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?