Thursday, 31 March 2011

Sinn Fein's strategy

Writing in a post on Slugger O'Toole about Sinn Fein strategy, Mick Fealty referred back to a an earlier post dated 30 May 2006, almost five years ago.

On the Today programme on BBC Radio Four in May 2006, Mitchel McLaughlin was asked to explain what Sinn Fein had achieved for its supporters. McLaughlin replied, 'The degree of uncertainty and the lack of confidence in the unionist community!'

This faux pas by McLaughlin was picked up by Newton Emerson in the Irish News (27 May 2006) and then by Mick Fealty.  I say faux pas but in fact he was merely being honest about Sinn Fein's strategy; the faux pas on his part was that he told the truth.

The republican movement has always operated on a number of fronts and one of them is psychological.  Sinn Fein talk about such things as the 'inevitability' of a united Ireland and such talk is intended to demoralise, demotivate and debilitate the unionist community.

On that occasion Sinn Fein let the cat out of the bag and perhaps that is why Mitchel has been rather in the background in recent years.

However more important is the fact that this is the Sinn Fein strategy and unionists should take note of that.  We should not allow anyone, whoever they might be, to demoralise, demotivate and debilitate the unionist people.  Indeed, as we approach the centenary of the Ulster Covenant and look forward to the first centenary of Northern Ireland, we have an opportunity to refocus and remotivate the unionist community.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Survey of library usage in Northern Ireland

DCAL has just released a new report on 'Experience of Library Usage in Northern Ireland' based on the Continuous Houshold Survey 2009-2010.  The questions were selected by DCAL's Research and Statistics Branch and covered a number of topics.  The key findings were:
  • 29% of respondents stated that they visit a public library at least once a year.  18% said once a month and 5% said at least once a week.
  • A singificantly higher proportion of female respondents than male respondents visited a library in the 12 months prior to the survey (34% and 21% respectively).
  • Respondents aged 25-34 and 35-44 were most likely to visit a library at least once a year (34% and 35% respectively).
  • There was an increase in the proportion of respondents visiting a library at least once a year in 2009/10 compared with 2008/09 - 29% and 26% respectively - this was statistically significant.
  • The top three reasons given for visiting a library were 'to borrow/return/renew books', 'To look up information' and 'To accompany children' cited by 79%, 15% and 15% (respectively) of respondents who had been to a library in the previous year.
  • 92% of respondents who had visited a library in the previous year were satisfied with their visit.
  • The three most frequently cited reasons for not visiting a library were 'Not really interested', 'Buy or get bought all the books I need' and 'No need to go' reported by 28%, 25% and 19% (respectively) of respondents who had not been to a library in the previous year.
  • 61% of respondents reported that they were satisfied with library provision in Northern Ireland, a significant increase on the 53% in 2008/09.
  • 89% of respondents who had visited a library during the previous year were satisfied with library provision, a similar proportion to the 88% in 2008/09.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Celtic supporters club and the glorification of terrorism

Last Sunday there was a match between Ranger FC and Celtic FC in Glasgow.  Here in Northern Ireland many local supporters of these teams watched the game on television and in Londonderry members of the Paul McStay Celtic Supporters Club gathered to watch the game in a local bar.

According to their Bebo site members of the Paul McStay Celtic Supporters Club use Peadar O'Donnell's Bar in Waterloo Street as their meeting-place and last Sunday they were joined in the bar by members of the Spirit of Freedom Republican Flute Band.

According to the Facebook site of the Spirit of Freedom Republican Flute Band: "Will be playing in Peadar O'Donnells, Watterloo Street, on Sunday 20th.  We will be playing in Support of Paul McStay Csc Doire for the Celtic and Rangers match. Were on at 2pm before and after the match. Band Members need to be there with all band equipment."

Lest there be any doubt that this actually happened, the Spirit of Freedom kindly posted a youtube clip of themselves playing outside the bar in Waterloo Street on their page  The youtube clip shows clearly the bass drum with a masked IRA terrorist on one side, holding an RPG7 rocket launcher, and a masked IRA terrorist with a rifle on the other side of the drum.

There was no parade and so this is not a matter for the Parades Commission although it is a timely reminder for the new Commission of the nature of this band.  However it may well be a matter for the PSNI, since this performance with this drum took place in the centre of the city, and it is certainly a matter for Celtic FC. 

Celtic should surely take appropriate action against the Paul McStay Supporters Club for organising such an event for a Celtic match.  Do they think it appropriate for one of their supporters clubs to invite a band that carries such a blatant endorsement of republican terrorism?

Meanwhile I am sure that Paul McStay himself will not want to have his name associated with the glorification of terrorism. 

Indeed it is rather amusing that the Paul McStay Celtic Supporters Club have on their badge a harp, a green version of St Andrew's Cross, an Irish tricolour, and the words 'against the famine and the crown'.  However Paul McStay, who played for Celtic from 1982 to 1997, was happy to accept an MBE from Her Majesty the Queen and is therefore a 'Member of the Order of the British Empire'. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Cross of St Patrick (2)

The controversy in Downpatrick about the Cross of St Patrick flag came to mind this morning as I read the sports section of the Newsletter.  There was a photograph of the Ireland bowling team at the Home International 'A' Short Mat Championships at Swansea.

The team did exceptionally well and wrote themselves into the record book by achieving a 'clean sweep' of trophies, which included the team title plus the four individual British Isles Championships - singles, pairs, triples and fours.

The team were phtographed on the platform and there in front of them was their flag - a Cross of St Patrick, with a single shamrock in the top quadrant.  Clearly this was acceptable to bowlers from both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

This is another example of the use of the Cross of St Patrick flag and serves to highlight the ignorance and intolerance of the Sinn Fein councillor in Downpatrick who rejected the flag at the St Patrick's Day parade because, he claimed, it had 'military associations'.

It is also worthwhile taking a look at the website of the Irish Indoor Bowling Association - - which has an interesting history of indoor bowling.  Short mat bowling originated in Northern Ireland around 1926 when outdoor bowlers from the Victoria club had to abandon play because of rain.  They moved indoors to the church hall of Strand Presbyterian Church and started to play there using a length of carpet.  Indoor bowls developed from this and there is a photograph from 1929 of indoor bowling in Ballymacarrett Presbyterian Church hall.  The game really developed after the 2nd World War and the IIBA was formed in 1961.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Cross of St Patrick controversy

For many years Down District Council has used the Cross of St Patrick, a red saltire on a white backbround, as the principal flag at the St Patrick's Day parade in Downpatrick.

However this year Sinn Fein councillor Eamonn Mac Con Midhe objected to the use of the Cross of St Patrick and walked at the front of the parade with an Irish tricolour.  According to a report in the Belfast Telegraph (18 March) he claimed that the Cross of St Patrick had 'a military background'.  A report in the Down News (11 March) stated that he objected to it because it has 'associations with the Protestant Ascendancy'.

Some years ago in Belfast, when Caitriona Ruane ran the West Belfast Festival, she objected to the use of the Cross of St Patrick at the St Patrick's Day parade in Belfast and gave as her reason that it was linked 'with a regiment of the British army and the fascist Blueshirts'.  The former was a reference to the Irish Guards  and the latter to General O'Duffy's Blueshirts, who became part of Fine Gael, now the leading partner in the government of the Irish Republic.

Both she and her Sinn Fein colleague in Downpatrick omitted to say that the Cross of St Patrick has also been used by the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, Irish Freemasons, the Church of Ireland and the former Irish state-owned shipping line Irish Shipping Ltd.  It also appears on the arms of Queen's University, Belfast, and the badge of the PSNI.

Moreover, if Councillor Mac Con Midhe is going to follow Caitriona's line and condemn flags because of their associations, he might reflect on the fact that the Irish tricolour, which he carried in the parade, was formerly known as the 'Sinn Fein flag' and was used by IRA terrorists.

So for the benefit of Eamonn Mac Con Midhe, here is the background to the Cross of St Patrick and for further information he may wish to refer to A History of Irish Flags from Earliest Times, which was written by Professor G A Hayes-McCoy and published in 1979. 
  1. The red saltire, which is described as the Cross of St Patrick, was used to represent Ireland in the Union Flag, which dates from 1 January 1801.  However it was used long before that.
  2. The Cross of Saint Patrick was incorporated in the coat of arms of the Order of the Knights of Saint Patrick, which was instituted in 1783. It is sometimes argued that it was borrowed for this purpose from the arms of the Fitzgerald family but there is much evidence for an earlier use of the Cross of St Patrick.
  3. A book entitled De Doorliughtige Weerld, published in 1700, described the flag of Ireland as a 'white flag with a red St Andrew's Cross'.
  4. A book published in the Netherlands in 1693, Neptune Francois illustrated the flags of the nations of europe and described the 'Ierse Irlandois' flag as a white flag bearing a red saltire.
  5. A contemporary map of the siege of Duncannon Fort in County Wexford in 1645 shows the Roman Catholic Confederates marching behind a red saltire.
  6. The earliest extant seal of Trinity College in Dublin dates from 1612 and shows two flags flying from the turrets of a castle.  One is the Cross of St George for England and the other, which was undoubtedly intended to represent Ireland, is a saltire.
  7. A saltire also appeared on an old seal of the Dean and Chapter of Armagh.
The Sinn Fein councillor was also quoted in the Mourne Observer as saying, 'I have always wanted to fly the Irish flag and I believe it should be done. In all my years as a councillor I have not heard one positive word about [the Cross of St Patrick]. It does not represent St Patrick.'  But then does the Irish tricolour represent Patrick?  Of course not.  It is the flag of Irish nationalism and Irish republicanism and Patrick was neither an Irish nationalist nor an Irish republican.  Indeed the tricolour first appeared on 7 March 1848 when it was unveiled in Waterford by Thomas Francis Meagher, a leader of the Young Ireland movement.
The action of Councillor MacCon Midhe has damaged relationships in Downpatrick and was clearly designed as an election stunt by a Sinn Fein councillor who had no interest in good relations.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Austin Studios

In the city of Austin there was a disused airport with large hangers.  Some years ago someone hit on the idea of turning it into Austin Studios with the hangers becoming film and recording studios.  It has been a great success and the film True Grit was made there in 2010.  I had the opportunity to visit the studios to see how they have transformed the hangers into studios and other buildings into offices.  A number of companies are now located there and they are very much complementary to each other.

We watched a recording of Texas singer Carolyn Wonderland and the producer was Mike Nesmith, whom some of you will remember from the Monkies.

We have a similar opportunity at the Paint Hall in Titanic Quarter.  At one time this vast space was used to paint vessels but now it is used for film production.

In Northern Ireland we have a vibrant creative industries sector, which includes film production, and we can learn the lessons from other cities and countries as we work to make Northern Ireland a hub for this sector.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The 'Shrine of Ulster Liberty'

Every year more than a million people visit the Alamo where 187 patriots gave their lives for Texas independence and the Alamo is known as the 'Shrine of Texas Liberty'.

In Ulster there was another great siege, the Siege of Derry, and the walls of the Maiden City can be described as the 'Shrine of Ulster Liberty', where the defenders held out against the Jacobites and took their stand against tyranny and arbitrary power.

As we approach 2012, the year when Londonderry is the United Kingdom City of Culture, I hope that the story of the siege will be given due recognition in the programme of events.  It is the most important and iconic event in the history of the city and must have an prominent role in the cultural celebrations.

I look forward to hearing how the organisers of the City of Culture programme plan to remember that iconic episode in the city's history.

New Media

A century ago Belfast was an industrial powerhouse with the biggest shipyard in the world, the biggest ropeworks in the world and many engineering works and linen factories.  However those days are gone.

We need to rebuild and rebalance our economy and one of the growth areas is the 'new media' and the 'digital economy'.  We have young people with great ideas and great skills who are at the cutting edge of 'new media' and with the right opportunities and the right support we can make Northern Ireland a centre for 'new media'.

This requires a partnership between the companies, the government and the universities.  The companies have the ideas, the government can help promote them around the world, and that is what SXSW is about, and the universities have to encourage new ideas and provide young people with the requisite skills.

Here at SXSW a young person from Northern Ireland with good ideas can sit down at a table with senior executives from companies like Microsoft.  That is how SXSW operates and it is, as the Americans say, 'an awesome opportunity'.

Within Northern Ireland there is a growing recongition of the potential but we need to raise the general  awareness of the sector and the potential. 

Finally I must commend Invest NI, Belfast City Council, Digital Derry and Lorraine Turner from the Northern Ireland Bureau for all their efforts.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Lyric Theatre

Yesterday I visited the Lyric Theatre in South Belfast.  The theatre has been completely rebuilt and is due to open in May.  I was met by Mark Carruthers, chair of the Lyric, and chief executive, Ciaran McAuley.

The new theatre, built on the Lyric's existing site at Ridgeway Street, Stranmillis, includes a 339 seat main auditorium, a new studio with flexible performance space, dedicated youth and education space and improved front and back house facilities for staff and artists.

The Stormont Executive committed approximately £9 million to the new building and that emphasises the government's commitment to supporting the arts and creative industries in Northern Ireland.  Investment in the arts contributes significantly to economic regeneration and this is particularly important in the current financial climate.

Over the past few years investment in the arts infrastructure in Northern Ireland has increased significantly.  Just last year the Crescent Arts Centre re-opened after a major refurbishment, we also have a number of high quality arts venues in Londonderry, and work is ongoing on the new Metropolitan Arts Centre in Belfast, which will further enhance the arts scene.

The total cost of the Lyric project  is £17.854 million of which DCAL contributed £9.79 million and the Arts Council £2.4.  Belfast City Council provided £1.25 million and so there has been a total of £13.44 million of public money towards this particular project.  Meanwhile the Lyric itself has raised over £5 million towards the project. 

Experience of Museums in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and DCAL have produced a report on Experience of Museums in Northern Ireland: Findings from the Continuous Household Survey 2009-2010
  • 32% of all respondents said that they had visited a museum in the previous 12 months.
  • The Ulster Folk & Transport Museum was the most popular museum visited (17%) followed by W5 (8%), Ulster American Folk Park (8%) and Ulster Museum (8%).  [I am not sure what impact the closure and reopening of the Ulster Museum had on these figures.]
  • The most frequently cited factor that would encourage respondents to visit museums more often was 'Exhibition/display of a subject I am interested in' (34%). 
This last figure is interesting and seems to confirm the point I have made about the importance of museums reflecting the diversity of our society.  As an example I referred to the depiction of fraternal societies such as the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians within the Ulster history section of the Ulster Museum.  People want to see their history and culture reflected in our museums, but especially in our national museums.

Recently we published a Museums Policy for Northern Ireland.  This is the first time we have ever had a policy and it includes an important section on the role of museums in building a 'shared and better future'.  This section includes a reference to cultural rights which is an emerging and increasingly important aspect of human rights.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Team GB or Team UK

The British Olympic Association is an independent body that oversees the United Kingdom team in the Olympic Games and it is the national Olympic committee for the UK.  The president of the BOA is HRH The Princess Royal, Princess Anne.

However some years ago the BOA decided to brand the UK team as Team GB.  That is clearly an inaccurate and inappropriate name in that it ignores and excludes Northern Ireland, which is not part of Great Britain but is part of the United Kingdom.

The issue raised some comment and controversy around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and continued sporadically after that.  My predecessor Gregory Campbell MP MLA wrote to the BOA during his term as Sports Minister arguing the case for the team to be rebranded as Team UK.  He has also raised the matter at Westminster and I have continued to lobby the BOA.

There is a growing recognition of the validity of our case and I raised it again at the UK Sports Cabinet meeting on 15 February 2011.  The Sports Cabinet consists of sports ministers from across the United Kingdom and I was pleased that they agreed to write to the BOA calling for a change of name.  This was a very significant development and the letter should arrive with the BOA very soon.  We will then await their consideration of it.

Yesterday I met the UK Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson MP, at Stormont.  We discussed a range of sports matters and this was one of them.  From speaking to politicians and other stakeholders across the UK I think there is a increasing acknowledgement that our request for a renaming is a perfectly reasonable request and that it would be the right thing to do.

Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and it is our team.  Moreover Northern Ireland athletes have contributed significantly to the success of the UK team.  It is simply wrong that Northern Ireland is excluded from the branding of the team and it creates the impression that Northern Ireland is not part of the UK.

This is an issue that will not go away until it is resolved and the team is rebranded as Team UK.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

International Women's Day

This year part of the celebration of International Women's Day includes a project to temporarily 'rename' a number of streets after women who 'made an important contribution to the city over the years'.

The project was organised by the Women's Tec in Duncairn Gardens and according to Anne McVicker, 'they tried to pick names that were in keeping with the particular area'.

The five women they chose are:
1. Nora Connolly, (1893-1981), the daughter of Irish republican James Connolly.  The Falls Road has been renamed Nora Connolly Road.
2. Ruby Murray (1935-1996), the popular Belfast singer.  The Lisburn Road has been renamed Ruby Murray Road.
3. Sadie Menzies (1914-1996), a founder member of the Revolutionary Workers Group and the Communist Party of Ireland.  Newtownards Road has been renamed Sadie Menzies Road.
4. Mary Anne McCracken (1770-1866), a social activist and sister of Henry Joy McCracken, the United Irishman.  Royal Avenue has been renamed Mary Anne McCracken Avenue.
5. Madge Davison (1950-1991), a leading fugure in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and also a member of the Communist Party of Ireland.  Duncairn Gardens is to be renamed Madge Davison Gardens.

As I read the list two thoughts occurred to me.

First of all, I wondered how representative this list is of prominent women in the history of the city or indeed the province.  Two of the five were members of the Communist Party of Ireland, a miniscule political party with no elected representatives, one was the sister of a United Irishman and another the daughter of an Irish republican.  Were there never any women from the unionist community, who were social activists or were active in politics?

Isabella Tod
Of course there were and an obvious example is Isabella Tod (1836-1896), a social reformer, a sufragette and a Liberal Unionist.  She campaigned for the rights of women in a range of areas, including education, and was one of the most prominent of the Belfast women who campaigned for the right to vote.  Isabella was also an evangelical Presbyterian and an Ulster-Scot, and she was associated with the great Ulster Unionist Convention of 1892.

Then secondly, why does the list of names not include even one unionist, when there are two members of the Communist Party and an Irish republican?  It seems that either the organisers of the project, the Women's Tec, have a very limited knowledge of social activists from the unionist community, such as Isabella Tod, or else they chose to ignore that tradition and exclude them from the project.  If the latter is the case then the Women's Tec have revealed themselves to be politically partisan.  An organisation such as the Women's Tec should seek to be inclusive and non-partisan but they have clearly failed to do so.

There is a short article on Isabella Tod on a historical website hosted by University College Cork and the author of the article, Tomas O'Riordan, concludes by saying 'she is regarded as the prominent feminist of the nineteeth century.' 

Monday, 7 March 2011

UTV News - Three parades for RIR homecoming

UTV News - Three parades for RIR homecoming

Belfast Central Library

Belfast Central Library first opened its doors in 1888 and is an iconic landmark city centre building.  It is a Grade B listed building and houses a wide range of significant heritage and cultural archives and resources of local, national and international significance.  Belfast Central Library is open to the public 60 hours a week and plays a significant role in the cultural life of Northern Ireland.  It is in effect Northern Ireland's regional library.

It is also a key element in the development of the North West quadrant of the city and contributes to the regeneration of Royal Avenue and the Cathedral Quarter, which itself is undergoing major regeneration.

However time and the Troubles have taken their toll on the library building and in February 2007 pieces of masonry found on Kent Street prompted an urgent check of the sandstone facade of the library.  As a result some loose fragments were removed and safety nets erected to protect pedestrians.  Since then restoration work to the value of £940,000 has been carried out by Patton Construction on the facade and the roof and the building is now in excellent order.

I visited the library on 2 March to see the completed work and to thank the contractors and the library staff for all their efforts during the restoration.

It was also an opportunity to see an exhibition of artefacts held by or relating to the library and one of them was a copy of the King James Version of the Bible, printed in 1634 by Robert Banker, the King's printer.  The KJV or Authorised Version was completed in 1611 and so this is a very early copy.

The following are extracts from the speech I gave at this event:

I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the completion of the much needed stonework repairs at Belfast Central Library. 
The future of our libraries has gripped the public consciousness in recent days.  Politicians, journalists, academics and celebrities have all had their say.  In Northern Ireland during the recent budget consultation I received three and a half thousand messages from people explaining why they value their libraries.
So I was interested to see why Belfast Central Library was founded.  The library is here because in 1882 the people of Belfast voted for a tax rise.  They were willing to pay more rates because they wanted a public library.
In 1884 when this building was started Belfast was just a town.  In 1888, actually during the official opening of this building, Belfast was told it had become a city.  I like the implication that deciding to invest in cultural activities and education for all the people meant that Belfast had grown up.  Grown up enough for Queen Victoria to agree that Belfast was now a city.
The building has led a hard life.  In 1941 it was damaged by the blitz.  In 1976 it survived a nearby bomb.  Hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through the doors every year and who knows how many millions have visited over its life so far.
But the real damage was done by our weather, which won't surprise anyone here.  After 125 years it needed some love and attention and I am delighted that DCAL was able to fund the stonework repairs.
The original building cost fifteen thousand pounds.  It cost almost a million to repair the stonework and the roof.  I was up on the scaffolding during the repairs and I was interested to see the work going on.  The work was difficult and itnricate and it was done with a high degree of skill and also, I detected, a lot of affection.  Yes we bought stones and slates and paid for the workmanship but we did far more than that.  We made an investment in one of our major cultural assets in Northern Ireland.
The completion of this work will ensure the safety of the public.  Users and visitors alike can remove their hard hats, fold down their umbrellas and let their eyes look skywards once more at the rejuvenated facade, safe in the knowledge that a shower of debris will not descend.
This important work will ensure than this iconic building is preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.
The Central Library is a focal point in the city and lies at the heart of this city's library service.  It provides a neutral and shared space for all in our community.  In addition, many of the collections here are of regional significance.  Personally, I greatly value the newspaper library.
I firmly believe that investment in the library service will help build a more educated society, a more skilled society and a stronger society.  That is why we invest in libraries and why we invested in this library.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Anither glaikit gowk

In recent weeks two 'journalists' with the Irish Daily Star were geckin at the Ulster-Scots language.  Meanwhile a regular contributor to the Derry Journal (22 February) has also had a go at Ulster-Scots.  This time it was Norman Hamill, who is described in the newspaper as 'a former police inspector in Derry' and who has a column called Hamill's Beat.  Here then is some of 'Norman's nonsense', which might be a better title for the column.
Even without a dictionary you can still speak in Ulster-Scots.  All you have to do is to talk English with the broadest Ballymena or North Antrim accent you can muster. 
Don't worry about making mistakes.  Nobody will notice.  I've been making up cod Ulster-Scots in this column for ages and nobody has notices any mistakes.  In fact making up codology has been good craic.
They don't have anything like Ulster-Scots in Scotland.  That's because it would be considered too embarassing there, even for Scotland.  Of course it's embarassing here too but no matter how severe the cringe-factor, anything is deemed to be worth it to counter the promotion of Irish.
I must confess that I am neither a regular nor an avid reader of the Derry Journal so I have not had the privilege of reading any of Norman Hamill's 'cod Ulster-Scots' but one thing is absolutely certain.  His article is just another example of trash journalism.

It seems that when some columnists have nothing else to write about, and surely if they are half-decent journalists there must be something, they tend to resort to an attack on Ulster-Scots.  They don't worry about the facts because they have no facts.  They just give expression to their abject ignorance and their cultural prejudice.

Clearly Norman Hamill has not read The Hamely Tongue by James Fenton or Dr Philip Robinson's Ulster-Scots Grammar, and he in unaware of academic works such as the Dictionary of the Scots Language.  But then, why would Norman let his abject ignorance stand in the way of earning a few bob?

So perhaps Norman Hamill may find it helpful if I correct him on two points.  Ulster-Scots is not an accent, it is a language and it has been recognised by the United Kingdom government as one of the regional or minority languages of the United Kingdom, along with Irish in Northern Ireland, Scots and Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, Welsh in Wales and Cornish in Cornwall.  It is a West Germanic language and a sister language to English, with its own vocabulary and grammar.  As an example of vocabulary the words glaikit and gowk are Ulster-Scots words.  They are not English words and they are not 'an accent'.  Yes there are words that are common between English and Ulster-Scots, just as is the case with sister languages around the world, but there are many words that are not shared.

As regards Scotland, Norman Hamill said, 'They don't have anything like Ulster-Scots in Scotland.'  Well, Norman, you're wrong again.  In Scotland they have Scots, and in Ulster, we have Ulster-Scots.  It isn't hard to understand, or at least it isn't hard to understand if you have a gleed o wut and know even a little about the subject of minority languages.

Sadly the standard of journalism seems to be declining and there are more and more journalists and columnists who refuse to let total ignorance of a subject stand in the way of them writing about it.

Londonderry has been chosen as the first United Kingdom City of Culture.  I do hope that this drivel in the Derry Journal is not a reflection of the cultural life of the city, I really do.  A city of culture should be an inclusive city that embraces cultural diversity, including the culture of the Ulster-Scots.

Denis Bradley backs end to 50:50 recruitment

Denis Badley is a former Roman Catholic priest and a former vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.  He had  an interesting article in the Irish News (4 March) with the headline 'Why it's time for PSNI's 50:50 recruitment to end'.

The practice of 50:50 recruitment originated with the report of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, which was chaired by former Conservative MP Chris Patten, and was part of the Belfast Agreement.  The rport was published on 9 September 1999 and contained 175 recommendations, of which this was one.

The following are extracts from the Denis Bradley article.
The Catholic Church and the SDLP have already set out their stall.  I haven't noticed anything yet from Sinn Fein or the Irish government but I am assuming that they will join that consensus.
The Protestant Churches and the unionist parties will vehemently oppose a temporary extension of that policy.  The nationalist/Catholic argument will be that it is still too early to remove the procedure.
The Protestant/unionist argument is that it is a policy that discriminates against their sons and daughters.
Even if a recruitment drive attracts people from the Protestant community, their chances of getting the job are reduced.  They will get through or fail to get through to the final pool on merit but their chances of getting the job are reduced because they come from the wrong religion.
It was a policy introduced under the Patten review to ensure that more people from the Catholic community would be appointed to the police service.
Historically, 92 per cent of the police came from the Protestant community and only eight per cent from the Catholic side.  Clearly this was unsustainable within a new political and policing dispensation.
To ensure that the newly established PSNI would be more representative of the population, Patten recommended that 50:50 be established until roughly 30 per cent of the police came from the Catholic community.  The report estimated that it would take about 10 years to get to those percentages.  While there was some wriggle room in the report, the thrust was that when those percentages were achieved, merit alone should be the entrance qualification.  But there was a strong challenge to the nationalist/republican community to encourage their sons and daughters to join the new police service.  Our memory is strong about the 50:50 aspect of the report; not so strong on the responsibility aspect.
While thousands of Catholics have successfully applied to join the new service, the average number of those applying remains at about 35 percent as against the 45 per cent which would better reflect the population.  The Catholic representation has already reached more than 29 per cent and while I can already feel the arrows in my back, I am of the view that 50:50 should be discontinued.  The various and divergent arguments will be well rehearsed in the coming months and there will be merit in many of the arguments.  They will be well meaning and passionate on both sides.  but they are unlikely to address the elephant in the room.  They are unlikely to admit that we are continuing to sectarianise this society.
An extension of 50:50 will not worsen anything in itself except for the young Protestant who feels he didn't get a fair deal.  But it will expose the reality that we all want to become free of bigotry but not yet.
I welcome this clear statement from Denis Bradley about the ending of 50:50 recruitment.  However it seems that nationalist politicians are not ready for real equality and want to preserve this discriminatory practice?

Hitler's man in Dublin (2)

Yesterday (4 March) the Irish Times carried another letter in the ongoing correspondence about Dr Eduard Hempel, this one by Daragh Downes of Dublin.  It provides some more useful information about events in Eire just before and during the 2nd World War.

Dr Hempel as 'Hitler's man'?
On March 25th 1938, Eduard Hempel wrote to taoiseach Eamon de Valera complaining about a recent demonstration on Dublin's O'Connell Street against the Nazi Anschluss of Austria.  This event having included 'remarks of a disparaging kind' about the Fuhrer as well as the burning of 'the Swastika flag'.  Hempel respectfully requested that the 'offenders' be 'punished'.
Later that year Hempel presented W B Yeats with a personally dedicated copy of Germany Speaks, a Nazi propaganda book with a preface by Reich minister for foreign affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop.  Among the themes touched upon in that book is a 'systematic population policy' entailing the sterilisation of epileptics, schizophrenics, manic depressives, those deemed mentally deficient and the congenitally deaf and blind.
On December 7th 1938 Hempel reported to his masters in Berlin that the Irish were 'beginning to be more lucid than before about the dangers of an icnrease in the Jewish population in Ireland and of the necessity of a fundamental solution of the Jewish question.'
When de Valera visited Hempel on May 2nd, 1945, to convey the Irish government's condolences on the death of Hitler, he found the Nazi German minister to Ireland in a distraught state.  Hempel kept repeating the words, 'It's all so humiliating, it's all so humiliating.'  After the war, Hempel's chief anxiety seems to have concerned the fate of condemned Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.
Daragh Downes

Lyle Cubitt supports Sinn Fein prediction

Yesterday (4 March), the NewsLetter carried a letter from Lyle Cubitt of Ballymena.  In it he predicted all sorts of doom and gloom and ended by saying, 'Many views of what 2021 will hold have been advocated but my view is that we will see a united Ireland.'
Lyle is a retired Ballymena solicitor and has been around politics for some time.  He stood in North Antrim in the 2007 Assembly election for the UKUP and got 4.2% of the vote but was not elected.  Then at the 2010 Westminster election he stood again in North Antrim and polled just 606 votes (1.4%).  What then are we to make of his comments?

Last Saturday I attended and spoke at a conference on commemorations organsied by the Unionist Centenary Committee.  All those who were at the conference were looking forward to 2012, the centenary of the Ulster Covenant, as the start of a decade of centenaries, leading up to 2021 and the centenary of formation of Northern Ireland.  As unionists we should be preparing for the centenary of Northern Ireland and looking forward to the second century.

Of course Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have predicted a United Ireland by 2016, the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising .  Gerry Adams even said that he would shave off his beard if there was not a United Ireland by 2016.  But that sort of nonsense is designed to encourage his followers and demoralise the unionist community.  Republicans often talk about the 'inevitability' of a United Ireland as part of their strategy of psychological warfare.  We should recognise it for the propaganda that it is.
Why then would a unionist swallow Gerry Adams' propaganda of a United Ireland by 2016 or even 2021  and regurgitate it in a unionist newspaper?  Why act as a propagandist for Sinn Fein as they try to demoralise unionism?  It simply beggars belief.
Unionist (and most nationalists) don't believe Gerry Adams when he said he was never in the IRA.  Why then believe him when he predicts that there will be a United Ireland in the next few years?
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and there can never be a United Ireland without the consent of the majority of people in Northern Ireland.  Most Protestants and a significant section of the Roman Catholic community as well want to remain within the United Kingdom.  They recognise the material benefits of being part of the United Kingdom and they prefer the United Kingdom to a United Ireland.  That view will have been reinforced by the economic plight of the Irish Republic.  We have our own difficulties and the Tories have cut £4 billion out of the Northern Ireland block grant over the next four years but we are far better off within the United Kingdom than in a United Ireland.
There will be no United Ireland by 2016 or even 2021 and we will then enter into the second century of Northern Ireland.  Unfortunately some people, such as Lyle Cubitt, prefer to wallow in doom and gloom and peddle the same line as the Sinn Fein propagandists.

Friday, 4 March 2011

FAI are damaging relationships

Irish Football Association President Jim Shaw has expressed disappointment after seventeen-year-old Celtic midfielder Paul George, who is from Killough in county Down, opted to play for the Irish Republic rather than Northern Ireland.

The IFA lost out last summer in a case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which challenged FIFA's stance on the eligibility rule.  This gave the FAI in the Republic the go ahead to cherry pick players born in Northern Ireland, despite FIFA's own statutes dictating that either a player himself, one of his parents or a grandparent must be born on the 'territory of the relevant association' in order to play for that country.

Now Jim Shaw has said that a new route must be found to prevent the Republic of Ireland from freely selecting Northern Ireland born players.

In an article in the Belfast Telegraph (4 March), former Ireland and Ulster rugby player Trevor Ringland, a member of One Small Step, said:
The FAI are in danger of making Northern Ireland a Protestant team - instead of a mixed team - by taking away these young players. 
That's incredibly short-sighted of the FAI and shows a total lack of understanding of the damage being done to relationships on this island.  The FAI's stance is undermining the good work of so many others.
It will be argued by some folk that a footballer who decides to play for another country would never really have given his full commitment to Northern Ireland but nevertheless this is an iniquitous and inequitable situation.

The reason for his decision to choose the Republic is unclear but Northern Ireland under-seventeen manager Paul Kee, who had selected George for two friendlies, said, 'Some from naionalist backgrounds will feel an affiliation with the Republic and I believe it was a family decision for Paul.'

Hitler's man in Dublin

Last month I posted about collusion between the IRA and the Nazis.  This and other posts at that time led some contributors to accuse me of having a particular agenda in relation to the history of Eire.  It was almost as if they felt I had no right to comment on that period of Irish history.

However in recent weeks there has been an ongoing correspondence in the letters column of the Irish Times in relation to Dr Eduard Hempel, who was the German representative in Dublin and is often described as 'Hitler's man in Dublin'.  It is an interesting correspondence and on 28 February David Peter Fine, who lives in Glasnevin in Dublin, responded to an earlier contributor. 

Mr Fine commented on 'Ireland's shameful record of courting the Nazis in power at the time through our own ambassador in Berlin' and 'De Valera's widely achnowledged 'faux pas' in expressing sympathy on Hitler's death'.  He also referred to Eire's 'dismal record' in relation to offering refuge to Jews under threat from the 'final solution'.  His conclusion was that 'these things will always be a stain on this otherwise great country of ours.'

The correspondence has continued and for some tiem and different views have been expressed but the facts speak for themselves.

Iit clear that there is an opportunity in the letters page of the Irish Times for such matters to be discussed and that is very healthy.  It stands in stark contrast to those who feel that such things should simply be buried and forgotten.  If we are to come to terms with the past, learn the lessons of the past and dispel the myths about the past, then we must be able to explore the past.

Those who are interested in finding out more about Eduard Hempel could read Herr Hempel at the German Legation in Dublin 1937-1945, which was written by John P Duggan and published by the Irish Academic Press.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

What an eejit!

On 16 February I posted about the Irish Daily Star (16 February) and an article  by Terry McGeehan, who described Ulster-Scots as 'basically a bastardised version of the English language as it is spoken in these here parts.' Later he described it as a 'demi-dialect' and 'a local lingo that everyone who speaks English as their native tongue can understand without any great difficulty.'

Now another journalist in the Irish Daily Star (28 February) has decided to write about the Ulster-Scots language and this time it is none other than John Coulter.  I thought that Terry McGeehan had plumbed the depths in being gratuitously offensive but I must acknowledge that John actually surpassed him!

Coulter started off his article by claiming that 'Ulster-Scots is effectively a broad north Antrim accent' but at that point he had not really got into his stride as regards gratuitous offence.

However it did not take him long and his next blow was to refer to me as 'Scottie Nelly'.  In fact he obviously enjoyed this phrase so so much that he used it three times in the article.  Now you will imediately grasp from this that John is an incisive and analytical journalist ... or maybe NOT!  Such silly name calling is utterly pathetic and childish.  It is what you might come across with small children in a school playground.  It is not what you expect from a professional journalist, indeed from any sort of journalist, but then, this is John Coulter.

According to Coulter: 'Ulster-Scots is nothing more than a rural Ballymena accent.  I grew up in north Antrim and spoke with this rural Ulster-Scots accent for many years, cured only by expensive elocution and a few years stint at BBC Radio Ulster.'  Now Ulster-Scots has a distinctive vocabulary and its own grammar, so clearly John is unable to distinguish between accent, vocabulary and grammar.

Instead John Coulter encourages unionists to 'reclaim the Gaelic tongue for Protestantism' and this is not the first time he has expressed this view.  He even argues that 'Unionists were too red-faced to learn Irish because of the Kincora scandal in the 1980s. ...  Unfortunately, in the Protestant community, the Irish language became falsely associated with child abuse because of Kincora.'  Clearly John has 'a wee fondness' for fiction!

Perhaps a more significant development in the early 1980s was the emergence of a new Irish language strategy by Sinn Fein as part of their process of broadening the battlefront.  That was the time when one Sinn Fein publication stated that every word spoken in Irish was 'another bullet in the freedom struggle.'  I think such things may well help to explain Protestant alienation from the Irish language.  But John forgot about that!

Now it is easy to dismiss John Coulter as, to use a good Ulster word, 'an eejit' (and that is not name-calling - that is a description), but the most alarming thing about him is that he is actually the HND Broadcast Journalism Coordinator at the Belfast Metropolitan College, as well as a journalist in the Irish Daily Star.  Indeed the BMC website reports one of his courses, in which students work with Radio Feile in West Belfast.  This is a radio project of Feile an Phobail, the West Belfast Festival, and the website carries a commendation of John Coulter's course by Danny Morrison, chairperson of Feile an Phobail.  Danny, you may remember was the person who said that republicans would 'win the war' and 'take power in Ireland' 'with a ballot paper in one hand and an armalite in this hand'.

So there you have it.  John Coulter's knowledge of things relating to the Irish language is just as poor as his knowledge of the Ulster-Scots language.  As I said to Terry, I would also say to John, Ach ye wudnae hae a gleed o wut, John, wud ye?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Daphne of Lagan Valley

Earlier tonight I was browsing on the internet and came across Daphne Trimble's Blog.  Yes THE Daphne Trimble.  It caught my attention because the last post on it was an attack on me, albeit a very ill-informed attack.  However don't be expecting any up-to-date posts from Daphne because the blog was rather short-lived and stopped in May 2010.

Daphne started her blog on 1 January 2010 with the subtitle Daphne for Change in Lagan Valley.  She got off to a good start on the first day with an introductory post and a critique of the Human Rights Consortium but from there it was downhill.  There were just three more posts during the month and all of them were attacks on the DUP and predictions of electoral success for the UUP.

There were just two posts in February and the second announced that Daphne would be standing as a Conservative and Unionist candidate in Lagan Valley at the general election.  She was upbdeat about their electoral prospects and said: 'Conservatives and Unionists are offering Ulster voters of whatever religious persuasion the opportunity to play a fuller role in the politics of the state. Our MPs will not sit in Westminster on the sidelines, but will be an integral part of the next party of government.'  Well at least she got it right when she said, 'Our MPs will not sit in Westminster ...'  They have no MPs left at Westminster.

March was a sparse month with just two posts, both towards the end of the month, but Daphne was still in an upbeat mood about electoral success.  In relation to North Down she asked, 'If Sylvia [Hermon] is returned, what will she do?  Will she sit with Labour? Or with the remnants of the DUP.'  Well at least none of the Ulster Unionist candidates were faced with that choice.

April was positively frenetic by Daphne's standards with twelve posts and lots of visits to Lagan Valley by Conservative MPs from England.

The first two posts in May continued the pre-election theme and maintained a positive and optimistic spirit but by the third post it was all over.  Daphne was reporting that she had lost out to Jeffrey Donaldson MP.  Three more posts followed, with the last on 28 May, and then Daphne abandoned her blog, going out with a personal attack on the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Her predictions about the success of the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force (UCUNF) proved to be false, as did her precitions of DUP collapse.  The UUP ended the election with not a single UUP MP at Westminster and the UUP collapse was followed by the collapse of Daphne's blog.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that Daphne Trimble contested the 2010 Westminster election as a Conservative and Unionist and today we are suffering the impact of £4 billion of Conservative and Unionist cuts to the Northern Ireland block grant.  That is £1,000 million a year over the next four years!