Well, I now allow myself to mention the 'C' word, Christmas, seeing it is into December as I write this. A quick hop, skip and a jump and we will be into 2016, and 2015 will be but a sad memory, and even Christmas gone by. Tempus fugit, nil desperandum, and any other ould Latin phases I can throw in.
It has been a busy month so I won't comment extensively on an item such as DUP MLA Jeffery Donaldson telling David Cameron that 'Northern Ireland' is willing to take Trident nuclear weapons (if they were kicked out of Scotland) (Belfast Telegraph 24th November 2015). It's a bit reminiscent of the DUP wanting Cruise missiles to come to Norn Iron years ago cos Britain was getting them. But just because support for staying in the UK is holding up in de Nort, a fact Donaldson quoted (and NI is in the economic doldrums) does not mean that people would support such an idiotic proposal which could foment enough division to restart the Troubles all by itself.
I periodically but irregularly quote from the New Internationalist, "Putting the world to rights since 1973", because it can do such well focused features and summaries on important issues in world affairs. http://www.newint.org No.488, for December 2015, is a case in point where it explores "10 economic myths that we need to junk". Simple, to the point, and just brilliant.
This feature covers myths such as "Austerity will lead to 'jobs and growth'", "Deficit reduction is the only way out of a slump", "Economic migrants are a drain on rich world economies", "Financial regulation will destroy a profitable banking sector", "Everyone has to pay their debts", and the two I want to cover here – "Taxing the rich scares off investors and stalls economic performance", and "The private sector is more efficient than the public sector". I know many of the readers of this column, being the world wise people they are, will recognise these as myths. But putting it all together in such a readable and user friendly form is great.
The conclusion to the section on financial regulation includes "There is, in neoliberal economic theory, no justifiable limit to the profit of banks. In any other economic theory there is no justification for banks to be more profitable than anyone else, nor for bankers to pay themselves as they do. They have proved quite capable of destroying themselves, and much else besides. Deregulation, not regulation, destroys their profits...."
The section on private and public sector efficiency includes the statistic that in the 34 wealthy OECD countries in 2010, private electricity companies charged on average 23.1% higher prices compared with public ones; and in France water provided by private companies is 16.6% higher than municipal provision of water. It's called profit. Of course there can be inefficiencies in either public or private enterprises but the piece clearly calls for efficient and accountable public services.
Dealing with scrutinisation of privatisation (some governments not too far away would even go for the privatisation of scrutinisation if they got the chance), the New Internationalist has this to say: "....there are numerous studies, surveys and, indeed surveys of surveys of its effect. The consistent conclusion: there is no evidence of greater efficiency. So the best outcome one can hope for is that the private-sector ownership or involvement is no worse than what the public sector provides – hardly a turn-up for the books."
However it then goes on to say "The largest study of the efficiency of privatized companies looked at all European companies privatized during 1980-2009. It compared their performance with companies than remained public and with their own past performance as public companies. The result? The privatized companies performed worse than those that remained public and continued to do so for up to 10 years after privatization."
The issue of abortion is a difficult one to get right and one on which most people hold fairly strong opinions. It is also possibly the only issue on which I would part company with mainstream feminism which tends to back abortion on demand and, as it is phrased, "a woman's right to choose". Being of a nonviolent approach or disposition means I am opposed to the taking of life though then the question arises, 'when does 'life' begin?' when we are talking about a baby.
The first thing to acknowledge is that it is not an easy issue to decide on, for anyone, and not an easy issue to express an opinion on since there are such trenchant views held.
The second thing to note that both jurisdictions in Ireland have had remarkably similar laws, basically only permitting it in cases of a threat to the mother's life and, tragically, in the Halappanavar case in the Republic in 2012 even this was effectively ignored leading to Savita Halappanavar's death. In the North the High Court has now decided that abortion should be available where there is no chance a foetus will live when it is born, or in cases of pregnancy due to incest and rape.
The idea that any woman should have to carry a baby to full term which has no chance of survival is cruel, illogical, and may greatly increase the trauma experienced of losing a baby. The issue of a baby conceived through rape or incest is not as clear cut but again the issue of trauma and the circumstances of conception come into play. The availability of abortion in such circumstances does not mean that a woman should necessarily choose that option but she has a choice, a difficult choice but a choice. On balance I would support the NI High Court decision because to do otherwise could be to support a cruel outcome for the woman, and a woman who has already suffered abuse.
I don't think I would support wider provision of abortion in Ireland than this, in either jurisdiction, even if it means that many women will still choose to go to Britain, the Netherlands or elsewhere for abortions, and this makes it both more difficult and expensive, and even more difficult or even traumatic for them, than having an abortion here. But I do think that those who are organising against abortion would be in a stronger position if they majored on support for women who have unplanned and unwelcome pregnancies, and tried to persuade them, again with offered support, to have the baby at full term and give it up for adoption if so desired. This is not easy either. There are no easy options.
Due to organised pressure, the Republic in the 1980s and early 1990s spent a lot of time and effort into putting a prohibition on abortion into the Constitution (Eighth Amendment, 1983) and then clarifying what that actually meant in practice. I am not saying there will be another vote on abortion anytime soon, but as the gay marriage referendum showed, the 26 counties are in a different place to where they were. But please, please, please, if there is any sense at all in holding such a referendum (on this or other questions) then it should be done as a multiple choice preferendum so a truer and fairer picture arrives of what the public supports.
Some people outside the island of Ireland think that, regarding the lack of provision for abortion here, those opposed to abortion on demand are all religious bigots and that "a woman's right to choose" is a basic human right. The latter is an opinion but the former point is simply not true. There are certainly some embittered anti-abortion activists around but the idea that popular opposition to widespread abortion is bigoted is, I would argue, itself a prejudiced and unfounded belief; for some it may be connected to their religious belief, yes, but for others, no. Nonviolence can also be considered to extend to the unborn.
Marching to a particular tune
I have had occasion to be listening to loyalist band music from Norn Iron recently (well, some, indeed an influential part, is from Scotland but it is basically the same tradition) and technically some of it is at quite a high standard. Personally I am far from wishing to wear a military-style uniform and march around the streets to celebrate 'my' heritage but you have to respect the effort which goes into the music, and, indeed, some of the music itself.
Thanks to the miracles of modern technology you can now find a wide selection of loyalist music on YouTube so it can be listened to in the comfort of your own living room or where you wish, or, as occasion allows, you can fork out for a CD. Blast it out with the windows open and, depending on where you live, you might just surprise your neighbours. So I thought you might be intrigued and edumicated to receive some pointers in what to look out for, and what you will find. What you will find, along with the music, is lots of bigotry and sectarianism (not all on the one side as I'll explain in a minute) and quite a lot of violence and support for violence.
The two-sided bigotry happens because after a particular sectarian tune, in the thread that follows you will typically have a couple of loyalist supporters saying isn't it great, and then an eejit of a republican supporter who comes in and says "Up the IRA" or something equally enlightening. What passes for debate in this part of what passes in Norn Iron. It is nearly enough to make you give up hope. But it is only one part of life.
Even if some of the lyrics are violent and sectarian you have to admire the originality (at times) and energy of someone who thought it worth getting out of bed to do. A lot of loyalist songs are ones that take an existing song and replace the lyrics with different, violent and sectarian words. Thus, the infamous 'Famine Song', a Scottish loyalist adaption of the Beach Boys' 'Sloop John B', instead of having "I feel so broke up, I want to go home" has "The Famine is over, why don't you go home" (addressed to Scottish Catholics of Irish origin). The Irish republican riposte, equally as objectionable, is to say "The Plantation [of Ulster in the 17th century] is over, why don't you go home" to Norn Iron Protestants. The song is considered racist in Scotland and inflammatory in Northern Ireland but bands claim, innocuously, to be playing 'Sloop John B' and not 'The Famine Song'. Well, it may be a jaunty wee tune but if you believe that..... It is also not to be confused with 'The Famine Song' by Johnny McEvoy, he who wrote the greatest ever song about the Titanic disaster, 'John Williams', I say the greatest partly because of its understatement and avoidance of even the name 'Titanic', as well as being a vibrant and hauntingly sad story.
Research is evidently in short supply as well with some loyalist songs. If you go to YouTube and search for 'the Famine Song with lyrics' you may even see a derogatory "You have Bono and U2" ('You' presumably being 'Catholic Ireland') – well Bono and the others happen to be Prods or that direction and Adam Clayton was born in England, and U2 itself formed in a non-Catholic school in Dublin. It also comes out with the hoary old myth that Irish people (on the west coast in the Second World War) "Fuelled U-boats by night", an anti-Irish myth which there is not a shred (let alone a shed) of evidence to support.
Other songs to search for include "Simply the best UVF" and "The fields of Ballynafeigh". The latter is a cheeky little number taking off the lyrics of The Fields of Athenry and substituting a townland in south Belfast where the Orangemen no longer get to march through a Catholic area further down the (Ormeau) road because one year they taunted them with the five killings done by loyalists in a local bookies in 1992. This song could in parts be tongue in cheek but probably isn't. Instead of "The prison ship is waiting in the bay" you have "The prison bus is idling in its bay", and instead of "Where once I watched the small, free birds fly" it is "Where I love to watch the Orangemen walk by". There is no limit to my amazement at human ingenuity – and banality.
The woman who sings the UVF version of Tina Turner's "Simply the best" actually does a pretty good job. But the lyrics are violent and sectarian. I don't imagine I will want to support the First Battalion of the UVF any time in the near future. Or that I want to hear too often, or support the concepts behind the lyrics that "Our brothers in Scotland are ready to move / They won't let us down when the Fenians [derogatory term for Catholics] break through."
Once you go to YouTube and search for 'The famine song with lyrics' and a few others tunes then lots more loyalist tunes and songs will come up and you will be spoilt for choice; e.g. the Billy Boys ("We're up to our knees in Fenian blood / Surrender or you'll die"), No Pope of Rome, etc. Not an activity for those of a faint disposition, who flinch at bad language, or are likely to decide on the basis of this evidence that there is no hope for Norn Iron after all and the peace process is doomed. The choice is yours. You have been warned. The other thing you can find is objectionable lyrics whizzing around your head in the day or days following – perhaps even more disconcerting. So you have had the health warning as well.
Down by the Laganslide
I railed and growled about this one when it was starting, and here I am again. The new extended Waterfront complex in Belfast will be finished in some months time and a local advertising paper, the South Side Advertiser, had it as its December headline article "Belfast Waterfront Promises The 'Wow Factor'". Yes, indeed – "Wow - What a dog's dinner they have made of the old Waterfront hall....". In terms of catering for more people for conferences and conventions, the Waterfront needed extended, and it may be wonderful inside, but what we have got outside ruins what was the only building of any architectural or artistic note in the whole Laganside development. It can now take 5,000 people for conferences. The outside round shape has completely gone from the river side (it is also hidden from many vantage points at the front, city side) to be replaced by shapes which don't blend together and plastic-looking panels in pastel shades of yuck. Grim.
But then the whole Laganside development was a missed opportunity to have some overarching coordination in terms of design, colour, coordination or motif. Nothing. Just modern buildings with nothing in common between them.
The other gripe I have is that by next April or May when the conference part reopens it will have been two full years that pedestrians and cyclists will have been deprived of using the walkway past the Waterfront. They would not treat motorists like that. It also could have meant several minutes detour per journey for such self-powering citizens. Treat motorists like that? Several extra minutes because a road was closed for two years? No way.
Fr Gerry Reynolds
Finally, afore I go, it is appropriate to say farewell to Fr Gerry Reynolds of Clonard Monastery in Belfast, a gentle man (note the two words, and I should say this is the highest accolade I accord to a member of the male gender), who played a significant role in the Northern Ireland peace process. He died in late November after a short illness. Every peace process has to have the right people in the right place at the right time but the point there is that these are usually people who have had the courage to place themselves in the right place – and, well, as to the right time, you never know until afterwards if it was 'the right time' because it is only with sustained effort that the time becomes ripe and right. For Fr Alex Reid, also of Clonard and deceased, and for Fr Gerry Reynolds, they played the role of go between and honest broker, and their role and that of many others ensured an end of the sad episode in Irish and Northern Irish history known as The Troubles.
I have commented before that the 'common' sense of 'never trouble trouble til trouble troubles you' (never get into things that cause bother until it comes to your door and you can't avoid it) is a recipe for injustice and disaster. Fr Gerry Reynolds was a lovely man who did trouble himself with the Troubles. May he rest in peace.
- - - - -
That's me for two whole months, I get a month off for good behaviour [you have to be joking – Ed], and as is my wont and want, I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a totally Preposterous New Year – Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).