Thursday 8 November 2012

Riding Roughshod over Due Process

The idea of human rights is as complex today as ever, with new entitlements evolving regularly from live legislation and expanding treaties. Human rights, as portrayed on the international stage, have adopted a proselytising stance whereby western European, liberal nations appear to foster a monopoly on legal rights and wrongs. This popular, yet naïve, conception of the status quo misses the hypocrisy inherent in international law in the 21st century.

Former UK MP, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey from County Tyrone, recently enunciated a useful perspective for those who advocate for civil rights in 2012:
“Our attitude to government, any citizen's attitude to government, is that we have a right and a citizen duty to hold government to account. They are the duty bearers… Why does a government decide to operate by violation of human rights and risk the wrath of human rights agencies? And risk the wrath of being in breach of human rights legislation? Of being brought before this court and that? It's because they know they can.”

The Irish Republic was last month reminded of just one area in which it is failing its citizens. The shameful condition of St. Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders in Dublin is a reflection on the values of this State. The relatively calm reaction to this despicable and “shocking” report is ludicrous in an era when the Irish Republic claims to adhere so closely to the European Convention of Human Rights.

Another State whose disregard for international human rights norms is well documented is the United Kingdom, which has come under severe scrutiny as a result of its response to the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland since the 1970s. A plethora of cases in the European Court of Human Rights were taken against the UK and it might have been believed that this epoch of abuse had come to an end with the dawn of comparative domestic peace.

One example of poor civil liberties standards within the UK, that continues to be a thorn in the side of the Westminster authorities, is that of militant Irish Republicanism. A number of individuals currently find themselves detained in prisons in both the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland. One high profile case is that of Marian Price McGlinchey, which has attracted wide public and political support since her detention in 2011.

Her case is complicated, but hangs on a misplaced document. Having been convicted of the Old Bailey bombing and subsequently released ‘unconditionally’, she is now being detained on the Secretary of State’s authority, which, seemingly, doesn’t exist. To aggravate the complexity of her case, she suffers from rapidly declining health, both mental and physical. To summarise, Marian Price McGlinchey “was released [32 years ago] not on a licence but on a Royal pardon which no Minister has the authority to overturn. Conveniently, the Northern Ireland Office claims to have lost the pardon document, so its terms cannot be checked.

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is an outspoken member of the ‘Free Marian Price’ campaign. The lack of political movement on this issue is a frightening manifestation of the UK State’s willingness to override basic civic freedoms. Regardless of Marian Price McGlinchey’s past deeds, to imprison her without legal basis is a travesty. If the State is permitted to act as such in her case, it will be permitted to do so again. Her innocence is not at issue here. Rather, what is at issue is the promotion of the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights for all.

In consideration of human rights abuses across the world, it is empowering to listen to the inspiring words of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey from only a few months ago:
“We must demand and exercise solidarity with all those whose rights are trampled underfoot simply because governments feel strong enough to ride roughshod over due process and international obligation to respect and protect the integrity, dignity and freedom of the human beings they despise, not for anything they may or may not have done, but simply because of who and what they are--or what political overlords believe them to be… Each violation, wherever it occurs, threatens the rights, humanity and integrity of all of us and must be challenged by all of us, or in time, none of us will have any democratically enforceable rights at all.”

Wednesday 7 November 2012

We have some way to travel yet

The following is an extract taken from a speech by Uachtarán Michael D Higgins at Queen's University, Belfast on 30th October 2012. It discusses the potential of Anglo-Irish unity.

We all know in our hearts that we have some way to travel yet, some work to do, before we redeem the full promise inherent in the Peace Process.
That sense of entanglement and horrific memory is most vividly present in the lives of those who lost loved ones during the troubles, who live with terrible injuries and the legacy of violence. More than any other group, they have been asked so much more than others – and are asked daily – to make a most difficult accommodation for peace. No group has done more to bring about the benefits we have all gained from the peace process than they and I salute them.
Theirs is a huge moral gift. Already in 1984, amid rumours of a ceasefire, the poet Michael Longley reached back over three thousand years to an episode in the Iliad to imagine what would be required – to the story of Priam, King of Troy and Achilles, the Greek warrior who had killed his son Hector.
Longley’s poem, Ceasefire described the generosity, empathy and remorse that are a necessary part of true reconciliation concluding with Priam’s words:
‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’
What is given in that moment is given with the greatest difficulty. It is not given once only. They are asked to “do what must be done” every day that they are forced to live with loss. Those who have not lost can talk more easily – even at times it must seem to the wounded, glibly – of ‘moving on’ but that is not so easily done. The challenge of reconciling with those who caused that loss is a momentous one.
But those of us who were more fortunate face a challenge also – to make sure that we do not allow new divisions to arise – between those who suffered and those who did not, between those who live every day with what happened to them and those who are intent on “moving on”.
Part of that challenge is to root out hatred from our midst. Hatred is a word that has dropped from our discourse. We have become accustomed to talking of sectarianism but is it not hatred by another name? It is bred by intolerance and indeed by a lack of the capacity or opportunity to change. It is not unique to any one group or place. It operates in two directions – one act of disregard feeding off another. Jack McConnell has described it as a secret shame. It is too rarely discussed. Yet if we fail to name it and discuss it we blind ourselves to the harm it can do, that is part of examining our stereotypes and letting go of what impedes us from the future we share.
The great benefits that flow from such open horizons are well illustrated here in Belfast’s thriving arts scene. The Belfast Festival kept open lines of communication and of inspiration across the world during some of the most difficult days of the troubles bringing here, during the 1970’s, Joseph Beuys and the Royal Swedish Ballet among many other international artists.
We know how important these horizons are at times of great stress. Dubliners still remember, for example, the day in 1973 that the England rugby team defied IRA death threats to travel to Ireland and play to a standing ovation at Lansdowne Road, all stereotypes suspended for the enjoyment of that which knew no borders, was simply human.
Those multiple points of connection that I described earlier are addressing some of the post-conflict challenges I have outlined, because ultimately these are not issues solely of politics or legislation or policing but of finding real points of human connection.
The solution lies not just with government – though Government bears a heavy responsibility – but with countless individuals who take a journey into the unknown animated by the courage of departure and a generosity of spirit, and who are willing to review the narratives they have found, are willing to listen to the narrative of the other, pause, review, forgive, allow or pardon.
In that sense, the next stage of the peace process requires us all to be pilgrims on a journey of such ethical reflection as will lead us to the light of peaceful enjoyment of the complex way our lives are intertwined.
It was the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw who first used the words made famous by John F Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are and ask ‘why?’. Others dream things that never were and ask ‘why not?”
For the past 20 years, as if making up for lost time, we have been asking “why not?” and the answers have brought us to unexpected places.
To quote a recent statement, the British-Irish relationship has “never been stronger or more settled, as complex or as important, as it is today”. There are more things we are doing together every month. Areas where we are not disabled by any stereotype, old or new, and which might be overlooked.
As to what is formally recalled; what should be remembered, what should not be forgotten: In a decade of centenaries we are thoughtfully able to include in memories, and honour, all those Irish who died for the ideal they chose as important, those who helped create the Irish State, those who shaped the United Kingdom, and all the lives lost including those from among the 200,000 Irish who fought in The Great War with its awful human carnage.
When the children and grandchildren of migrants take pride and inspiration in their past, that can unlock new potential in society – as the United States learned to its great benefit. The growing pride felt by those of Irish ancestry in Britain and those of British ancestry in Ireland, will be a source of energy, inspiration and vigour for society.
We can certainly take pride in what Irish emigrants and their descendents have contributed to British culture – to popular music for example where the Irish influence extends from the Beatles to the Pogues, Oasis and Morrissey, and to more recent bands such as Mumford and Sons and Elbow; there are examples of not just lives entwined but a very creative entwinement, grown, once again from multiple human connections.
There are, of course, challenges we face together, in Europe, in Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland. Foremost among these is the necessity of providing jobs for a talented new generation emerging from our schools and colleges.
The notion of prosperity in public discourse is too often measured solely by Gross Domestic Product but society will not prosper on a rising GDP alone. Prosperity has but an instrument purpose aimed at a deeper societal dimension.
Our common future needs the creativity of our young people, and connected to economic questions are such societal questions – as how to avoid new division between those with good prospects of finding a job and those with poor prospects – or no prospect at all.
To conclude then; No matter how effective the political and economic solutions we find to these challenges, circular migration, will continue to be a fact of life – within and between our societies and further afield.

Thursday 11 October 2012

"Seas an Fód" - Stand Your Ground

PJ McGrory Human Rights Lecture
given by President Mary McAleese, Uachtarán na hÉireann
31 August 2011

The former President of the Irish Republic spoke at Féile an Phobail over a year ago, while entering the final days of her Presidency. Her lecture explained her admiration of the eponymous Paddy McGrory, a so-called 'human rights defender' who worked as a solicitor in Belfast. Mr McGrory has been quoted, however, as positing that the term "human rights lawyer" should not be attached to legal professionals as all lawyers, in fact, work to ensure that their own clients' human rights are not breached.

Paddy McGrory's son, Barra, is now the head of Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and has spoken out about the legacy of the Troubles through the prism of law and mechanisms for investigating and prosecuting. In her lecture, Mary McAleese spoke more generally about how each individual - and particularly advocates of rights-based systems at home and abroad - may guarantee that breaches do not occur.

It’s in not giving up, it’s in refusing to be cowed, it’s in holding onto that vision of a just and peaceful society, [and] committing to that vision – through thick, through thin – that the small steps of progress will accrete to what history will one day judge to be giant leaps forward... 
We need a lot of people who don’t swerve, a lot of people who stay faithful to those things that their instincts tell them are right action. We need people to stand their ground; 'seas an fód', mar a deireann sé as Gaeilge... That’s what we need to do to ensure that our future is the future that we do not just wish - but will - to leave to our children.

You can listen to this inspirational speech at the links below.

Part 1 of 2:
Part 2 of 2:

Tuesday 9 October 2012

"The homeland of social inclusion"?

In his first official visit to Northern Ireland, President Michael D Higgins spoke of the role of women in the Irish Trade Union movement. His remarks on 2 March 2012 in Belfast were visionary and fresh and suggest that the agenda of 2012/13 is as challenging as ever. His inspirational words (in the excerpt below) bear remembering as we debate constitutional issues and the role of individuals in a new Ireland.

"It is very understandable that people are hurt and dismayed by the economic crisis that shattered their lives. It demands a response. A huge price has been paid for the speculative period of unsustainable growth and false property led development in the first decade of this century. For those who promoted this bubble, personal wealth and material possessions became a dangerous obsession; at the level of society, ostentation replaced simplicity; and selfishness replaced selflessness. The sense of community, for which our island was so richly famous, was eroded as those who pursued aggressively individualistic goals had little time for collective endeavour, little interest in social solidarity and little capacity for ethical reflection. It is important too that the assumptions and the values  behind this false economy be exposed, be faced and be rejected as any version of the future we wish to create on this island.

We are emerging from a dark period in our economic history and we are certainly entitled  to curse that darkness. But we also need to light the candles of hope that will help us to navigate a path towards a better and fairer future. The tone of cynical fatalism that has dominated some of the public discourse in recent years will not serve us well for that journey ahead - it is markedly insufficient for the task of transformation we need. But surely the lesson of the peace process in Northern Ireland is that no problem, however its apparent intractability, is impervious to solution if we summon up the collective will, determination and ingenuity to address and resolve it.

We are at a crucial point of transition from one economic model that failed us all to another that has yet to be fully realised. We need to debate the nature and shape of that economy so that sustainability and social cohesion are given as much priority as efficiency and competitiveness. The perspective of women as citizens, in every sense of that term, must be allowed to inform that alternative version of economy and its connection with society. The media has an important role to play in ensuring that this debate takes place and that it occurs in a civil manner respecting the right of all points of view to offer their perspectives on the kind of economy and society they wish to bequeath to their children.

We are now also at a point, I suggest, when we need to refocus and reaffirm the values of active citizenship and a caring community. The view of the individual as being no more than a passive consumer of goods and services, and living in disaggregated isolation, is simply an unacceptable and very impoverishing thought. The idea of the citizen actively participating in a society in which he or she enjoys personal rights and discharges responsibilities in a shared community is a far more liberating and life-enhancing vision.

We must work together to reclaim a better version of Irishness than the recent one which has thankfully expired - where we put community solidarity and social cohesion above the demands of acquisitive individualism. Only then can we fully rebuild our personal lives and our communities. Only then will our island re-emerge as the homeland of social inclusion rather than social exclusion, as a place whose international reputation repudiates the appalling notion that "greed is good"."

Saturday 16 June 2012

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Monarchy in a New Ireland

This week of the Diamond Jubilee, I've written about the distinction between Monarchy and Republic on the island of Ireland.


Tuesday 29 May 2012

Addressing Racism

Last night, the shock factor was impressively employed by the BBC Panorama crew as it documented examples of violence and fascism in both Poland and Ukraine. These nations will jointly host the Euro 2012 Finals, which begin next week. The programme, called “Stadiums of Hate”, featured interviews with so-called ‘Ultras’ (a universal term for hardcore soccer fans). They support their respective teams by chanting throughout matches and brandishing club paraphernalia at every opportunity in order to intimidate opponents. According to the programme, other forms of support appear to include taunting Jews, giving a Nazi salute, and attacking individuals of minority ethnicity inside stadiums. The final sequence of the documentary showed vivid and shocking footage of an unprovoked attack on supporters of the same team.

This sensationalist portrayal of the host nations' attitude to sport has attracted much debate. Sol Campbell remarked during the programme that he would advise English fans against travelling to the competition, for fear of similar treatment at the hands of local fascist hoodlums. This reactionary statement has major consequences for the tournament’s organisers, and they have responded as we would expect. Markian Lubkivsky, the Ukraine’s Director of Euro 2012 labelled Campbell’s remarks “simply insolent”. Andriy Shevchenko also downplayed the evidence of widespread fascism in Ukraine’s soccer leagues.

The fact that the family of England’s Theo Walcott will not travel to the Euros is a premature blow to its legacy. Its message of inclusivity and camaraderie is spoiled by this family’s decision not to cheer on their relative in person. If racism and xenophobia are to be overcome, perhaps it might be better to address the problem with joined-up forces and a sense of determination. To allow racists the satisfaction of staying out of their way can be unhelpful.

John Terry is awaiting trial for a charge of racially aggravated words or behaviour under s.31 (1)(c) Crime and Disorder Act 1998. (In full, ‘using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress’ in a manner which is racially aggravated). This former England captain will travel to Poland and Ukraine to represent his nation on the continent. He is an ambassador for the F.A., yet he faces resounding allegations of racism. Of course, John Terry is innocent in law until proven guilty at trial. The appropriateness of his continuing to be allowed to play for his country under these circumstances is questionable nonetheless. The gravity of the charge and his profile within English and European sport arguably suffice as reasons to warrant at least a suspension until the trial has been concluded. This would send out a message of mature responsibility and zero tolerance. It seems, however, that the English Football Association has prioritised its team’s prospects at Euro 2012 over its moral standing on an international level. To act thus when an English player’s family will not travel for fear of racial abuse could be viewed as a somewhat inappropriate and inadequate measure.

Monday 14 May 2012

No More Traffik

An article I wrote recently was published today on the blog. It deals with the invisible shame of human trafficking in Northern Ireland.

Thursday 5 April 2012


New Irelander blog's newest piece was written by me earlier today. Please follow the link.

"The archaic insolence of dissident republicanism may be disturbing, but it harks to a time before social networking and online sharing. A dominating characteristic of life for young people in Ireland in the 21st century is boundless interconnection; it is difficult to avoid a growing attachment to each other with the prevalence of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. (whether we like it or not). In light of this modern webscape, a mature New Ireland must hatch from the adolescent ‘Peace Process’."

Saturday 31 March 2012

Identity in a Post-Racial society

Just click on the title to read "Identity in a Post-Racial Society" from the blog. It deals with 21st century dynamic of identity politics in the United Kingdom.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Reflections on St. Patrick's Day

I've written my latest piece for the New Irelander blog. It is about the 21st century significance of a religious festivity such as St. Patrick's Day. How does it reflect the Ireland of today?

It was published on 27th March, and may be read here.

Monday 26 March 2012

Post on rightsni blog

This month, I had a guest post on the blog, which is hosted by the CAJ and Amnesty NI.

My post, entitled "Abu Qatada, Marian McGlinchey and Due Process", can be read here.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Wednesday 1 February 2012

NEW Ireland: (1) Modernisation

Originally posted on the New Irelander blog, click here to read my first piece in a series of new articles entitled "NEW Ireland".


Monday 30 January 2012

New Irelander

Hello all,

To read my latest contribution to the New Irelander blog, click here.

It is titled "New values of the old republic".

To read more pieces from the New Irelander blog, visit the blogsite here.


Tuesday 17 January 2012

Occupy Squat?

The Occupy Belfast camp has broken its way into the mainstream news this week by entering the abandoned Bank of Ireland building at the corner of North Street and Royal Avenue in the city centre. A representative, Jake, spoke extensively to the media (namely BBC’s Good Morning Ulster and The Nolan Show) this morning, fending off criticisms and queries as to the rationale of this recent protest.

Occupy Belfast arose out of the global surge in popular support of peaceful protest camps against the political establishment; initially, Los Indignados set up camp in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol in reaction to Spain’s 2011 elections and devastating unemployment rates. Occupy Wall Street adopted a similar approach in New York, inspiring student action in College campuses across the United States. Cities around the world have followed suit with their own Occupy camps. Practically unnoticed until now has been that in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter since October 2011.

A publicity stunt though it may be, squatting in protest inside the Bank of Ireland building admittedly contains more symbolism than the prior site; Writer’s Square opposite St. Anne’s Cathedral was a weak imitation of Occupy London Stock Exchange’s camp by St. Paul’s Cathedral. Occupy Belfast’s strategy to reclaim this building has attracted public, and police, attention. However, they have not yet been approached with an official warning. It seems that the masterminds of this bold move are vaguely aware of the law on squatting on private premises; whether they received sound legal advice is unknown at this point.

Whatever happens in coming days, the decision to “repossess” this building tells us three things. First, Occupy Belfast has announced that the occupation serves to highlight homelessness and eviction in Belfast. The occupiers strive to influence policy on these issues through their actions. However, at present, they can only do so if they were to gain wide popular support and lobby with that mandate for political change in Stormont, and, beyond that, Westminster. By ignoring the political system in opposition to it, they fail to engage; by neither actively proposing a viable alternative nor gaining a mandate strong enough to overturn the current politik passively, they have no means of effecting change.

Second, many have already voiced their criticisms. Complaints have resounded across the radio and internet. Facebook and Twitter users have lavished their disdain upon these left-wing activists, dismissing the occupiers’ actions as mere attention-seeking, self-gratifying and delusional publicity stunts. Of course, there are those who support the occupation, albeit perhaps from a sense of desperation for an alternative to the gloomy status quo.

Third, the profile of the Occupy movement in Northern Ireland has undoubtedly been boosted. For better or for worse, the debate continues. The question therefore remains: what can we do as individuals in these painful times? If the Occupiers were to pack up and dander home, there would be no visible protest to the hardships imposed upon us by bad governance. Nothing would have changed. Surely, this apathy would be shameful. The symbolism of reclaiming the financial sector ‘for the people’ cannot be denied as the occupiers now squat in a disused bank. Where to go from here?