Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Conor Murphy on site visit to Short Strand

Today, Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy MP came on a site visit to the Short Strand area; he was joined by a number of departmental officials.

Conor met with myself, Bernie McCrory from the Short Stand Community Forum and Patrick Devlin, Chair of St Matthews Housing Association.

We went on a walkabout with management of the Translink Bus depot in the area. We held discussions inside about the future of the site and how it fits into the overall strategic plan for this part of the city and in particular the Short Strand community.

From there we looked at a number of problem spots for traffic flow and congestion and raised our concerns about the sheer amount of heavy duty vehicles that are using the Mountpottinger Road as a rat-run.

After our walkabout we headed into St Matthews Housing Association's office in Harper Street. Under the shadow of the monstrosity that is Mountpottinger Barracks we were able to inform Conor about our plans for developing the site for social and family homes.

At our discussion we were able to talk more about some of the traffic and pedestrian issues in the Strand. We also found out from the Roads Service officials where exactly the traffic calming for Madrid, Bryson and Edgar Streets are at; they will be contacting residents there in the next week or so to inform them of where things stand.

Following Conor's engagement we took him round to see the now completed 'An Tine Bheo memorial garden. Like most people who come to see it he was understandably impressed.
Here's some pics

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Press Release issued today

Ó Donnghaile welcomes drugs seizure

Sinn Féin’s Pottinger Representative Niall Ó Donnghaile has welcomed news that the PSNI have seized and removed numerous cannabis plants following searches at two properties in the Short Strand today.Speaking this evening Mr Ó Donnghaile said;

“There is no place for drugs polluting this community.

Deep concerns about drug abuse and availability are issues that Sinn Féin and community workers in the area have been raising with the PSNI and other agencies for a considerable period of time now.Any move to take drugs off our streets and away from potentially polluting our community must be welcomed.

There has to be a strategic approach to tackling the issue of drugs in our communities that involves all the key stakeholders.The people of the Short Strand will continue to reject those who would attempt to push drugs and all the dangers that flow from that onto our people.” CRÍOCH

No more Bloody Sundays!

People in Palestine mark the victory of the Bloody Sunday Families and Survivors after the Saville Report rightfully deemed them innocent of any of the accusations made against them in the past.

Our thoughts should be with the people of Palestine who continually face fierce oppression and hostility as well as the continued blockade by Israel.

For them, everyday is becoming and increasingly Bloody day.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

An Tine Bheo

“The Living Flame”

The idea to erect a permanent and fitting monument to the Patriot Dead from the Short Strand / Ballymacarrett has been doing the rounds for a long number of years now. From the memorial plaque placed outside the old Sinn Féin Centre in Beechfield Street, to the plaque put up beside the memorial mural on the Mountpottinger Road, Republicans from this area have always had a desire to see the people on the local Roll of Honour recognised with a permanent and fitting memorial.

A number of year’s back, despite ideas having been around for a lot longer, a group of Republican activists in the area finally decided it was time to put the plans into action. They talked, mostly around my father’s kitchen table, for weeks about how best to progress this, how they would acquire the land, raise the funds etc. In the end a committee was formed which was made up of local republicans, ex-POWs, relatives of our Patriot Dead and local people with an interest in seeing the monument erected.

With help from this community and beyond the committee has worked tirelessly to ensure that the monument would be built and that it would be appropriate to those names that would appear upon it. From running functions, to selling ballots, sweeps and t-shirts, the committee have excelled in their efforts and anyone who has been able to see An Tine Bheo Memorial Garden take shape over recent weeks will have no option but to commend their endeavours. I have been honoured and privileged to have been able to play, like many in this community, my small part in helping to see this vision become a reality. It’s long overdue but will soon become a reality. A big comhghairdeas to the committee and everyone who gave their time, money and expertise to see An Tine Bheo built!

Republicans from across the city and beyond will gather for the opening of An Tine Bheo next Sunday. Fittingly the date is the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Saint Matthews.

The 27th of June 1970 has earned its place in Republican history and indeed the history of this statelet. On that bright evening 40 years ago, after the pogroms of 1969, the people of this Parish decided they wouldn’t suffer the same fate as other vulnerable communities across the north had. With Loyalist marches taking place across the city throughout that day and attacks on areas in the north and west of the City predictably occurring, the people in this Parish (as they had done so many times before down through the generations) battened down the hatches prepared themselves for the inevitable onslaught. The people, alongside the Irish Republican Army, took to the streets in defence of the community and to hold back the descending hoards of Loyalist attackers, determined to see this area, and in particular St Matthews Chapel (a perceived ‘blight’ right in the heart of Unionist east Belfast) burnt to the ground, much in the same way that they had done with Bombay and surrounding Streets the previous year.

It is thanks to the people who defied them that I am able to sit at home and write this blog today.

The Battle of Saint Matthews was a turning point for the nationalist people of the north; it acted as a catalyst in defiance of the failed Orange State. No longer would intoxicated hoards of shipyard workers or loyalist bandsmen be allowed to attack areas such as ours en-mass, with the willing assistance of the RUC and British Army. Republicans look to that night and the men and women, boys and girls, who took part in it as a symbol of resistance and of progression.

Next week will see a number of events staged to coincide with the anniversary and the opening of An Tine Bheo. Proceedings begin on Wednesday 23rd with the launch of a new DVD/CD pack containing interviews with many of the people who were on the streets that historic night in defence of the community. On Thursday 24th, Friday 26th and Saturday the 27th young actors, mostly made up of local people, will stage a play depicting events as they occurred. This is certainly one not to be missed! On Saturday the 27th I have the honour of launching a new mural by renowned artist and fellow Short Strand man Danny Devenny.

Events culminate on the Sunday with the unveiling of a new plaque outside Saint Matthews Club and the parade around the area to the new memorial garden, An Tine Bheo later in the afternoon. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams is the main speaker at the unveiling.

Preparations for all of the events have been well underway for some time now, from the area was leafleted, letters put into the papers and posters put up around the area calling for people interested to join the committee staging these events, a small group of us have been ploughing ahead with the fitting events to mark a major and significant date and event for us as Republicans.

In particular a word of credit to the young people, most of them from the area, who are taking part in the play; they have been rehearsing for weeks now and it is a big ask to get up and stage a play in this area about such an emotive and significant event, which many people still have vivid memories of. Maith sibh uilig!

So I look forward to seeing you all next week, I hope we get a sunny day and I hope these modest events rightfully recognise and acknowledge the significance of the anniversary of the Battle of Saint Matthews and the role that the local Volunteers and those named on the Roll of Remembrance, played in pursuit of Irish Freedom and Independence.

Tá fáilte roimh chách and I know we will rightfully remember our Patriot Dead in a fitting and Republican manner.

An Phoblacht Abú!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Constituency update

Good news regarding the dismantling of Mountpottinger Barracks.

The decrepit, dilapidated and redundant base has been closed for some months now but following a meeting with PSNI Chief Superintendant in East Belfast Alan McCrum, we now know that the dismantling of the base is scheduled for the end of August, beginning of September this year.

The news comes after I wrote to new DSD Minister Alex Attwood last week, urging him to now work towards the immediate acquirement of the vacant land for the development of social, family homes. I have blogged numerous times about Mountpottinger and all that it represents as well as the very practical reasons why it should go.

The reality of the situation is that Mountpottinger is costing over £100,000 every year; it is now my hope that the vast amount of money that will be saved as a result of the dismantling of this site can be redirected to tackling the scourge of drugs and anti-social behaviour, as well as other issues, in this part of east Belfast. I certainly commit myself to working with the PSNI and others to ensure that happens.

Also this week, we received news that Belfast City Council’s Community Safety Wardens will be entering this part of inner east Belfast at the beginning of June. The scheme will run for 3 months, a particularly apt time given our experience on the ground of having to deal with anti-social activity over the summer months.

I have further meetings arranged on this issue ahead of the scheme being rolled out.

As well as this, once again many residents affected by the anti social activity in the area have contacted me outlining their real need for alley-gating in various parts of the Short Strand. This is an issue I have lobbied on numerous times in the past, thus far the City Council have yet to heed the pleas of residents in streets like Beechfield Street or Madrid Street who are nightly effected by problems in the entries at the back of their homes. I have arranged further meetings with the Council on this matter (including a walkabout to the streets concerned) and remain positive that we can secure the much needed gates for the areas most affected.

I have been in touch with NIE about the future of the now redundant electric substation at Strand Close. They need to urgently secure the station and move towards demolishing it as soon as possible.

Sinn Féin are also opposing the planned development of 31 high-rise apartments on a small piece of land on the Mountpottinger Road.

You can keep up to date with all these issues here.

We’re also looking forward to meeting with Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy who will be visiting the Strand very shortly. Conor is due to join us on a site visit to the Translink Bus Depot in the area to discuss the future of this site as well as meeting various community groups and reps to discuss issues around traffic calming and an important issue around the need for a pedestrian crossing at the bottom of the Newtonards Road.

Last week also saw the opening of 27 new apartments on the Short Strand. The units at Pottinger’s Quay were developed by Clanmil Housing Association but took a lot of work from many quarters, including Sinn Féin, the Short Strand Partnership, St Matthews Housing Association and others to actually see the much needed social housing realised! Its clear that the apartments themselves are first class and worthy of their riverside location, it is also good that families have been able to move in and set up home. Space on the ground floor will also developed into a child day care facility by the Short Strand Partnership Board so there remains exciting times ahead for this site.

Plans for marking the anniversary of the Battle of Saint Matthews are well underway and there’s a wonderful buzz around the area. An Tine Bheo memorial project is taking shape and is a the subject of many a conversation throughout the community. No doubt I will blog more on these issues closer to the time and certainly afterwards.

I joined hundreds of other Béal Feirste citizens at the City Hall yesterday to highlight our disgust at the brutal murder of activists bringing aid to Gaza by the Israeli state. The anger and sadness amongst the gathered crowd was palpable and the incident once again brings home the horror that is life for the besieged Palestinian people. Sinn Féin MLA’s secured a discussion about this issue under ‘matters of the day’ at the Assembly this morning. My thoughts are with them all and I hope those taking part in the aid Flotilla are able to safely break the illegal Israel siege and bring the much needed aid to the people of Gaza. It is hard not to despair and fear the worst at this time given the track record of oppression by the Israeli State. Following the last bombardment against Gaza Sinn Féin activists in the Short Strand took to the streets on what was a horrible, cold and wet night to raise funds for Medical Aid for Palestine; doing things like attending rallies, vigils, protests or raising money doesn't feel like enough.