Friday, 31 January 2014

Safe in whose hands?

Why was a Community Safety Forum destroyed despite over 1000 members of the community objecting to the decision?

Children watch anti Social behaviour in Galliagh 2013
Over the past few weeks I have been following threads on social media relating to the dissolution of a safety forum in my area. Some members of the now defunct Outer North Community Safety forum feel that that this forum was arbitrarily removed. This assertion alone was enough to spark my curiosity.

Having experienced the effects of anti-social behaviour first hand I couldn't understand if something was effective and delivering what it set out to do why anyone would want rid of it. As a Galliagh resident for over 30 years I knew nothing of a community safety forum, however I do have first hand experience of 'community workers' who claim to work for the good of the community whilst failing to engage with the community even at a tokenistic level.

The Outer North Community Safety Team was established in December 2009 in line with recommendations arising from the 'Community Safety positional paper' (Holywell consultancy 2009).
Community Safety Team Structure

The Outer North Community Safety Team was to comprise of representatives from organisations already tasked with dealing with community safety issues and was tied into District Policing Partnership community sub-groups.

These sub-groups were dissolved in Oct 2010 with specific people then being invited onto the newly established Community Safety Forums. One of these was to be in the Outer North area of the city, covering Galliagh, Culmore and the greater Shantallow area. The work of this forum was to feed into the work of the Outer North Community Safety Team.

Outer North Minutes
The majority of these forums are within Neighbourhood Renewal Areas and are now operating across most areas of Derry City. Through these forums the agencies involved are supposed to be held accountable for delivery of community safety and crime reduction within the specified neighbourhoods 
 
Online I discovered in Derry City Council City Secretary and Solicitor’s Department Annual service Plan and performance report 2012/13. That 'the tasking calendar agreed through the Outer North Community Safety Forum has been hailed as best practice in community engagement/safety and the Community Safety Manager with members of the forum have presented this template to senior officials at the Department of Justice.'



So here we have something cited as a model of best practice by Derry City Council and presented to the Department of Justice on the same basis, yet for some reason it has been disbanded, with other forums still operating across the city.


I made contact with someone who had been a member of the Outer North Community Safety Forum asking why such a valuable resource and model of best practice in community engagement/safety had been dissolved? 

The person I spoke to said that there was no viable or rational reason for the forum to be dissolved. And despite differences between many of those engaged in the forum that the community was being served well and problematic issues were being addressed from a community level.

I asked specifically what reasons had been given and by whom for the destruction of this forum, his reply surprised me, 'you wouldn't believe me if I told you, so I'll show you'.

A few days ago I received a number of documents. The first of these documents was dated July 27th 2012 this was when members of the Outer North community safety forum received the following correspondence....

'Following recent reports of discontent within the Outer North Community safety forum, and given that local residents are contacting members of the Outer North Community Safety team directly the 'team' no longer see merit in the 'forum' continuing in it's current format.' Members were then advised to contact two community workers for further information.

The explanation to forum members

What is absolutely astounding is that the very next day on the 28th July 2012 in the Derry Journal Martin Connolly of CRJ and Chairperson of the Community Safety team was calling for additional resources for the area. Surely it stands to reason that one of the most effective resources is people who are willing to give their time, energy and expertise to engage with people on the ground? But it would seem, as with many unelected groups there is no logic or basis in reality for their decisions, merely the need to fulfil their own agendas.
 
CRJ Chair the Community Safety Team meetings.


When I questioned who on the Community Safety Team received these alleged complaints from residents and what was the nature of the discontent within the forum? I was told 'your guess is as good as mine'. As a response to the closing of the community forum, community activists had gathered 1000+ signatures from the community asking for an explanation as to why the forum had been taken away, yet still no credible reason has been provided.

Considering the community support for the forums retention I asked did he contact the members of the team directly and did they give a reason for their decision?

In a response from the Housing Executive on February 4th 2013 the district manager stated, “I would confirm that at no point was I asked, nor did I vote (nor would I) in relation to the other forum referred to your in recent correspondence.”

In her response SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins vowed to seek answers on the dissolution of the Outer North Community Safety Forum and claimed that the SDLP were not represented on the Outer North Community Safety Team.

Councillor Dobbins then vowed to ask the following questions “Why all members of the forum were not informed of this intention to discontinue prior to the team meeting?” Why the team “no longer see merit in the forum continuing? What reports of discontent were raised and by who?” And “ Who attended the meeting?” Councillor Dobbins also stated that the Outer North Community safety forum 'should not have been dismissed so lightly' and that she would be interested in 'continuing with it's work.' Councillor Dobbins went further to question was a quorum attained, where all members of the team notified and why the meeting to discuss this took place during the annual holiday?

What is extremely strange is that the SDLP who hold the majority seats in council for this area were not involved in the Outer North Community Safety team at that time.  And since joining the Outer North Community Safety Team Councillor Dobbins has still to provide answers to the questions she vowed to ask? (Although she did release a statement about the dangers of hair straighteners)

In a response from one of the Team members to be contacted for clarification of the teams decision Cathal McCauley of the Shantallow Community Residents Association, stated that he “would be willing to work with any like-minded individual or organisation that seeks to improve the quality of life for residents of the Outer North, Greater Shantallow and Derry City Council areas.” The sentiments expressed by Mr McCauley are to be applauded but give nothing in terms of explanation or 'further information' in respect of dissolving the Outer North Community Safety forum.'

In a response from the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership the strategy manager Darren Kirby said” Unfortunately the ONNP board are not in a position to answer your specific questions and have referred the matter to the Outer North Community Safety team for their consideration and response in due course.” No response was ever received, and this is despite ONNP being listed in the team structure.

In responses from both the Western Education and Library Board and the Western Health and Social care trust both agencies claim they were NOT represented on the Outer North Community Safety Team.

As a Galliagh resident I am disgusted at the self appointed community quangos making decisions on our behalf without either consultation or engagement. As a community we need to start asking what mechanisms are in place to hold these groups to account.


In light of this fiasco there are serious questions that need answered.



What methods were used to publicise the existence of the safety forum to the wider community?

What statistics exist to support the claim that the community was not using the forum but contacting team members directly?

Which agencies took part in the decision to dissolve the Outer North Community Safety forum in 2012? 

Can I obtain the minutes of the meeting were this decision was taken to dissolve the Outer North Community Safety forum ? 

Was the community informed of this decision?

Since 2012 has the Outer North Community Safety forum been established in another format? If so when?

Was the community informed of this?

If another forum has been established then can I have the minutes of the 'set up' meeting?

Who are the members of the forum and what is the criteria for membership?

On what basis did the Community Safety Team feel it acceptable to ignore the signatures of over 1000 people on a petition asking for the team to explain it's actions?













Monday, 27 January 2014

Do the right thing


A few weeks ago I was going to the bus station on a Saturday morning to go to Belfast when I saw the Coastguard helicopter flying low over the river Foyle, I knew, what most people knew, that this meant that someone had gone into the river, and I prayed silently that there would be a positive outcome. The past few weeks since then have been an emotional time for the family of nineteen year old Galliagh man Andrew Quigley. Andrew had been suffering from depression as a consequence of drug and alcohol addiction and despite his mother trying everything in her power to get him the help and support he needed the services currently in place were of little help to Andrew.

It seemed so little time had passed since the city lost another young man, Tony Browne to the river in similar circumstances. And on my journey to Belfast I wondered what it was going to take and how many lives would be lost before those who have it in their gift to do something about this would act.

Two weeks before this sad turn of events Andrew's uncle, Dee Quigley had organised a rally which was then held at the Peace Bridge in Derry on Saturday 25th January to expose and oppose a decision to deny funding to two life-line services in the city.

The services refused funding are, HURT who help people with drug and alcohol related addictions and Foyle Search and Rescue who provide a search and rescue service on the river, and sadly have the grim task of recovering the bodies of those who have lost their lives. These services were refused funding from (OFMDFM) the Office of First Minister & Deputy First Minister administered 80 million pound Social Investment Fund. It would seem the social investment fund is more geared towards football pitches than it is to employment or lifesaving services. 


During the rally which was massively attended Andrews distraught mother Colette who despite being consumed with grief gave a heartbreaking account of how she tried to get her son help, but in her quest found doors were being shut in her face. She then continued to express disappointment in herself in that she felt she could have done more. However the reality is you cannot access services which are not there one of which is a much needed detoxification unit.

Andrew like many others who suffer the affliction of addiction are being let down by a system that is failing to provide services essential to their well being and recovery. I remember the late Brian McFadden, who lost one of his own sons to drugs, calling time and time again for a detox unit for the city yet almost two years after Brian's passing it would seem that we are no further forward.

I would question if the ongoing failure to provide a detoxification facility could be considered a breach of human rights. Whilst the European Convention on Human Rights does not include an express right to medical treatment it could be argued that the failure to provide this essential treatment is in breach of (Article 2) right to life and/or the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) of the Convention.

When I returned home from the rally on Saturday I thought about the determination of the Quigley family in their ongoing search for Andrew and their courage in continuing with the protest despite their grief. I also felt a sense of pride in the people of Derry many of whom have given their time and energy in the search for Andrew, and the hundreds who gathered on the banks of the Foyle in solidarity on such a horrendous day.

Another thing which came to mind was the proposed 2010 Parades and Public Assemblies Bill when attempts were being made by OFMDFM to introduce a bill that would stifle protest and public assembly. It was only then then I realised the reasoning behind the proposed draconian legislation at that time and how it was a manufactured attempt to save those in power from a lot of embarrassment.


The draft proposal of the 'Parades and Public Assemblies Bill' in 2010 required that organisers of gatherings of up to 50 people or more would have to apply for permission 37 days in advance. A failure to do so would have, under the proposed legislation been a criminal offence meriting a prison sentence. There was provision for cases deemed extreme emergencies. In these cases 3 days notice had to be given but there was no guarantee that permission would be granted. So had this legislation have been passed do you believe the office of OFMDFM would have given permission for people to protest at their decisions? I very much doubt it.

A consultation on behalf of The Health and Social Care Board into the need for a detox facility has just ended. If the outcome of this consultation is accepted then the only provision available will be 55 miles from Derry and will have the number of places currently available decreased from 42 to 24.

Just as we united for Andrew and his family on Saturday, we the people of Derry need to unite in opposing the reduction of services, we also need to unite in the demand for a detox unit in this city. The current proposal does not scratch the surface in terms of offering support to those in dire need of immediate life saving/changing intervention.

The right to protest is a fundamental civil right and if we are to ensure those failing to govern with humanity and compassion listen to the people they were elected to serve then we must never allow them to erode our civil liberties. As momentum grows they will have to listen to the people and not just because there is an election looming, but because for our people, our children it is simply the right thing to do


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty papist.

The fallout in Unionist circles following the recent tv programmes featuring interviews with Ian Paisley continues to grow. DUP leader Peter Robinson is now being condemned by Wallace Thompson of the Evangelical Protestant Society for attending the catholic funeral mass for PSNI officer Ronan Kerr. Wallace who was an adviser to former DUP finance minister Nigel Dodds released a statement yesterday.

Todays Nolan show (23/1/14) was at best insightful, at worst on a par with Jerry Springer on a bad day. One contributor not only condemned Peter Robinson for attending the funeral of Ronan Kerr, but stated categorically that First Minister Peter Robinson represented the protestant people of Ulster. This was challenged by presenter Stephen Nolan, who asked did Peter Robinson not represent everyone only to have the caller once again state his belief that Robinson represented the protestant people.

The words that go through your mind when you hear such backward, knuckle dragging thinking wouldn't be fit to print, but sadly show what we as a society are up against. Before I continue I will point out that I'm not bashing anyones religious beliefs, I feel that people should be free to worship how they want to worship, and if someone wants to show support for someone of another faith then it should be welcomed. I would also be remiss if I didn't point out that two UUP members Tom Elliot & Danny Kennedy faced censure by the Orange Order for also attending Ronan Kerr's funeral.

Another name came to mind today in light of the radio show, the name was that of the Rev David Armstrong. In the 1980's Rev Armstrong was forced to flee his parish after receiving loyalist death threats for exchanging Christmas greetings with Catholic parish priest. That was sad enough but in October 2008 six unionist councillors blocked a motion to grant him and Fr Mullan the catholic priest in question the freedom of Limavady.

The fallout within the DUP will continue, but it must not be allowed to spill out into the wider community and polarise people further. More importantly it has to be acknowledged that our society can no longer be seen as catholic and protestant, we are a multi cultural and multi faith society and political leadership should reflect this.

I had finished this piece then on the news I heard about Newtownabbey Council cancelling a theatre performance of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company claiming it was blasphemous and that people might be offended. Maybe I could offer some independent advice if you think you might be offended by something then don't go to it!


The point of all this, if you do want to represent people, I don't care what your faith is, what gender of person you decide to fall in love with or even if you wear women's underwear and your not a woman. Please leave your personal beliefs at the door on the way in, I don't want you to compromise your identity, I don't want you to compromise your beliefs, but I also don't want your beliefs to impinge on my rights.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

PSYCHOacoustics



Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of sound perception. In the science of psychoacoustics there are principles when dealing with sounds, for example, whenever two identical sounds hit the ear from two different directions, a human will hear it as a single sound coming from the first direction.

If you consider the sounds that emanate from the mouths of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, both vying for the higher ground in a game of one up-manship. My orange card trumps your green card and so on and so forth. Each 'leader' is playing to their own crowd, more interested in not losing ground with the home crowd than actually doing the right thing.

It could be argued that doing the right thing depends on which team you are on, the orange or the green and ultimately who in this game of brinkmanship is prepared to push the envelope the furthest.

An essential point to consider is that whilst the 2011 election saw an increase in registered voters the overall turn out was down with only 54.5% of those able to vote turning out. This leaves 45.5% of the electorate who didn't vote. If for the purpose of demonstration we said that both Sinn Fein and the DUP got 25% of the vote each and the remaining parties had the 4.5% balance divided among them, it would mean that the 44.5% eligible voters who abstained in 2011 heavily outweigh the votes given to any of the political parties. Not a resounding endorsement of our wee democracy.
The Robinson, McGuinness effect

So apart from their home 'crowds' who do the parties in Stormont represent?

Oh and before I forget, that psychoacoustic principle I mentioned at the start of this piece it is called the 'haas effect'.

And before you ask, it has no connection a certain American diplomat, although it may be an indicator of what Richard Haass suffered during his time here.





Thursday, 16 January 2014

A ‘Square Peg’ in one of Stormont’s Rose Tinted Round Holes.

There’s an interesting debate being started in Loyalist circles, and one of those who seems to be leading this is Jamie Bryson of ‘fleg’ protest fame. This comes following the release of Lurgan Republican Martin Corey. Martin Corey who has been released after spending four years in jail with no charges being brought against him now faces severe restrictions as part of his release.


One of these restrictions is that he is not allowed to speak to the media. The crux of this being that it would seem that Stormont is happy for it’s Police force to arrest you and it’s penal system to detain you. And after all that they threaten to remove your liberty if you tell anyone in the media what they did to you.


Sixty three year old Martin Corey was previously released on bail in 2012, however he was returned his cell from the waiting area of the prison after the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland appealed against his bail release.


Jamie Bryson has been tweeting on the Corey situation today and acknowledges that whilst he does not agree with what ‘Martin Corey stands for’ he cannot support Martin Corey being interned with no trial and then banned from speaking to the media. And Bryson asks the pertinent question ‘how on earth could a man pose a risk to the public by talking to the media? It would seem that the thought police are out now in force, aided and abetted by the silence of Stormont.


I would argue that Martin Corey now stands for more than the narrow view of his personal political opinions, opinions it must be noted which are covered by Human Rights Legislation. Marin Corey is a victim of the state, a victim of all of the political parties here in Northern Ireland that allowed his detention. And if they state in their defence that it wasn’t them it was the British Secretary of state then they need to be told that this is happening on their watch and in our names, and it’s not acceptable. And the next time any of them claim that Northern Ireland is a shining example of a post conflict society that could be used a model in conflict situations across the globe, they should be asked, what about Martin Corey?


The frightening thing is that if they can do this to him, they can do it to anyone whether they be a community activist, anti poverty campaigner, trade unionist, environmental campaigner or any other type of ‘square peg’ in one of Stormont’s rose tinted round holes. This could be seen as something that would seem to be straight out of the Nazi party guide to democracy and if it was happening else where in the world our politicians would be leading the charge to condemn it.


Alas once again the lack of democracy, transparency and accountability from the politicians here stuns me, What is even more astounding is that Jamie Bryson whilst our positions would differ greatly seems to be taking more of a principled human rights stance that those who allegedly run this place.





Monday, 13 January 2014

Ridiculous

I tend to approach the press with caution always mindful of how some elements of the press portrayed the innocent victims of Bloody Sunday as gunmen and bombers.

As someone who campaigned for Marian Price McGlinchey on a humanitarian level I find the assertion by many journalists that Human Rights campaigners now look 'ridiculous' to be offensive, without merit and little more than a revisionist opinion. One quite possibly manufactured and disseminated to dissuade people from highlighting injustice in the future.

In the North of Ireland the ongoing erosion of civil and human rights continues and I for one will continue to highlight the failure to honour and uphold these fundamental rights. I never condoned the killings at Masserene or elsewhere but by the same token I never condoned state abuse.

The campaign for Marian McGlinchey was mounted to highlight her severe ill health and how her treatment was in breach of articles 3,5,6 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I was always fully aware that in the end the serious charges Marian faced would be a matter for Marian, her legal team and the courts. Marian's guilty plea does NOT absolve the state of their wrong doing in this case.
 
If highlighting human rights abuse can make people like myself and others look 'ridiculous' then those in media should maybe consider how they look when they mostly ignore issues such as these and then attempt to ridicule those who don't.






Sunday, 12 January 2014

Shove this up your poll / pole.

This article of mine was originally published on The Pensive Quill.

As we approach the New Year it is prudent to reflect on the previous year.This year has been eventful politically and in countless cases the cracks and crackpots have become more evident, and I'm not even talking about landrover surfing!


The ongoing issue over the union flag at Belfast City Hall has been used to overshadow so many important issues this year. We have witnessed an upsurge in orange and green political tomfoolery manufactured here to deflect from the inability of the Stormont junta to deal with issues affecting many people.


The ongoing decorating of derelict buildings by painting curtains on the boards which now cover up windows is an attempt to make things more palatable but it does not belie the wreckage known to many as the economy. Countless commercial buildings and houses which were once family homes lie empty when homelessness and unemployment are on the increase. This practice is merely a physical manifestation of the attitude of those who hold the reigns of power, just paper over the cracks, they'll be none the wiser.


At the same time attempts are being made to abolish the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The Housing Executive was set up in 1971 to address the housing equality issue, helped along by the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. It is claimed by DUP Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland that the NIHE model is unsustainable. The removal of the Housing Executive can be avoided if borrowing restrictions for public bodies are to be made more flexible. If this move goes ahead social housing will be placed into the hands of housing associations which to date has seen rents increases by up to 28%. We must also remember that the implementation of bedroom tax may still be on the agenda. And on the subject of taxation, just imagine if multi national companies were made by Government to pay the taxes they actually owed, yet the haves will continue to get away scot free and the have nots will continue to suffer.


But more than the destruction of the NIHE, public spending is being slashed across the board further affecting societies poorest and most vulnerable. The current practice of sending those people with serious illness to health assessments to decide if they are fit to work or not are immoral at best. This cost cutting measure at the hands of faceless bureaucrats is very unfair considering not only are these people ill but there are no jobs and the prospects of employment remain bleak. 


In 2012 Cecilia Burns, a 51 year old cancer sufferer, had her benefits cut by government officials who said she was fit to work. Cecilia from Strabane, County Tyrone, had started a campaign in February to have the decision overturned but sadly lost her battle against cancer in August of that year. I'm sure the Stormont Tory led bean counters didn't lose a night's sleep.The ongoing manipulation of unemployment figures to give the illusion things are getting better continues when the stark reality is, people on benefits are being sent out for long periods of time to work for their pittance benefit to facilitate the manipulation of (un)employment figures. This scheme is known as 'workfare.' Workfare involves major companies having people on benefits work for free and the unemployed threatened with loss of benefits if they don't do what they are told. This horrendous exploitation was passed unimpeded by the parties in Stormont, including so called 'Socialist' parties, whose representatives earn a minimum forty thousand quid a year – not including expenses. So take a big bow!


Not only are our representatives not acting in the best interests of the people as an Executive their party interests clearly comes before the people. And before anyone says Sinn Fein MLA's only take home an average industrial wage, that is a matter of choice for them, they get their +40k, what they choose to do with it after that is up to them.


In recent times we saw the arrival of former American Diplomat Richard Haass to deal with issues our elected representatives are incapable of dealing with. Issues such as ways of dealing with the past, contentious parades, and the issue of the union flag. It would appear a resolution is harder to achieve than initially predicted, with Mr Haass clearly involved in a process of circular reasoning with a group of people more focused on protecting themselves, votes and flags than dealing with issues involving the truth or justice. One thing you can be sure of is that no matter what is decided by the Haass talks the parties and British Government will ignore these outcomes when it suits.


On the subject of ignoring outcomes, 2013 saw the publication of a report into the RUC investigation of the 1988 Good Samaritan Bomb in Creggan, Derry. Three people were killed in a booby trap bomb as they went to check on a neighbour they were concerned about. Previous reports into the murders had been scuppered and changed without reason by the former Ombudsman's office, and these reports were rejected by the family of victim Sean Dalton who had lodged the complaint.


The Police Ombudsman's report concluded that the RUC at that time had prior knowledge of the bomb. It was also found that the RUC had advised their patrols to stay away from the area yet they put the lives of the civilian population in the surrounding area in danger. The report continued to outline the refusal of senior RUC personnel to assist with the enquiries. The Ombudsman found that there was no protection of an RUC informer, something since contested inadvertently by the RUC retired officers association, who also advised their members not to participate in any investigation.


What was noticeable was that when the report was released not one elected representative in the north welcomed the findings or condemned the inactions of the RUC. Even the elected representatives in Derry including those who represent the area where the bombing happened were mute. These politicians all speak about victims when it suits, but here was a case of three people murdered and yet not one word from the great and good. Why the silence from those who claim to be in support of victims? 


Looking to the future is important but this certainly does not mean ignoring the past, in fact we must reflect on and learn from the past, to paraphrase what we have been told in different circumstances 'it hasn't gone away you know'.


And on the subject of learning from the past, both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have on different occasions acknowledged that internment is still very much in use here. People are spending years in prison awaiting trial. In the current case of sixty three year old Lurgan man Martin Corey, he has been imprisoned for over three years without charge, trial or conviction on the strength of secret evidence. We need to question the main parties in Stormont asking, are you actively addressing this situation outside of reactionary lip-service? If yes then what are your party doing? If not then why not?


In closing I would like to remind all elected representatives that you are on fixed term contracts and if you are not up to the job then we the people will find people who are.


You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Abraham Lincoln.


And remember: changes are not permanent but change is.



Less than £100 for a life.

Foyle Search and Rescue staff pictured searching
the river bank under the Foyle Bridge 
Since it's inception in July 1993 Foyle Search & Rescue has been an invaluable resource for the people of Derry City. In the years from 1993 to 2012 the Charity has stopped over 2200 potential suicides, rescued over 278 people directly from the water & recovered 112 bodies.

Not only do they have regular patrols Foyle Search & Rescue respond in emergencies 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The service they provide to this city cannot be measured, from intervening when people are in distress, entering the river to search for people, assisting families in searches for loved ones, sadly helping recover the remains of those lost or helping people in the aftermath through counselling services.

They also maintain the City’s lifebelts, promote water safety & suicide awareness by giving talks to schools & youth groups and facilitate a support group for people who have been bereaved by suicide.

So the question has to be asked why this group which has done so much for the city would be denied funding from the DUP/SF Slush fund, officially known as the Social investment fund.

Foyle Search and Rescue in conjunction with HURT (a Derry charity that helps people who have suffered as a result of drug & alcohol abuse) had applied for funding to create a counselling facility for people found in distress around the River Foyle.

Foyle Search and Rescue has expressed disappointment at failing to secure the £220,000 needed for the project. If you consider that they have prevented over 2200 attempted suicides and rescued 278 people from the River Foyle it works out at less than £100 for each life saved, which in the grand scheme of things is a small price to pay.

It could be argued that there are other counselling facilities in the city who could benefit from the funding and I am not in any way taking away from the excellent work other groups carry out, however a core difference for me is that not only do Foyle Search & Rescue deal with people in distress and in situations where their lives are in immediate risk, but they also deal with people who have not completed suicide and the families of those who are still reeling from the aftermath.

Less than a year ago Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds stated in Westminster that death by suicide in Northern Ireland has increased by 100 per cent in less than 15 years.
This figure came mere months after it was stated by DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots that people who are unemployed are at an increased risk of suicide. Mr Poots said studies indicated that a 1% increase in unemployment was met with a corresponding 0.79% increase in suicide.

Now consider that figure in the following context that Derry is the unemployment blackspot of the North. Figures released in October 2013 show 6,098 were unemployed – 4,172 male and 1,926 female, 8.6 per cent of the population are unemployed. Derry City Council also has the highest level of child poverty in all 26 council areas of Northern Ireland at 35%, within this, the figures for the wards of Brandywell, Creggan South and Creggan Central soar to 61%, 63% and 59%.

In light of this there seems to be a lack of joined up thinking, a level of unparalleled ineptitude or a decision to fund pet projects in areas that will curry favour at election time for the two parties behind the Social Investment Fund namely the DUP & Sinn Fein. Both the SDLP & UUP have described the Social Investment Fund as nothing more than a slush fund.

The former leader of the UUP Tom Elliot claimed 'Grants from the funds are disbursed by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) which is controlled by the DUP and Sinn Fein. I suspect that money will go into projects in Sinn Fein and DUP constituencies or areas which they favour,”.


Initial Steering Groups were established for the nine Social Investment Zones. The fund is being delivered in partnership with communities across nine social investment zones. Each zone has a steering group with up to 14 members from the business, political, statutory and voluntary and community sectors. The steering groups developed plans for each social investment zone. They will manage the plans.




Members of the Derry Steering Group
What should be noted is that two out of the four members of the voluntary/community sector. Noel McCartney & Charles Lamberton are leading Derry Sinn Fein members. And whilst I'm sure Mr McCartney & Mr Lamberton would argue their independence separate from their political affiliation, I myself would consider the steering group to be weighted favourably in Sinn Fein's favour.

One other person on the steering group who also merits a mention is Darren Kirby of the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership. Mr Kirby once infamously told residents in the area of a contentious planned development that they had been excluded from discussions because they didn't agree with the people who had the plans, although his major claim to fame was that he met the Department for Social Development over them providing information under Freedom of Information legislation to members of the public.

Let's just say I'm not filled with optimism, and sadly this seems to have been confirmed by one of the initial announcements of a decision made by the 'Steering group'.

£4.5 million will be used to build new sports pitches.
£3.3 million will go to delivering community employment projects for young people, the long-term unemployed and those in low wage jobs.

This disparity begs the questions:
Why is more being spent on sports pitches than on delivering employment & training opportunities? And if these pitches are to be sustained how will they be paid for? Will a fee be charged to children already in poverty? If they are to be free how will they be sustained?


When you consider the figures that spell out the level of child poverty in the city, you have to marvel at the decision made. Statistics published by Barnardos show that a child is at greatest risk of poverty if they live in a family where no one works, however a substantial and growing number of poor children are living in families where at least one a parent is in paid employment. In 2011, nearly two thirds of poor children were living in families where someone was in work. So why invest more in pitches than employment?

People are stuck in a vicious cycle which unless addressed properly may end up with more people needing the services of Foyle Search & Rescue among others. The only sure winners out of the Social Investment Fund have been the consultants who to date have received nearly £400,000, nearly double what Foyle Search & Rescue had requested. I wonder how many of those consultants patrol the river Foyle on a cold winters night?