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Thursday, June 22, 2006

 

Tourist Trap

The Guardian is reporting that the Rough Guide to Britain has been less than flattering about some of the key tourist attractions on offer this summer. The paper has invited its' staffers to pick a "dirty dozen" of the worst offenders.

Surprisingly, for a Guardian piece, I only disagree with 25% of what was written. I always enjoy Tate Modern, especially if approached over the Thames via the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye and Edinburgh Castle. Do readers have any views on the list?

What about a more parochial (s)hit list of dodgy tourist venues? I think Newcastle is vile, the Giants' Causeway portacabin a disgrace and the Belfast visited by the Black Taxi tours lumpen. Have I missed anything?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

 

Let's Kill All The Lawyers

Saddam Husseins' defence team has suffered another fatality.
"Khamis al-Obeidi, an Iraqi and Sunni Arab who represented Saddam and his half brother Barzan Ibrahim in their eight-month trial, is the third of the former leader's lawyers to be assassinated.

Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam's chief defence counsel, said Mr Obeidi was killed after being abducted from his home at 7am by men wearing police uniforms"
For Iraq to have any democratic and stable future there has to respect for the rule of law. This means accepting that there will be an independent bar fearless in their defence of whoever retains them.

In the UK barristers and advocates operate what is known as the Cab-Rank Rule which guarantees that even the most depraved and objectionable have the full protection of due legal process. It is fundamental that clients pick lawyers not the other way around.

When Iraqi lawyers can accept a brief without fear of murder then we will really know that a rights based democracy is possible in the Middle East. Given this, in Saddams' case the survival of the lawyers will have more long term significance than the survival of their client.

 

Dennis Faul Dies

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Monsignor Dennis Faul. When I was chair of the UYUC I was invited to a debate at his school, St Patricks' Academy in Dungannon.

The audience was predominantly nationalist and in some quarters unfriendly. Throughout the entire day Dennis Faul was an exemplary host and fascinating company. Our obvious political differences did not prevent Monsignor Faul from extending a hand of friendship in order to promote a civilised exchange of ideas.

That was a level of courtesy that stood in sharp relief to the subsequent pro/ anti debate within the UUP.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

 

Their Mother Must Be So Proud

Those well known North Belfast rascals, the Shourki brothers, have been creating more than their usual column inches today. Seemingly no one wants to play with them anymore. According to the BBC
"The UDA's ruling body, its 'inner council', issued a statement saying it had expelled a number of members in north Belfast, but did not name anyone.

However, loyalist sources said those expelled include the two brothers."
Meanwhile in the High Court Andre Shoukri has been refused bail on blackmail, intimidation and money laundering charges.

I don't for a moment complain about the spotlight being firmly put over the nefarious activities of alleged "loyalist" terrorists. What I do object to is the celebrity status given to these hoods by certain sections of the local press. The UDA godfathers in Belfast have for too long been treated as if they are some sort of Al Capones in 1920's Chicago rather than profiteers of the back of a squalid little war. Highlighting "A" list lifestyles and using endearing aliases for the gang bosses (remember Dorris Day?) only creates an aura around these people that increases their allure.

Let's take a minute and update ourselves about the Ulster Defence Association.

The tenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission at paragraph 2.27 makes interesting reading
"The picture of UDA paramilitary activity remains broadly the same in the three months from December. We believe that members of the UDA were responsible for the murder of Thomas Hollran on 18 February 2006 though we have no indication that the senior leadership of the organisation sanctioned his death. The UDA continues to act violently, undertaking both shootings and assaults. The organisation aspires to arm and equip itself. The UDA’s heavy involvement in crime, including drug dealing and blackmail, continues and in some parts of the organisation criminality can be described as endemic."
The criminality of the type displayed by the UDA is turning Northern Ireland into a colder, wetter, badly dressed Sicily. Until such time that this threat is taken seriously by the entire commentariat no serious attempt will be make to remove it. And by serious attempt I don't mean golf with Mr Mary McAleese.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

 

Queer Street

There is something irresistible about a story that combines secret bank accounts, the UUP and Ken Maginnis. Liam Clarke covers the story in todays' Sunday Times. Notwithstanding the source (my money is on a recently departed party officer), the story raises some interesting issues.

Seemingly to decision to call in the police has triggered a bout of bluster not seen since Jeffrey Donaldson was Kens' bete noire.
"In an angry letter delivered to the commission on Friday night, Ken Maginnis, the UUP treasurer, has accused the body of “conspiring to destroy” its heritage. UUP sources say that the money in the account was mainly used for the upkeep of an office in America and was introduced into party accounts in 2005."
What exactly is the heritage of the Ulster Unionist Party? The Patton Report? Prisoner releases? Or the squandering of seventy years of public good will by committing the political Hari Kari that was Trimbleism? Answers on a post card please.

The Electoral Commission has published the latest UUP accounts here. Are there any accountants who would care to comment on the almost £100,000.00 deficit the party is running? Or the fact that there is a "fundamental uncertainty" in the report given that the party is dependant upon banks and members for continued financial support?

All this negative press and unwelcome scrutiny could have been avoided if full and frank financial disclosure had been made by the UUP. That degree of openness, however, does not form part of the cherished heritage. The hubris of the ruling clique has seen to that in years past.

Friday, June 16, 2006

 

Doh!


I see that UUP MLA Robert Coulter has called for tougher sentences on those that attack public servants. So far so good.

He goes on to say:
that he had planned to introduce a new Private Members' Bill in the Stormont Assembly but the restricted working of the so-called Hain Assembly was preventing him introducing a Bill

This is where I begin despair. Even if the Assembly and Executive were up and running, even if the full range of powers it enjoyed pre suspension were restored the good reverend could NOT introduce such a Bill because criminal justice matters are currently (thankfully) reserved to parliament at Westminster.

I am not criticising Robert Coulters' good intentions, I just don't understand why he is promising to do something which he will never have the power to do. Could it be that he thinks he could be able to legislate on this matter? Has he not read the Northern Ireland Act? Did nobody in Cunningham House check the statement? Will he be calling for a tax hike next or declaring war? Is this an example of inflated self importance or ignorance?

Enough already, I see an opportunity.

I am available for remedial classes on devolution if and when suspension is lifted. Reasonable hourly rates, discount for block bookings.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

 

Well, Sir Reg?


In 1994 the UVF attacked a pub in the County Down village of Loughinisland with assault rifles. Six customers were murdered and five injured. The horror of the scene is almost unimaginable (and I have seen more than my fair share of SOCO albums). Now the families have broken their silence to demand answers as to why this mass murder has gone unpunished.

The issue of unsolved murders in Northern Ireland is deserving of a proper post of its' own.

However, the Loughinisland attrocity was carried out by an organisation now formally linked to the Ulster Unionist Party. I think the families have a right to know what Sir Reg has done to try and obtain the information they crave from his new best buddy, David Ervine MLA. A public demand from the UUP leadership for their PUP allies to assist the police investigation is the very least they could do.

I couldn't advise readers to hold their breath.

 

The Land of the Free

Thanks to Iain Dale for the heads up. Enjoy.

 

Too Protestant

I lecture Law to young people (post GCSE) as part of a course designed to prepare them for employment in the public services. There are excellent links with all the services who are keen to recruit from the students.

Yesterday was marked by an end of year celebration of the achievement of these young people. I was struck by how many were going on to either higher education or into the uniformed services - exactly the outcome that the course was designed to deliver. In my time teaching the Royal Navy had recruited, the Army had recruited, the RAF had recruited, the Fire Service had recruited. The PSNI had, to my knowledge, not.

I asked around as I was keen to discover why policing was seen as such an unattractive option. It turns out that there is indeed a problem with the PSNI - it does not want these young people because they are Protestant (or to use the language of discrimination "non Catholic"). A number of students had indeed applied to the PSNI but each one fell foul of the sectarian recruitment policy. Of those discriminated against the majority were taking temporary MacJobs in order to apply again whilst the rest were looking for employment elsewhere, lost forever to policing in Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Agreement was flawed in so many ways that opposing it was, for this blogger, a "no brainer". But yesterday actually brought home to me what the "process" had delivered in human terms- sectarian discrimination and a curtailment of opportunity. Surely no basis on which to build a stable and equitable future?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

 

Class(room) Warrior

I nearly choked on my bagel this morning listening to Good Morning Ulster this morning. At 7.21am (about 51.30mins into the stream) Frank Bunting from the Irish National (sic) Teachers' Organisation commenced an interview about the governments' proposed blackmail on the issue of academic selection for post primary education. What followed was revealing in the extreme as Bunting ignored the governments' outrageous politicking with the educational system but launched a full frontal on selection.

It was then the mask slipped.

After an attempt to misrepresent public opinion on the issue Bunting let the class hatred which lies behind the attempt to destroy grammar schools shine forth. Listen to his remarks about middle class parents, the desire for private education and (for some reason best known to himself) Sports Utility Vehicles. Nothing about improving the lot of pupils in secondary schools. Nothing about addressing the need for proper vocational education. Just bile directed to those who defend the current system. The language, the invective used reminded me of the dying days of the Left at Manchester University almost twenty years ago. I can only hope this outburst signified the dying days of those, like Bunting, who are using the debate about selection to advance their out dated class based agenda.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

 

Sorry

Sometimes, through the actions of a small number of our citizens, Northern Ireland is disgraced. Take this report on a racist attack on a visiting Indian youth cricket team. I just wonder if the sportswear clad scum who have dragged our provinces' good name into the gutter had any idea that other Indians were in the process of creating 1,000 jobs for their city? I suspect not, after all a job would only get in the way of the Buckfast consumption.

I just want to say sorry to these visitors. I hope they enjoyed City Hall and the cricket at Stormont. Most of all I just want to say please don't judge 1.6 million of us by the actions of 16 morons.

Swift police action is necessary to redeem the situation. That can only happen if information is forthcoming from within the community from whence the attackers came. How this develops will be a test for the good people of Belfast. I dearly hope that we are not found wanting.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

 

Would The Last Person To Leave Cunningham House Please Turn Out The Lights

The inability of the Ulster Unionist Party to hold on to its' more able members must cause concern to those who care about a party seemingly dying on its' feet. The Young Unionists have always had an active role within the party and in days gone by it was seen as a fast track to internal advancement given the delegates to the Ulster Unionist Council which the youth section had of right. In 1998 I was chair of the UYUC and am happy to say the organisation provided both the impetus and the personnel to challenge the pro Agreement policies of the "senior" party. Those were the heady days of UUC meetings after UUC meetings culminating with the Martin Smyth leadership challenge in the cattle shed at Balmoral. I will always regard my political salad days with a great deal of affection.

Since 1998 the UUP has been loosing former key Young Unionists at an alarming rate - remember the party had invested time and money on developing these people. Jeffrey Donaldson, Peter Weir, Arlene Foster and William Humphries are all past YU chairs that now hold elected office representing the DUP. Now it seems the list of former Young Unionists going on to greater things outside the UUP has grown. Peter Bowles has had enough of the UUP/UVF and done the decent thing and joined the Tories. This is a principled move and one for which Bowles deserves the greatest credit. As a North Down voter I suspect I will be seeing more of Cllr. Bowles in about three years time...

Friday, June 09, 2006

 

Lions and Donkeys


For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

Keen eyed observers will have noticed that I am a fan of Kipling. I thought of him when I read about the treatment of the recently acquitted guardsmen. Initially because of his words, repeated above, and then because of his close personal relationship with the Irish Guards.

Blair and his government have treated the Army disgracefully. Overstretching it abroad whilst attacking its regimental structure at home has sapped morale to such a point that servicemen are absenting themselves without leave in record numbers. Those that do do their duty must now keen one eye out for improvised explosive devices and another for the Army Prosecuting Authority. They must patrol in inadequately armoured vehicles, perhaps without body armour or working communications, in areas of this dangerous world where Blair and his ministers fear to tread.

There is an unspoken covenant between the soldier and his government. He or she will put him or herself in harms way if asked to do so and the government is expected to provide if disaster ensues. That understanding is in danger of breaking down along with army medical provision and the community links of the ancient regiments. Who has welshed on the deal? Not Tommy. But then again he "ain't a bloomin' fool".

Updates here and here.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

 

Political Breakdown

The head gasket on my car decided to fail yesterday. With a plume of blue smoke and, alarmingly, no power steering it came to rest on the hard shoulder. I called the AA and settled back to await the inevitable bad news. I formed the opinion that the car was knackered.

By coincidence Prime Ministers' Questions was being discussed on Five Live. It soon became apparent that my Freelander wasn't the only thing to be past its' sell by date.

Not only was Blair tired and evasive but the entire half hour showcased a government totally bereft of any ideas. After almost a decade in power the New Labour project looks to have run out of steam. No one should be surprised. The last Tory government hit the buffers in 1992 after thirteen years (what a pity for his party that Major won that years' general election). The voting public are heartily sick of the incumbent while "Dave" waits in the wings.

As we enjoy the last days of the Blair administration those of us in Northern Ireland are also, perhaps, watching the death rattle of the 1998 devolution settlement. The incomprehensible failures of the "Preparation for Government Committee" (sic) mirror the structural failures that have bedevilled Strand One of the Good Friday Agreement.

Should anyone care?

Under the 1998 structures the DUP, Sinn Fein, the UUP and the SDLP are embedded in government in perpetuity. The number of executive ministers they may have may change, the joint office of First and Deputy First Minister may even rotate but beyond that elections to the Assembly will have no affect on regional governance. So what happens after ten years when we have a local administration as knackered and as useless as the national one we currently enjoy? Nothing. The voters will have to put up with it and settle down to another ten years and another ten years after that. Perhaps that is why few tears will be shed by the cognisi when the existing machinery of government suffers terminal head gasket failure.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

 

Today At The Legislative Assembly

I went to Stormont this afternoon. After some light refreshment with renewed acquaintances I had opportunity to watch the debate on industrial de-rating.

The first thing that struck me about the place was how busy it seemed. Business people affected by the proposed changes were out in force to lobby and to watch. Some had been issued with montages of the 108 MLAs, presumably to score performances. The press were there, Eamonn Mallie resplendent and Martina Purdy, well, being Martina Purdy. The place actually seemed as if it was relevant.

Sadly, due to pressure of time I only had time to listen to two contributions from the floor of the Assembly. The proposer John Dallat, SDLP MLA for East Londonderry, read his speech in a tone which given the heat of the afternoon was dangerously close to ponderous. However, the first speaker to offer support was Ian Paisley Snr. Rising from the First Ministers' position he delivered a speech that was consensual and ,frankly, Presidential. There was concern for the working man and his right to a fair wage, no party political point scoring and what venom there was was directed at the Secretary of State.

For a moment I allowed myself to believe that devolution could actually work. Was it the surroundings, the topic of the debate, the anxious voters keen to watch their politicians help their cause? Then I realised why all things seemed possible - Sinn Fein had absented themselves from the proceedings. If Adams & Co. had risen to support small businesses in Northern Ireland for how long could other parties restrain themselves from pointing out the gross hypocrisy of a movement which waged economic warfare with bomb and incendiary now supporting those self same businesses? And what self respecting Shinner could resist an opportunity to justify each and every explosion?

I left knowing what I knew before I entered - cross community government is currently only possible without Sinn Fein. That means that there will be no government. I hope the people with the score cards realise that.

Monday, June 05, 2006

 

A Time To Die

En route to work this morning I listened to Stephen Nolan on BBC Radio Ulster. As I got to the top of the Glensahne he was interviewing Roy Bennet about the assisted suicide of his son Paul. Regardless of ones' views on this subject I defy anyone not to be moved by Mr Bennets' recollection of his sons' last days suffering from motor neuron disease.

I listened firmly in the camp of those who support a change in the law in this area. Then Nolan interviewed Nigel Dodds MP who is a strong opponent of Lord Joffes' Bill. Something very rare happened as I left Dungiven- a well crafted and passionate argument almost changed my mind. Regardless of any religious objections to assisted suicide or physician assisted suicide Nigel rationally put forward a case to protect the vunerable and maintain a stable doctor/ patient relationship. Nigels' points were all the more powerful given the role he had as a father of a desperately ill child.

Opposition to the Joffe Bill is a truly cross-community issue in Northern Ireland. I canvassed for two DUP candidates at the last Westminster election and was surprised by how many people raised the issue on the door. In Enniskillen, Arlene Foster was approached by a convinced nationalist who wished to thank her party for the stand it had taken at Westminster on the issue.

As I said I almost changed my mind. Listening to how motor neuron disease had reduced Paul Bennet to a point where he had found the
"last 18 months of his [life] intolerable, as he was in constant pain and had been terrified of choking to death as he was unable to swallow"
I thought what would I do in that situation, faced with loosing the power to communicate and living frozen in a dying body. Dear reader, send me to Switzerland.

Friday, June 02, 2006

 

Confound Their Politics

Godfather-in-Chief, Gerry Adams has been sounding off this afternoon. In response to suggestions that his Chief Negotiator and former Londonderry Provo 2-i-c, Martin McGuinness, was actually a long time British agent Adams said
"I think the sub-text of all of this is that there is a possibility elements in there want to see Martin McGuinness dead,"

"That's what I take out of this - it is a very serious situation.

"I think it is emanating from the old guard within the old RUC perhaps some still active within the PSNI, all the dirty tricks, within British military intelligence."

Hang on though, I thought the guilty men in the McGuinness-as-Bond story were the DUP. Acording to Martin
"elements of the DUP were behind the claims"

Either Gerry and Martin aren't talking or their handlers are sowing a little Friday afternoon mischief. Over a pint. In the sun. I'm off ...

 

Thanks Auntie

To day is Coronation Day (check your nearest public building is properly dressed).

This is not a post about monarchy and its benefits but one to alert readers to the fact that, courtesy of the BBC, one can watch the original 1953 television coverage. Given the weight of social history that surrounds the broadcast, let alone the event, this is a fantastic resource. How many of our grandparents' first television experiences were on 2nd June 1953?

My neighbours aren't gathering around my lap-top to watch but if you have a spare moment today launch the clip and try and imagine how a battered and drained nation felt as ancient custom heralded a brave new world.

I think I'll go and pay my licence fee now.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

 

Land of the Free and the Tone Deaf



Sing along if you like, the lyrics are here.

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