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Showing posts from February, 2008

On facilitating remembrance

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I was watching the local news earlier in the week and it covered a story about an aggrieved woman who was being evicted from her house to enable an extension to the runway at Derry City Airport. She tearfully explained the extent of the injustice which had been dealt her; casting around for a comparison for her predicament, she cited one of a series of religious wars fought throughout Europe in the mid seventeenth century. “It’s just like Cromwell” she proclaimed.

This woman is not atypical and nor did it seem likely that she was a scholar of that period of history. In Northern Ireland it seems fairly unexceptional for someone to invoke a perceived hurt from 350 years previous to exemplify the unfairness of a local spat over compulsory purchase. Bearing this in mind, it is questionable whether we really need a museum to pour over the details and complexities of our recent Troubles.

That said, not all the ideas being floated by the Healing Through Remembering group actually invo…

Hypocrisy and double-think: Tim Garton Ash on Russia

In countering the more hysterical commentary about perceived Russian tyranny, I am sometimes aware that it might appear that I do not want the country to be more free or democratic. That is assuredly not the case. I simply think that the best way in which to achieve such an outcome is not to brow-beat and demonise Russia, nor is it the display of flagrant hypocrisy and double-think in dealings with the Kremlin.

I do not, for example, think it is helpful to lecture Russia about intervention in their neighbours’ affairs, whilst simultaneously intervening most blatantly and directly in the affairs of a great many countries around the world. I do not believe it is reasonable to invoke international law to denounce separatist conflicts in Georgia (for example) whilst concurrently condemning Russia for invoking international law to denounce Kosovo’s declaration of independence. I do not consider reasonable demonising Russia for a failure to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, whilst reserving the …

If the election does not matter why does Medvedev need to trick voters?

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As Russia goes to the polls on Sunday, conflicting messages are issuing from pro western opposition within the country. On one hand we are told that the elections are a charade and that the new president will not be receiving a legitimate mandate and on the other we are told that Russians should not put store in Medvedev’s liberal credentials. He is trying to trick those who favour liberal democracy into backing him.

There is a fundamental inconsistency between these lines of argument. If Medvedev needs to win the backing of the Russian electorate, by persuading them that his policies are one thing or the other, if he feels a compulsion to present his beliefs in the language of democracy and rationalise them by reference to concepts such as freedom and the rule of law, then Russia is not in the clutches of autocracy or dictatorship.

Whilst elections may not be free and fair and whilst pluralism may be more an illusion than a reality, the elections do have an importance in Russia and…

Kill the Bill

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The argument against the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland on this blog has thus far been based on the stark fact that we do not need such a bill. Human rights in Northern Ireland are already protected under UK law by the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights. No advocate of a bill has yet been able to advance any concrete suggestions as to what it might contain and which additional rights Northern Ireland actually needs.

If the first detail to emerge from the BoR Forum is anything to go by, what we need is to lift the age of criminal responsibility to 16 and then to 18. Think about this for a moment. The implication is that a 17 year old should not be held criminally responsible for theft, rape or even murder. There may be an argument that the current age of criminal responsibility is set too low, at 10 years old, but to suggest that a 15 year old, or indeed even a 16 year old, is not capable of understanding the seriousness of their actions is not just…

Gratuitously controversial nonsense with a nasty ethno-nationalist flavour

“Radical unionist” Dr John Coulter is certainly an unusual creature. Indeed to ascribe to him his own label, his “revolutionary unionism” consists mainly of advocating a united Ireland. As you can imagine his take on unionism tends to go down best with nationalists, if they are prepared to overlook the rather unpleasant supremacist stuff which provides the seasoning for Coulter’s singular dish of commentary.

Thus Coulter is a regular in the Blanket and his latest musings take as a jumping off point, the death of IRA hunger striker Brendan Hughes. One of the aspects of Coulter’s take on unionism, with which nationalists will find themselves most comfortable, is the manner in which he uses this term, not primarily as a label of political belief, but rather as ethnic or communal shorthand.

And it is through this prism of ethnic or communal group interests that Coulter’s arguments are filtered. The reason he advocates a united Ireland is because that polity might “permanently unite Un…

Field's contribution is welcome, but he misses the obvious solution

Labour MP Frank Field has been addressing falling participation (PDF file) in UK politics and has turned to the US for inspiration. Field’s contention is that both government and parliament are capable of becoming more accountable and representative. His arguments on representation fall into 5 categories.

Firstly Field believes that voters should have a right to object to too limited a range of candidates. This would entail introducing a category “none of the above”. The second of Field’s suggestions would provide this with more teeth. He suggests that only candidates who achieve over 50% of the vote should be returned directly, otherwise a “play-off” between the top two candidates in the first round would be instigated.

Field also wishes to subject an increased number of public positions to a general vote. Initially this would extend to police chiefs and housing association bosses. Fourthly and more predictably he wants to see group representative politics becoming the basis for…

Ritchie shows Ruane how it should be done

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As Catriona Ruane continues to fulminate at both fellow Assembly members and the press for suggesting that she should do her job properly, it is heartening to see at least one of her ministerial colleagues tackling her brief by setting out concrete proposals and formulating a lucid set of policies.

Margaret Ritchie has outlined her plans to tackle housing problems in Northern Ireland and provide affordable housing based on need. She has consulted widely and in bullet points the following is her plan to tackle problems in this area.

• Build more homes- at least 5,250 in the next three years
• Make the existing co-ownership scheme more attractive for first time buyers
• Introduce a not-for-profit Mortgage Rescue Scheme
• Allow existing social housing tenants the chance to buy a stake in their homes
• Re-use houses through an Empty Homes Strategy
• Requiring future developments to include a proportion of homes for social and affordable housing
• Increase the energy efficiency of new soc…

IRA refuse to talk to Eames / Bradley and add another layer to the Provo Irony Cake

Considering that the Eames / Bradley Consultative Group on the Past commenced its work by suggesting that the Troubles constituted a “war” and hinting that amnesties might be given to those involved in terror if they were to come forward and tell the truth about their crimes, it is hard to present the group as deeply antithetical to republicanism. Nevertheless it seems that although the police, MI5 and even the UVF have been prepared to appear before the group, the IRA will not follow suit.

This will intensify suspicion amongst non-republicans that the search for truth which republican representatives pay lip-service to is very much conceived by them as a one way process. There is little or no appetite in republican circles, and certainly from those who were directly involved in violence, to acknowledge their own actions or to accept responsiblity for the consequences which sprang from those actions. Instead history remains a battleground on which the republican movement must seek…

Euro 2008 and straw-grasping

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If Spain’s government ignore warnings from UEFA and persist in interfering with elections within the Spanish FA, there is a possibility Northern Ireland could be called upon to replace Spain should they be thrown out of Euro 2008. Given that this is a preliminary shot across the bows and that Spain are one of the biggest television draws in the competition I won’t be booking any flights just yet. The precedent being cited is Denmark’s replacement of Yugoslavia in 1992. Denmark of course went on to win the competition, which is an auspicious sign for Northern Ireland. Less auspicious is that in the world of legal precedent, there might be an argument for distinguishing between a country in the midst of a series of wars which bring its existence into doubt and one in which there have been some allegations of government interference in an FA election.

Bicker shows that beliefs are not always paramount in politics

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The bizarre defection of Harvey Bicker, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (albeit latterly an inactive member), to Fianna Fail raises issues as to the varying reasons why people are motivated to become involved in politics or join political parties in the first place. Without meaning to cast aspersions on Mr Bicker, has he really completed an ideological journey from convinced unionism to expounding 32-county republicanism in a matter of a few years?

The stated reasons for Bicker’s defection are a mixture of the cynically pragmatic and slightly bizarre. He sees the move as logical because he is now spending more time in the Republic of Ireland and he claims to wish to represent the views of his “community” within his new party. However far Fianna Fail may be held to have strayed in actuality from its stated ethos, the party still identifies itself as “The Republican Party”. If Bicker intends to articulate the unionist position within this party he must do so as a member of a p…

An offensive event hidden behind SF platitudes

In Northern Ireland we become so accustomed to the anodyne platitudes of Sinn Fein that it is possible simply to become inured to the noxious agenda which lies behind them. Thus when we hear the well-worn cliché that there cannot be a “hierarchy of victims” trotted out by West Belfast MLA Jennifer McCann to defend an event she is attempting to organise in Stormont’s Long Gallery, it is important not to forget that not only is the event which she is proposing offensive and disgraceful, but McCann is quite aware that this is the case.

Of course every right thinking person will recognise that not only should there not be any equivalence between all of those who now claim or are claimed to be victims of the violence in Northern Ireland, but that it is deeply immoral to suggest that that equivalence should exist between those who died or were injured going about their legitimate business and those who died attempting to engage in acts of terrorism. In so far as establishing a “hierarchy o…

The media must take responsibility for fetishising serial killers

As news broadcasts last night poured over the intimate details of Steve Wright’s life, it was almost possible to smell the ink of cheap printing presses as they began to churn out biographies of another ogre to grace the shelves of Bargain Books. Is someone somewhere already hammering the keys of a computer, rushing to produce the first straight to TV film in order to pruriently sift the psychological make-up of the latest convicted serial killer?

It seems to be a basic aspect of human nature to be utterly fascinated by abhorrent and violent behaviour. Whether this fascination springs from a desire to identify what motivates someone to behave in a despicable way, or whether people actually take a vicarious pleasure in reading about gruesome deeds is debatable. My guess would be that the truth is somewhere in between. Nevertheless the storm of publicity and the relentlessness with which the media analyse those who have committed the most horrible crimes serves a distinctly counter-…

Never Better is a hidden comedy gem

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If I have missed a storm of acclaim for a comedy show I am about to hail as a hidden gem, I do apologise. The fact is that I have not seen any mention of BBC2’s excellent 'Never Better' in the television pages of newspapers, nor have I heard anyone outside our house actually talking about the programme.

‘Never Better’ follows Keith, a recovering alcoholic played by the Green Wing’s Stephen Mangan and his attempts to establish a life which does not involve drinking. Black comedy ensues from the fact that Keith has become preoccupied and introspective through giving up alcohol. He moves through life scrutinising his own mood, behaviour and relationships, often oblivious to the needs and perceptions of others.

The series is pointed in lampooning the jargon and platitudes of recovery. Keith attends Alcoholics’ Anonymous meetings and attempts to participate but fails abjectly to engage with the confessional ethos engendered by the humourless leader of the group. Meanwhile Ke…

Why Ulster unionism which owns its Irishness is stronger and more effective

Over at Everything Ulster, Michael Shilliday has highlighted an interesting exchange during yesterday’s Assembly debate on a motion suggesting that in no way could the IRA’s squalid murder campaign be described as a ‘war’. In an answer to a question from Sinn Fein convicted murderer Raymond McCartney, Danny Kennedy commented that he would have no theoretical objection to a united Ireland if the context were the Republic rejoining the Union.

Michael commends Kennedy’s statement, seeing in it reclamation of Ulster unionism’s Irish identity. This is a theme which has been discussed on this blog before, both in a lengthy post devoted to the relationship between unionism and the concept of Irishness and more recently, in a post challenging the description of unionism as a form of nationalism, where I highlighted the thoughts which Education Minister Michael McGimpsey brought to the subject.

As a civic unionist, my view is that people are free to identify themselves as they wish without thi…

Eamon Dummy

Eamon Dunphy is a pitiful excuse for a journalist.

Hernandez has highlighted the following via Football 365:

"Eamon Dunphy: 7.40pm. Tuesday night. 'Inter are a great side. I fear for Liverpool'. 'Italian teams have a great pedigree in Europe and I fancy them tonight'. Eamon Dunphy: 9.40 pm. Tuesday night. 'Inter are not a good side'. They are below the level of the likes of AC Milan.....' (who incidentally are 21 points behind Inter in Serie A'."

Kosovo is not meaningfully independent

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In the West we tend to view tinkering in the politics of other countries in order to encourage adoption of regimes in the style to which we are accustomed, as an act of unalloyed beneficence. This interpretation is not always shared by people elsewhere. Indeed in Russia the governments which have emerged through US and EU sponsorship of the so-called ‘Colour Revolutions’ are perceived ostensibly as puppet regimes in an expansionist ideological empire.

There may be merit in this view, but it is rather overstated. Although Western money and encouragement are being used to bring to bear influence, although there is to a degree direct intervention in foreign polities of the most dubious legality, the sovereignty of these states does largely still rest with the governments which may rise or fall due to this intervention. In Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan and elsewhere the West may have gained influence, but this influence has remained nominally indirect.

In the former Yugoslavia something …

Benitez Wenger comparison does not ring true

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There are more fundamental problems afflicting Liverpool Football Club right now than a lack of results on the pitch. The club’s owners are not the right people to oversee such an important sporting institution and they are emblematic of the malaise which Premiership football in England currently finds itself. Nevertheless, the situation on the field of play is also shambolic. The nadir of Liverpool’s season came on Saturday when the club were dumped out of the F.A. Cup by mediocre Championship side Barnsley.

Paradoxically Liverpool’s ownership woes have strengthened the position of manager Rafa Benitez despite the appalling results which he continues to preside over in domestic competition. After the manager clashed publicly with Gillett and Hicks earlier in the season, loyalty to Benitez has become symbolic amongst the supporters, of opposition to the American owners. A simplistic reading of the attitude runs – the Americans don’t much like the manager, we don’t like them, so we…

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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I was somewhat dubious about spending my Saturday night watching a film about a man who emerged from a coma to find himself completely paralysed barring an ability to blink his left eye. Strange then that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly proved to be as uplifting a piece of cinema as it was sad and that Julian Schnabel’s movie actually justifies using the much misapplied superlative ‘life-affirming’.

The film is an adaptation of Jean Dominique Bauby’s book. It charts the author’s emergence from a coma after suffering a massive stroke which left him with “locked-in syndrome”. Impressionistic camerawork with cloudy and sporadic images recreate the impression of Bauby coming out of the coma. Indeed for the majority of the film the camera remains behind the protagonist’s good eye, evoking the claustrophobia of Bauby’s ‘diving bell’. A sense exacerbated by the audience sharing an inner monologue of the ill man’s thoughts and perceiving the rest of the dialogue through his hearing, ini…

Paisley Junior's resignation and Dromore shows that actions eventually have consequences

Ian Paisley Junior has finally fallen on his own sword, hastened by his own party colleagues and with a distinct lack of good grace. He may not be the first politician to unwisely entwine his private affairs and public life and I’m sure he will not be the last, but the sheer volume of evidence suggesting Junior was conducting his duties partly with regard to self-interest has finally caused him to be adjudged a liability to the DUP. In the wake of their defeat in the Dromore by-election the party wished to be seen to be doing something decisive and Paisley is the scapegoat.

With a lawyer’s eye for a loophole Paisley Junior has been conducting his affairs within the letter of the law, but blatantly without the spirit. His position as a public servant, who is supposed to command a degree of trust was becoming untenable. That his father was implicated in the latest controversy, over rent payments claimed for the pair’s Ballymena constituency office, threatened to bring the whiff o…

Kosovo creates a precedent, whatever the West might argue

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As Kosovo’s Parliament declared itself a “democratic, secular and multi-ethnic republic” and unveiled a new flag which purports to be an ethnically neutral symbol, celebrations on Pristina’s streets demonstrated a different reality. The flag with which the towns and cities of Kosovo have been festooned is the Albanian flag and the celebrations have seen an ethnic Albanian Diaspora pouring into the Serb province to hail the creation of another “Albanian state”.

In Mitrovica, where a Serb majority still predominates north of the Ibar River, police supervised by French soldiers needed to restrain Albanian celebrations on the south bank, as attempts were made to cross the river in order to taunt Serbs. It is little wonder that the residents of Serb enclaves have little faith in rhetorical commitments offered by the ex-terror chiefs in Pristina that they will protect their community after Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.

While NATO troops remain ostensibly to help secure …

Blocking independence is defensible morally and legally

Although I posted in slightly facetious fashion about Putin’s comments in regard to Kosovo earlier, the Russian leader’s remarks are prescient and highlight a considerable degree of hypocrisy among the main western cheerleaders for Kosovan independence. It appears that a unilateral declaration of independence is both inevitable and imminent. This will be the culmination of a catastrophic failure by NATO to engineer a responsible compromise in the region.

During the 8 year NATO protectorate established in the wake of a ground invasion, the autonomous ethnic Albanian regime were permitted to ‘reverse cleanse’ Kosovo of more than half its Serb population. Brutal perpetrators of terror were rewarded for their actions with political power and it was made clear to the ethnic Albanian regime in Kosovo that they would not be expected to accept anything short of full independence from Serbia.

Putin can justly point out the hypocrisy and stupidity which America and certain members of the EU h…

McGuinness - brought to us by a sardonic Martian

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Was Martin McGuinness put on earth by some malevolent alien who wanted to taunt mankind through the medium of deep, infinite, ceaseless irony? The layers of irony which surround McGuinness and his statements are as numerous as stars in the sky. You simply need to listen to his pious denunciations of violence and dissident republicans to catch an echo of that impish green man cackling heartily in his tiny ship as he crests the Belt of Orion.

McGuinness famously is so averse to loss of life that he throws every fish back which he catches. And now Marty is up in arms because there’s too much alcohol in Eastenders and Coronation Street, despite the fact that children might be watching! As the Coffee House points out in a blog entitled “One person we don’t need moral lectures from”, McGuinness’s erstwhile activities precipitated night after night of carnage and violence on TV screens during the 70s and 80s, not to mention the children who were killed by IRA bombs.

To paraphrase Bill Hic…

Putin declares for Ulster unionism

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Vladimir Putin has declared himself an Ulster unionist during his annual Kremlin press conference yesterday. The outgoing Russian premier expressed his disagreement with separatist nationalist struggles and cited Northern Ireland as an example where the territorial integrity of a state had to be protected against separatist sentiment.

"Why do we promote separatism? For 400 years Great Britain has been fighting for its territorial integrity in respect of Northern Ireland. Why not? Why don't you support that?"

A spooky convergence of two of this site’s main themes which could not be ignored I’m sure you’ll agree!

Russians know election not fair, but will participate anyway

If western democratic values are really based at their root on a belief in a Hobbesian contract whereby the governed consent to the sovereignty of those who govern, then it appears that Russia falls comfortably within this model. A poll conducted by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty suggests that Russians are under no illusions about the electoral process they are about to partake in.

Despite an acceptance that the presidential election will not be transparent or honest, the electorate assent to the process as it is. Over 75% intend to cast there vote and a majority will support Putin’s chosen successor, Dmitri Medvedev. What is inferred is the emergence of a social contract between the Russian people and the Kremlin.

"There is an unwritten agreement in which people have received a certain level of personal freedoms and a rise in their living standards," Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center explains to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Dromore result encouraging for UUP

The by election for Tyrone Howe’s Dromore seat on Banbridge Council appears to have thrown up an interesting result. The Ulster Unionist Party candidate Carol Black has retained the seat for her party, despite being widely considered as a rank outsider (the ward is a multi-member constituency). Significantly it was transfers from Jim Allister’s new unionist party, the TUV which enabled the UUP to retain the seat. It appears that voters attracted by the TUV may prefer to transfer to a party which they consider too liberal, but at least honest and open about it, rather than to the hypocrisy of the DUP.

The Dromore by-election has attracted a disproportionate amount of interest simply because it is the first electoral outing for the new unionist party. The poll will be analysed to discern what effect, if any, the realignment of hard-line unionists to Allister’s group will have on the more mainstream unionist parties.

A single local by-election is a poor barometer of how the unionist vo…

The Damned United

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Before ‘The Damned United’ the last football novel I read may have been Martin Waddell’s ‘Napper Goes for Goal’ when I was 6 years old. Therefore the jacket quotes boasting that David Peace’s book is the “best football novel of all time” did not excite me greatly. However I must admit that having read the novel, I do believe that not only is the boast almost certainly justified (lack of competition not withstanding), but that it is also a considerable novel in its own right.

Another comment on the dust jacket employs the hyperbolic adjective “Shakespearean” and for once its use is almost appropriate. Peace’s novel has Elland Road as Elsinore and Brian Clough plays Hamlet, admittedly with a moderately less gruesome finale. The book unfolds the story of Clough’s 44 day reign as Leeds United manager in the mid-70s through the internal monologue of old Big ‘Ead himself.

Peace’s Clough is a compellingly paradoxical mixture of arrogance and self-doubt. He is fluently verbose, foul-mo…

Following the Russian election online

Although I suspect that my comment about Russia is the least read content on this blog, there is an election in just over two weeks time and I shall plough ahead posting about it whether youse are interested or not!

In this spirit I thought I might highlight some of the main sources through which the election can be followed over the next few weeks (for those who are interested in keeping up with events).

To begin with some background Rupert Wingfield Hayes has been compiling a series of articles over the past few weeks on the BBC’s website. The sequence follows the journalist on a trip along the Volga River where he tries to give a flavour of provincial European Russia as it prepares to go to the polls. The link is to his final instalment, but the previous articles are linked to the right of the page.

Only Dmitri Medvedev has English language content on his official webpage which also provides links to speeches given by United Russia’s candidate. For the perpetually curious the o…

This Assembly we'll be educating Catholics and promoting the culture of Protestants

I am in no way a champion of greater funding for the Irish Language, although I believe it does deserve its slice of the budget allocated to culture. However a story from the Irish News highlights that spending on Ulster Scots from the DCAL will soon outstrip spending on Irish and this is instructive of how the sectarian carve-up in government here is directly connected to the fashion in which DUP and SF ministers are managing their departments.

Put simply, ministers such as Edwin Poots and Caitriona Ruane fund and promote their personal and community interests to the exclusion of projects for the other community or projects which would benefit both communities. Ruane’s focus on Irish medium education, whilst her department cannot produce a clear plan to replace academic selection (which will affect everyone) is the classic example. Less publicised was Ruane’s decision to fund primary school language teachers in a scheme to encourage bi-lingualism in our children. What’s the proble…

A cunning plan for the IFA?

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The Belfast Telegraph is claiming that four weeks after the IFA announced that it had secured Nigel Worthington’s services as manager until 2010, the Ballymena man is yet to actually sign the contract. Given that a stated priority of the Association was ensuring that their new manager could not simply walk away from the job if they were offered a lucrative post in England (as happened with Lawrie Sanchez) it is understandable that accusations of incompetence have been quick to surface.

On this occasion only, I will defer from indicting the IFA so harshly for the time being. From the beginning my thoughts on Nigel have been ambivalent. Perhaps this is a master-stroke by Howard Wells et al. Maybe they suspected that Iain Dowie was soon to be sacked from his position at Coventry City and intend at the last minute to whip away Nigel’s deal and sign a proper manager with unquestionable commitment and who could motivate the Northern Ireland team.

So Why haven't they gone away?

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If you were to judge by republican statements following misdemeanours by members of their own movement recently, you might be tempted to conclude that the IRA are merely an invention of British ‘securocrats’ seeking to undermine Sinn Fein. After all such inconvenient occurrences as Paul Quinn’s murder, the Northern Bank robbery, the murder of Robert McCartney, murdering Denis Donaldson etc. can either be ascribed to elements outside the organisation or British provocation within it.

More extreme versions of these conspiracy theories actually suggest that the IRA was so riddled with MI5 / Special Branch spies and informers that the organisation was little more than a British puppet all along. Conveniently this version of events can be used to disclaim the greater proportion of disgraceful deeds perpetrated by republicans during the Troubles.

Given these dark murmurings within the republican movement, and the fact that the political wing of their organisation continues to be hamstrun…

Unelected, unaccountable and over here

The proliferation of unelected, unaccountable public bodies is particularly apparent in Northern Ireland. Given that these commissions, forums, consultative groups etc. draw from the public purse, but do not derive their mandate from any type of electoral process, you might expect that they would be subject to a fairly rigorous selection process.

Not so. To justify his £60,000 appointment, Bill of Rights Forum chairman Chris Sidoti had to undergo no interview process and was not required to apply for the job. It is comforting to know that the man who has decided to lead the attempts to foist this needless bill upon us (and his initial charge was only to advise whether this was actually necessary) underwent such a transparently fair process of selection!

Medvedev the calm at centre of presidential storm

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To maintain the theme of sporting analogies for presidential elections, if the US presidential contest is the World Cup, the Russian equivalent is some manner of professional wrestling bout. The winner has been pre-ordained since Dimitry Medvedev received the United Russia nomination in early December. Whatever the discrepancies in competiveness between the two elections, the Russian winner will have scarcely less geo-political clout as the world’s largest country continues to exert increasing influence strategically and economically.

Medvedev has so far been engaged in a low key campaign. Following the template created by Vladimir Putin in 2004, United Russia’s candidate seems to regard conventional electioneering as beneath his dignity. As such he has been eschewing stormy television debates featuring the other candidates. Medvedev therefore avoided becoming embroiled in clashes between Democratic Party candidate Andrei Bogdanov who expressed his hopes that Russia might join th…

The biggest political show on earth

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Thus far I have refrained from blogging on the subject of the primaries for the American presidential election. However I have been following the contests in the mainstream media and reading with fascination comment from bloggers who have a much surer handle on the subject, such as Brian Crowe and Peter Munce.

I find Tim Garton Ash’s commentary in the Guardian to be something of a mixed bag, but I did find myself murmuring assent, reading some of his comments about the political contest unfolding in the US currently which appeared in yesterday’s paper. From the perspective of an ignoramus I have been amazed at the facility with which people in the UK have grasped the intricacies and nuances of the American electoral process and the easy fashion in which they have aligned themselves with particular candidates for whom they cannot vote and who belong to parties which they cannot join.

The analogies of sport and entertainment do seem to me to be particularly prescient. Close observers…

Worthington learns little in Windsor friendly

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Northern Ireland succumbed 1-0 to Bulgaria last night in a predictably lacklustre friendly at Windsor Park. Martin Petrov, who was the pick of the Bulgarian side, forced a Johnny Evans own goal following a characteristically forceful run from the left flank. Despite chances for Kyle Lafferty and Steven Craigan, Northern Ireland were unable to respond and indeed at times Bulgaria looked more likely to add to their lead.

On the occasion of a friendly match such as this it was inevitable that Nigel Worthington would take the opportunity to experiment with different personnel and indeed three substitutions were made at half-time, with three more to come. Two of these substitutes were gratuitous nonsense as Linfield’s Thompson and Mannus were introduced in order to court the acclaim of their club supporters. Whether Worthington would have learned anything which he should not have ascertained already is arguable.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of last night’s opening exchanges was th…

Why unionism is not merely British nationalism

An interesting point is raised by commenter Kloot as he challenges my contentions in the blog below about the BNP. In Kloot’s view, all unionism is commensurate with nationalism, it is simply British nationalism. He applies the same culture / identity templates which apply to Irish and Ulster nationalisms and to the doctrines of such groups as the BNP. Although I have attempted briefly to outline some of the distinctions I would draw between civic unionism and the various forms of nationalism in a reply to Kloot’s post, the subject is interesting and complex enough to require a fresh post and a more lengthy exegesis. Kloot’s analysis is shared by most nationalists, but I would respectfully submit that the root of this analysis is an inability or an unwillingness to acknowledge that there is an alternative to ordering states in anything other than primarily nationalistic terms.

Some of this ground has already been covered in ‘Unapologetic Unionism’ which has a link at the top right …