Wednesday, 25 February 2015

My letter in the Newsletter

When you are a party that tends to block, ignore or blank out LGBT voices you have no idea what homophobia looks like on the street. So I decided to correct the DUP who don't see a correlation between their words and actions as the largest party in Northern Ireland and a recent spate of homophobic attacks on a couple of gay men in North Belfast while one was living his last days with cancer and even at his funeral.

Here is the letter published in yesterday's Newsletter:

I am amazed to read in the News Letter (February 21) that the DUP cannot see how their attitude can help create an atmosphere leading to the homophobic attacks on Paul Finlay-Dickson and his late partner.

When they say that it’s a “right” for people with strongly held personal beliefs to “object” to people of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual sexual orientation they cannot control how everyone outworks that objection?
DUP politicians have said that they find Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual , Transgendered (LGBT) people repugnant, can’t even say when challenged that they don’t object to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and some wish that civil partnerships hadn’t happened, all merely piles coals on the fire of homophobia.

Liberal Democrats believe nobody should be enslaved by ignorance, but the way the DUP talks about homosexuality as a threat to Christianity is instilling a dangerous, venomous and intolerant ignorance into some.

Paul Givan by currently going around saying that LGBT rights are greater than those of Christians is not just incorrect but so widely off the mark, thanks mainly to the DUP blocking any steps allowing LGBT rights to advance towards equality.

The DUP talk about competing rights, but sadly they have historically fought to maintain that the rights of LGBT people are not to be anywhere near equal to those the majority of Northern Ireland, and also well behind LGBT people elsewhere in the UK.

Their historical talking down and belittling of LGBT people is exactly what can lead to some going about these homophobic attacks.

The DUP only pay lip service to the equality provisions of the Northern Ireland Act for those of differing sexual orientation and constantly fail in taking action or speaking in a way that reflects that LGBT people are of value. Now they look to dismantle accommodations that have been made to deal with those competing rights, focusing only on the rights as laid out in Human Rights legislation but ignoring the responsibilities to respect the rights of others in the same articles.

Changing Attitudes Ireland are right to point out the way the words and actions of the DUP fuel the environment of homophobia across the province, especially as the DUP fail completely to converse on such issues.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Isn't it Ironic #conscienceclause

Today the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor met with Paul Givan to discuss the conscience clause.

I will give him his due, while he did say it was widely supportive of the essence of the Conscience Bill he did add a caveat:

"any change to the law would have to be carefully defined, to prevent it from leading to spurious claims of religious conscience."

He also said that

"it would be wrong to swap one form of discrimination for another."

The ironic bit is of course the marriage equality debate that seems to have sparked this whole thing off.

The equal marriage motion, and the second (if amended thus) and the third time it has come before Stormont would meet both the Bishops caveat and his call not to swap one form of discrimination with another. In each of the three occasions as with the Acts passed by Holyrood and Westminster there was no discrimination on the basis on anyone's interpretation of faith, nor their freedom from those of faith. It replaced the discrimination of those in same sex relationships having a relationship, viewed by some (mainly those of faith) as substandard to marriage. It endeavoured to put in place legislation not to discriminate against people of faith.

But of course we know in Northern Ireland the DUP lodged a petition of concern, and again and again.

So the irony is that the Bishop is right there is a real problem that needs to be addressed. But those of us who have sought to bring about equal marriage legislation have done what we can to protect those with strongly held religious beliefs both those opposed and those in favour, as well as those who want freedom from religion. The issue is of course that the DUP, Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church, Church of Ireland and others didn't see it this way and have opposed it officially.

Yes we have an problem that needs to be addressed. The irony is that even when accommodating certain views from certain people of faith when it comes to LGBT equality isn't enough to appease them and they can't see beyond the fact that Northern Ireland has differing views both from people of faith and those without.

In the words of Alanis Morissette, "Isn't it Ironic"?.


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Five of my favourite museums. What are yours?

I think the post about bridges a fortnight got me thinking of other of my favourite things. So I have decided to look at five of the favourite museums I have visited. Here is my list of five that I could happily visit again.

1. Pergamon Museum, Berlin

In fact I could have probably not gone off Museen Island in Berlin with a list, as the Bode Museum, Neus Museum, Altes Museum and Alte Nationalgalarie are also well worth a visit. But the think about the Pergamon is the sheer scale of some of the exhibits from its ancient society collection. From the Market Gate of Miletus (Pictured), the Pergamon Altar or the lush blue of the Ishtar Gate and intricate mosaic walls of the Aleppo room. I first saw the collection near the start of a Lange Nacht der Museen in the City and certainly had to go back here for another visit when I returned to Berlin. But as well as the big vista show stoppers there are rooms full of ancient artefacts. The museum is currently undergoing a five year renovation project due to be completed in 2019 and sadly the Pegamon Altar room will be closed to visitors for all that time. But well worth a visit in the meantime and you know you can always return.

2. Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra

Really two museums in one. To the south side of the A2 Belfast-Bangor Road in the grounds of Cultra House is the collection of buildings lovingly relocated from all over Ulster of both urban and rural living. All manner of lifestyle from Ulster's past are shown not just in the stonework but the furnishings and on site re-enactors show off the skills of our forefathers. On the other side of the Road (linked by a free bus with the combined ticket) is the large and diverse collection of means of transport. Many of them including the Wright Brothers plane built by Short Brothers bringing powered flight to Europe up to the Delorean sports car built nearby.

3. The National Gallery, London

In compiling  this list I was thinking which of these Museums I visited most. While the previous one had a large number of visitations I think the National scores top for walking through the door. I've spent many hours while I studied and lived in London walking in for free and being inspired. I know that often artists would sit in there and sketch, but mostly I was a poet going in there to have this pictures (and not always the well known ones) inspire me to pen words. Of course it's location (I used to walk past it daily when I worked in Piccadilly) makes it easily accessible for most of us.

4. Laurel and Hardy Museum, Ulverston, Cumbria

By far the smallest museum on this list (when I visited it), but then its position has significance. It was here that in his Grandparents house that Albert Stanley Jefferson was born in 1890, better known by his stage name of Stan Laurel. The collections started as the passion of one man, the late Bill Cubin and is still curated by his daughter and grandson. But the tiny terraced house that the museum was was housed in was overcrowded with memorabilia and very cluttered, so in 2009 it moved to larger premises in town. Where better but the former Roxy Cinema for Ulverston's most famous son and star of the silver screen.

However, one day I hope to go to Harlem, Georgia, USA to visit the equivalent hometown museums of Oliver Hardy.

5. Neue Synagoge Museum, Berlin

There are a number of Jewish Museums in Berlin but instead of listing the excellent Jewish Museum, which is one of the largest in Europe I have gone for the more intimate setting of the Museum to the rear of the New Synagogue. The building of the synagogue itself was saved by local police officers when Nazi mobs intended to burn it down on "Kristallnacht" 9 November 1938 because if it being an historic landmark. But the Museum at the back tells the history of the Jews in Berlin and the New Synagogue from its building from 1859-1866 to its last use on 31 March 1940. Sadly only the front offices, along with the building next door which continued to be used by Jews in the city until 1942. So the prayer room and original dome were demolished in 1958 by the Jewish Community of East Berlin.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Let's give Paul Givan and his Christian Brethren equality with NI's LGBT people

Last night Paul Givan on the Nolan Show had the audacity to say that LGBT rights in Northern Ireland were of higher value than Christian Rights.

Therefore I have finally agreed to accept his argument on this and believe that the DUP should forthwith reintroduce equality between LGBT individuals and Christians. Here are the list of bills that need to be introduced in Northern Ireland:

  • Marriage Bill (Northern Ireland) Christian Place of Worship Amendment  - Christians shall not be allowed to marry in any location in Northern Ireland. All Christian meeting places shall no longer be allowed to carry out marriages.  Those that wish to have their relationship recognised by the state can go to their City Hall or Town Hall and have a civil partnership ceremony carried out. Any Christian couple who are married outside Northern Ireland when they come to Northern Ireland will be recognised in law as Civil Partners only.
  • Blood Donation (Northern Ireland) Bill No Christian shall be allowed to donate blood in Northern Ireland. This is based on the fact that the Department of Health have scientific evidence that because of drinking the blood of Christ we are not sure that a 1 year referral period after drinking communion is sufficient to meet the conditions of security and integrity of the NI blood supply. While the assembly is aware that England, Wales and Scotland read the report to say there is no need for this lifetime ban we know better.
  • Adoption and Family (Northern Ireland) Bill We believe that Christians are not to be trusted to raise children. What with their hymns, weekends devoted to hours and hours of endless church going and having a lifestyle that seems to deny fun which is an essential part of a child's upbringing. We also note that the ongoing investigation into abuse in Children's homes reflect poorly on such institutions that are run by religious orders so obviously the only reason Christians want to get hold of children is for paedophilia. To protect our children Christians therefore will be refused the right to adopt children in Northern Ireland or to look after them in care homes.
  • Religious and Personal  Development Education (Northern Ireland) Regulations We will remove the right of religious education to include Christianity in Northern Ireland schools to put it on a footing with LGBT education. Also in Personal Development Education we will take isolated verses from other religions and other writings that attack Christianity and show it is wrong without any balance from other sources, in line with sexual orientation as in the current guidelines. We are aware that some children may find this uncomfortable to deal with but we don't think that is a consideration that we need to look into too deeply.
  • Christianphobic Bullying (Northern Ireland) Bill We shall remove Christianity as a diversity that needs to be protected within our education system. Those schools do not need to have a policy against Christianphobic bullying in place nor condemn children who use Christianphobic language in the class room.
  • Provision of Churches (Northern Ireland) Bill We note that Christian friendly buildings, also known as churches, are far more widely accessible that LGBT friendly places of congregation, also know as bars. Therefore to introduce equality of access we shall limit Churches to three in Belfast (all on one street), two in Londonderry/Derry, one each in Strabane and Newry. Christians in other locations will have to make do or survive in isolation or ignorance that other Christians exist or make trips to such locations when they can.
As for public perception seeing Christians hold hands or kiss in public places can be shunned by others (even if those of other faiths or none are doing the same in the greater number nearby). Shouting derogatory phrases at them is merely part of the Northern Irish society that we live in and is to be expected.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Five of my Favourite Bridges. What are yours?

My friend and fellow blogger Mark Pack has posted a post talking about his five favourite bridges so I thought I'd do the same. Normally on such a list I would include the Forth Bridge, but as Mark used that on his list here are another five.

1. Peace Bridge - Londonderry
First up has got to be the Peace Bridge in Derry/Londonderry. Not only for the ascetics of the two sweeps do I select this pedestrian bridge over the River Foyle. But like the Hands Across the Divide statue not far from the western end of this bridge it actually is aiming to do just that for the community that is largely divided on sectarian lines, largely by that river.

It opened ahead of the City becoming the first UK City of culture and crosses from just behind the Guild Hall across to the new public space called Ebrington Square on the site of the former army barracks on the Waterside of the City. It has seen more people crossing the River to mingle and mix with those on the other side that for many years previously.

2. Millau Viaduct - Southern France 

Being a fan of cycling a get to see a lot of great sites around the world and in 2010 the Tour de France passed under this bridge and my imagination was piqued. French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Sir Norman Foster combined to make this thing of beauty. But as well as being beautiful it is a spectacle of engineering with the middle tower being 340m above the base of the structure making it the tallest bridge in the world and its vehicle deck is the 12th highest. Indeed that pier is the tallest structure in France surpassing even the Eiffel Tower. It spans 2.46km across the Tarn Valley. It is built on a curve to help it stand up to high winds such as the Mistral that affects that part of France.

3. Charles Bridge - Prague 

In 1357, during the reign of Charles IV of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor work began on the Stone Bridge to span the River Vltava linking Prague Castle with the City's old town. It was to the Juduth Bridge which had been badly damaged by floods in 1343. From its completion in the early 15th century until 1841 it was the only way to cross the river in the city.

There are 30 statues on the balustrade of the bridge most of the current statues dating from the early 18th Century. Though two of the positions have a longer history and signifigance than that. On the North Side soon after 1361 a wooden cricifix was originally installed where the Cricifix and Calvary statue now stands. It was probably destroy by the Hussites in 1419. But a replacement in 1629 was destroyed by the Swedes towards the end of the 30 Years' War (1618-1648). It was replaced by a metal version in 1657 made by H. Hillger, in 1666 the two lead figures were added. Those figures were replaced with sandstone statues by Emanuel Max in 1861. On the South Side where the Statue of the Lamentation of Christ now stands there was originally a wooden crucifix that was destroyed by flood in 1496, in 1695 a Jan Brokoff statue of the Lamentation of Christ was placed there, but in was removed to a Monastery in 1859 to be replaced by the current Emanuel Max vision of the same.

The Oldest Statue however on the bridge is that of St John of Nepomuk, who was thrown from the bridge in 1393 by Wenceslaus the Idle, Charles IV's successor, because he refused to divulge the confession of Wenceslaus's Queen. Most visitors to the bridge will be personally acquainted to this statue, as it here that it is deemed good fortune to touch the bridge, and to ensure you will return to Prague.

4. Ha'penny Bridge -Dublin

My family history should hate this bridge, because my paternal grandmother's family were ferrymen on the Foyle. But before this wrought iron bridge was built in 1861 William Walsh ran the seven ferries that crossed the Liffey in Ireland's largest city. However, the ferries were getting into a state of disrepair so he was ordered to upgrade them or build a bridge. As this bridge pays tribute he took the later option. As a result he and his heirs were allow to extract a toll on those who crossed using the bridge for 100 years. It was later raised to a penny ha'penny but tolls were dropped in 1919 during the war of independence.

In 2001 major repair work was needed on the bridge, and this was carried out by the Belfast ship builders Harland and Wolff. The bridge was also at this time returned to its original white paintwork.

Alfred Wainwright's sketch of Matty's Bridge
5. Monks Bridge or Matty's Bridge - Cumbria

I've covered the grand, works of modern awesomeness, symbolism and the move to modernity. But my last bridge is so humble in comparision. It is the oldest surviving pack horse bridge in Cumbia crossing the River Calder high up in Ennerdale, close by my uncle's familial origins. It was originally built by the monks of Calder Abbey and would have been used to transport good from their fields to the stores as well as iron ore from the nearby mines.

It is near the Calder Bridge to Ennerdale Bridge road but the first time I saw it was following one of Alfred Wainwright's routes in the Western Fells. So I like many others first see this bridge with my boots on, pack on my back and stick in my hand.

Honourable mentions

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge - North Antrim

Sunshine Skyway Bridge - Tampa Bay

Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina

Friday, 6 February 2015

Making a messy bed for Peter Robinson #ConscienceClause

Paul Givan last night of BBC's The View and again on the radio during this morning's Stephen Nolan Show said he wanted to extend his conscience clause to allow B&B owners to deny unmarried heterosexual couples as well. The reason of course is because allowing them to share a bed, or room, or even the same establishment (people can move rooms or beds in the night you know) would conflict with deeply held beliefs.

However, I've just thought of one issue that he has just created for his own party's leader. When the time comes for Peter Robinson to replaced the tax payer funded marital bed (see the Daily Telegraph c. 2010) will he be able to get one from a Christian run furniture store. The issue of course lies not with Mr Robinson himself, but with Mrs Robinson. It is rumoured that some of the affair that led to her leaving public office and largely public life took place in said bed.

Could something like this mean no Robinson bed?
To replace this a Christian store owner could deny selling the Robinson's a new bed, not just for their marital bed but for any room of the house. The store owner may not have surety that the bed would not be used for purposes that conflict with their deeply held religious beliefs. After all there is someone who had admitted to adultery in the household and there is no guarantee that the new bed might not be used for adultery yet again. Because these Christian business owners that Paul Givan wants to protect can't seem to see beyond the label and consider behaviour. After all a same-sex couple looking to stay in a B&B may well be a married couple (elsewhere in the UK or other nations that recognise same-sex marriage), yet even the unmarried heterosexual could be turned away.

So I'm sorry to break the news to the First Minister but under the expenses scandal he has got himself a bed that he may have to keep unless he can a store owner with no conscience objections to selling him a new one. Maybe Ann Summers around the corner from Ashers could put him in touch with someone.

The Northern Ireland abortion consultation

There is a letter in today's Belfast Telegraph arguing for human rights for the unborn, in light of the Northern Ireland Department of Justice looking at extending the right to abortion to fatal foetal abnormalities and victims of rape.

Here's the thing there already is the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine which includes two very clear articles that address issues:

Article 14 – Non-selection of sex 
The use of techniques of medically assisted procreation shall not be allowed for the purpose of choosing a future child's sex, except where serious hereditary sex-related disease is to be avoided.

Article 18 – Research on embryos in vitro 

  1. Where the law allows research on embryos in vitro, it shall ensure adequate protection of the embryo. 
  2. The creation of human embryos for research purposes is prohibited.
Another document to consult is the UN Declaration on Human Rights. In Article 1 there is lays out what a human being actually is:

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Keys words are born, reason and conscience. Surely that implies that our human existance only begins at the point of our birth.

But having said that the embryo articles in the biomedicine convention do give some protections even before then. Indeed Article 14 would seem to allow by extension to allow for the three parent medical assistance for overcoming mitochondrial diseases. It is not choosing gender specific related disease but still allowing avoidance of serious disease.

Someone in the comments used a very good analogy in relation to fatal foetal abnormalities, comparing it to life support machines. We allow families to turn off the life support of those whose brain is no longer conscious and able to support their life with the system. The same applies to fatal foetal abnormalities, their life support machine is the mother's womb and the tubes they are linked up to are the umbilical chord. We don't make families wait up to 9 months to turn off the life support machine, so why should this be different for fatal foetal abnormalities?

As for victims of rape turn again to the UN Declaration on Human Right

Article 5.

 No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

If you have been raped and are made to carry your pregnancy full term is that not cruel? Is that not degrading treatment? Think of all the times once the bump starts to show that a mother is asked "will the father be looking after you both" or "who's the father?". Aren't these also parts of a cruel punishment for a woman whose body has been invaded not just in the brief minutes of the assault but for the 9 months that cruel, often male, objectors insist she must live with the evidence of a low point in here existence.