Joe Junky & Joe Public

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Have you ever seen a gaunt, sweaty soul open up his arm, and plunge a syringe deep into a collapsed vein?

It’s one of the most bleak and desperate acts you’ll ever see, and it happens all over Dublin city centre, every single day.

Dublin is unique from many other western European capitals.  We don’t have what are known as ‘supervised injection centres’.  Or in junky parlance, ‘shooting rooms.’

But this week, cabinet approved plans for ‘shooting rooms’ in our capital.  However, the first supervised injection centre will not be opened in Dublin until late 2017.

The move, which is being pushed by Labour Minister for Drugs Aodhán Ó Ríordáin – but also supported by Fine Gael – is aimed at reducing drug deaths and infection from serious diseases caused by drug users sharing needles.

In Europe they call this harm reduction.  They’ve been at it for years.  They worked out that Joe Public doesn’t want to witness Joe Junky plunging a needle into his track-marked arm.  And Joe Junky doesn’t want to run the risk of getting arrested – by plunging that needle into his scarred arm – out on the street.

So they came to a compromise.   You could say everyone’s a winner.  Joe Junky has a designated place to go – out of the public view – to get on with his grim business.  And as a result, Joe Public isn’t exposed to bleak scenes of intravenous drug use on their city centre streets on a daily basis.

And then there’s the added incentive that drug-related deaths plummet, as there are paramedics on site in these injecting centres – in case of overdoses.

But can the plain people of Ireland tolerate such a liberal notion of supervised injection centres?  Can we stomach the idea of ‘shooting rooms’?

Why should we provide rooms for junkies to inject their heroin without fear of recrimination?  Why should we pay for addicts to remain safely addicted?

But if you have a problem with the concept of supervised injection centres, queue in any pharmacy and watch those same junkies gulp down their vials of state-sponsored, patriotically green methadone.  10,000 registered addicts receive the heroin substitute in the state.  Who’s paying for that?  You are.

So the Irish government is already the drug dealer, on a massive scale.

And that makes you the unwitting enabler in the junky’s grim life of an endless cycle of drug-abuse – whether that’s heroin itself, or the methadone you bought them.  Or in most cases, both.

But this flawed tactic of using methadone as a maintenance-based alternative is just killing time.  Abstinence-based recovery is the only viable option for addicts of any flavour.

There are an estimated 20,000 heroin addicts in Ireland; 13,000 in Dublin. Yet there are only 38 beds for heroin detox.  So therefore it’s much easier for the government to hand them the vials of green medicine and keep them placidly addicted, rather than get down to the serious business of detox, and tackle the roots of the problem.

But it’s a complex issue.  We are a nation of extremists.  A nation of self-medicators.  In no other European city exists such a proliferation of pharmacies, pubs and bookies.  Try and find a pharmacy in any French, German or Dutch town and you’ve your work cut out.  Throw a stone here and you can’t miss a chemist.  No wonder we took to the heroin like ducks to water, when it was first introduced to Dublin by the scumbag Dunne family in the 1980’s.

So what’s the solution?  For a different perspective, take a spin up the M1 to Belfast.  The plague of sweaty zombies that float around O’Connell Street in Dublin are non-existent.  Why?

Because heroin dealers get shot dead by paramilitaries – on both sides of the divide – for ‘crimes against the community.’  Addicts get punishment beatings or knee-cappings for ‘anti-social behaviour’.  It’s vigilante justice, but it keeps the streets relatively free from heroin.

However, I can’t see Fine Gael going for this Northern-style approach.  So the ‘shooting rooms’ it is then…

A prime example of how these supervised injection centres operate is Frankfurt.  In Frankfurt 8,000 syringes are exchanged daily in these centres, which has dramatically decreased the prevalence of HIV among intravenous drug users in the past five years.

Ze Germans have come to the grim realisation that they can’t eradicate the problem.  So they’ve made it safer for all concerned – civilian and junky alike.  And while some people feel this progressive approach to the problem is only encouraging addiction, it certainly keeps the streets of Frankfurt free from dirty needles discarded by those pale-faced, sweaty zombies.

Needle exchange programs already operate in Dublin’s inner city.  At the Merchant’s Quay Project there is a drop-in centre where drug users can exchange their needles, and receive medical care and obtain advice on safer drug use.

The centre receives over 200 visitors each day, and around 4,000 individual drug users a year.  But there are 13,000 heroin addicts in Dublin alone.  So the majority still don’t get any such help.

And of these 13,000 heroin addicts in Dublin, it is estimated that less than 20% of users who complete a treatment programme will remain drug-free for life afterwards.  That’s a very depressing statistic.

While some would argue we bare no responsibility for these addicts, we certainly do have a responsibility for our civilians.  Some people might call it admitting defeat; others might say it’s encouraging addiction.  But adopting a European-style harm-reduction policy would at least mean our streets would be free from the fragile army of gaunt sweaty ghosts, hustling civilians for ‘spare change’ to get that ‘hostel’.

The problem is not going to go away.  Heroin will always find it’s way to our streets.  So Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is right.  A more European, harm-reduction approach is needed.

It’s just a pity we’ve to wait another two years for it to happen.

a short clip from our new film ‘Too Shall Pass’ – a grim story of shady individuals selling clean drug-free urine samples to heroin addicts

 

 

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Trump on Terrorism, Jews, (and fucking his daughter)

US Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has some shady connections to Ireland.

The man currently obsessed with terrorist threats and mass deportation had no problem attending a Sinn Fein fundraiser in New York in 1994. Gerry Adams had been barred from entering the US at the time. Under pressure, then US president Bill Clinton approved Adams for a 48-hour visa, despite widespread protest from US and British officials.

Adams even gave his pal Trump a friendly mention from the podium, during a time when Sinn Fein and co were still very much considered the terrorists.  Ironically, Trump famously claims he can predict terrorism because he ‘feels’ it.

On that count he failed spectacularly, because he didn’t ‘feel’ the Manchester and Dockland bombings that were to come less than two years after his cosy meeting with our Gerry.

Yet this week, to raucous chest-thumping cheers in South Carolina, Donald Trump proposed a complete ban on all Muslims entering the United States – because he considers them terrorists.  Previous to that, he had proposed all US Muslims wear ID badges.

So in Trump’s muddled, reactionary mind, what’s the difference between the Irish terrorists he was so keen to befriend, and the current Islamic terrorists he wants to destroy?

Trump’s democratic rival Marco Ruvio labelled Trump’s Islamic offensive ‘outlandish’.  Even Republican Right-Wing establishment Golden Boy (and complete eejit) Jeb Bush has described Trump’s Islamic-ban plan as ‘unhinged’.

To explain Trump’s current (and increasingly popular) war-mongering rhetoric, we need look no further than Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering’s defence during the Nuremberg trials.

On the stand, Goering explained, “Naturally the common people don’t want war.  But people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same in every country.”

Goering’s ominous words continue to ring true across the globe, 70 years later.

A prime example is the Paris attacks one month ago.  Since the attacks, Marine Le Pen’s caustic xenophobic National Front party have made massive gains, and are now out ahead as the biggest Party in France, on 30% according to last Sunday’s regional exit polls.

In perspective, Sarkozy’s Republicans claimed 27%, and President Hollande’s Socialists are stuttering behind on 22%.

And that’s the cultured, wine swilling, affair-loving, surrendering French, with their Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité!

So with Goering’s theory in mind, what would happen if a similar terrorist attack were to unfold in the God-fearing, gun-toting ‘Land of The Free’ presently, while terror-touting Trump is the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential primaries?

Trump would ride a populist fear-based wave all the way into the Oval Office.  In fact he’d probably mount a full-on African-style coup d’état against Obama, roundly supported by his cultish, ‘Patriotic’ Republican followers – all thirsty for his cool-aid.  He’d excuse his coup on the basis that the Obama fella is almost certainly an African, so a good old fashioned coup d’état is what’s needed to oust the fucker.

So we’re already well past Marx’s hoary old theory of history repeating itself; first as tragedy, second as farce. Trump is already way out in front of his closest rivals – with 36% in the Republican primaries.  Next is Ted Cruz on 16%.  Eejit Golden boy Jeb Bush is on a mere 3%.  The future looks increasingly bleaker by the hour…

Trump has branded all Mexicans immigrants as rapists, and wants to build a giant wall to deport 11 million people.  As if that wasn’t surreal enough, he wants the Mexican government to pay for the construction of his proposed giant wall!

The Daily Stormer, America’s most popular neo-Nazi news site has roundly endorsed Trump for President.  These anti-Semitic head-bangers are hoping that as a man of German stock, Trump will eventually turn his attention to deporting the Jews, once he’s done with deposing the Mexicans.

So what do our Irish-flavoured US immigrants think of this fucking lunatic?

A theory exists that Trump represents the most stereotypical grade of racist, xenophobic, small-minded, right-wing Irish-American intolerance. When you think of the face of white rage in America, it belongs to a couple of red-faced Irish-American fellas on Fox News.

This is not helped by Trump claiming to be a big friend of the Irish.  In 2014, it was announced that he’d purchased Doonbeg Golf Club in county Clare. It was confirmed that the golf club would be renamed Trump International Golf Links, Ireland.

Personally, it frightens the life out of me that a man who publicly admitted on television to wanting to date his own daughter – Ivanka – could end up leader of ‘The Free World’.  Give me Putin, any day of the week.

Because history has consistently demonstrated that psychopaths make very effective leaders, whether in business or politics.  They are highly intelligent, charming, incredibly manipulative, and incisive decision makers.  Like Putin…

But clearly, Donald Trump lacks the intelligence to be a psychopath – he’s just a buffoon who inherited a vast fortune.  You’d never catch a psychopath saying they’d like to date their own daughter – it’s just too creepy and idiotic.

But make no mistake, if this trust-fund fuck-wit gets elected as ‘Leader of The Free World’, immigrants will die because of his hateful ideology, coupled with his vast financial resources.

Trump on dating his daughter – Donald Trump wants to fuck his daughter

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The Queen of Ireland & Gerry Adams

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Last night I walked into my local supermarket. Serving me was a six-foot man in drag, complete with a staff name-tag. I have to admit, I admired his balls.

Because it’s an act of extreme courage to go to work in a supermarket (or anywhere for that matter) dressed as a woman. When you are not already a woman.

And particularly if you are a six-foot man.

However, I must be honest and admit I was grossly offended by the whole situation. The man had made absolutely no effort whatsoever. He hadn’t even shaved…

With the centenary on the horizon, we can’t be seen to tolerate such a lazy standard of transvestism in this country. If our men don’t look good dressed as ladies, then what’s it all been for?

So I decided to go back into the supermarket tonight. I had some questions. I wanted to know about the abuse, the bullying, the prejudice, the discrimination this brave soul must’ve endured. I wanted to know whether his employees in this nationwide supermarket chain were progressive enough to allow gender fluidity among their staff?

But on the way to the shop I got flustered by pronouns. I didn’t know whether to call him her or what? I know they’ve added ‘Mx’ in the Oxford English Dictionary along with ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’, but how do you even pronounce ‘Mx’?

And would complementing him on his courageous stance be offensive in the first place? Should I pretend not to notice? Would that be the politically correct action to take?  We’ve entered a whole new era of tolerance and acceptance, but we haven’t been tooled-up with the protocols…

I’m familiar with all the terms – gender fluidity, gender non-binary – I think I’ve a fair grasp on what they all mean. I still wouldn’t fancy a question to come up on the Leaving Cert about it though.

So all these questions – these delicate issues to navigated like a ballet dancer in horseshoes – had me in a ball of nerves by the time I reached the sliding door of the supermarket. But he wasn’t working. So it was all a complete waste of time.

But the experience got me thinking. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Cross-dressing was considered a mental illness in the 1960’s. And let’s not forget it was illegal to be gay in this country as recently as 1993. I’m not implying the cashier in the supermarket is gay; many straight men dabble in a spot of transvestism – I’m just illustrating that our status as one of the world’s more progressive societies is quite a recent development.

So therefore it in the spirit of Monty Python, it would be politically and patriotically appropriate – particularly with the centenary approaching – that we retain a small dose of traditional ingrained Paddy backwardness, amid all this newfound progressiveness and tolerance. A new form of sexism perhaps?

We only want good-looking trannies working in our supermarkets!

Enda Kenny will make the announcement at a press-conference, with Joan to his left, and Noonan to his right, nudging Leo out of the way – edging his way into frame, the old pro.

Gerry, Mary Lou and Pearse will then swiftly issue a counter-statement, denouncing the government’s decision in the strongest possible terms – as it clearly involves the re-introduction of a monarchy system in the Freestate. All this talk of that film The Queen of Ireland in the past week has made Gerry and the lads nervous.

Mick Wallace will not be allowed to make any public comment on the issue whatsoever, as his is the exact ‘lazy-transvestite’ look we are trying to avoid in the first place, with the introduction of this new form of politically Pythonesque sexism.

Random spot checks will be undertaken in supermarkets up and down the country, to make damn sure our transvestites are making the effort.

So trannies of Ireland, have some pride. Don’t get complacent. Have a shave. 

Do it for your country – there’s a centenary approaching.

short clip from our new film ‘Too Shall Pass’

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The Consequences Of Having A Cigarette

*This piece was originally written in June*

Finding oneself at an Irish wedding – retired from alcohol – can be an alarming affair. So when a friend came around taking cigarette orders on her iphone, I handed her a tenner. It’s almost a decade since I was a full-time smoker, so I thought I’d be grand…plus I needed something to do with my hands, now that I’d no pints to be playing with.

Fast-forward seven days, and I was sitting in the studio trying to do some work – but not getting anything done. All I could think about was smoking fags. I was running outside every twenty minutes for a cigarette. Those sneaky little smokes were cackling and wheezing at me – after one short week.

My pulse was gone mental, my heart was beating like a fucked clock, and my lungs felt full-up. Seven short days and I was back to where I started, when I first quit smoking back in January 2006. The quick clutch of cigarettes truly terrifies me.

After exactly one week, I knew the smokes had to go.  So on the Sunday night I had one for the road, then a long hot shower to get rid of the rancid nicotine smell. While I felt good about my decision to quit – again – I also dreaded the ginger-rage Monday’s withdrawals would surely bring…

But I got through that first day okay – if a little more stressed and short tempered than usual. Until that night, lying awake, twisting and turning with my crazed pulse and carcinogenic lungs. I began to wonder how people are still alive after decades of this carnage? After nine years off them, I smoked for a single week, and I was convinced I was about to have a heart attack. While lying down.

To make things worse, some new guy had moved into the gaff, and he was smoking inside. The smell of cigarettes was driving me fucking demented…

But not quite as demented as the two cigarettes I left in a pack laying on my bedside table. An amateur mistake while in the throes of nicotine withdrawal! Lying there looking at me, somewhere between a tease and a torment. As I twisted and turned with my rushing pulse, and frantic heart-rate, I wrestled with what to do.

An hour later my stubbornness got the better of me and I ripped those cigarettes up and threw them out the window – thinking now I’d surely relax.

But still no sleep…

Three days later – by Wednesday – the withdrawal-rage had calmed and I knew I was just-about in the clear. Apart from the physical, temper-inducing cravings, I didn’t suffer from any psychological withdrawal this time – having not been a full-time smoker for almost a decade. I flicked a switch in my head, and became a non-smoker again. I’ve had a decade’s practice, so I don’t feel the need to sit on my hands, bite my nails, or stuff my face with sweets.

But hurdles lay ahead. Another social function – this one slightly different to a wedding…

One week off the smokes and I was back down the country again, this time for my best mate’s ordination.

My plan was to have a week off the smokes before gracing the ordination. That’d surely give me enough breathing space not to be tempted into handing over another tenner, and starting the whole horrible nicotine-addiction process again?

Another motivating factor was I didn’t want my parents to see me smoking at the afters of the ordination. Especially considering I officially quit a decade ago, and they’re both also reformed smokers/cured whoores.

So I thought I’d gotten away with the whole dirty operation – that nobody’d be any the wiser as to my one sneaky week back on the smokes in Belfast.  But then a mate posted a picture on Facebook of me handing a tenner over at the wedding for twenty Marlboro Lights, and I was caught rotten…

Caught rotten!!

Caught rotten!!

This lead me to consider the question – which is more dangerous, social media or social smoking?

I don’t know the answer.  I suppose it depends on how much your parents know. But it certainly seems easier to give up the smokes…

And like I said the last time – it won’t happen again.

Epilogue…

On Wednesday night this week while working late in the studio, a mate of mine offered me a cigarette. It was the end of a long days work, so I reasoned what’s the harm – one won’t kill me.  Plus I needed a break.  So we went outside for a smoke.

Within about five minutes I started to feel nauseous. After another five minutes I had my head down the toilet, spewing the contents of my stomach down the loo.  So I can safely say; that’s the end of my smoking career, for once and for all!!

And like I said the last time – it won’t happen again!

short clip from our new film ‘Too Shall Pass’

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The Dark Days Are Over

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As the centenary looms and we prepare for our year of misplaced patriotism, there’s a different kind of rising on the horizon. Because as the bankers stand in court and the ghost estates stand empty, the people the Tiger didn’t bite are about to have their day in the sun.

We are a country internationally renowned for punching above our weight in the arts. Yet for most of us in the creative game, that Tiger passed us by. We watched from the dole queues as the fat men in Mercs drove past with wallets full of fifties.

In the world of writing, filmmaking, and particularly painting, the rule is show, don’t tell. The Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin shows everything we got grossly wrong in that mad period of false opulence.

Beckett would be spinning in his grave at the sight of Calatrava’s neo-futuristic bridge spanning the Liffey, named in his honour.  If Beckett were to build a bridge, it’d be a single plank of wood – that stopped half-way out across the river. But we were too drunk on debit to listen to that artist, or any artist that wasn’t making us money.

We’d finally shaken off the shackles of oppression.  Goaded by our chronic victim complex, we were busy building our own version of Dubai. We desecrating Dublin with glass and steel that’ll haunt the horizon for a century.

The Tiger’s scars are visible all over Galway too, where every available building was clad with that greenish copper look, that even now – less than a decade later – looks horrifically dated.

But then the fat lady sang, and it all came crashing down around us. The fat men in Mercs booked flights and filed for bankruptcy. Behind them lay ghost estates and ruined lives. As the skinny man said, there’s no strategy to combat negative equity.

I don’t understand the finer points of economics – booms, busts and subsequent recoveries. You need David McWilliams for that sort of thing. What I do understand though, is that I’m in a very privileged position to have nothing. Because it’s a far better place to be than owing vast quantities of cash that never even existed in the first place.

But show; don’t tell. At the height of the Celtic chaos I worked in a newsagents. The main problem we faced towards the end of each day was the cash register wouldn’t close because of the massive stack of fifties stored under the coin part. Everybody payed for everything with fifties. Scratch-cards, fags and mags, it was brown notes all the way.

That newsagents is now an empty shell of a building, another victim in the cycle of boom and bust. Suckers for a good dose of oppression, but this time around we didn’t even need the Brits – we did it to ourselves.

Speaking of Brits, during the Second World War, Winston Churchill was approached by one of his cabinet ministers with an idea. The minister suggested to Churchill that they slash the arts budget, and put all the money into the ongoing war effort. Churchill refused outright, and told his minister that if there was no art, what were they fighting for in the first place?

So now we find ourselves in this strange post-apocalyptic place where those of us with nothing are in pole position. We’re not being followed around by houses we bought for double their value, and we’re not being sought for extradition to answer for our crooked accounting and blatant lies.  I think Beckett would appreciate that irony…

So let The Rising commence; the dark days are over. But we don’t need to thump our chests and sing rebel songs for this rising.

What’s the moral of the story? How does the film end?

When the going gets tough the fat men in Mercs will fuck off and leave you high and dry, laughing at you from their gated mansions in the States. The glass and steel will eventually erode, along with that neo-futuristic bridge.

But Sam Beckett will be with you forever.

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Are You A Sociopath?

Tony Soprano

Every weekend the Irish country set get all tarted-up in blazers and bow-ties to go hunting foxes on horses. After their killing spree, they celebrate their murderous escapades with brandies and port down the local.

The majority of us don’t bat an eyelid to this weekly slaughter of innocent mammals – ripped to shreds by packs of hungry hounds. Why? Because dead foxes aren’t celebrities. And they don’t have names.

Especially fancy names like Cecil…

Cecil the Lion is still making headlines, weeks after a dentist from Pennsylvania did a Tony Soprano on him in the wilds of Zimbabwe. Presumably, the dentist in question wasn’t decked out like a meringue in a saddle at the time. The heat would’ve killed him, and possibly warned off the lion.

As Tony Soprano’s therapist would tell you, one of the defining marks of a sociopath is an affinity towards small children and animals – but scant regard for the rest of human life.

I find this all a bit troubling. Allow me to explain…

The global outpouring of grief over the death of one celebrity lion has been massive. Yet we don’t devote anything resembling the same level of sadness over the thousands of humans being murdered, raped, tortured and trafficked every single day.

So does this suggest we are a world full of sociopaths, crying into our cornflakes over one dead animal, while our fellow humans unfortunate enough to be born in the wrong time-zone suffer unfathomable fates?

Here in the ‘Free World’, American drone strikes massacre women and children on a daily basis, in the hope they might take out a suspected militant or two in the blood-soaked carnage.

Limbs ripped to shreds, children’s heads melted to mush – all watched on a computer screen by some military operator on the other side of the globe. Pushing a button in the Pentagon – as if playing the latest computer game.

Do we give that a second thought? Do we cry for those mutilated women and children like we cry for Cecil the Lion?  Do we fuck!

And while you’re up there on your pulpit, try to explain the plight of one celebrity lion to the families of the 210,000 dead Syrians wiped out in the most brutal civil war in recent history. Or the families of the 30,000 Libyans slaughtered since Gaddafi’s dead head was kicked about like a football on live TV – while we all cheered and drank our brandies and ports.

We don’t even have to look to the Middle East for our daily dose of blood and guts.

Three people are shot dead every hour in the States. Even closer to home, innocent people are caught in the cross-fire in the murky world of gangland slayings. The most those victims ever get is a day or two in the papers. Then we move onto something more relevant to our cosy ‘First World’ Irish lives – like water charges and gay marriages.

So how do the Zimbabwean’s themselves feel about this global outpouring of self-righteous moral panic?

Baffled! Eunice Vhunise, from the Zimbabwean capital Harare, has been quoted as saying there are much more pressing issues in the country than a single dead lion. Life-threatening issues, such as drastic water shortages, no electricity, no jobs – and to top it all, a geriatric despot as president. One dead lion is the very least of their worries…

Yet the hackneyed old argument exists that lions are an endangered species, and therefore worth our tears.

Tell that to the migrants in Calais, risking life and limb to try and make it across the Channel Tunnel. And while you’re up there on your PETA pulpit giving your sermon, explain your feline-grief to the Syrians, the Libyans, the Iraqis and the Afghans.

I doubt you’ll get much sympathy for Cecil…

However, here in the ‘First World’ where we take all our basic needs for granted, over 100,000 Americans have signed a public petition to have the lion-killing dentist extradited to Zimbabwe to face charges.

The hypocrisy is laughable. In the space of five years, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has recorded over 1,200 cases of human rights violations by the law enforcement agencies, including 363 cases of torture, 516 cases of assault, 58 cases of death threats, 399 cases of unlawful arrest, and 451 cases of unlawful detention. And that’s against their own people.

One can only imagine the fate of a lion-killing dentist from the States…

Yet 100,000 people from a country that routinely renditions (a fancy word for kidnapping) suspected militants, holds them for years without trial, and subjects them to well documented torture, want to send one of their own to a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world.

One thing is for sure – he wouldn’t be seeing much brandy and port over there.

So maybe those fancy eejits ripping foxes limbs to shreds are the sensible ones, while the rest of us sociopaths ignore human rape and murder, while we cry into our cornflakes over Cecil the fucking Lion…

Visit our website to our forthcoming film starring Peter Campion, Gary Lydon & Denise McCormack
http://www.pissinginbottles.org/

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The Silly Season Has Started

A toddler screamed in her father’s arms, as the pounding drums of The Orange Order marked the start of  ‘The Silly Season’.   On Thursday evening they marched down the Lisburn Road, flanked by armed police, followed by PSNI Landrovers, and monitored from the sky by helicopters.   I used to think the Vintage Parade in Birr was fairly hectic, but all we need down there is a few bollards and a couple of stewards to keep it kosher.

And being a naive Freestater from that cosy Vintage-Week world of Midlands Ireland, when I moved up to Belfast a year ago, I made a definite point of not talking politics.  With anyone.  For starters, they don’t want to hear it – especially from some clueless Southerner.  It’d be patronising to pontificate on a situation I’d only ever seen on the Nine O’Clock News as a child.

But this self-preserving vow of silence becomes difficult to maintain once ‘The Silly Season’ comes around again and the whole city goes on lock-down.

Like most naive Southerners, I was under the impression the Orange Order marches only took place around the twelfth of July.  However, upon my arrival in Belfast last summer, I discovered they go on right up into September and, occasionally even beyond.  Every single weekend, in multiple locations across the city.

Some are genuine ‘Expressions of Culture’, and just involve a load of aul’ fellas in suits and sashes marching up a road banging drums and singing songs.  Others however, carry a far more threatening air, when it’s made very obvious their connection to paramilitary groups, with big letters painted across their drums, and their packs of drunk marauding supporters.

So all this week big mounds of timber pallets were being built a hundred-foot high, in multiple locations across the city – both in the city centre, and in Loyalist estates.  Perched on top of these massive mounds of pallets are tricolours and posters of Sinn Fein politicians, ready to be set ablaze on the night before the 12th. 

This highly charged atmosphere feels especially threatening when you’ve a southern accent. This is clearly much more than an ‘Expression of Culture’, as the Orange Order continually attempt to justify it as.  It’s a show of force.  And the vast majority of people – Catholic and Protestant, want absolutely nothing to do with it.  A sizable proportion of the locals leave the city for at least a week, and head for Donegal or Galway.  Shutters go down across the city as businesses close – some for the whole month of July.

As those marchers paraded past me on Thursday thumping their drums, what struck me was the age demographic.  While some of the marchers were staggering frailly towards their pensions, the majority were much younger than me.

Teenagers born post-Good Friday Agreement, decked out in sashes, aggressively thumping drums.  Totally unqualified for their hardline opinions – innocent young heads filled with romantic notions of a fight. Unfortunately, those same innocent young heads appear to have no room left in them to comprehend the brutal realities of that misplaced romanticism – those brutal realities us sheltered Southerners saw on the Nine O’Clock news for decades.

When I first arrived in Belfast a year ago, none of it made sense to me.  All this flag-business, this almost-sexual obsession with a piece of coloured cloth.  But Belfast has this way of making you acutely aware of who you are.  It’s a city obsessed with identity, and it’s frighteningly contagious.

Maybe it’s just this city confronts you with scenarios alien to the cosy Vintage Week world of Midlands Ireland.   Or anywhere else for that matter.

Your polished veneer of aloof detachment becomes quite difficult to preserve while watching a flag burn on-top of a pile of pallets.  In this city it’s impossible to be oblivious, so the key is not to get knocked over by that initial wobbling dart of identity.  It’s like meditation – allow the thoughts to enter your mind, but make sure the thoughs leave again fairly quickly  – preferably before you join a paramilitary organisation.  It’s important to keep yourself balanced.  Centred.

Grounded.  And over the course of my year here so far, Belfast has become my favourite place I’ve lived – and I’ve lived in so many cities I can’t remember them all.  It feels like home, more so than anywhere else I’ve been.  Belfast has a vibrancy that’s missing in Dublin, a definite friendliness, and an urgent sense of mischief.

But what I like about it most is it doesn’t take itself too seriously. You won’t find too many perfectly-bearded eejits with retro headphones and Yugoslavian bicycles from the 80’s poncing about eating paninis up here!

It’s a city on the rise, a city in recovery.  But in order for this rapid rise to continue, and Belfast to become a true European city, the annual summer push for polarisation needs to be resisted at all costs.

And that means getting rid of ‘Displays of Culture’, such as burning flags (of any colour) on top of stacks of pallets.

Nicky Larkin, July 2015

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