Harry, Meaghan, Oprah and…Me!

For those of us who live in a Republic (for example France, United States of America, Germany and Ireland) our Head of State is elected by the People. There is of course a distinction between Presidents who have real political power (France and USA) and those (Germany and Ireland) who have a largely ceremonial office, a unifying symbol of the nation.

I do not think there is a single Republic that would choose to have a hereditary Head of State like Sweden or the “United Kingdom”, even a “constitutional monarchy defies all laws of Modernity.

There is of course a curiousity about Monarchy. It is partly History, Pageantry, Dressing Up, Fairy Tale and Celebrity. And I think Soap Opera.

This is the context of the Big Interview where Oprah Winfrey chatted to “Prince” Harry and Meaghan Markle, They are occasionally the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

In their own way Harry and Meaghan had a constitutional role. In her own way, Oprah has a constitutional role in USA. Mother Confessor. Grief Counsellor. Fairy Godmother to Celebrity. Director of Emotion for USA. Feeling as Oprah does seems to underscore that you are emotionally balanced.

Personally I always think of England’s Royal Family as a long running soap opera. Like Coronation Street…….literally.

It was always easy to think that Larry Hagman and J R Ewing were the same person. And that Linda Gray was S’wellen.

Or if you prefer Coronation Street that socialist Ken Barlow (in the soap from 1960) is actually played by William Roache a big supporter of the unloved and unlamented Margaret Thatcher.

The characters and actors in the Royal soap are interesting.

The Queen…is of course politically neutral. But a look at the actress, Elizabeth Windsor suggests that she is politically conservative. Just one look at her horse racing stables, wealth and tweedy cousinage of Lords and Ladies confirms she is a Tory.

And what of the Duke of Edinburgh. He may wear a kilt but he remains a very unconvincing Scotsman. Not surprising as he was born in Greece to minor German royalty down on his luck. He of course had a good war record in the British navy. But his cousins also had a war record…with the Germans.

Prince Charles loves helping poor youngsters in inner cities. The actor Charles Windsor is a polo-playing aristocrat. He is a bit too old to play the dashing young prince who fornicated his way around the Dominions and the colonies in the 1970s.

Princess Anne…the designated Scot who could not get remarried in an English church as she was in line to be the Head of the Church of England so became a member of the Church of Scotland for a day and is now contractually obliged to sit in the “Royal Box” at Scottish rugby matches and belting out Flower of Scotland which recalls sending Prince Edwards army home to think again.

Pizza loving, non-sweating Duke of York is temporaliy written out of the series. This is due to his unfortunate friendship with guilty and accused paedophiles.

Prince Edward…….what a guy! As you can see from this pic, he is a very brave man. Just look at that impressive medals on his chest.

The actor who plays this hero spent six weeks training to be a “Royal” Marine……and dropped out.

He has largely disappeared from the Royal Family. That happens a lot in soap operas. In Coronation Street, it is a bad sign when a character moves to Southampton. They are never seen again. In Dallas, people were sent to Knots Landing.

Of course all soaps need to renew the format. New characters are tried out.

Remember the English Rose…Diana. The role of Prince Charming has changed over the years. They used to find a princess by trying to fit a shoe on a foot. Charles had the difficult task of finding a virgin in England.

After producing an heir and a spare, Diana was sent to Knots Landing.

And Charlie took up with another woman. A tweedy horsewoman who liked to hunt foxes.

Then there was Fergie. A good old girl. She ended up in Knots Landing also.

Diana and Fergie…it was just bad casting.

Kate… seems a jolly good sort of gal. Good casting.

But hard to see anything at all in Harry. Nowadays nobody mentions the party where he dressed in Nazi uniform (I am not sure if he hired it or if it belonged to a German relative). Either way, he was a bad boy but thru military service became a hero.

And Meaghan …well it seemed like the casting directors had it right but she and her newly emancipated hubby did not learn their lines, follow a script and the producers of the royal farce knew they had made a big mistake.

Of course it is all very 16th century. A court and courtiers at Buckingham Palace and another court and courtiers in California.

Enter Oprah. Enter Piers Morgan. Isn’t that the same Piers Morgan who was had terrible memory loss in the witness box (actually he appeared by satellite from USA) at the Leveson Inquiry into the British press hacking phones etc.

He doesnt like the Sussex royals. He is agonising about the effect that this will have on Elizabeth (94) and hospitalised Phil the Greek (99).

See that is the problem with the Monarchy.

Attack it as an out of date imperialist undemocratic institution and the Queens fans will say that it is an unwarranted attack on an ordinary family with centuries of service.

Attack the relationships with dodgy criminals and the followers will say that it is an unpatriotic attack on the cornerstone institution in the Nation.

Of course, the fall back position of all monarchists is that the Queen, Phil the Greek, Charlie, Camilla (really?), Wills and the rest are good for Tourism. This might well be true. But Mickey Mouse is good for American Tourism and yet he will never be President.

Luckily I am a citizen of another country so I dont have to agonise. Our Irish national anthem speaks of “not “sheltering the despot or the slave”. It is Equality.

Thats the British system…Undemocratic. Unequal. A pyramid of despots and slaves simultaneously looking up and down.

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FitzjamesHorse …Back in the Saddle

I feel like one of those retired generals who has been recalled to the colours after years in retirement.

It turns out that Mr Fukuyama was wrong. History has not ended. The whole world is in a state of chassis (chaos) and it would be wrong of me to stand idly by.

Besides there are no good Blogs that are about Norn Iron. I am not saying that “Keeping an Eye on the Czar of Russia” will be a good blog. My humble ambition is to be just as awful as Slugger O’Toole, which is now as a parody of itself.

In some ways, I started this blog in 2011 as a parody…the clue is in the title …reflecting the fact that bloggers over-estimate their importance. To my immense shock this “parody” became serious. The trajectory is the opposite of Slugger……originally taken seriously, it has become a parody.

Where do I stand on things? Well I voted for Brexit because I thought there was a reasonable chance that Britain would vote to leave the European Union and with Norn Iron safely in the “Remain” camp, then my vote was to tip the balance into Chaos.

Why? “England’s problem is Ireland’s opportunity”. It is as true then as it was when I first heard it in 1963.

The Brexiteers did not want to win. They own the Chaos.

Another thing I learned……..Perfidious Albion. So anyone negotiating with the British…whether it is the Good Friday Agreement, the Withdrawal Agreement, or the so called Protocol…is acutely aware of the nature of British diplomacy. Indeed many British politicians seem to revel in their nations reputation for Treachery.

We are now in uncharted waters. Indeed we might well be up a well known creek without a paddle. But it is all to play for.

Colin Harvey and others head up “Ireland’s Future” and I certainly support that initiative. It seems to have a lot of support in a pan-nationalist cultural (Arts, Academia, Sport) but can it translate into political support from SDLP and Sinn Féin?

But it is at heart a “pressure group” and the whole point of a pressure group is to apply “pressure” and to get the LetsGetAlongerists off their comfortable fences. The same can be said for the “Border Poll” …the importance is that it is a possibility rather than something that is actually going to happen in the near future.

The ground has shifted. Does anyone actually remember “Platform for Change”, effectively a LetsGetAlongerist pressure group, with aspirations to make Norn Iron work. It flourished for a few years, supported by the usual suspects but sank without trace.

Cos Norn Iron doesnt work.

We are now in the bizarre situation where pan-unionists from the Alliance Party (they haven’t gone away you know), UUP, DUP, TUV and even worse invite nationalists to “celebrate” Norn Iron’s centenary and have a shared future in a purely Norn Iron and British context.

It is Pie in the Sky….with a metaphor of a Tunnel Under the Sea.

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SDLP at 50

Happy Birthday SDLP.

I remember the day the SDLP was formed. I vividly recall the founding members and a handful of journalists outside the venue.

A journo asked “will the SDLP be non sectarian?” and Paddy Devlin replied “we are anti-sectarian”. I was 18 years old. It had a profound effect on me.

If the SDLP was born in 1970, it was conceived in the Civil Rights movement and on the Opposition benches in Stormont after the 1969 Crossroads Election, The founders were from different political parties. Gerry Fitt (Republican Labour), Austin Currie (Nationalist), Paddy Devlin (Norn Iron Labour) and three Independents with a Civil Rights background, John Hume, Ivan Cooper and Paddy O’Hanlon. Most textbooks write out Senators Paddy Wilson (Republican Labour) and Claude Wilton (Liberal) and I always include them as they should not be airbrushed from History.

Of course the Nationalist and Republican Labour “parties” were nothing more than semi-organised individuals and Paddy Devlin was totally unrepresentative of NILP, a unionist party.

Things should have been different. Vivian Simpson the NILP man in Oldpark could not bring himself to join a nationalist party. Paddy Kennedy (Republican Labour, Central) was too republican and the handful of Nationalist Party members could not bring themselves to join with people who had opposed them at the Crossroads Election. Realistically only Maxie Keogh in Newry was useful. He took the view that his constituents had elected him as a Nationalist.

In late 1969 and early 1970 it was a phoney war. Occasional rioting. And the occasional appearance of men who had a whiff of cordite about them. And in the summer of 1970, it got more real with the Battle of St Matthews and the Falls Curfew.

It was “make your mind up time” and certainly the formation of SDLP in August 1970 was a strand in that. But if you look at the old news footage from the civil rights era, you will see men (it was always men…except of course for Bernadette Devlin) who stood arm in arm who joined SDLP or Republican Clubs/Official IRA or the Provisionals. Importantly the NDP which had been formed a few years earlier threw its organisation into SDLP.

Other alternatives? Well NILP went AWOL. And ambitious “Castle Catholics” showed their supposed respectability by joining the Alliance Party. And as for “liberal unionists”….well they also eased their conscience by joining Alliance. The Civil Rights movement in USA had white “freedom riders” …there was no such people in the unionist community.

As I have said before, my political journey was around the arc of events…Ballymurphy Massacre/Internment and McGurks Bar in 1971 and Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday and the Claudy Bombing in 1972.

I certainly leaned towards SDLP. The only political alternative was the Republican Clubs, the alias of the Official IRA and they had no appeal for me. They were political and paramilitary cowards and bullies.

Shortly before SDLPs first electoral test (local council elections in 1973) , Paddy Wilson was in our home. He was a friend of my father. He was trying to persuade me to vote SDLP. And I told him that I was boycotting the election. It seems curious now that the Dungannon priest Fr Dennis Faul was calling on Catholics/nationalists not to vote as a gesture of support for the internees (Internment without Trial was still in operation).

That was the last time I saw Paddy Wilson He was brutally murdered within weeks and just before the Assembly Election. I suppose I only joined the SDLP as some kinda belated apology to Paddy Wilson.

At the Assembly Election, we did well (19 seats of 78) but not so well in West Belfast (2 from 6). Paddy Devlin had over-estimated his popularity with protestant voters.

I tend to see SDLP thru my own experiences in West Belfast from 1973 thru 1979. There was “one and a half” branches in West Belfast….the Falls Branch of which I was a member and two years as Secretary or Press Officer and the Larkfield Branch from the Upper Andersonstown area which was partly in the (then) South Antrim constituency. There was always a cetain amount of tension between the branches. As an occasional officer, there was some networking with other branches, coming across other MLAs, other officers. But mainly SDLP in Falls was about a handful of teachers, small shopkeepers and what I might call Paddy Devlin supporters, who seemed more connected to Paddy than the SDLP itself. There were certainly people like Desmond Gillespie MLA and Dr Joe Hendron and others who never became public figures who were SDLP to the core.

Gerry Fitt? well he was also an individualist and while MP for West Belfast, he lived in and was MLA for North Belfast. I think I only saw him once at a meeting in West Belfast, a selection convention where he was opposed by North Belfast solicitor, Paschal O’Hare.  I really just remember him chain smoking Gallahers Blues. He was, I think seduced by Westminster and distant.

Indeed with only three MLAs in Belfsast, two in West Belfast and one in North Belfast….and two of them being in the short-lived post-Sunningdale Executive, a disproportionate amount of constituency work was done by Desmond Gillespie.

For the record, Falls Branch SDLP met (before my time) in a terraced house at Mulholland Terrace on Falls Road. And in my time, it met over a chip shop at the corner of Glen Road and (I think) Norglen Park. Later we moved to a house near to Andytown RUC Station.

Of course the Executive of 1974 fell and as politics is all about optimism, it all fell apart in the late 1970s. Fitt and Devlin went off and did their independent thing and we struggled to really survive as a Party in West Belfast.

I was a member of SDLP in Dungannon (Fermanagh-South Tyrone) but with the whole democratic deficit, the Bobby Sands election (1981) and my move out of Dungannon (1982), I just fell away from Politics. My wife, initially apolitical and now very SDLP did not want me involved. Involvement was dangerous.

But I think in less than a decade, I had seen too many people leave SDLP…Fitt, Devlin, Paddy Duffy, John Turnley, Paschal O’Hare.  The history of SDLP is marked by people who were hurt by their involvement.



In 2010, I rediscovered SDLP. As an occasional “commenter” on Slugger O’Toole, I was at a fringe meeting at the Party Conference. I asked a question, identifying myself as a blogger. In the bar, a SDLP member (one of the bright young things) asked me about my screen name and I identified myself as “Fitzjames Horse” and he extended his hand “we love your stuff…well most of it” he said. As I later found out, SDLP had been spending a lot of effort guessing the identity of FJH…suspicion often falling on an entirely innocent individual.

In 2011, a senior MLA approached me and asked me to get involved with young folk who knew their way around a computer but were political amateurs. Much was promised….an instant rebuttal unit ahead of the 2011 Assembly Election. Of course it was all pie in the sky. But the vague promise of being an “insider” of sorts effectively neutralised me as an occasional critic of SDLP on “Slugger”.

It was clever. But as they say….”fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”. So to my eternal shame, SDLP managed to fool me again, 2012, 2013, 2014 and finally in 2015. Two job applications. No interviews. Am I bitter and twisted? Yes of course I am.

It is the casual indifference that gets me. It is sitting in the bar at a Conference in the Ramada or walking down a corridor in Armagh City Hotel….and watch the real players lower their eyes or dive into the nearest toilet.

It is talking to senior figures in Belfast SDLP who have never heard of meeting in Mulholland Terrace, the chippy on Glen Road…and most shamefully never heard of people like Desmond Gillespie.

For a Party that MADE History, SDLP is very bad at knowing its own History.

Indeed I dont think I could bring myself to blog about a SDLP event at St Marys University College on Falls Road a few years ago. A Tribute to Paddy Devlin. Many SDLP people there. Many Belfast “socialists”. A panelist, Seamus Lynch told the audience that as a Republican Clubs councillor, he knew what was happening in SDLP, because of discussions with Fitt and Devlin  in the tea room at Belfast City Hall. Now of course the Falls membership knew this. So what Lynch said is no surprise. What did annoy me was that so many SDLP members…Devlin admirers…found it all hilarious. Just looking from face to face told a story.

Which brings me to the SDLP leadership calling on people to join the fight for the next 50 years. It is seductive an I am even tempted myself.

But people have been hurt thru involvement with SDLP. Sometimes there is no fault. Sometimes it is about being de-selected as a candidate or being overlooked for a job in a constituency office. Sometimes its about personal relationships. Sometimes it is about policy…an attitude to Abortion that cannot be squared with conscience or a link up with another political party…Fianna Fáil for example.

And the other side of this might be that people have “used” the SDLP.

Anyone tempted to join SDLP in 2020 will so doing on the basis of where SDLP is in 2020. A “nationalist” political party that says “you cant eat a flag” but some of the membership would have the European flag as a main course and the LGBT flag as a dessert.

Where it is in 2020…is Colum and Nichola. It is mainstream. It would be unlikely to be attracted to a “wing” of the party or a nuance of policy or personality. Those differences only emerge over years.

And back in 1973, I was 21 and joining Falls Branch. And a few years later…really too young …was Secretary of the Branch.

So a 21 year old in 2020 might answer the call. And join a branch in Waterside or Omagh or South Armagh or Ormeau…….and rise thru the ranks. And nearly five decades later, attend a “tribute” where it is confirmed that senior party members had more in common with (say) Alliance, Greens, Fianna Fáil or Norn Iron Labour than SDLP.


I dont think it works like that. I am more than content to walk down the street and vote SDLP. But no……SDLP wont ever listen to its members.



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You Probably Don’t Know What This Is?

If you are over 50 years old and a Catholic from West Belfast, you may know what this is.StJ1

Most Catholics will be familiar with prayer cards, typically sold in Catholic “holy” shops. A holy picture, a medal and a prayer, often a novena prayer on the back. Typically, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and just about every saint in Heaven…well the popular ones.

You might well have seen a “Saint Christopher” on the dashboard of a car. You might well have seen a “Guardian Angel” in a baby’s pram or cot.

In the Catholic world, there is a saint for every occasion. Saint Gerard Majella (pregnant women), Saint Jude (hopeless cases), Saint Francis of Assisi (animals) and so on.

To non-Catholics these prayer cards might be seen as blasphemous idolatry or a harmless and eccentric devotion by Catholics. To a post-Catholic generation who were born Catholic but are now much too intelligent for such childish things, they are embarrassing reminders of a religious family background.

The prayer card above is…Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus and spouse of the Virgin Mary.

I have been looking for this prayer card for years. It is easy enough to find prayer cards that reference Saint Joseph “husband and father” or “the worker, carpenter” but I really wanted this card for personal reasons connected to The Troubles. The prayer on the back of the card explains why.


The second paragraph is the relevant one. In the mid 1970s, we lived in constant fear of sudden death. Being shot by loyalists from a passing car, walking past a IRA car bomb or being shot accidently or for the fun of it by the “Brits”. But the real fear was abduction, torture and  (eventual) death.

So a lot of us carried these cards and in my case just about the last thing that my mother said to me when I left the house was “have you got your prayer to St Joseph”?. Like it says in the text, “falling into the hands of the enemy” from the Shankill Road or the Village was not a good thing.

The history of the Troubles is not just about Bloody Sunday or Bloody Friday or Narrow Water …it is a lot of small stuff. Like the prayer to St Joseph. If I mentioned it to another person my age, they would understand. Maybe you…younger than me…this is new to you. If you’re Catholic or a former Catholic, ask your parents.

I carried a prayer card. It was crumpled up in my wallet. And the Troubles stopped.

Did it work? Well, it is easy to dismiss as lucky white heather or a rabbits foot. A good luck charm.

Obviously I am still alive.

But people who carried it were murdered. In one notorious case, a bloodstained prayer card was sent to the home of a victim with a mocking note.

It is also true that many captured or killed IRA folks carried the prayer card. In one court case, it was stated in evidence that all of an active service unit was found with the cards.

Apart from some half-hearted efforts to find the prayer card in “holy shops”, I have not really given it much thought. But a few days ago, I found this pristine card in my Auntie Sheila’s possessions. In its own way, it is an artefact of the Troubles.

I suppose she had it for me.

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John Hume: The Funeral & “People Like Us”

First off, at the request of my wife, I deleted the post I wrote on Monday. She thought it contained too many personal references, including an anecdote that we have enjoyed for nearly forty years. I see her point.


So last night, my wife lit the candle.

Johns Light

The funeral was dignified. We watched in on RTE. The family, our President Michael D Higgins. John Hume’s old warhorse colleagues like Austin Currie, (the last survivor of the eight politicians who formed SDLP in August 1970), Joe Hendron, Alasdair McDonnell and Brid Rodgers. The Derry  SDLP people like the Durkans and the new leadership like Colum Eastwood and Nichola Mallon and the southerners like Micheal Martin and Simon Coveney. And of course, Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill and even Naomi Long.

I really dont “get” how a funeral…..like Seamus Mallon six months ago can be an occasion for those outside family, friends and in the cases of John and Seamus, political supporters.

Some might see it as a sign of progress in Norn Iron that we are now at some level of sophistication where old political rivals and enemies can attend a funeral service. I have mixed feelings.

Surely all of us have friends across the tribal divide. I have Protestant friends and nearly all have unionist feelings. I expect they will be at my funeral. But their unionism is incidental. They have not tried …overtly…to take something from me. Nor have I tried to …overtly take something from them.

Is it really a matter of respect that the Boris Johnson’s Tory Secretary of State for Norn Iron should occupy a socially distant seat in St Eugene’s Cathedral? Or Arlene Foster of DUP. Or Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin? Or Naomi Long of Alliance?

John Hume WAS the SDLP. It is hypocritical to show respect for John Hume while disrespecting his successors.

The bottom line is that if these folks nod their heads and say that John Hume was right, then they have to acknowledge that their previous leaders …O’Neill, Chichester Clark, Faulkner, West, Molyneaux, Trimble, Paisley, Robinson, Adams, McGuinness, Napier, Cushnahan, Neeson, Ford and the rest were wrong.

It is too easy to say that they have all come to accept the landscape that Hume created. And it is fair to say that the post-Hume leadership of SDLP has not been stellar.

Likewise the journos earning a fee for appearing on camera on the radio to discuss the “John Hume I knew” and answer “what do you think his legacy will be?” ….for some journos it will be a nice little earner. But again the question has to be “if you are snging his praises now, then why did you not do it forty, thirty or twenty years ago?”

And I suspect the LetsGetAlongerists on my least favourite message board will be in full flow.

Now I want to be careful and measured here. In regarding myself as a decent person, I do not think anyone of another political persuasion is less decent. But I do believe SDLP is a decent political party and looking around the cathedral, it seemed that the SDLP people sitting there were not very different from me…and others like the Secretary of State (I forget his name), Arlene Foster and Naomi Long were simply not people with whom I can identify.

It seems to me that Austin Currie, Joe Hendron and Brid Rodgers (all older than me) were shaped by much the same things. And Mark Durkan (younger than me). And Daniel McCrossan and Colum Eastwood (both younger than my sons)…….all of us cut from the same cloth.

Someone (I cant remember who it was) said that John Hume was influenced by Catholic social teaching. Now I would broaden that a little and say “Catholic and post-Catholic” and “Christian and post Christian” social thinking. Whether it was DOCTOR Joe Hendron attending disadvantaged people in West Belfast or John Hume developing credit unions or Brid Rodgers in Civil Rights movement…there is a pattern. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson……..its a conscience thing.

It is what we used to call in West Belfast “The Old Decency”.

Sometimes I think that it has all gone…but actually it hasnt.


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“Essential Travel” ?

What exactly is “Essential ” Travel.

Readers will know that my big hobby is travelling around Ireland …for free. Since I became entitled to a SmartPass three years ago, I have been in all 32 counties. I have been in around 173 towns and villages on this island. Some places like Cork, Limerick and Waterford, I have been on more than two occasions. And of course I have travelled to every Dublin suburb by LUAS, DublinBus and DART.

My most recent outing on public transport was train to Dublin, BusÉireann to Newtownmountkennedy (Co Wicklow), a cup of tea and cake and another BusÉireann to Ashford. Then a BusÉireann to Bray, then DART to Killiney and a walk around. Then train to Portmarnock and back to Dublin. And a meal before the last train home.

I think it is important to stress that this amazing freebie is good for the physical and mental health of senior citizens. And it is economically beneficial to bookshops, tea shops and other businesses in (say) Warrenpoint, Enniscorthy, Ballinasloe and Edgeworthstown.

In early March, I was hoping to see a lot of places before going into hibernation around November.

I have lost months. And it is really hurting. I dont expect to be back on the road before the end of August.

In pragmatic terms BusÉireann and DublinBus are currently operating at 50% capacity. Only 36 people can travel on a DublinBus.

For the good of the nation that I actually love, it would be very wrong for me to take up one of these 36 seats, travelling without any real purpose to Inchicore, Dundrum and Swords.

The public transport is primarily for …….essential workers.

The downside of course is that I am 68 years of age. I am not the person I was when I was 60 years old or 65 years old. It has always seemed to me that getting to 75 years old in reasonable health is as much as I can reasonably expect. So six months out of active life is a heavy price to pay. But others have paid a higher price.

Have I broken Lock Down restrictions?

Yes. My wife’s best friend died in May and there were child care considerations which in strictness made us break guidelines and I dont regret it. But I missed a cousin’s funeral on the north coast.

My wife and I have taken three car journeys to Fivemiletown, Clogher, Augher and Ballygawley…Tynan, Middletown and Caledon…and Carrickmore, Pomeroy and Donaghmore. Again…no regrets. We only left the car long enough to take pics for my travel blog.

So I wont be judgemental about private individuals who broke some rules. Especially if rules seem vague.

Nor would I be too critical of an Alliance Party councillor who sought advice and was told that “essential travel” can include a visit to Spain to maintain a property she owns. Fair play to her.

Indeed as she wrote on Facebook (4th July) that after 14 weeks of LockDown and being heavily involved with the local response, she was taking a break. Again…fair play.

“I’m going to take a holiday for a few weeks and catch up with my own wee family, we haven’t all been together since Christmas”.

I dont know if all of that “few weeks” was spent in Spain. I dont know how long it takes for maintenance work on any property in Spain. Nor do I know how many family members travelled to Spain.

I am honestly not that bothered. Few would begrudge anyone taking whatever opportunity was there.

More serious is that the Alliance Party spokesperson on Health ……..Health!!!!….Paula Bradshaw…was seemingly unaware that travelling to Italy on a family holiday was not “essential” until an hour after she announced her plans on RTE Radio.

More worryingly, Ms Bradshaw is an adviser to the saintly Naomi Long…who is Minister for Justice. ….Justice!!!! Now of course its perfectly possible that Ms Bradshaw and Ms Long dont actually talk about personal things like vacations.

But it seems a bit odd that Ms Bradshaw did not say “hey boss I have booked a holiday in Italy in a couple of weeks”

What is the proper response from Ms Long.

A…..”Great….send me a postcard”

B….”Thats not actually essential. Cancel it.




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The English Could Make Me Sick (Official)

If its a good day for nationalists, its a bad day for unionists.

If its a good day for unionists, its a bad day for nationalists.

This is the story of everything that has happened since 1998. Thus, the DUP squirming around when the RHI scandal broke was very good for nationalists. The recent over-the-top republican  funeral at Milltown and Roselawn gave unionists a boost. Paula Bradshaw (Alliance)  “U turns”, “clarifications” over essential travel during Lock Down have given me (republican lefty) hours of amusement.

In the wake of the justified criticism of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill has given nationalism a boost by accurately suggesting that travel from Britain into Norn Iron should be restricted. It is of course a bit cheeky but it gives us a laugh at the expense of Arlene Foster (DUP) and Steve Aiken (UUP), defending the open travel area and talking about the absurdity.

But there is of course a logic to it. Animal Health regulations often restrict movement of animals and poultry across the Irish Sea. Especially so in times of Swine Flu, Foot and Mouth Disease or whatever. Surely CoronaVirus can restrict movement.

What is (mint) sauce for the lamb should be sauce for the humans.

So congrats to Michelle……back of the net! Its 2-0 to the Boys and Girls in Green. A cushion after Bradshaw’s spectacular  own goal.

And congrats to Colum Eastwood and the SDLP and the New Ireland Commission idea. Whether it is actually a serious attempt to involve unionists in looking forward  or just an attempt to wind unionists up is irrelevant…the real point is that is that SDLP have got their “mojo” back. …….THREE-NIL. And the Crowd goes wild.

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Bradshaw Changes Her Mind

There has been a lot of media criticism of Sinn Féin’s cavalier approach to LockDown rules. Much time and energy has gone into lambasting SF over their behaviour at a recent funeral.

Some of our leading bloggers have been critical. I am not a leading blogger but I have also been critical.

I therefore welcome the decision of Ms Paula Bradshaw of Alliance Party (and formerly of the UUP and the “liberal” UCNCFUC or whatever) to cancel her family holiday in Italy. She intended to fly out next Saturday via Dublin.


She has quite rightly criticised the British government over various guidelines. But somehow I would have expected the Alliance Party spokesperson on Health to have a grip on the rules, particuarly as the rules apply in Norn Iron.

While all is well that ends well and Ms Bradshaw tells us that she could have been clearer in interviews, it is hardly a good look for Ms Bradshaw and her current party. As I criticised Sinn Féin, I think I have to admonish Ms Bradshaw. No doubt, other fair-minded blogs will be critical. Happily Ms Bradshaws hubby has a regular column on a well known local blog.

How this plays out in South Belfast at next Assembly election is interesting. Certainly after the 2019 local and European elections, Ms Bradshaw might have thought she was a safe bet to stay at Stormont, maybe even bring a running mate with her. Some people even talked about here as becoming the Westminster MP for the constituency.

Alas “the best laid plans” did not materialise.

To win, Bradshaw needed the support of other parties (the five Assembly seats are held by five parties) and she needed to convince enough voters that she could take the seat from the DUP.  And she failed.

For all the talk of surges, Alliance did not have a great Westminster Election.

The pact between SDLP, Greens and Sinn Féin cooked the Alliance goose, not just in South Belfast but arguably in East Belfast.

There is of course no denying that the Alliance Party was/is on a roll. As UUP collapsed/collapses, it is increasingly the last resort of occasional liberal unionist (sic). And certainly any reasonable “Remainer”, nationalist or unionist in the eastern counties would have given Alliance a vote in December 2019.

But really there is little more to the Alliance “surge” than that.

SDLP took two Westminster seats and seems re-vitalised, even if victory papers over the cracks between socialists (Hanna) and nationalists (Eastwood). “Social Democrat” seems respectable again and Nichola Mallon seems a capable minister.

There are five parties representing the diverse five seat constituency of South Belfast. SDLP have one seat and there seems no risk in the Greens (one seat) and Sinn Féin (one seat) lending their votes to Claire Hanna.

But nobody should take the view as some commentators that Claire 57% vote share translates as THREE SDLP seats with one for Alliance and one DUP.

The votes will mostly return to the Greens and Sinn Féin. And while there is an outside chance SDLP could take two seats, I think it is unlikely. Ms Bradshaw might have considered herself a likely MP but she was actually humiliated in being the only Alliance candidate to lose vote share. Of course some of those went to Hanna as the candidate most likely to defeat the DUP.

But Ms Bradshaws poor performance and occasional faux pas must embolden her possible running mates in any future Assembly election.

Duncan Morrow is Alliance “royalty”, Emmet McDonough Brown and Kate Nicholl are on the rise. If tow Alliance candidates stand at the next Assembly election, only one will win…and I don’t think it would be Paula Bradshaw.

But it is not just about South Belfast.

North Down and East Belfast, SDLP, Greens and Sinn Féin stood aside in December, urging support for the leading Remainer (Alliance) and this rare act of being graceful to rivals and opponents was readily accepted by Alliance. It worked in North Down and did not work in East Belfast.

In North Belfast, SDLP and Greens stood aside for the leading Remainer (Sinn Féin) and it worked. Alliance did well but largely as a result of their core vote and those liberal unionists.

In North Belfast and South Belfast, their assertion that it was all about nationalism and unionism being equally untouchable does not stand up.

Still maybe I am too hostile to Alliance. I am sure other bloggers will tell us the right way of things.








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Word Press Blogs

I have to say that I really like this platform…word press blog. I take it for granted. I am now on here in one incarnation or other for around ten years.

One good thing…it is FREE. It is literally Free Speech.

Of course it has different products, tailored to businesses and the “professional” blogger but as an elderly technophobe, I only get frightened by anything that would be an “upgrade”.

So “Keeping an Eye on the Czar of Russia” has never cost me anything. On the other side of the coin, I have never made any money from this Blog.

Sometimes when I look at this Blog, while travelling on the train or in a library, I am aware of adverts. Maybe this is an inconvenience for readers but it doesn’t bother me.

The reality is that I am retired old man. And I have no need to be a professional blogger. I have no interest in becoming an “internet influencer”. I have no interest in making a video on youtube and recommending hair gel (not that I need hair gel) and producing my own line of stylish Tshirts. Nor do I have any desire to get to know shock jocks like Nolan, Cawley and Carruthers so that they offer me a spot reviewing the morning newspapers.

So how exactly would I go about making (say) £20,000 per annum from this Blog. Well, I could get sponsored by “Werthers Originals”.

I could look into “Go Fund Me” but that seems a very irregular source of income…£5 here and £10 there from loyal and grateful readers seems problematic.

I would really need regular and substantial donations. But what individual could actually afford say £1,000 every year? Are there twenty people prepared to do that? I think not.

Maybe there are organisations or institutions who think that my Blog adds something to the public space in Norn Iron. That seems more likely. I cant see a cash-strapped political party like SDLP donating £1,000 to keep this broadly supportive blog going.

But there are some strangely effective organisations…and “influencers” out there. They like to fly under the radar. But would these letsgetalongerist and conflict resolutionists be prepared to give me some dosh? Although I try to be balanced, I have perhaps given the impression that letsgetalongerists and conflict resolutionists are a total waste of space. And to be fair…they are.

So what’s the point in a political party, an organisation or an individual contributing money to a Blog? Well of course, it might be that they are willing to support any contribution to the great “debate”. Possibly they would be willing to support a blogger who gives space or even support to their own views.

Or…maybe a case that the political party, organisation or individual who finances a blog…is calling the tune that the piper plays.

But frankly, this just compromises the blog owner. He/she is then forced into affording protection to his/her sponsors against the slings and arrows of those who do not share the sponsors views.

Who knows?



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The Decline & Fall of the American Empire

Americans always get irritated if it is suggested that United States of America is an Empire. Their self-image is of a nation opposed to imperialism but actually they just disapprove of others empires, British, French, Spanish, Russian.

I think they were actually imperialist from before the American Revolution.

They thought of themselves as British. They were settlers and/or colonisers but really only turned against the idea when it became clear to them that rather than being the colonisers, they were actually the colonised…they may not have been native Americans or slaves…but they were always going to a step below the British in the imperial pyramid.

The self image is of enlightened people…that is enlightened WHITE MEN …influenced by Thomas Paine, meeting in coffee shops in places like Boston and Philadelphia. But the reality is of plantation owners complaining of the injustice that the government and merchants in London were paying too little for the tobacco, harvested by their slaves in Virginia and the Carolinas.

The first rule of Empire is that it works to the advantage of the “centre”. Rome was the centre of an Empire. Likewise in the mid 18th century, Britain and France were Empires and not acting in the interests of their colonies.

Indeed during the French Indian Wars, American settlers were expansionist. The Americans in Pennsylvania and Virginia were casting an eye on the Ohio Country. They fought as militia alongside British regulars against the French and their Indian allies.

The peace between France and Britain was concluded in 1763 and the terms included the provision of no expansion into Ohio. Britain could not afford the resources to defend land that only benefited Americans.

So even before the American Revolution, the Americans were displaying a trait of Imperialism…expansion. And of course, Racism underpins Imperialism. The Americans were (in the south at least slave owners) and it is easier to acquire lands if the dispossessed (native American tribes) are deemed inferior.

Whether it is the British bringing civilisation (sic) to India, Africa or…Ireland or the Americans living out their manifest destiny across the Mexican and native territories, a firm belief in GOD and Christianity  validates imperialism.

Of course the Americans in the southern states practised slavery long after their erstwhile colonial masters the British ceased involvement in the slave trade.

Of course the 20th century approach to Empire is political. Conservatives may justify it in degrees. Some will be totally unapologetic. They wont apologise for being the beneficiaries of what is now called “white privelege”. At best there will be a recognition that “times have changed”.

The “liberal” response is naturally confused. They will condemn American history as producing an unbalanced society and while feeling guilty at their apparent privilege…a very recent discovery for many who are now in the position of condemning their own family history. A position that is so well known to the generation of Germans after the Second World War.

It would be wrong to think that American abuse of global war is merely a “right wing” thing. Arguably Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton and …yes…Obama have dropped too many bombs and had terrible allies.

Likewise…anti Americanism is not solely the preserve of European lefties who shouted slogans for Ho Chi Minh and against LBJ. Or march for Palestine and against Israel.

European conservatives are just as hostile to American imperialism, not least because after the Second World War, Britain and France saw the collapse of their own empires (at American insistence) while USA established its own.

Perhaps all Europeans were seduced into believing that American dominance was better than absolute totalitarianism as in USSR and China or that American domination guarantee world peace. More likely, there might have been a belief that USA was a naive but muscular and clumsy teenager on the world stage. Even more likely is the previously held belief that American power is “soft power”…it is Coca Cola, Elvis Presley and Facebook.

In 1945, USA was the “good guy”. In the Cold War, it became “the not so good guy”. Progressively, it has become the “bad guy” to being “the very bad guy” under Donald Trump.

To be frank, most Europeans equate USA with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, PDR Korea, Turkey, Israel and Iran and post-Brexit Britain as malign actors on the world stage.

Americans pinning their hopes on Joe Biden to address their domestic issue of Race or to restore their international reputation will be disappointed.

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