Wednesday, 26 October 2011

BBC pundit and former GAA star 'praises' IRA leader

Last week the front page story in the Sunday Life carried the headline 'BBC STAR IRA ROW - GAA pundit says sorry for praising Provo chief'.  The story then continued over two pages in the newspaper.

Jarlath Burns is a school teacher, a former Armagh GAA captain, and now a BBC sports pundit.  Recently he appeared at a Sinn Fein rally in Dublin at which a number of celebrities endorsed Martin McGuinness in his campaign for president of the Irish Republic.  It seems that theer were many celebrities at the event but it was Burns who got the publicity.  His participation, his support for McGuinness and his comments about an IRA commander have certainly attracted attention.

During his speech at the rally, Jarlath Burns praised Peter John Caraher, a former neighbour, who died on 10 October.  He boasted that, 'When the British thought that they ruled South Armagh ... South Armagh was being ruled from Peter John Caraher's house.'

Caraher was the IRA commander in South Armagh and is believed to have been one of the IRA gunmen involved in the Kingsmills massacre.

When he was challenged by the newspaper about his comments, Burns described himself as a 'peace-loving person' and said, 'I'd be offended if someone took a comment at a rally about a neighbour of mine as any way whatsoever supporting violence or suporting people being killed.  That was unscripted.  I probably should have scripted it a wee bit better and shown a bit more sensitivity, but the point I was making was Peter John Caraher was someone who went the same journey as Martin McGuinness.'

He was also asked about the allegation, made under parliamentary privilege in 2007, that Caraher had sanctioned the murder of Paul Quinn by IRA men in South Armagh.  In response to this Jarlath Burns replied, 'I don't know about that, the death of Paul Quinn.'

'I fully and 100 percent understand (that people may be upset at the remarks) and I would never seek to offend anybody with what I say or what I do.'

However, many people will be surprised at the appearance of a BBC sports commentator at an election rally for a Sinn Fein leader. 

Even more will be surprised that a BBC sports commentator freely commends a former IRA commander, who 'ruled' what is known as 'Bandit country'.  Burns says that the comments were unscripted but is that not the sort of situation in which an individual speaks from the heart?

Since then Lord Morrow has called for strong action by the BBC against their commentator and we
must wait to see the response of the BBC.

The Sunday Life report also recalled that Burns 'has come under fire before for making political comments'.  Last year he wrongly accused me of 'bigoted political chicanery' in relation to planning permission for the expansion of a GAA club.  As the paper noted, 'McCausland's then Culture and Sport ministry had not been responsible for dealing with the planning application.'  That is absolutely right and I dealt with that matter in this blog on 10 March 2010.  I had no connection at all with the decision but his false accusation provided another insight into the man's mindset.

The Dublin rally is not, of course, the first appearance by Jarlath Burns on a Sinn Fein platform.  Last year he was one of the speakers at a Sinn Fein conference in London and that was the occasion on which he made the false accusation.

It seems that whenever he makes his, now annual, appearance at a Sinn Fein event, he manages to make a newsworthy statement!  Yes I think the BBC has some thinking to do.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

More money for housing

Yesterday in the October Monitoring round, the DFP minister Sammy Wilson allocated an additional £10m for the Northern Ireland Co-ownership Housing Association and £2m for energy efficiency improvements to social housing.

Originally there was £15m in the budget this year for co-ownership housing but last month it became clear that some additional money might be available and I met with the Co-ownership Housing Association to see if they could allocate any additional money.  Recently the demand has been greater than they could meet and they have ben operating a lottery system to see who they could help.  They assured me that the demand was there and that they could handle the additional work.  As a result I bid for £10m in the monitoring round and it has been allocated.

However it was also important to ensure that the banks were on board for this additional demand, that they would be able to meet the demand and that they would be able to handle the mortage element quickly enough to anable purchasers to complete their house purchases in time.  Sammy Wilson and I met with the banks on two occasions and they assured us that they could process the mortgage element in time.

This is good news and will enable 170 more people to acquire a home under co-ownership.  These are people who could not otherwise afford to get on to the property ladder but through this scheme they will have an affordable home.

This year along, through co-ownership and the first-buy scheme, we will be able to help 700 families acquire and affordable home.

Another important issue is fuel poverty and the best way to address this is through improving the energy efficiency of homes.  However 60% of Housing Executive homes syill have single glazed windows.  The allocation of £2m will enable them to install double glazing and better insulation in many homes.  I had bid for £4m but if the Housing Executive are able to have the £2m spent in time there should be another £2m available in the next monitoring round.

All of this is good new for the construction industry as it will create additional work for the building trade.  They will also benefit from additional allocations to the Department of Education for school maintenance and to the DRD for roads.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Three terrorist brothers

On 6 December 1975 two IRA terrorists from the South Armagh Brigade were killed when a land mine they were working on exploded prematurely at Kelly's Road, Killeen.  The terrorists were Sean Campbell (20) and James Lochrie (19).

However Sean was not the only terrorist in the family.  Two of his brothers, Liam and Michael, refused to accept the IRA ceasefire and left to join the Real IRA.

Liam has been identified as one of the terrorists behind the Real IRA bomb in Omagh in 1998, which killed 29 innocent people.  The Omagh families took a civil case against against four men, one of them Liam Campbell, and a court heard that the case against Campbell was 'overwhelming'.

Meanwhile Michael Campbell has just been convicted in Lithuania of trying to purchase weapons and explosives for the Real IRA and he has been sentenced to twelve years in prison.  During the case it was revealed that he planned to use the weapons and exposives in terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Liam and Michael are certainly in the news but their brother Sean Campbell is not forgotten.  Dromintee GAA Club has named its ground Lochrie-Campbell Park, in memory of the two IRA terrorists.  There is also a Lochrie-Campbell Memorial Cup and GAA minor teams compete for the trophy.

The conviction of Michael Campbell is to be welcomed and it may well pave the way for the extradition and conviction of Liam Campbell.  Meanwhile the fact that the Dromintee GAA ground is still named after their terrorist brother and his associate is a reminder that while some things have changed in the GAA, there is still more to be done.  The GAA speaks of 'reaching out to unionists' but any gestures in that direction are contradicted by sitiuations such as that in Dromintee.

Friday, 21 October 2011

A hopeless place?

The pop singer Rihanna caused some controversy during her recent visit to Northern Ireland, as regards both the filming of a video and her performance at the Odyssey, when fans were kept waiting for her to appear. 

Part of the video was filmed in the New Lodge Road area in North Belfast and crowds of local people flocked round her during her time in the area.  They were excited and delighted about her visit to the New Lodge but I wonder what their reaction is now that the video is out?  Apparently much of it involves her singing 'I found love in a hopeless place'.  This is set against a background of drugs, alcohol and gambling, interspersed with shots of the New Lodge flats and views of the general area. 

A hopeless place?  Fortunately most people who see the video will have no idea where it was filmed.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Only one out of three students are Protestants

Only one in three of the 35,000 university students in Northern Ireland are from a Protestant background.  That has been revealed by the Department of Employment and Learning in response to an Assembly question.  But what is the explanation? 

Today some folk have attempted to explain the differential in student intake at Northern Ireland universities on the basis of educational underachivement in some working-class Protestant areas.  There is certainly an issue of educational underachievement and that issue must be addressed.  In doing so we need to start at an early stage, working with parents and children.

However this does not explain the major disparity in the number of Protestant and Roman Catholic students in Northern Ireland universities. There is also a problem of educational underachievement in some working-class nationalist areas and as DSD minister I have visited nationalist communities that recognise this problem and are seeking to address it.

As regards educational underachievement in unionist areas there are, I believe, a number of factors that contribute to this and I will return to this on another occasion. However the extent of the disparity in university intake is such that there must be other factors involved.

This is not a new issue but I think that on this occasion it has got such attention in the media that it will have to be explored further. Too often in the past universities were able to ignore the issue and hope it would disappear out of the spotlight.

We need further research to see how many young people, from unionist and nationalist backgrounds, are goiing on to university and the pattern of choice they are making. We must also see why our local universitiies are attracting fewer Protestants than Roman Catholics. Why are so many young Protestants choosing to go elsewhere, how many are choosing to go, and where are they going?

However, returning to my previous post, the situation at Magee is particularly acute and certainly cannot be explained by any differential in educational underachievement. 

There is obviously a chill factor for Protestants at local universities, something that is particularly acute at Magee, and it is incumbent on the universities to address that issue. It is also incumbent on the Assembly to carry out its own exploration of the matter.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Londonderry - a shared city?

As Londonderry prepares to become United Kingdom City of Culture in 2013, the city faces a major challenge and that is to become truly a shared city.

Just a third of the 35,000 students attending university in Northern Ireland are Protestant and two thirds are Roman Catholic, but in the case of the Magee campus of the University of Ulster in Londonderry, less than a fifth of the students are Protestant.  The figure has just been released by DEL minister Stephen Farry in response to a question tabled by Gregory Campbell MP MLA. 

This situation is intolerable and the University of Ulster certainly has questions to answer about how the situation has arisen and what they propose to do to create a shared campus.  Those questions are particularly important at a time when the university is seeking to expand the Magee campus.

This is a symptom of a deeper problem in the Maiden City but it is certainly not the only symptom.  The only remaining unionist presence on the city side of the Foyle is the Fountain.  It is a very small community but they are the only unionists remaining on that side of the river.  Otherwise the city is divided between a totally nationalist city side and a mixed Waterside.

Addressing the imbalance in the university campus, which is clearly a cold house for Protestants, and rebuilding and regenerating the Fountain should be significant elements in the preparation for 2013.  I look forward to hearing the commitment of the university and the council to tackle these issues and I look forward to seeing their action plans.  Otherwise what credibility can there be for the city's forthcoming status as the United Kingdom City of Culture in 2013.

Time is pressing on and 2013 is drawing near.  The time is short and both university and city council must step up to the mark. 

Friday, 14 October 2011

NIPSA and the 'far left' (2)

The Plough is the e-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the issue of 13 February 2004 had an interesting account of elections within the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), the largest trade union in Northern Ireland.

It criticised the NIPSA leadership and reported the bid by a far-left coalition, known as Time for Change, to take over the union.
NIPSA activists have responded to the union leadership's poor management of the civil service dispute by mounting a campaign to get control of the union's ruling General Council.
The coalition 'Time for Change' has put up a number of candidates, on a grass roots campaign, and with a surprisingly tightinternal discipline structure.
'Time for Change' includes the best left-wing, anti-bureaucratic, elements of the NIPSA active members.  It is an alliance of independent socialists in concert with members of various progressive politicial parties, including the IRSP.
It is vitally important that 'Time for Change' win this internal battle.
The languge of the report is illustrative of the mindset of the far-left - this was a coalition with 'tight internal disciplne', set on an 'internal battle' 'to get control of the union's ruling General Council'. 

And who was it that was seeking to get control of the union?  The phrase 'progressive political parties' included not only the IRSP but also the Socialist Party and this was essentially a Trotskyist coalition.   The Plough then listed the slate of far-left 'Time for Change' candidates: Carol Barnett, Brian Booth, Brian Crawford, Paul Dale, Brian Forbes, Carmel Gates, Dooley Harte, Gerry Largey, Kevin Lawrenson, Maria Morgan, Janette Murdock, Patrick Mulholland, Ricki Reid and John Toal.

The following week The Plough reported the outcome of the NIPSA election and the fact that they had gained control of the union.

As trailed last week in the Plough, the results of NIPSA's General Council elections were published on Tuesday (February 17). They represent a massive success for the left coalition 'Time for Change.'  Of the 14 Time for Change candidates standing, nine were successful, and with the support of the non-aligned, the grouping can now look forward to a year in control of the largest union in the north.
Carmel Gates, a member of the Socialist Party, went on to become NIPSA president and when we compare that list with the current leadership we see that Maria Morgan is now NIPSA president and John Toal is NIPSA treasurer.  Following on from the previous post this shows how the far-left has taken over the trade union.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

NIPSA: Left sees major gains

Most people in Northern Ireland, including trade union members, know very little about the political associations of those who lead our trade unions but from time to time we learn a little about that mysterious world of trade union leadership.

The Socialist Party, formerly known as Militant, is a far-left Trotskyist organisation.  It has contested elections in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and has achieved some electoral success in the Republic.  In the 2009 European elections, Joe Higgins was elected as an MEP for Dublin as well as a councillor on Fingal County Council.  Elsewhere the party picked up five council seats.  Then at the 2011 general election the Socialist Party took two seats in Dail Eireann. 

However in Northern Ireland the party has had an abysmal electoral record and has never had anyone elected in local government elections or in Stormont or Westminster elections.  At the 2003 Assembly election it secured just 0.05% of the vote.  More recently it fielded two candidates in the 2011 elections for Belfast City Council - Paddy Meehan (Laganbank), Pat Lawlor (Lower Falls) - but both polled badly and were eliminated.  The candidates from the Socialist Party are unelected and unelectable.

Nevertheless this miniscule Trotskyist party exercises considerable influence in the trade union movement and earlier this year they were able to report on their success in getting three members elected to the executive of NIPSA.  NIPSA: Left sees major gains

The Socialist Party reported on its website that, 'The broad left increased its seats on the 25-member executive from four to 12, with three Socialist Party members topping the poll.'

NIPSA has 46,000 members and is Northern Ireland's largest trade union.  It is split into two groups - the civil service group and the public officers' group - with Billy Lynn, a long-time member of the Socialist Party, as chairperson of the civil service group and Eileen Webster, who is also a member of the Socialist Party, as chairperson of the public officers' group.  The report on the Socialist Party website was written by Padraig Mulholland, who is described as a member of the NIPSA public officers group executive, and the NIPSA website names Patrick Mulholland as the vice-president of NIPSA.

We do well to take note of those from the far-left, both Communist and Trotskyist, who wield such power in the trade union movement.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


Every Saturday the Belfast Telegraph Weekend magazine carries a Saturday/Sunday interview in which a prominent person asnwers a series of questions about their weekend. 

Today the person interviewed is Paul Stewart, a businessman who lives in east Belfast.  He is the sales director of a refurbishment company in Bangor and his work takes him across the United Kingdom.

One of the questions is 'Sunday morning - do you go to church?' and it brings a wide variety of answers.  In the case of Paul Stewart, he is very open and clear about his Christian faith and the importance of Sunday as a day for worship and the family.
Yes, we go as a family to the Congregational Church in Belfast twice every Sunday.  The children also take part in Sunday School.  I firmly believe that family worship is very important.  I studied theology at Queen's University and regularly preach around churches in Northern Ireland, too.
In these days when secularism is so pervasive and aggressive, it is good to see a successful businessman who is willing to speak out clearly and publicly about his Christian faith.

Gambling in Northern Ireland

Earlier this year Alex Attwood MLA, my predecessor as Minister for Social Development, initiated a consultation on gambling legislation in Northern Ireland and this week DSD officials presented the Social Development Committee at Stormont with a summary of the responses. 

I was therefore interested to see a news report on North Western Bookmakers.  This company was formed in 2008 when Ladbrokes bought the Eastwood's chain of betting shops, merging it with its existing shops.  It is the largest chain in Northern Ireland, holding 24% of betting shop licences.

Their turnover in 2010 was £265m, up from £262m in 2009, and they reported a pre-tax profit of £6.4m.

With a turnover of £262m and holding alomst a quarter of the total number of licences, we can estimate that the total amount of money spent on gambling in betting shops in Northern Ireland must be around £1,060m a year, which is something like £600 for every man, woman and child.   If we exclude children and those who do not bet at all and if we bear in mind that some people only bet once or twice a year, on something like the Grand National, then it is clear that there are other people who are each spending many thousands of pounds a year in betting shops.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The farmer and the pop-star

The barn on the road from Belfast to Bangor has long been a landmark.  On the side of it are the words of the John 3:16 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.'  The text, in large white letters, is seen by thousands of motorists every day and it has been there for many years.

The owner of the barn and the farm is Alan Graham, a Christian who has served many years as a DUP councillor in North Down.  He is well known in the area but in the past weeek his name has appeared in newspapers all around the world, as the result of an encounter with pop singer Rihanna, who was in Ulster to perform at a concert and film a video.

Last week a field belonging to Alan Graham was hired to film a new video for an unnamed pop singer and on Monday filming started.  Of course the news that a pop singer was in the district drew crowds of spectators and journalists, eager for a sight of the pop superstar. 

However not everyone is acquainted with the world of pop music.  Alan had never heard of Rihanna and had no idea what to expect.  As a result he was taken aback when he discovered that in the course of filming Rihanna had stripped to the waist and was walking around his field topless.  At that point he stepped in and said that filming should stop.  Rihanna covered up and after speaking to him the pop singer and the Christian parted on good terms.

The story soon spread around the world and was covered on news programmes in many different countries.  Of course the local media were able to produce some trendy individuals who condemned Alan Graham and spoke of the damage he had done to Northern Ireland.  That is only to be expected.  Much more significant were the folk who appeared on television and in the press and defended him.

One of the most insightful comments came from the English journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown who said: 'Mr Graham made a brave stand against two of the worst excesses of modern life: the sexualisation of society and our celebrity culture ...  In his small, humble way this farmer demonstrated a kind of strength and conviction that used to be commonplace in society - and which, to our shame, has almost disappeared.' 

She also posed the question: 'Why is it that the national conversation about the degradation of our natural world and physical environment is considered so respectable and urgent, while anyone who questions the degradation of our moral and social environment is treated like a leper or a lunatic?'

Yasmin's article was excellent and she was right on the mark in what she said.  Our society has become increasingly sexualised and female pop-stars, many of whom are overtly sexual, have bcome role models for young girls.

Alan Graham took his stand for what is right and he should be commended.  He was true to his faith and he has earned the respect of many people.

Rihanna has gone but the barn is still there and the text still speaks of the love of God.  Indeed pictures of the barn and the text have appeared in a number of newspapers and Alan himself has been able to share his Christian faith with many people in many lands.