A peaceful and shared society: is it too much to hope for?

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I remember exactly where I was the morning after loyalist paramilitaries declared a ceasefire in October 1994. I was at a conference for sixth-formers from across the island of Ireland held at Campbell College in East Belfast. The conference was entitled, “Ireland: the next hundred years”. When it was being planned no-one could have known that it would be held the morning after the loyalist ceasefire. It changed everything.

Today, nineteen years and one month on, we are meant to be in a peaceful Northern Ireland. But are we?

The chairman of the Police Federation has said that he believes that one of the loyalist paramilitary groupings is no longer keeping its ceasefire. Terry Spence said: 

“The UVF have been engaged in murder, attempted murder of civilians, attempted murder of police officers, they’ve been engaged in orchestrating violence on our streets, and it’s very clear to me that there engaged in an array of mafia-style activities.”

This morning we heard on the news about an attack on a fifteen-year-old in Coleraine, County Londonderry. The boy was shot in both legs by a gang of masked men, one of whom was armed with a baseball bat as well.

Over the weekend, the Mayor of North Down, Cllr Andrew Muir of the Alliance Party expressed concern about a poster from paramilitary organisations stating that they will severely deal with perpetrators of crimes.

Is this the best we can hope for?

I know that this is not the best that we can have in Northern Ireland. Those who are attempting to “police” their own areas by shooting fifteen-year-olds, by threatening posters, are not the guardians of the peace that they seem to think they are. The real guardians of the peace are the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

It is they who have been arresting those behind the riots and disorder that Northern Ireland has seen in the last 12 months. Today, they released images of individuals that they want to speak to, Detective Superintendant Sean Wright, the Senior Investigating Officer explained,

“In the past 12 months, police officers have dealt with a number of episodes of serious disorder on the streets of Northern Ireland. We have been clear from the outset that there would be consequences for individuals who seek to engage in illegal activity and we have been carrying out a thorough investigation to identify those involved and make them amenable for their actions.

I call on anyone with any information about these images and all other crimes including the shooting in Coleraine to get in touch with the PSNI. It is only by doing that those who act in a criminal way will feel the  force of the law. And what is important is that it is done in a fair, normal and legal manner. That is by the police, the prosecution service and the courts. It is not up to some paramilitary thug to decide what is and is not acceptable.

Perhaps, each of us in our own communities needs to stand up and tell the bully boys that want to drag Northern Ireland backwards that we do not want it. There may be a lot more work to be done to bring our wee country to the real peaceful and shared society that we all want, but if we don’t try this, will those up at Stormont really help?

 

Is St Patrick to be expunged from the Union Flag?

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Seems that St Patrick is to be expunged from the Union Flag…

Seems that St Patrick is to be expunged from the Union Flag…

Now any observer of flags in Northern Ireland will tell you that there are many variations in the flags that are seen around the Province. But this one, first seen by me on a Facebook page, is a new one even for me.

It is placed on a page somewhat dedicated to so-called Loyalism that appears to have sprung up following the decision by Belfast City Council to fly the Union Flag from City Hall on the designated Flag-flying Days. Most of these pages want to see the Union Flag replaced, that is hoisted once more on City Hall, not replaced by a new design such as the one above.

It now appears that anything Irish is not wanted in the Union Flag – so St Patrick’s Cross has been removed, and the Six-Pointed Star and Red Right Hand of Northern Ireland, ensigned by a Royal Crown placed in the centre. Whilst I agree that it does seem an anomaly that when most of the Kingdom of Ireland left the United Kingdom, St Patrick’s cross remained wholly in the Union Flag, I am not convinced that this Flag will bring any more loyalty to the UK as left.

What does anyone think?

Originally published on Gyronny Herald.

The politics of football

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Just when you hear that the DUP First Minister is attending GAA games and talking about inclusion they go and mess up understanding of ‘the other’ community once again.

The field of play is the football field, ironically as Martin McGuinness is looking to attend a football match at Windsor Park. But of course it all stems back to the Belfast Agreement that allows anyone on the Irish islands to identify as a British and/or Irish Subject/Citizen. Because of that until a footballer declares a senior level he can play for either Northern Ireland or Ireland through the junior levels and then change allegiance. The net gains are the Irish set up at present.

Nigel Dodds and the DUP want to close this loophole in adults making the decision as to which country to declare for. Often schoolboys decide for the one where they are currently living as it is easier when it comes to travelling.

This is nothing new I remember watching a young Alan Kernaghan play at schoolboy level for Northern Ireland down the road at Clandeboye Park, to later have the Ireland full international play some of his last competitive games as player/assistant manager at Livingston.

Some of our other sports Rugby, Cricket, even bowls compete at an all-Ireland level. A notable exception who came the other way is Barry McGuigan who while from Clones, boxed for Northern Ireland in the 1978 Commonwealth Games, but Ireland in the 1980 Olympics, only to take British Citizenship so he could box for British titles when he turned pro.

There is still a flaw in Dodd’s reasoning and that is that FIFA will still operate the Grandparent rule by which if one of your grandparents were born in a FIFA affiliated member you can decide to play for that one. Many people in Northern Ireland have some connection with the rest of the island. Indeed I’m one such person who when I was an adult considered using that rule when it came to my registration with the IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation). With a grandmother born in Donegal I could have competed for the Irish team which at the time would have been easier than the very competitive GB&NI team.

However, the fact that Dodds wants to stop sportspeople deciding when they reach adulthood which nation to represent is in contravention of their rights as laid out in the Belfast Agreement. It is a decision that has been upheld by the Court of Arbitration in Sport. But what is most certainly is, however, is yet another example of the DUP talking about understanding of ‘other communities’ yet falling short when they want something different that the DUP’s unionist ideals.

Northern Ireland asks FCC

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Greater Manchester Police

Are GMP to be trusted with all our details? Image via Wikipedia

In response to the security arrangements announced recently by the Federal Conference Committee of the Liberal Democrats, and following consultation with the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats Executive, I drafted an email which has been sent to FCC on this issue. It is reproduced below for information.

Dear Andrew,

I write on behalf of the Executive of the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats and those who are voting representatives to Federal Conference.

The security arrangements which have been put upon the Federal Party members by the Federal Conference Committee apparently at the behest of the local constabulary are completely illiberal and against our Party’s constitution. No outside body has the right to prevent our members from attending our meetings.

The Northern Ireland local party has its own particular concerns about these arrangements as there are a number of problems that we have identified, which I believe will not be exhaustive:

  • Details of dual passports (British and Irish) the details of which for the first time ever will be linked. This has particular problems in that many people will have their name in the British one in English and in the Irish one as Gaeilge (in the Irish language), a fact that will be recorded by Greater Manchester Police and held by West Midlands Police and forwarded to ‘any other police forces’. Does this include the FBI?
  • Further to this, whilst we understand that FCC will have final say for conference, should a Northern Ireland member with dual passports be flagged up by an English, Scottish or Welsh constabulary this may go on their permanent record and permanently affect their  travel between constituent parts of the United Kingdom (to and from Great Britain from Northern Ireland). Our Membership Development Officer, Stephen Glenn, before he was 21 had visited five Iron Curtain countries on a British passport and on his first trip to the United States of America spent four hours in immigration explaining the reasons for these visits. Following this he acquired an Irish passport, to which as an Irish citizen he was entitled, to expedite easy immigration to the United States of America on subsequent visits.
  • Does this therefore mean that Northern Ireland representatives may be adversely affected by a security threat to Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom by a dissident republican terrorist grouping?
  • A senior police officer of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has advised one of our local party executive committee that to ask for the details of both Irish and British passports of those who hold both is both racist and discriminatory under the terms of the Belfast Agreement 1998 (an international treaty), to which Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom is a signatory.
  • Should we recruit new members who may, in the past have convictions or even security records held by police, who are now back in the community following the Belfast Agreement 1998, require accreditation at future conferences, these people will more than likely be flagged as a risk by the police. This would therefore mean that their rights as members of our Party would be denied. This is unacceptable.
  • Another problem is that were a constable to try to check our local party representatives’ local party details using the Federal Party website, he would be hard-pressed to find references to our local party on it. As I have outlined previously to Chris Fox, the link at the bottom of the Federal Party website marked ‘N. Ireland’ goes to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland’s website. In addition were anyone to check our local party by using our postcode, it will bring up that it is not there. Also by clicking on Northern Ireland on the map on the ‘In your area’ page, nothing is brought up. As I have said to Chris Fox this is not acceptable when we do have a local party operating in Northern Ireland.

I believe that all of these issues are extremely important not only to our Party itself but to the wider representation of society within politics in general. Is our Party, which is founded to ‘build and safeguard a fair, free and open society’ (Preamble to the Federal Constitution (which I believe is still in force or is that another change that will be forced upon us?)), going to be dictated to by an unelected, unrepresentative police force? I was not aware that the United Kingdom had become a police state.

I look forward to receiving your prompt reply on these crucially important issues.

Yours sincerely,

Michael

Michael Carchrie Campbell
Chair
Liberal Democrats NI