The year has run away with itself again, and here we are almost at Christmas and another year to come.
The hex of Brexit When I studied British politics at A Level, ahem, rather some years ago, in a Protestant grammar school ‘somewhere in Northern Ireland’ the course emphasised the uniqueness of the British constitutional system, and its top-of-the-pile nature was rather taken for granted – everything indicated the superiority of the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ (which it’s not) and the UK parliamentary and – unwritten in the sense of unwritten in one place - constitutional system. I didn’t buy it then (one essay I wrote argued for a republican system) and I buy it considerably less now.
To those who think the British system is ‘the best’ I have a one word reply: Brexit. By this I mean the process of arriving at Brexit.
Brexit proves that British decision making, at the moment anyway, is among the worst in the world, it is certainly one of the top for achieving a result on a momentous issue which no one wants and which is damaging in many ways. I am not saying the people of Britain cannot decide what they want to be and where they want to go in the world; it is their prerogative to do so. What I am saying is the whole process has been sadly deficient in being far away from factually based, rational and inclusive, and the idea that the referendum vote was a ‘decisive decision’ is simply far away from the truth. Why is “50% +1’ considered a sufficient majority for a decision and “50% + 2%” considered ‘decisive’? Democracy? Shamocracy. I am deliberately not going to go into the Norn Iron end of it all here which has proved to be another important part of the story, and a fairly shoddy one too.
Perhaps the most succinct comment on Brexit that I have seen was in a thread in the Guardian online from ‘Sanjeeva’ on 14/11/18 when the draft withdrawal agreement came out: “June 23 2016 Britain walked out after 40 years of marriage. The EU never understood it and [that it] would leave to hook [up] with younger more exotic models from all around the world. Today Britain got shown in to the bedsit, shown the lawyer’s bill, the maintenance payments and the unfavourable custody arrangements.” I have added the words in square brackets to help it read better but that is it in a nutshell. Whether the ‘younger more exotic models’ would want to hook up with a jaded GB, and on what terms, is of course another question too.
Guarding the Guards If you follow politics in the Republic at all you would be aware, or have been aware at some stage, of most of the facts shared in the two television programmes about Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe which aired on RTÉ1 after the main evening news two nights in a row on 12th and 13th November (2018). However to see the facts put together in sequence, and in the context of the attempt by Maurice McCabe and his wife Loraine to keep their heads above water as deluge after deluge rained down upon them was moving, inspirational and simply shocking.
If power corrupts, there has been a huge dose of it in the Garda Síochána, and this was shown to be so at both local and leadership level, i.e. at the very top with the then Commissioner. This included vilification, false accusations of varying kinds, and indeed a sustained campaign at the top level to totally discredit McCabe through lies about him. Asked whether he would have undertaken the whistleblowing task he did if he knew beforehand what he would have to go though, he said no. Repeatedly, just when things looked like they would emerge into the light, something else happened which made their situation even more dire.
Maurice McCabe was driven to thoughts of suicide; he shared that he even identified the tree that he would use to hang himself. However he kept going until eventually he was exonerated in glowing terms. In the process, slack practice, corruption and the abuse of power in the Gardaí were exposed.
The programme itself majored in showing Maurice McCabe as an ordinary, decent human being and family man, as well as a dedicated policeman who was unwilling to tolerate the intolerable. Maybe the extensive portrayal of his family life was necessary in the context of what had been said against him, and how the family suffered. It succeeded but he presents or comes across in a very positive way in any case. What I did find very annoying was the use of mood music when times of tension were described; this was totally unnecessary and distracting – no tension needed to be added. A fascinating detail was how his father had also been vilified locally decades before when he stood up against the woeful pollution of Lough Sheelin by pig slurry from the many pig farms in the area.
As for the Garda Síochána, well, we await whether new Commissioner Drew Nelson can introduce the needed reforms. They are certainly needed. The PSNI, whatever you may think of them on this or that issue, did undertake a major transformation and shift in the change from RUC to PSNI as it worked through the reforms brought about by the Patten Commission. Something of this magnitude is clearly needed south of the border with the Garda Síochána. If the price of freedom (or ‘peace’ if you want in the case of the Garda Síochána) is eternal vigilance, and it is, we should not relax our gaze.
The growing season Now for some more down to earth comments – though you don’t have to get your hands dirty or soiled. As a longtime gardener I have noticed the delay in having a hard frost in the autumn; thirty years ago I would have expected one by Hallowe’en, but as I write in late November the nasturtiums are still thriving if only with an occasional flower. They are a sure barometer of a hard frost – perhaps at least a couple of degrees below freezing – because they instantly go to mush, but they are still thriving. In the damp Irish climate it may not feel any warmer than decades ago but the nasturtiums beg to differ; global warming in action.
As for the year that was in it, there was one first. Growing outdoor tomatoes in the north of Ireland is the triumph of hope over experience and some years I would get few if any, and any we did get might need to be consumed as green tomatoes. I do love fried green tomatoes though, tasting quite different to ripe ones, fried with a bit of oil and seasoning they are delicious. But we didn’t really have any this year because all the tomatoes that grew, and it was a good crop, ripened either on the vine or when taken inside. That’s what a bit of heat does for you.
The courgettes stopped growing and cropping earlier than I expected in the autumn but had come on early because of the warm weather, Whether their early decline was due to the varieties I grew, the weather at the time, or reacting to their previous hot weather growing spurt or some other factor, I have no idea. What I also found interesting was a clematis, which would usually have a September/October second flowering, this year just had one or two later flowers, and they were very late – October to November; I presume this was due to the previous dry weather. And a Chinese Lantern plant, which would have been kept watered, performed very badly – just a couple of tiny lanterns which formed very late; this I have no explanation for in what was a summer with some excellent weather.
And so the year turns, and we come near the end of 2018. The world is in a state of chassis and there is much work to be done. But we also need to recharge the batteries, and the Christmas/New Year period is a good opportunity to chill out in midwinter, and celebrate with family or friends. So, I’ll see you again in February but as is my wont (Won’t you stop this sometime? – Ed) I wish you a Very Happy Christmas and a Preposterous New Year, so until we meet again, 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).