Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Jeffrey at the Crossroads: Article 16 - A game of chicken: Seán Ó Riada was a genius: So, now it’s reduced to a game of chicken.

 Jeffrey at the Crossroads

Is the Union the only reason why some working class unionist voters persist in voting for parties like the DUP when that party clearly doesn’t represent them on social and economic issues? In fact the DUP often acts against the class interests of working class Protestants, Unionists and Loyalists especially those from deprived communities, suffering from the effects of Tory policies.  The failure, thus far, of parties like the PUP and other smaller parties to organize and to win more significant electoral support compounds this anomaly. So does Sectarianism.

I don’t buy into the current popular notion, based on recent opinion polls that the DUP vote is in terminal decline. Unionism has lost its electoral majority but that could be turned around if its leaders got their act together. The scandals involving some of the DUP’s Assembly Ministers had  a negative influence in the last election but  the DUP still emerged as the largest party.

Its difficulties have increased since then. Its handling of the Brexit project was shambolic. The way its Assembly team treated Arlene Foster was cowardly but then let’s not forget that Ian Paisley also was dumped, both by the Free Presbyterian church and the party that he founded. Edwin Potts tenure was notable only for its brevity. Jeffrey Donaldson is now leader with a First Minister who he cannot change and whose office he cannot occupy at this time, despite his desire and stated intention to do so.

Of course the DUP could get over all these problems and its electorate may forgive them when it comes to the Assembly election. But for the first time in a long time the UUP, with its new leader Doug Beattie, is now standing on a platform which is different from the DUP particularly on its approach to the Assembly and the Irish protocol. The UUP have a lot of catching up to do but its leader certainly has articulated more positive attitudes to social rights issues than the DUP. How that will play out remains to be seen.

Certainly a gay unionist voter denied his or her right to marriage equality may have an electoral choice beyond Jim Wells’ dangerous silliness.

But the UUP will also not represent the economic or social interests of deprived Protestant Unionist or Loyalist working class communities even if it improves its mandate.

The fact is Sinn Féin policies are more advantageous to these communities than those of any of the unionist parties but the majority of these folks would not countenance voting republican in any significant numbers at this time.  It’s all about the Union and perceptions about Sinn Féin. Those perceptions won’t change in the short term.

And the Union? The DUP say it is being undermined by the Protocol. Everyone knows the Protocol is a result of Brexit and everyone also knows that Brexit is a child of the DUP. But will that affect their vote? 

Jeffrey leads a party at the crossroads. So what of Jeffrey? I won’t spend too much space here recounting his career highs and lows or take us through the twists and turns of his contorted narrative on all these matters. Or on his threat to pull his Ministers out of the Executive. Or the DUP‘s absence from cross border meetings, almost certainly in breach of the ministerial code. Jeffrey knows the game is up for old unionism. But he also knows its not over.  So he is playing  for time. He recently did an interview with Freya McClements of the Irish Times. In it he gave some interesting insights into his view of the country he lives in. That’s the same place we live in.

In response to a question of whether he would move if there was a United Ireland he said no. He made it clear he was against a United Ireland and gave his view that it was unlikely to happen but ...

“My roots are here, this is our home and I love this place. I love the beauty of this place. I love the people of this place … My roots are here. They’re strong. This island is my home and therefore when someone asks me are you Irish, I live on this island so geographically I’m Irish but I’m part of a wider group of nations that is British, and therefore I don’t see it as mutually exclusive, to be Irish and British or Northern Irish and British.”

He also says and I agree with him that unionists and nationalists do not understand each other. So Jeffrey let us start to correct that. I am sure that the Belfast Media Group would be delighted to do an interview with you as a means of you addressing nationalists and republicans directly. If this can be arranged I for one would look forward to reading what you will say.

A game of chicken

Will they, won’t they, trigger Article 16? For those of you who don’t know what Article 16 is? It is a part of the Protocol agreed between the EU and the British government that in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade” would allow either side to effectively tear up parts of the deal. The Tory Minister with responsibility for negotiations with the EU, Lord Frost told the Tory party conference on Monday that the Brits believe that the threshold for triggering Article 16 has already been met. Speculation is intense that an announcement to take that decision may be announced at the Tory Party conference this week.

The excuse is the sham claim that the Protocol is having an adverse impact on the North. Apart from the Unionist parties accusing it of eroding the North’s constitutional position within the Union all of the available evidence points to the contrary. Public disquiet, even among unionists, has been negligible with protests attracting only small numbers of citizens.

In the last week our television news has been filled with images of long lines of vehicles queuing at filling stations as owners desperately try to buy fuel. Some of the images have been surreal and very dangerous. One woman is seen using plastic bags to draw petrol! Others engage in road rage and kicking cars, shouting at each other and in one instance pulling a knife. The British Army is now deployed – never a good sign.

There aren’t enough lorry drivers. Brexit forced many immigrant workers to leave. The British government has now invited them back for three months but they must leave for Christmas!  They are probably expected to live in their trucks during that time. Supermarkets are having difficulty filling shelves; there is a warning that over 100,000 pigs might have to be culled and their bodies dumped because there are not enough butchers. A news report on Monday said that Johnson’s government is “considering plans to ease visa restrictions for up to 1,000 foreign butchers.” The cost of construction has increased dramatically and the supply of some medicines is giving cause for concern.

The reason for all of this chaos? Brexit. There may be some other factors at play – including the incompetence of Boris Johnson and his Cabinet - but the dominant issue creating this mess is Brexit. Boris and his friends refuse to admit this. Why would they? After all they, and the DUP, are responsible for Brexit. So, they need to shift the blame. It’s all the fault of the Protocol and those nasty people in the EU and in Ireland who back the Protocol.

The fact that Johnson and his cronies negotiated the detail of the Withdrawal Treaty, including the Protocol is simply ignored.

So, now it’s reduced to a game of chicken. The Brits are warning that they will take unilateral action to trigger Article 16. Will they – won’t they? 

The EU says that it will legally challenge any move by the British to break an international agreement. Will they - wont they?  Watch this space. 

Seán Ó Riada

Seán Ó Riada was a genius. This column is certain of that. He brought Irish traditional music out off the back kitchens, travellers’ trailers and pub snugs and brought it centre stage and into the concert halls and theatres of Ireland and the world. Sean died on October 3, 1971, in hospital in London, England aged 40. So the 50th anniversary of his death is this year.

He was born John Reidy on August 1, 1931, in Cork City and adopted the Irish form of his name, Seán Ó Riada, after becoming interested in traditional Irish culture in the 1950s.

He studied music in University College Cork and did further studies in classical music in Paris

He and Ruth Coughlan married and they and their children moved to Cúil Aodh,Ballyvourney in the Cork Gaeltacht in 1963.

Seán initiated projects to perform Irish music in ensemble form. Until then traditional musicians played music on their own or in small groups including Ceili bands. Seán worked in Radio Éireann, as assistant director of music, from 1952-54 and in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as musical director, from 1955-62.

He formed the group Ceoltóirí Chualann to perform Irish traditional repertory for plays during this time.

The Chieftains emerged in this period and from that initiative.

Most famously Sean wrote the fabulous music score for the films Mise Eire and Saoirse, and for The Playboy of the Western World. His Ceol An Aifrinn is a joy.

Seán Ó Riada’s family have continued his musical journey. Cór Chúil Aodh led by Peadar Ó Riada took Féile An Phobail by storm back in troubled times. Seán Ó Riada’s contribution to Ireland and our music and culture is immeasurable. His legacy lives on.

Tá muid fior buioch do An O Riada.




Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Our Exiled Children In America: Big Bobby and The Butterfly has flown away: Remembering the 12

 Our Exiled Children In America. 

For centuries the twin goals of the emigrant Irish in North America were to build a new future for their families in An tOileán Úir (the new world – America) and to free their native land from the centuries of colonisation and occupation.

Having successfully secured the independence of the American Colonies from England George Washington praised the role of the Irish in helping to achieve that goal. In the language of his day Washington said: “When our friendless standards were first unfurled, who were the strangers who first mustered around our staff?  And when it reeled in the light, who more brilliantly sustained it than Erin’s generous sons?... May the God of Heaven, in His justice and mercy, grant thee more prosperous fortunes, and in His own time, cause the sun of Freedom to shed its benign radiance on the Emerald Isle.”

In more recent years Irish-America played a standout role in opposing sectarian discrimination through the MacBride principles campaign and in challenging British miscarriages of justice. Irish America stood with the hunger strikers.  It was key to building the peace and has steadfastly defended the Good Friday Agreement. Evidence of this was on display in Washington during the visit last week of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. President Biden and his administration, as well as Congressional leaders, were forthright in their support for the Irish Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement.

While sitting beside Johnson at a press conference in the White House President Biden told the media that neither he, “nor I might add would many of my Republican colleagues like to see a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland.”

Many other US leaders were equally resolute in their rejection of any suggestion that there could be a US – British trade deal if the Good Friday Agreement was threatened. A few days earlier the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had warned the British that there could be no trade deal “if there is destruction of the Good Friday Accords.” Congressman Richard Neal, who is the chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means met Boris Johnson and said afterward: “that any agreement reached between the UK and the EU on the future of the Protocol must not undermine the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement nor threaten the institutions it created.“

Some in the British media realised quite quickly that things were not going Johnson’s way. The London Times headlined one of its reports on the meeting between the two leaders: “Keep your hands to yourself, Irish Joe Biden tells Boris Johnson.” However, it was one of Johnson’s Cabinet Ministers, George Eustice, who with typical arrogance and in a patronising tone dismissed President Biden’s comments on the grounds that the Protocol is “very complicated” and consequently: “I’m not sure he (Biden) does fully appreciate all of that.” Eustice added: “He is probably at the moment just reading the headlines, reading what the EU is saying, reading what Ireland might be saying which is that they would like the Northern Ireland Protocol to work in the way the EU envisage.”

This insulting nonsense from a senior Conservative Minister ignores the real offender in the Brexit debacle. According to Michel Barnier in his just published book; My Secret Brexit Diary: A Glorious Illusion, the British government was ill-prepared for the Brexit negotiations; adopted a “nonchalant” approach to the talks. According to Barnier The British Government knew exactly what it was doing when it signed up to a border in the Irish Sea. It also understood that it could not claim there would be no controls on goods between Britain and the North.  That was before it went on to claim exactly that.

Brexit has been a disaster. While the Protocol protects jobs and business, food supplies and fuel deliveries in the North, in Britain there is a shortage of CO2, the pubs are running short of beer, long lines of vehicles queue for fuel, and there is a scarcity of foreign labour in agriculture and a shortage of lorry drivers.

Into this chaotic farce then stepped the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. He wrote to Nancy Pelosi warning her that the Protocol “is the altar upon which the Belfast Agreement is being sacrificed.” According to Donaldson it is the actions of the EU that are “endangering” the Good Friday Agreement and risk “taking Northern Ireland backwards.” Of course, he disregards his own role and that of his party in promoting Brexit and then supporting the Conservatives in power as they negotiated the withdrawal agreement.

The reality is that Jeffrey’s deliberate ramping up of the rhetoric that threatens the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions has little to do with the Protocol or Brexit. His real agenda is clear from his interview in the Belfast Telegraph at the weekend.  He wants a unionist pact to stop Sinn Féin. He wants the DUP to be the largest party and for him to be First Minister. “Unionism” he said, “cannot afford for the vote to be fragmented and Sinn Féin come through the middle to emerge as the largest party.” So, a Sinn Féin First Minister must be stopped – at all costs.

None of this will come as a surprise to anyone with even the most cursory understanding of the North. 100 years ago the northern state was born in conflict and violence. It survived on sectarian abuse, injustice and discrimination. In every Westminster, Stormont Parliament, Assembly, and Convention election that has taken place since then the overriding issue on the agenda was, and remains, the constitutional status of the North. That has not changed.

What has changed is that for the first time there is through the Good Friday Agreement a peaceful, democratic means for the people of the island of Ireland to determine our own future. The Unity Referendum is the way forward and the Irish government has a responsibility to prepare for that and not be swayed by the ‘no surrender’ politics of Jeffrey Donaldson. Incidentally, his interview in last Saturdays Irish Times was much more interesting. But more of that next week. 


The Butterfly has flown away

Last Thursday a portrait of Bobby Storey, by Tony Bell, was unveiled in the Andersonstown Social Club. It is a place that he had a long association with. The following night – within Covid regulations – family, friends and comrades again gathered in the Club to reflect on Big Bobby’s life and times, and his contribution to the struggle for freedom. This writer was joined on stage by Joe Austin, who chaired the event, and Liz Maskey and Marty Lynch. We told yarns – we told yarns that Bobby himself had told – about his experiences in and out of prison and we did it as Bob did himself, with a smile on his face and a chuckle in his voice. In my contribution I reminded the audience of one memorable occasion in which Bobby introduced a new phrase into the republican lexicon.

“Bob was arrested in 2015, one of hundreds of times he was arrested. There was a lot of publicity around it at the time and he was released subsequently. The PSNI Chief Constable, George Hamilton, had been asked about the IRA and he said that he thought republicans were committed to peaceful means of struggle and that the IRA still existed.  So, when Bob got out we decided to do a press conference. Martin McGuinness was there, Mary Lou was there and I was there. And we decided to put Bob onto the press conference. He was Chair of Sinn Féin’s northern Cuige structure at the time.

So we were doing prep before the press conference. Richard McAuley said to Bob. “They’re going to ask you has the IRA gone away and what you should say is Yes. They’re left the stage. They’re no longer in existence. And no matter how many times they ask you that question you should say Yes, they’ve gone away, they’re not about, they don’t exist.”

Bob says right. Dead on.

We all sit down and right away a journalist says to Bob, ‘The Chief Constable says the IRA hasn’t gone away …”

As this is happening I’m watching Richard McAuley’s face.

So I got the press report of this and this is exactly what Bob said:

He said that he “agreed with the Chief Constable that republicans were committed to peaceful means.”

But he differed from him because the Chief Constable said that the IRA is still around. It’s gone. Bob said.

You could see Richard smile at how clearly Bobby was on message. But then Bob went on.

“The Chief Constable sees this in terms of the IRA as being the caterpillar that's still there.

"I think it's moved on, it's become a butterfly, it's flown away, it's gone, its’ disappeared.”

And no one asked another question about the IRA! They had their memorable line for the day. 


Remembering the 12

40 years ago on the 3 October 1981 the hunger strike ended. It was the culmination of almost a full year of hunger strikes, first in Long Kesh in October 1980, then in Armagh Women’s Prison in November 1980 and finally in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh beginning on 1 March 1981 where 10 men died – Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, and Mickey Devine.

There had also been hunger strikes during the previous two decades. In the course of these Michael Gaughan died in June 1974 and Frank Stagg died in February 1976.

As part of the commemoration of these events, and as a celebration of the lives of the 12 who died on hunger strike An Fhuiseog has produced a series of beautifully designed cards. They are a remembrance that the 12 were very ordinary men who confronted by the brutality and vindictiveness of the British state behaved in an extraordinary way and gave their lives for the friends and comrades.

The cards are available from An Fhuiseog: www.thelarkstore.ie: 02890243371 or at 55 Falls Road.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tír Éoghán Abú: Antrim Camógs show the Way: An Appeal by the Moore Street Preservation Trust: Escape to Freedom

 Tír Éoghán Abú

Martin McGuinness had a great saying. Well he had lots of great sayings. This one has to do with hindsight. ‘Hindsight’ Martin would say ‘is a great man to have at a meeting.’ I thought of this as I was watching the All Ireland Football Final as Tyrone swept Mayo to one side to bring Sam Maguire back to the Lamh Dearg county. In the run into the game I thought there was little to choose between the teams. I might not have made Mayo favourites although like most Gaels I would not begrudge them a win given that they have been nearly there so often. But now with the benefit of hindsight it is clear to me that Tyrone should have been the favourites.

They are, after all the Ulster Champions. I am not being parochial here. Being the Provincial Champions in any of our provinces is no mean feat and a great achievement for the teams involved, but coming out of Ulster is a much tougher challenge than coming out of Connaught. So Mayo’s woes have little to do with a curse. It has all to do with meeting a team which was tried and tested in the playing fields of Ulster and well prepared to create and take every chance which came their way in Croke Park.

I have a great grá for Mayo. I have many friends there and in the USA where Mayo people are the back bone of Irish America. I have hiked, walked, camped, listened to music and made politics in Mayo for many years. And I have supported their footballers, especially when Ulster teams were uninvolved.

So too with Tyrone. It also is one of our historic, unbroken proud Irish counties. It too has kept the faith and I have many friends there also and in the USA where Tyrone exiles have played and continue to play a historic leadership role in the cause of Ireland. So I am delighted that they succeeded.

Mayo will be back. Both teams are to be commended for giving us such a supremely entertaining sporting spectacle. It is amazing. Just like the GAA.  It is a spectacular national and international phenomenon. I attended my first All Ireland in 1960 when the footballers of County Down brought Sam across the border after beating Kerry. I was eleven. My Uncle Paddy brought me.  With the benefit of hindsight it is obvious that that win didn’t just happen. It was organized.

So too with last Saturday’s Final. Fergal Logan, Brian Dooher and their back room teams built on Mickey Harte’s work and organised their players into a cohesive band of Gaelic brothers, athletic footballing wizards. Winners.  And they have these  in plenty including super subs. They may not have the national profile of other Gaelic giants, footballers, hurlers, camógs  but have no doubt these young Tyrone Gaels are as worthy of  national recognition as the greats of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny and Kerry. 

Every county loves to win an All Ireland but there is a special feeling for those of us who live in the disputed counties of the North. Wrenched out of a 32 County state. Partitioned against our will from our neighbours in other counties. But the GAA has never been partitioned. Sam Maguire coming home to Tyrone or other northern counties is a vindication of that and proof, if proof is needed, that we northern Gaels are an essential and welcome part of the Gaeldom. Without us the Gaeldom would be incomplete. Diminished. False. That is the greatness also of Tyrone’s win. 

Have no doubt that there are young boys and girls on playing fields across Ireland, including the playing fields of Antrim, with the potential to achieve that greatness also. They are out on pitches across Belfast city and up and across the county from Ballycastle to Glenavy. They are out every evening and  weekend mornings learning their skills and developing their team work.  Some are natural sports people. You can spot them. Even at the age of seven.

But the key is practice, practice, practice. The objective of mentors has to be to sustain their involvement into and through their teens and into senior level. That requires vision, resources, facilities, capacity, and joined up strategic development plans linking under age teams, schools and local clubs into the county set up. And coaches ,coaches, coaches.

 Our County Board is doing well in their efforts to provide this. As are all our local clubs. But they need all of us to get behind them.  So support your local  club. Be part of the Gaeldom. Play your part.

We have the players. Antrim Camógs are playing Kilkenny in Croke as I pen these words. They didn’t get there by accident.  They deserve to be there and win or lose they will do our county proud.  Like the Tyrone Gaels. And the Mayo warriors.  

Tyrone deserve to be All Ireland winners. Well done Tyrone Gaels. Thank you for bringing Sam home to Ulster and Tyrone.


Antrim Camógs show the Way. 

Antrim Camogs won the Intermediate Final. They outplayed, out ran, out blocked and out pucked Kilkenny’s finest. Well done to all the players- the full panel- and the management and back room team. It was an exciting game. The Antrim women were tenacious and determined. Lovely hurling. Na mná abú. Go raibh míle maith agaibh. 


 BBC are spoil sports

The failure of the BBC to give proper coverage to the All Ireland Finals is a disgrace. Barely a mention on news programmes and no dedicated sports coverage that I can see. It is not good enough. Public service broadcasting needs to provide fair play for Gaels. 


An Appeal by the Moore Street Preservation Trust

The Moore Street Preservation Trust is appealing for your help to protect and preserve “the most important historic site in modern Irish history.” (National Museum of Ireland). 

Regular readers will know that Moore Street is where the last meeting of the leaders of the 1916 Rising took place. The 1916 Rising Heritage of the area is under threat from a proposed development by a London based developer Hammerson. 

The Moore Street Preservation Trust is led by relatives of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It has developed an alternative Masterplan from a team of leading architects, planners and consultants. Key elements of it have already been published and it has secured widespread praise and support. However to complete it the Moore Street Preservation Trust last week made an urgent appeal for financial support.

I have made my donation. I would urge all of those who believe that it is important that we preserve and protect the Moore Street site and its links to 1916 to join me. It’s very simple. Any size of a donation will be gratefully accepted. So if you want to #SaveMooreStreet the last meeting place of the leaders of the #1916Rising

All you need is your debit or credit card: Donate➡️https://pay-payzone.easypaymentsplus.com/fund.../campaign/26


Escape to Freedom

According to media reports there was great elation among Palestinians when the news broke that six political prisoners had succeeded in tunnelling their way to freedom from the high security Gilboa prison in northern Israel.  The six were Zakaria Zubeidi, brothers Muhammad and Mahmoud al-Arida, Eham Kamamji, Yacoub Kadiri, and Munadil Nafayat. Photographs after the escape show a hole in the floor of their communal shower cubicle and an exit hole outside the wall of the prison in full view of an observation tower. 

Palestinian people demonstrated in solidarity with the escapees and with Palestinian prisoners. Currently, there are approximately 4,750 Palestinians being held in dozens of prison facilities across Israel. These include 42 females, 200 children, and 550 administrative detainees (internees). 

Al Jazeera quoted one activist Muhammad Khabeisa, who had land stolen by an Israeli the settlement at Evyatar said that his whole village backed the escaped prisoners. He said: “The prisoners in Palestinian jails are longing for freedom. They want to live their lives. They are not ordinary criminals, but patriots fighting for freedom…  The Israelis have put Palestinians in prison with the occupation of their land. When the Palestinians take up arms, the world calls us terrorists and when we lay down our arms and resist peacefully, the Israelis kill us.”

Evidence of this can be found in the statistics of deaths of children in the first nine months of this year. Twelve children have been killed in the Israeli occupied West Bank and another 67 were killed in Gaza in May. 

Every political prisoner dreams of escaping. Most never do. But with luck and careful planning there are occasional successes and these provide a morale boost for prisoners, their families and supporters. The fact that most escape attempts fail or that escaped prisoners are often recaptured doesn’t detract from the sense of confidence and self-esteem that the attempt can generate.  

That is why the Palestinian escape was applauded by so many in Ireland. 




Monday, September 13, 2021

Are you listening Jeffrey? Reclaiming the Enlightenment

Are you listening Jeffrey?

Unionism, especially its DUP component, has been talking up unionist and loyalist resistance to the Irish Protocol since before Boris Johnson dirty-joed them, broke his commitments to them, negotiated and then signed up to the Protocol.

There is some evidence of this in the loyalist street disturbances earlier this year and the sacking of Arlene Foster and of Edwin Poots. The dramatic decline in the polling fortunes of the DUP, as it flounders about trying to assert its former role as the undisputed leader of unionism, is also linked to its stance on Brexit and its transparent efforts to blame everyone else for a debacle they helped create.

Jeffrey Donaldson was in Dublin two weeks ago meeting An Taoiseach Micheál Martin. The Protocol was top of his agenda. The arrogance and rhetoric were loud - the politics insipid. He was at it again last week when he met the Tánaiste in Belfast. “The protocol, the Irish Sea border, has to go” he told Leo Varadkar.

Inevitably, his comments contained the not-so-subtle threat. If unionism doesn’t get its way then the Protocol, he said “has the capacity to so undermine the political progress here that it drags us backwards … the Irish Government needs to very quickly recognise the damage that this protocol is doing to political stability in Northern Ireland.”

The DUP leader speaks as if he represents the majority of citizens in the North. He doesn’t. The political instability he speaks of is rooted in the attitude and behaviour of the DUP he now leads. Donaldson refuses to accept the reality that he represents a minority. He seems to believe that if he says something often enough – however inaccurate or plain wrong - that people will believe it. Even Jeffrey himself doesn’t. So, the Protocol is all Dublin’s fault. The Protocol is damaging the northern economy. The business and farming sector are opposed to it. It is undermining the Good Friday Agreement. And so on. None of which is true.

Brexit is the responsibility of those who advocated for it, campaigned for it and voted for it, especially the DUP.

The fact is a majority of citizens in the North voted against Brexit. They wanted to remain within the EU. They were worried by the likely economic dislocation Brexit would bring. And they were right to be worried. Its impact on the British economy is clear for all to see. Ian King, who presents the daily business programme on Sky summarised the situation for many last week, when he said: “England has become a country where the pubs have no beer, farmers don’t have anyone to pick their fruit and even if they did there aren’t enough lorry drivers to get it to the shops.”

The medical supplier Seqirus has said it is postponing deliveries due to a Brexit-related shortage of lorry drivers. Logistics UK, which represents freight firms, and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned last month that the loss of 25,000 EU drivers is putting significant pressure on supply chains for retailers. The list of companies impacted is growing daily – Brewers, Coca Cola, Nando, McDonalds, BP, Iceland are just some. The Bank of England has also reported shortages of furniture, car parts and electoral goods, as well as cement and timber for the construction industry.

In stark contrast the most recent trade figures for the island of Ireland reveal that the business sector is taking advantage of the unique position of the North which is in both the EU single market and the customs territory with Britain. Last month the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in Dublin released trade figures showing what the London Guardian has described as evidence “deeper economic unity on the island of Ireland.”

The value of goods moving North to South in the first six months of 2021 dramatically increased by 77 per cent to €1.77 billion (£1.5 billion) – an increase on the same period last year when it was just under €1 billion. The value of good travelling South to North also jumped by 40 per cent to €1.57 billion. This is an increase of almost half a billion over the same period last year.

The Guardian newspaper concluded: “If it is sustained, Northern Ireland’s deepening economic ties with the republic – and weaker ones with mainland Britain – will raise questions over the region’s relationship with the rest of the UK.”

So, where now stands loyalist/unionist resistance to the Protocol? Two weeks ago Jamie Bryson and Jim Allister and an assortment of hangers-on travelled to Enniskillen to campaign against the Protocol. The reports on the numbers who attended vary. Most fall between one hundred and three hundred.

One seasoned journalist from Fermanagh, Denzil McDaniels writing about the Enniskillen protest said: “It’s clear that decisions to accommodate Brexit are taken at an international level and if there has been a betrayal of Unionism, loyalists should remember that it was their own basketcase of a British Government that let them down. That should be the real focus of their disillusion. Not the Irish Government and certainly not the people of Fermanagh who don’t want a return to the difficult times of Borders past…”

And that’s the prize we have to keep our eyes firmly fixed on. No going back. No returning  to the past. A future in which we can all live in harmony and equality with each other. I believe that can be best achieved in a United Ireland. Others have a different view. Ok. Let’s talk about it. Are you listening Jeffrey?


Reclaiming the Enlightenment

The best kind of history is that which successfully brings the stories of our past to life. Recently I had the good fortune to buy three little books that do exactly that from An Fhuiseog on the Falls Road, beside Sevastopol Street. The three are Mary Ann McCracken 1770-1866 – Feminist, Revolutionary and Reformer; The United Irishmen and the Men of no Property, The Sans Culottes of Belfast; and Cave Hill and the United Irishmen.

Together they give a wonderful insight into the lives and working experience of those in the Belfast region who helped shape the United Irish Society of the late 18th century. They are all written by John Gray who is the former Librarian of Belfast’s Linen Hall Library. John Gray has written and lectured on “many aspects of Ulster’s Labour and radical history.”  The pamphlets are written under the auspices of ‘Reclaim the Enlightenment’ which “is committed to recalling and celebrating that progressive era in Belfast’s past. We are convinced that doing so can lend inspiration in the present.”

Anyone born in Belfast or who has lived here even for a short time, is conscious of our Belfast Hills. These cradle the city and give it a spectacular backdrop. Foremost among these is Cave Hill, to the North of the city. It is a place long associated with the United Irish Society. Many of us are familiar with the account of the occasion in May 1795 when the leaders of the United Irishmen went to McArt’s Fort. Wolfe Tone recorded what happened there. “Russell, Neilson, Simms, McCracken and one or two more of us, on the summit of McArt’s Fort took a solemn obligation … never to desist until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence.”

Through John Gray’s three pamphlets the men and the women of 1798 become more than just names on the pages of a book. The connections between Belfast – a town of around 20,000 people – and its hinterland of Carnmoney, Templepatrick, Skegoneill, Hightown, and Roughfort rath, the first rebel assembly point in County Antrim that is only four miles from the Cave Hill – are described. So too is the plight of the tenant farmers and the growth of the first trade unions linked to the hand loom weavers, many of whom were from that locality.

In July 1792 Belfast celebrated the third anniversary of the French Revolution. There was a ‘Grand Procession’ with ‘citizens in pairs and people of the neighbourhood for several miles round, with green ribbons, and laurel leaves in their hats.’ 

Gray describes how one group was singled out. He writes, “namely, ‘one hundred and eighty of the most respectable inhabitants of Carnmoney and Templepatrick’. They bore a green flag, with the following mottos: -

Our Gallic brother was born July 14, 1789;

Alas we are still in embryo”

And on the reverse side:

“Superstitious galaxy.

The cause of the Irish Bastille; let us unite to destroy it.

Their banner was designed by James Hope, a weaver from Mallusk to the west of Cave Hill and later destined to become the most celebrated artisan United Irish leader …”

The central role played by Presbyterians and by women is also recorded in the pages of these pamphlets, one of which reflects at length on the life of Mary Ann McCracken. For a long time she was known mostly as the sister of Henry Joy McCracken but Gray reminds us of her contribution as “a revolutionary, yes, as a feminist before the term was invented and as a social reformer.”

He writes, Mary Ann “did not approve of separate women’s societies though for entirely liberated reasons arguing for the admission of women to the main societies, ‘as there can be no other reason for having them separate but keeping the women in the dark and certainly it is equally ungenerous and uncandid to make tools of them without confiding in them.’

Three relatively short pamphlets. Full of information and detail about a pivotal moment in our history. I am happy to recommend these for anyone interested in the people and places and events that have shaped Ireland.