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.

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.

Scotland B v Northern Ireland B – Will there be any winners?

April 29, 2009


A week’s time from now, we will know what the result will be from the Scotland v Northern Ireland B international being played at Broadwood, but the question is, will there be any winners, or only losers?

For George Burley, the occasion seems to hold more risk.  As the ‘better team’ (source arrogant Scots fans, not my own opinion) they have more reason to question the usefulness of the exercise.  Burley has already come under criticism from Chick Young for the nature, and the timing of the game.  He has suffered the setback of Kris Boyd rejecting a chance to return to involvement with the international team, Ala Chris Sutton.  On top of that there is ignominy of being unable to select any players involved in the Old Firm set up, as well as players belonging to Aberdeen, Dundee United, Hearts and Hibernian, teams who play on the same night.

For Nigel Worthington, the night provides a great opportunity to look at some of the fringe players available to him in the squad.  Expect Tuffey and Carson to get 45 minutes each as both battle to prove themselves worth of a regular squad place, waiting patiently for Maik Taylor’s retirement.  Regulars under Roy Millar when he was in charge of the u-21s, Rory McArdle (a defender in the Craigan/Murdock mould), Craig Cathcart and Chris Casement have the opportunity to show Worthington they are ready for the step up.  In midfield Michael O’Connor will dominate, showing that his impressive 45 minutes against the Czechs in September was no fluke, while up front I’d expect Jamie Ward to get 70 minutes and a goal, unless Sheffield United remain in the playoffs, in which case his withdrawal would be expected and understood.

Worthington is on record as articulating his belief in these exercises; 


“This match bridges the gap between the Under-21s and the seniors, which is a big jump,” said the Northern Ireland manager.

It is an ideal opportunity for us to have a look at some fringe players and some young players. I do not see the point of including players that I know enough about.

“If they perform well against Scotland, they could well be in my thoughts to face Italy [in June].

For Scotland and Burley, I think the match will also prove to be deeply constructive, but he has more obstacles to overcome to convince his players, and the press, that this is so.


Frankly, I think the match will prove to be entirely useful for the Northern Ireland set up.  With the team cruelly providing hope of qualification, there is a strong desire for fringe players to realise their dream of international football.  It gives Worthington a chance to have a close look at players – some of whom will be a part of our set up for the next few years – not only in training, but in a match setting with a natural competitive edge.

Football in Northern Ireland during WW2

April 1, 2009

Entitled ‘Fiercely Loyal or Indifferent?’ this dissertation (here) attempts to use Association Football as a gauge of how involved Northern Ireland was in the Second World War by looking at wartime football in both Northern Ireland and England

The Truth of Reconciliation

January 31, 2009

In the aftermath of the Eames-Bradley report* and the controversial £12,000 ‘recognition payment’ Denis Murray talks to Andrew Neil on This Week. Watch the video here

There are some interesting points raised. Around 2 minutes in Denis Murray states,

Some clergymen in Northern Ireland . . . say that I can offer you forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you express regret

Is forgiveness conditional? Do we offer it on the grounds that someone is sorry? That’s probably our default way of doing things. Who forgives his wife for cheating on him if she doesn’t express regret, and sorrow for the pain caused? Yet Jesus, radical as ever, wants us to forgive unconditionally. He is quoted as saying;

 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses

There is no clause. No conditions. No small print. If you hold a grudge, if someone has wronged you, forgive them. There is no hierarchy of sin mentioned, no one sin to great to offer forgiveness for. We should not wait for someone to express regret before we offer them forgiveness. Yet it is true, that we can offer it and they may not accept it. They may feel small because we have offered something they cannot fathom and refuse out of disbelief or mistrust. They may simply have no remorse whatsoever. But we are called to forgive.

And Jesus knows a thing or two about forgiveness. He offered the ultimate forgiveness of sin. He offers forgiveness for all our sins, through his death and resurrection. And he can offer it, but it won’t mean anything in our lives unless we recognise our need for it, continually, acknowledging that we need to be forgiven for our disobedience against our perfect creator.

Another thing to note is Michael Portillo, 5 minutes in. He says this:

The thing that would most interest me for the future … will be whether
education is now going to be inter-communal, whether Catholics and Protestants are going to go to the same schools … If that’s not happening, then that’s a very serious problem

This is a statement I agree with wholeheartedly. Would we not rightly say America was stuck with its past if black children and white children went to different schools? For Northern Ireland to rid itself completely of sectarianism, the education system must be overhauled. I’m not calling for greater promotion of integrated education, I’m calling for an abolishment of segregated education.

Segregated education allows for one version of history to be taught to pupils of one background. It means our children will grow up with the mindsets of their parents and their grandparents. It means another conflict will never be far away from the surface, as long as we keep the ‘other side’ anonymous.

How can you hate Catholics if you’re friends with one? How can you loathe Protestants if you play football every lunchtime with them? But if you wait until you’re 16,18 and in a working environment, or third level education before you interact with people of the ‘other side’, then by that time you may well have a deep rooted sectarian mindset. It is imperative that with EU money being directed to Eastern Europe thus reducing cross community schools projects funding, that we address our Education problem immediately, and pave the way for the next generation.

*You can read the 192 page Eames-Bradley report here