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There was a buzz around the Belfast Waterfront as Sinn Fin delegates, exhibitors and media wandered around the long corridors between the food stalls and the conference hall. The early morning showers didnt seem to dampen enthusiasm as the delegates listened to nearly 30 speakers from across the island and beyond during the two hours of live lunchtime coverage on RTE.
David and I gave a quick rundown on the Friday night speeches and looked forward to Saturdays business in a Slugger Live experiment on Facebook.
Former party president Gerry Adams was in attendance but was keeping a low profile, often spotted sitting beside Tom Hartley in the hall listening to the debates.
The political showdown of Sinn Fins ard fheis was predicted to come during the Saturday afternoon Standing With Women debate that would see two different ways of dealing with party policy on abortion.
TDs spoke from the podium supporting the need for a single party position. Other delegates spoke about the need for elected representatives to obey the party. Relying on freedom of conscience is a cop out for a political party, a temporary sticking plaster that often unravels to reveal an infected sore.
Why are SFers so opposed to conscience I hear you ask?
Party delegates view the debate as happening within the Ard Fheis, argue your view and then accept the will of the room. Party will is the priority, it should be stuck to. #sfaf18
David McCann (@dmcbfs) June 16, 2018
At one point, nearly fifty people stood in a queue to get on stage to give speeches.
In Richard Ellmanns magisterial biography of Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwrights final couple of years in other words, the period between his release from prison and his death in the Hotel dAlsace in Paris gets somewhat short shrift, partly because Ellmann himself was a dying man as he struggled to complete his book. I have long maintained that that means that Wildes exile is nearly always portrayed as pure tragedy, whereas in fact any close reading of his voluminous letters from 1897 to 1900 makes clear he enjoyed many good times and sexual encounters in France and Italy, free of the moral strictures of perfidious Albion (less so in Switzerland, where he thought the people looked like turnips). Indeed, as his devoted friend and first homosexual lover, Robbie Ross, recalled soon after Oscars death, apart from a few barren periods when his monthly allowance ran out, he was able to have champagne every day. I was delighted that in Rupert Everetts films, The Happy Prince, which is now on release in London, the champagne does indeed flow. As do the willing youths of Naples and the Paris boulevards, including the delightful young soldier Maurice Gilbert, who was passed around among members of what would in the 1930s would wittily be dubbed The Homintern of well-connected queer gentlemen.
This move signals the end of the Russian federal states social commitments. RU
Increasing the retirement age in Russia is quickly becoming a reality. On 14 June, as Vladimir Putin opened the FIFA World Cup in Moscow, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced the retirement age rise as if it was a done deal. Of course, the legislation still has to go through Russian parliament, but given United Russias parliamentary majority, the government is unlikely to face any problems.
As ever, the Russian authorities pass anti-social laws as if they were carrying out a police operation
The authorities prepared well for this. Before the presidential elections, the population was served only good news for instance, a new (and very generous) benefit for families when they give birth to their first child. If the pension age increase was discussed at all, then only as something abstract and theoretical. But straight after the March presidential elections, it became a necessary move: the discussion went from being about whether the pension age should be raised at all, to the detail...
Methodist minister Rev Dr Laurence Graham addressed the Sinn Fin ard fheis during the two hour live session which is broadcast on RTE. Every three minutes another party representative steps forward from the queue at the side of the stage to deliver their speeches from the autocue before some short applause and the cycle beginning again.
Twentieth in line was the minister and former Methodist President who first met Michelle ONeill when she attended an event with Arlene Foster at Castlewellan Castle last summer.
Graham follows in a long line of annual speeches by protestant and unionist voices on the topic of reconciliation and healing. Minster of 1st Derry Rev David Latimer spoke at the 2011 ard fheis, the last time the party visited the Belfast Waterfront. Revs Martin Magill and Steve Stockman spoke in Derry in 2015. And Prof Pete Shirlow popped up last November in the RDS.
Reconciliation is not a project but a process that never ends, Graham said, adding These are personal remarks, I dont speak with an official position of the Methodist Church in Ireland or any other group.
Wouldnt reconciliation be very easy if we were all beginning with a blank sheet of paper. Wouldnt it be so much easier to be reconciled if we all didnt have a past. But of course there is no blank sheet of paper. We all have a past but the key issue for reconciliation is what we do with the memory now, and how do we unlock the future.
He offered three challenges.
The first one is a personal challenge to every single citizen I would challenge every single person to make a point of going and looking for somebody that you know you will disagree with and have a coffee with them Take time to get to know them. The aim of meeting isnt necessarily to come to agreement, but just to get to know the person who you disagree with. Its still all easy in this land to spend our whole lives among people who we agree with. And a segregated community where we only know people that we agree with will never be reconciled. Its only as people from the other side become...
By Dorothy Bruce
Dorothy reports on Lesley Riddochs conversation with Icelandic lawyer Katrin Oddsdttir
On the day that Ian Blackford and the SNP Scottish MPs walked out of the House of Commons in protest about not being able to debate the EU Withdrawal Bill sections that impact on the devolution settlement and the powers of the Scottish Parliament, Lesley Riddoch, filming in Iceland with Phantom Power Films on the second Nation video, spoke to Lawyer Katrin Oddsdttir. Katrin was elected to take forward the constitution drawn up by the Icelanders themselves, and is in charge of the society thats charged with getting it into law.
Katrin started by saying that in discussions over their independence Icelanders too walked out of a meeting one with the Danes. The Danes hadnt come for discussion. They had decided beforehand what would happen. When the big guy, says Katrin, has decided for you whats going to happen next, and youre there just to decorate his decisions, why should you sit there and validate their decisions to ignore you, or not even let you talk? In that case they have gone too far. The Icelandic team stood up saying they all objected, then they walked out. Initially it caused problems, but in the end it created a lot of leverage. You have to show people.
After the crash in Iceland people protested, protested, protested to make the power-holders understand that the people understood the power was theirs, says Katrin. So now as soon as the powers-that-be start messing up, the Icelanders are there to show them. Hang on, were watching you, this is not on. Katrin believes that attitude and action would not have been possible before the crash of 2008. The crash was a bit of a gift. It allowed the accumulation of strength to say hang on, this has gone too far. Just do your job, govern this place. Be responsible but know that as soon as you do something very stupid or lie, well be back there and well take you down.
Lesley Riddoch refers to the siren attraction of certainty in life and the fact Icelanders appear comfortable with uncertainty. Katrin responds by saying that during the 2008 crash the media kept banging on about uncertainty like a whip, trying to make Icelanders as scared as possible. They were supposed to be scared because there was huge uncertainty. But if we rewind a bit, she says, all we know of life is that the only certainty is death. The bottom line is people are easily scared and when scared make very subtle choices.
Being adaptable and living with uncertainty is part of being Icelandic. Earthquakes are a fact of life. Seeing massive building-sized blocks of ice twirling in the air, with the road in front of you swept away by a river, then you realise how small and insignificant you are in this world. That affects the way Icelanders look at things.
And another reminder of a brief history of the day, from the Guardian, which includes this great 1924 quote from Joyce on Ulysses I have to convince myself that I wrote that book. I used to be able to talk intelligently about it.
Joyces last Bloomsday would take place on 16 June 1940, when the author was trapped in Vichy France, two days after Paris fell. He died the next year, and according to Mark Traynor, managing director of the James Joyce Centre in Dublin, the next time the event was properly marked was in Dublin in 1954.
It was a small event but it was reflective of the books growing recognition. Even though it was largely confined to the artistic community in Dublin, it recognised the growing significance of the work and of Joyces international contribution to literature, says Traynor.
Organised by the publican and critic John Ryan, participants in the 1954 Bloomsday included the authors Patrick Kavanagh and Flann OBrien. They attempted to retrace the journeys taken by the characters in the book, starting at the tower and making their way to Sandymount Strand. They had a horse and carriage, but they were all heavy drinkers, and although the plan had been to re-enact the whole book, according to accounts, by the time they reached the city centre, they abandoned that and spent the night in the pub, says Traynor.
Footage of the event on YouTube shows a chaotic affair, punctuated by impromptu urination stops and staggering. It was a bit half-arsed, says Traynor.
Only 2% of children and young people in the UK have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a news story is real or fake, according to a survey published today by the National Literacy Trust. What do you think of that? asked the radio reporter who phoned on Wednesday morning.
The expected answer was a statement about the role of schools and the curriculum in developing these critical skills. However, thats not where my mind immediately jumped!
Im not sure, I said. The figure seems very low. And I think Ive got a lot of questions about who was asked and what they were asked? Im not entirely sure it fits with other reports Ive read on youth media literacy.
The screaming headline from the new report [PDF] from the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools was based on a survey conducted by the National Literacy Trust, who provide secretarial support to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy who set up the Commission back in September 2017.
The survey found:
How was the 2% figure derived?
Between September and...
The right-wing press, including the BBC, have been desperately trying to spin and excuse the inexcusable actions of Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope who has blocked bills to outlaw upskirting and attacks on police dogs and horses by claiming he is against ALL private members bills as a point of principle.
This is what is known technically in journalism and media circles as a lie.
Because if he is so against private members bills in principle, then why has Chope himself sponsored a private members bill to make Brexit a bank holiday?
And how come he has also personally sponsored a private members bill to force NHS patients to pay for treatment:
All countries within the European Union and beyond face the epochal challenge that there is no longer a shared conception of what a state is. A starting point and an invitation.
The Aquarius affair made clear that the European political space understands itself as only able to permit unrestricted freedom of movement within its internal borders the Schengen area by denying movement across its external borders.
Moreover, the fact that refugee camps are increasingly emerging on the borders of the European area and even outside it is a concrete manifestation of the way that Europe, by means of an externalization of its borders, has been reshaping its imaginary geography. This perspective is somewhat vexed by the indeterminacy of where to locate state boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea and, consequently, by the indeterminacy of deciding which state is responsible for saving refugees from the water.
Ultimately, it is always up to the government to decide whether any given state has any obligation to grant security to refugees. Put differently, although a refugee convention exists, whether any particular state is bound to this convention still remains dependent on the decision of the states sovereignty i.e. it is entirely at the discretion of this sovereign will to consider someone a refugee and grant him right of asylum. In this sense, international law does not seem to have escaped the Schmittian dichotomy between normal and exceptional, along with the idea that the state of exception always calls for a sovereign decision.
It follows that the development of an ethics of our borders is one of the most pressing tasks of our time, and this is even more the case given the geopolitical situation in which Europe finds itself, whereby many European countries are currently experiencing a permanent state of exception something that even Carl S...
Billy Caldwell, a 12 year old boy from Castlederg suffering from severe epilepsy, was admitted to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital via ambulance this afternoon after suffering a number of seizures.
Billy has had back-to-back seizures today, Charlotte Caldwell, his mother said. On his medication, which included the vital but banned THC component, he was seizure-free for more than 300 days.
Charlotte who has fought tirelessly to secure medication for Billy for a number of years has said that doctors back home and in Canada have said that his case is now life threatening. She said that the Home Office would be held accountable if he died.
At the start of this week they had six months worth of medicine confiscated by customs agents on their arrival in London from Canada.
Charlotte subsequently met with Home Office Minister Nick Hurd who told her the medicine would not be returned.
After more than 300 days seizure free the Home Office ordered that Billys doctor stop prescribing cannabis oil.
Tonight the Home Office responded to Billys admission to hospital by saying that
We are deeply sympathetic to the extremely difficult situation that Billy and his family are in.
Billy is in the care of medical professionals who are best placed to assess the care and treatment that he requires.
The Home Office is contacting Billys medical team.
If the team treating Billy advise a particular course of urgent action, the Home Office will carefully consider what options are available to help facilitate that advice.
That last comment may offer some hope that the Home Office will show some flexibility so that Billy can get the treatment that he has been cruelly denied. The current law and policy is callous, inhumane and totally out of step with public opinion.
There are growing calls for Nick Hurd, the Home Office Minister who told Charlotte Caldwell that the medication would not be returned, to act and ensure that Billy gets the medication he needs to save his life.
The Daily Mirror has now reported that the Home Office has agreed to return the medicinal cannabis oil to Billy under supervision of a neurologist.
A Home Office source told the newspaper
The licence is being fast-tracked by government officials and we hope Billy will have his oil returned to him this weekend.
He is safe at the moment in hospital and his mum is with him b...
Lord Mayor, Councillor Deirdre Hargey welcomed Sinn Fin ard fheis delegates to the city of Belfast: a diverse city emerging from a history of division and conflict.
The conflict is over but divisions remain amidst a growing diversity of people and cultures. As mayor I am mindful that I represent all of the people of this city. Let me also take this opportunity to reassure the unionist people, in particular, that I am mayor for them as well and I will endeavour to represent their interests, as well as the interests of those gathered here tonight. My office in the City Hall is open to the unionist people and representatives. It is open to the many ethnic communities who live in this city. It is open to the Travelling community and to the LGBT community You are all welcome in the mayors office.
Party vice president Michelle ONeill was next to the Belfast Waterfront podium.
On the state of the party:
We are a party on the move. Were bringing people and generations together from all backgrounds in common cause. We are fortunate to have a wealth of experience from representatives and activists who over many years have helped build the party to where we are today. So a huge welcome to all of you this evening.
I want to in particular welcome the families of our patriot dead to this years Ard Fhis. Youre very much welcome.
There is a place for everyone in the Sinn Fin movement. Were a modern, progressive, Republican Party who stands with the people in defending and advancing Irish national interests. And Sinn Fin stands ready.
We stand ready to be in government North and South; to assert and deliver rights for all; to continue the fight against Brexit; to oppose austerity at every turn; to deliver high quality public services; to take on the vested interests and put an end to cronyism and making Government accountable to the people and the law; to deliver real prosperity, encourage entrepreneurship, decent jobs, and fair pay for a fair days work!
Yet its clear from the news this week that lots of Northern Ireland politicians have opinions on the failure of public services, but they have little leverage to improve them given their inability to form an Executive
Sinn Fin stands with women. The recent repeal result was for all women. For the forgotten women of the mother and baby homes. For the women that were being failed in crisis. For the mothers who were forced to give their babies up against their will.
It was a vote for compassion. It was a vote to say loud and clear: women will never be left behind again. Womens position has improved in Irish society; glass ceilings have been shattered but there is still plenty to do. We need to now close the gender pay gap; we need to bring new laws to provide access to healthcare North and South; we...
End the exalted position of politics as something separate from an increasingly connected and savvy populace. Let them us take control.
In addressing the discussion advanced by Michael J. Sandel and welcomed by Jon Cruddas, we should begin with what is dying and what is vital about liberal democracy and progressive politics. In my view, both arguments are partly on the right track. The crises of progressive politics and liberal democracy cannot be thought through in splendid isolation from the long tail of the crisis in capitalism.
That liberal democracies have so far proven to be the most endurable governance norm for advanced capitalist states doesn't mean this arrangement of politics and economics is without tension, nor that we cannot improve upon it. The rise of authoritarian capitalisms, the threats to democracy in eastern Europe, and the challenge populist politics pose to the so-called mature democracies suggest that there's still some way to go before, as Francis Fukuyama put it, history comes to an end.
More democracy not less
Nevertheless, addressing the crisis demands thinking about its positive resolution. In other words, I'm interested in saving liberal democracy to improve and go beyond it. You answer challenges to democracy by offering more democracy, not less. If empowering people to take charge of their lives is more than a feel-good phrase, or a strap line for corporate social responsibility, we need a politics that is serious about it. This necessarily is a politics aimed at the anarchy of the market and tyranny of the workplace, a politics of mass participation, and a politics that dispenses with managerialism. This also requires an honest reckoning with the establishment politics of the near past, their consequences, and how they h...
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