Platform For Change. A meeting to discuss the Haass Talks. Always worrying to see middle-aged men in Lycra. Its funny how poor people ride bicycles thru necessity and middle-class people ride bicycles as some kinda statement.
The usual suspects from Queens University, the Workers Party and (God bless them) Labour (NI)…an episode of “Pointless Celebrities”.
Trevor Ringland made a very able Chair. And the panel was at least stellar.
Rev Lesley Carroll, Presbyterian Minister at Fortwilliam and one of the leading LetsPray-Alongerists. A member of the ill-fated Eames-Bradley Commission.
Dr Dominic Bryan, Head of Institute of Irish Studies at QUB. Author of some books on Symbols and Parades.
Peter Osborne (who looks spookily like David Jeffrey, Manager of Linfield) who is outgoing Chair of the Parades Commission.
Dr Brendan Hamber, Conflict Resolutionist at University of Ulster.
Maureen Hetherington from Derry, described as a”community relations practitioner” (I have no idea what that is).
The format was that each panelist would speak for five minutes and then the discussion would be opened up to the Floor.
Worth pointing out that Dominic is an English guy. And Hamber is from South Africa.
Rev Lesley noted that the Business Community had never been supportive or otherwise of the Good Friday Agreement but the Flegs Dipute had made them go public. John Larkin’s statement last week had been a surprise but had at least opened a debate. She still thought Eames-Bradley the best way forward.
There was a danger…a potential that it (The Troubles) could all happen again.
The Good Friday Agreement was about “creating a shared identity”???.
I find that an extraordinary statement. Thats not what I voted for.
Dominic, although English has been based in Belfast for a number of years and only missed one “Twelfth” in twenty two years. He noted the rise in Orange Order parades. They make up the vast majority of 4,500 parades last year -and with just 1,800 in 1985, there was absolutely no basis for the unionist community to believe their way of life is under attack.
There is always conflict about Shared Space. This is even more true in divided societies and even more true again at times of change.
The Scottish police also with an “Orange” problem are seeking ways of limiting Orange parades.
Yet Dominic thinks things are better than before.
Our problems are “only” about parades.
Dominic did have one nonsensical idea. If he was a unionist (actually I always thought that he was)he would seize the opportunity of nationalists agreeing to designated days to fly the British flag and insist it apply in Derry and Newry. He didn’t seem to get the basic premise that the whole point of being a nationalist is to take the Butchers Apron down from the mast….all over Ireland. The Belfast Compromise is an interim measure and/or an elephant trap for unionists.
Brandon Hamber stated that there were five approaches to the Past. …the ostrich, pragmatic, Justice, Blamers and…it will go away.
Dealing with the Past will be messy but must be honest and in the spirit of compromise.
Maureen Hetherington noted that Shared Future had been binned by DUP and Sinn Fein and they were now calling in Haass. She feared the wheels coming off the Agreement.Politicians had failed and she looked to the Grassroots. She quoted Duncan Morrow (I always think its a very bad sign when someone quotes Big Duncan).
The statements from the table had some weight. A definitive quality. Less so…the Floor.
Comparisons were made between the Apprentice Boys in Derry and Orange Order in Belfast. Was it because of the “huge River” running thru the City. If thats the case then it seems a bit odd to hear at a PFC meeting with their obsession to get rid of barriers.
I would like to have seen Peter Osborne pressed on the £100,000 paid to mediators. Frankly….who are they?
Rev Lesley Carroll was scathing about the Fleggers. The Fleg Dispute is a cover for Drugs, Money laundering and Money Lending. If Rev Carroll knows this…why dont the PSNI?
Indeed the PSNI came in for a lot of criticism. Universal agreement that they are not policing the Flegs and parade disputes adequately.
Ross Brown, the Green Party candidate in the European Election next year made the reasonable point that there were no Fleg Protestors in the room. The idea that the Flegger “underclass” might actually attend a PFC meeting in Dukes Hotel sent a shudder thru the Overclass.
Incidently many people known to Slugger O’Toole in the room….including Ian James Parsley. I recognised him from his 2009 Election Poster (for the Alliance Party) AND his 2010 Election Poster (for the Unionists).
It was generally agreed that Richard Haass is involved in Negotiation NOT Consultation.
The panel were stumped by one question. A member of the audience expressed disappointment …he did not want to go home with no idea what to do next. He wanted to hear practical steps….anything at all that “we can all do”.
Lesley Carroll…suggested writing to your MLA, tell them how you feel and support Eames-Bradley.
Dominic Bryan was fed up with flags. We have legislation on hanging election posters on lamp posts so we should legislate for the display of flags and above all insist that the PSNI do their job.
For Osborne it was about joining the Parades Commission…or becoming a new Flegs Commissioner. The least likely Quangos that the aspiring Quango members in a Platform for Change audience would want. Personally Id prefer to be a mediator and get £100,000 from the Parades Commission.
Osborne came across as “de-mob happy” that he was leaving the Parades Commission. And was not so pessimistic. There has always been an “ebb and flow” to the Peace Process.
For Maureen Hetherington, it was about engaging the Grassroots.
For Hamner, we first had to agree on the problem. And had to be honest. Were were making no progress on Segregated Education.
Interestingly, Boyd Black from Labour NI…had been trying to ask a question for the entire length of the meeting but was not picked up by the Chair(Ringland) or Roving Mike (Robin Wilson). Eventually he got to make the point, that The British Labour Party was feeding sectarianism by not organising here. Yeah….boo hoo Mr Black. SDLP have the European Socialist “franchise” for Norn Iron. Just accept it and stop the spoofing that Labour NI is anything other than a “paper party”.
As always there was one member of the audience, who should not be allowed near a microphone and irritated the overly polite PFC audience by a long speech which seemed to about wanting more and better history taught.
This was picked up by a student in the audience. She seemed to have an English accent and wondered why local students did not study History at Queens.
This led Dominic into an amusing rant that there was too much History and not enough Social Sciences…especially Anthropology.
The way Queens University teaches History would make a good Blog post.
But overall…what can I say? As I left Dukes Hotel, Trevor Ringland asked me to be kind. Ive no problem with that.
At its best, it was a well-informed discussion. Certainly better than the “Integrated Education” shambles in the Summer.
There was a dose of Reality. And little sign of the Pointless Celebrities that liked to attach themselves to the letsgetalongerist wagon.
Of course heavily loaded with academics and their MA and PhD students.
Indeed one person expressed irritation and embarrassment that we are incapable of solving our own problems and bring in Richard Haass.
Which would be an excellent point if it wasn’t for the fact that on the five-person panel…Dominic is as English as Tottenham Hotspur and Hamber is South African.
And Id guess half of the contributions from the Floor were from “foreigners” (South African, English, American, Canadian and German).
But I hope Platform for Change is shorn of the “hangers on”. Alliance might have provided some impetus to PFC issues like Bringing Down barriers! Integrated Education and Shared Future but the Alliance Party is delighted to work the DUP-SF system. Ordinary British Politics…well thanks to the British Labour Party, that wont happen. And thanks to NI21, the moderate consensus on Dealing with the Past and victims has been abandoned. The SDLP outreach to the so called middle ground has been abandoned and there are no moderates left in UUP.
Yet curiously, I think that all strengthens Platform For Change.