Friday, 17 March 2017

In the Aftermath

Thanks to Knox and Riddell

A few weeks ago I made the decision to avoid blogging as with the anger I was feeling over the political situation here there was a strong chance that I could have ended up being arrested and charged under malicious communications legislation. As such, I thought it best to avoid the keyboard, that was until this morning when I was overcome by a strong need to clear my throat, metaphorically speaking of course.

The last Stormont election which took place a fortnight ago has resulted in, surprise surprise, further talks at Stormont. If these talks fail in that a resolution cannot be reached in respect of the 'playing chicken' stalemate stemming from the 'cash for ash' scandal then we could potentially face another election in six weeks, well according to the British Secretary of State for the north James Brokenshire. But between you & me I don't take him too seriously, does anyone? He's got one of them wee smug bakes that irritates.

Despite this, at this juncture I feel compelled to remind Mr Brokenshire of the very poignant words of Albert Einstein who believed that 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result' was a sign of insanity, but then the same could be said to some of the electorate here!

Mr Brokenshire also tells us of the need for the truth in respect of the troubles yet fails to mention how he plans to use the national security card to conceal the full extent of the British state's role in the conflict. Well, outside of the 10% of deaths they do claim, a figure which doesn't include deaths that the state had prior knowledge of, turned a blind eye to or played an indirect role in through their agents and security services, you know the type, the 'Stakeknives' and similar ilk.

Following the election Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill called for the implementation of legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement. This agreement later made redundant by the introduction of the Fresh Start Agreement on November 17th 2015 consisted of proposals which were quickly shelved when it was exposed that they included a five year plan to draw a line under the past, rewrite the past and cover the States' role in the conflict via the national security card.

Mechanisms proposed under the Stormont House Agreement:

The Historical Investigations Unit was the proposed investigatory body to deal with troubles related cases. This body was to have a lifespan of five years. Ideally this would have been a mechanism 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. In addition to this, the 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. Moreover, within the previous proposals, the First and Deputy First Minsters were set to hold the power to resign or retire the HIU director. Independent? I think not! Do you?

The Independent Commission for Information Retrieval was to provide families with answers over the deaths of their loved ones, yet those going forward in the hope of getting answers would receive limited information in line with requirements under article two of the European Convention. Contributors to this process would do so on the understanding that their information would not be admissible in Civil, Criminal and Coronial proceedings. Leaving contributors to this process immune from prosecution unless the same evidence was to be disclosed elsewhere.

The Oral History Archive was said to provide people the opportunity to tell their story either presently or to have it released at a time of their choosing. Those tasked with writing these accounts were to be trained on how to record the stories.

The Implementation and Reconciliation Group was later removed despite being an integral element of the proposals. The IRG proved quite contentious when it was rumored to be the mop which would clean up the remainder of issues outstanding after a five year period. With the IRG quickly sidelined at that point, plans are now underway in Whitehall to legislate to limit troubles related inquests to five years and ensure that soldiers over a certain age will remain immune from legal challenge.

Whilst there's no disputing the need to deal with the past unless things change dramatically from last time round then I think it's fair to say that with the above proposals in conjunction with the current plans in Whitehall then we can expect a process which is not independent, one-sided with the truth (national security card) and selective in the administration of justice. And how anyone can sell these proposals as anything different simply beggars belief. And whilst dealing with the past, the ongoing legacy impacting through inter-generational trauma also needs addressed. As previously highlighted in my blogs the levels of mental illness identified in other post-conflict zones have been less than here in the North. So unless dealing with the past means creating a positive future for people then I'd suggest they need to go back to the drawing board.

With the above issues at the forefront of the latest crisis agenda we are just weeks away from cuts to child tax credits. These cuts will see the family element of CTC removed for new claimants. The basic family element of CTC currently stands at an annual rate of £545. Added to this is the new plan to support two children with a third born after April 2017 to be denied financial support a move which is not only discriminatory but gives a whole new meaning to taking food from the mouths of the most vulnerable in our society.

Still the silence of the politicians remains deafening with the exception of Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson who has recently shown signs of hysteria over Brexit during a meeting in Brussels. Whilst I share Martina Anderson's frustration I would take this opportunity to remind her on how the Brexit outcome was reached via a democratic referendum. This is more than can be said for welfare reform (welfare budgetary cuts) which is being thrust upon people who were assured it would be opposed at all costs.

I have to say what I thought was nearly as funny as Martina's wee rant to a big empty room was DUP MP Gavin Robinson's comments in which he described Anderson's behaviour as 'belligerent' adding... 'It's the Good Friday Agreement that sets the terms for the future of Northern Ireland.' Now considering Gavin's party opposed the GFA and never actually signed up to the agreement does anyone else smell a wee waft of hypocrisy?

Now back to benefit cuts. Some Stormont party supporters would argue that the parties responsible had little choice whereas I say they took the easy way out and at a time they were claiming to want responsibility over monetary matters. Realistically, how can you argue for added responsibility when you shirk and hand back responsibility? The answer is with great difficulty! Meanwhile the ordinary people struggling to make ends meet are set to struggle further as a consequence of yet more deals beyond reason and doubt.

In June last year the Disability Living Allowance which has a high number of claimants in the north was replaced with the Personal Independence Payment. This change immediately applied to new claimants and those between the ages of 16-64 subject to review.

Other claimants with indefinite or lifetime DLA awards will be randomly selected for assessment and invited to claim PIP. This payment is a lot more difficult to obtain not least by the fact that it consists of two rates as opposed to the three under DLA and with the test for eligibility being a lot more stringent.

There are also plans to remove PIP entitlement from those suffering from mental ill health and anxiety with the argument being that people with mental illness whose mobility is severely impacted by their condition, can't be considered in the same context as those with a physical disability, personally I've never heard such utter tripe, but I suppose nothing surprises me.

In the north those who lose the benefit under the Personal Independence Payment scheme may qualify for a supplementary payment at a reduced rate for one year. After that who knows how they will manage?

Mitigation is also available with the Bedroom Tax which will come into force in 2020 providing the scheduled review in 2018 is successful. When the bedroom tax is introduced families with an extra bedroom under the current criteria will have to pay for this from their benefit or move to a smaller dwelling which may not always be possible due to the shortage of social housing in this city and beyond. So potentially, we could see people being penalised for a lack of social build.

What angers me in this is some people continue to sell/view the period of mitigation as a bonus. Well I don't, this should not be happening. In all honesty how do you address poverty with a benefits system that does not provide adequately and penalises the poorest? The answer is you can't.

In a letter published in the Independent doctors from Britain’s leading mental health organisations said that an urgent review of benefit sanctions was needed due to the rising rates of mental health problems as a consequence. What must be noted is, the sanctions being imposed do not prove cost effective nor do they improve the chances of people finding employment. And what people need to keep in mind is how many decent jobs are out there that will move people out of the benefits trap and into a position beyond just about managing?

One of the words often bandied about here in the North is equality, and the recent election campaign saw the 'e' word come up quite a lot in reference to a range of inequalities. Surprisingly, what wasn't mentioned was a report recently released by the Samaritans entitled 'Dying from Inequality'. This is a report into socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour. Whilst no study has proven that poverty causes suicide the report complied by the Samaritans highlighted how suicide is 2 and 3 times more common in the most deprived areas than in the more affluent. With numerous reports showing a link between unemployment and suicide, these cannot be dismissed, neither can the suicide rate increase which married up with the 2008 financial crisis. Yet despite the suicide rate continuing to increase, many of the contributing factors remain unchallenged.

In the aftermath of a peace process, we're subjected to rants to empty halls in Europe, to a so called Government that the term dysfunctional couldn't even begin describe, the health service is in crisis, the education system is in crisis, and Arlene's ineptitude has the potential to saddle us with an additional £500 million debt. 

Furthermore, dealing with the past shouldn't just mean a dirty cover up it should mean cherishing all the children of the nation equally, past, present & future. Nero may have fiddled as Rome burned, but as the RHI scandal continues to smolder it's not just cash going up in smoke, it's people's hopes and aspirations.

The peace process is often compared for some reason to South Africa, maybe instead of trying to draw a comparison between here and South Africa those elected to public office should take inspiration from one of the architects of the south African peace process Nelson Mandela who said;

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right. The right to dignity and a decent life.”

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