Wednesday, December 15, 2004



‘It’s a sorry day for (democracy/the country/the economy/freedom of speech) when…’

When what?

When honest, hardworking, downtrodden satirico–cultural news–sheet publishers are driven to hand you a Sorry edition of their paper on the streets of your city. It’s a sorry day when they have chosen to exclaim, brightly, “Sorry!” before you even know what they’re trying to give you!

I’m very sorry to report that The Vacuum, an excellent offbeat ‘penny dreadful’ (which doesn’t cost you a penny!) has been embroiled in a funding row by none other than Belfast City Council. I read about the first rumblings of this fiasco months back, and didn’t blog about it then. (Sorry.) The shock, when it emerged that ‘God’ and ‘Satan’ issues had been printed, with lewd pictures! The mortification, as I now learn that the news has made it over the water!

Councillors (yes, City ones, not Church ones!!) were calling it filth, and other encouraging names, and accusing it of promoting devil worshipping.

Basically, what has now happened is that our pedantic, prehistoric, preachy, prurient, patrician Protectors in the City Hall (which looks so warm and welcoming under the Christmas lights, by the way) have decided, in sequence, that:

  • they think it’s offensive but shouldn’t do much about it because of the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • they will change their minds on that, and ignore their Principal Solicitor’s advice instead;
  • they will withhold all future funding unless Factotum, the V’s publisher, “provides an apology for any offence which may have been caused to Members of the Council and the citizens of the City by previous publications and provides an assurance that future publications will meet such criteria as may be established by the Council”;
  • it won’t withhold future funding after all, and won’t seek to impose limits on what the V may or may not print, as long as the V issues “an apology or some expression of regret”.

  • The good of the people of Belfast is clearly at stake here — if The Vacuum doesn’t apologise, it might have to be printed on only a couple of sheets of newsprint in future, instead of a couple more. Belfast would suffer.

    Determined not to deprive Belfast’s upstanding citizens of a good laugh, the publishers have decided to take action! And so, today, on the streets of a wonderful city which I am temporarily sorry to call my own, The Vacuum said sorry in style. And it published a — frankly — sorry edition to commiserate.

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