Archive for September 17th, 2005

Gerry Fitt

I found an interesting counterpoint to the empty posturing of the Hitchens-Galloway encounter in last night’s BBC1 programme of Gerry Fitt.

By the time I had any knowledge of politics beyond being able to identify Maggie Thatcher the Milk Snatcher, Gerry Fitt had already lost his Westminster seat to Gerry Adams. To be honest, if a month ago you had shown me a photo of him I wouldn’t have recognised him. I had, however, listened to the godawful Spitting Politics tapes that used to circulate some years back, so when I watched last night’s programme I was able to judge the accuracy of the impersonation. From reading the numerous obituaries, I was also able to understand the references to gin contained in the tapes.

One television programme and a couple of obituaries are hardly enough to form a fair idea of the man. But from listening to the interviews, I was struck by how his speech and manner – not only his accent, but how he talked about Northern Ireland politics – were far removed from the polish applied by most Northern politicians today.

One of the contributors remarked how Fitt used the presence of television cameramen at civil rights demonstrations to highlight to the wider world the injustices that beset Catholics in Northern Ireland. Another scene featured him showing his coat that had been stained in blood at one of these demonstrations, as a memento of the brutality that had been displayed.

Yet despite these examples of his willingness to use the media, from what I could observe there was an openness, perhaps verging on naivety, in how he allowed himself to be captured on camera. This was in contrast with Ian Paisley, who has always seemed to have a natural flair for public appearance and spectacle.

There are surely few politicians nowadays who would allow themselves to be photographed, as he was, standing alone, with his briefcase in the living room his burnt out home. Contemporary politicians, would be aware of the angle, the light, and of what the image could mean to the public. The photograph, stark and desolate, appeared to say something deeper about the man’s political position.

Similarly, contemporary politicians would be wary about taking out clothes caked in blood from years back to put on display. No-one likes being associated with blood these days. Besides, the cut of a suit from 1983 could look rather dated in 2005. Among other things, it would mean you had a past. It was particularly poignant, then, to hear him talk about how those who had burnt out his house had gone through his wedding photographs and ripped them one by one. It seemed to me to symbolise how the Northern conflict had effaced so much personal history.

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September 2005