Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Northern Ireland Executive: A wasteland of mutual veto?

Terry Wright - Published - 27 August 2014
If people who endorsed the restoration of Stormont in 1998 were to vote again in 2014 would they vote the same way?
Recent election results indicating a large number of absentee and unregistered voters suggest that the turnout would be significantly reduced.
If this trend is not reversed then elected politicians will govern without a credible mandate.
They have only themselves to blame. No party is exempt for they choose to live in a world of denial and intentional amnesia.
We have seen high profile sporting events, Titanic, and the Game of Thrones. Jobs are beginning to trickle through but alongside this, millions of pounds have gone to waste as too many initiatives have stalled, only to be abandoned.
Unpleasantness and rage are the order of the day as fractious debate replaces co-operation and consensus on pivotal issues.
Ministers who administer overpayments that become underpayments cling on to office. In an age of austerity and fragile economic recovery it is simply wrong to pay huge amounts for over-indulgent expenses and hospitality.
Presently, we have Ministers driven by party interests verbally kicking each other on the shins over the present impasse on welfare and ensuing budgetary implications.
Both of the bigger parties have manufactured crises. Leaders of smaller parties speak of dysfunction but action to challenge this is required not words which state the obvious.
Courage and conviction come to mind for it is unacceptable that Stormont continuously meanders through the debris of democratic accountability.
As MLAs come to the end of the Summer-break and prepare to return to the Chamber and the committees, something is broken and in need of repair.
David Ford MLA Minister for Justice and leader of the Alliance party has spoken of the need for a reboot. He is not the only one who thinks this way. Perhaps the better term is transform in terms of the quality of leadership, the spirit of governance, relations and focus.
Re-modelling and review sit with these in terms of process and structure.
It is a debate that will not go away, as a political process agreed as a lifejacket for democracy becomes a straitjacket for progress.
Between them, the two main parties are creating a wasteland of mutual veto, sectarian trade-off and populist policies as they jointly move in tortuous fashion, towards a shared future but one defined only by their willingness to act out of self interest rather than for the common good.
It is producing mediocre politics and government.
For the smaller groupings to believe that they can work within this process is old thinking and a defence mechanism against having to risk the fresh and new.
Eventually, it manifests itself as self-deception. It becomes stifling and ultimately static and seeks solutions through operational but compensatory and tainted Ministerial portfolios that do not enjoy the same influence as those held by the DUP or Sinn Fein.
There is need for challenge, change, good sense and a new bolder way of thinking.
To embrace it the smaller parties will need to throw off their reticence in favour of courage and vision. They have to assume leadership for the bigger parties are interested only in pursuing party agendas grounded in a shameful past of tribal interests.
To embrace it they must move beyond any self-doubt or indecision that curtails their ability to operate as effective stewards of the process and the mandate to make Stormont work.
Delay and failing to act will serve only to undermine their capacity and ability to challenge and create. It is a catastrophic strategy that limits the expression and application of the fertile ground of talents and resources at all levels of their parties, not least that of the MLAs within the NI Assembly, many of whom work tirelessly at constituency level.
The electorate in Northern Ireland is tired of petty political bickering. It wants its representatives to address and shape for the better, issues that affect everyday life.
Some party spokespersons have hinted tentatively at Opposition. But too often this bears the hallmark of point scoring and a jealous and frustrated desire to hold the reins of power. This is merely to turn the bus around but continue to travel in the same direction.
Opposition is not about this. It is about robust and informed positive engagement, frankness and openness. It is about the positive experience of full participatory politics and in the Northern Ireland context, the extent to which this can be achieved within the Assembly.
It is about challenge and critique and will create a dynamic where there will be true accountability to the electorate. The bar of standards that the electorate expects from representatives will be raised.
Any MLAs who govern and who have been promoted beyond their abilities will be exposed for they cannot hide behind the cosy protection of those respective power blocs which exercise power and compromise over the other parties who play the minor and subservient role at the table of the Executive.
Voters who have become sceptical and disenchanted and who mistrust the political process in Northern Ireland will have found a voice and may be persuaded to return to the ballot box.
The parties will require trust in each other and the electorate.
The task is to build consensus but on the basis of shared values and the integrity of accountable and agreed solutions to crucial social, health, economic and educational issues and not the populism and spin which currently operates without opposition and serves to embed a system where one power bloc decides what is right and what is wrong.
Within Northern Ireland such a power bloc, operating without critique and meaningful scrutiny, disenfranchises those who differ and sacrifices the electorate to the sectarian nature of those who govern.
A guaranteed place in government coupled with the ability of the bigger party Ministers to take advantage of and trade on the desire of their main partner’s desire to sustain power and lack of effective scrutiny is flawed.
It shows a lack of courage to perceive what is right and fail to do it. To see what is wrong and fail to address it is to cling to false hope. The smaller parties need to look within to find an alternative way and a better way. It is an imperative on which they should not turn their backs. The present state of affairs is not what it was supposed to be. Review of the institutions is over-due. It should be root and branch.
A lasting peace entails a great deal more than merely the absence of violence. The Northern Ireland Executive, aka the Stormont Government is a study in incompetence. Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the only thing that they seem to be good at is running up huge expense accounts for their globetrotting efforts to promote N.I. as an ideal place for international investors to setup operations. In the meantime, while they fiddle, Stormont burns. Time to roll up their sleeves and get down to governing and effectively conducting the people’s business as they were elected to do.
Jack Meehan, National President Emeritus
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Thursday, August 21, 2014

British Muslims Joining Jihad in Large Numbers

The news that British Prime Minister David Cameron has cut short his vacation after the video of an alleged British subject beheading Irish American journalist, James Foley became public is certainly dramatic. Britain suddenly finds itself with an 'enemy within' – the almost 500 citizens who have left the UK to fight for a caliphate or an Islamic world order. The beheader of James Foley was clearly one of those, speaking in an obvious London accent. Experts say the British fighters are among the most extreme. Jihadi expert Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at London University, told the "Today" radio program, "Unfortunately the British participation in the conflicts now raging in both Syria and Iraq has been one of full participation, one that has seen them at the front lines, taking part in the conflict in every way. "So we have seen British fighters out there operating as suicide bombers; we have seen them operating as executioners.
"Unfortunately, they are amongst some of the most vicious and vociferous fighters who are out there. That is unfortunately just a part of their radicalization."
Guardian columnist Michael White says there is a perception that Muslim leaders like Catholic leaders at the time of the IRA campaign were not doing enough “As with the IRA during the Troubles there is usually a thread of ambiguity among some co-religionists, priests and mullahs, which the media prefer to focus on. ”The father of one of the known British fanatics, 20-year-old Nasser Muthana, said his son was lost to him. Ahmed Muthana said his son had wanted to be a doctor, but chose "to go with these wrong people.”  “I think, 'Am I going to see him alive again?' Maybe we won't even see the coffin – we'll just see on the news they're dead," he said.
Bizarre that, the contrast between a young man one day thinking of becoming a doctor, the next a Jihadi fanatic and then choosing the latter. .Another British terrorist – Abu Osama – told the BBC he utterly rejected his home country. He told the Guardian that Britain was "pure evil," and said he would only return "to raise the black flag of Islam over Downing Street, over Buckingham Palace, over Tower Bridge and over Big Ben."
Even young women have taken to Jihad. Manchester twin sisters Salma and Zahra Halane are said to have traveled to Syria in June. They were described as "deeply religious "Many Muslim leaders are doing their best to stem the tide. The Guardian reports that more than 100 imams have called on British Muslims not to travel to Syria and Iraq and have written an open letter urging local communities "to continue the generous and tireless effort to support all of those affected by the crisis in Syria and unfolding events in Iraq." but to do so "from the UK in a safe and responsible way."
Judging by the fanatic hearts of those who have already left it may be too late.
This article contains some very frightening information on the transformation or “radicalization” as they choose to call it of young British Muslims. The infiltration of Muslims into Ireland during and since the Celtic Tiger years would cause one to wonder and, indeed worry, if it will not be long before the same thing might develop there. Irish society has undergone some drastic changes in recent years, not the least of which is the burgeoning number of Muslims emigrating into the country. Could Ireland be the next breeding ground for young, radical Islamists?  I certainly hope not but it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility.
Jack Meehan, National President Emeritus
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Monday, August 18, 2014

No oath, no passport. It's quite simple. Or is it?

Those taking out Canadian citizenship are expected to swear an oath of allegiance to Britain's Queen Elizabeth

It's the age-old Irish story - a person leaves these shores, goes to a new country and falls in love with their new home. They respect the fact that this new country offered an opportunity that was obviously denied to them in the place of their birth and they want to pledge their allegiance to their new sanctuary by becoming a citizen.
Emer O'Toole is such a person. A self-described 'hairy feminist', she is an assistant professor of Irish performance studies at the School of Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University, which must be nice.
But as she pointed out in the pages of The Guardian (where else? I hear you cry) last week, she is unhappy about the prospect of taking Canadian citizenship because she objects to the part of which requires her to declare: "I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada . . . "
O'Toole has been living in Montreal for the last year and she graciously concedes that: "I'm impressed by the grassroots social movements. The arts scene mixes world-class talent with community feeling and flavour . . . "
But - and there's always a 'but' - she also argues that: "I want to be a citizen of Canada. But I don't want to swear an oath of allegiance to the queen. As a socialist, hereditary power is anathema to my conscience. As an Irish person I'm aware of the historical oppression of my people and culture by British imperialism."
I'm sure the average native of Montreal will be delighted that the artistic endeavours they offer are enough to impress Ms O'Toole. But it seems they are rather less than impressed with her attitude towards the oath.
The Toronto Sun carried an op-ed on the issue last week which provoked a veritable tsunami of outraged Canadians who are sick of the newly arrived who want to tailor the rules to suit their own political tastes. If you don't like it, was the general consensus, then go somewhere else.
O'Toole is not the first person to object to the idea. In fact, she's not even the first Irish person who wants to take Canadian citizenship, but only on their own terms.
Ontario Supreme Court recently ruled that requiring potential citizens to take the oath was not, as had been claimed, a 'violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and religious freedom.'
That case was taken by a Rastafarian who believes the queen is 'the head of Babylon', an Israeli mathematician who says such loyalty is 'repulsive' to him and an 85-year-old Irish republican, Michael McAteer, who has lived in Canada for 50 years but thinks he's being victimised by being asked to doff his cap, if only symbolically, to Brenda and her brood.
All the objectors have one thing in common. They've been infected by a most virulent strain of 'rightitis'.
This is a chronic condition which results in the patient suffering from an endless obsession with, and an exhaustive knowledge of, their perceived rights and a complete ignorance of their responsibilities.
They have every right to refuse to swear an oath to the queen.
But they seem incapable of accepting that new citizens of any country have a responsibility to abide by the rules and expectations of their new home.
Whether it be the 85-year-old republican, the hairy feminist, the Rastafarian priestess or the Israeli maths dude, they are all united by their capacity for self-delusion. Because Canada is doing them a favour, not the other way around.
Another Canadian paper published a defence of the monarchy, which prompted O'Toole to huff that: "If you don't agree, you don't get in. I don't agree. I guess I don't get in."
Still, there's always America, Emer. Just head a few miles south and you won't have to compromise your oh-so-important feelings.
After all, as we see from our other border, we will let anyone in these days.
Jack Meehan, National President Emeritus
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America