My friend Glenn Bradley has written this political (and personal) feature reflecting on the disaster that is Brexit, the failures of 2017 and his wishes for a new dawn in 2018.
A New Dawn
This time last year I sat in the Eastside Visitors Centre chatting with a dear friend who also happens to be a DUP MLA. We were discussing the EU Referendum of June 2016 as I outlined my growing frustration and disappointment at how many in the DUP where openly ridiculing the REMAIN campaign, and the many people of Northern Ireland (including swathes of unionists) who voted to remain.
At the time, I stated my opinion that such arrogant displays by party officials went against the vast wishes of the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland, and denied the reality that only six out of Northern Ireland’s eighteen constituencies voted LEAVE. I felt the party was creating an unnecessary chasm with pro-Europe elements of the population.
In my mind, such odds (6 out of 18) meant that the party could not claim to represent Northern Ireland under any guise regarding BREXIT and that open criticism, particularly of unionists who’d voted REMAIN, needed to stop lest it drive said unionists to reconsider that a pro-European citizenship would better reflect their world view in 2017.
The implications of BREXIT should we leave the Single Market and Customs Union (not mentioned in the Referendum) had played heavily on my mind for the latter part of 2016 due to its potentially dire implications for free travel and my livelihood.
On the personal side of life I’d my wonderful family around me and they were all in relatively good health. Jo (my wife) and I had just learned that we were going to be grandparents again with a new addition to the clan due in August 2017 and we were buoyant at the news.
Having dealt with a case of xenophobia in the workplace that I felt was resolved amicably I looked forward to widening business opportunities throughout 2017, and sustainably growing business in Ireland, also evolving the Company’s ethical trade programme in the international supply chain.
The Northern Ireland Business and Human Rights Forum which is facilitated by the NI Human Rights Commission was bedding in well and I looked forward to presenting to the Economic Committee and CPD of our government regarding Business & Human Rights, essentially, demonstrated via ethical transparency in corporate supply chains.
I entered 2017 with passion and zeal.
It is now one year on, that’s twelve months or around three hundred and sixty-five days.
It is the Hebrew and Christian Greek Scriptures that indicate a man should be content if he lives to be “three score years and ten” or aged seventy, that’s 840 months or around 306,600 days.
One year is thus a relative length of time in anyone’s life and certainly a measurement in the time and space of this Earth.
The EU Referendum result and the calamitous rush to Article 50 to trigger full-blown BREXIT negotiations in March this year, and the negotiations since, demonstrated that little or nothing had been conveyed or thought out in No. 10 Downing Street on the reality that EU Citizens here, who hold either a UK passport, an Irish passport or both, and who physically share a land border with EU Citizens in the Irish Republic, wish to continue in the Single Market, the Customs Union and value the common travel area.
BREXIT negotiations continue, with the wishes of the majority of Northern Ireland citizens ignored by the Tory Hard Right Alliance. Hostility by some directed towards the Irish government as it seeks to protect EU Citizens and trade rights in the 27 pro-EU countries, and, indeed, towards pro-EU citizens here in Northern Ireland, does not provide a positive show case for anything ‘Northern Ireland’.
It was probably the Third Home Rule period and ultimately the partition of Ireland when last, this place, saw such intensity of negotiations and this time we require leaders with real vision and monumental levels of diplomatic skills. A close second would be the period in the Process of Peace that delivered the Belfast Agreement. As I watch, I think of all our shared history and hopes, remembering Lord Edward Carson who in 1921 said, “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power”.
As I sit this day, I am convinced that the flawed Referendum result achieved in June 2016 was secured through deceit and funded by foreign powers with ill-gotten money using erroneous financial routes to reach the UK. Given that the Referendum was advisory, for 2018 I believe a halt should be called on negotiations and a binding Referendum called that outlines clearly the pros and cons.
Should that not happen and BREXIT proceeds then Northern Ireland must remain in the Single Market & the Customs Union. Such an option will make this small north-easterly area of Ireland a welcome area for investment and trade to Britain.
I lost my mother to an aggressive lung and pancreatic cancer three months ago, on September 6th. My younger sister took a severe epileptic fit that induced a coronary in November and remains in hospital as I write. My father has discovered a further tumour and is about to undergo treatment. From July 14th I’ve spent 114 days attending or staying over at the Ulster Hospital, day in, day out. It’s draining. The under-resourced NHS staff are pure class and most are a credit to that great institution and their oaths, but my mother shouldn’t have spent her end of life care in a hospital. It should have been in a hospice but the ‘system’ failed. Our family are not alone, failure is happening daily and it is disgusting to see sick or elderly people being mistreated because of political failure. It is especially crass while certain MLAs pontificate about their salaries and benefits.
During this traumatic year one of the major impacts on me was regarding people I thought would rally to support me and they did not. Yet people I didn’t have any expectation off, did rally to my aid directly or with sincere words of encouragement from across the water or further overseas. As I buried my mum I counted relatives, old school chums, old street friends, work colleagues, fellow British Army Veterans, former PIRA Volunteers, former UVF/RHC Volunteers, former UUP colleagues and others from political life.
And I also noted those not there, those I thought maybe should or would be. It reminded me that authentic friends show their love in times of trouble, not joy; the language of friendship is not words but meaningful actions and the depth of a friendship does not depend on the length of the acquaintance. In 2018, I will remain faithful to that most beautiful quality of true friendship: understanding and being understood.
As someone leaves this earth so others enter: the cycle of life and death, the rebirthing of our soul groups. Our beautiful grandson was born on August 31st and he is pure belter! Two hundred and fifty years to the day after the birth of Henry Joy McCracken my hope for 2018 and beyond is that Bobby Bradley will truly know a land where Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter are equitable and at peace.
Professional life continues unabated. Unlike some MLAs, and in line with most of society, I have to actually deliver a positive result in order to earn my salary or benefits. Work continues to take me to wonderful countries where I meet the most extraordinary, honest people toiling daily in extreme conditions to raise their families out of poverty. It is humbling and with regard to the Company’s ethical trade programmes I am honoured to work for a business committed to eradicating human or labour rights’ abuse in the supply chain and for 2018 it will continue, if not by me then by others.
The Northern Ireland Business & Human Rights Forum continues. In March my peers elected me Chair. However, post the RHI and Líofa Scandals, combined with the continued denial of rights in Northern Ireland, and other matters, our government collapsed, and we never got that opportunity to present on Business and Human Rights to any committee. Not distracted, the Forum, and indeed the NIHRC, continue to input to the UK government and Irish government National Action Plans for business and human rights.
It is frustrating that the Assembly is not participating or involved.
For 2018 I believe, absolutely, in devolved government. I want a fiscally responsible government that delivers on quality of life for all in our society on an equitable basis but let readers and I be realistic: we have never had that.
If Stormont is to return then the legacy of sectarianism and prejudice being expressed through public office must end. Certain MLAs need to accept that a person’s religion, their ethnicity, their sexuality, their gender, the language they speak, does not make them less equal: they are not scum, taigs, huns, fruits, bitches or leprechauns. Rights valued in Britain, the Republic of Ireland and throughout this archipelago and elsewhere must be exercised in the counties of Antrim, Down, Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh. In 2018 and beyond, future elected MLAs must not be able to ignore or ridicule sizeable sections of the population or to use their public office to mistreat people.
For 2018, the consciousness of all MLAs must be that we are here, first and foremost, to administer fiscally responsible government in an equitable manner for all.
Should the NI Assembly not return by next March then the framework exists in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement for the governance of this little piece of land.
The Good Friday Agreement is owned by and was ratified by the people. Without a functioning assembly the GFA is the only basis for governance here by the sovereign governments who hold interest in this tiny place and I’d recommend as priority the dissolution of title, salary and benefits for all MLAs followed by the introduction of Rights enjoyed across the islands of the European Archipelago, bringing Northern Ireland into line with all on these islands.
As I move to conclusion, I am reminded that in 2018 peace-making is about no more suffering. It is about acting to interrupt injustice without mirroring it; it is the act of disarming wanton violence by demonstrating active non-violence; it is the act of engaging, walking in other shoes, deconstructing myths or propaganda to create authentic sustainable reconciliation. It is about embracing the dynamic of change.
None of us are getting out of here alive and it is incumbent on all citizens to voice and act for the future they want for their children and grandchildren.
May 2018 be kind. I wish us all blessings of health, prosperity, authentic friendships and sustainable peace.
It is a new dawn and I enter the New Year with passion and zeal.
Glenn J Bradley
31st December, 2017