Friday, 29 August 2014

Northern Ireland ceasefire legacy: ‘Some are more equal than others’

In Derry opinion is divided about what has changed since the Provisional IRA declared a cessation of its armed campaign in August 1994 Peace and poverty for survivors of the Troubles.  in Derry.
A mural in Derry commemorates the battle of the Bogside, the riots in August 1969 often seen as one of the first major confrontations in the Troubles. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
When the Provisional IRA declared a cessation of military operations on 31 August 1994 the republican faithful celebrated the announcement as if it was a strategic victory. Processions of IRA and Sinn Fein supporters drove through west Belfast and the west bank of Derry in cars and vans, waving Irish tricolours, giving clenched fist salutes and V-for-victory signs. Many in the republican base had been told the ceasefire would deliver a British declaration of withdrawal or even a united Ireland within a short time.

Twenty years on, Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom and Sinn Fein shares power in a devolved government with unionists whose departments rely completely on the economic link to the British Treasury. In Derry, where the Troubles first erupted in 1969, two people from either side of the river Foyle give their perspectives on how much has changed since that historic day.

People have been badly let down by the Good Friday agreement and its promises have not been not delivered, says Pauline Mellon, a Catholic. Photograph: Paul Faith
Pauline Mellon, then 19, was too busy curling her hair to notice the klaxons and the cheering from IRA and Sinn Fein supporters outside on the afternoon of 31 August 1994. Although her life had been marked by the Troubles raging on her doorstep on the sprawling Galliagh housing estate, she was more concerned about looking good for her night out with her future husband.

“It was only when my mother came upstairs and told me that the IRA had called a ceasefire that I realised what had happened,” she said. “And then I remember thinking ‘well, brilliant but that was long overdue … by about two decades.’ Later that day what I hoped for was a chance for change, a chance for our communities to get better.”

Mellon recalled that she was “more relieved than in any way euphoric” that the Provisionals’ armed campaign had come to a historic stop.

Unlike many of her neighbours on an estate that produced many republican figures – including the Irish National Liberation Army prisoner Mickey Devine who died in the 1981 hunger strike – Mellon did not expect the ceasefire to deliver a united Ireland.

Two decades later Mellon, the founder of a blog called the Diary of a Derry Mother, can see from her front window the mural commemorating Devine. Beyond that, she said, she sees nothing but deprivation and lack of hope in her community.

She believed John Hume, the then MP for Foyle and future Nobel peace prize winner, when he said the ceasefire he had fought to secure would result in massive international goodwill and huge economic investment in places like Galliagh.

“Of course I wanted to believe that because even a year before the ceasefire there was a lot of foreign direct investment in the city. But what I noticed about the post ceasefire period was a complete downturn, as you started to see the main industries shipping out of Derry. They were going further afield to other places where they could get the best business in terms of cheaper labour. Businesses were not sentimental just because there was a ceasefire,” she said.

As she returned from her back kitchen to check out reports that youths had lit an illegal bonfire on a green behind her home, Mellon continued: “When I look around Galliagh and other areas of Derry I see things going into reverse in terms of employment. Derry currently has the highest unemployment in the north of Ireland with every third child, according to the official statistics, living below the poverty line.”

The mother of three boys, all under the age of 15, said she feared for their future in terms of jobs and prospects. “I don’t see a future for my children in Derry because when I look around me the majority of celebrations or parties taking place involve seeing off young people, wishing them well as they are about to emigrate.”

She stressed she is not a supporter of republican dissidents and has called for an end to their armed campaigns. However, she is scathing about what she claims is a Sinn Fein-controlled network of community jobs and opportunities those who back its party line.

“In this city, in places like Galliagh, everybody is more equal but some are more equal than others.”
On overall job prospects in recent years, she pointed out that 1,200 people in Derry applied for three jobs at a new hotel on the eastern side of the Foyle.

Mellon said she voted for the Good Friday agreement in 1998 that not only “locked down” the paramilitary cessations of violence but also led to devolution and power sharing.
“Would I vote for it again given the chance? Not at all. Because the people have been badly let down by it and the promises were not delivered.”

Asked about the positive legacy of the ceasefire and the negative developments of the years of relative peace, Mellon added: “The violence is now on such a small scale that you feel reasonably safe going into the town for a night with no fears of bombs and more freedom of movement with the British army off the streets. The new, negative things have been the increasing drug problems and the rise of suicides in our community.”

Nigel Gardiner, a Protestant and former soldier, says: ‘As for any so-called peace dividend, in the areas like this where the battles were fought, I don’t see any evidence of it.’ Photograph: Paul Faith
The one major thing Nigel Gardiner is relieved about 20 after the IRA ceasefire is that he no longer has to check under his car for booby trap bombs or fear that he will be killed outside his front door. As a former member of the locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment he was a regular IRA target and on several occasions was warned there were plots to kill him.

Sitting in a cramped office upstairs in Bonds Street, Derry (as an Ulster loyalist he calls the city Londonderry), Gardiner also remembers seeing the victory celebrations in IRA strongholds on 31 August 1994.

“Initially I thought it was just another propaganda ploy. I had lived through previous IRA ceasefires that never lasted and so was sceptical that this one would hold.”

However, the 1994 cessation, endured eventually and led to the IRA disarming most of its weapons.
“I know a lot of unionists and loyalists thought differently back in August 1994, but to be honest I never actually believed the union was under threat and that there was no secret deal between the IRA and government.”

But for Gardiner, who is now a community activist helping former loyalist paramilitary prisoners reintegrate into society, working class Protestants have lost out on two fronts: the economy and the so-called culture wars.

“The IRA and Sinn Fein opened up a new front by targeting Orange and loyalist culture. By seeking to ban and re-route loyalist parades and denigrate our culture. The move to restrict flying the union flag at Belfast city hall is just the latest in a long strategy to hollow out Britishness in the province.
“One thing that has gone full circle is the Protestant, Unionist, loyalist community’s attitude to the police. The PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) now only uses heavy-handed tactics to deal with loyalist protests whether they be about the flag issue in Belfast or a banned Orange Order parade. The police don’t dare do that with republicans, even dissident republicans, the latter who are even allowed to march through Belfast city centre glorifying their ongoing violence unchallenged.
“As for any so-called peace dividend, in the areas like this where the battles were fought, I don’t see any evidence of it. The republican community has done better in terms of getting infrastructure into their areas.” Asked if he believed people in Bonds Street were less well off economically or socially than in Galliagh, he admitted: “Well no, not all. The overall deprivation levels in the old war zones are there across the board. But the standard of housing say in Protestant working class areas in Northern Ireland is second class compared to nationalist areas.”

Looking outside into a small loyalist enclave clinging to the east bank of the river Foyle, with its Coronation Street style terrace housing and union flags flying from lamp-posts and houses, Gardiner accepted that poverty rates in republican areas on the west side were as bad if not worse than in loyalist districts.

On the jobs front, Gardiner said it “was a reality” that the public sector comprised mainly Catholic employees. “Protestants tend to be at a major disadvantage in many ways like history going into reverse when at one time Catholics in this city couldn’t get jobs in public services.”

Gardiner agreed that education had been a missed opportunity for the loyalist working class. “If you examine the GCSE and A-level grades in the Protestant parts of the Waterside the grades are not as high as the ones from Catholic schools in this city. That is an area where we will have to get our act together.”

But Gardiner believes these and other problems amount to an existentialist crisis for unionists. “I still firmly believe just like I did on 31 August 1994, that for a whole lot of reasons like the euro, the southern Irish economy and our own firm belief in the union, a united Ireland is still as unachievable as it was back then.”

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Censorship or Protecting Society?

A few days ago I read of approved plans by the Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to introduce three new terrorist offences in the south of Ireland. These new offences are said to be designed to further crack down on home-grown terrorism. The new offences will be...

1. Public provocation to commit a terrorist offence.
2. Recruitment for terrorism and
3. Training for terrorism.

In a recent statement the Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald had this to say:

We stand with our European colleagues in doing everything in our power to ensure that there are no gaps in our law that can be exploited by those who would inflict terror and mayhem on innocent people at home or abroad. There can be no hiding place in democratic society for those who encourage, recruit or train others to carry out acts of terrorism and we must never relent in our determination to use all resources at our disposal to root them out.”

In Britain Home secretary Theresa May is to announce a three-tier plan to tackle Islamic extremism. Currently under consideration are proposals to:

    1.Ban groups deemed to be extremist.
    2.Civil court injunctions – dubbed "Asbos for terrorists" – this is aimed at stopping extremists trying to recruit or influence others.
    3.Curtailing the word of radical preachers who currently exercise their right to free speech without breaking any laws.
These proposals also include banning any organisations believed to be kindling or supporting terrorism.

The element of the new legislation which particularly concerns me is the provocation offence in the South of Ireland and in Britain the proposal to curtail free speech. The suggestion by both governments is that anyone, who distributes or communicates a message to the public that could be considered as influencing or encouraging terrorist activity will face prosecution under this new legislation despite the lack of clarity and ambiguity surrounding these new and proposed measures.

Over the past few years I have spoken out on a human rights basis about the treatment of prisoners including Republican prisoners. I was involved in a high profile campaign to Free Marian McGlinchey who was charged with, and later pleaded guilty to encouraging support for an illegal organisation. What is of the utmost concern to me is under this new law could I have been considered guilty of indirectly encouraging support or sympathy for those accused of encouraging support for an illegal organisation? That may seem convoluted but where will the Free State and British Governments draw the line? Will someone protesting against strip searching of a family member in Maghaberry be considered to be supporting an illegal organisation?

With the increase in support for the people of Palestine will this solidarity be viewed as encouraging support for terrorism or influencing others? As the democratically elected Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation?

From the outset we must demand clarity on these issues as the more cynical side of me questions if these laws are to prevent freedom of speech on a broader range of issues including human rights abuses.

Another very worrying aspect of this situation is in relation to the use of of social media and the internet to highlight human rights abuses and circumvent government censorship and media manipulation. Bloggers in Egypt were directly targeted by the authorities for exposing human rights abuses and not forgetting the recent case of three Al Jazeera reporters sentenced to seven years in prison in Egypt.

The family of one of the convicted reporters called the sentences"a slap in the face for freedom of speech". The British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "completely appalled" by the verdicts. Oddly the words kettle, pot & black spring to mind when I think of this 'Etonian' who was a member young Tory's, a group which infamously called for Nelson Mandela to be hanged, and not forgetting Sir Teddy Taylor a leading Margatet Thatcher supporter also said Mandela should be shot.

What must also be asked is, if it is found that you shared a statement on the internet which is later regarded provocative can you be charged with provocation to commit a terrorist offence? Or if some one decides to tag you in a statement deemed 'provocative' on Facebook can you be charged with influencing or indirectly encouraging terrorism?

Whilst I may appear flippant I must stress that as a social justice campaigner my concerns are genuine as in reality these laws and the proposed changes in Britain bring a whole new meaning to choosing your associates and battles carefully for fear of being accused of indirectly provoking a terrorist offence or influencing others. Then again that could be the method behind the madness to instil fear into anyone who would raise concerns about the conduct of a government by them being potentially labelled a 'terrorist' supporter or sympathiser.

In terms of changes to the Irish legislation the only thing clearly stated is that this law will include public statements and interviews from dissident leaders which would seem to cover commemorations and suggest blanket censorship of those considered dissidents.

Am I right in thinking that members of the press reporting on an event or rally organised so called dissidents may also be charged with the provocation offence for their role in distributing or communicating a message to the public which may or may not directly or indirectly influence or encourage someone to commit a terrorist offence? It would seem that although Dublin & London are thousands of miles geographically away from Cairo, in terms of quelling political opposition they seem to be on the same page.

As we come closer to the centenary of the Easter Rising will the political leaders in Ireland who read from the Proclamation be accused of public provocation to commit a terrorist offence as the Proclamation asserts the right of Irish citizens to use arms as a means of resistance?

In contrast lets look at the ongoing fiasco at Shannon Airport which has included the arrest of Dail Eireann representatives Clare Daly andMick Wallace. It would be reasonable to suggest that the Irish Government are guilty or at least complicit in supporting and fuelling terrorism with it permitting the fuelling of rendition flights, something even Amnesty International has raised concerns about. After all rendition is the process of covertly sending suspects to be interrogated to a country with less rigorous human rights legislation.

There is a sad irony to this when you consider it was the Irish Government who took the British government to the European Court of Human Rights over the treatment of the 'hooded men' who were brutalised at a secret location whilst held captive by the British state in Ireland in 1971.

In 1978, the European Court overturned the initial finding of torture and ruled that the treatment of the 'hooded men' amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment, but did not constitute torture, although it is worth noting that new evidence that has been discovered proved that not only did the British Government admit it was torture, they actually lied to the European Court.

The actions of the British Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday in 1972 saw an increase in support for the IRA. So could it be argued that the actions of the Irish state in allowing Shannon airport to be used for rendition flights may in return encourage support for insurgent groups in other lands?

There are some who would argue that the actions of British troops abroad are leading to an increase in extremism in Britain, which is no attempt on my part to justify or dismiss the seriousness of any threat. Maybe both governments should take time to look at these situations objectively and in doing so accept responsibility for their influence and the part they play directly and indirectly in these situations. 

Maybe the British & Irish Governments should consider the actions of their allies, but I doubt the Irish Government will prosecute itself for supporting terrorism, or the British Government will stop allowing CIA rendition flights, but then again the files on the role the British Government played in rendition flights were conveniently destroyed due to water damage. Convenience or cover up? 

I'll leave you to make your own minds up on that one.

Whilst on the subject of taking responsibility for actions maybe both governments could also examine their failure to address the issue of financial terrorism at the hands of the bankers? The severity of the impact of their actions should never be underestimated, yet bankers are still rewarded with huge bonuses and not criminal convictions.

If you are resident in the North of Ireland and at this point have considered writing to your local Stormont representative to voice concerns then my suggestion would be not to bother as in this situation as with most our political leaders are as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Put your money where your mouth is.

On September 1st the people of Beslan, North Ossetia will mark the tenth anniversary of the
Beslan 2004
Beslan massacre. On what was the first day of the new school year, Chechen separatists stormed a school containing over 1100 people. In the following 52 hour siege 334 of the people lost their lives, 186 of which were children.

The actions of the Chechens followed the UN and Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and were alleged to be an attempt to gain recognition of the independence of Chechnya.

In the aftermath of the Beslan Massacre the then American President George Bush offered condolences and condemning those behind what was described as the merciless slaughter of Innocents said  at a UN Security Council meeting 'We must do all we can to disrupt each stage of planning and support for terrorist acts'  Bush is also on record as stating 'the atrocities in Beslan reinforce the need for free nations to work together for peace and security.” Bush's sentiments were echoed by other world leaders.

On 1st September 2005, UNICEF marked the first anniversary of the Beslan massacre by calling on all adults to shield children from war and conflict. But it would seem that UNICEF's call has not been heeded.

Ten years ago the press was robust in its condemnation of the horror and unspeakable cruelty that was witnessed in Beslan. However the horrific irony is that this is the same press who have shown ignorance and bias with their reporting of the situation in Gaza.

Today Gaza is a place associated with horror and unspeakable cruelty yet the current US President, Barrack Obama pays mere lip service to the horrors dealt against a population held hostage in what can only be described as an open air prison.

The reason for Obama's silence could be the fact that this so called leader of the free world and 2009 Nobel peace prize winner is complicit in arming the Israeli military, one third of the US foreign aid budget is used to fund Israel in its endless merciless slaughter of civilians.

On a visit to Belfast last year, Barack Obama addressed approximately 2000 people in the Waterfront Hall. In the current phase of the US backed genocide in Gaza there have been just over 2000 deaths. When Mr. Obama looked out over the crowd at the Waterfront Hall he was looking at the representative death toll of the past number of weeks, a death toll he has persoanlly supported. 

During his visit Obama famously asked ' What's the craic', well here's 'craic' Mr Obama.

'Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $121billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although in the past Israel also received significant economic assistance.'

Furthermore 'In 2007, the Bush Administration and the Israeli government agreed to a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package for the period from FY2009 to FY2018. During his March 2013 visit to Israel, President Obama pledged that the United States would continue to provide Israel with multi-year commitments of military aid subject to the approval of Congress.'

So how's that for craic?

The cynical side of me wonders if the situation would be different if Gaza contained oil or other resources. It is absolutely hypocritical for the US to acknowledge the slaughter of innocents in the case of Beslan yet directly fund the slaughter of innocents in Gaza. But then again this is the same USA who ignored the genocide in Rawanda 20 years ago, despite privately acknowledging this was  genocide.

So maybe the next time an American president is lauded on Irish soil by our political leaders
A Mexican wave for Obama
as a great peacemaker and leader, people should realise that accolades are being heaped upon a person who funds war crimes by those who apart from being spineless are useless into the bargain. But then again if you stand for nothing you'll fall for anything, and they think we're all that gullible that we'll just blindly follow their lead. 

Sorry to disappoint!

On August 13th 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed an independent commission to investigate possible war crimes in Gaza. I fail to fathom the need for any independent commission when you take into consideration the nature of the targets which have been attacked, these have included hospitals, schools and United Nations facilities. On that basis alone it clear these attacks have been carried out with no regard for civilian life.

Despite the propaganda peddled by Israel, it's apologists and the majority of the media, with the exception of a few such as Channel 4's Jon Snow, whose honest and responsible coverage showed an integrity and professionalism that many lacked, the scale of the carnage was evident to the outside world through the use of social media.
Jon Snow - This man deserves a humanitarian award.
The Crimes of War Education Project states that Civilians and civilian objects are protected under the laws of armed conflict by the principle of distinction. Under this principle, parties to an armed conflict must always distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and combatants and military targets on the other. I doubt the weapons that America supplies to the Israelis differentiates between a member of Hamas, and children playing football on a beach because its evident that the Israeli troops don't.

To date the United Nations have refused to impose economic sanctions on Israel. In contrast the events surrounding the MH17 Malaysia plane crash in Ukraine on July 17th has brought economic sanctions against Russia in an attempt to coerce the Kremlin to back down in Ukraine. These sanctions have been endorsed by the European Union despite Russia's  very fragile economic climate. Yet it would seem Israel remains free to do as it pleases despite their continued attacks on a mostly civilian population.

At a local level our politicians have done what they usually do with most situations, and that is to take opposing positions and pay lip service. The 'Christian' DUP have come out in full flight supporting Israel by setting up a 'Friends of Israel group' in Stormont, and have held their inaugural meeting in the 'parliament' building. So does this mean that as taxpayers we are funding this meeting, unless that is the DUP privately hired a function room. 

In contrast the DUP wanted an event that was booked for the Ulster Hall which was to be addressed by British MP George Galloway forced out of the council owned venue, despite it being a private event. The DUP said it had concerns over comments about Israel made by Mr. Galloway. Oddly I don't remember any complaining voices when Ian Paisley was part of the rabble that launched the 'Ulster Resistance' there in 1986, or indeed when loyalist killer Michael Stone was released from prison to attend a loyalist rally there in 1998.

Sinn Fein have publicly taken a differing opinion from the DUP, they've come out condemning the genocide in Gaza, and organised a number of events in protest at the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Derry Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson has even taken up a special role in the European Parliament in relation to Palestine and will visit there next month. 

Yet Sinn Fein do what they do best and ride two horses, at the 2013 Ard Fheis Sinn Fein passed a motion. The motion - (106)  by the Pól Kinsella Cumann, Derry was as follows:

'This Ard Fheis extends our continuing solidarity with the people of Palestine and urges full support for the boycott and divestment (BDS) campaign of Israeli goods and services, including Caterpillar, particularly those involved in settlement activity. This Ard Fheis particularly views with concern the activities of Cement Roadstone, an Irish company, and calls for an investigation into their activities and the activities of all such companies in collaborating in human rights violations.

This Ard Fheis also calls for an end to all trade with Israeli agricultural companies complicit with Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid. This Ard Fheis calls on the incoming Ard Chomhairle to ask all comhairli ceantair and cumainn to join with others supporting broad-based campaigns working towards ending agricultural trade with Israel that finances and rewards the destruction of Palestinian farming.

Despite this motion being passed a quick search of the Sinn Fein website brings up the result that Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey welcomed Caterpillar to Belfast last year saying 'This is welcome news for West Belfast.' I'm sure the people of Gaza are jumping with joy too Mr Maskey! 

And on the point I'll take you back what I said about our political leaders when I called them spineless and useless.

Oddly for once it would seem that the SDLP have found their balls, well not when it comes to local issues as the splinters from sitting on the fence must be painful, but it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge SDLP MP Mark Durkan in his letters to both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, 'there appears to be a huge contrast between what governments are doing and saying in terms of calling for sanctions against Russia and the rather inert response to the conflict in the Middle East.'

Despite the prevarication by the politicians it would seem that the ordinary man and woman in the street has risen to the support of the beleaguered people of Gaza. And this is how people can make a difference.

There are many people who are now boycotting companies tied to the Israeli murder machine. The impact has been so great that Israel has been forced to change the bar-code that identified it's produce. Governments are powerful in many ways when you consider the control held over the mainstream press and their influence on our lives, however one thing that they cannot do is tell us how to spend our money, and that is a weapon that every person can wield.

Put your money were your mouth is and boycott Israeli goods until it stops it's genocide in Gaza, and by the same token maybe Mr.Obama should practice the peace he preaches and stop funding war crimes against the people of Gaza.

Lets play spot the warmonger!

Saturday, 9 August 2014


I sat through a public meeting  in Derry on July 25th in relation to plans to modernise and extend the Museum of Free Derry (Bloody Sunday Museum). From the outset it was stated by the organisers that they supported the museum and its expansion, but had concerns over the amended plans. It would have been evident to any objective individual at the meeting that the community members in attendance embraced the design presented to the community in 2010.

The amended plans will see the removal or possible relocation of a local business as well as obscuring the iconic Civil Rights Mural which many, including myself consider to be inextricably linked to Bloody Sunday in that the Civil Rights movement organised the march that saw the brutal savagery meted out against the people of Derry by the Parachute Regiment in 1972.

The amended plans include the removal or as it has been termed 'realignment' of a ramp leading up to the flats, this despite it's huge historical significance in relation to Bloody Sunday. The plans also include the erection of what appears to be a covered walkway.  Liam Wray whose brother Jim was murdered that day took shelter on the ramp (above) whilst Alexander Nash left the safety of the ramp amidst heavy gunfire in an attempt to rescue his son and was wounded as his son lay fatally injured.

Having previously expressed an interest in the situation I have been contacted by a number of people concerned about comments that have been appearing on social media.

It would seem that Donnacha McNelis of the Bogside Residents group is very interested despite his lack of attendance at public meeting. In one comment in relation to the contentious memorial garden which is alleged to include British soldiers Donnacha had this to say ..... “I don't know if that is what is being proposed. However, on a personal basis, I believe that a place, a garden or whatever to remember all those who died in the conflict whether civilians or combatants is worthy of consideration.”

Donnacha just like everyone else is entitled to his view, I respect that totally but on personal level fail to grasp his use of the word 'combatants' when referring to British soldiers. These are the same 'combatants' who murdered innocent civilians in this town. Furthermore the location of the Bloody Sunday Museum is where some of these 'combatants' murdered innocent civilians as they lay on the ground helpless. I am of the belief that to deliberately target innocent civilians is a war crime. Indeed the Crimes of War Education Project states that 'Combatants are all members of the armed forces of a party to the conflict' in contrast to this it states that Civilians and civilian objects are protected under the laws of armed conflict by the principle of distinction. Under this principle, parties to an armed conflict must always distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and combatants and military targets on the other.

In another comment on social media, self appointed amateur art critic and former Stormont MLA Mary Nelis (mother of Donnacha) stated the following with regard to the public meeting”The agenda of ignorance and lack of respect for the dead of Bloody Sunday. aside from the fact that the artwork on the wall is terrible.”What is also absolutely astounding about this comment is that Mary Nelis despite not being at the meeting herself is including not only family members of some of those murdered on Bloody Sunday, but also individuals who were wounded themselves.

The comment in relation to the artwork is incredible when you consider it was Mary who proposed, as a Sinn Fein Councillor in 2004 to have the murals in the Bogside sign posted. The same Mary Nelis who also had this to say "The marvellous work of the artists has enhanced the historic and artistic appeal of the area and contributes to the growing sense of pride which Derry people hold for the role they have played in the events that reverberated around the world three decades ago.”

After a trip to the Bogside, Andrea Wolwacz of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, one of the most important research universities in Latin America stated the following in her paper, An Analysis of the Museum of Free Derry:

I had the opportunity to visit Derry and the museum. It was an impressive experience because, the museum has a collection of objects, videos, posters, recordings, and writings from the people who lived the decades of “the troubles” that culminated in the “Blood Sunday” and were affected by these events.

Therefore, the purpose of the museum organizers is to tell the history of the Bogside from the point of view of these people, for they believe it is “the community story told from the community’s perspective”. Having the necessity of keeping archives of facts which deeply traumatized this community is way of healing. And, although this part of history can be seen from different perspectives, this one has its own legitimacy.

In order to enrich this work, I could not leave aside the murals of the Bogside. The murals, which are known as “The People’s Gallery”, are twelve large wall murals on view in the Bogside by Tom Kelly, Kevin Hasson and William Kelly, a group known as 'The Bogside Artists'. These men have lived in the Bogside and have experienced the conflict, so they have registered the events they have seen for the last thirty years. According to these artists “In telling this story they have served a pressing need for their community, and Derry people in general, to acknowledge with dignity, if not pride, the price paid by those who became victims of the struggle for democratic rights."

For me the text above sums up the symbiotic relationship that should exist between the Museum of Free Derry and the People's Gallery, they both reflect the same history, the both reflect the living history of the Bogside and they are both world class attractions that bring people into the Bogside.

Well, that would be the ideal, however a few days ago the Bloody Sunday Trust issued a statement online and through a local newspaper in response to some of the concerns raised at the public meeting in Pilot's Row. You can read the statement by clicking here.

Following the statement one of the organisers of the public meeting issued a rebuttal. Click here to read Vincent Coyle's rebuttal.

Yesterday a further statement appeared on the Pensive Quill From Vice Chairperson of the Bloody Sunday Trust Robin Percival. This article was in response to a radio interview given by both Kate Nash and Vincent Coyle. Click here to read Mr Percival's article.

In Robin's article he states 'There never was a plan to construct a memorial garden to include British soldiers in the Bogside.' Four years ago there was a brief discussion within the Trust about a Peace Garden. It went no further. Nor are there any plans to construct a memorial to include British soldiers now or in the future.

This contradicts what the Museum of Free Derry Manager said at the public meeting held in Derry. “We have talked about this, in the future, to put some sort of memorial garden in the green space behind. What that will take and who it will cover and funding, we are not even close to that point. There's an idea for a memorial garden that's as far as the idea is.”

Robin was two seats away from the manager in the public meeting, and neither he as Vice Chair of the Bloody Sunday Trust Nor the Chairperson of the Trust once challenged the statement above. There was ample opportunity on the night. Also on the subject of employee's of the museum Robin seems to take issue with how Kate Nash stated she spoke to a person who “works in the Museum.” It would seem his issue is with the fact that she didn't mention it was John Kelly whose brother was murdered on Bloody Sunday, by the same token, Robin failed to mention that Kate Nash is a relative of two Bloody Sunday victims.

2010 Design as published in the Derry Journal  
In relation to the removal of the ramp Robin stated 'But it is not true that the plans which currently involve the replacement of the ramp represent a change.' A publicity picture published in the Derry Journal in 2010 would contradict this. Furthermore Robin states that the ramp has been significantly altered without protest since Bloody Sunday. I would contest that cosmetic changes are a world apart from the complete removal of the ramp and I'm sure Robin would agree.

For reasons only known to himself Robin attempts to drag the reasons for people's concerns about elements of the proposed development to a sectarian level.

From the transcript of the radio interview it is evident that Kate's reference to the DUP's Arlene Foster is in relation to her role as Minister for tourism. As Robin states “As Minister responsible for Tourism Mrs Foster had to sign off on a large part of the allocation which she eventually did'. If Kate was attempting to bring a sectarian element into it would she not also have mentioned that the Dept for Social Development another DUP helmed Stormont department also provided funds? Kate Nash actually declares her hand in reference to the funding in that she clearly states 'I'm not very up on these things '.

If it had been a Sinn Fein Stormont Minister had rubber stamped the funds, what label would Robin had used? Would he have tried to imply there was a dissident element?

Robin also mentions how the Bloody Sunday Trust has no connection with any political party, this is in response to Kate Nash's comment in her radio interview in relation to the membership of the Bloody Sunday Trust that 'except for one person, one person who's in the SDLP, the rest are Sinn Féin members or people who are aligned to Sinn Féin.' If this is a perception held by family members of some of those wounded and murdered on Bloody Sunday, then it could well be a wider perception that the Bloody Sunday Trust may feel warrants addressing. Maybe it could be a perception exacerbated by the fact that Robin himself is referenced in Julie Ann Campbell's book on Bloody Sunday as a Sinn Fein member who submitted a paper to the ruling body of Derry Sinn Fein in 1989 called the Bloody Sunday Trust. Robin is also on record as saying that this was 'an attempt to create a broad-based organisation containing members of Sinn Fein, but also others, who were not members. If you look at the checklist in that paper, pretty much everything on it has since happened. It even mentioned setting up a museum to house the archival material being collected, even though back them it was described as an interpretive centre. It is worth noting that Julie Ann Campbell is the current chair person of the Bloody Sunday Trust.

I'm sure despite whatever differences exist that there can be a positive outcome, those elected to represent the community would need to ensure that the processes involved are open and transparent and that what is best for the community prevails. This is about more than a ramp, a mural, or a canopy over the entrance to a Museum, this is about securing the history of the Bogside and ensuring what the people in our community endured is never subject to revisionism and that their story is told. That for me is best done on the walls of Derry's Bogside and in the exhibition rooms of the Museum of Free Derry.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The truth is a hard nut to crack!

Vincent Coyle
I read this piece yesterday (August 7th) in the Derry News and just had to share. I contacted the author, Veteran Civil Rights activist Vincent Coyle who kindly provided me with a copy of the text.

In response to the statement issued by Julie-Ann Campbell and Robin Percival of the Bloody Sunday Trust on August 1st 2014 which appeared in the August 4th edition of the Derry News.

There are a number of points raised in the published letter that need addressing.

Firstly I have some concerns over the tone of the letter, the nature of some of the language used and ultimately a number of key points.

The letter uses very evocative language, such as 'accusations made' and also states that your representatives will not take part in future public meetings unless treated with courtesy by the organisers. I take this as a personal insult and slight on my character as when the members of the Bloody Sunday Trust and employees of the Museum entered the hall at Pilots Row just prior to the meeting starting I welcomed them. I then asked would they be willing to take questions and offered them a seat at the top table, an offer they declined. I would also point out that the organisers had sent private invites to the Bloody Sunday Trust in advance of the meeting as well having an advertisement printed in the Derry News. As we had not received any response from either the trust or museum, the organisers decided that the meeting would be of an informal nature.

I would further add that at the start of the meeting I publicly reiterated my full support for the modernisation and extension of the Museum hailing the plans we welcomed as a community in 2010. I was very forthright expressing my disappointment over the amended plans which were submitted to the planning department on December 23rd 2013 without consultation. Plans which now include what seems to be a non-transparent partition at the top of the ramp coupled with a canopy at the entrance of the museum.

I would like to take this opportunity to also address accusations that people who have raised concerns over the redesign of the museum do not want the plans to proceed, this is completely untrue, indeed my support for the museum is a matter of public record as is the fact that my late fathers distinctive hat which my family donated, was displayed among the artefacts within the museum.

At the start of the meeting I stated that we would begin with a short presentation and then open the discussion to the floor, from the outset I was heckled and harangued. Within minutes of beginning the presentation I was interrupted by an employee of the Museum of Free Derry who from the outset of the meeting had been shouting from the back of the hall. I courteously provided her with an opportunity to speak and give her perspective. I would point out that this employee not only disrupted the short presentation but neglected to mention her employment and as such conflict of interest.

Sensing that some people were becoming agitated and in an attempt to try to minimise disruption and give people opportunity to participate I decided that even during the presentation I would attempt to facilitate comments from the floor. The next gentleman to take the microphone made a series of accusations against myself, and when challenged stormed out of the meeting uttering obscenities. The letter published in the Derry News penned by Mr Percival & Ms Campbell states that 'personal abuse directed at our representatives was allowed to go unchallenged.' I was also the victim of accusations and abuse, something the letter conveniently fails to acknowledge. So whilst the disruption which occurred was regrettable it was by no means one sided.

The letter also raises the issue that people were concerned that the Civil Rights Mural will be obscured, but stated that the planning documents and promotional materials easily demonstrated that the 'realignment' of the pram ramp was part of the 2010 and 2013 plans. There was an image used on that night as part of the presentation published in the Derry Journal in July 2010 which clearly shows the redeveloped museum not obscuring the iconic Civil Rights mural. This would contradict the assertion that promotional materials show the 'realigned ramp'. I have provided a copy of this picture to the editor of the Derry News.

Furthermore in relation to the mural in the letter it states ' However the Trust will be approaching the relevant statutory bodies with a number of alternatives which we hope will address this issue'. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly ask why the Bloody Sunday Trust are not bringing these alternatives to the people of the Bogside, what are these alternatives? When will the people be informed of them, and what statutory bodies will they be contacting? Surely the least we can expect in light of the level of feeling around this development is clarity, transparency and openness?

A major bone of contention on the evening of the meeting arose when the brother of a young man murdered by British Crown Forces questioned representatives from the Museum and Bloody Sunday Trust. This man stated that he had been told that a memorial garden in memory of all victims of the 'troubles' including British State Forces was to be part of a further development of the Museum of Free Derry.

In the letter it states 'there are no plans whatsoever to develop a memorial Garden to anyone, least of all British Soldiers, in the space behind the museum, or on the roof of the museum. Museum education officer John Kelly, brother of bloody Sunday victim Michael Kelly said: 'The fact is that myself and Jean Hegarty, two Bloody Sunday relatives work in the museum and do people really believe that we would accept such a thing? I really can't believe that this scandalous gossip has been given so much credence by people who should know better. This damages not only the reputation of the museum but the reputation of the relatives who work here and those on the board of BST.'

If John Kelly had of been at the meeting I would say the response attributed to him may have been quite different, because if John had been present he would have heard the manager of the Museum Mr Adrian Kerr say: “We have talked about this, in the future, to put some sort of memorial garden in the green space behind. What that will take and who it will cover and funding, we are not even close to that point. There's an idea for a memorial garden that's as far as the idea is.” So whilst there may be no physical plans as yet there has been discussion with or without the knowledge of the Museum employees who are also Bloody Sunday family members. How Ms. Campbell and Mr.Percival can incredulously state in writing that there have been no plans whatsoever in respect of a memorial garden as they sat beside Mr Kerr as he gave his answer through a microphone and public address system is something which beggars belief.

I'm thankful that some members of the audience had the forethought to make an audio recording of the meeting and I have provided an audio copy of Mr Kerr's response to the editor of the Derry News for him to verify what I am stating is a matter of fact and not a baseless accusation.

Mr. Percival & Ms Campbell also state in relation to a call for the current ramp to be retained that there have been significant changes since Bloody Sunday, they also mentioned a report of the meeting published in the Derry Journal that someone had been shot on the ramp. I would point out two things, the first is that if Mr Percival and Ms Campbell have an issue with a matter reported in the Derry Journal they take issue with that publications editor.

Secondly in reference to the ramp in question it was stated at the meeting that this was were Alex Nash left safety to attempt to rescue his fatally wounded son before he was brutally gunned down.

Liam Wray the brother of Jim Wray who was murdered on Bloody Sunday addressed the matter of the ramp succinctly at the meeting when he said, “I was there on Bloody Sunday and used that ramp for cover. Where it is possible to keep these things intact in relation to Bloody Sunday then they should be. Other countries do their best to preserve these these type of artefacts and so should we.” Liam Wray further made reference to what he believes to be “ Cultural Vandalism

Surely the significance of this ramp warrants it's retention? The argument in relation to the demolition of the Rossville Flats as justification for the realignment of the 'pram ramp' is one that should only be met with derision. The Rossville Flats were unfit for purpose and even as far back as 1984 the then Mayor of the City, the SDLP's John Tierney was calling for the demolition of the flats and at that time Mr Tierney stated that the move would be fully supported by the residents.

I feel it essential to ensure the wider public is made aware that I personally hand delivered a letter to the Bloody Sunday Trust on 28th July, a correspondence which was signed by other interested parties. In the letter we thanked the members of the trust for attending the meeting and requested a further private meeting with the Bloody Sunday Trust be arranged to see if accommodation could be reached on a number of the issues raised at the meeting in respect of the 'realignment' of the ramp and obscuring of the Civil Rights mural.

At the request of a relatives of some of those murdered on Bloody Sunday and relatives of other victims of murders carried out by members of the crown forces I had been asked to request the further meeting to seek clarification on the development of the proposed memorial garden which Mr Kerr of the museum acknowledged had been discussed, despite the denials subsequently issued through the Derry News.

In closing I would reiterate my continuing support for investment in the Museum Free Derry and would hope that a common sense and practical approach will be taken.

Vincent Coyle.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

With reckless abandon

“ Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.” Martin Luther King Jnr

Three days ago the local news featured a piece about a gun attack on a PSNI patrol in the Bogside area of Derry.  I appreciate that republicans argue that the use of armed action is a legitimate right as enshrined in the Irish proclamation, but as someone who has never supported violence I would question not only the use of violence but the effectiveness of such actions at this time. I would further ask those who engage in armed actions, what armed conflict to date has achieved outside of filling the cemeteries, the prisons and leaving many of the foot soldiers who listened to armchair generals with a range of physical and mental health conditions. Foot soldiers now unable to get employment as they  have 'criminal' convictions for their political actions. 

Ageing and social exclusion among former politically motivated prisoners in Northern Ireland and the border region of Ireland P.12

That said there are those who might regard having self-serving narcissists in positions of power as an achievement. The same self-serving narcissists who now invest their pensions in the tobacco industry, the nuclear weapons industry and in companies accused of human rights abuses. These same self-serving narcissists who now administer the very oppressive rule they themselves once took an active stance against, and who are now more interested in their party ideologies, their power and maintaining the status quo.

We continue to experience a democracy deficit here in the North of Ireland with the continued erosion of civil and human rights despite constant references in the press hailing the democratic peace process, a new dispensation and a new beginning. 

There are numerous issues that continue to cause concern, issues such as the power the British Government and their unaccountable security services continue to hold despite claims of power sharing and devolution. The use of secret justice or the lack of justice, internment by remand, poverty, suicide, lack of faith in the PSNI, lack of employment opportunity and homelessness are all issues that need to be addressed. No amount of pot shots at a PSNI patrol in the Bogside will contribute to having these issues addressed, the only thing that will change this is when people stand together and demand that those who claim to represent us address these issues and fulfil the promises they continue to make.

These are many of the same issues that led to the formation of the anti-sectarian civil rights movement over 40 years ago. The ethos of the civil rights movement is as relevant today as it was when the British Government tried to murder it when it's paratroopers attacked the people of Derry in 1972. Their actions on Bloody Sunday were not an attempt to maintain law and order but to instil terror into civil rights supporters and remove support for the civil rights movement as the message of the Civil Rights Movement could not be disputed. The iconic civil rights mural in Derry today is a reminder of those who fought against injustice and a message to our youth that non-violent action achieved more than the barrel of a gun ever did or will.

The people in the North of Ireland are often portrayed in the British press as a nation of sectarian idiots with the British Government's role as one of peacekeepers, this being despite their central role in the 'Troubles', their notorious history of human rights abuses here, and indeed their current human and civil rights abuses now administered by those in Little Britain, or as its more commonly known, the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In a televised interview after the gun attack in the Bogside a PSNI Superintendent described the attack on the police officers in Derry as "totally reckless" continuing to say "those who organised and carried out the attack “showed total disregard for the lives of people in that community.” SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood commented that 'The people who carried out this attack have no regard for their community, or for the future we are trying to build', Whilst Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney said 'Those behind this attack have nothing to offer society and are not representative of the people of Derry.'

As I said earlier, I have never supported violence, and would echo some of the sentiments of Colum & Raymond. However I would go a step further when it involves the inactions of our politicians with regard to their reckless decision making.

When they facilitate civil and human rights abuses and when they invest more money in football pitches than in employment schemes,when they refuse to fund detoxification and life saving services then that to me is totally reckless, and shows a total disregard for the community. This is not representative  of the will of the people.

If we look at a couple of facts, it is a fact that more people have died through suicide since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement than through the troubles, it is a fact is that there is an identified link between the unemployment rate and the suicide rate. And it is a simple truth that  politicians here are failing the people they claim to represent by penalising them for the failings of Government.

It has been estimated there have been 10,000 deaths as a result of the current recession, Dr Aaron Reeves, of the University of Oxford, told the BBC: "There's a lot of good evidence showing recessions lead to rising suicides, but what is surprising is this hasn't happened everywhere - Austria, Sweden and Finland. "It shows policy potentially matters. One of the features of these countries is they invest in schemes that help people return to work, such as training, advice and even subsidised wages."

Never forget that all the main Stormont parties voted for people to work for their benefits through the agreed workfare scheme. In one case a tradesman was sent to building site for a number of weeks, to work, he didn't get any extra money, he didn't get any additional training and he didn't get a job out of it. But what he did do by being forced onto the scheme was enable the government to mark one less person down as being unemployed.

Maybe our politicians should take heed of the policies of the governments of Austria, Sweden and Finland?

For my part, I just wonder will the PSNI ever arrest some of the politicians here for the "totally reckless" decisions they continue to make, decisions which show disregard for the lives of people in our communities.