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Showing posts from January, 2010

Time to cut Sylvia adrift

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Jeff Peel, no supporter of the Conservative and Ulster Unionist alliance, has produced this report of Sylvia Hermon's speech to the North Down branch of the SDLP.

Given that the UUP has a Westminster electoral pact with the Conservative party you can see the significance.

Hermon is rabidly anti-Conservative. It is not out of principle. She is New Labour through and through. A champagne socialist whose tribal hatred of the Tories has obscured the fact that they now carry a more progressive vision for Britain.

This woman has been indulged for long enough. It is high time that she is cut loose and called for what she is. If Hermon has any honesty at all she will make clear her affiliation to the discredited New Labour government.

From the outset of UCUNF I've expressed some sympathy with genuine socialists like Chris McGimpsey, who are nevertheless unionists, but whose traditional Labour affiliations will not reconcile them even to the modern Conservative party. I have no sym…

What are they building in there?

Dedicated to the exercise at Hillsborough, which will, of course, deliver better government. Ho hum.

Sir Reg has a lot of explaining to do.

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Owen Paterson is reportedly eager to meet Sir Reg Empey as soon as possible in order to discuss pre-Christmas ‘unity’ talks which the UUP held with the DUP, courtesy of the Orange Order. At the very least the Conservatives’ Northern Ireland spokesman will want a convincing explanation in order to clear the air. It is all very well for Ulster Unionists to sneer at the local Tories and their electoral pretensions, but the UUP has, at best, shown recklessness in protecting its link to a party which dwarfs it nationally.

From the outset I have expressed anxiety on this blog that the UUP has not shown itself sufficiently committed to the project of pan-UK unionism. There has been, throughout the process, a suspicion that the party believes it can hedge its bets.

The ink had barely dried on a deal when Sir Reg Empey affirmed that his party had an exit strategy available, if the pact did not yield immediate electoral benefits. The UUP’s North Down MP, Sylvia Hermon, could not have made m…

If policing and justice is sorted out, how do we know that another crisis will not arise?

A stately pile in the countryside, prime ministers dancing attendance, talks late in to the night. The only thing missing is a telephone call from the American President. So far. Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen left Northern Ireland, assuring its people that our politicians have embarked upon a “pathway to agreement”. By sleight of hand, sequencing, choreography and other mysterious arts they still hope that a date to devolve policing and justice will eventually be set and the power-sharing institutions will lurch unsteadily on, having surmounted another crisis.

With a resolution to the impasse now supposedly in sight the Northern Ireland public could be forgiven if it is a little sceptical. Even if the remaining difficulties between the parties are overcome, it is still unlikely that the architecture of power-sharing will be altered to prevent the same thing happening again. There is, built into the devolved institutions at Stormont, the potential for a near endless sequence of mi…

Give us the Justice Ministry or we'll sqweem!

I blogged recently about Alliance's hypocrisy and the party's desperation to get its hands on the justice portfolio. When Sir Reg Empey indicated that the UUP might not accept any deal which the DUP and Sinn Féin concocted, David Ford had something of a strop. And whenever Alliance has a strop about anything, allegations of everyone else's sectarianism are never far behind.

Witness the latest piece of Tweeted petulance from Gerry Lynch (aka Sammy Morse Slugger fans), Alliance candidate for East Antrim.

@ConallMcD If I'd listened to your leader's sectarian, sub-Éirígí, press conference today, I'd be too ashamed to post on Twitter

The target is of course Northern Ireland's newest MLA, Conall McDevitt. His leader's press conference is reported here.

The gist is, predictably, that Sinn Féin and the DUP have locked other parties out of discussions at Hillsborough and should an agreement eventually emerge, whatever it might comprise, it will not have been arri…

Not enough Northern Ireland on TV?

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With the nation’s press creating gridlock in the centre of Hillsborough its timing is a bit iffy, but the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster has published a report alleging that the province has been left ‘comparatively invisible’ on the UK’s TV screens. The gist is that programmes about ‘the Troubles’ are plentiful but there is very little which reflects everyday life, the countryside, history or culture.

Northern Ireland is the least ‘well served’ of the UK’s nations in terms of ordinary programmes being commissioned which portray life as it is lived. Yet, oddly, behind London, we have more success than any other region when it comes to getting programmes commissioned abroad.

The BBC has given a commitment to source more of its output around the nations and regions. Northern Ireland should feel the benefit of this. There are good programme makers out there, but the poor quality of many local productions is hardly the best advert for national commissioners.

Would Ja…

Deliberative democracy and a Bill of Rights

On Forth, I argue that the latest leaflet distributed by the Human Right Consortium is a nonsense and the human rights industry represents a resuscitation of 'deliberative democracy'.

IF YOU cast your mind back to the 1990s when Northern Ireland was edging towards the Belfast Agreement, you might recall something called ‘deliberative democracy’ was rather in vogue.

Essentially its premise ran - whatever evidence the ballot box might show to the contrary, voters are not getting the representation they want or deserve. Politicians are a sorry crowd and they should be cut out of decision making and replaced by a selection of community groups, interested parties, businessmen and plenty of nice reasonable women.

For a while it was actually seriously suggested that any political deal was likely to rest upon principles of deliberative democracy. Luckily wiser heads prevailed and the Good Friday Agreement, for all its faults, handed authority largely to democratically elected politic…

Trimble offers warning.

Unionist Lite unfolds the saga of Brian Walker and Sir Reg Empey. O'Neill likens Walker to teenager, half-cut on a tin of Woodpecker. It is, you'll agree, an alluring image. I have recorded my thoughts on this character before. It is scarcely believable that he was a professional journalist. More on Bobballs - who calls it like it is - random bollocks.

Another piece worth reading is Daphne Trimble's call to Ulster Unionists not to 'give in to DUP manipulation'. It is a timely warning at a crucial juncture.

At St Andrews the DUP insisted on an amendment to the 1998 Belfast Agreement that provided that the leader of the largest party at Stormont was to be the First Minister.

This was no gaffe. It was a deliberate ploy to be used in the very situation we now find ourselves.

And we are in danger of falling for it.

The prospect of a Sinn Fein First Minister would be tough for the Unionist electorate. The DUP have used this spectre in the past to blackmail the electora…

Better off in Britain. Scotland's devolution dividend.

The Scotsman has a story which rather neatly distils the economic argument against Scottish independence and the SNP’s flimsy response.

Confronted with hard figures which demonstrate that Scotland does rather well out of its membership of the United Kingdom the nationalists bluster about “anti Scottish propaganda” and take up their mantra of “Scotland’s oil”.

On this occasion the Scottish Office has released figures which appear to demonstrate the Scotland has gained a £76 billion ‘devolution dividend’. The SNP is always quick to attempt to change the frame of reference to patriotism.

If you believe the government’s figures then you are ‘doing Scotland down’, hence you are not a good Scotsman. It’s the type of reductionist, identity based politics we’re accustomed to in Northern Ireland.

It also relies on a sense of entitlement to dwindling oilfields which the SNP is fond of claiming for Scotland. Of course, in the event of independence, the result would be a great deal more complicate…

Calm heads and a little perspective.

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Dear me, what a fuss!

Accompanying the latest crisis at Stormont we have had to endure the frenzied reaction to a meeting hosted by Shadow Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, which included representatives from the DUP.

Designed to promote stability in Northern Ireland, the “Hatfield Talks” have acquired a subtext to suit every agenda.

On his blog, Ian Parsley reacts to the notion that three Conservative hopefuls have withdrawn from the race for candidate selection, due to their unhappiness at Paterson’s meeting. Nonsense, Ian contends, three professional people have simply lost patience with an interminable process.

Of course this insight illuminates an additional raft of internal problems.

The UUP is absolutely determined that its selection procedure will not be hurried. It is hardly fanciful to suppose that the lack of urgency stems from ongoing difficulties with the North Down MP, Sylvia Hermon.

“Indecision is final” as Alan Hansen is wont to declare.

Meanwhile Alasdair McDonnell is …

The DUP to stand down in two seats?

Is some sense finally beginning to emerge from the rumours surrounding Owen Paterson's infamous meeting? The Belfast Telegraph has suggested that the DUP is prepared to give up two Westminster seats in an attempt to secure UUP support for policing and justice.

It might seem like a heavy price to exact, but it makes a degree of sense.

The DUP is rocking after the European defeat, by election results and a series of scandals. It expects to take heavy losses in the forthcoming election.

By voluntarily standing down in Fermanagh South Tyrone or South Belfast or both it appears to take its own 'unionist unity' spiel seriously. Indeed it can be portrayed a a selfless act.

Of course it would be anything but. It would simply be an attempt to smooth things over as regards policing and justice and put off any Assembly election.

Intriguing.

"And we've got plenty more on Peter Robinson....."

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Continuing to mine a rich seam of American comedy this morning, you'll remember this episode of the Simpsons.

After Chief Wiggum imposes a curfew, the children of Springfield exact revenge by broadcasting secrets about the adult population. They're quite literally attempting to get their way on policing and justice issues using media as leverage.

Remind anyone of any real life situations?

Last weekend the DUP was supposed to be collecting its figurative teeth from the carpet after high profile revelations in a Sunday newspaper. The stories failed to emerge. Instead, party representatives were reportedly holed up in Hertfordshire, meeting Owen Paterson.

Stability for the DUP was maintained for a week, at least.

With the DUP leaking like a sieve, much to the Tories' displeasure and the talks at Stormont reportedly close to collapse, this could be more of a stay of execution than a genuine reprieve.

No Conservative interest in DUP pact

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In today's Belfast Telegraph I argue that interpretations of the famed weekend meeting have spun out of control.

A meeting between the shadow secretary of state Owen Paterson and representatives of the UUP and DUP has been interpreted by some commentators as a sign three-party coalition could be imminent. It is a rather fanciful reading of some mundane facts.

A Conservative spokesman confirmed that Paterson did meet senior unionists in England at the weekend. The stated aim was to "promote greater political stability" in Northern Ireland.

On the political website Slugger O'Toole one blogger was quick to suggest that the Tories were shoring up unionist support in case the forthcoming General Election results in a hung Parliament. It is an analysis that sources in the DUP have been eager to encourage and Conservative sources have denied.

The truth is that there is an explanation that is simpler and much more plausible.

Negotiations over the devolution of policing and justic…

Paterson holds meeting. Slugger scoops the mainstream media!

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Hold the presses! Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, has held a meeting. Over at Slugger Mick Fealty gets precious about the genesis of this 'story'. Conall McDevitt hails its exposition as a triumph of new media.

Let me enter one slight note of dissent. This is far from a triumph of new media.

On the contrary, it is a prime example of a non-story which gets picked up by mainstream outlets, between tentative thumb and forefinger, simply because it has been given a mischievous interpretation by a journalist acting in his capacity as a blogger.

The thinking, roughly stated, is 'oh maybe this is significant, we'll mention it, leave out the scurrilous insinuations for safety's sake and append some extraneous detail'. It's actually an example of new media perpetuating bad journalism.

The Unbearable Pointlessness of Alliance

Does Alliance actually have a philosophy, beyond ‘we are much nicer than everyone else’? David Ford’s party certainly stresses its non-sectarian credentials, but that hardly qualifies as a political programme.

With its haste to allege prejudice wherever it sees so much as a Union Flag, and its insistence that Northern Ireland’s politics are best conducted in a vacuum, Alliance is as dependent upon sectarianism as any other party.

Last week David Ford lashed out at Sir Reg Empey when he suggested that Ulster Unionists will not endorse, sight unseen, any deal which the DUP and Sinn Féin might concoct on policing and justice. The UUP leader’s demand that his party should be consulted is hardly unreasonable.

Ford’s reaction epitomises the spineless and rudderless nature of Alliance politics. Before Christmas he indicated that his own party would name a price for its cooperation in devolving policing and justice. Now, spooked by a suggestion that the Assembly could collapse, and with hi…

Ukraine prepares to ignore the meddlers.

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Yesterday Ukraine went to the polls in an election which will unseat the current president Victor Yushchenko. 90% of the ballots were counted today and there is now likely to be a run off in February between Victor Yanukovych, the pre-poll favourite, and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Although Yanukovych claimed approximately 35% of the vote, in comparison to 25% for Tymoshenko, analysts are speculating that Tymoshenko is likely to pick up more support from candidates eliminated in the first round. It is thought that the present incumbent is languishing on about 6% of ballots cast.

Western interest in Ukrainian elections is entirely pre-occupied with the perceived ’pro western’ or ’pro Russian’ leanings of the candidates. Forth magazine has an excellent corrective, from the Ukrainian perspective. It echoes a piece by James Marson, a journalist based in Kiev, who made a similar argument, in the aftermath of last year’s wrangle over gas.

It is simply not the case that Ukrainians go to the poll…

Worst sports journalism ever?

As Liverpool have lurched and stumbled their way out of the major cup competitions of England and Europe and into the predicament of scrabbling to sustain fragile belief in their ability to finish as high as fourth in the Premier League (and thus guarantee entry to the Champions League), isolated hints of recovered effectiveness have been swiftly exposed as illusory. Remembering how the 2-0 defeat of Manchester United in October was immediately followed by submissions to Arsenal and Fulham and then a run of three laboured draws, and how the tentative hopes of improved fortunes encouraged by an away victory over persuasively aspiring Aston Villa at the end of December humiliatingly foundered in last week’s expulsion from the FA Cup by Reading at Anfield, it is difficult to imagine we’ll soon be witnessing a genuine restoration of formidability to the club who once ruled British football imperiously.

Ok, breathe deeply. I appreciate that you'll need a drink of water and possibly a l…

Back from the brink? US considered 'limited military options' against Russia.

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George W. Bush was the ‘cool head’ at the White House who ruled out military intervention in the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia.

Sean’s Russia Blog cites Ronald D. Asmus in his book ‘A Little War That Shook the World’ which alleges that senior figures in the American administration urged ’limited’ military action against Russia.

The President showed enough sense to realise that ‘confrontation’ would be inevitable, if the US had directly attacked Russia.

Sean believes the fact that the United States even considered bombing the Gori Tunnel, through which Russian troops and supplies reach South Ossetia, bolsters the thesis that the White House gave Saakashvili a ‘green light’ to confront Moscow.

It certainly provides a prime example of the type of hysteria which characterised American and British responses to the war.

Had the President not provided calmer counsel, best case scenario, the US would have had to explain its intervention in a conflict which an independent EU inqu…

Link and you miss it.

Who knows what lies ahead this weekend for the MP for Lagan Valley, Jeffrey Donaldson? It's good to know, however, that Jeffrey's thinking of old friends. Scroll down this list of useful links and click on 'Friends of the Union'. Well it was a Conservative ginger group!

Ulster Unionists set to romp home in Craigavon.

According to the News Letter it's all over (bar some of the counting) in the council by-election. Jo-Anne Dobson will win with an overwhelming share of the vote. TUV leader Jim Allister has already congratulated the UUP on its success.

Wake up redmen!

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Could things get any grimmer for Liverpool and Rafa Benitéz? Marooned in mid-table in the Premier League, bounced out of the Carling Cup by a set of teenage Arsenal reserves, flung out of the Champions League at the group stages and now, the piece de resistance!

Reading, without a full-time manager, languishing towards the foot of the Championship, last night knocked the reds out of the F.A. Cup - at Anfield. And this wasn’t a battling cup upset, ground out in the teeth of wave after wave of Liverpool attacks!

The Royals outplayed their Premier League opponents in the replay, as they did in the first game at the Madejski Stadium. Benitéz’ side proved fortunate that afternoon, scraping a draw despite a lethargic performance.

Lethargy doesn’t begin to describe the dross served up at Anfield. Liverpool’s one-nil half-time lead was a travesty and an embarrassment. There is actually an argument that supporters should welcome this exposition of just how dismal their team has become. The…

Fools rush in. Empey right to keep his options open on policing and justice.

So Sir Reg Empey has made it plain that, should the DUP strike a deal with Sinn Féin on policing and justice, Ulster Unionists will not necessarily snap to attention. It is not an extraordinary stance.

It is far more extraordinary that other parties complain on other occasions about being by-passed by Sinn Féin and the DUP, yet they’re prepared to accept, without conditions, any arrangement which the two parties might reach.

Policing and justice has acquired a status, actual and symbolic, which it scarcely deserves. Just because Sinn Féin determines that it is the must crucial issue at the Assembly, doesn’t necessarily mean that other parties become reckless renegades just because they do not share that analysis. It certainly doesn’t mean they are playing fast and loose with the principles of power-sharing.

Remarkably Alliance itself had previously indicated that it was not prepared to facilitate devolved justice, at any cost. The Ulster Unionist party is quite entitled to put a pr…

UUP seek win in Craigavon

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In the frenzy of political activity over the past fortnight it has been rather overlooked. But today voters go to the polls in a council by-election in Craigavon. A ballot is required in the Lurgan ward after the TUV’s attempt to co-opt a replacement for its outgoing councillor, Mark Russell, was rejected by opponents.

It is a four way contest which does not include the DUP. So voters will not have an opportunity to deliver a bloody nose to that party just yet. The SDLP and Sinn Féin are each fielding candidates, but the likelihood is that either Jo-Anne Dobson from the Ulster Unionists, or David Calvert, whom the TUV wished originally to co-opt, will take the seat.

Despite inclement conditions, it seems that canvassing has been continuing apace in Lurgan. Daphne Timble reports a positive response to the UUP message from the doorsteps. Another by-election victory would boost morale in the run-up to the Westminster poll this spring.

Incidentally, although I should illustrate thi…

Halting politics because of one man's difficulties

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In today's Belfast Telegraph I comment on Peter Robinson's six week leave of absence.


When Peter Robinson announced his intention to step aside from the First Minister's role for six weeks yesterday he chose to prolong a crisis of political leadership at Stormont.

Mr Robinson hopes to use the respite to answer allegations raised by a sensational Spotlight investigation into financial arrangements which his wife Iris struck with a 19-year-old businessman.

But his absence will leave the Assembly in limbo at a crucial period. Peter Robinson's increasingly desperate attempts to safeguard his own career could compromise Northern Ireland's political future and damage the electoral prospects of his party.

It has been a traumatic couple of weeks for the DUP leader in the aftermath of Iris's withdrawal from public life. Seamy revelations about her relationship with a teenage entrepreneur have been accompanied by wider concerns over the Robinsons' financial affairs. It…

Centre-ground has responsibility not to squander opportunities.

Peter Robinson is due to make a statement to the Stormont Assembly at 3.30pm this afternoon. This might be the moment that the First Minister chooses to step down.

The immediate aftermath of last week’s Spotlight documentary witnessed a rather muted response from the DUP. The party’s officers met on Friday and this morning there were signs of support for its embattled leader.

On Slugger, Mick Fealty speculates that, far from comprising a public display of unity, pro-Robinson noises are intended to facilitate a dignified exit. Eamonn Mallie hints that the First Minister might jump before he is pushed or choose to cite personal problems and withdraw from public life entirely.

Certainly a clean break would mitigate possible electoral damage for the DUP. After years of silence, the media have got their teeth well and truly into the Robinsons. If Peter attempts to stay in place the major damage which has already been done will be compounded by a drip drip of low level allegations.

Th…

Are you ready? Ladies and gentlemen! Let's Play Darts!

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Having disposed of both last year's finalists, young St Helens' darter Dave Chisnall faces Martin "Wolfie" Adams in the climax of the BDO World Darts. Following an epic 5-4 victory against Ted "The Count" Hankey, Chisnall repeated the trick, demolishing Tony "The Silverback" O'Shea 6-3 in yesterday's semi-final.

It will not have escaped your attention that darts is not a sport dependent upon the weather. Whilst football, rugby fixtures etc. have been decimated over the past number of weeks, the arrows have flown straight and true.

I trust that all 'Three Thousand Versts' readers will be glued to their TV screens from 17.45 this evening. In the interim I will repost the piece which I wrote on the equivalent Sunday last year, 'Portrait of the Dartists'.

I’ve spent a significant portion of my weekend explaining, justifying, defending my predilection for watching a cadre of men, disproportionately overweight, uniformly under …

Castlereagh council by-election imminent

The latest information suggests that Iris Robinson will step down from her political roles next week.

A general election is due, in May, at the latest. But, as at least two people have helpfully pointed out, the time restrictions involved in issuing a writ for a Westminster by-election renders it unlikely that there will be an early poll in Strangford.

So Iris Robinson's constituents will effectively be without an MP for anything up to four months.

The DUP will want to co-opt a councillor in order to replace Iris in Castlereagh Borough Council, but Robinsons' unionist opponents, justifiably, are likely to demand that the public be consulted.

Expect at least one by-election, and a strong challenge to the DUP's supremacy, within weeks, rather than months.

Here's £50k but if you don't mind I'll keep five.

Well the text jokes are coming in thick and fast, but most of them are unrepeatable. Although the notion that Kirk McCambley's favourite song is 'sure it is old but it is beautiful' is rather a good one.

The best spoof so far, though, is this version of Mrs Robinson which has found its way unto Youtube with indecent speed! Enjoy.

Sleaze, greed, heartlessness. After sorry Robinson saga the electorate awaits an opportunity to punish corruption.

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They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Certainly, in the film, the young lover Mrs Robinson chose to seduce was at least old enough to have left university. And Anne Bancroft, we must remember, was only in her mid-thirties when ’The Graduate’ was made.

Northern Ireland’s real life Mrs Robinson turned sixty last September. Her paramour was a nineteen year old butcher’s son from Belfast, for whom she abused her position in order to secure £50,000 of business start-up capital!

Last night’s Spotlight programme unfolded a torrid tale, which, had it not involved Northern Ireland’s most high profile political couple, would have been perfectly at home on the Jeremy Kyle Show.

For the tabloids, the headlines write themselves. A First Minister made cuckold by a boy! An aging seductress called Mrs Robinson! But beyond prurient interest in the seamier details, the political connotations are grave.

On the basis of Spotlight’s allegations, Iris Robinson is clearly guilty of serial impr…

Suspicion that questions remain unanswered as public stays polarised on Robinsons.

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If I’m honest, there was a moment when I wondered whether an article I'd written for yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, criticising Peter Robinson’s conduct after Cardinal Daly’s death, might not have been rather badly timed.

Watching the television broadcast, during which the First Minister issued a statement about his wife’s affair and subsequent suicide attempt, was a disconcerting experience. It felt like an intrusion on personal trauma. It was difficult not to react, instinctively, with sympathy and pity.

For the time being, the public mood, and media reaction, has swung, predictably enough, in the Robinsons’ favour. But the truth is that the about turn hasn’t been as dramatic as one might expect and neither has it been universal. There remains a degree of cynicism about the timing of these revelations and the sequence of events which led to the First Minister’s statement. The curious formulations which Robinson used to respond to financial allegations did little to dispel …

McDonnell endorses cooperation with UUP and Alliance.

The News Letter reports that Alasdair McDonnell has proposed an Assembly ‘link up’ between the SDLP, UUP and Alliance.

In reality there is nothing particularly new in the story. McDonnell, whose SDLP leadership battle with Margaret Ritchie is well advanced, is simply proposing talks between the three parties, in order to examine whether there is enough common ground to allow cooperation.

Ritchie has actually travelled further down this road than McDonnell, having developed a close working relationship with Ulster Unionist colleagues in the Executive.

The story certainly emphasises the fact that, effectively, the interests of the UUP and SDLP often collide at Stormont. It makes sense to coordinate efforts to oppose a sectarian carve-up which has marginalised moderate voices.

Sinn Féin strenuously opposes the notion that voluntary coalition represents the future for the Northern Ireland Assembly. However political realities could soon overtake the institutional arrangements which prev…

The First Minister's excuses are unconvincing.

My latest contribution to the Belfast Telegraph comment pages argues that Peter Robinson's failure to respond quickly to Cardinal Daly's passing was an error of judgement indicative of a larger problem. The two First Ministers are failing to provide the leadership which Northern Ireland needs.

Cardinal Daly's passing should have marked a period of loss and reflection across the community. It's a pity that the First Minister Peter Robinson, rather than setting the appropriate tone, took two-and-a-half days to respond to the churchman's death.

When Mr Robinson finally released a statement it struck a petulant note, hitting out at the media before touching fleetingly upon the life and works of the cardinal.

Doubtless Mr Robinson had had a stressful week. His party remains engaged in an endless wrangle with Sinn Féin over the devolution of policing and justice powers, the Executive is still on shaky ground and his wife Iris was forced to retire from politics after a str…

I have a dream .... 2020 in a (near) perfect world

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Last week every newspaper carried at least one article in which pundits made their predictions for 2010. It was an invitation for rioting imaginations. But they missed a trick restricting themselves to one year. What about the decade to come?

How would we like politics in Northern Ireland, specifically, to look approaching the year 2020?

I have a very definite idea how I’d prefer business to be done.

As yet it remains a distant fantasy, but there are some developments which offer hope that it could, possibly (plausibly) be realised, if the will exists. However the events and developments which appear below are certainly not predictions. They represent a best case scenario.

Let’s look ahead.

As 2020 beckons politics in Northern Ireland have changed, utterly. The last decade has witnessed a transformation which swept away parochial parties in the province and established, effectively, a four party system, integrated with the rest of the Kingdom.

To cast an eye over the past ten years …

Sublime Oblivion makes New Year predictions

At some point, either today or tomorrow, this blog will speculate on the possible shape of Northern Irish politics in 2020. It's likely to be a catch-all of wishful thinking. Still, it's my pitch, it's my ball and I want to have fun!

On the Sublime Oblivion blog Anatoly Karlin offers his geopolitical predictions for 2010. They should be taken a little more seriously than my intended post. Anatoly actually got quite a few of his 2009 speculations right!

Here's one of the most eye-catching this time round.

A new Russia-Georgia war remains a serious possibility, if Saakashvili uses his rapidly rebuilding military forces to make another megalomaniac lunge at reclaiming South Ossetia, or if Russia orchestrates a false flag to give itself the justification to roll in the tanks to Tbilisi and set up a puppet regime. In the latter case, the “new cold war” atmosphere of August 2008 will begin to appear to be distinctly jovial. Likelihood: 10%; Severity: 4.

Let's hope that…

Ken Clarke, rather than the Telegraph, offers wise counsel.

It is commonly asserted that the Conservatives have yet to ‘seal the deal’ with the British public, despite the party’s consistent poll leads. There is anxiety in the country, it is argued, that austerity measures aimed at getting the economy back on track, will be applied with excessive zealotry by the Tories.

The Conservative lead has looked most surmountable when David Cameron’s message has steered away from centrist, bridge-building rhetoric, designed to portray the party as ‘progressive’.

The challenge for the Tories is to maintain a softer, communitarian image, whilst emphasising the party’s credentials as an economic custodian. And, in addition, there are difficulties with a Conservative base, which is often less moderate than its leadership. A tax cutting, service slashing programme might not be popular in the country at large, but it would receive rabid support at grassroots.

Yesterday, speaking on behalf of those grassroots, the Telegraph leader urged ‘boldness’ from Dav…

Daphne Trimble joins blogosphere

I've updated my links and the 'latest' widget to include a new blog by Daphne Trimble. The Ulster Unionist nominee for Lagan Valley opens with a thoughtful critique of the human rights process.

The conclusion offers a nicely condensed synopsis of the argument against socio-economic rights.

If democracy means anything, it means that government is accountable directly to the electorate. The ‘effective enforcement mechanisms’ that the Consortium proposes would mean that government was accountable in court to the judiciary, at the call of the person bringing the case, who, under the current proposals could be an unaccountable body such as the Consortium.

The NIHRC includes at least one sane voice. It is a pity the commission chose to ignore it, when it delivered its final report. Otherwise Northern Ireland might be on the brink of some meaningful rights' legislation.

Medvedev emphasises the need for reform, as he reviews Russia's 2009.

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Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has reviewed his government’s performance during 2009, in an interview with Channel One. The state has a substantial share-holding in the Moscow based station and it commands a greater audience share than any of its competitors.

The interview, therefore, corresponds to something like a state of the nation address. It’s an opportunity for Medvedev to assess Russia’s progress and explain to ordinary Russians the course which he intends to follow in the future.

The transcript shows that the President is under no illusions about the Federation’s economic position. Whilst he is quick to point out that stability has been retained despite global financial turmoil, he is aware of the fragility of an economy dependent disproportionately upon the ’extraction and export of raw materials’.

A theme of Medvedev’s presidency has been the need for Russia’s economy to diversify. Russians are acutely aware that the nation’s economic success relies on the cost of oi…