Life

Jake O'Kane: How we get out of this rabbit hole is surely an unknown unknown

Professionalism isn’t the word that springs to mind when talking about the press conference held by splinter-splinter republican group the IRM

LIVING in Northern Ireland often feels like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole made famous by Lewis Carroll in his novel Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, we’ve ended up in a world populated by very strange creatures where up is down and down is up but, unlike Alice, for us, there’s no guarantee of a happy ending.

The recent press conference by loyalist paramilitaries, announcing they were going to be good boys and obey the law, is a prime example. The fact that membership of a paramilitary organisation in itself breaks the law seemed lost on those in attendance. Photographs of the event looked more like a prayer meeting than paramilitary meeting, as UDA leader, Jackie McDonald, looked rather uncomfortable sandwiched between clergymen.

At least this press conference was a professional event, with a few bemused members of the press in attendance, stifling their giggles, as it was pompously announced that loyalist paramilitaries "fully supported the rule of law in all areas of life and emphatically condemned all forms of criminal activity". Aye, right, and the moon’s made of cream cheese.

Professionalism isn’t the word that springs to mind when talking about the press conference held by the Irish Republican Movement (IRM). Yes, there’s yet another republican group, a break-off from Óglaigh na hÉireann, meaning this is a splinter- splinter group and, like all tribute bands, they’ll be judged a pale imitation of the real thing.

Brandishing what looked like their full arsenal of weapons, right down to individual bullets, the intended menace was somewhat lost by their choice of venue – a small bedroom.

They might also now regret opting for lavender rubber gloves instead of the usual black leather variant. That the bedroom chosen had very identifiable wallpaper probably wasn’t a great idea either. I imagine some poor wife, packed off to bingo for the night, getting the shock of her life the next day when, turning on the news, she finds that her husband had lied about having the boys round for a game of cards.

The first operation for this grouping won’t involve guns or bombs but paintbrushes and wallpaper paste.

It’s not a great time to launch another paramilitary grouping as the police seem to have suddenly woken up, after 20 years, to their existence. With raids on the UDA closely followed by raids on the INLA, the IRM will no doubt be getting a police visit some time in the next 20 years.

As I tried to crawl out of the rabbit hole towards the light, I was once again dragged back down when I read in this paper the evidence of Arlene Foster and her Spad, Andrew Crawford, to the RHI Investigation. An indignant Arlene informed us that, while she may have been the minister in charge of DETI when the RHI scheme was created, she bore absolutely no responsibility for its failings.

Arlene exhibited a unique form of dysfunctional memory regarding her dealings around RHI as, when questioned, many of her replies were, "I cannot remember" or ‘"I cannot recall". In a classic piece of Alice in Wonderland eloquence, she finally clarified her positon, saying: “There will be known unknowns and unknown unknowns but certainly there seems to be a lot of unknown unknowns.” Well, I don’t know about you, but that clears the whole thing up for me.

What is now beyond doubt is that while minister of DETI, and being paid £87k per year, Mrs Foster didn’t bother to read the RHI bill. Further, her then special adviser, Dr Andrew Crawford, on a salary of £90k, read it but didn’t understand it.

While arguments continue on what minutes were taken at what meetings, that Dr Crawford thought it appropriate to communicate with Arlene via post-it notes stuck to official documents was probably unwise, as none of these have survived for examination. Dr Crawford was much more efficient with his online communications as he was forced to apologise for leaking details of the RHI scheme to a cousin, who subsequently took advantage of it. Nothing to see here; move on.

I knew I’d finally hit the bottom of the rabbit hole when the mad hatter himself, Jim Allister, appeared on my television screen speaking at the annual TUV conference. To help fill the broom cupboard in which his event is held, Jim, as usual, had invited every friend he had in the world. As he looked out over his audience he could take some comfort knowing it would only cost him one taxi fare to get them all home.

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