The political drama in the north has been intense over the past few weeks, so much so it has left me questioning whether or not a lot of it is a sideshow designed to take the focus of more imminent issues.
Brexit remains a prominent feature in this deflection as was also clear from the recent local council meeting I attended. Here a motion was carried to have the rights of the majority respected with the majority of people in Derry & the north having voted to remain within the EU.
Now here's the rub, these politicians like myself knowingly took part in a UK wide referendum yet are now refusing to accept the democratic outcome because it didn't go in their favour. As someone who openly voted to remain within the EU I believe the actions of both 'nationalist' parties to be disingenuous as well as being dismissive of their much vaunted Good Friday Agreement. An agreement which in effect cemented the north into the UK via the following section 'Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people'. Note to politicians this isn't the hokey cokey we haven't the luxury of dipping in and out when it suits, as another song goes, 'we're all in this together', like it or loathe it.
Usually when there's an election in the air you can't go thirty paces without the forced smile of a potential politician scaring small children from their perch on a lamp post. But this election was different despite the huge impact a leave vote would have. The performance by the 'Nationalist' parties was lackluster at best, I would go so far as to say even a healthy dose of viagra wouldn't have given their campaigns the oomph required. This would explain the overall low Nationalist turnout. It's actually sad to think that a comedian was a more prominent and effective remain campaigner than all the comedians, sorry politicians here.
Post Brexit the SDLP's Colum Eastwood said "here on the island of Ireland, we must map the challenges, purposes and priorities that could most affect us, north and south, rather than following the impulses and bad decisions of the British government". This comment whilst constructive is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted in that these “challenges, purposes and priorities” should have been discussed in advance of any referendum.
Sinn Fein's immediate response to Brexit was to call for a border poll. As keen negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement I'm sure Sinn Fein are aware that a border poll not only requires the consent of a majority people but the express permission of the British Secretary of State. With partition having been designed to ensure a six county unionist majority I don't believe we'll see a border poll anytime soon. And if by some miracle we do then with the uncertainty deriving from Brexit I doubt we will get the desired outcome unless of course we buy into the outcome of recent opinion polls which don't require the permission of the Secretary of State or proof that you live in Ireland north or south.
At a meeting held recently in Strabane Sinn Fein representatives announced that they have retained two international barristers in a bid to challenge the British Government over Brexit. Sinn Fein's Pat Doherty suggested that the party want to protect the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement. With Donegal Senator Padraig Maclochlainn stating that “Brexit is dangerous and destabilising for the peace process”. The strong possibility of a physical border is another bone of contention for the party, that with the added fear of a British military presence at the borders. Whilst these are genuine concerns, I think at this point energies should be channeled into getting the best deal possible for the north in terms of the border, financial assurances and GFA obligations.
One of my main concerns is that outside of the EU we effectively lose a regulatory body, which when necessary can scrutinise the actions of Cruel Britannia without us having to go through Strasbourg which includes a lengthy process. Everything else is up for negotiation and who knows there may even be a legal loophole to be exploited.
Now back to the hokey cokey, if we had the luxury of opting in and out of the UK then our politicians should have done so over the welfare reform debacle. The idea that further hardship is to be inflicted upon a struggling population still suffering the after effects of the conflict does not bear thinking about. If we at any time deserved special status then it should have been then. But oh no after a bit of costly sham fighting our politicians handed devolved welfare powers back to the millionaire Tory cabinet in an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility.
This is the same Tory government in London “who don’t give a damn about people in the North – unionist or nationalist” as was recently stated by Martin McGuinness. It's a pity his party didn't take the same view when agreeing to hand welfare powers back to them. But then these same Sormont parties were content to hand legislation to deal with the past over to Westminster until challenged by local victims at which point they began to back track. Whether they will hand this legislation to Westminster in the coming months remains to be seen. Either way this legislation will be submitted soon with a significant amount of focus now being placed on the need to deal with the past and the need for victim's trauma services.
And on the need for services I would like to see those in public office devote more attention to other issues stemming from the troubles. The sad truth is we have lost more people to suicide since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement than those killed during the troubles. Added to this is the recorded heavy reliance on anti-depressants in the north as well as the growing addiction crisis. Yet despite this we have little by way of resources to properly address these issues. Whilst many of these people don't fall into the victim category they are none the less victims of circumstance and as human rights go are entitled to services conducive to their well-being. Services which are currently limited to the point of non-existent in many places.
Another concern is the issue of Welfare reform. Could I be right in thinking that the Brexit debacle is being used to divert attention from ongoing savage cuts to the welfare budget? Brexit to take the focus of the many more set to struggle to afford breakfast? With recent figures showing the numbers reliant on emergency food parcels from the Trussel Trust in the north having increased by 48%.
The Disability Living Allowance which is widely claimed in the north has recently been replaced by the Personal Independence Payment. With this there has been little explanation on how the three rates of payment under DLA have been reduced to two under PIPs, removing the lower rate that many currently rely on. With the main Stormont parties quiet on the subject I have attached an information leaflet below.
Another issue which has managed to slide by quietly is the recent questioning of the Bloody Sunday Soldiers. These soldiers were questioned by appointment then later released without charge having refused to comment. The idea that those suspected of murder, I would go further and say war crimes, were able to dictate the terms of their questioning and halt a police investigation to do so to this day still astounds me, particularly with the suspects having been pinpointed during a lengthy judicial inquiry. In terms of their questioning my guess is these soldiers who are being supported by the MOD had two options open to them, silence or to state they were following orders which is no longer a defence. And even if it was the shooters have already been branded rogues and bad apples by those higher up the chain of command to take the focus of how the whole orchard was rotten from root to branch, top to bottom. Bad apples and rogue elements seem to be the phrases used when state forces are exposed as being involved in torture and murder. From collusion and shoot to kill in the north to the torture and murder of Iraqi civilians in the far east.
As many of the Bloody Sunday families continue in their quest for justice I can't help but notice a two tier justice system right down to the cut backs in the legal aid budget. Moreover I can't help but think of how the issues marched for that day January 1972 remain the same despite increased representation at Stormont. We still have internment without trial as is seen in the case of Tony Taylor who is being held at the whim of the British Secretary of State, and we continue to have a housing and poverty crisis. Ask yourself outside of the the peace carve up and superficial window dressing how far have we really come?
In a recent televised interview Veteran Civil Rights leader Ivan Cooper told the politicians here to get “off their asses and get the work done”. When discussing the non-violent, ant-sectarian civil rights movement he described it as a “great movement” adding there was “never another one like it”. With many politicians only good at sitting on their asses I can't help but think maybe there should be?
I suppose as I sign off this latest entry it would be remiss of me not to mention the Irish Government strategy when it comes to referenda, with specific reference to the treaties of Lisbon & Nice. If at first you don't get the result you want just hold another referendum. Sure it flies in the face of democracy but it seems democracy is only democracy when you get the result you want. If the remain camp had won the brexit vote I'm quite sure they would've been telling anyone objecting to the outcome to respect the democratic wishes of the people anything else is Anti Good Friday Agreement by malcontent Anti Democracy Dissidents and will only help to destabilise the North.