Monday, October 15, 2012

Hanging a former Lord Mayor & an insight into loyalism and policing

While posts that deal with politics normally end up over on Slugger O'Toole, a couple of recent subjects might appeal to Alan in Belfast readers.

Niall Ó Donnghaile handed over the Lord Mayor's chain to Gavin Robinson. However, tradition - in most councils - is that each Mayor or Lord Mayor's year is captured in a portrait that hangs in the corridors around the council chamber, perhaps to dissuade other councillors from aspiring to office!

Niall's portrait was unveiled a week ago. He'd commissioned Danny Devenny, who is better known for his work painting murals on the gable walls of houses and the Bobby Sands mural on the side of Sinn Fein's Falls Road office. Mounted in a house-shaped frame, and with a brick-textured canvass, the work included items of importance to Niall: an MTV European Music Awards mug, pictures of his grandmothers, James Connolly and a Short Strand street sign. The post includes a quick interview with the muralist as well as a longer chat with Niall who reflected on his year in office, including *that* Duke of Edinburgh awards' ceremony. (Long time readers will remember that I've spoken to Niall a number of times for this blog over the years, including on the Eleventh Night in 2011 minutes before his election poster would go up in flames on top of a bonfire.)

I first attended/observed a Progressive Unionist Party conference back in 2009. At that time, Dawn Purvis was the leader. Last year Billy Hutchinson took over as leader.

On Saturday the PUP met again. With only two elected councillors, numbers of delegates were up on last year. PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott had accepted the party's invitation and spoke at length. Linda Ervine talked about the hidden history of Protestants and the Irish language, illustrating how Irish phrasing is used in everyday vernacular as well as pointing out that the Red Hand Commando's motto is in Irish!

Councillor (and GP) John Kyle spoke about the Welfare Reform bill currently being examined by the NI Assembly. He had many issues with the mechanics of the proposed reforms, though agreed with the principle that getting people into work was good.

"For some people who are ill, what they need is a job which brings some satisfaction. I have patients, the best thing I could give them is a good job. It would do them more good than any of the medicines that I could prescribe for them."

Motions were passed - unanimously - seeking an alternative to the Parades Commission, as well as objecting to the continued use of supergrass trials.

Taking to the podium, Matt Baggott started his speech by establishing his family's links with the working class and said that policing is more than law enforcement: it’s a social enterprise. On new recruits to the PSNI: "They can use Blackberrys, I use a pencil. They can text faster than I can talk."

Throughout his speech he sought to distance the PSNI's role in investigation to collect facts from the Public Prosecution Service's role to "look at the facts and make a judgement on the evidential test or the public interest" and finally the courts' judgement. This was particularly relevant given the arrest and questioning of the Young Conway Volunteers band on Friday. On parading:

"I think we’ve shown remarkable restraint. I don’t know anywhere in Europe, the German police, French police, let alone in South America where we would have stood and taken 62 injuries on three nights for the greater good of standing between people. I don’t know anywhere in the world that does that. If you’ve seen some of the footage from South Africa recently around some of that you know what I mean. And I think that’s remarkable. It’s the right thing to do. It’s absolutely compliant. But don’t take it for granted please."

He called for "a total paramilitary withdrawal, not just in terms of decommissioning, but in terms of people’s perceptions that even when that’s happened they are still frightened".

Criminality was a subject taken up by PUP leader Billy Hutchinson in his speech.

"Loyalism is opposed to organised crime. You cannot be a loyalist and a criminal at the same time. I’ve made this statement more than once. If you want to be a criminal do not use the flag of loyalism. Go and do it as a citizen. Do not bring shame on people because we don’t want it. The PSNI should be supported in their efforts to tackle organised crime … We need to be alert and ensure that we don’t let organised crime takeover our communities …"

He also touched on education, Corporation Tax, culture, tourism and the need for "honourable compromises" rather than "concessions" when negotiating with republicans.

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