Thursday, 27 October 2011

All registered parties will contest State Duma election

Elections to Russia's State Duma will take place on December 4th.  Ria Novosti reports today that all of the registered parties will contest the poll and points out that this is the first time that has happened since 1993.  The Russian ministry of justice provides a list of the contenders.

It includes Pravoye Delo, or Right Cause, the free market friendly group, whose newly appointed leader, Mikhail Prokhorov, was recently ousted.  Other contenders Zyuganov's perennial challengers, the KPR (Russian communists), and another veteran's grouping, the LDPR, led by nationalist rabble-rouser Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Pollsters were suggesting that United Russia, whose list will be topped by the outgoing President, Dmitry Medvedev, might struggle to retain the 2/3rds majority which it needs to change constitutional law.  Levada's latest suggestion is that voter apathy might help the party to maintain its dominance.   

Friday, 21 October 2011

Oh minister, where art thou?

Sinn Fein reps are quite the culture vultures this week, with the notable exception of culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin.   Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is curating an exhibition of ‘political art’ hosted at the Golden Thread Gallery.
 It includes an offering by Conrad Atkinson (above), which apparently caused controversy back in the 70s, when Protestant museum workers refused to hang the painting at the Ulster Museum.  
As it happens, they may have acted on aesthetic rather than sectarian motivations, because, aside from its questionable 'political message', the artwork looks rather like it was painted by a disturbed four year old child.     
However all art exhibitions are certainly not equal in Shinner land.  According to the Irish News our so called culture minister has declined an invitation to attend the Royal Ulster Academy’s 130th Annual Exhibition, which gets underway at the Ulster Museum today.  One of its exhibits is a rather striking portrait entitled “Remember Mary Travers”.   

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Guest Post: Leave our Alain alone

By itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit

As we know well in Northern Ireland, predicting someone’s views on a range of issues doesn't require a crystal ball, just a clue as to their background - their name, the school they attended or their address. Once you have sniffed out those details, you can identify their tribe and you can then have a fair stab at working out what they think.

Of course, tribalism is not just confined to Ulster and tribal loyalties are not always that straightforward. Take Monsieur Alain Rolland for example, born and raised in Ireland but with a French father. For many Welsh rugby fans such continental lineage was proof positive of his preference for the land of his father, Wales's opponents in the rugby world cup semi-final and of course explains his 'outrageous' decision to send off the Welsh captain Sam Warburton.

When England were knocked out of the world cup, by perhaps the bitterest of their many 'old enemies' France, Wales found themselves up against the same opponents and the centre of British media interest in the run up to the semi-final. Unlike poor unloved England, who had exited in disarray in the glare of dreadful publicity, all the media stories about Wales were extremely positive. Rather than tossing dwarves in the local hostelries, we were told the Welsh formed themselves into a Choir and whiled away the hours singing harmonies - no going on the pop and chasing the local talent for them. David Cameron, perhaps reeling from the Fantastic stories circulating about his defence secretary Mr Fox(who by now was rivalling the English rugby team for bad press) declared his Prime Ministerial support for Wales and ran the Welsh flag up the mast in Downing Street.

Not a bad word was muttered against the Welsh, not even from the Irish - still smarting from the hiding we took from our fitter and younger Celtic cousins the previous week. Cymru am byth.

The stage was set.

Only France stood between Wales and a world cup final and with the Millennium stadium, rocking with 65,000 (more than at the game itself), there could only be one winner?

But after 17 minutes of the semi-final the Franco-Irish referee reached into his pocket and took from it a card - colour Red, not colour Yellow(which would have been in contravention of the IRB directive issued only weeks previously). Yet every rugby pundit and Welsh (or English) fan or ex-player who could overcome their indignance to be interviewed or to tweet, insisted that it was a 'dreadful' or 'shocking' or 'awful' or 'outrageous' (or all of the preceding) decision. Of course, part of this indignant outrage was based on ignorance of the rules and part based on sheer disappointment. Rugby pundits, who had previously demanded consistency from officals, were now calling for inconsistency, a Yellow card because it was only the 17th minute, a Yellow card because it was the semi-final of the world cup, a Yellow card because the perpetrator had no track record for foul play, a Yellow card because otherwise the game would be wrecked, a Yellow card because a red would stop Wales getting to the world cup final. Shame on you Alain – deep shame.

Jamie Roberts, the outstanding Welsh centre and Irish and British Lion(who is completing a medical degree in his spare time) was clearly struggling to keep his emotions under control when he was interviewed directly after the game - but pointedly refused to criticise the referee's decision. Such a dignified response was not however in evidence from the Welsh coaches with each of them lining up to condemn Rolland for enforcing a punishment designed to prevent serious spinal injuries in this extremely physical contact sport. (Warren Gatland, Wales's head coach, further added to his repuation for ill-judged remarks, by bizarrely trying to claim credit for not cheating during the match by faking a player injury).

In France of course, there was a somewhat different tribal reaction, with coaches and ex-players joining a chorus of approval and lauding Monsieur Rolland for a fine decision.

Back in Ireland, I suspect we too, have rallied behind ‘our Alain’, the bilingual, Garret Fitzgeraldesque official who oft represents Irish Rugby in major tournaments (long after our team have departed) and we will be ready to remind anyone daring to criticise him that the only person who should be in the dock for the incident in the 17th minute is Wales's outstanding young Captain Mr Warburton i.e. the person who actually made the reckless and dangerous tackle.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Difficult job for new Northern Ireland manager as Worthington era draws to an end.

This blog and Nigel Worthington’s spell as manager of Northern Ireland are about the same age.  My first post, way back in May 2007, dealt with the IFA’s search for a replacement for Lawrie Sanchez, who had just taken up an English Premier League job at Fulham.

It’s fair to say that after Worthington took charge, I was quickly a sceptic.  As early as 7 June2007, I voiced disillusionment with his tendency to ‘talk down’ players and two months later I asked, for the first (but not for the last) time, ‘is Nigel worthy?’.  

Now Worthington has announced his intention to leave the post after his current contract elapses on 31st December.   We’ve come full circle and the IFA has to start the search for his successor.

Back in that opening blogpost I expressed the hope that Jim Magilton would end up in the Northern Ireland hot-seat.  More than four years later and this time the West Belfast man is the bookmakers’ favourite to take over from Worthington.

If Magilton does get the job he will have a formidable task ahead. 

Back in 2007 Sanchez left the Northern Ireland set-up comparatively healthy, but it doesn’t look nearly so robust in 2011.  The playing staff are low in confidence, each match sees a series of high profile cry-offs and the FAI’s poaching strategy is beginning to seriously affect the pool of players which a new manager will have at his disposal.

Worthington is gone and there’s no point labouring the point, but he has to take a share of the blame for the depressing state of Northern Ireland football. 

The belittling comments about his own players started as soon as he took the job and continued throughout his reign. 

He scarcely made any attempt to ensure that squad members turned up for international duty rather than crying off injured at the behest of their clubs; let’s face it, if he had, he wouldn’t have had a shred of credibility.

Nigel himself was the worst offender when he was manager of Norwich City.  He persistently withdrew Phil Mulryne and Paul McVeigh from Northern Ireland squads, until Lawrie Sanchez was forced to invoke the 5 day rule, which prevents players playing for their clubs until 5 days after an international match for which they’ve declared injured.

Far from showing contrition, Worthington vehemently defended his conduct, even after he’d become an international manager.  

How could his complaints be taken seriously when other club bosses did exactly the same thing?
On the poaching issue he was confused and hypocritical.  He didn’t seem to understand FIFA’s eligibility criteria and he often resorted to contradictory arguments about players playing for the country in which they were born.

That’s before we get to the slow, tedious style of play which he inculcated.  He couldn't seem to grasp that, because 'Northern Ireland aren't Barcelona', as he once witheringly observed, that we have to disrupt teams, play at a high tempo, get the ball forward directly, rather than attempting to play passing football.

In fairness his legacy isn’t all bad.  The new manager will inherit a healthy youth set-up and a scouting network which should help to identify future stars. 

And future stars are sorely needed because at the moment the squad looks rather threadbare.  

There's a nucleus of ageing players, some of whom are retiring, while others fail to get game-time at their clubs.  There's a small handful of players in their prime, some of whom withdraw from squads on a regular basis.  And there is a larger pool of unproven young players, many of whom are now actively being courted by the Republic of Ireland.

Good luck Jim, or whoever else the IFA decides to put faith in.  You're going to need it.