Thursday, 28 June 2012

A bad week for Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein have attempted to milk the Martin McGuinness 'handshake' for all it is worth and a compliant media has assisted them in that endeavour.  I lost count of the number of times that UTV showed the same picture in the course of their late evening news.  However in other ways it has been a bad week for Sinn Fein.

South of the border in the Irish Republic support for Sinn Fein has slipped back.  The latest poll from Red C, in the Sunday Business Post, puts Sinn Fein on 16%, down from 19% in the previous poll, well behind Fine Gael on 32% and even behind Fianna Fail on 18%. Another Red C poll taken six weeks ago had Sinn Fein at a peak of 21% so the drop in support is actually 5% in the space of just 6 weeks.

Meanwhile north of the border, in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein has also taken a big hit.  It has presented itself as a party committed to 'an Ireland of equals' but it seems that in the world of Sinn Fein, as in George Orwell's Animal Farm, some people are more equal than others.  The Fair Employment Tribunal ruled that Regional Development minister, Conor Murphy MLA, had discriminated again a Protestant applicant, Alan Lennon, and appointed Sean Hogan, a Roman Catholic, as chairman of Northern Ireland Water.  The tribunal said that Conor Murphy had added new criteria in order to secure the appointment of Sean Hogan.

It also claimed that there was a pattern in the appointments made during the four years that Conor Murphy was in DRD.  According to the FET, there was 'a material bias against the appointment of candidates from a Protestant background.'  During that period a Roman Catholic applicant was at least twice as likely to be appointed as a Protestant candidate.

Indeed the figures for DRD for 2010-2011 show that 'of 57 Protestant applications for public appointment, only three were appointed.  In the same period, nine out of 31 Catholic applicants were appointed.'  The success rate for Roman Catholics was 29% and for Protestants just 5%.  In that year a Roman Catholic applicant was six times more likely to be appointed than a Protestant and the number of Roman Catholic appointments was three times thenumber of Protestant appointments!

These facts show that while Sinn Fein talks about equality, under Sinn Fein control there was a persistent pattern of anti-Protestant discrimination in DRD.  Actions speak louder than words and the actions of the former Sinn Fein minister speak very loudly.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Sinn Fein and Queen Elizabeth

Last week, as the news media covered the story of the forthcoming handshake between Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and DFM Martin McGuinness, it was noticeable that Sinn Fein representatives kept referring to her as 'the Queen of England'.  The fact is that she is the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The term 'Queen of England' was used by Sinn Fein in a traditional republican way as if to imply that she has no connection with Northern Ireland.  Indeed it was the term that Gerry Adams TD used on The Politics Show in the course of a discussion with Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Brian Feeney. 

Jeffrey Donaldson responded to this and stated clearly that she is the Queen of the United Kingdom of which Northern Ireland is a part.  It has been interesting to note that in several subsequent interviews Sinn Fein spokesmen dropped the term 'Queen of England' and referred to her as Queen Elizabeth, which is how she is commonly described.  This is a small step but a significant step in the right direction.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Eire unemployment double that in Ulster

The latest unemployment figures must make dismal reading for those who want Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and join the Irish Republic.

The average figures for February to April 2012 were: Northern Ireland 7.1%, United Kingdom 8.2%, European Union 10.9% and Irish Republic 14.2%.

The figure for Northern Ireland has increased by 0.6% and that is disappointing but the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland is still lower than the UK average and much lower that the European Union figure.

The unemployent figure for the Irish Republic is the one that really stands out.  At 14.2% is is exactly twice that in Northern Ireland!  Is it any wonder that support for a United Ireland is at an all-time low?

Friday, 22 June 2012

Anither wee Ulster-Scotch wurd

Recently in the Irish Times, Diarmaid O Muirithe highlighed the word hallan.  The word was sent in by a reader from Cushendall and is found in both Scots and Ulster-Scots.  It was mentioned in 1942 as an Ulster word by Professor Estyn Evans and has a variety of meanings. 

Throughout Scotland from Galloway to Caithness the word is used to denote a partition of stone or clay in a byre or stable or between the living room and the byre.  In The Cottar's Saturday Night Robert Burns says that the cow 'yont the hallan snugly chows her cood.'

The earliest Ulster example that Diarmaid could identify was in a poem by Robert Huddleston from county Down, which was published in 1844. 'The aul' cly hallun shook wi' la'ghin'.'

The Dictionary of the Scots Language says that the word is from the Old Scots halland, hallen and means a partition.  It can also mean a perch for hens, presumably because they sometimes perch on a partition.

Armed Forces Flag

Last night Belfast City Council voted to fly the Armed Forces Flag over the City Hall for six days next week.  The Ministry of Defence had written to the Council asking them to fly the flag for six days to mark Armed Forces Day, which is Saturday 30 June.  The request came too late to be dealt with at the normal monthly council meeting and so DUP councillors arranged for a special meeting to be held last night so that a decision could be taken. 

An Alliance proposal to fly the flag for just one day was defeated and a DUP proposal to fly it for the six days, as requested by the MoD, was then passed with support from the DUP, UUP and Alliance. The SDLP and Sinn Fein voted against the proposal but it was passed since Alliance, who hold the balance of power, voted for the six days.

It is right that the Council in the capital city of Northern Ireland should recognise the service and sacrifice of our armed forces in this way.  Last year the flag was only flown for one day, on the proposal of Alliance, but this year when their proposal for one day was defeated, Alliance voted for the six days.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Running rings round Sinn Fein

Brian Feeney, a writer, commentator and former SDLP politician, had an interesting article in the Irish News today (20 June) in which he analysed some aspects of Sinn Fein.  In particular he commented on their practice of promoting former IRA members as MLAs, ministers and special advisers and said:
We're talking about MLAs and ministers.  Similar rules seem to apply to Sinn Fein's special advisers, many of who mare also former IRA operators.   That doesn't automatically mean they're stupid.  However some got the job only because of services rendered as long ago as 30 years.  Compare the DUP which selects its special advisers on ability and they often run rings round their Sinn Fein counterparts.
Now Brian Feeney is certainly no fan of the DUP, which makes his assessment all the more significant, especially as he is the author of a standard history of Sinn Fein.

Mike Nesbitt & welfare reform

Mike Nesbitt MLA Took over the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party on 31 March 2012, less than three months ago, and he has had a rough introduction to his new role.  Today he has a short platform piece in the News Letter today (20 June) on the subject of poverty.  In the course of the piece he says:
While we accept that welfare reform is necessary, especially the need to make it simpler and fairer, I am concerned about the scale and pace at which it is moving.
Welfare reform is an initiative of the Coalition government at Westminster but is being driven forward by the Conservative Party, the senior party in the coalition.  It is therefore somewhat incongruous that Mike is now expressing 'concern' about the 'scale and pace at which it is moving'.

Perhaps Mike has forgotten that at the last Westminster election in 2010 he stood as an Ulster Conservative and Unionist - New Force (UCUNF) candidate in Strangford.  He lost out to the DUP candidate Jim Shannon in what was a disastrous election for his party but if he had been elected he would have been sitting today at Westminster taking the Conservative whip and voting for Conservative and Coalition policies, including 'welfare form' and 'welfare reform' at the 'scale and pace' about which he now expresses concern!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Girdwood (3)

Margaret Ritchie remained in the post of Social Development Minister, as well as SDLP leader, until May 2010, when she was returned to Westminster as the MP for South Down.  At that point she gave up the ministry and on 25 May 2010 she handed it on to Alex Attwood MLA from West Belfast.

The following year was the year of the Northern Ireland Assembly election and so it was time for the SDLP to use Girdwood again for some party political publicity.  Ritchie had announced 200 houses for Girdwood and so on 14 March 2011 Attwood simply made the announcement for a second time - even though he knew that he could not deliver on it without cross-community agreement and there was no such agreement.

This £20million investment will be one of the biggest new social and affordable housing developments in Northern Ireland in recent years. It will also provide the best opportunity in a generation to make real progress in meeting housing need across North Belfast.
Alex Attwood said: “This will be a tremendous housing boost for the people of North Belfast. My predecessor has already announced a £38million investment to transform the quality of homes in north Belfast. I am now adding quantity to that quality with 200 new social and affordable homes at the former military base at Girdwood. Windows and washing lines replacing watchtowers and sangers offers a much brighter future for everyone in the area.
“We appointed Apex Procurement Group some months ago to start the ball rolling. They have produced high quality designs with a proposed layout for the new homes. The time is now right to share those plans and consult with the local community.”

Alex Attwood then arrived on site at 11.00 am and was photographed with a map showing his plan for Girdwood.  It was a plan to fill the site with social houses and abandon the agreed vision for a mixed use site.

The first announcement of the 200 houses was made by Margaret Ritchie during her bid to become leader of the SDLP and the announcement of the same 200 houses by Alex Attwood was made while he was preparing to contest the 2011 Assembly election.  Moreover he was photographed on the site with his party colleague Alban Maginness who was also preparing for the Assembly election.  Once again the SDLP used Girdwood for electoral purposes.  Margaret Ritchie used it in the context of a leadership election and Alex Attwood used it in the context of the Assembly election.

However they were selling the electorate a meaningless vision and they knew very well that they could not deliver it.

Eire's 'sectarian supporters' (2)

Recently I posted about the sectarian singing of Irish football supporters who were filmed in Krakow singing 'IRA' and 'F--- the Queen.'  Along with a number of other unionist politicians I called on the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) to condemn these sectarian supporters and investigate their behaviour.

The FAI has now stated that the association 'does not condone offensive chanting of any description.  We are very disappointed by the nature of the chanting highlighted in the You tube clip.  Our fans enjoy an excellent reputation the world over and the actions of this small group do not reflect the attitudes or actions of the vast majority of our fans.  This incident will be investigated and further actions may be taken as necessary.'

I welcome the fact that the FAI will investigate the sectarian singing and hope that the culprits will be identified and punished.  Firm action is needed to demonstrate that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A robust debate at Stormont

Tonight there was a robust debate in the Assembly about the Girdwood development in North Belfast and both an initial motion from Alliance and and SDLP amendment were defeated.

It was a good opportunity for me to explain the failure of the two previous DSD ministers who abandoned a cross-community agreement on a shared site.  It was also an opportunity to challenge and correct some of the misinformation and indeed disinformation that has emanated from some SDLP politicians.  That was particularly important since Mark H Durkan MLA was at it again.  During his speech he claimed that the Housing Executive's cohesion unit had been dismantled, which is untrue, and that a planning application for the SDLP vision of 200 houses was at an advanced stage.  In fact no planning application was ever submitted.  But then this is what we have come to expect from the SDLP - short on facts but big on fiction and fantasy.

Unfortunately, when I correcting his misinformation, Mr Durkan was busy talking to the member beside him and didn't seem to want to hear the facts.  I chided him for not listening when I was addressing his claims and I was rather amused when some SDLP members seemed annoyed by my use of the term 'boy' in the course of what I said.

It is actually an interesting word and perfectly respectable in the context in which I used it.  In the Assembly we are entitled to speak in the language of choice, whether English, Irish, Ulster-Scots or whatever.  It is therefore worth looking at the use of the word in Ulster-Scots and in Ulster dialect.

The Scottish National Dictionary, the Concise Ulster Dictionary and The Hamely Tongue all explain a variety of ways in which the word can be used.  These include the following from the Scottish National Dictionary:

1. A term of commendation and praise (always with the definite article) - for example the following appears in a Scottish volume published in 1903.  'If a beast wis gaun fur to pu’ ma heid aff,' remarked Macgregor, who had grown suddenly bold, 'I — I — I wud gi’e’t a kick!' 'Ye’re the boy!' said his father.

2. A man of any age - as in a poem published in 1985 by the Scottish poet Liz Lochhead:
Daft as each other! Her yin passion
Is you and yours, I swear!
And this boay couldny love you mair.
He’s fairly burnin’ tae be yir man.
The word is not restricted to Scotland but is also used in Ulster and is attested in James Fenton's book The Hamely Tongue, which is an account of the language as spoken in county Antrim.  It is also worth noting that the word is used in Ulster dialect and at least one SDLP member from the west of the province can be heard using it in the corridors at Stormont.  Generally members are expected to translate any word or phrase they use but with words that occur in Ulster dialect there is certainly no need for translation!

But back to Girdwood, perhaps with the debate out of the way we can now get on with the important work of developing the site as a shared site that is accessible to folk from every community.  It is a marvellous opportunity and one that we must not allow others to squander.

Monday, 11 June 2012

More pressure on the GAA

Last week I posted about the fact that a GAA club in county Tyrone had given children medals depicting an IRA terrorist.  The IRA man was Martin McCaughey and the club was Galbally Pearse's.

The matter was raised initially after the mother of one of the children reported the matter to the media.  Lord Morrow commented on the issue and said that it 'will horrify many Roman Catholics, never mind Protestants.'  However the response of the GAA was extremely muted and less than adequate.  There was no criticism or condemnation at all from the organisation.

Today Trevor Ringland, a former international rugby player, called on the GAA to address the issue.  'Should the GAA make a public statement distancing themselves from this?'  'I think they should.'

And last week the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee at Stormont agreed to write to the GAA about the matter.  The issue was raised by a DUP member and it was agreed that the committee chair, Michelle McIlveen MLA, would send a letter to the GAA on behalf of the committee.

This is a controversy which has yet to gain the momentum it deserves and it has certainly not yet run its course.  The handing out of medals depicting an IRA terrorist totally contradicts the claims of the GAA that they are reaching out to non-GAA sections of the community.

Eire's 'sectarian supporters'

The Eire football team got off to a poor start in Euro 2012  with a 3:1 defeat and off the pitch some Eire supporters have also got off to a bad start.

Video footage on You-Tube shows supports of the Irish Republic, wearing their national colours and  singing 'IRA' and 'F--- the Queen' on the streets of Krakow.  In the video six fans are initially involved but they meet up with another thirty outside a bar and they join in as well.  The offensive lyrics are incorporated into The Fields of Athenry.  In a second video clip around twenty Eire football supporters shout 'IRA!'

In February 2011 a small group of Northern Ireland supporters were heavily criticised when they engaged in sectarian singing after a match against Scotland in Dublin's Aviva Stadium.  At that time I was the Sports Minister in Northern Ireland and I can well remember being interviewed about the incident. 

So what will the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) say and even more important, what will they do about the incidents in Krakow?  Will the Eire sports minister be interviewed in the same way that I was interviewed?  What will the media in the Irish Republic say about it?

Pensioner poverty in Northern Ireland

The recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland 2012 found that, while the overall level of poverty in Northern Ireland is on a par with the rest of the United Kingdom, there are some regional differences.

The poverty rate is:
  • Lower in Northern Ireland than Great Britain for children (28% compared with 30%)
  • Similar for working-age adults (20% compared with 21%)
  • Higher for pensioners (21% compared with 16% after housing costs deducted & 28% compared with 20% before housing costs deducted)

The report offers the following reasons for the higher level of poverty among pensioners:
  • 40% of single pensioners and 25 % of couples have no income other than the State Pension and Pension Credit compared to 20% and 5% in the United Kingdom as a whole.
  • The proportion of employees aged 45-64 in Northern Ireland who are not contributing to a pension is 38% compared to 32% in Great Britain.
In this context of a higher level of poverty among pensioners, benefit uptake initiatives directed towards pensioners are especially important:
  • Since 2005 around 112,000 invitations have been issued to older people offering a benefit assessment which considers eligibility for all social security benefits as well as a range of other allowances and services. 
  • Over 247,000 mail shots have been issued to older people to raise awareness of State Pension Credit.
  • To date, the Benefit Uptake Programme has generated additional annual benefits and arrears of approximately £37.6m of which almost £31m  relates to additional awards of State Pension Credit and other benefits specitific to over 60s.
  • An Outreach to Older People Approach has been in place since 2009.  It aims to reach older people, who have potential additional entitlement, through promotional material advertising a Freephone benefits advice number.  This approach uses trusted community partners such as community groups, specific older people's groups, faith based organisations, GP surgeries and pharmacies and also the provision of informal talks in similar settings, generating a further 1,403 benefit entitlement checks.
  • The 'Make the Call 'Campaign was launched in November 2011, to advertise a freephone number to encourage older people to find out if they were missing out on benefits.  So far, over 15,000 calls have been received and monitoring indicates that 40% of callers have potential entitlement.
  • £375,000 has been allocated through the Innovation Fund for Increasing Benefit Uptake to 7 new projects being taken forward by the community and voluntary sector to test new and innovative ways of reaching people with potential unclaimed benefit entitlement.  Two of the projects being funded are specifically targeting older people.
  • Service delivery improvements have also been made in recent years to mitigate the risk that customers find the claim process difficult.  When a customer calls to make a claim to State Pension they are asked if they would like to find out more about State Pension Credit and, if interested,  the customer is transferred to a dedicated State Pension Credit claim line at which stage an enhanced tele-claims system is in operation which results in around 90% of claims being taken by telephone, without the need for customers to complete paper application forms.


Saturday, 9 June 2012

An insight into sectarianism

Fionnuala O'Connor wrote In Search of a State: Catholics in Northern Ireland, which was published in 1993.  In it she recorded this exchage with an academic from Londonderry (p 140):

Tony, the academic from Derry, says with typical Derry chauvinism that he first saw sectarianism in the IRA when he came to Belfast, and was horrified.  'I never experienced republicans in Derry having this hatred.  I remember talking to this quite senior guy in north Belfast, we were standing looking over the Shankill and we were talking about our dreams for Ireland.  And he said - there wasn't drink or anything involved, he was quite rational - he said: 'Tony what I'd really love is to be able to stand here and just see green fields.'  And I says: 'Come on', and he says: 'No, that's my dream for Ireland.  I would like to see those Orange bastards just wiped out.'
Many people will question the claim that there was no sectarianism in the IRA in Londonderry but 'Tony' is certainly right in saying that sectarianism was deeply embedded in the IRA in North Belfast.  His account of a conversation with a senior republican, presumably from Ardoyne, since they were 'looking over the Shankill', does provide an insight into that sectarian republican mindset.

This senior republican wanted to see the Shankill eradicated and turned back into green fields.  He wanted to see 'those Orange bastards just wiped out.'  That is what is known as ethnic cleansing and it illustrates the sort of challenge we face in North Belfast and in many other parts of Northern Ireland.

Padre Pio and the professor

Professor John Rooney is a physical scientist and lives in Belfast.  He is also a devout Roman Catholic and the author of a letter which appeared in the Irish News on 1 December 2011.

The letter was in response to an article about Padre Pio (1887-1968), a 'saint' in the Roman Catholic Church.  He was born on 25 May 1887 at Pietrelcina in Italy and his parents were peasant farmers.  His own name was Francesco Forgione but he was given the name Pio (Italian form of Pius) when he joined the Capuchin Order.  This name was chosen in honour of Pope St Pius V, the patron saint of Pietrelcina.  As a result he became popularly known as Padre Pio.

Padre Pio became famous because he had wounds on his hands, known as stigmata, which were claimed to be similar to the wounds in the ands, feet and side of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.  These first appeared on 20 September 1918 and he was the first priest ever to be a stigmatist. 

G Cruchon SJ, a Jesuit priest, wrote of this: 'A long Calvary had begun and with it the answer to a prayer: the prayer of his profound desire to dientify with Christ crucified not only by participation in the priestly apostolate but in some mysterious way in that supreme immolation of Our Lord on Calvary.'  However Calvary was a perfect sacrifice and there can be no other Calvary.  It was a perfect sacrifice by our great high priest Jesus Christ and never to be repeated.

Padre Pio died on 23 September 1968, almost exactly 50 years after the 'stigmata' first appeared and he was canonised by Pope John Paul II on 16 June 2002.  During his lifetime tens of thousands of people came to see him conduct masses and today many Roman Catholics pray to him, in spite of the Biblical truth that there is only one mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.  However many others believe that the wounds were self-induced or self-inflicted and some writers suggest that they were the result of a psychological disorder or demonic activity.

But back to Professor Rooney and in his letter to the Irish News he wrote:
The article on Padre Pio (November 19) is unfortunately very misleading, since Professor Luzzatto's book is a very biased account trying to deny the authenticity of the stigmata on the body of the Capuchin monk.
Padre Pio received the visible stigmata in 1918 and was thoroughly investigated in the next few years by medical experts and high-ranking clerical authorities acting on behalf of the Vatican.  The full report deafted in 1921 is kept in the Archive of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
However, it was only in 2006, when Pope Benedict XVI gave free access to the archives up until 1939 that there was an intense revival of interest into the life of Padre Pio.
The Jewish historian Sergio Luzzatto published his version of the facts in a book in 2007 when he argued that the wounds on the friar's body was (sic) deliberately caused by carbolic acid in order to fake the stigmata.
However Luzzatto's conclusions have been strongly rejected by many other scholars who have also examined the information in the archive.
This is very clear, thanks to Francisco Castelli in a recent book entitled Padre Pio Under Investigation - The Secret Vatican Files, Ignatius Press, 2011.
Castelli's book is the most thorough and balanced account of all the information about the saint in the Vatican archives, and it is quite clear that the stigmata were genuine.
The life of Padre Pio helps to strengthen the faith of many Catholics, so it is a pity that The Irish News with the slogan Pro fide et patria over its editorial should publish an article casting doubts on the authenticity of the many remarkable aspects of the life of the great saint.
Belfast BT9

1. Professor Rooney notes that the motto of the Irish News is the Latin phrase Pro fide et patria, which means 'For faith and country' or 'For faith and fatherland' and of course the country is 'Ireland' and the faith is Roman Catholicism.  He also chides the newspaper for publishing an article which he describes as 'misleading' and 'casting doubts on the authenticity' of Padre Pio's sitgmata.   It is interesting that Professor Rooney expects the Irish News to adhere to Roman Catholic doctrine.

2. Professor Rooney endorses the traditional Roman Catholic position on the authenticity of the stigmata and dismisses the book by 'the Jewish historian Sergio Luzzatto' as 'very biased'.  Instead he advocates another book by Father Francisco Castelli, Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files.  The letter appeared in the newspaper but attracted absolutely no comment in the media.  Time and again the religious views of evangelical Protestants who are in public life, including academics, have been analysed and dissected at length but not a word was said about this letter by a former Queen's University professor in which he stated that he believed in the authenticity of the stigmata.  That too is interesting but not altogether surprising.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The IRA Man and the Nazis

Hugh Jordan had an interesting article in the Sunday World (3 June 2012) entitled 'The IRA Man and the Nazis'.

It was about Frank Ryan and was prompted by the recent showing of the film The Enigma of Frank Ryan at QFT in Belfast.

Jordan commented on the relationship between the IRA and the Nazis and wrote:
As a result of seized IRA documents given to this newspaper last year, we now know that in the event of a Nazi invasion of Northern Ireland, the IRA in Belfast was planning to hit the street in support of the German army.  It was even prepared to shoot members of the Fire Brigade engaged in saving property.
I have posted on several occasions about the relationship between the IRA and the Nazis and so it was interesting to have that additional piece of information.

However the main thrust of the article was about Frank Ryan (1902-1944), an Irish republican, an Irish language teacher with Conradh na Gaelige and a prominent left-wing member of the IRA.  In the 1930  s he supported the Republicans in Spain, at a time when the Roman Catholic Church and many others, including the Blueshirts, were supporting the Spanish Fascist leader General Franco.

Eventually Ryan went to Spain to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and he commanded his own Connolly Column.  However he was captured and charged with murder.  Ryan was later sentenced to death but this was commuted to thirty years in jail.

At that time he condemned the IRA bombing campaign in England.  However the departure of Ryan and some other left-wing republicans to Spain had left the IRA in the hands of right-wingers, such as Sean Russell, who believed that it was time to bomb the British out of Northern Ireland by means of a bombing campaign on the mainland  One of the key figures in that terrorist campaign was Dominic Adams, an uncle of Gerry Adams, and in January 1939 he helped manufacture  a bomb which exploded in the centre of Coventry, killing five entirely innocent people.

Meanwhile Ryan was released from prison in Spain and ended up as a guest of the Nazis in Berlin.  There he held meetings with Sean Russell, the man who masterminded the IRA bombing campaign in England and who was in Germany to secure Nazi support for the IRA.

Frank Ryan died in Germany on 10 June 1944 and was buried there but his body was brought back to Ireland in 1979 and buried at Glasnevin.

This was a very good article by Hugh Jordan but someone in the newspaper made a mistake by illustrating it with a picture with the caption 'Gerry Adams carries the coffin of IRA man Frank Ryan.'  In fact the picture showed Adams carrying the coffin of an entirely different Frank Ryan, an IRA man who was killed in November 1991, along with Patricia Black, when a bomb they were carrying exploded prematurely outside a theatre in St Albans.  It was a case of the right name but the wrong person.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The GAA and another IRA gunman

In the wake of the controversy about a GAA club handing children medals honouring an IRA terrorist, another GAA club seems keen to promote Irish republicanism amongst children.

According to an article in the Andersonstown News (2 June 2012), the O'Donovan Rossa GAC hosted an Under 10 hurling tournament at Rossa Park, Shaw's Road, in West Belfast on Monday 4 June.  The tournament was for 'the inaugural Joe McKelvey Cup' and involved sixteen clubs from all over Ireland.

The Andersonstown News then explained the significance of the name Joe McKelvey, who was in fact a chief of staff of the IRA.  According to the report:
The Premier Club is hosting the tournament to honour Joe McKelvey, a founding member of the club back in 1916.  McKelvey died on December 8, 1922 when he was executed during the Irish Civil War.  He is famously remembered for his role in the Irish Republican Army and he participated in the anti-Treaty repudiation of the authority of the Dail in March of the same year as he was execution (sic).  Prior to his death he was elected to the IRA Army Executive and in April 1922 he helped command the occupation of the Four Courts in defiance of the new Irish Free State, which sparked the Irish Civil War.  In June 1922 McKelvey became IRA Chief of State. 

McKelvey grew up in Belfast and joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers.  He was also a founder member of the O'Donovan Rossa club in 1916.  This was at a time when republicans established a number of GAA clubs as a recruiting ground and as a cover for other activities.  During the War of Independence he commanded the Belfast brigade of the IRA and during the Civil War he fought with the Anti-Treaty IRA in Dublin.  He was captured by the Free State forces when the Four Courts was taken in June 1922 and executed by a firing squad on 8 December 1922.

The GAA may talk of reaching out to unionists but they contradict that when clubs name trophies after IRA leaders such as Joe McKelvey.  Their actions speak louder than their words.

It is also interesting that this was a competition for young children, as was the competition in Galbally.  These GAA clubs seem determined to use their sport to endorse and reinforce militant Irish republicanism amongst another generation of impressionable children.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The GAA and the gunman

There has been some progress by the GAA in divorcing itself from militant republicanism but a recent incident has shown just how much still needs to be done.

Galbally Pearse's GAA Club in Tyrone organised a 'Gaelic football blitz' for children under 12 and then presented the children with a medal depicting an IRA terrorist.  Each of the medals carried the face of Martin McCaughey, a member of the Provisional IRA.

MCaughey and another IRA man, Dessie Grew, were shot dead by the SAS while they were carrying out a terrorist operation on 9 October 1990.

The two IRA men, who were armed with AK47 rifles, were wearing gloves and balaclavas as they approached an isolated farm building near Loughgall.  There was a stolen car which it was thought was to be used in a terrorist operation and the shed was believed to be an arms dump.  As the IRA reached the shed the SAS opened fire and the terrorists were killed.  Subsequently the families of the two men accepted that they were on an IRA operation.

McCaughey was not only an IRA terorrist at the time of his death, he was also a former Sinn Fein councillor, having served on the Dungannon and South Tyrone Council.

Recently an inquest jury ruled that the SAS had been justified in their actions and the creation of the medal by the Galbally club follows closely behind that decision.

There has been some progress with the GAA and recently the Ulster Council intervened when Sinn Fein advertised that they were going to hold an advice centre in a GAA Club in the Craigavon area.  The GAA club in question was the Wolfe Tone GAC, although Sinn Fein managed to spell it 'Wolf Tone'!  (That is particularly amusing when both the Education Minister and his sister are named on the leaflet.) When the leaflets advertising the advice centre were distributed the matter was raised with the Ulster Council of the GAA who accepted that the use of GAA premises for party political purposes was not permitted.

However the response of the Ulster Council of the GAA to the Galbally medals has been less than adequate.

It is true that McCaughey, who was twenty-three years old, was a member of the Pearse's GAC and had been selected by the Tyrone minor team, but the decision by the GAA club to present children with medals depicting an IRA terrorist is totally wrong.

It was reported by the BBC (4 June) that a parent of one of the children was angry about the medal and the woman, who did not wish to be named, passed on the information to the BBC, who were able to publish a photograph of the medal.  However a spokesman for Tyrone GAA said, 'If the mother has a comment, she should make it to Tyrone County offices, they would obviously look at it.'  A spokesman for the Ulster Council said, 'The Ulster Council has no comment to make until we receive official notification from the individual involved.'  Both responses throw the onus back on the parent and in this way seek to evade the issue.

The truth is that action by the GAA should not be dependent on a complaint from the mother, who may well be reluctant to be identified and such reluctance would be perfectly understandable.  The GAA can easily confirm that the medals were distributed and they have a duty to act because it is the right thing to do.

Ryan Feeney who is the head of public affairs for the GAA Ulster Council is now a member of the Policing Board and involved in a number of cross-community initiatives.  But at the same time the GAA sends out a very different message by its tardiness in relation to the McCaughey medals.  The action of the Tyrone club and the inaction of the GAA simply undermine any progress that has been made.

It is interesting that the club concerned is the Galbally club and many people will remember the name Galbally from earlier controversies.  It seems that while some elements of the GAA want to move forward there is a recalcitrant element, especially in Tyrone, which wants to cling to the past.

Tyrone seems to be a backward county in this regard and it is worth remembering that in Tyrone last year another nationalist organisation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, elected a convicted IRA terrorist Gerry McGeough, as its president.  In February 2011 McGeough was convicted of attempting to murder Sammy Brush near Aughnacloy in 1981.  The victim, who was an off-duty member of the UDR, was a postman and was delivering mail when he was shot.  He is now a DUP councillor.  McGeough was actually elected president by the Tyrone AOH while he was in prison.

But back to Galbally and two things need to happen:

1. The Ulster Council of the GAA has a duty to act against the club and, at the very least condemn their action.

2. The matter has been reported in the media but how, for example, will the BBC pursue this matter.  Will it become the subject of a Stephen Nolan special?  Will the leaders of the GAA be summoned on to his programme?  Will the BBC demand answers from the GAA?  Will the BBC commission a Spotlight special?  Or will it be passed over lightly, in the same way that the BBC and other media passed over the election of McGeough as AOH president in Tyrone.