Citizens' Assembly puts general public at the heart of political process
Over two weekends, in October and November in Belfast I was privileged to take part in the first ever Citizens’ Assembly in the north. And I don’t use the word privileged lightly. I’ll tell you why.
There are numerous critics of the concept of a Citizens’ Assembly, and indeed I heard from among my fellow assembly members the arguments put forward that it was just another “talking shop” and that nothing would come of the recommendations put forward by the process.
However, these were in the tiny minority and the overwhelming majority of those I directly interacted with were positive and optimistic with respect to the idea of putting the general public at the heart of the political process. And you see that is exactly what the Citizens Assembly did.
The assembly was made up of a diverse group of people who were picked to be representative of the Northern Ireland populous. A mixture of gender, age group, religious and cultural background, educational attainment and so on so forth. But one thing struck me first of all. Of the 80 people who were asked to take part, 77 of them decided that it would be a worthwhile exercise to give up two entire weekends to travel to Belfast to sit in a room and listen and talk and debate and put forward proposals for how the Adult Social Care system here might be reformed so that it can meet the needs of our aging population going forward. Now think about that, expenses were paid and a small monetary compensation given, but there was no big cheque, no kudos, no photo opportunities.
The people involved gave up their weekends just because they thought that given what was happening locally and nationally with politics it was worth trying something different, something that didn’t involve elected representatives.
The assembly members thought that their contribution, albeit a small one, might, just might contribute to the improvement of people’s lives.
Simple isn’t it. A group of people from all over the north, who gave up their own time with families and friends thought that, I will listen to the academics in the room. I will take on board that we are in a social care crisis. I will have chats over coffee and at lunch with my colleagues. I will debate and come up with a set of recommendations for what we might do to get us out of this crisis.
Now that to me is democracy at work. That is why I felt privileged to be involved.
There is one final point I would like to make. I do not for one second think that our politicians having listened to the same evidence, would not be thinking that similar recommendations would need to made, they however need to make the decisions to implement those recommendations. They also need to go to the electorate and ask for votes. Therein lies the problem. Decisions need to be made and our politicians must stand over them.
Ballymena, Co Antrim
Most support groups are selective in their agenda
Teresa Trainor’s criticism (November 20) of my previous letter (October 31) regarding the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and other issues, which she declares as fiction. She states she can find no evidence in Ben-Gurion’s diary to support my argument. One would not expect to find them there, she should research the records of his speeches. It gave me a wry smile when she quoted ‘The birth of the Palestinian refugee revisited’. Benny Morris is a notorious ultra Zionist propagandist and ex-soldier, criticised by Israeli and international scholars for his pro-Israeli partisanship. He justified the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians as necessary. He has been criticised by Norman Finklestein, Avraham Sela and Efraim Karsh (Professor of King’s College London) as someone who has five types of distortion.
Karsh further claims, “there is a serious gap between Morris’s text and the original diary of Ben-Gurion”. I also would take issue with Ms Trainor’s assertion that Israel does not wish to occupy land from ‘the Nile to the Euphrates’, and would ask her to explain why Israel is the only country in the world to not declare the limit of her borders, and what does she think the expansion in the occupied territories is about?
Finally, I asked her if she approved such actions including the shooting of unarmed civilians, ethnic cleansing, the torture and imprisoning of minors without trial and the apartheid wall. Like most organised ‘Friends of Israel’ support groups they are selective in their agenda.
Brexit brinkmanship leads way to united Ireland
The absolute calamity of a Brexit ‘draft deal’ has done nothing but lead us further down a path of uncertainty and unpredictability.
I do believe the ‘draft agreement’ does give extra protection to the north but make no mistake about it, that extra protection was secured by the Irish government and the EU.
But the farce that erupted in the House of Commons in the aftermath of the so-called deal clearly showed how little British MPs and the DUP care about the north, about those living on the border and about Irish nationalism. Against this backdrop, we have heard calls for a leadership challenge, calls for a general election and calls for another referendum. I think the latter is the best option but that referendum should ask whether Northern Ireland should be united with the Republic of Ireland. As the DUP, Tories and even the Labour Party squabble and jostle for position in Westminster, all focus here in the north must be put towards securing a united Ireland. Only this will prevent economic, social and political chaos here.
Only a united Ireland of equals for everyone living here will fix the many, many problems in the north which will only be exacerbated by a Brexit that delivers for
Strabane, Co Tyrone
Dismal first impressions of Belfast
The Irish News (November 21) reported yet another Belfast airport’s multi-million pound improvement, this time to the City Airport, and this is welcomed by Gerry Lennon of Visit Belfast in “creating a first-class, first impression’. Really. Both airports have arrivals facilities which are dismal in the extreme. The old chugga, chugga luggage carousel at Aldergrove would sink any heart coming back from holiday or newly arrived. But the City Airport has to be the winner in the dismal first impressions competition. Up and down (why?) a steel industrial staircase then hemmed into a passport control area.
Dublin Airport here I come.
The unionists of Derry complained about a billboard poster that had the slogan ‘Have yourself a Derry little Christmas’ and had it removed because it did not have ‘Londonderry’ on it and therefore was not inclusive.
Well I have a compromise which, I think, will keep everybody happy, put the following on the billboard:
‘Have yourself a Derry little Christmas and a Londonderry New Year.’
Newry, Co Down