It’d be easy, having roller-coasted through such an appalling year as 2016, to think that we’re on our way to hell in a handcart and nothing can be done. But having given it careful thought over the Christmas period, I’ve decided what we need – what I need – is a bit of proactivity, so I’m breaking the habit of a near-lifetime and making New Year resolutions. Five in all.
- During 2017 I will not allow the fact that Nigel Farage looks like an escapee from the pages of Film Fun circa 1955 to lull me into not listening when he speaks. There are two reasons for keeping a sharp ear. One is that it’s important to understand your enemy; if you don’t, you’re a dead duck. The best evidence for that came last June. The second reason for listening to him is that, sad and surprising as it may be, his thinking reflects what’s in the minds of an awful lot of real English people, which is quite different from the thinking we cod ourselves is out there among English people. It’s a bit like back in the 1960s, when I used watch Match of the Day and marvel at the good-humoured chanting of the crowds, even though I could never quite make out the words they were chanting. Then in the mid-1970s I lived in England and went to a couple of games. It soon became clear that what I’d thought good-humoured chanting was in fact an obscene racist chorus that would bring blushes to the cheek of a London taxi-driver. Similarly with the English Brexiteers and Nigel.
- During 2017 I will not fool myself that the US public are anything like Barack Obama. I don’t mean the colour of his skin, but the quiet, intelligent way that he approaches affairs of state. He’s not perfect – think drones, think Guantanamo Bay, think his comment on Jeremy Corbyn – but he has a rational mind and can articulate rational thoughts. The silent or hidden US people, as identified by those who voted for Trump, are stupid (they really believed he’d build a wall and make Mexico pay for it?), gullible (He’ll make the USA great again?) and contemptuous of people who are different from themselves (No more Muslims!). I resolve never during 2017 to let the existence of this great mass of sad people slip from my thinking.
- During 2017 I will remind people at every possible opportunity that the myth of the Honest Ulsterman and the Conniving Southerner is just that – a myth. For a time we got by, telling ourselves that while they might have a brown-paper-parcel attitude to politics down there, up here we at least were blunt and straight with each other. That’s all over now. There are undoubtedly chancers among the political class down south. But up here we’ve had rumblings – Red Sky, NAMA – and now we have the full-frontal Wood Chip Thing. The scale of incompetence and/or corruption among unionist politicians in particular, and their readiness to brazen it out when accused, drove the final nail into the coffin of the mythical Honest Ulsterman..
- During 2017 I will not enter a BBC or UTV studio containing UKIP’s David McNarry. Any man who grows apoplectic with rage at the suggestion that the Orange Order could be anti-Catholic is best avoided. So as I say farewell and good riddance to 2016, I’ll say something similar to the sensitive and highly-strung Mr McNarry. It’s been interesting if not particularly pleasant to know you both.
- During 2017 I will not engage in discussion about who will replace Gerry Adams and/or Martin McGuinness. Like them, loathe them or have mixed feelings about them, history will find an elevated place for both men. Adams in particular attracts repeated attacks by those fearful of Sinn Féin’s increasing strength as a political party. Sometimes it’s bare-knuckle and sometimes it’s presented as a concern that Adams is putting a brake on Sinn Féin progress. The republican party need to make sure they don’t do an SDLP and fail to make provision for the departure of the founding fathers. Gerry Adams is getting on (nothing personal, Gerry – compared to me you’re a whippersnapper) and Martin McGuinness is a man with serious health problems. But I’m not concerned about who succeeds them because I’m convinced Sinn Féin, which has grown to its present point in the teeth of savage opposition, will not risk throwing all that away when Adams and/or McGuinness finally do depart. No one’s saying their successors will have the same stature. But remember Albert Reynolds, when he took over Fianna Fail. Not the most inspiring figure, but his down-to-earth-deal-maker personality was a decided asset for the peace process. Look for something similar when McGuinness or Adams goes.
And don’t forget: nationalists and republicans have reason to face 2017 in good spirits. If there’s one thing we can say with certainty about the coming year, it is that the day of unionist dominance is coming to an end, and coming fast. Has unionism any plan to move from not-an-inch and face a very different future? Not that I can see.
So may 2017 bring you, on a personal level, health and happiness; and on a political level, the courage to call a spade a spade and a scam a scam.
Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit – Happy New Year.