Posted By: March 29, 2014

  Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, March 29, 2014.


“HYPOCRISY” is not a word which this column likes to use. While it may accurately describe much of what happens in today’s world, it lacks the finesse of understatement and, in any case, it reminds us of too many people. So, with your permission, we will use the word “inconsistency”, which suggests a more refined view of life.

Today we are discussing inconsistency. Not any old inconsistency, you understand. This is not the inconsistency of the deafening silence from all those secret friends of, and public apologists for, the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) which has overseen the building of a £44 million college at a cost of £211 million. It is not even the inconsistency of failing to hold to account those responsible for yet another damning Audit Office report on Belfast Metropolitan College, or the culture of inconsistency which will, no doubt, conceal the greatest educational scandal in living memory with OBEs all round. Could it be, you suggest, the inconsistency of Stormont’s Health Committee? This week it again criticised inhumane waiting times in accident and emergency departments, without acknowledging that all its eleven members belong to parties in the government which is responsible for the health service. Their self-congratulatory style suggests that they believe they are not part of the problem. (Who? Us? In government? Not at all.) No, this column is going beyond our grubby, local inconsistencies of self-interest, cover-up and expensive failure. Today we are looking at high-class, international inconsistency – British inconsistency.

Welcome to the world of British foreign policy. The policy is based on an inherent belief that Britain has the right to rule the world and, failing that, to pontificate on how the world should be run. Of the approximately 200 countries in the world, Britain has invaded all but 22 of them – that is an invasion rate of about 90 per cent. This includes officially approved actions by pirates and privateers. It has not invaded (well not yet, anyway) Luxembourg, Andorra or Vatican City. When the defeated British army leaves Afghanistan next year, it will end a century of unbroken British war since 1914 – provided it does not pick a row with someone else in the meantime. So when Britain accuses Russia of an “outrageous land grab” in Crimea, the word “inconsistency” springs to mind. (you may have other words, but keep them to yourself.) Those of you who (rather ungratefully) fail to recognise the benevolence of the British Empire, may point out that planting a region with settlers and then using that practice as a basis for retaining that region by force, sounds remarkably British. While it is tempting to draw parallels between Russian involvement in the Ukraine and Britain’s role in Ireland, there is an additional inconsistency to be learnt from Crimea. Recent events there represent a dispute between two imperial powers – Russia and the European Union (EU). (If you do not regard the EU as an empire, you In a struggle between two empires, Ireland would traditionally have stayed neutral and hoped that they might damage each other to the point of mutual destruction. But tradition has long since gone from Ireland. While Britain’s attitude to events in Crimea is inconsistent, middle Ireland is happy to go along with it, because both states are European Union (EU) members. Ireland is firmly on the side of one of the empires. Ah, you say, that is because the EU is a democracy. It is not and some of its powers are based on the Irish government’s rejection of two separate referendum results (in 2001 and 2008) and the decision to hold new polls until the “right” result was achieved. Russia’s authoritarian President Putin must envy EU “democracy”. He might also envy one EU member (Britain) which this week banned prisoners from receiving books from their families, or even another (Ireland) where the state police have been secretly bugging Garda station telephone conversations for years. But in his wildest dreams he could hardly imagine that hundreds of Ukrainians would bow before him, despite Russia’s history in their country. So we can only wonder how he felt when hundreds of Irish bowed, Sinn Fein style, before the Queen this week in London. Ah, you say, that is different. If it is, we cannot draw parallels between Crimea and Ireland and we need to re-examine our condemnation of Russia. If it is not different, then we can only conclude that the Irish do inconsistency best of all, which may explain why we have so much of it here.