Bigots, Homophobes & Opportunists. Liars Unite?

DUP MP Nigel Dodds has just announced in Parliament that the DUP, SDLP, UUP & Alliance are ready to form an Executive today and exclude Sinn Fein.

If Nigel has this right and I didn’t hear anyone disagree, then we have to ask the smaller parties to outline what progress has been made on the many issues they campaigned for in their manifestos. Have the DUP secretly agreed to implement an Irish Language Act, Marriage Equality, Gender Equality, Truth for Victims and to accept the majority view of the north to remain in the EU.

I suspect they haven’t but would be delighted to be wrong. That leaves questions of these alleged Executive partners. Even without Nigel’s claims we have all heard the above mentioned parties demanding Sinn Fein stop holding up Government and nominate to an Executive.

The questions are really straightforward- what has instilled confidence in the DUP since you all supported a motion of no confidence in December? Do you really support Marriage Equality or is it aspirational? Do you really support an Irish Language Act or were you tapping in to the anger invoked by DUP comments? Do you really support the Truth for Victims? Do you really support Gender Equality & a Woman’s Right to Reproductive Rights? Do you really support Remaining in the EU or Special Status? If the DUP take a future Health Ministry will you support their ban on Gay Men donating blood?

The people who voted for you based on your manifestos have a right to answers on these questions. Only two parties I’m aware of have not been blaming Sinn Fein for the failure to form an Executive, at least not exclusively, and that’s The Green Party and People Before Profit. I voted for the Greens with a second preference for Alliance ( knowing it would transfer if needed) in the last election. Living in Strangford & with no PBP candidate my choices were limited. I seen both parties as progressive but I’m disappointed that Alliance are hammering Sinn Fein for the DUPs sins.

All parties need to clarify if Nigel Dodds statement is accurate and if so how they came to this agreement. If his statement is inaccurate I presume Parties will clarify their position.

More Talks: Will Smaller Parties Stand Firm Against DUP Bigotry?

Yet again we have new talks at Stormont and for the most part they are on the same issues. The media and some of the smaller parties are not unusually blaming Sinn Fein for the stalemate. Well some are blaming Sinn Fein and the DUP while ignoring the failures of the British Government, and ignoring the Irish Government altogether.

I say the same issues because for the most part they are and for the most part they were already agreed, but the DUP have refused to implement them and been provided the cover of silence by the Governments. New issues have also emerged but they are issues that require urgency and it’s only sensible to try and find a consensus on a way forward. Brexitt to be specific but I’ll come back to that.

Since the collapse of last weeks talks and Sinn Feins refusal to nominate, they have been criticised by the smaller parties for decisions made by Civil Servants. I would ask those parties what exactly they are suggesting? Should Sinn Fein nominate and go back into an Executive without any of the outstanding issues being resolved? To do so they would be reneging on their election commitments and coincidentally so would the other parties.

lets not forget the cause of the election and the background behind it. All parties with the exception of Sinn Fein called for the First Minister to resign over her handling of the RHI scheme. Sinn Fein tried to keep the Assembly up and running by firstly approaching the First Minister privately and then through an amendment which in real terms offered the DUP an escape route. When both were rejected they had no choice but to accede to the demands for elections by their own base, the wider public and indeed some of the other parties. At that point Martin McGuinness shut the shop and in doing so outlined the many examples of DUP bigotry, political mismanagement, arrogance and alleged corruption.

Martin by no means mentioned all of the various examples but he did make it clear there had to be a new approach to governing, that was inclusive and that deals made  were expected to be upheld.

So far Sinn Fein have maintained this position and I believe rightly so. I can see no logic at all in returning to the Assembly without a deal that resolves the outstanding issues. To do so would only guarantee another collapse and probably pretty quickly.

Just to outline some of the issues that Sinn Fein and most if not all of the other parties have taken issue with.

Edwin Poots held up the first attempt at Council mergers at considerable cost to all of us by interfering in the boundary process while he was a Councillor and the Minister responsible for the mergers. In any other jurisdiction that is a breach of the Ministerial Code and a clear conflict of interest.  All Parties opposed.

Edwin Poots as Health Minister imposed a ban on Gay Men donating blood in breach of Section 75 of the Equality Legislation and a court ruling. All Parties opposed.

Jim Wells claimed children in same sex marriages were more likely to be abused. All parties outraged.

Nelson McCausland as DSD Minister overseen the Red Sky corruption fiasco and again no sanction while in breach of Ministerial Code and conflict of interest. All parties outraged.

NAMA – Both the then First Minister Peter Robinson and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson nominate business men to the NAMA board, giving them a direct influence on decisions which were of no benefit to the Public (US) and the only beneficiaries were Cerberus. All parties outraged.

Misuse of the Petition of Concern on numerous occasions but most flagrantly in relation to Marriage Equality. Again denying the democratic process and opposed by almost all parties.

Blocking changes in Women’s Reproductive rights in relation to proposals by the Justice Minister on FFA. Again most parties supporting the change.

Blocking and announcing there would never be an Acht na Gaeilge despite previous agreements. Arlene Fosters refusal to follow EU legislation on the language while DETI Minister and Paul Givan announcing funding block on Irish Bursaries Scheme. Important to include here the blatant ignorance of elected representatives, not exclusively Gregory Campbell who repeatedly insulted the Irish language community. Again most of the other parties claim to support progress on this issue.

The RHI scheme overseen and managed/mismanaged by the then DETI Minister Arlene Foster, and continued interference in the scheme when she assumed the position of First Minister. This was a £480 million scandal and while we have heard from the DUP that they will cap this to reduce the impact, as we speak the cost remains the same. Indeed the costs may well increase with inspections, investigations, court cases, elections etc, all with no evidence to say the original estimate of £480 million can be reduced. All parties outraged and opposed and no change.

Then we have the DUP support for Brexitt which all other parties opposed, with the exception of People Before Profit who supported Brexitt for entirely different reasons. By extension the DUP have supported leaving the single market and the customs union. This will, no matter what anyone tells you mean a hard border which will cripple cross border business and agriculture in particular. Well it will unless the parties reach a consensus here for special designated status which the DUP are against and the other parties support.

As for the urgency to get Stormont up and running again, I agree. All the more reason for parties who hold common ground positions to speak with one voice. To simply lay blame on Sinn Fein for refusing to nominate can undermine the integrity of the smaller parties who on most of these issues, share the same view. It calls in to question the support they’ve shown on the common ground issues such as Marriage Equality.

Also on the urgency issue, we are hearing criticism of Sinn Fein for creating a funding crisis and decisions being made around youth funding, health etc. The civil service are not supposed to make political decisions, but don’t be fooled that decisions taken this week are anything other than political interference and self protectionism within the civil service. Policy decisions and priorities put in place should continue to be funded until the Locally elected politicians decide otherwise. This mad rush by senior civil servants to cut funding, cut jobs etc is not necessary. At least not yet, and if you think you’ve trust issues with politicians you’ll get your eyes opened when the back room boys (intentionally gender specific) go to town.

 

 

Irish Unity Advocates Need To Urgently Plan For The Practicalities Of Unity – Together.

On a day when the Uk Government has officially started the process of leaving the European Union, seemingly blind to the multitude of implications for its citizens I can’t help but wonder if we will be anywhere near ready to provide answers if a border poll debate was happening now.

I also believe recent events both externally and internally have accelerated the need for discussion.  The U.K. decision on Brexitt will have a huge influence on a border poll, the march towards Scottish independence will also have a huge influence, the recent election results again bring a sense of urgency to the discussion.

looking at the scale of work involved for the UK  in leaving Europe it is enormous. So enormous that all of the resources of Whitehall can’t give credible answers, or anything better than guess work to the government who are selling this.

If we are to promote unity as an attractive, viable choice we must be able to produce evidence based data that is better than guess work. If we are to win a border poll we need to be able to answer the questions of what a unified Ireland will look like, how it will work and how we will merge two completely different forms of government. We need to know how we will merge health, education, welfare, justice, policing, public services, infrastructure and the economies. That’s just for starters but it’s an indication of the job of work that needs to be done.

All of this needs to begin now and that’s before we even consider how we seriously accommodate the culture and views of those who identify as British. I believe that’s a separate job of work that is every bit as crucial and can only be done with the inclusion of all the complex versions of unionism.

I know many of the big parties will say we’re already doing this and I know from experience that some are. Well they’re doing some of it but they must realise they can’t do this alone.

What I’d propose is that if each of the various advocates are seriously prioritising Irish Unity then they need to consider a coalition. Not electoral pacts or party mergers but a coalition of people. Politicians, academics from various fields, community and social activists, legal experts on constitutional law – north & south, legal experts who specialise on various issues. We also need to reach out and include all forms of nationalism/republicanism – from the moderates to the militants. Catholic conservatives to  liberals, socialists.

The people who claim to want Irish Unity come from all walks of life. To name the obvious is a starting point – Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, Workers Party, IRSP, RNU, SDLP, Fianna Fáil & Fianna Gael. It is impossible to bring these people under one coalition in terms of ideology or the day to day running of the country, it would be equally impossible to be ready for the transition to Unity without all being involved.

The militants may say they won’t involve themselves in constitutional politics, Sinn Fein and other parties have they’re own agendas but they all have a common cause in seeking unity. Like I said if the real priority is unity then who wants to be the first to say no to such a coalition. Who is putting politics or ego above the bigger objective. There are loads of reasons not to do this and only one reason to do it, but despite our differences there is common ground on the objective and on many of the social factors. The common ground on social factors extends to unionism and the work needs to begin sooner rather than later.

AE17B: A Deal For All

Sinn Fein walked away from this particular talks process yesterday claiming there was clearly no point. The DUP hadn’t even shown up which in itself vindicates the Sinn Fein position. More importantly Sinn Fein stood on an electoral manifesto of refusing to return to the status quo because as Martin McGuinness said when he closed down Stormont, it had become impossible to work with the intransigent attitude of the DUP.

Lets not forget the other parties had all filed a motion calling on the DUP first minister to resign.  All of the parties outside of unionism claimed to support an Acht na Gaeilge, Marriage Equality, Legacy resolutions for Victims, a Bill of Rights etc. A lot of these issues had been subject to prior agreements but the DUP refused to implement them. Another issue was the misuse of the  petition of concern and seemingly during these negotiations no agreement was reached.

With that in mind I think it’s important the media ask for clarity from all parties on they’re current position. Is it only Sinn Fein who are refusing to go back to more of the same, is it only Sinn Fein who are holding their position on Acht na Gaeilge, Marriage Equality, Legacy Issues etc. Are the other parties actually saying they wanted to, or were prepared to re-establish stormont without any of these matters being resolved.

We are now going to hear a lot about Sinn Fein being to blame for the lack of a budget, job losses etc and it’s already happening. Also we’ll hear a lot about the Civil Service being able to operate independently, and insanely some people think that’s fine. The DUP have been the main obstacle to progress on the issues listed above and the DUP FM is still under investigation on RHI, so it’s reasonable to say, we are where we are because of them.

Anyone who thinks the Civil Service delivering services without local accountability is an acceptable option, or that it is any less a political budget is misguided. Left to their own devices the Civil Service will mutilate vital services in favour of self protectionism. They try their best to do that anyway, even with accountability.

All parties stood on a manifesto, including Sinn Fein. Will Sinn Fein be the only party to honour their manifesto. I believe they were right to demand pre existing agreements are implemented and they would have been seeking votes under false pretences if they went back in without agreement.

Prior to the last election it appeared that all parties were speaking with one voice on issues around DUP arrogance, alleged corruption, homophobia etc. Can all parties stand up and be counted with One Voice now. To do otherwise stinks of opportunism.

 

The Myth of State Neutrality: Daily Life In a Normal/Abnormal Society.

The recent media coverage of the life and death of Martin McGuinness has been thought provoking. I can’t write on his behalf and wouldn’t attempt to but I would have viewed him as a Republican Leader, and not just since he entered constitutional politics.

Recent coverage and comments from Politicians and victims have made much of the fact that he made the choice to join the IRA and use military force to obtain his objectives. Nobody asked why he made that choice, maybe it’s just taken as a given but  while I can’t speak for Martin, I think it raises a point that has never been given thorough consideration.

The point I’m referring to is the environment that people from a nationalist/republican background grew up in. Too many personal stories have went untold, too many people who have a story to tell have felt that in the scheme of things , their story is not significant because it wasn’t unusual at the time. In a way I think this almost enables the history writers to miss a key element of the conflict.

As a young lad my family had moved from Greenisland (not through choice) to squat in a house in the Lower Ormeau and I attended primary school at St. Colmans in Eliza St. I knew why we had moved but had no real understanding of the reasons behind it. Politics was not an issue in our family but it did become an issue as it was impossible to ignore what was happening around you.

From my own experience (I was 8 yrs old) I walked to school with friends. The walk took us past the gas works where there were three permanent army billets and regular patrols. It was not uncommon to be stopped and searched, questioned, verbally abused and even then sometimes physically abused. Granted it was minor by the standards of the time, mainly grabbed by the throat or pushed and shoved, but it was bullying and for some kids terrifying.

Our house and almost every house in our street was raided regularly and they didn’t knock doors in those days. As we got used to this, we had learned that a family member should try to follow the soldiers as they searched the house because they either stole items or we had to watch encase they planted something in the house. For the most part the process was aggressive but without major incident. When my brother reached 16 he was arrested regularly during these raids and it was purely to interrogate about known volunteers. My mother had MND and had a hospital bed downstairs. This didn’t deter soldiers from forcing a dying woman out of the bed during the house searches and on one occasion they tipped the bed. My father had not a political bone in his body and struggled to make sure we didn’t. Somehow he managed to hold that position to the day he died, which was I believe more to do with his faith than anything else.

Im trying to limit this as much as possible to my own experiences as I have family members who’s experience was much worse in later years and it’s not my story to tell. My brother joined the IRA and was jailed for membership along with a lot of other young lads when he was late 16 or 17. My mother died in 1978 while her son was in jail and my memory of it as a 10yr old was that every young lad of that age joined either the IRA or INLA and really then or now I don’t believe they had a choice. Politics was not a credible option, it did absolutely nothing to prevent the terrorisation of an entire community by both the British Army and as things progressed the RUC.

When I say terrorised, I mean terrorised. Even when my brother was in jail they raided the house on the pretext of looking for him. They stopped, searched, beat and abused men, women and children every day. As I moved to secondary school the harassment increased and when the hunger strikes began they swamped nationalist areas. From my first year in secondary, myself and most people my age (male & female) were crying out to the organisation to let us join and fight back. They were swamped with young ones demanding an opportunity to play a role and they struggled to keep young people running solo.

Throughout this period there was also sectarian assassinations, either by shootings or bombs. During my time there were three pubs left in the lower Ormeau and all had been bombed multiple times. They’d also come under gun attack multiple times and people had been killed and injured. Many more had died while fighting back and many more had been jailed (sometimes wrongly)  for a multitude of conflict related issues.  I know of very few families in that area alone that were not affected by the conflict.

During my young teenage years the RUC took primacy over the British Army and in many ways they were worse. Though I and most I knew viewed them as just another arm of the state who had one purpose – to continue the terrorisation of our community. They conducted the same raids in the same way and because we were slightly older, the stop, search and beatings increased. It was common practice to get stopped and searched by the same patrol on multiple occasions while walking to botanic gardens for example. They knew our names, knew we were kids heading up to meet girls or play football but they relentlessly harassed us.

The point I’m making is that this narrative of police and army being anything other than participants in the conflict is false. The state were active combatants and in many ways created and sustained the reasons for conflict. The other point I’m making is that many young people felt they had no choice but to fight fire with fire. Most would never have been involved in any form of armed conflict or violence of any form if they had not been under attack by the state.

I could say more about how this evolved and progressed but the purpose of this piece is to show how state violence contributed to the growth of the conflict. How ordinary young people grew up in what they perceived as a normal environment when it was really far from it.  I can understand anger from unionist victims, some of our experiences are not that different. Some of the motivations for young loyalist to become involved in conflict are not that different.

What really disgusts me to this day, is that the state have never acknowledged their role in the conflict. This insanely arrogant position that they were impartial or not actively engaged is a myth. They killed and imprisoned innocents, they trained others to do the killing for them, they provided intelligence to their proxy agents to carry out assassinations for them, they to this day are still covering up the murder of innocents. They are not now and never have been neutral and until they are gone they will continue to hinder progress towards reconciliation here. The great bastion of British democracy are the biggest obstacle to finding truth for victims, they’ve admitted as much by using national security as a justification for refusing to provide evidence.

Some may say that Republicans aren’t forthcoming with the truth and in some cases they might be right, but they have acknowledged they’re role. They have accepted responsibility for actions and most have been convicted and served time for their actions. The State have not and will not even acknowledge their role.

My contribution here is just that, a contribution that shows a different slant. There are thousands more with memories of the past and they should be recorded. I have left out a lot because it involves other people and I don’t have that right.

The Disenfranchised Unionists.

I read a tweet yesterday by Sophie Long who I suspect is now a former member of the Progressive Unionist Party. Ms Long offered her condolences to the family, friends and comrades of Martin McGuinness. In this country such a small act of decency is brave but to keep it where it belongs, it is as I said just decency.

The subsequent abuse directed at Sophie was no great shock to me and I suspect to her  but I read through a few hundred responses and strangely most of the abuse was because she included the word comrades. The fact that she had expressed condolences  to a former IRA commander appeared to be irrelevant and I suppose in the world of not an inch, that is a form of progress.

There were also the usual references to “silly girl” , “stupid women” , “Marxist” and other derogatory comments that seem to be acceptable within some quarters. The South Belfast PUP felt the need to disassociate itself from Sophie’s comment, perhaps in fear of losing some of their huge support base.

Anyway it brought me back to a line of thinking I’ve had for sometime, and it’s based on direct interaction with Loyalists. Are Loyalists who led from the front, did the dirty work as they see it, of not only defending their communities but took the fight to Republicans, content to be led by political representatives who even they acknowledge, used loyalism for they’re own ends. Are they content to be led by people who view them as terrorists, and who look down they’re noses  at them as at best a necessary evil. Remember one of the points of contention in the current talks is victims and the unionist elites are not just saying the families of republican combatants aren’t victims, that opinion extends to the families of loyalist combatants.

I’ve engaged in conversation with Sophie Long for a while now and find it refreshing to see how she has moved the debate on to serious social issues which impact all sections of the community. Open minded debate on these issues is required by the community as a whole. Ignorance on issues around social injustice, LGBT+ rights, feminism, poverty, educational disparity and cultural diversity is not exclusive to loyalism, it applies to the C/N/R community too.

I can’t help but wonder though, who is the voice/advocate for unionists/loyalists who are Gay, Feminist, socially deprived, educationally abandoned or culturally frowned upon. I see hope for loyalism and for the multitude of diverse groups that are part of the loyalist unionist community in the views expressed by Sophie Long and I seen courage in her comments relating to Martin McGuinness yesterday.

You see that type of courage requires a response, it requires reciprocation and it challenges Republicans to think differently. We have common ground on all of the above issues and many republicans, particularly former combatants would gladly work with all in the community to address them. I suspect also that many former combatants from all sides are more determined than most politicians to have no return to the past.

Just a finishing piece of food for thought – Sophie Long showed a level of humanity yesterday that a lot of Republicans wouldn’t and I include a lot of Martins former comrades. This woman knew she was taking a leap in a country where more leaps of faith are required. David Ervine was very similar and it made republicans sit up and listen. Maybe he didn’t face the same level of abuse because he had time served loyalist credentials or maybe it was because he was a man.

Sinn Fein Supporter Asks People Before Profit -What Would You Do Differently

These questions were posted on Twitter and while I can’t speak for Eamonn or People Before Profit, I felt they needed answered. PBP can answer for themselves but it’s not only Sinn Fein who are escaping scrutiny on RHI, they all knew to some extent yet all said nothing.

1.Why you think a public enquiry is better than the investigation Sinn Fein proposed into RHI?

Answer: There were subtle differences in Sinn Feins proposal but the methodology left no alternative but to oppose.
Sinn Fein when interviewed on Sunday Politics (Connor Murphy, morning before motion of no confidence) wouldn’t answer if they would support the motion of no confidence. Late Sunday night Sinn Fein released a detailed proposed amendment to the motion of no confidence online. One key difference in the amendment was that the First Minister step aside until an interim report had been published and that this should take no longer than two weeks. They were offering Arlene an out and seriously underestimating the publics anger. It was also unacceptable to publish an amendment online without even informing the people who’s motion they were proposing to amend.This displays a similar arrogance and contempt as that shown later by the First Minister.
Sinn Fein left the other parties no opportunity to scrutinise the amendment and it could have been accepted if time for discussion had been allowed. Ultimately Sinn Fein came round to the oppositions position of forcing an election. A two week step aside looks pretty much like a let off.

2. How a vote for you will stop corruption, crime or privatisation?

Answer: People Before Profit are not dependent on Sectarian/Corrupt/Right Wing politics which is rife in both Stormont and Councils. I suspect they will attempt to deal with crime in a non sectarian way ie. Not bribing former/existing paramilitary groups to stop extortion, drug dealing and all forms of criminality.The DUP may have taken the hit on Charter NI and others but Sinn Fein are there Executive partners and knew all about it.

In relation to Privatisation, Sinn Fein have made no attempt to protect the Public Sector. Health is privatised through private sector care homes, respite care, Domicilery care and care in the community.

Agencies hold the health service to ransom. There is no shortage of nurses but there is a shortage of nurses given proper employment contracts by the various health trusts. This forces them to work for agencies who profit from what should be a public service.Maybe another investigation is required. How many past and present Trust officials sit on the boards of the multitude of outsourced healthcare providers.How many sit on the Boards of the many Not for Profit and Charitable healthcare providers, many of which are just private sector companies in disguise. Health is devolved a long time but no change.

Housing Associations, many of which are again private sector in disguise have replaced the Housing Executive and are not bound by the same regulations. Education, Infrastructure and all public services are largely outsourced to the private sector and while I’m no economist I understand that performance in the private sector is measured by profit not delivery. I was young at the time but believe Eamonn McCann may have had a hand in the creation of the Housing Executive. I’m not a spokesperson but I do know PBP are opposed to continued privatisation of public services.

3. How has Eamonn actually held anybody to account. Is there any specific cases I could look at?

Well you could look at many things but to name a few. Start with the Civil Rights Movement, the Bloody Sunday Enquiry, Blanket Protests, Hunger Strikes. You could also look to the Housing Rights Campaigners, Trade Unions, Abortion Rights. You might also look at the private members bill Eamonn and Gerry Carroll we’re bringing to the Assembly, to change Thatchers union laws. Maybe ask Sinn Fein and other socialists in Stormont why they’ve made no attempt to change this.

You could also look at NAMA, Red Sky,RHI and when Edwin Poots broke the Ministerial Code of Conduct by holding up the Council mergers by two years, while he was a Councillor and the Minister overseeing Council Reform. No sorry PBP were not there for any of that, thank God Sinn Fein were there to hold them to account.

4. Can you tell me how you would deal with Austerity, assuming you had the same electoral strength as Sinn Fein?

Answer:On this I can’t speak for Eamonn or People Before Profit but I’m guessing with the same numbers and timeframe the deprivatisation/Robbery of Public Services would have saved a brave few quid. It would also mean more people working with decent employment rights, which would in turn create more disposable income. That would have a positive knock on effect on the local economy.
They might reform the system in a way that creates more jobs in frontline services while removing many of the needless overpaid Chief Executives of the multitude of Not For Profits/Charities who are as I said private companies in disguise. They may rightfully challenge the wage structures of the highest levels of the Public Sector. Is it value for money (Our Money) to pay 11 Chief Executives of Councils a starting salary of £150K when we don’t have the population of a small city. Is it value for money to pay a starting salary of £200K to a Chief Constable of an average sized Police Service. When you bring in the Health Trusts, Education and many other Boards( not forgetting the non executive boards) the figures are obscene.

Why are you even asking about Austerity when you firstly claimed it wasn’t required, then claimed you stopped Tory Austerity Cuts.

Anyway back to your question. Just prior to the Stormont House Agreement the Social Security Agency created the Benefits Uptake Team. Seriously they really did. Welfare/Benefits were costing so much that over £80million a week was sent back to the British Treasury. That horse was allowed to bolt though, so spilt milk and all that.

Another possible means of removing Austerity measures might be to invest in a building scheme. Infrastructure, particularly Roads, Public Transport, Sewage System and Schools are all needed if we’re to compete for international investment and tourism. Re-establish the Water Service and stop outsourcing large scale Capitol programmes. Another outlandish idea would be to employ Road Service to build new roads.

They could make better use of Civil Servants instead of employing consultants ridiculous money to tell Civil Servants what they already know, after all some of them have been working there for 20 -30yrs. The Assembly Researchers are priceless, I’ve worked with them and they are more than capable.

Another economically prudent idea might be to stop funding pet projects to get yourself re elected. This is very common in both Stormont and Councils. A shared future should mean what it says but as things stand we have a shared out future where ideals become a poker chip.

5. Are you happy with the current trajectory of Brexit negotiations and their impact on the north, considering you called on people to vote leave?

Answer: Again I can’t speak for Eamonn but I suspect he’s about as happy as the other parties including Sinn Fein i.e. not at all happy. It’s not like any of them are being given a say by a bullish British government who see arrogance as a quality. I don’t see Eamonn being content that we are being dictated too by increasingly right wing extremists wether they’re in London or Brussels. Sinn Fein would be more comfortable there, but their position on Europe is hardly consistent.

As for voting out I would refer back to the extreme right of either Brussels or London imposing elitist policies on working class people. That and the abuse of small nations while bailing out banks is not something I’d sign up too.

6. Why are you trying to tie Sinn Fein into RHI scandal with no supporting evidence?

Answer: Sinn Fein were on the Executive with the DUP. They were partners in government and cannot abdicate responsibility when it suits. That’s the nice way of saying they were up to their eyes in this.

Sinn Fein knew the extent of the RHI overspend at the very latest, as of January last year. How do we know this? They told us themselves just before Christmas when they were so quick to point out that the sdlp had voted to keep the scheme open in January 2016.In doing that, they exposed the fact that they had voted against continuing the scheme in Jan 2016and the only possible reason to vote against was that they were fully aware of the overspend. In addition both Jonathan Bell and Arlene Foster said they had discussed the matter with the Deputy First Minister in Bells case Jan 16 and according to Arlene it was as early as September 2015.
It is reasonable to ask if they would ever have said a word about it if the media hadn’t broke the story. Sinn Fein have shown time and again they were willing to swallow anything to stay in government. They admitted as much when they decided to step down.

When you look at the facts of the RHI scheme, it is reasonable to accuse Sinn Fein of being complicit in the cover up.

Ballynahinch,Newcastle & Cookstown Social Security & Job Centre Closures. Will Government Ministers Publish Their Consultation Response.

imagerMost people living in the areas affected by Job Centre & SSA office closures are at least aware that the proposed closures are out to consultation until November 15th. Unfortunately most people are unaware of the potential impact these closures will have on them or family members. There is an assumption that because many people currently don’t use their local office on a regular basis, that it will have little impact on them. With the introduction of Universal Credit there will be a significant increase in need as people on a multitude of benefits from Carers to Working Tax Credits will be affected. The sick & disabled, older citizens and their carers will be affected. The most adversely affected, based on U.K figures are Lone Parents on Working Tax Credits.

The Dept for Communities have primary responsibility for these proposals and have a responsibility to consult key stakeholders and the wider public. They will undoubtedly have sent formal letters to each government department and PROBABLY Government funded bodies and interest groups in the affected areas.

So far I have only seen responses from NIPSA, a Rural Screening from the Dept for Agriculture,Environment & Rural Affairs, an Equality Impact Screening and some positive (but not formal) support from political reps. In addition many members of the public have signed petitions and the only questions raised on the matter were from Patsy McGlone MLA.

This is simply not good enough and we have the right to demand more from Our political representatives on such a serious issue.

I would like to see the list of Ministers, Councils, Government funded bodies and Interest groups that were invited to respond, and I would invite them to publish their responses in order to inform the public of the impact this will have across Government Departments and in their local area.

I find it incredible that the Department for Health,Social Services have not been more vocal on the potential impacts. When you consider the impact on people with physical and mental health issues who will be affected. When people with severe disabilities and their carers will be required to attend Work Focused Interviews. When Lone Parents regardless of their children’s age or medical condition, will be required to attend Work Focused Interviews.Excluding the main urban centres, this area has the highest rate of people with Disability Benefits, Learning Difficulties and receiving Prescription Drugs. Can the Department publish their response?

The Department for Infrastructure may also want to publish their response as the proposed closures will mean the public will have to use Public Transport to access services (Ballynahinch, Newcastle) in either Lisburn, Downpatrick or Knockbredagh. Anyone using the existing offices and from Ballynahinch, Newcastle and the surrounding rural catchment areas will be aware that there is currently a very limited Public Transport service to either of the proposed new offices. They would also be aware of the cost. With that in mind it is not unreasonable to request what the Department have said formally in response to the consultation. In addition, if reliant upon Public Transport, it is all but impossible for anyone from Ballynahinch to use anywhere other than Knockbredagh as it is the only office with a regular bus route. In responding to the consultation will the Minister confirm when the Ballynahinch Bypass is scheduled for completion as when completed the bus frequency to Knockbredagh would be significantly reduced. Can the Minister publish his response?

Department of Education: Young people who are still in full time education & higher education do use the local Job Centre to explore potential employment opportunities and discuss future employment prospects with Job Centre Advisors. There are several Schools and Further Education Colleges in the affected areas and these students, their teachers and careers advisors will be impacted. Will the Minister publish a response?

Department of Agriculture,Environment & Rural Affairs: The Department have claimed to carry out a Rural Proofing Screening. From media accounts this consisted of  a few phone calls. In any event, given the massive adverse impacts expected on rural dwellers, a full Rural Proofing Exercise is required. Accessibility alone is a huge issue that must be addressed. In response to a question from Patsy McGlone MLA the Minister for Communities has already acknowledged adverse impacts. It is essential that the Agriculture Minister  consult with key stakeholders to obtain a formal response. The Mourne, Gullion & Lecale Partnership which is funded by the Rural Development Programme is made up of 13 Social Partners & 12 elected reps from Newry, Mourne & Down Council and are well placed to provide data on potential impacts. The County Down Rural Community Network are also in a position to identify local impacts as they are made up of local community reps who deal with local people on a daily basis. There are many more groups in the affected areas that are Government funded and in a unique position to inform the Department of local impacts. Will the Minister confirm that these groups have been consulted? Will the Minister publish the Departments response? Will the Minister publish the consultation responses of the above named organisations which are accountable to the Minister and more importantly the public?

Department of Finance: the Department own the offices proposed for closure and I would hope have received a business case, including costings, projected savings  and projected financial impact of the roll out of Universal Credit. It is not unreasonable to ask what the Department propose to do with the vacant properties or what concerns they may have on projected impacts. Do the Department accept the figures presented in the consultation are accurate given that they were collated by a now defunct department (DSD), they are outdated, do not reflect the current footfall at these offices or the potential increased footfall when Universal Credit is introduced. Have the Department considered/measured the potential impact of eving the EU, when it is generally accepted that the north will be disproportionately affected. Will the Minister Publish a Formal response to this consultation.

The Minister for Communities proactively seek the formal responses of his Ministerial colleagues? Will the Minister publish the list of stakeholders who have been individually invited to participate/respond to the consultation? Will the Minister put a freeze on staff transfer requests from the offices proposed for closure? Would the Minister agree that with the uncertainty of brexit, now is not the time to propose changes when we have no idea what adverse impacts may arise?

Civil Rights 2016 – The Issues Remain. Can We Put People Before Profit.

I read a post on Facebook today by one of the leaders of the original Civil Rights Movement – Eamonn McCann MLA.  The post was intended to highlight discrimination against Eamonn and his People Before Profit colleague Gerry Carroll by the Assembly Speaker. Both Assembly members were refused speaking rights on a motion on of all things Transparency & Accountability.

You know your doing something right when the system is afraid to let you speak, but I couldn’t help but wonder what sanction they could impose if you refused to be silenced. A few days out of the chamber or better still an apology, because at least with an apology you would have the opportunity to explain why. Just a thought that stems from the old civil disobedience days.

Eamonns article however went on to explain that he had wanted to raise the issue of the continued destruction of the Housing Executive. A process that has went unchallenged for several years, while the Executive have been stripped of powers in favour of Housing Associations. Housing Associations that have limited regulations and many of them acquire charitable status to disguise the fact that they are private sector companies.

I can imagine this is one of many issues close to Eamonns heart as the Housing Executive was created through pressure from the civil rights movement. The original civil rights movement changed politics and the society we live in with a fair amount of success, but the demands of that time met the needs of that time.

Reading the article today I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a need for a new civil rights movement designed to meet the needs of today. A civil rights movement  that demands an end to the privatisation of health, housing,education and infrastructure to name a few.

I wonder do people know when they say ” Save Our NHS ” do they realise that the bulk of services have already been privatised. Do they know that Care In The Community is outsourced to Charitable and Not for Profit organisations that pay frontline employees the minimum wage with no contracts or employee rights, while the Executive boards are paid obscene wages and expenses. Do people realise it would cost less to provide these same services directly through the NHS. I could go on, not just about Health or Social Housing, but about the multitude of failings that are not only unfair but also cost us financially and in quality of service.

I do feel there is valid grounds to reform the civil rights movement and that a series of demands be agreed. If this is led/facilitated by Eamonn McCann and People Before Profit, it would be appropriate.

For my own part and I’m only one person, I would demand that all Health Services are provided by fully trained, contracted public sector staff.

That the Housing Executive build, allocate and manage all social housing. That they take over the management of all Housing Association projects, and no further government funding is provided to Housing Associations. In the short term all allocations should go directly through the Housing Executive . This is supposed to happen now but we all know it doesn’t. That the Executive be given the same powers of borrowing against the assets they hold, in order to provide new builds and meet demand.

That Public/Private building of schools, further education and all public buildings is abolished. A local example is three further education colleges in Newcastle, Downpatrick & Ballynahinch. All within a 10 mile radius and SERC admitted they had no use for at least one (Ballynahinch) but were stuck with it as it was part owned by the builders. I eventually got them to use it as a Media College, but it had lay dormant for two years.

That Special Needs Units are reopened in areas of need. Most Special Needs Units were closed by 2006 and children who were ill equipped to cope in mainstream schools were forced to do so. In addition Special Needs Classroom Assistants were replaced with general Assistants. This should be available as an option as some parents prefer mainstream schooling but as things stand that choice has been removed.

That you are eligible to vote at 16. A renewed electoral registration drive occurs annually, targeting residences with no registered voters and young people. Young people receive their National Insurance number automatically at 16. Why can that data not be shared with the Electoral Office, who could then automatically include them on the Electoral Register.

That University Students education fees are reduced and in some cases abolished. That students receive full grant aid, particularly medical students. This  may seem unaffordable at first glance, but we are educating our children to be an export while claiming ( Health Trusts) that they can’t recruit doctors to work in our hospitals, particularly rural hospitals. If medical students were offered free education in return for a fixed period of fully paid service at home, I believe a significant number would never leave.

That all Public/Private bodies fully adhere to the Section 75 Equality legislation. At present the most serious offenders are Government Departments and Councils just about know the legislation exists. That Public bodies do more than acknowledge Sect 75 impacts and take action to correct them, rather than say they will continue to monitor them.

That there is a fixed timeframe for the establishment of a Bill of Rights for the north. Particularly important when we exit the EU and are no longer protected by ECHR .

That Gay Marriage legislation is passed in the Assembly within a fixed timeframe or a referendum is held.

That a woman’s right to choice on abortion is protected by law.

That the PSNI through the Department of Justice deal with criminal activity as and when it occurs, not when it is politically convenient. Breaking the law is breaking the law, it is not a political issue.

That Stormont and Councils prioritise spending on services they are legally obliged to provide, namely basic services. At present the spend priority is getting Councillors reelected. Basic infrastructure is inadequate and basic services and facilities are underfunded in order to placate the dominant political parties.

I could go on forever and present any amount of evidence, but I’m sure some people will add to the list. I’m also certain many will find fault or disagree with some of the suggestions, but I suspect that while many will disagree, there is a large section of the community who feel angry, disillusioned and abandoned by the system.

To return to Eamonn McCanns article this morning, he spoke of the irony of not being allowed to speak in a debate about transparency. It is also a very sad irony that one of the greatest victories of the civil rights movement was the right to vote, yet we have 50% of the population who choose not to.if you include the approximately 200k people removed from the register at the start of this century, then we’ve less than half the population voting and in doing so, dictating how the majority of the population live.

If a fraction of those non voters were suddenly motivated to vote for candidates who want to change the system, they could have the majority political alliance in stormont and in the councils. Change is needed and it is not impossible. Change is only impossible when you do nothing.