What I Will Not Miss About Northern Ireland

It’s only logical that I follow up yesterdays post with the reverse angle, in this case a list of the stuff that I will not miss about Northern Ireland. I should say from the start that there are definitely more on this list — and each of a little more weight than yoghurts and a coffee shop.

Let’s start at the beginning: Northern Ireland is small. It’s very small. I’m no expert, but I think there’s about 5,000 people, unevenly spread between Belfast, Derry-Londonderry and Fermanagh-South-Tyone. Derry-Londonderry consists of a wall, and some culture — apparently. Oh and local music — occasionally. Fermanagh-South-Tyrone exists only during elections. Belfast has everything else. But there isn’t very much anyway.

Northern Ireland has been in a constant state of “Please look at us, we’re trying really hard over here! Pay attention to us, dammit!” And then some politics happens. Again. There are a few people in Northern Ireland doing great work. The rest try to keep up. Or troll.

It may surprise you to know that I hate politics. I mean, I really fucking despise politics. Particularly Northern Irish politics. Always have. But therein lies my dilemma. Politics gives me a rush. It’s exciting. It’s hilarious. It makes me angry: keeps my mind occupied, it motivates me to do something, and I get a lot of pleasure in saying “Fuck you” to the condescending, self-righteous, assholes who purport to run this country according to the demands of “their constituency” while reciting passages from the Old Testament. I will be glad to rid myself of the tit-for-tat, us vs them whataboutery and utter bullshit that is Northern Irish politics.

Thankfully we do have a sense of humour about it. The Model Shop created this after Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly tried to stop a fortified PSNI land rover last week on day one of Marching Season.

Marching Season/”Orangefest”
Each year, without fail, there will be trouble around Northern Ireland because some people want to march on certain roads and other people don’t want them to.
It’s still highly intrusive, intimidating and isn’t necessarily the best aspect of our culture to show off.

I certainly don’t include all marching bands, and their followers, when I say this. I did a photography project last year on The Corbet, a marching band from Kinallen, and can assure anyone that they take no part in any negative publicity regarding band parades — instead playing in the local towns in/around Banbridge and to elderly people in nursing homes.
Belfast, and and a vocal minority of NI, remains a pretty difficult place to be proud of between the months of June and August.


Northern Irish weather sucks.
It’s cold, windy, grey and rains a lot. That’s all I’m going to say about that.


Oh please stop talking about the Titanic. I’m fed up hearing about that damned ship. Northern Ireland has better things to celebrate than a ship that sank: disaster-trouism.

Snow Patrol

Gary Lightbody 2007

Now don’t get me wrong, I like quite a lot of Snow Patrol’s music (well, ‘Final Straw’ and ‘Eyes Open’) but they are not the saviours of everything Northern Irish.

I think I speak for a majority of the population when I say that golf is boring as fuck. Just stoppit! We don’t need another golf course in the North West. Or Fermanagh.

I think that just about covers it. Oh yeah, the public transport, education system, technology sector, arts funding, support for local business and entrepreneurs, the politics and politicians stuck in the bible-led dark ages and our lack of self-confidence to break away from conservative nonsense.

What I Will Miss About Northern Ireland

Leaving Northern Ireland is a pretty big deal for me, for a number of reasons. The biggest being that it is my home and I’ve always lived here. Besides a short stay — 1 semester — in Derry in 2004 during my first university attempt (I didn’t enjoy the course nor the city so came back), I’ve always lived in Belfast. In fact, I grew up, and, since leaving my parents house around 7 years ago, have always lived within 30min walk of city centre/work/uni.

That’s not to say I’m not very glad to be leaving — I am! — but I may miss a few things about Northern Ireland, and indeed the UK. And so here’s a list of some of those things that. 20% of these are tongue-in-cheek. I’ll let you decide which.

Well this is an obvious one: who doesn’t enjoy free healthcare as provided by the UK government. It is one of the primary reasons for not understanding why anyone in NI would want to be part of Ireland. Talking with South Belfast SDLP MLA Conal McDevitt 2 years ago I asked him this, his response to explain that SDLP’s top priority is to “improve Northern Ireland first and foremost”, and that is admirable, what any political party should aim to do, yet after sneaking into Ireland they aim to still offer free NHS healthcare to those in Northern Ireland. Somehow. I don’t quite understand it.

Thankfully I have never suffered from chronic aches, pains, disease or other regular healthcare needs, however, I’ve had my fair share of trips to doctors and hospitals: stitches from running into things (glass door at the dentist, counter at the library), eye checks, ear issues, acne problems, and the occasional cold and flu. It’s nice to know that these are all free: consultation and treatments.

As of yet, I’ve very little idea exactly how healthcare in Ireland works, and hopefully I will have little reason to find out. But no doubt I’ll get a cold at some point (I think November is usually the time that gets me each year). Either way, I know there is money involved in everything. But at least it won’t be a minimum for 7 days wait for appointments as is the case here.

Spelga Yoghurts
I love yoghurts. And Dale Farm’s Spelga yoghurts are by far the best available in Northern Ireland. I will miss them and their juicy strawberry and peach bits. It’ll be tough to find a comparable yoghurt in Ireland. But I’m up for the challenge.

Tayto crisps.

I know there are Tayto crisps in Ireland, however they’re not the same. To the point where I just don’t understand why there are two different crisp manufacturers on this island making two different crisps under the same name, with a vaguely similar mascot. However they are different. And the Northern Irish Tayto crisp is superior.

BBC iPlayer
Whilst I don’t watch a great deal of TV, there are a certain number of shows I will happily tune in to, though rarely at the original air time. And so the iPlayer comes into play, whether on the iPad or desktop, I use the service often to catch up on a show I missed. And whilst routing to a UK proxy for such occasions isn’t out of the question, nor is digital recording via TV, the ease of use will be removed somewhat.


Of course I will still follow the politics of Northern Ireland from afar, have my say and show my anger and frustration at times, but I will miss being a part of it. It won’t directly affect me, and as will give a little less of a fuck, but for that reason I will pine for a time when I could get riled up about the latest riot in East Belfast, political who-ha or us vs them bullshit.

Samson and Goliath

The two yellow cranes, named Samson and Goliath are simply a part of the Belfast landscape — iconic and inspiring. They tell of a Belfast which is proud of its [historic] ship-building industry, while remaining so photogenic and… well, they’re hard to miss!

Meeting people I know in the street…
It’s a great feeling, walking around town and simply waving to a friend or acquaintance, or stopping for a chat. And I’ll miss it. But it’s hardly specific to Belfast either…

Ah yes, Clements coffee chain. Basically, I had my first coffee here when I was about 16. It was a mocha latte, which is essentially a “gateway coffee” which lead me to become a hardcore user/abuser of real coffee. I’m now an addict.

Sunday at my Grandparents
Despite their über conservative religious views, Sunday afternoons won’t be quite the same without a few slices of Veda, Jamaica ginger cake, coffee and a run around the garden with my young cousins.

There are probably a few other things, but in general, I may have drawn this list out a little more than most. I hear Carlow has one or two decent coffee shops and the politics is a little more about real issues than tribal nonsense (ignoring some internet and blasphemy laws…)

What would you miss about Northern Ireland if you were to leave?

NI Census, Atheist Count and Media Inconsistencies with Data Reporting

census 2011 logoThe 2011 Census data released today continued the growing trend of religiosity losing its majority populace throughout the UK. In Northern Ireland 16.86% of the population responded as having “no religion” or “did not state religion” whereas the response for “persons with no religion or religion not stated” in the 2001 census was 13.88% — this marks a small increase of an increase of 2.98%.

In England and Wales the number of people selecting “no religion” increased from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

The NI data reveals 48% of the resident population are either Protestant or brought up Protestant, a drop of 5% from the 2001 census.

However, the numbers show that 45% of the resident population are either Catholic or brought up Catholic, yet only 41% Catholic on census day.

  • 41% Catholic
  • 19% Presbyterian
  • 14% Church of Ireland
  • 5.8% other Christian or Christian-related denominations
  • 3% Methodist
  • 0.8% other religions and philosophies

Putting this with the figures for national identity — the first time this question has been asked — the overall statistics become much more interesting as well bringing a better understanding of the politics of people in Northern Ireland. Just 25% regard themselves as Irish only. This just shows there is not a definable correlation between religion and national identity/voting pattern.

According to the BBC

7% say they either belong to another religion or none

And the UTV reported this as

Just over 5% of people in Northern Ireland said they do not belong to any religion

Each news outlet is taking different data to be the correct response.
The BBC are giving the number of 6.75% of those who “who did not state religion” for Question 17 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?”. While UTV gave the number of those 5.59% of those who answered “none” to Question 18 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?”.

Neither of these take into consideration the 10.11% of people who answered “No Religion” under the same Question 17.

This inaccuracy of the data reporting is extremely important, and it’s a shame to see the media portray the numbers incorrectly. The numbers of those who have no religion are

Jill Farquhar states why this is important:

As politicians use the census statistics to form policy and allocate resources this type of misrepresentation is extremely significant. The use of data conflating religion with religious background produces an image of Northern Ireland which is significantly more religious and significantly less diverse than is actually the case. This reinforces the Catholic/Protestant binary and justifies the continued intrusion of religion into lawmaking in NI (see the restrictive abortion legislation for example).

More broadly, the conflation of ‘religion’ with ‘religious background’ perpetuates the idea that the religion of our parents defines our own religious identity and produces religion as something essential to the individual rather than something which can be changed, challenged and/or rejected.

For the purposes of the NI census, it seems, atheists really are ‘catholic atheists’ or ‘protestant atheists’.

Based on the data in English and Wales, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has calculated that if the change in Christianity shown between 2001 and 2011 continues, then Christians would be recorded as being in the minority from September 2018.

This is highly significant data as we watch rationality become the norm, yet there are still continued efforts to be done in education, particularly in Northern Ireland, which has seen a rise in Atheism and secularism, and indeed a growing progressive liberal community, however this has been much smaller than elsewhere in the UK.

Below is the data comparing the 2011 census data with that from 2001:

The difference between a “personal attack” and providing constructive criticism to a public organisation

It was pointed out by members of the local public organisations, which I mentioned in a previous blog post, that it was a “personal attack” and that I tried to “publicly humiliate the organisation”. I find this difficult to comprehend, and perhaps the person who made this claim has difficulty comprehending the difference between a “personal attack” and publicly providing constructive criticism to a public body, which, as a member of the public I am within my right to do.

As I mentioned, the local LGBT support groups do great work in Belfast, however, the purpose of my post was to highlight an area in which they are in fact letting down their users and putting them at risk. In doing so I provided ways in which this can be rectified. Instead, and in the most unprofessional manner, I was asked to remove any mention of the group and that “workings of the group are not a public issue and this will be taken further”.

It is evident that this organisation does not take criticism well, which is both unfortunate from the perspective of the general public, and those who work within and around the organisation. If a group, such as the one mentioned, is so unwilling to take criticism, to the point that they will then privately request that it is removed — and issues hidden under the carpet — then what good is the group? Problems should not be ignored. When errors are pointed out, someone with better judgement would open up a dialogue rather than take offense, shut down communication, refuse to look into the issue and defend everything like a stubborn child.

However, I look forward to the response of the “Management Committee” on this issue, having also contacted them myself regarding their social media policy.

Robots Tweetup

Yesterday, Saturday 7th Jan, Ron rounded-up the troops once again, this time at the Robots Exhibition at the newly opened Clotworthy House (Oriel Gallery) in Antrim Castle Gardens. A little advertised, low-key exhibition, with little reason given for its existence beyond being the “first exhibition in the brand new light-filled Oriel Gallery” and draw people to the café and gift shop.

The grounds look good, though far from complete, the café has good food (free coffee refills, which I abused) and great service, and accommodated us as we stuck around to chat.

Mixed in with the Robocop, R2D2 and the head of C-3PO are a number of obscure robots which may well be part of a private toy collection, either way, it’s a fun day out, and it was great to meet some lovely new and old friends: Ron, Sarah, Paul, Skip, Cat, Lexi, Paul, Kay, Bill, Mark and Steve.

robots tweetup

robots tweetup

robots tweetup


robots tweetup

robots tweetup

robots tweetup

robots tweetup

robots tweetup

robots tweetup

robots tweetup

The exhibition runs until 12th Jan.

North West 200

I don’t know a lot about motor racing, but I do know that it was very wet on the unfortunate day of this year’s North West 200 race. So much so that of the planned races (five I believe) only one was completed in full. As well as the rain, there was a security alert resulting in the paddock being evacuated was followed by an oil spill on the road. It wasn’t a good day.

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

north west 200 2011

Social Media and the Assembly Election

A number of people have referred to this week’s Assembly Election as the “Twitter Election”. This can be looked at in a number of ways: the number of politicians and parties on Twitter/Facebook, the number of journalists now using social media, as well as members of the public discussing politics and election through these online methods.

During the course of last night’s leaders debate 950 tweets were sent using the hashtag #ae11 and 660 sent using #ae11debate (many of those probably included both hashtags). “Peter Robinson”, “leaders debate”, “Tom Elliot”, “Margaret Ritchie”, “SDLP”, “Tom Elliott”, “David Ford” and “Marty” were all mentioned enough to trend in the UK both during and after the televised debate as online debate carried on. And the BBC did a good job of manning it’s @bbcnivote2011 feed.

UTV have also been very notable in getting a vast number of it’s journalists, presenters and various departments signed up to twitter, and releasing verified stories, including a partnership with Slugger O’Toole, bringing a series of “Tweetups”, or Twitter Roadshows, in Derry, East Belfast, Ballymena and Enniskillen – simply a method of getting the views of people in different constituencies, bringing the online chat offline. Also been particularly informative through their @utvelection election feed.

Facebook is another popular choice, to many, more popular due to how easy it is to “game” by adding friends in the hope that they will reciprocat, though my thoughts are very different in terms of using Facebook over Twitter. Especially when politicians do it wrong. I mentioned in a recent post that businesses and public figures, including politicians, should not use a personal profile on Facebook when connecting with people, or publicising their message. At the NI Assembly Tweetup in March, Jim Wells told me he wasn’t concerned that he was breaking Facebook’s own rules by knowingly promoting himself using a personal profile, in his own words: “Well, if they don’t know…” Not the best attitude really.

There are a few reasons, which I will reiterate again, the biggest deciding factor for anyone should be that it’s against Facebook’s rules: “Pages are for organizations, businesses, celebrities, and bands to broadcast great information in an official, public manner to people who choose to connect with them.” That includes politicians. Of course any natural person can create and use Facebook if they so wish, though if they want to promote their politics and policies and it is clear that is the case with many of the current batch of candidates in NI, though some are using private profiles, clearly meant for friends/family only. Though there are others who have no interest in following the rules.

For those worried about losing “friends” changing to a page, Facebook have a profile to page migration tool which carries across all friends and profile picture to a page. This also eliminates the maximum rule of 5,000 friends enforced on a profile.

I often want to “follow” a party/politician to watch their views and agenda, though I don’t always “like” them, and rarely am I their “friend”, so Twitter will generally take precedent for me. The problem with Facebook is that it is largely a “walled garden”, whereas Twitter is much more open. And for those who insist on using a Facebook profile rather than a page; those status updates updates are not viewable to anyone who doesn’t have a Facebook account unless it is done via a page.

View the list of all 218 Assembly candidates and their use of Facebook and Twitter, as well as a break-down of each party’s use of social media.

Leave a comment if there are any Facebook or Twitter accounts that have been left out and I will amend the list.

This was also posted on Slugger O’Toole.

TUV Website Hacked

The TUV website was hacked yesterday evening by a Twitter user calling himself Hector O’Hackatdawn (@hectorohackatd). A brief, but clever and humorous message was left on the homepage of the website which led the party to take the site down for a short period replacing it with a brief message about an “illegal intrusion”.

tuv website hacked

Ronan Kerr Protest Rally

Any ordinary citizen who feels that attending a mass rally is not the best thing to do in order to show your anger at recent acts of violence needs to be set straight. Several thousand people gathered today at Belfast City Hall to show solidarity and to pay their respects to 25-year-old Pc Ronan Kerr was buried this morning in Co. Tyrone.

Attending such a rally shows that this is not wanted. It was a brilliant turn out, and over the last few days many people have joined in unity to fight this behaviour. Physically showing disapproval is a stronger statement than any other and I feel a strong statement has been made by many today.

peace rally belfast april 2011

peace rally belfast april 2011

peace rally belfast april 2011

peace rally belfast april 2011

Here’s a short video I shot of the minute silence which took place:

Omagh Bomb 2011; Ronan Kerr and Twitter Hashtags

Shortly before 4pm yesterday, 2nd April, a young police officer, Ronan Kerr, only 3 weeks out of training, was murdered as a bomb went off under his car when he opened the door. This atrocity has left much ill-feeling across Northern Ireland for the future.

I found out after a quick glance at Twitter about 4.45pm on noticing a tweet by a friend, Stephen:

I grew up next to a Catholic RUC officer and played in back gardens with his family. Saw the fear then please God never again. #omaghless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

It was the #omagh hashtag which made me question what the tweet was in relation to. I clicked it and was brought as always to the Twitter search page showing the results. I was immediately informed through tweets by reputable news sources what had occurred, this was followed by a barrage of heart-felt messages of sympathy from “tweeters”, sharing their sadness, distress and anger at the loss of life by such a young man. Each of these tweets used the #omagh hashtag as way of them being grouped together, to show solidarity and support.

PC Ronan KerrTwitter came to life unlike any other day with users displaying their dislike of this cowardly act, concerned for the future of N.I. It’s clear that the general public does not want this. People of Northern Ireland have moved on since the days of “The Troubles”. There is little support on either side for this behaviour. However, a quick search on Facebook shows some who are in favour; pleased in fact. These people must be stopped.

One such supporter is 45 year old Cookstown resident, Kevin Meehan, who posted a link to the article from the UTV website on his Facebook wall with the words “Great news ” YEAH HAAAAAA”” — a disgraceful human being. Also not very smart. His words, are in clear view for everyone to see, as well as links to his other social networks, his postal address and email address easily found. It may be futile, though myself and a number of others reported his Facebook for “hate speech”, his Twitter a/c (set as private) was sent a few nasty messages, and he was reported to the PSNI hate crimes.

[update] I’ve been given information regarding the above and his association with the IRA and extreme Republicanism. I’m chosing not to post any further information on this person.

Twitter, in instances like this, is not about getting retweets or simply latching onto a hashtag without doing something about it, but about raising awareness, finding a single voice in a place previously filled with hatred. Each time we are brought backwards, the disapproval is voiced. Today Twitter and Facebook make it easy for voices to be heard.

Is #Omagh the official Hash-Tag in this case? Might I suggest #NITAFA?
Northern Ireland Twitterers Against Fucking Assholes.less than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac

Regardless of my dislike of most political parties in Northern Ireland, to see them come together sharing a single opinion is great to see. Yes, adding a hashtag to a tweet doesn’t “fix” the problem, yet it doesn’t take away from the fact that many people will attempt to do something about this away from their computer. I hear rumour that a march/protest may take place next weekend, just as happened this time two years ago after the killing of police officer Stephen Carroll and two officers at Massereene barracks.

The current hashtag is #notinmyname. Sincere messages of sorrow, and of compassion towards Ronan Kerr’s Mother, on this Mothering Sunday, are being tweeted at a fast rate. My heart is with those affected. To the killers; there are not enough expletives. You have no support.

I was a peace activist in Belfast in the 80’s. No laptops, twibbons or hashtags. We’d have been glad of them. Anything to make a statement.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck