15 January 2006

Time running out for 'expensive jamboree'


(James Kelly, Irish News)

Time flies. It's difficult to believe that it was away back in October 2002 that our keystone cops invaded the Stormont assembly and surprised the outside world with the long running farce dubbed 'Stormontgate' and it's even more surprising sequel with reports of republican spies under the bed. Secretary of state Hain has at last announced to a bored house of commons that enough is enough and the time has come to pull the plug on that expensive Stormont jamboree, costing a total of £78 million with its 108 assembly members paid salaries and allowances of £85,000 on average while awaiting the recall that never came.

"Countless times," said Hain "voters in Northern Ireland have asked me: how long can this go on? I want to tell the house today – not many months more."

He said it would be "traducing democracy" to have elections for a second time to an assembly that does not exist.

Elections were due in May 2007 so they could not let matters drift.

The upshot of all this is that talks with the political parties begin here next month but judging from the reaction to date of the parties, the prospect of a breakthrough in time for another election in May is remote and there is talk instead of fall-back proposals. SDLP leader Mark Durkan wants a firm date for restoration of devolution or if that falls through, the appointment of a panel of administrators until such time as the backsliders wake up and are faced with the alternative of 'get on or get out' from a fed-up electorate.

Significantly, the DUP boss Ian Paisley has been silent on the restoration issue leaving it to his sidekick Peter Robinson to suggest a covert return to the failed convention idea of a talkshop assembly monitoring continued direct rule by Westminster. An attractive proposition for DUP MPs and unionist members of the House of Lords, swanning around over there as elder statesmen, but just another attempt to delay the inevitable implementation of the sheet-anchor Good Friday Agreement.

Meantime working-class Protestant communities, especially in Belfast, are awakening to the fact that they have been let down by their political representatives' stupidity. The NIO minister, David Hanson, let the cat out of the bag this week when he confessed that while deprivation was more prevalent in the north's nationalist areas, loyalist communities often found it harder to tackle problems because they weren't "as well-equipped" to deal with them.

"A pound of government money on Belfast's Shankill Road will not buy the same output as a pound spent in nationalist areas like the Falls Road," he said. In the wake of the recent loyalist riotous attempt to defy the ban on a march through the Catholic Springfield Road the reason is not hard to seek.

Observers of history over the years will have noted that when loyalist politicians are under pressure to mend their ways invariably help will appear from the unionist orange underworld. For example we all know that it was a gang of extremist thugs in the Belfast shipyard labelling themselves as the 'Ulster Workers Strike' who smashed the first power-sharing Stormont government formed after the Sunningdale Agreement. Paisley, West and the other cowering local politicians only joined in when, to their surprise, the defeatist labour secretary of state the late Merlyn Rees failed to take a strong line against what was in fact a fascist-style conspiracy to prevent workers leaving their homes for their places of employment.

This was no strike. Hooded men with cudgels even broke up a pathetic trade union march to work. Afterwards, Mr Rees made a fool of himself at an Oxford Union gathering by pleading that he, a Welsh miner's son, could not prevail against a 'worker's strike'. How do I know? Well, I was there. I heard his excuse and by permission of the chairman Lord Longford put the record straight in my first and last speech to the Oxford Union. Merlyn was angry but the truth had to be told.

Well, to get back to the present, with Paisley and company under pressure to emerge from their political hidey hole, the date for the talks has been set for early in February. Is it a coincidence or a piece of superb timing that under flaring headlines in The News Letter we are told that the date for a 'Unionist Protest rally' in Dublin has been set for Saturday February 25?

The rally, which sounds suspiciously like another Drumcree piece of Orange coat-trailing, is supposed to help 'IRA terror victims' but how the plan to stage a march of loyalist bands, DUP politicians, Orangemen, wearing either Orange lilies or LOL collarettes from O'Connell Street to a protest demonstration outside the Dail against the peace process can help the unfortunate victims, has not been told. We are informed that thousands from the north are expected at the event which is part of the 'Love Ulster' campaign.

A statement about the march says: "We expect there will be those who will seek to deny us our rights in Dublin. However, we now state that we are intent on a peaceful assembly and will be working closely with the Garda Siochana assistant commissioner for the Dublin metropolitan area."

As one who for many years reported the Twelfth procession along Belfast's Royal Avenue I am wondering about those loyalist bands. I recall those cultural contributions by certain rowdy bands such as "the Lilyo: do you think that I would let an oul fenian git ruin the colours of the Lily-o". Or another with a Lambeg drum and a screeching flute which ran "Slither slaughter, Holy water, chase the papishes everyone".

Does the Garda assistant commissioner know something we don't?

An ecumenical contribution with the loyalist bands playing hymns all the way? Ah well, if not, perhaps some fine day in happier times?

January 15, 2006

This article appeared first in the January 14, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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