"WHAT do ye do to pass the day?” said the text from Limerick man, Peter Sheehan, now living in the north for some 45 years, as I looked at my phone the other day.
I was watching one of the evening Covid-19 updates from Downing Street where the blond-haired Prime Minister, giving an update in our crisis, waved his hands in the air, shrugged his shoulders, lamented the fact that well over 100,000 people had perished, but then assured us that everything possible was being done by his good self and his cabinet colleagues to make life as good as it can get.
My mind went back to an evening in June 1982. I think that was the last time that the British government held press updates on an almost daily basis – the crisis then was the Falklands War.


It was a Monday night. I was in St Enda’s clubhouse. Billy Gillen was the barman. As we awaited the beginning of the broadcast on our brand new big screen, in came Peter and Sean O’Hare. They had been taking part in a hurling session and came in to hear the latest news. The Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, almost smiled as he told us that Mario Menéndez, commander of the Argentine Forces, had surrendered and the conflict was over. Nott had been unpopular because he had announced that the Royal Navy would be shrunk shortly before the conflict started. Some thought he would now be treated as a hero but Billy Gillen disagreed. “Nott will NOT be a minister in a short time. The only thing keeping him there just now is his close relationship with Margaret Thatcher.”
“You have to hand it to Billy, he has inside info!” laughed Peter Sheehan as he and Sean exited to continue their hurling practice.
Later that year in October, John Nott wrote to Margaret Thatcher offering his resignation, which she did not accept until the election of 1983 when he stood down as an MP. In his letter he expressed his admiration for Thatcher. In it, he added: “It is inexcusable to say so nowadays but I actually admire you as a woman – your good looks, charm and bearing have always attracted me, as a man.” He signed the letter, “Love, John”
Nott mentioned the letter in his memoir published in 2002, ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ and how the PM did not reply.

“Tonight was a DUP night; they were all out in force: the old UUP drinking, Donaldson and Foster, the Robinsons and the hard-line DUP not. None of the Devil’s buttermilk for them! Peter Robinson was a curious orange colour, as was Iris, fresh from a cruise. He is very deaf in one ear... but he is on good form”

Another text message came through. “I have a book for you.” It was Billy Gillen. He had read a review of the book a few months ago and bought it online. He has read it a few times. He says the language is a little crude at times but it is worth reading. The book is ‘Diary of an MP’s Wife’ by Sasaha Swire. Sasha Swire is the daughter of the former Defence Minister John Nott and is married to Hugo Swire, who was a Conservative MP for East Devon from 2001 until 2019. Sasha worked as his political researcher and kept a diary. When Hugo retired, a publishing agent approached her and it was decided to publish a volume of her work.

The book starts when her husband became Minister of State for Northern Ireland after the election in 2010, and continues until he retired in 2019. She recounts tours of East and West Belfast and displays a knowledge of Northern Ireland affairs, albeit from a right wing Conservative point of view. I found myself following Billy’s advice to concentrate on her record of Northern Ireland affairs.
She tells of a social evening in Cosby Hall in Chelsea, home of Christopher Moran, a multi-millionaire supporter of the Tory party, who was chairman of Co-Operation Ireland, which includes on its board people from north and south of Ireland including Peter Robinson, Baroness Ritchie, Charles Flannigan TD and Trevor Ringland. The Chief Executive of Co-Operation Ireland is former Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan who resigned from the PSNI in the summer of 2008 to take up the post.
This soirée took place in early July 2017, just a month after Theresa May’s election which left her needing the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs to stay in power. A deal had just been sealed.
“Tonight was a DUP night; they were all out in force: the old UUP drinking, Donaldson and Foster, the Robinsons and the hard-line DUP not. None of the Devil’s buttermilk for them! Peter Robinson was a curious orange colour, as was Iris, fresh from a cruise. He is very deaf in one ear... but he is on good form”
Peter Robinson played down the deal and reminded them of the deal he had done with Labour’s Gordon Brown back in June 2008. “Supporting Labour’s legislation on twenty-eight-day detention cost Gordon Brown £1.5 billion, a third of which went to shore up Bombardier.... A billion to shore up a government for two years is cheap at the price.” He told them he might go into the House of Lords “but says he might have trouble with the Lords Appointments Commission.
“I have a long talk with Arlene; she always bounces off H and me for intelligence on the new ministers. I give the run-down of Chloe Smith: ‘over-promoted too early.’ “And Brokenshire?” asks Arlene.
‘Loyal to May but boring. Hugo calls him the Human Hedgehog.’”
On January 21 she recorded a conversation with her close friend Amber Rudd, then Home Secretary. “Personally I think Ireland will have to become united through mutual agreement.”
Of Jacob Rees-Mogg she said that “someone had written that JRM was ‘a barmaid’s idea of a gentleman.’”
The relationship between Arlene and Sasha was obviously very good for on Thursday, April 5, 2018 the First Minister arrived for a visit.
“Arlene Foster comes to stay at Chaffcombe with her husband Brian, a PSNI officer. We discuss whether we should show them our pub, them being DUP and anti ‘the Devil’s buttermilk’, etc. As it turns out, they can more than match us glass for glass, Brian getting more preachy and Presbyterian as the evening progresses: lots of talk about creationism and original sin and how love conquers all. I whisper to Arlene, ‘Gosh, he should have been a preacher, not a policeman.’ She sighs and says, ‘I know.’ I like Arlene heaps, always have.

"The dynamic was interesting, though. Brian completely dominated, and she was very respectful towards his views.She told me Old Ma May never asks to see her when she is in London, she only speaks with the Chief Whip, which is staggering when her MPs are propping up the government. Not even a courtesy cup of tea, apparently.”
As Billy reminded me, there are some times when Arlene doesn't dominate the conversation! Now I’m wondering what book he will give me this week.