Friday, 29 May 2009
We had our final Irish class of the year last Tuesday. Since last September I've been travelling over to Ionad Uibh Eachach, off the Falls Road, with my friends Hugh and Dessie. They're in their seventies, I'm in my sixties, and I'd like to think that our presence in the Beginners' Class for Irish is a sign of a thirst for knowledge and a love of a beautiful language rather than the triumph of hope over experience or plain buck stupidity. We usually meet for about half an hour before going over to the class, so we can copy each others' homework (sort of) and again each Friday afternoon, to chat and mull over some of the material we've been issued in class. It's all very pleasant and if there's a drawback, it's that the chat is so enjoyable, we don't always get as much hard-core work done as I'd sometimes like. Let's be brutal here: if we don't learn quickly, we'll run out of road.
But here's a question: why is it that there isn't a single Protestant/State school here that offers Irish at any level? I'm afraid the answers that spring to mind are not particularly complimentary of my Protestant fellow-citizens.
Friday, 22 May 2009
It's hard to know where to begin in talking about yesterday's Commission into Child Abuse report in the south of Ireland, but let me try a small number of points that've been neglected, whether through stupidity, cowardice or laziness on the part of the media and commentators.
1. Recent research in Britain shows that just over 2% of allegations of physical and sexual abuse against teachers by pupils actually result in convictions. That means around 98% are either lacking in evidence or lies. Presumably this fact has no relevance to the charges of sexual abuse in Ireland against the teaching orders?
2. What exactly is the nature of paedophilia? Is it a pattern of practice which the perpetrator chooses to follow? If so, he should where possible be apprehended, tried, convicted and imprisoned, as punishment for his crimes and for the safety of other children. Or is it a disease, with the perpetrator incurably recidivistic and unable to control his base urges? If so, he cannot be held culpable either in legal or in moral terms, and belongs in a psychiatric hospital, not a prison.
3. Why do commentators refuse to acknowledge that those guilty of paedophilia might also be responsible for much good work? Or is 100% villainy a more convenient/satisfying label for the media?
4. Why do commentators refuse to set the brutality of some members of the religious orders in the context of the time? I was a child in the 1940s and 1950s, and physical punishment, often of a pretty severe nature, was standard in schools and at home.
I could go on but I'll finish by saying that RTE's Prime Time last night showed all the balance of a witch-hunt. I kept waiting for Miriam O'Callaghan to call on the Christian Brothers' spokesman to prostrate himself on the floor and denounce in a loud voice the Catholic Church and all its works and pomps. Never let it be said that the British mob's appetite for expenses-account blood wasn't matched by the very-moral media on this side of the Irish Sea.
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
I note that fair-minded organ The Irish News is gunning for Caitriona Ruane, the Education Minister. The timing of the attack is of course totally coincidental and nothing to do with the fact that there's a European election coming up in a couple of weeks' time. Caitriona has made the mistake of taking her daughter with her on a three-day trip overseas. The republican-loving IN can't quite make up its mind whether it should focus on the sin of taking the child out of school (against official policy, dontcha know) or the sin of Ms Ruane having stayed with her in a five-star hotel (ties into the MPs' expenses scandal nicely). At the present rate, north and south, we're likely to be represented by a group of exceedingly honest, saint-like incompetents who show all the political skills of St Francis of Assisi. As to taking her daughter out of school for three days: is it possible her trip was more educational than anything she might have learnt in school during the same period? Answers to The Editor, The Irish News, Belfast.
Monday, 18 May 2009
It's odd the people who sometimes point the way to an obvious but ignored truth.
If you haven't been deafened by the yelps of indignation from the newspapers (take a particularly deep bow, Daily Telegraph) and other media sources about MPs and their expenses, then you must be doing something very, very absorbing (and probably illegal/immoral). Myself, I find the whole brouhaha very confused. The distinction between claiming legal and legitimate expenses, and illegal and illegitimate expenses has been largely ignored in the chorus of 'Isn't it terrible!' And I find the posturing of some MPs hilarious (for example, North Down woman Sylvia Hermon's 'anger' that her, what word shall I use, oh, ok, her inaccurate claim for over £2,000 to which she wasn't entitled - her anger that the people disbursing funds hadn't caught her, er, um, error, yes that's the word, error in her sums. Oh dear, pass the Tums, I'm going all queasy. But thank God the media were really gentle with Milady - Stephen Nolan almost apologised for even raising the issue.
But to the odd person who has pointed the way to an ignored truth. The odd person in question is Silvio Berlusconi, and his oddness - male chauvinist, media glutton, vain posturer, would-be Il Duce...I could go on. But dear Silvio is hosting the July meeting of the G8 leaders, and instead of them being put up at a sun-kissed five-star resort with every luxury in sight, old Silvio has decided to switch the venue to the city of L'Aquila, where they had that earthquake a while back which killed hundreds and left a lot more destitute. They'll be staying in a building usually used as married quarters for police officers, with conditions somewhat, as they say in Italy, 'spartano'. Silvio figures locating the G8 summit here will attract funds to the area for reconstruction and will match the let's-tighten-belts spirit of the times that are in it.
To which I say: Good on you, Silvio. You may be doing it for self-serving, electoral reasons but you implicitly raise a worthwhile question: Why do our political leaders need to travel in luxury automobiles, stay in palatial surroundings, ingest nothing only the best of food and drink? Why is the plain accommodation in L'Aquila the exception rather than the rule? Surely no one thinks that politicians work harder than the rest of us? Or wouldn't be able to think clearly if they didn't have the softest of beds and the fanciest of motors under their bums, or the tastiest and most expensive of food and drink in their guts?
And yet I don't think I've ever heard anyone complain about the misuse of the public's money when our elected representatives swan around in the lap of luxury. Is it that we're not, collectively and individually, right in the head? Or is it the same misguided thinking that used to drive Catholics to pay money they could ill afford to build a massive parochial house in which to install their their local priest and a palace, no less, in which to install their local bishop? The thinking being that by surrounding him with comfort and luxury, we were in some way saying to the other lot "See? Our big guys are every bit as swanky as your big guys". Or maybe it's just that we've forgetten that the money for MPs' and TDs' motors and first class tickets and fancy hotels comes out of our pockets. It does, you know. So isn't it time to howl about that, as well as the expenses claims? And have you ever thought that an even louder and sustained howl should go up because your money is being used to arm and train professional gunmen to kill, and to construct nuclear weapons intended to kill innocent civilians on a scale that would make Omagh or the Dublin/Monaghan blasts look like the gentlest puff of a May breeze? . By the way, you did remember that yesterday was the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombs which killed so many innocent people and were almost certainly planted with the assistance of the British authorities? Good. Because your money and mine also helped pay for the slaughter of that day.
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
The Church of England has got the wind up, or at least the Archbishop of Canterbury has. He's got nervy, as have lots of Anglicans and other Christian faiths, because Aaqil Ahmed has been appointed head of religious broadcasting by the BBC. And of course now you know why - that name is a bit of a giveaway. Mr Ahmed is a Muslim, and Rowan Williams and various other Christian big shots are agitated about the appointment. They're afraid, apparently, that Christianity is going to get sidelined in British life and too much attention will be given to minority faiths (translated: God Almighty - they've hired a Muslim!).
Aaqil Ahmed comes to the BBC from Channel 4, where he earned criticism for putting on a series on the history of Christianity which featured people like Cherie Blair and Michael Portillo. This was 'trivialising Christianity' his critics said. I saw the C Blair episode and while it wasn't wonderful at least it was alive and personal, which is more than can be said about many historical series. Because Ahmed isn't 'like us', does that mean he must be intent on doing down Christianity and bigging up Islam? And wasn't his predecessor in the post an agnostic/atheist? Besides which, a central tenet of the Qu'ran is that 'there must be no compulsion in religion'. In other words, by definition Muslims must respect other faiths.
The complaints from Christian bigwigs has to do with a fear that the traditional power of their churches (The C of E is the established religion in Britain) is being weakened, and that this threat comes in the form of people who look funny and different and who may have designs on all the things the British hold dear. It's called racial/religious prejudice, and had Mr Ahmed not been given the job, it would have probably been illegal as well as immoral.
Meanwhile, let's be optimists. Maybe now we'll hear less tut-tutting from Britain over what they've always defined as our so-out-of-date religious wars.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
A columnist from the Sun was on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC TV this morning. Her name is Jane Moore and she was leafing through the Sunday papers for Marr and noting the acres of space being devoted to the MPs' expenses scandal. Ms Moore was in strong moral mode: 'They're all at it, she informed Marr and everyone else. There should be a general election. This appalling corruption must stop, public representatives, morally repugnant...You did notice who Ms Moore works for? The Sun. That's the paper that introduced the moral uplift of Page 3 girls. That printed lies about Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough disaster, claiming they urinated on and picked the pockets of the dead. And of course that's the paper that reported on the sinking of the Belgrano during the Malvinas conflict. When the Argentine submarine was sailing away from the scene of battle and no threat to anyone, the British (with Thatcher's sanction) fired on her and sank her, killing over three hundred Argentine sailors. The Sun showed its sense of moral outrage on the front page with a one-word headline: 'GOTCHA!' Happy to see hundreds of men die unnecessarily, white with indignation that MPs are fiddling expenses.
The Sun is to morality what Stevie Wonder is to embroidery.
Saturday, 9 May 2009
I've just read an article by an Irish-American about the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Hillsborough, where she met the Irish rugby team. 'English Queen should not set foot in Republic of Ireland' the headline said. How refreshing - a commentator who isn't saying it's time in the name of reconciliation for HMQE2 to come to Dublin as soon as possible, thought I. In my naivety I assumed he was arguing against such a visit because Britain has 5,000 heavily-armed gunmen resident in the north of Ireland and because the north, contrary to the will of the Irish people, is ruled from London. Hah. The objection came from the fact that a Catholic can't ascend the British throne nor can a British monarch be married to a Catholic.Talk about getting worked up over the cat in the room and ignoring the gorilla.
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
It's hard to know which takes the severest pummelling in life, the body or the brain. I was in Bantry in Co Cork at the weekend, competing...No, wrong word. Participating in the half-marathon. It was a hilly course, which made me very apprehensive, as I tend to start gasping after a hill, and once that starts I'm hanging in by my fingernails if at all. Oddly, though, the hills - upward slopes, really - weren't nearly as bad as they looked and the slope downward after em was rather restful. The scenery was stunning - along the edge of Bantry Bay on a sunny Sunday morning - does life hold anything more fair? - with a really friendly Cork guy urging me on in the final mile or so. Afterwards there was a free massage (in a room with another nineteen masseuses, so less wisecracks - and then a good big meal preceded by a beer. My daughter Phoebe did it as well - it was her first, my second half-marathon - and she was equally delighted.
And the mental pummelling, if that's how you spell it? I was in Belfast Central Library newspaper archive, thumbing through the Derry Journal editions for the 1950s, and ended this afternoon looking at the report of the St Columb's College sports day, June 1960. There I am, at seventeen, getting third in the mile, second in the high jump and winning the football League. Don't know whether to be aghast at the value I attach to those awards, nearly fifty years later, or to rejoice in the momentary illusion that I'm still seventeen, when all you needed was a sit-down and a fag to leave you ready to grip life by the throat again...