Mary Kelly: Even Dickens would be hard pressed to satirise Stormont

The Circumlocution Office existed not to correct the obvious problems that demand change, but rather to protect the status quo, including of course, its own existence and power

Police at the loyalist Nelson Drive Estate in Derry's Waterside during disturbances earlier this week. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA
Mary Kelly

I’VE often wondered if the Stormont administration has been loosely based on the Circumlocution Office from Charles Dickens’s novel Little Dorrit.

Written in 1857, it included a wonderful satire of dysfunctional government in a department set up by incompetent officials solely for its own self-preservation. It existed not to correct the obvious problems that demand change, but rather to protect the status quo, including of course, its own existence and power.

“This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen… Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving – HOW NOT TO DO IT.”

Dickens would be hard pushed to satirise a government that issues guidelines to regulate public behaviour in a pandemic, only for some of its own members to then disobey said rules, because they are “too confusing”.

The same ministers then respond to public anger with a series of non-sorry apologies which express sorrow for the impact of their action, but not the action itself.

Other members of that same administration push for their beloved United Kingdom to leave the European Union in the strictest way, leaving Northern Ireland in a different place than the rest of GB – because, as their planned commemorative stone effigy showed, they fail to notice it shares a land border with an EU member.

Those unionist members also hold talks with the representatives of loyalist paramilitaries to share their sense of grievance over the state of affairs that those same politicians have caused.

They call for the chief constable’s head and talk of “two-tier policing” against their community, then they condemn the thuggish behaviour of the gangs of young hoodlums who attack those police officers with petrol bombs.

More than 40 officers were injured in what was apparently a spontaneous response of anger in Belfast, Derry, Newtownabbey and Carrick to the non-prosecution of republicans for attending Bobby Storey’s funeral, the Northern Ireland protocol and themuns getting everything in the Good Friday Agreement 23 years ago.

The GFA has now been formally rejected by the Loyalist Communities Council. This august body was set up to represent the interests of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando paramilitary groups in 2015. According to Wikipedia, it was “in response to the perceived neglect of working class loyalists”, which makes you to wonder what the two main unionist parties have been doing.

Working class unionists have, in the main, rejected the political representatives of those paramilitaries, largely because they don’t like what they see about the behaviour of those organisations in their own areas.

The South East Antrim UDA have been described as a criminal drugs gang, guilty of murder, racketeering and intimidation. And, thanks to the Sunday World, I learned last weekend how the UVF operates in the loyalist heartland of Rathcoole.

This group of upstanding citizens is shocked, shocked, I tell you, about drug dealing in the area, or more accurately, freelance drug dealing. So it imposes fines, as high as £20,000 for non-sanctioned drugs offences.

According to the paper, another man was fined £5,000 for buying a dog from a republican area. No-one wants a Catholic mutt in Rathcoole, after all. Another individual was fined £1,000 for reading The Irish News!

It is heartening to know that the Protestant people are protected from such outrages and that the DUP feel it necessary to liaise with their representatives on the LCC at these crucial times.

I hope it’s also encouraging to the teenagers who end up with criminal records after their recreational rioting for the cause this Easter.

* * *

YOU’D have thought it was enough for the recent UK report on race to have offended almost every person of colour in Britain by concluding that the UK “no longer” had a system rigged against minorities, despite evidence to the contrary in almost every aspect of public life.

But no, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities also managed to drag the Irish into the mess by co-opting the late Seamus Heaney as a “Commonwealth writer” who was “steeped in British cultural traditions”.

The Bellaghy man famously responded to his inclusion in the 1982 Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry with “Be advised, my passport’s green/no glass of ours was ever raised/ to toast the Queen.”

He probably wouldn’t have been thrilled either to have had his portrait used in a British government branding for its plans to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland.

But he was a bigger man than those who’ve tried to claim him for their side and his poetry transcended physical or geographical borders. Sadly, he’s no longer around to write a few wry lines on the matter. Whatever you say, say nothing, will have to suffice.

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