Friday, 23 December 2011

Time for change after 10 years of detention without trial

A man known only as G will be marking the 10th anniversary this week of being detained without trial by the British state.
"I’ve been here 10 years now, no trial, no charge, no evidence produced to challenge. Me, my wife and children don’t know how long it will take to attain justice and freedom," said G.
G and another man are the only two who remain of the 13 originally picked up in December 2001, following the passing into law of the Anti-terror Crime and Security Act (ATCSA).
The men, mainly Algerian, were taken to Belmarsh Prison, where they were detained. “I was put together with the other detainees. We were kept a minimum of 22 hours in the cell and never saw the sky. I did not see my wife for six months,” recalled G.
In 2004 there was the House of Lords ruling that the ATCSA was unlawful under the Human Rights Act. This resulted in the regime, known as control orders being developed. Detainees were restricted to a house or flat, with stipulations about where they could move in the local geographical location and at what times. Access to phones and the internet were banned. They had to ring the tagging company regularly.
The process that has kept G and others incarcerated over recent years has been overseen by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). This body operates under immigration law, dealing with cases where national security is in question. It operates with special advocates representing the detainee.
Lawyers for the detainees are not able to see all the material relating to why they are being held. The accused have never been told of what they are accused.
The government has been prevented from deporting the individuals concerned due to the danger that they may face torture or worse in the countries from which they fled. Some though have returned due to the mental torture being imposed by indefinite detention in the UK.
Two men who returned to Algeria were subsequently imprisoned in that country after receiving assurances before they left England.
Another Algerian man, Mustafa Taleb, was originally one of eight people accused of involvement in what became known as the ricin trial, where no ricin was ever found. Arrested in 2003, the case came to court in 2005 when all eight accused were cleared.
Then came the London bombings. A number of the acquitted men were picked up, including Mustafa Taleb, as well as G. They were served with deportation notices on the basis of being national security threats. Since that time these men have been held either in prison or under the house arrest style conditions.
Mustafa Taleb now lives alone, allowed out at set times and only able to move within a restricted area.
One person who has regularly visited him over recent years has been Bruce Kent, who has been appalled at what he has seen. “He has the marks on his body to this day from the torture and the British government want to send him back to the torturers,” said Mr Kent. “It is disgraceful and against British law to go on detaining people without knowing of what they are accused.”
Solicitor Gareth Peirce, who represents a number of the men and formerly represented the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, sees parallels with the treatment of the Muslims today and the Irish. She claims the lessons of the Troubles have not been learned.
Mrs Peirce believes the Muslim men held in detention have been treated as guinea pigs by the British government to see how far it can push things. “The continuing experiment is dangerous and insidious in more than one way. It has become very clear that when one challenge is overcome the goalposts are moved and a new system comes in,” said Mrs Peirce.

The Troubles provides an important link, suggesting that the whole process of cutting rights at the behest of maintaining security under the aegis of anti-terror law has been a work in process for the past 40 years.
So the Prevention of Terrorism Act was introduced in 1974 following the Birmingham pub bombings. Described as “draconian” by its author, then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, the PTA brought in seven day detention without charge. This was renewed annually.

Then as the peace process took hold at the close of the century and prior to 9/11, the Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced bringing in 14 day pre-charge detention.
After 9/11, the ATCSA was brought in bringing about the regime of internment with few limits. This has been refined since, with control orders and their successor the terrorism, prevention and investigation measures (Tpims)

The level of pre-charge detention went up to 28 days in 2005 after the Labour Government was defeated over its efforts to get 90 days passed.

So the plight of those individuals who remain detained without trial after ten years remains part of a work in progress. The last decade has simply been an extension of what went before in the Irish context, with the gradual extension of a security state that is accountable to no one. It has grown up in the shadows and Mrs Peirce is right those unfortunate individuals like G, Mustafa Taleb and others have become the guinea pigs for this process. And with the threat of civil unrest on the horizon, with the worsening economic situation, there can be little doubt that the security state will find more willing accomplices in government prepared to extend its powers still further. The big question for the rest of us is when will we say enough and insist that the rule of law is restored for all citizens of this country and that there will be no further detention without trial?

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A fitting tribute to Bishop John Jukes would be to restore the World of Work Committee

The funeral of Bishop John Jukes brought together people from across the church and labour worlds.
An auxiliary bishop in Southwark, Bishop John always kept working people and the social teachings of the Church at the heart of his mission.
Reading the obituaries, it was interesting to hear how he first worked in the civil service, taking on the role as representative at the Inland Revenue Staff Federation National Conference. He then decided to study agriculture at university, which led to him spending a year working on Romney Marsh. It is believed that at this time he became in contact with the Franciscans in Rye, which eventually led to his joining that order.
Later in life, he became chair of the World of Work at the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, where he served for 20 years from 1980.
Bishop John believed that Catholic Social Teaching had much to contribute to the world of work, going back to Rerum Novarum (1891). Indeed, he helped organise a centenary conference in Liverpool to mark this encyclical in 1991.
Each year at the TUC Congress, Bishop John celebrated mass for delegates. In his sermon at St Mary Magdalene's Priory, Brighton, in 1999 he urged Catholics to put gospel values into practice by becoming active members of trade unions. And he urged the TUC to promote ethical values to counter some of the negative effects of globalisation.
Bishop John was prophetic, predicting the injustice for workers of much of what has flowed from globalisation and unregulated markets. The loss of job security; degradation of the human being, individuals or groups forced to work in inhuman conditions.
Reading about how Bishop John shared a platform at a TUC rally in Hyde Park, with National Union of Mineworkers President Arthur Scargill, brings one up short. How far things have slipped since those days?
Earlier this year there was no Catholic Church representation on the platform for the 500,000 strong TUC rally in Hyde Park against the cuts and for an alternative way forward.
The decision of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales to do away with the World of Work committee in 2001 was one of the worst it has made in recent times. The thinking can only have been due to neo-liberal managerialist voices being given too much sway in the decision making process. By this time Bishop John had retired, moving to serve a parish in Scotland.
Those crucial links that Bishop John and those who worked with him at the Bishops Conference had built up with trade unions and business have long since elapsed. As a result the Church was totally caught out when it came to the present economic crisis which is actually all about the world of work.
Had the World of Work Committee still been in place much of the evidence based research would have been there regarding the state of the jobs market, growth, globalisation and the injustice of neo liberal development model.
The bishops would not have been cobbling together committees made up of theologians, MPs and others to get a handle on how it was going to respond to the government’s Big Society agenda.
There would have been a ready voice on subjects like cuts to benefits, the living wage, migrant labour, the trade unions, pensions and worker's rights. The response would have been one based on justice, not a charitable response to help plug the gaps being created by an ongoing voracious neo-liberal market system.
Had Bishop John still been in post he would certainly have had something to say about the wholly unjust attempts of employer organisations to claim they can only be competitive if given even greater freedom to sack people.
The Church desperately needs to restore the function of the World of Work committee, so that it has the authority to speak out on matters in the workplace. Given that most people spend a huge amount of their lives in the workplace, surely the Church should have a credible view on this aspect of life?
If the Bishops Conference of England and Wales wants to mark the passing of Bishop John, then the best thing that could be done is to restore this function of the World of Work to which he gave so much of his life. His passing provides a timely reminder of the expertise that used to reside in this area. The Church needs this expertise in order that it can speak out on all work related matters, after all, are we not all workers in God’s vineyard?

Coalition Government's attack on working people must be resisted

The extraordinary attack of the Coalition Government on the lives of working people in the UK continues apace. There seems no need to bring in technocrats in the UK to perform to the will of the markets, as has been the case in Italy and Greece, given that the Coalition Government appears to act simply as the slave of capital with almost every move it makes.The first lie to nail is the one that says that the present crisis is all down to the last Labour Government. The myth cultivated by the Coalition Government - with the help of the right wing media. The truth is that the present economic situation is the result of the banking crisis of recent years. The frustration of people is that instead of making the bankers pay for their recklessness, they have instead been bailed out and told to get on with things pretty much as before. As the economy bombs with demand for goods disappearing the Coalition Government continues to bail out the banks. The latest contribution being in the form of £75 billion of quantative easing. This money was handed to the banks to further shore up their balance sheets, when it should have been handed out to the public with stipulations about spending inside a set period of time.While the present crisis in capitalism lurches on with no end in sight, those who own capital have seen the opportunity to dump the cost of the crisis on the workers. The Occupy London Stock Exchange camp outside St Pauls and its counterpart in the US have become so unpopular with the ruling class because they have refocused the agenda on the real cause of the crisis, namely capital and more specifically the banks.At a popular level, particularly in the media, there has been an effort to distract from this central theme by seeking to blame individuals for the crisis. So there has been a focus on benefit cheats, these lest we forget are those fraudulently claiming the likes of disability and unemployment benefits, rather than bankers trousering billions. The complicit role of the media in peddling this stuff can be seen from one simple fact, namely that £20 billion of benefits go unclaimed every year, compared to £1.2 billion lost due to fraud. Who would believe that was the case from the way the benefits issue has been covered over the past couple of years?Another myth we are fed is that everyone is living longer, so pensions have to be changed with workers retiring later and paying more. First, there is the question whether everyone will be living longer. The pre and post war baby boomer generation have lived long lives, due to good diets and the welfare support network put in place by successive Labour and Conservative Governments in the post war period. A major contributor to this improvement was the NHS.Today, some 60 per cent of the population are obese. The welfare support network is rapidly being dismantled to the point where services will only soon once again be available for those able to pay. Given this vista of development, the claim that the present generation will be living longer appears doubtful. Ironically, it will only be if the post 1945 settlement is defended and maintained that people will continue to live longer.There is also ofcourse the massive fiddling of figures that goes on with pensions. The fourth biggest economy in the world can afford to pay pensions. There is a huge surplus of over £50 billion in the National Pension Fund. The argument over public sector pensions also needs recalibrating with a focus on bringing private sector pension provision up to public sector levels, not dragging the latter down to a level that often amounts to virtually nothing. A properly funded state pension is the answers in the long term, not making workers pay more for less.Another area where there has been an effort to make the best out of a good crisis by capital is on the question of removing regulations. This lest anyone forget happened in the banking sector leading onto the crisis. But leaving that blip aside, capital insists for companies to be competitive there must be less protection for workers. It should be easier to sack them and more difficult for workers to access employment tribunals with grievances. What has been amazing is to witness the way so much of the media simply go along with this argument. Whenever there is a discussion on a programme like Newsnight or Question Time, where is the trade union voice? It is usually a combination of government ministers, business voices and then someone from a think tank. This results in a ridiculous circular argument concerning how for instance there can be a reduction in the 240,000 cases that go to employment tribunals every year. The one scenario never discussed is just maybe the employers ought to stop breaking the law and infringing workers basic rights. Maybe it is the employer’s unfitness for their role that should be the focus, rather than how much easier it can be made to exploit workers. This simple explanation rarely enters the media lexicon.This overall assault on working people needs to be exposed. As mentioned earlier the Occupy London has helped focus attention on some of these issues but more needs to be done. The unions were right to strike to protect pensions, it put down a marker that working people are not going to continue picking up the tab for rich people’s avarice. More resistance is needed, particularly if the government moves to legislate to restrict the right to strike even further.Although it seems unlikely that working people would accept such a scenario, if the economic crisis bites deeper and given the one sided nature of most the media then the mood music of fear could be created to legislate away these hard won rights. For an example of a similar work in progress – where liberties were taken away on the basis of a largely unsubstantiated crisis - look no further than anti-terror law and the war on terror. Once the mood music of crisis was worked up to a pitch the populace seemed willing to accept any nonsense no matter how flimsily justified.The present situation represents a real challenge to working people, with a government seemingly totally committed to the interests of capital to the exclusion of all else. The present programme of “reform” amounts to the dismantling of the whole of the post war settlement, including the welfare state, pensions and NHS, that created a better chance for the mass of people. The onslaught can be defeated with a new more just society being established with the common good becoming the binding mantra but there is still a long way to go if such a victory is to be won.

Inspiring women in the struggle

I recently visited Elizabeth Rendall as she lived out her final days at a nursing home in South Woodford.
Elizabeth was propped up in bed with the sun streaming in through the window. She was as full of verve as ever, despite being heavily dosed with morphine due to the pain being caused by the cancer.
She spoke of the work, the need to move onward in striving for justice in the world.
This was typical of Elizabeth, always concerned to work for a better world in line with gospel values right up to her dying day.
I only knew Elizabeth for the past 20 years of her life but she certainly served God fully throughout her time on this earth.
Educated by the Ursuline sisters at St Angela’s in Forest Gate, east London, Elizabeth joined the order when she was 18. She then became a teacher at the nearby Ilford Ursuline school. Finally, she went on to Wimbledon where she was head for nine years.
It was whilst at Ilford Ursuline that Elizabeth taught Kathy Piper, who went on to work for the Catholic Institute for International Relations and later become chair of the Brentwood Justice and Peace Commission. “It was Elizabeth, as my teacher, who taught me to care about social justice as part of faith commitment, at the age of 14. I wonder now how many other people she inspired down the years to become involved,” said Mrs Piper.
Elizabeth then left teaching, working as a sister in a Welsh parish before she decided to leave the Ursulines and take up a role in education and research at CAFOD.
Elizabeth worked for 10 years for CAFOD particularly on its Renewing the Earth campaign. The environment was her real passion, with the destruction being caused by global warming a constant concern to her.
She worked on the environment at local, diocesan and national levels. Elizabeth also worked across faiths, involved with Christian Ecology Link and Operation Noah.
This commitment to the environment was lived out at her funeral which she insisted be conducted by a Columban priest due to that orders work for justice and creation around the world. The mass took place at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in east London, adorned with greenery.
Beyond the environment though Elizabeth was always there supporting the work. She marched against the various wars and supported the multi-faith group Peace and Justice in East London with its work for peace. She also supported the group’s work with the families of those being detained without trial in the UK.
It was in this work that Elizabeth came into contact with another remarkable Catholic woman Sarah Hipperson.
Sarah campaigned against detention without trial but before that she was part of the Greenham Common camp. It was back in the 1980s that Sarah upped and left the leafy London suburb of Wanstead to campaign against nuclear missiles being sited at Greenham Common in Berkshire.
Sarah eventually spent the best part of the next 18 years at Greenham Common, endeavouring to prevent a nuclear armageddon occurring. Then she helped establish a peace garden at the site in order that this particular struggle was not forgotten.
A former justice of the peace Sarah ended up serving several prison sentences for her direct peaceful actions in seeking the removal of the US missiles.
Now in her 1980s, Sarah has returned to Wanstead, where she continues the work for justice.
Another person doing work for justice is Sister Catherine Reily, who has been quietly supporting the Travellers at Dale Farm for the past eight years. She visits the site on a regular basis, supporting the families and helping out where she can. A quiet supporter but another steady witness to gospel values.
Sister Pat Robb has worked for years on behalf of refugees, standing up for human rights. Whenever I see Sister Robb, she always has a cause, some injustice that she wants taken up. A family in trouble a person being mistreated who has already suffered the effects of torture.
These fantastic women should be an inspiration to all in the Church, they’ve worked away really putting gospel values into action.
The institutional church has rarely been supportative of much of the work that these women have done but it is these witnesses to truth and justice that really live out gospel values. They are the true prophets and disciples of Christ in this modern age.
It is the witness of the likes of Elizabeth, Sarah, Catherine and Pat together with many others that sustain the rest of us at difficult times in a Church struggling to find its way in the modern world. These and others continue to battle away in the margins for social justice.
Surely, adopting a more inclusive approach to these and many other women would offer a real way forward for the Church in the 21st century.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Occupy London protest is symptomatic of a wider call for real change

The protest of the Occupy London activists camped outside St Pauls Cathedral for the past view weeks has focused attention on a central demand for economic justice in the world.
Much of the media attention was drawn initially by the ongoing discourse between the church and the protesters. The cathedral authorities seemed to do a complete 360 degree turn when it comes to the protest.
There was initially some sympathy from the likes of Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, then closure of the cathedral on some fairly nebulous health and safety grounds. Much was made of the £20,000 a day the cathedral was losing in receipts from the public.
Then the cathedral re-opened but the Church lined up with the Corporation in seeking a High Court order to remove the protesters from the area. Fraser resigned. Then the dean of the Cathedral Graeme Knowles resigned and the church withdrew from any court actions. It then went further practically uniting with the protesters demands by setting up an inquiry headed by investment banker Ken Costa to look at reconnecting the financial with the ethical.
The protest though had it not been for this ongoing disagreement would not have held the attention of the media for anything like the amount of time it did. Those who said the issue of corporate greed and injustice was getting lost, amid the disagreements between cathedral and protesters were wrong. The issues stayed at the top of the news for two weeks because of the dispute and the background international machinations around the Eurozone.
The media coverage made the whole encampment seem far bigger than it actually is. In reality there are around 100 tents taking a relatively small area around the side and partially the front of the cathedral. There is no problem for the general public to walk through the area or go up the cathedral steps.
Another media claim was of the damage being done to nearby shops. Well, there are five shops bordering the encampment: Starbucks, a Marks & Spencers - Simply Food, a camping shop called Blacks and a Natwest Bank. This is also an office entrance. Most of these shops will be profiting from the encampment, not losing trade. The nearby paternoster square, where the Stock Exchange resides, is cordoned off by the police, so the shops there may be losing trade but that is not really down to the protesters.
Another media criticism voiced by Evening Standard columnist Simon Jenkins is that it won’t achieve anything. Well, who knows Mr Jenkins, for some protesting is the only way to have a say.
To date, the failure to protest has seen governments everywhere simply shovelling tax payers money into the coffers of the banks with very little in return. Indeed for the most part the bankers have said thanks very much and continued paying themselves huge bonuses.
The wider question though is do these type of protests work? Visiting the St Pauls site there are the usual suspects, seen at road, anti war and environmental protests over the years.
There is a bohemian atmosphere around, with signs reflecting a national and global outlook. So there are “Greetings for the landless of India and Ektu Parishad” alongside “Sex Workers denied decriminalisation and safety rights” and “Giving to the poor is not enough – restructure so there is no poverty.”
The site is well organised with a clear programme of events, listed at what is called “tent university.” On a day I visited there were campaigners Global Witness on “the dictator and offshore paper trails, monetary justice and the need for effective protest and a session on the history of St Pauls with cathedral guide Ernest Woolmer. In the evening there was a film Battlefield on the Bolivian revolt at La Paz. The group run a paper with a 2,000 print run called the Occupied Times. The latest edition covered what had been going on with the cathedral authorities but included a number of interesting articles on the likes of faith and finance, the end of atomism, feeding the masses and what would Jesus do? Indeed this final call is resonant throughout the protest as it puts the situation of economic injustice today into a Church context.
The Church has been challenged to engage with the issue of ongoing economic injustice, where the mass of hardworking people are being made to pay for the largesse of bankers. So far the Anglican Church appears to have taken the challenge on and reacted positively.
Those who question whether protest works often quote the march of more than one million people against the Iraq war in 2003. This huge turnout they argue was ignored. At face value this was true but that march and a succession of others around the time did have a lasting impact together with other factors on the political system. There have been other protests since, such as in favour of combating climate change, for the living wage and regulation of undocumented workers, against the government’s cuts and the policy of privatising the forests.
The latter very successful campaign was largely carried out on the internet via mass email protest. There are now many different ways to protest, physically on the street or via cyberspace. The importance of peaceful direct action should never be forgotten, with actions like those of Plane Stupid with their occupations of the likes of the roof of the Houses of Parliament in protest at ongoing aviation expansion and resulting pollution.
What the elected politicians need to remember is that over the years all of these protests have been bringing in people from different races, classes and backgrounds. Overall there must be a growing mass of people dissatisfied with how society is being run today.
This amorphous mass at present lacks representation in party political form. All three of the main political parties sit largely on the side of capital and the minority of people who hold most of the wealth. This needs to change, the parties must come to reflect the feelings of this growing mass of discontent.
Failure to respond will result in violence. While the political class did its best to blame the riots in August on individual criminality, they were in reality another form of protest. What started as a peaceful protest about the death in police custody of another black man, grew into something far bigger and more dangerous. Mob rule took over. What politicians should have looked at is why the riots took hold so easily, the tinder ground that once tapped into so easily exploded around people. Whilst much of the rioting was straight mob violence, it was also a response to a polarised society that preaches consumerism and greed as virtues. The rioters had seen bankers, politicians, the police and the media with their noses in the trough, so thought why not the rest of us?
There have been other instances over the years where failure to respond to popular protest has resulted in it taking on other forms and ultimately come to violence. The war in the north of Ireland is one of the best examples, with peaceful protest in the form of the civil rights marches repelled in violent fashion. This in turn led to violence over many years becoming the only way of expressing dissent. In the end, talks began and the peace process is now underway in earnest but there were many lives lost as a result of a totally unnecessary conflict.
It will be interesting to see how those in power in this country respond to the growing protests from groups like Occupy London to the climate change activists to the trade unions striking over cuts to pensions. It is simply not good enough to just bleat out platitudes like we’re all in it together, there needs to be a real rebalancing of society in favour of the common good of all. Until this happens the protests will continue to come thick and fast, with violence more commonplace if those in power continue to cock a deaf ear to their pleas.

Treatment of Dale Farm travellers shows an intolerant society getting worse

The site where the Irish Travellers lived at Dale Farm in Essex now has the look of a desolate battlefield.
On a recent day when I visited JVC diggers were completing the devastation, destroying further pathways to what had been a thriving community.
The cleared area has been dug up with huge coffin shaped ditches and deep gullies, supposedly to stop any Travellers getting back on the site. The area is littered with disconnected cables where the electricity supply has been cut off.
The deep religious conviction of the Travellers is in evidence everywhere, as wrecked statues stand piled up in the corner. A small shrine, where the ashes of one Traveller lay buried exists marooned amid a sea of mud.
In the midst of this chaos there are three dwellings still existing. The caravan of a woman with two deaf children and a man with cancer remain.
The Travellers have struggled to get generators from Basildon Council to get supplies back up and running. “The electricity was cut off for three days when the eviction took place,” said mother of four Michelle Sheridan, who confirms that the post is the latest service to be cut off.
Most of the travellers from the illegal site have parked up on the pitches of those living on the adjacent permanent legal site. There are 32 parked in this way.
“The council are now saying we are overcrowding this (legal) site, we need to get out and move on,” said Mrs Sheridan, who tells how the whole area is regularly scanned by a helicopter.
“We are living in muck,” said Mrs Sheridan, who tells how she had so far spent more than £100 going to the launderette in Basildon to clean clothes, now that the facilities for cleaning at the site have been discontinued.
Visiting the Dale Farm site now it appears as though since the media focus moved away the local council no longer feel under any obligation to even give a semblance of treating the Travellers with any respect.
“This is all about getting people off the site, they are doing what they like to people without any respect for human life,” said Sister Catherine Reilly, who has been a regular visitor to the site for the past eight years.
Local resident, Jo Campbell said she was “shocked and horrified that anyone could be left in such conditions.”
“The feeling among the travelling community of total rejection is palpable,” said Mrs Campbell. “I cannot get out of my mind that this is going on where I live.”
Another interesting aside on the day that I visited Dale Farm was the news that Kathleen McCarthy had accepted substantial undisclosed damages over a false claim made in the Sunday People newspaper that she was facing a police investigation over allegations of slavery.
The allegation arose around the time of the Dale Farm eviction, but concerned activities at Toddbury Farm, Bedfordshire, where Mrs McCarthy has relatives, The claims were found to be totally untrue.
A number of people noted the strange timing that saw the story about slavery at the Bedford site surface in the media at the time that Dale Farm eviction was about to take place.
The depressing lesson from events at Dale Farm and elsewhere is the way in which the public order solution has become so easily adopted as the only way forward. And in these cash strapped times, it appears that the cost is no problem.
The estimated cost of clearing the Dale Farm site was put at £18 million. What has this achieved? A number of lives have been destroyed and the problem has literally been shifted onto the adjacent legal site.
The insistence of a number of public figures, including the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood and the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, that sites needed to be found for the Travellers to move to before the eviction took place were ignored.
Would the £18 million not have been better spent providing the sites required for not only Dale Farm but other Travellers around the country?
The key to this whole situation resides in restoring the statutory obligation on local councils to provide sites for Travellers. This duty was removed in the mid 1990s.
The removal of the duty resulted in a return to the criminal justice solution. The Travellers moved around the country in a state of perpetual motion. There was no motivation for any local council to provide sites, because to do so when others were not merely made that authority a magnet for all Travellers.
The last Labour Government was moving to resolve the situation, asking local councils to identify potential sites and then move to provide provision. This however has all been reversed by the Coalition Government which appears to have returned to the public order fits all solution.
The public order solution is not limited to the Travellers world. Moves to make it illegal to squat in unoccupied buildings and drive the homeless off the streets is proof of an overall effort to criminalise increasing numbers of the poor.
The efforts to make protest more difficult are further proof of authoritarian tendencies in government.
Those who rely for their world view on the right wing media, which calls for protest to be curtailed and the jack boot of repressive forces to be given ever greater freedom would do well to revisit the 1930s comments of Pastor Martin Niemoller.
Speaking as the Nazis picked off one group after another Niemoller said: “First they came for the communists and I didn’t speak out because I was not a communist, then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak out because I was not a trade unionist, then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me,”
So who now is left to speak for the Dale Farm Travellers and others being picked off by this increasingly authoritarian society?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Time for Irish community to punch its political weight

The success of the campaign to save the Irish Post showed the power of the Irish community once mobilised into action.
Following the summary closure of the title in August by then owners Thomas Crosbie Holdings, staff and contributors joined together with supporters from the Federation of Irish Societies (FIS) and MPs.
An Early Day Motion was put down in Parliament by stalwart supporter Chris Ruane MP. This quickly gathered over 60 signatures across parties showing the strength of support in Parliament. There were 76 signatures in the end.
A meeting was held in Parliament to launch the Save the Irish Post campaign. The new owner Elgin Loan attended that meeting and must have been impressed with what he saw in terms of the passion and support shown for the paper. The liquidator then took control of the paper and Mr Loan bought it.

Mr Ruane is taking things on further in Parliament, seeking to bring together some media owners with MPs in a new initiative but there are real lessons for the Irish community in this campaign to save the Post.
It has long been a cry of some in the community that it does not punch its weight when it comes to the political stage. A few years ago Labour MP John McDonnell called for all the different organisations working in the Irish community to come together with others to effectively create a slate of political demands. Mr McDonnell compared the piecemeal approach of the community in Britain with the power of the Irish caucus in America, where for example no serious Presidential candidate would run for office without listening closely to what the Irish had to say.
These plans though never really materialised, indeed Mr McDonnell’s suggestions seemed at the time to rather annoy those then running the FIS, who may be considered they were already fulfilling such a role.
The terrain though has now significantly changed. There are massive demands that need to be articulated at political level. The economic downturn is hitting everyone hard but the Irish community has a high number among the most vulnerable groups.
The Irish community has been ageing, so cuts to the NHS, transport provision and pensions will all hit particularly hard. What of fuel poverty and lack of provision for dementia sufferers and carers.
The lack of affordable housing is another factor effecting members of the Irish community here and those coming over for work. The lull in the construction industry itself is hitting Irish employers and workers alike.
Then there are the longstanding needs of representation for Irish prisoners and the travelling community. The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas and the Irish Traveller Movement have both done excellent work in these respective areas.
Finally, in this quick summary, there are the new emigrants flowing in every day from Ireland once again. This group will have other needs that may not even be recognised yet but need to be met.
So the community has many needs that must be heard at the top political tables up and down the land. What the campaign to save the Irish Post shows is that the community has the potential to develop a louder voice in the political arena.
The FIS has become a much more voluble body since the excellent Jennie McShannon took over as chief executive. It proved its advocacy credentials earlier this year with the effective census campaign to get Irish people registering their ethnicity.
Previously, there had been mobilisation to oppose proposals being put forward by Lord Peter Goldsmith that would have detrimentally effected Irish people’s rights to citizenship.
In Parliament, the mantle of leading the Irish caucus seems to be being taken on by Mr Ruane, who is part of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly.
So there is a momentum gathering toward getting Irish issues heard more clearly in the political arena. There may though need to be some changes of approach in political tactics.
The Irish have traditionally been the bedrock of the Labour Party. Irish people have remained loyal through both thick and thin during the parties periods both in and out of government. The Labour Party has been good for the community. As the EDM to save the Irish Post proved there is strong Irish representation among MPs, but is there not a danger of the community being taken for granted by the Labour Party? Surely, links need to be strengthened with the other parties, particularly at this time when Labour is out of government at so many different levels across the country. Again the support for the Post campaign proved that not all of the other parties are hostile to all things Irish.
Then there is Ireland itself, maybe sometimes the Diaspora in Britain might look to parties like Sinn Fein for a little support in attaining some of its own demands, rather than it being a one way street. This is not ofcourse to downplay the historical context of Britain’s role as the partitoner of Ireland and occupying power.
These are all things for consideration in a wider debate in the community about how best its demands can be taken forward in the political sphere. The campaign to save the Irish Post is the latest in a proud tradition of the Irish community standing up for its rights, from the miscarriage of justice campaigns to the more recent census initiative. What these campaigns prove is just how effective a political player the community can be once mobilised. The challenge now in moving forward is how we build on these excellent roots

Planet Olympics has landed in East London

The way in which the face of east London has changed with the arrival of the London Olympics says much about the society in which we live.
The area that makes up the Olympic Park has no doubt been transformed. Travelling out on the train, the Olympic Stadium, the aquatics centre and the cycling velodrome all make impressive architectural landmarks in the area.
Then there was the recent opening of the Westfield shopping centre, next to Stratford station with its impressive array of shops and restaurants.
I live about two miles or two tube stops from the whole Olympic site. In this area the impact of the games becomes ever closer, as it seems open space gets gulped up by the process.
The Metropolitan Police have taken a part of Wanstead flats (open grassland made up of football pitches and forest) to establish a temporary headquarters, with holding cells attached. There has been much local opposition to the structure as it is believed once the precedent has been established there will be more future encroachment on what is for all intense and purposes greenbelt land. It is owned by the Corporation of London, which has steadfastly opposed all building at least until now.
Elsewhere, any individual or organisation with some space to spare seems set on letting it out to visitors who will come for the games. A cricket pitch is to provide camping space for a number of Aussies, a rugby club is similarly making its grounds available to visitors. Many householders are looking to cash in by letting their properties out for the duration of the games.
It is this commercial aspect to the London Olympics that seems to override all else. The Olympics has resulted in a huge amount of development being poured into a poor area of East London. Indeed, when the Olympic bid was won, then London Mayor Ken Livingstone admitted it was the only real way he could see of getting development into this part of the capital.
One of the problems though has been that this whole commercial fest threatens to effectively come in as something entirely separate from the local community rather than being rooted in it. Perhaps the most obvious example of this has been the failure of so many local people to get tickets to any of the events. This occurrence ofcourse can be extended countrywide. Many of the tickets have gone to corporate concerns, again emphasising that it is corporate capital that counts in the UK and little else.
The Westfield centre is another interesting development. The owners deserve credit for making it a living wage zone; however, the whole structure is almost as something from an alien world parachuted into Stratford.
To put it in context, for the past 40 odd years Stratford has had the same shopping mall, a thoroughfare between the central road to London and the train station. Permanent shops exist around the outer reaches of the mall with some market style stalls down the middle. Sainsbury has been the one big store to position itself in the mall – the shop remaining pretty much unchanged for that whole period. A Morrison’s outside the mall, on the main road, was a more recent addition.
Now Westfield has arrived dwarfing all below it. No doubt Westfield will draw consumers in, just as other shopping extravaganzas like Lakeside and Bluewater have done, providing jobs into the future but the whole concept still remains alien to this locality.
A little way from the shopping centre is the Atherton Centre housing a number of swimming baths. I must admit a certain personal attachment to the place having learned to swim there myself. Now this community based centre is to be shut down. The Olympics is said to be providing other facilities, so the Atherton is no longer required. It is though a very long way to the aquatic centre from where the Atherton now stands and it is difficult not to think it will be far more costly to use the spanking new facility, than the old community based centre.
The overall concern with this Olympics is that it has been imposed on, rather than embedded in the community. An altar to the world of corporate greed, rather than a symbol of fraternity and sporting excellence. There will no doubt be a legacy from the games, new friendships made, much new housing in the area – a genuine transformation. It must be hoped that the churches and schools efforts to establish a legacy of peace does succeed. But it is difficult not to think it could have been so much more. Maybe sculptor Anish Kapoor’s Olympic monument with its strangely contorted form of the five metal rings says much about an identity crisis at the heart of this Olympic venture – a structure imposed on rather than part of the local terrain.

Trip down memory lane

I recently turned 50, a time of reflection as to times past and what maybe to come. A week before this ‘significant’ anniversary, I went cycling with a friend in the Sussex countryside near Rye. It was something of a trip down memory lane, going around the area where we used to go on holiday as children.
The cottage where we used to stay, the village of Broad Oak and town of Rye all formed part of the tour. But perhaps the height of the trip was a visit to St Teresa’s of Lisieux Church at Horns Cross, Northiam. It is a little church built in the 1930s by the author Sheila Kaye- Smith, who together with her husband Theodore Penrose Fry lie buried in the graveyard.
As a family on holiday in the 1960s and 70s we used to go to the church every Sunday. On Thursdays, the then priest Canon Hopetoun Curry would come out in his allegro car to serve mass. There would often be five in the congregation, three of them being my Dad, who served, brother and myself.
In those days St Teresa’s was in something of a no man’s land served from St Andrews, Tenderden, which is in the Southwark Diocese, while the church is geographically in Arundel and Brighton.
This has now changed with St Teresa’s being served from nearby Battle in Arundel and Brighton diocese.
On the sunny day of our cycling trip we were sitting on a seat in the graveyard when the sacristan and her husband arrived. We chatted about the old days of Canon Curry, who served St Teresa’s for 50 years up to 1984. Other memories included Father John Hagreen, who succeeded Canon Currie and some of the families that had been around at the time. A lady called Edna Burton, who had been a friend of my Mums was buried in 2002 in the graveyard and had some new stations of the cross dedicated to her memory.
The most striking thing though on entering the Church was a link that had been made with Peru. There was one of the beautifully woven material clothes depicting Peruvian life on the altar. At the back were pictures of life on the barrios in Peru and the Columban priest Ed O’Connell, who I was told sometimes visits when he comes to England. There was a strong charitable and spiritual tie up between the people of the Lima barrios and those of St Teresa’s.
The significance for myself came because after leaving the University of Kent in 1983 I went into banking for a few years. It was mainly as a result of being involved with a group in my own parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in London that a link with Peru was established. The group known as the Association for Relief in Crisis Areas raised money to support projects in the south. The group also endeavoured to raise awareness as to the injustice of such situations.
One of the major projects was in Lima run by the Mercy sisters. In 1990s, two of us went out to Peru to see the project that involved supplying water and electricity to this barrio area. The Columbans were very supportative at that time, with Ed O’Connell playing a major role in the Peru Support Group. Ed later returned to the same barrios, where he ministers to this day.
The visit to Peru was life changing for me. While previously I had been content to work in the City of London, doing charitable work with some justice attached in the parish, now I wanted to work full time on social justice. The poverty of the barrios, combined with the spirit of the people had a lasting effect.
It took a couple of years from then to get out of the bank totally but eventually I moved over to social justice journalism and initially a lobbying support role for the non-governmental organisations on Cambodia, based at Christian Aid.
The whole reflection born of that day was just how the spirit works in mysterious ways. Going to St Teresa’s all those years ago. Then the growing involvement with social justice work in my own London parish, leading eventually to Peru. Then the return on the eve of the 50th birthday to St Teresa’s only to find that this church was now linked up to the same area of Peru. The fate element was added to, given that had we not taken a wrong turn at the start of the day and arrived an hour earlier at the church, we would never have met the couple or discovered the Peru connection. What a strange and small world we live in. The inter-connectedness of us all is something wonderful to behold. God certainly does works in mysterious ways

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Allotment life

Gemma and Sandy Sanderson have created their own self sustainable oasis at the Redbridge Lane West allotments in Wanstead.
The original motivation to take up the allotment came from Sandy’s doctor. A former publican he suffers with the rheumatic disease Ankglosing Spondylitis, affecting the joints. “The doctor said fresh air and exercise were a good idea, so we began looking at allotments,” said Sandy.
Gemma works for Barclays Bank in Canary Wharf. She sits at a computer screen for much of the week, so was also looking for a way to get outside and do something different.
The couple have lived in Gants Hill for the past seven years. “This site is well placed for us, on the bus route with toilets on site,” said Sandy, who remembers that the plot was originally just grass.
The transformation of the 60ft x60ft site in four short years has been amazing to behold. It has literally been customised for Sandy and Gemma.
The couple put in a number of raised beds with wide paths between, thereby enabling Sandy to work on his hands and knees. The area has a lot of stone in the soil, so it has been a common site to see Sandy’s backside in the air as he tunnels down removing stone. The stone has then been used for the paths. The sifted soil and compost have then been put back into the lined beds.
Gemma and Sandy have a big commitment to sustainability in all that they do. This means growing the crops in organic fashion, without bringing in any pesticides or other chemical agents. They have also tried wherever possible to recycle materials. This has meant using wood reclaimed from skips to build all the borders fences and raised beds. “When people do loft conversions there is always a lot of wood going spare. If it is in a skip, you can knock on the door and most people are quite happy for you to take it away,” said Sandy.
The couple have also picked up information as they have gone along. One of the great advantages of allotment life is the ready social circle of information that is available.
One piece of advice was to stew comfrey leaves and use the resulting liquid as a feed for tomatoes. Another tip concerned filling trenches with cardboard, soggy newspapers and manure as a preparation for growing things like sweetcorn and squashes.
Sandy and Emma were given cabbage and broccoli from fellow allotment holders when they first started work on the plot. Now many allotment holders come to them for advice. They recently got a highly commended award in the Redbridge Allotment awards.
“In the summer months we don’t buy any veg or fruit,” said Gemma, who admitted that in the early days they tended to get gluts of certain crops like runner beans but they have now learned to stagger things.
There is also much storage at home. Tomato chutney and jams require preparation. Then potatoes and onions can be stored away once dried off. For crops like beans, freezing is the way to keep the crops for the lean winter months. “We need to look at buying another freezer now,” said Gemma.
Another striking element about the allotment are the flowers on display. Most have a purpose, like the marigolds keeping white fly off the crops. Then there are the imposing sunflowers, which as well as presenting a striking image also provides seed to feed the birds.
The plot is well stocked with fruit. There are strawberries, logan berries, raspberries and tag berries – a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. There are lots of blackberries around the borders of the plot.
There are five compost bins and a number of water butts.
In the push for self sufficiency, the Gemma and Sandy are now looking to move into bees and chickens. The chickens will have to be at home, though the bees might yet be seen in Redbridge Lane West. “Sandy bought me a bee keeping course for Christmas last year. We finished the course in June and got some bees and a hive in July. There will be honey next year,” said Gemma.
Many allotment sites have bee hives but they are not permitted at Redbridge Lane West. “At one site we were told that production doubled when bees were introduced,” said Gemma, who hopes that bee hives may in time be permitted at the Wanstead site.
Gemma and Sandy certainly recommend allotment life. They spend most of their weekends at the plot, with Sandy making the odd visit in the week during the summer. “We love it. We come down with the coffee and sandwiches and make a day of it. There are decent people around to chat with so there is a social network as well,” said Gemma.
“They call allotments green gyms, what could be a better way of getting healthy,” said Sandy. “There is the exercise involved in working on the plot, then the goodness you are getting from the food produced.”
One day when the couple retire they hope to get a slightly bigger area of maybe around an acre to push the self sufficiency dream on that bit further. It would then be possible to grow a bit more, as well as keeping animals like pigs and sheep. That though is for tomorrow, today Gemma and Sandy continue to work their oasis at the bottom of Redbridge Lane West.

Church must move from maintenance to rediscover mission role

Near to where I live in east London plans have been unveiled to establish a homeless hostel. There are a number of homeless people who roam up and down the main arterial road through the town. Many call at the Catholic Church looking for some support and sustenance.Supposedly when the hostel is established most of these homeless people will be able to go there for support. The response from the local suburban community says much about the society in which we live. A vociferous little bunch of people have opposed the establishment of the hostel. They quote the fact that it is an area where there are schools and care homes. The implication is that the elderly and young are at risk from the homeless. There seems to be a belief that because someone is homeless this automatically means they must also be criminal and addicted to some form of drug. Some 150 people have signed the petition against the hostel with newspaper reports suggesting that local Catholic schools have registered concerns with the council. A real case of not in my back yard (nimbyism).The Catholic Church is central to this situation. It sits near to where the hostel would be built with the two Catholic primaries also in the vicinity. There will no doubt by members of the Church among those supporting the homeless but others opposing the hostel. The interesting thing is that the local churches generally have not entered into the debate at all. They have publically largely stood by silent on the sidelines. No doubt some may argue this is a civil matter. But this story raises a question that applies to the Church countrywide, namely what has happened to the role of mission as opposed to that of maintenance? The Church of mission is involved and reaches out to the community. It is integral. The social teachings of the Church are not kept in a box, secret from the parish community, but talked about and lived out day in day out. A church that was engaged in such a way would not only be supporting the homeless but asking why there are so many homeless people in the fourth largest economy in the world. In the type of situation described, the Church would certainly have had something to say, discussed it publically and had an official stance.
A test of the value of a Church in the local community is what would happen if it were knocked down tomorrow. Would it make a difference? It may mean locals don't have parishioners cluttering up their streets with their cars every week. Less pollution, so a positive impact in reducing global warming. It could effect those parents that want to get their kids in the schools but what else? If on the other hand it is a church of mission then it would make a big difference to the community. Support of the homeless, refugees, the elderly, a caring community that lives in an environmentally sustainable way - it should be a beacon of how to live together. There are no doubt plenty of churches across the country reaching out doing the work of mission in their communities. There are though those that clearly are not. These churches are doing the work of maintenance, seeing themselves as a refuge from the outside world, not a part of the community. There is a disconnect, an obsession with procedure, whether it be how eucharistic ministers dress or the order in which the congregation come up for communion. In terms of the local community, these churches are spectators not participants. Far too many churches have erred over recent years toward the maintenance model which provides an easier life. The church of maintenance does not challenge what goes on beyond it's doors. It offers nothing to the young, who drift away once confirmed It is not vital and in the worst case scenarios represents simply managing decline.The way forward is to rediscover the church of mission, reaching out, engaged and living out the social teachings. It is a church peopled by those who have some formation and understanding of what it means to be a Christian in society today. The social teachings are alive and being lived out. It is a vital living Church that has a crucial role to play in the community. Rediscovering the church of mission is the only way forward for the church today.

New economic model needs to be found urgently

There does appear at least at rhetorical level to be recognition on the part of the leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband that the present neo- liberal economic system is busted. He together with the Trades Union Congress has asserted that a new way of doing things must be found. The TUC ofcoure has gone much further mapping out real alternatives to bring about change.
This position is in stark contrast to the Coalition Government which in a strange contortion appears to be trying to address issues like the deficit with another dose of the same neo liberal orthodoxy that helped create the problems in the first place. Deregulation, privatisation and the sanctity of the market were all rubrics of neo-liberal economics as promoted in the first instance by the government of Margaret Thatcher but then continued by successive Conservative and Labour administrations. How quite the destruction of the public sector to the benefit of the privateers is supposed to address the question of the deficit is a question that remains unanswered.
The situation existing now simply cannot continue for much longer. There are the gathering clouds of an economic storm in the Europe and the United States. Talk of revisiting the banking crisis of 2008, when famously the world was said to be hours away from the cash machines stopping, now abounds. Incidentally, if such a scenario does ever happen, the riots and looting seen last August will seem as nothing in comparison.
There is enough evidence around that the present economic system is just not working and needs to change. Yet strangely the government carries on in the same way. As recession bites deeper, the amount that people have to pay towards pensions increases. The train operating companies are given a free rein to increase their prices, operating in the sort of bubble, only previously seen in relation to banker’s bonuses. A similar attitude seems prevalent when it comes to the energy companies, which are also forcing up prices and increasing fuel poverty.
When it comes to constructing a new economic system, the first thing that needs to change is the emphasis on vested interests and greed. At times over the past 30 years it seems that policies from the privatisation of the railways and energy to the Private Finance Initiative systems of funding for building new hospitals and schools seem totally premised on a few people making a profit to the cost of everyone else.
A new way of doing things must put the morality of the common good at its centre. The treatment of people and the environment in which they live must be a main pillar, as must an inclusivity that recognises the inherent worth of every human being from the baby in the cradle to the elderly person at home.
This would mean the workers who produce the product, whether it be boiler components or the education of a child must be put first. Part of this construct must be decent wages and terms and conditions of work. No more bosses being paid one hundred times more than the workers.
The role of the parent must be respected and remunerated in the society. The role of parent needs to be set alongside that of a job, not taken, as it is now, as some make do and mend add on that apparently everyone knows naturally how to do.
In terms of the type of economy for the future, there needs to be a major move toward green technology. This is where the future lies.
There must also be a return to the land, with people producing more of their own food. This helps create self sufficiency but it is also a vital part of every human beings education to be in touch with the earth. There are moves to provide more spaces so that people can grow more of their own food, such as allotments and shared gardens etc but there needs to be more.
There should also be more time for leisure and education in a new economic model. This would mean less time needed at work, allowing more time with family and friends, as well as on education. The concept of education in its most basic sense needs to be recaptured from the bastardised version that now seems to dominate in educational establishments around the country. Exam factories have little role to play in expanding the mind.
There are some nascent signs of a debate developing in terms of what a new economic model should look like. But this needs to be accelarated, with a wide coalition of interests including the unions, Labour Party, environmentalists, progressive employers, faiths and others all having a part to play. Change would be better implemented in a peaceful and equitable way rather than coming as a phoenix from the ashes of a devastated economic meltdown.

Economic system should be focus of pro-life agenda

The biggest threat to sanctity of life today is the voracious economic model that defines nearly every aspect of our daily lives.
This particular variant of market capitalism runs completely at odds with the teaching of the Church. Where the Church places the human being and sanctity of life at the centre of its concerns, the market capitalist model only sees value in the individual as a unit of exploitable labour. Increasingly, if an individual, whether a student or pensioner, cannot “benefit the system’” then they are seen as having no net worth.
The results of having pursued this un-Christian form of development over recent years have become recently apparent for all to see. A dislocated society, a loss of community and humanity, with individuals only seeing value in their own material possessions. In its most clear form this lack of values is typified in the looter who takes the flat screened TV or the politician who falsely claims the same item on expenses.
Gradually, each building block that makes up a sustainable community has been eroded by this form or economic development. Take the family. The economic system now decrees that both parents must work. This can have a destructive effect on the development of the child.
Rosemary Keenan, chief executive of the Childrens Society, highlights how a child can be shifted between different service providers. A child minder before school, a breakfast club at school, a child minder after school and finally the parent for, as one study found, the remaining 40 minutes of the day.” The child experiences different adults with varying ideas of what is and is not acceptable,” said Mrs Keenan. “Children need consistent care from an adult to whom they can relate.” A decent economic model would recognise the role of the parent and reward it accordingly.
Add into this mix that fact that one in five of those aged 16 to 24 do not have jobs and the failure of the economic model becomes all the more apparent.
Work is a central part of human life, yet the economic model today does not provide work for a growing number of people. It provides less than fulfilling work for an even larger group. The Church’s social teachings highlight the integral value in work to the welfare of human beings. There is a need for people to not only have work but retain a dignity in what they do.
Over recent years, people have increasingly worked longer hours for less money. The exploitation has been justified on the basis of the need for businesses to make ever more profits. Less and less of these profits are redistributed to workers and citizens in the form of wages and public services.
The common good has not been served by a growing elite of uber –rich individuals and corporations effectively making monies on the backs of everyone else and failing to pay the requisite taxes. There is an obvious impact of these policies on the common good.
The elderly are another group not valued by the economic model. They are seen in the main as a cost rather than an asset. There is the need to provide a pension, health care and care itself as the individual gets older. Given that the neo-liberal system is in crisis this has seen successive governments seeking to cut pensions. The needs of the elderly are all viewed as ‘costs’ to society.
The final solution ofcourse is euthanasia, which seems to be being quietly shephered in via the back door of the NHS. Once an individual has outlived their value to the system then they can be let go.
The Church has been outspoken in opposition to euthanasia, as it has with abortion. However, in this age particularly the Church needs to find a new voice that embraces the real attack on the sanctity of life that is the very system of economic development being pursued in this and other countries. The lack of value put on parenting, the failure to provide a future for children, unemployment, exploitative work practices and the attitude to the elderly should all form part of the life agenda.
The Church needs to develop its critique of the neo-liberal system, thereby redefining its declarations on life issues. Pope Benedict has begun this process with the encyclical Caritas in veritate but this needs to be continued. The teachings of that encyclical need to percolate down to the faithful, not be put in the safe with all the other social teachings that we rarely hear about from the pulpit.
The world needs to hear the voice of the Church on the question of economic justice, never has the system been in such turmoil or so in need of a moral compass. If the Church can recalibrate its voice on matters of what sanctity of life means, then it can play a greater role in the world on the side of the poor.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Irish Post to return to the streets in weeks

The Irish Post newspaper will be back on the streets in a weeks after being bought up by London based Irish businessman and Loot magazine owner Elgin Loane
Previous owners, Thomas Crosbie Holdings had announced that the title would stop trading as of 19 August 2011, going into liquidation.
Now, following the formal liquidation two weeks ago, Mr Loane has beat off business rivals with a successful bid.
Mr Elgin, who initially apprenticed in Birmingham as a printer, qualified as an accountant in England and owns a number of print and media based businesses with offices in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
“The Irish Post has a long and proud tradition of serving the expatriate community in Britain for over forty years and must be continued for the benefit of both the incumbents as well as the growing population of Irish people heading to Britain,” said Mr Loane.
Irish Post journalist and Save the Irish Post campaign member Fiona Audley was delighted with the outcome. “This is a victory for the whole community,” said Ms Audley. “Now we are planning the future, which will see a bigger and better Irish Post coming out for the readers.”
Labour MP Stephen Pound, who supported the campaign to save the Irish Post, said: “This is brilliant news. The Irish Post offers a window onto the Irish community that needs to be kept on. Now it needs to be supported,” said Mr Pound. “There has been a gap in the week without the paper, so it is good to know that the paper is back.”

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Can the Irish Post be saved?

It is almost 18 months to the day since the great and the good of the Irish community sat down for a celebratory meal to mark the 40th anniversary of the Irish Post. Now,Thomas Crosbie Holdings, the owners of the Irish Post, have announced that it will cease trading, with the loss of 12 jobs. So what went wrong?
The Irish Post was founded in 1970 by journalist Breandan MacLua and accountant Tony Beatty. It was the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland which had by then extended to Britain. Irish living in England, Scotland and Wales felt part of a suspect community, every time a bomb went off in Britain eyes seemed to turn to those people of Irish descent, staffing the hospitals, working in the schools and building the roads. The British establishment media ran government propaganda about the Troubles, two feuding tribes with the army trying to keep the peace between them. The Irish community needed a voice.It was the Irish Post that came to provide that voice under the stewardship of Brendan MacLua and later editor Donal Mooney. The staff worked hard to bring out a high quality product that gave the Irish a voice. It told the truth of what was going on in the north of Ireland and campaigned relentlessly on injustices such as the Birmingham Six, Judy Ward and the Guildford Four. Later it played a significant role in bringing to wider attention cases like those of John Mathews, who would otherwise have become the new miscarriage of justice victims. The paper also covered other aspects of the community, the cultural side with events like Irish dance,the language, poetry and sport. There were other needs like those of the elderly, the homeless and prisoners. The Irish were strong in the trade union and labour movements - this was reflected in the paper. The Irish Post worked, it performed a public service and turned a healthy profit.The paper continued to prosper. Somewhat ironically it was the ending of the Troubles that spelled some problems. The Troubles meant that events in the north of Ireland dominated much of the national news agenda over 30 years. They transported what was otherwise, for the British media, a regional backwater to become the dominant national news story. As peace took hold, news from the north subsided to regional status as far as the national media were concerned. It also provided less of a focus for the Irish Post.The paper adjusted covering much news from the Republic, as well as focusing on more peaceful matters in Britain. The paper continued to campaign, covering the deaths of Irish prisoners in Brixton prison and surprisingly for some the abuse of British soldiers in barracks. The deaths at Deepcut and other barracks featured early in the pages of the paper.The readership, though ageing, remained loyal. Executives at the paper looked to draw in the new generation of younger Irish emigrants coming to work in Britain. This was a difficult ground for the Irish Post to crack, it did not seem a natural buy for this computer literate generation. A big break came with Ken Livingstone's election as Mayor of London. Livingstone had always been loyal to the Irish community, playing his own part in the past at exposing injustices. So when elected, he introduced the St Patrick's Day parade in London. The Irish Post under new editor Norah Casey became a key player, gaining much needed public profile. The event has grown and the Irish Post prospered from the association. The ownership of the paper has changed hands twice, first being bought by Jefferson Smurfitt and then by Thomas Crosbie Holdings for £1.3 million in 2003. Sadly, sales have been on the decline, going from around 30,000 a decade ago to around 17,000 today.The paper though has continued to serve the community, providing a cohesion and space for its issues. The paper championed the Federation of Irish Societies (FIS) campaign to get the Irish to register for the census earlier this year. A couple of years ago the paper gave much coverage to the dangers to the Irish of proposals effecting British citizenship. The paper has provided one of the few fair voices on the plight of Irish travellers and prisoners. There have been problems. There has been a tendency at time to duplicate the role of papers like the Irish Times and Independent, producing Irish news for the Irish in Britain. Why would they buy the Post to get what was available elsewhere, the niche always has to be the affairs of the Irish in Britain and how they relate to the mother country. The steady hand of a McLua or Mooney has clearly been seen lacking in coverage of issues like the Catholic Church and the relationship with the British Crown. There seems to be something of an identity crisis at the paper regarding these issues, but then that maybe true of the Irish generally so in a sense again the paper is only reflecting its constituency. What is certain is that there should be a future for the newspaper. There would be some restructuring required, moving out of the expensive rented accommodation in Hammersmith to a more humble abode. Maybe some sharing of other functions with similar players in the field. There will also need to be a recognition of who the readership are and what the paper is for. The readership is ageing but surely the money of a 65 year old is just as good as that of the 25 year old?
A group led by the Federation of Irish Societies and made up of Irish Post management and staff members and supporters in the wider Irish community is now seeking to save the paper. “The Federation of Irish Societies will do all we can to defend our community interest in the Irish Post; contributing to drawing up a realistic rescue plan and seek potential backers from the business community. In this, we will work with and seek support from the Irish Embassy, members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Irish in Britain and politicians throughout the Irish Diaspora,” said Jennie McShannon, chief executive of the Irish Post.The loss of the Irish Post would represent a sad day. The Irish make up the second largest ethnic minority group in the UK today, and as the past teaches they need a voice for their issues. Let’s hope that the ongoing effort to save this once great institution prove successful so that that voice is not lost forever.
* For more information see savetheirishpost@hotmail.co.uk

Monday, 22 August 2011

A new economic model is answer to riots

There has been much focus on retribution in the aftermath of the riots in England. The courts have handed out some truly draconian sentences for what in the normal run of things would be considered minor offences. Some politicians have even attempted to climb onto the moral high ground to talk about single parents, family breakdown etc. What next bankers on how to live frugally?Some rather more useful comments came from east London priest Monsignor John Armitage who spoke of the greed and selfishness in society and the demise of family life. Oldham priest Father Phil Sumner pointed out that simply vilifying those who committed the crimes will achieve nothing beyond making matters worse. "People don't accept the values of society until they value themselves. They feel excluded by society and left behind, so they don't care what society says," said Father Sumner, who lamented the growing margins.
Picking up on the family theme, Alison Gelder, chief executive of Housing Justice, expressed her exasperation that "no one talks about the need to find a way out of the situation we are in where, even if there are two devoted parents, they both have to work full time just to afford a decent home." "I want a world where parents can afford to choose to be at home with and for their children, right up to school leaving age," said Mrs Gelder.Family breakdown, community disintegration and the increasingly alienated class of people who do not share in the wealth of our celebrity led culture all form part of the problem.Work has been lauded as a far more superior function to bringing up children. Indeed in most cases both parents have to work in order to raise children. A recent survey found that the average child had just 40 minutes with their parent.The binding idealogy that determines the society in which we live is market capitalism. It is a machine that has come to dominate everyones lives. If you do not serve the machine you have no part in the society or value to it. This has particular implictions for the old and young.
Other attributes of the most recent form of neo-liberal capitalism have seen the promotion of greed as a virtue. When in the 1980s Oliver Stone made his film Wall Street, the intention was that the main character Gordon Gecko would be viewed as the epitomy of all that is bad in society. The phrase greed is good became synonomous with the character. However, instead of exposing the appalling society being created, the Gecko figure became a role model for many in the banking and trading worlds. Roll on 25 years and we had the banking crisis. Now the riots, I am what I have and if I cannot get it through "legitmate means" I'll take it anyway.The evolution of the neo-liberal market economic system has seen the rich get richer, whilst the mass of poor get poorer. The polarisation of rich to poor has now reached epic proportions. The workforce is now made up of people working longer for less pay. Family life has been one of the main casualties of this process. If society really wants to get to grips with the problems thrown up by the riots then a new economic system must be developed with different values. People not profit must be put first. Family life should become a central tenent of this model. This is not be confused with the idea of a model family. Single parents, two parents doesn't matter. What does matter is that space is made for parenting and bringing up children. The role of the parent must be recognised, rewarded and celebrated.Community needs rebuilding. The society must get away from this purile self seeking individualism. Giving something to the community should be lauded. Schools and education have a role to play. Education should be open to all free and for all of their lives, something people can step in and out of. Schools should not just be exam factories preparing the child to become a cog in a corporate wheel.Failure to address these issues will lead to more riots and a truly ugly society. The super rich will retire to their gated communities protected by security companies, whilst disorder reigns beyond the gates. The margins will grow, with the prison populations expanding. More lives will be wasted. The choice is stark, begin putting our society back together again, which requires a new economic model or continue towards the abyss, blaimng individual criminality and gang culture.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots expose communities falling apart

The recent riots in London showed a glimpse of how close to the edge many communities have become.


Remember, London is the wealthiest, most diverse and integrated city in the land, yet the equivalent of a match in the tinder box resulted in days of rioting and looting. This then spread across the country.


The touch paper that seemed to set off the whole series of riots began in Tottenham where a black man Mark Duggan was shot dead by the police.The Independent Police Complaints Commission were called into investigate but all of the usual hallmarks that have typified the deaths of civilians in police custody over recent years came into play.


The family of the dead man were it seems literally ignored. The shooting occurred on Thursday yet by Saturday they had still not seen the body. Tensions in north London toward the police have run high for many years, partly due to a number of deaths in police custody. Nationwide there have been shown to be a disproportionate people from black, irish and other minority ethnic communities among those dying in police custody. There have been moves to address the issue over the years but there are still a frightening number of people still dying at the hands of the police.The process lacks credibility among many communities, with the odds loaded against the family of the dead individuals. In worst case scenarios they are almost treated like criminals themselves. At the end of the process, when an inquest has taken place, no action is usually taken against the police. Even when inquest juries have brought in verdicts of unlawful killing against the police, the Crown Prosecution Service has today rarely moved to prosecute.Over the years this has had the effect of destroying any belief in the system that people in these communities may have held. On the police side it breeds a belief that they are above the law, whatever happens, even if someone dies in custody they will not be held to account.It is against this background that the march of the family and friends of Mark Duggan last Saturday needs to be set. The march went off peacefully but at the police station the marchers were kept waiting for hours before the police engaged with them. This no doubt built tensions. Having been on a number of similar demonstrations myself in east London I know the feeling of tension that can build up. On a couple of notable occasions on marches to Forest Gate and Ilford Police stations to make similar protests, the tensions rose and the things could have gone either way, riot or restrained peaceful and dignified protest. In both cases, due to the families concerned and the response of the police the events passed off peacefully.On Saturday, the peaceful protest seemed somehow to then morph into a violent protest. This then spread in the community leading to the violent scenes portrayed on television. There no doubt was mindless violence and looting by opportunists looking to prosper at the expense of others. However, the way in which this protest developed and later spread across London and beyond, suggests other underlying factors prompting the situation.Many of the youngsters in these communities face a bleak future, with a lack of jobs and prospects. In an increasingly atomised world, strings that may have linked them to communities no longer exist. What strings there are hold many to the gang culture. This was seen in evidence during the riots, as groups of youngsters in hoodies on bikes seemed to take over parts of London. Into this bleak scenario feed the celebrity led culture that worships wealth. You are what you have. Given that most of these youngsters have no means or prospects to obtain these material goods, why when an opportunity comes to just take it would they resist?The cuts made by the present government have simply exaserpated a bad situation. Funding for youth clubs and educational centres has been withdrawn. It was these services that provided what little bit of cement there was holding together many of these communities. The removal of these last links has effectively proved to be the straw that broke the camels back and almost brought the whole lot crashing down.Much of the media focus has been on the police. Ironically, despite the way the police have mishandled the situation from the Duggan case in Tottenham to failure to keep control of the streets, the outcome will no doubt be more resourcing for the police. However, this misses the point. For far too long there has been a focus on the police as the answer to social problems. Put more police on the streets and everything will be all right. This is simply wrong, police at best are social dustmen dealing with the outcomes of societal failure, they cannot be the solution.What the riots should teach is just how little real community cohesion there is in many parts of this country. The cement that kept communities together has been constantly chipped away to the point now where there is very little left. This was the underlying situation that only needed the blue touch paper lite to go up in smoke. What is required is not more cuts that take the little vestage of cohesion away but a root and branch effort to build community. This will involve investing in work for people, providing affordable housing and a real prospects of a future for today's youngsters. The riots brought the country to the edge of the abyss, failure to address the root causes or taking a strictly public order approach as a solution will mean that the next time the whole scenario could be far worse.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Change needed to a system that rewards the rich at the cost of everyone else

The deal struck to avert the US deficit crisis was typical of others agreed around the world on the subject of deficit reduction. The crux of the matter being that the public services that the majority of people rely upon are to be savagely cut whilst those with massive wealth will not pay a penny more in taxes.So the poor pay, whilst the rich continue with business as usual.The super rich, who in a number of cases are responsible for the economic crisis in the first place, escape all responsibility for their actions. In the banking world where the seeds of this crisis were sown, high earners continue to operate in a bubble, seemingly oblivious to the damage they have caused. The champagne continues to flow as the latest bonuses are pocketed, some ofcourse directly paid for by the tax payers who bailed out the banks.On an individual and corporate level tax avoidance is the name of the game. Companies move their operations around the world to the area that demands the lowest tax take on their profits. They also seek areas with weak labour laws that make it difficult for trade unions to operate, so making it easier to directly exploit workers. Super rich individuals minimise tax payments.Turning to the situation in the UK, all of these processes are going on in microcosm. As Labour MP Jon Cruddas pointed out recently, the poor are being made to shoulder the £18 billion burden through the cuts imposed by the Welfare Bill whilst the tax on the banks raises just £3 billion. The government has largely been conducting a smoke and mirrors exercise with its Big Society agenda. Whilst cast in the rhetoric of charity and volunteering, the reality is that it is about people doing services either for less pay or no pay at all. The short sighted attitude to the charitable sector was recently underlined by the research group False Economy which found that 2,000 charities were being hit by funding cuts due to less money being available to local authorities. These are the very same charities, like the Citizens Advice Bureaux, whose services will be needed all the more in these times of economic austerity.The whole process of deficit reduction seems to be a giant sized con trick perpetrated by the very rich on everybody else. As public services are cut, the ultra rich continue as though nothing has changed. The capitalist media plays its role building the cult of celebrity around the rich, making excessive wealth out to be something to be admired and aspired to rather than simply the fruits of a modern day version of the robber baron. The question remains as to how long the mass of people across the world are going to continue bankrolling the lifestyle of the ultra rich. How long will those who pay tax be prepared to see their public services trashed? The politicians seem powerless to act. In the US, President Obama clearly wanted to tax the rich more but did not have the necessary support in a Congress dominated by the representatives of the ultra wealthy. Looking to individual politicians to make these changes in the modern world is just wishful thinking. The media continually portray the world as though it is all down to individuals. In reality, there is little difference between political leaders, these days, they mainly sing from the same hymn sheet of defending the wealth of the rich and powerful to the cost of everyone else.It was not coincidental that in past decades, there were higher taxes on the rich and a more equitable distribution of wealth. This was because there was a strong civil society and labour movement. Politicians in the past were just as opportunistic as those today but they had to act more equitably because the society had checks and balances to make sure this happened. Today these checks and balances seem to have disappeared, with corporate power the only deciding factor in town. None of these factors make for a functioning democracy or indeed contribute to the common good. If things continue in the direction they are going then there will be civil unrest, as the injustice on the mass of people continues to be perpetuated. Only root and branch change from the present busted neo-liberal economic system will see any progress being made toward a more just and equitable world.

How decayed communities fell to looting

There has been much focus on the performance of the police during the London riots. But the police are social dustmen. They deal with the results of social problems; they are not a solution.
What the riots denote is just how much communities in the inner cities have decayed over recent years. The latest cuts simply take away the last remaining bits of cement that had been holding the crumbling edifice together.Hope for many young people has been taken away, yet at the same time the materialist celebrity culture is fed to them 24 hours a day – you are what you have. Once this dangerous cocktail of dispossession, hopelessness and shops crammed full of goodies is brought together, who can be surprised that, with a little co-ordination via social networking sites, a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham should have turned into rioting and looting. It is time for politicians and media commentators to realise that community is falling apart in this country and we are closer to the abyss that anyone has been prepared to contemplate.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Norwegian tragedy should act as wake up call

The initial reporting in the UK of the killing of 77 people by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway said much about the media mindset surrounding such events.
There was an immediate leap to link the killings to Al Queda and Islamic terrorism.
As soon as it was established that it was not an Al Queda attack, but a right wing fanatic the tone changed. It was no longer an attack on our society but the acts of a crazed mad man.
Even, once the facts were established, this did not stop a number of politicians and commentators here continuing to rehearse all the old clich├ęs about terrorism, despite the total disconnect with what had occurred in Norway.
The old adage of never wasting a good crisis sprang to mind as some in the media and political class used the opportunity to stir up the vista of fear to frighten people.
It seemed that another effort was being launched to use a tragedy in another country to justify more authoritarian measures taking away liberties here. The old cry of the dictator: give me your liberties and I will provide security resonated out once again.
Fortunately though these sentiments were not being voiced in Norway, where Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called for a response that brought "more democracy and more openness." This was exactly the response needed to such an attack on innocent people and democracy. It also reflected a country clearly secure in its identity, not seeking to look for a scapegoat for societal ills.
An extreme right wing fundamentalist Christian, Anders Breivik was anti-Muslim and anti-left, hence the shooting of the students at a socialist youth camp. He is apparently an admirer of the English Defence League in this country.
There has been a worrying synergy growing up over recent years between fundamentalist Christians and the far right with common ground developing over a hatred of Islam and anti-immigrant xenophobia.
It is interesting to see some of these fundamentalists seemingly stuck in a time warp, referring everything from environmental catastrophe to economic breakdown back to the old left/right divides of the Cold War era. For these individuals, there is always an enemy out there that has to be confronted, whether it be communism, Islam or simply the other.
The far right in this country has not been slow to exploit possible links to fundamentalist Christianity, targeting Catholics in particular for recruits. The BNP has in the past quoted Papal encyclicals like Rerum Novarum out of context in order to justify its creed.
Two years ago at the time of the European elections, the BNP ran an advertising campaign claiming that Jesus would vote for the party. Church leaders spoke out but the party ended up winning two seats in the European Parliament.
The tragic events in Norway need to be put in a proper context of the crazed killer motivated by extreme right wing idealogy. The most comparable individual to Breivik is probably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, not the 9/11 or 7/7 terrorists. He no doubt will be dealt with through the criminal process in Norway, which is what should happen. And hopefully, given the Prime Minister’s comments, there will be no resort to cutting the liberties of Norwegian citizens in the aftermath.
What these events do is to serve notice of the growing danger of the far right in Europe, with its appeal to the increasingly disenfranchised amongst the population.
The Norway tragedy show the dangers that extreme right wing ideology can bring about in disturbed individuals. Communities need to come together to counter the threat of the far right, whilst those charged with protecting the people from the threat of terrorism should refocus their efforts on the real dangers rather than getting caught up in an often illogical focus on Islam.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

When are the rich going to be made to pay for the deficit they did so much to create?

The deal to fix the US deficit once again reflects how every financial crisis that occurs in the world today seems to be being dumped at the door of the poorest people. The deal reflects the same type of thinking as seen in this country when addressing deficit reduction, namely the average to badly off have the public services they depend on cut whilst the rich - who in the main caused the crisis - pay not a penny more in tax. How long will people be prepared to tolerate this internatioanal con trick being perpetuated by the very rich to the cost of everybody else? When will a politician emerge with the guts to say to the rich, you created this crisis, now pay your share to sort it out.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hacking crisis reveals problems of an increasingly devalued trade

It was three years ago at an employment tribunal hearing in Stratford, east London that I first got a glimpse of the darker side of News International.
The tribunal was hearing the case of Matt Driscoll, a sports reporter on the News of the World, who had been dismissed finally by the company in 2007.
The process of getting rid of Driscoll though began two years previously, with warnings. Emails revealed that then NOW editor Andy Coulson wanted to “get shot” of him “as quickly and cheaply as possible.”
Driscoll got sick but was still subject to a barrage of phone calls emails and visits to his home insisting he see the company doctor, despite his own GP saying he must distance himself from the source of his stress.
Driscoll won the day with the tribunal declaring there had been “a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour” from senior NOW managers. He was awarded £792,736 in compensation for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
The Driscoll case showed a glimpse of the atmosphere of fear that the newspaper could create amongst its own employees, let alone what it considered to be sources for news stories. It was an unhealthy culture that has only recently come to light.
The last editor of the NOW Colin Myler seems to have steadied things down a little at the paper, from the days of hacking, but few will be regretting the loss of a paper that was obsessed with scandal.
The demise of the News of the World and the wider debate now opening up on the media raises a number of questions. The concern must be that once again the broad brush approach will be taken that all journalists are bad, just as all MPs and bankers were suddenly tarnished as a result of the scandals that erupted in those sectors over recent years.
The truth is that proper investigative journalism has a vital role to play in any functioning democracy. It acts as a check on those holding power and exposes the ongoing injustices being perpetuated against the often weak and vulnerable. The true task of the journalist must be to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
The problem has been that over recent years fewer and fewer media operations seem to be operating to that mantra. One of the recurring questions over the tabloids is how much better it would be if they turned their investigative skills on corrupt companies or abuses in government, rather than exposing which celebrity is sleeping with who.
The tabloids ofcourse would argue that the public don’t want that type of news, they seek salacious tittle tattle – it’s what sells papers. To a large degree this is true, it is no use the great British public suddenly becoming prurient about these matters when it is they who buy the NOW, Sun and Daily Mail in their millions.
The papers that do the more investigative work like the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and Independent sell in the 100,000s.
What is more even these “quality” papers have been drawn down market over recent years by what they have seen sells the tabloids. So they also devote increasing amounts of space to celebrity and less to real investigations.
There is a lot of truth in the claim that the public gets the press it deserves. Maybe the wrongdoing at the News International titles is reflective of a society driven by greed and an anything goes mentality. Rupert Murdoch afterall worked practically hand in hand with the government of Margaret Thatcher in selling the neo-liberal revolution that has created the society we have today. And it was Mrs Thatcher who helped Mr Murdoch smash the unions at Wapping.
One of the major reasons that the media is the way it is in the UK is due to the pattern of ownership. A very few large corporations and individuals own and dominate the media scene. So many of these owners go hand in glove with some of the corporations that should be being vigorously investigated by their papers. An incestuous relationship has built up. Editors may claim independence but the slavish way in which they follow the dictates of the owners is nowhere more clearly seen than in the Murdoch empire. Mr Murdoch decides which party his papers will support in a general election and they do. Equally, he is a Eurosceptic which is another view reflected in his papers.
What is needed is a root and branch examination of media ownership. There needs to be more diversity, allowing trust funded operations to proliferate. It is ironic that at a time of mass media communications by the likes of the web and social networking that ownership has actually concentrated. This needs to be broken down with the plurality of media being restored.
The values of journalism also need to be restored. It is ironic that with the internet explosion, the number of journalists producing papers has shrunk, becoming more desk bound. Many local papers due to “technology” are now produced by a handful of journalists.
The accountants who unfortunately control so many newspapers do not understand journalism and the need to build up sources and networks. For them, a body not tied to a desk, scanning websites is wasting time. This needs to change, good reliable relationships are crucial to being an effective journalist. It is unhealthy for journalism and society to reduce the journalist’s role to that of a glorified word processor, increasingly dependent on Public Relations industry for news.
All of these matters need to form part of an examination of the media industry. Ownership and what we should be looking for in a healthy democracy from journalism are crucial questions that need to be answered. Individuals need protection but any reform must not go too far by tying journalists hands to the extent that wrongdoing gets even more difficult to expose. It is crucial in looking at journalism that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water in seeking to clearly right the wrongs of the past