Sunday 16 December 2018

How we've missed them, and their ancient quarrel

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Ah, how strange it has been to hear them again, those voices from Northern Ireland. (I was nearly going to call it "the North", until I remembered that "the North" is a Sinn Fein usage, calculated to cause some sort of irritation to the other side, who favour "Northern Ireland" for similar reasons - and perhaps because that's what it's actually called, for whatever reason.)

You forget about that sort of thing, when you haven't heard those voices for a while, those hard Northern voices speaking their truths as they understand them, as soon as you turn on your radio in the morning.

Why, there's Gerry Adams talking about the need for the Government of this country to involve itself more with what he calls "an all-island vision", and there's Sammy Wilson, looking for whatever is the opposite of an all-island vision. Ah, how we have missed them, and their ancient quarrel.

We had allowed ourselves the little luxury of turning our minds to events in the international arena, indeed for a while it seemed quite important to direct our attention towards issues such as the imminent triumph of nationalist hooliganism in the great democracies of Europe and America, these "calamitous acts of self-harm", to take Theresa May's phrase from last week's "Brexit" speech.

She was warning the EU that to impose a "hard Brexit" would be a calamitous act of self-harm, though in "the North" they would know that here was a classic case of someone ascribing to others a malaise which the speaker knows only too well from personal experience.

Indeed, with so much of that nationalist hooliganism and so many of those calamitous acts of self-harm flooding our consciousness, perhaps it was just humanly impossible for these Northern voices to stay out of it. After all, they were setting the standards in these fields when Putin was little more than a juvenile delinquent, Trump was busy with his latest bankruptcy, and Farage was attracting the attention of the authorities at his public school for displays of what they called "fascism".

In Northern Ireland they were cultivating their various forms of nationalism, and supporting them with displays of violence up to and including mass murder, when Marine Le Pen was in kindergarten.

So with that old virus bouncing madly around the world again, I suppose we could hardly have expected a man such as Gerry Adams, a nationalist overlord of such impeccable pedigree, merely to carry on with the dreary business of enabling the running of the six-county statelet. It would not be the way of the Nordies, to just languish in obscurity while everywhere they look, there are forces marching to glory on the strength of some asinine set of prejudices.

Sinn Fein in particular sound like they want this election, and want it bad. Like they just can't stand it any more, their diminishing days being consumed by all that bloody paperwork, while like-minded souls in other countries are succeeding so spectacularly with their ludicrous visions.

They seized on that multi-million pound DUP scandal with perhaps a little too much relish. And certainly it was a very bad thing that was happening there, but when you look at it another way, it was also quite a good thing - after all, those of us who lived through "the war" would have dreamed that the day might somehow come when the only thing bothering our friends in the North was a few hundred million of Her Majesty's pounds going astray.

Indeed, we would have taken it as a sign of maturity, that the government of "the North" had settled down to such a degree, it now had a fully-functioning culture in which the incineration of other people's money is quite normal, as it is in "the South", and in all advanced democracies.

Instead, Sinn Fein is looking again at an "all-island vision", and whatever that is, we may be sure that to engage with it in any way would be a calamitous act of self-harm. No doubt they are seeing in Brexit the potential for chaos which they can exploit, with all this talk of hard borders and soft borders and just borders in general getting their juices flowing once again.

Meanwhile Theresa May's speech at Lancaster House (which was Buckingham Palace in the somewhat less fanciful Netflix series The Crown) can be seen as her latest effort in calamity-management. She will continue to call for this thing called "Brexit", all the while manoeuvring through these oceans of rhetorical slurry, declaring that Britain will leave the single market, while "having the greatest possible access to it".

And in many ways, even if there is no "Brexit", as such, the damage is already done. We had been happy there for a while, listening to Marty Whelan on Lyric FM every morning, knowing that even if we turned over briefly to the news programmes, there was almost no chance of hearing one of those Northern voices "calling" for something that was either profoundly wrong-headed or just completely ridiculous.

We will be going back to Marty for good now, and yet we will know that those people are out there, talking their heathen gibberish to Cathal Mac Coille or Pat Kenny, deriving a terrible new energy from "Brexit" and the wreckage of western civilisation in general.

It's all about Marty now. All the time.

Sunday Independent

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