Not by chance have West and North Belfast been left behind when it comes to the cycling revolution transforming the city.
It is incredible that Argentina won, again, the World Cup, as on previous occasions in 1978 and 1986. We are all pleased about this. Today there are massive celebrations all around the country. Football is the main sport in Argentina.
SOUTH Belfast Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw has warned struggling people against using paramilitary money lenders and loan sharks to help them through Christmas and the cost of living crisis.
THE weekend Sinn Féin Ard Fheis was a museum-quality example of the task facing those of us who are intent on moving forward from the most recent phase of conflict here.
THERE are many people who, a week after the death of the English queen, quite rightly feel alienated and angry. They feel alienated because their antipathy towards the preposterous notion of unelected and unearned wealth and power that is the monarchy has been utterly ignored in the unseemly rush to pretend that we all are gripped by sadness and grief. And they feel angry that their lives have been turned upside down to facilitate a period of mourning and a funeral dripping with comical military posturing, to which they feel not one iota of connection or empathy. Where empathy does come in is in the very simple idea that an elderly woman has died and her family have been left grieving. That is something which we can all understand, regardless of what we feel about that family or its background. And that feeling of basic human empathy is strengthened by the knowledge that, whatever we know and abhor about the British royal family’s centrality to the shameful history of British imperialism and colonialism, she ultimately played an important role in bringing about the circumstances that made our current incomplete and imperfect peace a possibility. That is why those of us to whom the very idea of monarchy is anathema have either held our counsel or gone one step further to put on record our appreciation of what she did on her visit to Ireland in 2011.
THE Shankill Road was completely closed on Saturday afternoon to facilitate a parade paying tribute to a ruthless sectarian killer. No-one disputes that Brian Robinson shot Ardoyne man Paddy McKenna to death for no other reason than his religion. And yet over 50 bands and thousands of spectators joined in what can only be described as a joyous celebration of the UVF killer’s life and legacy. Listening to the sound of the shrill pipes and thudding drums drift across the Crumlin Road were Paddy McKenna’s family, friends and neighbours. Let us say first of all that we have no objection if the Shankill wants to remember Brian Robinson. There are enough politicians determined to lay down the law about who wore the white hat and who wore the black hat in the vicious and grubby conflict from which we’re still struggling to emerge. And let’s not forget the most vocal of those claiming the high ground are people who wore not white hats but red berets. These same people, who whipped off the red berets and stuck them in the bottom drawer when it was politically convenient to do so, were loudest in their condemnation of the Wolfe Tones at Féile. Added to their faux outrage about young people singing rebel sings were demands that funding for the festival be withdrawn by public and private organisations. And the same people represent loyalism both in council chambers and at Stormont (when they bother to turn up). But not a single man or woman was able to utter a word of rebuke for such a large and public demonstration of support for sectarian murder; doubtless their moral indignation had been exhausted by a week of shrieking about a poll in which nationalists expressed their opinion about the inevitability or otherwise of violence erupting in... 1969. As for funding, we reveal today that 16 of the bands taking part in Saturday’s parade were in receipt of funding from the Ulster-Scots Agency’s resilience fund to help them make it through the Covid crisis. In their helpful list of awards made, the agency describes the 16 bands as “Ulster-Scots groups”. Quite how marching to celebrate the life of a UVF Catholic-killer is advancing the Ulster-Scots cause is not entirely clear. Throw in the fact that these bands have been marching in this parade for years – a fact which is revealed in a simple Google search – and one then wonders what diligence was applied in the consideration of funding disbursement. Can we be surprised that unionists display such Homeric levels of sanctimony when it comes to expressions of outrage when the same representatives quite literally sit down with Brian Robinson’s colleagues in the UVF to discuss political developments? Emerging from a meeting with the murderous narco-gangs of the UVF and the UDA to feign disgust at teenagers in a park brings new depths of meaning to the word hypocrisy. Against that background, the double standards at play can be seen not simply as bad faith and dissembling, but as necessary cover for the legitimisation of continuing loyalist violence.
AS we head into an autumn and winter that look set to present us with the greatest economic shock seen in decades, Stormont remains moribund thanks to the DUP, and desperate people and frightened families look around them for direction and support as the coming storm gathers. In recent days the DUP Economy Minister has been spinning himself dizzy trying to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is his party’s attitude to the £400 payment towards energy bills promised to consumers here. The truth is that Gordon Lyons has no more idea of when the money will be paid than the rest of us. His party’s decision to collapse the political institutions in the midst of a spiralling economic crisis means that the delivery system has been trashed and he is flailing around in a comically vain attempt to convince people that he has a plan. He doesn’t. Otherwise he wouldn’t bandy about words like “could” and “believe” and “hope” about a November date for possible payment that he unilaterally plucked out of the air.
THAT the foundations of partition are beginning to rock has been clear to anyone with eyes to see for some time and this past fortnight has provided a stark illustration of how the coming change has rattled those most invested in the retention of a bleak and failed status quo. The IRA departed the stage some quarter of a century ago, and while there is zero recognition of it in unionist political and media circles, the Republican Movement has delivered in spades in its commitment to moving away from armed struggle. Unfortunately and inevitably, the complete removal of the IRA from the scene has left those whose careers and whose politics relied on the republican bogey man floundering in a sea of ill-concealed disappointment, confusion and spite. Rather than deal with reality, they have created an alternative universe wherein the singing of songs and the expression of opinions is equated with the firing of bullets and the detonating of bombs.
AT the end of what is widely believed to have been the best Féile yet, we’re proud today to provide you with page after page of pictures, reports and reviews of some of the hundreds of events which made those 10 days in August a time that will linger long in the memory. More will follow next week, both in print and online, but were we to keep going until the end of the year we wouldn’t come close to doing justice to the sheer depth and breadth of talent, energy and diversity that Féile treated us to in 2022. With clanging inevitability, media outlets who again ignored the vast panoply of Féile activities waited for kids to sing along with the Wolfe Tones on the last night so they could revive their stories and columns from last year. But such people are talking to themselves. They never had the ear of this community to begin with and – just as we have in the 34 years since this magnificent project was first dreamed of – we will continue on the journey of change and improvement while they snipe from the sidelines.
FÉILE roared back this year with a incredible line-up which proves in spades that the Covid hiatus has done nothing to dampen the vision and enthusiasm of staff and volunteers – or the appetite of the public for the annual feast of culture, art, entertainment and education. And it’s still not over. The events are being comprehensively covered in this paper, both in print and online, but what is equally deserving of our appreciation is something that, paradoxically, is little spoken of thanks entirely to the success of the project.
THE advice for the DUP, as they continue to insist that the leadership of the Conservative Party is a matter for the Tories alone and that they have no position on it, is not to take up the game of poker any time soon. Their hand can be seen a mile away and it is clear to all and sundry that they are pantingly anxious for a Liz Truss victory. The similarities with their brief and ill-starred love affair with Boris Johnson – when they cheered him to the rafters, swooned like teenagers on his every word and queued up to be pictured beside him – are startling. The world and its mother knew then that Johnson was a egocentric charlatan who lies as easily and naturally as he draws breath, yet the largest unionist party was willing to set aside the compelling and comprehensive evidence of his bad character and utter unreliability because he told them – as he has told everyone he has ever met – what they wanted to hear. Liz Truss is no more a Leaver than Boris Johnson is. While he famously wrote two columns on the eve of the referendum, choosing the Leave one when it became apparent which way the Tory wind was blowing, so Truss was an enthusiastic Remainer, a former Liberal Democrat whose views on Europe in the days leading up to the referendum were in perfect sync with those she now shrilly denounces as Remoaners and losers. True, she did admit in a famous radio interview with Eddie Mair that she had been a keen Remainer, but that’s alright, she said, because she changed her mind in the right direction. Her political career in recent years has been an increasingly desperate and obvious attempt to woo the controlling right wing of the party with ever more extreme rhetoric. She was viewed with deep suspicion by the swivel-eyed Europe-hating loons of the ERG – and why would she not be? A Remainer ex-Lib-Dem in the Tory Party is their worst nightmare and it is testament to the efficacy of her race to the bottom in relation to hot-button hard-right issues that she enjoys a significant lead in the leadership contest. It is the case, however, that a Remainer ex-Lib-Dem can be a passionate advocate for the union, but any suggestion that Ms Truss would be a committed and careful guardian of the United Kingdom was blown out of the water this week with her extraordinary and incendiary attack on Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Ms Sturgeon, she said, is an “attention seeker” who she plans to “ignore”. Ms Truss was speaking to an audience of the Tory faithful, and they obediently laughed and cheered at the outburst, but it was an immensely telling moment. In order to garner short-term benefit with a small cohort of the small cohort which will decide the election, she said something that is of incalculable benefit to the SNP not only in its surge towards a second referendum, but in its ability to win it. In other words, her career comes before the union. Just as it did with a certain other Tory, who also had certain other early admirers.
THE passing this week of David Trimble is first and foremost a tragedy for those who loved and knew him and our thoughts are with his family and friends as they attempt to come to terms with their great loss. The death of someone so centrally involved in one of the most dramatic and momentous episodes in modern Irish history is also a milestone in this tortuous and ongoing journey that we call the peace process. The most important thing that can be said about Mr Trimble is that accolades and tributes to his courage and tenacity are fully deserved. While the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was the high water mark of his political career and a legacy for the ages, it is easy to forget the very real physical danger that he and his family faced as the fight to get the peace agreement signed turned vicious and violent. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to have caved in to the bully boys of extreme political unionism and the thugs of loyalist paramilitarism, all of whom placed immense pressure on him to face away from the future and turn back to a past in which they felt comfortable and in charge. It would also have been entirely understandable. But he did not and for that he and John Hume – who also faced almost intolerable opposition and pressure from his ‘own side’ – fully deserved their joint Nobel Peace Prize. (As prize deserved by others who went unacknowledged for cynical and cowardly reasons.) Mr Trimble’s lack of social skills was something that became instantly clear to anyone who met him. He could be a dour and difficult person and he was somebody who felt painfully ill-at-ease in the cliquish world of politics and boozy back-slapping – authentic or manufactured – was anathema to him. Ironically, however, his refusal to indulge in backroom bonhomie was a key factor in his pushing through in the face of often hysterical opposition. He was immune to the blandishments of political chums because he had none; personal closeness was not for him a factor when it came to making tough decisions, as it was for so many others. While it is right that Mr Trimble will be remembered primarily as a peacemaker – imperfect as the agreement was, it has survived for 24 years – it would be wrong not to acknowledge the often destructive part he played down through the years. He was a member of the neo-fascist Vanguard movement virtually from its inception in the early 70s. He was happy to rub shoulders with loyalist paramilitaries as a central figure in the Ulster Workers’ Council strike of 1974 – at a time when said paramilitaries were slaughtering Catholics and dumping them in alleys. And he was a deeply malign element in the Drumcree crisis of the 90s, which saw street law-breaking on an unprecedented scale and sent tensions sky-rocketing. Whether he intended it as such or not, Mr Trimble’s central role in the 1998 peace agreement was a redress of sorts, one which ensured that he will be remembered ultimately as a positive force.
WE need to talk about bonfires. Not next year. Not next summer. Not next July when the hate symbols are going up on the lethal towering structures. We need to talk about them now. We’ve just witnessed another ‘celebration’ of loyalist culture which involved hanging effigies of women, displays of the most vile misogynistic insults and the sending of vast columns of toxic, often carcinogenic smoke up into the sky to disperse around our towns and cities to rain lethal particulates down on the streets and houses below. And it’s going to happen next year. And the year after that. With no-one being held to account and statutory authorities continuing to wring their hands and look the other way. The 2013 film The Purge imagines a dystopian future in which the annual national holiday is the ‘Purge’ – a day during which all wrongdoing and crime are decriminalised and people are free to do as they please without fear of prosecution or consequence. The Purge imagines a short period of 12 hours – here in the North a purge around bonfires is declared from early spring to July 11. During that period not only are the aformentioned sectarian outrages the order of the day, every basic tenet of health and safety is ditched as often drunk adults and children clamber to dizzying heights on structures that one unionist politician described without a trace of irony as “engineering feats”, but which in reality are monstrous accidents waiting to happen. And, just as in the movie, not a single person is held to account.
THE very significant fall in the number of people taking part in this year’s Twelfth of July ‘celebrations’ is a welcome indicator that the grip that the Orange Order had for decades on life in the North is continuing to loosen. But more importantly, it presents the leadership of the institution with a very simple choice: reform or continue along the slow road to oblivion. The two-year hiatus in parading has doubtless taken a toll on the numbers, but there’s little doubt that the ageing demographic of the Order’s core support is continuing to play its part, as has the Order’s inability to attract new and young members in any great numbers. But if the ever-dwindling membership is a cause for concern, the contiguous drop in the number of followers and spectators to be seen this year will be an even bigger worry. And with the Orange Order run – as it always has been – by dull old men, it plainly lacks the ability to institute the root and branch reforms that are required to secure its future. In any other organisation, a fall-off in interest would lead younger, more enlightened or progressive figures from within to agitate for change, but as we continue to witness year in and year out, there are no younger, more enlightened or progressive figures within the Orange Order to bring about the kind of modernisation it needs.
ANOTHER summer, another series of rows and confrontations over bonfires. It’s depressing enough that we find ourselves in exactly the same position at exactly the same time every year, but worse, it’s desperately disappointing that in the 12 months since the last round of acrimony absolutely nothing has been done by the bonfire builders or their supporters and enablers within political unionism to address the issues that inevitably arise. Last year the most bitter dispute sprang up around the Adam Street bonfire at the interface between Tigers Bay and the New Lodge – and this year once again it is that blatantly and cynically inflammatory pyre which is in the news again, this time over the issue of toxic materials. Tyres and plastic material, which of course give off dangerous and even carcinogenic fumes, appearered at the bonfire over the weekend, and after complaints were removed. Those responsible for the bonfire claimed the material in question had been dumped there, but of course dumping spots are exactly what these bonfires are, with the public and businesses alike being encouraged to leave flammable items. So quite why there are complaints by the bonfire organisers about dumping at the bonfire is not entirely clear. Those responsible for the bonfire this week claimed that nationalist politicians were “gearing up to ignite tensions at our peaceful community celebration”. That is a twisting of the truth that would make Boris Johnson blush, as a quick refresher on the Adam Street bonfire reveals. The fire was deliberately moved as close as possible to the Duncairn Gardens peaceline precisely to ignite the kind of tensions that organisers accuse others of trying to incite. Golf balls were driven from the top of the bonfire across the road into the New Lodge – an outrageous act of blatant intimidation and one which was denied by the builders even though it was caught on video. And in the High Court two months later Mr Justice Horner said the driving of golf balls, the throwing of bricks and nightly sectarian singing around the bonfire had been “intimidation of the worst kind”. He continued: “It was anti-social. This was criminal conduct. It was designed to incite, to try and produce a visceral reaction. It had nothing to do with the celebration of Orange culture and should have had nothing to do with it.” Such robust and unambiguous language by a High Court judge would in any normal society have ensured that a repeat was not possible. Yet here we are again, facing precisely the same problems that dogged the city last year and which did such considerable damage to community relations. There is no point in asking those unionist politicians who queued up to have their pictures taken at a bonfire which was, according to Mr Justice Horner, used to “terrorise” residents across the road. We can only hope that the statutory authorities and local community workers do their best to calm things down. A fragile hope, but the only one we have.