Can Citizens’ Assemblies help us?

In all the dozens of podcast interviews broadcast by the Holywell Trust, one idea to strengthen our society has been put forward repeatedly – citizens’ assemblies. They are not universally popular – both DUP and Conservative Party politicians have expressed concerns they would undermine the link between elected representatives and their constituents, threatening politicians’ legitimacy.  But the experience of Ireland’s citizens’ assemblies has inspired many. Assemblies provided routes to resolving politically challenging issues: same sex marriage, abortion, climate change and, now, gender inequality. And in …

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From Belfast to Beirut: an appreciation of Robert Fisk

“My editor at The Times had safely received the whole report and duly printed it all except for one paragraph which recorded how Gavin (Hewitt) and I came across a tribesman outside Jalalabad standing on a box and sodomising a camel. This was a bit too much for Times readers he felt.” Such is the life of a foreign correspondent. Robert Fisk reported from the Middle East for 40 years during which time he earned a reputation as one of …

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Ireland’s liberal media must reassess the gap between the values it professes and those it acts upon

My grandmother was effectively a single parent by 1930 after my granddad emigrated to New York in early 1929 when the bottom fell out of the cattle trade in County Down. She and the kids were to follow, but her long illness meant they couldn’t. After I’d become a parent myself, my mum told me that every time a plate cracked granny would put it away in the kitchen press. Then when the kids got out of hand, she’d go …

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Challenges mount for our daily newspapers

Recently the official, independently audited daily sales of the UK and Ireland’s daily newspapers was published for the period July-December 2020. Not unexpectedly they made very uncomfortable reading for editors and proprietors as overall the UK daily regional press sale had fallen by a record 19%. Obviously, the impact of Covid-19 had a major impact on this period, but publishers will take no comfort from that as once lost, it is rare for readers to return, no matter the circumstances. …

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The State of Us … Previewing the seventh annual Imagine! Festival of Ideas and Politics (22-28 March)

A quick rummage through the Imagine! Belfast programme coming up between 22–28 March. Under the strapline of The State of Us, there’ll be exhibitions, workshops, lectures, film, comedy, music, spoken word, lectures, theatre and quizzes. Voices from at home and abroad. The festival isn’t afraid to challenge. It doesn’t expect participants to agree with everything that is said. It’s about making people think. Widening their horizons. Broadening their understanding. Developing their empathy. Helping them figure out why – and if – they truly believe the hunches and biases they may have been living with for a lifetime.

If the media has figured how to deal with political lying in the US, what can we learn?

At the weekend, the Sunday Times reprinted an article from the academic journal The British Journalism Review by Roy Greenslade. His rather folksy confession to a once closeted Irish Republicanism, precipitated a mini avalanche of outrage. First I heard of it was on Sunday afternoon when a Liverpool mate sent me a droll response to this ‘revelation’ by text. It wasn’t news, as it’s been in the public domain since Nick Davies revealed the matter in Flat Earth News in 2009. …

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If you are going to launch a successful print paper, you might learn from The New European?

I was both surprised and impressed when The New European launched how it reached the news stand at my local supermarket. But mostly I thought that in launching two weeks after the Brexit vote it arrived too late for the actual fight. In fact it was only planned for a four week run (a plan which its low production values seemed to confirm), but clearly sales confirmed there was a real (if highly niche) appetite for much more. Design has …

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If only mainstream politicians could speak “human being” again…

Great observation from Dave Winer which I think resonates with my essay for the Congregation.ie Unconference… The key point that the Democrats keep missing is that we want to do more. We will give you money and we will vote, but that’s not all we can do. Each of has special talents, abilities. Some of us have more time to give than others. But almost to a person, we want to be part of this, not spectators. Trump kind of …

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How can we all be fact checkers in a pandemic?

You can play your part and think more critically about the information that is being fired at us all. Organisations can book a free online interactive training session with FactCheckNI on fact checking, where we explore: what is fact checking; why is it important; how can you do it yourself; and examine some of the tools you can use to make sure what you’re sharing both online and in your real life is accurate.

Lost Lives is a vital and eloquent riposte to “the old Lie”: Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori….

I have been to the Vietnam wall in Washington, twice. The second time was every bit as emotional as the first. It was the trouble in the world when I was a kid, until it became us. It cuts a scar in the landscape appropriate to the human mess it left, not just in those who died but in the quiet way old men come to say goodbye to their much younger fallen comrades. I’ve often thought of that great book …

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OK Boomer: Trump’s Last Stand and Fantasyland, USA…

“History is seasonal, and winter is coming…Some time before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II. The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule.” That grim prophecy wasn’t from the latest Qanon conspiracy drop. It was written in the 1990s, …

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We need to talk about Care Homes

Looking at the steadily rising numbers of Covid outbreaks in Care Homes through September it seemed as if ‘something’ was happening, and that ‘something’ wasn’t good. That ‘something’ is now beyond bad. There were a few learning points from the first wave of Covid earlier this year. The basic message of wash hands, face masks (sort of) and safe distance; Hands, Face, Space seemed a simple message, and the fundamentals underlying that message hold good and accepted by most that …

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ESRC Virtual Festival – Music Creators’ Earnings in the Streaming Age…

Music makes a significant contribution to the UK economy and to the perception of the UK globally. As of 2019, UK music contributes £5.2 billion to the UK economy and is the world’s second biggest market. But what is the music business without creators? Music creators are vital to the future of our cultural experience and the cultural economy, and so it is important to understand how they are financially rewarded, and the extent to which it is possible to …

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We’ve All Been Infected With a Covid Side-Effect… And There Is No Cure

In The Comey Rule then-FBI Director James Comey, played by Jeff Daniels, remarks that the Bureau losing the trust of its public is nothing less than “a bell that can never be unrung”. Similarly, the information vacuum created by the NI Executive’s confusion, frequent poor leadership at individual level and – in places – crude self-interest during the Covid crisis created a space now occupied permanently by cranks, conspiracy theorists, attention-clamouring ‘influencers’ and small government hyper-fanatics. In particular, and this …

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With over 8 hours of news in a 12 hour period is BBC Radio Ulster forgetting its remit is also to entertain?

When the lockdown was reintroduced last week I decided I needed to take drastic action to stay sane. I quit all social media, stopped reading online news, and stopped listening to Radio Ulster. I never watched the news on TV so that was already covered. Now I only read a printed newspaper as I find its less stressful but you can keep up to date. I have also switched to listening mostly to podcasts and music. Like a lot of …

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Love’s Betrayal: The Decline of Catholicism and the Rise of New Religions in Ireland by Peter Mulholland: New Insights on Recent Religious History

In Love’s Betrayal: The Decline of Catholicism and the Rise of New Religions in Ireland (Peter Lang Publishers, 2019) Peter Mulholland offers a frank and often bruising account of the decline of the authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland since the middle of the twentieth century. Mulholland follows in the footsteps of ground-breaking studies, such as those by Tom Inglis (Moral Monopoly, 1987, 1998) and Louise Fuller (Irish Catholicism Since 1950, 2002). What sets Mulholland’s work apart is how …

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Representative democracy and its likely (and perhaps unlikely) rivals to power

Whilst Citizen’s Assemblies are not the panacea that some of their advocates suggest, what they can do is reveal otherwise unregarded characteristics of the electorate to elected representatives. As Jamie Pow notes in Fortnight Magazine, the New Decade, New Approach Deal document pledges to hold regular citizens’ assemblies that might bring democratic institutions and the people closer. But he says, they must be meaningful. Well, quite. As The Economist noted last week… …because citizens’ assemblies reflect the population, their conclusions …

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Welcome back Fortnight Magazine, we’ve missed you…

Welcome back Fortnight Magazine. The paper was founded in 1970 by Tom Hadden, and became a haven of sanity during the very years when large chunks of working-class Belfast were imploding in sectarian violence and immense social (and later economic) distress. I first started getting copies out of the old Gardiners newsagents and bookshop in Botanic Avenue in the late seventies when it was a vibrant confluence for thought from all sides, no least the McNee column which was, I …

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Van the Man, or how expressive individualism is pulling us away from our obligations to each other

So Van Morrison has brought out some new tunes which include “criticism” of the government’s Covid policy. I’m as much a fan as the next Ulsterman, but it seemed a good moment to reflect on the way expressive individualism is pulling us away from our obligations to each other. Even Henry Ford understood the immense value that lies in others, “if there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of …

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In the absence of real deterrents, you’ll catch more students with honey than with vinegar

It would be difficult to look at the scenes from the Holylands of Belfast in the last number of days and not be very concerned. Scores of students partying until the early hours of the morning caused understandable frustration and fury among residents and a media furore. Either the young people in question do not fully understand the risk to themselves and others around them, or, the public awareness campaign is not persuading them sufficiently, or, they both understand and …

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