The British “New Years Honours” Choreography in Norn Iron.

We all know someone who has a MBE or OBE. Occasionally they actually deserve it (with the proviso that I dont like the System at all).

Yet there is a choreography. ……certainly at the lowest levels.The Cabinet Office controls the system and sends out feelers to Sports Organisations, Civil Service Departments, Education Boards, Charities etc to put forward names in confidence.

Having considered the nominations, a fancy letter is sent out stating that “HM the Queen is graciously minded to award you a Member of the British Empire for your services to……………..please reply as soon as possible” And this is supposed to be confidential and I believe sent out in October. I have actually seen two of these letters……ironically one sent to a royalist/unionist who was so proud she nearly had a heart attack………the other sent to a republican/nationalist who was so offended he nearly had a heart attack.

So the letter goes back to London. In one case accepting. Or in another case “I am an Irish citizen and I object to 700 years of oppression, the Great Famine of 1847 and I hereby set out 200 reasons why I cant accept this outrage of a MBE”. Not that the Cabinet Office in London cares but that is the kind of letter I want to write. Many sleepless nights, I have spent composing that letter in my head.

Of course all this has to be kept secret from Family, Friends and Work Colleagues but in my experience it is never a total secret. After Big Ben chimes in the New Year, the BBC and Sky News announce the headline makers in the Honours List. And even have pre-recorded interviews with some of the better known people. So it is not “secret” to the News Media………merely it is embargoed………not to be published before the official announcement.

If I was a betting man……I would speculate that footballer David Beckham………already “David Beckham OBE” might become “Sir David Beckham” and there might well be a pre-recorded interview, where he talks about being humbled by it all. And Ronnie Corbett OBE, the much loved 81 year old comedian might become “Sir Ronnie”. Or a comedy double with “Sir” Ken Dodd but Doddy (OBE and 84) has kinda blotted his copybook with his unique way of avoiding paying Income Tax.

Awards tend to reflect Public Mood. There might be recognition for phone-hacking victims such as Mr & Mrs Dowler or Gerry & Kate McCann. And of course awards are “topical” so that several policemen, civilians involved in the London Riots in August will receive awards for gallantry. And if not already honoured in the “Birthday Honours” (June), people associated with the “Royal Wedding” will be honoured.

Norn Iron is of course a place apart. Typically around sixty people will find themselves honoured but ensuring a balanced list of “Protestants” (supportive of British institutions) and “Catholics” (largely indifferent or even hostile) is a neat trick. Of course many Catholic social workers, charity workers would happily accept an honour………for themselves or for the broader reason of recognition for the work they do. But there is an undoubted feeling that the bar is set lower for Catholics.

So Predictions. Well in Political terms the only stand out “unionist” is former Strangford DUP MP, Iris Robinson who resigned nearly two years ago over the “Toyboy” scandal. Her husband Peter Robinson is of course the First Minister in the Executive. Yet I think he would prefer her to have a low profile. At best, Unionism can expect two or three MBEs OBEs for long serving councillors.

Of course Sinn Féin do not take seats in the British Parliament so any honour from the “British Queen” is out of the question. Undoubtedly SDLP retired politicians such as John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Joe Hendron, Bríd Rodgers will have been offered Honours but will have turned them down. Retired South Down MP is perhaps a possibility as he is the man who gave us Margaret Ritchie, the recently ousted SDLP leader, who went too far along the “letsget alongerist” road.

Memorably Margaret Ritchie stated “I am not afriad of use the words… Northern Ireland”  and of course she very publicly wore a poppy last year. She is still MP for South Down but I still think it would be political suicide for her (as well as an issue of principle) for her to accept an honour.

Perhaps one long-serving  SDLP councillor somewhere might accept. There is a former councillor in South Belfast who is a MBE (possibly for non political work) and perhaps another ex-councillor in Cookstown but I think a SDLP politician would feel a backlash in the Party if accepting an honour. “Congratulations” might be muttered thru clenched teeth but it just isnt done in nationalist parties.

“Lets Get alongerists” are a different matter. Former Leader of the Alliance Party, Sean Neeson stood down at the last Assembly Election. He is a “possibility”. And in the broader “Lets Get Alongerist” Golden Halo there might be honours for Duncan Morrow or Quintin Oliver.

The “Queens visit” to Ireland will likely result in a “foreign” (honoury OBE) to some people in Dublin.

For years I have been predicting that a senior figure from the Catholic Church in England (retired Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor or possibly the current Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols) might be appointed to the House of Lords. Twenty-four Bishops from the Church of England sit ex officio in the House of Lords. A few years ago the Chief Rabbi was appointed to the Lords. And Ive often thought this was actually a prelude to bringing more “people of faith” into the Chamber. I have confidently predicted this for years and sooner or later……I will be right.

Yet the bulk of the sixty honours will be low ranking civil servants, social workers, school dinner ladies, local charity fundraisers…….totemic rather than personal.

Of course the Choreography of the Honours does not actually end with the announcements. Congratualtions messages will flood in from friends and colleagues…….in the case of nationalists thru “gritted teeth” .

And during the course of several months there will be ceremonies where the actual medals are handed out.

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