Letters to the Editor

Good Friday Agreement must be protected from Westminster meddlers

It is asserted that both Brexit and a Northern Ireland backstop are incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement, Brexit undermines the North/South strand 2 and the Northern Ireland only backstop compromising the East/West strand 3. But has the Good Friday Agreement been violated by Westminster’s decision to change the laws on abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland even though both these matters were devolved under the terms of the Agreement to the Stormont Assembly. Can this Westminster takeover of Stormont be in compliance with the Good Friday Agreement, an international agreement registered at the United Nations that was passed in a referendum as the people’s will and acts as our written constitution both the British and Irish governments have a duty to uphold. The agreement set out the constitutional order, based on consent, and three sets of relationships, between both communities between north and south and between Britain and Ireland with each relationship administered by one of three institutional structures of Stormont, the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.

The Speaker of the House of Commons seems to have assumed that the doctrine of the sovereignty of Westminster applied even though the two amendments did not relate to England, Scotland and Wales but to Northern Ireland which is governed by the Good Friday Agreement that makes British sovereignty in Northern Ireland answerable to the constitutional and institutional arrangements of the agreement, which on page five states that the assembly will be the prime source of authority in all devolved responsibilities.

It is also clear that the Westminster intervention has no democratic credibility because the Commons vote was carried by English, Scottish and Welsh MPs from parties with little or no voter support in Northern Ireland. Nor could it represent an acceptable or accountable form of direct rule.

The Good Friday Agreement must be protected from the Westminster meddlers who gave us Brexit chaos and from the home-grown forces of apathy, opportunism and hostility that seek to by-pass and sideline it.

The Stormont Attorney General, must step in and advise on the consequences for the Good Friday Agreement of the passing of the two amendments by Westminster on matters devolved to Stormont and the impact of Brexit and the alternative backstops on the Good Friday Agreement to assist both governments protect the agreement and navigate the increasing uncertainty of Brexit.

Crossgar, Co Down


‘Skid row’ politics won’t destroy what has been built over years

A  wise man once told me that “there will be those who will be remembered for what they built and those that will be forgotten for what they knocked down” and while his visionary statement will never be in a book of quotations it can easily be applied to the contribution made to peace and goodwill by the Clyde Valley Flute Band in Derry recently.

I can’t think of any organisation that has been more destructive in its endeavours to knock down rather than build and I do hope my philosopher friend was right in claiming they will be forgotten.

Even allowing for the outrageous behaviour of people over the years it is very difficult to accept that grown men dressed themselves up in uniforms with insignia of a British army regiment that was responsible for the deaths of so many people in the city they were heading for, presumably to express their identity and culture. It is even more difficult to take in that they added the dreaded letter ‘F’ to their sleeves, an obvious reference to one soldier who is shortly to appear in court charged with two murders on that dreadful day.

While in Derry City last week I found a city returned to normal with a determination that ‘skid row’ politics won’t destroy what has been built over many years.
The railway station is nearing completion, the A6 will soon be connected to the wider world and the former army barracks at Ebrington is taking on a new and exciting image, not denying its history but presenting it in a new light and a common purpose for everyone to enjoy.

As I searched for a space in one of the car parks – full to capacity – I found myself struggling to remember the name of that band which brought disgrace on itself and created
a very negative impression of Larne and I knew my old friend was right – they will be forgotten while visionaries like John Hume and others will be remembered for what they built.

SDLP, East Derry


Open Irish passport office in north

Since entering the Seanad in 2016 I have consistently raised the clear need for the government to invest in a much-needed Irish Passport Office for the north.

The statistical reality is that year on year, only exacerbated as a result of Brexit, applications for passports coming from the six counties has been rising consistently. In the first six months of this year 47,645 people from the north applied, compared to 18,067 for the same period in 2014.

This trend over the last number of years has been consistently upward, there is nothing to suggest it is about to change anytime soon.

There is no denying that Passport Office staff in both Dublin and Cork provide a first-class service, but as has been stated publicly by secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs Niall Burgess, they are struggling under “unprecedented demand”. Staff deserve support and for the burden to be eased by investing in additional service provision – the evident increase in demand is in the north, therefore it of course makes sense to invest there. The taoiseach has stated that citizens in the north “will never again be left behind” by an Irish government; one way they could prove this is by investing in citizens and much-needed services by doing the logical and necessary thing and opening a passport office here.

East Belfast


Collective memory lapse

Harland & Wolff has been placed in administration.

The sad and somewhat misplaced pleas for money were unheard and ignored by a right-wing English government.

Within all the local sentimental eulogising, both written and oral, I did not note any mention of Sam Thompson’s brilliant but controversial play Over The Bridge. It exposed the blatant sectarianism in people’s working lives. In 1960 it faced a very hostile reception from the unionist establishment.

James Ellis provided a lucid and incisive account of this attempted censorship in his 2015 book Troubles Over the Bridge – an essential read and contribution to the social and political history of the six counties.
Sam Thompson was born in east Belfast and worked as a painter in H&W. His writing draws directly on his experiences.

I wonder the reason for this collective memory lapse.

Craigavon, Co Armagh


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