Billy King: Rites Again, 320

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

A round robin

Well, robins are relatively round, at least their front is, compared to some other birds. But a ‘round robin’ is something else with variable meanings, look it up, relating to something done ‘in the round’ or as a round. But I am going to talk about robins being around, specifically nesting robins. In our suburban garden we get many avian visitors, mainly of common garden species. As organic gardeners with many insects to be eaten we provide food for the birds and they in turn keep the slug and insect population under control. This makes me think of the total stupidity of Mao Zedong in China in 1958 trying to obliterate sparrows (along with other ‘pests’) for eating crops as with greatly decreased numbers of birds the damage by insects escalated astronomically; locust populations boomed and were one cause of subsequent famine. Mao certainly didn’t know how to cooperate with nature.

We have also had a resident or semi-resident frog in our garden which was great for slug control. Achieving an ecological balance is something which we all need.

We have a variety of ivy in our garden growing up a neighbour’s garden wall. I try to keep it in order so it doesn’t extend its tentacles too much, either along or out from the wall. Ivy can easily take over and then it is much more work to deal with, unless you have the space to let it grow wild. Not very long after I had pruned our ivy this spring I noticed robins going in and out. Garden birds do visit it anyway perhaps because it can be a haven for snails. But this was different; robins going in and out regularly at the same spot or certainly two spots less than half a metre apart. Yes, we had robins nesting. It took only 10 – 15 seconds for a parent robin to enter the ivy, feed its offspring in the nest, and exit again.

We were away for a couple of periods and don’t know if the baby robins successfully fledged and fled, or whether the brood failed for some reason. But it was certainly a nice little nature tale or tail for some of the grandchildren and they were appraised of some of the facts of robin breeding. Mind you, robins are reputedly very territorial and aggressive towards interloper robins. But being relatively unafraid of humans, coming within a very short distance of us in the garden, they are a human favourite.

Trump, trump, trump

Nellie the elephant went trump, trump, trump and said goodbye to the circus (to trunk-ate the story in that song a bit) but there is no sign that we will be saying goodbye to the Donald Trump circus anytime soon. His story in recent years is an illustration that if you repeat a lie or lies long enough then some people, perhaps many people, will believe it, as in “It’s a witch hunt” and even that Trump is the most persecuted politician (arguably the most prosecuted but that is another matter). It is, literally, criminal.

This isn’t just a feature of life in the good (?) ol’ USA. Here in Ireland politicians from some of the major parties in the Re:Public have been saying for decades that “neutrality is not under threat” and that a particular measure of change “doesn’t affect neutrality”. All lies of course. And a new more recent lie from the far right is that “Ireland is full” for asylum seekers – what nonsense. Of course housing is an issue, particularly in Dublin and to some extent elsewhere in the Republic, but the idea that “Ireland is full” shows a myopic understanding of Irish history – if Irish population numbers at home kept growing at the same rate as Britain from the time of the famine (An Gorta Mór) the island would have 30 million people now.

The arsonist tactics of far right anti-immigrant activists in Ireland is a violent and highly xenophobic response to a small result of what is happening in the world today. They are also going for soft targets (potential or actual sites for housing refugees and asylum seekers). Ireland has taken in a considerable number of Ukrainian refugees, as it should, but overall refugee numbers are small compared to the neighbouring countries of conflict and disaster areas. Irish history of course points in the direction of a warm welcome for refugees and economic migrants, based on the Irish experience of being an emigrant country for literally centuries due to necessity. The slogan “Ireland is full” is missing further text as in “Ireland is full – of people exploiting others’ suffering to try to gain political traction”.

We will see in the European and local elections in June in the Republic, and in the UK general election in the North in early July, the extent to which ‘the right’ have benefited from such lies recently though in the case of Norn Iron there is sectarianism in inglorious technicolour (with the colours orange and green being dominant) to be concerned about too.

Pick and mix

There is a long history of people reclaiming derogatory terms as a badge of honour; a relatively recent one over the last number of decades has been non-cis people (the term ‘cis’ itself can be controversial) claiming the label ‘queer’ as a badge of pride and honour. I would say Catholics in the North could likewise claim the label ‘Taig’, used as a nasty and derogatory term of abuse by some loyalists/Protestants for Catholics; reclaiming could be especially positive as it comes from the Irish personal name ‘Tadhg’ which indicates ‘Poet’, now that certainly is a badge of honour.

I am not sure where the term ‘pick and mix’ came from, in relation to sweets and confectionery, but I presume it was around from the time Woolworths department stores hit our shores. Some small sweet shops would have had the same practice. Psychologically and commercially it was a success; allow people more choice and they are likely to buy more.

It may seem strange to jump from that to the year 697 CE and the Law of the Innocents (see elsewhere this issue) then, but my mind works in mysterious ways [That’s very true – Ed]

The term ‘Micks’ for Irish people in Britain comes it having been common for Irish people being called Mick, short for Michael or Micheál, in the same way that Irish people were also called ‘Paddies’; ‘Micks’ has been particularly applied with the British army for people of Irish origin, either ‘Irish’ regiments or people from Ireland. It is generally understood these days as an offensive and derogatory term, not quite on a par with some offensive words for black people but objectionable nonetheless. However if it was to be reclaimed, and as Adomnán’s 697 ‘Law of the Innocents’ included (Scottish) Picts as well as Gaelic Irish perhaps therefore we could call the Law of the Innocents ‘Pict and Micks’. [Groan…..a mighty groan – Ed] Given that the powers that be in the current era choose which ‘laws of war’ they will obey and which they want, their own violent pick and mix, it is perhaps not that inappropriate a term. We also note that the new Lex Innocentium has been translated into Latin, the language of the original law – so perhaps this is a packed pax pact.

Casting and costing a united Ireland

This publication has consistently said that we need much greater detailed analysis of the possibilities in relation to a united Ireland. Yes, a group like Ireland’s Future is coming at it from a broadly nationalist angle but where is the detailed and structured analysis by the Irish state? And why is there not also thinking going on by the British state? While it might be unreasonable to expect the British state to initiate such thinking, it is not unreasonable to expect it to respond to possible situations and models, or indeed to point out pluses for people in the North to continue as part of the UK (despite any commitments to act impartially in the Good Friday Agreement). If it believes in democracy and democratic decision making then it seems rational it should do so, particularly as recompense for the British state’s role in mishandling the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and even its attempts, as in its ‘Troubles Act’, to airbrush its negative role. Please note I am not saying other entities, including the Irish state, are not also guilty of mishandling the Troubles; they are, but the powers that be, and were, in the North is the British state.

Analysing possibilities for the future does not mean you are necessarily going to jump that way. But the public deserve to be treated as adults. At the moment confusion rains. What would happen regarding contributory and non-contributory pensions? What would happen about national debt? What would be the tax burden? These financial questions are aside from questions about the nature of any new united Ireland state. No, there cannot be firm answers on anything at this stage but the public, North and ‘South’, deserve detailed and clear analysis so they can make rational decisions rather than purely emotional ones based on nationalist or unionist sentiment, or self interest. There needs to be detailed and systematic analysis which includes thinking from all possible ‘sides’.

John Fitzgerald and Edgar Morgenroth kicked off the recent discussion of financial aspects of the issue which seemed to show higher costs than generally thought of; this was followed by John Doyle and others questioning their thinking and suggesting there would be much less in terms of costs, and more recently, for example, Newton Emerson has also come back with suggestion of higher costs. As stated, there can be no definitive answers on anything at this stage but we need clear thinking about what are possibilities and likelihoods. While there has been some limited discussion in the Oireachtas and elsewhere what we need is a planned and systematic analysis of an ongoing nature, pulling in research and analysis from all over. And that should come primarily from an initiative of the Irish state.

It might seem to some people that the Irish state engaging in such an exercise could have destabilising effect in the North (and this may be a reason why nothing has been done). But the numbers in the North favouring a united Ireland are slowly creeping up. A warts and all picture of what possibilities exist or might exist would not be a nationalist propaganda weapon since, as Fitzgerald and Morgenrath argued, there may be massive costs without immediate massive benefits in bringing about a united Ireland. The truth may not set anyone free, whatever you consider freedom to be, or indeed truth, but searching for the truth could at least allow people on both sides of the border to think with their head and not just their heart.

Well, meteorologically we are now into summer, I hope it lives up to the name but maybe living in Hibernia we don’t have a chance of escaping winter-type weather. Mind you the courgettes came on in leaps and bounds (they were initially under a cloche when planted out) when there was a blast of heat for a couple of days. If the oul ‘Gulf Stream’ gives up the ghost however with melting Arctic ice and climate heating, well, Newfoundland here we come, weather wise – and wise is certainly not what we humans are when it comes to greenhouse gases. Anyway, I hope that things are gearing up well for you and I’ll be back in July before the summer break, so see you soon, Billy.