Are celebrities the new fall guys for our powerless society?

I am not an apologist for the words of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, but it seems that Gray’s dismissal was unusually swift. I wonder how much of this was down to the public “outcry” over what was said, or down to the Sky Empire’s desire to be seen to have a softer side as the proposed buyout from Murdoch gathers pace.

Recently we have seen a number of unpopular policy decisions suggested and then acted upon by our politicians:
-the bailout of the banks
– the cuts agenda
-the rise in tuition fees
..as well as other actions which have been out of the hands of the public such as the award of sky-high bankers bonuses this month. All of these measures have seen massive public demonstrations and protests, but they’ve led to no changes in policy so far. It’s all been allowed to just happen.

Because of this failure by the public to influence and change Government policy…are we now switching our attention to everything said and done by public figures as a way of venting this frustration and anger? I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to make. Major names in the BBC, figures in the world of sport, Daily Mail columnists, women who put cats in bins, and politicians’ private lives have all been the subject of media campaigns of some sort…usually ending with a resignation or apology. And you could say this triviality then distracts our attention from more serious news.

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how to vote…??

While reading virtual methodist’s thoughts on politics and democracy this evening the first piece of election literature dropped through the letterbox from the Ulster Unionists/Conservatives. I watched the Labour manifesto video yesterday and no doubt the rest of the South Belfast candidates (even though I believe we live in East…) will follow suit on the doors over the next couple of weeks.

My own party is not fielding any candidates, as we prepare to focus on local government and Assembly elections…so I find it hard to decide who to place the X beside on 6 May. None of the main parties seem to be able to combine distinctive policies with strong leadership. While the sectarian carve-ups and hypocritical double-jobbings seem to continue across the board. First past the post doesn’t make it any easier either!

A good friend (standing for Westminster in my home constituency of Strangford) highlighted this great clip which sums up the bland  rhetoric battle being waged between the big players:

Cape Town 15-22 Feb – updates on the way

Finally a decent reason to update the blog! Tomorrow I travel to Cape Town with a group of 18 participants from across Northern Ireland for a study visit as part of the Journeys Out programme – a course arranged with INCORE at the University of Ulster.

We’ve been facilitating workshops in each of our communities on the issue of dealing with the past, documenting the learning process on the way. Part of the closing stages of the programme is a trip to South Africa to explore approaches to dealing with the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland. I hope to update the blog here with some photos and reports etc during the course of the trip if and when I get the chance.

PUP annual conference – still moving forward

In a previous job I ended up having to attend a range of party conferences, but I can confidently say this one is definitely the best. As a member I am of course, hugely biased!

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Alaninbelfast has provided brilliant coverage of the day. I’m glad the party had the guts to open up the abortion debate. As was mentioned during the debate the PUP has always refused to shy away from difficult issues, especially those which are often not vote-winners.

It’s been a tradition over the past few years to invite an unexpected guest along to deliver the Billy McCaughey Memorial lecture, and this year it was Denis Bradley, from the Consultative Group on the Past. He had strong words for traditional unionists that saw themselves as blameless during the conflict, bad theology from the churches, and concern that a Tory government would bin the proposals for dealing with the past.

There’s opportunity for a good bit of banter at the conference too, and I’m proud to be associated with the party. I hope the visiting delegates and exhibitors were impressed.

11th, 12th…13th!

_42403482_bonfires_pallclose416x3.jpgSqueezing past shopping trolleys in Connswater on Friday you’d think there was an impending nuclear disaster, so keen were people to get everything in before the 12th holidays. Yet given the decisions by many Belfast traders to remain open this holiday, Tesco’s will only be shut for one day (Monday)!

The 11th July bonfires and 12 July parades have each been bumped forward a day for religious(!) reasons and as I write this some palettes are being transported along our road as final preparations are made for Sunday night. (Xetera – your photos of Belfast life will be sorely missed)

Since moving back over to East Belfast  five years ago I’ve looked forward to attending the big bonfire on the N’ards Road and the expectation that goes with it. I’m no apologist for the anti-social behaviour (I hate that term) and naked sectarianism that too often accompanies the 11th night, but despite its flaws this must surely be one of the few remaining examples of grass-roots community expression in Western Europe.

Last week during the 1 July parade an English friend was amazed at the turn-out along the road, saying that there was nothing like this back in her home town. To me it feels at times like a sad, self-loathing celebration, of a culture and system for which these communities have been despised for following, and yet have failed to benefit from themselves.

It’s a very different atmosphere to the celebrations in Newtownards, where the bonfires were isolated in each of the housing estates so comings and goings were more noticeable, although there have been major strides there with Council-sponsored bonfire management programmes. Community activists deserve huge credit for their attempts to make these celebrations more family-orientated and less damaging to the environment.

I guess there’s a fair bit of cultural tourism to the East Belfast bonfire too, as I always hear a few unusual accents there, and the traffic suggests that some still make an annual trip in from the leafier suburbs. Anyway, here’s hoping that Sunday night is a safe one for all involved as critical eyes will again be focussed on Protestant working-class areas.

NI hatred addicts anonymous

There’s been a lot of sanctimonious guff spoken this week about the racist attacks in Belfast.

The most sensible commentary I’ve read so far has come from the Alliance Party’s Ian Parsley, on his blog.

Here are his concluding comments, which I spotted on slugger:

The fact is that too many communities in Northern Ireland are totally ignored – by the media, by our political leaders, by our “influential” classes – until they do something which impacts upon those who do not have to live in them. It is no surprise, therefore, that sectarianism and racism continue to be so poisonous – and it is those shouting loudest about them who need to remember they have the toughest choices to make to stop the contamination.

The joke is on us

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