Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why I think LAD have missed the point. Again.

Last week, the Alliance MLA Anna Lo was subjected to a whole load of racist abuse. That racist abuse was widely condemned by any politician that was asked about it and a twitter hashtag - #istandwithanna - gave users of social media the chance to add their condemnation (which will surely mean the end to racism *eyeroll). What did Anna Lo say or do to 'provoke' this abuse? Who cares? What has she said or done prior to that? Who cares? What exactly is Anna's nationality? Who cares? What party is Anna a member of? Who cares?

There is literally nothing that justifies racism. Nothing. I don't need to know anything about the victims of racism to know that racism is abhorrent. For me to be able to condemn an act of racism, I just need to know that someone has been racist. I couldn't care less who the victim was, what they do, what they've said. You'd think this was obvious, right? Well, we all know it's not. There are plenty who qualify their condemnation and when they do, they need to be pulled up on it. It's not just wrong for people to do that, it's actually dangerous - it gives racists a clear message that there are some circumstances where racism may be justified. When it may even be funny. 

The rules above apply to rape, sexual assualt, and the threatening of both. 

Amidst the condemnation of the racism that Anna suffered last week, a DUP Councillor - Luke Poots - posted on Facebook that he had previously been threatened with violence and rape. For me, this was simple: someone had revealed that they had been threatened and that needed to be condemned and the victim needed to be reassured that society doesn't accept that. 

Except that is not what happened. 

LAD noticed the post and screenshotted it, tweeted it and sat back and let the responses roll in. Almost all mocked Poots, doubted him, accused him of being opportunistic and some went so far as to say that Poots would be lucky to be raped. LAD didn't condemn these people. They didn't screenshot their attacks on Poots. Why not? It would appear that LAD agree with them - Poots is a liar and shouldn't be believed. 

LAD wrote a blog post outlining their reasons for it, while being careful to add the discliamer that if Poots has genuinely been threatened they of course condemend it. Oh well, that makes the whole thing fine doesn't it, LAD? Let's remember the rules: Who the victim is is irrelevant. What he/she has said/done previously is irrelevant. What party they're in, is irrelevant. When the first thing you do when hearing about someone being threatened with rape is to doubt them, you need to examine your prejudices and consider the wider damage you do.

Sexual crime is a huge, huge problem in society and one of the biggest issues we have is convincing victims that a) they are victims and b) they can come forward and be believed. Oh, and if you don't think rape threats count as a sexual crime then stop reading now - we'll never see eye to eye.

Here's the missing the point part: What LAD forget is that they're not representative of everyone. Luke Poots is a public figure in the largest party in the Northern Ireland. Luke Poots, whether LAD like it or not, has people that look up to him the same way others look up to LAD. They like Luke; they respect him; they believe him. Some of those people may be victims of such similar threats and what do they see when someone they know to be a good, honest person being mocked and doubted for revealing the threats they recieve? 

It is hugely damaging for anyone who talks about such threats to be so openly mocked and doubted simply because of our prejudices toward the individual. We must believe them and we must condemn the threats. Not for them so much, but for those who may well be looking at them and wondering if they should come forward too. I hope that next time LAD will stop and think about the bigger picture instead of just who is making the claims. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Who is holding back progress in NI?

It’s not the likes of Jamie Bryson, Willie Frazer or even the Republican dissidents that are holding back Northern Ireland. As much as it’s nice to believe the popular narrative that if we could just somehow do away with these people and their supporters, the rest of us would march together toward some shared utopia, the reality is that Bryson, Frazer et al are not the architects of this failed society, they are merely products of it. The flag protests are another example – they are not the cause of NI’s economic and social woes, they arose from it. 

An oft uttered moan – or variations of it – is that flag protests and other such identity issues distract us from the important things like Education, Health and Housing. Nonsense. We weren’t paying attention to them beforehand. The only difference is people were distracted from those issues not by protests and civil unrest but by jobs, active social lives and a relatively peaceful existence. Does anyone really believe that the issues we face on Education, Health and Housing didn’t exist previously? 

I’d happily wager that had the decision to restrict the Union flag flying to designated days been taken a few years prior, when we were reaping the benefits of buoyant economies in the UK and Ireland, there would have been much less unrest – if indeed there was any unrest at all. Obviously the decision would always be contentious but contentious decisions tend to have less consequences when the people that contend them are relatively comfortable with their lot. When they’re already angry, miserable and feel life has limited hope, then having something to fight for is an attractive option.

So who is holding us back? 

Well, we are. It’s us – as a collective – that want our kids in segregated education, our housing in segregated areas and our body of government to be formally segregated by legislation. There is no great desire for any of this to end, much as people may profess otherwise. If there was, it would have. What I imagine most people actually desire is for us to just go back 5 or 6 years where most people had the economic freedom to enjoy the status quo. I mean, really, isn’t that the limit of the ambitions of the people we elect? 

We’re not voting in parties that are threatening to deliver great change or even promise it in the first place. We’re voting in parties that will do as little as possible in order to not risk destabilising things. While it’s certainly admirable to keep things stable, it’s not such a good idea if that stability is utterly dependent on things you have no real control over – such as the economy. Let’s not pretend that NI has its own economy because it doesn’t, no more than the North East of England has its own. And so, when the economy of the UK or the ROI (yes, it’s important to us too) takes a dive, our government in NI are powerless to adapt because adapting means changing the status quo – the exact opposite of the agenda these parties follow. 

I would dearly love to eat my words if, after the local elections in May, we see a massive rise in voting and a significant swing to parties such as NI21, the PUP, the Greens etc but I sincerely doubt that will happen. I am confident, sadly, that things will pretty much stay the same. The same parties will be in charge, with the same majorities and the same agendas. The people will bemoan the lack of change and instead of blaming themselves will look to place that blame on someone else - the troublemakers. After all, if they would just pipe down, we’d all be fine wouldn’t we?

Monday, 23 December 2013

A response to Brian John Spencer

In his blog post for Loyalists Against Democracy, Brian John Spencer accuses me (and others like me, but I warrant a mention by name) of indulging and nurturing those who commit promiscuous violence. Quite an allegation. He bases this accusation, seemingly, on my criticism of some of the language and output from the LAD collective and their supporters. Accusing them of snobbery, Brian argues, is me trying to halt criticism of Loyalists and flag protesters. 

Brian, who has never met me and clearly knows little about me, has got it completely wrong. Loathe as I am to adopt a hipster tone, I was criticising Loyalists, and Jamie Bryson in particular before it was so fashionable and before Brian had probably even heard of Jamie Bryson. I stood for election against Jamie's party (and did very badly) so I'm not really sure that Brian's accusations of 'keeping quiet, saying nothing' are fair. What Brian doesn't appear to understand is that my objection isn't that LAD; Brian; and others criticise Loyalism - it's the way they criticise that I object to.

When the Flag Protests began last year I didn't hold back with my criticism, but was careful to make sure it was valid and based on the issues. I had countless online arguments with Jamie on his Facebook page (I'm not sure Jamie and I have ever agreed on anything) but I still felt perfectly safe when observing the protests and Jamie - and other Loyalists - were friendly and courteous. It's possible to be diametrically opposed to someone and their beliefs without dehumanising them in the way that LAD often does. 

You can - rightly - take a Loyalist to task for claiming that their culture is under sustained attack, or for claiming that they are being treated like Jews in 1930's Germany. You can mock Jamie for his continued assertion that the PSNI are little more than agents of the IRA. You can highlight the disgusting hypocrisy and dishonesty of the DUP who had no problem with Designated Days until they sensed it offered them an electoral opportunity. What you can't do (at least, not if you want to claim you're not a snob) is attack the traits and behaviours of people that have no relevance to the issue. There's no shortage of references to Buckfast on the LAD Facebook page. I've yet to hear someone tell me why that particular drink is so relevant to the debate.

I have issues with LAD's parody of Loyalism as it does seem to be rooted in superiority - their parodies almost always focus on poor spelling and grammar and a lack of understanding of the realities of the situation - but I am more concerned with the way that their facebook fans join in the parody and, often, take it up a level. This isn't considered criticism - it's just out and out pisstaking and mockery. So, when I offer up my concern at such pisstaking, it's not - as Brian believes - my effort to shut down criticism, it's my effort to try and prompt real, thought out, and constructive criticism. More criticism, please, if you will.

Another aspect of Brian's post that concerns me is that Brian seems to believe that he is leading the charge of the moderates - those poor souls who have previously been so voiceless but now have found their voice and want to make it heard. Sorry to inform you, Brian, but there has been no shortage of opportunity for moderates to make their voices heard and their votes counted and they have consistently chosen not to. It's not out of fear: it's out of complacency. Since 1998 things have generally been going pretty well for the moderates and they've been quite complacent to live relatively peaceful, prosperous and unaffected lives. 

Now though, things are different and the things that the moderates thought were resolved by the 'under the rug' approach have come back to upset the peace. Once again, moderates are starting to make some noise and demand this 'nonsense' is resolved. Lovely. I'm sure now we'll see massive and revolutionary (for NI, anyway) changes to social housing and education policy which will get to the root cause of these issues. Or maybe not. The fact that John O'Dowd and Nelson McCausland, the two ministers responsible for education and housing aren't front and centre in this debate is telling. Where are the long term solutions? All I hear from Brian is 'wise up'. That would be nice, but I'm not sure it's really the basis for a policy. Brian needs to be careful that his march of the 'aggressive progressives' doesn't end up as just a group of people who don't really like another group of people. I don't hold out much hope though.

A commenter to Brian's last post made some excellent points about the use of language and it's use to either unite or divide people. I believe that we will make progress - real progress, not the kind Dr Haass is overseeing - when we unite our people to some common goals. I can't imagine anything less likely than wanting to unite with people who call me scum.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

DUP & UUP need to embrace the left wing, just not the nationalist left wing.

I've always been loathe to assign lazy designations to people's political ideologies. Whilst you can with some effort, define what left wing, right wing, libertarian, communism, socialism etc all amount to, it's actually very hard to transpose those definitions on to individuals and even harder to do it enmasse. We all have so many varied opinions that we rarely fit into those neat little boxes. However, it's not unreasonable to use such broad strokes when breaking down the political make up of a nation (what other way could you do it?) and when you apply it, it's fair to say that most countries have a political division along left wing/right wing lines.

In Northern Ireland, we're no exception. The trouble is, we also throw ourselves into a national identity division, too. So much so, that it almost overrides everything else. Is there anyone who would dispute that, with obvious exceptions, the political make up in Northern Ireland is that Unionist parties are mostly right wing and Nationalist parties are mostly left wing? I'm not trying to describe the SDLP or Sinn Fein as left wing but merely pointing out that they're definitely more left than right and the reverse applies with the DUP and UUP.

So here's the problem: who do left wing unionists vote for and who do right wing nationalists vote for? OK, it's not a new problem but it's one I feel that the DUP & UUP, in particular, haven't really spent enough time thinking about. Both of those parties need to recognise that despite their best efforts, they're not going to eradicate the left wing in Northern Ireland. That means that the large block of left wing voters will need someone to vote for. Right now, the best options (in terms of winning seats) happen to be two Nationalist parties.

What the DUP & the UUP should want to see is the emergence of a left wing party that is either pro union, pro status quo or, at the very least, completely uninterested in campaigning on the issue either way. The DUP made the mistake recently of thinking that Alliance were the enemy. Why? Alliance are never, ever going to be calling for a border poll. They're never going to push a UI agenda. If Alliance replaced both the UUP & the SDLP, the constitutional question would be dead and buried and Sinn Fein would be marginalised - democratically.

Now, I want to be clear that I'm not holding up Alliance as a left wing party - they're really, really not - but I'm trying to demonstrate the point that the two big unionist parties are missing the point: if they want to secure the union once and for all, they need a left wing opposition to their right wing politics that isn't Nationalist. It doesn't need to be unionist (in fact, it won't work if it is) but it does need to be big enough and serious enough to take away those SF & SDLP voters who vote for those parties in spite of the nationalist ideology and not because of it.

This is one of those rare instances where the same logic can't be reversed and applied to the other side. Sinn Fein's goal of a united Ireland will not be realised by having a right wing opposition that doesn't place identity politics first, because the status quo is no good to them.

If you're a DUP or UUP voter, you should ask yourself who you would rather have sat on the other side of the house. If I was in their shoes, I'd want a strong left wing party that, frankly, doesn't obsess with trying to change Northern Ireland's constitutional position. I'm not suggesting that the DUP go out and fund a left wing party to try and usurp the Nationalist parties (though all donations are gratefully considered) but their strategists should see any rise in non nationalist parties as a good thing, rather than try and destroy them.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

On the weakness running through Alliance policy.

Alliance has, today (well, specifically at midnight last night) launched their very own Cohesion, Sharing & Integration (CSI) plan entitled "for everyone". You can, and should, have a read of it on their website. It's a pretty good effort and there is some valuable content but for me, what stands out the most is their approach, in this document and in their overall policy, toward education.

Alliance have, to their credit, always acknowledged that the ultimate source of our extreme divisions is in the way we educate our children. It may be argued that the real source of division is the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and, to a degree, that's correct. Though where it develops from just a normal division of political positions and is turned into the extreme that we currently experience is in our education system.

Dress it up any which way you like, but the state currently funds and operates segregated education based on faith - Catholic children are segregated from Protestants and non Catholics. Only the most naive individual would deny the link between faith and national identity in Northern Ireland. Yes, some Catholics are unionists and some Protestants are nationalists but they're the exception and we need to deal with the norm.

I digress - this post isn't meant to be about whether segregated education is the issue; Alliance think it is, I agree, but have problems with Alliance's proposals to address it.

The target Alliance proposes is for a minimum of 20% of children to be in integrated education by 2020. Why only 20%, why not 100%? If Alliance think that integrated education is the solution why on earth are they content to settle on a policy that only marginally reduces division? Why can't Alliance state clearly the level at which they want our education system to be integrated? Is it 50%, 60%, 70%? If it's 100% why not come straight out with it and be honest - tell the electorate they want to see an end to all segregation based on religion. If it's less than 100%, tell the electorate what percentage of children they are happy to be educated in a segregated system?

I suspect the answer is simply down to electoral politics. People in Northern Ireland still, on the whole, support segregation and the Catholic school system is still very popular amongst nationalist communities. Any policy that aims to reduce the number of Catholic schools will most likely be attacked as anti-nationalist or anti-Catholic, whether it is or not. See the Irish News today for evidence of that.

And that's the weakness with Alliance's approach to education. They have framed it with the reaction of the electorate in mind. That's not leadership. A party that truly wanted to 'lead change' would be bold enough to be honest and clear with the electorate and then set about convincing them of the merit of their argument. This isn't a policy, it's a pathway to a policy that the Alliance party are not yet brave enough to embrace.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Rioting is awful. Ignorant, superior condemnation almost as bad.

Or: 'if you trivialise issues that matter to people and ignore their continued disenfranchisement, you should maybe not be surprised when the inevitable happens and legitimate protests provide cover for extreme elements to manipulate the situation'.

Is there anyone who didn't expect violence to break out at Belfast City Hall last night? It was entirely predictable to all, with the apparent exception of the DUP who had no earthly idea that their rhetoric would have any effect on the mood of working class unionist communities. But I think it's safe to say that we all knew what was coming and no one was surprised. That would explain the lightening quick condemnation, from all political quarters, of those who were rioting as little more than violent scum, only interested in destruction and causing trouble. They were nothing but thugs, hoods, little shits and loyalist arseholes.

Hmm. I don't buy it. You see: to agree with that kind of thinking means I have to accept that a significant section of society just enjoys violence and doesn't really care about the issues at hand. No, you can't write the violence off to a few bad apples or isolated criminal elements. If that were true, we wouldn't be using the term riot. By it's nature, a riot needs a critical mass for it to exist and I don't really think you can use the words 'critical mass' and 'isolated elements' together without sounding like an idiot.

The extremists within the protest last night felt that they had the implicit support of the majority of the protest. Disagree if you like, but can you honestly say they would have been as violent if that weren't the case?

You can't just prattle off the insipid 'there's no justification for violence' line and expect people to suddenly agree. The reality is that people do justify violence (in fact, most people justify it to some degree) and if you want them to stop being violent you have to address the issues that they are using to justify it and not dismiss them as irrelevant and not linked.

This was never just about a flag and it was not even just about what the flag represented. It was about the abject failure of the ruling political parties to come up with a strategy to move on from the peace process. instead of working out how to integrate communities, both Sinn Fein and the DUP have focused on shoring up their core support and every time an election rolls around, they run to their base.

The disenfranchisement has been helped by the continued demonisation of the working classes so that these communities, already feeling left behind by a process that they were never really a part of, also have very little stake in society. It's no wonder that people cling to their national identity when there's little else to cling to. This wasn't Unionists rioting about a flag. This was the working classes rioting about being constantly ignored and patronised by politicians.

When the working classes rioted in England last year, we had the usual right wing reactionary types condemning them as scum but at least that was countered by many on the left who recognised that these things happen for a reason and if we didn't address the reasons it would happen again. We don't seem to get that balance in Northern Ireland. Apparently we only care about the reasons behind the violence if we happen to agree with you.

I may have missed it, but I've yet to see Owen Jones pay any attention to Northern Ireland's working class issues, and, whilst I didn't want to single him out (as I really like his work) that wilful blindness is symptomatic of the attitude that Northern Ireland's problems aren't about class issues but religious and cultural issues. In truth, it's a combination. But if we start addressing the class issue, dealing with the religious and cultural issues will be a damn sight easier.

There is a problem in Northern Ireland and it isn't going away. At least, it won't go away just by condemning it.

EDIT: I've been rather unfair on Owen Jones. I make it sound like he should have been paying as much attention to NI as the rest of the UK but my wider point is actually that we need people with his profile making his kind of arguments in Northern Ireland.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Flags? I don't care, but can see why others do.

Tonight, Belfast City Council will decide if the Union Flag, currently flying all year round, should come down except on designated days. A protest has been organised outside of Belfast City Hall by those opposed to the flag coming down at all. It should be a fairly large protest and all Unionist parties have rallied their members and supporters to the cause.

Now, as the title says, I don't care if the flag is up or down. I put any notion of loyalty to the country of my birth firmly behind my loyalty to people of the communities to which I belong, wherever they might be. However, it's not hard to understand why others feel so much for the flag. It's not so much the flag they like, but what it represents. In this instance it represents, clearly and without question, that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and governed as such.

No Loyalist or Unionist can agree with that definition of what it represents and then, in the same breath, wonder why Nationalists find the flying of the flag offensive. They're Irish Nationalists, for Pete's sake, how could they not find it offensive? The real question that should be asked (and the DUP would argue it has been) is just how offensive they find it and how much of an issue is it for them?

Dubious equality impact assessments aside, the truth is that it's not as much of an issue as Nationalist parties would like us to think. Sure, if you asked any Nationalist would he like the flag to be down, of course he'll say yes, but if you ask him if the issue of taking the flag down should be the dominant issue of the last few weeks and the next few weeks you're more than likely to get a completely different answer. It doesn't mean they don't care though.

But this issue has been bought to the forefront for political purposes, and political purposes only. There's nothing particularly wrong with that providing there's a certain amount of honesty about it. That honesty has been sadly lacking. Sinn Fein and the SDLP have been less than honest about the level of feeling from their communities about the issue (and the SDLP, in particular, have tried to play both sides on this: "you can't eat a flag so lets debate about flags") and the DUP have seen this as a perfect opportunity to demonise the Alliance party amongst unionists.

Alliance, on this issue, were always going to be losers. Their policy position is perfectly valid, but they've been played with relative ease by both Sinn Fein and the DUP, no doubt the latter looking to regain a certain parliamentary seat they've never been too happy about losing.

So, as it's clear that despite their protestations to the contrary, the parties want the debate, let's have it: let's talk about whether bringing the flag down weakens NI's place in the union (it doesn't), whether Sinn Fein are against all symbols of Britishness (they are) and whether a new civic flag, with neutral symbols will solve the problem (it won't). But, for the love of all things, can we stop with the pretence?

Friday, 19 October 2012

On being pro life AND pro choice and what it means.

Dawn Purvis - Programme Director of Marie Stopes in Belfast
I wanted to write about abortion last week when the news about Marie Stopes opening in Belfast first came out. I'm quite comfortable with my views on abortion and so it should have been, in theory, an easy post to write. In the end, it wasn't at all easy.

This may not come as a surprise but when I write, I consider the reception to whatever I write. Many of my friends are avidly pro choice, many are just as avidly pro life (please can we ignore the idiocy of the terminology for now?) and I wanted to be careful. That's not usually a consideration for me so it's an indicator of just how polarised the debate is.

Over the last week or so though, considerations for the views and opinions of the other side of the argument clearly hasn't concerned a whole host of commentators or even news outlets so I may as well weigh in. As the title says, I consider myself to be pro life and pro choice and I don't think the two positions are mutually exclusive. Why? Because I agree with many of the arguments presented by both sides. I don't agree with abortion; I consider the termination of a pregnancy at even a few weeks to be the ending of a life whilst acknowledging that the life at that point is little more than a collective of cells and tissue.

So that's my pro life position. My pro choice position is that it's not for me to make that determination for others and it's not for me to judge those who wish to have a termination. There are many valid reasons to terminate a pregnancy and I abhor the implication from some within the pro life camp that women use abortion as a method of contraception. One DUP Councillor referred to 'designer abortions' - about as awful language as you can get.

Abortion should be a last resort. It should be, as Bill Clinton once said, "safe, legal & rare". The part of me that is pro life says I should focus on how to make it rare, because making it illegal will undoubtedly make it unsafe.

So it is the pro life part of me that supports comprehensive sex education for all children in high schools; it's that part of me that supports free contraception for school children; it's the part of me that thinks girls shouldn't need their parents consent to get the pill - only their doctor's; it's the part of me that believes fully funded maternity and paternity leave for all employees should be available; it's the part of me that believes businesses and the state share a responsibility for providing affordable childcare to working parents; it's the part of me that thinks we should stop stigmatising single parents and it's the part of me that thinks adoption should be based on your ability and suitability to be a parent and not based on your sexuality.

You see: you can't be pro life unless you make preventing unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place your number one priority. You can't be pro life unless you have a plan to make continuing with a pregnancy the best option. It's not enough to just say 'oh, there's always other options and there'll be plenty of support' - you have to come up with the options, you have to provide the support.

Even after that, you have to cater for the exceptions - victims of rape & incest, genuine & serious health risks to the mother, the likelihood of stillbirth etc - but with the right approach to the issue, abortion will stay as an exception.

Anyone who thinks they'll ever be able to stop abortion from happening is deluded but if the majority of pro-life activists dedicated their time and energy into achieving the measures I outlined above, they'd soon see a huge drop in the demand for abortion and that's a more achievable goal.

Or they can continue to stand outside clinics intimidating women who desperately need help and advice. Yeah, i'm much happier with my definition of pro life.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Banter? No. Just plain old misogyny & sexism.

I am, on an almost daily basis, thankful for the stroke of luck that saw me conceived by western parents in a western country. Life, despite it's various challenges, is generally much better than the lives of the majority of the world. Of course, the added bonus of being born in this part of the world is that I was also born male, so my already OK life was going to be significantly more OK. However, even were I born female, this is still probably the better part of the world to be a woman, despite the continued existence of patriarchal superiority.

So, as I go about life, generally happy with my lot and pleased to be born and living where I am, I often allow myself to be unjustly pleased with how socially developed and progressive we are compared to other parts of the world - I mean, at least women can drive here, right? - but then I find out about a Facebook page such as the Holyland LAD Stories page. Then I want to fucking scream.

Like many, I suspect, I found out about the page from the BBC ( and was, like many, I hope, mightily disappointed that this kind of nonsense, so prevalent in England right now, was now here in Northern Ireland. To clarify: the 'nonsense' I'm referring to is the LAD 'brand'.

The whole theme of LAD seems to be 'banter' about women and drink with a particular focus on the former. There seems to be a fondness for tales of conquests and sexual disasters where, with almost no exception, the women of the tales are referred to in exclusively derogatory terms: slag, slut, beast, ugly mare etc and their features critiqued in the bluntest and most offensive ways: lumpy tits, flabby arse, smelly fanny etc. All of this is passed off as banter.

Harmless fun, apparently. Anyone who doesn't see the comedy is a humourless, man hating feminist. Were I to go on the site and state my view, it wouldn't be long before one of the 'lads' helpfully informed me that my attitude of respecting women wouldn't make feminists have sex with me. That's how they see things; if you're not laughing with them, then there must be some hidden agenda because how could you not laugh at their incredible wit?

What I have never understood and, frankly, am never likely to, is the logic at play. It's evident that most of the contributors are fond of having sex and, from their contributions, it would appear the more sex they can have, with as many women as possible, the better. Now, I have no problem with that at all - people should have more sex, more often in my view. But these 'lads' seem to think that the best way to achieve their aim - getting laid - is to portray sex as somehow shameful, as though women who enjoy sex on the same terms as them are to be denigrated. They are sluts, slags, whores.

That's not banter. It's just downright nasty. It is sexism at best, misogyny at worst. And to top it off, it's self defeating too.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

If you won't put your empty house to use, the state should.

I am constantly frustrated when people talk about a 'housing shortage' in the UK. There is no shortage of housing: there is a shortage of housing available to those who need it. It may seem a matter of semantics but it's not. The language is key in driving housing policy. If you start from a position of shortage then the most obvious and only solution is to create more housing. From that point on, ideas about bringing properties that already exist back into the active housing stock are sidelined and deemed not as important.

Within Northern Ireland there is currently no legislation that allows local authorities to properly deal with vacant and abandoned properties. I say 'properly deal' because, whilst there is some legislation, it doesn't adequately address the issue and it's solutions are not framed to meet what should be the key objective - the reintroduction of housing stock to the market.

In England & Wales the Empty Dwellings Management Order within the Housing Act allows councils to enter and take possession of (but not ownership of) vacant properties or properties that have been abandoned or fallen into disrepair. These orders go way beyond the legislation in Northern Ireland because they allow authorities to make the properties fit for purpose AND put them into the rental market.

The good thing about EDMO's is that the owner of the property still retains property rights but in a situation where the owner cannot or will not carry out the necessary repairs - often in the case of an inheritance - but the council takes on the responsibility for the property. Any repairs and maintenance carried out by councils to make the property right are recovered through subsequent rental income. Any deficit will be included as an attachment to the deeds of the property & recovered on sale.

It may just be the left wing, socialist in me, but I can't see a downside to this kind of action. The owner, who has shown no interest so far, gets to retain his ownership rights whilst at the same time, his property is maintained and possibly improved. The state, without having to build or buy houses gets to address the issue of the shortage of available housing. In addition, there is the added bonus of those properties not being a blight within communities.

I remember that only a few months ago, when the subject of vacant properties was raised in my own area, North Down, that one of the DUP's senior MLAs wrote that it was a shame to see so many vacant properties in the area and whilst he wished that something could be done, it was 'impossible' to take over the properties and fix them up. I was genuinely angry about this attitude coming from a legislator because the only thing that stops this being possible is legislation. So let's have it.