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Henry Hill Red, White and Blue

Henry Hill: HMP Maze peace centre 'killed off' by Castlederg rally

Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Maze peace centre ‘killed off’ by Castlederg republican rally

Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and First Minister of Northern Ireland, has stated during a TV interview that it was the backlash against a rally held in memory to two IRA terrorists that led to his party withdrawing its support from plans to build a peace centre in what used to be HM Prison Maze, on the site of the former Long Kesh Detention Centre.

The rally has garnered headlines for a speech made by Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, who said of two Provisional IRA members slain by their own bomb:

“They were ordinary young men in the extraordinary circumstances of the early 1970s who rose to the challenge of the time. They had a vision of equality and freedom and they knew the risks they were taking to achieve it but they could not stand idly by or leave it to others.

“It is a harsh reality of resistance that we lose some of our best activists during armed conflict and Seamus and Gerard along with their other comrades whom we remember here today, paid with their lives.”

Kelly claims that people who oppose making this sort of speech about PIRA militants creates a ‘hierarchy of victims’ with ‘republicans and nationalists’ at the bottom, notwithstanding that most of his critics are objecting to his subjects’ terrorism rather than their nationalism and would, one hopes, place loyalist murderers alongside their republican counterparts at the very bottom of whatever ‘hierarchy of victims’ exists. Unionists have accused him of giving succour to dissident republican terror groups – a charge Kelly denies.

The cost of such rhetoric, on top of the pain it causes to the relatives of victims of terror and the damage it does to inter-communal relations, now includes (for the moment, at least) the Maze peace centre initiative. This should hardly come as a surprise to a politician of Kelly’s experience: for both the DUP and Sinn Fein, its more than their jobs are worth to be seen to be letting the other wide get the better of them.

Scottish brothers win appeal over ‘bedroom tax’

Two Scottish men have successfully appealed against a reduction in their spare-room subsidy, opening the way for thousands of appeals. Ian Nelson maintained that his spare room ought to be turned into a wet room, since he struggles to get in and out of the bath – which at least suggests the charge concentrated his mind on how best to make use of the space.

His brother David successfully argued that at 50 square feet his room is too small to be a bedroom (for a point of comparison, here is a visualisation of a room with 48.75 square feet of floor space). The judge ruled that any room under 50 square feet is too small to be a bedroom and that any between that and 70 square feet (which I fear may include my own quarters, at present) is ‘only suitable for children under 10’.

Although the court case is expected to prompt a deluge of appeals, it does not appear to have sustained the criticism that the policy is fundamentally inhumane. One case involves the room not being able to be put to use for a lodger or paying guest (surely a legitimate exemption) and the other evolves repurposing the room and putting it to use – although that change must surely be done to sustain the exemption, less exemption be granted to all spare bedrooms that could conceivably be turned into something else. If these changes are made, then the policy is still promoting the more effective use of public housing stock.

Nominations open for ‘St David Awards’, a new Welsh honour

First Minister Carwyn Jones has formally launched Wales’ very own honours system, and nominations are open. There will apparently be nine of these awarded annually, in the categories of “bravery, citizenship, culture, enterprise, innovation and technology, international award, sport and young person's award.” One of these will be awarded at the discretion of the First Minister, with the other eight being dispensed at the discretion of a committee.

In an unhappy hat-tip to modernity, the new honour will not be organised into an order and recipients will receive neither a medal to wear nor, as far as I can see, any post-nominal letters (perhaps things the Welsh Conservatives might fix one day). Instead, the winners will receive a hand-carved trophy and the runners-up a certificate. You can nominate people here.

As part of his case for the awards, Jones points out that apparently few Welsh people receive the higher UK awards. Perhaps this has something to do with Wales having no national order, whereas England has the Order of the Garter (which presumably encompasses Wales as it has Northern Ireland), Scotland has the Order of the Thistle, and Northern Ireland theoretically has the Order of Saint Patrick (which although dormant remains the third most senior order in the UK, if I recall correctly).

Perhaps that is something the government might consider rectifying. They would want to avoid its name clashing with the new prize, so the Order of Saint David is likely out. Yet that still leaves the Order of the Dragon – and who, in their heart of hearts, wouldn’t like the opportunity to style themselves a Knight of the Dragon?

God save the… oh, never mind: a farewell to Ireland

I had the opportunity to go to the BBC’s ‘Proms in the Park’ in Northern Ireland on Saturday. I spent last week across the water to hand in my Masters thesis, but except for one day trip to Dublin to hand it in and see off Trinity College I spent most of my time up in Belfast, and was invited to the Proms to celebrate. These used to be held outside the rather magnificent city hall, but have recently moved to the old Harland and Wolff slipway where the Titanic was built, just across the river from Belfast’s still-functioning port.

It was, on the whole, as good an evening out as you might expect, but it ended on an irksome note. As a Briton there are precious few opportunities where one can unselfconsciously belt out the national anthem without looking like a total loon, and of all places the last night of the Proms is supposed to be one such refuge.

Alas, not for us. The Northern Irish proms had joined Albert Hall for what we presumed was the end of the concert, but cut us away after the nth verse of Land of Hope and Glory very sharply indeed. Instead of God Save the Queen, we were treated to the theme music for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It doesn’t have quite the same impact.

I do understand that the playlist must have been a little sensitive, and that putting ‘Ireland’s Call’ on it (with the stage bathed throughout in green lighting) and keeping ‘Rule Britannia’ off it made sense in order to ensure everyone had an enjoyable evening. But did we really need to forgo the national anthem too?

Of course, I think this only applies to Northern Ireland. Looking at the TV coverage the only location they actually cut to during the anthem is Hyde Park, and I've heard word-of-mouth that Scotland at least missed out on the anthem as well. Regardless of the reasoning, it brought an otherwise enjoyable evening – indeed, an enjoyable year – to a close on a slightly disappointing note. Who knows when I’ll find the opportunity to sing it again – some patriotic corner of the party conference, perhaps.


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