AN old ‘bird man’ used to live in Andersonstown whose knowledge of nature could have filled an encyclopedia. Jimmy Garland was as wizened as the trees he spent so much time among – and there wasn’t a single wild thing he didn’t have in-depth knowledge of.
THIS week the British government responded to the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) commentary on legacy. The Committee’s pre-Christmas commentary on the unilateral move by the British government to tear apart the Stormont House Agreement was surprising as it was actual criticism.
A FEW days before Christmas, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis told us: “2021 marks 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, which paved the way for the United Kingdom as we know it today. We will use this opportunity to hear untold stories, to promote Northern Ireland on the world stage and to celebrate its people, culture, traditions and enterprise.” For many of us the question arises, what is there to celebrate? Can Mr Lewis be serious or is he reading a prepared script? May 3, 1921 was the day appointed for the establishment of the House of Commons for the governments of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. A week later a resolution was passed in Dáil Éireann stating that these elections were to be regarded as elections to Dáil Éireann. In the area designated as Northern Ireland 52 members were elected. 40 of these were members of the Unionist Party with six Sinn Féin and six Nationalists.From the start Ulster politics followed denominational lines. Protestants almost always voted Unionist and Catholics almost always voted Nationalist.The Protestant/ Unionist position was crystal clear with the inviolable tenet being that the union with Great Britain must be maintained. Sir James Craig, who became the first Northern Prime Minister after Edward Carson reneged, instead accepting a post as an appeal judge and a seat in the House of Lords, clearly stated the case: “It is necessary to keep on repeating that Ulster is British and is as much an integral part of the United Kingdom as Yorkshire or the Lancashire.” The Nationalist position was much less clear. Some were actively hostile to the union while others grudgingly accepted it was something they had to live with. Until 1925 no Nationalists attended the Belfast parliament after which they then did as individuals and it was only after some rudimentary party organisation in 1928 that they became anything like a cohesive unit. An act passed in 1934 made abstentionism impossible but even at that stage the Nationalists refused to become known as the Official Opposition since they held the view that an official opposition is a loyal opposition. The Nationalists often continued to act independently. Charles McGleenan had been an active Republican during the War of Independence serving with the 4th Northern battalion under the command of Frank Aiken. In 1950 he successfully contested South Armagh. Three years later he again won the seat uncontested. Charles was a neighbour of my mother. Whenever an election was announced, my mother would say to him, “Charlie, will you stand in the election?”“I will, Rose, but I’ll not sit!” Constitutional politics overshadowed social considerations with Protestant working men voting for the Unionist Party and their Catholic counterparts voting Nationalist. Between 1922 and 1970 there were just five Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland while in the UK the position of Prime Minister changed 15 times. The powers of the Northern Ireland government were devolved upon it by a superior government unit, the parliament of the United Kingdom with powers and responsibilities only in matters defined and delegated by the Westminster government. This left the UK government with more time for other topics and in turn matters of local importance were given more careful scrutiny in the devolved government than they would otherwise have. Decisions to do with taxation, foreign affairs, foreign trade, the postal service, radio, coinage and copyrights were retained by Westminster. The Northern Ireland interest in these affairs was looked after by the 13 MPs elected to Westminster. After the setting up of the NI government Westminster took little interest in affairs in Belfast. A governor was appointed who gave royal assent to bills etc, the NI prime minister was to liaise with the Westminster Home Secretary and a Senate was appointed as the upper house mirroring the role of the House of Lords. The violence in the north, especially in the greater Belfast area, has been well chronicled with the first bout petering out in late 1922. However, it is often overlooked how the Unionist administration set about ensuring that Craig’s Britishness was maintained once the violence was curbed. The police force was largely Protestant and the B and C Special forces were exclusively Protestant. No effort was made to reinstate Catholics who were driven from the shipyards. In 1922 legislation was passed abolishing proportional representation in local government elections. At the same time a programme of revision was started resulting in the redrawing of boundaries, now known as gerrymandering, throughout these counties. An oath of allegiance was also introduced. When local elections were called in 1924 Nationalists refused to take part in many areas which was seen as further success by Unionists. This was their method of rewarding their faithful followers. There were two county boroughs (Belfast and Derry), two boroughs, thirty urban districts and thirty-two rural districts. Voting was restricted to ratepayers who were entitled to a vote, up to six, for every property they owned while tenants were not entitled to vote. Most local councils became dominated by Protestants/Unionists who controlled housing allocation and who set out to protect their inbuilt majorities. So successful were their endeavours in local government that in 1929 the Unionists moved to strengthen their grip on government by abolishing proportional representation in parliamentary elections on the grounds that it created a multiplicity of parties. In 1926 Catholics numbered 420,428 i.e. 33.5% of the population of Northern Ireland. By 1961 there were 495,547 which was 34.9% of the total. Given that it's an established fact that the Catholic birthrate has been consistently larger than their Protestant counterparts it's obvious that a great proportion of young Catholics (eight of our family of 12 left) emigrated leaving the Unionists with a natural voting majority for the first 50 years of the state. No doubt we will hear more from Mr Lewis in the coming weeks but I’ll not hold my breath. For me there is a more important event in 2021. In March we will be asked to take part in the census. I'm looking forward to comparing the 2021 statistics with those mentioned above. I expect a seismic change.
IT’S no surprise that our hospitals are struggling to cope after the Christmas relaxation of Covid restrictions which just about everybody knew would see us arrive at this point. There are signs that the seriousness of the current position is starting to hit home in places that matter, with an increasing number of supermarkets either putting in place stricter mask-compliance protocols, restricting the number of people allowed in-store, or both.Despite the fact that we are at the most critical period thus far in a pandemic which is heading rapidly towards its first anniversary, there are encouraging signs that the R infection rate – recently as high as 1.8 – is beginning to head in the right direction. And with the schools closed, a stricter lockdown in place and no potentially problematic bank holidays or feast days in prospect until St Valentine’s Day in a month’s time, there’s now a chance for a clear run at the pandemic that could represent the biggest chance for advance in the past ten months. And this is where police enforcement – or lack of it – is going to play a crucial role. The First Minister and deputy First Minister put on a welcome show of unity on Tuesday in Dungannon, after which they met PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to discuss the police’s role in the crucial fortnight to come. Quite simply, while the vast majority of us can be trusted to show the community spirit required to keep ourselves, our families, friends and neighbours as safe as possible, we’ve all seen with our own eyes that there is a worryingly significant minority out there who believe their right to exercise personal choice when it comes to masks, travel and distancing trumps their responsibility to those around them. And if these people continue to flaunt the regulations then they have to be dealt with in an increasingly robust way. The amount of discretion being handed to individual police officers is huge and we will inevitably see anomalies and discrepancies in how people are dealt with, how confrontations are handled. Which is why it is vital that the PSNI keeps a close eye on the situation on the ground and improves on instances of good practice while working hard to learn from examples of bad practice. Also in the diary of Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill is a round-table meeting with representatives of the retail sector at which they say they will reinforce the need to “comply with the spirit and letter of the agreement”. While the large supermarkets, which have seen sales soar during the pandemic, can afford to put Covid ‘stewards’ on the shop floor, smaller retailers can’t. And it would be a travesty if retail workers – many of them on the minimum wage – were required to act as security staff on top of their existing duties. It seems that every week we are on the edge of the precipice, but that is the nature of a pandemic: disaster is just a step away, as is redemption. The decision on what step to take is entirely in our own hands. Let’s make the right choice.
The following submission has been made by independent community newspapers to the Future of Media Commission established by the Irish Government.
Birds usually line their nest with the softest material they can find – just like a baby's cot.But the kestrels of Belfast Lough might find their new nest a bit uncomfortable this year. Because if they settle down for the night in this spectacular, purpose-built abode, they might just feel the prick of a thistle in their nether regions.
THE anniversary of Stormont’s resurrection this week came as the tensions and frustration were visible for all to see. There was no New Year’s cheer with Covid rates soaring, hospitals creaking under pressure, the DUP messing around with kids’ exams, and supermarket shelves going bare as Brexit kicks in. But then came the intergovernmental, inter-party meeting on the anniversary and everyone released statements to say five-party government is tough, but it is an achievement that we can do it at all and we do manage to make local things happen. That is true and reasonable, but for many people the lack of enthusiasm towards Stormont hasn’t been assuaged by the past 12 months.
LAST week Reverend Raphael Warnock (a Baptist minister) was elected as the first black Senator for Georgia – what a victory! He takes on the baton from leading Baptist ministers such as Martin Luther King and John Lewis, who have been brave enough to step into the political arena. I was moved as I listened to him honour his mother, sharing how her “82-year-old hands that used to pick someone else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.” Times are certainly changing. However, within hours of this momentous win our hearts sank as the scenes unfolded on Capitol Hill. As the seditious crowd stormed the building, I noticed the erection of a makeshift cross, and banners raised high claiming, ‘Jesus Saves.’ I couldn’t help but wonder, who is this Jesus they are worshipping?
IN 2019, the latest population census of the Republic of Kenya indicated that there were 20,000 white settlers in the country. The settlers call Kenya their home. Many of the settlers have homes in their mother country, the United Kingdom. Some have made beautiful Africa their permanent utopia and place of burial. There are also German and Italian people who have settled on the Kenyan coast, most of them are hoteliers. Settlers have their personal stories. Most are never the same. So this is the comparison we make with migration, personal stories are important. European settlers in Africa are generally affluent descendants of their colonial ancestors. They are caricatured in empire films like White Mischief (1987) and it really takes the audience to understand the misconceptions of noblemen and women, aristocrats and their fancy lifestyles. Deeply rooted in this is the civility of their hosts, the Africans, and that is how hopefully, Africans will be fully received in their new settlements abroad. Here is another sad story, again. But when is this going to stop,? When? A 27-year-old black man called George Nkencho was shot dead by the Garda Armed Support Unit at his Dublin family home nearly two weeks ago. It is alleged that George assaulted a shop assistant in a nearby supermarket and when police responded there was an altercation. The police claim he was armed with a knife and they fired five live rounds at him. There is more speculation about the nature of the incident in the shop. The family, the black community in Ireland and anti-racism campaigners are accusing the police of a racially motivated killing. Opinions are divided and from what I read in various social media platforms and Irish newspapers, even George's mental health problems are not being taken seriously. They call him a thug, a terrorist and so on. I have read lots of “Go back to the jungle if you don't like it here.” That's the digital mural that confronts the black man in Ireland. A country that was once a colony like the places where the black people come from. George's case is not any different from that of America's George Floyd, the perception of motivation in this Dublin case. If the police had his records they knew he had severe mental health difficulties. Yet they still killed him. The Window CleanerThe Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh have this tradition of answering the door to a person who turns up with a squeegee, a drum of water, hosepipe and all the other paraphernalia that goes with it. They knock your door as early as 7am. They want to clean your windows. It becomes a weekly or fortnightly activity and thereafter an unsigned contract. A long affair, this is their patch. Trust is key. Why is this is important ? Well, if you are away on holiday or you go to work in those unsocial hours when everybody is in bed, on returning you will be sleeping when the window cleaner wants their money. It is a cash in hand job. Others have developed to other things (read Confessions of a Window Cleaner – yes, bed- hopping from one customer to another, stuff of fiction you will say). The days of window cleaning are only starting, it is something that we don't really have in Africa because of the proximity to intimate departments of the customers home. This is not to say that Africans are angels and Europeans are not. Window cleaners, just like their comrade the milkman, are hard done by. In the years we lived in Homa Bay town, we used to have a milkman cycling with his big silver 25 litre churn of milk to deliver our two or three litres. Angudha is a face I will never forget, you couldn't force him to smile if you had a gun.Why would he smile anyway when he had this long tough Komborela bicycle journey from his hilly home to Mbita Way junction into Arujo sub-location, past Kabunde, Sofia towards Homa Bay town. That tradition of the cycling milkman is lost now in Kenya. The British and Irish milkmen are an endangered species. Are the few you see driving around in those little quiet electric engine cars are on their final dance? I hope not. That well maintained bicycle of Angudha taught me how to cycle – a few falls and the lucky escapes off ditches but no real dangers because there were very few vehicles in the lakeside town.
FATHER Joe McVeigh was a close friend and colleague of Des Wilson. It wasn’t just that both were priests. They both shared a passionate belief in justice and were committed to standing up for the rights of citizens against a British state apparatus which was oppressive and violent. Fr Des died on the November 5, 2019, aged 94. He lived a full life. A good life. And in the course of his years of service he helped thousands of people. During the dark years of war and violence he lived and worked in Ballymurphy and Springhill. With Joe McVeigh, Fr Des established the Community for Social Justice. Its role was to highlight the real nature of violence in Ireland and to challenge the leaders of the Church. Fr Des believed that the Church had a moral responsibility to stand against injustice and repression. As a tribute to his friend Fr Joe has just published a thoughtful tribute: Des Wilson – A Voice for the Poor and Oppressed. It tells the story of Des, his early life, his work as a priest in St John’s parish and then in Ballymurphy and Springhill, and then the setting up of Springhill Community House. I am honoured to have written the Foreword. Fr Joe says of Springhill Community House: “Des had a deep love and respect for the people in the Ballymurphy/Springhill community in which he lived. He always had time for a conversation and a cuppa tea. The door was always open. There was always a céad mile failte.
Bhí dhá chóip i mo sheilbh agam den leabhar ‘A Ghost in the Throat’ le Doireann Ní Ghríofa faoi Lá Nollag. Is léir gur bhraith níos mó ná duine amháin gur bhronntanas maith a bheadh ann, agus bhí an ceart acu. Tá scéalta beirt bhan fite ina chéile sa leabhar neamhghnách gradamúil seo – an t-údar féin agus Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, file a mhair i gContae Chorcaí san 18ú haois agus a bhfuil clú agus meas go hidirnáisiúnta ar an chaoineadh a dúirt sí nuair a mharaigh na húdaráis a fear céile, Art Ó Laoghaire in 1773. Deir na léirmheastóirí go bhfuil talamh úr briste ag Doireann Ní Ghríofa leis an leabhar seo agus go bhfuil seánra iomlán nua cruthaithe aici. Sula raibh an leabhar léite agam, dúirt cara de mo chuid liom go raibh sí go mór in éad liom, le mo stádas maighdeana agus leis an phléisiúr mhór a bhí i ndán dom. Chuir an t-údar eolas ar Eibhlín Dubh den chéad uair nuair a bhí sí 11 bhliain d’aois. Thaitin sé léi go raibh féith an reibiliúnaigh inti. Blianta ina dhiaidh sin, d’éirigh Ní Ghríofa go hiomlán gafa le Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire agus lena misean pearsanta féin tuilleadh eolais a aimsiú faoi Eibhlín Dubh, rud a bhí gann. Mar shampla, cé go bhfuil an caoineadh a chum Ní Chonaill ar chúrsaí ollscoile le fada an lá agus go mbíonn lucht na n-ealaíon ag tarraingt air le léirithe nua den scéal a chur ar fáil, ní fios cad é a tharla d’Eibhlín Dubh i ndiaidh bhás a fir ná cá háit a bhfuil sí curtha. Tá an dua agus an deargshaothar a chaith Ní Ghríofa leis an leabhar seo le mothú go tréan ar na leathanaigh. Lorg sí nodanna gach áit faoi shaol Eibhlín Dubh. Bhí bláthanna, plandaí, abhainn, na taoidí, scátháin agus píosaí briste cré mar spreagadh di. Rinne sí mionstaidéar ar an chaoineadh féin. Thapaigh sí gach deis dul isteach i leabharlanna agus treabhadh fríd foinsí staire chun blúiríní eolais a bhí i bhfolach go dtí sin a thabhairt chun solais. Chuaigh sí ar oilithreachtaí go láithreacha suntasacha sa scéal, ina measc Carraig an Ime, áit ar scaoileadh Art Ó Laoghaire chun báis agus Doire Fhionáin, baile dúchais Eibhlín Dubh. Tá ról mór ag Cill Chré, mar ar adhlacadh Art, i saol an údair. Bhí Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire ar an chúrsa ollscoile agam agus rinne muid staidéar ar leagan téacs a chuir Seán Ó Tuama in eagar in 1961. Bhí Ó Laoghaire sna Hussair Ungáracha san Ostair agus nuair a tháinig sé ar ais go hÉirinn, chuir sé olc ar an sirriam Abraham Morris mar ní raibh sé sásta géilleadh dá éilimh, rud a raibh críoch mharfach leis. Mhair an caoineadh sa traidisiún béil ar feadh cúpla céad bliain i ndiaidh bhás an tsaighdiúra óig agus is é an sampla is iomláine agus is áille é den fhoirm a mhaireann sa Ghaeilge.
I HAVE an ocean of sympathy for anti-vaxxers – the people who say they will refuse to have the Covid-19 vaccine when it comes around. We know health authorities can bungle massively in the drugs they prescribe. Some of us remember the thalidomide scandal, when a drug seen as a breakthrough treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women wreaked terrible damage on the embryo. Big Pharma is concerned for you, not because they love you but because they can make money out of you. Who knows what will be the long-term consequences of taking the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine or the AstraZeneca vaccine? The answer is nobody, because long-term means years into the future. But if you’re going to be an anti-vaxxer, you should be consistent. When you take a paracetamol tablet, do you know what is in it? Do you know how it works in your body? Probably not. But you take it just the same, you inconsistent ninny. And if you break a leg or an arm, do you say “No, guys, back off, I’m not having X-rays done on my shattered limb, it could make me radioactive” ? And if, God forbid, you were to contract the Covid-19 virus, would you declare “Leave me here, if I’m carted to hospital they’ll put a mask over my face and a tube down my throat and pump me full of animal DNA”? To be clear: Mother Nature has a role to play in our health. Maybe you remember when reporters first brought news of workers in Japanese factories and how at the start of the day, they would line up and engage in twenty minutes of vigorous exercise, before peeling off to their assembly line or desk. How we laughed! Imagine –grown adults doing physical jerks. Now, however, we realise that exercise doesn’t just tone up your body, it enhances your happiness: you feel better after doing it than you did before you did it. In addition, exercise addresses what should be a key part of any health system: preventative medicine. If you stay reasonably fit, you’re less susceptible to a whole range of horrible diseases. The problem is, medical science has progressed at such a pace, we’re all in danger of bewilderment and suspicion. When I had my appendix removed in 1957, the nurse would occasionally take my temperature by telling me to open my mouth, the doctor would put his stethoscope on my chest and back and tell me to take deep breaths. Nowadays, you see hospital patients hooked up to devices of all kinds which feed 24-hour information to the medical people about your heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and other matters I couldn’t even pronounce. Back in the 1950s also, the clever hand of the surgeon did the job of slicing skin and removing the offending organ or matter. Nowadays, the surgeon’s skill is married to robotics, allowing for surgical work that far surpasses the surgeon’s skills in precision and treatment. And the idea of sending a camera into your guts (yes, Virginia, from either end) is so commonplace, it’s hardly worth remarking on. And MRI scans are as common as pillows. We no longer marvel that, using MRI scans, doctors can see inside our joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons, as well as measuring how our brains are built and how they function. Most of us put our faith in this amazing technology and the people treating us. Granted, it can take an effort to pass control of our fate into the hands of others – ask anybody who has fear of flying about that. But the alternative is, if you’re to be consistent, that should you pass out or find your body won’t do what you tell it, you wave away medical assistance and declare “I’ll fight this myself.” Dumb and dumber. Will I take the vaccine when and if they offer it to me? Christy Moore was asked the same question and he replied “In both arms and using all three vaccines, thanks very much.” Me too, Christy.
MY favourite place is the beach. It’s the place where I often go to relax, reflect and recharge. There is just something about the sea and the sand. My daughter Meg is a surfer. We have spent many days taking her to various beaches so she can catch the waves. While she seeks the thrill of popping up on her surfboard and catching a wave I’m the one standing on the shore edge with a take-away coffee, trying to convince myself she is not drowning (yes, I am that mum who continually worries).
ON New Year’s Day, various worthies were asked about the future, now that the UK is in practice as well as theory out of the EU. Two of the people queried were former Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Scottish First Minister Nichola Sturgeon. Coveney was asked about the impact of Brexit on trade and relationships between these two islands. He stressed that in Ireland, things would continue as they are. Trade and general movement would continue as though North(East)ern Ireland (NEI) was still in the EU. It would still have full access to other parts of the UK, but some goods coming from the UK would meet border checks at ports such as Larne.
ROCK on 2021. Let us all have a good year that will have less manmade pain. Soundbites detected. Music will be the driver of our dreams this year, artists don’t sing for the day, theirs is a fairy-tale of lyrics but this is what will continue cheering our souls: songs. The lively Nigerian Afrobeat artist Fela Anikulapo Kuti used to remind the world that the resistance lyrics he was writing in his day to shame elite ruling classes would haunt them infinitely if they didn’t behave. His genre of music was a fusion of Western jazz, traditional African beats and storytelling. I have learnt over time to respect my genetic formula of protesting against injustices in our society. Kuti used to sing truth to oppression: don’t give up any time soon, sing the songs of joy, tears, dance until you can’t sweat no more but don’t stop, because if you do, the clever powers at the top will forget that you have been singing about them. Then oppression will continue and this shouldn’t happen. With confidence, an optimist hopes that 2021 is the year of transition from the total chaos of 2020 to one resembling reforms. Immigrants working here want to be taken seriously, not by virtue of much-hyped multiculturism festivals, but by being treated fairly at work. Recruitment drives are essentially biased towards one direction, things should change, it is up to your employer to do what is right and that is not positive discrimination but equality at all levels. Here in Northern Ireland, the nation retains some European Union characteristics in the economic sphere and this is a good thing. Despite the hollow reassurances of Downing Street that the Brexit Deal is workable, Britain has forced itself to be the unwanted former partner. On her way home from Brussels, London jived with self-assurance that she has bagged what she always craved once and for all: sovereignty, no interference by Germany and France in disguise. On a lighter note, there is a character who has been keeping everyone posted. A relentless Anna Richardson on our TV sets, the host of Naked Attraction, is something else. Given the nature of the Naked Attraction, her confidence, professionalism and ability to maintain eye contact is not to be underestimated. Richardson has helped Channel 4 to preserve its creative, witty, provocative no-holds-barred approach to anything on our screens when we are used to seeing people turning up spinning out of control with political rhetoric on current affairs interviews. Every culture has its thing that they will answer for in death, purgatory. I doubt Naked Attraction should be one of those, it has kept audiences entertained and this is good. Some don’t like it; people don’t like to know what is happening underneath the skins of strangers so they would like to be spared from a nude parade. Not really, nudity as a model for modern and old-fashioned dating is not something from planet Mars. To date many cultural heritages in Africa embrace appearing in front of others in a birth suit. If Richardson continues this way, many previously nervous people will be the principal beneficiaries. Our little one, soon bidding bye to nappies, got the attention of her mum when the old Donald was on TV the other day. We were listening to the now infamous Georgia State audio recording of the US President. It is easy for children to recognise Trump. So, the three-year-old snaps and says to mum rather diplomatically: “He only likes you, Trump likes you.” When mum looked across and asked why her daughter said this, she said: “Mummy, because you are white.” She just had to get a reassuring hug that Trump may be eccentric but he likes you! I can see who really needed the hug.