Showing posts from January, 2011

News Letter Best of the Web

Last week I stood in for the inimitable Geoff McGimpsey and reviewed the blogs for the News Letter.  Here's what I picked out.

It’s the time of the year when native Scots, Ulster Scots and wannabe Scots alike munch haggis, recite verse and indulge in a wee dram or two, in tribute to Rabbie Burns.  The poet wrote “whisky and freedom gang the ‘gither”, but The Dabbler blog isn’t prepared to take anything for granted.

It poses the burning question “what would Rabbie drink?”, if he were able to drop by on one of his eponymous suppers.  “As a working class lad from Scotland, today’s answer is probably vodka”, Ian Buxton speculates, ignoring the more obvious tipple - Buckfast tonic wine.

Ian Parsley is more interested in Burns supper nibbles, or “an thaim as taaks the Braid”.  Even where I’m from, that’s a river running through Ballymena, rather than fodder for the toaster.  Which adds piquancy to Parsley’s query, “where are these ‘Ulster Scots’ speakers?”.

He’s also concerned about t…

Egypt and revolt in the Arab world - sometimes it's better the devil you know.

First Tunisia and now Egypt.  Demonstrators forced a change of government in Tunis and now President Mubarak’s regime is being challenged in Cairo, prompting hopes that a democratic revolution could sweep North Africa and the Middle East.

The usual parallels are being drawn: the fall of communism in 1989 and the so-called ‘colour revolutions’ in parts of the former Soviet Union and the Balkans.  The media has already dubbed the Tunisian uprising the ‘Jasmine Revolution’.

The British government, in the guise of Foreign Secretary William Hague, threw its lot in with the demonstrators in Egypt yesterday.  On the FCO website he urges the authorities in Cairo to “listen to the concerns of those demonstrating” and respect freedom of speech.

It's difficult to give out a substantially different message, but the overall tone is suitably cautious. Hague is careful to urge restraint from both sides.

Cairo is not Tunis.  Egypt is the largest Arab state and has often acted as a bulwark of sta…

Baron Adams of Northstead - aka the Green Baron?

"Wellity, wellity, wellity" as Homer Simpson once observed.  We've finally seen it all.  Not quite Lord Gerry of Andersonstown,  but certainly Baron of the Manor of Northstead.  In reply to a question from Nigel Dodds, the prime minister confirmed:

"I'm not sure that Gerry Adams will be delighted to be Baron of the Manor of Northstead. But nonetheless I'm pleased that tradition has been maintained."

Let's hope the interviewers in southern Ireland are appraised of the Sinn Féin president's new title.  He ought to be addressed properly during the election campaign.

Terrorists attack Moscow airport.

From preliminary reports it looks like a deadly blast at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport was caused by a suicide bomber.  The explosion ripped through the international arrivals hall, killing at least 35 people and injuring around 130.

Domededovo is Russia’s busiest airport and a major hub for flights to and from the rest of Europe.  I have experience of the long queues which congregate at the immigration desks, and there must’ve been thousands of passengers in the terminal when the bomb detonated.  Some eye witness accounts of the aftermath are beginning to emerge and they are horrific.

This is another attack clearly calculated to maximise loss of life and injury.  Last March, 39 people were killed during a series of coordinated suicide attacks on the Moscow metro, attributed to the Chechen ’Black Widows’ group.

Female suicide bombers also blew up two aircraft, which had taken off from Domodedovo, back in 2004.  Whoever is responsible for the latest atrocity, Moscow remains a prime targ…

Bloggers send 'open letter' to Owen Paterson

O'Neill from Unionist Lite and Dilettante, this morning go public with an email addressed to the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson.  The text is as follows:

Dear Mr. Paterson, We are writing to you concerning the position of the Conservative Party vis-à-vis its activity in Northern Ireland. As Conservative and Unionist bloggers we have been firm supporters of Mr. Cameron’s policy of political engagement in the province, and we hope to be able to continue to facilitate in our small way the efforts of the party there. In recent weeks there has been some confusion about the future of the party in Northern Ireland, and if you were able to clarify that position for us, we would then be able to pass it to our readership. Kind Regards, Dilettante, oneill Paterson has been notably silent on the shape of the Conservative party's continuing relationship with the UUP and how it can lead to meaningful involvement in UK politics.  Exactly how do Paterson and Cameron intend to extend equal polit…

In the Northern Ireland executive everyone has responsibility and no-one has responsibility

On a theme related to yesterday's post about the UUP's lack of direction, in the News Letter's Political Review yesterday, I wrote about the executive's accountability deficit.  It's an issue which has been thrown into stark relief by the water crisis and continuing wrangling over the budget.
 According to the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, the Northern Ireland Executive “came of age“ when it published its draft budget last month.  Agreeing a financial package for the next four years is certainly an accomplishment, achieved in trying circumstances.

Previous Northern Ireland budgets did little more than divvy up spoils of the ‘peace process’.  By accepting that they cannot simply wish away spending cuts, minsters here now acknowledge, in theory at least, that self-government means taking responsibility and reaching difficult decisions.

Unfortunately one instance of maturity doesn‘t mean our representatives have reached political adulthood.  Things are already star…

Budget confusion leaves the UUP looking more rudderless than ever.

Did the Ulster Unionists suffer a failure of nerve or a failure of communication earlier in the week?

The party looked all set to go to war over the draft budget, when  David McNarry, the UUP’s finance spokesman, announced that it was “unable to endorse” the document.

The troops, though, were not yet mustered before they were stood down and yesterday McNarry appeared on the BBC’s Hearts and Minds, to confirm that his party was merely “reserving its judgement”.

His interview, alongside the DUP’s Simon Hamilton, should make uncomfortable viewing for UUP supporters.  Their man wriggled and grimaced and backtracked and prevaricated.

As soon as the Ulster Unionists’ apparent resistance to the budget emerged, I expressed scepticism.  I noted that the party had left open a semantic get out.  Withholding endorsement is not the same as outright opposition.

I predicted that the UUP would complain, but ultimately fail to take a stand.  After all, the two Ulster Unionist ministers had alread…

Channel 4's comedy news show has potential.

Last night, rather than watch Huw Edwards et al, I tuned into Channel 4’s new “comedy and current affairs show”, 10 O’Clock Live.  It was a bit rough round the edges, but it’s an interesting concept nonetheless.

David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne. Charlie Brooker and Jimmy Carr host a live programme based on recent events, which includes round table discussions and interviews.  The mixture of satire and levity with debate and opinion is rather unfamiliar in this country, but we‘ll get used to it.

The presenters were visibly edgy last night and the whooping live audience was just distracting, but a willingness to blend jokes with a semi-serious look at issues has potential.  The interviews were pretty superficial and David Mitchell was given the run around by David Willetts, but you could tell he was really trying!

I’d imagine the format will get tighter as the weeks progress.  Channel 4 should certainly lose the audience, but hopefully it keeps mixing the satire and sketches with politica…

The country vs. country argument. Football's Team GB and the Olympic games.

Another football post which touches upon politics.  The head of the British Olympic Association, Lord Moynihan, is determined to raise the spectre of legal action, in an attempt to pressurise the Irish, Scottish and Welsh FA’s into accepting a genuine UK team for the London 2012 games.

During December O’Neill highlighted his shenanigans.  At that point he envisaged players from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, suing the BOA for non-selection.  He’s refined his legal analysis over the past month.  The players should now sue their home associations in order to establish eligibility for a UK side.

Back in 2008 FIFA declared itself happy to endorse a single team for the Olympics, without prejudice to the four existing home nations which currently compete in international football tournaments.

However, the four associations made an agreement between themselves that only English players will participate.  The authorities in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are still anxious that t…

Gullit takes over at Terek Grozny!

The Independent asks whether it might be ’the worst football transfer in the world’.  On his blog, ‘I - Kadyrov’, the President of Chechnya has already announced that he expects a top five finish.  Ruud Gullit is certainly taking on a different type of pressure by accepting the manager’s post at Terek Grozny.

Ramzan Kadyrov, whose authority in Chechnya is total, is the president of Terek, as well as the autonomous Russian republic.  There's plenty of back material on the blog dealing with the unpalatable compromise which Moscow reached with this thug, in order to achieve a little stability in the Caucasus.

Gullit will answer to him and, in any clash of egos, the gangster and former guerrilla fighter could be substantially more formidable than Ken Bates.

Terek currently play in the Russian Premier League, bankrolled by Kadyrov.  The club’s most famous achievement was an unlikely victory in 2004, when Grozny, then in the second tier, beat Kryla Sovetov from Samara in the Russian Cu…

The Draft Budget - does the UUP have a plan?

Is the UUP guilty of opportunism, or is it finally setting out its stall under Tom Elliott?

Last night, following bitter clashes between the Finance and Health Ministers, Ulster Unionists announced that they won’t back the Draft Budget.  Michael McGimpsey has consistently complained that his department hasn’t been afforded enough money to maintain NHS services.

It must be said that a refusal to endorse the budget is by no means the same as a pledge to oppose it.  UUP ministers and the SDLP minister originally abstained when the Executive putatively ’agreed’ the draft.

If the party merely wants to give the impression that its ministers are accepting the figures under duress, then there is nothing particularly new about its tactic, nor is it likely to capture the public’s imagination.  The Ulster Unionists are simply stepping up their complaints a gear or two.

Acting as ’grit in the oyster’, during the Hillsborough talks over the devolution of policing, just made the UUP look confuse…

Could McClarty's candidacy put UUP seat under pressure in East Londonderry?

One of the batch of recent Ulster Unionist defectors, David McClarty, has decided to defend his Stormont seat as an independent.  The East Londonderry MLA was the only UUP candidate to squeak home in that constituency last time, although he was still some 2,000 votes under quota.

His decision will give the party a major headache.  It is running two of its brighter prospects in East Londonderry, Lesley Macaulay and David Harding, but there was always a suspicion that the Ulster Unionists would have to settle for one seat.  McClarty’s involvement throws even that likelihood into considerable doubt.

In the 2010 general election Macaulay claimed a reasonably creditable total of 6,218 votes.  This time round some of those voters will stick with McClarty and those who remain loyal to the Ulster Unionists will be spread across two candidates.  Things are likely to get very tight and only the most indefatigable UUP optimist would predict a gain in East Londonderry this time round.

Extraordinary revelation from the former President of Ukraine!

I suppose we realise well enough that the devil will find work for idle politicians to do.  Still, this revelation from Viktor Yuschenko's press secretary, Iryna Vannikova,  is startling.
"Viktor Yuschenko has regular intercourse with all influential politicians in Ukraine. This is a fact." The Ukrainian News Agency reports:
She also said Yuschenko has intercourse with Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, former presidents of the United States and Lithuania Bill Clinton and Valdas Adamkus.   In fact the only politician Yuschenko hasn't been 'having intercourse' with is Yulia Tymoshenko.  My goodness!

Is the glass half empty or half full for the government in Oldham?

Was the Oldham East by-election result a particularly bad one for the Lib Dems?  Labour held the seat comfortably, increasing its majority from a perilously slender 103 to a relatively healthy 3,558.

On one hand Labour’s vote actually increased after the ignominy of its candidate, Phil Woolas, being turfed out of Parliament and suspended from the party.

On the other hand, the Liberal Democrat vote fell by just under 3,000 against the backdrop of a turnout which had collapsed from 61.2% in May to 48% this time round.  In fact the Lib Dem share of the vote is actually very slightly up.  It is the Conservative share which has taken a serious hit.

Given the controversy which attended Nick Clegg’s elevation to deputy prime minister, it could be argued that his party's total isn't too bad.  After all, the government traditionally gets a tough time at by-elections.  The Lib Dems were last night trotting out the statistic that a governing party has not gained a by-election seat sinc…

A convenient distraction from the DRD's problems.

In yesterday's Belfast Telegraph I considered Conor Murphy's proposals for bilingual road signs, its divisive potential and the coincidence of timing which see's it distract from the Minister for Regional Development's bread and butter woes.
Has the Department for Regional Development not got enough work to do? Cynics will wonder whether it's entirely coincidental that Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy has chosen to publish controversial proposals for bilingual road signs just as criticism over the water crisis reaches a crescendo.The issue is a useful distraction for the minister. His DRD consultation paper envisages traffic signs featuring either Irish or Ulster Scots alongside the English language.A 'proposer' would petition the local council for bilingual "welcome signs" for their town or village, "supplementary plates" for warning notices (for example underneath the red triangles which warn motorists that a school is ahead) or tourist sig…

Murphy gets a sectarian bun-fight started - just as he intended.

In today's Belfast Telegraph I have my say on Conor Murphy's proposed policy to cantonise Northern Ireland with traffic signs in either Irish or Ulster Scots.  Why not commission the graffiti artists who spray  "Prods out" or "Taigs out" on walls to DRD instead?  It would be cheaper and just as effective.

Over at Newswhip Jason Walsh highlights a tiff between Alliance and the SDLP over the issue.  Conall McDevitt sees Anna Lo's "ghettoisation" and raises her a "sectarianism".  A pointless quarrel over a pointless initiative.

As anyone who read the piece in today's Tele will know, I'm highly suspicious of Murphy's motives in raising this issue, particularly right now.  It's the typical Sinn Féin tactic of sparking controversy, starting a sectarian bun-fight and then claiming the moral high-ground.

The DRD minister should complete his spending plan for the draft budget and sort out Northern Ireland Water, rather than d…

DUP hacked

The DUP website has been successfully hacked, according to ''.  The website reports that an 'Irish language activist' successfully published a spoof news story on the party's official site.

A reproduction of the article appears here.  It must be said, given the material available, it's a pretty tame effort at lampooning the party.

A bit of Irish, a bit of criticism of homophobia within the party.  Mind you, if certain rumours about the DUP's selection of local election candidates stand-up, there may be some highly unexpected progress on that front.

Watch this space.

6 Clicks for the Endless Voyage

To paraphrase Mark from Peep Show, I'm about to strap on the nose-bag and eat some serious (paid) work.  So the likelihood is that blogging will be slow again today.  Over at culture blog The Dabbler though, I choose my 6 internet distractions for an "endless voyage".  It's a hugely fun to compile, based on an Anthony Burgess short-story and the website runs it as a regular feature.

Hague's EU Bill faces stormy passage

William Hague writes in today’s Telegraph, defending the provisions of his European Union Bill, which reaches committee stage tomorrow.  As a significant piece of constitutional law, the legislation will be considered by a committee of the whole house, entitling any MP to contribute to a clause by clause dissection of its contents.

The bill is supposed to deliver the ’referendum lock’ on any future European Union treaties or transfers of power between Westminster and Brussels.  A significant body of Tory Eurosceptics, though, insists that it is riddled with loopholes and doesn’t go far enough.  Two rebel amendments are proposed, which could derail the government’s plans.

Hague is insistent that the legislation represents a significant consolidation of democratic principles and empowers parliament against an over-mighty executive.  Still, it will remain up to the government to make a decision on whether a proposed transfer of powers is 'significant'.

The Foreign Secretary’s pr…

Pride and passion back at Anfield. An exciting 6 months lie ahead for Liverpool, but Dalglish is not a long-term solution.

This morning Kenny Dalglish finally replaced Roy Hodgson as Liverpool manager.  It’s a case of out with the new and in with the old, as King Kenny takes up a post he vacated almost twenty years ago.

Officially it is an interim appointment, but Dalglish’s popularity at Anfield will mean he could prove difficult to unseat, if Liverpool’s form improves, or if, miracle upon miracles, the team can finish the season with a trophy.

Back in June I wrote about the respective merits of Dalglish and Hodgson, when it emerged that one of the pair was likely to take over from Rafa Benitez.  As I saw it, one candidate for the job represented optimism and the other resignation.  Kenny could boost morale and get the players playing exciting football, while Roy was better placed to manage a team in decline.

Since then the club has had a change of ownership, John W Henry and New England Sports Ventures replacing Hicks and Gillett.  It’s early days, but it seems that Liverpool FC is now on a far sounde…

Conservatives should stand at Assembly poll

Just to point you in the direction of a blogpost I've contributed at Conservative Home.  I argue that the Tories' latest deal with the UUP, which involves not contesting Stormont seats in May, is a backwards step in terms of the party's commitment to bring normal politics to Northern Ireland.  If you feel moved to leave any feedback there's a comment zone beneath the post at Con Home.

Pat Sheehan and 'civility'

In yesterday's Belfast Telegraph I argued that, if Northern Ireland remained "quite civilised" during the Troubles, it was no thanks to Pat Sheehan or other IRA members.

Is it a shock that Pat Sheehan, convicted IRA bomber-turned-West Belfast MLA, has a warped view of the Troubles? As the latest back-street revolutionary to turn Armani-clad seer and represent Sinn Fein at Stormont, it would be more surprising if he saw republican violence for the futile nihilism it was, rather than as a "probably quite civilised" campaign.That won't relieve the hurt and revulsion felt by victims of 30 years of IRA 'civility' when they read his comments - made in an interview with David McKittrick.The Assemblyman, recently co-opted to replace Gerry Adams, lauds the organisation for its restraint: "The IRA, if it had wanted to kill Protestants, could have left a 1,000lb car-bomb on the Shankill," he reasons.Of course, the IRA did actually leave a bomb on the …

'Blood and bone' nationalism from Salmond.

Over at Nationalist Mythbusting sm753 is in great form dissecting Alex Salmond's claims to 'civic nationalism'.  After donating water during the recent crisis, Salmond explained that the Scottish executive was helping out because 'they' (that is us - the Northern Irish) are "blood of our blood, bone of our bone".

There are two ways of looking at this statement.  sm753 is interested in the unrepentant 'blood and soil' ethnic nationalism which informs Salmond's choice of words.  At Unionist Lite O'Neill notes that the inter-connectedness of the United Kingdom's peoples is something which nationalists more often attempt to ignore.  The emphasis is usually on difference, rather than similarity.

Either way, it would be churlish not to acknowledge an act of generosity on the part of the authorities in Edinburgh.  The supplies were no doubt badly needed.

Sadly NIW, out of cack-handed incompetence, did not avail of all the help to which it was…

Rearranging the deckchairs - NIW chief set to jump, or be pushed.

It looks like Laurence MacKenzie is to be the fall-guy for Northern Ireland’s water debacle.  Without a major overhaul of the way in which NIW is governed and funded, though, his forced resignation is mere tokenism.

Northern Ireland’s water service went down the ’GoCo’ route in 2007 but the resultant company is a curious, under-funded, quasi-independent hybrid, without clear lines of responsibility.  

The Executive was quick to shift the blame for the current crisis unto NIW, which it describes as an ’arms length’ body, but the Minister for Regional Development, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy, appoints the Board which runs the company.  His power to hire and fire runs right up to Mr MacKenzie.

Earlier this year, of course, the company was mired in controversy over breaches of competitive tendering regulations.  A senior civil servant was suspended after allegations of interference in a Stormont Public Accounts Committee investigation.

Rather than demand that genuine independence for …

Pro-Union confidence?

Over at Open Unionism O’Neill has delivered something approaching a New Year message.  In a post called ‘Quiet confidence’ he sketches an optimistic picture.  It strikes me that, if O’Neill is right, although ‘unionist’ parties in Northern Ireland are in disarray, the objectives of unionism here are in relatively good shape.If I were a nationalist, the last two election results and their consequences would... greatly disturb me. In the Euros of 2009, the DUP fought on the traditionalist (accept no substitute) “Vote for us, Keep them out!” ticket. They didn’t “smash Sinn Fein” because the pro-Union electorate wasn’t that bothered about “smashing Sinn Fein”- it was self-confident enough to instead exercise its democratic right.Well worth reading the whole article.