Style Sans Substance

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye  - Miss Piggy

In life it is useful but often difficult to see oneself just quite as others do. What might seem a great initiative to the beholder can at the same time be viewed as sheer folly by those gazing on. These days I no longer follow Sinn Fein ard fheiseanna, long having been bored into intellectual torpor by the vacuity of it all. Drivel, dross, deference do not combine to produce a magnetism that would draw the concentration; especially when something of such quality as The Killing, a twenty part Danish murder mystery, can command an attention it does not have to vie for. Sinn Fein these days wants to put clear blue sea between itself and the killing.

Among matters discussed at the party’s first Belfast conference was ‘practical planning for Irish unity to begin now’. An unconsciousness acknowledgement perhaps of the failure and futility of the Sinn Fein endorsed IRA campaign and an admission that it was never a practical venture. No Sinn Fein leader who sent men and women out in armed pursuit of the Republic ever told the foot soldiers that the exercise lacked practicality. Yet if all that was achieved by armed struggle was a call for Irish unity to be planned only ‘now’, it leaves little room for any alternative interpretation.

Part of the ‘now’, it seems, is having David Latimer address a Sinn Fein ard fheis.  Compared to the serious players in the art of high politics that Sinn Fein have managed to parade over the years, Latimer, a Presbyterian cleric,  doesn’t really cause the political ground to tremble when he steps upon it. In a media malnourished by low calorie news this is one story that had to be well and truly inflated. Likewise with an earlier event when Latimer met with anti Good Friday Agreement republicans. For all its hype, the Latimer experiment pales in comparison to the initiative launched by the Protestant churchmen at Feakle 37 years ago. Protestant clerics and Provos, the T-shirt is a hand-me-down.

Latimer appeared at the Sinn Fein are fheis where he described Martin McGuinness as ‘one of the true great leaders of modern times.’ Not something you would fancy taking the stand in court to defend. Before bedding down as Peter Robinson’s deputy McGuinness led a section of the community to war against the British state in which many lost their lives.  He settled for becoming a cog in the state wheel he swore to derail. He is now in a government, of sorts, that has no opposition. Surely true great leaders manage something better than wasted lives.

Latimer’s presence may have annoyed unionists but in the North’s zero sum game where power is parsimoniously split rather than generously shared, it is to be expected that the boundaries of one’s own sphere of influence shall be vigorously policed. When one tribe registers a plus the other instinctively experiences a minus. This is the seesaw sectarianism that so defines the North. No longer a sectarian state but a state in a sectarian society, it appears to grow more polarised by the year.

Some unionist commentators, the odd bigot in their midst, have taken to criticising Latimer in terms of failing the crucified Christ. Now there is bunkum and there is serious bunkum. Political bunkum is bad enough but religion takes bunkum into a heavenly sphere of its own. 

The theological or evangelical deficiencies of Latimer are unlikely to strike a chord with those who live their lives outside the world of hocus pocus and higglety pigglety. What the fairies at the bottom of the garden might think of Protestant clerics holding hands and praying with Martin McGuinness is of little relevance. Others not enamoured to ghosties, ghouls and goblins make the more telling points.

Alex Kane who does not buy into superstitious bull had a better handle on it all than the bible thumpers. Despite the fawning of clapping seals Latimer was not the harbinger of some radical change within the unionist mindset. Remember all those years ago when Sinn Fein droned on about finding the unionist de Klerk. Is this the best the party can do?  Latimer is not in a position to deliver unionism of any kind other than:

turquoise unionism of the most timid, tepid variety from someone who delivered exactly what the Sinn Fein leadership expected of him. They lapped it up because it was the sort of intellectual Lundyism which makes them think that their unionist outreach strategy is actually a huge success. The Rev Latimer had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a unionist Daniel in a lion’s den of republicanism. That he chose, instead, to be a squeaking, keep-the-audience-happy-at-all-costs mouse, is something that only he will ever understand.

Alex Kane went on to make himself available for the next ard fheis ‘if Sinn Fein really wants to know what unionists think!’

He will hardly get invited. What the unionists think is less important to the party leadership than having the party faithful not think.


  1. What was that song sung by Sandy Shaw ?oh aye Puppet on a string!

  2. Mackers,
    actually found myself a sort of captive audience during the Master's 'I haven't gone away you know' speech
    'Fuck off now then' I shouted, much to my son's disdain.
    Latimer's admiration for Marty could be the result of a few things, over exposure to the Taliban and the fact nobody else would ever have him up to speak?

  3. Nuala,

    I didn't watch one second of it. Master worship is not my thing. Latimer's appearance now makes me wonder about him turning up to meet republicans at the Derry camp. He seems to have been paving the way; that Belfast rather than Derry was his real destination.

  4. The present arrangement is half way toward Eire Nua, the 25,000 people who will emigrate from the 26 counties to Britain this yr have no problem with the Brits, like the 1 million Irish already there.WOULD A MAJORITY IN THE 26 COUNTIES VOTE FOR UNITY ?
    If republicans wanted a return to war, it could of been done a decade ago.Try reading "Against the Tide", Noel Browne ,1986.

  5. Mickey Harte for President ? Anthony could be his campaign manager ! Better chance of Liverpool winning the Prem !! SLAINTE.

  6. marty Mi6 standing for president.
    didn't know the UK had one.

  7. Rumours abound. Harte or McGuinness. Harte would put up the better fight, I imagine. He will not have to face human bomb allegations and such like at every turn.

  8. I love this site came to it very late outstanding keep it up

  9. Just in the door with the kids to learn that McGuinness is confiremed as the SF candidate for the presidency.

  10. Mackers,
    it was torture in the extreme, made all the worse by the fact my son hid the remote control.
    Not because he has any allegiance to Sinn Fein, more to do with the fact he thinks Gerry's hilarious.

  11. President Marty, bet Big G's furious. Ah well, don't suppose he could be any worse certainly no better than what he is replacing!

  12. Now we know what the hug a prod shit was all about at the weekend,reminds me of sir Hiss in Disney,s Robin Hood, the master has a new slogan..Chuck our lads!

  13. Nuala,

    they mustn't think it can be won otherwise the Master would bag it for himself.

    I am sure the Ard Fheis was torturous. You must have cooked a bad dinner for your son if that was his revenge - making you listen to the Master

  14. Fionnuala

    The cause of David Latimers admiration for the "J" man is worth a bit of reflection all right

    Think myself over exposure to the orange Order is a more likely cause, higher level of toxicity- even the Taliban have a level of perspective where they would pay respect to and allow the peaceful burial of someone who fell in the name of their cause

  15. Martin For All Ireland President!

    The cherry on the cake for a party that views the border as a mere line on the map which President McGuinness would render null and void.

    By Jesus! We were slow learners indeed.

  16. Alec,

    it was always part of the strategy and linked to the twin approach of being in government in the Nort, in a coalition government in the South. The 2007 election messed things up. It will be interesting to see how things go when the dirt gets churned up by the campaign wheels. Human bombs will not be easily explained away as peace bombs.

  17. I don't believe MMcG is in the race to win it. They will use the opportunity to further profile the party as an all Ireland outfit with realistic claims to sharing power in the future. After all, a party with with its hat in the ring for the Presidency must be taken seriously.

  18. Alec,

    I think that is a fair enough take. What he has going for him is the implausibility of the opposition.

  19. Agree with Alex, there is absolutely no way he can win it. Sinn Fein will get the normal 10% vote plus the 5/6% disaffected Fianna Fail vote. maximum vote of 18%.This is more about a profile for the future than the present and SF know it. It is actually a very good tactic.
    The human bomb will have no effect on this vote. People know everything there is to know at this stage and although it may be negative in the media, it won't hurt him. It will be interesting to see how he copes with his past but nothing at this stage will hurt him, as we already saw with GA.
    This is nothing more than a publicity stunt. Elections and voting aren't always fought to be won.

  20. Northern media giving martybhoy major coverage from the get go. BBC going doolally.

    With the media solidly onside still and ranks closed, questions about human bombs may be snuffed out [ no pun intended ] he may actually do better than many expect.

    It is a good tactic. There's no denying they are shrewd operators.
    Danna, if she enters, bumchum norris if he's permitted, or ... cant remember any others...yep, a good move from a SF perspective, the media already drooling, but then many of those media boys have similar backgrounds to marty, maybe the same boss.

  21. Well Lads, look at it this way, if elected it will not be the first time an alleged fisherman has been 'president' of the free state.

  22. BKeane,

    interesting analysis. I think issues from the past tend to play a part in these things. Given his huge profile, the lack of opposition, the present incumbent being from the North - there is a lot to favour him winning it were it not for a dark past - which is why a large swathe of opinion in the South won't go near his party. He will get a decent vote as you point out but I wonder how much higher it would be were he not carrying the baggage. Once Gerry McCabe's name is thrown in dynamics could change a bit.

  23. AM

    The thing is, if Mr McG were not carrying what you describe as baggage, he would not be in the running for the presidency.

    I feel this is a very interesting, astute and in its own way brave decision. Not least because it will finally give us a idea about how the people of the 26 counties regard their fellow countrymen and women who 'went to war' to politically reunite their nation.

  24. Mackers,

    I think you are correct to point to personal history being a factor in all of this. The specter of Gerry McCabe will overshadow anything that happened in the north. Add to this the view still held by many in the south that SF is a blow in from the north with little understanding of the deep seated problem facing society and the economy. However, a personal showing of between 15% to 20% would be enough to ensure the forward momentum the party seeks.

  25. This is a no lose prospect for Sinn Fein. McGuinness will poll respectably and the party will present it as another step forward for their political project.

    I hear the base is buzzing because of this decision. The PRM leadership are shrewd opperators.

  26. The majority of people on this island are republican minded people but republican seems to have so many definitions these days. I think it is fair to say the violence silences a lot of people and even turns people against northern politics. But when you have a presidential candidate that calls Irishmen traitors, with a history like that of MMc it will close a lot of doors, certainly mine.

  27. Alec,

    the base would be buzzing. It keeps the focus away from the fact that political policing is in full throttle - even the supergrass system is back. While not the only one he was part of a dirty war and the public has to decide if it wants to take a risk having him represent the country abroad. Adams only got doing what he did internationally because of the peculiar circumstances of the North. The presidency is a bit different.


    that's right about his baggage. But it is no less a double edged sword for all of that. It does not strike me as a brave decision but rather an easy one. Not that they would not be brave if brave decisions were required. FF created a vacuum at two junctures and having partially filled the first one they are now set to do likewise at the second.

  28. AM
    Issues from the past do tend to play a part in these things like we saw with David Norris. But Norris isn't a household name for 40 years like MMc. People who vote for MMc won't and don't care about his past. They know who he is, what he has done and nothing will surprise them. My point is that generally you are right, issues come to light and people change their minds on candidates but like Adams, MMc has no skeletons that will surprise anybody who votes for him. I don't think he will win votes in the south outside of the traditional niche and a small percent of disaffected Fianna Fail.

  29. BKeane,

    'People who vote for MMc won't and don't care about his past. They know who he is, what he has done and nothing will surprise them.'

    That's true but if he is to make an impression he has to get more than those who would vote him anyway. And if he gets as rattled as Adams under even mild pressure, outcomes can be affected. I anticipate him being asked the difficult questions. If for example there were gardai killed during his tenure as Chief of Staff and he is seeking to become head of the defence forces, it is not going to be passed off lightly. There are answers that can be given to the Northern media that cannot be fallen back on in the South.

    I think he will galvanise the Fine Gael vote against him.

  30. Mackers,

    I think McG copes better under the spotlight than Adams. He will give his interrogators few openings and will be well prepared to field awkward questions about his past. These days he is very much a known quantity so there will be few surprises.

    Political policing is tolerated by many PRM members because it is directed at their political opponents. I am stopped regularly and it doesn't appear to present a problem for most Sinn Fein members on the ground. The renewed use of the discredited super-grass system doesn't even warrant attention and is simply ignored by the party. What will be their attitude whenever it is employed against members of the nationalist/republican community?

    Some have described the decision to nominate McG as a brave one. I see it as a the natural outworkings of the strategy to increase political representation north and south of the border. We talked about Gerry's ambition to be President years ago but, alas, the scandal surrounding his brother put paid to that political dream.

  31. Alex,

    I too think he is a better performer than Adams. The arrogance of the latter leads him to bully and hector when he can't get his own way. Yet, I am not sure McGuinness will do so well under the spotlight down here. This is big time exposure.

    The whole policing question shows how little they actually achieved.

    Not sure the brother issue had put paid to the Master's ambition. Never thought of that angle however. It did him no damage in Louth. I think that he comes across instantly as a incorrigible liar is a big problem for him. You really need to answer the question or find a way of avoiding it, but you can't get away for long by telling the interviewer he has no right to ask the question.

  32. Anthony,

    What's the chances that Fianna Fail will attempt to scupper McGuinness by endorsing him in some manner? Moreover I'm interested to see where the further requisite nominees will be derived or which councils may support his nomination? I'm sure the ground work on this has been long completed.

  33. Robert,

    if they do they will scupper themselves. A bid for the presidency spot is long in the making. We were writing about it in 2005 at the latest and no doubt others were before that. Adams was to be the man so I guess he is furious at the way things have turned out. The election debacle in 2007 put it on hold but their good perfioomance this year has opened things up again

  34. AM

    I said brave decision because MMcG has a very comfortable birth in the north and he clearly enjoys the plaudits he gets and not only from his own side. Plus the British media, unlike with Gerry Adams, all but gives him a free ride.

    I agree with Alec, standing for the presidency is a "natural outworkings of the SF strategy to increase political representation north and south of the border." But this alone did not mean McG would have to step up to the plate, hence my brave decision comment, after all no one knowingly wishes to be dragged through the mud.

    I doubt SF will lose much sleep over FG galvanising its vote against SF. The real question is whether those who voted for them at the last general election will stay on board, after all the cuts are hitting hard and the economy is yet to pick up, whereas SF has a record of opposing austerity.

    What ever way you look at this; and leaving aside his alleged baggage, M McG is perfect for this job and I feel many voters will sense this and he may even be elected.

  35. I should have added at the end of the above, who knows?

  36. Mick

    MMcG was an obvious choice for the contest given his profile and performance as DFM. Once the party decided to enter the race it made sense to play their strongest hand; Gerry being ruled out partly due to personal issues. I do believe that Adams had his eyes on the job in ideal circumstances.

    The media are already lining up to have a go at him vis-a-vis his past. A lot of difficult questions will be thrown at him in respect of this but there are few surprises left to produce a shock-wave of popular indignation. All the media can do is to regurgitate what is know already.

    Whilst I expect Sinn Fein to make a respectable showing the bookies will be offering outside odds at best.

  37. Alex,

    SF would have thought it an obvious choice. I would have no reason to doubt you saying Adams had his eye on the job. I think it was an essential part of the stategy to move Adams in that direction.

    They are under pressure already in the media. It has the potential to be a very divisive election, not just down here, given the way things are going to be raked over.
    His past is going to be subject to a scrutiny down here like never before. They might overcome it but they have not got off to a good start.

  38. I thought i would drop this little piece of Text, yes its just a sentence, and its this.

    Statement By Gerry Adams
    "There can be no such things as an Irish nationalist accepting the loyalist veto and partition. You cannot claim to be an Irish nationalist if you consent to an internal six county settlement and if you are willing to negotiate the state of Irish society with a foreign government."

    unquote, by Gerry Adams in 1984

    That is fact, not fiction, but, wait a minute, that is three years after his plan to get high up into the British Political establishment by not accepting something which the prisoners accepted, and, as usual, the OC at that time "Bik", stated that nothing was offered, so all those who heard the offer are liars?, I dont think so, but,it put a wedge between Prisoners, and, also ex prisoners, I presume The Morrison guy told Bik what to say, no what i mean, Nod,Nod,Wink Wink, STOP, just a minute, the offer is the same as the 1975 offer, and that was also rejected, Hooray to the British MI5/MI6/ruc/special branch/the touts, OOoops, I forgot to mention the SF leadership which falls into this group of British. we are all on a good thing ,(they think now), new suits, big fancy houses, british MLA's. (Gerry's a shrewd man, he saw what was comming, He decided to step into a safe seat to become a TD,
    Martin said to himself, if he can become a TD, then i sure as hell can be President!!!!).
    SF have sewn the seeds of deception, they are now in the british web, that is the very web which will be their own Noose
    and it seems the ruc/psni and the britiah mi5/6 will have them inside were they intended to do in the first place, ach, dont worry gerry, your ruc friends will just drive you to the invisable border and transfer you over to your mates.