So, Fr Martin Magill and I had our six minute of fame on The View, on BBCNI, last night. How was that? Well, The View is the one political show that I watch every week and almost fan-like I enjoyed being a fly on the wall and watching it happen.
Was I happy with our contribution and what would I have said had I had an input into the questions we were asked?
Let me answer both those questions in what follows. I think there are three different audiences that Fr Martin and I were trying to reach last night.
Mark Carruthers suggested that we were on The View as a follow up to Ian Paisley Jr’s warm tribute to Martin McGuinness, on the previous week’s programme, and his comment that the public were further down the road than the politicians.
I think that we can stop right there to get a clue as to how to change the political landscape in Northern Ireland. One short interview was so strange, or so imaginatively alternative, that we are still talking about it a week later. Mark confirmed that it was the most viewers The View ever got. Somebody do the analysis. People want something different. People respond to grace and warmth.
Grace is the name of the article that journalist Eamonn Mallie wrote that has been talked about in the same sentence as Paisley’s interview. Mallie’s piece has had immense traction on social media and I have heard it quoted in lectures, sermons, press articles and everyday conversation.
To me, friends in journalism - you have the power to change the conversation. The choosing of the right voices can contribute to a sea change. Ben Okri has written “To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself. Beware of the storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art.” I believe that journalists, like our storytellers, could learn from Okri. We all need to heed him!
When Mark Carruthers moved across the table to Deirdre Heenan and Newton Emerson, after our contribution, the cynicism was palpable. Deirdre looked a little sorry for us in our naivety. Newton called it “wishy washy” because it didn’t criticise Unionism.
Well, first Newton, none of the questions asked us a question that would have caused such a response and therefore second, and maybe more important, you seem to have judged us before we even spoke.
There is nothing wishy washy about seeking to mobilise the 45% who didn’t vote last time. There is nothing wishy washy about optimism. There is something debilitating with cynicism, whether it is cynicism of what a politician says when it is not the default or what Christian leaders have to say… bless our wee prayerful souls!
Journalists. Please see the power you have for change.
Ian Paisley Jr’s good wishes towards Martin McGuinness and suggestion that politicians need to move on has been welcomed by the public. Oh conspiracy theories abound because we actually cannot accept what we most like to see - grace - but whatever his motivation it is the talk of the town.
Is there a lesson to our politicians that we want more of such interruptions of the norm. Grace is an interrupter. Against the run of play. That is where grace has its tender but robust punch! It breaks into how it is with how it could be.
Politicians we need more of it. The public will waken up to such a difference. There are 45% of voters out there to be tapped. Reach out to them by giving yourselves the respect so that you might win the respect of the public instead of the disrespect they have for you right now. You work hard enough to deserve a better press!
Be brave! Show humility, vulnerability, grace, humanity and hope!
The voter is where the power lies but it does not lie in not voting. Being disillusioned with politics has a harmful effect on our society. Not voting is not a constructive choice. We have watched the surprising impact of the votes of 2016. No one expected Brexit. Nor Trump. Such seismic change could happen in our Local Assembly Elections… if in my opinion in a more positive way!
As I said last night, I no longer believe that reconciliation is going to drip down from the hill at Stormont. The power for change will have to creep up from the ground.
When Mark Carruthers talked last night about politicians going to the public with their policies I think he got it wrong. Most parties will bypass the public and go straight to their limited, but voting, support groups; the same old, same old who always vote for them.
The power to change lies with the wider public, the voter who does not usually vote or is not in a hard line camp. If the politicians in rooms this week, trying to work out how to get the vote, thought that 45% of voters would get off the sofa to vote if they put reconciliation higher up their manifesto or spoke more civil to each other on The View then change might be forced upon them. At the moment they can rely and hope that 45% stay at home. It makes their job easier and our future more of the same.
There has been some serious mistakes or even scandals at Stormont. That needs sorted for sure. There are some hard line attitudes that need melting too.
However, I have a high regard for many of our politicians. They do a tough job. They work hard. The public does not see what they do in the offices and committee rooms at Stormont or out in their constituencies day in and day out. They have given themselves a bad press by what they say to the press. However, I honestly believe that if the voting public gave them the groundswell of support to make a change they would be less fearful to do the courageous things.
There will be enough time for cynicism after March 2nd. Let us be hopeful and positive until then… and indeed even in response to whatever happens then. Let us take Eamonn Mallie’s grace and Ian Paisley Jr’s belief that we have moved on and ask more of our politicians. Let us dream… and ask… and vote for a better future…
I can just see Newton’s patronising wee smirk…
Fr Martin and my contribution to the civic conversation is best seen through the 4 Corners Festival (Feb 3rd-12th) which got good coverage last night on The View. Thank you to The View team for the invitation and welcome... and the make up!