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Forsaking the blues skies of Ulster for the stormy skies of the global free-market. And the day Bernadette Devlin attacked Reginald Maudling

December 16, 2011

This is a ‘2 in 1’ post. For some reason I just couldn’t separate them in my head. First some reflections on the pusillanimity of Northern Ireland’s contemporary political class and then recalling Bernadette Devlin (now McAliskey), elected at the age of 21 to serve as the MP for the Mid-Ulster constituency between ’69 and 74.

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After the public sector strike on Nov 30th I sent a message to my MLAs asking had they crossed a picket line that day. None of them replied. Maybe they just didn’t want to get drawn on the issue, wishing to avoid controversy. But that would be a little surprising given that Northern Ireland has a history of politicians noisily proclaiming their religious and national affiliations. Why would they be squeamish about commenting on the public sector day of action? Surely a strike by the likes of teachers, nurses and civil servants is relatively small beer to politicians that have grappled with major constitutional questions amid the thunder of antagonistic and violent traditions. Or perhaps that’s the point: pensions, pay, working conditions and cuts to public services just don’t move politicians whose hearts were forged in the furnace of Northern Ireland troubles.

Alternatively, maybe, my MLAs simply crossed picket lines and weren’t going to be held to account by some commie blogger.

I should point out that all my MLAs are unionists of one stripe or another and unionists tend to be a bit luke warm on left politics, trade unions and strike action (in my experience). Their’s is a world in which bringing the country to the brink of anarchy to assert the inalienable right of the Loyal Orders process the ‘Queen’s highway’ is apparently a ‘do-or-die’ issue. Public sector pensions, clearly, is not.

It’s not just unionists that piss me off. I have very little regard for any of Northern Ireland’s political representatives of which ever persuasion. With a few notable exceptions they strike me as hapless, hopeless and I’m not sure what any of them really stand for, not anymore.

I think of them as a Mafia of the Mediocre with two wings to the organisation. There are those who earned their political reputations during the 30-odd years of violent conflict and have traded upon them ever since. ‘Normal’ politics is not really their forte and although the peace process has institutionalised and domesticated them, you still get the feeling that they’re more at home with the politics of street confrontation than the politics of government.

Then there is a ‘new breed’ of professional politician, largely ‘uncontaminated’ by the past, who were hoping to move into a career administering the much lauded ‘peace dividend’ but now find themselves confronted with austerity Ulster and angry public sector unions. They are part of that nascent bourgeoisie that emerged out of the golf clubs and garden centres in the early 1990s to push for peace. What brought them out of their self-imposed political hibernation was the chance to share in the ‘triumph of capitalism’. The biggest obstacle this was their warring country-men and women. Pacify that lot and there was surely a seat at the big table of capitalist globalisation for little old Northern Ireland. And that has indeed come to pass, put the pickings are slim as it turns out.

Forsaking the blue skies of Ulster for the stormy skies of the global free-market

Today Northern Ireland’s Assembly of Dad’s Army-style veterans and ‘troubles’ draft dodgers is charged with leading the region into an uncertain future. I am full of trepidation at the thought of it. So much so that I sincerely wish that the draft-dodgers would rediscover their passion for golf and gardening and fuck off back to North Down and Jordanstown. And that Dad’s Army would rekindle the fire that once burned within them but this time put it to better use and fight for an alternative to the capitalist dystopia before us.

The North of Ireland’s once proud or ignominous history of insurrection (depending on your point of view) counts for naught. Our leaders once mobilized entire communities to bring down Stormont and Sunningdale in their day. Now all that belligerence and bellicosity is blown out and they lie prostrate at the feet of the market. I bet the British government wish they’d known sooner that all it would take to pacify troublesome Ulster was exposure to global capitalism.

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Here is something I found while rummaging around a local newspaper library. It offers a fitting contrast to the behaviour of Northern Ireland’s current crop of pusillanimous scab-politicians.

Most unparliamentary behaviour

Click on the picture and it should pop-up large enough to read the text of the report. If it’s hard to read, here’s the gist…

In the wake of Bloody Sunday, the House of Commons debated the shooting dead of 13 civil rights demonstrators by British Paratroopers in Derry on 3oth January 1972. Bernadette Devlin, the Mid-Ulster MP, had been part of the civil rights march and had begun to address the demonstration when the shooting began. She was denied the opportunity to report her experience or feelings to the Commons, even though it is the convention to hear any MP who has been an eyewitness to an incident under discussion. When the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling suggest that the Paras had fired in self-defence, Devlin set upon him, punching him and pulling his hair before being dragged away. Later she expressed no remorse but said she was only sorry she hadn’t ‘choked’ him and would do it again if she felt it was necessary.

Not quite up there with classic headlines like ‘Gotcha’ but not bad…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2011 3:59 pm

    Passion seems to have been sucked out of a percentage of people and replaced with a pessimistic limpness that leads to mediocracy.

  2. December 17, 2011 6:06 pm

    I bet the British government wish they’d known sooner that all it would take to pacify troublesome Ulster was exposure to global capitalism.

    I’ve recently finished The Lost Revolution, towards the end of which the aged Cathal Goulding is quoted as saying the NI peace process proved, “We were right, but too soon, Gerry Adams is right, but too late – and Ruairi O Bradaigh will never be fucking right.”

    (Now I’m conscious that (a) Sarf Luhdun isn’t necessarily the best place from which to make judgement about Irish history; and (b) there are dangers in any kind of ‘what-if’ history. So do make allowances for what I’m about to ask)

    Don’t you think that Goulding’s comment summarises the tragedy? ‘Normal’ (sic) politics in the 1970s, the politics of Everywhere Else But Norn Iron, did contain a strong strain of anti-capitalism. But you were tied up doing something else – The Troubles. So you go little enough of that version of normality. By the time you found a way (‘..but too late’) to ‘normalise’ your politics then normality mean globalisation and socialist politics were in full scale retreat from the political mainstream across the Western World.

  3. Rab permalink*
    December 18, 2011 10:04 am

    Hello Liam and Charlie,
    What-If history always seems to be controversial, but isn’t it an important corrective sometimes to the It-Couldn’t-Have-Happened-Any-Other-Way version?

    I think you’re right. The history of Ireland seems to be full of What-If moments – the United Irish rebellion, the civil rights movement – all of which seemed to get dashed by poor strategy or the perfidy of others, or both.

    The history books will probably record that the most significant development in modern Northern Irish history was the signing of the peace process and political accord. Crucial as these events were/are I hope that the civil rights movement doesn’t get reduced to a footnote. It was largely its initial demands that were meet by the Good Friday Agreement.

    What I think we’re left with in Ireland is a history of rebellion but very little radicalism. Take away the rebellion and you’re left with the mediocracy of the current crop of Stormont politicians. Civic and political life in the wee province could do with the introduction of someone (or people) not averse to punching Home Secretaries in the head, even metaphorically.

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