Posts

Showing posts from November, 2008

'To suggest unionists are anything other than Irish ....', RSF's prescriptions echo Adams.

The Republic’s President, Mary McAleese, visited an Orange hall in Cavan yesterday and in the course of her engagement made the following remark,

“It is possible to be both Irish and British, possible to be both Orange and Irish. We face into a landscape of new possibilities and understandings.”

It did not take long for a Republican Sinn Féin spokesman to reject her contention,

“It is not possible for someone to give their allegiance both to Ireland and to Britain. Britain represents the denial of Ireland’s rights. Orangemen should instead be encouraged to recognise that they are exclusively Irish, and to work for the benefit of the Irish Nation rather than adhering to narrow sectarian Orange ideology. To suggest that Unionists are anything other than Irish amounts to a tacit acceptance of Thatcherite claims that the Six Occupied Counties are ‘as British as Finchley’.”

The statement represents a classic slice of immoderate nationalism, issuing from a dissident fringe of republicanism. I…

Green arrest poses questions for Home Office and Met

Whichever way you look at it, the arrest of shadow Home Office minister, Damian Green, was an extraordinary event. Reportedly 9 (nine) anti-terrorism officers from the Met Police attended the MP's apprehension!

More bizarre still was the explanation for Mr Green’s arrest. Purportedly it was for publishing documents received from a Civil Service ‘whistleblower’. Government leaks are an established means by which the opposition garner information as to the workings of government.

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary claim to have had no prior knowledge that the arrest would be made. How far this is attributable to maintaining ‘plausible deniability’ remains to be seen.

The arrest certainly made for a bad day for Parliament. Its ability to hold the executive to account has suffered a reverse. It will be interesting to see if anything further comes out of this, because on existing information, it is the Home Office and Met Police which emerge from the incident with most ques…

Bill of Rights argument remains as vague as ever

In less than a fortnight the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission delivers its recommendations on ‘scope and substance’ for a proposed Bill of Rights. To that end 'Hearts and Minds' invited a panel, consisting of the SDLP’s Alban Maginness, Dermot Nesbitt from the UUP and Mark Kelly from WAVE Trauma Centre, to discuss the need for a Bill of Rights.

Maginness and Kelly contended that a Bill of Rights is necessary and both men couched their arguments in the type of mealy-mouthed platitudes which have characterised this debate from its inception. To distil their case to its essence, if legislation contains the word ‘rights’ in its title it must be good. How could anyone possibly be against rights? As the discussion drew to its close Kelly plopped the juicy cherry atop a bakewell tart of saccharine inanity. People were dying whilst they waited for a NI Human Rights Act, he intoned!

Dermot Nesbitt must have felt like he’d stepped into a parallel universe. ‘What can a Huma…

Conservatives should commit to 45p tax if social responsibility remains their message

Conservative Home is canvassing Tory supporters as to their preferred strategy on 45p tax for high earners. The website quotes shadow treasury spokesman, Phillip Hammond,

“Clearly if the government is going to announce a huge package of additional borrowing today there will have to be large tax rises after the election. Of course people on higher incomes will have to pay their share of that but don’t let anybody be deluded by the political spin into thinking that the black hole that Labour has created will be filled by a tax on a really quite small number of very higher earners, it won't. We are talking about a couple of billions of pounds, the hole is likely to be a hundred billon pounds big, its going to require tax rises across the board and I’m afraid it will be ordinary families and businesses that are hit not just the very rich.”

If the statement seems somewhat ambiguous on the merits of the 45p rate, I’d imagine that the ambiguity is deliberate. Labour will not recoup a s…

Like being savaged by Daniel O'Donnell

Image
Dennis Healey famously likened a political attack he endured from Tory minister Geoffrey Howe to being ‘savaged by a dead sheep’. As tongue tied UUP MLA, Fred Cobain, allowed Jeffrey Donaldson’s pompous intonation to swamp a perfectly valid argument on Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra yesterday, I had pause to reflect, how much more unpleasant it must be to be savaged by Daniel O’Donnell. It wasn’t a good performance from poor old Fred, who simply failed to assert himself, and Mark Carruthers controlled the piece badly, allowing Donaldson to drone on endlessly and barely affording Cobain any time to outline his argument.

The issue at hand is an attempt by the Executive, indicative of the DUP and Sinn Féin’s approach to power-sharing, to minimise the role of Assembly committees in scrutinising its spending plans. Mark Devenport succinctly outlines the respective arguments on his blog, something which Radio Ulster abjectly failed to achieve in its item. Quite reasonably, Cobain and oth…

Ukraine refuses to pay its gas bill - again

Russia Profile highlights the seasonal ‘pantomime’ which takes place every year when Russia suggests that Ukraine should pay for its gas. Gazprom is threatening to put up its prices to supply Ukraine with gas to ‘European market levels’ if the cash strapped state does not pay up. Meanwhile the Ukrainians demand a stay of execution and negotiations.

An EU expert on energy supplies, Pierre Noel, observes,

“Every year in December the Russians say to Ukrainians, ‘OK, you have to pay for the gas you consume,’ and the Ukrainians say ‘well, let’s negotiate’.” If the Russians get angry enough they can close off the pipe, as they did in 2006. The Ukrainians will then steal gas intended for Gazprom’s major customers in Europe. So they come to some kind of settlement and then next winter it starts all over again.”

Although analysts disagree as to the extent of the problem, there is largely consensus that fault is on the Ukrainian, rather than the Russian side. Ukraine is insistent on using th…

'A Christmas Carol' - a political analysis from Burke's Corner

Image
Burke’s Corner offers a political deconstruction of ‘A Christmas Carol’, written in response to Michael Gove’s contention that Dickens’ ‘little Christmas book’ is a seasonal cliché. As a Tory, Gove should appreciate the tale as a reassertion of socially responsible conservative values, in the teeth of Scrooge’s classically liberal analysis. The piece avers,

“Dickens leaves us in no doubt that Ebenezer Scrooge stands in the tradition of the Whigs, Puritans and the Manchester School. His redemption comes when he overthrows his Whiggish, Puritanical thinking and embraces the old merry tradition of Christmas and the tory notion that he has obligations to others in society.”

Typically erudite stuff from Burke’s corner. The blog concludes,

“Rejecting both the libertarian and the statist creeds, A Christmas Carol gives a seasonal celebration of the tory values extolled by Kruger. Perhaps Michael Gove should cautiously await the striking of the clock on Christmas Eve ... just in case a gho…

SDLP plan new constitution based on Irish language equality

Highlighted by Michael on Slugger, the third clause of the SDLP's proposed Irish Language Bill,

3. To the extent that any provision in any other Act of Parliament or any other Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly, or any other form of legal regulation, is inconsistent with the provisions of this Act, the provisions of this Act shall take precedence.

Without wishing to damage my liberal reputation on Irish language issues, I feel it may be a little too far to position a piece of language legislation as the supreme statutory authority governing Northern Ireland. Does the SDLP really think it can use power, devolved from Westminster, to assert precedence over all Acts of Parliament made there?

Minority languages need to be encouraged in Northern Ireland and afforded a measure of protection. We certainly do not need 'official languages' - we do not comprise a separate state - and we do not need legal impositions guaranteeing provision of a language in work, the courts and gove…

Lazy, appalling, pointless dross attacking Tory /UUP deal

Roy Garland has a characteristically confused, rambling and contradictory piece in the Irish News, attacking the UUP / Tory deal. I studiously avoid the term ‘fisking’ (it’s too easily mispronounced), but let’s have a detailed look at Garland’s non-argument. Unfortunately he hits his stride early, and I’m compelled to begin with the very first sentence.

“Ulster Unionists have entered a formal electoral pact with the Tories on the heels of an informal pact with Jim Allister’s TUV.”

Ulster Unionists do not have a pact, informal or otherwise, with the TUV. Both parties are very clear on this point. The two groups had a discussion, which is a normal and usual thing to do in politics. Garland’s nationalist colleague Tom Kelly actually congratulates the UUP for shunning the TUV in favour of the Tories in his Irish News column. Garland continues,


“A few months ago I gave a guarded welcome to a vague UUP/Tory link-up but the TUV pact conflicts with the pluralist motives supposedly underlyi…

Healing psychological wounds, Tory deal makes explicit economic and strategic interests

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke’s contention, in 1990, that the UK government had no ‘selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland’ inflicted something of a scar on the Ulster unionist psyche. The British government’s statement of constitutional neutrality may have fallen short of nationalists’ demand that it become a ‘persuader’ for a united Ireland, but it instilled in unionism an insecurity from which it has yet to recover and had, as its basis, an unsustainable paradox formulated largely to facilitate a process of appeasing republicanism.

If Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom were to mean anything, its government would evidently retain an interest, both economic and strategic, despite protestation to the contrary. Brooke’s formulation was patent nonsense, and it has not been borne out in reality. Westminster has pledged to respect the will of the people of Northern Ireland, as regards its constitutional status, and whilst that status re…

What he gives with one hand.......?

Image
Given the unalloyed enthusiasm which he engenders in some news followers, I think I’m unusual in finding Robert Peston extremely irritating. It’s something to do with the staccato emphasis, apropos of nothing, with which he imbues every report. I was therefore somewhat relieved and refreshed to hear Nick Robinson breaking the big economic story yesterday.

Robinson has discovered that, allied to an immediate cut in VAT, the government is to raise taxes at the next election, introducing a 45% band for top earners. This move will be impregnated more with symbolism and populism rather than practicality (as just as it might seem). It is likely to raise a mere £2billion, which is small change next to Gordon Brown’s planned borrowing, never mind that already incurred.

On the Today programme Robinson speculated that Labour’s main means of recouping some of its astronomical debt more likely lies in the realm of National Insurance. This of course would affect every wage earner and every bu…

Playing on a 'Sticky' wicket, McDonald bowls out the provos

Image
Henry McDonald’s examination of republican revisionism, 'Gunsmoke and Mirrors', will most likely be read in one of two ways. The reader might regard it as an exploration of dishonesty, fanaticism, futility and abhorrent ideology inherent in the provisional movement. Equally it can be seen as an exposition of ‘slow learners’, who bitterly opposed policies which were regarded as a sell-out, before adopting those self-same policies and turning on those who maintained the brutal doctrines to which they had previously adhered.

Either way, the common thread is dishonesty and a wilful attempt to ‘dress up’ and justify its campaign of violence as a success, when by any of the precepts which Sinn Féin and the IRA set itself, it was a woeful failure.

Although the deceit practised by Gerry Adams, and other provo leaders, was frequently a conscious and knowing process of lying, often the movement sustained itself by self-deception as much as by deceiving others. McDonald explores the e…

National UK politics for Northern Ireland (or 'we're unionists, now let's start acting like it')

Image
I hailed the joint statement from David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey, in which the two leaders’ intention to forge a Conservative and Ulster Unionist political movement was announced, back in July. From its inception, I predicted that the two party working group set up to further these aims would encounter difficulties, but that the higher purpose behind it should prevail. At the moment Sir Reg Empey went public on this, there was no other game in town for the Ulster Unionist party. Having promised Northern Ireland national politics, having pledged to develop a pan-UK unionist movement, to renege on those commitments would have spelled disaster for the UUP and Empey personally. The jump was made when the statement was released, there was no going back.

So it has proved. Agreeing to meld two historically linked, but separate parties, each with its respective identity and political baggage, into a single electoral force, has not by any means been easy. Members and representatives have…

New Conservative and Unionist Political Force Created

I'll be posting more on last night's historic decision later, but I thought it would be useful to reproduce the summary version of last night's UUP / Conservative party agreement, as carried on the Conservative NI blog (PDF). This document contains the important detail.

1. The Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists have agreed to form a Joint Committee which will have as a core aim a desire to change politics in Northern Ireland in order to enable all electors in Northern Ireland to participate fully in the politics of the United Kingdom

2. The Joint Committee (consisting of 4 Conservatives and 4 Unionists) oversees developments. It will be responsible (for) coordinating the identification of candidates for the General Election and have responsibility for running the European and General Election campaigns.

3. Jim Nicholson MEP will be the candidate for the European election and, if elected, will sit as a full member of the Conservative group, and shall be in receipt of …

Conservative - UUP negotiations near successful conclusion

Tonight is decision night for the Ulster Unionist executive (you read it here first). A 65% majority would commit the party to fielding joint candidates with David Cameron’s Conservatives in the European election next year and the Westminster contest beyond that.

Mark Devenport reports that the only serious sticking point which remains is agreeing a name. 'The Conservative and Unionist Council' is one option, whilst many UUP members would favour an additional 'Ulster'.

Although an official name for the unionist ‘movement’ is not a life or death issue, I would suggest that ‘Conservative and Ulster Unionist’ offers clarity and continuity which can only be beneficial to both parties.

The arrangements which seem to have been reached represent a successful conclusion to negotiations. A Conservative and Ulster Unionist Committee will be formed in order to reach consensus and run joint candidates. The two parties will retain separate identities, but the link will be fo…

Ranting about Irish language only diminishes impact of legitimate arguments

Image
Although I implied previously on Three Thousand Versts that the UUP is the unionist party most likely to constructively address Irish language issues, without presenting itself in intractable opposition to the language, I certainly did not mean to suggest that universally the party had begun taking this approach as yet. Fair Deal was quick to accuse me of partisan bias on that thread, so to be fair I should address new comments by an Ulster Unionist who frequently falls into the trap, which it is my contention unionists must avoid.

David McNarry is regularly and vocally to be heard putting himself in ostentatious opposition to anything pertaining to the Irish language. I have criticised him before in this regard, suggesting that, whilst I could understand his frustration at the political use of Irish in parliament buildings, he had better curb his irritation, as it was becoming counter productive. Whilst I appreciate that McNarry might be more interested in the hard-line kudos su…

The Downward Spiral

Image
How bad was Northern Ireland’s performance last night? The worst for a long time. The worst from a list of poor performances under Worthington. So bad that even the manager, who has been in flagrant denial each time Northern Ireland has produced slipshod displays under his tutelage, was forced to acknowledge how poorly his team performed.

After a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Hungary, it is tempting to point to mitigating factors, and Worthington has done just that. Many of his first (and even second) choices were missing. Important players have not been playing regularly for their clubs, whether because of injury or managerial choice.

The truth is that each game Worthington stays in charge there is a little less coherence about the team, a little less of the belief which Sanchez engendered. The Northern Ireland team is in a downward spiral.

Whatever the deficiencies with personnel, in a game like last night's, the manager is responsible for the team’s spirit and system…

'Clear blue water' means accountability and choice.

One of the less baleful consequences of the financial crisis is that every political pundit, columnist, and indeed blogger, has become an amateur economist, whether economics were previously his/her ‘specialist subject’ or not. Economics’ centrality, as the pivotal issue on which politics turns, might be disputed but its importance is not. Therefore it does no-one any harm whatsoever to start thinking a little harder about how money and markets interact with government.

The truth is, however, that we are dealing with a theoretical rather than an exact science, dismalness not withstanding. National economies are staggeringly complex, that complexity is multiplied infinitely for the world economy, and its workings are hotly disputed.

Yesterday I suggested that David Cameron is beginning to present a coherent economic argument, based on principles of fiscal responsibility and sound money. A commenter dissents from the Conservative view and commends Paul Krugman’s New York Times blog,…

Politkovskaya's trial will raise questions for the Kremlin, but not the questions its most vehement opponents want.

Image
When Novaya Gazeta’s crusading journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered in 2006, there followed a stream of innuendo implying that the Kremlin had ordered her death. Conspiracy theories involving VV Putin’s regime are ten a penny, but even by the fantastic standards of such conjecture, the idea that Russia’s president had ordered Politkovskaya’s killing was not one of the more plausible.

The journalist was certainly a robust critic of the Kremlin, but Putin was not being disingenuous when he dismissed the notion that her journalism constituted a threat to his regime. To be frank, Politkovskaya was a fly on the hide of an elephant. Indeed the president acknowledged that her criticisms were healthy and welcomed them. She was not censored or silenced. Any large bookstore in Moscow or St Petersburg carries copies of Politkovskaya’s books to this day.

Alas the vast majority of Russians have no interest in reading them and have little sympathy for notions that the conflict in Chech…

No transparency, no accountability - government Northern Ireland style resumes

Both Ignited and the Ulster Unionist website ponder exactly why 152 days without government were necessary to reach agreement which will bring Sinn Féin back to the executive table on Thursday. Ostensibly the two parties have simply agreed that a process aimed at achieving devolution of policing and justice will now take place. The UUP piece points out that either issues around the Maze, Irish language, academic selection etc. remain unresolved with the potential to derail executive government once again, or else side deals have been done, indicative of the opaque carve-up which represents Sinn Féin and the DUP’s preferred method of business.

Fair Deal outlines detail which he understands has been agreed, on Slugger. There will be a process aimed at bringing about devolution of policing and justice, operating on the basis of a cross community vote. The aim is to arrive at temporary devolved arrangements which must then be firmed up by 2012. What is being announced, publicly at l…

Tories bite back on economy and defend Osborne

After Labour excoriated shadow chancellor, George Osborne, for ‘irresponsibility’ and ‘talking down’ the pound, over the weekend, the Tories have launched what has every appearance of an effective comeback on economic issues.

In the Telegraph, Boris Johnson defends his colleague’s right to offer a prognosis on the economy. Although this contention might appear self-evident, the government has reacted with increasing petulance on each occasion that an opposition politician dares to question the wisdom of Gordon Brown’s economic plans. Labour chose to interpret Conservative support for its bank bail-out as an open ended commitment to support all of its anti-recessionary measures. As Brown’s spending pledges become increasingly extravagant, and as tax cutting initiatives are launched in tandem, then it is not only inevitable that opposition politicians will challenge him, it is their duty to do so. Johnson asks,

“How can there possibly be a "convention" that stops shadow ch…

Roy told to sling his hook - Worthington does something right.

Image
Nigel Worthington’s Northern Ireland team faces Hungary on Wednesday night in an uninspiring friendly fixture. With well over two months to go before World Cup qualifying resumes in San Marino, it is difficult to see how the match could yield anything useful, other than a chance for the manager to have a get together with his players.

Already a number of pivotal members of the team have been made unavailable by their clubs. Captain Aaron Hughes is the most high profile absentee, and with Craigan, McAuley and McCartney also missing, Northern Ireland’s defence will assume an unfamiliar look. At least we will be spared (at the back in any case) the idiosyncratic choices which Nigel Worthington often inflicts on the starting eleven. Only four recognised defenders remain in the squad.

And, to be fair, Worthington has shown some fortitude, declining to bring Roy Carroll straight back into the squad following the Derby goalkeeper’s decision to make himself available again. Last summer…

Putting it off 'til next time?

It would be, I acknowledge, unduly churlish to pen a virtual heckle at news that the impasse over Stormont executive meetings may be close to resolution. If, at long last, Sinn Féin has decided to return to work and meet its counterparts at the executive table, then a start can be made on the long backlog of work which has accumulated over the course of 152 days. Doubtless there will be relief in Downing Street and self-congratulation from Northern Ireland’s two main parties if the stuttering show can be kept on the road for a while longer.

However, although a resumption of executive business will offer the optical illusion of effective government and although Provisional Sinn Féin may be placated for the time being, the same system which resulted in over five months of stasis will remain, with all its weaknesses and failures intact and the same parties predominant. Redemption’s Son offers some useful analysis of detail which might comprise a deal between the Shinners and the DUP.…

No Stone Turned? 'W.' is a disappointment.

Image
I assume that I’m not the only man, who when he pushes his choice of film for a prospective cinema visit, ends up squirming in his seat with an uncomfortable sense of personal responsibility when the movie turns out to be crap? Having expressed meaningful ambivalence toward ‘Easy Virtue’ and some manner of psychological examination of Kristin Scott Thomas in French, I particularly didn’t want Oliver Stone’s ‘W.’ to be as poor as it was.

Quite honestly, Stone’s film is not a substantial biopic of the most controversial American president since Nixon. It is lightsome, simplistic, unconvincing and occasionally brutally poorly acted. The director never quite seems to decide whether he is attempting a serious examination or playing it for laughs. There is little sense here of what animates Bush as a politician. Instead he is portrayed as an innocent abroad, bumbling along through a series of ‘gut decisions’ (graphically illustrated by Josh Brolin who occasionally gives his belly a de…

'What has the CDU got which the Tories haven't?'

Asks Iain Dale's Diary. A literal answer might be, alignment with a regional party. For how much longer will that be a valid answer?

Am I missing something?

O'Neill has pointed out previously that controversy about a UK team for the 2012 Olympics is premature. Perhaps it is last night's attendance at Belfast Beer Festival, but I'm really struggling to understand exactly what the story is in this article from Scotland on Sunday.

FIFA has been urged to investigate allegations of "political interference" in the row over football's Team GB for the 2012 London Olympics.

If Fifa finds Scotland and the other three home associations guilty, it could suspend or even expel them from international competition until the governmental interference stops, as recently happened with the Polish FA

The most glaring error first. Poland has not been suspended or expelled from international competition. On the contrary, Poland is in Northern Ireland's World Cup Qualifying group. Admittedly its FA was threatened with expulsion due to political interference in its internal workings.

Which brings me to my second point. The regulat…

Putin, statebuilding and the Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Image
I’ve been reading Richard Sakwa’s book ‘Putin: Russia’s Choice’ over the past few days. The author does a fine job of explaining how the former president’s political programme, ‘sovereign democracy’, ‘managed democracy’, ‘the dictatorship of law’, call it what you will, comprised a rational and defensible, if imperfect response to unique challenges which Russia faced post-Soviet Union and post Boris Yeltsin. It is the most forensic examination of the politics of Putin’s Russia, which I have as yet read.

‘Three Thousand Versts’ often wrestles with matters of identity, nationality, culture and these concepts’ interaction with more concrete notions of citizenship and state. Problems related to these areas are particularly abundant in Russia, with its huge land mass, plethora of ethnicities and disputed history. I therefore read Sakwa’s chapters which deal with Putin’s approach to state-building, national identity and the regions with particular interest, because he has tackled issues …

Adams overeggs the irony pudding

The kind approach would be to ignore Gerry Adams’ latest outpourings, regarding them with contempt which they undoubtedly deserve, but so laced with hypocrisy are comments delivered to a fundraising dinner in New York, the temptation to dissect some of the choicest morsels is simply too great.

Sinn Féin’s president increasingly resembles a cranky old uncle of the provo family, seeking to compensate his waning influence by delivering intemperate barrages from the chair in the corner. Unfortunately the authority which Adams does retain is sufficient to ensure that his increasingly intractable tone exerts a baleful influence on the situation at Stormont, as Mark Devenport intimates on his blog.

The most emotive of Adams’ remarks is of course that which likened unionists to Afrikaners, a statement which falls short of comparisons Mary McAleese and Father Reid drew between unionists and Nazis, but is clearly pregnant with implication that nationalists suffered something comparable to ap…

Arresting Chaos

Image
This is appropriately named Inaki de Juana Chaos, a convicted Eta terrorist who has come to be resident in Ireland (how might that have happened I wonder?). De Juana murdered 25 people by means of a bomb in 1987. He was subsequently released from prison in 2004, having served only 17 years, benefiting from Spain’s notoriously Byzantine sentencing guidelines.

On his release De Juana immediately resumed ostentatious support for Basque separatist terrorism, having previously penned threatening letters from his prison cell. Spanish authorities are seeking his extradition from Northern Ireland and he will attend proceedings in Belfast’s Laganside Court on Monday morning, in an attempt to avoid an arrest warrant being issued here.

Hopefully a warrant for De Juana’s arrest is issued in Belfast and I wish the Spanish authorities every success in putting him behind bars for a very long time.

Burnside leads with realignment message

Image
With detail of the Conservative / UUP merger to go before the Northern Ireland party’s executive on 20 November, David Burnside is the latest Ulster Unionist representative to try his hand speaking the language of realignment.

Burnside attacked Alex Salmond’s SNP and its DUP allies. Reflecting on the impotence of regional assemblies and the primacy of Westminster, in light of the economic crisis, he commented,

“The power over taxation, over the pound in your pocket remains in Westminster. That is what makes the Ulster Unionist alliance with the Conservative Party so significant and important for people in Northern Ireland. As part of a national administration after the next election, they will be a voice at the heart of power speaking up for Northern Ireland and for more finance. The DUP are an isolated rump at Westminster, with no friends.”

Speaking about the defence of the whole Union, opposing nationalists in Scotland, emphasising the pre-eminence of Westminster, highlighting the i…

Illegitimate questions?

Image
There is consensus that a clash over the Baby P affair, at Prime Minister’s Questions, was unseemly. And the weight of opinion seems to concur that Gordon Brown should take the lion’s share of blame for a heated altercation with David Cameron.

After all, it was the Prime Minister’s irritation that the Conservative leader had raised the issue at all, which saw him accuse Cameron of using the baby’s death to make a party political point. His evasiveness up to that point had led his counterpart to press him on the matter, which represents a quite legitimate area of concern.

It is not good enough, to elude responsibility for each issue, by arguing its unique unsuitability for the arena of party politics. Brown’s problem is that he does not like to be challenged, on anything, and he is prepared to play the emotive card in order to avoid a difficult question.

For unionism's own sake, integration must not be cast by the wayside.

When Lord Londonderry attempted to introduce integrated education to a nascent Northern Ireland state in the 1920s, he faced opposition from both Catholic and Protestant churchmen, as well as politicians drawn from the two main communities here. In 1998 the Belfast Agreement contained provisions by which the parties undertook to encourage integrated housing and education. As regards integrated housing, any progress which the NIHE attempts to make is often accompanied by opposition from both Sinn Féin and the DUP. Witness, for example, the controversies about mixed housing provision on the Crumlin Road gaol site, or in Enniskillen.

Although integrated education occasionally is accorded lip service by both sides, neither is prepared to seriously promote its expansion, certainly at the expense of the existing segregated system. The Catholic Church remains one of the prime proponents of segregated schools and education minister Caitriona Ruane has concentrated her efforts on further …

Diver eschews republican intolerance

When troops were welcomed home on the streets of Belfast, republicans maintained that their problem was with the ‘coat-trailing’ military parade, rather than the civic reception or church service. Strange then that Sinn Féin and its fellow travellers have spent the start of this week eviscerating Derry City Council’s SDLP mayor, Gerard Diver, for hosting an informal reception, mainly for the Territorial Army, at Guildhall in the city.

To clarify then, republicans object to the mayor hosting an informal reception, with no military trappings or uniforms, behind closed doors, to welcome home mainly TA soldiers from the city who happen to have been serving in dangerous places throughout the world. A stunning degree of intolerance. Sinn Féin is not interested in inclusion or reaching an accommodation with unionists as is becoming increasingly clear. Instead, it intends to combat every vestige of British identity on the island of Ireland.

Well done to Mr Diver for showing that there som…

Joint candidates plan seeks UUP executive nod of approval

To follow up on Frank Millar’s Irish Times’ article, a reputable source has confirmed to me that his understanding is, Millar is correct. A UUP executive meeting this week will consider proposals to select joint candidates and fight joint campaigns in forthcoming European and Westminster elections with the Conservative and Unionist Party. Should a 65% majority assent, the proposals will be accepted, otherwise the matter will come before an extraordinary general meeting.

If this information is correct, it represents precisely the type of progress this blog has been calling for. It would also, presumably, be enough to justify David Cameron addressing the Ulster Unionist party conference at the start of December.

Without a formulated deal, the DUP has tried to undermine efforts and drag the UUP back into the morass of sectarian politics. No doubt an announcement will see an intensification of the Democratic Unionist campaign. The UUP must work hard to get behind its vision and exp…

Electoral deals will not safeguard the Union

Sammy Wilson has found time, between lauding the emission of carbon and raging about the stupidity of vehicle testing, to gibber about need for ‘unionist unity’. The irony of DUP politicians calling for unionism to unite will never wear thin, but the party has fastened unto the notion since Peter Robinson’s succeeded the arch splitter, Ian Paisley, as leader. Its ardour for ‘unity’ has increased since Ulster Unionists entered talks with the Conservative party, aimed at forging a pan-UK unionist movement.

Of course, what the DUP is intent upon (at least since it assumed the mantle of Northern Ireland’s biggest party), is not unionist unity at all, it is Northern Irish unionist unity. Its call is merely for a closing of community ranks. The UUP has its eyes set on a much more profound unionist alliance stretching across every region of the United Kingdom. The best means to defend the Union, in its entirety, is not restricting the choices available to unionist voters at the ballot …