which is, of course, bollocks. Ulster Unionism has always been quick to raise the Union Jack, but it’s a pick ‘n’ mix patriotism in which Northern Ireland gets to choose which bits of Britain it fancies and disregards all the bits it doesn’t. The liberal removal of many illiberal, archaic British laws that began during Roy Jenkins’s social reforming tenure as Home Secretary in the 1960s never crossed the Irish Sea at all; even when the old Northern Ireland Parliament was abolished in 1972 and the province was governed from London for the next quarter-of-a century, there was little social reforming in Ulster. Mind you, it could be said there were perhaps more pressing issues there at the time.

Social (and what is no doubt regarded as moral) conservatism has typified Protestant Northern Ireland and its political face for decades; at one time, such an approach was also regarded as being characteristic of Catholic Northern Ireland – just as it was of Catholic Eire. Listening to a radio adaptation of Edna O’Brien’s ‘Country Girls Trilogy’ the other day reminded me of how young women in particular – especially those from rural Ireland – were utterly infantilised by the considerable, corrosive power once wielded throughout the Catholic community by the Church of Rome. However, the irreparable damage done by the child abuse scandals, which have undoubtedly contributed towards the church’s waning influence, could well have played a part in creating the kind of climate conducive to the radical reforms that have taken place in the Republic recently.

In the public perception, these social liberalisations have tended to make the Republic resemble a vivacious party animal who happens to live next door to a curmudgeonly middle-aged man forever complaining about the noise. They have made Northern Ireland look as much of an anachronism to Dublin as it is to London, yet with Stormont in a state of suspended animation ever since the resignation of Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister in January 2017, members of the Assembly (who continue to draw their salaries, by the way) haven’t exactly been in a position to address such issues.

Ironically, their absence from Stormont and the return of effective direct rule from Westminster has enabled certain policies to be imposed on Ulster that, had the DUP been more active on home soil, would probably have struggled to get a foot in the door. And the one Great British social reform of 1967 that even the Republic has now adopted was the one whose glaring omission from the Northern Ireland statute book made a mockery of Unionist objections to any Brexit deal making a clear distinction between Ulster and the mainland. Indeed, that very omission showed there have always been very clear distinctions. However, as of midnight last night, abortion is no longer a criminal offence in Northern Ireland.

As Suzanne Breen from the Belfast Telegraph pointed out on ‘Newsnight’ yesterday, the hypothetical (albeit plausible) scenario in which a rape victim risked receiving a longer prison sentence than her rapist should she terminate an unwanted pregnancy provoked by the rape has now been belatedly consigned to history, along with the Victorian legislation that has kept Northern Ireland out of step with the mainland for 52 years. The fact that the DUP were strong enough in their opposition to go so far as to recall the power-sharing Executive said a great deal about the party’s priorities; the less headline-grabbing, albeit important, issues affecting the Northern Ireland electorate were not deemed significant enough to warrant reconvening at Stormont, yet offer women the same ownership of their bodies as they have in England, Scotland and Wales, never mind the Republic, and the DUP are there.

Mercifully, they left it too late. Their failure to stem the march of progress also merely highlighted how detached they are from wider public opinion beyond the hardcore Unionist enclaves; temporarily resuming business at Stormont to debate a single issue ended in farce with petulant walkouts that emptied the chamber. The fact that Ulster will also be brought into line with the rest of the UK (and the rest of Ireland) on the legal standing of same-sex marriage must have been an additional kick in the teeth for the DUP. For some reason, I can’t help but remember Mo Mowlam’s recollection of Ian Paisley’s fire-and-brimstone reaction to the news that Elton John had been invited to play at the ceremony marking the founding of the Northern Ireland Assembly – ‘Sodomites at Stormont!’ All that remains for the DUP now is to lick their wounds and return to Westminster, where – unlike at Stormont – the party’s appetite for destruction at least has numerous sympathetic allies.

© The Editor


When Belfast City Council voted to break with tradition in 2012 by reducing the flying of the Union Flag atop City Hall from 365 to 18 days a year, the more vociferous wing of the Unionist community greeted the announcement with violent protests. A couple of days ago, marking the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, bonfires were lit across Unionist strongholds of the province, many of which were decorated with photos of prominent Sinn Fein politicians. I only nod to our neighbours over the Irish Sea to make a roundabout point on how the issues that enflame passions on both sides of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland barely register on the mainland; they’re viewed by the rest of the UK (with the possible exception of Glasgow) as parochial concerns unique to Ulster and characteristic of a land with an extremely long memory.

Even with the high profile suddenly afforded the DUP in the wake of Theresa May’s golden handshake, the ‘street politics’ of Northern Ireland rarely attract outsiders to the barricades, something that can’t be said of another divided community from a region with a similarly turbulent history several thousand miles away – Virginia. The dramatic and ugly events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia at the weekend didn’t have their source material in religious divisions, but race – the most contentious of all American issues that just won’t go away. Not even eight years of a black President could sort it.

Virginia was one of the four slave states from the ‘Upper South’ of the US that, along with Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina, joined the original seven Southern secessionist states in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Its history, now so bound-up with the Confederacy and its aftermath, predates that era considerably, with Virginia being the first English colony in the New World, established as far back as 1607. But it was also prominent among the 13 colonies that broke with British rule and has a claim as being the birthplace of the USA; it certainly was the birthplace of eight US Presidents, for one thing.

Like the rest of the states in the South, Virginia had a segregationist policy in place until the civil rights movement of the 1960s gradually led to a repeal of the remaining Jim Crow laws; but its past, like many of its neighbours’ pasts, continues to attract the attention of those for whom integration remains a greater threat to making America great again than the hardware in Kim Jong Un’s toy-box.

Recent attempts to reduce the high visibility of the Confederate Flag in the Southern states have gone hand-in-hand with a concerted programme to remove statues of, and monuments to, Confederate heroes from public places; and these efforts at erasing a history that sits uncomfortably on the shoulders of modern America have served to ignite the ire of white Southern natives proud of their inheritance, as well as white supremacists from different parts of the country who exploit the situation to promote their cause. When Washington belatedly addressed the iniquities and inequality of the South in the 60s by outlawing its segregationist traditions, the white population claimed the rest of the US didn’t understand the South and there’s probably a grain of truth in that. The South was seen as something of an embarrassment that contradicted America’s international reputation as the Land of the Free; the South was a place where the past remained present.

The ongoing contemporary operation to change the perception of the South, not only for outsiders but also for those who live there, has been characterised by the official removal of ‘negative’ symbols relating to its past; though whereas the pulling down of statues during an uprising or revolution tends to come from the emancipated population itself, the policy of removing them that has been taking place across the South of late is a decision of federal government. Many have viewed this decision as symptomatic of rewriting American history, a rewrite that fails to acknowledge aspects of it that don’t complement the image America likes to project of itself. There are also concerns that by erasing the visible legacy of the Confederacy, future generations are being presented with a lopsided story of their country, one without warts and all, and one depriving them of a history they could learn from.

Plans to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, Confederate Civil War general, in Charlottesville led to the town being invaded on Saturday by a ‘Unite the Right’ march, bringing in angry white men from all over America for a rally that was destined to be met with a counter-rally. Whatever valid points had a right to be made didn’t stand a chance of being heard; both sides were infiltrated by those whose intentions were obvious from the start, many of whom had little or nothing to do with the part of the country they headed for.

The relatively liberal college town of Charlottesville was hijacked by opposing sides looking for a battlefield. The far-from spotless ‘Black Lives Matter’ crowd were accompanied by the masked men from ‘antifa’ – an abbreviation of ‘anti-fascist’ – who have a reputation as violent left-wing anarchists; they were the group responsible for the trouble that occurred in Washington on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Those under the Alt-Right banner included neo-Nazis as well as that old mainstay always up for a fight, the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK are almost to the South what the Orangemen are to Ulster, though for all their shared pseudo-Masonic ritualism and shameful record of gerrymandering, the Orangemen are a long way from the Klan when it comes to provoking and stoking hatred in the most sinister manner.

What was already a predictable and unedifying clash on Saturday plumbed especially appalling depths when one lunatic ironically took a leaf out of the Jihadi manual and drove a car directly at protestors; his efforts were responsible for 19 injuries and one death. The white supremacists, who view President Trump as ‘their man’, were gratified that the Donald seemed reluctant to attribute blame for events to them, though the majority of the Alt Right (to whom Trump owes a great debt) probably regard the extremists who descended upon Charlottesville with the same abhorrence as the left views the ‘antifa’. It would certainly suit the narrative of the moment to lump together anyone who questions or challenges the anti-Trump consensus into one hate-fuelled, racist mob; but unfortunately, it’s not quite so…erm…black and white.

© The Editor


Yes, desperate times call for desperate measures and Theresa May is desperate. Once upon a time, the Conservative Party could always rely on the tacit support of Ulster Unionists to ease the passage of unpopular legislation through the Commons, though the Northern Ireland peace process has negated favouritism in recent years and the blue bridge across the Irish Sea has been closed to traffic for quite some time now. There was also the self-conscious rebranding of the Tories by David Cameron, seeking to lose the ‘nasty party’ tag by promoting a series of socially liberal reforms that culminated in same-sex marriages; not only did this infuriate old-school commentators in a more traditional Tory vein such as Peter Hitchens; it also alienated the Conservatives from their ancient allies in the Loyalist camp.

However, Theresa May has a new best friend in the bullish shape of DUP leader Arlene Foster, so the Conservative and Unionist Party is back in business. It’s a strange kind of friendship, though – a bit like Chris Evans surrounding himself with sycophantic ‘friends’ on his Radio One breakfast show in the 90s, all of whom were on his payroll. Like him, Theresa May has bought her friendship, bribing the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her fragile administration. Of course, a minority government entering into a deal with another party isn’t unprecedented, but it’s rarely done in such a crass manner.

In 1977, with the tiny majority he inherited from Harold Wilson gone after a by-election defeat, Labour PM Jim Callaghan approached Liberal leader David Steel to set up a working arrangement between the two parties; faced with the prospect of a motion of no confidence in the government, something that would probably have led to a General Election, Callaghan agreed Labour would accept a small number of Liberal policy proposals and Steel agreed to support Labour in what became known as the Lib-Lab Pact.

The Lib-Lab Pact, though far from being a coalition (no Liberal MPs were added to the Cabinet), enabled Callaghan to survive in office in 1977/78 – even if the presence of several Liberals in Labour territory wasn’t exactly harmonious; Chancellor Denis Healey, for example, seriously clashed with the Liberal MP seconded to his turf. The agreement officially ended that autumn, when most were anticipating the PM would call a General Election. As we all know, he didn’t, and his minority ministry lost a vote of no confidence in March 1979 before going on to lose the following Election.

As far as 2017 is concerned, the power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland has been in disarray for months – the Assembly hasn’t sat at Stormont since Martin McGuinness’ resignation as Deputy First Minister in January, triggering March’s election; yet suddenly, after dragging its heels in efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Executive, the Government has now decided the province is worth investing in. ‘It’s not a bung for the DUP!’ declares Theresa May’s dullest, greyest sidekick Michael Fallon when questioned about the £1b extra public spending promised to ensure DUP support, though to so blatantly contradict the Barnett Formula – which is supposed to guarantee funds will be distributed evenly between the devolved UK nations – by offering Ulster a great wad and not doing likewise to Scotland or Wales is playing a dangerous game.

The ‘Magic Money Tree’ the PM coldly denied the existence of in response to a nurse asking her when she could expect her first pay-rise in eight years has proven itself to be of magic proportions indeed; there’s obviously something in the soil in the No.10 garden, for the tree has abruptly sprouted an abundance of notes right at the very moment when Mrs May needed them to prolong her perilous premiership. At the moment, the PM is acting like an ailing parent bequeathing her estate to her three children and making it clear to the other two who her favourite child is. When the future of the Union is so shaky, this deal hardly bodes well for our troubled family of nations.

Last week’s pruned Queen’s Speech – mysteriously stripped of the most contentious proposals in the disastrous Tory Election manifesto – was a bizarre affair all round, with Her Majesty deprived of both her husband and her usual monarchical regalia; the presence of stand-in Prince Charles was deemed by one wag as akin to a ‘bring your kids to work’ day. Brenda’s blue hat, with its strange resemblance to the EU flag, was perceived by some as an oblique comment on Brexit, though it seemed Mrs Windsor’s mind was more on getting back to Ascot as fast as her golden carriage could carry her than the oddly unceremonious ceremony and its consequences. MPs vote on it this week, and with the DUP nicely paid off, it should be carried.

It was interesting to note that Theresa May’s signature was absent from the document making the DUP deal official yesterday; it may have not been a necessity, but it could be also be viewed as further proof that her days are numbered. The fear that her imminent removal would then require a fresh document being drawn up and the whole unedifying business having to be negotiated again would at least have been eased by its absence; but it’s not as if there are endless impressive contenders queuing-up to step into the PM’s kitten heels. For the moment, Theresa May is clinging on and will countenance any compromise to stay put.

© The Editor


Once politicians cease to be politicians, it’s interesting how they belatedly come across as human beings; flicking between BBC and ITV coverage on Thursday night, I found the Saint & Greavsie double-act of George Osborne and Ed Balls on the latter quite entertaining and almost forgot why both provoked such loathing in me when they were in power. Perhaps there is a human being lurking somewhere in Theresa May and we won’t see it until she’s out of office; I would imagine most right now are thinking that day can’t come quick enough.

Anyone watching events on TV since Thursday night, albeit with the volume muted, might have found the images misleading. They could have come to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected Prime Minister and that both Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon were reflecting on relegation to the opposition benches. The expressions of the three party leaders mentioned were more a reflection of results catching them all by surprise. Jezza clearly never expected to do so well; May and Sturgeon never expected to do so badly. At the end of the day, Labour may still be in opposition and the Tories and SNP may still be the biggest parties in England and Scotland respectively, but the latter two both misjudged the public mood and paid the price. May is worse off now than when she called the Election and Sturgeon’s obsession with a second Independence Referendum has seen her lose 21 seats.

If the result of last year’s EU Referendum should have taught party leaders anything it was that the electorate don’t take kindly to condescending, smug, self-righteous arrogance in their elected representatives, and given half a chance they’ll reject being told what to do and how to vote by a pampered Parliamentary elite totally detached from their own lives. It would also appear that the antiquated assault on Corbyn by Fleet Street, utilising tired old tactics that seemed to work in the distant 80s, utterly backfired; our newspapers, like our politicians, still labour under the belief that the Sun can win it; it can’t. Few under 40 even buy newspapers now and the huge increase in the youth vote facilitated by Labour’s canny employment of the cyber language the majority of youth speak resulted in the highest turnout since 1992.

Jezza may have provided Labour with what was apparently the party’s biggest increase in the share of the vote since Clement Attlee, but it’s seats that count when it comes to a General Election. Sorry to take us back to February 1974 again, but it’s always worth remembering that Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberals received the largest share of the vote in the party’s history in that Election – greater than even the share they had in the Liberal landslide of 1906 – yet that only resulted in a paltry 14 seats. Similarly, May’s Conservatives won their largest share of the vote since Thatcher’s 1983 landslide this time round, yet their majority was wiped out. A good deal of these statistics could be attributed to the fact that the vote has been less thinly spread in 2017, with the two major parties claiming 82.4% of it, the first time since the 1970 General Election that Labour and Tory could claim such dominance over the other parties.

Were it not for the fact that the Brexit negotiations are imminent, I’ve no doubt Philip May would never have to put the Downing Street bins out again; as it is, the Tories are postponing Madame Guillotine for the moment, but it’s only a postponement. Theresa May is a dead woman walking after Thursday’s result, our own equivalent of a lame duck US President midway through a second term, knowing re-election is out of the question. Yes, her two toxic advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill have walked the plank today (May ‘laying down her friends for her life’, perhaps); but their ex-boss’s brief speech after visiting Brenda yesterday, bereft of any acknowledgement of the disaster she’d presided over, spoke volumes. Theresa May is in serious denial of her own shortcomings, refusing to accept what is evident to everyone else, her own party included.

For all the success Labour managed, the fact remains that this is the third General Election in a row the party has lost; it now has more seats than it has been able to boast since 2005, but had it managed to push the Tories as tight it did under Harold Wilson in February 1974 the outcome of this Election could have been far closer and Jezza could have a more legitimate claim to form a Government than contemplating a half-arsed coalition comprising Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP that still wouldn’t constitute a majority. However, for all the scaremongering stories about Corbyn’s good relations with Sinn Fein – standing alongside Adams and McGuinness well in advance of all the Prime Ministers that have done just that from the Good Friday Agreement onwards – the irony that Theresa May is having to reach out to the Democratic Unionist Party to prop-up her minority administration, a party whose past association with Loyalist paramilitaries is hardly spotless, can’t have escaped Corbyn.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been in chaos for months now, and the Tories throwing their lot in with the Unionist side, regardless of the traditional ties between the two, hardly looks like fair play from a Nationalist perspective. Playing the impartial broker of the peace process has been the British Government’s role ever since 1998, and May’s desperate move to cling onto power will merely add to the political turmoil in Ulster at a time when the border with the Republic in the wake of Brexit has already provoked enough uneasiness across the Irish Sea. As for the DUP’s conservative stance on issues such as gay marriage and abortion, which has received the most coverage on social media, they’re largely typical of the hardline Protestant mindset in Northern Ireland, just as they are of the hardline Muslim mindset in the rest of the UK (Ooh – Islamophobia!); but that shouldn’t be the reason why this awkward alliance is a worry.

Yet, regardless of how both last year’s Leave vote and the inconclusive result of Thursday’s General Election have served as evidence of just how disunited this kingdom really is, the PM is content to keep churning out the vacuous slogans and sound-bites she thinks will save her own skin at the expense of the country. Considering I avoided predictions when the snap Election was called, I still imagined a Conservative landslide would be the outcome and said as much. I’m glad to have been proven wrong, but God knows what comes next. Only a fool would be a betting man right now, and I can at least admit I’ve never set foot in a betting-shop.

© The Editor


It’s an old saying, but it seems especially applicable today – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Martin McGuinness, who has died at the age of 66, will be remembered as both warmonger and peacemaker, a visionary who paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement and a murderer who prolonged the bloodshed until he belatedly realised there was nowhere left to run. In a divided community, few figures continue to generate more division than the mass of contradictions that was Martin McGuinness, and it’s doubtful that death will alter any fixed opinions of someone whose remarkable journey took him from the Bogside to Stormont, from IRA Commander to Deputy First Minister.

Even when he was regarded as a dangerously intransigent paramilitary by the security services, he and Gerry Adams were flown to London for top-secret discussions with the British Government at a house in Chelsea’s exclusive Cheyne Walk. The talks, chaired by then-Northern Ireland Secretary Willie Whitelaw, were undertaken during a brief IRA ceasefire in the summer of 1972; they collapsed in failure, but McGuinness had already been earmarked by MI5 as a man the Government could work with. Many might say it was a pity it took another twenty-five years, and the loss of hundreds more lives, before that came to pass.

That McGuinness could rise through IRA ranks with such speed and reach such a prominent position when still in his early twenties is testament to the dangerous life he’d chosen for himself; one-by-one, his superiors were killed in the line of duty as the violence intensified following the formation of the Provisional IRA in 1969. A Nationalist community under siege from Loyalist mobs strongly opposed to Catholic calls for civil rights had welcomed the British Army as peacekeepers in the absence of their traditional protectors; the effectively defunct IRA had been mocked as I Ran Away. The new Provisional wing embarked on a bombing campaign in Belfast and Londonderry, targeting city centre businesses to draw troops and the RUC away from the neighbourhoods where the organisation had to rebuild trust and support. It worked, aided by the increasingly clumsy joint policies instigated by both Stormont and Westminster.

A string of disasters during the early years of the Troubles, from Internment to Bloody Sunday, served as effective recruitment drives for the IRA, and while the abolition of the Unionist stronghold at Stormont may have provoked cheers on one side of the sectarian divide, the imposition of Direct Rule and the continuing presence of the British Army on the streets of Ulster galvanised the Republican call to arms that eventually crossed over to the mainland and brought the war to London and Birmingham. A year after the British Government had hoped McGuinness was someone they could work with, he was behind bars on terrorism charges in Eire; after his release, he took his first tentative steps into the political arena by becoming involved with Sinn Fein, a position that gave him indirect contact with British intelligence during the 1981 Maze Hunger Strikes. He remained someone with the potential to bring about change without the bomb, but there was still a long way to go.

The IRA ceasefire of 1994 marked a turning point both in the life of Martin McGuinness and the politics of Northern Ireland; there suddenly seemed a viable way forward that didn’t involve Armalite. In 1997 he was elected MP for Mid-Ulster and was Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator during the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. When the power-sharing executive was established at Stormont, he became Minister for Education, but it was his ten-year tenure as Deputy First Minister, establishing an unlikely and unexpectedly convivial working relationship with his one-time nemesis Ian Paisley as First Minister, that suggested McGuinness’ progression mirrored the progression of the province as a whole.

Another indication of the will to move on came with his regular condemnation of Republican dissident splinter groups and their recurrent attempts to revive the tactics of old. McGuinness’ landmark 2012 meeting with HM the Queen was potent with symbolism for both parties, though the fact it happened at all speaks volumes as to how far both McGuinness and Northern Ireland itself had travelled in two decades.

The understandable cries of betrayal on both sides when the Northern Ireland Assembly was formed in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement nevertheless failed to sway the determination of former enemies to work together for the common good; and men laying down their arms in favour of portfolios wasn’t necessarily unprecedented. The immediate post-war governments of France contained many who could once have been labelled terrorists, as did the first government of Israel; and there’s always post-Apartheid South Africa. Martin McGuinness was pivotal to the peace process, whatever his past activities had done to prevent peace, and this has been recognised in the statements issued by British politicians today, particularly those who played their own part in it.

Many feel (as with Gerry Adams’ similar comments) that the repeated denials by McGuinness as to the degree of his involvement with the IRA long after he claimed to have left it amounted to evasive revisionism designed to enhance his newfound status as a respectable politician. Many can never find it in them to forgive his role in a campaign of carnage that killed and maimed hundreds over a quarter of a century. One could argue most significant political leaders have blood on their hands, though it tends to come with the elevation to political power; McGuinness did it in reverse.

In death, as in life, he will always be a controversial character, albeit one that undoubtedly made an indelible mark on his times, for good or ill. Where Martin McGuinness is concerned, it seems the jury is permanently out.

© The Editor


Those in the know will rightly credit Alan Partridge with the title of this post, a suggested tagline for the doomed TV comeback of Norwich’s premier broadcaster, which he intended to come ‘live from the Blarney Stone’. To be honest, though, there’s a veritable Partridge-esque upsurge of ‘Oirish’ clichés in England today – you can’t pass a pub or a supermarket without being bombarded by images of shamrocks or leprechauns; were I Irish myself (and there’s probably a bit in me somewhere, belonging as I do to these islands’ mongrel breed) I think I’d be a tad annoyed; at what point did an Irish festival become one more marketing opportunity for the British retail sector ala Christmas, Easter and Halloween? Somehow, I can’t imagine the streets of Dublin on St George’s Day are crammed with stout yeoman clad in Union Jack waistcoats, yet the plotlines of English soap operas from Walford to Weatherfield will no doubt be marking St Patrick’s Day.

I’m not planning to jump on the emerald bandwagon today, but as it’s been a long week with a lot of posts, I figured it was the easiest/laziest option to issue a list. As an alternative to the glut of stereotypical tat decorating your local neighbourhood O’Neill’s, I thought I’d recite some Irish names that I’d rather figured on a day such as today than the aforementioned clichés. In the interests of harmony, I include both sides of the island, and to avoid any accusations of ‘cultural appropriation’, you might be relieved to hear I don’t particularly care for Guinness.

When it comes to the Arts, Ireland has produced an impressive roster of writers, playwrights, poets and musicians over the years. Many had their artistic fingers in more than one pie, though if we stick to dramatists for the moment, we could name the likes of Oliver Goldsmith in the eighteenth century, Richard Brinsley Sheridan (who had a foot in both the eighteenth and nineteenth), Oscar Wilde in the nineteenth, and two cultural giants who crossed over into the twentieth – George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey. Like his illustrious predecessors, a notable twentieth century name such as Samuel Beckett was a dramatist who didn’t reserve his entire oeuvre for the theatre. What is especially fascinating about so many Irish artists is how their artistry covers so many different fields, and Ireland has unleashed a remarkable number of genuine Renaissance Men.

That colossus of seventeenth and eighteenth century satire, Jonathan Swift, was a true polymath – still chiefly remembered by the wider public for ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, Swift was also an essayist, political pamphleteer and a poet. Beckett was also a poet, as well as a novelist; Yeats probably had ‘poet’ stamped on his passport, though he dabbled with drama as well; Joyce’s major artistic contribution was to the novel and short story, though he was also a poet; Wilde’s reputation was built on his plays, yet he produced the iconic novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, the celebrated children’s stories published as ‘The Happy Prince and Other Tales’, the poem ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ and the lengthy letter, ‘De Profundis’.

Poetry seems particularly suited to the way Irish artists can paint pictures with words, with just a small few of the most celebrated poets being the obligatory WB Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, Cecil Day-Lewis, and far too many others to mention. But there is a poetic rhythm to much of the prose that has illuminated Irish literature, and novelists have served to put Ireland on the literary map as much as its poets. I mean, where does one start? The aforementioned Swift, Laurence Stern, Bram Stoker, Liam O’Flaherty, CS Lewis (born in Belfast), Iris Murdoch, Brian Moore, Edna O’Brien, Maeve Binchy, Patrick McCabe, Roddy Doyle…the list often seems bloody endless, to be honest – so we’d best move on.

Music has always mattered either as an artistic pursuit or simple entertainment in Ireland, though if we put ‘traditional’ Irish music to one side and glance back over the last fifty years of popular music’s ascendancy, Irish names figure quite highly. The first true Irish rock band to make an impact were Belfast’s Them during the Beat Boom of the early 60s, and they were led, of course, by Van Morrison, whose subsequent solo career eclipsed anything he achieved with his original bandmates. Many Irish musicians struggled to emerge from the shadow of the ‘Show Bands’, but in the early 70s Rory Gallagher was certainly a top live draw on the rock circuit and a critically acclaimed recording artist, though in terms of Irish exports he was usurped by the mighty Thin Lizzy and their roguish romantic leader, the late great Phil Lynott.

While singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan was the mainstream face of Irish pop in the early-to-mid-70s, the Punk era certainly produced its fair share of significant bands, from The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers to the far bigger commercial monster that was The Boomtown Rats. The late 70s also saw the arrival of a band that would go onto become not just the most successful Irish rock band of all time, but one of rock’s greatest successes full stop, U2. And after U2 came The Pogues, Sinead O’Connor, Enya, My Bloody Valentine, The Divine Comedy and all those bloody boy-bands. But having skimmed across the surface of Irish music, let’s move on to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Ireland have won the Eurovision on seven separate occasions, beginning with Dana’s ode to ‘All Kinds of Everything’ in 1970 and including two triumphs for Johnny Logan and three successive victories in the 90s. The financial strain of staging the Eurovision in Ireland year-after-year inspired the classic episode of ‘Father Ted’ in which Ted and Dougall’s terrible entry is picked to represent the nation because there’s no way it can win. For many in the UK, ‘Father Ted’ is not just the greatest work of comedy genius (other than Dave Allen) that Ireland has ever produced, but it is up there with the best sitcoms of all time. Let’s not mention ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’.

And what (I hear you ask) of actors and directors, of great inventors, of politicians and sportsmen and women? How can you not mention George Best or Alex Higgins? There, I just did. Well, I’ve only got so much space, after all – though I won’t go without honourable mention of two people you’ve never heard of called John and Noeleen Doyle; they were a couple who knocked about with my grandparents when I was a child, whose house I sometimes stopped at and whose children I sometimes played with; and because of them I still can’t hear an Ulster accent without slipping into a warm bath of aural nostalgia. Anyway, considering I’m an Englishman, it’s hard not to marvel at the sheer volume of greats that have emanated from that little landmass, and long may it continue.

© The Editor