Today’s Irish Times: a colonel and a columnist

There are two interesting pieces in this morning’s Irish Times.  The first is a letter from a retired Irish colonel, in which he advances a proposal in some ways as radical as Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal, when he argued that poor Irish people should be allowed to sell their babies for eating by the powers that be. The second is by the Irish Times’s house-trained northern unionist, in which he talks some sense and, to balance that, some hen’s poo.

The colonel in question is one Michael Gannon. He notes that the life of the average Irish “soldier, sailor, air woman and man is one of continuous firefighting, trying to douse a multiple of administrative and operational incendiary situations caused by years of neglect and the constant perpetuating of reviews, reorganisations and ‘white papers’ ”.

He believes the only solution is “the disbanding of the Defence Forces, thus saving on a defence budget ad infinitum which together with selling its considerable property portfolio would provide an immediate and considerable pandemic reimbursement payment available to the National Treasury Management Agency”.

I’m with the retired colonel all the way, but not primarily for the reason he advances. I would like the south’s armed forces disbanded because they are literally useless. A state’s armed forces by their very existence indicate that the state in question believes some matters can be resolved only  by violent action. The most obvious example would be if a state were invaded by a foreign power.

The chances of the twenty-six counties being invaded in this way are nil. The northern part of Ireland is, of course, held by a foreign power, to wit England, and the south’s defence forces have showed that while they will happily engage in conflict with those seeking by force to remove this foreign power in the north of the country, nothing will persuade it to engage in conflict with the foreign power holding six northern Irish counties. Clearly, as a defender of Irish territory, the Irish armed forces are as dangerous as a eunuch in a harem. The colonel has nailed it.

The other IT piece is a column by Newton Emerson, who I expect would tear off his clothes and run shrieking down Grafton Street before accepting the adjective “ tame”. That he is a northern unionist I expect he’d have to accept.

In today’s column,  Emerson notes that Micheál Martin will devote €500 million to develop his Shared Island project.  Emerson welcomes this money, and he’s right. Money helped end the Troubles and if it can be useful there, it can be useful now.

However, Emerson uses this mention of money to recollect that the Irish government in 2006 promised €400 million to pay for half the cost of  the A5, which, following the 2008 financial crash, it reneged on, “causing particular embarrassment to Sinn Féin, which had promoted it as a political landmark”. Claiming that the reneging of a Fianna Fáil government embarrassed Sinn Féin is like suggesting that a statement from Osama bin Laden ­might have embarrassed your local postman. Now we’re in hen’s poo country.

And having arrived in that country, Emerson trudges on manfully, referring to the British annual subvention to the north of Ireland: “Some advocates for unification have claimed Northern Ireland requires little or no subsidy if mysterious British accounting tricks are disregarded, a denial so ignorant it feels disreputable even to engage with it.”

You see what Emerson did there? “Your argument is so ignorant it’d be dishonest of me to refute it.” Hen’s poo level rises dramatically.

In reality, of course, Emerson recoils from dealing with the argument because there may well be a considerable degree of truth in it. I’ve never heard anyone suggest the British don’t subsidize their northern stateen at all; but I have heard and read several arguments which point out that the famous £10 billion subvention figure ignores the amount of that sum which goes to other areas such as the royal family, the British armed forces and several other non-north of Ireland areas, as well as ignoring tax money going from our stateen into the British Treasury. These calculations claim the subvention sum may be nearer £5 billion. But then it’d be dishonest – or is it disobedient? – for Emerson to even look at that argument.

Finally the unionist columnist argues that for the south to put money into northern projects will be noted. With gratitude? Well, suspicion might be a better word.Check this:

The Shared Island initiative might want to avoid putting flags on signposts in Northern Ireland, but that should not be necessary. Spending serious southern money in the North is a signpost few will miss.”

So next time your neighbour buys you a drink,  you’ll not miss the fact that he’s got his eye on taking over your house.

Did I say hen’s poo? Make that rhinoceros manure.

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