Sunday, 27 July 2014

Implausible deniability

In 1986 the Knesset, the legislative branch of the Israeli Government passed a law making Holocaust denial a criminal offence. Any objective person would tell you the amount of evidence that exists in different forms makes anyone who would dare deny the attempted extermination of the Jewish people seem as crazy as those who perpetrated the Holocaust.

Any objective person paying attention to reporters such as Channel 4's Jon Snow over the past few weeks as Israel has butchered over 1000 men, women and children would tell you that Israel has embarked on a campaign of brutality and mass murder against a population ill equipped to defend itself.

It could quite easily be argued in many cases of human rights abuses that there is a certain amount of implausible denial when listening to so called statesmen, and the majority of the mainstream media outlets when they want to sell you what they, their corporate sponsors or the state wants you to think.

Just as here in the north we continually hear the phrase 'anti-peace process' or of the people who 'don't want peace.' Phrases which are rotated and regurgitated on a regular basis and used when people question those in authority or dare voice an opinion that differs to the states position. 

How is it a difference of opinion can often be construed as opposition to something in it's entirety? Human rights activists speaking out against injustice in the North of Ireland have been all too often branded dissidents or dissident supporters. Similar or more dangerous accusations have been levelled against reputable and recognised journalists and academics.

So is it that all opinions are welcome but only some count or is it a case of when you're opinion is wanted you will be told what it is and how and when to express it?

Recently the BBC has come under the spotlight for their reporting bias on the situation in Gaza. In one instance the BBC interviewed a Pro-Israeli commentator yet neglected to mention the commentators political affiliation, this lack of neutrality breached the BBC's own impartiality guidelines. This is the same BBC which is renowned for their reporting in line with United Nations and / or state position. Even today protesters in Bristol have taken over the garden of the local BBC headquarters in protest at the lack of impartiality demonstrated by the BBC.

I once read a statement that read “the press would have you believing that the oppressor is the oppressed" which is very poignant when you consider how elements of the press portrayed the innocent victims of Bloody Sunday in 1972 as gunmen and bombers. The same media outlets that now tell us that Israel is under attack and any other amount of lies and propaganda the spin doctors want published.

I noted recently with the press coverage on the death of Gerry Conlon that with the exception of a few journalists the press conveniently omitted to mention Gerry's work on the case of the Craigavon two. Whilst on the subject of the Craigavon two I would take the opportunity to question why our so called civic leaders and moral guardians remain silent on the issue so silent in fact some are currently residing in the 'where are they now file.'

These are some of the same civic leaders and moral guardians who seem quite prepared to overlook what is clearly a miscarriage of justice on their own doorstep whilst appearing at ease cosying up to apologists of the Israeli murder machine and the leaders of the governments who fuel and fund the Israeli murder machine.

(right)Derry SDLP Mayor Brenda Stevenson & SDLP Cllr Gerry Diver pictured (above) with Steven Jaffe, Co-Chair N.I. friends of Israel.

 Pictured (right) Peter Robinson DUP & Martin McGuinness Sinn Fein at the Caterpillar factory in the USA.

(right) Peace Activist Rachel Corrie lies fatally injured after being crushed by an Israeli stormtrooper at the wheel of an armoured caterpillar bulldozer.

For those unaware of the Craigavon two I can sum their situation up in a few words having read the court judgement on-line. Brendan McConville and John Paul Wooton are serving lengthy prison sentences for the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll on the word of what appears to be a short sighted Walter Mitty and on the strength of circumstantial and 'conveniently' MISSING evidence. This case bears all the hallmarks of political expediency in that a conviction has been sought, case closed, as was witnessed in the cases of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six. I believe every effort must be made in the absence of Gerry Conlon to continue his work in highlighting this issue.

This year on August 10th activists from Ireland and beyond will unite in Belfast to march against the continuing use of internment, of course the state, it's media and certain political parties will tell you internment no longer exists, that is unless one of their party members or supporters is subject to arrest and detention. The reality is people are being held for long periods of time without trial with some cases being thrown out in court and others before they reach court. If there is a case to be answered then the accused should have the opportunity to do so within a reasonable time frame and in the presence of a competent legal authority as opposed to the continued use of the Diplock non-jury court. So much for an era “in which justice will be done and seen to be done and measures compatible with a normal and peaceful society” as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

The world is a smaller place, through social media and other channels we have the chance to see more truth than the corporate mainstream thought policed media will ever present to us, the question is will you do anything about it? The smallest gesture can make the biggest difference and never underestimate the power that ordinary people have.

The pale blue dot, that's us, that's earth, that's home.

The astronomer Carl Sagan said a very profound thing, “Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Hot, hot, hot!

A follow up to my last blog Cultural Vandalism or lack of thought.

The heat is certainly taking it's toll even on the more level headed.

I attended a meeting tonight over plans to modernise and extend the Museum of Free Derry, otherwise known as the Bloody Sunday Museum. The meeting was compared by one man to the Derry version of the Jeremy Kyle show minus the security, lie detector machine and mediation services that said a lie detector may have been useful.

The event which was organised by veteran civil rights activist Vincent Coyle heard a range of views from residents living nearby the museum, members of the Bloody Sunday Trust, the museum manager and those there in favour of preserving Derry's world famous Civil Rights Mural.

It was clearly stated at the outset of the meeting that the organisers welcomed the development of the Museum but felt that the current design deviated from what residents and locals had given their support to.

At the beginning of the meeting one 'excitable' attendee took the microphone, accused the host/ organiser of being a mouthpiece for the Bogside artists, then stormed out when it was mentioned that his name appears on one of the murals alongside those of the Bogside artists for his contribution to the artwork, I wonder will his name now vanish from the artwork or will he claim his name was forged?

The suggestion that the host was speaking on behalf of the Bogside artists was immediately laughed off given the artists are well known for speaking out about anything that irks them, as we say in Derry “they're not backward in coming forward.”

The meeting which was packed to capacity began with a presentation which among other things showed how the plans had changed from the original plans in 2010 with a new application submitted on December 23rd 2013.

Residents including some of those directly affected by the changes made in 2013 claimed they were neither consulted about nor notified of plans to amend the original plans published in 2010.

Concerns tonight ranged from lack of consultation, antisocial behaviour, the obscuring of the iconic civil rights mural, the possible closure of a family run business and why no-one fought to save the Rossville flats!

The item which caused the most controversy was the rumour that plans for the museum may also include a type of Memorial Garden to commemorate ALL those killed  during the period more commonly referred to as the troubles including British State Forces. When the public anxiously questioned the rumour further the manager of the museum replied that the memorial garden was something they ''aspired to”  but as yet there is no definite plans which I took to mean no funding?

If I'm honest the meeting for me was somewhat of a breath of fresh air what with raised tensions and a frank exchange of views however I strongly felt the meeting lacked direction with debate venturing off into various tangents. The airing of views is laudable but to address issues you must work towards solutions and in this case with a bit of direction I believe the steps to resolving these issues are reachable with discussion, honesty, reassurance and compromise. I do have do admit I was heartened by the acknowledgement from representatives of the Museum of Free Derry that the plans could be changed.

During the meeting quite a few of the Bloody Sunday family members in favour of the new design raised the issue of their dead relatives and the importance of the museum going ahead. This was confusing as the issue has never been of the museum not going ahead, but the changes to the design.

These changes will not only obscure one of the legendary, world famous murals but also the man who owns the local shop remains in limbo as to whether the plans will put him out of business and jeopardise his livelihood. This gent asked if a representative from the Museum of Free Derry could give him an answer as to whether his shop would be accommodated, Aidan Kerr from Museum of Free Derry said he would give an answer, he did reply, but I reckon the heat must've been going for him too as his answer would have won an accolade on the floor of Stormont for the biggest load of waffle, I'm still trying to work out what he said, or indeed didn't say. A short time later all those in favour of the new plans filed out like a trail of army ants claiming they had been insulted.

The current chair of the Bloody Sunday Trust Julie Anne Campbell stated that they wanted to create a 'World Class Museum' however now the project could be put into jeopardy. This assertion does not make any sense as the planning permission for the original design still stands, not only that if the project will only be world class with the new design, was it not going to be world class with the first design?

 It would seem the heat is playing havoc with with some which was evident at the end of the meeting with a Sinn Fein Councillor telling a gentleman to expect a solicitors letter over a heated discussion they were having. Take it from someone who knows Councillor Logue they are not worth the paper they are written on.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Cultural Vandalism or Lack of Thought?

A few weeks ago I learned of plans to modernise and extend the Museum of Free Derry or as it's known locally 'the Bloody Sunday Museum' following an investment of over two million pounds. My first thoughts were this sounds promising, I hope it helps enhance the area and ensures the history of the area is protected.

The museum of Free Derry contains artefacts from Bloody Sunday, Free Derry and the early days of what has become known as the troubles. The museum is situated in Glenfada Park, a location of immense significance and notoriety in that many of the Bloody Sunday victims were brutally murdered by members of the parachute regiment in 1972 in and around this area following a peaceful civil rights march.

In the Derry Journal last week I discovered how residents and others are opposed to one element of the redevelopment plans in their current form. As a consequence of the development the redesign will obstruct a world famous civil rights mural. I was baffled as to why the mural itself wasn't incorporated into the plans.

The Civil Rights movement will forever be inextricably linked to the Bloody Sunday massacre. The movement organised the march in January 1972 in opposition to issues such as , inequality, the erosion of civil liberties and the use by the British Government of internment without trial. Indeed the Derry Civil Rights Association banner carried on the march that day was used to cover some of the dead as they lay on the ground.

You often hear the phrase 'If stones could speak', in the Bogside thanks to the efforts of the world renowned Bogside Artists they do. Some of the world famous murals are snapshots into the turbulent history of the Bogside, they paint an accurate and engaging picture devoid of rhetoric and politics and we must do everything to help preserve them even if this means calling for a change in the Museum’s plans.
 Thanks to the murals my children are aware of the history of the Bogside, they know who Annette McGavigan was, who Manus Deery was, they know about Bloody Sunday, the Hunger Strike and the battle of the Bogside, events which shaped this city and it's people.

 The murals have also helped educate the thousands of tourists who view these murals each year to the history of the Bogside. In news reports these murals have time and time again provided a backdrop, in documents such as those produced by Derry City Council or the Derry Visitor and Convention bureau they have been presented as a must see attraction.

It would be hard to estimate the numbers of visitors who have come and visited the murals, however the Northern Ireland Tourist Board 2008 visitor attraction survey listed the number as 24,735 (for that year) taking this as a conservative estimate, we could easily say that the murals have brought 500,000 people to the Bogside over a 20 year period.

When considering figures such as those published by NITB I cannot begin to grasp the rationale of obscuring the civil rights mural, surely to incorporate the mural into the overall design would have been an exercise in common sense, but sadly common sense seems to be lacking here.

The key question is can this situation be sorted with compromise?

Many including myself would argue that the mural needs to be protected a view which is shared by lead campaigner Vincent Coyle whose father is included in the Civil Rights mural. Equally I would expect a similar outcry if someone was to suggest building over the bottom of the Bloody Sunday mural on Westland Street obscuring Michael Kelly & William McKinney.

What's even more ironic is just as plans are under way to obstruct the civil rights mural there are also plans within the Stormont Assembly to abolish the Northern Ireland Executive. The Housing Executive was formed in 1971 to address housing inequality thanks to the efforts of the  Civil Rights Movement .

Many of the issues raised by the Civil Rights movement still plague the people who live here today, issues which know neither creed nor colour. Unemployment, poor or non existent social housing, lack of opportunity and internment still exist, except now they have found new bedfellows in an increased suicide rate, increased child poverty and a continuous increase in the erosion of civil liberties with the use of secret courts and other tools that the Civil Rights movement would have taken an active stand against.

The more cynical side of me wonders if we have come full circle? Is the civil rights mural too much of a sad reminder of how little things have changed in over 40 years? Or could it be that the narrative of the civil rights mural does not fit in with the new narrative of normalisation and that is why it's significance can so easily be dismissed by those who should know better.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Whatever takes the focus off real issues.

My auld granny, God rest her, was famous for her comment “the sun brings out some sights.” Yesterday here in the North of Ireland during the televised walkout of  Unionist leaders from Stormont that comment sprang to mind as did the Benny Hill TV show theme tune.

It would appear the talks over the Parades Commission's refusal to allow a return orange parade past the Ardoyne shops were ended swiftly with unionist leaders joined at the hip in opposition to the determination.

In reality meaningful engagement requires an open mind and the ability to listen, hence the two ears and one mouth, whereas playing to the gallery consists of little more than a dramatic exit akin to a spoilt child chucking it's toys out of the pram with little or no consideration given to the potential consequences of such actions.

We witnessed similar behaviour during the 'fleg' dispute at Belfast's City Hall when the DUP encouraged mass opposition to a democratic decision made by the elected representatives who make up Belfast City Council and along the way they used this as an opportunity to scapegoat the Alliance Party as punishment for taking Peter Robinson's seat in a democratic election. Although the DUP would deny this. 

Oddly enough at that time the 'fleg' dispute played a crucial part in overshadowing plans abolish the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The 'Fleg' protests saw months of violence and unrest, the question is will the failure of the unionist leaders to abide by legal decisions lead to a more silly, silly season than usual?

Unionist leaders issued the following in a statement:

The Unionist parties have pledged to work collectively on this issue. We do so to avert violence and destruction on our streets with the attendant harm that this would cause to Northern Ireland's community relations and reputation. The desired direction of travel for Northern Ireland has been to leave behind the use and threat of violence. This decision and its surrender to publicly issued republican threats is unacceptable and flies in the face of the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland who want to move forward on a basis where cultural expressions are undertaken with respect and met with tolerance.”

Now let's look at this situation removing the orange tinted shades. Unionist leaders claim the decision to re-route the march has been taken on the basis of rewarding republican violence and threats.

Surely if that was the case, the violence that emerged from members of the orange order and it's supporters last year would have swayed the decision to allow the return parade to pass the Ardoyne shops?

And let's not forget the infamous protest camp at Twadell which continues to cost the tax-payer millions of pounds to police . Call me naïve but this money would be better spent on housing the growing numbers of homeless, or to fund the 36 different cancer treatments denied to citizens here that patients in England can avail of but can't be afforded here. All this money wasted policing what is technically an act of trespass as this camp is on public land and no permission has been given by the Government Department headed up by the DUP's Nelson McCausland. I suppose a question which must be asked is who pays the public liability insurance for the camp?

Unionist politicians and Orange leaders have often referred to the Parades commission as an unelected quango.

Now here's a thought, could it be that the Parades Commission which is a state appointed body who oversee contentious parades, are operating in the best interest of the wider public? It stands to reason that no matter what decision is made someone, somewhere will not be happy, but that is a fact of life.

Could it be that the Parades Commission is concerned for the people who live in that vicinity who find themselves annually caught in the cross fire during the twelfth celebrations whether it be at the hands of republicans or loyalists?

Do the feelings and views of residents who live in the area in question and the sensitivities around this contentious parade count for nothing in the eyes of Unionist leaders?

Do Unionist leaders also withdraw support for public safety as by their own admission the area has witnessed a lot of violence during these alleged cultural celebrations?

By comparison when the Northern Ireland Parole Commission which is also an unelected body detain a citizen claiming they are doing so in the interests public safety Unionist Politicians are often keen to welcome the ruling.

So why support one unelected group and not support  another who too claim to operate in the interest of public safety? Will Unionist Politicians now call for the disbandment of the RQIA , The Requlation Quality Improvment Authority which oversees the regulation of healthcare, after all they're not an elected body either? Where does the nonsense end?

It would seem the only thing consistent from the so called leaders of Unionism is the same old tripe they regurgitate when they don't get their own way.

One of the constant arguments we hear as to why a parade should go ahead is that it is traditional, or a traditional route, yet this does not acknowledge demographic changes across the six counties.

Another word continually bandied about is 'culture' when in reality this goes beyond culture and is a matter of control which stems from the old war cry 'a protestant state for a protestant people.'

Yesterday's grand gesture was little more than a stage managed 'look at us we're defending the faith at all costs' with a statement released five minutes after their dramatic exit. Followed by chief huffer Peter Robinson who said "the institutions have been put under threat by the behaviour of the Parades Commission and those who threaten the Parades Commission,"

It would seem the institutions as they call them are put under threat/pressure every time nationalists and unionists hurl their pacifiers from the pram in a bid to get their own way.

It is worth keeping in mind that the foundation the 'institution' (Stormont) is built on was flawed from the outset. The Good Friday Agreement was sold by the Nationalist & Unionist parties as a stepping stone to a united Ireland and a secure Union with Britain all in the one package.

The orange and green gravy train that runs around the marble corridors of Stormont in my opinion serves only to deflect from the real issues and the fact that the British Government continue to rule indirectly via the egotists known as members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The north of Ireland must provide great entertainment for those watching from afar with our 'political leaders' pictured huffing over what is a legally binding decision taken in the public interest by the appointed body.

These actions will only serve to portray us as a nation of religious muck savages who are too stupid to fight against real injustice and instead focus attention on a stretch of road.

We are a multi-cultural society and if this really is about cultural expression then why insist on doing so in  an area that has seen more than it's fair share of violence over the years as a consequence of cultural/traditional parades.

A few hours ago the Daniel O'Donnell of unionism, Jeffrey Donaldson announced that Loyalist paramilitaries are to take a "peaceful approach" over the restriction of a contentious parade.

Whilst this news is most certainly welcome I would question on what authority Jeffrey Donaldson feels obliged to speak on behalf of Loyalist paramilitaries? And if Jeffrey Donaldson is speaking on behalf of Loyalist paramilitaries should he not be arrested and questioned for consorting with and speaking on behalf of murderous terrorist groups?

There are so many issues impacting on the people in the north. Schools are being closed year in year out with no thought given to our growing population. Health care staff are under extreme pressure the point of tears, homelessness, unemployment and suicide are on the increase and every cruel blow in terms of cuts is hitting the poorest most vulnerable in society.

And in the midst of all this our so called political leaders see a dispute over a stretch of road and their idea of cultural expression take precedence.

I suppose whatever takes the focus of their ineptitude, inability to deliver and impending welfare reforms that have suddenly become lost in the midst of the rattling of sabres and beating of tribal drums.

All aboard the Stormont Express you don't need a ticket just a blinkered perspective.