As part of Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week, I attended an event at the Thinking Cup cafe on the Lisburn Road. The theme was being Good Relations – A Convivial Conversation.
The late Jo Cox and I suspect many others are quoted as saying “.. we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us”
The ‘conversation’ was hosted by Eileen Chan Hu and Maciek Bator from CRAIC NI and Denis Stewart, International Futures Forum.
The beautiful Autumn morning sunlight lit up the room and the atmosphere was warm and convivial. Informal introductions took place over coffee and scones from the cafe below before Denis opened proceedings with a reading from a poem by MayaAngelou entitled HumanFamily. You can listen to her reading the full version here http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/maya-angelou-s-human-family/
I have included a few verses
“….The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white….
…I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man……
…I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike….”
Eileen then went around the room and those present told us how they got their name and its origins. Not much for me to say, as all I knew was that I was baptised in a hurry and generations of ancestors were called Ann (well the females were). I forgot to mention I brought the hubby along and he was well out of his comfort zone but he joined in and was convivial.
Otherness was the buzz word. The hubby and I could have qualified for our ‘otherness’ as 46 years ago we were one of the few mixed marriages in Northern Ireland and found it hard to find a niche in either community. Thankfully that is changing albeit slowly but it still depends on where you live and the culture you have been brought up in.
After a group discussion where we discussed how we could tackle ethnic diversity and facilitate the integration of those coming to live in Northern Ireland, we picked out a book from the loaded bookcases and chose a quotation from the book for a fellow participant.
Tim Brannigan then told us how being black in the early years of the troubles in West Belfast made it difficult to fit in. His recently published book “Where do you really come from? ” is soon to be made into a film. The book is available on Amazon.
So, all in all, an enjoyable morning. My only observation would be that the presence of some refugees or immigrants who could voice their opinions from their prospective, might have helped to show where we could improve on how we help those who are trying to make a home in ‘Norn Iron’
You’re what?? Reactions from some members of my family when I said I was going along to rehearsals for the Belfast Philharmonic choir. I suppose I’ve been giving them reason to query what is going on in my life. Instead of settling for slippers and a throw in front of the TV I’ve opted to get out there and fulfil my bucket list. Who or what has encouraged me to do this? Well I was watching a Dr.Phil show recently and he produced on stage a huge ruler. He pointed out that the ruler measured our life expectancy with the average expectancy being around 85. Standing on the ruler at the age of 67 looking back and looking forward I realised I haven’t got that much left in front of me. In my head I’m only about 30 until I see a mirror and wonder who that old bird is looking back at me.
So with Dr. Phil’s words spurring me on, I weighed up my life at present and things I wanted to do before I shift my mortal coil. I recently with the help of my friend Gary set up my own YouTube channel and started my video/blog. It has been well accepted so far and I’m really enjoying seeing my memories on-screen. I’m also apparently one of the few grannies who has a YouTube channel and have once again become ‘cool’
I’ve always enjoyed singing and am the life and soul at a karaoke party. But I’ve always wanted to be part of a choir and with that in mind, after seeing an advert on Twitter, I headed for St.Brides Church Hall on Wednesday evening. Arriving at the venue I assumed that I was in the wrong place as the car park and the road outside were packed to the gills. I headed for a door and asked a kindly gentleman if I was in the right place. He confirmed that I was and directed me to where I should register. Looking around I was pleased to see that I was not the oldest chorister. I learned afterwards that there were about 40 new members enrolling. Alto or soprano? I was asked. Hmmm I’m not sure, I used to be a soprano but I’m assuming the voice gets lower as you get older. Anyway, I was shown to a seat in the middle of the altos beside a very nice lady who was obviously an ‘old’ hand on the choir scene. There must have been 200 singers altogether. After an introduction by the conductor we were straight into the singing starting with Zadoc the Priest, followed by various pieces from Mozart’s mass in C.
I tried furiously to keep up with the rest of the choir who were not all new to this but even though I was afraid to sing too loudly, I really enjoyed that feeling of everyone singing together. I thought to myself this is just great. After a break for tea, incidentally served by Noel Thompson, I was devastated to hear it announced that auditions would take place in two weeks for the new members! Now that was something I hadn’t reckoned on. An audition would require me to sing part of the Gloria from the aforesaid mass, a piece of my own choice and to sight-read a piece also. Suddenly my vision of standing in the Ulster Hall didn’t look so bright. I had second thoughts all the way home in the car. However, I couldn’t resist having a go. ( It’s all on YouTube, so no excuse). I’ve been practising and have realised just how weak my voice has become. Hubby says he can’t believe that as I shout a lot at him. But I’m determined to give it a go and take every opportunity to practise. The hubby can almost sing the Gloria himself. I’ll let you know how the audition goes even if I don’t make it.
My membership of Opengovni has also been most interesting. There are lots of events planned in the coming months and if I’m not singing in an opera in Covent Garden I’ll be attending those, one of which is in the beautiful Narrow Water in Warrenpoint. There are still places available. See below for details.
Monday 1 January1973: Two men were found shot dead near Burnfoot, County Donegal, they had been killed by an unidentified Loyalist paramilitary group.
This was the start of another violent year in Northern Ireland. We were leaving 1972 behind and little had changed. Violence was rife and murders common place. It was also the year that the UK joined the EEC ( EU) and the year that a referendum about a United Ireland was held. This was a non-event as Nationalists boycotted the referendum and so the result was an overwhelming majority to stay in the UK.
Meanwhile on a personal level, life was continuing in Comber. On New Years Day we invited the in-laws and my brother and his wife for dinner. The hubby suggested we have roast duck. Now although I considered myself a reasonably good cook, duck had never been a big part of the cuisine in either of our households. But always one to try something new I bought the duck. I thought when putting it into the oven there didn’t seem to be much meat on it but I pressed on regardless and hoped for the best. The embarrassment when I served up one small slice of duck to each person stayed with me for many years. I’ve steered clear of roast duck ever since unless it’s in a carton and has Marks and Spencers on it.
I have had reservations about writing about 1973 and I have been procrastinating as it was a partcularly tough year for me. I discovered I was pregnant at the end of January and I was delighted. Life was good and I was practising hard for my driving test at the time and felt well. On Wednesday 7 February, the United Loyalist Council organised a one-day general strike. It happened to coincide with my driving test. There were power cuts and roads were blocked. Many were intimidated into not going to work but my driving test inspector turned up and with little traffic on the roads I passed my test with flying colours. It was great to be mobile but it did prove problematic with only one car ( the norm in the 70’s ) so we spent our time organising lifts when one of us wanted the car. I think it was 2000 before I got the keys to my very own car.
I announced my pregnancy after three months as did a colleague in my office. Our babies were due in the same week in September. I started knitting baby things but I was not a knitter, never have been and never will be and so the two matinée coats I managed to finish were a disaster. My parents and my in-laws weren’t exactly over the moon with the news. No hugs or congratulations. More like ‘how will you manage with one job?’ It wasn’t the done thing to talk about pregnancy apparently and so a lot of the joy that I felt quickly disappeared. Also the religious aspect was probably high on the agenda.
At the beginning of Easter week I began to have some symptoms that were a cause for concern. The doctor was called and suggested bed rest. For four days I lay in bed. On Good Friday I was in such distress that Gordon took me straight to A&E. There, a doctor examined me and without any softening of the bad news told me my baby had died in my womb. He explained that I was in labour and there was no alternative but to deliver the baby naturally. I won’t go into the details but it was one of the worst experiences of my life.
After a few weeks recovering I went back to work. The hard bit was that those who didn’t know about the miscarriage kept asking me when was the baby due. We tried to accept that many first pregnancies end in miscarriage and this wouldn’t happen next time but I felt alone and probably needed some follow-up counselling but I was discharged from hospital and had no choice but to get on with it. It was rarely mentioned again.
Around this time and probably feeling the need to be parents we acquired a dog. I say acquired because it was never my intention to have one. We visited friends whose dog had just had puppies. We left with a small black and white terrier who we christened Cotton ( after the small cigars). He was a lively pup and didn’t take long to acquaint himself with the surrounding countryside. One whiff of freedom and he was away, chasing the cows in the farmers field behind us and returning home smelling of badgers poo.Yuck. There were no restrictions on dogs in the 70’s so he headed into Comber and met up with his mates. Many nights he wouldn’t return until midnight, at which time he would stand at the front door barking, until one of us stumbled downstairs to let him in. I think he thought he was a cat. However we loved him and put up with him until one day he was chasing cars ( one of his favourite past times) was hit by one of the said cars and we had to make a decision to have him put down. The house was empty without him and I swore never to have another dog. I have kept my word.
We made the decision that as we were going to have two salaries coming in for another while it was time to replace the small country-style suite we had for something a bit more substantial and comfortable ( picture above). We went into Wright’s arcade in Newtownards where Mr.Wright was serving that day. He was very kind and we chatted. When he heard what had happened he gave us a great bargain on a suite and also threw in a coffee table which we have until this day. When the suite was delivered it was way too big for our tiny living room but we loved it and we had plenty of room to stretch out.
Thursday 16 August 1973: Two members of the IRA died when a mortar bomb exploded prematurely during an attack on the Army at a base in Pomeroy.
September was a challenging time. My friend at work had her baby and it was difficult to visit her in hospital. However we were trying again for a baby and we were having a lot of fun trying!!
We had changed our car around this time. We bought it from a small garage at the bottom of University Street. It was a Morris something or other and I guess they saw us coming. After a couple of months the exhaust developed a hole. The sound as the car set off in the morning was noisy to say the least. Gordon spent hours under the car, rather than in it, plastering the exhaust with Gun gum ( a seal for exhaust). It would hold for a few days and then blow again. Like the Mini Cooper which was our first car, the floor in the back was also proving effective as an air conditioning system, and if I remember correctly I don’t think the heater worked but it just about got us from A to B so that was a bonus.
The year ended with a statement from the Northern Ireland Executive following its first meeting. The statement set out the Executive’s hopes for the future and called on people in Northern Ireland to allow 1974 to be ‘ The Year of Reconciliation’
After listening to all the rubbish spouted over the last few months by various parties in Norn Iron I have decided to form my own party. It will be called the Get-a-grip party. I intend to stand at the next election and my manifesto will be as follows:
The word ‘detritus’ will be banned from all literature.( personal dislike, there has to be some benefits for me)
The words, shared future, dignified, parity of esteem, themuns, scum,will no longer be bandied about as will offensive names regarding members of the varying religions in Norn Iron.
All children will be educated together.
All children born from now on will be given numbers instead of names thus foiling any attempts to ascertain religious background.
The twelfth will be held on St Patrick’s day and vice versa.
To solve recent squabbling over the name of the Irish/Ulster fry, it will be renamed ‘you are heading for a heart attack fry.’
National flags will be banned and only flags with Eamonn Holmes on them will be permitted.
All parades will be conga style and dress code will be tasteful onesies. ( From Primark)
As a munificent leader I will be open to my constituents suggestions.
I was sitting in the heat in the early morning, unable to sleep, 3-45 am actually and it was peaceful and quiet. I started thinking about my grandson and his dad, my nephew and niece all heading for France at the weekend. I felt uneasy for them all and for the other youngsters and their dads heading off, and for the wives, girlfriends and family members who will spend the next four weeks worrying about their loved ones. We have heard about the threats, we don’t know how serious they are but they are casting a shadow over what should be a happy occasion. Two teams from this small island. Great achievement. Let’s hope each side can be magnanimous and wish the other team well.
We women in particular spend our time worrying about things that could happen and which in most cases don’t. From the moment we become parents we try to protect them. But also from the moment they are born we are raising them to leave us. We nurse our babies close for the first few months but then we trust them with others and are content to leave them in the hands of nurseries, family members and child-minders. Babies become used to seeing new faces and learn to trust them.
Those of you who are parents know that feeling when you let go of a toddler’s hand and he/she makes a break for freedom. They don’t want to hold your hand, they’re getting confidence to break away.
Primary school looms. For months you dread leaving them. But in most cases they run in and go to find a favourite toy and you’re quickly forgotten.
Grammar school and you’re a complete embarrassment. No kisses goodbye, sometimes not even a goodbye just a grunt. The gap is becoming wider.
And don’t talk to me about teens. They know it all. They are brimming with hormones and testosterone and mood swings. We feel we’ll never communicate.
But no matter how old they are, we worry about them and for a large number of us in Ireland, North and South over the next four weeks we will worry until we see them all home safe and sound. So I wish both teams all the best, and their supporters a safe trip. Be vigilant and look out for each other and may the best team win.
3 Jan 1972: The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb in Callender Street, Belfast, which injured over 60 people.
30 January 1972: Bloody Sunday refers to the shooting dead by the British Army of 13 civilians (and the wounding of another 14 people, one of whom later died) during a Civil Rights march in Derry.
I trust and hope I will never have to live through another year like 1972. It was the worst year of the troubles with a death toll of almost 500 people, half of which were innocent citizens going about their every day business.Belfast was a no go area as far we were concerned and we only ventured in from Comber to the city if it was absolutely necessary.
We were well settled in our chalet bungalow and the only thing missing was a washing machine and central heating. I still had to trudge to the launderette to do the weekly wash and our only heating was a coal fire. Coming home on a cold winters day the coat stayed on until the fire was lit. Eventually my dad came up trumps as he knew a central heating installer who did the job for a reasonable price. The day we returned home, opened the front door and were greeted with a lovely warm house was a day to savour. Had to wait a bit longer for the twin tub however.
Rathgael House in Bangor was now the home of the Dept of Education. As the year went on it became a fortress with sellotape stuck on the windows in case a bomb exploded. This was to protect us from flying glass. There were searches at the front door. Telephoned bomb scares where commonplace and would result in us being evacuated from the building, just in case. There were designated employees who searched the premises every morning on arrival and every evening before leaving to make sure nothing untoward had been left in the building.
Our move from Dundonald House to Bangor meant a change in staff and I became friendly with a girl who worked in the same office. I found myself agreeing to myself and G. going on holiday to Ibiza with her and her hubby. So from Christmas on it was save, save, save. In April,Joe Walsh tours ( remember them), were paid in full and we couldn’t wait to get away.
Saturday 5 February 1972: Two IRA members were killed when a bomb they were planting exploded prematurely. A man died from injuries received in an explosion six days earlier.
Thursday 10 February 1972: Two British soldiers were killed in a land mine attack near Cullyhanna, County Armagh. An IRA member was shot dead during an exchange of gunfire with RUC officers.
We were busy cultivating our little vegetable garden in Comber. Encouraged by G’s dad we sowed out lettuce, cabbage and potatoes. We looked at them with pride every morning. This was our version of the Good Life. All went well and the little plants punched their way though the soil. Not long now and we’ll be eating our own produce, we thought. But the rabbits had other ideas and we came out one Spring morning to find that apart from the potatoes there was nothing left. The Good Life worked for Tom and Barbara but not for us.
4 March 1972:The Abercorn Restaurant in Belfast was bombed without warning. Two Catholic civilians were killed and over 130 people injured. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) did not claim responsibility for the bomb but were universally considered to have been involved.
We flew into Ibiza around 7 July 1972. The heat smacked us on the face as soon as we stepped off the plane. A bus was waiting to take us to San Antonio abad. We discovered our fellow travelling companions and those staying at Hostel Mallorca were a motley crew from, at that time, a deeply divided city. Some from the Shankill some from the Falls and ourselves from Comber and Bangor respectively. Did we disagree ? Hell no! We all got on like a house on fire ending up most nights in the bar singing Irish songs including the Sash and other rebel songs.
When I say we all got on there was one fly in the ointment. My friend unbeknownst to be was a fussy eater. At meal times she turned her nose up at everything and ended up living on mainly water melon for the whole two weeks. She also didn’t like water very much so the glass bottomed boat didn’t go down well. Secretly, although I didn’t admit it, I wasn’t too happy with it either. A trip to the old city of Ibiza to visit the hippy stalls caused her nose bleeds as she stumbled on a host of tiny lizards swarming around the cliffs.
We did the touristy thing and went to a medieval banquet at Barbacoa Cova Santa. But she wouldn’t eat anything in case it wasn’t properly cooked. It was delicious. She did however like lying in the sun and so we took a boat trip out to Calla Bassa where I fried and spent a miserable afternoon lying on the beach.
26 May 1972: The Irish Republican Army (IRA) planted a bomb in Oxford Street, Belfast which killed a 64 year old woman.
Warning: don’t go on holidays with someone you don’t know very well. Two weeks can be a long time on holiday. I checked Google and the hostel is still there although the uninterrupted view we had of the sea seems to have disappeared since 1972. The area looks tacky and not as I remember it. Back in the seventies the Bee Gees had a home on Ibiza and we were entertained in the evenings in the local pub by the youngest brother Andy who, like his other two brothers died an early death in 1985. Andy played at night in a local night club and although I’ve heard his brothers sometimes sang with him we didn’t see them. The record being played in most night clubs in Ibiza was Seaside Shuffle. I danced with one of the group when they made an appearance at one of the clubs. Didn’t go down well with the hubby, especially as he asked if he could leave me back to my hotel.
Heading home, we arrived in Dublin airport in a thick fog ( second landing in fog). We took a couple of attempts to get down the Captain informing us that he was going to ‘attempt‘ a landing. I had the paper bag out and was praying he would just go back to Ibiza. We almost took the old airport building with us and as a result I have only ever flown once since and that was in a snow storm where we circled Gatwick for 40 mins.
Newspapers took a few days to reach Ibiza in 1972. No TV. No internet. No mobile phones. No news from home for two weeks, so it was heartbreaking to arrive home to hear what had happened on what is now known as Bloody Friday. After a fortnight where we had all mixed together irrespective of religion and political alliance we were back to the reality of what life was like in NI in 1972.
In this blog I have purposely mixed the two lives that people lived in the 70″s, the ‘life must go on attitude’ with the horror of ‘living through the troubles.’
Friday 21 July 1972: ‘ Bloody Friday’ is the name given to the events that occurred in Belfast on Friday 21 July 1972. During the afternoon of ‘Bloody Friday’ the Irish Republican Army (IRA) planted and exploded 22 bombs which, in the space of 75 minutes, killed 9 people and seriously injured approximately 130 others. In addition to the bombs there were numerous hoax warnings about other explosive devices which added to the chaos in the streets that afternoon.
What makes a woman of mature age call for the imprisonment of a young 19 year old for having an abortion?
Why would she stand outside a Marie Stopes clinic berating those going inside?
Who has given her the right to become judge and jury as to how others choose to live?
Is there something in her past that has stripped away the compassion that one woman should feel towards another. Is that what she would want for a female relative who decided to go down that route?
Most women who choose to have an abortion, choose it because they do not want a pregnancy at that time, whatever the reason or the circumstance. Alright for Precious Life to say ‘ we’ll show you an alternative, We’ll help you through your pregnancy’ But parenthood is for life or at least for eighteen years. By that time I imagine PL will be long gone. We don’t know the circumstances of this particular conception. Incest, rape or the woman feeling she can’t cope. All reasons why she may not want to bring this foetus to full term and birth.
There are thousands of children today being born into a life of poverty, hunger and abuse. Why doesn’t Bernie and her cohorts pay attention to those children already born. Those children who are dying every day in huge numbers. Leave those woman alone who have to make a difficult and I would imagine traumatic decision to have an abortion to be in control of their own bodies.
The fact that we are still being bound by a law dating back to 1861 shows how backward looking our laws are in Northern Ireland. We need to put pressure on our new assembly to amend the abortion laws so that no more cases like this occur and then maybe women will be left in peace to make their own choice. I think it’s time for a referendum!
Open Government NI’s second event as part of Imagine! Belfast’s festival of politics and ideas took place in the Mac. Such a pity to see the condition of the building as it is now, covered in scaffolding and looking quite sad but it didn’t deter from our morning, hearing about and practising the concept of Participatory Budgeting (PB).
PB is a process of democratic decision making. This involves ordinary people getting together and deciding how to allocate part of a public budget. PB has been used in parts of the U.K., particularly in Scotland and other parts of the world but hasn’t reached NI as yet. Jez Hall of UKPB network was our host.
To begin the session we were divided into pairs and into givers and takers. The givers then had to hand over something to the takers. I gave Paul Braithwaite my mobile phone. Felt the panic set in immediately. The givers left the room and on our return we had to ask the right questions to get the phone back from the taker. I failed. The question that was needed was “What will it take to get my phone back”? Lesson? We need to know the questions to ask in order to get what we want. I have tried to precis the main points from Jez’s talk but I would advise that you have a look at the website to get more information.
2.We need to get to the bottom of how our ( public ) money is spent.
3.We have a power structure with all the money at the top.
4.We have lost our respect for politicians. We feel disconnected from them.
5. Human beings know if they cooperate and volunteer they can create a good future.
6.To be a good citizen is to stop playing the negative game.
7.If we start working towards the same goals we can get there faster.
8. Real leadership means giving away power ( to citizens).
9.We need to know what questions to ask to get what we want.
10.Democracy is a bit like parenting.
11.There is a lack of clear and simple council budget information available to citizens of NI.
His final point was that PB is a powerful tool for building social capital and community cohesion. It empowers citizens to decide how local money is spent. There followed an enjoyable exercise where we were assigned imaginary areas of Belfast and each person at each table took on the role of a citizen. My area was Low Hill which was very close to the
demographics of Ballyhackamore. We then had to make a case for spending some of the council’s budget on projects that would improve the area and would be agreed by the citizens in that area. We did come to a consensus but I’m not sure how this would work in the more divided areas of the city.
Imagine ! The Belfast festival of ideas and politics came to an end last weekend. From all accounts a very successful week. Opengovni had two events, both of which were well attended. Both were interesting and entertaining and both introduced new ways of looking at the problem of governments withholding both information and data.
The first venue was the magnificent City Hall and it was nice to be back. I hadn’t been there since acting as an observer at the count for the council elections back in 2014. But that’s another story.
After welcomes from our host Quintin Oliver, from Stratagem and from Alderman Jim Rogers, we were given a background to OGN by Colm Burns. ( OGN Chair). Alderman Rogers recognised that, with RPA ( review of public administration), this is an opportune moment to embrace open government for the benefit of citizens. Good to hear this from a politician.
It was then time for the keynote speaker, Dr.Michael Harris, founder of Guerilla Policy and who also runs the website Guerilla Wire.
The key points of his talk:
He spoke about the disenchantment of voters and how that could explain why controversial characters like Donald Trump are doing so well in the run up to the American elections.
He talked about how we need a new approach to developing policy. We should, he suggested, be developing a way for public service practitioners and service users to conduct research and policy analysis. These groups are at the frontline and as a result have practical expertise and experience.
Dr. Harris then explained the growth of Podemos ( We Can) now the second largest political party in Spain. Interesting to see the rapid growth of what started off as a small pressure group reacting to inequality and corruption within government. Too early to say how the rise of austerity parties throughout Europe will pan out. ( my opinion)
Dr Harris ‘s talk was followed by lightning talks focusing on the theme of : Making Open Government Open to Citizens. Dean Blackwood, Director, Faugan River Anglers was first. Dean spoke about the difficulty of obtaining information from government departments, Why? What is being covered up? Katherine Torney from The Detail emphasised that if Open Data is really open it allows for evidence based policy and decision making. Glenn Jordan, Director of the Law Socity spoke about corruption. ” The effects of corruption are personal so they are devastating. Corruption leaves children without mothers, families without healthcare, people without food, the elderly without security and businesses without capital. Daniel Holder Deputy Director of CAJ outlined the excuses for the refusal to use bilingual road signs. Road safety being one! Perhaps not really the reason.
Finally Lorraine Boyd from NEET ( In Need of Education Employment or Training). Lorraine outlined the problems facing troubled young people who need to access, maintain and progress to employment.
We then divided into workshops and discussed among other topics, open data, access to information, civic participation, public accountability, and anti corruption.
During feedback from the different groups and in a robust panel discussion with the audience it was clear that there is a lot needs to be done to further our aims but the audience was enthusiastic and we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Concluding remarks from our host included the invitation to some horizontal networking over lunch. Me? I stayed vertical.
I first became aware of Basil McCrea when in February 2013 he left the UUP after a disagreement over the fielding of a unionist unity candidate in mid ulster. I had listened to Basil and his then friend John McCallister on television debates and I liked what I heard. They both appeared to be in favour of a Northern Ireland where it was possible to aspire to having an Irish or British identity. That appealed to me as I feel proud of both my identities, the one that is native Irish and the one from Somerset that can be traced back to Sir Walter Raleigh. I hoped that they would set up a new party so when they launched NI21 on the 6 June 2013 I thought, even at this late stage in my life this is a party with which I can identify. I did not see myself getting actively involved but was persuaded to go to a meet and greet in the Europa hotel.
I had no preconceptions but had a few points I thought worth bringing up. There were others there, some of whom were already committed to the party. Basil went round each one asking for their views. I remember saying that they were losing momentum from the date of the launch, that it seemed a bit like the Basil party and I wanted to know how they were different from the Alliance. I think Basil thought I was cheeky but he was charming and if that annoyed him he said nothing. I think that might be when he daubed me as feisty.
I came away convinced that this was a party that was going somewhere. I read all the adverse comments by commentators and wondered why they would want to slate a party who genuinely wanted to make a difference. Basil was passionate about the new party. I had no way of assessing Mr McCallister’s commitment as I never really met him. He was at a meeting I attended but had to rush away after a few minutes. The conference came and went. It was very successful. Both Basil and John made rousing speeches which were well received and got standing ovations.
We were promised that day in November that things would swing into action and this would be up to David Rose. I heard later that due to other commitments he wasn’t able to fulfil that role.
I think it was around that time that our local commentators started trying to demean the party. We had the beauty pageant incident, possibly an error of judgement on Basil’s part, but the detractors licked their lips and scented blood.
John McCallister started to be as illusive a sight as a Duper in the Vatican and it appeared that the administration was under pressure. Egos got a battering. One trying to outdo the other as to their importance in the party. Personnel came and went. Things were beginning to fall apart. Candidates should have been announced much more in advance but for various reasons we were still in the dark until just six weeks before the election. I got a phone call two days before the election from a candidate telling me that we were redesignating. I have to be honest and say that we both thought this was a risky strategy. I was present three weeks before the election when Basil Mc Crea was told that John McCallister was intending to leave the party. He was not happy with Basil being leader. He wasn’t happy with the executive although they were voted in by the membership on the day of the conference. He was no longer supportive of the party and that was obvious from the fact that he didn’t actually know all the candidates. Perhaps he was annoyed that he not been chosen as the MEP candidate?
Basil was distraught . He had worked incredibly hard and found it difficult to manage all that he was expected to do. The fact that he no longer had John’s support was a major problem. He knew what would happen if the press got wind of the dissention in the party. This could jeopardise the election and all the hard work put in by the candidates. I advised him to speak to John and ask that for the sake of the 47 candidates he put this challenge off until after the election. I understand a meeting, which was quite heated, took place but I understood a truce was arranged until after the election.
They were barely speaking and had I also been told that there had been a rumour of inappropriate behaviour. These allegations had still not been made known to Basil Mc Crea (apart from the Ashleigh Murray allegation ) two weeks after John McCallister had passed the names on to Carecall. I understand someone was threatening to go the press with these allegations. What has also been overlooked is the fact that at least one of those who saw Carecall had not progressed any allegations. This was due to the fact that they had been mislead over the purpose of the Carecall enquiry. Carecall is not an investigative organisation, more a counselling organisation designed to solve problems between employers and employees. I don’t know why John chose the time to release details of the enquiry to the News Letter two days before the election. Was it in a fit of pique over the designation? No one was in any danger if he had waited a few days.
I have met Basil McCrea on many occasions since the election. His physical and mental health have been a cause for concern and I feel for his family. To date no one has made any allegations to the PSNI. He was under pressure to get things done and didn’t always cope well and I know he would admit that there was a lot of pressure on him. He had no experience of setting up a party and made many mistakes. However I feel he has suffered enough. His future is uncertain, his reputation has been tarnished and so called friends have deserted him. He is a man who has been let down by his friend. Those who continue to make snide remarks, hint at goings on that they didnt’t know the truth about, read the report and see what was going on to bring NI21 down
Hopefully the release of the report clearing Basil of any wrongdoing will allow him to move on and also reinvigorate NI21.