On The Road, On The Border

Ballybay

Lying on the floor of a cottage by the sea, theoretically trying to sleep, feeling guilty about how little I’ve written in the last couple of days. It has been a great break though. An adventure in a lot of ways, particularly driving ways. I’m not used to steering by satnav, and kept missing my turning. I have literally no idea where I’ve been. Wandering around the back roads, I think I crossed the border with Northern Ireland about six times. You can tell because the quality of the roads suddenly drops. Not so long since it was the other way around; the British really seemed to stop trying after the peace agreement. I also ended up driving on motorway for the first time, something I wasn’t allowed to do before I passed my test. Shouldn’t have been doing out now either, I was going in the wrong direction.

Had my first flat too! Changing a tyre is quite exciting when you’ve no idea how to do it. The Japanese like puzzles, so they make it interesting. Along with the jack they give you a couple of bits of metal to see what you make of them. As it turns out, one levers off the hubcap, one undoes the wheel nuts, and if you fit them together and revolve them in a really rather surprising way, it turns the jack. All pretty straightforward really; I had it nearly figured out by the time I was finished.

President Higgins

On October 29, 2011, two days after the presid...
Image by infomatique via Flickr

I’m watching the replay of the inauguration of Michael D. Higgins as President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann), a significant threshold occasion in our history. An event in my personal life too – this is after all my old Sociology professor. And, one I missed. Yesterday I had to do something to sort out the utter mess my finances had gotten into since the economy hit the windscreen.

It is moving now though, to see one of the few politicians I’ve ever had any respect for become First Citizen. What the hell happened there? After over a decade of naked materialism we’re suddenly electing a socialist intellectual, and with no intervening transition except the global failure of capitalism.

It is a bittersweet occasion though. We now have as President a man who you can say without embarrassment is passionate about equality, about justice, about actually changing society. That we esteem him enough to raise him to this position is a wonderful thing. But at the same time, it’s sad that he was raised to a position of esteem only. As President he has less power than an ordinary citizen; they at least are free to express their own opinions.

Which is unfortunate. Now more than ever we need voices like his.

 

Independence Is Overrated Anyway

It would also be a unique opportunity to design the busiest flag in world history

Today the USA celebrates the anniversary of independence from Britain. Though I wonder would they have bothered if they’d known that, 235 years later, Britain would be pretty much dependent on them. It’s funny to watch that pair, singing together at the UN, fighting their wars hand-in-hand. You know I think those two should make up. They’re obviously right for each other.

Just one or two tricky details to sort out. The UK couldn’t just become the 51st state. It may be small in area, but at 62 million it would make up one sixth of the combined population. As the House of Representatives allocates seats proportionally it would inevitably form a huge voting bloc there, while at the same time being ludicrously under-represented in the Senate.

It would be far better for the constituent countries of the UK to join individually, with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland becoming the 51st, 52nd, 53rd and 54th states of the USA respectively. This still leaves England as the largest state by far though – 52 million people as opposed to California’s 37 – so perhaps it could be further divided. North and South England maybe, like the Dakotas and Carolinas. Or separate it into Greater London, and Little England.

But then there’s another issue – the United States is a republic, whereas the United Kingdom is anything but. This is a rather fundamental constitutional difference; it’s not a Union unless the whole thing is governed by a single Head of State. Let’s begin though by ruling out the option of Americans voting to become a monarchy. Not because they wouldn’t consider it, but because I’m worried they might. For the UK to finally be converted into a full democracy, its royal family will need to be deposed. That doesn’t mean they have to be rounded up and executed of course. Though it does seem like the ideal opportunity.

And That Completes The Set

garret-fitzgerald1
The Way We Were

And that completes the set. Now there are no honest politicians left at all.

Maybe I exaggerate a trifle, but Garret Fitzgerald did seem different. Even though he led a right-of-centre party, even though he could give the impression of being confused and ineffectual, even though he didn’t achieve much of what he set out to, he was the greatest leader that Ireland has had in my memory. There was never any doubt that Garret’s motivation was not personal power, status or wealth. He wasn’t there to be liked by his coterie or cheered by the the masses. He was there to do something about the mess the country was in.

He did that, and he was still liked anyway. Though the sobriquet ‘Garret The Good’ was intended to lampoon his earnestness, no one doubted that it was true. This was a good man in politics. A man who did more than anyone to free Ireland from religious domination, who first dared to attempt what finally bore fruit as the Peace Process. That rarest of things, an intellectual in a leadership role.

And in 1987, the voters of Ireland decided that they would actually prefer to be ruled by Charles Haughey. So perhaps we deserve all that has come since.