Archive for the ‘Northern Ireland’ Category

So the date is set for the referendum that will decide whether Britain stays in the EU or leaves after 40 years a member: 23 June. Most of the political parties at Westminster are allowing their MPs to campaign on either side of the debate, whatever the official party policy might be. Boris Johnson announced to the world he was in favour of Brexit like he was Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments on his tablet. Subtext to the Prime Minister, his party leader, who will vote to stay in: “It’s not about you, Dave. It’s just me”.

But here’s the thing. It’s looking like the debate in Northern Ireland will divide along party lines more than anywhere else in the UK. In other words, it’s going to be sectarian. We’re still waiting to see which way the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) goes but the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) have declared in favour of Brexit. The nationalist parties, Sinn Fein (SF) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) as well as the self-declared ‘cross-community’ Alliance Party (NIAP) want Britain to stay in.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Teresa Villiers, has come out loud and early in favour of Brexit, provoking Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of NI, to recommend she consider her position, a call she dismissed as ‘ridiculous’. While it might be a futile call, ridiculous it is not because the DFM has a point. For in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, the British and Irish government are custodians of that Agreement, a legally-binding international treaty agreed in the interests of all people on the island of Ireland. If the Northern Ireland Secretary declares herself in favour of leaving the EU, an eventuality that would have profound economic implications for the North and South of Ireland – raising barriers once again instead of taking them down – then that is a position that will undermine the Agreement, not safeguard it. Her position is especially more precarious in light of the fact that her boss, Prime Minister David Cameron, is in favour of staying in. It’s all very well to argue that Villiers has as much right to declare her hand on the issue as any other government minister but that is to ignore the point that in relation to Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement, she is not just any other minister.

mcguinness and villiers

Don’t be ridiculous, Martin!

As for the likely sectarian complexion of the Brexit debate here in the North, it will be interesting to see how the vote pans out among the general electorate. Will the sectarian divide among the political parties here be reflected at the poll? Or will voters do something they don’t usually do at our endless elections here: vote on the recommendation of, deep breath here, ‘the other side’? As a socialist, I have many issues with the EU in terms of its institutional power and reach, its democratic deficit, its punitive treatment of Ireland and especially Greece over their respective bail-outs after the global financial crash of 2008, and its appalling handling of the refugees fleeing from war in Syria. But the prospect of life in Northern Ireland outside of the EU and at the sole mercy of Her Majesty’s Treasury for the economic subventions we can’t do without is on balance too scary for words. So I guess that means I will be voting on the same side as the Irish nationalist parties. Then again, if I voted in favour of leaving I would be on the same side as the Unionists, all of them nationalists of a British hue. Many of us voters here may well make a non-sectarian decision on 23 June but our vote will be informed by nationalism, whichever way we go.

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book coverThe War Correspondent-1

 

bloody sunday cover

On Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, British paratroopers killed thirteen innocent men in Derry. It was one of the most controversial events in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict and also one of the most mediated. The horror was recorded in newspapers and photographs, on TV news and current affairs, and in film and TV drama. In a cross media analysis that spans a period of almost forty years up to the publication of the Saville Report in 2010, The British Media and Bloody Sunday identifies two countervailing impulses in media coverage of Bloody Sunday and its legacy: an urge in the press to rescue the image and reputation of the British Army versus a troubled conscience in TV current affairs and drama about what was done in Britain’s name. In so doing, it suggests a much more complex set of representations than a straight- forward propaganda analysis might allow for, one that says less about the conflict in Ireland than it does about Britain, with its loss of empire and its crisis of national identity.

Interested readers can find out more at Amazon Author Central.

There was great excitement on The Pat Kenny Show on RTE Radio 1 this morning (20 May 2013) when security analyst, Tom Clonan, came on to tell Pat what we can expect for the forthcoming G8 Summit in Fermanagh.  This, said Tom, was a fantastic opportunity to ‘showcase’ Northern Ireland to the world!  Yes indeed. Northern Ireland, land of dissident golfers, flag protestors, horsemeat processing and world-leading centre for excellence in evicting the elderly from the their homes. Oh…and Coleraine cheese, which in Chinese medicine is a much sought-after, PC alternative to rhino horns. Now, the people of North have a lot of experience of being locked out of their own countryside – look at the new golf resort planned in place of the Causeway Coast World Heritage site. But the G8 are taking it to a new level altogether. Consider the following measures, for example.

To secure the beautiful Fermanagh Lakelands for our global masters in June, the British government are moving the local population cross-country to the controversial Maze Prison site (anti-capitalist protestors are getting Magheraberry Prison, lucky bastards!) and drafting in over 2000 security and intelligence personnel, some of them presently deployed foiling the evil Taleban in Afghanistan and all manner of terrorists and defenceless civilians in Iraq. After all, we know what a good job they’ve been doing in those theatres to date. The scary bit in all this is the involvement of private security contractor, G4S. Yes, the same G4S that cried off from doing security at the Olympics in London last year because it couldn’t guarantee the safety of Boris Johnson. Rumour has it that if they mess up this one in Fermanagh, they’ll win the contract to protect Edwin Poots. Hooray!

Due to the fact that every hotel and hostelry in Fermanagh will be booked up by the security entourages of the Americans, Russians, French, Chinese and Michelle Obama, these extra spooks from MI5 and other British intelligence services will be put up in so-called ‘snooze boxes’.  These are high-spec storage containers kitted out with all the mod cons and keyless entry as standard (although fussier personnel can choose bolt-ons such as soft furnishings, scented candles and cushioned toilet roll).  Presumably, the keyless entry will be biometric, meaning that a Northern Ireland accent/stare/spray-on-tan would trigger an all-out code-red alert and shut the whole county down. But if you come from Northern Ireland and you’ve ever had weird conversations with call-centre personnel (or worse, computers!) based in England, you will understand that such precautions are totally unnecessary.

Apparently, and I am unable to independently verify this information, elite units of MI5 have been trained in the jungles of Borneo, using chickens and pythons, to distinguish between a Fermanagh farmer and a dissident republican or between a terrorist training camp and a home farm sale. I bet Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, will be looking for more cuts to health and social services to pay for that kind of training! It doesn’t come cheap, you know, and we should be grateful to Sammy and the NI Executive for continuing the fight against terrorists, evil doers and traitors to Ireland. Isn’t that right, Martin?

What I understand to be more definite though, at least according to Tom Clonan, is that the Brits will order mobile phone companies to shut down their networks for the duration of the summit and deploy two or three predator drone aircraft to keep an eye on things from above . The drones should help with the farm sale –  their high resolution photography is so hi-spec that it can mark out a turnip from a swede from 60, 000 feet up and target it for destruction with a margin of error of just 3 inches. Impressive. But I’m not so sure about the mobile phone bit. They say it is to prevent terrorists using a fiendish new app to remotely detonate whatever bombs they plan to hide in the vicinity of our defenceless masters.  We can only hope that if we have an emergency during the Summit, we can find a telephone box but it seems a very extreme measure when all they need do is shift us all onto the Orange network.

Pat Kenny was very excited by all this but rather taken aback to hear that the Irish government would be obliged to secure its side of the border and pay for it all itself without any financial support from the G8. As Clonan pointed out, though, that’s because Ireland is a EU country and, after all, Pat, we’re all in this together!

Speak for yourself, Tom! Count me out!

PS. Grumpy old Rab is getting very vexed about the media build up to the Summit over at Media Studies Is Shit.  Definitely worth a look for those of us who just can’t wait to be ‘showcased’ to a bunch of neoliberal gangmasters!

After watching Simon Reeves’ Cuba on BBC2, the other night (11 December), I imagined his next programme to be Simon Reeves’ Northern Ireland. Readers please note that I have no clue how to write a professional TV script so pedantic corrections are fruitless. Thank you! 

Pre-title sequence: LONG SHOTS OF A ‘PEACE WALL’ IN BELFAST.  CUT TO MEDIUM SHOTS OF SMALL CHILDREN IN BALACLAVAS THROWING PETROL BOMBS AT THE POLICE. PAN OUT TO A GRIM-FACED, SHIVERING SIMON REEVES IN HAWAIIAN SHIRT, SHORTS AND SANDALS (JUST OFF THE PLANE FROM GUANTANAMO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT).

Reeves:  Belfast. 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement and the tragedy continues. Behind me, little children repeat the mistakes of their parents and enter the endless cycle of violence.

CUT TO SHOT OF SMALL BOY THROWING HIS WEE SISTER’S PINK AND BLUE TRIKE INTO A BONFIRE.

I’m here to ask what happened to the peace? And will Northern Ireland ever see the light and join the civilised world? This is Simon Reeve’s Northern Ireland.

SERIES TITLE AND MUSIC.

LONG SHOT OF REEVES WALKING ALONG PEACE WALL.

Reeves: [V/O] This is a peace wall and I’m looking for an opening, some glimmer of hope that I can somehow bring these divided communities together in some kind of dialogue. It won’t be easy but since I visited Cuba last week, the government there gave up the ghost, announced free elections, opened the country up to global capitalism and appointed me as honorary El Presidente.

[CLOSE-UP REEVES TO CAMERA] So you see, nothing is impossible. You just have to offer people free choice and the right to consume.

LONG SHOT, REEVES ARRIVING AT A VERY LOCKED GATE IN THE PEACE WALL.  SMALL BOYS ON BIKES ARRIVE AND SURROUND HIM.

Small boy on bike 1:  It’s lacked mister!  [BBC STANDARD ENGLISH SUBTITLES (SES): “The gate is locked, sir!]

Small boy in bike 2:  Hi mister, lend us yer odds! [BBC SES: “Sir, have you come to free us from economic deprivation and the lack of consumer choice like you did last week in Cuba?”]

Small boy on bike 3: [OVER HIS SHOULDER AS HE SPEEDS AWAY] “I’m callin the boys on you!”  [BBC SES: “I’m going to report you to the proper authorities!”]

Reeves: [SHRUGS SADLY TO CAMERA] What can one do for these children without hope? Well, very little until they understand the meaning of individual responsibility and that, I think, is down to good parenting. I’m going to go knock on a few doors and find out what the parents are doing while their children run riot on the mean streets of North Belfast.

SHAKY HAND-HELD CAMERA FOLLOWS SIMON TO FRONT DOOR OF APPARENTLY RANDOM HOUSE. MAN IN VEST AND SHORTS, PINT IN HAND, OPENS DOOR.

Man in vest: “Och Simon! What about ye? Come on in!” [BBC SES: “Hello Simon. How are you? Welcome to my humble abode!”]

MEDIUM SHOTS OF SIMON BEING WELCOMED INTO LIVING ROOM AND GIVEN A CAN OF BEER. CAMERA PANS IN FOR CLOSE-UP OF MANTELPIECE CLOCK. IT IS 10.30AM.

Simon Reeves: [V/O] This is Jimmy, who lives behind the peace wall. Jimmy is a heart surgeon by profession but must supplement his income as a part-time gambler and alcoholic. He too worries about the children without hope in post-peace process Belfast and agrees with me that, ultimately, it’s the parents who must accept responsibility if their children are to become good and responsible consumers.

Jimmy: “It’s shackin, Simon! Totally shackin! A good clip around the lug is what they need! [TAKES A SLUG FROM HIS PINT, SOME OF IT DRIBBLING DOWN HIS VEST. SITS FORWARD, LOOKS RIGHT AND LEFT AND BECKONS SIMON CONSPIRATORIALLY] As for their parents? One behind the knee, mate! That’ll tighten em!” [BBC SES: “I’m shocked that their parents have abandoned all responsibility. In my humble opinion, both children and parents must learn discipline!”]

Reeves: Do you see any hope for the future, Jimmy?

Jimmy: “Hope? Hope? Nah. We’re down the Lagan on a bubble, mate!” [BBC SES: “I see little hope, sir. But we may settle further down river and create a community where little Protestant boys can hold hands with little Catholic girls and there will be peace and harmony for all time.”]

ENDLESS GUFF FOR THE NEXT 40 MINUTES BUT HERE’S A SUMMARY:

SCENE 3: SIMON VISITS A MOTHER AND TODDLER GROUP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PEACE WALL AND IS SHOCKED TO FIND THAT NOT ONE MOTHER HAS A NECTAR CARD; THOUGH ONE OF THEM TELLS HIM SHE KNOWS A LOT ABOUT CHIP AND PIN TECHNOLOGY, WHICH GOES RIGHT OVER HIS HEAD.

SCENE 4: VISITS A DEPRESSED SANTA AT VICTORIA SQUARE SHOPPING CENTRE AND LECTURES HIM THAT HE SHOULD FEEL LUCKY. IN CUBA, SANTA IS ILLEGAL.

SCENE 5: VISITS CULTURLANN MCADAM O FIAICH ON FALLS ROAD. AMAZED TO FIND THIS ISLAND OF CULTURE AMID SO MUCH DEPRIVATION BUT HAS TO LEAVE EARLY WHEN SUBTITLE MACHINE CRASHES.

SCENE 6: PROVO TAXI LEAVES HIM OFF AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FALLS ROAD.

SCENE 7: TENSE ENCOUNTER WITH GROUP OF UFF VOLUNTEERS IN A SHANKILL PUB. FADE OUT.

FADE IN CLOSING SCENE 8. SIMON IS WHEELED OUT OF CITY HOSPITAL WITH ARMS AND LEGS IN PLASTER AND WITH A BANDAGE ON HIS HEAD. STOPS JUST SHORT OF CAMERA FOR VERY LARGE CLOSE-UP.

Reeves: I arrived to find a city in despair only to discover little islands of hope. Just like in Cuba, I met a people who are slowly waking up to a new dawn of civilisation, consumerism and free choice.  I visited communities stretching hands across the peace wall, not to throw bricks and petrol bombs, but to help each other fill out that credit card application or buy that high definition television online.

SLOWLY AND PAINFULLY RAISES HIS PLASTERED ARMS TO CAMERA

Of course, some people are blind to the opportunities before their very eyes and seek only to destroy. But as those UFF men gave me a thorough beating in a beer cellar on the Shankill Road, they didn’t understand that they were only hurting themselves in the long run. What they didn’t seem to get was that you can’t have a baseball bat in one hand and a shopping basket in the other. In a civilised society there is just one choice: consumerism or death.

LONG SHOT OF SIMON BEING WHEELED INTO AN AMBULANCE AND DRIVEN AWAY.

SERIES TITLES

Perky TV announcer: [V/O] And next week, Simon travels to China and asks, whatever happened the Cultural Revolution? Don’t miss it! It’s a cracker!

END AND FADE.

I can’t believe the news I heard today…David McNarry MLA in the NI Assembly has joined UKIP, the UK Independence Party. While this must be the greatest crisis in Ulster Unionism since Tom Elliott was leader, it’s great news for UKIP because, get this, it makes it “a truly national party” according to its leader,  Nigel Farage.  Truly national, that is, in the sense that the BNP are truly national.  But it’s still good news for democracy in the NI Assembly – I mean, somebody has to be loyal opposition to Jim Allister.

So how has the UUP reacted to this development?  Well I just had a look at the “latest news” section on its website here. There’s  lots of worrying on there – about computerized testing in schools, the proposed resurfacing of Rugby Road in Belfast and angry Ulster farmers but not  a peep about David’s departure. They’ve also airbrushed him out of the photo of their MLAs but you really have to look hard to notice the gap.  I think the UUP need to come to terms with this situation and express it openly; denying bereavement can cause all sorts of psychological problems that could spill over at a later date. In fact, party MLA Michael McGimpsey is worrying that wild salmon stocks in the North are “near extinct”. See that?  A bit of projecting going on there I think.

Yes, the UUP needs some group therapy. It can’t go forward fearing extinction every time a member of the party leaves.

What’s going on in BBC Northern Ireland when every time it wants to present a debate about a serious issue, like the state of the local economy or public sector strikes, it brings in one Katie Hopkins, the ill-informed, extremely annoying and long-past winner of the dumbest programme on the BBC, The Apprentice? What producer at the BBC in Belfast thinks that it’s a good idea to turn serious issues in current affairs into a pantomine by having this useless person debating with serious players in the local public and private sectors? Getting Katie Hopkins to talk about local politics and economics is like getting Sammy Wilson to talk about Camus…in French.

Katie Hopkins after another call from Stephen Nolan

This is a woman who has no clue about  or sympathy for Northern Ireland. This is a woman who made a fool of herself on BBC Question Time (20 January 2011) by suggesting that women didn’t deserve equality and that, anyway, many couldn’t handle it if they got it. This is a woman who appeared opposite Owen Jones  on the inane Nolan Show on TV (25 April 2012) to defend government proposals for a regional pay differentials. Thankfully, the fabulous Patricia McKeown of UNISON NI was in the audience to put Katie in her place but still…why was Katie Hopkins on the show in the first place?  And why was she on Radio Ulster’s Talk Back just recently (31 May 2012) debating a proposed doctors’ (not dockers!) strike with a professional representative and a local trades unionist?  She barracked and interrupted them with neoliberal nonsense throughout to such a degree that listeners started texting and tweeting for her to get off. When the presenter told her about this, Stephen Nolan style, she complained that she may not be an expert about the economy or the public sector but she had a right to express an opinion. Perhaps but it would help if it was an informed opinion at least.

If Talk Back was so intent on union bashing, the producer could surely have invited someone local? Someone knowledgeable or  capable? Someone from Belfast Chamber of Commerce maybe? Then again, maybe they just thought they were very right on by inviting her on air? Maybe they just wanted to manufacture controversy or outrage by bringing on a straw woman who’s easy to knock down? Maybe every current affairs  presenter with BBC NI now wants to be like Stephen Nolan and win a prize?

Katie tells Stephen she’s washing her hair

But you know what? It backfired because it’s one thing being controversial and objectionable but intelligent; and quite another thing being controversial, objectionable…and just stupid.

And I’m talking about Stephen Nolan, Talk Back and BBC NI – not Katie Hopkins.


ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THAT?

I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ring leaders among the [Derry Young Hooligans], after clear warnings have been issued. In other words, we would be reverting to the methods of [internal security] found successful on many occasions overseas.

This was from a Memo entitled,  “The situation in Londonderry as at 7th January 1972”, by General Robert Ford, Commander Land Forces, Northern Ireland, to the General Officer Commanding British Forces, Lt. Gen Sir Harry Tuzo. Three weeks later in Derry, on 30th January, Ford was as good as his word.

It’s unlikely there would be another Bloody Sunday in a British city if the troops were sent in to quell the riots but before frightened citizens, business people and football players (!!!) in London, Birmingham and Liverpool start calling for such action they should think about history and the law of unintended consequences when a government uses military force to quash civil unrest on the streets. Things tend to get worse, not better.