Thursday, 30 August 2012

Caleb Foundation

Mary and I spent the day in Enniskillen and we enjoyed an excellent tour of Castlecoole House, a National Trust property which is well worth a visit.  The Earls of Belmore are descended from a family called Corry which came from Scotland to Ulster in the 17th century.
On the way down we stopped off at the Killymaddy tourist centre for a piece of their finest apple tart and as a break in the journey.  Getting out of the car the first people we met were a man and his wife who came over to speak.  It turned out that they are members of Ballyclare Evangelical Presbyterian Church and he also preaches in various homes and mission halls.  I couldn't recall meeting him before but I recognised his wife who used to run a women's meeting in a Presbyterian church in North Belfast.  I had preached a number of times at the meeting and we exchanged reminiscences about people we knew.  They also told me their daughter is the principal of a primary school in North Belfast, which I hadn't known. 
The conversation ended and after our break we completed the drive up to Enniskillen.  Again we got out of the car and the first people we met this time were the principal and vice-principal of an educational college..  The woman came over first and reminded me that we had met at a church in Belfast and that quite a number of years ago her father had been the Scottish organiser for an evangelical Christian organisation at the same time when I was the Northern Ireland organiser.  The principal then explained that he had met me some years ago when I preached at a Sunday night gospel meeting in Omagh.  I also know his brother through politics.  Again we exchanged reminiscences about people we knew through those gospel meetings and church services.
Those two converstaions reminded me of what a small place Northern Ireland is and also that we still have a very strong evangelical Christian community in Ulster.  Our society has become more secular but there is still a strong Christian presence, with many vibrant evangelical churches, mission halls, gospel halls and gospel meetings.
Ironically, not long after that I got a telephone call from a journalist at the Belfast Telegraph, who asked if I was a 'supporter' of Caleb.  She actually mispronounced the name but I knew she was referring to the Caleb Foundation.  She said that the paper was running an article about Caleb tomorrow and said that they had identified me as a 'supporter'.
At this point I should explain that the name Caleb is taken from a character in the Old Testament and that the Caleb Foundation is an evangelical Christian committee with members drawn from a range of evangelical denominations, including pastors and leaders from the Elim Pentecostal Church, Congregational Union, Baptist Union, Free Presbyterian Church, Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches, Church of the Nazarene, Reformed Presbyterian Church and Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  These churches have their differences in that some are Calvinistic in doctrine and some are Wesleyan, some hold to infant baptism while other hold to believers' baptism, and the Reformed Presbyterians sing only psalms.   However they all hold to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, including the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the sacrificial death of Christ as the basis for our salvation, salvation by the grace of God through faith in Christ etc.  This is their common bond.  I attend a Congregational church on Sunday morning and play the organ in an Independent Methodist Church in the evening but down through the years I have spoken in churches across all of these denominations.

Evangelical Protestantism takes many forms and the above are certainly not the only denominations or churches that fall into this category - we also have pentecostal churches such as the Apostolic Church and Assemblies of God, and others, including totally independent congregations.  Some are larger than others and some have more congregations than others but together they constitute a significant community.  You cannot even estimate the size of that community by adding up their official memberships because membership in these denominations is only open to born-again believers.  There are other folk who attend their services and yet are not members - they are sometimes described as adherents.  For that reason their attendances are other larger than their official membership.  This is very different from some other denominations where a congregation might claim 200 or 300 families and yet have only 50 people at a morning service.  Moreover there are many people in other denominations who would share most if not all of the core doctrines and principles upheld by Caleb.
It is impossible to provide an accurate figure and I will look with interest at any figure given in the Belfast Telegraph tomorrow, but across Northern Ireland the evangelical community must include several hundred thousand people.
I halted the conversation and telephoned the Caleb organiser.  It turned out that indeed the Belfast Telegraph journalist Liam Clarke had interviewed him yesterday for an article that is due to appear tomorrow.  Along with a number of other people I am a Facebook 'friend' on the Caleb Facebook page and so Liam had asked another journalist to ring up and ask me and some others if we were 'supporters' of Caleb.
She seemed fixated on the word 'supporter' but I don't like people putting words into my mouth and so I set out my position as: 'The Caleb Foundation is representative of many evangelical Christian churches in Northern Ireland and as an evangelical Christian I appreciate the work they do in representing that broad interdenominational community.'
The journalist then asked if I thought it right that a minister should be Facebook friend of Caleb.  I found the question both bizarre and offensive.  Do we not live in a free society?    Am I not entitled to have and hold my faith?  I have never made a secret of it and when people vote for me they know who I am.  In fact I asked her if the Belfast Telegraph was now advocating some form of religious discrimination.  Our forefathers fought for civil and religious liberty and it is my right to attend the church or churches I choose, to join the religious socieities I choose to join, and to support those Christian charities and missionary societies I choose to support.

It is worth recalling that some of the most progressive politicians and social reformers in British history were men such as Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce, both of whom were evangelical Protestants, indeed Shaftesbury was a leading figure in both the Evangelical Alliance and the Protestant Alliance.
However back to the present and one thing that strikes me from this exchange is that certain sections of the media in Ulster seem to take a particularly aggressive and intrusive interest in the religious views of politicians who are Protestants ... but no-one else.  I actually asked the jouranlist if they were exploring the religious views of nationalist politicians to see if they subscribed to all the doctrines and views of the Roman Catholic Church. 
The answer was clearly no.  Yet the religious views of evangelical Protestants are scrutinised ad nauseam, often in an ill-informed and inaccurate way.  Should not our media seek to be impartial?
We might ask why this agressive and intrusive interest is focused on evangelical Protestants alone ... but that is a matter for another post.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Republican Network for Unity and William Drennan

On Sunday afternoon the Henry Joy McCracken Republican flute Band is holding a parade around the New Lodge and then up Clifton Street to Henry Place and the Clifton Street cemetery, where it is believed by soome people that Henry Joy McCracken was reburied.

The event is advertised on and the post features a photograph of the band holding a banner with the name of the band and the name of the Republican Network for Unity.

It also includes a photograph of the blogger, Martin Og Meehan, speaking 'at last year's commemoration', which was organised by the Republican Network for Unity.

However there is a very significant difference between the event they organised last year and the one they have organised this year.  The event last year was to commmemorate both Henry Joy McCracken and William Drennan, who were both members of the Society of United Irishmen.  The event this year has omitted Drennan and is limited to a commemoration of McCracken.

That may or may not be connected to something which I have posted about on several occasions in the past and which I have repeated in my last post.  This is the fact that Dr William Drennan, who wrote a prospectus for the Society of United Irishmen and sought the abolition of a corrupt Anglo-Irish parliament in Dublin, later changed his politicial stance on the Union.

In a speech delivered at a town meeting in Belfast in 1817 Drennan said, 'that, in the event of a full, free and frequent representation of the people in Parliament for the whole empire he would be re4conciled to the Union.  he would not unwillingly merge his country in a fair and faithful representation of these realms.' [Northern Whig 3 November 1893]

Even more interesting is the following statement by William Drennan in the Belfast Penny Magazine (31 December 1811), when he wrote, 'Be Britons with all your souls - and forget that your father called himself an Irishman.'

In 1891, the centenary of the founding of the Society of United Irishmen, Irish nationalists and republicans tried to lay claim to Drennan.  however they were answered by his son John Swanwick Drennan (1809-1893), who was a poet like his father but a poet of Ulster Unionism.  The same thing happened in 1897 and this time they were answered by Drennan's grand-daughter, Mrs Maria Duffin, who said of him, 'Dr Drennan was at first opposed to the Union but afterwards modified his view of it.'

The fact that Drennan changed his position is often ignored by nationalists and republicans, or else they are simply ignorant of the fact.  On a previous occasion I pointed this out when Fianna Fail formed a branch at Queen's University and named it after William Drennan.

Moreover Drennan was not a single exception.  Many of the United Irishmen in Ulster, both the leaders and the rank and file, became supporters of the Union.  They became Liberals and in due course, when Gladstone espoused home rule, they became Liberal Unionists, ultimately merging with the Conservative Unionists and the Orange Order to form the Ulster Unionist Council.

I can understand, therefore, why Martin Og Meehan has dropped Dr William Drennan from this year's commemoration.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Something the North Belfast News doesn't tell you

Clifton Street graveyard in North Belfast has many an interesting story to tell and I was therefore drawn to an article about it in the North Belfast News (25 August).
The article described a tour of  the graveyard, concentrating on 'famous republican rebels'.  It was given by 'local historian' Jack Duffin on behalf of Croi Eanna, an Irish language and cultural society from Glengormley.
Some of the graves in Clifton Street do indeed help to tell the story of the Society of United Irishmen but that is only one of the many stories that can be told for Clifton Street was the graveyard of unionists and liberals as well as republicans, the graveyard of wealthy businessmen and paupers, as well as Presbyterian ministers, newspaper publishers, indutrialists and the founding fathers of the shipbuilding industry in Belfast.  One thing many of them share in common is that they were Ulster-Scots.  The graveyard was established at the end of the 18th century, at a time when Belfast was an overwhelmingly Ulster-Scots town.
According to the report the tour started with the grave of William Dixon (sic) but it is clear that this was in fact Rev William Steel Dickson, who was born at Kiln Road, Ballycraigy, near Belfast, and who became a Presbyterian minister.  It is surprising that the journalist, Gemma Burns, has got his name wrong throughout the article.
The next grave was that of Dr William Drennan, who was born in Belfast and was the son of a Presbyterian minister.  He was the real founder of the United Irishmen and one of the most interesting.  It is also noteworthy that in later years he became a unionist, something that Jack Duffin appears to have ignored.

In a speech delivered at a town meeting in Belfast in 1817 Drennan said, 'that, in the event of a full, free and frequent representation of the people in Parliament for the whole empire he would be reconciled to the Union.  He would not unwillingly merge his country in a fair and faithful representation of these realms.'  [Northern Whig 3 November 1893]

Even more interesting is the following statement by William Drennan in the Belfast Penny Magazine (31 December 1811) when he wrote, 'Be Britons with all your souls - and forget that your father called himself an Irishman.'

In 1891, the centenary of the founding of the Society of United Irishmen, for which Drennan wrote a prospectus, Irish nationalists and republicans tried to lay claim to Drennan.  However they were answered by his son John Swanwick Drennan (1809-1893).  The same thing happened in 1897 and this time they were answered by Drennan's grand-daughter, Mrs Maria Duffin, who said of him, 'Dr Drennan was at first opposed to the Union but afterwards modified his view of it.'

I wonder if Jack Duffin included that side of Drennan in his talk, or the fact that most of the United Irishmen in Ulster, both leaders and rank and file, soon became unionists?

Irish News journalist criticises Parades Commission

Today I am indebted to the Irish News for two things:

(1) The Irish News has always been a stalwart defender of the Parades Commission but yesterday on the Evening Extra programme on Radio Ulster, the Irish News journalist Allison Morris took a different line. During the discussion Allison Morris stated that 'at times' the determinations of the Parades Commission 'seem to defy logic.'
This is something that I and other unionists have been saying for a long time.  Too many of their determinations are incoherent and inconsistent.  Very often when we say such things we are criticised by the Irish News but at last an Irish News journalist has come to the same conclusion.
It would be nice to see the Irish News carry a front page headline criticising the Parades Commission in this way but that may be a step too far for them.  Nevertheless one of their senior journalists has set out her position very clearly.
A good example of this is the determinations on the Crumlin Road, when parades come down to the Woodvale Road.  For one parade they will allow a band to come down playing music, another time they will say that it has to be a single drum beat and then another time they will prohibit the band from walking down that section of the road.  Even for the same band there are inconsistent determinations.  Such decisions are beyond comprehension and, to use the words of Allision Morris, they 'seem to defy logic'.
Inconsistent, incoherent and incomprehensible decisions are a major contributor to the anger and resentment against the Parades Commission and have brought the Commission into disrepute.
(2) Connla Young has devoted an entire article in today's Irish News to the issues that I blogged about yesterday.  Such coverage is excellent and helps to increase the number of people who view the blog.  I couldn't ask for better publicity and I'm just glad I don't have to pay for it!

Monday, 27 August 2012

The GAA and another IRA comemoration

The memorial match in 2008
The GAA has abandoned some of its exclusive rules and has come quite a way but it still has some way to go to reach the vision of a 'shared future'.
Last week my DUP colleague from Mid-Ulster, Ian McCrea MLA, highlighted the 'Giants will Clash' Harvey and McGlynn memorial cup which was a GAA match at the MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey.  The match was between a team from GAA clubs in county Tyrone and a county Donegal GAA select side.
The GAA match commemorates two IRA men, Seamus Harvey and Gerard McGlynn, who died when a bomb they were carrying exploded prematurely on 10 August 1973.  They were about 200 yards from the customs post at Kilclean when the bomb exploded killing the two IRA men.  Gerard McGlynn (18) was from Castlederg and Seamus Harvey (22) was also from Castlederg but had been on the run and living in Donegal.  A few weks before his death Harvey had been in court in Dublin charged with IRA membership and possession of weapons.
The GAA ground in Ballybofey is used by the Sean MacCumhaills GAA club but it is also the Donegal county ground and it is named after Sean McCool, a prominent republican who was chief of staff of the IRA for a short period in 1942.  This was during the 2nd World War, at a time when the IRA were collaborating with the Nazis, and McCool developed plans to get Nazi agent Sergeant Gunther Schuetz out of Ireland and back to Germany with a shopping list of weapons for the IRA.
The Ulster Council of the GAA has denied all knowledge of the event and Donegal county board vice-chairman Charlie Cannon said, 'I checked it out with the county's vice-secretary, we have no game and no application to play a game with Donegall GAA.'  Ulster Council public relations officer Oliver Galligan also said he knew nothing about the match.
All of this is very surprising as this is an annual event and has taken place in the county ground over a number of years.  I am not sure when the event started but the Donegal Sinn Fein website has photographs from the 2008 game.  It is therefore hard to believe that the Donegal GAA board do not know anything about this annual competition in their county ground!
The GAA says that it is reaching out to other communities but events such as this create a chill factor for those communities.  The rule book of the GAA is explicitly nationalist and it exludes unionists from joining the organisation.  But even if that were changed how could the GAA hope to attract unionist support while it hosts events commemorating republican terrorists.
Next year is the 40th anniversary of the deaths of the two IRA men andas such it will undoubtedly receive more attention.  With twelve months to go perhaps the Donegal GAA will get their act together and put an end to this abuse of what portrays itself as an inclusive sport.

It has now been reported that the Ulster Council of the GAA is investigating the event so we will await with interest the outcome of the investigation and what action they propose to take.

The narrow sea

Wayne Soutter, who was born in South Africa but now lives in London, has completed the ten mile swin from the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland to Torr Head at Ballycastle.  It took him twelve hours to complete the task and he is believed to be the first person to ever swim between the two points. 
This is a dangerous stretch of water and Wayne also faced the problems of cold water and large jellyfish.  He says that he encountered about one jellyfish a minutes.
It is therefore a remarkable achievement and also a reminder of just how close Ulster is to Scotland.  Moreover, with the surname Soutter, Wayne is a man with Scottish ancestry.  The surname comes from the Scots word for a cobbler or shoemaker and is recorded in Dumfries in the early 13th century.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Frank Dempsey and the IRA

Frank 'Dipper' Dempsey

I don't normally pick up a copy of the Andersonstown News but I did buy one this afternoon and it certainly contained a wealth of useful information.
Page 20  was headed 'D Company remembers its dead' and carried a report on a recent 'IRA reunion' in the Emerald Roadhouse at Finaghy Road North.
Over 600 members of one of the most renowned units of the IRA have gathered in the Emerald Roadhouse for a one-off commemoration.
Organised by the Falls Cultural Society and the D Company Ex-volunteers and Prisoners Association, the event honoured the 14 fallen on the Roll of honour of D Company, which operated in the lower Falls area.  A unique portrait of each Roll of Honour member was presented to their families by veteran Belfast republican Billy McKee, one of the founders of the Provisional IRA.
Billy himself was presented with a gold medal by D Company members in recognition of his central part in the republican struggle.
The fourteen IRA members were:
Vol Charlie Hughes, who died on 8 March 1971
Vol Jimmy Quigley, who died on 29 September 1972
Vol Daniel McAreavey, who died on 6 October 1972
Vol Paddy Maguire, who died on 10 October 1972
Vol John Donaghy, who died on 10 October 1972
Vol Joe McKinney, who died on 10 October 1972
Vol Eddie 'Mundo' O'Rawe, who died on 12 April 1973
Fian Michael Marley, who died on 24 November 1973
Vol Teddy Campbell, who died on 3 May 1974
Vol Martin Skillen, who died on 3 August 1974
Vol John 'Bap' Kelly, who died on 21 January 1975
Vol Billy Carson, who died on 25 April 1979
Sinn Fein's Paddy Loughran, who died on 4 February 1992
and Sinn Fein's Pat McBride, who died on 4 February 1992.
The central figure in the commemoration was Billy McKee, one of the founders of the Provisional IRA and first OC of the Provos in Belfast.  According to Ed Moloney he authorised a numbr of sectarian attacks on Protestants and  renewed attacks on rivals in the Official IRA.
A faction led by Gerry Adams managed to get McKee voted off the IRA Army Council in 1977, effectively forcing him out of the leadership of the organisation.  He later joined Republican Sinn Fein and has been critical of Adams and the leadership of Sinn Fein. 
Although the IRA later issued a half-hearted apology for Bloody Friday, in a newspaper interview in May 2011 McKee said, 'I'm not going to condemn it or the men that carried it out.  No Way.'  Last year, at the time of that statement, McKee was 89 years old but age had not in any way tempered his views and he refused to condemn one of the bloodiest atrocities carried out by the IRA. 
Frank 'Dipper' Dempsey
One of the pictures in the Andersonstown News shows the handing over of the gold medal to McKee and the person making the special presentation is named as Frank Dempsey.  A careful look at the photograph seems to confirm that in fact this is none other than Frank 'Dipper' Dempsey, of the Carrick Hill Residents Association.  According to the Andersonstown News, this event was an 'IRA D Company reunion', and the fact that Dempsey was given the 'honour' of presenting the medal to McKee suggests that he was held in high esteem by the 'ex-volunteers'.
This is the same Frank Dempsey who has been to the fore in recent protests against Loyal Order parades in Clifton Street and Donegall Street.  But the report in the Andersonstown News shows us another side of Frank Demspey.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Welcome to Carnlough ... or maybe not

Carnlough is a pretty little village with a picturesque harbour at the foot of Glencloy and on Saturday evening there will be a small procession by Royal Black Preceptory 377 and a  band through the village.  However Sinn Fein have tarnished the image of the village as a welcoming place by objecting to what will be a small and dignified parade.
The Parades Commission has agreed not to impose restrictions on the Royal Black Preceptory when it walks through Carnlough on Saturday evening.  After the main demonstration and parade in Larne the preceptory and their band, the Constable Anderson Memorial Old Boys Band will parade in Carnlough and then in Glenarm.  The route in Carnlough goes along Bay Road to Marine Road, Bridge Street, Harbour Road, Havelock Place and High Street, back to Bay Road.

Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown was quoted in the Irish News today as saying, 'Our concern is why are they using that band.  We have absolutely no problem with the local band marching around the village.'  Indeed he said he was 'shocked' to learn that the band accompanying the preceptory would be from Larne rather than Carnlough.

Now you may want to read that again ... but yes that is what he said.  What is his objection to the band? ... they come from Larne.  It seems that in previous years the preceptory had booked the Carnlough Flute Band but this year they had changed to the Anderson Memorial  Indeed a representative of the Royal Black Institution was quoted as saying that preceptories could 'invite a band to march alongside members and that sometimes the preferred band was unavailable.'  However it seems that Councillor McKeown would like to be able to dictate who the preceptory invite to lead their parade.

Whenever I visit Larne I find the people very friendly but the Sinn Fein councillor seems to have some dislike for people from the town ... or maybe it's just the members of the band, althought I doubt if he even knows them.  But then that's prejudice for you.

Councillor McKeown then had another objection and said, 'We have concerns over the timing of the parade as it clashes with people coming out of 6.30 pm mass.'  This parade will pass any point in a few minutes and those who are emerging from the Roman Catholic church can either pause for a moment to avoid the parade or come out and watch it.

Not to be outdone by his party colleague East Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan then called for restrictions to be imposed on both the route and the music.'  However he did not say what the restrctions should be.  It seems that a call for restrictions is the automatic default position of Irish republicans.

Coastal villages such as Carnlough are supposed to be welcoming places but there seems to be no welcome for the visitors from Larne.

Councillor McKeown, who lives in Carnlough, was co-opted on to Larne Borough Council on 21 November 2011 to replace Oliver McMullan, but soon found himself embroiled in some controversy when it was noted that on his Facebook page he listed among his interests the Provisional IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann.

Coatbridge and the Ulster Covenant

Yesterday morning I was involved in a workshop in with some local people, historians and consultants to develop aspects of the Gateway to North Belfast.  This is Donegall Street, Clifton Street and Crumlin Road up to the junction with Oldpark Road.  It links the Cathedral Quarter and the area around the Crumlin Road Gaol, both of which have an important role to play in cultural tourism, and also acts as the main gateway for people coming into North Belfast, including tourists.

The consultants talked about a previous piece of work they had done in Coatbridge in Scotland and said this about Coatbridge:
Coatbridge was once Scotland's iron capital.  Flames from fifty blast furnaces made the night sky so bright that people could read newspapers at midnight.
My ears picked up when I jeard the name Coatbridge because my mother was born there and I used to visit it with my parents when I was a child.  We still had relatives there.  At one time quite a number of Ulster people worked in Coatbridge and many settled there. 

I also recalled that my grandfather signed the Ulster Covenant in Coatbridge.  His name was George Bicker and he was from Poyntzpass in county Armagh but he was living and working at the time in Coatbridge and was the first person to sign in Coatbridge.  The signing agent in Coatbridge was James Smith and 880 men signed the Covenant there, a reflection of the strong Ulster presence in the town.  The location was given on all the sheets as Coatbridge, there was no mention of a hall or building and there was only one signing agent, so presumably there was only one signing place in the town.

My grandfather's name was Bicker but for some reason he signed the sheet as George Bickers, as did one other member of the family, while the others signed as Bicker.  Four members of the Bicker family signed the Covenant in the Presbyterian church in Poyntzpass and another signed in Portadown town Hall, while a Mary Bicker signed the Women's Declaration in the Baptist hall in Poyntzpass.

A small thing, such as the mention of a place or a person, can easily cause our thoughts to wander or our minds to make connections and yesterday was no exception.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Rasharkin Residents Collective (3)

The antipathy and indeed venom of the Rasharkin Residents Collective (RRC) towards Sinn Fein is well illustrated by this post from their Facebook page.

Sean Murray, the person whom started all the trouble in Rasharkin and who stated at a public meeting 7 years ago that he would have the Ballymaconnelly parade stopped within 5 years, he has since failed to deliver, he also attends regular meetings of the RRA.  Bullied the chairman last year to the extent he felt so intimidated that he left.  Now the coward is passing the blame unto us, who is trying to deliver his out of date promise, by saying we are opposing the peace process and the new Policing!  We note also that the local MLA has also run away to Strabane, he recently sent out a letter in which he stated that Rasharkin would end up the same as Crumlin without Dialogue, he said the last time the Old Order paraded here there was toruble, we note that day that Mr McKay was across the Border.  Will he abandon the people of Rasharkin next year as well for the comfort of the Policing Board!

I have copied the post as it was written, poor grammar and all, as it is a fascinating account of developments in Rasharkin as well as the struggle between Sinn Fein and the dissident voices in the RRC.   Here are the five main points that can be extracted from the RRC post:

1. The opposition to parades in Rasharkin was 'started' by Sean Murray of Sinn Fein at a public meeting seven years ago.
2. Murray promised that he would get the annual band parade stopped within five years.
3. Sean Murray continues to work closely with the mainstream Rasharkin Residents Association and attends their regular meetings.
4. The RRC is deeply critical of Sean Murray and the North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay
5. Sinn Fein accuse the RRC of being opposed to the 'peace process and the new policicng' of the PSNI..

That is what the Rasharkin Residents Collective are saying in just one of their posts and there is a wealth of information on their Facebook page.

Rasharkin Residents Collective (2)

This morning my blog featured as the lead article on page 1 of the Irish News with a follow up article on page 6.  The banner headline on page 1 was Residents group may sue DUP minister after 'dissidents' blog claim.  Alongside the page 1 article is a photograph of RRC chairman Sean Hanna, who is described as a former member of Sinn Fein, and RRC secretary Odhran Darragh.

Some republicans seem very offended when the term 'dissident' is applied to them.  Martin Og Meehan of the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) has already objected when I described him as a 'dissident'.  Now his friends in Rasharkin are also offended by my use of the term.

Well that may be but it is a perfectly legitimate description.  According to a dictionary a 'dissident' is 'a person who opposes a prevailing or official view'.  In this case we have people who oppose mainstream republicanism and they are commonly described in the media as 'dissidents'.  There are many strands of dissident and they are divided into various small groups, but the term dissident is generally employed to indicate that they disagree with the stance of mainstream or Sinn Fein republicanism.

As regards the Rasharkin Residents Collective they are clearly in disagreement with Sinn Fein, whom they ridicule as 'Shame Fein' and accuse of 'abandoning the people of Rasharkin'.  Moreover there were separate republican protests in Rasharkin on Friday night, one organised by the Rasharkin Residents Association and the other by the Rasharkin Residents Collective.

The Irish News not only reported the matter but it embellished it.  The second paragraph of the article by journalist Connla Young, on page 1 of the newspaper, states:
Members of the group in Rasharkin, Co Antrim, are taking legal advice after Nelson McCausland claimed that they were linked to illegal paramilitary republican groups.

It is noticeable that there are no quotation marks here and indeed I did not say that at all.  In my post there was no mention of 'illegal paramilitary republican groups'.  That is an invention of the journalist.  The fact is that there are some dissident republicans who are linked to paramilitary groups and who argue for an ongoing paramilitary campaign.  At the same time there are other dissident republicans who argue that this is not the time for a paramilitary campaign.

It is clear that both residents groups in Rasharkin are republican and the chairman of the RRC is a former member of Sinn Fein.  It is also clear that those who run the RRC dissent from and oppose Sinn Fein, therefore it is perfectly proper to say that they are run by dissident republicans.   To suggest that they might sue me over my use of the term 'dissident' is just empty talk.

C S Lewis and evolution

C S Lewis

Yesterday a number of important letters written by Belfast author C S Lewis were handed over to Queen's University by Rev Dr Richard Acworth and his daughter, a graduate of Queen's. 

The eleven letters were written between 1944 and 1960 to Dr Acworth's father, Captain Bernard Acworth, who was a friend of Lewis and was also one of the founders of the Evolution Protest Movement.  The EPM was formed in 1932 and the first president was Sir John Ambrose Fleming (1849-1945) a prominent physicist who invented the first thermionic valve in 1903.  He also discovered the left hand rule for electric motors.

At the handing-over of the letters in the C S Lewis reading room, in the university's McClay Library, Dr Acworth spoke about how his father had founded the EPM in the 1930s and was dedicated to opposing the teaching of evolution as scientific fact.  Acworth corresponded with Lewis, arguing that evolution was incompatible with the Bible.

According to Dr Acworth, 'My father became friendly with Lewis during the 1940s.  In his published works, C S Lewis infrequently addressed the subject of creation and evolution and when he did he usually endorsed some version of theistic evolution. These letters are fascinating because they reveal that, during the last years of his life, Lewis was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the claims being made for organic evolution.  Originally Lewis was more or less agnostic on that subject but it seems in the course of the correspondence he gradually became much more to my father's way of thinking.'

The correspondence also reveals how, in 1951, Lewis declined to write a preface to one of Captain Acworth's books opposing evolution.  'When a man has become a popular apologist he must watch his step.  Everyone is on the look out for things that might discredit him,' he wrote.

This correspondence is especially interesting in that Lewis seems to have become 'increasingly uncomfortable with the claims made for organic evolution' and that is a new insight into his thinking.

It is also a reminder of one of the early societies formed to oppose the theory of evolution and of its first president Sir John Ambrose Fleming FRS.  Sir Cecil Wakeley, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, was also president of the EPM from 1962 to 1979 and Professor Verna Wright, professor of rheumatology at Leeds University, was president from1979 to 1997. 

It is worth recalling that such notable scientific figures were able to promote their views on evolution without the level of public ridicule that is directed towards creationists today.  It certainly illustrates the fact that a much more aggressive and abrasive atheism has emerged in recent years with figures like Richard Dawkins.


Monday, 20 August 2012

North Belfast housing need

I was tidying up some newspaper cuttings today and came across some articles relating to housing need in North Belfast.

The first was in The Irish News on 19 June and Frank Dempsey, a member of Carrick Hill Residents Association and St Patrick's and St Joseph's Housing Committee said, 'What does a nationalist have to do to get a house in north Belfast?'

The second article was in the North Belfast News on 7 July and Geraldine O'Kane, chairwoman of Greater Whitewell Community Surgery,  was welcoming the announcement that new houses are to be built on the site of the former Felden complex.  The report also noted that the keys had been handed over for new homes in Bawnmore.  According to the report, 'The housing campaigner said the social housing boost in the area  had been massively welcomed by local people.'

Here we have two very different perspectives.  Frank Dempsey asks, 'What does a nationalist have to do to get a house in north Belfast,' implying that no houses are being provided for nationlaists,

On the other hand Geraldine O'Kane welcomes the completion of new homes in the nationalist Bawnmore area. 

There are some nationalists who cannot bring themselves to accept that there has been a higher level of new social housing provision in nationalist north Belfast than in any other part of Northern Ireland and Frank Dempsey seems to be in that camp.  Such erroneous and unfounded views are deeply divisive.  They damage community relations and that is regrettable, especially because they are erroneous.  Either houses are being built or they are not and it is clear that they are.

This is the first of several posts on housing in North Belfast and the next will be on a small housing development at Somervale, a much-needed development that was held up for almost ten years and the leading opponent was Alex Attwood of the SDLP.

I want to see house building in both unionist and nationalist areas because it is clear that there is a need in both communities.

PPR and North Belfast (1)

The following article by Newton Emerson appeared in The Irish News on 11 August:

The Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) project, a group established by veteran trade unionist Inez McCormack, has launched yet another campaign claiming the entire 2,400 north Belfast housing waiting list is '95 per cent Catholic'.
It also says 'the Housing Executive's own research shows this'.
The actual figures are 970 Catholics, 295 Protestants, 283 of other religions and 779 religion undisclosed, meaning Catholics are around 40% of the waiting list.
Housing Executive research  shows a further 35 per cent are from a 'Catholic background' and 90 per cent of new housing should be built in Catholic areas but that does not mean the waiting list is 95 per cent Catholic.
PPR appears to be the principle (sic) source of this divisive and now widely quoted claim.
It would need to explain how it has reached a figure no other source can support.

The situation for housing in North Belfast is, as Newton Emerson points out, rather different from that portrayed by Participation and Practice of Rights, a lobby group which has been established as a limited company and which is paid for mainly by Atlantic Philanthropies.  This is a charitable body established by Irish-American Chuck Feeney.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Gospel Fest 2012

Several years ago I attended a gospel concert in the Theatre at the Mill in Mossley.  The singers included Live Issue, a country gospel group from county Armagh, and other local singers as well as George Hamilton IV from America.  It was a well attended and very successful evening and indeed country gospel and southern gospel msuic is very popular in Northern Ireland.

Later I posted on this blog about the concert and noted the absence of gospel music from the various arts festival in Northern Ireland.  I referred specifically to the Belfast Festival at Queen's, which is our premier arts festival.  It includes many types of music in the programme and yet Christian gospel music is ignored.  Subsequently I came in for some criticism from those who thought that this was inappropriate.

I thought that nothing had come of my appeal but the point was noted by the members of Live Issue and they decided that if gospel music was excluded from other festivals they would organise a gospel music festival themselves.  It is known as Gospel Fest and the third festival took place this weekend near Donaghcloney.

There was a packed programme and the compere was Alastair McDonald, a Scottish singer-songwriter who has had many guest spots on radio and television and who co-hosted the television programme Songs of Scotland.

On the opening night the programme included award-winning local singer Janece McCreanor and Warren Smyth, a singer and Downtown Radio presenter, along with Live Issue themselves and the Michael Harcus band from the Orkney Islands.
Local singers Karla Gregg from Magherafelt and Simple Faith from Belfast were singing on Saturday night as well as the Michael Harcus Band and Robirohi, a gospel bluegrass group from Tallinn in Estonia.  We had more than three hours of great gospel music and a full house.

This afternoon Syd Little, who is best known as one half of the comedy duo Little & Large was on stage, singing and speaking about his faith.  The final session was tonight with Paul Irwin, Kathryn Mitchell, the very popular Gardiner Family, Live Issue and the Michael Harcus Band.

Live Issue have performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and have shared the stage with singers such as Ricky Skaggs, Reba McIntyre and Joanne Cash.  Their music is of a very high standard and the other local singers are of a very high standard as well.  This was a superb festival with three nights of great gospel music.
Gospel Fest takes place in a 1,000 seater marquee and it was filled on  every one of the three nights.  There is the proof of the popularity of gospel music in Northern Ireland.  Not every festival will achieve that level of success.

The cost of the event is is £15,000 and it receives no public funding.  Entrance is free and some of the cost is covered by advertising in the festival programme with most of the rest coming through a free-will offering.

The organisation of Gospel Fest is carried out mainly by a voluntary committee with no paid staff and there is a strong team of volunteers who undertake the practical arrangements in relation to the tent, the seating, the car parking, the transport, the toilets and the catering and all the other aspects of a festival.  We have a great tradition of volunteering in Ulster and this is another example of that tradition.

On Saturday night we were leaving the tent around 11.30 and as I made my way back to Belfast I thought again of the opportunities that have been missed by other festivals, including the Belfast Festival at Queens.
I also thought of the first United Kingdom City of Culture, which will come to Londonderry next year.  There is a strong interest in gospel music in the North West and the Radio Foyle programme Rejoice, presented by James McClelland on Sunday afternoons, is enjoyed by many people across the province.  There must surely be a place for gospel music at some point in the Year of Culture. 

Friday, 17 August 2012

Parades Commssion (2)

There is merit in pursuing the point raised by Rev Brian Kennaway at our meeting with the Parades Commission about bands playing outside churches and asking what the implications might be for republican parades, both those organised by Sinn Fein and their associates and those organised by dissident republican groups.

Republican parades are often organised in rural villages such as Dungiven and in the centre of many of these villages there are Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches.

Dungiven is a village on the main A6 road between Belfast and Londonderry and the Church of Ireland parish church is on the main street.  It was built in 1816 and the present church hall, which is beside it, was opened in May 1996.  Just a few weeks later, in July 1996, the hall was burned down in a sectarian arson attack but it was rebuilt and opened in September 1997.

Over the years the village has played host to  many republican parades and the most recent march, as recorded on the Parades Commission website, was on Sunday 5 August.  It was the 2012 National Hunger Strike Commemoration and Dungiven was probably chosen as it was the birthplace of Kevin Lynch, an INLA hunger striker who died in 1981

The march started at 1.00 pm and proceeded from Foreglen Road along Main Street and Curragh Road to the field.  There were 26 republican bands taking part and 15,000 participants were expected to attend the commemoration. 

A simple check with google-map shows that the Sinn Fein parade went past the Church of Ireland.  So what was this Sinn Fein march like and what were the 26 bands like as they marched past a Protestant church?

According to the report in the Londonderry Sentinel (10 August):
A crowd estimated to be in excess of ten thousand took part in the march through the County Londonderry town on Saturday afternoon.  Marchers and bands from all over Ireland, Scotland and Liverpool were in attendance alongside Sinn Fein members such as Stormont Minister Michelle O'Neill and former East Londonderry MLA Francie Brolly.

Martin McGuinness was there as well as Martina Anderson MEP and other prominent Sinn Fein members such as Cathal O hOisin MLA.  The Sinn Fein event also included several people dressed as IRA volunteers and carrying replica AK-47 assault rifles.

There is an official Sinn Fein account of the event on youtube, which runs to 19 minutes, and there are a number of other videos of the event on youtube.  I haven't yet had time to look at all of these but even the official Sinn Fein account contains shots of two Sinn Fein cumann banners with IRA men and assault rifles.  Moreover several of the bands contain specific references to the Provisional IRA in that they are named after members of that organisation, such as Volunteer Billy Reid and Volunteer Sean McIlvenna.

Brian Kennaway told us that Roman Catholics have a particular view about the sanctity and significance of church buildings, even if they are empty, closed up and locked.  Then surely many of those organising and taking part in the Sinn Fein hunger strike commemoration would hold that view.  In that case they cannot plead ignorance when they march past a Protestant church with bands playing republican tunes and with depictions of IRA weapons and references to IRA terrorists on the Sinn Fein cumman banners and on the sides of some of the bass drums..

I will be writing to the Parades Commission about this and asking whether they have ever investigated such behaviour by republican groups and republican bands outside a Protestant church. 

I will also be raising with the BBC their coverage, or lack of coverage, of what happened in Dungiven.

The republican split in Rasharkin

All is not well in the republican community in Rasharkin and amongst republican activists there is a split similar to that in Ardoyne, where you have the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA) and Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC).  CARA has links to Sinn Fein and GARC is run by the dissidents, including Martin Og Meehan.

Meanwhile in Rasharkin there is a Rasharkin Residents Association (RRA), linked to Sinn Fein, and a Rasharkin Residents Collective (RRC), which appears to be run by dissident republicans.  For some reason or other  dissident republicans seem to prefer the word collective to association.  I suspect they think it sounds more left-wing and radical!

The RRC has its own Facebook page, which was started on 29 June, and it reeks of bitterness and bigotry.  However it provides a lot of interesting information about both strands of republicanism.

As regards RRC, they organised a Poc Fada in Rasharkin tonight at the same time as the Ballymaconnolly band parade.  This required republicans to arrive in Rasharkin with a hurley stick.  The RRC Facebook page says: 'To all attending our Road Hurling Event Tomorrow Night, don't forget to bring your hurls and sliotars with you!'

Inviting people to come from 'North and South' with hurley sticks and to come in large numbers, at the same time as the band parade, is hardly conducive to a peaceful evening.  It is clear what these people have in mind and it is clear that it would be impossible to reach an accommodation with them. 

The RRC Facebook page exposes their hatred of Sinn Fein, whom they refer to as Shame Fein and criticise time after time.  They also repost an article from the Irish Law and Democracy Committee blog in which the ILDC argues its case against Sean 'Spike' Murray of Sinn Fein.

However they are obviously very close to the 'local 1916 society' and state that 'Rasharkin Residents Collective and the local 1916 society are the cutting edge of the resistance which has stopped Orange Feed (sic) in Sunnyside.  Other community groups and Sinn Fein are practicing (sic) the art of compromise with Parades Commission and  PSNI/RUC whilst their neighbours are attacked.'

The antipathy between mainstream republicans and dissident republicans is plain to see and it seems that in Rasharkin the two groups are openly fighting each other.  They have a burnt out car video on their page and claim that this was done by loyalists but I have been told by a local person that this was the result of fighting between the two republican groups on Tuesday evening.  The PSNI will of course be investigating the episode and time will tell but we do know that in North Belfast there have been a number of attacks on vehicles and property belonging to members of Sinn Fein and the finger has been pointed at dissident elements within the republican community.

The venom that RRC feel towards RRA is very obvious in the following extract from the RRC FB page.

It is also interesting to see the words of support from Martin Og Meehan in Ardoyne - 'Solidarity and support from Ardoyne Comrades!'  Meehan is of course a leading figure in the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) in Ardoyne and a prominent dissident republican.

When Sinn Fein started their campaign to demonise and attack the Loyal Orders they created a monster and it is one that they can no longer control.  Now it is a monster that not only attacks the Orange Order and the bands - it is a monster that is turning on them as well.

Meanwhile the decision of the Parades Commission to restrict the Ballymaconnolly band parade in Rasharkin tonight was another bad determination and simply rewarded the republican extremists.  I would however congratulate my colleagues in North Aantrim, Ian Paisley MP, Mervyn Storey MLA and Cllr John Finlay for supporting the band.  Mervyn in particular has worked closely with the band over many years and I know that the support of their DUP representatives is much appreciated.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Parades Commission (1)

On Wednesday afternoon William Humphrey and I went to the Parades Commission in relation to the Belfast Grand Black Chapter parade in Belfast on the last Saturday in August.  We were there for well over an hour and once again it was thoroughly distasteful meeting. 

Two of the Commission members were not there and those present were the chairman Peter Osborne, Douglas Bain, Rev Brian Kennaway, Robin Percival and Delia Close.

At times such meetings can become surreal and yesterday was no exception.

For example, the commissioners raised an issue about bands playing loyalist music when they are outside or passing by a Roman Catholic church and I pointed out the inconsistency of the Parades Commission.  For example, every Easter the Vol Sean McIlvenna Republican Flute Band plays when it is going past two Protestant churches on the Whitewell Road in North Belfast.  It passes St Ninian's parish church and Greencastle Methodist Church and continues to play republican tunes while it is passing them.  The commission has observers on the ground at that parade and yet it has never sought to act against the band for its behaviour while passing Protestant churches.

On the other hand some loyalist bands have been banned from playing loyalist music when passing Roman Catholic churches.

I also pointed out that some republican bands with masked IRA gunmen painted on their drums carry those drums past Protestant churches when they parade in a number of towns and villages, yet nothing is said about these matters year on year.  The issue is one of inconsistent and partisan decisions.

At that point Brian Kennaway asked us if we knew the difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic view of a church building.  My colleague replied that unlike Brian Kennaway he did not have a degree in theology and Brian replied that he did not have a degree in theology either.  However as a Presbyterian minister he certainly has received theological training.  In any case Brian explained to us that Protestants, other than Anglo-Catholics, view a church building very much as just a meeting-house, whereas for Roman Catholics there is a special sanctity about the building, whether open or closed, and it is also the place where the sacrament is reserved. 

These are points with which I am very familiar but I listened to him.  Brian then suggested that parades should take account of the Roman Catholic view of church buildings and the sensitivities  of nationalists, even if a building is closed.

That is a brief paraphrase of this part of the discussion and I hope I have not misrepresented the substance of what Brian said.  The chairman intervened to move the discussion on and we left this rather esoteric exchange but I reflected on it afterwards and it is a good illustration of the perversity of the Parades Commission.

Surely if Roman Catholics have a particular sensitivity about the sanctity of church buildings, even when closed, then the Whitewell republicans, who will generally be from the Roman Catholic community, should have even more reason to refrain from playing republican tunes outside Protestant churches.  They certainly cannot plead ignorance.  The same would also be true for republican bands in villages such as Dungiven or Dunloy.

And of course that brings me back to the basic point I was trying to make to the commissioners - the inconsistency of their determinations.

My second point is that this is a particularly perverse commission and some of the questions I have been asked have been completely bizarre.  At a previous meeting, when it was suggested that a band might play only hymns during part of a parade, Brian Kennaway initiated a discussion about different styles of church music and the tempo and volume of the hymns that might be played by the band.  Is that really the sort of thing that the commissioners are paid to discuss?  It is almost as if Brian sees himself as a theological adviser or is trying to impress people with his theological knowledge.  Having known Brian over many years I suspect it is the latter but I can only speculate.

On the Twelfth in Ardoyne, rioters burned a car and attacked the police while a dissident republican gunman attempted to murder police officers.  Moreover the rioters were part of a republican parade and one of the republican stewards has been charged with rioting.  All that and yet Brian Kennaway wants to discuss one of the finer points of theology.

Most people will never have met the Parades Commission and in that regard they are fortunate.  However this post and the next are intended to give some idea of just how disfunctional this body actually is.

Is it not very simple - if the commission has concerns about what happens outside a Roman Catholic church should the same concerns not apply to a Protestant church?  That is surely a matter of equality and fairness.  But then the Parades Commission doesn't do equality and fairness.

Douglas Bain - quadruple jobber

At times there has been comment in the media about double-jobbng but in the Parades Commission there is actually a case of quadruple-jobbing and yet it has received little attention.

Douglas Bain is recorded on the website of the Parades Commssion as a member of the commission but it also notes that he was appointed on 1 February 2012 as an independent member of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission's Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC).  Then on 25 April 2012 he was appointed a lay member of the National Security Certificate Appeals Tribunal for Northern Ireland.

A check with the register of interests on the website of the Assembly Commission's SARC however reveals that he is also an examiner of the Association of Electoral Administrators, an organisation based in Staffordshire.  So in fact Douglas Kinloch Bain is a quadruple-jobber.

As a member of the Parades Commission he is paid £250 a day with an average of two days a week.  That amounts to an average of 104 days in a year at £250 per day, or £26,000.

As a member of SARC he will receive a few thousand pounds for around six meetings.  The SARC meets at least four times a year but in 2011-12, the last full year, it met six times.  For those six meetings the total fees of the three committee members were £8,221.

As regards the National Security Certificate Appeals Tribunal (NSCAT) for Northern Ireland and the Association of Electoral Administrators, I have not yet been able to ascertain his income, if any.

However Douglas Bain is a good example of a class of people in Northern Ireland who seem to be able to get appointed to a number of public bodies.  That is an unhealthy situation and raises a number of questions.  Is it that there are not enough people with the skills to fill these roles?  Is it that there are those who are familiar with the system and know  how to get appointed?  Is it that some people build up a cv of public appointments that help them to get further appointments?  It is certainly something that needs to be considered and there is a need to expand the number of suitable people seeking public appointments.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Irish Law & Democracy Committee (2)

I have posted previously about the Irish Law & Democracy Committee, whose members were on the Crumlin Road on 12 July for the Twelfth parade and again last Saturday for the Apprentice Boys parade.

As we were waiting for the Apprentice boys to come down from Ligoniel an ILDC 'human rights observer' came across the road witha video camera and took close-up footage of people from the unionist community including myself.  This is the man who took that footage.

The same person appears in a 13 minute youtube 'documentary' about the Twelfth evening at Ardoyne.  It is fronted by Joe Gilmartin from Nenagh in county Tipperary and it is noticeable that it opens with Gilmartin standing in front of a republican mural featuring Vol Paddy McAdorey, who was named in the Daily Mirror in November 2007 as having been one of the men who murdered the Three Scottish Soldiers at Ligoniel.  The newspaper also named Martin Meehan as one of the killers.  The mural also features Vol Terence 'Cleeky' Clarke, who was jailed in 1988 for the murder of two Army corporals.  That is the background Gilmartin chose for the start of his little 'documentary'.

The 13 minute 'documentary' includes interviews with two ILDC members and this is what the person pictured above says in the first section of interview:
I've lived here all my life, really, I'm nearly fifty and I remember the parades when I was very, very very young.  I used to live about a mile and a half from here and the Orangemen every year, there were thousands of them, used to come down parts of the Crumlin Road, down the Cliftonville and around where I lived.
They used to have the police and the security forces and to have the road sealed off for hours and hours and hours before it.  This is completely different.  It's smaller numbers, its not as inconvenient to the community as it was.  But it's still wrong to have what is basically and a lot of people ... and I agree with it .. this is like a racist, supremacist march through an area where it's not wanted.  It seems to be illegitimate.
The people who march in this parade wouldn't be in this area 364 days of the rest of the year.  Why they're allowed to march down these roads other than as an act of provocation I can't really understand.

Well the view of the ILDC about Orange Order parades is very clear.  They see them as 'racist, supremacist marches'.  They certainly don't seem to understand the concept of an independent human rights observer. 

The views expressed by the interviewee are particularly nasty.  They are partisan and poisonous.  Here is someone who sees his neighbours in Upper Ardoyne and Ballysillan as racists and supremacists.  The problem here is not about parades - it is about relationships and when we hear views such as this, who can argue with that assessment?

The ILDC member also says that the people in the lodges 'wouldn't be in the area for the other 364 days of the year.  That is a blatant lie and pure propaganda.  The fact is that most of the lodge members use the Crumlin Road every day and some of them live in Upper Ardoyne, with most of the rest living in the Ballysillan area.  In fact some of them even lived in Ardoyne until they were forced out by republicans at the start of the Troubles.

If you want to view the video clip yourself you can google it at "Ardoyne documenary 2012" and it would be interesting to know who the 'human rights observer' is and what 'human rights' expertise he has.

Monday, 13 August 2012

A look inside Ardoyne

As someone who works in North Belfast and who represents North Belfast it seems strange but in fact I have been learning a bit more about North Belfast republicanism from the Newry Republican blog at

It is the text of a letter sent by dissident republicans in Ardoyne to the North Belfast News, a sister paper of the Andersonstown News and therefore aligned to Sinn Fein.

The letter is signed by Dee Fennell, a dissident republican and one of the leaders of the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC), Alan Lundy, who is now in Maghaberry gaol, Aidan Ferguson and Daniel Lundy.

The Newry Republican blog, including this letter, is well worth reading because (1) it shows the deep divisions between the two strands of republicanism in Ardoyne and that is something that those of us who are unionists need to understand, and (2) it helps us to understand who's who within Ardoyne.

According to another post on the blog, Alan Lundy is vice-chair of the Sean Mac Diarmada 1916 Society, a dissident republican group, as well as a GARC activist.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Irish Law & Democracy Committee

In an earlier post I mentioned the presence of self-appointed and so-called 'human rights observers' on the Crumlin Road at Ardoyne during the Apprentice Boys of Derry parade and the protests by CARA and GARC on Saturday.

At that point I did not know who they were and indeed when one of them was asked to identify himself and his organisation he refused.  I can now understand why.

These individuals were from the Irish Law & Democracy Committee.  This organisation has its own blog and that gives us a good insight into who they are and what they are about.  The first post on the blog is dated 20 March 2011 and it says something about the formation of the ILDC:
The Irish Law & Democracy Committee was established by a group of Queen's University law students in September 2010 who came together as a result of a shared concern over the current failures in fundamental legal rights and freedoms in Ireland and beyond.

Quite a number of the early posts relate to the Justice for Michael McKevitt Campaign - McKevitt is the former leader of the Real IRA and is serving a 20-year sentence in Portlaoise for directing terrorism.  Other posts relate to dissident republican prisoner Brendan Lillis, PSNI stops and searches, Brendan Conway, another dissident republican prisoner, British Intelligence, the Republican Network for Unity, Pat Finucane, Magheraberry prison, Colin  Duffy, Brian Shivers, Marian Price, and Brendan McConville and John Paul Wotton, who were convicted of the murder of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll.  It is therefore fairly clear that this committee has a special interest in issues relating to dissident republicanism.

The ILDC also has an interest in loyal order parades and in a post of 23 May 2012 it announced 'a new initiative for the monitoring of contentious parades':
The Irish Law & Democracy Committee has produced an initiative for the Monitoring of Contentious Parades through the use of its Independent Human Rights Observers.  Independent Human Rights Observers were common place in contentious parades across the North of Ireland throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, however in recent years these Observers are no longer visible at such parades. It is the opinion of the ILDC that the need for Independent human rights observers at such contentious parades is as necessary now as it was then.  As a result the Irish Law & Democracy Committee has initiated this process for the Monitoring of Contentious Parades. The ILDC will only be present at those contentious parades where the community have felt the need for Observers and as a result invites the ILDC Observers to monitor and observe the parade.  Such a process will encompass the monitoring and observing of those parades, in regard to the implementation of policing measures, the conduct of the police officers the conduct of those participants in the parade and those following the parade and the impact of the parade on the community it takes place in.  The monitoring process will be carried out in respect of the relevant international human rights standards in all aspects of the parade and policing operation. Likewise, the parade and the policing measures will be gauged against other domestic statutory measures in respect of the particular parade.

There is further amplification in a related comment:
Rather than negotiate or involve itself in any type of resolution the ILDC parade initiative has merely been put in place to protect the human rights of those persons who are subject to human rights abuses as a result of these parades, through state violence or otherwise. It also will assist any community groups who wish to oppose such parades with any legal assistance they require in regard to such a process. To involve itself in any political settlement of parades would breach our constitution as we are solely a human rights campaign group and do not involve ourselves in any political aspect of the actions.

The ILDC seems to have a special interest in North Belfast and that includes a propagandist post on Girdwood and housing.  However the main North Belfast focus is in relation to parades.

They start with a 30 June post on the Whiterock parade and state that the ILDC Independent Human Rights Observers were there on the day.  According to their post they 'appear to have witnessed the fact that a number of aspects of the Parades Commission determination appear to have been breached' and they promise a full report to follow.

The next post on 10 July is a press release stating that they will be monitoring the 'Ard Eoin/Ardoyne parade on the 12th July 2012 on both the outward and the return legs of the parade.'  The observers would actually be there from 11 to 13 July and people were invited to contact them.

On 14 July they posted about the detention of Martin Corey, who was convicted in 1973 of murdering two policemen, and it took until 18 July to post about the Twelfth.  They covered a number of issues but they omitted to mention the human rights of the car owner whose car was burned by republican rioters or the human rights of the policemen who were the targets of a dissident republican gunman.

There is also a post on 21 July about the arrest of GARC steward Alan Lundy who has been charged in relation 'allegations of disorder'.

A week later there is a post responding to an article by Sean Murray of Sinn Fein in the Belfast Telegraph.  The focus again is on North Belfast and the ILDC response is interesting and merits further consideration.  However they are clearly at odds with Sinn Fein and seem to be aligned with the stance of GARC and the dissidents.

There follows another post about dissident republican Marian Price but the most recent post is entitled 'Nelson McCausland launches attack on ILDC'.  The ILDC accuse me of 'making outlandish claims against the ILDC' on this blog.  In fact I hadn't mentioned the ILDC because at the time the post was written I hadn't heard of them.  I first heard of this group late yesterday when someone kindly sent me an e-mail and directed me to an article about them on the internet.  I will respond to them in a second post but at least we now know who the 'independent human rights observers' are ... and that makes it much easier to know how to respond to an organisation that seems to be 'GARC with brains'.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Ulster band are world champions

Today the World Pipe Band Championships were held in Glasgow with 234 pipe bands taking part.    The annual competition is organised by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, which is the world governing body of piping and drumming.

Northern Ireland has a very strong pipe band sector and there are more pipe bands per head of the population in Northern Ireland than there are in Scotland.  As a result Northern Ireland bands and drum majors generally perform extremely well in the competition and this year was no exception.

The Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band won the grade 1 competition, making them the best band in the world.  Moreover they won the championships last year and altogether they have notched up eight grade 1 championship titles.  This is a truly international event with bands competing from twelve countries and Scottish Power were second while the magnificent Simon Fraser University Pipe Band from Canada came third.

The Field Marshal Montgomery band was form in 1945 and was named in honour of a great Ulsterman, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.

There is real depth in the pipe band world and Northern Ireland bands, Ballybriest and Clogher, also came first in two of the lower grades, with Northern Ireland drum majors taking three world titles.

This is a magnificent achievement by the pipe band movement in Northern Ireland.  There are few art forms where Northern Ireland practititioners can claim to be the very best in the whole world but this is one and possibly the only one.

It will be interesting to see what coverage is given to this success by the local media and I mean more than a few sentences on teletext, a 30 second slot in the news or a short column on page 23 of a newspaper..  This will be a test of the cultural inclusivity of our local media.  A world champion from Northern Ireland is the equivalent of an Olympic gold medal and that's how it should be treated and celebrated in all the local media. 

Moreover we have six champions to celebrate.  So congratulations to the Field Marshal and the other bands and drum majors .....  and now its over to the media.