Sinn Fein Rejects Sinead.

Sinn Féin have told Sinéad O’Connor that she would be more useful “working alongside” them, while rejecting her application for membership, according to the singer.

Sinead,who applied to join the party in October, had only last week publicly stated that she had her “fingers crossed” that the party would accept her, and that she would be meeting them in due course.

That meeting took place with party representatives Sinead Ni Bhroin and Ken O’Connell, who, according to Sinead persuaded her that she would be “bored shitless”, that the ending of partition (which the singer had called for) was a “taboo subject” that “Sinn Fein…have to play down the fact that its anywhere on theirs”.

“It was said being a member would limit… freedom of speech”, the singer continued; adding that she thought Sinn Fein could “risk being braver” in relation to speaking about the ending of partition.

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On the Run Inquiry. Blair’s spinning will not weave the truth.

Tony Blair is a consummate politician.  The former lawyer and Prime Minister used to dishing out sound bites and talking up the peace process here, found himself in front of the On the Run Inquiry earlier today.

He looked uncomfortable, frustrated at times, and anxious to repeat the word “mistake”, when it came to the issue of the letter sent to the Hyde Park Bombing suspect and former IRA member John Downey – a letter which brought the “On the Run” side deal between the British Government and Sinn Fein to the fore.

Some of the committee members attempted to give Tony a grilling, others like Lady Sylvia Hermon were keen to stress their appreciation for his turning up at all.  Victims sat a mere few feet away from the former Labour Leader, quietly containing their anger as Tony ducked, dived, deflected and diverted away from some questions put to him.  It was an act which may have worked, but for the doggedness of Kate Hoey and Ian Paisley Junior in particular, who attempted to pin Blair down on some of the finer points.

So, what did we learn?  In essence, nothing, except what has already been spun into the public domain.  A web of threads which have not as yet been joined together, and which failed to be weaved by the questioners – people who failed spectacularly when it came to questioning the issue of Royal Pardons for IRA members – who failed to push further on tying down who suggested that the NIO rather than the police deal with it, and who let Mr Blair tell the committee without a hint of crossing his fingers that there had been no other “secret deals”.  Blair didn’t bat an eyelid when he said not running the “scheme” would have seen Sinn Fein collapse the peace process.

That statement is simply not true.  The IRA were still continuing to murder people in the years after the Good Friday Agreement, and more than a blind eye was turned.  No real sanctions were imposed on Sinn Fein as a result.  Sinn Fein were too deeply wedded to the financial power trip gifted to them in the form of the peace process gravy train.  By 2001 they had issued their decommissioning statement, by 2005, had put all arms “beyond use”.  Their first prisoners were released in 98 – and we could count on one hand how many were recalled – not because they hadn’t re involved themselves in paramilitary activity (because they had), but because someone at the NIO saw fit to ignore “internal housekeeping”.  There was no danger of Sinn Fein collapsing anything which allowed their comrades to escape scrutiny while simultaneously benefiting from the boost in electoral advancement at the expense of the people who arguably negotiated most of the finer points of the agreement, the SDLP.

The issue of the Royal Pardons for IRA men and women is crucial to understanding just how wrong this particular side deal with Sinn Fein was, yet it barely got a mention at the Committee hearing today.  The NIO issued letters to those who were not being sought in connection with prosecutions.  In instances where people were still clearly wanted by Her Majesty’s Government, the problem was circumvented by the Queen herself pardoning her not so loyal subjects.  This was no run of the mill matter.  These were people who had evaded justice, and who were for the most part connect-able with their crimes.  They were also key people within the republican movement.  And Sinn Fein played a blinder to a British Government whose head was seduced by Gerry Adams and Martin Mc Guinness, and whose administration delivered metaphorical rough justice to victims.  What a knife in the back that was, to those who had already suffered death and destruction.

Tony Blair’s answers today showed that the most important people in the conflict here – the ones who were directly affected, came bottom of the pile in the pursuit of an imperfect peace.  His assertions that there were no other “side deals”, will not wash with them or anyone else.   The Good Friday Agreement was built around side deals.  Weston Park cemented them.  Back channels in Clonard Monastery, and hugging trees in Chequers paid off for the IRA.  Now Tony expects us to believe that they didn’t have a Special Branch all of their own on the Downing Street Tree.

The “Hand of History” shaking the information leaves tells us something different.

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Ann Allan – My Round Up of 2014

Now that we are a few days into 2015 and all the Christmas decos are down I thought I’d have a look back at 2014. This was the year when I discovered I had one leg shorter than the other, one foot shorter than the other and as a result am now listing to one side. I don’t have to list but I feel I need to compensate. I constantly bump into people in the street as I look in shop windows checking how upright I actually am. My only problem is standing on a slope.

Those of you who have followed previous blogs will know that I am in the process of having implants. No, not breast implants, teeth; I’m getting new teeth. It has been a long process since that first consultation when I heard the bad news that to have the new teeth I had to have all the bottom teeth extracted. You can read what led up to this in my previous blog…………. But on a cold day in November I had the job done. Two had previously been removed. The seven remaining all came out in one go. No knocking out for me. I was a brave little soldier and had them out under local anaesthetic. There were enough injections to ensure I stayed frozen for at least five hours but at least there was no pain. As soon as they were out the dentist shoved a temporary plate in on top of the raw gums assuring me I would get used to them. I have to admit they looked well but felt awful. As a result they are more often out than in and I look more like my granny every day. She’s been dead for 50 years so it’s not a pretty picture. I had great difficulty eating over Christmas so one benefit is that I didn’t put on too much extra weight. Roll on 19 January for next stage of procedure.

2015 saw the setting up of the Opengovnetworkni .Got involved by chance but it felt good to be part of it. Too much is hidden from the public re decisions taken by our elected representatives.  We, as members of civil society need to be much more involved in decisions and our aim is to try and change things with much more openness and accountability. I have made many new friends through the open network and feel I have, in my own way, contributed to it.

I became a blogger in 2014, for which I have to thank Vixenswithconvictions. I try to be honest and forthright in what I write. Thank you to those who follow and comment. I’ve already told you how my life was devoted to my family for a number of years and I had little interest in what was going on in the ‘outside’ world. I felt that this was my lot and I would never again be a valuable member of society. I feel in my own small way I have achieved something and to the 544 genuine followers I have built up on Twitter, thank you.

I don’t know about you but I feel Christmas comes round quicker and quicker every year. It seems like I have just taken the Christmas decorations down when it’s time to put them up again.

Then there are the presents. This Christmas was different from others. When I asked the grandchildren what they wanted for Christmas they couldn’t come up with anything. Why? Because they have everything. They have iPods, iPhone, iPads, Macs, TVs, DVDs, play stations etc., etc. etc. the Wi-Fi flying around their houses must be horrendous.  So I bought some surprise presents. Now I don’t know about you but I resent the waste of Christmas wrapping paper. For a few years I used those fancy Christmas bags that cost a couple of pounds in M&S but they were past their best so I looked for an alternative. The alternative was a large black bag, into which I put the pressies unwrapped. When it came to the present giving I dived into the bag and produced a present.  Instant gratification, no unwrapping.  Everyone saw what the other got and there was no torn paper to gather up. That will go down a treat next year too.

Christmas cards are another bugbear. I haven’t sent any for years. Instead I put a note on Facebook wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and informing them that I’ve put the money that I would have spent on cards and stamps into buying goats. Over the years I’m sure I’ve bought a herd and I have the satisfaction of knowing that a family in Africa will benefit from those goats for years to come.  As I tipped the many cards I still receive in the recycling I thought ‘what a waste of money.’

Christmas was a low-key affair. After the present giving on Christmas Eve it was just him and me for dinner on Christmas day. Craigantlet turkeys supplied a delicious Turkey.  The fridge was packed. We could have survived for weeks on what was purchased for just the two of us. We wouldn’t normally eat orange and carrot jelly, but we just might so I thought we’d better have it just in case. Actually it was quite refreshing with the turkey salad. With no one to exchange niceties we both pigged out on the reclining chairs with a box of chocs and fell asleep. Bliss.

So now it’s over for another year. What for 2015? As we move into the New Year there is a campaign being mounted to save the Floral Hall. In the late sixties I attended a Manfred Mann concert. It was a freezing night as I recall but the hubby-to-be borrowed the father’s car and we drove up the Antrim Road in style.  He was supposed to be playing badminton in Newry but I gave him five shillings towards the petrol and he diverted to Belfast. Mike D’Abo had taken over from lead singer Paul Jones. The hall was beautiful and I remember the ceiling in particular but at 19 I didn’t appreciate its grandeur. I was in front of the stage and more interested in the group. Not sure whether we went outside for a ciggie or a snog but the doorman wouldn’t let us back in again. We ended up listening to the rest of the concert though an open window at the side of the building. I can now appreciate its Art Deco style and would love to see it restored to its former glory. So Belfast City Council I hope you will give it serious consideration so that a building that holds many memories for the older generation of Belfast can also be appreciated by future generations. Another observation from those days of the Floral Hall, the Astor and the Orpheus. All religions mixed together and nobody queried what religion you were.  Venues like this tend to encourage integration.

We also have elections looming. A disillusioned electorate who may or may not vote will again determine our future. Camp Twaddell will probably still be there waiting for a hero.  The parade season will begin again and we will continue to chase our tails and not get anywhere. But most of us will get on with the important things in life and to those who do, especially our doctors and nurses, and our police, fire and ambulance services, I hope 2015 brings you all that you want and deserve.

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Aine Mc Grath – NI is no place to be gay.


There’s nothing that goes down a storm in Northern Ireland quite like an all-out political ding-dong on the airwaves. Day and daily we can rely on our local broadcast media to provide a platform for people of all stripes to have their say – be they politicians, pundits or the public. Divisive issues are a favourite with producers and presenters of course, as they’re sure to guarantee a reaction and be a ratings hit – but at what cost?

Such was my line of thinking recently when yet another segment on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback show was dedicated to discussing marriage equality. I turned my car radio off when a caller began “This is a sad day for Scotland…”, a reference to Holyrood’s decision to make marriage available to same sex couples. I’m all for healthy debate, particularly so when members of the public are given the opportunity to have their say, however, I’m fearful now that Northern Ireland’s broadcast media fraternity isn’t fully aware of the wider implications of so frequently relying on such discussions, often to fill up airtime.

Let’s be very frank about this: Northern Ireland is no place to be gay. Insular thinking, religious fundamentalism and regressive attitudes towards sex and sexuality combine to make this a hostile place for anyone who identifies as anything other than heterosexual. Prejudice is in our lexicon, in our government and in our laws. In the past year I witnessed blatant homophobic prejudices being aired in my (now former) workplace by colleagues whom, when challenged, cranked up the rhetoric by shouting “THEY’RE DISGUSTING!” in reference to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. In another case I chose to take my custom elsewhere when the manageress of an establishment I shopped in frequently, wistfully bemoaned the state of the country at the hands of the Westminster government because “They’ve even legalised HO-MO-SEX-U-AL-I-TY!” When I go to work, when I shop and when I turn on my radio I don’t want to have to listen to that sort of thing. How many people turn on their radio or TV to find, yet again, that their lives – their reality – is being thrashed out on a public platform yet again by the empathic, the intolerant and the ignorant? How many people who have heard such broadcasts have struggled for decades to come to terms with their sexuality and continue to live in suicidal shame for fear of coming out? How many young people listening to discussions on radio phone-in shows, or the words of some of Northern Ireland’s politicians, feel that they have no future because of their sexuality? I often wonder how many vulnerable people have been pushed over the edge by things they’ve heard in the course of “healthy debate” facilitated by the broadcast media. We’ll never know.

As a society, we must be mindful that when we are discussing issues such a marriage equality and conscience clauses in a public forum, we are not discussing abstract legal scenarios, paper exercises nor inanimate matter. We are discussing issues of human dignity. Often the manner in which these discussions are conducted, and the language that is used within them, does not reflect what is actually at the heart of the discussion: that is, real people, with real feelings and real emotions – people who are systematically treated less favourably by society and whose life opportunities are restricted simply because of irrational prejudices that belong to others. Yes, we need to challenge those prejudices – and they way to do that is via dialogue. To that end I have always appreciated the virtues of public discussion facilitated by the broadcast media, but now I’m looking at it through a different lens and considering the wider implications of its ethical shortcomings – most notably in the form of responsibilities that are sometimes compromised in the interests of popularity and programme ratings. It gives us all something to think about – and is surely a topic that’s ripe for public discussion in itself.

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Anne Harris’ piece for Sunday Independent

Taken from

Taken from

A piece of note tonight,  an observation on feminism,  ‘The Kerry Babies’ and the Mairia Cahill story written beautifully by Anne Harris in her last column for the Sunday Independent. ‘Freedom that lies at the heart of feminism is still under fire’.

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Ann Allan : 1966

In August 1966 I returned from my exchange holiday in France. The exchange bit hadn’t really sunk in until I got home. I guess I hadn’t really thought it through but soon realised that it was up to me to entertain MF the girl who came back with me. While I was away life was going on and my girlfriends had all managed to get themselves a boyfriend. MF was somewhat parochial in outlook and her one purpose in visiting Ireland was to actually learn the language. So rather than get back on the Warrenpoint dating scene (not much happened in Rostrevor) I found my new companion was cramping my style. She accompanied me constantly and was a great French gooseberry. (Am I allowed to say that?) Mind you there weren’t that many opportunities as most fellows were already taken. Not that that seemed to matter much.

When I finally bid MF bon voyage, in the third week of August, I was asked to go to the pictures (cinema) in the Aurora in  Rostrevor. One of the guys in our crowd had asked me out. I was curious as to why he kept disappearing but quickly found out he had asked another girl out and she was on the other side of the cinema. That romance didn’t last long. Did it JT?

As the summer came to an end a party was organised for a final get together before we all settled back into school and exams that would probably determine our futures. Most of my friends were going out with someone but I was still single. JT had managed to get himself a girl and suggested I go with his friend Gordon. No way I said remembering the response I had received to my last invite.

So I headed off to the party on my own. The music was playing and it was a packed room. When a guy who I wasn’t in the least interested in started to chat me up and was becoming a nuisance I starting backing away. In the half-light I sat down on the couch and turned round to see that it was the infamous Gordon sitting beside me. I can still remember what he was wearing, hipster trousers and a checked shirt. He was tanned and his black hair made him look Italian. Amazing how your perceptions can change. It was love at first sight, on my part at least. We chatted and it seemed very natural. He asked me to dance and it was a ‘slow’ one. Someone turned the lights out and the future Mr and Mrs Allan had their first kiss.

I left the party in a daze. Love was in the air. Arrangements were made to meet in the Cosmo. The Cosmo was a chippy with a jukebox where we used to sit for hours, usually over one coffee and a chip shared between half a dozen of us. The juke box was playing that well known 60’s Classic ‘They’re coming to take me away’ by that never heard of again singer Napoleon XIV. Must have been an omen.  So on that Sunday afternoon I waited, and waited and waited but there was no sign of our young Lothario.  Sadly I headed home.

Didn’t expect to hear from him again. Not sure whether he was playing hard to get, but on bumping into him (ok so I kept walking around until I bumped in) he said he couldn’t make it cause his granny was visiting and she was a Baptist and it was Sunday. Well it was an original excuse, don’t you think?

On the evening before we returned to school we stood on the roof of the local baths (if you aren’t from the Point you wouldn’t understand) and there was the mostly beautiful full moon shining over and reflecting on Carlingford Lough.  It lit the sea up and it looked as if there were little pools of light dancing on the water. Someone’s transistor (mobile phone) was booming out the Troggs’  ‘ I want to spend my life with a girl like you ‘ I can still see it. It was so romantic but as we stood there we realised any romance was going to be tough.

I don’t think we realised how tough. He was at the time one of themuns and I was at the time one of the other ones.  But we were young, somewhat naive and we probably thought it would be a school girl/ boy romance and it wouldn’t last.

I was never aware of religion being a problem as I grew up. We played with the children who attended the Protestant school.  Religion was never discussed. We didn’t know we were any different. We went through all the motions as Catholics. Church on a Sunday, confession once a week, without any realisation of what we were actually doing. We hated confession and tried to avoid it. You really have to make up sins when you are at primary school. As I grew older I observed the traditions less and less. When I met Gordon, and our romance progressed, I saw the ugly side of religion. All of a sudden people’s real feelings came to the surface and that age-old hatred and mistrust became evident. It seemed it was all right to be friendly but it was another matter to intermarry. The next four years were to be some of the worst of my life and yet they formed who I am today and made me a stronger person. My relationship with the church and religion was being slowly eroded.

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Mairia Cahill : Virtual bullies and the cruelty streak.

Remember the school playground?  All the little cliques of children, forming their way in the world, learning through interaction with others what was socially acceptable, and what wasn’t.

Most grew up to be rounded individuals, contributing something useful to society as a result.  However, we’ve all come across bullies in our lives.  In the school playground they either formed one of two people.  The popular kid who bought their friendship with their status, and who used that to pick on some other poor unfortunate.

Then there were the other types of bullies.  The ones who felt inadequate within themselves, lurking around the school wall, lashing out at those who they were envious or jealous of, or those who they perceived to be threatened by.

Some of the children who have been picked on over the years have been driven to suicide as a result, unable to deal with the feelings that were forced upon them, and which they hadn’t learned who to process yet. Those children who were trying to cope with other difficulties in their lives, and who were driven over the edge by the unrelenting taunting coming their way from other children who were so wrapped up in their own lives that they either couldn’t see, or didn’t care about the absolute havoc they were inflicting on other children their own age.

Fast forward from the school playground and we have teenagers online going through the puberty stage, foisting their unpleasantness and inadequacies onto other teenagers.  In 2013, Erin Gallagher, a pretty 13 year old teenager from Donegal left a suicide note.  In it, she detailed to her parents the misery she was feeling.  She named “Ask FM”, an online site.  “I’m sorry I have to do this but I’m fed up of the bullying.”  The internet can be a very dangerous place.

Two months later, her sister Shannon took her own life because she felt she couldn’t live without Erin.  It was a heart breaking double tragedy for the girls parents.  And it was caused, again by people hiding behind a keyboard inflicting grief and misery onto others.

Now, you would think that as teenagers grow to adults, they would behave with more of a modicum of human deceny.  Not so, if you have happened to cast your eye at twitter over the last number of weeks.  My friend, Ann Travers took abuse online to such a scale – over supporting me, that she needed a break and shut her Twitter account down.  It has recently been reopened.  It took exactly five minutes for the online internet bullies – because that is what they are, to go on the attack.

Let us remind ourselves who Ann is.  She is a mother, who, when she was in her early teens, had her whole life in front of her.  That life was derailed, though no fault of her own, when her sister Mary was murdered by IRA gunmen as she walked out of mass with her father, who was a resident magistrate, and her mother that morning.  Ann Travers was sent away to boarding school in the immediate aftermath of the murder.  She tried her best to get on with life.  Her education was disrupted, but she later went back and qualified in the caring profession.  And that is who she is.  A caring individual who lives for her children, and who again found her life to be disrupted when Sinn Fein appointed one of the people convicted in connection with the murder of her sister, to the post of a Government Adviser.  Ann was informed when a media outlet contacted her.  She was stunned and later broke down on radio, as she described absolute trauma revisited.  It captured people.  Raw honest grief, and tears for the many years missed with the woman who was her only sister.

Ann Travers did not ask to become a victim of the conflict.  The people who murdered her sister Mary made her one.  She has spoken about her experiences, and suffered further cruelty and trauma as a result.

No one should be put through that in life.

Ann, in the middle of her campaign to bring in legislation for vetting for anyone with a criminal conviction of five years or more, learned that she had cancer.  Her youngest daughter was 7 at the time.  She has other children too.  I witnessed her fright at the thought that she wouldn’t be around to see them grow.  I felt powerless to do anything to take that pain away.

She had gruelling treatments of chemo and her hair fell out. Not being one to say no, she continued to champion other victims causes both in and out of the media, including my own.  She raised the issue of sex abuse – in all communities – across the board, because she felt it was the right thing to do. In the middle of all of this, people who knew she was battling a deadly disease and still suffering trauma, saw fit to attack her, adding even more suffering to her plate.  One man, whose own sister was brutally murdered, JJ Magee, saw fit to tweet that she was a “celebrity victim”.  Despite being asked to, the man who later became a Sinn Fein Councillor for North Belfast, neither apologised, or withdrew the remark.  It was doubly callous, because that man will know the anguish he felt at losing his own sister – he has also given media interviews expressing that hurt and frustration – and he knew she was suffering deep trauma.  He compounded that hurt, and should, if he had an ounce of human decency about him, be thoroughly ashamed at the anguish he caused to Ann with that tweet alone.

Ann would be the first to say she is not the only victim.  Indeed, she has made it her business to say over and over that justice should be attainable for all – whether you are a victim of the IRA, or Loyalist Paramilitaries, or the state.  She called for justice for the families in Ballymurphy, just as she did for families affected in Enniskillen.  It does not matter what creed or class a person is, Ann deals with human beings, and human suffering, recognises it because her own is so great, and she is repeatedly tweeted all sorts of vile stuff for simply opening her mouth.

In recent days, if they haven’t been tweeting at her, they’ve been tweeting about her.  I’ve felt for her, because I know what it feels like to see inadequate adults, sad individuals who get some sort of a kick or a thrill out of tweeting deeply insulting comments.  In my own case, someone tweeted that they thought I “deserved to be raped”, in another, an account which has been tracked since 2012 when it was set up – two years before I went public, and in the name of my rapist, followed me on twitter.  The reaction I had on that night was indescribable.

You would think, adults would know better.  They are supposed to be rounded individuals who have learned through life how things make them and others feel.  Not so in a core group of sad individual cases, where they think it is socially acceptable to write disturbing and hateful things about a woman who just this week had an operation in which she discovered some more growths had occurred, and on top of that, one of her best friends died in the same week of the same disease that Ann is fighting hard to kick into touch.  It is testament to her strength of character that she hasn’t just told those online bullies – because that is what you are when you try to mock or deliberately hurt someone who is already suffering – to go and f++k themselves.  In one case, a woman who would class herself as Irish American saw fit to tweet this.  “Ann Travers got ignored by the press for a good reason when she quit Twitter.  Now she’s back looking for more attention.  Sigh.  Poor girl”.   What sort of human being would think about that, much less tweet it?  Someone who clearly is lacking in the empathy stakes?  Most genuine people see Ann for what she is, a woman who has been deprived of her sister, and whose family relationships changed utterly when the IRA attacked her family.  She was and is entitled to tell her experiences.  She is entitled to feel pain.  She is entitled to have a twitter account if she so wishes.  The very same person claimed, in an effort to not make herself look so bad, after Slugger highlighted some of the abusive screenshots, that she had to block Ann.  Juvenile stuff, but actually, both Ann and myself blocked this callous tweeter from the get go, because she was obviously craving oxygen.  Ann Travers is entitled, again, to block who she wishes, in an effort to not see some of the bile spouted her way.

We then move to a person who would consider himself a professional, but who most people in his profession, including his manager who I myself spoke to three weeks ago when I informed him I was reporting him to the guards, to give him the opportunity to moderate his harassing behaviour before I did so,  do not agree with.  Someone told me that this individual may have had problems of his own, and I called his employment in an effort to see if they could speak to him in case he didn’t know his behaviour was out of order.  His manager told me he had advised him to desist, and that he was at a loss to see how this man could behave in such a fashion.  I informed the manager that I was making a criminal complaint, which I initiated later that day.  Since then, every screenshot has been meticulously gathered and the file is growing larger by the day and I expect that when the full evidence is gathered a prosecution will follow.  I am at a loss to see how, a grown man can obsessively tweet at and about a victim of abuse, even though he may well gain a criminal conviction as a result.  But I am at a bigger loss to try and understand what sort of a sick kick he and others get from that, and what exactly makes an individual tick to the point where they believe it is socially acceptable.

Is it because they can’t deal with their own issues, so they feel some sort of self importance by obsessively tweeting in a small group of other like minded people who feed off the cesspit of others suffering?  Is it because they can’t deal with the issue of another grown man scaring three young victims so much that they couldn’t even open their eyes during their sexual abuse?  Is it because they support a political party at all costs, and attack anyone who speaks out about the very real issue of moving abusers on, or the murder of their sister?  Is that what people have come to?

These last few weeks have been extremely difficult.  Am I asking you to feel sorry for me?  Not for a second, I’m glad I spoke out about my abuse and about the cover up of that abuse.  As a result more victims came forward, more people will get help, and at present both police forces and social services are finding the whereabouts of those abusers names in order to ensure that child protective procedures are in place.  That is the most important thing.

Those trolls / bullies / sad individuals haven’t once tweeted that those who have been alleged to have been abusers and who the IRA moved on, could potentially have access to children.  They haven’t tweeted that right now, a child could be in danger.  They haven’t once tweeted about Liam Adams, for example working in Youth Clubs, having access to other children after his brother knew that he stood accused of raping his young daughter.  They haven’t once tweeted about Martin Morris, after it was known he had abused, being profiled in the Sinn Fein newspaper as the face of CRJ, where he had access to other vulnerable young people.  They haven’t once expressed disgust that children were put at risk by the IRA moving people around after they found out they were raping children.

Loyalists were also involved in the abuse of children, and the conflict was used as a cover for members of armed groups to do this.  The whole area needs to be looked at.  No amount of online trolling will stop that being done.  Those people who have sneeringly tweeted “its all about the children”, in an effort to mock me, should think about their own children.  I would imagine, they would be absolutely devastated if it happened to one of them.  And, I would imagine, if some older man was sitting in front of his computer getting a kick of his own by typing out insult after insult, it would raise more than a questionable eyebrow as to what exactly the motivation was in persistently harassing over an issue of sexual abuse.  I find that quite disturbing.  Others do too.

I would imagine that if someone walked up to their family with a gun and pumped bullets into their relatives body, that they would find it difficult to deal with.  I would imagine if their hair fell out and their gums burned from the chemo treatment that they would not take kindly to someone trying to inflict intentional further damage by behaving like the bully in the internet school playground.

My cousin Siobhan O’Hanlon had breast cancer.  Her death hit me hard.  She was good to me and bad for me at times in my life.  I loved her.  We laughed at times, fought the piece out at times, and there were times that we didn’t speak.  We had things in common, and some not at all.  She was an unashamed IRA volunteer and made choices in her life.  Her politics to me was irrelevant – because it was as a human being and as a family member that I shared things with her.  I cried for days when I found out she was dying.  This is what she had to say publicly – and was reported in the media about her own experience of breast cancer.  “I was a mess. I had no hair, no eyebrows. No eye lashes, one breast. My nails were all broken. I was tired. I knew I had to get my act together. My hair had stated to grow but it was very slow. It was also terrible grey.” She described how there are “three terrible days in relation to your hair”. They are, she said: “1. when your hair starts coming out, 2. when you put a wig on for the first time, and 3. when you have to take it off again. That was an awful day. I remember going into the office and this guy was going across the top of the stairs. He said “Ah, Siobhan”. “Don’t open your mouth” I told him. “I have more hair than you”. And I did!”

Despite our differences at times, I would be absolutely incensed if I thought for a moment, someone would accuse Siobhan of being a “celebrity victim” for speaking about her experiences.  I would be hurt on her behalf if I thought for one second that people would obsessively tweet her, using her illness to attack her.  Of any political opinion.  It is the lowest of the low, and people should not do it to Ann Travers either.  Ann Travers would be the first to recoil at someone like Siobhan – but she would also be the first to empathise with her in her treatment for breast cancer.

On a human level, you maybe expect people to act like humans rather than animals.  It should not be too much to expect that people keep their cruelty streaks to themselves and stop behaving like four year old children in the virtual playground.  Life, as Ann Travers has said, is much too short.

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Sarah Lucas : I believe Ched Evans.

When I was about 23, I met a guy called Wesley in a nightclub. We chatted for a while and he invited me back to his. He was texting someone on the way home, but I was drunk and thought nothing of it.

So we get back to his, fool around a bit and then start having sex. I look up at a certain point and I see someone walk into the room. It’s a man, he’s naked, and he’s clearly prepared to join in.

As the anger courses through me I sober up, get off the guy, grab my clothes, and run out of the room, out of the flat, and call a taxi.

I wake up in my own bed, with a vivid memory of what happened, grateful that I got out of it. In years to come, that night becomes a funny story.  Until it’s not anymore. Maybe I decided that the story didn’t show me in a good light.

I hadn’t thought about that night in years. Not until I read the sickening details of the Ched Evans case. It bears a striking similarity. Man meets drunk woman. Texts his friend. Is having sex with girl. Friend arrives.

That’s where the similarity ends, because in the case of this poor girl, she isn’t sober enough to realise what’s going on. She isn’t sober enough to think, hang on a minute. I agreed to have sex with this guy. What the hell is this other guy doing here? She isn’t sober enough to consent, and reading the court report, she isn’t sober enough to know that a guy has just walked into the room and within moments is having sex with her.

That this girl was taken advantage of, and horribly, by the first footballer she was unfortunate enough to encounter that night is without question. That she was raped by the second has been proved beyond reasonable doubt in front of a jury.

So why are people claiming that he is innocent? Why did Stuart Gilhooly, a solicitor for the PFAI (Professional Footballers Association of Ireland) write a blogpost published on the PFAI website in which he repeatedly referred to the crime as ‘alleged’ Why did he say that ‘If having sex with a drunk woman is rape then thousands of men are guilty of rape every day.’? *

I’d like to explain to Stuart Gilhooly the difference between drunken consensual sex, and the rape of a drunk woman. That time that I went back to Wesley’s flat wasn’t the only time a man wanted to have sex with me when I didn’t want him to, and I didn’t always get away.

I was so drunk in the back of my friend Rob’s car aged 17, that when my friend Hanna’s 14 year old boyfriend started kissing me, then put his hand down my pants, and forced my mouth onto his penis, I was literally unable to stop him.

I was unable to consent to what he was doing. His fingers penetrated my vagina. He forced me to give him oral sex. That’s rape. But I don’t think that Charlie walks around these days calling himself a rapist. His girlfriend didn’t call him that then either, she just called me a slag instead.

The girl that went back to that hotel room with Clayton McDonald that night is not a slag, as she has been called on social media. She’s a girl who made a choice, albeit a drunken one, to have sex with a guy she met at the end of a night out. By the time Ched Evans got to that hotel room, she was not capable of making that decision. That has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

That’s not the same as two drunk people consenting to sleep with each other. Shame on the PFAI for posting a blog on their website which equated the two.

I believe Ched Evans. I believe that he doesn’t think that he raped that girl. I believe he thinks having sex with a girl who is drunk to the point of neither being able to see nor hear him, is not rape.

But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t rape her. He did.

It is a horrifying illustration of the culture in which we live that he is being defended by so many commentators.

It is a horrifying illustration of the culture in which we live that his girlfriend has chosen to stand by him through his prison sentence and since.

It is a horrifying illustration of the culture in which we live that a major UK football team would consider giving him his job back after he has been convicted of a sex crime.

It is a horrifying illustration of the culture in which we live that a man can do something like that, and go through police questioning, and a court case, and a prison sentence and believe that what he did is not rape.

It is a horrifying illustration of the culture in which we live that so many people agree with him.

*The blogpost has since been removed from the PFAI website, but at the time of writing no apology has been made by either Stuart Gilhooly or the PFAI

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Tina Calder : To work, or not to work…

Tina Calder

I recently read a parenting column online from someone considered quite radical in their thinkings.

And while I didn’t agree with their parenting style I have to admit I was intrigued by their openness, honesty and sheer passion about their role as a mother.

It got me thinking about my role with my son, the values that his father and I have for him and the fact that some people consider us “off the wall” or “alternative” in our parenting style.

Logan will be two years old next month and both myself and his father “work” in some way, shape or form. We are neither full time employed nor earning very much but we are pursuing our paths of destiny.

One of the things we talked about when our son was born was getting back to work – we were both out of work for a number of reasons.

We considered everything from stay at home parents, stay at home mum and stay at home dad to crèche, family care and registered childminder.

We went through the motions believing we needed to get “sensible” jobs that were full time and had set wages.

We almost succumbed until we thought about our son.

Two full time working parents could provide him with a bigger house, a bigger bed room, a better garden, more expensive toys and many more material things but we would be absent from 8am to 6pm every single day and the costs of childminding would be so astronomical that we may not even see the true financial benefit.

So we considered one of us as a stay at home parent and we even tried that – but very quickly we realised someone would have to sacrifice their career and we asked ourselves what message would a tired, frustrated, creatively stunted parent being held back give to Logan.

We settled on our own way. We are both freelance contractors pursuing our chosen careers with vigour, vitality, enthusiasm and creative freedom. We accept work together, separately and have the freedom to try new challenges and discover our own capabilities and push the boundaries.

We live in a small, modest house in the city where we can travel easily and freely to where we need to be – we’ve sacrificed a dream to live by the sea away from the urban hustle and bustle so that we can pursue our careers.

We can’t always afford everything we want but we aren’t so bad at getting everything we need.

We aren’t perfect at house management or budget management or in fact most things domestic but we give it all a go and we don’t beat ourselves up when it’s not perfect.

Our son Logan is lucky to have his uncle as his babysitter. Sometimes it’s for five hours a day, sometimes 12, some weeks three days, some weeks six days. Other days he spends quality time with another uncle who works shifts and has some free time.

Logan has a special bond with his babysitter, a stronger family bond than he would have had previously and he has an adult who loves and adores him and let’s him be as expressive and creative as he wants within boundaries of right and wrong.

I won’t lie, I’m the one who has the hardest, less flexible hours sometimes so every now and again I feel a sense of guilt and a gut wrenching feeling that I’ve let my son down by being absent. But then I remember our goal, I remember what we want to teach him and I realise that every moment I have with him is special – the learning, the playing, the singing, the dancing our “nappy time” song, our “brush brush” chant and the many many many times I say “oh no no said the fish” from our favourite poem.

I see the happiness and love in his eyes when I or his father return home and I realise that by leaving him throughout the week teaches him we will come back.

I write for the newspapers, I manage a music show, I’m a publicist for a few clients and I’ve co-promoted a show at the Ulster Hall this year. My partner is a musician who has recorded music, played the Ulster Hall, supported big names in music, had fantastic press coverage and who is also a keen photographer having had photos published in a number of publications this year.

In our son we encourage creative play from art to music to dance. We want him to have the diverse life we do, who cares if he gets felt tip markers all over him or makes a deafening noise with his toys or bounces up and down on the sofa like a trampoline or climbs the furniture like a monkey? As long as he’s happy, safe, inspired and invigorated then I don’t believe we’re doing anything wrong.

By showing our son that you can reach for your dreams and that being creative is a perfectly natural way to live I hope that we will instill in him a drive to succeed and an ability to dream beyond his surroundings.

Learning the value of money does not mean we need to bring our child up to be materialistic.

Learning to be ambitious does not mean we need to bring him up selfish.
Learning to be creative does not mean we need to allow him to shirk his responsibilities as he grows older.

So I ask the parents out there, when you are spending time making sure the house is perfect and the laundry is neatly folded and the toys are perfectly presented and your child is being good by being quiet are you really doing your best for this little mind?

This little human being who is absorbing the world, it’s culture, it’s surroundings, people, language and more? Are you really spending all your time the way you want to?

Don’t be the parent people think you should be, be the parent you want to be….that’s what we are doing and we’re prepared to deal with whatever consequences that might have positive or negative.

(C) Tina Calder, 2014
Tina Calder is a freelance reporter for newspapers across Northern Ireland such as Sunday World, News Letter, Sunday Life, Daily Mirror and Irish Sun.  She is also the owner of Excalibur Press news and publicity agency.  Her own personal blog can be found
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Ann Allan – My Thoughts On Open Government Network NI Launch


Have you ever wondered why our politicians make certain decisions?  Have you ever asked yourself if they have taken into account the wishes of those who elected them? Is there a mechanism to find out what the various parliamentary committees discuss behind closed doors?  Should we, as the people who put them into power, have more access to the reasoning behind those decisions? Well up until now we haven’t as an electorate, been putting any pressure on our representatives.

So with that in mind I headed for Malone House on 5 November to the launch of the NI Open Government Network. I was looking forward to seeing what the reaction and the interest would be. I had hoped that there would be some, like myself, who were not employed by voluntary agencies but from civil society. As it turned out there weren’t very many so that is a section of society we need to target.

I realise that Twitter is to some extent an incestuous family and that notifications of these events do not reach those in civil society who are not familiar with social media. We need to reach those with time on their hands and who may like to get involved.  It was therefore great to see that the new local community TV station, NvTv, was present to record the views of some of the organisers and guest speakers. Hopefully this will bring the message to those from whom we need support.

There was a turnout of almost 100.  Over tea and delicious scones there was all the general chitchat one gets before affairs of this nature. As well as familiar faces I met some not so familiar faces, one of whom informed me he was actually Jim Wells. Turned out he was undercover trying to find ways to undermine the opening and he was there under his parody account of Jim Wails.  Nice to meet you Jim.

Then I got the shock of my life, I couldn’t get onto either Wi-Fi or 3G. I was gutted. I considered leaving but decided I would be brave and stick it out. I consoled myself and settled down. At this point Lisa McElherron asked me to do Facilitator at my table. I was like a primary school kid asked to do blackboard monitor. Those round the table introduced themselves. Some were from the voluntary sector others a bit like myself venturing into something new. What we all were was enthusiastic and eager to hear from those on the platform.

The timetable was altered due to Simon Hamilton having to get back to Stormont to have discussions about the budget.  Unlike some of the other Ministers up on the hill, I found Mr. Hamilton appeared to be supportive of the need for a more open government. He stated that he was keen to see progress in open data information, open budgets and open policy making. He conjured up a picture of men in white coats when he told us that he had set up a Public Sector Innovation Lab. This ‘lab’ would explore the feasibility of open policymaking. Sounds promising but time will tell. We know how the DUP procrastinates.

The next speaker was Felicity Huston who brought us down to earth or at least the grounds around the Stormont estate. Felicity pointed out that those who walked their dogs in the estate were now required to only walk with their dogs while on a lead. The dogs that is, not the owners. When locals tried to find out why this decision had been made the response from the authorities was slow and unsatisfactory. There were the usual naughty giggles when it was revealed that one of the questions was to do with whether there was more s… before than after the ruling.  I imagine it wouldn’t be the first time and won’t be the last when officials at Stormont have had to deal with a load of old s….  It took months to get an answer and apparently no logic was forthcoming as to how the decision was reached. No consultation or openness here it would seem.

Next up to speak was Peter Osborne who showed us a breakdown of his survey on open government awareness. It was carried out with those in the voluntary sector and those in civil society who clicked on the survey on Twitter. Peter also carried out face-to-face interviews with local politicians. Only a little over 22% interviewed were aware of OGP action plans and only a little over 4% were actively involved. So there is much to be done to raise awareness.

Anne Colgan, Chair of the Irish OGP Civil Society Forum, then spoke of the do’s and don’ts.  She said to make it work we need to see evidence of government commitment. Was that what we heard today from Simon Hamilton? The network, she said, needs to be cohesive and strategic.

We had a short comfort break at around 11pm.  Dealt with a few important phone calls. Ok, the hubby wanted to know how to put the washing machine on. Daughter needed a child-minder for Friday. But as everyone appeared to be dealing with important calls as if they couldn’t be spared for a morning I thought I would try to look important too.  I introduced myself to David McCann who was tweeting and reporting the event for Slugger O’ Toole. He said he liked my work. Meant to ask him how he managed to get on Wi-Fi but was star struck.

Back to hear some of the other speakers. We heard from Prof John Barry from Queens. Professor Barry asked ‘ do we use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost? For support not illumination.’ No me neither.  Lizetta Lyster from UK Cabinet Office and Tim Hughes from the UK OGP Civil Network finished off the session.

It was then time for a group discussion. Ideas were posted on white boards (well sheets of white paper). Those that were considered most important were relayed back to the chair. These will all be reviewed in due course. We were aware at our table of the need to reach more people, to move into rural and other areas of NI. Also, while for retired and unemployed people afternoon meetings are fine, we need to facilitate those who work by having meetings in the evening. We also thought that meet and greet sessions could work.

Time for lunch, which was extremely tasty. Got into conversation with a lovely lady who had read all my blogs and who it turned out went to the same school as I did. Small world. And so we all headed off, fired with enthusiasm, many signing up to the network before they left. Hopefully the momentum will continue and those of you who didn’t come along will come to our next gathering and together we can work towards having a more Open Government in Northern Ireland

Paul Braithwaite and his team from the Building Change Trust did an excellent job organising the event. Coverage of the event can be found on Twitter @SluggerOToole and @ChangeTrust.

P.S. Discovered later I could have had Wi-Fi for £4 an hour. What a rip off BTOpenzone.


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