Monday, January 5, 2015

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Criminal Damage or Censorship? You Decide

Pauline Mellon from The Diary of A Derry Mother looks at the judicial censorship of the elected representative, Gary Donnelly. Pauline Mellon is a rights activist and justice campaigner in the North West.

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What is censorship? Censorship is to limit ideas and information that certain persons -- individuals, groups or government officials deem distasteful, inappropriate or not in the public interest, or as in a case in Derry Court tomorrow because the message those in power wish to subvert and censor exposes the fallacy of normalisation.

Criminal damage or censorship, you decide?

Tomorrow, Independent Derry Councillor Gary Donnelly will appear in court in Derry to hear the outcome of his appeal challenge in respect the six month prison sentence he received for writing Anti Internment slogans on the city's walls. On a moral standpoint Gary Donnelly and his co-accused refuse to pay the fine of £2,292. If this ruling is upheld tomorrow Gary Donnelly could lose his respectfully won council seat with the prison sentence exceeding three months. But then this would no doubt suit some!

In 2010 it was revealed that the annual cost of imprisoning someone in the North of Ireland is approximately £77,000 per annum. If Gary and his co-accused are sent to prison this punishment will cost the public purse £115,000, substantially more than the cost of remedying the ‘damage’ caused which would suggest this sentence is about more than just criminal damage.

This unduly harsh action would appear to be about silencing those who express views which are deemed unsuitable to government or as the case may be insulting to the judiciary. Then again this is the same judiciary that is content to let convicted drug dealers and child abusers off with non custodial sentences. So I don’t know which is more insulting, the sentence handed down to people for writing political slogans or the Judiciary feigning insult?

Article 10 of the Human Rights Act provides for freedom of expression including the freedom to express opinions and covers communication through words, pictures and actions, as with protests. Under this article both political and artistic expression are strongly guarded.

Article 10 further covers not-so-popular expression including speech that might well shock some of us. An example in this case would be the use of the word internment which in this scenario seemed to bother the case judge more than the action or damage caused to the wall.

Article 10 lawfully restricts and provides necessary limitations in matters of public safety and in the prevention of public disorder, which brings me to my next point, Twaddell Avenue.

The protest camp at Twadell Avenue has been ongoing for over one year. Apart from trespassing on land owned by the NIHE unchallenged, this protest has been allowed to drain over £12 million from the policing budget. This figure indicates that a huge police presence is necessary to ensure public safety and prevent public disorder. With these facts in mind we must question why the organisers of this protest have never been challenged or arrested for trespass or for being in breach of Article 10 when the alleged organisers of another protest costing a mere £2,292 could face a six month prison sentence.

That said the protest at Twaddell serves to deflect from major issues in the north whereas the protest in the form of a message on the Derry Walls is but a reminder of how little things have changed.
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Political opponents of Gary Donnelly have jumped on this issue despite their own ‘history’, or having their names painted on City Walls when they were in gaol, something they seem to forget. Maybe the reason they have jumped on this was because of the amount of first preference votes Gary Donnelly received.

It would seem they talk and claim to advocate change, yet when change happens through a democratic vote, it sticks in their craw. Maybe the fact that they wish to maintain the status quo shows them up as what they truly are, opponents of change?

Derry City Council is sending a council official to the court tomorrow, this is no substitute for a delegation of council representatives, who maybe despite having a political difference with Councillor Donnelly would support his anti-interment and moral standpoint.

I just pray this council official isn't the town clerk as she is accustomed to relocation money and having a mentor, so to relocate from her office on the Strand Road to Bishop Street Courthouse might set the ratepayer back a few hundred quid. That said in the circumstances she may waive these fees what with her agreed golden handshake of £275,000 which isn't bad for three years service, but then this is another story!
I hope tomorrow that common sense and Article 10 of the human rights act will prevail.


tiarna said...

I don't think you have a winning argument nor does this case smack of any sort of conspiracy to get Gary Donnelly. The Universal Declaration; European Convention; Inter-American Charter; and the African Charter all protect property rights. And Article 10 rights are not absolute; Article 10 does not excuse criminal damage of property. The property in question is a heritage site which brings cultural rights into the mix and the Universal Declaration; European Convention; Inter-American Charter; and the African Charter which all also happen to protect cultural rights.

In addition the Citizens of Derry have a right to live in a better environment than being diminished with ghetto graffiti. It is usually unsightly if nothing else.

I respect Mr Donnelly's views but some things have moved on and painting kerb stones and scrawling slogans should be things beneath most conscientious activists.

DaithiD said...

I wish he never got caught and I hope he somehow remains a councillor, but labelling it as censorship weakens the power of the term in its application to other, very real abuses of free expression.
Presumably if the message was “I hate Africans”, the author would take a different view? I don't want the state to adjudicate in matters as to what is acceptable, surely its efficacy lies in the clandestine nature of the act?

marty said...

If Bansky had produced one of his works on Derry,s walls would it to be classified as graffiti,Banksy works are usually a social statement therefore a political can bet your ass the Derry wanns wouldnt want to prosecute Mr Bansky, the council paid some fucker a fortune for a piece of graffiti during the farce called the city of vulture year, people have been writing on walls since time began,if even his statement was "I hate Africans " better out than in a foot of snow or petrol bombs at their house .Gary Donnelly<s prosecution is nothing more than a malicious act by wankers on DCC who hadnt the balls to prosecute the bastards who wrote Paras13 Derry 0 on the Belfast road,

tiarna said...


All of Banksy work is graffiti (some of which is also classified as modern art). What makes it such a phenomenon is his taste and careful selection of where to put it. And some of his work is removed but now he carefully researches where he he can put his work and that it will not be removed. Banksy does not scrawl slogans.

Plus if Gary Donnelly represents a marginalized group who do not do very well at the polls then maybe he should have treated his position more responsibly to maintain representing that group in public office rather than be so dumb as play right into the hands of his rivals?

marty said...

Tiarna I understand your point ,and yes here is the but,Is Gary Donnellys "scrawl"not a comparable work of art as that piece of expensive and crass shit that DCC paid a fortune for,Gary Donnelly is it seems following in the well trodden path of the largest parties here ie they were and are not shy at expressing their opinions on gable walls or wherever suits,he may be small party wise but I believe he topped the polls in the ward in which he stood ,I,m not a supporter of Gary but I think if he is to be prosecuted for writing on a wall then it should apply across the board those who painted THE Free DERRY legend and the rest should now face the full rigours of the law but and here we go again the law is not applied evenhandedly here never has,thats why I think this case is nothing more than censorship or a malicious prosecution.

tiarna said...

Marty I do not know what was painted in Derry by Donnelly or DCC? The difference seems to be that one graffiti artist had lawful permission and the other did not.

Donnelly might top the polls -but his replacement may not --though that will not now be necessary. If you are a fringe outfit why take reckless risks by doing something stupid??

If the matter is about censorship then Gary Donnelly came perilously close to censoring himself because his voice is stronger as a public representative than as a petty vandal.

Barry Fennell said...

Mr Donnelly is certainly better using his voice than a paintbrush but many of the walls in Derry and indeed in Belfast have been used to express all manner of social and political commentaries - good and bad. This is an interesting case and I am not fully aware or familiar with its detail but somebody as others have mentioned would want this man to vanish. That would be a shame as he is certainly an alternative voice - I just hope as Pauline suggests that common sense prevails but this is the North of Ireland and unfortunately that sense is difficult to come by.

frankie said...

My take is simple... it has sweet fcuk to do with what Gary wrote on a wall in Derry with a paint brush.

Once he got elected in the DFM's back garden he was a marked man..

It's as simple as that.

David Higgins said...

I think your argument would be valid in any other western society bar the six counties. Painting on walls is a legitamite republican agitation tactic and you've got to admire the mans convictions. As for his actions being counter productive, well maybe it was, but he has people talking about the hypocriscy of the establishment which ia always productive.