Sunday, October 26, 2014

Elsewhere ... war photography, public opinion on abortion reforms, bandsmen reflecting on WW1 and reviewing Jamie Bryson's new book

Elsewhere last week I blogged on Slugger O'Toole about...

Paul Conroy delivered the Amnesty NI annual Belfast Festival lecture when he spoke about his experiences of war photography in Syria and the death of fellow journalist Marie Colvin. For those who missed his talk, his book Under the Wire relates the dangerous and ultimately fatal assignment in detail. A version of the post appears on Amnesty NI's website.

Amnesty NI released opinion poll information that showed that the majority of Northern Ireland public support the three amendments to abortion legislation that are in the current Department of Justice consultation. Under the banner of their My Body My Rights campaign, Amnesty's headline figures show that a majority think that the law in Northern Ireland should make access to abortion available where the pregnancy is the result of rape (69%), the result of incest (68%), or where the foetus has a fatal abnormality (60%). No matter how the statistics were sliced – by gender, age, social class, political preference or denomination – over 50% support the legislative changes. Support for abortion to be available if there is a fatal foetal abnormality is a little lower than pregnancy as the result of incest or rape, particularly amongst respondents identifying as catholic and nationalist. Good to see that my graphic to illustrate some of the research results was useful and made its way into other people's posts about the launch!

More Than A Flag ran in Ballymacarrott Orange Hall for three performances at Belfast Festival this week. I caught the dress rehearsal (and went back on Saturday evening) to see twelve young bandsmen remember local East Belfast men who served in the First World War. It was incredibly poignant to watch lads the same age as many of those went to war reading out names and addresses of fallen soldiers who came from streets only a stones throw from the venue. No flutes or drums, but plenty of speeches, poems, acting, dance and songs. And hope. The transformation of twelve guys from bandsmen into actors … and by the end of the performance, bandsmen who are actors.

Jamie Bryson released his latest book My Only Crime Was Loyalty on Friday, and I published an exclusive preview on Slugger O'Toole that morning with a review of the work and extracts from key passages. Now available in paperback (£7.99) and on Kindle (£8.04), the first hundred pages document his experience of being on the run, arrest, charge, bail, intelligence services and the Ulster People’s Forum. He also throws in how he came to read leaked copies of the Haass proposals.

Fundamentally Bryson has written the book to explain the background to his encounters with the PSNI over the last two years and his very long running court case. The process of writing may have been cathartic, but an increased understanding of his psyche and motivation, knowing that his bail condition variation requests were more about trying to humiliate and embarrass the authorities than ease the constraints will not change a lot of people’s minds about Bryson. Yet reading the book will allow Bryson to get under people’s skin and might just humanise the best-known face of the flag protests.

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