Monthly Archives: May 2015

An alternative Ulster?

The really interesting thing about living in Northern Ireland is that there were always those who sought a re-imaging, rebranding and reimagining of ‘out wee country.’

Where does this oft sought after project stand now?

Fuel gauge holding steady.  Re-imaging has hit a few bumps, but there are some signs of positivity.  Rebranding has unlocked many new angles.  Reimagining needs a lot of work.

There is an alternative Ulster out there!  It has always existed.  And this thought continues to fill me with hope.

This little heart of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

I remember going to the ‘Have you got a Heart for Ulster Rally’ in the Ulster Hall.  I have absolutely no idea how I got that ticket.  We had the big press bit.  Paisley was doing his thing.  Then the Press were asked to withdraw and that is when I suddenly realised that I was wearing an amazingly green shirt and tie.  If you watch the archival material closely, I am the Green Goblin, suitably attired for an amazing harvest of your favourite vegetable treats.  Out of place?  In one sense, I was, and in another sense, I wasn’t.  Inevitably, Paisley told us how someone had sold some other bloke down the river and how the original someone had better ‘sling his hook.’

I can also remember my first tutorial at Queen’s University, Belfast.  Peter Blair and the legendary sofas.  At the end of the first tutorial, where I had managed to read the exit sign in preparation, my new acquaintances invited me to wait for them and we have been friends ever since.  I can’t give you the full political chemistry, as that would be rude, but we all originated from our different stories.  I hope that I wasn’t the Green Goblin on that day.  I probably was all green.

There has to be a conclusion?  Well.  I found some of my best friends by accident.  I found myself in places where my feet arrived before me.  I look back and remember all of these moments fondly.

I am happy, that what was, changed in my lifetime.  I am happy that what will be is yet to be decided.

If you have a heart for the continued transformation of this wee place, let it shine.



The Peace Bridge

Several things come to mind in relation to bridges.

The ‘Bloody Bridge’ at Portadown and the several hundred thousands who are alleged to have perished in the 1641 Rebellion, despite the fact that the population was 242.

The ‘Tranquility Bridge’ at Wellbrook, where seldom has a wearisome traveller left without a wee ‘pick-me-up’ from the endearing scenery.

The ‘McGuinness Bridge’ in Toome, where you try to drive as serenely as possible, within the set speed limits.

The ‘Peace Bridge’ in the City of Londonderry/Derry and all the other associated names, too numerous to mention.

Have we actually managed to build one bridge that truly traverses all mindsets, all histories, all cultures, all divides, all experiences and all of our collective baggage carrying?

The ‘Acceptance Bridge.’  It accepts all major credit cards, schools of thought, dying ideologies, shades of religious dogmatism and there are no baggage limits.  Now building at a creek, burn or historical tributary near you!!!

In the meantime.  Mind the gap!



The Human Shield

There is no protection that exists to shield you from what may come.

Life is.

I can’t live yesterday again, despite the fact that there is never a day that goes by where I wish that I could live that day again.  Being endlessly irritated by my brother.  Holding my hands in cold water and sharing ‘never to be told’ secrets with my best friend.  Eurotrash moments in the staff room with a Eurovision fan!!!  Civic Voices and a repeating echo.  The future was brightest when you all shone.  I imagine that you are all still shining somewhere.

Life is held in the moments we had together and in the memories we shared.  The memory that I replay everyday.

There is no protection that exists to shield you from what may come, but being thankful for the amazing memories we have had together may prepare us for the day after.

Life exists to be shared.

Everyone experiences loss.

Life is what it is.

The Question of Faith and the Irish referendum.

Your faith and belief will remain.

Your deep love for others won’t change.

Your wish to transform the world will be as necessary as ever.

The tide of time is forever ebbing and flowing against our unnecessary fixations.

What is acceptance?

It is that sincere love you have for others and your belief in the necessity of transformation.

Love accepts everyone and understands that we are all unique.

Your deep love for others won’t change.

Your faith and belief will remain.

It will be better.



I knew that this was coming.

People often have a false idea of what the Trade Union movement has meant for Britain.  While the Labour Party got it all wrong for the 2015 election and the Trade Union movement has not always got it right, the rights that you have are a result of experts negotiating on your behalf, committed people, who have a real interest in improving your terms of service.

I have always found it astounding that we don’t vote en masse in Trade Union elections and ballots, to ensure that our maximum voice is heard.  Sometimes, I feel as if we are voting for those who we don’t know.  There must be a better way of getting to know the Candidates, other than a few ballot papers arriving through the door?  We need to really engage the membership.  An engaged membership is an interested membership.  The 40% figure would seem remarkably low, in the light of this vast explosion of workers saying, ‘No More!’  In the last ten to twenty years, for whatever reason, the link between the Union and the Worker, in teaching, has been flickering.  I cannot fully explain why this is the case, but I have one or two ideas.  Teaching Trade Unions really have to set a strategy to reach out to potential voters.  The assumption that families can afford to lose money through industrial action, when they feel they haven’t been fully consulted, is wrong.  We should be aiming to exceed the 40% figure.  We should be aiming to annihilate the very idea of it, through our votes.

Let us turn this around.  I really believe in the Trade Union movement.  I believe they have improved working conditions for all of us.  I am glad that I have employment experts to turn to, when there is a threat of redundancy, or when there is a threat to my terms of service.  My father was a committed Union man.  My uncle was a committed Union man.  I was born in the 70’s and I have benefited from the strength of the Union voice.  I am a committed Trade Unionist.  I believe in their ability to negotiate on my behalf.  It is time to create a clear message and really canvass the voters.  A clear message needs to counter the coming assault on our rights.  We cannot afford to lose our voice.  Everyone of us needs to be inspired to vote in Union ballots and elections!!!  There is clearly work that needs to be completed.  START.

The speed of thought.

Thought can transport you to any moment in time in an instant. It is the fastest method of travel that I can imagine. Last night, my mind jumped around in time, from 1994 to 1998 to 2015 and back again. Then I rested on the following.

If you were born in 1998, as some of my current students are, in 2016 they will all come of age and become part of the movers and shakers of the next generation. Northern Ireland will have progressed eighteen years from ’98 and twenty-two from ’94. In 1993-94, Hume and Mallon each carried a note of significance in their pocket, a note that was part of the background to the ceasefire of that year.   Molyneaux was talking of ‘quarantines.’ I was studying the history of the Cold War and was amongst those questioning Mallon about what exactly he had in his pocket, amongst the throng of calls in QUB’s Student Union, ‘Show us the Paper!’ Mallon replied, ‘I cannot show you the document.’ We were a typically polite group. The rest is, quite literally, an established part of the historical record. An initial IRA Ceasefire followed and a process that led, via many twists and turns, to 1998 and the furores and debates that surrounded the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. While my thought can take me in an instant to these pivotal moments, Northern Ireland has now moved a full generation forward.

What destination is my generation leading Northern Ireland to? What legacy are we bequeathing? What future are we bestowing on those who follow? It really concerns me that every single step towards transformation, reconciliation and resolution has been, at times, ‘purposefully’ slow. Even Dr Paisley noted, before his death, that we could never return to what was again. I fully note that the forward dynamic has to be immensely sensitive to all those who were irrevocably and irreparably damaged by the past. Bearing this in mind, those who lead must ‘grasp the nettle’ and plot an agreed forward course.

In 2023, the ‘Good Friday Babies,’ will be considering starting families of their own. What will be different? While we all acknowledge the amazing work that has been done thus far, in politics and in education, there is a long or short road to traverse, depending on the speed of your thought process.

The Great Question of Electoral Pacts?

There was a lot of interesting commentary on this today.  Alex Kane was absolutely correct when he noted that there is a group within the Unionist community that has a lot of problems with electoral compacts.  One slight caveat.  Of course, I fully understand that Fermanagh/South Tyrone will always be a special case, given the history of that constituency.

Nevertheless, I really do not like electoral pacts.  I have several reasons for this.

Such pacts have the potential to distort democracy a little, more than a little or a lot.  Electoral pacts come in many forms, not always so obvious.  Many people within the so called ‘pact’ areas  are ignored in the process that leads to the pact and feel disenfranchised after the election.  Such pacts distort democracy ‘a lot’ under the ‘first past the post system,’ but the less obvious,  strategic voting management that effectively manifests itself under the PR system also distorts democracy ‘more than a little.’

In reality, the big election for Northern Ireland comes next year.  There will be separate manifestos and parties running for their own mandates.  In relation to the 2016 vote, you would imagine that all parties would start today, carefully and effectively targeting the preferences they need in exact localities, so that they can fully maximise their vote.  The 2015 General Election electoral pact enthuses those, outside the pact, to strategically manage the Assembly poll to the max.  (Understandably – 2016 and all that jazz!)  Is this really the kind of politics that Northern Ireland wants?  The Machiavelli in me urges all political parties to get their maps out today and start targeting, town by town and vote by vote.  It is the political reality that we have.  Democracy is slightly distorted and many feel disenfranchised.  This is definitely not the political reality that I want.

That is why Danny Kinahan’s win was so refreshing.  A modest and hardworking politician who won, without pacts and distortions.  A reminder of what politics should be.

I have profound reservations about electoral pacts.



Holding one moment in your hand.

Marx indicated that true democracy only exists in the infrequent moments that we can cast our votes.  Northern Ireland has had a lot of elections in my voting lifetime.  Therefore , I can calculate that I have spent about two minutes, including the walk to the Polling Booth, in voting for the various candidates in General Elections since 1992.  Possibly 30 Seconds in the various European Elections and the inevitable 15 minutes deciphering where my preferences would make the most difference in the Assembly Elections.

I think that Marx is both correct and incorrect.  Democracy only exists in the infrequent moments that we can cast our votes, but true democracy depends on there being a real choice.  Should my options be diminished by external factors, true democracy does not exist.  Nevertheless, I still hold one moment in my hand and I should celebrate the seconds I have to express my view.

This one vote in this one moment could instigate a change in wind direction.  Marx never thought that this was possible.  I always do.

Two or three Elections?

The Fixed-Term Parliament Act may temper the enthusiasm for a Christmas election.  I am enthusiastic about the prospect.  It reminds me of 1974.  Heath and Wilson and all that constitutional uncertainty.  It was a great year to be born, even amidst the UWC Strike, electricity blackouts and all of the high politics that ensued.

There are clearly two, three, four or five key election battles occurring tomorrow.  One.  The obvious fight for key marginals in GB context.  Two.  The SNP/LABOUR fight for Scotland.  Three.  The Liberal Democrat fight for continued relevance in the national debate.  Four.  The UUP/DUP balance.  It is a huge day for the UUP Leader.  Five.  East Belfast.

I am really looking forward to all of the above.

Elections are fun.  Get out and vote!