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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Big Bollix

I was in the queue at Ben Gurion airport when the Israeli security forces finally caught up with me. Probably, I should have listened to that little voice telling me to exit via the West Bank and Jordan, but I simply didn't have the cash to hand to do it.

So I risked exiting as I came, and they pulled me aside.

First, I was taken to a side room and strip-searched. Then they went to remove my bag. I protested, as images flashed before my eyes of getting fitted up for heroin smuggling or the like. Eventually, unable to remove my hands from the bag, they agreed to let me dress and search it in front of me.

They took everything out and found nothing to be suspicious about. But that only heightened their suspicions.

They swabbed every single item in my bag and tested the swabs for explosives residue. I felt like telling them that the closest I had come to armaments was their Uzis in my face, and the shots pinged at me in Beit Jala from the nearest Jewish settlement, but stifled my tongue. In the end, reluctantly, they decided to let me board my plane.

As they escorted me past the security desk, past my co-passengers (thus arousing their concerns - none would sit next to me on the flight), I decided to match their spite with my own. Rather than go to the gate meekly, I insisted on going to the loo and shopping in duty free.

I was frogmarched to the front of the queue in both by my security detail.

My last memory of Israel was a tourism poster of Tel Aviv on the airport wall as I finally boarded my plane. 'Come to Tel Aviv - The Big Orange!'

How pathetically tragic, I thought. But not so unlikely in a town so suffused with transplanted New York Jews. Here they were, missing the point about how their apartheid city was utterly unlike the magnetic multiculture of NYC.

How sad to be concocting such a transparently derivative nickname for a town once known by its Palestinian name - Jaffa.

As I drifted off to sleep on the plane, across two other seats vacated by my co-passengers (both Hassidic Jews), I thought that no other city would be so idiotic, so basely dumb as to seek to piggyback on the organically derived NYC nickname.

Surely, I felt, only a town with such obvious negatives for tourists (merely a century of history, little culture, the ground zero of Jewish nationalism in an apartheid state at perpetual war with its neighbours) could feel the need for such transparently borrowed plumage.

And I was right, until this weekend I came across tourism references to Bangkok as 'The Big Mango.'

That's even more pathetic than the Big Orange (which at least has the Jaffa orange heritage to recommend it.)

The Big Mango? Like mangoes don't grow anywhere else, or as if they originated in Thailand? Does a city of immense culture and 13 million people really need to promote itself thus?

I mean, what's their competition? They've got the Western market nailed on for South-East Asia. Burma is a dictatorship, Cambodia suffered a massive genocide in living memory and Laos is as close as you can get to the 13th century outside of Central Africa.

But if this is going to catch on, perhaps we should get in on the ground floor. Galway could be the Big Rainy. Cork, the Big Langer. I'm open to suggestions for Dublin. So are Failte Ireland, most likely.

Please offer your best suggestions ASAP before they start promoting the Big Bollix in America next Spring.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stephen Gately RIP, but let's not pretend he was Gandhi

Stephen Gately was a moderately talented singer and disco dancer.

He was not Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or Jesus Christ.

The cult of celebrity that led to firstly the virtually state funeral he had yester with thousands outside the church and secondly the wall-to-wall coverage of his death is to me sadly symptomatic of a society in thrall to fame.

Let's not forget, another man was buried yesterday - a man who was a talented athlete, who volunteered at his local scout troop, who was immensely talented at his job, training our air corps pilots and who tragically died last Monday.

Yet on RTE's 1pm news, we got 15 minutes of the Gately funeral and 15 seconds of Derek Furniss's funeral. Something's wrong with our priorities.

Gately died of a pulmonary oedema resulting from heart failure that appears to be genetically related. The lad was fit and healthy and drank little and smoked little. Some of the papers are carrying the toxicology reports, and they reveal only cannabis and some prescription medications in his system, none of which could possibly have caused his death.

He was involved in a relationship with his partner which is the homosexual equivalent of marriage - a civil union. However, despite this, he and his partner went to a gay nightclub on holiday and picked up a Bulgarian student, brought him home and took turns having sex with him.

The Daily Mail's Jan Moir was hauled over the coals for homophobia when she suggested that there was something 'unnatural' about Gately's death. There was nothing unnatural about his death except the tragically young age at which he died.

But on one point she was correct - the sort of sexual scenario Gately was engaged in at the time of his death - effectively sharing a nightclub pick up with his partner - does not advance the cause of gay marriage one iota.

Finally, Gerald Kean is representing the Gately family here. No one else. Hence there have been arguments with Louis Walsh among others over how information emerged and other matters.

Keane is speaking for the family when he contradicts the version of events presented by the Bulgarian. It is in their interests to see the public reputation of their deceased relative preserved to the utmost.

On the other hand, the Bulgarian may stand to make money by selling a sordid tale to the tabloids.

The truth may be discerned however by the fact that Gately's partner has not offered a version of events which contradicts the Bulgarian's version, and that the Spanish police are also happy that the Bulgarian's testimony is correct.

To conclude: it's sad he died so young, but he didn't die of sex, drugs or suicide, and he wasn't Gandhi, so let's all move on and not make this into our Princess Diana national cringefest, please.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cliftonville FC 3 Glasgow Celtic 0

No, that's not a typo. It really happened.

North Belfast part-timers Cliftonville wallopped mighty Glasgow Celtic 3-0 last night and it could actually have been easily 6.

Few things on Earth are likely to unite the loyalist denizens of Ibrox and the Irish republicans of Ardoyne. But this astonishing victory by Ireland's oldest club over the famous Glasgow Celtic just might.

Fair enough, it wasn't quite Celtic's first XI. But there were numerous players on display for the Scots whose individual alleged values far exceeds that of Cliftonville's entire team, and Solitude stadium too.

My suggestion? Celtic should ditch the lot of them, because they were terrible, and buy Cliftonville's entire squad instead.

Incidentally, Cliftonville made about six substitutions, including their keeper, and Celtic still couldn't score.

It's fair to say that by the end of the game, when Cliftonville were utterly embarrassing their guests by playing Barcelona-style one-touch possession passing around them, it was actually Cliftonville's reserves outplaying Celtic's second string.

It's a far cry from the last time Celtic came to Solitude, when the friendly was interrupted by the RUC who decided for no good reason to shoot plastic bullets into the crowd in an appalling sectarian attack by the security forces, and thankfully so.

How times have changed in the intervening quarter century. Solitude has a gleaming new stand, the team hammered their prestigious guests and no one was hospitalised by police brutality.

For those who missed out on a night when Ireland's oldest club (don't listen to the LIES of Bohemians) made yet more history, here's some highlights:

And some more!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The tricky task of finding a Ceann Comhairle

The Irish parliament needs a speaker, after the last one was caught swanning around the planet like Marie-Antoinette at the taxpayers' expense.

This is a problem for Fianna Fail, because while the ideal would be for a member of an opposition party to take the chair (thus boosting the government's slender majority), it's unlikely that anyone from Labour or Sinn Fein can be bought off, and Fine Gael will have those who might be tempted on a tight leash in the hope of forcing an election or change of government.

Hence we're seeing some strange names popping up. The latest is Trevor 'I won't lead the Greens into Government with Fianna Fail' Sargent. On the one hand, that would ensure at least one Green in the next Dail, as literally all of their seats are now under real threat.

From a Fianna Fail perspective, it makes holding what they have in Dublin North very difficult. For them to win two seats, as they currently have, next time out would be a huge ask in the current climate.

But given the utter anonymity of their two deputies there, and the vast backlash against Fianna Fail, putting Sargent into the chair would leave them trying to defend two seats out of three when they could well be pushed to get one.

This is why I suspect Biffo will reverse one of the most egregious casualties of his Culchie Coup and elevate Tom Kitt, former Fianna Fail chief whip, to the post.

Kitt was always a good operator, knows the procedural elements of parliament backwards (unlike John O'Donoghue) and is civil and respected by the other parties (again unlike John O'Donoghue.)

But more importantly, he's threatened to step down from his seat in Dublin South, the constituency where former minister Seamus Brennan died and Fianna Fail were unable to defend the seat in a by-election that took a full year to be held.

Currently, that would leave Fianna Fail in the desperate position of having no one except Shay Brennan (Seamus' son) who was wallopped into a distant third place when he was parachuted into the aforementioned by-election, to run in the hope of regaining two seats.

But if Kitt retained his seat as Ceann Comhairle, a totally different picture emerges. Suddenly Fine Gael are in the position of trying to defend three seats in a four seater - impossible, frankly. And Fianna Fail retain the reins of the parliamentary chair for some time to come.

Fianna Fail are already in major damage limitation mode. They can smell the election coming. They saw at the weekend how close the rump Greens are to walking out of government. They've had to issue a stern warning just to whip the Greens into line on the forthcoming budget. In short, they know the gig is soon to be up.

So already, they're plotting for a life after government. A term in opposition, with a favourable Ceann Comhairle, and the opportunity to take at least one Fine Gael scalp during the forthcoming meltdown, would seem to be their best option.

If Kitt's not dead set on retirement (and I suspect he only promised to quit because of how he was ousted from cabinet by Cowen when he had reason to expect promotion), then I imagine he will be placed in the post.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Let's ditch England

As I wandered around the sunny squares of Glasgow today, I couldn't help but recall that once upon a time Belfast sort of looked like this, before it all got blown up.

As I wandered the redbrick Victorian squares and terraces, I remembered that Belfast has much in common with this town, just as Dublin and Edinburgh architecturally are so reminiscent of each other.

Outside the Buchanan galleries, laden with bottles of whisky, I overheard a lost Japanese tourist ask two smoking old dears how to get to the Holiday Inn.

'Sure we wouldn't know,' they told him apologetically. 'We're not from this part of the world at all.'

After I pointed the Japanese lad in the right direction, I corrected the two old ladies.

'You're from Ards or Bangor, I'm guessing' I said to their astonishment. 'To my mind, that's definitely this part of the world.'

Sure enough, they were indeed from North Down. Their accents - effectively lowland Scots with an Irish lilt - gave that away. It's one I'm fairly familiar with.

And that got me thinking about the sphere of influence that goes back all the way through the medieval kingdom of Dalriada to the Red Branch cycle of mythology and Cuchullain's time with Scatha the Witch on Skye.

The same sphere of influence that the descendants of the Scottish planters of the Hamilton-Montgomery plantation of 1609 now wish to parlay into a quasi-nationhood - the so-called Ulster-Scots.

But the links go further and deeper than the ongoing and divisive effects of that particular plantation. The Scotii were in origin Irish themselves.

A deep shared culture, encompassing forms of the Gaelic languages, whisk(e)y distillation, croft farming, and continual cross-pollenisation of people and culture has created a bond between the two nations that is perennially sublimated by the fact that both remain culturally and politically dominated by England.

Just as the riches of Ireland - its great forests, its manpower, its food - were denuded for English benefit, so have the Scots suffered greatly through that unbalanced power relationship with their southern neighbour.

The highland clearances are no less a holocaust than the repeated attempts at Irish genocide concocted in London in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. And the daylight robbery of their massive North Sea oil reserves parallels the lengthy theft of Irish resources for English gain during the past umpteen centuries.

It's self-evident to all but the Tory rump of the UUP that partitioning Ireland hasn't worked and never will. Even the self-denying Ulster nationalists within the DUP are coming to a slow realisation that their economic future and well-being is utterly and inextricably tied up with that of the rest of the island.

The question remains how to square the circle - how to encompass the stern and implacable opposition to the perceived 'Rome rule' of a unified Ireland that unionists espouse with the undeniable reality of their Irishness?

Perhaps the answer is a union of a different sort. Scots and Irish, Ulsterman and Highlander, Aberdonian and Corkonian can all agree on one simple fact - England never did you a single favour, but used you to their own benefit.

Maybe the answer is to ditch the English. Would the unionists accept a different type of union - one with our historical brother Scotland rather than the isle of Britain as a whole?

Those who espouse Irish unification always point to the fact that unionists would be kingmakers in Dail Eireann - driving coalitions from the minority position as the PDs did for the past decade.

But this is not sufficient for our unionist brethren.

So why not ditch the English?

We could have a union of over 11 million people, with stunning natural resources, and benefit from the boosted economy of scales that would provide. A true Celtic homeland, one made up of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter in even enough numbers to threaten no one.

The poor lost hybrid souls of Ulster would have both their parents back together, married for the first time without a third abusive and dominant partner involved in the relationship.

The Scots of Irish descent could finally feel truly at home in their homeland, no longer sickened by football thugs telling them to 'go home, the famine's over.'

The Scots do not benefit from their association with England under the British banner. They never did. Many, likely a majority, would support independence from London and the English yoke.

The English will always be with us. We are both, Scotland and Ireland, firmly within London's sphere of influence. But England's greatest fear has always been a coherent and strong rival culture located on its Celtic fringe.

Why not have a new unionism - a marriage of Scotland and Ireland - and find out just what it was that has been frightening England down through the many centuries?

We asked the Japanese tourist what he thought.

'If you say you are from Ireland, then you are Irish,' he answered slowly. 'But you sound like the Scots do to me. You look like them too.'

Even outsiders see the family resemblance, it seems.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

20% swing in Lisbon vote

So now we have a figure on what proportion of the Irish electorate are easily scaremongered. I suppose the 17 million euro we spent on Lisbon II was worth it to at least find that out.

I hope everyone who made the mistake of voting 'yes to jobs' and 'yes to recovery' noted that not one of the grinning politicians mentioned jobs or recovery in their self-aggrandising speeches today.

That's because Lisbon won't be leading to any jobs or recovery, obviously. The Irish Times business section (about the only bit of the paper worth reading) published a very astute article recently detailing seven reasons why we'll still be bolloxed when the rest of the world is booming again.

The really scarey bit? They didn't even refer to the NAMA black hole that Fianna Fail are cooking up for you and your children to pay for.

Declan Ganley promised to return to the RDS next October with some 'Yes for Jobs' posters and see if the jobs had materialised. He may or may not turn up next October, but you can be sure the jobs definitely won't have.

Another potential plus of this referendum is the Donegal vote. That surely has to undermine Sweary Mary Coughlan. Biffo's government is already on life support, and will face a torrid two days explaining itself over Rody Molloy's golden handshake in the Dail next week.

And then on Saturday, the hobbits will gather to decide what magic beans they'd like to get from Fianna Fail in order to stay in government. And the NAMA banker bailout is yet to come.

So there are a number of potential banana skins there for Biffo. The last thing he needs right now is someone lobbing more of them onto the path in front of him.

He should heed the words of the 'most cunning, most devious of them all', Bertie Ahern, who pinpointed Sweary Mary as a wrong un in his autobiography. He made a mistake in appointing her as Tanaiste, but clearly couldn't resist the culchie coup.

Well, here's his chance to ditch some of the dead weight. Even the meeja think it's time she went. She failed to carry her own county in the referendum. That's a reason the grass roots gombeens will accept for dumping her. It diverts attention from the mistake he made in appointing her in the first place.

On a personal note, I'm inclined to agree with Pearse Doherty (probably a first) in paying tribute to the people of Donegal who were not bullied into doing what the Euro elite wanted.

The rest of the country may have voted to be serfs, but they did not. Fair play, Donegal. Stand tall tonight.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The most dishonest political campaign ever

That's what Lisbon II has been.

It's as if every single campaigner on both sides of the debate have been possessed by demons making them lie. In the case of the professional politicians, that's business as usual. In the case of Mick 'low fares plus huge charges' O'Leary, it's to be expected.

But when Intel and fundamentalist Christians start in on the spoofing act, one really does begin to despair.

The blatant attempts by the supposedly impartial EU to buy the election have been as despicable as the attempts by foreign Eurosceptics like Bonde or the UKIP to swing the decision to what suits them.

No one comes out of this with any credit. Not the liars who have attempted to link a yes vote with economic recovery. Not the liars who said a yes vote would lead to a shredding of the minimum wage.

The bottom line remains: you're voting on the treaty itself and nothing else. Not on the 'guarantees' which don't actually exist. Not on the minimum wage, or abortion, or a federal Europe, or economic recovery, or the current government, or NAMA, or anything else. Just the treaty.

My advice? Read the treaty. Not the summaries offered by vested interests, but the treaty itself.

I did. It's almost impenetrable. It took me about four days to finish it. At the end I was extremely concerned at how much of the treaty eroded our say over our own country and how many things were open to wide interpretation.

They say that if you don't understand a contract, you shouldn't sign it. Equally, if you don't know what to make of an issue, you should probably vote against it.

For those reasons, and not for any of the dishonest, disingenuous reasons offered by both the Yes and the No campaigns, I will be voting No on Friday.

I suggest that unless you've read, understood and approve of the treaty, you should do likewise.