The home truths about 
our political la-la-laughing stock

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We in Northern Ireland are in the eye of another election storm. The pre-poll cat-and-dog fights on television have shown that nothing has changed; we are hurtling (yet again) like lemmings towards the precipice of division where democracy perishes.

It’s a political ‘La la land’. We’re a la-la-laughing stock, like the Hollywood Oscars fiasco on Monday night, when the over-hyped musical was awarded the ‘best picture’ Oscar (OOPS!) only to have it snatched away. The accountants in charge of the envelopes got it spectacularly wrong. “Sorry – we meant to say ‘Moonlight’.” La-la-laugh? I nearly died.

(By the way, did you know that the great actress Bette Davis claimed responsibility for calling the Academy Awards ‘Oscars’? She said that, on receipt of her first one – for ‘Dangerous’ in 1936 – the statuette looked, from the rear view, like her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson’s posterior. Much doubt has been cast, though, on the Davis theory. Maybe it was a bum steer.

‘Moonlight’ is a homely tale about sex, colour (or ‘color’ as they mis-spell it in America), drugs and what-have-you. (Not a ‘Jackanory’ type offering). Apparently, it’s a totally politically correct movie, unlike NI’s political crackpots; their performances (especially on BBCni) show that the Good Friday Agreement turned out to be something of a waste of paper and ink. Orange-Green still reigns supreme.

On ‘The Nolan Show’ last Thursday, it was a contest of who could shout the loudest (my vote goes to Nolan) and on ‘The View’ the previous week, former First Minister Arlene Foster was shouted into submission by the interviewer, but maintained dignity. She was scarcely allowed to complete an answer, which is often the norm among the inflated egos of the Beeb. The shining exception is Karen Atkinson of ‘Good Morning Ulster’, who asks pointed questions but gives her subjects the chance to answer.

Enough, though, of politicians and the way they shame the province. Let’s concentrate on the positive. Our own Gloria Hunniford was positively positive about Northern Ireland in general and her native Portadown in particular, on the BBC’s national morning show, ‘Britain’s Home Truths’.

Gloria is a mid-septuagenarian. She isn’t as fast on her feet as in her tennis days, but the grey cells are as sharp as ever. ‘Truths’ saw her back in her home town, retracing her steps to Granny McCann’s cottage at Selshion Moss – where much butter-dripping soda bread was created on the griddle – and to her home at Armagh Road.

Gloria’s mother May was a whizz at baking; her dad Charlie (an ad man with Morton Newspapers, a pigeon fancier and a talented magician) introduced her to the local showbiz circuit. She relived those halcyon days when she interviewed the current owner of the Selshion homestead, John Breen, as well as Dean Wright, a fifth-generation farmer embracing modern methods. Both did the town much credit.

The programme also recalled Gloria’s post-Portadown life in Hillsborough; she admired the all-our-yesterdays Ulster Folk Museum at Cultra, where she spoke to various experts, and carried out an interview beside Scrabo Tower. She told social historian Dr Gillian McIntosh, “I believe the views from the top (122 steps up) are stunning, but I ain’t going up there!”

It showed how life had rolled full circle and that Gloria has never forgotten her ‘roots’. She “filled up a bit” when she recalled those days in Portadown. Granny McCann, mum May, dad Charlie and sister Lena are no longer with us, and, most heart-breaking of all, was the death of daughter Caron Keating (from breast cancer in 2004 at the age of 41).

Back to politics (sorry!). My first professional contacts with Gloria were at some election count or other at Portadown Town Hall, where she was working for the BBC. (She rarely interrupts while interviewing…)

I believe it was the first election (1973) to Craigavon Borough Council, a group which wasn’t exactly a shining example of power-sharing or co-operation during its 40 years or so. I’ve remained in good old Portadown through all those years, and this week will be in at my umpteenth election count - local, provincial and Westminster elections.

Things are unlikely to change much after the last vote is counted. You can almost certainly count on that.

But Gloria’s little gem of a programme gave us a sentimental insight into how things used to be and how they could have been, if only politicians had shown more flexibility and common sense, and tiresome shows like Nolan and The View could report on NI moving forward, instead of remaining anchored in the past.

And to think that pundits are talking about the possibility of another election in another three weeks… What a prospect.