I know I’m a bit late with this, but I couldn’t resist flagging it up. Big shout out to Brad for the tip – I’ve been laughing myself silly for the last lot of days.
I refer of course to last week’s Jim Gibney column in the Irish News. Now, it’s no secret that I don’t like Jim very much. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who does, despite his decades-long prominence in the Provisional movement, a position owing more to his usefulness to Grizzly than anything else. I’ve never really been able to work out whether Jim is a complete cynic or a complete idiot, and his weekly column offers a third possibility, that his entire political career is some kind of absurdist conceptual art project.
According to Jim, the restoration of Stormont, with Papa Doc as prime minister, marks the abolition of the old partitionist settlement and the creation of a 32-county political framework heading helter-skelter towards a united Ireland.
“From this point forward through the operation of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement – the all-Ireland ministerial council, the executive and assembly – all the people of this island for the first time since partition will be part of a single, island-wide political entity,” arsa Séimí.
Whatever Jim’s smoking, I want some of it. We know what the GFA/St Andrew’s settlement amounts to. It isn’t of course the same as the Stormont of 40 years ago. As the estimable Séamus Mallon says, it’s Sunningdale for slow learners. While this might fit the Life on Mars aspect of Norn Iron politics, it raises uncomfortable questions, not least about the morality of a war that continued for 20 years after Sunningdale. If this is the apotheosis of the republican struggle, we should have grabbed Sunningdale with both hands. If on the other hand we were right to reject Sunningdale in ’73… well, that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.
This is why Jim only spends about a third of his article praising the restoration of Stormont. The rest is spent on that old Gerryite rhetorical ploy of backslapping the base.
Jim explains: “In 1932 the newly-opened Stormont building reflected the unionist ethos of the times. To its fore the statue of Sir Edward Carson, to its side the grave of Sir James Craig, all around it unionist east Belfast. [Both are still there, but Jim doesn’t care to mention that.] Unionist luminaries protecting a parliament – the preserve of unionists. On Tuesday the building housed those with a story of a different kind – nationalists. A displaced people, a maligned people, a marginalised people at last found their rightful place at the centre of political power.”
And then Jim goes on to namecheck a fierce number of people, well respected people among the republican community, who got passes to the Great Hall in Stormont to watch proceedings. Families of hunger strikers, relatives of death squad victims, ex-prisoners and divers republican luminaries, all were there for the big occasion. And I wouldn’t begrudge them their day in the sun, but… there is a subtle difference between republicans attending a grand Stormont occasion and the achievement of republican goals. A smart guy like Jim should know this.
I couldn’t help thinking of a quip the late Joe Heller aimed at the Commentary milieu: “Invite a Jew to the White House and you make him your slave.” Invite a Provo to Stormont…?
Anyway, if I were the editor of the Irish News, I would be thoroughly ashamed of inflicting this drivel on the newspaper-reading public. And I would probably be thinking of placing a call to Morrison or Hartley, and see if they could do a more convincing job.