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A Letter From Ireland – December 2014

Ah, Big Ian, sure you spent the lion share of our life a roaring bigot, spewing your hateful, anti-Catholic vitriol wherever you went. Vowing ‘No Surrender,’ you poisoned Ireland, nay even the world, with your own brand of venom, promoting sectarianism and widening the political/social schism already dividing the people of Northern Ireland. Whether from the podium or the benches of parliament, you were relentless in your indictment of attempts to mollify the torment that characterised life in the North. For over thirty years, Mr. Paisley, you did your damndest to stir the pot of civil unrest while oddly enough denouncing the use of violence from your pulpit. But the infectious acidity of your words often spurred others to act, fanning the flames of hatred and distrust that frequently erupted in destruction and bloodshed.
Such was your legacy for most of my life and the lives of many. Then, something happened. Life in the North changed. You changed. The political fortunes of your party, the Democratic Unionist Party, surged to the fore. The divisiveness between nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, North and South appeared to soften, at least a bit in the late 1990s.
Backroom talks led to paramilitary ceasefires. Negotiations between opposing parties finally resulted in an agreement. A fledging Northern Irish government slowly emerged. In 2007-2008, you seemed to make peace with your former enemy, Sinn Féin. The resulting thaw saw a kinder, gentler man emerge. In your defence, Big Ian, you said you were only following the will of the people, your people. Maybe so or maybe you experienced a God-moment, who can say, but you changed.
Now, after such a lifetime of tumult and loathing, I still find it difficult to believe the new you was for real, but that’s my problem. With your death, at 88 years, on 12 September in Belfast, your legacy, for good or ill, will live on. For my part, I can only add, please God, may you rest in peace.
Last month I wrote of my disappointment regarding Scotland’s failed vote for independence. To quote Michael Cummings, writing in The Irish Echo: “At stake was nothing less than the vanity of the British political establishment and their ‘major world power’ delusions.” I certainly share that opinion buoyed by all the last minute ‘panic’ clearly on display by PM Cameron and his political cohorts during the final run-up to polling day.
I also mentioned that despite the defeat, other countries harbouring similar independent desires might be so inspired. Scotland’s failure seeking separation will likely dampen some efforts, but the Scottish concessions granted by England may offer a ray of hope. For the moment, though, a push by Northern Irish for autonomy is unlikely. With the Principle of Consent [sustaining the will of the majority of the people of NI to remain a part of the UK or not] is a cornerstone element of the Good Friday Peace Agreement. To threaten that clause of the accord would be to jeopardize the still fragile peace process currently forged between nationalist and unionist parties. Differences between the two communities still remain volatile as reflected in the difficulty they’re having resolving the controversial questions surrounding the flying of flags, the holding of parades and the settling of issues regarding NI’s past.
Speaking of recent letters to you, I must confess a small but significant error. In October, when I first took former Irish leader John Bruton to task for some of his critical 1916 comments, I stated that Ireland fought a “twenty-month” War for Independence [1919-1921]. Shame on me. It wasn’t a “twenty-month” war but a “thirty-month” conflict. For the life of me, I don’t know how I made that mistake…must be creeping old age.
Again referencing John Bruton, a man who has a habit of getting up republican noses, a loyal reader wrote, reminding me that as a former taoiseach, John Bruton commands a very generous annual stipend of €140,000 from the Irish government. Wow, talk about biting the hand that feeds you! The reader also mentioned Bruton’s public gaffe committed during a radio chat show in Cork City back in the mid-1990s. When a reporter asked Bruton about the on-going northern Irish peace process, he replied, “I am sick of answering questions about the f**king peace process.” [He later apologised for this rudeness.]
Another reader wrote encouraging me to continue “stirring the pot” over the Irish government’s failure to champion a definitive 2016 commemoration plan.
Most recently, Diarmaid Ferriter, a professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin, penned a strong opinion in a recent issue of the Irish Times [18 October]. Writing under the headline “Mystery of €4 million Budget allocation to 1916 commemorations,” Ferriter wrote: “Aside from funds previously committed to capital projects, including a GPO interpretive centre, €4 million was allocated in this week’s budget for 1916 commemorations, but what such commemorations will involve remains a mystery. In Dublin last weekend, 250 relatives of 1916 combatants gathered to complain that they had received no information on what was being planned. They are not the only people being kept in the dark: members of the Government-appointed expert advisory group on commemorations, myself included, have repeatedly asked for concrete information on what the plans are and we have been stonewalled.”
Ferriter concluded his observation by stating: “Either those plans do not exist, or they are an even bigger secret than were the plans for the Rising itself.”
It’s time for you to put pen to paper or email Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Time is growing short.
Now, with Samhain threatening to ensnare me in its winter blanket of cold, I bid you all a most Happy Christmas. My the good Lord keep a bright flame burning before you; may He keep a guiding star shining above you; may a smooth path stretch onward beneath your feet; and may a kindly shepherd always have your back…today and evermore. Up ’16, no royals and Éire Abú, Cathal

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