By Ray O’Hanlon
The debate over the proposed changes to Articles Two and Three of the Irish Constitution was never going to be tranquil. And as the days tick away to May 22, the seas that Dublin would now view as being part of the nation – as opposed to the nation’s territory – are looking distinctly choppy.
The FF/PD government is nervous, not so much because of opposition to the proposed changes, which is largely predictable, verifiable and open to critical attack, but by the potential for sheer indifference on the part of voters, a potential that seems to be only reinforced by the current media obsession with the character flaws of the late Veronica Guerin or the composition of Michelle Smith de Bruin’s urine.
The situation is, of course, loaded with irony. The proposed new Article Two speaks of the “entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and territorial seas, to be part of the Irish nation.” To be part of the nation, but not quite yet. Untold numbers of diasporites are only furious at not having a vote on May 22, while a clearly significant percentage of voters on the island, its islands and territorial seas – hopefully in boats – couldn’t give a toss about articles this or that, the faraway North or the constitutional musings of Dev, Sean Lemass and the rest of them.
The government has only itself to blame. Fianna Fail, in its 1997 pre-election manifesto, “People Before Politics,” stated that it was “pledged to working out the necessary arrangements to giving emigrants the right to vote in D_il, presidential and European Parliament elections, and in referendum. This can be done without amending the Constitution.” Can but wasn’t. Ireland is about to change the definition of itself as a nation to include those eligible outside its borders who have no say in the changing. Go figure!
BLUE MO Scores are being settled in the pages of the London Sunday Times. A former head of the Northern Ireland Office information section, Andy Wood, penned a piece in the ST last weekend tearing strips off his former boss, Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam. Mo fired Wood after a decade-long stint at the NIO and he wasn’t a happy camper. Wood alleged that he had suffered personal and sexual verbal abuse at the hands of Mo, who is indeed notoriously loose-tongued. It wasn’t just bad language, he wrote, but what he believed was an addiction to dirty toilet talk that bordered on the obsessive.
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Wood doesn’t see himself as a prude – he distinguishes between politicians who use salty language and foul – but he reckons that Mo was way over the top. As well as that, he claims that her idea of shuttle diplomacy was simply to agree with all sides and that she would send her RUC minders on errands to buy lipstick, tights and various womanly hygiene products as part of a personal crusade to “civilize the Ulster male.” Boys o boys!
P.C. IN ARMAGH It arrived in the mail the other day. The Armagh Visitors Magazine, Issue No. 1, presented itself to the world as the essential guide to the “City of Saint Patrick” and “Ireland’s Christian Capital.” Limerick won’t be pleased. Anyway, Armagh now boasts a living history re-creation of itself in the year 1776, which, some will recall, was a restless one in these parts.
Anyway, the visitor can meet with costumed reenactors playing individuals such as Richard Robinson, archbishop of Armagh in 1776; Lady Elizabeth Cumberland, who, along with her husband, is “vastly fond of their visits to Ireland;” Brendan, a groom at the stables who fancies Lady Elizabeth, and Abigail, “a long-suffering housemaid in the bishop’s palace.” We’ll say no more.
The magazine goes on to suggest questions you can ask the good folk: “Who made their clothes? What do they eat, what are their homes like?” Wow! “IF” might just add Georgian Armagh to the summer vacation and get in a few questions of its own.
How about, “What’s it like being a Catholic under the Penal Laws?” or, “What do think about all those colonials kicking the bejasus out of the Redcoats in America?” Then we’ll see how Christian the good burghers of 1776 Armagh really were.
MARY, MARY The hat is thick with names already in the race succeed Jean Kennedy Smith as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. “IF” thought it might as well throw in the latest name to break the surface, that of Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory. And why not? Marys do well in Phoenix Park.
JUST GRAND “IF” was impressed by a reference in last week’s paper to Al O’Hagan, former “national ritual chairman” for the AOH. Great titles in the Hibernians, but they can’t hold a candle to the Irish Masons. Phoenix magazine recently did a piece on the Masons in Ireland and came up with a series of titles that would make you bow and scrape at the very sound of them: grand king, deputy grand king, grand high priest, grand superintendent of the tabernacle, grand captain of the scarlet veil. There were a couple of other grand captains in charge of various other veils, while there was even a grand janitor. This is all very inspiring. “IF” has been bucking for a promotion lately. Grand editor will do nicely, thank you.
NOT ALWAYS Tip O’Neill’s sage thinking on all politics being local is not entirely applicable in the matter of New York budget funds being set aside for Famine studies in state public schools. The New York Times recently suggested that the effort by Assemblyman Joe Crowley to secure the money had a whiff of pork about it. The fact is, most of the voters in Crowley’s Assembly district are no longer Irish and the funding secured, and endorsed by Gov. Pataki, is for statewide distribution. And when you spread $200,000 across an education system as big as the Empire State’s, that a pretty thin slice of bacon.
BAD NEWS The evisceration of Pete Hamill’s vision of a new journalistic golden age at the Daily News in New York continued last week with the firing of Deputy Managing Editor Jim Mulvaney, a Hamill hire and early veteran of Northern Ireland reporting who was lured from the Orange County Register in California with the mere credit under his belt of having organized a posse of sun-bleached hacks in the successful pursuit of a Pulitzer Prize.
But hey, when you’re on the wrong side of the political ascendancy it doesn’t matter a whit. Mulvaney, and other Hamillites, have succumbed to the chill wind blowing across 10th Avenue from the Hudson, a wind that augers ill for the Hometown Paper despite Mike McAlary’s recent Pulitzer success.
The News continues to reach into its soul in search of itself and is finding, well, not an awful lot. And this despite the continued efforts of some highly talented journalists. The News should hire George Bush to sort out its lack of a vision thing. The scary thing is – it just might. Mulvaney, meanwhile, is planning to write a novel. “Citizen Vain” perhaps?