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Showing posts from 2008

More from the 'if it has rights in the title it must be good' school of discourse.

“It is time unionists abandoned the ridiculous old defensive reflex that impels them to reject new ideas on principle.”

With no apparent sense of irony this is how Susan McKay concludes a lightsome article about the NIHRC’s report. No matter that her own diatribe singularly ignores the substance of unionist argument and rather revisits the sneering brand of condescension toward unionism on which Ms. McKay has built her career.

Her opening gambit forms a prolonged attack on Lady Trimble for her ’pompous’ use of the word ’outwith’. Why the use of a legal term, by a woman with a legal background, specifically employed in consideration of a legal document should cause McKay so much angst is not immediately clear.

What is clear, is that the columnist is on surer ground formulating ad hominine attacks than considering whether the NIHRC actually did stick to its remit. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, that is to examine whether there is scope to define rights, supplementar…

Cameron reiterates communitarian vision

Writing on the Guardian politics’ blog today, Toby Helm implies a degree of nervousness on the part of Tory academics who propound the communitarian vision of conservatism which provides such an attractive alternative to Labour’s statist ethos. His contention is that in differentiating Conservative policy on the financial crash from the massive programme of borrowing which Gordon Brown believes is necessary to restimulate the economy, a perception has arisen that David Cameron is reneging on the vision of social responsibility which has paved the way for a Conservative revival.

Perhaps sensitive to such criticism, Cameron has reiterated his commitment to the principles which his new conservatism promises. His New Year message states,

“…far from dropping our green agenda because of the recession, we will this year step up the pace because leadership on the environment will help create the jobs, wealth and opportunity Britain needs. Far from dropping our commitment to make British po…

'The White Tiger' by Aravind Adiga

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As a reader of fiction I am immediately suspicious of clever narrative devices. When it became obvious that Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize winning novel, ‘The White Tiger’, comprised correspondence between a Bangalore businessman and the Chinese premier, my cynicism immediately heightened. It is testimony to Adiga’s deft touch that Balram Halwai, his narrator, unfolds a tale of ambition and murder which dispelled all doubt and held me enthralled to its conclusion.

Halwai is an ambitious, able village boy who manages to bridge the gap between two symbiotic but diametrically different Indias. One is an emerging economic powerhouse, fuelled by American outsourcing and represented by gleaming cinemas and shopping malls. Its counterpoint is the rural ’darkness’, squalid, impoverished, filthy; teeming with the homeless and sick. In the gridlocked streets of Delhi these two countries merge and it is the cleavage between them that provides the motor for Adiga’s novel.

The narrator escapes…

A homecoming aimed at those who are already at home

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The rather monocultural shape which the SNP’s ‘Homecoming Scotland’ year seems to be assuming has been previously investigated by O’Neill (from whose article I have shamelessly pilfered the above image). From the outset it was clear that a rather kitsch reading of Scottish identity (which is after all particularly prescient for many nationalists) would predominate. In their defence one might posit that it is just such an interpretation which might chime most readily with ex pat tourists at whom the initiative was purportedly aimed.

Shane Greer, however, alleges that the Scottish Executive has briefed its chosen ad agency to promote the event only in Scottish publications. This seems a rather strange strategy to adopt if the aim is attracting visitors from around the world. Greer deduces that from the outset the year of homecoming was aimed merely at stoking sentimental nationalism amongst Scots voters before the proposed independence poll in 2010. It might however have been suppo…

Brutality rather than irrationality was Stalin's crime

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A number of news sources have picked up on television polls accompanying the Eemya Rossiya (Name of Russia) competition. A series of documentary programmes has examined the bona fides of top contenders and Stalin remains popular in the television vote. The BBC has used the opportunity to examine the dictator’s appeal to contemporary Russians.

One problem I have with this television report is the contention that the Kremlin is ‘rewriting history’ by sponsoring text books suggesting Stalin’s actions as Russian leader were ‘rational’. More nuanced western historians have come to the conclusion that rationality did underpin the tyrant’s actions, even if his methods were deplorably brutal.

Stalin was far from the unhinged paranoiac frequently depicted. He was quite aware that innocent people perished through his terrors, but also realised that his regime depended upon fear. I recently wrote about the Georgian’s enduring popularity amongst Russians on Three Thousand Versts. It is certai…

Osborne to announce Conservative tax cut strategy

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I previously recorded scepticism as to the efficacy of Labour’s 2.5% VAT cut, aimed at stimulating the ailing economy. Preliminary estimates indicate that in the run up to Christmas the government’s strategy proved an abject failure. Whilst shoppers are now responding to slashed sales’ prices, a tiny cut on most consumer goods proved neither here nor there.

In response George Osborne is preparing to unveil the Conservatives’ proposed tax cuts. At first glance these alternatives appear to make considerably more sense than Labour’s £12 billion scheme. These cuts will be funded, promising to mitigate the crippling burden of debt which the current government is intent on inflicting on Britain’s tax payers.

If Osborne becomes chancellor he will seek to cut National Insurance Contributions, which Labour has stealthily increased. Slashing NIC will benefit all earners as well as businesses, thus providing a real stimulus which finds its way directly into people’s pockets. Additionally…

Creative thinking from McNarry

David McNarry has formulated an ingenuous scheme to free up money in order to tackle the financial downturn. The executive could secure a substantial interest free loan from Westminster guaranteed by superfluous assets (as opposed to Parliament Buildings as the News Letter suggests). Having not examined McNarry’s proposals in detail I have little idea if they would work, but it certainly seems to be a piece of creative thinking from the MLA. Monies might be used to build infrastructure and boost the ailing constructions industry. Of course Alistair Darling might not agree, which would make McNarry's idea academic.

Boxing Day derbies

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Whatever family delights Christmas Day can provide, for me the essence of the season is Boxing Day Irish League football. It offers much the year's largest crowds and frequently it is a rare occasion for Northern Irish fans to feel that they are attending a 'proper' big match. I have spectated at a number of seasonal Big Two clashes, including the famous occasion when the sides took to the pitch with an invisible white ball on a snow white surface, but for me Boxing Day normally features Ballymena United versus Coleraine and all the local rivalry which that fixture entails.

Tomorrow Ballymena host the Gasmen at the Showgrounds hoping to extend a four game winning streak. Points have been at a premium for Roy Walker's men this season, but wins against Glentoran and Linfield suggest a big derby win in eminently possible. So hear's hoping that Kevin Kelbie bangs in a couple and sends Coleraine home with a sound beating. I'm convinced that the Sky Blues are not…

Merry Christmas to all readers and commenters

Although I don't intend to sign off for the rest of the year or anything dramatic, I will take this opportunity to wish all of you a good Christmas. Keep an eye on the blog though. I suspect I will feel the need to post something!

Cameron, Keynes, society and responsibility.

Burke’s Corner today examines the compatibility of Keynes and conservatism, urging conservatives to re-engage with Keynesian economics. For Burke’s Corner and the thinkers which it cites, the libertarian, free market strain which has predominated in conservative politics over a number of decades is an aberration. Instead, tracing its roots back to Aristotle via Disreali, Burke and Hume, this philosophy urges emphasis on society, its cohesion and protection. It is an encouraging doctrine for someone like me who has become utterly disgusted with the statist ambitions of the Labour party, but who found previous incarnations of the Conservative party somewhat uncompassionate as regards poverty and rather intolerant in other respects.

The current Conservative leader has shown every indication of sympathy with the communitarian argument. Against charges that David Cameron is developing a touchy feely conservatism which lacks authenticity, his supporters counter that it is conservatism …

What are your thoughts on 2008 and 2009?

At this time of year there are normally a plethora of retrospectives musing on the happenings of the previous 12 months. The credit crunch and the election of Barack Obama are two global events which will probably dominate most news and politics based assessments of 2008. There was also the small matter of a brief war which flared in the Caucasus following Georgian Prime Minister Mikhail Saaskashvili’s military adventurism.

In British politics David Davis won admiration for the courage of his resignation prompted by the issue of 42 day detention. In contrast the DUP shamefully supported Brown’s government as the legislation scraped through the Commons, causing many commentators to suppose the party had extracted some manner of bribe in exchange for its votes. The Conservative party looked to be galloping toward an unassailable lead and a possible landslide in the next Parliament, but Labour began to claw back ground and recorded a useful win in the Glenrothes by-election.

In Northe…

Conor Cruise O'Brien - his legacy

Lavish tributes have been paid to Conor Cruise O’Brien following his death last week. O’Brien was a man who succeeded in setting aside the assumptions of his tribe. An achievement which should not be underestimated.

Not only was O’Brien steadfast and unambivalent in his opposition to terror, but his realisation that unionism formed a rational and defensible political doctrine was a hugely valuable contribution to a more tolerant discourse in Ireland.

Maurice Hayes does not offered unqualified praise for O’Brien, but in his Irish Independent piece he does produce three paragraphs which neatly sum up his political legacy.

“CCOB's great contribution to modern Irish political debate -- apart from his implacable hounding of those who would in any way condone the use of violence -- was to force the recognition of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland as Unionists as well as Protestants.

He cut through the comfortable myths which had sustained the relatively passive anti-partiti…

Ruane inflicted an insult which NI public should not be expected to put up with

The Irish Times reports that a complaint has been lodged with the PSNI regarding Catriona Ruane’s loathsome address delivered at a West Belfast school prize giving. Certainly her remarks, praising terrorist hunger striker Bobby Sands, would fall foul of legislation aimed at eradicating the glorification of terrorism by any normal application of such criteria. It is unfortunately highly improbable that any charges will be brought.

Ulster Unionist education spokesman Basil McCrea summed up the incident rather neatly.

“It is a matter of profound shame that an Education Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive stood in front of schoolchildren and lauded a terrorist hunger striker. It is also incredibly disturbing that the Education Minister revealed frightening authoritarian tendencies by attacking those who dared to criticise a film that gave a historically inaccurate account of the Civil War.”

Ruane turned film critic at this gathering as well, heaping opprobrium upon those advancing …

February election looks even less likely as Conservative poll lead increases

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In the wake of a YouGov poll, conducted on behalf of the Daily Telegraph, Jonathan Isaby advises readers to forget about an election before 2010. The survey shows the Conservative Party pulling away from their Labour rivals and establishing a 7 point lead. In contrast the Guardian’s politics blog implies that CCHQ is nervous that Gordon Brown might yet go to the country.

I remain inclined toward Isaby’s version. I think it unlikely that the Prime Minister will be sufficiently confident to turn to the electorate within the next few months. In all likelihood Brown will attempt to sit out high unemployment next year in the hope that 2010 might see some light at the end of the tunnel. Despite the improbability of an early poll David Cameron is bound to keep his troops in fighting order in case the unexpected does happen.

As Three Thousand Versts has speculated before the election rumours can only benefit the opposition.

Glens stuffed!

I hope they ultimately win the league, but what a delight to see Glentoran vanquished by a late Kevin Kelbie strike at the oval yesterday! Ballymena may still be bottom but we're too good to go down. Good luck to both the Sky Blues and Glentoran on Boxing Day.

Provo Pravda on the skids?

Given that Irish language newspaper Lá Nua is owned by Belfast Media and its MD is Mairtin O Muilleoir, it is difficult to muster any real sympathy for its predicament as the last issue was printed this week. Muilleoir is a veteran provo supporter and frequently the newspapers which his group produce are little more than sectarian hate sheets, brimming with Sinn Féin propaganda. Perhaps Lá Nua was an exception (self-evidently I have never read it), but given its provenance I doubt it did much to increase the cross community appeal of the Irish language. Perhaps another publisher can provide Irish speakers with an alternative weekly paper, I hope so, but I have no hesitation in wishing any venture Muilleoir and his group touches a swift demise.

Speaking of odious republican hate rags, a piece on Slugger suggests that An Phoblacht, the provo newspaper which once lauded terrorist murders in its ‘war news’ section, is seeking donations after it survived an Ard Fheis motion to close it…

Why vote DUP? To back stupid Labour VAT cuts.

Last week the German Finance Minister poured scorn upon Alistair Darling’s 2.5% VAT cut, noting that it was an expensive and ineffective expedient, unlikely to get people spending. Nick Clegg believes the £12.5 billion which it costs would be better spent on direct employment through financing infrastructure. Conservatives argue that targeting National Insurance offers a more effective means to benefit business and get money into people’s pockets. Just about every expert on consumer trends in the UK has cast doubt on the likely efficacy of the government’s scheme.

So what does Nigel Dodds assess as a great benefit of DUP representation at Westminster? His party’s ability to wade in behind government in order to defend an expensive, ineffective, temporary sales tax cut, which will have to be paid back with interest, some time in the not so distant future. Perhaps the pressure of all those jobs Nigel is doing has effected his judgment. Maybe the prospect of adding European duties…

Education Minister lauds terror role model to school children

If it weren’t about Ruane you might greet this little gem with incredulity. Mark Devenport reports that the poorest member of a poor executive attended prize giving at St Colm’s High School in Poleglass in her capacity as Education Minister. In her remarks she then proceeded to stress the gratitude which students should feel toward IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who had paved the way for their brighter future!

So there we have it. A minister in Northern Ireland’s government abusing her position in order to commend as a role model to children a terrorist who starved himself to death. Simply shameful.

Will Brown adopt a Putinite approach to campaigning?

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Yesterday the Guardian’s Michael White poured cold water on the notion that there will be an election in 2009. He believes that Labour is destined to remain behind in the polls and the party will experience defeat in spring 2010,

“Labour's task is to govern with as much competence and dignity as it can muster in the storm, knowing that it will make a return to government in due course that much easier.”

His view represents a gloomy prognosis for Gordon Brown who will certainly not have an opportunity to lose more than one campaign as leader.

The Prime Minister’s predicament is exemplified by Iain Martin’s op-ed in today’s Telegraph. He portrays Brown as the eternal strategist, uncomfortable with front line campaigning and forever seeking excuses to avoid the country’s verdict.

Whatever the precise truth might be, the image of Brown as lofty technocrat, in stark contrast to the easy style of his opponent, will be employed to heighten the sense of a statist government grown remot…

Estonia campaign to persuade Russians to change their surnames

Another indication of the ethnic nationalist character of the Estonian government. The authorities in Tallinn are drafting legislation aimed at persuading ethnic Russians to change their surnames. This type of ‘integration policy’ in Baltic States is rarely remarked upon in the British press, despite its unpleasant character. If a minority, comprising 25% of a country’s population, were treated in the fashion Russians have been treated in Estonia and Latvia, in Western Europe, would the media react with such equanimity? Discrimination against Russians is normally given a by-ball in terms of media opinion and any discontent amongst the Russian population in these countries can then be conveniently blamed on Moscow interference.

Lord Empey?

Conservative Home is canvassing suggestions for new Lords, to be created if government changes any time soon. Michael Howard is a popular suggestion but Ulster Tory wants Reg Empey promoted from Knight to Lord. An interesting idea, although Sir Reg might prefer to get to Westminster as an MP. In which case East Belfast might not be the most fruitful hunting ground.

'Old stereotypes and caricatures' - Guardian's Russia report demolished.

Dmitry Peskov, from the office of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has taken a welcome hatchet to a lazy Guardian article entitled (inevitably) ‘Back in the USSR’. Luke Harding’s piece was inconsistent and silly, attempting to draw comparisons between VV Putin and Brezhnev and likening the current difficulties which Russia’s economy faces to the USSR’s stagnation in the 1970s.

The kernel of Harding’s argument is demolished in Peskov’s very first paragraph.

“The central charge in your article, that Russia is fast turning into the Soviet Union, is as unsustainable as it is unfair (Back to the USSR, 10 December). Indeed, your report's grudging admission that Russia now has a market economy and that our citizens have freedom of speech and travel - three fundamental differences between modern Russia and the Soviet Union - undermines any serious suggestion of a comparison between the two eras.”

It is a pleasure to read a calm, measured and reasoned rebuttal of any piece of hysteri…

No requirement for London neutrality on Union

Thanks to Gary who drew to my attention this nasty little editorial from Irish American interest newspaper ‘Irish Voice’. Lauding the DUP / SF carve-up, Niall O’Dowd refers to the accord between Conservatives and Ulster Unionists, preposterously, as a ‘potentially sinister development’. It is an article which revisits a series of common nationalist misapprehensions as to the nature of the Belfast Agreement already examined on Three Thousand Versts. Additionally, it highlights a phenomenon which has always been observable but has become increasingly apparent since the Conservative / UUP accord. The most conventional nationalists are much more comfortable, much less disorientated, by the DUP’s little Ulster sectional ‘unionism’ than the inclusive pan-UK vision which will be advanced by the new political force.

There is little point in reprising arguments which I have made exhaustively in previous pieces. The crux is that the British government is not required to maintain neutralit…

Conservatives should be good to go in February (almost everywhere!).

As rumours abound that Gordon Brown might call a snap general election in February, Iain Dale has been stoking the fire with some gossip (albeit gossip subsequently rebutted by the ad company concerned). Nick Robinson offers calm assessment of the likelihood of an early poll. He believes that, in the teeth of deep recession, the Prime Minister wants the option to go to the country in February, but is unlikely to use it whilst his party is still behind in opinion polls. This morning's Guardian ICM poll puts the Tories under 40% but still five points ahead of Labour. If the gap narrows further in January Brown would surely be tempted.

The Conservative party will push the notion that Brown is giving the date serious consideration. If an election is not then forthcoming, it should be possible to paint Labour’s leader as the man who ran away from the country – twice. If the rumours gain legs, and Cameron’s party will seek to ensure that they do, Brown could be irreparably damaged.…

Russia's difficulties with Stalinist past

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Given the recent sequestration of Memorial’s St Petersburg archive, an article by the organisation’s founder, Argeny Roginsky, examining his country’s attitude to Stalinism, is particularly apposite. He finds that Russia’s ‘historical memory’ of the dictator is both painful and ambivalent. Stalin’s crimes have not yet been confronted as they should be, because they raise insoluble questions as to who were the criminals and who were the victims during his rule, as well as interrogating the fabric of contemporary Russian identity in a manner which causes acute discomfort.

Although Russia has made some progress in coming to terms with the victimhood of those who suffered under Stalin, Roginisky argues that it has shown less fortitude in confronting the crimes implicit in that victim status. There has been insufficient legal acknowledgment of state terror as a crime and the perpetrators of Stalinist outrages have not undergone criminal proceedings. The difficulty, Roginsky contends, …

More help for 'professional takers' but workers feeling the pinch are left out.

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We are constantly being told that what is different about this particular economic crisis is that it is effecting us all. It is an especially tough time for those with low and middle incomes who are struggling to pay larger bills whilst their employers in turn tighten their own belts by denying salary increases. The economic imposition which has increased most exponentially for all households (and the effect is felt keenly by those on low and middle incomes) is paying energy bills for heat and light. Yet the Northern Ireland Executive’s much vaunted fuel poverty payment will apply only to those receiving pensions and income support!

It would be easy to come over a bit ‘Daily Mail’ on this issue, but frankly this package is not taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of these straightened times. Those people who are already provided for by the state get more and those who are working hard but find themselves without enough money to pay the bills get nothing. Surely t…

Hunters becomes Hills

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A vital text message has just informed me that the dreadful ‘Deez’ restyling which afflicted Hunters, then was almost killed off, has finally been properly dispatched to the unwise pub makeover shelter in the sky. The uninitiated may not appreciate that I have been charting the saga of a Belfast pub, known in its various incarnations as the Ashley, Hunters, Vaughans and then Deez. I bemoaned its rebirth as Deez, hankering after the original Hunters. Deez did indeed shut down for a period of months, but just weeks ago it appeared to have reopened without any rebranding.

Now, I’m pleased to announce Deez is dead – long live the rather oddly named ‘Hills: the Best’. The newly opened pub apparently features a picture of George in his Northern Ireland top (although as far as I’m aware without any IFA wank wipes) at its door. Obviously as this news has only just reached me I have yet to visit this establishment. Watch this space!

Buy your official Northern Ireland inflatable wife!

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Northern Ireland tops are selling for £15 a pop this Christmas via the Irish Football Association shop. A few years ago there was a drought of available merchandise for the discerning fan to purchase and the organisation’s web sales operation was non-existent.

Whether a surfeit of commercial enthusiasm has infected Windsor Avenue this year, I am not entirely certain, but there are some interesting products for sale on the IFA’s website.

For when Ballymena reach the Irish Cup final? The charmingly entitled ‘wank wipes’.

For those long bus rides to Setanta games? The ‘Nookii’ game.

And the piece de resistance, for when your wife leaves you after too many GAWA away trips! An inflatable wife.

Who said Howard Wells was the moderniser and Raymond Kennedy a return to type? The last time I bought tickets from IFA HQ I received two free packets of Tayto crisps. What will my San Marino tickets be accompanied by?

(Sits back and waits to see what Google searches are referred to this site)

My aching sides

I could have trailed through this Business Post article about the Belfast Giants pulling apart the absolute nonsense which it alleges of established sports in Northern Ireland (you know, the ones that people from here actually compete in). I could have pointed out the vastly overblown claims which it makes for the NIO’s almost erstwhile ice hockey team and the fact that it was nothing but a passing craze which has gone out of fashion. Luckily I don’t have to, because this paragraph is more effective (and hilarious) than any ridicule which I could pour upon either the article or the Belfast Giants.

“Jim Gillespie, who has poured $3 million (€2.2 million) of his own money into the Belfast Giants ice hockey team, said the survival of his team was essential for the long-term stability of the peace process.”

Hoy an emblem of UK's stengths

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Chris Hoy followed up his Olympic cycling triumphs by steadfastly refusing to allow Alex Salmond or his Scottish nationalist cause to bask in reflected glory. Hoy’s unionism was more demonstrative than articulated, but nevertheless he made it perfectly clear that he considered himself both Scottish and British and that his medals were won as a Scotsman proudly representing the UK team.

Last night Hoy became the nation’s ‘Sports’ Personality of the Year’, emphasising the pride which the whole of the Kingdom feels in one of its greatest ever Olympians. The cyclist was visibly moved to have won this award in a year when so many other sports’ men and women achieved so highly. It was an honour which suggested much broader kinship between Britons than nationalists would like us to believe exists.

Hoy (and the Team GB cycling team as a whole) offers an example of what the United Kingdom can achieve through the combined efforts of its constituent parts. He provided the talent which harn…

You can't be Scottish and British! SNP subscribes to Republican Sinn Féin's take on identity.

The minority SNP government in Scotland wishes to make it impossible to select both Scottish and British in the ethnicity section of the 2011 census. The people of Scotland would consequently be corralled into accepting nationalist absolutes when describing their identity. It represents nothing less than a further assault on the ability to define oneself in terms of a plurality of identities. It is a disingenuous one at that, seeking to deprive respondents of the option, rather than persuading them not to choose it.

Scottish Unionist highlights a particularly broadminded exposition of the SNP’s stance.

Why the human rights report has become a unionist / nationalist issue. And why unionists should oppose its recommendations.

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The US constitution describes as self-evident truth the ‘unalienable’ rights of man – consisting of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are Lockean ‘natural rights’ with which man is born possessed and they can only be removed from him by the actions of a third party. Although ‘natural rights’ still comprise a set of basic human entitlements which it should be government’s duty to balance and protect, in modern democratic societies there are a series of additional civic or social rights which have been developed by law. These may complement the protection of inalienable rights, for instance the right to a free trial, or may be additional legal rights developed by custom and consensus, for instance the right to an education. Human rights legislation is a framework whereby aspirations toward protecting these rights, inalienable, or consensual, are laid out. What human rights legislation should not be required to do, is prescribe the means by which government must real…

I blog here, I blog there, I blog every .... you know the rest.

This is article is written for Our Kingdom and it can be found here.

Lord Smith makes a handful of curious points pertaining to realignment of the Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties, currently being effected by David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey. The Liberal Democrat peer appears confused as to the nature of the Conservative and Unionist force which the two parties intend to create and inconsistent in his criticisms of Cameron’s unionism.

Reconstituting links between Conservatives and Ulster Unionists will not, as Lord Smith contends, further polarise politics in Northern Ireland, still less aggravate increased dissident paramilitarism. If anything the alliance will exercise a moderating influence on unionist politics, shaping a secular, inclusive movement, propounding the values of the Union. The new force will not be about exclusion, or representing one community, it will be about making a case for Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom which appeals to everyone in th…

Tag-team Salmond bashing

Yesterday Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell welcomed the Calman Commission’s interim report and ridiculed the SNP’s rival ‘national conversation’ in a question to Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy.

"We share the Secretary of State’s welcome for the Calman commission. Does he note the contrast between the application and thoroughness of the interim Calman report and the so-called national conversation, which appears to be little more than a taxpayer-funded blog site for insomniac nationalists? Does he share my disappointment not only with the content but with the tone of the First Minister’s response to the interim report? Will he therefore use his best endeavours to persuade the First Minister that now is the time to show that he is man not a mouse—to use the First Minister’s own analogy—by abandoning the national conversation, which does not have the support of the Scottish Parliament, and by engaging, as many in the Scottish Government wish to do, in the Calman …

Trimble cabinet post would be on merit

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A prophet is not without honour save in his own country. Despite his contribution to a peaceful, stable Northern Ireland, Lord Trimble is frequently evoked as ‘bête noire’ by both main communities here. The DUP continues to demonise anything in which the peer is involved, oblivious to the irony that it has now wholeheartedly embraced Trimble’s power-sharing project. Nationalist hostility is perhaps, on the surface, more surprising, but it is in large part based on deep seated suspicion of unionism which is articulate and forward thinking, and to a lesser extent on personal antipathies toward the man’s sometimes frosty demeanour.

Attacks from both sides have accompanied suggestions that Trimble might play a role in any Conservative government formed after the next election. Nicholas Watt predicts that he is likely to become attorney general, a post which has been mooted before and which a predecessor as Ulster Unionist leader, Edward Carson, held previously. Lord Trimble certainl…

Nein bitte!

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck (I’m afraid I can’t manage an umlaut) has rather neatly summed up the efficacy of Alistair Darling’s VAT cut.

"Are you really going to buy a DVD player because it now costs £39.10 instead of £39.90? All this will do is raise Britain's debt to a level that will take a generation to work off."

100% correct. The cut is an expensive expedient which will do very little to stimulate spending.

A proposed Human Rights Bill that cheapens the concept of human rights

The NI Human Rights Commission’s report has arrived (PDF). Broadly it consists of (who’d have thunk it?) provisions which are already enshrined in the Human Rights’ Act via the European Convention, but to this framework it adds supplementary ‘rights’ which are considered (if the HRC has stuck by its remit) to be uniquely required in Northern Ireland. In his leader’s speech at the weekend Sir Reg Empey highlighted the danger of removing matters from the competence of Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly to be decided instead by unelected, unaccountable judges. Set aside the self-righteous platitudes and this document proposes a very dangerous encroachment into the remit of elected politicians.

Having quickly read the recommendations, paying most attention to the additional supplementary rights proposed for Northern Ireland, it is clear that the Commission has strayed far from the remit of human rights and is seeking to impose binding social, educational, housing and employ…

Don't be DUPed again! 'No concession unionism' grants IRA terror shrine.

Edwin Poots will be happy. The Maze site is to be developed after all. Although the Terrordome sports stadium is to be shelved for at least four years, the DUP has granted republicans a terrorist museum as part of its deal to get devolution back on track. With Irish American funding to be ploughed into its development, and Sinn Féin as its consistent champion, obviously the ‘Conflict Resolution Centre’ will be a bastion of good sense and objectivity.

Another triumph for the DUP’s fabled defence of unionism.

Effective unionist representation at Westminster? DUP duck Speaker division.

Unionist Lite has dealt with Nigel Dodds’ expression of pompous concern about ‘maximising unionist representation at Westminster’. O’Neill points out in his piece that Dodds has only managed to ‘represent unionism at Westminster’ in 45% of divisions.

Yesterday the House of Commons debated a matter directly relevant to the nature of Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom. The debate, on the Speaker’s role in events surrounding the Metropolitan Police’s search of Damian Green’s Westminster office, dealt with elemental issues concerning the type of democracy which we have in the UK.

The House considered how free MPs in this country are to do their job unhindered and how effectively their ability to hold the executive to account is being upheld. An amendment, which would have allowed a Commons’ Inquiry Committee to consider the incident prior to the conclusion of the police’s investigation, was defeated by four votes. A clear reverse for Parliamentary scrutiny on a crucial …

O'Loan and Wilson singing from the same hymnsheet

The forthcoming Conservative and Ulster Unionist political force has underwent further broadsides from both the DUP and SDLP. In fact the SDLP’s North Antrim MLA, Declan O’Loan, has made a perverse statement contending that ‘more hope for the true future of unionism’ now lies with Democratic Unionists, as opposed to the UUP. Jeffrey Peel wryly notes that the concordance which the DUP appears to have reached with Irish nationalists on this subject, offers compelling evidence to Ulster Unionists and Conservatives that they are doing something right.

Although I had ambitions to write about other topics today, two press releases, one from O’Loan and one from the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, encapsulate so neatly, on one hand nationalism’s failure to come to terms with consequences of accepting the principle of consent and on the other, the DUP’s abject failure to envisage unionism which is not defined by its entrenchment in one community, that I feel compelled to post once more on the Conservat…

Raid on archive of Stalinist atrocities

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I have written previously of the valuable work which the organisation Memorial carries out in Russia. With its roots in the glasnost era, Memorial has consistently striven to facilitate Russians who wish to remember and mark human rights abuses which scarred the Soviet era. In a state where many people have an understandably equivocal attitude to the past, the task has often been difficult.

I was saddened, therefore, to read in Sunday’s paper that Memorial’s St Petersburg office has been raided and important archives of Stalinist atrocities removed. Sean observes that information on why this raid might have taken place is thin on the ground. The Observer report suggests the authorities are implying there is a connection to an article accused of inciting racial hatred in the newspaper ‘Novy Peterburg’.

Whatever the motivation of the raid might be, Memorial is an organisation involved in a laudable project. The archive which has been seized details repression of many thousands of…

This deal is not about exclusion

I had not intended to post further about David Cameron’s appearance at the UUP’s annual conference. Reading some nationalist interpretations of the Conservative leader’s address and the implications which they drew from his remarks, however, I feel a little more has to be said on the subject of Cameron ‘abandoning’ of a so-called doctrine of ‘neutrality’.

It is important to reiterate, (as Gerry Moriarty recognises in his Irish Times piece) nothing that Cameron said from the platform on Saturday was in any respect incompatible with the Belfast Agreement, nor does it compromise the requirement that Irish nationalism’s legitimate aspirations should be recognised and respected.

The usual shrill republican voices have been haranguing UUP / Conservative efforts on Slugger O’Toole. But sober commentators too have raised concerns. In particular, Damian O’Loan avers that Cameron’s speech is based on misrepresentation of the Belfast Agreement.

“The nature of consociationalism is that it al…

Cameron feels the noise at UUP conference

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Saturday’s Ulster Unionist Party conference was an exciting event. From early morning there was a buzz around the Ramada Hotel which was not solely attributable to the political stardust conferred by a high profile visitor. A deal with the Conservative Party has instilled in Ulster Unionists a new sense of purpose and SF / DUP’s lamentable performance in government has convinced many that voters will respond to the ‘new politics’ which are on offer.

David Cameron will lead the new political force which his party’s alliance with the UUP creates. The sustained, spontaneous applause which greeted his arrival in the hotel’s conference hall, suggests that the vast majority of Ulster Unionist party members welcome his leadership. He duly delivered a carefully calibrated speech which was designed to buoy the unionist audience and set out the political vision which has informed his decision to seek alignment with Sir Reg Empey’s party.

At the heart of the deal lies Cameron and Empey’s mu…