30 January 2006

Comment: A whole new ball game in the North


Is there anything that is impossible to defend? I would have thought so. I would have said that there are a stack of things that are simply impossible to defend. But then I heard Jeffrey Donaldson defending the B Specials.

Jeffrey was on Questions and Answers on Monday night, and I must say he performed well. Either Jeffrey always knew about the media and the UUP refused to let him go on the tele, or else someone has told him recently. He was still coming out with all the old guff about how everything is the fault of the IRA and that the DUP are going to show Tony Blair just how Stormont could be up and running in no time if only the British government were prepared to go without Sinn Féin… and his smarmy smile nearly made me puke, but – for a Unionist – he performed well.
I’d say he will be the next leader of the DUP, the first First Minister to wear the sign of the Fish…
Anyway, they were talking about Michael McDowell’s crackpot scheme to present Garda uniforms to 4,000 busybodies all over the Republic and tell them to go out and catch some criminals, and John Bowman said to Jeffrey, by way of illustrating the point, that while the Six Counties always did have a reserve police force, the B-Specials were the cause of a lot of problems.
Now that is a simple statement that no-one in their right mind could disagree with. But Jeffrey disagreed. He said so. He said that he did not agree with the statement that the B Specials were the cause of problems in the Six Counties.
Which means that Jeffrey Donaldson – a clean-cut square-jaw, perhaps destined to be the next First Minister of Northern Ireland – considers the B–Specials to have been a grand crowd. A decent bunch of skins, a courageous band of patriotic souls pitted against the evils of terrorism, working their buns off to save Ulster from the IRA. Or whatever.
I know it was a throwaway remark and the Chairperson did not ask him to elaborate, but I didn’t think anyone defended the B-Specials these days. Except, maybe, former B-Specials. You could claim that Jeffrey’s remark was of no importance, but I would disagree.
Because Jeffrey’s remark implies that there is a train of thought within Unionism – a serious train of thought, the leadership of their biggest party – that still thinks the Good Old Days were fine. Stout-hearted Ulster folk defending their way of life and all that. Jeffrey’s off-the-cuff remark implies that for a certain sector of Unionism nothing has changed. Nothing has changed, and nothing should change.
Just let the Orangemen march up O’Connell Street and the whole country will see that they were right all along! The B-Specials were the salt of the earth, just got a bad press, that’s all… sectarianism never happened. Northern Ireland was paradise on earth, the only problem was the murdering IRA and the lamentable fact that the British government never let stout-hearted Ulster folk deal with terrorism in their own way.
Many unionists would be more than comfortable sitting in the big stand at Windsor Park, shouting for Linfield and singing along with Norn Iron’s No Change brigade. No change, and no future. I know this is going to be a waste of time, but let me just make the case for an All-Ireland soccer team.
Stan and Ollie may well be the butt of cruel jokes, but they form part of a changing sporting scenario in Ireland. The national soccer team has a new manager – two new managers – and their big games are going to be played in front of 80,000 people in one of Europe’s finest stadiums.
More than that, rugby is also going to have their biggest matches showcased in the Field of Dreams at Jones Road.
With one flurry of papers and a flash of a hundred cameras the GAA has transformed the face of big-time sport in Ireland.
And the extra cash generated for the Association because of the opening of Croke Park to other codes will, inevitably, lead to changes within the GAA itself.
I am firmly convinced, for example, that it is now only a matter of time before we achieve a professional strata to Gaelic games. Not only that, but I have every confidence in the ability of the men and women of the GAA to handle the changed and changing situation with their normal efficiency and ability.
But why, oh why, is there never any sign of change in the North?
This is the time for the IFA in the Six Counties to pitch in with the FAI in the Republic and build up a truly national soccer team that could really compete with the finest in Europe.
Just imagine an all-Ireland team, managed by Steve Staunton and Bobby Robson, backed up by Laurie Sanchez and Gerry Armstrong, picking the best players from all over Ireland to play for this country in a new spirit of enthusiasm and history-making.
Why not, Goddammit, why not?
How long are we going to be dictated to, and held for ransom by a few hundred Norn Iron No Change Nay-Sayers? Now is the time to strike out and make the bold move.
It’s not got to do with politics, its not got to do with a United Ireland. It’s got to do with sport. If an all-Ireland rugby team can play in Croke Park, why can an all-Ireland soccer team not do so as well? And if it makes it any easier, let them play Ireland’s Bloody Call as well as Amhrán na bhFiann when they are at it. If that’s what it’s going to take.
Yes, and never mind the new Landsdowne Road. Why not have the all-Ireland rugby and soccer teams play their home matches in a new, 60,000 seater stadium built on the site of Long Kesh?

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