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IT COULDN’T HAPPEN HERE...
A very eminent British QC was passing through town recently so we finished up in the Dungloe Bar listening to the Jim Armstrong Band singeing the ceiling with John Lee Hooker, Eddie Boyd and Eric Clapton (eh?) numbers, and getting drunk. Us that is, not the band, necessarily.
Eamonn McCann, 09 Mar 1994
A very eminent British QC was passing through town recently so we finished up in the Dungloe Bar listening to the Jim Armstrong Band singeing the ceiling with John Lee Hooker, Eddie Boyd and Eric Clapton (eh?) numbers, and getting drunk. Us that is, not the band, necessarily. The talk turned towards judges, justice and In The Name Of The Father.
“Pigs, the whole lot of them, the British judiciary,” somebody observed, and met no argument, other than from the QC, who suggested silkily that this was a bit rough on the Brit beaks. “I don’t think they are necessarily worse than their equivalents elsewhere.” This was taken by some as a pertinent example of cross-channel big-wigs sticking together.
But then again, who are we to talk? One of the central questions which emerged in the wake of the Guildford etc. cases was: could it happen here? In southern Ireland, that is. The answer was, No.
One of the reasons the Guildford Four story could be told is that in Britain, after a case had been pursued all the way through the legal process, it was possible to have another crack at establishing the innocence of the convicted parties: the Home Secretary had power to refer a case back to the courts if evidence came to hand which had not been available to the original trial and which might have tilted the balance towards the defendant.
Needless to say, it had generally proven very difficult to convince Home Secretaries to use this power. At the moment, Michael Howard is holding out against pleas to refer back the case of the Carl Bridgewater defendants, despite the fact that new, relevant evidence is available and every dog and divil in legal and journalistic circles knows not only that the four jailed men are innocent but also the identity of the man who did murder the young newsboy.
What’s more, once cases in Britain are referred back, the courts tend to react with resentment at a decision being called in to question rather than a commitment to look afresh at the facts. Even after the Birmingham Six case was sent for re-hearing, the judges couldn’t bring themselves to accept what every half-sentient observer could see plainly.
So the British system for dealing with wrongful convictions fell far short of perfection. The Guildford Four had spent fourteen years inside before the truth was faced up to, and the Birmingham Six even longer. The British system wasn’t up to it.
But at least it existed. Whereas the Irish had no system at all. This was a cause of some embarrassment when Paul Hill and Gerry Conlon hit town to be lionised by Charlie Haughey and fawned on by Gay Byrne. A shamefaced, or so it seemed, Department of Justice eventually set up a committee under Judge Frank Martin to examine the issue and report on what might be done to remedy a now-glaring defect in Irish legal procedures.
Judge Martin reported in March 1990, suggesting a straightforward remedy which would repair some of the inadequacy of the British system. Put simply, he urged the establishment of an independent body with statutory powers which could re-examine cases where substantial doubts about a conviction emerged after all the usual avenues of appeal had been exhausted.
It was one of very few official reports in Britain or Ireland in recent years to be met with near-enough unanimous approval. The political parties were all positive. Long-time prisoners’ rights campaigners like Joe Costello were enthusiastic about the new body and its independence of both party politics and the courts, while the Incorporated Law Society hailed the proposal as “essential” for the fair administration of justice.
That was four years ago this month. But it wasn’t until October last year – by which time three Ministers for Justice had come and gone – that legislation was brought in to put the Martin proposals into effect. Or not.
The Criminal Procedure Bill allows cases to be referred back – but only to the Court of Appeal. It provides for no independent element at all. When the bill came before the Dail committee on security last November the Junior Minister for Justice Willie O’Dea openly admitted the strength of the argument for an independent body but went feebly on: “I will look at it again but I cannot promise any great hope that things will change” (Irish Times, November 11th). And things haven’t.
In other words, the judicial establishment and senior Department of Justice civil servants, and probably the police – the relevant section of the unelected ruling class – hadn’t allowed to happen what the people and the elected representatives of the people clearly wanted to happen.
And that’s been that. Everybody involved in the political system seems to have accepted that the matter’s now closed. Thus the lessons of the Guildford Four and other similar cases which seemed so obvious just a short time ago have been officially forgotten.
So shouldn’t we go a bit easy on the moral superiority when commenting on miscarriages of justice in Britain?
Like, ask Peter Pringle.
PREACH TO THEIR OWN
This Saturday, March 12th, no fewer than 33 women will be ordained as Anglican priests in Bristol Cathedral. Why any woman would want to join a branch of an outfit which has specialised in multi-faceted misogyny for two thousand years is a mystery to me. But then, so many aspects of Christianity do consist of mysteries – the Virgin Birth, transubstantiation, Father Michael Cleary’s DNA test . . .
Anyway, the mass ordination is one in the eye for the zealots who reckoned the C of E was on the way out following the defection of a series of Eminent Persons to Roman Catholicism. The Canterbury faction is fighting back! What excitement.
Still, I wonder why the Catholic Church is allowing some of these people in. Doesn’t anybody exercise quality control on recruits any more?
John Gummer. He was let in. He’s a small and imperfectly-formed Tory Minister whose only previous claim to fame was that he stuffed a Big Mac with onions down his four-year-old child’s throat for the cameras in order to prove that humans couldn’t contract Mad Cow Disease.
The Catholic Church should have bouncers, like at Lillie’s or the POD, who would tell the likes of John Gummer that they’re sorry but the place is full and anyway they are inappropriately dressed and point them towards the ecclesiastical equivalent of Leeson Street.
Not that it’s any of my business. As far as I’m concerned people should be allowed to choose whichever supernatural fantasy suits their particular form of alienation, and indeed there can be a certain entertainment value in observing them to-ing and fro-ing from one outfit to another.
Gummer is the second Tory minister to go RC in recent times, following the defection, also from the C of E, of Ann Widdicombe, a social security Minister directly responsible for grinding down the poor. I suppose it provides these Tories with an alternative to tying a plastic bag around their heads and dying from asphyxiation in mid-masturbation.
Then there was the Duchess of Kent, who was received into Popishness by Cardinal Basil Hume himself, an event which causes a gaggle of daft Romanists to gloat in the up-market English press about the “reconversion of England.” Evidently, they’d mistaken the Duchess for Mary Queen of Scots. I wonder do they remember what happened to her. Momentarily one wished – again, purely from the potential entertainment point of view – that the present Queen Elizabeth had the stomach of her illustrious predecessor.
Why, incidentally, was the Kent woman inducted into her new church by the head of the entire English operation, in his private chapel? Whatever happened to all that stuff about everybody being equal in the sight of God?
I suppose it’s much the same thing as Princess Caroline of Monaco being given the nod by the Pope himself to say ‘stuff that’ to her first marriage and to get remarried by a bishop to the greasy millionaire she was already shacking up with anyway. If you’re a member of a royal family and/or have loads of dosh, the usual laws of God can be suspended at your convenience. It’ll all end in tears, mark my words.
Incidentally, I saw that little twerp Cathal Daly on television the other night wheedling on about “peace,” alongside the Church of Ireland spoofer Eames. The two of them were claiming to be totally against sectarianism. What a load of bollocks. The churches these two specimens head are the sects to which the word “sectarianism” refers.
Daly’s church maintains its power in this country, North and South, mainly by insisting on Catholic children learning their multiplication tables in rooms from which Protestant children are kept out. Meanwhile, Eames leads a church hundreds of whose ministers are prominent members of the hate-mongering fancy-dress Orange Order. This pair are among the main formentors of sectarianism on the island.
Once, in Madrid, the Spanish anarchist Durutti heard that there was injustice in the city of Saragossa. So, going down to that place, he shot the archbishop.
Should I read something into the fact that it was while watching Glenroe that we discovered Moving Hearts were playing the Olympia? Wasn’t from the bill-boards or from Hot Press or from somebody on the street, but Glenroe. Angsty farming folk discussing liver fluke and adultery and there it was in the background – a poster proclaiming the Hearts gig.
Hey, but I can still move when I needs, and was on to Keith Donald before the credits had rolled, and got our names on the door. Some days later as we drove down from Derry I was wondering whether this was a wise move. Everybody was older. And there was no Donal. Maybe it wouldn’t quite hit the dizziest heights, which for the Hearts could be a downer.
In the Baggot beforehand Charlie McGettigan said, Are you down for the Hearts?, and we fell to remembering the nights there with Christy when you’d have walked down from Derry for only that chord at the end of the intro of ‘No Time For Love’, the shiver and thrill of it.
I yield to no-one in my admiration of Mick Hanly as a singer and songwriter, and Flo McSweeney is one of the loves of my life, but I stand by what Terry O’Neill and myself used to say to one another when Christy decided to leave. This is an instrumental band, we’d say. Should head itself towards Weather Report territory, for instance.
They’d have been treated like princes there, and still would. It’s early days yet, but this could easily prove the gig of the year.
It’s a BIG sound, vast in its extent, multi-layered, deeply-textured, all-enveloping, complex in its patterns but instantly accessible and perfectly pure too, and, most of all, just beautiful. It came in surges, waves and wild flurries all at once, sweeping everybody all up into one and irradiating the collective imagination. Sitting with your eyes lightly closed was delirium, dancing in the aisles an abandonment.
It’s something to do with the specific combination of soprano sax and pipes front and centre, with the power-drive of the guitars, the deft fills from the keyboards (James Delaney on the night), the exuberance of the rhythm section, the virtuosity and sheer daring of the accomplishment of it all. Whatever. And the fact that it’s so cool, and savage and pagan at exactly the same time. Music to make your soul tremble.
Maybe they were too early. Maybe it’s now. There’s nowhere in the world this band couldn’t set up, and make a storm.