Saturday, 23 April 2011

Whitewell republican parade

Today the Greencastle Commemoration Committee staged a parade from the Whitewell Road, around the Whitewell area, and then back down the Whitewell Road to Bawnmore, where there was a commemorative event at the Bawnmore Memorial Garden.

This event has taken place over a number of years and the Volunteer Sean McIlvenna Republican Flute Band from Glasgow regularly appears at the parade.  The band is named after Sean McIlvenna, a member of the IRA who was born in North Belfast but later moved south of the border.  He was killed on 17 December 1984 at Blackwaterstown when he was shot after taking part in an IRA landmine attack on a UDR patrol vehicle.

I thought the parade was smaller than in previous years.  It usually consists of a colour party and two bands with a crowd of mainly young republicans walking between them.  The crowd was certainly smaller than usual and the second 'band' was actually only half a band.  The only Sinn Fein figures I recognised were Gerry Kelly and Gerard O'Reilly.

The event in Bawnmore commemorates, amongst others, three IRA men - Charles McCrystal, Samuel Hughes and John McErlean - who were killed on 7 April 1972 when a bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely in a garage in Bawnmore Park.

Tonight there was a 'function' in the Fountain Bar on the Shore Road, with the Volunteer Sean McIlvenna  Band, a republican group named Phoenix Folk and an entrance charge of £5.

Next year is the 40th anniversary of the deaths of the three IRA men and it will be interesting to see how republicans mark that anniversary but over the past few years this has been a rather dismal and disorganised event and one that has been on the decline.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Belfast homecoming parade

On 4 April Belfast City Council passed a resolution inviting the Army to hold a homecoming parade in Belfast. The chief executive then wrote to the Army on 6 April extending this invitation.

The Army has now written back thanking the Council for its kind invitation but indicating that due to a very busy period of post-operational duties they would have to decline.

In his letter of 21 April to the Council, Lieutenant General BWB White-Spunner CBE, Commander Field army, wrote:
Thank you for your letter of 6 April advising me of Belfast City Council's Notice of motion to extend a warm invitation to the military authorities to hold a Homecoming Parade and reception in Belfast for members of the Royal Irish Regimewnt and Irish Guards on their safe return from their deployment in Afghanistan.
The Army has been overwhelmed by the widespread support that we have received and are greatly heartened by your request.  Returning from overseas operations is difficult and we place a great deal of emphasis on ensuring that our returning units are afforded an opportunity to visit as many communities as possible before embarking on post operational tour leave to allow them to spend uninterrupted time at home with their loved ones. As you may appreciate, planning has been underway for some months to hold a number of events to remember, to give thanks, and to mark the return of the soldiers and officers of the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards from their current operational deployment.
Both the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards will now be embarking on a very busy period of post operational duties. That they are geographically dislocated with differing programmes of events has meant that these programmes would not be able to be disrupted, without infringing on the soldiers and officers taking their full complement of rest and recuperation. It is therefore with regret that I must advise that we will be unable to accept the kind and gracious offer made by Belfast City Council but, on behalf of the officers and men of the 1 Royal Irish Battle Group and the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, may I offer our sincere thanks for your continued support.
This decision by the Army is deeply disappointing as many people, including families and friends, were looking forward to a homecoming parade in the capital city of Northern Ireland.

All matters pertaining to the Army are reserved matters, which are dealt with at Westminster, and I know that the DUP MPs at Westminster will take this up as a matter of urgency.  We want to see this decision reversed and it is important that our efforts are directed towards those who made the initial decision.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Born Fighting

Some weeks ago I made a short film trailer, which lasted just a few minutes, about the Ulster-Scots contribution to the making of the United States of America.  It was filmed at the Andrew Jackson Centre in Carrickfergus and was to be used at an event in Washington, as part of Tartan Week.  This is a week that celebrates Scottish and Scotch-Irish heritage in America.

Yesterday I received this e-mail from Dr Nancy Groce, the Senior Folklorist at the American Folklife Center in the US Library of Congress.
Dear Minister McCausland:
Just a short note to let you know that I thought you did an excellent job in your introduction trailer to Senator Webb's documentary 'Born Fighting'.  I saw it on Friday night at the wonderful reception at the National Archive. (One of the more high-profile and successful events all season, thanks to the efforts of the NIB(Northern Ireland Bureau) and Scottish Office.)
The film does an excellent job of raising Americans understand of Scottish, Northern Irish and US history, and I think it will remain a popular staple on US television and in US classrooms for years to come.  Yuor introduction added a very nice touch by bringing contemporary Northern Ireland into the discussion.
I trust you are doing well.  It was a pleasure to host you last fall at the Library and I hope you'll stop vy and visit us again when your schedule allows.
Best wishes, Nancy Groce.
This is a good example of the way in which we can use Ulster-Scots culture and heritage to promote Northern Ireland around the world.  There is a Global Ulster, which reaches out to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other lands.  I like that concept of Global Ulster because it reinforces the fact that the Ulster-Scots were indeed a pioneering people.

Dr Groce says that the film Born Fighting will be'a popular staple on US television and in US classrooms for years to come' and that is good news for Northern Ireland.

Congratulations to Norman Houston and his staff at the Northern Ireland Bureau for organising this event.  I had the opportunity of meeting Senator James Webb when I was out in Washington last year and that conversation led on to the event that took place last Friday evening.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sectarian attack on Ligoniel Orange Hall

Sectarian attack on Ligoniel Orange Hall

North Belfast DUP representatives have condemned a sectarian arson attack which destroyed Ligoniel Orange Hall, on the Crumlin Road, last night.

‘The hall is completely gutted and many historic artefacts have been destroyed,’ said William Humphrey MLA. ‘Those artefacts had great sentimental and historic value for the two lodges which use the hall and they are irreplaceable.’

‘Such attacks are the legacy of years of demonisation of the Orange Order by Irish republicans,’ said Councillor Gareth McKee. ‘Those who cultivated a sectarian hatred of the Orange Order are in many ways as guilty as those who carried out the attack.’

‘The Orange Order plays an important role within the Protestant and unionist community and an attack on an Orange Hall is an attack on the community it serves,’ said Nelson McCausland MLA. ‘I welcome the fact that the PSNI are treating this as a sectarian hate crime and we must hope that the culprits will be brought to book.’

Death of Bill Maguire

I was sorry to hear of the death of Dr Bill Maguire, a distinguished historian and museum keeper.

William Alexander Maguire, always known as 'Bill', was the son of a Methodist minister and spent part of his childhood in county Donegal.  He was educated at Methodist College, Belfast, and St Andrews University in Scotland and was a teacher in Friends School Lisburn, before moving in 1964 to become head of history at Belfast Royal Academy.  It was there that I met him and he was one of the teachers whose lessons encouraged my interest in history.

Bill left BRA in 1969  to become headmaster of Regent House in Newtownards and remained there until 1979.  In 1980 he joined the staff of the Ulster Museum as keeper of local history and then as head of the division of human history.  Later he became deputy director and he retired in 1980.

During those years at the Ulster Museum he was responsible for a number of significant exhibitions, including Kings in conflict, which related to the tercentenary of the Battle of the Boyne, and Up in Arms!, which marked the bicentenary of the 1798 rebellion.  Those were excellent exhibitions and I still refer from time to time to the magnificent catalogues that accompanied them.

Bill Maguire was a fine historian, a respected author and a good teacher.  He was alto a thorough gentleman and I remember his classes with affection. 

He died on 10 January but I only became aware of his death when I read an obituary in the Irish Times last month and there was another in the Belfast Telegraph last week by Dr Brian Walker.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Why have the media ignored the AOH?

Last week Gerry McGeough was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the attempted murder of a part-time UDR soldier in June 1981.  The part-time soldier, Sammy Brush, who is now a DUP councillor in Ballygawley was working as a postman when McGeough shot him.

The Belfast Telegraph reported that McGeough, who was also convicted of possessing two guns and membership of the IRA, 'has expressed no remorse for shooting' Sammy Brush.

The sentencing of McGeough has been overshadowed in the news by the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr but it is disappointing that the media have largley ignored a significant aspect of the case.  Last year McGeough. who was then in prison awaiting trial, was elected president of the Tyrone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  This is a very senior posiiton in the AOH and equivalent to a County Grand Master in the Orange Order.

The fact that the AOH members in Tyrone elected him to that office, while he was awaiting trial, raises serious questions about the AOH.  But they are questions the media seem reluctant to ask. 

The AOH have responded to the situation with a stony silence but that is simply not good enough.  They have questions to answer but they will only answer them if they are asked.  A number of DUP members, including Sammy Brush and Lord Morrow have asked them, but the media should now pursue them until they get an answer.

If this had been the Orange Order, I have no doubt that the media would have been camped outside Schomberg House until they got a live interview with a spokesman.  It would have been in the newspapers and on the radio and television day after day and reporters would have interrogated the Grand Master and other leading brethren.

Why then is there such a reticience about putting straight questions directly to the AOH and demanding straight answers to those questions?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Making Stormont Work Better

This morning I attended a breakfast briefing for journalists at which the DUP launched a new policy document entitled 'Making Stormont work Better'.  This is a DUP roadmap to improving our structure and processes of government.  Among the issues addressed are:
  • The process to elect a First Minister and Deputy First Minister
  • Moving to a voluntary coalition
  • Discussion among parties prior to d'Hondt being run
  • All-party commissions to tackle difficult issues
  • More unanimous decisions in the Executive
  • Abolition of the Civic Forum
  • Reduction in the number of departmentrs
  • Maximum of 80 MLAs by 2015
  • Ability to move a motion of no confidence in a minister
  • Removing community designation
  • Moving to 65% weighted majority votes.
This is about normalising the poltiical arena in Northern Ireland and there is an emerging consensus about the need for change to the current structures.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Murder in Omagh

Yesterday dissident republicans murdered Ronan Kerr in Omagh.  He was a young man who had grown up in a loving and caring family in a beautiful rural part of Tyrone, near Beragh..  He was also a Roman Catholic and recently he had joined the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

This afternoon I visited the family home, along with Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster, to express our sympathy to his mother Nuala and the family circle.  Nuala had lost her husband to cancer some time ago and now she has also lost a son at the hands of wicked men. 

Today is Mother's Day but for her Mother's Day will never be the same again.  Her loss is great and the hurt is deep but she has the support of her family and friends and the sympathy of the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland.

As we talked, Ronan's mother spoke of a loving son with a warm personality who would brighten up the room when he arrived.  She spoke of a son who was good at dealing with people and defusing difficult situations.  He was just the sort of young man we need in the PSNI and yet his service was cut short after just twelve weeks.

This was a cold and callous murder carried out by men who have no respect or regard for human life.  They are driven by a fanatical devotion to a cause and by hatred of those who stand in their way.  Their primary targets are members of the PSNI and following on the murder of Stephen Carroll in March 2009 it is clear that they are intent on targetting Roman Catholic members of the PSNI.

All of the main political parties have condemned this terrible murder and affirmed their support for the PSNI.  Those who planned and perpetrated this crime must now be pursued with the utmost vigour and anyone with relevant information must provide that to the PSNI as soon as possible.  If we want to see an end to such murders then those responsible must be put behind bars, where they belong.