Red Hand- A regular miscellany from the North.

By Anton Mccabe.

Stormont 2, Republic 1, Westminster 3

For the last few weeks MLAs have finally been permitted to tweet and email from the Assembly Chamber after the Speaker granted permission for MLAs to go online during debates. Willie Hay said members could use discreet hand-held devices on the benches, but stressed that laptops are still banned.

MLAs will not be allowed to make any calls, as phones can be used only in so-called flight mode to ensure there is no interference with Assembly broadcasting. Members can, however, go online using the wireless internet network in Parliament Buildings. It is a full year since  Westminster   MPs were first allowed to use Twitter while on the floor of the House of Commons – breaking a decades-old tradition that barred them from bringing non-work related materials into the chamber. Westminster also approved the usage of iPads, laptop computers and smartphones – with the Commons Procedure Committee agreeing that with “those who argue that [using Twitter] brings Parliament to a whole new audience”. 08-Pg40-Tiger-McIlroy-1-cropCMYK

In the Republic, mobile phones are theoretically banned from use in the Dáil chamber, according to a code of conduct   though this rule has become so openly flouted in the modern era that it is almost never enforced.

Transport minister Leo Varadkar, meanwhile, was often seen using an iPad while on the opposition benches and Taoiseach Enda Kenny was often interrupted in the last Dáil by his colleagues having to move his mobile phone away from his microphone.

In 2003, Oireachtas authorities tried to clamp down on the use of mobile phones after a tabloid newspaper was able to publish photographs of the members’ bar in Leinster House. “Interference from mobile phones is a discourtesy to other Members, a distraction from debate and potentially interferes with the recording of proceedings”, an Oireachtas spokesman said. And what of pink shirts?

Tourism tantrums

Interesting to see the different visceral reactions in the Assembly to the touting of the island’s tourist wares in the Gathering: An Irish Homecoming, by Tourism Ireland, a supposedly all-Ireland body, which is jointly funded by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on a two-to-one ratio. The DUP’s Stephen Moutray was concerned that an SDLP motion proposing support was “a very green motion, and I am not surprised, given who tabled it. This is a case of the SDLP using tourism as an excuse to peddle its all-island agenda”.

He went on: “To my mind, next year’s “An Irish Homecoming” will be hugely sentimental and very Irish in a way that I cannot and will not really identify with. It is a sort of “Mother Ireland” concept that conjures up images of leprechauns, shillelaghs, pints of Guinness, donkeys, dancing at the crossroads and thatched cottages. In other the words, it is the sort of stuff that we see far too much of in retail outlets at our airports. A quick glance at the list of venues and events related to the homecoming reveals that almost all of them are in the Republic of Ireland. The initiative is being driven by the Irish Government, and it is being geared primarily towards boosting tourism figures in the Irish Republic in an effort to strengthen the ailing economy”.  The  debate fractured into  nationalist  and unionist  entrenchments and eventually also into a bunfight over whose constituency boasted the most attractive setting. The nadir was probably when the DUP’s Paul Frew asked – apparently expecting a Yes – if Sinn Féin’s Olive McMullan would agree that you could spend ten days, [of a holiday,] in  Fermanagh”. Mc Mullan’s riposte to Paul Frew who is actually from Ballymena  was, “I do not doubt that I would be very welcome, but, equally, I could spend 10 days in Ballymena, and that is something else. If you could spend 10 days in Ballymena, you could spend it anywhere”.  In 2011, an estimated £368 million was spent in the North by overseas visitors, with 1.5 million of them choosing to stay overnight.  The Republic’s figures are seven or eight times these. Red Hand can see why.

Donegal doesn’t download

An internal report has raised serious questions over Donegal County Council’s payments of more than €2.4m to a London-based company, One Sigma Limited. These concerns included why lavish spending on fine wine and first-class travel was charged to expenses.  The contract stipulated first-class rail travel, club-class air travel and reimbursement for all meals, hire cars and four-star hotels.  Nearly €10,000 was paid in expenses despite a lack of receipts. Auditor Tony McCrossan found the initial contracts had been issued without any tendering process, breaching both Irish and EU regulations, and said he found it “particularly difficult to understand” why the council had sought some of the advice as it could have been downloaded for free.

Silent sodomists?

With Jerry Buttimer becoming Fine Gael’s first openly gay TD (he is also one of the very few protestant TDs), can it be long before an MLA or MP  in Northern  Ireland, on which once centred Ian Paisley’s  Save Ulster from Sodomy  campaign launched in 1977, comes out? In 2010 Councillor Andrew Muir of the Alliance party broke the mould by becoming Northern Ireland’s first openly-gay Councillor.  He has noted, mysteriously, that: “Northern Ireland has already had elected representatives who weren’t straight. I dare not speak their name”. Noting that First Minister, Peter Robinson, considers that his DUP party is  “the party of progress. We are the party of the future. We are the party of Northern Ireland”. Muir notes pointedly and somewhat selectively – though certainly fairly, “their ability to attract openly gay candidates and voters should be used to test whether this is rhetoric or reality”. Most likely rhetoric, Red Hand feels.

Kum Bah Yah the Covenant

The Traditional Unionist Voice’s Jim Allister is a good man for puncturing the clubbiness of the North’s Assembly. Sinn Féin’s Culture  Minister Caráil Ní Chuilín and Sydney Anderson of the DUP had a most civilised exchange on celebrating 100 years of the Ulster Covenant in an inclusive way. Then Jim was himself. He put Ms Ni Chuilín in her box – though even pronouncing her name seemed to give pain. He told her: “Therefore, rather than peddle the fiction that, nonetheless, the Minister will supposedly celebrate the covenant, I ask her for an assurance that she and her party will not sully the centenary by imposing herself in some false spectacle of support”.

Going, going…

The Assembly is continuing to show a lack of care about its heritage, having removed protections against one-off housing and allowed the building of a major golf course beside the Giant’s Causeway. Environment Minister Alex Attwood has permitted developers to demolish the former Athletic Stores within the Belfast City Centre Conservation Area on Queen’s St. This was an important part of the North’s industrial heritage: a 19th Century warehouse belonging to a linen cuff and collar manufacturer. An apartment and retail development with an underground car park is to be built on the site, after the minister said the building had structural problems and saving its ornate facade was not financially viable. It survived the troubles but not greed and bureaucratic shortsightedness.

Nasty Norbertines

Previously unseen hand-written documents suggest that Cardinal Seán Brady was an investigator into paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth – and not a just a note taker. A contrmporaneous note from him stated, “I was dispatched to investigate the complaint”. A BBC documentary produced new  that the Cardinal was given names and addresses of children who were being abused or at risk of being abused by Smyth. But he failed to ensure they were protected. Brendan Boland, from Louth has revealed how information about his abuse was not passed on to parents of other victims by the inquiry team and two boys continued to be abused after the inquiry. Brady feels misrepresented: “I had absolutely no authority over Brendan Smyth. Even my Bishop had limited authority over him. The only people who had authority within the Church to stop Brendan Smyth from having contact with children were his Abbot in the Monastery in Kilnacrott and his Religious Superiors in the Norbertine Order”.

The cardinal is popular but…

Meanwhile, the on-going controversy about the Parish Priest of Pomeroy who inadvertently showed gay porn to a group of parents attending a meeting about First Communion has awoken po-faced but prurient interest. What is more important is the way the Archdiocese of Armagh, headed by Cardinal Brady has mishandled this investigation. The Archdiocese called a meeting of parishioners, and a representative read a statement exonerating the priest – but withdrew the statement later in the meeting. A second meeting was due to take place the following week – then was cancelled, with no date given. The priest concerned applied for, and was given, leave of absence. Priests confirm that Cardinal Brady is popular on a personal level among his clergy, but they have no confidence in him.

Too trendy 

The National Union of Journalists may soon be in dispute with the Pope for his censoring of NUJ life member Fr Brian Darcy’s column in the Sunday Worst. Article 1 of the Union’s Code of Conduct says journalists must “At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.” The Derry and North West Ireland Branch of the NUJ has already expressed its support for its member. Expect the brothers to declare industrial action against the Vatican any time soon.

McIlroy is not Woods

Holywood in Co Down is seeking to brand itself as ‘the Home of Rory McIlroy’. Rory seems to be a worthy person: but he is only 23. Red Hand – or nobody else – knows how things will go for Rory over the next 20 years – or whether the good burghers of Holywood will want to know him. It is risky. While George best International airport has stood the test of time, precarious as the Great Man’s reputation was at times, Tiger Woods’ monuments, for example, are very much on hold.