Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Update 17th January


As I write I am aware that we are going through a historic period. Through a series of miscalculations the U.K. has found itself -as the poet Stevie Smith wrote in her famous poem-‘drowning not waving’ . This is the way World War 1 began with a domino effect of disastrous decisions leading to that horror.

While a lot of people have commented positively on the doggedness/tenacity of Theresa May in trying to force her ‘best’, perhaps only, ‘option’ through, it seems as if she will not succeed today (Tuesday) in the Westminster vote. She then has a petty three day window to come up with a plan B. It is hard to imagine that she has a magician’s wand for that challenge.

So what are the options for Theresa May? There seems to be little wriggle room to allow her to dance her way out of this cul de sac to which she has contributed considerably. Will she step aside as leader of the Conservative party as would be normal if this was a normal time? No one wants a ‘no agreement’ Brexit or at least I hope so. Though there is a constituency who want out and to hell with the consequences. There is an echo of Tennyson’s poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in all of that. ‘Half a league, half a league into the valley of death rode the five hundred’. 

I had to adjourn my piece above as I turned to watch the drama in The House of Commons and the result has come in. The Ayes 202 the Noes 432. This was a historic loss in the British Parliament. The normal response of a sitting Prime Minister to that would be to resign but no and it fell to Jeremy Corbyn to issue the challenge of a ‘Vote of NO confidence’ tomorrow Wednesday at around 1. This turns logic on its head as the commentating voices suggest that Theresa will SURVIVE that vote. This is endorsed by Sammy Wilson that Northern Ireland academic who extolls that the DUP will certainly support Theresa Maye. The defeat by 230 votes is just  a speed bump not a crash barrier! Dr. Spock would have been scratching his head. The HOUSE (I’m getting familiar having worked in that area in the 60s’ with Murphy & Co) is like a wasps nest being hit by a hurley . 

Then when I thought it could not get any worse the next interviewee turns up i.e. Boris Johnson!! If Theresa May is removed as Prime Minister the probable replacement is Boris Johnson. That elicits the exclamation OMG. When Neville Chamberlain stepped aside in 1940 his successor was Winston Churchill!  First the Donald and now Boris. If Screaming Lord Sutch was still there his time could have come. It is like one of those reality programmes I run away from. Almost incredible are the suggestions that the majority of 230 strengthens her hand in further negotiations with Jean-Claude Junker. ‘My Parliament will not have any of this agreement so let us start again”. Junker to his advisor “Where is that wine bottle? Theresa I thought you felt that it was a GOOD deal? Were you not saying that regularly or am I dreaming?”

What will happen? Who knows. I guess the following.   

1. I think that the end of March deadline will have to be postponed to allow further exploration and some untangling of the Gordian knot .
2. A slight possibility of a second Referendum and then a third to make it ‘the best of three’.
3. A no agreement EXIT. Absolutely chaotic, disastrous. As my friend Victor Meldrew used to cry ‘Unbelievable’
4. An election if the time permits. Who used to say ‘Another fine mess you’ve got me into’


Our country is like a little boat bobbing beside a sinking liner. Yet I hear in the background, on the BBC news, that Sterling has risen on the markets!

The Centenary of the First Dail and the start of the War of Independence’.

We have gone successfully through the Centenary Remembrances of the 1916 Rising, the 1918 General Election which gave a section of women the vote and swept the Home Rule Party aside and established the dominance of the Sinn Fein party for a short period. We now face into a trickier period from 1919 to 1922. It begins with the opening shots of the War of Independence at Soloheadbeg in North Tipperary on January 19th , 1919. There a number of IRA mem ambushed a cart with two workers bringing gelignite to a quarry. It was being escorted by two Irish R.I.C. constables, James McDonnell aged 56 from Bellmullet in Mayo a father of five and Patrick O’Connell aged 30 from Cork. They were both shot dead in the encounter. So they became the first victims of the new phase of the War of Independence. That tragedy has evoked a range of responses. For the ‘Volunteers’ it was an act of war in which the policemen were, to some of the group, tragic victims but to Dan Breen and Sean Treacy just casualties. Breen and Treacy wanted to kick-start hostilities with the British army and its supporting agencies of which the R.I.C. was referred to as the Dublin Castle British administration’s ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground.  The raid and deaths were condemned especially by Catholic Church men. The volunteer leader was Sean Robinson who had participated in the Easter Rising.  The I.R.A. (I.R.B.) group did not seek direction or consent from the top strands of the I.R.A. probably going on the basis of ‘it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’.  Seamus Robinson referenced it as ‘the accidental starting point of what later became known as The Tan War.
( To add a local context to this; eleven months earlier in February 1918 a group of Boyle I.R.A. had participated in ‘The Rockingham Raid’ in which they successfully took a quantity of rifles and shot guns from the big house. Now if someone had resisted and a person had been shot there, could that have sparked the beginning of such hostilities?) 
Coincidentally on the very same day as the action above, as a result of the December General election, the Sinn Fein M.P.s’ instead of going to Westminster met at the Mansion House in Dublin. There are 24 members, now T.D.s’, in the historic picture of that group January 21st  including Count Plunkett of North Roscommon of the 73 Sinn Fein T.D.s’ elected in the famous 1918 December election. Cathal Brugha was elected President of Dáil Eireann while Eamon de Valera (in prison in England like many more T.D.s’) was elected as President of the Irish Republic. A later classic picture of Dail Eireann from April includes de Valera and Michael Collins and many more. 

President Michael D Higgins has ‘declined’ an invitation to attend the Soloheadbeg Centenary Commemoration but will address a joint meeting of the Dáil and Senate on January 21st. This probably strikes the note of recognising the legitimacy of the 1919 Dáil Assembly as opposed to the divisiveness of  the Soloheadbeg event where Irish men were killed.
It is well that we have a President in whom we can have confidence that he will parse the legitimacy of the actions of that time and it will be interesting to observe how he deals with the conflicting demands of its legacy. It was a time when there was a nobility of effort by many but also a time when horrific things happened. This demonstrated a capacity for ruthlessness which is disquieting. Of course we do not need to go back 100 years to see that as the roll-call of such events in Northern Ireland from the late sixties to the mid-nineties illustrate.
R.T.E. is currently running a series called Resistance on Sunday nights at 9.30 which gives a flavour of those times and ‘the Struggle’  in urban Dublin. While it is a while since I have seen it, Ken Loach’s film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ is worthy of seeing to see how that period divided families with the emotional and actual consequences of  it all. Indeed in referring to the President his father and uncle were on ‘different’ sides in the Civil war as were the ancestors of Michael mcDowell barrister and former politician and descendant of Eoin McNeill.
(Subjects like the above would need a lengthy period of study. I do not propose to attempt anything other than outline a frame for the headline  events in paragraphs here. Also I intend to be careful that I am not provocative believing as I do that;  “The past is a foreign country they do things differently there”.)