From Irish Political Review: April 2008
The Royal Irish Regiment was reported on by Radio Eireann’s Good Morning Ireland programme on 14/3/08. This was in the context of the Saint Patrick’s Day holidays. The Regiment will celebrate the Saint’s day and then go off to Afghanistan for six months. A Corporal and a Lieutenant from the South were asked about the oath of allegiance to the Queen and more or less dismissed it as of no significance. The Captain, a Catholic from North Antrim, talked about his family history in the British Army, his father in World War Two and his grandfather in the Great War. He joined the military in the 70s but had to keep quiet about it until recently. The Lieutenant-Colonel, a plummy Englishman, claimed his family came from Ireland, and politics and religion were left at the gate. He tried to give the impression that the RIR was some kind of Band of Brothers apart from politics. There were no Ulster Protestants interviewed, though they make up the bulk of the unit. Emphasis was on the harp and shamrock insignia – Colonel Tim Collins (George Bush’s favourite soldier) was its commander in the invasion of Iraq. It is a very new regiment, formed in 1992, mostly from the Ulster Defence Regiment, formerly the B-Specials, formerly (and to a great extent latterly) the Ulster Volunteer Force. Among its battle honours was the massacre of the Miami Showband near Newry in 1975.
Saint Patrick’s Day in Belfast was a dramatic example of how much things have changed. There was a short official Council parade with lots of shamrocks and other green things. Also were groups from various communities – especially the Chinese. But it was the sight and the atmosphere of the whole of the city centre that impressed. It was a sea of green white and orange. Not a swaggering or aggressive thing. Just children and teenagers enjoying themselves. It looked just natural. Not long ago it would have been illegal. About twenty years or more ago the BBC was interviewing people in East Belfast about their feelings of nationality. They asked one Chinese man if he felt mostly Chinese or Irish. “I’m British”, he responded. Well, on March 17th there were a lot of Chinese families walking around town with tricolours attached to prams and pushchairs.
Saint Patrick’s Day in Dingle was a more reflective affair. The parade commemorated the tradition of defiance from the days when Irish People were forbidden to assemble during the hours of darkness. So the people rose before dawn and held their parade in the dark.
Would you wear an Easter Lily? This was the front page headline in the Wicklow Times (19/3/08). Local politicians were asked the question and gave a variety of answers. This followed a campaign by the historian Joe McGowan, Chairman of the Markievicz Committee, who said: “The British people wear the poppy to honour their fallen heroes and it is right that they should. We Irish have a similar emblem. It is called the Easter Lily”. Liz Mc Manus was asked if she would wear the Lily “even if it was a stick on one”. She said no and continued in her very Lady Wicklow way: “I have a nice silver broach depicting a lily; I’ll wear that over the Easter”. One cannot help wondering how many Easter Lilies – sticky or otherwise - were sold (never mind how many years men spent in jail) to raise the funds which got Liz McManus and her colleagues where they are today.
Prisoner releases. In the course of his Guardian rant against Paisley and Adams (see article elsewhere in this IPR), Simon Jenkins says: “Blair’s prisoner release turned more terrorists and gangsters on to the streets of Britain than anything in modern history”. 450 people were released – 254 Republicans and 196 Loyalists. 159 had been serving life sentences. A total of 12 have had their licences revoked and these include people like Michael Stone who appear happier in jail. (Irish News 22/3/08)
EDITORIAL DIGEST (2)
The Simon Community is a housing charity with hostels supplying 270 single beds and 49 family rooms across 20 sites in Northern Ireland. It has refused employment as hostel wardens to two men because they are ex-IRA prisoners after checking with the PSNI. Sean McConkey from Lenadoon in Belfast had already been selected and was later rejected. Jervis Marks from Forkhill, Co. Armagh had his application rejected. The Court of Appeal in Belfast refused further leave to appeal. But the men, through their lawyer, Karen Quinlivan, are going ahead with a petition to the House of Lords. (Irish News. 13/3/08)
Outsourcing has taken on a whole new meaning in the North – particularly where public funds are being directed towards the private sector or where privatisation is on the agenda. The Irish News (10/3/08) gives details of where the people “running” the public services, and being paid handsomely for their jobs, actually live. Sean Campbell, chairman of Construction Industry Training lives in Switzerland. Tony Watson, chairman of the Strategic Investment Board, lives in London. Veronica Palmer, chairman of the Northern Ireland Transport and Holding Company, responsible for the trains and buses, lives in England. Also living in England is Chris Mellor, former head of the private Anglian Water, and chairman of Northern Ireland Water. He won’t be lonely though. Half of the Board of Northern Ireland Water also lives there. Sir Roy McNulty who lives in the English West Midlands is chairman of Ilex, responsible for regeneration in Derry. He is also deputy chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority and of the Civil Aviation Authority. Of the eight members of the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulations, only two live in the North. And on it goes. The talking may have been devolved, but hardly the government. Who said “Brits Out”?
Nice Little Earners. Westminster MPs can claim expenses for household goods (on the grounds that their homes were completely bare before they were elected???). The amounts are based on prices at John Lewis. Examples are: bed £1,000, telly £750, food mixer £200, carpet £35 per square metre… Top of the list in joint first place, from 647 MPs, are Nigel Dodds of the DUP and Alasdair McDonnell, both claiming £22,110. Mind you , most of the others are not far behind. Towards the bottom of the list are Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein (478th) on £16,500, Sammy Wilson of the DUP (505th) on £15,159, and the relatively frugal Eddie McGrady of the SDLP (542nd) on £11,709.
Legislation at Stormont. There hasn’t been any according to the Irish News (18/3/08). Though there has been legislation begun by the previous direct rule arrangements. Many of us would describe this situation as near perfect. But not, it seems, the Irish News. There is, however, the promise to legislate for a reduction in quangos. A quango has been set up to look at this! Actually quangos in Northern Ireland are often a form of Outdoor Relief Work – or in this case Indoor Relief. They keep people in employment and, for the most part, don’t go around annoying too many people as they are wont to do in England.
Easter commemorations. This year the Sinn Fein march to Milltown Cemetery in Belfast took the form of a pageant. Marchers carrying pikes and muskets were dressed in the costumes of 1798. Others wore uniforms and carried “weapons” representing the volunteers of 1916 and the IRA of 1920. Some Sinn Fein members expressed annoyance that things ended there. But mostly, as usual, it was a mixture of a fun day out for Republican families combined with individual tributes by relatives of fallen Volunteers and the speeches and ceremonies at the Republican Plot. The IRA Army Council statement was read out and said nothing about disbanding itself! Earlier, A very respectable size of a march was held by the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the INLA. At its start there was a quite large police presence on the Falls Road. All of the policemen (though not the policewomen) seemed to be in their 50s. Some said that these were more likely to keep their heads. Others said that they were from the old guard, old enough to know who was who. The Official IRA also marched. Heavens, they are getting old!
The “riot” in Derry. Most of the media reported a serious riot in the Creggan area of Derry following a commemoration by “dissident” Republicans on Easter Monday. Local people told the Irish News that police had confronted march organisers and had photographed and questioned children as young as seven. But it was the PSNI handout that was mostly reported, and this was believed by the local SDLP which immediately condemned the “rioters”. Sinn Fein said that they would wait until they knew what had happened. Next day, Sinn Fein MLA, Martina Anderson made a statement: “The community is able to identify what happened on their streets on Monday afternoon and they are saying quite clearly that this was not a full scale riot. Reports need to be accurate and there is a duty to ensure that they do not become sensationalised. I can recall past reports where we were told of a full scale riot at Shipquay Street only for eyewitness to tell a totally different story. We have also had reports of sectarian incidents which later turned out not to be sectarian .” (Derry Journal. 25/3/08)
IRA ex-prisoner Frank McGreevy was beaten to death in his home in the Lower Falls area of Belfast on 15th March. Gerry Adams condemned the PSNI for not investigating the killing properly and for not listening to local people. 24 yours afterwards a man handed himself in to the police and has been charged. It is understood that he was given a lift to the barracks.
Partnership and Migrant Rights. Following the dispute over the employment of cheap immigrant labour by Irish Ferries, the trade unions gave notice that further progress in the Social Partnership process would not be possible until the matter had been addressed by law. This is now happening with a new piece of Government legislation. “The Government has promised that under a second Bill, due shortly, agency workers will have to receive at least the minimum wage or the basic terms and conditions set out in registered agreements for specific sectors, where they apply. The Bill, published yesterday, will give legal effect to the commitments for improved employment rights compliance measures agreed by the Government and the social partners in the Towards 2016 national agreement. However, there is widescale disagreement between the social partners over how, or if, such measures should apply”. (Irish Times 19/3/08) The law will also exempt inspectors from the laws of defamation so that they can report their findings in full.
Countess Markievicz’s husband, Casimir, was born in Poland but brought up in the Ukraine. The Countess, who came from Lissadell, Co. Sligo, is now to have a museum opened in her honour in that country. “The Ukranian ambassador, along with other embassy officials, met with Lissadell owners Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh yesterday afternoon and viewed oil paintings by the count and countess, many of which feature scenes from his native country. He revealed that he was establishing a Markievicz Museum in Zywotowka in the Ukraine dedicated to Countess Markievicz and Casimir, which will feature copies of material from Lissadell”. (Irish Independent 10/3/08)
The Queen of England visited Armagh and Hillsborough in the days leading up to Easter. She met up with President McAleese who then went on to speak at Queen’s University. There McAleese intimated that any visit by the Queen to Dublin was linked to DUP agreement to the transfer of policing powers from Westminster to Stormont. Some Unionists thought that this was completely out of order. And probably they were right. But the most curious reaction came on Good Friday from the nationalist Irish News. It’s editorial stated: “Not every nationalist will agree with the link suggested by the president between a possible visit by the Queen to Dublin and the devolution of policing and justice to the Northern Ireland assembly…The president has been working diligently to prepare the way for the arrival of the Queen in Dublin throughout her term of office and a successful conclusion is now within sight. “ Confirmation once again that traditional Northern nationalism, as represented by the Irish News and most of what is left of the SDLP, has nothing to do with carving out a separate space in the world for Ireland; but wishes, like the Hibernianism that it is, to see Catholic Ireland as a recognised part of whatever England is in the world. This “nationalism” is merely sectarianism—getting one over on the Prods.
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