Friday, 20 October 2017

A Storm (Stormont) In A Teacup

A few days ago here on Starship Norn Iron the evening headline read, ‘power out at Stormont.’  This headline whilst referring to a power cut was one of the most honest headlines to have reached the press here in decades.  The electrical power cut occurred during Storm Ophelia which like most things that come here, bypassed Derry and went to Belfast.

Now, on the subject of bypassing Derry, a few weeks ago the Stormont Assembly met for the first time since the election for a total of 46 minutes.  This wasn’t to update the public on the progress of the ongoing negotiations, or lack of, no, this was to agree a £500 pay increase for themselves.  A £500 raise for MLAs at a time when most things are either cut or capped and days before Universal Credit was to be rolled out in the North starting in Limavady.

Universal Credit is the new combined benefit payment under Welfare Reform (benefit cuts). A method of payment which is proving problematic in pilot areas with many claimants having to wait extended periods for their benefit. The MLAs as with most issues remain relatively silent on this despite calls from charities such as Citizens Advice and the Trussell Trust to halt the further roll out of Universal Credit until the problems currently faced have been remedied. But then some elected representatives seem to do a better job of deflecting and dividing up slush funds than they do in finding solutions to real problems.

If the MLAs were subject to zero-hour contracts in the real sense of the definition they might then raise serious objection to the hardship being imposed upon ordinary working-class people here.  Or if they were forced to live within the confines of a household benefit cap, or wait more than six weeks to obtain the benefits they require to feed their families maybe then they would  understand what people are going through and why people are angry and frustrated. This frustration was witnessed at a recent public consultation in Derry into cuts to front-line health services. Frustration which was later condemned by local politicians.

At the forefront of this condemnation was the DUPs Gary Middleton. The same Gary Middleton who took part in an illegal flag protest on Derry’s peace bridge during the uproar over the union flag at Belfast City Hall.  I wonder if Gary was concerned about anyone feeling intimidated when he took part in his protest on Derry’s Peace Bridge, a so called ‘shared space’? Or is it a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do?’

Next up in the condemnation queue was Sinn Fein’s Karen Mullan.  With Karen relatively new to public life outside of her previous efforts within thecommunity sector she could be forgiven for overlooking Sinn Fein’s keenness to protest in the past.  After all Sinn Fein defended its protests at public policing meetings which had to be abandoned due the disruptive nature of their protest. In response to objections raised about their protests in a statement from Sinn Fein’s Pat Doherty in 2003 he defended the behaviour of protesters who were accused of trying to intimidate people by chanting during the first meeting of the Omagh District Policing Partnership. In his response Doherty stated that the protesters had a ‘legitimate right to protest,’ much like the protesters Karen was quick to condemn.

Then to my surprise we had the mutterings of Mark Durkan SDLP who too condemned the behaviour of protesters which was surprising considering that Mark is the member of a party born of the Civil Rights Movement. A movement which was best known for peaceful, yet vocal non-violent protest. With the SDLP currently focused on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement now might be an appropriate time for them to revisit the fundamental principles of the movement and to get back in touch with their grassroots. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m a wee bit concerned at this
anti-peaceful protest stance being displayed here!!

Today in a statement from People Before Profits MLA Gerry Carroll he expressed agreement over Sinn Fein’s determination to bring forward and Irish Language act at any cost by stating, “Anything less than a fully funded, standalone, Irish Language Act will be considered a sell-out, and rightly so." Gerry then went on to state that he only accepts the average workers wage.  Now with no wish to be dismissive, what Gerry chooses to take from the wage he receives is a matter for himself, his party or if the case may be, his chosen charity. The fact is Gerry like the rest of the MLAs is in receipt of £131.00 per/day. If he was living on less than £10.00 per/day or reliant on food parcels and was accruing debt whilst waiting on his universal credit to be processed I suspect his priorities would quickly change from an Irish language act to the bringing forward of an anti-poverty strategy and lobbying accordingly.  But then an anti-poverty strategy wasn’t a priority for the last assembly so I doubt it will be for this one either given we still await a budget.

Let’s put the latest Stormont deadlock into perspective:

What started with the issue of a botched heating scheme and the literal burning of public money has ended up with more focus being placed on the introduction of an Irish Language Act. This in my opinion represents a major shifting of goal posts and is a potential play to a polarised gallery short of one seat.  Granted, an Irish language act would have its benefits, primarily the protection of an indigenous language, but why it bothers Sinn Fein more now than it did when they held the brief is questionable, particularly with so many other bread and butter issues impacting on people in our society. Surely now in this time of economic despair the primary focus should be addressing poverty which causes so many other problems and severe cuts to front-line services.

The endless deadlock at Stormont is nothing new with these latest negotiations again taking place behind closed doors.  Ask yourself, what good has ever come from backdoor dealing here? The Good Friday Agreement turned out to be a monumental con job. The St Andrews agreement (Annex E) gave MI5 supremacy over policing.  And with the Fresh Start Agreement, devolved welfare powers were handed back to Westminster for the rolling out of welfare reform (benefit cuts).

For the above reasons and in the interests of transparency and accountability I believe that the Stormont politicians should carry out further negotiations in the public arena as where better to show up the intransigence of the DUP if this is indeed the case.  Ultimately, if this mess isn’t sorted soon then we are facing another election or worse, a period of direct rule, where we can rule out both an anti-poverty strategy and an Irish Language Act. The best we’ll get here will be the implementation of more cuts this time with no mitigation or anyone to negotiate on our behalf (outside of the DUP) and the introduction of legislation to whitewash the state’s role in the troubles, as was the plan until interrupted with the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

Ruling by fooling!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

A Vicious Circle. Save our Health Service!

A few days ago, the 5 regional Health and Social Care Trusts in the north published an overview of their plan to make a collective £70 million of budget cuts in this fiscal year. These plans have been put out by the respective Heath Care Trusts for a six-week consultation period at the end of which cuts will be made accordingly. The Western Trust which covers Derry, Strabane, Omagh, a proportion of the Causeway coast and Glensborough Council area has outlined its proposal to cut the budget by £12.5million.

In June of this year senior members of the British Medical Association accused Theresa May and British Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, of “consciously” creating a crisis within hospitals “to distract the public from an underfunded service under severe and intense strain” this whilst scapegoating doctors and medical staff. This was raised at the union’s annual representative meeting in Bournemouth, where a motion to challenge government plans was passed. A selling point of the motion came as it emerged that the Government has plans to sell off an NHS staffing agency which saves the health service £70m a year. Oh the Irony, here we have the sale of an asset which saves the British government £70m whilst at the same time in the north health care budgets are to be cut by the same amount. One can only marvel at the logic of these people and how they come to their decisions!

Ask yourself why would any government want to sell off an asset which saves the health service money when other areas are trying to cut down on the number of non-NHS agency staff. In my view this is about making the system unworkable and speeding up the process of privatisation? But then again these are the same Tories who sold off Plasma Resources UK an NHS publicly owned company to Bain Capital a private equity firm set up by American Politician Mitt Romney for £230 million pounds. The company was then sold on 3 years later to a Chinese company for £820 million pounds.

Locally within the Western Trust’s savings plan there is a proposed reduction to the number of non-NHS locums, nursing agency and agency Social work staff. This is expected to save the Western trust an estimated £1.6m. The problem is, this cut will also mean the loss of approximately 30 beds/care spaces across medical and care of the elderly wards at a time when hospitals are already stretched to capacity.

In addition to this is the proposed cut of £1.16m to domiciliary care totaling 275 packages and the loss of 8-10 nursing home places which will mean: The consolidation of care homes, less respite care and less availability for people requiring healthcare treatment and care packages. As this move will also see ‘bed blocking’ with patients being kept in hospital for longer periods in the absence of a care home place or a heath care package which will lead to increased hospital costs and even longer waiting lists. As I see it he above plans are nonsensical and will not prove beneficial or cost effective in the long term. Privatisation by making the system unworkable?

The above announcement follows on from a not so well publicised plan by the Department of Health entitled ‘Reshaping Stroke Services’. Stroke is the main cause of adult disability in the UK. 'The fourth largest cause of death and two thirds of those who survive stroke have a life changing disability'. This consultation is due to close on September 15, 2017 and whilst packaged under the guise of ‘reshaping stroke services’ this involves cuts to and the relocation of stroke services in the north.

Five of the proposals outlined in the consultation document include the words ‘an appropriate number’ which would seem to be the new term given to the reduction of services. When treating a stroke timing is paramount with regards to assessment for the clot busting treatment known as thrombolysis. Yet proposal 2 suggests providing ‘assessment for clot busting treatment thrombolysis on an appropriate number of sites’.

Staff members and a patient from the Stroke unit in Altnagelvin hospital here in Derry have contacted me concerned that the reduction in stroke services will impact on the service currently available at Altnagelvin. There is a strong suspicion among staff that the ‘thrombolysis’ treatment will be relocated to either Enniskillen or Belfast which will cause difficulties not only for staff but for patients required to travel a huge distance to avail of this treatment, with time of the essence in these cases. Somebody should maybe take time to remind the department of health that the ‘T’ in the F.A.S.T. acronym stands for time and not travel. As with the above, these plans need to be opposed in the strongest possible terms by all right-thinking people.

Now on a related but separate note. With many illnesses when people leave hospital they are required to avail of alternative supported accommodation or floating support. These services are funded through the Supporting People Scheme which is administered through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. This scheme provides funding for a range of support services to assist vulnerable people to live independently in their community.

In Derry alone there are 59 sheltered and supported Housing schemes and 9 floating support services. Figures published by NICVA in 2015 stated that Supporting People saves the public purse £125.05 million pounds per annum. In real terms, this means that for every £1 spent on Supporting People, there is a £1.90 saving. Despite this the core budget of the scheme which has been frozen for the past 10 years is set to be cut by a further £3million which will impact on existing services. How this can be justified given the money saved by the scheme is anyone’s guess, but proof that everything is being slashed irrespective of the benefits to people or ‘government’.

With so much focus on cuts we must be practical about where additional money could be secured to fund health services, outside of saddling our great grandchildren with more Private Finance Initiative debt. And very simply this could have been achieved through not replacing the trident nuclear weapons system which will cost an estimated £205 billion. How any elected representative could justify such an obscene amount of money for such obscene weapons of mass destruction whilst people cannot get adequate health care is beyond rational comprehension. And when we look for answers locally we need look no further than the 5 DUP MP’s and two former UUP MP’s who voted for these nuclear weapons.

This image which was shared yesterday by the Derry Trade Union Council shows the wages paid to
MLA’s from March of this year. A scandalous amount of money when you consider that these elected representatives have not been doing their job . Moreover, these people are now sitting back as plans being made by Civil Servants and plans of old lack common sense, foresight and long-term planning.

Central to this problem is that the 2 main partners in ‘government’ have no joined-up approach and are more focused on representing their individual political positions than doing what is right for people. My question to those MLA's is, with Supporting People Services being cut, care home places set to be reduced and the number of hospital beds being cut, as well as cuts to domiciliary care and stroke services, what are people supposed to do and where are they supposed to go when these plans eventually clash and conflict?  And more importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Sadly, this is more than likely the tip of the iceberg and with a lack of governance here we are forced to look in the direction of Westminster and if you think of the Health Service you have to think about Tory Health Minister Jeremy Hunt who recently crossed swords with Professor Stephen Hawking, when Professor Hawking stated that Hunt was cherry picking evidence to support his policies. Now I think when it comes down to it I’ll stand with Professor Hawking a proud supporter of the NHS, as opposed to Mr Hunt, a member of party decimating the NHS, well that coupled with the fact Hawking is a genius and Hunt is a Tory minister! lol

Late last year the NHS saved my father’s life, the treatment and care he received from every person he came into contact with was second to none. So, if you want to know why I feel so angry about the cuts to services you now do, and if you like me have had a loved one saved by the NHS you will share my despair for what passes for governance here coupled with the Tory led privatisation of the NHS.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

By Their Own Words Shall They Be Judged.

Image result for kangaroo court images

Most people who know me will appreciate that I have no problem putting forward a position, backing it up and where necessary arguing my point. I’m also not backward about coming forward, and will if I can support anyone who is being dealt an unjust hand. So because of that and my blog I do expect people to debate with or challenge me.

Late last year and earlier this year I was forced to defend myself against an online facebook campaign of abuse, this wasn’t your average halfwit type stuff, this was nasty, malicious and came from the venomous minds of some, including people my husband & I had once called friends. I responded to these people through my blog, after all you can’t actually respond and challenge people if they blacken your name to friends in private messages, block you on social media and refuse to meet with you.  

A few months passed with nothing and then just when you think all is quiet on the Western Front up pops the not so intelligent aspect of unaccountable policing. Honestly, if the authorities ever decide to re-open the Castlereagh Interrogation centre then they should look no further than the individuals I will later name in this piece. Individuals who think nothing of concocting stories about people in their closed settings, individuals who make the ideas of the General Brigadier Frank Kitson and Colin Wallace seem amateurish. 

In January of this year, I published a blog referencing a local man Thomas ‘Dixie’Elliot who had for months previously been dragging my name and that of my husband into gutter both publicly but mostly in private. During his campaign of online abuse, this man threatened to ‘expose’ me as a ‘shit-stirrer’ among other things. When he was challenged to meet with me he wouldn’t and when challenged to ‘expose me’, well you guessed it I’m still waiting. Yet despite this, this week he bizarrely claimed to Journalist Ed Maloney that he had ‘exposed me’. I do think I’ll need to drop Ed Moloney a line to ask him if he can shed any light on what I was supposed to have done as ‘Dixie’ has yet to tell me and I doubt he will. And as for 'threatening legal action' for exposing me, the only thing Dixie has exposed is his own nastiness, and from some of the supportive messages I have received, I'm not Dixie's only online target.

Who are the royal "we" Dixie and what is the agenda of this royal "we?"

In the recent barrage of abuse one of the main antagonists repeatedly refused to name me publicly despite doing so privately to numerous individuals. Additionally, her liking a number of comments in particular left me in no doubt that I was the topic of her latest bile, as with the regurgitation of the nonsense from her cohorts the dogs in the street could identify who her latest attack was directed at, but we’ll get to this nasty piece of work in a bit.

Now back to the Whistling Dixie, a few days ago he referred to me as being ‘really dangerous’ after stating when ‘I recognised it was her she was blocked.’  Maybe Thomas Dixie Elliot would care to enlighten me on where he recognised me and what makes me a dangerous individual outside of my supporting a different Stormont Candidate to him in the 2016 Assembly Election? I supported Dr Anne McCloskey, Dixie supported Eamon McCann.

Oops, should I have said that Dixie? After all you claim to be an abstentionist Republican! Outside of this Dixie, who I don’t know that well had no problem with me and was often complimentary of my blogs.  As such it is clear that Dixie’s issue with me dates back to the election when he tried to poison my opinion of my preferred candidate and is quite possibly based on the opinions of a few rough yet not so little diamonds. On the upside of this I take some comfort from the fact that I am not the first victim of Dixie’s online harassment and cyber stalking as he is a known troll on twitter and was caught using multiple identities as the attachment below will show.

Catherine McCartney is the sister of the late Robert McCartney

In a few of his rants Dixie has claimed I was ‘thrown off the Marian Price Campaign’. Now unlike Dixie my involvement went beyond turning up to protests and as emails to me from Marian’s family both before and after her release will show. Dixie can easily verify this fact should he ever grow a set and meet with me to justify his actions, but as before I doubt he will.

In relation to Dixie’s rantings re the Marian Price Campaign I have no doubt he is taking his lead on this from another member of this little online cabal, Belfast based Uber Republican Fionnuala Perry. Fionnuala has hinted at similar in the past and is again  regurgitating her nonsense of the past. Like Dixie, Fionnuala, or as she is also known ‘Nuala’ is an online ‘legend’ who confuses twisted fiction with fact and is happy to make baseless accusations regardless of the consequences for her victims. When Fionnuala is challenged to substantiate her nonsense and meet with you the best you get here is her roaring and screaming down the phone like a banshee at you. This is what Fionnuala had to say about me. 

After reading the above keep in mind this is the same Fionnuala who trusted me enough to read statements I had penned for the Marian Price Campaign on platforms yet now describes me as being very dangerous, much like this next person who trusted me so much she not only read statements I penned for her but gave me access to her email account to read and pen statements and responses in her name on her behalf.

I’ve done a lot of voluntary work for many people and never mention it.  Today I’m making the point that this isn’t about me hating these people or doing anything on them. This is more to do with the fact that I stopped doing for them at different times, something Fionnuala in particular couldn’t handle. This with her and her Belfast based clique of 4 (with everyone else having left at this point) having been exposed as being inept and ineffective when I withdrew from that end of the campaign for personal and medical reasons as Fionnuala was well aware of. My track record of work speaks for itself and my files and emails can easily substantiate this, these include the complete Marian Price Campaign website, every leaflet that was ever printed, every banner that was ever held as well as letters to and from politicians, justice organisations and the clergy. Fionnuala on the other hand would have great difficulty in producing anything.

The lynch pin of this online Kangaroo Court is Kate Nash. From the 2012 ‘March for Justice’ up to the furore around the proposed victim’s legislation I worked closely with Kate. This ‘working relationship’ only soured when I stopped working for her and when I supported Dr Anne McCloskey in the 2016 election, whilst she like her friend Dixie Elliot supported Eamon McCann. 

Kate on her facebook on 14th August said the following:

With Kate being known as a Human Rights and Justice Campaigner I'm sure she would appreciate the need to substantiate any allegations she was prepared to make against someone. But as she hasn't clearly Kate has a scant knowledge of what justice is and how rights work as if she did she would know that Cyber-bullying is a crime. Kate would also be aware that the accused in any case has the right to be made aware of the case against them which I was not and still haven’t been outside of a few rantings. So here it is Kate, I’m now stating as a fact, you have been abusing me online, you have been blackening my name and attempting, but failing to tarnish my reputation. I am now giving you the opportunity to challenge what I am saying publicly and bring forward your evidence of this alleged latest or indeed any attack on you, an opportunity you and your compatriots have denied me.

What must be noted is, this isn’t the first time Kate has gone out of her way to try to tarnish my name. Previous attempts date back to September 16th 2016 when Kate covertly contacted a good friend to advise him to beware of me this despite my having helped Kate in ways that others wouldn’t including the “justice campaigners” closest to her. At this point I asked to meet with Kate to find out why she was involved in such Machiavellian behaviour, she refused this meeting.

In Kate’s latest nonsensical rant, she has accused me of attacking her under a range of fake facebook profiles, this accusation is not only unfounded and unwarranted but it is untrue. If I wanted to say anything to Kate Nash I would not need a fake or false profile. Kate also suggests that I am  hell driven and that both my husband and I have nefarious agendas. Now I'm sure any rational person will acknowledge in the North these are very dangerous accusations to make. And I am now calling for her to publicly retract these immediately.

The next member of this rogues gallery is the whispering Michael Donnelly. Michael too had a problem with my election choice and made every effort to smear the candidate.

In the Closed Kangaroo Court of Kate, Michael makes a range of allegations which even contradict some of those he last made proving that ‘some people can’t even get their black propagandaright’.

But this seems to be all that can be expected from Michael as he previously attempted to add my father-in-law to his mix as the screenshot below will show, this followed the death of the late Martin McGuinness. Needless to say his efforts failed here too.

Following in his Daddy’s footsteps we then have the hysterical rantings of Michael’s son Deaglan O'Dongaile.  Deaglan seems to be slightly obsessed with my blog and spends a lot of time attempting to humour his online buddies with variations of my blog name. Here's what |Degalan had to say on May 29th this year :

Deaglan you may or may not know is actually a Professor of Victorian Literature and whilst obviously academically gifted definitely lacks a certain wit. In the closed Kangaroo Court of Kate Deaglan had the following to say in the company of fellow academic Goretti Horgan, a self-professed Women’s rights campaigner.

With the next three images I have erased the name of the campaign mentioned with these people clearly attempting to drag the name of a local human rights campaign into disrepute. I'm also calling Deaglan to produce evidence that I have supported violence of any sort.

It would seem that this latest attack on me has come from my being named publicly by a person operating under the profile name of James Connolly who when challenged publicly by me said the aforementioned had accused him of being me after he expressed an opinion they did not like. How very convenient!

Opponents of  kangaroo courts participating in one.

A question now for Goretti Horgan as a self-professed women’s rights campaigner is why she didn’t challenge Deaglan’s use of the word ‘Drongo’ or the unsubstantiated allegations made about myself by her comrades Deaglan O'Donghaile and Kate Nash? This with Goretti having once challenged a journalist over referring to a young woman as a ‘bird’, but then maybe with Goretti some women are more equal than others. Moreover, Goretti seems to perpetuate the lie that I support punishment attacks. Maybe Goretti can explain how she drew this conclusion with my opinion on the use of violence well documented. I would hate to think as an academic Goretti based her statements of fact on supposition and the rantings of a few individuals. Furthermore, maybe she can explain why she as an alleged opponent of Kangaroo courts is participating in one and against a woman? Goretti however is not alone in her thinking as with a few on rogue’s gallery there seems to be the belief that I support Kangaroo courts, paramilitary justice, armed actions and contradictorily Sinn Fein, all of which is untrue. But hey we wouldn't want the truth getting in the way of this Kangaroo Court and character assassination. And as for secret policing, well that takes many forms as your actions prove.

The interesting thing is this all stems from the election of 2016, before that to the best of my knowledge these people had no problem with me well outside of Fionnuala Perry and Goretti Horgan. 

People who know me will know that If I have something to say I will say it and not behind a door but to your face or on here if needed. I’ll sit down and discuss disagreements, and we may still not agree, but that’s life.  If people want to challenge me or my blogs with a reasoned argument then that is fine, but I will not be pilloried and abused by these twisted individuals who have little to offer outside of innuendo, bile and creating division.

In closing I took no pleasure in writing this blog I would rather highlight the issues that will negatively impact on wider society to help raise awareness, but when it comes to defending myself and my family I will always do what is necessary. The people named in this piece would need to realise that their actions do not reflect badly on me but on themselves with these actions for the best part in direct conflict with the positions they claim to hold. How can you claim to be a republican and support the use of closed justice, spurious and unsubstantiated allegations, kangaroo courts and character assassination? Equally how can you claim to be a justice campaigner when your actions serve to leave people vulnerable and show  you don't understand the concept that with rights come responsibilities.  And finally how can you claim to be a women's rights campaigner when you make spurious allegations, participate in a Kangaroo court against a woman and are selective in your condemnation in the use of abusive language against a woman? 

My advice to you people is to get a life and leave me alone to get on with mine.

I would take this opportunity to extend a massive thanks to the people who have been in touch with me over this and for the support shown publicly also. xx

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Living Legacy

I recently read the views of the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton on the delay in dealing with the legacy of the past due to the latest political stalemate at Stormont.  And then today concerns were raised by the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory. In his comments Mr Hamilton referred to the 2014 Stormont House Agreement. This agreement contained several proposed mechanisms to deal with the past including the Historical Investigations Unit which was the proposed investigatory body and unlike the other proposals outlined was actually a requirement under European Law. 

Under the Stormont House Agreement, the Historical Investigations Unit was expected to have a life span of five years to investigate troubles related deaths. Ideally this would have been a mechanism with no time limit, free from state interference and with international oversight where possible. However, the Historical Investigations Unit was set to include those who served in policing and security roles in the North during the troubles. Furthermore, the British Secretary of State was to have the power to veto information disclosure as well as the authority to remove the HIU at his/her discretion.  Additionally, the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers were to hold the power to hire and retire the chosen HIU director. Independent?

The other proposed mechanisms included the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR), an Oral History Archive and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG) which was later removed despite being an integral element of the proposals. The IRG proved quite contentious when it was rumoured to be the mop which would clean up the remaining issues still outstanding after a five-year period through what were to be known as ‘statements of acknowledgement’ although what this meant remains a mystery. Subsequently, the public also learned of plans to limit troubles related inquests to five years and to assist British troops and Security Personnel of a certain age with evading prosecution for their respective crimes. Now if that’s not weighted in the State’s favour I don’t know what is!

There is no disputing the need to deal with the past but unless things change dramatically from the last batch of proposals then we can expect a process which is not independent, is time limited, is one-sided and will only serve the interests of the state. A state which is overly keen to revise and sanitise their role here as one of peacekeepers between sectarian factions rather than an antagonistic and adversarial one.

A contentious element of dealing with the legacy of the troubles is how the respective parties remember their dead. The British would argue that their security forces were upholding law here in line with their ‘peacekeeper’ narrative, yet their legacy in the North speaks for itself, and examination of the facts easily paints a different more accurate picture.  This including their record of collusion with loyalist death squads, the use of internment (then and now), their shoot to kill policy, their indiscriminate brutalisation of communities, their brutalisation of prisoners and the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday Massacres, war crimes perpetrated by these ‘peacekeepers’. 

A current controversy in my home city is over a display in the Museum of Free Derry (MOFD), more commonly known as the Bloody Sunday Museum. Anyone who knows me will know that I am meticulous when it comes to recording things accurately and for that reason I would generally take a stance that museums present their exhibits as such and in a neutral fashion. In this case it is how the MOFD presents a record of the names of all those killed during the Free Derry period that has caused the problems as the names of British security force personnel are listed alongside civilians and republican volunteers who lost their lives during the Free Derry period.

I spoke yesterday with local woman Marie Gallagher about this display which is now a prominent feature within the recently revamped museum. Marie is the sister of the late Jim Gallagher who was shot on a bus at the junction of the of the Fort George army barracks on the Strand road in Derry six days after his release from prison in 1976. In this case the soldier responsible later served a prison sentence in of 2 ½ years in Layhill open prison after being convicted of manslaughter. Despite having some justice after Jim’s murder Marie’s son Brian Boyle organised a recent protest at the museum in solidarity with victims who have not yet received justice.

I am aware that a museum will strive to tell the whole story of the period they represent. However, there is a fine line between historical accuracy and revisionism. The MOFD may argue that the display in question accurately reflects all those who lost their lives during the period known as Free Derry but can they state categorically that none of the state forces listed were involved in the brutalisation and murder of innocent civilians anywhere in the North? This is a valid question when you consider the many still seeking justice for crimes committed by the state here, including those murdered on Bloody Sunday some of whom were gunned down at what is now the front entrance of the MOFD.

As we consider this we must keep in mind that many issues from the Free Derry period are not just a snapshot of the past resigned to being a museum exhibit, these issues remain current and for some are as raw today as they were four and a half decades ago.
Furthermore, placing state forces in the same display as people from the community who lost their lives during that period would seem to be an attempt to give the impression of a level playing field. There has not, will not and will never be a level playing field when it comes to the British state protecting itself and the actions of its agents.  As such the museum should not directly or indirectly support this fallacy under the guise of historical or factual accuracy. Particularly a museum claiming to be about ‘our future together as much as it is about the past’.

In their justification of this display the MOFD released the following in a statement: We believe that it is important that we list all of those killed in this period, not only because it is historically accurate but also because, unlike others who would align themselves with the DUP, TUV and British government, we do not believe in any sort of hierarchy of victims.
Whether Museum Staff or the Bloody Sunday Trust choose to believe in a hierarchy of victims or not there is a hierarchy and those at the top of the pile are state agents who stand to be protected through legislation, through British Courts and when all else fails you can be sure the age-old cloak of secrecy known as the national security card will be played.

Whilst I do not subscribe to many of the outlandish conspiracy theories I have read on this issue there does seem to be a degree of normalisation at play here. This was also clear from plans discussed in 2013 to include a memorial garden in the museum. A memorial garden which would include British soldiers, something confirmed by the Museum Manager at a meeting held in the Bogside on July 25th, 2015. Despite denials following this disclosure references to this plan were found in documents obtained under Freedom of Information Legislation.

As a ‘museum of the people’ I would urge the Bloody Sunday Trust to find a solution suitable to all. As plans are underway at Whitehall to whitewash the past through a state protected, time-limited and tokenistic process, victims now more than ever need to be united on issues that will not simply require cool heads and compromise, there needs to be an understanding that there should be more that unites victims of state violence than divides them, unless of course revisionism and the rewriting of history are considered acceptable.

*Note to supporters of normalisation, you cannot normalise an abnormal situation.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Full Circle (Community Crisis Intervention Service)

It’s odd at times how things come back to the beginning. When I sat down to put this piece together I came to think about my reason for starting the Diary of a Derry Mother blog. My first article published on Jan 12th, 2014 came about because of the anger and frustration I felt over Foyle Search & Rescue & HURT being denied funding for a crisis intervention centre in the city. Funding denied by a politically weighted steering group, but more on that later. 

If you’ve been following any of my blogs you may recall that in my previous article I highlighted the ongoing scenario around a proposed Community Crisis Intervention Service for the city. This article stemmed from attending a meeting of Derry and Strabane District Council’s Health and Community Committee on Thursday 7th July. During the course of this meeting attendees witnessed relevant questions relating to the establishment of a Community Crisis Intervention Service raised by SDLP and Independent Councillors totally disregarded by Council Officers involved in discussions around the proposed service.

At this meeting, it was agreed that Council would initiate an open procurement process to advance the establishment of a Community Crisis Intervention Service in the city. This meeting raised a number of questions, primarily, will this proposed service be sufficiently run on the funds secured? This in line with the need identified by Council via an initial scoping exercise and through the community planning process which found this service to be a ‘priority need.’

In my last blog, I listed quite a few questions. These questions and more were later sent to the following people: Karen McFarland Director of Council’s Health and Community Department. Elisha McCallion MP, a member of the Addiction Task-Force, the Community Crisis Intervention Service working group and subsequent Project Team. I also wrote to Martin Connolly, member of the Addiction Taskforce, Community Crisis Intervention Service working group and Project Team, and Maeve McLaughlin former Sinn Fein MLA and Chair of Stormont Health Committee and Addiction Taskforce member.  

To date the only ‘actual’ response I have received has been from Martin Connolly who advised that I contact the statutory agencies for the answers I required. This was despite his membership in the groups listed above.  Martin also admitted that his vision of the project has ‘not progressed to a successful conclusion.’  I did receive an electronic auto response acknowledgement from Elisha McCallion’s office but no answers to the questions and to date no acknowledgement or response from either Council’s Health and Community Department or Maeve McLaughlin.

After the meeting on July 7th there was a sense of frustration from those attending and local campaigners, however thanks to the efforts of Crisis Intervention Services campaigner Monica McClements I have been able to piece together a picture of some of what is happening.

In a question posed I asked, What is the actual nature of this proposed service and what is considered low threshold in this case?’
In the absence of an answer from Council or the others I put the questions to I have been able to establish that on Thursday April 7th, 2016 Council Officer Michael Gallagher who had been tasked by Council to draw up a related business plan advised the Crisis Intervention Service Working Group that the service would cost in the region of £300,000-400,000. Here he also suggested that consideration be given to a pilot service that would minimise the cost yet deliver an adequate service. This cost was eventually set at £80,000 and now sits at £50,000. £40,000 from Council and £10,000 from the Western Health and Social Care Trust. Now as you read this article I’d like you to bear that £40,000 from Council figure in mind the relevance of this will be explained further down.

On April 18th, 2016 the Crisis Intervention Service Working Group discussed a proposed model of what the weekend CCIS would look like. 

Following this at a meeting on December 16th, 2016 the following was discussed in relation to the business case (financial figures). 

At the same meeting, the possibility of the Addiction Task Force becoming the project board and overseeing the delivery and evaluation of the initial Community Crisis Intervention Pilot Service was discussed. This raises a further question for me, because on May 12th 2015 in the course of a Stormont debate Sinn Fein’s Maeve McLaughlin stated “Over the last year, Sinn Féin has established an Addiction Task Force in the city”. So, the question I have is, with this task-force having been established by Sinn Fein, could the Addiction Task-Force potentially overseeing the pilot service and evaluation have implications for council in terms of political neutrality? This of course would depend on the current membership of the addiction task force board, however I feel the undue influence of a singular political party does need to be addressed in as much that it did when the SIF steering group denied funding for a crisis intervention service 3.5 years ago.

What is a matter of major concern is, that the envisaged pilot service has gone from a proposed time-span of 18 months as discussed on February 7th 2017, to a 12 month period suggested at a meeting on April 14th 2017 and has now been reduced to a six month period. I’m hoping someone can explain the rationale behind cutting this pilot service by one year, but then again getting any substantive information on this has proven difficult.

Another line of questioning put forward related to the evaluation of the pilot service.  ‘Has the University (Ulster University) undertaken to carry out this evaluation free of charge?’ If not, what money has been allocated for this? Or will this expenditure come from the current £50,000 funding budget?

Since then, the information obtained by Monica McClements shows that Professor Siobhan O’Neill from the University of Ulster has secured the funding for the evaluation. So why council officers refused to answer this when asked by Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly at the last meeting is beyond me. As let’s face it it’s hardly a matter of national security.

I also asked ‘How will this service be any different to what is currently on offer? With Foyle Search and Rescue currently offering a Community Crisis Intervention Suicide Prevention Programme.’
Having read the documentation it is very clear that Foyle Search and Rescue in conjunction with HURT will be playing a pivotal role within the Community Crisis Intervention project as out of the agencies invited to give a presentation to Council follow up discussions have centred around Hurt and Foyle Search and Rescue’s business plan proposal. So, if what both organisations have to offer is the closest to the Council’s vision of what this service should be I would ask that outside of the counselling aspect from HURT how will this service be any different from what is currently on offer? And again, what is different from what Foyle Search and Rescue and HURT proposed a number of years ago, to what is being proposed now? Time will tell!

And now for a further question, on March 29th, 2017 the Community Crisis Intervention Service working group proposed that Derry City and Strabane District Council manage the CCIS contract as part of the community planning project. Council official Seamus Donaghey agreed to ‘confirm any risks and liability associated.’  Does this mean that on the basis of Mr Donaghey’s findings Council will manage this contract? Of course I'll not be holding my breath waiting for an answer.

Now if you cast your mind back to the start of this blog I asked you to keep in
Lord Rana
mind the £40,000 figure. In the run up to the City of Culture £80,675.30 was spent on clearing the former Tillie & Henderson factory site at the end of the Craigavon bridge via funds from Council and the DOE. What must be noted is this site was owned by the Multi-millionaire hotel owner Lord Rana, a man whose pockets were surely deep enough for him to clean up his own mess. Yet today the best our ‘Super’ Council can muster for a service described as a priority need and hoped to keep people safe is £40,000 which says it all really.

As explained in my previous blog, I am supportive of this project but believe that things must be done right if this service is to prove beneficial both in the short and long-term. I would go further and clarify that I have the utmost respect for Foyle Search and Rescue and HURT who it would seem from the documentation I have read to be the preferred service providers. In fact, as stated above these organisations were the inspiration behind the setting up of this blog with my first entry an article on how Foyle Search and Rescue in conjunction with HURT were refused £220,000 from the Social Investment fund to establish a facility for people found in crisis at the River Foyle. Had this money have been allocated from the much criticised OFMDFM £80 million slush fund in 2014 then we wouldn’t be sitting here today 19 years on from the Good Friday Agreement reliant on the scrapings of the local government money pot to help save lives.

As the Stormont Assembly continues fail with undeniable dysfunctional grace, legacy issues remain one of the key stumbling blocks. Now whether it’s a case of the orange or green legacy is not something I am privy to, but what I do know is in a report published by the Victims and Survivors Service in 2015 levels of mental illness identified in other post-conflict zones have been lower than in the north. This suggests additional issues may be affecting the rates in the north of Ireland. The report states; “that given the high prevalence and economic impact of mental health problems, it is important to understand other factors and how they interact with conflict exposure to effect mental health”. 

The people of this region were failed in 2014 by the refusal to fund a crisis intervention service and sadly there have been lives lost in those intervening years that may have not been had additional resources such as this proposed service been available.  I just hope in 2017 that a proper Crisis Intervention Service is established, resourced and managed properly and is not just some tokenistic form of appeasement.

The bottom line is that if it’s not done right an opportunity to prevent unnecessary loss of life may be missed.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Crisis Service in Crisis?

In April 2016 Derry and Strabane District Council announced their intention to put together a business case for a Crisis Intervention Centre in Derry. This followed an initial scoping exercise which determined the need for this type of service in the city. The need was further consolidated via the Community Planning Health and Well-being Thematic Group as part of the City’s One Plan which identified a Community Crisis Intervention Service’ (CCIS) within the Council area as a priority need.’

If implemented and run properly this service would be a vital resource for the City as Derry is known to have one of, if not the highest suicide rates in the North. What further compounds this, is the impact of many of the social and economic determinants which influence poor mental health, such as high unemployment, poverty, poor housing and high deprivation. So ideally as well as having a service here to support those in crisis the underlying factors that influence mental health & wellbeing need to be included somewhere in the equation.

The proposed Crisis Intervention Service has recently been the subject of some public discussion. However, this pales in comparison to the attention the issue received in advance of the last Assembly Election. Here Sinn Fein’s MLA candidate Elisha McCallion (MP) announced that the service was weeks away from being opened outside of ‘dotting ‘I’s’ and crossing a few ‘t’s.’ As you would expect, this announcement was widely welcomed despite being quickly disputed by Independent Councillor Warren Robinson who through a response from council officials discovered that the proposed service was still at the discussion stage.

To seek further clarity on the matter, a few months ago  local campaigner for addiction / crisis intervention services Monica McClements and I met with two members of the North-West Addiction Task Force, a group which has worked closely with Council on this project. These members stated that a Community Crisis Intervention Service would be operational by this summer and that the initial pilot service would run for a period of 12-18 months.

So where am I going with this?

Today members of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Health and Community Committee were asked to approve the initiation of an ‘open procurement process for a low threshold responsive Community Crisis Intervention Service (CCIS) over a six-month period.’ This with a budget of £50,000. £40,000 from Council and £10,000 from the Western Health and Social Care Trust. At this meeting Councillor Brian Tierney proposed that the subject be brought out of ‘confidential council business' and into the public arena, this proposal was supported by his SDLP colleague Councillor Shauna Cusack. Here many councilors raised genuine concerns. Despite this, few substantive answers were provided. 

In absence of answers from Council here’s what we do know. The Community Crisis Intervention Service is set to provide:

‘A timely non-clinical community response to individuals experiencing social, emotional or situational crisis over the weekend period. It is envisaged that this service will be provided within a neutral venue with fair and equitable access.
It will have a prominent community aspect and individuals of all ages can be brought to this central facility where they can be supported, receive comfort and individual staff will focus on de-escalation, risk assessment, stabilisation, reconnection e.g. with family/support or onward referral to statutory services as appropriate. Whilst this service is not perceived to be a service exclusively for those experiencing harmful alcohol and drug misuse it is anticipated that the protocols will reflect the safe and appropriate management of individuals who are under the influence and do not require immediate medical intervention.’

In theory, this looks promising, but a few things jump out at me, the first being the six-month pilot service period which falls short of the expected 12-18 months. Another issue for me is the £50,000 budget. Even a quick calculation of this figure against potential running costs doesn’t seem right. Now for the sake of expediency and counting each month as 4 weeks, if this service is to run over a 48-hour period each week over six months this service will be expected to run on a budget of £43.40 per hour. And we need to bear in mind this figure needs to cover staff costs, running costs, staff training costs (to meet NISCC standards) admin, IT and public liability insurance, and these are just a few of the things which come to mind.

According to the proposal The proposed service would be subject to on-going evaluation, which the Ulster University, Magee has agreed to undertake. The pilot will facilitate further development and evaluation of any CCIS delivery model should more long-term procurement of a service be required subject to the evaluation outcome being positive.’  They haven’t said how this evaluation would be paid for, and even today at the Council meeting council officers refused to answer this.

In the event of a positive evaluation outcome the various agencies set to benefit from the service (according to the Council document) such as the PSNI and Emergency Services will ‘be required to commit funding on the basis of a co- design Community Plan approach should the initial evaluation determine an extension of or development of a long-term service is required’. My question here is has anyone within Council confirmed that these agencies will be happy to, or have the budget to commit funding, or has whoever drafted this document on behalf of Council just decided that this will be a requirement? To take this a step further, if the agencies who are set to benefit from this service see the merit from the outset, then why have they not contributed in advance to the running costs?

I just want to make it clear that I am fully supportive of a Crisis Intervention Service but like many others across this city & beyond I want to make sure it’s done right, this is too serious and too sensitive an issue to play games with.

In the absence of clarity I would take this opportunity to ask the following questions:

Has work on this Co-design Community Plan started?

How can you evaluate something properly over a period of 6 months when it takes time for any new service to bed in?

What is the actual nature of the service and what is considered low threshold in this case?

Will this service prove sufficient in terms of the need identified? This with the initial scoping exercise by council following on from a high-profile campaign for a Detox Facility.

Has this service been modeled on evidence based practice?

How will the success of this project be measured, what are the Key Performance Indicators?

How will this service be any different to what is currently on offer?

Foyle Search and Rescue offer a Community Crisis Intervention Suicide Prevention Programme. As such, how will this service differ?

Has the University (Ulster University) undertaken to carry out this evaluation free of charge? If not, what money has been allocated for this? Or will this expenditure come from the current £50,000 funding budget?

Has consideration been given to how operating on a relatively small budget could have an adverse effect on the quality of service and the final evaluation?

Essentially, will £50,000 cover sufficient levels of staffing and additional running costs? If so please provide a breakdown in line with Council’s business plan.

As part of the overall initiative will Council place an added focus on courses such as Safe Talk, Mental Health First Aid and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASSIST) for the wider North-West community? This to build on the excellent work carried out by the Derry Healthy Cities CLEAR Project

From a personal point of view, with a small budget and a lot hinging on a positive final evaluation after six months my concern is that any chance of a sufficient long-term sustainable service will be reduced.

In the past, I have asked related questions of council only to be told that my questions would need to be answered by the preferred service provider, which is a nonsense, with council having a lead role in this project.

I would now call on Derry and Strabane District Council, the North-West Addiction Task Force and the local MP Elisha McCallion who has worked on this ‘tooth and nail’ to provide answers.