Call for Consumer Reponsibility from The Times

May 27, 2009

Under the title of ‘We should boycott the callous Sri Lanka regime’, Jeremy Page writes an opinion piece in The Times, available here.

His introduction highlights the link between consumer and supplier, calling for conscience-led shopping, rejecting the myth that what we buy has no ripple effect whatsoever

The next time you buy some lingerie, a T-shirt or a pair of rubber gloves, you may want to reflect on this: they were probably made in Sri Lanka. And, like it or not, your purchase plays a role in the debate over how to respond to the Sri Lankan Government’s successful but brutal military campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels, which reached its bloody climax this week

It’s good to see the influential sphere of journalism raising awareness of ethical shopping

‘A degree isn’t worth the paper it’s written on’

May 25, 2009

Increasingly, I’ll agree with the title of this post.  I maintain that GCSEs were the toughest exams I went through, getting easier at A-Level and then just plain ridiculous at third level education

Example 1. In my first year, needing just 40% to pass the module (which counts for nothing towards the final degree) I get a potential 10% for attendance and participation in seminars

Example 2. In my second year, a proposed three hour exam was reformatted into a one hour class test.  With a seen question.  And you were allowed to bring an A4 page of notes in with you.

Example 3. In my final year, during my final exam, I look up wondering what the mumbling noise is.  It’s the invigilator.  With his back turned to a room full of students.  On his phone

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!

Is Protesting Fashionable or Functional?

May 16, 2009

I’ve blogged a few times on protesting, mostly with regards to students

Suzy Dean, a 23 year old wrote an interesting column in The Times on Thursday, complaining that “Demonstrators today seem more interested in mouthing platitudes than marshalling the case to advance real causes.  The article (which can be found here), raises some good points and highlights just how ‘fashionable’ it is to protest, and actually how little can come of it.  She succinctly articulates,

“I’m just here to raise awareness,” was another common response from demonstrators. Actually “raising awareness” is now a standard part of demo discourse: from the Put People First coalition to Stop the War marches, protesters gather to make the public “aware” of a cause. No one seems to think beyond awareness, or believe that convincing the public to join your cause counts for much.

If we are unable to articulate what we’re demonstrating for, the act rather than the aim of protesting takes centre stage.

The differentiation raising awareness and raising support has probably become very cloudyd it’s a fairly easy trap to get caught up in.  I mean, apart from being angry at bankers, who actually knows what many of the protestors at the G20 were protesting at?  And that’s undoubtedly been the most famous protest this year

Adrian Lovett, Director of Campaigns and Communications with Save the Children wrote a reply in the letters section yesterday.  As it’s reasonably short, I’ll copy it fully underneath.

Sir, The Make Poverty History white band I still wear every day is a little less white than it was and I wish it could be described as “demo chic”.  Rather than a fashion statement, it is a simple statement that the avoidable death of a child every three seconds is unacceptable — and a reminder to me that the small actions of human beings can change this reality.

Suzy Dean is right to say that campaigns need to go beyond raising awareness alone. But when a quarter of a million people marched in Edinburgh at the peak of the Make Poverty History campaign and called on world leaders to act, they did, with a promised $50 billion aid increase. That campaign went beyond awareness to action and there are children alive and in school today as a result.

Many people joined organisations at the peaceful Put People First march to urge the G20 to keep those promises in the face of a global recession. My guess is most of them came not to strike a pose, but to make a point.

Adrian Lovett, Director of Campaigns and Communications, Save the Children

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.

Victims Commissioners – What are they doing?

May 7, 2009

Patricia MacBride

Mike Nesbitt

Brendan McAllister

Bertha McDougall

Where are you?

Victims Commissioners

 For the past month, these four names have only appeared in the news on two occasions.*  Once was to tell us that they were giving evidence on the Eames-Bradley Report to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. 

And the other instance is in the debacle surrounding the appointment of Bertha McDougall as Interim Commissioner, an appointment now deemed as “not lawfully made.”

Their website shows a slowing down of diary appointments from early February, with 23 appointments in February, and 13 in March.  There are none listed for April or May. 

So, where are these Commissioners, and what are they doing to justify their £65,000 salary?  And if they are working, why aren’t we being told about it?  Where’s the accountability?

*Google news search

Let Duffy Run

May 5, 2009

Colin Duffy, dissident republican and the man accused of the Massarene Murders, is thought to be considering standing for the upcoming European elections, held in a month’s time

Colin Duffy

 Those surrounding Duffy claim there is a 50/50 chance of him standing.  I’ve thought about it, and actually I’m in favour of such a move.   

Obviously recent actions of so-called dissident republicans are absolutely repulsive, and I wouldn’t support him as a candidate.

Yet if he runs, it’s an opportunity to expose the lack of support dissident republicans have.  It’s one thing to say they only have under 200 members, who if discovered are prone to police questioning, and potential imprisonment.  It’s another thing to say that a small percentage of the nationalist community supported them in a secret ballot.

Of course, it’s just speculation that they would get hardly any of the vote.  Duffy might present an option for dissatisfied nationalists in the same way Jim Allister presents an option for dissatisfied unionists (oh how he would despair at the link!).  If so, if a sizeable number of nationalists are so dissatisfied with the SF leadership that they would vote for active terrorists, then we will see just how deeply mired in our past we are. 

And lastly, finances.  The dissidents are not well financed, and do not have anywhere near the resources the Provisionals had throughout the Troubles.  So if they spend a significant lump of the money they have on electioneering and not on weapons and training, then bring it on.

Regional Art Gallery for Northern Ireland?

May 4, 2009

Tommy Gallagher (SDLP) recently asked Gregory Campbell whart plans he has to invest in a regional art gallery.  Now I’m not very into my art, but I do agree that it’s a bit ridiculous Northern Ireland doesn’t have an identifiable gallery for local artists to showcase their work. 

The short exchange between the MLA and the minister which can be found at TheyWorkForYou (here) – a great website – seems to offer hope that we will have one, yet it’s obvious that with the current tortoise administration, it will drag its heels, increase to twice the budget and inexplicably get caught up on some sectarian line of divide.

Anyway, here’s the exchange:

Tommy Gallagher (Social Democratic and Labour Party)

1. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans he has to invest in a regional art gallery.       

Gregory Campbell (DUP)

My Department supports, in principle, a regional art gallery. I am aware that the absence of a national gallery is viewed by many as a significant gap in Northern Ireland’s cultural infrastructure. However, the necessary funding for such a facility has not been secured under investmest strategy for Northern Ireland II. Before any decision can be made in that regard, considerable preliminary work is required, including the development of a feasibility study to identify, consider and cost possible options. A business case will also have to be progressed through the approval process.

In the development of any future plans, the Department will work in partnership with National Museums Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

There is significant potential for increasing tourism and for boosting confidence among our own artists. I understand what the Minister says about funding; however, given that this is a time when those who are interested in property should be thinking seriously about it, can the Minister give us any idea about the cost implications of an original arts centre?

I thank the Member for his question. The short answer is yes. However, I hesitate to give the Member the figure for providing such a gallery, as it represents a significant investment and has been estimated at anywhere between £30 million and £70 million. A national gallery is a strategic objective of the Arts Council and is specified as such in its five-year strategic plan.

From looking at the examples of other nation states and regions, we have seen the benefits that a national or regional gallery can bring in relation not only to tourism, as the Member rightly identified, but also job creation. In considering which locality to invest in, inward investors would view as an asset a national gallery of some significance, whether that is of Guggenheim or Tate proportions or something similar. We need to think along those lines. However, as I said in my initial response, we need to develop the business case. The Arts Council has identified the need for such a gallery; the task of obtaining the resources to establish it will fall to me or to my successor.

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Given the competing pressures in his Department and the calls for funding that it faces — for example, for the development of community arts or funding for sports facilities — how much priority does the Minister allocate to the establishment of a regional arts gallery?

As I said earlier, the provision of a national gallery is a strategic objective of the Arts Council. If the Arts Council tells me, as Minister, that that is at the upper end of its priorities and it wants to see provision made for that from whatever budgetary allocations that I can obtain, it is my job to respond to that. However, speaking on a personal level and on a level of departmental responsibility, we must seek to achieve that objective in the shorter term, rather than in the longer term.

Having said that and returning to my original answer, I should say that funding for any objective for which there is currently no provision but which could require anything between £30 million and £70 million is going to be difficult to obtain. However, “difficult to obtain” is not a reason for not proceeding. It is an objective and a priority, and I intend to pursue it as such.