Friday, 12 September 2014

Ian Paisley

There are very few truly jaw dropping moments in politics. One of those happened on the 26th March 2007 which was the date the Paisley led a DUP delegation to meet with Sinn Féin and agreed to enter into government together as the two largest parties. It came months after the St Andrews Agreement which had agreed to new elections and a new executive but still the agreement that Paisley would serve as First Minister with Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister was truly jaw dropping.

While that may have been a jaw dropping moment in my life in a case of history repeating itself both my paternal grandmother and myself had one on one meetings and disagreement with him. My Grandmother lived in a terraced house in the Fountain area of Londonderry it was a two up, two down with an outside loo. The housing as as poor as that on the other side of the city walls in the Catholic Bogside during the civil rights movement. But it housed the sort of working class protestants that should have been the DUP as opposed the UUP voters.

But when Dr Paisley came to my grandmother's house he found a deeply religious woman who was prepared to speak her mind. She had been widowed since 1957 and raised two children who went on to University and teaching on her own from when they were 14 and 9. So when he asked her could the DUP candidate rely on her for a vote she said that no the divisiveness that his party and their policies were espousing where not things that she could agree with. She was after all born in Donegal in a very mixed small town dominated by the Catholic Church, Church of Ireland  and Presbyterian Churches along the main street.

A similar event to the above happening in 1986 on a Wednesday during my mock O'levels. Paisley and Jim Kilfedder were out and about in Bangor market as was I before heading in for an afternoon exam. When he asked me if Mr Kilfedder could rely on my vote I said "If I was old enough, I'm sorry but I would not vote for you, because I believe we need to start to work with the rest of Ireland to secure a peace that has not existed here in my lifetime." I'm glad that eventually Mr Paisley did agree with me but that it took him 21 years longer to realise it than that 16 year old he met that day.

Of course another reason I never agreed with Mr Paisley came from my sexuality. At the time I was starting to realise that I found other boys more attractive than girls he was on his soap box telling all who could hear (and those megaphones can be heard all down Royal Avenue from his position in front of Belfast City Hall) that he was on a mission to save Ulster from Sodomy. That was something I don't think he ever truly changed his tune on, though there was mellowing of his language on the issue in recent years. If like his change of heart with Sinn Féin made steps to right that wrong as well we may well have unionism in Northern Ireland more able to accept equal marriage here today. Now without the figurehead that formed the DUP we are left with the disciples who seem unable to shift. His intransigence kept Northern Ireland 15 years behind England and Wales from decriminalising homosexuality and the legacy of still trailing must still in part lie at the feet of Paisley and his campaigning in the 80s and preaching from the pulpit to the same tune.

At one point his full title was Rev. Dr. Ian Kyle Paisley MP MEP MLA. He had also been a Councillor, was after he stepped down as MEP appointed to the Privy Council, and upon his retirement from the House of Commons in 2010 was elevated to the House of Lords as Lord Bannside alongside his wife Eileen who four years earlier had become Baroness Paisley of St. Georges in the County of Antrim.

He shall however, as a result of a marriage in the family, remain on my family tree. Our politics may be diversely opposed but there are less than six degrees of familial separation between us.

The Rev. and Rt. Hon. Baron Bannside, Ian Richard Kyle Paisley 6 April 1926 - 12 September 2014

Friday, 5 September 2014

Just who is too precious? #EdwinPoots

No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

Thus states clause 29 of the Magna Carta one of three clauses that are still in effect in UK law without amendment or repel.The reason while I am starting this at the top of this blog post will be revealed at the end.

However, today Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Northern Ireland's most senior judge said that he expressed concern that comments made by the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the DUP's Edwin Poots, were detrimental to the rule of law. Those comments were made after Mr Justice Traecy had ruled that the minister's continuation of the lifetime ban on men who'd had sex with other men donating blood was "irrational".

What the minister said in the chamber of the Assembly was:

"The question is this:  will I appeal it?  I am very reluctant to appeal it.  Number one, it gives the larger parties in the Executive considerably more power.  Number two, it refers a lot of governance back to the national Parliament and, as a unionist, should I be that concerned about that?  Number three, do I believe that I would get fairness in the Court of Appeal or would there be a circling of the wagons?  I am concerned that that may not be the case."
[Official Report, Vol 89, No 2, p55, col 2]
Later of course his reluctance was lifted and he has in fact appealed the decision.

Earlier today Sir Declan Morgan said that he had written about his concerns to the OFMDFM that the Minister was doubting the impartiality of the courts and was also damaging to public confidence in the administration of justice. He added that he has yet to receive a reply to his letter of 18th January which he also release to the public. The text of that letter is below:


Regrettfully, I am writing to you about the comments made by a Minister which I believe are detrimental to the rule of law in Northern Ireland.

In November the Assembly debated the issue of blood donations by gay men who had been sexually  active [sic]*. A challenge to a decision of the Minister, Edwin Poots, that there should be a lifetime ban on blood donations by such men had succeeded in a related judicial review in the High Court some weeks earlier. During the course of the debate the Minister strongly inferred that he would not get a fair hearing should he appeal to the Court of Appeal. While I have no difficulty with judicial decision being the subject of informed comments and criticism, I think it entirely unacceptable for a Minister to suggest that the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland is biased or unfair, Such a statement is not only untrue, it is inevitably damaging to public confidence in the administration of justice and ultimately to the strength of our democracy.
 This is quite a strongly worded letter to come from the most senior judge to the highest political office in the land. The fact that is has yet to receive a response shows a great lack of respect from either the First Minister or Deputy First Minister to his concerns. However, as the right to due process is outlined by that clause 29 of the Magna Carta which I quoted at the top of this blog post you can see why Sir Declan Morgan finishing with the ultimate damage to the strength of our democracy, Magna Carta is the foundations of it and due process is one of the keystones that survive.

 The only circling of the wagons would once again appear to come from the DUP (as well as many in the UUP) stopping due fairness and justice on matters of LGBT equality which even if won in a court of law are challenged by our own taxes, at our own expense by the Ministers who are supposed to uphold Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998).

Paul Girvan, Mr Poots DUP colleague, who is chair of the Justice Committee, was present when Mr Justice made his comments and he laid down the law to the judicary that they "don't get too precious about their status".

So another teamster busy circling the wagons from a party with the word Democratic in its title with no idea of the history of democracy, its likes historically to the judiciary and fair process and how this is laid down before anything else that politicians have done afterwards.

Does anyone else think that Mr Girvan and especially Mr Poots with his constant appealing of High Court rulings that go in favour of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland are getting too precious about their position? Are LGBT people not freemen and freewomen who should not be denied or deferred either Justice or Right?

*  Sadly Sir Declan Morgan has fallen into the often repeated trap that ignorance about the blood ban leads to. It is not merely gay men who are banned from donating in Northern Ireland, but any bi-sexual man who has had sex with another man, or indeed any man who is straight but once gave a blow job to a mate in his youth. As the ban in on any man who has ever had sex either anally or orally with another whether with or without a condom. It is my one criticism about his wording of his letter.

This never happened to the other fellow

Today is actually the 75th birthday of the only chap to play Ian Fleming's James Bond only one (if you discount the numerous James Bond imitators in the original Casino Royal). Yes George Lazenby the Australian who appeared in On Her Majesty's Secret Service reaches three quarters of a century today.

The film itself debuted just before I was 3 months old, and while it kept more closely to the novel (yes it was one of the adaptations rather than original stories in the franchise) it to me was rather ruined by the constant references back to the Sean Connery films. In fact the major breaking of the illusion that this is the same Bond comes at the end of the opening sequence when Lazenby's Bond breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera and audience directly with the line "This never happened to the other fellow". Followed by the title sequence showing images of previous instalments, finding certain objects from previous films in Bond's office as well as the whistling of Goldfinger's theme by a caretaker take away from the excellence of the following of the novel. The fact that Doctor Who had already regenerated once by this time and about to undergo a second and played it straight showed how such things should have been done.

It is also rather unique in the Bond franchise of not having all the gizmos and gadgets. Of course he is also the only Bond to have married but of course to lose his wife as they drive off at the end of the film towards their honeymoon. But even before the release in December 1969 Lazenby who had agreed to sign a seven film deal to replace Connery had decided he was walking away from the franchise. His co-star Diana Rigg said this about his decision:

"The role made Sean Connery a millionaire. It made Sean Connery ... I truly don't know what's happening in George's mind so I can only speak of my reaction. I think it's a pretty foolish move. I think if he can bear to do an apprenticeship, which everybody in this business has to do - has to do - then he should do it quietly and with humility. Everybody has to do it. There are few instant successes in the film business. And the instant successes one usually associates with somebody who is willing to learn anyway."

He was an ex-model who had landed the lead in what now over 50 years after its inception is the longest running biggest grossing film franchise in history. Without his walking away from the role we probably would never have seen Roger Moore who like Lazenby would occasionally play Bond mocking characters in further projects.

He has three children with his second wife the tennis player Pam Shiver with whom we was married from 2002-8. But until another actor fails to repeat their lead role in a Bond film it will indeed be something that never happened to the other fellows in only playing the role once that Lazenby will always be remembered for.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Dear Equality for all

Yes at the end of last week an anonymous letter writer to the Belfast Telegraph took umbrage at the decision at the end of July by Belfast Pride to award this years community partnership award to the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

Thanks to the Belfast newspapers, we now know that the Equality Commission has been awarded a community partnership award by Pride – the LGBT lobbyists.
Does this mean the commission is now another wing of vociferous LGBT activists? As a neutral quango it must refute the award and sever its association with LGBT lobbyists. If it does not, its funding should be withdrawn.
Lisburn, Co Antrim

Regular readers can probably accurately guess as to what my first course of action was upon reading those words. Yeah I opened my email account and started to compose the following response published in today's Belfast Telegraph:
It appears that your correspondent Equality for All (Write Back, August 28) is slightly misnamed and is only Equality for Some.
The community partnership award from Belfast Pride is, like the other eight awards, voted for from a shortlist by members of the LGBT community.
The winners of this year's community partnership, the Equality Commission, unlike your correspondent Equality for All, says on its website:
 "Our powers and duties derive from a number of statutes which have been enacted over the last decades, providing protection against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion and political opinion, sex and sexual orientation. We also have responsibilities arising from the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in respect of the statutory equality and good relations duties which apply to public authorities."
So, yes, one of the groups that is there to provide protection against discrimination is satisfied with the work it has done and at a community award ceremony decided to say thank you for the work it has done and continues to do. I advise Equality for All to come out of the shadows of anonymity and actually become a real advocate for equality for all in our wee country. Who knows, maybe some day he/she will be up for the Pride Advocate of the Year award.

Of course unlike so much of the negative LGBT correspondence in the Northern Press my name and locality are printed at the bottom of my letter. Yes the equality commission is neutral is as far as it is there to gauge to need for action in the wide range of equality areas that are listed in Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and other legislation. But sometimes in standing up for those minorities they will not be neutral is standing up to the status quo and conservative thinking people and politicians who do not see the need to change anything.

It is not mean the Equality Commission is a wing of vociferous LGBT activists any more that is is for the Feminist Network, Chinese Welfare, Disability Action, AgeNI or any of the groups working and acting for those other minorities.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

First they take Crimea; now they eye the world...

...chess title that is.

Tomorrow is deadline day for the signing of the contract for the rematch of the FIDE World Chess Championship. The match is scheduled from 7th November and should be a contest between the previous World Champion Viswanathan Anand and the current world champion and highest rated player of all time Magnus Carlsen.

However, while Vishy has signed up Magnus is in the middle of the Sinquefield Cup in USA and is scheduled to take on World number 2, Armenia's Levon Aronian tomorrow as the deadline for signing the contract comes to pass. He has said that he has issues with the venue and little knowledge of the principle sponsor of the rematch. Having failed to get financial backing or a location it was determined to hold it in Sochi, Russia, which also sources close to Carlsen say causes a problem due to the unrest in Ukraine. Magnus had asked for a postponement in the tournament, but when FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov turned him down he asked for an extension of the signing deadline, which is also not acceptable to FIDE.

In the last 100 years there have only been 23 years that the World Champion (or at least one of them from 1993-2006) has not been from the former Soviet Union. The result should Carlsen fail to sign would mean that the runner up to Anand in the Candidates tournament would be elevated to step in. The reticence of the Russian FIDE President, who had fixed it for Sochi to step in to host the Tournament, to accommodate the current world champion may be in part due to that runner up being Sergey Karjakin of Russia. What is of added significance may be that Karjakin is a ethnic Russian from the recently annexed Crimea.

A home challenger to the greatest crown in Chess would be advantageous to the principle sponsor and organisers, but would be bad for Chess if the strongest player were to be defaulted on a technicality. It may well result in a second split in the recognised World Champion in recent memory when Garry Kasparov, who recently lost out to Ilyumzhinov for the FIDE presidency in the vote in Carlsen's native Norway, set up the PCA to take on a world title match against Nigel Short in 2013.

There could well be a split again brought about to have a Crimean take on the title for Russia. Is the refusal to allow the first Western world champion since Bobby Fischer to defend the title in a place or time he feels safe, with sponsorship he is happy with a political football?

Friday, 29 August 2014

Half a million thank yous for reading

Since I migrated this blog from its old location in 2010-11 (I ran an overlap of posting to both during transition) there has been quite a few people who have visited and read. Indeed this morning I realised just how many:

I have now passed half a million page views on this site, which added with the almost 300,000 on the previous site means there are really 800,000 page views in just over the 9 years that I have been blogging. There have been times of hiatus and others of less activity but I am glad that many of you have still kept with me. After a period of relative inactivity in recent months I have got my mojo back and will continue to blog for the foreseeable future.

So once again than you for reading, commenting and linking/tweeting to what I have to say.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Precious Life but some are more valued than others

Bernadette Smyth the director of Precious Life, an anti-abortion group in Northern Ireland, has finally let her mask slip as to just which lives are precious and which are to be cast aside. In a twist on George Orwell's Animal Farm:

"All life is precious, but some is more precious than others"

How can I say that?

Well in today's Belfast Telegraph she is reported as saying:
"Pregnant women seeking to terminate their pregnancy because they are suicidal should be institutionalised until the baby is born."

In other words, she is seeking to section pregnant woman who for whatever reason feel suicidal during their pregnancy, until they give birth. Mental health professionals will tell you that there is a need to deal with the causes of those suicidal thoughts. The issue arises here in Northern Ireland that an abortion is only allowed to be carried out if the continuation of the pregnancy affects the mother's health either physically or mentally.

Mrs Smyth also talked of a recent case in the Republic where an asylum seeker was denied an abortion after she was raped. She said:

"The right decision was made in this case not to abort the baby. She'll never regret giving birth to her baby, but she would have regretted an abortion."

She had to go through 27 weeks of bearing a reminder of the horrific time she was forcibly  used for sex. Was that regret, the mental anguish of that moment not of consideration? Mrs Smyth has three children, none of whom was conceived through rape, so she cannot understand what levels of regret a woman in that position must be feeling. In fact similar sentiments were expressed in recent years by Jim Wells MLA who is a member of the NI Assembly's All Party Pro-Life Group, who like Mrs Smyth has never had any of his children conceived through rape, but unlike her he has never personally gone through pregnancy, labour and delivery of his children.

The chair of the NI All Party Pro-Life Group despite never being elected to any legislature in Northern Ireland is a Mrs Bernadette Smyth. Yes the 10 male MLAs who form that Group have given the control to an unelected spokesperson from a lobbying group. Kind of surprising that the men who seek to take control of every Northern Irish woman's reproductive rights should give up control of their own group to an outsider and a woman at that. But when you give that right over to the director of the biggest lobby group on one side of the debate on the issue there must surely be a conflict on interests there which in any other part of the UK would be called in question and investigated thoroughly. 

Precious Life is prepared to section women, something that would appear on their medical records and may affect their livelihoods for years to come to protect the life of the unborn child. It should how precious they consider the lives of women who for whatever reason whether rape, poor financial or educational situation find themselves pregnant and suicidal as a result of not knowing what to do or how to cope with going to the point of giving birth to a living child.

But for Mrs Smyth and her Precious Life supporters
"Unborn life is precious, but the life of rape victims and suicidal women are less so."