Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Just how in the real world is Alderman Humphrey.

Woodvale Park in Belfast is one of those locations that is surrounded by names that many around the world will even recognise. The Woodvale Road that leads up to the park is an extension of  the Shankhill Road. Not far away at the Springfield Road which itself comes off the Falls Road and loops round the back of Falls Park and up in the hills where often they are messages of protest that can be seen from the M1.

But it is also close to the Crumlin Road and as a result the Ardoyne shops, past which the Orange order have not been allowed to march on each weekend since the 12th of the July.

It is also one of those locations that I have played bowls in (just like Falls Park) because bowls does not recognise the various divides that are marked by high walls topped with steel fencing and sharp points. Indeed Woodvale Park was where I played my last competitive outdoor match at the end of last season before my move to Orkney.

The season before as we were trying to make out way there, we were trying to avoid bands and lodges that where marching all over the place between the Shankhill and Crumlin roads. Indeed after our game we just about managed to get away before trouble broke out at Clifton Street and Donegall Street. After going up the Crumlin to avoid the marching (so we thought) we came down the Shankhill, just in time before that entire part of Belfast got sealed off. Having spend 3 hours in tranquility of the park it was sad, though not a surprise having seen the police presence that this was how that day would end.

The reason that today I am retelling all this is because last season we saw that there was some work being done to restore the park to somewhere that local people could enjoy more fully. Today was supposed to be the day that the Lord Mayor officially opened it. A Lord Mayor who promised that he would go to every part of the City of Belfast that invited him, when he took his office.

The issue is that the current Lord Mayor is Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, which as regular readers may be able to guess from my correct use of the fadas in his name is a Sinn Féin Lord Mayor, while the park is in a staunch Loyalist area.

Now of course any first citizen in almost any part of the UK would be expected to be the one to reopen a £2 million redevelopment within their city of a public space. But protestors came out in such force that they injured a police man and the Lord Mayor himself was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital for check-ups saying he was sore in some places. He since then carried on with his schedule for the day.

However, the incident was not helped by one of the City's Aldermen, William Humphrey of the DUP saying:

"We asked that the deputy lord mayor or the high sheriff carry out this duty here today.

"There is real anger, frustration. It started when the flag was removed. The lord mayor's party, the SDLP and Alliance came together to do that.

"This should have been a day of celebration for a £2m investment by the council and the Department of Social Development and quite honestly the lord mayor needs to understand he cannot make statements and go around doing press interviews calling for our flag to be removed, remove the flag, and then when he has a chain around his neck as lord mayor of this city, expect people to welcome him as first citizen.

"That's not how it works in the real world."

Actually Mr Humphrey in most of the real world, while people may disagree with a political decision made by a Mayor or his party he rarely comes under the physical threat and actuality of violence while carrying out his civic duties. As Mr Humphries said the Council had invested in this redevelopment, it is right and proper that the Lord Mayor should there to reopen it. Calling for the deputy (who happens to be the DUP Christopher Stalford) or the High Sheriff to carry out this task actually demeans the Council's involvement.

Does Mr Humprey not know that 'in the real world' the position of Deputy Lord Mayor has a representative role within the city along with the Lord Mayor. When the Lord Mayor is unavailable for whatever reason, it is the responsibility of the Deputy Lord Mayor to carry out the representative functions of the Lord Mayor. Now it appears that the Lord Mayor was available to go to Woodvale to open this park. He was willing to go somewhere where he knew they might be hostility for the wider public good.

Politics is about more than flags and at council level providing amenities for the local people is a key part of that role. That is what should have been celebrated in Woodvale today, Mr Humphrey is right about that. The opening of improved civic amenities for their people is what was important about today, not turning it into an extension of the protest that has been going on in one form or another since December.

In the news offer the last few days we have heard of people being threatened so often by online troll. But since December those who fail to understand how the real world operates with regard to flags have carried out heavy handed threats and actual violence against those that want Northern Ireland to actually live in the real world. Some who are my friends have been direct victims on that intimidation and violence.

Mr Humphrey and his DUP colleagues talk about wanting the best for Northern Ireland, maybe it is time for them to start acting and speaking like they actually meant it.

Update The Belfast Telegraph has video coverage of the arrival of the Lord Mayor on their news story.

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