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19 June 1997 Edition

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In light of the dismal performances from Democratic Left and the Labour Party in the Leinster House elections, a Donegal reader sends me this little gem of a poem by HL Dixon which first appeared in the 1920s. It's called The Labour Fakir:

Oh, he preached it from the housetops,
And he whispered it by stealth,
He wrote whole miles of stuff against
The awful curse of wealth.
He shouted for the poor man,
And he called the rich man down,
He roasted every king and queen
Who dared to wear a crown.
He clamoured for rebellion,
And he said he'd lead a band
To exterminate the plutocrats,
Or drive them from the land.
He fumed, and roared, and ranted,
Till he made the rich man wince
But he got a Cabinet job and
Has never shouted since.


I see that 15 year olds in the 26 Counties have been learning about great figures from Irish history for their Junior Certificate exams. The paper they sat last Monday had a question about no less an historic icon than our very own Joe Cahill.

Question (xv) is: ``Bernadette Devlin, Austin Currie, John Hume, Joe Cahill, Capt Terence O'Neill, Brian Faulkner, Rev Martin Smyth. All of these at various times were involved in the recent history of Northern Ireland. In the case of any two, give one point of information about that involvement.''

Now, that would be an interesting question for readers of An Phoblacht. Answers on a postcard....

Pity the poor British. Not only did they get their eyes wiped fourteen years ago when they negotiated the treaty which sees Hong Kong being handed back to the Chinese at the end of this month, but they are not exactly getting their own way in negotiations about the handing-over ceremony. They want to play God Save the Queen right up to the stroke of midnight. Oh no, you're not, say the Chinese who want their anthem to begin on the stroke of midnight. The Brits suggested they stop at five seconds to midnight and the Chinese begin at five seconds after midnight. Not likely, said the Chinese, who look like getting their way.

Also, in a fit of pique, the Brits are refusing to allow the Chinese Army to send in soldiers and equipment a few hours in advance of the handover. It could get nasty.

''We should have just left the key under the mat and got out,'' said a disgruntled British diplomat.


A few years ago it was revealed that in 1972, on the accession of the 26 Counties, Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch had the opportunity to make Irish a full official language of the EEC, as it then was, but he turned it down. Irish has suffered the status of a scond grade language in the EU ever since - until this week when a little-noticed clause in the new European Union treaty signed in Amsterdam obliges institutions of the EU to reply in Irish to correspondence received in Irish. A worthy achievement for John Brutal and a feather in his negotiating skills cap, you might think. Well, you'd be wrong. The Irish government was not responsible for the breakthrough - the Belgian government was.


My eye was drawn to an apology in the latest issue of Fortnight, the Belfast-based political magazine. They had said that Democratic Left's Seamus Lynch had won 37 votes in West Belfast in the 1995 Forum elections. Lynch hadn't in fact stood in West Belfast and hadn't got 37 votes ``in any election''. Fortnight apologised for ``lazy fact checking'' and ``any embarrassment caused to Mr Lynch''. They said: ``It was, of course, Mary McMahon who stood for DL in the Forum elections in West Belfast, while Mr Lynch stood in North Belfast, where he gained 123 votes.'' Oh that's alright then.

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