Monday, 16 November 2015

The Devil is in the Detail.

Was I surprised to read this? Honestly, not one bit! I was just surprised that it took so long. It seems the old boys network known to you and I as the British justice system is looking after its own. Where else in the world would participants in a war crime have pending and long overdue arrests delayed in the light of a legal challenge to stop them being arrested?

The obvious question of course is what legal authority does the PSNI have to give any commitment to murder suspects that they won't arrest them?

Now on the subject of the old boys network the British Government appear to be involved in an additional attempt to look after their own as is evident from reading the Armed Forces Bill which was introduced to parliament on September 16th 2015.

From reading the published explanatory notes I was particularly interested in clauses 7-12 and how these insert new sections into the 2006 Armed Forces Act. Section 304 A provides for immunity from prosecution (click here) The notes state immunity is offered: 'For any service offence in return for assistance given by that person to the investigation or prosecution of a service offence'. With this quote wide open to interpretation I would be justified in wondering if this new section will apply to past service offences linked to the period referred to as the troubles?

The Armed Forces Act applies to two categories of persons; persons subject to Service law (both Service personnel and ex-Service personnel). When a member of the armed forces has left the army for more than six months they cannot be charged with a service offence unless with the consent of the Attorney General.

The PSNI is clearly reluctant to deal with the Bloody Sunday case they even contemplated transferring the case to the proposed Historical Investigations Unit as is proposed in the Stormont House Agreement. Therefore is it beyond the realms of possibility that this case could eventually fall within the remit of the military Service Court?  By that stage the court may even be a position to offer immunity to those who co-operate during investigations.

5 years ago Bloody Sunday soldiers knowingly put forward false statements during the Bloody Sunday inquiry despite being given immunity. Here soldiers had the opportunity to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and chose not to. Lord Saville who chaired the Bloody Sunday inquiry said that apart from the soldier identified as Private T, all the paras involved "knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”. Despite this not one of those who committed perjury has been arrested for that offence either.

As I said in a previous blog the devil looks after his own.

Friday, 16 October 2015

New Paint, Old Issues.

John Hume and Ivan Cooper

Today I attended the unveiling of the civil rights mural in Derry's Bogside. The mural which is one of a series of 12 murals known as the People's Gallery has been recently refurbished and now includes the late Claude Wilton, the late Willie Breslin, Sean Carr, John Hume and Ivan Cooper.

A phase synonymous with the city is 'if stones could speak'. And truly thanks to the efforts of the Bogside Artists in Derry the walls of the Bogside do, a living Gallery reflecting a history many of those who were central to pass daily. The People's Gallery presents a picture of our turbulent past with the civil rights mural not just a reminder of how more was achieved through non-violent means, but a reminder that we still face the same issues over four decades on from the original Civil Rights movement. To Quote Ivan Cooper speaking today “it was a great movement and there has never been another one like it.”

In a struggle to preserve our story the internationally lauded Bogside Artists have encountered apathy from funding bodies and what can only be described as dismissal from some elected representatives on our local council. However in the face of adversity they continue to draw thousands of people into the Bogside each year with their artworks.

It would be remiss not to give credit where it's due when speaking of the refurbishment of the murals. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive which has provided funds, and essentially owe their existence to the Civil Rights movement deserve acknowledgement. And their presence was recognised today by the press.

However many times it is those who don't hog the limelight, the linchpins, who are the central figures. One person who fits that criteria is Independent Councillor Sean Carr who features in the mural. As a Bogside resident Sean knows the value of the murals, he is as much a part of the fabric of the Bogside as the murals. Sean's modesty is such that after the party politicians had posed for photo's, the artists, organisers of the event and local activists had to call to Sean at home to get him to come over to have his photo taken, so that his role could be publicly acknowledged. With Sean was his son James a former SDLP Councillor who worked alongside his father in helping secure the funding for the murals refurbishment.
Sean pictured centre with his grandchildren

The value and importance of the murals which are one the city's biggest tourist attractions is something we don't always recognise. We've all become accustomed seeing crowds of tourists flocking to the murals to have their picture taken, yet we never think of the people who as a labour of love maintain these icons and as a Derry Mother I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Bogside Arists, the Sean & James Carr's of this city, unsung heroes who work behind the scenes preserving our history and putting the Bogside firmly on the world map for all the right reasons.

One final thing, a huge thank you to event organiser Vincent Coyle who presented me with a copy of John Hume's speech from today, signed by the Nobel Laureate himself.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

From sham to shame

It was with great interest I listened to Radio Foyle this morning to hear that a special Stormont
An original civil rights poster
, set up to try to create jobs in Derry and the North West, has met just once since it was established.

This ministerial sub-group established in January 2015 was to "rebalance the regional economy". Setting up the group Martin McGuinness said it was to address issues such as 'jobs, the A5, the A6, the expansion of Magee, the One Plan, Ebrington and Fort George.'

The group's first and only meeting happened in March 2015 with no date for any future meetings set. Not exactly a resounding success in fact lackustre wouldn't even cut it if we're honest. Derry has the highest rate of child poverty, the highest rate of unemployment and we pay the highest domestic rates. Meanwhile these chauffeur driven, overpaid leaders do little, outside of ripping the backside out of expenses which for some may be considered an achievement.

When I think about the lack of opportunity in the city I cast my mind back to the doling out of the Slush fund, sorry Social Investment Fund. You might remember that those two brainboxes who occupy the OFMDFM put more money into football pitches than into job creation schemes. That said you may just think these people really aren't the sharpest tools in the shed. And do you know what I'd tend to agree with you.

Scarva - Decisions Decisions
You may have noticed there's been a recent round of sabre rattling over a Sinn Fein proposed name change to the city that would put the Scarva sham fight to shame. Why now is the question?

In 2009 there was a conference in Derry entitled 'Changing patterns, Changing outcomes' attendees at the conference came together on 'key priorities education, skills training, infrastructure, enterprise, jobs, eliminating poverty, and making the city a welcoming place for citizens and visitors alike.' It was also felt that it was essential to ensure 'equality and the needs of the most deprived people were addressed in every action plan'.

Attending the conference Derry Sinn Fein supremo Martin McGuinness is on record as saying 'Some call it Derry, Some call it Londonderry, we all call it home' in reference to the name of the city '

You could argue that the proposed name change is an aspiration that would reflect what the majority of people refer to the city as. I understand and appreciate that, but I would again question the timing of this. After all it didn't seem to bother Martin that much in 2009.

6 years on from the 'Changing patterns, Changing outcomes' conference I would state that neither the patterns or outcomes have changed. Whilst there has been a level of regeneration within the city and we were the first UK City of Culture, there's been no jobs boom. Just like the false fronts on derelict buildings across the city the changes have been superficial. Many children in our city still live in poverty, young people are still having to leave the city to get an education as courses in Magee University have been scrapped. Many of these young people then have to move away from the city to find work. In addition to this the needs of the vulnerable and deprived are not being met.

The impending closure of care homes in the city at William Street and Rectory Field tell their own tale. I was part of a group of people who helped raise awareness of the closure of the Foyleville care home in Derry in 2010 and I saw first hand the impact it had on the elderly residents who were being evicted from their homes. I was actually present when the McShane family who organised the campaign to save Foyleville were told that the home would be closing and something I will never forget is an elderly gentleman who asked if he could give his savings to the Western Trust could he stay in what had been his home for 20 years.
Does academic emigration impact on Stormont?

Stormont, full of those who live in cloud cuckoo land will no doubt come up with some grand announcement about a sub-committee or another action plan, then when those initiatives go no further than the public fanfare and backslapping some bright spark will suggest that the main currency in Derry should be the euro and the sabre rattling will once again begin.

What started as a sham now truly is a shame.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Desperately Seeking Democracy.

For such a tiny little statelet the level of drama here never ceases to amaze me, honestly, the soap dramas have nothing on this place.

A few weeks ago in a street just minutes from where I live British military accompanied the PSNI during house searches in the area. Their overly heavy presence outside of their role in bomb and munitions disposal sent shock waves through the city, although why I have no idea.

On July 31st 2007 the British army's 'Operation Banner' in the North of Ireland came to an end after 38 years, only to be replaced by Operation 'Helvetic' the following day. This operation involves a garrison of up to 5,000 military personnel in ten locations in the north who are to be trained here and ready for deployment worldwide which would include our streets. In the words of a bearded one “They haven't gone away”.

What I found quite ludicrous about the whole thing was the reaction from the politicians who promised to demand answers from the district policing partnership boards. Why? Whilst day-to-day policing and justice matters are devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive, the British Government retains sole responsibility in matters of national security. The recent house searches would fall into this bracket therefore the questions from our politicians need to be asked of the Chief Constable and primarily the British Secretary of State.

When viewing the army presence that day I was reminded of the words of Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly who in 2007 described the British Army as a 'blunt instrument' who had been used by the British government "who made the decision to use them against republicans, nationalists and Catholics” And yet it would seem that this 'blunt instrument' he referred to is armed and ready to go if and when required.

Prior to this we've also seen the Nama scandal and ongoing investigation into the allegations made about millions of pounds allegedly earmarked for a Stormont politician. The outcome of this is quite easy to forecast as it will no doubt include a 'petition of concern' if it is found that it involves a politician or political party. The PSNI have as yet not launched any investigation into the NAMA shenanigans, but then again this is the same police force which lost the keys to a fleet of 69 new cars, so maybe that's not such a bad thing... 

With the above issues being quite topical, bread and butter issues appear to have fallen by the wayside with further deflection employed in Derry in the form of a proposal to change the City's name. Derry or Londonderry?

Either way the city will still have the highest rate of child poverty and highest unemployment rate in north and for these reasons I feel Skintville would be more appropriate. The Derry/ Londonderry conundrum will do nothing to change the above facts what it will do however is stir up sectarian tensions, but then what better way to take the focus of issues that really matter and impact on people whether from Derry or Londonderry. Issues such as cuts to the welfare budget and front-line services. Issues which know neither class, colour nor creed.

Just yesterday we saw the launch of a consultation into the proposed closure of two residential care homes in Derry. The consultation is based on a proposal put forward by the Western Healthcare Trust. If accepted the proposals will mean closure of both the William Street and Rectory Field care homes in Derry. This proposed eviction of our elderly should be of grave concern to all particularly when the ideas of transforming care for the elderly have amounted to very little as is evident through cuts to care services in the community. With this consultation we must register our disgust and refuse to accept these proposed evictions. 

What is deeply concerning is that each cut we face is aimed at the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Just today it was revealed that funding via the Department of Education for schools in Derry is to be cut by over £1.5 million in the coming year.

In addition to this we await cuts to the welfare budget including cuts to tax credits. These cuts will no doubt mean a further increase in child and working poverty. Despite the sabre rattling from politicians here tax credits as the name suggests is a tax matter controlled by HMRC of which our politicians have no power over. 140,000 families in the north receive child tax credits. 89,000 of these families have someone working. With information at this point deliberately vague we are right to assume that over 140,000 families will be effected by these cuts as well as cuts to the working tax credit element. 

It defies all reasoning that any government would take from those at the bottom whilst allowing those at the top to wallow in their profits.  Tax dodging big businesses  are getting away with not paying their share. In 2010 who had a UK turnover of £3.3 billion paid £0 in corporation tax. In 2011 Starbucks who had a UK turnover of £398 million too paid £0 in tax. In the same year Google who had a turnover of £2.6 billion paid a mere 6 million. Yet still the Tories feel justified in filling the gaps by taking from society's poorest. Now on the subject of the Tories it would seem economics is not their strong point with them having sold publicly owned shares in RBS at a loss of over 1 Billion quid, still these people have the audacity to take from the poor...

Now on a separate note... I heard yesterday that a series of 'Stakeholders Workshops' re the Historical Investigations Unit and dealing with the past have taken place. The problem is the facilitators chose to engage only with a hand picked few. These workshops are said to have taken place in Fermanagh, in Derry as recently as Tuesday and in Belfast in Stormont yesterday. So much for no hierarchy of victims.

You don't have to be crazy to live here but it helps!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Don't Be Offended!

The announcement that comedian Frankie Boyle is scheduled to appear as a main act at this years Belfast Feile has caused considerable controversy. This follows jokes made by Boyle five years ago about children with Downs syndrome. Whilst his sense of humour is not to my taste and quite outlandish, I question if attempts to ban him from the festival are really the answer?

If yes then could this action open 'offense' type flood gates leaving all events open to similar scrutiny? Boyle's Jokes are not to everyone's taste but then the same could be said for a lot of comedy. Two films in particular spring to mind; 'Me, Myself and Irene' and 'Something about Mary'. 'Me Myself and Irene' presents a distorted view of Schizophrenia and 'Something about Mary' contains distasteful references to adults with learning disabilities, yet both were big films.

Having taken time to look at the Feile schedule I have found that all of the events have the potential to cause offense to either individuals or groups within the community. Mark Almond, former lead singer of the eighties band Soft Cell and a self professed member of the Church of Satan is due to perform at the festival. Surely his appearance could send out the wrong message or it could just be a case of better the devil you know! Then we have the music of provocative Irish rebel band the Wolfetones. Is this really an appropriate choice in this a post-conflict and multi-cultural society? After all the Wolfetones chant what some consider offensive and what others can be arrested for saying. Whilst I have no wish to dismiss the depth of feeling over the Boyle issue the common sense side of me questions where this will end?

Surely an easier option for objectors would be to encourage people to avoid the show, as from experience I find this type of attention can often spark curiosity and lead to increased attendance as has happened. This also happened with the Reduced Shakespeare Company production ' The Bible' which had been banned after being branded 'blasphemous' by Newtownabbey Borough Council. When the decision was reversed the tickets sold better than had been initially expected, another event that sold out after people got their backs up was the Belfast appearance by George Galloway.

Two people who I regard as two of the biggest comedians in the North, the PSNI Chief Constable and the Deputy First Minister will be performing at the festival. I wouldn't go and see them because no doubt I would take offense at something they would say, but I do respect the right of others to waste their time and money going to see them, that's personal choice.

From the Life of Brian, to the Sex Pistols 'god save the queen' there will always be something that causes offense. The bottom line is that if I think something is going to offend me I won't go to it, why would I want to go to or draw attention to something that may cause me distress? 

Essentially, exercise personal choice, and allow others to exercise theirs.

I will now leave you with the words of a friend...... “To all those who have got really hot under the collar about Frankie Boyle. Ask yourself this. If you were disabled who would make your blood boil? A comedian who tells a joke about your disability? Or the politician who claims to be defending your rights whilst making plans to cut the benefits you depend on that makes your life more bearable?”

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Judge, Jury and Educationers.

Over a period of ten months I have been supporting a family who have been involved in a situation that has exposed the evasive and unprofessional nature of a school board of a Catholic Maintained school.

What began last September as a relatively small issue escalated to a point of complexity during which this school board displayed a level of contempt worthy of any self respecting fascist. The scenario below involves a post-primary school, a child, his family, a school principal, the school board and the Catholic Council for Maintained schools (CCMS). As you read this keep in mind that the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools have a responsibility under legislation to ensure the effective management of Catholic schools by Boards of Governors.

To give you an idea of what went on.......

In Sept 2014 a child's right to freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and thought were breached when attempts were made to coerce him into signing the publicly vaunted 'Peace scroll'. The 'peace scroll' is an attempt by the Rev David Latimer to create a world record. Signing this scroll should have been optional due to it's non-curricular and political nature, however for one child a refusal to sign left him feeling singled out, belittled and devalued. During this incident the child was told by a teacher that he would be 'the only the child in the north not to have signed' and was further questioned as to whether his refusal was sectarian in nature. When this child reacted by using a word the school have termed inappropriate the school decided to punish him. In attempting to punish the child the school principal refused to look at the situation in the broader context and imposed two after school detentions. This was deemed justifiable under the school's blanket policy which makes no provision for contributing factors or for the individual circumstances of each case.

Both the School and CCMS deny that any breach of this child's rights took place.

This entire situation overshadowed the child's GCSE year with the child adamant he would not be punished for challenging what he viewed as “hypocrisy”. The child based his decision not to sign the scroll on Rev Latimer's service in the British Army and with him being stationed in Afghanistan. The child also raised concerns over what he views as Reverend Latimer's “selective” approach to local human rights issues.

When the parents questioned the school principal over his decision to impose two detentions and what circumstances if any he had taken into consideration the Principal immediately cut off communication with them and escalated the issue to stage 4 of the school's complaints procedure. Stage 4 of the school's complaints procedure requires a written submission to the Chair of the school board from parents.

A sub-committee of the board who later claimed to have thoroughly investigated the case and the parents complaint upheld the Principals decision. It's worth keeping in mind that the parents had not lodged any formal compliant at this time. When they raised this matter with the chair of the sub-committee he explained that their written correspondence to the principal was used to formulate a complaint on their behalf. This did two things:

1.It denied the parents the right to decide on the scope and nature of their complaint.

2.It was in breach of stage 4 of the school's complaints procedure which requires a written submission from parents.
The school and CCMS considered these actions to be reasonable.

In recent days the child's parents have learned that this sub-committee kept no minutes of their deliberations. This might explain why the sub-committee wrote to the parents using plain paper as opposed to official school stationary as is normal practice. The school acknowledged the need to use school stationary yet failed to reveal that they kept no minutes or record of the meeting. CCMS said this would not happen again. This should never have happened to start with.

When the parents later submitted their own complaint in line with stage 4 of the school policy the board completely ignored it. When the school were asked to produce a copy of the complaint formulated and thoroughly investigated by the sub-committee they could not do it as no minutes or record had been kept, therefore no complaint existed. This in itself presents the following questions.....Did any such meeting ever take place? And is the Principals word gospel?

What is extremely concerning is the school board's Chairperson had the audacity to accuse the parents of being dismissive of the the efforts of the sub-committee overlooking that he himself had failed in his responsibility under the Department of Education guidelines which states, that the chairperson has responsibility for all meetings and must ensure that minutes of ALL meetings are retained.  
 CCMS have refused to acknowledge the chairperson's failure in this.

The board also ignored instructions from the Information Commissioner to fulfil their obligations under Freedom of Information Legislation and to provide clarification on documents requested by the parents. The school claimed to have fulfilled their role. CCMS merely acknowledged that the school had not.

The parents concerned about the impact this was having on their child took their child to a counsellor. They then requested to meet with the child's form teacher to discuss the counsellors report with her. However this meeting was stopped from proceeding by the Board of Governors on the basis of 'the ongoing issue with the board'.
The school lied claiming the parents had wanted to discuss the detentions and not the counsellors report whereas CCMS acknowledged this but did not address it despite being asked if this was common practice.


Subsequently the parents were further refused the right to have representation for their child during the one and only meeting they were afforded with the school board, a meeting which came nine months after the incident. When arriving at the school the parents were told that school policy does not provide for third party input, as such the meeting did not take place with the parents refusing to enter a meeting without a representative. Following this the parents and their legal representative ( a retired human rights lawyer with over 40 years experience) were escorted from school premises, this refusal and exit was witnessed by an elected representative for the area. This treatment contravenes guidance by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission which has been published by the Department of Education. When this was pointed out to the board Chairperson he merely replied “I don't accept that”.  
CCMS said the school board acted in accordance with school policy.

It is worth noting that in a recent question submitted to the Education Minister he had this to say: The Board of Governors manages each Catholic Maintained School on a day to day basis in line with a Scheme of Management provided by CCMS. The Council may challenge a school to raise its standards through the Board of Governors and may also direct a Board on the implementation of legislation and policies.

Finally, a school board committee consisting of the chair, vice chair, parent representative, local priest and the community representative upheld the findings of the sub-committee. Which effectively meant upholding the outcome of an investigation of which there is no minutes or record.  
Yet the school claim to have dealt with the entire situation adequately with CCMS describing their handling as reasonable.

In addition to the final response the child's parents received a letter from the board Secretary/School Principal informing them that their child would be expected to fulfill two after school detentions should he be offered a place in sixth form. With the above factors in mind ask yourself, is this in the best interests of this child or for the benefit of incompetent, unprofessional and egotistical autocrats?

In an attempt to bring some common sense to the proceedings the child's parents tried to meet with the parent representative of the board, yet for the duration of this entire fiasco they were refused any such meeting despite multiple requests being submitted.

As this comes to an end, a matter that should have never made it outside of the school assembly hall from the outset has exposed the school board in question as being ineffective, unprofessional, non transparent and unaccountable. It has exposed CCMS a group acting under the wing of the Catholic Church as not having learned from previous incidents when the Church has closed ranks and have attempted to silence people. Both the school and CCMS have tried to tell the parents to go away, I can tell you this is a red rag to a bull. CCMS are a publicly funded body and the days of dictating to anyone are over as to quote the parents this is “Northern Ireland not North Korea”.

The parents would acknowledge a comment from the Bishop of Derry, Rev. McKeown who replied to them after they wrote to him. Bishop McKeown who has knowledge in these matters agreed with the parents that a common sense approach should have been taken and expressed concern that such a small matter had used up so much time and energy. In contrast, Bishop John McAreavey the Chairperson of CCMS has not even had the decency to acknowledge or respond to two separate letters the parents of the child in question sent to him.

As for Rev Latimer he was contacted by the parents, he promised to address the situation and return to them, yet to date has done neither.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Devil Looks After His Own!

A few days ago the Tory millionaire cabinet announced plans to change the definition of child poverty. This followed an announcement from Ian Duncan Smith to scrap the definition put forward by the Labour government in 2010. The current definition covers all children living in a household with an income below 60% of the UK's average. The move to change the definition followed a report describing child poverty levels in the UK as "unacceptably high".

In a bid to address this, predictably, the Tories announced plans to change the definition. This move will allow them to manipulate the poverty figures to their advantage, as has been shown to be done with their workfare type schemes which too assist with choreographing the unemployment figures. Ian Duncan Smith then went on to say that their intention is to" to eradicate child poverty” which is certainly a world away from merely changing the definition. Saying that I'm surprised they're just not enacting legislation to have the definition of the word poverty removed from the English dictionary, then again I wouldn't want to give them ideas.

Just yesterday the Tories revealed their budget plan or as they have termed it the "new

contract". This budget or 'contract' is clearly targeted at public sector workers, the poor, the vulnerable, the young and much to my surprise the unborn. I have to say the term 'new contract' is a bad move on their part as a brief study of contract law taught me that for a contract to be binding an agreement must be entered into voluntarily by two or more parties. Yet in this case I doubt those who will be most affected by the savagery of yesterday's budget will have agreed to enter into any such contract. Although a mandate gives a party/individual the authority to represent it does not give them permission to enter anyone into a contract without their consideration or consent. What is even more concerning is that the words 'new contract' are not a million miles away from 'new covenant'. Whilst these old 'Etonians' are known for their delusions of grandeur I doubt even they have reached deity status yet. So to be clear this is no contract, this has not been agreed, this is the poor being made suffer whilst the rich get away with not paying their fair share.

With this 'new contract' the millionaire cabinet have overlooked a few crucial things; From 2017 if a third child is born into a low income family that child is to be denied support in terms of tax credits. Surely the equality commission will have something to say with the Tories now attempting to control the birthrate. Additionally I can't help but wonder what will happen when a family have triplets, who decides which child is to be denied support?

Secondly with plans to deny under 21's housing benefit where are young people supposed to live and could this too be considered discriminatory? But hey, what's a bit of illegality to the Tories? In June 2015 'A Conservative-controlled council unlawfully blocked a family made homeless by the housing benefit cap from getting social housing. The High Court said Westminster City Council was wrong to bar the anonymous family from applying for a home in the borough where they lived.'

Thirdly even with a proposed rise in the national living wage by 2020 low earners are still going to worse off with cuts to tax credits. It must be noted that this 'new contract' involves a £4.5 billion cut to tax credits, as part of cuts to welfare totalling £12 billion.

Just compare that £12 billion of cuts to the vulnerable to the £93 billion businesses got last year in subsidies, grants and tax breaks. They say the devil looks after his own, I reckon never a truer word was spoken. And on the subject of the devil looking after his own the NI assembly will administer the Tory cuts, despite hollow rhetoric and meaningless protestations.

Having just arrived home from a what was once the Strabane workhouse I can't help but wonder how far the Tories are prepared to go. Lest we forget this is the same party who under the control of John Russell in the 1840's oversaw the deaths of over one million people in Ireland during the famine or in truthful terms what was the genocide of the indigenous population.

During this period the British government spent an estimated £9.5million on 'famine' relief which was given on a mostly loan basis whilst spending £69.3 million on the Crimean war. In addition to this in 1894 in a report signed by MPs Thomas Sexton, Henry Blake and Henry Slattery it was found that for over 90 years Ireland had suffered over-taxation to the sum of approximately £3million per year. Despite this no steps were taken to pay the money back.

Maybe now would be a good time to pay it back... that's an estimated £270 million and interest (wonga style) dating back 121 years.

By the way the term Tory is the Gaelic word for "bandit" or "outlaw".

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Justice Is More Than A Word.

My husbands mother would often speak fondly of a lady (now deceased) named Mary-Anne Deery.. I'm told that Mary-Anne who lived in the Bogside area of Derry was known for her strength of character and great sense of humour. However for Anne she is best remembered for the words she spoke aloud during a religious service and what should have been silent reflection, those words were “God Bless our wee Manus”. Manus was the son she lost on May 19th 1972 when he was murdered in Derry's Bogside by a member of the British Army whilst eating chips with his friends. It was on this day that Manus, a boy with his whole life ahead of him, received his first pay packet (wage).

Following his death it was claimed that there was a gunman spotted in the vicinity at the time of the shooting. This was further claimed in statements given by the soldiers responsible and was accepted without challenge during the coroners inquest in 1973. Here it was ruled that Manus had died as a consequence of lacerations to his brain caused by fragments from a tracer bullet of the type fired from a NATO issue 7.62 rifle. In this case the jury returned an open verdict which happens when the occurrence of a death is suspicious, yet no specific cause has been attributed.

In terms of a criminal investigation it will come as no surprise to learn that the RUC failed to carry out a thorough investigation into the Manus's death. The extent of their investigation consisted of a file given to the DPP containing statements from Manus’ mother, “Margaret Anne Deery”, and from his cousin “James Deery”. Manus's Mother was called Mary Anne and he had no cousin called James. Witnesses who participated in the inquest the following year spoke of how they had not been questioned by the RUC. In addition to this the only crime scene photographs had been taken from an observation post on Derry's city walls.

After the above investigation the family were informed that:

"The evidence and information reported together with the recommendations of police was carefully considered by experienced lawyers in this Department. It was concluded that the evidence available was insufficient to afford a reasonable prospect of conviction of any identifiable individual, and accordingly, a direction for no prosecution was issued on 9 November 1972."

In 2001 nine families including the Deery family challenged the then Secretary of State Dr John Reid and the Director of Public Prosecutions over their failure to prosecute, hold inquests and independent inquiries into the deaths of their loved ones. This followed a ruling that the state had violated article 2 (The Right to Life) of the European Convention on Human Rights over their failure to hold independent inquests, inquiries and to prosecute.

Eleven years later, in June 2012, the North's Attorney General ordered a new inquest into Manus's death under the Coroners’ Act. Sadly, in the November of the same year Manus's case was suspended with 14 others by the senior coroner for Northern Ireland Mr John Leckey.

In July 2013 the Deery family were made aware of a document from 1972. This document advised the British government that Manus's killing was “unjustified in law.” It was said that the document written by legal advisers to the British government proves that the young boy was murdered. The document discovered in the National Archives at Kew, stated that the shooting of Manus Deery;

was in contravention of the Yellow Card and unjustified in law, irrespective of whether Deery was carrying a firearm.”

The yellow card was a standard that British soldiers were required to adhere in N.Ireland. Within these parameters lethal force should only have been used as a last resort and when there was a risk to life.

More recently, in January of this year the question on whether to permit a jury  in Manus's inquest was raised causing considerable controversy. Shortly after the coroner Mr John Leckey left on sick leave and is expected to retire in the near future. Despite calls from the Mr Leckey to find replacement the Department of Justice have failed to appoint a successor.

Just yesterday it was announced that the only survivor of the Kingsmill Massacre Alan Black has threatened legal action over the department of justices' failure to appoint a new coroner to hear a fresh inquest into the murders of the Kingsmill victims. In 1976 eleven textile workers were lined up against their mini bus and shot on their way home from work, ten of the men died. The finger of blame was pointed at the IRA, who never claimed responsibility.

Speaking yesterday Alan Black had this to say:

Over the years since we got involved, it has been one obstacle put in our way after the other and all coming from the Department of Justice,” …..“They knew for two years that John Leckey was going to go. David Ford wants to kick us into the long grass again, we are not going, We’ll do whatever’s necessary with the legal people and hopefully get a result then.”

It would seem that those fighting for justice spend more time overcoming hurdles with each hurdle higher than the last. How can their be a level playing field when the state keep moving the goal posts to protect their own forces, so far as to prevaricate on the murder of a fifteen year old boy.

So much for the promises of the Good Friday Agreement when we were promised an era in which “justice would be done and seen to be done” as well as measures compatible with a “normal and peaceful society”.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

By Act or Omission.

As a keen blogger I find it easy to write about issues that you know will spark interest yet not so easy to highlight issues that show up your own inactivity as a social justice activist.

Having caught up with my reading this morning I began to notice a pattern in the number of statements released highlighting medical neglect in a location you won't find in any tourist brochure, the north's Maghaberry prison.

In 2009 Prison inspectors Dame Anne Owers and Dr Michael McGuire said “Maghaberry Prison was one of the most “expensive prisons” to run yet one of the “worst in the UK.” As you will see this was no exaggeration on their part.

The first statement I read was in relation to a republican prisoner named Ta McWilliams who on May 31st was handcuffed and transferred by ambulance to the emergency department at the Ulster Hospital. Ta, who has a documented history of heart trouble was suffering chest pains and presenting other symptoms associated with heart failure.

Whilst undergoing a battery of tests to establish the severity of his condition Ta remained handcuffed to one of three prison staff who were present at all times, even as he used bathroom facilities. It must also be noted that Ta McWilliams was so weak he was unable to undergo one of the tests required at the hospital.

14 hours after arriving at the hospital he requested that the handcuffs be removed due to the increased discomfort, this was refused by senior prison authorities. On his return to prison several hours later in a weakened state Ta McWilliams was forcibly strip searched. This search was justified on the basis of prison policy despite him being handcuffed to a member of prison staff for the duration of his time in hospital.

In a second scenario republican Prisoner Seamus McGuigan was taken to hospital suffering from rising blood pressure. On examination it was discovered that Seamus had suffered a mini stroke. Naturally Seamus requested a phone call to his family to put their minds at ease, his request was denied leaving Seamus with no option but to discharge himself back to the care of Maghaberry. Despite being accompanied at all times and having suffered a mini-stoke Seamus just like Ta Williams was brutally and forcibly strip searched when he returned to Maghaberry.

In another article I learned of the disgraceful treatment of republican prisoner Terry McConnell who is due to be released from prison in the near future.

Terry was diagnosed with an Arteriovenous Malformation on his Brain, a condition akin to a brain aneurism. Despite this Terry has received inadequate medical attention in Maghaberry, with every improvement in the treatment he receives coming as the outcome of legal challenges. In addition to this Terry has attended medical appointments handcuffed even when being advised on how his condition had escalated to the point were there was 10% risk of him having a stroke and haemorrhaging. With Terry at immediate risk, to get information on when he was scheduled for brain surgery too required a high court challenge.

The ill treatment and neglect of prisoners health and wellbeing isn't a recent development within Maghaberry under the management of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS). In September 2002 Annie Kelly completed suicide in Mourne House Women’s Unit. Following her inquest Professor Phil Scraton of Queen’s University, one of the co-authors of the Human Rights Commission recent report on women in prison, had this to say:

“Our research findings were clear that Annie should not have been in prison but in a therapeutic environment, and the jury endorsed this. However, in terms of international human rights standards, the Northern Ireland Prison Service failed institutionally in its duty of care, the conditions subjected her to inhumane and degrading treatment and, ultimately, her safety was compromised. It is clear from this tragic case that the Coroner’s recommendations, after the death in Mourne House of Janet Holmes in 1996, had not been taken seriously by the Prison Service.”

Last year a young Derry man suffering from mental health issues was left permanently blind after he gouged out his eyes cut his wrists and mutilated his testicles whilst supposedly under the supervision of medical staff in Maghaberry prison. Also last year a prison officer admitted negligence over the death of a prisoner Colin Bell who took his own life in Maghaberry, despite being on suicide watch.

These cases demonstrate how little has improved following the death of both Janet Holmes and Annie Kelly. This is something that even the judiciary are beginning to recognise. In December 2014 Mr Justice Weir, a High Court Judge said;

 'Medical treatment available to prisoners in Northern Ireland is not up to the required standards' after a prisoner with epilepsy was left lying in his cell for 45mins without medical treatment. Justice Weir went further saying:

"I think it's lamentable, because if you're a prisoner you don't have the same opportunity that you do if you're in the community to go to a hospital or to go to a doctor to get help - you're depending on help being provided for you."

"Therefore the care provided in the prison should be of the very highest quality. I'm afraid that it doesn't seem that it is. "People who are in prison need to be properly looked after and they are not being properly looked after."

The NIPS and the Stormont Justice Department have repeatedly failed in the their responsibilities, their facilities and their provision of services are not fit for purpose. I can only marvel at the fact that the RQIA, the Independent Health and Social Care Regulatory body for Northern Ireland haven't been given a permanent base there.

Prisoners are human beings, yet to attend medical appointments under prison staff supervision they are double handcuffed and subjected to forced strip searching in the way in and out of the north's top security prison. If animals were being treated in this way there would be a mass outcry, yet the silence around what appears to be the north's best kept secret remains deafening.

A prison sentence does not negate a person's human rights. Prisoners have the right to adequate medical attention. This right is protected under UK law with a Prisoner entitled to receive the care they would in the community. Additionally Prisoners are also protected under article three of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides for the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.

The treatment outlined above does not comply with domestic or international standards and therefore serves to demonstrate a systematic failure and unacceptable level of neglect by our justice system.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

This is Riduckulous!

A few days ago I read a statement from a Belfast residents group who with their supporters raised concerns over the introduction of what they termed "pay, play facilities". These fenced off facilities are planned for a green space on which children currently play freely.

This scenario brought me back a few years to the Galliagh Concerned Residents Group. Within this group myself and others raised concerns over the way the community was being run and on how a number of unaccountable groups were intent on riding roughshod over the wishes of community members. For me a central bone of contention stemmed from the proposal to introduce facilities to the area that would incur a cost, a cost that many residents can ill afford.

Over the past months I have heard more and more people in the community raise similar concerns over the need to pay to use the facilities, namely sports pitches. These pitches remain under lock and key despite being delivered to the area in the name of local children, children who spend more time looking in with only an occasional time slot available to them. It must be noted, prior to the introduction of these facilities generations of children played happily and freely on the same green area, yet today thanks to high fencing, astro turf, gate keepers and funding this play has been restricted with the area completely fenced off. Now whilst I'm not saying a very expensive 3g pitch should be left lying open at all times, a grass pitch should be open for local children to play freely on.

Recently this situation has been compounded by the introduction of an open air gym to the same area. This gym remains under lock and key with users charged £20.00 per month or £2.50 per session despite this gym being funded via the public purse to the tune of £70,000. So with this gym built utilising public money why are people in an area of high deprivation expected to pay?

I suppose they could start charging you to leave!!!
I asked this same question of the Public Health Agency yesterday and was told the following;

 "The PHA were not aware that there would be a levy applied for the unsupervised use of the equipment and this would not be the policy with other outdoor gyms funded by the PHA". 

 This was also confirmed at the opening of the gym when Mayor, Cllr McCallion stated;
 What I particularly like about this scheme is the fact that its free to use and the scheduled activities are aimed at all ends of the ability spectrum making fitness and exercise accessible to all.

For those content to duck questions on this issue, I have one very pertinent question; What part of free do you not understand?

Clearly the community should be given free access to this gym with anyone choosing to avail of additional services charged accordingly.There are many outdoor gyms across the north and guess what, they're free to use! I've always thought of Derry as a very unique place to live, and hey, we're so unique we'll charge you for something many other people get for free. 

Derry has the highest rates, highest unemployment rate and the highest cost to use a free gym...This is just riduckulous!!!!

The links below show how these gyms are free to use in other areas:

Monday, 8 June 2015

Indirectly Ruling By Fooling.

In a land not so far away, sits a big house on a hill, this house is known locally among the poor who live in it's shadow as Stormont. In this house lurks a phantom 'government' who are in possession of a phantom budget and wielding a giant axe to decimate services the poor people rely on. In addition to this is what appears to be a process of self-deception which involves convincing oneself of a truth or lack of so that one does not divulge any knowledge of this deception. You see this process of self-deception ties in with how the people in this big house have become friends with their one time big bad enemy. This new found friendship for some is considered unrealistic whereas others regard it as insulting and insensitive. Those who raise concerns over these actions are regarded as anti-peace process, anti-progress, anti-mainstream and in some cases anti-GAA.

As with many tales this sordid story contains a queen, her servants, the rich, the reckless and as always the poor peasants. The poor in this story are sadly bracing themselves to bear the brunt of the phantom budget with the queens more senior servants expected to do the work of the phantom politicians in the near future. Meanwhile the phantom politicians roam the marble halls of Stormont sucking expenses like vampires suck blood as they continue their work with trying to normalise an abnormal situation and with promoting a process that puts reconciliation before truth and justice.

Just yesterday the Stormont Assembly speaker Mitchel McLaughlin in the company of the Sinn Fein Mayor for Derry/Strabane laid a wreath at the cenotaph in Derry to commemorate the Battle of Messines in 1917. After the event McLaughlin had this to say. "The assembly represents everybody and every shade of opinion in our community as well and as the speaker I have the responsibility to speak for all of them." With these words in mind I hope to see Mitchel and the Mayor at the next Bloody Sunday March in support of the poor who continue to campaign for justice despite cuts to legal aid. Cuts which are undermining the rule of law 800 years after the sealing of the Magna Carta which promised;

 ‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.’

As the poor await the outcome of other decisions effecting them the phantom politicians appear to be either suffering from electile dysfunction or are deluded enough to think that poor will continue to believe that they actively opposed further cuts despite their ongoing implementation and welfare reform which has already been agreed. With the tension on this issue mounting as you would expect a little bit of deflection has taken place. Just the other day the Irish national flag miraculously appeared on the roof top of Stormont and hey presto it became the main feature in local news broadcasts.

A similar tactic was employed prior to the announcement to abolish the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. During this time the limiting of flying the union flag from Belfast's city hall to designated days was stirred up resulting in weeks of mayhem. This mayhem over a nine week period cost the tax payer over £15 million to police.  Still we are told the coffers of the kingdom are not infinite.

I can't help but think that this money coupled with the money used to police the Twadell protest camp could have been better spent with an estimated £40,000 still spent weekly on policing Twadell. This money could have been used to fill the gap in the legacy investigations budget, with state forces suspected of war crimes still free to roam the streets unimpeded. In contrast senior citizens here such as Ivor Bell are to face prosecution on the strength of historical audio accounts despite there being no way of testing the veracity of these accounts. The disparity here beggars belief but then it shouldn't with the scales of justice clearly weighted in favour of the kingdom and it's supporters.

You see in this grim story the kingdom is built on the politics of orange and green. Phantom politics which are not only deflective but divisive. These politics help portray as a nation of sectarian muck savages and shift our focus from things that really matter . Things that effect us all whether orange, green or a recent addition to our increasingly multicultural society. Things like the closure of over 100 schools in less than eight years as well as individual cases of inhuman and degrading treatment within our healthcare emergency departments. 

Yet as the poor become poorer and continue to accept less than they deserve the phantom politicians in the house on the hill get to experience their happy ever after, through their endless piece/peace process.

As you may have guessed this aint no fairytale!!!