The ballad of Paul Berry

Today we will take a brief break from Éire Nua (sighs of relief all round) for a special appeal. I invite you to consider the plight of this poor sap here, who has been having a hard time of it lately. This is Cllr Paul Berry MLA, representative of Newry/Armagh at Stormont and late of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Not so long ago, the baby-faced gospel singer (and when I say gospel, I mean Willie McCrea rather than Aretha) was one of the golden boys of the DUP. A big hit with the Paisleyite matrons, a pin-up for the teenagers, the youngest MLA in Stormont, a bright future ahead of him in the wacky world of the DUP. Then it all went pear-shaped, as Jim McDowell’s Sunday World scandal sheet revealed that Berry had had a close encounter with a male masseur of the gay persuasion. This episode caused grave consternation in the homosexual community, where questions were asked about what a respectable gay was doing letting his name be linked to a practitioner of a disreputable lifestyle like Democratic Unionism.

Seriously, though, the affair posed a bit of a problem for the fiercely homophobic DUP, which insists for religious reasons that its many gay members stay firmly closeted. Berry claimed he had only had an innocent sports massage, and I believe him, but the fundamentalists couldn’t tolerate the merest hint of suspicion falling on one of their own. Although Berry put up a valiant fight to remain in the DUP, even taking a court case to try and halt disciplinary proceeding, the party eventually succeeded in giving him the bum’s rush.

Since his enforced departure from the DUP, Berry had been keeping quiet. But now he has resurfaced, in high Jeff about the St Andrew’s Agreement, and is planning to run as an independent for Stormont. Probably he has been emboldened by Bob “Cream Bun” McCartney, who has been hurling brickbats at Big Ian up and down the province, and is trying to catalyse a slate of, erm, I suppose you would have to call them dissident unionists, who will be trying to outflank the DUP from the right. As ever when Chairman Bob is involved, this promises fun aplenty.

Will young Paul win against the odds, and give us an underdog story to warm the cockles? Not a fucking chance. But I’ll enjoy watching him try.

And the skies are not cloudy, part 2

So today we will continue our exploration of what a programme for revolutionary change in Ireland might look like, taking the 1970s Éire Nua as a jumping-off point. Actually we will row back a bit from Éire Nua as such in the next couple of posts and deal with some underlying methodological issues which need sorting out. For the benefit of my irritable chum from the Socialist Party, who is dying to get me writing about water charges, I should give an advance warning that this post will contain a few sweeping statements which will be counter-intuitive for most Irish socialists. Maybe he should prepare to amp up his critique from “slurs” to “outrageous slurs”.

First off, I want to argue that an approach to politics which is cast purely in terms of “left versus right”, or even “Labour versus Tories”, is totally inadequate for a serious investigation of Irish politics. Political categories which may be perfectly reasonable for analysing politics in England (although less so for Wales or Scotland) fail to translate meaningfully to either the North or the Dominion of ‘Éire’, despite some pretty sophisticated efforts to make them do so.

Leaving the North aside for the moment, in the South the major ideological division is, very broadly speaking, between Republicanism and Dublin 4. These are of course shorthand terms which need further definition. “Republicanism” in this broad sense is not identical to the active republican movement, with which it has a complicated relationship. Rather it refers to the de Valera consensus established in the 30s and 40s, representing the degeneration, although not the total reversal, of the Revolution. I should emphasise that although neither Fianna Fáil nor Sinn Féin Nua are republican in any operative sense, they are popularly regarded as such by the general public (consider workers’ identification with Social Democracy as an analogue). D4, again in the broadest sense, represents the recrudescence of openly counter-Revolutionary politics, combined with an aping of historic British and Protestant-colonial mores, and a generalised hostility to “Irishness” as such. The odd points of the D4 programme with which I might have some sympathy, its (very mild) anti-clericalism and (extremely limited) sexual liberalism, are subsumed in the whole and therefore their progressive import is nullified. This is the ideological tendency which dominates the broadcast and print media in the Free State, much of the state’s institutional infrastructure and the majority of Oireachtas members in all parties bar Fianna Fáil and the Provos.

(Parenthetically, it is worth observing that British Marxism, in virtually all its tendencies, is heavily influenced by liberalism, and this has been carried over into the London-centric left groups in Ireland. Members of those groups would of course vigorously reject that identification. My point however is not that these socialists share the conscious positions of the tofu-eating South Dublin neo-democrats – they don’t – but rather that they inhabit the same cognitive universe.)

So any socialist programme for Ireland has to begin by recognising that tasks remain from the unfinished National-Democratic Revolution, and rather than hoping for a simon-pure socialist revolution, socialists should be trying to harness democratic struggles to the struggle for socialism, of which they form an inseparable part. I don’t have the time at the minute to go into a theoretical exposition of permanent revolution, transitional politics or the united front – all of which are aspects of a common political method – but the intimate connection between the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution should be axiomatic. Indeed it’s perfectly obvious to a halfway thoughtful republican who has no knowledge of Trotsky’s writings. It takes the dogma of economism to insist otherwise.

There are concrete issues flowing from this, both in terms of the sectarian colony in the North and in terms of the deformation of the Saorstát and its specific dependence on Britain, which should be the red meat of any kind of radical politics in Ireland. In my next post I’ll deal with how Irish Marxism has handled the question of democratic demands.

And the skies are not cloudy, part 1

Readers of a certain age will probably recall the wee pamphlet pictured here. Yes, it’s Éire Nua, just when you thought it was safe to read a socialist blog. You’d tried so hard to forget it, hadn’t you? You thought that this was something that only Ó Brádaighite dogmatists cared about, and if those guys wanted to discuss theology in a smoke-filled room you could pretend it didn’t exist. But, begging your indulgence, I intend to reflect a bit here on the question of federalism and decentralisation, and how this might fit into the elaboration of a revolutionary programme in today’s Ireland. This will be a multi-part post, so please bear with me.

We should begin with the historical roots of the federalist policy. First you have to consider that in the republican split of 1969-70, the Sticks were totally dominant in Dublin and in satellite towns like Bray and Drogheda, while the Provos drew their strength from the West, the South and the border counties (the situation in the Six took a lot longer to be clarified). There is a standard view that this was a tidy split along lines of urban/rural, left/right, radical/conservative. This view is strengthened by ex-Stick elements now integrated into Dublin 4, who adopted the classic D4 sneer about “Rural Ireland” (anywhere more than half an hour out of Dublin). But things were more complicated – the Sticks’ rapid evolution into a rightwing Stalinist sect is a cautionary tale in its own right, while the early Provos, at least in the 26, were by no means as apolitical as usually assumed.

So we have in 1971 the publication of Éire Nua I, which was basically a social and economic programme the united Sinn Féin leadership had been working on before the split. It was a mildly socialist programme without the extravagancies of hyper-Stalinism that the Goulding-Garland faction later developed. The next year this was followed by the bit of the programme everybody knows, properly Éire Nua II, which was the bit about federalism. That was the part of the policy that was jettisoned by the Gerryites between 1979-82 on the grounds that it was a sop to the dílseoirí. I’ll get onto the northern issue in a future post, but for starters we’ll consider how decentralisation tied in with social and economic radicalism as part of an overarching revolutionary project.

Because, and make no mistake, in the early to mid-70s the situation in the North, and the ever-present possibility of it destabilising the South, did provide a revolutionary opening. In the so-called “no-go areas” in the North, there were moves, albeit very rudimentary ones, towards setting up alternative popular structures of government. The idea of linking these up via Dáil Uladh to form a revolutionary government – in essence dual power – was far from outlandish. The shadow assemblies sponsored by Provisional Sinn Féin in the other three provinces were conceived of as part of the same 32-county revolutionary process. And if the Leinster and Munster projects were little more than Provo fronts with no real life of their own, it was demonstrated that there was a potentially serious reservoir of support for Dáil Chonnacht.

The reason for this is not only that republicanism was relatively strong on Connacht, but the social conditions there could sustain a rural radicalism that included but wasn’t limited to republicanism. This flows into the reason why federalism was appealing to people in the West who weren’t necessarily republicans. The problems associated with the West – underdevelopment, depopulation, remoteness from the centres of power, the lack of a voice for the Irish-speaking minority – have been historically connected to the unevenness of Irish economic development, and in particular the overdevelopment of Greater Dublin. These problems are further accentuated by the neutered – virtually powerless – local government structures inherited by the Saorstát from the old British system. (We also have a clue here as to why radicalism in the West would express itself in a republican form, while the Dublin-based Sticks would move ever further away from republicanism.)

So you can see that a genuine popular movement in the West – the Cearta Sibhialta movement in Conamara springs to mind – would find itself open to republican proposals for radical decentralisation. Leaping forward to the present day, and even without talking in terms of socialist revolution, there is a reasonable possibility that a Dáil Chonnacht would have handled the Rossport fiasco better than the Dublin kleptocracy. To make sure of that, of course, you would require a serious overhaul of the Irish social and economic system. I will get onto those aspects of a decentralising programme presently.

I am the one you warned me of

I notice that my rather facetious comments on the far left’s intervention in the upcoming Stormont election have provoked an irate response from a partisan of the Socialist Party. If you look in the comments below, you will find that I have responded politely to his substantive points. I am of course gratified that at least one Irish leftist is reading this blog, but I sense a dark cloud on the horizon. That dark cloud is the SP’s fulltimer for the internet, the famously humourless Brian Cahill, bombarding me with splenetic comments any time I say anything slightly uncomplimentary about his sect. Therefore I feel it is incumbent on me to spell out from which vantage point I will be dealing with the Irish left. Please allow me to introduce myself…

I was born a long time ago. I write about the left from bitter experience and close observation over many years. I knew the Socialist Party when it was still the RSL, and a brief glance at the timeless contents of The Socialist assures me that my criticisms of it only need updating to the extent that that organisation’s idiosyncrasies have deepened over the years. I have studied the Socialist Workers Movement from the inside, and am better placed than most to examine its Melrose Place cum Darkness At Noon internal life, as well as its public positions. I have seen things that Brian Cahill can’t possibly imagine.

This blog does not represent the viewpoint of any organisation. It represents only the thoughts of a fairly experienced socialist militant. Bearing in mind my extensive familiarity with the existing (and some no longer existing) left groups, it is unlikely that I will go out of my way to be kind to any of them. If members of the Socialist Party or the SWP take umbrage at some of my remarks, tough. If they think I’m being unfair to them, boo hoo. Vu shteyt’s geshribn that I should be fair? My approach will be, credit where credit is due and a smack in the gub where a smack in the gub is due.

If anyone is expecting this to be a flame-fest pure and simple, though, they will be disappointed. I write about the left because I am of the left. I have every intention of writing about the bigger issues of the day, and have indeed begun to do so. And my writing on the left won’t be restricted to exposés of gormlessness – although examples aren’t hard to come by – but will include more sober reflections on the far left experience, as well as some constructive ideas as to how things can be taken forward.

Nobody of course is under any obligation to pay attention to anything I say, still less agree with me. My modest hope is that some readers might find some of my posts thought-provoking, reflect on them, and use them to inform their own ideas. In this spirit I will endeavour to have a civil argument with anyone who wants to argue in a serious way, although I am under no obligation to tolerate the purely abusive and will not do so. I would like an active and interested readership, and hope that this blog can provide a forum for developing debate.

The dissident run at Stormont

Having just written about Grizzly’s Amazing Disappearing Assembly Party, the obvious corollary is to take a brief look at the dissident slate, under the rubric of “Concerned Republicans”, unveiled in Toome last weekend. This is an offshoot of the dissident roadshow on policing, which has been getting sizeable audiences in a number of areas despite its progenitors – the Irps and the Real Republicans – being political tendencies that aren’t terribly popular or, it has to be said, coherent. But, given the substantial audience for dissidence implied by turnout at the roadshow and by the recent BBC Hearts And Minds poll, the proposal to run candidates against the Provos in thirteen of the eighteen constituencies gives us the best chance yet to look at both the potential and the weaknesses of the republican opposition.

There are serious practical difficulties in the face of any dissident slate – even leaving aside the likelihood of Provo dirty tricks and intimidation, many dissident supporters aren’t even on the electoral register, having taken their names off so as to avoid being impersonated. Furthermore, Republican Sinn Féin – the most substantial dissident tendency by some distance – has not only taken a stance of boycott for itself, but would not endorse any candidates who aren’t abstentionist. I think, though I’m not sure, that the Real Republicans are abstentionist towards Stormont, although the Irps and the recent ex-Provos aren’t. Given the improbability of any dissidents actually being elected, that argument may seem a little theological, but hey, that’s RSF for you.

I am also slightly disquieted by one or two of the candidates who are emerging. In particular I would mention Gerry McGeough, the voice of Catholic reaction, in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. McGeough may have a sterling record as a republican, but his rancid ultra-right Ailtirí na hAséirghe politics do constitute something of a liability for any progressive political project. I am even less impressed by the suggestion being mooted that the dissidents might endorse Eamonn McCann in Foyle. I would urge them to take a hard look at Eamonn’s programme before making a decision, and consider whether there would be the faintest possibility of them endorsing an SWP/SEA candidate other than Eamonn.

I don’t expect the dissident slate to do much business at the polls, although a reasonably substantial vote would at least lay down a marker as to the size of the audience for an alternative to the GFA/St Andrew’s process. The question is, what to do next? I think the obvious step would be to start on a process of political clarification. It would mean a serious and ongoing discussion of political alternatives to the peace process, without preconditions and without firm stances on issues like abstentionism and armed struggle being laid down in advance. Practically then, a series of open meetings in various parts of the country, along the lines of the policing roadshow perhaps, plus a forum where ideas could be thrashed out – maybe Fourthwrite would be suitable, or maybe a dedicated print or online forum – and extensive informal discussions to supplement the public side. The aim should be to develop some kind of political programme and practical plan of action that could make national liberation and socialism relevant in the current context.

I’m not putting forward any detailed ideas for what that programme or action plan might look like. But I am absolutely certain that a negative opposition to Gerry’s multiple capitulations, while it will get a hearing, is not sufficient to build on. Opponents of the GFA process are going to have to decide at some point what they stand for, put forward an attractive alternative, and try to win support for it.

The death of David Ervine

Since the headlines have been dominated by the sudden death of PUP leader David Ervine from a massive heart attack, I may as well add my two cents. Without wanting to be unkind, I feel the posthumous hagiographies have left something out.

When the PUP emerged blinking into the light after the 1994 loyalist ceasefire, pundits were quick to hail them as a breath of fresh air, a contrast to the stale and calcified old unionism of Big Ian and Old Lemonsucker Molyneaux. Here you had a bunch of working-class codgers who talked about the working class and about bread-and-butter issues. (Actually they talked about the Protestant working class, but that was glossed over.) Members of the UVF were invited onto the evening news to solemnly pontificate about the peace process, while Provo councillors couldn’t talk about refuse collection without being hectored about decommissioning. Some people on the gormless left even took seriously the PUP’s claim to be socialist – I’m thinking in particular about Militant, who assisted in the writing of the PUP programme.

At this point it is usual to wring one’s hands about the wasted potential of the fringe loyalist parties. But their failure was written into their DNA. The PUP has policies on lots of issues, often good progressive policies, but, after all, it exists primarily to represent the interests of the UVF death squads. And the UVF is an armed organisation which exists for the sole purpose of defending sectarian privilege. So it was predictable that the PUP/UVF didn’t bring a radical new voice to the peace process, its main function was to provide muscle for Trimble and insulate him against DUP attacks. Ervine’s decision last year to join the Official Unionist assembly party was the logical outcome of this process. In the meantime, the PUP’s “socialism” was reduced to claiming that Catholics were getting too many goodies and the Prods should be cut in for a bigger share. Nor were things helped by the British administration’s policy of throwing money at armed loyalism in the hope of keeping the death squads quiet.

The irony is that David Ervine was probably the best chance loyalism had to develop any meaningful politics. The tributes to Ervine the man are not misplaced – here was someone who was intelligent, articulate and had indeed made a remarkable personal journey. The question is, if someone with the qualities of David Ervine couldn’t break from the shackles of reactionary loyalism, doesn’t that prove something about the irreformable nature of loyalism? If even Ervine couldn’t do it, it is highly doubtful anyone can.

Grizzly’s candidacy headaches

Last week when writing about the Provos’ new stance on policing, I mentioned the trouble Grizzly was having holding on to his assembly party. Things have progressed in the interim, and at least a quarter of Sinn Féin Nua’s Stormont team will not be running again, at least not under the party banner.

Now, it’s true that Gerry can’t be blamed for the loss of the hugely popular Michael Ferguson of Twinbrook, who inconsiderately went and died of cancer a while back. And three others have surfaced, issued proclamations of loyalty and then gone to ground. Tommy O’Reilly says he wants to pursue his political ambitions on the big stage of, er, Fermanagh council, while North Belfast’s Kathy Stanton, a rising star in the recent past, wants to spend more time with her young family. Another rising star, Philip McGuigan of North Antrim, has just announced that he will be standing down from Stormont, though he will remain on Ballymoney council, and given the obligatory vote of confidence to Gerry.

If this doesn’t look unfortunate, deselecting two out of three MLAs in Newry/Armagh begins to look careless. Pat O’Rawe has been quiet, but her colleague Davy Hyland – who was deselected in his absence and informed by text message – is hopping mad, and has said so vocally over the last lot of days. Davy has resigned his party membership and stuck the boot into Gerry over policing. Some Gerryite apparatchiks are claiming he didn’t raise any disagreements before, but the Provo politburo’s habit of lying to its own supporters surely invalidates that complaint even if it’s true. Now Mid-Ulster MLA Geraldine Dougan has entered the fray, threatening to resign her party membership if the upcoming Ard Fheis endorses the Continuity RUC. Both Dougan and Hyland are openly canvassing solo runs at the election.

It is significant, I think, that none of these people have shown hints of dissidence in the past – rather, they are middle-of-the-road Northern republicans. Gerry should know by now that you can’t fool all the people all the time, and policing is a lightning-rod issue that it’s almost impossible to dissemble on. It also strikes at the Defenderist roots of the Northern Provos and raises hackles among people who couldn’t care less about abstentionism or the Second Dáil.

Gerry’s trouble probably won’t end here. There have been consistent reports recently of discontent among the Provo rank and file, both in the party and what remains of the army, although Belfast and Derry City are almost ostentatiously loyal. Most of the rumbling is coming from areas like East Tyrone and South Derry, places with a history of independence and long – and bruising – experience of the Lower Falls Mafia’s organisational practices. Republicans will be aware of the fate of the Antrim cumann, where a whole layer of activists were got rid of and a bunch of heavies from Belfast sent up there to take over. South Antrim’s inability to turn up a local candidate – with first North Belfast’s Martin Meehan and now Derry’s Mitchel McLaughlin being parachuted in – is directly related to this MO. Rural resentment at the Belfast politburo could easily find an expression over policing.

Hopefully it will. The Provo leadership has benefited a great deal from appeals to unity, invocation of military discipline and just outright fear. If people like Geraldine Dougan and Davy Hyland make good on their threats to stand as independents – no matter what the limitations of their programmes may be – it would at least represent some crumbling of the monolith, and that would be all to the good. It would of course leave a lot of questions unanswered about alternatives, and I’ll return to that presently.

Leftist peace process?

Sectarian polarisation in the Six Counties may be as bad as ever, but we can at least offer would-be optimists a small example of détente among the North’s tiny far left.

The upcoming Stormont election has galvanised Eamonn McCann, the Irish SWP’s best-known public figure. Over the past few years Eamonn, via his vehicle the Socialist Environmental Alliance, has stood in several elections and pulled in a respectable if hardly earth-shattering personal vote in his home city of Derry. But Eamonn is not content with Derry, he has been mooting a left slate across all 18 constituencies. The limited resources of the SWP – a mini-branch in Belfast and frig all anywhere else – will clearly not do, and allies are needed. Therefore Eamonn has issued an appeal to the SWP’s deadliest enemies, the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland (P. Hadden prop.).

Up until now, the SPNI has reacted to such calls with lofty disdain. Partly this is due to historically different stances on the North – although both groups support the peace process, the SWP has a history of sucking up to the Provos, while the Millies have established themselves as the Marxist wing of Ulster unionism. So the last time Eamonn made a pitch for an alliance, SPNI spokesman Ciarán Mulholland responded with a long-winded article denouncing the SWP/SEA’s “left republican” programme. This immediately called to mind Jack Dee’s Happy Hour (“it isn’t happy and it doesn’t last an hour”). Likewise, Eamonn’s programme was neither left nor republican. The SPNI then added insult to injury by publishing election “analyses” that boosted their own tiny vote, pretended the apolitical Dr Kieran Deeney of Omagh was some kind of radical, and ignored Eamonn.

The excuse for a new lash-up is the imminent introduction of water charges in the North. The SWP and the SPNI have both been banging the drum for non-payment, although, despite total agreement, they still can’t bear to be part of the same campaign. But, in the light of the water charge issue, and bearing in mind the precedents of Tommy Sheridan and Joe Higgins, the SPNI have hatched a Cunning Plan. It goes something like this:

1. Peter Hadden won’t pay his water bill.
2. Peter will be sent to jail.
3. The broad masses will rally around Peter and elect him to Stormont.

The SWP also have a Cunning Plan. Can you tell what it is yet?

Like one of Baldrick’s Cunning Plans, the far left perspective is so shot through with holes it’s hard to know where to start. In the first place, if the election takes place on schedule, it will happen before the water bills start arriving. Secondly, a government resort to the Small Claims Court or the Enforcement of Judgements Office makes it unlikely anybody will be going to jail. Thirdly, proconsul Hain has been cute enough to introduce the charge in stages. In the first year, only a third will be payable, making £30 for the poorest households. Who, except for an ideologically motivated far-left activist, would risk jail for the sake of £30?

Most importantly, this election, like all elections in the Six, will be a referendum on the peace process. Both left groups, who are planning a single-issue campaign, reckon they can ignore this and turn it into a referendum on water charges simply by declaring it to be so. As if!

And will the unity call succeed? The most likely scenario is that the SPNI(PHP) will tell the SWP to feck off, as they usually do. There is however a faint possibility that they might agree to a paper alliance, as long as the SWP stay 70 miles away in Derry and the Haddenites don’t actually have to talk to them or work with them.

And where do I stand on this? Idly by is where I stand. I don’t take either of these sects remotely seriously, nor do virtually the entire population. I’m much more interested in the possibility of a dissident republican slate than a far left slate. In fact, I would go so far as to say that 500 votes in Derry for Gary Donnelly is worth 2000 for Eamonn McCann. I say that not to boost Gary or do down Eamonn – in terms of formal politics, I’m much closer to Eamonn – but simply to state that a dissident run would challenge the Provos. A single-issue run by the far left, either united or separately, won’t represent a challenge to anyone.

Dead Clever? Dead funny

ITV drama doesn’t usually grab my attention, but previews of Dead Clever promised something too bad to miss. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised. Remember War Of The Roses? The Michael Douglas film loved by people who love to hate Michael Douglas? Well, this three-cornered drama, centred around Julie (Corrie’s Suranne Jones) with her gormless husband Ian (Dean Lennox Kelly) and best friend Sarah (Cold Feet’s Helen Baxendale – playing the Danny DeVito narrator role), could best be described as War Of The Roses scripted by the creators of TV’s Bad Girls and performed in thick Yorkshire accents. It’s one of the most deliciously bonkers TV shows I’ve seen in ages.The drama begins – chronologically, there are flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks in the early parts – with Ian, an obvious no-goodnik, getting himself a job at Julie’s mum’s pub. We are also introduced to Julie and Sarah as 16-year-old schoolgirls – but still played by the same actresses! Now, Jones and Baxendale are both talented actresses, but Jones is pushing thirty and Baxendale, if memory serves, is a year or two older. Putting them in gymslips and getting them to try to pass for jailbait is presumably a deliberate absurdity, tying in with the show’s exaggerated style – an alternative motivation hardly bears thinking about. Julie pairs off with Ian, falls pregnant, and has a shotgun wedding followed by a miscarriage. Fast forward ten years…

Julie seems to be doing well – she owns a car dealership and has bought Ian a pub – in contrast to her slatternly sister, an unmarried mother with a strong streak of Vicky Pollard. But this is all show, and her business is failing. On top of this, Julie discovers that Ian has been shagging her sister, and for quite some time too, as her primary-school-age nephew turns out to be Ian’s son. (We later discover Ian has also shagged Julie’s mum, just for added Bad Girls effect.) There is a three-cornered catfight, then Julie returns home, where she mopes until Ian enters in a drunken stupor. When Ian awakes in the morning, there is no sign of Julie – but there are bloodstains and a bloody knife. Ian, who can’t remember anything that happened, is arrested and sent down for murdering Julie and disposing of her body. Sarah is living in London, where she works as a book editor, but has read about the case and is in court for the verdict of 15 years.

We then jump to ten years later. Sarah, now married with kids, walks into a pub in Devon. Guess who’s behind the bar? Sarah and Julie are reunited, and looking exactly the same. (One suspects a sliding scale of time here in the “ten years earlier” and “ten years later” captions, the same way that in Marvel comics the Fantastic Four, who date from 1961, were always formed a generic “ten years ago”.) Julie explains that she had contemplated suicide that night, beginning to slash her wrists – hence the blood – then thought of killing Ian as he slept, but ended up just running away to start a new life. She hadn’t meant for Ian to get a stiff jail sentence, but reckons he had it coming.

It gets even better. Julie is writing to Ian under an assumed name, and can tell Sarah that he’s convinced himself he did it. Not only that, but she happens to have written her story down in a novel style. Sarah reads it, loves it, and takes it to her publishers. The publishers love the book, but, Sarah informs Julie, they feel the ending could be stronger, providing the protagonists with some closure. Making an entirely reasonable leap of logic, Julie then fucks with Ian’s head some more by going to visit him wearing a ludicrously transparent disguise. With the ending beefed up, the book is published, Julie becomes a bestselling author, while Ian plots revenge.

That, somewhat simplified, is the first half of Dead Clever. Later it gets even more convoluted and far-fetched. But that’s fine – black comedy is very difficult to pull off, and the main requirement is an absolute commitment to the outcome. A very promising story can be spoiled if the producers chicken out in the last five minutes (just watch Heathers again if you’re not convinced). Dead Clever doesn’t do that, it has the courage to follow its premise through to its logical conclusion. Added bonuses are some very funny writing and performances that, if not uniformly good, at least hit the larger-than-life target. In particular I would single out Suranne Jones, who takes her established femme fatale act into the realms of the sociopath with great aplomb.

If I would make any criticism of Dead Clever, it is perhaps that it could have been a little more extreme. Apart from the Grosse Pointe Blank finale, the amount of death and destruction was relatively modest. The T&A quotient was also low for a post-watershed drama. There was a brief flash of A from Lennox Kelly, for the delectation of the female audience; the T department was covered by the well-endowed Jones – even though fully dressed throughout, her mountainous bosom still tends to dominate the screen. I’m not, I hasten to add, arguing that two hours of wholesale carnage punctuated by Jones taking her top off would have been good drama – just that a similar outrageous effect could have been achieved with a bit more outrageous content and a bit less stylistic wackiness.

All in all, an unexpected New Year treat. Much in the vein of films like The Long Kiss Goodnight or Swordfish, Dead Clever was utter cobblers. But it was hugely entertaining cobblers, and I’m thoroughly ashamed of myself for enjoying it.

Provos to join the peelers

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll have heard Grizzly’s remarks at the 50th anniversary Seán Sabhat commemoration down in Fermanagh, which have been hailed as the clearest signal so far that Sinn Féin Nua will be joining the Policing Board following the upcoming Extraordinary Ard Fheis. From the horse’s mouth, as it were. And while I am reluctant to take at face value any words coming out of Gerry’s mouth, the context of his speech indicates that this is in fact the case.

First you have to consider the setting. The Provos have been holding a huge number of these commemorations in the past few months, a good indication that they’re trying to reassure the punters that they are still republicans. Several members of the leadership have also been kite-flying, though Gerry has kept close-lipped. This won’t surprise anyone familiar with Gerry’s modus operandi, which is to stay silent until he’s clear which way the wind is blowing. He would certainly never have gone for an Ard Fheis unless he could be sure of the result in advance. Finally, backslapping of the crowd is always a sure sign that something is going on. When Gerry tells the broad masses they are the most politically astute people in Europe and can’t possibly be fooled, you know an enormous bamboozle is taking place. As Fionnuala O Connor has remarked, the Provo strategy has been to retreat with a swagger and proclaim victory; they have been helped enormously by unionist paranoia and supremacism.

The policing move is of course a requirement of the St Andrews “agreement”, which was arrived at like this: Big Ian told the two governments what he wanted, the governments said, All right Ian, and nobody agreed to anything. But basically, the whole procedure tallied with the Provos’ current politics, their major demand being for Big Ian to go into coalition with them and put their bums on ministerial seats at Stormont. The whole thing accounts for An Phoblacht these days having something of the aspect of the Weekly World News, minus the intentional humour. We read strident demands that that the British make the DUP live up to their obligations and prevent them running away from the peace process. Translated, this means the Brits should make Big Ian prime minister whether he likes it or not.

Will Gerry get away with it? He probably will, if only for lack of an alternative, but not without some difficulty. He has already lost several MLAs, who have either jumped or been pushed, while the dissident roadshow on policing, comprising the IRSP, the 32-County Sovereignty Movement and various independents, continues to draw audiences significant enough that the Provos have felt the need to turn up and argue their case. But the opposition is still desperately weak politically. The deselected MLAs are keeping very quiet, and the dissidents have mainly confined their political stance to lobbying the Provos, in the hope that Gerry will suddenly discover what principled politics are. Unless there is a walkout at the Ard Fheis, it is likely that Gerry will be able to go on bamboozling for the foreseeable future.

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