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Why we're on Dave's wavelength

Published 16/07/2016

All over: outgoing prime minister David Cameron with his wife Samantha on his way to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to the Queen
All over: outgoing prime minister David Cameron with his wife Samantha on his way to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to the Queen
Big moment: Mairia Cahill with former Tanaiste Joan Burton and Minister Alan Kelly at the briefing that Mairia would be the Labour party nominee
Mairia Cahill
Changing times: despite not following the path of Oscar Peterson, Paul Hopkins has spoken to Johnny Cash, Annie Lennox and Nelson Mandela while he worked for the Belfast Telegraph
Derry deity: Liam Coyle playing for his hometown club
Lasting legacy: former independent MLA John McCallister
Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay

In his final appearance at the dispatch box, David Cameron said humorously 'I was the future once'. Belfast Telegraph writers Mairia Cahill and Paul Hopkins say they know how he feels as they look back at watershed moments in their own lives, and Laurence White talks to an ex-footballer whose playing days were cut short and a politician whose career ended abruptly.

Mairia Cahill: ‘Sometimes a crushing loss can become a fresh start’

They say all political careers end in failure and, to an extent, that's true. People change, move on, and even those who escape culls, or leadership heaves, face the electorate - and, at times, lose.

At one point in my life, I never thought I'd find myself in agreement with a British Prime Minster, but it's possibly a mark of how far I've come on my own journey that I saw the man behind the position and listened to his words, rather than dismiss him outright.

I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him as he spent his last day as PM, handling it like a pro with a mixture of humour and reflection. Whatever your views on him, it's hard not to empathise with the fact that he's been hoisted on his own Brexit petard.

His pragmatic and humorous finish as Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box - "I was the future once", a reference to a barb he threw at Tony Blair during the younger Cameron's first Prime Minister's Question Time - was a perfect summation of his time there.

And, so, things come to pass. He was, indeed, the future and has held a distinguished position in British politics that few can dream of.

And, like dreams, it's worth noting that Cameron lived it. He had power and prestige, which has now ebbed away from him, as he sits on the backbenches once again.

It's a stark reminder that, even with the best advisers and a good head for political calculation, if he can gamble his career (and the country) on a promise with potentially disastrous consequences that he found he had to keep, anyone can.

Growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer, or a journalist, before events, well-documented by now, happened to my life and sent me into a spiral where I planned how to get through day by day, rather than having any long-term plan for the future.

I've managed, I think, against odds that would have understandably seen anyone crumble under pressure.

I've crumbled at times, too, sometimes in a very public arena, so it's reassuring to think that, despite this, I've done things like write in this paper and others, effect changes for the Public Prosecution Service on how they handle other cases of abuse by highlighting my own, and become a Senator.

I also went up against arguably the most powerful movement in the country - and I'm still standing.

Life has taught me that, with all the planning in the world, sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don't. And if ever there was a career which embodies that spirit, it's politics, which I've always had a keen interest in.

Everyone in office is at the whim of the electorate and it can be brutal. But it's also very enjoyable and rewarding. I had the opportunity to run both in the general election in the south and the Assembly elections in the north and decided not to - for now.

I'm of the opinion that it takes many people to form a political party, so I'm happy to be an activist - regardless of what position I am in.

The Seanad was hard work, but excellent experience, and I achieved things to help people while there, and made good friends across the political divide. More importantly, I put the issue of domestic and sexual abuse on the agenda.

I said before I went in that I would be treating it as short-term experience, so I went at it full throttle to make sure I could get the best out of it in order to make a difference.

I had an excellent speaking record, worked over the days that I was required to, and I managed to commute daily to Dublin while bringing up my daughter. That, for me, was success in itself.

At times, it was chaos, like the time I came home late to discover I had no make-up, or clothes washed to attend a state event the next morning with the Tanaiste and muttered to myself, "Who made her a Senator?" as I packed myself after some late-night shopping and resolved to be more organised in future.

We are all human, at the end of the day.

Things are a little quieter now, aside from the daily bile that still exists about my life on social media, and I've been glad of the time to myself to plan a little longer-term.

The fact that I can retain independent thoughts and views within the Irish Labour Party, that was never possible within Sinn Fein, allows me to shape my own life.

I enjoy being outside the group think mentality.

The next step in my own journey is to await the findings of the Police Ombudsman in relation to my case and to continue to work with my colleagues in the Labour Party to make a difference.

I'm not ruling anything in or out, because I've seen first-hand how things can change and how a combination of hard work, luck and goodwill from people can achieve things that once seemed insurmountable.

So, we should also take heed from Cameron's other words on Wednesday: "Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it."

Hear, hear, David. Hear, hear.

Paul Hopkins: 'Like Cameron I was once the future... I don't regret my past'

As he spoke from the House of Commons' dispatch box for the final time as Prime Minister, David Cameron referred back to his first PMQs as the newly-installed Conservative leader in 2005. Facing Tony Blair at the time, Cameron had taunted the then-Labour PM: "I want to talk about the future. He was the future once." More than a decade later, Cameron told MPs on Thursday: "Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said, I was the future once."

I'm guessing that somewhere in that mention of "nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it" is more than an ironic passing nod to David Cameron's regret about the outcome of the Brexit poll, that, to quote the poet Robbie Burns, "the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry". That, in short, life doesn't always pan out as we might have hoped, or expected.

For many, that can be true of one's choice of career, or one's luck in love, the course of which never quite runs smooth.

In my six decades on the earth, if nothing else, I've learned that things don't always turn out the way you planned, or the way you think they should. Things can go wrong: some broken things stay broken, some dreams stay unrealised.

A nagging regret I have is that I never learnt to play the piano when my father offered me the opportunity all those years ago for, as someone with a great love of, and ear for, music and an eclectic taste, it would be nice now and then to be able to tinkle the ivories to while away the hours of a wet Saturday afternoon.

Around the time of my saying no to the possibility of emulating Oscar Peterson, or Gabriel Faure, my father and I went on one of our Dublin-to-Belfast trips, so he could indulge his love of pipe band music.

En route back to our old Morris Minor, we passed the offices of the Belfast Evening Telegraph. Looking up to its iconic clock steadfastly marking the passage of time, he turned to me and said: "Maybe some day, son, you'll work for the great Belfast Telegraph."

Me, I had my sights set on being a scientist: I was excelling, school-wise, at chemistry and maths and believed my future lay in being white-coated and peering intently into a petri dish all day long. Or maybe ditch the white coat and don a spacesuit and head for the great unknown.

And, for a time, I followed that ambition, gaining a BSc degree from London City & Guilds, though eventually, after a six-month sabbatical in sunny California, I opted to ply my trade in the world of newspapers. After all, I figured, it would be hard to beat the Americans after they had landed on the Moon.

Have I been happy with my change of horses in mid-stream? Extremely, as I have always considered my work my hobby, a hobby that has seen me the recipient of a handful of awards down the decades and a hobby that has opened doors to meeting many famous people, from Johnny Cash to Annie Lennox to Nelson Mandela and has taken me to four continents, to exotic and dangerous places that would have been unreachable for me were it not for my Press credentials.

Music is still an innate part of me and my hobby, where I once wrote a music column for eight years, has allowed me amass an eclectic record library, not to mention the free newspapers and free lunches down the years.

And, of course, I did come to work for the Belfast Telegraph.

Do I regret not following the path to scientific breakthrough? Sometimes. Then again, I have an absorbing interest in the world of physics, with its accompanying worlds of quantum and string theories.

As a journalist, I have been among the first observers of history, its first recorder of Man at his best - and at his worst. Chemistry and physics, on the other hand, are the doors into the very stuff of life, its nuts and bolts.

Love, however, is a different matter altogether: the language of sexual and social intercourse, the stuff at the very heart of human intimacy.

Love, as said, is that path that seldom runs smooth. Have I been lucky in love? As Sinatra put it, I've loved, I've laughed and cried, I've had my fill, my share of losing.

Mostly I've been blessed. That my marriage did not last the course is a regret to me. But I have three amazing, talented, crazy, now grown-up, children from that half-a-lifetime dalliance.

Henry Miller said every man has his own destiny: the only imperative is to follow it, to accept it, no matter where it leads.

Destiny has found me in latter years in the company of a wonderful woman who donkeys' years ago ran away on me to Paris with another, only to flee him some short years later, her mistake realised. But it took us years to find each other again and an awful lot had changed in the intervening time.

I count myself blessed with finding her again. Blessed also by the essence of it all, the wonders and vagaries of this constantly changing life, the unfathomable essence of it and my place in it, and, not least, by the challenges that change, that each future day, brings me.

In The Razor's Edge, Somerset Maugham wrote: "Nothing in the world is permanent and we are foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it."

What lay ahead for me when I first toyed with being a scientist, and before my children came into the world, before I found love again, was an unknown.

Now that I have lived it, and with benefit of hindsight, would I have wished it to have turned out any differently?

Don't think so. That would be to rob myself of my incredible journey from when once I was the future.

Laurence White: Footballing prodigy whose career was ended by a serious injury

By common consent, Liam Coyle was one of the finest prospects to emerge in local soccer. Born in the Brandywell area of Londonderry, his father Fay had been an exciting player in his era even making the Northern Ireland squad for the World Cup in Sweden in 1958 even though he was playing in the Irish League.

Liam, now 48, says it was almost inevitable given his father's career that football would always be centre stage in his own life.

He began playing as a 10-year-old when a teacher at his school, Long Tower, formed a youth team for the Brandywell Harps club and Liam played there until signing for Derry City as an 18-year-old.

His career got off to an unpromising start and he switched to Finn Harps based in Donegal for a short time before rejoining Derry City as a 20-year-old.

This time the impact was almost immediate and in his first full season he helped the club win three trophies in the Republic's League of Ireland. He was named Young Player of the Year and at the end of the season was capped for Northern Ireland in a friendly match against Chile.

Such was his skill and goalscoring ability he attracted the attention of scouts for a number of top English clubs including Manchester United, Everton, Nottingham Forest and Derby County. He seemed literally to have the world at his feet.

His reputation was enhanced further when Derry City played famed Portugese club, Benfica. His performance was so outstanding that there were suggestions Benfica might sign him.

But all his dreams came to a shattering end just four days later during a match in Dundalk when he sustained a serious knee injury.

He was out of the game for six months and shortly afterwards doctors advised him to stop playing, otherwise he might end up in a wheelchair.

Looking back he says: "I decided to take their advice at that time, but I now feel that it was the wrong decision."

He adds: "I had no real education behind me. Where I came from you left school and got a job if one was available. You just had to go out to work. After my injury I was left with virtually nothing. I had to go back to working in bars, or picking up odd jobs wherever I could.

"Six months earlier, I had been looking at the prospect of a completely different lifestyle. The contrast in fortunes became a real struggle for me for a couple of years."

He admits he suffered from severe depression for a considerable period of time. He says: "I have to thank my mother's patience and understanding at that time. I had also met my wife Joan at that time and both of them made me realise that I had to get over the blow. Things are sent to test you and you just have to overcome them."

Liam returned to play for Omagh Town in the Irish League in 1992 for a season with his knee heavily strapped. "I wasn't able to train, or didn't want to in case I caused more damage to the knee. I just turned up and played."

A return to Derry City was later followed by a transfer to Belfast club, Glentoran, for a then record Irish League fee of £37,000, recognition of the talent clubs still realised he possessed.

He won an Irish Cup medal with the club before going back yet again to Derry City, a club then facing the prospect of going to the wall.

Yet it turned out to be a golden period for the club as more trophies followed and Liam won several Player of the Year awards. "I had managed to turn it all around again," he recalls.

So does he regret that what once promised to be a glittering career with a top English club was never to be?

"I have no regrets because what happened to me was never my fault. It was due to bad luck and a bad injury. I eventually was able to return to the game and played for 10 years with my home town club.

"Derry City only ever won the league title in the Republic twice and I played on both teams. I grew up only five minutes from the ground, so it was great to be part of the club's history.

"I also made some great friends when I was at Glentoran and I hope I gave their fans something to remember during my time there, even if it was short."

Liam, who has two children, daughter Alex (22), who graduated from university last week, and son Jack (14), has worked for a commercial vehicle leasing company in Campsie and keeps in touch with football by doing commentaries for BBC Radio Foyle.

"I was never interested in going into football coaching, or management, but I still go to matches and have chats with the fans. I have to thank the BBC for giving me the opportunity to do commentaries and it keeps me interested."

Laurence White: MLA lost seat, but changed the way that we do politics forever

In the space of three years, John McCallister went from being deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party to losing his seat in the Assembly. But it was a political trajectory which he realised could happen and which he was happy to risk.

He fell out with the UUP, a party which he had joined in 2005, because of his principled stand against its pact with the DUP to run a unity candidate, Nigel Lutton, in the Mid-Ulster by-election in 2013.

Mr McCallister recalls: "My time in the UUP was good and I still have many friends in the party. My only disagreement was over the decision to run a joint candidate. I think that sectarianises politics in an unhealthy way. To me politics should be about ideas and policies, not a tribal headcount."

This was a principle which the Rathfriland farmer had always held dear.

Although interested in politics from an early age - "Growing up I always watched current affairs programmes or read about politics" - he declined to join any party for a considerable period of time.

"I was president of the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster and was involved in a lot of what I would call agri-politics, but it was a non-partisan role. I deliberately didn't get involved in party politics until I had finished that role," he says.

After his resignation from the UUP he went on to form NI21 with other former party member Basil McCrea. They hoped their brand of moderate unionism would find a wider audience and perhaps, if not break, at least dent, the mould of local politics.

Instead, it was a party which was to disintegrate within a year due to internal divisions.

That is a period which Mr McCallister is still reluctant to talk about.

Instead, he prefers to concentrate on what he sees as his major achievements in politics.

One was the passing of a Private Member's Bill at the Assembly protecting the rights of people caravanning in the province.

The second, passed when he was an independent MLA, created the platform for an official Opposition at Stormont.

"I was always aware that we were in the Assembly to be legislators, not just taking part in some grandiose council. In many ways, it was easier to get the Opposition Bill through as an independent, rather than as a member of any party.

"You have to deal with all the other parties and they are sometimes more willing to talk to you when you haven't got a party axe to grind."

He adds: "My success has led to quite a few other MLAs considering putting forward Private Member's Bills.

"They are a good way of getting things done that the main parties may not have considered, or not regarded as a priority. Sinn Fein member Daithi McKay put forward a Bill suggesting rates relief for amateur sports clubs. Whether it succeeds or not, it started an important conversation on the topic and I think that will continue."

After losing his South Down seat, how does he feel about the decisions he made?

"I knew, and said openly, that leaving the UUP was a huge political risk," he says.

"It would have been much easier for me to sit back and keep my views to myself, but I felt strongly about the issue and felt it wasn't for me.

"I thought that the two parties could not be opposing each other and yet fielding a unity candidate at the same time. I could have kept my mouth shut and betrayed my principles, but that is not who I am, or why I came into politics.

"Even though I lost my seat in this year's Assembly elections, I feel that my Opposition Bill has transformed the way we do politics in Northern Ireland and that is a good legacy to leave for the Assembly.

"With the UUP and SDLP being the official Opposition, and Alliance being an unofficial Opposition there has been no crisis at Stormont.

"Sinn Fein and the DUP have to get on with the work of government or else they will now be held to account. That to me is positive.

"I admit I would like to be still part of the Assembly and be part of the new set-up, but it was not to be.

"It is too early to say what the future holds. We don't have any scheduled elections before 2019, but given how things changed so rapidly nationally in the last couple of weeks I will never say never to anything.

"Politics is something I am addicted to and it is hard to walk away.

"There is stuff I would still like to do and if I can make a contribution to public policy I would do it either inside the Assembly or outside it."

Belfast Telegraph

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