Haass: The Most Famous Marriage Counsellor Of All Time?

It has been a month or so since I decided to let the dust settle a bit following the Panorama episode which looked at collusion in Belfast.  What a month.  That ten thousand-man march passed of as a rather damp squib with just over one thousand people taking to the cold streets to moan about the flags one year on.  Shops and restaurants still reported massive losses in what was meant to be their busiest weekend, but never worry because that was the only disruption they’ve…oh yes, there’s been two explosions, a couple of bombscares, some shootings at the police and an absolute moron set himself on fire while trying to leave an incendiary bomb in a golf shop.

NEVER FEAR: we’ve flown in an American diplomat to sort it out- good old no-frills, ram-stam fixer, Mr Wolff-wannabe and all-round American good-guy Mr Haass has arrived to conclude the allegedly INTENSE TALKS he started over a month ago.  No amount of hyphenated words could be too much to describe this go-getter.  So it’s grand.  He must know everything about the place.  He must really care.  He must be talking to our leaders about SOMETHING OTHER THAN FLAGS.

He must…be just like an overpaid marriage counsellor because: a) he doesn’t know everything (or even very much from what I can gather) about the situation (only what he’s been told in American government reports and our party delegates, all of which are usually less than bang-on); b) he doesn’t really care or he wouldn’t be so unabashedly trying to wrap this up in time for turkey on the 25th and c) HE REALLY IS FOCUSSING ON FLAGS FOR A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF TIME.  What he is doing is going between the parties in a completely outdated bilateral system which actually reminds me of the proximity talks which worked in the 90s because people had never sat down together.  Coming in and pretending that this is the way forward, to me, is just giving credence to the apparently ‘DIFFICULT’ issues facing our politicians who have it so tough- issues like flags.

The DUP have refused his documents on the basis that they will not consider the flying of the Irish tricolour on government and public buildings here.  Sinn Fein hope they can make a deal still about the tricolour.  Yes, readers, this really is the sack of shite our politicians are discussing with foreign diplomats at a time when unemployment and emigration figures rise among our young people; when the elderly struggle to meet the demands of rising fuel costs; while more people are forced to turn to food banks; while thousands stare blankly at the next two weeks wondering how they’ll cope with Christmas.

Also on the table at Stormont is the foundation of a (note: incoming new buzz word) ‘Fact-gathering Service’ which will compliment a new Historical Enquiries Team (HET) which will apparently be known as the Historical Investigations Team (HIT).  I for one think Northern Ireland could do without another government-run HIT-squad, but whatever, that’s just me being flippant.  The main thing here is that Jeffrey Donaldson saw fit to clarify this in no uncertain terms (but using so much terminology that he seemed uncertain), that there will be no amnesty for criminals.  Fair enough, I think.  However, why can’t they tell us what it will entail instead of focussing on what it won’t be like?

I mean, I don’t imagine they’ll be asking David Moyes to take over, state of the job he is doing at my beloved Manchester United, so I wouldn’t expect his name to come up; I also won’t expect them to talk about Jamie Oliver’s mince pies or the latest episode of Family Guy- STOP TELLING US WHO AND WHAT IT WON’T BE AND TELL US WHAT IT WILL BE, WHO WILL RUN IT AND FOR HOW MUCH!?  IS THIS REALLY SO DIFFICULT?  IS IT AS DIFFICULT AND BEWILDERING AS THE FLAGS PROBLEM?

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, Stormont is a gravy train.  If the passengers on the train pretend they are privileged and smarter than the rest of us; that we should all have to walk or get the bus, we play into their hands by believing them.  To be clear- when they tell me the flags issue is difficult, I am disappointed but no longer am I surprised.  It keeps them in a job and it keeps us weedling out an existence in an economy and infrastructure that is comparable to the rest of Western Europe in the late 1970s.  But it’s ok because Arlene Foster was in town today so that must mean it’s safe.  Must mean we are fine.

I wonder if she was in town the other night when they evacuated the Cathedral Quarter- I was and I stayed away from bars that I was happily going to spend money in.  Everything is not fine, nor is it pandemonium, let me be clear.  I don’t think the sky is falling, but I’m sick of this sweep-it-under-the-rug mentality and dressing the country up like a cheap tart for Mr Haass and other ‘dignitaries’ to ogle.  Stop telling him our problems, or at least if you are going to tell him the real ones, not these piss-anty made-up ones that actually only come into the thinking on a small but loud minority.

Speaking of which, there is no space for the voice of the majority here- it is politicians, business leaders and the loudest, least informed members of our public that make the news.  There is a time when the entertainment value of the like of the ‘no surrender’ granny and her mates dwindles, and dwindled it has for me.  Why do these people have a voice that is not only considered but also broadcast when the average hard working civilian here has to put up with the traffic jams, the evacuations, the protesters in the middle of the road and all the other disruption?

The decent people have political thoughts too, probably more developed ones- they just have too much decency and a sense of public service to let their personal politics infringe on the lives of others.

STOP TRYING TO BUILD A TRUTH COMMISSION/PARADES COMMISSION/FACT-GATHERING SERVICE/HISTORICAL INVESTIGATIONS TEAM- GIVE A VOICE TO THE MAJORITY OF THE PEOPLE.  The ‘normal’ people here are just as badly represented by current politicians- voter turnout here is a joke, apathy is high.  People vote out of habit, I’d even contend that many no longer vote out of desire to see a party in power, more out of a ‘lesser of two evils’ mentality.  We need a public space for discussion that isn’t centred and moralised by Stephen ‘I like to wind it, wind it’ Nolan and his typical demographic.

So, I hope we all have a happy Christmas and that the bastards who are trying to wreck the city choke on their indifference, if not a dry piece of the turkey’s brown meat.  As for Haass, I hope our leaders can realise he (and the foreign intervention he represents) is not a cure-all for Northern Ireland.  Just like kids on Christmas morning, our politicians are going to have to learn to share and play nicely with others.  Otherwise, they’ll end up getting coal next year…which might actually be quite handy for them to give to the old people in their constituencies- after all aren’t they the only ones still voting regularly?

Happy Christmas and a Happy 2014.

The Cyanide Christ


Panorama, ‘truth’ and the impeccable timing of the Attorney General

Normally, I post here once a month or less.  Most people can’t stand political rebuke day after day.  However, having just watched the Panorama documentary about the Military Reaction Force (MRF) and their illegal activities in and around Belfast, 1972, I felt compelled.

I couldn’t help but feel deep sorrow for the families of victims and the survivors of those attacks in question.  Anyone who watches, without feeling, men and women approaching the winter of their lives become as upset as they were as children and teenagers, might well need to have themselves examined for signs of life.  For anyone who didn’t see it, the documentary retold the story of several murders and shootings which were carried out by BRITISH ARMY PERSONNEL against innocent civilians in Belfast.  It featured interviews with survivors, relatives, eyewitnesses and members of the MRF who were (somewhat poorly) disguised.  It also featured less than cunning reconstructions which I will discuss later.

Without gushing, some praise should be given to Panorama for having the courage and gumption to take on such a task.  Having had a chat with a prominent local television and film producer yesterday about the lack of interest among mainstream outlets to really challenge collusion, we see a documentary which, while on a slightly different subject, asks many of the questions that work on collusion (such as Anne Cadwallader’s excellent book Lethal Allies) dares to raise.


The use of such buzz words and phrases like ‘move on’ ‘deal with’ and others, cripples any attempt to truly move forward, politically and socially.  When someone suffers from depression, a therapist doesn’t just say ‘deal with it’.  This whole place feels like a society struggling to shake off a depression.  Just with such an illness, there are causes, symptoms, and possible outcomes.  Causes must be understood so they can be avoided in the future.  Symptoms need to be treated and outcomes must be clearly managed.

In this case, the cause of so much hurt has been the activities of paramilitary and security forces.  In this instance, when the British Army (or in the case of Cadwallader’s book, the UDR) is put under the microscope, some people react as if this is a personal attack on them, on their nationality.  On the contrary this is an attempt to seek the ‘truth’ that politicians tell us will be the answer to our problems.  An apparent ‘truth commission’ being supported by several of them last year.  What is a truth commission?  How will it work?  Who will pay?


Far from an attack on Britishness, it is an attempt to get as much closure as possible, to seek justice for the dead and wounded.  In order that mistakes are not repeated, this must be carried out.

Panorama just showed us former ARMY PERSONNEL admitting to firing on unarmed men.  One account on Twitter described this as Panorama “showing the IRA to be all sweetness and light”.  Far from it, the documentary merely pointed out that there were several instances when completely innocent men were shot dead.  Just as I fully support the HET in acquiring and trying those involved in paramilitary gangs (including the IRA), I have to support the prosecution of these soldiers who acted above and beyond the law in the 1970s.  I have no doubt that these men were scared for their lives as well, but taking a machine gun to the backs of innocent lads on their way home from a disco is certainly not excusable.

Two weeks ago, British soldier who served in Afghanistan was found guilty of murder for executing a wounded Taliban fighter on the battlefield.  MURDER.  (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/royal-marine-found-guilty-of-murder-for-battlefield-execution-of-injured-taliban-fighter-8930011.html)  At least the man in question actually had been armed, one could argue.  However, when soldiers who served in Northern Ireland shot and killed unarmed civilians in Derry and in Belfast (as revealed by Panorama), we have an Attorney General who thinks it is time the courts move ahead of politics and rule out further prosecutions, leading to more circular talk of ‘truth sourcing’ and ‘truth commission/bodies’.  We have people shouting him down and others saying the idea should be discussed.

While I don’t think he was offering an amnesty per sé, I do equate it with an agreement of impunity between the courts and the retrospective criminals.  Essentially, I want to know what people in power want to do with the truth when these mysterious bodies find it.  Anne Cadwallader has found it.  She received minimal coverage in popular news here, despite showing that the British state forces were complicit in over one hundred MURDERS between 1972 and 1978. Panorama has found some and the MOD has ‘passed it on to the PSNI’.  Figures.  Watch this space, and if you were involved, I’d suggest a confession box and watching your back (but then you’ll probably be living under a new name with a fat pension and house, and it will all be sitting in some redacted file somewhere, waiting to be a footnote in another painstakingly researched piece of literature that the government and BBC and ITN will completely ignore).

What then about murders in the 80s and 90s?  What about Pat Finucane, Billy Wright and the others?

In terms of this documentary, most things were well done and it was quite well written, apart from those awful bits they have to do for the members of the audience that can’t remember what Bloody Sunday or Bloody Friday were.  I wonder about those reconstructions: was filling them with stars of the ‘Nordie Shore’ parody videos a good idea?  I saw earlier some photos on several Facebook and Twitter accounts of the actors dressed in 70s wigs and such, having a great old time during filming.  Photos best kept private?  I wonder if it harms the tone of the film.

With so much to take in over the past two days, the mind literally boggles.

I am sick of hearing big ugly buzz words with no substance.  So if they want ‘the truth’ (because that’s what we need to ‘deal with the legacy’ of our past), it looks like we’ll be getting a watered-down version or, when we get the full thing, we’ll all be too old to riot anyway.

Understanding ‘Legacy’, ‘Amnesty’ and ‘Shared Future’ (while the Parades Commission Fuels the Fire)

Words like ‘legacy’ and ‘amnesty’, phrases like ‘shared future’ and ‘dark old days’ are thrown around like confetti in Northern Irish media.  We are told to ‘deal with’ the ‘legacy’ of ‘the Troubles’, told to enjoy the ‘legacy’ of the MTV Awards and Derry’s year as city of culture.  When it comes to understanding ‘amnesty’ one need only look to today’s headlines, which have been made by Attorney General Larkin’s suggestion that crimes pre-dating the Good Friday Agreement should no longer require investigation or inquiry.  Does that really offer an ‘amnesty’?  Phrases like ‘shared future’ have attracted a certain amount of scorn from various sections of the audible public, particularly on social networking sites in the wake of the previous 12 months’ flag protests/riots.  ‘Shared future’ reeks of the same forced warmth that the MTV Awards (and similar arts events) have tried to instill among a public that is somewhat reticent to accept ‘normality’ and ‘move forward’.  Meanwhile, we are constantly warned about a return ‘to the dark old days’, while the Parades Commission gives the go ahead to a 10,000 person march through Belfast City Centre on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. 

Pardon my French, but what a fucking disgraceful decision.

As a fairly liberal socialist, I am all for the right to protest but some things must be addressed.  Firstly, the previous record of the protests and protesters points to a full scale riot on the 30th November- one sanctioned by the Parades Commission, who are expecting 10,000 to march the length of Donegall Place and Royal Avenue in 30 minutes.  The previous tactics of these protests have included hate-filled speeches, inner city congestion and violent rioting leading to the injury of civilians and police officers and physical damage to the city.  White line protests- what a joke.  If someone skids in ice and hits one of these idiots, they will inevitably be charged with dangerous driving- even though these fools stand in the road covered in masks and flags.  Allowing it to continue gives it all credence. 

IT IS MYOPIA.  This decision can only lead to violence and, to get to my second consideration, economic chaos for shops and businesses who need THIS Christmas’ business to make up for huge losses suffered last year- BECAUSE OF RIOTING AND PROTESTS!  Thirdly, why does the Commission claim it has taken into consideration the words of the First and Deputy First Ministers as well as City Centre traders and then it flouts all of this?  What was so persuasive about the application?  I’ve read quite a lot of the ‘literature’ put out by the flag protesters and can say, hand on heart, that it is not written with the rhetorical prowess I would think it would need to refute the strong public and political opposition to the planned march.  It seems that the right of a minority to protest in this most grandiose and city-stopping manner is more important than the rights of the rates payers in the City Centre who will suffer greatly because of the drop in footfall among paying customers on the day.  With further marches applied for on the 14th December, I can only hope that the Parades Commission either sees sense or falls through a Stargate into some medieval realm where their lacklustre and self-serving measures will be better received.  

I’m more worried about the ‘legacy’ of these sorts of events- marches which breed widespread contempt and serve to prematurely remove the stitches from previous sectarian wounds and suspicions.  THIS decision from the Parades Commission represents a more worrying ‘amnesty’, one for those who would and will engage in masked protest, violent rioting and public disorder- but it’s okay because the Commission has given them permission to be there.

It seems that there are those who are willing to share the future with those who were previously on the ‘other side’, but really the term ‘shared future’ should be used to refer to the landscape being unevenly shared among those who are open and receptive to peace and those who want to continue living in a world where rioting is the answer every time something doesn’t go their way.

As I’ve attempted to show by including several words and phrase in inverted commas ‘like this’, Northern Ireland loves buzz words.  They are big, fat, easy, symbolic gestures and as a place, we love big easy symbols to lean on as crutches: it’s certainly easier to shout ‘No Surrender’ and believe you are at war with Catholics than it is to work out that unemployment and poor economic prospects are more social/class issues than religious ones.  It’s easier to paint masked gunmen than it is to create a new genuine symbol of hope that people can get behind.  It’s easier to march through the City Centre and brandish your vitriol than it is to understand multiculturalism.  It’s easier to name playgrounds after murderers than it is to think of a local figure who was loved for something positive.  Too many times, we are guilty here of taking the easy options when the Good Friday Agreement (which despite its numerous flaws, is still a good foundation to build upon) asks us to take the more difficult, less trod-upon path.  

Maybe a politician or two (if they can pull themselves away from the Haass photo-fest) would care to step it up a bit and actually DO something about the increasing tensions.  It’s starting to feel like the calm before the storm.  I just hope that nobody dies as a result of these planned marches, but even if they did, would it stop the Commission from greenlighting any more?  How many more lives will it take before they realise their power to stop giving credence to cretins?  By all means, take July, that IS at least a tradition- but PLEASE, don’t make these Christmas call-outs a new one!  For one thing, you’re bound to end up on a naughty list, be it Santa’s or Matt Baggott’s.  Though I assume Santa has more clout.

A Family Business: The Gravy Train At Stormont

So, Conall McDevitt has stepped down from his role in politics following revelations over his FAILURE TO DECLARE his wife as a beneficiary of his office expenditure.  Perhaps old rent-a-call McDevitt, who can often be found at the end of microphone somewhere or other until now, has done the honourable thing.  After all, in most countries when a politician makes a blunder like this, they are often encouraged to fall on their sword, going out with at least a scrap of the dignity and grace which no doubt contributed to their election to public office in the first place.  For this, I salute McDevitt and, while I would hesitate to say ‘no harm, no foul’, I will say that he has retained a little piece of my respect for his decision to self-impose this imminent exile.

This case raises and begs three questions.

Firstly, in relation to the media coverage of the case, I saw some of the best political grilling I’ve seen from the BBC in a long time.  During the lunch time news a couple of days ago, McDevitt was repeatedly asked WHY he failed to declare it, if he was hiding anything else.  He replied it was an honest mistake, it should have been declared but the payments were not made outside the rules of the Assembly.  It might well have been honest, but as further revelations showed, it was a mistake which had been made repeatedly.  The question is, why can’t the BBC and UTV ask this extremely important ‘WHY?’ question to more of our politicians on a more regular, equally grueling basis.  WHY DO YOU DISCRIMINATE AGAINST GAY PEOPLE, MR POOTS?  WHY HAS ALEX ATTWOOD BEEN STOOD DOWN, MR MCDONNELL?  WHY DID YOU SPUNK TEN GRAND ON FLAGPOLES DURING A RECESSION MR WILSON?  WHY DID YOU JUMP ON A POLICE VAN MR KELLY?  With the exception of Alasdair McDonnell, who probably made a political decision (albeit an as-yet-unexplained one), I think the rest of these decisions should have sparked more public outrage and greater political consequence than McDevitt’s dodgy book keeping.

This leads me to my second question.  I say ‘book keeping’ because that is really what has failed to be declared.  McDevitt is correct when he said the payments made were lawful.  LAWFUL, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S RIGHT!  It reeks of sleaze but it really must be said, McDevitt is not the only MLA to be farming out office expenditure, which is PUBLIC MONEY, to family members.  McDevitt’s mistake was FAILING TO DECLARE this in the Register of Members’ Interests.  What I mean by that is, if one glances through the register of interests, one will see that AROUND HALF 108 MLAs EMPLOY OR HAVE EMPLOYED FAMILY MEMBERS IN ROLES COSTING THE TAXPAYER THOUSANDS OF POUNDS.

The range of this employment is staggering- wives employed as managers, drivers, PAs, secretaries, researchers, consultants.  Children and parents employed as researchers, ad-hoc secretaries and such.  In-laws, nephews and nieces employed in the same way.  Some special ones employed for website design and maintenance; refurbishment jobs.  Getting elected here seems to mean that you and your family are sorted for foreseeable while poverty levels increase in the poorest areas of the North.

Have a wee read of it sure: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Your_MLAs/register-of-interests/register-03July2013.pdf



I should say that this in not a new gripe for me.  I’ve thought that this sort of thing was unbelievably disgusting for a long time, it led me to compile this story on the MLAs’ pensions fund with Barry McCaffery which was published in 2011: http://www.thedetail.tv/issues/48/mla%E2%80%99s-face-more-questions-over-latest-pensions-investments/the-ethical-deficit-of-our-mlas-pensions-pot–2

My third and final issue with this is simple- nobody, en masse, really reads these public documents as they are published by Stormont.  Ask yourself how many times you have poured through an Assembly publication such as the register above.  It is the job of the media to do more to publicise this.  They’ve done a decent job over the McDevitt ‘scandal’, but really there are more blackguards going unexposed, hidden in plain sight simply because they declared their dodgy family gravy train deals on a register that no one reads.  It’s like something Douglas Adams would have invented.

The third problem is closely linked to the first:  If the media can get a man like McDevitt, who for all his annoying interviews represented something a little more hopeful than most of the gravy-drinkers on the hill, to retire early,  WHY CAN’T THEY OUST PEOPLE LIKE JEREMY HUNT WHO WAS SO EXPOSED DURING THE LEVESON PREAMBLE?  WHY CAN’T THEY PRESSURISE PEOPLE LIKE EDWIN POOTS ON HIS BACKWARDS HEALTH POLICIES?  WHY CAN’T THEY PRESSURISE BISHOPS OVER CHILD ABUSE?  WHY CAN’T THEY PRESSURISE THE EDUCATION AND LIBRARY BOARD OVER THE HAZELWOOD LACK-OF-COMMON-SENSE START OF THE SCHOOL YEAR?

I hope the answer is not that journalists are becoming too reliant on the comparitive gravy train of forging friendly contacts and asking easy, non-invasive questions in order to secure future interviews.  I hope the answer isn’t that, but I feel like it is exactly that.  I think it suited some to hang McDeviitt out to dry, which is FINE.  But if you’re going to do it, do it to all of the prevaricating, dodgy bastards, not just one.

…While Belfast Burns

The typical trouble associated with marching season in Northern Ireland has, for a number of years now spilled into August and into the centre of the city.  Yesterday, a nationalist parade commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the British government’s ill-advised and heavy-handed internment policy caused rioting in Royal Avenue, with up to 56 police officers injured and a number of shop fronts damaged.  The previous evening, there had been trouble at a nationalist bonfire near Divis, marking the same event.  More damage to local property, more PSNI officers hurt.


Marking the anniversary of internment is important to some people, and I genuinely think that it is more relevant to our current society than marking battles in 1690, 1798, 1867 or 1916- at least people who still exist here lived through it.  However, what I can’t understand (as a West Belfast man myself) is the nature of the remembrance- bonfires and contentious parades- surely the pastimes of the Orange Order.  Why are nationalists remembering internment in this way?  It seems a little odd at the very least, and worrying in the worst case.

Odd- using the time-honoured bonfire/parade combo of the Orange Lodges seems contradictory to all that nationalists claim to stand for, seems to miss the point of banging binlids, keeping the cause confined to areas where it will be unlikely to cause trouble.

Worrying- once again, the loudest, least informed and most aggressive hold the rest of the population to ransom, many people asking if we are being led back into the civil strife which crippled the place before- led by people TOO YOUNG to truly remember the previous atmosphere.  I include myself somewhere in the middle- too young to remember much before 1989, old enough to remember road blocks, bombings, shootings, murders and British soldiers in the gardens and streets I lived in.  Things are by no means perfect now, but by God, it IS better than the town I was reared in.


Unionists- failing to condemn attacks on the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor without adding the caveat ‘he can go where he likes, he is first citizen but he shouldn’t have gone to Woodvale’.  Why?  They can’t be seen by the loudest members of their mandate to back down, it’s all about machismo- if they back down, they lose votes, simple.

Unionists- failing to keep their voters away or to at least encourage peaceful demonstrations of protest in the city centre, giving them the chance to say ‘we let them parade even though it’s contentious, why can’t they let us walk up the Ardoyne next year?’

Nationalists- failing to call the unionists out on the attacks on the Lord Mayor (which the aforementioned unionist caveat-weakened condemnations essentially justified), missing the opportunity to gain the support of middle ground political parties and outsiders, failing to show the unionist politicians as puppets too afraid to condemn loyalist violence.

Nationalists- gained the Parades Commission’s permission to parade and went ahead with it- FAILING to be the bigger people and say ‘even though we have permission, we won’t want to wreck our own city, maybe we can do the parade at another time/place when tensions aren’t so high’, failing to gain potential international support for future decisions related to contentious marches in nationalist areas.

The rest of us sit here looking on, waiting for the voice of reason which never seems to come.  Prisoners, ourselves interned in our own homes by thuggish reprobates who enjoy rioting, the anonymity of the mob guarding their dole/paychecks.


In short, the Parades Commission is a total joke.  They put our police at risk when they allow these ludicrous marches to go ahead and AT WHAT COST!?  Financially, our summers are ruining us.  Socially, our summers are ruining us.  Politically, our summers keeps us living in the late 1960s, hence ruining us.  The PSNI are consistently put in the impossible position between two warring factions of louts, commemorating the victories and sufferings of previous generations with today’s vitriol, bonfires and ill-planned parades.  Matt Baggot should be allowing greater action against ANYONE who riots, anyone who covers their face and throws missiles at the police.  These people have outlawed themselves and, for me, they deserve any and all force which lands upon them.

Unionists saying ‘we warned the commission not to allow this march’ justifies the loyalist violence.  What a cop-out.  The same can be said of nationalists who say the same thing about Ardoyne around the twelfth.  They want to be seen to be condemning violence WHILE essentially justifying it and admitting they have no political clout among their mandates.  Having it both ways, chasing two rabbits and ending up with absolutely nothing but a destroyed city, tarnished prospects and a generation of skilled workers filling the departure lounges.

Fuck me, it’s a wonder I’m still working here.


Odium Generis Humani- Christianity in Northern Ireland.

Public Health:  When discussing contemporary Northern Ireland, I use ‘Christians’ as a term for Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland- not just for ‘born-again’ or ‘hardcore’ Protestants, as our wonderfully sceptical dialect has come to suggest.

Writing in the early second century AD, Tacitus (that most revered Roman historian and politician) described Christians as having odium generis humani, or a ‘hatred of the human race’.  He based his words on some wobbly assumptions about the Christian agape, or ‘love feasts’ being some sort of guise for cannibalism and or incest.  His work was written at a time when Christianity was still feared and loathed by the vastly pagan Roman populous and included some history of Nero’s persecutions (the extent of which was and is frankly overstated by Christian writers- they should be more concerned by Diocletian’s more systematic approach-) some fifty or so years before Tacitus had put pen to paper.

A reader might be forgiven for thinking ‘what has this got to do with anything?’.  However, I think there is some current mileage for people in Northern Ireland in what Tacitus says about Christians’ perceptions of others and their actions- even though he and I might differ on the evidence we’d use to make such a point.

Right now, Northern Ireland is preparing itself for yet another Twelfth of July ‘celebration’; the commemoration of a series of battles fought in 1690 between two belligerent would-be rulers of Britain and Ireland.  The two ‘kings’, William III of Orange and James II differed in terms of religion- William was Protestant, James was Catholic.  They fought in Ireland, with William conscripting and accepting volunteers from the relatively recently planted Irish Protestant population and James doing the same, enlisting Irish Catholics.  ‘Different religions or different sects of Christianity?’, you might ask.  Bear that in mind a moment.

To cut a long, laborious and over-told story a little shorter, as time went on between 1690 and the 1900s (and there are literally dozens of well-written histories of this period- such as Alvin Jackson’s Ireland, Thomas Bartlett’s Ireland, DG Boyce’s Nineteenth Century Ireland and JC Beckett’s The Making of Modern Ireland), sectarian rivalry persisted, grew and became more vociferous, both ‘sides’ taking up arms against one another from time to time, with the Twelfth of July becoming an extremely contentious time on an annual basis from around 1815 onwards- don’t believe me?  Read some old newspapers.  Christians literally killing and maiming each other, every Twelfth for almost two hundred years.  Sounds more like a re-enactment than a celebration to me, hence the ‘apostrophes’ earlier.

I wonder (and not just because I’m an ancient history geek) what Tacitus would make of our situation.  I think he would find it all rather deplorable proof of his original opinions of Christians and their seeming hatred for others.  Perhaps he would look to the recent anti-gay agenda, which has raised its head at the highest, most intolerable and intolerant levels of our ‘government’- I think he would ask why there is such a problem.  I think he might look on in disgust at the sleaze of Messrs Poots and McCausland- the former spending public money on ‘fighting same sex adoption’ (see http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/northern-irelands-health-minister-edwin-poots-uses-40k-of-public-funds-to-fight-samesex-adoption-29408203.html), the latter up to his neck in the Red Sky fiasco (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0379p01).  He might look at the points-scoring tactics of Gerry Kelly, grabbing hold of a police landrover- the equivalent of a ‘one for the cameras’ moment in the Premier League (http://cdn3.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/incoming/article29367554.ece/ALTERNATES/w620/2813DSC454314jpeg_2.jpg).  Tacitus might laugh, frankly, at the seeming ineptitude of other parties to get anything done- WHILE ALL OF THE ABOVE COLLECT A SOON-TO-INCREASE PAYCHEQUE AND EXPENSES AND MEDIA APPEARANCES AND EVERYTHING ELSE NORMAL PEOPLE HAVE TO PAY FOR FROM DWINDLING PAY PACKETS.

This is what we do though, isn’t it?  In the sight of any adversity whatsoever (most recently the global recession) we in Northern Ireland revert to old Catholic V Protestant V Catholic V Protestant blame-gamery- while Rome (or in this case, Belfast) quite literally burns.  In an increasingly secular society, the sectarian pill becomes harder to swallow for the majority of people who want to live and die here in peace, or what relative peace we have left out of the Good Friday Agreement.

Yet our local media consistently gives a voice seemingly to the loudest and least enlightened members of our public- WHY!? BECAUSE IT MAKES ‘GOOD’ TV/RADIO/ONLINE/WRITTEN PIECES OF ‘NEWS’! This was one of the biggest problems at the heart of the flags debacle, the recent very late parades decisions and the perpetuity of Dan Brown-style reliance on old and very obvious SYMBOLOGY.  It is harder to explain difficult concepts to people, sure, but don’t flatter yourselves and label the public thick because it’s easier to write a bitchy, pointed little article about flags and religion and other BIG, SLOPPY, PRIMARY-COLOURS-ONLY issues than it is to try something well-balanced and thought-provoking.  Maybe if local TV journalists, who have consummate ease with getting local politicians into the studio would stop asking them what they are doing (having just told us what they are doing anyway) and ASK THEM REAL QUESTIONS- such as my favourite one of all- ‘WHY?’ WHY IS GAY RIGHTS SUCH A PROBLEM MR POOTS? WHY DID YOU GET YOUR MITS INVOLVED WITH RED SKY MR MCCAUSLAND? WHY DID YOU GRAB THAT LANDROVER, MR KELLY? WHY DO YOU SEEM TO DO SO LITTLE SDLP, UUP, ALLIANCE, GREENS, TUV? REAL QUESTIONS NEEDING ANSWERED before we continue to let the Parades Commission piss around until the last minute, boiling the blood of people on both sides EVERY YEAR, before shootings become a regular occurrence again.

If we skip back across the Mediterranean and ask where the word ‘ostracise’ comes from, we would find out that in ancient Greece, when a politician or other public figure had outstayed their welcome, people would inscribe that person’s name on an ‘ostracon’ (a small piece of broken pot) and cast it into a pile during a vote.  Whoever had most votes was ostracised ie banished within ten days for ten years.  I mean if we are really going to keep running this place based on old, old ideas like hating our gay community, watching poverty rise and undervaluing the education our children receive while championing the values of churches crippled by falling numbers, financial and sexual scandals- I’d rather bring back ostracism so we could tell a few of these people to fuck off for a little while.  Not only do I think Tactus would enjoy this, but it would at least be one election where Northern Irish people might actually vote.

Happy Twelfth.

Bradley Manning, the G8 and other horrors.

So, it seems that my Chicken Little complex is flaring up again as it seems that the world is certainly on its way out.  If not, at least it’s on its way to a long stint is some cold, neon rehab centre somewhere.  I look around.  I see shit.  I want to talk about it but most people either don’t see it or would prefer to look at an Iphone 5 or Xbox One- not that those products aren’t amazing pieces of technology, but I wonder if the continued replacement of engagement with consumer trends is accelerating at meteoric rates.  Moreover, if Evgeny Morozov’s recent summary (in To Save Everything Click Here) is correct, I wonder if these products solve any problems at which they are apparently aimed.  Does it matter that I can share my best FIFA 14 goals with friends across the globe if I can’t ask questions about the treatment of Bradley Manning?

For anyone who has been living under a rock (or an Ipad) for the last few years, Bradley Manning is the original big-time Wikileaks whistleblower, the US soldier behind the ‘Collateral Murder’ video.  He is currently on trial in the US for ‘treason’.  His case is an interesting one, and one with potentially serious repercussions for journalism and news gathering.  Manning’s considerable contributions to Wikileaks saw the website (and it’s creator Julian Assange) rocket to fame and fortune and a publishing partnership with none other than the New York Times.  Following a few months of high profile leaks and analysis online and in the paper, the media partnership between Manning/Assange and the New York Times ran cold, leaving the mainstream media over-cautious and downright lazy about covering Manning’s pre-trial hearings.  Even the New York Times has been lambasted on three separate occasions by its own ombudswoman for its lack of action on Manning’s incarceration.  They milked their source and now they let him rot.

Even now as Manning goes on trial under circumstances which read like something from a Tom Clancy novel- secret witnesses, redacted testimonies and heaving controls on which journalists are even being allowed to cover the trials- the mainstream media is awash with one poor and misinformed narrative.  The narrative vibes James Ellroy’s ‘Hush Hush’ magazine, tabloid-style discrediting of Manning as a bitter homosexual soldier who was tricked or somehow enticed to blow his whistle by Julian Assange, the latter presented as a legendary criminal hacker, too afraid to move from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has sought refuge for these past twelve months.

This can not go on, not in the ‘hub of democracy’, can it?

Feeling closer to this story has been made possible by two other events.

Firstly, the recent leaks of Edward Snowden to The Guardian which has been handled in a much different way to Manning’s original leaks through Wikileaks and the New York Times.  Snowden’s identity was compromised from the start, not hidden, giving him more of the ‘crusader’, classic whistleblower facade that Manning never had.  This recent case has brought back all the feelings of anger and disappointment which characterised my views of Manning’s treatment during his pre-trials which were scantily covered by Western media, but were well documented by Al-Jazeera.

The second event is the G8 summit and the recent visit of President Obama to Belfast.  The way in which these events have been covered has been nothing short of a penny write-up of a grand magic show, a circus or some other Victorian spectacle- ‘look at how many police vans are required’, ‘look at all the police at Lough Erne’.  Little to nothing about the agenda, the obvious crassness of the G8 security protocols or the fact that Belfast was essentially shut down on Monday.  Many people ended up working from 630am-5pm because the police merely told us that trying to get to Belfast after 7am would be pointless- for a speech beginning well after 10am.

Where is the engagement?  Where is the debate?  Increasingly, I worry.

As Obama’s security bully and dominate Northern Irish people intrigued by something different (as well they might be), his military continue to try (almost in secret- without fear of recompense) a whistleblower whose work no doubt contributed to turning the tide of public opinion in the US against the oil wars in the Middle East- and to the failure of the Republican party from which Obama himself has greatly benefited.

Yes, so, it makes me wonder.  Having said all that, maybe I’ll just stick my Xbox on, I hear my mate in Guantanamo scored a wonder goal on FIFA and I want to see that!

Cyanide Christ