Tag Archives: DUP

Power is about to shift…

3 Mar

As I write this, 70 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly Election for 2017 have been announced. And it makes for an interesting glimpse into a changing country. Sinn Féin hold the largest number of seats with 24, and the SDLP have 9. The DUP have 18 and UUP 9. Taking Aliance out of the proceedings that gives a nationalists a five seat lead.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Disappointingly the country appears to have shunned the opportunity to usher in a change in our country’s leadership – the embittered, stubborn, starkly green and orange parties Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party are still on top. And its hard to see how anything is going to change while that remains the case. Northern Ireland is a shared country whether you like it or not. And the only way to move forward is through mediation and negotiation and compromise.

But then I’m a broadly liberal leftist long lapsed from a background of unionism, so its easy for me to say. I don’t hate my fellow citizens because of their religion or their politics or what language they wish to converse in or what way they define their national identity. But it matters to many others out there.

Without a change, I can’t help but wonder if the assembly will not just be brought down again? And if it does, then surely direct rule from Westminster is inevitable? And to do that would be foolhardy, because that will give many militant republicans the excuse they need to reactivate a campaign of violence against the perceived British threat in the country, and take us all back to pre-1997 times. Its not as if the leaders of the two biggest parties actually give a toss about the Northern Irish people anyway, and our democratic views. The DUP backed Brexit in spite of the majority of Northern Ireland voting to stay IN Europe, and Sinn Féin still refuse to sit in Westminster for ideological reasons, which means they aren’t actually helping to represent the people either. A right golden shower the lot of them.

And I’m sitting here thinking about something that I haven’t actually heard voiced yet. But what happens if Sinn Féin come away from this election as the largest political party in Northern Ireland? Ignoring their catalogue of cover-ups (notably with regards sex abuse cases) and their power-hungry control of republican ideology in Northern Ireland (there’s as many kinds of republicans as their are unionists), we’ve never had a republican party as the largest in NI. The balance has always (by design more often than democracy) lain in the hands of the unionist parties, and for decades the unionists and loyalists have been happy because they’ve benefitted in things like employment, funding, rights etc. The republican voice has been silenced (once upon a time, literally), oppressed, which in turn has only helped to stir up support.

Right now we’re at loggerheads, with both sides bashing each other where possible, positioning themselves as ‘us’ and ‘them’. They put down propositions made by the others because of the potential for small victories. They turn simple things into massive issues. They allow prejudice to dictate policy and propaganda does the rest.

Whats scares unionists is what will happen when the power finally switches. It seems rather improbable that a republican dominated political arena is going to sit back and allow loyalism to continue its triumphant marches and shouting and brow-busting. That call for a referendum on a united Ireland can’t be far away now, and that scares the unionists because it might actually go through. Most of us don’t want to leave the EU, and joining up with Ireland is a sure way to ensure we don’t. Britain doesn’t actually care about Northern Ireland. We’re a population of 1.8million out of some 64 million across the islands. We’re a massive drain on resources, particularly bearing in mind our habit of fighting on a regular basis, incurring vast policing costs etc, every time we have a “celebration”. Will the republican brothers and sisters treat the unionists with open arms, and remind them that Ireland has already embraced Protestant culture as symbolised in the orange on the Tricolour? Sadly, probably not. Instead, the sort of hostility that has been shown to many of them is likely to be returned. Its the way of the wild. Captive turns captor. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, not actually how you were treated…

I’m slightly scared for people like me. Those of us who sit somewhere between the ideologies. Not necessarily undecided, but who are aware of our backgrounds, and the complex web that we were born into without say. Northern Ireland is occupied – the politicians decided to remain as part of the UK, not the people themselves, and so a border poll would be interesting, to finally give all of us a say. We aren’t all going to get our way though, and as Brexit has most recently reminded us (and indeed the US elections), when voting is split, things can get nasty. I don’t want to return to violence. I don’t want to be scared of visiting friends across sectarian divides, or to be picked out because I don’t see eye to eye with official lines of whatever persuasion.

Its time to stop being complacent. Time to learn to moderate, to co-operate, and to stop wallowing in the past. Think about the people.


Keeping Up Appearances

19 Jan
Top Secret - movie poster

Top Secret – movie poster

I suppose that it is far to say, that we all have secrets we’d rather keep hidden and skeletons in our closet. Doing family tree research for myself and for others, I frequently encounter attitudes of suspicion and fear regarding whatever I may find out. Curiously in most instances there isn’t even a hint as to what the secrets might be, but there are few families that aren’t without a torrid affair, a bastard baby or two or a criminal conviction. Thankfully we live in more enlightened times, so the scandals of the early 20th century simply provide colour in most instances rather than being something to get caught up and worried about. Though of course, there are relatives – often siblings or children – who still seem to carry that inherited shame, and it gets worse when dealing with families of a religious bent.

Secrets beget secrets.

The problem with secrets is that they can mess with your mind and have consequences much further down the line, particularly with children, and in turn they with their children. I’m still undecided whether it is worse to have to keep up the pretence of a secret or to uncover one and be unable to do or talk anything about it. Again within the genealogy research, I’ve stumbled inadvertently on a few (both in my family and others), and there are certain folk who you simply cannot talk to about the contents because of the potential for offence or upset. Meanwhile they might well be living with additional knowledge or living in fear of having additional secrets uncovered. What was gossip 60 years ago perhaps, is well buried now.

Of course everyone has a right to their own secrets and the privacy of their own lives. Really their issues are between them and whoever else was directly involved (assuming that the secrets involve others). Individuals ought to be allowed to express their own take as and when they choose, but none of us really has the right to press them on circumstances and events for which we were not a direct part.

This in turn finds its pinnacle in the fragile state of inter-personal relationships. It is not unknown for couples going through difficult times to present a unified image in public (think of celebrities for example) while they work through whatever processes they need to in private. With our limited knowledge it is far too easy from a read of the celebrity tabloids to say “I never saw it coming” when the relationship has been in tatters for a long time. Look for example at the ‘revelations’ this week about Linda Nolan in Celebrity Big Brother who drunkenly revealed that her solid marriage of 25 years was not a strictly monogomous one – but that she had sex with a significant number of male partners in the company of her husband (and no mention of whether he was offered the same luxury). With her husband long deceased, making such a confession in a public sphere isn’t going to cause upset to him, though possibly will shock friends/family. On the other hand, it may not. I certainly know a number of couples who are very public about their open relationships, and they themselves seem very content about it too. I’ll be frank and say that its something that I have hypothetically considered myself, though never actually indulged in. The notion that you and your partner might be so comfortable that you allow yourselves that freedom and trust is attractive mentally, though I very much doubt that it is something that I would ever be able to pull off – and certainly not without feeling even more guilt than normal, and pangs of jealousy for my partner’s freedom (in my head, they’re always the ones who succeed in the open bit, while I end up in unintentionally the same state as before). Unless the scenario is laid out as a possibility going in, I suspect presenting the open relationship scenario is really just a final test of the end of a relationship.

There’s an interesting documentary aired on Radio 4 last year, Monogamy and the Rules of Love which seeks to investigate the concept of polyamory and in particular one head-melter of a union between a group of four and their various spin offs (boy-girl, boy-girl, girl-girl, but not boy-boy, and member of group-plus a.n.y. other). The documentary goes to pains to obscure the identity of several participants and it is clear that the social stigma and shame surrounding some of these unconventional-but-modern relationship ideals is something which prevents couples from being honest with friends and family.

I think most people in Western Europe, and certainly here in Northern Ireland, would understand why something like this might still need to be kept private. We still live, as the documentary suggests, in a society where within marriage at least, the idea prevails of couples and not three and four-somes excepts outside swinging clubs and occasional indulgences (I’m told this happens anyway). And yet, outside of marriage, we turn a blind eye to ‘players’ and those who may be seeing two or more people simultaneously, quite possibly with full knowledge of the other participants. The media furore recently about French government officials have reminded us of how the idea of the Mistress is seemingly engrained in the French national concious too.

But what if you are a reluctant player? Should you be shamed into keeping shtum? Should your own experiences be something you have to keep locked away because of a fear of upsetting the other players? Here at least the laws of libel and slander may well serve to protect individuals and prevent a full and frank disclosure, and cripple the person making the public statements in the first place. But one shouldn’t be afraid to express a point of view, an experience, or indeed recount events verbatim, and one certainly shouldn’t be forced to maintain a false appearance of one’s own life or experiences because someone else asks you to.

Last year I removed a blog post because of the questions that arose from it and the repeated fear voiced that was I was saying might jeopardise my future prospects – being frank about mental health and depression experiences is still a taboo, and one has to tease out information rather than info-dump as I did. But doing so stifled me and undid the release I felt on writing and publishing in the first place. I’ve subsequently been able to address several of the core issues anyway through counselling and writing (both fictional and non-fictional pieces, some of which are pending an audience outlet). I also know that there have been times where my own life has been presented to others in a way other than the experiences I was living, and indeed other than I was expressing myself. So the question for some is, just who is telling the truth? As an historian I have to say, look at all the stories, and use the balance of common sense, interpretation and probable bias/agenda in order to discern the reality of any situation.

The OED suggests that ‘truth’ is something which is in accordance with fact or reality; but the truth of that is that yours and my reality of any given situation might be entirely different and indeed at odds. History is said to be written by the victors (when was the last time you read a National Socialist history of the 2nd World War for example – and no, that shouldn’t count as invoking Godwin’s Law), but we live in a day and age of immediate narrative via social networking and the uninhibited public airing of grievances via blogs and personal websites that are often little more than literary wank banks.


Publicity image of Stanley Kubrick directing Barry Lyndon

Publicity image of Stanley Kubrick directing Barry Lyndon

One of the first pieces I had professionally published was an article on the image of film director Stanley Kubrick who died in 1999, and in it I sought to reconcile the image of Kubrick as portrayed by the media (a strange solitary eccentric) with the reality as conveyed through interviews, surviving evidence and family member’s recollections (a much warmer, cleverer and public-facing man than myth conveyed). Kubrick himself appeared to be complicit in his media image, and so one was very aware that in essence there was truth to both accounts – but that one of those truths was built around false information and manipulation of fact.

It is often suggested in grievances and debates about historical veracity that the writers involved has misremembered, or misrepresented a particular event or set of circumstances. And that might well be the case – but that doesn’t necessarily negate their interpretation of the truth, and in those instances where their interpretation can be aided by supporting evidence we ask ourselves the basic question of ‘who do we believe’.

Martin McGuinness (Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland) was on BBC’s The View last week discussing his belief (repeated four times in the broadcast interview) that the Orange Order, PUP and UVF were in fact one and the same and that he had this on the authority of unnamed seniors within Unionism. A bold statement which has caused a great deal of debate and upset here. Perhaps a fair analysis of McGuinness’ beliefs and interpretation, but utterly lacking in credible supporting evidence. The public image in that the three organisations are separate, McGuinness says they are one and the same. Of course, I couldn’t help but think of that long-standing assertion by Unionists that Sinn Fein and the IRA were synonymous too – what goes around comes around.

Ian Paisley as shown on-screen in his BBC interviews broadcast January 2014

Ian Paisley as shown on-screen in his BBC interviews broadcast January 2014

Or there’s Ian Paisley who in his much-trailed televised interviews seems to have adopted a peculiar distance from reality – disassociating himself from memories of events, and certainly from the impact that his own statements had on individual people. Presented with newspaper reports of his inflammatory speeches in the 1960s and 70s, Paisley simply states that he has no recollection and even goes as far as to cast doubt on the veracity of some. It seems that for some, even presented with fairly solid proof (and one has to conceed the point that in those instances where no audio visual recording exists, Paisley may be being misquoted), they are inclined to re-write circumstances and events to suit their own agenda.

Maintaining false pretences is draining, and sooner or later the cracks will begin to show. There are those I know whose lives exist in a state of falseness, where public image and reality are mutually incompatible. But it is their lives, and I must respect their choice to work through things in their own way. For me, I simply try and be honest and frank – particularly since I had my first nervous breakdown several years ago. Being forthright has given me personal strength, and while I must watch my words I don’t find myself struggling with living a lie – and where and when appropriate I am able to expound on my experiences without fear.