Paisley the Saint? Remember him as he was, not as we want him to be.

“If my mammy was alive, she’d be dancing in the streets.” So said a woman who grew up in Republican West Belfast to me earlier today on hearing the news that the Reverend Ian Paisley had died. “It’s very sad”, said Carol from the Shankill when I asked for her views earlier. Such views are simplistic on the passing of Ian Snr, but they encompass the broad spectrum of thinking when it comes to the life – and the death of the giant old grandfather of Unionism.

And that would be grand. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions when a controversial figure dies. Except, some of the more surprising tributes came from quarters today, from people whom, shall we say, had more than one axe to grind for the Roaring Reverend.

Not least from Sinn Féin, where Martin Mc Guinness declared that he had lost “a friend”. Forgive us, Lord, for being sceptical at the thought of a former IRA commander whose army would have liked nothing better than to put a bullet in the back of Paisley’s head at times, grieving for the loss of his mate today.

Old DUP colleagues rolled themselves out for the eulogies too; colleagues who Paisley had accused in an interview with Eamonn Mallie broadcast on the BBC, of wanting him gone as leader of the party, and whose wife Eileen had stern words for when she accused their treatment of her husband as being “assassinated by word and deed…”

Assassination is something older Catholics in the North might identify with when they think of Big Ian.

There was the character assassination of farmer Eugene Reavey, a man named under Parliamentary privilege in 1999 by Paisley, who accused him of being “a well-known republican” who “set up the Kingsmills massacre”. These allegations had been supplied to Paisley by the UDR, although he claimed it was an RUC dossier. Mr Reavey was innocent of the claims made against him, and this was confirmed by the RUC, and by the sole survivor of Kingsmill, Alan Beck. It was a disgusting claim by Paisley, not least because Eugene Reavey’s brothers had been murdered the day before Kingsmill, and that when he was grieving and traumatised on his way to the hospital to see his brothers’ bodies; Reavey got out and assisted those injured in Kingsmill by directing emergency services to the scene. Paisley was urged to apologize to Eugene Reavey. He stubbornly refused to do so.

Then there were the loss of life assassinations, which took place in a literal background of blood and thunder, where Loyalists, whipped up into a frenzy, took things that were preached at them, and kept those words in their heads as they went out to murder and maim the easiest targets they could find. There should be no denial of responsibility for the many hundreds of people who might be alive now, but for the words of Paisley, and people like him. Of course, responsibility for carrying out such acts lies with perpetrators – but, filled with hatred and indoctrination, and public acts of rabble rousing, incitement is a dangerous thing. Paisleys well-rehearsed line was “reap what you sow”. In 1986, after warning that Northern Ireland was on the verge of “hand to hand fighting in the street, he had these words for the police officers in attendance; “Don’t come crying to me if your homes are attacked. You will reap what you sow”.

“Reap what you sow” was also a phrase Paisley used at a particularly bad year at Drumcree. Three Catholic children, Mark, Jason and Richard Quinn, were murdered as they slept in their beds by members of the UVF in Portadown in 1998. Paisley did what he always did – distanced himself from the violence after the act, while refusing to accept any responsibility for the part he played in whipping the tensions up in the first place. Despite retrospectively denouncing the murders as “repugnant”, he then went on to shamefully say “The IRA have carried out worse murders than we had in Ballymoney over and over again.”

There was the Ulster Workers Strike, the Anglo Irish Agreement, the shouts of “Never, never, never, never”, to thousands as they attended the Ulster Says No rally at Belfast City Hall. There was “Save Ulster from Sodomy”, and his knowledge of the smuggling of a 15 year old Catholic schoolgirl to Scotland in pursuit of a “religious conversion.”

Then, his early links with the UVF, after which one convicted member stated “I am terribly sorry I ever heard of that man Paisley or decided to follow him”, and his establishment of other paramilitary groupings, Third Force, and Ulster Resistance.

Ian Paisley was a bigot who claimed that Catholics “breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin” – who dubbed the pope “the antichrist”, and who negated any share of responsibility when innocent Catholics were murdered in blatant sectarian attacks in the years that followed.

While it is true that Paisley eventually took his seat in Government with Sinn Fein in 2007, it is worth reflecting that he also played his part in prolonging violence by spewing out hate filled bile which fanned the flames of hatred among working class Loyalists – and republicans – which ultimately ended in loss of life, convictions and jail time, while Paisley washed his hands off the whole affair.

He, by all accounts was warm to people in a personal setting, and those who knew him will remember him for that, as they are entitled to do. There is nothing wrong with finding the human behind the bluster. But, when that bluster influences other people, we are right to remember it too.

Ian Paisley was a complex character. We may never get to the bottom of him. But, we owe it to ourselves, and the history of this country to remember him as he was, not who we would have liked him to be.

Paisley himself wouldn’t have wanted to be made a saint. That would have been too “antichrist” for him.

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Marching to a different tune? Unionism, and the “graduated response.”

The outcome of a Parades Commission decision regarding an application for a “religious service” to walk past Ardoyne shops to commemorate the Ulster Covenant could have “serious implications” for politics, policing and parades, Vixens has learned.

The Commission are to give their decision on 17th September on what they have termed a “sensitive” application on their website. No. 1 District Orange Lodge have applied to walk at 14:15pm on 28th September, along with three flute bands, two of which have been banned from making the return journey up the Crumlin Road in recent years.

The previous bans led to the setting up of the self named “Civil Rights Camp” at Twaddell.  Vixens understands that if the Parades Commission agree to allow the march, the Loyalist Community would then consider whether the camp, which has cost over 9 million pounds to police to date, has become “surplus to requirements.”  While this has not been officially confirmed, it is understood to be one of the options being discussed at present.

First Minister Peter Robinson met with the Secretary of State Teresa Villiers earlier today, in what has been described as a “tense meeting”, ahead of round table discussions with the main leaders of Loyalism and Unionism this afternoon.  Those members who attended the latter meeting are understood to have discussed eight steps of the “graduated response”, first indicated in a statement by Unionist and Loyalist Representatives on 3rd July.

Loyalist grassroots are reported to have become increasingly agitated at unionist leaders in recent weeks, and have privately challenged them to take action.  Vixens spoke to a number of unionist and loyalist sources today, and understand that the first steps to the “graduated response” would be determinable by the response of the Parades Commission to the application to march on 17th, which is already being referred to by our sources as “a critical day”.  If permission is not granted, sources tell us that a two tier step would be implemented almost immediately.  If actioned as intended, the impact to policing, the Department of Justice strands, and politics would be affected greatly.  We can confirm that the potential ramifications of action throughout Northern Ireland, would almost certainly impact on an already shaky political institutions; and the nature of the relationship with the current Secretary of State, who is currently facing calls for the establishment of a commission of enquiry into parades in North Belfast.

One thing is for certain – the issue of flashpoint parades remains at deadlock, and the next few weeks may prove crucial to the viability of the political process in its current form.

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Jayne Olorunda – Stop, look and listen.

I used to cringe when someone asked me about my Dad. I’m not saying that losing someone in the troubles is embarrassing, but a part of me hated telling those not in the know what became of him. Why? Recently I found my answer. It’s a simple answer really and it boils down to the fact that people don’t want to know OR as I will discuss later they are sick and tired of victims. We are so politicised that even the death of an innocent creates an elephant in the room, and an awkward elephant at that. For me the elephant only left the room when those asking knew what side killed my Dad, when he died or if he in the forces.

I hated the questions and the insinuations, any answer I gave apparently revealed my political views, it made me for or against (for the record I am against, I am against all murder).  I had done nothing but answer the questions asked –  but I almost always offended someone. As such I shied away from any conversation on my Dad. Northern Ireland in its own way was forcing me to forget.

 

Turn on the news, open a newspaper or indeed your twitter feed and I am sure that somewhere you will see a discussion, or as is more common these days, an argument on victims.  This is such a regular occurrence that I have heard people say ‘not another victim story’, or ‘it’s the victims again’. I think it’s fair to make the point that Northern Ireland suffers from victim fatigue and that is so very wrong.  Under no circumstances am I saying that the majority of Northern Irish folk are insensitive or callous –  but I do maintain that they have been sensitised by the bombardment of victim’s issues and the continuing victim’s debate. In my opinion we are being overloaded with the wrong type of victim related news. Now when we see victims we see the political divide, we see one side or another, we see a continuation of the political whataboutary. It is no wonder fatigue sets in.

What we don’t see is that it’s not the victims who have caused this fatigue. Yes we hear a lot of talk about victims, but is it the right talk? We hear about them constantly but how often do we actually hear from them? It seems that innocent victims are being associated with our government’s inability to come to a consensus. I fear that our government’s intransigence and dithering is turning the country against its victims, it’s turning our victims into villains.  It’s time that the government gave us back our victims, let their loved ones remember them as individuals not as a DUP / SF pantomime.

Our politicians may sometimes lack dignity in their past and present deeds but that is no reason to take away the dignity of the dead and bereaved.

Two incidents in the last year have had a profound impact on me, they cemented my views on victims. The first was a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp. What struck me there was that I couldn’t feel anything, the sheer enormity of the atrocities that history tells us about just wouldn’t sink in. When I explained to the guide that I was watching but not quite absorbing the human loss, she told me something that I feel I should share. She pointed to a wall lined with pictures of previous inmates and told me to concentrate on the journey of just one person. I did. Suddenly the horrors in the camp begin vivid and alive and I felt not just for the person I was following but for all those who had died there.

I think the same could be done here. If people would just take a moment someday and open the CAIN index, read Lost Lives, find an innocent victim and try to imagine their final journey, I promise they would see Northern Ireland with new eyes. They would begin to grasp that the victims are just that ‘victims’, they are not political play things. To me the fact that they have become so is one of the outstanding horrors of the troubles.

 

The second incident happened when I was invited to speak at a victims group in Fermanagh. When I finished my talk I caught sight of my mother talking, I mean really talking to another lady. This rarely happens as she has little in common with so many. This lady was quiet and unassuming, someone that people would pass on the street daily and never take the time to find out about. This lady had lost two people close to her in the troubles, she had no one left yet struggled on quietly every day. No one knew. How many more like her are out there? How many more continue on with their daily lives because they have to, thinking no one is interested?  It is people like that lady who will tell you what the troubles were really all about.

 

Please when you hear ‘victims’ again or another victims story on the news; before you get bored, before you inadvertently think ‘not again’ why not stop, look and listen to a real victim. They are not hard to find. Look at the husband, the wife, the son, the daughter, the brother or sister. Look at the individual, look at how they died, look at those they left behind and ask yourself is this just about politics? The recent BBC ‘Ceasefire’ program is an example of this.  Regardless of what side of the fence you belong to, listen to the heart-breaking stories highlighted on it. It would take a very cold person not to be moved. These are the stories we need to hear, these are our victims.  Now take a moment to compare the amount we hear from our government and our victim’s services, (as they decide what is best for this collection of individuals) to what we hear from these individuals. The reality of this is shocking.

 

I hope that one day we realise that the victims of this place were people, people just like you and I getting on with their lives. If we de politicise our innocent and remember them as people, perhaps we would have more interest and less fatigue. Maybe I am expecting too much, maybe I’m dreaming here but wouldn’t it be great if the politicians would understand that whilst the squabble continues on the hill, they are not allowing our victims and survivors to have the recognition or the peace of mind they deserve?

 

This is a ‘post conflict’ society and by now we should have a lasting memorial for our victims. The fact that we don’t speaks volumes. It is time to remember them not via more fighting and bickering but via respect. They deserve remembrance and at the very least kindness.  Next time you wonder about victims, be it the scary man in the street that you pass every day, the bitter old lady who lives alone in the dark house or the strange woman who seems lonely, take the time to stop, look and listen . You will see that victims cannot be lumped together, each one is unique and each story is different, you will see an alternative victim’s story in NI, one that is far away from the arguments and headlines.

When you see this alternative you may find that you are no longer fatigued.

 

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Claire Mc Ging – Women in NI Politics?

 

 

Women, Political Parties and Candidate Selection in Northern Ireland

 

Claire McGing, Department of Geography, Maynooth University, County Kildare, claire.mcging@nuim.ie

 

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee at the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly has begun a review of women’s (under)representation in the house, and is currently seeking evidence from stakeholders. Despite a formal recognition of ‘the right of women to full and equal political participation’ in the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, Stormont remains a male-dominated space, particularly on the Unionist side. Apart from Dáil Éireann (16 per cent), the Assembly has the lowest levels of female seat-holding on these islands. Just 20 women (19 per cent) won seats in the 2011 election, which was a record high. This has since increased to 21, following a co-option. By contrast, 42 per cent of members of the Welsh National Assembly at present are women, 35 per cent of the Scottish Parliament, and 23 per cent of MPs at Westminster.

 

Women’s underrepresentation at Stormont is in stark contrast to patterns of civic and grassroots activism in the province – sometimes called ‘politics with a small p’ – where female participation thrives. It is important to note that the main political parties have no shortage of women members, hovering between 60 per cent and one-third of their card-carrying membership. But this is not reflected at the highest levels and, in a post-conflict society like Northern Ireland, is it particularly important that women’s voices are included and recognised in institutional decision-making forums.

 

In recent years feminist-institutional theory has been developed to explain the gendered nature of political institutions. Informal rules and norms like established candidate selection criteria (e.g. the expectation that candidates for national office will have local political experience) prove as important, if not more important, than formal structures such as the electoral system. Though proportional representation systems are better for gender equality globally then single-seat systems like First Past the Post, they offer no guarantees. PR’s impact is highly contextualised and dependent on the particular political and social-cultural environment in which it operates, as demonstrated in Northern Ireland which uses a relatively ‘women-friendly’ form of PR called the single transferable vote (STV).

 

Northern Irish voters, as a whole, do not discriminate against women candidates. Like most other electorates in Europe, they use party affiliation, incumbency, and local visibility as their main ballot cues. In fact, apart from the DUP, women candidates of all parties outpolled their male colleagues in 2011. Despite whisperings of new women being little more than ‘paper’ candidates, women challengers were actually were more likely to win seats than their male counterparts – 40 per cent compared to 29 per cent. Thus, women candidates do not lose votes – they are a pragmatic asset to most parties. Incumbency, however, does prove a significant barrier to improvements in gender representation. Though women and men incumbents were almost equal in their prospects of being returned to Stormont, the vast majority of incumbents are male, perpetuating a vicious cycle of women’s exclusion from power. Parties are rational actors, and will nominate those who have already proven their electoral success. Term limits, which place legal restrictions on the amount of time a person can be in elected office, could be considered but that is for another, broader conversation.

 

If we can’t blame the electoral system or the voters, who is at fault? The main problem seems to lie with parties themselves, who give the electorate very little choice gender-wise. Of the 694 candidates selected by the five main parties since 1998 – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and the Alliance Party (APNI) – just 131 (19 per cent) have been female. Moreover, only marginal change has been seen over time, and not always for the better. While 16 per cent of party candidates in 1998 were women and 19 per cent in 2007, the 2007 and 2011 figures emerged at 21 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively. Thus, the proportion of women candidates actually decreased in the last election, despite a growing international concern around gender equality in power.

 

As also seen south of the border, female candidacies are almost inversely related to ticket magnitude: parties running the highest number of candidates per constituency tend to nominate the fewest women. This shows the importance of specific political party cultures on women’s advancement: depending on their histories, organisation structures, electoral strategies, and ideologies parties will view the importance of gender differently.

 

In Northern Ireland, the parties with the most electoral success, first the UUP and the DUP since 2007, are the most conservative when it comes to selecting women. Women in these parties have also been more reluctant than their nationalist sisters to mobilise for more influence – any change risks upsetting the very culture they wish to protect. A move towards centralised selections in the UUP appears to have helped women – their share of ballot positions increased from three per cent to 11 per cent between 2007 and 2011, despite running ten fewer candidates – but this has come at a time when the party is becoming less and less electorally significant. Though the most hard-lined unionist DUP has too produced few women MLAs, they comprised 16 per cent of candidates in 2011, a record high for the party. While yet to reach parity in their elected ranks, the nationalist parties are more open to female candidacy. On average, the republican Sinn Féin, which is seeing its electoral strength grow in every election, has run the highest percentage of the two since 1998, nominating 28 per cent women candidates in 2011. The SDLP’s record has slipped considerably, peaking in 2007 at 40 per cent and falling to 14 per cent in 2011, where they were actually outranked by the DUP.  Finally, the bi-confessional APNI has been the most consistent promoter of women candidates, outranking all others in 2011 at 32 per cent. But, in a party system dominated by ethnic voting blocs, its support levels are modest, despite seeing continuing increases. The APNI won eight seats with eight per cent of the vote in 2011.

 

These is, in essence, a ‘mismatch’ between formal and informal processes – while the mechanics of STV and the voters are relatively gender-neutral,  political parties are reluctant to nominate women and men on more equal terms, even though gendered membership levels allow them to do so. Historical legacies of male power prevail – the status quo is hard to shift in gendered institutions like Stormont. As Northern Ireland attempts to deal with the ‘left-overs’ of the peace process, the key to achieving a critical mass of women in power lies in radically reforming internal selection rules and norms. Incremental measures, though limited, are not working.

 

The suggestion of gender quotas remains highly controversial and most parties, particularly on the unionist side, continue to emphasise the utmost importance of meritocracy. No party in Northern Ireland has of yet taken advantage of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, allowing for British parties to draw up all-women candidate shortlists (AWS) for elections. AWS address the pre-selection level: only women can contest for a nomination in designated constituencies, usually ‘open’ ones or where an incumbent is retiring. The success of such measures can be seen in the UK’s Labour Party which elected one-third women MPs to Westminster in the 2010 general election. This was significantly higher than the Conservatives (16 per cent) and Liberal Democrats (13 per cent), neither of which applies AWS. For swift change and to catch up with the other devolved houses, AWS should be considered by all Northern Irish parties as a matter of urgency, particularly those in a position to win the highest number of seats in 2016, the DUP and Sinn Féin. As the province moves towards a more conventional liberal democracy, political parties should make gender equality a top priority. The current review by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee into positive action measures is a good start – here is hoping it leads to change.

 

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Ann Allan. ‘1965 – Not a great year’.

 

 

1965 wasn’t a great year. I got awful results in my Senior Certificate. The equivalent of GCSE. It was decided I would repeat some of the subjects to try and improve my marks. So it was with a heavy heart I returned to school to have another go. The summer had been great. We spent our holidays in Ballycastle and at 16 years of age there was only one thing on our minds. Yes, you guessed it, boys. My friend whom I’ll call M, so as not to embarrass her, came with the family and we stayed in a house belonging to my aunt. Donovan was popular at the time and we had bought ourselves a denim cap each similar to the one that he wore at the time. Flavoured lipstick was also en vogue, caramel, peppermint and I think strawberry. We must have looked like two prats as we paraded along the streets of Ballycastle but we thought we were gorgeous and it wasn’t long before we attracted attention from a couple of local youths. As my parents did not approve of boyfriends there was a lot of skullduggery and subterfuge going on so that we could meet our new beaus. Luckily there was a carnival that summer and a large tent was set up for dancing in the evening. We were permitted to go but had to be home by 10 p.m. Sonny and Cher were in the hit parade with I Got You Babe and I have bitter sweet memories of the song. The young man that I met and who I continued to write to for many months after, died running a marathon in Manchester many years later.

 

A week or so into our holiday we arranged to meet the boys and decided to go for a walk to Bonamargy friary. Well you can imagine there was a wee bit of courting in the friary so we ended up being late returning home. Imagine our horror as we walked hand in hand back to Ballycastle to see my father’s car driving towards us. It stopped and we were told to get in. There was little chance to say goodbye. A decision was made to take us two delinquents home. The holiday was over. I never saw him again but we continued to exchange letters until someone else caught my eye.

 

Back at school things were boring. The only excitement was when one of the girls in the class revealed she had lost her virginity. Not so clever when she found out a few months later she was pregnant. A warning to us all. December came and it was time to organise our annual party. M was lucky enough to have a huge room in the roof space of her house and we had been allowed to have a party there at new year. Most were honoured to be on the invitation list and with that in mind I approached a handsome young man who went to the local protestant grammar school. He was standing at the bus stop wearing his school cap and scarf and after a lot of giggling with M I went over to extend the invite. He looked at me and bluntly said no. Taken aback and feeling embarrassed I muttered under my breath’ ignorant sod.’His name was Gordon Allan.

 

The party was a huge success. We danced to the Beatles. Two albums A Hard Days Night and Beatles for Sale were most popular. In the dark candle lit room ( the lights went up when a parent was on the prowl ) couples smooched to ‘If I Fell’ and ‘I call your name’. Ah the innocence.

 

The year dragged on and I couldn’t wait for the summer. I hated studying and I hated school. In July of 1966 came an opportunity to go to France for a month. An organisation run by Pére Du Roquais was organising an exchange trip for students from Uk and Ireland with students from France. The excitement was tremendous. A month away from home, flying for the first time and the warm weather. I was picked to go to a family in St. Marcellin a small town in the Rhône-Alpes. I would spend two weeks there and then two weeks in St-Bonnet-en-Champsaur in the Haute-Alpes. The daughter in the family would return home with me for a month.

 

I set off from Dublin airport, my head reeling from all the things I wasn’t to do. Not sure why but it was thought appropriate in 1966 to travel in a grey wool suit and black gloves even though it was the beginning of July. Although I had never flown before I wasn’t afraid and I loved every minute of it. God! How things change! I was new fangled with all the little bits and pieces served with lunch and didn’t want to waste the little packs of butter so I shoved them in my handbag. We flew over the Alps and the pilot told us we were at 32000 feet. I vowed to come home and apply to be an air hostess.

 

When we landed and I stepped out of the plane the heat hit me. It was 30 degrees and it was like walking out into a sauna. I was matched with my family and we headed off for our first destination. As we drove along in the car from the airport in Lyon I put my hand into my handbag to be met with a sticky gooey mess. The butter packs had melted in the heat and everything was covered in runny butter including the gloves which had been earlier discarded. A great start to my first holiday abroad.

 

Homesick, boy was I homesick. A few phrases in hesitant French did not constitute a conversation and nobody in the family spoke English. I didn’t recognise the food and when I tasted it I was not impressed. There was a strong smell of garlic and extremely mature cheese and I wondered if it would be possible to fly home the next day. My bedroom was beside a railway line and trains ran to the south of France during the day and night. I couldn’t sleep and at one stage began to imagine that time was moving backwards. That could probably be explained by the fact that my watch was on upside down. The excitement had worn off.

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LADFLEG – GET A GRIP.

lad

Vixens has learned that some of the threats to individuals named in recent months on the internet in connection to the satirical site LADFLEG has culminated in police complaints, with some of the worst online posters due to be questioned over the coming weeks.  Police had previously spoken to two individual tweeters some months back, when they crossed the line repeatedly with similar allegations, but are now probing volumes of online content which has appeared on the internet in recent days.   

We think its time that people found that word perspective.  Don’t you? 

This row has been bubbling since May now, but was given impetus again when the Newsletter published an interview with independent MLA John McCallister and writer Alex Kane last week.  The interview was well written, and contained a number of good points regarding Unionism, points which were largely overshadowed, when the newspapers’ political editor, Sam McBride, also wrote a piece on excerpts taken from the original piece in relation to some members of LADFLEG allegedly having worked on the NI21 Election Broadcast video. 

LADFLEG may or may not have had a connection to NI21.  So what?  It’s an online blog.  We seem to remember them getting a ‘dig in’ at both Basil Mc Crea and John Mc Allister equally.  Politics and news here is always interlinked.  How many journalists here have had political connections of their own?  Is it mentioned in interviews with members of the Assembly?  No.  Because in this place, nobody really cares.  And considering our high rates of suicide, unemployment, abuse, and cuts to all our services, it’s hardly the biggest deal.

But something about LADFLEG got under people’s skin.  Some claimed it bullied members of the Loyalist community. Mostly, LADFLEG posts came directly from people’s face book pages – shameful sectarian and racist comments at times.  What LADFLEG did was create a vehicle to take a satirical look at them. 

There’s a lesson in that for those people harping on about intimidation.  If you don’t want something on the internet, don’t write it.  On many occasions, LAD said things about the so called flag protests (like pointing out the cost to the taxpayer) that the majority of the rest of us were thinking.   

There were occasions most certainly when it could be argued that LADFLEG went too far.  That isn’t right, and we don’t condone it.  In the world of online communication, it can always be too easy to hit that button before thinking things through. And there is merit in some tweets that we’ve seen today about making fun of the educational achievements of some sections of this community, and buying in to the stereotype.   

Not all Loyalists, or Protestants are underachieving uneducated bigots, although pockets of Loyalist areas clearly suffer more than most from lack of access to education and poverty.  Some though, just like sections within the Nationalist / Republican community, are sectarian.  What LADFLEG did was expose some of the worst offenders in an innovative way.  It also raised money for charity, and broke one of the biggest stories this year when it linked to the Pastor Mc Connell video.   But it’s a blog.  It’s not Wikileaks, it doesn’t shape policy, and nor does infringe on national security.  

And it’s rather ironic, that those who LADFLEG originally exposed for sectarianism, and who complained about being harassed as a result, could well be facing criminal charges for harrassment themselves, if the PSNI do indeed arrest for some of the online threats made.   

We could all do well at times to remember that people are human, and that a sustained campaign against any ordinary individual, from whatever source, is stressful and unacceptable.  Individual tweets are bad enough.  We have read enough public material about this issue to last us a lifetime over the past few months.  But, at present, people’s partners, friends and relations have been named on the internet, inaccurate claims have been made, people have been wrongly connected to LADFLEG and leading Loyalist representatives have stupidly whipped up the faithful yet again observing that protests outside peoples homes will “surely follow”.  People need to calm down, take a step away from the keyboard and breathe. And they need to stop putting people at risk.  

LADFLEG may have highlighted or created a stereotype, that much is up for debate.  And they may well be victims of their own success.  The only difficulty now is, the people who are squealing the loudest about being stereotyped are now starting to enact it.   They would do better to look at bringing in extra resources for their communities, rather than wasting all of their energy ranting at an internet blog.  It won’t do them any favours in the long run.    

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Government to charge parents for Maintenance Payments.

The Child Maintenance Service has been criticised by leading charities, following their announcement to collect money off parents using the scheme.

 

Gingerbread, a charity set up to help single parents, stated: “Gingerbread believes it’s wrong to charge single parents to access money their children are entitled to. We will continue to campaign against the charges at every level. We also have real concerns about how the new system will work practically, particularly for single parents with maintenance arrears and for those who have been victims of domestic violence”

 

Vixens was contacted by a mother who had received a telephone call from the Child Maintenance Scheme last week.  She claimed she was told that if she didn’t make a private arrangement with her child’s father, she would have to pay to receive money her child is entitled to.  “I was gobsmacked. I told the man on the phone I can’t enter into a private arrangement with the father, as I am a victim of domestic violence, and he has been convicted in the last year of multiple breaches of a non molestation order. It would be unsafe of me to do so. But, because I can’t do this, we will be penalised and the Government is going to take money off me that my child is entitled to.  My ex partner pays the grand total of £5 per week in child maintenance.  It’s a minimal amount, but I can’t afford to lose any more money.  I’m paying almost £200 a week in childcare as it is. As far as I’m concerned the Government is taking money from my child”.

 

The scheme which was introduced in May 2014 is unlikely to be fully in place until 2016-17, and fathers are set to be charged too, with 20% added on to every payment they make.

 

The Department of Work and Pensions have issued the following explanation for introduction of the charges. “The government wants to encourage more parents to think about working together to arrange child maintenance instead of using the Child Maintenance Service or the courts. It doesn’t cost parents money to sort out child maintenance between themselves, and the government believes that charging both parents to use the service will encourage them to consider working together to arrange child maintenance. Children often do better with both parents involved in their children’s lives. And we can support this by encouraging both parents to work together to agree their maintenance arrangements.”

 

We think that statement speaks for itself…

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Womb with a View – Stormont’s Pro Life Group and the FPA.

The predominately male Pro Life Group which sits in the North’s Stormont Assembly, were offered “advice and intelligence” on the Family Planning Association, in a meeting in 2012, Vixens has learned. 

A member from the Christian Institute, who was present at the meeting, clarified the legal charity status of the Family Planning Association, before making the offer.  A discussion ensued, where the then “communications secretary” of the group, Bernie Smyth, who is also a spokesperson from Precious LIfe, offered to “look back through previous court cases”, to clarify another matter on the FPA, 

The group at that time was chaired by SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey, and included Jim Allister (TUV), Jim Wells (DUP), Mervyn Storey (DUP), Alban Maginnis (SDLP), Chris Lyttle (All) , as well as respresentatives from SPUC, ACLOI, and LIFE. 

Vixens contacted all of the MLA’s who sat on the group at the time, to ascertain their views on reproductive advice / family planning, but at the time of writing, were still awaiting a reply.  

The All Party Pro Life Group at Stormont, launched in 2007,  are described on the Assembly’s website here.  Their purpose is “to uphold the sanctity of life, including the life of the unborn child, and to promote a pro-life perspective in the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

They have been represented at various high profile events, and have also given their views, and lobbied to influence legislature with regards to abortion in Northern Ireland. 

In recent years, this influential group has spoke publicly against Marie Stopes, and have been supported by The Association of Catholic Lawyers in Ireland, and have also been publicly represented at anti abortion rallies in Belfast and Dublin. 

Speaking in Dublin at the “Rally for Life in 2013”, Bernie Smyth said, “The All Party Pro-Life Group from Stormont is represented here today, since this is a matter for All-Ireland, as we stand together against abortion,” 

Previous members of the Pro LIfe Group at Stormont included the DUP’s former MLA Iris Robinson and Ian Paisley, along with Jeffrey Donaldson and Nelson Mc Causland. 

Vixens have been nominated in five categories for the Irish Blog Awards 2014.  One of our pieces – on Gerry Adams’ arrest over the Jean Mc Conville murder, is nominated for best blog post.  To vote for vixens with convictions, click on this link, scroll down the alphabetically numbered list, and click vote.  

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Abortion : When does a law become unlawful?

The recent case of a young vulnerable pregnant woman in Ireland, who was raped, requested a termination, assessed as suicidal by a panel following the current law in the country ; and who later went on hunger strike before having her 24 week old baby delivered by caesarean section— has ignited a public debate again on the issue of abortion.  It’s a horrendous case, and an emotive topic – not least for women who have experienced rape.  It can be a hard time for rape survivors, to hear people pontificate about what they should do in that particular situation.  Sometimes, their voice can be drowned out in the resultant furore, as both pro choice and pro life lobbies try to shout each other down.  There is no easy answer, and we don’t claim to have one – but what we can do – what we should do – is listen.  We are grateful to the woman below who agreed to write the following piece.

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When does a law become unlawful?

I’ve sat here for an hour trying to think of an opening line that adequately describes the depth of the tragedy that has occurred here. But the reality is that there is suffering that just cannot be put into words and injustice that cannot be justified with them either.

 

Yet here I find myself trying to lend my experience to your understanding, through an adjective; to instigate true moral action in a verb and to end the complete and utter madness of our intolerably unjust legislation- with a full stop.

 
My name you’ll see is not my name; you’ll identify me with a twitter handle, whilst I struggle to identify myself at all. All I know is that I am here. My name is not my name, but I was drugged and I was raped and I survived – and I am here.  I feel that for my words to resonate with the true extent of their sincerity, I must first and foremost tell you that.  I am Irish and a country girl through and through. I grew up in a field surrounded by other fields; where the neighbours were like family, the cars stopped to let the cattle cross the road and Sunday Mass was the big occasion of the week. I’m not a ‘blow in’ and I was raised a Catholic – albeit having since relinquished any religious bones to the crumbling altar of Catholicism.  I have travelled and taken my ‘Irishness’ with me and I have worn it with pride; a big city girl with her roots firmly placed in a wee town born in between two hills, where the phone reception was as cursed as the roads when the snow fell on dry ground.
 
 
 
And yet this week, my country has disgusted me.
 
 
 
To live with a body that’s been taken from you; to know that you are stuck inside skin that doesn’t feel like your own anymore and with a mind that screams at you every day to just ‘GIVE UP’ on trying to survive….  it’s a hellish existence.  It’s a hell beyond anything I have ever experienced before and it’s a hell almost as soul destroying as the very act itself. I say ‘almost’, but in fact I often wonder if the life sentence I now carry is perhaps the greater burden.  Indeed there have been times – those now documented by the scars upon my skin, when ‘living’ seemed a much greater task than death. The lure of ‘nothingness’ at times a scarily enticing fate. Now a PTSD sufferer, I have been forced to deal with the effects of my trauma for a long long time.  All of the reminders and consequences are still with me; the flashbacks, anxiety, depression, self harm, self hatred, isolation, suicidal ideation, grief…  And I’m not sure when or if they’ll ever go away.  For as long as I am in this body, I will be trapped within a carcass that used to be the person I no longer am; with the constant reminder of why I lost that person now bound inside my very bones.
 
 
 
Out there right now, maybe miles from you or maybe just minutes – there is a woman suffering the same plight, only worse.  I can’t imagine that.  I can’t imagine ever feeling worse than this, but when my mind ponders the possibility of being forced to bear a child as a consequence of what happened to me, I can feel myself breaking inside.  I couldn’t have done it, I know that.  It’s been almost 3 years now and my survival is down only to the support of a life saving psychologist and the few friends who proved themselves to be real.  This woman has no-one. Her child now born, has no-one, and both are now destined to go through an unbearable few years of pain throughout their lives. What outcome is that?  What law is that? What law is it that enforces suffering in the eyes of a ‘God’ that it is somehow believed runs this country from his imaginary castle in the sky?
 
 
 
Something must be done and I am at a loss in terms of vocalising just how we will succeed in reclaiming the bodies that have been ‘ours’ since birth.  Is that a free country? Is that free will?
 
 
 
Are we even free at all?
 
 
 
I knew that writing this would be a struggle, I knew that it would force the thoughts I try to box away to be unleashed and I feared the exhaustion which quickly fall upon me by the end.  But if you have heard me, if you have read my words and listened and if you have truly heard me, then from the bottom off my heart I ask you – please.  Please stand up, be heard, and speak for those who have lost the will to fight for a voice they should already have.
 
 
@echoesofagirl
 
IF YOU HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY RAPE OR ANY OF THE ISSUES ABOVE,  CONTACT THE FOLLOWING in South of Ireland   –  RAPE CRISIS IRELAND or 1800 77 8888 –  or in the North,  The Rowan Centre at 08003894424 , The Domestic Violence Helpline at 08088021414 , or Nexus at 02890 326803, or http://www.nexusni.org 
 
Vixens can be contacted on our twitter handle @vixenswc , or our email honestdigest@outlook.com
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Ann Allan – There is no shame in being depressed.

 

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The recent death of Robin Williams may not have come as a complete surprise. Over the years on his own admission he admitted that he misused drugs and had been fighting depression for most of his life. He had many demons and although it was thought he was bi-polar it was never diagnosed. It is more likely that he was a manic depressive.
Not all depressive illnesses are so apparent and not as severe as Robins. Many people refuse to talk about how they are feeling for fear of being considered ‘loopy’ or ‘nuts’ or some other derogatory term. So is it any wonder when things start going downhill many try to keep it a secret.


I kept my depression hidden for some time . After a traumatic event in my life it took a couple of years to develop. It started very slowly. I was able to function, able to carry out the day to day activities and able to drag myself into work in the mornings. I appeared happy and could be the life and soul of any party. However on some occasions the mask slipped and on one occasion as I chaired a meeting, tears came from nowhere and I dissolved into uncontrollable sobs. My embarrassed colleagues were unsure what to do. On other occasions while sitting at my desk I would start to cry for no reason. I remember sitting with clients and a voice in my head saying ‘ I don’t want to be here, why am I here?’ I felt afraid and my heart started pounding and that is when I decided to see a doctor. My blood pressure was through the roof and he signed me off work. He recommended anti depressants but I refused. I came home and went to bed and that is mostly where I stayed over the next six months.

The panic attacks became more frequent and more debilitating. I refused to speak to friends on the phone. My family lived a long way off and appeared to be unaware what I was going through. My mother came from the ‘you need to pull yourself together ‘ school of thought. She had little sympathy and her occasional phone call only added to my depression. I barely held the home together and if it hadn’t been for someone coming into clean a couple of days a week we would never have managed. I lay in bed most days. My husband went to work and I just lay there. My thoughts were dark and confused. On a number of occasions I heard voices in my head. I reached the stage where the bang of a door or a sudden loud noise hurt. That is hard to explain but it was as if every nerve end was so sensitive that they reacted to noise. I was having two or three panic attacks every day and I couldn’t see a future. I was so desperate on one occasion that I tried the anti depressants but they made me violently ill and I decided I didn’t need that of top of what I was already suffering. I needed to see my doctor again in order to get a certificate for work.

I was very lucky that I made that appointment. It was a locum and he suggested that he should refer me to a counsellor. I could wait for an appointment or I could go privately and be seen relatively quickly, which I did. After 3 or 4 sessions I began to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I felt my mood beginning to lift and I followed his advice to set myself a project. My project, strange though it may seem, was to strip the pine woodwork in the hall removing all the white paint. At first I thought I can’t do this but by the third morning I couldn’t wait to get up and start work. It took me weeks but I loved it and everyday I could see the fruits of my labour. Gradually the black mist was lifting and I was beginning to feel normal again. The panic attacks had disappeared. My only medication was a beta blocker to help keep my blood pressure under control. Of course I can’t say this therapy will work for everyone but it worked for me.


My advice, however, would be to talk to someone as soon as you begin to feel that something is not quite right. Don’t let it take you over. Talk to a counsellor, talk to the Samaritans or talk to your doctor. There is no shame in being depressed and help is out there. @amhNI Lifeline 0808 808 8000, or the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.

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