Friday, 17 March 2017

In the Aftermath

Thanks to Knox and Riddell

A few weeks ago I made the decision to avoid blogging as with the anger I was feeling over the political situation here there was a strong chance that I could have ended up being arrested and charged under malicious communications legislation. As such, I thought it best to avoid the keyboard, that was until this morning when I was overcome by a strong need to clear my throat, metaphorically speaking of course.

The last Stormont election which took place a fortnight ago has resulted in, surprise surprise, further talks at Stormont. If these talks fail in that a resolution cannot be reached in respect of the 'playing chicken' stalemate stemming from the 'cash for ash' scandal then we could potentially face another election in six weeks, well according to the British Secretary of State for the north James Brokenshire. But between you & me I don't take him too seriously, does anyone? He's got one of them wee smug bakes that irritates.

Despite this, at this juncture I feel compelled to remind Mr Brokenshire of the very poignant words of Albert Einstein who believed that 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result' was a sign of insanity, but then the same could be said to some of the electorate here!

Mr Brokenshire also tells us of the need for the truth in respect of the troubles yet fails to mention how he plans to use the national security card to conceal the full extent of the British state's role in the conflict. Well, outside of the 10% of deaths they do claim, a figure which doesn't include deaths that the state had prior knowledge of, turned a blind eye to or played an indirect role in through their agents and security services, you know the type, the 'Stakeknives' and similar ilk.

Following the election Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill called for the implementation of legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement. This agreement later made redundant by the introduction of the Fresh Start Agreement on November 17th 2015 consisted of proposals which were quickly shelved when it was exposed that they included a five year plan to draw a line under the past, rewrite the past and cover the States' role in the conflict via the national security card.

Mechanisms proposed under the Stormont House Agreement:

The Historical Investigations Unit was the proposed investigatory body to deal with troubles related cases. This body was to have a lifespan of five years. Ideally this would have been a mechanism free from state interference and with international oversight where possible. However, the Historical Investigations Unit was set to include those who served in policing and security roles in the north during the troubles. In addition to this, the Secretary of State was to have the power to veto information disclosure as well as the authority to remove the HIU at his/her discretion. Moreover, within the previous proposals, the First and Deputy First Minsters were set to hold the power to resign or retire the HIU director. Independent? I think not! Do you?

The Independent Commission for Information Retrieval was to provide families with answers over the deaths of their loved ones, yet those going forward in the hope of getting answers would receive limited information in line with requirements under article two of the European Convention. Contributors to this process would do so on the understanding that their information would not be admissible in Civil, Criminal and Coronial proceedings. Leaving contributors to this process immune from prosecution unless the same evidence was to be disclosed elsewhere.

The Oral History Archive was said to provide people the opportunity to tell their story either presently or to have it released at a time of their choosing. Those tasked with writing these accounts were to be trained on how to record the stories.

The Implementation and Reconciliation Group was later removed despite being an integral element of the proposals. The IRG proved quite contentious when it was rumored to be the mop which would clean up the remainder of issues outstanding after a five year period. With the IRG quickly sidelined at that point, plans are now underway in Whitehall to legislate to limit troubles related inquests to five years and ensure that soldiers over a certain age will remain immune from legal challenge.

Whilst there's no disputing the need to deal with the past unless things change dramatically from last time round then I think it's fair to say that with the above proposals in conjunction with the current plans in Whitehall then we can expect a process which is not independent, one-sided with the truth (national security card) and selective in the administration of justice. And how anyone can sell these proposals as anything different simply beggars belief. And whilst dealing with the past, the ongoing legacy impacting through inter-generational trauma also needs addressed. As previously highlighted in my blogs the levels of mental illness identified in other post-conflict zones have been less than here in the North. So unless dealing with the past means creating a positive future for people then I'd suggest they need to go back to the drawing board.

With the above issues at the forefront of the latest crisis agenda we are just weeks away from cuts to child tax credits. These cuts will see the family element of CTC removed for new claimants. The basic family element of CTC currently stands at an annual rate of £545. Added to this is the new plan to support two children with a third born after April 2017 to be denied financial support a move which is not only discriminatory but gives a whole new meaning to taking food from the mouths of the most vulnerable in our society.

Still the silence of the politicians remains deafening with the exception of Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson who has recently shown signs of hysteria over Brexit during a meeting in Brussels. Whilst I share Martina Anderson's frustration I would take this opportunity to remind her on how the Brexit outcome was reached via a democratic referendum. This is more than can be said for welfare reform (welfare budgetary cuts) which is being thrust upon people who were assured it would be opposed at all costs.

I have to say what I thought was nearly as funny as Martina's wee rant to a big empty room was DUP MP Gavin Robinson's comments in which he described Anderson's behaviour as 'belligerent' adding... 'It's the Good Friday Agreement that sets the terms for the future of Northern Ireland.' Now considering Gavin's party opposed the GFA and never actually signed up to the agreement does anyone else smell a wee waft of hypocrisy?

Now back to benefit cuts. Some Stormont party supporters would argue that the parties responsible had little choice whereas I say they took the easy way out and at a time they were claiming to want responsibility over monetary matters. Realistically, how can you argue for added responsibility when you shirk and hand back responsibility? The answer is with great difficulty! Meanwhile the ordinary people struggling to make ends meet are set to struggle further as a consequence of yet more deals beyond reason and doubt.

In June last year the Disability Living Allowance which has a high number of claimants in the north was replaced with the Personal Independence Payment. This change immediately applied to new claimants and those between the ages of 16-64 subject to review.

Other claimants with indefinite or lifetime DLA awards will be randomly selected for assessment and invited to claim PIP. This payment is a lot more difficult to obtain not least by the fact that it consists of two rates as opposed to the three under DLA and with the test for eligibility being a lot more stringent.

There are also plans to remove PIP entitlement from those suffering from mental ill health and anxiety with the argument being that people with mental illness whose mobility is severely impacted by their condition, can't be considered in the same context as those with a physical disability, personally I've never heard such utter tripe, but I suppose nothing surprises me.

In the north those who lose the benefit under the Personal Independence Payment scheme may qualify for a supplementary payment at a reduced rate for one year. After that who knows how they will manage?

Mitigation is also available with the Bedroom Tax which will come into force in 2020 providing the scheduled review in 2018 is successful. When the bedroom tax is introduced families with an extra bedroom under the current criteria will have to pay for this from their benefit or move to a smaller dwelling which may not always be possible due to the shortage of social housing in this city and beyond. So potentially, we could see people being penalised for a lack of social build.

What angers me in this is some people continue to sell/view the period of mitigation as a bonus. Well I don't, this should not be happening. In all honesty how do you address poverty with a benefits system that does not provide adequately and penalises the poorest? The answer is you can't.

In a letter published in the Independent doctors from Britain’s leading mental health organisations said that an urgent review of benefit sanctions was needed due to the rising rates of mental health problems as a consequence. What must be noted is, the sanctions being imposed do not prove cost effective nor do they improve the chances of people finding employment. And what people need to keep in mind is how many decent jobs are out there that will move people out of the benefits trap and into a position beyond just about managing?

One of the words often bandied about here in the North is equality, and the recent election campaign saw the 'e' word come up quite a lot in reference to a range of inequalities. Surprisingly, what wasn't mentioned was a report recently released by the Samaritans entitled 'Dying from Inequality'. This is a report into socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour. Whilst no study has proven that poverty causes suicide the report complied by the Samaritans highlighted how suicide is 2 and 3 times more common in the most deprived areas than in the more affluent. With numerous reports showing a link between unemployment and suicide, these cannot be dismissed, neither can the suicide rate increase which married up with the 2008 financial crisis. Yet despite the suicide rate continuing to increase, many of the contributing factors remain unchallenged.

In the aftermath of a peace process, we're subjected to rants to empty halls in Europe, to a so called Government that the term dysfunctional couldn't even begin describe, the health service is in crisis, the education system is in crisis, and Arlene's ineptitude has the potential to saddle us with an additional £500 million debt. 

Furthermore, dealing with the past shouldn't just mean a dirty cover up it should mean cherishing all the children of the nation equally, past, present & future. Nero may have fiddled as Rome burned, but as the RHI scandal continues to smolder it's not just cash going up in smoke, it's people's hopes and aspirations.

The peace process is often compared for some reason to South Africa, maybe instead of trying to draw a comparison between here and South Africa those elected to public office should take inspiration from one of the architects of the south African peace process Nelson Mandela who said;

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right. The right to dignity and a decent life.”

Sunday, 12 February 2017

You Get What You Vote For.

Ah it’s election time again and for the first time in a long time I find myself politically homeless and faced with the option of not voting, destroying my vote or voting tactically, which at this minute in time I believe to be the better option. The upside to this election is that I have more time to forensically examine the endless election statements and literature which so far consist of little more than the same old lines we’ve heard before.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe the Stormont regime is legitimate or the adopted child of Westminster I don’t believe anyone in their right mind could say that the current regime at Stormont is working for anyone, well, outside of a select few. So, irrespective of who is elected to power we must bring to bear the only power that has ever proven effective and that being people power.  But the question is how do we do this?

The sad fact is that in between one election and the next those in office can, and have been seen to get away with anything they want. I can’t think of any other job in the world that you can promise the earth in your interview (the election process) and then remain in post despite not doing what you said you would do. There is a power differential which is once people are elected they have a ‘mandate’ which would seem to allow some to dictate the terms of their employment.

Unfortunately, tribal voting because of the contested position of the North will continue to put parties which are diametrically opposed to each other in power, in a mandatory coalition. And what makes it worse is that when it comes to certain votes such as ‘brexit’ parties like the DUP will demonstrate their ‘British’ credentials by voting against the best interests of the people here. Considering that the majority of people here voted to remain it will be interesting to see how those who supported the leave campaign will justify their positions to the electorate and how they will represent the wishes of the people here when they campaigned and voted against them.

All this leaves the people here in the North in a constant state of limbo, with the British state protecting its own interests and not being entirely honest or taking responsibility for its role during the troubles. At present, there is a lot of emphasis on the need to deal with the period defined as the ‘troubles’. Yet the impact that this period has had and is set to have on our younger generations cannot be understated. The fact is, the legacy of the troubles goes beyond those who lost their lives, who were wounded or injured both physically or emotionally and the impact on their families and the wider community at that time.

In a report published by the Victims and Survivors Service in 2015 levels of mental illness identified in other post-conflict zones have been lower than in the north. This suggests additional issues may be affecting the rates in the north of Ireland. The report states; “that given the high prevalence and economic impact of mental health problems, it is important to understand other factors and how they interact with conflict exposure to effect mental health”.

One of the most shocking statistics that we have seen over the past few years is that more people have died through suicide since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 than through the course of the Troubles. The fact that in less than 20 years more people lost their lives to suicide than through 30 years of conflict should have the politicians here doing everything they can to address the issues at the root of the problem. It is obvious there is no panacea that will immediately remedy every societal ill, but we must start somewhere.

In 2016 figures published by the Detail showed that 318 suicides were registered in the north of Ireland during 2015 which is an approximate 6 deaths per week. This figure was an increase of 19% on 2014 figures. From this figure 245 were male and aged between 15-34. These figures would equate to a plane crash each year, now imagine the outcry if every year it was announced that a plane cash resulting in major loss of life could have been avoided.

Now that’s not to say that there is nothing being done, but I would argue there is more needing done.

The Northern Ireland Protect Life Suicide Prevention Strategy was launched in 2006. Figures released in 2016 showed that over £50million had been allocated to suicide prevention since the beginning of the strategy. So, whilst there is no disputing the amount of money being spent on suicide prevention until the root causes of the problem are addressed these efforts will not prove as effective as they should be. However £50million over 10 years for suicide prevention pales into insignificance when you think that through the Stormont Renewable Heating Scheme the cost to the public could end up at £500 million over 20 years.

There are a range of factors that need to be addressed to bring the suicide rate down, indeed I would go as far as to say our target should be zero lives lost to suicide.

Key issues for our city include unemployment and poverty and their impact. In a paper on Social determinants of mental health published by the World Health Organization in conjunction with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation it states ‘adult mental disorders have impacts beyond the individuals concerned: they also influence children, partners and wider family, communities, economic development, and subsequent generations.

Whilst no study has proven that unemployment causes suicide, many studies indicate a strong association between unemployment, poor mental health and suicide. The paper on Social determinants of mental health states that a review of literature on common mental disorders and poverty in low and middle-income countries found that of the 115 studies reviewed over 70% reported positive associations between a variety of poverty measures and common mental disorders.

In one of my first blogs published in Jan 2014 I outlined how former Health Minister Edwin Poots in 2012 said ‘studies indicated that a 1% increase in unemployment was met with a corresponding 0.79% increase in suicide’ and that ‘The executive is facing up the challenge of reducing suicide rates.’

5 years down the line we have increased poverty, increased unemployment and sadly an increased suicide rate and beyond soundbites for electioneering Stormont has delivered very little.

This is where we as the people need to put it up to the politicians. To begin to address this we must demand that a coherent mental health strategy in conjunction with an anti-poverty strategy is put in place.

As the assembly prior to that elected in the 2016 election failed to produce an anti-poverty strategy can we assume that eradicating poverty was low on their priority list? And if they failed to bring forward a poverty strategy, then can we ask are they serious about addressing the associated impact of poverty on mental health? But then with the last assembly failing to publish their budget I doubt that things will be much better this time round either.

Despite this we need to seize every opportunity to highlight to those in Stormont the things they need to prioritise and a key issue for me in deciding who I will vote for, if I vote, is mental health.

Strategy to deal with mental health:

We need to ensure that adequate funding is provided for mental health services for both adults and children. With the effects of the troubles set to roll over into the next few generations, and not only the impact of the troubles but the impact of one generation’s mental health on another.

We need further awareness raised within schools and educational settings and to ensure adequate training is given to school staff tasked with promoting positive mental health. We need to instill in children that it’s ok not to feel ok, and that it is ok to ask for help. As part of this I would like to see training such as Mental Health First Aid and ASIST become part of the school curriculum. This will help people identify and support those in crisis and help break down the stigma that surrounds mental health.

We need more focus on perinatal care. Having suffered severe post-natal depression myself I know firsthand of the lack of support available within the community. Within this we need to ensure new and young fathers are supported and educated also.

And finally, that the community structure is inclusive of resources to improve the lives of those suffering long-term mental health problems, both young and old. Including the impact of social isolation.

To ensure a holistic approach to mental health is provided we cannot overlook the contributory factors in this, such as unemployment and poverty. To do this we need equality of jobs distribution, with most investment Belfast centric the time has come for Stormont to put up or shut up. A quick search online will show the disparity between new jobs for Belfast and those for Derry. But then again, if Derry doesn’t have decent infrastructure why would companies come here?

Five-point plan to tackle poverty:

The Joseph Rowntree foundation an independent organisation working to inspire social change, has developed a five-point plan to tackle poverty within the whole of the UK. This is something that our prospective candidates could consider bringing forward, the outcomes of the plan would be to:

· Boost incomes and reduce costs;

· Deliver an effective benefit system;

· Improve education standards and raise skills;

· Strengthen families and communities; and

· Promote long-term economic growth benefiting everyone.

Following this election, also we need to look at ways to make Stormont more accountable for both their actions and inactions. As was proven through the Daithi McKay and Jamie Bryson bromance fiasco, Stormont’s internal mechanisms for holding itself to account are questionable, seriously flawed and open to political corruption.

What we don’t need is another red sky, RHI or SIF fund fiasco, we don’t need tribal bullshit wrapped in sabre rattling as people fall through the cracks, as services hit the wall and people lose hope. What we do is need independent oversight provided by non-party aligned individuals, not quangos, not party lackeys masquerading as community workers. We need politicians who will put the people before the party, and sadly at this minute in time I’m finding difficulty in identifying one.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Some People Can't Even Get Their Black Propaganda Right...

Another day another allegation and from another halfwit. A short time ago I was sent a screen shot of a post by Mickey Donnelly from Derry alleging that not only had I hacked his account, attempted to hack his account on numerous occasions, set up an Instagram account in his name using my name, and that I am writing letters to the Derry Journal in his name. Phew, I don’t know where I get the time!!! 
 Now, I’m just wondering if I did all this just after I admitted to shooting JFK, or before I admitted to poisoning Alexander Litvinenko?

From all these allegations, it’s a wonder Kim Jong-il and Vladimir Putin aren’t beating my door in to offer me a job!

Shortly after I received the screenshot my husband visited the Derry Journal office and spoke to the Editor of the paper.

He showed Mr.Duffy the editor a screenshot of Mickey Donnelly’s facebook post on Dixie Elliot’s Facebook page, you can see this below.

Closed Kangaroo Court of Dixie!!

Now here are the facts:

1. The Derry Journal has confirmed there was a letter sent to the Derry Journal ‘claiming’ to be from Mickey Donnelly, it provided contact details, telephone number and home address. As the content was ‘bog standard republican fare’ and the contact details were all provided the Journal did not feel it necessary to contact Mickey for verification.

2. A time later, Mickey Donnelly telephoned the Derry Journal claiming he did not send the letter, that he would be contacting his solicitor and demanded they trace the i.p. address. The Derry Journal have not heard from Mickey Donnelly’s solicitor.

3. The Derry Journal I.T. team are not tracing and have never been tracing any i.p. address as this for them is a non-issue. Moreover, as this is not the role of the Derry Journal, the question is have Mickey or his legal team contacted the PSNI?

4. That I am capable of ‘hacking’ anything is laughable.

5. That I have any interest in what Michael Donnelly does outside of attempting to blacken my name is even more laughable.

6.Truth be told, Michael Donnelly’s attack on me stems from my supporting Dr. Anne McCloskey in the 2016 Stormont election.

7. In a previous blog, I had addressed other allegations and innuendo from Dixie Elliot who has also been attempting to blacken my name. Dixie Elliot also took issue with me supporting Dr. Anne McCloskey in the 2016 Stormont election. Oddly now that these attacks are happening in the advance of an election.

8. With republicans amongst others raising the issue of closed material proceedings being used, that two republicans feel that trial by facebook is acceptable beggars belief. But then this is clearly all they have to offer.

9. That two big republicans must resort to online character assassination instead of addressing any issue they have with me in person is pathetic.

Mr Donnelly knows where I live. I was at the Bloody Sunday March for Justice at the weekend, had he have wanted to speak to me or confront me he could have. The fact that he didn't  confirms to me that this is a mere attempt to blacken my name.

If Mr Donnelly and Mr Elliot wish to sit down with me with an agreed neutral mediator and present evidence to substantiate their litany of ridiculous allegations, then I welcome it. I’ll go further, if they would like to open their Kangaroo closed court to the public then let’s agree the mediator and the location. However until such times as these gentlemen grow a pair  I will be ignoring everything else they have to throw. 

Ps, The rumour that I sank the titanic is untrue and for the record I was not steering it with a rowing boat. 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Setting The Truth Free.

(Not to be republished without prior consent)

When I decided a few years back that I was going to start blogging I was acutely aware of several things, firstly that I, because of my blogs would be subject to scrutiny, and secondly that I would need to ensure that what I published was corroborated and substantiated with reliable sources at every opportunity.  This is something I have strived to do with every post, and something I will continue to do.

I am, as a friend would say, no shrinking violet, capable of articulating and debating my view point and as with anyone who publishes a blog or any form of communication I stand to be challenged on what I put out for public consumption. That said being challenged over a position and being attacked by someone online are two completely different things.

For a few months now I have been subjected to allegation and innuendo through social media, the person leading this charge has made a range of accusations both publicly and in private message. The interesting thing is that this ‘man’ has at no time attempted to speak to me directly. No instead this ‘man’ deleted and blocked me from his facebook before launching his campaign. Now I could have rationalised that this behaviour is misogynistic, and potentially that this person may be emotionally unwell but I think that this would be trying to provide some element of justification for his behaviours when in truth whilst we have rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of thought and conscience there is no justification for what is considered cyber-harassment.

This cyber-harassment took several forms, it involved contacting different friends of mine through private message and making allegations against me. Well until a recent escalation when he started to name me on public threads on social media in a conversation about 'shit stirrers'.  Friends of mine this ‘man’ has been in contact with have been kind enough to provide me with screen shots of the messages. Not only that, when they told this ‘man’ they would be passing these to me he was indifferent to this.

When discussing this matter with people one question that has been asked of me is why as this has been going on for some time have I waited until now to address it? There are two reasons for this: 

Firstly this began a few months ago. During this my father was critically ill and my time was spent supporting my mother and visiting him in hospital in Belfast, so needless to say this person was not at the top of my priority list.

Secondly, I wanted to try and address this matter directly with the person responsible. I firmly believe that if you have an issue with someone, or they have an issue with you then both parties should have the strength of their convictions to sit down and discuss whatever the problem is. They may agree, they may agree to disagree or they may not move anyway forward but at least it provides both sides with the opportunity to have their say. Although I must say that when you challenge people who make unsubstantiated allegations to sit down face to face and discuss them with you they generally can’t stand over the venomous bile they have been spouting and will refuse to meet you. However, I thought I would try to speak to this person and try and resolve this before it escalated.

Through a mutual friend, I sent an email to Derry man Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliot requesting to meet him to challenge him as to why he was continuously attacking me and attempting to blacken my name.  Among other things Dixie has accused me of ‘shit stirring’.  I have asked him to explain and have included the caveat who, what, when and where? Adding “Four simple words, so your response should be easy enough to compose. And before you do this do bear in mind that 'I think', 'I believe', 'I was told by x' person does not constitute proof.”

Dixie also stated that I or my shit stirring was to be exposed, one week on from his receiving my letter I await Dixie’s expose. Furthermore, I also offered Dixie the opportunity to post his response unedited on this blog. To date Dixie has not taken me up on my offer, has not published a response elsewhere or responded to my letter.
Dixie has also accused me of playing people like a fiddle, now I’m not musically inclined, but as to who I was playing like a fiddle and when was also not substantiated. I must admit at this point I thought Jesus this ejit thinks I’m some sort of modern day Mata Hari!

In the midst of his ramblings Dixie made the accusation of an Mi5 smear against the Bloody Sunday March for Justice and the organisers.  When challenged by a friend he named me in a private message as being responsible for this. Despite this he has refused to explain or substantiate this allegation despite it being very serious and dangerous in nature.

A thread which was later removed.

One week before the 40th
Anniversary March
Dixie maybe isn’t aware of this but  in 2012 a lot of the organising for 40th anniversary Bloody Sunday March took place in my house, indeed it is a matter of record that Kate Nash actually thanked me from the platform on that day.  Also, anyone who knows me will be aware that I have been very supportive of the March for Justice, a cursory check on my facebook will show that each year I promote the march and even earlier this week I published a video that called on people to attend this year’s march.

Following a meeting in Stormont
Supporting Helen

On top of this Kate Nash, Linda Nash and Helen Deery (the three grannies as we called them) will be able to confirm the help and support I gave to them with their endeavors, not just with the March for Justice but with their campaign against the slipping of the flawed ‘legacy’ legislation through the back door. I’ve never publicly stated my role until now, but I was central to the arranging of public meetings, arranging and supporting the girls to attend private meetings with a range of politicians including the then Justice Minister David Ford. I wrote the statements they issued, generated the posters and issued press releases and advertisements for the events they held, the banners they carried and the very banner images they still use on social media. And not only will they be able to confirm all of this but my own email records can corroborate everything above.

Dixie, considering some of the support I have outlined above, for you to attempt to blacken my name and character by suggesting that I would in any way attack the Bloody Sunday March for Justice or the organisers is nothing short of contemptible. And I would like you to explain your actions, it’s bad enough that the British state supported by agencies such as Mi5 use closed material proceedings against people here giving them no opportunity to defend themselves, but for a former republican prisoner and one who has spoken out against the actions of the state to do something similar just beggars belief.

Despite this Dixie, I will once again extend the offer to meet with you to discuss your allegations oh and feel free to bring someone with you. I am also once again extending the offer for you to respond using my blog, that said I do expect you to substantiate your claims. And if I have done something wrong then I will say I’m wrong and apologise regardless of how you choose to conduct yourself.

There are so many issues needing addressed in our city and despite our different political perspectives I believe our energies and talents should be used more positively and productively. I do not intend to enter some protracted ‘he said, she said’ nonsense. The evidence we either can or cannot produce should validate our positions.

Dixie,  I do hope to hear from you but I can assure you that I for one will not be subject to the closed kangaroo court of Dixie.

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.