It’s progress of a sort isn’t it? The Secretary of State for Norneverland is allowed to utter the immortal word “Ireland”, now without the drab and raddled skies above him or her opening up and a bolt of crackling electricity immediately vaporising and vanquishing him or her in a murmur. It was not ever thus…. Thirty years ago , any new Secretary of State , while being prodded towards the aeroplane doors by pitchfork -wielding minions and subservient political creatures in his employ…destination Norneverland …..While carrying in one hand that poisonous chalice abrim with Glenfiddich whiskey , battered briefcase grasped tenuously ‘neath his oxter, he would be exhorted to grasp firmly the sheaf of documents thrust busily into his other extended free hand .
The importance of these documents would be stressed in whispered instructions .They were the do’s and don’t of survival in Norneverland and were crucial to the very success of his coming mission.Never mind the political shenanigans coming to assault you daily in your new job ..of even greater instruction were the things you said or didn’t say on each and every occasion.It all depended who was the recipient of your words of wisdom or your raddled foolishness .Never let your guard down and under no circumstances ever say anything in these pages that might come back to haunt you until death.
Back in 1985 , when the new Secretary of State for Norneverland was greasily boarding that skybus, much else was happening in my world .It wasn’t all bombs and bullets as the popular press would have us think .Nor were we all all obsessed with the politics of the day …every day, in every waking moment. There was life to be lived too..Politics , fear and violence were only a bubbling backdrop to other more mundane and wonderful events in each of our lives .While Bob Geldof was sanctifying himself with his huge world-spanning Live Aid charity concert ,I was working twenty-four hours a day, building my own house ,in any spare hours on a building -site; hours snatched from the daily grind of work….wondering all the while how anyone would find time for any more nefarious actions in their lives .While the miners in England were being ground down by Margaret Thatcher and swathes of working folk were left destitute and jobless: while entire communities imploded and the Anglo-Irish Agreement was causing havoc within Ian Paisley’s wee paranoid head, I was cycling five miles to work daily, while my wife used our wee beat-up Renault 5 to get to work herself.
Meanwhile the new Secretary of State , Tom King’s head was spinning with his own personal nightmare.How was he going to remember all these pages of script and advice. It was harder than rehearsing a Shakespearean speech. He had to remember not to say …They’ll probably not know that every one of those key words are Mainland…..Six Counties….,North of Ireland…The 26 counties….The Free State…..Eire…..Ireland….the 32 Counties….Orange….Green….Taigs….Prods….Fenians….Orangemen…..Loyalist…..Republican…..British Army….The Military….H-blocks….Long Kesh…..The Kesh….
Papers have just now been released , so it must be deemed safe , some thirty years after the events, to make these revelations . Unlike many other details of political jiggery -pokery concerning the government’s dealings in Norneverland that will be buried forever, it seems safe now to make public these reveals as to the push and pull of social decorum.That’s probably because to the outsider and anyone reading this , it will still all be as opaque as a pint of good stout.
Anyone living outside of the vapid social, religious and political hypocrisies of Norneverland may be as equally baffled as Tom King was at this point. They would have …and possibly still do cry …”What the hell is that all about?” They’ll probably not know that each one of those mystical keywords contain in their very essence an entire descriptive world of innuendo , tradition and historical bias.Using any single one of them would trigger an unholy response from just about every citizen of Norneverland for entirely different reasons.Some of them are openly insulting or disparaging , such as “taig”which would only ever be used by an un-educated person from the unionist/loyalist/protestant background as an insulting term for his catholic/republican/Irish nationalist neighbour. They might not know what it means, nor know of its origin, but it’ll readily trip off their tongues in an insulting or even unthinking way.Each tribe had its own expressions of hatred . Nationalists would say “He’s as black as yer boots!” This had nothing to do with skin tone , but everything to do with the colour of uniforms and black hearts. By the same token no unionist nor nationalist would refer to the Maze prison , as “the Kesh”, in that over -familiar, almost nostalgic manner; that would be the prerogative of only a true republican …not simply a “nationalist” either ….only a republican would do that….Subtle , you see…
Even using an expression such as ..”the North” was full of implication..Only a nationalist would use that . To them it was simply the North of Ireland…It always was. On the other hand , Unionists would refer to “the province” or “Ulster” , even though that was strictly not right either. Ulster having nine counties and not just the six referred to by unionists.Three of those Ulster counties were part of a republic just inches away across an imaginary line. Then there was the Derry/ Londonderry debacle .Nationalists preferred the old gaelic derived “Derry” ,but unionists clung to the “London ” in “Londonderry” like some punctured life-raft. The late Gerry Anderson nailed that one with his “Stroke City”. You see , some of us could still laugh at this nonsense.
Like I say…it’s progress of a sort when a Secretary of State for Norneverland can now speak openly of “Ireland ” without the world falling down around her ears.