I’m lending my support to the blogger Alan Murray who is seeking legal aid to advance a claim of wrongful arrest against the police.
Alan was charged with harassment of people he had named in his amazing blog about the ruination of the Holy Land area of Belfast.
In all justice, he had to be acquitted or the right of bloggers and journalists to comment on public affairs would have been endangered.
If you are a working journalist who agrees with me on this, please sign the letter below and we’ll give it to lawyers supporting Alan Murray.
The acquittal of the blogger Alan Murray in July 2008 on Harassment Charges is a source of great relief to journalists. A conviction would have implied a threat to the freedom of journalists to do our job. Every time we criticised politicians or other persons of public interest, we would be looking over our shoulders lest we be cautioned or prosecuted by the police.
The bail conditions placed upon Mr Murray, subsequently overturned, were so draconian that he was not even allowed to mention the complainant on his blog or attend public meetings at which the complainant was present.
The police were exercising their powers to restrict free and legal expression and compounding the impression created by the unwarranted prosecution, that Mr Murry’s blogging was a danger to others. This is an especially sinister abuse of power by the police.
It is a matter of considerable concern that despite the acquittal of Mr Murray, other bloggers have been arrested under the Harassment legislation.
The use of Harrassment legislation against innocent bloggers exercising their rights to free expression is a matter for grave concern by all bloggers and journalists and all who value the freedom to report and comment on public affairs.
We believe that Mr Murray’s case against the PSNI for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution has merit and is very much in the public interest.
Benghazi is peaceful for now and my contact describes how volunteers are tidying up and a committee has been formed to administer the city. But there is a dispute between some who think that they should return captured weapons to the commandos and trust them to provide protection and those who fear that once the weapons have been returned the commandos will attack.
I called a contact in Benghazi tonight and he says that over a hundred people have been killed by the army in the street today and that anti aircraft weaponry and mortars have been used against civilians.
Well, it probably wasn’t in front of the television.
Who would want to be a comedian in Northern Ireland?
There are few of those that we already have who don’t, at least
occasionally, ooze the sort of desperation that betrays their greater
need to be affirmed by us than to entertain.
There must be easier ways to find love and approval.
Choosing to be a comic here is a bit like taking your daughter out of
secondary school and off to China for training in gymnastics, where
she hasn’t got a chance of distinguishing herself if she hasn’t
already done a triple somersault by the age of three.
Gymnastics is what Chinese girls do and comedy is what practically
everyone in Northern Ireland does. If you are going to seek to stand
on a stage or go on television and show people here how to raise a
laugh then you must either be bloody brilliant or you are a dimwit who
hasn’t noticed the milleiu in which you already live.
These are considerations that broadcasters should take to heart when
planning the future of comedy in Northern Ireland.
And we are living
in a period of brave expansion, with the emergence of talent like
Diarmuid Corr, or Sketchy.
Things will be different. Sketchy is at least a move away from the
local fixation on the camp, dating from a period when a man had only
to talk like a woman and say ‘oo-er’ to raise a laugh: a humour
grounded in old fashioned rural contempt for the different.
Sketchy is making an effort to identify local types and parody them,
the sort of thing that Nuala McKeever did better than anybody though
UTV made the call that not enough people wanted that.
Our tv comics, even those who are occasionally quite funny, surely
must live with a determined rejection of the obvious, that every bar
in the country is propped up by some scurrilous cynic or other who
could eat him.
And that reminds us of the other core fact about Northern wit that the
pretender to comedy has to cope with. It is lethal. We excel in
And as naturals in sarcasm, Belfast’s home grown wits recognise
contrivance and disdain it.
The scripted joke can almost never have the verve and attack of a
And when you see the panellists on The Blame Game competing to get
their rehearsed jibes in and, in the rush, losing their grasp on the
sort of timing that alone could make them sound passably natural, you
wonder why they bother.
But they support each other, of course, and the audience will be
generous, and it must be fairly easy to come out of the studio
afterwards, content that the overall project has worked.
I would rather have a few friends round for tea where the laughs are real.
Tim McGarry often gets it right in that taxi sketch at the end of
Hearts and Minds. What he reproduces there is the tone of contempt
that is familiar here. Nuala McKeever has it too.
In a political culture which demands civility humour’s responsibility
is to break the rules.
It must never sound as if it is deferring to anyone’s status.
But the ways in which ordinary people discuss our politicians is far
more grisly than can be allowed for on television.
Our indigenous default mode in humour is rage and disgust, and the
challenge for any performer is to match that and to stay within the
bounds of mannered decency which is the bottom line in broadcasting.
For our humour is transgressive and the first thing it violates is the
assumption that we should behave.
Clowning does not work for us, at least not the self conscious
clowning of the comic who is working for a laugh. The hard labour
should not show.
Jennifer Aniston’s clowning worked because her character Rachel was
getting things wrong while intent on getting them right.
And the great comic genius of our time is Miranda, reproducing some of
the devices made famous by Frankie Howerd, for instance commenting on
This is different from the leakageof self consciousness by an over
zealous comic, for the commenting self is part of the act and remains
The only viable background to all this is darkness, the acceptance
that life may be unutterably bleak, indeed is so by nature. In
Miranda’s world, the fantasy that an ungainly lump of a woman can ever
find love and contentment is what always leads to trouble. Conclusion:
a life of misery is preordained for her.
Who would dare to sneer at our sectarianism on the presumption that we
are stuck with it for all time? Yet that is how street humour works.
The trick in Folks On The Hill is to present our poltiicans as sub
standard intellects, so that we may take comfort in being wiser than
they are. Really great, dangerous humour leaves you without that
Comedy, like everything, works from contrast, and there is nothing to
laugh at when the alternative of crying is not a close option.
Rachel, in Friends, walking into her former fiance’s wedding party,
with her frock tucked into her knickers after going to the toilet, is
funny because it is horrifying. Similarly, Miranda running after a
taxi in her underwear, after her dress has been trapped in the door,
is too close to what we all dread for us to be able to contain the
idea without some emotion – hence laughter.
Who locally puts us at such risk of contemplating our own disgrace? Or
to put it more simply: who locally is as funny?
Well, Gerry Anderson is funny. Sean Cromie is funny when he does Gerry
Kelly. Newton Emerson was hilarious when he edited the website
Portadown News. What is consistent in all of them is mockery, and not
just aimless sneering, but unbridled contempt for the revered
shibboleths. My pick of the funniest joke ever told about the Troubles
is Newton Emerson’s line from his mock obituary of IRA leader Joe
Cahill: ‘He is survived by his wife and a million Protestants’.
And my sense is that if a comic is to be transgressive in this society
then he or she has to address the politics and the sectarianism and
the other areas that betray our piety and hypocrisy and our other
The primary cause championed by the current pope is opposition to ‘moral relativism’. In fact, this is what the church he heads specialises in.
‘What more could Cardinal Conway have done?’
This question was voiced by Cardinal Sean Brady when faced with the charge that the Catholic church had colluded in helping a priest suspected of murder to evade prosecution.
Well, it is an important question and it is important that Sean Brady should show himself well able to answer it, if indeed there was some measure, taken or not taken by his predecessor, which disgraced his office.
For Cardinal Brady is himself under criticism for having concealed crime. He, like William Conway, was notified of crimes committed by a priest. He was told of the abuse of children by Father Brendan Smyth.
And he covered up those crimes, swore to secrecy the young people who had brought accounts of them to him, and held his silence for decades afterwards, while the odious Smyth cut a swathe through Irish children.
He was himself in a similar position to that of Cardinal Conway, notified of a crime and involved in the concealing of it and the release of the offender among Catholic communities in which he would be trusted because the church that sent him was trusted.
Sean Brady holds onto office, against calls for his resignation over the Brendan Smyth affair, and he justifes this by assuring us that he has understood the lessons of experience and that no cover up of abuse can be allowed under his watch.
Yet he says: ‘What more could Cardinal Conway have done?’
If Sean Brady does not understand the grotesque violation of innocence at the heart of Cardinal Conway’s handling of James Chesney, then he has hardly proven to the Catholics of Ireland that he even yet grasps the moral responsibilities attendant on his office.
So, let it be spelt out for him.
Cardinal Conway believed that James Chesney, a priest in the Derry diocese, was a mass murderer. He had met the Secretary of State William Whitelaw and had had that explained to him. His own description of Chesney as a ‘bad man’ confirms that he had believed what he was told.
And he can not be held solely responsible for the initiative to spirit Chesney away, any more than sean Brady can be held accountable on his own for the transfer of Brendan Smyth.
But Chesney, like Smyth, was not a postman being transferred to some quiet town out of harm’s way.
Chesney was a priest and he was sent to a parish to function as a priest and where his arrival would be understood to have the approval of the church.
There he would baptise babies. He would prepare small children for their Holy Communion. He would hear their confessions. He would marry young people in his church. He would receive the trust and even reverence of people who accepted him as an emmissary of the church they were born into and raised in.
Conway’s decision to have Chesney sent to work like this among people who would be kept in ignorance of his appalling crimes says a lot about the man.
It says that he had nothing but contempt for those people. That the insult of providing a murderer as a moral exemplar to them was untempered by either theology or respect.
It is one thing to imagine a hardened and pragmatic RUC Chief Constable, faced with a horrible quandary, assenting to a priest being shuffled off to a distant parish. He hasn’t any responsibility for the souls that the beast will patronise. He has problems enough.
But Cardinal Conway did have a responsibility to Catholic parishioners, as had Bishop Neil Farren of Derry, who directly ordered the transfer, and the fact of their imposing a murderer on unknowing parishioners in Donegal shows that they had no real sense of pastoral concern for those people.
They were prepared to dump a murderer on them as the expedient solution to an undoubtedly grave problem.
This was as cyncial a move as you could ever credit an arrogant prince of the church with making.
That is all plain to anyone who gives a moment’s thought to what Conway did, but his successor Cardinal Sean Brady doesn’t get it.
He asks: ‘What more could Cardinal Conway have done?’
Well maybe he could have had Chesney sent to Rome to work in an archive or something if he hadn’t the backbone to sack him and denounce him and to pass the problem back to the police where it belonged.
And if Sean Brady doesn’t understand the real offence that Conway and Farren committed against trusting and obedient Catholics, as he doesn’t wuite get what was horrific about his imposing an oath of secrecy on raped children, then he should be thinking again about his decision to remain in office after that scandal.
Or, perhaps, since it appears he really is a moral dullard, it is for those around him to explain it to him and to ask him to go.
This is the blog of my journalism and recordings, with some extracts from my books too.
I tend to sound off on Northern Ireland Politics and Culture.
Some of the work here will be recent journalism, articles that have appeared in the Belfast Telegraph or elsewhere, but there is a lot of material going back a couple of years now, so please hang around and browse.