Wednesday, 30 January 2013

So the Question is...

Should Scotland be an independent nation?

Yes or No

Yes the phrasing that the SNP wanted "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" was ruled by the electoral commission as possibly leading and not neutral. So the shorter more neutral question above is now the one that Nicola Sturgeon has agreed that she will recommend is adopted for the referendum.

Scottish Electoral Commissioner John McCormick commenting on the issue of the all important question said  he wanted voters to have confidence in the result of the referendum. Adding:

"We have rigorously tested the proposed question, speaking to a wide range of people across Scotland.

"Any referendum question must be, and be seen to be, neutral. People told us that they felt the words 'Do you agree' could lead voters towards voting 'yes'."

The Electoral Commission have also agreed that the spending limits for the Yes Scotland and Better Together campaigns also be increased from £750,000 to £1.5m. While the caps placed on political parties spending on this issue remains as it was.

So now that the people of Scotland know what will asked of them at some point in 2014, it is on with telling them what the consequences of those decisions means.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Alliance Party share vision for future

OFMDFM say that releasing the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy, that has been ongoing, through consultation on the draft then review, almost as long as I have been back in Northern Ireland, at a time that all three are breaking down is the wrong timing. However, today the Alliance Party have issued they vision of what that shared future should be.

The main points, as highlighted in The Executive Summary, that they look to cover are:
  • Economics of a Shared Future
  • A Shared Approach to Education
  • Sharing the Spaces in which we Live, Work and Play
  • A Shared Culture
Yes flags are part of what they have to say but they have placed it after the economy, our young people and their education, housing and public space.

They have said that public space does not mean neutral space, in that there should not be no go areas for anyone. Now currently for those that are respectful of other cultures, and that is something that the document also points out there being more than two, are able to freely go about wherever they choose. Of course the Belfast Agreement allows anyone to identify as British, Irish or both (there has since been an increasing growth in those that identify as neither).

On the subject of cultures the Alliance Party lay out that:

The language of "two communities" or "both communities" always ignored people who either could not, or would not, be simply labelled as unionists or nationalists, Protestants or Catholics. Some come from mixed marriages, are part of ethnic minorities, or simply choose not to be described in such terms, preferring a more complex, multicultural and pluralist self-identification. Many Protestants and Catholics, and unionists and nationalists, often have more in common with people across the perceived 'divide' than they do with each other. Above all, violence in support of the 'two communities' idea has forced generations of people into choices about security which have embedded hatred and condemned others to silence and marginalisation.

Our community is becoming increasingly diverse. The old simplicity that there are two sorts of people here, where Protestant = British = Unionist, or Catholic = Irish = Nationalist, can no longer be the basis of progress. The emerging vision of a united community, based on both equality and good relations, allows for a society at ease with its diversity. We recognise within this context that some people may adopt multiple identities. The increase in the numbers of people describing themselves as 'Northern Irish' in the 2011 Census is indicative of this rapid change.

The arrival of new minorities has changed the visible face of our towns and cities and brought new opportunities and challenges. The emergence of other identities, such as the vibrant Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, which cut across the traditional divide, has marked a clear and positive shift in attitudes, and the importance of change to address issues of disability now shapes public policy and
expectations. Society stands to benefit in a situation where people can hold open, mixed and multiple identities, can experience different cultures and express their individual creatively. We now have a new opportunity which we cannot afford to miss.

Therein lies an issue that the majority of our parties do not find it easy to step away from. Their politics, and political thinking has been defined in purely them and us opposites. But I know from being part of that LGBT community most especially that in order for those types of situations that do not fit into the historic them and us situations that people are able to work together to achieve what they need to.

This should apply to the lack of jobs in our inner city working class areas, whether on the Newtownards Road or off the Falls Road. The should apply to housing which has become ghettoised since the late 60s. Growing up in the area of Bangor I did with a Catholic Church and school nearby and Catholic neighbours meant I knew they were no different from me. They bled from football injuries, just as they would go in hard for the tackle like us. They also served in the RUC (as was) just like my great grandfather had in the RIC in often tense situations where their lives where in danger sometimes from their own community.

Some things are certain though. If we cannot work out a way to live together, we cannot maximise our economic potential. If we cannot live beside each other, we will only further entrench our fears and not move on from our past. If we cannot let our children learn beside each other before they turn up at University, it will be another generation that reaches adulthood in ignorance of the diversity of culture that we live in.Without respect for our differences we are nothing.

Monday, 28 January 2013

King William coming to a nation near you

 On 23 November 1890 Netherlands last work up being reigned  by a King, since then there have been a succession of Queens. However, there are rumours that the announcement due from the House of Orange at 18:00 GMT is that Queen Beatriz will abdicate as her mother and grandmother did in favour of her heir apparant, who for the first time in over a century is male. Update in her speech on Dutch Television it has been confirmed that this will happen on 30th April.

Our own Queen Victoria was on the throne when a 10 year old Wilhelmina learnt of the death of her father William III. He had been 68 when his only surviving child was born William the eldest of three sons by a first wife had died the year before the birth, Maurice had died age 7 some 30 years before and Alexander who had become Heir Apparent when his brother died passed away when his half-sister was 4.

She was also born third in line behind the King's brother Prince Frederick but he too died just after she turned 1. When her father died her mother Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont served as her Regent until she came of age to rule in her own right.

In 1895 the longest reigning monarch of the United Kingdom Queen Victoria met the women who would become the longest reigning monarch of Netherlands. The elder Queen said of the younger:

"The young Queen ... still has her hair hanging loose. She is slender and graceful, and makes an impression as a very intelligent and very cute girl. She speaks good English and knows how to behave with charming manners"

She married in 1901 Prince Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and she was soon pregnant but miscarried, before giving birth nine months later to a still born son, another miscarriage followed in 1906. However, high in the line of succession was a cousin whose mother had married into a German royal family giving her a Germanic title, which was causing the Dutch aristocracy some concerns until in 1909 she gave birth to a child, Juliana. She was to reign through both World Wars, in the first being neutral though part of the Allies blockade of German ports. There was also some civil unrest at the end of the war sparked by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. However, her own popularity helped to restore stability.

In 1940 when the Germans invaded she was determined to remain in her country, but was persuaded to take exile and fled to the UK. She called Hitler the Arch-Enemy of mankind and broadcast messages to her people over Radio Orange. She visited troops in southern Netherlands in March 1945, before the end of the War, and after the official end decided not to return to her Palace but to a Mansion in the Hague.

In late 1947 poor health caused her to temporarily cede the throne to her daughter Juliana, she wanted then to abdicate permanently, her daughter urged her to try to reign for 60 years like the Queen she had met in 1895. She tried but again ceded the throne in 1948 but on 4 September she formally abdicated after 57 years and 256 days on the throne. She lived on in retirement to 1962.

Queen Juliana
Juliana was 39 when she succeeded her mother. She had married a German Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfield in 1937. At the time of her marriage as with her birth there was increasing militarism of the German state over the border. On 31 January 1938 she gave birth to Beatrix, in August 1939 a second daughter Irene was born. On 12 May 1940 during the invasion of the Netherlands she was taken to the UK, the day before her mother was persuaded to also follow, but after a month she decided to take her young family to Canada where they stayed throughout the war. In January 1943 her rooms in the Ottowa Civic Hospital were declared extraterritorial and exclusively Dutch so that her third daughter Margriet could be bron with sole nationality and remain eligible for succession. She set sail for Scotland in June 1945 after making donations of tulip bulbs to the city of Ottowa and its hospital, but listed her last permanent address on the passenger manifest as London England.

Upon her return to Netherlands the princess became pregant once more, but during the pregnancy caught German measles so when the child a fourth daughter Christina was born she had cataracts in both eyes, almost totally blind in one eye and severely damaged in the other.

When she took to the throne she was often seen dressed in ordinary clothes and riding her bicycle. After the 31 January 1953 when there were 30 breaches in Dunes and Dykes the Queen put on an old overcoats and boots and waded to devastated areas to help hand out aid. In 1964 her second daughter had without consent converted to Catholicism and married a Spanish Prince, some saw her as losing control and calls started for her abdication.

Queen Beatrix
But this was nothing compared to the constitutional crisis that she face the following year where her eldest daughter announced her engagement to Claus von Amsberg a German diplomat who had been part of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi Wehrmacht. There were no calls for her abdication as then the reason for the public anger would end up on the throne. But the Queen's personal popularity soon overcame the nation's unrest.

Thus it was that she was able on her 71st birthday on 30 April 1980 hand over the throne to her daughter Beatrix. The day is celebrated as Koninginnedag, Queen's Day, ever since.

Beatrix went to public primary and secondary schools in Canada and the Netherlands before going on to Leiden University, from where she graduated in 1961 with a law degree. On Koninginnedag 2009 she faced an assassination attempt when a man drove his car into a parade towards a bus carrying the Queen and members of the Royal Family. Five members of the crowd died instantly at the scene, two more and the assailant Karst Tates died later that day and another of the injured passed away within the week.

The announcement that the will abdicate on Koninginnedag this year after she turns 75 later this week, will mean that her son Willem-Alexander will become the first King to rule the Netherlands for 123 years.

Future King and the Queen thereafter? of Netherland
So who is the man who will probably reign as William IV?

He was born on 27 April 1967, so will become King mere days after he turns 45. He has an interest in water management issues being a patron on the Global Water Partnership, set up by the World Bank, UN and Swedish Government, as well as Chairperson of the United Nations Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

He served as Patron of the Dutch Olympic Committee until he became a member of the IOC. But he has already expressed support for celebrating the centenary of the Amsterdam Olympics by backing a bid to bring the Games back in 2028. But he has actually taken part in both the New York marathon and the Frisian Eleven Cities Ice Skating Marathon the Elfstedentocht in his native land.

As can be seen in the picture he along with his wife and three daughters were enjoying the Olympics here in London last summer. So the Dutch people may only have a short time of having a King as a Queen may well be coming along in years to come.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

A no vote is not always vacuous

Nicola Sturgeon in this morning's Scotland on Sunday says that a no vote in next year's referendum on Scottish Independence is a vote for nothing. This is rather big seeing as the SNP have yet to secure an Independent Scotland's future within Europe and to answer some leading questions on military, support for the arts, culture and leisure (currently covered by the national lottery) and other issues that severance with the rest of the UK would bring about.

Of course she pulls the line of toeing the line to Westminster Austerity cuts, has she forgotten that Scotland two banks and largest Building Society received bail outs from that same Westminster? Has she ever wondered what state Scotland would have been in had they not had the support of Westminster at that time? Maybe she should look at Greece and what is required there. Part of the reason that some of these cuts are required is because of the state that the Scottish financial institutions got us into, not all, but a sizable chunk. 

Of course there are many who believe that a vote to stay within the UK is in the best interests of Scots, there is the economy of scales questions of trans-British industry, there is security in a economy that despite the recession is still recognised world wide as a leader, there is certainty in freedom of trade and movement within Europe (yes even though David is promising a referendum on that in 2016).

You see what Nicola is forgetting to factor in is that the people of Scotland voted for a devolved Scottish Parliament within the UK. They also voted for tax raising powers with flexibility within parameters from the UK, powers that have yet to be exercised by any party in power in Scotland. So with the ability to do certain things differently that have not been exercised and others that have being taken, just what is this nothing that Nicola is talking about. Student fees, care for the elderly, prescription charges etc are all different in Scotland than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is hardly a nothing decision.

The other three main parties in Scotland all promised in the past to look at increasing powers for Holyrood, some may have taken a step back from that. However, the reason that this is on the back burner is because of the SNP insistence of taking this to a referendum and the decision to make it a single issue question of being part of the Union or not. The fact that parties like the Scottish Liberal Democrats do not want to muddy the waters does not mean that there will not be any further powers handed to Holyrood it is just that this is not something that the executive Government in Scotland are pursuing. You see it is Nicola and her SNP colleagues who are playing high stakes poker. They have gone all in on one hand, for them it is independence or bust. There is no get out, indeed there is no detail in what an independent Scotland will be, although Alex Salmond seems more that content to be dictator in chief, referee and player in his own referendum to anoint himself and his heirs and kings of Scotland thereafter.

Voting for the status quo is not always a vote for nothing, it can be a vote for stability as opposed to calamity. It can be a vote for prosperity as opposed to doom. Just because people do not want change does not mean that change is good or better. Until you can convince people that change is better for people they will vote for what they know.

The fact that the SNP are trying to scare people into saying a vote to stay in the UK is vacuous only goes to show that they have no real plan for the future. They have yet to convince me that Scotland is better apart from the UK, which is why I say we are Better Together, if I were to have a vote in the referendum I would be voting "No".

Saturday, 26 January 2013

When Hubs Cry

Yesterday the Westminster Government announced their proposals for Equal Marriage legislation in England and Wales. Unfortunately for displaced Northern Irish LGBT persons such as I have been for most of my adult live should we get married in England or Wales and then return to Northern Ireland that marriage will only be recognised as a Civil Partnership even if the couple had never been civil partnered.

Therefore I have turned to Prince for the music to sum up my feelings about this.

When Hubs Cry

Dig if you will the picture
Of you and I engaged in a kiss
The minister pronounced us husband and husband.
Can you my darling, can you picture this?

I take you home to my mother
In part of the country we’ve wed
But the homophobes strike a curious pose
And you and I are only civil partnered instead

Maybe they just want the Union to feel part of a bigger club.
Maybe our Britishness don’t matter to them.
Being gay ain’t being British to them.

Maybe we’re just too demanding, saying our blood is not fine.
Wanting equality in marriage of all things
Is pushing section 72 over the final line.

Maybe we’re not really human, not natural at any rate
But in England and Wales you and I are married
Just in Belfast we will have to wait.

Why do they scream we're repugnant
Was it because of something we've said
Is it our smell, our sound how we feel?
Or it is the other sense instead?

Why can't they accept our love darling?
You and I alone in our room
It doesn't affect how they love their wives
Yet this is what it sounds like
When Hubs cry.

(To the tune of When Dove’s Cry by Prince)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Lance Armstong confession

Here is the opening of Lance Armstong's interview with Oprah Winfrey last night. It answers all the questions cycling fans like myself wanted answers to, the details came later.

I don't need to say anything else

Fly the flag: a historic perspective

Here in Northern Ireland we hear the argument that the flag has always flown 24/7/365. It is like something set in time immemorial. So imagine what happens when someone actually scours through some historical documents. Here is the page about flying the flag in the 1950s. Note the lack of the Princes Andrew and Edward and the fact that Charles most senior title is that of Duke of Cornwall. Note also the time for flying them is 8 a.m.till sunset.

The days are:
  • 1st January - New Years Day
  • 6th February - Her Majesty's Ascension
  • 17th March - St. Patrick's Day
  • 31st March - Birthday of the Duke of Gloucester (note this is Prince Henry the son of the current Duke and son of George V)
  • Easter Day
  • 21st April - Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen
  • 25th April - Birthday of the Princess Royal (again note this is Princess Mary, daughter of George V at the time)
  • 24th May - Empire Day
  • 10th June - Birthday of the Duke of Edinburgh
  • 12th July - Bank Holiday
  • 4th August - Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
  • 18th August - Birthday of the Princess Anne
  • 31st August - Birthday of the Princess Margaret
  • November - Remembrance Day
  • 14th November - Birthday of the Duke of Cornwall
  • 20th November - Her Majesty's Wedding Day
  • 25th December - Christmas Day
Also to be flown for the official celebration of Her Majesty's Birthday and the Opening and Closing of the sessions of the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland.

A grand total of twenty days.

So when people tell you it has always been that way, ask them to check the facts.

Just like the name of Northern Ireland's second city, where if like me you look at family census returns from 1901 and 1911 where protestant children are born in the City of Derry and family live in Derry, this issue didn't become political until one side made it so. Now is the time for grown up politics.

In the UK we don't fly the flag every day. But we do fly it from civic and government buildings on a set number. That should apply to all council offices including those that do not fly it. Flying it any more than this is the equivalent of a dog marking their territory, and we know how they go about that.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

I like Steve Chalke cos he is a nice guy

Just over 20 years ago at Operation Mobilisation's Love Europe training week in Nuremburg, Germany I got my guitar out and with my fellow member of the LUKE line up team Rob Davis greeted our UK teams' guest speaker for an evening orientation season with a rock song. It only had one line, the title of this blog post repeated over and over. We then handed him a Love Preston t-shirt as a thank you for the session he had just given.

Today I want to get my guitar out again because of something that he has written here in Christianity magazine. He calls for the church to revisit its thinking on homosexuality and the need to look at it seriously. He points out correctly:

"Promiscuity is always damaging and dehumanising. Casual and self-centred expressions of sexuality – homosexual or heterosexual – never reflect God’s faithfulness, grace and self-giving love. Only a permanent and stable relationship, in which respect and faithfulness are given and received, can offer the security in which well-being and love can thrive."

Not I had been going to write a response to Rupert Everett's comments in Pink News last week about his fury against the Catholic Church. Pointing out that from my personal experience whenever the church was really hitting down on me because of my sexuality I tend to be more promiscuous as a result. This article from someone respected within the church goes some way to offering understanding and hope of the situation that gay Christians like myself find ourselves in. Steve carries on:

"One tragic outworking of the Church’s historical rejection of faithful gay relationships is our failure to provide homosexual people with any model of how to cope with their sexuality, except for those who have the gift of, or capacity for, celibacy. In this way we have left people vulnerable and isolated. When we refuse to make room for gay people to live in loving, stable relationships, we consign them to lives of loneliness, secrecy and fear. It’s one thing to be critical of a promiscuous lifestyle – but shouldn’t the Church consider nurturing positive models for permanent and monogamous homosexual relationships?"

This is one thing that I have always clung to myself in my struggles with my faith and sexuality. It is actually biblical and comes from 1 Corinthians 7: 1-7 where Paul says:

 Now for the matters you wrote about: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Of course the church expects all those with same sex attraction to remain celibate to be welcome. But as Paul says he doesn't even expect that of every heterosexual person of faith. Celibacy is a gift which not everyone is given. Yet with the Anglican church saying it will accept gay Bishops only if they are celibate, with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland saying it accepts gay people into full membership but only if they refrain from practice and so many other examples the pressure is only all LGBT people of faith to acquire a gift or fall short or fall out of favour with their churches.

In his conclusion Steve says:

"Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and well-being can be talked about, where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?

"Tolerance is not the same as Christ-like love. Christ-like love calls us to go beyond tolerance to want for the other the same respect, freedom and equality one wants for oneself. We should find ways to formally support and encourage those who are in, or wish to enter into, faithful same-sex partnerships, as well as in their wider role as members of Christ’s body."

This is the sort of love I wish I'd seen around the church when I was 14 and started to struggle with my church telling me something and every essence in my body telling me something else. This is the sort of love I have received from many of my Christian friends who for years I wasn't totally honest with, because I took a long time for me to accept me for who I was sexually. But so many of them, though there are a handful of exceptions, have accepted that I am still the same person as always, still with the same faith.

I would urge all of you to read the full extended version of what Steve has written and watch this video about the issue that he has produced.

 Update Unfortunately the head of the Evangelical Alliance has not heeded Steve's plea to contemplate and has hit straight out with this comment.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The DUP and the missed opportinity

I'm back. Did you miss me? I was over in Scotland for an interview on Friday, though sadly I am still on the hunt for that damned illusive thing called a job. However, despite being unemployed you will not find me taking part in recreational rioting.

However, while I was away from Thursday to Saturday I had quite a bit of time for thinking and here is something that I thought about.

Sinn Féin over the last 6 weeks have been saying that they do not want to totally disrespect the symbols that matter to the Loyalists. Indeed they were happy to accept the flying of the Union Flag on designated days from Belfast City Hall. It is something the the SDLP also are happy to accept.

Now here is the crunch thing. The DUP's immediate knee jerk reaction was to try and get the flag flying in as many councils as they can flying 365 days a year. Even in ones like Craigavon and Lisburn where they were part of the decision to fly it only on designated days. But what about the councils to the West of the Bann, the ones with a nationalist/republic majority?

Surely if Sinn Féin and the SDLP are prepared to accept that until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise that we are part of the United Kingdom and as such the Union Flag can be flown on designated days, what about those locations where the unionist community is in a minority? Should not instead of going on the attack about the flying of a flag, which by the way I did not see flying outside civic buildings in Scotland, into an appeal to get it flying everywhere in Northern Ireland on the designated days.

But no that would be far too sensible a thing to take out of this for the DUP. It is all or nothing with them at the moment and while some have nothing, some have some and some have all days of the Union Flag flying they think that is good enough. If Sinn Féin are prepared to let the flag fly on the days that honour the Monarch and Royal Family most in Belfast why not in Londonderry, Omagh, Dungannon and the rest?

But of course rather than seek a compromise for all of Northern Ireland, rather than even considering publishing the Cohesion Sharing and Integration strategy at a time the glue holding Northern Ireland together is falling away, they decide to retreat into their corner. They march out about 40,000 leaflets which told untruths to the people of East Belfast. They fail to mention that a committee had actually already voted to totally remove the Union Flag. They instead issue a legal challenge to try and overturn something was was voted on not once but twice and came to two different conclusions, just not the one they wanted.

You see while the unionists shrink back into their sections of society, they do leave men and Britishness behind. They are no long the party supporting Britishness in all of Ulster, indeed they are no longer such in all of Northern Ireland. They are only the party of large parts of Down and Antrim and smaller parts elsewhere, but largely unseen West of the Bann.

Meanwhile talking of Scotland the protestors fighting for their right to be British took their protest to the office of Nicola Sturgeon (it appears on their way to Ibrox). Yes they took their appeal to defend the Union Flag to the deputy leader of a party that wants to get rid of  the blue parts to keep all to themselves.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Parish notice

I know I haven't posted much in the last week or so, but bear with me until this weekend.

But there may also be an exciting announcement about something newish to me starting next week too.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Belfast Marathon Training Blog T -120

I've decided to start a little bit of blogging about my progress in getting ready for the Belfast Marathon on May 6th which I am running for Marie Curie in memory of my father, you can sponsor me via my JustGiving page. This is the first such entry.

I've just come in from a wet run on a cold January morning. At 43 my legs are quite as quick on the recovery as they once were half a life time ago. The aches I feel stay with me long after I get out of the shower or bath these days. My legs also feel like they want to go at the same pace they once did along familiar roads. Only problem is that back then I was training for maybe 5-6 miles of racing maximum, the occasional half marathon but not much else. I'm trying to educate them that they have to go five times further so go at a reasonable pace.

The other problem is that at the moment I am carrying around over 25% more body mass than I did at my facing peak. Now to be fair I was what a Doctor would call on the underweight side back in the day, who isn't as a distance runner but there is still a lot more of me around to move around the place and that takes more energy in the engine and the uphills are a hell of a lot tougher than I remember them. I used to be one of those guys who made up places going uphill, but also opened up on the downhill as well with a long stride.

All that being said I am on track, but it is a painful track. Getting back into a shape that I would be happy with to run 26 miles is the aim, not to find myself with 21 year old fitness levels. After all I'm not doing this for the honour of finishing well in a bid to advance my athletics career but simply to raise money for a cause close to my heart.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Another young family attacked in the name of a flag

Is it any wonder there are fewer women in politics in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK?

Cllr Claire Hanna with the damage
Picture via BBC
Today there is the news that SDLP Councillor Claire Hanna, who happens to be chair of the East Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership, has had air pellets shot at the windows of her home. Fortunately she, her daughter and husband Donal were all out at the time of the attack. But yet again a woman working to serve the community as an elected representative with a young daughter has has the windows to her home smashed in an intimidatory but also potentially injury causing way.

Like Cllrs Michael and Christine Bower, I happen to regard Claire and Donal as friends, because in post Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland my generation, and those younger than me, do find it easier to make friends of people irregardless of religious background. That is the way that a shared future can best be defined. With all of these political people mentioned in this paragraph I still have political disagreements at times but these are not based on the nature of my religion, they are based on political ideology more than anything. It does not matter where they choose to worship and that is what the majority of the people in Northern Ireland want to get to, that is normal, that is the goal.

It is discussion not violence,debate not shouting, listening to all and gathering a balanced view. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on a issue, but if your government perfectly fits all your opinion then you must be the dictator in charge rather than someone serving for the benefit of all opinion.

Therein lie the problem that our sectarian politics is still failing to reach. I think it is especially true of the Unionist community who at the moment seem to be retracting and retrenching into their old ways and not attempting to reach out. Too many feel there is only their way to do something, because they cannot face what the opposite side want. However, often we need to find a compromise here, it is what the Good Friday Agreement was and the consequential meetings at Belfast, Hillsborough and St Andrews.

To make Northern Ireland work no one sides opinion can be the only way things are done, if we carry on like that we'll never achieve anything. This protests and the violence that is riding on the back of it is an attempt to maintain a dictatorship. As a son of Derry (which all Protestants called Londonderry in casual conversation before it became a "political" matter), and Cityside at that, I know the consequences such dicatorship from the Unionists had on the families who shared my family's side of the city. The current protest and violence is another attempt to impose rule by force, intimidation and fear rather than through diplomacy and debate.

I've said it before this is madness and anarchy. We the people who want a peaceful, normal existence do not want mob rule, do not want those who serve us to live in fear, nor to be be fearful for contacting them. We live in a democracy goddammit last time I checked.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Rory and the Olympics Dilemma

Regular readers will know that when it comes to the Olympics I support two nations. As some of you know I also know from first hand experience that the decision of which of those two an Northern Irish sports person faces when deciding who to represent isn't always straight forward or black and white.

Yesterday in a documentary shown on BBC Northern Ireland there was another twist to this tail.

First though a little bit of trivia question. When was the last time that Northern Ireland won a gold medal in an individual event? The answer was 1972 with Mary Peters. We have won team gold since then, and other medals both individual and team for both GB and Ireland. Our last Northern Irish Paralympians to win golds were three who took home 5 between them in London.

Northern Ireland does have a current world number one in a sport that will be making his Olympic debut in Rio 2016, so we should be looking forward to supporting someone with a real chance of ending that famine. But that world number one golfer Rory McIlroy is wary of the dispute of which flag he should represent. Last night he said if he played for either nation he would upset people so maybe he should take the other option and not take part at all.

Yeah the latest fall out of the entire flags issue is that Northern Ireland's top sportsman is seriously considering not taking up a place at the 2016 Olympics because whoever he chooses to represent he is fearful of upsetting someone. I know some Loyalists who cannot consider supporting an all Ireland team such as the successful Rugby or Cricket teams. Yet the same people will support Ulster in Rugby, they fail to notice ⅓ of the Province is actually not in the UK or that some of the players aren't British! Yes there seriously are people in Northern Ireland who cheered on England against Ireland in the One Day International World Cup despite there being Northern Irish players on the Ireland team and England containing a player from Dublin. 

Yes there really is such a divide in sporting circles here and the ungoing inability of some to respect other communities, democratic decisions on flags or personal preferences seems to be having a knock on effect that top Northern Irish sportspeople may seriously consider not going to the Olympics to achieve a once in four years dream as it will offend others.

I think it is time for those who feel offended by someone choosing who to represent (BTW a right protected in the Good Friday Agreement) to stop being so selfish as to threaten, appear to threaten or cause our best to not seek to gain an Olympic accolade.

Well done to all the flag protestors. You're making it impossible for Northern Irish sport to flourish now.