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Showing posts from August, 2010

McCrea is the candidate capable of delivering change.

With the much touted 'third man' failing to emerge in the UUP leadership contest, it now appears that the line-up will be Elliott vs. McCrea.  In the Belfast Telegraph Alex Kane penned a gloomy piece which suggests that neither candidate is capable of holding together the Ulster Unionist 'coalition'.  

It is true that the party's prognosis is grim, whoever takes charge.  Sir Reg Empey has to take responsibility for UCUNF's failure, but at least he made a serious attempt to carve out a new role for the UUP in unionist politics.  Neither candidate, so far, has articulated anywhere near so radical a plan for the party's future.
If, however, the leader is to be either Basil McCrea or Tom Elliott, only McCrea can offer anything which comes close to a prospectus for change.  Elliott has styled himself as the consensus candidate, but he cannot hide the fact that he represents the more traditional wing of the party and its values.
Of course there is no guarantee that …

New international football blog

Just to point you in the direction of a new blog about the Northern Ireland football team, run in conjunction with the supporters' website Our Wee Country.  It's up and running in time to chart the latest farcical goings on at the IFA and assess the team's chances of claiming some points in Slovenia on Friday.  Expect more on that game here too.

CSI Belfast. Executive's integration strategy is a flimsy framework for sharing.

Well I'm now back in the country and a only a little knackered after a 2.30am start yesterday.  In time I will return to some of the developments in politics in Northern Ireland, including the UUP leadership race.  Hopefully I'll also share a few reflections on Istanbul, where I've spent the last nine days.  Any city which can simultaneously house a popular Ramadan festival and Gunther von Hagens Body Worlds exhibition makes an interesting subject!

To be going on with, in my absence the Belfast Telegraph published this article, in which I attack the OFMDFM's consultation document on a CSI strategy.

How best to set the mood for a Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration in Northern Ireland? Not, ideally, by bickering for two years over the content of a discussion document.Still, we mustn't be churlish. At least the First and deputy First Ministers have finally published a text for consultation and now the public can have its say.Anyone with a passing interest …

All quiet on the eastern front

Postings on Three Thousand Versts have already been regrettably intermittent over the summer.  In my defence, blogs are allowed a silly season too.  With the UUP leadership debate getting underway in earnest in September and political life in general cranking back into gear again service should return to normal.  There will, however, be a short cessation to recharge the batteries.  See you soon!

IFA carries on regardless with the Celtic Cup

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In the aftermath of recent events, I’m disappointed to see that the Irish Football Association obviously still intends to send a team to take part in the ‘Carling Nations Cup’, hosted by the FAI next February.  Yesterday Pat Jennings attended the launch of the new competition at the Aviva Stadium on behalf of the IFA.

Although the round robin tournament in theory offers a change from endless rounds of stultifying international friendlies, now is not the time to taking part in a new enterprise with the FAI.  The breakaway association has demonstrated time and time again that it doesn’t respect the IFA’s remit.

There is widespread scepticism among Northern Ireland fans about this Celtic competition, which will feature the original Ireland team, the breakaway Catholic Irish team, Wales and Scotland.  Indeed the idea of a boycott has already been bandied about.

A match played against the breakaway side, with Northern Ireland fans understandably fuming at that association’s incorrigible …

Time to bench Healy but Paterson on the right is a waste of time.

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It’s just short of a month since Spain lifted the World Cup , but international football is already set to return for the 2010/11 season.  For the original Ireland team, it will be a relief to get back to onfield action, after a summer dominated by other issues.

Nigel Worthington’s men are in Montenegro for a warm-up friendly, in advance of September’s European Championship opener against Slovenia.  And warm-up is the operative word.  Temperatures in Podgorica are set to soar into the mid thirties today.

The value of these type of occasions is a matter for debate.  Club managers are resentful when players are taken away, in the middle of last minute preparations for the new season, and senior players often pull-out of games which are perceived to be meaningless.

Nigel Worthington will argue that it is a useful chance to blood inexperienced squad members before a qualifying campaign, where they might well be needed.  It’s also an opportunity for seasoned players to get back in the int…

Political fall-out from Russian fires can't be assessed now.

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The New York Times reports disillusionment in Russia with the authorities’ response to wild fires and deaths resulting from this summer’s heat-wave. Even Ria Novosti, a news agency owned by the Kremlin, records ‘waning support’ for the President and Prime Minister. In particular it quotes a source citing ’growing fatigue surrounding Putin’s popularity’.

The prime minister, as is his style, has publicly taken charge of efforts to combat the wildfires. According to Ria Novosti, he took to the air in order to personally extinguish two blazes, within 200km of Moscow. The story describes Putin’s antics as a ‘stunt’, which, on reflection, is hardly an inaccurate description.

Voices of opposition in the media are even more critical. The horrendous controversialist, Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times, characteristically claims that “in developed countries, citizens don’t perish in fires”. Her fiercest criticism is reserved for Putin, who signed off a ’Forest Code’ in 2007, wh…

SNP's Islamist wing slammed by anti-extremism watchdog.

The Scottish Executive’s flirtation with radical Islam has been highlighted before, on this blog, and elsewhere.  Now the Scottish Islamic Foundation, which has claimed a full third of ’equality’ funding in Scotland, since 2007, has been named as an 'entry level' Islamist group by anti-extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation.

The group was set up by Osama Saeed, who stood as an SNP candidate in the last election.  Its spokespersons have advocated introducing Sharia law to Scottish jurisprudence and state funded Islamic schools.

The Scotsman reports that the Quilliam Foundation, a brain child of former radical Islamists, recommends that ’local and central government should be wary of engagement with these groups’, citing a risk of ’empowering the ideology behind terrorism’.

Two years on from conflict in Georgia, Russia seeks to win the peace.

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Two years ago this weekend Georgian shells started to rain down on South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali.  The robust military action which Russia took to defend the contested breakaway republic is still a matter of controversy.

However, the European Union’s fact-finding report confirmed, unequivocally, that acts of aggression from Georgia marked the beginning of the conflict.  The document bolstered the case for governments in the US and EU to reconsider their reflexive backing for President Saakashvili.

The regime in Tbilisi continues to show, periodically, an authoritarian bent, and its behaviour is still erratic.  Saakashvili’s military gamble, which briefly threatened to push the US into direct confrontation with Russia, now looks like a massive miscalculation.

His government is, rightly, treated with more caution by foreign allies, particularly in Washington, where pressing the ’reset button’ of American / Russian relations was famously a priority of President Obama.  Meanwhile …

The third man? The UUP's mystery leadership hopeful.

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The News Letter reports this morning that Sir Reg Empey is to step down within ten days, in order to let the UUP’s leadership battle begin in earnest.  Other contenders can then officially join Tom Elliott MLA, the only hopeful who has openly declared an intention to stand, in a contest which will culminate in a vote, open to all party members, scheduled for the 23rd September (or the 24th if you prefer to believe the BBC).

Certainly Basil McCrea will break cover and add his name to the race, once the formalities are taken care of.  Behind the scenes, his campaign is already cranking into gear.  He offers a liberal alternative to Tom Elliott’s traditional Orange credentials.  McCrea is known as a pragmatist who is happy to reach out across community boundaries and he is perhaps the party’s most polished media performer.

There is a perception, however, that the Lagan Valley MLA’s ’bottom line’ - the detail of what he stands for and the fundamentals of his political philosophy - is not …

Kevin Myers rips into The Guardian

Early this year the Guardian provided blanket coverage of Sinn Fein’s ‘Irish Unity’ conference in London.  A questionable editorial choice, given that the talking shop was considered irrelevant by just about every other British newspaper.

Usually its pages are light on comment from Northern Ireland, but the paper’s one regular contributor of Ulster opinion is a certain Gerry Adams.  Whatever patronising, tacked together, imbecilic garbage occurs to the Sinn Féin president, can’t be rushed to the Guardian’s presses quickly enough.

His latest sortie draws ridiculous parallels between Afghanistan and the Northern Irish Troubles.  And I only wish that Kevin Myers response had also been carried by a national British paper.  It appeared in the Irish Independent and you can also read the full article in today’s Belfast Telegraph.  Here I reproduce my edited highlights.
I'll take criticisms of NATO/US/British policies in Afghanistan from anyone -- Amnesty International, the Quakers, the …

No magic bullets but doing the right thing can still benefit unionists.

Civic and economic arguments for Union are not magic bullets which can transform ideological nationalists into enthusiastic unionists.  I don’t think anyone ever suggested that they were.  Certainly I’m under no misapprehensions in that regard.

In my contribution to Union 2021, I advocated unionism which plugs into the UK mainstream, and addresses economic issues as a matter of urgency, because it can make Northern Ireland more successful and secure wider acceptance of our place in the United Kingdom.  Lee at Ultonia, in a constructive blogpost, accuses me of economic determinism, which I don’t think is quite fair.

I prioritise economics in the article because economics will frame the fiercest debates in the UK over the next ten years and reshaping Northern Ireland‘s economy is the immediate task for local politicians within that context.  If unionism is to move beyond its constitutional preoccupation, to offer 'unionism plus', then economics has got to be the place to start.…

The Maze was no Aviva

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Irish rugby unveiled its new home on Saturday.  The Aviva Stadium, situated on the site of the old Lansdowne Road ground, is a gleaming glass and steel structure which, despite reservations about its capacity for Six Nations matches, instantly becomes Ireland's most impressive sports' venue.

In Northern Ireland the chances of a multi-sports arena being built in the foreseeable future died with plans for a stadium at the Maze.  In today's Belfast Telegraph I anticipate the complaints that we too could've had a world class facility and I argue that the middle of nowhere was never a plausible location.

a city centre arena, like the one unveiled in Dublin, was never on offer in Northern Ireland. The Government, backed by Sinn Fein and the DUP's former Culture Minister, Edwin Poots, repeatedly stressed that it was the Maze or nothing.The prevailing wisdom of town-planners, developers and academics was against an out-of-town development. Examples of similar projects els…

The Islamist paradox in Turkey

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David Cameron’s recent remarks in Turkey aroused some interest in my household, because we are currently planning a trip to Istanbul.  In preparation, various books with a Turkish theme are strewn here and there.

Our hastily assembled reading list is often, unsurprisingly, preoccupied with competing European, Central Asian and Middle Eastern influences which are brought to bear on the country.  It is the territory of Orhan Pamuk’s fiction and a recurring motif of his memoir, Istanbul: Memories of a City.

Burke’s Corner has hosted a debate on Turkey’s European credentials in recent days.  Brian is insistent that the country’s cultural and religious heritage sets it apart from the rest of the continent, but his contention has met stiff resistance from some commentators.

In Christopher de Bellaique’s Rebel Land, which examines Turkey from the wilds of the south-east, bordering Iraq, the author concludes that it ’contains, in a big rectangle, both a ’we’ and an ’other’’.  It is an inter…

Make Northern Ireland work economically and it will work politically.

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In this morning's News Letter I make my contribution to the Union 2021 series.


NO contributor to Union 2021 so far, with Jim Allister the conspicuous exception, believes that Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom is under immediate threat. I agree with the majority view. Our constitutional status is safe.

The important question is not whether we will be part of the UK in 2021 (we will). Instead, we should consider how we can start to participate fully in the UK at a political level and broaden acceptance of our British status, locally and nationally.

These goals are within the grasp of unionists in Northern Ireland like never before. The key to their realisation is outward-looking politics, plugged into the UK mainstream.

The biggest threat to their achievement is a possible retreat to the trenches of identity politics, under the guise of "unionist unity".

With a new pro-Union government at Westminster, unionists in Northern Ireland are, for the first t…