When I heard that the talks to get the Northern Ireland Executive up and running had collapsed, I’m ashamed to say I groaned. It may have something to do with having a recent near death experience but I have developed an intolerance to what I consider belligerence or stupidity. It may sound rough to say it, but I don’t actually care who is at fault, I just want them to get on with it and do their duty to the people of Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement is being much bandied about as if it is a tablet of stone. I remember well the day it was signed because the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland came to stay with us that night. Now this allows me to veer a little off subject. Mo Mowlam, was an amazingly convivial person and I first met her when I chaired a debate between her and her Tory predecessor as Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew. Mo and I hit it off and we saw much of each other over the intervening years. Many of these encounters ran late into the night and involved two things which I am passionate about, Irish politics and whiskey. Mo was pretty much into both of those as well.
I suppose the point of recalling all of this is to remind ourselves how complicated is the history of our island. I come from an Anglo-Irish background which at times meant that in certain quarters I was regarded as a West Brit – a term that I regard as a form of abuse. How come, I would ask myself as a teenager, could a person born in Dublin, and whose family has had roots in Slane going back to 1703, not be an Irishman ? Looking back at that now as a sixty six year old man I realise how much our country has changed. However, we must not forget how hard we all fought for that change. We want an end to violence. We want an Ireland that accepts the many different strands of Protestantism, Catholicism, Republicanism and Unionism that makes up the Irish Nation.
So back to the nub of it. I say to the politicians squabbling about the minutiae of the Irish Language Act “ Get on with it”. There are much bigger things out there concerning people, for example like having a properly functioning society.
But back to Mo Mowlam. The night the vote was taken to remove the bulk of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords, I arrived at her London House. She thrust a whiskey in my hand asking me “ How does it feel to be extinct ?”.
She was a great woman.