Ann Allan – Why I’m Going To Malone House…


On Wednesday 5th November I’m off to Malone House to the launch of the Northern Ireland Open Government Network. I have been involved for the last few months in helping to get the launch up and running and I’m looking forward to seeing how it will evolve.

Hard to believe that fourteen years ago I was recovering from a few bad years. Those of you who have read my blog on coping with depression will know how low I was. I couldn’t see a future back in the work place and reconciled myself to being a housewife. I had resigned from my job as I felt that in my state of mind at the time, it was unfair to my employers to continue. I realised much later that they had contributed to my stress but that’s another story. Suffice to say that I felt that my life thereafter would be looking after my lovely family. However, at that time, I was more than half way through my degree at Queens and as a degree was one of my great ambitions I was determined to finish. My mother had a stroke and my mother-in-law had developed dementia around the same time. In 2009,

despite all odds, I proudly accepted my BA(Hons) in Humanities from George Mitchell, the then Vice Chancellor at Queens University.

I proudly hung it up and occasionally dusted the frame. Over the next fourteen years four grandchildren arrived. I baby-sat, helped out as was needed and loved every minute spent doing it. But something was missing. I didn’t feel I was fully in touch with all that was going on around me. I read a lot but it was mostly fiction. Then I discovered and joined Facebook and eventually progressed to Twitter. For quite a while I watched from the wings. I eventually summoned up the courage to reply to a tweet and then to actually tweet myself. A whole new world was opening up, a Twitter world, but an informative world. In June 2013 a new political party NI21 was launched and it seemed the perfect party for me. Despite what happened it is still the party with which I would feel most at home. Through my membership of the party I met lots of new people. The younger ones did not appear to see me as old and I made many good friends. Some of these I have met in person. Others are online friends.

Out of the blue I received a message from Vixens with Convictions asking me if I knew of anyone who would like to write a blog. I said I would think about it. I had written some articles in the past but thought no one would want to read them. Sure what have I got to lose, I thought, and I sent one on to them. Suffice to say that I now blog for them and enjoy it very much.

Through my association with Vixens I was invited to go along to an informal gathering of the Northern Ireland Open Government Network. Hadn’t a clue what it was about. But I thought why not? At the first meeting I said very little. To tell you the truth I felt out of my depth. I went home and read up about it. Next time I asked a few questions. Next time I contributed to debate and made some suggestions.

What is open government you may ask? Simply it’s asking that governments make themselves more open and accountable to the citizens who elect them. Compared to England and to a lesser extent Wales and Scotland, the Open Government Partnership has up until now, had little impact for us in Northern Ireland.

The moral of this story is it is never to late to get involved. Instead of sitting at home feeling unfulfilled get out and put in your two penny worth, make new friends and contribute to a better society for the generations coming behind us. Why not come along to the launch. Register at There is no charge and we’ll even give you a bite of lunch.

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Ann Travers – Spotlight shines on ‘abuse’ handling

A Woman who claims that she was raped by an IRA man and subsequently forced to endure an IRA “investigation”, will tell a BBC NI Spotlight documentary tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 10:35 that she was made to go into a room and confront her alleged abuser.

That woman, Máiría Cahill is my friend.  We make an unlikely pairing, considering our diverse backgrounds, her great Uncle was once the chief of staff of an organisation which murdered my sister, and tried to murder my father.  We also have diverse views.  But, just as she supported me when I campaigned for the SPAD changes (Ann’s law), I am fully behind her in her tough decision to waive her anonymity.

It isn’t easy for any victim of abuse to waive the legal lifetime entitlement to anonymity – and I know it wasn’t an easy decision for her. But I also know that she cares deeply about the issue of child sexual abuse, and equally so, that no one should have to suffer in silence.  I am sure that her decision will help other victims.

Speaking out publicly has been a brave and courageous move, it should give hope to many men and women who have been abused – not only by sexual abusers who seek to control victims to keep them silent – but also by people in positions of authority who seek for the truth to remain hidden.

My friend has always told me that the truth is the most powerful thing a person can have.  And she will tell it.  And it’s never easy for her to do so because like any abuse victim, speaking brings everything back.

Yesterday when I tweeted about tomorrow night’s BBCNI Spotlight programme the usual disgusting tweets came back.  It happens every time I tweet about anything to do with republicanism.  There was no concern for how this alleged abuse was handled, or for the young woman – who was a 16 year old child when it started – but a full on further abuse of the victim from people who claim to be republican.  I don’t know why I was surprised.  What else would they do, only try to deflect from their collective shameful behaviour on this issue.  I’m not going to link to them here, because I don’t wish to upset any victim of abuse by doing so.

Fortunately for Mairia, the support she has, and will receive, is overwhelming, across the board – and from republicans also, who are sick sore and tired of repeated denials, and who don’t wish to be tarred with the one brush.

As I say, I consider Mairia Cahill a friend.  For the past number of years I have listened to her and supported her on her journey where she desperately tried to achieve justice in order ‘to hold people accountable for what happened to her.  I have also witnessed her supporting many others, including myself.  She is a kind hearted and courageous young woman, and I have no doubt when people see tomorrow night’s Spotlight documentary, they will be horrified at what she was put through.  I am looking forward to watching it myself, because I realise that finally, she will use her voice to tell her own experience.

Hopefully by using that voice, it will encourage anyone who has experienced similar to take heart, not be afraid, and to come forward in whatever way is comfortable for them to do so in order to take control back over their lives, and not allow those who abused them to have power over them any longer.

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Jayne Olorunda : Animal Slaughter – My Vegan Challenge

slaughter house

If someone had told me a month ago that very soon I would be a vegan I would have laughed, because then I was just like everybody else. I ate meat, drank milk and barely glanced at the products I was buying in the supermarket.  Along with all of this I professed to be an animal lover. For me, finding out where things really came from was a simple matter of looking out for quality assurance marks on products, finding out if something was free range, farm assured or not tested on animals. After all such labels must mean something mustn’t they? I discovered to my alarm that they are not all what they seem. The worst discovery of all was that some ‘food’ animals are every bit as intelligent as our beloved dogs and cats, yet they suffer and die to sustain us every second of every day. In continuing as I was I could no longer profess to be an animal lover. I was a hypocrite. I wouldn’t eat my dog yet I would eat other living, feeling animals. Cue my Peta vegan challenge.

In my twenties I was a vegetarian but my dislike of all things quorn and my restricted dietary choices made me clamber back up the meat aisles. Since then I ate chicken and pork but never red meat, well until very recently. On a trip to Brazil in July I sampled red meat and from then it was back on my menu!  I loved it. Yes I genuinely loved meat, I was brought up on it and part of me felt that veggies didn’t know what they were missing. I wouldn’t say I pitied them, but I did feel that in the days of humane slaughter eating meat was fine.

Fast-forward to last week. As my vegetables, vegan sausage rolls, soy milk and dairy free spread passed the check out, the assistant asked ‘do you not eat meat?’ She looked at me like I was an alien. When I told her no she said ‘I love my meat’. ‘So do I’, I told her and left it at that. I wasn’t going to explain my new dietary choices to her, she like everyone else is more than capable of doing a little research. I believe that if you are going to eat animal products and feed them to your children, you should have the wherewithal to know where your food and products come from. This knowledge will open your eyes to an industry that has become far removed from the consumer. I really think some people believe that meat arrives in the supermarket in clean little cellophane packages. When your eyes are open you will discover some stomach curdling details, for example your average beef burger is made with the meat of eight different cows. You may even discover that the Old Mac Donald’s farmyards and happy cows that we see splashed on supermarket walls and on our milk etc are things of the past.

Years ago humans ate meat when we were lucky enough to get it, now it is so readily available that people are eating it sometimes three times a day. Does anybody really need all that? If the meat trade is to be sustained on this scale I hope your appetite is worth it, because we are destroying our planet.  To keep prices down we live in the days of factory farming, where the vast majority of our chickens, pigs, sheep and cows never see the light of day. They are raised in the factory for food and nothing else. Ever wonder why your doctor no longer readily gives us antibiotics? Well the answer is simple. So many of them are pumped into our animals that we have grown immune to them. Antibiotics are only the tip of the iceberg, we also take second hand hormones and animal drugs every time we consume processed meat products.

The problem is that eating meat is the norm and we all follow societies norms, that’s the right thing to do isn’t it? But we all know that norms and values often change. We live in a culture where our animals are commodities, we use their bodies to clothe, feed and clean us but we have always done this so it’s ok. It’s tradition. May I remind you that slavery was once a tradition, child labour was once a tradition, as was following what we read and see without question! But times have changed, more people than ever are educated formally or informally and we now think for ourselves.

Or do we? When I look into the extent of animal cruelty it seems we are only free thinkers when we want to be or when it suits us. You see we like our meat, so to hell with the consequences. Why change something that causes so much devastation when we enjoy it? We can all see our growing health service bill, we all know about global warming and we are all acutely aware of third world hunger. Yet are we aware that our meat and how it’s produced is a major contributor in all of these factors?

My vegan challenge has made me feel on the one hand empowered but on the other isolated and voiceless. No one wants to know. The only thing I can liken my experiences to is stepping out of a giant matrix. I have found that animal abuse is everywhere, I see it around me daily. Yet no one else wants to step out of the matrix for fear that once out they can never return.

But here’s the thing. We’ve been conned folks. We are being used by a massive global industry and our own greed prevents us from seeing this. But what if we could see? Believe it or not we can. Even though the gory details of how much we exploit our animals is never going to be on prime time TV (I really think it should be) we now have Google and YouTube.

Many people reading this, including some of my friends are vegetarian who don’t eat flesh, but they eat milk, cheese and eggs. They have no idea about what is arguably the biggest cruelty of all, the dairy trade. For us to avail of cow’s milk, calves are ripped away from their mother and killed. Why give the calf its mother’s milk when another species it’s not even designed for wants it? As for what’s in the milk you are drinking hmm how I can put this… prolonged milking can lead to infections which ahem generates puss that all the pasteurising in the world can’t remove. No other species drinks the milk of another, no other species drinks milk after being weaned. You are drinking milk designed to grow another species three times as heavy as most of us. Absurdly people wonder why we have an obesity problem!


When all is said and done, what saddened me the most was finding out that just like us animals are the centre of their own worlds, they want to live and they value their lives like we do. Every ‘food’ animal, even those you see happily grazing in fields must by law go to our ‘slaughter’ houses. Modern abattoirs are so secretive that we don’t see what really goes on, even some workers don’t see the whole process from start to finish. Again a quick look on You Tube gives you a good insight. The term slaughter is pretty apt in this case. In the words of Paul McCartney in ‘Meat your meat’; “If slaughter houses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian”. No one wants to die at the hands of another or in this case for the stomach of another. I think I will save toiletries, clothes and other household products for another time.

As for me when I complete my challenge on Friday will I remain vegan? It’s still early days, but I know I will never eat meat or drink milk again. I will never buy beauty or household products without the cruelty free logo (a leaping bunny if anyone is interested) and I will never buy leather or suede again. In a country dominated by meat, I will always face challenges. Going for a simple coffee in town can be difficult, we don’t even have a vegetarian restaurant (never mind vegan), finding a suitable lunch is like mission impossible and where items that you expect to be animal free aren’t, mistakes are easy to make. A term I discovered recently was vegan’ish and I imagine that’s what I will be. Regardless of how I term myself I know my life and views have changed forever. Do I still have that leather sofa? Yes, I also have leather bags, shoes and even seats in my car. For me these products are bought now, the damage has been done and quite frankly I can’t afford to replace them. But when I do, they won’t be replaced with someone else’s skin.

Everything is now moving towards being open and transparent, I think it’s time our meat and animal industries did the same. If we all question our food supply a little more we could see real changes in animal welfare and human health. I just hope that those reading this, those who love their meat as much as I did will have a look at the wealth of information out there. When you have done that, if you can’t go as far as I did, how about you cut down a little?  I challenge you not to a full vegan challenge but how about a few meat free days a month? And by that I mean no animal products on those days at all. If we all did that perhaps Northern Ireland could for once be known not for taking lives but for saving even a few.

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Ann Allan: Twaddell – Holding out for a hero.

I don’t live on an interface so I am looking at the situation at Twaddell from a place of peace and tranquility. One where people get on with their day to day lives and where flags and marching and protesting about marching do not feature. On the outer end of East Belfast we have Tullycarnet, a loyalist estate coexisting peacefully beside Our Lady and Patrick’s grammar school. On the 11th night and in the month of July there are the usual parades. No one bats an eyelid. We get on with our own business. Pupils go to and from the school without fear or intimidation. So why here and not there?

I get really cross when I hear the ‘ they don’t respect us ‘ argument and ‘ it’s our road and we can walk it if we want’ it makes me want to knock heads together because that is such a childish mentality. And maybe that’s the answer. Those involved have not grown up.  They have not faced up to the realities of life. Life is not fair. You can’t have everything you want. Life’s a bitch, they say, and then you die.

How many on the loyalist side will turn to the flag or marching when they develop a life threatening illness? They will want the best treatment for their condition but the money that will provide that treatment is haemorrhaging away to the tune of £50000 per day. On the other side heels have been dug in and the mantra is much the same. We’re not giving an inch. You are also haemorrhaging the money away.

Let me tell you when you are on your death bed, and life is short, none of this will matter and years will have been squandered while young children are growing up learning that you don’t compromise.

We all have to compromise whether in marriage, in every day life or in our jobs. If there is no compromise there is no movement and with no movement comes stagnation.

Surely someone can be a hero. Situations like Twaddell need a hero. Someone from one side who can say ok we withdraw our objections. Someone from the other side who can say we will walk the road with dignity for ourselves  and our fellow citizens. Protestors go home. Watch the TV it will be over very quickly. Marchers show respect. No taunting from either side. No ussums or themuns.

The idea that we should have yet more rallies as part of a graduated response must be the most ludicrous suggestion ever. Peter Robinson and his fellow unionist supporting the idea is even more ludicrous. This is an assembly ( I use the word loosely) that is on the brink of collapse and our largest party are planning to put more pressure on the police and on the police budget. What would be the reaction in England if David Cameron decided to lead protests against the Metropolitan police force? He would be laughed out of Parliament methinks.  Unfortunately we haven’t the option to get rid of our Assembly and chances are if we did we would vote in the same shower of losers.

So we are stuck it would seem waiting for our two heroes. Orangeman on one side and Greenman  on the other. They don’t need kryptonite or magic cloaks they just need the will to say, we can’t leave this for another generation we need to solve it now.

Go down in the history books for the coming generations to see that you helped to solve the Twaddell impasse.  Turn over a new leaf, wipe the page clean. I know they are cliches but wouldn’t it be great to say that we could all aspire to be kinder and tolerant to our fellow citizens. When you let the anger and bitterness go it will be like a great weight of your shoulder and life will be much more fulfilling.

And another thing I’ve  noticed that the flags that many of you claim to respect are tattered and torn and still flying from lamp posts . That is all flags, no differentiation. Please take them down. I’m sure the dignitaries from both side who visit us take a dim view of how much respect is actually shown to the various flags.

I know you will say I don’t know what I’m talking about and  its not that simplistic, but it could be.

Now,  where’s my Supergirl mask?



Follow Ann on @apallan

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Jeannie Griffin : Easter eggs for Burke Street.

Burke Street after the Blitz

Burke Street after the Blitz

Mary Jane Brown does not have a statue or monument in Belfast erected in her honour. Ideed few if any would even know or care who Mary Jane was. I do and this is briefly her story although her life was anything but brief for she lived to the ripe old age of 91. A big enough feat in out own era; in 1941 it would have been viewed as a wonder, awe-inspiring.

Mary Jane was born on Antrim in 1850. She was raised in the Presbyterian religion and at some stage in her life moved to Belfast.  She became the wife of general labourer John Brown and the mother of eight children, five of whom reached adulthood. They were John, William, Henry, James and Margaret. The latter was already working as a machinist in a warehouse at the age of 17. By 1901, the Brown family was living in 18 Burke Street in the New Lodge area of North Belfast off the Antrim Road.

Burke Street was a narrow street of 20 red-brick and white- trimmed terraced houses built in about 1880 and it ran up between Dawson and Annadale streets with Maralin Street branching off. It was home to both Protestant and Catholic working-class familes, convenient to the York Street Spinning Mill and factories in the area. Victoria Barracks was also situated to the south just beyond Lepper Street. Mary Jane most likely attended the Presbyterian church in the Antrim Road and occupied herself with her family. The 1901 census tells us that she was literate and had her married son, his wife Leanna and baby grandson Henry living with her and the rest of her family at number 18 which was the last house at the top at the Annadale Street end. By 1911 she was a widow, John Brown having died in about 1907, the year of the Dock and Carter strike. He was employed as a carter at the time of his death so he would have been caught up in the turmoil of the strike that caused chaos in the streets of Belfast.

She would have had a harsh gruelling existence with so many people crowed into cramped quarters, the house damp and hard to heat, with money scarce and domestic chores never seeming to end. There would of course have been moments of happiness lighting up the dark rooms in Burke Street like the rare but welcome Belfast sunshine poking its head cheekily from behind sullen grey clouds. We do not not whether she was happy or sad, well or ailing the night of 15 April 1941 when the air raid sirens sounded their wailing warning of approaching doom as up to 200 bombers of the Luftwaffe made their way towards Belfast, the first of two devastating raids. She had just celebrated her 91st birthday. Lord Haw Haw the wartime radio propagandist had laconically announced just days before in a radio broadcast from Hamburg that there would be”Easter eggs for Belfast”. 15 April was Easter Tuesday. The sirens known as “Moaning Minnies” started up at 10.40 PM and by 11.00 the German bombers were flying in from Belfast Lough and unleashing their deadly cargo on the undefended city. The Luftwaffe’s targets were the shipyard, the Waterworks, York Street Spinning Mill, Victoria Barracks, other factories, mills and engineering plants, all located in North Belfast, where Burke Street was situated.

The Luftwaffe’s  Georg Deininger of the elite pathfinder squadron Kampfgruppe 100 led the bombers which consisted of Heinkel HE111s, Junkers JU-88s and Dorniers. He would neither have known or cared that among those frightened and bewildered civilians cowering below his aircraft in the red brick sea of modest dwellings that was North Belfast, was an old lady who had survived epidemics, poverty, hardship and numerous sectarian riots; had seen Belfast be granted city status. She would have been concerned as the events of the 1907 Dock strike unfolded and would have likely shed a tear upon hearing of the sinking of the Titanic. A Protestant, she most likely had supported the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912 at City Hall. Mary Jane shared her house with Georgina, the widow of her grandson Henry. Also present with her inside the house at number 18 Burke Street was another family member 16-year-old Jean Lynas and her father Richard both of whom lived in nearby Tiger’s Bay. As soon as the flares were dropped and the bombs started falling from the now illuminated skies, the terrified family would have sought shelter beneath the stairs. Although many people fled to the inadequate and smelly air raid shelters,  most preferred to remain in their homes hiding under stairs, kitchen tables and in coal bunkers.

After attacking the docks, the bombers flew westwards over the city of Belfast dropping high explosives, incendiaries and parachute landmines  which set streets and buildings alight . The raid would last for over five hours. Fires burned out of control in the city centre as proud Victorian edifices took direct hits. Oldpark, the Bone, Greencastle, Percy Street in the Lower Shankill and the top of Blythe Street in Sandy Row were all bombed with numerous casualties. However it was the area  between Antrim Road and York Street that bore the brunt of the devastating aerial bombardment as houses and factories alike were reduced to smouldering rubble with flames racing down streets that suddenly resembled ploughed fields. New Lodge off Antrim Road was pummelled by bombs wiping out entire terraces of houses leaving a path of ruin; Annadale Street was almost completely destroyed as was Sheridan Street. As Mary Jane, crouching under the stairs with her family, doubtless offered up prayers for their salvation, wave after wave of explosives rained down on the sad little houses of Burke Street; it being so close to Victoria Barracks it took several direct hits. All the houses in the tiny street were obliterated beneath the onslaught of impersonal death and destruction unleashed from the mechanized predatory birds. Including number 18 where 91- year-old Mary Jane huddled in abject fear.

There were no survivors in Burke Street. All those who were in their homes at the time were pulverised to death. The street ceased to exist as did Mary Jane Brown.

And Belfast has forgotten her, she who was the oldest victim of the Belfast Blitz which resulted in the deaths of over 1000 people in both raids.


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The Ann Allan Blog : They’re taking my teeth – and leaving my wisdom.

I promised I would keep you up to date on my implant journey so here goes.

At the end of June I eventually got round to having my scan. Those of you who read my blog ‘Maybe I’ll get some wisdom teeth’ will know I chickened out at the last minute.  I got the results the next day and my bones are dense enough to continue with the implants.  Next will be an impression. In the meantime toothache reveals that I need another tooth out. Antibiotics soothe the pain and a date is set for the extraction. I’m also informed that I may as well have another one out at same time. It’s going to need taking out sometime in the future so it may as well be now. I swear in my head. This is getting serious now.


Now, in the meantime I developed a pain in my left foot. I found it painful to put my foot on the floor in the morning. So I made an appointment with a podiatrist. As I stepped into the waiting room with others of a determinable age I thought that’s it I’m old.  Those of you of a similar age will identify with the fact that others are old but you’re not. Mrs Allan the young man said after a quick examination do you know you have one leg longer than the other?   I wanted to laugh out loud but didn’t think that was appropriate. He went on to add and also one foot is shorter than the other. It suddenly dawned on me that was why when I looked in a mirror one shoulder was lower than the other. I was lopsided.  This was causing the pain as I was compensating for my condition and had developed planter fasciitis. Wondered if that was because my family originated from Somerset.  With my foot strapped for five days I made my way out of the clinic. As I passed the shop windows I couldn’t resist looking at my reflection. When I returned home and told the hubby I could no longer hold back and when I told him what the problem was we laughed till the tears rolled down our cheeks. Well mine sort of veered of at an angle. I made a note to always lean to the right side or should that be the left?

Oh yes the teeth. Returned and had impression. Blue malleable material put in my mouth. Bite hard said the dentist. As he was holding my mouth slightly open I was wary of biting his finger. When the mixture was hardened he took it out. Appointment now made for extractions.

You’ll never believe that when I woke up the next morning I thought there was lightning about as I could see flashes of light in my right eye. After determining that was not the case, I realised that I was the only one privy to these flashes. I could also see what looked like a huge cobweb out of the side of my eye. Shit I thought. Well wouldn’t you? I have a detaching retina. Well that’s what it said on the interweb. I put up with it for at least five minutes before heading down to the optician. I’m getting through the professions rightly I thought.  Come back at five and we’ll fit you in the nice man said. I did and he explained that sometimes a little bit of jelly at the back of the eye detaches itself and causes what I was now experiencing. He went on to say that he could send me up to casualty to have it checked out. This could take hours. Or I could pay £25 and he could do it for me. No competition there.  It appeared he was right; there was no need for panic. The condition would settle down in a few days and he was right. So I’m now veering to the right, I’ve floaters and flashing lights in my eye and I’m about to lose half my teeth. Jesus!

Back to the teeth. My first two extractions were due to take place on Monday 8th September. All weekend I psyched myself up. It wouldn’t be that bad. It would be over quickly. I was very brave. On Monday morning I took an extra anxiety pill. We planned ( hubby was taking me) to leave at 11.30 so I would arrive on time and no sitting about. At 11.10 the phone rang. Mrs Allan you know you are supposed to be having your extractions this morning. Er yes at 12. No she said at 11. Whoops! I’m sorry she said as you’ve missed your appointment we will have to reschedule it. So that is why I’m going to have to go through the whole preparation thing again. If you read this after 2 October I should be two teeth less. Fingers crossed.

Vixens would like to wish Ann a very speedy recovery from her Wisdom Teeth extraction – follow her on Twitter here : @apallan 

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Sarah Wright : Union refuses permission for sexual consent workshops.

In 2010, the National Union of Students (NUS) ‘Hidden Marks’ report found that 68% of respondents had been the victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment during their University career. Further research in the 2013 ‘That’s What She Said’ report highlighted serious issues surrounding consent and lad culture at higher education campuses across the UK and the normalisation of sexual harassment and violence against women, prompting the need for consent education and for Students’ Unions to take action. Earlier this month, Queen’s University Feminist Society – which boasts almost 500 members – applied to take part in the NUS I Heart Consent pilot scheme which aims to ‘facilitate positive, informed and inclusive conversations and campaigns about consent in universities and colleges across the UK’. The application was a success and the society was informed that they would be one of 20 Students’ Unions taking part in the scheme.

However, the Students’ Union declined to host the events.

At the outset it seemed as though the SU has been unable to find room in its calendar for such an important campaign. With a backdrop of society event themes such as ‘CEOs and HOEs’, you could be mistaken for thinking that the SU didn’t view sexism on campus as a serious issue. Ellie Drake, Women’s Officer for NUS-USI explained that there has been a ‘miscommunication’ and Susuana Antubam, NUS Women’s Officer has clarified that Students’ Union cannot be pilot Unions without the consent of a Sabbatical Officer, which was not sought by the Feminist Society. Yet, when the Students’ Union was prompted to submit an application to become a pilot Union for the I Heart Consent Scheme before the Feminist Society applied, they did not follow this procedure. It is important to remember that this is an exceptionally busy time of year, tackling lad culture and educating students about consent should be a priority –  and I’m certain it will be with the current QUBSU Equality Officer, Caoímhe Mac Néill, at the helm.

Regardless of the reasons behind it, the scheme will not be taking place at QUBSU, but the Feminist Society have been reassured that they will have access to any resources they need and support from both NUS and NUS-USI Women’s Officers for any related campaigns. Most importantly, it has ignited the conversation around consent education at Queen’s. Catherine Coffey from QUB Feminist Society has commented, ‘Although the loss of the campaign is a blow, it is not a crippling one, and I believe tonight’s outpouring of frustration will prove an excellent springboard to move forward with the QUBSU to implement more schemes and policies geared towards creating a more egalitarian and safer environment at Queen’s’. Let’s hope QUBSU, the University and the student body listen.

Follow Sarah on Twitter : @ihiccupalot

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Ann Allan – My French Experience

I awoke on my first morning in France tired from lack of sleep and unsure where I was. It was a bit overwhelming for a naive seventeen year old. The sound of a train chugging near to my window reminded me fairly quickly. I opened the wooden shutters to be greeted with the most idyllic garden bathed in warm sunlight. Those of you who have been to France will know what I mean, when I say, that it didn’t smell or feel like home. It was … well  it was…. French. I dressed quickly dusting myself in Morney’s sandalwood talc. I only have to get a whiff of sandalwood all these years later, to be transported back to that room in St. Marcellin. Breakfast was served in the garden. Fresh croissants and a sweet cake were breakfast fare. What appeared to be a large soup bowl was put in front of me but instead of soup, there was tea. I hesitated unsure what to do. The rest of the family drank the tea straight from the bowl and I with some amusement did too. We would never do that at home, I thought.

My two weeks in St.Marcellin were spent absorbing French life. Many things were different. My French friend openly lit up her cigarette and smoked in front of her parents. That would never have been allowed back home in 1966. Over the two weeks I experienced French life and was taken to the places of interest in the area. To the amphi- theatre in Vienne, to Romans with its beautiful St. Bernard church, Pont en Royans with its three castles and it’s hanging houses clinging to the cliffs, Valence, with its colorful history. A beautiful part of France bordering on the edge of the Vercors national park. I returned there many years later with my own family

After two weeks we packed up and went to Grenoble where we stayed overnight in an apartment belonging to the family. A shopping spree in one of the department stores helped deplete my pocket money but I wanted to bring something to the family back home.   We packed up once again and headed for a Citroen CV parked outside. To my amazement the 17-year-old sister took the steering wheel and we set off. For a while it was fine but then we began to ascend. The roads became like country lanes and the sheer drop below was terrifying.  The two sisters and their brothers started singing songs one of which I suspect was a French version of ‘Now is the Hour.’ I covered my eyes and concentrated on trying not to be sick. When we arrived in St.Bonnet I was white as a sheet and unable to greet the relatives who rushed out to meet ‘ la petite Irlandaise.’ As they were about to give me the traditional kiss on each cheek I threw up. The combination of the drive and the lack of food had made me decidedly queasy. I must explain that I had not adapted to the French menu and was living on Rice Crispies and boiled eggs. I had been taken to the nearest shop in desperation and in the hope I might see something I could eat. Thankfully cereals had reached France in 1966. I had also discovered that the family stored a huge number of chocolate bars in the food cupboard. When I woke up in the middle of the night starving, I would tiptoe down and help myself. Imagine my embarrassment when on one occasion, I turned to go back to bed, salivating from the chocolate, and there was Madame B standing at the kitchen door. I muttered something in English, made a few gestures about being hungry and beat a hasty retreat. The house also had a cellar filled with cheeses. The smell was ..well, it wasn’t very pleasant and I dreaded when I was asked to go down and bring up some cheese.

I have to admit I was getting homesick at this stage. Lack of communication was a big problem. I was now receiving letters from home. It had taken all this time for them to reach me; such was the speed of the postal service in France in the sixties. My family was on holidays in Bunbeg, one of my favorite places and I was quite jealous. I had no money left. This was remedied by a rare phone call home when my dad asked Madame B to give me some money and he would refund it. With the money I went to the local hairdresser in the village and had my beautiful long auburn hair cut short. Not sure whether it was the altitude that affected my brain but what I had done hit home when the hairdresser handed me my hair tied in a ponytail to take home.

Again I saw plenty of the region.  The skiing resorts of Orcieres and Merylette were close by and Gap was the nearest big town. I had by now got used to the narrow roads.  My favourite trip was the Route de Napoleon that took us though Aix-en Provence, passing the many fields of vines and culminating in my first sight of the Côte D’ Azur and the Mediterranean sparkling in the sunshine.


Next time on Vixens : the end of my French holiday, and an event that determines the rest of my life.

Follow Ann on Twitter @apallan


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Linda Ervine : Language and Country belongs to us all.

Linda Ervine, copyright Belfast Newsletter.

Linda Ervine, copyright Belfast Newsletter.

Although I am a Protestant I didn’t grow up in a traditional unionist family.  My family were socialist, trade unionists; they stood against the tide of religious paranoia and hatred which swept through Northern Ireland in the late 60s and early 70s.  They taught me to reject and to challenge sectarianism and racism and to be proud of my working class background.   I thank God for their influence on my life as it equipped me for the job that I do today. My role is Irish language development officer, working in the heart of loyalist East Belfast.

When I tell people what I do they often ask how on earth we came to be teaching Irish on the Newtownards Road.  Well, the project began through a six-week introduction to Gaelic and Ulster Scots with East Belfast Mission and Short Strand cross community women’s group.  After the taster course myself and a friend enrolled on a beginners class in An Droichead, an Irish cultural centre on the Ormeau Road. At the first class we must have made it obvious that we were two Prods as during the break the teacher, a lovely girl called Áine Máire, to put us at ease, told us that all sorts of people attended the classes and in fact they had a learner who was from East Belfast, “And you’ll never believe it but he’s a member of the PUP.”

“Oh Áine Máire,” I replied, “My husband is the leader of the PUP.”

And really that was the start.  We continued to go along to a weekly class until a local journalist got the hold of the story and it ended up in a couple of newspapers.  In an interview I mentioned East Belfast Mission and they were approached by local people who wanted to join the Irish class.  Well of course no class existed at that time because it had only been a six week taster but because of the interest expressed East Belfast Mission decided with the help of An Droichead to start a beginners class and they asked me to facilitate it.  On the first night of the class back in November 2011, over 20 people turned up. That one class has now developed into Turas, an Irish language centre which provides weekly classes for all ages and abilities as well as dance and music lessons. The word Turas means journey in Gaelic and for me it is not only a journey into a language but also a journey of healing and reconciliation.

Our existence and growth has certainly raised a few eyebrows and unfortunately sometimes worse – but the reality is that when we discover the many, many links between Gaelic culture and the Protestant tradition really we should be more shocked that so few people are aware of the facts. For example in 1833 the Presbyterian General Assembly termed the Irish language ‘our sweet and memorable mother tongue’. Ten years later they made it a requirement for all of their trainee ministers to have a knowledge of the language because so many of their congregations couldn’t speak English.

If we’re looking for the largest Gaelic speaking region in the British Isles we don’t find it in Ireland but in Scotland where 80% of speakers are from the Protestant tradition.  I met some of them on a recent trip to Scotland where I attended Gaelic services in the local churches and heard the Psalms sung in Gaelic by the Presbyterian congregations. I even visited the local Rangers club and was presented with a Rangers pendant and an official Rangers club t-shirt, with the motto of Rangers written in Gaelic – ‘Sinne na daoine’ ‘We are the people’.

If we look at the murals in loyalist areas we see written on the walls ‘lámh dearg abú’ victory to the red hand – the motto of the Red Hand Commando.

If we look at the flags we see ‘Faugh a ballagh’ an anglisation of the Gaelic ‘Fág an bealach’ – which means  clear the way and is the motto of the Royal Irish Regiment. I could go and on, yet because of what I call the ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá’ syndrome many people from within the unionist community dimiss the language as Republican.

Recently we had an open day and of course there I was with my stall of information about the Irish language and our new classes starting the following week.  Now, there was a mixed reaction, I got some funny looks and a few people had to walk past twice to make sure that what they were seeing was real but there was also a healthy level of interest from people who inquired about times of classes etc.  However one man (and I suppose you always get one), a man in his late 60s or early 70s who after pacing past a few times decided to come over for a closer look. After flicking through some of the information he proceeded to tell me ‘That’s a fenian language isn’t it?’

‘I’m sorry,’  I replied.

‘It’ a fenian language’.

I smiled and said,  ‘We’re a church, we don’t use the word fenians’ .

‘Aye well it’s a Catholic language.’

‘Well no actually it isn’t’ and I pointed out some of the information about our shared linguistic heritage.

‘I don’t want to hear that. I’m not here to talk, I’ve got a sore leg.’ and off he went.

I personally believe that the majority of people are rational and reasonable and open to debate, unfortunately some people when you confront them with the facts are unable or unwilling to accept the truth.  They are unable to move beyond their long held belief that the other community is the enemy and I suppose it’s hardly surprising that this type of attitude prevails in many parts of Northern Ireland when our schools, our housing and our system of government compounds the ‘us’ and  ‘them’ mentality.

I believe that the people of Northern Ireland have a rich cultural identity, a mixture of native Irish and of the many peoples such as the English and Scots, the Manx Gael and the French Huguenot who made Ireland their home.  This rich ancestry influenced our surnames, our place names and our everyday language.

Our vernacular of hiberno English reflects this mixed identity. We are native English speakers whose English is littered with beautiful Scots and Gaelic words. The syntax of our speech reflects that of Gaelic- only in this part of the world can you be sitting in the middle of your dinner or be after going out.

As a people we are culturally rich yet instead of embracing that wonderful cultural mix, we separate it into narrow divisive boxes and deny ourselves access to very things that make us who we are.

For me it is not the Ulster Scot or Gael, I believe that we can draw on both.  For thousands of years Gaelic speakers crossed back and forth between Scotland and the north of Ireland; the kingdom of Dalraida which came about in the 5th century symbolises the unity between the two countries – that is our heritage.

During the plantation in Ireland both lowland Scot and highland Gael settled in Ireland – that is our heritage.

For those who wish to use the identity of the Gael as a political symbol of division and separatism I would challenge that by saying being a Gael transcends religion and politics. For those who wish to use Ulster Scots as an identity which excludes Gaelic culture – well Ulster Scots is full of Gaelic words and if we look at the symbolism used to represent Ulster Scots, the tartan, the kilt, the highland dancing, etc well of course it is all Gaelic.

My role is about promoting our shared heritage and creating reconciliation within communities.  We have been very successful in what we do and have captured the imagination of both the public and the media yet we get very little support or acknowledgement from unionist politicians. For me unionism appears to be more about a denial of a shared identity.

Protestantism which by its very nature is rich and diverse has become linked with a brand of unionism which is narrow and inward looking.

My brother-in-law David once said, ‘I can never forgive the unionist leaders because the way they behaved was not for the good of this community but for themselves’.  I wonder if anything has changed.

Millions of pounds have been poured into shared projects within the community yet Stormont is segregated.  It is like a school playground where people are threatening to take their ball home when the games not going their way, who rather than making decisions for the greater good of all, are seen to play up to their own side of the community.  No wonder the electorate is disillusioned with politics.

The recent but short lived rise of NI21 I believe showed a desire for an alternative.  People want their politicians to be discussing education, employment and welfare; we are tired of the time and money wasted on parades and protests.

Politicians need to start demonstrating some integrity by having the courage to work with those it was elected to share a mandate with despite their political differences for the good of all the people of Northern Ireland.

To find out more about Irish Language classes, or different services offered,  contact; or

East Belfast Mission

Skainos Square

239 Newtownards Road Belfast BT4 1AF

T:028 9045 8560

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Gerry Adams. Revisionism at its worst.

“Republicans were always law abiding.”

“Everyone who is involved in trying to bring about change, whether it is suffragettes or people involved in armed actions, of course they broke the law, that’s a given…but here we are in peaceful times.”

Gerry Adams speaking to Noel Thompson on today’s BBC Good Morning Ulster.

So there you have it.  The IRA were law abiding downtrodden people doing the right thing to make everything better for everyone.  Just like Emmeline Pankhurst.

UPDATE – tweeter @Wasthatmee has written to us to say “Can hardly see him throwing himself in front of the King’s Horse.  “I was not aware of a race and I do not recall being a jockey.”

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