Showing posts from 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 belie…

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 …


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…

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 mo…

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…

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 terro…

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 …

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 an…

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 appro…

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 co…

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.

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 whi…

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 gu…

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,…

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.

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…

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-t…

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 …

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 st…