Thursday, 30 September 2010


The Anglo-Irish Bank bailout has increased to 34.3 billion euros.  Irish tax revenues in 2009 were only 33 billion euros.

Good Samaritan

Thanks to the kind individual who retrieved and returned my blackberry that I'd managed to drop in the middle of the street beside City Hall this afternoon.

Self Improvement

I've decided it's time I try and do something about my level of swearing. Hence anyone conversing with me should expect more ponderous moments as I try to fill the gaps.  Any suggestions of entertaining subsitute words are welcome.

The wonderful word of Ulster sport

Hat Tip O.

Same old Clinton?

Take a close look at the last picture in this series.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Johnny Cash

Been in one of my black moods for a few days - probably a side effect of thinking about the UUP.  So time for some Cash.  Hurt if incredible would be too predictable. Instead I offer my second favourite track from that album.

Quote of the day

Telephone conversation late yesterday evening with a relative:

"I've been to hear a motivational speaker.  I now know how to make love to chocolate and ride the laughter bicycle."

Sometimes huh is the only logical response.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Critical Reaction

You may have noticed a lack of blogging on my part over the past few days.  This is because I was kindly asked by the Critical Reaction website to produce a piece on the UUP following its election of Tom Elliott as leader.  My brief was to produce something comparable to the big threads I used to do occasionally under the Fair Deal nom de guerre on slugger so it is a somewhat lengthy essay. 

The site editor has also done some nice polishing of the text which makes it a better read.

Happy Ulster Day

Today is the 98th anniversary of the first Ulster day, 28th September 1912.  When the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant was signed by 237,368 men and its sister Declaration signed by 234,046 women.

The Covenant stated:

"BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we, whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V., humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this our time of threatened calamity, to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. And in the event of such a Parliament being forced upon us, we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognize its authority. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names.  And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant."

The Declaration stated:

"We, whose names are underwritten, women of Ulster, and loyal subjects of our gracious King, being firmly persuaded that Home Rule would be disastrous to our Country, desire to associate ourselves with the men of Ulster in their uncompromising opposition to the Home Rule Bill now before Parliament, whereby it is proposed to drive Ulster out of her cherished place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom, and to place her under the domination and control of a Parliament in Ireland.  Praying that from this calamity God will save Ireland, we here to subscribe our names."

Later a sister document the British Covenant would attract some two million signatories on the mainland before the start of the Great War.  The Irish News somewhat unwisely dismissed the entire thing as a "farce", "circus" and "highly ludicrous".

Monday, 27 September 2010

Sense or Popcorn?

Michael McGimpsey is up today to give his apology to the Assembly for giving an inaccurate answer about the Donagh case.  Will he do the sensible thing and offer a simple and straightforward apology for the mistake (and if he is very sensible the condescensing attitude he adopted)  or will he continue with his confrontational style?  UPDATE He went wth option 3 - he postponed.

In the army now

I still have the cassette single (remember them) of the original (somewhere) but here is the new one released in aid of Help for Heroes. You can buy it here.

Sunday, 26 September 2010


I was doing my usual Sunday trawl of websites and newspapers to see if there was anything I felt like writing about. However, the election of Ed Milliband as the new Labour leader is the predominant story.  I'll have to admit that I have not kept up with this race or the internal and external politics of it (I saw Crick's piece on his father and suffered about 15 minutes of the dire Miliband of Brothers.  That's pretty much it.).  As I have explained before the dynamics of a coalition are something I am interested in following so it has been the national story I try to keep track of.  So I therefore simply declare my ignorance of what this does and doesn't mean for the Labour Party and our national politics.  Although I do find this detail interesting.

PS On Miliband of Brothers I get the derivative thinking 'people get their news and politics from comedy these days blah blah' with the result a programme that tries to be documentary meets the Daily Show.   However, the fusion didn't work and unlike the Daily Show, it forgot the funny.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Quote of the day

"Although it's a much much lower threat than used to be from the Provisional IRA say, in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, it's clear that there is an episodic and occasionally lethal threat from those who are still unreconciled to the current arrangement.  Over the last five years they have killed nine people, which is an awful thing but nothing like enough to derail the current option of political progress through peace rather than violence."

Richard English of QUB on the nature and scale of the dissident threat.

False idol?

Mike Nesbitt has made his contribution to the Union 2021 series. It has a number of odd elements. For example he begins by arguing:

"As a broadcast journalist, interviewing Ian Paisley and the other unionist leaders of the 1980s, I felt they were missing a trick. Had I been Paisley or Jim Molyneaux, I would have driven down to the Office of An Taoiseach, and offered Charlie Haughey a United Ireland there and then, on the simple condition the Republic match NI’s budgets for Health, Schools, Roads, and the rest. Would Haughey not have insisted on offering an armed Garda escort back to the border with a lifetime ban on a return visit? The Republican could not afford us then, any more than they can today."

The idea would have been pointless stunt politics that shows an inclination to headlines not narrative. Its underlying basis has two worrying elements. It presents Unionism as based on the rejection of something, Irish unity, rather than a belief in the Union and presents support for the Union as an accountant's calculation. (UPDATE Bobballs on Open Unionism defends the comment here. He argues it is a self-evident truth - the republic can't afford us - but that doesn't give any means to highlight it merit nor deal with its reductionism of Unionism to negativism and money.  Reductionism is something I have previously criticised in other contributions.).  A second oddity is a comment about churches:

"In 2010, our government endorses segregated housing, segregated education, segregated leisure spaces, and denominationally discrete churches."

Highlighting the issue of segregation is perfectly valid but why are churches on the list? How exactly does a government endorse discrete churches? What is being implied government should do about churches?

The third is a curiosity rather than an oddity. He continues the UUP obsession with the First Minister post calling for a referendum on the issue. Why this fixation? If the UUP is convinced it is electorally harmful then drawing attention to it could add to the harm rather than mitigating against it. If they try and fail to change it they look ineffectual. Neither do they seem to have thought more than one step ahead on the issue.  If they did somehow change it they'd probably face a backlash about not being able to do the same on NI's budget reinforcing a perception of being divorced from the day-to-day issues. Perhaps they hope a blame game will harm the DUP but can that be guaranteed? If they did succeed in convincing a voter of the DUP being at fault that doesn't necessarily lead to a desire to punish but the voter can opt to deal with the circumstances as they are now.

Nesbitt's, like many contributions to the Union 2021 series, has become too attracted to the idol of economics. His argument is barefaced in its economic determinism:

"In 2010, the Union remains an economic imperative, and that is not going to change by 2021."

Why is the economic case so heavily relied upon in a visioning exercise? The economy is particularly prevalent in peoples' minds right now. It is a case with lots of evidence to support it. It is also the more socially acceptable argument - why get involved in a debate around something trickier like identity at the dinner table when you can just invoke wallet?

However, the economics of the Union are nothing new. It has been a central plank of its case since the beginning. When the Ulster Liberals put their case to Gladstone against Home Rule he recognised its validity. Yet throughout that time it has failed to be an effective persuader for the Union among Irish nationalists. It may from polls look like it'll work in a referendum booth but it has not worked at election time.

Has it changed into Unionism's silver bullet now? The argument would be the increased wealth of the nationalist community has made them more appreciative of the economic case. However, throughout this growth in wealth the nationalist vote rose and ultimately plumped for the more virulent form. Therefore the immediate evidence offers little support. There is also the broader issue of emotion in someone's political choice and how the means to effect that choice is through narrative (even how belief is reinforced by error). How many good stories have been written with statistics?

So throughout the Union 2021 series have we made a false idol of economics?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Health woes

Michael McGimpsey has had to apologise for inaccurate comments he made to the Assembly concerning the Donagh child abuse case.  On Tuesday in his normal patronising tone he'd explained to Arlene Foster, DETI Minister, that:

"Because this individual has “Doctor” in front of his name, it is assumed that he works for the Trust and, therefore, spoke on behalf of the Trust, and everyone is attacking the social worker and the Trust. However, that is not the situation..."

Yet yesterday he admitted this was inaccurate explaining he had mixed up two doctors partially because of the demands of the health post.  However, this may not be the only issue that arises from Tuesday (pdf file).  In an adjournment debate of the issue of Lagan Valley hospital

"I add my appreciation of the staff of the hospital and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, who are committed to providing high quality health and social care to people in their community."

He emphasised his approach to health care as:

"I continually say that quality plus safety equals outcome plus efficiency. Quality and safety are always paramount in our minds."

During ministerial questions he went on to warn that because of budget issues:

"...there will no longer be a British health service in Northern Ireland"

However, a front page story in the Newtownards Chronicle (not online) puts his quality and standard of service comments into focus. 

It revealed that the South Eastern Trust rents property from a Company of which the Health Minister is a Director (NB This directorship is declared on the register of interests).  It also detailed two problems with one of the rented buildings (39 Regent Street) - heating and only partial disability access.  A staff member commented that:

"The building is not well-maintained. We don't feel very well treated."

The UUP declined to comment on the story.  His brother and fellow Director, Christopher McGimpsey, said they had only been informed of the heating issues a week ago and the Trust knew about the access issues when they signed the lease.  He said his brother was not involved in the day to day running of the Company.  The paper highlighted how the most recent accounts lodged with the Companies House were signed by the Health minister.

Quote of the day

"In 1998, the Belfast Agreement envisaged a specific set of circumstances under which Northern Ireland might have a Sinn Fein first minister, and the people said “yes” to that in the referendum."

Mike Nesbitt


The Ultonia wagon has been placed in the hands of a garage this morning to investigate odd noises coming from the rear brakes.  This may lead to higher than normal levels of grumpiness as the day progresses. UPDATE Grumble mumble kick bin moneyboxes on wheels etc etc

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Who do you think you are?

So arrogant worth highlighting twice.

Law and Order

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has produced an interesting report (pdf file) on Anti-Social Behaviour.  It sets out the situation well that in terms of law and order the focus has been upon law while the harm of disorder de-prioritised.

"The truth is that despite its high public profile in recent years, ASB does not have the same status as ‘crime’ for the police. There are consequences to this.

Very importantly, the public draw no meaningful distinction between crime and ASB.  They exist on the same spectrum of bad or very bad behaviour. The public find it immaterial that the most insidious individual incidents of ‘pestering’, ‘taunting’ or ‘targeting’ individuals – including the most vulnerable - may not qualify technically as “crimes” with a prospect of prosecution. They dislike ASB, worry about reporting it,and are intimidated in significant numbers when they do.

However, for some people in policing and some outside, dealing with issues that qualify as crime is ‘real police work’. After all, for almost 20 years the police record of accomplishment and failure has been expressed, increasingly strongly, in terms of crime statistics. Meanwhile, the “non-qualifying” ASB issue, and its variants, that signal lack of control on our streets, have grown and evolved in intensity and harm."

Locally, there is no reason to believe that the PSNI's ability to deal with the issue is any better than their English and Welsh equivalents.  This inability has a broader ramification for Northern Ireland as it is a means of dissidents inveigling themselves into communities.

Breakdown in Law and Order

Musical Interlude

I'm having a Nina day.

Grey Man

Tom Elliott has defeated Basil McCrea by a significant margin.  While Basil may have won the media war but it is obvious he lost the internal war with Bobballs perhaps providing the explanation of why.  Where will he take the party is unclear with his interviews. This morning he talked in broad generalities and a few co-opted Basil cliches. He certainly didn't define during the campaign where he would take the UUP.

This failure to define will be jumped upon by the media with the Belfast Telegraph already dubbing him the grey man.  The Ulster Unionist Party need to be wary of the tale of Iain Duncan Smith's time as Tory leader.  The media didn't get the candidate they had wanted Ken Clarke and they set about proving to the Tories the error of their decision.    

However, signs of unity aren't great with East Belfast Parliamentary Candidate Trevor Ringland threatening to quit the party if Tom Elliott does not reverse his position on GAA matches (he even invoked what would God do argument) and he and Ken Maginnis are trading vicious barbs as I type on the Nolan show.

Quote of the day

"He shows all the forward thinking of a rear view mirror."

Catholic caller to the Nolan show on Tom Elliott.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Quote of the day

"Theres going to be more cuts than a cut price sale at a scissor factory."

From the other sammy wilson.

The CBI's ideas

Following the lead of NICVA, the CBI has produced its ideas of how the Northern Ireland Executive can deal with the public expenditure cuts.  Press release here.  Executive summary here.  Full report here.  (All pdf files).  Now all we need is the Unions to engage with the debate.

The Abstention Option

Gareth Gordon does a scene setter of tonight's battle for the UUP leadership tonight (assuming there is an actual battle and the last minute stitch up fails).  Yet the competition does not seem to have enthused the Ulster Unionist blogosphere.  Chekov keeps the faith with Basil despite his doubts.  Alex Kane is verging on the inconsolable.  However, the most interesting is the analysis of Bobballs over on Open Unionism.  This would seem to indicate that whatever the media view that internally the Basil campaign has been mis-firing.  While Bobballs does not say so it would seem to offer some support for the cult theory of Cicero's Voice:

"Basil too has misunderstood the nature of the job he’s applying for. He has confused ‘self-indulgence’ for ‘strength of character’. Being wilful is not the same as being strong willed. Where Basil needed a leadership campaign he instead brought us a campaign of incredible petulance."

Turning around the good ship UUP will take more than a new leader but an effective team around them, it doesn't look good if as Bobball believes:

"I am deeply concerned by the UUP candidates, and by the quality of the people surrounding them.  Both campaigns have been guileless, tending towards the kamikaze."

Bobballs believes the speeches will be a determining factor.  It was often claimed Trimble's speech swung it for him on the night of his election but this is a significant disservice to the effective campaign that Trimble had run before the meeting.  Regardless it does beg the question, how can two flawed choices for leader with dubious teams around them pull off Gordon's mission impossible?

Finishing Michael's sentence?

Yesterday in the Assembly Michael McGimpsey stated:

"However, the Executive and the House have to make certain decisions, because a number of other Departments, it could be argued, on a head-to-head basis with the rest of the UK are overfunded."

Yet he did not expand upon which departments were over-funded.  Leaving aside the proviso that 'over-funded' in comparison with the UK can be for good local reasons,  Table 9.16 (pdf file) gives some insight into the different categories of expenditure and comparison with elsewhere in the UK (100 is the UK baseline):

1. Housing and community amenities 261
2. General Public services 178
3. Recreation, culture and religion 163
4. Economic affairs 145
5. Public order and safety 142
6. Social Protection 119
7. Education 108
8. Health 98
9. Environment Protection 76
10. Defence 2

Penny about to drop? UPDATED

Ian Parlsey's latest blog expresses his frustration with the strategy of the Conservative party since the Westminster election.  He argues there has been a missed opportunity:

"The opportunity existed over the summer to capitalise on the Ulster Unionists’ confused relationship with the DUP (latest example is the discussions on “Unionist Unity” in next year’s Belfast City Council elections revealed in today’s Newsletter), attract members, and start an Assembly Election campaign."

Yet the edict from Central office was:

"Instead, the party leadership opted to close the office, remove any staff, and tell local members not to campaign."

He is concerned by what has been developing in Scotland:

"The Scotsman newspaper, two weeks ago, claimed leader of the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament, Annabel Goldie, had not spoken to David Cameron since May; her Liberal Democrat opposite number Tavish Scott went so far as to suggest that Cameron had not given Scotland a thought (‘He has a [LibDem] Scottish Secretary and that’s it’). I find both of these statements hard to believe, but nevertheless they seemed to go unchallenged. "

This leads him to the obvious question:

"...whether the Conservatives will ever again be able to form, on their own, a legitimate government for the whole of the UK."

Perhaps the time is approaching when the penny will drop that the talk from Cameron and the Tories was just that.  They never meant it and their actions post-election are the proof of that.

UPDATED:  Ian's response to this blogpost here (plus tidied up a few typos my apologies for my consistent failure to use the spell-checker before I hit send).

Ill today

As the title says. UPDATE Medicine has kicked in and back at work.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Speaking human

I am ploughing my way through the new 2020 Public Services Trust report on the future of unsurprisingly, public services.  As I do so I am developing that glazed look on my face that I used to see in so many meetings when I worked in the community and voluntary sector.  This look develops when in response to a basic question nebulous and usually continual changing jargon is used (usually to hide the fact no real action will occur but the promise of yet more process). 

For example when I got involved with community groups it was community work, then it became community development, empowerment took off for a while with capacity building following soon after.  Throughout this time what you did changed very little but with each funding round it got renamed.  Mastery of the jargon was almost part of the job description especially when it came to funding applications.  I've been accused of it myself (when I manage to needle Chekov accusations of social science speak soon appear).  One individual I know has mastered it so well that he has nearly lost all ability to speak human at all and wonder if his spouse can communicate with him anymore.

Our public services will change but if we are to get greater involvement from the public then we need to present that change in terms easily to grasp - universal and free at the point of delivery, five giants etc rather than 'social producivity'.  We need to speak human not management speak.

UPDATE Sluggerotoole has a thread on a similar theme.

Anger management - Updated

Time for a brief stroll in the grounds of Stormont before I rip this computer apart and throw it through a window no doubt subject to some protective regulation out of architectural interest.  The broadband system must have been installed when the place was built and as usual has ground to a near halt.

UPDATE:  The 10 minute stroll worked a bit but watching Michael McGimpsey rub everyone else in the Assembly up the wrong way provided enough entertainment value.  I have also decided that no more caffeine today would be a sensible idea.

Any Kindlers out there?

My love of books and the space available in my office have reached a sufficient point that other options should be investigated (plus there are afew boxes of more still in my parents house I have to reclaim at some stage).  Selling them seems too much like hard work. Giving the books I possess away is unacceptable (should be a birching offence) and yes I know I'll never read that book about Japanese war atrocities and that one about Chechnya again but it is the eleventh commandment that you do not give books away. 

Therefore my mind and general nerdery is edging me towards the technological solution aka the new Kindle.  This would solve the space issue as well as probably enable me to increase my book purchasing without the missus noticing so easily.  There are also a couple of present opportunities coming up so I could ask for it as my preferred gift.  However, I'm interested in the experience of fellow bookophiles who have made the transition from paper to electronic.  Good idea or bad idea? Pros and cons?  Or is a relapse to the real deal likely with another piece of gadgetry and charges to add to the pile?

Denis Avey

An incredible story of an ordinary man from Derby.


The NIHRC has criticised police in Londonderry for releasing photographs of children suspected of being involved in crime.  They cite a number of concerns about privacy, right to a fair trial etc.  However, for me there is an inherent contradiction in how the human rights sector wishes childrens rights to evolve.  In cases were a child has been irresponsible they seek to protect children from the consequences.  However, in other decision-making they wish children to be empowered to make their own choices on key elements of their life.

Monday, 20 September 2010


Stumbling and Mumbling takes QI to task - the hemlines theory of the economy as discussed in the most recent show is not true.

Quote of the day

"I suspect that (David Cameron) doesn't even think about Scotland. It is not even remotely on his radar screen. He has a Scottish Secretary, and that's that."
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott.

The British Library notices

Bloggin fae the burn highlights how three web-based Ulster-Scots projects have been added to the developing digital archive of the British Library.  Perhaps the Ulster Museum could take the hint and manage to do likewise in its actual displays. The Ulster Museum does provide an Ulster-Scots language leaflet but nothing in the displays or their interpretation would give the visitor any further understanding whatsoever.

Being taken seriously

Guido rightly highlights how it was the Liberal Democrats were the first to take the lead on the public cuts debate and unlike the Tories kept closest to such a message during the campaign.  So it is ironic that discontent about cuts is supposed to be troubling the Lib Dem grassroots but not surprising.  First, the transition from theory to fact always causes such wobbles.  Second, it is easy to say something in the expectation you will not have to implement it yourself as one Lib Dem voter put it:

"I didn't vote Liberal Democrat so they would end up in government."

Third, it was a failure by some to understand that the Orange Bookers believed what they were writing and not simply doing so to eke a few more seats off the Tories.  Clegg's declaration that they have no future as a party of the left is a further example of this thinking. Fourth and finally, it is the price of governance and being taken seriously.

Crowding Out

George Osborne offers an alternative suggestion to the perceived wisdom about the role of the debates in the election.  He contends that rather than elevate the Liberal Democrats it shielded the Conservatives from Labour attacks:

"‘We were quite happy with the coverage, thank you very much. Without the coverage of the debates and the process we’d have had days of Labour exploiting the voters’ fears of us.’ George Osborne thought the media interest on process protected his party ‘from weeks of heavy Labour pounding over issues like tax credits’. Labour strategists, aware of this, were frustrated. Osborne had been stung by the success of Labour tactics in the 2001 and 2005 elections when they had exploited voters’ fears of Conservative ‘cuts’."

Essentially, the debates filled the news programmes with days of process rather than policy meat.  Considering the rather bare policy cupboard the Conservatives had it is doubtful whether an aversion to the effect of negative campaigning was the sole motivation.  Lord Ashcroft agrees with Osborne's rating of  the Labour attack machine having been the subject of its attention during the campaign:

"It did prove to me that the Labour Party attack team was much more effective than the Conservative Party defence team."

However, he also provides the deeper reason why such avoidance was necessary in the first place:

"We did not make as much progress as we should have done in transforming the party's brand, and in reassuring former Labour voters that we had changed and were on their side. This in turn gave Labour's scare campaigns about Conservative plans more resonance than they would otherwise have had, and meant that, for many, voting Conservative was a much harder decision than it might have been."

Hate Crimes

There has been another incident in Rasharkin with it likely being the latest in the long list of sectarian attacks in the village.  It has managed to grab the media's attention more than the few paragraph norm because the victim is the mother of NI and Premiership footballer Chris Baird.  Perhaps it is time to ask again, car crime is taken sufficiently seriously that a designated unit was created to tackle it.  This approach has also enjoyed success

"the team had helped reduce vehicle-related crime by 75% in the past eight years."

Yet, despite the persistence of sectarian attacks, the same approach of prioritising and focusing resources upon a problem is not applied to hate crimes?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Missing an open goal

I'm in election planning/development mode at the moment so starting to read my old books around various campaigns and approaches. (I must admit the more I re-read about Rove the more over-stated I think his reputation is).  To add to my reading, Lord Ashcroft's Minority Report, offering his assessment of the Conservative Party's election campaign will be published tomorrow.  Its main criticisms of the Conservative campaign is featured in the Sunday Telegraph and summarised at Conservativehome. He sums up the situation succinctly:

"The Conservative Party faced a shambolic government, an unpopular Prime Minister, a recession, a huge budget deficit and an overwhelming national desire for change. A year before the election the Conservatives were 20 points ahead in the polls, yet they failed to win an overall majority. Surely this had been an open goal."

The list of failures are pretty accurate and some have been mentioned before but that should not lead people to simply ignore it.  He does point out the result means work on the Tory brand still needs work. He states the goal as:

"It is only in government that the Conservative Party can complete the rehabilitation of its brand – that it can show doubtful voters that it really is on the side of ordinary people, that it is competent to run the economy, and that it can be trusted with public services like the NHS."

The first and last will be extremely difficult in the early years of the government and difficult to overcome in the final years.  Ashcroft now intends to reduce his role in politics both on a personal and financial level.  Conservative politics will be the worse for it and not because of the money but his incisive, honest and strategic thinking on campaigning.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Troubled Mersey Waters

The Lib Dems are commencing their party conference in the city of Liverpool.  Party leader Nick Clegg is predicted an unsettled but not rebellious event.  The core of his argument to settle unease is that the success of the Coalition will be judged on its five years not the first five months;

"As people start seeing it is a plan that makes sense and will work, we will restore economic growth and confidence will grow."

The new Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs issues the standard advice of what the Lib Dems need to do to survive as a strong separate entity:

"I think what they've got to try and work out, not just this week, but over the next few years, is what is the distinct Lib Dem message within the coalition? How does it differ from the Conservative message? What is the purpose of voting Lib Dem any more? Why not just vote for Conservatives if you like the coalition?  At the moment, I think largely because the senior members of the Lib Dems are in government having to run the country, not enough thought and attention is being paid to that."

The distraction of governance itself for a party not used to such a role should not be underestimated.  All of the parties in Northern Ireland are still wrestling with it to varying degrees of success even after three years.  While south of the border the omens for the smaller coalition party being able to have a distinct message while being in coalition don't augur well both now and in the past.  The stronger base of the Lib Dems in local government could be a means of maintaining a distinct message outwith the central government but for that to work it needs to weather the electoral storm that is coming.  Also any drift to the Tories at that level will further undermine the perception of the value of the Lib Dems. 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Church and State

A Co Donegal judge ordered a man who had verbally abused a member of the irish police to:

" come back in a month's time with evidence that you did the four stations of Croagh Patrick, and say a few prayers.  You then might have a different impression of County Mayo and its people, and it will be in recognition to your fellow Irish people especially those in the line of duty."


Leading USA government scientific adviser, John Holdren, has re-iterated his call for a re-branding of global warming.  His alternative is for it to be called 'Global Climate Disruption'.  He had stated this opinion before and prior to the growth in scepticism following Climategate and other issues.  However, they may mean his suggestion now finds a more receptive audience.

Assembly 2011 and the DUP

There is a DUP double whammy in the Belfast Telegraph today with an major set piece interview with party Leader Peter Robinson and an opinion piece by Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds.  The UUP and media have been fixating on the First Minister issue for a while now and had predicted it would be the central part of the DUP campaign.  However, as usual their abilities to predict what the DUP will do seems to have failed them.  Both make the DUP position clear as regards the Assembly election.  The First Minister rejects the idea that it will be the core of the DUP camapign:

"That won't be the kernel of our campaign.  I hope our campaign will be much more positive than that."

While Nigel Dodds argues voter attitudes are shifting and the DUP will recognise this:

"...voter attitudes are shifting.  Any politician campaigning on the streets of Belfast or the lanes of Tyrone who thinks they can simply expect to (a) vote and (b) vote for them based in the flag on their rosette will be in for a surprise.  There may have been a time when votes could be expected much more than earned, but that day has 2011, my party will not be stirring up fear - we will be taking a positive message to the voters...It will offer a positive vision, the strongest team and the best plan to steer Northern Ireland through the difficult years ahead as we deal with the Con Dem Cuts"

So in 2011 it looks like they will be following the model of the 2010 Westminster campaign and not the 2009 European campaign.

The Domino Theory

I caught the tail end of Alan Davies Teenage Revolution on Channel 4 last night.  This section concentrated upon the 1984 miners strike.  He talked of attending various fundraising events as well as some criminal damage to a local Tory office before discussing the strike with Lord Tebbit of Chingford.

As a young teenager the Miners Strike was something I had sympathy for.  My father had been a trade unionist and it ultimately led to him being targeted by the management for redundancy. Living in a working class neighbourhood the fear of job loss in the 1980's was tangible (as was high unemployment) so people doing what they could to save their jobs was fully understandable.  Also northern working class culture of bands and banners was something at an basic level made identification easy - they looked like the community I came from.

There was also an interesting fourth aspect - the domino theory.  The Ulster Loyalist belief was that the 'establishment'/Tories had set out to destroy the power of two groups in the 1970's - the miners and the Unionist community in Northern Ireland.  They had failed but they would be back.  So the success and failure of the miners would have political consequences for us - 'If they lose, we're next'.  The Miners Strike ended in defeat in March 1985. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was imposed in November 1985 and like the miners, Unionists failed to defeat it.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

AG takes on the pyjama mamas

Northern Ireland's Attorney General has criticised those using human rights arguments to oppose the imposition of dress codes namely pyjamas:

"Mr Larkin said the cause of human rights in Northern Ireland was in danger of being trivialised by misuse.The campaign was evidence of a "contemporary malaise" and misunderstanding of the term, "human rights","

He also argued for changes to civil court cost arrangements to ensure the poorer have greater access to justice.  The libertarian in me leans towards letting them wear what they wish but the social capitalist would see it as a human version of broken window syndrome.  He was speaking at the NIHRC's annual conference which the Commission used to breathe new life into the dead horse of a separate Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

State of the Union

The latest state trapping the European Union has adopted is a State of the Union address by the Commission President with another being sought.  Such was the anticipation of the event that even among the europhilic parliament they attempted to bribe/fine MEPs into attendance before an outcry stopped them.  The backdrop to the speech wasn't good in terms of the wider public with the Eurobarometer showing widespread disillusionment with the European Union.  Also as someone who 'tries' to write speeches for others and with much still to learn of the art I do take an interest in such set piece events.

From Barroso's there is much to learn.  Namely how uninspiring a speech that tries to offer a little bit of everything to everyone but that ultimately amount to superficial change can be.  There will be more of the same and at increased cost.  When faced with public opposition politicians either have to change direction or challenge public opinion by making the case based on the fundamentals.  This does neither.

In theory this should be the perfect time to use our purported referedum lock to challenge the operation and direction of the European Union with some sympathy from the electorates on the continent but the lock appears still looks more myth than reality.

No Pope in Rome - He's in the UK - updated

The Pope is winging his way to the UK as I type for a state visit to the United Kingdom.  Despite the greater fascination with matters of religion here it has managed to generate a good row on the national stage.

Guido goes for the standard counter-attack that criticism is bigotry although atheists are the subject of his ire rather than evangelical Protestants.  While a German Cardinal's criticism of Heathrow has been inflated and over-shadowed his legitimate criticism of the state's attitude to religion.  Locally the Presbyterian Moderator has tied himself in knots by agreeing to attend a joint service but declining to shake the Pontiff's hand - sounds to me as if he has matters arse about face.  The Claudy bombing is also a notable omission from his criticism.  Although the choice of Chris Patten to respond and his grating condescension probably gained Norman Hamilton a little sympathy.  Meanwhile unsurprisingly the Free P's keep it traditional.

However, beyond the accusation and counter-accusation what is happening is what should happen.  Those who wish to identify and support with the visit do so and those who wish to criticise and protest do so.

UPDATE The Cranmer blog is back again with his take on the Papal visit.

Quote of the Day

" is not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what was the moral intent of the accused; but that it is also their right, and their primary and paramount duty, to judge the justice of the law."

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


I had a few hours DIYing this morning.  It only involved two trips to B&Q and was partially successful i.e. what I did hasn't fallen apart but I only got one of the two jobs done.  There was not a single swear word uttered.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Basil's Near Defection

Jeff Peel has confirmed the persistent rumour that Basil McCrea had considered defecting to the Tories:

"The fact is that McCrea once considered a partnership with the  Conservatives to be an absolute necessity for the UUP. McCrea made clear to me – and Owen Paterson, Conservative spokesman on Northern Ireland at the time – that he may even defect to the Conservatives if the UUP was not prepared to do the deal."

Chekov has expressed his concern about a lack of substance in the UUP leadership debate.  It looks like there is even less substance to Basil.  McCrea denies Peel's recollections so perhaps our SoS could provide some clarity.

The Billy Wright Inquiry

In all inquiries into the past I have argued previously what Unionism's approach should be to if they reach negative conclusions about the state.  My first thoughts on the conclusions of the Billy Wright Inquiry are (full report can be downloaded here):

  • Goalposts - The BWI definition shifted the collusion goalposts.  It adopted a more restrictive definition which helped contribute to a no collusion conclusion.  Its alternative terminology is 'directly facilitated' which does not sound that different from collusion by omission.

  • Top Lawyer - When criticism has been made of the report Owen Paterson defended the report on the basis a top lawyer oversaw the process. So was Lord Widgery.

  • Missing Evidence - Through death, illness and missing and deliberately destroyed files (under the instructions of a person who is criticised in the report) key parts of the story have been lost. This is an example of a problem common to any such inquiry process.  The reluctance of the prison and security services to provide the inquiry with information is further grounds for concern. 

Money and politics

Conor Murphy's calls for Northern Ireland Water to be re-nationalised will probably do more to feed the NIW story than quell it.  The conspiracy theory from the beginning was that this was a contrived hit job to facilitate the minister's preference of bringing it back within the public sector.  His actions will be viewed as confirmation that the theory has legs and encourage more digging.  However, the evidence that has entered the public domain remains circumstantial.  Also Murphy has two significant barriers to implement this proposal that are very good at killing off any idea - money and politics.

You've come a long way

While getting ready for work my youngest's mandarin language CD was playing and the sixth story had a musical background with a very familiar and nice tune to be awakened by - the Londonderry Air.

Monday, 13 September 2010


Feeling the heat about the Claudy bombing and bad memory?  On the back foot by trying to continue with the fantasy economics that led to a electoral rejection in the Republic?   Simple use the shrine word about the Maze and that'll keep Nolan et al distracted for a few days.


Among the Coalition parties a debate about pacts is developing, encouraged by Nick Boles new book.  The Lib Dems are distinctly cool on the idea (a probably sign of the level of grassroots discomfort with the Coalition deal) while Tories are more open.  The opponents to the idea should perhaps be digging out Cameron's rejection of apcts on principle that he made here.

My instincts are that Tim Montgomerie has the advice right for the government.  It has a significant task and getting on with it should be the focus and the prospects of re-election left to the success or otherwise of that package of reforms.  This would fit with the Swedish experience.  Although as the Independent points out it could involve a reversal of economic fortunes in the short-term:

"the public will only support this idea if the results are both prompt and beneficial. If the savage wielding of the surgeon's knife delivers a rapid recovery to the nation's finances, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne will have pulled off their bold gamble. But if deep cuts have the same results in Britain that they appear to have had in Ireland, pushing the country deeper into recession, support for Mr Osborne's policies will collapse. "

As to Boles idea of concluding a pact sooner rather than later this is probably a recipe for greater instability rather than less.  It would bring Lib Dem internal tensions to a head very quickly.  The Coalition deal and the political difficulties it will face makes a schism in the Lib Dems a distinct possibility.  This is the political plan B that the Coalition should be considering.

Having a bowling for soup day

Bowling For Soup - High School Never Ends
Uploaded by AGRecords. - See the latest featured music videos.


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Laughing in Paterson's face

Mark Devenport highlights two problems with Owen Paterson's super whizzo idea that he raised at the Northern Ireland Select Committee.  First he contradicted the Deputy Speaker of the House, David Heath MP, who had denied in a written answer that there were any plans to change the oath:

"The Government have no plans to change these requirements."

Second when asked about the idea Gerry Adams curled up in laughter, somewhat predictably considering previous comments.  Perhaps now Paterson will see the sense of simply getting on with cutting their allowances and ending these pointless games.

Feeding perception

There have been allegations that the human rights lobby has become dominated by a leftward bias and even captured by the anti-capitalist movement.  This morning I wandered down to the Lower Shankill and Lower Falls to photograph two new recent murals developed by Amnesty and the local communities.

The Lower Shankill mural - larger image here. (I also thought the choice of dollar signs on the money coming out of the machinery exhaust a bit odd.  The name written on the mural is of a man recently murdered in the area by the UVF).

The Lower Falls mural - larger images here, here, here and here.

That's another two tickets sold

The Black Watch play as part of the Queens Festival had interested me but I hadn't got round to getting the tickets.  However, this morning I was persuaded to rectify that situation and I'll be encouraging others to go along too.  The ability to wind up English literarure professors and 'critics' is always a good start and the fact it is to do with Ulster makes it doubly so.

Base, how low can you go?

25-5 is the prediction of one Lib Dem Cabinet minister of the respective poll positions of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats this time next year with the theory that fear will hold the Coalition together.  It may hold the Westminster parties together but anything like such a performance in the local government elections will have a devastating impact upon the Liberal Democrats in particular with an internal war or loss of activists or both highly likely.  The Rawnsley piece argues that the 1920's are the historical precedent:

"There has not been a spending squeeze like it, remarks this minister with a sense of history, since "the Geddes Axe". Then, too, Britain was ruled by a Tory-Liberal coalition. Then, too, its policy was driven by alarm about the national finances, in that case the debt run up during the First World War. Sir Eric Geddes, a businessman, was put in charge of a committee to recommend cuts. By the time his blade had stopped swinging, the defence budget had been slashed by more than 40% and the number of civil servants had been reduced by over a third."

In terms of media and message the cuts programme is essentially a crisis period with the standard advice to have a strong media presence with a consistent message. Yet it seems to ensure the latter the Coalition is foregoing the former.  Neither will it be helped if the sense that Osborne is enjoying is role takes hold.

On a local level those who think we can keep simply get immunity from what is coming down the line should heed these warnings:

"The cabinet minister leant back into his chair and took a fortifying swig of his drink. Then, in a voice that blended bravado with fatalism, he said: "It's going to be absolutely horrendous. We're doomed to be extremely unpopular. Doooomed."  He was anticipating the public reaction to the ferocity of the spending squeeze that George Osborne will unveil in just five weeks' time. Put aside everything else that has occurred in the life of the coalition to date. None of it amounts to anything more than foreplay compared with the comprehensive spending review, the results of which are scheduled to be announced on 20 October."

Saturday, 11 September 2010

"...a new shining city on the hill"

DETI Minister Arlene Foster makes her contribution to the Union 2021 series today.  Following the biblical and reaganite theme of a shining city on the hill, she argues that:

"Our task for 2021 and beyond is to build a new shining city on the hill. A city built on the values of excellence, enterprise, family, limited government and tolerance."

She argues that:

"The idea of the new city is an inclusive one. It is an idea that a credible and sustainable broad church could be built around. It can create space for Unionism to adopt new approaches. The human and financial resources of Unionism can be focused on delivering a positive vision for Unionism and Northern Ireland rather than back-biting and sniping."

Political Self-harm

Earlier in the week I was having some fun at the expense of Sinn Fein and NIPSA on the issue of cuts.  However, their respective positions are not so much funny rather they are harmful in a number of respects.

Sinn Fein's primary argument is that we don't know the cuts that Northern Ireland will be subject to and until we are we should fight the case for special status.  This is a half-truth. We do not know the exact figures. However, we do know they will come, they will be significant and a fair idea of what range they are within

Their proposed approach of trying to protect the entire Northern Ireland block grant as a special case is a weak one.  The more protection you seek the more money you are seeking at the worst possible time.  Hence if you attempt the special case argument it is better to be limited and focused but with a Treasury seeking not to set a precedent this is a hard sell. 

Also the Con Dem Coalition has a partial answer to that.  Northern Ireland is getting special treatment. A paper on special measures to help boost the Northern Ireland economy is to be produced. Granted it's a thin answer and when it is produced will probably be even thinner but it still provides them with an answer now.  Perhaps the political focus should shift to this to try and make it something genuinely meaningful?

From a UK wide perspective Northern Ireland's budget is not far off loose change.  The net cost of NI would barely cover 25% of our loan payments let alone reduce the deficit and the government spends more on IT that it does on us.   Add a Prime Minister with a generous approach to the issue of Northern Ireland those making the case had a receptive audience e.g. the extra £1billion given when devolution returned.  A £150 billion deficit means the concept of loose change no longer exists and the primary concern of a new Prime Minister is having to deal with it.  UK politics has moved on. 

There is also the practical. The more thorough that you are in analysing your budgets the more strategic you can be about cuts. The longer you wait the more likely bad decisions will result.  The longer we delay discussions the longer we delay talking about asset sales and when the returns from those could be received.  Also it is a mistake to present the two as necessarily choices you can be preparing for the cuts while fighting for exemption.

As regards NIPSA it seems to prefer irrelevancy.  Nearly every argument it produces has nothing to do with the Stormont Assembly.  Its revenue proposals are all within the purview of the national parliament.  Furthermore,  it is NIPSA's membership that could provide many of the answers to effective savings.  Those within it are well placed to identify the waste - one relative said he knew enough off the top of his head to save the equivalent of two salaries with no harm to service in the section within which he works.  The more that is found and the sooner it is found the better with more jobs and front line services the result. 

Also NIPSA should have the sense to realise the power of middle and senior civil service management in budgeting proposals that go to ministers.  It is easier for them to try to protect themselves from the cuts and pass them down the line.  NIPSA, the voice of the lower grades, should be working with its members to prevent such a scenario from developing.  They could provide ministers with alternatives that achieve the cuts but in less harmful form. 

There are also very tough conversation to be had with civil servants namely pay freezes.  The nature of civil service pay agreements means much of this will be driven from the national government unless NIPSA is prepared to step outside national pay agreements.  As a policy tool it has its advantages.  It reduces the budgetary pressures.  It reduces jobs cuts and the associated costs of job cuts. If their mantra of maintaining jobs is what they genuinely believe then this is the tool that will enable it the most.