I would've liked to begin this year on a positive note but with the events of last year I remain sceptical. Here in the eventful Starship Norn Iron, 2015 shone a beam on so much including the latest in a long line of deals entitled a 'Fresh Start'. Yes that right 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement promised us a 'new beginning' we now await a fresh start. A start which involves savage cuts to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society despite promises from some that it would never happen. But then what some say before an election can greatly differ from what they do or in some cases don't do after.
Now on the subject of not doing what you're supposed to, last year it was confirmed that the IRA hadn't gone away after all. Whilst this came as a surprise the bigger surprise was that Gerry Adams was telling truth in 1995 when he said 'they haven't gone away.' Yes that right those butterflies remain armed and dangerous much like the loyalist butterflies who recently renewed their ceasefire. Despite the recent UDA death threat the British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers assures us that the ceasefire is still in tact. Is it me or does this bring back memories of the late Mo Mowlam and her reference to internal house keeping following the murder of Charles Bennett?
Thanks to the efforts of TD Mick Wallace it was revealed that a top politician in the north was to benefit from the Nama deal. Despite rumours this is said to have nothing to do with Peter Robinson's departure from politics. A departure which has led to the reigns of democracy being handed over to the DUPs first female leader, the north's very own Iron lady Arlene Foster.
The SDLP too had a change in leadership with Dr Doom being replaced by to the north-west’s very own answer to Rowdy Yeats, Colum Eastwood. Since taking up position as leader Colum has released a few statements. The problem is unless the SDLP regain support at a community level they will not make any change to their numbers or influence in Stormont. Maybe now Colum will take on board the recommendations presented in a report commissioned by the SDLP and later rejected by Colum himself in 2013. Here is one of my favourite statements from Colum.....
|Or would that be old faces in new places?|
The refugee crisis touched the hearts of many here whilst the prospect of their living here fueled protests from those less sympathetic. Others whilst supportive of the need to provide shelter and assistance to those fleeing presented hair brained ideas giving no indication of how these ideas would be managed, supported or resourced. Grand gestures are one thing but we must ensure that these matters are dealt with sensitively to ensure a comfortable transition for those refugees who have been displaced against their will.
A few days ago newly released state papers from 1988 showed that the Soviet Union raised issue with the treatment of paramilitary prisoners with the British government. Russia also argued that non-jury trials for certain offences infringed individual freedoms. Maybe someone should take the time to write to Russia's current president to inform him that very little has changed with non-jury courts still in use year not to mention the ongoing ill treatment of prisoners in the north. A recent report into conditions in Maghaberry prison described Maghaberry as the ‘most dangerous’ prison.
Nick Hardwick the Chief Inspector of prisons in England and Wales said the prison is "not safe for the prisoners health, it's not safe for the staff who care for them and it's not safe for the communities into which these men will be returned with very little done to reduce the risk that they will stop offending." This report follows a report published in 2009 when Prison inspectors Dame Anne Owers and Dr Michael McGuire said “Maghaberry Prison was one of the most “expensive prisons” to run yet one of the “worst in the UK.”
As well as the prison issue going unresolved we now see problems with addressing the past. Here the underhandedness of many was exposed by a group of people who simply know right from wrong. To break something down to simple right and wrong and to humanise it to see the person behind the statistic is not something we have seen from Stormont or its funded quangos. I witnessed first hand how the families of murder victims were dismissed outright for raising concerns about so called legacy plans. I saw how these people were treated at public meetings by those who claim to have victims best interests at heart. And I saw how those who attacked people who raised legitimate concerns had to eat their own words when they couldn't stand over the farce they had been sold and had in turn been selling to the public.
The simple fact that the the legacy issue was not included in the fresh start deal speaks volumes. Plans by the British Government and their Stormont puppets to rail road the legacy issues through were scuppered when exposed for what they were, a whitewash designed to give the impression that the needs of victims are being addressed when the only needs being truly met are the needs of those who stand to gain from drawing an arbitrary line in the sand.
When you look at the lack of progress being made by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) you can't help but question if the proposed Historical Investigations Unit expected to deal with troubles related deaths will be any better. The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) was established to examine allegations of torture and unlawful killings. Five years after their establishment, there has yet to be a single prosecution despite there being evidence to warrant criminal charges.
2015 was what I can only describe as an interesting year, as we enter 2016 you could argue that we as a society are no further forward. The politicians continue to preen, pose and prevaricate with no will or ability to move from their foxholes and do the right thing. In this past year I have seen people from all backgrounds find a voice that others would love to stifle or silence. I have seen people rally against Stormont cuts, I have seen people step out of their comfort zones and raise their heads above the parapet without fear and face down those who would dismiss and demean them, and there is the crux of it my friends, people, ordinary people will make the difference, not those who have huge expenses and salaries out of the public purse, not those who run agendas to suit their own ends.
As you know I'm not fond of politicians, but I'm minded of a quote by the Labour MP Tony Benn:
“In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person--Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates--ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.“
Onward and upwards!