Jude Collins worked for thirty years as a lecturer at the Ulster University/Ulster Polytechnic. Before that, he was a high school English teacher in Derry, Dublin, Edmonton and Winnipeg (Canada).
He is the author of eight books, including Booing the Bishop and other stories and Martin McGuinness: The man I knew. He has been a weekly columnist for The Irish News, Daily Ireland and currently writes for The Andersonstown News.
He has broadcast on TV and radio for the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Press TV and RTÉ. For the past thirteen years he has written a daily column on his blogsite www.judecollins.com
YOU have been warned: you can’t draw constitutional conclusions from the Census 2021 figures for our stateen, because being a Catholic doesn’t mean you are in favour of a reunited Ireland.
WE have a tendency to feel it’s very important that we stay at home and clean the oven when we should be going to call on Granny; or trim our fingernails while the filthy family car sits in our driveway.
IT’S hard to believe that battle-hardened politicians like those in the DUP could be so gullible, but it appears they are. Certainly unionist politicians in the past fifty years and more have been almost indecently eager to play the role of abused partner – no matter how many times they’ve been lied to and kicked around, they keep coming back for more. The father of unionism, Edward Carson, at least saw what had happened. In 1921 in a speech to the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast, he lamented: “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power.” More recent decades show that continuing tradition of unionist politicians prone to manipulation by British Tories. Margaret Thatcher, the woman who stood up to the Argies and gave them what-for, the woman who stared down the hunger strikers and let them die, the woman who denounced all republican resistance as criminal activity – surely unionist politicians could depend on her? Alas, no. In 1985, Thatcher travelled to Hillsborough Castle where, with Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald, she signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement and gave the south’s government a toehold in the affairs of NEI. Seeing too late Thatcher’s betrayal, the massive Ulster Says No campaign was launched and rolled on and on and on. But the Anglo-Irish Agreement didn’t go away and the No campaign subsided to a faint death-rattle.
“A MERE youth in appearance... he is sturdy and well built, and full of life, and one of the most cheerful of Irishmen. His black hair hangs carelessly over his brow, and his eyes are of typically Irish blue... His smile disarms one. But in repose there is a strength of jaw and a look of determination which explains how he controlled and directed his men.” That’s a London newspaper description of Michael Collins, who was killed at Beal na Bláth one hundred years ago. Collins did indeed control and direct his men, usually to commit violent acts. He told them to confine their killings to “head shots”, and they did. When the mayor of Cork, Tomas McCurtain, was shot dead in March 1920 by a group of men led by RIC Detective Inspector Oswald Ross Swanzy,. Collins had Swanzy traced to County Antrim and arranged for Belfast IRA man Roger McCorley to shoot Swanzy dead as he passed the Northern Bank in Lisburn. In the early hours of November 21, 2021, Collins’s ‘Squad’ shot dead twelve men, who were British Army or RIC officers. Fast forward a hundred years and Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are jostling to have a selfie taken beside the great man – or at least be seen at the spot which marks where Collins died. On this centenary of his death, the Beal na Bláth commemoration ceremonies were attended by Leo Varadkar, the leader of Fine Gael, and by Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fail. The joint commemoration of Collins is seen as marking the end of the division between the two parties that emerged from the Irish Civil War. Why are Varadkar and Martin doing this? Varadkar declares Collins to be his source of inspiration: “The entire life of Michael Collins was a profile in courage. He had the courage to fight the British Empire despite overwhelming odds and to force it to the negotiating table. He believed that Ireland could become a free, independent and democratic state when few believed it possible.”
QUESTION: When you think about the death of young Noah Donohoe, do you feel uneasy? Me too. There are aspects of this boy’s death which are painful and brutal to dwell on for more than a moment. Such as the fact that his naked body was found in a storm drain. Or the post-mortem verdict that he died by drowning. Or the PSNI statement that there is no evidence of foul play. Rightly or wrongly, a stench of suspicion attaches to Noah Donohoe’s death and it won’t go away. Initial belief that the 14-year-old St Malachy’s College boy might have been the victim of a sectarian attack appears to have no foundation in fact. There were no signs of physical assault on the boy’s body. But terrible and troubling questions remain.
DURING an interview Rishi Sunak was asked by Sky’s Kay Burley if he’d fist-bump with the Saudi crown prince. That’s the Saudi prince who’s alleged to have been involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And that’s the Prince whose kingdom has a habit, with those convicted of crimes like witchcraft and sorcery, of stoning them to death or beheading them in public. Rishi said he wasn’t a fist-bump guy but he’d shake hands with the Prince, as he did with foreign representatives in general. This uncoupling of human rights and trade discussion shouldn’t come as a surprise. When Chinese President Xi Jinping was Chinese Vice-President in 2012, he visited the south of Ireland and was warmly welcomed. He spent three days there, even finding time to play a bit of hurling as the cameras clicked and onlookers cheered. In 1995 the south of Ireland had exports to China just short of €70 million; in 2020 exports were just short of €12 billion.
IN 1998, a short while after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement I was driving through North Antrim on my way to work. As I drove, my eye was caught by some freshly-painted lettering on the side of a barn. In bold capitals it said: ‘WELL DONE DAVID’. It was difficult to know whether it was a congratulation or a condemnation, since the David in question was obviously David Trimble. The man himself, who was buried this week, was equally ambiguous. He had one thing going for him: Ian Paisley detested him, denounced him as a traitor, a Lundy, an unspeakable whose name he wouldn’t dignify by mention. Trimble’s sin was that he had signed the Good Friday Agreement. A few years later, of course, Paisley went into government with Sinn Féin and Martin McGuinness. I once interviewed Trimble – fadó fadó. I was kept sitting in an outer area while Trimble passed me with a small nod, whistlng an operatic aria. I remember nothing of the interview beyond his assessment of a particular politician. “So if he was a student of yours what would you give him – a B, a B+?” “Yes, a Beta plus,” was his answer, thus making clear that he knew Greek even if I didn’t. He never seemed quite comfortable with people, which made his defeat of John Taylor for leadership of the UUP all the more surprising. He looked like a man more at home with books and theory than campaign manifestos and people. His Nobel Prize speech, which followed John Hume’s, revealed a good deal about the man.
EMMA de Souza is a formidable young woman. She put the fear of God – or at least the fear of litigation – into the British Home Secretary when she sued to assert that she was an Irish citizen and thus entitled to benefit from the EU’s family reunion rights. The British Home Secretary was forced to concede to her argument and Emma’s American husband Jake was able to remain in the UK. Her energy and tenacity had been rewarded.
SO, assuming he won’t clamber out of his political coffin between now and the autumn, Boris Johnson has trundled off-stage. Will he retreat to the back benches, as did several of his predecessors? I doubt it – not enough limelight. Will he vanish from public life? I can’t see that either. Johnson is in the position where he could make an after-dinner speech and receive as much as £100,000. We know he made £275,000 a year for his newspaper column back in 2016. So a weekly column today is probably worth £300,000 a year or more. Nice little earner, eh? Then there are books. Can you imagine if Johnson wrote a kiss-and-tell of his Downing Street days how much that would make?
THERE are times when the DUP take my breath away. Last week, the First Minister-in-waiting, Michelle O’Neill, placed a wreath at Belfast City Hall Cenotaph. (No, Virginia, we don’t want to know what you thought of that.)
SOME truths are hard to admit but must be faced. The DUP did surprisingly well in the recent election. In the months before, the party seemed doomed. At one point they were positioned third – or was it fourth? – in the opinion polls. This low rating surprised no-one. The party appeared intent on beheading itself in full public view, with no less than three party leaders in the year leading up to the election. And yet, despite all that and despite Sinn Féin winning 29 per cent of first preference votes compared to the DUP’s 21 per cent, the DUP ended up just two seats behind Sinn Féin: 27 to 25. For a party that had been galloping off in six directions at once, the DUP did okay. Now they’re having to manage some of the hardline stuff they came out with during the election campaign. Remember when Jeffrey Donaldson couldn’t bring himself to say he’d have a DUP deputy minister serving with a Sinn Féin First Minister? That’s over now. On View from Stormont (UTV), Paul Givan told the programme that if the DUP got all they wanted in terms of the Protocol “We will appoint a deputy First Minister to take on that role.” (Yes, Virginia, how very kind of them to accept the democratic outcome.) But a bit like Saint Augustine, the DUP are not yet ready to be fully democratic. Jeffrey Donaldson continues to insist on deeds, not words, before his party will resurrect the Executive. Despite that democratic short-fall, we shouldn’t be too hard on the DUP. Last time out, Boris Johnson took the DUP to the cleaners by promising that over his dead body there’d be a border in the Irish Sea. Some weeks later, still in rude good health, Johnson established just that – a border in the Irish Sea. So naturally the DUP this time are on red alert with the Tories. The burnt cat fears the hot stove.
DAVID McWilliams is a formidable man. He was raised in Monkstown, as comfortable a South Dublin area as you could wish for. He was educated at Blackrock College and Trinity College, he has a Masters degree in economics from the College of Europe, Belgium. He invented the phrase ‘Celtic Tiger’ and he warned about its coming demise and the collapse of the property bubble in the South when others closed their eyes. In short, McWilliams knows his economic onions. So when in a recent article he compared the economies of the North and South, it made informative reading. To say he thinks Brexit was a bad idea would be an understatement. He notes that the two UK areas which firmly voted Remain – the city of London and the North of Ireland – are both doing well despite Brexit. The reason the North is doing well, McWilliams argues, is because the South is essentially dragging it up, raising its standards. Between January and April of this year, exports from south to north went up by 40 per cent. The North, thanks to the Protocol, is ideally placed, with access to the UK market and to the EU market. Yet northern unionists are intent on firing an Exocet missile into the Protocol and rendering it unworkable. If anyone should be trying to parade the benefits of being in the UK, it’s unionists. Yet ironically it’s unionists who are doing everything in their power – including paralysing Stormont – to make the North not work. The irony is that the North, when established more than 100 years ago, was an industrial power-house. Belfast was bigger and more thriving than Dublin, and in the early years of the twentieth century the six northern counties were responsible for two-thirds of the island’s industrial output. All that has now been reversed. The North is dependent on the British annual subvention, and if it didn’t get it or a similar sum from elsewhere, the state would collapse. Relying on the subvention, McWilliams argues, handicaps self-reliance in the North. What is shocking is that there are still unionists and even some nationalists who cling to the idea that the South is backward and poor, the North modern and well-off. This, to put it bluntly, is bunkum. As McWilliams notes, the South’s economy is six times bigger than the North’s, even though its population is only 2.5 times bigger. The median income in the south is €43,915 while that of the north is €33,500. He doesn’t add that the North has rates whereas the South doesn’t have them. Which is why I’m noting that fact. With his track record, McWilliams is a man well worth listening to. Those who are (rightly) calling for a citizens’ assembly to look at the prospects of a united Ireland are routinely dismissed, told that this is not the time, they are dreamers and, besides, the border poll would be lost by nationalists. This kind of talk is infectious, until those who favour Irish unity begin to think maybe it would be better to wait ten or twenty years. The truth would appear to be the reverse – it’s those who decry the notion of Irish reunification who have a weak grip on hard economic facts. There are even Northern nationalists who will tell you that the South’s health system and its education system are both inferior to what we in the North enjoy. Poppycock. The huge tech firms like Google and Apple and Facebook repeatedly cite an educated work-force as one of the reasons for establishing themselves in the South. As for health in the North, an NHS where all services are free at the point of delivery is certainly a good idea. But try getting your dental needs met without dipping deep into your pocket, or try getting a hip replacement and see how you feel after two years on the waiting list. The people of Ireland north and south need educated in the economic realities. When the economic facts are made clear, the notion of a prosperous north being shackled to an impoverished south will implode. It’s time our politicians headlined the facts made available by David McWilliams and others like him. They can’t afford not to.
THERE can be few people who haven’t felt sickened by that video shot in an Orange hall, showing young men singing a mocking song about the murder of Michaela McAreavey. Others in the hall can be seen banging the table in time or carrying on as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. This is what sectarianism looks like close-up: an eagerness to jeer at those who can’t defend themselves, a contempt for those of a different faith from you. It’s a poison that runs through our society, making decent relationships difficult and sometimes impossible. What to do, apart from punishing those caught in the act? Experts in the field like Professor Duncan Morrow point to two areas in particular – education and housing. “The expectations of ‘us and them’ have generated separate housing, separate schools and a legacy of discrimination and fear,” he said. He’s right about housing. The farm where I grew up had a council housing estate across the fence from us, comprising Protestants only; a quarter mile up the road, another council housing estate was virtually all Catholic. Does this mean that the problem of sectarianism is exclusive to working-class areas? Alas, no. When the Catholic middle-class began to move into the Malone area of Belfast, the Protestant middle-class promptly moved out to North Down and surrounding areas.When around 100 peace walls are still necessary at Catholic/Protestant interfaces, housing matters. Education is the other area Professor Morrow points to as guilty of fostering sectarianism. The belief is that if little Seán is sitting in class beside little Norman during the day, he’s less likely to reach for stones or petrol bombs against him and those like him in the evening. And, of course, vice versa. But education is a more complicated area than some voices calling for integrated education would have us believe. Tens of thousands of young people have graduated from integrated schools since 1981. Have you noticed sectarianism being diluted over the decades? And maybe think of this too: If you’re reading this article, you were probably educated in a Catholic school. Do you believe you are sectarian? I’m willing to bet most of us would reply with an indignant “No!” Then how is it we seem to have escaped from the plague of sectarianism, while others are afflicted by it through schooling? My own experience over a thirty-year period has brought me into schools of all sorts – Catholic, Protestant, integrated. In none of these schools did I detect the faintest whiff of sectarianism, spoken or unspoken, among the staff. So does separate education really mean sectarian education? Two other points.One is that it’s possible people enjoy living among those who have roughly similar religious and political views to themselves. It’s a bit like friendship groups – we like some people more than others because we have shared interests; we socialise with those who have things in common with us and avoid those we find less attractive. Is that sectarian?
THE media over the past week have jumped into the Royal Platinum Jubilee anniversary pool and splashed about wildly. Were Harry and Meghan snubbed? Is Prince William going bald? (Less laughing at the back, please.) Wasn’t Her Majesty wonderful to make it to the balcony to watch the Red Arrows fly past, billowing red, white and blue vapour trails as they went? Never mind that they get those colours by mixing red and blue dye into dirty diesel fuel and do bad things to the environment. The RAF has vowed to go net zero in 19 years, so there. But the British people, or certainly the English people, just can’t get enough of their little queen. When the media confronted ordinary people with a microphone, they said they loved QE2 because she’s done 70 years on the throne and because she works so hard. CertainIy being 96 is preferable to the alternative, but have we maybe got a cock-eyed view of age for HM and everyone else? We send people our “Birthday congratulations” – ridiculous or what? You get to be the age you get to be, through good luck rather than any personal effort on your part. So the idea that we should be congratulated on a matter beyond our control is crazy. Mind you, there is one thing you can do: be born rich. Rich people in England live ten years longer than poor people. So QE2 appears to have chosen wisely in the birth stakes. A lifetime living in the lap of luxury, besides being enjoyable, does great things for your chances of growing old. The other thing that people vox-popped in the huge crowd said was that they liked their monarch because for 70 years she has been so hard-working. No doubt about it, compared to others in the royal family, she does put in the hours. In 2018, she completed 293 ‘engagements’, the average for the other royals is 84.5 days. On the average day QE2 gets out of her scratcher at 8.30am, has a bath, reads the papers, and signs some documents the government sends her. Not exactly back-breaking. She also gets out there and does some handshaking, hand waving, smiling, and even delivers the odd speech written by someone else. But remember, she does get 72 days off each year. As well as being Queen of England, Elizabeth II is the Head of the Church of England. I’d say she gets on well with the Archbishop of Canterbury, but why wouldn’t she? She doesn’t openly engage in extra-marital activity or consort with convicted paedophiles, which are definite pluses for any Church Head. But there’s a paradox here. QE2 is 96; whoever succeeds her will not have the same clean slate. In fact, the more she is hailed by the media and ‘ordinary people’ throughout England, the harder it’ll be for her successor to match her performance. “But HM living in Buckingham Palace is great for tourism,” we’re told. Certainly you do get a lot of people having their photo taken outside Buckingham Palace. But the thought of her being in there – is that what draws the tourists? Well, compare Buck House with the Palace of Versailles. That’s where Louis XIV used to live. Louis’s been dead for over 300 years now, yet the Palace at Versailles gets around 10 million visitors each year. Besides, did you know Belgium has a royal family? And Denmark? And Holland and Norway and Sweden? It’s just that the people of those countries don’t pour millions of public money into the royal laps and they don’t present their royals as a living soap opera for the masses. Still, the English have a right to choose their own head of state. They can even shower her/him with money if they want. But would it be possible to send my share to the Vincent de Paul?
IN Ireland, we have a reputation for welcoming the stranger – it’s a central plank of our tourism industry. But for some here in NEI, the slogan is ‘Stranger Danger!’ Even after his departure, Congressman Richie Neal leaves behind him a considerable amount of clench-jaw and teeth-grit among unionist politicians. They judged the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee to have made two mistakes: His words on the Protocol, and his words about unionists. First the Protocol. Neal said it seemed to be a “manufactured problem” which could be resolved “quickly”. Whoa! Derry’s DUP mayor asked the American delegation to be “careful with their words”. DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said that Neal clearly had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the Good Friday Agreement. DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson declared Neal’s visit “terrible” and his description of the Protocol “outrageous”. What they saw as outrageous was that the American delegation appeared to suggest the Protocol wasn’t really the rending-of-garments matter the DUP were claiming. And the Americans could have pointed to supporting evidence.For example, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research a week or two back said that NEI was performing above the average UK rate. “This is partly an outcome of the Northern Irish Protocol and its special status in the Brexit arrangements, including better trade and investment conditions as part of the EU’s single market and customs union.”