Archive for the ‘Culture and Society’ Category
It is hard for Sinn Fein leaders to say plainly that those who can help catch the dissident should take their evidence to the police. They have, however, come as close to stating that baldly as they have ever done.
In the past their reactions to the dissidents have amounted to a call that they should come forward and explain themselves, as if the objective was to get them into talks rather than into jail.
Martin McGuinness has been better at the condemnatory language than the prescriptive. So the dissidents are ‘enemies’ and ‘traitors’ who should remove themselves from the scene.
We can’t doubt that he is bloody furious with them and it is hardly surprising.
The dissidents are using the strategy that worked for past generations of the IRA.
In January 1919, Dan Breen’s men shot dead two RIC officers and started a guerilla war that would lead to the total collapse of the British state in Ireland.
When Irish people were unwilling to join the police or be seen in their company, and huge numbers discarded their uniforms for their own safety, then Ireland became a problem for the army straggling back from Europe, a political problem to be resolved urgently.
In the 1970s and ’80s, the IRA attacks on the RUC helped deepen the rift between the police and the Catholic people. Few Catholics would join and the reality of a Protestant force made reform an essential part of political settlement.
The aim had been to make Northern ireland ungovernable and to put Irish unity on the table. That bit didn’t work.
Similarly, when the British tried to ease pressure on the police and replace the totally protestant B Specials in 1970, they created a local regiment, the Ulster Defence Regiment and urged Catholics to join.
The IRA bombed those Catholics in their cars and shot them and soon the UDR was almost exclusively Protestant and that brick in the new dispensation being attempted was invalidated.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness know that history better than most of us.
They therefore understand what the dissidents hope to achieve and have a sense of how realistic their target is.
If Catholics shrink back from joining the PSNI, in the context of the abolition of the 50/50 rule securing places for them, then Sinn Fein could find itself in partnership in government with an almost exclusively Protestant police force.
The party could not live with that.
All the reforms of policing, the ombudsman and the board and all the human rights legislation would not cover the indignity of Catholic republicans being pursued by Protestant police officers and of suspect, but often innocent, young Catholics being arested, searched and questioned.
McGuinness knows that policing is the loose brick in the peace wall because his own tradition in republicanism trained him to loosen that brick in the hopes that the wall would tumble.
That being the case, he has no choice but to defend the police and the Catholics who have joined and who might join. In doing so, he is defending his own position and his political legacy.
If we revert to Protestant policing, everything he has done will have been in vain.
A thought that should perhaps have occurred to Owen Paterson before he scrapped the 50/50 rule.
The collapse of Catholic policing must be McGuinness’ worst nightmare. It would amount to his own peace accord with the DUP being undermined by the same methods which he used himself against the old Stormont and Direct Rule.
There would be an elegant karmic symmetry to it that one might relish if it wasn’t such an appalling prospect for the rest of us too.
So Sinn fein must now signal to the Catholic community and to other republicans that touting is no longer a sin or a crime. They must encourage a flow of information to the police about the dissidents and help put them out of business.
And they must take a lead in that.
This is the hard part for republicans. Michael Collins in 1921 stormed his former comrades holed up in the Four Courts and blew them to oblivion. History is letting the Provos off lightly in not plunging them into their own civil war.
On balance, McGuinness must surely see that this is not as hard as facing into failure would be.
He is already being told that he is a hypocrite for condemning the murder of Ronan Kerr, having endorsed the murders of 301 other police officers, a policewoman shot in the back outside Derry Courthouse, men shot on their doorsteps, coming from church, visiting hospitals.
Hard too will be the challenge of preserving that memory as honorable while telling those who would use the same methods today that they are enemies and traitors.
Today Martin McGuinness says that the police must win. Now he must tell the dissidents that he was in the wrong too; that the best evidence that they can’t win is that the Provos didn’t win either.
And he must sit down with the Chief Constable, if he hasn’t done already, and tell him everything he knows that might help him nail the old diehards.
Two of my occasional colleagues on media projects and panels will have a little business to settle today.
When Eoghan Harris visited the West Belfast festival he took a wager from Jude Collins. Eoghan had said that Sinn Fein would lose all its seats to Fianna Fail in the next Dail General Election, the one that was held yesterday.
Jude offered him a £100 bet on that and asked what odds Eoghan would give him. Eoghan offered ten to one.
Perhaps unfortunately for Eoghan, I recorded the sealing of the deal.
I’m continuing my experiments with audio slideshows using soundslides. I started this off as a way of illustrating recorded text, so the words were the important part. Now I find the image taking over and the verbal input declining, sometimes disappearing altogether to let the picture and the ambient noise tell the story.
By the way: this slideshow is not for the squeamish.
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It’s not hard to imagine the jaws dropping onto desktops when the
letter arrived from Culture Minister Nelson McCausland asking museum
heads to pay a bit more attention to matters of vital concern to him
like the Ulster Scots heritage, the Orange Order and the origin of the
On reflection, museum managers might have considered a range of
options short of telling him to get stuffed.
Mr McCausland’s view is that a museum should reflect the culture and
beliefs of the community it serves. In seeking to refute this, the
museums might seek to actively explain the world to a community with
reference to the gaps in the understanding of even its leading
In short, if Mr McCausland wants the university to offer discussion of
Intelligent Design theory, let them do it. There are a lot of people
among us who believe that religion can still hold out against
scientific discovery. They would have been on the side of the Pope
against Gallileo and they still think they can refute Darwin. They
want to retain the conviction within scientific institutions like
universities and museums that God created the world in seven days.
Well, let them try.
The first comfort for museum heads is that Intelligent Design theory
is already a concession to science. It is a relaxation of the demand
by religious creationists that the Book of Genesis be taken as a
sufficient account of the emergence of the universe, life and
The court cases in the United States, around the demand for the
teaching of Intelligent Design , were attempts by religious
fundamentalists to argue science with scientists, conceding in effect
that there was no point in trying to impress them with scripture.
Scientists and secularists saw this as a threat. It was in fact, the
movement of religious fundamentalists on to ground on which scientists
can defeat them, if they are confident of the strength of their case.
Why shouldn’t we have an exhibition on Intelligent Design
incorporating a discussion of the arguments around it in the museum?
People like Nelson McCausland might soon discover that there is no
comfort in it for them. If they are hopeful that Intelligent Design
restores the Christian explanation of the Universe to them, then they
may be well served by having the full case and its implications laid
out for them.
The problem for creationists is that their argument, if won, might
only establish that an intelligence initiated the Big Bang.
For all they know, that intelligent being might have been killed in the blast.
He, she or it may reside still in another universe and have lost all
interest in this one. There are no grounds for supposing that that
being knows about us or has any benign intentions towards us. There
are no grounds even for supposing that it is an infinite Deity. There
may be another universe in which children spark off Big Bangs with
their chemistry sets. They may not even know that they are doing it.
They will live in a different time frame so our whole span of
existence in this universe may be just a blink to them.
The problem for Intelligent Design freaks is that they don’t read
enough science fiction.
Rationalists might say this is absurd. But we are already making black
holes under Geneva ourselves with the CERN project, so what is so
implausible about an intelligence more advanced than our own
conducting similar or more radical experiments elsewhere?
What Intelligent Design believers do read – some of them – is the
theories of John Polkinghorne, a scientist and minister of the Church
of England who won the £1m Templeton Prize for research that
reconciles science and religion.
The usual experience of religion in the contest with science is that
literal interpretation of scripture loses every encounter. Then those
who continue to insist that religion retains lost ground begin to
sound more desperate and absurd in the secular world. Scientists feel
little need to go on arguing points that they feel that they have won,
like natural selection. Some scientists like Richard Dawkins continue
to wave the victory in the faces of the religious defeated, but there
is no scientific need for them to do so.
Polkinghorne said that the universe looks like a ‘put up job’. If the
pull of gravity was fractionally greater than it is, the universe
would compact into a hard ball; if less, it would scatter like vapour.
It has to be just right if you are to have solar systems and planets.
Look at the Earth. Without a wobble in its revolutions there would be
no seasons and without seasons no cycle of nature. Without our
unstable crust there would have been no volcanoes and we would be a
ball of ice, but the instability has to be just enough to allow life,
not enough to destroy it.
So, what is the scientific answer to the perfect ‘just-rightness’ of
this universe for life? One answer, seriously put forward, is that
there are millions of failed universes, or universes that turned out
differently, and that this is the one that by chance is just suited to
us. That explains our survival agains the odds.
In other words, the answer is a call to faith in the existence of the
unknowable; the sort of thing that religious people come up with.
The difficulty in this debate is that both the religious and the
scientific contenders have cranks on their side; adamant Christians
who think the Bible tells them everything they need to know and ardent
rationalists who fantasise that the job of explaining the universe is
What about an exhibition at the Ulster Museum that acknowledges the
mystery of our being here as mortal but self conscious beings in an
Would Nelson be happy with that?
I suspect he would want to see models of humans hunting dinosaurs, but
it is easy to deny him myths for which there are no evidence.
But just because we have a crank for a culture minister doesn’t mean
that the unexplained universe shouldn’t enthrall us.
And some smarty pants in the museum is bound to agree that a serious
discussion of intelligent design theory would tick the right box to
get Nelson off his back.
Tim Brannigan’s new book, Where Are You Really From? recounts the life of a black boy born in Belfast who became a Republican activist.
Is having two identities a freedom or a burden? That’s a question I explored with him and others in similar double identity situations.
I saw this protest outside the church of St Nicolas in Nantes last week, March 13. The Catholics on the church steps were conducting a service around an icon, the protesters were objecting to Catholic teaching on abortion and women’s rights, and the police were in the middle.
You can hear both the protest chanting and the prayers in this clip below.