Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Union Flag, a flag for all!

A flag for Northern Ireland, that truly represents all of Northern Ireland, what could that be?
Well it could be an inclusive flag that reflects or represents the three historical and cultural traditions that have shaped modern Ulster, the Scottish, English and Irish traditions. 
If you go to Downpatrick, at the bottom of the hill that leads up to the Church of Ireland cathedral, there are three streets that meet at the traffic lights and they are English Street, Irish Street and Scotch Street.  That is a simple illustration of the cultural diversity of Northern Ireland.
In Carrickfergus there is a Scotch Quarter, an Irish Quarter, and a Church Quarter, meaning the Established Church as it was then, the Church of Ireland, a daughter church of the Church of England.
The aim then is to design a flag that reflects those three traditions. but what should be included to represent each of the traditions?  Perhaps the Cross of St George to reflect the English influence, the Cross of St Andrew to represent the Scottish tradition and the Cross of St Patrick to represent the Irish tradition. 
That means we need a flag that incorporates those three crosses and thereby is truly inclusive, so here goes.
An inclusive flag ... what could be more inclusive than the Union flag?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Sir William Van Straubenzee

Sir William Van Straubenzee
More files have been discovered containing allegations about the involvement of four senior Conservative politicians in child abuse in the 1970s and 1980s.  The files have now been passed on to the child abuse inquiry headed by Justice Lowell Goddard.

According to media reports the four politicians, who are all deceased, were Leon Brittan, a former Home Secretary, Sir Peter Hayman, Sir Peter Morrison and Sir William Van Straubenzee, who was MP for Wokingham from 1959 to 1987.

There is a Northern Ireland connection with one of these politicians in that Sir William Van Straubenzee was a Northern Ireland minister from late 1972 until the formation of the power-sharing executive at Stormont in 1974.

When he died on 2 November 1999 an obituary in The Independent said of him:
Heath, by now a close friend, promoted van Straubenzee to be Minister of State in the new Northern Ireland Office, where he won the respect of the Roman Catholics. His dislike of the Ulster Unionists was increasingly apparent and he was one of those who argued strongly against offering them the whip in the aftermath of the Conservative defeat in February 1974.
In view of the claims that Kincora was linked to a wider circle of abuse, I suspect that his role in Northern Ireland will now come under much closer scrutiny.

Fra Hughes and the INLA funeral

Back in 2012 and 2013 I published some posts about Northern Belfast political activist Fra Hughes.  He wasn't entirely happy about this and made a number of complaints about the fact that I had highlighted his political views as well as his role as an 'independent parades observer' at parades by the Orange Order on the Crumlin Road.
However since then Hughes has been very much to the fore in proclaiming his politics. 

In May 2014 he stood as an Independent candidate in the Castle electoral area in the election for Belfast City Council and then in May 2015 he stood as an Independent for the North Belfast seat at Westminster.
His Westminster platform was one of 'anti-cuts' and 'anti-austerity' but he trailed in last with just 529 votes, which was 1.3% of the votes cast.  Nigel Dodds was elected with 19,096 votes.  This was down on Fra Hughes's result in the 2014 council election where his 218 votes represented 2.1% of the votes cast.
Nevertheless Hughes remains a very busy man and last Saturday he was up in Londonderry for the funeral of Peggy O'Hara. 
Masked members of the INLA marching in the funeral

Here is what Hughes said on his Facebook Page and in it he makes his views on Northern Ireland fairly clear. 
I attended the funeral today of Peggy O'Hara at the Long Tower Chapel in Doire in the company of about 1000 mourners.  With an honour guard of several hundred led by a lone piper with beautiful singing in the church and pitch perfect piping laments by Pol MacAdaim it was a fitting tribute to a woman, a legacy and a family who gave so much in the struggle for Irish National Liberation.  An inspiring grave side oration left all those in attendance in no doubt of Peggy O Hara's commitment steadfastness and principle as a mother, an activist, as a revolutionary leader.  There are not many funerals like Peggy's because there are not many people like Peggy, a woman I never met but whose revolutionary zeal will infuse generations to come.
Rest in Peace Mrs O'Hara, a huge loss to her community and the national struggle, a woman possessed of an irrepressible spirit.  My condolences, thoughts and prayers are with her family, comrades and friends, who will miss her most.  A friend commented that Thatcher wasn't the real Iron Lady, it was the mothers of the hunger strikers.  Tommy you are 100% correct.  Peggy, mother of INLA hunger striker Patsy O'Hara has been reunited with her gallant son whom she lost in 1981 in the H Blocks of Long Kesh.  Mother and son, two rebels united in struggle now reunited in death.  ~And you dare call me a terrorist while you look down your guns, when I think of all the deeds that you have done.  You have plundered many nations, divided many lands, you have terrorised their people, you've ruled with an iron hand, And you brought this (800 year) reign of terror to my land!  The O'Haras fought against injustice, oppression and occupation.  Courage has many names but today I remember two most of all, Patsy and Peggy O'Hara.  At peace at last.
Fra Hughes eulogised the 'struggle for Irish National Liberation, praised the gallantry of an INLA terrorist who was fighting against 'injustice, oppression and occupation'  and condemned '800 years of terror', obviously referring back to arrival of the Anglo-Normans.
That wasn't the sort of language he used in his Westminster election literature but here Fra Hughes is clearly speaking from the heart.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Dissident republican funeral (2)

INLA paramilitary funeral

The first stage of the funeral of dissident republican Peggy O'Hara took place on Wednesday.  It involved masked men and women in paramilitary uniforms marching through the centre of Londonderry. Then outside her home masked men appeared from the crowd and one of them fired shots over the coffin from a rifle.  This was all done in broad daylight.
There was strong condemnation of these paramilitary displays from both Gregory Campbell MP and Gary Middleton MLA and there were calls for appropriate and effective action by the PSNI.

The second stage of the funeral took place this morning with the requiem mass at St Columba's Roman Catholic Church, Long Tower, after which the coffin was taken to the city cemetery.  

Once again the funeral cortege was a paramilitary display  with forty-five masked men and women in paramilitary uniforms.  Meanwhile, according to one newspaper report, 'police kept a discreet distance throughout the funeral.'
This will feed into the meeting next week between the DUP and senior police officers at PSNI headquarters and also into the DUP meeting with the local PSNI in Londonderry but it raises other questions, because there are some who have yet to speak.
St Columba's, Long Tower
One video clip on the internet shows the masked men and women marching away from what appears to be St Columba's Roman Catholic Church.  Presumably they took up position beside and behind the coffin as it left the church. 

A republican paramilitary display of this nature and scale outside a Roman Catholic Church surely requires some comment from the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
 This is an issue which cannot be ignored by the Roman Catholic Church.  Moreover it is an issue which will be on the agenda of the Policing Board as the body tasked with holding the PSNI to account.

Friday, 17 July 2015

20 questions about dissident republican funerals

Masked gunman fires shots over the coffin of Peggy O'Hara at her home
The first stage of the dissident republican funeral of Peggy O'Hara in Londonderry was on Wednesday evening and it was really a paramilitary funeral display of the type once organised by the Provisional IRA.
Veteran republican Peggy O'Hara, aged eighty-four, was the mother of hunger striker Patsy O'Hara, who was a member of the INLA.  She was also an active republican and had stood as a candidate in the Foyle constituency in the 2007 Assembly election.
Newspaper reports are somewhat contradictory as to the precise sequence of the events but two things are absolutely clear.  Masked men and women in paramilitary uniforms accompanied the coffin through Londonderry and outside the house a masked republican gunman, armed with a rifle, emerged from a group of mourners and fired several shots over the coffin.
Photographs of the funeral cortege and the gunman have appeared on the internet and in newspapers and a video clip of the gunfire has appeared on the internet.
Independent republican councillor Gary Donnelly was there when the shots were fired and said, 'A number of armed and masked men paid tribute to Peggy by firing shots over her coffin.  They were fired into the air and there was nothing hostile about it.'
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell condemned the show of strength and said, 'The police must investigate the events and of course the funeral is yet to come.  They need to be prepared for what might happen at the funeral.'
Gary Middleton, a DUP MLA, also commented and said, 'The PSNI must take action against those who were involved in terrorist activity tonight.  An elected representative was also in attendance during this display of terrorism.  I call on the PSNI to urgently take action and bring those involved in front of the courts.  Londonderry and Strabane council should also take action against the councillor who was full witness to the firing of the shots.'

The final stage of the funeral is to take place on Saturday morning at St Columba's Roman Catholic Church, Long Tower,
Shots fired over coffin in Ardoyne
However this is certainly not the first occasion when dissident republicans have staged paramilitary funerals involving gunmen.

There was a paramilitary display at the funeral of Tommy Crossan in West Belfast in April 2014.  Masked men flanked the coffin, which was draped with a tricolour and had a black beret and black gloves on top of the flag.

Funeral of Seamus McLoughlin
There was also a paramilitary display at the funeral of Seamus McLoughlin in Ardoyne in June 2014 and again the coffin was draped in a tricolour with black beret and gloves on top.  Subsequently a photograph appeared on the internet of masked gunmen outside the home of his daughter in Butler Place.  Dee Fennell, a prominent dissident republican and GARC spokesman, also posted some photographs on his Facebook page.

There was a further paramilitary display at the funeral of dissident republican Tony Catney in West Belfast in August 2014.  This funeral led to further controversy when the priest praised Catney for his 'pursuit of justice'. 
The PSNI must therefore  know to expect such displays at the funerals of prominent dissident republicans.  So how do they deal with them?
Dissident republicans are using such paramilitary displays to assert themselves and on each occasion we have called on the PSNI to take action against the organisers and participants of such displays. So what action have they taken?
At the time of the Catney funeral, when eight masked men in military uniforms accompanied the coffin through West Belfast, the PSNI said: 'A low-key policing operation was carried out in the area and an evidence gathering operation was deployed.  All available footage will be examined and where any criminal offences are detected, these will be pursued by police.'
However nothing seems to have happened.  So here are some questions for the PSNI?
  1. Was evidence gathered at the paramilitary funeral of Tommy Crossan?
  2. Was anyone arrested and interviewed as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  3. Have any cases been sent to the PPS as a result of this evidence-gathering operation?
  4. Has anyone been charged as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  5. Was evidence gathered at the paramilitary funeral of Seamus McLoughlin?
  6. Was anyone arrested and interviewed as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  7. Have any cases been sent to the PPS as a result of this evidence-gathering operation?
  8. Has anyone been charged as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  9. Was Dee Fennell interviewed about the photographs of the funeral he had posted on his Facebook page?
  10. Was evidence gathered at the paramilitary funeral of Tony Catney?
  11. Was anyone arrested and interviewed as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  12. Have any cases been sent to the PPS as a result of this evidence-gathering operation?
  13. Has anyone been charged as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  14. Does the PSNI believe that such low-key evidence-gathering operations have been effective in delivering prosecutions?
  15. Did the PSNI not know when the first stage of the Peggy O'Hara funeral would take place?
  16. Were the PSNI not aware of the paramilitary funeral as masked men and women marched through the city centre?
  17. What action did they take when they became aware?
  18. Was there an evidence-gathering operation in the city centre?
  19. Was there an evidence-gathering operation during the firing of the shots?
  20. Will the PSNI take resolute action to ensure that there are no further paramilitary displays associated with this funeral?
These are questions that may well be asked at the next meeting of the Policing Board but they are also questions that I and others will want to ask directly to the Chief Constable.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Roun the Ards

Yesterday afternoon Mary and I visited Mount Stewart, the National Trust Property on the shores of Strangford Lough.  This magnificent house has undergone a major restoration and many visitors, including American tourists, were enjoying a beautiful afternoon in a beautiful property.
The estate was purchased in 1744 by Alexander Stewart (1697-1781), an Ulster-Scot who was born near Manorcunningham in county Donegal.  He renamed his estate Mount Stewart and built a fine house which was later extended in several stages to become the present magnificent house.
In the first room on the tour there is a large Ordnance Survey map of the area and I noticed that one of the hills on the Newtownards side of the house was called Cattle Knowe.  This is an Ulster-Scots word for a 'small hill' and it also appears in two north Belfast names, Fairyknowe and Sandyknowes.
From there we drove round the Ards peninsula and as we went through Cloughey we passed a street named Calhame.  After I got home I checked on the internet and there is a Calhame Park in Cloughey, as well as a Calhame Gardens.  Calhame is a combination of two Ulster-Scots words and means 'cold home'.  It occurs as a place-name in many parts of Ulster and seems to refer to a homestead in an exposed position.
From there we went on to Millisle and turned left on to the Moss Road.  This name derives from the Ulster-Scots word moss, which means a 'peat-bog'.
It was also good to see in some parts of the Ards peninsula, including Greyabbey, the incorporation of  the older Ulster-Scots street names alongside the modern street names.  These brown heritage signs are marked by the words lang syne meaning 'long ago'.  Those words will be very familiar to most people from the Scots poem Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns.
Most of our townlands in Ulster are of Gaelic origin but when we get down to a lower level, to hills, rivers and roads, the Ulster-Scots influence is greater than is often acknowledged. 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Back again blogging

For the past year I have not been blogging.

The principal reason was that I wanted to devote some more time to research and writing on a number of cultural issues, with a particular focus on Ulster-Scots history and culture.

That requires time and there is a limit to the number of hours you can work so the blog was put in abeyance.

In the meantime I have started a weekly column in the Belfast Telegraph and this appears in the newspaper on Thursdays.  The subjects are as varied as those that appeared on this blog but there is a greater discipline through having to produce a column regularly, with a deadline on Wednesday morning.  There are no deadlines with a blog.

Over the coming weeks I intend to copy these newspaper columns across to this blog.  I will also be posting other articles again on the blog.  A weekly column brings discipline and a deadline but you are limited to one a week.  You are also faced with producing a newspaper article that is roughly 650 words long, whereas a blog post can be as long or indeed as short as you want.