All posts by Dermot Brogan

Vital renovations for Foyle Search and Rescue base

 

The Foyle Search and Rescue base has undergone vital renovations over the past number of months.

The group, who are based in Prehen, Derry, are as busy as ever, and have as many as 70 volunteers carrying out regular checks in the fast-flowing river Foyle.

The group continues to carry out various search and rescue missions in their battle to keep people safe from the dangerous Foyle waters.

Derry’s three bridges have been suicide blackspots for many years. The Foyle Bridge stands at 130 feet tall and is the largest suspension bridge on the island of Ireland, with many having jumped from the bridge over the years.

Head of Media Communications for Foyle Search and Rescue, Pat Carlin, has praised the generosity of the public, whose donations have made upgrades to their headquarters in the Waterside possible.

 

Northern Ireland and the EU Referendum – What next?

With the first anniversary of the EU Referendum on the horizon, it could be argued that the vote to leave the European Union has generated many more questions than answers.

The fate of the United Kingdom appears to have been sealed after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 back in March, which officially opened the two-year divorce negotiations with the EU.

Article 50’s triggering puts an end to the UK’s 44-year association with Europe.

The Prime Minister then proceeded to call a snap general election for 8 June, and is set to battle it out with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for the right to lead the UK out of their EU membership over the next two years.

Regardless of who ends up with the keys to 10 Downing Street, numerous significant issues will need to be addressed to avoid a so-called “hard” Brexit.

One of the most important of these issues concerns the impact that Brexit will have on the island of Ireland, and particularly the questions surrounding the Common Travel Area.

A hard border has not been seen between the Republic and Northern Ireland since before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but that is what could materialise following Brexit negotiations.

Most of the Northern Irish electorate voted to remain in the EU, much like voters in Scotland. However, a significant surge in leave votes in England and Wales meant that the leave campaign obtained an overall majority, regardless of the results in the devolved nations.

Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.

The result of the referendum has been met with widespread anger and ridicule in Northern Ireland. Most of the main parties such as Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party all campaigned for a remain outcome, with only the Democratic Unionist Party lobbying for a leave vote in the North.

The SDLP, among others, say that the result is unjust since 56% of Northern Ireland voted in favour of remaining in the EU, and they have called for the Northern Ireland Executive to ‘ensure that the will of the people of Northern Ireland is accurately represented in relation to the European Union.’

Shauna Cusack is a SDLP councillor for the Foyle constituency, and she is adamant that the remain majority in Northern Ireland should be given every opportunity to protect their EU membership, as the consequences may be severe outside the block.

She said: “We have not given our consent to change the constitutional make-up of the North, therefore our membership of Europe should not be altered.

“We here already suffer from the greatest levels of historical, social and economic deprivation and are last on the list when it comes to investment backed and funded by Westminster.

“The ever-reducing Block Grant combined with the austerity of Welfare Reform does not make for a prosperous or bright future.

“EU funding has often been our lifeline. It has provided a plethora of capital and social projects here in the North and has changed both landscapes, communities and even lives. What therefore will fill the gap when this is gone?”

Cllr Cusack was also deeply concerned by the potential of a hard border being erected, and the consequences this may have on those living and working on both sides of the divide.

She asked: “What happens our invisible border on this island? Given our immediate proximity, how will this affect our ability to work, live and claim state assistance in any area of this island, which many in this city and district do?”

“In this single, arguably most life changing political decision of our generation we must ensure that Westminster, for once, respects, protects and prioritises the will of the people here.”

As well as the effects of Brexit mentioned by Cllr Cusack, the demographic that will arguably be hit hardest by the decision to leave is the younger generation.

Youngsters who had grand plans to work within another EU country will find it much more difficult to obtain the legal documents necessary following Brexit negotiations, which may go some way to explaining the sudden upsurge in applications for Irish passports in recent months.

It also remains to be seen how EU citizens studying in the UK will be affected when divorce proceedings are finalised.

Students protest at Westminster, London.

Ulster University Students’ Union President, Colum Mackey, believes that Brexit will have a negative impact on the student bodies in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and feels that the overall student experience will suffer drastically.

He said: “The European Union has a terrific relationship with the university, and through EU funding of schemes such as ERASMUS, students are given the opportunity to study abroad in EU nations. This way they can experience unique cultures and make lifelong friendships without losing the overall student experience.

“In the wake of the EU Referendum, I am deeply concerned that schemes such as ERASMUS will not be running for much longer. We may be left relying on funding from the UK government, which is unrealistic given the constant rise in tuition fees year on year.

“There are also many students from EU nations, most notably the Republic of Ireland, who are undergoing their studies here in Northern Ireland and the UK, and it is uncertain at this stage how they will inevitably be affected by the vote.”

When Brexit negotiations finally begin in earnest, those residing in Northern Ireland will be desperate to ensure that the country is not overlooked by the powers that be in Westminster.

Theresa May has previously promised that maintaining the Common Travel Area is an absolute priority for the party, and anything less than an open border could spell logistical chaos in Ireland.

The only question that can be answered with any certainty at this early stage is that the UK will be leaving the European Union – the condition that one of the world’s largest economies will be in when all is said and done is anyone’s guess.

‘Logan’ Review: The final chapter of Wolverine’s story slices and dices all before it

Hugh Jackman in Logan. Photograph: Gamespot

Fans of the X-Men series have been clamouring for a gritty, ultra-realistic and brazenly violent Wolverine movie for many years, and even more so recently considering the success of fellow Fox property Deadpool. In Logan, which is touted to be Hugh Jackman’s last turn as the adamantium-clawed mutant, Fox and director James Mangold have achieved everything they set out to accomplish, and then some.

It is 2029, and mutants have become virtually extinct, with the few that remain seemingly in hiding from their human oppressors. A greying, bearded and dishevelled Logan is living in a rugged outpost near the Mexican border where his primary function is to care for a mentally debilitating Professor Xavier – with the legendary Patrick Stewart reprising his role as the iconic mind-reader for the final time. The Professor requires a lot of medication to restrain his substantial telepathic powers, which Logan pays for through his side job as a limo driver. It is somewhat disturbing to see these archetypal mutants in such a miserable state – it certainly makes a change from Xavier’s lavish X-Mansion in upstate New York.

One of the main story arcs in the film begins when Logan encounters Laura, a powerful young mutant portrayed by actress Dafne Keen who shines in a breakout performance. The girl is hunted by the methodical and frightening half-man, half-cyborg Donald Pierce, with Boyd Holbrook of Narcos fame putting in a superb display of charisma and nefariousness, and he will stop at nothing to bring Laura back to his Mutant Experimentation Centre. At first glance you could be forgiven for wondering why Laura is such an asset to the evil Pierce – but all will become clear around a quarter of the way through as her relationship with Logan develops.

Hugh Jackman has appeared in the X-Men series since its big screen debut in 2000, but for the first time, Wolverine feels mortal. You get the sense that every unsheathing of his trademark claws and blood-soaked battle may be his last, which separates Logan from modern day superhero movies where everyone appears to have an air of invincibility. It is a dark, emotional tale but at the same time an uplifting one. It is the perfect send-off for everyone’s favourite slicer and dicer. You can cast aside many of your superhero tropes and clichés for this one, as James Mangold tears up the rulebook and starts from scratch.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil set to continue negotiations over historic government deal

Fine Gael’s slogan for their Irish General Election 2016 campaign was “Keep the recovery going”. It saw the election campaign as an opportunity to convince the electorate that the party’s hard work over the previous five years was responsible for the improving economy. Unfortunately for the governing party, it’s ‘hard work’ translated as five years of crippling austerity to many Irish voters, and Fine Gael paid the penalty on 26 February when the people went to the polling stations.

Despite remaining the largest party in the country after winning 50 seats, 26 less than the amount it managed in the 2011 general election, Fine Gael lost the election. There was to be little in the form of good news for its junior coalition partner Labour, which suffered absolute decimation at the polls and which is left with just seven seats, 30 less than it got in 2011. In stark contrast, Fianna Fáil capitalised on the widespread anger felt towards the coalition parties by more than doubling its number of seats to 44. It was also a positive result for Sinn Féin and Independents, who won 23 and 18 seats respectively.

The Irish people have had their say, but almost two months have passed since the vote, and a government is still yet to be formed in the 32nd Dáil. Fine Gael will by now have adjusted to the fact that it will possibly be required to form a minority government with its arch-nemesis Fianna Fáil. The rivalry between the two parties dates back almost one hundred years to the time of the Irish Civil War, but it should be time for differences to be put to the side for the sake of the Irish people.

As the days and weeks continue to pile up in anticipation of the next Dáil, there has been a plethora of statements and announcements from various cabinet ministers and TDs claiming that there has been progress made on the brokering of a deal. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s respective leaders Enda Kenny and Michael Martin have sat down and attempted to negotiate a compromise between the parties, but there is currently no significant signs of any headway being made. The reason for this impasse appears to boil down to the infamous water charges, which have been one of the most universally loathed policies of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s regime.

The main issue is that Irish taxpayers feel they are being overcharged for a service that has been in place for years, with the responsibility for the maintenance of water being taken from local authorities and placed in the hands of a semi-state corporation. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have continuously been vocal in their opposition to Irish Water, and echo the feelings of many who feel the charge is simply austerity taken too far.

Fianna Fáil stated in its election manifesto that if the party was to be elected to government, the scrapping or at the very least suspension of water charges would be an absolute priority. It is now apparent that the party’s pre-election promise to the electorate is what is causing the bitter deadlock between the two parties, with neither of the two willing to budge on the matter.

Sinn Féin frontbencher and Dáil spokesperson for Finance Pearse Doherty is adamant that the potential coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would be a negative outcome for the Irish people, but concedes that this circumstance is the most likely to occur.

“It is evident that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are engaged in a pointless charade of political posturing. It is a fact that no political party has been given a mandate by the people to govern alone, and the only numbers that add up are for both parties to work together.

“While I do not believe that this outcome would be a good one for Irish society, it is apparent that there is a reluctance on both sides to make this happen.”

Mr Doherty suspects that this “political posturing” is inexcusable considering the histories of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who share vastly similar political beliefs.

“The political ideologies espoused by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are essentially the same, as both are fundamentally right wing conservative parties, with little variation in the policies which each respectively endorse.

“I believe that the delays and impasse which we are witnessing at present is a feeble attempt by both groups to pacify grass root supporters who are staunchly opposed to the notion of the two Civil War foes entering into Government together, or even an arrangement whereby one would facilitate a minority administration led by the other.”

The TD for the Donegal constituency maintains that his party are striving to deliver a fairer society for those who voted for one, and that potentially becoming the main government opposition would not be seen as a negative scenario for Sinn Féin.

“We have made it clear that we support progressive policies which promote fairness and equality. We firmly believe that those who voted for Sinn Féin did not do so simply to see a continuation of the failed economic and social strategies of successive Governments.

“Therefore, Sinn Féin has a duty to represent the views of the people who believe in our vision for a fairer, more inclusive society. If the only way to ensure that we do not compromise on these fundamental Republican principals is to remain in opposition, then so be it.

“However, Sinn Féin is open to constructive dialogue with anyone or any grouping whom express a desire to engage with us.”

Mr Doherty’s admission that his party have left the door open for negotiations is an intriguing one, but it is very unlikely that Sinn Féin will form any part of the new government in the 32nd Dáil, particularly given their political beliefs.

As well as opposing politicians, many voters have also expressed their disbelief at the farcical attempts made by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to form a government. Liam Brady is a student who studies at University College Dublin, and who recently was elected to the UCD Students’ Union as Arts and Human Sciences Convenor. His role in the Students’ Union requires him to keep a close eye on events occurring at the nearby Leinster House, and it is evident that the political situation unfolding has led to him sharing the frustrations of many.

“I believe that no matter what excuses both sides claim for not reaching an agreement, and their inefficiency to form a government, simply boils down to their Civil War sides and the lengthy hostilities that followed on from this ever since.

“Neither party wants to be the junior partner of a coalition, especially after the devastation the Labour Party suffered in the General Election. As such both sides are being overly cautious and are failing the democratic process. In my opinion the Irish electorate
voted for a Fine Gael led coalition with Fianna Fáil, and the votes from TDs in the negotiations favour Enda Kenny over Michael Martin.”

His sentiments echo those of Pearse Doherty TD, who also speculated that the impasse between the two parties dates back to Civil War times. Both the Member of Parliament and the voter also expressed similar views regarding Sinn Féin’s role in the Oireachtas, with Mr Brady agreeing that the Republican party are now poised to provide genuine opposition to a right wing government.

“A clear right-left divide between government and opposition I feel is the obvious government formation. I think Sinn Fein have had time to grow and develop themselves and are now absolutely ready to be the main opposition in the Dáil.

“Two right wing parties colliding in government and opposition will only see arguments between choosing one form of austerity over another. At least with a clear right-left divide it fosters the opportunity for proper alternatives and arguments.”

Mr Brady is hopeful that the formation of a government will be announced sooner rather than later, and he believes that two of the first issues tackled by the next Dáil should be the housing crisis and the issue of mental health.

“The housing crisis is an absolute must. Since being elected to the UCD Students’ Union I have had a number of students approach me regarding the hassles of Dublin rent prices. It is becoming apparent that it is increasingly tough for young people to migrate to the capital for third level education due to extortionate rent prices.

“I also believe that the homeless crisis falls under this problem too and should be another key concern for the next government.

“There is also the issue of the mental health budget being cut by €12 million. The lack of interest in this department showed itself in all of the major party’s election manifestos, but reducing its budget is an utterly disgraceful move and should absolutely be rectified by the next Dáil.”

Talks will continue in Dublin between the negotiating teams of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the hope of a new government being formed within the coming weeks. Almost two months have now elapsed since the General Election. If an agreement is not reached soon, there are fears that there may be no other alternative than for another election to be called – at a cost of around €40 million of taxpayers’ money.