Time is running out but history marches on regardless

IT is just as well that former IRA commander Martin McGuinness has deigned to grant Queen Elizabeth II an audience because time is running out — officially (though, perhaps not “provisionally”).

Scientists claim universal forces are slowing time, so it will eventually cease. That this revolutionary theory comes from Spanish researchers is wonderfully, well, timely, since that country’s slow-motion bailout disaster is again exposing the tortuously snail’s-pace response of EU leaders to the euro crisis.

Given that Italian premier Mario Monti has warned that we have “one week to save the eurozone” — which The Guardian, one of the world’s most respected newspapers and not given to hysteria, interpreted as meaning an “apocalyptic death spiral” is looming — time is of the essence.

That is a tad worrying as Enda Kenny has not done much in the past 15 months, so expecting him to pull his finger out in a week might be pushing the bounds of reality further than those of the universe. The theory of time running out was devised by scientists to explain why the universe appeared to be spreading continuously and to be accelerating. Professors Jose Senovilla, Marc Mars, and Raul Vera, from the University of the Basque Country and the University of Salamanca, ridiculed the accepted theory of an opposite force to gravity, known as dark energy. They said the growth of the universe was slowing.

With the absence of dark energy, they warn time is winding down to a halt — but the deceleration is so gradual it is imperceptible to humans and the end would not occur until Earth had been engulfed in a fireball from the exploding sun. The idea is not so odd, said Cambridge University cosmologist Gary Gibbons: “We believe that time emerged during the ‘big bang’ and if time can emerge, it may disappear as well, as the opposite effect.”

The Spanish professors claim time slowing down means everything will appear to take place faster and faster until it disappears.

Prof Senovilla told New Scientist: “Then, everything will be frozen, like a snapshot of one instant, forever.” Blimey.

That image brings us neatly back to Mr Monti’s dire warning of the euro-armageddon looming at the end of next week, seven days of frenetic panic and then — doom?

Just because technocrat Monti was democratically elected prime minister by the sole vote of Angela Merkel — aka: Europe’s own dark energy — without any reference to the 58m people who happen to live under his rule, should not allow us to dismiss him.

This is especially so as Italy is about to follow Spain over the cliff-edge, toppling into the unknown and, probably, finally taking the euro with it. But nobody can say that publicly. The great EU history of denial tells its own sorry story, as this list of domino-effect statements makes clear:

1. “Spain is not Greece.” (Elena Salgado, Spanish finance minister, Feb 2010.)

2. “Portugal is not Greece.” (The Economist, Apr 22, 2010.)

3. “Ireland is not in ‘Greek territory.’” (Then finance minister Brian Lenihan, Oct 2010.)

4. “Greece is not Ireland.” (George Papakonstantinou, Greek finance minister, Nov 8, 2010.)

5. “Spain is neither Ireland nor Portugal.” (Elena Salgado, Spanish finance minister, Nov 16, 2010.)

6. “Neither Spain nor Portugal is Ireland.” (Angel Gurria, secretary general OECD, Nov 18, 2010.)

7. “Spain is not Uganda” (Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, June 10, 2012.)

8. “Italy is not Spain” (Ed Parker, Fitch credit rating agency MD, Jun 12, 2012.)

Time will also bear heavy witness to the handshake between the Queen and Mr McGuinness after Sinn Féin — stung by how petty and out-of-step it looked during the royal visit to the Republic last year — signed off on the meet.

When I interviewed McGuinness earlier this year, he seemed surprised, though amused, by my question: “All this fuss over whether you want to meet the queen, but why on Earth do you think the queen would want to meet you?”

But then, as payback for a life of untold wealth and constant official fawning towards her, the Queen has to meet many people she would probably rather not — most recently Gary Barlow.

The Take That frontman (and British tax avoider) organised the jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace, in which Barlow dragged the monarch on stage at the end to stand next to such luminaries of the great Second Elizabethan Age as Cheryl Cole and that bloke from Gavin and Stacey. Her majesty did not look amused.

But while getting a pension-book-eligible Grace Jones to gyrate wearing a giant hula-hoop is definitely a crime of some order, at least Barlow did not commit real crimes, like murdering some of the queen’s favourite close relatives in the way McGuinness’s former comrades in the IRA did — a crime he publicly defended.

If Sinn Féin really is serious about unification in a practical rather than a romanticised sense, then it is high time it acknowledged the rights and allegiances of the million-strong unionist tradition on this island.

Though he would hardly be a hero to the current Sinn Féin, the lament given to the Dáil in 1923 by one of the leading voices of the original Sinn Féin, Kevin O’Higgins, decrying the impact of the Civil War on the building of a new state worthy of attracting and absorbing the North, is still worth heeding: “We preferred to burn our own houses, blow up our own bridges, rob our own banks, saddle ourselves with millions of debt for the maintenance of an army. Generally, we preferred to practice upon ourselves worse indignities than the British had practiced upon us since Cromwell.

“And now we wonder why the Orangemen are not hopping like so many fleas across the border in their anxiety to come within our fold and jurisdiction?”

Now, in a darkly ironic twist, the lights in our hospital wards are partly being kept going thanks to an emergency €8.4bn bailout loan from the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer — and heir to the baronetcy of Ballentaylor, Co Tipperary, and descendent of absentee landlords — George Osborne.

Time may be slowly dying, but the meeting between the royal commander-in-chief of the British army and the republican gunman shows that the peace process is very much alive.

Though it occurs too late for Bloomsday, both parties could be said to be echoing the desire expressed in Ulysses: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

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