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Where Does Bad Journalism End And Fake News Begin?

I’m sure we’ve all heard criticism from the US President, and others, of the New York Times, and because of the era we’re in, we dismiss that criticism because of who it’s coming from. Should we? On May 24th the New York Times ran a story, an exclusive, with details about the Manchester bombing. That article can be found here. Found at the Scene in Manchester: Shrapnel, a Backpack and a Battery The Author, C.J. Shivers, is no new-dog-on-the-block. Shivers is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist – but wow did he get this one wrong. Now, the title of this blog questions when poor journalism becomes fake news. So, the part in question is towards the end of the New York Times article. Currently it reads as this: It is not clear from the law enforcement images if the object was a simple plunger switch, or included a timer or a receiver that could be operated remotely via radio signal – or some combination, or something else. Such redundancy, if the object was the switch, could give the bomber or a cell more than one option for deploying the device, and suggest that the bomb was not as simple in design as many terrorist devices, which often are crude and prone to failure or haphazard effect. However, this was not the original text as posted. When the New York Times article went live originally, it included the following section: (the differences are in bold) It is not clear from the law enforcement images if the object was a simple plunger switch, or included a timer or a receiver that...

Protected: Are the DUP fascist?

Fascism is somewhat subjective – many definitions to many people. A story has run today in the Belfast Telegraph where an Alliance Councillor has received criticism for drawing a link between the Democratic Unionist Party and fascism. Is it valid? The Councillor, David Armitage, referred to the following list: So, let’s take them one by one. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism Nationalism is, by one definition, the sense and feeling that ones loyalty to the concept and identity of one’s nation is more important than all else. One example of this might be, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” – one example might be the kind of national insularism that fights back against perceived foreign influence (European Union?) or the influx of people who don’t automatically have the same sense of national belonging (refugees and migrants?). Another might be the “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER” response to Ireland’s claim on Northern Ireland. Never? Really, never? What if the UK is actually democratically led by Muslim extremists, reversing Article 50, cutting the Northern Irish block grant to £7.50 per year, and making it illegal for education here. STILL the United Kingdom is the best place for Northern Ireland? That sense of nationalism, of Britain First, is, among the DUP a very powerful and very continuing nationalism. Disdain for Human Rights Have the DUP ever displayed disdain for human rights? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists the following articles: The Right to Equality Freedom from Discrimination Right to Equality before the Law Freedom to Arbitrary Arrest and Exile Right to Fair Public Hearing Right to be Considered Innocent until proven Guilty Right to Free Movement In and Out...

Sinn Féin have been barking up this tree before. And caved before too

Many commentators have been quick to make the point that Sinn Féin are hanging their hat (and the future of the devolved Northern Ireland institutions…) on getting agreement to implement an Irish Language Act, but yet no such red line was drawn in previous post-election talks. Not so. This Belfast Telegraph article from the late Liam Clarke highlights what has transpired previously. This was written 2 weeks before the Stormont House Agreement was signed. Sinn Fein has set out a list of demands – ranging from millions of pounds in Stormont funding to an Irish Language Act – it wants to see movement on before signing off on any deal on welfare reform and the budget. Conor Murphy MLA (then an MP), said: It (the government) has failed to implement commitments such as Acht na Gaeilge (an Irish Language Act), the Civic Forum, an all-island Consultative Forum, North South implementation bodies and a Bill of Rights…The British Government has also refused to address its role and responsibilities in dealing with the legacy of the past. One observation I would make here is that in 2014, Conor Murphy seemed to accept, from the above language, that the responsibility for an Irish Language Act lay with Westminster and not at the door of the DUP. Following Sinn Féin laying out their stall in 2014 (as they have once again…), the DUP’s Gregory Campbell MP infamously said that the DUP would treat Sinn Féin’s entire wish list as “no more than toilet paper.” As it transpired, Sinn Féin signed up to the Stormont House Agreement with no guarantee on an Irish Language Act –...

Foster’s giant leap, and the community that accepted it for what it was.

On Thursday, March 23rd, 2017, a little piece of history was made. Not the burial of Martin McGuinness, although that was undoubtedly an historic moment in these isles if not beyond, but in Arlene Foster’s attendance at the funeral of McGuinness. There in the church alongside the assembled mourners, was former US President, Bill Clinton. It’s with that in mind that I’d like you to indulge me whilst I quote President Clinton. We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more. – Bill Clinton A simple act, going to the funeral of a co-worker; an act which for most of us might be considered relatively normal. For Arlene Foster however, this was surely not such a simple prospect. There are those who will criticise her from each and every angle of this decision; but in their cynicism, they might be missing the other picture – the big picture of the person.  If I may quote one of Clinton’s predecessors. Never question another man’s motive. His wisdom, yes, but not his motives. – Dwight Eisenhower Was this a former (and possible future) First Minister attending the funeral? Or was it the person? Can it be both? Need it be both? Can’t it just be a daughter, a mother, a sister? I don’t want to go into her thought process too much, we know enough already – arguably too much. We shouldn’t know about the shooting of her father, an attempt to kill him; we shouldn’t know because it shouldn’t have happened. We shouldn’t know about the bomb which exploded on her school bus; we...

The Transfer Oddities of AE17a

I’m always interested in weird things – it’s a bit of an obsession. Ripley’s Believe it or not is kinda my jam. So after Assembly elections… after the counting is done and the candidates are returned (or crying at home), I like to look and see what bizarre things happened. The unlikely… the inexplicable… So, thanks to Bob Harper and Elections NI, I went through the counts, and, where possible (some stages aren’t calculable due to simultaneous events) noted down the kind of transfers that make you scratch your head and say, “seriously?” I considered it myself… In South Belfast, prior to going into the ballot box, my preferred order was: Paula Bradshaw (Alliance) Emmet McDonough-Brown (Alliance) Clare Bailey (Green) But I played with actually going with George Jabbour (NI Conservatives) Lily Kerr (Worker’s Party) John Hiddleston (TUV) Paula Bradshaw Emmet McDonough-Brown Clare Bailey Not because I wanted them to be elected, but because I knew they wouldn’t be… I wanted to give some fun to the counters, I wanted the following conversation to happen: “Who the hell went from the Tories to the Worker’s Party?? Who the HELL went from the Worker’s Party to the TUV?? WHO THE FUCK WENT FROM THE TUV TO ALLIANCE??” In the end though, I bottled it and felt the weight of democracy upon my shoulders, so I went with what was right, for me. Can the same be said for these other transfers from this recent election? North Belfast Julie-Ann Corr-Johnston (Progressive Unionist Party) – 14 transfers went from Corr-Johnston to Sinn Féin. 49 went from J-AC-J to the SDLP. Fiona Ferguson,...

Unionist Unity would be a disservice to us all

Many within the DUP have begun plan B, following the Unionist tanking at the 2017 Assembly Election. All members of society, from all political persuasions, should discourage this – we, the electorate, deserve better. The purpose of opposition, insofar as it exists in an infantile form within Northern Irish politics, is there to oppose. So says Winston Churchill. Churchill was on to something. Dissent, leads to growth, the critical friend should be cherished on par, or above, the sycophantic fanatic. The UUP have experienced an identity crisis (again), but why? Is the party at a weak point? 2017 saw the UUP lose 6 seats, but notionally, according to Nicholas Whyte, if 2016 were run with the new 5 seat constituencies, they would have 5 less to begin with. My own calculations off 2016 results showed a return of 12 UUP seats, so is it a huge loss? In comparison to the DUP’s, who lost 5 more than their notional seats 2016 on 2017, again, according to Whyte. So a notional loss for DUP of 5 seats v a UUP loss of 1….. not disastrous. It must also be remembered that the vote came out. The UUP had it’s highest ever voting figure since the Assembly actually sat: 2007 – 103,145 2011 – 87,531 2016 – 87,302 2017 – 103,314 Yes, voting turnout was up, but the UUP increased its vote in real terms by 18%, whereas the DUP increased by just 11%. (Compared to nationalist vote increases in real terms of 34% for Sinn Féin, and 15% for the SDLP). Further comparison to the other minor Unionist parties, TUV (14% drop), PUP (6%...

From severance, to returning – the SDLP payouts.

Following the 2016 Assembly Election, SDLP members John Dallat (who stood down), and Dolores Kelly (who lost her seat), received severance packages from the NI Assembly – public money – as is normal in such circumstances. It has been reported that the following sums were paid out following their no-longer being MLAs: John Dallat £50,784 Dolores Kelly £65,792 Quite a sum for being out of Stormont for just 302 days. For John Dallat, that works out at the equivalent of nearly £1200 per week, for Ms. Kelly, it’s over £1500 a week. The candidates may well seek to give the money back, if such a mechanism is permitted… I believe that both representatives have been critical in the past when RUC officers were able to retire, and receive a payoff, only to reapply, and join, the PSNI. One trusts that the newly (re)elected MLAs will act in accordance with their principles in accordance with this issue. Or perhaps John and Dolores can just make the payments directly to Alex Attwood and Richie McPhillips, and save the NI Assembly having to make a second wave of payouts to outgoing SDLP MLAs in the same year....

AE17 and two bookies – what do the odds say? Overall result

So, after the last few days of looking at the odds offered by Paddy Power in the NI Assembly Election-a (for there will likely be a ‘b’), today, ahead of tomorrow’s voting, I’m going to tote up the final scores. Not just of Paddy Power, but combining in A McCleans Bookmakers too. The method for this, if anyone is interesting, is quite simply ranking the top 5 candidates in each constituency based on profit made from a £1 bet. Here’s the full run down prediction. Note: This is based purely off betting profit averages from the above bookmakers. DUP  (34) Sinn Féin (27) UUP (8) SDLP (8) Alliance (8) Green (2) People Before Profit (1) TUV (1) Independent (1) So, starter pistol at the ready… Aaaaand we’re off. Belfast East Naomi Long (Alliance) Joanne Bunting (DUP) Chris Lyttle (Alliance) David Douglas (DUP) Andy Allen (UUP) So the big loser here, factoring in both bookies, is current (at least until tomorrow, anyway) Speaker of the Assembly, Robin Newton. 5/6 with Paddy Power and evens with A McCleans, he’s certainly not to be discounted, but it’s looking unlikely on these odds compared with the others in the field. Belfast North Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin) Paula Bradley (DUP) William Humphrey (DUP) Nelson McCausland (DUP) Carál Ní Chuilín (Sinn Féin) Paddy Power had Nichola Mallon of the SDLP at same odds as Ní Chuilîn of Sinn Féin in this race, McCleans, however, drop Mallon into 6th place with a still-odds-on of 4/6. Belfast South Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Sinn Féin) Claire Hanna (SDLP) Paula Bradshaw (Alliance) Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP) Clare Bailey (Green) Both bookies...

AE17 and Paddy Power – what do the odds say? The battle of the Independents.

Following on from previous odds-analysis, from Paddy Power’s spread on the Assembly Election constituencies, what about those with a more solitary route to election, or in some cases, re-election? Some constituencies have more independents than others, Foyle and East Antrim have just one apiece. North Down however has 3, and West Tyrone tops that particular league table with 4. But what do the bookies make of their chances? Not much, I’m afraid. East Londonderry If you’re running as an independent, this is the place to be. Both independents are odds-on for election, the best available odds on an independent by a furlong (or five). Claire Sugden is in the key-five spots at 4/9, returning just £0.44 on a £1 bet, and Gerry Mullan slightly outside of Sugden at 5/6, giving you £0.83 on your quid stake. Why such short odds? Re-election, that’s why. The odds-settters are clearly weighting the stakes in favour of re-election bids. Both of these candidates have a party history though, Sugden worked for the late David McClarty, who was in his later years an independent himself, but originally in the UUP. Gerry Mullan is a much more interesting tale, having been elected in 2016 as the SDLP MLA for the constituency, only to be de-selected for the 2017 race, sparking his race as an independent candidate (and a legal battle was suggested in the press). It’s incredibly unlikely that both of these independents could scrape in, but the fact that two party-less candidates are in the odds-on range does much to dispel the suggestion that the reduction from 6 seats to 5 per constituency could...

AE17 and Paddy Power – what do the odds say? Outside the top 5

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about the average returns offered by Paddy Power for each party’s full candidate list in the 2017 Assembly election, now I think would be a good time to look at the likely fallers, to use gambling parlance. In the 2017 Assembly election, there will be 5 candidates returned for each constituency, compared to 6 in previous elections. This will bring the total number of MLAs down from 108 to just 90. There are some who suggest that this will potentially hurt the smaller parties more than the larger ones, whilst that is true of sorts, it’s not the whole story. Yes, People before Profit might lose 1 seat, and the DUP might lose 8; the DUP obviously will be losing more MLAs, but that 1 loss for PBP will be 50% of their total MLAs, whereas the DUP would only be losing 22%. Swings and roundabouts, perhaps, but plurality of voice could be hit in this election. So, let’s see which notable figures, according to Paddy Power, are outside of the top 5 favourites in this election. Belfast East Straight off the bat, in with a potential big faller. The under-siege Speaker of the Assembly, Robin Newton. Currently sitting at 5/6, as the sixth favourite, still odds-on to be returned, but outside of the 5 strong favourites. Following yesterday’s article, a point was made to me that these odds are likely based on the form of the candidates from the 2016 Assembly election, and this is likely a big influencer on the odds given, however – the third favourite in this race, is David...

AE17 and Paddy Power – what do the odds say? Average Returns

It’s always interesting reading the analysis and predictions of political watchers, especially closing in on an election. The thing is, the likes of Alex Kane, Newton Emerson, Allison Morris, and David McCann all have one thing in common – they don’t really stand to lose anything if they’re wrong. Maybe a bit of egg on the face, or maybe standing in a dress at the steps of Stormont… As happened above when Alex Kane dared to suggest that Clare Bailey of the Green Party wouldn’t succeed in 2016. He was wrong. You know who does stand to lose if its predictions are wrong? Bookies. Which brings me to Paddy Power – who offer odds on all candidates *in the 2017a Assembly Election (why a? Because I suspect there’ll be a b…). *except one… they missed an independent candidate from Fermanagh & South Tyrone I took a deep look at the odds offered, and will try, over the next couple of days, to highlight some interesting points from the betting stakes. WHO OFFERS THE WORST RETURN ON YOUR MONEY? Assuming that you were to bet £1 on ALL of a party’s candidate – what is the worst average return offered? As odds work, if you aren’t aware, the lower the money offered back in return for your bet, the more likely it is to happen. Which is to say, that over a spread of candidates, the lower the reward, the likelier the result. If I was to bet £1 on someone at odds of 20/1, I would win £20 (plus the return of my £1 stake). If I was to bet £1 on...

#AE17 – What Are The Options? Direct Rule…?

The most recent Northern Ireland Executive was made up of Sinn Féin and the DUP, with the addition of the blesséd peacemaker, Claire Sugden as Justice Minister. And, mathematically, barring some absolutely generation-shattering political revolution, those two parties will return as the largest once again. On a linear basis, what are the likely outcomes from the Unionist and Nationalist parties, we’re hearing so much about the twin poles on offer, let’s be real. Largest two parties from unionist and nationalist designations: DUP and Sinn Féin – DUP have made it abundantly clear that they won’t be enacting such previously (disputed) signed agreements as the St. Andrew’s Agreement. No Irish Language Act. – Sinn Féin have made it abundantly clear that they won’t be returning “to the status quo” – which is widely regarded as meaning having Arlene Foster as First Minister. If we allow for an element of reason to be applied here, if Arlene Foster is shown by a public inquiry to be completely and utterly cleared of wrongdoing, corruption, cronyism, ineptitude or incompetence… Sinn Féin would have to step back from this brink. That, however, seems unlikely purely on a calendar basis… the results of that aren’t expected for some time. One DUP source tells me they don’t expect a report back on the inquiry until Autumn, and a Sinn Féin source tells me they aren’t expecting results until June at the earliest. Sinn Féin have also made it clear they won’t be joining an Executive which won’t endorse those previously (disputed) signed agreements which give provision for, amongst other things, an Irish Language Act (even though they...

The pejorative language of religion

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes. I am an Atheist. Or actually, I’m a non-theist. Or is it Humanist… Language tells us everything, its importance cannot be underestimated. But when it comes to common parlance, the language of the day-to-day, the centuries old pervasiveness of religion in language is hard to avoid. I try, but, as a mere mortal, I fail. It frustrates me to hear an atheist say, “I don’t believe in God.” Do you mean the Christian God? The God referred to by the name “God”? Or do you mean gods, plural, all of them…? I always try to make the effort when saying such things, to phrase it as, “I don’t believe in any gods.” It just feels more accurate; it’s difficult as a non-theist to give any special credence to the religion identified with most prominently in my geographic locality, I don’t believe in the Christian God any more or less than I disbelieve in Queztalcoatl, Zeus, Thor, or Vishnu. But when I’m surprised, I may say, “Oh god.” When I’m expressing my disbelief or shock at something, I may exclaim, “Jesus Christ!” Goddammit, Christ alive, and others – all phrases that mean something, mean everything, and mean nothing – depending on your perspective. It is challenging not to fall into the deistic linguistic trap of giving status to what I believe to be an utter myth, as it owns so much of our culture. It genuinely is tough to keep a check on language which gives that special status...

Nationalism, Unionism, and a lack of Pragmatism

I would consider myself a unionist, if other unionists didn’t make it so fucking hard. Mike Nesbitt said, somewhat bravely, that he would be transferring to the SDLP, his fellow opposition party, in the 2017(a) Assembly Election. Thus bucking the typical, ‘transfer to other unionist’ instruction that has become an ever-present feature of tribal election literature. (And of course, on the nationalist side) Bravo Mike, bravo. This is the first act I’ve seen from Northern Irish political-unionist leader that has ever made me stop and think, “maybe… just maybe, there’s hope for them…” Of course, it’s full of nuance – in Nesbitt’s voting constituency, East Belfast, Andy Allen (UUP) isn’t exactly odds on to be re-elected, and even if he is, by the time he gets passed, the SDLP’s Séamas de Faoite will have been eliminated hours earlier, it’s an irrelevancy. But it’s the symbolism. The UUP voters that do listen to Mike or think like he does, will likely than transfer back inside the unionist club. (Although again, it’s not unlikely that Andy Allen won’t get re-elected, and if he does it will almost certainly be as the last candidate over the line.) The Northern Ireland Executive will be headed by a unionist party, and a nationalist party. Mike has made the pragmatic decision that he would rather that the nationalist party was the SDLP – and why the hell not. I have no doubt that the DUP would much rather that the largest nationalist party was the SDLP as well. Pragmatism: the quality of dealing with a problem in a sensible way that suits the conditions that really...

NI Waiting Lists are costing me my vision

On the 5th of April 2016 I had eye surgery. Quite a horrible procedure actually, for an eye disorder called Keratoconus. The plan pre-surgery was for me to have an operation on one eye, and then approximately six weeks later, to have the operation on the other. It’s now the 10th of February 2017, and when I called the Royal Victoria Hospital today, I was told “there’s no date for you yet, but I’ll email again and ask if there’s a rough estimate for you.” I’m not filled with confidence. A little background: Keratoconus is a degenerative disorder of the eye, where the cornea warps into a cone shape, rather than the perfect curve which most people have. The lower eyeball in the graphic above shows what happens when light hits my eyes. Instead of it being focussed on my optical nerve, it bounces around, causing some problems. I get photophobic very easily. I wear sunglasses a lot, even indoors, and often at twilight when driving, because lights from cars just play havoc with my vision. I get headaches because of light sensitivity and in general my vision is getting bad. Five years ago, my vision was perfect… I mean like Legolas in Lord of the Rings perfect. Then i noticed my left eye was rapidly becoming harder to see clearly with, so i went along to an opticians who said it looked like I had Keratoconus (KC) and I should seek a referral to an Opthalmologist. Which I did and it was confirmed. In my left eye, it had progressed quite a lot, in my right eye though it...

DUP, RHI, Twitter Suspension, Censorship, and Optics

Update: 31/1/17: my account has been suspended again. For the same reason and for the same tweet. Appeal 1 was rejected. So far. Update: 30/1/17: following 7 appeals through twitter support, all rejected; I contacted a number of senior Twitter figures. One of them responded and engaged, they took the time to listen and to actually care. Thanks to them, they saw that the complaint against me had absolutely no basis in fact and was against no rule. As such; I was immediately reinstated and the contested tweet remains. Victory. However, it shouldn’t be THAT hard to get a fair hearing. I am currently suspended from twitter. My account, www.twitter.com/belfastbarman, is visible to people, however I am unable to access it. On Friday 27th at around 10am, I was using the Twitter app on my iPhone, when it suddenly switched to the following displayed message. Not understanding what had happened, at all – and I truly mean, at all. I clicked, ‘Start.’ Which presented me with the following message. At this point, I believed I knew what the issue was. So let me explain. The DUP, Northern Ireland’s largest political party, far-right conservatives, staunchly Christian-fundamentalist, and currently embroiled in the, ‘Cash for Ash,’ scandal, also known as RHI. The DUP announced a candidate for the East Antrim constituency who runs a company called, ‘Stephen Ross Boiler Services & Repairs. Stephen Ross is also currently an elected Councillor in Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council… in light of the, ‘Cash for Ash,’ scandal, I believed that announcing Cllr Ross as a candidate was deeply ironic and had terrible, (pardon the political term…)...

The best thing for the DUP is Foster stepping down.

Either temporarily or permanently, either way – in the long term, it’s a win for the party. Like it or not, the DUP were elected to the position of the largest party in the NI Assembly, and as such, have a mandate and obligation to govern. With Foster in charge going forward however, imagine the discourse likely in every single Stormont debate when funding comes up. Need money for health service? If it wasn’t for the RHI scheme, initiated by First Minister Foster, maybe we could afford it. Teachers demanding a pay rise? If it wasn’t for the RHI scheme, initiated by First Minister Foster, maybe we could afford it. Specialist Cancer Drugs Fund? Upgrading roads? Keeping our (wealth of) Airports open? Gritting the roads? If it wasn’t for the RHI scheme, initiated by First Minister Foster, maybe we could afford it. This is the sort of thing that hangs as a noose around the neck of a party for the duration of a mandate. Actually, for as long as it has a lifespan… and it’s safe to imagine the opposition parties aren’t likely to let this drop in a matter of days, weeks, or months. In 15 years time, when we are unable to afford X, it will be partly because of the RHI debacle. Whether the fault for that lies with Foster or not will be debated for some time no doubt, but her hands are on it. Like Watergate, Blair-in-Iraq, the Miners’ Strike… political terms of office can so-very-easily become defined by just one thing. I strongly suspect history will hang this as Foster’s political epitaph, her...

It’s not about remembering the fallen, but BEING SEEN to remember the fallen.

Poppy time. That wonderful time of the year when the more-patriotic-than-thou enter the annual dick-measuring contest of who remembers those servicemen and women who have given their lives in the military. So far this year we’ve seen arguments over whether or not football teams can wear a poppy, I’ve seen a literal muppet with a poppy on TV and a supermarket selling pizzas with pepper and pepperoni in the shape of a poppy. In what way is this an act of remembrance. How you remember anything is up to you; it’s personal, its a reflection – it’s how you feel and what you think. I am always choked up on the 11th of November, it really truly gets to me. I don’t often wear a poppy, I haven’t been to a remembrance day commemoration event in well over a decade… but I remember. I honour in my way, I reflect and consider what was given by those who gave all they had. How you pay respect is up to you. But now, it’s not enough. It’s the same with every issue these days. It’s not enough to believe that Cancer should be eradicated… if you aren’t posting a twibbon on your social feeds, people may just assume that you’re pro cancer. Ten years ago if you weren’t wearing a white ‘Make Poverty History’ wristband, people would just assume you wanted there to be more poverty in the future. When the Paris attacks happened, everyone rushed to post something about it – obviously they did care, but it’s also en vogue to be seen to care about it. When I was younger...

United Airlines presents a real and complex test of the Executive and David Gordon

The story of United Airlines receiving £9 million of money from the Northern Ireland Executive is widely spread, including here from myself on Slugger O’Toole, and the follow up here from David McCann. Here’s my thoughts. The Executive is screwed on both sides of the argument. That they gave what is effectively a bailout to United Airlines, a publicly traded company, for a route which is already profit-making. The airline wanted to move the aircraft to other routes which were more profitable. Which is of course fair enough. However they rushed the decision to give this money over, with no assembly or committee oversight, against the advice of civil servants involved. They saw this as essential. And so stumped up our cash. Now however the EU has blocked it as illegal/forbidden state aid. The Executive might have known that if they had bothered to check and not rush the decision. The problem now lies at newly-appointed ‘spin doctor’ David Gordon’s door. The Executive has and is being criticised by many in the public for giving the money over in the first place. The Executive is being criticised for losing the route, for leaving NI without a route to the USA. The Executive has been overruled by the EU, an organisation which half of the Executive campaigned for us to remain within, Sinn Feín. The DUP of course want us out of the EU. The argument that Northern Ireland has been left without a route to the USA is diminished by half of the Executive believing that NI (or the 6 counties) is part of Ireland. In which case Belfast...

The Judges who said No to a Prime Minister, to save Democracy.

For those who don’t understand, here’s an idiot-proof explanation of why Parliament has to, and SHOULD have to, approve the application of Article 50 to leave the European Union. And no, this isn’t, “trying to undo the will of the people.” There was a referendum, that wasn’t legally binding. Neither side of the political argument was fighting for it to be legally binding, nor indeed could it have been legally binding in practice, why? Because laws are made by parliament, not by people putting an X in one box or another. If you want laws made solely based on such measures, please do us all a favour, send a letter to your nearest electoral office and instruct them to remove you from the electoral register. So laws and policy aren’t made by ticking an X in a box, they’re made by those people we elect to govern, in council, parliament and elsewhere. (And indeed by those we don’t elect, such as the House of Lords and the monarch.) We elect and entrust our elected officials in parliament to create and curate our laws – they do so at our behest and we have the power of hiring and firing. The will of the people of the UK as a whole (although not all of its constituent countries) voted to remove the UK from the EU; the will of the people of the UK as a whole elected our MPs. The institution and its predecessors have been doing so for seven hundred years. If you believe Theresa May should have the unchecked, unratified and unmanaged power to, with the use of...

Trump will quit race in the final days before the election: prediction

This is my firm belief and I’m storing it here for posterity. If (and when) Trump comes to the realisation that he cannot win this election, and he’ll take it down to the wire – 48hours, maybe less – he’ll bow out unceremoniously. Donald Trump is not the type of man who tries his hand at something if he thinks he’ll be a loser. So I believe he won’t let himself be a loser. He’ll claim that he’s seen undeniable evidence that the election has been rigged, that the democratic process has been circumvented and that ‘crooked Hillary’ has cheated the voters out of their ability to freely choose their next President. He’ll say that he won’t give the election process the legitimacy of having his name involved if it isn’t open, fair and NOT rigged. That if Hillary and ‘her’ liberal media are going to fix the election for her to win, she may as well run against no-one but herself and look the pantomime villain that he knows her to be. Sure, if he stays in and loses, he’ll say exactly the same… but once the rhetoric dies down, he’ll be recorded in the history books as a loser in this race – something he won’t permit. So he can quit just prior to the vote, then take a pseudo moral high ground, telling his supporters that he couldn’t in all good-conscience partake in a criminally rigged election, it would disrespect himself and disrespect them and their vote.  Then he’ll dine out for the rest of his days as the, “forced to take a principled stand and...

New Government Proposals on Voting for Foreigners

Further to the proposals by Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, at the Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May plans to take proposals on ousting foreigners from jobs even further. At future elections, if a candidate for council/assembly/parliament is not UK-born, voters will have to write a brief statement outlining their reasons for wishing to elect a person from a country that isn’t as amazing as ours. Following this declaration, all votes cast in elections for bloody foreigners will be assessed by a panel of experts, including Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Theresa Villiers and Katie Hopkins. If this panel judge that your reasoning is insufficient, the vote will be disregarded. The form is rumoured to look as...

Donald Trump Appears To Be So Desperate For Cash That He Is Breaking The Law

As someone who was born in the UK and lived almost exclusively here since birth, with a brief period in Canada, I was quite surprised that Donald Trump was asking for my help in his campaign to become president. What could I do that the hundreds of millions who actually are American could not? As someone who makes a big deal out of being rich, why does he need $35 from me? And is that even legal? No. I’ve never registered support for any American presidential candidate. There are two plausible options as to how I got this email. Trump or one of his team randomly entered my email address into their database. Trump or one of his team has bought mailing lists in bulk from some marketing company, now he is sending mailshots to people who have no involvement whatsoever in Trump’s campaign, the Presidential campaign in general or even have nothing to do with America and AREN’T AMERICAN. But I definitely did not ‘opt-in’. I mean, I’ve not registered support for either candidate… of course I think that Trump is an evil runt of a man who might in fact be being controlled in a Lord Voldemort/Professor Quirrel-esque way by Dougal from The Magic Roundabout who has become symbiotically entwined with Trump’s brain… But ultimately, until the Dougal theory is proven, Trump is potentially in breach of Federal Election Commission legislation governing who can and can’t donate to an American Presidential campaign. He is DEFINITELY trying to persuade ME to act in breach of the FEC legislation.. Can non-US citizens contribute? Foreign nationals are prohibited from making...

Sport shouldn’t be subjective: The Olympics should just be for Sport.

Controversial one this; I know this because I’ve discussed it with people before and it’s divisive and causes quite an emotive response. I don’t believe that any activity where the winner is decided based SOLELY (that part is important) on judging should be classed as a sport – and therefore perhaps shouldn’t be in the Olympics. Gymnastics Rhythmic Gymnastics Trampolining Diving Synchronised Diving Synchronised Swimming Dressage I would even consider the status of Olympic Boxing (as Knockouts are relatively rare and therefore judging is the usual method of progression), so too for some other combat sports. Judging, whilst of course done against very specific guidelines, is subjective. For example, in some events, some judges have awarded the same competitor a 4 or a 5 and another has judged them as a 7 or an 8. Yes, there is the mechanism of ruling out the highest and lowest – but the fact remains that this is quite clearly subjective. Small differences matter, but considering the margins that people win (or lose) a medal with, this subjectivity pollutes the concept of sport. That a competitor may not win a medal because a couple of judges consider  that their toes weren’t pointed enough (Trampoline), that their arms and elbows weren’t straight enough (men’s gymnastics – high bar), or that the competitors weren’t synchronised enough (synchronised diving). I in no way mean to diminish the skill or athleticism of what these competitors do, they are PHENOMENAL human beings who do incredible things, all of which I couldn’t even begin to dream about being competitive at – however I don’t believe they are sports. They are entertaining for sure,...

The Makings of a Homeless Teenager

I’ve been meaning/wanting to write this for a while but keep talking myself out of it – I’m reasonably sure the catharsis of putting in the effort will either be beneficial or ruin me; we’ll see. I also don’t want it to seem self indulgent, it absolutely isn’t. That’s the caveat out of the way. Many times now I’ve spoken about my experience of being homeless, through this site, Slugger O’Toole, BBC and others. I’m always acutely aware how these tend to be reduced to a specific angle or a particular soundbite, I wanted to share a less filtered account. I became homeless because my mother and her partner drank instead of paying rent; it’s that simple really. A long, long time ago in a land kinda near here my mother and I moved to England to be with a guy she had met; seems reasonable enough. He seemed an OK kinda guy,  he had one of those Nokia Communicator phones, big and brick like but opened length ways and became like a palm pilot – he also had a laptop he let me play on, command & conquer was the only game… I was grand with that. We’d been on the south coast for about 3 years I think when we ran into difficulties, I would have been maybe 14. She had job after job (they never seemed to last long) working in most of the pubs in the area (it seemed that way anyway). Ending up in a basement flat in a village called Hassocks (we ended up here after being kicked out of our previous house...

Is this what could follow a Vote Leave victory for NI?

In a world… that’s how dystopian future movies normally begin, but perhaps we’ll start with something a bit less melodramatic. Let’s first assume that in the EU Referendum, Vote Leave wins out and that sometime around 2018, the UK leaves the European Union and goes it alone. Explain to me by what measure and by what logic the following is unreasonable… PS, you’re going to need to permit some imagination of me, it’s ok though, we’ve been here before. This is of course just a thought experiment, just one voter in the referendum pondering what might be in the coming years… everyone has an angle and a prediction, statistically speaking it’s likely that somewhere out there, somebody is right, maybe this is it. 2023 Scotland, unhappy with its continued minimal influence into the wider UK political scene, holds a second referendum where Out wins. SNP leaders convinced the electorate that it was no longer right nor necessary to have Scottish laws decided upon by ‘foreign’ politicians who wouldn’t have to face the same consequences in Cambridge, Brighton & Guildford that they themselves faced in Dunfermline, Ayr & Stirling. The SNP and other Out campaigners successfully convince the electorate that Scotland gives more to the UK financially than it gets back. The Scottish unemployment rate being around 0.6/0.7% higher than the UK average leads to calls for English workers to stop commuting over the border and taking Scottish jobs from Scottish people. In just 5 years time, the replacement for Trident is due to commence service and an overwhelming majority of Scottish citizens expressed their support that they do not...

What Might Have Been – Assembly Election ’16 With 5 Seats

In 2021, there will be 5 MLAs returned for each constituency instead of 6… what if that had happened this time? A look at the winners and losers in the new numbers game. What might have been…. When it comes time for the 2021 Assembly Election, each of the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland will return only 5 MLAs to Stormont instead of the current 6. This is part of reforming our government to squander less and increase efficiency. Contained within the Stormont House Agreement was this target. In Northern Ireland we have 108 MLAs to a population (as of 2011 Census) of 1,811 million. This means that we have an MLA for every 16,768 citizens. In Scotland that figure is 1 representative per 41,046 citizens (129 seats, population of 5.295 million) and in Wales it’s even greater at 1 per 51,050 people (60 seats, population of 3.063 million). Yes, people may perhaps feel better represented because there are more individuals speaking out for local interests; it’s also easier to have a more diverse government if there are more seats available. However it’s generally accepted that in Northern Ireland, we have too many. Even after the 2021 changes from 6 to 5, we will still have 1 representative for every 20,000 or so citizens… The Alliance Party Proposal… In November 2015, Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party proposed to the assembly that the associated cost savings of reducing MLAs could and should be taken in time for #AE16 instead of waiting 5 years until #AE21 (if Hashtags even exist by then…). Dickson suggested that the savings in that time...

DUP Manifesto 2016: Vote Arlene or Martin McGuinness will drown a puppy.

Who is this Arlene of which you speak? Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s our dysfunctional mandatory coalition government set-up… but when I think of what an incumbent party should be preaching about come election time; change isn’t it. Stability maybe? More of the same successes? Not change. Yet the DUP Arlene waxes lyrical about changes they’d she’d make… ok, why haven’t they hasn’t she then? You were the largest party in government and it’s been that way for some considerable time. Change? If we need change, which the DUP seem to agree with, can I suggest starting with the obvious? If the system isn’t working, change starts at the top. The DUP Arlene says, “I want to see an Executive with a reputation for taking decisions and getting things done.” What things were they was she getting done with their in-out ministers in the last mandate? That, by it’s very nature, wasn’t taking a decision, it was avoiding taking a decision by maintaining stability on a purely administrative basis. In general, I find it difficult to accept any mandatory coalition executive talking about their her successes, it’s very much a group effort (or lack thereof), so when they talk she talks about achieving the ability to control our own corporation tax rate… how much of that exactly are the DUP is Arlene taking responsibility for? Was it entirely themselves alone herself alone? This one in particular seems odd to me, “The number of people admitted to hospitals in Northern Ireland has increased by over 25,000 between 2010/11 and 2014/15” So the brag here is… we’re having to go...

Me & The Music Business – All Those Years Ago

So in another life, many moons past, I was a big music fan. I still am of course, but not like then; then I lived, eat, drunk & breathed music. I was kinda late to the party, I enjoyed listening to music as everyone does, then when I was about 16 I suddenly opened my ears to what was going on and fell in love with the whole thing. I’ve never been one for half measures, when I get into something I tend to go feet first and immerse myself, so shortly after this eureka moment, I found a way to work within the music industry and it’s thanks to this that I met my partner!! I had no skills with an instrument and a voice that could upset stone, but I discovered a way to go to more gigs, get more music and all for free. Street Teams. I was living near Brighton at this point (and in fact was homeless for part of it, I used the school computers or whatever local library was close to me at the time), the music scene there was superb – it seemed like every great band that toured the UK would play Brighton, just an hours drive south the coast and if you’re a big-hitting act, The Brighton Centre or maybe The Dome; if you’re a newish band just beginning to break, The Concorde 2, The Komedia or if you were even smaller, The Freebutt, The Ocean Rooms or a whole host of rooms-with-speakers. I began working with a Street Team for Warner Music Group, it was a simple enough...

An Anti-Wine List I Once Made – Tasting Notes: Hint Of Sarcasm

So, I’m not a wine guy. I’ve a sweet tooth, I’ve had some Reislings that I’ve liked and the odd dessert wine, but that’s it. I can’t even go near red… bad experience (haven’t we all??) in my brief uni days. So back when I was managing White’s Tavern, the usual deal was, the company that we signed a deal with to be our wine distributor, would design the wine list. They’d also cover the cost of printing, which for someone like me (no clue about wine and stingy as fuck), was perfect! They get some professional sommelier to write the tasting notes and job’s a good’un. We’d been at this for a few years and I gradually grew sick of the pretentious tasting notes – just guff after guff after guff. I’m sure they genuinely did reflect an accurate description of the wine at hand, but my issue was mainly the following: White’s Tavern is (one of) Belfast’s oldest pubs, it’s a traditional Irish bar – low ceiling, peat fire, great Guinness… for the same reason I never did a cocktail menu, I wasn’t keen on going mad with wines. If you’re a wine aficionado, there’s places you would go to first… This was reflected in the sales too, on the proper wine lists, before my kinda-joke-but-not-really wine list, we sold massively more 1/4 bottles of wine than regular bottles – again, in my experience, wine aficionados aren’t clamouring for a 187.5ml bottle of house plonk. So I thought ‘Fuck It’. I’m going to have fun with this, it’s going to be a bit of light entertainment. Most...

A round-up of Easter Licensing social media ire

This is just a sample of course, from those of us in Northern Ireland who are sick, tired & embarrassed of our Easter opening hours.     And here’s one of many bars that will have had to close due to the opening hours…   Of course the views of the general public seems fairly obvious… Industry body Hospitality Ulster was on the case all weekend, sharing messages from its members calling for normalisation of the hours…...

A lost boy at Easter: You can choose your friends AND your family.

Easter is an odd time of year for me, the ‘holidays’ in general are in fact. The societal onus is always on ‘family’ and spending time together with them… Christmas of course is the big one, but Easter being so close to Mother’s Day, there’s a certain expectation – when someone asks you your plans for Easter and you respond with, “the usual,” people just know what that means. Visiting relatives, maybe a trip together somewhere, the obligatory Sunday Lunch at the family home… all that good stuff. For me though, it’s never been that way. I genuinely can’t recall the last typical family holiday event I was at with my own mother and family, and as numb as I am to this kind of broken-family situation, I’m conscious of what I’m missing out on. Perhaps it was 2003… it might even be as far back as 1999 or 2000, maybe that isn’t long for some people, especially if you’ve seen a lot more years go by than myself, but I’m 28 – that’s more than half my life ago. I’ve spoken previously about my time being homeless, with my mother and then latterly, my brother (who was born when we were of ‘no fixed abode’, I’m excluding those occasions. Although even then, one Christmas I spent with my then-girlfriend’s family and the other I spent with an uncle in Canada. When we were homeless we lived in Brighton and the surrounding area, every school holiday and term break, I was back in Belfast staying with my grandfather – all those normal occasions where a child and their parents are supposed...

3 Great Crowdfunding Drinks Projects You Can Join

Crowdfunding… you know what it is by now, it’s been one of the biggest changes in the way the world does business in the 21st century. Got a good idea? Could take it to a bank and do the leg work, maybe even have a go at Dragon’s Den… or use a crowdfunding website and get the added benefit of testing if there’s a market for your product at the same time as raising capital. Superb! Locally, the success story of Brewbot, beer and technology wizards who combined to make an automated brewing system that can be controlled via an app and who have since gone on to open their own bar on Belfast’s Ormeau Road, these guys raised over $100,000. Brewbot units are popping up in some of the world’s leading technology companies for staff to use and many, many other places. This makes professional scale and consistency brewing possible for anyone! Here’s a list of some great crowdfunding projects ongoing in the drinks business The Stone Cup Made from metamorphic black marble, each cup is unique – these aren’t made, they’re crafted. Keeping your drink at a more sustained temperature, there’s a practical side to it… also, it looks AWESOME. You can just imagine sitting there with an Old Fashioned in your black marble stone cup, watching some fine documentary about prohibition! Alcohoot Edge A palm-sized bluetooth connected breathalyzer that uses police grade breath sensor technology to accurately track and measure your blood alcohol levels. According to the manufacturer, the Alcohoot Edge allows you to make safer and smarter decisions and also it can improve your health....

Spotlight, Spotlight & Jamie Bryson

Watching BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight program tonight, regarding the NAMA sale and Frank Cushnahan, among others… something occurred to me that suddenly lifted a cloud of misunderstanding. When Jamie Bryson first wrote his blogs where he named certain individuals, political leaders among them, I watched eagerly, waiting to see the evidence… there appeared to be none. I, and many many others gave him some serious amount of shit for being a bullshitter… I think at this point, most people engaged with current affairs and politics in Northern Ireland, assumed there has to have been some level of truth behind it, but the lack of evidence was just galling. We wanted him to be right, and he just flunked it. Or did he… I spoke some months ago with an MLA who had seen what evidence Bryson submitted that day to the committee, they told me that there was, “definitely something there, but it was outside of our terms of reference, it’s been passed on to the relevant authorities.” MINOR SPOILER ALERT FOR THE MOVIE SPOTLIGHT. I watched the Oscar winning film, ‘Spotlight’ yesterday, if you haven’t seen it, there’s a fantastic part where the Spotlight (of the Boston Globe) team are trying to get some documents revealed by a court, documents that were legally, “under seal,” – and it’s a struggle they seem to be losing at the time. There is a reveal moment where a lawyer involved in the case says that he applied to the court to depose a priest who had been guilty of child abuse, a lawyer for the church filed against this. At this...

Jim Wells Caught in Misogynistic Comments: Updated

DUP MLA Jim Wells, the former Health Minister has been caught in yet another gaffe. Wells was apparently unaware that despite, “now in public session, ” being called, that his comments might be audible to the public. You can see what he said here. His comments are at approximately 1min 10seconds. The context of the conversation is mostly indecipherable however he does quite clearly say; I can’t cope with women between 8 and 80… He then says something that, to me, sounds a lot like, “bastards,” but perhaps it’s just a homophone… Tough to hear conclusively, make up your own minds. Just before this, when the public are called into the session, he remarks, … Woman reminds me of Arlene Foster, scared the wits out of me.” To which UUP MLA, whom Wells is speaking to replies, “there is a wee bit of a resemblance.” Wells then responds with, She doesn’t take prisoners.” Presumably referring to Arlene Foster, first minister and leader of Wells’ own party, the DUP. Jim Wells is of course prone to speaking his mind, but with the topic of abortion coming up in the Assembly this week and the campaign to ‘Trust Women’ ongoing, perhaps when Mr. Wells votes not to trust women with the right to know what is right for their own bodies, as should be their right in line with an NI courts decision on human rights…  We will understand why. Following on from Jim Wells’ outburst, a civil servant got in touch me with a very interesting and important point. Imagine how the Civil Servant being commented on [Ed: That Wells...

Returning Ornaments to Bars

I saw this story on Belfast Live where a drunken reveller stole an ornament from Sweet Afton in Belfast and it reminded me of a tale from my Whites Tavern days. Above the fireplace we had a stuffed animal… honestly, I don’t know if I could accurately say what animal it was… maybe a Stoat? We told people it was a Lagan Rat – the thing was huge. Somebody took it home with themselves after a drunken saturday night. The thing was gone for weeks! To be honest, things get stolen all the time… glassware, cutlery – random things. It just becomes another thing to deal with, but this Stoat was iconic to us. Tourists asked of it all the time, locals too – our wee Stoat. Then one morning I turned up to unlock the building and under the shutters was a thick envelope… no Stoat, but wait… Inside were pictures of the Stoat from locations all around Belfast and the wider area. Someone had taken it to the Castlereagh Hills, to Stormont (the bottom of the hill), Scrabo Tower, Samson & Goliath… even Belfast Zoo (which seemed a bit morbid to me…). How someone took the time and energy to do all this was incredible! It had a note attached that simple said, “We wanted to show him more of the world.” The Stoat never returned home… but we know that he saw more of Belfast than he ever would have from atop a soot covered...

Kindness Drawers – A New Innovation in Giving

On New Year’s Eve, when many of us will have been socialising with friends, maybe having a few drinks and waiting for the Official Announcer of The Years, Jools Holland, to tell us that 2016 has arrived, some wonderfully compassionate fellow Northern Irelanders were installing the Kindness Drawers in the centre of Belfast. The idea is so simple it’s almost embarrassing… Created by the people who brought Belfast the Homeless Pod, Common Law NI,  a year before, a stack of 2 shelving columns where people who have things to donate, can leave items – and homeless people who are in need of items, can get them. There are a plethora of groups doing great work in Belfast on supporting and helping the homeless and a dearth of people willing to help however they can – I saw a great number of initiatives over the Christmas period where people were organizing giving to help people in need… this is in the same vein, but with no fuss – you can fill a shoebox and give it to an outreach organization, of course you can, and more power to you… Or, if you’re so inclined, you can drop it yourself when you’re able to, directly into the Kindness Drawers yourself, no need to wait for a local group to start an initiative… help how you can, when you can. There’s definitely something to be said for people who are homeless being able to help themselves. Obviously, this stuff is donated… but instead of having to go to a charitable group or wait until and outreach organization comes along and asks if...

#OccupyQUB ended as it started – not with a bang, but a whimper

The, “Civil Rights Movement,” has ended… (their words… not mine – Civil rights defines as – “the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality.” Quite how occupying a building and saying “we’re not leaving unless you do something we tell you to do” fits into social freedom and equality, I’m unsure). #OccupyQUB “took over” a couple of cubicles in the finance office of the administration building of Queens University Belfast, their demands?   Fossil Free QUB had been campaigning for some time to encourage QUB to divest from fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP, Gazprom and others – in fairness, this is a noble cause and one that I and many others will support. The problem arises when ultimatums are brought into the arena – “Do this or else.” Who responds well to that kind of activity? Prior to the, “Occupation,” – such as it was, Queens had said there will be a workshop on the issue on the 6th of January, they had also pledged to review their investment policy (which would take between 6-9 months). Queens released the following statement, Queen’s statement   “At its meeting on 14 October 2015, the University’s Investment Committee agreed to carry out a comprehensive review of its Investment Policy. The review is expected to take 6 – 9 months and will be informed by best practice in the area of ‘Socially Responsible Investment.’   “As part of this review the University has engaged directly with students from Fossil Free QUB.  To help inform the investment policy review, a workshop will be held in early January 2016 (6th...

An Open Letter To Refugees Coming To Northern Ireland…

I consider myself an average Northern Irish citizen, and as such I’d like to extend a warm welcome to any and all refugees coming to Northern Ireland to escape persecution, war and conflict. Hello and welcome to you all – Dia Daoibh agus Céad Míle Fáilte Romhaibh. The difference between where you’re from and Northern Ireland is probably quite massive, so I thought it might be handy to write a wee (little) guide for you to refer to.   1: You may think you know English… disregard all of that knowledge, it’s outdated… we may technically speak English but it’s mostly unrecognisable to the outside world. This blog from Sarah Arnold may help. 2: You should perhaps start taking anti-cholesterol medication as soon as possible, our standard diet will destroy you. 3: Vegetable roll is not for you. 4: Do not… repeat, DO NOT try to go to Primark on a Saturday. 5: Ask NO questions about Daniel O’Donnell, it’s best left alone. 6: Make sure, before you go into a shop, that it is in fact a shop… some of our shops aren’t real, they’re just there for decoration. 7: Larne isn’t as bad as people make out it is. 8: But still, don’t go to Larne. 9: You may have heard of the ‘Emerald Isle’, you should also become accustomed to the phrase ‘Gray Skies’. 10: Don’t be confused by the ‘Westlink’, despite the name, the road runs pretty much North-South. 11: If you will be driving, you should acquaint yourself with the following places and avoid them: Black’s Road, Grosvenor Road, Chichester Street, Ormeau Road, Sandyknowles, Short...

The Miracle/Not Miracle of Joshua Martin

I learned today the good news that Joshua Martin, the youngster from Donaghadee, Co Down, who had been going through treatment for an aggressive cancer – was cured. Fantastic news! Most cancers now seem to have decreasing mortality rates, which is a real mark of where our society is at – I’m not that old but even I remember as a kid hearing cancer and thinking, “well, that’s death then…, ” and now the word ‘treatment’ is synonymous with cancer. I heard Joshua on local radio a few weeks ago talking about the process he’s gone through, I was moved by his account – driving in to work and there I am listening to a kid who has suffered through so very much at a young age – and then he said the ‘g’ word. Categorically, I am not ‘Anti god’ nor ‘anti-religion’ and I can understand why religious people thank their god for things, because that’s what you believe, that’s cool with me – each to their own. My problem comes when their god gets the credit for man’s skill. Here’s the article in today’s Belfast Telegraph I’m not seeing a lot of thanks there for the work of researchers and scientists, doctors and nurses, radiologists and oncologists… I have a real issue with the concept of people thanking their god for the good things but never even remotely expecting that the same person should, in theory (loose use of the phrase) be equally responsible for the bad stuff. Also, the arrogance, the sheer bloody arrogance to suspect that because a churches members all prayed really really hard to...

2016 – NI Year of Food & Drink: The NI Cookbook

Earlier in the year I attended an event at St Georges Market promoting NI producers, both food and drink, I met James McIntosh – a local chap doing fantastically well as an ambassador for Aga cookers and by all accounts, big in China as a TV chef. James spoke at length about his love for what we have here in the province and he quite clearly has a passion for it. 2016 is to be the, “Northern Ireland year of food and drink,” promoting what we have here in NI both to locals and people abroad, we could and should try to become a destination holiday for foodies, why the hell not, look at what we have! James McIntosh is putting together the NI Cookbook where local farmers, artisan producers, brewers, distillers, fishermen, butchers and the rest of the field (so to speak), can share their stories, have a light shone on their creations – both to be marketed at home and abroad. The Year of Food and Drink is something I will hopefully be writing about a lot over the coming year, and I expect I’ll spend a lot of that time reminding people of the ‘Drink’ element of this… Hopefully the local producers will come out of the year a league beyond that which they started in, already local success stories are getting traction elsewhere, Hannon’s Meats, Keen Nut Butter, Finnebrogue Venison, Hilden Brewery, Ruby Blue Liqueur to name but a few – who knows what brand leaders we’ll be talking about next December, but initiatives like McIntosh’s should contribute to that list being longer and longer....

Tis The Season: What December Means To Me

Christmas has always been an odd time for me… familial instability, constant upheaval and extremely anti-social work hours… this is the first year since I moved back to Northern Ireland that the festive season isn’t overshadowed by work and chaos. I moved to England when I was 11 or 12, I spent every christmas back in Belfast on school holidays with my grandfather or occasionally in Canada with my uncle, I’m not sure I’ve spent a christmas day with my mother since maybe age 10 or 11 – given the constant chaos (for want of a better word) of ‘home life for me in my teenage years, it was preferable. Eventually I moved out and off to Uni in London (that’s another story for another time…) where I spent one christmas day alone in a house (everyone else went home for the holidays) and the other christmas day of my time in London, I have no clue whatsoever what I did… I sometimes think my mind is a series of locked boxes with the keys lost – such little memory of growing up and even now I’m incredibly forgetful. So yeah, I have no clue what I was up to for Christmas 2007 – an entire holiday season remains a mystery. Eventually I wound up back in Belfast and working in the bar trade, and what a burden that is at times! Overall, hospitality is a great industry to work in but never underestimate the effect that unsocial working hours can have on your life. In February my partner and I will celebrate our 8th year together, yet this...

The Cinema, The Church, The God & The Claims

Short one this. The debate on the DCM not allowing an advert which contains nothing but ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is multi faceted but as usual in these discussions, entirely polarizing with very little room for manoeuvring on both sides. Consider this though, advertisers are accountable to various statuatory bodies… What if the Lord’s Prayer was shown as an advert and I, as a secularist, objected to the suggestion that a deity can give me bread daily. If I don’t receive this free bread on a daily basis, have I been lied to? What of other statements in the prayer? If Garnier, Coca Cola, McDonald’s or Nestle make a claim in an advert that someone refutes as being without evidence or being misleading, the onus is on the company and the advertiser to establish fact in their claim. Good luck proving the Lord’s Prayer is 100% legally sound in fact and claim. These are the rules companies play by, if the church wants in on the game then it better think about the consequences. Furthermore.. Can I take an advert out before movies that is just me saying the following phrase for 60seconds “there is no god, there is no god, there is no god – religion is a lie, religion is a lie, religion is a lie…” And expect no objection from established...

Tragedy Whataboutery – And Why Resonance Is Key

Raise your hands if you’ve seen something like this doing the rounds lately… It reminds me of one of my favourite stand-ups, Glenn Wool, who during a great set on religion mentions Islam and follows it up with, “but I have to criticise ALLLLLL religions equally otherwise you’ll be branded an Islamophobe.” This is definitely worth a watch if you’re interested in a bit of inoffensive religious humour…   So I guess the question is, why does it matter? I don’t claim to speak for ‘everyone, everywhere’, but I’m pretty confident that I’m in the same mindset as a great many people here… I don’t think anybody should be murdered. I think terrorism is bad. I think a terrorist who attacks Paris, London, New York, Coleraine or Walmington-on-Sea is just as much of an asshole as a terrorist who attacks Beirut, Damasak, Mamasapano, Gush Etzion or Hebron. I think the victims of a shooting in all those places are just as missed as each other, their deaths should equally be mourned and justice should be pursued with equal fervour. I’ve never been to Beirut, Damasak, Mamasapano, Gush Etzion or Hebron, I’m not sure I know anyone who has – and that’s not the fault of anyone, I just don’t. I’ve been to Paris, I’ve friend’s in New York, I’ve lived in London, I’m writing this article from Coleraine and I was a big fan of Dad’s Army as a kid so Walmington-on-Sea holds a special place in my childhood. It doesn’t mean I care less, it means attacks on the second list don’t resonate as much as on the first...

Morally Bankrupt: using #Paris to drum up customers

This may be the most morally bankrupt use of social media I’ve seen in some time. Let me add a disclaimer here, I used to work at this business (under its previous name) and for its current owners (VERY briefly). That aside, to see something like the events that unfolded in Paris on Friday night and think, “how can I use this as self promotion…” – This goes to a certain level of insensitivity and offensiveness that I just can’t...

Men £5 – Women £0 – Discriminating Based On Gender Priceless

It came to my attention today that Alibi, a bar/restaurant/nightclub in Belfast’s Bradbury Place is running this policy: This is a practice I haven’t seen in Britain for many years and is generally associated with struggling businesses who are finding that a night isn’t living up to its potential and so desperate times call for desperate measures. Existing Equality Legislation makes it illegal to provide a service at a cost to one gender and a different price for a different gender. Whilst discrimination against men is not seen as often, I would actually suggest this is discriminating against both genders, that trying to essentially ‘bribe’ women to come into their venue (and thereby using them as ‘bait’ to get male punters in) is as wrong....

Craft Distiller Profile: Hughes Craft Distillery

I’ve known of Hughes Craft Distillery for a few years now, there’s is a slow and steady growth – a growth borne naturally and through constant hard graft. In no way denigrating the NI Craft Beer scene, but there is a certain amount of “scene” about the industry – that is to say that merely by launching a Craft Beer brewery, you are bound to get a reasonable amount of attention and success, such is the en vogue nature of the sector. The Hughes’ have been labouring away at their liqueur business since mid 2010, practically historic in the local alcohol producing industry. I’ve tried their products, the whole range in fact – and they’re delicious (Okay, full disclosure – the Chili Liqueur blew the mouth off me, but I’m a coward when it comes to spice). Quite why they weren’t stocked EVERYWHERE in Northern Ireland has always eluded me. When local food brands are lauded and named on menus across the province, Ruby Blue was still in the process of “making it“. Over time though, Stuart and Barbara Hughes have kept at it and got their company in a position of real strength, as well as their range of real fruit, small batch spirits, they have added Ireland’s first Potato distilled Vodka – which surprised me, because as an Island, we love our spuds and we love our vodka, go figure. The gap was there though and the Hughes’ jumped through it. Now being widely stocked across the province, more and more people are understanding why Barbara and Stuart have continued making what they make, not just because...

A Message from Aaron Sorkin for Anti-SSM Campaigners

Many of you will have seen this before, it’s been around for nearly 15 years – the points made are as true now as they were then. There are many arguments to use against those who campaign against Same Sex Marriage – that those who oppose marriage equality are hypocrites entrenched in an arbitrary view from a book written over hundreds of years; hundreds and thousands of years after the events they claim to be recounting. Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing said it better than many ever could, this argument stands the test of time, and I have no doubt that over the years, this has persuaded more than a small number of anti-SSM supporters. Hopefully, it will here too....

Behind The Bar Tales: The Ninth: Bomb Scare Special

The date was December 20th 2013. I had been managing Whites Tavern for nearly 7 years at this point, recently though I had also taken up managing The Point Bar & Grill in Ballyhackamore. The last Friday before Christmas, in the bar/restaurant trade, is almost as mad as it gets. Most people have finished work that evening for the winter break and to celebrate, they hit the bars like a tonne of bricks. We were fully booked in both bars, I had only been managing The Point for 3 months and had a team in Whites who had survived many christmas seasons, so I decided to spend the working evening in Ballyhackamore. What could go wrong…? I saw on twitter that there was a bomb alert in Belfast City Centre. Just around the corner from Whites. So I did exactly what every non-sane person would do, I got in my car and drove towards it. I’m sure this is common practice for emergency services, journalists and the like, but it definitely doesn’t fall into the “job responsibilities” of bar management… at least not the advertised ones anyway. Here is a crappily drawn map – The red circle is Whites Tavern. The Black Square is the suspect device, the blue crosses are police barriers and the green arrow is the only open route to get to Whites. I had spoken with staff who said the police had advised them that they were safe and that we didn’t have to evacuate as it was far enough away from the premises, so the staff were valiantly battling on. I arrived and the...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Eighth – The Engagement

Saturday night after a busy shift, I’m sweeping the floors and I find a purse, in the purse are the usual stuff, some bank cards, store cards, receipts, money and an engagement ring. Quite an expensive looking engagement ring too… although to most men, I think all engagement rings look expensive. There’s no contact information other than linking the woman’s name with her Boot’s Advantage card, that kinda thing. In situations like this I normally give it a few days and then contact the banks and tell them the card has been found and could the contact the account holder and tell them where they can pick it up. I probably should report the cards as lost straight away, but I always think they might come in the next morning, at which point I’ll have cancelled their bank cards and will have to through that whole fuss of getting new cards. So I wait. Sunday morning and I’m in getting set up for the day, I get a phone call from a woman who says she was in the night before and she thinks she lost her purse in the bar, I ask her name and it checks out so I tell her yeah, it’s here, she can come and collect it at any point. A couple of hours pass and then the woman and a guy come in, introduce themselves, he is her fiancé and she was out for the night with some friends when she lost her purse. I hand over the purse and say “I checked it when I found it, it looks like there is...

Craft Beer Profile: Northbound Brewery

Northbound Brewery, based in Eglinton, Co. L’Derry started in 2012 when Martina and David Rogers returned after 9 years living in Australia. Living the Aussie dream in Bondi, David worked for a local brewery and went on to get (very) qualified in the field, one of only 12 people in 2012 globally who qualified as an Institute of Brewing and Distilling Master Brewer… David knows his stuff! When Martina and David relocated back to the shores of Enagh Lough just outside of Northern Ireland’s Second City, they were lucky enough to have Invest NI support them on a small pilot brewery, eventually upscaling to their own purpose build micro brewery in Campsie, which launched their beers to you, I and the rest of the general public in April 2015. Success has followed, just 4 months later and their beers are available across the island or Ireland with 2 distributors in the Republic of Ireland. You can try their brews at: Brewbot, Belfast GAP Wines, Belfast Kiwis Bar, Portrush Salty Dog, Bangor Across all of ROI. I asked David and Martina some questions to get a full understanding of their story, their passion, their brewery and their beers. Who is involved? The two of us at the beginning and the team has grown to include two more part time members of staff to help with increasing local demand and the requests for export. What made you start your own brewing business? Destiny and for the love of beer. We’re passionate about crafting natural beers that are unpasteurised and unfiltered and most importantly, full of flavour. We also had a desire...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Seventh – Celebs

The nature of running a touristy historic bar like White’s Tavern is that from time to time, you’re going to get celebrities coming in. I’m not a fame-chaser, it’s kinda interesting when you see someone you recognize from TV or film or sports but unless it’s someone I’m a fan of, or they’re in something I’m a fan of, it’s just anecdotal. Here’s a few celeb anecdotes from my time in White’s. John C. McGinley This guy, I’m a fan of! I’m a huge fan of Scrubs, I would regularly binge watch series for days on end, Dr. Cox was a bit of an idol (if you’re not used to my writing, I’m a big fan of sarcasm…). If you don’t recognise the name, you may know him from films like The Rock, Any Given Sunday or Wild Hogs. So, being the Scrubs fan that I am, I was standing serving away on a busy Saturday night shift, I spotted John C. McGinley standing at the end of the bar, chatting away to someone. Not gonna lie, i was a bit starstruck… I mean, this is DR COX! So I threw all queue etiquette out of the window and went to him next, I didn’t want another server getting to him first! I stood by him, this iconic actor from my favourite show, this king of sarcasm, he was talking away to someone and I didn’t want to be rude so I politely waited for him to finish his conversation. He must have spotted me standing there, he turned to me and said “hey man, you looking for me...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Sixth – The Baby Guinness

My first ever shift in a bar was in White’s Tavern, when I was over visiting Belfast on half-term. I’d done glass collecting in pubs before, I’d helped in kitchens as a KP, but I’d never served a drink in my life… I used to tell this story regularly to new bar staff, partly to let them know that everyone makes mistakes, partly so that I was in control of the story, instead of them hearing the story from somebody else that could paint it even worse than it was. It wasn’t a particularly busy shift, and after a couple of hours, the shift supervisor, let’s call him Wayne, went upstairs to sort something out, leaving me on the bar alone. A guy came up to the bar and ordered a round which included a Baby Guinness. I’d never heard of this before and thought “that’s a bit of an odd one… but ok, whatever.” So I grabbed a half pint glass, filled it 2/3 of the way up with Guinness and left it to settle. I got the rest of the order together and set it up for the guy. The customer then saw the half pint of Guinness waiting to be finished and said “I didn’t order that,” I said “you asked for a Baby Guinness,” he replied, “No, a Baby Guinness… a shot!” I thought “that’s even weirder… but I guess if that’s what he wants, then that’s what he wants…” So I grabbed a shot glass, cocked it at a 45 degree angle and poured about half a seconds worth of Guinness into the shot...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Fifth – The Rasta & The Goth

This one goes back about 8 years, to when I was working in a cocktail bar in Waterloo, London. It was one of the more challenging bar jobs I’ve had, I can do cocktails and enjoy the innovation but back then it was just a chore to me, it was mojito after mojito after mojito after mojito… It was relentless! Within the bar, I was the only native English speaker who worked there, the owner and a couple of staff were Indian and the bar manager and all of the other front of house staff were Eastern European, if there was a problem or a situation developing, I’d be shoved to the front because I had better language skills than the other staff. This was normally fine, having to explain to a customer why it is in fact NOT impossible for us to run out of mint and have to take the mojito off the menu for the evening. Occasionally though, it would be to talk a situation down from a point of conflict. Most issues can be talked out, but when the staff member intervening didn’t perhaps have the right words or understanding of the argument in question, it can be more difficult. Waterloo, for those that don’t know, is on the south bank of the Thames in London, there’s a lot of… I’m thinking of the nicest way to put this… let’s say “tough areas,” there are lots of gangs, there’s a lot of crime. On one busy weekend evening, balls-to-the-walls, the owner came to the bar and pointed out a guy who was clearly absolutely wasted,...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Fourth – McCigarette

Next in the Behind The Bar Tales series, a short anecdote that I had forgotten about Danny, the mad-when-drunk supervisor from when I first started in Whites.  (Names changed to protect identities/me from being sued) After a Sunday night after-work-drinking session that had gone on perhaps a bit too long, we decided breakfast was needed. So we locked up and went in search of greasy food. Cafés weren’t yet open so the only option was McDonalds. Me, Danny and another guy ordered our grub and took a seat to eat. Danny lit up a cigarette (this was before the smoking ban but you couldn’t smoke in McDonalds), and puffed on it as he ate his muffin and drank his coffee. A worker who was cleaning the floor came over and said “Sir, you have to put that out,” Danny said “aye, OK then…” and made as if to stub it out. The employee went back to sweeping… Moments later, as he was mid-bite on a McMuffin, a woman who was clearly the duty manager came over and said in quite a firm (and perhaps a bit haughty) manner, “Listen, you can’t smoke in here, this is a restaurant…” Danny put down his muffin, looked her in the eye, brought his cigarette up to his mouth and took a looooooong draw on it, then took his time in blowing it out again… then said (and I will remember this until the day I die!) “Look luv, I’d hardly fucking call McDonalds a restaurant now, would you?” I don’t even remember what happened next, I hope that what happened was her...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Third – The Broken Arse

Next up in my Behind The Bar Tales series of candid accounts of real life incidents during my time in the hospitality industry: The Story of Danny. (once again, names changed to protect identities/me from being sued) Danny was a decent guy, sober – absolutely solid bloke… after a few drinks, all bets were off. When I first started working at White’s Tavern, Danny was a supervisor and I was bar staff. During the occasional lock-in, there was no knowing what Danny would get up to. He’d had a kid very young and had been in an on/off relationship with the kid’s mother that from my view, wasn’t healthy for either of them. When he let loose with friends and colleagues, it was like he was making up for lost years… sometimes, in one night. There are 3 Danny stories that spring immediately to mind. 1: During an after work session with a few staff, for some reason (known only to the gods of rum) the subject of a 3-person-piggy-back came up. I said it could be done, Aaron (the manager) said it could be done, Danny however stood by his opinion that it was impossible. So attempt it we did. Quick note… the bar floor in White’s is solid stone… Aaron was the biggest of us and was the clear choice for a sturdy base, he assumed the position. I was a few inches taller than Danny so I was up next, jumped up onto Aaron’s back and we held a good solid piggy back. Danny, still renouncing this as impossible (and in hindsight, perhaps not a good...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Second – Dildogate

So, one story into the Behind The Bar Tales series. The premise remains the same, candid anecdotes from my time working in the hospitality industry, names will be changed to protect identities (mainly to protect me from being sued). When I managed White’s Tavern, like many pubs, we had our daily regulars. These folk become furniture and family (both for good and bad…) some of them were fantastic people that I’ve a lot of time for, some of them were absolutely terrible human beings, but when they are there 4, 5, 6 or 7 days a week for anywhere upwards of 3 or 4 hours a day, you learn to survive in their presence. One regular, who would have been among our most frequent, we’ll call him “Tim,” he was an arsehole. Just an absolute dick. There’s probably a few Behind The Bar Tales in his dickishness alone. But this isn’t for that… He was a complete sleaze with women, never anything that was a reasonable excuse to get rid of the old git, but enough to make me want to. So, here’s the story. Tim is in his 70’s, early one afternoon he gets chatting to a middle-aged woman, dressed a bit provocatively, doesn’t reject his pathetic attempts at flirting… so Tim thinks he’s on to a winner here. He’s buying her drinks all afternoon, probably 5 or 6 rounds of spirits and wine, he’s being REALLY sleazy by this point, arm around her, just really EUGH. She isn’t rejecting him though so there’s no accounting for taste I guess. For some reason (and I have no idea...

Behind The Bar Tales: The First – The Bad E

Now I’m not working in the hospitality trade, I find myself remembering some of the more entertaining occasions during my time in the industry. The clarity afforded by not having to live it daily has helped to clear the mind of the constant necessity to unblock toilets/fix the glasswasher/work out who’s stealing the salt cellars, now the humour has room to breath. Now the exciting times, the “you cannot be serious” moments, even the odd dangerous occasion, I now look back and remember them freer than I could from within. I thought I’d write them up here in a new series of blog posts. Also, it will hopefully lead to me blogging more often,I tend to write longer think pieces which are less frequent than I’d prefer, so maybe these short interludes will encourage my writing bone to act more. Some will probably be quite short, some may take a bit longer to tell though. I’m pretty sure most people who work in a bar, restaurant, nightclub or another front-line business in the hospitality trade have had a conversation along this line before… “TV production companies should put cameras in this place and do a fly-on-the-wall documentary, but nobody would believe half the shit that goes on here was real!” I’ve been part of that conversation in at least 3 bars and I imagine it’s a pretty common thought. This isn’t a fly on the wall documentary though, just a memory. Throughout this series I will be frank and honest, but I will change people’s names as I don’t want sued… So here it goes. About 7 years ago...

Jim Wells – What On Earth Are You Up To?

Dear Jim, What the hell are you on about now? Sincerely, The Rest Of Us xx (Including the men) Jim Wells has awoken from his 12-week slumber and come out swinging against that which contributed to his downfall. Speaking across a plethora of media outlets today, Former Minister Wells is claiming that a recording has been doctored, and that PSNI who investigated him for his homophobic outburst have corroborated that. Firstly, which recording is he talking about? There are at least 2 different videos from the Hustings event that I was at, neither of which appear doctored to me, and I was there when it happened. What exactly is he protesting here? They can be found on my  article which broke the story over on Slugger O’Toole. I heard Wells speak on BBC Radio Ulster and Radio Downtown today, he seemed to be suggesting a whole multitude of contradictions… let’s deal with some of the issues raised. What I reported at the time, live tweeting the event, is as true then as it is now, and is backed up by BOTH recordings (recorded independently of each other, one of which I believe was video from a reporter at the Down Recorder). Wells defence seems to rest upon a full stop. If the only thing stopping you from going all-out-bigot is an individual piece of punctuation, you’re probably a bit too close to all-out-bigot to begin with. Wells is saying today that he resigned because of this, and if he had known what he actually said (this is one of the more bizarre excuses…) then he wouldn’t have apologised for...

Scam Alert for Restaurants

These come along every once in a while, I don’t know why my email is on the scammer list, perhaps because it has the word bar in it…who knows. The premise is simple, someone contacts a business and expresses a wish for a big sale, something that you wouldn’t easily turn down and might distract you from looking too closely at the details. In this case, someone called “Adams Tommy” (email address adamstommy25@hotmail.com ) has sent me the following email: My name is Adams Tommy,i am hearing impaired and deaf and I have a wedding coming up on the 27th of June,I should have Visit your shop or call in person but presently am receiving treatment for my hearing impaired of which I will undergo surgery in some days time,i will like to order for 100 grilled chicken and salad,and it will be picked up by a private carrier agent by 2 pm on that date and i will be making the full payment of my order now upfront with my credit card now,so i want you to go ahead now and calculate the total cost for me now plus the tax. Thanks To me, clearly a scam.. but these people continue to send them to everyone and anyone they reckon might be worth the effort.. if 1000 people click delete and 1 person carries out the instructions that will follow… they’ve won. The concept of the scam is usually that you agree to receive payment, except the credit card isn’t working for some reason, they tend to be “on holiday at the moment” or in this case, in...

Minimum Pricing – Yay or Nay?

Taken at face value, I completely agree with Jim Wells. Taken at face value, I completely agree with Jim Wells…sorry, I had to write that again to make sure it wasn’t an autocorrect. Minimum pricing for alcohol is a sensible idea, I have long agreed that the off-sales industry with specific reference to supermarkets are the root of the problems faced in society by alcohol. Unfortunately, minimum pricing is against the law. When a bad news story such as Joby Murphy or the Hardwell concert at the Odyssey Arena break, alcohol is mentioned negatively and when this happens people think of pubs, bars, nightclubs…because we are in the business of alcohol. In both of those cases Colin Neill, CEO of Pubs of Ulster is quick to come out and enact damage limitation, which in some ways is the responsible thing to do; why though is it not a representative of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium having to defend the practice of its industry? According to the Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety NI survey, “Adult Drinking Patterns Survey NI 2013” 81% of alcohol was consumed not in a licensed premises (Own home, Someone else’s home). Is this because pubs are boring…I’m inclined (and obligated) to say no, it’s because of the price as much as anything else. JD Wetherspoons, that infamous purveyor of cut-price booze was slaughtered in certain sections of the press a couple of years ago for having a January sale where some pints of lager were as cheap as 99p. Their 2013 January sale went as low as £1.49 for a bottle of becks,...

Italian Holiday for Fratelli Fans

Disclaimer: I benefit in no way from posting this press release, I do so because I want to promote the Northern Irish food & drink industry.   Rome trip for lucky diners Italian food favourites, Fratelli restaurants, are serving up a treat this summer with a trip for two to Rome up for grabs to celebrate the National Day of Italy on the 2nd of June. The competition, which takes place across both the Galgorm-based Fratelli and its sister restaurant on Belfast’s Great Victoria Street, is open to anyone who eats in either of the restaurants from the 1st until the 7th of June, and is supported by Jet2 and Rosetta Travel. Fratelli restaurants are famous for their mouthwatering Italian food, and home to the best pizzas outside Italy.  Manager Michael Johnston says the winners can look forward to enjoying their favourite Italian food in the heart of the historic city. “What better way to celebrate the National Day of Italy than to offer our diners the chance to jet off to the Italian Capital for a fantastic break for two people? Everyone who dines at Fratelli during the first week in June will be automatically entered into the draw for the competition for this amazing trip. “This is a chance for our customers to experience the magnificent city of Rome, enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of the city courtesy of Fratelli.” Fratelli is part of the Tullymore House Group, the company behind Northern Ireland’s award-winning Galgorm Resort and Spa and the £12 million Bedford hotel development in Belfast city centre, which is due to open late next...

I Just Don’t Get The Troubles

I watched BBC’s Panorama on state collusion in criminality during the troubles in a state of shock. I knew this kind of thing happened, we all did… people killed, people were killed, people enabled killings and people seemed to acknowledge that killing just sort of…happened. I’m 28, I was born in May 1987 four days before the Loughgall Ambush, I was eight months old when the Milltown Cemetary attack took place, I wasn’t yet two years old when Pat Finucane was murdered, a month before my 6th birthday the Castlerock killings took place in a bar that many years later I would have lunch in. I only know these things because of Wikipedia. Please don’t misunderstand my point here, I’m not in any way whatsoever trying to lessen the impact of what has come to pass. I actually feel an odd sense of…shame?… that all this went on, this affected so very many of the people that I interact with on a daily basis, that I walk past people on the street who have all of this in their mind somewhere. I should know, we all should. When I watched Panorama a quote came to mind, “Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It’s not my fault that I can’t remember the past, but I could do more to educate myself of it… but should I really? I can remember security checkpoints in Belfast, it being normal to see soldiers, I can remember being on the number 30 bus from Braniel to City Centre going through Short Strand and when the door opened, a small object was thrown on that began...

Blogging, Freebies, Ethics & Integrity

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle this morning on social media, twitter user @Belfastfoodman who also operates under the accounts @belfasttravel & @drviks27, was called out by a twitter user for accepting free meals in exchange for reviews. This highlights an interesting question for bloggers in general, where does the line of integrity fall? For me, I find it a tough area to establish guidelines on. I’ve been offered free products before in exchange for promoting, I have refused on every occasion. I self govern with the following rules: 1: Would I promote product X if I didn’t get something for free? 2: Is my opinion skewed because of someone giving me a product for free? 3: Am I comfortable taking a freebie from the company in question? 4: Is the sole purpose of me being given something for free, to solicit me in promoting their product? The answer to these four questions dictates whether or not I’m comfortable getting something for free. There have been occasions I’ve been given product with the expectation of a favourable review, I was asked if I would accept a freebie and I said I would not, they sent the product anyway. It’s this kind of shady operating that calls into question the integrity of the blogger. Recently I was going to The Woodworkers on a friday evening to celebrate my girlfriend finishing her PhD thesis, I tweeted before hand something along the lines of “heading to The Woodworkers, save me a table!” they didn’t respond but when I arrived there was an almost completely full venue, with one table reserved with...

Want To Buy A Church? Feckin’ C’mon Then

This is brilliant. This is what religion was made for. Just £95,000 (or nearest offer…) can buy you your very own church. But not just any church…. ST. FECKINS CHURCH in TERMONFECKIN I’m not making this up. According to Property Pall, This property is a Church built in 1792. It has been closed for use since 2010. The building is laid out as entrance hallway, worship room and alter. The entire measures approx. 158 sq.mts/1700 sq ft. The site measures approx 0.5 acres with a right of way to the local graveyard. So, if anybody is interested…let’s start a kickstarter Feck it, let’s start our own feckin’ religion! The Church of Good Feck Complete with your very own feckin trees and you can sleep your way through a sunday sermon about how feckin will save humanity on one of our comfortable feckin pews     How can you afford NOT to? Imagine Mass here!!! Just a feckin minister talking about what’s feckin good and what’s feckin bad. Feck this, feck that, feck the lot of you. In the name of the fecker, amen....

Who Should I Vote For App’s – Accurate?

I’ve noticed in this General Election more than any other that there is an abundance of tools online to help the electorate align themselves with a party that matches closer to their values than another. Does it work though? Take a look at where I ended up across different guides. And don’t judge me…   Who Should You Vote For The questions weren’t exactly in-depth, each policy area was skimmed across rather than actually getting down to the nitty gritty of matching myself and a party. Now this didn’t cover Northern Ireland but I felt it still worth trying to see where I ended up, I have used similar tools in the past and I tended to show conservative party tendencies more than Labour. That’s not quite what Who Should You Vote For turned up but such is the nature of this kind of thing…   Vote For Policies This was an arduous form to fill in online, it wasn’t so much asking questions as just giving me excerpts from manifestos and trying to rule some out. I think there were about 12 stages, each stage required me to read roughly 5 or 6 manifesto points for each unnamed party for 5 different “parties”, stating whether I could vote for a party with those policies or not, then after the 5 “parties” have been filtered I had to select my preferred manifesto from those in 5 I had said I could vote for. I personally feel I sit closer to Alliance/Sinn Fein & maybe Green Party than others, so to have UUP as my closest match was a surprise, but to...

Here’s Where I’m At

So it’s been an interesting 2015 so far for me, lots has happened, some good & some bad but I’m hoping to get back to using my website for what it was designed, stirring shit and plugging examples of best practice. One of my driving forces in everything I do is around the law of altruism, if you can do something good, you should…if you see something bad, make sure whoever is the perpetrator is called out on it. That’s really been something that has come to the fore this year in my life. There were some significant changes in my work life at the start of the year, and not in a good way, it was a very challenging period but ultimately something had to change. I consider myself to be a very moral person and those morals were being challenged, I had a choice to either stand up for who I am or to cut the cord. It was tough but I’m proud of how I handled it and I know it was the right decision, I’d rather walk away and know I did the right thing for myself and fought for my employees. Which left me in a position I hadn’t been in for 10 years or more..Job Hunting! I’ve sat on the other side of that desk hundreds of times, even on this blog I’ve critiqued job applicants, so this was unnerving. I saw a job that seemed perfect for me, I know that’s a cliché but it’s completely true, the job advert itself could have been written by me, it’s style and low-key humour,...

The Unique Democracy of the DUP Part 1…

In the advent of the Jim Wells debacle at the South Down hustings I found myself in an unfamiliar situation, I, as a liberal pro-union voter, had front row seats to a DUP disaster movie that I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch but yet couldn’t look away from. I’m on record stating how comfortable I am with voting Sinn Féin, I probably sit very close to Alliance-but-not-quite-entirely-there but ultimately, if I had my way..my dream scenario, there would be a dominant party that leans towards the union but isn’t even remotely afraid of nationalists. A party that understands that there is a place for economic conservatism in the free market. A party that by all means has members who are of a religion or religions but that understands that the party itself does not. A party that acknowledges that in a society where a person has to ask for equality and that another person has the ability to give equality, we are not yet equal. I could set up a new party, try and try and try to gain the kind of dominance that the DUP enjoy, maybe in a couple of generations (or more) with the right kind of weather I could see a pro-union party established that I could vote for. Do I have that ability? Probably not..Do I want to wait that kind of time to finally have a party I could comfortably call home?…Probably not. So what choice do I have? Back when the BNP were unfortunately having to be acknowledged I regularly suggested that people of different ethnicities should hijack the party. The BNP...

“Good heavens! You’re the health minister..”

Tonight at the South Down hustings event organised by the Down Recorder, Health Minister Jim Wells made a claim that caused a significant reaction both in the room and online. An audience member asked the panel [Jim Wells (DUP), Martyn Todd (Alliance), Chris Hazzard (Sinn Fein), Margaret Ritchie (SDLP), Harold Mckee (UUP), Henry Reilly (UKIP) and Felicity Buchan (Conservatives)], a question on what they will do in Westminster on equal marriage. Up until this point the hustings had been well mannered and other than a few isolated outbursts, candidates appeared to share an amiable relationship with eachother with little interruption. Jim Wells response to the question, appearing in stark opposition to equal rights campaigners, may serve to amplify the position Prime Minister David Cameron. The PM said “I totally disagree with the DUP about this [LGBT] issue and nothing I ever do will go against the values I have about believing in equality and equal rights for gay and lesbian people and I’ve put that, as it were, on the line by supporting equal marriage. So I’m never going to change my views about that.” Amongst his responses, I also reported him saying the following he expanded on this by saying that “they have civil partnerships, they shouldn’t want marriage” The comment that caused most consternation however was when he said the following: http://sluggerotoole.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Jim-Wells.mp4 Recorded by @ClareC9 “The facts show that. The facts show that you certainly don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That child is far more likely to be abused or neglected…” The audience and most members of the panel appeared to take offence...

Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol – Who are they and what do they want?

I met 3 of the Northern Irish parliamentary candidates for the Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol party to discuss their campaign, their goals and ambitions. Barry Brown (West Tyrone), Glenn Donnelly (North Down) & Neil Paine (East Londonderry) are all standing for the single-issue party in the 2015 general election but they admit that they are quite late to the table for this vote, with firm eyes on the 2016 Assembly elections. I asked them all the normal questions that you would expect, “gateway drug”, “addiction”, “in what way is it safer than alcohol” and they have decent answers, which is important because as a single issue party they really need to be all over this issue. The party was set up by Paul Birch, who made his money by selling Bebo, he then invested £100,000 to form CISTA with the bold claim “The war on drugs has been lost.” This to me is a misguided tone to take, “the war on drugs is lost…so lets admit defeat and just go with the drugs?”. On principle, I agree that cannabis should be made available to the public, at least medicinally, the uses are well documented and even the Israeli Army has condoned the use of Cannabis to assist with PTSD treatment. That cannabis has useful properties is established, but is the time right for a wholesale change in legislation? The 3 candidates all spoke with strong conviction and with a good knowledge base, they were able to cite various figures from different studies across the world, most notably Colorado, where the legalisation begun on 1st January 2014. The number...

NI Conservatives – (not)Sponsored by FlyBe

In the 2010 General Election the Conservatives in NI party allied with the UUP and ran under the “Ulster Conservatives & Unionists – New Force” banner. It wasn’t successful, UUP lost their only sitting MP, no candidates were elected, and despite a couple of candidates coming a respectable second, such as Reg Empey losing by just over 1000 votes to William McCrea…it was a failure. The unionist alliance disbanded afterwards which has brought us to now… The Conservatives in NI have rebranded as NI Conservatives and are standing 16 candidates across the province, which is 16 more than Labour or the Lib Dems…so at least we’re being remembered by mainstream UK politics. Let’s take a look at the candidates, because the fly-in nature of many of their representatives raises questions. FROM Northern Ireland we have: Neil Wilson running in East Belfast, living in Moira Ben Manton running in Belfast South, living in Belfast West Mark Brotherston running in North Down, living in Bangor (NI) Alan Dunlop running in South Antrim, living in Foyle Johnny Andrews running in Strangford, living in Strangford Which is commendable, 5 candidates put forward for election that are from the province. With a potential candidate pool of well over 1 million, could they not find any more people who are actually living in Northern Ireland to stand under their banner? 11 Candidates are resident in the UK, some of whom are actually elected representatives in councils in their locality. Belfast West – Paul Shea is running here, he ran in the 2010 General Election for the constituency of East Ham, he lost to Stephen Timms of...

#BlameMervyn – Easter 2015 / 1715

Everyone has their thing, their “if I was Prime Minister I would…”, mine is Easter Licensing. Except it’s more than that, it’s institutionalising one faith over that of another, enshrining the rights of the few to be of more importance than the rights of the rest. Yes, I have worked in the hospitality industry for a long time and it affects me and “us” but I can’t foresee a time where it doesn’t bother me so much that I have to do what I can to highlight it and hope that some day, enact change.   Alcohol, that’s what it tends to come down to, when discussing this issue with a pro-restriction supporter, reducing such an expansive issue to its lowest common denominator, is that enough of an argument to make, that alcohol is bad, it’s controlled, it’s addictive etc etc. No, of course it isn’t, if that was the case then alcohol would be banned, instead of having an arbitrary restriction placed on it for a particular religiously significant period. So, for those who aren’t aware, here are the restrictions.     Thursday (Before Easter Friday) Alcohol can be sold as normal throughout the day, but must cease by 11pm, unless a late extension license exists, when it must not be sold after midnight. (Many bars and all nightclubs have this extension, generally speaking, if a bar opens until 1am or later at a weekend, it has a late extension of their license)     Good Friday   ON-SALES (for consumption on premises)   Alcohol can ONLY be sold between 5pm and 11pm. There are no late licenses...

Easter is Easter. Christianity ruins it for everyone

Everyone has their thing, their “if I was Prime Minister I would…”, mine is Easter Licensing. Except it’s more than that, it’s institutionalising one faith over that of another, enshrining the rights of the few to be of more importance than the rights of the rest. Yes, I have worked in the hospitality industry for a long time and it affects me and “us” but I can’t foresee a time where it doesn’t bother me so much that I have to do what I can to highlight it and hope that some day, enact change.   Alcohol, that’s what it tends to come down to, when discussing this issue with a pro-restriction supporter, reducing such an expansive issue to its lowest common denominator, is that enough of an argument to make, that alcohol is bad, it’s controlled, it’s addictive etc etc. No, of course it isn’t, if that was the case then alcohol would be banned, instead of having an arbitrary restriction placed on it for a particular religiously significant period. So, for those who aren’t aware, here are the restrictions.     Thursday (Before Easter Friday) Alcohol can be sold as normal throughout the day, but must cease by 11pm, unless a late extension license exists, when it must not be sold after midnight. (Many bars and all nightclubs have this extension, generally speaking, if a bar opens until 1am or later at a weekend, it has a late extension of their license)     Good Friday   ON-SALES (for consumption on premises)   Alcohol can ONLY be sold between 5pm and 11pm. There are no late licenses...

Will Ashers Make Me A Cake…? A Sinful Post

A thought experiment…   I woke up yesterday with a bit of a hangover, I had a lot to drink the night before and was fairly drunk <strong>(SIN)</strong>, I was at a friends partying <strong>(SIN)</strong> for their birthday. We played a drinking game, you might have heard of it, truth or dare? I was asked when I lost my virginity, I said 16 when it was actually 15<strong> (SIN)</strong>.  To be honest, we were doing some fairly weird shots, one of them…I don’t even know what it was, but 5 of us drank them, the other 4 threw up straight away but I kept it down, I was really quite drunkenly proud <strong>(SIN)</strong>. Anyway, yesterday morning I needed 1 thing…an Ulster Fry, so I went to a café and ordered the biggest, meatiest, greasiest fry they sold, it. Was. Amazing. The bacon was perfectly crispy <strong>(SIN)</strong>, I particularly love the crispy fat on the edges<strong> (SIN)</strong>, but the café also did black pudding <strong>(SIN)</strong> which, I know some people dislike, but if it’s cooked right, it’s delicious. After breakfast, I went to church, I was suffering and I really needed divine intervention to take the hangover away! To be honest, it was a bit touch and go at communion, drinking the wine in church<strong> (SIN)</strong> wasn’t what the doctor ordered, an old teacher of mine from primary school, Mrs Watson gave a very powerful reading from psalms <strong>(SIN)</strong>, she had a baby boy 3 weeks ago and still felt up for going to church <strong>(SIN)</strong>, her sister was with her too, she used to teach in the same school...

Knockout Brewing – Insert Boxing Craft Beer Cliché Here

Earlier in 2015 I met up with Joseph McMullan, founder of Knock Out Brewing, which proudly claims to be “Belfast’s only independent one-man microbrewery.” There was none of the guff that can come along with meeting a beer head, no dick-measuring contest on who can handle the highest IBU’s (I would lose…), he has a simple passion for what he does. That shouldn’t be confused with simplistic, the beer puts that to rest. Launching with 2 core beers, Middleweight IPA & Irish Red Ale, it isn’t exactly daring, which means quality needs to be of the utmost importance, and Joseph did just that. The IPA to me, is still slightly too high in the IBU range for my palate, I don’t know the exact figure but I would estimate it in the mid 40-50 IBU’s, I struggle to enjoy anything much above 30, it just dulls my tastebuds, I look for rich malts, mature grain processing, someone who knows what to do with beer ingredients OTHER than hops. The Irish Red Ale sits impeccably well in my wheel house. The sweetness coming through isn’t overpowering like some can be, it isn’t trying to push boundaries of the category nor does it need to. My top beer is an Irish Red Ale from another Northern Irish brewery, this doesn’t come up too short of it, and considering Joseph only began working on the brewery in November 2013, with the equipment installation only being completed in august 2014…that’s some swift progress! Setting up in an East Belfast industrial estate not far from the Castlereagh Road, licensing must have been a challenge,...

The Democratic Peoples Republic of Northern Ireland

“I like the idea of democracy. You have to have someone everyone distrusts” – Terry Pratchett   Election pacts, who wants ’em, who needs ’em, who gets ’em? That seems to be the name of the game this week, I’m sure not everybody got what they wanted, but if nothing else, a few party higher-ups have added quite a lot of chapters to their autobiographies. Every cloud and all that jazz… I don’t get election pacts, it makes no sense to me to potentially give your rivals a helping hand. I’m aware of the phrase “my enemies enemy is my friend” but we are neither dealing with enemies, or friends…half the time in the assembly, the DUP/SF “friendship” seems more stable against the UUP/SDLP enemy. Choose your battles I suppose. Are they undemocratic? No more or less so than some other political methodologies. Naomi Long said “The DUP clearly now know that Gavin Robinson cannot win against Alliance in a fair fight, so they have resorted to this anti-democratic move in a desperate attempt to strengthen their position” I don’t think that on the face of it, not running in an electoral area, is undemocratic. Is it undemocratic that the legalize cannabis alliance don’t run in every ward? What about the people before profit alliance? You do what you can with what you have, in these days of continued (infinite?) austerity, spending money on an election you absolutely know you cannot win, is somewhat wasteful. There are a number of electoral constituencies that are realistically, not going to be changed. Paul Maskey (Belfast West – Sinn Fein) 57.1% of...

BBC Spotlight – Shining a spotlight on homelessness

Spotlight has built a reputation over the years as a hard-hitting investigation programme, highlighting wrong-doings of citizens and elected representatives alike, on Tuesday 17th March it tackles a hidden issue in society, that of homelessness. The dichotomy of Northern Ireland is such that the incomparable can often become synonymous with each other, whilst MLA’s argue about the hundreds of millions of the welfare bill and whether or not northern irish citizens could become taxed for the luxury of a spare bedroom, there are people that you and I walk passed on a daily basis in our town centres who don’t have the luxury of a bedroom…or 4 walls, that a shop door way might be their safest retreat for the evening. Reporter Mandy McAuley, who in her previous Spotlight investigations shone a light upon the dodgy dealings of MLA’s who were claiming unfair expenses and in some cases, having properties paid for by the taxpayer where they shouldn’t have, spent some considerable time on the streets with outreach organizations like The Welcome Organization. From chasing stormont ministers expenses receipts for a custom made desk or faux-historical societies claiming rent inappropriately to interviewing people who have nothing but a kerbstone for a pillow, it is for reasons like this that there are so many in our province who look to Stormont with disgust and cast a disdainful net over the whole political infrastructure. I approached the spotlight team after the initial rush of attention died down as a result of my BBC Radio Ulster Stephen Nolan interview about my experience/Slugger article & the Homeless Pod had been taken off the...

Mother’s Day – Let Battle Commence

Mothers, we all technically have them… to what extent we appreciate them varies, but there they are… on our birth certificates…forever. What do you get the woman that has everything (and by everything, I mean YOU, because you’re better than perfume/flowers/wine), invariably family after family drag their mothers out and into my hands (not literally), to restaurants, cafés and pubs…instead of YOU treating your mum like the matriarch she is, you get us to do it…thanks.   Every “special day” brings its own challenges to the hospitality industry: Valentine’s Day means the restaurant fills up with awkward couples who have spent so long with each other that this is just an arbitrary day to sit opposite each other with a candle between, either that or the overly-amorous pairs who spend as much time eating each other as they do the food. Christmas, oh Christmas…how I hate it… work parties are just poorly structured, ad-libbed amateur soap operas. Mother’s Day is one of the worst, you HAVE to treat THEIR mother like she was YOUR own, and don’t let anyone see you speak to a different mother longer than you did theirs, you can’t play favourites…nope! We hate it, waiters, chefs, bar staff even door staff hate mother’s day. The biggest issue from my side of the business is the sense of entitlement, “the customer is always right” is a dangerous myth, couple that with “norn irish mammy syndrome” and it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s generally not the mothers that are the problems, the children want to be seen to gather the world for their mammy and woe betide...

Alcohol – The Stuff of 4 Legends

Alcohol as a libation is synonymous throughout history with myths…the myth of where that bruise came from (what I call UDB or Unidentified Drinking Bruise), the myth of where my phone went… the myth of meeting that special partner or life long friend, but there are some myths around Alcohol that are myths that have passed into fact. I will take a look at the facts that are fiction GUINNESS – It has to settle. I like Guinness, it’s not exactly haute biére cuisine but it does the job. But is it worth the wait? Guinness have built up the concept of “waiting to settle” before topping off the last few dozen ml’s of liquid as if this is a key component in enjoying the drink. Is it? Plenty of other stouts have adopted a similar instruction to consumers and dispensers, plenty haven’t though..is Guinness really that special? I spent 10minutes waiting for a pint of Guinness in Laverys Pool Room because the bar staff had forgotten about it…and me being me, I didn’t prompt them, I just wanted to see how long it would take (presumably this would be the best settled pint in the land…) No difference. I’ve spent plenty of time after work supping on pints of the black stuff and comparing “one pour” and “two pour” and in blind tasting, not a chance I could tell the difference, I’ve tested the same on customers…much more seasoned drinkers than I, and there is no difference. The marketing spiel that has built up around the settling time is impressive if nothing else, bar staff training programmes, customer...

Where Gerry Adams Walks, Unionism Fears To Tread

I’ve written before what my views as a “small u” unionist (or as I prefer, a “big picture unionist) are on Sinn Fein, and to be honest, the approach I take as a voter is the same for SF as it is for all the parties, there is 1 party I find much more comfort in voting for, because they are more often than not aligned with my stance on issues, but beyond that…it’s purely a “who will serve us best.” I don’t look at what a party will or will not do if and when a border question arises, that is a question for then, not for now. There are a surplus of people across communities who can’t look past this schism, maybe they make up the majority, maybe they don’t… but ultimately we have one thing in common, wanting the best for ourselves, our friends & family, our communities (however wide of a net you wish to throw over that word…). When Gerry Adams spoke at the 2015 Ard Fheis about unionism, about people like me, he said: Republicans have to listen and pay heed to constructive criticism of our alternative. The Unionist parties say they are against Irish unity but will support measures that are to the mutual advantage of both sections of our people. That’s welcome and sensible. We have to build and hold them to that. Politics in both parts of this island is in flux. Many people now realise that that it makes no sense to have two economies, two education systems, two health systems, two tax codes, two currencies on one small...

Belfast Focus on Food Conference

On Tuesday 17th February I went along to St Georges Market, Belfast for an event that hoped to provide networking opportunities and encourage discussion on a wider scale to help promote Belfast as a “Food Tourism Destination”. Other than the fact St Georges is essentially a giant walk in fridge, it was a fairly fruitful day. The organisers had brought together some well respected speakers, including Xanthe Clay (A food writer for The Telegraph), James McIntosh (Northern Irishman who is ambassador for Aga Rangemasters and host of a Food TV Show in China), Fia Gulliksson (Food ambassador of Jamtland, Sweden and soon to host a TED talk on food tourism) and Joe Warwick (Curator of the cookbook “Where Chefs Eat“) as well as others, and for the most part, the presentations where engaging and informative. Fia did have a penchant for odd metaphors (we are all passionate potatoes…) but when a food ambassador from another land comes over to try and teach us a thing or too that they have implemented successfully in their own backyard, we should pay attention. The general feel of the event was that Northern Ireland has already established itself on the platform of world cuisine. It’s not that we have our own cuisine necessarily, although fifteens were mooted by a guest speaker as something we should be particularly proud of. We have our own distinctive elements of course…fifteens, caramel squares and traybakes, potato bread, soda & wheaten…beyond that though i’m not sure the cuisine itself is what makes Northern Ireland an attractive place for a foodie to visit. It’s what makes up everything else in...

The Homeless Pod is Back – Social Welfare in Action

Whilst our glorious leaders at Stormont have spent the majority of the week (month…year…??) debating welfare reform in the millions and sometimes hundreds of millions, a small band of dedicated souls have been hard at work making a positive influence without the caterwauling of an army of civil servants, lobbyists, media types and other interested parties. The Common Law Ni group have refurbished the Homeless Pod and put it back in situ on Wednesday evening, right back in the forgotten corner of Jubilee Gardens that it was removed from just 16 days ago. In that time, lots has happened in the wee world of Northern Ireland, but in a small corner some talented civic-minded individuals reclaimed the Homeless Pod from Belfast City Council (Parks Department I believe…) repaired what needed repaired, reassured themselves that it both served a need and offered no risk to anybody, decorated it so that it not only provides a basic need but offers a bright focus point in a dreary urban space & provides an outreach information point for anyone in the vicinity. The ball is firmly in societies court now. As a result of the removal of the Homeless Pod, Emmet McDonough-Brown(alliance), Niall O’Donnghaile(sinn fein) & Julie-Ann Corr-Johnston(pup) have agreed to set up a council working group on homelessness (due to have their first meeting in the coming weeks). The question is, when they do meet, will the homeless pod still be on the streets of Belfast sheltering those who require it? As outlined by myself previously, I don’t necessarily blame any government body for homelessness or rough sleeping…but that changes when a...

I’m not gone…

This is an odd post for me, I’m normally quite content based rather than reflective but I wanted to put this out there for those of you who read my ramblings. I haven’t gone, I haven’t given up on blogging, I am just struggling for time. I had a grand plan for 2015, I took www.belfastbarman.com and began self hosting and putting in place plans for how to really expand this year, some really exciting things on the to-do list (at least in my eyes…) I want to feature more bars, more beers, really highlight the positive stories in this industry. I have some people already agreed to let me interview them which is superb, collaboration should be encouraged and getting to know people is the first step on the way to collaboration… I want to get some other voices contributing on the hospitality industry. There are plenty of things on my “want list” it is just down to a matter of time. I promise I will get back to ranting, raging, mocking and mirth…I will share more views on current affairs and focussing on the issues that matter to me…I will. I will also kick this years #blamemervyn Easter licensing campaign up a notch. I’d like to thank those of you who occasionally pop on this ol’ site of mine and have a read and ask that you stick with me whilst I try to get a better balance of time…or work out how to have 36 hours a day. Until then, overthrow the system and drink good beer....

Homeless Pod – Belfast Council have made the Homeless, Homeless

Never blog when angry, wise advice…I’ve sat on this all day and I’m now ready to share. I wrote yesterday about the “Hipod” or Homeless pod that had been placed by a socially minded individual at “Jubilee Gardens” Belfast (Most loose use of the word garden I’ve ever seen). Paid for and built entirely by themselves…It is a park bench that doubles as providing shelter for rough-sleepers, with added features of a padded floor, solar panel charging for an fm radio, phone charger & a heating element…built by somebody who knows what they are doing. Over 20,000 shares from the Daily Mail story covering the pod, and requests from interested parties from across the globe who want to potentially build their own for their community…the council have removed this when in fact, Invest NI should be getting in touch and asking “how can we help?” Today, this issue did what many others have failed to do, united the parties…PUP (Julie-Ann Corr Johnston) Sinn Fein (Niall Ó’Donnghaile) and Alliance (Emmet McDonough-Brown). All agreed that the homeless pod deserved further discussion, contributed to the wider debate and had the potential to actually help people in need. All seemed to agree that a working group may be useful on the subject. How sad it is that when a flag is removed from a building, there is a civil uprising, when a shelter for the less fortunate in society is removed…a couple of disgruntled tweets and an angry blog. For those unaware, here is what the homeless pod looks like. It was in place over the christmas holiday period and was removed for...

I Finally Used A Food Bank

Some of you may remember that I wrote in support of food banks in December, related to my homeless teenage years. I never used a food bank back then because I didn’t know about them, I wish I did…life might have been easier to cope with. The public response to my account was far beyond my expectation, people really care about this issue. There is a pattern with charities and homelessness around Christmas time… People feel privileged in their warm houses surrounded by meticulously wrapped Christmas gifts, with a packed freezer, so it becomes more apparent how stark the difference is between the haves and have nots, people give. It’s great, it’s important that people do give, and conveniently, the products food banks mostly ask for are very-long-life, so it’s not even a case of “A dog is for life, not just for christmas”, many of the items donated this christmas, should demand drop (which is the ideal of course) would still be suitable long until 2015 and in some circumstances, even further. More so at the end of 2014 than any other year I can recall, the issue of extreme-poverty and homelessness seemed to get extensive press coverage, both good and bad, on the one hand you have people such as myself speaking on behalf of those in dire circumstances and of course you have the critical corner, those who decide that poverty isn’t real, that it belongs only in VT’s of Lenny Henry visiting foreign lands. I spoke out for those in need and didn’t want it to end there, I wanted to see what it was like now,...

32 Reasons To Leave Belfast For Ibiza…or anywhere

In honour of Made In Belfast’s Emma Bricknell who recently announced that she was leaving Northern Ireland for the sunnier Mediterranean island of Ibiza…I began to wonder what could motivate such a clearly outrageous plan…I mean, what possible reason could someone want out of our wee province? It was a struggle, but I came up with these… You know you should leave because; 1. Because you treat bomb scares like there’s just an annoying bluebottle in the room 2. Because you’ve heard so many acronyms for terrorist groups that you wonder what Taliban stands for 3. Because you think chips are now an acceptable breakfast food 4. Because “Supper” now just means with chips…the last supper was just Jesus and his friends having their last “with chips” 5. Because some local politicians think that velociraptors are only a couple of thousand years old…and the giants causeway was just caused by Noah doing a handbrake turn on his ark 6. Because you treat taxi companies like off licences 7. Because no driving exam could ever prepare you for the roadworks here 8. Because Belfast has 7 quarters….and 5 seasons  9. Because this is what passes as street art…   10. [REASON REMOVED DUE TO PETITION OF CONCERN FROM THE DUP] 11. Because you can no longer tell if someone is drunk or just speaking Ulster Scots 12. Because you’re not sure what a Pasty is supposed to be… 13. Because when you order scallops there’s no knowing what you’ll get  14. Because you don’t want to share an island with Larne anymore 15. Because even yer ma says yer ma...

Simply Crispy – A Café Evolved

A cursory google right now tells me that Simply Crispy, the brainchild of The Ulster Fry satire website and Andrew McMenamin (Owner of That Wee Café on Bedford Street, Belfast) has in every definition, gone viral. The Mirror, The Independent, The Telegraph (And the Belfast telegraph of course), Metro, Buzzfeed…to name just a few. How can such a niche business result in the kind of PR that multiple-premises retailers only dream of (or pay for…). The concept is simple enough, we all remember putting crisps in a sandwich, whether by design or because we didn’t have long enough to eat our packed lunch so we’d throw it all in between 2 slices of bread…I used to add a flapjack but I suspect that won’t catch on quite as easily… There is the element of nostalgia of course, but it seems more than that…nostalgia is great but it will only get you so far, clever branding, savvy consumers & a good product are needed for success to follow. The link has been drawn a thousand times over between Simply Crispy and Cereal Killer in London…I’m sorry but to me this is just tangential, the creators of Simply Crispy have gone on record stating the influence but that’s all it is, an influence. In the same way that every time somebody mentions a modern boy band, the Beatles aren’t necessarily thrown into the conversation… Cereal Killer showed the world that you can be a one trick pony and make it work, that’s where the comparison ends for me… Everybody eats cereal, it’s nothing new, you’ll find it in every hotel breakfast bar...

Larne Museum & Arts Centre – Who’s a “Dick”?

Whoever is in charge of Web management at Larne Museum & Arts Centre needs a talking to…they unfortunately didn’t know that when you put an image online there is a setting whereby you can name the caption…This bearded fella is apparently a dick. It is available for all to see in the gallery section of the website…simply click on the thumbnail image of the poor guy to see what Larne Museum & Arts Centre think of him… of course, he could just be called Richard. Do you know him? Do you work for Larne Museum & Arts Centre or Larne Borough Council? Let me...

The 8 Essential People in Every Workplace

Every workplace is a melting pot of the dull to the bizarre, but I believe there are some individuals that you just can’t do without no matter what the business. See anybody you recognise? Yourself maybe? 1. The Nutcase  Every single workplace, whether it’s the most professional of offices or the most casual of cafés needs that person..the one who stumbles in 4 seconds before they were due to start still carrying last nights guilt heavily on their shoulders. The one who has a Vokda Martini for breakfast just to “Take the edge off”, that begins each day with “you won’t believe what happened to me last night” but you do believe them, of course you do. The one that can’t remember what season it is never mind what day, but still manages to put in a good shift. It’s important for those in the workplace who never socialise or go wild to have someone to live vicariously though, and for those who occasionally do like to let their hair down and photocopy their various body parts…they serve as a cautionary tale, a reminder of what happens when you ignore that voice in your head that says “sure, we’ll just have one more…” 2. The Jobsworth There has to be one person in every business who thinks of nothing but getting the job done, everything else is superfluous and pointless. Partly so that someone is doing work the morning after the night before, partly because as much as we might bitch and moan about them, we know that they know what they’re doing and if things get really bad...

A measured media response to the Charlie Hebdo atrocity

I utterly condemn the individuals who today attacked and killed innocent civilians at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris today. It is horrific and unprovoked and I would if the opportunity presented, would happily press the “on” button for their electric chairs. Also, I am an atheist. I would like you to keep that in mind please throughout this piece. You may have seen a lot of people calling for a response to the killings, printing the cartoon on the front cover of every and any newspaper and magazine that will co-operate, I have seen this from people both within the media and outside the industry…To highlight the absurdity of the killers motivation, to amplify the message of those who have fallen and to stick two fingers up to anyone who opposes free speech. All genuine and valid reasons, initially I agreed, I clicked “Retweet” just as we all do on impulse occasionally, then I thought about it more. It’s just not right. Charlie Hebdo had the right to publish the cartoon in the first place, it is their choice and I respect that completely, they clearly knew it would cause a fuss throughout the world but made the editorial decision as again, was their right. Did they expect that the fuss would result in their brutal murder? Possibly not, but that’s not for me to judge, they are their own arbiters of their motivation. And now the call for reprinting throughout the world… When Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten put out a call to cartoonists who would be willing to depict the muslim prophet mohammed, they printed the 12 they...

#CVWatch – Who applied? A rundown…

Some time ago I ran an advert on the Job Centre website for 1 Full Time bar staff vacancy…I expected a strong response, I did not expect 316 people to apply in just 2 weeks… I began to go through the CV’s and was absolutely shocked. A large proportion of society seemingly have very little knowledge of how to apply for a job, what information to share (and not share…)…just the basics. Our education system perhaps isn’t doing enough to teach people the correct skills…sure, we ALL know what a cumulonimbus cloud looks like and that the chemical element of Gold is Au…but how many people know that Comic Sans isn’t an ideal format for a CV or that maybe prospective employers don’t need to know that your relationship status is: “Single…but looking ;)” I shared some particularly bizarre samples originally but I found time since then to go through and collate some statistics from them, and produced this little wonder. There are also some standalone curios below the infographic Some of the previous careers and skills of applicants are strange enough in their own right…here are some gems 1 Person who listed their English level as “Fully Speaking, Fully Understanding” & “Fully Writing”….except I only discovered this thanks to google translate…their entire CV was in Lithuanian 1 Applicant from Downpatrick who indicated “Work History” as “N/A” although did give me a 129 word rundown of what their drama class did for their end of year project 1 Person who misspelled her own name…One spelling in the Email, different one in the CV 1 Person who decided purple was...

£421.82 For The Arts or is it 13p?

13p per person per week for the arts. £6.76 per person per year for the arts. £421.82 per person per lifetime (18-80.4) for the arts On the face of it, 13p For The Arts is a worthy and well run campaign, and of course those within the industry should campaign against cuts being imposed, I do however feel that the figures presented are far too simplistic. Naturally, the arts industry is one of creative thinkers, so when presented with £1.38m worth of budget cuts, the best and brightest available came up with a catchy title, some well designed graphics and also roped in some of our most publicly noted individuals. I am a supporter of the arts, you are too, we all are. Whether you know it or not, if there’s a local band you like, there’s a good chance that The Nerve Centre in L’Derry or the Oh Yeah Centre had some involvement in their early existence. If you enjoy a play or a musical, even a panto at the Grand Opera House, the arts affect everyone. So too do street lights, gully emptying, road maintenence, winter gritting, hospital beds, A&amp;E departments, hospices, teachers…the list is as varied as our society. So why should 13p For The Arts be any less affected by cuts? I have heard the whole scale of reasons, from how much it benefits society as a whole, how much it brings people together, how “it really isn’t that much money…” which is where my problem comes. As someone within the hospitality industry, we have a strong link with the arts, venues I have run...

So You Want To Start A Political Party…What Now?

What do the DUP, PUP, NI21, Protestant Coalition, NI Conservatives, TUV, UKIP, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Workers Party, SDLP, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, Alliance, Socialist Party, Green Party, Socialist Workers Party, People Before Profit & the Workers Party of Ireland have in common? Every single one of the mentioned parties have formed from another party. In fact there is not a single party currently registered in Northern Ireland that didn’t exist prior to the troubles (or possibly even world war 2) except for the UUP & Sinn Fein. Many of the “new” parties formed from movements within other parties, some are splinter parties, associated parties to the UK…but not one of them is an original political party.* We hear so much these days about the “silent majority” the “disaffected middle ground” those of us, myself included, who don’t see a political party that they feel completely at home with. So lets say that you and I decided to form our own party, I am a bar manager and other than a placement as an a-level student with a conservative MP, I have no political experience, I shall assume that my co-founders amongst you also haven’t stood in an election or been a member of a party before, so what do we do next? We need to register. So lets register our party with the electoral commission, lets call ourselves “Square One”. We also need an emblem, but with a name like Square One, that pretty much designs itself. We need a description, so what shall we go with? Apparently we can have up to 12 descriptions, I’m starting to...

The Belfast Barman Intro to Social Media Guide. or TBBITSMG for short.

I had been meaning to write a handy guide to social media for hospitality businesses (and I guess SME’s in general) for some time, but my Remedy Belfast post following their Christmas Eve PR Fail led me to think that perhaps I had left it a little too late…although judging from the arrogance shown, perhaps guidance wouldn’t have been sought anyway… Social Media can appear a daunting task for some, in my industry especially, many owners are, shall we say, not exactly millennials. Many staff however are, some businesses are able to outsource their social media management which is grand if that’s what you think best for you, but I believe that some of these are outsourced out of fear of learning rather than a conscious business choice. There are so many tools out there to help you make the most of the mediums that in itself, the “help” can appear to leave you helpless, so this will hopefully be a cheat sheet for the uninitiated. USE WHAT YOU HAVE It is a safe bet that someone within your organization is clued into whats hot and what works, if you’re constantly having to tell off a staff member for being glued to their Facebook or Instagram, perhaps it’s worth asking them about it or getting them more involved with the marketing side of the business, this has an added bonus of giving them more responsibility and hopefully taking a bit more personal ownership of the business, when staff feel like they are more involved with other aspects of the business other than just their job title, they are more prone to...

How not to Tweet… a Christmas Eve Remedy Fail

On Christmas Eve I was enjoying the relative calmness brought on by the presence of a 3 year old surrounded by gift-wrapped marvels, casually refreshing twitter to escape the “NO, DON’T TOUCH THAT!” when I happened across a twitter interaction between Belfast Café/Bar Remedy. I then sat glued to my phone watching as the situation unraveled…it was like watching a car crash, there should be a button that lurkers can press on twitter that erects digital crash screens around an interaction to stop passersby ogling the carnage. There isn’t. I checked. It began with a customer expressing their dissatisfaction @cmidgley1988 Had breakfast in @RemedyBelfast this morning with my family, it was awful and overpriced. None of us will be back. Now, I’ve had similar expressions of disdain in the past about businesses I’ve worked for, and I’m firmly in the category of “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” and in fact to try to do so, is madness. Whoever was in charge of Remedy’s twitter account that day though, had no such qualms. Did they apologise? Did they ask what the issue was? Did they perhaps ignore it? Did they heck. Remedy took the bait. Once more, I’ve been in this situation before, a completely fabricated Trip Advisor review elicited a response from me that led to other customers suggesting that if there is ever a true a cyber war, I should be in charge of the press releases. It happens, when you work in a fast paced environment like a cafe on christmas eve morning in the centre of town, you are highly...

Bernie Smyth – Inadvertently Donating To Abortions

Bernie Smyth, one of Northern Ireland civic societies most divisive figures, was recently issued with a restraining order on Wednesday forbidding her from going within 20yards of the Marie Stopes clinic on Great Victoria Street, Belfast. Today, Friday, she broke the restraining order… the police were called, and after some deliberation and I assume a very uncomfortable phone call to some higher-ups in the PSNI, she was issued with a caution and sent on her way…. Bernie Smyth then retreated to a nearby Subway restaurant, one assumes she was speaking to her lawyer…or her god, could have been either. Which raises an entertaining little anecdote… Subway as a multi-national corporation, donates to many charities…one of which is the breast cancer charity Susan G Komen For The Cure who quite famously direct money towards a project run by Planned Parenthood. So Subway donates money and some of that money goes to a charity who facilitate abortions for women in need. So to Bernie Smyth I say this… I hope you didn’t know this, I hope you read this and realise that you are even slightly more mockable than yesterday. I hope you now devote your time to paranoid googling of every house or premises you ever go into. Of course seeing as you can’t read your own restraining order, I doubt...

How you can help a local food bank

The response to my article on why I wish I had access to a food bank when I was homeless has been inspiring, when I first appeared as a caller on the issue on BBC’s Talkback I felt there weren’t any other callers being particularly constructive, most seemed dismissive of the issue and some (including political representatives who should know better) seemed downright offensive of people already at their lowest point. The amount of people who have engaged with me about both my story and how they can help people who do need food banks completely caught me off guard. I have advised where i could but I wanted to do more. So here’s an idea… Many of you reading this will have jobs and coworkers who perhaps are as generous as you are for wanting to do something to make a difference… That is a great starting point. So set up a collection point! If you have a communal area at work, get a big box if you have one, any kind of container, maybe even just some desk space dedicated for a few days…some offices have those big custom made boxes for recycling batteries and printer ink cartridges, maybe recycle one of these? Put up some posters around the place to let people know what you are doing. Some statistics to perhaps put on your poster 2010-2011 – 61,468 people received 3 days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust Foodbanks 2011-2012 – 128,697 2012-2013 – 346,992 2013-2014 – 913,138 Among the most common reasons given for needing help are: Delays in Benefits, Low Income (including 0 hour contracts),...