Those who write about the Brexit saga must be very careful
On RTÉ One TV last Thursday, there was a chilling reminder of times past.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, told parliament in Westminster that the shootings by British soldiers weren’t crimes back in the days of the Troubles.
Her subsequent apologies were clumsy and hardly believable. It took her 24 hours to fully ‘apologise’.
Those comments were bad enough, but not too surprising, knowing the political inclinations of Ms Bradley.
The bigger problem for the Secretary of State is that she clearly knows nothing about Northern Ireland. She’s a conservative lightweight.
Worse, however, was the sight of Sammy Wilson, a member of the DUP — and someone who certainly knows Northern Ireland and its troubled past — nodding repeatedly on live TV in agreement with her.
As I said, a chilling reminder.
But then Sammy was once a proud wearer of the red headgear of the Ulster Resistance Movement, along with the late Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, who has since become a very proactive peace force in Ulster and Irish healing. He’s been a measured, calming voice, to his great credit. Peter Robinson is someone who must be respected as he is desperately trying, albeit behind the scenes, to rein in the DUP.
Back on Saturday, July 28, 2018, The Irish Times carried reportage of the McGill Summer school, in which Mr Robinson said that he would accept the results of a border poll if it led to Northern Ireland and the Republic uniting. “As soon as that decision is taken every democrat will have to accept that decision,” he said.
There was no reason to interpret that as being an immediate opportunity for such a poll, but clearly, Peter Robinson wanted to leave a legacy which preached calm and reason.
Meanwhile, Susan McKay in The Irish Times on Saturday last stated that Karen Bradley “has already won herself a reputation as the most inept Secretary of State anyone can remember”, citing how she laughingly boasted that when she was given the role that “she had not known that nationalists did not vote for unionists, and vice versa”.
However, many of these anecdotes proffered above are dangerous conversation pieces.
I’m sure many people are surprised that I recount any, if I really think they’re not good conversation pieces, since doing so rekindles stuff that is best buried and forgotten.
However, it’s hard to bury something completely that is being repeated right before our eyes in the current climate where northern politics is verging on catastrophe.
In saying that, I am not referring just to unionists, but to nationalists as well.
In that context, one feels obliged to state the obvious. The current stagnation of northern politics should have been ended long ago. Arguably by the Secretary of State.
In any case, the DUP seem oblivious to the needs of their own society, in rejecting every possible version of a Brexit exit deal that could possibly be agreed.
The nationalists too, have many problems, although I couldn’t agree that swearing allegiance to the Queen is one of them.
But at least the ordinary nationalists and unionists, despite the incendiary language of their respective leaders, are able to express their own woes, and make their views clear.
This they’ve done, loudly. Is anyone listening?
Those of us who are privileged to write about the Brexit saga, must be very careful. It’s easy to recount stories to make passions inflame. Perhaps more difficult to be restrained.
This is, above all else, a time for restraint. Ireland, and the six counties are teetering on the brink of chaos.
Being responsible, sometimes means staying silent
It’s a great shame that Leo Varadkar takes decisions such as the one he consciously adopted last week when an envelope containing suspicious contents was delivered to the Department of Health.
The building had to be completely cleared, and staff sent home for the day. Part of the reason was probably the Salisbury incident in the UK where people were poisoned. In any case the bomb squad was called in as the feeling was, that this was a serious incident and must be approached with great caution.
Great care was exercised in approaching the envelope, and nobody knew it was a dud, until it had been investigated. But unfortunately, the Taoiseach is so totally preoccupied with image and latches on to any and all public opportunities without the remotest trace of embarrassment, it seems.
The distance and inconvenience is no problem, not when there’s camera potential that will show our Taoiseach in a good light.
He’d detour for two hours to land a snap.
I think most people would expect he was fully preoccupied with Brexit and doing rather well, staying on message resolutely, and possessing a certain appropriate gravitas.
His image was being heightened by the day, showing up British politicians as amateurs in their statements and proclamations, and toddler-scale proposals.
In that context, he’s being seen as a serious politician.
Brexit is the sort of image that should appeal to him. Yet he craves the diet of adulation before he taking anything serious enough to ponder carefully.
By lowering the public image of Taoiseach — as many thought he did around the Dáil — all he serves is to remind us is, that Britain is not alone. The Irish are just as preoccupied with PR as their British counterparts could ever be.
After the incident in the Department of Health, he couldn’t resist making a statement. “If you want to come after us, come after us. But don’t come after our staff or our families.”
Standing gravely while he made the statement, he seemed to revel in the opportunity to let everyone know what he thought.
He shouldn’t have bothered with such an attempt to engage the attention of those who placed the device in the first place.
Being responsible sometimes means staying silent.
It might be, by far, the best response.