Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Soundbites and Crystal Balls


The prospect of another assembly election just months after the last has me far from excited this despite my known love of elections. If anything the very idea has me worried. As I said in my last blog the likelihood of another election solving any issue in the interim period or delivering anything other than the same sh!t on a different shovel is highly unlikely. And lets just say another election is called and Arlene again becomes First Minister with her having topped the poll last time around and with unionist voters known for their tactical voting then what then? Another election? Direct rule?

Those of you reading this blog will often see a reference from me to the politics of deflection. My worry is that in the absence of a Stormont Assembly things that require local scrutiny may slip through the back door of Westminster. Things such as the Bedroom tax. 

Another important issue is the need for legislation to deal with the past, given the urgency around funding for inquests. Funding which is being withheld on an all or nothing basis despite the British Governments legal obligation to deal with the past.

In the last attempt to deal with the past the related legislation was to bypass Stormont and go straight to Westminster despite the subsequent denials of the politician. 

In an opinion piece from Ann Cadwallader of the Pat Finucane Centre (Human Rights Organisation) which was published in the Irish News on 28 February 2015 Ms Cadwallader had this to say in respect of the Stormont House Agreement;

It is heartening that party leaders are meeting to discuss the SHA every Monday indicating a certain level of urgency.”

“The legislation required for this jurisdiction is to be handed over to Westminster. The rationale is that it will pass quicker through the House of Commons than through the bear-pit up at Stormont.”

Despite the further concerns outlined in the article from Ann Cadwallader the above information backed up what victims and campaigners were later demonised for highlighting.

When elements of the the proposed legislation were eventually leaked to the public by the press only then did the politicians raise issue with the proposals. This despite the main parties having the document long before it reached the press. A leak which proved that the legislation was loaded in favour of the state in that it gave carte blanche to the Secretary of State via the national security card, and as such offered little to victims seeking truth and justice.

Having voiced my related suspicions to my husband a few days ago I decided to let my thoughts percolate that was until I read the statement published yesterday, January 10 2017, from Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly.

In his statement Mr Kelly who is the party spokesperson on legacy said:

With the  the urgency outlined in respect of money for legacy inquests and keeping in mind that Sinn Fein are the driving force behind the proposed election which will see the assembly dissolve and return no sooner than March, then what must be asked of Mr Kelly in respect of his last comment which states: "they need to implement the Stormont House agreed legacy mechanisms in a human rights compliant manner,"  is, who are the 'they'?

Is there another plan to hand this over to Westminster (as was the case with welfare reform) in the absence of an assembly and in the absence of a robust consultation with all victims, as opposed to a piece meal tick box exercise? Particularly with the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson suggesting that the north is facing a prolonged period of direct rule. In contrast Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams has said that a return to direct rule is not an option.

The fact is that when Adams is saying that direct rule is not an option can he guarantee the formation of an executive after the election? Has he a crystal ball? By the same token, is Jeffrey (who could do a nifty sideline as a Daniel O'Donnell impersonator) being all doom and gloom because to put it bluntly 'fear sells'.

Outside of outstanding issues in this election there are fewer seats to be gained, and this is something that everyone should be concerned about. This will no doubt impact on the smaller parties who make up the opposition both official and otherwise, and will therefore make Stormont less inclusive than it already is.  As much as I think Stormont and the majority of those who roam it's marble corridors are useless, if the smaller parties do take a knock then there will be absolutely nothing and no one to hold the DUP & Sinn Fein to account. And if you take it on the basis of votes, then this is sadly democracy.

Now on the subject of democracy, other spectres looming are Brexit and austerity. In his resignation letter former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness states that the British Government are imposing austerity & brexit against the wishes and best interests of the people here. Now Martin, before you get ahead of yourself, I would remind you that Sinn fein, yes your party, voted to hand the powers of welfare reform to the Tories, so before you accuse them don't forget your own role in that. And as for Brexit, well as someone who voted to remain I was shocked at the outcome, but unfortunately that's democracy. And if Martin casts his mind back to 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement, well that cemented the North into the UK. We might not like the Brexit outcome, but can we pick and choose when to support democracy? If so more people in my house voted against the current regime in Stormont than for it, so does this mean we should be able to secede from a democratic vote?

For my own part, should an election arise, I will be voting on a realistic and tactical basis to send the main parties a clear message and would encourage others to do the same. And, outside of that I'm exploring the options on how I can secede from the North and set up the Peoples Democratic Republic of my house.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Confusing Misogyny with Incompetency

I feel it fair to say that 2016 is a year I’ll never forget. Towards the end of the year critical illness paid our family a visit, with a close relative following his unexpected collapse requiring three major surgeries, one of which has had a life changing impact. Although this has been a difficult time for us this whole experience has helped put life into perspective in that today I refuse to sweat the small stuff or tolerate those with short memories, small-minds or cold hearts.

Now enough about me. Never known to fail, I see our friends in Stormont are doing a fantastic job exposing how useless they really are. Following my short break I return to blogging once again finding that the politicians have made my past analysis of them seem overly fair, optimistic even and at a push generous! If recent events are anything to go by then Stormont truly is as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. And, as the limelight continues to be hogged with one fiasco after another we must question what deals are being done in the background.


As far as I’m aware the Stormont budget was due to be published in December  2016, now unless I’ve overlooked it, I can’t find it anywhere. So, a question is, if this has not been published then why not? Another question is, will the costs incurred via the heating scandal have an impact on the money required for public services? And ultimately, does anyone up there really know what they are doing?

Now to the latest Stormont scandal (yes another one) which involves quite literally burning taxpayer’s money. This is of course the Renewable Heating Incentive, a heating scheme which allows the participants to heat their butts whilst receiving £1.60 for every £1 spent. This scheme set up in 2012 is set to cost taxpayer up to an approximate £500 million in the coming years through a failure to evaluate the cost and potential consequences of such a clearly overly generous offer. In the spotlight for this mess has been The First Minister Arlene Foster who was the former Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment when the scheme was established. Despite her department being responsible for setting the scheme up, making a complete bollix of it, and being warned of the flaws by a whistleblower Arlene says she’s not done anything wrong. Can you imagine if this was a department in a business losing a few hundred million quid?

You might remember the ‘Hoover’ free flights fiasco in the early 1990’s, buy a Hoover product for over £100 and get 2 free airline tickets? Too good to be true, well unfortunately for Hoover it was true and ended up costing the company £48 million quid! The long and the short of this was that despite the scheme being the brainchild of two Hoover Marketing Executives Michael Gilbey and Brian Webb a number of Hoover executives were sacked including William Foust, managing director of Hoover Ltd and president of Hoover Europe.

There have been not so unreasonable calls for Foster to step aside in advance of an inquiry into this scandal from her political opponents but as you would expect big Arlene is staying put and denying all. Indeed she has gone as far as to complain that this is due to misogyny, for such an intelligent woman I cannot understand how she is confusing misogyny with incompetency? I believe that Arlene is following the lead of the DUP’s Nelson McCausland who stood firm over his part in the Red Sky fiasco. In this case McCausland was later found to have acted inappropriately by a Stormont Committee. Subsequently, a motion calling for the assembly to investigate whether McCausland misled the assembly was blocked using the Stormont get out of Gaol card known as the petition of concern. For those who don’t know what a petition of concern is, it’s a veto that can be implemented if 30 MLA’s sign it. So, if a party with 30+ MLA’s disagrees with something in Stormont they just pull out their petition and boom, lights out! In the immortal words of Sheldon Cooper – Bazinga! I doubt the outcome of this latest fiasco will be any different with the petition of concern at the ready.

Now in contrast, Daithi McCay former Sinn Fein MLA took one for the team when he was outsmarted by fleg protestor Jamie Bryson and resigned when it was found he was advising Bryson on how to address a Stormont Committee, Daithi it seems was expendable. McCay’s then party colleague Martin Mr Ó Muilleoir, Finance Minister, refused to stand aside for an investigation after he too was caught up in the Brysongate coaching scandal. At the time Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness the Deputy First Minister accused those seeking for Mr Ó Muilleoir to stand aside of engaging in "petty party politicking". Hasn’t Arlene said something similar recently?

In response to the heating scandal I have found some politicians a bit watery, so watery indeed it became difficult to know who was who in that old orange and green zoo. Sinn Fein appear to have lacked the required leadership in this matter, actually, any leadership for that matter with their calls for Arlene to step aside coming a bit late in the day. And not forgetting that in an Assembly no confidence vote in the First Minister Sinn Fein MLA’s didn’t turn up for the vote. No doubt they were all in the toilet!

I would argue that Sinn Fein raised more of a stink over the annual Bonfire in the Bogside and cleaning costs than they have over the burning of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money. Sinn Fein’s response to this nonsense has even been questioned by some of their supporters publicly with one supporter in a letter published in the Irish News stating,Sinn Féin should pull theStormont charade down or hang their heads in shame.’ I reckon Mr. Reilly from Belfast who penned the letter has been taken off Gerry & Martin’s Christmas Card list.

The Stormont ‘opposition’ on the other hand have been shouting the loudest on this issue as you would expect. Although when all is said and done they are only shouting. Surely a more effective show of opposition would be for them to take to their heels and walk out. Because, until they have enough numbers between them to out vote the SF/DUP love triangle they’re just pissing into the wind, so to speak. Now think about this, if the 42 MLA’s who make up the opposition official and otherwise walked out, how could Stormont be considered functional with over 45% of the elected representatives refusing to engage? There have been calls for a new election. People Before Profit/SWP were first to voice the need for an election, a call which was later faintly echoed by Sinn Fein. Unless People Before Profit/SWP feel they can make electoral gain as a party then why bother? As surely voting patterns show that the orange and green trend will return the same sh1t on a different shovel.

Now something I have touched upon in this article is how Sinn Fein created more of a stink over a bonfire in the Bogside than the ongoing heating scandal, after all I haven’t heard any Sinn Fein Policing Board members calling for the return of the IRA, to deal with heating incentive miscreants. I haven’t heard those MLA’s and elected representatives who bemoaned the cost of clearing the remains of the Bogside Bonfire speak with the same vigour on the heating scandal. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of bonfire’s, however I feel had the situation been better dealt with the outcome could have been different.

At the other end of the spectrum was the recent tantrum in the local press by a Sinn Fein member/ community worker who raised concerns about the bonfire cleanup costs yet gave off a stink because some enterprising people had generously given their time to clean up back lanes in and around Elmwood Terrace and the adjoining streets. Why would anyone complain about people cleaning back lanes for free? Well this Sinn Fein member/Community worker represents a community group that was charging people £15 to clean their back passage (Cue Kenneth Williams LOL). Yes, this group will have the weeds in your back alley removed and sprayed, for a fee, so you know where to go for a trim that is if you have £15 to spare.

Finally, I don’t know whether it’s good to be back or not particularly with the sweat running out of me as I write this, thanks to my new wood pellet burning boiler which gives me £1.60 for every £1 I spend (I wish).

Happy New year

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Protect Life 2: A Strategy for Suicide Prevention in the North of Ireland

Something which has touched so many people across this city is the scourge of suicide and through this platform I've highlighted this a number of times. I've also used this diary to show some of the proactive steps that have been taken to promote positive mental health & wellbeing & suicide prevention. A recent event for World Suicide Prevention Day was the 'Empty Chair' when community activists took to the centre of Derry and distributed thousands of pieces of information to the public.

Everyone has mental health needs whether they have a diagnosis of mental illness and during the course of any year 1 in four people will suffer from a mental illness, yet sadly not everyone gets the support they need. There are a range of factors that influence our mental health & wellbeing and acccording to the Protect Life 2 document, 'Suicide rates in the most deprived areas here are three times higher than in the least deprived; for self harm that differential is four times higher. And men continue to be three times more likely to die by suicide than women.' It's time for Stormont to step up to the plate!

The 2003-2008 Promoting Mental Health Strategy & Action plan published by the DHSSPSNI had a number of specific actions relating to Prisons/the justice system, including – Action 12: 'The Prison service will provide access to appropriate services to those in prison with recognised mental health problems.' And Action 28: 'The prison services will ensure that all remand and sentenced prisoners continue to receive initial and ongoing monitoring of their mental health & assessment of the risk of suicide.'

The recent cases of Sean Lynch and Paddy Kelly immediately come to mind. Sean who whilst very unwell self harmed and blinded himself and Paddy Kelly a prisoner with a known history of self harm who asked not to keep his own medications overdosed on stockpiled medications and passed away. Both men were prisoners in Maghaberry prison.

Two days ago Steven Davis, the Governor of Maghaberry Gaol said that 'prisons are not suitable for dealing with people with serious mental health problems.' After numerous prisoners have completed suicide and with over 25% of the 900 men held in Maghaberry said to have severe mental health issues I don't think I'm being unkind when I say Mr Davis' statement is too little too late.

The Stormont Assembly has now published a consultation on their proposed strategy to address suicide & self harm. So we now have the opportunity to have an input to tell those in positions of power what is needed, and when we tell them what is needed and they publish their final strategy we can hold them to account if they continue to fail vulnerable people who need support.

The Protect Life 2 strategy consultation is open until November 4th 2016 and I would urge everyone who can make a positive contribution to take this opportunity.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Dialogue Not Deflection

Let me take you out of Derry tonight and into the heart of North Belfast to a place called Ardoyne. Ardoyne has been at the centre of a lot of controversy recently following negotiations to dismantle the Twadell Protest Camp. The Protest Camp was set up in July 2013 in opposition to a parade ruling to restrict an Orange Order Parade. What was effectively an act of trespass on the part of the protesters ended up costing the taxpayer a staggering £21 million to police, with the the camp located close to the nationalist Ardoyne area. Yes folks you've read that correctly, at a time when health, education and welfare budgets were being slashed, £21 million was spent on policing an illegal camp. Welcome to Starship Norn Iron!

A few weeks ago it emerged that negotiations to dismantle the Twadell camp were not only ongoing but at an advanced stage. Key to these negotiations were two gentlemen in particular, the Reverend Harold Goode and Derry 'business' man Jim Roddy MBE. The Reverend Harold Goode is well known for his input in situations of a sensitive nature but I fail to see where Jim Roddy fitted here, in fact I'm equally curious as to what line of business he is in.

Let me clarify, it is not my intention to dismiss Jim's efforts, on the contrary, his temerity is to be commended. With the removal of the Twadell camp marking the first phase of a possible many Jim now has the task of engaging with residents who are clearly unhappy with the process and the outcome of the negotiations both he and others played a pivotal role in. So on that note, Good Luck Jim!

The angry scenes in Ardoyne last weekend dominated news headlines and singled out one Ardoyne resident in particular, GARC spokesperson Dee Fennell. In a spate of unbalanced media reporting Fennell has been heavily criticised and labelled a bully for his forthright manner towards local clergy member Fr Gary Donegan. What some press outlets have failed to show or mention is that Fennell's input came about as he tried to diffuse a potentially volatile situation involving irate residents. This is clear from the unedited version of video footage which appeared online. In the 'edited version' the media didn't show Mr. Fennell pointing out to Fr Donegan how local residents were unable to go about their business, and how the allowing of this parade was not welcomed by a lot of people in the area. As someone who has crossed swords (online debate) with Fennell  in the past and with no axe to grind either way I feel that Fennell is being used as a scapegoat to deflect from a deal which excluded residents from a process they should have been central to. Something which has has been confirmed by one Ardoyne resident I am friendly with. Not much of a fresh start!

As the dust settled I was surprised to read that Father Gary Donegan stated that the 'confrontation with protesters' on Saturday reminded him of the Holy Cross dispute. Oddly, I don't remember any news reports from Saturday showing people throwing bombs at children trying to get to school. It would seem that Father Gary is playing his part in trying to move the focus away from the issue of contention residents face, which is they don't want a loyalist parade in their area. If you're reading this Father Donegan I would suggest a period of reflection followed by a concerted effort to engage with your flock, and this time the entire flock. After all if I'm not mistaken does Catholic not mean universal and all encompassing because if I'm right then helping exclude residents from the process wasn't very Catholic of you.

To understand why people are feeling angry particularly those who were prevented from going about their daily business on Saturday those quick to condemn them should have a cursory glance at Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This article provides for the right to have your family, private life, home and correspondence respected. Article 9 provides for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, so those parishioners of Father Donegan's who couldn't attend his church, in their own area, or who are being lambasted by the media for expressing an opinion are having their human rights violated. But hey why let facts get in the way of deflection!

One of the things that saddened me most this weekend was the scene with the older man who was clearly frustrated by the way he and his community had been treated, a man who has since been described as a heckler. Where was Father Gary's Christianity as he stood glaring at this older man? It seemed that Father Donegan was incapable of understanding that this man was upset and moreover, incapable of responding to him. This was a long way from when the same Father Donegan was interviewed for an article called 'Faith on the Interface' when he said “the fact that his parishioners did not have to endure the return parade reduced tension on the Catholic side.” When my husband watched Fr Gary's performance on the news, he said “if ever there was a poster boy for atheism it's yer man there.” If the picture had of been in black & white I would've guessed it was back at the time when no one could say boo to man of the cloth, and just look where that ended up!

As people watch the biased news reports singling out individuals as bullies or hecklers maybe they should look at what the people of Ardoyne have had to endure. There were nearly 100 lives lost in the parish during the troubles and there was the Holy Cross issue and the attacks on School children. Added to this has been the violence meted out against residents during successive marching seasons. Violence such as a leading loyalist ramming his car into a crowd of people injuring a 13 year old girl, and those incidents barely scratch the surface of what they have endured.

The reality now for the people of Ardoyne is that a precedent has been set for the return leg of the Orange Order march. As it stands residents are now in limbo as to what happens next and unsure of what they will have to 'endure'. To address this there needs to be immediate dialogue between the negotiators and local residents, particularly those initially excluded from the process,. With this I do hope a broad consensus can be reached. I would also hope that those buying into the outcome of the alleged consultation on the issue consider that the views of community groups, most of which are politically weighted, are no substitute for the views and input of the people who live in the area. The people who will have to endure the aftermath of each deal imposed upon them and the precedent it sets.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Three Simple Words

Every year on September 10th people across the world mark World Suicide Prevention Day. This year people from across Derry took part in an initiative to highlight mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention.

This initiative, the 'empty chair' was to use visual art signifying the loss of a friend or loved one as a focal point to attract people's attention. The origin of the empty chair is that people often have a favourite chair at home where they usually sit. When we lose a loved one, a poignant reminder of the loss is their empty chair. The empty chair in the Guildhall Square and in different areas of the city were significant for a number of reasons; they are in memory of those who have lost their lives to suicide, they are to remind those who have lost friends and loved ones to suicide that they are in our thoughts and to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing.

A key element of this initiative was to encourage discussion about mental health and suicide prevention. Last Saturday morning staff from Niamh (the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health), from Time 2 Choose Mindcrafts and community activists such as myself placed 'empty chairs' at locations around the city. These empty chairs were painted white and had laminates attached to them giving information on the project and links to online mental health & wellbeing resources.
Some of the team for WSPD16

At 12 noon we unveiled a large ‘empty chair’ in the Guildhall Square in Derry. And for the next few hours we distributed thousands of leaflets and information on mental health and wellbeing to people throughout the city centre. We also provided the opportunity for people to leave their own personal message on the chair.

The event was an unqualified success and was welcomed by people who had lost loved ones and friends to suicide. One woman who had lost her grandson had heard about the event on the radio the day before and wanted to find out what it was about. This woman told one of the people giving out the information that she was delighted to see something taking place, she felt it was cathartic to be able to talk about suicide, that people shy away from the conversation, and that having lost someone to have someone listen to her story made the difference.

Some of the conversations taking place, and the messages left on the 'empty chair' would've broken your heart, I can't find any other way to describe them. One of the most important conversations that actually took place that day was the conversation between one of the people involved in handing out information and a man in crisis near the river. Thankfully this man was brought to safety away from the rivers edge.

The positivity that stemmed from this event cannot be underestimated. In the week that past since I have heard from quite a few people who saw the chairs and want to get involved next year.

In this blog I have touched on many of the social and economic factors that can impact on mental health & wellbeing and I have also acknowledged the amazing work of organisations such as Foyle Search & Rescue. I would also urge people to take time to read a publication authored by Iris Elliot of the Mental Health Foundation on Poverty & Mental Health. As a city rife with poverty and the effects of poverty this is essential reading. This document should be emailed to each politician along with the recently published Joseph Rowntree Foundation strategy to end poverty.

Mental health and wellbeing is not something that should be or needs to be left solely in the hands of organisations or groups, it also goes beyond initiatives such as ours and into the hands of every person. Mental health & wellbeing begins with each of us, from looking after our own wellbeing to supporting others to look after theirs. That support could be simply listening to someone, it could be directing someone to an organisation such as the Samaritans (who are currently looking for volunteers).

Figures published by the International Association for Suicide Prevention each year, show over 800,000 people die from suicide; this roughly corresponds to one death every 40 seconds.
In the north of Ireland in 2014 there were 268 lives lost to suicide and although this was a welcome reduction on the previous figure published by the Office of National Statistics more work needs to be done.

It is estimated that during 2012 for each adult who died of suicide there were over 20 others who made suicide attempts. We want people who are despairing and thinking about suicide to know that there is help available. Stigma can be a barrier to people seeking help, but it is essential that people seek help. Speaking to a friend, family member or your GP can help people begin their recovery journey enabling them to realise their full potential.

It is important for people to know that support is available and that we need to encourage people to talk about mental health to break down the stigma surrounding it. When people think about mental health they often shy away from the subject. We need to start having a conversation about mental health & wellbeing and it can start with three simple words.

 How are you?


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Open Letter to Secretary of State re Tony Taylor

 Dear Mr Brokenshire

I am writing to you in your role as British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I wish to register my concern over the ongoing incarceration of Derry man Tony Taylor. As I am sure you are aware Tony Taylor was arrested whilst on a shopping trip in Derry with his family on March 10th of this year. From there he was taken to Maghaberry Prison where he continues to be held on the signature of your predecessor Theresa Villiers, now perpetuated by yourself. This despite it being found that Ms Villiers acted unlawfully with her initial instruction found to be in contravention of Article 28(2)(a) and (b) of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order (2008).

A core principle of natural justice is the right to know the case against you so as to build a legal defence and challenge any charges you face, however in the case of Tony Taylor, Tony is not facing charges. Administrative Detention and Closed Material Proceedings nullify this right as well as the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time frame. These procedures may meet the minimum standards required by article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights but they are not and cannot be objectively fair as has been acknowledged by senior members of the British Judiciary. Moreover meeting the minimum standards and the minimum standards being regarded as acceptable by the wider population are two different things, keeping in mind that everything Hitler did in Germany met their legal standards.

As a purported peaceful and progressive society it is sad to see methods synonymous with the period defined as the 'troubles' re-employed with Tony's administrative detention viewed by many as internment without trial. Internment/administrative detention has been used in the North in every decade of the Stormont regime, and whilst the name has changed the fundamental fact that people are still being denied their liberty in the absence of due process cannot be disputed.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which received the overwhelming support of the people on this island promised us a 'new beginning', an 'era in which justice would be done and be seen to be done' as well as 'measures compatible with a normal and peaceful society'. I put to you Mr Brokenshire that administrative detention and closed material proceedings have no place in any normal and peaceful society. With this I believe the treatment of Tony Taylor to be an affront to any notion of democracy and in breach of the promises laid down in the Good Friday Agreement. Whilst there have been subsequent agreements these agreements like yourself did not receive public endorsement here.

And on the subject of endorsement have you given any consideration as to how the treatment of Tony Taylor will impinge on proposals to deal with the past? Last year Nationalist politicians raised concerns over your veto on disclosure when draft clauses linked to legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement were leaked to the public. Whilst their concerns were voiced at a late stage their points were none the less valid and are more valid today with your ability to detain a man with neither charge, trial nor sufficient explanation. In simple terms if you will not disclose why Tony Taylor is being denied his liberty then how are we expected to believe that you will disclose information on the state's role in the troubles here?

In closing, if you are genuine about dealing with the past then I would suggest the immediate cessation of administrative detention and that Tony Taylor be afforded due process or released to his family immediately. As Secretary of State you cannot claim to be keen to deal with the past whilst utilising mechanisms synonymous with the past, otherwise what is past is prologue.

Yours Sincerely
Pauline Mellon

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Cool Your Jets!

With no pun intended things have been quite heated in Derry recently both before and after the Bogside Bonfire. So much so that Johnathan Powell (British Peace Negotiator) was last reported heading for hills. And could you blame him with some politicians hotter under the collar than those who attended the bonfire.

Bonfires like them or loathe them are a recognised tradition. As such some city councils operate a bonfire management scheme to ensure that these are family friendly and safe events. Unfortunately our council area appears to have a two tier system of bonfire management. As the young people in the Bogside faced recrimination, they were aware that in the Fountain Estate overlooking where they live was another bonfire, one that did not see the same level of controversy. But then this is no doubt down to good community leadership in that area..

Talks about the bonfire broke down when to put it as simply as possible the young people disengaged feeling dictated to. With little leadership or compromise being provided by our so called civic and political leaders local young people later lit the bonfire at the bottom of the City flyover, and with the controversy surrounding this action the bonfire was attended by more people than in previous years.

The burning of Sinn Fein election boards has sparked a lot anger particularly amongst party members and supporters. Whilst I disagree with burning images reaction to this from Sinn Fein party members has been astounding. To understand this we need to question why young people feel so marginalised that they will burn election posters, the burning of British flags is nothing new. However when we question the actions of the young people we need to examine the actions and responses of civic and political leaders. We had the former Sinn Fein Mayor brand people scum, a call for the reinstatement of the IRA by a member of the policing board and a man refer to the children as feral children. All this over a bonfire, the mess of which was cleaned within hours the next day. If only every mess could be cleaned up so easily!

As some politicians and their cronies continue with their outbursts they seem to have overlooked their own wrong doing in this, yet I'm sure their self inflated egos would shudder at the very notion that in their omnipotence they had done anything wrong. Young people are just like the rest of us if they get respect then they're more likely to give it. What's interesting in all this is that out of all the parties and groups it's those connected with Sinn Fein who are the most vitriolic on this issue.

In an article published in the Irish News on Saturday 21st August Martin McGuinness claimed dissident republicans are 'manipulating' youths behind the attacks on Dove House. With this assertion we must question if McGuinness has evidence to substantiate this. If yes has he taken it to the police? If no then are we to assume that this political grandstanding?

In reference to local children McGuinness went on to say: “They need to get their act together; their parents need toget their act together”. If ever there was a brass neck!!! If you want to talk about 'needing to get their act together', lets talk about the fact that the Stormont Administration has failed to develop an anti-poverty strategy for Northern Ireland. Last year High Court Judge Mr Justice Treacy ruled that the Stormont administration was in breach of a duty to implement an overarching blueprint for tackling social exclusion and deprivation. Yet I don't hear the same level of vitriol over the failure to implement a poverty strategy than I do over the bonfire! 

Let's talk about the unemployment level and lack of opportunity for young people, I'll bet you've heard more about the bonfire than you've heard about that. What about the increase of people relying on food-banks? And let's not forget how Stormont parties including Sinn Fein were happy to hand the power over 'welfare reform' to the Tories. If ever a people were shafted by their political leaders then this surely must go down in history as a prime example. So Mr McGuinness the next time you decide to launch all manner of unsubstantiated attacks on people, can I suggest a period of self reflection first.

I would like to point out that this is not an attack on Sinn Fein but as previously pointed out members of their party have been the most vitriolic on this issue. Had Sinn Fein have taken time to engage with local youths instead of demonising them then things could have been a lot different and still could  with cool heads and a common sense approach. 

Cherishing ALL children of the nation equally.