Thursday, April 27, 2006

Rugby tale...tough guys or not?

With all the rugby hype lately I'm reminded of when I first explained rugby to my eldest daughter about 12 years ago when she was maybe 10 years old or so......

A 5-nations match was taking place between Ireland and England at Landsdowne Road and we were watching the very start of it on TV. My daughter wanted to know more about the game so I explained the rules as generally as I could. I also explained to her that these guys were super fit and exceptionally strong. They can crash into each other, do huge tackles and come through without a bother on them. Built like bricks, nothing could hurt them. My daughter was very impressed by my little speech, she figured that we were looking at a pitch full of guys like Superman.

Just after I explained all this the TV camera was showing the England captain Will Carling. He was walking along gently and suddenly keeled over in agony. He was on the ground for ages and had to be taken away permanently on a stretcher. It seemed he had stepped accidentally into a little depression in the ground made by a boot and badly twisted his leg in some way.

Well, you can imagine my little daughter was not impressed with the incident......

"You lied to me Dad. You said they were all really strong. This man is the captain of England so he should be the toughest on the field. Nobody touched him. He just fell when walking and he was taken away in a stretcher!"

Highly embarrassing, and it took years for my little girl to believe anything more I said on the subject of sport!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Easter Rising of 1916 - right or wrong?

For the most part I'm a pacifist and as such I've mixed thoughts on how we should view 1916.

At one level it seemed an unnecessary and brutal event where innocent people were killed and the city centre of Dublin was ransacked and burned. It is often felt we would get Home Rule anyway and that maybe this just slowed it down.

On the other hand maybe it needed a big dramatic shakeup to get momentum back towards ordinary Irish people seeing independence as a good idea. We were in significant danger of complaisantly drifting along towards becoming increasingly British like Scotland or Wales. I for one am glad we are independent today. I believe we are a better people for it.

A good old sage and a man I much admire - Garret FitzGerald - wrote well on the subject in the Irish Times yesterday. I suppose there is more than a tinge of bias as he is unlikely to criticize his father Desmond FitzGerald too much (who took part in the rising). Nevertheless Garret makes his points logically and offers a refreshing insight into the events of 1916. If I am interpreting him correctly, Garret feels that that...

A. It's very hard to put cosy 21st century Ireland attitudes on the 1916 event. The Irish had just joined up in droves to fight in The Great War in the British Army against Germany. The appetite for Irish freedom was perceived to be declining. On the other hand many other Nations at the time were violently striking for independence from Monarchy type rule. So it was a case of the tiny minority maverick visionaries trying to inspire and lead the way - admittedly lunatics at the time in the eyes of some.

B. The Home Rule that was being promised was going to be very much a satellite service from England, not proper independence. Garret feels that 1916 restored the passion for true independence, pride and identity.

Of course in today's terms we often equate the modern IRA with the violent actions of the volunteers in 1916. I actually have difficulty looking at it that way - I've written on this before, extract below...

[...They (1916 volunteers) fought openly and bravely for freedom and either died fighting or were captured and executed. I know they were using violence to achieve their ends whilst slow political moves were afoot. However, it's hard to compare the 1916 Rising to the modern IRA practices of cowardly bomb planting with mass civilian deaths, secret executions and racketeering. Moreover, the modern IRA's cause to bludgeon Northern Ireland, where the majority are loyalist, into Irish unity was always completely misguided....

National Pride, 26th Oct 2005, Earth and Universe ]

Either way, 1916 happened. Like it or not, it's part of the story of what made us what we are today. We must pay attention to it, recognize it and at least give the people who put their lives on the line for the aspiration of Irish independence a level of respect. I agree with Garret that 1916 did restore dangerously flagging national pride - although not necessarily using desirable methods. The execution of the leaders was Britain's huge mistake.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Cool it with the President

President McAleese has been getting a few swipes from different directions in the last year and it seems fashionable almost for people to join the bandwagon. Almost like when a small fight breaks out in a pub and then everyone joins in.

Let's deal with some of the criticisms...

Ian Paisley and some in the DUP don't like her. I'll try to put to one side for now the scores and scores of ridiculous and inciteful statements Paisley has put out over many decades, (e.g. referring to the Pope as the anti-Christ!). His attitude that our president has a deep hatred of Northern Ireland and Unionists is bizarre to put it mildly. The president has worked harder than anyone before her to have unionists groups come to the Aras and has tried to visit so many traditional unionist locations over the years. Her remarks on unionism and Nazism was wrong and she apologised strongly for it. So she has made one hurtful remark against Paisley's countless ones, and he doesn't dream of apologising.

While her remark was wrong, it is true that Mary McAleese grew up in a Northern Ireland where voting arrangements were crazy and there was definite job discrimination against nationalists. It was well known that when a firm interviewed you for a job that they always checked what school you went to. Seemed nice and innocent but it proved which foot you kicked with. There was bigotry and nationalists were burned out of there homes. It's stretching a lot to compare it to Nazism but you can see there are Freudian subconscious pains still coming to the surface from a Belfast Nationalist like Mary McAleese. I'm not condoning what she said and neither does the president, but we must remember how bitter life was in the past. She holds some demons from growing up and it is a little understandable that the pain can surface at times in a flow of conversation. Unionist verbal rage seems to come thick and fast on a scale much bigger than anything our president has ever said. When you don't want inclusiveness and agreement then it's so typical to clutch at anything which will further your cause. But we just listen to the ranting and raving and put up with it. President McAleese is working very hard to build bridges to Northern Ireland and unionists. I pity her task. There is a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar which comes to mind as Mark Anthony describes the slain Caesar to the unruly anti-Caesar mob...."The evil which men do lives after them. The good is often interred with their bones".

Many thought President McAleese wrongly spoke on behalf of the Irish People in condemning the Danish Newspaper cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad. But it was carefully considered Government policy and we elected the Government. Nobody in Government circles, including the President, is condoning the evil exploitation of this event to incite killing and Jihad etc. Quite the opposite and the President went on to say as much. We are simply saying that it was wrong to use blasphemy against a religious tradition which is exceptionally sensitive to their prophet being drawn and ridiculed. We must remember that Islam, although Abrahamic in it's deepest origins, is different to what we are used to in Christianity today. The Koran and Islam is very deeply into fear of God in a way Christians no longer think. If we analyze it all objectively then the cartoon was wrong because it caused great hurt and the Government and the President were right to say so. There is no point saying to someone who is hurt that they are wrong to be hurt. Furthermore as a democracy the president condemning the publication on behalf of Ireland is fine even thought there will be those who still think it was okay to publish it.

The episode in Saudi Arabia in which the President made a speech where women were behind a screen seems easy to defend to me. Firstly you don't come into a foreign country like a bull in a china shop and start publicly shooting up their traditions. Far better to make your points more intelligently. Did nobody spot the brilliant point that was being made without our president even uttering a word? Here was the president of our country, a female, elected by the people (not from a Royal birth right) about to speak freely in their country where females had less rights. That helped the female cause in Saudi Arabia better than causing public anger by refusing to speak at all. And it highlighted the women behind the screens to the television networks everywhere. A Trojan Horse if ever there was one!

There are so many times when our president has articulated very well internationally our nations feelings. Her speeches during national and international disasters are excellent and she can always articulate just the right emotions for the occasion, she shows great humanity. President McAleese is also a great asset to our business community in helping exports as part of trade delegations. Never short of words to say - she could talk for Ireland as they say, and does!

A lesser point, but nonetheless worth mentioning - our president's physical presentation is excellent for ceremonial and media presence events - she is tall, slim and always elegantly groomed. On the occasions our president has stood beside the Queen of England, Her Royal Highness must have felt small and frumpy!

We all make a few mistakes, even leaders. You could argue that Paddy Hillery didn't make any mistakes as president - but that's easy when you stay quiet. Let's be thankful for such a great ambassador in Mary McAleese. Like all of us she has a few weaknesses, but they are greatly outnumbered by her strengths - so let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.