Over the coming weeks we will be inundated with information on the success of the Good Friday Agreement on this the 20th anniversary. As was pointed out by one man yesterday these reports will not be delivered from Stormont which remains largely empty or working class areas but from expensive venues in the suburbs. Well they couldn’t have the truth getting in the way of the propaganda and stage management now could they?
At this point it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the efforts of some of the architects behind the Good Friday Agreement, you know war criminals like Tony Blair and proponents of state sanctioned execution such as Bill Clinton. Then on a local level you had the genuine people like John Hume, a man I have huge respect for and Ian Paisley's former dance partner David Trimble, both of whom ultimately sacrificed their parties in the name of peace. Then there is Sinn Fein. Whatever your thoughts on Sinn Fein supporting this agreement left them with the difficult task of abandoning many of the principles they espoused something they still clearly struggle with accepting today. And as is typical of the DUP, well they said No!
In 1998 I voted for the Good Friday Agreement, aware of the imperfections but hopeful that things would at the very least improve. Being pregnant at the time I didn’t want my children to grow up in the same environment that I did. And, if I’m honest I think what further attracted me to the yes vote, outside of my hopefulness and gullibility, was the fact that my husband was vehemently opposed, something he remains quick to remind me of.
Outside of the cheesy cliched television advertisements I didn’t pay particular attention to the Good Friday Agreement campaign and I certainly didn’t read the small print which is always advisable. In hindsight, had I have taken the time to read through the literature before voting I certainly wouldn’t have voted yes. This as the agreement promised all things to all men or rather the political representatives did. Unionists promised the party faithful a secure union with Britain whilst nationalists and republicans sold the agreement on the basis of equality, prosperity and as a stepping stone to a united Ireland. A monumental con-job if ever there was one!
Granted, some things are better than they were when you consider the cessation of Provisional IRA attacks on the British State after 40 years and how the British Army presence is today less visible on our streets, with British Troops still in barracks most of the time. However, a close inspection of what passes for Stormont governance here can only be compared to the emperor’s new clothes and Nero fiddling as Rome burned, with fiddling and burning being the optimum words.
Twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement we await the peace dividend, we still have peace walls, unfulfilled promises, high unemployment, increasing poverty, a lack of services and suicide has claimed more lives in twenty years than the conflict did in forty. Yet despite this the only services which seem to be increasing are the local food banks and welfare rights services many of which are offered on a voluntary basis and by people whose sole focus is on helping the most vulnerable in their community. People who in my opinion are all too often undervalued yet living proof that not all superheroes wear capes.
There has always been the need for welfare rights assistance in the North which has never really been the land of opportunity but ask yourselves how many foodbanks did we have before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement? And how many school breakfast clubs did we have? In many cases these clubs provide a stop gap for children who otherwise wouldn’t have breakfast. And when you consider this keep in mind that the last Stormont assembly failed to bring forward an anti-poverty strategy which should give you an indication of where their priorities lie. But then some of these same parties through the Fresh Start Agreement in 2015 gave the Tories devolved welfare power to implement welfare reform so I shouldn’t really be surprised. But hey, sure isn’t it better than it was? The question is, better for whom?
Moving on from the bread and butter issues the Good Friday Agreement also promised measures compatible with a normal and peaceful society. I took this promise to be specifically in reference to the justice system and the erasing of the oppressive measures of the past. Measures such as internment, the Diplock non-jury courts and the degradation of prisoners.
The degradation of prisoners continues today with the prisons being used as dumping grounds for people who require medical treatment which is not available and via the continued ill treatment of political prisoners. With this we still have Diplock courts, closed courts and internment, as is evident in the ongoing incarceration of Tony Taylor who two years on remains in prison with neither charge nor trial on the word of MI5 who were given supremacy over policing in the north during the Weston Park Agreement and who it would seem run the show. Measures compatible with a normal and peaceful society?
The Good Friday agreement further promised an era in which justice would be done and be seen to be done which brings me to my next points having touched on the case of Tony Taylor above:
Yesterday two press conferences took place in the north. One was broadcast on mainstream media and the other on social media. The first consisted of the members and leaders of proscribed loyalist organisations promising an end to criminal activity, only in Norn Iron! Despite some participants openly admitting to their support, membership and leadership roles within these illegal organisations no arrests were made even though the PSNI Chief Constable later commented on the issues I have just touched on.
In contrast, the political party Saoradh held a press conference which was broadcast on social media to highlight the unfairness of charges imposed upon several of their members for their perceived role in organising the recent Easter Commemoration in Derry.
During this interview the spokesperson highlighted the impossible and draconian bail conditions that their members were subject to, measures which included being banned from their office in Chamberlain Street, from interacting with each other and a limit being placed on the number of adults outside of their family circle they could engage with. I couldn’t help but wonder if the imposed limit on engagement applied to those who practice their religious faith during which they would be in the company of more than the specified number of people, going to the shop or attending the doctor’s surgery to which the same would apply. This is possibly why many of the conditions were lifted today and the detainees granted bail with a £500 fine, after being arrested in a very heavy handed fashion yesterday following the press conference.
Now to address another incident directly linked to the promise of justice being done and being seen to be done which is the incident involving Councillor Kevin Campbell’s car which was set alight in the early hours of Sunday morning in the driveway of his Creggan home. From the outset I would like to make it clear that I oppose criminal damage and that we are plagued with the same issues in our area where cars are burned on a regular basis as local members of Sinn Fein can confirm. I also have had personal experience of this when a similar attempt was made on our car causing extensive damage to one side of the vehicle. Therefore, I know how this feels and can totally sympathise with the Campbell family on that basis.
However, what I could not comprehend was the levelling of baseless accusations following the incident by those quick to erect Kangaroo Courts and with some Sinn Fein members taking the law into their own hands by arriving mob handed at the home of the partner of the man accused who was later confronted by Kevin himself. Whilst I accept Kevin’s anger in this matter, what I don’t understand is why Kevin as an elected representative and a proud supporter of policing and justice didn’t call the PSNI instead of running around Creggan in the early hours of the morning with his mates like Keystone Kops levelling accusations and fuelling tensions in an area already fraught with tension.
When our car was burned I had an idea who was behind it, but as Kevin should maybe consider, knowing, thinking you know and proving are three different things. Without proof, at best what you are left with is supposition which even within the Kangaroo Court system only goes so far before being recognised as felon setting and in this case political point scoring and grandstanding.
On now to another justice issue. With Sinn Fein representatives quite vocal at the minute maybe they can explain why their party with others who were previously opposed to legacy elements of the Stormont House Agreement (2014) after the leaking of related draft clauses in 2015 are now promoting the need for their implementation. What has changed?
· Will the British Secretary of State no longer have a veto over information disclosure with regard to troubles related killings?
· Will those who served in state agencies during the troubles period no longer qualify for position within the Historical Investigations Unit?
· Will the HIU director now be hired and if necessary fired independently of the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers?
· Will the HIU lifespan now exceed the five year timeframe previously laid down?
· And will the high number of inquests run independently of the HIU?
I won’t hold my breath waiting for answers but if you have them then I would prefer you email them to me instead of visiting me after the antics of your party comrades in the early hours of Sunday morning.
As you can see from the above very little has changed for the better in the north since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement unless you regard window dressing and a political shambles as change and progress. And with each deal that follows in a bid to ‘restore the institutions’ we can be sure of one thing and that is that the British state will remain the main beneficiary of each agreement.
Do you wish it could be like this all the time?