October 23, 2015

The Garden Centre Prod explained



I am a self-professed garden centre protestant. I wrote about my trip to the Féile an Phobail as a garden centre prod. The Irish historian Roy Foster said Professor Paul Bew coined the term. He didn't in fact. The neologism was the creation of Ms. Bew, i.e. professor Greta Jones.

For the etymology of 'Garden Centre Prod', Professor Greta Jones explains:
"In spite of what you might have heard to the contrary, it was I who invented this term. 
It described a good natured elderly protestant who had interrrupted his work in his garden one sunny day to phone up ‘Talk Back’. This gentleman was intelligent. He certainly would not regard himself as other than a person who took an interest in politics and he had no ambitions to do other than as Voltaire said 'cultivate his garden.’ His contribution was eminently sensible; strong unionist who distinguished his politics from his religion and wanted no man to be excoriated, pushed about or generally discommoded. However he did believe in the union and its defence. 
This person was meant to represent the views of many largely a-political members of the Northern Ireland community. 
He ended his contribution by saying 'I’ve got to get back to my wee flowers now’. He was obviously picking up the programme on a transistor in his garden and I surmised that a trip to the garden centre was probably next on his list of 'things to do’. 
When my husband [Professor Paul Bew] got home I told him about this useful, productive and non sectarian believer in the union and called him 'a garden centre prod.’ 
What this person was not - and since the word became current many have made him out to be so to my great irritation - was a wishy washy liberal, a member of Alliance party or the woman’s coalition. A 'plague on both your houses’ individual or any of the self appointed reconcilers or 'splitters down the middle’ whose contribution to the resolution of this problem are debatable; though there may have been points on which he agreed with these parties.”
Professor Paul Bew added ironically:
"After this when going to garden centres with my wife [aka Professor Greta Jones] I would carefully study the faces and mood of the Sunday crowds with a view to seeing the debate within the unionist community on the talks process leading to the Good Friday Agreement was going and indeed their mood after. I am not at all sure how scientific my intense observations were but this is where the 'Garden Centre Prod’ came from and both Henry Patterson and myself began to use it in our journalism a fair bit of the time."
Henry Patterson wrote:
"All told, there is no sign of the mythical ‘garden centre Prod’, saviour of liberal Unionism."
Andrew Johnson wrote in Socialist Democracy:
"Professor Paul Bew himself of course drifted rightwards with time, and, as Dean Godson points out in the Spectator (24 February 2007), in the late 1980s he became fascinated with the “Garden Centre Prod”, who supposedly epitomised a huge middle ground between Paisleyism and the Alliance Party. The “Garden Centre Prods” could, in Bew’s opinion, be shaken out of their apathy and mobilised into a serious modernising force, if only given some leadership. And he came to identify this modernising leadership in the unlikely figure of David Trimble. Once Trimble, in his post-Drumcree flush of popularity, had gained the UUP leadership in 1995, Bew soon drifted into his kitchen cabinet, a motley assortment of characters including veteran gay rights activist Jeff Dudgeon and former IRA informer Sean O’Callaghan. As for the idea that Trimble represented a modernising force, something all these oddballs seemed to believe, the splits in the post-Good Friday UUP and its eventual eclipse by Paisley would seem to draw a line under that idea. In fact, if the election results are anything to go by, the Garden Centre Prod is very happy with DUP leadership. 
But the debacle of Trimbleism has barely slowed Bew down. He has continued as a popular pundit, regularly commenting on the North on TV and radio, and in the press. His political judgements – and his long-term attempts to provide an intellectual veneer for first the Stickies and then Trimble surely call those into question – are less important for the media than his ability to put forward a plausible and learned soundbite. He continues to grouse about how Blair ditched Trimble for the attractions of a DUP-Sinn Fein deal. And, now that the centre-ground unionism he hoped for has almost disappeared, he has been rewarded with a seat in British imperialism’s political museum. 
What gives Bew’s career structure is not any honest intellectual attempt to advance any form of Marxism, but the attempt to provide justification for a progressive political mission for imperialism and unionism in Ireland and also to justify the destruction of republicanism as the necessary removal of an obstacle to progress. He goes to the graveyard of feudal relics in the House of Lords with the destruction of republicanism absolute and with anti-imperialist sentiment at a new low. Even under these circumstances the victory turns to ashes in his mouth. Progressive imperialism does not exist. Even at its moment of triumph it is unable to provide a settlement that will meet the needs of the Irish people. With Paisley as it tool, it immediately starts again to dig its own grave and prepare the conditions for a new challenge from the Irish working class."
Derek Mahon said that he knew the Protestant side during the Troubles, he "knew them inside out". He "was one of them, and perhaps I couldn’t bear to look at my own face among them." Derek Mahon said in an interview with the Paris Review:
"I felt very far from home in those years [after Trinity]. (In fact, for a large part of my life I’ve been terrified of home.) I think that this has a great deal to do with what started happening in Northern Ireland in 1968, 1969—how it took me by surprise. I’d been away from it for a bit, not too long, but I was still close enough to it to get burned inside. (I’m thinking of the marches, of Burntollet, and so on.) I was horrified, and I didn’t go up there after a certain point. No, that’s not true. I would go up to Belfast from time to time, right up to 1970. In some sense (this may sound very phony) it was almost as if the things that were happening up there were happening literally to me. I felt “beaten-up.” I wonder if others felt the same. I felt that I had been guilty of something that I wasn’t aware of. Although I’ve never been a motorist, I felt as perhaps a hit-and-run driver must feel when he wakes up the next morning. It was extremely upsetting, especially when the death toll started mounting. I couldn’t deal with it. I could only develop a kind of contempt for what I felt was the barbarism, on both sides. But I knew the Protestant side; I knew them inside out. I was one of them, and perhaps I couldn’t bear to look at my own face among them. So I adopted a “plague on both your houses” attitude."
He continued:
"That time, Protestants like James Simmons, Michael Longley, myself could think that this was not our quarrel—our peculiar upbringing as middle-class, grammar-school-educated, liberal, ironical Protestants allowed us to think of ourselves as somehow not implicated. I told myself that I had more important things to do. Which were going to London, getting on with my own literary career as I had now started to conceive of it, marrying Doreen, getting myself together, discovering a sense of purpose. And writing directly about those conditions in the North was not part of that purpose. One of the damnable things about it was that you couldn’t take sides. You couldn’t take sides. In a kind of way, I still can’t. It’s possible for me to write about the dead of Treblinka and Pompeii—included in that are the dead of Dungiven and Magherafelt. But I’ve never been able to write directly about it. In Crane Bag they’d call it “colonial aphasia.” Perhaps, in fact, that’s what it is. I was not prepared for what happened. What happened was that myself and all of our generation (particularly in the North) were presented with a horror, something that demanded our serious, grown-up attention. But, as I say, I was not able to deal with it directly."
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