Sunday, 15 January 2017

Caitriona Ruane and the 'Mayo library case'

Caitriona Ruane
Caitriona Ruane did not put her name forward for selection for the next Assembly election.  When I heard that it brought to mind an Assembly debate exactly ten years ago this month.

On 22 January 2007, during a debate on an Equality Commission report Caitriona Ruane:
Perhaps we will hear an acceptance and an acknowledgement from unionists that the 'six counties' were developed as a Protestant state for a Protestant people; that they were built and maintained by systematic discrimination against Catholics.
As I listened to her I could not help but recall three things.  The first was that Caitriona Ruane was originally from County Mayo.  The second was that she had once said that she had never heard of discrimination until she came up to Northern Ireland.  The third was that County Mayo was the scene of one of the notorious cases of discrimination against the Protestant minority in the Republic.

Later in the debate I responded to what she had said:
I think that I am right to say that Ms Ruane comes from Mayo.  If one were to think about discrimination, what county would come to mind more than County Mayo?  The Mayo library case has gone down in the history of this island.
I remember listening to Ms Ruane on the radio telling us that she had never known discrimination until she came to Northern Ireland.  Obviously the events in County Mayo, where the political and public communities agreed with the council's decision not to appoint a Protestant librarian, have slipped her mind.
 This was a case in which politicians and Roman Catholic churchmen in county Mayo rejected the appointment of a Protestant woman as the county librarian.  They believed that only a Roman Catholic should be in charge of library services and the selection of library books in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic county!  In the end they won the day and a Roman Catholic librarian was appointed instead.  The Protestant woman was then sent off to a post in Dublin.  The year was 1930 and the Protestant librarian was Letitia Dunbar-Harrison.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Damien McLaughlin on the run

Damien McLaughlin, - on the run from terrorism-related charges.
This morning I met the Chief Constable George Hamilton, ACC Stephen Martin and Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray, along with Keith Buchanan MLA.  We were meeting them as members of the Policing Board for an update on the case of Damien McLaughlin.

McLaughlin is facing charges in relation to the murder of prison officer David Black who was shot dead by republican terrorists as he was travelling to work at Maghaberry in November 2012.  

The charges are of preparing terrorist acts, aiding and abetting murder, belonging to a proscribed organisation and possession of an article for use in terrorism.  McLaughlin first appeared in court on 20 December 2012 and remained in custody until 2 May 2014, when he was granted bail.  The bail conditions included an electronic tag, a night-time curfew and daily reporting to the police.

In December 2014 and in spite of previous problems around bail conditions, the court ordered the removal of the tag.  Later there was a reduction in the number of times in the week he has to sign at a police station.

His case was in the newspaper last year when a court varied his bail conditions to allow him to spend a holiday at a spa hotel in Fermanagh.  Then later the address he was to live at was changed from the Ardboe area to West Belfast.

McLaughlin absconded in December, after moving to West Belfast, and within hours he may well have been across the border.  The PSNI are searching for him and police services across Europe have been notified of his details.

There were failures on the part of the PSNI and they have acknowledged that.  However cases such as this raise other serious issues, in particular for the court service: (1) the length of time it is taking to get these cases into court (2) the laxity of the bail conditions (3) the leniency of the sentencing regime.

There is a marked difference between what happens here and what happens in Great Britain and it has been that way for many years.  There cases are heard much quicker, those charged are kept in prison and the sentencing regime is tougher.

The Ombudsman has announced that he is to look at the case and that must include not only the way that the PSNI enforced the bail conditions but the actual conditions they were asked by the Courts to enforce.

In Great Britain, anyone facing serous terrorism-related charges such as this would not be out on bail, never mind having the bail conditions relaxed to facilitate his holiday arrangements.  We are not talking here about some minor misdemeanor, we are talking here about murder.

Damien McLaughlin is not some misguided teenager.  He is 40 years of age and has a previous conviction back in 2009 for possession of a weapon in suspicious circumstances.  Yet his bail was changed to suit his holidays and his bail conditions were such that he was able to attend republican rallies.

Damien McLaughlin on the right, at a republican rally in West Belfast
It was a useful meeting with the PSNI and we will continue to monitor this case.  We willl also be raising it at the Policing Board in a few weeks time.  We want to see the lessons learned and changes implemented.

Finally, I was astounded to find that he was out on bail with two sureties of £750!  Even that is amazingly lenient.  It's time for a crackdown on this lenient approach by the courts.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Clifton Street and Buttle's Loaney

Clifton Street in Belfast is a name that appears in the news from time to time and it is really the 'gateway to north Belfast'.  The postcard above reminds us of how it used to look and sadly many of the fine buildings that once lined both sides of the street have now gone.

St Enoch's Presbyterian Church, Clifton Street Presbyterian Church, Clifton Street United Presbyterian Church and the Sandes Soldiers Home are just some of the buildings that have been demolished or destroyed.  Fortunately the Orange Hall survives and the former Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church is undergoing a programme of restoration.

But Clifton Street was not the original name of the street and back in the 18th century, before it was renamed as Clifton Street, the street was known as Buttle's Loaney.  So where did that name come from?

The words loanen and loaney are found in both Scots and Ulster-Scots meaning a lane or roadway and this was indeed a path leading from the town of Belfast out to the north and in the 18th century, into the countryside.

The first part of the name was probably derived from a David Buttle who was Sovereign of Belfast from 1702 to 1704 or from a member of his family

According to A History of Congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, he was a son of the second Presbyterian minister in Ballymena, who was a Scottish Presbyterian.  After the formation of a presbytery in Ulster, David Buttle was ordained in 1645 and ministered in Ballymena. He was imprisoned under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell for refusing to take the 'republican engagement' and was not released until 1650.  He was also deposed by Bishop Jeremy Taylor in 1661 for refusing to conform. Thereafter he ministered privately to his people until his death in 1665.

This was just one of many loanens and loaneys in Belfast at that time, and they reflect the Ulster-Scots influence in the place-names of Belfast.

David Buttle's term as sovereign ended in 1704 and one source indicates that during that year George McCartney took over as Sovereign.  That may have been because David Buttle died in that year or alternatively it may have been because of the Test Act of 1704.  The Test Act required all those holding office to take communion in the Church of Ireland.  There were very few Roman Catholics in Belfast at that time but there were many Presbyterians and any burgesses who were Presbyterian had a choice of taking communion in the Church of Ireland or being removed from their position.  Some conformed to the Test Act but others refused and were then removed.  

There is certainly some reading and research to be done to find out a little more about this David Buttle.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Strictly Come Dancing - dissident style!

Is there no end to it?  It seems now that every shade of Irish republicanism is determined to produce its own rather 'down market' version of that great institution of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Strictly Come Dancing!

First of all it was Sinn Fein and they led the way with their version of Strictly, which took place in the less than salubrious surroundings of a business park in Jonesborough in South Armagh.

Now even the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) are at it, but at least they have moved to a more up-market location with the Fir Trees Hotel in Strabane, or to be more precise, across the border in Lifford..

However I was deeply disappointed to see that they had settled for a 3-star hotel.  They really are letting the standards slip.  On the other hand it is a step up from the business unit in Jonesborough that Sinn Fein used.

But more serious still is the fact that even the most extreme republicans are now unashamedly borrowing from the hated 'Brits' when it comes to fund-raising!

Anyone wanting more information can refer to the IRPWA Strabane Facebook page, which includes a commendation from a Mandy Duffy, who is probably the same Mandy Duffy that is a sister-in-law of the infamous Colin Duffy.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Carol Cullen - another "IRA prisoner-poet"

Carol Cullen (now Caral Ni Chuilin)
According to the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht (12 August 1999), 'Prisoner Day at the West Belfast Festival proved to be one of the most popular events of the Festival'  Hundreds of people braved the sweltering heat and crammed into the Felons Club in Andersonstown to meet former and current prisoners and view an exhibition of their artwork'.  

One of the events during the day was the launch of a new book, Executed: Tom Williams and the IRA, which had been 'written by serving prisoner Jim McVeigh' and the launch was chaired by Carol Cullen of Tar an Nall.

This was followed by a series of readings by and and about prisoners, given by a number of leading republicans and according to the Sinn Fein newspaper 'recently released prisoner Rosie McCorley read out Carol Cullen's beautiful poem of solidarity to a fellow prisoner'.  It's a short poem about female IRA prisoners in Armagh:

By yourself, alone with your dread, but not for long.
Eight in all held you down.
We couldn't hear you calling for us
But we share, we share your anger,
Those of us spared the degradation this time.
Each of us individually comfort you,
Our comradeship consoling you,
Each of our hands making a fist,
Showing our white knuckles,
Our strength, our sisterhood.
So Bobby Sands wasn't the only 'poet' in the ranks of the IRA and perhaps republicans can now look forward to the publication of a volume of poetry by Carol Cullen.

Of course that volume would now have to appear with the name Caral Ni Chuilin, because some time after 1999 Carol Cullen 'Gaelicised' her name to Caral Ni Chuilin.

Nevertheless her talent as a poet, something on which there will be a variety of views, may help to explain why she was appointed by Sinn Fein as Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure ... or maybe not.  That is for others to decide.

However Carol or Caral is not the only poet in the ranks of Sinn Fein in North Belfast.  Indeed the North Belfast constituency must be unique in having two Sinn Fein MLAs who are both poets.  Yes Gerry Kelly is a poet too.  Now I haven't had the opportunity of reading any of his work but according to a reference in Contemporary Irish Republican Prison Writing: Writing and Resistance:
In his poem 'On the Boards' Gerry Kelly recounts his harrowing experience of the punishment cells of the H-Blocks during the winter of 1976-77.
The poem seems to have been published in Words from a Cell, a little volume of poetry that was written by Gerry Kelly and published by the Sinn Fein Publicity Department in 1989.  It runs to 65 pages but anyone looking for a copy should be aware that on Amazon used copies are selling for $65 plus postage and a bookseller in Limerick recently sold a copy for 70 euro!  That works out at around 1$ per page!

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Its those Scotch-Irish again!

Today J D Vance is an investment executive and principal at Mithril Capital Management in San Francisco and the author of  a New York Times bestseller.  He is only 32 but his autobiography Hillbilly Elegy is a bestseller!

Vance grew up in a poor family in the city of Middeltown, Ohio.  His mother struggled with drug addiction and a series of broken relationship and he was raised by his grandparents.  He writes of those days: 'I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.'

Beyond Ohio his family roots were among the Scotch-Irish folk of Kentucky and Vance identifies
himself as 'Scots-Irish'.
I may be white but I do not identify with the WASPs [White Anglo-Saxon Protestants] of the Northeast.  Instead I identify with the millions of working class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degrees.'

Those were the people among whom he grew up but he served in the Marines from 2003 to 2007 and was educated  at Ohio State University and Yale Law School.

During the course of the American presidential election campaign we have heard much about the 'Rust Belt' and the 'Scots-Irish'.

I do not intend to comment on the election or the Trump phenomenon but I do want to highlight the fact that there are so many Americans, who identify as 'Scots-Irish' or 'Scotch-Irish'.  They are certainly to be found in many of the post-industrial communities of the Rust Belt but also in Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas and down in the South as well.  Indeed they are to be found in most states of the United States of America.  Those who imagine that the term Scotch-Irish has disappeared are much mistaken.

Some years ago James Webb wrote about the Scotch-Irish in his book Born Fighting and now the story of a Scotch-Irish family has been told in Hillbilly Elegy.  Moreover it is a story about which many people in America must want to read because his book has become a New York Times bestseller.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Is an IRA 'recruitment poster' illegal?

'Join the IRA recruitment poster
On Sunday 5 April 2015 a North Belfast republican addressed an Easter Rising commemoration event in Saint Colman's cemetery in Lurgan.  The event had been organised by the Irish Republican Prisoners' Welfare Association and the speaker was Damien 'Dee' Fennell,

Fennell told the small gathering, which included some primary school children: 
It isn't enough to shout 'Up the IRA'.  The important thing is to join the IRA.  As you leave here today, ask yourself is it enough to support republicanism or could you be a more active republican?
Dee Fennell speaking in Lurgan
Some days later Dee Fennell was arrested and charged with encouraging acts of terrorism, inviting support for the IRA and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA.  All three offences were dated 5 April 2015 and all come under the Terrorism Act 2000.

The case is ongoing but I thought about it today in relation to the current situation in Londonderry where someone has erected a recruiting poster for the IRA.  It depicts an IRA terrorist and carries the message:
Unfinished Revolution, Unfinished Business, Join the IRA.
I would have thought that if it is an offence to say 'Join the IRA', then it must also be an offence to erect a poster that says 'Join the IRA'.  What is the different between a recruitment speech and a recruitment poster?

However this morning the Belfast Telegraph reported a PSNI spokesman as saying: 'At this stage no crime has been disclosed therefore it has not been recorded as a hate crime.'

I'm not sure what the PSNI spokesman meant when he said, 'No crime has been disclosed'.  I would have thought it was fairly obvious what the crime is - encouraging people to join a prohibited terrorist organisation.

If Dee Fennell is being prosecuted for such an offence in Lurgan then surely the PSNI should be seeking to identify the person who erected the IRA recruitment poster?

Moreover, if it is a criminal offence to encourage membership of the IRA, then the PSNI should also remove the recruitment poster.

At a time when several republican terrorist organisations that call themselves the IRA are still active and seeking to murder and maim, it is particularly disappointing to hear such an equivocal statement from the PSNI.  It is incumbent on senior officers to clarify the situation and reassure the public that they will remove the IRA recruitment poster and pursue those responsible for erecting it.,