Thursday, 31 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 movement which encouraged young men to commit violent criminal actions. In some abstruse way Tony McBride was himself a victim of the circumstances which found him committing crime.

Tony McBride nevertheless was a criminal engaged in attempted murder – he was not by any reasonable definition “on active service”. There is no comparison and should be no notional parity between the death of Tony McBride, who set out to maim and kill, with the result that he was himself killed, and the death of another commissioner’s husband, Lindsay McDougall who was shot dead whilst on duty for the RUC reserve in Belfast.

The initial press release produced by the new Victims’ Commission will simply exacerbate fears that the appointment of these four commissioners has been made precisely with the intention of implying parity between such deaths. Alex Kane raised just such a fear in his column which I drew attention to below.

The old Sinn Fein mantra that there should not be a “hierarchy of victims” is in fact emotive rhetorical sophistry which implies that we need not pay any attention to the particular circumstances in which a death or injury occurred. This is of course nonsense. The Commission can and must investigate and distinguish between the circumstances of different incidents. The most important distinction must be drawn between those who were killed or injured attempting to commit violent acts and those who were killed or injured doing their job or otherwise going about their daily lives.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

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 Putin, contrasting the strides that Russia has made under his leadership and the crises and chaos presided over by Boris Yeltsin. This is not a candidate who wishes dramatic reform and there is an emphasis on stability which echoes Putin’s ethos whereby economic and political stability were elevated to the exclusion of democratic freedoms. But neither should the change in tone be dismissed as insignificant.

Not only is the rule of law commended and “legal nihilism” condemned, but Medvedev speaks also of the need for press freedom and independence. Control of the media was a signal complaint of those who accused Putin’s regime of being anti-democratic. Whether Medvedev’s allusion to press freedom turns out to be rhetorical or not, he is recognising the necessity to address some of the objections raised to more authoritarian aspects of Putin’s governance. Indeed a threat by Communist Party presidential candidate Zyuganov to pull out of the race due to a lack of media coverage has led to an altered TV timetable of candidate addresses and Zyuganov withdrawing that threat.

Medvedev offers at the very least a turning away from the influence of the ex-KGB “siloviki” and a more genuine adherence to building civil society and the rule of law.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

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 alternative credo of “separate but equal”. This was surely a perfect opportunity to build an alliance of those who wish to foster a Northern Ireland based on inclusion and integration.

Peter Robinson has attempted to head off criticism of the Programme and the Budget by promising more money to the ministries of Margaret Ritchie and Michael McGimpsey (Social Development and Health respectively). By doing so he may have placated those ministers and stilled the most vehement criticism of his budget from inside the Executive, but there are still grave concerns about many aspects of both the PfG and the Budget. Certainly there was more than enough scope for the UUP to oppose these programmes as have the SDLP and Alliance Party.

Alliance Party leader David Ford immediately called on the SDLP to leave the Executive. Such action from Mark Durkan’s party is unlikely, particularly given the canny fashion in which Margaret Ritchie has voted for the PfG, for the stated reason that she is required to uphold collective responsibility in the ministerial code. Whether Durkan admits it or not this belies a fundamental inconsistency in his party’s policy. The system of government which is in operation encourages this type of inconsistency, Durkan would argue that on this occasion it has necessitated it, but nevertheless it is inconsistent to have one member of a party voting differently merely as a strategy to maintain a ministry.

With two ministers in the government, including leader Sir Reg Empey, this inconsistent line was not available to the UUP. As long as reluctance remains to bring the present Executive to a crisis point, or simply to resign ministerial seats, there will be strong pressure for the Ulster Unionist assembly group to endorse what the Executive set in front of them. Whilst that situation pertains the party will inevitably find it difficult to distance themselves from the Executive’s programme or to hold that body to account.

Critically the episode reinforces once again the unaccountable and paradoxical nature of government in Northern Ireland as it is being promulgated by the current power sharing arrangements. Until voluntary coalition with cross community requirements emerges as an alternative system, such inconsistencies will reoccur. Perhaps the SDLP’s belligerence will prove to be a harbinger of strains which will eventually bring this change to bear.

Monday, 28 January 2008

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-justifying agenda? If we can't lock them up, can we please stop providing them with platforms in which they can add insult to the injuries they have already done (and continue to do) to so many?”

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 cracks and offers very little in the way of motivation or characterisation. The Coens simply fail to elevate their bleak material beyond the status of a rather unsettling caper. Tellingly a number of the most grisly murders seemed to greatly amuse the audience I watched the film in. Despite the film’s pretensions the element of titillation was there as surely as in a slasher movie.

Maybe I simply didn’t get this film. Perhaps I missed some profound symbolism, but my instinct is that it contained more style than substance. Javier Bardem’s supposedly masterful portrayal of the ruthless killer seems to me merely to consist of walking around slowly, looking menacing and perpetrating gratuitously gruesome acts. The character is a cartoon, a cardboard cut-out, without a hint of depth or motivation. I would be interested to hear if anyone else has a different take on it.

Friday, 25 January 2008

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 symmetry to the fact that 40 years after republicans attempted to attach themselves to a non-violent movement and harness its dynamic to foster their campaign of terror, the same people are now disclaiming that campaign of terror in order to re-attach themselves to the legacy of the non-violent movement.

Tom Kelly wrote in the Irish News last week about the competing claims on the legacy of NICRA and correctly identified the SDLP as the genuine inheritors of that organisation’s ethos. He points out the disproportionate number of leaders in NICRA who went on to found the SDLP. Principally though what differentiated the ethos of NICRA from that of physical force republicanism was its explicit refutation of violent methods, a refutation which the SDLP has echoed throughout its history. Other civil rights campaigners, such as Bernadette Devlin or Eamon McCann, whose politics differed from the SDLP can also legitimately lay claim to that non-violent legacy but it is manifestly clear that those who went on to wage a war of terror cannot.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

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 the frame of reference to include another poet who is quoted regularly on this subject. Anyone with even a casual interest in Northern Ireland’s politics and literature will be aware of John Hewitt’s thoughts on the complexity of his identity:

“Firstly, I am an Ulsterman steeped in the traditions of this place. Secondly, I am Irish, of this Ireland. Thirdly, I am British, and finally, in a more diffuse way, I am European. It may make it easier for you to understand if you remove one of those elements but if you do you are no longer describing who I am.”

O’Neill quotes a different passage from Hewitt’s correspondence but one that is concerned with a similar theme and connotes an identical ethos:

“I always maintained that our loyalties had an order to Ulster, to Ireland, to the British Archipelago, to Europe; and that anyone who skipped a step or missed a link falsified the total. The Unionists missed out Ireland: the Northern Nationalists (The Green Tories) couldn't see the Ulster under their feet; the Republicans missed out both Ulster and the Archipelago; and none gave any heed to Europe at all.”

This nuanced understanding of identity is not merely applicable to Northern Ireland. Hewitt has identified a complexity and subtlety which are universally applicable when considering how we identify ourselves in terms of culture and nationality but of course his thoughts are particularly pertinent in a multi-national, multi-ethnic society such as the United Kingdom.

The philosopher Jacques Derrida was speaking in favour of a sense of ‘Europeaness’ when he distinguished between “an airtight, impermeable, homogenous, self-identical identity”, as opposed to a “porous and heterogeneous identity that differs with itself”. It is the homogenous understanding of identity which allows such a narrow and simplistic poll to be taken as an indicator of a dying United Kingdom.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Michael Longley and identity

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 thoughts on identity. He rejects the notion that being comfortable with both Irish and British aspects to one’s identity corresponds with “confusion”. Clearly the poet is perfectly happy to identify both these aspects in his own make-up. He dismissed the notion that unionists might be confused in their identity saying that people from that background know full well who they are and in particular “who they are not”.

The programme is available currently on BBC I Player.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

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 prison.

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

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 abolish poverty? If there is to be a right not to live in poverty, how on earth will this be enforced? We don’t need a Bill of Rights to combat poverty, because such a Bill would not do a damn thing about tackling it, other than to wield a few well meaning platitudes. The onus for tackling poverty lies on the arms of government charged with generating wealth and jobs as well as those arms of government charged with providing welfare. Those are the areas in which legislation is needed in order to make any substantial dent on poverty.

“600 older people died of cold last year. That’s why we need a Bill of Rights”

No. That’s why a fuel allowance was introduced. If 600 older people really died of cold last year (exactly what is meant by “dying of cold” is not clear and that seems a strangely round figure) perhaps we need to increase the fuel allowance. A Bill of Rights will not do anything practical to eradicate the cold. Are we to have a “right” to warmth? If so my rights are being grievously infringed every time I step unto the platform at Holywood train station.

“There were 1700 sectarian attacks last year. That’s why we need a Bill of Rights”

That’s why we have a whole range of criminal law and measures against hate crime. Unless I have missed something, it is not currently legally permissible to launch a sectarian attack. Will anyone who is inclined to attack someone because of their politics or religion be given pause to stop and think about their actions if they infringe the platitudes of a Bill of Rights? Just because it’s a bad thing and you plaster it on a bus, does not mean that your Bill will do anything about it!

“People with disabilities are twice as likely to be out of work in Northern Ireland. That’s why we need a Bill of Rights”

That is why we have equality legislation, employment legislation and an Equality Commission. If any of these are not sufficient then clearly we need to look at bolstering them.

To summarise, this campaign consists of mentioning 4 negative facets of our society and quite erroneously linking them to the lack of a Bill of Rights specifically for Northern Ireland. If people are taken in by such nonsense they are giving an important issue no more thought then they might give as to whether to purchase Coca Cola or Pepsi.

Monday, 21 January 2008

The destruction of the American Dream

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 the pair borrowing a great deal of money from the Royal Bank of Scotland. Initial assurances that the debt would be taken on by the pair themselves, as opposed to the football club, appear now to be disingenuous. Whilst the £350m loan with which the owners plan to refinance their investment and the building of a new stadium will rest partially with a holding company, approximately half the debt will accrue to Liverpool. That presupposes that a loan will actually be forthcoming.

With Hicks insisting that he will not sell to the Dubai Investment Company, who retain their interest after missing out last summer, and with rumours of disagreements between the two men themselves, there is an air of crisis at Liverpool. Meanwhile acrimony remains between the owners and manager Rafa Benitez after talks were held about the possibility of Jurgen Klinsmann replacing him in the summer. The January transfer window is elapsing without much needed signings arriving to address deficiencies on the pitch.

The highlight of the Americans’ tenure undoubtedly has been the arrival of Fernando Torres. This transfer was to herald the beginnings of Liverpool being able to truly compete in the transfer market in parity with Chelsea and Manchester United. However that purchase has proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Indeed Hicks was audible in his disinclination to avoid spending “like a drunken sailor”. Liverpool fans were left wondering, if the new owners were not taking over the club to spend precisely in that fashion, why exactly were they there? Perhaps to bring their expertise to the construction of a new stadium. With design and financial issues still pending as regards this supposed signature project, it appears even their ability to oversee that necessary development is in some doubt.

The Dubai Investment Company are still interested in buying the club and most supporters would gratefully welcome a buyout at this stage. Moving the club’s ownership from Texas to Dubai is hardly ideal and cannot be seen as a panacea, but certainly it would put things on a sounder financial footing than seems to be the case presently.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

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 stole it by an act of consummate treachery” he himself has undergone a Damascene revelation to the position the UUP held on Paisley’s real intentions all along (emotive language not withstanding)!

Alderman James Currie in response to Stirling’s motion (which what it lacks in brevity it more than makes up for in rhetorical flourish) points out “It's enlightening that Councillor Robin Stirling finds that Ian Paisley has done the same as David Trimble”. Neill Armstrong summed up the mixture of vindication and frustration which many Ulster Unionists feel:

“We took at least five years of utter dogs' abuse and now the DUP have fully signed up to our deal. We were upfront and honest with the people of Northern Ireland. In many ways it has been a very entertaining debate - it's good to see the DUP have followed us. We've done all the work and they've taken all the credit, as is often the way in life.”

The last word though should go to Stirling, who in his sense of betrayal has stumbled upon an entirely accurate summation of Paisley’s motivations.

"Dr paisley has suffered his lifetime from a virulent poison, the toxin of unadulterated, naked ambition. He had set his mind many years ago upon achieving his conception of worldly greatness."

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 situation to escalate. The British Council provides a valuable service which amongst other things is doing a great deal to teach English to Russian citizens. Both parties need to find an accommodation and halt this tit for tat battle.

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 dissipate. The DUP are too entrenched in a sectarian mindset to see that separate but equal is damaging to the Union and in many cases accede to this agenda.

Meanwhile on the streets of north Belfast division remains as acute as ever and new peace walls are being erected. The concept of mixed social housing is rubbished by those who wish to retain effective apartheid in working class communities and any attempt to eradicate political or national symbols in the same areas are derided as an infringement of liberty. Whilst there may be power sharing at Stormont, in no way are we moving beyond the notion of two competing sectional interests.

These church ministers are correct to be concerned. The mindset that perpetuates division hides behind rhetoric of respect and equality. It conflates neutral spaces and integration with the destruction of cultures. By necessity it focuses on things which separate rather than unite us. It fetishises difference.

Of course it is entirely fallacious to claim that attempting to increase shared spaces and minimise offence to others will destroy anything valuable in our culture or dissipate identity. Refraining from hanging a flag from a lamp-post is not curtailing one’s liberty, it does not demean one’s sense of oneself and it is not going to unravel the fabric of tradition in our society. Similarly, whilst national identities are fully recognised as legitimate within the framework of legislation, participating in Northern Ireland bodies or institutions is not depriving anyone of their sense of Irishness, or indeed Britishness.

There are differences in the two major communities here which do to some extent define us in important ways. Of course those differences have to be respected and accommodated. It is not necessary however to concentrate predominately on those things that separate us to the exclusion of that which we share. It is not wrong to believe that making environments neutral is a good way of causing people to feel more comfortable living with neighbours of different religions and political beliefs. It is necessary to make our sports and hobbies accessible to as many people as possible. It is necessary to explain each other’s cultures in such a way as we might come to appreciate and understand them rather than see them as something threatening.

The Executive have a responsibility to set the tone for the rest of society. Some strides are being made. Even Edwin Poots attendance at a GAA fixture last night is a small but positive step. Unfortunately the overarching ethoses of the DUP – SF carve-up remains focussed on difference. Until such times as this changes, or voters begin to look beyond the division and seek real progress in Northern Ireland, this is likely to remain the case.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Liam Neeson's bizarre hair

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 expect, or because the story suited the conventions of blockbusting cinema, I found the ending much less cloying.

Ultimately though this is a rather superficial treatment of some rather gruesome material. Both the film and the book share this superficiality. Serious themes are introduced, but remain unexplored and the viewer is let off with a valedictory recompense at the end.

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 Oscar Pistorius’ blades attached, just to save me having to use these confounded crutches again. I’m not sure whether this is more a damning indictment of my upper body strength and fitness or a testament to the adaptability of children.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Worthington set to stay until 2010

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. Although his first match was a 3-1 win against Lichtenstein I felt Northern Ireland played poorly and were ponderous on the ball. Defeats against Iceland and Latvia were disastrous. Better performances were forthcoming when Worthington brought Steven Craigan back into the heart of the defence and allowed the team to resume the tighter brand of football to which our personnel are suited.

I am still far from convinced that Nigel Worthington is the best man for the job, but the IFA have now made their decision and for better or for worse he is the manager for at least two years. My hope is that the wilfulness and desire to differentiate his style from that of Sanchez which characterised his first three matches, remains secondary to putting out a team suited to achieving good results.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Contrasting fortunes but managers stick together

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, Newcastle, last night. The ex-Bolton supreme was no stranger to Ballymena. Eamon McCann has an entertaining take on Big Sam’s dismissal.

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 is a strand in nationalism which seeks to accommodate and persuade unionists rather than berate and hector us.

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 can’t oppose something with human rights in the title’. Maybe it’s just me. Can someone else read the article and actually find a single point Feeney adduces to support the idea that separate human rights legislation is needed in Northern Ireland? I’d happily address such a point, but damn it I cannot find one!

Instead of actually dealing with the substance of the argument, little Brian then commences a long an incoherent rant against Britain, the United Kingdom as a whole and, of course, the stupidity of unionists. He concludes with the scrupulously offensive contention that the UK is an “imaginary state”.

So my challenge for the day, to anyone who might chose to accept it, is please – read Feeney’s article and summarise any point that Feeney makes for a human rights bill or devolution of policing and justice that cannot be summarised in the phrase “unionists are stupid and shouldn’t oppose these things”. It is absolutely shocking that this man is regarded as an opinion forming columnist.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

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 campaign to sweep away anyone who could possibly become an enemy. His contention is that the implication of innocent people was a result all too well understood by Stalin his henchmen.

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs” is the refrain issuing not only from the authorities, but from countless ordinary people who accepted Bolshevik ideology. It is the all pervasiveness of this ideology that is one of the most startling aspects of the book. Those whom Stalin oppressed were in many cases convinced communists. This was the case not only when the purges were directed at the party, but also when the terror encompassed the most ordinary Soviet individuals. Figes demonstrates how the children of “Kulaks” and other “enemies of the people” were frequently the most eager to conform, succeed and take on board the ideology of the Soviet Union. Actual dissent, even in the privacy of one’s own home, was exceptionally rare and usually restricted to religious communities or those older people brought up amongst Russia’s liberal noble intelligentsia.

The book is a valuable addition to the considerable literature on Stalin and his regime. It fills a gap which a lack of source material has created regarding the inner world of those who lived in a society where self-expression could mean death.

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’ve been caught trespassing in an industrial complex or if you're just too tight to get a taxi from the airport, psychogeography is a fine excuse.

Will Self’s new book of travel essays is called Psychogeography.

Is Russia in danger of a Chekist coup?

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 the Soviet Union was slowly imploding structurally and economically. Russia is a much more stable and affluent society presently and it is unlikely that anything as dramatic as Aslund hints at will take place.

Although the article is rather dramatic, it is an interesting analysis of the various factions and powerbases in Putin’s Kremlin and the effect the re-ordering of power may have on them.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

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 inducing ex-paramilitary criminals to divulge their nefarious activities without inflicting the insult to victims that recognising these activities as acts of war entails.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Jesse James is an impressive film

“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 simultaneously drawn to Ford and repelled by him.

Ironically I did not think that the film was too long. It was easy paced and did not rely on a surfeit of shooting or action to unfold its story. Pitt plays Jesse James in impressive fashion, portraying the charisma and compelling charm of the outlaw, but also illuminating the dark and destructive elements of his character. James is seen one moment doting on his daughter and the next is administering a brutal beating to a young boy.

Casey Affleck’s Ford is also subtly drawn. The journey from wide eyed fan to assassin is entirely convincing. The tragic consequences of Ford’s own celebrity form a prescient end to the film which can be read as a parable about fame for modern times.

I know Kloot thought the film rambled on too much and I know others have shared this view, but I do not agree. I found the movie to be visually arresting and thought-provoking.

Friday, 4 January 2008

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 bill. The Good Friday Agreement established the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to consider whether there were special circumstances here which justified enshrining rights, greater than those afforded by the European Convention of Human Rights, in Westminster legislation. The Bill of Rights Northern Ireland website lists the areas in which legislation may be required as follows: “equality; education; language; cultural expression and identity; victims' rights; social and economic rights; criminal justice and implementation”.

This is a broad brush approach which wanders far from the established remits of human rights. Human rights are about the fundamental and universal freedoms of expression and freedoms from inequity which we should all enjoy. The remits suggested for this legislation encroach substantially on existing areas of law and threaten to fundamentally alter constitutional law in this part of the United Kingdom.

I do not accept that Northern Ireland is in need of human rights legislation above and beyond that of the rest of the United Kingdom. If another bill was introduced in the Kingdom as a whole (further to the existing Human Rights Act), to clarify or extend existing rights, I would expect that bill to cover Northern Ireland. But to suggest that there should be greater protection of rights in one section of a state is nonsense. If a bill is first brought in for Northern Ireland, there should be immediate scrutiny of the need to extend similar legislation throughout the UK.

There is a need in republican circles to justify their thirty year campaign of sectarian murder, by reference to a spurious rights based argument. The actuality is that the aims of the civil rights movement were realised by 1971 and yet the campaign of terror intensified only after these rights were given. Presenting such validation to republicans should not be a priority when initiating new legislation.

The other concern is the invocation of rights based arguments in all manner of inappropriate spheres which already pertains. We have had invoked in recent times such imbecilic “rights” as the right to fill in your car tax application in Irish, the right to play for an international football team and indeed the right to wear hair long at school. This maximalist approach not only makes a nonsense of the concept of fundamental human rights, it also ensures that even a carefully drafted bill will precipitate an avalanche of expensive and unnecessary litigation. The nebulous nature of most rights precludes the likelihood that such careful drafting will take place.

We have also witnessed the sophistic conflation of rights to hold or express a perceived identity or culture with political manifestations of that identity or culture. Irish nationalism clearly wishes to pursue this disingenuous line of thinking to undermine gradually the sovereignty and institutions of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland. This dishonesty belies a supposed acceptance of the principle of consent.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Rafa's getting it badly wrong at Anfield

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 lays ultimately with the manager who has declined to field a consistent team, has performed patchily in the transfer market and whose tactical judgment has abandoned him repeatedly in domestic competition. Perhaps the final nail in Liverpool’s Premiership coffin was driven home last night with a failure to dispense with lowly Wigan at Anfield. In a must win game Rafa elected to play only one recognised striker. Benitez now goes into the January transfer window with his moral authority to demand money for signing players greatly diminished by results. Why give extra funds to a man who last season shelled out £10 million on Dirk Kuyt? And yet what hope is there of salvaging something from the season if no new players arrive?

My only visit to Anfield this season coincided with one of the most uninspiring performances. Liverpool drew 0-0 with Birmingham and in many ways the game epitomised the failure of Rafa’s decision making. The manager elected to omit Fernando Torres and instead selected the unworkable combination of Voronin and Kuyt. Several days later Torres was picked in a largely second string eleven against Reading in the Carling Cup. He won the match more or less by himself.

Steve Bruce was Birmingham’s manager for that game. He has since taken charge of Wigan and last night he once again returned from Anfield with a valuable point for his side. Three days earlier Liverpool failed to break down a woefully unambitious Man City team prepared to play for a 0-0 draw at home. Now that City side have overtaken Rafa’s outfit and are currently in the fourth Champions League slot whilst the Reds languish in fifth.

It is hard to know what to prescribe in order for Liverpool to turn around their season and at least attempt to salvage a late run which would see them comfortably qualifying for the Champions League (because that is the minimum that supporters should now expect). Certainly Rafa must remedy the lack of attacking threat Liverpool pose and select a line-up which can consistently convert possession into goals.

Currently Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres offer the team’s only credible goalscoring threat. That is an unsustainable situation for a club who aspire to a title challenge. Benitez must find a regular partner for Torres and deploy him consistently in a 4-4-2 formation. Kuyt is desperately out of form and his busy, physical style has proved to be limiting – he should be consigned to the substitutes’ bench. Voronin is as mobile and incisive as my 11 month old niece. He should be sold. Unless Rafa is given the resources to buy a striker in the January transfer window, this leaves him with Peter Crouch, who has been unaccountably ignored throughout this season or my favoured option, which is to call up Ryan Babel at centre forward. Babel has played most of his football in Holland up front, he has scored regularly since joining Liverpool and it is my belief that he will offer more threat, certainly than Kuyt or Voronin.

Hopefully with Xabi Alonso gradually returning to full fitness, the lack of precision in Liverpool’s passing will be solved. Rafa will then be left merely with the conundrum of how to accommodate the Spanish playmaker in a midfield already comprising Gerrard and Mescherano. It may yet prove that Gerrard’s free-scoring runs are best facilitated by starting the captain on the right, whilst giving him license to move inside. This still leaves a midfield berth for the mercurial skills of Benayoun or the more conventional wing-play of Kewell or Pennant.

Whichever formation Benitez favours, the crucial thing is that he consistently fields his best players in it and does not constantly tinker with the team or persist with squad members who are blatantly out of form.

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?

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

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 doubt when he speculates on his motivation for entering power sharing last May, but whilst he acknowledges the DUP’s success in performing spectacular U-turns and retaining electoral support, he believes the party’s pursuit of success at the polls has blinded them to very real dangers to the Union. The argument that the DUP prioritises short-term political success at the expense of their supposed overarching goal is an old one, but also has the moral strength of being 100% true. I would have no compunction in going further than Kane and contending that the DUP’s unionism has always been a flimsy edifice and rather than taking their eye off the constitutional issue the party is acting consistently with its Ulster nationalist agenda.

The kernel of the columnist’s argument is that the DUP’s agenda is in keeping with that of its supposed opponents.

“That sort of stalemate, in which neither side seems to gain the upper hand, may suit the mindset of those who continue to see everything in terms of us-and-them. But it also suits Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Fianna Fail, none of whom has any vested long-term interest in a successful and confident Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.”

In this paragraph Kane provides a neat synopsis of the prevailing political climate and the reasons that it distresses right-thinking unionists. The DUP has little interest in integrating the two communities in an inclusive Northern Ireland. Their priority is the maintenance of their fiefdom and the representation of narrow sectional interests of their own community. Ultimately this will be greatly to the disadvantage of the entity of Northern Ireland as nationalists attempt to advance the notion that they have an equal right to cleave to the institutions and symbols of the Republic of Ireland.

Kane sees little chance of a major change in mindset of either the electorate or the main parties during the next year. Sadly I would have to concur.

Are Ballymena finally getting it Wright?

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, but also that they can play resourceful, creative and enterprising football. Operating with only Kevin Kelbie as a conventional striker, support nevertheless arrived consistently from midfielders Scates and Melaugh, with King and Picking stretching Glentoran on the flanks. Despite a couple of defensive lapses, United gradually countered the impressive skills of Gary Hamilton and with his threat negated, forceful running from midfield provided the firepower to secure a valuable win.

Following Ballymena has been a thankless and debilitating pursuit over the years. I and other supporters have had our hopes dashed on too many occasions to start looking beyond the prescient clichĂ© of the next game. That match will be at home to Glenavon who will be galvanised by a change in management. The following week sees United travelling to Newry to embark on a new Irish Cup campaign. I would point out that United were considered fearsome Cup fighters when they last tasted success in the 1980s and that the Cup remains the most likely source of silverware, but then I would be getting beyond that next game ………