Friday, 14 August 2015

Learning the Sinn Fein script, Irish parties re-write history

The Irish Government’s programme of events to commemorate the Easter Rising is being defined by the actions of Sinn Fein. In fear of being found on the “wrong” side of the Republican movement the Government has abandoned all thought of rational analysis of the events of 100 years ago and instead opted for the Sinn Fein narrative.
The decision to offer the family of Thomas Kent a full state funeral for the removal of his remains from Cork prison and re-committal in a family plot in Castlelyons is an example of the Irish Governments decision to re-write history to a Sinn Fein script.
Thomas Kent was sentenced to death and executed for the murder of Head Constable William Rowe RIC who had been sent to the Kent home to arrest suspects after the start of the Easter Rising.
William Rowe left behind a widow and five children. What is missing in the Irish Governments narrative is the fact that William Rowe was also an Irishman going about his lawful duty as a Constable. What makes Thomas Kent any more worthy of a state funeral than William Rowe or any of the 10’s of thousands of Irishmen who fought and died on battlefields such as the Somme or Gallipoli. The truth is he isn’t unless this act is part of the re-writing of Ireland’s historical narrative.
While politicians in the Republic clamber to be associated with acts of violence or the perpetrators of past terrorist activities such as O’Donovan Rossa on the basis there are no local implications things will become more difficult over the next few years.

The anniversaries of events during the Irish Civil War will be more difficult to re-write into a narrative which shows Ireland standing alone, united against the Brits. There will be many William Rowe’s who served Ireland in different uniforms and who deserve to be remembered despite Sinn Fein’s narrative.

Sunday, 20 April 2014


Today, Easter Sunday, in this week of the 98th anniversary of the Easter Rising I travelled to Dublin. Not to celebrate the Easter Rising nor to commemorate it, but to remember those soldiers who died for King and Country on the streets of Dublin 98 years ago. Men of the Sherwood Foresters, men from the South Staffordshire Regiment, as well as Lancers, Royal Irish and other units were amongst those who having signed up for King and Country to fight a war in Europe were to die on the streets of Dublin. Trained for a different conflict their orders were simple, as the sound of the whistle they were to rise from their position and move towards the enemy. Challenging on Flanders Fields, on Dublin’s streets and bridges against an enemy in easily defended buildings it was a futile action. Every twenty minutes the whistles blew, they rose from their positions and they died. Trying to cross one bridge defended by just over a dozen insurgents cost the army 240 casualties killed or injured. Today as thousands paraded and stood outside the GPO to remember the Rising I walked quietly amongst the gravestones in Grangegorman Military Cemetery recognising those who fell in Dublin by the name of their regiment and the date of their death. Much has been made of whether or not a member of the Royal family and a Government representative should attend the events planned for 2016 in Dublin, the centenary of the Rising. As I stood amongst the rows of gravestones I was convinced that not only should they consider being in Dublin at Easter 2016 it is essential that they be there. Not to celebrate the Easter Rising nor commemorate it but to remember the soldiers who died in the Rising. They did not choose the time or place of their death, they did choose the uniform they wore and the standard they followed. Whether they died on the fields of Flanders or the streets of Dublin their sacrifice was the same, our remembrance must also be the same. Too often when we accuse Republicans of rewriting history it is because we do not know enough to challenge them. In the next few years unionists will learn much of what happened on the first of July 1916 on the Somme, the challenge is to learn as much about the sacrifices of other British troops in April of the same year in Dublin. Many will recognise the words of Binyons poem for The Fallen, it begins: With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea. And continues with the recognisable lines: At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. As we approach the anniversaries of many battles and the loss of many sons who died for our freedom let us commit ourselves to extending that line spoken so often in remembrance: We will remember them all.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Haass Process

As Richard Haass and Megan O’Sullivan work to bring this current process to a conclusion it is clear that there will be no surprises. Many years ago the republican movement ceased to believe in the rapid achievement of its objectives by political or military means and settled instead for a process of progressive realisation. As a consequence that which is considered an agreement by other participants, whether Belfast Agreement, St Andrew’s Agreement or this latest attempt by Haass is considered to be a mere step in a process by republicans. Therein lies the source of unionist frustration in that republicans are always pressing for more where unionists are placed immediately on the defensive, having formerly tried to reach that final elusive agreement which allows us all to move on. That final agreement will not come, while Haass may resolve some issues unionists will know that whatever republicans fail to achieve this time will form the basis of future negotiations, future demands for concessions and again unionists will be presented as the intransigent partners. Unionist frustration will be intensified not only by the words and commitments as they appear in any Haass proposal but by the extensive reinterpretation of their meanings by republicans. One example to be released by those involved in the negotiations was the early call by Haass for the introduction of a Bill of Rights as agreed in the Belfast Agreement. That is a republican interpretation of the consideration of whether rights supplementary to the existing legislation, to take account of the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, was required. The subsequent process resulted in the development of, what some advocates considered to be, the most expansive Human Rights demands in the world. So what of this process which cannot give justice, cannot give truth, cannot solve the parades issue and may only provide for the flying of the Union Flag in limited circumstances. At best the victims of the conflict will have access to a support service worthy of the name, some victims may get some answers, both honourable objectives. At worst, hundreds of thousands of former soldiers and policemen will spend the rest of their lives waiting on a call to appear before a panel to be quizzed on where they were and who they were with 20, 30 or 40 years ago knowing that the only answer acceptable to republicans will be the rewriting of history. It was George Orwell’s narrative on the authoritarian government in his novel 1984 which stated “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed-if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ The mantra, the objective and the authoritarian control are the same in fiction as in real life republican politics in Northern Ireland. Where now for unionists? Whatever the results of this process it is not the end there will be more negotiations. It is time for unionists to determine what it is they really want, what will get them on the front foot, what will put pressure on republicans or governments. Too many times we have entered the process on the defensive it is time to change the rules of the game.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Basil and the end game

Posted on January 4, 2013 by stephennicholl So Basil first voted Ulster Unionist at the time of the Belfast Agreement, which begs the question of just what political allegiances, if any, he exhibited before that time. In a recent Belfast Telegraph interview he states “I first voted Ulster Unionist at the time of the referendum on the Belfast Agreement. I later joined the UUP to find a way forward that encompassed the spirit of the Agreement and I shall be asking the party if those principles are what it still believes in.” Basil of course would have recognised that the Belfast Agreement itself was a defining moment in Ulster Unionist history with many in the party still committed to the view that the agreement was too one sided. Indeed what Unionism in general is discovering is that whether it was the Belfast Agreement or the St Andrew’s Agreement the term agreement is meaningless when it comes to how Republicans interpret history. For them the progressive realisation of Republican objectives remains the priority whether it is advancing symbols of Republicanism or removing symbols of Britishness. As Unionism struggles to decide how to both address an imperfect political system which is delivering poor governance at the same time as dealing with opponents whose word will never be their bond Basil decides to chart his own course. He complains that the party is moving away from what he perceived the position to be in 1998, in truth his perception was wrong. Ulster Unionism stretched itself to breaking point to advance the Peace Process, Ulster Unionism considered the Agreement to be the end point, Republicans and Basil have taken it only as a start. Basil joined the UUP and entered politics, not because of his unionism, but because of his opportunism. His defining ideology is egotism to the point where he has actively and successfully undermined the political careers of several UUP candidates. His politics are parasitical and while I have no doubt the media will feed his lust for attention I doubt if any other party could afford to bask in his shadow as no doubt they would have to should he seek to join them.

Education Area plans

Posted on November 22, 2012 Strategic issues to be considered in relation to the Antrim-Ballymena area plan. In considering the options presented within the Antrim-Ballymena area plan there were a number of strategic issues within the plan which required clarification, it is also clear that the options presented represented a narrow selection of the range of options that could have been considered. Given that the plans as presented represent the infrastructure available to deliver education over the next 20 – 30 years The change in the proposed profile of Parkhall students will require a re-profiling of the of the enrolment figures for Parkhall and Antrim Grammar by reducing the number of pupils at Parkhall and increasing the numbers attending Antrim Grammar in the 16-19 age range. In option 2 of the area plan Cullybackey High School becomes an 11-16 co-educational school with 850 pupils, an increase of 150 pupils over its current enrolment 700 pupils drawn from the 11-19 age group. This raises the issues of where the additional pupils are to be drawn from, what the cost implications are of increasing the school size or the increase in travel costs due to taking pupils from a larger catchment area. The proposals in the area plan options presented are contrary to the widely accepted view that educating children together is the best model to address sectarianism. The absence of such an option severely limits the public discussion on the area plan process. In this context an option which created a partnership between Antrim Grammar, Parkhall and St Benedicts would have been worthy of inclusion. The merger of Ballymena Academy with Cambridge House Grammar school will create an all ability comprehensive school albeit with the ability to self-select the pupils in attendance. Again this raises the question of why this particular merger is presented in isolation from the range of alternative options available. What are the long term strategic benefits to society of considering a merger between St Louis Grammar and Ballymena Academy or a merger between Cambridge House and Slemish College? Why were such options not placed before the community to discuss? Given the reduction in pupil number in any merged Ballymena Academy/Cambridge House model it is likely that such a reduction would be achieved by restricting intake numbers through the selection process. Should any merger not take place a reduction in Grammar school numbers by restricting the numbers of pupils which could be taken with lower grades would quite possibly negatively impact upon the intake of one or other of the Grammar Schools unequally. Such a decision would result in a further change in education provision in the near future in an unplanned, unstructured manner. The need to ensure clarity and focus around the delivery of the 16-19 entitlement in relation to subject areas is not best served by trying to present most schools as 11 – 19 schools. There has been no consideration in these proposals for the need to focus 16-19 provision on a limited number of sites. The area plan also fails to adequately outline the integration of the NRC into much of the current 16-19 provision. In summary the proposals presented in the area plan represent the wishes of a few schools as opposed to a structured rational assessment of all of the potential options for the delivery of education in the Antrim Ballymena area in the future. A wider discussion, focussing upon delivery as well as infrastructure is still required to ensure that all of the best options have been considered.

the education debate

Posted on October 18, 2012 by stephennicholl So during the debate on the 2nd stage of the Education Bill just what did Mervyn Storey DUP Chairman of the Education Committee say. In response to a question from David McNarry on the future of grammar schools Mervyn stated; “A legal document, in the region of 10 or 11 pages, that was made available to us was as conclusive as the answer from the Education Minister a few moments ago about how to break down the definition between the employing authority and the employer. Not having any legal background, I do not want to tread too far into that territory other than to say that their (OFMDFM) heads of agreement was an attempt to ensure that the concerns, particularly among voluntary grammars, about the voluntary principle were enshrined in legislation in such a way that it did not take away from them the autonomy, responsibility or place they have had but recognised that we were still moving to a place where there would be the establishment of a single employing authority. In direct answer to the Member, I believe that there will be no change to that current arrangement and system other than that the employer will be ESA. The Committee needs to take time to be clear in members’ minds that that is the case and to have every possible assurance that we are not moving to a situation in which this Bill will be used for some other purpose, reason or means.” Surely if the heads of agreement was signed off by Peter Robinson then it should represent more than just an attempt to ensure that concerns were met. Surely if the DUP delivered on the heads of agreement they would not need the additional reassurance that the Bill will be used for other purposes. Mr Storey then, in response to a question from Basil McCrea about the recognition of the voluntary grammar school principle said; “That is where we want to get to, and that is why I believe that the issue that I raised at the start about schedule 2 and the linkage between the Bill and the ‘Heads of Agreement’ needs to be clear. It should have been clearer before we got to this stage. However, having got to this stage, the work that we have ahead of us with your party colleagues on the Education Committee is to ensure that recognition is reflected in a way in which we understand…….. Unfortunately, however, when you are dealing with the party that is responsible for bringing the Bill to the House or with the Department of Education, one can never be sure that that is exactly how it is, but the duty and role that has been vested in the Committees is to ensure that, when it comes to the minutiae and the detail, we are as clear as we possibly can be and that we have as many checks and balances as possible in place to ensure that those who have concerns have them mitigated.” So Mervyn is clear then, the heads of agreement negotiated by Peter is not the robust protection required and there remains concern about Sinn Fein’s intentions. And so Jim Allister asks; “Has the Member any concern that the Trojan Horse for moving matters towards the destruction of the voluntary grammar schools might well be the area-planning powers now in the Bill?” To which Mervyn replies; “I share his concern, and not only on area planning. We need to look at every element of the Bill, and I will come to the inspectorate later on. It will raise more concerns for me, although I share concerns about the area planning process.” So Mervyn shares Jim Allister’s concerns about the process not just about area planning but about other elements as well. He continues, “As mentioned by Mr Allister, the Bill will make ESA the area planning authority for schools in Northern Ireland. The Committee recently spent some time considering the operation of the area planning process. I do not intend to discuss that at length at this time. It is sufficient to say that the majority of Committee members are most unimpressed by the area planning and viability audit process that has been exercised to date……… We have issues with the current process, and, if we have issues now, I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we will have issues with the area planning that is outlined in the Bill. Clause 27 requires an adequate opportunity for persons to make representations to ESA on revisions to area plans. Given its recent experience, I expect that the Committee will wish to deliberate on exactly what will constitute an adequate opportunity.” Still stating the fundamental flaws in the Bill he states, “The Education Bill is yet another cause for concern for many in the education sector, including, as I said, our principals, teachers, boards of governors and others……. The majority of Committee members are just about content to allow the Bill to go to Committee Stage, albeit with some reservations and issues that they believe will have to be further explained and ironed out and amendments that will have to be agreed.” On his party’s concerns he states, “The Bill seeks to confer certain responsibilities on ESA and the board of governors with regard to the Irish language sector.” “when we come to the Bill, lo and behold, the integrated sector has disappeared. It is not in the Bill, but the Irish-medium sector is.” “Furthermore, there are differences in the approach to the role given to boards of governors in the controlled sector with regard to being the submitting authority for schemes of management and the approach to the role in the Catholic maintained sector. That is another area that has given rise to concerns. We, as a party, need to be satisfied that no deals will be done by the Minister or his officials outside the Bill.” “That brings me to the clauses that deal with the inspectorate. I know that it was unfair to ask the officials, on their first outing to the Committee on Wednesday past, about that issue, but we took the opportunity to say to them that we had great concern about the inspectorate seemingly being used in the pursuit of political or departmental objectives.” “I get concerned when I see the powers that the Bill seeks to confer. Although it has been said that the powers will try to bring the inspectorate into line with other arrangements in the United Kingdom, I am concerned that we will have a situation where we have an inspectorate that is very strong in its powers. The provisions, we are told, are similar to those previously drafted, with the exception of the removal of the inspection powers for library premises, as requested by DCAL. I have to ask why the Department feels it necessary to have an inspectorate that can lift papers and lift computers. I place it on record that I trust that it is not being used by the Department as another method of spooking or spying on primary schools that are being put in a very difficult position around transfer.” Despite all of these concerns about the implications of the Bill and what the Minister would use the powers in the Bill for Mervyn and his colleagues were committed to supporting it. When considering why this should be the later exchange between Danny Kinahan and Mervyn are illuminating. Danny suggested that the “First Minister realised that he could not sell to his own party what he had agreed.” Mervyn’s angry intervention in response was to state, “Let me make it very clear: there are no differences between Peter Robinson and myself; and there are no differences between Peter Robinson and the members of this party.” So the question is, are the DUP supporting the Education Bill because it is a robust and transparent piece of legislation which they are happy to endorse? Alternatively are the DUP supporting the Education Bill because Peter stumbled on the heads of agreement and they have no option other than to vote for their leader?

Those Parading Decisions

Posted on August 28, 2012 by stephennicholl The recent decisions of the Parades Commission have sought to change the environment for the celebration of culture and tradition in Northern Ireland by establishing new precedents. In Belfast the decision to demand the return parade by North Belfast Orangemen had to be completed past Ardoyne shops by 4.00pm defied any logical understanding of time and place. It did however reflect the inability of the Commission to ban a parade even though it is clear that given the opportunity that is precisely what they would do. Their bizarre decision was further compounded by the decision to permit a parade of several thousand dissident republicans, intent on attacking police, along the same stretch of road from which a few dozen Orangemen had been restricted from walking after 4.00pm. In Crumlin the decision to restrict the return parade to only local Orangemen went some way to meeting the demands of Republicans. The decision, far from being the success Peter Osborne believes has established a precedent which will be repeated in towns and villages across Northern Ireland as 12th demonstrations are rotated through local Districts. As in Crumlin, in each town and village Sinn Fein will agitate their supporters, being generous in their assertion that they do not hate all prods just the ones who don’t live in their town. Osborne’s victory will deliver years of antagonism and tension across Northern Ireland. The uproar over the playing of Sloop John B was typical Sinn Fein opportunism with a number of members of the Parades Commission readily accepting of excuses to again change the parameters. The subsequent banning of the YCV band from that stretch of road was a possibility, the decision to ban all music from being played was the ramping up of a peculiar theological twist which elevates chapels above all other places of worship. Such a precedent, if applied elsewhere, will again give Sinn Fein the opportunity to protest outside every chapel during parades. While the Parades Commission has taken the opportunity to increase tension and act as facilitators of the Sinn Fein policy of progressive realisation of objectives their decisions have also given succour to the DUP. Since the DUP/SF parades agreement was rejected by the Orange Institution and others including the UUP the DUP have been working to take control again of the issue. Fortunate then, that the Parades Commission should be so obliging as to take a series of decisions so bizarre that the DUP/SF agreement is back on the table. Anyone taking an interest in Northern Ireland politics over the past 10 years will be well aware of the intricate coordination that takes place between the DUP and SF to deliver a desired result. Both seek the ultimate in power politics in Northern Ireland, two one party communities, existing in a state of benign apartheid, under the complete control of each party. The parading issue is just another box to be ticked. The DUP/SF proposals are not a solution and the longer the DUP hold onto their arrangement with SF the longer we will see ever more outrages decisions from the Parades Commission.