Thursday, 12 May 2022

Northern Ireland Protocol 101: From a Northern Irish Perspective

 I see that this morning John Redwood has tweeted:



There are a number of issue with this that many of us here in Northern Ireland take umbridge with. Firstly John is assuming that those conducting the interviews also understand the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and the various subsequent agreements added to the original. You see this whole thing is complex and when in 1998 the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland voted to approve the Good Friday agreement they actually knew what they were voting for. It was written out in full and sent to every home. 

This of course contrasts to Brexit which there was never any clear plan of what it meant and the Conservative Government subsequently has been making up as it goes along. If John Redwood has read the GFA he would know how intertwined Northern Ireland, Ireland and indeed the EU institutions are within the agreement for a peaceful future for the island of Ireland. 

There were only 18 years from the GFA until the vote on Brexit but in that time things in Northern Ireland changed, for the better. Subsequently the people of Northern Ireland, who did know what was involved in the GFA actually voted against leaving the EU. There are number of reasons for that security, ease of access across the border, also realising how much interlinkage there is and that this would be threatened by an EU border stretching over 300 miles around Northern Ireland.

In these days of talk about energy security the fact that most of NI's gas and electricity is actually supplied from Ireland Her Majesty's Government threatening to get involved in some any sort of argument with the EU, by acting unilaterally is worrying.

The other issue that many of us have is that Redwood is saying what the Unionist community think of the protocol in relation to the GFA. By this he means the DUP and TUV rather that the Unionist community but why let convenient shorthand get in the way when making a point about having the facts. The fact that the DUP and TUV were opposed to much of the GFA and are using it to acheive their own ends and on this they seem to be pushing the button of consent. Consent of course that wasn't settled with the withdrawal from the EU in the first place. 

This wee pocket of the UK along with several others didn't consent to our exit from the EU and then the European Economic Area, for many of the reasons about supply of food, services energy etc. In fact since Brexit our supermarkets have had to replace some of their foodstuffs, which have been in short supply in Great Britain also, with some supplied from Ireland, thank you protocol. So the DUP playing the consent card and with holding their consent for the Assembly to form over an issue over which their monirity view was fed into the Tory Government's negotiating position ignores the greater issues and more largely held opinion.

The DUP stood in the recent election on their stance of the protocol as part of a five point plan. Since the election is appears that four of those points education, housing, health service and cost of living are not really important enough right now for them to work on. However, that didn't go down too well with the electorate they lost 6.7%* of their vote and 3 MLAs. Hardly a ringing endorsement for what they were pushing. Yet somehow their performance at this election is now not just enough to hold the majority of NI voters hostage but the entirity of the UK.

Does anyone else remember the Prime Minister saying his deal was oven ready? Incuding the Protocol which Johnson and the DUP said was better than Theresa May's deal.

Does anyone else remember their 2019 election pledge that there would be no more negotiation over Brexit?

Well here we are we have a Government arguing that the Protocol that they agreed to as part of the process is not fit for purpose and that if the EU will not renegotiate it they will unilaterally chnge or scrap it.

We live in strange and worrying times. Can someone in the Coservative Party please listen to the people of Northern Ireland who are not linked the DUP, TUV or Jamie Bryson (now that is a story for another time).

* I will note here that the TUV gained 5.1% but if you also add in the 1.7% that the net loss for the  unionist parties is still 3.3%

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Cooking with Tories

 The latest trend I'm seeing from Conservative representatives is that if poor people knew how to cook properly they wouldn't be facing the cost of living crisis. The Tories that are saying this are clearly living in a High Looking down on the plebs with displeasure.

They have clearly never been in a situation where when you are paid the bare minimum you can get towards the end of a month and face a regular panic. You scrape together all the change you can find to maybe buy enough food, and basic provisions at that, to last until pay day. Or maybe it is to go unto your electric key or gas card for you prepayment meters, or maybe to see if you can afford to get to work. This is not a new occurance it is something I faced at times around 2008.

It was not caused my me not being able to cook. In fact I was not purchasing pre-cooked meals as it was cheaper to buy ingredients to cook. I had a selection of all the dried pulses you could imagine and ate a largely vegetarian diet as meat was so costly. In fact when I was forced to live like this I did spend longer before going to the shops working out how to balance my diet, and within my budget, that at times when I had more disposible income on which to life.

Currently the sitution is dire. There are people whose fuel bills have gone up so much that they are having to ask their energy companies for credit, which is actually debt, to tide them over. This they will have to repay and therefore there is a further hole in their weekly budgets.

There food shop is already going up and the fact that there are now more food banks across the UK than McDonalds restaurants should tell anyone looking at those figures that we are heading towards Dickensian disparities between the rich and the poor.

So Tory MPs telling people how to economise or that they don't know how to cook are not aware of how much scraping around people do when they live on the edge. Food does not get thrown out it is used up, somehow. Basics are there and yes sometimes there is survival with basic bread and basic baked beans. However, when even the prices of the stables, bread, pasta, cooking oil are all subject to price rises due to the war in Ukraine affecting supply, along with a removal of the cap on energy price rises, pay is not keeping up to costs.

Yet in the Queen's Speech provided yesterday there was no major statement about how to help those in need now, nor how to prevent more slipping into a poverty trap.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Empty Chair at Empty Risos - Trubute to Erlend Watson

 (with apologies to Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel) 


There's a grief that can't be spoken

There's a pain goes on and on
Empty chair at empty RIsos
Now our friend Erlend has gone
Here he talked of social justice
Here it was he helped campaigns
Here he sang at Glee with gusto
And regaled us all with tales
From the Riso in the corner
He could see a world reborn
And he rose Riso restarting
And I can hear it now!
The very words he had sung
Became our walking campaign song
On this lonely Good Morning
At dawn
Oh my friend, my friend forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Your smiling face all over Conference
Whispering to Risos from the floor
Empty chair at empty Risos
Which my friend will fix no more
Oh my friend, my friend
We all know what your sacrifice was for
Empty chair at empty Riso
Where Erlend campaigns no more

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Whitehead Minister to step down over Presbyterian's stance on LGBT members

 As I start to write this I realise it has been an age since I posted anything here. I apologise, but even me before last year happened I lost a bit of my blogging mojo. Since I last posted there are 6 drafts that never saw the light of day.

In 1904 two of my Great Grandparents were married in the Presbyterian Church in Whitehead. Why is this significant?

Today the news is out that the current Minister of Whitehead, Rev Ian Carton is to step away from the ministry later this year because he cannot abide the church's stance on certain issues. He said in a message to his congregation on Sunday "To our (his and his wife's) mind, it seems to be excluding people we'd like to welcome."

Regular readers, back in the day will know my struggles as a gay man appeasing my faith especially within the Presbyterian Church that has largely been the church of forefathers for generations, with many elders, minsters and other leaders within the family. Over lockdown I have "been" to more services than I have been at my home congregation in recent years. However, with churches reopening I will not be going back to attending in person as I am one of those that Rev Carton says he liked to welcome into a Presbyterian Church but feels unable to.

In this year's census when it asked for religion I used the accurate description of how I feel excluded Presbyterian. It is with sadness that any are forced away from the church they call home because of the stance that church has taken. I am not alone in the number of LGBT+ people who have felt that way and walked away from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Now Rev Carton is taking the same journey that many of us have taken. He like us has studied the bible to come to terms with what would God want, what is right and where is his place within faith.

I am therefore glad that after he has gone about his studies he has come to the conclusion that this decision to step away from PCI ministry is a call.

"It's a call to leave the church of my birth, the church that I've grown up in," he said. 

"What I hear is God calling me, calling me to those who certainly feel cast out, who feel rejected, who feel unloved. 

 "The decisions taken by our denomination mean that they can never belong."


It takes people of courage to stand up for what is right. It has always taken allies to help advance the cause of LGBT+ people in whatever environment. Rev Carton has shown courage, compassion and Christlike love in coming to his decision. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Well Being Economics: First Reflections on Jo's FIrst Leader's Speech #JoSwinson #LDConf

The key thing that made me jump out of my seat during Jo Swinson's leader's speech was when she questioned why we measure the state of our country by GDP (Gross Domestic Product). It took me back to one of my first Economics tutorials  a little over 30 years ago.

In that tutorial the tutor said that economics was basically powered by everyone getting out of it what is best for themselves. I questioned that said what about those who were concerned about giving others a fair chance, cared about the environment etc. It will probably not therefore surprise you to know that in my elective courses in my second and third year I focused on Environmental and Developmental Economics along with my third choice European. The fact that after the second year and carried all three on deeper shows you that I have been tuned into this for over 30 years.

As Jo said with the level of well being for our planet and indeed everyone in our society we need to act now. We are in a climate emergency, we need urgent action. We have a President in the White House and another in Brazil who seem to not see the importance and actually don't want others to see this either. But the facts have been there for years and looking at some of my Environmental Economics books from 30 years ago even the predictions then are way sort of the disaster we are in now. 

However, as Jo points out if we have any Brexit, especially if we have a no deal Brexit we will be furiously kicking under the flood waters to keep ourselves afloat without the time, energy or resources to be able to deal with such big issues. We'll be in survival mode, like those developing countries I learnt about 30 years ago, who said they had to follow our path to development burning fossil fuels, massive factories, chopping down their forests. This was because we refused to share with them the benefits their resources had given us in colonial times and they now felt left behind. But that will be the Britain post-Brexit. 

We need to deal with things in the round, in conversation and coalition with other nations to deal with these issues, not heading to isolation behind the hulking, shulking Boris running from people who think differently from him.

We need to act. We need to demand better. We need to do it now.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Stigmatising HIV and Hepatitis isn't an Ecumenical Issue...or even a Health Issue

The resignations of my friends Jennie Rigg and Sarah Brown resigned from the Liberal Democrats over the joyful acceptance of Philip Lee into the party it gave me pause for reflection.

It wasn't that long ago that another "health issue" caused a lot of hurt here in Northern Ireland when Iris Robinson mentioned that her friendly psychiatrist could cure Northern Ireland of Sodomy it seemed. Quite rightly the Liberal Democrats were up in arms about those comments.

However, when someone's views in the past that we should stop people coming to this country who have HIV or Hepatitis, some of those same people brush it under the carpet as a health issue. Then reject the anger and hurt that is felt by LGBT+ activists and campaigners. You see many of us who are LGBT+ have been told to our faces that we have a health issue. Usually as with Iris Robinson this is referring to our mental health. People have told us there is a cure, some of us even have tried the so called "cure" so know even more how much this hurts.

Refusing people entry to this country because they have HIV or Hepatitis is a mixture of Homophobia and Xenophobia. It is based on ignorance like in the 1980s that these are just gay diseases. It ignores the many millions from Sub Sahara Africa who have been infected by their partners or parents. It legitimises a certain amount of asylum refusal, in much the same way that many LBGT+ asylum seekers have been turned away by the Border Force for not being stereotypically "gay" enough to warrant asylum.

CIS, straight people telling LGBT+ people that they shouldn't be offended. That our lose would be unfortunate is stirring a pot that should not be stirred. We can feel this oppression because we still face it ourselves. We are still anxious about public signs of affection in areas we don't know well. We have faced the name calling, we have faced the accusing looks, the ignorance, the hatred.


Unlike from Father Ted this isn't so much an Ecumenical Issue. We are a party that believes nobody should be enslaved by conformity.

When you base you standards of conformity of misguided health guidelines; without realising the fact about undetectable viral loads or the health nightmare that some of the poorest in this world face, you are not allowing everyone to achieve the best that they can be. If you do are you truly Liberal.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The Good Friday Generation #LyraMcKee Legacy

Yesterday one of the quotes from Lyra McKee that really struck home was this:


“We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us.”

Today on the day after she died of the gun shot wound she received on the streets of Derry we learn that two others  of that Good Friday Agreement generation have been arrested for her murder. These are three young people who should have been able to reap the spoils of peace.

Twenty one years ago after that other Good Friday they was a feeling of hope about the future for Northern Ireland. Our politicians were talking about talking responsibility for our health service, our economy, our education and all the other departments. Trust me as someone who was in the civil service either side of devolution I know the enthusiasm that local politicians had (yes even those who were opposed to the Good Friday Agreement).

But this weekend after hearing about the ages of those arrested I got thinking. Is it really because the Good Friday Agreement generation didn't really reap the spoils of peace that we know have these young people taking to arms.

We have to acknowledge that there has been some unrest in certain areas for a while. We have to look at why this has allowed to escalate.

Our politicians have to take some responsibility, only last week Arlene Foster again used the scare story that unionists have to vote DUP to prevent Sinn Féin being the largest party. When our politicians still talk about us and them there is still division and not a shared future. Yesterday she was united with all the other parties standing in the Creggan at a vigil for a victim of violence in Northern Ireland.

The issues that impact the poorest in Northern Ireland whether in the Creggan or East Belfast, whether Protestant or Catholic, gay or straight have been put on hold for over 2 years now. Decisions that cannot be made without a Minister are not being made. The spoils of peace are at a standstill. Partially this is down to the two largest parties still posturing with us and them redlines.

Twenty one years on from the people of Northern Ireland voting to allow their politicians to take back control of our future. Twenty one years on from us trusting them to be able to share that power they are failing to act in our interests. At the moment there is too much playing at party politics rather that dealing with the real politics and sadly here in Northern Ireland too often that means making everything into a green or orange issue. If you are into consensus politics and agree with something that one side suggests you are even accused of the worst excesses of them uns.

This is not healthy, we need to step away from all of this name calling and work on making things better for the generation that didn't experience the horrors of war, we need to be able to provide with the opportunity to enjoy the spoils of peace.