My night with Martin and George


Outside there were about 200 protestors, with professional-looking banners declaring that the police/RUC/PSNI were not welcome in West Belfast. Inside it was packed, but my companion and I sidled past people and snaffled two reserved seats in the front row…Well, they could have been reserved for us, couldn’t they?

Casual dress was the order of the day, including Chief Constable George Hamilton and his attendant minders.  The minders stood in a cluster towards the right of the panel; on the other side was a cluster of  Sinn Féin significants: Gerry Adams, Gerry Kelly, Pat Sheehan and  more. It had the makings of a stand-off.

The debate at times was polite and even flattering, at times moving, at times exasperating. George Hamilton for the most part read his rather lengthy opening speech; Martin McGuinness appeared to have no notes of any kind, yet spoke with clarity and at equal length. Crouched on the floor in front of the panel, where he could get a good Periscoping record of the proceedings and everyone in the hall could get a good look at him, was Eamonn Mallie.

“Uncomfortable conversations” it was billed as, and in some respects it was. People who had lost loved ones at the hands of the ‘security’ forces, people representing the dead of Ballymurphy, expressed their scepticism about the Chief Constable’s promise that he’d be as thorough-going, neutral and transparent as the law allowed. You got the feeling not everyone believed him. When the Ballymurphy man complained that their case wasn’t receiving the PSNI man-power to fully investigate what happened, Hamilton’s reply was general and evasive. When someone demanded to know when the Stalker report and the Stevens Inquiry would be published, Hamilton spun another web of fine words:  he’d look into the matter. When he was asked about the MI5 war junkies of whom John O’Dowd spoke  recently, the Chief Constable produced another technicolor net.

As Dr Johnson said of a dog walking on its hind legs, it was not that the meeting was particularly  illuminating:  what was impressive was that it happened at all. And in West Belfast. When someone suggested that the Chief Constable was in thrall to Westminster and would do their bidding, Hamilton rejected the suggestion. Claimed he was given his position by local people and answerable to them only. Do I believe that? Let me put it like this: No.

Martin McGuinness spoke of having met Queen Elizabeth three times, as a gesture of reconciliation and respect to the unionist community. Yet when he walked the corridors of Stormont, he said,  a great number of unionist politicians failed to pass the time of day or even establish eye-contact.  Yet the Deputy First Minister spoke of his determination to keep  reaching out to unionism, and to making sure that all Sinn Féin MLAs conducted business on the hill in a polite and respectful way. You can interpret that as enormous patience and belief in the power of outreach, or you can see it as repeating the same action again and again, and expecting  a different outcome.

 There were three groups responding to the meeting: the protest  people outside (rather more than micro), the wounded people in the audience, and the two-man panel of McGuinness and Hamilton. Some will see last night’s event as another example of republican outreach to former adversaries; others will see it as a PSNI attempt to paper over  RUC cracks and make vague, polite noises about the future.

In the end I found myself caught between two responses. One, admiration that Sinn Féin were prepared to sit down with the PSNI Chief Constable and build bridges over what had once been raging,blood-stained torrents. Two, considerable scepticism that the PSNI  Chief Constable’s presence was anything other than a PR exercise with little or no prospect of a practical outcome.

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36 Responses to My night with Martin and George

  1. Iolar August 7, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    Who is holding MI5 and the the NCA to account?

    • billy August 7, 2015 at 10:24 am #

      suppose the same outfit who were telling us they would put manners on the ruc,sf are taking voters as oul idiots here trying to sell this as change,alls changed is the name.

  2. Wolfe tone August 7, 2015 at 8:55 am #

    Animal farm oink oink. All those people mouthing about mi5 and their shenanigans in the north, especially the likes of O’dowd are being deceitful. The reason mi5 set up offices in the north was to help ‘police the peace process’. Stormontites with half a brain would have known this and quietly accepted it. Otherwise they would have raised an awful racket on a par with their welfare objections at present. Just because people say they are opposed to something doesn’t mean they are eg austerity,water charges etc. Doublespeak experts is all they are.

  3. Tony Mc Phillips August 7, 2015 at 9:20 am #

    Well Jude
    you could have dressed for the occasion, jeans and roundneck jumper not very classy for the luminaries that you were in the front row to listen to !! On a serious note, this was not debate and it seemed that the real intent was merely a PR exercise to present the CRUC as good guys that could now be trusted. It was a sham from start to finish, the only meaningful questions came from Jake Jackson and he got short shift. There is no use Martin and company trying to make these people acceptable to republicans when on a daily basis we see clearly by their actions that they are an unreformable anti-republican state militia wedded to upholding the status quo.

  4. Perkin Warbeck August 7, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    Just how many George Hamiltons are there out there, Esteemed Blogmeister?

    On first glancing at today’s blog one’s heart sank: could it be……THAT George Hamilton? For a few fraught moments, whatever about the nation and its breath, Perkie’s inner focus group chairman certainly held his.

    Even as he rapidly eliminated the other possible candidates, one by one.

    Starting with George Hamilton the actor and finishing with the fourth known one of that name, not inappropriately called George Hamilton 1V, the singer. Both of whom, curiously had connections with the Hank Williams’s hit: ‘Your Cheating Heart’.

    Whereas the tanned actor acted the role in the biopic of that name, the bland singer recorded the song.

    To one’s immense relief, one discovered, on second glance, that it was in fact the third option, Chief Constable George Hamilton.

    And not THAT George Hamilton. You know the one, the Methody boy with the sunshiny disposition and a chamaleon-like ability to adapt.

    Speaking fluent German and French, as well as being one hell of a former cellist, and unencumbered by one syllable of leprechaun, he has successfully showed the methodology of his madness down here in his adopted sphere of the Free Southern Stateen.

    Every Saturday morning in the FSS is enlivened by ‘Hamilton Scores, his relenetlessly cheerful and upbeat programme on Lyric FM, ‘ in which he blends his twin passions for the footy and the snooty: from the nutmegs of Debauchee to the nutcracker suites of Tchaicovsky.

    Blessedly, it turned out to be not he. And so one proceeded, counting one’s not a few phews..

    Good too to see the periscoping pressman in the, er, frame. The one with the rear locks of the born art collector on the side, to the fore.

    There’s only one Eamonn Mallie.


  5. paddykool August 7, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    I have a strong impression that you really enjoyed writing this piece, Jude.You probably didn’t expect miracles, but then none of us do .I don’t expect politicians or policemen in 2015 to do anything but waffle anyway.It’s what is now expected and when anyone does anything other , it is a huge shock to the system. That’s why Jeremy Corbyn is causing such a stir….What’s this? A politician who doesn’t waffle? Jeezis …how are we going to deal with that unique creature?!
    Any time i’ve seen the Chief Cop on television it’s been all chaff and no substance . These guys are employed to talk a big head on anyone who cares to listen.All that good stuff that we really want to see and read , like the Stalker affair is going to be pushed back with a cloud of words. ,We’ll all be long dead before the next generation hears the truth and they won’t remember what it was all about anyway.
    As for Marty’s attempts to be good-mannered with his co-workers. It’s probably doomed to failure . The conservative mind-set has problems learning new tricks and in Norneverland we have a long tradition of very bad-manners.Even someone like our Bunterish , porcine Sammy , doesn’t know when he has stepped over the line .He thinks good manners are for someone else.Help us …he probably thinks the laws are for someone else too.

  6. ANOTHER JUDE August 7, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

    I am in favour of reaching out to former enemies, it is better to argue in a civilised manner than with guns. Of course people are entitled to protest against the PSNI, that is only to be accepted, especially people whose loved ones perished at the hands of the RUC, George Hamilton was a serving member of that `force` but he deserves a chance at redemption and it is easy to see why Unionists would feel the same way about the likes of Martin McGuinnes, an ex IRA leader. Reconciliation takes time.

    • neill August 8, 2015 at 8:41 am #

      Can’t argue with that Another Jude

    • billy August 9, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

      he deserves a chance at redemption..his masked stormtroopers are beating residents in the bone/ardoyne at the minute,leopard changing spots an all that,

  7. Argenta August 7, 2015 at 9:42 pm #

    From the Belfast Telegraph report of the event
    “Justice campaigner and republican critic Maria Cahill was also at the event,but was not impressed.She claimed that the event had been carefully stage-managed and controlled with questioners selected,rather than the community being allowed to speak out”
    Surely not?!!Sinn Fein stage-managing an event at the Feile in West Belfast?Perish the thought!!!

    • Jude Collins August 7, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

      I hope I or my friend didn’t take her reserved seat…

      • Tony Mc Phillips August 7, 2015 at 10:11 pm #

        was there a reserved seat for me Jude,just asking !

        • Jude Collins August 8, 2015 at 9:29 am #

          I was too busy sitting down and looking proprietorial to take time to check, Tony. Tá bron orm…

    • TheHist August 7, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

      Liam Clarke of the Belfast Telegraph also suggested that the Feile event “West Belfast Talks Back” was stage managed in the same manner. Noel Thompson and Barney Rowan, part of the Sinn Fein spin and propaganda machine? Yeah, sounds realistic, doesn’t it? (Ps note the sarcasm)

      • Argenta August 8, 2015 at 11:26 am #

        Who actually picks the questioners?Is it up to the Chair to decide or is it quite spontaneous ?

        • Jude Collins August 8, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

          Well, Argenta, at that particular gig (and most I’ve attended), it’s the chair. Brian Rowan did appear able to address each person with hand up by name, but then Brian knows just about everybody.Even Eamonn Mallie…

  8. ben madigan August 7, 2015 at 10:46 pm #

    cited this passage “Martin McGuinness spoke of . . . . . unionist politicians failed to pass the time of day or even establish eye-contact” in today’s post about how Unionists/Loyalists hold Nationalists/Republicans in contempt and what exactly contempt is

    • neill August 8, 2015 at 8:44 am #

      At least unionists are honest in this regard rather than being two faced like Sf who still don’t quite practice what they preach…

  9. ben madigan August 8, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    neill – the passage was cited as an example of Unionist/Loyalist expression of contempt for nationalists/Catholics/republicans.
    You seem happy about this “Honest” openness.
    Please provide evidence to support your statement “Sf who still don’t quite practice what they preach” when the cited statement provides evidence to the contrary..”Martin McGuinness spoke of having met Queen Elizabeth three times, as a gesture of reconciliation and respect to the unionist community.”

    Furthermore, how do you think Loyalists/unionists would answer the key question in the post “When you treat others with contempt and rage, are you willing to take the responsibility for starting a chain of disrespect that will not stop?”
    How would you answer it?

    • neill August 9, 2015 at 10:39 am #

      Ok the top layers of Sf meet the Royal family and the lower members of Sf protest outside case in point Prince Charles visit either your party wholly supports it if they don’t they are being two faced

      • Jude Collins August 9, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

        Small point of order, neill: I’d be astonished if any of the protesters were SF people.

        • Neill August 10, 2015 at 6:53 am #

          Be prepared to be astonished Jude

          (bbc website)

          Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey has said Sinn Féin will continue to support the Ballymurphy families in their campaign for justice.

          ballymurphy protests
          Ciaran Cahill
          Mr Maskey was photographed with the Ballymurphy families as they protested at Belfast City Hall at Prince Charles’ visit to Ireland. Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other Sinn Féin representatives met today with Prince Charles in Galway.

        • Neill August 10, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

          er no response Jude?

  10. giordanobruno August 8, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    So just to be clear, you came away from the night with growing admiration for Sinn Fein, scepticism about the PSNI and cynicism regarding the mainstream media present.
    I am flabbergasted!

    • Jude Collins August 9, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

      Well gio, since it’s my feelings/thoughts you are talking about, I’m astonished by your mind/heart-reading powers. Would you have been more impressed if I had come away with growing admiration for the PSNI and scepticism about SF and all moist and dreamy-eyed about the mainstream media? You really will have to give a think to the possibility that consistency can be a virtue, particularly when it accords with cited facts. Oh, and don’t make any quick decisions about going into mind-reading as a full-time occupation. Hang onto the day-job for now.

      • giordanobruno August 9, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

        Not mindreading just reading. You said you came away with 2 responses in mind,admiration for SF and scepticism about the PSNI presence.
        The cynicism about the media is fairly easy to detect.
        A pity don’t you think, there is so little SDLP representation on these panels?
        I suppose the organisers, being friendly to SF, prefer to keep it that way.

        • Jude Collins August 9, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

          Yes, you’re probably right, gio. Nothing like an SDLP presence to raise the tone of proceedings.

          • giordanobruno August 9, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

            Nothing like fair representation of the whole community to raise the tone of proceedings.

          • Argenta August 9, 2015 at 11:19 pm #

            A sadly patronising view.We repeatedly hear about Sinn Fein outreach to the Unionist community.What about outreach to the S D L P in respect of Feile an Phobail?Its not as if they are any great threat politically in West Befast!

          • Neill August 10, 2015 at 11:47 am #

            They should have invited Brian Feeny now that is a columnist Jude aspires to be tolerant and broadminded….

          • Jude Collins August 10, 2015 at 11:51 am #

            No, no, neill – I’m perfectly content in my intolerant and narrow-minded rut…

  11. Tony Mc Phillips August 8, 2015 at 11:50 pm #

    Ben forgive me if i answer that rhetorically, who in Gods name believes that bowing to the english queen and fawning around the warmonger Hilary Clinton assists any Republican objective, it is Mairtin who has lost the plot not people like Neil who whilst i entirely disagree with has a bit of principle and backbone, catch a grip ffs

  12. ben madigan August 9, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    Tony – you didn’t answer the question rhetorically or in any other way.

    My post, which you can read here,
    used a citation from Jude’s present post as supporting evidence to illustrate the point I was making.
    I informed Jude of the fact and in reply to Neill’s comment asked Neill how he thought Unionists/Loyalists and indeed s/he her/him self would answer the key question in the post “When you treat others with contempt and rage, are you willing to take the responsibility for starting a chain of disrespect that will not stop?”

    As you see, your reply was no answer to the question.

    I wish to thank Jude for acting as host for a discussion which should perhaps take place elsewhere

  13. Neill August 10, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    No, no, neill – I’m perfectly content in my intolerant and narrow-minded rut…

    Where would we be without your two best characteristics?

    • Jude Collins August 10, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

      Devoid of an honest voice and deeply insightful perspective…

  14. Neill August 10, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    In fairness I could life with that sacrifice!