Fionnuala O Connor: Comments by Conor Murphy and Edwin Poots seem piffling in the scheme of things

Finance minister Conor Murphy. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire
Finance minister Conor Murphy. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

I suppose it depends on whether you consider journalism the rough draft of history or something much less noble. Old notebooks; useful? Or so much waste paper in a digital age? (But then how noble is history as written by the winners, as written by the off-white race and largely by men.)

Domestic peace demands a clearout. My plea in mitigation is hang on, see how timely and intriguing these pages are. Turns out that for the most part they are filled with questions unanswered, theories untested. The Northern Bank robbery, just when Paisley senior had geared himself up to accept that the IRA had banjaxed their guns. More than half of the haul brand new, identifiable notes?

Even to their own support base the IRA denied responsibility. A knowledgeable person’s comment seemed worth saving. It was maybe hurtful in the heartlands ‘to not get a private line and the warm glow of being on the inside track’.

In a week when one Stormont minister has reaped disapproval and another has escaped it, happenings a couple of decades back suggest different angles on today’s relationships, if not much explanation beyond the undeniable truth that these are cheeky blighters. (Isn’t that a fine and proper English word instead of the one you were expecting?)

So Conor Murphy said the lockdown was necessary because Tory cuts hollowed out the health service, and launched chuntering that he had undermined the collective handling of the virus. Jim Allister said it was a preposterous claim, which it surely wasn’t. But preposterous is an impressive, lawyerly word.

Edwin Poots made another in a series of solo runs on what should be opened up again, churches, garden centres, let the fishermen at it, and met only polite griping. Is this because Poots specialises in solo runs and has never been thought to be a fan of his leader? And he keeps broadcasters happy by being available, no matter what his party would like therefore what else is new. Dog bites man. Or is it because Murphy is Sinn Féin, whose unhappiness about being adrift from southern policy makes a hames of pretence that they have thought-out northern policy.

Is it also because Murphy won no friends by his denials on Paul Quinn, beaten to death in classically brutal/clinically cleaned-up IRA-style? And what was that on-again off-again order from China?

So many questions, but piffling in the scheme of things. We may be in a pandemic that has turned our known world upside-down but local politics is surely small potatoes now. Well past the ground-breaking phase, well short of the history-books. At a guess, that might of course be entirely mistaken, notes in the margins today are hardly going to be gripping in fifteen years.

Whereas a single notebook from 2005 did contribute a fact or two in among the questions. And 2005 was quite a year. Fallout from the Northern Bank robbery at the beginning, fallout at the end from the outing of Denis Donaldson as a double agent - ‘I was a British spy for twenty years’. Those were only the wildest cards that nobody saw coming. But then two years earlier Freddie Scappaticci, chief internal hatchet-man, had been outed as a double agent. The ‘outings’ were questions in themselves.

‘Who would accept the Shinners at Stormont now’, as someone wondered after the bank job. ‘How could they sign up for policing etc now?’ That note is dated January 23 2005. On January 31 a group of men killed Short Strand man Robert McCartney outside a Belfast pub, the pub then cleared, cleaned and its customers left useless as witnesses in familiar IRA, and indeed loyalist paramilitary fashion.

There are also notebooks puzzling over the next Stormont phase; Paisley signs up alongside Martin McGuinness and the DUP evict him, the Robinsons arrive at the top then combust.

Scandals fizzled out. Politics shrivelled? Or maybe the note-taker just got tired.