Where’s the beef? Cultural politics in the New Dispensation


I should, I suppose, have covered the PSF Ard Fheis, but I didn’t follow it as closely as I should have. This is entirely because Gerryspeak does my head in. Props to the Dublin organisation, though, for their valiant attempt to reinstate the old tax policy. This shows a grasp of the realities of southern politics that many Nornies still haven’t got their heads around.

So what of our New Dispensation up here? What there hasn’t been so far is any worthwhile legislation, or indeed many executive decisions. Everything is under review. And, with the honourable exceptions of Margaret Ritchie and Michelle Gildernew, few ministers seem in a hurry to do anything. This was raised in the Assembly back in October by the estimable Naomi Long (Alliance, East Belfast) and provoked a most un-PC response from Papa Doc.

It’s all the more puzzling when you consider that on the big socio-economic issues, everybody at Stormont agrees with everybody else. In fact, all the big rows have been about cultural symbolism.

Take the attendance of culture minister Edwin Poots (DUP) at the Pobal conference. It was said that this was a great step forward, that it was the first time anyone from the DUP had attended an Irish-language event. The latter is true, and it does mark some modest progress from the days when Sammy the Streaker and his cronies at City Hall were banging on about Gaeilge being a “foreign language”. But there’s a way to go yet, as demonstrated by Pootsie’s speech. I’m paraphrasing of course, but I think I have the gist:

Yo! I’m here. I’m doing my job as culture minister and reaching out to all sections of the community.

Now you guys think you’re getting a Language Act. Well, you can whistle for it.

And what’s all this about bilingual signage? I don’t think so.

What’s more, you Gaeilgeoirí keep letting Sinn Féin/IRA lead you by the nose. You need to correct that in the future.

Sin é.

Well, no, to be totally fair, there was a bit more to it than that. Pootsie did do a bit of soft-soaping about the shared heritage of our community. And he also had a pop at the Provos for launching an Irish-language campaigning group named after martyred IRA volunteer Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh. In the minister’s view, this tended to associate an Ghaeilge with “terrorism” and made things more difficult for friends of the language like himself.

We may well say the minister is being disingenuous, and there’s a fair possibility that might be true. But he’s also hit on something, in that republican politics in the North these days consists in very large part of cultural symbolism, combined with invoking the names of republican heroes. At this rate, the Provos will have more commemorations than the Orange Order.

So it was with PSF’s International Women’s Day initiative, which was to hold a celebration of the life of martyred volunteer Máiréad Farrell. A perfectly worthy thing to do – Máiréad was a serious republican woman who deserves to be commemorated. But then there was the idea of holding the event at Stormont, instead of (say) a West Belfast venue. This drove the unionists apeshit, which may have been the point. As it happens, the Assembly business committee wouldn’t let them use the Long Gallery. And so Nelson McCausland (DUP) got to go on the wireless and crow about how the Shinners had been forced to hold the commemoration in a poky wee party office.

This, I suppose, is what passes for politics in the North these days. Where’s the beef, indeed?

Rud eile: On a related note, I can’t help but notice all the tributes to Brendan Hughes that have been appearing in the Andytown News. It’s all the more striking in that the Dark had been an unperson for the last lot of years. But now, I guess, it’s okay to praise him now that he’s safely dead and unable to answer back. Lord help us, these guys will probably even have something nice to say about John McAnulty when he goes.


  1. Mark P said,

    March 8, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    It’s an interesting point that the Stormont government has done little or nothing, particularly on issues that go beyond cultural symbolism. I suspect that broadly speaking the reason is that, while all of the parties agree with each other that the future is neo-liberal capitalism, they still vehemently disagree about which sectarian camp gets (or is perceived to get) the pork.

    Sorry about the continued meat allusions.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 10, 2008 at 9:07 am

    It’s not so much the distribution of pork – there isn’t that much of it and there are legal issues around the distribution. But the symbolism itself is enough to get people riled up.

  3. Ciarán said,

    March 10, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    “I’m all for the language, but there’s too many republicans who speak it.”

    “I’m not racist, but…”

  4. NollaigO said,

    March 25, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Ta an ceart agutsa, Ciaran

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