MUSIC to the ears of nationalists, north and south, were the comments of the world’s best flautist, Sir James Galway. Displaying all the bluntness, openness and plain speaking of a Northern Protestant, he declared that he regarded himself as someone from the ‘British-occupied part of Ireland’ and that his nationality was Irish rather than so-called ‘Northern Irish’.
In a BBC Radio Ulster interview, Galway, who learned to play the flute in a marching band, claimed to have been ‘brainwashed’ as a child by ‘an ethic’ that divided schoool children into different religious categories. He also said he was supportive of a united Ireland and that he objected to the British Empire’s historic rule of Ireland. He controversially asked: ‘wouldn’t you say it was immoral for one country to take over another country just because the other country was not so well armed? Wouldn’t you think that was immoral?’
Almost immediately Unionist politicos and media went for the jugular. DUP MP Sammy Wilson said of one of the world’s leading musicians that his remarks were ‘incoherent, offensive, inaccurate and downright disgraceful’.
Nonetheless, James Galway’s opinions hit home with a striking appropriateness, coming in the wake of a move by pro-unionist elements in the South to initiate a debate on the benefits of Ireland rejoining the British Commonwealth.
Back to Blighty?
Last month, the first meeting of the Royal Commonwealth Society was held in Dublin. Headed by Lord Diljit Rana, an Indian-born property developer who has lived in Belfast since 1966, the outfit gathered an interesting bunch of people for its first meeting. They included the Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Christy Burke (a one-time Sinn Féin activist!), the British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott, former British cabinet minister Lord David Howell and former Irish rugby international Trevor Ringland.
The anti-Republican organisation, Reform Group, which describes itself as a ‘coalition of new unionists for the new millennium’ and boasts of some of the more eccentric contributors to the columns of the Sunday Independent, is a close ally of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The Phoenix magazine described the Reform Group as a ‘ridiculous Unionist ginger group’!
According to His Lordship, the Rt Hon Dilgit Rana, the debate on the Republic joining the Commonwealth must not be ‘governed by historical distortion’.
He also intimated that at least one senior Fine Gael minister warmed to the idea of paying allegiance to the British Crown.
But, for Neil O’Dowd, editor of the Irish Central website, the Commonwealth remains a sectarian institution with an unelected leader. The British sovereign, he says, is the ‘Head of the Commonwealth and in such a situation our head of state would always be subordinate to her at every Commonwealth meeting. In reality, if we joined we would once again be bending the knee to an English queen’.
He argues that the British monarch would not only be an uwnelected figure, but also a sectarian one. ‘The fact that the British king or queen can only come from the Church of England and all other religions are disqualified – no Catholic, for instance, can ever ascend the throne – should cause us to doubly pause over our Commonwealth aspiration’.
He continued: ‘We simply should not join organisations with sectarian leaders of whatever hue enshrined in perpetuity. Only if the Commonwealth were ever to agree that every nation had an equal opportunity to be head of the organisation should the Irish even consider joining. We should also insist before we join that all heads of state of the organisation should be chosen regardless of race, colour or religion –pretty standard stuff in this time of equal opportunity’.
It was a timely wake-up call as crypto-unionists began cranking the Commonwealth machine in an effort to convince us that no harm could come from tugging the auld forelock in deference to our monarchical betters!
That all political careers end in failure is a truism exemplified by the sad efforts of Labour leader Pat Rabbitte to pass himself off as a politico still able to make a difference on the national stage. In happier times, of course, Rabbitte cut a striking political pose and might have continued to do so had it not been for Madame Burton’s cruel decision to sack him from his ministry and consign him to the knackers’ yard.
Rabbitte, however, refuses to acknowledge that his political career has reached rock bottom – unlike his comrade chum, former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who gallantly accepted the game was up and promised he would not seek a nomination to run for the next Dáil.
As the two ex-Workers Party gurus drift into the wilderness, leaving mini-minister comrade Katleeeen Lynch to hold the fort, the question inevitably arises if the Stickies achieved anything constructive in Irish politics?
Certainly their place in Irish history will be remembered for the group’s unique ability to transform its political character into something else, just as tadpoles change into toads and maggots into flies.
The magical transfiguration included morphing from Sinn Féin to Sinn Féin (Gardiner’s Place) to Official Sinn Féin, to Sinn Féin the Workers Party, to the Workers Party, to Democratic Left and, finally, to the Labour Party in 1998.
Which raises another conundrum: in the captive Labour Party, did Rabbitte, Gilmore and chums ever aim to be a sort of social democratic party or even look casually leftwards? To their shame, no!
The fact of the matter is that they abandoned the people who elected them. In government, the ex-Stickies had choices in terms of where the deepest economic cuts were to be made, but they always opted to hammer the most vulnerable groups in Irish society.
In other words, the convictions, the political sympathies and beliefs that they espoused in favour of the victims of social and political injustice counted for very little. As Vincent Browne pointed out, they built their careers on cynicism, and that there was hardly any cause for which the Sticks/Labour stood that they did not dishonour when in government. Indeed they did more than most to add to the mountain of cynicism that is now bedevilling Irish politics.
Or as another of their critics (Gene Kerrigan) grandly observed, the Sticks became the ‘bumptious masters of artificial anger and the smug connoisseurs of contrived sincerity’.
Here’s an interesting tit-bit from the grandee of Cork journalism, Crosshaven-based Dick Brazil. He says legal issues to permit the purchase of Marino Point in Cork Harbour are close to finalisation. Marino Point was once the location of the giant fertiliser plant, IFI.
A consortium of ten companies, including the Port of Cork and energy producers that are ‘mostly linked to biomass’ has purchased the 110-acre site for €7m. In 2003 the site changed hands for €23 million, the then purchaser being former Dublin publican, the late Hugh O’Regan.