Far From As You Were

I bought the new Liam Gallagher album As You Were on I-Tunes recently. I’m a little behind the times that way. Believe it or not, I still download music. I guess I’ve always been a little old-fashioned in that respect. When CDs first came into vogue, I still had more than my fair share of cassette tapes. Then when CDs made way for the digital downloading miracle, my music collection was still littered with compact discs. I liked owning something physical, you see, plus CDS were always handy to play in the car. And now the whole world and his wife are streaming their music, I’m still downloading. Perpetually one step behind! Anyway, I digress. Liam’s new album?

Well, I never thought I’d say this, but it’s actually bloody good! The songs are wonderfully melodic and catchy; an obvious progression by the former Oasis front man from his previous incarnation as singer of Beady Eye. There’s an unapologetic, welcome rockiness about the record and it’s also a bit more diverse than I expected. And while the musical style is nothing we haven’t heard many times before from the Gallagher brothers, this album delivers in emphatic fashion, producing plenty of loud, anthemic moments.

As You Were  reflects a new maturity from the Oasis singer. Unfairly or not, Liam was seen in the past as the lighter of the Gallaghers. While older brother Noel was perceived as serious, introspective and deep, Liam tended to be viewed more glibly; shallow and frivolous in comparison. A tremendous front man certainly, but lacking the musical gifts of his songwriting brother. Well, even a cursory listen of As You Were forces us to rethink those preconceptions. Of course collaborators/writers were used, but Liam co-writes throughout the record. It’s a telling and productive contribution.

Wall of Glass, for example, is marvellous, if a little derivative. For What It’s Worth, meanwhile, is perhaps the album’s most talked about track. It’s a great tune and one I’ve found myself singing religiously in recent weeks. While the person (s) the song was written for is a matter of conjecture, the sincerity behind the lyrics is obvious.

Some critics have predictably highlighted the similarity with some Beatles’ songs (and indeed Oasis) but, honestly, what did they expect? This is a Liam Gallagher record! He was always going to pay homage. For anyone put off by such thoughts, don’t worry. Liam’s musical influences give a comforting familiarity to the album, but there’s enough freshness and originality to keep it interesting.

When all’s said and done, it’s hard not to see this record as a triumph. Regardless of how it performs from a commercial perspective, Liam has shown enough quality to make us all stand up and take notice. Which begs an obvious question, what does big brother Noel think of it all? In the years since Oasis split in 2009, Liam’s brother has largely kept his counsel and been considerably less vocal than his younger sibling.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that it hasn’t escaped his attention that Liam has produced a fine record, one worthy of his own exalted standards. For those hopeful souls who think recent events might at last presage an Oasis reunion, you only have to listen to interviews with both men to understand the obvious tension and antagonism that still exists. More relevant, though, is Liam’s emergence as a substantive artist in his own right. Who’d have thought it? In reassessing the Gallaghers’ respective strengths, there’s a chance we’ve been lauding the wrong brother all along.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

By Will Fresch [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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New Dawn As Tourists Flock

I had the pleasure of visiting Portrush recently. I’ve incredibly fond memories of the seaside town. My first holidays as a child were spent there and I’ve nothing but pleasant recollections of the place. Sun, sand, sea and amusements galore. That was the background to my childhood summers. Those were the days. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be! As well as childhood holidays, I’ve other, more recent memories of the resort. My wife and I spent our first weekend away together in Portrush seven years ago and last week we returned for a weekend away with our baby daughter. Wonderful memories.

We went off season and the weather was characteristically uncharitable, but we had a terrific weekend, enjoying the sights and sounds of the north coast. What I didn’t expect was how many others would make the same trip. The place was positively teeming with tourists. They were there in their droves: Americans, English, Antipodeans. You name it. Over the course of the weekend, we saw lots of golfers, bikers and holidaymakers who’d chosen to spend an early September weekend in Northern Ireland.

We even stumbled across that newest breed of holidaymaker: the Game of Thrones tourist! There were bus loads of them, from all corners of the globe. I must admit that I live in blissful ignorance of the ubiquitous Game of Thrones phenomenon. In fact, when I first saw people waxing lyrical about Jon Snow on social media, I thought they were referring to the popular Channel 4 newsreader! True story.

Nonetheless, it was great to see so many tourists making the journey. It was great to see them there, in tremendous spirits despite the often inclement weather. How times have changed. Like most of us, I remember the days when tourists in Northern Ireland were as rare as hen’s teeth. And in a strange way, we kind of liked those days. All our unheralded gems were ours alone and we didn’t have to share them with the rest of the world.

Of course visitors knew about the Giant’s Causeway and the Glens of Antrim but precious little else. Maybe that’s because in days gone by, there wasn’t much else! When I was growing up, Belfast, for example, did little to inform tourists of its links to the most famous ship ever to sail. However, these days we can encourage visitors with a world- leading Titanic visitor attraction and a luxury hotel.

Of course these changes are worthy of celebration. The benefits gleaned by the local economy are obvious and it’s imperative we make the most of the bounty. Tourists can go anywhere in the world but, increasingly, they’re coming here. We must ensure we give them something worth coming to. And, more importantly, we must give them a reason to return.

Northern Ireland’s new visitors are a sign of a society that’s normalising; that the outside world finally accepts there’s more to this place than the Troubles. As I’ve seen with my own eyes, the tourists are doing their bit. They’re responding to the glossy adverts. They’re coming. We must fulfil our side of the bargain by providing investment, infrastructure and world class facilities.

Ultimately, people vote with their feet. If they don’t like somewhere, they don’t return. This applies to tourist destinations as much as anything else. Weather aside, we live in a great country. Ireland is unquestionably one of the most beautiful places in the world. We’ve every reason to be proud of our home. And we should be grateful so many visitors want to see our sights for themselves. However, with increased interest comes a responsibility to deliver the goods.

The tourism and hospitality industry in Ireland has come in leaps and bounds in recent times but there’s still much to be done. In this ultra-competitive world, there’s no room for complacency. The south has led the way in showcasing our tremendous product to the rest of the world. And although we’re a bit further behind up north (for obvious reasons) we’re starting to catch up in terms of the massive potential that exists. I’m delighted to see so many tourists flocking to our weird and wonderful shores. Long may it continue. It’s vital we have the facilities and infrastructure to make the most of this precious gift.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

 

Does Stormont White Elephant Herald Post- Good Friday Agreement Era?

As I’m sure you know, I live in Northern Ireland. It’s a thoroughly unique and distinctive place. One of the most remarkable aspects of northern Irish life is that the region effectively has no government or administration at the moment. In fact, it currently has nothing that remotely resembles administrative efficacy. Since December last year, our government has been in a state of  semi-permanent hiatus, effectively suspended while the nominal partners in government (what a misnomer that is) embark on their latest round of bickering and accusation. Anyone who has the misfortune of following northern Irish politics with a degree of regularity will know that Stormont has become a by-word for stalemate and dysfunction; the power-sharing government and associated apparatus established by 1998’s Good Friday Agreement (GFA) have been fundamentally inoperable for some time.

So what, you might ask? Partnership governments and coalitions regularly fall apart all over the world as ideological differences and disputes prove discordant and intractable. Fair enough. What sets Northern Ireland apart is that our politicians can expect to be paid full, healthy salaries while they effectively sit on their hands and do nothing. And when I say nothing, that’s only a slight exaggeration. It’s a pretty good deal, isn’t it? And it’s us, the hard working taxpayers, who are subsidising the unjustifiable largesse and ostentation on the hill. I’ve a fair idea what would happen if I downed tools in my workplace and refused to do the job I was discharged to do. Different rules apply for Northern Ireland’s politicians, though. They’re able to make a virtue of continued inactivity, safe in the knowledge that their sizeable salaries will continue to be paid for the foreseeable future.

And, at the time of writing, there seems to be very little prospect of rapprochement  or accommodation. With two polarising elections in dangerously close proximity just ended, there seems little desire to get the exorbitant show back on the road. This ugly stalemate would be comical if the whole enterprise wasn’t so wasteful and lacking in everyday relevance. So, what happens if the circle isn’t squared? Direct Rule? More bloated and meaningless negotiations? Another bloody election? Each option carries inherent risk and danger.

What makes this impasse distinct from the countless others that have preceded it, is that it’s hard to see from where a potential breakthrough will come. Northern Ireland’s two largest parties-Sinn Féin and the DUP-appear further apart than ever and neither seem particularly vexed by the predicament they find themselves in. Indeed, some argue the parties stand to gain more by staying outside the Stormont executive while the messy melodrama that is Brexit plays out over the coming months and years.

Perhaps what we’re seeing is the emergence of a post-Good Friday Agreement era. The Agreement witnessed unprecedented euphoria and optimism throughout Ireland when talks were concluded nearly 20 years ago. Old enemies had sat down, talked (and listened) to each other and, against all the odds, hammered out a workable, if imperfect, compromise. Despite its obvious and fundamental flaws, the GFA was a valiant and venerable attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable and seemingly ushered in a new era of peace and mutual respect between the main traditions  in Ireland. The GFA’s primary attribute was that it offered something for everyone: the consent principle was enshrined for unionists, while nationalists were able to retain an aspiration for Irish unity within a new constitutional architecture that accentuated and augmented an all-Ireland dimension.

One of the primary criticisms of the GFA has always been that it institutionalised sectarianism; that instead of eradicating division it rather embraced political and religious difference and bestowed them with official blessing. Such critique is overly simplistic and ignores the laudable intentions behind the consociational ideals that underpin the GFA and its power-sharing structures.

After all, in a divided society that was emerging from a bitter and sinister sectarian conflict, it was inevitable that checks and balances were built into the new governmental architecture. One of the issues that’s hampered progress in the ensuing years  is that the GFA was predicated on perceived moderate parties (the Ulster Unionists and SDLP) leading the power-sharing administration and executive. And for the first few years of the executive’s existence, that’s exactly how it was.

However, these parties were soon completely and remorselessly usurped by their ambitious rivals in the DUP and Sinn Féin, who moved decisively to the centre and unashamedly stole their opponents’ clothes. With the UUP and SDLP at the helm, the GFA stood a fighting chance of being implemented and developed in the way its framers had originally intended. With  more polarised elements in control of the process, however, that original concept of shared government has proved much more elusive and challenging. No-one should be remotely surprised by this. A mandatory coalition comprised of sworn enemies pursuing  diametrically opposed agendas was always going to be a difficult edifice to maintain. It’s nothing short of a miracle, in fact, that the executive, under the DUP-Sinn Féin watch, lasted ten years before imploding amid acrimony and recrimination.

As precarious as Northern Ireland’s power-sharing structures undoubtedly are, we now have the destabilising influence of Brexit to add into this volatile mix. Presumably, the last thing unionist leaders and politicians wanted was the existential question of the Irish border brought to the fore in a meaningful way. And yet that’s what last June’s historic Brexit vote has done. Whatever else about the intentions of the negotiators behind the GFA, its structures certainly weren’t conceived to exist in an Ireland divided further by citizens within and without the European Union.

Indeed, one of the great selling points of the GFA was that it was to be guaranteed and stewarded by two sovereign governments, themselves inextricably linked and bound as partners within the EU. Instead, what Brexit is set to deliver is an Irish state firmly and comfortably within the EU sharing a lengthy and reinforced land border with a Northern Ireland that will be (despite the wishes of a majority of its citizens) outside the European Union; unable to avail of the protections and benefits afforded to member states. You don’t have to be Einstein to see the hornet’s nest that’s been opened up with regard to both Anglo-Irish relations and internal Irish politics.

While the exact effect of Brexit on Northern Irish politics remains to be seen (and indeed negotiated), the inert state of northern politics is altogether easier to discern. Inter-party relations are perilously close to rock bottom, cooperation has been rendered virtually obsolete, trust seems a foreign concept, compromise a dirty word, while mutual respect has been replaced by suspicion and ouright hostility. In all of this, the question arises: is Stormont worth putting back together? Do any of us actually benefit from the white elephant on the hill that’s taken inactivity and political vacuum to new levels?

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same activity or pattern repeatedly and expecting different results. So, all aboard the gravy train for another futile journey to nowhere? Perhaps that’s where we’re inevitably headed. Or maybe the parties have accepted that alternative solutions finally have to be considered in a post- GFA and post-Brexit era. If the main antagonists have had their fill of Stormont and want to explore new horizons, that’s a perfectly valid position. What’s obnoxious to many of us is that they continue to get paid for their lacklustre and listless efforts. The suspicion lingers that the current dynamic would swiftly change if MLA’s salaries were stopped or curtailed. For the increasingly small number of people who still value the Stormont farce, this could be their only hope.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

 

By http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertpaulyoung/ [CC BY 2.0 –Image Courtesy of Wikipedia (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Here come the girls!

It doesn’t generate the hype, profile and (if truth be told) over-exposure of the men’s equivalent but the Women’s Rugby World Cup kicked off this week. The tournament is being hosted in Ireland this time. I must admit that until recently I was an avowed sceptic of the women’s version of the game. Despite being a committed rugby fan, it wasn’t something that tickled my interest in a major way. I had watched a little in the past but hadn’t quite been converted. Therefore, I noted the comments made by ex-Ireland international flanker David Corkery with interest this week. For those who missed it, Corkery, as reported in the Irish Independent, said:

“Personally, I find watching the women’s game complicated and arduous to watch. I think we all partly watch rugby because of the physical battles it produces. The big hits, the powerful runs, the struggle at the scrum and so on, however I simply do not like watching ladies knocking lumps out of each other.”

Until recently, somewhat shamefully, I agreed with some of what David said.  I believed that although there was absolutely nothing wrong with women’s rugby-if ladies wanted to play the game, good luck to them-it wasn’t something that I found particularly appealing. However, with the World Cup having kicked off, I find myself thinking quite differently. Why shouldn’t the female version of the game receive the same support and backing as its male counterpart? Why should the girls accept a status as secondary and subservient to men’s rugby? Okay, the female game doesn’t generate anywhere near as much publicity or money as the male version but does that mean that it should be considered worthless, without merit? Of course not!

I haven’t watched a huge amount of women’s rugby in recent times, but the last time I viewed a game, I was blown away by the vast improvement in the standard of the rugby on offer. The skill levels were quite superb and the players certainly weren’t lacking in physicality or technical application either. It was a world away from the first few games I’d taken in many years ago when the women’s game was still very much in its infancy. In fact, I was extremely impressed and unquestionably entertained by the spectacle on display. Absolutely nothing secondary or inferior about it.

His views have been branded controversial, but does Corkery have a point? My former misgivings about the female game had nothing whatsoever to do with the gender of the participants. I certainly wasn’t being sexist. Like the former Irish international, I merely believed that a contact sport of such obvious attrition lent itself more to the male version of the game. That the ladies, as good as they obviously were, were unable to replicate the physical intensity and aggression that’s routinely seen in a men’s rugby match.

Based on recent evidence, I’m more than happy to admit that I was wrong.  Women’s Rugby is on a definite upward curve in terms of skill and interest, as the substantial crowds have testified this week. The fans wouldn’t be coming in their droves if the standard wasn’t excellent. Women’s Rugby has indeed arrived and its emergence is a tremendous credit to everyone involved. The product may differ slightly from what punters are used to, but it undoubtedly has much to offer. Indeed, like tennis, it can be the variances that make us enjoy the sports even more. Vive La Difference! 

Despite the undoubted spectacle on offer, there’s another reason to support the Women’s Rugby World Cup. With Ireland’s bid for RWC 2023 still under consideration by World Rugby, a successful tournament can only work in the country’s favour. With everything still to play for, there’s a real incentive for Irish rugby to show the world what a wonderful job it can do. We all know about Irish hospitality, infrastructure, organisation and, of course, our wonderful fans. In Ireland, we don’t just believe, we know that we have the tools and resources to host a major international sporting event. But it’s not enough to say it. Much better to demonstrate our aptitude to as wide an audience as possible. If Ireland manage to secure the rights to host RWC 2023, the next couple of weeks could be crucial in the mission. Another reason to cheer loudly for our ladies. Here come the girls. Come on Ireland!!

On a completely unrelated note, events last week reminded me of some of the discussions I had while Donald Trump was running for the presidency. Whenever I expressed concern over a potential Trump victory and what that might mean for global relations, I recall a lot of people reassuring me: “Don’t worry, he’s very insular and isolationist by inclination.” Well, it doesn’t seem to be working out like that! Here’s hoping that cool heads prevail in this latest, unnecessary showdown. We elect our leaders to lead, to demonstrate calm, considered and reflective authority. To deescalate conflict and tension. They’re privileged to serve us. With that honour comes a massive responsibility. It’s about time they showed it!

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

Image courtesy of Wikipedia: By Pierre-Selim Huard (Self-photographed) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

File:2014 W6N - France vs Italy - 5652.jpg

The Sky’s The Limit?

“When all else fails, there’s always delusion.” I heard this quote recently (I can’t remember exactly where) and thought it was rather wonderful. It’s so true. When every tactic, strategy and carefully thought out plan has been exhausted and proved ineffective, there’s always a guaranteed fall back. Pretend that everything’s alright and convince all and sundry-yourself included-that your analysis is correct. It’s fool proof. A brilliant coping mechanism that can be applied to any scenario or circumstance.

I thought of the saying when learning of Sky Sports’ latest re-brand. For those who missed it, the traditional Sky Sports channels have been replaced by more bespoke versions-Sky Football, Sky Cricket, Sky F1, Sky Golf and a couple of miscellaneous sports channels. It’s an interesting gimmick and something that’s actually quite novel in this part of the world. One can understand the appeal for those besotted aficionados who can’t get enough of their chosen sport. A potential game changer in every sense of the term. It feels like this is a critical moment for the once unimpeachable Sky Sports brand. Satellite t.v.’s premier sports station is facing stiff and unprecedented competition from ambitious rival BT Sports, who are relentlessly going after Sky in the world of football rights and have just snatched exclusive rights to rugby’s Champions Cup from their more established competitor.

Changed times indeed for Rupert Murdoch’s flagship station. I’m old enough to remember when Sky first emerged as major players in the sports market over 25 years ago. There was widespread dismay in the football world when the young, upstart company- as it was then- secured exclusive rights to the newly formed F.A. Premier League. It was indeed an impressive coup and one that firmly cemented Sky’s reputation as major players in the sports business. And how the t.v. establishment fretted. How would fans cope when deprived of terrestrial coverage of major sporting events? How could the emergent station emulate the charm and experience the Beeb and ITV brought to the biggest sporting occasions?

However, all those unfounded fears and worries ebbed away when Sky’s groundbreaking Premier League coverage commenced in the early ’90s. Armchair fans the world over were quite simply blown away by Sky’s unique and inventive coverage. For not only did Sky do sports coverage bigger, they did it better. It didn’t matter what your sport of interest was, Sky had you covered. Football, rugby, cricket, boxing. Sky slowly and steadily secured the key rights to the events that really mattered and then proceeded to fill their ultra-modern studios with the best pundits each sport had to offer. The formula was simple but it was supremely effective. It wasn’t just that Sky was ahead of the game. It was the game.

We know how it ended, but think of the glory days of Sky Sports with Richard Keys and Andy Gray fronting Sky’s glossy and informative football coverage. But it wasn’t just football that saw Sky push the boundaries. They had the best pundits and analysts across the board-Stuart Barnes in rugby, Barry McGuigan in boxing, David Gower and Ian Botham in cricket. The deep, perceptive analysis was complemented by cutting edge technology that served to enhance and improve the viewer experience beyond anything hitherto seen. So, why the change?

Certainly, from a fans’ perspective, there’s a feeling that Sky has lost its way a little. As well as the fierce competition from the brash BT Sports machine referenced above, Sky is struggling to retain a more fickle, modern audience whose attention span has never been shorter. We’re living in a world full of plentiful distractions and consumers often don’t have the time to absorb t.v. sport in the vast quantities consumed in days gone by. In the era of Netflix, Box Sets and streaming, it’s hard not to see the Sky Sports model as being a little out-of–date.

Sky’s current malaise is illustrated by its muddled and often eccentric rugby coverage. Rugby on Sky used to be magnificent, boasting intelligent, informed analysis by some of the game’s foremost thinkers. Sky still have the best pundits rugby has to offer but they increasingly choose to use them in a very unorthodox fashion. Take the recent Lions tour. With proper analysis increasingly cut short, punters were treated instead to bizarre, scripted monologues from Will Greenwood and Scott Quinnell.

You know the sort of thing. These dramatic, rehearsed speeches have been part of the Sky rugby landscape for some time but the Lions series saw these skits taken to a whole new level. Surely there can’t be much demand for these distractions? They’re so unnecessary. Greenwood and Quinnell are both likeable, vastly experienced rugby men and have so much to offer in terms of insight. It’s such a pity that their undoubted talents are being wasted through these annoying sideshows.

Rugby on Sky was once one of my foremost pleasures in life but I find myself increasingly turned off by the direction its coverage is going. I say all this as a confirmed and established fan of Sky. Despite a legion of reasons to do it, I just can’t bring myself to cancel my subscription. In my view, the Sky platform is still light years ahead of its rivals. They are still the leaders and standard bearers in this competitive and dynamic industry. No other channel-BT, Channel 5, ITV-no-one- can hold a candle to Sky in terms of output, quality, production values and the sheer breadth of coverage.

And although not every gimmick works, they are still the innovators. What’s more, while Sky might not be as weighty as it used to be, it’s still the fans’ best bet when looking for informed and clever commentary. Who knows if the re-brand will achieve what the station wants it to, but I, for one, wish them all the best. Sky’s change of emphasis indicates that sport’s premier station has no intention of falling for delusion. It remains to be seen if the changes persuade viewers to keep their remote controls from surfing.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpey

Stalemate in Auckland

It all felt a bit flat, didn’t it? The Lions and the All Blacks tied up an enthralling series yesterday in a tense and gripping final showdown. 15 points apiece meant the protagonists couldn’t be separated in both yesterday’s game and the overall series. The acute sense of anti-climax and dissatisfaction was seen in the body language of the players at the end. Nobody was sure how to react.

A draw is indeed the most unsatisfactory outcome in rugby. Even if your side loses, the contest has been a success and the other team can celebrate their win. However, when the contest has been rendered obsolete by frustrating stalemate, neither side can take anything from it. Quite simply, there’s nothing to celebrate. If the Lions had lost yesterday, we’d still have witnessed scenes of delirium, as victorious All Blacks celebrated a hard earned victory. Similarly, if the Lions had prevailed, the players and fans would be celebrating a truly historic win. What we saw instead was something much more hollow and empty.

Despite the palpable sense of disappointment, the 2017 Lions can look back on this series with immense pride. In the midst of regret over a series win that got away, it’s easy to forget just how universally written off  the Lions were before they started their odyssey six weeks’ ago. Prior to kick off, most pundits and commentators were predicting a 3-0 whitewash for the All Blacks. Even the most optimistic of Lions’ fans-myself included-argued that the best Gatland’s tourists could hope for was a 2-1 series defeat. A drawn series is actually a phenomenal achievement, therefore.

Head coach Warren Gatland has been completely vindicated in his selections and decisions. The unfortunate “Geography Six” episode aside, the Lions’ coach has been brilliant throughout this unforgiving tour. It takes a certain type of character and personality to succeed in something as complex and onerous as a Lions tour. There are few enterprises in life where virtually everything is set up for you to fail. A  Lions tour to New Zealand is one such arduous and relentless task. The first thing the tourists had to win, therefore, was the respect of their merciless hosts. They did that and then some. The Lions’ coach was depicted in the New Zealand press as a clown, but the Waikato man has proved yet again what a formidable and smart operator he is.

And how his players have blossomed. The likes of Liam Williams, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly have delivered in exhilarating fashion on this tour. What’s more, in Maro Itoje, we’ve seen the emergence of a genuine superstar. Others will feel aggrieved and hurt at their lack of involvement, but that’s the nature of it. You see it on every tour. However, the perception, from the outside at any rate, is that this has been a happy, well managed tour. Gatland’s squad has got the balance right between paying respect to the locals, enjoying their surroundings and getting serious about the rugby when it really mattered. There were very few rumbles of discontent-a sure sign of a happy touring party.

But Gatland’s achievement is about much more than a drawn Test series. The under-fire Lions’ brand has been strengthened and renewed to an almost immeasurable extent. For this much cherished concept to remain relevant in the professional era, the team has to win Tests. The entire viability of the concept is questioned otherwise. Given the fact that everything is set up for the Lions to fail, consider this. Of their last seven tests, the tourists have won four, drawn one and lost two. That’s a remarkable record!

It must be remembered that this was an organisation in dire need of revival following Clive Woodward’s misadventure of 2005. The recovery in the ensuing 12 years has been nothing short of amazing. And the primary architect of the turnaround has been Warren Gatland, head coach for the last two tours and Ian McGeechan’s chief assistant in 2009. He should be extremely proud of his efforts. More than anything, the 2017 tour proves that the Lions are in great shape.

In recent times, the Lions have been subjected to selfish attacks from ignorant charlatans who care nothing for history, tradition and respect. Sadly, there are many vested interests who’d be more than happy to see the Lions retreat forever into the history books. While that can’t be allowed to happen, the attackers are picking a fight they can’t win. Anyone who’s watched over the last six weeks has seen a brand that is vibrant, modern and ultra successful. An organisation that cherishes its wonderful history but is wholly relevant in the elite world of modern professional sport. From strength to strength. Roll on South Africa. The British and Irish Lions are alive and well!

By Dyfsunctional at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

 

A Perspective on Brexit: 12 months on

Following the United Kingdom’s historic vote to leave the European Union just over a year ago, I wrote “Brexit: A Sleep Walk into Disaster.” You can read it here . A year on from the most unexpected and significant vote in my lifetime, it’s appropriate to return to this polarising subject. Now that Article 50 has been invoked by Westminster and Brexit negotiations have commenced in earnest, there’s no turning back. The divorce papers have been served, the lawyers have been instructed and all that remains (pardon the pun) is to hammer out the details of a potentially bitter and acrimonious deal. If that sounds unduly bleak, it’s nevertheless an accurate representation of the volatile times we’re living in. We’re deep into uncharted territory. Britain’s exit was always likely to be messy.

The highly charged and febrile atmosphere has only been heightened, of course, by yet another political miscalculation by a Conservative leader. A year has passed and we’ve been subjected to another unnecessary and unhelpful vote inspired by a misplaced sense of Tory arrogance. Incredibly, Theresa May, having initially indicated that her government would last its full term, made the catastrophic decision to ape her predecessor in calling a vote that a clear majority neither wanted or needed. As far as political miscalculations go, May’s volte face wasn’t far behind Cameron’s in terms of futility and ineptitude. The thought process was clear. Britain’s premier evidently believed that Jeremy Corbyn was too weak to mount any sort of credible challenge and that an enhanced parliamentary majority was virtually assured.

It sounded plausible enough but it didn’t quite work out like that. Corbyn proved much more durable and popular than May imagined and the Tory leader ended up losing her Westminster majority rather than augmenting it. Just like 2010, the UK was left with that most undesirable of electoral outcomes-a hung parliament. However, the context had changed so much in the intervening years that a desperate May was forced to turn to some unlikely and unorthodox allies to shore up her ailing administration. There were many Tories who’d been aghast with the Clegg coalition in 2010, but last month’s general election heralded an even more unlikely alliance. This time, the Conservatives didn’t turn to the Liberals for support but  Northern Ireland’s deeply contentious Democratic Unionist Party. Yikes!

Hardly the strong and stable environment we were promised for the critical Brexit negotiations. It’s all a bit of a mess, isn’t it? And the early indications emanating from Brussels are that the discussions are going to be far from cosy and straightforward. The contrasting mood music from the competing participants is instructive, to say the least. While Britain’s negotiators have been at pains to seem all sweetness and light over the last year, Brussels’ approach seems altogether less accommodating. The British have seemed keen to present themselves as bastions of accommodation and compromise, while their EU counterparts have adopted an altogether stricter tone. All or nothing seems to be the essence of the EU’S position; as negotiators have been queuing up to tell the British that they can’t merely cherry pick the parts of EU membership that are most advantageous to them and ignore everything else. It’s not quite hard ball, but European politicians and negotiators are understandably loath to hand Britain’s leavers their wish list on a plate. Why rush to settle when you hold all the aces? Did anyone honestly think it was going to be any other way?

One might feel more sorry for May and her government if the wounds weren’t so obviously self-inflicted and avoidable. Britain’s prime minister now faces the toughest task of all: steering the UK through a time of unprecedented instability when the whole world must appear resolutely set against her. Attempting all this with no parliamentary majority and having been thrust into an arranged marriage with the unappealing DUP must be an extremely lonely place to be. How unnecessary this predicament was. If Cameron had only backed the courage of his convictions and stood up to his internal dissenters by trying to reform the EU from within, this whole unsavoury mess could have been avoided. Alas, that ship has long since sailed and we’ve all been subjected to crippling uncertainty and political chaos as a consequence.

A year ago I wrote about the law of unintended consequences and the period post the Brexit referendum has illuminated my point. While it didn’t take a clairvoyant to see that Brexit had the potential to unsettle the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom, few could have predicted the remarkable way in which the Brexit vote has rekindled the debate on Irish reunification. Prior to June 23rd last year, the whole concept of Irish political unity (as it’s historically been understood) was completely off the agenda in any real and current sense. Even Sinn Féin seemed more than comfortable in their place atop Stormont’s power-sharing pyramid.

The Brexit referendum has changed that dynamic inexorably. For the first time in a generation, the Irish unity debate is firmly back on the agenda in a meaningful way. And a majority of unionists supported Brexit? Indeed, were the referendum to be reprised tomorrow, most of them would still vote exactly the same way. Maybe it makes sense to them! How Ireland will fare in negotiations is uncertain but there is no doubt that the Brexit discussions will shape Ireland’s political future in a profound way. Whether it’s hard or soft, centred on land or at sea, the Irish border is set for its biggest shake up since its creation in 1922. How the hastily arranged DUP-Tory love-in will affect these seminal issues is anyone’s guess.

The recent plethora of elections has left many cold and apathetic about Brexit and the immediate future. Increasing numbers are turning off politics. It’s easy, of course, to see European political machinations as remote and impersonal. But something extraordinarily significant and fundamental is happening over the next couple of years. And we all have a stake in it. It’s no exaggeration to state that the world as we know it is being turned on its head. Old certainties and ideologies are threatened as a new political order and arrangement presents itself. Maybe it will all work out okay in the end but nothing should be taken for granted. Everything is on the table and  it’s possible that the UK and Europe will  change dramatically over the next decade on the back of the landmark Brexit negotiations. The stakes have never been higher. I guess that’s what happens when you make yourself an unnecessary hostage to fortune. Strap yourselves in. We could be in for a very bumpy ride.

 

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey