DYSLEXIA – A COUNTRY WHERE SURPRISE IS EXPECTED

Diarmuid Breatnach

(The author is known as a traveller to many exotic places, including expeditions in search of mythical lands, most famously “The United Kingdom”, the “Republic”, “Norn Ireland” and “The Mainland.” Here he writes about the land of Dyslexia).

Dyslexia is, as the suffix “-ia” suggests, a country …. think of India, Mongolia, Russia, California [now relegated to a vassal state], Hibernia [also something of a vassal state], Narnia [er .. no, that is an imaginary land in a series of children’s tales]. The existence of Dyslexia strangely was not even suspected until 1881, when Oslawd Khanber claimed to have visited the land. His discovery was widely doubted until confirmed by Ludorf Linber in 1887. The people of this newly-discovered land were distinguished by all having a difficulty to varying degrees in spelling and/or in remembering sequences of numbers. Khanber and Linber both named this land (and the rest of the world agreed) “Dyslexia”, from the Greek root “dys” meaning “bad/ abnormal/ difficult” and “lex” meaning “word” (although in Latin it means “law”, understood as “written word”).

Dyslexia was, like many other lands and people, not named by the natives themselves, but by people from elsewhere. Such examples abound, for example “Australia”, “America”, “Scotland”, “Eskimo”, “Teddy Boys”, “Pagans”, “Celts”, “Saxons”, “Teagues”, “Gypsies”, “E.T.s” etc. Attempts to identify what the Dyslexics themselves called their land have so far collapsed in confusion, with different spellings and even pronunciations hotly argued for against others.

In fact, there have been accusations of racism aimed at those who named the land “Dyslexia” and the people “Dyslexics” — it seems particularly cruel to create a word itself so difficult to spell to name a people with a known disability in spelling. Previously, Dyslexics just called themselves “people” and the land “the land”, while those who came across migrants from there before Dyslexia was actually discovered called them other names such as “stupid”, “slow”, “thick” or “people with ADD or ADHD” (1) . However, most “Dyslexics” today have not only adopted the name and learned to spell it but are wont to proudly declare “I’m Dyslexic” (but rarely “I am a Dyslexic”).

When Dyslexia came to the attention of the rest of the World no-one seemed astonished that it should be discovered long after the North and South Poles, the Mariana Trench, the Matto Grosso Plateau and indeed a great number of planets. What did astonish the World was that Dyslexia had apparently independently within its borders invented television, radio, Ipads, microwave ovens, central heating and hot showers and of course the internal combustion engine and nuclear power.

This proliferation of technology would have been normally amazing (if anything normal can be said to be amazing, or vice versa) in a previously undiscovered country but what was really, really amazing was that everyone in Dyslexia had overcome a disability to climb to such industrial heights. The obstacles must have been tremendous. Imagine confusing, for example, sodium chloride, a common table salt, with sodium chlorate, which is used as a weedkiller (and also as an ingredient in making home-made bombs, a curious fact since nitrogenous fertiliser, with a directly opposite effect to sodium chlorate when spread on weeds, is also sometimes used in making home-made bombs). Anyway, shake sodium chloride in small quantities on your weeds and they probably won’t like it but most will survive – especially those that actually like a little of it, like relatives of the cabbages and such. Shake a little sodium chlorate on your food, however and …. well …. no, don’t try it – without urgent and skilled medical attention you will die quickly and painfully. For another example, imagine confusing “defuse” with “diffuse”: one goes to de-escalate a conflict and ends up spreading it around. Other confusions are possible between the noun or verb “ware”, the (usually) adverb “where” and the past tense verb “were”. And so on.

For physics, knowledge of and accuracy in mathematics is essential – algebra, logarithms, binary codes, sines and co-sines, square roots (these last are mathematical constructs, not mythical regulated-shape carrots as propagated by anti-EU campaigners). In calculating distances, heights and depths, spaces and circumferences, ability in geometry, trygonometry and ordinary mathematics is required. Somehow, the Dyslexics, the inhabitants of Dyslexia, had overcome their disability or compensated for it in some way, so that they had as flourishing and environment-poisoning an industrial society as the most developed parts of the world, such as the United States of America (most developed industrially, that is).

Dyslexics are said, despite this disability with letters and numbers, to be of above-average intelligence. They had to be, to develop all those complicated benefits of industrial society despite their handicap.

Strangely, one may think, many Dyslexics have become literary figures famous throughout the world, Hans Christian Andersen, Agatha Christie, F. Scott Fitzgerald and WB Yeats among them. Contrary to popular belief among non-natives, James Joyce was not from Dyslexia. This prevalence of Dyslexics among so many giants of literature and indeed of virtually every other field of human endeavour has given rise to a group of Dyslexians who call their disability “the gift of Dyslexia”.

The Dyslexics are often garrulous and sociable and this is especially true when in Dyslexia itself. The difficulty in remembering telephone numbers for example makes every telephone call an adventure. Say a native wished to phone another native called Cathy (also known as Cthy, or Ktay, Thyca etc), and the phone number was 731 1062 (please note, this is an imaginary telephone number by which Cathy or no-one else can be reached). The Dyslexic might phone 371 1026 – all the correct digits but in a different order (note, this also is an imaginary telephone number by which no-one may be reached).

The conversation, somewhat simplified, might go like this: “Yes, hello?” (female voice, breathless with anticipation of another adventure).

Our caller: “Hi, is that Cathy?”

Recipient (giggling): “No, it’s not. There isn’t any Cathy here. I’m Wanda.”

Our caller: “Oh, hi Wanda, you sound very nice. How about going on a wanda with me?”

Wanda (with a little giggle but playing cautious): “Maybe …. What’s your name?”

Our caller: “Terry.”

Wanda: “Where were you thinking of wandering with me?” (A moment’s pause while both mentally translate the last part of that into “wandering on me”).

Terry (clearing his throat which has suddenly gone dry): “Well, there’s a nice new Indian restaurant opened up in town. Do you like Indian food, Wanda?”

“Ohhh, Terry, I love it. So spicy!” (Very slight pause as both translate “spicy” as a description for food flavouring into a metaphor instead). “When were you thinking of?”

“Er … tonight too soon?”

“No, I happen to be free tonight.”

“Shall I come and pick you up? Say …. seven pm?”

“That would be lovely, Terry. I live off the Trans City Road, tenth left, first right, eighth left, in Hopeful Street, the seventh house on the left-hand side if you’re coming from town, with a brown and white door and a hydrangea bush in the garden.”

“Got it – tenth left off the Trans City Road, tenth left, first right, eighth left, Hopeful Street, seventh house on the left-hand side, brown and white door and a hydrangea bush in the garden. At seven pm. I’m looking forward to meeting you.”

Most Dyslexics are always open to adventure, ‘going with the flow’. One never knows what a simple telephone call may bring or to what an appointment or written address may lead. But as a result, Dyslexics are also philosophic about missed appointments, forgotten birthdays and so on; they waste little time mourning something lost and instead look forward to something gained. Terry might or might not make it to Wanda’s but they both know the world is full of other possibilities. Cathy, for example, who failed to receive a call from Terry to congratulate her on her gaining a dystinction in her dyploma, received later that evening what non-natives would term “a wrong number” call from a Sofia who had meant to call a Geraldine. Sofia had intended trying to patch up a long-running difficult relationship with Geraldine and instead found herself making the aquaintance of Cathy, who seemed much nicer and more understanding than was Geraldine. Sofia soon put her problems with Geraldine aside and agreed to Cathy’s suggestion that they meet for a late coffee (which they both knew could lead to an early drink and who-knows-what from there). Cathy had by now forgotten that she was hoping Terry would call.

Dyslexia is not just another land, nor even just a strange one – it’s an entirely different way to live.

end

Footnotes:

1.   A supposed disability the existence of which is hotly debated but has exonerated many teachers accused of bad teaching methods and states accused of having too large classes in their schools and which has been profitable for some educational psychologists and extremely so for some chemical companies.

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WHAT TO WRITE FOR REBEL BREEZE?

Diarmuid Breatnach

Over the years I have written articles and published them, usually under my own name, in alternative publications.  Some of those having been written in Castellano (Spanish) has meant that, with the help of others to check or edit them, I have been able to publish in a number of on-line publications from the Spanish state, including a number in the Basque Country.  These articles have been political commentary, analyses and news reports.  They come from a revolutionary socialist perspective and from one who has been politically active for many years in London and in Ireland, which is where I grew up.

I do not find it easy to categorise my politics in a short phrase.  I have been an active anarchist, from which I learned much, later a supporter of a marxist-leninist party and that too has taught me a lot; I am not an anarchist now nor perhaps even a marxist-leninist (certainly not the type I was).  I am opposed to the presence of British Imperialism and colonialism on Irish soil but I am not an Irish Republican (though many in my family have been).  I have not found a revolutionary organisation in Britain or in Ireland that comes close to being what I want to belong to now: an organisation that is effective, learns by mistakes instead of covering them up, is honest with itself and with the class it purports to lead, is disciplined yet tolerant of internal criticism ….

As a revolutionary, I am interested in the experiences of people the world round but most of my experience has been with the Irish at home and abroad, with Afro-Caribbeans in London, with solidarity work with Irish prisoners, the Kurds, Palestinians and Basques.  Of course, I have also been active in community resistance to cuts in services and grants, to fascists and racists, as well as active in trade unionism.

We live in a time when many anti-imperialist movements and organisations have grasped or are reaching out for something they call a “peace process”.  But these processes are not about peace but instead are about pacification.  They cannot bring peace since they do not resolve the basic issues: imperialist and capitalist exploitation.  They bring instead fragmentation, betrayal, apathy and, from a small section, collaboration with oppression.  Ireland and South Africa, often quoted as good examples of “peace processes”, are actually excellent examples of the real nature of these processes.

It is common these days for someone who expresses opposition to pacification processes to be accused of militarism without a political agenda, of favouring immediate resumption of armed struggle, or of being undemocratic.  Often these criticisms are made by people from the very same organisations whose militarist acts and lack of political strategy I have criticised over the years.  But no matter.  It is easier to condemn the critic than to carry out a real analysis of what has been won and what lost through these processes.

Currently the working class (as well as other sections of society) in Europe and elsewhere are under attack by capitalist governments determined to make them pay for the losses incurred by their financial speculator friends and to ensure that the big capitalists not only lose no profits but actually increase them.  In the course of that process they are plundering the public purse and stripping the states of their public assets.  Energetic and determined resistance is called for but the organisations to which we might look for that have been either completely useless or ineffective.    Never before have so many institutions of the capitalist class been so exposed and so reviled by the ordinary people, yet none of the European states seems to be near to revolution.  The necessary preparations were not made and we are not in a position, it seems, to lead those disenchanted and angry masses to effective resistance and then to the overthrow of this exploitative system.  Not yet anyway.  We need to learn from this and build the bases and organs so necessary for effective resistance.

Cultural Interests

My main cultural activity is singing, mostly traditional/ folk and I attend regularly a number of singing circles of sessions around the Dublin Bay area (of which there are a surprising number).  I did sometimes play percussion by hand on a dholak (type of Indian drum) in Irish traditional sessions but not since I misplaced the drum and have been unable to find it.  I also sometimes compose songs (lyrics and music), write poetry and short stories, along with humorous pieces.  Among my many interests is history, both recent and more ancient and I have been known to conduct walking history tours around Dublin on occasion.  Another strong interest is natural history, the world of plants and animals.
I am likely to write about all those things at one time or another.

I am primarily trilingual in Irish, Castellano and English.

 

End

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?

Diarmuid Breatnach 

Lorna was nervous but tried not to show it – especially to Kevin. He drove competently and seemed unaware of her tension. Of course she had known for months it would come to this. There had to be an end to the hiding some day. And now she was going to have to present him to her parents. She shuddered …. or thought she had; thankfully, Kevin hadn’t noticed.

They passed a small wood in a hollow, the trees still wearing their autumn leaves but some already lying on the road, jewels of yellows, oranges and reds, mixed with green, glittering with the wet of a recent shower. In that wood one summer, in her teens, a picnic and a boy, hands trembling exploring, fast-beating heart, her virginity gladly given. at The memory sparked a little arousal; she looked out the passenger window in case it showed in her face. Kevin could be very perceptive …. often just when she didn’t want him to be.

As they drove through the Sligo village she remembered so well from her childhood and teens, she began surreptitiously to do her breathing exercises. Approaching the side road, she had a sudden impulse to say nothing, to just keep going. “Left ahead,” she said instead. And, a little further, “Turn right there, Kevin. Right … that’s the house.”

Slightly uphill from the parking space, the path ran up to and curved along the house to the front door. The house, traditionally whitewashed and, with the exception of the conservatory added to the end, pretty traditional in appearance too. The treetops, grown taller, visible behind the roof, the fuschia bushes growing along the path and the cotoneaster hugging the house wall. Bel, kept inside the house so as not to frighten the expected visitor, barking an intruder warning.

The engine switched off, Kevin looking at the house, then at her. “Looks lovely”, he said and sounded as though he meant it. She turned to him, smiling brightly: “Get the bags, will you? Do the traditional male thing. I’ll carry the wine and the flowers.”

He kissed her quickly, grinned and got out of the car, leaving her free to do her breathing exercises unobserved. In …. hold, two, three, four, five. Out, two, three, four, five …..

Walking up the path, Bel barking madly now, hearing the crunch of gravel. As Lorna got near the door, she called out to the dog. The barking stopped a second at voice recognition, then started again – welcoming this time. The outer door opened, her father there, the skin around his eyes crinkling as he smiled. A hug, careful with the flowers, and a “Fáilte abhaile, a stór.” Then the appraising look at Kevin, the hand stretched out: “And to you too, young man.”

Her father turned and opened the inner door. There was her mother, holding Bel back by his collar as he whined and wriggled, his tail whipping from side to side. Lorna put the flowers and wine on the table and went to the dog, giving him her hand and, while he lathered it with his saliva, hugged her mother cautiously. Then she took the dog to introduce him to Kevin. Of course Bel could smell her on the stranger and that made the introductions easier.

After the greetings, matters proceeded through stages – coffee and tea and biscuits, inquiries about the journey, traffic and road surfaces, comments on the weather, a little local news, as Bel gazed at Lorna and thumped his tail from time to time, her mother jumping up regularly to check on the cooking, the aroma growing around them.

And so to dinner, the table set with the best delf and cutlery, grace said by her mother; Kevin, her atheist lover bowing his head respectfully and agnostic Lorna chiming “Amen” at the end. The dinner delicious of course and greatly enjoyed by Kevin, her father appreciating the Rioja selected by Kevin and brought with them, the flowers they had brought now with some fern leaves picked by her mother, making a nice display in the vase in the window, the westering sun filling the dining area with gorgeous light. The conversation flowed around her job, Kevin’s, Lorna’s parents’ farm, the local area …. It was all going so well. Lorna wasn’t fooled for a moment.

A little after dessert, her father stood up. “Come now, Kevin …. I’ll show you around a little of our wee farm. We have to walk a little of that dinner off.”

Kevin got up eagerly, then hesitated, glancing towards Lorna. “You can do the washing up tomorrow, Kevin,” she smiled. “Go on, while there’s still light to see.”

The two most important men in her life walked out the back door, Bel eagerly escorting them, her father putting his cap on his balding head and picking up his ash stick on the way.

The men’s voices faded and the women turned to meet one another’s eyes, then quickly down to the table, going about their shared tasks with the ease of custom, of practice thousands of times through the years …. and the tension slowly building while desultory conversation centred around the tasks. Then, so soon, all the washing-up done and rinsed, their hands dried and the kettle on the ring for tea. Her mother turned to her and said: “He seems very nice.”  

“He is”, she replied, knowing it was an opening shot.  “I’m serious about him,” she added, as though this were not obvious, the first of her lovers down through the years that she had ever brought to meet her parents.  She was hoping to head off the barrage.

But Lorna, how could you! Of all the fine men you could have had!”

He is a fine man. I already told you he’s black but I didn’t think …”


“Lorna Patricia, you wash your mouth out this minute! You know very well that neither your father nor I are racist.”

But it’s different when your daughter wants to marry one, is that it? ‘We’re not racist but …’ ”

No, Lorna, it has nothing to do with that – we’re not bothered by the colour of his skin …. that’s not it all.”

Then what is it? Is it because he’s not a Catholic, then? Because, as I think you know, I’m not much of a one myself!”


“That’s not it at all, Lorna. That’s between you and God …. and between Kevin and God. That’s what He gave you free will for.”

Then what on earth is all this about? What’s wrong with him?”

 

“Oh Lorna, do you really not know? Can you not see?” Her mother’s voice rising in a wail.

No … no, I can’t. See what? What’s wrong?”

 

“He’s from Dublin, Lorna. Dublin! He’s a jackeen!”

End

METAL-DETECTING USING BAKED BEANS

IRISHMAN REVOLUTIONISES METAL DETECTION PROCESS

By our Science Reporter

Can Baked Beans
A new metal-detecting system has been developed which is revolutionising security detection, prospecting and archaeology.  Previous systems have depended on magnetism and have not responded well to non-ferrous metals.  The new system responds to all metals and, strange as it may seem, it functions through using baked beans in tomato sauce.

An Irishman developed the detection system after discovering the principle, like many great discoveries, through accident.  “I often prepare breakfast of baked beans on toast,” said Dublin man Diarmuid Breatnach.  “I noticed when I tipped a tin of baked beans into the pan for heating, that some of them remained stuck inside the can, even after vigorous shaking.  I began to wonder if there might not be an attraction of some sort between them and the metal.”

Metal Detector
The Garrett Ace 150 metal detector, at the lower price range of conventional detectors, sells at €199. The new bbp (baked bean principle) detector however is currently selling at around half the price.

The idea kept going around in Breatnach’s head until he decided to test it out.  “In a friend’s garage, we ran a series of tests and discovered that yes, indeed, baked beans in tomato sauce are attracted to metal.  And we discovered that they worked with many different kinds of metals – steel, obviously, but also aluminium, copper, zinc, tin, silver and alloys like brass and bronze.  We didn’t have any large enough surfaces of gold and platinum to test – they have to be several millimetres across to work – but we thought it would work for them too.”

The Dublin man then set about designing the machine that would employ this attraction for metal detection.  Using his skills learned in a former trade of fitter-welder, he constructed the first prototype and took out a patent on it.

“I went to a small metal-ware company on the outskirts of Dublin where I knew a guy and made a deal with the owner.  They produced a few models and then we went to security firms and some metal mining companies, the models worked great under test conditions and we got supply contracts.”

Now the factory, Schiessen Ltd, has expanded its workforce four hundred per cent and struggles to keep up with orders.  In addition, baked bean in tomato sauce production has soared, with attendant expansion in the cultivation of haricot beans and tomatoes abroad.

What impact have these developments had on Breatnach’s life?  “When I started, I was in default on my mortgage and the bank was about to seize my flat,” said the Dublin man.  “Those days are gone and I’m comfortable now.  But I never forget how it started and still eat beans on toast in the morning,” he says with a smile.

End item     

RANT FOR MARGARETTA

RANT FOR MARGARETTA

(click on the title immediately above to access the video)
(A mobile-friendly version is also available, click on the author’s name below the video and the other version should show).

RAP POEM, VIDEO IMAGES WITH MUSIC IN PROTEST AT THE 3-MONTH INCARCERATION OF MARGARETTA D’ARCY, 79 YEAR-OLD ACTIVIST AND DRAMATIST, BECAUSE OF HER PROTESTS AGAINST THE CONTINUING USE OF SHANNON AIRPORT BY THE US MILITARY IN COLLUSION WITH SUCCESSIVE IRISH GOVERNMENT IN VIOLATION OF OUR NEUTRAL STATUS.

RANT FOR MARGARETTA

Diarmuid Breatnach

Forgive my confusion …

I was under the illusion …

or was it a delusion?

That we are a democracy,

not an autocracy

nor yet a plutocracy ….

That we citizens had the right

to decide whether a war to fight;

That we could choose with whom to ally …

Or was that all a cruel lie?

Listen now to the warning bell,

an Irish citizen in a prison cell;

Put there for taking a stand

against murder in foreign lands.

FREE MARGARETTA D’ARCY! FREE HER NOW!

FREE MARGARETTA D’ARCY! FREE HER NOW!

Well yes, it was all a delusion

and our government’s in murder collusion;

To murder planes turns a blind eye,

making accomplices of you and I!

Because the US is a superpower,

before them are we supposed to cower?

Are we to turn our hearts to stone,

to ignore the unmanned murder drones?

Surely not! Margaretta stands not alone —

we are of her blood and of her bone!

Listen now to the warning bell,

an Irish citizen in a prison cell;

Put there for taking a stand

against murder in foreign lands.

FREE MARGARETTA D’ARCY! FREE HER NOW!

FREE MARGARETTA D’ARCY! FREE HER NOW!

Our rulers fumble in a greasy till,

They never cared and never will:

Little women and little men,

Hucksters and middle men —

Believe me they don’t dither

to sell us out to the highest bidder!

Ach seo hé an scéal,

this is the story:
Ní chuirfidh muid fáilte

roimh – dúnmharthóirí!

Listen now to the warning bell,

an Irish citizen in a prison cell;

Put there for taking a stand

against murder in foreign lands.

FREE MARGARETTA D’ARCY! FREE HER NOW!

FREE MARGARETTA D’ARCY! FREE HER NOW!

Drone in the sky: someone’s crying …

Drone in the sky: someone’s dying …

If we allow it then we share the blame

so say we all: NOT IN OUR NAME!

Visitors are welcome from any land

but don’t come here with bloody hands;

Using Shannon as a staging post,

making our land a murder host —

we won’t pretend that we don’t know —

like Margaretta, we’re saying “NO!”

Listen now to the warning bell,

an Irish citizen in a prison cell;

Put there for taking a stand

against murder in foreign lands.

FREE MARGARETTA D’ARCY! FREE HER NOW!

FREE MARGARETTA D’ARCY! FREE HER NOW!

 

 

INTERVIEWING THE PSNI ABOUT STEPHEN MURNEY — a light-hearted look at a serious situation

“Please take a seat. He’ll be right down to you” says the man behind the desk in the Police Service of Northern Ireland uniform.

Before I have much time to read the public notices, a man comes comes through an inner door and approaches me. Average male height, he’s in blue-striped white shirt and dark trousers, dark blue tie askew. “Are you the sociologist?” he asks. His hair is blond-grey and his eyes are very blue.

“Hello, pleased to meet you,” he continues before I can reply that I’m studying sociology, “I’m Detective- Constable Proctor. Can I get you a cup of tea? Let’s go to the interview room.”

Why not? I think, following him – after all, I am interviewing him. Of course it’s usually the police doing the interviewing in that room.

A woman who seems to be a civilian employee brings each of us a cup of tea.  Thanking her, I sip mine, looking around the room. I’ve heard about police interviews but I don’t see any bloodstains. They probably clean them up afterwards. Or maybe they do those interviews somewhere else, like in the cells. Then they could leave the bloodstains there to terrify the next occupants … to soften them up before interrogation.

Proctor blows on his tea, sips …. “Well, Mr. …. I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.”

“O’Donnell… Owen.”

“Owen O’Donnell? The name seems familiar somehow ….”

“Maybe it’s my cousin – he has the same name. People call him ‘Red’. ‘Red Owen’.”

“Oh?  Like an alias?”

“Well, more like a nickname. Because he is, you see.”

“He’s a Red?”

“No, he’s red-haired. He had quite a successful career for awhile in pest control in Ulster …. with his partner Shane O’Neill.”

“Perhaps I have heard of the firm …..” He looks like he’s searching his memory.  After a moment, looking at his watch: ”Now, Mr. O’Donnell, if we could ….”

“Yes, of course. It’s very kind of you to give me your time.”

“I believe you’re studying Sociology?” looking at me over the rim of his mug.  Aha, so he does know.

I nod vigorously. Sometimes I believe it myself. The University might even believe it when they get to see my assignments.  That would be after I get around to completing them and handing them in, of course.

“And you want to ask me about policing?”

“Yes, for my studies. Policing in general, a bit about the history of the force here … and about a specific case.”

“Well of course, if I can help …. we like to help the public. That’s what we’re here for. But I’m afraid I only have a few minutes.”

“Okayyyyy ….” I say, consulting my notebook. “Originally the PSNI was the RIC –- the Royal Irish Constabulary, right?”

“Yes.”

“The RIC was the police force over the whole island.”

“Yes.”

“The whole of Ireland must have been united then.”

Proctor looks uncomfortable at this. “Aye – under British rule.”

“After the Treaty, in 1921, the RIC disappeared over the rest of Ireland …. but here it became the RUC, the Royal Ulster Constabulary?”

“Aye,” he says, a faraway look in his eyes.

“Have you any theory why it was called that?”

“What?” He looks startled, then puzzled.

“I mean, why ‘Ulster’?”

“Well, this is Ulster, isn’t it?” — looking at me as if I might be a bit simple.

“Well, only six counties of it – there are nine counties in the province of Ulster, aren’t there?”

He jerks a little at the mention of ‘six counties’, frowns. He seems to have heard those words before … perhaps they have unpleasant associations for him.

“Mr. O’Donnell,” he says …. pauses …. “perhaps we could move on to questions about the police force of today?”

“Of course! Of course!” I stammer. “I really am so grateful for your time.” I shuffle my notes. “So the RUC became the PSNI in…” I peer at my notes.

“2000,” says Proctor.

“Yes, that’s it!” I beam at him. “But why?”

“I beg your pardon? Why what?”

“Why the change of name?”

“It was thought more appropriate, I suppose. I really don’t know, Mr.O’Donnell.”

“Well, is the PSNI different from what the RUC was?”

“I suppose …. yes …. we’re more of a community police force now. The wider community.”

“Oh. The RUC didn’t serve the wider community?”

“Of course they did!”

“But how is the PSNI different then?”

“Well, we serve it more than we did before. Even more. Justice for all.”

“I see,” I say, but allowing the puzzled look to remain on my face.

I wonder whether I should ask him why his force has “Northern Ireland” in its name, when every eight-year old who has done basic Irish geography at school would know that Donegal has the northernmost part of Ireland and they don’t have PSNI there …. they have the Gardaí.

I decide not to ask and instead move on to another question. “Do you remember the RUC Reserve, the ‘B-Specials’?”

“Of course,” he replies, a faraway look in his eyes again. “They were …. part of the service.”

“Where did they go?”

“Well, they joined the Ulster Defence ….. I mean, they were disbanded.”

“I think you were going to mention the Ulster Defence Regiment?”

“Well,yes …. it’s just that many of them reputedly joined that Regiment.”

“From police straight into the Army?”

“Aye, it would seem so.”

“Doesn’t that strike you as strange? I mean, police and soldiers …. two very different jobs, wouldn’t you say?”

“Mr.O’Donnell, you are surely aware of the history of this province?”

‘Province’? There are nine counties in the province of Ulster but only six of those in the British colony. But I decide to let that go too as he continues.

“We have had a long battle against terrorist violence here. We … the police force here … had to carry guns. Many gave their lives.”

“Yes,” I say sympathetically. “It must have been so dangerous.”

“Yes, it was. It was a war! So it was a bit like soldiering for us. Then the Army came in when things really started to get out of hand. Mind you, they were doing a lot of police work too. So you might say that there was a fair bit of crossover in our roles.”

Looks at his watch again.

I rustle my notes again. “That’s great. Thanks for that background. Would it be OK to move on to the specific case now?”

“Of course.” He sits back.

“It’s about …..” I consult my notes “…. Stephen Murney.”

“Oh?” — sitting forward again, eyes narrowed.

“Do you know the case?”

“Well… the name does seem familiar ….” He waits for me to go on.

I read from my notes: “He was arrested in November 2012 and is currently in Maghaberry Jail. Can you tell me why he is in prison?” I ask, looking up.

“I understand he was refused bail, Mr.O’Donnell.”

“Ah, of course.” I refer to my notes again. “Yes, of course …that’s right. But why?”

“Why? I’m not a judge and jury, Mr. O’Donnell.”

“No of course not, Detective Constable.”

Aware of the no-jury Diplock courts that try charges under ‘anti-terrorist law’, I add: “He won’t be tried by a jury anyway.”

“No, of course you’re right,” he says, a smile on his lips.

“But why do you think he might have been refused bail?”

“I’d suppose because of the seriousness of the charges. And because of the fear he might abscond before his trial.”

“Yes…. the seriousness of the charges. They’re related to terrorism, aren’t they?”

“Yes, that’s right. We still have a bit of a terrorist problem in Northern Ireland …. though we are getting on top of it.”

“I understand the evidence against him is quite overwhelming.”

“It would seem so,” he says nodding but then stops. “Of course, we must assume he’s innocent until proven guilty.”

“Yes, of course,” I reply, giving him a bit of a crestfallen look.

I consult my notes again. “There was a lot of evidence collected at his home. Lots of photographs of PSNI in action …. even of the RUC going back for forty years.”

“Yes,” Proctor replies, looking grim. “Photographs that could be of use to terrorists.”

“In what way?” I ask, with a puzzled expression.

“Well, they could be used in identifying police officers for assassination. And he put them up on Facebook.”

“Oh dear!”

He sips his tea. I consult my notes.

“Hmmm. But apparently he’s been taking these photos for ages, in full view of your colleagues. And using them to accuse the police of harassment. Why didn’t they arrest him earlier? Before he built up such a collection … and going back forty years!”

“Well, Mr. O’Donnell, it’s not my case, but sometimes we let a suspect run loose for a while, see whether he’ll lead us to other terrorists. Also to lull him into a false sense of security.”

“Yes, I see. I see how that might work. Do you think he was? Lulled into a false sense of security?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps he was,” nodding his head judiciously.

“But according to his lawyers …. at the bail hearing … apparently his car was being stopped and he was being questioned, sometimes having his car searched, nearly every day. Sometimes twice a day. I mean, he wouldn’t be getting lulled into any sense of security under those circumstances, would he?”

Proctor gives me a blue-eyed stare, his face a bit flushed.  “I really can’t say, Mr. O’Donnell,” he says coldly.

I consult my notes again. “Oh yes, there was more evidence, apparently. He had a military-style uniform. And a BB gun.”

Proctor is nodding vigorously. He seems to be saying: “You see?

“BB guns are not illegal, are they? They’re not firearms?”

“No, but they can be used to intimidate people … who might think that they are a firearm. They can also do some damage if fired at close quarters into the face.”

“Oh dear, of course! It’s a wonder they don’t ban them, isn’t it?”

He looks at me searchingly. “Yes ….” Looks at his watch.

“I’m nearly finished, Detective-Constable. It’s so good of you to give my your time … your valuable time. About the military-style uniform ….”

“Yes?

“Apparently Murney claims …. that it was part of a band uniform. A marching fife and drum band. Could it be?”

“Well, it could … but it could also be for a paramilitary organisation. They do like to dress up in uniforms.”

“I see. The uniform was found in his wardrobe, I think?”

“I believe so.”

“Not hidden away …. like under floorboards or anything?”

“No… why do you ask?”

“Well, I mean …. it’s puzzling, isn’t it? A terrorist … sorry, of course we have to assume he’s innocent until found guilty … but anyway … a person keeping a uniform for terrorism in his wardrobe? Not hidden away somewhere?”

“I don’t know …. I really can’t read the minds of terrorists, Mr.O’Donnell. Nor of terrorist suspects. Now, I really need to ….”

“Yes, sorry. About the final piece of evidence …”

“Yes?”

“Stencils for slogans.”

“Yes. Apparently.”

“Could that be something to do with terrorism?”

“No, that’s related to damage to property … the charge is of malicious damage to property.  At a time and place unknown.”

“With stencils?”

“With paint, Mr. O’Donnell. The stencils are used … sorry, could be used …. to spray slogans. The paint is difficult to clean off and often leaves a permanent stain. Or the cleaning agent does when people try to clean the paint off.”

“Oh, of course. I’m sure you’re quite right, Detective-Constable. But that is a relatively minor charge, surely? Compared to charges relating to terrorism?”

“People have a right to have their property protected. And nobody wants to live in an area covered in slogans, do they?”

“No, of course not. But why charge a terrorist – sorry, a suspected terrorist – who is already facing very serious charges …. why charge him with relatively minor charges? Oh! Wait! Could it be like a fall-back? So if the other charges don’t get proven, you can get him on at least something?”

Proctor is giving me a steely look.  “Mr.O’Donnell, as I said, it’s not my case and I really must go now. I have so much paperwork to catch up on.”

Stands up, walks to the door and opens it, the other arm kind of gathering me, herding me towards the door, even though I am still seated. I get up, collect my notes and put them away in my satchel. Then I pick up my coat and start to move towards the door.

“Thank you again, Detective-Constable. You really have been so helpful. Thank you. And ….”

He looks at me, one eyebrow raised.

“You be careful out there,” I say, looking at him sincerely, then walk out the door.

End

NB: The characters in this piece are fictional, except for the arrested person referred to, Stephen Murney, a Newry Republican political activist (member of éirigí). The charges mentioned and the material produced as evidence for the charges are as detailed. The date of his arrest and incarceration is also as related.  He was kept in jail without offer of bail for six months then offered it on condition of not residing in Newry where his family is and other restrictive conditions, including wearing a tag.  Eventually, a few weeks ago, with some charges dropped, he was released on bail to his home, without a tag but under curfew.  Yesterday, 24th February, he was cleared of all charges.  He had been 14 months in prison.