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14 May 1998 Edition

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Carmelite and Ballot Box

By Eoghan Mac Cormaic

It has been a weekend designed for philosophers, this weekend past. Many mentally stimulating conundrums presented themselves to agitate the grey matter, as questions raised by the Ard Fheis - and other annual gatherings - presented themselves.

Republican philosophy was the main item for most of us, as we tried new positions, rationalising tactics, interpreting strategy, reworking ideas and understanding them. Philosophical. A watchword for revolutionaries.

And if we republicans thought our task difficult, think of what others were going through. Our good friends in the Charismatic Movement were stabled beside us in the next bay of the RDS over the weekend. In fact our show seemed to be more attractive than theirs, since we at least gained a few converts, some of whom were intent on leaving their Big G and meeting our Big G.

Unfortunately, the gate crashers hadn't registered, and while many were called, few were chosen. As the faithful congregated for the laying of hands in one hall, a few lost sheep strayed to the wrong door to be met by a different laying of hands, the frisking hands of the Ard Fheis security. ``This has never happened to me before,'' one Charismatic complained to the securocrette perusing her handbag and prayer-book wallet. ``I've been attending this conference for years and have never been a witness to anything like this.'' Her genuine surprise prompted the questions as to what conference she thought she was attending.... and genuine shock when she learned that she had wandered into the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis. Hells Bells.

Hiding her face from the assembled camera crews with her hastily saved handbag she fled to the other hall. Indeed it is written that My Father's House has many rooms, and behold it must be like the multi-roomed RDS. In one of those rooms a Belfast Shinner found himself queuing up amid a group of nuns, and wondering if they were Yes or No voters. Visions of a Carmelite in one hand and a ballot box in the other appeared before him. However, his embarrassed exit when he realised where he was was no less dramatic and rapid than the born-again sister's flight in the other direction, faster than a bat out of hell.

By ten o' clock in the morning the ever vigilant Special Branch had sorted the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, figuring out which car registration numbers to commit to the Golden Book of the Chosen and which to forgive. Inside the building the show began.

Much has been made of the similarities between the two events: the clappy happy contingent of course have been at this back-slapping, hugging and hand raising in the air lark much longer than us, but we took to it like a duck to water. From Sinners to Shinners, from Hallelujah to Tiocfaidh ár lá, from RDS to Ard Fheis, it was all a seamless journey. The puzzle of the morning for alert philosophers wasn't so much a question as to how many angels could fit on the head of a pin, more a question of how many POWs could fit on one stage, how many Shinners in one hall.

And all that hugging and dollops of feel-good worked wonders inside and outside the hall. Clerical black was out. Instead, ministers with maroon and blue coloured suits strolled near by potential future Ministers with maroon and blue coloured shirts, people spoke in tongues (and not a translation system in sight) and there were even a few last minute conversions. If only Dana, our most famous charismatic had been elected President. Religion and politics, politics and religion, the interminable mixture of Irish life.

Speaking of Dana, politics and religion, this week's Eurovision Song Contest has produced one of its most unusual winners in a contest noted for banality. The Real Dana, our own Dana, was pleasantly unconfusing all those years ago when she sang of All Kinds of Everything. This year's winner, Dana International, is a slightly more complex creature who brings a whole new twist to the expression `the artist formerly known as Prince'.

The new Dana's earlier life as a boy and latter life as a woman throws up a range of intriguing questions for Judaism, a religion which traces its integrity through women. Jewish nationality also depends on the maternal line, something which won't be so cut and dry, if you'll forgive the pun, in Dana's case. Will the children have a Jewish mother... or two Jewish fathers? Spare a thought then for the perplexed Rabbis of Jerusalem this week as they wrestle with these profound questions of nationality. If you thought removing two articles would be more difficult to sort out than the removal of one, think again. Life is more complicated than that. We have problems with supporting the revised Article 3, and consequent definitions of citizenship, but imagine of the constitutional crisis Dana's offspring are going to produce. I'm telling you, it was a weekend for the philosophers, at home and abroad.

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