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Showing posts from January, 2009

Sharing wasn't the problem. The Maze stadium was a bad proposal.

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From the perspective of a fan of the Northern Ireland football team, I was opposed to the Maze stadium proposals for purely apolitical reasons. The plans would simply have delivered the wrong facility in the wrong place

Naturally, as a unionist, I was also deeply unenthused by the prospect of a terrorist museum being erected / preserved at the Maze site. However my apprehension in that regard had little to do with concerns about the suitability of the stadium.

The act of building a sports’ venue at the Maze would not have metamorphosised the adjacent hospital into some manner of IRA shrine by some indelible law of nature. Nor will scrapping plans for the stadium necessarily involve shelving the ‘peace and reconciliation centre’ (ho hum), as is becoming increasingly apparent.

I can also say with absolute certainty that the vast majority of Northern Ireland supporters have no difficulty sharing a stadium with the GAA (in principle). There may be reservations as regards design implic…

Partnership or Cold War mentalities?

Thanks to Brian from Burke’s Corner who pointed me toward a couple of articles carrying quotes from Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO and former leader of the erstwhile Rodina party, which is now subsumed in the Just Russia coalition. Rogozin is an articulate proponent of the Russian position and he is particularly persuasive when he argues common interests between the EU, US and Russia comprise a sum greater than those matters which divide the three.

“We suggest principles that are really hard to object to. Who is going to deny that security should be equal, indispensable and indivisible for all? Who could be against demilitarizing the entire centre of the European continent using military force solely to defend our common borders in the Pacific area? Who could be against ruling out military planning, especially nuclear planning, against each other? These things are totally reasonable; it’s a new world outlook. It’s a new vision of collective security for everyone. There…

Don't be DUPed again (1)!

The DUP has proved unable to secure a big name in order to spearhead its efforts to win back the European parliament seat which it no longer holds. An MLA and two councillors will seek the party’s nomination, the prospective candidates being Robin Newton, Diane Dodds and Deirdre Nelson.

Whoever is successful it is clear that the DUPes’ campaign will assume an all too familiar pattern. In 2007 the party raised the spectre of a Sinn Féin First Minister, having first instigated the change which made that situation possible. It was a piece of disgraceful and barefaced cynicism.

Frightening the unionist electorate will once again comprise a central role in the DUP’s tactics. The inevitable party ‘spokesman’ (aka press office hack) apparently said (or perhaps more accurately e-mailed to local newspapers) the following,

“This election will be a clear battle between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It is crucial that Sinn Fein does not top the poll.”

No matter how much a voter might loathe Sinn Féin…

New political climate in Georgia

Blogging might be a little slow and brief this week due to the encroachment of real life. Rather than comment extensively on Jonathan Steele’s CIF piece on Georgia I will simply commend it to your attention.

Suffice to say that Steele detects a change in attitude toward President Mikheil Saakashvili military adventurism. Georgians are increasingly cynical about a head of state feted by American neo-cons.

Again, Barack Obama’s arrival at the White House offers an opportunity to reappraise Washington’s unequivocal support for a regime with dubious credentials as regards democracy.

Russia NATO Council meets

Encouraging news that NATO’s relationship with Russia might be normalising in the aftermath of war in South Ossetia. Radio Free Europe reports the first meeting of the Russia NATO Council since the alliance suspended contact citing Russia’s ‘disproportionate response' to events in the Caucasus.

The Kremlin’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said ‘the ice is thawing’. Russia is keen to cooperate as regards transport routes to Afghanistan. It sees continued insurrection there as a threat to the stability of its borders with Central Asia.

Treating Moscow with respect and consideration affords opportunities to build meaningful partnership. Barack Obama has a window of opportunity to pursue constructive policy toward Russia. An early meeting with President Medvedev would offer a chance for Obama to demonstrate good faith.

Progressive conservatism will deliver the middle ground

Iain Martin is upset that David Cameron has addressed an event organised by Blairite think tank Demos on the topic of ‘progressive conservatism’. In contrast Martin Kettle commends the content of the Conservative leader’s speech. He believes Labour’s tendency to contemptuously dismiss the very notion that another party can forward a ‘progressive’ agenda is misplaced. There is no particular reason to question Cameron’s bona fides on such issues as fairness, equality of opportunity, environmental sustainability and public safety.

When the UK electorate returns the next Conservative government, whatever it is voting for, it will not be voting for a return to unalloyed Thatcherism. Resentment against Demos’ Blairite background is one thing, suggestions that Cameron should not steer a centrist course, or should resile from his agenda of progressive conservatism is entirely another. It is no accident that reaffirming commitment to socially responsible policy and distancing the party fro…

Just go!

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No, not Caitriona Ruane this time.

Although it hardly represents an excuse for some dismal on field performances, Liverpool’s high league position has been achieved despite an unseemly boardroom civil war which has drawn in manager Rafa Benitez.

The club’s American owners have not delivered on promises which they made when they took over the club. In addition the relationship between the pair has deteriorated to the point that the tandem is unworkable.

Ominously George Gillett does not appear to have agreed to negotiations, but if the Kuwaiti family with whom Tom Hicks is discussing a sale is even reasonably conscientious, they would offer a distinct improvement to the Americans.

To Hicks and Gillett I say – sell, go away, don’t come back.

Labour's assault on liberties is linked to its misrepresentation of rights

It is to good purpose that we speak of civil liberties being ‘eroded’. Frequently this corpus of law, which protects freedoms, rights and entitlements inherent in our British citizenship, is diluted almost imperceptibly. The Labour government’s systematic diminishment of our liberties has been a monotonous drip, frequently camouflaged by the rhetoric of security. The overall effect is that often we do not realise that a freedom is under attack until is already gone. We remember that it was once enjoyed, but not the exact circumstances or timing of its removal.

To this end Comment is Free is developing an aide-mémoire detailing legislation through which Labour has deprived Britons of liberties since its election victory in 1997. Subsequent to that date the government has created 3,600 new criminal offences which Lord Phillips, until recently Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, has described as a ‘ceaseless torrent of legislation’. Afua Hirsch introduces the guide with a bri…

A quote which I read today (in no way a quote of the day!)

Don’t worry. I don’t intend to replicate O’Neill’s ‘Quote of the Day’ feature. Still, this pithy synopsis is worth reproducing in unvarnished form. Danny Kennedy highlights the carve-up at work.

Yesterday, in an ill-tempered display, First Minister Robinson hit out at the UUP, Alliance and SDLP for co-operating on the Financial Assistance Bill. He had the cheek to describe the three parties as an 'unholy alliance' - on the same day as he and his party trooped into the voting lobbies 6 times with their friends in Sinn Fein. 3 democratic political parties co-operating to hold the First Minister and deputy First Minister to account is positive, democratic politics - Messers Robinson and McGuinness clubbing together in a power-grab is truly 'unholy'.

Preferred candidates' lists defended

Stephen King offers his take on the ‘preferred candidates’ debate in the Irish Examiner, arguing that parties need to bring more talent in from outside in order to remain (become?) representative and relevant. It is a strong case and he conjures a world of dismal halls, cups of tea and idiosyncratic selection choices which will be immediately identifiable to anyone who has attended a party meeting in Northern Ireland.

It is understandable that party members who have loyally attended such meetings for many years would be resentful of lists and the ‘blow ins’ they might comprise. Those who have been patiently working their way up the party hierarchy can find themselves sidelined and the prerogative of local members to select their own favoured candidate is circumscribed.

But if parties wish to attract the best talent and aspire to represent accurately the electorate they must compete to attract, then an influx of fresh candidates is the quickest way to achieve those ambitions. Cons…

Hail to the King?

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Examining the substance of Barack Obama’s rhetoric, an article in January’s Prospect noted that, not only is there nothing particularly audacious about hope, but if the formulation were reversed to read, ‘the hope of audacity’, it would make little difference to either the meaning or content of the phrase. It was an observation which returned to me as I listened to Obama’s inauguration speech yesterday.

The address was not to my taste. Upholstered by metaphor and platitude, it sounded like narrative from a Hollywood movie. American presidents frequently do. There were traces of a significant message, but it was difficult to disentangle from high flown, meaningless speechifying.

Burke’s Corner takes the US to task for ignoring its own Lockean myth in its inauguration ceremony. It forms less a celebration of sovereignty which rests with the people than a quasi monarchical coronation. Obama is elected whereas our own head of state is not, but it is hard to disagree that this distin…

We need fewer departments and fewer MLAs, but don't forget we also need more accountability.

Both the Irish News and Redemption’s Son have carried articles supporting the contention that Northern Ireland’s executive should be comprised of fewer departments. A motion in the Assembly proposed that the existing 11 department administration should be cut to six or seven. The DUP found backing from Ulster Unionist and Alliance MLAs, whilst Sinn Féin abstained and the motion was passed.

Government at Stormont, and the Assembly from which it is drawn, are bloated institutions. Five million people are represented by 129 MSPs in Scotland. The Welsh Assembly is composed of sixty members for a population twice that of Northern Ireland. Meanwhile we have 108 MLAs. And Sir Reg Empey has raised the infantile fashion in which money is squandered by this cadre of men and women.

His point is that a reduction in departments is not enough, on its own, to save money. We need to cut civil service functions and we need a commensurate effort by MLAs not to fuel bureaucracy unnecessarily. Wi…

Long and winding roads....

Some of my favourite Google searches which have linked readers to this site over the past month.

Daniel O’Donnell

DUP idiot in Europe

fred cobain blog "gaelic" -kurt -curt -nirvana -frances -bean

Who are the taigs in Ireland?


If you're responsible for number 3, get help!

Rafa in denial as two more points dropped

‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same’. Perhaps Rafa Benitez has internalised Kipling’s words a little too literally. It seems he can’t distinguish between triumph and disaster.

Last night Liverpool failed to beat limited, dogged - let’s stop beating about the bush - negative, dirty Everton, despite taking the lead through a Gerrard thunderbolt with twenty minutes to go.

Rather than capitalise on second half dominance by pushing on in an attempt to kill off the opposition, Benitez withdrew his star striker in favour of woeful, deep lying midfielder Lucas Leiva. The denouement was predictable from the moment Liverpool tried to shut up shop.

Everton’s goal might have been scruffy; a free kick flighted into the box from a non-existent foul, nodded in by Tim Cahill whilst Martin Skrtl looked on like the simple minded idiot in a 1920s' play. But with Liverpool’s unspeakable rivals getting into their point pilfering stride, another…

Do McIlveen and Simpson want to establish a general principle?

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Free P tub-thumper David McIlveen and DUPe gospel singer and occasional MP, David Simpson, have called on Translink to ‘respect the feeling of Christian bus drivers’ by allowing them not to drive buses with humanist adverts on the side. I wonder do they wish to establish a new principle whereby employees can vet all the advertising carried on the side of public transport?

Perhaps conscientious objectors should have been exempt from driving buses with those noxiously disingenuous ‘that’s why we need a Bill of Rights’ adverts resplendent on the side. Maybe temperance advocates should be allowed to opt out from promoting Harp lager by means of 12 feet high pints on the back of double-deckers. There’s no reason Christians should get special treatment after all!

My feeling is that whilst drivers are entitled to their convictions equally the company is entitled to carry legal advertising without consulting each employee. If the rigours of someone’s conscience are incompatible with free…

McCartney appealed to similar impulses but offered nothing concrete

A discussion about preferred candidates on Redemption’s Son led Ignited to suggest that the current Ulster Unionist initiative had been tried before, when Robert McCartney and others spearheaded the ‘Campaign for Equal Citizenship’ back in the nineteen eighties. I countered that McCartney had never seriously threatened to deliver an arrangement whereby Northern Irish candidates had a good chance of being elected as members of a governing party at Westminster. Undoubtedly, though, current developments do appeal to similar impulses as the CEC. If the internet had been widely available in 1986, and had I been a peculiarly politically precocious nine year old, ’Three Thousand Versts’ would almost certainly have been coloured by an integrationist hue.

During the early part of that decade James Molyneaux was proud of his links with Thatcher’s Conservative Party. Under the influence of Enoch Powell, there was an integrationist bent to his politics. But the party was also possessed of …

Irish Cup washout poses some awkward questions

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Yesterday I had the dubious pleasure of driving to Ballyclare, buffeted by wind and lashed by rain, in order to watch 45 minutes of football, half-covered by a leaky shed. Ballymena United's cup tie was subsequently called off, at half-time, with the Sky Blues leading 1-0. Conditions had not worsened noticably in the 45 minutes which were played.

If the pitch was unplayable, or there were safety considerations, why was the match started in the first place? The referee inspected the pitch just five minutes before kick-off. Several other ties were similarly abandoned at half-time.

The cynic in me suspects that playing enough minutes in order to negate the necessity of refunds for supporters might have been a prime consideration. Of course the clubs and the IFA can help allay such any suspicions by opening up the gates for the re-arranged fixtures. In the light of some very dubious decision making, surely this is the least fans deserve?

Perfect timing as Conservatives outline environment plans

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Part of the rationale for constructing a third runway at Heathrow, an airport transparently unsuited to that type of expansion, is an ambition to enhance its reputation as an ‘international hub’. Several of these eerie, parallel worlds exist throughout Europe and include Amsterdam and Frankfurt. I spent a few hours in the latter during the summer, hopping between Lufthansa flights in order to get to and from Russia.

It is a horrendous place to spend time, negotiating multiple security checks and eating plasticky German bratwurst. There is little sense that the visitor is on planet Earth, never mind in Germany. He spends a trance like hour or two in the chill of too efficient air conditioning, impatient to be spirited away to his ultimate destination. Such is the future which the government seeks to encourage at Heathrow. Outside the narrow confines of the aviation industry, ‘hub’ status yields limited benefits.

It isn’t an especially difficult decision for the Conservatives to…

David McNarry. Remembering those cool heads I mentioned below?

Why don’t I pre-empt the DUP press office, no doubt beavering away at a press release to attribute to one of its representatives, and react to comments made by David McNarry to the UUP Women’s Council?

His speech will be interpreted as an attack on the inclusive agenda adopted by the UUP / Conservative coalition. In particular it is already being reported as a warning not to sideline the Orange Order as an important ‘stakeholder’ (to adopt that horrible term) in unionist politics.

Mr McNarry urges the UUP, “keep a distance from the wide-boy liberalistos but do not shut out the Orange Order”. Additionally he warned David Cameron that there would be considerable opposition, particularly within the Order, to removing the Act of Settlement.

Whatever a ‘liberalisto’ might be (and I’d imagine I might be bordering on that description), I’m sure most parties contain both members and representatives counselling against their influence. No doubt there are Conservative MPs who would offe…

Send the bugger back?

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I must tip my hat to Fair Deal who pointed me towards an article in the Belfast Telegraph claiming that Nigel Worthington is being lined up for a return to his former club, Norwich City. The Canaries are currently without a manager since Glenn Roeder got the chop. Obviously such speculation causes grave disquiet at the IFA, where memories of Lawrie Sanchez’ mid-campaign departure for Fulham still rankle.

Certainly brief consultation of Google reveals many papers are running with the story that Worthington could provide interim cover, taking the manager’s post until the end of the season. The suggestion is that he need not relinquish his duties with Northern Ireland in order to do a temporary job at the Championship club. Given the acrimony of his departure, I’d be surprised if he would accept a short-term arrangement and I would be equally astonished if Norwich supporters welcomed him back enthusiastically.

Although I’m not Nigel’s biggest fan (to say the least), neither do I thi…

Knee deep in our own filth.

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I appreciate this piece will make me sound cranky, old and curmudgeonly, but an article about litter, from today’s Daily Telegraph, struck a particular chord. It reports that the amount of rubbish dropped on Britain’s streets has increased five fold since the 1960s. I neither know whether these statistics apply to Northern Ireland as well as to mainland Britain, nor was I around in the sixties to appreciate what five times less litter might have looked like. But I definitely do live in part of Belfast which is knee deep in the stuff.

My only quibble with the Telegraph’s opinion piece, which begins with the reporter demanding a teenager pick-up a flyer which he has just deposited on the ground, is that it does not cover litter’s twin evil in the world of dirty streets, dog shit. It seems to me that willingness to allow one’s dog to stool at will on the public thoroughfare is a mentality intimately linked to indifference many people show towards living in an locality piled high wit…

Inventing Britain? Nicholas Crane's Britannia.

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‘Nicholas Crane’s Britannia’ is being broadcast on BBC 2 on Tuesday evenings at the moment. Crane follows in the footsteps of historian and antiquarian, William Camden, whose topographical study of the British Isles presaged the Union of the Crowns and contributed to the geographical treatment of these islands as a single entity.

Crane is a geographer, and historically his portrayal of Camden as a kind of proto-unionist, carefully laying foundations for the United Kingdom, might be viewed as a trifle anachronistic. At one stage in last night’s programme, as he retraces the Elizabethan traveller’s route through Scotland, Crane claims that Camden envisaged the various parts of Britain would be ‘stronger together than they would be apart’.

That assertion, made on behalf of a sixteenth century topographer concerned with describing strange foreign lands, is perhaps more than a little over-egged. ‘Britannia’ is, nevertheless, a compelling tale, and the argument that Camden’s study, th…

Unashamedly applying compatible principles to the issues in Northern Ireland

Perhaps I’ve been a little too zealous, pressing Ignited to specify issues which he fears candidates of the new Conservative and Ulster Unionist force might be reluctant to deal with, lest they ‘get their hands dirty’. If this is the case, it is only because I recognise that Redemption’s Son is a weblog offering a surer grasp of grassroots unionist opinion than that to which I would ever lay claim. I greatly respect Ignited’s analysis and I would like to fully understand the apprehension expressed in his article.

If he fears Conservatives will be loathe to put their heads over the parapet on any contentious issue which divides people in Northern Ireland, I’m bound to say that I don’t agree. It is my belief that David Cameron’s party is fully committed to applying its principles to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. These principles are for the large part compatible with those of the Ulster Unionist Party. If that were not the case, then a deal would not have been c…

Gerry demands an emergency piss in the wind

Talk about overreach! Gerry Adams has called for an emergency debate on Gaza ……. in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The speaker has dismissed the idea that such a debate is necessary on the grounds that events in Gaza do not comprise a local issue. It might be supposed by anyone with even the flimsiest grasp of reality that he shouldn't have needed to waste breath pointing that out. That analysis, however, does not account for Gerry.

With cool heads, Conservatives and Unionists can deliver electoral results

Upon reading a press release from DUP deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, last week, I had intended to write a piece arguing that it represented something of a statement of intent. In the forthcoming European election, squeezed between hardline rejectionist unionism advocated by Jim Allister’s TUV and a pan-UK unionist message issuing from the joint UUP / Conservative campaign, the DUP will appeal unashamedly to atavistic, communal self-interest. It will seek to portray itself as protector of the Ulster protestant community and defender of Orangeism. Somehow, though, I got waylaid and meanwhile O’Neill has written persuasively about this very topic, arguing that a clear divide will emerge over the next year and unionism is approaching ‘a fork in the road’.

Without wishing to retread ground which the Unionist Lite piece more than adequately covers, I do think it is especially appropriate that O’Neill has contrasted Dodds’ statement with comments from shadow secretary of state Owen Paterson a…

Portrait of the dartists

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I’ve spent a significant portion of my weekend explaining, justifying, defending my predilection for watching a cadre of men, disproportionately overweight, uniformly under the influence of lager, who arc a small piece of metal 7 feet nine and a quarter inches into a round board of cork augmented with sisal fibres. It is, I must confess, an uphill struggle. Unless one instinctively appreciates the fluid motion of the darting arm, unleashing its tungsten missile in splendid parabola, flighted unerringly toward the small, red Valhalla of treble twenty, one is unlikely to be persuaded of the merits of the sport of darts.

I describe in vain the hypnotic pleasure of the three thudding arrows which accompany each darters turn at the oche. I laud, to little effect, the arithmetical dexterity required in order to instantaneously calculate a three dart finish in the hundreds. I elicit little sympathy when I invoke the stout musculature required to mitigate the hampering effect of several o…

Joint committee 'hits the ground running'

The Conservative and Ulster Unionist joint committee met for the first time last night and by all accounts it was a successful start to the real business of running candidates together. The attendance of Senior Battleground Director, Marion Little, from Conservative central office is a clear indication of the type of campaigning muscle which the link up will bring to Northern Ireland.

Chairman David Campbell was encouraged that the committee has already made such progress.

“The DUP seems unable to choose a candidate for Europe whereas we’re already hitting the ground running. Jim Nicholson is a highly respected European MEP – and a senior member of the Conservative Group in Europe. The electorate knows he works hard for their interests, supported by his Conservative colleagues. Therefore our focus now is to support Jim and his campaign team – providing all the resources he needs to put clear blue water between him and other candidates. The joint committee is working well already.”

Cam…

New Northern Ireland politics blog

I've been pointed in the direction of this site, Esoterica NI, which is a new addition to the small stable of Northern Irish politics blogs. It's not immediately apparent where the author's political sympathies might lie (not necessarily a bad thing), but the stories so far are tidily written. Worth keeping an eye on.

Adams - possible premature senility?

I give you the second of Gerry Adams' blog pieces. It is awe-inspiringly incoherent. Had the bearded wonder taken some manner of dodgy mushroom before, gibbering incoherently, dare I say it, shivering in a blanket, he pecked out this chef-d'oeuvre of republican blogging? Perhaps he simply forgot to take his medication?

Georgians to hold Saaskashvili to account for Ossetian war?

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Thomas de Vaal, author of the definitive book on Armenian – Azerbaijani conflict, has an acutely observed article in this month’s Prospect examining how Georgia’s politics might be changing, to the detriment of those who led the country into war (subs required).

De Vaal examines the baleful effect Saakashvili’s military adventurism has had on communities straddling the border between South Ossetia and Georgia proper. He concludes that in order to stabilise arrangements in these areas Georgia will have to tone down assertions of sovereignty, instead concentrating on the rights of its people, in order to facilitate the opening of contested borders and return of displaced peoples.

There is pathos in de Vaal’s tales of divided but intertwined communities. In 1991, during the first attempt to coerce South Ossetia into a separate Georgia and reverse the autonomy it enjoyed as part of the Soviet Union, Georgian villagers from Meghvriskhevi stopped militias from looting the adjacent Osset…

Irresponsible states undermining partnership with Russia

Peter Lavelle has been writing lucidly on the gas row between Russia and Ukraine for some weeks now. His latest piece sets out hard commercial facts which underpin the dispute. Lavelle’s employment for Russian owned English language television station, Russia Today, has made him a target for especially vitriolic Russophobe attacks, however he is a seasoned observer of this annual wrangle and his article sets out sequentially the compelling case which Gazprom can make for its actions. Ukraine is guilty, at least in part, of attempting to exploit suspicion of Russia for its own commercial gain.

Many eastern European countries inflated their economies with cheap credit when world markets were buoyant and consequently they are feeling the pain particularly acutely at the present time. Ukraine is no exception, and to add to its malaise the bottom has fallen out of the commodities market, a vicious double whammy for a country dependent on steel exports. Having previously required bai…

Field hits out at government's handling of economy

The government’s strategy to tackle the financial crisis has been criticised by influential Labour back-bencher, Frank Field. The MP for Birkenhead, who recently led a back bench revolt against abolition of the 10p rate of tax, writes on his blog that he feels, ‘a deep unease about the Government’s strategy to counter what is euphemistically called a recession’.

The striking thing about Field’s piece is that his analysis is not terribly different from that of the Conservative party. He is scathing about the efficacy of a 2.5% Vat cut and identifies the government’s failure to get credit moving to viable businesses, despite its partial renationalising of the banks. Although the credit crunch problem has been self-evident for months, Labour has done little to address its effects on the economy.

“Weeks and weeks later the Government still hasn’t announced how it can throw extra lifelines to viable companies who are being denied a working capital from the banks. Giving the banks more …

'Why is the DUP's hurt and upset necessarily part of a story about the UUP and the Tory Party?'

Bobballs wonders why every time the News Letter runs a story about the internal organisation of the Ulster Unionist and Conservative parties, it feels bound to include in its article a diatribe released by the DUP press office.

“Why should the by-the-numbers, repetitive bashing from the DUP necessarily be a core part of this story? Why were there no better options to get under the skin of the story? Why just take two press releases and run them together?

Instead of publishing the invective, why not investigate the reasoning? Y'know, that old journalism maxim of shining a light into dark corners etc. No?

Why is the DUP's hurt and upset necessarily part of a story about the UUP and the Tory Party? It makes no sense.”

Examining the substance of a press release, on this occasion attributed to Michelle McIlveen, Bobballs asks,

“Why must we endure all this bollocks about unionist unity when the DUP thinks the next UK government (which is not neutral on the union) is just a big supper c…

My own personal Tripadvisor

A purely personal post through which I aspire to tap the urbane cosmopolitanism and richly cultured nature of ‘Three Thousand Versts’’ readership. I know you must all have travelled widely given the breadth of knowledge betrayed by your commentary. And as no doubt you are much too sophisticated to be seduced by flattery, I shall spare you preliminary compliments and hasten to the nub of my query.

My girlfriend and I have a trip booked which commences with Green and White Army duty in San Marino, but leaves us the best part of three days to explore the micro-republic’s locality. Our itinerary will initially be reasonably straight forward. We arrive in Bologna on match day, must transport ourselves to San Marino city where we have a room booked and then we must get to the stadium.

From Thursday morning until our return flight on Sunday we are free to explore the region. That is where my august readers come in! Florence does not seem to be far away from San Marino and it is certa…

Still no Euro candidate as DUP's indecision is final

No-one wants to be the DUP’s European election candidate it would seem. As Ignited reveals on Redemption’s Son, the deadline to apply has been extended to 23rd January, with a selection meeting postponed indefinitely.

Clearly Peter Robinson is experiencing difficulties persuading a high profile candidate to stand. With Jim Nicholson set to avail of a slick Conservative campaign team and Jim Allister rabidly snarling at the Dupes, who would want to take this poison chalice?

Whether Nigel Dodds finally has his arm twisted to stand is now a moot point. Clearly the DUP is in disarray. Perhaps 'Big Ian' might consider a comeback? What about Pootsie or Ian Junior?

Alan Hansen has a stock phrase which he trots out to admonish an ineffectual defence about to concede a shambolic goal, ‘indecision is final’. Just now it rather neatly sums up the DUP.

Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right? Cameron's policy: restraint should be emphasised rather than unalloyed free market ideology.

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Reflecting further on yesterday’s speech on the economy, one of its important innovations was David Cameron’s promise to exempt health, schools, defence and international development budgets from any spending cuts which a Conservative government might seek to make. This commitment was a rejoinder to opponents who maintain that a Cameron government would immediately begin to dramatically hack back public spending with some manner of ideological, small government machete. The truth is that Cameron will be neither willing nor able to significantly shrink the public sector in the short to medium term.

The battle over the economy, which is now raging between Labour and Conservatives, is a confrontation based on the ethos which each party brings to its stewardship of the economy. Cameron is arguing for responsibility and restraint rather than a dramatic application of free market economics. Gordon Brown plans to tackle the financial crisis by exponentially growing the state, based on a…

Cameron's balancing act on the economy

There is no doubt that David Cameron has a difficult balancing act to perform in order to persuade the United Kingdom that his is the most efficacious economic policy for tackling the current crisis. On one hand he must maintain that Gordon Brown’s plan to expand exponentially the debt bubble which got Britain into the mess which it finds itself in is unsustainable. He is bound to contend that Britons must become a responsible nation of savers, rather than a populace addicted to debt. On the other hand he will argue that under his tenure the UK economy would begin to grow again, that Conservatives have policies which would free up credit for business and mitigate the worst excesses of correction which the market is likely to exact. It is a case which might appear to contradict itself, but it is also perhaps what the country needs to hear.

If Cameron’s solution to our financial problems seem paradoxical, that is because it is a paradox in the financial system which he is seeking to …

Conservative / UUP Joint Committee work will offer opportunities, once the name is decided.

The Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties have appointed members of the Joint Committee which they agreed to form in November, a statement of intent that the new force is set to be progressed early in 2009. From the Conservatives’ press release, their representatives will include, Owen Paterson MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), Neil Johnston (Conservatives NI Chairman), Jeffrey Peel (Conservatives NI Vice Chairman) and Paul Megarity (Chairman, North Down Conservatives). The Ulster Unionist members will comprise Lord Maginnis, Danny Kennedy MLA, David Campell (UUP Chairman) and Cllr. Mark Cosgrove (UUP Treasurer).

The Committee’s task will be to “bring forward proposals on manifesto commitments, branding of joint candidates and candidate selection procedures”. This is hard, practical work required to forge a political alliance which will engage in national politics, but also reflect in its policies the regional peculiarities of Northern Ireland. And although …

A better class of 'Down and Out' drinks port!

Previously I commended to my readers the blog ‘Down and Out in Lenzie and Lossiemouth’ which never fails to amuse me. Sadly Hernandez has been blogging rather infrequently during the last number of months, but there has been a sudden burst of activity over the holiday period, as well as a tantalising clue as to which reasons might lie behind the site’s temporary dormancy.

Wishing his readers happy New Year and reflecting on his own ambitions for 2009, Hernandez writes,

“I am aiming to ease back on the bottle and find some stability. My blog has suffered recently due to excessive drinking.”

I wish Hernandez all the best in his endeavours, although I would suggest that it is bad sign that on January 2 a new post appeared reviewing an expensive type of port which he has taken to drinking. Seemingly as an aperitif before setting about the Jack Daniels!

Israel must have an achievable endgame in mind to justify its actions

Thus far I had refrained from commenting on Israel’s ongoing action in Gaza. It is an issue which tends to draw the worst type of immoderate opinion from supporters of both sides. On one hand we have cretins like Annie Lennox, in league with long term terror apologist and anti-Semite Ken Livingstone, who seem to believe Israel shouldn‘t exist in the first place, on the other we have trite celebrations of the violence, typified by this venomous article from A Tangled Web.

On the Young Unionist blog Rick Cairns has written a more nuanced piece which explores something of the background to Israel’s action. And Iain Dale has penned a well argued article upholding Israel’s right to defend its citizens.

I have a lot of sympathy for their point of view, but I wonder, as ground troops move into Gaza, what endgame the Israelis foresee for this conflict? Short of killing every member of Hamas, it is difficult to envisage Israel’s actions undermining Gazan support for that terror organisatio…

All eyes on Gerrard as Liverpool start FA Cup campaign

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Last year Liverpool crashed out of the FA Cup to Barnsley. The previous season Arsenal left Anfield having inflicting a 3-1 defeat. On both occasions Rafa Benitez fielded weakened starting elevens. This year it appears that the Reds’ Spanish manager will accord the world’s oldest cup competition appropriate respect, selecting club captain, Steven Gerrard, and other first choice players. This evening’s third round tie against Preston, therefore, might witness the start of Liverpool’s most serious attempt to win the trophy since the dramatic final triumph against West Ham in 2006.

Naturally all eyes will be on Gerrard following the alleged assault in a Southport nightspot for which he has been charged. And inevitably Liverpool supporters will be inclined to afford their captain the benefit of doubt in this instance. His on field heroics have hitherto been accompanied by unobtrusive conduct off it. Gerrard has consistently shown himself to be a dedicated professional. If it transp…

Henry Patterson on applicability of NI peace process and the marginalisation of victims

As yet the piece does not seem to be available online, but one of Ireland’s finest contemporary historians writes in today’s News Letter, debunking the myth that Northern Ireland’s peace process offers a template for resolving other conflicts. In particular he challenges the notion, posited recently by both Peter Hain and Jonathan Powell, that ‘dialogue without preconditions’ is a prerequisite for edging terror groups toward peaceful means. He argues that previous unconditional engagement with Provisionals served only to intensify the movement’s violence, whilst progress was made when talks were clearly linked to the IRA calling a ceasefire.

Patterson also draws attention to the manner in which victims of terror have been marginalised. Consideration of ETA’s campaign in the Basque region of Spain has crystallised his thoughts. In Spain, ’organisation of victims have had a much higher profile than victims’ groups in Northern Ireland’. Here ’the discourse and thinking about victi…

'Ethical capitalism' - Cameron restates ethos of responsibility

On the heals of a New Year message, in which David Cameron stressed his commitment to responsible social policy and a green agenda, the Conservative leader has called for ‘more ethical capitalism’ in a radio interview. He has clearly begun 2009 keen to emphasise that his party does not represent unalloyed free market ideology, nor is it heartless or ‘do nothing’ as Labour has implied.

Cameron is right to underline the Conservatives' continued dedication to these principles. Although the party was bound to oppose Gordon Brown as he pledged to borrow the UK out of trouble, there has been a danger that the communitarian message would become lost in the hard economics of the financial crisis. The Conservative emphasis on fiscal accountability must not be confused with reluctance to help the needy or determination to rapidly shrink public services.

Untrammelled free market economics have been discredited and Cameron’s call to instil a greater sense of responsibility within busines…

Could 2009 be the year when Shinners sideline Adams for good?

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Reviewing the previous 12 months in politics in Northern Ireland, Mark Devenport observes that 2008 witnessed the DUP sidelining its long-standing leader, Ian Paisley, and the personality cult which attended his leadership.

Perhaps 2009 will be the year that the DUP’s partner in sectarian carve-up, Sinn Féin, relegates its own aging demagogue, Gerry Adams, to the hinterland of enforced semi-retirement. The provos’ president was reduced to a series of intemperate ethno-nationalist diatribes over the course of 2008. In a bizarre role reversal Martin McGuinness was deployed as good cop to Adams’ bad.

Increasingly, the West Belfast MP’s influence, even as a figurehead, might hinder Sinn Féin. His rhetoric is likely to prove counterproductive as republicans become ever more institutionalised at Stormont. Additionally, and significantly, his patronage of executive liability, Caitriona Ruane, will become an impediment to removing the party’s most embarrassing minister.

Adams hard-line…