The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
TV Times
Eamon Sweeney • 27 January 2004

In the absence of anything approaching a solid political system it would appear that the battle for the support of the voting population has been reduced to a media circus that is actually surpassing the antics of the pre-election period last November.

The BBC’s new political satire show, ”The Folks on the Hill”, therefore is just as good a starting point to examine the unfolding episodes that are being offered as sincere political activism in the awkward vacuum pervading the political arena in the week before the beginning of the review of the Good Friday Agreement.

Last Friday’s programme showed a computer generated Martin Mc Guinness and Bairbre De Brun proposing a pre-structured public relations stunt to a slightly worried Gerry Adams. This involved staging a fake leadership battle in order to ape both the UUP and the upcoming struggle for primacy within the DUP, which cannot be that far away now. Mc Guinness’ character contended that this would put the focus back on to Sinn Fein and distract the press from their current and correct concentration on the various schisms eating at the wider Unionist family.

Eventually a less than convinced Adams left the room to allow Mc Guinness and De Brun to begin their “pretend” plot, and wry grins spread across their faces as the hirsute President departed.

The point of satire is of course is that it’s intention is to poke fun in a light-hearted way at real events, whilst simultaneously keeping one eye on the true meaning of these actions without the smoke screen of spin applied to them by political party’s. Of course, in the six-counties script writers have a much more pleasurable job than most others in different political arenas.

Last week we were witness to one of the last few times when the Rev. Ian Paisley was to be let loose on the media properly. In pushing the leader forward last week the DUP spin doctors illustrated the fear which they obviously now have of Ian senior being seen as their primary representative. Whilst nothing of true substance was happening last week Paisley was afforded the luxury of hitting our screens to rant, while in the background the true leadership of the DUP could go about the business of the real preparation for the upcoming meeting with Bertie Ahern in London ahead of the serious talks beginning very soon. Safe in the knowledge that by the time real talks begin Paisley’s ragess would already be wrapping fish and chips or consigned to celluloid oblivion deep in the vaults of various TV studios.

Damage limitation therefore has become the first consideration of loosing the Leviathan on the public en masse.

To quantify this Paisley’s appearance on last weeks edition of “Hearts and Minds” was not only an embarrassment to the DUP but to the old man himself. Those reading this could rightly contend that this is hardly a new development as far as he is concerned, yet one aspect of his traits has not diminished at all in his recent prolonged absence from our screens.

Paisley’s penchant to tell completely bare-faced lies is still as strong as ever.

Watching him last Thursday night I was reminded that many years ago my Grandmother pointed out to me that Paisley’s habit of closing his eyes at certain points when he spoke was an indication that he was about to try and badly mask the complete lack of truth in what he was about to say. I had no reason to ever doubt this, but I always believed that this habit was to give emphasis to his speech or owed more to his complete belief in what he was saying despite the level of fever pitched insanity that greeted everyone else’s ears. I know now that my Grandmother was 100% correct. As the shows host Noel Thompson and myself as well no doubt, the rest of the viewers sat in slack-jawed disbelief when Paisley contended that Tony Blair himself had personally assured him that the whole of the GFA was to be totally re-negotiated, his eyes were shut so tightly that it appeared as if he was being led through a NASA wind tunnel in preparation for his new role as an astronaut after he finally retires. This was matched again later in the programme when he tried to deny to Thompson that he was even there at the Ulster Hall back in the mid-1980’s at the meeting where he constituted Ulster Resistance. This still went on even after Thompson pointed out that he was in attendance as a young reporter outside the hall and that the BBC archives still had audio recordings of the Rev promising to smash republicanism by whatever means necessary.

Later that evening it was the turn of the DUP’s newest young obergrupenfuhrer Jeffrey Donaldson to try and produce a more convincing performance than that of his new boss on the “Let’s Talk” programme.

I have always believed that the BBC employee who thought up this programmes title had a fantastic sense of humour and if it has not already happened then they should be sent to work in the comedy department as there are a few shows there which I wish would give everyone’s head some peace, if you understand me.

Predictably the shows content boiled quickly down to a confrontation between Donaldson and his former UUP comrade Dermott Nesbitt.

It quickly became evident that Donaldson’s political role has become so reduced that it basically now revolves on his need for personal verbal self-defence. He has become so practised at this that he has distilled it to a fine blend of facial serenity whilst launching blistering attacks on his former colleagues. He was totally unflappable when pressurised by Nesbitt the audience and the shows host on the point of whether or not he had mislead his voters by standing on a UUP ticket before his now infamous defection to the DUP. The fact that he most certainly did do just that does not appear to concern Donaldson in the slightest and his supreme confidence that his electorate are right behind him was disconcertingly borne out by the fact that at no point at all did he once close his eyes. Also the fact that thirty members of the Upper Bann UUP constituency party resigned at last weeks annual general meeting would supply Donaldson with all the self-justification and succour he required with relation to his recent actions.

The accurate satire of the “Folks on the Hill” concerning Martin Mc Guinness’ concern the lack of press attention on Sinn Fein illustrates the fact that not only the press currently obsessed with the variant moves within unionism but that Dublin and Westminster are as well. In effect the current focus on unionism represents a 100% U-turn with respect to the normal scheme of things.

The governments have by no means forgotten about the IRA and are still eager to apportion a hefty slice of the blame for the current hiatus within the process upon republicanism, especially Ahern who is currently fighting for his political survival on at least three different fronts. However Fianna Fail and the British Labour party for all their scowling with relation to Sinn Fein still know that deep down republicans will move forward whilst is at times such as these the natural proclivity of unionism is for dissension and stagnation. Positive or affirmative action is not a characteristic that lends itself naturally to the unionist psyche, therefore wet-nursing them is the most important facet of the upcoming talks.

As ever the unionist concentration on blame placing and demonization even before the preliminary talks commence have ignored totally the fact that Loyalist paramilitarism has sufficently recovered from it’s protracted summer blood bath to remember what it is meant to do, threaten and kill Catholics.

In a week when the Ulster Political Research Group stated that the UDA has informed them that the UFF ceasefire is coming under increasing pressure not a single mainstream unionist representative has condemned their words.

The nonsense that the UPRG and of course the UDA and UFF are separate entities and the notion that, even by the admission of security minister Jane Smith, that they never have been on ceasefire, are as mythical as the reasons why they say they are considering going back to killing. In the north west the UPRG are attempting to contend that there is an ongoing campaign within Derry city to totally alienate Protestant people that is bordering on an “ethnic cleansing” of the west bank of the Foyle. The notion that this is an orchestrated campaign is as insulting as it is untrue. The only orchestration involved within this comes as it always does from the mouths of Loyalist paramilitaries and from the purposeful paranoia of more militant Unionist representatives. The idea that protestant people are intimidated out of the centre of Derry, from using it’s social and commercial facilities is a complete lie and from my own experiences of travelling through the East bank of the river recently, the larger lie that Protestant people are being economically discriminated against is totally discredited by the large scale housing and commercial developments evident there.

This is in sharp contrast to the ridiculous outcry over the proposed siting of a Gaelic football pitch in the Lisnagelvin area of the Waterside.

Whilst Magheraberry jail, literally still smoulders the man who set out his stall demanding an end to all paramilitary violence, David Trimble, pathetically tried regaining his hard line image by going into the jail, post riot of course, to lend his support to loyalist prisoners. The fact that Trimble did this is at once evidence of his increasing isolation in the post election arena, but is also evidence of the DUP desire to distance itself from the people whom they once cajoled and courted and indeed offered unofficial political support for back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

So as the review or renegotiation or whatever looms large and poor Bertie has to steel himself before meeting the spectre of unionism past in the form of Ian Paisley a suggestion made by Blair’s “Folks on the Hill” image that Ahern should change the London engagement from February 3rd to February 1st may be worth a great deal of consideration. After all February 1st is a Sunday, the DUP will not be able to attend!




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

27 January 2004


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Shooting the Fenians

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On the Theme of Forgiveness: An Open Letter to Victor Barker
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A Response to Victor Barker

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Eamonn McCann and Marion Baur


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Demise of the Dinosaur?
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The One Eyed Observer

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The Spark in Jeffery
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Anti-Racism Rally

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Semantics of Empire
M. Shahid Alam




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