- 20 Dec 19
"It's hard to look past Brexit. It's an imperial nostalgia folly."
Time, we are told, isn't a simple matter of moving forward in regular, predictable units. It's much more complex than that: it stretches and turns and folds. Ireland felt a bit like that this year too. Old ghosts and old foes leered through the mists. Grand infrastructural projects had their time-frames and budgets stretched and folded. You didn't need a Hubble telescope to see the black holes of the border, the recurrent patterns, the dark, unchanging nebulae.
It's hard to look past Brexit. Here too time matters. It's an imperial nostalgia folly. And it was supposed to have been 'done' and dusted by now. Boris Johnson ousted Theresa May with a promise to take the UK out of Europe by October 31st come hell or high water. He didn't.
It's going to cause a lot of grief as it unfolds. For example, the beef sector, already targeted under climate change thinking, is especially vulnerable and this year brought angry farmers to blockades outside beef processing plants; and later Dáil Éireann. But at least our ports are getting serious. The cheerful young man on the local farm stall says that, at this stage, very little organic food is coming through Britain. Rosslare, Cork, Drogheda and Dublin have all upped their game.
Brexit chaos also energised talk of a border poll and speculation regarding a united Ireland. Everyone was pretty happy with the way the Good Friday Agreement did away with borders and created a framework to accommodate our complex web of national identities. We got two decades of peace out of it but when the UK leaves the EU, there'll be a border of some kind and the myriad issues arising are of pressing concern.
So, it's unsurprising that worthies would now be calling for "a new conversation". During 2019 we had many reminders of how bad things were and could be again. There was the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 and the 40th anniversary of the day the IRA murdered Lord Louis Mountbatten and three others in Sligo, and 18 members of the Parachute Regiment in Warrenpoint, Co. Down. Do we want to go back there?
Some parts of border country never really escaped, as we saw with the horrific attack on businessman Kevin Lunney and the rolling programme of ATM machine robberies. The sensational death of Cyril McGuinness, the main suspect in the Lunney case, as his safe house was being searched, allowed some hard news to emerge on his behaviours. A nasty piece of work gone, but here's the next question: have the Neanderthals gone away? And they haven't, you know.
Lifestyle anthropologists tell us that one of the key things you need to survive in the 21st century is the ability to live with ambiguity. If so, those whose lives straddle the border should be well set. It's their default mode. An example of just how ambivalent people were during the Troubles came in May in the Central Criminal Court in Dublin, when "alleged IRA member" Seamus Marley was sentenced to seven years for raping two teenage boys in the 1990s in a safe house in Co. Louth. Did nobody know or did nobody say?
Ambivalence was also on view in Derry, when journalist Lyra McKee was murdered by the "New IRA". The usual weasel words followed. As ever, the gunmen never accept that it's their fault.
Meanwhile, in the South, we're still dealing with the wreckage of the mother and baby homes, the clerical sex abuse scandals and medical misadventures. During the year, a leading Catholic figure commented that the lack of mother and baby homes records is "hard to believe." Damn right. But that's the way it was. We're never going back to that, are we?
We might, you know, but it won't be single mothers, it'll be asylum seekers and the homeless who become victims. Ugliness and intolerance were on show in many places in Ireland, yes, that same Ireland that likes to pat itself on the back for its progressiveness. Just announce that a direct provision centre or a facility for the homeless is to open and watch. As we have said before, progress is a constant work. You have to run to even stand still.
We had farmers on the streets in 2019, blockading beef processing plants and demanding better prices. It's hard to blame them. They're on the rack. But they're also in the crosshairs as regards climate change. The best they can hope for is that our carnivores shift to less beef but better beef...
You want good news? The cost of building the National Children's Hospital keeps on rising. It is criminal. Also the National Maternity Hospital is still owned by some faction of the Roman Catholic Church. Again, madness. So we build the most expensive hospitals in the world! Well, let's bring on the National Broadband Plan, shall we? See how far we can overrun on that!!
You can read the complete 'Whole Hog On 2019' in one brilliant sweep in the Hot Press Annual – in which we distill the highlights and low-points of the year, across 132 vital, beautifully designed pages. Starring heroes of the year Fontaines D.C. on the front we cover Music, Culture, Sport, Film, Politics, the Environment and much, much more. Buy this superb publication direct from Hot Press here.