Daily Archives: July 11, 2010

Taking tea with Mrs Windsor

That other article in this week’s Economist is worthy, but less satisfactory.

The piece on Belfast’s Titanic quarter (also the subject of Malcolm’s previous post) was direct and puposeful. This one is fudgy, sludgy and mudgy.

It has a major and a minor premiss:

NORTH and south of the Irish border, the business of clearing the battlefield in the aftermath of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” continues apace, with the double aim of healing wounds and preventing the recurrence of violence. Two delicate questions are now high on the agenda: how to deal with the painful legacy of the past, perhaps through some version of a truth-and-reconciliation process, and when to arrange the first-ever state visit by a British monarch to the Irish Republic.

The first, the more problematic, far more important, and grossly intractable is shrugged off in  a single paragraph.  The “solution” to the Northern irih impasse is … wait for it … talks.

Then there follow half-a-dozen further paragraphs on a hypothetical — but now being touted as a racing certainty — royal progress to Dublin in 2011.

All parties, Irish and British, government and Sinn Féin award this non-event huge symbolic significance. Perhaps deservedly so. Mayhap, not.

Clearly the two main beneficiaries are the ladies in the limelight. It would “crown” the presidency of Mary McAleese. It would be a moment of closure for Elizabeth II, who has been pretty well everywhere else, but is excluded from the oldest and nearest part of the former great British Empire.

The irony is that, as a young Queen, Elizabeth’s image could be found on mugs and biscuit tins in many an Irish (and proudly nationalistic Irish at that) kitchen. In a parallel universe (had, say, Gladstone delivered Home Rule) she might by now have a comfortable retirement home, able to look out on Dunmanus Bay or her Curragh stud. From its convenient helipad she could be whisked to the State Opening of Parliaments at both Westminster and College Green (the Bank of Ireland would be far happier, and better suited to one of the tower-blocks along South Wall).

Where, in detail, the Economist gets it badly, sadly wrong is with guff like this:

Since Irish independence, relations between London and Dublin have often been marked by friction and animosity. The pattern was for Irish politicians to demand British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, with Britain declining to oblige.

The Economist rarely manges banal simplistics like that. Particularly when they are so patently untrue.

British policy, since 1922, has consistently wanted to be rid of the encumbrance of the Six Counties. Only the obduracy of the Ulstermen, and the prudence of Irish Ministers of Finance (recognising the cost of re-unification) have stopped the inevitable. Ernest Blythe’s conniptions over extending welfare benefits was a major contributory factor in the failure of the Boundaries Commission. Brian Lenihan is currently even less likely to take on the problem of Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, as the Economist fully recognises, in choirs and places where they sing, such as the EU ministers’ meetings and Eurovision song contests, there is a strong Anglo-Irish common interest and mutual hymn-sheet.

If and when Queen Elizabeth gets to see her family’s former domain, she should not receive the same misprint awarded to her great-great grandmother, in April 1900 (top of post, right).

There used to be a newspaper framed on the wall of The Bailey, when that institute of learning and refreshment was conveniently and immediately opposite Davy Byrne’s Moral Pub in Duke Street. The text of the newspaper:

Thousands cheered as Queen Victoria pissed over O’Connell Bridge.


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The Economist crosses the narrow waters

There are two worthy pieces, of profound Irish interest, in the current issue of The Economist.

The first is Back to the Slipway, which addresses the issues of “The Titanic Quarter”, the regeneration project based around the old Harland & Wolff yards:

The aim of what is one of Europe’s biggest waterfront developments is to transform 185 acres of mostly derelict, post-industrial landscape into a whole new face for the city.

This was conceived in the days when things were going well. Belfast has the opportunity to create Canary Wharf with an Ulster accent:

… a state-of-the-art showpiece, with a marina, luxury shops and flats, at least two new hotels and acres of work space. Public money has been committed for a further-education college and a new Public Records Office. A Titanic “Signature Building” is also in the works, standing at the head of the slipway where the great ship was designed and built in the days when Belfast’s shipyards were among the world’s largest.

In theory, it has a lot going for it:

  • a theme, something lacking in the likes of Canary Wharf (where the best one can say is the theme is money and bonuses);
  • the beginnings of easy access — a toy-town airport next door, an urban motorway link adjacent, just don’t mention the congestion, the Sydenham By-pass or the chronic blind spot the local authorities have about railways;
  • while the immediate neighbourhood is — let’s be gentle here — just a tad post-industrial and grimly unreconstructed, further out is the glitz of the “Gold Coast” through Helen’s Bay, leading to the magnificence of the Ards Peninsula and Strangford;
  • the pushy and powerful local Assembly Member, one Peter Robinson, a man whose quota of chips always exceeded his count of shoulders, and now, post-Iris and electoral defeat, with more points to make. The Economist, quite properly, underlines his importance and determination.

Now, of course, the whole Titanic Quarter project seems over-ambitious:

conceived at a time when the economy looked brighter, [it] is not without its uncertainties, thanks to a local collapse in property values and the fiscal tightening ahead. A number of buyers who signed up for apartments are now arguing in court that they can no longer afford them.

Inevitably, the Economist seeks a punch-line appropriate to the topic. Predictably it is:

Although the Titanic enterprise ended in disaster, Belfast retains a perverse pride in its most famous ship. To this day arguments continue over what exactly caused the tragedy, ranging from the engineering through the meteorological to the conspiratorial. The standard quip among the remnants of Belfast’s shipbuilding community remains: “She was all right when she left us.”

Malcolm suggests the parallel could be more exact with another local quip. It is one that may well come back to haunt Gideon George Oliver Osborne, putative 18th baronet Osborne of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon, in the county of Waterford. For, let us remember, nobody bears a grudge, deserved or not, better or longer than an Ulsterman.

That alternative Titanic crack goes like this:

Ah! It took ten thousand Ulstermen to build her,
and one Englishman to sink her.

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Filed under Belfast, Economist, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics