Condemned to repeat history, even if you remember it

Robert Gabriel Mugabe, president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, sits in the Plenary Hall of the United Nations (UN) building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 12th African Union (AU) Summit.

Robert Mugabe: a guard of honour, no less

YOU know you’re getting old when… OK, you know you’re getting old when your response to the sight of your face in the mirror is, “Christ, when did that happen?” But you get another hint when they release the state papers under the 30-year rule and you can remember it all.

There’s Robert Mugabe, three years into his term and still regarded as an African hero, coming to dinner with Garret FitzGerald and getting a guard of honour if you don’t mind. There’s Mrs Thatcher being re-elected on the back of the Falklands War and spreading despair all about her, like a dementor. There’s the broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin – the 1980s equivalent of the Taoiseach bringing up Northern Bank every time Gerry Adams gets to his feet in Dáil Éireann. There’s all that fuss about condoms.

Then there are the events that make you feel not just old but jaded. There’s that ghastly 1983 abortion referendum. There’s a boyish Alan Dukes trying to control exchequer borrowing and public sector pay. There’s Ian Paisley, in a previous incarnation of the Northern Ireland Assembly. There’s the German chancellor lamenting Ireland’s “irrational” fondness for neutrality. There’s Garret again, agreeing to ban Aeroflot temporarily from Shannon after the Soviets shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007.

Abortion, government debt, the North, European meddling in our sovereignty, and the use of Shannon as a diplomatic sop to the Americans. Still, after 30 years. Is it any wonder people start looking a bit tired after the first few decades?


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 29 December 2013