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Showing posts from May, 2008

Mary Robinson. A united Ireland 'isn't on the agenda' and 'doesn't need to be on the agenda'

Mary Robinson was president of the Republic of Ireland when the state still made an irredentist constitutional claim on Northern Ireland. The offending clauses were altered after the Republic’s voters endorsed the Belfast Agreement in 1998 and it is instructive that ten years later it is Robinson’s view that a united Ireland “"isn't on the agenda" and "doesn't need to be on the agenda". In an interview with William Crawley, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights added that a united Ireland, " isn't even relevant to the context of what is happening [here now] ... There is no constituency of pressure for a united Ireland".

The view which Robinson is articulating is similar to that which Maurice Hayes ascribed to the majority of voters in the Republic who endorsed the 1998 accord. This reading of the agreement views it as a permanent or long-term arrangement for Northern Ireland, departing from the northern nationalist view that it r…

Wogan for a smaller Europe?

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Russia’s delight at adding a Eurovision winner to April’s sporting triumphs in football and ice hockey was not shared by Terry Wogan. Indeed the presenter, whose sardonic commentary exemplifies the Eurovision contest for those watching on the BBC, has threatened to quit before next year’s final, in protest at what he considers the ‘geo-political’ factors which determine voting.

Now I must confess that, if I watch Eurovision at all, my habit is to tune in only after the music has finished and the voting has commenced. Perhaps it is the ‘geo-political’ influences which colour the votes from various countries which I actually enjoy. Mark Mardell offers the theory that large minorities from neighbouring countries may explain why the voting often seems to be determined by physical proximity. I have no doubt that there is some truth to this suggestion.

Equally, even where there are not substantial minorities living in adjacent countries, and where there is little historical affinity, …

Principle of consent should be upheld despite SF complaints

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A couple of days ago Mark Devenport reported that the Assembly Commission had furnished Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff with a list of ‘symbols and emblems’ contained within the Stormont Estate. To refer to many of the contents which appear on the list as ‘symbols’ or ‘emblems’ is actually stretching the terms to breaking point. All the various paintings, ornaments, artefacts and paraphernalia which have been acquired since the building opened have been included, whether they are on open display or in storage.

McElduff has already released a statement on PSF’s website, urging a ‘shake-up’ in the distribution of symbols. As yet the tone is fairly sanguine, although whether this is because of the storm of derision at previous PSF symbol ‘audits’ in local councils, or whether the Shinners have as yet to decide which objects they will choose to be offended by is not clear.

There are a number of items in the existing list which reflect the Irish nationalist tradition and more which allude to…

Good riddance, as wastrel heads to 'Tics

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In terms of unrealised potential, Harry Kewell must be amongst Liverpool FC’s most disappointing transfer deals. The Australian had a great deal of talent, but singularly lacked the desire and application to translate that ability into match winning performances at Anfield. I for one will be breathing a sigh of relief if, as the Belfast Tele is reporting, the club cut their losses and send Kewell packing to Celtic. At Parkhead he can hobble unwillingly down the wing looking forlornly at the bench or suffer gout as much as he pleases without Liverpool shelling out £75k a week.

Empey seeks Scottish graduates for NI jobs

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I went to Scotland to study, my girlfriend acquired her first degree in Scotland, my sister was educated in two universities in Scotland, a high percentage of my friends attended universities in Scotland and I would estimate that approximately one third of my school year did likewise. Universities in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen are filled with Northern Irish students and naturally many do not return to these shores when their studies are completed.

Sir Reg Empey has been spearheading a campaign, not to reverse the trend, but rather to attract graduates from Scotland to Northern Ireland to work. To this end four top companies lined up alongside the Minister for Education and Learning at Glasgow University’s Summer Graduate Fair at the SECC. The intention is to establish a presence at various graduate fairs throughout Britain.

This is a welcome initiative and I hope it is a successful one. The brain drain is a marked phenomenon, but it is healthy for talented people from…

Stop funding these terror rags

Semantic moral gymnastics about ‘one man’s freedom fighter’ not withstanding, someone who has been convicted of bombing civilian targets and is directly implicated in the eight murders which resulted, is unambiguously a terrorist. Brian Keenan, the violent republican extremist who died of cancer last week, carried responsibility for many more murders and there is not a shadow of doubt that any right thinking person will have abhorred this man’s legacy and adjudged the manner in which he chose to use his talents wholly despicable.

That republicans celebrate Keenan’s life and regard him as a hero is of course unsurprising. Their viewpoint is indefensible and it is a reminder of precisely the character of people we are dealing with as regards Provisional Sinn Féin and its supporters. It is still less of a surprise to find that the Andersonstown News contains a glowing and sinister tribute to Keenan within its pages. Those who are responsible for this paper and its stable mates are d…

The benefits of a 'quality education' at RBAI?

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A number of months ago Peter Munce provided a fairly succinct assessment of Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik over at Baronsville. I would tend to concur with Peter’s conclusion and add that I tend to the view that the member for Montgomeryshire is not nearly as entertaining as he seems to believe himself to be. And therefore there was little amusement derived from Opik’s Guardian article, pleading the case for his fiancé’s native Romania as a surrogate team for British supporters in this summer’s European Championships, to offset incredulity that this son of Estonian immigrants appears to believe that Romania was once part of the Soviet Union!

Please note Sir Kenneth Bloomfield!

Avoiding relapsing into 'managed decline'

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The Ulster Unionist Party holds it’s AGM this Saturday and Alex Kane has been contemplating the role of the party’s structures (which Sir Reg Empey has been in the process of overhauling) in preventing modernisation. Kane’s view is that throughout unionist history, when pivotal opportunities presented themselves to the UUP to modernise, become more pluralist and thus to make Northern Ireland a more stable entity, the party’s leadership was hampered by its decentralised structure and its various disparate pressure groups.

Kane raises former leader James Molyneaux’s diagnosis that “we must reassess every facet of our structures and overhaul every aspect of our operations”, and acidly notes, “the reality, of course, is that Mr Molyneaux didn’t do that”. The ‘broad church’ approach to the unionist party made top down change impractical and contributed to Molyneaux presiding, Brezhnev-like, over a period of unionist stagnation from the late 70s through to the mid 90s, during which politic…

'New' cold warriors simply haven't adjusted to end of the old one

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The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele is amongst the most sober and sensible commentators on modern Russia. Whilst acknowledging that the country has problems as regards western notions of democracy and freedom, he simultaneously identifies sound historical reasons, both in the recent and more distant pasts, why this should be. He also emphasises the importance of a neighbourly relationship with Russia and defends its right to both chart its own path and defend its own interests on the international stage.

Today Steele focuses on EU efforts to renew the expired Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and the difficulties which are inherent in these attempts. In one particularly perspicacious sentence Steele cuts through the bellicose tone of those who suggest that relations with Russia are inevitably going to degenerate into a ‘new cold war’.

“Far from being in a "new cold war", neither the EU nor Russia has yet adjusted to the end of the old one and the past two decades' turmoi…

More on Russian football and national resurgence

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I hope to take Marc Bennetts’ book Football Dynamo to Russia next month as part of my holiday reading. It is subtitled ‘Russia and the People’s Game’ and purports to be an examination of football’s role in the world’s biggest country.

Bennetts has an article on Open Democracy’s new Russian blog (see also the updated links menu) today which hopefully provides something of a taster. His chosen topic is Russia’s football resurgence and its links to the political and economic fate of the country.

Lugovoi case not proven

The press have picked up on Andrei Lugovoi’s intended attendance at an event in Moscow tonight, at which a lot of British people will also be present. Lugovoi has garnered substantial publicity thanks to allegations that he murdered ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko. These have propelled him into the Russian Duma where he represents Zhirinovsky’s extreme nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (not as the Guardian claims, a pro-Kremlin party, but rather a party in opposition to Putin’s United Russia).

It is perhaps a timely moment to remember that theories about Lugovoi murdering Litvinenko, whether under instructions directly from Putin, or directed instead by a renegade group of ‘siloviki’, are merely that – theories – and that a growing body of evidence is being adduced to suggest that Britain’s case against Lugovoi is a weak one and that other possibilities are equally plausible. Mary Dejevsky has provided a useful synthesis of these arguments in the Independent (many of which draw o…

David Trimble and the principle of consent

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Frank Millar’s book about David Trimble, Price of Peace, takes the form of a series of extensive conversations with the former UUP leader, examining the beliefs, motivations and tactics which informed his political journey from the early 1990s onward. Price of Peace is a discussion, a dialogue, predicated on the ideas surrounding outward-looking, progressive unionism and therefore reading it is a stimulating experience, which raises issues which chime resonantly with the themes of this blog.

A passage in the book investigating the principle of consent and its role within unionist politics and those of Northern Ireland, in particular struck me as especially relevant, given a post carried on this site from Friday last. The two men discuss both the history of the principle, as it relates to the Northern Irish state, and the extent of Trimble’s achievement in enshrining that principle in an agreement to which all main sections within nationalist Ireland eventually subscribed.

The principl…

A year of blogging

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One year ago today Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness opened with its first post, a tentative effort speculating whom the IFA might choose to replace Lawrie Sanchez as Northern Ireland manager. From such humble beginnings, the humility has continued, although I’ve learned a bit about the technicalities of blogging in the interim. Hopefully some of the additional widgets and changes in layout offer a more user friendly experience for those who have stuck with us.

Gradually a web of links has been established with bloggers sharing similar preoccupations and through this expedient a readership has evolved. Posts about Northern Ireland politics have from the beginning been the most popular and Three Thousand Versts has become something of a fixture in the (admittedly small) unionist blogosphere. I’ve particularly enjoyed exchanging ideas and debate amongst readers and posters in this virtual community.

As regards recognition and approbation there have been a number of highlights du…

Theocracy is dead, long live theocracy!

Whither the new technocratic, secular DUP under pragmatic Pentecostalist Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds from the Free Ps liberal wing (ho-hum)? Onward towards a future where extremist clerics do not play a significant leadership role in the party? Or not as the case may be.

London, Chicago and Cullybackey

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At the risk of losing my readership entirely, I couldn’t resist drawing attention to this confluence of famous TV programme, be-afroed Northern Irish singing sensation and the province’s finest village, Cullybackey.

Not only has Duke Special produced the theme tune for Northern Ireland’s version of Sesame Street, alongside children from the Diamond Primary School, his newsletter also details venues where the Duke will record his new album, “London, Chicago and Cullybackey”.

The attractions of London and Chicago will pale into insignificance when the Duke samples a chicken fillet burger from the Moby Chip. Although if he fancies a drink in Wylies, there’s a possibility his keyboard skills might be required to play the Queen on the trusty Casio at closing time.

Paisley - From Demagogue to Democrat?

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In the introduction to ‘Paisley: From Demagogue to Democrat?’ Ed Moloney asks ‘was Paisley the only member of his flock who never really or truly believed his own gospel?’ and the book certainly points to a cynicism within the man which dictates that the only principles which he does not expect to be unbending are his own. This biography of the outgoing DUP leader plots the machinations whereby, fomenting division and fuelling hatred, he opportunistically carved out both his own church and political party from the main bodies of Presbyterianism and unionism respectively.

Moloney’s updated book is particularly lucid charting the symbiotic, nurturing relationship between Paisleyism and republicanism throughout the troubles and into the present dispensation. The IRA’s campaign provided the climate of fear in which Paisley’s politics could thrive and conversely his brand of sectarianism and recalcitrance contributed to an atmosphere where violence could flourish. Often the DUP leader …

Fianna Fail, consent and undermining unionist confidence in the Republic's government

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Maurice Hayes has been outlining his thoughts regarding Fianna Fail organising in Northern Ireland and the mooted deal between that party and the SDLP. The former Republic of Ireland senator adjudges any serious incursion into northern politics a possible destabilising influence which could undermine the underlying purpose of the Belfast Agreement, as accepted by a large majority in both Irish jurisdictions.

Hayes’ article raises a point which is worth picking up on from a unionist perspective. He interprets Southern Ireland’s overwhelming endorsement of the Agreement as “a polite way of saying so-long rather than a bid for further and closer engagement”. The motivation of this relative disengagement is inspired by a desire to give breathing space to northern politicians in order to let them establish their own institutions and order their own affairs.

He argues that Fianna Fail’s movement into Northern Ireland is contrary to this impulse and that it will have an unsettling influen…

Zenit and Russian revival

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As a minority of Rangers fans brought their club into disrepute in Manchester on Wednesday night, Russia celebrated UEFA Cup victory by a team who are being touted as a symbol of the country’s revival.

Throughout Russia supporters greeted Zenit St Petersburg’s 2-0 victory at the City of Manchester Stadium as if it were a national triumph. And it does not take a great leap of imagination to present it as such. The club’s most high profile supporter is new president Dmitry Medvedev, who now shares power in tandem with the office's previous incumbent, and fellow St Petersburger, Vladimir Putin.

The wealth and influence new Russia has acquired derives from energy resources and in particular natural gas supplies. Zenit St Petersburg’s wealth derives from Gazprom, its main sponsor and the country’s largest gas company. Of course Gazprom is also inextricably linked with the Kremlin and Russia’s political establishment. The company plan to build a controversial new headquarters in St P…

Celtic's exclusion forms pretext for MOPE

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Recently I highlighted potential for chaos and confusion as the IFA finalised the composition of their new invitational league which is due to kick off next season. I questioned the manner in which 14 domestic licences were allocated but suggested that, having allotted these licences, the IFA should now issue invitations for their new top tier, to licence holding clubs, based on last season’s league position. Of course the IFA instead used Byzantine criteria (established last season) which allocated points for various aspects of infrastructure and organisation within the clubs, rather than simply judging their successful licence application as proof of adequacy in this respect and turning to comparative success on the field.

Predictably potential has been realised and chaos and confusion HAVE ensued. Firstly, for submitting their application thirty minutes late, Portadown were excluded from the league. Subsequently an appeal against this draconian penalty was rejected. One of…

Scaling an Everest of incompetence

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We have established that Caitriona Ruane makes a disastrous Minister for Education and that she should either resign or be sacked as soon as possible. We are however not yet fully aware just how staggeringly gargantuan the scale of Cat’s uselessness will turn out to be. Already she has proved herself an intrepid Sherpa of stupidity, navigating remote passes, and peaks of Himalayan ineptitude whilst other ministers shuffle around the foothills or potter about their tents pitched at base camp.

And just yesterday another sheer wall of ice and rock proved no obstacle for Ruane, as she ascended yet further the heights of incompetence. The issue is academic selection once again and what might replace it. The latest answer appears to be – academic selection. Or rather partial academic selection, for those who want it. Which is rather similar to the status quo, whereby parents can either enter their child for 11 plus exams or not.

The quirk which our asinine mountaineer has seen fit to …

You'll never walk alone / beat Maik Taylor

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Legendary goalkeeper Elisha Scott was one of only three Northern Ireland internationals to play first team football for Liverpool. Scott played his final games for the reds in the 1930s, around about the time when Aghadoey born forward Sam English also turned out at Anfield. Despite Jim Magilton’s best efforts it is now over 70 years since a Northern Ireland player played a senior fixture for Liverpool.

Is this about to change? Various sources are suggesting that another Northern Irish goalkeeping great, Maik Taylor, is poised to join the reds in the twilight of his career. Rafa Benitez views 36 year old Taylor as a reliable and experienced understudy for first choice Pepe Reina. Despite the lack of first team opportunities which Maik might face, it would be tremendous for Liverpool supporting GAWA to see him between the sticks at Anfield.

Pragmatism, the moral high ground and moving between the two

Saturday morning saw me tramping around Belfast’s limited collection of book shops searching for a copy of Frank Millar’s, David Trimble – The Price of Peace, to no avail. Amazon also currently list the book as ‘out of stock’ despite its release date being last month, although that site does include a page advertising a previous edition of the book as David Trimble – The Prince of Peace, which made me chuckle. To compound my frustration, Alex Kane has clearly acquired a copy of the book and discusses its contents in his News Letter column.

Kane’s piece draws on Millar’s book and a polemic by A Tangled Web’s David Vance (Unionism Decayed) to illustrate two very different strands of unionist thought. Frank Millar’s sympathetic treatment of Trimble, Kane views as representing the pragmatic strain of unionism which prioritises carving out the best deal available and Vance's book is an example of what the columnist describes as “moral high-ground unionism (the view that almost anyt…

Paisley doesn't deserve our gratitude!

As Ian Paisley conducts his ‘victory lap’ I have begun to read Ed Moloney’s biography ‘From Demagogue to Democrat’. The book will require its own review, but for the time being I will say that refreshing the memory as to the very real damage which the man inflicted on this country is timely, given the plaudits he is receiving from all quarters. Rather than the sense of gratitude and relief which seems to characterise attitudes to the ‘new Paisley’ from those who abhorred the old, there should instead be anger at the utter bare-faced audacity and blatant hypocrisy of the man. We should be no more grateful to Paisley for his pragmatic decision to suspend his incitements to violence and hatred and to refrain from wrecking power-sharing initiatives, than we should be to McGuinness / Adams et al for deigning not to shoot people or blow them up.

Thus I read with incredulity the revelation in last week’s Belfast Telegraph MORI poll, that Catholic respondents gave Paisley an approval rati…

Russia: A Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby

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Last night the BBC aired part one of a new series following Jonathan Dimbleby’s 10 month odyssey over 10,000 miles of modern Russia. I found it difficult to assess on the evidence of 60 minutes whether the programme will present a useful portrait of the Federation. Dimbleby’s stated objectives certainly display a degree of ambition, but it remains to be seen whether he will succeed in reflecting the outlooks, lifestyles and preoccupations of real Russians or whether in seeking to impose a narrative on the material he has collected, the show flounders under the weight of metaphor and interpretation and collapses into easy cliché.

Both outcomes suggested themselves during the programme last night. There were plentiful interviews in which Russians were allowed to voice their opinions with only occasional interjections from the presenter. On other occasions however the grand, national metaphor made an appearance. The north’s White Nights we were told, coupled with accompanying long, d…

Northern Ireland's democratic deficit

Mick Fealty has chosen to focus on Northern Ireland’s democratic deficit in his reflection on a year of devolution, carried on Comment is Free. Yesterday I alluded to deficiencies in our system of government as regards accountability, but it is worth quoting Mick’s most pertinent paragraph in order to slightly develop the point.

“With mandatory coalition it is simply not possible to vote the government out. Even if voters shift their allegiance there is no decisive tipping point at which the electorate can collectively punish parties that don't come up to scratch. At most, success and failure are only relative points on a single continuum. The danger in the long term is that it institutionalises mediocre government and the system fossilises into elective patronage that cannot be challenged.”


Yesterday none other than the First Minister delivered a rare moment of perspicacity and transparency, acknowledging that government here is “not perfect and not wholly democratic, but the best…

Devolution isn't delivering

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Today marked the first anniversary of current power sharing arrangements at Stormont and as such provided a pretext for reflection on a year of devolved government. Mark Devenport has provided something of a balance sheet for devolution on the BBC website and ironically the Belfast Telegraph (which I have been eviscerating below) has carried the results of a Mori opinion poll recording the public’s attitudes to the institutions, and the politicians who man them.

In the early weeks of devolution last May, I suggested that Northern Ireland’s public was not in the grip of ‘heady optimism’ contemplating the renewal of local government, but rather the mood was one of ‘indifferent scepticism’. At that time I observed,

“Unless my circle of family, friends and workmates are chronically unrepresentative, the “fresh new start” heralded around the world, went by remarked on by people here only with a few cynical asides and weary expressions of overwhelming apathy.”

Scrutinising the results of the…

Community Telegraph - so bad, it's good!

The Belfast Telegraph has a stable mate I particularly enjoy reading. The Community Telegraph is so bad it’s actually funny. Take the restaurant reviews for instance. They're something like a school magazine article, provided by an author who's struggling with GCSE English, after the teacher had done a bit of editing.

I am particularly keen on the review, carried in this week’s South Belfast edition, of the restaurant Bourbon in Belfast: The reviewer furnishes us with an astonishingly literal description of the dining experience:
“We were greeted by the hostess who checked our booking before leading us to our table. We were presented with our menus and were moments later asked if we would like to order a drink." And later:
“The waitress opened the wine, poured it for us and asked if we were happy with it — which we were.”
This is heady stuff and damned useful ..... if you have never before dined in a restaurant and wish to know the exactly what eating out entails.  T…

Why not a referendum on devolution Gordon?

The Labour leader in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, has given Gordon Brown a headache by advocating an early referendum on independence. Her proposal, which does not have Brown’s support, is being presented as further undermining his leadership, hot on the heals of the 10p tax band controversy, Labour’s mauling in local elections in England and Wales and dissent on the issue of 42 day detention.

The notion of an early poll is in itself commendable. “The SNP tactics are all about delay and fomenting grievance. I firmly believe the SNP should not be allowed to control the question, the timing and the agenda”. Internal wrangling within Labour may be music to the nationalists’ ears, but being asked to put up or shut up on the issue of independence at such an early juncture terrifies them.

O’Neill citesJohn Redwood and calls for an English poll on possible independence to accompany any Scottish referendum on the matter. Certainly, as a unionist, the prospect of forcing the constitutional iss…

DUP's pact proposals - treat with caution

In the light of Labour’s local election woes, Jeffrey Donaldson and Gregory Campbell have been suggesting that unionism should strike an electoral pact to maximise influence wielded at Westminster. In the eventuality of a hung parliament or a tight majority for either Labour or the Tory party, ten or more unionist MPs would form a powerful bloc capable of exerting disproportionate influence.

DUP representatives, and in particular those DUP representatives who have defected from the UUP such as Donaldson, are unlikely and belated proponents of unionist…. er ….. unity. However if a deal on Fermanagh South Tyrone and South Belfast constituencies were to secure an extra UUP seat in the latter and deprive Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew in the former it might sweeten a bitter pill for UUP supporters.

An electoral understanding along these lines has long been mooted and if it were simply to comprise withdrawing the UUP candidate for FST in return for DUP withdrawal in South Belfast I believe…

Republicans pose threat to Alzheimer's sufferer Hermon

Dissident republicans attempt to carry on the campaign of terror which the bulk of their fellow travellers have strategically abandoned. The latest brave action they have been involved in is gathering intelligence on the whereabouts of the gravely ill ex RUC Chief Constable Sir Jack Hermon. On police advice his wife, the UUP MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, has arranged to move her husband, who needs 24 hour care for Alzheimer’s disease, from a sick bed in a nursing home.

The News Letter condemns the fanaticism of the dissidents, reminding us that those responsible for these actions are the same people who organised and carried out the Omagh bomb and reflecting that they appear ‘devoid of all sense of humanity’. It is worth remembering that all that separates these people from mainstream republicanism is simply a lack of pragmatism. Morally they are made from exactly the same stuff and mainstream republicanism’s ‘war’ required an identical mentality.

Realigning power in Moscow not necessarily a bad thing

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Tomorrow is an historic day in Moscow as for the first time a popularly elected Premier will replace the previous incumbent at the end of his term. The spectacle is likely to encompass a closely managed piece of political theatre redolent with pomp and circumstance. The new President will be inaugurated in the Andreyevsky Hall of the Kremlin’s Great Palace, a former tsarist throne room. The historical undertones are not accidental.

Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev will become President of the Russian Federation and will swiftly appoint the outgoing President, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, as his Prime Minister. It is the dynamic between these men, and the way in which the ‘tandem’ they are to form is to operate, which is preoccupying western commentators. The consensus is that in the short-term at least V.V. Putin will retain enormous influence and the replacement will remain dependent on his predecessor’s endorsement in order to underpin the authority of his presidency.

Certainly Med…

New Belfast stadium still tenable

The Guardian’s Henry McDonald is in agreement with popular wisdom which maintains that Peter Robinson will sound the death knell of the Maze Stadium project before his elevation from Finance Minister to First Minister. Speculation has been rife for some time that Robinson would not assent to a business case which is sketchy at best. The scheme has been discredited for some time and the longevity of plans to build a sport facility at the site of the ex-prison can be attributed more to political expediency than any real conviction that the Maze site was the best available.

For quite some time a majority of Northern Ireland football supporters have voiced their preference for a stadium in Belfast with the attendant amenities and infrastructure which this would entail. The Northern Ireland football team has always had most to lose if a 30,000 seat stadium was to be built at the Maze. Ulster rugby and the Ulster GAA agreed to use the stadium for some games should it be built, but both…

Moscow visa chaos was avoidable

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In June 2007 EU countries with the exception of the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark signed a visa facilitation agreement streamlining procedures and instigating reciprocal visa arrangements with Russia. Had the UK not suspended negotiations to enter into this agreement, then the furore regarding Champions League Final tickets would not be occurring.

Admittedly, since the events of Tuesday and Wednesday this week, I have become less sympathetic than I might otherwise have been to supporters who wish to attend what promises to be the dreariest European final ever. Nevertheless it is indicative of patronising attitudes to Russia that on one hand the Russian Embassy is urged to ease visa requirements, or indeed suspend them altogether, whilst on the other Russian fans who wish to watch Zenit St Petersburg play Rangers in Manchester’s UEFA Cup Final are expected to supply biometric information and perhaps to undergo interview.

Supporters seeking visas to attend the Moscow final n…

The Great Girona Gold Hunt

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For someone with purported disdain for local programming I have found myself praising a number of BBC Northern Ireland’s programmes lately. I retain the right to spittle flecked apoplexy when ‘Have I Got News for You’ is replaced by ‘Good Dog Bad Dog’ or when a particularly good ‘Question Time’ panel is eschewed in favour of Daithi McKay, Dawn Purvis, Sean Neeson and Edwin Poots or an equally stellar selection of political thinkers on ‘Let’s Talk’. However I am quite prepared to fight the corner for local output when it is as good as Monday night’s documentary ‘The Great Girona Gold Hunt’.

As a child I visited the Girona treasures in the Ulster Museum. I was aware that the Spanish Armada ship had been wrecked somewhere close to Dunluce Castle in the autumn of 1588, but I had a number of misconceptions about the incident and I did not entirely understand the significance of this particular wreck until I watched the programme. It had been my understanding in fact that it was Dunluc…

Time to go

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As regular readers will have ascertained, one of my favourite columnists writing about Northern Ireland is Alex Kane, a commentator with a secular unionist hue which I find particularly amenable. I frequently link Alex’s News Letter column, and this week it is a particular pleasure to draw readers’ attention to a piece which sees him in strident form, dealing with our executive’s disastrous Education Minister.

Caitriona Ruane has fought off a robust challenge from the DUP’s Minster for Arts and Culture, Edwin Poots, to claim the title of worst minister in the Northern Ireland Executive. Her tendency to avoid fulfilling her brief by recourse to mealy mouthed, self-righteous platitudes has singularly failed to obscure the fact that she has refused to outline a strategy for replacing the contentious Eleven Plus exam. Caitriona has failed to fool anyone. Alex provides perhaps the most unremitting and succinct analysis of Ruane’s performance which has been offered to date.

“How thoroughl…