Showing posts from October, 2007

McNarry attacks deserve UUP censure

One of Reg Empey’s aims in overseeing a restructuring of the UUP, is to establish some semblance of coherence and discipline within the party. It is therefore an acute embarrassment that after a successful party conference, a senior party representative has seen fit to attack Margaret Ritchie over her handling of the CTI affair.

David McNarry’s intemperance has been channelled in other unfortunate directions only a short while ago and it seems there is a pointed determination by this MLA (who views himself as leadership material) to veer off the party line.

One of the party’s strengths has long been its capacity to encompass a plurality of opinions and this is certainly an admirable and democratic tradition. Increasingly however, there has been a realisation that there must be some form of discipline in order to present before the electorate, something resembling a coherent message.

The fact that Mr McNarry consistently expresses opinions which are not in keeping with the type of co…

Putin and United Russia : the backdoor to increased parliamentary sovereignty?

Vladimir Putin spent yesterday attending ceremonies to remember the victims of Stalinist terror. The venue was Butovo in the southern reaches of Moscow and the Russian Federation’s president took the opportunity to speak about the values of political freedom and pluralism.

Given Putin’s reputation for “managed democracy” it would be easy to scoff at such sentiments. Indeed commentators have been falling over themselves to suggest that Putin will still contrive a third term as president, implying public rallies urging him to stay are part of a premeditated plan.

Such commentary is quick to dismiss Putin’s involvement in December’s Duma elections as a ruse. The inference is that Putin will decline his seat in Russia’s parliament and instead claim a strong result for United Russia (whose list he heads) as a mandate to change the constitution and stand once again in presidential elections.

Putin has consistently denied that he will attempt to seek a third term and it would require an ast…

Say No to Titchmarsh

I am becoming increasingly exercised by the BBC’s insistence on destroying potentially high-quality programming by inflicting on viewers the ubiquitous imbecile Alan Titchmarsh as presenter.

This smug, self-regarding cretin is a tired parody of himself, yet from sub-Partridge day time chat shows he has somehow been promoted to fronting the Corporation’s prime time flagship natural history series Britain: A Natural History and latterly The Nature of Britain.

If it wasn’t bad enough having his irritating round head constantly filling the TV screen, on a visit to Waterstones on Saturday I rounded a corner to be confronted with an entire display of smirking Titchmarshs as the incurable scrivener has seen fit to inflict a volume of autobiography on the unwitting public. It is titled in irksome Yorkshire dialect “Nobbbut a Lad”, which on its own is enough to justify a book burning. Titchmarsh’s debut novel, I am reliably informed, featured an overlooked TV gardener becoming a national sex sy…

FIFA decision substantively implemented

Despite FIFA’s reluctance to issue a definitive statement clarifying their position on the IFA / FAI eligibility row, the substance of their decision is already being put into practice.

It seems that FIFA will ignore politics and stick to sport, ignoring the difference fetishists and allowing the IFA to continue to field a truly representative team from this part of Ireland.

Would Feeney back cosociational model for Ukraine?

Brian Feeney's latest piece of sectarian bluster was blogged here.

O'Neill fascinatingly took apart Feeney's understanding of government and history in Lebanon over on A Pint of Unionist Lite.

To surmise, if we were to logically extrapolate the thesis this tiresomely partial columnist advanced, we would conclude that in all divided societies, functioning democracy is not possible because majorities cannot be trusted not to oppress minorities.

One such divided society is Ukraine, where Party of the Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych, whose party narrowly lost a bitterly contested snap election, is suggesting that a government of national unity needs to be formed.

Perhaps we should send over Mr Feeney and he can provide much needed advice on cosociational models of government to aid the people of Ukraine? Or would we find that there are minorities and minorities and that the pro-Russian population of Ukraine don't quite fit into the type Feeney is so eager to protect?

Cultural diversity is a tasty dish

The intricacies of a loyalist bandsman's run in with Anna Lo, are a little bit slippery. The Irish News claims that a loyalist demonstration is being organised to protest against the MLA because she addressed a letter to him which included his band's name. The band contends that it is protesting at a number of injustices visited by the Parades' Commission.

Nevertheless it does seem that the route chosen is deliberately taking in the Donegal Pass in order to stop at Lo's constituency office there. The area is the heart of South Belfast's Chinese community.

Whether there is an element of racism to the planning of this parade or not, you can't help but get a hoot from the spokesman's disclaimer of this and assertion of the tolerance of its participants.

"The fact that she is Chinese does not, in the eyes of the band, impart any blame or responsibility for her foolishness on to the wider Chinese community.

"Indeed, many of the bandsmen may on their wa…

What's sauce for the goose

President Putin is boxing clever at the Russia EU summit by threatening to establish an institute in the model of EU funded NGOs in the heart of the European Union.

With the EU and America funding bodies explicitly for the purpose of influencing Russian politics, Putin is simply suggesting that Russia exercises a similar role in the EU.

With the European Union having ignored human rights infringements in the Baltics and other areas of Eastern Europe for geo-political reasons, there is work for such a body to focus on.

"Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst, said one of the institute's priorities should be highlighting discrimination against ethnic Russians living in countries once part of the Soviet Union, like Estonia and Latvia."

High UUP morale at confidence boosting Conference

Buoyed by realisation that the nature of the DUP / Sinn Fein twin nationalisms axis is becoming ever more transparent to the electorate and that the voters are becoming aware too of the damage that this unholy alliance can visit on Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party’s Conference this weekend saw an upswing in morale and a rejuvenation of ideas.

The Ulster Unionist Council’s endorsement on Friday night of plans to modernise party structures and streamline the convoluted internal party rule book provided a galvanising backdrop to Saturday’s Conference in the Ramada Hotel. An efficient party coalescing around a progressive and coherent unionist programme is the aim of the restructuring process and it is encouraging that the party is edging toward policies which fulfil this criteria.

Margaret Ritchie’s appearance and the enthusiastic reception accorded to her stole the headlines over the weekend, but there was more than cosmetic value in the Social and Development Secretary’s pr…

Brezhnev offered his support for Nixon over Watergate

It has emerged that as Richard Nixon succumbed to the Watergate affair in 1974 he received support from an unlikely source – Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev.

Brezhnev recognised the pressures being brought to bear on Nixon by the scandal and was concerned that the disruption might have a detrimental effect on improving relations between the two superpowers.

This fascinating insight into relations between the two most powerful men in the world has been uncovered in newly released US State Department documents. Through the Soviet ambassador to the United States, Brezhnev urged “self-control and fortitude” from his American counterpart. The secret message expressed confidence in Nixon’s ability to withstand the mounting pressures

"No doubt, there are some people -- and not only in the United States -- who anticipate that Richard Nixon won't be able to take it and will crack under the pressure," Dobrynin said he told the president on Brezhnev's behalf. "But, we ar…

The chilling self-awareness of a killer with an eye for posterity

As another serial killer finds his exploits pored over by the public and the media, the self-perpetuating dynamic of such crimes is particularly evident. Convicted serial killer Alexander Pichushkin, or the Chessboard Murderer as he has been inevitably dubbed, is the classic example of a demented egotist whose self-delusions are being gratified by the storm of publicity and psychological analysis his case has created.

Although particular responsibility might be laid with pathological consumers of the ghoulish industry of serial killer books, films and documentaries, we are all culpable to an extent for this phenomenon, simply through a completely reasonable fascination with the mentality and motivation of murderers.

Pichushkin’s courtroom statements bear the patina of self-regard that suggests the killer is only too aware that he is speaking to a worldwide audience. They are comments from a man relishing his time in the limelight. He must be only too aware that when he claims that…

Consociational contention is a front for MOPEry

Brian Feeney consistently produces republican tinged commentary which belies his status as a supposed constitutional nationalist. Quite simply he reviles and detests unionists.

Feeney’s latest contribution is effectively his contention that the people of Northern Ireland should forever be denied accountable government or democratic norms, basically because he believes we can’t be trusted with them. It doesn’t take too much reading between the lines to uncover Feeney’s subtext. The electorate cannot be allowed to hold the executive to account because unionists are a majority and can’t be trusted:

“The arrangement is the price unionists have to pay for making themselves so objectionable over the 50 years they had a free hand here. “

Northern Ireland is forever to be consigned to the status of Lebanon, because Feeney is a MOPE and unionists are in his view irreformable, this despite the fact that every suggestion of introducing opposition at the Assembly has been presaged by an acknowle…

Spin and presentation more important than health

Roy Beggs Junior has pointed out the disparity between the proposed increase in spending for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and that designated to health.

"It is staggering to think that the DUP-Sinn Fein Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is receiving greater priority than our National Health Service. That this is occurring at a time when health expenditure in the rest of the UK is rising at a significantly greater level will only increase the unacceptable disparity between health care in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK."

Incredibly spending on the OFMDFM has increased from £32m in the previous devolved administration to £73.9m in the current dispensaton.

It takes a lot of money to keep the rictus grins of the Chuckle Brothers in place.

Shiny Happy Programme for Government

The Draft Programme For Government 2008-2011 has been released today bedecked with smiling children giving a thumbs up on the cover.

Very appropriate you might think because if the executive was to take a stance on "the children" it would almost certainly be in favour. Children are great and we're all for them! And on the strength of this document the executive is for a great many other fantastic things as well.

The NI executive is:

Pro more employment
Pro less poverty
Pro better public services
Pro everything being just great in Northern Ireland generally!

Maybe a little more detail on how these objectives will be achieved would be nice?

Benitez in denial as Kuyt and Voronin draw another blank

At the risk of this blog becoming dominated by football comment, I must follow up on the Liverpool story of yesterday with some observations about the appalling 2-1 defeat to a very average Turkish side.

My opinion that Kuyt and Voronin form an unworkable forward partnership has been reinforced by their ineffectual performance. The two players are both inclined to drop into deep positions to collect the ball and neither produces runs off their partner or along the line to provide a foil to the other. The combination doesn’t work Rafa!

Liverpool’s build-up play to the final third has been worse on occasions this season, but there were very few options for the midfield to pick out. The responsibility for attacking impetus therefore rested once again solely with Steven Gerrard.

The manager meanwhile decided not to remedy this with an early change. Rather he elected to delay bringing Peter Crouch on until 10 minutes from the end, giving the targetman very little opportunity to create an…

Difference fetishists: Why they hate the GAWA so much

A persistent theme on this blog has been opposing the fetishisation of cultural and communal difference as actively pursued by Sinn Fein, with sporadic collusion from the DUP and “loyalists” in the unionist community when it suits their agenda.

The difference fetish is pursued in a perniciously euphemistic language heavy with phrases such as “respect for symbols” and “equality rather than neutrality” which are employed with gnawing frequency and feature in balefully disingenuous, subjective interpretations of the concept of human rights.

You will recognise the fetishists through their desire to see whatever divisive symbols or activities their own community can muster thoroughly perpetuated whilst simultaneously rejecting the validity of anything comparable issuing from the other community.

However, what draws the most venom from a true difference fetishist is anything that represents a shared Northern Ireland, a drawing together of the two communities or a shared cultural space fo…

Benitez must give Gerrard freedom to damage Turks

Tonight Liverpool Football Club faces Besiktas in an away Champions’ League tie in Istanbul in the knowledge, that should the team not return with a win, failing to qualify from the group stages of the competition is a very real possibility.

Rafa Benitez simply must mastermind a victory for his side tonight despite the club’s principle goal threat, Fernando Torres, failing to recover from injury and not travelling with the squad. Compounding this problem, Liverpool’s attacking momentum is reliant on Steven Gerrard whose instinct to drive the team forward from midfield was rewarded with substitution in Saturday’s derby match against Everton.

A disgruntled Gerrard was understandably unhappy with Benitez’s decision which the manager justified by contesting that Gerrard had been “playing with his heart, as opposed to his head”. Whilst the captain’s performances have been fitful since recovering from a metatarsal injury, on Saturday he had returned to his forceful best, providing his tra…

Larkin's blueprint for unionism has a logical lacuna

In something of a departure for a site more accustomed to demotic tub-thumping, A Tangled Web carries a thoughtful essay by a Queen’s Law professor with a distinguished name – Dr Phil Larkin.

Dr Larkin’s article on the SDLP was mentioned on this blog before.
Turning his thoughts to unionism he has produced some considered and insightful observations, undermined by a deeply flawed central thesis.

Larkin’s championing of economic liberalism, his rejection of the cultural model of unionism, his encouragement of an inclusive approach etc. are all beyond reproach. However the conceptual flaw in Larkin’s argument is that whilst roundly rejecting the communal model he then encourages the unionist community to coalesce around a single political monolith.

The argument for a single unionist party has been covered in depth on this blog on several occasions, and it belies an ultimately limited understanding of unionism that Dr Larkin falls back on this flawed concept as his vision for the phil…

Victory for Northern Ireland and the IFA!

The IFA and Howard Wells may finally have proved their worth by forcing FIFA to confront the issue of the partitionist FAI poaching the original Ireland football team’s players.

It looks likely the FIFA’s statutes will be applied (the decision should be announced today), despite the fallacious idea that the breakaway association are entitled to quote the Good Friday Agreement and present themselves as some manner of all Ireland team.

From now on players born in Northern Ireland will only be eligible for Northern Ireland, unless they qualify via parent or grandparent for the Republic.

Of course this is merely copper-fastening the original gentleman’s agreement which the predatory southern association had reneged on. The decision will not operate retrospectively and Darron Gibson, who precipitated the IFA pursuing the issue, can continue to play for the breakaway team.

Destroying the culture of Divis

The Angrytown News today highlights the plight of tenants in a complex of flats in Divis.

Pyjama police
The unhappy tenant hit out at “the pyjama police who patrol the corridors”.
“Who do they think they are telling us we cannot wear PJs?
“Loads of women around Divis wear pyjamas going about their daily business, it’s part of our culture,” she added.

We'll be hearing that human rights are being infringed next.

N.b. (Picture does not depict a Divis resident)

Because a government eventually must govern: The Ritchie debacle

The tortuous floundering of the Stormont executive is being dissected in minute detail on other blogs. Details of the legal advice obtained (through means on which aspersions are already being cast by Margaret Ritchie’s department) by the Belfast Telegraph does seem to suggest that the initial expert briefing received by the Social Development Minister did state that withdrawal of funding would be susceptible to challenge in the courts.

Whatever the legal intricacies, the affair’s legacy will be the perceptions it leaves with the general public, not to mention the possible damage it inflicts on the power sharing institutions.

As Ritchie pointed out in a robust defence on last night’s Hearts and Minds, the Northern Irish public undoubtedly supports her decision to withdraw funding from groups linked to the UDA. And the general impression being transmitted from Stormont to the casual observer is that of a fractured and ineffective Assembly running aground against the rocks of party p…

Cyclists are not pedestrians

There seems to be an almost universal misapprehension under which the cyclists of Belfast are labouring, that they have the right to cycle on the pavement.

This is not the case. A bicycle is a VEHICLE and as such it should no more be whizzing along the pavement narrowly missing those on foot, than should a car or indeed one of these increasingly rapid and huge mobility buggies.

In the meantime may I urge pedestrians who are using the pavement as of right, to harangue and perhaps even stick an umbrella in the spokes of these idiots who do not understand that if they can't cycle on the road the shouldn't be cycling at all.

Ireland - friendliest place or a triump of myth over substance?

Lonely Planet seems increasingly to be considered the definitive voice in determining how desirable a country is as a travel destination. When they proclaim Ireland the world’s most friendly country, even given the facetious tone of the criterion applied (assessing the United States the comment is ”all they ask is that you leave the shoe bomb at home”), the opinion will be listened to.

It is therefore worth considering briefly whether Ireland is in fact inordinately friendly, or whether this laurel has been bestowed on our island largely due to lazy cliché.

I work on the presumption that this “honour” applies to the whole of Ireland, given that there is no specification to the contrary and the horrendously platitudinous summation reads “these days after the end of the 'Troubles', a cautious optimism reigns supreme, infecting the land once again with the feeling that anything's possible”.

Presumably then, the compiler of this list did not start their holiday by getting th…

Draw is Swede: but Nigel still has to convince

It was pleasing to see Northern Ireland arrest the decline under Nigel Worthington with an excellent result and creditable performance against Sweden in Stockholm.

It would be wrong to go over the top and adjudge this result as the moment Worthington’s charges regained their form after a period of transition. There are two more matches remaining in this group and in order to convince the IFA to renew his contract, it is my belief that the manager needs to win one of them.

Although both work-rate and attitude of the team were unrecognisable from the previous two games, Northern Ireland were playing an oddly anaemic Swedish side and really captain Aaron Hughes might have dealt better with the speculative far post cross which saw Olaf Mellberg sneaking in to give Sweden a fifteenth minute lead.

Sweden showed little inclination to push forward for a second and they seemed happy to cede possession, which suited the style of play Worthington favours. Chris Brunt’s long range effort came …

Obesophobia: Just eat less everyone!

Pathologically steer clear of populist wisdom, is a maxim to which adherence would normally be advisable, but occasionally there arises an issue in the media where common sense is apparently so palpably subverted that it is simply not possible to resist manifesting an attack of the “Jeremy Clarksons”.

Initially I was tempted to respond to the news that a study had declared individuals no longer responsible for their own obesity, in just such a fashion. Having ruminated briefly on the issue and simultaneously on a full fat buttered slice of toast, I came to the more measured conclusion that although this was the angle the BBC were taking on the story, the experts behind the research were simply highlighting the scale of the problem and concluding that it was simply not enough to submit the issue to individual responsibility ALONE any longer.

The damning statistics detailing decreased productivity and spiralling costs of care for obesity related conditions for the NHS, does compel the g…

Dingle is a cautionary tale

An interesting story has been unfolding in the southern Irish press over the past couple of days. The main source of intrigue for me personally, is watching the Irish Language lobby, which in Northern Ireland persists in framing its arguments as part of a spurious “rights based” agenda, merrily trampling over much more fundamental rights from their position of ascendancy in the Republic.

The issue arises in Dingle, where the population have had their run-ins with the Irish Language extremists before, demanding that the name of their famous town, popular as a tourist destination, remain in the anglicised form. Irish people from County Kerry are now being denied education in the main spoken language in the Republic, English, in Dingle.

The Irish Examiner today published a fierce and entirely justified rebuttal defending the priority of children's education.

The controversy in Dingle is a cautionary tale in the north where legislation to go down a similar hubristic road is a current …

Avoiding the phrase "I told you so" ....

Martina Purdy’s commentary on yesterday’s events at Stormont neatly echoes some of the recurring themes of this blog.

The underlying tensions which threaten to destabilise the executive as real issues are broached have been evident to anyone with even a marginal interest in events at Government Buildings. Although why the DUP are actually taking issue with Margaret Ritchie’s withdrawal of funding to the UPRG is another matter.

The structural difficulties alluded to have been a stable of recent posts also. However the most interesting point raised is in the conclusion to the article. If ministers are not hamstrung by the unworkable inefficiencies of collective responsibility, do the DUP’s claims that they made fundamental changes to the 1998 Agreement to prevent unilateral action by ministers justified?

You don't have to be mad to be a terrorist, but it helps.

Michael Stone intends to defend his "performance art" by calling both Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley as witnesses, when he is tried for his bizarre slow motion attack on Stormont.

But what really puts the cherry on his wobbly mental blamange may be the following comments regarding BBC NI's satirical animation Folks on the Hill - "I knew nothing about Stormont until I watched that show on television. I found it very realistic".

Lib Dems leadership quandary

On only one occasion did I exercise my franchise on mainland Britain and whatever the merits or demerits of that youthful decision, my X was etched indecisively beside the name of the aspirant Liberal Democrat MP.

Whether I would have stood by my chosen party in subsequent elections is a matter of conjecture, for which even I can not claim to have the answer. But regardless, my personal legacy from the 1997 election is that I harbour some residual sympathies toward the third party in British politics.

Whilst I am in confessional mood, I must also admit that I was a sucker for Charles Kennedy’s amiable wit and indeed his apparent fondness for a tipple, if anything made me more sympathetic to his leadership of the party. So it was with no particular joy or excitement that I descried the ascension of an aging party grandee, Menzies Campbell, to party leader.

Whether Campbell’s resignation yesterday suggests that he was a victim of ageism, is a matter on which various people will proffer …

Robinson's message is correct but inconsistent with party line

Although Peter Robinson has been one of the most consistently and incurably obnoxious local politicians over the course of his career, there is little doubt that his pragmatism and organisational ability set him head and shoulders above most of his fellow party members as regards political ability.

His party affiliation notwithstanding, Robinson has delivered perceptive and considered analyses in speeches before; therefore it is not especially surprising that he has identified the economic and organisational weaknesses of the power-sharing arrangements his own party have been denying over the past number of months.

Robinson and the DUP claimed they would wrest a huge peace dividend from Gordon Brown. When this was not immediately forthcoming they claimed that implementation of power sharing structures was dependent on the same. That vow turned out to be as empty as other DUP promises and it has fallen to Robinson, as Finance Minister, to warn us that there will be significant belt-t…

Nutty Nigel loses grasp of reality completely

If there was any hope left that Nigel Worthington may be anchored to reality in at least some tenuous fashion, this was comprehensively disproved by the erstwhile Canary's reaction to the England rugby team's snorefest semi-final against" France.

"What an exciting match that was!"

Ukrainian mess finds echoes in a novel

Intrigue continues behind the scenes in Ukraine, as President Yuschenko attempts to cobble together a coalition to govern the politically fractured state.

The West’s favoured Orange coalition has cracked irrevocably.   If Yuschenko elects to form a government with a wafer thin majority, including his former ally Yulia Tymoshenko, whom he now loathes, it is difficult to envisage it becoming stable.

Tymoshenko, whose personal popularity now eclipses any other politician in Ukraine, will refuse to be part of any administration which includes Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions. Incredibly Yuschenko would consider resuming coalition with a man he previously accused of attempting to steal the disputed 2005 election, such is his enmity toward Tymoshenko.

It is against the background of this unfolding, real-life political drama that I have been reading Andrey Kurkov’s ‘The President’s Last Love’ over the past week or so. It is a complicated novel in terms of its structure, but it is …

The internet and anonymity

Following on neatly from Naomi Klein’s observations about blogging, Chris Hope has highlighted in his Daily Telegraph blog that the most visited political party website on the internet is that of the BNP.

The ensuing debate as to why this might be is unfolding on Slugger.

My perspective is that the frisson of taboo is sufficient exciting to get people Googling frantically in search of the far right. There is a “through the fingers” fascination which has much in common with the instinct which causes web users to send each other links to David Icke’s site or those devoted to certain more “niche” sexual practices.
Both stories raise certain fundamental questions about the nature of the internet / blogging and these phenomena’s relationship to mainstream media.
During the BNP debate, the anonymity of internet usage has been mentioned as a possible factor in the statistics. Within their own homes web users will pursue interests which they wouldn’t dare indulge in a library or newsagent.

Swede home to Northern Ireland

It appears that things will go from bad to worse under Nigel Worthington. Injury problems have deprived him of Johnny Evans and Keith Gillespie for the trip to Sweden next Wednesday.

Worthington has persisted in describing the two dismal defeats by Latvia and Iceland as “unlucky”, which defies belief and suggests that he has little or no idea what needs to be addressed in order to improve results.

Meanwhile the replacements for Evans and Gillespie will be footballer / boozer Gary Hamilton and Sean Webb. Yes that’s Sean Webb of Accrington Stanley. Accrington Stanley! Who are they? Exactly!

Word of the day

It is perhaps best not to analyse Naomi Klein's political pronouncements too closely. That may better be left to callow youth, whose adolescent reflexes are best satisfied by the "anti-globalisation poster girl".

Fair play though, she can coin a phrase - BONOISATION!

She also gives us bloggers a touch. The gist of her argument is that people are spending too much time formulating argument and too little time firebombing their local McDonalds. Still ..... "Bonoisation".

Underpaid Medical Secretaries Plight Raised in Assembly

This summer I became vicariously acquainted with the important and responsible work carried out by medical secretaries in the NHS.

I have also come to understand that there is a shortage of candidates to fill these positions in Northern Ireland, due to the derisory wages offered. The result is a large backlog of work, inefficiency in delivery of services and public money being wasted by plugging the gap with agency staff.

The SDLP’s Thomas Burns raises this issue today in the NI Assembly’s written questions and outlines the disparity between medical secretaries in Northern Ireland and in the other devolved regions:

Questions to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

1. Mr Thomas Burns ( South Antrim):
To ask the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to provide an explanation of why all medical secretaries in Northern Ireland were matched to Band 3 pay levels, regardless of experience, compared to 70% of medical secretaries in Wales and 80% of medical …

Please Darling, can we have some more?

The Belfast Telegraph notes aghast in its leader that Alistair Darling only intends a 1.9% increase in public spending for Northern Ireland as announced in his Pre Budget Report. This represents a lower growth rate than that to which we have become accustomed.

There follows a confused piece in which it is acknowledged that the Northern Irish economy is overly-reliant on the public sector but Mr Darling is criticised for expecting growth to come from the private sector. It is also presented as a “bad thing” that Finance Minister Peter Robinson is expected to deliver savings by increasing the Assembly’s efficiency.

Perhaps the fact that “devolution is a costly exercise, as the public is discovering, with 11 departments to finance and another - justice and policing - on the way” should cause us to examine whether devolution is necessary, whether it can be delivered in a more efficient manner and whether its extent shouldn’t be limited, rather than eliciting howls of outrage when grea…

Lenin to be buried at last?

An aide in Vladimir Putin's Kremlin regime has suggested that the time to remove Lenin's embalmed body from the mausoleum in Red Square has arrived.

Coming from a senior figure whose remit covers the square, this suggestion must be taken seriously.

Certainly, burying the body would remove a potent symbol connecting the new Russia to the Soviet era. Given the capitalist development of modern Russia this only seems fitting.

The move will anger Communists and an older generation who have largely missed out on the country's growing prosperity and remain nostalgic for the certainties of the USSR.

The current bribery to desist gangsterism is part of an ongoing process

I am resoundingly not a fan of Lindy McDowell’s demotic tirades in the Belfast Telegraph. However it is hard to find flaw in her analysis of the current impasse in presenting £1.2 million to a group of criminal thugs in order to persuade them to disarm.

McDowell is correct in dating capitulation to gansterism early in the peace process. She is also correct in asserting that Margaret Ritchie is making the best of a bad job by moving to withdraw the funding.

Resurgent Radiohead release In Rainbows

The blogosphere has been alight recently with excitement about the new Radiohead album In Rainbows, and the band’s characteristically unusual method of vending it to the listening public.

I have refrained thus far from offering my tuppence worth (anyone genuinely interested will have known for some time the idiosyncratic release details), but having parted with my chosen cost and listened to the record a couple of times after it became available yesterday, I must rip from my tortured soul the following remarks.

It takes something rather compelling to sunder me from a book or a newspaper on my daily commute, but listening to a new Radiohead recording is one such compulsion. In Rainbows does, it must be said, reward the effort. Although any album, and particularly an album by Radiohead, can only be evaluated properly after a number of listens and possibly even after a number of weeks, first impressions are that In Rainbows sets a welcome course between the abstruse experimentation of A…

Biting the hand that feeds you

In 1984, seeking a government grant to fund the completion of the North Stand, Linfield FC needed the Irish FA to sign a long term lease in order to secure the funds.

With Linfield being the IFA’s pet club, a contract was quickly formulated and so cosy was the relationship between the two that no-one within the Inept, Farcical and Absurd governing body bothered to include any release clauses.

23 years later Linfield continue to receive handouts, rulings and clientalism of all kinds from Windsor Avenue, but despite the hundreds of thousands of pounds they receive annually from hosting Northern Ireland international matches, they have let their stadium fall into a state of unusable disrepair.

Of course if you deal with the despicable it doesn’t matter how much toadying you do, it doesn’t matter how much you bend your own rules to accommodate them, it doesn’t matter how partially you favour their interests, they will screw you over whenever things don’t entirely go their way.

A lesson the …

Saying nothing can be the best policy

It is difficult not to have sympathy for David McNarry’s views on the Irish Language within the Assembly. It must be galling to have one’s time wasted and patience exhausted by an exercise in political posturing by Sinn Fein.

To then be accused of anti-Irishness, simply because you refuse to play along with this charade quietly is a further preposterous indignity.

Making an issue of his frustrations, however, is playing into the hands of Sinn Fein who are intent on stirring passions on this issue and turning it into a specious equality agenda. I have indicated before that unionists need to maintain cool heads on this issue and not succumb to anything which can be perceived as a gut reaction to the Irish Language.

Boney M - treat or provocation?

One of the more surreal moments I have experienced on my travels was when I got into a clapped out Lada taxi in Donetsk and realised that the radio was pumping out Belfast by Boney M.

It transpires that further east in the former Soviet Union the 1970s disco group are to be inflicted on the denizens of disputed South Ossetia in what might be interpreted as psychological warfare from the Georgian authorities.

Executive divisions illustrate the drawbacks of devolved administration

It is difficult to take Daithi McKay’s posturing over the Seymour Sweeney controversy remotely seriously, but understandable disquiet within the executive about the affair illustrates perfectly the inadequacies and frailties of the form of putative government established in Northern Ireland.

In an executive established by enforced coalition, unity is only ever a cosmetic façade and when a hint of controversy manifests itself, naturally this flimsy construction comes crashing down as the other parties jostle to distance themselves from their supposed partner’s difficulties. The current government will most likely survive the Causeway issue, but sooner or later the whole fragile edifice will disintegrate.

Of course the very idea that disparate or indeed diametrically opposed parties can deliver coherent government without an element of opposition is inherently flawed. Either they merely allude to government, endlessly prevaricating on important issues and producing only a compromised m…

Don't disenfranchise the moderate unionists of South Belfast

One of the luxuries of commentating on politics, rather than being an active participant, is the ability to stand above the Machiavellian horse-trading that often dictates, more than principle, the actions of a party.

I have already recorded my scepticism regarding rapprochement with the DUP. Fielding single unionist candidates seems to me capitulation to sectarian carve-up and represents a submission to the regressive communal politics right-thinking unionists need to oppose.

Nevertheless I acknowledge that such a deal has its attractions for the UUP, particularly as regards the constituencies of Fermanagh South Tyrone and South Belfast. Not only would the party stand to gain one of the lost Westminster seats from such a deal, but the FST constituency would be wrested from the grip of Michelle Gildernew and its electorate would once again be represented in parliament.

I was less than surprised, however, to discover that the deal likely to be proposed by the DUP, is less advantageous …

Weird "science": Causeway centre could be a portal for loopers

Pete Baker has been tenaciously blogging on two fronts over on Slugger O’Toole. But his latest thread fascinatingly links the allegations of cronyism against the First Minister, over his backing of Seymour Sweeney’s plans for a new visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway, to the DUPiban’s emerging belligerence over creationism.

It is as scary as it is preposterous that visitors to our shores may be treated to the wisdom that the causeway was formed 4000 years ago during Noah’s flood! As a poster on Slugger wryly notes, they may as well advance as science the "Finn MacCool Theory".

Ukrainian museums bend history to suit nationalist narrative

There is a fascinating article in today's Moscow Times which is particularly pertinent given the discussions on this blog recently, about manipulation and omission of history in the service of presenting a palatable nationalist narrative.

Sinn Fein's rewriting of Northern Irish history and elision in the national story of Latvia have been touched on in recent weeks, but this article is particularly fascinating given the divisions which still effect Ukraine and are currently dominating the election there.

Ruane demonstrates her priorities once again

As the bitter dispute with classroom assistants drags on and money which these people are fully entitled to continues to be withheld, isn’t it nice that the Education Minister is obviously so focused on the task at hand, i.e. Irish Medium education. MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE EVER.

Apologies for subjecting you to a link from the worst paper in Ireland by the way.

Old chestnuts won't win it for Tories

The Guardian is confident that Gordon Brown will call an early election at the beginning of next week, predicting that the poll will take place on November 1.

The Conservative conference is already being used as the launching pad for David Cameron’s campaign, but despite the headline grabbing announcements regarding Inheritance Tax and Stamp Duty , it appears from David Davies speech that traditional Tory attacks on immigration and Euro-scepticism will be rallying points for the election, despite Cameron’s progressive reputation.

Time and time again it has been proven that in British politics these issues galvanise a very vocal minority, but that they are simply not pivotal enough to most people to form the battleground on which an election can be won.

Taken as a whole the British electorate is a more tolerant and liberal body than is often recognised. They have accepted and integrated a number of immigrant waves with only relatively minor social unrest. They largely accept that …

Michael Palin's New Europe - a defence

I am an unapologetic fan of Michael Palin and currently, when I’m not watching his current series New Europe, I’m pouring over the accompanying book, which Kerry bought me for my birthday.

Unfortunately I have misplaced the link, but Palin’s current series has not attracted universal acclaim. I read one review in the Guardian which suggested that the ex-Python was exacerbating perceptions of the “otherness” of eastern Europeans by focusing on the quirks and eccentricities of their cultures. The reviewer believed that this would undermine the purpose he seemed to ascribe to the programme, namely harmonising relationships between the so-called “old” and “new” Europes and encouraging acceptance of new members of the European Union (!!).

I don’t know quite what the most disturbing facet of this critique is. It may be the overarching responsibility assigned to an amiable television presenter or indeed it may be the subtext that the people of the United Kingdom can only empathise with b…

From the nationalist perspective: beyond communal politics

This blog is written from a unionist perspective, by a member of a unionist party and inevitably therefore, debates within unionism tend to predominate.

It is worth pointing out however, that a debate is also going on within Irish nationalism attempting to make sense of where the new dispensation leaves the traditional imperatives of that creed's political representatives, and it is not without its parallels to that within unionism.

I was fascinated and heartened therefore, to read an excellent article by Dr Phil Larkin blogging on The Long Lane, analysing the tasks lying ahead for the SDLP. Larkin comes to some conclusions about the future of moderate nationalism which are not unlike those advanced by the more progressive voices within unionism. The following passage in particular urges the SDLP to look beyond communal politics and its preoccupation with a rights based language grounded in outdated perceptions.

The first truth is that the constant emphasis on individual and group …

Putin may seek Prime Ministerial role

It appears that President Putin is not ready to relinquish day to day involvement in federal Russian politics when his term as president ends in March next year.

Whilst he has confounded speculation that constitutional changes might be made to enable him to seek a third presidential term, he has indicated that he may run as a candidate for United Russia in the Duma elections in December and would consider becoming Prime Minister of the Russian Parliament given a favourable result.

With buoyant personal approval ratings and given the campaigning advantages United Russia will undoubtedly enjoy, this favourable result is largely inevitable. Putin would be required to resign his presidency in order to take his seat in the Duma.
Certainly Putin’s active involvement as Prime Minister would not appear to be conducive to a new president establishing new and independent policy initiatives, especially as the new president is likely to gain victory primarily through Putin’s patronage.


McGimpsey plugs Irish Language cash leak

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has addressed wasteful madness whereby all press releases and advertisements for his department were automatically translated into Irish.

It is precisely this type of profligate nonsense (predictably introduced by Bairbre de Bruin), of no benefit to anyone, which undermines goodwill toward the Irish Language lobby.

Hopefully this rare instance of common sense will not soon be overturned.

Deteriorating situation in Ingushetia indictment of ethnic policies

One of the failures of Vladimir Putin’s administration has been his handling of the nationalities issue in the Russian Federation. I discussed the ethnic basis of regional government which Putin has been happy to perpetuate in a previous post.

A failure to attempt to foster civic coherence and act against preferential treatment based on ethnicity is a dangerous recipe for ethnic strife when coupled with a preference for strong armed regional leadership.

In the Caucasian Republic of Ingushetia ethnic violence has been a daily occurrence for some months now. A mixture of nationalist separatism which for years has spilt over from neighbouring Chechnya, Islamist terrorism and resentment at the imposition by Putin of President Murad Zyazikov, is contributing to a potentially explosive situation.

It is no mere coincidence that the violence has taken a predominantly ethnic form with all non-Ingush possible targets.

Straw raises the spectre of English nationalism as Tories focus on West Lothian

Jack Straw writes about the difficulties inherent in excluding MPs from elsewhere in the UK from voting on matters pertaining to England in today’s Daily Telegraph.

He raises both the practical difficulties of establishing the exact remit of a bill and all its clauses, as well as the more subtle consideration of the financial and other implications any legislation passed for 85% of the UK’s population may have on the rest of it. Straw rightly points out that whilst the power of levying taxation remains with Westminster, it is impracticable to cleanly separate bills in that parliament by their regional remit.

With the Conservatives continuing to focus on the West Lothian question, Straw challenges David Cameron’s party’s unionism and suggests the Conservative party may have jettisoned its historical roots to become the party of English Nationalism.

Whilst any ideological commitment to nationalism in Cameron’s Tories is questionable (and some may suggest any ideological content to Cameron…

Insidious New Age nonsense

Whatever the alignment of certain planets and the confluence of my energies over the weekend, I experienced an event of astonishing serendipity. Having spent a considerable part of Friday ranting about the charlatanism and imbecility of New Age beliefs, having been provoked by a quick inspection of a shop named “Solstice”, I switched on BBC 2 on Saturday night to witness Steven Fry venting his spleen on exactly the same subject during an old repeat of Room 101.

For the duration of Fry’s monologue I managed to restrain myself to fervent nods of the head, before erupting in a torrent of agreement as he concluded his remarks. “Inappropriate ransacking” of cultures surmises Fry’s objections, as well as the melding of all these disparate, cannibalised facets into something so amorphous and woolly that it could be fleeced and knitted into a cardigan.

The shop I had need to enter epitomised everything the comedian objected to. Buddhas from the subcontinent, dream catchers from North Americ…

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Up the political bloggers league we go!

I recall an incident in the Ukraine when a young tennis player was introduced to a cohort of Northern Ireland supporters. "I'm the 86th best Under 21 tennis player in Ukraine", was greeted with the rejoinder "that's a coincidence. I know the fella who's 52nd".

I'm trying hard not to exercise the same cynicism on learning that this blog has been named by popular vote as 224th best political blog in the UK for the purposes of Iain Dale's book. A couple of other notable blogs linked to this site were in and around the same area.

221 Young Unionists 222 Clive Davis 223 Media Lens 224 Three Thousand Versts... 225 Remittance Man 226 A Pint of Unionist Lite

Hopefully, considering the relatively short time the site has been going, this means the output is read and appreciated by some of you. Many thanks to those who voted.

Why Harris's suggestion is bad for the Union

David Trimble’s leadership of unionism was mould breaking in a number of ways, not least of which was his willingness to draw from an eclectic group of advisers, many of whom had backgrounds which were anathema to traditional unionists.

Typical of this tendency was Trimble’s appointment of erstwhile Marxist / Republican Eoghan Harris, some time Official Sinn Fein and Workers’ Party ideologue.

Harris now sits in the Republic of Ireland’s Senate as an appointee of Bertie Aherne. He retains an unerring capacity to create controversy and on Friday he chose a UUP function at Belfast’s Reform Club, to express his opinion that the party no longer served any useful function within unionism and should merge with the DUP.

The hoary old chestnut of one party unionism has been the subject of a recent post on this blog and I do not intend to revisit the topic in any detail here. I will point readers in the direction of Alex Kane’s rejoinder in his column in this morning’s Newsletter.

Kane’s most…