News Declan Lynch

Friday 29 August 2014

Finally, the people of Ireland have achieved true liberation

We should celebrate the fact that we are now free from all sorts of useless information, writes Declan Lynch

Published 23/06/2013 | 05:00

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As Obama started his speech in Belfast, he gave the traditional "mentions" to all the dignitaries, the First Minister Peter Robinson, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, all the ministers in the audience, the Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir ...

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At this point I rewound the tape, as it were, back to "the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers". I played this piece a few times, in my mind, as it dawned on me for the first time that something truly wonderful had happened: I did not know that Theresa Villiers was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Maybe I knew it once, for about five minutes, and then it just got away from me because it just didn't seem to matter much, at the time. Maybe I just never knew it at all.

Either way, it is wonderful.

The name "Theresa Villiers" was vaguely familiar to me, but if I was at a table quiz, and it was round 10, and my team needed to get every question right, and someone suggested that Theresa Villiers might be, say, the Home Secretary, I think I'd go with that.

And I think that most readers, being honest, would be similarly vague on the whole Theresa Villiers question. Which, again, should be a cause for rejoicing, not just on a personal level, but for Ireland in every sense of the word.

At last, it would seem, we are in a better place.

They're always talking about the Good Friday Agreement as the landmark, but in fact the true epiphany happened for me last week. And as more people start to realise that they too had no idea who the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is, I feel that a mood of celebration will start to spread.

Indeed by a strange coincidence, a friend of mine who is based in London also had his Theresa Villiers moment recently. A distinguished journalist and a keen student of the Irish question, he was in conversation with a colleague who happened to mention that in his view, David Cameron wasn't greatly enamoured of this Theresa Villiers, as a result of which she had become the Secretary of State "for Ireland".

Pausing to note that the "Ireland" job is now considered important only as a way of putting manners on people – another refreshing development – my friend fell into silent contemplation of this extraordinary thing that had happened to him. He too had not known that Theresa Villiers had anything to do with "Ireland". And though he was knocked off-balance by it, he felt that this lack of awareness on his part could only be a good thing.

Did we not dream of such a day?

Certainly those of us who grew up with Northern Ireland constantly in our faces, could never have imagined a time when we would be visited by such a feeling of liberation. And it has a much broader resonance – it tells us that in this life everything is possible, all the time.

You don't think that Ireland will be the richest country in the world again? Frankly the odds on that are considerably better than anything you'd have got on this Theresa Villiers coming over here to run Northern Ireland, and very few sensible people knowing anything about it. And you could throw in the Mairtin O Muilleoir revelation too.

Until Obama's speech, I – and probably 99 per cent of my fellow countrymen – had not known that the present Lord Mayor of Belfast is one Mairtin O Muilleoir. And while that knowledge brought me some obscure stirrings of unhappiness on what should have been be a completely glorious day, still I celebrate all the days when I was walking around not knowing that information.

To feel so estranged from the doings of the North reminds me of what they say about recovering from addiction – the mere absence of madness for a fair stretch of time has a sort of a cumulative effect. One day it strikes you that it's been maybe a year since you've have had any meaningful interaction with insanity of any kind, and suddenly you are filled with a sense of well-being. You feel that you can measure all the progress you have made.

To which members of the political class will respond like the hacks that they are: "imagine a journalist admitting that he doesn't know the name of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland!!" (the exclamation marks are theirs).

To which I respond: on the contrary, it is the job of journalists to know that which is worth knowing, and that which is not worth knowing.

Indeed we should take this opportunity to address perhaps the greatest error of journalism in the past century, the elevation of political hackery to a false position of eminence in our culture.

We should be proud not to be immersing ourselves in what Russell Brand calls "the superficialities of current affairs", in an indiscriminate fashion.

And most actual people are already there. They are free from all sorts of useless information, not wasting a precious day on this earth awarding marks out of 10 to Leo Varadkar for his performance during the last term.

Now Villiers can be an inspiration. There are so many other things, that we must aspire not to know.

Irish Independent

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