David Puttnam rues ‘pig-ignorance’ of Ireland in British politics

Film director says he is ‘embarassed’ by tone of debate as he announces retirement from Lords

Film producer David Puttnam has announced his retirement from the House of Lords, citing the “pig-ignorance” of some British legislators about Ireland among his reasons for leaving.

Lord Puttnam (80), who has lived in west Cork since 1998, said he watched Conservative ministers “malevolently twist, turn and posture in parading their prejudices”, during the Brexit debates.

“In discussions regarding the Republic of Ireland, and the complexity of finding sustainable post-Brexit solutions, I was staggered at the display of pig-ignorance towards the fundamentals of Irish history, let alone sensitivity towards the reality of cross-border relationships.

“Had they really become so disconnected from the ghastly history of what we euphemistically call ‘the Troubles’?” he said on Friday evening in a lecture in honour of the late Labour and Liberal Democrat politician Shirley Williams.


“As someone who lives just across the Ilen River from the site of what is probably the largest and most recent mass famine-grave on these islands, I may well be ultra-sensitive to these issues, but with a few notable exceptions, the level of empathy and understanding on display in both Houses was truly shocking.”

Lord Puttnam’s films include Chariots of Fire, which won an Oscar for Best Picture in 1981, Midnight Express, The Killing Fields, The Mission and Local Hero. A member of the British Labour party, he was nominated to the House of Lords by Tony Blair in 1997 and has been active on committees, focusing particularly on regulation of broadcasting and digital communications.

In his lecture, one of a series organised in honour of Ms Williams providing a platform for “liberals and progressives to promote their vision of a better world”, Lord Puttnam said he was embarrassed by the country Britain had become since it voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

“Mirroring the anxieties of many of those angry Brexiteers in 2016, I feel I’ve had my country of birth, and the values I believed it to represent, stolen from me.

“It’s worse than that, I find myself embarrassed by what, on an almost daily basis, I see it becoming – my old enemy Rupert Murdoch’s dream made real. He never liked Britain, and he’s kind of won; he’s helped remake it in his own malevolent image,” he said.

“Given all of this and more, at 80 I no longer find myself with sufficient patience to treat mendacious political inanity with the appearance of courtesy.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times