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10 December 1998 Edition

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Television: Last of the Vikings

How Others See Us (UTV)
Prime Time (RTE)
Sinn Fein and the Basques (RTE)
``I think the people in the North of Ireland probably come from Iceland or one of those places, I'd say they're the last of the Vikings''.

So says Noel, one of the many Free Staters featured on UTV's excellent ``How Others See Us'', which reaffirms many northern republicans' suspicions and lack of faith in the ``take it down from the mast'' Staters who as Anne from Limerick said ``turned their back on the north for the last thirty years''.

Other contributors included Nuala O Faolain, Colm Toibin and neo unionists Ruth Dudley Edwards and John A Murphy.

Take your pick from the following southern perceptions: ``If they cut Galway off we'd have no football to watch and if Dublin disappeared we'd have no weekends away at Garth Brooks concerts, but if Belfast floated off into the sea I wouldn't give a damn''; ``Jack Lynch told us in 1969 that we couldn't stand idly by, but that's exactly what we did, turning our backs after the initial Bloody Sunday rage''; ``those Free Presbyterians told me I was doomed for all eternity, but they still gave me apple tart and tea''; ``some northerners believe that a jaunt to the local church hall for sliced grape sandwiches is fun''; ``Nationalists are living on a 19th century stage''; ``this business of grown men running to fields in bowler hats and things around their necks is for children''; ``I don't mind a united Ireland as long as it doesn't affect the south''; ``they're very romantic up there, they believe in domestic harmony and social anarchy''; ``the reason many southerners are afraid in Belfast is because they get drunk early in the day''.

Finally Nuala O Faolain redeemed herself with some accurate comments, but disturbing for unionist apologists: ``it's far more sectarian and anti-Catholic than I thought...There's a vein of rich, boring, heterosexual people there who live in the 19th century and let the working class do the fighting to uphold their prejudices - I stopped and I wept - after realising such hostility towards nationalists - the truth is that there are two lots and one lot has the power and looks down on the others''.


Comedy of the week must surely have been Prime Time's attempt to provoke debate about the south's possible re-entry into the Commonwealth.

Neo-colonialist Chief Anyaoku told us of the great benefits of joining the Commonwealth junkets for sleeveen politicians, business contacts -. selling frost free roads to Nigeria or building free dams in return for arms contracts to dictatorships, and of course a chance for us to win a medal or two at Bowls or Archery at the Games and lash up an oul verse or two of Danny Boy.

Star of the show must surely have been Trinity College's Young Unionist Leader, David Christopher, from the fields of Athenry no less. He appeared to have been frozen in an old cupboard for the last two hundred years and dusted down to tell us all that ``we have to realise our British heritage on the British Isles and encourage unionists''.

For once I agreed with Gregory Campbell (I wonder does he make sliced grape sandwiches) who said unionists don't need southern `encouragement'. Like the schoolyard bully, they are not in the slightest impressed by lickspittles trying to please them.

Patricia McKenna put her finger on the pulse by stating that ``monarchies are by their nature undemocratic''. Aside from the Irish identity that the monarchy would be happy with (friendly gombeen men in green tweed jackets, dancing around the parlour with no shoes and bowing to the nobility) rejoining the Commonwealth would again associate us with all the worst aspects of imperialism and exploitation of the Third World. The Commonwealth and all that goes with it, including Mr Christopher, should be left in the dark ages.

``Leargas'' again produced the goods with an excellent documentary on politics in the Basque Country, the links with Sinn Fein and the many similarities with our own situation.

The Basque Country and all its cultural manifestations and systems evolved 5,000 years ago, long before the Spanish government imposed their rule over them, banning their language and culture and hammering any resistance to that rule. While similar to the IRA, ETA aren't exactly squeaky clean, they evolved from the mailed fist response of the Spanish government which, similar to the Brits, have their own shoot-to-kill policy, with at least twenty eight people being ``eliminated'' by GAL, a sister of the SAS. Included in their list were members of parliament and individuals who were subjected to appalling torture before being shot.

Similar to republicans, Basque prisoners are scattered to the four winds, including prisons in the Canary Islands, to make life as difficult as possible but their families appear as resilient as our own, visiting and lobbying for their 600 POWs.

The police force contains very few Basques, employs similar tactics to the RUC, including attacks on funerals and are widely mistrusted.

The media stands accused of over-simplifying the situation, casting the ``terrorists'' and ``democrats'' in black and white roles, with a resultant anti-Section 31 style group ``Elkarri'' lobbying ``for the truth to be told''.

Mirroring our Gaelscoil revival, increasing numbers are being educated through the Basque language and there is a cultural revival in operation.

With support and advice from Sinn Fein, Herri Batasuna, who despite losing their entire leadership through a government show-trial, continue to grow, and have produced their own Hume-Adams document (Lizarra-Garazzi) and await the response from the government.

Whatever comes, Pat Rice accurately stated that ``similar to the Irish, it should be up to the Basque people what type of system and political structure they want''.

By Sean O Donaile

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1