“If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started with truth” – Julian Assange The Australian Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were a top team of journalists. Both in terms of scoops and global political impact they exposed the barbarism of the 21st century’s “never-ending wars”.
THERE’S a lot of talk about reforesting Ireland, but it seems to Dúlra that precious little is ever done about it.
No further deaths and eighty three new cases have been reported leading to a total of 2,146 deaths and 120,501 cases since the start of the pandemic. 83 individuals have tested positive out of 1,567 tested in the last 24 hours. Two people have died in the past seven days, down from eight in the week before.
Tempting, but no, as Anna Scott replies to Rufus when he asks for her phone number in Notting Hill. Tempting to get stuck into the internal politics of the DUP, but no. Tempting to look at the significance of homophobia and creationism for the future of unionism, but no. Tempting to speculate on why unionists and loyalists, who are not really Unionists and Loyalists, retain their ‘bread and butter’ faith in the union. But no. It is, however, hard to avoid reflecting on the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland – this week especially. But how should 100 years of this entity be marked, if at all? Very few seem to see it as an occasion for celebration. Perhaps the DUP will quickly resolve its present difficulties and step forward with a convincing list of reasons to be cheerful. This will obviously include – sarcasm alert – 50 years of the Special Powers Act, 30 years of Direct Rule, or recent policy high points such as RHI and Brexit. It is improbable that the DUP will get too drawn into listing positives. For a start, it was born to say ‘no’ and, especially, ‘never’. Remember, this is not just the anniversary of partition and Northern Ireland’s painful and bloody birth. It is the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the DUP itself (in September). How will the party be celebrating? More to the point, what is there to celebrate?
THESE days of video telephony have changed the world completely. Some users prefer modesty, others will not mind showing up in their pyjamas. I have heard of Zoom meetings that would have gone Full Monty if not for the watchful eye of the of the video conferencing host. Well, modern video conferencing has met both positive reviews and disapproval. The main problem with it is the unnatural way in which people get together, total strangers, and make decisions that can massively affect others within a short time – and of course there are pros and cons to this. That Zoom meeting I attended the other day was dead boring; I wonder if it would have been fun if it was an interactive face-to-face workshop. I used to attend many of these. Participants used to wait for some official, the mayor of a town most probably, to say a few words from his prepared speech or some small talk that made you feel appreciated. Then lots of tea or coffee (and, oh, I drink these for East Africa). I miss these normal days, I am sure you do as well. You think the Covid protocols here are very strict until you read stories of what is happening in the other parts of the world. The Covid curfew starts at 8pm in Kenya and every living thing is expected to stay off the streets after that. Last week traffic police officers in Kenya blocked movement on both directions of the Thika highway which was brimming with motorists trying to get home. Any government directive gazetted by law in Kenya is final and so ambulances and other emergency services had to tolerate the delays brought by police in the name of saving the country from the pandemic. Covid is a cash cow there; some people are making serious amounts of money by presenting phoney tender bids in the name of procurement for government. The number of fatalities in Kenya is around 2,400 now since the disease locked the world in March 2020.
Newtownards, my Newtownards,The home of heroes, songs and bards,The star of the lovely County Down,The place I call my dear home town. The stories ring down through the years,Of victories, losses, joy and tears,But of all the tales that swell my heart,There’s one that stands tall and apart. It tells of courage and of dreams,Its glory o’er the world it beams,It gladdens the thoughts of loyal folk,That blessed breed, that Ulster oak. Bring close your chair and listen well,While I this stirring history tell,And in years to come you’ll tell your kin,Of the Newtownards Blue Wheelie Bin. In the year Two Thousand and Twenty One,A foul injustice had been done.Our culture had been stripped away,For queers and poofs we couldn’t pray. Our flags were torn from every mast,While we looked on shocked and aghast.They had no need for guns and bombs,They could ban Rule, Britannia! From theProms. And when we thought it could get no worse,Along come the Bobby Storey hearse.The rebel hordes came out to mourn,While Ulster of its rights was shorn. (Except for Shankilll George’s Rangers show,And that Apprentice Boy’s funeral on Sandy Row.And Glentoran when they won the cup,And their many fans came out to dance and sup.) But the blow that came most harsh and cruel,Uttered from lips as thin as gruel,Was to say our Union could no longer be,‘We’re sticking a border in the Irish Sea.’Eight miles away along the coast,A young man sat and watched engrossed,As Ulster’s woes were piled up high,In Donaghadee he heaved a sigh. For years he’d worked to serve his land,First by marching in a band,Then he worked as a taxi dispatcher,Which suited a bloke of modest stature. But Jamie wanted so much more,And was drawn by the pull of the nightclub door,And when he finished with the world of bouncing,He called up all his friends announcing That he’d now decided to study Law,But that had one decided flaw.Although he’d saved and had the cheque,They don’t do degrees at Bangor Tech. And so he said with a voice so regal,‘I think I’ll be a paralegal.’And then he became the voice of the people,And the bells rang out from every steeple. And now he knew the Irish Sea border,Could only be scrapped through civil disorder,And the funeral injustice would be put right,By a massive show of loyalist might. And then he vowed to spread the news,To light the righteous anger fuse,To tell the truth and fight the spin,From the top of his ma’s Blue Wheelie Bin. For oft on Jamie God had smiled,Both as manly man and child:A cheeky smile and rare good looks,A velvet voice, a love of books. How people gasped and were impressed,By the stylish way that Jamie dressed,His hair was neat, his shoes were shiny,But the fact remained that he was tiny. And so when he first began to speak,The results to tell the truth were bleak.He’d thunder forth but then fall flat,When the people shouted, ‘Who said that?’ And so he knew he’d have to riseAbove the crowd towards the skies.For that very evening with his guards,He was headed south-west to Newtownards. But on what proud platform could he stand,To shout his message loud and grand?And suddenly he remembered with a grinHis ma had a lovely Wheelie Bin. So out the back he fairly flew,And then he had to think things through,The bins were black and blue and green,But on which one should he be seen? Black was the heart that betrayed his land,Green was the rebel with blood-stained hand,So in his mind the passion grew,The Wheelie Bin for him was Blue. Then came the time to be en-route,But the Bin wouldn’t fit in his Skoda’s boot,So acting quick and thinking smart,He decided to pull it like a cart. In every village they roared and cheered,When the Skoda towing the Bin appeared,‘Ulster’s saved!’ cried every street,‘Wee Jamie’s gained another four feet.’In Newtownards the whole Ulster nationHad gathered outside the local police station:A bloke and a dog on frayed nylon rope,Three women dancing and cursing the Pope. All at once from the crowd came a deafening din,As Jamie appeared with his Blue Wheelie Bin.But when on its lid he attempted to climb,The wee man kept failing time after time. Then bravely stepped forward his four loyal men:Stewarty and Geordie and Billy and Ben.And they held the Bin steady and gave him a lift,And Jamie rose skyward so surely and swift. For the next twenty minutes the wee man did his thing,Outshining Paisley and Gandhi and King.And by the time he’d finished he’d given it plenty,And the crowd at his feet had swollen to twenty. Though things looked for Ulster so bleak and concerning,From that glad day forward the tide began turning,The border’s still there on that damned Irish Sea,And I’m still not allowed to have haggis for tea. But now when my heart’s feeling troubled and down,I think back to that evening in Newtownards town,And I fill up with pride and with hope and with joy,When I think of that Wheelie Bin under that boy. When the Museum of Ulster opens its doors,We’ll remember our history – it’s mine and it’s yours.The ‘Ulster Says No’ banner from Eighty-Five,A loyalist mural interactive archive. The flag protest caravan in all its proud splendour,The City Hall window, that shrill ‘No Surrender!’An Ulster Resistance red DUP beret,A stone or two loaned from the old Walls of Derry. But in those hallowed halls a place we will hold,For the bravest of brave, the boldest of bold.For there in the foyer just as you go in,Will be Jamie on top of his Blue Wheelie Bin.
An American buddy took me on a walk over the Giant's Ring in South Belfast last week and we got to talking about this US Envoy business. What, my fellow-flâneur wondered, would an Envoy possibly do?
In the southeast corner of Lough Neagh, scattered across the landscape of Derrytresk Bog, a unique temporary environmental sculpture trail has been installed by artist Rosalind Lowry.
Alcoholism is self-diagnosed. We know deep down inside if we are addicted.
IRISH Republicans have long enjoyed fraternal relations with the African National Congress. For much of the past three decades there have been ongoing solidarity links between Sinn Féin and the ANC. During the years of armed struggle, according to ANC leader and Government Minister, the late Kadar Asmal, the IRA assisted MK, the ANC’s army. MK was founded by Nelson Mandela and others in December 1961. In the 1990s as our own peace strategy evolved, Sinn Féin and the IRA called its 1994 cessation Sinn Féin leaders, including myself, Martin McGuinness, Rita O’Hare and others travelled to South Africa. After the Good Friday Agreement was achieved in 1998 ANC leaders, including the current President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, travelled to Ireland to speak to the republican grassroots and went into the prisons where they met Republican POWs.
WHEN the New Decade New Approach (NDNA) ‘Deal’ was put up to the parties by the British and Irish governments the British government had an annex in which they pledged to implementing the Stormont House Agreement legacy mechanisms within 100 days and to appoint a Veterans Commissioner to act as an “independent point of contact to support and enhance outcomes for veterans in Northern Ireland”. While the commitment to the legacy mechanisms for all victims and survivors certainly created hope and optimism for a few weeks, in a place stuffed full of commissioners and quangos the position of Veterans Commissioner got little attention and was pretty much ignored in the discourse. Except that it perpetuated the false narrative that victims’ rights are a concession and something to be balanced. Of course, we know what happened to the commitments to the bereaved and injured. In January 2020 they had their hopes raised and in March the British government ripped up the international, cross-party Stormont House Agreement. By contrast, the British government was as good as its word to the veterans and appointed their commissioner in August 2020. The UUP’s Danny Kinahan got the job. The section on veterans in NDNA is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Committing to the Armed Forces Covenant, a review of aftercare services for veterans and promoting a War Memorial Trust and the Commissioner for Veterans, it is deliberately blind to the history of the British army in our shared region. Of course, veterans with needs arising from psychological or physical injuries should be supported. But to pretend that those needs exist in a vacuum is ludicrous. British army veterans share this space with others injured by our conflict, a great many of whom were injured by the British army itself. To have only partial schemes enacted supporting only the British army while disregarding the rights of victims and survivors would be breath-taking – if we had any breath left to be taken. Last week the hitherto elusive Danny Kinahan supported the notion of amnesty legislation for all conflict-related harms. His starting point is an amnesty for British soldiers, but being the sensible chap he is he recognises this would have to apply to all actors and all harms. His comments came in the wake of the resignation of Jonny Mercer MP as the Westminster Veterans Minister. He feels very affronted because his bosses have not yet legislated for a cloak of impunity around all British soldiers who served in Ireland. And all of that commentary forced the DUP to tell it as it is. They want legislation that gives impunity to British soldiers too. But not to anyone else. And that tells us the real motivation behind it all. This is about the British government and unionism refusing to countenance any challenge to their own narrative of the conflict. Which, of course, is a bit ludicrous when their narrative lies in tatters on the floors of courts in Belfast, Derry, London and Strasbourg. But there is that cognitive dissonance again. Last week, however, the media debate generally focused on the British government and unionism and if they would “concede” an amnesty to all actors or just pursue a singular amnesty. Victims were generally absent from the debate. Just as their codified and enshrined rights are absent from this self-serving discourse.
SEVERAL decades back, I remember a conversation with a friend who is an atheist. He said that religious faith for him was too weak as a foundation on which to base his life – he preferred facts to lean on. I pointed out that all of us conduct our daily lives based on faith – we have faith that the food we eat isn’t poisoned, we have faith the guy in the other car won’t jump the red light and hammer into us, we have faith that the roof of the house in which we live won’t crumble some night and bury us. The most recent act of faith many of us were happy to make was to roll up our sleeve and have a substance injected into our arm so that (we hope) it will protect us from Covid-19. “That’s not faith, that’s me following the science,” you may be tempted to retort. Well now. Do you understand how vaccination works? Do you know for sure that the injection you got wasn’t in some way corrupted? In fact, have you even a clue what was in that syringe? The Western world at present is divided into two camps. The first, overwhelmingly larger camp, is the one that wants a vaccine, the quicker the better. The second, relatively tiny (I’ll come back to how tiny), believes that the whole Covid-19 pandemic is a front for something else, and they refuse to take the vaccine, sometimes believing it will harm them. And it’s not just people who vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party that have this attitude. In February of this year, The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) in the South established that 130,800 people believed the whole Covid thing is part of a conspiracy. Some believe Bill Gates is somehow involved in this global con-trick. None of this has been helped by sometimes conflicting official advice on what needs to be done. Many of us thought it’d be all over by last autumn. It wasn’t. People were given the okay to have a happy Christmas. That resulted in a second deadly wave of the virus. The AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out was paused when it was found in some cases to cause serious blood-clotting. At first people were told that wearing a face-mask didn’t do anything to stop the spread of the virus; now they’re told they do help. And people who claimed the virus had escaped initially from a lab in China were dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Now the World Health Organisation director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebrevesus, says that can’t be ruled out. No, Virginia, I’m not saying the conspiracy theorists are right. I’m saying there are more of them than we might like to think, and I’m saying our understanding of the virus is far from complete. I’m also saying that the CEOs of the companies who make face-masks and hand-gel, not to mention vaccines, are often developing swollen bank accounts out of the pandemic. Earlier this year, Oxfam issued a report showing that the top 1,000 billionaires lost about 30 per cent of their wealth when the world’s economy stalled due to lock-down in March last year. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, by November of last year, they’d made it all back. And as for Mr Amazon, Jeff Bezos, he could have given each one of Amazon’s 876,000 employees a $105,000 bonus, and he’d still be as wealthy as he was at the start of the pandemic. We know that governments can lie to us – experience teaches that. It’s just that we have faith in doctors, we have faith in governments, we tend to do what Seán or Síle Citizen down the road is doing, and do what we’re told. Most of the time that’s a good decision; but occasionally it’s not. Unforunately, most of us don’t have the time or energy or expertise to sift through and separate lies from truth. There used to be an old joke – How do you get 100 Canadians out of a swimming pool? You blow the whistle and say. “Please leave the pool.” That’s most of us, too. Rightly or wrongly, we put our faith and trust in doctors and science, and hope to God they’re right. But don’t let’s look down our noses at that 130,000. We’ve had too many examples of government lies and medical cock-ups in the past to now think all the vaccine refuseniks must be crack-pots.
RECENTLY, I’ve been pondering on the words of C.S. Lewis: ‘“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no-one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable. To love is to be vulnerable.” Every few weeks I meet with a mentor who walks ministry life with me. We talk through all sorts of things, and this time is one of the few safe places that I feel I can truly crack open my heart. As I discuss various things happening, she always asks: “Karen, how is your heart in this?” It’s an interesting question that usually causes me to have to pause, think and contemplate my answer. The truth is, as we journey through this life we engage with all sorts of people and circumstances. This can leave our hearts exposed to love, joy, freedom, hurt, discouragement, bitterness and even brokenness. To name but a few. All of our life stories are made up of laughter, joy, trials, tears, lessons learnt and lessons unlearnt. The author of Proverbs penned the words, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23.) In other words, what is on the inside of us (deep inside) will always surface. Every single time.
IT’S been a week in Irish music of welcome returns amongst the established and cult favourites. There's plenty of cause to celebrate in what felt like the busiest string of announcements of the year, from new releases, event/artist safety and a definite step towards a return to normality. First off, congratulations are in order for Irish singer and songwriter Imelda May, whose new album ‘11 Past The Hour’ debuted at the peak position on the Irish charts.
SO much has been said over the past 20 years about Diversity and Integration in Northern Ireland. This subject has been running concurrently with the hopes to trigger a long-term post-conflict environment in the North. So multiculturalism has been in competition with the peace dividend in the country. Nowadays there are more people in Northern Ireland willing to emancipate themselves from the old school ‘get out of my country if you don't like it here’ approach. Then we have the second group that are either consciously or subconsciously in opposition of cultural diversity and a bit of integration. Many voted to Leave the EU, after all they did not want a supranational entity taking their sovereignty. It is often assumed that it was mostly Protestants or Unionists who voted for Brexit. It is wrong to make these assumptions because I know Catholic immigrants and local nationalists who bade bye bye to the EU. Some described it as a humongous bureaucracy and for the migrants, especially Africans from the so-called Commonwealth, they felt that they were placed down the rungs of the UK job market when EU expansion-integration became a reality over 20 years ago.