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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 251: July 2017

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Well, the summer is upon us, or have we had it. If you are getting your head showered I hope it isn't with too much Irish rain. The longest day has been and gone but hopefully we will have some lazy, if not crazy, days of relaxation to charge batteries, wherever we are, and whatever the weather.

A characterful account
Alfie Byrne, Gay Byrne, Bertie Ahern [This rhymes, is it hope and history? - Ed], Éamon de Valera, Sinéad de Valera, Constance Markievicz, Gerry Adams, Tom and Jerry, Sam Beckett, Itchy and Scratchy, Bang Bang, Edward Carson, Michael Collins, WB Yeats, WT Cosgrave, Sinéad O'Connor, Mary Coughlan, Mary Black, Dolores O'Riordan, Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Paddy Maloney, Louis le Brocquy, Evie Hone, Mainie Jellett, Robert Ballagh, Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, Peter Robinson, Arlene Foster, CS Lewis, Michelle O'Neill, Harry Clarke, James Connolly, Patrick Kavanagh, Seán Ó Faoláin, Nuala O'Faolain, Jennifer Johnston, Julian Simmons, Liam McCormick, Liam Clancy, John McCormack, James Craig/Lord Craigavon between Portadown and Lurgan, James Chichester-Clarke, James Joyce, William Joyce, Terence O'Neill, Susan Denham, Noel Browne, Ivor Browne, Brown Thomas, Silken Thomas, Betsy Gray, Katie Taylor, Leo Varadkar, Rory Gallagher, Mary O'Rourke, Peig Sayers, JM Synge, John Field, Brian O'Nolan, Edna O'Brien, Oscar Wilde, Constance Wilde, Brian Boru, Strongbow, Gráinne Mhaol/Granuaile, James Young, Jimmy O'Dea, Nuala McKeever, Liam Neeson, Mary Peters, Sonia O'Sullivan, Willie John McBride, Æ, Susan Mitchell, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, Rosie Hackett, Christy Moore, Christy Mahon, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Luka Bloom, Saoirse Ronan, Brendan Gleeson, Kathleen Ní Houlihan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Hara, Iris Murdoch, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, Liam Neeson, Dylan Moran, Cyril Cusack, David Kelly, Frank Kelly, Ruth Negga, Brenda Fricker, Enya, (Pro or anti) Bono, Queen Medb, HYPERLINK "" \o "Medbh McGuckian" Medbh McGuckian, Maeve Binchy, Shane MacGowan, St Brigid, Damien Dempsey, Sharon Shannon, Donal Lunny, George Best Belfast City Airport, Daniel O'Connell, Daniel O'Donnell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Christy Ring, The Duke of Wellington, Adamnán, Colmcille, John Charles McQuade, Eamonn Casey, Mother Jones, Joe Dolan, Nóirín Ní Riain, Van Morrison, Derek Bell, Seamus Heaney, Seamus Mallon, John Montague, Colm Tóibin, Louis MacNeice, Michael Longley, Michael D Higgins, Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese, Douglas Hyde, Margaret Barry, Barry McGuigan, Jack Lynch, Charles Haughey, Mary Harney.

In case you are wondering what this is all about, it's a tweet; 140 characters. [That's the longest short joke I've come across, you've certainly been name dropping – Ed]

Analysing the DUP
There has been more analysis of the DUP/Democratic Unionist Party, its members and its stances than ever before since the Conservative Party in Britain decided Doing A Deal (price tag £1 billion) with them was the only way to stay in power - for how long remains to be seen. And it wouldn't take too much thought to realise that the DUP would not be my cup of tea for a variety of reasons.

However I got tired very quickly of the patronising remarks emanating from the island of Britain about the DUP – just look at any of the threads following online articles. [Is this your first time to defend the DUP? – Ed] [Maybe – Billy] Yes, much of the analysis was totally correct; they are right wing, they do include creationists, they are generally tribal, etc etc, and I would add militarist to that list of adjectives. I should also say that I agree totally with the editorial in this issue looking at why It Was The Wrong Deal.

However, it took me back to a conversation with my secondary school principal 'somewhere in Northern Ireland' a long, long time ago. He was an English Anglican minister and as a senior pupil I was sitting at the same table at lunch time when he expressed the opinion that the Irish were incapable of governing themselves, I always regret that I didn't leave the table in protest and disgust. For this to come from an Englishman whose country had made (and still has a hand in making) Northern Ireland ungovernable I think took first prize for racist bigotry and patronisation.

No, we may still be in a mess in Norn Iron after a very long time and parties like the DUP and Sinn Féin may not be helping us extricate ourselves from it, but who created this as yet insolvable mess in the first place? English papers please copy.

The battle and the bottle
You have heard about the battle against the bottle. And bottles may be used for battle, at least as broken glass or Molotov cocktails. But this is the battle against the bottle at the celebration of the battle.

Again we have advertisements in Belfast advising people (on the Protestant side that is obvious) that "It's – still – about the battle not the bottle", i.e. the 12th July is about celebrating the Battle of the Boyne and not getting totally tanked up with alcohol. The accompanying words are (in capitals, which out of respect for your susceptibilities we will not reproduce here) "Heritage Respect Culture Remembrance Tradition". It may be advising or talking about 'Respect' but that is never a word I would associate with the 12th July. It may be marketed these days as 'Orangefest' however as a celebration of a tribal victory (a victory of one side in Ireland then and Norn Iron today over another) I believe it can never be fully or meaningfully about 'Respect' unless it fundamentally changes.

All right, so the Pope was rooting for William. But it is a total Orange myth that it established 'civil and religious liberty for all', it didn't even do that for Presbyterians and certainly not for Catholics. Yes, William may have been slightly more progressive on constitutional matters and in favour of parliamentary democracy than James, and the tables would have been turned if James won (Protestants suffering loss of liberties) but that doesn't make it something that engenders 'Respect' in any way unless you understood that in terms of subservience which would be strange indeed. Should we respect something that doesn't deserve respect? No. Perhaps we should have respect for people as individuals but not for such a dog's dinner of a triumphalist event.

So there is no way that I am in favour of celebrating this particular battle (or others either - remembrance of battles yes, celebration no – including the 1916 Rising). Not even by drowning my sorrows with a bottle.

There are of course more general questions about displays of identity, and identity in a divided society. It strikes me that the Nordic countries' approach, maybe displaying a flag for a birthday or celebration, is quite healthy. The Norn Iron obsession with displays of identity is not and can show anxiety and uncertainty not just about the place of the people concerned in the embrace of the projected identity (Britain, Ireland) but also about the nature of the people's identity itself. In some ways, the more people proclaim their identity the less certain it is.

So displays of British and Ulster flags in my, mixed, area doesn't make me think 'How British this place is' but rather how unlike Britain it is. But I don't want to be simplistic and say it is only a matter of removing some flags and emblems; Norn Iron's issues go much further and deeper than that, and the struggle to emerge from the bitter pill history has served up as a main course for Northern Ireland will go on for a long time yet.

Under the sign of Leo
The election of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach has been taken as a sign of the maturation of politics in the Republic, and in particular that neither the fact that he is gay nor the son of an Indian immigrant (and Irish mother) was a factor for or against his election. This is fair enough, the comment is fair, and things have certainly changed mightily in just a few decades.

But what is more dubious is Leo Varadkar's espousal of the Republic as a land of equal opportunity. And even if it was, is 'equal opportunity' enough? 'Equal opportunity' to rise to the top of a grossly unequal pile can still consign many people to the scrap heap. And stating that "Prejudice has no hold on this Republic" might be fine while basking in the glory of becoming leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach presumptive – but it is far from true. Had he not been a doctor's son, had he been a binman's son, would he have expressed the same view? Maybe, maybe not, but the leg up his social position and paid education gave him must have made a big difference and without that it is much more unlikely he would have become Taoiseach. As leader of a conservative party who has often expressed right-wing views in the past, we await seeing what kind of pudding he bakes.

Relative equality is an index of a healthy society much more than 'equal opportunity'. People living in more equal societies are happier, healthier, and safer. Danny Dorling (in the July/August 2017 issue of 'New Internationalist') states - and the statistics would prove it - that in more equal countries "there is less crime, more creativity, more productivity, and – overall – higher real educational achievement. The evidence for the benefits of living more economically equitable lives is now so overwhelming that it will soon start to change politics all over the world." Whether the last statement is wishful thinking or not, we have to be clear that it is relative economic equality which is the key factor not some mythical quality of equal opportunity to end up vastly wealthy with other people being screwed.

Well, I wish you the very best for the summer. It's a couple of years now I think since I last quoted Christy Moore from 'Lisdoonvarna' on holidays [Yes, but you quoted it about every year for the last 95 before that – Ed] so I will do it again, a definition that can't be beat: "When summer comes around each year / They come here and we go there'. It will be over in the blink of an eye so make hay when the sun shines, and pick courgettes (yum) before they get too big if you're lucky enough to have a garden or allotment and have them in – Billy.

Who 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).

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