Life is what happens when you’re making other plans, sang John Lennon in a quote often attributed to Allen Saunders in the 1950s. Whoever said it first, its ring of truth resonates when I look back.

Whatever is happening in the world, we all tend to view things through the prism of our own experiences. Hence, with all the publicity over the G8 coming to Fermanagh 10 years ago, I’ve been reflecting on 2013 on a more personal level.


G8 breaking news

I was editor of the Impartial Reporter when our reporter Julie Kenwell broke the story that the world’s leaders would be coming to Fermanagh for a major conference.

That summer I had a far more important meeting, when I nervously sat down with my then boss, Graham Morrison to tell him I’d decided to leave the Impartial at the end of 2013. As usual he was incredibly supportive and understanding when I told him that after 40 years on the paper, including 27 years as editor, it just seemed the right time to go; to be “young” enough to maybe do other things and all that.

That was the plan, anyway. But the week after Christmas, the family discovered that my beloved dad, Tom had cancer and within three months he had died.

Was it providential that I had retired and was able to spend a bit more time with him in his final few months? Who knows?

Everybody will reflect on their own lives, sliding doors moments, personal tragedies or triumphs which have changed the course of every individual’s journey.

Who or what decides what direction life takes depends on your point of view; is it the Grace of God, fate or coincidence? Or as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said that the greatest challenge in planning ahead was “events, dear boy, events” that threw plans off course.



The G8 gathering at the Lough Erne Resort is an interesting bookmark in time to consider how the dramatically-changed political landscape has affected our lives in a decade; and not for the better.

In 2013, Vladimir Putin went for a swim in Lough Erne. Barack Obama went to the Integrated Primary School to urge pupils to “dream big dreams” and earlier that year David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, had promised a referendum on leaving the EU thinking that it would strengthen his hand against the Eurosceptics in his own party.

I wonder how that turned out.

I remember in 2013 attending a wonderful reception at Castle Coole, hosted by First Minister, Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

Stormont appeared to be working, however imperfectly, and the two political giants and erstwhile enemies had a respectful, amicable working and personal relationship. I recall Peter Robinson being particularly relaxed and friendly and will always remember a half-hour chat on a one-to-one basis with Martin McGuinness about his upbringing in Derry and the soccer exploits of his brother and son-in-law.

Now, we’re suddenly ten years on and apart from thinking “Whoosh! Where did that time go?” I also reflect on how politics and society seem to have gone downhill.

We’ve had Brexit, war in Ukraine, the global Covid pandemic, the ‘cash for ash’ crisis which cost hundreds of millions.

Events? Well, yes, but has a failure of political leadership meant that circumstance has run amok unchecked?

Just think of Putin, Obama, Cameron, Robinson and McGuinness. Putin’s still there, only not in the G8 and engaged in a bloody war.

Elsewhere since then we’ve had Trump, Biden, May, Johnson, Truss, Sunak, Foster, Poots, Donaldson and O’Neill.


Political mess

The American and British political systems are a mess with a corruption of the truth by megalomaniacs like Trump and Johnson whose selfish lust for power is so great that they undermine the basis of democracy itself.

Again in the United States this week, a man interviewed on television said that Joe Biden is actually dead and that everything they watch is a movie with an actor playing his part. Oh, and that JFK is alive, aged 106.

And in Britain, a gutless Prime Minister fails to support Parliamentary democracy by avoiding a vote to censure Boris Johnson after an important committee branded him a serial liar when he was Prime Minister.

While the British people are being hit with exorbitant mortgage increases and food inflation hitting a punishing 16.5 per cent this week, Sunak and his acolytes rhyme off their five pledges, including “stop the boats”.

Those 10 years have seen fast-moving change for Arlene Foster, of this parish. DETI Minister in 2003, she became First Minister, oversaw the RHI disaster, was voted out by her party, left party politics but don’t cry for the now Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee who now has a broadcasting career.

Save your tears for the vulnerable people of Northern Ireland who don’t even have a functioning Assembly.

A Northern Ireland where the Protocol takes precedence over savage spending cuts in all sectors as crumbling public services directly damage people’s lives.

Where, according to the journalist Sam McBride, hospital waiting lists are not really hospital waiting lists; rather they are lists of people either waiting in pain to die or to be able to afford to go private.

There’s also a massive change in our demographics, especially among younger people and the direction of travel over the last 10 years is such that possible constitutional change is now centre stage.

It’s a sobering thought about how much change there has been across everything since 2013.

One wonders where we’ll be in another 10 years; imagine if we could look through a crystal ball and see 2033. And how will the next decade unfold. Or indeed, if we will have imaginative, creative leadership which will shape the coming years positively.

It should be in our hands, at least to some extent. Sometimes we can’t affect events, but sometimes we can take some measure of control in handling them; and perhaps we’ve been too passive in letting those with their own interests dictate our circumstances.

Someone this week mentioned the scholar Theodore Zeldin to me, and he is quoted as saying “change the way you think and you are halfway to changing the world”.


Best wishes, Mark

And speaking of change, I would like to wish the outgoing editor of The Impartial Reporter Mark Conway all the best in his career move.

Mark and I were friends for some years before he joined the staff of the Impartial and we became colleagues.

In both our friendship and our working lives, he became a very valued ally to me. His loyalty and the exemplary nature of his work were an asset to me personally and to the paper.

Initially a freelance sports correspondent, then on the staff as sports editor, an integral member of the editorial management team and then editor, he contributed much to the success of the Impartial over two decades.

He has continued to support me as a freelance columnist.

He leaves for a new challenge with a great record of service of which he and his family can be justifiably proud.

Good luck in the next chapter, Mark, and thanks.