Sunday, 21 August 2016

Cool Your Jets!

With no pun intended things have been quite heated in Derry recently both before and after the Bogside Bonfire. So much so that Johnathan Powell (British Peace Negotiator) was last reported heading for hills. And could you blame him with some politicians hotter under the collar than those who attended the bonfire.

Bonfires like them or loathe them are a recognised tradition. As such some city councils operate a bonfire management scheme to ensure that these are family friendly and safe events. Unfortunately our council area appears to have a two tier system of bonfire management. As the young people in the Bogside faced recrimination, they were aware that in the Fountain Estate overlooking where they live was another bonfire, one that did not see the same level of controversy. But then this is no doubt down to good community leadership in that area..

Talks about the bonfire broke down when to put it as simply as possible the young people disengaged feeling dictated to. With little leadership or compromise being provided by our so called civic and political leaders local young people later lit the bonfire at the bottom of the City flyover, and with the controversy surrounding this action the bonfire was attended by more people than in previous years.

The burning of Sinn Fein election boards has sparked a lot anger particularly amongst party members and supporters. Whilst I disagree with burning images reaction to this from Sinn Fein party members has been astounding. To understand this we need to question why young people feel so marginalised that they will burn election posters, the burning of British flags is nothing new. However when we question the actions of the young people we need to examine the actions and responses of civic and political leaders. We had the former Sinn Fein Mayor brand people scum, a call for the reinstatement of the IRA by a member of the policing board and a man refer to the children as feral children. All this over a bonfire, the mess of which was cleaned within hours the next day. If only every mess could be cleaned up so easily!

As some politicians and their cronies continue with their outbursts they seem to have overlooked their own wrong doing in this, yet I'm sure their self inflated egos would shudder at the very notion that in their omnipotence they had done anything wrong. Young people are just like the rest of us if they get respect then they're more likely to give it. What's interesting in all this is that out of all the parties and groups it's those connected with Sinn Fein who are the most vitriolic on this issue.

In an article published in the Irish News on Saturday 21st August Martin McGuinness claimed dissident republicans are 'manipulating' youths behind the attacks on Dove House. With this assertion we must question if McGuinness has evidence to substantiate this. If yes has he taken it to the police? If no then are we to assume that this political grandstanding?

In reference to local children McGuinness went on to say: “They need to get their act together; their parents need toget their act together”. If ever there was a brass neck!!! If you want to talk about 'needing to get their act together', lets talk about the fact that the Stormont Administration has failed to develop an anti-poverty strategy for Northern Ireland. Last year High Court Judge Mr Justice Treacy ruled that the Stormont administration was in breach of a duty to implement an overarching blueprint for tackling social exclusion and deprivation. Yet I don't hear the same level of vitriol over the failure to implement a poverty strategy than I do over the bonfire! 

Let's talk about the unemployment level and lack of opportunity for young people, I'll bet you've heard more about the bonfire than you've heard about that. What about the increase of people relying on food-banks? And let's not forget how Stormont parties including Sinn Fein were happy to hand the power over 'welfare reform' to the Tories. If ever a people were shafted by their political leaders then this surely must go down in history as a prime example. So Mr McGuinness the next time you decide to launch all manner of unsubstantiated attacks on people, can I suggest a period of self reflection first.

I would like to point out that this is not an attack on Sinn Fein but as previously pointed out members of their party have been the most vitriolic on this issue. Had Sinn Fein have taken time to engage with local youths instead of demonising them then things could have been a lot different and still could  with cool heads and a common sense approach. 

Cherishing ALL children of the nation equally.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Fuelling The Fire!

Following a short sabbatical from social media I tuned into facebook today only to discover that an incendiary situation in Derry had spontaneously combusted. On Thursday morning children in the Bogside area of the city had their bonfire material which was stored in Meenan Square confiscated under the watchful eyes of heavily armed PSNI officers. Despite any legitimate concerns overkill seems an apt description of this heavy handed approach.

Derry City & Strabane District Council in a statement to the BBC stated "Council is committed to providing advice and support to reduce the risk of bonfires to public safety and minimise any potential detrimental impact to the local environment." Yet I'm not sure how the forced removal of materials by Council in the Bogside marries up with Council's approach to the annual bonfire in the Fountain Estate as part of the 12th night celebrations, which went ahead unimpeded. Could it be different approaches for different areas?

Today I carried out a short survey with a number of young people. I outlined the situation to them giving both sides of the argument. The responses from these young people aged between 11-17 proved interesting. They stated they could understand the reasons not to burn tyres or other similar materials but saw no reason not to allow young people to hold a bonfire in an agreed space with proper support provided by Council. They also unanimously stated that if one section of the community was allowed a bonfire the other should be. One of the older children was emphatic in his call for council to engage directly with the young people and not through 'community groups' as he believes these community groups are more about jobs and funding than the community.

With increased emphasis today on cementing cross community relations we cannot overlook the potential impact the disparity around this issue will have on these relations. As such I would call on Derry and Strabane District Council to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment to ensure that young people who may already feel socially excluded and marginalised are not further disenfranchised by the actions of our local government authority. Furthermore we must also look at the failure of so called community elements who promote cross community relations yet seemingly overlook inter-generational work in their own communities. When those funded to work within the community are butting heads with the community members they are paid to support their approach needs to be addressed as does their absence when things go awry.

At a time like this you also have to wonder where the self appointed moral guardians are? The Bogside Residents Group who were formed for the purpose of addressing contentious issues were noticeably absent. Where was the Unity Of Purpose Group and their soap box? Outside of of the efforts of Independent Councilor Gary Donnelly did any other elected representatives engage directly with the young people? Another person who could have intervened was Jim Roddy of the City Centre Initiative. Jim who was recently awarded an MBE in recognition of his services to the community was nowhere to seen. As after all who better to engage with young people on these issues than a former fireman.

If council worked directly with the young people as opposed to community groups a practical and pragmatic outcome could be reached. Maybe the local youth could request to engage with council directly next time with the existing community groups clearly incapable of reaching an amicable solution that is community led as opposed to funding led.