Right thing, Right time, Wrong Spokesperson

October 16, 2010

I’m delighted to see that Peter Robinson has tackled the Catholic Church’s hold on education in Northern Ireland  (story).  Not because I’m a bigot, but because I believe the system produces bigots.

Indeed, a true bigot would surely want the system to stay the same with Catholic children educated in Catholic schools and Protestant children educated in state (but by default Protestant) schools.

There are a number of problems with the current system.  Robinson has correctly pointed out, as I have been harping on about for years, that the current system creates segregated education which, as he terms it ‘benign apartheid’.  I’ve always wondered if we would believe America was past racism if children of different colour were educated in different schools, and yet in NI we expect to transcend sectarianism while children of different religious backgrounds are educated separately.

Indeed it isn’t until a child is 16 and entering the workplace, or 18 and entering third level education, that they are exposed to significant numbers of the religious community which they have had minimal contact with.  By that time the opinions of their peers and their parents have taken root, and, if not sectarianism then certainly suspicion has taken root.  I’ve seen it, I’ve been a part of it, and I want nothing to do with a system which educates children separately based on their religion.

It is especially dangerous for this generation who are not offered the same opportunities for cross community projects that children were ten years ago.

There’s also the problem of what is being taught – I remember a teacher in my state/protestant school teaching Irish history with a certain bias, knowing she had a certain audience.

Robinson has said the right thing, and whilst it holds power coming from the First Minister, the Catholic community need to hear it from one of their own, otherwise it might justbe spun by nationalists as a bigoted diatribe or a hypocritical ideal (like here, for example)

The SDLP need to really think about their beliefs on this one.  SF won’t back it, but Ritchie et al need to reflect the ethos of a party that did so much for NI in moving towards a shared community.


A slimmer Executive?

May 22, 2009

On Monday, a debate was had in Private Members’ Business to restructure the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, essentially to reduce the disproportionate number of representatives that Northern Ireland has.  The UUP motion (following Cameron’s example of reform?) was supported by Alliance and the DUP, an ammendment was propsed by the SDLP and it was rejected by SF. 

The motion:

That this Assembly supports, in principle, the restructuring of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to update the Assembly on the proposals for the creation of an Efficiency Review Panel, as announced on 9 April 2009, and to agree to implement a review and produce a report on the issue of the number of MLAs and government Departments in the next Assembly, within the next six months.

You can read the transcript of the debate here


UUP implodes further

May 18, 2009

No sign of it on Slugger yet, but BBC reports that Mark Brooks, chairman of North Down UUP Association has not only resigned but joined the DUP.  Another blow to Sir Reg, and yet further evidence that the tide is swinging in favour of Lady Hermon.

I can’t see her swinging to the same side as Mr. Brooks, so either she’ll stand as an independent in the next election, or be joining the Alliance Party which has a strong base in North Down (Alliance EU candidate Ian Parsley is Deputy Mayor there)

Jim Nicholson must be fuming, but then again, he’s getting what he asked for…

Vote for Change!

Vote for Change!


Save us from the Swines!

May 13, 2009

Thankfully someone has noticed the huge danger Swine Flu (that’s that disease that was newsworthy last week, before MPs decided to steal the limelight) poses to us all.

BBC reports that Fr Gerard Fearon of Dominican Chapel, Newry, will not be shaking hands with his parishoners this Sunday for fear of spreading the horrible disease which has a lethal number of zero cases confirmed in Northern Ireland thus far.  Fr Fearon said,

I just thought we would suspend it for a while in the context that scientists are saying that we should be protecting ourselves against swine flu and how it is important to have clean hands

And bless him for taking this measure to protect us all.  There were suspicions that the new strain of influenza A virus subtype H1N1 could be transferred over Fr Fearon’s ritual of sneezing on his hand and picking his nose with a cocktail sausage before offering the sign of peace on the way out the door.  There is also talk of reverting back to wafers and wine after health concerns regarding bacon fries and Corona. 

After complaints by several parishoners that the new health measures did not go far enough, confession has also been closed over fears that germs could be transferred from one side of the box from the other, with Fr Fearon granting ‘Amnesty’ until the outbreak is declared over by the World Health Organisation.  Speaking from a white van parked outside the bank, Perky O’Reilly, a 72 year old member of Dominican, said it was a wise precaution and that the amnesty should not be lifted in haste.  His brother Pinky, who joined him in a rush soon after, wearing a full facial mask as a precaution against the pandemic, commented simply “Go Go Go, before he gets up again”.


University of Ulster drops 16 places in University Guide

May 12, 2009

The Guardian’s University guide lists UU in 75th place, out of the 117 Universities listed.  Queen’s drops three places to 49th.  Queen’s have particularly underperformed.  With an average entry tariff of 353 points there is no university with a higher tariff below them, while several universities with lower entry requirements are above them, such as Heriot Watt (22nd, with an average entry tarriff of 346)

% satisfied with teaching – % satisfied with feedback – Student/Staff Ratio – Career prospect – Avg. Entry Tariff

Queens – 85 – 58 – 16.0 – 76 – 353

UU – 76 – 60 – 17.9 – 63 – 269


The First Casualty

May 11, 2009

The first casualty when war comes is truth

So said Senator Hiram W Johnson in 1918, and over 90 years later, it still rings true. 

Written under a cloud of despair, ‘The First Casualty’ (Revised Edition, 2002) by Phillip Knightley laments what he sees as a dilution of truth within spheres of war reporting.  He cites a correspondent’s patriotism, military censorship, and the inability and indolence of the press to analyse official press releases as some of the reasons for this perceived demotion of the truth.  His anger, and later dismay, that truth is indeed ‘the first casualty,’ seeps through the pages, and lead to him predicting that “governments [and] their spin doctors … will find further justification for managing the media in wartime … [and that] control of war correspondents will be even tighter.”  

Indeed, Knightley’s prediction of tightening control on war correspondents leads him to despondently associate this with the demise of the war correspondent, and the death of his hero status.

Picking up on this is a comment piece by Kevin Myers in Friday’s Belfast Telegraph entitled ‘Why the Falklands is proof that truth is the first casualty of war’.  Referring to an article in last month’s Torygraph  he picks away at the misleading language, concluding that the 22 men who supposedly “saw off Argentine invaders” and gave them their first bloody nose in fact surrendered meekly after just two hours with only one man slightly wounded.   Referring to the power of myth, Myers points out that looking back at history which is ours, we inevitably exaggerate and puff it up.  With reference to 1916, he concludes

And no memory is immune to the mighty power of myth. Australian social historians were able to chart the change in the recollections of Gallipoli veterans, as the events in the truly myth-laden film ‘Gallipoli’ became indistinguishable in the veterans’ minds from their own experiences.

The power of myth is not that it is based on actual historical events. Its power derives from the needs of the people who pass on the myth. Thus Royal Marines want to revel in a victory nearly 30 years ago, though it simply did not happen.

Equally, Irish republicans wanted their own mythic, martial giants to rival the British heroes like Wellington and Nelson, and so have conjured them out of the motley band of 1916.

We tell tales. We all do. But we should remember. They are just tales. And when we turn baseless myths into icons of national identity, we are trading in a currency that is liable to inflation; for there are always those who will exult in a more extravagant and bloodier version of the myth, usually with contemporary political consequences.

One has to look very hard under the surface if one is interested in real truth.  Be that history, religion, football, whatever.  In each of these examples, there is always a side to be took.  And when bias comes into it, truth gets distorted, it gets exaggerated or played down, depending on whether it suits us or not.