Friday, December 8, 2006

Pin-heads and angels

Malcolm likes the legend of a young Ian Paisley (yes, there was one) being interviewed about his break-away from mainstream Presbyterianism.

"What," the interviewer reasonably posed, "is the difference between Free Presbyterians and ordinary Presbyterians?"

Paisley thundered back (so that, at least, is credible): "They believe you are pre-das-tined to be dommed; but we believe you'll be dommed on yer merits!"

So Malcolm was entertained by the exchange between Paisley and Gerry Adams in the Assembly on Monday. Adams had twitted Paisley by referring to the Presbyterians from Templepatrick who supported the United Irishmen of 1798. Paisley retorted that the Templepatrick Six were not proper Presbyterians at all, they were "Arians or Unitarians"; and they and the Rising had been disowned by the Presbyterian Synod of Ulster.

However, Malcolm's chortling how, two centuries on, such matters could provide a basis for heated debate faded yesterday. They were strangled by the icy hand of Useless McCann columnising for the Belfast Telly. To Malcolm and his mates back in the early '60s, Eamon McCann was "Useless" as a young Trot, and unrelentingly useless and trotty he has remained. His degree of utility is effectively defined by this piece: dismissively, but seriously, discussing whether a restoration of the Assembly would trigger a Papal visit, and then using this to recount (a) Tone's view on the Papacy and (b) clerical involvement in Sinn Fein, circa 1916.

McCann has had a prime, perhaps unique, viewpoint for the whole northern Irish tragedy for the last 40-odd years: Malcolm's complaint is his use thereof. Possessed of some presence, and a shrewd tongue, McCann had been never self-effacing, never failing to seize any pulpit available. He has scribbled, endlessly, in the cause of ideological purity, and—to be fair—he is possessed of a good pen. Electorally, though, he has been unrelenting in his opportunism. He stood in the 1970 Westminster election against Eddie McAteer as "Derry Labour", thus neatly splitting the anti-Unionist vote. By 2003 he was representing the "Socialist Environmental Alliance" in the Foyle constituency: Useless McCameleon ran 9th of the 13 candidates, and his 5.5% made the difference between two SF glove-puppets: so, again, a neat vote-splitting. In the 2005 Westminster election his vote dropped to a pointless and harmless 3.6%. All this seems appropriate for the Unionist Telly's pet Trot.

As for damnation, let's have another bit of anecdotage. In '65, Trinity Fabians were filling and swilling the idle evening hour in O'Neill's. By the third pint the giggle was "public trial and ritual humiliation in Lansdowne Road, public execution in Croke Park". Malcolm made his excuses to go to the bog. When he returned he found he had been promoted to number six in the pogrom of public enemies. Useless was still well ahead on points, though. Sphere: Related Content

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