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Showing posts from August, 2009

Chief Human Rights Commissioner McWilliams should resign or face the chop. £70,000 a year buys a quangocrat to attack elected politicians.

Rather than actually penning an article about human rights, Brian Walker has simply published, verbatim, Jeff Dudgeon's account of a debate at the 'McCloskey Civil Rights Summer School', on Slugger. The result is that, unique amongst Walker's blogposts, it is actually worth reading.

The NIHRC's chief quangocrat, Monica McWilliams, attended the event and, from Jeff's synopsis, it sounds like she faced a robust challenge from the floor. Given that she has presided over the human rights bill fiasco and continues to defend recommendations, expensively formulated, which comprehensively fail to fulfil the commission's remit, she deserves little sympathy.

McWilliams response to criticism aimed at the NIHRC and its work typifies the fashion in which unelected bodies, purportedly constituted in order to perform a particular task impartially, often develop an entirely independent dynamic of their own. Rather than serving the public they instead start to push a s…

The face of fear? Strife scare-mongers in advance of Poland clash.

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This week the Northern Ireland football team flies to Poland where it faces its most important World Cup qualifier in a generation. Nigel Worthington’s men will play the first of three games which could, conceivably, send them to the finals in South Africa next summer.

It’s a scenario so exciting that even the Sunday Life might have developed an angle worth reading, without resorting to the contemptible piece of scaremongering which adorned its front page yesterday morning.

“’Psycho’ fans looking to kill Northern Ireland fans during Poland clash” wrote Ciaran Barnes, graduate of that classy school of responsible journalism, the Andersonstown News.

The reporter has visited Chorzow, the venue which the Polish FA finally chose to host the match, in order to chat to its hooligan gangs. Obviously a photographer tagged along, as we were treated to an image of a machete wielding hooligan, clad in FC Ruch Chorzow colours.

Traditionally the Sunday Life leads, most weekends, with an artic…

Strawberries and cream?

Press release tennis between the DUP and Ulster Unionists has long represented an acquired taste for sports' enthusiasts. Bobballs has had some fun with the dupes latest attack on the Conservative and Ulster Unionist accord.

Michelle McIlveen alleges an irrevocable split within the UUP as regards the Tory deal and notes that David McNarry's 'Putting Things Right' document has disappeared from the party website.

An Ulster Unionist spokesman retaliated by questioning the DUP's reading abilities.

Whether this type of thing influences voters one way or another is doubtful. It does, however, serve to fill up the News Letter's column inches.

Anyway, here's the document in question, replete with the much misinterpreted passage on policing and justice and carried, in full, on the UUP's website.

History or hero worship? Stalin on the subway.

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It is impossible, as a first time visitor to Moscow, not to be impressed by the city’s Metro system. It was conceived that the stations should be ‘people’s palaces’ representing their putative shared ownership by Soviet workers. Exploring underground for just an hour or two, a passenger can discover facilities which are sumptuous, ornate, resonant with symbolism, and comprise, in themselves, popular tourist attractions.

Construction of Lazar Kaganavich’s plan for Moscow, of which the metro was an integral part, was begun in the 1930s, with the first line opening to the public in 1935. The underground railway and its stations are, largely, achievements of Stalin’s regime. It is hardly surprising that the troublesome dialogue which Russia periodically engages in with its Soviet past has once again arisen in relation to the Metro.

Renovation of Kurskaya Station, returned to its original glory, has proved a little too thorough for some observers. A verse from the 1944 Soviet nation…

A shared future is not about politically correct dinner party guest lists

I usually find much to applaud in Alex Kane’s commentary. The UUP’s Director of Communications writes a weekly News Letter column, which is frequently cited on this blog with commendation. I have to challenge a section of Alex’s latest piece, however, which includes a rather blithe dismissal of ‘shared future’. It’s a puzzling stance, because the Ulster Unionist party should be proud of its position, holding the ‘Ourselves Alone’ coalition to account for its abandonment of the strategy.

“It is taken as a given that people in Northern Ireland want ‘something different’ in political and social terms and millions of pounds are spent on all sorts of cross-community projects and shared future propaganda.

If only we could all be educated together, live together, play sports together and work together, it wouldn’t be long before the old barriers collapsed, the peace walls crumbled and spanking new parties emerged to build a new Northern Ireland. Isn’t that right?

But maybe, just maybe, mos…

Sky Blues stun Champions

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This will be your lot today I'm afraid, due to an engagement. Still it's a goody.

For the fifth time in five years Ballymena have put Glentoran to the sword, at the Oval. Kevin Kelbie scored both United goals in a 2-1 win.

Extremely disappointed that I couldn't be there. Still, what a tonic for a team that were rooted to the bottom of the table.

Orde's shared future warning

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Sir Hugh Orde isn’t particularly concerned that groups of heavily armed republicans can roam border areas and patrol roads, unhindered by an emasculated police force which has neither the resources, nor the political backing, to do anything about it. I cannot agree.

However Northern Ireland’s outgoing police chief also believes that a lack of political commitment to the ‘shared future’ strategy is retarding progress towards a normal society. His officers are at the sharp end of this failure. He has a point.

Bobballs observes that Alliance, the UUP and the SDLP all acknowledge a need to resuscitate the imperative of integration, whilst Sinn Féin and the DUP’s ‘ourselves alone' coalition stand opposed. Fittingly. After all, the Programme for Government developed by the two parties shelved the ‘Shared Future’ initiative in the first instance.

A mythos has grown up around the Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ that its completion could only be achieved, can only be achieved, becau…

“Up here we call it the ‘wha’s like us’ mentality”.

I do promise to leave the Megrahi – MacAskill affair alone for a while – soon – but a post from Liam Murray tickled my fancy. Apart from subjecting the defining characteristics of ‘compassion’ to closer scrutiny, Murray takes the SNP minister to task for asserting Scotland’s ‘moral superiority.

“Up here we call it the ‘wha’s like us’ mentality”

“You have to wonder what characteristics Mr MacAskill would ascribe to our English neighbours”, Murray ponders, “it’s probably best not to ask”.

Mount argument against Tory policy rather than relying on Anglophobe innuendo

I’ve ‘fisked’ Roy Garland’s articles in the past (to use the modish phrase) but with his latest broadside against the Conservative and Unionist arrangement it would be a waste of time. There is nothing new here whatsoever, still less anything approaching an argument, substantiated with facts.

Roy doesn’t like the Tories and he doesn’t trust English people. Actually if he had the courage to follow through his instincts he might conclude that Northern Ireland should be independent. It is ‘unionism’ at its most insular.

I am fully cognisant of the fact that Northern Irish unionists, like pro Union British people elsewhere, cover a broad span of political opinion. They will not all, uniformly, find modern Conservative party policies to their liking. Their arguments, developed on this basis, are, naturally, valid and worth listening to.

But spare me sly innuendoes about English people which preoccupy commentators like Roy Garland and the little Ulstermen of the DUP.

Unionist parties lack the resolve to topple Salmond.

This afternoon a recalled Scottish parliament is due to discuss the decision of its justice secretary to release convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi. It promises to be an uncomfortable session for the SNP administration, but newspaper suggestions that Alex Salmond’s minority regime could be toppled are guilty of overstatement. Although unionist parties in Scotland remain happy to make political capital from nationalist misgovernment, there is little genuine appetite to bring down the executive.

The Conservatives have been most consistent in their opposition to Megrahi’s release. However justice spokesman, Bill Aitken MSP, has indicated that a vote of no confidence in Kenny MacAskill, whilst possible, would be ‘premature’. The Tories have something of a contradictory relationship with nationalists in Scotland, despite taking a strong line on the Union.

On this issue, Labour’s response is even more problematic. The party’s Scottish leader, Iain Gray, has spoken…

Grayling set to evoke Disraeli as Tories ressurect 'one nation' conservatism

Another week, another keynote speech expected from a member of the shadow cabinet. Chris Grayling, prospective home secretary in a Tory government, will tomorrow expound upon the well worn Cameron Conservative theme, ‘broken Britain’, highlighting crime, gangsterism, poverty and social immobility, which he believes have flourished under the stewardship of a Labour government.

It is a further development of the themes which George Osborne laid out in a recent speech at Demos, when he referred to the modern Conservative party as the ‘dominant progressive force’ in British politics. The Tories argue that they are espousing constructive social policies, in tune with a Conservative ethos, which offer the best means to tackle the unique set of problems which the United Kingdom faces.

Grayling presaged his speech with an article in a popular Sunday newspaper. Three Thousand Versts loathes the journal, and its daily sister, so profoundly that any link to its website would compromise our pr…

Sir Reg shoulder charges McNarry, but he still thinks the Lady's for turning.

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Eternally well-informed blogger, staff at bobballs’, assessment of the ‘Putting Things Right’ document was that it represented a mazy slaloming solo dribble by its author, David McNarry (the ‘a’ in that sentence is important). Certainly the Strangford MLA seemed either reluctant, or unable, to clarify a widely misinterpreted section, which pondered possible funding arrangements for devolved policing and justice. His party leader, Sir Reg Empey, has now returned from holiday and explained the disputed text’s significance in terms which this blog had insisted were perfectly obvious to anyone who cared to read the original. Less a brutal sliding tackle, propelling McNarry into the stand, than a subtle nudge of the shoulder, easing him off the ball. The Irish News reports,


“Sir Reg made it clear that the UUP was not putting off the devolution of policing and justice and that their position had been misinterpreted.


Instead the UUP has raised the possibility of London continuing for a pe…

Will Megrahi affair make Westminster more conscious of devolution's effects?

The SNP used the Megrahi affair to indulge in some distasteful nationalist posturing. Where justice is reserved the events formed a cautionary tale of the possible effects of its devolution.

But how do they reflect the workings of devolution, as it currently operates, and what do they tell us about possible political dynamics, as they might develop in the immediate future?

What the case illustrates most strikingly is that a Westminster government can be powerless in the face of an internal policy decision which directly impacts upon its interests on the international stage.

It has been alleged, as I intimate below, that the Scottish Justice Minister’s determination was convenient for the national government and consistent with its foreign policy objectives. It has even been suggested that pressure was brought to bear on the SNP administration, or that a deal was struck. It is a plausible point of view, derived by seductive reasoning, but it does not negate the hard fact that a r…

An advert for devolved justice?

There are a series of problematic value judgements which the facts of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s release raise. Is it right to show mercy to a dying man, even if he has perpetrated a heinous crime? If there is a doubt about the safety of his conviction, does it justify his case being treated differently? How far should the hurt which victims have experienced be taken into account where mercy can be shown, or denied?

These are difficult questions, involving slippery moral concepts which will be endlessly debated. Lengthy works of philosophy, or novels, are suitable media to consider such material carefully (although Hernandez is one of many having a go on blogs and columns).

Rather than encroach on the territory outlined above, I propose to discuss (briefly) two issues (which I will divide between two posts) arising from the decision (and its announcement), which are, I suppose, tangential to the points I made about the SNP’s style of presentation, last night. Firstly, from a purely …

It's all about us. SNP minister preens his nationalist feathers in spotlight.

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'In Scotland we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity.'

So began SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's statement, as he announced the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. He continued in that vein. 'Scotland' 'the Scottish people', their 'values', 'faith', 'beliefs', 'as a people we', and so on, ad infinitum.

It was a momentous decision, which will be strenuously debated and contested, yet, the SNP minister chose to to deliver it couched in preening, romanticised, nationalistic guff, rather than outline his reasoning clearly.

This was all about Scotland (or the Scotland which MacAskill imagines), it was all about nationalism, it was all about the SNP. How utterly risible. How utterly pathetic.

Why devolution needn't mean the end of Britain.

On Unionist Lite O’Neill has published a thoughtful post which invokes the idea of the United Kingdom as a ‘fifth nation’, embodied by the parliament at Westminster. It is an interesting notion through which to explain the interlocking set of identities and allegiances which define a pluricultural and multinational state. O’Neill contends that the political framework which draws Britain together could be more accurately described as a ‘collection’ of fifth nations. I understand what he means, although I wonder whether, in a devolutionary age in which the ‘four nations’ of the UK have assumed a very definite and meaningful political form, the need for a ‘fifth nation’ allegiance and the relevance of the image is not greater than ever.

In maintaining an overarching construct of political identity to which the peoples of the United Kingdom can continue to adhere, unionists might be thought to face a tricky conundrum. It is commonly asserted that ‘Britishness’, in so far as it is exh…

McGuinness defends DUP / SF 'ourselves alone' coalition

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Describing the content of an interview with Peter Robinson’s First Ministerial partner, Martin McGuinness, Belfast Telegraph journalist Noel McAdam writes,

“the senior Sinn Fein politician repeatedly attacked his other Executive co-parties, Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, but talked up what he argues is the increasing proven ability of his party and the DUP to reach difficult decisions.”

The interview is just the latest evidence that the relationship between Sinn Féin and the DUP bears all the characteristics of a genuine, as well as a de facto, coalition, between two parties whose outlooks are surprisingly similar.

The two parties’ leaders each view government as an exercise in horse trading between two communities. Both believe that other, smaller parties’ roles should be confined to assuming collective responsibility for anything the larger pair decides between them.

Neither likes being held to account by the Assembly or even submitting to meaningful scrutiny by members of the execut…

Could Scottish double jobbing allegations be replicated in Northern Ireland?

David Campbell and Tim Lewis, chairmen of the Ulster Unionist and Northern Ireland Conservative Parties respectively, released a joint statement last week, explaining the process by which joint parliamentary candidates will be chosen.

To summarise, each Conservative or UU association in a given constituency will shortlist one prospective candidate. David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey will, at this stage, have the power to veto any nominee to whom they particularly object. The joint committee will then be asked to draw up a final list of preferred candidates from those hopefuls who have successfully negotiated the first two steps. Finally the Ulster Unionist Executive and the Northern Ireland Conservative Council will each be asked to ratify all the individual candidates.

This procedure at least has the merit of clarity and it should, theoretically, produce a list of moderate, agreed contenders, shorn of any especially contentious personalities. There is also scope for disagreement a…

Raiders of the lost Arctic Sea?

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I wrote a short piece back in December 2007 about the novelistic qualities of some of the year’s news stories. The ‘canoe man’, now hitting the bulletins once more as he attempts to find a publisher for his memoirs, and the ‘polonium murder’ are two prominent examples. Now, in 2009, we have the ‘Arctic Sea mystery’ in which a four thousand ton ship vanished for three weeks and then reappeared in puzzling circumstances.

Russia claims to have apprehended eight hijackers whom it alleges stole the vessel. But intriguingly it appears that they did not use force and nor were the fifteen crew members ‘under armed control’. The Russian navy’s recovery of the ‘Arctic Sea’ has, in the short term, added to the mystery, rather than solving it. However, the authorities have undertaken to provide a full explanation, once they have concluded their investigation.

What is certain is that few fiction writers have dreamt up a plot so pregnant with suspenseful possibility.

Miliband's terror comments were irresponsible

I am not, as regular readers will have ascertained, an enthusiast for the political skills of the Foreign Secretary. But even by David Miliband’s standards, his latest controversial remarks are incredibly ill advised and spectacularly badly timed. As Britain’s troops return in body bags, with stomach churning regularity, from Helmand province, victims of a vicious Islamist insurgency, the minister in charge of foreign policy has chosen to express the opinion that “there are circumstances in which (terrorism) is justifiable, and yes, there are circumstances in which it is effective”.

No doubt Miliband believes that he engaged in a subtle exposition of moral philosophy, when Matthew Parris questioned him about his attitudes to terrorism perpetrated by the group ‘Sizwe’, which claimed the lives of civilians in South Africa. His contention that the racist regime was ‘blown away’ will no doubt enrage those who believe that it was politics which eventually dismantled apartheid and acts of…

Northern Ireland's Number 2. Thanks for your votes.

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Total Politics has published its list of Northern Ireland’s top twenty weblogs. The chart has been collated from the votes of readers, who are asked to submit a list of their ten favourite sites. Many of you will know this, because you voted ‘Three Thousand Versts’ into second position. Again! Thanks to everyone who took time out to participate in the poll and include this blog in their list. When the UK chart is revealed, it would be nice if local sites were well represented.

Slugger O’Toole bestrides the world of Northern Irish weblogs like a colossus and it takes the number one position (presumably comfortably). I must confess a love hate relationship with Mick Fealty’s site. The quality of writing varies considerably between team members, it has lost one of its most astute unionist commentators, who contributed under the name ‘Fair Deal’, and it carries a degree of blogging ballast. However it is much the most vibrant forum for political debate in the province (albeit tha…

Pandering to our society's most regressive voices

Why should a contemptible republican rabble be allowed to spoil Belfast's Tall Ships event? The News Letter reports that a Royal Marine band will no longer take part in a parade scheduled to take place today, due to a protest planned by the tiny dissident group, eirigi.

This is an organisation which acted as apologists for the murders of two soldiers and a policeman earlier this year. It's the group that intimidated students working in a Belfast shopping centre, as its 'protest' against against Israel's actions in Palestine. It organised an illegal demonstration when the city honoured troops returning from Afghanistan.

The Marines were, quite appropriately, invited to play a small part in a maritime festival organised in a UK city. It would have formed a tiny proportion of the pageantry which has taken place over four days. It is shameful that the most regressive, knuckle dragging representatives of this society should dictate the composition of a major event.

NHS love makes me queasy!

I must confess, the ‘we love the NHS’ campaign, organised to respond to American criticism of the institution, makes me vaguely queasy. Gordon Brown has joined the Twitter group, of course, in another ill advised foray into internet campaigning. Iain Dale has posted rather effectively on the topic, arguing that it is ‘puerile’ to claim ‘love’ for a public service.

Don’t misunderstand me. Reactionary voices in the US, which contend that the NHS is ‘evil’ and resist any move towards state funded health provision, make me even more bilious. I understand the reflex to defend our health service.

But there’s more than a little impulsive nationalism to this popular response to American criticism and there's a distinct whiff of populist opportunism where politicians seek to clamber on board the band wagon.

Everyone has experiences of the NHS, and many of them are good, but few would contend that the service is perfect. We have reason to be proud that health care is available, free…

Vitriol, abuse and comment moderation

Comment moderation has been enabled for the foreseeable future. Anonymous commenters are intent on bombarding the site with vitriolic nationalist (and racist) abuse, both of the Irish and English varieties. This morning I’ve deleted the following gem.

“Only the BNP can deliver a united Britain minus Northern Ireland and the hatred that flows from this cesspit of spite.

Pan UK Unionism is the call of subsidy junkies, desperate to hang onto England's coat tails whilst contributing nothing to Britain. The Northern Irish are worse than paki immigrants.

We should get rid of the whole lot and hand them over to the Irish.”

Charming I’m sure you’ll agree. I’ve also been strenuously instructed to ‘go home’ as have the rest of the Irish. Very confusing for those of us solidly located on the ‘oul sod’.

Apologies for the nuisance value, but I will endeavour to check the comments as frequently as possible. Unfortunately, as more people read the site, the level of bile tends to increase too.…

Pan UK unionism or oblivion. An exciting but perilous time for the UUP.

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In an article yesterday I alluded to some of the challenges which face the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists electoral force, come the autumn. The News Letter reports that the candidate selection procedure for Westminster elections is ‘under way’ (a process which represents one of the immediate obstacles UCUNF must surmount).

A poll is expected next spring and the alliance must strive to win seats for Northern Ireland in Britain’s next government and, just as importantly, ensure that the arrangement fields a stable of candidates reflecting its stated values and ethos.

After the next Assembly election it is intended that dual mandates be consigned to the past, so the Ulster Unionist Party must nominate, predominately, from outside its group of MLAs. If sitting Assembly Members do wish to stand, they will do so on the understanding that they must forfeit their Stormont seats in 2011, should their Westminster campaigns be successful.

How the party chooses to divide the talent avail…

McCann he or can't he? Should goalscorer retain central berth?

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Does it seem wilfully perverse to suggest that the most useful lesson Nigel Worthington might have learned from last night’s Israel friendly could prejudice selection of Northern Ireland’s goalscorer, Grant McCann?

The match finished 1-1 after McCann put the home team into an early lead courtesy of a subtly crafted left foot free kick. Yet it is becoming increasingly apparent that accommodating the Scunthorpe player’s goal-threat, as part of a central pairing, involves weakening the spine of the Northern Ireland team.

I don’t for a moment wish to imply that the midfielder does not offer his manager a valuable option. Last night we witnessed the precision which he can achieve with his left boot and his late, timely attacking runs are not matched by either Sammy Clingan or Steven Davis.

However the Clingan / Davis partnership provides Northern Ireland with competitive bite and the ability to retain possession. It is my opinion that we cannot afford, especially playing away from ho…

UUP's drift and presentational carelessness could undermine Conservative deal.

If a party intends to put across a new message, consistently, then it is important that it chooses reliable people, in tune with the message’s ethos, to communicate it. The Ulster Unionist party has a vitally important vision to articulate just now. It is engaged in critical work, seeking to normalise politics in Northern Ireland, and strengthen the Union by offering voters here genuine participation in British politics.

This is the most exciting development for Northern Irish unionism in a generation, and it requires steadfast, firm leadership to see it to its conclusion. That means leadership which is prepared to ensure its party’s more regressive voices do not become predominant.

If you were leader of the UUP, and one of your representatives implied that your Conservative allies were ‘wide boy liberalistos’ you might think it clever management if you declined to use that representative to front a major policy paper. You'd be right.

Coverage of the ‘Putting Things Right…

Half cocked Attwood and half arsed BBC

How many rash political judgments and alarmist media stories could be avoided if politicians and journalists were to read documents properly before commenting on them?

The UUP released its ‘Putting Things Right’ statement today, which sets out criticisms of the DUP / Sinn Féin coalition’s management of devolved finances and envisages how the position in Northern Ireland might be improved.

A section deals with policing and justice. Its contents have been picked up by the BBC which reports that Ulster Unionists are now seeking ‘a five year financial testing period’ before policing and justice powers can be devolved.

Reacting, no doubt, to the BBC’s story, as opposed to the original text, Alex Attwood (SDLP) blundered in with knee wildly a-jerking, alleging that the UUP has vetoed devolution.

“When Peter Robinson said on July 7 that all the party leaders in the Assembly would have to agree on community confidence before devolution of justice powers occurred he was sharing his veto o…

'Progressive' Conservatism remains Cameron's route to election victory

The think tank Demos was considered critical to the development of Blairism. Now, reflecting an altered political landscape, it is often mentioned in conjunction with David Cameron and his ‘progressive conservatism’ project. This afternoon, George Osborne will deliver a speech on the topic, at Demos, which has been extensively trailed in the media this morning.

The shadow chancellor will stress Conservative commitment to social values, communitarianism, localism and green issues, and contrast it with Labour’s woeful record on civil liberties and centralism. This blog has consistently advocated strong emphasis of these aspects of the Tory agenda. I have argued that David Cameron should, on no account, capitulate to the wing of his party which views the economic crisis as a pretext to drop policies aimed at building a fairer, happier society.

To his credit, the Conservative leader has resisted this temptation, whilst delivering a strong message on fiscal accountability. Steve Hilto…

Crucial preparation as Northern Ireland faces Israel

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My pre season optimism, as regards the Irish League, survived almost fifteen minutes of competitive action, before Ballymena’s flat footed defence allowed Liam Boyce to fire Cliftonville into an early lead at the Showgrounds. The international calendar begins tomorrow, and although Northern Ireland’s World Cup hopes cannot be dented meaningfully until early September, a poor performance against Israel would certainly send a deflated squad to the crucial qualifier in Poland.

Tomorrow’s clash represents crucial preparation for three matches which will define Nigel Worthington’s tenure as manager. It is just about plausible that Northern Ireland could book a place in South Africa over the next two months and there is a slightly more credible chance that a play off berth could be secured. Objective observers would scarcely expect the team to secure the seven points which are almost certainly the minimum required. Northern Ireland’s away record is appalling. We face Poland and the Cz…

A start to building partnership: treat Russia's security propositions seriously

The anniversary of last summer’s war between Georgia and Russia has formed a pretext for predictable anti-Russian posturing. Politicians in Britain and elsewhere have been quick to rationalise their initial reactions to the conflict, despite the improvement in tone which Barack Obama’s arrival at the White House has precipitated between western governments and the Kremlin during the last six months. However, despite the residual, reflexive Russophobia which informs much of this analysis, it has generally been expressed in terms which are distinctly more temperate than the (empty) sabre rattling we witnessed last August.

Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, is a particularly blinkered critic of Moscow, and compulsively meddles in the affairs of sovereign states. But he met the anniversary of Saakashvili’s invasion with an uncharacteristically muted statement which welcomed President Medvedev’s call for a ‘new security architecture’ in Europe. The Conservative shadow defence minister, …

The DUP is not 'The Unionist Party'.

Permit me to start the week by venting a personal peccadillo. The Irish Independent reports that Jeffrey Donaldson objects to Youtube carrying videos celebrating terrorism. A rather unremarkable story. However, both the headline and story refer to the Lagan Valley MP as 'The Unionist MP' (note the capital letters). I appreciate that there is no factual inaccuracy here. Jeffrey professes to be pro-Union and he is an MP. I have noticed, however, strenuous DUP efforts to style itself 'the' Unionist party. The independent's use of the capital 'u' exacerbates the sense that the little Ulster party is the principal voice of unionism. This is neither factually, historically nor statistically correct.

Heart of a Dog

'Owww-ow-ow-ow! Oh, look at me, I'm dying. There's a snowstorm moaning a requiem for me in this doorway and I'm howling with it. I'm finished. Some bastard in a dirty white cap - the cook in the office canteen at the National Economic Council - spilled some boiling water and scalded my left side. Filthy swine - and a proletarian too.'

The voice of Sharik, canine hero of 'Heart of a Dog', opens Bulgakov's masterful novel. Subsequently, equipped by a Moscow professor with a dead man's testicles and pituitary gland, the stray becomes worryingly human, causing enough heartache that the experimenter reverses his procedure.

Alfie is another dog given literary voice, through his eponymous diary blog, transcribed by Rosemary J kind. He would doubtless sympathise with Sharik's plight and admonish his tormentors, albeit that Alfie's rights based patter might be incompatible with sneering at proletarians.

Rather than indulging Saakashvili's conceit, call for elections.

Exactly one year has elapsed since President Saakashvili ordered his troops to retake Georgia’s breakaway region, South Ossetia, by force of arms. Russia, whose citizens form a majority of the territory’s population, responded by driving Georgian forces back beyond the Ossetian boundary and deep into Georgia proper. Its president’s military adventurism has provided further impetus to increasingly strident political opposition within the former Soviet republic. Realist foreign policy observers within the EU and US have begun to scrutinise the Georgian leader’s democratic credentials with more care. South Ossetia and Abkhazia have sought, and gained, Russian recognition for unilateral declarations of independence. By any sensible criteria, Saakashvili has presided over a tactical and strategic disaster for his country, yet, in today’s Guardian he marks the anniversary of his invasion with a self-valedictory article, portraying his regime as a bastion of freedom which will drive for…

Totnes vs. local activists.

The Conservatives’ ‘open primary’ experiment in Totnes, Devon, has been widely applauded. Enthusiasm for the new method of candidate selection is not, however, universal. ‘Letters from a Tory’ has compiled a list of objections, some of which are practical and reasonable. Others bear the thumbprint of the political activist jealously guarding his privileges.

Candidate selection is, of course, a thorny issue for grass roots party members. Choosing a suitable nominee to fight an election is traditionally the prerogative of local constituency organisations. Attempts to impose preferred candidates by central structures are frequently resented and it would not be especially surprising if opening the process up to non-party members is also met with resistance by local activists.

Three Thousand Versts has hosted debates around this area before. Suggestions that Conservatives and Unionists in Northern Ireland need to take affirmative action and look at list systems in order to widen and …

Sky's the limit as Walker plots Ballymena title raid (or perhaps not)

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The Barclays Premier League begins next weekend and Liverpool new boy Alberto Aquilani could be called into immediate action against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield (pending medicals). Closer to home the rather grandly titled Carling Premiership kicks off on Saturday. Perennial favourites, Glentoran and Linfield, face trickier opening fixtures than they might ideally have chosen. The reining champions face Distillery in Lisburn whilst David Jeffrey’s shower travel to Coleraine.

However all eyes (or at least these eyes) will be trained on the Showgrounds where Roy Walker’s Ballymena United side begins its title challenge against Cliftonville. The Sky Blues’ pre-season has been rather compact this year and I have only managed to attend one of the friendly matches. It was a rather patchy display against Dunmurry Rec, which the senior outfit eventually won by three goals to one.

That game saw the debut of former international player Andy Smith, a striker of whom much will be expected …

Flagging Labour will be replaced by a government with a different outlook

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I believe the government’s scheme to introduce national ID cards represents a colossal waste of money and should be scrapped as soon as possible. I am not, therefore, unduly excited by Labour’s decision to omit the Union Flag from the card, as a sop to nationalists in Northern Ireland. Jeffrey Donaldson is rather more exercised by the issue and Irish News’ columnist, Fionnuala O’Connor, has trumpeted the flag’s omission as evidence of our tenuous links with the rest of the United Kingdom. Certainly, the government is failing to adorn a silly card with an appropriate symbol for equally silly reasons.

I have criticised O’Connor’s analysis before and the flaws which I have highlighted in her arguments are once again present in this piece. In common with many nationalists, two of her favourite devices are reading provisions into the Belfast Agreement which are not supported by the text and conflating equality of aspiration with equality of outcome. Whilst Labour has demonstrated its …