Squinter has been a regular feature of the Andersonstown News since the early 1970s. The diary column has been written by a number of people over the years and the present incumbent has been taking a sideways look at the week just gone – or indeed the one to come – for over 20 years now. The column has a wide remit, wandering from humorous items of local interest to local and national politics. See Squinter on Twitter for daily doses of the funny, the strange and the totally bonkers.
FORMER UUP leader Jim Molyneaux famously observed during the heady days of the mid-1990s that the IRA ceasefire was the most destabilising thing to happen to unionism since partition. Not M60s or culvert bombs; not booby-traps or big city smokies; not Armalites or even ballot boxes – the absence of violence, or to be more specific, the absence of republican violence.
POLICE seized eight handguns and three pipe bombs in an operation aimed against the east Belfast UVF on Friday night past. One of the weapons recovered (right) was the iconic Colt .45 single action army revolver, known in the Wild West as ‘the Peacemaker’ and famously carried by Wyatt Earp. We spoke this week to Wyatt Earp about his decision to join the east Belfast UVF, his deep attachment to loyalism and his hopes that the liquor, girls and gambling subjugating Protocol can be done away with before there’s a return to shoot-outs and stagecoach hold-ups... AH shore didn’t know too much about yore liddle ole prahvince when Ah was jest a plain ole marshal in Tombstone roundin’ up drunks and playin’ three-card monte in the Silver Dollar saloon with mah buddy Doc Holliday. Till up’n around sundown one day the doors done fly open and an ornery lookin’ critter ambled in seemin’ as though he’d sump’n on his mind. His eyes were mean and full uh spite and when he caught my gaze why I’ll be hogtied if a shiver didn’ run down mah spine.
ANYONE expecting an answer to the question ‘Can Ireland Be One?’ by the end of Malachi O’Doherty’s new book of the same title is destined for disappointment. This is no audit of the economic pros and cons of ending partition and nor is it an analysis of the sometimes shiny and sometimes grubby new realities that have rocketed the question of unity to the top of the political agenda. Indeed, Brexit and the Protocol – the two issues which have moved the ground and redefined the terms of the unity debate in a six-year blink of the eye – to all intents and purposes never happened, so seldom are they referred to and so lightly are they passed over. What we have instead is a largely personal series of discursions in which Malachi addresses not those real-world developments which are so rapidly and utterly changing the island’s political landscape, but themes and subjects that will be familiar to those acquainted with his broadcast and print output: a Riverdale Catholic loses his religion and ponders gravely, regretfully and seldom hopefully the age-old question of why we don’t get along. The relegation of the Protocol from leading role to bit part in what could well prove to be the final act of the partition drama would be surprising enough, but there’s also a curious reliance on people writing and working in a time before ATMs and colour television, never mind mobile phones and the internet. Hubert Butler’s 1954 work ‘Portrait of a Minority’, for instance; professional nice bloke Sam McAughtry, who was telling stories on the wireless when Squinter was learning to drink in the Hunting Lodge; Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ 1970s book ‘Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics’. If there are nuggets of contemporary relevance in these blasts from our grey past, Squinter failed to find them. Malachi’s best and most engaging writing comes in describing for us the rich foliage of his spreading family tree. He’s obviously fascinated and entertained by the contradictions and anomalies thrown up not just by his forebears’ cross-border mobility – as are we – but also by the historical heft of names maiden and married.
LET’S call him Dave. Dave supports Our Boys. Dave remembers them every November (oh, and October) by wearing a poppy. Dave was in Marks and Spencer’s on Boucher Road on Sunday past when the lights were dimmed and the tills closed at 11am for the two minutes silence. Dave could have stayed in the house to watch the Cenotaph ceremony live from London; he could have gone to City Hall to be silent and bow his head to reflect on the sacrifice of those who served. But Dave needed a few things for the Sunday dinner and so he squeezed his solemn act of remembrance in between picking up the gravy granules and sticky toffee pudding. Dave, needless to say, was appalled as he briefly raised his downcast eyes to have a fly juke round him to see so many people with the sheer gall to keep shopping in a shop. Across the city, other acts of remembrance – individual and corporate – were taking place, not least half a mile away from where David stood with his basket and his thoughts, because the UVF and the UDA both held their own poppy day ceremonies to remember the sacrifice of the Shankill Butchers and the Greysteel Gang. Dave wasn’t as annoyed about that as he was about the bloke in Marksies who was on the phone when he should have been remembrancing. Dave rang a radio phone-in to complain about the Irish women’s team singing the Celtic Symphony. He had every intention of cheering on the girls in green in Australia and New Zealand next year, he said, but now he won’t because by singing ‘Ooh, ah, up the Ra’ they are spitting in the face of victims. Back in August he rang the same show to give off about the Wolfe Tones at Féile. Dave didn’t bother ringing the show about the UVF and the UDA wearing poppies and laying wreaths to acknowledge that Lennie Murphy and Basher gave all their tomorrows for our today. He did, however, write a letter to the papers about Michelle O’Neill saying she thought that at the time there had been no alternative to the IRA campaign, adding a paragraph at the end recommending that Queen’s University sack Professor Colin Harvey for being a united Irelander. And he was delighted when the UVF and the UDA wrote a letter to unionist leaders warning of “dire consequences” should there be any hint of joint authority and he is a great admirer of the sterling work of unionist academics at Queen’s down through the years. Dave is four-square behind the DUP meeting the UDA to discuss political developments and he agrees with senior DUP figures that the IRA army council is running Sinn Féin; he believes terrorists should not be allowed in government. Dave was an ardent Brexiteer and at first he agreed with Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson that the Protocol handed loyal Ulster the keys to Shangri-La, but he too later changed his mind and now believes the Iniquitous and Union-Subjugating Protocol© is a bigger threat to the PUL way of life than the Ra. (See UVF/ UDA “dire consequences” threat above.) Dave is completely supportive of the DUP unilaterally pulling down Stormont at a time of unprecedented economic chaos but he was outraged when Sinn Féin brought the shutters down in 2017. He was glad to hear that a deal was struck in 2018 allowing Stormont to return but after the UDA told the DUP at a meeting they really didn’t like it Dave was glad to see the deal scrapped. More next week from another of the increasing number of Daves out there. And the week after that, no doubt.
EMMA Little-Pengelly believes that people who identify as British are currently being treated like “dirt”. In an impassioned tweet in the wake of a fire at an Orange Hall in Tyrone she wrote: “Those who demonise the culture, traditions, heritage and identity of the British here have to understand the consequence of what they're doing. It must stop. We will not be treated like dirt – abused, attacked and, on issues that matter to us, ignored. Enough is Enough. #Disgrace.”
JEFFREY Donaldson’s had a bad few days. What’s that you say? He’s had a bad year? Harsh, very harsh.
SO Boris Johnson’s attempted comeback ended in exactly the way his time in No.10 came to an end: with lies, bombast and more lies. The author of the innovative ‘Let the bodies pile up in their thousands’ Covid strategy flew back from holiday in a bid to finish the job he started – finishing the job involving burying the bloody Brexit corpse of the UK that he left twitching and gurgling in the global gutter. Sky News solemnly covered the return of his British Airways flight from the Dominican Republic live, rather as the US networks covered the return of the body of JFK to Washington in Air Force One, or as they covered OJ Simpson careering down a Los Angeles freeway in his white Bronco. The initial reaction of loyal Ulster to the news that Johnson was intending to do a Lying Lazarus was entirely consistent with the late-stage Stockholm syndrome from which the party has suffered since its Precious Union© was kidnapped by a gang of Tory pirates on the Irish Sea... “I’ve no time for Boris, but he’s not Rishi Sunak…” “Boris may have thrown us under the Glider and then reversed over us, but now he’s a chance to right that wrong…” “Yes, I may once have said God will never forgive Boris and neither will I, but our God is a compassionate God and I’m a compassionate guy…” Arlene Foster’s had a hard few years, from the RHI scandal that will define every jot and tittle of her political career, to the ‘crocodile’ outburst that sparked Sinn Féin’s current pre-eminence in the polls; from greeting the Protocol as a gateway of opportunity to the removal of her warm welcome for the Protocol from the DUP website. But, as so often, it was three cheers for the red, white and blue as Arlene, unceremoniously unseated from the DUP leadership after walking into one lamppost too many, was handed a job with the comically right-wing GB News, a channel whose most notable contribution to British journalism was to re-introduce the playing of the British national anthem at day’s end. Earlier this month she was made a Dame of the British Empire in the queen’s birthday honours list – in other words, she got her ermine from a German.
ON the 100th anniversary of the death of Michael Collins in September, Tánaiste and Taoiseach-in-waiting Leo Varadkar addressed a large commemoration at Béal na Bláth.He said: “As Director of Intelligence during the War of Independence, he was able to paralyse an imperial war machine and expose its frailty to the world.”
IT suddenly occurred to Squinter. It wasn’t something that he’d been reflecting on deeply in recent weeks and months, or something that had been keeping him awake as the nights draw in. A light just clicked on and he found himself shaking his head as he pondered the essential madness of it all.
SQUINTER’S been writing for the better part of a decade that the Alliance Party faces an existential threat in the event not only of a border poll, but of discussions leading up to a border poll. That the threat is a real one has been confirmed in spades by the party’s shambolic handling of the row that broke out after Alliance turned down an invitation to what was objectively – regardless of your attitude to it – one of the biggest and most significant political gatherings on this island in decades: the Ireland’s Future event in Dublin this weekend. Since its inception, Alliance has had an electoral advantage denied to every other party. That advantage is not its rickety claim to be agnostic on the union, but the media’s unquestioning acceptance of it. The truth is that Alliance has never been neutral on the union – it has been an unfailing supporter of the political status quo that is the union with Great Britain, their members the most notable purveyors of the sophomoric James Young “stap fightin’” school of political thought: this wee place would be great if themmuns didn’t hate thoseuns.
ARLENE Foster appears to have lost a friend and colleague at GB News after the anti-woke station© cancelled presenter Darren Grimes on Twitter. If he is indeed gone, it was a brutal and humiliating defenestration, the professional northerner having learned his fate online while he was on holiday.
EVEN at a time of ‘national mourning’ the right-wing media’s imperative has remained the locating and persecuting of enemies and traitors: the ‘Not My King’ woman; the blank placard guy; the Prince Andrew heckler; Celtic fans.
Elite remembrancing has swept across the kingdom ACROSS the realm other examples of elite-level mourning were to be seen. Outside the Palace of Westminster police swooped to remove a woman armed with a Panama hat and a cardboard sign reading ‘Not My King’. Five officers displayed commendable mournfulising by shifting her away from the Palace out of the gaze of the thousands likely to be left devastated by her sickeningly graphic placard. The English Premier League, the Scottish Premier League and the Northern Ireland Premier League tripped over each other to be first to call off matches – with loyal Ulster thrillingly winning the race by announcing the sold-out Cliftonville-Glentoran game was off two hours before most of us knew the queen was dead. Why rugby, golf and cricket went ahead is anybody’s guess. Even horse-racing – the only sport which the queen took anything to do with – cracked on after a short acknowledgment on Saturday. It was the minute’s silence, wasn’t it? That’s the best guess. The rugby, cricket, golf and St Leger toffs were always going to observe a silence immaculately, but since soccer is a sport that attracts the wrong kind of crowd, who knows what’s going to happen when the stadia riff-raff are asked to fall silent?
REMEMBER the Wolfe Tones in the Falls Park? How could you forget it? Just as the Bay of Pigs crisis came perilously close to starting a global thermonuclear war, so teenagers singing ‘Up the Ra’ in the Falls Park sent loyal Ulster to DefCon 1. But here’s a question? What did those guardians of decency who flew to new heights of impassioned oratory about the Celtic Symphony think about the Shankill Road closing on Saturday for a tribute to a UVF man who shot dead an innocent Catholic in 1989? It's what’s known in the business as a rhetorical question, though, because an answer is not required since we’ve already had one. Those paragons of probity who beat their breasts and wondered in tear-stained 750-word articles what the Falls Park concert meant for the future of civilisation have had precisely nothing to say about thousands of people lining the Shankill to clap and cheer 56 bands – that’s 56 bands – playing joyously to celebrate the life of a man famous for having shot an innocent man to death because he was a Fenian.
AS an unrepentant Fenian Squinter has always found it odd being lectured on morality over the years by members of the DUP who are “pretty repulsed” by gay people or believe them “worse than paedophiles” and “poofs”. Similarly, when DUP members enter the arena of intellectual debate, it’s odd being expected to take seriously people who believe that the Earth is the same age as David Attenborough and Noah’s Ark is historic and scientific fact. And in recent weeks as the party hysterically denounced Michelle O’Neill he’s found himself wondering 1) whether there was any alternative to the DUP donning red berets and forming a paramilitary force which went on to import industrial amounts of illegal weaponry which are still sloshing around and 2) whether any of our esteemed broadcasters will ever ask the DUP that question. More oddities have been emerging by the day in recent times. Squinter had thought the oddest one was a column in the Belfast Telegraph shrilly denouncing kids in the park singing about the Ra… written by a former National Secretary of the cuddly dissident group Republican Network for Unity. But that was triumphantly outdone in the oddity stakes by the entertainingly excitable DUP MLA for Upper Bann, Jonathan Buckley, who’s been filling the time that he and his party are spending boycotting Stormont by passing wind loudly and aromatically on Twitter. A couple of Jonathan’s more fragrant contributions in particular have had Squinter pondering whether young Jonathan mightn’t have a little too much time on his hands.