Facing the Inevitable | Political Stalemate

The last three weeks were always going to come to one conclusion…

 

Political Stalemate.

 

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, has ruled out calling for a second snap election, which would have been the third occasion that Northern Ireland voters would have visited the polls in a year. It is not unlikely that Brokenshire is aware of the closing margins between the two leading parties, and the mere 1,100 first preferences votes that separated Sinn Fein and the DUP at the last election. With a nationalist majority now at Stormont, if Sinn Fein were able to claim the First Minister seat, it is likely that they would use it as a clear sign that the conditions of the Good Friday Agreement had been met for a border poll to be called on Irish unity.

 

Entering into the negotiations, there were a series of issues that had to be dealt with in the cross-party talks:

  • The Renewable Heat Initiative scandal, which triggered Martin McGuinness’ resignation as Deputy First Minister to collapse the Executive. The botched energy initiative is estimated to cost Northern Ireland over £400 million. Arlene Foster refused to step down as leader of the DUP for her role in the scandal, later claiming that the calls for her resignation were ‘sexist’. Nevertheless, greater giants have fallen on much smaller swords. Peter Robinson, her immediate predecessor, resigned over a private property deal worth £50,000 and a scandal involving his wife, Iris Robinson.
  • An Irish Language Act. Sinn Fein has been lobbying for years to achieve an Act that would safeguard funding for the Irish Language, and essentially protect the language itself. Arlene Foster referred to Sinn Fein, and by extension their supporters, as being like a ‘crocodile’ during an election campaign statement, insinuating that by giving them the Irish Language Act, they would only come back for more. A report by the Council of Europe found against the DUP’s decision to refuse to give an Irish language act, referring to the Irish language as the “hostage of sectarianism”.  
  • Petitions of Concern. Sinn Fein has repeatedly stated that ensuring equality for all Northern Ireland citizens was a precondition of entering into an Executive following the snap election. The DUP have repeatedly used the petitions of concern to prevent legislation on legalising gay marriage and abortion. Moving the DUP away from their socially conservative views on marriage and reproductive rights was an issue that Brokenshire and his team should have brought to the heart of the talks.
  • Brexit. No other province of the United Kingdom would be as affected by their departure from the European Union than Northern Ireland. While the British government attempt to push an ‘equality’ approach when dealing with the devolved administration, there is no doubt that Northern Ireland rarely has a true seat at the table.
  • The legacy of the past; few things ever change in Northern Ireland politics, and nineteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, the legacy of ‘The Troubles’ has still not be dealt with to the satisfaction of the major parties.

 

Even before the talks officially came to their deadline at 4pm on Monday, it was clear that no deal would be made. The DUP did not take part in discussions on Sunday and Michelle O’Neill made it clear that, by that stage, they were refusing to nominate to the position of Deputy First Minister or putting votes forward for the position of speaker.

 

Shortly, Brokenshire is expected to address MPs in the House of Commons over the collapse of the cross-party talks. With another snap election ruled out, it is likely Northern Ireland could enter direct rule once again. If three weeks of negotiations have been unable to bear fruit, perhaps a return to direct rule may present the opportunity for both the British and Irish governments to properly deal with the issues that have been plaguing the Stormont Executive for years?
For more on a return to direct rule, see my earlier piece from January on the (then) possible collapse of the Executive.

McGuinness – The Death of a Political Giant

It is not unusual for politicians to be contentious figures- to bring forth opposing views from the public, to be adored by some and loathed by others.

Few politicians are as controversial in the United Kingdom as Martin McGuinness.

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For some, he is a hero who brought the peace process to reality when he entered government with Rev. Ian Paisley, forming the most unlikely of bonds with the leader of the DUP, who had opposed the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. He helped bring Sinn Fein from the edges of the political spectrum to the very center of the Executive, ruling as Deputy First Minister for a decade, alongside three DUP First Ministers.

For others, he will always be the ‘godfather’ of the IRA, in the commanding ranks of an organisation responsible for attacks both in Northern Ireland and on the mainland of the UK. Victims of the IRA, survivors of attacks, their families and friends may take a very different view of McGuiness. Lord Tebbit, who was at the Grand Hotel in Brighton when it was attacked by the Provisional IRA during the Conservative Party Conference of 1984, and whose wife Margaret was permanently paralysed as a result of her injuries, has spoken out today with regards to McGuinness’ death. He began by stating that “the world is a sweeter and cleaner place”, and that he “was a coward…a murderer, a multi-murderer….

McGuinness never denounced his former position in the IRA, yet it is important to remember that he never allowed it to overplay his role as Deputy First Minister, perhaps best seen when he met Her Majesty, The Queen, on more than one occasion. 

Michelle O’Neill, his successor as leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, paid tribute to a giant of Irish politics”, whose “leadership, grace and warm personality have transformed Irish politics for the better and his impact will be felt for many years to come.”

It is, at times like this, essential to remember that unionist forces also killed Catholics and nationalists during the years of ‘The Troubles’. The Ulster Volunteer Force were responsible for one of the worst attacks during ‘The Troubles’ when fifteen Catholics died as a result of the bombing of McGurk’s Bar in Belfast. Yes, Martin McGuiness was at undoubtedly a leader of the IRA, but there is always two sides in a war. 

Theresa May, in a statement released this morning, recognised that McGuiness “made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”, and his former OFMDFM partner, Arlene Foster, captured the overarching feeling being portrayed by most of the media, “history will record differing views and opinions on the role Martin McGuinness played throughout the recent and not so recent past, but history will also show that his contribution to the political and peace process was significant.”

Ultimately, McGuiness was an IRA Commander, yet without him, there is little doubt that we would not have the peace process that we have today. We would not have experienced the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ relationship between McGuinness and Paisley that defied all the odds. Even when his health was declining, he took the incentive to resign his post as Deputy First Minister to trigger a snap election in Northern Ireland to return legitimacy to the Executive and institutions that he had fought to create and maintain.
Whatever your opinion of McGuinness may be, there is no doubt that he was a political giant who guided Northern Ireland down the path to the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews’ Agreement and the power-sharing Executive at Stormont.

The Change in Stormont

The Secretary of State has warned that the failure of the major parties to form an Executive could result in a second election and cause “disruption and uncertainty for businesses and the people of Northern Ireland”. He has cancelled his trip to America this week for St. Patrick’s Day in order to focus on the talks, which he claims are at a “critical stage”, with the election of a new speaker for the Assembly postponed for two weeks. 

Could another snap election see Sinn Fein flip the tables and gain the First Minister seat? With the historic unionist majority in Stormont now removed, and only 1100 first preference votes separating the two leading parties, it is a valid possibility after the highest turnout for a vote in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.

There is little doubt that Sinn Fein is reluctant to return to the Executive with the DUP if it continues to be led by Arlene Foster, whose role in the RHI remains to be investigated.

Arlene Foster referred to Sinn Fein, and by extension their supporters, as being like a ‘crocodile’ during an election campaign statement, insinuating that by giving them the Irish Language Act, they would only come back for more. A report by the Council of Europe found against the DUP’s decision to refuse to give an Irish language act, referring to the Irish language as the “hostage of sectarianism”.  

Gerry Adams has spoken out against both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, implying that neither of them is helping with the negotiations. Within hours of Nicola Sturgeon announcing her intention for a second Independence Referendum for Scotland, Michelle O’Neill stood in front of the press at Stormont once again repeating the urgent need for a border poll for Ireland. If Brexit provides the “significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014” in Scotland, then does it not also provide the conditions for at least the consideration of an Irish border poll? The GFA states that a poll can be called by the Secretary of State if it appears that the “majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland. With 56% of people voting to remain in the EU in the June referendum and the removal of the unionist majority at Stormont, this condition has the potential to be fulfilled if properly campaigned on.

Can the PM and her government allow a Scottish independence referendum without properly addressing the issue of a Northern Irish border poll? Even more so for the area of the UK that will be most affected by their exit from the European Union.

 

10 Things You Should Do On International Women’s Day

Artwork by Amanda Allen Niday, and can be viewed here 

  1. If you can, then join the strike. I have a post on the strike being called for by the organisers of the Women’s March on Washington, which you can find here.
  2. Wear red in solidarity with the women’s movement. Red is the colour of revolutionary love, and a simple way to show your support for the day.
  3. If you can, avoid spending any money in mainstream stores. Instead, go out and support small women and minority-owned businesses – such as restaurants, cafes and clothing stores.
  4. Donate to a women’s charity. You can donate to Planned Parenthood here, or to Women’s Aid here.
  5. Tweet, repost and share. Keep a social media presence. Not everyone can strike, and not everyone can donate money to charities. Better yet, when you’re tweeting, make sure to tag a few particular people (@RealDonaldTrump for example, we all know how much he loves his twitter)ScreenShot2017-02-22at12.39.45PM.png
  6. Educate yourself – take a specific issue and educate yourself. Read up on the statistics about FGM, refugees and the gender pay gap.
  7. Write to your MP or legislative representative, encourage them to keep women’s issues at the heart of their policies.
  8. Thank a woman who has inspired you; be it your mother, sister, aunt, an actress, scientist, director or sportswoman.
  9. Consider volunteering with a woman’s organisation or charity. Be it Amnesty International or the Women’s Equality Party. You could also consider putting your name forward for the ‘Walk In Her Shoes’ fundraiser organised by CARE which takes place in May.
  10. Inspire someone, “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams” – Hillary Rodham Clinton

Ireland’s Dark Side | The Remains at Tuam

The discovery of “significant quantities” of human remains in County Galway comes as yet another horror of the saga of Ireland’s dark side. The mass grave, essentially in a sewage system, was uncovered following research by a local historian, Catherine Corless. The mass grave was described by the Commission as a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers and appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water”. The rolling green fields and majestic mountain views hide a darker side to the emerald isles.

There is no denying that women’s rights are still struggling to be truly liberated on either side of the Irish border, with abortion illegal on both sides and the hold of the Catholic Church creating an enate mindset within its believers on the role of women. These events occurred only a few decades ago, well within living member of most of the population, and show the reach the church had into the private lives of Irish citizens. It’s even more as many of the mother-and-baby homes were funded by the state. 

Within the twenty chambers uncovered during the investigation, human remains were uncovered in at least seventeen of them. At the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuman, Co. Galway, the remains of likely almost eight hundred infants have been discovered, aged from 35 foetal weeks and up to the age of 3 years old.

The infamous mother-and-baby homes were run by the Catholic Church across Ireland to house unmarried women during their pregnancies. Some children, an exact total unlikely to ever be unearthed, were sent across the water to the United States for adoption, usually without the consent of their mothers. The spotlight was shone on this issue in the oscar nominated movie, ‘Philomena’, based on the real life events of Philomena Lee, whose son was forcibly taken from her by the nuns at the convent that she had been sent to upon falling pregnant before he was sold for adoption in America.

The Chairperson of Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors warned on RTE that the remains found at this particular mother-and-baby home were simply “the tip of the iceberg”. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is not an isolated case or even one of a few. Katherine Zappone TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs released a statement on the discovery, stating that it was “very sad and disturbing news” but that “it was not unexpected”.  

It is time for Ireland to face its demons of the past, review its treatment of women, and give the remains of the children discovered at Tuman the proper burial that the Christian faith demands.

#March4Women |London, 5th March 2017

Come rain or shine, the #March4Women organised by CARE made its way from City Hall across Tower Bridge to the Tower of London. From 12pm-1:30pm, a series of speakers and musicians spoke and performed for the waiting crowd. From the introduction by Dr. Helen Pankurst, Great-Granddaughter of the leading suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, through to a musical performance by an array of talents – Kate Nash, Mel C and the string quartet Bond to name but a few – the energy of the crowd was contagious.

The pre-march event was hosted by Emma Barnett and included several musical performances, speeches and a panel discussion with refugees and campaigners Marchu Girma and Muzoon Almellehan.

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Each speaker received several rounds of applause. Bianca Jagger highlighted the rise in violence against women, focusing on how the number of reported rapes and sexual assaults has now reached a record high, while Annie Lennox brought attention to the fact that the biggest killer of women of reproductive age in the continent of Africa is still HIV/AIDS.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, stood before the crowd as the final speaker, declaring three facts: “number one, my name is Sadiq Khan. I am the Mayor of London…I’m a proud feminist in City Hall“. This was the first time in the history of the march that the Mayor of London was the official partner.

With the occasional pink pussyhat, the new symbol of the women’s rights movement, adding a dose of colour to the march, the gathering made its way from City Hall, across Tower Bridge and through to the Tower of London.

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Not even the rain could keep away the marchers, in a march that highlighted equally the issues facing women in the UK, as well as around the world; from refugees to FGM.

What next?

CARE have asked as many people as possible to get involved with their ‘Walk in Her Shoes’ campaign, focusing on the fact that most women in developing countries have to walk five miles day to get water.

It runs from the 8th-14th May, with the hopes of raising funds to help to “allow CARE to work with local communities in the poorest countries to build clean and safe water sources closer to home, like wells, boreholes and standing taps. This will not only provide poor communities with clean water that is safe to drinkbut will also relieve women and girls of their daily trek for water, and allow them time for work or school. With an education or time to earn an income, they have a chance to fulfil their potential and step out of poverty“.

You can sign up to join the fundraising via their website, however, you can take part in the incentive year around, but the focus is particularly on the period from 8th-14th May.

CARE are also urging supporters to email their MP, to take action to help protect and safeguard female refugees.

“Women and girl refugees face specific threats, including sexual violence and trafficking. Pregnant women also face increased risks: 60% of preventable maternal deaths and 53% of under-five fatalities take place in countries affected by conflict, forced displacement or natural disaster.”

#March4Women - London, 5th March 2017