Friday, 29 June 2007

Defining modern unionism. (i) - UK Unionism

Michael Shilliday started the linked discussion over on the Young Unionist blog. Michael quotes the Union Group's document "21st Century Unionism" and it got me thinking about the nature of those who call themselves unionists. My reservations about the Group's document are outlined already as comments on Michael's post, but, over a number of posts, I wish to address some of the dilemmas and challenges unionism within Northern Ireland faces in modern politics, as well as outlining what a belief in the importance of the Union means to me.

United Kingdom Unionism (stripping aside the party political connotations) at its broadest, is a belief in the maintenance of the United Kingdom as a sovereign state. As O'Neill highlighted on the YU blog, it was at this extremely fundamental starting point that the Union Group document went awry. There can be a variety of opinions within unionism, as to how the United Kingdom might be governed, but the bedrock is a belief in the state's integrity and in the ultimate sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament. As such unionism is not party political and is concerned with the single-most important debate in constitutional politics in the UK.

The consitutional fabric of the United Kingdom has undergone some of the most seismic changes in the 300 years of its existence, since 1997. The debate about the Union, its necessity or lack of it, and the nature of its evolution is in many ways the over-riding issue of the day. Unionists in Northern Ireland must involve themselves in this mainstream debate with fellow unionists in the UK, not focus myopically on local events.

I believe that maintaining the Union is the best political arrangement for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. I believe that the United Kingdom provides the institutions and constitutional framework which ensure a modern, secular, multi-national, multi-cultural and economically successful state and while I believe there may be room for improvement, I cherish those institutions.

Most unionists have accepted a degree of devolved government to the constituent parts of the UK, but my general belief is that diminution of the central powers of the Westminster Parliament should not continue any further. The pluralism and freedom copper-fastened by that Parliament will also risk diminution, if its sovereignty is needlessly undermined. Devolution should bring decision making closer to the people, without diminishing the whole.

The Union is the engine which provides all four nations within it, as well as the countless cultures and minorities which we comprise, success - economically and culturally, and a disproportionate influence in the affairs of Europe and the world. Put simply, we are far stronger together than any of us would be apart. Economically Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have benefitted tremendously from a financial subvention from central government, but in return we have contributed our pool of talent, our resources and diversity to the successful running of that government and its institutions.

These are bonds the Union Group and other Northern Irish unionists should be strengthening, focusing on and discussing, rather than fixating on the separateness or particularism of our province. We must engage fully with the United Kingdom mainstream.

To paraphrase David Trimble "we are for a big United Kingdom, not a little Ulster". And it is to Ulster Unionism specifically which I will turn in my next post on this topic. I'll give you a clue! I don't regard all those who consider themselves unionists in Northern Ireland to be deserving of such a description!

Torres of transfer babble

Apologies for the unforgiveably contrived headline, but my critical faculties are being grievously addled by the endless, labyrinthine transfer saga which promises to (eventually) bring Fernando Torres to Anfield.

Even as a keen red, I have becoming increasingly fed up with reading this story. I can only imagine what the neutral makes of it.

Whether Liverpool have or haven't even negotiated with Athletico Madrid as yet seems to be a matter of some dabate. Every figure under the sun has been raised, dismissed, halved, doubled and written into any number of notional contractual arrangements. At one point or another Peter Crouch, Djibrille Cisse (man that would have been killing two birds with one stone) and Luis Garcia have been going the other way as makeweights in this deal of deals. Meanwhile the frailities in the rest of the Liverpool squad seem to have been forgotten and progress on buying wingers or central defenders is non-existant.

Latest reports give an agreed price of a hair less than £27 million, describe the Garcia deal as independent of the Torres transfer but still central to its completion and suggest that only the loose ends need tied up.

Forgive me, but I'll not be holding my breath and if a story pops up tomorrow, sourced from Athletico's chairman, suggesting that Liverpool haven't even made an approach for the player, I for one will not be choking on my tapas in surprise.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007


1) North Down women's whiny voices, especially those who talk like 15 year old girls despite being grown adults who own businesses.

2) The welly-boot manners of the denizens of County Tyrone.

Sweeping generalisations both, but they are better off my chest than tumouring poisonously within it.

Anyway, speaking of the number 2 category, we now have the joy of 2 for 1 of these hedgerow sophisticates in the house at the moment. A "holistic" therapist no less. Because therapy in specifics clearly lacks ambition. She is a prolific user of "essential oils" as well I believe. No superfluous oils for her!

Particular highlights for me, her trying to rationalise my facetious comment that the next door neighbour takes his cat to play snooker. And Kerry's face on a couple of occasions. Firstly when the Tyrone native announced her detestation of the human species and her contention that we are "scum" in comparison to other species and secondly when she asked for an opinion on Gordon Brown, received some general economic comments from Kerry and declared "no no, not Gordon Brown, I mean Gordon Ramsey".

Monday, 25 June 2007

Brown should seek an early election

It would be remiss of me not to mention at least briefly the succession saga currently reaching its conclusion as Gordon Brown assumes the reins of the Labour Party after an interminable handover period.

The incoming Prime Minister's start was auspicious as he found fertile populist ground by stamping his authority on EU negotiations and in particular challenging the French premier during last week’s summit. The whiff of moderate scepticism Brown showed is in line with the views of the greater part of middle-England.

Brown takes over the Prime Minstership at a time when his own management of the economy has delivered sustained economic growth and low levels of unemployment. The flipside has been a budget deficit of £30bn which could ultimately have a high price for all of us. Brown's economics are a strange hybrid of tax and spend old Labour and New Labour enthralled by the private sector. He embarked on huge capital spending projects in health and education, but allowed the money to filter away into public / private initiatives which saw costs spiral. Public money has also been thrown at shortening hospital waiting lists without actually improving the ability of the NHS to deliver their services, or improving the infrastructure of that behemoth. Whether such wastage can prove sustainable will depend on whether the economy continues to expand.

Whether the ex Chancellor’s policies were a calculated and manageable risk , or whether they were based on expedient short-termism, is a matter of conjecture which may begin to become clear during his own premiership.

It seems to me that Brown would do well to call an early election as one of his first acts as Prime Minister. Cameron’s Tories are not yet a viable alternative in government. Their policies are indeterminate, they have profound differences in matters regarding education and in many ways they remain out of touch with the country. Brown may not retain this advantage for long and it would be deeply unwise for him not to seek an extended mandate as soon as is viably possible.

Overhyped washout fails to deliver

Over the weekend BBC 2 offered some relatively fitful coverage of a Glastonbury Festival blighted by wet weather and sound problems.

Setting these considerations aside, it was hard toconclude from the coverage that the music was particularly exciting or of especially high quality.

On Friday night I watched a pedestrian, self-congratulatory set from the Arctic Monkeys. The music continued in that vein for the rest of the weekend, with a mixture of contemporary mediocrity and rock veterans casting elusive shadow puppets at past glories.

It is tempting to draw the conclusion that both the festival and some of the acts are over-hyped, over-blown and/or over the hill. Perhaps if the vitality of Gogol Bordello had been afforded more coverage …..

Intertoto Cup a waste of time

Suffering from football withdrawal symptoms and general boredom, I decided to wander over to Windsor Park on Saturday and watch the Intertoto Cup match between Cliftonville and FC Dinaburg of Latvia.

I have since noticed hagiographic accounts of the match appearing from the murkily illogical world of Irish League fandom. These seem to be based largely on the indisputable fact that Cliftonville enjoyed the better of the second half, the Latvians having been reduced to 10 men shortly after the interval.

Unsurprisingly I would dissent from these glowing accounts of what I regarded a desperately poor spectacle.

Cliftonville and Dinaburg both played some neat football on occasions, but were indescribably powder puff at the business end of the pitch. Both goals in the 1-1 draw came from defences completely abdicating their responsibilities.
The Intertoto Cup is a dreadful competition. Poor teams, watched by poor crowds serve up poor fayre at a juncture in the season where they should be resting prior to pre-season training, or doing the fitness work for that training.

Why the GAA support the Terrordome?

The Maze Stadium debate continues to rumble on in various quarters, not least amongst the DUP, where the ideological fissures become increasingly apparent.

Perhaps the most interesting slant offered over the weekend came from Jarlath Burns on the BBC’s Politics Show. Burns outlined the lack of any tangible desire for a stadium near Lisburn amongst Ulster GAA circles, but voiced the belief that a political understanding had been struck between the organisation and Sinn Féin. Burns believes that to secure SF acquiescence in the removal of some of the GAA’s unpalatable political rules, support for a Maze Stadium including the so called “Conflict Transformation Centre” was a pre-requisite.

Certainly Burns is an authoritative source on the machinations of the GAA and this sheds more light on the unpleasant political manoeuvrings that have resulted in this project being foisted on sports fans as the only show in town.

A SF backed museum will quite simply become a shrine to republican terror and it is simply astounding that Paisley and Poots are prepared to ignore this aspect of the project for their own myopic reasons.

Friday, 22 June 2007

El Presidenté rules out the Ormeau Park

The Little Father of Northern Ireland has ruled out plans for a Belfast based sports stadium according to the BBC.

I must have missed the meeting when it was decided we should be ruled by an elderly cleric’s theocratic decree.

“First Minister Ian Paisley has ruled out plans for a stadium at Belfast's Ormeau Park, saying it would affect five churches, including his own.
Mr Paisley said it would not be "convenient" to have Sunday School children arriving in buses with a greyhound track outside the door.
He added: "It will not be and I'm told it cannot be under the planning act."
Belfast City Council is considering a possible stadium, incorporating a greyhound park, at the park.
On Wednesday, research commissioned by the council suggested a new national sports stadium for Northern Ireland should have an urban setting.
"Seldom have we experienced such overwhelming evidence for the in-town location," the report stated.
The findings went against proposals for a 35,000-seater stadium for soccer, GAA and rugby at the Maze/Long Kesh site.
On Tuesday, the culture minister said he was not satisfied that plans for a Belfast site for the stadium were viable.
Edwin Poots added that the process could not go on indefinitely.
He said the Maze/Long Kesh Site was the only site able to accommodate "a potentially viable shared stadium for all the sports involved".”

So to surmise, Paisley has ruled out the Ormeau Park proposals, because the stadium would host greyhound racing and his church would be next to a den of gambling and iniquity. These “considerations” are paramount, despite the overwhelming evidence that a stadium in the city will benefit Belfast and the sports that are intended to use the venue. Not that the DUP would foist their widespread religious nutterdom on us once in government or anything!

Edwin Poots of course is the minister with responsibility for deciding on the site of any national stadium. He has given Belfast an extremely equitable 12 days to formulate a plan for a new stadium, which he has made perfectly clear he will ignore in any case. The Maze site is of course in Mr Poots own constituency. No conflict of interest their then!

In supporting the Maze proposals, the DUP has also given tacit consent to turning the site into a shrine to republican terror. A number of months ago I had some correspondence with the Deputy Leader of the UUP, Danny Kennedy, and it is worth reproducing his arguments against the Maze site here.

“As you probably know, I am a very keen NI fan and have a block booking atWindsor for all home games. I'm against the Maze proposal for a number ofreasons:-
1. The location so close to the hospital where the hunger strikers committedsuicide means it will be part of a political shrine
2. I seriously doubt if NI could fill a 30,000 seater stadium, and probably the only sport who could would be the GAA. The big plus with Windsor is that with a full house of 14,000 we get a great atmosphere which helps the team achieve more. Playing to a half empty stadium would take away that atmosphere.
3 I can't see the Maze site being economically viable. Even with the involvement of the other two sporting codes and pop concerts, it is hard tosee how it can be made to pay its own way.The problem is the Govt appear to have made up their mind on the issue,largely for political reasons and the Belfast options are limited too. As a Linfield fan I obviously favour Windsor but the Govt, for political reasons,are clearly against it. Also, Windsor would need a huge overhaul to put it inproper shape.I don't know enough about the Ormeau Park site, but I think a site close to the Odyssey or the Titanic quarter could be developed. The UUP have noformal policy on the issue, in spite of what Minister Hanson said recently and clearly the Belfast reps are at odds with the Lisburn Councillors on the issue. My sense is that the issue of the Maze hospital shrine makes most ofour reps nervous and opposed to that site.”

Of course Mr Kennedy has the distinction of being part of a proper unionist party.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

The DUP confused about Northern Ireland Secretary

It appears that Gordon Brown has made a spurned offer to Paddy Ashdown of the Northern Ireland secretaryship.

The offer indicates that Brown intends to appoint a minister specifically to head the Northern Ireland Office. Predictably this has provoked the usual cogent response from the DUP (as noted on Slugger O’Toole).

The Irish Times reported “ DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he would like to see Mr Brown reinstate the position of a full-time Northern Ireland secretary. Provided ‘the lines of responsibility’ were clearly drawn between Westminster and the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly”, whilst Ian Paisley Junior “confirmed his expectation that - whatever cabinet appointments are initially announced next week - the new prime minister would probably eventually appoint “a minister responsible for all the regions” embracing Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales”.
Dodds viewpoint is undoubtedly sounder from a unionist perspective. A full-time Northern Ireland Secretary keeps our affairs to the fore in the cabinet, can devote time to matters not yet devolved to the Assembly and provides a centrifugal link between our region and Westminster which can only help to maintain central government’s pivotal role in the new devolved United Kingdom.

Paisley’s view is perhaps more consistent with the Ulster nationalist furrow being ploughed by his father however. The DUP have begun their tenure as the largest party in the Assembly by setting themselves up as agitants against Westminster. Paisley Snr sees his relationship with central government as essentially confrontational.

In forming an alliance of convenience with Alex Salmond he has already shown that he has no regard for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. He is prepared to undermine the Union in order to consolidate his own personal fiefdom. For Paisley the parliament at Westminster is a golden teat to be suckled on for all he is worth, rather than an institution to which he feels any real allegiance.

Those in the DUP who retain any pretence of being unionists and who in any way attribute an intrinsic value to the Union (rather than merely viewing it as a marriage of convenience to be exploited) should look seriously at the fissures in their own party, and the route the present leader is taking them.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Low cost travel can damage your sanity

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the disproportionate difficulties I experienced taking short Jet 2 domestic flights to and from Leeds.

It now strikes me that perhaps Jet 2 is a bastion of professionalism, competence and convenience in comparison to their direct rivals for the Belfast to Leeds market, FlyBE.

On Friday afternoon I elected to check-in online for that evening’s 6.50pm flight to Leeds – Bradford. I made my way to the airport directly from work, and my first delay came at Holywood railway halt where I had to wait 15 extra minutes for the NIR service originating not 10 minutes away in Bangor. Having eventually arrived at the Sydenham halt I was subjected to a further 25 minutes in the cold, waiting for a supposedly “instant” courtesy bus alleged to link train passengers with the George Best City Airport terminal.

Imagine my delight when I eventually arrived, and immediately discovered that the Leeds flight had been delayed to 8pm. Taking an uncharacteristically sanguine approach, I passed through security, ready to have a number of pints to kill the unexpected (when will I learn?) hold-up.

Suffice to say 6 pints and several hours later an announcement was given that the plane was “extremely unlikely” to fly due to adverse weather conditions in Leeds and suggesting that passengers make alternative arrangements. Those who were already in Leeds were slightly bemused by this when I made the relevant calls, given that the weather was according to them a fairly mild and standard mizzle. I’d also stress that Manchester seemed not to be suffering these inclement conditions as 25 miles across the Penines two flights were destined to touch down and left Belfast during my interminable wait.

Having left the airport and returned home I secured more alcohol and before long had added a bottle of wine (minus one glass for Kerry) and several beers to my consumption. There then followed a brief debate over the vexed issue of my drunkenness (or lack of). My contention that I was perfectly sober, was countered by the allegation that I could no longer speak properly and that I was walking in an unsteady fashion (in her subjective judgment).

This debate was inconclusively adjourned and there followed a brief discussion as to whether I could bring a bottle of beer to bed. I was quite adamant that I should be accompanied by the beverage, Kerry was equally adamant that there was no purpose in bringing it. Finally the decree was made that I could either sit and drink the beer or I could come to bed, but the two disparate interests could not meet.

Bed must have won out because I awoke the next morning with no bottle by my side.

I subsequently rang FlyBE who informed me that they wouldn’t be rescheduling my flight that day, nor would they furnish me with a refund, because the plane had eventually left within a statutory limit of 5 hours, at 11pm that night. Presumably if this was the truth the plane had departed completely empty of passengers.

Many happy returns by the way to Roger, whose birthday celebrations I should have been participating in on Saturday.

Those of you wishing a denouement - I have learnt nothing and have booked Easyjet flights to Rome only yesterday.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Republicans impoverished vision of identity

The BBC in Northern Ireland have continued their habit of subjecting those of us in the region to pointless local variations. The latest is a survey of children’s attitudes in the province, which suggests that (brace yourselves) Protestant children are most likely to consider themselves British and Catholic children have a tendency to consider themselves Irish.

There is little or nothing useful, instructive or enlightening about the programme’s findings. What is instructive however, is the welter of criticism from republicans the academic expert on the programme, QUB’s Professor Paul Connelly, received for emphasising the sense of a distinct Northern Irish identity many children from here increasingly feel. Professor Connelly also had the temerity to suggest that perhaps embracing this inclusive identity may be a positive thing, and perhaps a means to moving beyond the old tribal, ethno-religious divisions of the two traditional communities.

I am not instinctively a fan of this type of identity navel gazing. It panders to a nationalist version of politics which seeks to neatly categorise people into national ethnic groups. I do however, find it fascinating to see republicans dismiss patent realities because they don’t correspond with the impoverished view of identity, they need to adopt to feed their warped political analysis.

The fact that people actually do feel distinctly Northern Irish has to be ignored and rubbished. The subtleties and the multi-layered characteristics of people’s identity are ignored in preference to a simplistic British / Irish divide. The fact that people can feel Northern Irish, Irish and British is seen as an anathema. Thank god the reality is different from their jaundiced propaganda.

Friday, 15 June 2007

16th June is Bloomsday

Tomorrow is of course a big day for James Joyce devotees. Those unable to travel to Dublin may like to relish the experience of sitting at stool in way too much detail, particularly if they have piles, or perhaps enjoy an onanistic act at the seafront whilst looking at someone with a mild deformity.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

My War Gone by, I Miss it So

I was impressed and compelled reading Anthony Loyd’s “My War Gone By, I Miss it So” recently.

It is a personal and visceral account of the Bosnian and Chechen conflicts and addiction. Loyd was driven to these warzones by his own inner demons and confronts the genesis of his horror tourism with admirable honesty and frankness.

As an account of the horror of war the book is excellent, as an exposition of the character of addiction it is equally good, as an examination of the vicarious thrills derived from conflict it is peerless, however as an analytical account of either war it is deeply flawed.

Loyd expresses a detestation of nationalism at several points in his book, but this sentiment is patchily applied. For an avowed opponent of nationalism he seems to harbour disturbing degrees of sympathy for separatist terror.

Whilst Serb irredentism may compare unfavourably with the vision of a multi-cultural, inclusive Bosnia, he pays scant regard to the gathering tide of Muslim nationalism which accompanied the conflict and he skates conveniently around confronting the issue of jihadi mujhideen, who are mentioned in his narrative a number of times.

Loyd’s picture of brutal Russian fire-power suppressing plucky Chechen fighters is grossly disingenuous. He glorifies bandit terrorists whose ambition was to set up a haven of criminality on Russia’s borders and provide a launching pad for Islamic attacks on the west. Whether any other power would have allowed their sovereign territory to secede in such a haphazard fashion isn’t addressed.

This is an enjoyable book, make no mistake about it. But it also a jaundiced account of two very complex conflicts.

Obscene sights on a beautiful coast

The British Medical Association is due to debate a motion in its conference at the end of this month equating childhood obesity with parental neglect. My gut instinct (natch) is that such a sweeping generalisation cannot be sustained.

The entire sphere of food and public health is a modish issue and one I’d normally avoid. Obesity, eating disorders, school meals, an obsession with food and diet generally. It seems to me that these matters only arise in an overly privileged society where perhaps we have too much choice anyway. Just eat a sensible and reasonably balanced diet and you’ll be grand, to put it colloquially.

Having spent the weekend in Portrush, however, the issue of obesity has exercised me somewhat over the past number of days. I think it is not to overstate the case, that the lardiness on display in that particular holiday resort was endemic, grotesque and disturbing.

Huge, puffed up children, their distended stomachs refusing to be covered by t shirts in the heat, mouths gummed inseparably to carbonated drink cans, waddled inexorably toward the nearest chip shop. Two gargantuan mothers attempting to traverse a bridge to change trains, wheeze and pant, taking 10 minutes to cover a span of 30 feet, before slumping into a lift in order to take them the two metres to ground level.

The Port was full of these people, bulging out of their clothes, puffy faced mothers ham like shoulders sporting Tweety Pie tattoos. And the warm weather made the problem yet more patent, disturbing and (I’m sorry but it is true) stomach churning.
Whether feeding these orbs more and more chips is actually a form of abuse, I’m yet to be convinced, but there is a social problem at a certain strata of society which undoubtedly is important to address. Instinctively I am not inclined toward government intervention in the sphere of people’s personal health, but certainly education and the means to have a decent diet affordably need to be looked at.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Britain Day a bad idea?

The hastily-conceived notion of a day to celebrate Britishness trumpeted by the likes of Ruth Kelly last week, causes me some disquiet.

Whilst the nebulous notion of providing social cohesion in an increasingly disparate society is evidently a laudable one, the spectres of nationalism and grubby identity politics hang over this suggestion.

Rather than counter the reductionist regional nationalisms currently buoyant in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with an alternative nationalism for citizens to cleave to, the emphasis should be on the multi-national, multi-ethnic, inclusive nature of the United Kingdom. These values are the antithesis of nationalism.

A shared sense of Britishness is desirable. But this sense should be based around values and not identity. One of the key strengths of the United Kingdom is that an ethnic identity is not the core around which society is built. Rather the UK is based on liberalism, tolerance, political and religious freedom, a shared history of state, empire, intellectual ideas grounded in the enlightenment and the use of the English language.

Any “Britain Day” must emphasise these values and not some quasi mystical attachment to a flag, some outmoded vision of bucolic ethnic roots or to a myth of shared national identity. We are a state of many cultures and many national heredities, and all the healthier for that.

Bizarre alliances characterise the Russian opposition

Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov found themselves grounded in Moscow on Friday as they attempted to make their way to a “Dissenters’ March” in Samara.

Obviously the western media reported this as yet another egregious felony against democracy by Putin’s regime.

Less attention was paid to the extremely disagreeable character of Kasparov’s campaigning bedfellow.

Eduard Limonov is a neo Nazi demagogue, whose party the National Bolsheviks have been proscribed in Russia, but who propounded a bizarrely candid “red-brown” ideology of far right nationalism and authoritarian Soviet communism.

The one time pornographer’s activities have included an attempted “invasion” of Kazakhstan. There he hoped to set up a base where his dream of a Russian dominated Eurasia, stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans, could gestate.

Mr Kasparov takes the dictum “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” to disturbing new levels.

Friday, 8 June 2007

The vagaries of the shaving industry (I shit you not)

Yesterday I elected to buy a razor from a pharmacy close to my work. Just call me a slave to the razor industry!

That in itself would not perhaps be worthy of sharing with the world (or the handful of deficients who choose to read my thoughts), but as it happened something irked me about this razor once I had sawed it out of its almost impregnable and vastly oversized packaging with a kitchen knife.

For some reason my razor (and this may demonstrate how closely I examine my prospective purchases), has a button which when depressed, causes the device to vibrate. Now I have considered this from a number of perspectives, and there is no possible shaving based explanation I can summon to mind, that might necessitate a razor vibrating, or would indicate that it may benefit from such a motion.

With the manufacturers of these pulsating horrors now adding an extra blade every six months in order to persuade the consumer they must rush out and buy a new product, soon the lethally gyrating battery of steel won’t even fit on the face.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

The Ballad of an Abandoned Man (and his antics)


Hypocrisy alive and well at Stormont

In this strange parallel universe Northern Ireland has entered, hypocritical double-speak has become almost a lingua franca. Hence Martine Anderson’s suggestion that paramilitary convictions be removed from ex-terrorists records receives a cold response from a DUP who have hopped merrily into bed with many of these ex-terrorists and delivered them some of the most important jobs in the province.

SF’s Unionist outreach “expert”, you see, is trying to remove any barriers that an ex-psychopath may encounter in the job market. The fact that an employer may wish to know that his prospective employee was involved in murder, assault, racketeering, destruction of property or theft does not appear to exercise this reprehensible bomber. Part of reaching out to unionists appears to involve depriving employers of this insight.

The fact that Gregory Campbell is critical of the proposal is of course simply natural. The fact that he is prepared to sit in government (all be it grumpily) with many ex-terrorists, as part of a party which is actually almost melding seamlessly into one with its erstwhile enemies, is rather less easy to rationalise. The message seems to be that a terrorist past has to be remembered unless you are part of Northern Ireland’s government.

Monday, 4 June 2007

The New Cold War

Vladimir Putin is not a figure it would be desirable to support unambiguously. Whilst he has maintained impressive control on many areas of Russian society, and whilst he has overseen undoubted improvements both economically and in terms of national self-esteem, since Yeltsin’s disastrous tenure, he has done so by making unpalatable compromises and allowing a criminal elite to become almost unassailable.

The democratic credentials of Putin’s regime are also questionable, but these credentials have been sacrificed at the alter of much greater stability, steady economic growth and enhancing international prestige. A securocrat elite may have been the principle beneficiaries of Putin’s patronage, but the oligarchic elite favoured by the west are more distasteful still.

Giving legitimacy to criminal capitalists such as Berezovsky and providing support to opposition spearheaded by figures such as Lebedev are gross hypocrisy at best. The main crux of US and British concern as to events in Russia, is the diminution of unipolar American / Western hegemony.

The West wishes to encroach upon Russia’s near abroad without any consequence. The US want to place missile protection sites as close as possible to Russia’s borders yet not incur any retaliatory action.

On this issue Putin is entirely justified. These weapons systems are being provocatively and unnecessarily sited next to a perceived threat to American power, It is incumbent upon Russia to address this disparity..

Wothington begins on a bum note

Having been initially positive about Nigel Worthington’s appointment as Northern Ireland boss, I was worried to read, amongst an unrepentant exegesis of his arguments for withdrawing Phil Mulyrne and Paul McVeigh from successive Northern Ireland squads, the following debilitatingly negative analysis of the current playing squad: "Without being disrespectful, this team isn't like the side that had names like McIlroy, O'Neill, Armstrong and Jennings."We have only a handful of Premiership players but they have big hearts."

Whilst the actual factuality of Worthington’s statement is hard to contest, given recent results, given the amount of confidence instilled in the team under Lawrie Sanchez, given that a new manager might be expected to try and boost, rather than destroy, the confidence of his new charges, the comment is a deeply unhelpful one.

My immediate reaction to Worthington’s appointment was certainly positive. I see the new manager’s task as maintaining a steady ship, as I have outlined below. It seemed that the IFA had made the right appointment in this regard, shunning high profile “names”.

I can only hope that this initial negativity from Worthington is not a harbinger of things to come, nor is it a return to the days of Lawrie McMenemy when every defeat was presaged by his pessimistic and derisory comments about his own playing squad.