Weekly column published in Observer Newspaper group, Northern Ireland.
Wimbledon is on again; the time of year when we all traipsed down the Main Street in Coalisland to Tom Sullivan’s and bought two tennis rackets and a tennis ball. The ball was always yellow and tennis could be played in the backyard or car park. No need for a net or lines. These were all imaginary and rules were neither known nor cared about. We learnt the ridiculous scoring system and shouted it out so as to appear knowledgeable. Nowadays we all watch it on large flat screens; no black and white boxes in the corner. The names have changed, the prize money is larger, but for two weeks in June and July we all join the upper classes in an orgy of tennis watching. And then it is forgotten about for another year, a bit like Martin and the Queen.
Historic Handshakes: Queen Elizabeth, Former IRA Head
The Big Handshake! Would it happen or not? It did and nobody really cared. The wee north is a different place than what it was in my young day. We were much more certain then. The enemy was clearly defined and everyone knew their place in the pecking order. As I have grown older I am not so sure any more. Why did so many of our friends die, was it all worth it? Northern Ireland is a good place to live now. Catholics are no longer second class and we seem to have held on to some sort of social standards, unlike the Free State, that appears to have lost its way altogether. Maybe the strong Protestant moral and work ethic blends well with the Catholic “do rightly” attitude to life. Perhaps they balance each other out and keep the place liveable. Whatever the reason Martin meeting the Queen was not that big an issue; a lot of water has gone under the bridge these past few years.
Symbolism is so important; much more important than many of us realize. Whether you see it as the British reaching out to republicans or republicans’ reaching out to the British does not really matter. Something fundamental has changed here. Those of us who see ourselves as Irish have every right to do so and those of us who see ourselves as British can feel a lot more secure after this recognition of equality. We are growing more and more equal. Hiccups will happen, there will always be injustice as there is in every society, but the days of dominance by one side or other are over. That’s as it should be.
Euro 2012: Spain 4-0 Italy
As Spain was beating Italy there was a film on one of the free view stations called The Proposal. It is of the romantic comedy genre, the type that men never admit to watching. You always know the couple are going to get together and live happily ever after; a modern fairytale and we love them. I was flicking from football to film for a while then I gave up and watched the film. Everyone loves romance, men as much as women, although we would never admit it.
This love of romance comes from our inherent belief that everything shall work out in the end. It is the faith that keeps us going in bad times and sustains a community in time of trouble and this faith is very important in the struggle of life because it counteracts the problem of evil. The atheist always points to the problem of evil, how could a loving God allow such evil in the world? But what about the problem of goodness; where does all the love, kindness and goodness in the world come from? If there is no answer to the problem of evil there is less of an answer to the problem of good!
The Italian premier, Mario Monti, with German chancellor, Angela Merkel
A very true example of this faith in goodness was shown last week in Brussels. Merkel and Sarkozy had bullied Ireland, Portugal and Greece into accepting terms that put the bankers before the people. These were small countries which could not stand up to such bullies. But when it came to Italy and Spain their bullying would not work. Mario Monti, a technocrat put in as prime minister of Italy to do Merkel’s bidding, turned on her and refused to put bankers before people. No matter what the outcome of this a principle has been set, just like Martin and the Queen, that people are more important than flags or bankers. The poor old secularists miss the point; the human spirit will not be beaten. Long live romance.
Is the Ulster Bank stupid or what? Instead of pumping billions into dodgy property deals a few million spent on a proper computer system would have served them better. As people wonder when their wages and benefits will get
through to their accounts, I am wondering if Jim Brown, the Chief Executive of the bank, will get his annual bonus. I think the best example of what the bank thinks of us, its customers, is the way they have responded to the Nolan show on Radio Ulster this week. They didn’t. No matter how much the Nolan show called, the bank refused to send on a representative. But Mr Brown shall probably get his bonus; what are a few disgruntled customers when the bonus is his “right” to have. After all, he is one of the important people, he is not wondering how he is going to pay his next bill. One thing, though, don’t take it out on the tellers when you go to your branch. Remember these are ordinary people like you and me, doing a day’s work for a day’s pay.
The good thing about the internet is that people can’t get away with as much now as they did in the past. Records are there to be seen by all and the top notches can’t hide behind bland statements anymore. Barclays Bank has been at it. What exactly it is I am not quite sure. Something called “Libor.” Never heard of it to the other day; it seems to be something to do with interest rates. Barclays were fined £290 million for fixing interest rates. Who fined them I do not know, but it must have been someone with quite a bit of authority. We mortals don’t know much about these things. It’s a world in soft focus, a place way out there in the ether; we hear words and terms that mean nothing to us and we are left with the impression that these venerable institutions are run by people who are less than forthright with the truth. This may or may not be the case but it is the impression given.
Bob Diamond, former Chief Executive of Barclays Bank
"I am deeply disappointed that the impression created by the events announced last week about what Barclays and its people stand for could not be further from the truth," Bob Diamond said as he resigned. What a name for a banker who was caught fixing interest rates, Bob Diamond. Someone up there must have a great sense of humour. And the names get even more ridiculous.
Barclays is an empire of a bank and the chairman needs an emperor’s name: Marcus Agius. Move over Marcus Aurelius, stand aside Julius Caesar, here comes Marcus Agius! You couldn’t script it; the emperor Marcus and the banker Bob Diamond, both now gone.
The problem is we are losing faith completely in our institutions. We no longer believe that politicians, the press, lawyers, bankers or anybody is interested in anything other than their own welfare. There is a sense among the people that our whole social cohesion is breaking up as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Eamon Gilmore closes the Vatican embassy to save half a million euro a year while volunteers from St Vincent de Paul work their butts off week in week out collecting money and trying to look after the needy for no wages, something Gilmore receives a big wage for but does nothing about. The Irish taxpayers are on their knees paying bank debt they do not owe because Ms Merkel says German bankers must be paid and nobody understands why.
There is a feeling abroad that the whole thing is a mess. But we will struggle on, helping each other out as best we can, playing the system to survive another week. We’ll get through it, people always do. That’s the same faith that told me the boy would get the girl in that film I mentioned earlier, the Proposal, because we still believe in the inherent goodness of people.
Great Wall in China
My daughter lives in Hong Kong. She went up to the Great Wall of China at the weekend. They had a long weekend out there to celebrate fifteen years since Britain handed Hong Kong back. I sent her an e mail this morning to ask her if she was back safe and if I could stop worrying. She replied that she was at her work and that I had no need to worry, she was alright.
What is it with children? Do they not understand that it is a parent’s job to worry? Ok, she may be in her thirties, successful in her work, but she is still my wee girl. Pope Paul VI once wrote that children were “God’s supreme gift” to a couple. How right he was. But part of the deal is that you worry about them, it goes with the territory.
A couple of years ago a Northern Ireland man was killed while working in Afghanistan. He was in his fifties. His aged father was interviewed on Radio Ulster and he said, “It doesn’t matter what age he is, he is still my lad.” I thought it one of the nicest and saddest things I have ever heard in my life. And it is so true.