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Showing posts from February, 2011

The DUP unveils its candidate list, as the party leaves double-jobbing work half-finished.

With the Republic’s general election done and dusted (not withstanding the small matter of forming a government), campaigning is about to get underway in earnest in Northern Ireland.  This morning the DUP announces its candidates for the Assembly, with polling for both Stormont and local councils set for 5th May.

Alan in Belfast appears to have scooped this morning’s newspapers and the BBC.  You can read the complete DUP line-up and his analysis over at Slugger.  There are some signs of the party‘s much vaunted change of direction on the list, but it also contains its fair share of grizzled veterans.

At Open Unionism O’Neill congratulates the DUP for its partially successful action on double mandates.  He notes that the party’s participation at Westminster has increased exponentially during this term and he chalks that up as one of the few positive legacies of UCUNF.

It’s fair enough comment, but it should be said, the DUP has tackled double jobbing - except where it hasn’t.

Peter …

Votail Fianna Fail to smash Sinn Féin?

If the rumours (spread by rutherford ;)) are true, Fianna Fail candidate, Averil Power, last night dispensed a last gasp election leaflet in the Dublin North East constituency stressing that "only Averil can stop Sinn Féin in this area".  Now you'll not find me arguing with the premise that Shinners should be kept out, or that the party is an aberration in any healthy polity, but there is a certain delicious irony to this type of campaigning.

First of all, is it just me, or is "the republican party" coming rather close to DUP tactics?  In the Upper Bann constituency the unionist party distributed an eve of poll leaflet with an unerringly similar message, during the UK general election campaign.

Secondly, to gild the cliche, surely this is a rather sauceless goose compared to the version served in Northern Ireland?  The southern parties are horrified by Sinn Féin in the Republic, but they were quick enough to demand their inclusion in government up north.  It&#…

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt". McNarry again.

Before it disappears from view, a quick word on the furore surrounding David McNarry’s comments on Invest NI.  The UUP’s finance spokesman challenged the organisation after grants which it awarded to the international law firm Allen and Overy were offered to staff in London as an inducement to relocate to Belfast.

Ian Parsley cuts to core of the matter when he suggests that McNarry was within his rights to complain that the money was not being used for its correct purpose.  The further argument that the posts are “jobs for Northern Ireland people” is ludicrous, particularly when it is made by a so-called unionist.

At the blog Finbar on TourMcFaggen points out that while some staff will relocate from London, 120 brand new posts will be created in Belfast.  This is a massive firm, bringing well-paid jobs to Northern Ireland, which will benefit the economy.  “You’d think that everyone in NI would be happy about the announcement”, McFaggen argues.

Now the Northern Ireland Conservative h…

Can we learn from GB's experience of multiculturalism in Northern Ireland?

In yesterday's Belfast Telegraph I asked whether the current debate in Great Britain includes lessons for a region just starting out on its experience of racial diversity.  Pop over to the BT to read the full article.

In Northern Ireland, we're late-starters on the politics of race. That could actually be an advantage. There's an opportunity to learn from experiences elsewhere.If we get it right, we can enjoy the cultural richness diversity brings, while also making newer arrivals feel integrated and at home.To date, we've had few high-profile racist incidents in Northern Ireland. Only the attacks on Roma during the summer of 2009 were serious enough to command attention outside the province.There's no indication that casual racism, or occasional outbursts of violence, are set to harden into a mood for far-right politics any time soon.If the BNP decides to field council candidates in Northern Ireland, it's likely to get short shrift.For the time being, we're…

Monarchists demand a new Tsar while Stalin calls for democracy.

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It’s been the premise of not a few thrillers, but restoration of the Russian Tsar is now the goal of a political party.  RT reports that the Tsarist Russia party held its first congress in Moscow yesterday.

The group proposes that a modern Zemsky Sobor or ‘assembly of the land’ be called in order to choose a monarch.  A rudimentary parliament of that name elected Boris Godunov to the throne after the Rurik dynasty ended in 1598.

The party is certainly ambitious.  It hopes to build up a 10-20% vote share with a populist programme tapping into images and symbols from Russia‘s distant past.

Another less eccentric group is also charged with exploiting emotive historical events for its electoral advantage.

A Just Russia was the pro-Kremlin party designed to offer an alternative to United Russia on the centre-left.  It supported Medvedev’s nomination for the presidency and squeaked into the state Duma at the 2007 election.

But the regime kept its distance from the party, after Putin ali…

Signs that the UUP is serious about opposition.

News that the UUP has asked the Government for funding to form an opposition at Stormont confirms two things: 1) the party is taking seriously the possibility of leaving the Executive in order to hold it to account, 2) money is currently an impediment.

Asking for cash is a sensitive issue in the current climate and rival parties are likely to attack the Ulster Unionists’ plans on that basis.  It must be said, though, that no system of government comes without a price tag.  It is inconceivable in most democratic systems that an opposition could function effectively without money to pay for researchers and other staff.

There are plenty of ways to cut spending in over-governed, over bureaucratised Northern Ireland.  A little cash to breathe accountability into the system would be one of our wiser investments.

If other parties fixate on the cost, it is more than likely because they are not genuinely committed to the principle of an official opposition in the first plance.  With Sinn Féin…

Elliott unveils "game changer" but can it change the game?

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I took a trip over to the Mount Business Centre in East Belfast this morning, to hear Tom Elliott unveil his‘game changer’ for power sharing in Northern Ireland.  It’s being reported as a call for official opposition at Stormont, but that‘s just one component of the UUP‘s ‘big idea‘.


Elliott believes that an official opposition can be delivered over a four year time scale, alongside other measures to improve governance in Northern Ireland, such as cutting the number of MLAs and Executive departments.

In the meantime the UUP proposes a change to the phasing of d’Hondt after Assembly elections.  Rather than have the parties divide up ministries before discussing policy, the Ulster Unionists suggest that a programme for government be agreed, along with budget arrangements, before d’Hondt is run.

Anticipating criticism that the process will take too long, Elliott cites the speedy formation of a coalition government at Westminster, following the general election.  He clearly believes that the…

Guardian journalist back in situ

This time last week a full scale row was brewing over the Guardian journalist Luke Harding's apparent 'expulsion' from Russia.  Labour MP Chris Bryant even called for the Kremlin's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to be denied entry to Britain over the episode.

This afternoon Lavrov delivered a speech at the London School of Economics after meeting William Hague at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office .  His visit attracted some protests from Russian opposition activists, who attempted to pass on a series of symbolic 'gifts' for President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin.

So why has everything gone quiet on the Harding affair?  Quite simple really.  The journalist is back in situ in Moscow.  He reentered the country just a week after being refused entry at Domodedovo Airport.  He uses his Twitter account to suggest that colleagues pursue his "case" at Lavrov's press conference.  A week's enforced leave, though, does not make a compelling story…

DUP selection turns messy.

The UUP is not the only Northern Irish party whose selection process is turning fractious.

Over at Slugger Drumlin’s Rock highlights the curious case of Dr Phillip Weir.  The DUP’s head of policy was deselected in Craigavon where he currently holds a council seat and subsequently failed to get the nod just down the road, in Banbridge.

Obviously the key adviser to Peter Robinson is not easily discouraged.  He intends to try for selection for a third council seat, perhaps that will be the charm.  This time it’s in Lisburn, where Edwin Poots stands down at the next election, in order to concentrate on his Assembly duties.

Meanwhile the News Letter reports that DUP Belfast city councillor, David Rodway, has also been deselected in favour of leading Orangeman, Tom Haire.

It doesn’t look like Rodway will go quietly.  He claims that he may be suffering discrimination because of his agnostic beliefs.  The Cornishman now says that he’s in talks with UUP leader Tom Elliott.

Rodway describes a …

Former Liverpool boss gets a suitable post

Well isn't it nice when everything turns out so everyone's happy?

Roy Hodgson is a decent man and a decent coach, so no-one would begrudge him a manager's post in the Premier League.  Just so long as that role isn't at Liverpool.

Just a month after his sacking he has taken up the hotseat at West Brom, which will surely be a more comfy fit for all concerned.   After all, he's got a proven track record of helping average club teams punch above their weight.

Meanwhile Kenny Dalglish has coaxed Liverpool into a four game winning streak in the league, very quickly moving the club up to sixth in the table.  All is not rosy in the garden just yet, but optimism is back, attacking football is back and a chance to build for the future is back.

Liverpool Football Club got a manager suited to its standing and West Brom Albion probably did better than it otherwise would, in terms of attracting an established and respected coach.

Isn't that nice?

The Way Back - review at The Dabbler.

UUP shooting the messenger

The following is the original copy for yesterday's Belfast Telegraph article - which is now online.


Who’s to blame for the Ulster Unionists‘ latest batch of problems? According to Mike Nesbitt, they’re the media’s fault. The Strangford Assembly candidate told Stephen Nolan recently that journalists are driving a “narrative” which creates difficulties for the UUP.

If that sounds a bit like shooting the messenger, Tom Elliott sounds like a man determined to shoot himself in the foot. In a newspaper interview, the Ulster Unionist leader blamed party members’ negativity. Low morale, “is being caused by our own people”, Elliott complained.
Slamming your rank and file isn’t clever politics, but the Fermanagh Assemblyman is closer to the mark than Nesbitt. The Ulster Unionists’ problems are largely of their own making. The party is wracked with confusion, mixed messages and indecision.
A couple of weeks ago the UUP looked set to embrace a fresh new strategy when it threatened to rej…

Russia row at the Guardian.

The Guardian claims that its Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, has been expelled from Russia for reporting the Wikileaks scandal.  The allegation is a little odd as the issue at hand has been covered extensively in the Russian press.

Nevertheless the newspaper has gone to the rather extraordinary lengths of recruiting the Labour MP Chris Bryant to its cause.  He’s demanding that the British government retaliates by refusing to allow the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to make a planned visit to the UK next week.  The coalition would be wise to take its counsel elsewhere.

Bryant is practised in the anti-Russia stuff.  Most recently he rushed to condemn Mike Hancock for the grievous crime of having a Russian employee with sympathies for her homeland.  And he also served as under secretary of state in the foreign office during David Miliband‘s virulently anti-Moscow tenure.

In any case, there are two sides to the story.   Ria Novosti reports that the Guardian journalist floute…

Robinson tribute calls media role into question.

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BBC 1 Northern Ireland screened Below the Radar’s Peter Robinson biopic last night.  Like the company’s programme about Gerry Adams, this was more hagiography than documentary.  Robinson and Adams, two hugely controversial figures, portrayed as visionary statesmen.

Beyond the moral and factual arguments, this style of broadcasting raises a fundamental issue around the role of an independent media.  Surely its purpose is not to show political figures exactly as they wish to be shown?  That’s a job for PR consultants or party press offices.

I wonder whether the sagas around Robinson and Adams, over the past year, tell us as much about journalism in Northern Ireland than they do about the men themselves.

Twelve months ago the BBC in particular had sunk its teeth deep into Irisgate and the First Minister‘s financial affairs.  It looked like Peter Robinson’s political career was at an end.

Those events were eclipsed by a vastly overblown policing and justice saga., just another in the lo…

A tribute, a publicity stunt or phishing in print?

This might be the most bizarre media story for a while.  Informed readers were not expecting to peruse a copy of the Sunday Tribune yesterday, but a paper sporting its masthead did appear in newsagents.  The southern Irish publication has entered receivership and it will not be printed for the next few weeks at least.

So what exactly was this doppelgänger?  It was a special edition of the rival Irish Mail on Sunday, "designed for" Tribune readers!  Talk about kicking someone when they're down!
The Mail's editor launches a circuitous and highly unconvincing argument about keeping people in the newspaper buying habit.  It strikes me that the exercise was nothing so much as a print media adoption of 'phishing' techniques popularised on the internet.  
There's certainly not much in the way of industry solidarity for a paper fallen on hard times.

Yeltsin's birthday and continuity.

If Boris Yeltsin were still alive, he would have celebrated his eightieth birthday on Tuesday.  Although his record in the job was chequered, to say the least, the current Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, paid tribute to his predecessor in Yekaterinburg.

A monument to Yeltsin was unveiled in the city where he lived and where, as a communist functionary during the 1970s and 1980s, he built up his political power base.  Medvedev chose the occasion to announce an expansion of the human rights council, ordering it to investigate the cases of Yukos bosses Sergei Magitsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

It was an interesting piece of symbolism - both historically and in the context of Russia‘s current system of government.  It implied that Yeltsin was the father of democracy and human rights in Russia and it rather suggested that his successors haven’t been as faithful to that legacy as they might have been.

Clearly, there are problems with that interpretation.  It can be argued that Mikhail…

Luzhkov mustn't be allowed to stay in Britain.

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On Sublime Oblivion Anatoly Karlin notes that the disgraced former mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, has been granted permission to enter Britain.  Contrary to some reports though, he has not yet received a residence permit for the UK.

Austria and Latvia have already rejected Luzhkov’s requests to live within their borders.  His family are currently in Britain and his daughters are studying at a university in London.

All sorts of Russian dissidents, out of favour oligarchs and even terrorists have chosen to make these shores their home, over the past ten years.  Boris Berezovsky, the exiled tycoon who aspires to overthrow Russia’s government by force, and the Chechen rebel Akhmed Zakayev are two of the more prominent examples.

In a recent Conservative Home article, Carl Thomson revealed that 150 extradition requests by Moscow had been rejected by the UK since 2001.  Partly the statistic is explained by links, cultural and economic, which exist between the Russian elite and Britain.  Th…

Conservatives backtracking on UUP link?

Something of a postscript to yesterday’s piece on the UUP / Tory connection.  The relationship looks even more uncertain this morning, after the Conservative party committed to “an ongoing programme of campaigning and development” in Northern Ireland.

In a press release the party’s UK joint chair, Baroness Warsi, announced that the Tories will soon open a campaign headquarters in Bangor.  A full-time member of staff will be recruited to liaise with one of the Conservatives’ “most senior campaign directors”.

In addition, the Tories’ Northern Ireland chairman, Irwin Armstrong, who tendered his resignation in December, is back.  After Tom Elliott and Andrew Feldman’s infamous meeting, he felt that his position was untenable.   Conservative central office looked set to marginalise the local membership, preferring to lend its electoral ‘franchise‘ to the UUP.

Armstrong now believes that his concerns have been addressed:

Today’s announcement from our joint Chairman Baroness Warsi confirms t…

Facebook changes

In an attempt to update the site's social networking presence a little, I've added a Facebook site for Three Thousand Versts.

Previously the link on the right hand side linked to a NetworkedBlogs application, inviting you to follow this blog.  Now the Facebook site stands alone and you just have to 'like' it in order to follow all the latest posts and news.

Confused?  Me too - but hopefully it'll all become blindingly obvious with repeated use.  Don't be shy, if you are on Facebook you can click on the link and hit 'like'.

Paterson denies Elliott his leadership pledge.

This morning’s Belfast Telegraph confirms that the government will not change the mechanism for selecting the First and Deputy First Ministers.  Yesterday Owen Paterson told the Assembly and Executive Review Committee that he won’t amend the 2006 St Andrews Act by Order-in-Council.

That’s another bitter blow for Tom Elliott, who ran his UUP leadership campaign on the premise that he could persuade the government to do just that.  No doubt the Conservatives expressed sympathy for the Ulster Unionist position that the Belfast Agreement was unjustifiably tampered with at St Andrews.

It was already clear that the game was up last week though.  The News Letter was informed by a third party that Mr Elliott stormed out of a meeting with Paterson over the issue.  The report prompted O’Neill to ask whether the latest UUP - Conservative deal was already unravelling.

It’s an interesting question.  The two ‘partners’ are remarkably shy about outlining the exact nature of their new relationship. …

Irish Environment and Northern Ireland Water

Just to point you in the direction of my article in Irish Environment, an "online resource for environmental matters on the island of Ireland".  It revisits the water crisis over the Christmas break.

Transfer deadline frenzy as Liverpool spend big. But has the club made the right decisions?

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I can’t say I’ve missed Sky Sports News much since it was withdrawn from Freeview.  Yesterday though, I felt a pang.  As British football clubs flung cash around like drunken sailors, on transfer deadline day, rolling overkill and overwrought hyperbole was precisely what was needed.

Chelsea and Liverpool were the biggest spenders during January‘s window.  As Fernando Torres edged ever closer to a record breaking move to Stamford Bridge, there was an ill disguised frenzy at Anfield to reinvest tens of millions of pounds anticipated from the transfer.    

The club first completed the purchase of Luis Suarez from Ajax.  The fee, a mere £23 million, had been agreed over the weekend, but the player only put pen to paper yesterday.  More controversially, a reported £35 million was then spent on Newcastle’s young striker Andy Carroll.

Liverpool’s caretaker manager, Kenny Dalglish, spoke about securing a “marquee signing” during January in order to boost morale.  In the event the club manag…