Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Times They Are A-Changin'

I love election time. I love the hype, the camaraderie, the propaganda and I never fail to be amazed by how far some people are prepared to stoop in the game of political one-upmanship. 

This election time has been particularly dramatic what with the demise of NI21 and events in Derry. Events ranging from John Hume's brother being escorted by the PSNI from the counting booth over an incident involving his son-in-law, a Sinn Fein Councillor's questioning if she had been set up to fail by the party and last but by no means the least the SDLP's withdrawal of support for one of their sitting councillors just two days before the election.

During this time the SDLP Councillor Jimmy Carr (not the comedian) continued as an independent candidate, although still registered on an SDLP ticket. Prior to the election Jimmy's father Sean Carr an elected SDLP representative publicly declared if elected he would have to re-evaluate his position within the SDLP over the unfair treatment of his son. This will make for interesting times ahead, as the newly elected Councillors will sit alongside the outgoing councillors until April next year when the new super councils come into effect.

From April 1st 2015 local councils will be reduced from 26 to 11 and will have increased responsibilities, these responsibilities include Housing, Planning, Roads, Urban regeneration, community development, local economic development and Tourism. This is why I am overjoyed that we now have four independent councillors on the Derry/Strabane council to ensure independent oversight and promote openness, honesty, transparency and accountability in terms of decision making.

The new Independent councillors are Darren O' Reilly, Dee Quigley, Gary Donnelly and Paul Gallagher (Strabane). Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly topped the poll in the Moor ward (home of the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness) out polling former Sinn Fein Mayor Kevin Campbell by 50 votes.

These new independent councillors are free from party constraints, dogma and ideology and will hopefully act in the best interests of the people, putting people first as outlined in their manifestos. These new independent councillors have been grounded in the community for years dealing with issues affecting the community on a daily basis, issues such as poverty, anti-social behaviour and the growing addiction crisis amongst other things. Many see their new role as independent councillors as a natural progression from their community based roles. 

The three Derry based independent councillors have taken two SDLP seats and one Sinn
Councillors Quigley, O'Reilly & Donnelly
Fein seat. The poor result from the SDLP coupled with the rise of the independents has us now with Sinn Fein holding the majority of seats on the new council. In this election Sinn Fein gained a seat but they lost a seat  in the Foyleside ward to the Independent Councillor Darren O'Reilly.

Throughout the north the usual main political parties with the exception of the Ulster Unionist Party have a witnessed a decrease in their voting percentage. The parties have been dismissive of these decreases, however the fact that that Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew was elected on a four vote majority following three recounts in the 2010 Westminster election is something they should bear in mind.

Those who claim to represent the population would also need to take into consideration the poor voting turnout as just over 50% of the population in the north turned out to vote, hardly a resounding endorsement of this wee 'democracy'!!!!!

In the Derry / Strabane super council elections alone approx 54,354 of those eligible to vote turned out whilst the remaining 48,007 chose not to. It is very clear there is still a large percentage of the population dissatisfied, disillusioned and disenfranchised, this is something I heard on the doorsteps whilst on the canvass trail with Independent Councillor Darren O'Reilly.

This dissatisfaction with politics is something that the independent candidates could well tap into over the next few years with the onus now on them to demonstrate the advantages of not voting tribally. One of the key advantages the independent candidates have over the party candidates is that no matter what the Stormont parties make a mess of, or what poor decisions they make it cannot reflect on the independent candidates. The parties would also do well to remember that poor decision making at Stormont in terms of austerity measures will encourage a growth in independent and 'other' candidates being elected as can be seen in the south with independents taking 27.9% of the vote.

The turn around in Derry sends a clear message that lip-service is no longer acceptable and that the days of tribal voting are coming to an end with more and more people realising that tribal voting does not address social and economic issues. The recent disclosure that Martin McGuinness had signed off on Project Kelvin going to Coleraine despite it being earmarked for Derry has disgusted a lot of people, the refusal by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the DUP to fund vital services from the Social investment fund has disgusted a lot of people as has the relentless orange and green sabre rattling from the big parties which is a sham fight to deflect from their failures and the real issues that are impacting on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Answers please!

Having read today's Derry Journal I am deeply concerned by the statement on the front page in relation to the alleged “questionable messages” sent by the current SDLP Councillor Jimmy Carr.

Rumours of this nature have been circulating for days with the electorate in limbo as to the nature of the accusation levelled against Councillor Carr. Todays statement from the SDLP is wide open to interpretation and has served only to fuel further speculation in that it lacks substance and clarity.

I don’t feel that anyone should indulge in trial by media and I am a firm believer in innocent until proved otherwise. However I do find it difficult and quite disconcerting to accept the suggestion that a stranger may have been able to access the City Council’s email system, if this was the case. I am confident to access council email would require more than one password for security purposes given the sensitive and confidential nature of Council related correspondence. In light of the ambiguity around this issue we, the wider public can only postulate these messages were sent via Councillor Carr's Council email otherwise the current fuss would stem solely around the misuse use of council property which seems highly unlikely.

If Councillor Carr is found innocent of the latest accusations made against him and someone did hack into councils email system, what needs to be asked next is, has this breach of Council’s email security been rectified? If it has been rectified then Derry City Council would need to clarify this, or are we to assume someone somewhere is reading or has read correspondence between Councillor Carr and the electorate? Derry City Council would also need to clarify if other Councillor's email accounts have been compromised? In a small statement in today's Derry Journal Derry City Council have stated the following. “Derry City Council was made aware of an issue in relation to a council owned i-pad. No complaint had been received in relation to any elected member nor has council commenced any investigation into any elected member. 

Then in a startling development, in a tweet from Councillor Carr he claims the following.....

This tweet would  suggest through carelessness Councillor Carr may have acted in  breach of the 1998 Data Protection Act. The i-cloud account referred to in the tweet enables people to store different types of data such as photos, apps, contacts, documents, etc.

Councillor Carr’s tweet also contradicts the statement in today's Derry Journal. If the issue is in relation to a Council owned i-pad, why is Councillor Carr saying this matter stems from an i-phone he sold and a possible DCC security breach?

The Data Protection Act controls the use of personal information by organisations, businesses or the government. Responsibilities for handling personal data include ensuring that data is used fairly and lawfully in accordance with data protection rights and that such data is kept safe and secure.

A breach of the data protection act is taken very seriously as was witnessed in a recent case.

A government department has been fined £185,000 for a “very serious data breach” involving personal details of a terror incident. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fined the Department of Justice Northern Ireland for selling a filing cabinet containing the sensitive information at a public auction.”

If Councillor Carr has sold a phone that has allowed access to confidential documents and personal information this is more than the ‘storm in a teacup’ as he has suggested the matter is.

In an article published in Public dated Wed, 23/04/2014 I learned that.... Half of public sector organisations are unaware of a proposed European regulation which would increase data protection requirements and increase the level of fines for breaches to €1 million, according to a new survey.”

In light of this incident it would seem that with the level of contradiction and ambiguity around this matter, Derry City Council, and individual Councillors would need to review their compliance with Data Protection guidelines and legislation. In the event a heavy fine is levied if a breach of Data Protection legislation is found to have taken place will the ratepayer once again have to foot the bill for Council and / or  Councillor  failings?

The immediate question that needs to be asked of Councillor Carr and Derry City Council is what other files and communications have been compromised?

Over to you Derry City Council and SDLP????????

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Standing up for Derry!

Rethink wasting your vote -Vote Independent
Next Thursday May 22nd we have the chance to play our part in bringing forward much needed change in this city. We have the chance collectively to vote for people who will put the needs of the people of Derry first, people who will challenge the ongoing ludicrous decision making and the recurring empty promises we are expected to swallow year in year out from the political parties. The same political parties who rest on their laurels between election times, that's unless there's a photo shoot happening, or an invite to participate in an edition of Spotlight,well outside of ambush editions lol!

There are people active in the community all year round, some on a voluntary basis, who are now standing as independent candidates in attempt to make things better for the people of this city. Their stance is a natural progression from the work they do daily in the community. Having been out on the canvass trail with one of the candidates it is clear people are fed up to the back teeth with the current crop and many were considering spoiling their vote. Talking to people on their doors I've heard many of them say that they are glad there are independent candidates standing and to quote one person in particular 'voting for any of them parties is like turkeys voting for Christmas!'

No doubt the election campaigns have proved trying at times for some of the independent candidates. In particular the candidates who have been subjected to malicious and libellous accusations from people who fail to grasp the concept of acceptance, fairness and democracy. These actions have been viewed by many as a futile attempt to hinder change, in an attempt maintain the current status quo. Some of these attacks have been as pathetic and laughable as the rehashed party election promises we have heard time and time again!

From April 1st 2015 local councils will have increased responsibilities with the number of councils  being reduced from 26 to 11. These increased responsibilities include Housing, Planning, Roads, Urban regeneration, community development, local economic development and Tourism. This is why now more than ever we need people free from party constraints, dogma and ideology in local council to ensure openness, transparency and accountability in terms of decision making. And having had first hand experience of dealing with Derry City Council the thought of them having increased powers and responsibilities with no independent oversight is something I find quite frightening!

Once upon a time Sinn Fein supported Kelvin!
Just yesterday we learned in the Derry Journal of the decision made by the First and Deputy First Ministers to locate investment (Project Kelvin) which had been previously earmarked for Derry to Coleraine. Whilst I don't begrudge any area investment we do need to question why Derry which has the highest unemployment rate in the north has been overlooked yet again despite the promises made last election time.

When the initial controversy of citing project Kelvin in Coleraine and not Derry was in full flight a number of years ago Martina Anderson was on Radio Foyle saying about the economic benefits to Derry, it's a pity she couldn't communicate the same information to Martin McGuinness, even though she's in europe, and he's in Stormont, they do only live around the corner from each other, failing that they could've used the information super highway to communicate with each other, well unless that's been relocated to Coleraine too!
Signing away investment - Stand up for Coleraine!

It's time to Stand up for Derry and elect those who stand for and with the people of Derry and not just at election time.

Dedicated to Arsey!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Singing for less than your supper

I got an email today asking me to sign a petition in support of local musicians. Following on from the UK City Culture which to date did little to enhance the lives of the people in this city Derry now enjoys the title of Music City 2014.

In this city we have some of the finest musicians in the country many of whom give their time freely on a regular basis performing gigs for local charities.

Yet in an all time low, even by Derry City Council's standards, local musicians have been informed that preference will be given to local bands who play for free during the upcoming Clipper Festival. Translation: You must promote this city using your time effort and talent for free or we will find mugs who will. It is one thing giving your time freely to good causes but to be asked to play for free whilst outside musicians are to receive payment is an insult to the contribution these fine musicians make all year round in this city. Local musicians have responded with concern at this call by Derry City Council and have launched an online petition.

Support local artists - Derry City Council doesn't!
Now I definitely run the risk of repeating myself but lets put this scenario into perspective: Derry City Council who are none too shy when it comes to spending the tax payers money are asking local musicians/taxpayers who have experienced an increase of 2.58% in their domestic rates bill to play/work for free. I personally would be asking the council if a similar request for free labour will be made to council staff, outside agencies and primarily the local councillors behind this unfair decision. Ultimately will the local councillors be playing active role on a voluntary basis during this event?

It would seem that members of our local political parties are getting carried away with the concept of free labour whether it be agreed at Stormont level under the guise of workfare, were you work for your benefits over a period of time and in doing so help manipulate the unemployment figures or in the latest craze from Derry City Council were you sing for less than your supper!!!!! Our musicians are worth more than that and I would hope that collectively they will tell Derry City Council where to stick this unjust suggestion.

Derry City Council letter to Lord Rana
The lack of appreciation and support by Derry City Council for local creative and artistic talent was also evident last year when Derry City Council refused to adequately fund the restoration of the world renowned Bogside Murals. These murals not only bring thousands of tourists every year to the Bogside but their pictures feature in council literature, as well as that, the murals provide an artistic backdrop as can be seen in most television and news interviews filmed in Derry. 

Generally, when it comes to spending money Derry City Council are usually quite generous to the point of reckless. During the mass clean up of the city prior to the UK City of Culture events Derry City Council spent £80,675.30 to clear the former Tillie and Henderson site owned by none other than the multi-millionaire hotelier Lord Rana.

If the average Joe drops a piece of litter he can receive a fine of up to £80, yet to clear the remains of a derelict building for a gentleman with an estimated wealth of 90 million pounds Derry City Council spent £80,675.30. 

Maybe they could call on Lord Rana for a few songs?

Derry City Council spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on private businesses and derelict premises in an attempt to disguise the wreckage known as the economy prior to UK City of Culture events. I should clarify I have no problem with rates relief being given to small struggling businesses or money being spent that will benefit us long-term however I do have an issue with money being spent on window dressing for the purpose of hiding the reality that lies beneath.

Former Westlife star Shane Filan was paid a massive £10,000 for his appearance at the first City of Culture legacy event which involved him singing two songs.

As a follow up to the 2012 clipper event the City's Mayor and council officials are still being sent to the various ports the race is going to, this is costing the ratepayer £76,000.

I demand that Derry City Council treats our local talent with the respect they deserve in that they are paid for the work they are required to do in the promotion of this city, I'm damn sure they wouldn't ask Phil Coulter to work for free. The contribution made by these artists can only be described as invaluable. It's a pity the same can't be said for our local council who are clearly inadequate, inept, devoid of appreciation, and oblivious to the concept of fair play and pay.

Yours angrily, the rate payer/your wage payer! 

P.S. - Here below is the breakdown of money Derry City Council paid out to 'do up' private properties around the city. I'm sure the 90 Million pound man Lord Rana would consider this pocket change. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

'So inconsistent it is ludicrous.'

The Boston College Oral History Project has featured high in the media recently but for all the wrong reasons. The project consists of testimonies relating to the troubles from contributors from both republican and loyalist backgrounds and at least one member of the British Security forces. The project was carried out on the understanding that the testimonies would be released after the death of each contributor. The purpose of the project was to allow people to tell their stories and record information from primary sources.

However in an unforeseen twist the ethos of this project was compromised. This year 11 interviews were handed over to the PSNI by Boston College after a lengthy court battle to protect the integrity of the archive. These interviews are said to be significant in the inquiry into the abduction and execution of mother of ten Jean McConville. On March 18th 77 year old Ivor Bell was arrested and later charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville, other people have since been arrested and released without charge. These people include the President of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams who went to Antrim PSNI station voluntarily for interview, and was released without charge.

They say history is written by the victors. Unfortunately all too often when history is written it is an exercise in revisionism, and is that way for a particular purpose whether it be a face saving exercise or a blatant attempt to hide the truth. 

In recent times the Boston College Oral History Project has been described as a “touting programme” and participants described as being “anti Sinn Fein and “anti peace process” with the contents of the project referred to by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams as dubious. Now unless Mr. Adams was afforded the time to listen to each recording then how does he know?

These allegations are not only one-sided coming from those who have a vested and political interest but are very damaging and dangerous to the contributors involved or alleged to be involved in the project. My question to those behind such allegations is have you ever considered that contributions may be detailed in the first party without naming other people? Ultimately are these people not entitled to put their perspective on historical record? If not can someone explain why?

There are a range of historical archives that bring periods of our history to life, first hand accounts that provide insight into the motivations and actions of people involved at different stages of the conflict from the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Irish civil war through to the IRA's border campaign and the most recent phase known as 'The Troubles'.

These have been in many forms, memoirs such as those by Ernie O'Malley whose books 'On another Man's wound' his record of the war of independence and 'The singing flame', O'Malley's writings about his role in the Irish Civil war are both critically acclaimed records of a period of Irish history that we may not have the same insight into had we not had O'Malley's insightful works to read.

From Christopher Brady's Statement
The Free State Government's Bureau of Military History have complied an archive of primary source material for the revolutionary period in Ireland from 1913 to 1921.The Bureau of Military History Collection is a collection of 1,773 witness statements. This archive is among the most important primary sources of information on this period available anywhere in the world.

If we didn't have access to such materials how would we know that just after the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was printed that Countess Markievicz was threatening to shoot Eoin O'Neill, only to be warned off by James Connolly? Or would we know that due to the lack of type fonts that a letter 'E' used in the document had to be made from a letter 'F' and some sealing wax? If it hadn't been for the testimony of Christopher Brady who was involved in printing the Proclamation.

The recently released book 'In the footsteps of Anne' has female ex-prisoners tell their stories and give a vivid insight into life as republican prisoners. Would we have an archive of the stories of the hardship and camaraderie if those women hadn't told their stories and given their first hand accounts?

The problem with the Boston College archive is not that people have given their stories to a historical archive, the problem is one of control. It would seem that only sanitised versions of primary sources are acceptable in line with party and governmental positions.

As an outcome of the Good Friday Agreement people who were involved in certain aspects of the ' Pre 1998 Troubles' could end up with a criminal conviction and face a 2 year jail term. These people could include prominent members of Sinn Fein, the same Sinn Fein who have said if people have information on criminal activity they should contact the PSNI.

In a 2002 article, Colm Barton of Derry Sinn Fein published in An Phoblacht entitled 'Derry SDLP's policing shame' Barton questions the SDLP position on policing. In light of the mixed messages coming from Sinn Fein and their now on/off support for the PSNI Colm's article makes for interesting reading'

In the article Colm states 'Surely their own voters deserve a lucid explanation as to why, on the one hand, the SDLP leadership claims to be part of the policing board in order to effect change and, on the other hand, their locally elected group has no problem cosying up to the RUC in Derry? Which is it? The position of the local SDLP is so inconsistent it is ludicrous.'

Could it be that the wider public now deserve a lucid explanation from Sinn Fein as to why on one hand their party leadership calls on people to give information to the PSNI, but then state that the PSNI has a dark side, a cabal, is this dark side accountable to the District Policing Partnerships? Should people stop giving information to the PSNI about crime, or just anything that might involve anyone in Sinn Fein?
What constitutes touting?

And does the wider public deserve a lucid explanation from Sinn Fein as to why on one hand they tell people to give information to the PSNI but on the other hand cries foul and makes allegations of political policing and touting when the PSNI obtain information and use it in an ongoing investigation. If someone has information on 'criminal activity' pre 1998 and they go to the PSNI with this information, is it 'touting' or are they just acting upon Sinn Fein's advice?

This position as Colm says about the SDLP 'is so inconsistent it is ludicrous.'

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Come into our empire said the spider to the fly...

Over the recent days the arrest of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has remained prominent in the news headlines. Adams made himself available to the PSNI for questioning in the presence of his lawyer and was subsequently arrested in connection with the notorious murder of widowed mother of ten, Jean McConville.

The McConville murder in my opinion was one of cruellest events of the troubles. Being the oldest of twelve children myself I can only imagine the hardship placed on the McConville children particularly the oldest siblings in terms of comforting, reassuring and caring for the younger children before the intervention of social services which saw the family divided. This situation was exacerbated by the secret burial of Jean McConville's remains.

Since Gerry Adams turned up at Antrim PSNI station, by appointment, Sinn Fein have continuously voiced their disgust and opposition to what they define as political policing. This has included threats of withdrawing their support for policing. This would suggest Sinn Fein not only see themselves as being above the law but being above due process despite them pledging their support to the PSNI time and time again, and calling on the wider public to follow their lead.

A question many are asking is how Sinn Fein can expect people to have confidence in policing when they refer to it having a dark-side? When concerns have been raised about the conduct of the PSNI Sinn Fein have released statements saying the PSNI are only doing their job. In all their statements calling for people to support the PSNI I don't remember one single statement Sinn Fein made saying the PSNI has a dark side, well until now.

The fact is these 'politically motivated' assertions by Sinn Fein are only made in cases that involve Sinn Fein members or supporters. If you cast your mind back to when he was released after the 'politically motivated' Stormontgate allegations Denis Donaldson said, "It was political policing and political charges and the fact that we were acquitted today proves that.” Shortly after that Donaldson was exposed as an informer for the British security services, and had been for 20 years.

But the politically motivated allegations aren't just limited to Denis Donaldson or Sinn Fein. When Gerry Kelly went land rover surfing and wasn't charged Unionists said it was a politically motivated decision. When Sinn Fein's Padraig Wilson was arrested it was political and when former Derry Sinn Fein Mayor Kevin Campbell's home was raided Sinn Fein demanded an apology because surprise surprise that was political policing too.

And on the subject of Kevin Campbell, I doubt Mr Campbell has been reprimanded for his comment involving Boston College researcher Anthony McIntyre, when he accused the Boston Tapes project of being a 'touting programme'. I would actually question the appropriateness of the language used by this civic leader and former first citizen of Derry.

When I arrived home from the Mayday parade yesterday I received a phone call from a friend in Belfast who told me of how Sinn Fein held a rally in support of Gerry Adams which including the unveiling of a mural in his honour.

My first thought was “aww come on, all this for a three day detention.” I for one would question Sinn Fein's lack of consistency, hypocrisy and absence, outside of reactionary lip-service, in the following cases:

Martin Corey was held in prison for over three years with no charge. Where is their protest over his release conditions which effectively make him a mute internal exile?

Where was Sinn Fein's public opposition when Gerry McGeough was taken from his wife and four young children in one of the most blatant acts of political policing? It was said that McGeough's standing in opposition to Sinn Fein electorally was damaging to them and this was cited by some as the political motivation for his arrest.

Where was the Sinn Fein opposition to the brutal searching of republican prisoner Thomas McWilliams before being taken for medical treatment having suffered a heart attack? Or indeed after undergoing surgery, and despite being under prison guard supervision 24/7 Thomas McWilliams was still brutally and forcibly strip searched on his return to Maghaberry, yet Sinn Fein have remained silent.

Where is Sinn Fein's opposition to the continued use of lengthy pre-trial detention known as remand and draconian bail conditions? After all in cases were people get bail, these are not convicted prisoners, as in the case of Gerry Adams, these people are innocent until proven otherwise.

What I would further question is, when Gerry Adams is released either on bail or without charge will Sinn Fein revert back to their old policy of supporting the police or will they amend their policies in accordance with their current stance?

And finally, in light of all this, is the dark side of the force answerable to the District Policing Partnerships?

Maybe Sinn Fein can clarify their new position.