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Showing posts from October, 2010

'New unionism' frustrated or just a marriage of convenience? The fallout from UCUNF.

In 2008, when the UUP and the Conservatives declared their intention to pursue pan-UK unionism, alongside other commentators, I was justifiably delighted.  Not, as some people were quick to suppose, for petty party political reasons, or out of spite.

It did genuinely appear possible that a positive, outward looking connection to national politics could transform unionism in Northern Ireland, for the twenty first century.

That optimism has taken a battering over the past two years.  The disappointment built gradually, until, finally, UCUNF became the chief fatality of a spectacular electoral car crash.  Various groups are now picking through the wreckage to see whether anything is salvageable.

The Conservatives are considering whether they have a future in Northern Ireland politics, Tom Elliott has been asked to prepare a paper detailing his suggestions for the two parties’ relationship and an enigmatic ‘2010 Group’ has emerged within the UUP, pushing a pan-UK agenda.

I hope that the…

Where in the world is Lady Sylvia Hermon? (5)

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It feels like banging one's head against a brick wall.  No-one apparently cares.  I suppose in a region which returns five official abstentionist MPs, what's another unofficial abstentionist?

Still, it's worth pointing out, just for the record (and for the eccentric few who actually do care about Northern Ireland's voice being heard at Westminster) that the member for North Down has now racked up her century.

Drum roll please ..... the 'independently minded' Lady has participated in 0 votes out of 102 during this parliament.  Count 'em!  Even Alasdair McDonnell, a notoriously work-shy member has notched up 24 votes.

An extraordinary record anyone would surely agree.  Even at the Spending Review announcement and the subsequent debate, which will surely affect even the prosperous denizens of the Gold Coast, Hermon was conspicuous by her absence.

How long will this record continue before it's flagged up outside a handful of blogs?  Have the local papers …

Kennedy to DEL. McCallister to deputy leader. Empey to the Lords?

Tom Elliott has freshened up the UUP team at Stormont.  John McCallister is promoted to deputy leader, which will be interpreted as an olive branch to the party’s liberal wing.  He replaces Danny Kennedy, who takes Sir Reg Empey’s portfolio as Minister for Employment and Learning.  The rest of the changes can be viewed here.

Although McCallister’s elevation might soothe fears that supporters of Basil McCrea will be ostracised under the new leadership, Elliott has simultaneously filled an executive post with one of his key allies.  Kennedy is an amiable politician, but his performances are often less than stellar.

In the aftermath of Lord Browne’s recommendations into university funding and the Northern Ireland specific Stuart Review, the new minister’s in-tray is already full to overflowing.  He faces some exceptionally difficult and potentially unpopular decisions in his first year in office.

John McCallister may be the shrewder of the two appointments.  Another liberal figure, Dann…

Rathcoole, the PUP and paramilitary self-delusion

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I’m a little bit slow off the mark with this one, and Pete Baker on Slugger has already juxtaposed new party leader Brian Ervine’s insistence that the PUP should not act as ’an apologist’ for violence, with Ken Wilkinson’s comments about street violence in Newtownabbey, doing just that.

It’s the usual story, as parroted by generations of republicans and loyalists.  A riot in the Rathcoole Estate can be ascribed to the presence of police, who raided houses in the area, in order to investigate UVF murders and other crimes.

The PUP recently voted to retain its link with paramilitaries, a connection which Ervine alleges ’fixates’ the media and prevents it reporting the party’s ’tremendous work’.  Work that members clearly believe would be undermined without the patronage of the UVF and ’Red Hand Commando’.

The necessity of the paramilitary connection is usually explained by a euphemism beloved of Troubles apologists - ’conflict transformation’.  It is underpinned by an implication that…

There will be blood

The Belfast Telegraph link is now available and in today's paper I focus on the spending review and, in particular, local reaction to cuts.
the notion that poor, benighted Northern Ireland is to be mercilessly squeezed by the perfidious Tories, was not unduly dented by the fact that we actually got off rather lightly, in comparison with the rest of the UK. It made little difference that we can expect only a 6.9% cut to our block grant, while the average government department will see its spending constricted by 19%.  Not even a cool £200 million, stumped up by the Treasury to reimburse investors in the ill-fated Presbyterian Mutual Society, could draw poison from local attacks on the Chancellor and his government.Foremost among the critics are Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who allege that Osborne has broken a promise to deliver £18 billion of infrastructure improvements to Northern Ireland.  That figure was thrashed out behind closed doors with Gordon Brown, in the wake of …

More DUP fault-lines develop

Prioritising paid work has meant slow blogging over the past couple of days.  A more lengthy assessment of the CSR's effects on Northern Ireland is in the offing.

But in the mean time it's interesting to note that the Finance Minister formerly known as 'Red Sammy' Wilson  has throughout the run-up to cuts struck a more realistic figure than his DUP colleagues, whom Belfast Telegraph Political editor, David Gordon, notes are becoming increasingly Keynesian (and it takes one to know one).

Meanwhile the party's former leader, the Reverend Lord Doctor Ian Bannside Paisley, has taken what appears to be a dig at his successor's new found love of integrated education.  In a thoroughly baffling News Letter column he includes this gnomic offering:

The lively debate concerning education which this week has exercised many is a debate that we cannot luxuriate in or afford commissions on, while there presently is not the funding for classroom assistants, for library books, …

A story still-born or still gestating?

It’s difficult to know what to make of Eamonn Mallie’s latest ‘exclusive’ at Slugger.

It’s hardly a secret that although Tom Elliott’s leadership win was popular among the UUP’s elderly and rural grassroots, some moderate activists were dismayed.

Rumours that disillusioned members would organise were inevitable and murmurs about a ’2010 Group’, prepared to protect some of the more inclusive aspects of UUP policy, actually pre-date the Elliott vs. McCrea contest.

The notion that ’national politics’ or ’pan UK unionism’ are ideas worth advocating was not going to disappear due to one disappointing and mismanaged election.

Mallie says that the group has met and even quotes a source, but I can’t help feeling that he has ’broken’ a story long before its gestation period is up.  Metaphorically we have a few conjoined cells, rather than anything which the general public might recognise as a baby.

The fact that there are rumblings within the UUP, that something is up, is hardly an insight …

Progressive Unionist Voice

A new (cunningly named) blog is up and running - Progressive Unionist Voice.  There are a variety of interesting posts up already, including MLA John McCallister's interpretation of 'Progressive Unionism'.

I've contributed a guest post too, arguing against unionists who have formed a coalition 'together against the national interest' with separatists across the UK.  And I highlight an argument from Peter Robinson that is so profoundly anti-unionist that it staggers the mind someone who calls himself a unionist would use it.

Three polls in one day for weary Ulster voters

Northern Ireland’s political parties face a triple electoral whammy next May, with local council and assembly polls taking place at the same time as the Alternative Vote referendum.

I wonder what appetite hard-working activists and an apathetic general public will have for campaigns starting in the grey months of Winter and running into the early Spring?

No doubt some of our representatives will be more up for the fight than others.  Still, it’s hard to envisage them inspiring a healthy turnout from an indifferent electorate.

If the menu of political options is unchanged, or even decreases from previous polls, even the anoraks among us may be scrabbling around for a candidate worth backing.

One interesting question for the run-up to May 5th  2011, how will the local parties advise their supporters to vote on AV?

If self-interest is the guiding principle, and surely it will be, you would imagine the UUP, SDLP and Alliance will back it enthusiastically, while the DUP and Sinn Féin might…

Sinn Féin's cunning budget plan

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I notice that one of Sinn Féin's suggestions to plug the budget shortfall of £1.9bn in Northern Ireland is a £2,000 monthly levy on mobile phone masts.  Anyone notice any faulty logic at work?

Some of Northern Ireland's rural areas already suffer from some of the patchiest mobile phone coverage anywhere in the UK.  It's a nuisance for residents, visitors and it sure as heck discourages business.  Will the communications giants be rushing to plug these gaps at £24,000 per year per mast?

Ironically some the areas worst affected are Sinn Féin strongholds.

Poorly thought out, 6th form financials from republicans?  Who would've thunk it!

Where in the world is Lady Sylvia Hermon? (4)

From shameful to shameless.  The MP for North Down HAS been sighted at the House of Commons this term.  She deigned to turn up to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.  And indeed she actually briefly broke her silence in the main chamber at Northern Ireland questions, bothering herself about the demise of the murderous thug Billy Wright.  Since then, according to They Work for You, nothing.  Including no votes at all, zero, nadda.

Disgrace

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Keen not to corroborate Andrew Marr’s observation that bloggers are ‘very angry people’ subject to ‘spewing and ranting’, I kept my counsel last night.  Unfortunately the bile has not yet subsided and I suspect that it might persist until March, at the very least.  That is Northern Ireland’s first opportunity to make good the debacle in the Faroe Islands.

If we go to Serbia and win, then maybe - just maybe - I might begin to calm down.  How do you start to describe last night’s performance?  Is there even any point?

Eleven professional footballers, passing the ball aimlessly in front of the proverbial set of teachers and postmen, without a hint of threat, without any penetration.  And it wasn’t an aberration, however much the Worthington apologists will tell you otherwise.  That is how his teams play football.

Against better sides, who actually attempt to play themselves, we occasionally get away with it.  Last month Slovenia pasted us for seventy minutes, then Corry Evans bundled in …

Kyrgyzstan - bastion of democracy or fragmented ungovernable mess?

In post Soviet politics, one man’s ‘vibrant democracy’ is another man’s ‘fragmented, ungovernable mess‘.  Kyrgyzstan held its first election under the country’s new parliamentary constitution on Sunday and the result makes Ukraine look like a straightforward two party system.

These elections, which are being reported as free and fair, were an upshot of the ’revolution’ which ousted President Bakiyev.

If the poll had a victor, however, it was the party sympathetic to the previous regime, Ata-Jurt, which came out top.  A proportional cohort of its candidates will take their place in the new parliament, alongside representatives from 5 other groups, which cleared the 5% threshold.

Each of the ‘successful’ parties polled between 7.24% and 8.88% of the total vote.  That, of course, means that almost two thirds of the electorate cast a ballot for candidates from groups which did not make it into Parliament.                

The provisional President, Rosa Otubayeva, has the formidable ta…

Tories ponder their next move as the UUP circus continues.

The NI Conservatives have unveiled a new website, which is currently being knocked into shape.

In the news section you can read about a delegation from Northern Ireland which visited Birmingham last week for the Tory party conference.  Irwin Armstrong (chairman) and Dr Paul Megarity (vice-chairman) engaged in high level discussions about future Conservative involvement in Ulster with party co-chair Andrew Feldman and Secretary of State, Owen Paterson.

All parties seem to be agreed that the Conservatives are here for the long-term.  Whether that means standing candidates in the forthcoming Assembly election remains to be seen.  I detect a gathering sense that there is that possibility.

In parallel with the local Tories’ deliberations, Tom Elliott has been asked to place his proposals for future involvement between the Conservatives and the UUP before the Prime Minister by the end of the month.  Cameron, for his part, will consider whether his party is prepared to maintain a formal re…

Calling all students from Northern Ireland

Go and have some travel experiences before your tuition fees rocket!

Inge Sodeland from the International Student Festival in Trondheim, Norway, is inviting Northern Irish students to take part in the event's dialogue seminars.  ISFiT is the largest festival of its type in the world and it takes place between 11-20 February next year.

The Dialogue Groups seek to gather students from different sides of conflicts to meet on equal grounds in a neutral environment. In February 2011 we invite students from the conflict areas of Armenia/Azerbaijan, Rwanda/Burundi and Northern Ireland for a dialogue seminar in Norway. Through different communications exercises, role-play and social activities the participants and the facilitators will explore the consequences of the conflict and the opportunities for the future. Dialogue, leadership and project development will be important topics throughout the seminar. In total 24 participants - four representatives from each side of the three differen…

Accentuate the positive. Cameron's key to a happy Union.

In Thursday's Belfast Telegraph (not online) I argued that the Conservatives must not allow their deficit reduction programme to obscure more positive policies.

David Cameron delivered a keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference for the first time since the formation of a coalition government, at the ICC in Birmingham yesterday. The Tory leader was eager to emphasise his credentials as a Prime Minister for the whole of the United Kingdom, claiming that its four constituent nations are “stronger together, and together is how we must remain“.
The Conservatives formally ditched their pact with Ulster Unionists this week, after a disastrous showing at the general election, but Cameron remains keen that Northern Ireland should play an active role in national debate.
The Tories are unpopular outside England, and the Prime Minister knows that he cannot simply ignore the competing regional interests which devolution has unleashed, if the United Kingdom is to remain strong…

IFA set to gag Northern Ireland supporters' protest -EXCLUSIVE

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The Irish Football Association (IFA) is set to deploy a UEFA anti-racism directive in order to gag supporters’ protests, at Friday’s international clash between Northern Ireland and Italy at Windsor Park.
Fans had planned to display banners, highlighting what they believe amounts to a systematic plunder of the Association’s underage players by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), which governs the game in the Republic of Ireland. Earlier this year the IFA took the FAI to court, in an attempt to stop the Republic picking players from Northern Ireland.
The Court of Arbitration for Support (CAS) ruled in the FAI‘s favour, finding that FIFA regulations allow the Republic of Ireland to continue selecting players from Northern Ireland; including players who have already played for one of the IFA’s underage teams. It did however acknowledge that the existing situation represents ’an unfair one way street’ which disadvantages the IFA.
Northern Ireland supporters connected to the su…

Faroes trip a must win for Northern Ireland but anything against Italy is a bonus.

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If pride comes before a fall Northern Ireland fans are teetering on the brink ahead of their team’s European Championship qualifier with Italy.  The last time such dizzy optimism infected the Green and White Army a new campaign was starting at Windsor Park, with Lawrie Sanchez’ men fresh from beating England the previous season.  The result?  A 3-0 mauling at the hands of Iceland.

The circumstances are slightly different this time.  Northern Ireland has already got this set of qualifiers up and running with an unlikely away win in Slovenia.  So 3 points are already on the board.  And the Italians comprise precisely the type of opposition which the Windsor roar has a habit of unsettling.

These portents have persuaded some supporters that Italy’s scalp will inevitably be added to those of illustrious predecessors like Spain and England.  It will surprise no-one to learn that I‘m not so certain.

Tomorrow evening has all the incipient ingredients of a damp squib.  Over-confidence, wounde…

Cameron needs to hold on to communitarian vision.

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At Ultonia, Lee is dismissive.  At Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Seymour Major is still in the throes of ecstasy.  My take on Cameron’s conference speech is somewhere down the middle.

Certainly I didn’t feel that this address featured the rhetorical pyrotechnics which the Tory leader has occasionally produced.  It felt a little laboured, it didn’t depart substantially from the script, and given that it was delivered by the first Conservative prime minister since May 1997, it wasn’t even received that rapturously by the Tory faithful.

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, which is not yet online, I consider Cameron’s references to Northern Ireland.  The headline ’Fine words, true.  But do you really get us, David?’ is not really an accurate reflection of the article's content.

As a commentator, rather than a politician, I’m not restrained from saying that the Conservatives don’t need to ’get us’ and if they do finally 'get us' it will be to our detriment.  The demand that they d…

Liverpool's US nightmare to be ended by more Yanks?

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Could Liverpool’s nightmare be over?  There is certainly a little more hope today, after a bid to buy the club by the parent company of US baseball franchise, ‘Boston Red Sox’, was accepted by the board.

The proviso is that the two Americans who are currently in charge are fiercely resistant to the deal, claiming that Liverpool FC has been undervalued.  In a desperate attempt to derail a takeover, Hicks and Gillett, tried to sack two members of the club’s board yesterday.

They claim that their fellow directors are not acting in the company’s interest.  It is a brass-necked contention from the pair, who saddled the club with a crippling debt following their leveraged buy-out.

A majority on the board, the bank which financed the debt, the fans, the manager and Liverpool’s players have all agreed for months that Hicks and Gillett are the problem.

Should the club finally get a buyer, its problems will not be at an end.  Liverpool will still be in the bottom three and the playing squad w…

Putting brilliant!

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A picture tells a thousand words!

Let's hope the week can continue in this vein for Northern Ireland's sportsmen (and women).

Trevor Ringland resigns from the UUP

I'm currently listening to Talkback where Trevor Ringland has announced his reluctant resignation from the UUP.  He is currently explaining his reasons and fending off strident criticism.  The Ulster Unionists, he contends, should be doing more to oppose 'managed segregation'.  Although he acknowledges that he backed himself into a corner, with his ultimatum to Tom Elliott, insisting that the leader should attend a GAA match.

He quits hot on the heals of the news about Paula Bradshaw and although it is in slightly unusual circumstances, it will become much more significant if the trickle of departures becomes a stream.

They're going to get you too? Another one of the UUP's young stars bites the dust.

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In the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday, and on this blog yesterday, I suggested that Tom Elliott must find a role for the younger generation of UUP activists who backed Basil McCrea.  Their energies, I hinted, would find another outlet, if they weren’t harnessed in the party’s interests.

Prominent among this group is Paula Bradshaw, widely acknowledged as a ‘rising star’, who performed creditably for UCUNF (given the circumstances) in South Belfast.  She is considering her political future after being denied the opportunity to run for the Assembly elections.

One selection meeting doesn’t constitute a ‘night of the long knives’, but it will be interesting to see whether this pattern is repeated elsewhere.  Harry Hamilton, one of the more exciting prospects unearthed by UCUNF, has already ‘bitten the dust’ in Upper Bann.

It’s early days, but after its choice of a ’grey man’ as leader, will the UUP throw away the chance to brighten up its candidate list for the Assembly elections?