Category: Human Rights

Unpicking reality.

It is increasingly difficult to tell truths from reality; carefully crafted facts from fiction. Expert opinion is often just that; opinion based on estimates, extrapolations and best guesses. These are often made within a framework that itself determines the explanation presented as ‘self-evident’ truths, that don’t last past confrontation with reality – not even by those on the same team?

Perhaps this is a pattern that has been developing longer than the Covid-19 circumstances, where big bold promises usually end up being less than billed, if they materialise at all.

For this final podcast of 2020 we hadn’t spent Christmas reading the 400+ pages of Trade Agreement with the 800+ pages of extras. Others had, and the general sense was that it served to ‘take back control’ insomuch as any Agreement has pluses and minuses. What many miss is that this is just the terms and conditions of trade. The UK had already left the EU on 31st December 2019. Whether there is anything lurking in the fine print we’ll have to wait and see.

On Radio 4 Today programme on Monday 28th December, David Davis MP mused that there was nothing obvious over which the EU could hold the UK to ransom. That was already done with the NI Protocol alongside the Withdrawal Agreement, and is likely to prove a future bone of contention.

The SDLP and Alliance MPs are probably voting against the Trade Agreement in the House of Commons because they remain in denial about the fact that the UK has left the EU already, and that the ‘special status’ they supported will not be quite as special as they imagined.

The DUP, however, are trying to make a virtue out of something something…. There is little coherence of consistency in its current approached to future trade arrangements UK, EU or anywhere. It has agreed to a ‘howl at the moon’ session in the Assembly this week (30th December) on the Trade Agreement which is the equivalent of any Northern Ireland Council condemning Donald Trump – no-one cares, few notice, but there are a few lines in the local papers. Move along now…

That brings us back to Northern Ireland politics. Perhaps the most obvious #fail of this past year has been New Decade New Approach, the framing of which certainly took full advantage of the start of new decade to suggest something might change. It hasn’t.

Most striking this past year has been the destructive desire of Sinn Fein to operate truly as itself alone and sod everyone else.

The end result is that few in Northern Ireland can tell you what level of ‘lockdown’ we’re in. Everything is being banked on a vaccine roll-out, which would need to be a whole lot better than this year’s flu vaccine distribution – despite promises of access to anyone over 50, try finding one outside of Belfast. Worst has been the outrageous failure to protect the most vulnerable in our society, in particular the Care Homes.

Part of that has been lack of accountability or transparency. There is no strategy or thinking, or change in a fast moving environment, to provide a safety blanket to cover our elderly and infirm. The Departmental Press Releases no longer note those from a Care Home environment who die in a hospital – and in an answer to a question by Jim Allister it would seem that the information on how many from Care Homes are hospital inpatients is ‘not currently available’.

We were told that testing of staff in Care Homes was going to be increased from fortnightly (amazing that was considered acceptable in the first instance) to weekly, and there was even a suggestion that the Executive was considering daily testing. What is the current testing protocol? Who knows? Who in the media is asking?

The failings of Stormont have been laid bare during a health crisis that is bigger than the crisis called by medics in 2019 or that of 2018 – or any previous health crisis, precipitated or exacerbated by the complete failure of Government to reform Northern Ireland’s health care provision (probably starting with a clear out of the Health Department. Reform cannot come soon enough and needs to be not just accelerated, but supercharged.

Supercharging brought the discussion to Donald Trump. While most media has focused on his apparently obsessive tweeting, we do discuss that almost un-noticed has been deep de-regulation that had supported economic growth (until Covid) and an international agenda that had seen the USA engaged in no new conflicts since 2016, a significant step towards reconciliation in the Middle East between Israel and Arab neighbours (not perfect, but right direction and more that anyone had achieved since Jimmy Carter), and a stable Korean peninsula or as stable as possible with Comrade Kim in charge.

There were two tangental aspects to that discussion.

One the best description of the Trump Presidency, that of high camp, in a piece for This Week by  Matthew Walther @matthewwalther. Matthew wasn’t the first to have raised that interpretation of Trump as President, but seems to have encapsulated the notion best. Trump is the first camp President by Drew Goins @drewlgoins appeared in the Washington Post in 2019, and How Trump Hi-jacked Camp by Spencer Kornhaber @skornhaber for The Atlantic was a month earlier in 2020. 

While speaking about life as unreality Trump, Kim etc, @3000Versts was reminded of a documentary on the BBC iPlayer about a Danish North Korean Appreciation Society (part of an international movement, really) entitled The Mole. Well worth a watch. Which reminded @thedissenter of Comrade Detective. While in the podcast this is described as an original Romanian 1970s police show in the genre of Amercian cop shows of the period, it is in fact a clever parody released on Amazon in 2017. Real enough to feel authentic, while not. It’s confusing, more so for memory of that time, and of some characters from the Eastern Bloc, that made it seem all the more real.

Finally some words on China. If we started the podcast on Covid it seemed appropriate to end talking about China, where it all started. We recorded the podcast on the day when news arrived of a Chinese journalist jailed for four years for having been one of the first to write about the China virus. Zhang Zhan was convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a charge that is often used against dissidents and other critics of the government.

Also on that day was news of an EU rush to sign an ‘investment agreement’ with China. If the EU thinks that China is a trustworthy trade partner and can be relied upon to respect the International Labour Organisation’s rules on forced labour then it is deluded – the lot of the Uighur Muslims is unlikely to improve any time soon. If the EU believes it has a partner that respects international norms or agreements, look at the increasing repression in Hong Kong since the blatant breach of its commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that promised residents would continue to have rights to speech, press, assembly and religious belief, among others—at least until 2047.

Other than the remarkable science underlying the production of a range of vaccines in 2020, there are many aspects of 2020 that does not portend well for 2021.

On that note, Happy New Year.

 

 

Groundhog Days.

When the podcast below was recorded it felt like groundhog day, another moment in a long series of stories on repeat.

Once again renewable energy had hit the headlines. This time, because the funding is covered outside the Stormont budget, the schemes don’t seem to have managed the level of public interest and general outrage that RHI attracted.

Also in the news are voices expressing concern about the NI Protocol on Northern Ireland business (particularly retail) and on the consumer. Oddly these same voices supported Theresa May’s backstop, which entailed many of the same pitfalls and could have been far more damaging arguably. The issue of the outworking of the Protocol will be a major point on the next podcast as the deadline date for end of transition looms in less than two months.

Finally, in the outworking of the NI Executive response to Covid, policy implementation neither seems fully ‘thought-through’, nor is there much substance beyond the immediate headline number and sounds of panic from the Health Department. How can messaging be clear? Consequences?

As we are now almost out of the four-week period of tighter restrictions, which will end on 13th November, the same underlying fault-lines in the way in which decisions are being made is apparent. The general sense is that decisions are not being made on any particular science.

It isn’t obvious that there are any significant data sets and evaluations eminating from the Department of Health that might be relied upon.

Looking at the daily published NISRA data there are significant gaps in understanding what they mean, and little by way of explanation from the Department that assists public confidence in the numbers. The one big area in which there is a complete lack of transparency, beyond the appalling headline number, is the incidents of Covid outbreaks in the country’s Care Homes – as of 9 November twice the level of the first wave earlier this year. That needs a blog post all of its own.

More on that later. For now, another groundhog day.

 

History is complex. Legacy matters.

A newly published paper takes a look at the issue of ‘rewriting history’reformulating the past to present political agendas, and concludes that in respect of matters of Legacy in Northern Ireland this has resulted in a scandalous sanctioning of a narrative that ignores the entire purpose of which murder and bombing was a part, but not the whole story.

The paper suggests that the issue of the moment is not that ‘history’ is being ‘rewritten’. It is that the past (the recent past a nebulous idea of ‘memory’, the distant past a story of ‘oppression’) is being recruited to serve an agenda and historical thinking dismissed if it prevents one – and only one – moralising political whippet winning the race and becoming the undisputed champion.

Read more… »

Aer Lingus lacked ‘common sense’​ approach

The first thing for a business to do in a crisis is to stay calm, review operational processes and mitigate and manage with steady and measured common sense action – let the public see a company doing its best in difficult circumstances. Sadly, this headline was avoidable: “Coronavirus: Robin Swann ‘shocked’ at images of packed flight.”

Why on earth did Aer Lingus think that simply taking fares was the priority? It wasn’t good enough to claim, as the company did, that it needed direction from Government; giving the appearance it could do nothing more. This was a communications #fail that could have been avoided.

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Review, refresh, re-engage.

The outcry over the attendance of Jamie Bryson at the House of Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee (NIAC) misses the point. This is a hearing as part of the Committee’s look at “Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland – dealing with the deficit.” in Northern Ireland.

The NIAC look at “dealing with the deficit” in Northern Ireland has most probably been considered timely given the seemingly on-going impasse in discussions through 2017 (and into 2018) towards restoring devolution: or not, as at present. Presumptive or with great foresight, the Review now seems of greater interest in looking forward – notwithstanding the attendance of Mr Bryson and the subsequent Alliance Party hissy fit in that regard.

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False flag

The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition has been established as part of commitments made under the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements.

Given experience, and the political background to the Commission, there must be deep reservations about any final Report; and more specifically the use of that Report beyond what any might imagine or intend.

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