TORY leadership hopeful Michael Gove has a long-held fascination with the Troubles and knew the words to loyalist anthem The Sash, a new biography reveals.
Sean O’Grady, a journalist who worked alongside the environment minister, recalls an eye-opening visit to Mr Gove’s London flat in the 1990s.
“He had an enormous cartoon of the Ulster Unionist Party in parliament – a great big Orange banner type of affair,” Mr O’Grady told Owen Bennett, author of Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry.
Mr O’Grady, associate editor of the Independent, says Mr Gove’s politics were “quite Orange”.
He remembers the former education secretary’s enthusiasm for unionism was a “bit odd”‘, adding: “he’d be perfectly happy to sing along with Orange songs – ‘the sash my father wore’, all that sort of stuff.”
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Others too have witnessed Mr Gove belting out loyalist tunes.
Mike Elrick, who trained with him as a journalist, remembers the Conservative leadership contender as “very, very strongly supportive of Ulster Protestantism, and very much sided with the Protestant political parties”.
“I remember him singing various Ulster songs – partly in jest, but he knew the words,” he recalled.
In 2000, former journalist Mr Gove wrote a pamphlet called ‘Northern Ireland: the Price of Peace’, in which he compared the Good Friday Agreement to the appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s and the condoning of the desires of paedophiles.
The Scottish-born Brexiteer said the agreement was a “mortal stain” and “a humiliation of our army, police and parliament”, and that its 1998 endorsement on both sides of the border was a “rigged referendum”.
With many thanks to: The Irish News for the original story
As more shocking details emerge from the Ballymurphy inquiry, memories are being stirred – and Tory MPs are being deeply irresponsible.
This week the Ballymurphy Inquiry, currently underway in Belfast, heard shocking evidence that a former paratrooper stationed in Northern Ireland used the skull of Henry Thornton, a man killed in the area, as an ashtray.
Other soldiers have testified that their former colleagues ran sweepstakes and awarded winnings based on the number of civilians a person killed, about crude language and jokes made about those shot, and of a general attitude that anyone walking around in certain areas (always working class) could be presumed to have IRA involvement, and so was fair game to kill.
One paratrooper broke down in tears as he described how many fellow soldiers were honest, professional and did the right thing, but some were “psychopaths and dangerous to be around”, boasting after shootings that “the army would give them cover for whatever they had done”.
Comments made in recent weeks suggest several high-profile Tories are inclined to do just that. Last week, Johnny Mercer announced on Twitter that he would stop voting with the government on non-Brexit issues until May promised to end “the macabre spectacle of elderly veterans being dragged back to Northern Ireland to face those who seek to re-fight that conflict through other means.”
Back in March, when the Public Prosecution Service announced it would prosecute the man known as Soldier F for involvement in the Bloody Sunday massacre that occured a few months after the Ballymurphy massacre, Mercer said in an interview on Channel 4 that the inquiry probably hadn’t been fair – but couldn’t offer any explanation as to how.
And a few hours after the PPS’s decision, Gavin Williamson penned a statement promising that the state would fund Soldier F’s legal costs, and decrying the unfair treatment of the armed services.
Previous inquiries have already found that Soldier F had perjured himself, and that he admitted to having killed 4 civilians, including Patrick Doherty, shot in the back as he crawled away, and Barney McGuigan, who witnesses report died waving a white flag.
Karen Bradley, not to be outdone, provoked an outraged response from victim’s families in the same week, when she stood in the House of Commons and called the actions of soldiers in Northern Ireland “dignified and appropriate”.
References to fairness and being “dragged back to Northern Ireland” appear to deliberately evoke images of elderly, low level soldiers being dealt shadowy justice by armed paramilitaries, simply for the crime of doing their job.
In reality, a legitimate legal process has shown that several individuals behaved in a deeply disturbing way while stationed in Northern Ireland, acting with disregard for the lives of the people of the people who lived there.
Such behaviour shames army members who acted properly, and it is deeply worrying that any politician should seek to defend it.
It is also worth remembering that lots of what happened during the Troubles was unfair and disquieting, but still legal.
My mum was a child living in the Bogside area of Derry during the 1970s, she remembers how it was normal for soldiers looking for scraps of information to ransack houses and hold men in prison overnight.
She remembers regular instances when: “Soldiers would come to the house, break down the door, break a random few plates, turn over a few beds, break a window, hold my brother (who was 10) up against a wall and pretend to shoot him, then go outside and pretend to shoot a dog.”
Male relatives would vanish for days at a time, held under dubious pretexts, and people lived in a constant climate of fear. This was all legal, and for the sake of the Peace Process Northern Irish people have had to let go of resentment over being treated like this.
The price of peace has been a collective swallowing of pride over such harassment, but the murder of civilians is another matter.
Recent inquests into Bloody Sunday, and now the Ballymurphy Massacre, have dealt in specifics: the impossibility of a soldier’s statement when his bullets were found in a body; the things people were said to have been doing, and the positions in which their bodies were found; bodies in morgues wearing clothes they had never worn in life; and guns held in dead hands in strange, unlikely positions.
The collective memory is more general: caked blood, an overwhelming funeral with 13 coffins, and the sense of unfairness at a civil rights march turned into something far more violent.
In the weeks leading up to Bloody Sunday, rising tensions between the local community and the army had led to the Bogside having been sealed off “in a kind of ghetto”, as my mum describes it, with people unable to access schools or hospitals, and forced to smuggle in food from across the border in Donegal.
A few days before the march, the army broke into the community and “bombarded everyone living there, kids and everything, with tear gas.”
Locals sensed it wouldn’t be safe to have young children there and she was sent to Donegal for the day itself but, 45 years later, she remembers the aftermath vividly: “I remember passing all the hardened blood in the street.
Seeing it all there. There hadn’t been rubbish collection for weeks because we’d been barricaded in for so long, so it was rubbish covered in blood. People put flowers on the street, and nearly every place you walked had blood somewhere.”
Northern Irish people are British citizens, and Tory MPs should represent their interests before soldiers found guilty of murder but, in a way, it is understandable that those like Johnny Mercer, Gavin Williamson and Karen Bradley feel no affinity with the working-class communities most impacted by The Troubles.
Mercer, now 37, was a 17-year-old at private school in Surrey the year the Good Friday Agreement was signed, Gavin Williamson was at University in Bradford and Karen Bradley was working as a senior tax advisor in London; all a world away from the violence and terror in Northern Ireland at the time.
Careless statements made by Tory politicians have charged the already polarised atmosphere in Northern Ireland by fostering an “us and them” narrative of British soldiers and Nationalist paramilitaries with nothing in between.
You can’t condemn the army, the argument seems to go, since then the paramilitaries get off scot free. Actually you can, and should, condemn both.
Sara Canning, the partner of the young journalist Lyra McKee, who was murdered by a sectarian gang, gave a masterclass in doing so in an interview several weeks after losing the love of her life, saying, “Soldiers who indiscriminately opened fire in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday are no different to the thug that opened fire on Creggan on Holy Thursday and shot Lyra.
They shot a gun indiscriminately towards a crowd. There is no difference.” Why is it that some MPs are unable to present a similar critique review without resorting to point-scoring bias?
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With many thanks to: Open Democracy and Rachel Connolly for the original story
Judges say suspected drug smuggler at real risk of degrading treatment
Judges in the Netherlands have refused to send a suspected drug smuggler back to the UK because of concerns that conditions in British jails are inhumane.
An initial application to extradite the unnamed man, who had been on the run for two years, was refused this week due to the reported state of HMP Liverpool where he would probably be sent.
The court of Amsterdam heard how inspectors had found “some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen” and “conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century”, in reference to report on the state of prisons in the UK published last July.
A surprise inspection of HMP Liverpool in September 2017 found it was infested with rats and that inmates lived in squalid conditions, afraid of being attacked because of increasing violence. Similar conditions were found in HMP Birmingham and HMP Bedford.
The Dutch judges said on Wednesday they were concerned the man, who was wanted in relation to cocaine and heroin smuggling on Merseyside, was at “real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment” if returned.
The man had been made the subject of a European arrest warrant at Liverpool magistrates court in July 2017.
His lawyer argued that the extradition should be refused based on the prison inspectors’ reports.
“The UK judicial authorities state that British prisons are doing quite well, but the circumstances discussed in the reports are still the same as before, even though more staff may have been appointed,” the lawyer said, according to documents first reported by the Liverpool Echo.
“The situation is still not good and the letter of 24 April 2019 [from the director general of prisons] gives no assurance that the situation is now different from before. Nor is there a guarantee that the person claimed will not be placed in HMP Bedford, HMP Birmingham or HMP Liverpool after surrender.”
Citing article three of the European convention on human rights, the Dutch judges said they did not have sufficient evidence that the man would not be returned to such conditions.
They told the court: “What has been put forward by the UK judicial authorities is too general and insufficient to assume that the detention conditions in the aforementioned prison institutions have significantly improved.
“In these circumstances, the expectation that the situation will improve rapidly is not sufficient to assume that the real risk of inhumane treatment has actually disappeared. The already established real danger of inhuman or degrading treatment in these establishments has not been eliminated.”
The court said it would delay its final decision on the extradition “until it obtains additional information on the basis of which it can rule out the existence of such a hazard”.
A letter written by the director general of prisons to the court insisted that steps had been taken to improve the jails. “We do not accept those conditions anywhere in our prisons amount to inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to article three,” the letter said.
A UK government spokesman said overcrowding was being reduced and that new governors had been appointed at the three jails.
With many thanks to: The Guardian and Daniel Boffey in Brussels for the original story
Scholars voice outrage at Ulster University’s plans to confine ‘impartial’ records of conflict to history
It is one of the most important sources of information about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a historical memory bank of data, stories and images used by scholars around the world.
The Conflict Archive on the Internet (Cain) website, based in Derry, has taken two decades to build up an unrivalled encyclopaedic digital record of the conflict. It includes oral histories, election results, political memorabilia, public records, bibliographies and the names and details of more than 3,600 Troubles-related killings in Northern Ireland, Ireland, the UK and continental Europe. The information is free to access and responsive to requests and queries ranging from school students, professors and former paramilitaries.
But perhaps not for much longer. Ulster University, which hosts the archive’s three-strong team at its Magee campus, is threatening to pull the plug. The university says the cost, estimated at £170,000 a year, is unsustainable.
Academics are appalled. Some say that to cripple the archive would be an act of intellectual vandalism when there is urgent need to understand Northern Ireland’s conflicts, past and present.
“It’s a global resource,” said Goretti Horgan, a lecturer in social policy at Ulster University and policy director of Access Research Knowledge, a social policy information hub shared by Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast, which is affiliated with the archive. “The contribution it makes to civil society in Northern Ireland cannot be underestimated. It’s neutral – a big word to use here. Every aspect of the Troubles is contested. Cain provides reliable information. Anybody, Catholic or Protestant, can access it and know they’re not getting a one-sided view.”
The Troubles began in 1969 and largely ended in 1998 with the Good Friday agreement. But continuing violence, sectarian sentiment, political tensions and new inquiries into old atrocities make for a fraught, complex and unfinished legacy. On 19 April the New IRA, a dissident republican splinter group, shot dead Lyra McKee, 29, a journalist, during rioting in Derry, just half a mile from the Magee campus.
In the absence of white knight donors riding to the rescue, or the university having a change of heart, supporters fear the archive in its current form will itself become history. Academics and journalists have mounted a campaign to save it as a live research project. They say that to destroy it would be academic vandalism that would zombify a living, breathing resource, which fields queries and corrects, revises and updates information. The consultation period on the archive’s future is due to end on 2 May, with a decision expected soon after.
Katharine Clarke, the Northern Ireland representative of the University and College Union, which represents the archivists, accused the university of dissembling in response to the international furore over the archive’s fate. A university spokesman said it had “invested significantly in covering the costs of Cain”. He added: “But, against the backdrop of the current funding challenges for higher education in Northern Ireland and with grants insufficient to secure viability, the archive remains unsustainable in its current form. One potential outcome is that Cain will remain as a static digital archive, fully accessible through the university’s library.”
That would preserve the material online but not as an impartial, living, maintained database. Martin Melaugh, the director of Cain, and his colleagues Brendan Lynn and Mike McCool could face redundancy. “There’s no shortage of work to do,” said Melaugh. “Political progress has stalled and Brexit has increased the debate around the unification of Ireland and a potential border poll.”
Forgetfulness about an earlier cycle of violence between 1920 and 1922, when 501 people died in Belfast, paved Northern Ireland’s tragic slide into renewed conflict in 1969, he said, and greater knowledge of the Troubles – and the border – could help avert a third cycle.
External funding largely dried up in 2016, leaving Ulster University to pick up most of the tab while the archive sought new backers. They didn’t materialise, so the university is now proposing to fold the service into its library. “Our issue is that we’re trying to manage the website and assist people, so we don’t fit exactly into the models of academic funding. That’s the dilemma,” Melaugh said.
Meanwhile, Clarke points out that Ulster University will host a conference titled Beyond Sectarianism on 14 May, drawing a spotlight at an awkward time, said Clarke. “If I were being cynical I’d say they’re giving conflicting messages to avoid embarrassment.” She said the university has every reason to be embarrassed. “This is an example of knowing the cost of something but not the value.”
With many thanks to: The Guardian and Rory Carroll for the original story
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US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will visit Northern Ireland next week as part of a US Congressional delegation.
In a statement, her office said she will meet “senior government officials and local leaders” with discussions focusing, in part, on Brexit.
The delegation’s timetable also includes visits to Stuttgart, London, and Dublin.
Mrs Pelosi’s schedule in Northern Ireland has yet to be announced.
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She said part of the focus of the trip would be about expressing “America’s enduring commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future for all who live [in the UK and Ireland]”.
“The United Kingdom and Ireland each have a deep and special bond with the United States,” she said
“Our distinguished delegation is travelling at a critical moment for two of our closest allies, and we look forward to high-level discussions about the path forward on our shared security and economic interests.”
It had previously been announced that Speaker Pelosi would address the Dáil [Irish parliament] on Wednesday to mark its 100th anniversary.
On the same day, the Congressional delegation will also meet Irish President Michael D Higgins.
Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal and Congressman Brendan Boyle are also part of the Congressional delegation.
With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story.