Showing posts from November, 2010

Two months is a long time in politics and a political lifetime for DUP leader.

Peter Robinson made his contribution to Union 2021, the News Letter's series of essays, toward the end of September.  He urged unionists not to be complacent:
the future of unionism is bright, but there are two significant hazards on the road ahead.The first is complacency. It derives from the belief that the constitutional question has been settled for evermore. This is claimed by some unionists but it is certainly not the view that republicans take.In Saturday's much vaunted pitch for the middle-ground, the DUP leader made a statement which sounds a lot like his own definition of complacency.
The issue of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland has been settled for as far as one can see into the future."That battle has been fought and won. Against that settled backdrop, let us focus on the people's real everyday agenda." Adding:
Too often unionists are negative or defensive about Northern Ireland's statusBeing pedantic, I suppose it's possible to a…

British columnists writing on Russia and a genuine example of 'Scottish cringe'.

I don’t suppose Ria Novosti, the Russian state news agency, is everyone’s idea of required reading, but if you enjoy good writing it's worth bookmarking.  The website has added two fantastic British columnists to flesh out its Opinion pages.

Marc Bennetts wrote ’Football Dynamo’, a vigorous and personal book about soccer in Russia, and his articles just as lively.  The latest ponders recent events on the Korean Peninsula, vis a vis the prophecies of a long dead, blind Bulgarian psychic.  The author is currently working on a book about Russia’s fascination with the occult, so this singular topic is right up his ally.

Daniel Kalder covered similar territory in his book ’Strange Telescopes’ and the cynical Scotsman’s weary take on the world is also carried by Ria Novosti on a weekly basis.  Kalder now lives in Texas and his columns form a series, ’Transmissions from a Lone Star’, which highlights some of the quirkier aspects of American and Russian culture.

The writer, who coined …

NI Tories can learn Scottish lessons.

It's beginning to look like there will, after all, be Conservative candidates contesting next year’s Assembly elections in Northern Ireland.

Whether this first Stormont sortie can provide a solid base, on which to build for subsequent outings, depends not only upon support and resources proving forthcoming from CCHQ, but also upon the party mustering local candidates and a local identity with which to imbue national Tory politics.

If the Conservatives in Northern Ireland are embarking upon a sustained push to raise their profile and attract voters, they would do well to learn from the lessons with which their counterparts in Scotland are currently grappling.  There the party is struggling to match its national revival and to come to terms with life ‘post devolution’.

O’Neill highlights the Sanderson Report which is attempting to come to grips with the Scottish Tories’ difficulties.

Throughout Britain the national parties are struggling to reconcile broader UK themes with devolved…

We need welfare reform in Northern Ireland precisely because of our high dependency levels.

In yesterday's Belfast Telegraph I argued that, while the detail of Iain Duncan Smith's White Paper might be up for debate, the principles behind it certainly aren't:

In a world where each government proposal is instantly critiqued by self-interested groups with official-sounding names and subjected to mysterious 'equality impact assessments', a shadow of doubt is soon cast over the stoutest common sense.When the coalition announced it could not afford to continue to pay out £25,000 yearly rents - beyond the wildest dreams of hard-working, affluent families - to benefits claimants, there was an outcry.Even Boris Johnson, the Conservative mayor of London, likened the policy to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.Iain Duncan Smith's welfare proposals did not provoke such an overblown response, but the usual critics were out in force, alleging the measures amounted to an attack on vulnerable people. Their claims bear little scrutiny.The Work and Pensions Secretary's Whi…

Proper integration means secular education.

In the interests of impartiality, how about a little praise for the DUP?  It’s pretty infrequently that there is cause to hand any out.  Still, the party has not yet reverted to type on the education issue.

Indeed when the Alliance party proposed a motion at Stormont calling on Caitriona Ruane to actively promote an integrated and shared education system in Northern Ireland, the DUP provided the backing needed to pass that motion.

Less worthy of applause, on this occasion, were the SDLP, Sinn Féin and, disappointingly, the UUP, who all backed an amendment seeking to water down the resolution.  The existing sectors should be encouraged to interact more, rather than amalgamate, according to the amendment.

The motion was passed without any alteration and rightly so.  The Belfast Agreement called for progress on integrating education and housing and the original motion is only a restatement of existing obligations which the Education Minister refuses to carry out.

Her preference is for a …

Mixed bag for the UUP as the party looks to avoid lost seats.

Cross posted on Open Unionism.

As promised, some reaction to the UUP Assembly candidates list, revealed yesterday.  Like O’Neill, the first name which took my eye was Reg Empey, whose impending elevation to the Conservative benches at the House of Lords has not prevented his selection for East Belfast.

On ‘Unionist Lite’ Michael Shilliday notes that the Lords is neither an elected nor a salaried position and therefore the party treats it as exempt from strictures on double-jobbing.  That will be considered, by most people, to be too convenient a get out.

Simply, if you can’t be a Lord and remain in the House of Commons, neither should you become a Lord and remain at the Assembly.  If the UUP wants to wriggle out on a technicality then there will be criticism and, in my opinion, it will be justified.

It has been suggested that the party’s process has simply not caught up with Empey’s sudden peerage.  I hope that that is the case and that an alternative candidate will be selected in du…

UUP Assembly candidates

I'll hopefully get to comment on the list soon, but just at the moment I'm between a Queen's medical school prize-giving (not on my own behalf I might add) and rushing out to gavaryoo pa Russki, so, without any added value, here are the UUP's Assembly election candidates:

North Antrim:            Bill Kennedy                Robin Swann

East Antrim:              Roy Beggs (Jnr)        Rodney McCune

South Antrim:            Danny Kinahan          Adrian Watson

North Belfast:             Fred Cobain

West Belfast:             Bill Manwarring

South Belfast:            Mark Finlay                Michael McGimpsey

East Belfast:              Reg Empey                Tim Lemon

North Down:               Colin Breen                Leslie Cree

Strangford:                 David McNarry          Mike Nesbitt

South Down:              John McCallister

Newry & Armagh:      Danny Kennedy

Lagan Valley:             Mark Hill                     Basil McCrea

Upper Bann:              Jo-Anne Dobson …

Budget 'Ramadan nights' in Istanbul.

During balmy Ramadan evenings this August, Istanbul’s old town - Sultanahmet - teemed with bearded men and head-scarved women, who awaited the evening call to prayer, before breaking their fasts around festive family picnics.
Meanwhile, across the crowded waters of the Golden horn, a gleaming minimalist art gallery, Istanbul Modern, housed German anatomist Gunther von Hagens’ controversial ’Bodyworlds’ exhibit of plastinated corpses. And the current European Capital of Culture prepared to host a World Basketball Championship and U2‘s latest show.
In the Turkish capital, European chic and Middle Eastern bustle form a happy blend, scorched by a hot blast of Central Asian steppe. Yet, despite its undoubted exoticism, Istanbul is easily accessible from the UK and can be experienced on a tight budget.
In Sultanahmet cheap accommodation is plentiful. The friendly hostel ‘Second Home’ is one of many thrifty options, serving hearty breakfasts on its roof-top and offering a mix of clean…

Parsley resigns but Alliance still a dead end.

I don’t suppose that Ian Parsley’s resignation from the Conservative party can be regarded as much of a shock.  The North Down UCUNF candidate’s frustrations and the local Tories’ internal discussions were played out daily on his blog.

It made for an entertaining read, but it was an odd way of doing party politics.  There was always a suspicion that once Parsley’s work at the Campaign for Social Justice was at an end, he would decide to end his connection with the Conservatives too.  

Many of the complaints Ian aired on his blog were perfectly reasonable.  Without doubt the UUP election link up was a botched job.  It’s also true that the post UCUNF fall-out has taken a ridiculously long time to sift through.  Any push to stand Conservative candidates at next year’s Assembly election will be compromised by a short run up to the campaign (in contrast the Tories‘ general election allies have finalised their candidate list).

Still, it is one thing for independent or friendly commentator…

Baby steps towards genuine acceptance of the principle of consent?

In Friday's Irish News I suggested that Margaret Ritchie's poppy, and the willingness to call Northern Ireland by its proper name, may suggest a more compatible approach to the Belfast Agreement's underlying principle. Not everyone agrees. In fact one commentator has described me as an SDLP 'apologist'.  Here's the article in question.

Margaret Ritchie received praise and criticism in almost equal measure when she wore a poppy on Remembrance Sunday.  Rather than an act of respect and reconciliation, some nationalists saw a gesture at odds with the SDLP’s commitment to a 32 county Republic.

Ritchie affirmed that ’Irish unity’ is the party’s overriding goal recently, during a speech at its annual conference, but she also stressed that she would use the term ’Northern Ireland’ without reservation and cooperate with unionists, in order to make government here a success.

To some, that implies that the SDLP leader is all over the place politically.  The pursuit of a…

Sir Reg becomes Lord Reg.

Arise Lord Reginald of Empey!  It's hardly an earth shattering surprise, but the news has been confirmed that Sir Reg will be elevated to a peerage.  Let this be the first blog to congratulate him on reaching Westminster at long last.  O'Neill points out that he will sit as a Conservative and no doubt he will be a useful addition to the Tory benches.

Although Unionist Lite is correct that Empey's stewardship of UCUNF wasn't sufficiently brave, I still think he deserves huge credit for taking radical steps to revitalise Northern Irish unionism.  Two cheers for Lord Reg!

Thanks to the anonymous commenter below who points out that Alistair Cooke, who taught at Queen's University Belfast, will also become a Conservative Lord.

Can UKIP save the Northern Ireland economy?

The news that UKIP intends to contest Assembly elections in Northern Ireland emerged toward the end of last week.

Yesterday the BBC carried a brief snippet about the story, including reaction from deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, who reckons that ’a fragmentation of unionism’ makes it a great time for the party to become involved in politics here.

That’s an odd reading of the political mood, by any stretch of the imagination.  UKIP struggles to attract attention in the rest of the UK, other than at European elections and the field already looks rather crowded for the Stormont poll, next May.

It’s just about possible that, in a proportional election, UKIP candidates might claim a few transfers.  The party does have a Northern Ireland councillor to its name, Henry Reilly, in Newry and Mourne, although he won his seat as an Ulster Unionist, before defecting in 2007.

Perhaps UKIP hopes the Republic’s financial crisis, and its disastrous experience with the Euro might send a wave of Eurosc…

Secretary of State pledges to continue to offer mainstream politics, "in partnership or on our own".

The Secretary of State is due to give a lecture at Policy Exchange tonight, in memory of the late Tory peer Leonard Steinberg, who founded the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel group.

As a lifelong Ulster Unionist and a Conservative, Steinberg’s political commitments spanned two parties currently reassessing their relationship and Paterson will use his address to re-emphasise the Tories’ determination to bring national politics to Northern Ireland.  
“Our opponents have made much of the fact that we didn’t win any seats in May.  In fact we achieved over 100,000 votes for national politics and we came very close in three constituencies.  For every five votes we secured we won no seats, while for every seven votes the DUP secured they won 8 seats.Although I remain an unapologetic supporter of the first-past-the-post system it does sometimes throw up tough results.But despite the General Election not going quite as well as we would have hoped in Northern Ireland, David Cameron and I re…

Flogging the Bill of Rights horse

In today's Belfast Telegraph, I comment on the latest NIHRC lobbying campaign, as highlighted by O'Neill.

One of the leading Northern Irish blogs, ‘A Pint of Unionist Lite’, recently highlighted a fresh bout of lobbying, designed to resuscitate the Commission’s ailing recommendations.Last month McWilliams paid a visit to the House of Commons, meeting Scottish Labour MP Michael Connarty, who subsequently raised the moribund Bill of Rights at Prime Minister’s Questions. Following his discussion with the outgoing Commissioner, Connarty remarked, it was clear that the government intends “to breach the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement” by failing to implement the NIHRC‘s advice.  That is an assertion borrowed directly from the human rights lobby and it simply doesn‘t stand up to scrutiny. If anything, it was the NIHRC which disregarded the Belfast Agreement, when it concentrated its proposals on rights already secured by existing legislation and socio-economic as…

Barton selection makes a hollow farce of international football.

Unless you’re a committed football fan this may have escaped your attention, but the Northern Ireland international team is in action on Wednesday night.  I say the international team, but it’s more like the third string.  Regular squad members have been dropping like flies ahead of our home friendly with Morocco.

It was ever thus with these types of matches and doubtless it gives the manager a headache.  Still, there’s absolutely no excuse for his selection of Adam Barton, an English youngster who is eligible to play for Northern Ireland, but has yet to decide that that’s where his future lies.

Nigel Worthington has called Barton up, in his own words, “to sell Northern Ireland to him”.

Of all the witless decision the manager has made since taking over from Lawrie Sanchez, this is by far the worst, particularly bearing in mind the elgibility controversies which have blighted his reign.  He is effectively inviting a player to give us a trial run in a friendly match.  It debases the no…

Press release ping pong.

Or 'Faux outrage makes for poor politics'.  This column formed part of Friday's 'Political Review' in the News Letter.  I ponder the futility (and puerility) of many of the press releases put out by the main unionist parties here.
For the most part these press releases simply reinforce the public's perception that politicians are easily distracted from proper work by pointless, puerile games.They sustain the view that politics are a nasty, vicious business, which should be regarded with the utmost cynicism.As a party set up to confront and confound the DUP, it's no surprise that Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice website is chock full of aggressive, accusatory press releases.The most lengthy rallies, however, are still conducted between the Democratic Unionists and the UUP. Only last week East Belfast MLA, Robin Newton, endorsed a statement accusing former Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey, of cynically re-designating the UUP's Victoria br…

A brutal beating hints at deeper problems and a debate behind closed doors.

The savage beating of Oleg Kashin hit the headlines in Britain yesterday, as Russian journalists gathered to show solidarity for their colleague in Moscow.  Reporting news can be a dangerous business in Russia and Kashin is just the latest in a succession of cases of intimidation, violence and even murder.

The thirty year old was beaten into a coma - he suffered two broken legs, mangled fingers and serious damage to the skull.  Notably, reports of the incident suggest that none of his personal belongings were taken.  The attackers did a methodical, brutish and highly effective job of silencing the journalist.

The easy response to such incidents is to allege that the Kremlin organises punitive beatings (and worse) for dissenting investigative journalists.  That’s a gross simplification.  A complex blend of corruption, vested interests, youthful nationalism and ’legal nihilism’, can underlie such attacks.

Kashin, it appears, does not fit the stereotypical template of a campaigning ant…

Edging towards tolerance of remembrance?

Perhaps one year soon Armistice Day will pass without a modest symbol of respect and remembrance inspiring a single display of hatred and intolerance.  Unfortunately 2010 wasn’t that year.

First we had the so-called ’Green Brigade’ and its illiterate protest at Celtic’s decision to display a poppy on the club's famous hooped football shirts.  Now the Andersonstown News reports that Relatives for Justice, a republican victims group, has asked BBC Northern Ireland to ban poppies in the interests of ‘neutrality‘.

Last year it was that newspaper’s columnist, ‘the Squinter’, who took anti-poppy bile to a new low, by describing the British Legion’s fundraising campaign as a “three week orgy of ‘up yours fenian face’”.  I posted on that occasion, lamenting the tendency to perceive a simple act of remembering as a hostile political act.

There’s no particular need to rehash the same old arguments for the Relatives for Justice campaign.  It’s enough to note that there are also more hopefu…

PM treads a fine line between upholding values and preaching.

I thoroughly loathed the type of hectoring, preaching foreign policy practised under the Labour government.  David Miliband, an FCO minister prepared to offer his self-righteous and often deeply ignorant tuppence-worth on almost any internal matter, affecting almost any country, typified that approach.  
I also had some misgivings, therefore, about David Cameron’s decision to scold China for its lack of political freedoms and human rights abuses.  It should be a cornerstone of conservative (small c) foreign policy that every country is different and that those differences should be respected.  It isn’t the role of the UK government to judge whether each and every state has ordered its own affairs correctly.

William Hague set out his template for foreign policy, preferring genuine diplomacy to the megaphone variety and placing British interests at its heart.  The watchwords were realism and trade.

Sure enough he's overseen an instant improvement and there are signs that it is alre…

Healy finally scores. And Worthington drops him.

Two great strikers who badly needed a boost netted goals for their respective clubs over the weekend.  Fernando Torres bagged two spectacular efforts as Liverpool defeated league leaders Chelsea, 2-0.  And David Healy notched his first strike for seven months, as he debuted for new club, Doncaster Rovers, following a move on loan.

Great news for Northern Ireland.  Perhaps it might give Sir Dave the confidence to grace Windsor Park with a goal next week, when Morocco visits for a friendly match?

Except that that won't happen.  Because after selecting Healy all through his barren patch, Nigel Worthington has left him out now that the guy has got a club and hit the net.  Maybe Northern Ireland's leading goalscorer will be grateful for the opportunity to concentrate on getting his club career back on track.  Maybe it's just another eccentric decision by the manager.

Alliance defection puts onus on the Tories.

I must confess I’m a little saddened by Paula Bradshaw’s decision to cast herself into the political black hole called Alliance.  The party is awe inspiringly pointless and its pointlessness was underlined by Naomi Long’s refusal to take up a seat in government alongside her Lib Dem allies.

Alliance had a perfect opportunity right there to make itself relevant and be something other than a bunch of nice people, whinging about dog dirt.  The party flunked its test spectacularly.  It remains a mere function of Northern Ireland’s divided society, with no vision for politics here, beyond a kind of perpetual suspended animation.

Yet, I wonder whether Paula had any credible alternative just at the moment?  As O’Neill mentions, on Unionist Lite, Tom Elliott has so far failed to hand in his homework, set by the Prime Minister at the Tory conference.

That leaves the Northern Ireland Conservatives in limbo as they await the go-ahead from CCHQ to begin an Assembly election campaign here.  The…

Parties must be led by practical economics rather than ideological adventurism.

If the article comes online I'll link it, but in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph I assessed the various finance papers and proposals which the parties in Northern Ireland have issued over the past few weeks.  My conclusion is that (to varying degrees) they're as much about long-term political objectives as practical economics and the problem to hand.
 Hot on the heals of proposals on the economy from Sinn Féin, Ulster Unionists and even the TUV, Peter Robinson launched the DUP’s own cuts strategy on Monday.  In common with rival efforts, the paper is as much about setting out the party’s ideology and drawing some red lines for negotiations ahead, as about delivering savings or growing the private sector.  When the party advocates reducing the number of departments at Stormont, it knows very well that Sinn Féin is adamantly opposed to a slimmer Executive.  And a proposal to squeeze North South bodies will attract nationalist ire, despite coy DUP claims that there are no ulteri…

McNarry and the art of tainting a valid point with a persecution complex.

I very rarely agree with David McNarry, but he does have legitimate concerns about football supporters being singled out under the proposed Justice Bill.  He asks why sections of the legislation dealing with ticket touts and banning orders apply only to football matches.

Of course fans of Gaelic games and rugby, the other sports affected by the Bill, point to the comparatively few incidents of disorder (off the pitch at least) which take place at their matches.  That’s hardly the point.  If an offence is committed which justifies a ban, or if touting takes place, surely it’s best to have the requisite legislation in place, whether it’s needed very frequently or not?

The specific provisions dealing with football are designed to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, in terms of crowd safety, but common sense would suggest that there is no reason to restrict useful law to one sport only.

McNarry being McNarry, though, a valid point isn't allowed to g…

Sing hallelujah! Someone's pulled the plug.

NI direct down.

OFMDFM down.

Northern Ireland Executive down.

The levers of direct rule.  Up and running!

How long have I been asleep?  Please let it be true!  So long as some of the NIO ministers are direct representatives from Northern Ireland, elected to a Conservative government, then we have reached nirvana.

Update:  oh well that didn't last for long.  We've still got our Fisher Price government.

Ukraine looks set to endorse Yanukovych's path.

The surest outcome of Ukrainian elections is an acrimonious dispute after the results come in.  Yesterday the country took to the polls once again, as Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions faced its first big test since the presidential run-off.

Exit polls for the local elections suggest that the President’s party has retained its lead, with 36.2% backing Yanukovych’s group.  That compares favourably to 35.32% recorded by the Party of the Regions in the first round of the presidential vote.  Yanukovych eventually won that contest in a run off, securing 48.95% to Yulia Tymoshenko’s 45.47%.

Back in January and February, there was unanimous consensus among international observers that the right result had been reached.  The OSCE found the poll ’free and fair’.

Representatives from the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly have already concurred with the Prime Minister’s verdict that no major violations were registered this time either.

Still, a flawless poll didn’t stop protests from Tymoshenko in…