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Chris Eisenstadt is a dual national who has lived in Northern Ireland since he was 11.

Recently, with the success of the English cricket team, there has been a “debate” about what it means to be English. The captain of the team, having been born in Ireland, has been praised and criticised for his decision to take to the field (is it a field? My cricket knowledge is rubbish. I’d never pass the Tebbit test) for England. I don’t know, nor do I pretend to know Eoin Morgan. I don’t know if he sees himself as Irish or English or a mixture of both.

Thing is, whatever he decides to call himself, it’s his choice. More importantly, there is no “wrong” answer on identity. He’s not right or wrong to say that he is or isn’t English or Irish or a Dub or whatever he wants to consider himself. I personally can’t stand people (particularly on the internet) arrogantly and snidely remarking for political purposes (I’m also thinking of you Hard Brexit Now/FBPE folks here) that he is really this, that or the other.

I don’t know Mr Morgan and I don’t make any aspersions about him or his national identity. However, he is hardly alone in having what might generously be described as a “contested” national identity. The current US president, loathe though I am to mention his antics, indulged in a little identity politics just recently. He described a number of women who self-identify as American and not being real Americans. Again, for political purposes. This is really unpleasant, and I’d hope that most of the readers of this blog refuse to take part in that sort of thing.

I’m aware that a more subtle version of this sort of thing happens all the time. It isn’t as openly racist or hateful, but I can say from personal experience it is pretty irritating at best and really alienating at worst. I will say that I understand that identity in this place is a contested concept. I know some people (usually, faceless twitter trolls) get very upset when someone else from this place proclaims themselves to be “Northern Irish”, or someone else denies being “Irish”. Primarily because such descriptions don’t gel with their own narrow political viewpoints. I don’t know when this game of denying or questioning another person’s identity started, but I do wish it would stop.

If you met me in the street, before I said anything I imagine most of you wouldn’t doubt I was “from here”. I can pass for a native pretty easily. The second I open my mouth, though, all pretence fades away. If I had a penny for every time someone asked me “Where are you from?”, “What part of the States are you from?” or “American or Canadian?” I’d be able to retire in any country I currently hold a passport for. I definitely don’t love that people routinely feel the need to ask me where I am from, but I can forgive that easily enough. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, it is a well-meaning question (though I do get tired of telling them I’m not a tourist and that yes, I really do live here).

No, what upsets me, and what upsets quite a few people who talk differently, look a little different or have some other sort of connection to another place, is that when I answer that I’m ‘from’ Bangor I get a look of confusion. Thing is, I’ve spent the majority of my life here in Northern Ireland/the North/this place. I haven’t lived outside of it since I was a literal child (not counting going to England for Uni). This is my home, and the US is a faraway place that has little to no meaning to me.

I’m really, really not sure why people feel the need to tell me “Well, you’ve not lost the accent!”. Would you say that to someone with a pronounced Spanish accent? Chinese? Kenyan? Surely people can deduce that if they ask “where I am from”, and I say “here”, it is rude to imply that I’m not. What exactly am I supposed to say to the comment that, intentionally or not boils down to “it is hard to believe that you are from this place, because you don’t sound right”.

No one gets to decide what someone else’s identity is. If Eoin Morgan says he is English, he’s English. If he’s Irish, he’s Irish. If he’s both, he’s both! Same goes for Romelu Lukaku (famously “Belgian when I’m winning, Belgian of ‘Congolese descent’ I’m not”) or Andy Murray or me (not a list of people I expect to regularly find myself in). More importantly, stop trying to weaponise the identity of others.

A sports person’s heritage, or a political opponent’s mother’s place of birth or an accent isn’t some zinger to be thrown around on social media. It’s not a “truth bomb” or a “gotcha moment”. It’s already hard enough to have a contested identity within yourself. People should have a little respect, especially when they are talking about people they either hardly know or don’t know at all. It is one thing to critique someone using a flimsy façade to score a political point. If I suddenly tried to pipe up on Belarussian politics because my great-great-great grandfather was from Minsk, then it would be fair to question that. But if I said I “felt” a connection to that place, then what right does anyone have to tell me I don’t? It doesn’t suddenly make you an expert, but it isn’t like there is a checklist of what “makes” you have a national identity or not.

If someone is exploiting identity in bad faith – say for example, to mock or hurt others it is fair to call them out on it. But, given the complex nature of identity in this place, I would hope that people would be more accepting of the fluid nature of identity. Let someone be who they feel they are – even if it doesn’t suit your political goals. If a nationalist decided that they do feel at least partially British because of family history, it wouldn’t suddenly mean they are no longer nationalist. Equally, a unionist deciding to learn a bit more about their Irish family roots don’t make them less of a unionist.

Don’t make someone feel alienated from a community you belong to, and to which they have expressed a clear and good faith desire to be a part of. Be careful with your words, and be open to those seem different, but feel the same.

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Good piece from Tom Kelly in the Irish News (£) this morning on how the needless aggression of some DUP’s MPs in House of Commons helped to deliver a bunch of socially liberal reforms the party purports to hate with pretty heavy majorities:

In the British Parliament last week political frustration drove the debates on marriage equality and abortion.

Much of that frustration is directed at MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party. And yes, there is also frustration that our democratic structures are simply not working and therefore create a democratic deficit.

And..

Frequent visitors to the House of Commons can witness the behaviour of certain DUP MPs when Lady Sylvia Hermon speaks. It is a spectacle which is silly, senseless and sexist.

This is not an accusation against all DUP members of parliament but is a regular feature of some. Other MPs see and hear it. Female MPs from all parties detest it.

Last year I watched in bewilderment as Sammy Wilson effectively stunned the Commons with an unnecessarily aggressive anti-abortion speech just after Tory MP Heidi Allen gave a very emotional and personal testimony about her own experience of abortion. His actions reinforced the view of many parliamentarians that the DUP were antiquated and out of touch.

The DUP’s verbal assaults on the prime minister over the Withdrawal Agreement were not only at times offensive and rude but antagonistic. One Brexit supporting minister who resigned over the same Withdrawal Agreement told this columnist: ‘The DUP’s treatment of the prime minister was appalling and won’t be forgotten by members on these benches’.

So the votes taken last week were not all about caring for the people of Northern Ireland and rights denied. The scale of victories also reflected the frustration of all parties within the Commons towards the DUP.

The DUP style doesn’t go down well with the decorum of the House. [Emphasis added]

Numbers, as LBJ said, may be everything in politics, and in this case they will keep the DUP in business. But it also true that “manners makyth man” and people will suffer a degree of unmanliness in a Parliamentarian only up to a limit.

In pushing at those bounds Sammy and Co have helped to deliver what their party had always promised to fight against. In realpolitik terms, his party might well be grateful to allowed off that hook, but it raises other questions…

Tom finishes…

Sensitivity and compassion should be the watch word on either side of the debate. Remember, those who for whatever reason opt for an abortion don’t do it casually. They certainly don’t use abortion as a contraceptive as some claim.

The Westminster motion passed on abortion is too general. It is clear that abortion on demand is not something people in Northern Ireland want. A majority in the Assembly were against it.

To put this into perspective, if the Westminster motion as proposed proceeds into law, it makes the abortion reforms of the Dail seem positively conservative. Change is good when crafted with compassion.

Photo by Fas Khan is licensed under CC0

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The Eames-Bradley process should have engaged more closely with the Irish government and ensured it was on board with the recommendations, says co-chair Denis Bradley in the latest Forward Together podcast.

Eames-Bradley – properly called the Consultative Group on the Past – was published more than a decade ago and was intended to provide a way of dealing with the past and the needs and concerns of victims and survivors.Denis says “I do [think the] report itself is an extremely good report.  One of the worries when you do a report is that you think, was there a big pothole that we didn’t see coming? That hasn’t happened. The report has been incredibly good in that sense. The difficulty with the report is that there was only one government involved.  I think that was a major mistake and I blame myself to some degree for that…. Remember that was when the Celtic Tiger was beginning to explode. But even without the Celtic Tiger exploding, they [the Irish government] were so cynical around it they were very reluctant to engage. I pleaded with them to be engaged.”

Denis says it was the lack of commitment to the report from the Irish government that damaged it rather than the controversial recommendation for each victim’s family to be given a payment of £12,000.

He explains: “So when the report came to its fruition and when the British government were faced with the possibility that unionism was kicking at this thing and saying we’re not going to have this because it looks as if there’s going to be given money to the family of people who were terrorists and so forth….. We won’t have moral equivalence, which was their big thing. Basically their government ran away….. When [only] one government is engaged, I think that you do not get the roundness.”

Denis rejects the suggestion that it was the issue of payments that undermined the Eames-Bradley acceptance.  “That’s not true. There were five things within the report that could have been quite explosive. And people saw the payment one because it was the most explosive.”

Asked whether we should now return to Eames-Bradley, Denis stresses: “You have to deal with the past.”

Denis also addresses the structure of government in Northern Ireland, criticising the zero sum game approach of the major parties.  “In other words if they get 50%, we get 50%…. But the outflow of that is that we have ended up with institutions that don’t function particularly well.”

But that is not the only problem we have now.  Denis expands: “Remember there’s many ways in which we stand on the shoulders of the Good Friday Agreement – but there’s even a greater way in which we stand on the shoulders of Anglo-Irish relationships.  And Anglo-Irish relationships have gone off kilter.”  Denis believes the governments mistakenly took a back step to leave the politics of the north to mature.

The challenge now is that Brexit has thrown society into uncertainty, as well as chaos.  “Our problem at the moment is we don’t know where we’re going,” he argues. “It isn’t time yet to settle down and make large decisions.”

The latest podcast interview is available here and covers Denis’s reflections on civil society, creating a shared society and the past.  A further podcast will be released later this week in which Denis discusses the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.

The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify.

  • Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
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Máirín Murray is a tech innovator from County Down who is on a mission to motivate others to join the Tech for Good movement.

I recently delivered a TEDx talk along with my Tech for Good Dublin co-founder Ellen Ward about the power of using technology to make a positive difference. We take inspiration from the first techies and innovators, medieval Irish monks on the Island of Nendrum and blacksmiths who in their day forged tools to sustain life in their communities.

I’d ask all of you to become part of the Tech for Good movement. Many local companies and founders are already leading lights, such as Irene McAleese from See.Sense and Dr David Trainor from Sentireal.

Like modern day blacksmiths we can work together to make tools that serve and empower our communities. To forge new connections. To hammer out practical solutions. To shape technology towards new positive purposes. Together we can change our world for the better, and make a positive dent in the universe. If you’re interested in setting up a Tech for Good group in your town or rural community, please reach out to us and we’ll help get you started.

Community+Technology=Positive Social Change | Ellen Ward & Máirín Murray | TEDxUniversityofLimerick - YouTube

In light of all the news stories about the harmful impact of digital technology – it’s easy to want to run in the opposite direction and forget that harnessing its power is essential if we want to have real positive impact on individuals our communities and regions.

I come from a tiny village in County Down called Ballygowan. There are Ballygowans all over Ireland. Ballygowan means Baile an ghobhann, the town of the blacksmith. Blacksmiths were the techies and tool makers of their time. They used what many would argue is the first technology ever invented: iron. They did make swords and spears that caused harm. But they also made ploughs to help grow crops, the fire grates or hearths to keep the home warm, vessels to transport water. They made tools to sustain life.

That was the Iron Age; here we are now in the digital age. And the same principles apply then as now. Any technology can be used for either good or bad; it’s up to us to shape it to make sure it has a positive impact.

Some blacksmiths were the tech for good pioneers of their day. Way back in the Iron Age the social good was about sustaining the life of the village. Whereas now we have challenges that are more complex and exist on a global level. They can seem over whelming. Take your pick: seas filling with plastic, shortages of doctors globally, climate crisis. But big problems are also really motivating: they provide us with a clear direction. As US President John F Kennedy explained, they wanted to go to the moon not because it was easy but because it was hard. Big challenges are exciting, scary even and they give us an opportunity for incredible innovation and learning. The street protester’s sign says: ‘The seas are rising and so are we’. People are finally waking up, they get it now. The good news is that there’s wide spread acceptance of the big problems we face.

The language is also catching up with The Guardian now calling ‘climate change’ a ‘climate emergency’. Greta Thunberg says that we need to get angry and transform that anger into action

Make no mistake, we are living in revolutionary times. The status quo is not an option. But there needs to be more than taking to the street? How do we harness this energy, this revolutionary zeal, into something practical? Living today, we don’t have to look too hard to find a purpose, a why?

People are naturally problem solvers. What makes us human is our ability to make tools and to fix things. This is where technology comes in. It provides us with practical ways to have positive impact. Digital technology is so powerful in terms of its ability to connect us globally, to scale, to automate, to share.

And the planet is literally awash with techies. In Ireland there are 100,000 people working for tech companies. Globally there are millions of software engineers. Imagine if we could focus all these technical skills, all this knowledge, into coming up with solutions for the things that really matter. Steve Jobs said: ‘we’re here to put a dent in the universe’. He understood that it’s a basic human need to want to have an impact and that tech enables this.

A few years ago we thought that the founders of tech companies were like rock stars, gods even. And they did make huge dents in the universe but many of these companies and products are having really negative impacts: all of us have seen the news stories. Even if you have an official positive purpose for a tech product, that’s not enough. It’s essential to be alert to negative unintended consequences and to address these as a priority.

Not everyone needs to be a coder. But it is important for us to become tech aware and tech literate so we can appreciate the potential of new tools and influence them, even if we’re not involved hands on in making them.

Let’s take a step back.

I told you I’m from County Down near Strangford Lough. It’s a really beautiful part of the world. Near my home are the remains of an ancient monastery on the Island of Nendrum. The monks there were world innovators. In the seventh century they learnt how to harness the power of the currents and tides.

Archaeologists confirm that Nendrum is the site of the earliest water tidal mill in the world. This provides us with a clue to how we can really harness tech for good. Monasteries were collectives, communities of learning and doing – and brewing! – that came up with local solutions but shared knowledge through networks of global reach. They were also motivated to work for the social good.

Tech for good communities are popping up over all over the world. Tech for Good is more than a hashtag. It’s a global, grassroots movement. There is no rule book to follow. We don’t have all the answers on how to harness tech for good, but we are committed to learning from each other and building a collective intelligence.

Ellen Ward and I set up Tech for Good in Dublin and we are proud to be part of this movement. Tech for Good Dublin is a community of over 1,500 techies and non-techies from all walks of life. Everyone is welcome. Tech for Good is the movement of and for our times.

The big opportunity today is to harness the power not only of the of tides like medieval Irish monks. But to harness of our collective intelligence, abilities and voices and use digital technology for social good.

Join us and become part of the Tech for Good movement. Like modern day blacksmiths we can work together to make tools that serve and empower our communities.

Photo credits: Alan Stockdale (Nendrum), Blacksmith (Jonathan Bean)

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Slugger O'Toole by Pete Baker - 2d ago

One more time, then… with continued apologies to Pierre Ranger… [It’s a tradition, we know… – Ed]  Indeed!  And with Alaphilippe in yellow again!  Play La Marseillaise!

Casablanca La Marseillaise - YouTube

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Like my da before me, I have to confess I love cricket. And alone amongst all the sporting codes, I’ve never had problem supporting England. As one Indian cricket fan tweeted me a week or two back it is cricket’s Foreign Legion team.

I don’t get to watch it much these days. We don’t have Sky and even if we did I couldn’t justify the extra money it costs to get the sports package (or the time I’d have to spend trying to get my money’s worth).

This season, as some kind of compensation for cricket starvation, I’ve thrown myself into the Baseball on BT Sports that came discounted with the phone and broadband package. It’s a similar game of patient strategy but Baseball can be explosively disruptive in just one or two innings.

From the fragments I’ve been able to watch of the Cricket World Cup down my local (clutching a cold glass of lime and soda) it has been the poorer for Ireland’s absence. But on Sunday, England’s Irish captain Eoin Morgan from Rush, Co Dublin will step into the “bearna baoil” and attempt to win for the first time.

In the midst of all the catastrophising of the relations between Britain and Ireland, some things will endure regardless, much as they did during the troubles when cricket clubs were seen as an unacceptable face of British culture.

Morgan, who played his first World Cup in the Green of Ireland is part of a generation of Irishmen from the south and the north who have smashed a glass ceiling many of their predecessors never thought possible. Such that on Sunday, I will be down the pub shouting “come on Morgan” and England…

And I’ll be wearing my now badly fading tee shirt from the day Ireland taught the old enemy to treat our lads with some respect

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I cannot be the only one to see the irony in the Speaker in allowing an amendment to a bill intended to set a new time limit for the Assembly which effectively provides a major incentive for the major Stormont parties to break that time limit.

I have little sympathy for the clownish muddling Brexiteers have found themselves embroiled in (though I am thankful the government in Dublin finally owned up this week to the real dangers for Ireland), but I begin to understand some of their frustration with Bercow.

Leave aside for a moment, the unallowed joy that many like Ciaran rightly feel at being gifted what they’ve waited so patiently for almost out of the blue, and just look at the summary of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill 2017-19:

Extend the period for forming an Executive under section 1(1) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 and to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to report on progress towards the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland.

The purpose of the bill was to try to manage this odd state of affairs in which the Assembly’s continues without sitting, but devolution remains in place by resetting the deadline from August to the end of October.

The bill now compels the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to change the law via the previously hated statutory instrument, so that marriage between same-sex couples is lawful and must be in force no later than 21 October 2019.

There is a caveat to the effect that if Northern Ireland Executive is formed “before the regulations under this section come into force, any regulations made under this section and any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect”.

To which my response is, aye right. Of which, more towards the end.

On the abortion issue, there is mention of international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (or CEDAW) already incumbent upon the whole of the UK.

As with all such conventions the language is loosely drafted to allow a range of interpretations. Although abortion is not mentioned in the convention the UN committee responsible has interpreted Article 12 as implying the complete decriminalisation of abortion.

It depends how the SoS interprets those terms. If she/he legislates for decriminalisation that would bring NI a more radical form of the law than pertains in either the Republic or the rest of the UK where the prohibitions of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 still applies.

Now back to the constitutional nonsense of the bill here. Neither of these two measures can be guaranteed unless the new deadline in the law is breached.  Ha! And you thought you’d already seen logic stretched to breaking point dozens of times over in NI.

Of course the illogic doesn’t stop there. This is all happening on the DUP’s watch, the most socially conservative of any political party in Westminster bar none and one which happily boasts to its supporters of the influence it has in London.

Of course, given the loose nature of the relationship they have with the executive under confidence and supply it also means while they publicly express fury at the last minute switcheroo, they are also relieved they won’t have to deal with it in Stormont.

Sinn Féin, who had to call a special Ard Fheis only a year ago to change their previous social conservative objections to the much more stringent act in the Republic which effectively decriminalises abortion up to 12 weeks but not after, have been lauding the change.

Listen to this exchange between Jeffrey Donaldson (who takes his seat in Westminster and therefore recognises parliamentary sovereignty) and Conor Murphy (who didn’t when he was an MP and so apparently doesn’t).

There is a counterpoint to this nonsense (I’m not referring to the serious issues at play but the weird theatre of the absurd that got us here) and that is that effectively Westminster is also acting decisively to take the DUP’s and SF’s most dangerous toys away from them.

Yes, the government is undermining the incentives for the parties to comply with the very law they’ve passed and return to Stormont. But they’ve also removed two serious social issues that had become a plaything for both of them to signal difference between themselves.

It is also something of a warning to social conservatives in that if you push the blocks against issues that you would rather not see happening too high, you risk being inundated so that when the change comes it washes away all your defences in a single wave.

Photo by Muzammil Soorma is licensed under CC0

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A better understanding of our history is important as a means of bringing our society together, believes Anthony Russell of the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Foundation.  “One of the things that we have been trying to do in the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Foundation is to use history as a tool for reconciliation, rather than something that has to be fought over,” he explains.  “Looking at how we got here” can help us to deal with the challenges we face today, says Anthony in the latest Forward Together podcast.

“And one of the things we tried to do in the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Foundation is to identify myths and to challenge those myths in a variety of ways,” Anthony adds. That has involved performances of historical events taking place within religious settings in which those events are explained and placed in context.  In doing so, they challenge the assumed connections between religious affiliations and political attitudes.

“I think there’s great hope in that,” says Anthony.  “People looking at history, at the 1788 rebellion, the Great Famine, John Mitchel, with an openness to look at history and to learn from history.”

Part of that reconsideration of history includes recognising the connections and common causes between Presbyterianism and other non-conformist Protestantism with Catholicism in the past.  “Oh very much so,” says Anthony, “and I think that’s one of the great values of the 1788 commemoration with the very strong identification of the [Thomas Payne book] Rights of Man.”  The Rights of Man had a massive impact on both the French Revolution and the American Revolution.

Explaining history through personal stories is important, stresses Anthony.  “Of course history is open to interpretation, but the idea of storytelling is very, very powerful. And Stalin was right –  a million people is just a statistic. People pay much more attention to one person’s story…. it’s very, very hard not to have empathy with any victim when you hear their stories.”

Looking at today’s society through the eyes of a historical geographer Anthony says that he sees parallels with other places.  “I think we have to recognise, and the voters have recognised it for us, that there are two ethnic communities here and we should not underestimate the power of ethnicity. I always refer to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. You had 60 years of a dominant totalitarian regime.  Once it was peeled back the first thing that popped to the surface was ethnicity and we’d be very foolish in the north of Ireland to ignore just how deep ethnicity is. “And we may not like it, but any problems we have have to be approached by recognizing that we have two very distinct communities…. In practice it means not doing what we’re doing at the moment. And that is that we have two blocks which are intent on maximizing the power of that ethnicity.”

There are strong connections between the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Foundation and Canada – where Thomas D’Arcy Magee was a cabinet minister.  (He was born in Carlingford, raised in Cushendall, emigrated to Boston, returned to Ireland and became a leading republican, wanted for treason, escaped to America and then Canada, where he became a father of Canadian Confederation, but opposed the Fenian movement – a supporter of which assassinated him.)  Anthony reflects on how, in Toronto, the Orange Order has evolved to become a multi-racial and secular institution.

There are challenges today for unionism in Northern Ireland.  “In the past when a unionist peered over the border onto the South, they saw exactly what they had predicted a hundred years ago – a priest-ridden Free State…. Southern society has changed enormously and, of course, much, much more liberally.  Despite the apparent lack of notice by the DUP, I think the unionist community is very well aware that geographically and demographically that change is happening.  They will have to accommodate that – and that puts a major responsibility on the nationalist and republican community to be generous in their response.”

The latest podcast interview is available here. The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify.

  • Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
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Ever since I started Slugger back 2002, and having only just discovered the opportunities which blogging offered to a humble, prospecting researcher like myself I’ve always been interested as much in the cultural effects of net based comms as in the subject itself.

With our John Hewitt session coming up, I thought it timely to look at the latest writing on the subject and so I called into Blackwells on Monday and I couldn’t pass James O’Brien’s How to be right in a world gone wrong. I read it in a couple of otherwise fairly busy days.

If you think we are special in Northern Ireland, you need to read this book. It is almost as though the rest of the world (or the UK at least) is going back to where we just came from. (What might save is us our intimate knowledge of what a miserable place that is to go back to.)

If you’ve never heard of him, he’s a liberal talk show host on LBC. Unlike many others, he doesn’t indulge the prejudices of his audiences lightly to the extent I’ve often wondered why they keep calling when he’s forever leaping in to correct a drift from the subject.

The book was published towards the end of last year, to surprisingly few reviews in the mainstream media. Perhaps O’Brien’s chippiness put them off.  While he mostly targets the right wing press, he also has a few deft shots at the liberal establishment.

Whether you like his personable but often combative style, O’Brien is a canary in the mineshaft of public service journalism. The book is a sustained challenge to a media which has long since forgotten its democratic duty to inform, rather than to merely to stir and incite.

His quotation Orwell’s description in 1984 of the ‘two minutes of hate’ is priceless and unsparing of current British media practice: “And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion  which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowtorch”.

Brexiteers and Trump supporters get most of his ire, but quite explicitly not his listeners of whom is he is clearly rather fond. And yet it is the media that he’s maddest with. The rich Fleet Street owners and the cynical editors of the right wing press, yes.

But his primary target is the deep incuriosity forced upon many otherwise good journalists by the scripted interview from which they are rarely allowed to diverge, which results in answers coming through whose veracity remain entirely unchallenged.

Whatever the original intention (presumably to avoid unnecessary risk) it generates an apparently endless form of “journalism as show business”. It ultimately gives rise to George Akerof’s market for lemons scenario where when quality is uncertain, it always pays to go low.

O’Brien doesn’t. But he does deal with a lot of people who are clearly not used to his favourite form of socratic push back. I tend only to listen to him when he’s talking about something I know about and he’s not always right.

But in the process of engagement he listens deeply to what his listeners are saying, and getting something which a lot of high profile editors now only seem to dimly understand the need allow their journalists to listen engage with people’s answers.

When you speak regularly to people persuaded that the evidence of their own eyes and ears is ‘fake news’ while the demonstrable lies of their leader are somehow the truth, you realise that the answers are, again, not political but psychological.

The Washington Post’s valiant attempt to record every demonstrable lie Trump tells in office stood at 4,229 after 558 days in office. The people who ignore or pretend not to believe this do so because they enjoy being frightened and thrive on anger.

It is, in many case, all they have. In almost all cases it is the only thing that can rescue them from the realisation that their unhappiness and grievances probably owe more to their political heros, their own past votes and actions than the existence of a Muslim mayor, a Polish plasterer or a Mexican housemaid.

Sound familiar? I’m not sure I go with all of O’Brien’s solutions, but creating “an environment in which politicians will be too frightened to drawl out yet another deceitful soundbite, secure in the knowledge that it will be forgotten by teatime” is certainly in my top five.

They aren’t at the moment, and are too fond of that corrosive American habit of sending out journalistic proxies to defend the indefensible “for a pat on the back from the Cabinet Office and a knighthood 20 years down the line”.

Relearning the art of the challenge with generous space to test the answers is decent way to discover what a lemon looks like. And label them appropriately…  See you in Armagh?

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There’s been a lot of analysis of the Westminster vote – but not quite enough understanding of its true implications.

Around this time last year I provided an update on the campaign for same sex marriage  so I’ll try and do the same again.

Given that NI is still in limbo with no direct rule, but no devolved assembly the Secretary of State is constantly relying on senior civil servants or emergency legislation to keep the lights on in NI. The latter has given opportunity for Love Equality to focus minds and seek to raise equal marriage at every opportunity in Westminster were work is actually getting done. Enter stage left, Conor McGinn MP. Mr McGinn, who hails from Armagh, took up the challenge to apply for 10-minute rule bills or table amendments to any bills affecting Northern Ireland affairs.

This week, the House of Commons discussed and debated the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Bill. This bill proved necessary as the Secretary of State was obliged to call an election by 25 August and given that “talks” are ongoing (or maybe happening soon) Karen Bradley wanted to gain some additional time and breathing space. The new proposed date is 25 October 2019.

McGinn tabled an amendment that ultimately would bring about same sex marriage within 3 months should the Assembly not be reconstituted. On Tuesday morning (9 July 2019) we learned this amendment had been considered in scope by the speaker’s office and selected for discussion. Now you may be surprised that we didn’t shout more about this or organise a big gay party, but the campaign has been here so many times! We worried about setting false expectations, getting peoples hopes up for nothing and finally loosing the support of society purely through attrition. So, we all sat quietly and nervously watching live streams of parliament and Twitter of course, hoping for the best!

The amendment was passed by 383 ayes and 72 noes. So, what now?

If we do not have an Assembly by 21 October 2019 same sex marriage will become lawful. I think this will be brought about by extending the legislation that applies to England and Wales, Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to Northern Ireland. In any event, I’m positive there is someone in the legislative drafting offices cancelling holidays and bulk ordering energy drinks to navigate this legal conundrum. The 2013 Act allows for conversion of civil partnerships. It also mean marriages formed outside NI will be treated as marriages and no longer converted to civil partnerships when in our jurisdiction – as is currently the case.

A tight and jam-packed timetable is now in flow. Yesterday (10 July) the Lords had a second reading, committee stage will follow on Monday, a report will be prepared, then a third reading will occur on Wednesday and it is at this stage the Lords vote. The bill returns to the House of Commons on 18 July to look at any amendments from the Lords. Only then will a final vote in House of Lords happen. I hear some sour mongering about the Lords not accepting the bill or difficulty arising there however with the overwhelming support in the Commons we should have plain sailing.

In the unlikely event the Assembly decide to return to power sharing government before 21 October then the passage of same sex marriage will NOT occur at Westminster and it will be for the devolved institutions to bring about legislation in a democratic manner if they choose to do so.

I have listened to the debates that this ordeal has undermined the constitutional arrangements of devolution gives some parties no incentive whatsoever to go back to power sharing and is all very dangerous. But let’s deal with the reality: there is no government here and there has not been for over 2 years. We do not appear to be any further on with the talks process. Brexit and the RHI fallout continue to loom and moreover same sex marriage is and has always been an equality matter and not any political party’s chattel.

Even by some form of miracle we get the assembly in October, we should all expect some form of a sustainable reincarnated government. This must include a reform of the Petition of Concern (POC). This means that the private members bill can be dusted off and debated and passed in the Northern Ireland Assembly. If we take this hypothetical scenario further and say the POC in its current form remains, Love Equality is confident it will still achieve marriage equality as there are not enough signatures to trigger the petition.

Love Equality has fought for eight long and hard years and it seems to finally have been worth it. We are not wrapping up the agenda, posters and flags just yet and if we have to take this fight back to the Assembly we are ready!

So, like any good lawyer the answer is never straight forward. It should be safe enough to start looking at what Save the Date cards you fancy. You can maybe start lightly perusing the hat shops. Just hold back on any deposits until after 21 October to see where the land lies.

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