On Friday I attended the Democracy Games at Stormont. Now I’m sure you’re asking what are Democracy Games and aren’t you a bit old to be taking part in any sort of games. I was in fact there to host on behalf of the Open Government NI Network along with David McBurney and Sean Kelly. (NIEL)
Children from three schools in NI made the journey to Stormont to learn about democracy though interactive exercises. Kellie Armstrong MLA welcomed the students and encouraged them to take an interest in politics.
A warm up session involved identifying politicians and slogans. Amazing how many recognised Trump.
They then started the hard work forming policies, chosing party names, manifestos and party slogans. After they delivered their manifestos to the other groups it was time to vote via the ballot box for the party with the most popular policies. They were all very enthusiastic and their policies were well thought out and obviously important to them. The environment was a common thread as was more access for those with disabilities.
It is important that children know how the voting system works and how important it is to vote.
I then had the pleasure of announcing the joint winners.
Schools taking part were Parkway Lisburn, Ard-na-Shee Derry/Londonderry and Knockevin Special School, Downpatrick.
An enjoyable morning all round and one which will be repeated again in June.
1976 was an eventful year in my life and another terrible year for violence. I was astounded when I checked out my usual source at CAIN and discovered just how violent it was. 1976 was the year that the young Maguire children and their mother were mowed down and killed by a car driven by an IRA member, when the car he was driving went out of control after he had been shot. This lead to the setting up of the women’s peace movement.
Sunday 4 January 1976
Six Catholic civilians from two families died as a result of two separate gun attacks by Loyalist paramilitaries. Three members of the same family, John Reavey (24), Brian Reavey (22) and Anthony Reavey (17) were shot at their home in Greyhillan, Whitecross, County Armagh. [Anthony Reavey died on 30 January 1976.]
Louise was now 18 months and the idea of a brother or sister was being mooted. I guess there must have been another of those Christmas parties in 1975 because around the end of January 1976 I discovered that I was pregnant again. I didn’t feel like I had felt with Louise but every pregnancy is different and so I put it down to that.
Around the end of February beginning of March I realised that’s things weren’t going too well. I was advised by my consultant to carry on as usual as it would make no difference to my losing or keeping the baby. Gordon’s mum had been summoned to look after Louise as I had a good idea what was about to happen. However it got so bad that I was soon back in casualty where I was told that I had already lost the baby. As it was very early in the pregnancy, it wasn’t as traumatic this time as I had Louise and I hadn’t felt pregnant from the start. After a small op I was home the next day and back to normal fairly quickly.
I don’t think I have mentioned in much detail that Gordon was studying. He had left school to follow me to Belfast and as a result never completed his A levels. Being eligible for day release in the Civil Service he had completed his HNC and was now studying for a degree. This entailed two nights travelling to the Ulster university. It was hard for both of us. I had long days and long evenings. He worked long days and then had to study. So a decision was made that we should start looking for a house back in Belfast where I would be nearer friends and he’d have a shorter distance to travel.
One of my neighbours had moved to East Belfast. One day while visiting her, we went for a walk along the Upper Newtownards Rd. We passed by parks, gardens and avenues all with period style houses build in the late twenties and I knew this was were I wanted to live .
My friend also had a daughter slightly older than Louise and as a result we got the hand me downs. I wasn’t proud as we were living on one salary and every little bit helped. A visit to my friend resulted in a new wardrobe for Louise.
I found out I was pregnant again in July. On a lovely summer day in the garden of my home in Rostrevor I told my mum. I told her I was very apprehensive after what had happened and hadn’t said anything to the family. But it was out now and everyone seemed happy.
Compared to my pregnancy with Louise, this one was a doddle. Thanks Paul. No morning sickness and he was the right way up. 1976 was one of the hottest summers on record. Days of glorious sunshine with no rain
Six civilians, five Protestant and one Catholic, died as a result of a Loyalist paramilitary attack on the Ramble Inn, near Antrim, County Antrim. The attack was carried out because the public house was owned by Catholics.
In the meantime I was following up on houses in Belfast and in September of 76 saw a house that looked promising in East Belfast. We went to visit and though it needed a lot of work we could see the potential and the proximity to Gordon’s work at Veterinary Research made it ideal. As I knew quite a lot of people in Comber at that time it quickly went round that we were thinking of moving. Lo and behold a knock on the door and we were offered the price we were going to put it on sale for and the deal was completed without estate agents involved. We were able to proceed with our dream house knowing that our own was sold.
I woke up on the morning of the move. It was early December. The temperature outside was -10 and the frost was thick on the ground. I was 6 months pregnant and I thought to myself I don’t want to go. I was warm and cosy and I knew what the day had in prospect. However I roused myself and got on with the move.
With the help of my brothers we got moved. To say say the new house was freezing was an understatement. There was no heating and only a coal fire which took a lot of coaxing to light. The kitchen was sparse with a sink and draining board at one end. It was filthy into the bargain and though heavily pregnant I got down to a deep clean. Bear in mind that the temperature was still hovering around -10.
We had bought 3 storage heaters from an advert in the Bel Tel. They were in Ballymena. I don’t think we realised how heavy they were. The ice actually helped as they slid across it. However they didn’t work. It was weeks before they worked. Christmas was cold that year. A year of very contrasting temperatures.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) held a three day ceasefire over the Christmas period (25 to 27 December 1976).
References : https://cain.ulster.ac.uk
Christmas and New Year had passed quietly because of the ceasefire. It was such a great feeling to know that for a few days at least the New Year could be celebrated without fear of violence
We enjoyed Christmas in front of the television and enjoyed Some Mother’s do ‘ave em; The Generation Game with Brucie and the Mike Yarwood show. It was a more innocent time and the programmes could be enjoyed by the whole family.
Friday 17 January 1975:
The Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) ceasefire came to an end. Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that he would not be influenced by arguments supported by the bomb and the bullet.
Tuesday 21 January 1975:
There was a series of bomb explosions in Belfast. The attacks were carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Two members of the IRA were killed when a bomb they were transporting by car exploded in Victoria Street, Belfast.
I was gradually getting used to my life as a stay at home mum. I have to be honest and admit that I found it quite tough. As an outgoing person who had thrived in the work place and enjoyed the camaraderie of coworkers it was tough. Gordon was working in Belfast and doing night classes two nights a week so days were long. He also worked overtime every Saturday to help us survive financially. I relished the company of my neighbours. We only had one car and we lived about a two-mile walk to the village. I was definitely fit in those days. Every afternoon the baby was wrapped up and pushed in a large ‘Princess’ pram into Comber. As well as being fit I also had a face like a beetroot. The walk in was against the wind and as soon as I got into the heat again I beamed like a Belisha beacon. Very attractive.
Being at that time a wishy-washy Catholic we still decided to have Louise baptised. More so that we could have a family do, than the religious aspect. She was christened in the same robes as my mother had been baptised in. No hotels after, just back to the house for sandwiches, mushroom patties and sausage rolls. After that church going waned and I was a Catholic in name only. Since my treatment by the church re my wedding venue, I was very sceptical about the church and was also beginning to doubt my faith. After years of saying rosaries, attending mass and being made to go to confession, I was again questioning the hold the church had over us. I can never understand how people I know have respect for the Catholic Church. I had seen enough bowing and scraping to priests. I refuse to be one of them.
Around February I was introduced to a girl who lived in the next street. She too was breastfeeding and was a member of La Leche league. We became friendly and to cut a long story short we ended up on Radio Ulster on the Gloria Hunniford show doing a
phone-in on the subject. A great experience. I just wish we had mobile phones in those days so that we could have recorded it. It was such a pleasure to meet Gloria before she left N.I. and became a big star. As a result of the show, we did the rounds of Ante- natal clinics encouraging other young mums to have a go. It was a great success.
In June, the local Presbyterian church advertised a beautiful baby competition. We couldn’t resist it. We entered Louise and she won. A £5 voucher for the local chemist was the prize. We moved rather quickly when we saw the minister coming to congratulate us and to no doubt check out what services we attended. Felt a bit guilty. No I’m lying we didn’t. I think the cute little mop cap helped.
In July we headed to Bunbeg for a week’s holiday. We stayed at the Ostan Gweedore in Bunbeg. Not the most glamourous of buildings but the view and the food compensated. It was one of George Best’s favourite hang outs though I have to say I never saw him there on my many visits. The Boyle family ran it as a family hotel and the beach with its wrecked boat became an iconic place to have a photo taken. My family was there, so we had some built in baby sitters – a luxury for us. Louise was in a baby walker and had a great time pushing herself along the corridors. She preferred that to walking. The views from the hotel were wonderful and as we strolled up the road to the village we were met by the smell of burning turf fires.
One night after settling Louise we went down to the bar to find John Hume and his wife along with Paddy Devlin and Phil Coulter. A sing-song ensued and I will always remember John Hume singing The Town I Loved So Well with Phil Coulter playing the piano. A memorable night. Again, a pity there were no mobile phones. It’s so sad to see that the hotel is lying derelict waiting for a buyer to restore it.
The holiday turned out to be more expensive than we thought and on return we received a letter from the bank saying we were overdrawn and the bank manager would like to see us. Yikes! We got a warning about being overdrawn and the need to be more careful. So I took on a part-time job with the local newsagent, Miskellys. Every Sunday morning for 3 hours I sold the Sunday papers and got £3.00. I actually enjoyed it and felt more like a part of the community. People would now recognise me on the street and stop for a chat. The wage from this together with my ‘dole ‘ money helped to keep us solvent.
Saturday 22 November 1975:
Three British soldiers were shot dead in a gun attack on a British Army observation post near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.
Around November I got a letter to say that I had an interview to return to my job in the Civil Service. I had to go and hoped I wouldn’t be offered it but I couldn’t resist putting my best foot forward and as a result I got a letter offering me the job. I had to decide to either turn down the job or make child care arrangements and return to work. I couldn’t envisage leaving our daughter with someone I didn’t know and so I turned down the job and said goodbye to my £6.00 a week. A few extra shifts at the newsagent helped us get through Christmas.
Christmas 1975 and Laurel and Hardy were No 2 in the Christmas charts! We were entertained on Christmas night by Christmas Day with the Stars starring Cilla Black. We headed to Warrenpoint to have Christmas dinner with the in -laws. We hoped for a quiet New Year but it was not to be.
Three Protestant civilians were killed in a bomb attack, carried out the People’s Republican Army (PRA), a covername used by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), on the Central Bar, Gilford
Another horrific deed to end the year!
It was a foggy night in Stormont Square. Arlene the landlady was about to open up and she was worried. The boiler wasn’t firing properly and she’d called in her Special Plumber ADrian, Spad for short.
He suggested that they replace the boiler with a domestic heating incentive available to landlords or RHI as it became to be known. When Spad suggested that for every £1 they invested they could recoup £1.60 Arlene was convinced. It will work well in the pub she thought. Keep the heat up and the punters will drink more.
She hadn’t counted however on there being a backlash from the residents of the square. When they found out about the plan they boycotted the pub. Arlene had been unkind in the past forbidding Cockney to be spoken in the pub and only allowing Adam and Eve to drink there while barring Adam and Steve. One of her customers Big balls Jonny had recorded Arlene and the guy who ran the vegetable stall, planning to deceive the locals with help of a couple of guys Nelson Redsky and Paisley Og. They had been up to no good. Paisley the younger had been holidaying in foreign parts and conning the governments into paying for it. Redsky was dabbling in dodgy windows. There was no transparency.
When Arlene found out she was raging. I need a holiday more than you she cried. Haven’t you heard that takings are down. My salary has been cut and I’m having to count on the RHI scheme working.
Her first customer that morning was Big balls Jonny.
I need a word he said. I’m behind the RHI scheme and even I have realised that it’s not working. So I’m stopping it.
No you can’t do that Arlene shouted. Here have a drink.
I don’t drink the devils porridge Big balls Jonny replied.
Ok so have a glass of wine instead.
After a couple of sips he began to relax. Give me a bottle of that my good lady he said.
Arlene’s plot to get him tipsy was working.
I’ll try a Guinness he said sleepily.
His tongue was beginning to loosen.
Did you hear the gossip he asked. A couple of senior duper’s are involved in an extra marital affair. I was disgusted listening to all the gory details but I told this guy who works for me, at least I think he works for me that it was important that he told me every little detail. So I could pray for them, you understand.
At this stage Arlene signalled to a couple of bystanders Big Pete and Simple Simon. Time to take him for a little ride. You get it boys? Big balls Jonny was last seen singing a song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s as he was dragged out of the pub.
Now get outa ma pub and don’t come back Arlene was heard to shout.
Cue Eastenders theme.
IS TRUMP STRONGER THAN THE FREE PRESS OR IS THE FREE PRESS STRONGER THAN TRUMP? ( Ann Allan)
I hope they don’t impeach President Trump before the 13 September. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know my feelings about the President and his ‘fake news ‘ may be wondering why? Well I have to confess, with no assembly and the disaster that is Brexit I have been intrigued by the goings on in the White House. I know more about the judicial system in the USA than I do in the UK and can name most Republican and Democratic senators and of course Trump’s ex wives and ex-lovers. I was horrified when he won the election. I know now that there is a good chance it was won for him by Russia with which he has an affinity.
So when the Open Government Network NI of which I am a member were planning their conference Transparency for Accountability and were looking for ideas for sessions I suggested that we look at the influence Trump has had on transparency and openness in his own government and in others around the world. He befriends dictators like Putin, Erdogan and Duerte to whom transparency is an anathema.
So we are putting Trump On Trial on 13 September. And although I want him impeached or for him to resign I hope he stays just a little longer.
Other sessions will look at how the ongoing enquiry into the flawed RHI energy scheme and the effect on our democracy. In Beyond RHI: How to Restore Democratic accountability at Stormont. Many flaws in our democratic system have come to light. The question is how do we fix it?
The Magic Money Tree. I’m sure we’ve all heard from our parents at some stage that money doesn’t grow on trees. That is unless of course you are a bank that can create money out of nothing. But who is in charge of that tree?
Social media, instantly alerting us to events around the world such as terrorist attacks, social upheaval and natural disasters reminds us that our way of life is vulnerable and that we could face destruction and possible extinction. We will discuss how we face this dilemma in our session The (Post) Truth about Saving the World.
The final session will discuss How a Citizen’s Assembly would work in NI. What topic will it address? Could it provide a voice for civil society in the absence of an assembly ?
So if you haven’t already signed up, you need to do now as places are filling up quickly. Riddell Hall is a beautiful venue. And just look at the line up of speakers. Lunch and refreshments provided. What more could you ask for? Click on the link below to book and to see all the details including speakers at the event.
I’m so disappointed in the woman who are not running NI, a job that they have been elected to and are being paid for and in whom we had put our hopes into solving the problems in Northern Ireland.
Women will be more empathetic, we thought. They’ll want to solve the waiting lists, they’ll realise how distressing it is for parents, especially mothers watching their children in pain while being told they may have to wait up until three years for surgery. They’ll want to help partners who they see losing the will to live as they cope with pain and they will see their family members who because of the waiting lists in the NHS no longer have any quality of life. We thought they would see the problem with the lack of places for children in our local schools. We thought they might be more conciliatory to the other side and sit down together and try to work through it.
But no, like a pair of school girls they adopted the he said / she said mind-set and the Ulster attitude of ‘not an inch’ and ‘No surrender’
Hard to believe that this is happening because some want to speak Irish and insist that this right be enshrined in an ILA and some who see speaking Irish as another step to a United Ireland. Please tell me we are better than this. Improve life for our citizens or hold out for an ILA or reject an ILA . I just can’t square the two. I personally speak little Irish other than what I learnt at school and I’m delighted that others do but if one of my family becomes ill and needs treatment that isn’t there, I assure you the Irish language will be the furthest thing from my mind as will any other language other than bad.
The three ladies in question will not read this but let me say to you anyway, your self righteous attitudes in the case of Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill and the couldn’t care less attitude of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland need to change and soon. When they look back on their lives will they be able to say ‘ I did a great job in the role the people trusted me to do ‘ or will it be ‘ Look at the numbers who suffered or died on my watch when I could have done something but speaking or not speaking Irish was much more important to me.’
We’ve blamed the men in the past but so far the women aren’t proving much better.
Your woman from Westminster ( blink and you’ll miss her) can’t take a decision to save her life and constantly deflects any questions replying ‘It’s a devolved matter’ Do what’s right even if the DUP don’t approve. Your conscience must tell you that what’s going on here at the moment is not right in a democratic society. We pay our taxes and are entitled to our politicians working for us and not against us. If you are not up to doing the job, resign and let someone who’ll be at least an honest broker, take over, because time is running out and we in Northern Ireland are living in Limbo.
1 January 1974
The NI Executive officially took office.
11 January 1974
Two civilians were killed by a bomb attached to their car as they left an Army base in Derry/Londonderry
I was happy to see the end of 1973. Personally and politically it had been a bad year. I had lost my baby and the killing had continued for another year.
Sometime in February I started feeling sick in the mornings. I didn’t dare think what might be causing it. But memories of coming home from a Christmas party a little tipsy and … well let’s say I was hopeful. Eventually I picked up the courage and went for a pregnancy test. No instant results in those days but we were past the stage of the dead rabbit ( if you are curious, look it up.) I think it took a week to confirm that I was indeed pregnant. Bitter sweet in that the due date turned out to be within a day to the year of my lost pregnancy.
Was I sick? Extremely. I hated the mornings and certain smells resulted in a bolt for the nearest loo. I still find marmalade hard to stomach. My father -in -law, a man of few words hoped that I ‘could hold on to this one’ and as was the time it wasn’t talked about much in my family. Not sure whether this was a catholic thing or just the way things were in the seventies. I had as a child been vaguely aware of my mother having at least one miscarriage and I also had a brother called Pius who only lived a couple of hours. We were obviously nervous during the early months because of what had happened but as the bump got bigger and I passed the four-month marker we began to relax.
My sister -in -law was also pregnant and her baby was due around the same time as ours. Being the oldest in the family I had hoped to produce the first grandchild but as it turned out it was not to be. She beat me to it by five days.
The news in NI was depressing. Hardly a day went past without killings and bombings. We toyed with the idea of leaving but we were reluctant because of family ties even though they did live quite a distance from us. It’s impossible to list the number of casualties but it was sickening, no side escaping from the carnage.
Tuesday 14 May 1974
The Ulster workers council strike began. It was to last 14 days and to cause misery for the general population.
Probably the most annoying part of the strike was the electricity being on a four hour cycle. An employee of NIE became an instant personality and a harbinger of doom. He earned the nickname Hugo ‘ on the brink ‘ Patterson. He would be interviewed on Radio Ulster every evening to let us know how much power was left and the areas that would be subject to power cuts. We were always ‘on the brink. ’ Arriving home from a day’s work with no power so no electricity to cook dinner was infuriating and that was if you could even get to work. Roads were blocked and there were barricades everywhere. Busses were either diverted or not running or in some cases burned to a shell. As milk wasn’t being collected from farmers, milk was dumped and fresh food was hard to come by. I can’t list all the problems the strike caused but there were many.
Friday 17 May 1974
33 civilians and an unborn child were killed when four bombs were planted by Loyalist paramilitaries in Dublin and Monaghan.
Tuesday 28 May 1974
Brian Faulkner resigns and the Executive collapses. The strike ends and the chance to become an integrated society ended with it.
My pregnancy was progressing satisfactorily. I remember standing in the living room watching Gordon cutting the grass when I felt that first little flutter. Some refer to it as quickening. I knew everything was ok. I had decided to leave work and look after the baby. There were no relatives living within 40 miles and we couldn’t afford day care. I got a small amount of a maternity grant but only I think for six weeks. I was quite sad to leave work but couldn’t wait to become a mum so it was a bitter-sweet occasion on the day I left.
As the date got nearer on a routine hospital visit my gynaecologist discovered that my baby was breech. It was decided that it would have to be turned. In those days there was no such thing as a scan so I had to be x-rayed to see exactly what way the baby was lying. Picture a pregnant me balancing on my stomach while the X-ray was taken. It was then decided to turn the baby. I was given a mild sedative while they pressed and prodded until she did a 180 degree turn. I awoke bruised and sore but relieved that a breech birth was no longer on the cards.
On 15 September after a long hot summer our beautiful daughter made her appearance. After being 37 hours in labour ( I was induced on the 14 th morning) and with the help of forceps she was finally delivered. The previous evening while dosed up on ‘ass and gair’. ( gas and air I listened to the last night of the Proms on a nearby television interspersed with my mother ringing practically every two hours to see what the hold up was. Gordon had gone home to watch Match of the Day and wait for a phone call to say he was now a dad.
She was beautiful. A head of long black hair and a beautiful tan ( jaundice ) and even the midwives said she was beautiful.
She still is by the way. In those days there was no posing on the steps of the Ulster Hospital seven hours after the birth. Instead I
spent a week in hospital where most of my time was spent sitting on a rubber ring. Ok, I know, too much information.
Monday 16 September 1974
The IRA killed Judge Rory Conaghan and resident magistrate , Martin McBirney in separate inc Belfast.
When we eventually got Louise home, I realised that just because I had helped to look after my brothers and sister, I was ill-equipped to take on the responsibility of a baby. I’m not sure the hubby had even held one before. There was no support from family as they all lived far away. I pity the local Doctor, Dr. Mitchell. I had him on speed dial and every time the child cried for more than 15 minutes I was on the phone demanding a house visit. She was a collicy baby who slept little, (funny how that changed at about 11 years old) and many nights as a last resort we put her in the back of the car in her carry cot and drove her around till she dropped off to sleep. Maybe that’s where her love of cars comes from.
However we soon got the hang of it. I was breastfeeding so Gordon got off lightly. Few sleepless nights for the first few weeks and then lo and behold at two months two teeth started to peep through the gums. Sleep was something we remembered from the distant past. She had been born with teeth already formed. It was overwhelming but we coped, just about.
Since leaving work and having the baby I had discovered my neighbours. All uneven houses from no 1 ( we were no 13) had either babies or toddlers. A routine developed. Get up in the morning and go to the nappy pail where cloth nappies were soaking in Napisan overnight. Get out and fill twin tub washing machine, a chore at the best of times, but a nightmare if the tube slipped out of the tub when filling it and a flooded kitchen ensued. I began to realise there was a competition going on and no matter how early I got the nappies on the line, someone would always beat me to it. On a couple of mornings a week we all met up for coffee around eleven. Added pressure if it was your turn to have the house looking spic and span.
The year ended with Merlyn Rees the then Secretary of State for Norther Ireland promising that the Government would respond positively ‘if there was a genuine and sustained cessation of violence’ This resulted in a short ceasefire by the IRA followed by a return to violence. 1975 was going to be no different