Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Every Vote and Every Voice Counts.

 Ahh folks another election. This time a general election when we go to the polls to vote for who we want to represent us/or not in Westminster. Sure, what else would we be doing this week?

Some would argue that participation in Westminster is a pointless exercise on a small pea in a big pod basis whereas I'm of the opinion that we should be represented everywhere no matter how small, and moreso now with upcoming Brexit negotiations. Whatever your thoughts or position on the European Union the withdrawal of the north will have huge consequences for Ireland, north and south. So for this reason and many others, I believe we need to be represented.

With my position on the need for representation I generally support alternative candidates. I openly supported  Eamonn McCann in the 2010 general election, Darren O'Reilly in the 2014 council election and Dr Anne McCloskey in the 2016 Stormont election. This time will be different but before I go into it let's look at the candidates standing in the Foyle constituency.

First up we have the Alliance candidate John Doherty a law graduate from Foyle. As with previous Alliance candidates in Foyle John seems to be a paper candidate despite the Alliance party having gained ground in the last assembly election. Colm Kavanagh received 1,124 first preference votes in March which was an increase of 886 on Chris McCaw's 238 from the previous assembly election. With the Alliance party candidates in this constituency changing from election to election, i'm starting to wonder if their selection process consists of tickets and a hat from which a candidate/victim is selected. Good luck John.

Next up we have the People Before Profit Candidate Shaun Harkin. No doubt Shaun will be hoping to retain the party vote gained in the last assembly election when Eamonn McCann received 4,760 first preference votes. However, whether Shaun can retain the above vote is debatable with McCann known to secure a huge personal vote and with many voters opting to vote tactically in general elections as Maurice Devenney will tell you.

There was a belief in the last Assembly election that McCann would have secured a huge percentage of the vote Dr Anne McCloskey received in 2016, this didn't happen. The biggest problem that Shaun Harkin faces in this election which is mostly focused on Brexit is his party's lack of consistency on the issue. During the Brexit referendum People Before Profit supported the leave position yet strangely they are now insisting that they had not campaigned for it.

Despite this, in their election literature they are now claiming that they will oppose a Tory Brexit. With the Tories being the dominant force during the referendum the question must be asked, why wait until now to oppose a Tory Brexit? With PBP still supporting our withdrawal from the European Union it seems their current position is nothing more than a play on words.

I find as a voter that consistency helps yet the only thing consistent with People Before Profit is their track record in selecting candidates from the Socialist Workers Party. This with their representatives in the Dail and Stormont all members of the Socialist Workers party as is the case with Eamonn McCann and Shaun Harkin. That aside, Good Luck Shaun.

Next candidate is Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion who topped the poll in the last assembly election. In an election leaflet targeting female voters Elisha is promising to have your views represented in the Dail and in the European Parliament. Now here’s where it goes a bit pear shaped for me. How can this be when she is not elected to either parliament?

In this election Elisha is also promising to be a strong but absent voice in Westminster. With this being the case she may as well stand and shout into the Carnhill tunnel. Sinn Fein have their
Carnhill  Tunnel
abstentionist position re Westminster which they argue on the strength of an ideological standpoint. They also go to great lengths to point out the level of representation in Westminster is minimal and amounts to little use in the grand scheme of Westminster. But with that logic you could argue the same point in relation to their participation in the European Parliament where Sinn Fein are but an even smaller pea in a bigger pod. I believe that no matter how small every voice counts as well as every vote as was shown in the outcome of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone election in 2010 when Michelle Gildernew was elected with a majority of four votes.

I suspect Sinn Fein's stance on Westminster will eventually change as consistency is something Sinn Fein can rarely be accused of unless you regard constant change as consistency. In 2010 former British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Patterson gave Sinn Fein the opportunity to bypass having to swear allegiance to the Queen by coming up with alternative wording to the current pledge. So the opportunity was and is there to represent the people of the north. And I think it’s worth bearing in mind that if Sinn Fein win a seat they still have to represent the people that didn’t vote for them. So effectively in an election were they don’t take their seats if Sinn Fein win the seat they are disenfranchising people who want representation! Good Luck Elisha.

Another local candidate is the DUP’s Gary Middleton. With no Unionist opposition the DUP vote might increase, but then again Unionists may vote strategically for a few reasons. Firstly, the chances of returning a DUP MP for the city are slim at best so they may consider their options. And secondly, the majority of people in this area voted remain in the Brexit referendum. Now given the RHI scandal, the DUP position on equal marriage, the abuse of the petition of concern and their support for the leave campaign I can say with certainty that Gary won’t be getting my vote. But it will be interesting to see if there is a change in voting numbers. If only he could get an endorsement from the Loyalist Communities Council! Good Luck Gary.

My support for credible alternative candidates will not change. However, in this election I will be voting for Mark Durkan of the SDLP. Does this change my position on the SDLP? No it doesn't as I believe them to be lackluster in many areas. But in fairness to them, the SDLP have remained consistent with their positions which is more than can be said for some who seem to change their's with the weather.

On a personal level Mark Durkan has always been very welcoming and attentive to the various issues I raised with him, issues ranging from social justice to human rights. On the victim's issue which came to the fore in 2015 Mark always made time to engage with victims who many times in my company arrived at his office without appointment. In addition to this, he was the only representative to attend a meeting in the City Hotel on the victim’s issue that every Stormont party was invited to send a representative to. Here Mark faced very tough questioning.

Last September I was involved in a project to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.
That day Mark turned up and spent hours on the Guildhall Square in Derry conversing with people of all ages and distributing information on mental health and well-being. Mark & independent Councilor Gary Donnelly were the only elected representatives to turn up on the day. This project proved extremely worthwhile with information on mental health & wellbeing having been distributed to over 1,500 people. On the same day a man found in distress was brought to safety from the river’s edge.

Empty Chair Project

Meanwhile across the water, with the Tories seemingly losing a bit of ground the smaller parties could hold the balance of power. If you think of the Brexit vote, everyone thought it was done deal even the leave campaign. So there is always a chance for the tide to turn as is clear with the recent opinion polls showing Labour to be gaining ground. Should this translate into votes and then seats then the participation of those opposed to Tory cuts and focused on securing the best deal for the north re brexit could prove crucial. And if all else fails surely strong voices, even one, is better than none.

In closing, I have read quite a number of comments on social media from Sinn Fein members and supporters who ask what Mark Durkan has delivered from Westminster. My question to them is have you overlooked the small matter of a defunct but none the less devolved 'government' at Stormont which is tasked with delivery? Because if you want to go comparing delivery success here's an easy way for you to do it. Below are job sections from the Derry Journal, one from May 1999 when the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party made up the majority at Stormont and the other from Friday which will give an indication of the level of delivery in the North West under the two current leading parties.

Of course, there are other factors in this, but the reality is, over the past decade the North West has seen very little in terms of Stormont delivery unlike other places.

1999 Broadsheet Format

2017 Tabloid Size

Need I say more.x

Thursday, 1 June 2017

What Plan?

I have been contacted recently by residents from the Iniscarn and Cromore areas of Creggan. These concerned residents have raised issue with having been kept in the dark over a planned development involving land, a community building and flats situated at 33E Cromore Gardens in Creggan. A development which was said to be at an advanced stage despite the absence of any community engagement or consultation.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive who own the site and contents were believed to be in the process of handing ownership of the above over to An Gaelaras, the director board of An Culturlann. An Gaelaras is an organisation in the North West providing Irish language education, music and cultural activities.

In a business plan relating to the above development the proposal consists of a 'Cultural Cluster' which will be an extension to Culturlann's Irish language and social enterprise project. This plan further includes a range of other projects deemed beneficial to the Creggan community.

But here’s a novel idea, who is better placed to know what will be of benefit to the local community than the residents who live there?

These are the same residents who up until recently knew nothing of this plan until it was uncovered in documents obtained under Freedom of Information Legislation by the Creggan Community Collective who had also expressed an interest in the site.

In the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s Community Cohesion Strategy 2015-2020 the Performance Area Key Impacts outline the following in relation to community planning: 'The need to help local people improve the quality of their lives through participation, consultation and involvement in the decision-making process'. Yet there has been no opportunity for participation,  engagement or consultation around the planned development of the Cromore site. In my opinion, this shows a complete disregard for the residents who should have been the main priority for both the Housing Executive and An Gaelaras.

In point 1.3 of the development business plan which examines promoting equality, tackling poverty and social exclusion a few things caught my attention. The first of which is that the project is welcomed by local community representatives and the Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership who too would seem to have overlooked the small matter of community engagement. Despite this the plan goes on to state that the project will only be successful with the support and active participation of residents. Which begs the question, why have residents been excluded from this process particularly when the success of this project evidently depends on their participation? Yet in their absence, An Gaelaras has 'already drawn up designs and refurbishment plans with an estimated cost of £400,000.' In addition to this they 'have already been in negotiations with funders to put together the necessary funding package.' It is also worth noting that the project will be managed by the An Gaelaras management committee and the board of directors which includes Sinn Fein Councilor for Creggan Kevin Campbell. So here’s another novel idea maybe Councillor Campbell could explain to his constituents why there has been no consultation with residents, and why he as an elected representative for the area has not insisted on this before a single plan was drawn up. .

In light of these goings on I decided to look further into this to try and ascertain who else was involved in this, with the information provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive so heavily redacted I thought for a minute it was provided by the Northern Ireland Office. 
Heavily redacted?

From what I have been told, former Sinn Fein Mayor and Westminster Candidate Gerry O'Hara is a key player in this development which I’m sure Gerry would have no problem confirming to residents. It is entirely plausible that Gerry is involved as 2 groups he is involved with are name-checked in the business plan. Those groups listed by An Culturlann are An Ciste Infheistiochta Gaeilge which has Gerry listed as its Chief Executive, and then we have Dearcán Media CIC which has Gerry listed as a director.

Now here's where it gets interesting or confusing depending on your perspective, or sense of humour. Gerry is listed under 4 different names through Companies House, all registered to 37 Great James Street (An Culturlann). Four different names I hear you exclaim, well you have Gearoid Ó' HEARA, Gearóid Ó 'HEÁRA, Gearoid O' HEARA and finally Gearóid O'HEARA. If I was an Irish language activist I would want to make sure my fada's where all in the right places, wouldn’t you?

Why this sudden fascination with Gerry? With Gerry said to be at the forefront of this development and with his fingers in so many other pies one wonders where he gets the time? And primarily, will he be able to find the time to face residents alongside his erstwhile colleague Councillor Campbell to explain why the residents are the last to know of this planned development.

Well that was the blog complete, until earlier today in a dramatic U-turn the Housing Executive had this to say in an article published in the Derry News in respect of the Cromore site; “We have received two applications with regards to this community let. Both of these are currently being considered.”

It would seem that the recent action carried out by local residents and community activists who occupied the site in a bid to get answers has encouraged a bit of a rethink on the part of the Housing Executive. This new development coupled with documents showing that this had gone beyond the application process would seem to indicate that the NIHE made a bit of a booboo. But I suppose time will tell if they are being sincere with this rethink or if this is a mere attempt to patch over what was clearly a flawed process from the start to the advanced stage.

Advanced stage?

For the sake of local residents I just hope that lessons can be learned from this, as a community plan without the community is just a plan.

p.s. Just because the residents have raised concerns doesn’t mean they are against development or the Irish language for that matter…

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Desperately Seeking Sense

Blogging in these parts can become quite tiresome and repetitive when you consider what passes for political progress here. This is why I constantly find myself highlighting diatribe, dissolution and deadlock, and that's on a good day.

With Westminster now dissolved and the Stormont talks postponed until after the upcoming general election we in the north are without governance, which some would argue is no bad thing. However this aside, with the halting of the 'crucial' talks at Stormont to facilitate a Westminster election are we right to assume that Britain will again be playing the main role in breaking the deadlock and dealing with outstanding issues such as the past? Of course we are, with some politicians here always keen to abdicate the little responsibility they have particularly when it comes to contentious issues which could lose them votes.

Nineteen months ago Sinn Fein & DUP handed devolved welfare responsibility back to Westminster resulting in the Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Act, something they now deny. This act gave Westminster the power to implement Universal Credit which is to be introduced gradually in the north from September 25th 2017. Universal credit is a new payment for people of working age who are unemployed or on a low income. This payment  will replace existing benefits including Job Seekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

With the Stormont assembly still defunct the question now is how will they bring in legislation to cover the additional mitigation payments required for people who will be worse off under universal credit? As whilst the gravy train rolls on at Stormont those at the bottom await yet another blow as a consequence of austerity by proxy.

In addition to this is the ongoing threat of benefit sanctions. The Steps 2 Success Programme (work/beg for your benefit) which involves a mandatory time-frame of 52 weeks for claimants unemployed between 9-12 months saw 5333 participants between October 2014 and August 2016 face benefit sanctions. The majority of these sanctions were imposed upon people who failed to turn up for interview with their Steps 2 Success advisor. Within this programme sanctions involve the withdrawal of Jobs Seekers Allowance from 2-26 weeks depending on the breach. Now to give an example of a reason that people face sanction. A man had a job interview and tried to sign on early because the interview time clashed with his appointment to see his 'advisor'. What saved this person from being forced into financial difficulty was the fact that he got the job, many others are not as lucky.

In contrast, between 2014 and 2016 the three external providers of the Steps 2 Success Programme, Ingeus UK, People Plus and Reed in Partnership fell short in relation to key performance indicators with their overall performance regarded as unsatisfactory. Yet I doubt these substantially well paid private companies faced sanctions. So the next time someone tells you Stormont is working tell them to ask a person who is not.

Steps 2 Success Summary Statistics Oct 2014 - Sep 2016

And on the subject of sanctions, two local welfare rights advisory groups in Derry, the Rosemount Resource Centre and Galliagh Women's group recently lost their advice provider contracts with Derry and Strabane District Council. For the most part these contracts were lost due to a failure to meet the criteria laid down for customer information collation. That this loss can be justified at a time of economic despair and in a city with a high unemployment rate beggars belief.

In a report published by the investigative website the detail.tv the North was to be the region hardest hit by welfare reform, with yes you guessed it Derry to top the list. In their article the detail.tv states 'Derry tops the table with an estimated loss of £900 a year for every adult of working age'.

Let's look at the cuts to the advice services a few ways. Firstly, I'm sure we're not talking vast sums of money and secondly not even a month ago the Council passed a motion at its monthly meeting demanding that the Department for Communities make monies available to deal with the forecast increase in appeals as a result of Welfare Reform. Still council make the decision to reduce five service providers to three with no avenue of appeal available. Now considering these cuts to services are over the collation of some information it's not beyond reason to think Council could have demonstrated a common sense approach especially with council's own procedures being far from flawless.

In an external review of Derry and Strabane District Council's awarding of security contracts carried out by 'On Board Training and Consultancy Limited' in 2015 the report concluded that the procurement process consisted of: 'Weak guidance for those involved in procurements, a lack of standard documentation, it lacked central control and oversight to procurement and laxed supervision all of which exposed DCC to significant risk over many years'.

And if you think that's bad the report further included recommendations on how council could improve  'the handling of complaints, Freedom of Information Requests, Data protection, whistle-blowing and conflicts of interest, with control weaknesses found across these fundamental control areas'. Still this council saw fit to withdraw support from two community groups for less.

At the launching of the community plan on June 4th 2015 in line with local government reform the following was issued in a statement on the council website: 'At the heart of the Community Planning process is the commitment to enhancing the delivery of public services to ensure we are improving the well-being of all our citizens, and the plan will set out to address the specific needs of the city and district as identified by the people who live here.' With community planning an important part of council's remit I can't help but wonder if they have given any thought to the impact the removal of these two welfare rights services will have on their service users and the people who live in these areas. Probably not!

When you consider that those in Stormont have hardly warmed their seats and local government seems intent on hammering services that will help support those who stand to be most impacted by the Stormont sanctioned Tory implemented cuts the question we must ask is who benefits? It's not the person facing benefit sanctions, benefit cuts or the person losing their disability benefits, nor is it the third sibling who is to be denied support under the changes to child tax credit. As always it's those at the top with the finger always pointing down the ways when it comes to saving money.

I think it's time for Derry City & Strabane Council to prove it's worth. They can bring all the tall ships, Fleadhs and Clipper festivals they want, but when they cut front-line community based services that should be a line in the sand for any right thinking person. I hope when the politicians come asking for your vote you ask them if they intend to lobby Derry City & Strabane Council over their cuts to these services, I know I will.

It's  never too late to hold your hands up and say ok, let's see how we can fix this, but it takes courage and leadership... over to you Derry City & Strabane District Council.

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.”

Sunday, 12 February 2017

You Get What You Vote For.

Ah it’s election time again and for the first time in a long time I find myself politically homeless and faced with the option of not voting, destroying my vote or voting tactically, which at this minute in time I believe to be the better option. The upside to this election is that I have more time to forensically examine the endless election statements and literature which so far consist of little more than the same old lines we’ve heard before.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe the Stormont regime is legitimate or the adopted child of Westminster I don’t believe anyone in their right mind could say that the current regime at Stormont is working for anyone, well, outside of a select few. So, irrespective of who is elected to power we must bring to bear the only power that has ever proven effective and that being people power.  But the question is how do we do this?

The sad fact is that in between one election and the next those in office can, and have been seen to get away with anything they want. I can’t think of any other job in the world that you can promise the earth in your interview (the election process) and then remain in post despite not doing what you said you would do. There is a power differential which is once people are elected they have a ‘mandate’ which would seem to allow some to dictate the terms of their employment.

Unfortunately, tribal voting because of the contested position of the North will continue to put parties which are diametrically opposed to each other in power, in a mandatory coalition. And what makes it worse is that when it comes to certain votes such as ‘brexit’ parties like the DUP will demonstrate their ‘British’ credentials by voting against the best interests of the people here. Considering that the majority of people here voted to remain it will be interesting to see how those who supported the leave campaign will justify their positions to the electorate and how they will represent the wishes of the people here when they campaigned and voted against them.

All this leaves the people here in the North in a constant state of limbo, with the British state protecting its own interests and not being entirely honest or taking responsibility for its role during the troubles. At present, there is a lot of emphasis on the need to deal with the period defined as the ‘troubles’. Yet the impact that this period has had and is set to have on our younger generations cannot be understated. The fact is, the legacy of the troubles goes beyond those who lost their lives, who were wounded or injured both physically or emotionally and the impact on their families and the wider community at that time.

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”.

One of the most shocking statistics that we have seen over the past few years is that more people have died through suicide since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 than through the course of the Troubles. The fact that in less than 20 years more people lost their lives to suicide than through 30 years of conflict should have the politicians here doing everything they can to address the issues at the root of the problem. It is obvious there is no panacea that will immediately remedy every societal ill, but we must start somewhere.

In 2016 figures published by the Detail showed that 318 suicides were registered in the north of Ireland during 2015 which is an approximate 6 deaths per week. This figure was an increase of 19% on 2014 figures. From this figure 245 were male and aged between 15-34. These figures would equate to a plane crash each year, now imagine the outcry if every year it was announced that a plane cash resulting in major loss of life could have been avoided.

Now that’s not to say that there is nothing being done, but I would argue there is more needing done.

The Northern Ireland Protect Life Suicide Prevention Strategy was launched in 2006. Figures released in 2016 showed that over £50million had been allocated to suicide prevention since the beginning of the strategy. So, whilst there is no disputing the amount of money being spent on suicide prevention until the root causes of the problem are addressed these efforts will not prove as effective as they should be. However £50million over 10 years for suicide prevention pales into insignificance when you think that through the Stormont Renewable Heating Scheme the cost to the public could end up at £500 million over 20 years.

There are a range of factors that need to be addressed to bring the suicide rate down, indeed I would go as far as to say our target should be zero lives lost to suicide.

Key issues for our city include unemployment and poverty and their impact. In a paper on Social determinants of mental health published by the World Health Organization in conjunction with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation it states ‘adult mental disorders have impacts beyond the individuals concerned: they also influence children, partners and wider family, communities, economic development, and subsequent generations.

Whilst no study has proven that unemployment causes suicide, many studies indicate a strong association between unemployment, poor mental health and suicide. The paper on Social determinants of mental health states that a review of literature on common mental disorders and poverty in low and middle-income countries found that of the 115 studies reviewed over 70% reported positive associations between a variety of poverty measures and common mental disorders.

In one of my first blogs published in Jan 2014 I outlined how former Health Minister Edwin Poots in 2012 said ‘studies indicated that a 1% increase in unemployment was met with a corresponding 0.79% increase in suicide’ and that ‘The executive is facing up the challenge of reducing suicide rates.’

5 years down the line we have increased poverty, increased unemployment and sadly an increased suicide rate and beyond soundbites for electioneering Stormont has delivered very little.

This is where we as the people need to put it up to the politicians. To begin to address this we must demand that a coherent mental health strategy in conjunction with an anti-poverty strategy is put in place.

As the assembly prior to that elected in the 2016 election failed to produce an anti-poverty strategy can we assume that eradicating poverty was low on their priority list? And if they failed to bring forward a poverty strategy, then can we ask are they serious about addressing the associated impact of poverty on mental health? But then with the last assembly failing to publish their budget I doubt that things will be much better this time round either.

Despite this we need to seize every opportunity to highlight to those in Stormont the things they need to prioritise and a key issue for me in deciding who I will vote for, if I vote, is mental health.

Strategy to deal with mental health:

We need to ensure that adequate funding is provided for mental health services for both adults and children. With the effects of the troubles set to roll over into the next few generations, and not only the impact of the troubles but the impact of one generation’s mental health on another.

We need further awareness raised within schools and educational settings and to ensure adequate training is given to school staff tasked with promoting positive mental health. We need to instill in children that it’s ok not to feel ok, and that it is ok to ask for help. As part of this I would like to see training such as Mental Health First Aid and ASIST become part of the school curriculum. This will help people identify and support those in crisis and help break down the stigma that surrounds mental health.

We need more focus on perinatal care. Having suffered severe post-natal depression myself I know firsthand of the lack of support available within the community. Within this we need to ensure new and young fathers are supported and educated also.

And finally, that the community structure is inclusive of resources to improve the lives of those suffering long-term mental health problems, both young and old. Including the impact of social isolation.

To ensure a holistic approach to mental health is provided we cannot overlook the contributory factors in this, such as unemployment and poverty. To do this we need equality of jobs distribution, with most investment Belfast centric the time has come for Stormont to put up or shut up. A quick search online will show the disparity between new jobs for Belfast and those for Derry. But then again, if Derry doesn’t have decent infrastructure why would companies come here?

Five-point plan to tackle poverty:

The Joseph Rowntree foundation an independent organisation working to inspire social change, has developed a five-point plan to tackle poverty within the whole of the UK. This is something that our prospective candidates could consider bringing forward, the outcomes of the plan would be to:

· Boost incomes and reduce costs;

· Deliver an effective benefit system;

· Improve education standards and raise skills;

· Strengthen families and communities; and

· Promote long-term economic growth benefiting everyone.

Following this election, also we need to look at ways to make Stormont more accountable for both their actions and inactions. As was proven through the Daithi McKay and Jamie Bryson bromance fiasco, Stormont’s internal mechanisms for holding itself to account are questionable, seriously flawed and open to political corruption.

What we don’t need is another red sky, RHI or SIF fund fiasco, we don’t need tribal bullshit wrapped in sabre rattling as people fall through the cracks, as services hit the wall and people lose hope. What we do is need independent oversight provided by non-party aligned individuals, not quangos, not party lackeys masquerading as community workers. We need politicians who will put the people before the party, and sadly at this minute in time I’m finding difficulty in identifying one.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Some People Can't Even Get Their Black Propaganda Right...

Another day another allegation and from another halfwit. A short time ago I was sent a screen shot of a post by Mickey Donnelly from Derry alleging that not only had I hacked his account, attempted to hack his account on numerous occasions, set up an Instagram account in his name using my name, and that I am writing letters to the Derry Journal in his name. Phew, I don’t know where I get the time!!! 
 Now, I’m just wondering if I did all this just after I admitted to shooting JFK, or before I admitted to poisoning Alexander Litvinenko?

From all these allegations, it’s a wonder Kim Jong-il and Vladimir Putin aren’t beating my door in to offer me a job!

Shortly after I received the screenshot my husband visited the Derry Journal office and spoke to the Editor of the paper.

He showed Mr.Duffy the editor a screenshot of Mickey Donnelly’s facebook post on Dixie Elliot’s Facebook page, you can see this below.

Closed Kangaroo Court of Dixie!!

Now here are the facts:

1. The Derry Journal has confirmed there was a letter sent to the Derry Journal ‘claiming’ to be from Mickey Donnelly, it provided contact details, telephone number and home address. As the content was ‘bog standard republican fare’ and the contact details were all provided the Journal did not feel it necessary to contact Mickey for verification.

2. A time later, Mickey Donnelly telephoned the Derry Journal claiming he did not send the letter, that he would be contacting his solicitor and demanded they trace the i.p. address. The Derry Journal have not heard from Mickey Donnelly’s solicitor.

3. The Derry Journal I.T. team are not tracing and have never been tracing any i.p. address as this for them is a non-issue. Moreover, as this is not the role of the Derry Journal, the question is have Mickey or his legal team contacted the PSNI?

4. That I am capable of ‘hacking’ anything is laughable.

5. That I have any interest in what Michael Donnelly does outside of attempting to blacken my name is even more laughable.

6.Truth be told, Michael Donnelly’s attack on me stems from my supporting Dr. Anne McCloskey in the 2016 Stormont election.

7. In a previous blog, I had addressed other allegations and innuendo from Dixie Elliot who has also been attempting to blacken my name. Dixie Elliot also took issue with me supporting Dr. Anne McCloskey in the 2016 Stormont election. Oddly now that these attacks are happening in the advance of an election.

8. With republicans amongst others raising the issue of closed material proceedings being used, that two republicans feel that trial by facebook is acceptable beggars belief. But then this is clearly all they have to offer.

9. That two big republicans must resort to online character assassination instead of addressing any issue they have with me in person is pathetic.

Mr Donnelly knows where I live. I was at the Bloody Sunday March for Justice at the weekend, had he have wanted to speak to me or confront me he could have. The fact that he didn't  confirms to me that this is a mere attempt to blacken my name.

If Mr Donnelly and Mr Elliot wish to sit down with me with an agreed neutral mediator and present evidence to substantiate their litany of ridiculous allegations, then I welcome it. I’ll go further, if they would like to open their Kangaroo closed court to the public then let’s agree the mediator and the location. However until such times as these gentlemen grow a pair  I will be ignoring everything else they have to throw. 

Ps, The rumour that I sank the titanic is untrue and for the record I was not steering it with a rowing boat. 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Setting The Truth Free.

(Not to be republished without prior consent)

When I decided a few years back that I was going to start blogging I was acutely aware of several things, firstly that I, because of my blogs would be subject to scrutiny, and secondly that I would need to ensure that what I published was corroborated and substantiated with reliable sources at every opportunity.  This is something I have strived to do with every post, and something I will continue to do.

I am, as a friend would say, no shrinking violet, capable of articulating and debating my view point and as with anyone who publishes a blog or any form of communication I stand to be challenged on what I put out for public consumption. That said being challenged over a position and being attacked by someone online are two completely different things.

For a few months now I have been subjected to allegation and innuendo through social media, the person leading this charge has made a range of accusations both publicly and in private message. The interesting thing is that this ‘man’ has at no time attempted to speak to me directly. No instead this ‘man’ deleted and blocked me from his facebook before launching his campaign. Now I could have rationalised that this behaviour is misogynistic, and potentially that this person may be emotionally unwell but I think that this would be trying to provide some element of justification for his behaviours when in truth whilst we have rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of thought and conscience there is no justification for what is considered cyber-harassment.

This cyber-harassment took several forms, it involved contacting different friends of mine through private message and making allegations against me. Well until a recent escalation when he started to name me on public threads on social media in a conversation about 'shit stirrers'.  Friends of mine this ‘man’ has been in contact with have been kind enough to provide me with screen shots of the messages. Not only that, when they told this ‘man’ they would be passing these to me he was indifferent to this.

When discussing this matter with people one question that has been asked of me is why as this has been going on for some time have I waited until now to address it? There are two reasons for this: 

Firstly this began a few months ago. During this my father was critically ill and my time was spent supporting my mother and visiting him in hospital in Belfast, so needless to say this person was not at the top of my priority list.

Secondly, I wanted to try and address this matter directly with the person responsible. I firmly believe that if you have an issue with someone, or they have an issue with you then both parties should have the strength of their convictions to sit down and discuss whatever the problem is. They may agree, they may agree to disagree or they may not move anyway forward but at least it provides both sides with the opportunity to have their say. Although I must say that when you challenge people who make unsubstantiated allegations to sit down face to face and discuss them with you they generally can’t stand over the venomous bile they have been spouting and will refuse to meet you. However, I thought I would try to speak to this person and try and resolve this before it escalated.

Through a mutual friend, I sent an email to Derry man Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliot requesting to meet him to challenge him as to why he was continuously attacking me and attempting to blacken my name.  Among other things Dixie has accused me of ‘shit stirring’.  I have asked him to explain and have included the caveat who, what, when and where? Adding “Four simple words, so your response should be easy enough to compose. And before you do this do bear in mind that 'I think', 'I believe', 'I was told by x' person does not constitute proof.”

Dixie also stated that I or my shit stirring was to be exposed, one week on from his receiving my letter I await Dixie’s expose. Furthermore, I also offered Dixie the opportunity to post his response unedited on this blog. To date Dixie has not taken me up on my offer, has not published a response elsewhere or responded to my letter.
Dixie has also accused me of playing people like a fiddle, now I’m not musically inclined, but as to who I was playing like a fiddle and when was also not substantiated. I must admit at this point I thought Jesus this ejit thinks I’m some sort of modern day Mata Hari!

In the midst of his ramblings Dixie made the accusation of an Mi5 smear against the Bloody Sunday March for Justice and the organisers.  When challenged by a friend he named me in a private message as being responsible for this. Despite this he has refused to explain or substantiate this allegation despite it being very serious and dangerous in nature.

A thread which was later removed.

One week before the 40th
Anniversary March
Dixie maybe isn’t aware of this but  in 2012 a lot of the organising for 40th anniversary Bloody Sunday March took place in my house, indeed it is a matter of record that Kate Nash actually thanked me from the platform on that day.  Also, anyone who knows me will be aware that I have been very supportive of the March for Justice, a cursory check on my facebook will show that each year I promote the march and even earlier this week I published a video that called on people to attend this year’s march.

Following a meeting in Stormont
Supporting Helen

On top of this Kate Nash, Linda Nash and Helen Deery (the three grannies as we called them) will be able to confirm the help and support I gave to them with their endeavors, not just with the March for Justice but with their campaign against the slipping of the flawed ‘legacy’ legislation through the back door. I’ve never publicly stated my role until now, but I was central to the arranging of public meetings, arranging and supporting the girls to attend private meetings with a range of politicians including the then Justice Minister David Ford. I wrote the statements they issued, generated the posters and issued press releases and advertisements for the events they held, the banners they carried and the very banner images they still use on social media. And not only will they be able to confirm all of this but my own email records can corroborate everything above.

Dixie, considering some of the support I have outlined above, for you to attempt to blacken my name and character by suggesting that I would in any way attack the Bloody Sunday March for Justice or the organisers is nothing short of contemptible. And I would like you to explain your actions, it’s bad enough that the British state supported by agencies such as Mi5 use closed material proceedings against people here giving them no opportunity to defend themselves, but for a former republican prisoner and one who has spoken out against the actions of the state to do something similar just beggars belief.

Despite this Dixie, I will once again extend the offer to meet with you to discuss your allegations oh and feel free to bring someone with you. I am also once again extending the offer for you to respond using my blog, that said I do expect you to substantiate your claims. And if I have done something wrong then I will say I’m wrong and apologise regardless of how you choose to conduct yourself.

There are so many issues needing addressed in our city and despite our different political perspectives I believe our energies and talents should be used more positively and productively. I do not intend to enter some protracted ‘he said, she said’ nonsense. The evidence we either can or cannot produce should validate our positions.

Dixie,  I do hope to hear from you but I can assure you that I for one will not be subject to the closed kangaroo court of Dixie.