Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A Dissection of Liberal Unionism

Conal McDevitt has blogged Arthur Aughey's speech to the McCluskey Summer School.  It contains a detailed dissection of 'liberal/progressive Unionism'.  He points out that an attractive idea does not mean success:

" remains rhetorically powerful if not practically convincing."

He points out that an underpinning notion of liberal Unionism is:

"There is an assumption at the heart of liberal unionism and it is the possibility that ‘middle Ulster’ can find common ground with ‘middle Ireland’ (within Northern Ireland and between North and South). That common ground can be found insofar as Unionists and Nationalists think rationally and put material interests before sectarian ones."

However, that assumption has structural problems nothing to do with the merits of Nationalism and Unionism.  He highlights that while people talk moderation they continue to think tribal.

"Those surveys tend to present Northern Ireland opinion in its Sunday best but I think this one is most revealing.  The question is: A political gain for one religious tradition in Northern Ireland usually results in a loss of ground for the other? – 53% agreed and 15% were too polite to say! However, with all allowance for positive response syndrome, it looks like about three-quarters of the Northern Ireland electorate believe this is a truism of politics."

The resultant risk is it proves:

"...unpersuasive for nationalists and missing the point for unionists."

However, the strongest criticism is liberal Unionism's ability to ascribe a system of thinking to nationalists that they don't have:

"...liberal Unionism, then, seems to misrecognise nationalist opinion (rather, idealise it according to its own requirements) it can often fail to understand the anxieties and concerns of unionists."

Its misrecognition (critique here and response here) is not necessarily restricted to nationalist opinion.  Despite the pessimistic dissection of liberal unionism's flaws and inability to achieve he places his hope on the optimism displayed in the Union 2021 series:

"...when you consider the contributions to the Newsletter’s Union 2021 series it is striking that (with a few exceptions) contemporary Unionism – in its diversity – is reasonably optimistic about its future, possibly most consistently for a generation. If this is true, then the future is not without its promise. For liberal Unionism requires optimism in order to flourish."

He is predictably harsh on the DUP:

"...having its clothing stolen by the DUP...The DUP and Sinn Fein have both made the most of that fable politically but want – and prosper – by the ‘two communities’ keeping their distance."

However, the DUP is the dominant party and with that comes certain responsibilties.  Necessity may require him to revise that opinion if he desires an sustained effort to build Unionism.  The alternative party is the UUP which has not been fit for purpose for some time with questions if it is capable of being so.

Why believe him?

Michael O'Leary has announced Ryanair are pulling out of Belfast City Airport.  The excuse given is the process over the runway extension.  This seems to have been accepted at face value with some using it as a predictable platform to start criticising the Executive.

One keen twitterer has pointed out a number of recent actual and threatened withdrawals by Ryanair from airports - example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4, example 5.  The consistent thing between these and the Belfast story is how it is always someone else's fault but Ryanair's and unrelated to a decline in passenger numbers.  All of them could be found with a quick google.

When a man tells you he is:

"An obnoxious little bollocks... a gobshite."

And according to an independent review operates an unethical business, why would anyone believe a word he says?

Woohoo and Curses

Ultonia has managed to get on the list of Total Politics Top 20 Northern Ireland blogs - woohoo.  Not half bad after six months.  It managed to get in at number 11, just outside the top 10 - curses (it's discrimination against Ultonians I tell you.)

As previously stated I am somewhat dissatisfied (my natural state) with the blog at present so now my readership has upped noticeably in the last few weeks my request for suggestions remains open.

Not a good one for the blood pressure

"When our men were wounded, helicopters were able to land within 30 minutes. Yet no helicopter was sent within three days to collect the remains of our Commanding Officer. It was an obscenity, the desecration of a national hero."

Beardwatch - Day 5

Another no shave day and the wife still hasn't said anything.


Following her resignation from the PUP Dawn Purvis has moved her constituency office.  On the plus side the new offices are on the corner of the Newtowards and Holywood Roads are in a suitably prominent spot to get noticed.  On the down side, the building's previous occupant was a memorial mason so not the best semiotics.

Darling offers an answer

Peter Hoskin highlights how Alistair Darling may have happened on an answer for Labour to blunt Con Dem Coalition attacks on Labour and the public debt.  Namely the spending policies were endorsed for a number of years by the Conservatives, a commitment that lasted until November 2008. 

Quote of the day

"WHEN I hear “consensus government”, I reach for my wallet—it means I’ll have to pay for all the crazy ideas instead of just half of them."

(H/t Andrew Bolt Blog)

Test balloon? Budget Mischief? Army politics?

Former Army officer and journalist Patrick Mercer has made another of his pronouncements this time it concerns the potential cuts to the Army.  Cuts increased by the decision to break with normal practice on paying for Trident.  Mercer declares:

"The first people to go will be the Brigade of Gurkhas, probably in their entirety. In the past, the Gurkhas' existence was guaranteed by the fact they are cheaper to run than British troops, and that there was a shortage of British troops.  Recent changes mean they are now just as expensive, and recruitment is extremely healthy at the moment. I am afraid the writing is on the wall."

Is this story a test balloon to gauge public reaction? Is this story part of the MoD Treasury fight?  Clegg and Cameron were falling over themselves to be the Gurkhas friends while in opposition.  Or is it Army politics?  Someone trying to push others up the pecking order for the chop before other potentially vulnerable units. 

Whichever one it is, the rationale offered is poor.  Arguing it's the result of the end of discriminatory treatment is far from a good starting point. The second rationale, present recruitment levels, is a potential example of a bad cut. Recruitment patterns rise and fall. It is more strategic sense to maintain a regiment that has a consistent pattern of recruitment success.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Black Parade

I failed in my duty to attend/participate in the RBI parade at the week-end and feeling suitable guilty about it.  Perhaps part of it has been expressed with my musical choice of the day being MCR, who had a radically different take on a Black parade.


I have taken advantage of the long lazy week-end not to bother shaving. Four days later it has reached decision time whether to ruin a razor blade removing it or just let it go onto a full beard.  I previously grew a half attempt at a goatee of which as far as I know there is only one photo of (thankfully in my possession.)  So dare I go the whole hog?

There is a very funny photo of my da at a similar age with full beard (for those who are his facebook friends you can check it out in his photos).  He looks somewhere between a yeti and a hippy. However, I fear if I did let it go it would just lead to allegations that I am a clone of this man (with better taste in ties of course).

I think I'll listen to this inspirational Spitting Image track while I make up my mind:

Quote of the day

"War has rules, mud wrestling has rules - politics has no rules."

Ross Perot

Special hello 2

My far eastern following has grown.  So a special konnichi wa to my two readers in Japan.

Unity Strategies

In his review of the week in politics over on Geoff makes an interesting observation about how the two main Unionist parties have managed the Unionist Unity debate:

"PS. Interesting message from the DUP in the ‘unity’ links. Looks to me like the DUP are nimbly making their ‘unity’ appear broad and pluralist, while branding the UUP’s ‘unity’ as narrow and sectarian. How will the UUP (and Tom Elliott’s campaign) respond? In my opinion, the DUP has managed to appear big and generous throughout the ‘unity’ debate. The UUP on the other hand seem to have fallen into the trap of largely selling ‘unity’ on an anti-nationalist (sectarian) platform. The DUP’s strategy is clear – but what strategy has the UUP been following?"

In the UUP's defence it isn't an easy to have a clear approach in the midst of a leadership election, although clarity of position wasn't better before it began.  The amount of focus on the FM issue by the UUP and the media is a bit curious.  If the UUP think it is a potentially harmful electoral issue for them then highlighting it repeatedly gives it more profile.  As for the media, it has given them something to talk about during silly season but it demonstrates that for all their talk of 'new' politics they'll happily focus on the 'old' politics.

Included in the list of articles is one by Alex Kane (that I'd managed to miss up until now) where he picks up the theme of neither leadership candidate getting it. However, when you see his definition of the task you can undestand why it could be overwhelming:

"to unite the party; create a very clear and separate identity for it; replace the almost 100,000 votes it has lost in the last decade; get it taken seriously again by the media and the electorate; rebuild it at constituency level (where half of a dwindling membership are members in name only); make some very tough internal decisions on discipline, finance and administration; deliver — in a matter of months — some hard proof of political and electoral recovery; and, most difficult of all perhaps, instill the sort of confidence and enthusiasm which will encourage the canvassers to return to the doorsteps again because they really do believe they can win."

The squeezed middle

Tim Montgomerie highlights an interesting piece by Mary Ann Seighart about how Labour can work its way back electorally.  It begins with the premise that:

"if anyone is going to bear the financial brunt of the new austerity under this government, it is likely to be middle-income voters."

She highlights how media misdefinition has hampered understanding of who the middle is in the UK:

"I say "middle-income" rather than "middle-class" deliberately, for there is a notorious tendency among well-paid metropolitans to assume that the middle classes are simply people like them."

She highlights how this misdefinition then results in bad suggestions:

"Median gross annual earnings in 2009 were £20,801. That is not a lot of money. These people are unlikely to say, airily: "I really don't deserve child benefit. I ought to donate it to Water Aid." Tax credits, introduced by Labour, have helped them enormously, and they dread losing that buffer against debt. They fear for their jobs and, if they are close to retirement, they know they will rely on the winter fuel allowance to be able to pay their heating bills."

The flippant manner in which introducing water charges is talked about by some is perhaps a local example of this mentality.  The desire for 'progressive' cuts intensifies the effect on people in the middle income bracket:

"The Liberal Democrats are keen to make the cuts as progressive as possible, which means targeting middle-class benefits...If Iain Duncan Smith is to find the money needed to help ease the transition from welfare to work, he can hardly raid benefits for the poor while keeping them for the middle classes. One way or another, then, it is middle-income voters who will lose out."

After a range of policy ideas (some good and some bad) this leads to the conclusion that:

"So the left-right divide at the next election is likely to be between one party arguing for a universal welfare state in which people who put money in can expect to get something out, and two parties arguing for a pared-down version that only helps those in need. In that case, Labour would be campaigning for the middle classes and the Coalition for both the poor and the rich. If you thought coalition government threw up unexpected political alignments, you ain't seen nothing yet."

Perhaps the Sun is attuned to this income group with its displeasure at the no tax cuts in this term talk. 

However, there is a potential timing issue with this theory and how much the dire talk is an exaggeration. If the Coalition goes the distance an election is 4 and a half years away if the economy has recovered by then what has been cut may not be as much of the debate as it is now.  Also its good policy right now to be a doom and gloom merchant.  It can be an attempt to establish a 'virtuous'cycle and show clear purpose to the money markets that the issue of the deficit is taken seriously.  Yet the lesson from other countries tends to be that doom and gloom doesn't prove to be as bad as expected with a strong recovery.

For example, the Treasury predictions of this year's deficit proved to be over-estimation of nearly £20 billion.  While it's too soon to make definitive statements on growth (and the American economy looking dodgy is a cause for concern) we have achieved more growth in the first six months than the official prediction for the entire year.

Hence it could very well get better sooner than people expect increasing the Coalition's options in advance of an election.  The squeeze could have been eased before people go to the ballot box in a Westminster election but to get there the Coalition has to hold together through some bad election results particularly next year.  The potential for a split in the Liberal Democrats is real although the scale of it would determine whether the government could continue or make a deal with a smaller party.

The Orange Order isn't conservative

New video evidence places a strong question mark over whether the Orange Order can be described as a conservative organisation.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


The great white hope of the Catholic Church in Ireland Fr Tim Bartlett has publicly intervened in the controversy of the Church's role in the Claudy bombing cover-up.  Why? I can only speculate that as he has tended to be the media guru of the church in the past that perhaps he was the architect of their approach on this issue and as it has run into such trouble he's had to step into the public arena himself.  Maybe it is in his role of trying to defend the organisation no matter how much of a moral morass it finds itself in.

The past approach seemed to be denial.  Bartlett's comments shifted to the tactic of transference and avoidance.  He claims that those criticising the Catholic Church are:

"...dancing on the head of pin"

Dancing around the issues seems to have been more his own Church's approach although too clumsily to have pulled it off on the head of a pin. Then the issue is pushed back towards the state based on a new found concern for the victims of the bombing and actively tells journalists to start looking elsewhere (as if it is a choice):

"Why are journalists not pursuing that for the sake of the families?"

In its defence the state has managed an apology for its actions something that continues to escape the Church.  At least he can console himself with the thought that the main Protestant churches will happily co-operate in helping exclude the Catholic Church from legitimate but hard questioning. 

However, in the longer-term it is an unwise move.  There is speculation of a papal visit to Northern Ireland sometime in the next few years and the Irish Catholic Church's  failure to apologise will most likely result in the issue re-emerging with Pope Benedict XVI asked to offer one instead.  Something that could have been dealt with quickly and simply and been a genuine boon to good relations will come back to dog something bigger.

UPDATE: Turgon offers his perspective on the issues around the Claudy bombing here.


In any government there are tensions between the centre of a state and other parts of it over what should the priorities be.  In an era of cuts this is even more likely.  The issue of Crossrail funding is causing tension between the Treasury and the London Mayor. Tim Montogomerie offers the following defence of Boris' behaviour and refusal to kow tow:

"Boris can only win if he is seen by Londoners as standing up for them, putting London and not his Tory affiliation first."

Tongue in Cheek

Mark Devenport thinks this offering has an element of tongue in cheek and a limited attempt at a 'Modest Proposal'.  I'm not so sure, perhaps a bit niggly after a poor night's sleep, the Modest Proposal was to expose prejudice but the t-i-c element here seems more a masquerade for liberal prejudices and double standards.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


Why is it when you are reading a help guide that the minute you see the words "easy and simple to do" when tinkering with computer code your heart sinks?  The task to change the background pic of this blog to personalise it.  The predictable result is stuck several hours later with the easy and simple task still undone, the little progress bar never getting past the same point no matter how many times you do it (except for that one time it told you the change had been done when it hadn't just to send you completely over the edge), the vocabulary of swear words (plus every possible combination) exhausted and making mental calculations of what would come off worse your laptop or the stud wall when you bounce one off the other repeatedly.

So you'll be looking at a fuzzy landscape for a bit longer.

UPDATE:  However, in the process of not uploading my picture it has managed to knock off my visitor analysis add-on.

Helicopters and normality

Growing up in Northern Ireland helicopters was one of the 'abnormalities' of childhood as the security forces flew about Northern Ireland.  This morning I was awakened by the police helicopter at 7.40am.  It was flying low as over my community as part of the security operation for the Black Perceptory march past the Ardoyne shops.

Since July my youngest wean (a toddler) has learned to recognise the sound of the police helicopter and if playing in the garden will search the sky for it or if in the house will  run to the window to look for it and point.  At first I thought that this wasn't 'normal' but the use of police helicopters is now common practice across the UK with them being a familiar sight and sound.  So normal or abnormal?

Friday, 27 August 2010

Tourist Warnings

Ultonia feels he must warn tourists from going to Australia because of the range of dangers they face whether at the beach or in the outback (nevermind the spiders).  He has also became aware of Sweden being a terrorism hotspot, the Australian government says so so it must be true:

"We advise you to exercise caution and monitor developments that might affect your safety in Sweden because of the risk of terrorist attack. Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks."

Which is it?

The News Letter today runs with emails between the heads of Northern Ireland Water, Laurence Mackenzie and the Consumer Council, Antionette McKeown that shows a supportive relationship between the head of the watchdog and the head of a body they are to monitor.  Too cosy or a watchdog supporting someone doing the right thing?

UPDATE Although cosiness seems to be something of a trait in the relationship with McKeown's predecessor, Eleanor Gill, trying to secure a private contract from NI Water while still in position.

Democracy costs money

The Telegraph's is trying to claim that buying tables at a Tory business dinner equates to:

"...controversial fund-raising methods employed by Labour under Tony Blair."

Leaving aside the fact that cash for honours was in a different league entirely with potential criminal activity involved, it does raise the issue of party finances.  Allastair Campbell recently remarked that the political class needs to start standing up for itself. Hardly an easy ask in the post expenses climate but in that spirit here goes.  

Everyone agrees that democratic politics costs money but no one wants to pay for it (at least not to the levels that are needed).  Like most other mass membership organisations party political membership is down.  This means two things - less membership income and less volunteers to do the work.  So a party either cuts back or employs people - the former leads to complaints and a lose of contact that is bad for voting turnout and the latter to increased costs (and to some of the previous as the number of employees hasn't matched the drop in volunteers).

The culture of dontating to political parties is not especially well-developed in the UK (and NI especially) and does not compare with the United States of America (neither are there tax breaks for donations here).  Granted organisations can sometimes update their systems and approaches but it rarely matches what is needed.

This then leads to the public option - parties are funded out of the public purse to some level.  This does happen but it is not something that tests well with the public and the idea of more certainly doesn't.  Also monies for the public's benefit e.g. constituency offices and staffing get lumped in as party political income when it isn't (it is also unfairly lumped in as a politician's personal income).

This leads parties to the interest group route whether that be trade unions, particular causes or the private sector.  With this comes the accusation that the parties are in hoc to their demands and the demand as in the Telegraph piece that such things stop.  This overlooks three checks and balances on that:
  • Freedom of information - More information on how are government works can be accessed so the likelihood of exposure if this is true has grown.
  • Free press - Cash for access, cash for honours, expenses etc were all exposed by the media.  Their is a watchdog and it does bark and bite.
  • Votes - If people view a politician or party to be in hoc to one group to their detriment then they can vote for someone else.
Essentially the tri-partite system of fundraising is a reasonable mix with the first needing more effort put in with the internet a possible means to re-engage volunteers but chopping off any of the three legs is not sensible.

The Power of Art

How powerful is art? It appears some believe it has the power to help an ailing economy.  A Dollar Redesign Project competition is ongoing with a ipad as the prize.  It aims to:

"...bring about change for everyone. We want to rebrand the US Dollar, rebuild financial confidence and revive our failing economy."

Overall the designs seem a bit like America liberal wet dreams. That aside I like this concept of vertical design on banknotes and different length of note.

Ahh the good old days...

...before life got complicated ;-)

Hat tip DG.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The pesky brain

Two articles worth having a look at about the human brain and politics.  Via slugger you get to a University of Michigan how a person of a particular political belief will be reinforced in their position even when shown the facts that reinforced it are incorrect.  Via conservativehome you get to research on neuroscience that demonstrates how party preference can lead to a reversal of position on a policy issue.  This has significant impact on how a political message is developed.

Special Hello... my reader/visitor from South Korea yesterday.

Unionist revival in Foyle?

In  a radio interview this morning Basil McCrea was declaring his interest in the affairs of the North-West and the importance of Party HQ listening to the needs of that area.  He then declared there were 19,000 Unionist voters in Foyle (13.56 secs in). 

From the recent elections this seems a very hard figure to justify with the Unionist vote being between 5700-9000 votes in elections held from 2005 to 2010.  However, from the census figures that isn't far off the Protestant population.  So was it a lack of local knowledge, a mistake or was Basil being not quite so civic? 

Palin's punch

According to Toby Harnden the media were predicting Palin's stock would take a dip as her endorsement proved of little worth:

"The other bit of conventional wisdom was that Sarah Palin endorsements did not matter or were even counter-productive and that Joe Miller, the candidate she had backed in Alaska, was a sure-fire loser against Senator Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent who inherited her father’s seat after her father appointed her to it (yep, pretty cosy) in 2002."

Each of her Senate endorsements looks likely to win even the rank outisder in Alaska and overall 20 of her 30 endorsements won (a 67% success rate).  Perhaps now Harnden will be less dismissive of her new media approach that others have begun to recognise.

Still not getting it

Tom Elliott had the formal launch of the leadership bid for the UUP yesterday.  I've read his speech and  rather than take the time to do a thorough fisking  of it I'll make these general points.  Overall the speech tried to offer the vision thing but missed. It had a number of internal contradictions which impacted upon the overall coherence of the message (example here).  It tries to re-tread some failed messages from the Westminster campaign.   Aspects of it would imply that the campaign has got a bit jittery about the Basil campaign. 

It is unfair to expect any one person to have all the answers and Basil certainly didn't offer anything more substantive but it would be right to expect more than has been offered so far.

UPDATE Nicholas Whyte offers his thoughts and Open Unionism (which has started to come alive again after a bit of a slumber) is intending to keep a focus on it all.

Unionist Competition v Unity

The FST result has been used as the whipping boy of Unionist Unity.  South Belfast is ignored.  In it two Unionist parties competed against one another in a marginal seat with a nationalist incumbent.  How did the Unionist vote perform there?

It was down and down more, significantly more than Fermanagh.  In FST the Unionist physical vote dropped by 1675 votes and 1.5 percentage points.  This was a 7.3% drop in the Unionist vote on the previous result.  In South Belfast the Unionist physical vote dropped 2375 votes and 10.1 percentage points.  This was a 14.4% drop on the previous result.  Both saw a drop but Unionist competition in the marginal held by a nationalist saw a much greater drop in every category than the seat where an agreed candidate was run.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Regressive Punch v Progressive Judy

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has expanded on its June criticism of the Emergency Budget as being regressive.  It has lauched a research document expanding its argument (pdf file).  It says that: 

"In our post-budget briefing, we cast doubt on this claim, demonstrating that many of the progressive tax rises that will be introduced over the next two years were announced by the previous Government, and that the Budget measures scheduled to come in between 2012 and 2014 are generally regressive. Moreover, the distributional analysis in the Budget documentation did not include the effects of some cuts to housing benefit, Disability Living Allowance and tax credits that are likely to affect the poorer half of the income distribution more than the richer half."

However, critics of the report say the IFS model omits a number of policy shifts that will have a positve impact.

UPDATE:  Clegg has come out swinging over the report.

UPDATE 2:  Guido argues that the Coalition shouldn't be fighting on this ground.

Abolish it

The Department of Education that is.  It is in the headlines again today on the issue of capital under-spends.  I realise this proposal will not be the most popular in Northern Ireland with the government doing it always a first preference and no it isn't driven by the present incumbent (although she's not a great advertisement to keep it going).

However, considering the range of issues surrounding education would it not be wisest to empower the parents? Instead of a department and boards making the decisions, government restricts its role to setting the curriculum, inspecting the schools and administering the vouchers.  Top-ups to the basic scheme on the basis of need, excellence and access (rural, language, disability) could potentially be included.  The rest of the decisions would be left to schools and parents.  Too much too soon?

Claudy - what next?

The relatives of the victims of the PIRA's Claudy bomb attack have made it clear they want more than the Ombudsman's report so should it go to an full inquiry?

The Case For:

1. The scope of the Ombudsman's report was limited in what it could investigate:

"...the Office’s statutory powers were limited to the investigation of alleged criminality or misconduct by police officers and not by the Government, Security Agencies or the Catholic Church."

The Ombudsman could not thoroughly investigate the PIRA, Government or the Church about Father James Chesney.

2.  The Ombudsman report was restricted to one event.  It appears highly likely Chesney had more victims than the Claudy bombing.  A police intelligence report states Chesney:

"particularly active officer of the Provisional I.R.A." implicated in "most of the bombings and murders in County Derry"

Relatives yesterday said they were informed Chesney continued in his PIRA activities (1m40secs in) after he was moved.  So there were potentially more victims before and after Claudy that were denied justice.

The Case Against:

1.  The key individuals are dead (as articulated by Owen Patterson).  It is hard to believe that three bombs were made and planted by just Chesney and Man A so possibly others involved are still alive.

2.  Particular incidents receiving higher levels of attention does create a hierarchy of victims (However, this principle has already been breached in Northern Ireland)

3.  Cost - in our chastened times this does have to be a consideration.

4. Denial - The PIRA (and in particular its members) hold much of the needed information.  The organisation continues to deny involvement.  This leaves two options either they change their story as they have done on numerous occasions before or a member breaks their silence (as occurred recently with the discovery of the remains of one of the disappeared, Charlie Armstrong).

Rumour mill - the third man

The talk of the third Unionist candidate for the UUP leadership race had run into the ground and Basil's announcement has become the focus. However, according to a text doing the rounds the third man will announce in the next week. He is described as unelected and a Belfast-based businessman involved in the property market. So it's join the dots time and some are looking in this direction. It's true the UUP certainly could do with some:

"Delivery & Leadership"

From an

"encourager, catalyst & connector"

(I tried unsuccessfully to contact him by telephone and email to confirm or deny the rumour.  He seems to be in Cork at the moment.)

UPDATE In today's News Letter he says he will not be running.  He beleieves he would have enough support to be nominated but believes his role lies within business

Claudy and the Churches

A key focus of the Claudy report has been the Catholic Church with it seriously mishandling its response to the report with more and more denial creeping in as the story goes on.  With Malachi O'Doherty providing his usual thorough analysis of the issues around its behaviour.

However, the response of the Protestant churches should not be overlooked.  No senior represntatives have visited Claudy.  Their press statements have been anondyne and dance around the conclusions of the report - PCI and CoI (Nothing from the Methodists).  If denial and buck-passing has been the media approach of the Catholic Church, avoidance seems to be the press approach of the main Protestant churches.  Too much?  The churches had no difficulty in laying into bankers for their actions a few months ago.  Now, it appears denial of justice (and a refusal to apologise) does not merit the same strong stance.

At face value they seem to be operating a 2010 adaption of Willie Whitelaw's policy.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Wrong day to ask

John O'Dowd tweeted this afternoon that:

"Well done to all Year 10s who passed their GCSE Irish, 13 &14 year olds passing a GCSE many with A & A* where is the BBC & other media now!"

They're here.

Claudy - Compare and Contrast

While the state has been willing at least to say sorry for the events after the Claudy bombing others implicated have not been so forthcoming while the PIRA persists in its denial of being responsible for the murders.  The NIO note (Note pdf file) of the 1972 meeting at which Father James Chesney's activities were discussed states the Cardinal's view of Chesney was that:

"...he was a very bad man and would see what could be done."

The Cardinals' description of the meeting talks of:

"...rather disturbing tete-a-tete at the end about C".

Yet in 2002 when an anonymous letter about Chesney appeared Catholic Church spokespeople dismissed it as:

"...the latest scurrilous attempt to ruin his reputation."

While Bishop Seamus Hegarty said:

"It is a matter of public record that Father Chesney was a priest of good standing in the Diocese of Derry."

Today Bishop Hegarty talked about his shock and shame but responded to criticsm of the Church with this non-question.

"But the real question to be asked is - how is it that the police who had a lot of intelligence and who were well informed of what was going on, how is it that they did not arrest him and question him?"

The question has been asked and answered.  The Police Ombudsman has just produced a 26 page report detailing that Chesney was not arrested because of a deal between the Catholic Church and State.  He also argued that:

"It was not for the Church to pry into what was a criminal matter. We did not have the competence to do so."

Yet according to the Cardinal's statement they did just that:

"As the Ombudsman finds in his statement today the Church was approached by the secretary of state at the instigation of senior members of the RUC.
Father Chesney
Furthermore, the Church subsequently reported back to the secretary of state the outcome of its questioning of Fr Chesney into his alleged activities. "

A scandal in need of a story

Two offer their different perspectives on where the Northern Ireland Water story is at and where it could go - Mick Fealty and David GordonAs the story has developed the Belfast Telegraph, which (I think) exclusively revealed the procurement issues, took something of a sceptical stance while the rest of the media pack has bigged up what happened after.  While Slugger O'Toole has been pushing that there was much more to the story and nudged the MSM to look again.

One fo the few advantages of being part of the political class is you get to know more of the possible ins and outs beyond what is in the public domain (often for very good legal reasons).  The behind the scenes tussle has largely been the conspiracy theory versus the cock-up theory.  To be fair to the conspiracy theorists what has been entering the public arena has done more to bolster their case than those who tried to play it down but no silver bullet yet.  However, when you put all that is floating about together it looks a like a cock-up that was used for conspiratorial ends.

Beyond the moves and dodges going on what about the average member of the public?  The scandal has a problem. To date it is a series of FoI's, emails, letters, leaks and a large cast of characters, Chris Donnelly picked this up in his thread name.  There is not presently a narrative or story to it all linking the chain of events together without it the story will not have the impact on public opinion that some would wish it to have.  Granted some may be playing it safe until they get more evidence but without it the important question of why remains unanswered.


Wendy Austen has just complained that Al Hutchinson is unavailable for interview on Talkback because he is "locked in" talks with the families of the Claudy bomb victims.  How terrible of him that he puts the victims' relatives first?

"...the macho swagger of politics..."

Andrew Baghehot in the Economist theorises why Conservatives are casting longing looks down under.  He argues that it says more about our own politics than the applicability of Australia to the United Kingdom:

"...much of the British Tory kerfuffle over Mr Abbott is not really about Australia at all. I think it is a sublimated form of grumbling from the Conservative base, provoked by what they see as the soggily centrist line taken by their leader and prime minister, David Cameron. Mr Cameron hugs huskies and says climate change is a terrible threat. Mr Abbott has called arguments in favour of emissions trading schemes to tackle climate change "absolute crap" (though he later said this was "a bit of hyperbole")."

For Claudy

On the day more of the truth about the Claudy bomb was revealed.

Hat tip Malachi O'Doherty.

Towards Northern Ireland's second century

Below is my contribution to the Union 2021 series in the News Letter.

1) What do you think Northern Ireland's Union with Great Britain will look like in 2021?

It will look like whatever Unionism puts its mind to and spends the next decade working for. It would be complacent to expect a better future to fall into Unionism’s lap regardless of how good the economics or other factors look. If Unionism is lazy it could be surprised how dissatisfactory a Northern Ireland of 2021 could look.

2) What would you like it to look like?

Rather than engage in fantasy politics with 2021 it should be approached as a chance for strategic politics. Unionism should set itself a series of targets for 2021. This would mean Unionism and Northern Ireland not crawling across the centenary line but bounding over it into its second century.

A target should be Northern Ireland taking its place on the national stage as a full and constituent part of the United Kingdom, re-integrating us into national politics. This will not be achieved through shallow deals with a consistently unreliable Conservative Party. Instead it will be achieved by making Northern Ireland a success. Through the full utilisation of devolution Ulster should seek to become a beacon within the Union. Many of our policy challenges are common throughout the UK and if you wish the national media and political class to build a meaningful relationship with you then tackling them is the means to do so. We need to be the tailor of new policy not wearing hand-me downs.

Electorally we need to grow, 50% +1 may be all that Unionism needs but it shouldn’t be satisfied with it. Unionism should aim for a vote share of 57% by 2021 and a total non-nationalist share of 65%. Unionism should seek to grow its vote among three groups:

• Protestant working class – This is the section of past Unionist voters that have seen the greatest decline in turnout, not the middle classes as often claimed.

• Minority Ethnic Communities – This is the social group that has seen the largest growth in Northern Ireland in the past decade. With many entirely new to Northern Ireland they have no allegiance to any party.

• Catholic Voters – This will be a generational task and Unionism needs to be realistic. A full ideological jump from Nationalism to Unionism in a society like ours is a significant step. Therefore, Unionism’s task is a series of steps. Someone who previously voted for a nationalist party becoming a non-voter or voting for a non-nationalist party is an advance for Unionism. After these a further step towards Unionism becomes a greater possibility. The increasing identification with Northern Ireland to 1 in 4 Catholics also means a regional emphasis would be of value to Unionism (and not a closet Ulster Nationalism)

3) Is unionist unity essential for the achievement of your vision?

If unionist unity is done properly then it would help.

4) If so, what does that mean?

It means having a proper debate about what Unionist unity could be rather than someone presenting a finished plan. The discussion so far has told you more about the recriminations within the UUP than the risks and benefits of unity. The question should be what would a broad based Unionist party fit for the 21st century look like? The answer to that will help people genuinely assess its value and if people’s concerns can be adequately addressed. A decent debate, rather than the presently stunted one, could ensure at least productive co-operation and collaboration as an outcome.

5) Could you accept a Sinn Fein first minister?

The risk of this has become over-stated with a DUP first minister the more likely result. Unionism need not face this possibility nor should it. Planning for failure is not conducive to a good vision or strategy but gets you mired in reactive counter-strategy.

Monday, 23 August 2010

New record

The attempted murder charges arising from the Ardoyne riots took something of a bizarre twist.  The individual charged is a Spanish national originally from Barcelona.  A 1000 mile trip to be offended must surely be a new record.

Union 2021ing

I have until 5pm to get it done for it to be in tomorrow's News Letter so time for some speed typing. UPDATE Deadline beat by 3 minutes.

Basil McCrea enters the race

It's official there are now two entrants for the UUP leadership race with Basil McCrea formally announcing his candidature.  The group think has been that it will be Tom Elliott but the media expectations around the UUP leadership have had their problems.  The media money was on Taylor when Trimble won it and while their pick of Empey did come through it was a close run thing with McFarland's campaign of a "grassroots rebellion" almost paying off.  However, does Basil genuinely offer anything different?

Papa don't preach...

The minister with responsibility for the Big Society, Francis Maude, has managed to be stumped by a simple question - what volunteering do you do? It comes close to a complete car wreck including claiming it is an unfair question and attacks the interviewer for dropping it on him.  It was so obvious it should have been seen coming a mile off.  (PS before anyone asks I do volunteer work with two organisations.)

The Effects - AV and cutting seats

Tim Montgomerie has a good run down on two analyses of the impact of AV and the redistribution of seats.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

PSNI keep their word

Republican conspiracy theories about the masonry attack during the Ardoyne riots that seriously injured a police officer entered the mainstream when Eamon Mallie blogged about it and persisted with it.  The PSNI was clear on the situation with ACC McCausland stating:

"The individual that dropped the block on Samantha as she was advancing made off across the roof. That individual has been identified. Take it from me he can now sit and worry wherever he is in Northern Ireland. We will be coming for him.”

It appears they have done just that.  An individual has now been charged with the attempted muder of the police officer

Stand up to keep moving forward

These seems to be the decision of the Australian electorate who like the British electorate seemed torn about which direction to go and have ended up with a hung parliament.  Independents will come into play.  The Liberals are predicted to take 73 seats squeaking Labor on 72 but both shy of the 76 seats they need to form a majority government. 

There are five potential votes from four independents and a Green MP.  Three of the independents have conservative leanings and one has green leanings.  The three conservative leaning independents represent more rural areas so a package for such areas seems the likely price.  So on paper Abbott's job looks easier than Gillard's but when one of the independents goes by the self-description of the force from the North and by his opponents as Mad Bob anything is possible.

The BBC line that it was a backlash against Gillard because she knifed Rudd is a bit curious (but based on the Queensland result, Rudd's home turf).  Under Rudd the polls predicted an electoral hammering.  If anyone deserves blame of the two its probably Rudd, his poor record gave the sitting government little to run on and he remains the primary suspect for a series of leaks that made Labor look divided. That said from what I saw Gillard did not come across as a good campaigner (very wooden) and forced a relaunch of her image during the campaign.

PS It is also worth noting that Australia operates the AV system and at 11am this morning just under a quarter of votes still hadn't been counted.  It is a slower system that FPTP and in our cost conscious times possible worth noting it therefore costs a bit more to run such elections (never mind the £80-100m it's going to cost us to hold a referendum on it).

Saturday, 21 August 2010


Last year Daithi McKay made false claims about who threw a petrol bomb at police officers.  This year he is up to the same game as regards the law. He claims the changes as a result of a hoax bomb alert made it illegal.

For his information:

"(7) A person who knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed under this section shall be guilty of an offence, but it is a defence for him to prove that the failure arose— .
(a) from circumstances beyond his control; or .
(b) from something done by direction of a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary not below the rank of inspector."

The hoax bomb was beyond the parade organisers control and the changes were done under the direction of the police.  The police also have powers under public order that enable them to react to events on the ground despite a Commission ruling.

UPDATE Slugger O'toole has picked up on the same issues (I beat them to it by about 15 minutes) and it includes Daithi McKay's responses to the above criticisms.

UPDATE 2:  Parades Commission confirms it:

"a spokesman for the parades body made clear that due to the unforeseen bomb scare, what happened on Friday night was "beyond normal circumstances". "In those situations, police have operational control, the legislation is very clear on that," he said.  "It is up to them to make judgment calls on public order grounds and on health and safety grounds."

Friday, 20 August 2010


So with the issues around the Department of Regional Development (DRD), Northern Ireland Water (NIW) and those 4 Non-Executive Directors still continuing, it appears to me that it is in need of a short-hand name.

It is an unwritten rule that it any scandal story needs -gate as an ending so what gate should it be?  Watergate would seem the most obvious but already taken.  Ulster's Watergate obviously has its appeal to me (but it wouldn't be sensible to conflate the two).  Also as the story develops it appears to be as much about DRD as it does NIW.  However, DRDgate and NIWgate don't exactly roll off the tongue.  Perhaps as it has been a PAC investigation (and attempted interference with it) we should give it the credit with PACgate.  Alternatively we could go for one of the key players.  With the ongoing investigation Priestleygate may be seen as too much of a pre-judgement but Minister Murphy is a politician and therefore a different kettle of fish so how about Murphygate?

Feel free to make your own suggestions, the usual prize of a rare copy of Cecil Walker: My Political Vision will be awarded.

FST and Unionist Unity

Opponents of Unionist Unity invoke the Fermanagh and South Tyrone result to undermine the case but does it?

There were a number of other problems that can help explain what went wrong:

  • A 'Faux' Unity - The lateness of the decision (and resulting ad hoc nature of the campaign), the localised nature of the decision, the distinct unhappiness of sections of the UUP and Tories with the decision, the refusal to follow through in South Belfast undermined how genuine the initiative looked (especially by UCUNF.)

  • The Tory link - This did not prove popular with the Unionist electorate overall so taking the whip, while a necessary compromise to get a deal, could have made the candidacy less appealing.

  • Localised rumours - Sinn Fein successfully spread a number of rumours that demotivated sections of Unionists voters e.g. Connor was pro-abortion were common led some evangelicals to stay at home.  TUV types already somewhat sceptical of Connor's more open and liberal approach had a handy excuse to stay at home or spoil their ballot and the numbers would seem to validate that.
As to the claim of galvanisation of nationalism it is only partially correct.  The nationalists who voted did shift but the nationalist vote was down (810).  So it did not provide an extra impetus for nationalists to turn out.

Also in terms of political tactics success, while preferable, does not negate the utility of doing something. If Sinn Fein were faced with a split Unionist ticket in FST then they would have had little to worry, posted in their campaign and got the seat.  With a serious challenge they had to expend political resources to do so e.g. busing down activists.  These activists could have been elsewhere targeting other seats but this initiative made them have to worry about their own backyard.  It has also potentially increased the risk to their Assembly seat in South Belfast.

It also misrepresents what unity could be. What happened in FST is not the only way of implementing it. It  need not be full-blown merger but co-operation and collaboration of different levels of intensity across Northern Ireland or at a more localised level e.g. Belfast.