Finally, I managed to catch Question Time last week. It came from the Northern Irish city of Newry in County Down. Newry is a charming place set in a wondrous, sadly underrated, landscape. Close to my heart, it’s from Newry and thereabouts that my mum and her family come from and I spent a lot of happy time there as a child. I have so many fond memories of an amazing place and friendly people.
Northern Ireland is a beautiful part of these islands and yet so firmly associated with only one thing in the popular consciousness. It’s very unfair nowadays that the ‘the troubles‘ (a superb and yet also annoying euphemism) still loom so large still. Frankly, you’re at more risk of danger on a Saturday night at chucking out time in just about any town or city you can think of these days than you are from terrorism in Northern Ireland.
And what has this got to do with Question Time? Everything. It didn’t have the fun of Tony Benn or Ken Clarke but it really showed how much the political landscape has changed in the past decade or so. Sinn Fein, DUP and SDLP members joshed and battled as they should but with generosity and great humour. There was some rather touching teasing between opponents too that might previously have been thought unthinkable. It reminded me that there’s nothing in the water in those six counties of Ulster* that make Northern Ireland that means the residents don’t share the impish sense of humour that the Irish are rightly famous for.
There were only a few references to ‘the troubles’ and that’s great. It was business as usual. When the talk is about education, health and social security and not bombs, I’m happy. We’ve come so far and it feels so good. Let’s never go back.
*Yup, I know Ulster has nine counties. But as I say, only six make up Northern Ireland. And just because I didn’t mention that, doesn’t mean I don’t know it.