Covid-19 has turned the world, and the priceless connections between people, upside down.
The Assembly Health Committee last Thursday invited Prof Ben Cowling to tell them how the pandemic was being dealt with in Hong Kong. Their invite came amidst local reports of nurses parties, ambulance golf weekends and medical social worker pizza parties, which were thought to be contributing to coronavirus cases, with the upping of Donegal to match Dublin at Level 3.
THe widening of Covid restrictions announced on Monday of this week in response to the sharp uptake in infections across Ireland and Britain has, predictably, led to criticism.
‘CHOOSE your side! Choose your side!’ That was the cry of the rather scary collection of overweight, baldy, tattooed gentlemen who gathered in London at the weekend to oppose, ah, masks. In the war against Covid, most people here have already chosen their side and they’re on the same team as the virologists and epidemiologists who are telling us that we need to mask up in places where social distancing is not possible. Sadly, however, there’s a significant number of people – some of them doubtless reading this – who have decided that the brightest brains in the most prestigious educational, scientific and medical institutions in Ireland and Britain are not to be trusted. The people we need to trust, they believe, are Van Morrison, Denise Welch, Sammy Wilson and Jim Corr. Now Squinter didn’t have Van the Man down as a statue-guarder. Yes, we all know of his reputation as a cantankerous old curmudgeon – for some it has actually become an almost endearing quality. When he first started to give off about the lockdown affecting the music industry, Squinter put it down to the frustration of an artist unable to share his gifts with the world. But now that he’s written three songs railing against Covid restrictions, it’s pretty clear that he’s gone full Sammy on the virus. On his website he wrote: “I call on my fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this. Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudoscience and speak up.”
I WILL vociferously defend the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts to the death, but I recognise there is one part of the compromise document we must question and review. Where there are issues of unresolved contest the GFA sets up Commissions. And as we saw in January’s bad joke book, New Decade New Approach, it seems to be a hard habit to break. Victims of institutional abuse? Give them a Commissioner. Veterans suffering PTSD? Give them a Commissioner. And so it goes on. Commissioners, Champions and Tsars. They come in such predictable guises of Good, Bad and Ugly that Ennio Moricone could have written a theme song for them. I know that some of the participants in 1998 had to sell the ideas of human rights and equality. And some of the participants were not keen. So these halfway houses were demonstrable commitments to rights. But have they worked? Or are they self-perpetuating and expensive monoliths getting in the way of authentic campaigners for rights?
For seven years now, the Belfast International Homecoming has built bridges to our global family to create a better Belfast.
PADDY O’Kane was the first Catholic to buy a house on Hightown Road, Glengormley. Originally from Ballinderry on the Tyrone/Derry border, his family had moved to the Antrim Road Belfast some years earlier and when Paddy married he took a liking to Glengormley village, settling there in 1962. Paddy often told me how small the community was then. There was just one Mass in St Mary’s on the Hill with an attendance of about thirty. The M2 motorway was under construction and there were no houses other than a few farmhouses beyond the M2 bridge on Hightown Road. “The only people who passed up by our door were courting couples,” he recalled. “It was known as the road to nowhere.” While some locals ignored him, others originally greeted Paddy as Mr Kane but he quickly reminded them that there was an O in his name. Paddy watched Glengormley grow and become more and more integrated.With the rise in numbers in the Glengormley district new schools were needed with the great influx of young families. A new Catholic parish was created in Glengormley with Father Shaun McClafferty as first PP. No man was better suited to the task. He identified and purchased land for future development. A run-down large property known as Elmfield House on Antrim Road became parish headquarters with a Nissen hut serving as an oratory and the construction of a new primary school quickly set in motion. This development acted as a magnet for incoming Catholic families and Elmfield estate house prices began to rise. The onset of civil unrest might have bypassed Glengormley. Given that the vast majority of the homes were being purchased with 25-year mortgages the district might well have remained unscathed. However, events in Rathcoole and other large housing estates had their effect. In the 1970s the Catholic population of Rathcoole came under pressure. Eventually the whole Catholic population, estimated as a third of the total, was either physically evicted or intimidated into moving. It was the biggest movement of population in Europe since World War 2. Many of the families moved to West Belfast to new estates such as Twinbrook. Others were more fortunate in having savings and a good number of them bought houses in Glengormley, many in Elmfield, and as you can guess they were determined never to be intimidated again. Some of the families evicted from Rathcoole refused to move to “the outskirts of Lisburn” as one man put it to me. They feared that the same thing might happen again. One man I knew split his large family up with children staying with different relatives while he pressured the Housing Executive for accommodation nearby. He ran into every possible obstacle. The RUC had no record of any attacks on his Rathcoole home though he had contacted them twelve times. Eventually a former neighbour gave evidence that he had sat in their house for three nights armed with a shotgun after windows had been broken. The response of the RUC was to attempt to take away Paddy’s gun licence. They failed. Eventually the Housing Executive bought a house in Elmfield and let it to the homeless family. I became aware of this scheme one day when I went to the shop in Elmfield to buy a newspaper. As I was walking along a voice rang out: “Hi, stranger, are you not talking to anyone?” It was the voice of a man I had been speaking to in the Bellevue Arms a few nights previously. We stood chatting at his garden gate, joined by his wife, when a clergyman came out from the house next door. He must have assumed that I was either of his or a similar persuasion for he began explaining his mission to all three of us. “You two are buying your own home here,” he said, ”and it gives us independence and security. People own their own houses and have to look after them. You have to pay your rates so you have to budget. People who come here have to sink or swim. If they can't afford to live here they move out. The Housing Executive have told me they can't build any houses in Glengormley for they have no land but they're buying houses here in Elmfield and letting them out. Some people here are struggling to pay their mortgages and then find” (at this stage he waved his arms and pointed to a house opposite) “that they are living next door to someone who is paying a small rent. You'll be glad to know I have got them to stop.” And with that he moved on to knock the door of the next house. The couple were embarrassed with Mrs Thompson saying: “Is it any wonder I don't go to listen to him on Sundays? He does go on a bit.” I discovered later that the Housing Executive had bought a number of houses in Elmfield to house families evicted from Rathcoole and had stopped the practice, not because of protest by people like that clergyman, but because prices had risen sharply. I later discovered that the house identified by the clergyman had been allocated to a good friend of mine. Had it not been for the clergyman’s intervention no neighbour would have been aware that the house was rented. That family would have been seen as the best neighbours anyone could have and when the youngest daughter of the house took up a career in a bank she bought the house! Since the boom around 1980, Glengormley has changed. Most of the shops mentioned in the first article are gone. The building of a Tesco superstore at Northcott and the development of the Abbey Centre have meant that the demand for commercial premises in Glengormley is practically non-existent. The recent development of Eurostar on the Antrim Road has killed off any of the smaller shops still open. The most common sign in Glengormley now is TO LET or FOR SALE. Fast food takeaways vie with estate agents for prominence. Car parking is no longer a problem. Many comments have been made about how town centres have been silenced by Covid-19. Glengormley didn't have to wait for the pandemic. Despite having the worst credentials for being included in the motto for Newtownabbey, ‘Seven shall rise as one’, Glengormley has become more recognisable than any of the other six. The notion of Newtownabbey as being a recognisable town has long ceased to exist. The new council, Antrim and Newtownabbey, is very much an administrative entity. Historically the district has had its share of community tensions but with greater integration it is hoped that we can improve with time. The absence of the Orange arch in the centre of Glengormley this year because of Covid-19 was welcomed by a great number of people. This was the first year we haven't had the contentious ‘Opening of the Arch’ parade. On July 12th the local Orange band from Queen’s Park made their way to the War Memorial in Lilian Bland Park before visiting localities where they were welcomed. No-one was offended. They laid a blueprint for the future. Steps should now be taken to make sure the arch never reappears in the centre of Glengormley and that the main thoroughfare can be free of flags.Glengormley has become a secure residential entity. Many who live there work in Belfast and transport services are adequate. There are a number of housing developments ongoing. Gone are the days of the standard semi-detached villa. Bigger housing units are being developed and many of the children of those who migrated here in the 60s, 70s and 80s are happy to settle here. Paddy O’Kane’s ‘Road to nowhere’ – the Hightown Road – now boasts several housing estates of varying size and design contrasting with the monopoly of semi-detached villas elsewhere and is a model of social integration. The presence of a cinema and bowling alley, the nearby leisure centre, golf, rugby, soccer and GAA facilities all help to make Glengormley a good place to live – and we are only 15 minutes away from the centre of Belfast. We even get snow when few other places have it.
CHUCK Feeney is an extraordinary human being whose kindness and vision has brought hope and joy to millions. Last week Chuck signed the papers to finally bring an end to Atlantic Philanthropies – a humanitarian and charitable organisation he established in 1982 to give away his $8 billion fortune. I first met Chuck in 1993. Niall Ó Dowd brought the two of us together. We hit it off from that first cruinniú. Later he was part of a delegation of Irish Americans who came to Ireland on a fact-finding visit. Chuck’s good friend Niall was pivotal in organising that first visit which came after conversations with myself and others in Sinn Féin. It was part of our effort at that time to encourage the development of a peace process. As well as Chuck and Niall O’Dowd the group was led by former Congress member Bruce Morrison and included Bill Flynn, Chair of Mutual of America and a member of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and trade union activist Joe Jamison. Because our first meeting with the delegation took place in Connolly House, the Sinn Féin office in West Belfast, the delegation quickly became known as the Connolly House group. The group played a hugely important role in creating the conditions for the 1994 IRA cessation. They were especially vital in encouraging and sustaining the involvement of the Clinton White House. Chuck has remained steadfast and committed to the Irish peace process ever since. Chuck made an outstanding financial contribution to the establishment and running of the Sinn Féin office in Washington in 1995 and to its funding in advance of Friends of Sinn Féin being established. I didn’t know much about Chuck other than that he was a very successful businessman and a billionaire. But over the years I have met him and his wife Helga many times. Chuck is one of the most remarkable men I have ever met. A very private man who shunned the spotlight and who was totally committed to our efforts to build a peace process. he always remained keenly interested in the latest developments within the peace process. Chuck cares little for the personal aspects of wealth. Some time after we first met he gave over three and a half billion dollars away to worthy causes. In the years since he created his unique brand of philanthropic commitment, which has been described as ‘Giving while living’, Chuck has donated eight billion dollars to worthy causes. His generosity and commitment to helping others has also encouraged other philanthropists to follow his lead.
Tá cuid de ghnéithe an tsaoil ar ais mar a bhí. Bíonn tranglam tráchta ar na bóithre ar maidin agus bíonn na busanna plódaithe le daltaí ar a mbealach ar scoil. Chím scoláirí Choláiste Mhaolmhaodhóg ar mo bhealach chun na hoibre agus smaoiním ar Noah Donohoe agus a mháthair, Fiona. Cuimhním nach mbeidh an saol choíche ar ais mar a bhí aicise. D’imigh Noah, a bhí 14 bliana d’aois, ar a rothar ón bhaile i ndeisceart Bhéal Feirste ar an 21 Meitheamh chun bualadh le cairde leis i bPáirc Thuaithe Bheann Mhadagáin i dtuaisceart na cathrach. Thángthas ar a chorp sé lá ina dhiaidh sin istigh i ndraein stoirme a ritheann faoin talamh ó Northwood síos go Bóthar na Trá agus Seaview.
THE driving force behind theatre company Acting Up Belfast, Caitlin O’Neill, is creating drama classes for all abilities, bringing a wealth of experience and talent to her business.Having graduated from Liverpool’s John Moore University, worked as a classroom assistant and being a familiar face at Fountain Centre’s Learning Space store, Caitlin has created Acting Up Belfast as a “safe space for children to come along and be children”.
THE DUP in North Belfast say they will oppose any attempt to remove the barrier at Flax Street in Ardoyne.
MILLIONS of people have missed out on vital eye tests during lockdown, potentially putting their eyesight and wider health at risk, warn high street opticians Specsavers during National Eye Health Week.
This week's decision to double down on Covid restrictions is likely to ensure demand for new homes remains at record levels.
A DOCUMENTARY on the Holy Cross school dispute of 2001 will be screened on RTÉ tonight (Tuesday).