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!