Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

What if we packed up our Troubles ... just for one day?

No escape: Even Rory's an issue
No escape: Even Rory's an issue

One day. 24 hours. 1,440 minutes. Is that too much to ask? A single day without being reminded that life in Northern Ireland is Groundhog Day re-written as existential horror and certainly not as upmarket romcom.

It's 'the current situation' of course.

There's the parade season coming up, emerging seamlessly from the Christmas flag flying crisis, so we can expect 'trouble' at the usual 'flashpoints'.

There is the promise of the centenaries and remembrances, a new anniversary for something we didn't pay attention to the first time around. There's the Maze controversy and, for those of you for a taste for celebrity trivia, the Rory McIlroy saga.

But really it is all the same issue: unionist v nationalist. And all the subsidiary questions: are 'we' losing? Are 'they' winning? Is there any fast one we can pull? Are they trying to pull a fast one?

We have had this for more than 40 years. In fact, the goading frenzy has only increased as yer actual violence has subsided.

Good Friday or Belfast Agreement (there we are again), there is still the same mistrust, the same hatreds, the same grievances. We still spend precious time – out of caution as much as ingrained bigotry – trying to guess the 'background' of work colleagues, casual acquaintances. This is still a society where you feel a frisson of fear climbing into a taxi and Nolan, Talkback or Frank Mitchell is on the radio. What do you say? What do you feel? A curse on all their houses? Always that fear that you're about to cause offence – or are about to be offended. Like a dentist's drill boring on at a high whine we know that sooner or later they will strike a nerve, causing us to wince.

Not even the cast of this sad farce changes very much. How long have we had Gerry Adams now? Thirty years? Peter Robinson? Forty years? Martin McGuinness? Sammy Wilson? David Ford? Alasdair McDonnell? In the new economy of chronic job insecurity, being a Northern Ireland politician is more or less a job for life. What can you say about a polity where Alex Attwood is still considered the new kid on the block?

I don't wish to sound outlandishly angry, but, at times, it seems that only the grim reaper is going to afford us peace from the same talking heads.

Northern Ireland is in the grip of a gerontocracy, both literal and metaphorical. Old leaders, thinking old thoughts and – for all the posing – attempting to uphold old shibboleths that have increasingly less meaning for those who they claim to govern.

And the truth is we've grown bored with them. Worse, angry. Because we know they will stagger on pressing the same old hot buttons. We can't escape them. We will never escape them.

They were around when I was a child, rising to prominence when I was a teenager, right through A-Levels, being a student at Queen's, my early years as a journalist, right through my thirties.

Music fads – punk, new romantics, grunge – came and went. They droned on. They were there when the pocket calculator was a thing of slack-jawed wonder; they are still here now we're living our lives online and have our heads in the Cloud.

And it doesn't really matter if new faces come along. They're just the old lot with slightly better muscle tone. What's an oxymoron? Try, 'young Northern Irish politician'.

A friend of mine told me that one of the best things he ever did was just switch off from it all during Drumcree II. All the big news, he says, will get through eventually. I suspect many in Northern Ireland have made similar decisions and have withdrawn into a form of internal exile.

On behalf of those people, is it possible for everyone here to pretend, for just one day, that we are completely different people living in a completely different country with completely different values?

Let's all of us wear those Groucho spectacles with the big pink nose and plastic moustache. We can get away with that for Red Nose Day.

Imagine what it would be like not having to pull on our vile opinions and secret bigotries with our underwear in the morning, for just one solitary day.

For just 24 hours, let's give us all a break from ourselves.

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