Transatlantic throat-clearing

If you’re familiar with the term ‘phatic communication’ , you’ll know it’s that early part of a meeting where people talk about the weather, ask how’s the husband/wife, children, what’s on telly. It’s the language equivalent of clearing your throat before speaking, getting the communication channels cleared.

Last night I watched and listened to an hour of phatic communication. It was a live on-line event, the opening of what is called Transatlantic Conversations, “a Zoom webinar series dedicated to the next generation of the Irish peace process”, the love-child of a coming together of Pete Shirlow, the top cat of Irish Studies in Liverpool University,    and the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at Notre Dame.

It started with a man from Notre Dame, who said some nice things about the peace process. Then we were handed over to, um,  neutral chair Claire Sugden (Independent Unionist), who prompted Simon Coveney to speak about the peace process ; and then Richie Neal, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the US Capitol, who did likewise.

What did they say? Almost entirely polite meaningless words. “Relationships” was a particular favourite. It was like watching an elaborate dance, where the dancers wove elaborate patterns but never really come together. It was all respect, accommodation, difference of viewpoint, tolerance. Towards the end the speakers (mainly Ms Sugden and Simon Coveney, since the Notre Dame man had cleared off once he’d done his opening remarks, and Congressman Neal had done likewise) mentioned the word ‘border’ but quickly veered away again to further discuss tolerance, respect, vision, future, and whatever your granny fancies.

There were questions from online, but they appeared to evaporate once Simon began to answer them.(At the beginning, Simon said he knew viewers would be asking questions, which he knew would be blunt and direct, and he welcomed that with a smile.) Prior to signing up to view, I sent in a question about unionists and NEI majorities. During the (yawn) commentary on respect, shared, vision, future, granny’s portion, etc., we were again invited to submit questions. So I did one again. Here’s my question:

“A central component of the GFA was provision for a border poll on Irish unity, when it was believed there was sufficient interest in holding such a poll. Is the Irish government avoiding discussion of a border poll, let alone building support for it, because this might disturb the sensibilities of a small violent unionist minority?”

Simon broke down and wept when Claire read it out. No, only kidding – of course it wasn’t read out. This is phatic communication we’re into here, buddy. This was 60+ minutes of tarted-up twaddle.

Why do these people put on these charades? It’s the window-dressing of their careers, stupid.

Footnote 1: I’m signed up for another one tonight, but I think I’ll take a shot at giving myself a kidney transplant instead.

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