Showing posts from March, 2009

Patience and flexibility the virtues required from Conservatives and Ulster Unionists

A document obtained by the BBC last week surprised nobody by revealing that the Conservative party’s preference was to merge with Ulster Unionists. The UUP was not prepared to be absorbed into the mainland organisation and instead an electoral alliance was forged, with a view to contesting the European and Westminster elections. Rather than NICUP we have UCUNF, and the Northern Ireland party’s separate identity has been preserved.

Although the ‘New Force’ got off to an ill-tempered start, calm seems mercifully to have been restored. Seymour Major reports that Jim Nicholson MEP received an enthusiastic reception at a recent Conservative dinner, drawing tempestuous applause from an audience which hailed him as ‘our candidate’. There does remain a degree of disgruntlement amongst elements of the NI Conservative Party, who feel they have been sidelined by central Tory headquarters and question Ulster Unionists’ commitment to ‘Conservatism’ (as they would define it).

Perhaps a certain …

Only the lonely. A suggestion for Jacqui Smith.

Boris Johnson is in rude form (literally) in this morning’s Telegraph, after his appearance on last night’s ‘Dispatches’. He indulges in an entertaining ‘romp’ around the topic of Jacqui Smith’s expense claims.

Personally, I wonder if the Home Secretary could not have spun the story to her advantage? After all her husband’s ‘night of rapture’ (to steal Boris’ phrase) is compelling evidence that the poor man is left alone in the family home too often!

Incidentally the Channel 4 programme about Johnson was poor. Despite a litany of innuendo, all that could be concretely ascertained is that some people believe the London mayor should be doing a better job.

Making a joke of accountable government.

If there were no Democratic Unionist Party to rebut and ridicule where would Northern Ireland blogs find material?

Actually, given the extra space the Dupes absence might create, in which proper local and national politics could flourish, I’m sure we’d do alright. Fewer instances of nutterdom to discuss would allow more space for serious, reasoned debate.

Still, it’s rather futile pondering the counterfactual. The DUP will be with us for the foreseeable future.

At the tail end of last week, Jeffrey Donaldson decided the best way to defend the Act of Settlement was to invoke some turn of the eighteenth century, anti-Catholic propaganda. This week begins with his party employing a cross community mechanism in order to protect its infamous Environment Minister from the censure of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It is an absurd situation that a topic as universal as climate change should be subject to a cross community vote. And it demonstrates how ineffective are the mechanisms by…

Conservatives should choose their European allies carefully

I was disappointed to read in Sunday’s Observer an allegation that William Hague has met representatives of the Latvian ‘For Fatherland and Freedom Party’ (link from today’s Guardian). The Conservatives have not denied the paper’s assertion, which makes it particularly unsettling.

Having committed itself to leaving the federalist EPP, Hague’s party is now casting around for partners with which to form a more Euro-sceptic coalition in Brussels. Nationalist groups in eastern Europe form a hardened, but frequently unpleasant fringe, which opposes ceding more power to the EU, but otherwise might appear rather unpalatable to the mainstream centre right in Britain.

The ‘Fatherland and Freedom’ party has a hard-line wing which views the Latvian Waffen SS as brave resisters of Soviet aggression. It commemorates the exploits of this unit and its actions reflect a deeper ambiguity in Latvian society as regards its attitude toward those who collaborated with the Nazis during World War 2.


Worthy winners overshadowed by off the field violence

From the earliest days of Nigel Worthington’s spell as Northern Ireland manager I have questioned his judgment, his tactical acumen, his perspective on international football and his man management skills. In short, I have publicly doubted whether Worthington possesses any of the credentials which would qualify him to assume the mantle of his predecessor, Lawrie Sanchez.

When Northern Ireland achieved a considerable success under his leadership, defeating Denmark at Windsor Park, I suggested that the victory owed more to residual confidence imbued by the previous manager, rather than any wisdom that the current incumbent had imparted. The team began this World Cup qualifying campaign with two defeats in Slovenia and Slovakia and I felt that my judgment had been vindicated.

Although I do not yet feel ready to replace the ‘Lawrie is our leader’ with ‘Nigel is our leader’ when I belt out ‘we’re not Brazil’ from the stands and although I’m still a confirmed sceptic who will not be scru…

Religion above state? Only for the unbearably smug.

Satire is the only sane response to Jeffrey Donaldson’s remarks on plans to reform the Act of Settlement. O’Neill’s post on ‘Unionist Lite’ is, therefore, especially nicely judged. The DUP junior minister’s religio-constitutional musings would be funny, if they were not so serious. Donaldson is, after all, a leading representative of Northern Ireland’s biggest pro-Union party.

There is an argument, based on constitutional conservatism, which can be invoked to defend the status quo. Cranmer, good Anglican that he is, makes a fist of it. It does not involve inferring that Catholics cannot show sufficient loyalty to the United Kingdom because of their religion, nor does it bizarrely imply political, rather than merely religious, allegiance to the Vatican as a component of Catholicism.

Personally I am more readily persuaded by Henry McDonald, and his contention that the constitutional impairment of Roman Catholicism is to the detriment of the Union, particularly in Northern Ireland, …

Sorry politicos, it's international football time again. Will Worthington decline continue? I suspect it will.

Fewer than thirty hours remain until Northern Ireland faces Poland at Windsor Park and still ‘Three Thousand Versts’ has not recorded its habitual pre-match lament of pessimism ‘assessing’ the team’s chances (or lack of them)! Do not fear, it’s not that I’ve been filled with overwhelming confidence for this World Cup clash. On the contrary, I’m quite sure that Nigel Worthington’s side will receive another walloping from the Poles tomorrow. Slovenia on Wednesday should be a different matter, but by then our hopes of qualifying for South Africa 2010 could be dead in the water.

If it were not enough that Poland fields a strong team which recorded a resounding 3-0 victory during its last visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland’s task has been made yet more difficult by the absence of a number of key players. The squad has been depleted both by injury and by costly suspensions incurred in the match against San Marino. A comfortable victory in that game may have put Northern Ireland joint se…

Latvian freefall

Paul Mason (coincidentally one of the competition in the Orwell blog shortlist) has been examining the financial crisis in eastern Europe. His report from Latvia is worth watching, particularly because the Baltic state was being heralded as an economic success story in the very recent past. The pattern of huge borrowing to encourage unsustainable growth is replicated across the former Soviet bloc, with a few more robust exceptions.

Coincidentally ‘Prospect’ also contains a dispatch from Riga in its latest issue (I‘m not on commission for the magazine by the way). Tom Chatfield considers the over capacity available in a country with a rapidly dwindling population. The capital itself has 20% fewer inhabitants since 1991. Chatfield hints that many of the people who have left Latvia come from its Russian speaking minority. He doesn’t investigate the discriminatory language and citizenship laws which have hastened that loss.

An economy in freefall and a large minority which feels it …

Localism - can the right ideas be turned into successful policies?

When the Conservative party announced the contents of a green paper on local government reform in England, I welcomed the initiative rather ruefully, given that regional government is soundly entrenched in the rest of the United Kingdom courtesy of devolved institutions.

Nurturing the grassroots of democracy, decentralising power, localising decision making – all intrinsically noble goals which aim to facilitate the type of participative society Cameron Conservatives are keen to encourage. To further these objectives, the Tories intend to remove a layer of regional assemblies in England. The party’s goals won’t be as readily achievable where emasculated local councils subsist under an expensive stratum of regional government, which, in order to justify its existence, must retain functions local government could perform.

However, in April’s ‘Prospect’ Demos Director Richard Reeves emphasises (subs required for full article) that the sound theories of localist policy are not always ma…

Orwell Shortlists Announced

It transpires that my status as George Orwell's rightful heir is now established beyond any reasonable doubt! 'Three Thousand Versts' is on the shortlist! I'm amazed and humbled in equal measure. This is surely the equivalent of Ballymena United reaching the Champions League group stages!

The other blogs (and authors) shortlisted, congratulations to all of them:

Alix Mortimer - The People’s Republic of Mortimer
Andrew Sparrow - Guardian Politics Blog
Iain Dale - Iain Dale’s Diary
Jack Night - Night Jack
Paul Mason BBC Newsnight - Idle Scrawl

I'm sorry for being a little incoherent, but I am stunned!

Stadium for Belfast?

The BBC is reporting that proposals to build a new football and rugby stadium in east Belfast have already been discussed with DCAL. The plan would involve upscaling a smaller design which was set to complement an arena at the Maze.

The business consortium, Eastonville Traders Ltd, wishes to construct a 20,000 seat venue on the Danny Blanchflower Stadium site, which is an existing facility for youth football. At an estimated cost of £66 million the project would weigh in considerably cheaper than the Maze scheme and it could be completed in three years.

With its close proximity to Belfast city centre, good road links and an adjacent airport, Sydenham seems, prima facie, an ideal location for a new sports’ stadium. Fingers crossed this proposal might have legs.

Ten years since Serb bombing

Two ‘Comment is Free’ pieces today reflect on the tenth anniversary of NATO’s bombardment of Serbia and the legacy which it bequeathed the region. The immediate aftermath of bombing, when a humanitarian crisis was precipitated by military action which had the purported aim of halting just such a catastrophe, which was said to be ongoing in Kosovo, has been well documented. Ian Bancroft finds, a decade later, that diplomacy and international law have been two of the chief casualties of NATO’s action whilst Simon Tisdall believes the universal declaration of independence by the Albanian regime in Kosovo has not had a stabilising influence on the west Balkans.


“Pre-intervention portrayals of the conflict in Kosovo were not, however, a failure of intelligence, but an act of willing deceit; designed to reduce the conflict to terms that betrayed the complexity of a situation involving a previously designated terrorist organisation, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and a heavy-h…

Separatist solidarity and the SNP

O’Neill highlights the crude ethno-nationalist sentiment which informs an SNP aide’s recent analysis of the political situation in Northern Ireland, in the light of republican murders. A Herald article examines Mark Hirst’s comments and political reaction to them, both from his own party and its opponents. His argument can be summarised, in blunt terms, as advice to nationalists to outbreed unionists, switching strategy ‘from the bomb … to the bedroom’, as he charmingly puts it. It is not, of course, a unique contention in nationalist circles and it finds echoes on this side of the Irish Sea.

Neither the SNP, nor other modern nationalist parties in the main, expressly articulate such crude ethnocentric narrative. Hirst’s article has, however, prompted Scottish Unionist to consider the Scottish Nationalists’ tendency to endorse multiple separatist causes, throughout Europe and beyond. Far from restricting its ambition to the independence of Scotland, the SNP supports campaigns to …

Iris' remarks were disgraceful, but they weren't a crime.

When Iris Robinson made objectionable statements about homosexuals, I remarked,

“It is not her right to express these views which should be attacked, but her suitability to hold public office, or to represent the public, part of which she volubly accuses of being ‘disgusting’, ‘loathsome’ and so on.”
I am puzzled as to why gay rights campaigners are protesting against an entirely justifiable decision by the PSNI not to press charges against the MP.

It is possible to hear outdated, offensive remarks on almost any talk radio programme on a daily basis. No-one would suggest that contributors to the Nolan Show etc. should be routinely prosecuted.

Mrs Robinson is a public representative, of course, and we are entitled to expect more from her. That is a matter which pertains to her employment, however, and not to criminal law.

Her comments were undoubtedly wrong, but they were never likely to constitute ‘incitement’ and an offence before the law. Protests against the content of Robinson’s…

Grand Slam celebrations show way forward on neutral symbols

Had the citizens of the Republic of Ireland congregated in Dublin to toast the Ireland rugby team's triumph, carrying the flag of their country, of their part of Ireland, one could scarcely have objected. However the squad does represent all thirty two counties and both jurisdictions on the island. It was therefore both heartening and appropriate that the celebrations were marked overwhelmingly by the mass display of a neutral, green IRFU flag. Rugby’s governing body has not always showed as much sensitivity as the organisers and fans at Sunday’s event.

I sincerely hope that the team will be invited to Belfast in order to recognise their achievements, representing both parts of Ireland. It would be wonderful to see a similar spectacle in front of the City Hall. Failing that, the Assembly should host a reception, for a team which is rightfully as much ‘at home’ in Belfast, as it is in Dublin (whatever the IRFU might claim).

Cameron must hold his nerve against the free market fundamentalists

I welcomed David Cameron’s speech, given last week, in which he acknowledged that it might not be possible to deliver tax cuts early in a Conservative administration. In the wake of his address, however, a degree of controversy has enveloped Tory thinking on the economy, focussed particularly on two contentious tax policies.

Although Ken Clarke’s remarks, which appeared to contradict his party’s pledge to raise the threshold for Inheritance Tax, have attracted headlines and speculation, they represent the less telling aspect of the debate. Iain Dale urges Clarke to accept that his comments constitute a ‘gaffe’. The Conservative party still intends to commit in its manifesto to a £1million minimum for Inheritance Tax.

More fundamental is the argument about 45p tax, for those who earn more then £150,000 per year, and whether Conservatives should reverse that Labour measure when they come to power. It reflects something of a long-standing fault-line in the party, between ‘One Nation’…

Ireland win Six Nations


School for scandal - DUPes in child propaganda claim.

Jim Allister is attempting to generate something of a furore about a ‘citizenship roadshow’ at Laurelhill Community College in Lisburn, which involved a highly representative panel of no less than five DUP politicians. The Traditional Unionist leader has accused Peter Robinson and his party of ‘taking over’ the school for ‘political propaganda’.

Although I would uphold children’s right not to be subjected to the blethering of more than one DUP spokesman at a time, surely the school itself is ultimately responsible for the composition of the panel? With this in mind, it would be interesting to know who at the school organised the event, why they didn’t invite representatives of other parties, and if the organiser had any prior connection to the DUP?

Certainly an unbalanced line-up of this type does smack of indoctrination when it is chosen to address young minds. And given the subject matter, were the panellists really best placed to lecture children on citizenship? After all, the …

Pro the unborn life. Prepared to risk the lives of women who are already born.

When Diane Abbot sought to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, in order to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland, Jeffrey Donaldson threatened ‘constitutional crisis’ unless the government performed a tactical manoeuvre to block the amendment being heard. Now the Department of Health has issued guidelines in order to advise health professionals in Northern Ireland on the legal position as regards terminating pregnancy. Donaldson and his colleagues have voted against the advice at the executive.

On Good Morning Ulster, Jeffrey, with all the smugness one associates with him, assured listeners that laws on termination would not be liberalised in Northern Ireland. All the political parties agree.

Which is all well and good, but rather overlooks the fact that abortion falls under the remit of justice, and as we are all aware, policing and justice remain reserved matters. Donaldson and his ‘toy town parliament’ buddies (to borrow O’Neill’s phrase) are not resp…

Not in government, but half an eye on the second term? He should have.

Examining David Cameron’s latest speech (PDF) on the economic crisis, it is clear that the Conservative leader is acutely aware that he will almost certainly soon be in a position to put theory into practice. Cameron chose to dwell on ‘difficult choices’ which will face the next government and wisely declined to promise tax cuts if and when his party win the next election.

Tim Montgomerie offers another neat synopsis of the main points on Conservative Home. Importantly Cameron continues to emphasise that his commitment to social reform will not be compromised by the need to bring public debt under control. That is key. And it will test his communitarian sinews, so to speak, to implement an ambitious programme of social reform in the teeth of recession.

In order to bring public finances under control, Cameron insists that he can neither promise to match Labour’s spending plans, nor can he undertake not to raise taxes. A Conservative government will seek to deliver efficiencies an…

Immortalising the quotidian

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I must confess that I have spent the last forty minutes scrutinising my house from various angles, courtesy of Google’s ‘Street View’ utility. I suspect I was at home when the images were taken, because my car is parked outside. My next door neighbour certainly was. She’s gossiping over the fence to the woman two doors down.

I’ve also been taking the opportunity to scrutinise some of the restaurants in which I recently ate, during a visit to Florence. There’s an umbrella obscuring the menu at the All‘Antico, so I can’t tell whether the excellent steak in Chianti sauce was available the day Google visited.

Perhaps Street View is intrusive. The detail is certainly phenomenal. And I’d imagine it will become a necessity for all manner of snoops and burglars. There may well even be innocent practical purposes to which it can be put. I'd speculate though that the primary benefit is that it's novel and rather entertaining.

It will be Cameron's responsibility to redress society balance

Burke’s Corner believes a consensus on ‘post liberal’ politics might be developing. He bases his assertion on Frank Field’s Prospect article, which proposes compulsory civic service for young people and suggests that prevailing political trends of social liberalism have allowed atomised individualism to prevail over the maintenance of a strong, coherent society.

Field’s thesis is not so terribly far removed in its themes from an article written by ‘progressive conservative’ Philip Blond in the same magazine, which argues, “(t)he current political consensus is left-liberal in culture and right-liberal in economics. And this is precisely the wrong place to be.”

Two further pieces, carried today by the Guardian and Telegraph websites respectively, come from opposite sides of the political spectrum, and both contemplate the best means to build the ‘good society’. Significantly both John Cruddas and Tim Montgomerie start from the premise that British communities have suffered the consequ…

Holylands violence - self-perpetuating

Another Saint Patrick’s Day, another riot in Belfast’s Holylands. Trouble in an area which is now overwhelmingly populated by students has become self-perpetuating. The common perception of the neighbourhood behind Queens, between University Street and the Lagan, is that the population consists of out of control, cider deranged, hurley stick clutching student savages, living cheek by jowl with predatory sex offenders. Consequently the more, to avoid sounding like an erstwhile UUP election campaign let us say ‘conscientious’ student, tries to avoid living there. And long term residents continue to move out.

It has been suggested that the universities should take responsibility for their enrolees and do more to combat anti-social behaviour off campus. Certainly expulsion offers a strong disincentive and would deprive trouble makers of the very reason they are resident in Belfast in the first place. Although attributing blame is never easy in such instances.

Clearly something need…

Air ambulance scheme deserves support

Michael McGimpsey’s performance as Health Minister has been one of the rare success stories of the Northern Ireland Executive. Despite acquiring one of the most challenging departments, and facing a constant fight to retain funding, the South Belfast MLA has delivered free prescriptions and targeted investment where it is badly needed. Tackling the most pressing health issues and seeking to modernise the ambulance service’s elderly fleet, McGimpsey is a minister with an understanding of his brief.

With this in mind, I am all the more puzzled at the Department of Health’s frosty reception to the Ireland Air Ambulance initiative, which is currently undergoing trials. Largely it is accepted that a degree of centralisation and specialisation is inevitable within the modern NHS and Northern Ireland, which has a small, dispersed rural population, is obviously no exception. The ability rapidly to transport patients from areas where local hospital provision is either not available, or is…

If this is a joke it's a corrosive, damaging joke

‘Radical unionist’, Dr John Coulter, makes an unlikely proponent of the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists electoral force. Indeed it is surprising to read warm words from the Irish Star’s political columnist as regards ‘pan-UK unionism’, given that the ‘radical’ notion which most conspicuously distinguishes Coulter’s ‘unionism’ from the philosophy’s mainstream is his advocacy of a united Ireland!

There is not, however, any need to recalibrate one’s assessment of the Star as an organ of political analysis. Nor is there any requirement to reassess whether a wilful absence of sanity still best characterises Coulter’s work. He has managed to get the reasoning behind Empey and Cameron’s initiative reassuringly arse about tit.

“The Unionist NF should not be used as a trendy trick to suck up to Catholics. Unionist NF will only emerge as a genuine new force if it can return to the party's Protestant grassroots and physically get them out to vote.”

Setting aside Coulter’s childlike gl…

Michael Gove on the fanatical ideologues of Islam and Republicanism

Perhaps Michael Gove reads ‘Three Thousand Versts’. The Shadow Secretary for Children, Schools and Families has drawn parallels between hate filled republican ideologues and hate filled Islamist ideologues. He asks,
“How can anyone in Northern Ireland justify a recourse to murderous violence for political ends when the political process is so determinedly inclusive and every tradition is carefully respected? And how can any British citizen, however opposed to any Government policy, ever think it right to slander, barrack and abuse young men who have risked everything in the service of this country?”
The answer?
“The hatred that drives the Real IRA is a product not of blind killing rage but the bitter fruit of ideological commitment. The ideology of Irish republicanism, which celebrates blood and martyrdom and holds that the sacrifice of innocents is a price worth paying that Ireland may be free of perfidious Albion, has the murderers of Massereene barracks in its grip. What drove them …

SNP fall behind in Scotland

Although the Conservative party’s lead over Labour has fallen by 2 points in the last month, David Cameron’s personal approval rating has reached a new high, according to the latest YouGov poll. However the survey’s most eye-catching finding is in relation to Scottish politics.

For the first time since it formed a minority government at Holyrood, the SNP has fallen behind Labour in the regional opinion poll. It seems that Alex Salmond’s insistence on a referendum on independence is beginning to test Scottish voters’ patience. Only 32% agree with the First Minister’s contention that it is appropriate to hold a vote on secession from the United Kingdom next year.

With Gordon Brown’s party remaining unpopular nationally it is indicative of deep disillusion with the SNP’s nationalist agenda, to the exclusion of effective governance, that Labour has edged ahead in Scotland.

The Scottish government’s strategy of short term populism allied to its agenda of stoking resentment against We…

Sealed with a kiss! Liverpool trounce the Mancs.


All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for Liverpool to be negative

When Liverpool demolished Real Madrid last Tuesday night, Benitez’ team played the brand of football I like to watch. When the opposition had the ball, Liverpool hassled, harried, pressed and pressurised the Spanish side. More often than not possession was stolen from Madrid, frequently by the dogged Argentinian, Mescherano. When the Anfield Reds had the ball, they pushed forward, purposefully, and attempted to score a goal. It is a style which suits Liverpool. They won 4-0.

Naturally I was delighted to see the team progress into the Champions League last eight. There was, however, a certain degree of frustration, having watched such a splendid performance, that Liverpool do not attempt to play a high tempo pressing game more frequently. Benitez is much more comfortable instructing his players to sit in deeper positions, ceding possession of the football to the opposition, particularly in European matches.

With his side facing Manchester United at Old Trafford this lunchtime I …

Fundamentalist ideology causes terror - not the British government or unionists

I suppose, given what has happened in the intervening period, terrorism in Northern Ireland now seems neither as exceptional, nor as novel, as it appeared to much of the world in 1998. It is a regrettable change of context, but in the United Kingdom, in the rest of Europe, indeed throughout the world, fundamentalist ideologues, prepared to kill and maim for the advancement of their dogma, comprise the ‘threat within’ with which societies have become accustomed to coexisting. The Islamist terror which imperils much of the world is primarily viewed as derivative of religious fundamentalism, and the doctrines advanced by republicans are nominally political, but both murderous republicans and murderous Islamists are driven by fanatical adherence to the orthodoxies of their respective ideologies.

In order to counter Islamist extremism, measures were introduced in 2006 to make encouraging terrorism an offence. Websites, and groups which exist around the fringes of terror, have arguably ac…

Problems with Muslim interest groups are part of a broader malaise

Recently, prompted by a speech delivered by Dominic Grieve, I posted on the subject of multiculturalism and suggested that successive Labour governments had adopted damaging policies in this area, to the detriment of British society. Ruth Dudley Edwards has penned an article pondering these very failures, provoked by protesting Islamic extremists who hurled abuse at troops returning from Iraq, at their homecoming parade. It is worth considering her piece, if only to develop a little further some of the themes which I had already touched upon in the first blogpost.

The kernel of Dudley Edwards’ argument is that radical Islamists have been singled out by the government for special treatment and are handled with kid gloves in order to dissuade them from committing violent acts. The result is that moderate Muslims are sidelined and extremists are accorded prominence, within and without their communities, which they do not deserve.
“(W)hy else would the Government throw £90 million at…

Rage against the dying of the light. Gillespie finds another club!

There are few sounds more pleasing to the Northern Ireland fan’s ear than a stiletto ‘KEITH’ cutting through cold night air at Windsor Park, to be hammered home by an adamant ‘GILLESPIE!’. When the Green and White Army chants the name of its favourite winger, the noise is fearsome.

And a fearsome sight is what Gillespie comprises for opposition fullbacks when he is in full flight. Blistering pace, close control and a right foot which whips the ball consistently towards the danger zone are all characteristics of Keith’s game. Unfortunately ill discipline, the capacity to be easily discouraged and a red mist which occasionally makes the player look intent on acquiring yellow cards, are all additional traits which accompany his undeniable talent.

Nevertheless, it’s good news for Northern Ireland supporters that Gillespie has been signed by Bradford City. He had become a free agent earlier in the season after being released, not without a degree of acrimony, by Championship side Sh…

Whichever party wins next election cuts will be inevitable.

If you were to believe increasingly anti-Conservative DUP propaganda, a Labour victory at the next election would render Northern Ireland immune to spending cuts. The government too wishes to propagate the myth that only a Tory government would seek to trim public expenditure, as the recession begins to ease.

Nick Robinson cuts through received wisdom and argues that, on the basis of the Treasury’s own projections, there will be cuts, irrespective of which party is in power. Of course Northern Ireland will be effected, in common with other parts of the United Kingdom. But only within a Conservative government can local politicians play a role in shaping national economic policy.

McGuinness' words do comprise unequivocal condemnation

Today in Northern Ireland people from across the province will come together in silent protest at the violence which has occurred here since Saturday night. As ever there are divergent interpretations of the context which surrounds the murders. There also remain acute disagreements as to the best means of combating the menace of republican terror. However, the overwhelming sentiment, shared across the communities in Northern Ireland, is that our violent past should not be revisited under any circumstances. “Northern Ireland does not want to go back” is the message, which Michael succinctly articulates in an article on Conservative Home.

In the wake of events at the weekend I was quick to criticise Sinn Féin for an inadequate, vacillating response. To an extent this criticism stands. On Brass Neck Mick Fealty is scathing about Gerry Adams in particular, comparing him to an elderly Yasser Arafat, in the light of a dithering interview with Radio 4’s Today programme. In contrast, …

Acceptibility of Scottish AND Northern Irish banknotes should be affirmed by legislation

Shadow Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, is currently attempting to steer his Scottish Banknotes (Acceptability in the United Kingdom) Bill through the House of Commons. He has raised important matters by introducing this legislation; issues which are pertinent not only to Scotland, but also to Northern Ireland, where banks also produce their own notes.

Embarrassing, inconvenient and deeply annoying circumstances surround suspicion, and even refusal, of banknotes which are, after all, denoted in sterling. There are even some incessantly argumentative characters who have, in the past, been so intent on paying for items with Northern Irish notes, that they have insisted that publicans take back pints of lager, despite the prospective purchaser holding crisp Bank of England twenties in their wallet!

The acceptability of both Northern Irish and Scottish notes should be enshrined in legislation. This would place a compelling moral obligation on businesses to accept them and it would h…

A republican problem which could have baleful consequences for us all

Another morning. And we have woken up to learn of another murder in Northern Ireland. Last night Constable Stephen Carroll was gunned down by republicans in Craigavon as he responded to a call for help, lodged by a frightened member of the public. It goes without saying that another family has been bereaved. On this occasion a wife no longer has a husband; children have been deprived of their father. And to what purpose? As far as I can see, it is purely because the most extreme recidivist elements of republicanism want to destroy the beginnings of normality in this country. They cannot bear the thought that people in Northern Ireland might live their lives without murderous interruption – in peace.

O’Neill observes that despite the glib guarantees with which Gordon Brown responded to Saturday’s Massareene Barracks murders, we cannot be confident that the perpetrators, of that particular attack or of the killing last night, will ever be brought to justice. Indeed the Prime Mi…

Earth to Rafa! We're only playing for one trophy now.

BBC’s football service reports that Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez faces a ’make or break week’. The Spaniard feels that the club’s season hinges on two games. One being tomorrow’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid, another being Saturday’s Premier League match at Old Trafford.

Rafa does face a ’make or break’ week. He must ensure that his charges salvage some possibility of winning a major prize this season by retaining their first leg advantage over Europe’s most decorated club. Saturday is just for pride.

And if there is even a shred of complacency shown by the home team tomorrow, then all hope of adorning the cabinet with another trophy will be gone for another season. Liverpool could easily lose 2-1 or allow Madrid to take the match to extra time. Especially if Benitez does not set up his side to go and win the game.

Positivity is key. And Reds supporters haven’t seen much of that since Newcastle were beaten 5-1.

A deeper sickness

It is difficult to know what to say about the horrible events which took place in Antrim on Saturday night. It is a struggle even to turn one’s thoughts this morning to Northern Ireland and its politics. The only words which are not freighted with futility are words of sorrow and sympathy for the men who were shot so mercilessly, and their families.

Sad, indeed tragic events, unfold in our newspapers, on our television screens and occasionally in front of our very eyes, daily. To an extent we become inured or else we seek comfort in the mutuality of our revulsion. The nature of this weekend’s horror was somehow particularly difficult to stomach, accompanied as it was with the unedifying, hollow charade which masqueraded as condemnation from Sinn Féin.

For fourteen hours the party remained silent. Its reaction, when it came, was laced with equivocation and qualification, heavy with the implication that republicans remain the troubles’ real victims. ‘Counterproductive’, ‘an atta…

And from Reg Empey

Writing in the News Letter. After a week of nonsense, Sir Reg offers a timely reminder why this 'new force' is important.

Some fun has already been poked at the term "New Force." So be it. That is the nature of politics. But let me say this: this is a new electoral and politcal force for the Union. This is a new force which spans the entire United Kingdom. This is a new force which can put Northern Ireland at the very heart of UK politics. This is a new force which offers new opportunities and prospects for the entire electorate. This is a new force which is able to promote a vision and version of the Union which isn't dependent on head counts and scare tactics. This is a new force which is able to offer a credible, costed, intellectual alternative to the dreary old mantras. This is a new force which has the potential to reach those tens of thousands of pro-Union voters who have opted out because they believed that a vote for a seemingly parochial party was a was…

More about Conservative / UUP deal in print

Details of the current issue aren't available on the website as yet, but if you haven't had enough on 'Three Thousand Versts', Fortnight magazine this month carries a long article by yours truly arguing the strengths of pan-UK unionism. You're all given permission to leave your computers to rush out and buy a copy. Chop chop!

Incidentally my cover is blown! The piece isn't written pseudonymously.

Stop the infighting and start fighting the election

Mick has beaten me to the punch on Slugger, but I received the same e-mail he broke earlier, explaining why Conservative NI vice chairman, Jeffrey Peel, has resigned from the Conservatives and Unionists’ joint committee. I have no desire to get involved in apportioning blame or a bitter round of recriminations. But it has saddened me, that when members should have galvanised to put across immediately an important political message, there has instead been an undignified and childish spate of wrangling about branding.

This has been played out with peculiar vehemence on several blogs. So that one or two in particular have become, for a time, effectively dedicated to attacking members of respective political parties whose values and aspirations the authors have previously purported to share.

I am not desperately interested in these spats, their whys and wherefores, and I do not want to become involved in them. As far as I’m concerned the issues underlying disagreements have in no rega…