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Showing posts from 2007

Campbell's New Year tidings far from happy

Being wrenched from my bed this morning in order to work when the rest of the population seem to be off until Wednesday was not a propitious start to the day. To compound my misery, the rain is falling in torrents, my workmates are predicting the coldest January on record with temperatures falling below -10C and Gregory Campbell has offered his synopsis of devolution in Northern Ireland over on Slugger.

Mick notes Campbell’s distinctly cheerless tone which a desultory deferral to flawed party-line does little to disguise. The DUP MP is fairly openly derisive of his leader’s relationship with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

“Who would seek to defend the photos that give the mistaken impression that not only is political business being done with Sinn Fein but that enjoyment is being had while doing it?”

Of course such a statement presupposes that Ian Paisley is not having a wonderful time cosying up to Sinn Fein and his former IRA commanding deputy. I have little doubt that…

Al Fayed sacks Sanchez

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I was saddened today by the announcement that Lawrie Sanchez has been sacked from his job at Premiership club fulham. Sanchez has been given a ludicrously short period of time to make an impact as the West London outfit’s manager with the club’s descent into the relegation zone and four defeats in the last five convincing his chairman Mohammed Al Fayed to wield the axe.

What Al Fayed knows about football isn’t worth knowing and I would suggest that he has made a mistake with this display of impatience. The ex-Northern Ireland manager’s departure coupled with continued uncertainty about the future of the current incumbent, Nigel Worthington, has led to some speculation that Sanchez could be asked to retake the reins of the international team.

I doubt that either the IFA or Sanchez will be as quick to consider this route. Sanchez was after all quite open about his desire to return to club football. His achievements as Northern Ireland manager were remarkable, but he did leave midway …

Putin's delight at title

I was interested to note this morning, the delighted noises issuing from the Kremlin at the announcement of Vladimir Putin as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2007. This seems to be at variance with the lack of importance usually accorded western opinion by Russia’s current regime. It appears that Putin is just as susceptible to seeking a little validation as the rest of us!

Irritations of the Year 2007

I have no intention of blogging a series of retrospective posts as the year draws to a close. Nor will I be adding a modish “y” to the word like. “Likey”! Why the hell do people do that? However the Guardian’s “most irritating person of the year” survey made me consider on whom exactly I have focussed the majority of my not inconsiderable ire during the last 12 months.

I must admit that my opprobrium is an ocean in a state of constant flux, perpetually rising. Daily it expands to claim great fresh tracts of human behaviour. During a large part of this year I have been without a car and therefore my road rage has been substituted for pedestrian rage. Previously I may have been most exercised by the driving manners of those in vans, most often those in white vans, most often those in white Ford Transit vans. Or it may have been the drivers of four by fours who attracted the majority of my bile. Why do these people need their vast suburban tankers to transport children to school? …

Atheism and religious art

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Brian Crowe’s prohibitively erudite blog, Burke’s Corner, picks up a story concerning militant atheist Richard Dawkins’ attitude to Christmas. Brian detects a contradiction between Dawkins’ strident anti-Christian polemics and his enjoyment of explicitly religious Christmas traditions and allusions.

It transpires that Dawkins is an unlikely participant in the singing of carols and acknowledges more generally that a lack of basic knowledge of biblical literature diminishes full appreciation of our culture. There is certainly a fundamental irony in so visceral an opponent of Christianity appreciating and indeed participating in singing songs which celebrate the very narrative which he feels has inflicted so much damage on society.

Brian quotes Theo Hobson writing in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free:

"it won't do to call carols beautiful but meaningless. For their beauty is obviously related to their content. Their power derives from the particular story they tell: the birth of a …

Ethno-religious nationalism: SF's mask slips

Sinn Fein couches so much of its rhetoric in the vocabulary of equality that it is easy to forget that the party are in actuality an extreme group of ethno religious nationalists. In case we were in any doubt, Martina Anderson MLA, erstwhile bomber and ‘Unionist Engagement Director’ has striven to remind us by protesting that Catholics from places other than Ireland shouldn’t be counted as Catholics for the purpose of fair employment legislation.

As if Anderson’s previous means of advancing her politics wasn’t fascist enough (i.e. attempting to bomb innocent people), she is attempting to deny workers the right to classify themselves as Catholics on monitoring forms, simply because they are not Irish nationalists. This woman who attempted to murder people is only interested in equality and protection for her own narrowly defined ethno-religious tribe. The previously stated aim of preventing sectarianism clearly is not important, as Polish or Lithuanian Catholics (for example) do not…

Putin's shadow looms still larger over Medvedev presidency

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Given that the Guardian has been warning everyone for some time that Vladimir Putin does not intend to give up politics and that there will be two centres of power when the next President of the Russian Federation is elected, the paper’s surprise at Putin’s indication he will accept the position of Prime Minister under Medvedev is slightly excessive. It confirms my suspicion that despite repeated stern warnings in the western media, that there remains an incredulity that Putin really intends to take the path which he appears to be taking. We may have predicted it, but we didn’t really believe he would have the audacity to actually go through with it, if you will.

Putin does not intend merely to install his chosen lieutenant as president and then retire gracefully from politics to let his successor get on with things. He genuinely does intend to remain active and potentially undermine the authority of Dmitry Medvedev. He claims that no constitutional alterations will take place in …

Order protest not doing them any favours

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I have admitted in the past an ambivalence toward Orangeism and the Orange Order. I would like to be more sympathetic, but the organisation really doesn’t do itself any favours at times. You have to wonder does anyone at all furnish the Order with public relations advice, and if so do they listen or does some dour Ulster thranness cause them to act directly counter to these suggestions?

Take the OO’s protests outside Hillsborough Castle last night. It takes a peculiarly warped sensibility to make genuine victimhood appear like a specious type of martyr complex, but the Orange Order has managed it. There is a concerted and sectarian campaign by republicans to attack the Order’s property. That is a fact and one which has gained the organisation some sympathy. These attacks are particularly reprehensible because they are aimed at small rural Orange Halls which play a pivotal role in their communities and are often used by people of all religions and political opinions for a myriad …

FIFA's final decision is to make no decision

FIFA purport to be world football’s governing body. That being the case they have displayed a remarkable disinclination to govern as regards the eligibility dispute. Initially FIFA indicated that the loophole whereby the FAI was poaching Northern Ireland footballers would be closed. Following political pressure exerted by Dermot Ahern and the Republic of Ireland’s government, FIFA then indicated they might rule that both associations could pick any player from the 32 counties of Ireland’s two states.

The IFA could not accept this proposal for reasons that have been repeated on this blog so many times I’m actually beginning to bore myself. It should then have fallen to FIFA to make a definite decision on the matter at the Executive Committee meeting in Tokyo at the weekend. Remembering that the issue arose after the IFA sought clarification on FIFA’s rules it is scarcely believable that the response runs as follows:

“The Executive Committee decided to leave the current regulations r…

Palestine row in Fermanagh

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One of the more puzzling aspects of Northern Irish tribalism for visitors to the country is the display of Palestinian and Israeli flags by republicans and loyalists respectively. Although I’d imagine that identification with the two sides has existed for some time, its graphical display on flag polls is surely a fairly recent phenomenon.

On a visit to Enniskillen this weekend my attention was drawn to the letters page of the Impartial Reporter, in which a debate over a proposed crystallisation of these supposed alignments was raging. The newspaper’s webpage only has selected content from the print version and links to the letters are not available. However, the gist of the controversy is an attempt by an organisation known as the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Group to persuade the Fermanagh District Council to twin the county with Beit Sahour.

The District Council have elected not to pursue this proposal, an eminently sensible decision which nevertheless has fostered controversy an…

Lazy tripe in Tele

The Belfast Telegraph is a rag. Fatuous nonsense is daily propagated in its opinion pages and columns. Take Laurence White’s ill-informed offering on the eligibility row. It makes me genuinely angry that this hack feels it is necessary to share his opinion on an issue of which he clearly has no knowledge and which he has patently been following only on the most superficial level.

Let’s examine some of the most obvious flaws in White’s piece.

“Unionists argue that introducing this rule will harm relationships between the two international football teams in Ireland.”

This is White’s summation of the entire argument against FIFA’s proposal as expounded on the Assembly floor! Firstly unionists alone did not argue against the proposal. Despite the contention that the debate was disputed along sectarian lines, the cross-community Alliance Party which takes no definite constitutional stance was solidly against the proposal and has been from the outset. The rationale for the IFA position h…

VOTE HEALY EARLY AND VOTE HEALY OFTEN!

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David Healy was preposterously overlooked by an Anglocentric press choosing the BBC’s Sports’ Personality of the Year shortlist. The Guardian is somewhat redressing the balance by listing Sir Dave of Killyleagh in number 1 spot in their Football Personality of the Year poll.

A ridge browed midget Argentinian monkey currently leads the voting, so I would urge you to exercise your mandate and vote for a more deserving candidate – Heeeeaallllllyyyyyy!

'Putinologists' sceptical about immediate Russia - Belarus merger

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In the depths of the Cold War a political science analysing the intentions of the CPSU leadership developed in the West. This field became known as Kremlinology. Recent machinations within Russia’s ruling elite have become as intriguing, labyrinthine and clandestine as they were at any time during the Cold War, and the focus is on one man in particular. Analysts of Russian politics have of necessity become ‘Putinologists’ during his tenure as President.

To add to an already convoluted set of possibilities created by Putin’s lapsing second term, speculation is mounting that the Russian Federation and Belarus may be planning an imminent political union. The notion that the two states may reunite has existed since the USSR was dissolved. There is little to separate the countries in terms of language or culture and Belarus has conspicuously not followed the route favoured by other ex Soviet republics of seeking closer connections with the EU and NATO.

During the 1990s Belarus suffered…

Maze farce from inept Poots

The Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee at the Northern Ireland Assembly has had a meeting adjourned due to the paucity of material provided to debate the proposed plans for a sports Stadium at the Maze. MLAs walked out of a meeting with developers having not been provided with a business plan or feasibility study.

Using the functions of government to publicise aspirational plans without any substantive detail being produced is a clear abuse of process. It is little surprise that Edwin Poots is the minister responsible. With an eye for detail that rivals Catriona Ruane, he has adopted the half-baked Maze proposals as his pet project.

Medvedev won't be Putin's puppet

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The shape Russia’s future government may assume is beginning to emerge after Dmitry Medvedev was revealed as Vladimir Putin’s favoured successor as president. With Putin’s monopoly of power, Medvedev effectively becomes president elect.

The role that Putin himself will adopt when Medvedev takes up the presidency has been subject to much speculation. Putin has given contradictory signals about the possibility that he might become Prime Minister, but this option has gained further credibility after Medvedev expressed his hope that the current President would become Prime Minister after March’s election.

Although there are those who have expressed cynicism about the independence of Medvedev, he will be acquiring a role with extensive powers and it should not be presumed that Putin’s continued influence will relegate the new President to simply being a figurehead. He is a trusted ally of Putin and clearly intends his mentor to retain a crucial position, but whilst he may seek continuity …

Ruane only concerned with one form of division

Barry White has raised the lamentable performance of Education Minister Catriona Ruane in his column. Ruane’s poverty of scope has already been questioned on this blog. As White identifies, she has one idea, changing the age of selection from 11 to 14. He concedes that academic selection at 11 is no longer tenable but maintains that Ruane still isn’t addressing the real structural problems within our education system.

White’s argument is a strong one. Our schools are currently operating in four different sectors with 50,000 empty places and Ruane has shown little inclination to confront this issue. In fact as a leading difference fetishist she is exacerbating the problem by promoting the Irish Language sector and championing the separate status of Catholic Maintained schools.

Academic selection is not the only factor fostering division and separation amongst pupils. If Ruane really wants to promote equality and harmony between schools she should provide more support for schools…

Indo claims advanced all-Ireland league discussions

The Irish Independent claims that top clubs from Northern Ireland and the Republic are in “advanced discussions” about the formation of an all Ireland football league. Such a suggestion has arisen periodically, but the cooperation fostered by the Setanta Cup seems to have crystallised into more serious plans.

Whether Eircom clubs consider such a league as a genuine option or whether there is an element of tactical positioning due to disputes with the FAI is debatable. Personally I view the prospect with ambivalence. Whilst supporters would welcome the prospect of a larger stage on which their clubs could develop and display increased ambition, there remains concern about the financial ramifications.

Increased transport and travel costs both for clubs and supporters demand instant success from the league. Unless crowds increase despite a presumable increase in prices and unless television offers adequate incentives it seems likely clubs would overstretch themselves and this could l…

UUP lead the way on football eligibility row

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The eligibility issue is raised at Stormont this morning in a motion proposed by David McNarry and Danny Kennedy of the Ulster Unionist Party. The debate is a timely reminder that FIFA’s Executive Committee meets this weekend and are likely to formalise a decision on the matter.

If the Executive Committee’s decision is along the lines of the proposal FIFA advanced to the two Football Associations, this motion will become especially pertinent. FIFA’s proposal is a shameful abrogation of responsibility which threatens to create football apartheid in Ireland. It is vital that if this proposal is ratified and enforced then the IFA should be given every encouragement from politicians and the public to fight the decision through FIFA’s own appeal process and in courts if necessary.

Effective voluntary segregation would be an appalling road to go down, whether on the sports field or in other aspects of life. Yet the twin nationalisms carve-up lends itself to just such a tendency. Misread…

Blind faith: Northern Ireland's christianity based on ignorance

It is hard to know what to make of the results of a survey carried out by several religious groups which suggest that knowledge of Christianity in Northern Ireland is lagging behind that of the south.

The groups themselves have sprung to the conclusion that Ireland, north or south, cannot be referred to as “Christian” any longer. Their inference is that this is not a good thing and developing secularism is a negative trend. Naturally I would reject such a contention. In any case other surveys tend to suggest that Christianity still flourishes. Northern Ireland has been found to be the most “pious region” in the UK.

I would be willing to wager that a survey of religious affiliation would reveal a far greater adherence to some manner of religious label than in any other part of the UK or indeed than in the Republic of Ireland. There is an element of political or ethnic identification in the readiness of people here to declare belonging to a branch of Christianity, but that very fact…

Yeltsin wasn't Russia's democrat: Putin is following in his footsteps

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Dmitry Medvedev looks set to be the next President of the Russian Federation. Whether he acquires real power or whether Vladimir Putin, who will give United Russia's chosen candidate his backing, retains the bulk of influence will become clear in the months after the March election.

Putin’s murmurings about alleviating election fatigue have been interpreted in a sinister fashion by some commentators. The suggestion is that Russia is embarking on a course whereby managed elections could become effectively no elections at all.

The difficulty with this argument lies not necessarily with the assertion that Putin is becoming increasingly tyrannical but rather with the conception of Russia between 1991 and 2000 being on a meaningful road to liberal democracy. This view posits a tradition of authoritarianism linking Putin to the Soviet regime, interrupted by movement toward a democratic path under Boris Yeltsin.

More subtle commentators may acknowledge a much earlier psychological atta…

Traditional Unionist Voice: agreeing to disagree

Traditional Unionist Voice - not an ill-fated combo about to enter X Factor, but the title of Jim Allister’s motley unionist “movement” opposed to power sharing, attempting to add to the political morass in Northern Ireland. This group claim to have set up branches and are seeking donations, but as yet they are declining to style themselves a “party”, presumably in order to beat a more gracious retreat should support fail to emerge.

It is unlikely that a substantial number of the electorate will support the group, but there is now an alternative home for the hardline fringes of the DUP. Defection will become a more enticing prospect now that there is somewhere to defect to. Despite the uncompromising stance the movement is assuming, there is at least more consistency to their approach than the blatant hypocrisy and about turns of the First Minister and his party. Whilst you may disagree with Allister’s opposition to power-sharing, at least his objections are based on principle and …

Novelistic News

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Who can claim to be immune from the odd bout of tipsy pretension? There is a certain conceited satisfaction to be had swirling cheap red wine around an outsized glass and pretending to follow a discussion on avant-garde opera late on a Friday night. I urge you to try it. If Eko Eschun and Mariella Frostrup’s features swim and morph into a drunken blurry soup, simply place a hand over one eye or admit defeat and fall into a fitful slumber.

Mark Lawson used to host the Late Review and he has an article in the Guardian today pondering the novelistic qualities of some recent news stories. He gives some examples but misses out the most intriguing and apposite story – the Byzantine thriller of London’s Polonium Murder.

Nevertheless there are some interesting ideas in the piece, particularly when Lawson ponders the internet’s influence. His argument is that access to media such as Facebook or indeed blogging encourages people to live their lives as a “structured narrative”. The act…

Conventional Kosovo 'wisdom' re-emerges

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After Simon Jenkins delivered a thoughtful and balanced critique of the Kosovo question in the Guardian, Tim Garton Ash resumes the propagation of conventional wisdom via the same newspaper. He persists with the misapprehension popular in the US and amongst some (but not all) EU member states that Kosovan independence will produce a more stable, well governed Balkans.

The whole tenor of this article is severely flawed. The author acknowledges that what he proposes isn’t entirely fair, but there is no acceptance that a fairer solution was possible. He follows the line that Kosovan independence has been inevitable since Slobodan Milosovic took aggressive action against the Serb province, but that is manifestly not the case. The idea that Kosovan independence is inevitable arose from NATO promises to Kosovan leaders. Those promises encouraged the notion that autonomy within Serbia should not be accepted.

Milosovic was a reprehensible character, but to impugn an entire nation on the s…

The left hand makes a statement to bemusement of the right

“Joined up government” is a political neologism which has been overused and misused until it has become hackneyed cliché. The term can be useful shorthand to describe the element of consistency and coherence which we as an electorate expect from politicians when they come together to form an executive.

The Northern Ireland Executive is the archetype of an administration failing to deliver “joined up government”. In many ways this is inevitable as the constituent parties of the mandatory coalition do not have a coherent platform on which they can agree. If an example of this were needed, we have a perfect one with the publication of Catrione Ruane’s “vision” for the future of the education system.

Ruane’s document has not been discussed by the Executive, it was not provided for in the Draft Programme for Government or in the Draft Budget proposals and Ruane did not even consult with the Minister for Employment and Learning, whose remit is intrinsically linked to that of the education …

Why unionism's understanding of identity is more generous: Des Browne

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Friday was Saint Andrew’s day, an occasion which was marked on more focussed (or observant) blogs than mine. In the Times Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Scotland, took the opportunity to ponder the increasing tendency to conflate a strong sense of Scottish identity and nationalism. Browne refutes the idea that nationalism is the natural vehicle for pride in Scottish identity and correctly recognizes the differences between patriotism and nationalism.

One of the key accuracies in this article is Browne’s identification of nationalists’ preoccupation with a geographical and cultural prescription as the only substantive definer of identity. This he rejects:

“In other words, it is possible to love your country without it being the sole principle of your identity, a pillar of nationalist thinking.”

The nationalist is unable to grasp the nuances which allow people to assume a multiplicity of identities. It is the broader, more generous and more flexible understanding of identity w…

Poots young earth nonsense makes me ashamed

I want to be proud of coming from Northern Ireland, really I do. I am eager to tell people where I come from and I will defend this place when I think that it is being unjustly criticised. When David Healy fires in another winning goal and reacts with self-deprecation, it is easy to be proud of our province and the qualities of its people.

But for every David Healy, there is also an Edwin Poots. An imbecile propounding a particular combination of truculence and illogicality, which unfortunately is as characteristic of a great many Northern Irish people as is the unassuming modesty of Sir Dave.

Poots is Northern Ireland’s culture minister. Poots is not especially interested in a wide range of cultural pursuits. Poots also believes that the earth is 5,000 years old, that dinosaurs co-existed with human beings and that our world and everything in it was created in 6 days. Poots makes me profoundly ashamed.

Putin's Plan results in United Russia's victory

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With ominous predictability early reports suggest that United Russia have polled around 63% of the vote in yesterday’s Duma election. When eliminated parties votes are redistributed it is possible that the party will command a 2/3 constitutional majority in Russia’s parliament.

The outcome of this closely managed election reinforces the dominance of the pro-Kremlin party. In 2003 they managed 37.6 % of the vote. The result will also furnish Putin with the “moral authority” he sought to pursue the continuation of his policies into the tenure of a new presidency.

United Russia insists that the constitution will not be changed in order to allow Putin to seek a third term. Political parties must name a presidential election candidate by 23rd December. The exact nature of Putin’s intention to remain as “national leader” may become clearer after United Russia convene to select their chosen candidate on 17th December. Putin retains the option to lead United Russia in the Duma and to bec…

Identity fetishists defend "right" to tribalise areas

Woe betide the man who puts his head over the parapet in Northern Ireland and argues for integration and neutral spaces. The Alliance Party are subjected to vicious attacks from Brian Feeney and today Newton Emerson has been fielding a broadside on Slugger O’Toole for having the temerity to suggest that a neutral ethos needs to be preserved if the Assembly begins to require social housing provision as part of new developments under the 1991 Planning Order. With the carve-up between the TNA in operation, flaunting your symbols is in, separate but equal apartheid is in and the idea that we should look toward a shared future is certainly out.

Emerton highlights the lack of will to instigate mixed social housing. He points in particular to the Crumlin Road plan, where a wrangle over the development being allocated to one community, may yet see no social housing at all on the site. A genuinely mixed development in Fermanagh was attacked by Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew because it doe…

Duma election set to be undermined by Putin's Plan

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Russia goes to the polls on Sunday in order to elect 450 deputies to sit in its parliament, the Duma, for the next four years. The ballot is taking place amidst increasing accusations of unfair electioneering and vote rigging.

The chances of anything resembling a free and fair election diminished substantially from the moment it became clear that the poll would be considered a referendum on Vladimir Putin’s status as “National Leader”. Although the President enjoys popular support in Russia, his presence heading the United Russia list, is not alone sufficient to ensure that the party achieve the 60% plus mandate which Putin feels is needed.

Turning a parliamentary election into a personal approval poll itself undermines the worth of that institution, but a number of strategies have been employed to ensure that the Duma will not comprise any meaningful opposition to Putin or United Russia. Electoral reform designed to stifle independent candidates and small parties had already been i…

A bad day for football as IFA once again live up to Inept Farcical Absurd tag

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The leading Northern Ireland fanzine from a few years ago used to run a series of articles entitled Inept Farcical Absurd, highlighting the incompetence of the Irish Football Association. The series was a long one, sometimes running to several separate ineptitudes per issue, and if the magazine was still alive another couple would have been added to the “to do” list.

Last night the IFA held an Extraordinary General Meeting in order to make much needed changes to the body’s archaic Articles of Association. Having previously failed to gain a 75% majority required to abolish the ban on Sunday football, thankfully the voters stepped out of the 19th century and last night carried the necessary amendment.

No such common sense displayed when presented with proposals to cut the Executive Committee from 18 to 10 members. That would after all have complied with government recommendations which have been linked to a much needed £13 million injection into the sport. Unbelievably this funding ha…

No relation to Warren: more blethering from Feeney

Brian Feeney really is a venomous little man. He has been ranting at the moderate middle ground once again, lecturing them for their temerity in questioning the Twin Nationalisms Axis. Indeed he explicitly indicates that he would take great delight in the Alliance Party being wound up and voters who do not want to take a constitutional position being disenfranchised. His most withering criticism is reserved for anyone who wishes to see democratic accountability introduced in Northern Ireland. This he maintains will never happen, for the simple reason that Feeney says it won’t.

The way he frames his derision for the oppositional system of politics seems to suggest that he views it as some manner of foreign and detrimental British construct, suitable for nowhere but Westminster. Because Mary Harney will survive a no-confidence vote, there is no purpose in opposition and the only politics worth pursuing are those of government. How those who once railed against authority change th…

Don't give in to the Twin Nationalisms Axis' bullying.

The character of the Stormont Assembly and particularly the Northern Ireland Executive is being fascinatingly exposed bit by bit and the picture which is emerging bears no resemblance to a democratic or accountable institution. Finance Minister Peter Robinson has been fulminating at SDLP / UUP dissent over the draft programme of government and budget proposals.

In response Reg Empey accurately described Robinson’s comments as “a thinly veiled threat” to collapse power sharing arrangements and presumably to lay the responsibility at the feet of the two moderate parties.

In the DUP / Sinn Fein carve-up debate is inimical and the two parties wish to impose their will on the smaller members of the executive whilst being fire-walled from the electoral consequences of their policies by forcing their opponents to assume joint responsibility. The most basic concepts of democratic accountability are being undermined.

The most encouraging thing about this Stalinist display of authoritarianism…

Another inviolable human right invented?

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I couldn't help but titter at this story carried by the BBC about a 15 year old "rock music fan" being discriminated against because of his shoulder length hair.

Now whether Grant Stranaghan of Ballyclare High should be allowed to wear his hair long is an issue on which I have not yet formed any view (and nor am I likely to, because frankly it is not a very interesting question). But I will say that the reaction of his father to his son's treatment and the threat of legal action may be construed as just, well ..... A LITTLE BIT OVER THE TOP!

"I could have cried when he told me what they did to him - they put him in a room and threw work at him, no contact with anyone.This is Northern Ireland in 2007. Solitary confinement, I think it's called."

Yes. This is Northern Ireland in 2007 and thus we have a huge song and dance about a pupil being required to work on their own for a while because they've breached school rules. Mr Stranaghan must have a dim vie…

Healy still a wanted man in Prague?

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A rather pertinent point has been raised by David Healy himself, who has reminded the IFA that his return to the Czech Republic may allow a rather sticky legal situation to re-emerge arising from Northern Ireland’s previous visit in 2001.

Back then the GAWA had travelled in substantial numbers to Prague and on the day of the match were transported to Teplice, several hours away and close to the German border, in an endless convoy of coaches. A small square close to the stadium was colonised and several hours of beer and song were shared with Czech supporters. An emergent striker called Milan Baros played a role in the Czech’s 3-1 win, coming off the bench to score a goal in stoppage time, after Kuka’s 88th minute strike had finally edged his side in front. I had missed Phil Mulryne’s equaliser, having already made a move to the refreshments queue just prior to half-time.

Having returned to Prague that evening and spent several hours in the legendary Thirsty Dog pub, a Ballymena / Col…

NBP hoods undermine Kasparov's claim to legitimate dissent

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Garry Kasparov has become the most recognisable face of Russian dissidence remaining in Russia, particularly for Americans. The former chess champion is emblematic in the western media of the Other Russia umbrella movement formed to coalesce disparate political groups opposed to Vladimir Putin.

Kasparov is widely viewed in Russia as a pro-American stooge but in the west he is increasingly seen as something of a martyr for democracy, silenced and bundled into the back of police vans by sinister minions of the dictator Putin. No doubt his latest arrest and 5 days prison sentence will elicit more sympathy.

Whilst it would be hard to argue that political opposition in Russia is given the freedom of expression and democratic rights which it should, it is worth pointing out the nature of some of the membership of the Other Russia and considering whether all of its members would be welcomed unto the streets of many western capitals to protest or whether their behaviour would be tolerated b…

Oxford protests are counterproductive

I find the hysteria over allowing Nick Griffin and David Irving to speak at the Oxford Union puzzling. It seems to me that creating a controversy over their appearance affords them much greater publicity than simply allowing them to speak and ensuring that their unpalatable views are robustly challenged.

Griffin and Irving’s opinions on politics and history respectively are abhorrent. If however they remain within certain legal confines it is not possible or desirable to stifle their right to expound them. Both men already have media through which to express their views and therefore it is important that they should be scrutinised and should be subject to open debate. By this means their poison will be exposed and countered.

What exactly heightens the risk of these men attracting more sympathy? Is it the address that they are making to 450 invited students or the sight of them being barracked by10 busloads of various “anti-fascism protesters” who are to converge outside the Oxford …

A stiff test, but cause for optimism

After I’d passed a frustrating afternoon spent with an ear on Radio Five Live and an eye on Tolstoy’s Master and Man, the BBC finally transferred to Durban and transmitted, frankly confusing coverage of yesterday’s 2010 World Cup draw. In fairness to the broadcaster the bloated, unwieldy and interminable manner of the occasion did not lend itself to an efficient or indeed brief programme.

I soon aborted an attempt to comprehensively note down the groups as they were drawn, scotched by the BBC’s late arrival and the babble of their commentary for an event which is reasonably self-explanatory. Therefore it was left to the presenter to inform me of the composition of Northern Ireland’s group as he insisted on talking over the main draw proceedings.

As the dust settled, it emerged that Northern Ireland would face the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and San Marino. This is an extremely tough draw and far from ideal. Slovakia and Slovenia are arguably the toughest possible oppo…

A lack of understanding or deliberate ignorance?

Disappointment expressed by nationalists at unionist politicians’ non-participation in the Irish parliament’s joint committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement yesterday betray a true lack of understanding of unionism. It is difficult to decipher whether this is borne of wilful naivety or whether nationalism really does disregard the genuine disparity in the vision it has for future constitutional arrangements here and that held by unionists. Do nationalists really not “get it” (to borrow the horrible phrase employed over the eligibility debate) or is it simply a matter of not wanting to “get it”?

The Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent aesthetic whitewash it received in St Andrews reaffirmed that constitutionally Northern Ireland remains part of the UK and so it will remain until such times as a majority here says otherwise. Certain all-Ireland bodies have been established, accountable to the Northern Ireland Assembly and further bodies were set up to discus…

Onwards and Upwards

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Rarely have Lawrie Sanchez’s words been more appropriate. After the roller-coaster of the European Championship Qualifying campaign, there is barely time for Northern Ireland’s fans and players to draw breath before the World Cup Qualifying draw is made in Durban on Sunday.

David Healy is understandably optimistic after his remarkable achievements. Already Northern Ireland’s talisman is looking forward to the next challenge.

The FIFA World Rankings were released at 10am this morning and will be used to seed the teams into 6 pots. Eight groups of 6 teams and one group of 5 will comprise the European zone, encompassing the 53 member associations of UEFA. It is my understanding that the pots will be as follows (based on the rankings released this morning):

Pot 1:

Italy
Spain
Germany
Czech Republic
France
Portugal
Holland
Croatia
Greece

Pot 2:

England
Romania
Scotland
Turkey
Bulgaria
Russia
Poland
Sweden
Israel

Pot 3:

Norway
Ukraine
Serbia
Denmark
Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Finland
Switzerland
Belgium

Pot…