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Billy King shares his monthly thoughts rants
Well hello again, there will be many who will not regret the passing of 2020, though we are not out of the coronavirus woods yet. But it is bad that couldn’t be worse. Think of poor burglars and the fact that most houses would have been occupied for much more of the time this year, how have they been able to get by? Perhaps I should qualify that comment by pointing out that I am trying to be sardonic and I am not too concerned about the wellbeing of would be burglars beyond wishing that they may find something more useful to which they can put their energies, and some better way of supporting themselves financially.
Well, the omnishambles of Brexit is advancing at a fast pace. Whatever will be the longer term arrangements, and deal or no deal, there will likely be a very large debacle regarding trade on 1st January 2021 affecting UK-EU trade and also GB-NI trade. Irish-EU trade coming through Britain on the ‘land bridge’ will also likely be considerably affected for some time.
Here is ace News Letter reporter and commentator Sam McBride (from the issue of 9/11/20) quoting a leaked document, from a senior HMRC (Revenue and Customs) official, on the Irish Sea border as it affects Norn Iron: “In the majority of cases TSS* will use CFSP simplified customs procedures to reduce port processing times. The ENS (safety and security) declaration is used to initiate the frontier process and generate the SFD (Simplified Frontier Declaration). Hauliers visit the TSS portal to enter basic load information, TSS auto-generates the ENS and returns the MRN (Movement Reference Number) to the user. By enriching this data with information provided during the registration process TSS also generates the SFD and passes this additional MRN back to the user thus enabling them to obtain their GMR (Goods Movement Record). The final customs declaration (supplementary declaration) takes place after the goods have arrived and without the haulier needing to fully complete customs processes prior to delivery.” *TSS is a private company with a contract to provide services.
I hope you’ve got that. It seems quite clear to me. And that is just for GB-NI.
No, I don’t mean “Brits out”. What I mean to explore here is overcoming the mentalities which accompany the historial experience of colonialism in Ireland in general, and on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland. These thoughts are occasioned by talking to someone I know (incidentally or not, from a Protestant background) who hopes to explore more the relationship between colonialism and mental health. This, however, is intended as a more general exploration.
The Republic of Ireland, you can rightfully argue, is a modern, democratic, and fairly well off European state. Within the EU, apart from perceptions regarding the financial crash of 2006/7, it is usually relatively well regarded, and so far as Brexit is concerned its diplomats and representatives played a blinder, to use an English English term. It is thus regarded as being influential for its size.
But there is, and has been, an unspoken move by mainstream political parties and elites to ditch Irish neutrality and row in with European and US militarism. Given the contribution which Ireland has made to peaceful causes, and the popularity of neutrality with the public, this is more than surprising. But it is all unspoken, death to Irish neutrality by a thousand moves, each one denied to be a game changer but collectively making a fundamental alteration to the Irish presence in the world. We are moving in to play with the Big Boys. We are moving to militarism. We are moving to be part of a superpower in the making (the EU in the future).
Meanwhile, all recent governments have connived to allow the USA’s military to use Shannon Airport as a base for its war and military manoeuvrings (many such actions being outside international law), and refuses to inspect US warplanes or supplies in accordance with Irish law. This is simply extraordinary and directly negates Irish neutrality.
Why is the Irish political establishment ingratiating itself with European and US militarism? In the case of the latter, economics is undoubtedly a large part of the picture (US investment in Ireland) but it is also Irish awe of the USA, something which I think is rather misplaced. Might does not equal right despite many US Americans implicitly feeling it does. In both cases, there is an Irish unwillingness to ‘rock the boat’, to stand out, to take what might be an unpopular stand so far as others are concerned. I can’t be sure but I think it is certainly possible that some of this dates back to an inferiority complex dating from colonial times.
“But that is a long time ago” you may argue. Yes it is, coming up to a hundred years since the Irish Free State wrenched itself from the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” which became the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. But Ireland, as in the 26 counties, certainly did not wrench itself free of the effects of colonialism. The Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael divide in politics comes from the civil war, and that comes from colonialism. The poverty and poor economic situation of Ireland until later on in the 20th century was an effect of colonialism. The inability to properly deal with the legacy of the 1846 An Gorta Mór (Great Hunger) until 150 years later is unquestionably an effect of colonialism, despite the ironic fact that this ‘famine’ was substantially a result of said colonialism.
And so after finally exiting from the era of British control and being in the shadow of Britain, Ireland now prostrates itself before US militarism and burgeoning EU militarism. Why? Do the main political parties believe in it? Are they afraid to be seen as ‘bad Europeans’ or bad cousins of the USA? It simply does not make sense in terms of the very real popular support for neutrality. Is the lingering sense of inferiority engendered by colonialism now manifesting itself in a submissive approach to the Big Boys? I think that deep down there may be something in this, that we are really afraid to Stand Up For Ourselves.
Northern Ireland is another and different story. Partition stood the colonial situation in the North on its head; the more recent colonisers* became the majority in the statelet of Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement to some extent mitigated that colonialism but the effects live on. I have quoted before the current belief among Protestants in the North that the settlers came to Ireland in the 17th century ‘to civilise the natives’. I think that belief is widespread. That is essentially a colonialist belief. (*We all come from somewhere else originally and while that may or may not mean we are all planters or colonisers, we are all from the stock of ‘blow ins’ at some stage)
But both cultural Catholics and cultural Protestants in the North are likely to be influenced by the legacy of colonialism. For Protestants it may be a sense of superiority and cultural/political superiority, of which the example quoted in the previous paragraph is just one aspect. ‘Our’ culture is superior, more advanced, ‘we’ are the people, even the ‘chosen people’.
That same feature, in a subtly different way, is manifested on the Catholic side of the house. Of course ‘our’ culture is superior. Catholics may not have had the experience of political superiority that Protestants had but they can still think of their politics, in general, as being of a different order to that of Prods, and their culture as being of a different and higher and deeper order.
Undoubtedly some of these features are simply the result of being in a divided society. But lurking behind that division is the fact of, and origin of the division, colonialism. How you can ascribe what to what, it is difficult to say. Northern Ireland in 1972 certainly felt like it was still a colonial society. We have come a long way since then but many things remain unchanged, not least divided living and divided education for most people. Exiting from all of that may take a lot of time and effort yet. Decolonising our mindsets is perhaps not yet even a work in progress because it isn’t seen as an issue by most people.
It Dawned on us
‘Dawn’ magazine and group (the monthly magazine appeared 1974-85) was a predecessor of INNATE in a number of ways. However just to mention the year ‘1974’ feels like talking about the Stone Age. But that is when ‘Dawn’ magazine began, on a Derry/Dublin/Belfast axis. A short history of the group to 1984 appears online here (and the neighbouring entry, if you click on the album logo below right there are other Dawn photos too). It is intriguing to read a little quiz which appeared in this piece - you won’t know the answers - simply for the extent of state surveillance (weirdness?) that was involved. Oh, and at one stage part of the British Ministry of Defence (sic) even subscribed to the magazine to keep tabs on things. I have adapted/extended the original quiz slightly here [What? Recycling material after 36 years! What is the world coming to? - Ed].
1. In what city in the mid-1970s did the army examine Dawn files and explain their presence in that house, which was the Dawn subscription address, by saying a soldier had been leaning against the front door which had then accidentally opened (one of several such raids and questionings)?
2. When and where was an issue of Dawn literally derailed?
3. a) In what city in 1975 was a member of Dawn questioned at home by plain clothes detectives and accused of being a member of the Provisionals (Sinn Féin)? b) What might have been his fastest refutation of this? c) Why might the detectives have thought he was a Provo?
4. In what city in 1981 did the special branch of the police swoop on a car carrying three Dawn members, a couple of their partners, and a baby? Where did this happen, and at what time of day?
5. In what city around 1980 did a police sergeant question a member of Dawn for ten or fifteen minutes as he was selling copies of the magazine outside a peace event? How did the police sergeant explain his actions?
1. Derry, at the original subscription address of 56 Ferguson Street, so obviously it was the British army.
2. Early 1976 when Norman Lockhart was travelling by train from Belfast to Dublin for a Dawn editorial/production weekend. The train was bombed by the IRA and derailed; fortunately there were no major injuries among passengers – but some Dawn production materials were lost in the derailment. Some passengers were uncertain if the derailment was due to a bomb but Norman Lockhart was certain it was such – the bomb probably detonated under the carriage he was in, which he heard and felt.
3. a) Dublin. b) He was a Protestant – which he didn’t think to mention; there may have been a few Prod Provos, North or South, but few and far between. c) The reasons for thinking he was a Provo were probably twofold; i) Having his name taken for selling magazines – Dawn - at the GPO without a licence ii) He had previously been on an anti-violence picket of the headquarters of Kevin Street/Provisional Sinn Féin when Sinn Féin members mounted a counter-picket, mingling with protesters, trying to make it look like it was their event. The person concerned was there for some time both before and after the Sinn Féin counter-picket but a Garda car which had been watching on the opposite side of the road, in an unbelievable act of lack of intelligence, questioned the individual concerned immediately after he had left for being a Provo (indicative of the hassle you might get if you were a member of that party).
4. Dublin. The special branch had tailed a Dawn member from early afternoon when he had attended an outdoor CND event. In the evening he was at a Dawn fundraising party in Rathmines. Heading back across to the north side of Dublin with the passengers, the car was passing along O’Connell Street, right outside the GPO, about 11.30 pm which in that era the busiest period of the night, when pubs closed; one police car sliced in front of the Dawn member’s car, and another police car behind, blocking it entirely in a fast pincers movement - cue endless TV detective series. When questioned, it did give one of the members of Dawn in the car (see question 3) an opportunity to use his “I am an Irish Protestant” speech! The special branch had spent (wasted) a whole day tailing a peace activist. The driver of the car, who worked as a taxi driver, was frequently the subject of surveillance due to his peace activities.
5. Belfast, outside the Europa Hotel where a Peace People assembly was being held. Already questioned by a passing police patrol, the hotel security had called the police to investigate this person selling magazines (what a suspicious activity!) out on the street - the seller had already gone in to tell them what he would be doing when he started. After a variety of questions, the police sergeant ended off, inexplicably, by saying he had hoped to get the magazine seller to say something which would have justified pulling him in (arresting him for further questioning).
PS While we are talking about Irish peace movement history, some more documentation on the Irish Pacifist Movement (1936-1969) has been added to the INNATE photo site. Various other groups are featured on the site, a number with their own albums.
Weird as some of the above item is it is nothing like some of the information coming out from Britain about the extent of police spying on campaigning and political groups in the Sir John Mitting-led enquiry into ‘spy cops’. While Britain might pride itself on its political liberalism (justified in some cases, not in others, e.g. almost anything to do with Northern Ireland) some of the activities undertaken by special agents feel like they might have been perpetrated by the Stasi in communist East Germany. It is not just the range of groups put under surveillance but also what agents have done, e.g. entering sexual relationships with activists and sometimes even having children with them before suddenly disappearing as they were redeployed, with the women concerned being traumatised when eventually finding out their whole relationship was a sham.
I am not going to go into much detail here, and there are many human rights issues involved, but to find out more, searching online for ‘spy cops UK’ should do it. It just goes to show you what can be going on under the surface in any society. Conspiracy theories can be massive red and rotten herrings but, as they say, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
Lies, damned lies, and terrible statistics
By the time I am with you again, the Liar-in-Chief will have left the presidency of the USA. Trump did not succeed but the recent election there is a fascinating, and scary, example of how huge numbers of people can be persuaded to go with lies and a ‘vision’ which suits them, maybe making them feel important, but bearing little resemblance to the real world. It is a good illustration of how autocracy and dictatorships can have ‘democratic’ backing. While Biden will be better on many issues on the world stage, he is unlikely to tackle US militarism in any shape or form (and no, thank you Mr Biden, I do not want you or the USA to ‘lead the world’).
Trump of course broke all records for lies from a US president, well certainly so far as records go. Politicians and all of us are prone to ‘gild the lily’ or bend the truth slightly in our favour. It is a fairly natural human inclination, to make us seem better/more efficient/more humane people than we seem able to be. However normally there is something, however small, on which to build our version of the truth. In the case of Trump, and particularly in relation to his allegation of massive fraud in the presidential election, he was making a mountain out of a valley.
But I was wondering – what if politicians started telling the truth? Of course there are humorous films based on somebody’s sudden inability to tell anything but the unvarnished truth. Would politicians who tried this policy lose all respect and support? What if they said “Yes, we made a complete mess of that but we would like the chance to try again and hope we have better luck this time....” Could truth-telling be seen as a sign of strength rather than vacillation and weakness?
Take the recent debacle in Northern Ireland Executive decision making on coronavirus. The DUP opposed further restrictions when exiting the regulations which were running out on 13th November 2020; this led to a three-day all out, major wrangle in the Executive. All the other parties wanted to continue the regulations but the DUP was having none of it. However a week later more strict regulations than before were put into force. DUP leader Arlene Foster justified the turnaround by talking about changed circumstances and new figures for hospitalisations etc. Of course there were new figures, there are new figures on coronavirus every day, but the trajectory was exactly the same as a week before, nothing had changed which was not clearly visible a week earlier.
So what would have happened if Foster had said “Yes, we did a compete U-turn because we realised we were going to carry the can for all the coronavirus deaths in the near future. And all the other parties who wanted to have stricter regulations were going to look good. So of course we had to change or our name would have been mud. And, yes, we did want to save some lives too.” The result of saying this might not have been good, for Foster or the DUP, but perhaps people could get used to people telling the truth as much as telling lies or distorted versions of a truth, and give truth tellers some space and respect. Just possibly truth tellers would get brownie points, even when the truth discomforted them. But don’t hold your breath.
Well, as I said at the start there won’t be too many people being sad to say goodbye to 2020, it has been a strange year for all of us and an uncomfortable or atrocious year for many. Normally at this time of year I wish you “A Happy Christmas and Preposterous New Year”. But given the financial and employment depredations wrought by coronavirus, I will revert to the more traditional “Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year”. But I would add the rider “...and a healthy one too”. Take care and I hope you can enjoy Christmas and New Year. See you at the start of February, Billy.
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).