Monday, 29 June 2009

All victims deserve equality

Last week I was very honoured and equally humbled to sit in on a meeting between representatives of Relatives for Justice and the current Mayor of Belfast Naomi Long.

The meeting had been facilitated by Sinn Féin Councillors Paul Maskey and current deputy Mayor Danny Lavery.

The meeting was requested in light of the 27th of June being declared as ‘Armed Forces Day’ in Britain. At committee level it was proposed that the City Council here in Béal Feirste fly the ‘Armed Forces’ flag from the city hall for a number of days in the run up the date. An amendment from the Alliance Party saw this proposal change from a number of days down to just one day. In relation to this matter I must agree with one of the family members who put it directly to the Mayor that one day of hurt was just as bad as seven days of hurt; a hurt is still a hurt.
I suppose that brings us to the core issue, articulated so well by the families during the meeting. The civic institutions of this city, our city, a shared city, are not reflective of the nationalist/republican experience or indeed the experience of those families who have lost loved ones as a result of collusion and state violence. The trappings of city hall for example, are the trappings of domination and militaristic oppression. The very same regiment responsible for the murder of Belfast citizens is honoured with its very own window in the heart of city hall. No such window exists for those 70 children murdered by the British State.

As we move forward in society I don’t believe that any right thinking person would try to deny the Unionist community of their past and of their right to remember their loved ones; RFJ made it very clear that that was not their intention and never would be. We need to create the space where everyone’s legitimate and genuine experience of hurt and loss is remembered within civic Belfast.

The flying of an ‘Armed Forces’ flag from the city hall is offensive to the Nationalist and Republican community and most likely to those forgotten families within the Loyalist/Unionist communities who lost loved ones as a result of collusion and state murder. I think most people would have hoped that following the RIR’s March of Shame through the centre of the city, Belfast City Council would have at the very least acknowledged the potential hurt these issues can inflict and take the feelings of victims of state violence and collusion into account. On this occasion it would seem that they did not. On Thursday representatives of those families gathered at the City Hall to remember their loved ones, to show the world that the experience of the British Army and the occupation of Ireland from within the Nationalist/Republican community has been a traumatic, hurtful and at times a truly shattering one.
You can view a video of that protest here

I hope that last weeks meeting was indeed the beginning of a process to bring about space for our shared hurt and our shared experiences of conflict. As it stands Belfast City Hall and other locations show nothing of my outlook on life, of my culture, nor is it reflective of the community and situations from which I come. I can only imagine the hurt and pain the flying of this flag, as well as all the other militaristic trappings of city hall cause to those families, given the offence it causes me. I commend their dignity and ability to want to move forward so bravely and in not wanting to dilute anyone’s experience or feelings, simply create the space required for their own, within their own city. You can learn much more at

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Friday, 19 June 2009

Racism draws focus of the world to this part of Ireland

On Wednesday morning I visited the O-Zone Leisure Centre in the Ormeau Park. I was there with Martin McGuinness and the party's representative in Balmoral Vincent Parker. Vincent, who is a member of the south Belfast DPP, as well as the head of Sinn Fein's Equality and Human Rights Department, had spent some time the previous night at the City Church in the south of the city with those families forced to flee their homes.

I didn't really expect, if you could even prepare yourself for it, for the scene in the main sports hall of the O-Zone. Strangely it could have passed for a typical 'Family Fun Day'. The kids were running around laughing, giggling with their parents, getting handed juice and sweets, the older people mingled, talking and chatting, sharing stories and the latest sceal.

What strikes you fairly soon is that this wasn't a 'fun day' by any means. Families had fled to the centre after a number of attacks on their homes by, what Martin McGuinness described as 'racist criminals'. He was right, that's exactly what they are; people with no consideration for people, for families, for communities or for life.

I watched as Martin held a 5 day old baby girl, Fernanda, in his arms, a child born in our city but so early in life subjected to such hatred her family had to flee their homes.

The eyes of the world are upon us, for all the wrong reasons.

What is always clear though is the dogged determination of the Irish people to rally to the support of those in need. We have been subjected to the slogans of 'No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish'. More so than most we, as a people, have felt the cruel hand of intimidation and discrimination.

What must happen now, is that we as a people must stand united and face down the scourge of racism; we must face down the results of this racism like what we witnessed over recent times, but more importantly we must face down, root out and eradicate the source of this racism. The notion that one group is better, superior or more entitled than others. The notions that one section of people have more rights than another; we must continue to do what the deputy First Minister began on Wednesday morning, we must face racism and prejudice where and when it raises it head and we must say to those responsible that they will be rejected by the people, whether it be racism, sectarianism, prejudice. 

The PSNI must take this matter seriously, they must deal with those responsible, regardless of the repercussions it might potentially have within a certain community. Racism is commonly described as a cancer and that is exactly what it is.

I hope as a citizen of Beal Feirste, that the statutory agencies will act as decisively as the people of the city and do what they can and must to help assist those people subjected to this hatred.

Beirigi Bua! 

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Taim ar ais.....

Sin e a chairde, treimhse cruaigh, deacair, tuirseach ach ar doigh. Ta Bairbre anois ar bharr an phoill agus is e Sinn Fein an phairti is mo sna se chontae.

Comhgairdeas Bairbre!!

I hope to be blogging a bit more often now that the election campaign has ended (for now at least!)

And what an election it was!!

I was up at 6am Thursday morning and straight to St Matthews Primary School to do polling agent from 7am to 10am. It was a long slug, but as always the people of the Short Strand turned out in support of the Sinn Fein candidate. 

This of course was on the back of some intensive canvassing by the South & East Belfast team over the last few weeks and months.

On Friday we were up first pop again and down to the Nation's Capital.

We were sent to South West Inner City to assist with Cllr Criona Ni Dhalaigh's camapign for re-election to the city council.

We stamped the many streets in that constituency, including the many flat complexes, and got a brilliant response for Criona on the doors, she is clearly a very well know and well respected worker in that community.

Of course we were seeking Mary Lou McDonald's re-election to the European Parliament also, we always knew this would be a tough task as the constituency had been reduced from a  4 seater to a three seater. What I can say is that Mary Lou got a brilliant response on the doors, she was well known and well liked; sadly she didn't retain her seat on this occasion but thankfully a candidate on the left in the form of Joe Higgins was elected from the Sinn Fein transfers. Adh mor Seosamh!!

I was back in Dublin on Saturday for the council election count in the RDS, naturaly I was delighted that Criona was re-elected and that we made numerous gains across the 26 County State. We still have a lot of work to do, we still need to make Sinn Fein very firmly at the heart of political life in the 26 and we need to continue to ensure that our voice, our policies, the politics of Republicanism is the one that people turn to in the future.

Returning to the Six Counties, I attended the count at the Kings Hall on Monday morning with a very upbeat and resolute Sinn Fein contingent. As predicted by many, Bairbre de Brun topped the poll, the first Nationalist or Republican politician to do so in the history of the statelet

It was clear from appearances that neither the DUP or the SDLP were happy bunnies that day.

So sin e!

When it is all said and done we have returned in Bairbre a first class representative for the people of the north.

I have no doubt she will continue her work on behalf of everyone she represents here in the north of Ireland. 

Hopefully the horrendous images from Monday of Diane Dodds of the DUP refusing to shake hands with Bairbre will not be a sign of things to come from the DUP. Here's hoping it was just sour grapes and that she will mature a bit before joining Bairbre and Jim Nicholson of the UUP on the international stage!

The DUP have taken a hit but Peter Robinson needs to take control of his party, now more than ever and he needs to face the naysayers within his own ranks down or he faces the danger of those very same forces gobbling him up; and that is to the benefit of no one!

Beir Bua.