Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Blue is the colour

If chit-chat, the grapevine and the rumour mill are all considered to be reliable sources of information it appears certain then that we are on the verge of a major announcement by the Conservative Party about either a merger or the establishment of closer ties with the Ulster Unionist Party. With the Tories gathering for their annual conference in Birmingham this week it wouldn't come as a huge surprise if the plans were officially unveiled this week. As someone who has always been of the opinion that one of the best ways to drastically alter our sectarian political structures in Northern Ireland would be to have GB-based parties set up shop here, I can only welcome the news.

It will be interesting to see what the working group created by Cameron and Empey come up with. While some have spoke of the possibility of the Ulster Unionists being wholly absorbed into the Conservative Party others have said that such a radical move is perhaps a step too far. David Trimble didn't wait around for others in his party to move. Not for the first time in his political career he decided to jump first and join the Tories when he took up his seat in the upper house at Westminster last year. Many though within the UUP are not like Baron Trimble and still hold a deep distrust of the Conservatives. Others, such as Fred Cobain and Chris McGimpsey, see themselves as being more left leaning in their politics. More likely is the proposal that the parties go down the road of the format which operates between the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union in Germany. Under that particular arrangement the CDU operates in all areas of the country except for Bavaria where its allies in the CSU represent the interests of German conservatism.

However, in my view there is no reason why the UUP should not acknowledge that the grounds on which the Ulster Unionist Council was formed and the threats that were posed back in 1905 have now evaporated. Irish nationalism may still poses a threat in Northern Ireland but it these days it can be combated in much the same way that separatist influence is combated in Scotland. There is no longer a need for a party to devote vast amounts of its energy into fighting a battle which is not entirely necessary at this moment in time. With all parties now in agreement that the union with Great Britain remains in place until the people of these six counties decide otherwise, the Ulster Unionists should take the great leap forward and allow themselves to integrate fully into the Tory apparatus. I cannot see how a Conservative Party organising in Coleraine along the same lines as it organises in Coventry, Cowdenbeath or Cardiff could do one iota of damage to the union. On the other hand, it should be quite evident to all of us how continuing Northern Ireland's position as an oddball part of the United Kingdom would provide nationalists with the evidence that we are not as 'British as Finchley'.

One big question mark still hangs over the fate of the current Conservative Party membership currently present in the north. They have been operating here since the late 1980s. Despite some promising electoral showings in the early days, the Tories never quite made the electoral breakthrough on this side of the water. The high point was the 1992 General Election were they polled almost 50,000 votes across the province, took 5.7% of the overall vote and came close to stealing James Kilfedder's seat in North Down. At that stage they were Northern Ireland's sixth largest party, yet it was all downhill from there. These days the party attracts less than 1% of the vote and gives The Workers Party a run for its money in the lost deposits category.

Nevertheless, these people are still paid up members and the branches are just as authentic Tory branches as the ones in Kent or Cornwall. If the two parties have a full merger then the problems will be minimal. If, however, they go down the road of the CDU/CSU format then we could be faced with the prospect of a semi-independent UUP functioning in Northern Ireland alongside some not very impressed loyal Ulster Tories. What would happen then? Would Jeff Peel and his pals simply dissolve their old vehicle and join the UUP? I doubt it. Would they continue contesting elections? Hardly. It wouldn't make all those months of talks on "cooperation" look like a bit of a waste. The truth is that we're just going to have to wait and see. Thankfully, it doesn't look as if we are going to be forced to wait all that long.

When the Good Friday Agreement was signed just over a decade ago there was much talk at the time of a possible 'realignment of politics', a fundamental transformation in the way we do things in this little province. Ten years have passed without there being any movement on that front. If anything it could be argued that sectarian divisions swelled in that period as the two ugliest factions in the tribal camps - the DUP and Sinn Fein - came to assume leadership of their respective clans. It looks now as if realignment may just be about to commence. It certainly took its time, but better late than never.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Oh dear

Sarah Palin should withdraw from the US Presidential race. That’s not my opinion incidentally, that’s the view of leading conservative columnist and one time supporter of Palin’s nomination Kathleen Parker. Parker says that “Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate who is clearly out of her league.” I haven’t seen the interviews with Gibson or Hannity just yet but the Couric piece will leave you cringing. Clearly Governor Palin does not operate well when no script is present. To be honest, after reading the comments left by viewers on the CNN website and on YouTube I actually felt sorry for the poor woman. Watch... if you can:

The realignment of paramilitarism?

According to an article on the BBC website by our finest polished export (after Christine Bleakley) and now Beeb Ireland Correspondent Mark Simpson, there's no religion on a £10 note. But then we always knew that, didn't we? After all, crime is crime is crime. It isn't political you know. It's just crime.

“I wish to make a very strong complaint…”

I sometimes get the impression that the BBC has a masochistic group of people in charge of its programming department. If there is and they do indeed get a kick out of receiving floods of complaints from irate members of the public then this week’s documentary Breakout should have provided them with quite a sizeable erection. Made to mark the 25th anniversary of the flight of thirty-eight Provisional IRA inmates from the Maze Prison in county Antrim, the production made by Belfast-based Hot Shot Films has caused quite a bit of upset within unionism.

First things first though: was it any good? Well, yes actually. It was an interesting and slickly produced documentary which gave you an intriguing insight into how the escape was planned and executed. It was, as the show’s producer bluntly described it, a “ripping yarn.” It did have a few downsides. Only four people were interviewed in total and for a one hour documentary this was not nearly enough (more about this later). Also, I don’t know about you but listening to Gerry Kelly, Brendan McFarlane and Bobby Storey blabber on about “operations” and “arresting” prison warders quickly became irritating. Instead of their militaristic terms making them sound like an army they came across more like a bunch of kiddies playing toy soldiers. Yet while I was a wee bit irritated there were others a little more annoyed than myself.

Scenes of ex IRA men cheerfully reminiscing about the old days are always going to provoke Nigel Dodds and his cronies. The DUP MP appeared on Stormont Live on Tuesday afternoon for a good old moan about the previous night’s show. Doddsie’s real anger, however, was not reserved for Kelly and his band of merry men. His fury was being directed at the folks in Ormeau Avenue who dared to broadcast this filth on the airwaves. True, Breakout was a tad one-sided. With the exception of one warder called Campbell Courtney who was shot and wounded during the escape, only the trio of Provos named above appeared in front of the cameras.

At least though the interviews that did take place were appropriate given the subject; all four men were actual players in the drama that unfolded that Sunday evening in 1983. Goodness knows what Dodds’s suggestion would have been. Striking ‘a balance’ has become such an important factor in the coverage of all things Norn Iron that I get the impression he would have preferred to see the inclusion of an irrelevant interview with a unionist politician describing how awful these men were and how behind bars was the place for them. This may have indeed struck a balance but what would it have added to the documentary?

The lack of input from non-republicans was undoubtedly a drawback but it was a downside that seems to have been unavoidable. Michael Beattie, the producer of Breakout, appeared to be fully aware of this and commented in an item on the BBC website prior to the broadcast that he had sought interviews with more prison staff but sadly they were unwilling to be interviewed. Unless Mr Dodds had a way of getting these unwilling former warders to speak on television I think he should leave the art of documentary making to the documentary makers.

While most unionist critics of the programme seem to take issue with the abundance of time given to the republicans, I was actually more surprised at some of the sloppy terms used by the narrator and the graphics people. For example, less than fifteen seconds into the documentary and the speaker had described the incident as “the most audacious escape since Colditz.” Perhaps it was, but my advice would be to leave that sort of language to Bobby Storey. Had I been the head honcho in BBC Northern Ireland and got a preview tape I think that I would have requested an amendment to the Colditz line. If Ormeau Avenue thinks that drawing a comparison between a Provisional IRA prisoner escape and an escape by British soldiers from a Nazi POW camp in World War Two isn’t the sort of thing that will get angry unionists reaching for their phones then they are horribly mistaken. Equally sloppy was the graphic that appeared just before the credits rolled informing the viewer that of the nineteen prisoners who made good their escape, three of them “were subsequently killed during IRA operations.” Operations? This sort of wording came as a bit of a surprise to me. I wasn’t aware that official BBC terminology for the sort of capers the Provos got up to were “operations.” Again, I would have imagined these kind of phrases to be more Bobby Storey’s territory.

Careless choice of words in certain areas aside, for the most part I felt that the pros outweighed the cons. There may have been a slight imbalance in the amount of time given to the three republican escapees but this did not affect the impartiality of the piece. Indeed, the documentary was far from the propaganda film that Nigel Dodds made it out to be. Had the producers of Breakout devoted (or should I say wasted) their time making sure both prisoners and warders got equal airtime it would still not have been enough to stop complaints. When you bring up a part of our history as contentious as that which was discussed then it is inevitable someone will get hurt. The alternative - that we simply ignore the past - is much worse. Perhaps the truth is that we are not yet mature enough in Northern Ireland to discuss our history. Maybe what we really desire in this province is a Spanish-style ‘pact of silence’ whereby we brush an entire part of our history under the carpet. Maybe then Nigel Dodds and his others like him will be able to conveniently forget about the unsavoury past lives of people who are now his partners in government.

Michael Beattie stated before his documentary was broadcast on Monday night that “this is an important historical story and one that deserves to be told.” He is right. It just so happens that in Northern Ireland being right is sometimes the wrong position adopt.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Inappropriate movie poster of the day

Hat Tip: Guido Fawkes

Socialism, nationalism or both?

Below is footage from a debate on the politics of national identity which was filmed at the Socialist Workers Party’s Marxism 2007 conference in London last summer. For some reason it has taken it over a year to surface but thankfully it has for, in an unusual occurrence, this a debate organised by a Trotskyist sect that is actually worth watching. The meeting features cuddly leftie musician Billy Bragg and Specsavers loving SWPer Martin Smith. As most of you probably know, Bragg published a book in 2006 calling on people in England to rediscover their sense of patriotism and claim back ‘Englishness’ from the BNP and the rest of the flag waving fascists. Comrade Smith begs to differ.

As for my own take on it all, I can appreciate where Bragg is coming from. What I do not understand is why he appears to think this issue is of such importance. For someone who is concerned about one set of divisions in his society is it not then something of a contradiction that Bragg supports the Scottish nationalists and their plans to break up Britain? Perhaps not, but then we socialists have always tended to view mixing with nationalists as marching in the company of the devil. Nevertheless, an interesting debate:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Headline of the Day

It has to be The Sun:

Scrutiny where little is needed

I surely cannot be the sole individual who in recent days has been wondering if I am the only person alive who thinks the importance of Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party Conference this week was being a bit overstated. I sat at home on Tuesday afternoon watching the build up on BBC and Sky News and was astounded by some of the rubbish coming from the mouths of the presenters, guests and other people who you think would know better.

The coming oration was, all of them claimed, a speech which could potentially kill off Gordon Brown as Prime Minister or on the other hand totally rejuvenate his fortunes. Really? In the space of an hour? Wow. Did you think this as well? Were you readying the champagne for Gordon while at the same time sharpening up the guillotine just in case he screwed up? Perhaps you were. It is possible that I am the one out of touch here. Maybe contemporary politics is now so incredibly shallow that the career of a Prime Minister hangs on a scripted speech prepared for him at what is in truth little more than a stage managed media event. If so then things are much worse than even I imagined.

Following the speech came the immediate and predictable wave of reactions. Cabinet members spoke of how they had just witnessed the work of a great man who despite being up against the ropes in difficult times had managed to deliver a knock out blow to the critics. The Tories dismissed the Brownite’s praise for their leader, claimed that the speech changed nothing and that poor old Gordon remains the lame duck PM he has always been. The Lib Dems also said something but I couldn’t be bothered going into it.

All of the news programmes for the rest of Tuesday evening seemed to feel it was somehow compulsory to venture out onto the streets and find out what the Great British public thought of Mr Brown’s performance. Now, in the unlikely event that I ever become the producer or controller of a major news programme the first thing which I will immediately order the abolition of is the vox pop. When was the last time you seen a camera crew go out into a street, ask a member of the public for their opinion on a major issue and in response get an articulate and well informed reply? Exactly. ITV decided to steer away from the on-street and interview and take (or possibly abduct) half a dozen poor souls and place them in a room to watch the Prime Minister’s speech. To be fair their responses were a little bit better than the guff we got on the streets from Joe Public, but at the end of the day I still didn’t care. There was a lot I didn’t care about on Tuesday.

I didn’t care about why his wife introduced him. I didn’t care about how many times he used the word ‘fairness’ in the speech. I didn’t care whether he took his jacket off or kept it on. I didn’t care whether he stood at an old fashioned lectern or went walkies around the stage. In fact, I didn’t particularly care if he did make a complete balls of it and had midway through ended up reading the lyrics to Katy Perry’s appalling new single. It was a speech. True, it was a speech to the Party Conference yet it is still a speech - nothing more, nothing less. Regardless of your opinion on whether or not Gordon Brown’s position is under threat or whether Labour will win the next election, is it really likely that anything he said - bar an unscripted recital of a chapter from Mein Kampf - could have substantially altered either of these two things? No. I have not yet seen an opinion poll in the aftermath of the speech but I would be fairly certain that the figures showing the state of the parties after conference season will not be radically different from the figures published in the press a couple of weeks ago.

David Cameron makes his big presentation to the Conservative Party Conference next week. Lucky us.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Peace, Bread, Cartman!

Further to yesterday's post concerning the potential banning of the South Park cartoon in Russia, here is an excellent 'propaganda' picture I found on the homepage of the Moscow-based TV station 2x2 that is responsible for broadcasting the series in Mr. Putin's empire. The fight back begins! I love it:

Anti-war MP in stupid comment shock

You are probably well aware that there is a major election taking place in North America this autumn (i.e. the federal election in Canada). With the number of Canadian troops killed in the conflict nearing the 100 mark, Afghanistan has become quite a leading issue in the campaign. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the Socialist International aligned New Democratic Party has adopted the same lazy 'anti-war' line that the rest of the country's left appears to have decided to follow.

The following debate took place a few days ago on CBC radio between the NDP's Denise Savoie and Terry Glavin, the author, journalist and founder of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee. Comrade Glavin provides a robust defence of the liberation of the Afghan people. Denise Savoie, sadly, does not.

Savoie is in fact a prime example of just how bankrupt and bereft of ideas her section of the left is at the moment when it comes to area of foreign policy. After seven years surely people like her could have come up with something a little more sophisticated than the withdraw-and-see-what-happens policy? Obviously not. I have never been particularly impressed with the NDP since I read Jack Layton a couple of years ago saying that if Canada is going to get drawn into a full scale combat war in Afghanistan then the government should make clear what the purpose of that war and when they would be withdrawing. I've never been the military type, but I did detect a slight flaw in comrade Layton's suggestion that Canada simultaneously declare a date for withdrawal at the same time as it entered a war.

It all makes for a very sad state of affairs. Predictable, but still sad nevertheless.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We are not amused

In the Soviet Union they banned the works of Trotsky, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn and many others for fear of what impact the pens of these individuals could have on the population. If, as some have suggested in recent years, we are really on the brink of a new Cold War one gets the impression that it may not be up to the same intellectual standard set during the last one.

The Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow believes that the hit nineties American adult cartoon show South Park is an “extremist” programme that could potentially incite religious or national hatred and is now threatening to ban the series which is broadcast on the country's 2x2 network. The Moscow News reports that the Prosecutor General has also pointed the finger at The Simpsons and Family Guy for promoting “violence, brutality, pornography... as well as suicide and antisocial behaviour.” If Matt Groening dies of polonium-210 poisoning in the coming weeks then we really should be concerned.

Until then, the good news is that our Russian friends can still buy Orwell. It’s a strange, strange world.

Noel's Nazi Party?

“I’m very straightforward on immigration. The bus is full.”

Noel Edmonds
News of the World
September 14th 2008

If my last post didn't convince you that Noel Edmonds is a complete bastard the remarks you'll find by clicking here undoubtedly will. Reading through the comments that accompany the article concerned it seems that Noel's recent groaning about the TV Licence Fee combined with some enough-is-enough and people-in-this-country-better-waken-up bollocks about immigration have helped him broaden his appeal amongst Britain's far right. Rupert Murdoch must be so proud.

In defence of the Licence Fee

"The BBC enriches the country in ways we will only discover when it has gone and it is too late to build it back up again. We actually can afford the BBC, because we can't afford not to."

Stephen Fry
Speech given in London
May 7th 2008

So, Noel Edmonds has cancelled his TV Licence and in the process has become the darling of the sort of people who get worked up about things like political correctness and the use of the metric system. I first found out about the bearded ones militancy on, ironically enough, the BBC website where he stated:
“I worked for the BBC for 30 years. When I was there it promoted the Licence Fee by saying how wonderful it was. But now Auntie’s put boxing gloves on. I am not going to have the BBC or any other organisation threatening me. I’ve cancelled my TV Licence and they haven’t found me. Nobody’s coming knocking on my door. There are too many organisations that seem to think it is OK to badger, hector and threaten people.”
Make no mistake about it - this is complete claptrap. Just take the time to read what the basis of his argument is and scrutinise each of his so-called points.

Firstly, Auntie has apparently “put boxing gloves” on. What does he mean by this? Does he mean to say that when he was the uncrowned king of the Beeb during the era of Noel’s House Party in the early nineties that the Licence Fee somehow was not enforced rigorously enough? Of course not. The infamous detector vans used by TV Licensing officials to snoop on naughty citizens not parting with their cash have been around since the 1960s. Moaning about this compulsory payment existed long before people had heard of Noel Edmonds and such carping will no doubt be around long after he has been forgotten. Perhaps what he should do is be kind enough to shed some light on why his conscience only appears to have been pricked since he ceased to work for the BBC.

Secondly, he says that the BBC used to promote the Licence Fee by “saying how wonderful” it was. I don’t think the Corporation has stopped doing this. Have you ever seen a trail being broadcast in between programmes? That is the BBC in effect promoting the Licence Fee, or at least promoting that which has been brought around as a result of the Licence Fee. I wonder what Noel would suggest Auntie does to “promote” the Fee and return us to those halcyon days when supposedly they spent so much time telling us about how wonderful the annual payment was. Enlighten us, wise one.

Thirdly, he vents his anger at organisations that “think it is OK to badger, hector and threaten people.” I don’t mean to sound harsh but as it is illegal not to pay your Television Licence and because non-payment inevitably ends in a fine it should not come as a surprise to Edmonds or anyone else that in order to implement the law a certain amount of badgering and hectoring be used. Once again, it would be nice to hear what his alternative proposals are. Should we just stop sending out letters, sell off the detector vans and trust that people will be honest and pay their Licence Fee completely unchecked? Who knows, if that works perhaps we could amend the entire UK tax system and allow people to donate the relevant percentage of their pay at the end of the month to Revenue and Customs.

What makes this dismal protest even more difficult to stomach is that fact that had it not been for Licence Fee payers money there is a reasonable chance none of us would ever have heard of Noel Edmonds. This is after all a man whose career was launched at the Beeb. Edmonds was for many years one of the Corporation’s most prominent figures. He was a DJ on Radio 1, one of the original members of the Top Gear team, a presenter on the legendary kid’s show Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and the ‘brains’ behind Noel’s House Party. He was also responsible for the still mystifying success of Mr Blobby, a children’s TV character whose catchphrase was “blobby, blobby, blobby.” Actually, when you read through his CV you could be left thinking that rather than worrying about a knock on the door from the TV Licence guys Edmonds should in fact be thankful he isn’t being whisked off to The Hague to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

When he first opened his gob on this issue Edmonds must have been well aware what sort of response it would get. He was virtually guaranteed to get support from the unthinking masses. In the category of easy rounds of applause, his remarks rank up there with cracking gags about George W. Bush’s intellect. People generally don’t like paying for their Television Licence and who can blame them. Lets face it, any institution that sends you a letter demanding £139.50 of your money is unlikely to be on your Christmas card list. However, the truth is every society has its necessary evils.

Take, just as one example, tax. If a party leader wants to grab a headline or two and have some praise lavished on him from a Daily Mail editorial then all he has to do is state that he plans to cut taxes. Nobody likes to pay tax but we all know we have to if we are to have schools, police and a National Health Service. Indeed, the NHS and the BBC have a lot in common. Both are undeniably flawed, both have undoubtedly seen better days and yet there is no groundswell of opinion within the British population to have either abolished. On the contrary, British people are immensely proud of these two institutions that are known in various parts of the world as the best in their respective fields. Yes, when I pay that £139.50 every year I too grit my teeth and think about the flights I could have booked or the restaurant meals I could have had out on that cash, but I also think about what life would be like without the Licence Fee. And that, friends and comrades, is a far more fearsome prospect for the vast majority of us who spend at least part of our day watching television.

I am an ardent supporter of the Licence Fee. My support exists not because I view it as a cog in the great politically correct Marxist conspiracy machine to overthrow British society in an undeclared cultural revolution. I support the Licence Fee because I can see the alternative simply by lifting my remote control and switching stations. I can see the trash and drivel pumped out by ITV on a daily basis. I can see Channel 4 - a station that clearly thinks it is far more intelligent than it really is - broadcast appalling documentaries about everything from the hairiest boy in the world to Clarksonesque populist global warming denying garbage. I can see Five with its late night soft porn and endless third rate Nazi documentaries. And then we have Sky television.

I have many friends and family members who pay monthly rates that dwarf the Licence Fee for their Sky subscription and, as I always ask them, what has Sky ever given us? In a few months time the satellite broadcaster will have been sending its signals out to homes in the United Kingdom for twenty years. Two whole decades should, I am sure you agree, be enough time to produce something of cultural significance yet it has manifestly failed. Where is Sky’s Monty Python, its Fawlty Towers or its Only Fools and Horses? Where is its Newsnight, its Panorama, its Horizon or its Sky at Night? Yesterday evening I was at the Bulmers Comedy Festival in Dublin watching The Mighty Boosh, a comedy duo whose career was launched on BBC radio before they moved onto BBC television. For all my various criticisms of ITV and Channel 4, they too have at least been responsible for some landmark television down through the years. Sky on the other hand have contributed nothing to British society. Yes, they do broadcast major sporting events and hold the rights to many top American dramas but they are not in any way responsible for these programmes and their ability to broadcast them has come about simply by the colossal purchasing power of Rupert Murdoch’s wallet.

Finding a defence of the TV Licence Fee is becoming increasingly difficult. It is my fear that at some point in the near future a populist government at Westminster will attempt to score cheap short-term political brownie points with the electorate by a cynical attempt to force the Beeb down a commercial path. Some do though offer a defence. An unlikely person to do so was Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens. In article about supposed left/liberal bias within the BBC, Hitch the Younger wrote that while it was “fashionable” to call for the abolition of the Licence Fee he remained an opponent of such a move as it only took a quick glance across the Atlantic to realise that privately owned broadcast networks such as CNN or Fox were equally - if not more - biased in one shape or form.

Is the BBC flawless? No. As I have already said the Corporation is, like our health service, an imperfect beast but still one worth keeping and attempting to turn around. It has a glorious past and even today can produce flashes of brilliance. It also still possesses the services of journalists who would have excelled in any era. It may let itself down with revelations about staff running up huge travel expenses, Jonathan Ross signing up to an £18 million contract and… well, and Strictly Come Dancing, however the concept of an institution designed to inform, educate and entertain by providing us with quality broadcasting while simultaneously remaining free from the manacles of viewing figures and commercial demand is something too great to let go of.

Incidentally, the news broke about Noel Edmonds’s outburst of fury over the BBC’s treatment of the public just a couple of days before his new series began on Sky One, Noel’s HQ. Am I suggesting that this protest is little more than a cheap stunt designed to draw attention to this new project? No. Of course not. Though it is a coincidence, isn’t it?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

From Shinner to Stick: the strange manoeuvrings of Jackie Connolly

There are few rivalries in Irish politics more intense and more bitter than that which exists between Sinn Fein and The Workers Party. Both organisations were born out of the schism in the republican movement in the late sixties that gave us the Provisionals and the Officials and, while subsequent divisions and defections have shrunk the WP’s support base considerably, old hatreds remain as deep as they were in the day the split took place back in December 1969. To this day each side views the other as having betrayed the true meaning of republicanism at a crucial stage in Irish history and, as if that were not enough to permanently cement the mutual detestation, there remains a long list of names of people killed in bloody feuding between the military wings of both groups.

As a result of all of this there has subsequently been very little ‘traffic’ between the two parties. In the early weeks and months following the split there were some individuals who had a change of mind, realised they were in the wrong camp and quickly switched sides. Martin McGuinness was one such person who, after joining the Official wing and discovering it was more interested in reading Marx than taking pot shots at the Brits, decided to jump ship. Since that early period very few people have been known to leave one faction in order to make the journey across to the other.

Last week I came across a Workers Party press release stating that “well known Cork activist” Jackie Connolly had joined their organisation. The name rang a bell. I read on. Jackie stated that she had ran in the local elections in 2004 and came within fifty votes of taking a seat in Cork North Central. She announced that she would be standing for the WP in the next election in 2009. As well as all of this Ms. Connolly told of her involvement in the Gurranabraher Residents Association and of her participation in campaigns on everything from traffic calming to illegal dumping. However, both Jackie and the press release from The Workers Party forgot to mention one small detail. Prior to joining the Stickies, Jackie Connolly was a member of Sinn Fein (or as she may now refer to them ‘Provisional Sinn Fein’).

Usually when someone defects from one party to another the side that gains the member tends to have a good gloat over their new recruit. Could you ever visualise a Labour MP crossing the floor to join the Conservatives without the Tories taking the opportunity to score a few political points over their opponents? Of course not. In the strange world of Irish republicanism things are a bit different. The absence of any mention of Sinn Fein in this statement was so glaringly obvious that it was comical. What’s wrong with the Sticks? Can they not even bring themselves to say the words ‘Sinn Fein’? Are they secretly disturbed or feeling a wee bit guilty that they have accepted a former Shinner into the ranks? Is Jackie Connolly currently in quarantine until all traces of Provo DNA have left her?

Perhaps as you read this someone at Sinn Fein’s head office on Parnell Square is trawling through the internet and old party publications removing all traces of Jackie Connolly from their history, while down at WP headquarters on Hill Street a party apparatchik is quietly amending any previous criticisms made about her by the Cork membership. Don’t laugh at any of this stuff. Orwellian rewrites are something Irish republicans have become extremely good at in recent years (hence the fact history now tells us that Provisional Sinn Fein actually supported the civil rights movement).

Ultimately though the fate of Jackie Connolly is unlikely to have a major impact on the future of Irish - or even Corconian - politics. If she couldn’t get elected to her local council on a Sinn Fein ticket it is even more unlikely that she is going to get in on the ticket of a minor Stalinist party with an aging membership that has been effectively dead in the water now for the best part of two decades. Even so, an intriguing defection for political trainspotters.

Interior design with Sarah Palin Chuck and Sally

Last week I posted this picture, describing it as “my highlight of the US Presidential election campaign so far”:

That image has now been demoted to second place since the following appeared in Newsweek. Introducing Chuck and Sally Heath, Sarah Palin’s parents, at their home in Wasilla:

Monday, September 15, 2008

John who?

You may have forgotten it by this stage but apparently John McCain is the name of the Republican candidate in the race for the White House. The little man from Arizona appears to have been completely overshadowed during the past fortnight by his young and photogenic Alaskan running mate, something which may not actually be a bad thing either. Ever since it was announced Sarah Palin would be the GOP's Vice-Presidential candidate most of the talk in the mainstream media has been of beauty pageants, floatplanes, lipstick and moose burgers. Some Americans have been so won over by the charming 44 year old that hairstylists, opticians and shoe shops across the States are reported to have been inundated with requests from women wanting to look like her.

Now one of Bill Clinton's former aides has tossed some more fuel on the fire of Palinmania and suggested that there is a distinct possibility the next US Presidential election could be a battle between two women. Dick Morris has (probably unintentionally) fired the first shots of the 2012 election by saying that there is a real chance we could witness a contest between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. In a sign that he too is among one of the many Statesiders to have become infatuated with the VP hopeful, Morris claims that Palin is an "authentic model of feminism" compared to the "counterfeit" brand put forward by Hillary. I wonder how that went down in Arkansas?

Female Presidents are of course nothing new if you happen to be Irish. Back in 1990 people south of the border elected Labour-backed Mary Robinson while in the following Presidential poll seven years later all of the candidates (with the exception of one obscure independent) were women. Of course, the Irish President has no political clout and even though it has been nearly two decades since a male held that office it should not be allowed to cloud the fact that of the 166 seats in Dail Eireann only a paltry 22 are held by those of the fairer sex. So, any notions you had that we on this island may have had some claim of superiority over our cousins across the Atlantic should be swiftly shelved.

Enough about us for now. So, what chance a Palin Presidency? Well, it certainly isn’t the craziest thing to be uttered in the course of the current election campaign - Jeremiah Wright has that one all sown up. Indeed, if McCain becomes President and subsequently decides four years down the line to opt out of running for a second term (by which stage he will be a ripe old 76 years) it would place her in a prime position to make the journey across town from Number One Observatory Circle to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Still, this is all wild and utterly pointless speculation which can be put on the backburner for a years while the more immediate business of McCain vs. Obama is sorted out.

Regardless of whether it is the top job or the second top job in the US that she is going for, Palin is not going to get anything without some of America's stranger characters saying exactly what they think about her. In the past few days it seems a bizarre popular front of celebrities has spontaneously formed to oppose her. Among those to vent their anger against Miss Wasilla 1984 has been Pamela Anderson, Matt Damon, Lindsay Lohan and Jon Bon Jovi. Hmmm. No wonder the Republicans are doing so well in the polls.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Show business for ugly people

The picture below of a gagged Christina Aguilera appears on today's Daily Telegraph website and is supposedly aimed at making young first-time voters in the US remember to register in time for November 4. Nothing like treating the youth of today like real adults, eh? At least nobody can accuse the guys and gals directing this campaign of dumbing down their message in order to get through to the kids:

If you ask me a much better attempt at connecting with the apathetic young masses and getting their backsides into polling booths came back in 1996 when the people of Russia were going out to vote in their first ever democratic Presidential election. During a pre-election concert for young people in Moscow a slightly overenthusiastic Boris Yeltsin climbed onto the stage and started throwing some groovy shapes. A young Vladimir Putin looked on content in the knowledge that his time was near:

Onward secular soldiers!

“Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday.”

Woody Allen
Annie Hall

A tiny piece of history was made in Belfast at the weekend: a football match - or to avoid argument and be more accurate, a soccer match - was played on Sunday. If you aren’t from this part of the world then you're probably wondering what I'm blathering on about. However, this occasion was truly a landmark moment in the history of the province. Until very recently Northern Ireland had a reputation as a place that took the concept of the traditional Christian Sunday very seriously. Observance was a major part of life here. In fact, it was so major even if you weren't a Christian you were still compelled to observe it anyway. The element of choice was removed. Any concept of free will was forgotten. You had to do it. For one day each week these six little counties on the outskirts of western Europe were transformed into a mini theocracy.

As a child I hated Sundays. Not only did it mean that a return to school was only hours away but it also meant having nowhere to go, nothing to do. Our own little Ministry of Vice and Virtue even made sure that swings in playgrounds were chained up in order to insure no immoral fun-seeking juvenile breached the law of the lord Jesus Christ. Bars were closed. Restaurants were shut. Cinemas couldn't open. If you wanted to enjoy yourself it was probably best that you didn’t move to an area of the north where the local council was under the control of the most repressive fundamentalist Protestant wing of unionism. Sometimes opposition to people having a good time took forms so absurd that it was difficult not to laugh (laughing was still permitted incidentally). In one infamous incident the Democratic Unionist Party prevented a gig by prog rock band ELO taking place in Ballymena on the basis that their music may encourage Satanism in the area (though personally I would have tried to prevent it on the basis that ELO are shit).

In the late eighties and early nineties the tide began to turn. By 1989 the ban on pub opening was removed. Soon shops were allowed to as well. Of course, Christian Ulster wasn't going to let all of this go without making a song and dance of it. Or perhaps I should have said not without making a song of it. Dancing is, as well all know, a Satanic practice designed by the Devil to cater for the lust of human flesh. Anyhow, in those early days of Sunday shopping the unholy consumers could usually expect to meet choirs standing by the doorway singing for the salvation of their souls and having the odd Bible tract or two thrust into their godless hand.

Nevertheless, Christ's foot soldiers were fighting a losing battle. Over the course of the past decade or so more and more Sunday taboos have been shattered. In early 2004 the Ulster rugby team played their first game on a Sunday. Later that year the first horse race meeting took place in - of all places - the resting place of Saint Patrick himself, Downpatrick. The GAA games of Gaelic football and hurling have always been played on Sundays. Just like the shops and the bars, sports venues were opening their doors on a Sunday as well. However, one notable area of northern society was sticking to its Sabbath guns.

The Irish Football Association for many decades had an official ban on Sunday football. Any talk of its removal was always swiftly kicked into touch thanks to opposition from Protestant church run leagues affiliated to the organisation. Perhaps the best example of just how opposed some people were to the concept of kicking a ball on a Sunday came from Johnny Jameson. He was a true believer who took his faith (or stupidity) to a very principled extreme. In 1982, Jameson achieved what most footballers could only dream of - he represented his country at the finals of a World Cup. That year Northern Ireland remarkably reached the last eight of the tournament in Spain. As fate would have it the quarter final against France in Madrid fell on a Sunday. As a result Jameson informed the management that he would not be available to play as it conflicted with his religious beliefs.

However, times change and in recent years IFA Chief Executive Howard Wells began to push for the removal of the dinosaur clause (partly because he genuinely wanted rid of it and partly because it was rumoured some clubs were threatening to take legal action under the Human Rights Act to have the rule forcibly removed). Last November an emergency meeting of the IFA in Belfast finally voted to abolish the ban. The result of the vote showed just how out of touch the Christian lobby had become. Of the 105 people that voted on the issue 91 were in favour of abolition. A few more months had to pass until eventually we got to see the historic moment we had all been waiting for.

Sabbath soccer finally kicked off last Sunday when an Irish League match took place at The Oval between Bangor and home side Glentoran (ironically the club which the aforementioned Sabbatarian Johnny Jameson played with for most of his career). The result was a 1-0 victory for the Glens though nobody other than the supporters of both teams really cared much for that aspect of the days proceedings. The symbolism of a football match taking place in the heart of Protestant east Belfast on a Sunday was the real headline grabber.

It was pleasing to see the paltry numbers that turned out to protest. Around 50 people led by the leader of Belfast's anti-fun community, the Reverend David McIlveen, turned out to sign hymns and generally attempt to make Bangor and Glentoran fans feel guilty. When Bible tracts and songs weren't doing the trick the Free Presbyterian protestors decided to bring things down to a level they tend to excel at: crass sectarianism. "You're like the GAA" and "go to Croke Park" were a couple of insults picked up by BBC Northern Ireland cameras thrown towards match goers by the men of Christ. What better way to get at a Prod, they must have surmised, than to try and convince him he's acting like a Taig? It didn't work. The fans mostly either ignored or else laughed at the idiots attempting to make them feel guilty. It was reassuring to see one Glentoran fan politely inform McIlveen's mob that they were a "disgrace" and to go home. Another fan very wisely pointed out that the protestors were "hypocrites" and remarked that if "Sunday is the day of rest surely they shouldn't be here protesting. They should be at home resting." Good point.

While last Sunday's football match at The Oval was pleasing to see from the point of view of a secularist it must still be recognised that Belfast has still a bit of way to go before it becomes a 'normal'. Despite no longer having the sort of cold lifeless atmosphere that would give many a Calvinist a wet dream, I still have to feel a lot of sympathy for those slightly bewildered looking tourists I bump into on Sunday mornings who appear as if they're trying to work out where everyone has gone. The Belfast Sunday remains a fairly slow paced phenomenon - Barcelona or Berlin we most certainly are not! Yet we are nevertheless making progress, even if it is excruciatingly slow. And as the old saying goes, it matters not the extent of your march but the direction in which the march is going. I don't want to tempt fate, but I have a feeling we might just be going in the right direction for once.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When Bill met Barack

I just realised a couple of days back when reading Jenny Muir’s article about Barack Obama on Irish Left Review that I have written virtually nothing on this website about the biggest story of 2008, namely this November’s Presidential election in the United States. The reason? Well, I must admit that I haven’t been carried away on the same wave of excitement that everyone else has been whisked off on. I appreciate why some people are practically drooling at this contest featuring the old guy and the woman versus the black guy and the Catholic. And while it is nice to have a change from the usual election between four Caucasian males with great teeth and bad haircuts, I also can’t ignore the fact that policy seems to have been demoted to a distant second place behind personality. The other reason I haven’t written that much is because I wanted to leave writing about it until around mid-October. I don’t want to join in the hype too much as I don’t want an anti-climax come November 4th.

Right, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I like The O’Reilly Factor. I know I shouldn’t and I know its trash but I do it anyway. Even so, the following interview with Obama is actually quite good. The final part will be shown on the programme next Monday but this section of it concentrates on what is for me still the big issue of the election - foreign policy. While he does make some positive remarks here, on this subject I’m still not convinced by Obama. Take a peek for yourself:

Hat Tip: But, I am a Liberal!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Change the world? Bugger off

I can’t make any comment on the quality of the publication pictured here as it isn’t released until next week, but surely Jonathan Neale could have come up with a better title than this for his new book on climate change. Stop Global Warming: Change the World is a tad embarrassing if you ask me. Its the sort of the thing I expect to hear from a Miss World contestant. Neale is of course a member of the SWP so pamphlets, leaflets, posters and people manning stalls calling on the masses to 'change the world' is pretty run of the mill stuff for him. Still, the party really needs to consider a major propaganda rethink.

People in this country are a cynical lot that tend not to go for grandiose statements. I recall a historian (whose name escapes me) on a Radio 4 programme a while back being asked why communism and fascism never established the sort of foothold in the United Kingdom that it did in mainland Europe. He said that fanatics would never be listened to in great numbers by cynical Brits as long as there existed the phrase “oh, come off it”. OK, so its not the sort of answer I would ever have written in a history exam back at university but I can see what he was getting at.

On a serious note, I do actually plan to read Neale’s book regardless of its dodgy title. The left has been very poor on environmental issues and, while I suspect Stop Global Warming: Change the World may be little other than an impractical Trotskyist wish list, this is something that at the very least should trigger a debate.

Monday, September 08, 2008

In defence of Putin: the continuing degeneration of the British left

“By any sensible reckoning, this is not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion and ever tighter encirclement of Russia by a potentially hostile power. That a stronger Russia has now used the South Ossetian imbroglio to put a check on that expansion should hardly come as a surprise.”

Seumas Milne
August 14th 2008

One of the strangest things to emerge during the recent spat between Russia and Georgia was the willingness of many on the British left to side with Vladimir Putin's motley crew. I do not mean that they patronisingly asked us to try and 'understand' why Moscow attacked a sovereign democratic state. No. I mean expressions of actual support for Russia coupled with the condemnation of Georgia and the entire democratic world. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. Whether it's providing 'critical support' for suicide bombers in Palestine or condoning the murder of trade unionists in Iraq, many of my erstwhile comrades have hardly covered themselves in glory in recent years. South Ossetia should have been different though. This was, as they say, a no-brainer.

Had they taken a 'plague on both your houses' approach I wouldn’t have been as bemused. While I am firmly of the opinion that Georgia’s young and still developing democracy deserves western support against its aggressive and much larger neighbour - a neighbour that is having its own democracy swiftly rolled back - I can sympathise with people who have decided to adopt a neutral stance on the subject. Sadly, nobody on the radical left seems to have found the prospect of neutrality all that appealing.

Some chose to openly endorse the Russian onslaught. Others, such as our old Cliffite pals, preferred to concentrate on manipulating the situation in such a way as to produce a reading that fitted their own world view (i.e. that his was somehow a defeat for the United States in a conflict it was responsible for). I at first thought the war was a fairly obvious opportunity for the Socialist Workers Party to resurrect its old slogan of 'neither Washington nor Moscow' and at least pretend it had a shred of anti-imperialist credibility left in it. They passed on the opportunity. Smug Socialist Worker headlines such as “George Bush is the real loser in the latest Caucasus war” and gloating posts about a Putin victory on SWP sites like Lenin's Tomb only served to show that that particular component of the left was content to use Georgia’s hardship as a fairly pitiable way to have a cheap snigger at the wicked Yanks.

Seumas Milne followed a similar path. In a Guardian article he attacked the criticisms of Moscow coming out of Washington and London. Milne stated:
“Could these by any chance be the leaders of the same governments that in 2003 invaded and occupied - along with Georgia, as luck would have it - the sovereign state of Iraq on a false pretext at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives?”
Surely a graduate of Balliol College can do better than that. This is the sort of clichéd brought-to-war-on-a-lie twaddle I expect to hear from a teenage member of a Socialist Worker Student Society who thinks they are far more intelligent than they actually are. There is no equivalence between the intervention in Iraq and last month’s Russian adventure. There is one glaring difference: Moscow attacked a sovereign and independent European democracy whereas the intervention in Iraq removed one of the world’s most notorious dictatorships and replaced it with a democratic system. But why worry about that when you can pretend you give a damn about international law so as to facilitate a pathetic swipe at Dubya. Milne’s assertion towards the end of the article in which he claims that the war was “not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion” leaves you wondering just what level of bullshit editors at a publication as respectable as the Guardian are willing to tolerate these days.

While Milne and the various Trotskyist sects tended to ignore the Kremlin and concentrate on how best to sling mud at the White House, the remarkably still active Stalinist left was only to happy to defend, as one put it, the “territorial integrity” of the Russian Federation. In pre-1991 times you could at least comprehend why some Tankies would enthusiastically support the murder of civilians in locations as wide ranging as Budapest and Kabul as long as it was being done in the name of Marxism-Leninism. Soviet tyranny would always have the unwavering support of many idiots on this side of the Iron Curtain as apparently being carpet bombed by MiG-23s was a much more liberating experience than being carpet bombed by B-52s. Yet how can the inheritors of the mantle of Brezhnev applaud the actions of the people responsible for abolishing their beloved USSR? Is it that they were never interested in communism at all? Perhaps Russian expansionism was the thing that motivated the world's communist parties during the 20th century. Could it be the nostalgia generated by the sight of Ruskie tanks rolling in uninvited to a neighbouring state that is giving Andrew Murray and friends an erection? Possibly.

Aging commies appear to have viewed this war as a green light to say “I told you so” and hand out peculiar lectures on how great a disaster the dissolution of the Soviet Union was. Writing in the Morning Star Murray (who like Milne also pops up in the Guardian now and again) comments on the goings on in Abkhazia and South Ossetia:
“These potential flashpoints highlight the fact that, in many cases, the formerly internal borders between Soviet republics do not work as interstate boundaries. They are a consequence of the indecent haste with which Boris Yeltsin and his cronies liquidated the Soviet Union to get their hands on the levers of power in Russia. Not only are there national minorities, often Russian, now in the 'wrong' state, there are also peoples who, having neither the means nor even the aspiration to set up fully fledged nation states of their own, felt much more at ease in a large multinational federation than they do in a smaller nation state dominated by a single national group. Since one of the undoubted successes of the nationalities policy of the Soviet Union was its promotion of the cultural, linguistic and educational development of each ethnic group, no matter how small or how historically marginalised it had been, all now have both an enhanced awareness of their distinctive rights and the means of articulating them.”
Excusez-moi? The “undoubted successes of the nationalities policy” in the USSR? I wonder does comrade Murray include in this undoubted success the forced deportation of millions of Lithuanians, Chechens, Estonians, Moldavians, Latvians and various other ethnic minority groups in the Soviet Union to Siberia and other far flung areas of the great workers paradise? Of course, there is always the possibility that he may take the Ludo Martens line and state that such tales are little more than capitalist propaganda and Solzhenitsynian lies. If that is the case, as it would have to be to believe in such absurd drivel, then it puts Murray and the Morning Star on a par with Holocaust deniers and little more than the left wing mirror images of David Irving.

Harpal Brar, an old chum of Arthur Scargill’s, probably wins the prize for most enthusiastic supporter of Russia over the course of the past four weeks. His CPGB (M-L) organisation condemned the “genocide” committed by Georgia and stated that they support “the Russian Federation and the Russian armed forces in their just actions to save the South Ossetian people from genocide and to counter-attack in self-defence to safeguard sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.” For a party that has been busy in recent years defending the legacy of such notable individuals as Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-il and Saddam Hussein it was not at all surprising to see yet another statement from them praising their greatest hero, old whiskers himself:
“JV Stalin was not only an expert in the national question in general but also in the complex national questions in the Transcaucasian region in particular. His meticulous concern to ensure that the legitimate national rights of all the small, hitherto oppressed peoples of this region should be respected and guaranteed explains in no small measure the respect for his name and the longing for the Soviet Union that still runs deep in the veins of the Ossetian, Abkhaz and other peoples of the region.”
So, if only Stalin had been around in August all this would have been averted? I doubt it. Despite the nostalgia of the Tankies, this war is not a vindication of Soviet success in fostering proletarian unity between the peoples of these remote lands. The act of aggression against Georgia is, like Yeltsin and Putin’s acts of aggression against the Chechen people, simply continuations of Moscow's brutal hostility down through the centuries to its smaller neighbours. In this respect Tsarism, Stalinism and Putinism share a bloodstained common bond.

Finally, the pro-Russian/anti-American left were brought together under one banner, that of the repulsive Stop the War Coalition, to deliver a letter to Downing Street on August 29th. Tony Benn was joined by veteran leftists, 'peace activists', trade unionists and people who frankly should know better to hand in a letter which called on the British government to recognise that it was Georgia that had triggered the conflict and that the blame for the war ultimately lies with America’s “determination to exercise global hegemony through a series of military adventures.” There was not one single criticism of Russia in this ridiculous document. Not one. Read it for yourself and despair. Is there anything remaining for the British left to do to humiliate itself that it has not already done? Is there something afoot surpasses support for the Taleban, Hamas, Hezbollah and Vladimir Putin that I am not aware of yet? The tragedy of all this is that when people like George Galloway say they aren’t “the only one” they probably are telling the truth. Over the past month I have heard quite a few leftists suddenly become experts on the question of Abkhazia and South Ossetia who take the StWC line. They aren’t all paper selling Trots either. Most are, as I said previously, people who should know better than to take the side of Goliath against David. Weren’t we always the champions of the underdog?

It wasn’t always like this of course. It was once the case that when it came to questions like opposition to colonialism or gay rights you could always count on socialists to take the right side. Nowadays one would think they are making conscious decisions to permanently end up in the wrong camp. When presented with a choice between secularism and clerical fascism it prefers the theocrats. When faced with taking the side of democracy or that of dictatorship it opts for totalitarianism. Now, when given the option between supporting either a young fledgling European democracy or a hostile thuggish superpower next door neighbour a sizeable chunk of the left has decided to choose the latter - Russian imperialism.

The letter delivered to 10 Downing Street by the members of the Stop the War Coalition made me think of another letter which was penned by a group of London leftists many years ago. It was sent in January 1865 by the International Workingmen’s Association and was signed by Karl Marx. The letter congratulated Abraham Lincoln, the Republican President of the United States, on his re-election and to commend him for his anti-slavery stance. What a pity that the men and women in London today who claim to be the ideological descendants of Marx could not have been responsible for a letter expressing similar democratic principles. History would treat the Tony Benns of this world slightly better had the letter they delivered to Gordon Brown a fortnight ago been an expression of solidarity with United States and Great Britain for their current anti-totalitarian stance in the world. Sadly, the truth is that they do not have the capacity for such a thing. That section of the British left no longer possesses the depth nor the foresight to even contemplate adopting a principled position. They are not motivated by socialism, Marxism, anti-fascism or a concern for international law. They are motivated by a crass and infantile anti-Americanism. Georgia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places will in time get the freedom and democracy they demand. If the halfwits of the StWC get as much as a place in a footnote in history it will be more than they deserve.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

JFK, 9/11, Princess Di, Gazza, Maggie and me

I normally don't do those things were you get tagged by a fellow blogger but as I'm in a good mood today, as it's the first week of autumn and as Harry Barnes is a nice bloke I've decided I might as well. Here's the challenge: where was I when I first heard of the following historic moments. Let's see:

The assassination of John F. Kennedy (November 22nd 1963)

I was still seventeen years off being born. What age does comrade Barnes think I am? I do know that my father (the next best thing… sort of) first heard about the assassination as he drove through a village in county Armagh in a Ford Anglia.

England knocked out of Italia 90 on penalties(July 4th 1990)

Too young to recall Spain 82 and only hazy recollections of Northern Ireland's adventures in Mexico 86, Italia 90 is the first World Cup I can really remember. I seem to be able to recall quite a lot of it too: Cameroon beating champions Argentina on the opening day, Costa Rica shocking Scotland, Schillaci's eyes, Roger Milla's wiggle, Packie Bonner's save and, er, Gazza's plastic tits. I watched the game between England and West Germany (West Germany… that does make me feel a wee bit old) at home with my sister and future brother-in-law. All of us seemed slightly terrified at the prospect we may actually be alive when England managed to win a World Cup. They didn't.

Margaret Thatcher's resignation (November 22nd 1990)

I can't recall the exact point at which she resigned but I can remember a teacher and a few of my pals in school talking about it. However, it wasn't the great cause for celebration that so many people made it out to be, was it? Seven years of John Major still lay ahead.

Diana, Princess of Wales killed in Paris (August 31st 1997)

I'd just arrived home from a U2 gig (how criminally uncool) at Lansdowne Road in Dublin when I read on Ceefax of a car accident in Paris that had killed Dodi al-Fayed and critically injured Diana Spencer. After a nap I awoke to find that Diana had died. Hysterical mourning followed. At least Elton John didn't turn up at Kim Il-sung's funeral.

9/11 attacks (September 11th 2001)

I was on my way to a meeting with a fellow comrade at a hotel bar in order to plan out our little college branch's strategy for the forthcoming freshers week at uni. As I was getting out of the car I heard the 2 o'clock news on BBC Radio Ulster say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. It didn't sound like an accident. My friend and I watched the rest of the drama unfold over our stout. A surreal and tragic day. And the subsequent freshers fayre? I think we recruited seven people.