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Showing posts from January, 2008

Commissioners' statement exacerbates unionist scepticism

Newton Emerson’s withering cynicism over the four newly appointed Victims Commissioners is forged into amusing analogy in his latest Irish News column. Meanwhile the new Commission itself has got as far as an introductory press release before providing persuasive evidence for the view that its composition belies a revisionist agenda.

Patricia MacBride is one of the four appointees who so compelled the First and Deputy First Ministers with their excellence at interview, that the number of available posts were quadrupled. In her mini-biography for the delectation of press and public she describes her brother Tony as an “IRA volunteer who was killed by the SAS on active service in 1984”.

Justifiably this description has provoked a good deal of anger. Tony McBride was killed whilst attempting to plant a bomb with the intention of maiming and killing. Now I will not attempt to argue that the McBride family are not therefore victims of the Troubles. They were robbed of a relation by a m…

Changes in tone should not be dismissed

Dmitry Medvedev has begun his campaign for election to the Russian presidency using language which is in stark contrast to the often belligerent utterances of his mentor Vladimir Putin. On Tuesday he delivered a speech at the Association of Russian Lawyers of whose Board of Trustees Medvedev is the chairman. In this speech he emphasised the centrality of the rule of law to the Russian state and affirmed his intention to put the individual at the centre of development of Russia.

Medvedev began campaigning in earnest last Tuesday after officially registering as a candidate the day before. His speech at the Civic Forum, an amalgamation of various public organisations representing a cross-section of Russia’s developing civil society, similarly concerned itself with ideas of freedom, social responsibility and justice. These concepts have often been portrayed as inimical to the vertical authority which Vladimir Putin favoured.

Medvedev speaks warmly and approvingly of progress made under…

SDLP nearer to opposition, but the UUP can't reconcile inconsistencies this time

A genuinely defining moment for the development of oppositional politics presented itself in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday and alas Ulster Unionism appears to have been rather left behind. The Programme for Government was accepted by 60 votes to 24 and the SDLP’s MLAs were numbered among the 24 dissenters (with the exception of Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie). The UUP in contrast voted for the PfG after tabling an amendment proposing that the document be subject to review and revision. It appears that voting on the Draft Budget will divide along similar lines.

The SDLP tabled a more comprehensive amendment which would have reinstated the priorities of a Shared Future, the policy document which has been shelved in the wake of devolution. The Programme for Government has been identified as an imprecise and aspirational document on this blog before and it seems only appropriate that it should be altered to reflect a greater emphasis on sharing, rather than the…

Kane's aim is true on Victims' Commissioners

Alex Kane is in good form in his Newsletter column this week. Having thoroughly excoriated the Bill of Rights project and examined its fallacious suppositions and disingenuous motivations he moved on to consider the appointment of four victims’ commissioners rather than one.

Kane is justifiably cynical about the need for four commissioners and the reasons behind such an appointment.

“It will, as the other creations have done, attempt to impose an equality agenda upon the matter in an effort to convince us that everyone is deserving of equal treatment because everyone is equally guilty.”

Kane’s conclusion is particularly pertinent.

“Am I the only one left in Northern Ireland who believes that the blame for most of the problem should be placed upon the doorsteps of republican and loyalist paramilitaries? And am I the only one left who believes that these "former" paramilitaries exploit the existence of commissions, consortiums and consultations entirely for their own self-jus…

Overhyped and overhere - No Country for Old Men

Some time ago I confessed to finding Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ one of the most over-hyped novels that I had read for some time. Having watched No Country for Old Men on Friday evening, I’m bound to say that the adaptation of a McCarthy novel now becomes one of the most over-hyped films I have seen for a very long time.

The film basically unfolds a great deal of violence centring on 3 men which ensues from a botched drug deal. A Vietnam vet played by Josh Brolin stumbles upon the aftermath of a shoot-out between border drug-smugglers and makes off with a bag full of money. A big man with strange hair and an undecipherable name has been dispatched to recover the money and the final member of the triumvirate is Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff.

The film alludes to a symbiosis between the harsh Texan landscape and violence. It hints at being concerned with fate and compulsion. Ultimately however the film comprises a great deal of extremely stylised, artfully filmed violence, a few wise …

Molloy claims Sinn Fein never endorsed violence!

The audacity of Sinn Fein revisionism never fails to awe and amaze. On Slugger Pete Baker has drawn attention to a statement by Francie Molloy which sets the bar for rewriting history higher than anyone would seriously have imagined it could go. During an attempt to hijack the legacy of the civil rights movement (whose 40th anniversary is imminent) for republicans on Hearts and Minds, Molloy claimed “our party never endorsed violence at any stage”.

The statement is so preposterous that it almost belies the seriousness of SF’s incessant attempts to excise and edit elements of their own past and the history of the Northern Irish Troubles in general. There seems to be a belief amongst republicans that if they repeat their lies often enough eventually they will come to be accepted as fact.

Sinn Fein’s attempts to wrest the heritage of the Civil Rights Association from the SDLP are predictable and typical of the republican movement’s campaign to rewrite history. There is an ironic sym…

SNP's interpretation of poll reflects only their narrow conception of identity

O’Neill has picked up on the SNP’s slant on the results of the British Social Attitudes survey which has detected a decline in the propensity of people to define themselves principally as British. O’Neill quite rightly points out that the nationalists’ interpretation of the results reflects their own narrow conception of identity, rather than any meaningful rejection of a multifaceted, multilayered identity which includes a sense of Britishness.

A healthy and vibrant Union does not require its citizens to define themselves “only or mainly” as British. On the contrary, people in the United Kingdom may adopt any number of cultural, ethnic or national allegiances, without dissipating their sense of political allegiance to the Union. It is only when the prescriptive and political nationalist reading of identity is applied that “only or mainly” becomes a relevant category in assessing the strength of Britishness.

O’Neill cites my post on Michael Longley’s thoughts on identity and widens…

Michael Longley and identity

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It is a rare and noteworthy event when BBC Northern Ireland produces a regional programme for which it is worth disrupting the national schedules. Often the sole purpose of local programming appears to be displacing Match of the Day or Question Time (I do appreciate that an easy solution is acquiring a digibox).

Last night the Corporation broadcast just such a rarity in the form of Fergal Keane’s documentary about Belfast poet Michael Longley. The programme lingered on the relationship of place and poetry in Longley’s work and in particular the manner in which Northern Ireland’s troubles shaped the poet’s output.

Although the form of Longley’s poetry owes more to English and classical traditions, its content and themes are grounded in the natural beauty of Ireland and on the troubled history of Northern Ireland. As a correspondent who covered the Troubles in Belfast it was the latter which dominated the interviews which Keane conducted.

I was perhaps most interested in Longley’s thou…

RIRA, RIRA pants on fire!

The Ballymena Times carries a story regarding dropped charges for possession of bombs by Real IRA members. These characters have been involved in various activities around Ballymena in recent years and really do conform to the stereotype of lowlife thuggery which dissident republicanism brings to mind.

The story includes several eyebrow raising details, not least of which is the revelation that when the house containing incendiary devices was raided the defendants allegedly hid them down their trousers. Is that a bomb down your trousers or are you just pleased to see me?

There have been suggestions that the thug at the centre of the case, Paddy Murray, is being protected and may be an informer within the group. Of course Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay interprets this as a “securocrat” plot to sabotage the peace process! Old habits die hard (your party are on the policing boards Daithi).

Certainly there should be concerns that such a risible group cannot simply be rounded up and put in pr…

That's why we don't need a Bill of Rights

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I was peaceably munching on a sandwich in a Lisburn Road café when a Metro bus adorned with a full length advert for the nascent Bill of Rights pulled up at a set of traffic lights. Having managed to retain my composure for long enough to swallow the masticated pulp of chorizo sausage and sun dried tomato, I naturally embarked on an extensive rant about the rank stupidity of these adverts and the concept of a BoR in general.

I do not wish to repeat ad nauseum the argument against the need for a Bill of Rights, but what I will say once again is the following – JUST BECAUSE THE WORD ‘RIGHTS’ IS IN THE TITLE DOES NOT MAKE IT ANY MORE NECESSARY OR SELF-EVIDENTLY ‘A GOOD THING’. And in that sentence we dispel the entirety of the rights lobby’s argument. But let us look at little more closely at the garbage that our taxes are paying for to be painted on buses and hoardings.

“A third of children are living in poverty – that’s why we need a Bill of Rights”

Exactly what “right” is going to ab…

The destruction of the American Dream

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When George Gillett and Tom Hicks emerged as the likely owners of Liverpool FC they received a surprisingly warm welcome from supporters. Desperation to re-visit past championship glories perhaps made Koppites more susceptible to the Americans’ honeyed words. Hicks and Gillett were quick to describe themselves as merely “custodians” of a football institution and their apparent humility and new found fandom stilled the sceptical voices who suggested that the pair had no understanding of the game, were not as cash rich as the alternative bidders from Dubai and that they would finance their takeover by saddling the club with a great deal of debt.

Already it appears that these sceptics were the more astute judges of the duo’s bid. Perhaps the most surprising factor in the whole affair is that people are so surprised that the deal has gone so bad so quickly. At a very early stage it became clear that the money to buy Liverpool was not readily available and that the takeover depended on …

Hell hath no fury like a DUPer scorned

The DUP’s hypocrisy has been well chronicled by Ulster Unionist supporters and those of other parties, but naturally enough it has caused particular angst amongst those who have left the party because of it. The irony is that these former DUP members are in many cases acknowledging an analysis which was being advanced by UUP commentators some time ago.

Thus we have the fulminations of Councillor Robin Stirling during a debate in the chambers of Ballymena Borough Council as it resumed its business for the year 2008. Stirling lingers on obscure points of theology the casual reader may choose to skim, but his identification of both political and religious hypocrisy is entirely accurate. The only slight irony is that when Stirling points out “we may recall that when David Trimble spoke of 'No Alternative' he was greeted by howls of derision and cries of 'Lundy! Lundy! Lundy! But who is the Lundy now?” and “he presented a bogus resistance to the Belfast Agreement and then s…

Russian foreign office and Britain must reach a compromise

The British Council in Russia has found itself a pawn in the game between two foreign offices. A row over the council, which operates as the cultural arm of the British Embassy has been escalated once again with Stephen Kinnock’s arrest being cited as an example of increased intimidation against its personnel.

Britain meanwhile has refused to comply with Russian law either by designating the Council properly as a diplomatic mission or complying with tax requirements for non-governmental organisations.

The row between the two countries which has caused this situation is two sided. Britain for its part has failed to extradite Chechen terrorist Akhmed Zakayev and robber baron Boris Berezovsky. On the other hand the Litvinenko affair is well documented and the Russian authorities have not cooperated satisfactorily with the UK to attempt to being the perpetrators to justice.

These damaged relations are regrettable, but the two countries have too many common interests to allow this situat…

Society isn't healing - neutrality and integration are on the back foot

It is not a regular occurrence for me to agree wholeheartedly with a group of churchmen, but five Protestant clerics from north Belfast have identified rather neatly some of the most pressing concerns about the carve-up which Northern Ireland government has become. The article that the five signatories have produced identifies a distinct lack of emphasis on integration, community relations or sharing in the Draft Programme for Government. The shelving of the policy initiative A Shared Future is symbolic of this indifference to creating anything other than a divided society.

Such a tendency has long been detected by those who view the DUP-SF twin nationalisms axis as little more than a sectarian partitioning of interests in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein in particular is pursuing a policy of separate but equal. The motivation of republicans is simple enough. Shared and neutral spaces mean that dissatisfaction and disillusionment with Northern Ireland’s constitutional status dissipat…

Liam Neeson's bizarre hair

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I couldn't help noticing amongst the tumult of publicity which Liam Neeson attracted on his return to Belfast to see off the Lyric Theatre, that Ballymena's most celebrated export is currently sporting a hair do that would look more at home on an Russian babushka. I'm no great expert, but this is either a terrible toupee or an ill-advised dye job! Fair play to Liam, he's obviously not expending much of his Hollywood millions on hair stylists!

Kite Runner - movie makes more sense than the book

On Friday night I went to see the film of Kite Runner with a degree of scepticism. I had not, you see, bought into the universal acclaim accorded Hosseini’s 2003 novel. My opinion was that the depiction of an Afghan childhood was strong and that the book evoked late 1970s Afghanistan with a great deal of atmosphere, that the American section of the novel was somewhat weaker and that the crowd-pleasing orphan recovering thriller tacked unto the end was unnecessary, rather silly and cheapened the whole. The Kite Runner could have formed a good novella, but then it wouldn’t have sold millions of copies.

In actual fact the elements which I objected to most strongly in the book, make an odd type of sense on the big screen. The story retained the same problems, but the format of Holywood blockbuster somehow sustains unlikely and contrived occurrences much more readily than a novel which in its opening sections had aspired to literary fiction. Whether it was because I knew what to expe…

No not like Rooney, like Steven Gerrard

Apologies for slow blogging this week. I have managed to break a metatarsal in my right foot. At present I am sitting with my leg propped on a bin at an agonising angle, wondering for just how long I can maintain my will to stay alive. The leg room under my desk is paltry enough at the best of times.

I have once before broken a bone. That was when I was 8 years old and I contrived to be knocked over by a Mini Metro. A crowd of onlookers assembled where I’d been thrown unto the footpath as I strenuously insisted that I was fine, would continue my passage home and then promptly collapsed in agony.

On that occasion I was playing football on my crutches within three days. On Monday night I had to stop twice attempting to navigate 300 yards to the restaurant at the top of the street. Two days later my arms feel like they might imminently drop off, I have blisters developing on my palms (insert your own joke here) and I’m seriously considering having my legs amputated at the knee and …

Worthington set to stay until 2010

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Nigel Worthington will be manager of Northern Ireland for the forthcoming World Cup qualifying campaign. A two year contract will elapse after the finals in South Africa in 2010.

From the outset of Worthington’s tenure as manager, I have been sceptical about his capacity to being the best out of a team constructed and inspired by Lawrie Sanchez. I’ve disagreed with his tactics, questioned his motivational qualities and been alarmed by a laxness in discipline which seemed to accompany his succession.

Worthington has secured this contract on the basis of improved performances in the final three games of the group after a disastrous opening to his reign. In particular a win against good Danish opposition and a point away against Sweden suggest that the team has not lost entirely the qualities which brought them such success under Lawrie with Worthington’s ascent to the helm.

I acknowledge that the new manager has effected a marked improvement after his first three games in charge. …

Contrasting fortunes but managers stick together

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Ballymena United boss Tommy Wright has been recognised for the startling turnaround he has affected at the club. The Sky Blues’ manager has been awarded with a deserved Harp Manager of the Month award for December. As you will observe, the trophy for this achievement features some manner of bizarre hexagonal pattern reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway.

Wright turned down the opportunity to take up a position as Norwich City’s goalkeeping coach last Friday. He will remain instead at the Ballymena Showgrounds and attempt to extend United’s 12 game unbeaten run to 13 as we face Newry City in the Irish Cup on Saturday. A boisterous Ballymena support is expected to roar on their team, given the early departure of several buses on Saturday morning.

These are changed times from the beginning of the season when Wright’s charges went on a 6 game losing streak. It is therefore unsurprising to read that Tommy feels some solidarity with Sam Allardyce, who was sacked from Wright’s old club, …

In the interests of balance

Just to prove that not all nationalists are of Feeney’s ilk O’Neill has drawn to my attention a fine thoughtful article from Conn Corrigan at Open Democracy. The gist is that Corrigan believes the Republic of Ireland should re-enter the Commonwealth, re-establishing a natural link and simultaneously providing a powerful persuader to unionists that a united Ireland would be a friendlier home for those who consider themselves British.

In common with O’Neill, I would welcome the Republic rejoining the Commonwealth, but I would contest the notion that there is a compelling argument for a united Ireland or that this would be significantly strengthened by Commonwealth membership. I also believe that there are stronger incentives for remaining part of the UK than Corrigan allows and that civic politics allows for a stronger emotional link with the idea of Britishness than he acknowledges.

Nevertheless, the article is scrupulously argued from the nationalist perspective and shows that there …

Brian Feeney: "because I say so"

Brian Feeney really is becoming almost a parody of himself. He is a venomous little snake, basking in the sunshine of his own conceit, firing off poisonous invective haranguing everyone who isn’t Brian for their rank stupidity. Feeney never provides evidence for anything because the fact that Feeney says it should be authority enough.

Now whether Brian is a bigot or not is a judgment which I shall leave to your own discretion, but what is perfectly clear is that he detests unionists. There is no trace of a desire for understanding and tolerance in Feeney’s nationalism. He is of the old fashioned school that views unionism as an illogical aberration born only of stupidity. His rationale seems to be along the lines that if he and his ilk berate unionists for their stupidity for long enough, we will finally see the error of our ways.

Feeney’s latest column is certainly a classic of the genre. He lectures unionists for opposing a Human Rights Bill but his argument boils down to ‘you …

The Whisperers

Staying on the topic of books, I am currently reading an immense work about private lives in Stalin’s Russia. Orlando Figes has already written some of the best contemporary history of the country. A People’s Tragedy is the most complete account of the Russian Revolution and the Civil War which I have read. Natasha’s Dance is a magisterial cultural history and is required reading for anyone who aspires to begin to understand Russia or Russians.

The Whisperers synthesises countless personal histories of those who lived in Stalin’s Russia. Throughout this myriad of recollection and anecdote are woven several more substantial narratives following the life stories of, for example the poet Konstantin Simonov. The effect is in turns awful, compelling and enlightening.

Figes challenges the perceived wisdom that the terror of the 1930s was an outburst of illogical paranoia. His view is that the death and arrests that characterised that period were born of a terrible but rational campaig…

A fancy word for walking around strange places

Will Self’s fiction often lingers in urban hinterlands. He is a laureate of the strangeness of the functional. His prose describes hospital buildings, underpasses, flyovers. Anywhere indeed where there is a pervading sense of dislocation.

It is hardly surprising to learn therefore that the author likes to walk in such environments. And being Will Self, he has a rather long and prohibitive word for these danders – “psychogeography”.

I stand to be corrected, but I believe what he may be trying to say is that many urban environments are not designed with the pedestrian in mind and that therefore walking in them is a strange experience which reclaims that geography as something experienceable on an immediate human level. In undertaking these walks Self is re-establishing a sense of place which can easily be lost in the hustle and bustle of merely living our lives in functional topographies.

If you need justification for drunkenly wandering up the hard shoulder of a motorway, if you’v…

Is Russia in danger of a Chekist coup?

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An interesting opinion piece appears in today’s Moscow Times penned by Anders Aslund. Aslund draws parallels between the succession which will take place when Dmitry Medvedev assumes the role of President of the Russian Federation this year and the situation which pertained in 1991 when members of the Soviet government launched a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev.

His premise is that the ex-KGB elite promoted to power under Putin will be victims of the changeover and indeed already effectively no longer enjoy their mentor’s patronage. The diminution of power for the security organs and their ex-members could cause a coup.

Although Aslund is correct in identifying that both situations have in common a security elite threatened with substantially diminished influence, it is a leap too far to compare the succession of the new president with 1991. At that time the KGB’s influence was not the only prescient factor in fomenting the coup. The structures of the Union were being changed and …

Bradley-Eames Consultative Group gets off to a bad start

The Consultative Group on the Past has commenced its meetings in inauspicious fashion, by suggesting that the British Government may be asked to accept that the IRA’s campaign of terror and that waged by other paramilitary groups constituted a war. There is more at stake than semantics because this definition is likely to facilitate a process whereby paramilitaries are granted amnesty in return for details about their activities.

Such a move would pander to republican revisionism which attempts to retrospectively legitimise their tawdry campaign of violence. The attempt to justify their activities by claiming that they were fighting for human rights has been discussed and dismissed below, but attempting to equate murders of civilians, police officers and off duty soldiers with acts of war by a bona fide army is another strand of the republican agenda.

To defer to this agenda is not necessary. The Alliance’s Stephen Farry is correct when he contends that there are other methods of in…

Jesse James is an impressive film

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“The film you are about to see is a very long film. And in its length it acquires, I think, a sort of lyricism.”

This isn’t what I want to hear before I watch a film. But despite the initial scepticism engendered by QFT’s extremely nervous expert and his rambling introduction, I expect The Murder of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to require some beating for the title of best film I see in 2008. And we’ve reached what ……. January the 7th?

The film is a subtle retelling of one of the American west’s most enduring tales. Andrew Dominik’s movie portrays a waning James and deals with the ambivalence of hero worship as well as the complex relationship between assassins and their victims. The besotted assassin Robert Ford’s admiration is tempered with jealousy and he hopes to acquire, in his murder of the Brad Pitt character, some of his fame and notoriety. His infatuation with James is inextricably linked with parallel feelings of hatred and resentment. For his part James is s…

Why scepticism about a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights is justified

I have been following with a degree of interest the debate which has sprung up about the proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland following an editorial in the Church of Ireland Gazette opposing the introduction of such a bill. The controversy about whether a church newspaper should have been commenting on the issue does not particularly interest me. I am more concerned with the substance of the arguments about the bill.

Basic human rights are already enshrined in European and domestic law, so in actuality the proposal is to prepare a special set of rights specific to Northern Ireland. Inevitably any bill which became law would result in a deluge of court proceedings as lawyers test the strictures of the new legislation and a corpus of case law establishes itself.

Given an increased tendency to frame every issue in terms of rights and in particular the republican movement’s propensity to forward this agenda, there are justifiably those who remain unconvinced of the need for a b…

Rafa's getting it badly wrong at Anfield

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No matter what enjoyment you might occasionally derive from it, no matter how well things may seem to be going on one front, football will always conspire to bring its share of abject misery. Thus with Ballymena winning regularly and internationals in abeyance for the time being, Liverpool are contriving to throw away their championship challenge for yet another season in the most frustrating fashion.

Rafa Benitez and his side have managed to fritter away an encouraging start due to a series of baffling decisions, inexcusable performances and failures to capitalise on territorial dominance. The stark facts are that the Reds have not only thrown away points against sides they should have beaten, they have also failed to beat all three teams with whom they should be contesting the league title. Take away three good results in Europe and a handful of convincing wins against poor opposition and Liverpool have done nothing right this season.

The responsibility for this underachievement…

Campbell backs Orange Hall arsonists?

I couldn't help but chuckle at this quote from the Derry Journal.

The North must become a 'warm house' for Orangeism, East Derry MP Gregory Campbell has said.

One wonders how much warmer it can get?

Alex Kane on why the DUP could weaken the Union in 2008

I was in the process of preparing a post on Alex Kane’s thoughts on the political outlook for unionism in 2008 on Monday, but then unexpectedly I escaped my workplace in mid afternoon with my exit resembling the proverbial hell-warmed bat. I notice that O’Neill has since picked up on the columnist’s urge for Northern Irish unionists to resist the nationalism becoming prevalent throughout the UK. It is certainly a fitting message in keeping with the theme of Unionist Lite.

Kane’s commentary is scarcely more optimistic than that of Gregory Campbell, but unlike the DUP man Kane is one of the most astute unionist analysts and propounds a scrupulously civic, pan-UK unionism which bears close scrutiny. His prediction is that the DUP and Sinn Fein will continue to administer a sectarian carve-up which obstructs any prospect of constructing a truly shared Northern Ireland and that the Union will therefore fail to be strengthened.

Kane is prepared to give Ian Paisley the benefit of the doub…

Are Ballymena finally getting it Wright?

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I’m almost reluctant to raise the subject lest my acknowledgment presages a dramatic return to type, but I can no longer ignore the remarkable form being shown by Ballymena United. The chant “United are back” has rung out on innumerable false dawns since the Sky Blues’ last major trophy in 1989, but yesterday at the Oval it carried the stiffened intent of 12 games without loss as it echoed across the East Belfast gloom.

I have retained a degree of cynicism during the unbeaten run, although I’ve welcomed the increased resolve and spirit which have enabled the team to string together a consistent series of results. Beating Glentoran 4-2, away from home, having twice fallen behind, is an achievement of a different magnitude however and the manner in which this accomplishment was realised has sparked in me the sneaking suspicion that perhaps what Tommy Wright is constructing at the Showgrounds could be genuinely special.

Ballymena proved yesterday that not only can they eke out results, b…