Archive for March, 2012

 

In this new  exhibition in the room@ The Model, Sue Morris appropriates  flora and fauna to explore real and imagined scenarios within the domestic space.

The Model Gallery, Sligo, is open 11am-5.30pm, Weds-Sat;  and 12pm-5pm, Sun.

Commemorating the Hillsborough Disaster. 20th Anniversary, Anfield.

The recent leak to BBC Radio 4’s World At One (15 March) of confidential cabinet papers on the Hillsborough disaster provides a fascinating insight into the workings of official propaganda. The papers recall a series of briefings given by Merseyside Police to Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, just four days after the disaster; essentially, they supported the view of colleagues in South Yorkshire Police that Liverpool fans were to blame for the deaths of the 98.

We have always known in the aftermath of the disaster that the police had privileged access to the media and to the very centre of government; and thus the opportunity to get their version of events on the record in public and in private as quickly as possible. Indeed, the scurrilous news headlines at the time, blaming the fans and exonerating the police operation at the ground that day, were not simply media inventions. In all likelihood they derived from police briefings, whose version of events and the headlines it generated are actually still believed by many today.

The Sun's take on the Hillsborough Disaster, 1989. All lies and no doubt sourced to police briefings.

It was very reminiscent of how quickly and effectively the British Army promoted its false version of events on Bloody Sunday in Derry on 30th January 1972, telling the British and international media that the 13 people shot dead by paratroopers that day were nail bombers and gunmen when in fact they were all innocent.  The army propaganda machine was so successful at this that some remarked on how quickly lies march around the world before the truth gets its boots on. The Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, just 11 weeks later, shamefully accepted and endorsed the army version and it took nearly 40 years for the Saville Inquiry to establish the truth that all 13 victims were innocent and for the British Prime Minister to formally accept this in parliament.

This is the kind of thing the Hillsborough families have faced ever since the loss of their loved ones in 1989. They’ve heard the lies of the media; they’ve seen the injustice of the inquest with its verdict of “accidental death” rather than “unlawful killing”; they’ve had the flawed verdict of the original Hillsborough (or Taylor) Inquiry of 1989, which left many questions unanswered but at least concluded that the police bore primary responsibility for what happened that day; and they’ve had to bear the insult of the Blair-sponsored judicial review by Lord Stuart-Smith in 1998, which decided there was no new  evidence on which to challenge the original Taylor Report.

Most recently came the news that the release of thousands of confidential papers that might help answer still unanswered questions would be delayed until this Autumn at the earliest because of the sheer weight of information they contain. Sheila Cole of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign accepts the reasons for the delay but she and many others will think it curious indeed that this particular document is being leaked now. We don’t know who leaked it and what interest they have in perpetuating the lies about how and why the disaster happened, which is a problem in itself. But the Hillsborough families, Liverpool Football Club and Liverpool fans everywhere will no doubt have strong suspicions that the police are, once again, getting their version out before the full range of papers are released, papers that might rightfully damn the police version once and for all, answer the still unanswered questions, and vindicate the finding of the original Hillsborough Inquiry that the fault for the disaster lay fully and squarely with the police and their operation at the ground that day.

Though I’m sorry to say personally and as someone brought up in Derry during the Troubles, I don’t hold out too much hope that the families will get justice from the British police anytime soon.


On the back of Rory McIlroy’s achievement as the world’s number 1 golfer, the Press Association reports that:

‘New world number one golfer Rory McIlroy should be followed round the globe by Stormont officials to help tap into any tourism potential, according to a politician’ (5 March).

Failte Ireland ad, 2011: way ahead of the NITB and on an all-Ireland basis, too. Ouch!

As always in the North, every time a golden goose comes along, which isn’t too often it has to be said, it’s taken behind the shed and battered to death. And the politician willing to wield the club in this case is Ulster Unionist MLA, Mike Nesbitt.

MIke Nesbitt, UUP MLA: "Wouldn't this make a fantastic fairway?"

Poor Rory. I can imagine the golfing commentary as his game falls apart at the next tournament:

“How did he miss that shot, Tom? Inexplicable!”

“Something or someone in the crowd seemed to distract him, Jim!”

The camera cuts to crowd and zooms in on Arlene Foster wearing a white dress suit with a bright red trim; jumping up and down and waving a large Northern Ireland flag to match. She’s accompanied by a delegation from Stormont that’s bound to put any golfer off his/her stroke, including Mike Nesbitt, Edwin Poots (DUP), David Ford (Alliance) and Barry McElduff (SF) who keeps shouting, “Keep her lit there Rory!” and thinks it’s still funny (if it ever was).

“Ah! Rory really doesn’t need that, does he, Tom?”

No, he doesn’t. But some in the North, like Nesbitt, are losing the plot about the global success of McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke, and its potential for promoting tourism here. In a similar vein, the hype surrounding the forthcoming Irish Open in Portrush this June is already approaching London Olympics proportions. Yes, like the Northwest 200 motorcycle race, which takes place up there every May, it should pull people in the tens of thousands, which will be great for the local economy and that’s fair enough; but most people will pack up and go home straight after the event. Alternatively, it could very well be a total washout. And I’m not kidding.

Then there’s Derry’s stint next year as the first UK City of Culture, which will supposedly bring in hundreds of thousands of extra tourists and transform the city’s image and fortunes much like what happened to Glasgow when it got European City of Culture in 1990. Having grown up in Derry in the 1970s amid the worst years of the Troubles, I would like to see the city flourish but in a realistic, sustainable way and without the marketing hype and political fever that surrounds such contrived events.

Northern Ireland: from war zone to one big feckin golf resort.

Like any sector of the economy, tourism needs to be planned and managed on a sustainable basis and kept in balance with other sectors. Yet up on the hill at Stormont, Northern Ireland is being talked up as some sort of Tourism Klondike; an unplanned and unregulated free-for-all for developers, speculators and rip-off merchants.

"Excuse me for speaking!"

The resignation of Liberal Democrat peer, Jenny Tonge  (28 February), over her recent remarks about the future of the Israeli state, comes in the wake of yet another “storm of controversy” that blows up every time a public figure offers any word of criticism about Israel’s conduct in the Middle East, however reasonable it might be. Apparently Tonge said that “Israel will not last forever”, which was then taken to mean that she was denying Israel’s right to exist.

Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, said Tonge’s remarks were “dangerous, inflammatory and unacceptable…[and] have no place in civil public discourse”.

For the record, what she actually said was “Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form” [emphasis added], which in no way infers that it does not have the right to exist. She went on to argue that:

 “One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”

Now, she may turn out to be right about that or she may not. But it is a reasonable argument nonetheless and I would think any “civil public discourse” worth its salt would be big enough to accommodate it without the need to launch a witchhunt to silence the messenger. But of course the public discourse Lord Sacks has in mind is really a narrow range of opinion and debate that is confined to the established political classes and internally policed by the political equivalent of attack dogs and bomb disposal units.

In the end, Tonge’s party leader, Nick Clegg, called on her to apologise but she stood by her remarks and resigned the party whip in the Lords. The dogs have been called back to heel, the controversy has been defused. As an independent peer, she can say anything she wants now and if it’s in any way controversial or offensive it won’t matter because then she will be speaking outside of the bounds of civil public discourse.

That’s British democracy for you but it won’t last forever, you know…in its present form.