A strategically placed comma


Madam, - Gerry Moriarty's otherwise interesting and insightful commentary of December 5th on a possible UUP/British Conservative Party merger includes an extract from the 1993 Downing Street Declaration containing a typographical error which significantly alters the meaning of the original.

The article incorrectly quotes the declaration as saying "that Britain has no 'selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland'." Note the comma between "selfish" and "strategic" in the version carried in the article.

The original, on the other hand, states that the British Government has "no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland". While for some the inclusion, or otherwise, of a comma between the words "selfish" and "strategic" may represent a mere quibble over grammar, in real terms its absence in the original confers a radically different meaning to the sentence. In short, with a comma the British Government has no strategic interest in Northern Ireland; without a comma it has no "selfish [my emphasis] strategic interest". In diplomatic and political language such differences are of profound significance. - Yours, etc,


School of Political Science and Sociology,

NUI Galway.