Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist)

Sometimes when I read a news story my mind goes off at a tangent and that is what happened yesterday.
It started with the report of the elderly couple in London who were alleged to have held three women as slaves for around thirty years.  They were named as Aravindan Balakrishnan (76) and his wife Chanda (67).
During the day it emerged that back in the 1970s they had been part of a small Maoist cult, the Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedung Thought, which they led and which was formed in 1974 when they were expelled from the larger Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), another Maoist organisation.  Balakrishnan had been a member of the central committee of the CPE (ML).
This was a time when there was a proliferation of extreme left groups, some of them mainstream Marxist, some of them Stalinist, some of them Trotskyite and a few of them Maoist.
The CPE (ML) had a sister organisation, the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist), and they worked together very closely.  For example, on 12 May 1973 the CPE (ML) and the CPI (ML) organised a rally in London.  One of the speakers was David Vipond, an official representative of the CPI (ML) and a report of the rally states that 'after each speech the participants rose to shout enthusiastically “Hail the tenth anniversary of the founding of The Internationalists' and 'Long live the revolutionary spirit of youth and students.' 
Organised Maoism was introduced into Ireland on 9 December 1965 by Hardial Bains, who was working at Trinity College Dublin.  He formed a group known as Internationalists in Ireland and in 1969 they renamed themselves the Irish Communist Movement (Marxist-Leninist).  The group was relaunched on 4 July 1970 as the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist).
Both Maoist organisations, the CPE (ML) and the CPI (ML) supported the terrorist campaign of the Provisional IRA and their slogan was 'British Imperialism Get Out of Ireland!'.  The CPI (ML) even formed the Spirit of Freedom Committee to work with Irish republicans.  Indeed many of the plethora of far-left groups supported the Provos.
On 10 October 1974 the CPI (ML) fielded three candidates in Northern Ireland in the UK General Election.  David Vipond (South Down) secured 152 votes, Alan Evans (Fermanagh-South Tyrone) got 185 votes and between them the three candidates gained a total of 540 votes.  David Vipond also stood in a by-election in Monaghan in November 1973, securing 157 first preference votes.
Other prominent members of the CPI (ML) included John Dowling, Arthur Allen and Carole Reakes
At that time the CPI (ML) published the periodical Red Patriot and for a period of time it devoted many pages to the works of Mao.  However in 1978 there was a split between China and Albania and at that point the CPI (ML) rejected Mao and upheld the writings of the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha.  They also supported the Communist regimes in Vietnam and Cambodia.
In he early 1980s the CPI(ML) was a major force in student politics with Brendan Doris becoming president of the Union of Students in Ireland and Tommy Graham becoming president of the College of Technology (Bolton Street) Students Union.  Graham is now the editor of the journal History Ireland.  After a long period of passivity the CPI (ML) was disbanded in 2003.

The tragic story that has emerged in London will be reported in the media and over time more details of the case will become known but some time in the future I will post rather more about some of the far-left organisations which proliferated in Ireland, north and south of the border, in the 1960s and the early years of the Troubles, as well as their counterparts in Great Britain. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

DUP conference speech 2013 (3)

Building strong and successful communities

Finally, I turn to my commitment to building strong, successful, vibrant communities.  Across Northern Ireland there are some communities that have been consigned to a future of decay and failure.  Yes government, through initiatives such as neighbourhood renewal provides funding but this, I firmly believe, does not tackle the fundamental issues which are at the root of the problem and the approach is often piecemeal. Neighbourhood renewal has some fantastic success stories but for others the problem has just been, at best, kept at bay by such funding. There are those living in such communities who yearn that something – anything is done to make their lives better.  I firmly believe these communities can be turned around. 

At the end of October I announced six areas where we are going to take what for Northern Ireland will be an innovative approach.  These are areas that have been blighted by dereliction and decay, with empty houses that are boarded up and land that lies derelict and undeveloped. These problems drag a community down, becoming magnets for anti-social behaviour and dumping. They blight the lives of the residents, creating despair and they are a lost opportunity.  These same areas suffer from high levels of educational deprivation with many families being economically inactive.  These same areas typically suffer from exploitation from loan sharks and pay day loan companies.  They are in a spiral of decline with the communities dying and no one could be expected to want to move into these areas and set up home.  I want to change this, I want it to involve each of the relevant government departments and I am pleased that ministers across the Executive have responded and nominated lead officials in their respective departments.  Right now local community forums are being established and work is being taken forward by an assigned official from DSD.

Those derelict sites provide an opportunity to address housing need and an opportunity for affordable housing as well as social housing, thereby removing blight providing new homes.  But that is only part of the answer.  We need to think about such areas in a coherent and comprehensive way, looking at opportunities for social economy businesses that can create employment opportunities.

I also want to do something about the very real issue caused by Loan Sharks and Pay Day Loan companies preying on the most vulnerable.  Whilst this is presently a problem largely isolated to larger deprived urban communities, if not dealt with it will quickly spread across Northern Ireland.  We have to do something which tackles the issue of affordable credit being inaccessible, in particular for families for whom the traditional banks have nothing to offer.   That is the only way we will stop paramilitary organisations and pay day loans preying on these families.

My department is currently looking at ways in which the credit union movement can be given assistance to aid them further in their commitment to serve low-income and financially excluded households and yet in a recent report, only 7% of credit unions surveyed said that ‘serving members who are financially excluded or living on welfare benefits’ is their primary purpose.  We also know that although 34% of the Northern Ireland population are members of credit unions, only 4% of NIHE tenants have a credit union account.

Therefore conference, I am about to take forward a piece of work which would examine the potential for establishing a government backed ‘Peoples Bank’ scheme which could provide more affordable credit to financially excluded households, households which are even out of the reach of credit unions.  I believe that some of our local housing associations would be ideally placed to partner us in such a venture.

The development of financial management skills is essential for any family wanting to lift itself out of poverty.  Such a scheme would have, as part of its offering, advisors who will work with such families and help them build up these essential life skills.  This will no doubt be a risky venture for government to take forward, and we can learn from such ventures currently in place in Great Britain. It will require careful scoping and planning but something must be done to tackle this issue.

We have achieved much in the first half of this mandate but there is so much more to be done if we are to build the strong successful and vibrant communities that we all want to see.  Already the DUP is the party that is working hard for Northern Ireland and it is well able to meet the challenge.

DUP conference speech 2013 (2)

Welfare reform

Welfare Reform will not go away and all the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive need to face up to that challenge.  Burying heads in the sand and hoping it will go away will not solve the problem.  We need a welfare system that is fair and sustainable and which provides support to the most vulnerable in our society.  Indeed we are part of the United Kingdom welfare system and we receive from the Treasury in London, every year, about £5.5 billion into Northern Ireland in welfare payments whilst only paying £2.5 billion into central treasury funds. 

The welfare reforms that were agreed by the UK parliament at Westminster had some good elements but as we all know contained many flaws.  These flaws would have had a detrimental impact on Northern Ireland and indeed it is hard to imagine the government sustaining some of their changes in the medium term, for example around the ‘Bedroom Tax’.  That is why I negotiated with London a package of unique to Northern Ireland flexibilities that address some of the flaws in welfare reform to which I referred.

Those changes were negotiated by a DUP minister after lengthy engagement with UK ministers.  No other political party negotiated them and no other political party could negotiate them.  We did that because we are a compassionate party.  We have a concern for the most vulnerable and that is why so much time and energy and effort were devoted to this issue. 

I also engaged with the First and deputy First Ministers and the then Finance Minister to agree a further package of measures which will go even further.  The full package is there and ready to go to the Executive.  I am therefore frustrated at the procrastination of Sinn Fein and their refusal so far to face up to the issue.  Nevertheless we have played our part and I am sure, when the full package of flexibilities is announced that most people will be pleased by what we have achieved.

 Social housing

You will appreciate that change is a constant in most areas of government and none more so than the Department for Social Development.  There will also be change in relation to the provision of social housing.  I have already listed our achievements but we need to do more and that requires a reform of social housing.  The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has remained unchanged for 40 years but the time for change has come.  We are all aware of the problems there have been in the organisation for a number of years in relation to the way that the Housing Executive managed and monitored its response maintenance contracts and its planned maintenance contracts and that mismanagement has cost us millions of pounds.  Under the watch of the DUP those issues have now been identified and I am determined that they will be dealt with.

However these issues reveal a deeper malaise that existed in the organisation, especially at the top of the organisation.  I am pleased that slowly but surely change is happening, new appointments have been made to the Board and at the senior level within the organisation and I am very encouraged by the changes to date.

Moreover, looking to the future, I am also determined that we will develop a new model for delivering social housing and one that will be affordable, sustainable and able to build more social homes.  That work is already underway.

DUP conference speech 2013 (1)

DUP conference speech 2013

'Building strong communities'

In a previous speech to Conference as Minister for Social Development I spoke about the importance of compassion and this year I want to speak about the importance of community and especially building successful communities.
Back in 2011 the DUP said that this Assembly term would be about delivery and so at the mid-point of the Assembly term it is appropriate to look back and see what we have achieved so far.  Devolution must deliver, the DUP is determined to deliver and we have demonstrated that we can and will deliver.  Some of the highlights of DUP delivery through DSD are:

We have delivered 2,917 social homes across Northern Ireland at a value of £482 million of which £304 million was provided by the Northern Ireland Executive.
We have delivered £76.45 million of grant assistance to enable people across Northern Ireland to purchase 2,094 affordable homes through co-ownership, with a total value of £206.9 million.

To date 10,751 Housing Executive homes have had double glazing windows fitted delivering on our commitment to have all Housing Executive homes fitted with double glazing by 2015.
Over 11,103 homes across Northern Ireland now have new efficient heating boilers fitted as a result of the DUP boiler replacement scheme, with 2,470 local installers benefiting from the work.  The total grant aid provided so far is £8.3 million. 

Through the Warm Homes Scheme 24,095 homes have benefited from energy saving measures with £34.9 million of Northern Ireland Executive funding.  We are all aware of rising energy costs and the problem of fuel poverty but those thousands of families and individuals who have benefited from the Warm Homes Scheme are able to enjoy warmer homes at less cost.
Over 3,164 homes have now been visited across Northern Ireland as part of the DUP led Fuel Poverty Pilot Scheme and many of them have benefited from energy saving measures in their homes.

Through our Benefit Uptake Campaign over 8,289 people, many of whom are pensioners, have benefited to the value of £30 million each year through additional benefits and this has ensured that many of our most vulnerable people receive their full entitlement.
£104.6 million has been spent on 412 schemes for town and city centres across Northern Ireland, thereby supporting local businesses and improving the experience for local people and for visitors.  I don’t need to tell you that this investment makes those town centres more attractive and thereby increase footfall and boost consumer spend.  This is especially important at the present time when many shops are under real pressure.

£4.8 million has also been provided for the magnificent Venue in Londonderry for the United Kingdom City of Culture.
Volunteers play an important role in so many areas of society such as sport, youth work and support groups and 891 local voluntary organisations have benefited from £653,000 of small grants funding.

190 jobs have been secured for Northern Ireland by the Child Maintenance Service, delivering services for Great Britain and those jobs have been secured because of the quality of the service provided by Northern Ireland workers.
Those are some of our achievements but we must look forward and there is so much more to be done.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

William Greer - Ulster-Scot and driver to American presidents

The 50th anniversary of the murder of President John F Kennedy has raised the profile of the man who was driving the presidential car on the day that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas.  That man was William Robert Greer and he was born on 22 September 1909 on a farm at Drumbanaway, Stewartstown, county Tyrone. 
At the age of 19 Greer sailed from Belfast to Quebec on the Cunard ship Andania, as a third-class passenger, on 25 May 1929.  A further record exists of a William Greer crossing into America at Vanceboro, Maine, not long after that date.
For more than a decade he worked as a servant and a chauffeur to wealthy families
After serving in the US Navy during the 2nd World War, William Greer joined the American Secret Service in 1945 and joined the White House staff in November 1950.  He was a bodyguard to President Truman and President Eisenhower and was then chosen to drive Kennedy through Dallas on 22 November 1963.
In Ulster the family were Presbyterians but in America Greer became a Methodist and some conspiracy theorists have used this Ulster Protestant background to support their theory that Kennedy was the victim of an anti-Catholic plot involving Greer!
William Greer spent most of his life in America but never forgot his Ulster homeland.  On several occasions he travelled back to visit family and friends in Stewartstown and Belfast and in the 1970s he visited his parents' grave in Ballyclog churchyard.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Gettysburg - the Ulster-Scots connection

Battle of Gettysburg
This is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous of all speeches in American and world history and thousands of people gathered today at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania to remember and ponder.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from 1 to 3 July 1863 in and around the town of Gettysburg and it is considered to be the turning point of the American Civil War.  Thousands of Union soldiers were killed in the battle and on 19 November 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered the historic speech at the consecration of the Soldiers National Cemetery.

Gettsyburg was named for Samuel Gettys (1708-1790), who emigrated from Ulster to America as part of the great Ulster-Scots diaspora in the 18th century.  In the course of that century as many as 250,000 Ulster-Scots sailed across the Atlantic in search of a new land and a new life.

In 1761 Samuel Gettys settled at what became Gettysburg and established a tavern.  Twenty-five years later his son James laid out a town of 210 lots with a central square on the land surrounding the tavern and this became the town of Gettysburg.

Samuel and James Gettys were the founders of Gettysburg and today as America remembers the great Gettysburg Address, Ulster folk can remember the Ulster-Scots whose name is embedded in the name of the address.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Crumlin Road Courthouse

Courthouse in 2011
The Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast was designed by the architect Sir Charles Lanyon and completed in 1850.    It is situated across the road from Crumlin Road Gaol and the two are connected by an underground tunnel, which led up to one of the courtrooms.  It is a Grade B+ Listed building, which shows its architectural and historical importance.

The courthouse closed in June 1998 when a new courthouse was built in the centre of the city and in 2003 it passed into the ownership of Barry Gilligan, a local businessman.  Ten years later the building is in a pitiful state.  It suffered serious fire damage in March 2009 and there was further damage with fires in August 2009.

Now a development study has been commissioned by my own department DSD, the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) and  OFMDFM.  Turley Associates are taking forward the development study and a public consultation day is to be held next Thursday (21 November) in Crumlin Road Gaol from 1.30 to 8.00.   
Following the consultation a final report will be produced.  This will include an economic appraisal highlighting development routes and will identify a preferred development option.

The Northern Ireland Executive has transformed Crumlin Road Gaol into a major tourist attraction and the regeneration of the courthouse is another stage in the regeneration of the Crumlin Road and adjacent communities.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Nolan nonsense

This morning as I was travelling up to Stormont I listened to the Nolan Show on Radio Ulster.  The first item was a caller who said that she was unable to live on the benefits she received and had just £5 to keep her going until Thursday.  She said that doors were being closed in her face and there was no one to help her.  She went on to say that she was forced to sit at home with no heat and kept warm by wearing a coat and wrapping up in blankets.
I don't know her name but the caller said she is 33 years old and lives alone.  She referred to her local benefit office as Andersonstown and so presumably lives in West Belfast.  Stephen Nolan asked her about work and she explained that she had never worked and had no skills to get a job.
She also spoke about her experience of the benefit office at Andersonstown, in particular phoning about a crisis loan.  That really took my attention, especially as she had said that there was no one to help her.  Two points in particular stood out.
(1) She said that when she rang the Social Security Agency, the automated system said no appointments were available.
In fact the automated message does not comment on the availability of appointments and advises customers that, if they wish, they can leave their name and number for a call back.  Crisis loans are delivered on a face-to-face basis at local benefit offices through pre-arranged appointments, normally on the same day.  Customers can call about crisis loans on 0800 0288822.  Therefore the experience she described was simply impossible.
(2) She alleged that there was 'a big sign up' in the branch saying there were no appointments available.  In fact today was a fairly average day and when my officials checked on the availability of appointments at Andersonstown they found that there were 33 remaining appointments available for today.  Therefore once again the situation described by the caller was contrary to the facts.
That is one of the problems with the Nolan Show.  It is very easy for someone to ring in and describe a situation which may appear, on the surface, very distressing but which is totally at odds with the facts.
In this case after the interview the Nolan Show rang DSD for a comment and officials checked out the facts but by that stage the programme was over.  They have submitted a statement to the Nolan Show and that may be broadcast tomorrow but many people who heard the story this morning will not hear the explanation.
Any humanly devised system has its flaws and shortcomings and the Social Security Agency is no exception but the allegations made by this anonymous caller on the Nolan Show this morning were completely unfounded. 
For those not familiar with crisis loans, they can be awarded to assist a customer to meet expenses in an emergency situation, provided that the provision of such assistance is the only means by which serious damage or serious risk to the heath or safety of the person, or a member of the family, may be prevented.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Lower Falls - is it really 'non-Catholic'?

Recently I announced six pilots for a programme entitled Building Successful Communities.  Three of the pilot areas in West Belfast (1) Lower Falls (2) Andersonstown and (3) Lower Shankill and Brown Square.  Two of the pilot areas are in North Belfast ((4) Lower Oldpark and (5) Duncairn and Mountcollyer.  The sixth pilot area is the Doury Road estate in Ballymena.
I was therefore surprised to read a letter in the Irish News (5 November 2013) from Pat Benson, chairman of the Sailortown Regeneration Group.  He started his letter by saying:
With reference to building communities Nelson McCausland has been very selective in the areas chosen for the pilot schemes.  We note the areas are all in non-Catholic districts ...
I had to read that several times to convince myself that I had not misread it but Pat Benson did actually write that 'the areas are all in non-Catholic districts'.
Yet two of the pilot areas that were selected are in Lower Falls and Andersonstown and unless there have been some incredible demographic shifts in the last few days they are most certainly 'Catholic districts'.  In fact they are almost 'entirely Catholic districts'.
How can we have a sensible discussion about housing in Belfast when a prominent housing activist such as Pat Benson makes such a bizarre claim?  What on earth led him to make that claim?  Does he really believe it and is that what the other members of the Sailortown Regeneration Group believe?  Or did the Irish News print something that he didn't write?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Teenage Kicks mural - minus John Peel

Earlier this year there was some controversy, largely driven by elements in the media, about the removal of  some graffiti from the Bridge End flyover in East Belfast.  The graffiti included the words 'Teenage dreams, so hard to beat', from the Undertones' debut single Teenage Kicks.

According to media reports the graffiti appeared on the day after the death of BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel and there was a specific reference to him with the words 'John Peel 1939-2004 RIP'.

Now a new mural is to be installed, designed by young people from East Belfast, and I understand that it is based on the Teenage Kicks song.

The original work was put up as a tribute to John Peel, not as a tribute to the Undertones.  This time however there will be no mention of John Peel, who died in 2004, almost ten years ago, and the new mural will be all the better for that.

On this, as on many other subjects, one of the best commentaries on the previous controversy came from Belfast Telegraph feature writer Gail Walker.  In the Belfast Telegraph (25 June 2013) she wrote about what she described as 'the furore among the chattering classes' and then cut to the heart of the matter in relation to John Peel.
It would have been useful if at least one male person were to acknowledge  that the late Mr Peel's reputation is embroiled in the murky tales and allegations  which have emerged from the BBC since the death of Jimmy Savile.  Indeed Peel's track record of indulging in underage sexual activity on both sides of the Atlantic is well documented, and was well known for many years, largely from his own bragging testimony, but not completely from that source.  There were revelations exposed prior to his death which, we see now, followed exactly the patterns of prolific seduction and abuse so graphically documented in Savilegate, Hallgate and so many other cases. 
Gail Walker referred to 'our most sophisticated scions of art and culture' who wanted the mural restored as it was, a tribute to John Peel, and noted that there was 'a dribbling, misguided, incontinent reverence for the greasy abuser Peel'.
John Peel was unashamed about his prolific sexual activity with underage girls and today, with a greater awareness of 'celebrities' who engaged in such behaviour, it would be unthinkable to have a mural as a tribute to the now deceased Radio 1 DJ.

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Ardoyne dissidents

Back in September the Republican Network for Unity announced that they would field Sammy Cusick  in next year's council elections in the Oldpark area of North Belfast.  For those not up to date with the complex world of dissident republicanism, the RNU is normally fronted in Ardoyne by Martin Og Meehan, a son of IRA gunman Martin Meehan.  For a flavour of Meehan's politics take a look at his Ardoyne Republican blog, with its masked republican gunmen, and for Cusick, take a look at his Facebook page.

However Cusick was only the first dissident republican to enter the fray.  

Dee Fennell
Dee Fennell has just announced that he intends to stand in Oldpark as an Independent Republican.  It may be helpful to explain that he was the organiser of the anti-internment parade through Belfast back in the summer.  Fennell is also one of the leaders of the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) which  is the dissident republican alliance opposed to Loyal Order parades on the Crumlin Road.  

The RNU also supports GARC and so we will have two GARC supporters standing against each other.

Fennell and Cusick will be competing for votes in the little pool that is dissident republicanism and in effect next May they will be standing against each other.

For a variety of reasons, mainly to do with personalities and egos, there are four tiny dissident republican groups in Ardoyne - RNU, Eirigi, IRSP and the Sean MacDiarmada 1916 Society.  So by next May we could have four dissidents standing against each other!

They don't really like each other but they manage to collaborate within GARC where they stand together on a platform of 'Not an Orangeman about the place and Not an Orange foot on the Crumlin Road'.  

It will be interesting therefore to see what effect the forthcoming election will have on relationships within GARC and between the dissident republican factions.