Tim McGarry: The Shinners have a point – let’s move Edward Carson for Frank Carson
We live in strange times.
Gerry Adams is campaigning for a united Ireland via the medium of Easter Eggs, the only man capable of stopping the break-up the UK is Alex Salmond and pretty soon South East Antrim UDA will have more men than the British army.
In times of upheaval like this I say thank goodness for Jim Allister.
You can always depend on Jim.
He’s a lighthouse of stability in a sea of uncertainty.
Jim was outraged in the assembly on Monday. Outrage is of course Jim’s default mode.
And his outrage could be about anything — a flag, the absence of a flag, or the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829.
On Monday he was outraged about the unionist centenary stone.
The stone is a map of Northern Ireland
Like a BBC weather map.
(And I’m sorry to have to tell you this but Barra Best and Angie Philips have been lying to us all for years. The weather does not stop at the border. The invisible frontier line may be a comfort blanket for some but it is powerless against the forces of nature. Barra won’t tell you, but if it’s snowing in Strabane it’s unlikely to be ‘taps aff’ in Lifford. )
The stone was to be placed in the grounds of Stormont to commemorate 100 years of Northern Ireland. But Sinn Fein vetoed it which, frankly, seems petty and vindictive.
To be fair to unionism it’s perfectly reasonable to mark the creation of a six county state with a stone map of the six counties in question.
Mind you, a large chunk of County Monaghan has snuck in at the bottom of the stone to prevent Northern Ireland from floating off in to space.
Politically the stone is innocuous though artistically, to be honest, it looks grey, dull and unimaginative thus confirming many anti-unionist stereotypes.
The Sinn Fein objection and the subsequent unionist anger followed by the Sinn Fein response of ‘we’ve got a veto, so na na na na na’ were all entirely predictable.
One aspect of this story is extraordinary.
The unionist parties were going to pay for the stone themselves.
It was going to cost the public purse zero.
Yes, the DUP, the party of RHI, Nama and Red Sky were actually going to put their own hands in their own pockets and use their own money.
Ian Paisley was apparently going to contribute some of his unspent 2020 holiday money.
This is surely worthy of a statue in itself.
Of course, this is Northern Ireland, so emblems have acquired almost mythical status to some people, while, to most of us, this obsession with emblems is just a load of symbolics.
Sinn Fein complain that Stormont is already replete with unionist symbols, emblems and statuary.
And the Shinners may have a point (be honest, when’s the last time you saw that sentence in the News Letter?)
For instance there are statues of both Edward Carson and James Craig.
And Craig already has a whole town named after him, what more does he want?
Compromise is of course the answer. Allow the unionist stone and at the same time make space in Stormont’s grounds for the Holy Stone of Clonrickert from Father Ted — which would probably attract more visitors.
And how about removing Carson’s statue — temporarily — and using the site in the same way as the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square?
Let’s rotate the statues to reflect both communities.
One week Edward Carson the next week Frank Carson.
One week a statue of David Healy scoring against England the next week a statue of Gerry Adams — entitled simply ‘Denial’.
Or how about statues of people that we all love.
Adrian Dunbar — ‘Sucking Diesel’.
Or Stephen Nolan ... on a horse ... a very high horse.
I’ve just realised that my unconscious male bias has led me to suggest statues of six men.
Christine Lampard, May Blood and Lisa McGee all definitely deserve one each.
But the obvious candidate for a statue at the front of Stormont has to be Mo Mowlam.
So how about a statue of Mo holding up the unionist stone?
Who could object to that?
(That’s a rhetorical question by the way. Please don’t tweet me.)
• This is my second column for this venerable organ and I am delighted to tell readers that I have now successfully completed my News Letter induction course.
I was bitterly disappointed to find out that there is no secret News Letter handshake.
On the plus side I now know how to feign an interest in rugby (Well done Ireland! Apparently Ireland beat England this week after extra time and penalties.)
I know not to bother searching the back pages of the paper for the Antrim hurling results and most importantly of all, I’ve learnt to state repeatedly “No. I don’t have any control over what Ben Lowry writes”.
After completing my induction the editor formally welcomed me to the paper.
It was only then that I broke the bad news to him.
From now on, no matter what I write, thanks to the Fair Employment laws he can never get rid of me.
See you in a fortnight.
• By the way, if you can’t wait a fortnight, Dr David Hume, pictured, and I are appearing online in the Imagine! Belfast 2021 Festival tomorrow night at 8pm debating the history of Partition. It’s called ‘Happy Birthday Northern Ireland?’ and, Ulster Scots please note, tickets are free. @imaginebelfast.com
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