Andrée Murphy hails from Dublin but has lived in Belfast since 1994.
She is the Deputy Director of Relatives for Justice, a national victim support NGO which provides advocacy and therapeutic support for the bereaved and injured of the conflict. Holding a Masters Degree in international human rights law, Andrée's particular expertise and research on women affected by conflict trauma has seen her provide evidence to the United Nations in Geneva and to Congressional hearings in the US.
Andrée is a columnist for Belfast Media Group and is a regular contributor to broadcast media, providing political analysis and commentary.
A NEW British Prime Minister, appointed by a tiny number of people in England with a right wing agenda that would make Goebbels blush, went under the radar with the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
SEPTEMBER is probably my favourite month. It holds the warmth of the sun and the length of days, so winter still seems at a distance. There are enough flowers in the gardens to brighten our moods, dahlias and roses, reminding us that jewels can grow and surround us every day. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn to copper and gold, canopies of glory for us all to share as we gently leave our long summer days behind. Inside our homes some of our minds turn to preserving blackberries from hedgerows or apples from the trees in our gardens, or our neighbours’ gardens or that estate down the road, where they wouldn’t notice a bag of apples gone. And that fills our senses with gratitude for the wealth of nature, memories of times past or the pleasure of passing skills to the generation to come. And we know that in months to come the little jars with little wax disks and elastic bands will be joyfully received by our family and friends as gifts of joy and tastiness. September brings us a wealth that is not stolen, where no-one is enslaved or held in perpetual poverty to sustain it. We can all share in its joy. It is a democratic month where some can remain in summer, wearing their shorts right to the end in defiance of chillier winds, and others can pull on the boots and tights, even if it is still a little warm.
IT’S one of those weeks when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. England now has the extraordinary spectacle of a living miracle for a new Prime Minister. It’s nothing short of miraculous that an individual can be utterly vacuous and an ideological fanatic at the same time, but, my God, Liz Truss manages it. She is devoid of principle, personality, charisma, ability or charm, obviously, but at the same time represents a turn for the extreme right that few of us thought possible after the fall of Berlin to the Soviet Union. That makes her sound remarkable, but that’s not even true, she isn’t. She is so utterly unremarkable that remarks seem gratuitous. Our national tragedy, however, is that this amoeba of political life – transparent, useless and without definitive purpose, yet turning in a right-wing circle of self-perpetuating movement – is now the person with whom we living in this jurisdiction must seek political leadership and partnership. I cannot believe I’m writing this.
IN July it emerged that PSNI officers accused of being engaged in disgusting acts of sectarianism and depravity are under active investigation by the Police Ombudsman. That investigation has lasted for five years, with one of the officers suspended for that time with full pay. They are accused of posing with the body of a man who committed suicide, taking and sharing photographs of this man with his genitals exposed and of making sectarian comments in relation to this. When the full details of the investigation made the headlines the Chief Constable made a statement full of words like, “condemn”, “harrowing” and “shocking” and said he felt that the PSNI was besmirched. All of this after the case made it into the media. After five years.
IN 2016 Brexit laid waste to the UK’s post-WW2 norms of doing politics. And took a wrecking ball to the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit was the triumph of anti-truthism and nationalist fervour. Reasonable debate was defeated. Established and even legal norms could be sacrificed for Englishness. Promises regarding the NHS on the side of a bus were not the issue, as the decimation of the NHS since proves. What actually influenced the mandate were those big racist billboards and an appeal to a mythical England of the past. The firestorm to justify and enable Brexit since is little to do with Brexit itself but a fostering of that mentality. All human rights norms are on a bonfire. Community is a dirty word. There is zero interest in international relations except through military lenses. Such is the power of this movement that the two big English parties, the Conservatives and Labour have eaten themselves alive and are barely recognisable to pre-Brexit days. There has been an extreme right-wing revolution in England, and Westminster is changed utterly. Locally there was surprise in 2016 when the DUP supported Brexit late in the day, a move which clearly threatened peace agreement norms. Many of us didn’t see what that move meant. Brexit’s wake has seen the rise and promotion of an anti-truth narrative, harking back to an imaginary post-partition past of glory, while also playing contemporary victim and the promotion of extreme voices with no mandate. There has emerged an anti-Agreement unionist/loyalist movement which plays footsie with GFA supporters but has no commitment to its integrity. This movement’s actors shiftshape at different points with the DUP’s electoral successes or lack of, influencing who dominates at different points. The DUP’s collapse of the Assembly under the ruse of the Protocol is tied to the emergence of this extreme right-wing movement. The collapse of the Assembly in 2017 due to the DUP’s lack of capacity to credibly share power was a very different dynamic to what is happening now. It is not two sides of the same coin. This is much more sinister.
FÉILE an Phobail’s history is well worth remembering. In 1988 three unarmed members of the IRA from West Belfast were shot dead by undercover British soldiers in Gibraltar. While this community buried them the mourners were attacked by loyalist Michael Stone, acting with the full cooperation of the British state and using armaments imported from South Africa with the full knowledge and direction of the British State. Milltown was the first use of this huge consignment of weapons that was to mark an unprecedented onslaught on the nationalist and republican community.
AND just like that the Andersonstown News is 50! There is so much to say and record and appreciate with a big birthday like that, and no doubt the reflections will keep on coming. But in a week when we all sweltered in the sun and struggled to sleep a full night in the heat, there is one element of the Andersonstown News where it was always ahead of its time. The Dúlra column and wider pieces regarding the environment and valuing the space we live in has always marked our community newspaper apart. I got to know about the value of the Belfast Hills, the need to preserve them from industrialisation, militarisation and other threatening -ations, from this newspaper. Heroes like the late Terry Enright Snr and Aidan Crean have used these pages to tell of the beauty that surrounds us, and of the various threats to habitats. Full new habitats have been created directly as a result of the hard graft of agencies like the Colin Glen Trust and those people who had a vision for our Bog Meadows. This year, more than at any other time we should be offering thanks and reflecting on “more”.
HAVE you ever found yourself in the house or in work, knowing you have a project to do, that mountain of washing, the report with a deadline looming and getting closer, and you find yourself doing everything except that one thing? I heard a rumour that Tensing Norgay was sitting at home with a quarterly report deadline in three weeks, when Edmund Hillary dropped by to suggest heading up Everest, and in an act of avoidance he ran out the door, grabbing a few ropes, saying he had loads of time to get that report done! Of course, it doesn’t matter that years of experience has taught us that once we actually wrestle said Bogey that it is overcome in no time, the job gets done and we feel a million per cent better, if a little guilty we hadn’t done it sooner. Nope, that memory just fades as the next nemesis come along to wreck our equilibrium. Breaking these habits of avoidance has to be the hardest of all human endeavours. The self-help group required to address avoidance hasn’t been started yet, because all of us who need it keep saying: “I will do that after I tidy this desk first.” More seriously, some of us get into habits of avoidance as self-preservation when something terrible has happened. After time, in many people’s lives what was once an effective short-term coping mechanism can become a long-term negative factor. For individuals the news is good, and there are great strategies for coming to terms with awful and life- changing experiences. When avoidance of the negative things that happen in our lives has become destructive and is no longer working there is meaningful support out there. Coming to terms with traumatic events safely, and at your own pace, is possible. But what of our post-conflict society? Our peace agreement was a miracle, but was in many ways an exercise in avoidance. Once called constructive ambiguity, it also provided avenues for progressive change without saying why it was needed. Human rights law frames all of the change and the protective measures. Why? Because human rights were violated wholesale. Policing was “reformed”. Why? Because since partition policing was discriminatory and paramilitary. Minority rights were enshrined. Why? Because all of the minorities in this jurisdiction have been censored, marginalised and abused. But we avoided saying any of that. Which worked for a while. But now those rights are under attack, and we have not had a valid or secure process to underpin the necessity of the changes. Our collective exercise in avoidance has destructive implications. Failing to deal with the past in a collective, constructive fashion as part of the peace process has served to undermine the process itself. Legacy is not only about the victims of violations – although they are at the heart of the moral imperative to do better – it is about all of us. We need to face all of the violations of the past in a safe process so we can secure the future and secure our collective health and wellbeing. It may be uncomfortable but, just like our individual journeys, it is necessary. Truthfully, if we cannot do this societally, how can we encourage the most harmed and most vulnerable to take the necessary but incredibly courageous steps in their lives to make the change?
THIS mid-July 2022 we are prompted to ask if it has so far been one of the quietest in years, as some commentators suggest, or has it been one that has been marked by division and hurt? Two things can be true at once, and it has been both. While the rest of the northern hemisphere use July to unwind and take some much-needed time off with families and friends, in the North of Ireland we become a harsher version of ourselves where what divides us becomes even more marked than normal, and we are laid bare. It is deeply unpleasant, and I hate it. Let’s put aside all talk of culture for now, let us just look at the place we share and what we wish to create. It is not normal or desirable to express the worst feelings of division or hate. It is not normal to live in a place where that division creates reactions of fear, anxiety and necessitates protest. It may be common, but it is not something to strive for, fund or foster.
CHANGING the RUC into the PSNI was an exercise in societal avoidance. It was as clear as day that the change was necessary because the RUC was unacceptable to the nationalist/republican community as a result of its systemic discrimination and policies of violations, but officially that was never stated. Instead, the Queen of England presented a George Cross medal to the RUC. Former RUC, described by then Chief Constable Hugh Orde as “dinosaurs” (aka unreconstructable), left the RUC with pensions and severance packages, so that they did not have to become human rights-compliant officers, or face structures of accountability. A police benevolent fund which describes itself as “all things to all people” was established to pay out thousands of pounds for driveways, gardening and teeth implants. All to avoid one thing – to say that the RUC was a conflict actor.
SOMETIMES it is worth going back to basics. As public standards are attacked and begin to be dismantled, it is worth asking – why are those standards there in the first place? And when you ask that you think, perhaps, last week was a good week for human rights. Last week, as a flight with asylum seekers was about to take off for Rwanda, it was grounded due to an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. There were two instinctive reactions. The first was to be glad asylum seekers had benefited from international protections, and the other was outrage because national sovereignty was being interfered with by a foreign/international court. Agreeing with the latter view, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, immediately flexed by questioning Britain’s long-term commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Court which is its guardian. From the moment Brexit was mooted and the long-term commitment of Britain to the European Union was going out the door, the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention itself have been conflated with membership of the European Union. They are of course entirely separate arrangements and bodies, but if you have been fed for decades the English nationalist lie that foreign “interference” in domestic affairs is a bad thing, then it is easy to see how all non-English norms, courts and standards are viewed as the “enemy” and such lazy conflation gets rarely corrected. When England voted for a government that views rules, laws and norms as undesirable inconveniences, the hatred for this perceived “interference” was vindicated. But why is Britain in something it apparently hates so much? Who hoodwinked them in such times of weakness past? Of course, not without irony, it was Winston Churchill just after Britain and the Allies won World War II. It was at a time when international cooperation had defeated the extreme right and the horror of the most devasting of wars demanded higher international laws providing recognisable standards and protections to mitigate against such horror ever happening again. What had happened during Germany’s Nazi regime was entirely legal in domestic law, and popular. From the early 1930s state power had enshrined discrimination and hatred so that the Holocaust became possible. Protections of minorities and the vulnerable through law and agreed international courts were seen as essential to end the cycles which led to crimes against humanity. The European Convention on Human Rights was signed as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights’ local application. Britain was a key player in both documents. It is notable that their ‘Empire’ was crumbling all around them and they were engaged in awful foreign policy, yet somewhere there was a recognition that something greater was possible and desirable. This century in Britain the exact form of state abuse and populist politics that the Convention was designed to protect against has emerged. The same contempt for law and human rights is being espoused on a daily basis from the centre of power. Which is why what happened last week at the European Court of Human Rights was so important. This is exactly why the Convention was drafted and the court was established, for these are the exact circumstances when minorities are so vulnerable and state power so putrid. And, thankfully, it is proving its value in these dark times. Long may it be protected.
THIS Conservative Government is playing fast and loose with all recognised principles of law and statesmanship and that is a policy in which Ireland will be a casualty. They have introduced asylum flights to Rwanda, in the same week as introducing illegal amendments to the Protocol, in the same month as illegal legacy legislation. All policies are grave, break international law and treaty, and are without modern precedent. Forcing them through at the same time is nothing short of a deliberate blitzkrieg on law and rights. This is a thought-out strategy which is proving effective, as there is no indication that this assault can be stopped in the short term. Simultaneously there is a pincer movement on the Good Friday Agreement. On the one front we see the ridiculous but, so far, effective support of DUP nihilism. The moves undermine the Protocol, but more importantly undermine the basic principles of negotiated settlement and political agreement in favour of bloody minded ‘we do as we want’ tactics. This displaces the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement with a lie that it is promoting “community consent”, but in fact reinserts the unionist veto into northern politics. The Protocol legislation places DUP self-interest above every other interest on the two islands. It puts Britain at risk of a trade war with the EU. It puts the local population of the North at risk of economic ruin. It puts the progress on sustainable peace at fundamental risk. All so that the DUP position is protected in a changing constitutional environment. On the other front, legacy legislation undermines the European Convention on Human Rights, subverts the rule of law and discards the rights and needs of those who suffered most during the conflict. It is a self-serving tactic for the mandarins in Whitehall who believe that, like Boris Johnson during lockdown, they did nothing wrong and would do it again. Law and accountability are pesky inconveniences to be discarded. And if it undermines our peace agreement, so be it. So what if young people living on the island of Ireland see that the rule of law is an optional extra? So what if that leaves the narratives of those who wish to justify violence with no response? We are only Paddies after all. Good people who would normally be focused on these areas are challenged as everything is happening at once and resources are beyond stretched. This lack of resource means these Nazi military tactics on human rights, law and our peace agreement are having success. What is at stake at the minute is not just Stormont and whether those elected in May will be allowed to fulfil their mandate, as though that is a small thing. This is a fundamental assault on the Good Friday Agreement, democracy and the rule of law. It is the intention of those behind these crises to cripple human rights law. They want to see the independence of the courts diminished. They wish to change the body politic and undermine our powersharing administration. It’s time to stop pussyfooting around what is happening right now and wishing it were different, or pretending that momentum will make this alright on the night. We need to face into this as we would any blitzkrieg or pincer movement – united, together and with determination that it can never succeed.
WHEN my grandfather married his second wife, my Nana, the 1970s were beginning. It was to be a decade marked by global turmoil, as the Cold War seemed in perpetual volatility with war in Vietnam, Lagos and Cambodia, and later Afghanistan, threatening to spill into nuclear war at any time. It was to be a decade marked by an oil crisis that brought economic crisis, creating the conditions for out-of-control inflation and a sharp fall in living standards and a rise in global unemployment. Worldwide, there was a kickback against human rights, with horrifying state violations witnessed on this island, Latin America and in Africa. The 1970s seemed like a dark and desperate place to begin a new life. But he and my Nana moved with their humble possessions into what they called a “chalet bungalow” on the outskirts of Dublin, in Shankill. It was a mobile home with a large garden, for which they paid a nominal rent as they both entered their lives of retirement. My grandfather, a toolmaker, and my Nana a member of the British Women’s Airforce, set to creating a garden that was their oasis from world sadness. Everyone visiting entered via the rear picket gate. There was a front door, but no-one, not even the milkman, used it. The gate opened to a space with a vegetable garden and greenhouse to the left and an ornamental garden to the right. To the left were the season’s delights, tomatoes in the greenhouse, lettuce and broccoli in the ground, potatoes in trenches and rows of gooseberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and strawberries. They were pretty self-sufficient with their Dig for Victory experience, only buying flour and yeast for bread, meat and eggs. But it was to the right that everything got very interesting. In the ornamental garden were my Nana’s beloved dahlias, growing beside standard roses and fuchsia. In between were dotted geraniums, marigolds (loads of marigolds as she said they kept the greenfly from the roses), and lobelia galore. And weaving in between all of them was the prize exhibit – my grandfather’s home-made model railway. Me and my brother would barely have our coats off before we asked him to put the railway on and Frank didn’t take much persuading. He had built full villages, stations and changing posts. Bridges and scenes of Scottish Highlands and Welsh valleys ran right around the garden. He bought models of his beloved steam trains, and built the tracks for them all. While we waited for him to get them going, he would tell us all about the trains, where they went, their timetables and purpose. We would listen as blackbirds, blue tits and robins walked across the tracks, looking like giant train inspectors with little model people, waiting at the stations. And then he would “put the pump on” and on would come the waterfall which ran over the tunnel he had fashioned, to give the Flying Scotsman’s journey some drama. And we loved every second. When we went inside Nana had butterfly cakes made with real cream and jammy coconut buns ready, and we were “forced” to eat one of each. And in that Shankill oasis, international turmoil, fear and despair were put to the side, we were safe and nurtured. In these painful days I think of it often.
DOWN the ages of despotic rule, in moments of rumbling among the masses, elites have thrown their table crumbs to quell potential for popular revolt. While not telling us to eat cake last week, Rishi Sunak’s announcement in the House of Commons that households will receive a few quid to help with the soaring costs of living wasn’t based on fair taxation or lasting changes to the benefits system; no, it was based on one-off payments that leave hard-working people dependent on his benevolence – or lack thereof. “A month without starving or freezing to death, sir? That’s very good of you sir. Thank you, sir.”
“I don’t think anyone cares about the loved ones, all we want is justice and peace.” The words of Joe McKeown, son of Frank, as he stood outside the NIO offices protesting against the British Government’s Legacy Bill.