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Showing posts from December, 2009

A cautious approach to electoral reform is far from stupid

John Rentoul’s column in today’s Independent is worth reading. Its eye catching headline questions the Conservatives’ reputation as ‘the stupid party’, suggesting that Tories’ calm approach to electoral reform suggests a long-term mentality.

In contrast, Labour’s 1980s enthusiasm for tweaking the voting system has been rekindled, just as the party prepares for another prolonged spell in opposition.

Rentoul is implying that the government’s attitude to the issue is purely reactive.

During the vast majority of its years in power the Labour party has been satisfied with an arrangement which worked in its favour. Now that defeat is imminent, and Liberal Democrats’ support is sought, Gordon Brown has thrown his weight behind a shift to Alternative Vote.

In contrast, although the Conservative party requires a much greater share of the vote than Labour, in order to command a substantial majority, David Cameron proposes less fundamental changes.

The Tories favour fewer MPs in the House o…

Praise from Caesar! John Coulter loves Irish bloggers. We just keep pumping shite!

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O'Neill has broken the news already, but the unionist blogging triumverate Bobballs, Three Thousand Versts and Unionist Lite, have won an award!

This site's favourite political commentator, John Coulter of the Irish Daily Star, has nominated us for his 'Gobshite of the Year' gong. It is hard not to feel humbled, perhaps even ashamed!

The Gobshite Cup goes to Irish political blogging for all its terrific support of the Fearless Flying Column in 2009.

Top sites are the UUP arse-licking Bobballs, A Pint of Unionist Lite, and Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness. Keep pumping out that shite folks; sorry, that should read informed political comment

Fear not John! None of the 'shite-pumpers' have any immediate plans for retirement.

We must not forget Iris's intolerance of others.

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In today's Belfast Telegraph, I argue that sympathy for Iris Robinson's depression should not obscure the unpleasant reality of her politics.

Even by the DUP's standards, Mrs Robinson's politics comprise an unpleasant concoction of bigotries, seasoned with a predictable dash of ethno-religious fanaticism.

This unpalatable dish is served up with a sizeable side-dollop of spite, epitomised by Iris's triumphant nine-finger salute which taunted Tory MPs after DUP votes had secured a Government victory on 42-day detention, or by her serial "unparliamentary" harassment of the Health Minister, Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey, for which she attracted official censure.

It is possible, of course, to elicit human sympathy for Robinson in light of the mental illness which has forced her to step back from her duties. Perhaps the condition might even permit a kinder interpretation of the extremity of some of her outbursts.

But the sum total of hatred and intolerance enco…

Iris - owning up to health issues might do some good

More to follow on Iris Robinson's departure. However it is worth quoting a snippet from Clive Aslet at the Daily Telegraph.

I don't know whether to accept that the Northern Irish MP Iris Robinson's stated reason for quitting politics – depression – is the whole story. A row about the fact that she and her First Minister husband employ four family members on their staff may have also been a contributory factor. But I welcome the attention she has drawn to the issue of mental health, which remains too little understood.

Stigma surrounding mental illness has certainly dissipated, but it is still a very real issue. Whether one accepts that Iris Robinson's decision to give up her public role is an uncomplicated health matter, or not, she has performed a useful service by owning up to her condition.

Assessing her contribution to Northern Ireland's politics is, of course, an entirely different matter.

A barbarous execution

I strongly believe that cultural and political differences which exist throughout the world should be respected. We cannot expect to impose, unilaterally, a single set of values, defined as ‘western‘, on states with long traditions, and histories, which do not conform to the western European / north American experience.

However, by any standards, the execution of Akmal Shaikh, in China, is a senseless, vindictive and barbaric act.

It would be difficult to deny that Shaikh was convicted of a particularly unpleasant crime and it is known that heroin trafficking in Asia frequently carries the most severe penalties. It is also fair to point out that the involvement of a Briton in the Chinese drug trade is a matter freighted with historical resonance.

If Shaikh’s bipolar condition had been investigated, and deemed irrelevant to the facts, then China’s misdemeanour would be of a different order entirely.

But the court refused even to take into consideration a mental illness, which his…

The Unforgiven

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Eoghan Harris is a commentator accustomed to transgressing republican shibboleths. In his latest Sunday Independent piece he ponders Gerry Adams’ response to a family history disfigured by involvement in campaigns of terrorist violence, as well as paedophilia.

Although Harris takes a circuitous, and rather more interesting route, he reaches a conclusion which echoes my own reflections on the Sinn Féin president’s skewed sense of morality. It is ‘time (Adams) took the final step and admitted that the armed struggle “besmirched” the tricolour as much as the abuse’.

Gerry Adams might command sympathy by describing shame at the abusive actions of his father. He might, Harris hints, even seek to exploit a national mood of sympathy, as the Republic of Ireland as a society grapples with its own issues around clerical and institutional abuse. But if we are generous, and allow that Adams’ motivations may not be exclusively tactical and manipulative, still, we can hardly applaud his cando…

Paisley Junior's geography awry

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Ian Paisley Junior clearly isn't on his hols yet (or at least the DUP press office is still at work). Christmas Eve morning witnessed a press release on the party's current most pressing preoccupation - its rival's internal candidate selection procedure. The website only features a truncated version, but its is the unabridged text which provides the authentic Junior pyrotechnics (ho hum!).

The Labour tendencies of leading members of South Belfast UUP are well-known. Does this explain the Tory insistence on imposing a blow-in upon the local UUP Association? The Tories are now insisting that all who refuse to subscribe to their views must be purged from consideration as UUP candidates, as has been demonstrated by the Tory intolerance towards the UUP’s solitary MP.

The UUP is being hollowed out at the behest of a party who when they last contested an election in South Belfast got 108 votes. Experienced veterans are being pushed aside in favour of a bunch of Notting Hill libe…

Can you spot the mistake?

Dreadfully poor from the Guardian's editorial today, on the topic of televised leaders' debates.

Northern Ireland is a different situation entirely [from Wales and Scotland] because the UK [wide?] parties do not compete for seats there,

The poll leads swing like a pendulum do?

Opinion polls should be treated with caution. If that aphorism needed any further emphasis it has been provided by two surveys which show starkly different results, published within two days of each other.

First, on Sunday, the Observer released its Ipsos Mori poll, which showed strong support for the Conservatives's approach to the economy and recorded a seventeen point lead for David Cameron's party.

In contrast, the Independent's ComRes poll suggests that the Tories' lead has been trimmed to nine points, with Labour up 5% since its last survey. An odd result given that Alistair Darling's Pre Budget Report was greeted, in general, with scepticism by the media.

Under the Observer's piece, Sir Robert Worcester, founder of MORI, offers something of a corrective to sensational newspaper headlines about changing poll leads.

Nine of the past 10 polls show the Conservatives at or over the 40% level, where they have been since July. Three leads were 17%, three below …

UK regions should not be deprived of leaders' debate by nationalist small mindedness

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The BBC, Sky and UTV will each screen a live TV debate between the three candidates to become British prime minister.

Inevitably Alex Salmond is indulging in a strop about the arrangement, despite the fact that his party does not organise nationally and his own lack of participation in the next general election.

The serious point is that, whatever nationalists might maintain, the most important facet of Westminster elections is their determination of the next government of this country. Minority parties should, of course, be granted airtime, and the networks have vowed that there will be devolved equivalents to the UK wide leaders' programmes.

The contest to become prime minister is, however, of national interest and it deserves its own broadcasts, without an irrelevant contribution by Alex Salmond, or another member of his party. Regional debates are the forum where regional figures’ input is appropriate.

In Northern Ireland, no doubt, we will be treated to a head to head bet…

Paedophilia shameful, murder fine. Adams' warped sense of morality.

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Gerry Adams’ influence within Republicanism might be on the wane, but he has lost none of his capacity to astound and revolt. First we had Adams’ interview on Christ and forgiveness. Now another clear example of the Sinn Féin president’s warped morality has emerged.

Speaking about ‘Republican honours’ accorded to his father, who had repeatedly abused children within his own family, Adams’ observed,

“I didn’t want him buried with the tricolour, I think he besmirched it.”

It is impossible to read this statement without reflecting on a succession of IRA funerals which Adams was happy to attend. Thomas Begley, who killed himself in the process of murdering nine Saturday afternoon shoppers on the Shankill Road, clearly did not ‘besmirch’ the tricolour, in Adams’ estimation. He was happy to act as Begley’s pall bearer.

Gerry feels that emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children brings shame on the Republic of Ireland flag whilst murder, maiming, torture and all manner of other cri…

The 'second coming' this Christmas?

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I’ve just returned from a couple of days in the lakelands of Fermanagh where my only indulgence in media, new or old, comprised the odd glance at email and some overheard Evening Extra.

I am rather late, therefore, to address the one story which will dwarf all others over the Christmas period. Forget Copenhagen and climate change, disregard ceaseless squabbling over policing and justice, ignore the Chilcot Inquiry’s endless procession of ennobled civil servants. The hot topic to accompany turkey and stuffing, this year, is Lawrie Sanchez and his proposed return as Northern Ireland manager.

The BBC reports that Sanchez is already in discussions with the Irish Football Association. And judging from the interviews which he gave yesterday, the former Fulham boss is prepared to fight hard to replace Nigel Worthington.

Sanchez criticised the fourth place finish which Northern Ireland ultimately achieved in the World Cup qualifiers. He regrets leaving international management to pursu…

Not so fast. South Belfast contest remains open.

I was a little perturbed to read Mick Fealty’s post on Slugger this morning indicating that only Bob Stoker and Michael McGimpsey would seek an Ulster Unionist nomination for South Belfast. Presumably Mick is writing on the basis of information which he has been given. However, I’m pleased to say that I’m led to believe that he has rather jumped the gun.

It is my understanding that nominations for the constituency do not close until Friday.

Back in September, on Open Unionism, I expressed the hope that a fresh list of UUP candidates would emerge, not drawn in main from the Assembly party. I stand by that analysis and I believe that, for the most part, candidates will not already be MLAs.

South Belfast in particular is sorely in need of a new, vital contender who can articulate with enthusiasm the advantages of the New Force. Despite Michael McGimpsey’s creditable performance as Health Minister at Stormont, or more accurately because of it, I believe that he should concentrate o…

Double jobbing amendments show normal politics in action.

There is more or less unanimous agreement, in theory, that double jobbing should be brought to an end. However the DUP has hinted that it will backtrack on a previous commitment to abolish its dual mandates by 2011. Similarly, SDLP MP and MLA, Alistair McDonnell has indicated that he is content to double job for the foreseeable future. Clearly Northern Ireland’s politicians cannot be trusted, on their own initiative, to bring an early end to double and triple jobbing.

The Conservative leader, David Cameron, has already pledged to impose a solution as regards dual mandates, should he become prime minister. But there is no reason why Northern Ireland’s involvement in the party political mainstream need wait for the general election in order to pay dividends. The Tories have proposed a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland Assembly Bill which would immediately offer a strong disincentive against continued double jobbing.

Under the amendments, proposed by Shadow Northern Ire…

Other than perpetrating cold blooded murder and beating up women he's bothered no-one!

I’m afraid that, once again, this piece resembles a ‘Quote of the Day’ which ‘Three Thousand Versts’ purports not to carry.

The Ulster Political Research Group is a rather grand title for the UDA’s ‘advisory wing’. This repository of wisdom has defended Torrens Knight, the loyalist murderer, who was recently returned to prison after an assault on two sisters in Coleraine.

You’ll remember that the brave soldier’s original conviction was for entering the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel where he and his colleagues proceeded, indiscriminately to gun down eight unarmed civilians who happened to be drinking there.

The UPRG’s Ali Crawford commented,

“As far as I am led to believe Torrens Knight has bothered no one in or around Coleraine since his early release up to the point where he has been found guilty, pending appeal of this alleged assault."


Well good for him! Between his involvement in cold blooded murder and assaulting women Mr Knight has been a fine upstanding citizen! With due …

Northern Ireland fans bid to lure back Darron Gibson?

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I was idly browsing Ipod / Iphone 'apps' yesterday when I came upon a little programme relating to the Northern Ireland football team. 'Fanchants' promises 'professionally recorded and remastered chants' in order that you might enjoy the atmosphere of the terraces, wherever you are, at any time. I just wonder where and when exactly the company recorded their selection of Green and White Army favourites! Most of the oeuvre is there alright, but I wonder if you can spot the tune which Northern Ireland supporters are not exactly famed for belting out with gusto?

Fleming confirms Robbo = Stalin

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I don't usually do a 'Quote of the Day' but this calls for an exception. George Fleming, I assume the same George Fleming who signed a letter attacking UCUNF, has called for a pact with the DUP, citing precedent.

Where would the UK be today had Sir Winston Churchill not signed a pact with Stalin's communist Russia during World War II?

In politics and in a time of need you sometimes need to do a pact with your enemy's enemies if you want to defeat the true enemy - Nazism in 1945 and Irish nationalism/republicanism in 2009.

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/letters/some-times-call-for-a-pact-with-enemies-14595412.html#ixzz0ZTI2QlR5


Peter Robinson as Stalin I see. Alistair McDonnell poised to wipe out six million Jews? Perhaps George is overegging the pudding on that one? Startlingly inappropriate is the phrase which springs to mind.

The world of Alliance - where having an opinion on the constitutional question denotes sectarianism

Tom Campbell, an Alliance party councillor in Newtownabbey, contributes the latest letter in response to my ‘eighteen candidate’ Belfast Telegraph article. It contains a line which arrested my attention.

“At least he (me) was frank enough to admit that his cause is a ‘unionist’ one as opposed to the spin that the new electoral arrangement between the two parties is somehow a ‘post sectarian’ one.”

A neat insight into the Alliance mentality, whereby actually taking a position on Northern Ireland's constitutional status deems someone sectarian!

It’s rather an important question, don’t you think - which state ought Northern Ireland to form a part of? Yet one party ducks it entirely and levels accusations of bigotry at those who do have an opinion!

The Conservatives and Unionists CAN move beyond ‘sectarianism’ by decoupling the political component of unionism from any religious and cultural baggage. It’s a simple enough concept.

In time the pact’s unionism can be taken for granted, ev…

Abkhaz election highlights the need to reappraise thinking on Georgia's breakaway regions

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Abkhazia goes to the polls on Saturday in order to elect its president and the contest is likely to be dominated by two contenders who last went head to head four years ago. Sergei Bagapsh is the current incumbent and Raul Khadzhimba is his main challenger and the current prime minister.

The Black Sea region, which traditionally attracted Soviet officials seeking rest and recuperation, is ostensibly identical in status to South Ossetia. Its independence is recognised by Russia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The rest of the world considers it part of Georgia.

However, whilst prevailing opinion in Tskhinvali favours eventual absorption into the Russian Federation, and unification of the southern and northern parts of Ossetia, in Sukhumi there is a more complicated relationship with Abkhazia’s Moscow patron. Leaders insist that they are animated, not by an aspiration to reunify with Russia, but by the desire to achieve full independence for Abkhazia.

In the previous election the Kremlin …

Ian Paisley Junior responds to my eighteen candidate article.

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The piece which I wrote for the Belfast Telegraph arguing that UUP coyness about eighteen UCUNF candidates should come to an end has precipitated a more or less instant response from Ian Paisley Junior. It comprises a concoction of little Ulsterism and innuendo which provides a neat summation of the DUP’s version of unionism. The party, in truth, has little aspiration to play a full role in the United Kingdom’s politics, or strengthen Northern Ireland’s role within the Union, it is much more preoccupied with fighting parochial cultural battles against Irish nationalists.

The Conservatives and Unionists arrangement offers the chance for Northern Ireland to participate in a pro-Union bloc comprising more than 320 MPs. Far more critical to the UK’s preservation, Junior contends, are two seats which may or may not be taken from Irish nationalist parties, should the UUP and DUP agree single candidates for South Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone. He is mired in precisely the short-termi…

A Northern Ireland football museum?

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The East Londonderry MLA, David McClarty, has suggested that a football museum should be included in plans to find the Northern Ireland international team a permanent home. It is an excellent idea.

Whether Windsor Park is redeveloped, or a new stadium is built, the IFA has a rich history dating back to 1880. It is one of oldest associations in the world. There is a fascinating story to be told about the overachievement of its representative teams, as well as the critical part Northern Ireland played in the development of the game.

Famously, William McCrum, a goalkeeper and businessman from County Armagh, is credited with the invention of the penalty kick.

Then there is the gallery of star players who have represented Northern Ireland, from Elisha Scott to David Healy, and the most celebrated of them all, George Best.

For many years Northern Ireland was the smallest country ever to have qualified for the World Cup. In 1958 Danny Blanchflower’s team reached the quarter finals. And …

Tory tax policy seeks to nourish society, unlike Toynbee's short-termist alternative.

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Polly Toynbee's latest ‘class war’ piece is a conceptually threadbare piece of writing. I get the impression that whilst she still feels compelled to bang the tribal political drum she is now barely convinced by her own arguments.

Despite what Toynbee might contend, the Cameron Conservative message that a Tory government will prioritise poverty is getting through. It has remained a consistent thread through various policy documents. The simple truth is that the Guardian columnist instinctively recoils from an approach which tackles the causes of poverty as well as its symptoms.

Thus measures which encourage responsibility, help people into work or remove tax penalties on married couples and savers are presented, not as attempts to nourish society, but rather, in Polly’s world, become unconscionable attacks on the poor.

Toynbee argues that each of the shadow chancellor George Osborne’s tax plans is intended to benefit the seriously wealthy. Her claims do not bear scrutiny.

I…

Running eighteen candidates is a nonnegotiable component of the Conservative and Unionist pact.

In today's Belfast Telegraph I argue that any ambiguity about the eighteen candidate issue undermines the Conservative and Unionist message.

The Conservatives and Ulster Unionists' electoral pact has, from its inception, been predicated on 18 candidates contesting all 18 Northern Ireland constituencies in the next General Election. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Yet the UUP remains coy about declaring unambiguously that UCUNF will not stand aside for the DUP in either Fermanagh/South Tyrone or South Belfast.

Tom Elliott MLA is the latest senior figure from within the party to claim that he is open to discussions with Peter Robinson. At the party conference in October leader Sir Reg Empey appeared similarly reluctant to dismiss speculation about 'agreed candidates'.

However, if the UUP is still committed to offering the Northern Irish electorate normal politics and a full participative role at Westminster it must extend its offer to every voter, not merely those who live where…

Perm nightclub fire. The aftermath.

Vladimir Putin has announced that bereaved families whose loved ones died in the Perm nightclub fire will each receive 500,000 rubles compensation. The measure exacerbates the sense that this incident, which cost 113 lives, was not simply a terrible accident.

The Lame Horse nightclub failed to observe fire regulations. And its owners are reported to have left the city in an attempt to flee the scene, shortly after it burnt down. It has been alleged that the premises suffered from ‘the same firetrap conditions’ for eight years.

The club’s website ‘gallery’ shows revellers dancing beneath a dry weave of twigs. In retrospect it does appear an obvious fire hazard. Although many of us will have been in venues throughout Europe which appeared equally unsafe.

The site itself has become a poignant and disturbing remnant of a death-trap. The menus, the news section, hold the same macabre fascination involved in browsing the diary of a murderer.

A criminal investigation is now in progres…

Shooting the messenger. Human rights' industry voices anger at government consultation.

The Director of the CAJ has reacted with predictable petulance to the government consultation on a proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. In a letter carried in today’s Belfast Telegraph, Mike Ritchie observes that the document only recommends that two rights included in the NIHRC’s advice should be implemented. The paper also published a short article containing Ritchie’s criticism on Saturday.

The letter takes the usual self-righteous tone preferred by the rights’ industry, yet it is predictably oblique in terms of detail. Because the government has rejected most of the NIHRC’s report, it implies, it must therefore be against the concept of rights altogether.

The truth is that, had the NIHRC operated within its remit and produced a credible set of rights, applicable to Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances, its advice might have been implemented. Instead, it chose simply to concoct a bundle of aspirations, attach the term ’rights’ and expect it to attain a speci…

Blogtalk NI (Episode 7)

The final episode in this series.

Blogtalk (episode 7) from Northern Visions/NvTv on Vimeo.

Geoff from Bobballs and Alan from Belfast form this week's panel. The show features coverage of the Slugger O'Toole Awards, at which Alan picked up the blog gong.

Give Salmond his referendum. But insist on the right timing and the right question.

I’m afraid that I’m a day or two late on this, but it’s worth reading Alan Cochrane’s coruscating assessment of the SNP’s white paper on a separatist referendum. Alex Salmond hopes to introduce a confusing poll offering several options, one of which would be his favoured option of full independence. Neither of the three unionist parties is prepared to entertain any type of referendum in the foreseeable future, although Cochrane believes that the Lib Dems are most likely to be pliable.

I am entirely in agreement with the article’s thrust. It is a disingenuous document, with important omissions and its timing is spectacularly selfish. However, I don’t believe that unionists should dismiss a referendum out of hand. A poll, held as the economy begins to recover, could kill separatism stone dead for a generation. The key is ensuring that the question is clear, unambiguous and demands a definitive answer. 'Do you wish Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom?'. Yes or No.

Nonentity scores a couple of goals in a reserve competition, hack writes ill informed nonsense.

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One of Manchester United’s reserve players, Darron Gibson, scored a couple of goals on Tuesday night, in a competition which gives clubs a chance to deploy their second string. The Old Trafford side were lucky enough to be playing a team famed for its gutlessness.

Gibson is known chiefly for his decision to desert the Northern Ireland youth setup in order to play for the breakaway association in the Irish republic. His decision to snub the original Ireland team has caused an ongoing wrangle between the IFA and the FAI.

Ian Herbert, a football correspondent for the Independent, has picked up a story from the Belfast Telegraph, revealing that former Northern Ireland manager Sammy McIlroy approached the player in order to persuade him to play for his country.

Presumably he was successful. After all, the 14 year old Gibson went on to play for the schoolboy team, representing Northern Ireland in the Victory Shield. However the predatory breakaway association subsequently poached the mi…

Will Allister's party show consistency?

The TUV takes pride in its robust stance on terrorism. Indeed, we are led to believe, that contempt for violence is the party's raison d'etre. Which makes it all the odder that a prominent member, Trevor Collins, has organised a petition seeking the release of loyalist thug Torrens Knight.

Knight is guilty of murder, including the Greysteel massacre. Mr Collins offers an apology which echoes many similar republican analyses (and indeed Roy Garland), "the Troubles in Northern Ireland provoked many a young man to do things that they wouldn't have done in normal circumstances".

How a young man could be 'provoked' into firing a semi automatic weapon, premeditatedly, into a public bar is a question which boggles the mind. The fact that he has now been convicted of attacking two women tells us all we need to know about this 'loyalist'.

I sympathise with the TUV's view that convicted killers should be in gaol. Although I recognise that for the grea…

Comment elsewhere

Over at Comment Is Free (where Mikhail Gorbachev has also made a contribution today!) I argue that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a busted flush and that rights specific to the province should be incorporated in a UK wide Bill.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) was established under the Belfast agreement to advise on the scope for implementing a bill of rights specific to the province. After a process that lasted more than 10 years, and cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, a government consultation has dispensed with most of the recommendations assembled by the commission.

It found that the advice disregarded existing national and international rights protection, was founded on unrealistic expectations and, most damningly, strayed far beyond the remit outlined in the Good Friday accord. Unionists have called for the chief commissioner, Monica McWilliams, to resign.

Policing and justice devolution back on?

The DUP had been insistent that it will not let itself be rushed or bullied into devolving policing and justice. There are, it insists, issues to be addressed before enough 'confidence' exists to proceed.

And yet, according to the BBC, MLAs are being asked to nominate a minister by next week. It is possible that Peter Robinson is hoping to stabilise a Stormont boat which appears to have become rather rocky. It is widely believed that the DUP have most to lose should Sinn Féin pull out of power-sharing, if an election would ensue.

There remains a suspicion that the First Minister would be prepared to do a deal but other members of his party are not so keen. If the DUP was genuinely concerned about public confidence, as opposed to the mutable shopping list which it is forever compiling, it would focus on comments such as those O'Neill highlighted on Monday.

An Ulsterman's adventures in the Russian far north

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Lying to the north of St Petersburg, between the chilly waters of Lake Ladoga and the White Sea, the Republic of Karelia is an autonomous region of the Russian Federation. Forest stretches over more than half its territory, and of the remainder, fully a quarter is comprised of water.

Historically, the region known as Karelia included parts of eastern Finland and for a time, during the Russian Civil War, hopes were raised that an independent state might be forged by the majority Finno-Ugric population. Fuelling Karelian aspirations was an Ulsterman who would later become an independent unionist MP at Stormont!

Colonel Phillip James Woods was an unlikely talisman for nationalism at the edge of the Arctic Circle. A champion of the British Empire, he had served in the Second Boer War under Baden Powell, taking part in the Relief of Mafeking. He became involved in the nascent Ulster Volunteer Force, and with other members of that organisation, helped form the 36th Ulster Division, wh…

Thick as mud, Education Minister carries on regardless.

“Don’t know what I’m doing here / I’ll carry on regardless”, sang the Beautiful South. It is a lyric which could have been written for Northern Ireland’s Education Minister. Caitriona Ruane proved incapable of striking an acceptable compromise on selection for post primary schools. Other parties continue to make progress towards an agreed position, but the minister carries on regardless.

Similarly, her two bills aimed at establishing an Education and Skills Authority (ESA), which would centralise functions currently carried out by the five Education and Library Boards, as well as the CCEA exam board and the Regional Training Unit, have run aground at Stormont. However, in a statement delivered to the Assembly yesterday, Ms. Ruane set out plans to (you guessed it) carry on regardless of dissenting voices and start implementing the ESA project.

The two UUP ministers, Michael McGimpsey and Sir Reg Empey, have delivered their response:

“The statement made today by the Minister of Educa…

A mutable Agreement, if our aims are being advanced.

In an Assembly debate about north / south bodies yesterday, the UUP’s deputy leader, Danny Kennedy, raised an interesting paradox. Nationalists in general, and the SDLP in particular, have often invoked the Belfast Agreement as if it were infallible and permanent truth. Yet their professed aspiration is to use the accord as a starting point. They aim to gradually integrate Northern Ireland with the Republic. It is a contradictory position which could justify charges of hypocrisy from unionists. After all the accord is consistently cited in order to attack unionist positions on everything from the Bill of Rights to policing and justice.

Mr Kennedy: I begin my contribution with a quotation:

“all-Ireland arrangements are essential for nationalists who want to share the life of the rest of the island. Those balances are essential for unionism, too, in order that unionism has an agreed relationship with the rest of the people of this island. However, if one begins to pick and choose, …