Friday, 28 November 2014

If not Trojan Horse is equality an Achilles Heel? @mikenesbittni

The issue of equality is certainly high on the political agenda here in Northern Ireland recently. Though scarily it seems that far too many with responsibility for legislation seem not to realise it or understand how to exercise it and show it to all.

Last night there may well have been the calmest, non-shouting all party debate on BBC's The View I can recall for some time. But of course as ever there were issues in in and some of them I raised on Twitter and Facebook. Now when three of the panellists are known to you and haven't blocked you some of this involves linking to them directly, one such was Mike Nesbitt the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. So I posted on Facebook.

Now for those of you not used to having bilingual discussions on your TV during political discussions let me explain something. Normally when you say something in Irish here the next phrase is the translation. Therefore it struck me that Mike Nesbitt was saying that "Tiocfaidh ár lá" is actually the Irish for "Brits out" which of course I know actually is "Our day will come". It is a rallying cry just like "Stand Up for the Ulster Men" is at Ravenhill in the Rugby, but in the heat of recent discussions over language those who, unlike myself, have no elementary understanding of the Irish language mlattight think from this that is what Mike meant.

Mike said that I hadn't heard him implying not just last night but on other days when he retold the same anecdote that he was implying that. So I rewatched the item and relistened to it on The Nolan Show and here is the verbatim of what he said on The View last night:

"And you get two Gerry Adamses; sometimes on the same night. I was in New York once, he was in a black tie in the Plaza in the Park at a $500 a plate dinner and that speech was about reaching out a hand to our unionist brethren. An hour later he was in Celtic Park in the Bronx, in jeans and an Arran sweater and his first words were, 'Tiocfaidh ár lá, Brits out'."

So it is not 100% clear, even to a trained ear that Mike wasn't inferring that the latter was not the meaning of the former. I've heard him use this anecdote a number of times since the incident in Enniskillen involving Gerry Adams. That was the speech where Adams say that equality was the Trojan Horse by which he sought to break them bastards.

So out of this Mike has also been saying that Equality is the bedrock of our society. So as he had been good enough to respond to my initial comment I decided to immediately replay with a follow up around the subject.

"Also Mike while I have you here. If equality is such a bedrock in our society how come you are keeping me less equal than if I lived anywhere else in the UK because of my sexual orientation by your constant votes against marriage equality?"

I think I've been gracious and not posted this immediately though I did remind him through another comment on Facebook and a couple of Tweets during the day today that he had yet to respond. However, I do go on to say that he is subject to that all to common disease amongst unionist politicians when they talk about equality and then are asked a question about such blatant inequality with the United Kingdom. That disease is mutism.

I notice that Mike has had enough time today to pay tribute to Jack Kyle, post pictures of Christmas lights in Newtownards and support Woman's Aid in the past 10 hours. But somehow does not and did not have the time to respond to my question after he came to my Facebook comment to defend himself on one aspect.

Is this because he is incapable of defending himself on such a matter of inequality and he knows it. Is it therefore true that while Trojan Horse is probably the wrong word for it that equality surely is the Achilles heel of unionism?

If he wants to answer either here, or via Facebook I will happily add his response.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

The sad news to wake up to this morning is that Australian batsman Phillip Hughes who was hit on the head by a bouncer while playing for South Australia against New South Wales has died as a result of the damage he sustained to a major artery as a result. He had been in an induced coma since an operation after he was rushed to a Sydney hospital following the incident.

Although he was only 25 he made his test debut on 26 February 2009 against South Africa. Although in his first innings he was dismissed for a duck, he took a half century in the second innings. But in the second match in that series scored the first of what were to become 3 test centuries in the first innings with 115 to be followed up with he record test score 160 in the second. He was the youngest man in test history to take a century in both innings of a Test Match.

In total he appeared in 26 Tests:

2009 v South Africa 
1st Test Johannesburg 0 and 75
2nd Test Durban 115 and 160
3rd Test Cape Town 33 and 32
2009 v England
1st Test Cardiff 36
2nd Test Lord's 4 and 17
2009/10 v Pakistan
2nd Test Sydney 0 and 37
2010 v New Zealand
1st Test Wellington 20 and 86no
2010/11 v England
3rd Test Perth 2 and 14
4th Test Melbourne 16 and 23
5th Test Sydney 31 and 13
2011 v Sri Lanka
1st Test Galle 12 and 28
2nd Test Pallekele 36
3rd Test Colombo 0 and 126
2011 v South Africa
1st Test Cape Town 9 and 9
2nd Test Johannesburg 88 and 11
2011 v New Zealand
1st Test Brisbane 10 and 7
2nd Test Hobart 4 and 20
2012/13 v Sri Lanka
1st Test Hobart 86 and 16
2nd Test Melbourne 10
3rd Test Sydney 87 and 34
2013 v India
1st Test Chennai 6 and 0
2nd Test Hydrabad 19 and 0
3rd Test Mohali 2 and 69
4th Test Dehli 45 and 6
2013 v England
1st Test Nottingham 81no and 0
2nd Test Lord's 1 and 1

It is a shame now in hindsight that his last outing in the baggy green cap of Australia was at headquarters and saw him only scoring a single in both innings.

Phil was born in Macksville in New South Wales, for whom he made his senior debut in 2007 before moving to South Australia in 2013. He has also appeared for Middlesex, Hampshire and Worcestershire in England, Mumbai Indians in the IPL and for Sydney Thunder and Adelaide Strikers in the Australian Twenty20 Big Bash League.

He was three days short of his 26th Birthday and had been scheduled to play in next week's test match against India. The current round of Sydney Cup matched have been cancelled and next week's test is now in doubt as it is suspected that very few of his international colleagues may be prepared to return to the field so soon.

Here is the coverage of his greatest test performance that second test against South Africa in 2009.

Phillip Joel Hughes - Cricketer 30 November 1988 - 27 November 2014

My thoughts are also going out to Sean Abbott the young New South Wales bowler who in playing the way he was taught to play bowled a delivery that changed many lives, but especially the two men at either end of the crease. There are pictures of him holding his mates head in the immediate aftermath of the incident, but it was not his fault, though he is grieving just as the Hughes family are. Our thoughts go to both families and it is clear that many in the cricketing family are on hand to support Abbott though these tough days too.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

It is all about power #LGBT #Ashers

Today I had another letter published in the Belfast Telegraph, any who have been following my recent posts and Tweets will know a bit about the subject matter. The title was not the subject line of my email, and the + from LGBT+ got turned into an "and" by them in my signature, but the text it as I wrote it.

Dermot O'Callaghan (Writeback, 21 November) may have a point that the whole issue over the cake that Ashers refused to bake is all about power, though the problem is that the people exercising the power are not necessarily the ones that he claims are abusing it.

From 1967 until 1982 the LGBT community in Northern Ireland were fighting to be equal with those in the rest of the UK. In the end it took court action for the decriminalisation here and in Scotland to catch up with the rest of the UK. Looking at the debate in Westminster back then you can see the level of power and privilege that our elected representatives largely, but not exclusively, unionist had when they decided it was their right to keep gay men in Northern Ireland less equal to those in the rest of the Union they held so dear.

Now after only two decades of moving towards equality with other UK LGBT people we are once again falling behind. Once again it is the unionists that are saying that we cannot be equal.

While DUP ministers continue to argue with scientists and lawyers that their evidence and rulings cannot possibly be right for the LGBT people of Northern Ireland - though they are for the rest of the UK and Ireland - then yes the whole Ashers situation is actually about power.

The fact is that not all of us are equal with people of similar background, race, disability and sexual orientation with the rest of the Union. If we were, then we wouldn't need to campaign for equal marriage, we wouldn't need to rally for it outside City Hall or Stormont and we wouldn't need to get cakes made to back our campaign, but we would need far more wedding cakes.

Monday, 24 November 2014

BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015

It is that time of year again for the nominees for this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year, following the low point of 2011 when not a single female British sports person made the short list there are four on this year's shortlist, only one less than the Olympic year (when there were 12 nominees) but the most in the now traditional 10 person shortlist.

So who are they:

Gareth Bale the Welsh international, had a successful first season for Real Madrid which saw him scoring the winning goal in the Copa del Rey, the second of his team's four goals in the Champions League final in the first city derby final, the first time a Welshman had scored in that match. At the start of this season he helped his team lift their third trophy in his time with his team when his assist led to to Cristiano Ronaldo's goal in their 2-0 win the UEFA Super Cup. The last footballer to win was Ryan Giggs in 2009 the sport has five wins.

Charlotte Dujardain of "dancing horses" fame, didn't get nominated in 2012 despite her double gold and Olympic record performances on Valegro. She followed this up with double gold in Individual and Spécial Dressage in last year's European Championships, but this year became the first British Equestrian to hold Olympic, European and World Titles simultaneously when she and Valegro again combined for the double of Individual and Special Dressage. The last equestrian (not racing) to win was Zara Philips in 2006 Olympic Equestrian events have three wins none in dressage.

Carl Froch in boxing since 2006 with exception of 2 periods that total about 12 months has held one of other of the world titles at Super-Middleweight. However, despite those years of success this is the first time that he has been nominated for SPoTY, other boxers of course have been nominated in a sport that we have a good history of. The last boxer to win was Joe Calzaghe in 2007 the sport has five wins.

Kelly Gallagher is the visually impaired Paralympian skier who took Great Britain's first ever Winter Paralympic gold medal along with her guide Charlotte Evans in the Women's Super-G. She comes from my home town of Bangor. No Paralympian has ever won SPoTY, the nearest any have come is Tanni Grey-Thompson who was third in 2000. No skier has ever won, the last Winter Sports win was in 1984 for Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean.

Lewis Hamilton has twice stood on the second step of the SPoTY podium on his debut season in F1 matching his position in the drivers' championship that year. The following year when he won the championship he again came 2nd in SPoTY. This year marks his second F1 title during which he took 11 wins making him the most successful British winner with 33 wins in total, which included two runs of five and four consecutive wins. The last Formula 1 driver to win was Damon Hill in 1996 the sport has six winners.

Rory McIllroy makes it two for residents of North Down in the top 10 this year. Rory secured back to back golfing majors when he picked up the Open and PGA Championship. By lifting the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool he became only the second player in Open history to lift the silver medal for low amateur and then the main prize. In so doing he became the first European to win three of the four majors, and joins only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in doing so before the age of 25. In between the two majors he also picked up his first World Golf Championship event and return to world number one. The last golfer to win was Nick Faldo in 1989 the sport has two winners.

Jo Pavey proved that motherhood and age are no barrier to being a successful athlete. Ten months after giving birth to her second child and just over a month shy of her 41st birthday she became the oldest woman to win a European Athletics title in the 10,000m, going one place better in Zurich that 2 years earlier in Helsinki. She had earlier in the month taken bronze in the Commonwealth Games 5,000m. The last athlete to win was Kelly Holmes in 2004 the sport is the most successful in SPoTY history with 17 wins.

Adam Peaty is the new golden boy of British swimming. First he took gold in 100m breastroke and 4x100m medley, and silver in 50m breaststoke at the Commonwealth Games (both wins in Games Records). Within 10 days he was in Berlin at the European Championships taken four golds in the three disciplines from the commonwealth plus the 4x100 mixed medley. He also secured two world records in the 50m and the mixed relay with Jemma Lowe, Chris walker-Hebborn and Fran Halsall. The last swimmer to win was Anita Lonsborough in 1962 the sport has two winners.

Max Whitlock the gymnast kicked off a very successful year at the European Championship with Pommel Gold and Team Silver. Before taking five medals at the Commonwealth Games All Around, Team and Floor Gold, Pommel Silver and Parallel Bars Bronze. But in qualification at the world in Nanjing he seemed to have failed, not qualifying for any apparatus finals, nor the individual. But after the team competition Nile Wilson had to withdrawal from the all-around. Max who was third in the GB team qualifying stepped up putting his poor qualification behind him, performed well on all six pieces to take silver behind the five time world champion Kohei Uchimura. No Gymnast have ever won the closest was Beth Tweddle coming third in 2006.

Lizzy Yarnold is a women who throws herself literally head first into her sport. For she is the most successful female winter Olympian in what is fast becoming GBs most successful Winter Olympic Sport. For the fourth games in a row the female skeleton team have medalled and for the second time in a row it is gold. Lizzy entered Sochi as favourite having secured the Skeleton World Cup Title winning four of the eight races. No Skeleton racer has ever won and the last Winter Sports winners were Torville and Dean in 1984.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Givan's Conscience Clause

Paul Givan MLA has said he is planning to bring forward a private members bill to introduce a conscience clause into Northern Ireland legislation, saying that it will enhance "equality legislation".

He goes on to say:

"Equality is about ensuring that everybody in society is allowed to live out their lives.
"We now are heading towards a community where it's not just about live and let live - people are now saying, 'you need to affirm my particular lifestyle and if that goes against your conscience, you have to do that'.
"That's not equality; that's intolerance."
Now the word affirm means:
  1. To declare positively or firmly, maintain to be true
  2. To support or uphold the validity of, confirm
This is obviously a knee-jerk reaction to the Ashers case, because Givan goes on to say that introducing this Bill will avoid other similar legal cases. But in Northern Ireland that is also the role that is served by case law, it sets the precedent and determines the boundaries of existing laws. 

Concerning of course is that once again, as with most homophobic legislation, it reduces being LGBT to a lifestyle, therefore implying it is a choice. We don't call being Chinese a lifestyle or being disabled a lifestyle yet these are among the other groups that are covered by equality legislation.

Polygamy is a lifestyle which you can legislate either against or for: being LGBT is not. Of course there is the matter that some argue that the Ashers cake is not about the fact that it was an LGBT customer, but supporting a LGBT campaign. The case law from the Equality Commission will set out to determine if this is indirect discrimination of LGBT people or merely refusing a political message. That is a fine line and a grey area that needs to be established independently and not by politicians with personal conflicts of interest.

Any bill coming before the Assembly would have to pass an equality audit to make sure it met the requirements of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. The way this is worded at the moment would appear to be an Orwellian "all 'consciences' are equal, but some are more equal than other". I would fully expect any such bill to fail such a audit. But if it does pass and comes before the Assembly I expect there to be enough right thinking, equality supporting MLAs to table a petition of concern on the vote and then for it to fail on cross community support as it would undoubtedly fail to gain the required nationalist support.

What would happen if the conscience clause does come into being? Looking at the way that Givan's statement is worded and the way similar laws have operated in the Sourthern United States some Christian business owners will start to refuse to serve any obvious LGBT couples or people, because in the words of Girvan "they no longer have to affirm that particular lifestyle."

That Mr Givan is not equality, that is actually intolerance.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

A simple choice says Peter

"Flag-lowering, parade-stopping, gay marriage supporting, pro-water charging, holier than thou Alliance Party".

Was the recommendation that Peter Robinson made of the Alliance Party in his speech this afternoon, so let me take those epithets that raised raucous applause from the small minded, one directioned, homophobic, financially irresponsible, holier than God himself DUP delgates found so humourous and look at them one by one.

Flag lowering: Whilst this relates to Belfast City Council, for Derry City Council and many of the councils to the West of the Bann the Alliance Party policy on flying the Union Flag on designated days is actually a flag raising policy. Yes it is one that Sinn Féin and the SDLP need some work on to see it as being fair to the minority of unionists who live in the council areas that they live in. Some of those Unionists undoubtedly vote DUP but haven't seen the Union Flag fly from their civic buildings for years. Therefore where is the DUP call for the flag to fly on all public buildings to mark the Royal Birthdays, the Queen's Coronation Day etc? Of course designated days is what happens in most council areas in Great Britain, indeed some fly other flags Orkney flies the Norwegian Flag on Norway Day, and many the Rainbow flag for Pride.

So make that Flag Raising or Flag Equality

Parade stopping: No doubt refers to the Twadell Avenue stand off, but it was the Parade's Commission as voted for by 71% of the Northern Irish people in response to the Belfast Agreement who decided that one final part of their parade home on the Twelve in 2013 should not go past a parade of shops in a nationalist area. This was based on previous violence in the area from both sides over previous parades. The DUP of course are supporting the cost of policing the ongoing action there  in hundreds of thousands of pounds, while the PSNI this week announced some cuts to manning of police stations to try and meet budget constraints on top of suspending historical enquiry work.

So make that Police Supporting and People Respecting.

Gay Marriage Supporting: Of course marriage equality is not just about the gays (and lesbians), it also affects the bisexuals and those who are transgender and intersex. But then when you are used to attcking just the G of the LGBT+ spectrum you can't be expected to know the details of some of my potential partners I an marry but others I cannot, spousal vetoes and stolen years of "togetherness". Nor does it allow those faith groups that want to carry out same-sex marriages the same rights as their brethren in England, Wales and very soon Scotland. Of course when you defend the union and attack LGBT+ equality on a par with the rest of the Kingdom you make a certain section second class citizens in their own land.

So make that Equal Marriage Supporting or just Equality Supporting.

Pro-Water Charging: Water charging is just one possible way to increase government income. We do have a failing water and sewage provision infrastructure which needs a sizeable amount of work and replacement. One way this is funding in England, Wales and Scotland is through the water charge component in the council tax. So yeah while we have a financial crisis shouldn't we be looking at the various ways that we miss out on the revenue that the rest of the UK can call upon to actually do stuff with, but then doing stuff and the Assembly are two things that very rarely go together. Of course Peter Robinson is looking to get control of local corporation tax, but that is only so he can lower it to match the Republic of Ireland and therefore create more holes in budgets. Taxes and revenue need to meet expenditure not cause even more savings to be sought.

So make that Fiscally Responsible.

Holier than thou: Coming from a party that fails to take into account people of non-Christian, Roman Catholic Faith, or no faith into consideration this seems rather rich. When their definition of what is right is based on a rather narrow reading of the Bible which not even every Christian in Northern Ireland holds to 100%. When they cannot legislate for the state without reference to the bible it is clear who truly is Holier than thou, though I suspect that like the Pharisees and Sadducees before them are actually Holier than God creating extra laws and legislations to go on top of what Moses was given. This is why Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love. For until you can live up to that one you cannot possibly start to consider the others and that is where the hate for certain sectors and failure to understand equality legislation leads to.

So finally I make that  Being a Good Samaritan for EVERYONE.

So in conclusion what Peter failed to see is that the Alliance Party is actually:

Flag Equality Everywhere, Police Supporting, People Respecting, Equality Supporting, Fiscally Responsible, Good Samaritan for EVERYONE

So yeah it is a simple choice for the people of East Belfast. If they want progress and normality that most of the Western World knows, loves and experiences then they can vote for Naomi Long. If they want to carry on with the bigotry, keeping others down and lurching from one financial crisis to another they can back Gavin Robinson.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Precious harassment

Some of the first words to come out of Mrs Bernadette Smyth's lawyer's mouth this afternoon was that the verdict was "a disappointment for Christians worldwide".

In light of the accusations of bullying in certain Christian quarters in Northern Ireland about another matter this is a bit rich. For those not aware of the antics of Mrs Smyth's Precious Life organisation they regular in large numbers stand outside the Marie Stopes centre in Belfast, questioning any woman of child bearing age who approaches the premises and asks them why they are going in.

The clinic has offered sexual and reproductive healthcare and early medical abortions within Northern Ireland's laws since it opened on Great Victoria Street in October 2012. But the harassment of those who regularly stand outside and picket is something that scares and horrifies a lot of us who have witnessed it. These are women many of whom are vulnerable enough, to actually have them take the steps of going through that barrage takes a certain amount of additional bravely that women do not have to encounter for similar advise elsewhere in the UK.

The particular allegations against Mrs Smyth come against Dawn Purvis the former PUP MLA who is now the director of the centre. On one occasion Ms Purvis asked the crowd to stop harassing her, only for Mrs Smyth to retort, "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling." This she denied until it was shown to her on CCTV when her story reverted to it being a joke.

On another occasion the venom was aimed at a female friend of Ms Purvis's son as they left the offices together having stopped in to leave some frozen food in the office. On this occasion Mrs Smyth followed the young woman up the street to carry on harassing her.

The lawyer is right about something, this is a disappointment for Christians worldwide, but not the verdict. The bible doesn't tell you to go out harassing those who disagree with you. It doesn't tell you to leave them fearing for their lives at your, or your acolytes' hands. The disappointment to Christian's worldwide is Mrs Smyth an the way she has gone about disagreeing with something. The way she and her followers make people who already feel vulnerable feel worse as they approach the centre. They say they are reaching out in love, but in essence as the court has ruled today they are really reaching out with hate.

Mrs Smyth was warned today that she could even face a prison sentence for her actions, but is already facing an injunction about being outside the Marie Stopes Centre.