Weekly column published in Observer Newspaper group, N.I.
On Friday we had a Sham Fight in Scarva as our Sham Bank continued to sort out it’s computer mess. The whole debacle of the Ulster Bank and how it was handled must raise serious questions about our position in this not so united kingdom. There can be no doubt that we in Northern Ireland were left to the last. The old adage of Mrs Thatcher “Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley,” rings a little hollow.
Three Ligoniel Lodges make their way past the Nationalist Ardoyne shops in north Belfast.
On the 12th, thousands of Orangemen walked up and down the road proclaiming their Britishness and their loyalty to Martin’s new friend, Queen Elizabeth. But with all that has happened here over these past twenty years can the unionist people be secure in their loyalty? For that matter, can the nationalist people really in their heart see the Republic of Ireland as their spiritual homeland?
I have deliberately used a small “u” and a small “n” in unionist and nationalist to reflect the unease which each section of the community here should be feeling. The island of Ireland has about six million people of whom around three million have bank accounts. The Ulster Bank admits that 600,000 people were affected by the Ulster Bank fiasco. That’s 20% or about the equivalent of 7 million bank users in Great Britain who could not access their accounts for four weeks. Do you think David Cameron would have allowed this? Can you imagine the uproar in the Commons? And yet not a word about us. No matter how we look at it there is something in the British establishment mindset that sees the Irish as somehow less important.
What is it about identity that it occupies our mind so much? On the 12th the Orangemen march up and down the road proclaiming that they are oh so British, while we nationalists are glued to RTE every evening watching news from a country that doesn’t want anything to do with us. If you don’t believe me just think back to the way that Martin McGuiness was treated in the Presidential Election campaign.
People need a sense of belonging. We long to feel that we are part of something and we shall tell ourselves any lie that makes us feel wanted. Didn’t work for poor old Sean Quinn!
Sean was born five miles on the wrong side of the border: Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh. Had he been born twenty miles down the road in Cavan he would still be Ireland’s richest man. There he would have learned proper Irish business etiquette, what colour of shirt to wear to meet which politician, and to whom to slip the odd brown envelope, liberally laced with €50 notes.
Another unfortunate birthplace is Dungiven; Tom Mc Feely will have three months in Mountjoy to reflect upon the unfortunate place where he came into this world. The High Court in Dublin is considering his appeal against his prison sentence for building shoddy apartments in the city. Again, poor Tom was born on the wrong side of the border. As he worries about prison, other builders get big jobs in NAMA. The word “scapegoats” comes to mind.
As Sean Fitzpatrick, Brian Cowen and Sean Dunne all enjoy wonderful freedom to enjoy their retirements or to build a new life in the States, Sean and Tom are sent down the Suwannee, without the proverbial paddle.
Banks of the Suwannee River just off the Florida Trail
Stephen Foster wrote the famous song about the Suwannee River in the 1850s. The proper name of the song is “The Old Folks At Home” and reflects a longing for the security of familiar things from the past.
“The Old Folks At Home” in the south of Ireland are not feeling too secure. As their bearded Health Fuehrer, Dr James Reilly, is busy closing down public health beds he is equally busy promising to buy private old people’s homes. But there is no conflict of interest because he talked it over with his friends on some committee in the Dail. Unlike Sean Quinn and Tom McFeely, he wears the right colour of a shirt.
Speaking in the Dail concerning the possibility of a conflict of interest, Dr Reilly rejected the assertion. “I can state very clearly on the record of the House that nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. There you have it; everything is great because the right man says so. “Trust me, I’m a doctor!”
The song about the Suwannee River was adopted by American slaves because it expressed the longing for the old folks back home. There won’t be much slavery for Bob Diamond, erstwhile executive of Barclay’s bank. He walks away with a cool two million. That should do him for a few weeks till he lands another cosy job in the financial industry. His latest excuse; a government official sent him an e mail and he took it up the wrong way. Pity Sean Quinn didn’t think of that one.
“All men are equal under the Law.”
Do you really think so?
There is something rotten at the core of our society and we don’t seem to be able to figure out what it is. Yet it is really very simple. The idea that all people are equal under the law is a purely Christian idea that came into European civilization through the church. As we move more and more into a secular society the idea of all people being equal under the law becomes less and less relevant. If you don’t believe this think of Greek and Roman times. The idea that people were equal never entered their heads. Conquered peoples were sold as slaves and killed for fun in the arena.
We are throwing away so many of our cherished values in a headlong rush to materialism; the wisdom of old age, taught by St Paul, the dignity of marriage and the value of children, the need to look after widows and orphans, are all directly Christian values. As our pensioners queue up for a heating allowance in the Post Office, the elite of our society build electronic gates at the front of their houses.
What is this new obsession with electric gates? When did we in Ireland start to cut our neighbours off like this? These gates scream out, “Go away, I don’t want you near my home! I want nothing to do with the outside world, other than what I choose to do and to whom I choose to speak!” Who do they think they are? The Rolling Stones!
On July 12, 1962, at the Marquee Club in London, Mick Jagger began jumping around the stage like a igit and he hasn’t stopped since. Mind you, he gets well paid for it. As they say, “good work if you can get it.” I loved seeing them being interviewed on TV, Mick and Keith Richards, old men now but still full of life and vitality and talking about doing another tour.
It’s wonderful how things change. When I was young our parents used to shout about the state of these yobs on TV, with long hair and sexy dances. Now I find myself saying the exact same things about Lady Gaga and Beyonce. But if I am honest I didn’t find Tina Turner gyrating around the stage in a very short skirt offensive. In fact I quite liked it. Or Cher, wearing little more than a smile, did not offend my sensibilities. Perhaps I judge Ms Gaga and Beyonce too harshly.
Come to think of it, that’s another one of the Christian values that we seem to be loosing, don’t judge others too harshly. We ask to be forgiven but we demand retribution from others. Forgiveness is a gift from God-if we don’t reflect this gift in our lives, society shall never be healthy.
Dan Neville, TD, Fine Gael, is the president of Irish Association of Suicidology. This must be the study of suicide, its effects and causes. He reported this week that 525 people had died by suicide in 2011. He said the figure was probably nearer to 600 when “undetermined deaths” were taken into consideration and the vast majority of these 600 people were young men. His job must take him to a lot of homes devastated by suicide. I don’t envy him his task.
What is wrong in a society where so many of our people get to a state where life is no longer meaningful?
John Paul II, that man whose writings everyone wants to ignore, predicted that with the rise of secularism would come a corresponding rise in Nihilism. What is that?
Nihilism is the loss of hope. Nothing matters. Nothing is worth living for. According to Pope John Paul II, nihilism is "a denial of the humanity and of the very identity of the human being". Hope is another of those Christian virtues that society, journalism, TV and newspapers have pushed aside. We are constantly bombarded by negative attitudes that tell us that if we are not rich and successful we have no reason to live. What a sad state of affairs.
Christian tradition teaches us that people are valuable simply because we are people created in the image of God. But if there is no God then there can be no image of Him.
Hope tells us that no matter how bad things get, there is a God who loves us and who shall make all things work out in the end. It may not even be in this world, but somehow, somewhere, the God who loves us will make all ok. As Julian of Norwich said, “All is well, and all manner of things is well and all manner of things shall be well.”
What a pity we have lost all sense of the eternal.
Michaela McAreavey has gone far too early to her eternal rest. Today, Sunday, we hear that photographs of her body and hotel room have appeared in a leading Mauritian newspaper. We will all have our own feelings about this but for me the over-riding question about someone selling these photographs and a newspaper buying them is, what have we become?
The obsession with money, the desire for wealth and the drive to sell newspapers leads to terrible decisions. We in Northern Ireland know a lot about injustice. Many people, both Protestant and Catholic have been left with a sense of justice not done. Justice, when it is seen to be done, gives people a sense of closure and a chance to rebuild their lives. For the McAreavey and Harte family there is none of this. We are all left with a sense of a job not done, of something amiss, of a life lost and no answers given.
When you put on top of this the gratuitous insult of publishing photographs from the scene of the crime, it feels almost like someone is trying to mock the families. Is there no limit to what we humans will do on each other?
Somehow in the midst of this the McAreavey and Harte families have to try and rebuild their lives. May God be with them as they try to put the pieces back together.