Monday, April 24, 2006

Could SDLP have done better on Ballynahinch Shooting?

A week or more has passed since the fatal police shooting in Ballynahinch.

Now that it has disappeared into the Police Ombudsman's office and some sources begin the work of discrediting what remaining character the deceased had (Sunday World 23/04/06), it is maybe a good time to look for a second at political reaction to what happened. Specifically the nationalist reaction.

There is little to add to Newton Emerson's analysis of the provisional movement's response (virtual silence given the deceased's background) but despite getting widespread media coverage, the SDLP's reaction (immediate suspension of the cops involved and a review of the policy governing discharge of weapons) has received little or no analysis.

Is it legitimate, for example, for a party that sits on the Policing Board and is asking for a sea change in nationalist thinking towards supporting the police, to have condemnation as the default position in this context? i.e. where the police were involved in apprehending a number of individuals involved in car crime.

NORTH REPORT doesn't suggest that the police should be praised for shooting joyriders - although that might also explain why the Provos were so quiet - but there is a serious issue here of how the nationalist relationship with the police is evolving. We've got the Ombudsman's office and we're satisfied with its independence. We've got car crime spiraling in nationalist areas and innocent bystanders being killed by the lunatics who are stealing the cars. We demand a strong security response. But when a police action against car crime results in a fatality, our knee jerk response is still to condemn the police first and look at what actually happened second.

This attitude and the atmosphere it creates doesn't help the task of building support for policing. Despite this almost certainly being a 'straightforward' car crime incident, within hours stories were appearing about the deceased's relationship with Johnny Adair and conclusions were being drawn about why he was wearing a Celtic plc shirt (that's what Adair and his cohorts wore when they were out to slaughter Catholics...). Around the dinner tables of Ulster (if mine's anything to go by)there was also much speculation about the trigger happy cops and whether this young protestant would have been shot dead had he not been wearing a Celtic shirt.

Would this pre-Patten, pre-Policing Board, pre-Ceasefire tribal tripe have developed or have been as enthusiastically discussed if the SDLP had come out quickly after the incident recognising it as a (perhaps) botched operation against the plague of car crime and waiting for the Ombudsman's investigation before targeting the individual cops involved?

I don't think so. Any thoughts?

Link to Article

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Heavy Rain in Ballymena

That's the only sort of passion I ever thought they had up there. Not so, it appears...

Link to Article

Rooker off the Hook on Rates Hike

Following the implementation of another hike in the Regional Rate, there has been the usual bleating condemnations from all the usual suspects - consumer groups, political representatives etc.

What infuriates, is the absolutely appalling quality of the challenge to Rooker's decision. Witness Peter Robinson: it will have a "significant impact on many people's quality of life". Francie Molloy said it will "push greater numbers of people into poverty". SDLP's Tommy Gallagher says it will be "crippling to many households".

The utter predictability of these bland and meaningless generalities allowed Rooker to justify the move in another bland and meaningless press statement of his own:

"All the money raised from the rates in Northern Ireland stays here to help pay for public services that bring benefit to everyone in the community." But surely Lord Rooker and his colleagues have been banging on about the structural problems in our public services and is the fact that some of them are incapable of balancing their accounts not relevant here?

Everyone wants and deserves better public services, but no-one likes paying taxes. It is the job of the Government to strike the right balance those two factors." Hang on a second Rookster! Thanks for the GCSE politics course, but is it not the job of the Government to make sure that money being spent is being properly spent. It is not your responsibility to ensure that the budgets that are currently assigned are being used to maximum effect before you increase them by almost 20%? Any word on this from the locals?

"We are also determined to use public money wisely to invest in the services that make real differences to people’s lives and to remove waste, inefficiency and duplication of service provision wherever it occurs." He goes to on to explain that this is the reason for SoS Hain's 'radical reform programme'. I can almost see him smiling as he dictated it.

It would be an admirable sentiment, if it were genuinely meant. He gets away with it because he knows that not a single one of our politicians will pull him up on it and ask the difficult questions.

Instead of the tiresome bleating, if the politicians were prepared to make difficult calls the revenue generated by this rates hike could have been raised through a proper efficiency programme in our local government and public service sector. Forget about the 'radical reform programme' we're being promised down the line. I'm talking about right now - the wastefulness throughout our 26 district councils, the education boards and the health trusts and the hundred other gravy trains is a disgrace. If it was properly confronted and acknowledged by the politicians so concerned by quality of life, rising levels of poverty etc, they could have saved ratepayers a few quid and convinced us that their concern was real.

As it is, you can forgive anyone for continuing to ignore them.

Link to Article

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

If this is the best NI manufacturing can do...

Writing in today's Irish News, Brendan Mulgrew has an interesting piece on what he sees as the flawed campaign to protect industrial derating. He points out that there is little point in the campaign getting excited about 'unanimous political support' when it was the same political parties that agreed in the Assembly to scrap the exemption.

He points out however that the original decision was taken after an agreement by the parties that some other business incentive would replace derating. Neither he, nor the manufacturing lobby, nor the political parties whose 'help' they welcome make any suggestion about what these alternative incentives might be.

Mulgrew's conclusion is very good:
"An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, not for the first time, summed it up well when he challenged local politicians to say if they were comfortable having democratic mandates and not using the power which those mandates carry. It's a good question, but I fear the answer. So too should the manufacturing base in Northern Ireland."

Is this really front page, all Ireland news?

Following yesterday's discussion (see below) on the motivation behind Daily Ireland's Eddie Espie series, suspicious types received a boost this morning with the appearance of another, even more tenuous front page article on the ex-SDLP man.

The story judged worthy of front-page all-Ireland news was that a former half-term Vice Chair of the SDLP received an instant message on the 29th March. The message, from an anonymous source (believed to be the vice chair of the SDLP youth group) called him a wanker. Worse, his son, who had a temperature, read the word.

At the very worst, this shows the young SDLP guy up as a twit, but can it really be front page news??

Evidence that the reason for the status given to these stories is solely to present a facade of crisis in the SDLP comes from no less a source than the editorial of Daily Ireland itself. It opens: "It's unlikely that the mooted leadership challenge of.. Eddie Espie will come to much".

Link to Article

Monday, April 10, 2006

NI export opportunity?

In September 1998, President Bill Clinton gave his rousing speech at the Mall in Armagh. He praised us for the courage we had shown and thanked us for the gift we had given to the world. He promised us that when people came to him and told him that political and security situations around the world could not be solved, he would tell them "Look at Northern Ireland".

Well it appears that slick Willy was as good as his word. The Saudis, nervous about trouble spilling into the kingdom from neighbouring Iraq, have taken a lesson out of Belfast's book and have announced plans to construct a 560 mile 'peace wall' along the full length of their border. Grounds for an Invest NI trade mission?

Link to Article

Durkan doing something right?

It is hard to imagine that news of the hitherto unknown Eddie Espie's leadership challenge against Mark Durkan will cause much concern. What should get people thinking however is the fact that Daily Ireland have reheated Espie's departure, brought out cheerleader-in-chief Martin Morgan and ran another front page story on the developing 'crisis' within the SDLP.

It is hard to imagine Martin Morgan and Eddie Espie as natural bedfellows - the only thing that appears to unite them is their shared unhappiness with certain individuals within the SDLP hierarchy. Belated attempts to cook up a shared protest on policing (this morning's article) don't stand up when you consider that Eddie Espie's rise to 'prominence' in the SDLP (his year as Vice Chair) has only been wihtin the last 12 months - long after Morgan's departure and long after the position on policing had been endorsed by the Party.

So where is this coming from? Given the co-operation between both individuals and Daily Ireland to date, and its very enthusiastic handling of this non-story since it broke, is it unreasonable to think that Daily Ireland is playing the role of matchmaker here? I don't believe so. The interview with the two individuals and the accompanying photoshoot doesn't bear any hallmarks of a credible, reasoned campaign (witness Martin Morgan's monologue on policing, contradicted by his view that PSNI-supporting Fianna Fail should organise here). The only clear campaign I can see is the one that is being constructed by Daily Ireland.

Accepting that, the next question is why.

Given that there is nothing of substance in the story, the only agenda being served is one that seeks to undermine Durkan just as he appears to be finding his feet. Having secured victory on On The Runs legislation and held provisional feet to the fire on the McCartney murder and criminality, Durkan and the uppity stoops may just be starting to worry Teach Basil.

The 'Forgotten Planet'

On tuesday, our very own ESA Venus Express will enter the Venus orbit and give us all a look at what's in store if we don't dump the Land Cruisers. I for one will be delighted to see a European space programme make positive headlines (hopefully...)

Just a thought though - prepare yourself for the tidal wave of articles on global warming that will follow in the mission's wake.

Link to Article

Sunday, April 09, 2006

One way to avoid water rates?

The victims of PIRA violence are to sue Libya in a class action law suit. Given the billions that had to be spent on security here as a result of the same weapons being used and the attendant lack of investment in water infrastructure, roads, public transport etc, any chance that the taxpayer could get a piece of this action?

Link to Article

No change unless 'Step Change' is real...

Following last Thursday's performance by the two Governments in Armagh and the mixed messages coming from various quarters since, I thought it worthwhile to look again at Paragraph 10 of the Joint Declaration that has Paisley ready to take to the streets and Peter Hain speaking out of boths sides of his mouth:

Paragraph 10: If restoration of the Assembly and Executive has to be deferred, the Governments agree that this will have immediate implications for their joint stewardship of the process. We are beginning detailed work on British-Irish partnership arrangements that will be necessary in these circumstances to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement, which is the indispensable framework for relations on and between these islands, is actively developed across its structures and functions. This work will be shaped by the commitment of both Governments to a step-change in advancing North-South co-operation and action for the benefit of all.

Hain's wriggling notwithstanding, the sentiment as expressed here is surely the way forward. For how long will the myth at the centre of the current political failure here go unchallenged? Namely, why is it that failure to restore the Assembly and form an Executive is 'punished' by a repeated return to Direct Rule? As long as the only political sanction facing Unionism is direct rule from London, the project is going nowhere. And we don't need to wait until 24th November to see that. The question is, do the two Governments have the balls to change it and make good on the threat hinted at in the Joint Declaration?

And where is the SDLP on this (for PSF will surely follow)? An unwillingness to be part of a shadow Assembly is one thing, but have they the stomach to risk letting it collapse altogether if a meaningful "step-change in advancing North-South co-operation and action" is what replaces it?

Observer misses the point.

The 80th anniversary indeed!

There are to my mind, many things wrong with today's article in The Observer by Geoffrey Wheatecroft. But looking at just a few of them...

One element that Wheatcroft doesn't bother mentioning in this article is the political imperative behind Dublin's decision to commemorate the anniversary. One possible explanation is that he isn't bothered - the tone throughout the article suggests that we're all as bad as each other in this 'most reactionary corner of Europe'.

The only modern context he offers for the Anniversary plans is his link to the murder of Denis Donaldson (which, given the role of British Intelligence and the Provisional IRA in his life and death I don't quite see). The fact that the Irish Government has tried to put it in a post-GFA context by inviting all Northern MLAs to participate is ignored.

I suggest this is a piece written in anger; anger aimed primarily at Provisional Sinn Fein and the PIRA. To quote, "10 Protestants, two of them children, were blown to pieces in the Shankill Road in 1993, a deed publicly celebrated by Gerry Adams". I fear this anger has made him entirely miss the point of the planned activities. That is, to reclaim history for the entire nation and not allow the provisional movement, which Wheatecroft so obviously despises, claim historical legitimacy for their campaign by linking it with the events that helped found the State.

Link to Article

Saturday, April 08, 2006

An audience at last...

Every monkey has a blog these days - it's time I had one too. Inspired by Slugger O'Toole, I'm going to try my hand at this business and see if I can't add something to the discourse. I imagine every blogger starts from the same premise - i.e. that there's no one else out there with quite the same voice. NORTH REPORT is no different. I have long been frustrated with the assumption in Northern Ireland politics that all nationalists are left wing and all unionists are on the right. While there's some truth in it, the failure to challenge it is, I believe, part of the reason why Sinn Fein and the DUP are currently enjoying their positions of strength.

Both are the loudest and best organised versions of the 'left' and 'right' within their respective communities. But are there no nationalists out there who aren't socialists? Any unionists who aren't rabid right wingers? I think at least I know the answer to the first - I happen to believe that the nationalist people in the North of Ireland are among the most conservative people in these islands and a big part of the SDLP's post-ceasefire struggles are based on their failure to recognise this. Where is the voice of the large and growing nationalist middle class? Similarly, might the UUP have a chance of avoiding extinction if they abandon the race to capture the lowest common denominator?

Anyway, on this blog I hope to give another view on big and small stories in this part of the world and share more general thoughts on life here. All views are welcome...