I suppose it started with Adam. Instead of manning up and telling God “Yes, I ate the apple”, Adam tried to shift the ground by pointing at Eve : “She made me do it.” Which was the first but not the last example of someone trying to shuffle the facts into a pattern they found more pleasing.
You get a lot of it in politics. For example, I was listening to RTÉ’s Marian Finucane Show a week ago and she had Mike Nesbitt, late of this parish, as her main guest. Mike did his humble-brag thing about having been a poor student at eleven but winning the top spot in ‘A’ Level English when he was eighteen, and being an athlete for Ireland or something of that nature.
Marian encouraged him to talk about his life as a BBC news man, which allowed him to recite the bloody details from the Enniskillen bomb and the Shankill bomb. Much was also made of the way Mike had urged followers to give their second preference votes to the SDLP and how the DUP and the Shinners hated each other so much, they couldn’t bring themselves to share a table in the Stormont canteen. “We need to be very careful how we deal with our past” Mike explained. Indeed. Otherwise people might get their hands on the full truth of those days and the approved version would crumble and disintegrate.
Another man not behind the door when it comes to fact-shuffling is Gregory Campbell. Let me come clean – I like Gregory Campbell. I once interviewed him and he was as decent an pleasant a man as you could meet in a day’s walking. His political views, on the other hand, would freeze beer.
His recent target was the winning of the Foyle MP seat by Elisha McCallion. In the House of Commons recently, Gregory wanted to make sure they knew what was happening in not-quite-as-British-as –Finchley:
“Is the Minister aware that at the general election in June, there was a 300% increase in proxy votes in the Foyle constituency, resulting in Sinn Féin winning the seat by 169 votes?”
A proxy vote (I didn’t know until now) is where you vote on behalf of somebody else. All quite legit, it seems. But you can see what Gregory is hinting at. The Shinners have cast proxy votes for people who probably don’t exist, or if they do, they don’t know that some blaggardly Shinner has gone and used their vote.
This charge of Gregory’s comes from a long lineage. Hands up if you remember “personation”? When Sinn Féin were still behind the SDLP but rising, there used to be much indignant talk of personation. People posing as others and then voting, probably for the Shinner candidate. In 1983, the British Cabinet thought that the Shinners got around 25% of their votes from personation “and intimidation”.
EH? How do you do the intimidation thing with voters? Given that there is a system of secret ballot in place, how would the intimidating Shinners manage to make all those people vote for them? Would they follow them into the booth? Would there be a post-poll session, where voters were asked to look into their interlocutor’s eyes and tell them, no lies now, how they voted? Anyone swallowing hard, shuffling their feet, showing an inability to meet the eye – these would be identified as crypto-SDLP or unionist voters. Unfortunately, good liars look you in the eye and have an expression that suggests butter wouldn’t melt under their armpit.
Of course, commentators on Gerry Adams have raised fact-shuffling to a fine art.. Now he’s done what so many anti-republican pundits have urged him to do – announced his retirement – they are busy shuffling the bits around and telling us that it won’t matter that he’s retired. Whoever succeeds him will be the merest puppet as Gerry continues string-pulling in the background. I know that particular charge is close to the heart of dear Nelson McCausland
From Adam to the DUP: shuffle the facts skillfully enough and nothing is ever your fault, it’s always themuns. Such shufflers occupy moral ground so elevated, it’s a wonder they can breathe.