Sunday, 30 August 2009

Mela Béal Feirste 2009

Bairbre and Alex chat with some of the organisers of Mela 2009
Alex being interviewed at Mela 2009

You'll have to excuse the quality of the photos, they were taken on my blackberry!

Just home from the celebrations at the Belfast Mela in Botanic Gardens.

It’s my first time attending the event and I really enjoyed it!

I tagged along with Alex Maskey, he has been before and is always received brilliantly by the ethnic minority communities that live here in Belfast. While there we met up with Bairbre de Brún and Tom Hartley, as well as a number of other Sinn Féin activists.

While walking into the Botanic Gardens I was instantly and pleasantly hit with the sound of music and the wonderful smells that waited ahead.

What struck me the most was the people, all from differing backgrounds and cultures, but all of us citizens of Belfast (or as Tom Hartley referred to us all during his term as Mayor, Béal Feirstians).

Belfast Mela is now in its third year and despite today’s heavy rain, appears to be going from strength to strength!

From my quick scanning of the internet, ‘Mela’ appears to be very similar to our word, Féile, a coming together of people in a positive and joyful way.

Despite the recent and disgraceful racist incidents in this city, I can say that Belfast truly is a welcoming city, opposed to racism and opposed to those who profess it. Today’s event showed once again why we Irish must always strive to welcome people from throughout the world, to our country, to our towns and to our cities.

Belfast is a friendly, welcoming place, with good and decent people; the Mela is a great showcase of all those attributes and a fantastic way for us all to get to know each others cultures, traditions, musics, fashions, religions and arts.

I commend the organisers and as a Béal Feirstian I thank them for allowing us this opportunity, if only once a year, to get together and to remind ourselves that Belfast is a good place to live, with, above all, brilliant people.

Go néirí libh!!
Plus, I really enjoyed the grub!!!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Maysfield.....gone but certainly not forgotten!!

The once familiar logo of Maysfield Leisure Centre shows how the Centre has fallen into disuse

When I was a kid we always looked forward to the summer break and my mother taking me and my brothers to Maysfield at least twice a week. My mother is an avid swimmer, who used this facility regularly; now she attends the Falls Road Leisure Centre 3 times a week.

By the time of it's closure in 2004, Maysfield was one of the oldest Leisure Centres in the city and certainly in need of redevelopment.

At the time Sinn Féin Councillors opposed the closure of this site; the City Council promised a new leisure facility would be built in the general south Belfast area to replace Maysfield by 2009. Alas, that hasn't been the case.

Since selected by Sinn Féin to represent them in this part of Béal Feirste, I have highlighted the fallacy in allowing Maysfield to lie vacant on a number of occasions. I remember having to endure one particularly cringe worthy piece recorded by the 'Politics Show' in which I had to run along the Lagan walkway several times!!!

Maysfield was unique in our still divided city, in that it brought people from various communities together, not just to swim and train and have fun, but Maysfield was known in Belfast as venue for exhibitions, discos and concerts. It remains a massive loss to the people.

Bear in mind that Maysfield is surrounded by some of the most socio-economically deprived communities in the north of Ireland; the Markets, the Short Strand, Castlreagh Road, Lower Newtonards Road, Lower Ravenhill Road, the Woodstock, are all communities that would benefit in terms of social recreation provision but also in terms of health and fitness, were the Council to fulfill their pledge and keep to their promises.

Maysfield was a place that I, like countless others, grew up enjoying and using regularly. As it stands, the Council are allowing a prime piece of land to lie vacant and in my opinion, are also denying thousands of citizens adequate provision of fitness, sport and recreational facilities.

I have once again contacted the Council, this time the Parks and Leisure Committee, asking the Councillors who sit on it to urgently review the use of this site and it's potential for development in the immediate time ahead.

People cannot continue to go without, particularly the communities who already have so little by way of leisure facilities. I look forward to a response from the Council and I also look forward to seeing what action the relevant sections of the Council take to the address this ongoing problem.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

I wonder do the SDLP have a problem with this????

South Belfast's MP, MLA and practising Family Doctor Alasdair McDonnell has asked the GAA why the allowed Sunday's National Hunger Strike Commemoration to take place on one of their grounds.

I think it's always important to remember this story (one which the 'mainstream' media were inclined to ignore ) when dealing with Alasdair.

I wonder would Alasdair, or indeed anyone else in the SDLP, take issue with these examples of GAA facilities being used for party political purposes or is it simply when Republicans wish to remember Ireland's Patriot Dead, does a problem arise???

Fianna Fail meeting at Bellfield GAA Centre, Enniscorthy in May 2009

Fine Gael- Michael Collins Public Meeting, March 24 2009

Remembering Ireland's Hnger Strike martyrs

The annual, national Hunger Strike Commeoration was this year held in Galbally Co. Tír Eoghain.
A bus load of us from the Short Strand joined other bus loads from right across Ireland, at the event where Gerry Adams was the main speaker.
The Parade and subsequent events were a fitting tribute to the Hunger Strike Martyrs and the other local Óglaigh who were remembered on the day.
Music, poetry and prose were all incorporated in what was a very well organised and emotional day.
After returning home I ventured up to the west of the city for an evening of remembrance and celebration.
The main speaker on this occasion was former Officer Commanding IRA Prioners in Long Kesh Pádraic Wilson, Pádraic is currently head of Sinn Féin's International Department.
In his address to the assembled crowd, Pádraic recalled numerous experiences of his time 'on the Blanket', he remembered fondly and no doubt proudly the courage and strength of the 10 Hunger Strikers. He also challenged those who at the time and some even today who assisted so gleefully and willingly in the attempts led by Brit PM Maggie Thatcher, to criminalise the Prisoners and therefore the whole Republican struggle.
I though Pádraic spoke brilliantly, as always he was calm, sincere, honest and to the point.
Although I have copied the speech below I don't believe it does justice to how he said it on the night.
Ach ar aon nós, seo chugaibh óráid s'aige ón cuimhneachán oíche de Domhnaigh i ndíl chuimhne ar na stailceoirí ocrais.
'This morning the 40th anniversary of the burning of Bombay Street was remembered with a march retracing some of the main sites of the August 1969 pogroms. Along with the Battle of the Bogside those events were the catalyst that radicalised a generation of men and women and brought them into armed conflict with the Orange state and the British Empire.
'This afternoon in Tyrone we gathered to remember the deaths, on hunger strike, of 13 Irish Republicans spanning the period from the 1940's to 1981 in prisons across Ireland and in England.
'Last week I was in the audience at the premiere of a play, Young Guard of Erin, that focused on the lives of 10 young republicans, members of Na Fianna Eireann and Cumann na gCailiní, from Ballymurphy and Turf Lodge, who died in the period spanning the 1940's to the 1980's. The play was a brilliant piece of drama and a fine tribute to the memory of those young people.
'Tonight we've come together to primarily celebrate the lives and honour the commitment of our comrades and friends who died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks in 1981. All of these events are of course linked and all of them have had an influence in one way or another upon each of us.
'Over the years a lot has been written and said about the hunger strike of 1981. Some notable pieces of work stand out such as Nor Meekly Serve My Time, Ten Men Dead or the recent film, Hunger.
'But not all of what has been written or said is deserving of praise, in particular stuff that originated from the political and media establishments.
'They vilified and demonised our comrades, their families and each and every one of us.
'They provided a rationale for the murderous attacks against the Relatives Action Committees and others.
'In recent times there have been attempts, led by some of the same people, to rewrite the history of that period.
'If we didn't know better we could be forgiven for thinking that these people actually cared about our comrades or their families.
'Whatever else we disagree about lets be clear about a number of things:
The British Government, led by Thatcher, was not an honest broker trying desperately to find a solution to a situation for which they had no responsibility.
Thatcher had shown quite clearly in December 1980, when the opportunity for a solution to the situation in the H-Blocks and Armagh arose, that she had one intention and one only; that was to demoralise us, crush us, and to deliver a death blow to republican resistance. According to her we had played our last card…the game was still going in Brighton in 1984, Maggie.
She and her allies failed inside the prisons and they failed on the outside.
They failed because we, and that means those of us who were in prison, those of you who fought and campaigned on the outside and those of you who provided the resources for that, all of us refused to be intimidated, refused to bow down and refused to be criminalised.
'While we expect it from those quarters there are others, some of them former comrades, who have aligned themselves with this revisionism. The logic of their position is that our comrades were like sheep being led aimlessly along.
'That is an insult and it needs challenged.
'Bobby Sands was our O/C and he led us. Our comrades, Frank, Raymond, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Mickey, stepped forward to join him and they showed us leadership.
'Their families said it best themselves after a recent meeting in Gulladuff in South Derry when they stated 'Our loved ones made the supreme sacrifice on hunger strike for their comrades. They were not dupes. They were dedicated and committed republicans.'
'Of those dedicated and committed republicans Kieran Doherty, Big Doc, was the person I knew both outside and inside of prison. I've said before that when you witnessed Doc in action you knew he didn't need a title or rank to give leadership, it came naturally. He oozed confidence.
'His stature and his determination made him stand out.
'Doc was single minded in what he was about, there was no ambiguity. That same dedication and commitment was to be found in each and every one of the ten lads. No-one led them along. They all showed us leadership.
'One of our lifelines in the Blocks was the ability to send out and receive communications. The visits were the means to do that. We only had one visit a month for half an hour. So a system was put in place to ensure that the visits were spread out in a way that resulted in a series of visits each day to each Block.
'Somebody somewhere discovered that if a prisoner appealed their case then they were entitled to a 15 minute visit every day. So naturally men were encouraged to submit an appeal just to open up a potential line of communication. The system responded with a rule that stipulated that such visits were for legal purposes only. To make sure that this rule was enforced a screw would literally stand in the visiting box and if anything was said that was not strictly about the legal case then the visit was stopped and both the prisoner and the visitors were removed.
'Visitors would come up every day and endure all of the aggression and hassle, going over the same standard conversation, waiting for the opportunity to pass a comm or a parcel of tobacco.
'The prisoner had to endure two mirror searches and the accompanying physical ill-treatment, the severity of which depended on the particular screws on duty.
'Big Doc was on appeal visits and he was one of the masters at being able to secure comms and tobacco.
'Doc became a focus of attention for the screws, especially on the return journey to the Block. The search on arriving back on the wing was usually more aggressive and physical.
'There was a particular SO who took a sadistic interest in Doc and he wasn't happy that other screws were a bit hesitant about tackling Doc. He attempted to orchestrate a situation during a return search whereby a few screws tried to have a go at Doc. As soon as he went into the search cell, cell 26 as it was called, Doc knew what was up and he positioned himself in the corner inviting them to come at him face on. They declined the offer.
'The next day after an appeal visit when Doc entered cell 26, there was a screw in each corner and three around the mirror that was on the ground. They forced him over the mirror and tried to make him squat over it. He resisted.
'Remember this is a situation where there are up to 7 or 8 fully clothed and kitted out screws against one naked man.
'Frustrated with the screws inability to bend Doc the SO stepped in and between them they rendered him semi-conscious until he went down. He then scurried out of the way before Doc could recover.
'On the mural to Doc at Slemish Way there is a quote from one of his letters where he paraphrases Terence Mac Swineys' quote "It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer". They inflicted brutal and degrading treatment like that on us on a daily basis. We endured it because we had a purpose, a unity of purpose. Any act of resistance has to have a purpose. Any struggle has to have a purpose, a clear objective.
'The protests in the H-Blocks and Armagh were great levelers. They put all of the prisoners on protest on a level playing field. No-one had privilege or advantage over the other. We all endured the same deprivations. The only thing that tended to alter or change at times was the extent of the brutality that was visited upon you by the screws.
'The decision to embark upon hunger strike was not one that was taken lightly. The human cost on each person and on their family was immeasurable. That alone was a big enough burden for anyone to carry.
'But it also carried with it the justification of our struggle and the defence of the integrity of that struggle. The elections of Bobby Sands, Kieran Doherty, Paddy Agnew and Owen Carron sent shock waves through the political establishments in Ireland and in England. Internationally Britain's role in Ireland began to be questioned as never before.
'Recently I was in the Middle-East along with two former hunger strikers, Pat Sheehan and Raymond Mc Cartney. We were taken into South Lebanon and brought to the site of a former Israeli prison that was jointly run by them and Lebanese collaborators. It was infamous as a site of torture and brutality for the Palestinian and Lebanese men and women who were held there. Some of them died within its walls.
'It is now a museum dedicated to the memory of those who were imprisoned in it. Our guide was a Palestinian fighter who had himself been imprisoned and tortured there.
'When we were introduced to him and our backgrounds explained, he said two words "Bobby Sands".
'So the legacy of the hunger strike continues to inspire people and to instill in them 'an meon saoirse' - the spirit of freedom.
'A lot has happened and changed since 1981. Each year we lose comrades from those days. People like Jimmy Duff, Cormac MacAirt, Christine Beattie and Sean McKenna.
'The nature and expression of struggle and resistance have also changed. And, I believe, rightly so.
'Our republican objectives still guide us.
'Those objectives have not yet been achieved or realised.
'The efforts of our opponents to defeat us will continue.
'As we shape and redefine the nature of our strategies and tactics so will they.
'Nothing has ever been given to us on a plate.
'We've had to organise and struggle for every inch.
'Irish unity won't come about unless we make it happen.
'That means working for it.
'That work can accommodate us all. It's true that there is no part too big or too small.
'I've been asked at various times over the years if it was all worth it. I've always responded that everything that I've experienced and all that I've been a part of were necessary and worthy. Mindful that some people might think that's an easy answer to give because I'm alive and well, I can only say that any other response would be a lie and a betrayal.
'I committed myself to fulfilling the legacy of our comrades in whatever way that I could. Everyone has to find their way of fulfilling that legacy.
'I mentioned the play 'Young Guard of Erin' earlier. While the play was on stage I looked around the hall and it was clear to see the emotional impact that the drama was having on the families present. By the end of the play the sense of pride that filled the hall was palpable.
'We are rightly proud of our patriot dead. We should always be so. We are privileged to have had them in our lives or to have known them. At events like this tonight we remember them and celebrate their lives.
'So tonight let's celebrate their lives and enjoy the company and the craic.
'Tomorrow let's get on with fulfilling their legacy. That's the best memorial we can create. Mar sin, bigí linn agus le chéile leanfaimid ar aghaidh agus beidh an bua againn, go raibh maith agaibh, sin é.'

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

'Peace' Walls??

I have never really been a fan of the term ‘peace walls’, or of the term ‘interface community’.

I don’t think either of them properly reflect, either the walls themselves or the community that the walls are inflicted upon.

The reason I write about this topic today is because earlier on I received a call from the East Belfast Herald; they wanted me to respond to something that Mayor of Belfast Naomi Long had said on Radio Ulster over the weekend. I never heard the interview with Naomi but the journalist who called informed me that she had once again advocated the removal of the so called ‘peace walls’ but on this occasion the rationale was because there had been such a unified community spirit at the Tall Ships Festival.

I’m not so sure I agree.
I hope I'm not taking Naomi's quote out of context, after all it was conveyed to me second hand. Nevertheless, there is an attitude and argument that exists out there, that these walls should just be torn town in the morning.

Obviously as an Irish Republican I want to see these walls torn down, my politics and ideology compels me to help create an Ireland where, to quote the Proclamation of Irish Freedom, “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

I respect Naomi’s and others view that the walls can be removed, like I said I too want to see that happen. It is a sorry state of affairs when in 2009 the walls surrounding my own community in the Short Strand have actually gotten higher; higher than when I was a young child and the Irish Republican Army was engaging in combat on the streets of this community, higher than when Loyalist Paramilitaries, in collusion with Crown Forces stalked the streets of this community and higher than when British Direct Rule was inflicted on the north, prior to the days of an all-party Assembly.

Physical walls are not the primary block to progress, Britain has been building walls in Ireland for centuries now, but not just ones of brick and stone. Like the quote from the Proclamation implies, Britain has carefully fostered walls of division and prejudice between, not just people here in Ireland but across the globe. Those same walls must be smashed in order to create the conditions where we collectively can remove the physical barriers that surround us.

I live in the Short Strand, a so called ‘interface community’, I want to see the walls that encircle my community come down, I want a shared and equal Ireland based on the ideal embodied in our own national flag. This won’t happen overnight and it certainly won’t happen as a result of the Tall Ships Festival, however good it was!

Politicians can only lead, and I think in area’s like east Belfast many of us are doing our level best, alongside community and church representatives and some of the statutory agencies. Ultimately though it will be the people who decide on whether or not these walls are removed, it shouldn’t be left to us.

I can indeed see a time when the walls separating communities throughout Belfast and beyond are no longer there, I think a lot of measured, mature and most often, quiet work goes on every single day in ensuring that we move ahead.

We cannot afford however to be tokenistic in this endeavour; we must ensure that people are ready, comfortable and above all safe in their own homes. We must take our lead from them and ensure that what we do helps us all smash down the carefully fostered divisions so meticulously and cynically constructed over generations by those who wished to keep us apart, for their own selfish interests.

I believe together we can do it and I know for certain that as an Irish Republican it is something I am firmly committed to achieving; so let’s continue our work and let’s make sure we achieve it for the benefit of everyone.

As we say in Irish:

Ar aghaidh linn le chéile!!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Sinn Féin must be rooted, relevant and republican

Exclusive interview with Uachtarán Shinn Féin Gerry Adams available to read over at An Phoblacht's website

The interview comes after the special meeting the party held in Navan during the week.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Máire supports closure of Mountpottinger

I see, unlike numerous other politicians in East Belfast, Alliance Councillor Máire Hendron has supported the calls from the community in the Short Strand in relation to the dismantling of Mountpottinger Barracks.
Cllr Hendron and I both sit on the Board of the Short Strand Partnership and she is more than aware of the campaign that has taken place to remove this base and replace it with much needed social provision.
I commend Máire for coming out clearly and joining with those of us putting forward a rational argument in relation to Mountpottinger.
The drain the base causes on policing resources in the east of the city is much more an issue of concern for people than the redundant argument put forward by some within Unionism who insist that people are in some way made to feel 'better' or 'safer' as a result of it's presence, well the community in the Short Strand know differently of course!
People will not just be made to 'feel' safer or better as a result of Mountpottinger going, the PSNI, in conjunction with the DPP and local communities, will be able to refocus and utilise the vast amounts of money and manpower saved by the very fact that this base is no longer there.
As a result of Mountpottinger's dismantling, those of us genuinely concerned with creating an effective and community orientated policing service will continue to push the PSNI to utilise these saving for the betterment and greater safety of people living in this part of the city. A building means absolutely nothing, particularly one with the notorious legacy that Mountpottinger has.
FYI: As yet I have received no reply to my letter to Margaret Ritchie regarding the development of this site, but it's early days yet and I will keep you informed of any info that I get.

Monday, 10 August 2009

some snaps from the short strand féile 2009

The first group of pictures show a small amount of the Internment Exhibition which was organised as part of the Féile by numerous Ex-POW's. the exhibition showed a wide range of artifacts from that period, before and beyond, as well as posters, letters, photographs, documents, literature and handicrafts made by the Internee's themselves.

Maith sibh to the Ex-POW's who put a lot of hard work into gathering the stuff (with help and encouragement from the Irish Republican History Museum in Conway Mill - more info here ) and manned the exhibition throughout. As well as this there was a video on show and seating area for anyone curious about the background to Internment and the obvious fall out from it.

I have no doubt, given the enthusiasm of those who worked on it and the great reception it got from visitors the exhibition will be back again, no doubt bigger and better, next year!

Myself, with Ciarán Dunbar and Dr Ian Malcolm, who both gave brilliant presentations on differing perspectives regarding the Irish Language, also pictured is Ian's daughter, Tara.

Bhí seo an imeacht deireannach ar chlár an Fhéile agus caithifdh a ceann de na ceann is suimiúla! Deirfhinn cinnte go mbeidh muid a' tógáil ar an imeacht seo fa choinne Féile 2010!

Staff and Board members of the Short Strand Partnership and Community Forum with Leas Ard Mheara Cllr Danny Lavery. Danny came over to make presentations at the annual pensioners night in the community centre. Sadly he couldn't be convinced to get up and give us a song!

These two pics are of the winning team in the Short Strand Féile Lagan Boat Race 2009!

Unsurprisingly the Short Strand boys beat the team from the Markets!

Definitely an event to build on for next year's Féile!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Policing Board decision to close and dispose of Mountpottinger PSNI barracks welcomed

Sin é!

After long years of campaigning, protesting and fighting, the Short Strand community is finally to be rided of Mountpottinger Barracks.

I have written on this issue fairly extensively since starting the blog, and regular readers will know all the reasons why we campaigned so tirelessly for such a long time!

All I can say now is that I am delighted, that this is a victory for the Short Strand community and thank them for their continued hard work and support during our shared campaign.

Now work begins to ensure that the land occupied by the Barracks will be given back to the community who suffered so brutally as a result of it's presence.

As I write my letter to DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie is running out of the printer.

Today's news sets us on but our work is not yet over until we such times as the land is secured for the community.

Beirigí Bua!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Now is the time.....why it MUST go!

"You can stew in your own juice"
These were the words uttered by an RUC Sergent when Short Strand residents pleaded with them, through the door of Mountpottinger Barracks, to come out and assist them when the area came under attack during a Loyalist pogrom on the 27th June 1970

I have written several times before on this blog and have been fairly good at raising the issue of Mountpottinger Barracks in the media. When I do I am always mindful of the people who suffered so greatly at the hands of Mountpottinger and those inside. People like Tony Dawson who was shot dead in 1983, two years before I was born. Tony was shot and murder by a drunken RUC Officer leaving Mountpottinger Barracks, who opened fire on three young nationalists, sadly Tony was fatally wounded. Tony's sister Sue is a close family friend and neighbour, I pass her most days and wonder how the constant sight of this base makes her and her family feel. I also think of the notorious Loyalist, Albert 'Ginger' Baker, who met with his handlers inside Mountpottinger's grim walls and was supplied with intelligence and weapons from officers inside Mountpottinger.

For those of you who haven't heard, the Policing Board is meeting this Thursday to discuss the future status of a number of PSNI stations dotted across the Six Counties.

Included in this is the future status of Mountpottinger.

Sinn Féin has for the guts of twenty years been lobbying for the removal of Mountpottinger Barracks and its replacement with much needed social homes. When Sinn Féin selected me to represent this constituency on it's behalf I, along with a number of other comrades, made it one of our top areas of work, not just to continue with the long running campaign but to revitalise it as well.

We set about holding protests again, highlighting the desire of this community to see this blight on our area removed, however we were no longer content to do this in isolation, it was about getting down to the nitty gritty and actually articulating why this base had to go. I set about submitting a number of Freedom of Information requests into the PSNI seeking to find out

1. How much did it cost to retain Mountpottinger?
2. How many hours was it open?
3.How many people actually used it?

Even for those of us who knew it had lain idle for quite some time, the answers were still shocking. Not only was the Barracks used only to house a part time neighbourhood team, there was over £92,000 being spent on paying private security firms to sit in the place when these teams weren't there. Add this on top of the costs of rates, heat, electric etc etc and you had quite the bill for a barracks sitting in the middle of an area that was already being 'policed' from Strandtown station on the Hollywood Road.

At a public meeting of the Policing Board's community engagement committee I put these figures directly to the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde, I asked him did he accept that this was a gross waste of police resources right in the heart of what is considered to be the ninth most socio-economically deprived electoral ward in the north of Ireland?

He agreed. He said it was a waste of money and even went so far as to say that his officers 'didn't want to work in places like Mountpottinger'.

In the meantime a consultation had re-opened into the future of of Mountpottinger, Sinn Fein gathered almost one thousand signatures from residents living under the shadow of Mountpottinger calling clearly for it's removal and replacement with Social Housing. Funny enough, we had to submit this petition into Strandtown Station on up the Hollywood Road. (see photo above of myself with Short Strand residents and community acitivsts Bernie Black and Jacquline O'Donnell, submitting the petition)

The East Belfast DPP held a meeting on this very issue in the Mount Conference Centre and it was clear from their presentation, that much like Hugh Orde, they too accepted that Mountpottinger was a massive drain on finance and on resources.

Short Strand residents, community activists as well as myself and other Sinn Féin members, made it clear at that meeting, that the Barracks served no purpose other than to act as a constant reminder of all that was wrong with Policing here in Ireland. It was now time to move on.

In doing media on this issue I have had to go up against opposing views on the closure of the Barracks, once with UUP leader Reg Empey but several times with DUP MLA for East Belfast, and now junior Minister Robin Newton. I asked several times what the exact reasons were why Robin Newton and the DUP wanted to retain this base, as yet publicly or privately i have received no answer. I put it directly to him that this his was the party who once proclaimed that they would 'put a ring of steel around the Short Strand'. I wondered did that mindset still exist within his party?

What intrigued me also was that I had saw and heard Robin Newton on countless occasion, given his role on the Assembly's Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, stand in the Assembly Chamber arguing his heart out for a more cost effective and sensible approach throughout government to spending and the issue of cost effectiveness. I couldn't then add up why he had a completely different view when presented with the cold, hard facts about Mountpottinger; no doubt on these occasion he was performing to a different gallery.

In all of this what cannot and must not be overlooked is the future need for community based and community orientated, effective, civic policing in East Belfast. Mountpottinger will go, there is no doubt about that, but what we must now do collectively is figure out how we utilise what is there to best combat the scourge of drugs, racism, intimidation, anti social activity, theft as well as all the other community safety issues facing us in the East of the city. Mountpottinger was never about doing that, it was designed and used for intimidation and repression.

Let's now look to the future, let's ensure that the legacy of Mountpottinger and everything that it stood for is consigned to the dustbin of history. Let's ensure that all citizens in this part of Belfast have a cost effective, efficient and civic policing service with the right strategies and the right tool to address the issue that effect us all.

I recently submitted another Freedom of Information request, seeking clarity on who exactly owns the land on which Mounpottinger Barracks is based; I am calling, once again, on the Department of Social Development to ensure that they obtain this land from the owners, the Policing Board itself, and urgently provide the much needed social homes for this community and it's people.

We have further work ahead but I am confident, like the people have stood together in securing the removal of this base, that they will once again stand together to ensure that the land, used against this community so cruelly will be gifted back to the people for the sustainment of this proud community.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Féile time!!!

It's Féile season once more a cairde ghael!!!

We have the big parade in the west of the city today for the launch of Féile an Phobail, we saw the Mayor of Béal Feirste launch Féile an Droichead on Friday and this coming Thursday sees the beginning of my own local community Féile in the Short Strand. As well as all this we have the Markets Community Festival for the south and Fleadh Cheoil Ard Eoin to look forward to over in the north of the city too!!

These festivals have all got one thing in common, and that is that they have grown out of oppressed yet proud communities. Féile an Phobail shines as an example of what community based festivals can be and is the envy of countries and communities right across Europe and indeed beyond!

The more smaller, local Féiltí are testimony to the hard work put in by community activists (often with very little financial support or assistance) to ensure that our communities enjoy the summer; enjoy their own culture and craic, yet open doors and experience new cultures and different ways of life. In this city which saw such horrendous scenes of bigotry and hatred against foreign nationals now living in Ireland, our Festivals stand out as examples of how truly multi cultural our society can be. The festivals I mentioned above strive to welcome the new Irish and let them share in our rich culture and heritage but equally we seek to learn and experience their rich cultures too. This is the type of engagement, whether it be on the Falls or in the Strand, that is often overlooked in favour of the more darker stories we sadly had to witness a few months back.

Festivals are growing all the time, the Pride Festival was only yesterday, taking place in the city centre and no doubt brought thousands onto the streets with it. As well as that, each year the Saint Patrick's Day Carnival continues to grow and grow.

Now we even see the Orange Order accepting that it too must change, not just for the rest of the world to enjoy but for people here in Ireland to experience in a positive light as well. Clearly it has far to go, and if nothing else it needs to provide an alternative to those followers of the Orange tradition and people within those same communities with a positive expression of culture, entertainment and enjoyment.

Sadly it has failed in providing that positive alternative because thus far it has been one of seclusion, sectarianism and triumphalism. The Orange Order, as much as it mightn't like it, can learn a fair bit from Republican heartlands throughout Béal Feirste, who collectively stood and up and defied the deliberate attempts by the media to brand these communities as 'ghettos' or 'controlled by godfathers'!

Nothing could be further from the truth and it didn't take millions upon millions of pounds investment, it didn't take any great amount of political intervention (granted often Republicans were the driving force with other long term community activists), it took a determination and a recognition that our community and our culture are something to be immensely proud of and should be celebrated. What better way to do that than in the age old Irish tradition of Féile?!!

Once again, as thousands upon thousands descend on Béal Feirste from gach cearn den tír, and across the globe, they too will see, know and most importantly feel that these communities are risen communities, proud of themselves, proud of their achievements, proud of where they come from and undoubtedly proud of where we are going.

Beannachtaí na Féile libh ar fad! Beir Bua!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Today is a significant step closer to Policing and Justice transfer – Sinn Féin

From Thursday afternoon:

Féile an Droichead 2009

Inné, d'fhreastal mé ar seoladh Féile an Droichead 2009.

Imeacht den scoth, mar is gnáth ag an Droichead, agus bhí a lán daoine i láthair don láinseáil; daoine ón Ard Mheara Béal Feirste, Naomi Long, go dtí BPÉ don Tuaisceart Bairbre de Brún, agus laochra an phobal Ghaelach Séamas Mac Seáin.

Tá a lán moladh tuilte ag Pól agus Ray agus achan uile duine atá bainte leis an Droichead tharr na blaintaí. Is léir ó inné agus ó a lán rudaí eile, go bhfuil an Droichead ag dul ó neart go neart agus go néirí leo!

Tá stair fhada agam fhéin leis an áit, ó a chuaigh mé ar scéim samhradh an Droichead cuid mhaith blain ó shin, go dtí gur thosaigh mé ag obair ar an scéim céanna!

Is áis den scoth é don phoabl gaelach i nDeisceart agus Oirthear Bhéal Feirste, áis a d'fhás ó grupa bheag tuismitheorií croaga sa Trá Ghearr go luath sna 80í nuair nach raibh sé chomh fáisiúnta, nó ní raibh an meid céanna tacaíocht ann do leithead de rud. Anois, is áis den scoth é don tír ar fad agus is ceart go bhfuil an Droichead áithnithe mar ceann de na tionscadal gaelach is fearr in Eirinn, mar is fíor sin!!

Guím gach rath an an Fhéile agus orthu siúd uilig a bheas páirteach.

Tuilleadh eolais anseo