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.

Friday 14 November 2014

A poem for equality

I'd love to be regarded as just a person but in Northern Ireland I am not.
The DUP look on me as a dirty blood, my doctors have a different thought.
The DUP call me as promiscuous, but partners would tell them otherwise
The DUP say I'm not child safe, despite niece and nephew's smiles.
The DUP think I'm anti-Christian, yet I have a faith just like they themselves espouse.

Yet even my church can't judge me on faith alone because of being gay I suppose.
I've been called "one of them" by the new health minister to my face,
Yet when we meet at family gatherings it can be he looks ill at ease

Sadly not all people are equal with each other here in Northern Ireland,
Not just with those around you but 'cross England, Wales and Scotland
Those who claim to support the union and keep us all as British
When if comes to our equality they act with anger and are skittish.
Because from their view point as white and male, protestant heterosexuals
Though loyal they claim to the Queens, to queens they act abysmal.
They life a live of privilege tell us they stand for equality
Yet their failure to deliver on that is plain for all to see.

You see when you place a petition of concern and fight our equality in courts
It clear that those words are hollow, we look past such words to your thoughts.
And there the truth is all to clear, other words ring through our ears
Because you still want to save Ulster from Sodomy after all these years.
Yet what you fear is that we actually are normal just like you
Want families and weddings and to not to stand out in a queue
Unless of course we want to, but that's a valid choice as well
So don't cover up our frustrations as "everything's going swell".
We live, we eat, we vote, we sleep, we serve you and your kin
Yet to treat us as your equals when will that walk begin.

To tell us we should expect not to be served, for others freedom of conscience,

That fighting for our equality can be discriminated against. Hence,
When we face a hurdle, that you and some of faith place in our way
We'll reach out those those with a stronger voice to let us have our say.
To challenge privilege you want to hold on to for a few, elect, the chosen ones.
Yet some of us are friends, your servers, family, daughters, sons?

So while we wait for you to enact on adoption, allow us a family life,

We'll carry on the fight for husband to wed husband and wife to take a wife.
While you take the blood of anyone when supplies are running low,
It's irrational that when MSM meet criteria that's fine elsewhere you still say no.
By your actions they shall know you, is what the good book proclaims
Your actions aren't loving when on equality all there is is shame.

So listen to what we're saying, look at the evidence science lights upon,
You've not stifle our cries of "unfair" the fight for equality rumbles on.

© 2014 Stephen Glenn 

Footnote This poem started to write itself in my head during the whole Ashers debate, it came to a head when Nelson McCausland wrote this opinion piece in the Belfast Telegraph. Some of the words on this then became an adaptation of my own comments.


Monday 10 November 2014

Dear Churches of Northern Ireland: My slice of the equality cake

Here are a few of the statements made by churches in Northern Ireland in relation to the Equality Commission decision of action over Ashers Bakery.

First the Presbyterian Church in Ireland:

The Convener of the Church and Society Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Very Rev. Dr. Norman Hamilton, has issued the following statement:
"I want to express deep concern on behalf of our Church at the apparent decision of the Equality Commission to take further steps towards legal action against the owners of Ashers Baking Company.

"In a situation where a business has clearly stated that it is willing to serve any customer irrespective of religion, sexual orientation or political belief, it surely is totally unjust to attempt to compel it to be involved in promoting causes which in conscience are against the owners’ strongly held Christian beliefs. There ought to be much more scope to exercise freedom of conscience in such situations, and as a society we need to strive for 'reasonable accommodation' in situations where there is a genuine conscientious problem.

"Such an apparent decision by the Equality Commission is not only very unhelpful in the particular situation in question, but it potentially undermines and shuts down the kind of respectful wider debate and discussions that are necessary. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland wants to encourage thoughtful, gracious and yet rigorous discussion about how Biblical faith should relate to equality legislation. Indeed, we recently held a well-attended day conference, entitled 'Equality, freedom and religion'.  There is a need to think through what a God honouring and Biblically faithful approach to equality, human rights and freedom should look like in our ever changing society. There is a need for Churches and Christian people to engage with these issues and indeed be to the fore in promoting such equality and human rights. However, decisions such as that apparently taken by the Equality Commission, far from assisting in such necessary engagement, in fact makes it significantly harder. This is a deeply regrettable failure of civic leadership by the Equality Commission." 6 Nov 2014
The Evangelical Alliance added this:

"Ashers Baking Company have been all over the news this week .They have indicated that they won't bow to renewed pressure from the Equality Commission who have decided to take them to court for declining to make what has become known as 'the gay cake'. The Christian run bakery declined to make a cake supporting gay marriage because it was against the directors' religious beliefs. Listen to a discussion of the case on BBC Talkback here.

"I believe the Ashers case could have serious ramifications that many in the media and elsewhere don't seem to have grasped. It isn't about a 'gay cake', in fact it has very little to do with sexuality or gay rights – the McArthurs who own Ashers did not know the sexual orientation of the customer. The Equality Commission have now written to Ashers saying they are not only guilty of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation but also religious and political opinion. The issue is that if this case is lost, religion will have been effectively banished from the public square. Significant political freedoms will also be lost as the Equality Commission decides which political and religious views are acceptable and which are not." 7 Nov 2014

The Methodist Council on Responsibility:

"We are deeply concerned about the decision of the Equality Commission to support legal action against Ashers Bakery following that company’s decision to refuse to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage.

"It is our belief that at the centre of this dispute there is the matter of conscience for Ashers.

"We commend the company for their willingness to take a stance for the sake of conscience.

"If Ashers Bakery should suffer as a consequence of taking this stand how bizarre that the commission action would have been in the name of 'equality'." 9 Nov 2014
Update 13 Nov 2011 from the Church of Ireland

"Two key issues form part of the debate: discrimination and freedom of religious conscience. The Church of Ireland recognises and commends efforts to combat discrimination. In 2012, the General Synod affirmed '[a] continuing commitment to love our neighbour, and opposition to all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes in respect of human sexuality from whatever perspective' The Church is also currently actively engaged in constructive dialogue through its Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief. What is not at all apparent in the Ashers case, however, is that there is a charge of discrimination to answer. It seems clear that the service was declined, not because of the sexual orientation of the customer but because of the particular political message requested upon the cake. 
"It is a serious concern that the freedom of religious conscience that the law affords to all people has also been challenged by the Equality Commission's decision. The owners of the baking company were upholding their adherence to the traditional Christian view on marriage as being between one man and one woman. In fact this position was affirmed by a majority of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in 2012, and is the legal position in Northern Ireland. It is of real concern that a conscientious choice made by the owners of a small business, which reflects such a position, has been branded discriminatory and made the subject of heavy–handed legal action. The Church and Society Commission would encourage gracious and sensitive dialogue around this issue as we move forward."

Of these only the first one from the PCI talks about a wider issue, the EA hint at it but only in so far as it encrouches on them. Now if the churches think they are under attack you should try being a gay Christian in Northern Ireland.

If I post anything religious on my tweeter or Facebook timeline I have gay activists attacking me for supporting the churches or being soft on them, if I post something about LGBT equality I get attacked globally. If I post something that mentions both well it is like all hell has broken loose.

I would be more willing to accept the point of view of those in Christian circles on the recent Ashers dilemma if they did actually acknowledge that there is a grey area legally in all of this. That for a start Ashers had taken money for the order as a deposit and later rescinded that order. That also there is no disclaimer on Ashers website that you personalised celebration cake design may be subject to subsequent refusal because of its design. Nor do they acknowledge that part of the legal framework of this country does not allow discrimination on the perceived or actual sexual orientation of a patron by any company.

However, by ignoring certain issues in this case, with some church leaders disengaging with the LGBT community and others talking about it threatening dialogue they are all taking the wrong approach.

There is a wider issue and many LGBT Christians within your denominations have been crying out for your church leaderships to have that meaningful conversation. Notice I'm saying conversation not a monologue as Equality, freedom and religion as mentioned by the PCI actually was. The good Samaritan wasn't the one from across the road who looked at the injured man and assessed that things were fine and carried on at haste, he was the one who came over and sat down next to him, dealt with what was the matter and stayed with him while recovery took place.

Update (13 November) My issue with the subsequently issued Church of Ireland statement is there quoting the legal position as it currently stands in Northern Ireland. We have a complex equality equation here in Northern Ireland but can anyone truly separate religions freedom from political expression on the issues of LGBT equality in protestant circles. The fact that nationalist politicians have distanced church from state is to be applauded but more and more we are seeing the protestant denominations weighing in having political say on such issues. Support of marriage equality is not an illegal political opinion to have, unlike say national socialism, and indeed it is one that many within the churches also support and hold. Nobody is normally expecting the suppliers of bespoke objects they create for them to endorse the sentiment, merely take the money and trade and provide the service, anything further than that is asking someone to sponsor your idea.

The Methodists believe the centre of the issue is a matter of conscience, but when a matter of conscience is based on a precept that excludes others you are missing the whole point of your gospel to lover everyone, no caveats, no matters of conscience. Maybe the centre of this matter does lie elsewhere, many in the LGBT community hate the church and all it stand for. They hate things being done in the name of churches by politicians in Stormont to block LGBT equality legislation.

The others feel like their appeals for their own churches to actually take action, to listen to the grievances and concerns of those who experience both sides is not happening, or ignores actions they have promised, especially when issues like this come to a head. You can say all you want that you are not homophobic but when you language talks of reasonable accommodations, serious ramifications, and taking a stance for the sake on conscience, when only only one side benefits you are actually homophobic. It is like what Fr Tim Bartlett said you want the right of all people, in this case Christians, to freedom of conscience to be vindicated. That is not a good way to go about equality.

Yes I agree with all the churches that there is an issue here. But I do not agree they their freedom of conscience is under attack to the same extent that they continue to have undo and overbearing influence of those of faith and without over civic matters and therefore the freedom of conscience of others.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Can Peter Robinson please define bonkers?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
So last night Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson said of the decision of the Equality Commission to consider taking legal action against Ashers:

"This kind of decision from the Equality Commission is bonkers. They really do need to wind their necks in. 

"In times when we are scrapping around trying to get funding for essential services for Northern Ireland, they are tossing it away."

No forgive me it I am wrong but there were recent cuts to services announced in health care provision, which is run by one of his party's ministers, whose predecessor has run up large legal bills to try and prevent gay couples from adopting, this was lost in the supreme court in October 2013. That department is also pursuing legal appeals against a decision that the lifetime ban on Men who've had Sex with Men (MSM) is irrational and should also come into line with the rest of the UK.

Yes, you see there is a department that is scrapping around trying to get funding for essential service that has been tossing it away trying to prevent equality.

So I ask Peter Robinson which is  bonkers?

Is it seeking a ruling on something that there is clearly some dispute on, or ignoring or refusing to acknowledge judicial rulings until all levels of appeal are expended at the public's expense?

Thursday 6 November 2014

Father Tim Bartlett's dichotomy of freedom of conscience

Today Fr Tim Bartlett, who to be fair is to be praised for engaging with Belfast Pride's Hymn and Us debate, issued a statement that doesn't 100% make sense.

"I will be writing today to those groups from the gay community, with whom I have had a very constructive and ongoing engagement in recent years, to say that I am withdrawing my engagement until the right of all people, in this case Christians, to freedom of conscience is vindicated and respected by the Equality Commission and the gay community. 
"I also want to know why the chief commissioner of the Equality Commission talked quite openly about the Ashers case during the Gay Pride debate in Belfast but has since claimed he is not free to talk about it in public debate."
Now he says he is withdrawing "engagement until the right of all people" to freedom on conscience is vindicated and respected. Of course in between those two cases he adds a caveat.

Having attending Hymn and Us as part of the panel the priest is no doubt aware that there are LGBT Christians, some of them within his own Roman Catholic Church. So will he also be disengaging with Rome and the senior clergy here in Ireland until the rights of all Catholics, in this case LGBT members, to freedom of conscience is vindicated and respected?

What about the gay Presbyterians like myself, will he stop engaging with the PCI on the same basis? You see even allowing Christians to have a freedom of conscience the issue is which section of them have the right take on what their conscience tells them.

The whole issue of course stems from the refusal, after original agreement, to supply a cake with a Marriage Equality logo on it by Ashers Bakery. There is under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006:

Goods, facilities or services 

(1) It is unlawful for any person concerned with the provision (for payment or not) of goods, facilities or services to the public or a section of the public to discriminate against a person who seeks to obtain or use those goods, facilities or services —

(a) by refusing or deliberately omitting to provide him with any of them; or
(b) by refusing or deliberately omitting to provide him with goods, facilities or services of the same quality, in the same manner and on the same terms as are normal in his case in relation to other members of the public or (where the person seeking belongs to a section of the public) to other members of that section.

(2) It is unlawful for any person concerned with the provision of goods, facilities or services as mentioned in paragraph (1), in relation to such provision, to subject to harassment —

(a) a person who seeks to obtain or use those goods, facilities or services; or
(b) a person to whom he provides those goods, facilities and services.

(3) The following are examples of the facilities and services mentioned in paragraph (1) —
(g)the services of any profession or trader, or any local or other public authority.<
There is a difference between an individuals conscience and a public company's legal requirements.

For example a Quaker business owner cannot say I don't agree with war and therefore will refuse to pay my proportion of corporation tax and VAT that the Government will spent on funding such a war.

Nor can a Free Presbyterian business owner here in Northern Ireland without the proportion of expenditure on either the Catholic maintained or Integrated Education funding that they may not support.

The conscience of the business is to uphold the law of the land, Jesus himself when tested on this by the Pharisees said render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's. Ashers as well as their general bread and cake making business also make bespoke cakes.

Clause 5 (1)b clearly states "by refusing or deliberately ommitting to provide him with good, facilities or services of the same quality,in the same manner amd on the same terms as are normal in his case in relation to other member of the public" a company acts unlawfully. So is this what Father Bartlett really means? That he is withdrawing engagement so that firms that act unlawfully.

We Will Remember Them: Arthur O'Neill 6 Nov 1914

In addition to remembering my family members who died in the Great War, as this is a political blog I shall also be looking at the men who while still Members of Parliament signed up for the war and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Arthur Edward Bruce O'Neill was part of the Irish nobility part of the Chichester family who were the Marquess of Donegall. He grandfather was the younger brother of Arthur, 2nd Earl of Donegall when he  inherited the O'Neill estates through his wife's connections and changed his family name.

Arthur O'Neill in his Lifeguard's Uniform
Arthur O'Neill was the second, but eldest surviving son of the 2nd Baron O'Neill born on 19 September 1879. He had been elected as the Ulster Unionist Party member for Mid Antrim in 1910, succeeding his uncle Robert Torrens O'Neill to the seat. He was a Captain in the Life Guards when he was elected and his first recorded contribution in Hansard on 27 June 1910 is about serving officers serving in Parliament as if seconded. His only other recorded contribution is the following year in the Labourers Ireland Bill.

His first contribution was about the change in regulations about Officers serving in the House for a period of five years or fewer as if on secondment. It seems cruel that before such a five year period was up he was back on active service and killed in the line at Klein Zillebeke ridge during what was to become the first Battle of Ypres. He was also the first serving Member of the House of Commons to die in action.

It was a rough day for 2nd Life Guard the day that O'Neill fell, in letters to the family of 2nd Lt. W.S. Paterson who served with O'Neill we glean the following details as to what happened that day:

"Yesterday afternoon, November 5, we were ordered to support and recapture a village out of which the French had been driven. The whole regiment dismounted and advanced under heavy rifle fire on the village, which was charged at the point of the bayonet by us. Your son - Lt. Peterson - was shot through the heart during this charge. I am most profoundly grieved; he was such a splendid fellow and such a great friend. 

"We cleared the village at the point of the bayonet killing about 30 Germans and capturing about 20. I was the only officer left after this attack as our commanding officer, Major Dawney, a most gallant man was killed sitting next to me in the trench by a shrapnel shell. We also lost Captain O'Neill, killed, and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hobson wounded, during this attack."

"Our brigade, the regiment itself, were known to stay in the trenches longer than anyone else. Your brother died with two other officers of the regiment, Major Dawney, commanding and Captain Arthur O'Neill, in driving the Germans back; they accomplished this work and in so doing actually saved most likely a great defeat of our arms; the fact is recognised by the General. I heard - I do not vouch for the truth of it - your brother (Peterson) killed 16 Germans before he was killed."

"As the senior officer left with the regiment, and as I was also the squadron leader,  I write to let you know that he (Peterson) died leading his troops most gallantly as we advanced under enemy fire.
  O'Neill's Westminster seat was taken in the subsequent by-election by his brother Hugo, who as the seat became first Antrim and then North Antrim continued to serve retiring as father of the House in 1952. Hugo was also to he be the first speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament elected for Antrim in 1921.

It was not to be the last connection with the Northern Ireland Parliament for the family, Arthur's third son Terence was the be the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1966-69. He has served in the Army during the second World War before taking the seat of Bannside in the 1946 elections to the Northern Ireland Parliament a seat he would hold until 1970 when he was replaced by Ian Paisley.

Update: Here is the front of today's Order Papers for the House of Commons which as an act of remembrance remembered the first of their number to be killed in WWI.

Read also: The History of Parliament Blog also had the same idea as me, so I expect that I will be linking to them a few more times over the next four years.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

UKIP and (some) Tories prepared to lose £2bn a year from UK economy

Today's report on the net contribution of EU migrants makes for chilling reading, if you think that the Eurosceptics will have their way.

Some of the facts:

  • Between 2001 and 2011, European arrivals contributed £20bn and those from outside Europe £5bn
  • Since 2004 the arrivals from the 10 new EU member states added £4.96bn more in taxes in the years to 2011 than they took out in public services
Yeah it is another set of evidence that some Tories and certainly UKIP are failing to recognise exists. Indeed it comes to a £2bn net contribution to the UK economy (simply through taxation) that they are prepared to throw away. This does not account for the jobs that these people actually contribute to our well being and all the goods and services they purchase with their income outside of the taxes they pay.

The fact that those newer nations, some of which David Cameron was even wary to allow the full freedom of movement that all EU citizens (including us in the UK) are allowed to enjoy, are also net contributors to our economy. They are not spongers in fact quite the opposite, they are young, fit and healthy and willing to work, if the work is not there they move elsewhere to find more. The opposite is true of most UK emigrants to the rest of the EU. They are largely older, take up more of the public services in the warmer nations they reside in and contribute little through taxation.

Monday 3 November 2014

Baker resignation reveals the difference between Lib Dems and Tories

So Liberal Democrat Norman Baker has announced tonight that he is resigning for his post as a Home Office Minister. His announcement in The Independent as to why is not just a broadside into Theresa May's Home Office but also the denouement of the differences between Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives when it comes to policy.

He says:

"support for 'rational evidence-based policy' was in short supply at the top of her department."

And that it was like "walking through mud".

It probably came to a head with the report on drug use and punishment last week and comes ahead of the vote that could criminalise paying for sex later this week. Yet it has probably been stoked my the whole immigration debate and the jumping at ill-judged, knee-jerk, UKIP-appeasing policy announcements based on emotive exaggeration and not evidence in any shape or form.

So let me repeat that:

If you want evidence-based policy, not knee-jerk, emotive reactionary nonsense to appease party self interests you have to vote Lib Dem.

That is the lesson. Now you can look at the various policies that the coalition have brought in over the past four years you can see the origins of policy. Those that largely based on evidence such as free school meals increase educational success come from Liberal Democrats looking at the evidence. Things like the snooper's charter apart from being illiberal are largely unachievable because of the depths of the dark web.

Why would this be so? Well the way that policy is decided by the parties help. Conference decides Lib Dem policy so no matter what we debate there is some expert able to speak with authority, or even better they have been working on drafting the policy in the first place. As to who comes up with Conservative policy, there are probably a number of envelops floating around Whitehall have that been used for late night discussions to come up with something. But they just get announced, rarely get peer reviewed (if they do not in public before announcement), and if they are peer reviewed are in the words of a former leader "not for turning".

This is the mud into which Norman Baker has found himself. This is the mud that has snared up some of the Liberal Democrats liberalism, because most of all liberalism is often common sense. Why? Because it is evidence-based as to what is the right thing to do for everyone's individual best interests.

A footballing hero turns sour

Today is a day of mixed feelings for me.

First there is the great news that the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and Marriage Equality Ireland have all joined together to launch the ‘Yes Equality’ campaign ahead of next year's referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

But also one of the greats of the time that my team Livingston spent in the Scottish Premier League has actually taken than support of at least this one football fan and thrown it in his face.

Marvin ten years ago when Livingston won the CIS Cup
Marvin Andrews, who came from Raith Rovers to Livingston before moving on to Rangers, a return to Raith Rovers and stints at Hamilton Academical, Queen of the South, Wrexham, Albion Rovers, Forfar Athletic, before currently playing for Elgin City has always been known as God's footballer. He famously in his first season at Rangers instead of taking the normal course of treatment for a cruciate knee ligament injury which should have seen him out of action for nine months turned to prayer and was back on the field in 2 weeks!

But it is his comment in defending his pastor Joe Nwokoye at Zion Praise Centre International in Kirkcaldy who has blamed natural disasters on same-sex marriage. In the defense of his Pastor, Marvin has said:

"For a man to see a man or a woman to see a woman in that way is a spiritual sickness and it is the Bible – not Marvin Andrews – that says that is an abomination.

"I am not going to contradict my beliefs. I don’t care if 100,000 people are against me – I’ll stand on the word of God."

Now if the man that we sang from the stands as "Marv, Marv, Super Marv, Super Marvin Andrews" would care to explain to me what all those natural disasters before same-sex marriage were introduced were all about. And maybe go a little further back what about the ones that occurred before homosexuality was actually legalised. Or maybe he'd like to explain why more natural disasters happen in the states in the USA that are most likely to be fighting equal marriage, or indeed in Africa which also seems to be in opposition?

Yes natural disasters are happening all around us all the time and have been since time immemorial. Now if Marvin really believes what it says in the bible he will now that the reason these things started is because Eve was tempted to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and persuaded Adam to follow suit. These were not as a result of same-sex marriage or activity in any form, so stop passing the buck on natural disasters.

Sadly it is not the first time he has said something like this. In 2006 when former Liberal Democrat MSP Margaret Smith announced her Civil Partnership plans and just before he left Rangers he said:

"There is a demon in their [homosexual's] spirits, their spirits are ill. But God can help them through his church and anyone who doubts this can check the Bible"
Such negative and prejudicial opinions from churches and their leaders is actually still doing the opposite and too often it is too late for many young people to have any such help and many brought up with such religious vitriol are tempted to commit suicide than be open about their sexuality in faith settings.

But we are also trying to rid football of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, just as we are still striving to rid it from under representation of racial minorities at the top level of management and boardrooms around the nation. Comments like this from a respected veteran of the game in Scotland do not go down well to the LGBT fans and players in the leagues.

While he is allowed to say whatever he wants, surely his believes are also that God loves everyone. There is no love in his words only condemnation. It is like the chants that opposing fans have given him through the years with the exception of him turning up at Almondvale on his first appearance in a Rangers shirt when he was applauded loudly. That is the love that is unconditional that he should be showing to everyone.

To stamp out homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in football Stonewall have for the last two years run their rainbow laces campaign. Next year when they run it, if Marvin is still playing I am tempted to send him a pair with a letter explaining how I'm upset as a gay fan who has cheered him from the stands that he is behaving in the way that he does and is lacking in Christian love when he talks about LGBT issues.

Death of a Poet: We Will Remember Them Georg Trakl 3 November 2014

Georg Trakl was an Austrian pharmacist, poet and playwright who spent the first 21 years of his life in the home town of Mozart, before moving to Vienna. Despite his parents being protestants he was sent the the Catholic elementary school and started writing poetry from the age of 13.

After quitting high school he worked in a pharmacy and pursued this as a career as well as writing two short plays All Soul's Day and Fata Morgana but neither was a success. His move to Vienna in 1908 was so he could study pharmacy. But also brought him to the attention of Ludwig von Ficker the editor of the journal Der Brenner who became his patron. He approached Ludwig Wittgenstein the philosopher who provided a stipend anonymously so that Trakl could write full time in 1913.

At the outbreak of war he was sent to the Eastern Front as a medical official to treat soldiers in Galicia (which is parts of Ukraine and Poland today). But he suffered bouts of depression treating so many victims of the war. During a serious bout of depression Trakl wrote to Ficker for advise who suggested he communicate with Wittgenstein. Upon received the note from Trakl, Wittgenstein headed to the hospital in which Trakl was stationed only to find he had died of a cocaine overdose.

While not the victim of a bullet, mortar or bombing Trakl is neither the less a victim of the war. He is also the first of the poets in the series to have died on the Eastern Front and therefore his poem about that front is the one that I shall use to mark his memory.

On the Eastern Front
The winter storm's mad organ playing
is like the Volk's dark fury,
the black-red tidal wave of onslaught,
defoliated stars.
Her features smashed, her arms silver,
night calls to the dying men,
beneath shadows of November's ash,
ghost casualties heave.
A spiky no-man's-land encloses the town.
The moon hunts petrified women
from their blood-spattered doorsteps.
Grey wolves have forced the gates.
Im Osten
Den wilden Orgeln des Wintersturms
Gleicht des Volkes finstrer Zorn,
Die purpurne Woge der Schlacht,
Entlaubter Sterne.
Mit zerbrochnen Brauen, silbernen Armen
Winkt sterbenden Soldaten die Nacht.
Im Schatten der herbstlichen Esche
Seufzen die Geister der Erschlagenen.
Dornige Wildnis umgürtet die Stadt.
Von blutenden Stufen jagt der Mond
Die erschrockenen Frauen.
Wilde Wölfe brachen durchs Tor.

Georg Trakl 3 Feb 1887 Salzburg, Cisleithania, Austria-Hungary - 3 Nov 1914 Krákow, Austria-Hungary (now Poland)See also: The other poets who died in the war.

Saturday 1 November 2014

#NaNoWriMo Poem 1 - To comfortably go?

I know this is National November Writing Month and that the aim of this month is usually to write a novel in the period of time. But this year I shall be writing a topical poem a day.

So here is my first offering:

To confortably go?

You used to need to have the right stuff to venture into space.
But soon they say that stuff in cash, for millionaires to engage.
The reason for this men who had the right stuff in their bones
Was the danger that sitting on the launchpad did not mean they'd come home.

Now after two space related crashes and one pilot's name added
To the list of space fatalities the question cannot be evaded.
That space is still a step into the dangerous, a leap to the unknown.
And tourists who are queueing up, some may not come home.

But that is what the tests are for to make the procedure safer
To comfortably go where others once went much braver.
Tourists into space, the ultimate Branson adventure
But even his crossings by boat and balloon faced failure.

Each new development in travel has always faced disaster
Whether jumping on a horse, greeting a train or motor car.
And space and air of course have always been most fatal
Because an error up above leads to impacts colossal.

Those magnificent men in their flying machines
Have always pushed the envelopes unseen.
They've always needed untold bravely to go
Boldly where no one before would go.

So right stuff, right cash, right solution to defying gravity
Is this just a road block on the way to fire celebrity
Or entrepreneur or heir up beyond the stratosphere.
We shall have to wait and see where Virgin go from here.

But today our thoughts and prayers are with two families.
Families of two who with the right stuff pushed the boundaries.
One now dead the other fighting on  gripping to life
They're in our thoughts and prayers facing this latest strife.

© 2014 Stephen Glenn