I don’t know if “enjoyed” is the right word, but last night’s RTÉ One programme on #partition, as part of the #DecadeofCentenaries, certainly made for satisfying viewing. Michael Portillo, who will be more familiar to many as a railway enthusiast than as a one-time prospective future leader of the UK Conservatives, was an engaging presenter, and weaved a path through the sometimes turgid and always complex and confusing events surrounding the partition of Ireland in 1921. There were contributions from many of those involved in securing the #GoodFridayAgreement, and some nice animations of #Parnell, #Redmond and others. The programme was admirably even-handed, and provided plenty of food for thought on the future of the island.
It was worth watching to the end, for the frisson in an otherwise cosy chat between Portillo and Gerry Adams. Adams asked Portillo – somewhat mischievously, as he put it himself – whether, if he had known then what he knew now, he might have done more to push for a settlement of “the Irish question” at an earlier stage. Portillo responded that the Major government had been the first to deal directly with the IRA, and noted, rather tartly, that he had got his start in politics by winning the seat left vacant following the killing (he had used the word “murder” at the start of the programme) of an MP in the IRA’s bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton. The exchange hung in the air a little. It summed up much of the recent history of these islands.
One of the most striking aspects of the programme was the almost complete absence of female voices – bar contributions from two distinguished female historians. This is not a criticism of the programme-makers, but a reflection of the reality of politics at that time: decisions were made by powerful men, who had been elected by other men; these decisions would affect the lives of men – and, almost incidentally, the other half of the population as well. You wonder whether, if women had been involved at all, the whole thing would have become quite such a mess as it did. In the end, women helped bring the thing back together: the peace movement, and the work of Mo Mowlam, come to mind. At least, in future, all the people of Northern Ireland, women and men, will have a say in the direction of the six counties.
In his new book #thepursuitofkindness, Éamonn Toland has much to say about the way in which women have been excluded from positions of power for much of human history. His research takes in #Hypatia and prehistoric cave-paintings along the way; there is a fascinating section on #witchcraft. He goes on to note how the world is changing, with female leaders often being far more successful in tackling the challenges of #covid than their male counterparts. Like Portillo’s programme, the book represents an important contribution to an ongoing debate.
The Pursuit of Kindness is available in all good bookshops in Ireland and the UK. You can find out more about it, and order a copy, here: