Here’s a picture, from this week’s Impartial Reporter, taken at our recent FCF Conference at the Manor House Hotel, and below is its text coverage. It’s great to have a local press which supports this kind of cross-community peacemaking initiative.
Talking of the Impartial, Rodney’s book launch last night was a great success, with a smattering of the of the great and the good, and plenty of us ordinary mortals as well. Here are my feet, relishing the red carpet ….
… and Rodney performing one of his dialogues with the irrepressible Fr. Brian D’Arcy. Meanwhile the video was shown in wide-screen format, not the most flattering, but none of us minded.
I was especially pleased to see a large donation bucket for the wonderful Aisling Centre prominently displayed on the bookstall. The Aisling Centre is a non-profit organisation which provides professional counselling and psychotherapy, promoting hope, healing and growth. Many of us in Fermanagh have personal reasons to be enormously grateful to the centre and its staff, and Rodney couldn’t have chosen a better cause to share in his special night.
Well, here I am on a vintage school bus, being driven around Irvinestown with a bunch of variously well-known, mildly eccentric, high-spirited and typical Fermanagh characters, including the farmyard variety. Oh, and we were all dancing. No, not a dream this time, but the launch video for Rodney Edwards’ book Sure Why Would Ye Not?, published by Blackstaff Press today. I’m holding a copy of my novel Fracking Up to indicate that I was invited along as a local writer, rather than as a potential MLA…
The launch party is tonight, in Mahon’s Hotel, Irvinestown, and if it’s half as much fun as the filming, we’re in for a treat. Meanwhile enjoy the video below, and don’t forget to buy the book. Sure, why would ye not?
Denzil McDaniel’s How I See It piece in last week’s Impartial Reporter was entitled “It’s about time the people were the real winners”. He is right.
Whatever the outcome of May’s election, little will change for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Rodney Edwards’s Stormont Files in the same edition of the paper reveals that Fermanagh has the lowest earners in Northern Ireland and that over nine thousand of us are in fuel poverty, unable to afford to heat our homes adequately. And this is even before the so-called ‘welfare reforms’, inhumane and arbitrary punishments of the sick, disabled and unemployed, begin to hit us.
Whatever the outcome of May’s election, little will change for the country, with the policies of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour virtually indistinguishable. Whether we have a Sinn Fein MP who refuses to take her seat, or a unionist who props up one of the big parties, the problems we face will continue. None of them will take effective action to protect our public services, to shield the NHS from privatisation, to tackle serious tax dodging or to invest in clean and sustainable energy solutions. All will waste our money on renewal of the useless Trident nuclear weapon system, on pointless military action that kills civilians and children, on yet more bail-outs for banks and hand-outs for the rich.
If this is ‘a two-horse race’, who is winning? The owners of the horses, yes; the Executive parties who keep us arguing amongst ourselves instead of asking hard questions about them and their funding. But the voters don’t get anything out of it. At least if you put a fiver on a horse and it wins, you get something back. Cast your vote according to your ‘tradition’, and you’re no better off than before.
So what can make a difference? Sometimes we think that, in a first-past-the-post election, nothing ever can. But even in the first-past-the-post system, change comes about. It just needs a start. In 1895 Kier Hardie’s Independent Labour Party stood in twenty-eight constituencies and got less than 45,000 total votes. It would have seemed impossible that it could ever break the stranglehold of the Conservatives and Liberals. Those people who voted Labour would have been laughed at, scoffed at as idealistic fools or condemned for splitting the Liberal vote. And yet fifty years later a Labour government established the National Health Service to which so many of us owe our lives today.
It was those early Labour voters who made that possible. They knew that they weren’t backing a short-term winner, that they wouldn’t have the exhilaration of seeing ‘their’ candidate raised on anyone’s shoulders at the count. But they knew something more important: that they were paving the way for a better future, a more equal and fair society, a world where justice and compassion would be stronger than greed.
I hope that it won’t take fifty years to get a Green MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Our children need action far sooner than that. But when it happens – and happen it will – those who were there at the beginning, who voted for the very first Green Westminster candidate here, will be the ones really celebrating. Imagine how that will feel.
There’s more to first-past-the-post than who’s first past the post. There are urgent messages to those currently in power, and deep roots planted for the future. The eyes of the whole UK will be on Fermanagh and South Tyrone this May. Let’s give them something new to be looking at.
Fermanagh is yet again at the centre of the Northern Ireland political picture, after Rodney Edwards tweeted a recording of Gerry Adams’ comments in Enniskillen yesterday evening. The resulting furore has all been fairly predictable, with widespread horror at the coarse epithet, and Sinn Fein desperately scrabbling to explain that it isn’t all unionists they believe to be illegitimate, only the bigoted ones.
Meanwhile, though the idea that ‘equality’ can be a weapon is condemned by many commentators, the most revealing thing that Adams said seems to have gone largely unnoticed.
“But what’s the point? The point is to actually break these bastards – that’s the point. And what’s going to break them is equality. That’s what’s going to break them – equality.
“Who could be afraid of equality? Who could be afraid of treating somebody the way you want to be treated?
“That’s what we need to keep the focus on – that’s the Trojan horse of the entire republican strategy is [sic] to reach out to people on the basis of equality.”
Not “the heart of the entire republican strategy” or “the core of the entire republican strategy”, but “the Trojan horse of the entire republican strategy”. And what was the Trojan horse? As I’m sure the Christian Brothers taught young Gerard, it wasn’t a horse at all. It was something that appeared to be benign, generous, a reconciling cross-community initiative. But, as the hapless Trojans discovered, it was no more nor less than a means of continuing the war, at closer quarters and with all the advantages.
Meanwhile for the DUP, we’ve heard this week, equality ought to be a moveable feast, a Humpty-Dumpty word that means whatever you feel comfortable with its meaning. Are you a straight, white Protestant man who thinks things have been going downhill since Catholic emancipation? Don’t worry; just find a few Biblical quotes to support your position, and you can ignore all that pesky rights nonsense. After all, you’re the victim here.
Between equality as Trojan horse and equality as Humpty’s invention, onlookers might begin to wonder whether there’s anyone left who actually believes in the thing itself. Equality as a fundamental principle, directly affecting the way we do politics, address one another, allocate resources, build democracy? Well, quaint as it may seem this week, we in the Green Party do. As our 2014 Northern Ireland local manifesto, For the Common Good, says:
“The Green Party stands for the inclusion of all members of society, both socially and economically, enhancing everyone’s quality of life. Our local councils must do more to protect and actively to engage the most vulnerable – the homeless, the unemployed, older people, minority ethnic communities, LGBT, disabled and other marginalised social groups. We will take a firm stand against all forms of discrimination and social injustice; we will work hard to combat the causes of inequality, and to remove all barriers to participation in society.”
And from the 2014 European election manifesto:
“The principle of equality is at the heart of Green politics. Without equality for women, for minority ethnic groups, for people with disabilities, for LGBT and for a range of other marginalised groups, there is no democracy.”
That, I believe, is what the thoughtful and compassionate voters of Northern Ireland mean when they use the word ‘equality’. They don’t want it used as a hidden weapon, nor do they want it whittled away to nothingness. We are all members of some group that others might look down upon; that some, given the chance, would treat with injustice and contempt. Part of being a grown-up democracy is recognising the humanity of those who are different from us, and their equal right to respect, freedom and a decent life. And in that grown-up democracy we don’t do that to insinuate ourselves with our enemies, to better be able to stab them in the back. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, and the only way to build a better future.
Cycled into Enniskillen again this morning for a meeting of our Welcoming Group at St Michael’s (the town’s Catholic parish). This sprang from an idea of mine a couple of years ago, that we might follow the example of many churches in England (and some here) in serving tea and coffee after our services. In big parishes such as St Michael’s, where many of the members are related to one another, it’s sometimes hard for newcomers to feel that they have a unique and important place. With the encouragement of Canon Peter, we formed a small group and now serve refreshments after two of the masses, once a month. I don’t do any of the difficult things, like baking scones, but I can manage washing up, and order our tea, coffee and sugar from the fair trade supplier Traidcraft. Until this morning I was also the secretary, but have had to step down from that now as it’s getting very difficult to fit everything in. Fortunately our treasurer valiantly agreed to do both – many thanks, Pauline.
On my way there I’d picked up a copy of the Impartial Reporter and found that, unlike the Herald, they hadn’t forgotten me. As I expected, the headline and first few paragraphs were all about what I’d said about Sinn Fein, as though I’d launched a spontaneous attack rather than just answered Rodney’s questions. They need an angle, though, and it’s more likely to get people reading than “Green party candidate says it would be nice if people were nice” which is what tends to happen otherwise, usually accompanied by the phrase ‘tree-hugger’.
No trees or hugging here, and it was a clear and accurate account of (some of) what I’d said, though not necessarily in the order I’d said it. Some words got mistranscribed, but I think most readers will realise that the Green Party’s foundational principle is social justice, rather that ‘social injustice’ and that it’s corporations, not ‘co-operations’ who shouldn’t be getting massive grants they don’t need.
Here it is, anyway.
After the meeting I dashed home to put the washing on (still behind with that) then out again to Fermanagh House for a memorial service for Anita. I’d found out about it originally on Tuesday from Rodney (thanks again), then followed the trail to Fermanagh House and from there to the Fermanagh Women’s Network which was organising it. Carrie there was very happy for me to invite members of the Fermanagh Churches Forum, so there were quite a few of us there, along with people I knew from many other groups and events.
It was a gentle, low-key and moving occasion, with people sharing their memories of Anita and the many ways in which she contributed both to our community and to us all as individual friends. She was an inspiration and model to me personally, especially when I felt unsure about taking a leadership role, wondering whether I should keep quiet and anonymous, not being a ‘real Fermanagh person’. But no one in that room this afternoon would have doubted that Anita was a real Fermanagh person, as real as you can get, heart and soul. However the next six months work out, I’ll try to make them worthy of her friendship.
p.s. I also got into the Impartial’s Tweets of the Week feature – that must be real fame!
Sunset and a small moon over the Racecourse Lough this evening, as Robbie and I come back from our walk. Today began with my being interviewed by Rodney Edwards for this week’s Impartial Reporter. He’s not quite Jeremy Paxman (yet), but it certainly wasn’t an easy ride. I’ve been interviewed by the press and local radio and TV a few times before, but it’s been either about my writing or Gawain‘s chess. “Do you write your ideas down in a notebook?” or “How old was Gawain when he started beating you?” (at the game; I’m not the victim of filial abuse) are a bit easier to answer than, “How would you balance the Stormont budget?” Afterwards I wandered slightly distractedly around Marks & Spencer, thinking of all the things I should have said. Maybe it’ll be easier next time.