Thursday, September 23, 2004

If it's Thursday, we must be neutral

We suppose that if one is determined, it's possible to find links between any two news items, no matter how disparate. So today's offering in that genre is prompted by the latest twist in the UK-US hostage crisis in Iraq. As widely reported, the two American hostages have already been murdered, and the sequence of events shows that the kidnappers' bloodlust is not clouding a very calculated attempt to strain the UK-US alliance -- at the level of public opinion rather than amongst the political leadership.

Anyway, the latest twist is the revelation today that the British hostage, Kenneth Bigley, has a claim to Irish citizenship because his mother is Irish. It is thought that this may help his case with the kidnappers. Upon seeing this, we were reminded of the amazing life story of Margaret Kelly, who died aged 94 last week. As all the obituaries explained, besides being the matron of the Paris dancing girls phenomenon, she and her Jewish husband had some very tricky scrapes in Occupied France.

Because she had grown up in Liverpool, she was interned as a British citizen until the Irish Ambassador got her out, by virtue of her birth in Ireland. She then paid bribes to keep her husband's identity concealed until the end of the Occupation. And in the same genre of story, but with a less ominous downside, is the case of Spike Milligan and his rescue from documentation oblivion by his Irish father.

So let's hope something similar works for Ken Bigley. But there is a problem. The presumption behind this new ray of hope is that the kidnappers won't see the Irish Republic as part of the coalition. But leaving aside any other issue, that's going to depend on their standards for coalition participation. Because in fact the Republic severely skirted its traditional neutrality policy by allowing Shannon airport to be used as a transit point for the US military. It's still going on. As we noted over a year ago, it seems that we were part of the Coalition list maintained in Colin Powell's head. We wonder if this is what it will take to bring home to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that his talent for obfuscation, which so often seemed to be an electoral virtue, does have a cost.

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