Isn’t it hard to believe that Christmas is approaching? Due to the ongoing pandemic, some of us struggle to have the hope and belief that things will change and better days are ahead.
“We were born in a bubble of tragedy, where the murals on the walls kept us in. Our friends were going to Australia but were we were too scared so we put on our faces and went out.“
Isn’t it amazing how a sobering thought can liberate our thinking? Especially whenever we find ourselves caught up in our thinking which can create a false belief system. As a six-year-old child I wouldn’t eat kidney beans because my good friend Mark, who was the ripe old age of seven, told me that kidney beans came from frogs.
Déanann Fleadh Feirste, féile Nollag na Ceathrún Gaeltachta, ceiliúradh ar ildánacht phobal an cheantair agus tá éagsúlacht mhór imeachtaí ann i mbliana a léiríonn go rímhaith an chruthaitheacht agus na buanna iontacha atá le fáil ar leac an dorais againn. Tá deich n-eagras páirteach i bhfleadh na bliana seo agus ceol, drámaíocht, ealaín, litríocht agus cúrsaí oidhreachta agus caomhnóireachta ar an chlár.
AS we batten down the hatches and prepare for the onset of the Omicron Covid variant, it’s desperately disappointing to note that once more the North has both the highest infection rate and the lowest vaccination uptake in Ireland and the UK. Daily case numbers here have not dipped below 1,000 for 18 weeks and that’s a stubbornly grim statistic that tells us something. And what it tells us is that the Stormont Executive is failing in its primary task of protecting the health of the citizens it exists to serve. Of course the always dangerous and sometimes lunatic actions of the significant minority of anti-mask and anti-vax people out there are a huge problem and a barrier on the road back to some kind of normality. But such people exist all over this island and across the neighbouring one, yet still the North’s numbers remain the most worrying. While First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have been doing a decent job of putting on a united face – photo-opps are frequent and the optics don’t suggest that the two are at daggers-drawn when the photographers leave – the public is nevertheless left with an impression of a Stormont administration riven by disagreement and split by personal pandemic prejudices and dogma that should have no place in the supposedly collegiate legislating of the Stormont Executive. In the recent vote to give the go-ahead to Covid passports for the hospitality industry, the DUP rejected the opportunity for the Executive to form a badly-needed Covid consensus for once, and so it continues to be a source of public contention, even though it is scientifically sound. Every party has a tough task of marshalling a wide range of opinions, and individuals naturally have very strong opinions about how we should deal with the biggest health crisis in a century. But Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP and the UUP have largely managed to keep their troops marching in the same direction, while the DUP leadership looks on as its rank and file says and does whatever it pleases. Shortly before the vote to go ahead with vaccine passports, party leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he had an “open mind” on the subject, despite the fact that Health Minister Robin Swann had made the proposal based on the most recent and relevant scientific advice at his disposal. The DUP is very far from unanimous when it comes to Covid contrarianism, and Mr Donaldson does not exude the same pop-eyed aversion to sensible restrictions as some of his senior colleagues, but such dithering at a time of crisis is not the kind of leadership that is going to see us through a winter of unimaginable challenge. Other senior DUP members have kept their counsel, but this is not the time for open minds or fence-sitting. If Mr Donaldson is in the Covid crazy camp, let him say so. If not, then let him take control and strive for the cooperation necessary to stem the haemorrhaging of public confidence.
ARLENE Foster hasn’t done too badly since being forced out, has she? She has moved seamlessly into the world of political punditry with her own show on *cough* GB News and has a regular column in the magazine ‘Local Women’. I’m going to admit I’ve never read Local Women, but I hear it’s big in some parts of Fermanagh. Many women when celebrating their 50th birthday look into the abyss of a future of financial insecurity, without secure pensions and facing the prospect of being forced to work into their late-60s, irrespective of any health conditions. Thankfully, it looks like Mrs Foster has not had that burden in her 50th year, and indeed new career opportunities have opened up for her, which must be a comfort to her and her family. But she also has time for charity work. Last week she was appointed to the board of directors of Cooperation Ireland. Of course, Mrs Foster won’t have to worry about finding her feet there as her old boss Peter Robinson is already on the board. It is an interesting board of directors where our former First Minister will find many common interests. Along with many illustrious names from politics and business there are four knights, one baroness, an MBE and an OBE (none of whom include Peter Robinson, who must feel a little aggrieved) and traditional Fine Gaelers John Bruton and Charlie Flanagan. Cooperation Ireland’s CEO and public face is former RUC and PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan OBE. Boasting 32 years as a police officer he left the PSNI and joined Cooperation Ireland as its Chief Executive in 2008. Since then, Cooperation Ireland has positioned itself in a place of perceived neutrality where if there are visiting delegations from the EU or the US Congress, Mr Sheridan and his team organise much of the itinerary at the behest of the NIO or the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, or both. The organisation delivers a huge breadth of programmes to a point where it is a trusted one-stop shop for contested issues. It is charged with, among many other projects, delivering peace programmes for women, “tackling paramilitarism”, and their own take on legacy – “The LEGaSi (Learning, Education, Growth and Succession Intervention) project… with the principal aim of facilitating people within Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) areas to strengthen their communities.” Cooperation Ireland is at the centre of much of the funding provided by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and the Ireland Funds. Indeed, the Ireland Funds describe the organisation as “the foremost peace building organisation in Ireland”. So impressed are they by its work, the Ireland Funds have directed £1million to the organisation’s LEGaSi programme. It is notable and contextual that it was only in June, following his incendiary interviews and pronouncements, that Loyalist Communities Council spokesperson David Campbell stepped down from Cooperation Ireland’s board of directors, a position he had held since 2011. Presumably this left the empty chair for Arlene Foster to join and bring her own understanding of loyalist stakeholders’ interests, as during her tenure as First Minister she regularly met with LCC members. Although one of the many questions for Cooperation Ireland after this appointment might be, where are the appointed directors to bring such clarified understanding of republican concerns to the board?
THIS is how Aidan Crean celebrates a landmark birthday – by climbing a tree to put up bat boxes. The indefatigable West Belfast environmentalist is one of a small band of nature lovers who are no longer willing to sit back and just watch our wildlife decline. Instead they are getting out there and taking action. Like many of us, Aidan started offering homes to birds with a tit nestbox in the back garden. But the boxes have grown and today the population of barn owls, at least in County Antrim, has been dragged back from oblivion by a series of properly installed and monitored nesting boxes by a small band of tireless bird lovers. The glorious barn owl might be the mascot of the Late, Late Show, but it’s sadly become something of a ghostly legend, a community memory, in the Irish countryside from Kerry to Derry. We carelessly wiped out this bird, mainly by removing the open barns where it once lived and helped keep farmyard vermin in check. And so the nestboxes have been a godsend for this species and now Dúlra gets reports of barn owl sightings from all around Belfast – the latest was this week at Throne Wood in Newtownabbey. Now Aidan and his group have turned their attention to bats. A few months back Dúlra went on one of Aidan’s bat tours around Belfast Castle – and it was clear, even in the darkness, that Aidan was disappointed we didn’t spot a single one, although we did hear them calling on our trackers. “I’m coming back,” he pledged to the crowd at the end of the walk, “to put up a whole pile of bat boxes. The bats of Belfast Castle need help.” Dúlra has a bat box on his chimney – a small wooden one with a tiny slit at the bottom so they can crawl in, but small enough to keep birds out. He’s no idea if it’s being used, but hopefully it has been noticed by the bats that were flying around the street lamp this summer. Attracting a single family is one thing, but Aidan has set his sights on much more. Experts have learned recently that, unlike birds, bats need different types of boxes at different times of the year. They’ll sleep in one place, breed in another and hibernate in another again.
I’M reading Colin Broderick’s ‘That’s That,’ an evocative account of growing up in Altnamuskin in Tyrone at the height of the conflict. Colin’s mother and her efforts to protect her brood are at the heart of this story. Her “That’s that” as she lays down the law and the final words in any dispute with young Colin gives the book its title. In one little cameo Colin tells of getting “slapped” at school. He describes the strap as “a twenty inch length of thick leather about an inch and a half wide, worn smooth from years of skin contact.” He goes on to describe how the teacher ordered him to hold his hand out, palm upwards as he struck him forcefully across the hand with the strap. By coincidence Richard and I were discussing corporal punishment a few days before I read this. I don’t recall how that came into the conversation but that’s the way with conversations between Richard and me. They are inclined to meander. When I read Colin’s account of being slapped I was back again getting called to the front of the class while the teacher fetched his strap from the drawer in his desk and ordered me to extend my hand. Whack. Whack. Two slaps was the normal punishment for messing about in class. One on each hand. Six of the best was reserved for more serious offences like giving cheek to the teacher. The first slap was always the worst. There was an initial shock as the strap met your extended palm. Sometimes the leather caught you across the fingers. After that the hand went numb except when the strap caught your thumb. That left your hand stinging and brought tears to your eyes. Some boys cried. I was stubborn. I also didn't get slapped too often. Sometimes a teacher would yank a boy to his feet by grabbing his ear lobe. Or the lock of hair alongside his ear. Some threw objects at boys they suspected of messing about. The blackboard duster with its wooden base was a favourite projectile. So were rulers. Usually made of wood. Sometimes they were used instead of straps. Corporal punishment was the norm in those days. In the home as well as schools. Although more enlightened teachers or parents would not dream of striking a child. Corporal punishment was also part of community ‘justice’ during the conflict. We are all capable of striking out in anger or pain. When we are provoked. Or under threat. When our loved ones are under threat. There are few saints among us. Or pacifists. But it’s good that corporal punishment is no longer tolerated in our schools or anywhere else. Managing a class of unruly boys or girls is a challenge. Teachers do their best. Nowadays. As well as back in the day. Most of us can name a teacher who made a positive difference in our lives. When Richard and I were discussing these matters I asked him who supplied the straps. Richard, who was a student teacher, didn't know. He says he never slapped anyone. His incarceration in Long Kesh saved young scholars from that indignity. Saved Richard also? But who made the straps. Local cobblers? There were local cobblers in those days. Or were they supplied centrally? Did the Brothers have a special supply? Was there a template? A recommended size, shape or length of strap? Was slapping part of teacher training? Were young teachers advised on what ‘offences’ warranted slaps? Was there guidance on how many slaps were appropriate? ‘That’s That’: by Colin Broderick, published by BroadwayPaperbacks.com
TEN years ago I co-wrote a low budget theatre piece that we called ‘Did You Come by Boat?’ The storyline of the play was the initial difficulties a young woman from Africa faced in integrating herself to the sub-cultures of Derry. The story captured the many moments of confusion and despair of a woman who had personally undervalued time until she came to the island of Ireland. The sense of humour was different, people spoke in some places as if they were singing and sometimes it was too fast to comprehend. People ran about from one place to another with their dogs – this was part of life. Did You Come by Boat? seems very timely now. We have seen on our screens about what is happening in the English Channel. People are dying. In newsrooms, pubs, emergency services, border control and the parliaments of Europe the conversation remains as predicted – the push and pull factors. If we want to save a life and put an end to this cycle of deaths in the channel why are we so interested in the question of WHY are they coming here and not staying in the first port of entry? People were calling a local radio station last week complaining thus: “Those immigrants, why can't they stay in France? “You know why? Because this is the land of milk and honey.” Such migration experts don't dare tell the truth about a similar journey of desperation by the Irish during the Famine, economic flight and pushed away by the horror of the troubles. History is important. First, the English Channel and other routes of water migration away from France. The UK government must work with European governments urgently to address this crisis. A human face can be put in practice, for example by allowing all those people stuck in the French-UK border, those wanting to sail to the UK, to travel. What will it cost to sabotage the work of human traffickers by simply putting the poor people in the refugee tents in France into the Channel Tunnel to England? Germany took nearly a million people nearly ten years ago. Kenya has the largest refugee and displaced people camps in the world at Kakuma and Daadab. So, those of us complaining that the British pound or the EU euro will take a hit and the stockmarkets will behave funny because of a softly-softly policy, they are wrong. Bringing these people to where they want to be would be the greatest thing that the UK and its partners have done in a very long time. The anti-migrant Rivers of Blood (Enoch Powell) camp would say no to this proposition because they just can't entertain the other. We cannot allow any more deaths in the Channel. That is a victory for the human traffickers because they only care about the money they are making from victims. And please don't tell me that some victims are affluent and some are not. It does not matter, they are still victims. When I co-wrote Did You Come by Boat? with the legendary artistic director Patricia Byrne, I had one thing in mind – these things were going to happen one day, and they are really happening now. A workmate some fifteen years ago inspired the title of the play. He used to mock me: did you actually come by boat? And by that he meant the slave boats. Elly Omondi Odhiambo is a writer based in Belfast. email@example.com
BRITAIN at the height of its imperial glory, Britain in the throes of Brexit: there’s a clear connecting line between the two. The self-image of Britain which created the British Empire is the same self-image which the deluded Brexiteers took into the ballot box. Chief purveyor of the phony self-image was of course Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Brexit would mean new and wonderful wealth and growth, but full-throttle Brexiteers don’t stop there. They and their PM see Brexit as the road leading away from those greasy and unreliable Europeans to a world where British uniqueness is recognised and appreciated and Britannia boldly casts aside the imposed rulings of the EU. In short, It was with the notion of putting the ‘Great’ back in Great Britain – that was the prime driver for true Brexiteers, with a huge increase in wealth a happy add-on. Unfortunately, the position which allows Britain to break free from Brussels rules leaves it also bereft of the many benefits being in the Brussels club brings. A century or so ago, none of that would have mattered. Back then, huge portions of the map were coloured pink and Britain was teaching lesser breeds without the law how important it was that they follow Britain’s rules, and if they didn’t, why, Britain killed many and maimed more until they did accept the Mother Country’s rules and laws. Britain was an Empire and it brought law and subjection to every corner of its empire. Without Britain’s grown-up control, these lesser breeds would remain sunk in superstition and childish ignorance. Did the British Empire exert a benign effect on the many countries it ruled? In some countries and to some degrees, yes. A strong system of government and law was created. In Ireland and other places, county lines were created, systems of education installed.
Continued from last week
THERE is no ignoring the fact that 2021 was the most turbulent year most of us have lived through, and the World Rally Championship (WRC) was not immune to the global Covid-19 pandemic. But newcomers thankfully stepped in at short notice and eventually a seven-round championship was completed. A planned Irish round was sadly one of those that wasn’t to be, however all the signs are that we will have world rallying here in the North of our island in August next year. Ireland is a country steeped in culture and tradition, and a part of that tradition is motorsport. Monte Carlo runs the oldest rally in the world, the Circuit of Ireland is the second, first run in 1931. The first motorsport event held in Ireland was in 1903 in Athy, County Kildare.
THE old Suzuki S-Cross earned high acclaim for its stylish design, compact and easy to manage dimensions and good on-road performance as well as off-road capability with its optional four-wheel drive system. It is now, however, to be replaced by an all-new model which takes advantage of Suzuki’s long-established expertise in packaging vehicles with flexibility, high levels of safety equipment and the latest technology to help meet the needs of both driver and passengers.
IT’S a mixed bag of announcements and emotions for this week’s Northern Winds. The short and long term effects of the Irish Government’s confusing decisions on the arts continue to manifest but there are new performances and releases to be excited about in the final quarter of this year (and the first of next). The week began with the latest sobering blow to the Irish nightlife industry, as iconic club-space Electric in Galway announced that it would close its doors for good. Citing struggles in the last 19 months related to the pandemic and the harsh restricts placed on them, the three-decade-old institution released a statement for its patrons and hoping for a better future for Irish electronic clubs. “We hope that this house will continue as a place for dancing and find a new owner with the same enthusiasm for bringing people together. Even though we may not be the ones to reap the rewards, we hope a brighter future lies ahead for Irish nightclubs.”
HEY, Loyal Ulster! The union is safe! Or at least it would be if your addiction to flags didn’t blind you to what’s staring you in the face. Data from the Office of National Statistics this week showed that the North of Ireland – up to recently the financial outside toilet of the union – is now the best-performing region of the UK in terms of prosperity. Economic output has bounced back to almost exactly where it was just before the pandemic. In the third quarter of 2021 it was only 0.3 per below that of the last quarter of 2019 (right). And in another jaw-dropping statistic, the second-placed region in the performance table is the financial boilerhouse of the union, London, where economic output is 1.8 per cent behind where it was at the end of 2019 – and that’s quite a distance between first and second. And the distance between first and last is immense, And what, Loyal Ulster, do you suppose the Financial Times identified as the leading cause of the bounce-back? No, not the pan-nationalist front.No, not the Irish Language Act.No, not two-tier policing.No, not Michael D Higgins.No, not Naomi Long. To the surprise of no-one who is watching developments with the merest sliver of objectivity, the UK’s leading financial publication had this to say of the Hated Provocol, sorry, Protocol. “The economy of Northern Ireland has largely recovered from the hit of Covid-19, marking the best performance across all UK nations and regions, according to experimental official statistics that point to it prospering under the Northern Ireland Protocol.” Now Squinter has never claimed to be a political guru; in fact, his record in predicting developments and events is not one that would trouble his local bookmaker. But it’s clear Brexit has changed the landscape in the North enormously, to the point where the race for a border poll has quickened from a canter to a trot to a gallop. And since any referendum on partition is going to be decided by the floating voters, and since floating voters are going to be massively influenced in their decision on what box to tick by their own personal circumstances, if the North started performing like Singapore instead of Albania then the New Ireland movement’s ‘difficult conversations’ are going to get a lot more difficult. But the good news for the Chucky Crew is that none of the unionist parties has the slightest interest in a six counties with a rising standard of living and a deal of faith in the future. Only pick the battles you can win, wrote Sun Tzu in The Art of War, but it appears that neither Geoffrey Donaldson, Doug Beattie or Jim Allister are up to speed with pre-Christian Chinese military philosophy, because in calling for the Protocol to be binned and not tweaked or improved, they’ve painted themselves into a red, white and blue corner from which there is no survivable retreat. Because of course the Protocol’s going nowhere. After a comprehensive slapping down by the insanely powerful Ways and Means Committee of the US Congress, David Frost’s comically dramatic threats to the EU about triggering Article 16 have ceased and the British Government now wants to talk about fixing instead of ditching. The problem is that if by this time next year we were all booking holidays to the West Indies, building conservatories and telling Sinn Féin canvassers to go away round their own door the DUP, UUP and TUV would still be calling for empty shelves and for more sewage in our waters because, just as the Irish Sea border doesn’t actually exist in the sea, unionist opposition to the Protocol doesn’t exist in any economic reality. It’s about an unrequited yearning to belong to a place that at worst groans and slaps its forehead every time the North is mentioned and at best shrugs its shoulders. It’s about an identity and culture whose fatal flaw is that the greater part of it is umbilically connected to somebody else’s identity and culture. Somebody else’s flag. Somebody else’s sword dance. Somebody else’s battles. And when that somebody else left you with the neighbours to go off on their own, well…