On the last day of 2008 I started to ponder upon the events which were pertinent at the close and which will still be in ferment at the start,
in and beyond 2009, no doubt.
As I write a week later Israeli air strikes still hammer away on the Gaza Strip with a three hour cessation daily. That is all Israel, at the behest of the UN, is prepared to concede for the provision of humanitarian aid, medical supplies and food.
Starvation and chaos stalk around in Zimbabwe. Death and destruction still holds sway in the Congo. Other parts of the world, developed and developing countries, are in the throes of a financial and economic crisis unparalleled since 1929.
These issues will agitate the minds of politicians and people, all of them vying for support, nationally and globally, to arrest decline, to establish control, to stabilise their economies.
Turning to the issues confronting the erstwhile ‘Celtic Tiger’, the Republic of Ireland and its northern neighbour, the Six Counties, recent events are of interest in these last few weeks are of interest as to the direction they may take as the year unrolls.
David Cameron, the leader of the British Conservative Party, in pursuance of his commitment to contest every single constituency across the UK at the next general election, made a foray in December to attend the Ulster Unionist Party conference.
He was warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by the remnants of that formerly dominant organisation, affirming that his party would join with them in campaigning as ‘The Conservative and Unionist Party’ as they once were in my own formative years in my native city of Belfast.
In those far off days, the 1920s to the early 40s, and even later, had David Cameron been visiting then, he would have been given the chance of being photographed beating a ‘Lambeg Drum’ and perhaps to walk hand in hand with the likes of Ian Paisley. It would have been down a location such as the Garvaghy Road, as his present new/old friend, Lord David Trimble, once did.
I wonder if any prominent members of this reconstituted band of Tory brothers and sisters will venture during an election into South Armagh, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh or South Down, not to mention West Belfast, to extol the virtues of their policies and to explain the reasons they supported, encouraged and implemented them before the violence exploded in the 1970s.
It is questionable if this conjunction of Davids, not forgetting the pathetic Ken (Lord) Maginnis, has anything of value to offer the people of Northern Ireland. One is a David who failed to make the grade or rise up to the needs of the occasion. The other is a wannabee, struggling to understand the nature of the worst economic
difficulties since the Wall Street crash of 1929 (and its aftermath, the depression of the 1930s which confronted me when I left school, aged fourteen, 1n 1933) and the requirements needed to address it.
The days when politicians in Northern Ireland could ride around on white horses re‑enacting the roles of William of Orange, Schomberg’s mercenaries, the landing at Carrickfergus or the skirmish at Scarva, to muster electoral support have long since gone.
Anyone who has any knowledge of the politics on both sides of the border, and even a little smattering of understanding, could have advised the Tory leader of the folly of trying to re‑establish the old Conservative Unionist label in an entirely new political architecture.
The latest statement of the DUP leader, Peter Robinson, formerly Ian Paisley’s Deputy, that he still regards him as his leader obscures the fact that it is he himself who, in co‑operation with the government of the Republic and that of the UK, has to take responsibility for the decisions and continuance of the Joint Executive in facing the economic downturn.
The almost at times parity between the Pound and the Euro raises many issues for cross‑border trading and employment, requiring considerable jiggling to implement the conditions for co-operation between the two jurisdictions as established by the Good Friday (1998) Agreement, whilst still adhering to the membership rules of the European Union.
It will be interesting to see how the Conservative Cameron will deal with the campaign for the European elections in June with the mainstream parties in the Republic fairly well in support of a ‘Yes’ vote in the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, prominently fixed for the autumn. At the same time the requirements for common European economic measures to face the global crisis will be at the top of the agenda this year. Cameron, whilst jointly campaigning in this election with his new Unionist colleagues, will have to watch that he doesn’t find himself accused of interfering in another country’s affairs.
He may also find himself in the same camp as Sinn Féin, who campaigned for a no vote in the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the summer of 2008 and also with the DUP, which, when led by Ian Paisley, opposed membership of the European Union.
The impact of the election of Barack Obama as President of the USA, both economically and politically, on the international stage has yet to emerge — the landscape has changed and is changing as I write.
In the absence of the usual ‘Any Questions’ and its follow up, ‘Any Answers’, the BBC substituted a programme in which four prominent correspondents discussed their expectations of problems and issues which would dominate 2009.
Strangely, none of them mentioned anything about the European elections, nor of whether there was the possibility of the union of the UK itself becoming an issue, nor of what would be the consequences of a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland’s autumn referendum.
As I contemplate the coming year I believe we can safely predict that those issues will surface, which was the view I expressed in the ‘Any Answers’ Saturday phone‑in. It was not taken up in the programme.
I was also surprised that no one else raised these as possible issues, so I phoned in again to say so.
We shall see if I am right as in the course of the year, Omega becomes Alpha...