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Showing posts from July, 2010

Cameron, the Lockerbie bomber and devolution

There won't be too many posts on the blog this week, but I will briefly draw your attention to another Belfast Telegraph article, which considers the Megrahi mess.  The edit lost a little of the thrust of the original, so the text below is a little different to the published column.  
I consider the chain of events which set in train the bomber's release and conclude: [It's} Hardly surprising that after the release took place last August, opponents alleged Labour was secretly delighted.  The party had secured its preferred outcome without getting its hands dirty.  A nationalist Scottish Executive, flexing its muscles and styling itself a ’government’, was more than happy to boast that it had reached its decision independently.When Kenny MacAskill appeared in front of the world’s press to deliver a crowing speech about the unique ’humanity of the Scottish people’, he didn’t expect that his ruling would cause the SNP to crash in the polls.  Nor could he anticipate that a full …

Sinn Féin - trying to be simultaneously establishment and anti-establishment doesn't work.

In a column in yesterday's Irish News (as ever paywall and facsimile in situ) I considered the recent violence in Belfast.
Our traditional summer riots this year acquired added menace due to the close involvement of dissident republicans.  Using the Orange marching season as their pretext, paramilitary groups orchestrated violence in several areas, marshalling an army of young foot soldiers, distinguished by their loathing for the police, and dismissed by Sinn Féin as ’anti-social elements’.  Despite this direction by shadowy forces, and the obvious parallels with trouble from another era, recent events have a distinct modern edge.   Between cameramen - who jostle with the rioters - helicopters and mobile phones, the latest disorder in North Belfast was captured for posterity from every conceivable angle.  These are the ‘Youtube riots’ of a new generation and a proliferation of amateur video merely focuses yet another spotlight on the Police Service of Northern Ireland.  The PSNI w…

ICJ's 'clear' Kosovo ruling leaves plenty of scope for ambiguity.

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Confounding expectations, the ICJ (whose website is creaking a bit under the strain) produced a clear determination on Kosovo’s declaration of independence.  Sort of.

Rather than consider the matter of the province’s statehood in  the round, it ruled merely on the narrow question which Serbia put to it.  ‘Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?’.  The court’s answer was ‘yes’.  There was nothing unlawful about the declaration of independence, as it was issued.

Considering the scope of the question, the ICJ noted ‘[it] is narrow and specific; it asks for the Court’s opinion on whether or not the declaration of independence is in accordance with international law … it does not ask about the legal consequences of that declaration’.

In other words no guidance was asked for, and none was given, on the legality of Kosovo’s statehood, its right to put independent government into practic…

The IFA is on the right side of identity argument

With the football eligibility argument hitting the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, in today's Belfast Telegraph I defend Northern Ireland players right to be considered Irish.
Careful reading of FIFA's statutes shows that, if the FAI position is upheld, it denies the right of players born in Northern Ireland to consider themselves Irish only. FIFA asks that a single nationality, qualifying a player to compete for more than one international team, is held in conjunction with certain territorial or family requirements. A dual national, meanwhile, qualifies, as of right, for teams representing either of his nationalities.If the FAI wants to take its pick of players born in the north, irrespective of any other criteria, it must rely on an inference that they possess dual nationality and are British citizens, whether they like it or not.Currently a player who carries an Irish passport can use it as proof of nationality, if he plays for a Northern Ireland team. A few yea…

Where in the world is Lady Sylvia Hermon? (2)

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Another fortnight has elapsed and the MP for North Down has still not been sighted at Westminster.  Theyworkforyou still records no contribution from Sylvia Hermon since March of this year, during the last parliament.

The House of Commons is due to rise for its summer recess on 27 July and will not be recalled until 6 September.  If Hermon fails to make a late appearance, she will have ignored entirely the new parliament's first session.

During the election campaign she promised to make 'every vote count' as an independent.  So far more than thirty votes have taken place, with a new activist government she claims to oppose getting into the swing of its first term in office.  Clearly none of these divisions has concerned Hermon or the voters of North Down.

It would be interesting to know whether she intends to start representing her constituents in September or continuing to act like quasi-nobility.

No clear verdict on Kosovo expected from ICJ

Tomorrow the International Court of Justice will rule on Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia.  Sponsored by Nato, the province is already recognised as an independent state by 69 countries, but many more are sceptical of its claims.

In theory the ICJ could offer the best guidance for governments who are unpersuaded, either way, by the Kosovo Albanian case, even though its verdict will not be binding.  However it is much more likely that the court's guidance will not lean clearly toward either party.

Certainly Serbia expects status negotiations to follow tomorrow’s determination, while Kosovo Albanians are talking down its significance.  Independence, they argue, does not depend on the court’s endorsement.

Belgrade demonstrated peaceful intent and respect for the international community by referring Kosovo to the ICJ, but the court has neither the authority, nor the will, to clear this issue up for good.  International law exists in theory, but in practice…

The Kremlin should ignore Limonov's latest wheeze.

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When commentators berate Russians for their stubborn support for Putin, Medvedev and United Russia, they rarely touch upon the alternatives.  The truth is that the opposition in Russia comprises a sorry, rag-tag bunch.

‘The Other Russia’ was a coalition of anti-Putinists including, most prominently, the liberal chess player Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov, an iconoclast writer, whose ’National Bolshevik’ party is banned.

A party has now been formed using the Other Russia name, in order to fight parliamentary elections, led by Limonov.

His eccentric ideas are easy to dismiss as a joke and the National Bolsheviks were indeed renowned for their Dadaist exploits.  However their leader was sincere enough in his ’red brown’ Eurasianist beliefs to travel to Bosnia in order to fight alongside the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic.  And he was arrested for leading an attempted ’invasion’ of Kazakhstan, a territory which Limonov believes should be annexed to Russia.

The Other Russ…

Can Hague keep foreign policy on course?

In today's Belfast Telegraph I look at coalition foreign policy and the internal tensions which William Hague must overcome to make sure that his realist philosophy is pursued.

Not only must the coalition determine how its new philosophical approach might translate into practice, there are also fault-lines within the Government, and within the Conservative Party, which could ensure tensions over foreign policy, rather than quarrels about the economy, are the greatest threat to its survival.Perhaps the most conspicuous source of disagreement between the Conservatives and their new partners remains Europe.Liberal Democrats champion a central role for the UK within the EU. By contrast, the Tories' manifesto promised to repatriate powers from Brussels to London and Hague is on the eurosceptic wing.The minister has a delicate balancing act to perform: maintaining constructive relationships with key EU countries, fending off excess Lib Dem euro-enthusiasm and, simultaneously, rampan…

Cole comfort as Hodgson shows ambition in the transfer market.

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A signing to warm the hearts of sceptical Liverpool supporters, awaiting the season with little enthusiasm (that's me!).  The creative England international Joe Cole, whose lack of football at the world cup actually enhanced his reputation, has today penned a four year deal at Anfield, becoming the new manager's first addition to the squad.

Cole is a quality player who attracted interest from Arsenal and Tottenham.  This signals that Roy Hodgson is not prepared to manage Liverpool's decline.  Instead he has ambitious plans and intends to craft a squad capable of claiming back a place in the Premier League's top four.  More importantly the signing will create some optimism around a rather dispirited club.

Conspiracy theories and a blueprint for federal Moldova.

It’s over a week old, but I’ve just discovered an intriguing article on Michael Averko’s blog.  In a wide ranging discussion about disputed territories in Europe Averko drops in a snippet about the functionally independent Pridnistrovie region (also known as Transnistria or Transdniestria), which is widely recognised internationally as part of Moldova.

Apparently opponents of President Yanukovych are keen to foster the idea that a surreptitious agreement has been struck, between Kiev and Moscow, to absorb Pridnistrovie into Ukraine.  It's new to me, but it certainly fits the favoured narrative of a resurgent Russia, seeking to win back, territory by territory, its Soviet sphere of influence.

Averko points out glaring inconsistencies in a theory which is almost certainly designed to smear Yanukovych.  Neither Russia nor Ukraine support Pridistrovian independence and  Moscow has already knocked back a suggestion, popularly endorsed by referendum in the territory, that the breakaway …

It was my circumstances wot made me do it.

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Two articles caught my eye in this morning’s papers, ostensibly about different issues, but bound together by a similar mindset.

The first was SDLP councillor Nicola Mallon’s apologia for rioters in North Belfast - not yet online at the Belfast Telegraph.

Although their actions are wrong, she suggests, we can’t forget the context which surrounds the violence.  Deprivation causes the poor mites at Ardoyne to riot.

The second appears in the Independent, written by regular columnist Mary Dejevsky.  She considers the case of cop-killer Raoul Moat and, like the despicable crowd joining a certain Facebook group, she has adopted him as a type of anti-establishment icon.

The murderous body-builder was apparently representative of a class of underdogs, “who genuinely feel that the odds, in the way society is organised today, are stacked against them”.

Now, I am far from a reactionary “hang ’em and flog ’em” type, but this rush to excuse disgraceful behaviour by blaming everyone else is just…

Top 10 blogs times again

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It's that time of the year again.  Total politics is compiling its list of top 10 blogs.  There are a number of good new contenders to choose from, as well as all the old favourites.  And any votes for this particular site would of course be appreciated.

An obsession with constitutional change holding back devolved regions.

Unionist Lite investigates the think tank Policy Exchange’s latest report. ‘The Devolution Distraction’ (PDF), suggests that Scotland’s ‘constitutional obsession’ has led to bad government.  Its author, Tom Miers, finds that an increase in funding has not been matched by the achievements of the Scottish Executive.

The source of the failure is, Miers believes, a preoccupation with constitutional reform, to the exclusion of what we in Northern Ireland are fond of describing as ‘bread and butter issues’.
“Only on constitutional matters is there any drive for change.  Yet the problems Scotland faces are political in nature, not constitutional. If the huge increase in ‘accountability’ that took place with devolution in 1999 did not improve matters, there is no reason to suppose that further constitutional change will help.”Holyrood, it is argued, already has the powers and the autonomy to get on with making Scotland a success.  The contention that it is hampered by Westminster is simply an…

Unity on Orange terms is the last thing unionism needs

I contributed a column to Friday's Irish News, anticipating fresh calls from Orange platforms for 'unionist unity'.  I didn't watch the television highlights of demonstrations last night, and the Belfast Telegraph doesn't have much about Orange speeches in its Twelfth coverage, so the prediction remains to be tested.

The Irish News operates a subscription service and it is a facsimile of the daily newspaper which lies behind the paywall, rather than a genuine online version, but this (slightly edited) extract provides a summary

[T]he enduring ability of the Orange Order to undermine unionism, whenever it attempts to be constructive or threatens to box clever, (shouldn't be underestimated).  The organisation, which is now considered a stalwart of the Union, took a while to be convinced of its merits.  During the first part of the nineteenth century senior Orangemen were zealous advocates of restored Dublin rule.  The Act of Union, they feared, would result in a mo…

News Letter canvasses views on Union 2021

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It’s worth flagging up the News Letter’s ’Union 2021’ series of articles, which is to run throughout the summer.  The paper is asking academics, commentators and politicians to consider how healthy our connection with  Great Britain will be, in ten years time, when Northern Ireland is one hundred years old.

The contributions are being drawn together on a Facebook page.  As yet I can’t find a similar section of the News Letter’s website, but only Paul Bew’s article so far has not made it online.  The common theme is confidence that the Union will endure, but there are differences as to the meaning and development of Northern Ireland’s UK status.

In a typically far sighted piece, Arthur Aughey argues that Ulster unionism’s constitutional preoccupation has become a mainstream concern since devolution and the resurgence of Scottish nationalism.  He urges unionists here to contribute to the debate about what Britain should become, in an age of ‘territorial diversity’.

Other notable contr…

Days of Thunder - Journalist's year with a marching band

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In Blood and Thunder, Darach MacDonald does for marching bands what Ruth Dudley Edwards did for the Orange Order in The Faithful Tribe.  Entering the bandsmen’s world as an outsider, the Catholic journalist evaluates loyalist parades on their merits, as positive cultural phenomena, rather than intimidating displays of supremacy.


Last year MacDonald followed the “tight wee band”, Castlederg Young Loyalists, as it toured Northern Ireland during the marching season.  He discovered a group of disciplined musicians, committed to their music, who form part of a subculture comprising 20,000 young people.

And MacDonald is particularly good connecting flute bands within broader frameworks of culture.  The author not only sketches a long history of fifes and drums in Ulster, rooted in Orange and martial traditions, he also examines the similarities between ’blood and thunder’ and other types of ‘youth music‘.

His conclusion is that, although the bands are a product of age old Irish Protestant c…

Where's our community spirit gone?

In today's Belfast Telegraph I wonder whether the social cohesion which saw Britain through previous crises has gone for good.
Are people today unwilling to make sacrifices for the greater good? It can certainly seem that way. The debt crisis has not been greeted universally by steely determination to sort out our collective financial woes.Although most people accept that the deficit should be cut, or everyone will suffer the consequences, the blame and the buck are too often passed elsewhere. The attitude is that someone else, anyone else, can take our share of the pain.Don't touch my water rates, my pension, my pay rise or the services my family use. Another sector, another department or another region can foot more of the bill. Even modest economies are fiercely contested. The message that a little restraint today will ensure a brighter future tomorrow cuts little ice.It's a trite comparison, but one wonders how the United Kingdom would have defended itself had the curre…

Where in the world is Lady Sylvia Hermon?

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A fortnight after Sylvia Hermon's inactivity at Westminster was highlighted she has yet to make a contribution, according to 'TheyWorkForYou.com'.

In fact, now that the quasi-abstentionist MP for South Belfast, Alasdair McDonnell, has finally broken his silence, the member for North Down is the only Northern Ireland MP who has neither spoken nor tabled a question.  I gather, also, that Hermon was conspicuous by her absence whenever the Columbanus Festival was launched in Bangor.

The MP ran her campaign on the basis that she would turn up and, as an independent, make 'every vote count'.

It appears that the electorate in North Down has been conned.  Does this woman actually intend to do any represent her constituents at the House of Commons, or did she stand at the last election simply as a gesture of spite towards UCUNF?

(H/T Slug)

"I have done the business with Mary Harney four weeks ago."

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Northern Ireland's politicians have a great propensity for boasting about their readiness to "do the business".  Gerry Adams likes to claim he's up for "doing the business", Peter Robinson likewise, but no more so than the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey (just not too often).
"I have done the business with (ROI health minister) Mary Harney four weeks ago in our meeting in Armagh.  And as far as I'm concerned until the next meeting comes along, that's it."Quite so minister.

No more Mr Nice Guy .... new UUP boss must take a stand.

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In Saturday's Belfast Telegraph (not online) I looked at the challenge facing a new UUP leader and called for a genuine battle of ideas in the leadership contest.

They say that an addict has to reach rock bottom before he can mend his ways.  Has the UUP reached just such a political moment, after UCUNF‘s capitulation at the Westminster election?

Without an MP for the first time in its history, the party has promised to examine its failure thoroughly and make itself relevant again.

This process of reinvention will involve three strands.  Firstly, the UUP will complete the early selection of candidates for next year‘s Assembly elections.  Secondly, it will choose a new leader to take over in the Autumn.  Thirdly, throughout the summer, the party will review what went wrong in May.

Although candidate selection and self-scrutiny are critical to any resurgence, the leadership battle will determine the UUP’s chances of success.  A new leader must set the party’s course for the next few …

New look, same old content.

You may (or may not) have noticed that 'Three Thousand Versts' has been tweaked in terms of appearance.  I've availed of some of the new design tools on Blogger, in an attempt to provide a slightly cleaner, less cluttered finish.  My question to readers is, does it work or do you prefer the old look?  And are there any reservations or annoyances which you would like ironed out (post content is not on the agenda!)?

Hope springs eternal as Hodgson takes the reins at Anfield.

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Traditionally, the appointment of a new manager would give fans cause for hope.

Roy Hodgson arrives at Anfield amid acute apprehension that Liverpool's best players are about to be sold, in order to service a sky high debt run up by the club's owners.  His first task will be to ensure that Gerrard, Torres and Mascherano all commit their futures to the reds.

The new manager has only once taken a job remotely comparable.  He steadied the ship at Inter Milan, but you could hardly accuse him of stacking up trophies at the Italian giants.

Liverpool supporters know that Hodgson's arrival does not rid the club of its most pressing problems.  They are looking for something to inspire hope and optimism elsewhere. It's a sad situation for a great club.

Hopefully, however other circumstances pan out, Hodgson gets the best from the players who do commit to Liverpool and spends whatever limited funds are made available wisely.  Joe Cole is available, and signing a quality player…

All Ireland unionism and an important theory

‘Dilettante’ is rapidly becoming one of my favourite blogs.  Written by a ‘half Irish’ Conservative, based in Manchester, it takes a keen interest in constitutional issues and is stout in its defence of the Union.

In his latest post Dilettante explains that ‘what we have we hold’ is not the limit of his unionist philosophy.  He envisages a United Kingdom which could one day readmit the Republic of Ireland.

This aspiration, he notes, is usually filed under the bracket ’neo-unionism’, but it a deeply amenable concept to many secular unionists.

Although it is hardly a likelihood in the near to medium future, why not advocate such a possibility, in order to emphasise that ’Irishness’ is not necessarily the preserve of an independent Irish state?

The Republic of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom.  I’m proud to be an Irishman from the part of Ireland which did not secede and I’d enthusiastically welcome any popular movement in the south to rejoin.

Of course there are few signs that …