West Belfast, um, Murmurs Back

BrianJohnSpencr West Belfast Talks Back 2014 posing panel

The man sitting in front of me was more interesting than anything said by the panel. He was quietly and with amazing skill constructing a cartoon of the panel even as they spoke. His name’s Brian John Spencer and if you google him you’ll find out more about him and his talents. Speed and accuracy: there’s not much of it about.

The chairperson of ‘West Belfast Talks Back’  was Noel Thompson, who used carrot and stick to jolly things along, and the panellists were Danny Kennedy (UUP), Father Tim Bartlett, Rev Lesley Carroll and John O’Dowd MLA.  How was it? I’ve been at worse and I’ve been at better.

The first topic – predictably – was Gaza. Danny Kennedy emphasised the terrible suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust and that Israel is surrounded by enemies; Tim Bartlett said he’d been in Palestine many, many times, that the suffering was awful and the two sides needed to sit down and negotiate a two-nation settlement.  Lesley Carroll said more or less the same. John O’Dowd said he made no apologies for being four-square behind the Palestinians.

All, in a sense, were right. But with the first three – Kennedy, Bartlett and Carroll – I kept thinking of finding a man with a broken leg and a beaten-up face lying in the gutter, and instead of preventing further violence on him and tending his wounds, you were to deliver a lecture on the need for former enemies to negotiate towards harmonious relations. There is a time for keeping bullies and savages at bay and a time for converting the bullies and savages to a better approach. The present situation in Gaza calls for the former and anyone who doesn’t see that and muddies the waters with talk of the Holocaust (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROMpheGOGLc&feature=share ) and talk of the need for jaw-jaw not war-war and faults on both sides (all those Hamas rockets that are 95% ineffectual) needs to check their moral code closely.

From there we went to attitudes to gays, lesbians and trans-genders. Tim Bartlett talked about how although objectively he saw their sexual conduct as sinful, he was happy to go for a Big Mac with a group of them and he had friends who are gay. Danny Kennedy said the same only in vaguer language. Lesley Carroll said something similar; John O’Dowd said he was for protecting all lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and was supportive of  a programme in schools for educating young people in the area of sexual identity.  Weirdly, I found myself nostalgic for Ian Paisley standing up and booming that the time was now to SAVE ULSTER FROM SODOMY.

There’s a hard truth applies to the ‘West Belfast Talks Back ‘discussion. The further we get from the days of conflict, the less urgent and riveting are the panel exchanges and the audience contributions. In the old days,  questions from the floor burned with indignation and outrage; panel discussion was firm and even tough-knuckled. I suppose it’s a problem all the media have – how to deal with (relative) peace and still be interesting. Last night, too many people were too anxious to be seen as liberal in their views for the discussion to ignite.

27 Responses to West Belfast, um, Murmurs Back

  1. Freddy Mallins August 7, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    Hi Jude, it would have been interesting to listen to , let me see, Mervyn Storey or Edwin Poots explain what it must have been like for humans to share the earth with Dinosaurs 6000 years ago. Always think it’s unbelievable how these politicians, who run this state can hold such views , without challenge. Perhaps this topic could be investigated next year. Would these guys show up? Doubt it. But they should be placed in that kind of forum for public discussion. If this was England, they would be ridiculed out of office.
    Sorry for being a wee bit off topic, and really enjoy a lot of the discussions at St Mary’s college. I think, however that the Creationist belief-system should be brought kicking and screaming into the light, once and for all.

    • giordanobruno August 7, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

      Yes, or maybe just ask Father Bartlett what it is like when a bit of wafer turns to human flesh or ask Rev Carroll how some kind of deity made the whole universe just so he could stick us into the corner of it so we could worship him. Daft isn’t it? And then there’s heaven and hell, not to mention purgatory (who thought that one up?). The soul? Don’t even ask.
      All good fun,yet loads of our politicians (and even some influential bloggers) seem to believe it.
      What a pity no-one tackles such childish nonsense.

      • paddykool August 8, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

        Well Gio ..I had a right old stab at it …but there you go !!

        • giordanobruno August 8, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

          A voice crying in the wilderness!

  2. Cal August 7, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    Maybe people are just more liberal as opposed to trying to be seen as liberal ? Maybe there’s no difference !

  3. Danny Morrison August 7, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    Clearly, you missed the most important question of the night by a young man in the audience about the Scottish referendum.
    And why didn’t you go back to the hospitality room afterwards? Too boring!!!?

    • Jude Collins August 7, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

      I heard an elderly gent ask in a wavering voice something about Scotland – thought of phoning for medical help but decided in the end he was probably past help. Going back to hospitality? I wasn’t asked. I was instead DEEPLY INSULTED by Prof. Rolston who said I was clearly getting old – can you IMAGINE? – in that I hadn’t intervened in the debate…

  4. Am Ghobsmacht August 7, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Brian’s drawing skills are ace, not only that, he can multi task too.

    How depressing for the rest of us mortals.

  5. Micheal August 7, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    I think a lot of it comes from the fact there is no real ‘saber rattling’ anymore. You rarely hear Loyalists shouting “ULSTER SAYS NO” in public and like wise Nationalists or Republicans rarely shout the ol ‘battle cry’ “Tiocfaidh Ar La”. Most if not all of our politicians try very hard to look like normal politicians trying to avoid the words ‘United Ireland’ and other provocative phrases. The North has become a very boring place for anyone others that those living here. Its up to us to spice it up again without the threat of violence of provocative language.

  6. paddykool August 7, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    Ahh Jude ..what you were missing was a good old fashioned slam bang row which in these politically correct times is almost anathema. .Anyone upsetting those horses these days would be eaten alive!

    What we have now are bland politics and bland politicians tip toeing through all the sensitivities. That’s why the Tories and the Labour Party are now virtually interchangeable . Politics by lawyers .How would you ever get a good full blown barney in those circumstances?

  7. Iolar August 7, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    The sexual conduct of gays, lesbians and trans-genders is sinful? Perhaps Tim Bartlett should chew over the contents of Bruce Arnold’s book, ‘The Irish Gulag’.
    In a normal society, people convicted of serious crimes are sent to prison. They are entitled to legal advice, receive finite sentences and have a right of appeal. Between 1926 and 1961 over 31,000 citizens were confined and enslaved in a variety of institutions in “a land of saints and scholars’. By 1966, Ireland was confining more people in psychiatric hospitals than anywhere else in the world. Were they all diagnosed as being mentally ill? Perhaps for dessert, Tim might try the contents of Brendan Boland’s recent book, ‘Sworn to Silence’? What would he make of the fact that a named clerical abuser had treatment based on female contraception? Was that a sin?

  8. Am Ghobsmacht August 7, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    BTW, how come there wasn’t an SDLP rep in the panel?

    • Jude Collins August 7, 2014 at 12:10 pm #


    • Argenta August 7, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

      Am G
      That seems to be the “elephant in the room” as far as Feile an Phobail is concerned.That well known Slugger poster and blogger Fitzjames Horse has an interesting take on this on his own blog today.

      • Am Ghobsmacht August 8, 2014 at 2:40 am #

        Ah, I see.

        Interesting stuff. Tis a bit ‘fishy’ though is it not?

  9. Argenta August 7, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    Maybe next year,the organisers will turn to a person who is articulate ,has strong views on most issues and is not afraid to state them.Step forward,Dr Jude Collins as a panel member!

    • Jude Collins August 7, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

      And there was me underestimating your wisdom all along, Argenta…Tá bron orm…

  10. Norma wilson August 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    Good Afternoon Dr Collins

    I listened to you on radio Ulster this morning, I was going to phone in, but I was running late myself for an appointment, and coming from a military back ground punctuality, is the order of the day?
    The young girl travelled on an Irish passport, so I think the ROI should be picking up the bill.
    Secondly Mr John O’Dowds stands four square with Palestine. Well we all know that, nothing new there, yet these seem people do not tolerate gays, they hang them from cranes, they do not tolerate adultery, they bury them up to the neck , and then stone them to death. Stealing warrants cutting of the hands. Women, well it would take to long to tell you about this, but I am sure you already know.
    Now my husband who you all know is a RC loves to egg me on, that I shook hands with both GA and Gk, on the Falls Road at the SF book shop. Different times mind you.
    Well yesterday, I was driving my Mother-in-law through Downpatrick, when we came across the SF office, with a Palestians flag in the window, referring to Israel the APARTIED state.
    You really do need to watch what you print, but anyway, I had a Ruth Patterson moment,
    I wanted to get out of the car and look for a big boulder……….
    I stand firmly behind Israel, I am in touch with Tel Aviv at the moment for a correspondence course to learn Hebrew, I almost made it, to learn Irish, I was going to go, to the old Protestant church on the Falls, but I have been truly sickened.
    If I did not love all of you, I would not give a toss, you need to wise up, and either start doing some research, for I tell you, you are backing the wrong horse.
    If Hamas double tricks the Israelis, they should give notice to get out, women and children, for nobody wants to see any one hurt, that is innocent, perhaps they could all come here, and convert them?
    Then flatten it to the ground, take Hamas completely out.

    • Jude Collins August 7, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

      Good evening Norma. I thought you were in S Africa? Can you do bi-location?? I’m glad to see you’re in a bit better form than last time. That’s more like it, even if I don’t agree with much of what you say, it’s interesting to read. And please, please – the name is Jude. German word for ‘Jew’, oddly…

  11. paddykool August 7, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    Hi Jude :
    I see Norma’s back .There are times i’m not sure whether or not she is living in South Africa ,Israel or Ireland. I’m sure you feel the same .I suppose if she is from an army background it follows that her life has been a peripatetic one. Does it also follow that she will always support what we’d call the “Planter” mentality whether or not it is proven right or wrong. All those countries have the same kind of problems in the end. South Africa and Ireland are cases in point. .The Gaza situation can only realistically be sorted out by a “two states” scenario in the end .De-humanising all Palestinians will not not solve the problem .Trying to kill them all will not solve it either. They are mostly just people trying to live their lives .Not everyone is in an army after all. You’d never get me to join an army without force of conscription and that goes for a lot of us.
    I know that Norma has a bee in her bonnet about the Muslim culture as opposed to the Jewish or the Christian cultures . I share some of those fears in that I think the laws we have here, that we mostly abide by , flawed as they are , are as good as you’ll get. They are what everyone here has to abide by no matter what mad religion they want to follow.
    Ancient beliefs of stoning to death and that whole subordination of women in society has no place in a modern society and should be feared . It’s not what womens liberation fought for over so many years . Society in the Uk and Ireland is largely secular.Of course , there is more fundamentalism in Northern Ireland than you would see in the Home Counties in England though and that’s coming from extreme” Christian” groupings including those who hanker after the dogma of Creationism. I find that as inappropriate and as fearsome as some of those extreme Muslim beliefs. So yes , I wouldn’t want to live with those kind of rules…those laws …or that religion …Then again I don’t particularly want to live in a place where I have to believe in a religion of any kind either. The one thing I am really sure of though is that the killing of people by extreme military action as is happening in Gaza is an obscenity for anyon ewiyh a syick of morality.It’s on a par with the extermination of the Native American Indians and can easily be seen on those terms. i can’t imagine how anyone with any kind of religious view or any kind of morality working in their mind can condone that kind of extermination. To say it is wholly defensive is actually arrant nonsense. It may be partly a response to Hammas but the reality is that it is Overkill Violence designed to inflict as much death as is possible . Not simple …neat little methodical stabs at a perpetrator …but outright assaults on a defenseless people by a much stronger army fully supported by the USA. That’s the plain fact and it may be hard to swallow .
    The humanitarian thing to do is to properly negotiate a solution …not club each other to death. Remember how we tried that one in Ireland?
    Speaking of Ireland . Was the phone- in conversation in reference to the drug-running “cocaine” girl in the Peru gaol? If it is her and she comes from Dungannon, she has dual -citizenship really and can travel on either a British or an Irish passport …or both. It is fortunate that she is both Irish and British at the same time and can tap into either jurisdiction for help isn’t it …what did I say about the best of both worlds, eh Jude?.

  12. ANOTHER JUDE August 7, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    That`s right, it is strange watching those old documentaries and seeing your name written large on Jewish shop windows, beside a star of David…..

  13. Norma wilson August 7, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    Hi Jude,

    How can you not agree with me. You are a Dr ??? You are educated, as is 99% of your followers.
    Why have you all not spoke about what is happening in Iraq right now, to the Christians, by the Muslims.
    Look what they do, to the private parts of the female. Marry young children off to dirty old men.
    Women are not allowed out on there own, they cannot even get educated to a certain standard, or learn to drive.
    What is wrong with all of you’s. Everything we take for granted, music, drinking, going to the pictures, everything will be taken from us?
    Israel, is the only democracy in the Middle East, they share the same values as us, here in the west.
    My heart is heavy, that I cannot make you all see sense, what is with you guys?
    Will you all be ready to defend us, should these Muslims take over, what then.
    They are the aggressive people, who love death, with their suicide bombers, and wanting to impose Sharia law on us.
    One day in the future, we will stand together shoulder to shoulder, fighting this evil.
    I am sixty now, maybe when I am seventy God willing, my words and prophesy will come true.
    If I did not care about you all, I would not be wasting my time trying, to convince you otherwise.
    Please, Please Please I beg you all, waken up and smell the coffee.
    To Paddy Cool, I have a brother in Jo’burg who does not believe in God or organised religion, but when his wife took Brest cancer, he soon had a little word with the big fella.
    Have you ever read Trinity, by Leon Uris well in the book Tom Larkin, has fought the Catholic Church, but on his death bed, he wants the priest for his last rites.
    I cried at that book, and it made me ashamed, although it was fiction, I told you’s the wheels were still turning, we are entering into a new chapter, please hear me.

  14. paddykool August 7, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    That .. “for anyon ewiyh a syick of morality”…should read ..”anyone with a stick of morality”…..bloody keypad!!

  15. Virginia August 7, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    Sounds like you were bored, which is never fun. Next you attend, throw out the question “What is your opinion of Google?” That always makes for an entertaining evening.

  16. paddykool August 7, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Look Norma …Get this thing straight …I will not be crying out on my deathbed to any kind of mad god . That simply is not a possibility . On the other hand I do not want a religion of any kind ….any kind …or a god of any kind….any kind …shoved down my throat .

    I am hoping there are enough like me who will hold back the tide of bullshit that is building up.Surely there are enough rational human beings on the planet who can steer us away from superstition and lead us into a rational future?.Away from the easy violence and hate that people use to separate themselves from their fellow human beings.If you think that fighting and killing each other is the answer , I think you are wrong .We need to educate ….not kill each other…Tell me where I ‘m going wrong ….Tell me how right it is to kill people …Tell me how that’ll fix all our problems …Convince me…

  17. Pointis August 8, 2014 at 9:28 am #


    In a number of your blogs over the last number of weeks you have repeated things like “what about Syria and Iraq, why are you guys not shouting about those things”.

    Other readers will be surprised that you cannot see that the only influence people here can exercise over those foreign crisis are where those Governments involved require support from our governments or organisations to which our Governments belong such as the EU or UN.

    For some reason beyond me western governments have given Israel a form of favoured status despite the fact that the Government there continues to behave in a fashion reminiscent to a pre-war Hitler or Stalin towards a minority community in its own land. That is where our influence can tell.

    The United States operates hyprocracy which is breathtaking, continuing to offer itself as the honest broker while knowingly supplying munitions to the pariah state which uses them to murder and subjugate its own people.

    We can influence that Piriah state by forcing our Government to treat it as it treats other Piriah states such as North Korea by boycott and sanctions.

    Even though the mainstream media here continue to operate a self censorship over the atrocities which are occurring in Gaza and Palestine we can continue to use the internet to bypass the censorship and let the citizens of the country see the genocide and naked sectarian hatred which is happening with their Governments connivance.

    Then the citizens can decide if they want to continue supporting those governments which refuse to address the utter injustice of what is happening.

    Your continuing behaviour of labelling every Muslim with your negative stereotype will only continue to erode any respect people who read your contributions may have had for you.

    Many, many Jews do not support the murder and subjugation of their fellow human beings in their own land!

  18. Cal August 8, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Clearing Gaza is exactly the reason why Israel flattens it every two years.