17 March 2006

There’s a precedent to pay off the smugglers

Daily Ireland

**Via Newshound

Jude Collins

Big money sloshing around this last week, some of it going to people (the RIR) and some of it being taken from people (Tom Murphy).
There are those who think giving to the RIR and taking from Mr Murphy were both good moves, others who believe both actions were reprehensible. Who’s right ?
Let’s start with the RIR.
The DUP led a campaign that swore the RIR would not, would not, would not be moved; but as with a number of other DUP campaigns, it puffed and guldered and got nowhere. Seeing Paisley in danger of a serious loss of face (no, don’t laugh), the British government pushed some £250 million in the direction of the RIR retirees and allowed the DUP to talk as though they personally had produced this going-away present.
Mr Paisley and friends rammed home the point to any microphone available, insisting that the nation owed the brave RIR men every penny and more for their wonderful contribution to law and order down the years.
It’s always nice to see people who are confronted with the dole queue getting a financial cushion, but I if I’d been one of the 76 people who lost their jobs at the West Belfast-based company Trivirix last week, or one of the 30 people at Tyco Healthcare in Ballymoney who are facing redundancy this morning, I might be asking myself: How come they got all that and I got nothing?
But you can’t let subjective judgements from people who’ve lost their jobs decide if the RIR money was wisely spent.
You have to stand back and be dispassionate.
OK . Since the RIR got the big money and ordinary punters don’t get such a massive pay-off, it must have something to do with the quality of the job the RIR did. Their contribution to society must have been superior to that of ordinary workers. So was it?
Well, I’ve no research to back this up, but I’d guess that, over the years, nearly half the population here felt something between uneasiness and terror when they saw a close encounter with the RIR/UDR coming up.
You may say so many people shouldn’t have felt that way, but the fact is they did.
So even if the RIR had been as inoffensive as a Ballymena lamb throughout the Troubles, they’d still have failed spectacularly in one central function of any militia : to win the trust of the people in whose name they keep law and order.
Of course it goes beyond this.
The RIR and its predecessors, were guilty of involvement in a range of crimes that helped ignite and keep burning the flames of violence over the past 30 years.
For those unionist politicians who think otherwise, here’s a little challenge: produce one nationalist public representative who declares the RIR/UDR/B Specials did a good job, and I’ll donate £50 to Ian Paisley’s fund for the conversion of errant Roman Catholic priests to Free Presbyterianism.
What about Tom Murphy?
One thing is certain after the last week’s media coverage of the raid on his farm, should legal proceedings ever be instituted against him, it will be impossible for Mr Murphy to get anything remotely like a fair trial.
Yet the antagonism against Mr Murphy, as often happens in these cases, is confused and confusing.
On the one hand we’re told repeatedly that he was the chief of staff of the IRA. So perhaps that explains the vitriol and hatred directed against him: he was (allegedly) responsible for violent and maybe lethal actions against members of the RUC, the RIR/UDR and the British army.
But hold on a minute. A week or so ago we saw a range of self-confessed killers parade across our screens and be commended by Bishop Desmond Tutu for their courage and honesty.
If the allegations against Mr Murphy are true and if he was involved with the IRA, it would make no sense to verbally assault him while accepting and even embracing others who had been engaged in similar violence.
Besides, unlike the organisation to which such as Michael Stone belonged, the IRA campaign and the IRA itself are fast receding into history.
No, the public out-cry against Mr Murphy is not because of his alleged IRA background but because it is claimed he is…a smuggler.
Excuse me. My cat, confronted with public attitudes in this twisted corner of the island, has just collapsed in a laughing fit. Give me a moment to put him outside until he comes round. Because if Mr Murphy’s smuggling is a crime, my Auntie Peg was a criminal. For more than ten years through the 1940s and into the 1950s she never crossed the border without something illegal nestling in her knickers – jam, sugar, butter. If petrol had been cheaper in the north I’m sure she’d have found a way to carry that too.
Did we think of Auntie Peg as a criminal? Or ourselves, when we assisted her, as accomplices in crime? For God’s sake. The way she looked at it, we looked at it, everyone I know looked at it was, we didn’t invent the border, but since it was there, we were going to squeeze as much good out of it as we could.
Generations of nationalists and I suspect the odd unionist have lived with and acted on that belief.
So if Mr Murphy is a smuggler - and I have no reliable way of knowing if he is or not, certainly not from the unsubstantiated shrieks that pass for press coverage – if he is a smuggler, then he differs from my Auntie Peg and the rest of us only in scale.
Would I be wracked with guilt if I discovered I’d bought cheap petrol which came to me via Mr Murphy or someone like him? Hah. If I still smoked, would I refuse to buy smuggled cigarettes with Mr Murphy’s thumb prints? Hah again. If Mr Murphy has made a tenth of the money the press claim he has through smuggling, then I’d suggest instead of being vilified, he be employed by the CBI and Invest Northern Ireland to teach entrepreneurial skills and venture daring to the sad excuses for business thinkers who have for the past decade and more kept this sad corner on an economic life-support system maintained by the British Exchequer.
Alternatively, if those who yell their rage against Mr Murphy’s alleged smuggling empire were serious about wanting to end that empire, they know how it could be done overnight: charge the same price for products on both sides of the border. It’s a no-brainer, lads. Or if that’s too hard, give the smugglers £250 million to go away and stop annoying law-abiding people. There’s a precedent for that.
Happy Paddy’s Day.

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