Last week Mike Nesbitt hit the nail on the head when he compared Stormont to Fawlty Towers.
However the goings-on with the folks on the hill are not funny anymore. The first episode broadcast on July 1, 1998 was some laugh when Martin McGuinness addressed the Assembly by saying, “It is also very good to come across someone like Mister Sammy Wilson, whom I have never met, and it is great to see him today with his clothes on.” Sammy blushed and shuffled his papers as the future Chuckle Brother was alluding to photographs that appeared in a sunday worst of the DUP man running naked through a field in France. The graffiti in Belfast read, “No to nude bathing – Ulster has suffered enough.”
There were 12 episodes of the iconic Fawlty Towers depicting the madcap goings-on in a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, on the ‘English Riviera’. The plots centred on highly strung, rude owner Basil Fawlty, his bossy wife Sybil, comparatively normal chambermaid Polly, hapless Spanish waiter Manuel and an array of eccentric guests. Stormont indeed…
The word ‘crisis’ has become meaningless in this part of the world. Our local government is like an alcoholic staggering from lamppost to lamppost, falling occasionally and generally going nowhere in life.
In recent weeks Nesbitt has morphed into the John Cleese character goose-steeping up and down the hallways of the great building accusing other parties of adopting the mantra, “Don’t mention the war.” Mike has taken the tedious high moral ground from the DUP holding those dastardly republicans to account. Meanwhile Jim Allister is the batty old Fawlty Towers colonel who has his fans but no-one is quite sure why he is there.
Gregory Campbell gave a bizarre performance on the Stephen Nolan TV show last week defending his party returning to talk to ‘Sinn Féin – IRA army council’ as defined by the PSNI-MI5 report. So endeth the DUP ‘hokey-cokey… in-out-in-out and shake it all about” or “Lanigan’s Ball… I stepped out and she stepped in again” policy, depending on what side of the divide one hails. For God’s sake nationalists and unionists can’t even agree the title of the events of April 10, 1998. It’s either the Good Friday Agreement or the Belfast Agreement depending on which foot our political representatives dig that big hole.
A DUP grassroots member told me there were many party members deeply embarrassed by their resigning and reinstating over the last month. Mike will be back too.
One must have sympathy for their position. It has been suggested nationalists share power because they want to and unionists share power because they have to. For decades nationalists were viewed as an underclass. It can’t be easy for unionism to leave behind a mindset of total control over a minority and be expected to share power with them.
It is nigh on impossible to hold the mask in place. Back in his UUP days Jeffrey Donaldson suggested that republicans had not been “house-trained yet.” The symbolism is shocking; dogs are house-trained. At an election count in 2011 Tom Elliot described republicans as “scum,” Edwin Poots suggests his party “holds its nose” in talks and last month Arlene vowed to protect Stormont from “rogue” republican and nationalist ministers. If those are not throwbacks to the old foot on the neck of nationalists, unionist dominated Stormont I don’t know what is.
There is a uniform in the cloakroom of ‘The Troubles’ that rarely gets a mention. It belongs to the Ulster Defence Regiment. Its former members included high profile politicians Jeffrey Donaldson, Tom Elliot, Ruth Patterson and Ken McGuinness. While there is no suggestion any of the aforementioned were involved in anything sinister, it was an organisation that had huge scale collusion and overlap with loyalist killer gangs.
I recall hitching out of Omagh on the Gortin Road about 1979 and a voice from a passing UDR jeep shouted, “McSherry you fenian b*****d”. It was from a loyalist I sat in a classroom with at Omagh Tech (as it was then know) a few years earlier. None of his comrades appeared to admonish him. A nothing incident but hugely reflective of the mindset of the ‘regiment.’ Young nationalists dreaded the thought of meeting a UDR roadblock on the way home from a dance in the early hours of the morning. The saying at the time was, “UDR by day – UVF by night.”
Anne Cadwallader’s book ‘Lethal Allies – British Collusion in Ireland’ refers to a HET report that stated there was “indisputable evidence of security forces collusion” that should have rung alarm bells all the way to the top of government. The large scale collusion, including RUC members, led to the killing of more than 100 people in the 1970s by a loyalist gang that operated from farms in counties Tyrone and Armagh.
A lot of people have to swallow hard when they see politicians on our screens and remember the organisations they belonged to. “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies,” said man of peace Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “Que?” asked Manuel.