Apr 17

Jeffrey Dudgeon: Northern Ireland is not working

Jeffrey Dudgeon is a member of the Ulster Unionist Party. Since 2010 he has been chairman of the party’s South Belfast Association. He is the party’s candidate for the Balmoral District Electoral Area of Belfast in the May council elections. Jeff is a noted human rights activist and served on the Bill of Rights Forum in 2008. He was awarded an MBE in the 2012 New Year’s Honours List and is the author of a biography of Roger Casement. He was one of the UUP’s two negotiators along with Tom Elliott MLA at the recent Haass talks on Flags, Parades and the PastJD

The decision by the Sinn Fein Minister, John O’Dowd, to abandon his Education and Skills Authority Bill and revert to the five Education Boards has gone remarkably under-analysed. He blames the DUP for finding more reasons to block the Bill – after an initial agreement. Some difficulties were said to relate to voluntary grammar schools. I suspect there are more fundamental reasons about which we are not being told, perhaps involving a fight back by the doomed CCMS.

This was a body which was to be have been subsumed into the new central authority or ESA and would have largely lost its fingertip control over the Catholic schools. The UUP majored on the stalinoid centralisation that ESA involved in a vigorous campaign of opposition led by Danny Kinahan of the UUP. He could be said to have won a major victory as he effectively marshalled so much of the education and teaching world in opposition.

The Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC), representing the Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland Boards of Education did welcome the establishment of a single Education and Skills Authority once a sectoral body for controlled schools was added. However state schools especially non-grammar secondary remain largely unprotected lacking effective non-religious advocates.

The only winners are the 500 people from the Educations Boards who have received healthy redundancy packages and who may well be offered their jobs back. Money is little or no object in the Northern Ireland public sector which also has pay rates 50% higher than the private sector (70% for women), creating a labour aristocracy, but that is a subject for another day.

The losers were the taxpayers who coughed up nearly £20 million for nothing. And the political process which was proven yet again to be immobile because of the structural flaw in the Belfast Agreement. This stems from the very structure of consociationalism, a system which enables both communities to follow their own pursuits but provides no arrangement whereby disputes can be resolved.

This applies particularly to ethnic issues like Parades and the Past (the re-running of the IRA war in law terms) but also, as it has turned out, to more mundane questions like education administration.  The only threat the system imposes to bring about compromise is self-destruction – unlikely to happen with our current two incumbents. The result is the need to reach out to the US for pressure to be applied back-in.

Stormont can spend the money but it can’t reform or change anything unless there is a sectarian carve-up which favours the two major parties equally – like RPA and local government reform.  In this case the DUP have abandoned Belfast to maintain a fiefdom in the new extended Castlereagh. They have even seized the rates-rich Forestside shopping centre and transported it to Lisburn while Belfast is needlessly greened. All its contiguous suburbs should be within Belfast city’s boundaries to create a proper mix of people and to enhance its rates income.

The ESA Bill was to be the vehicle for one major social change and that was the abolition of the teacher exception in fair employment law. The UUP’s motion in the Assembly last year on the matter was surprisingly agreed by all parties except the SDLP. If repeal had been attached to the Bill in the form of an amendment, it would have started the process of enabling shared education at its most basic, which requires permitting a mixed teaching staff in Catholic schools. This mixing is something increasingly the norm in state schools but not in the maintained CCMS sector. As ethnic minorities now form an increasing portion of pupil enrolment without abolition, it is a fact that non-Christian teachers have no employment protection.

There is a mammoth chill factor against Protestants applying even to secondary schools where the certificate in religious education is not a pre-requisite. That certificate which should be taught in Stranmillis remains a necessity for candidates in Catholic primary schools. An end to the exception is the psychological sine qua non for shared schooling.

So in effect nothing changes in Northern Ireland, legislatively. Nothing works. Reforms die on the vine. Nothing advances except through the courts.

It is just like the 1950s Stormont. Single party majoritarianism has been replaced by two-party majoritarianism where each has a veto. One party requires agreement from a military caucus, the other from a church, although that is in decline and being replaced by a Leninist core of democratic centralists. This impasse of mutual veto will ultimately bring about the system’s collapse while the same two communal parties remain dominant and in power.

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Apr 15

Unionists must stop gifting the initiative to Republicans

Luke SprouleLuke Sproule is a politics graduate of University College London and a postgraduate journalism student at Cardiff University. He blogs on all aspects of politics, with a particular focus on Northern Ireland, Labour and post-conflict societies, and is a card-carrying member of the Labour Party.

The state visit of Irish President Michael D Higgins and the attendance of Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness at a state dinner should be cause for celebration for unionists.

Instead (and somewhat predictably) there has been a lukewarm reaction from mainstream political unionists and a hostile reception from hardliners.

Jamie Bryson, prominent flag protester and spokesman for the Protestant Coalition, said Lord Tebbit was “100% spot on” when the Tory peer expressed a hope that dissident republicans would shoot Mr McGuinness (remarks for which he has since apologised).

As is often the case republicans have once again seized the initiative and portrayed themselves to the world as progressives. They have done something tangible to demonstrate their commitment to peace and normalisation of relations between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

It is hard to remember when unionism did something similar. All too often it is reactionary and unionist politicians allow themselves to be defined by opposition to republicanism rather than promotion of their own beliefs.

The flag protests are a case in point. Rather than pointing out that the union flag still flies above Belfast city hall on designated days as a symbol of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom they reacted with outrage because it no longer flies every single day.

So instead of appearing to be confident and comfortable enough with Northern Ireland’s position in the union that they could afford a tokenistic concession to nationalists, unionists looked weak, fragile and angry.

Mr McGuinness’s toast to the Queen at the state dinner has generally been ignored, but in doing so unionists are missing another chance to show how secure the union is. Sammy Wilson alluded to it and it is undeniably the case that when a former IRA commander can don dinner dress and stand for God Save the Queen at Windsor Castle it is a blow to republicanism.

It won’t make nationalists in Northern Ireland any more likely to turn out for the next major royal occasion with union flags waving but it takes away another stumbling block to soft support for the union. If the deputy First Minister seems to be getting along amicably with the Queen then it’s easier to quietly ignore, if not accept, symbols of Britain in Northern Ireland.

When that happens it is increasingly likely that nationalists will accept Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, and over time it is not inconceivable that young catholics will become unionists, perhaps even politically active unionists.

The more unionism simply reacts to republicanism and allows Sinn Fein to take the lead the more likely it is that Republicans gain ground. If Sinn Fein think they are outmaneuvering unionism every time they will continue to make symbolic gestures and portray themselves as reasonable advocates of Irish unity.

If, on the other hand, unionism reacts with praise and continually portrays Sinn Fein’s actions as victories for the union (which they almost always are) then republicans are less likely to win the PR battle and, ultimately, the battle for Northern Ireland’s future.

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Mar 31

Lo’s comments belong in the 18th, not the 21st century: Graham Craig

Graham Craig is from Co. Tyrone but now lives in Belfast and is the Ulster Unionist candidate in Botanic DEA (Belfast City Council) in the forthcoming local Government election in May. He is a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast and works as an Economist in the public sector. He was also a Special Adviser to the former Minister for Finance in the last Assembly (2007-2011). You can visit his campaign page here.

To brand Northern Ireland and its border with the Irish Republic as “artificial” and to describe this part of the United Kingdom as a “colony” is deeply insulting, untrue and misguided. Such comments are especially shocking from a political party that has for so long ‘lectured’ others on the need for consensus politics. I was not surprised to hear Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey welcome these remarks as one could have easily mistaken Anna Lo for a member of Sinn Fein.

Northern Ireland and its border with the Republic of Ireland exist by consent. Consent was secured at its inception in 1921 and reaffirmed in 1998 – in both jurisdictions – by the Belfast Agreement. In 1998 the Republic dropped its territorial claim to our Province by an over whelming majority in a constitutional referendum.

I believe that the question of the Union is settled and our constitutional position within the United Kingdom is secure. For Alliance to raise this question is therefore somewhat shocking.

Of particular concern were Ms Lo’s comments on imperialism and likening Northern Ireland to a colony. Not only are such comments entirely without foundation they are deeply offensive to those who regard themselves as unionists. And have in the past been used as a justification for ‘armed struggle’. Does Ms Lo regard unionists as colonists, as planters, as people who ultimately should not be in Ireland?

Duncan Morrow, Alliance’s candidate in Botanic, was wheeled out to defend Anna’s position. As a former Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council I would have hoped that Mr Morrow would have had a deeper appreciation of how dangerous the use of such language in Northern Ireland can be.

While Alliance may be seeking to muddy the waters, what is needed is a clear and unambiguous statement from David Ford publically repudiating these comments which in other circumstances could be regarded as a form of racism. He might also wish to consider whether he has enough confidence in her, as the European candidate, to stand before the electorate on a non-partisan and non-sectarian ticket? These are, we’re told, the credentials of Alliance; it remains to be seen whether they truly are.

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Mar 21

Alistair Darling’s Interview with James Naughtie

Last Thursday I attended Alistair Darling’s interview with James Naughtie at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, which like Alex Salmond’s interview was organised by the International Network of Street Papers and The Herald as part of the University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander lecture series.

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Calum CrichtonAs before, it was more of a discussion than an interview, which gave Darling the floor to set out his case with little time constraints, or without fear of interview interruption. Yet surprisingly the conversation was somewhat different. Whereas with the First Minister Naughtie was anxious to talk about policy issues such as currency, EU membership, and NATO, his questions to Darling were mainly on the number of undecided voters, what Darling would do in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, his thoughts on UKIP’s inevitable win in the upcoming European elections, and whether it should be him or David Cameron that should go head-to-head with Alex Salmond in a televised debate.
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For me this was disappointing, because all of these things are largely secondary issues to what should be the major talking points before the referendum: Scotland’s currency options, the economy, international relations, national defence, science and research, opportunities for business, and culture and citizenship.
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Nevertheless, throughout the course of the night (including questions), Darling did manage to get a word in about three policy issues. The first, unsurprisingly, related to the currency an independent Scotland might use (my thoughts here). Darling argued that a currency union would not work for Scotland or for the rest of the UK. Why?
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Well, as the euro-zone crisis has illustrated, a currency union requires a fiscal and political union. Therefore, an independent Scotland would effectively be locking itself into a legal straitjacket over what it could tax and spend. And from the continuing UK’s point of view, it would need to agree to give up sovereignty which it currently has by agreeing to fiscal policy rules with a foreign country, in addition to putting up with the costs of an unstable currency union. Darling further argued that neither of the other currency options for Scotland (the euro, unilateral use of sterling, or introducing a new, separate currency) are particularly suitable for Scotland’s economy.
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The second was about the recent GERS figures, which showed that oil revenue dropped by 41%, or £4.4 billion over the last year. Darling pointed out that this is equivalent to the entire Scottish school budget of £4.5 billion, and argued that separation would make Scotland’s economy largely dependent on a finite commodity which constantly varies in price. That, said Darling, is a risky business.
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But most importantly it is an unnecessary one, because the Barnett formula ensures that Scotland receives a relatively stable and a far more certain source of funds with which to finance public expenditure. Indeed, it is the main reason that Scotland has consistently enjoyed higher public spending per person than the UK average. In the Autumn Statement in December, for example, the Office for Budget Responsibility cut its forecast for North Sea oil and gas revenues by £4 billion over the next three years. However, instead of needing to cut spending or raise taxes, the Scottish government saw its budget rise by more than £300 million.
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The third related to the European Union. Darling pointed out that while an independent Scotland would undoubtedly be accepted into the EU, the process of doing so would be long and complicated. Securing an opt-out from the euro – the centerpiece of the European project – would not be easy. And then there is negotiations about Schengen, the rebate, fisheries policy, structural funds, and a whole host of other issues. Darling, drawing on his experience as Chancellor, said such negotiations are extremely time consuming and often very frustrating, because each member state can veto any Treaty change even though the reason for doing so may have absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.
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When the floor was opened up for questions, it served only to highlight yet another disappointing aspect of Darling’s interview: the attitude of the nationalist-majority audience. Not because they are nationalists, which I am perfectly comfortable with, but the fact that at every opportunity they interrupted and shouted at Darling. For the few undecided voters in the audience it must have been frustrating to watch, and would not have helped them one bit in their decision making process.
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Darling answered the questions relatively well, although you would have had to be listening carefully to fully understand his points. While the man is a unique politician in the sense that he is always calm, rational, and practically impossible to rile, he is not quite the superb communicator that Alex Salmond is. On the fact that Scotland has only one Conservative MP, yet there is a Conservative-led government at Westminster: nationalism has nothing to do with the colour of government.
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When there was 13 years of a Labour government, with a Scottish Prime Minister and Chancellor throughout, the SNP still wanted independence. A ‘yes’ vote is not a trial run. You cannot change it like you can change the government. People need to think very carefully before they vote on such a decisive issue. On poverty and inequality: we are far better to pool and share our resources across the UK, particularly because we have a more stable flow of public spending to help families.
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Finally, I was glad to be able to ask Darling a question. I put it to him that while I will vote ‘no’ in the referendum, my observation of the Better Together campaign is that it has largely been talking about the downsides of independence, rather than promoting the very powerful and positive arguments for remaining part of the United Kingdom. What were his thoughts on this?
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Darling acknowledged this observation, and agreed that there are two aspects to the campaign. It is important to highlight the disadvantages of independence, but Better Together do have a duty to sell the advantages of the UK to the electorate. He also pointed that a difficulty in Better Together’s campaign is that the press will most likely report the risks and uncertainties they raise, rather than the positive arguments they make, and referred to the lack of press coverage over a 50 minute speech he made in July last year.
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But Better Together must meet that challenge head-on. There are many opportunities that the United Kingdom offers Scotland which independence cannot.
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If we want to engage with advanced economies and emerging markets, and engage with countries on global issues such as tax avoidance: the UK is a member of the G7, G8, and G20. An independent Scotland would not be.
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If we want to improve global financial regulation: the UK is the 4th largest shareholder in the IMF. An independent Scotland would not be.
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If we want to tackle global poverty: the UK is the 4th largest shareholder in the World Bank, and has the world’s second largest aid budget. An independent Scotland would not be.
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If we want to enhance global security: the UK is a permanent member of the UK security council, is part of the ‘five-eyes’ security arrangement with the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and is one of NATO’s most influential members. An independent Scotland would not be.
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If we want to tackle climate change and encourage business investment around Europe: the UK has the same number of votes as Germany in the European Union. An independent Scotland would have less than Greece, in accordance with its population size.
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If we want to create new opportunities for our universities: Scotland benefits from the UK status as a ‘soft power superpower’. The British Council, for example, is represented in over 110 countries, and a one of its core aims is to support access for students, academics, and researchers to high quality international opportunities into and outward from the UK. In 2012 the British Council facilitated over 1,000 international school partnership projects. An independent Scotland would not have this vast resource to offer its academic sector, because whereas the UK’s ‘soft power superpower’ status has been built up over many years, Scotland would be a new country with no formal international relationships.
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If we want to promote our commercial interests and fight for human rights around the world: the UK has one of the largest diplomatic networks of any country, which is underpinned by active diplomacy. The UK has 270 embassies in over 150 countries which brings together policymakers and provides a platform to promote the UK’s international political, economic, and social interests, including securing human rights in some of the most deprived areas of the world. By contrast, the SNP’s White Paper offers only 70 – 90 overseas embassies.
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If we want to establish fantastic opportunities for our businesses: the UK is the 6th largest economy in the world and has one of the largest diplomatic networks in the world, with 169 UK Trade & Investment offices in over 100 countries promoting Scottish businesses. This allows Scottish firms to be part of a country with an unrivaled reputation of unique skills and a strong legal framework; it allows our businesses to enjoy a truly global reach and an unparalleled network to tap into; and it allows our firms to promote their products, their services, their ideas, in every single part of the world. We know for a fact that an independent Scotland would not have this vast resource to offer – the SNP’s White Paper only offered 26 Trade & Investment offices.
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The list goes on and on. But a very positive and powerful case exists for Scotland choosing to remain part of the United Kingdom, not just for rejecting separation. It would be a dreadful shame if Better Together does not advertise this before the referendum.
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Mar 12

Regnum Defensores: Alexander Macdonell’s Catholics for King and Country

‘Pearl of Tyburn’ is a Catholic and unionist sympathiser from the United States, and founder of Union Jack Chat, a project which wants to interview a wide variety of unionists.

Some would be inclined to believe that Catholics are natural enemies of the Union. After all, from the time of the Protestant Revolt, Catholics in the territories now making up The United Kingdom found themselves persecuted and marginalized for clinging to their faith. The Act of Settlement and The Act of Union included all sorts of anti-Catholic clauses, and many Catholics felt rightly threatened by this new “British” identity and sided with the Catholic Stuarts in their repeated attempts to reclaim the throne and restore the independence of the individual kingdoms.

That having been said, as time progressed, Catholics began to realize that there were benefits of being a part of the new Union. One larger-than-life example of this was an extraordinary man from the Scottish Highlands who set out to prove that Catholicism and Britishness really could intertwine to change the world for the better and create a unique sub-culture alive and well in Britain today. His story should also have particular interest for Catholic Unionists when confronted with Nationalist historical spin.

Fr. Alexander McDonell, later Bishop of Kingston, Ontario, was born to a lower-to-middle class Catholic family from the Scottish Highlands in 1762. As a young man, he attending studied to become a priest in Europe and was ordained in 1787. One interesting occurrence in this period of his life took place when a group of French Revolutionaries took control of the seminary he was attending and tried to force McDonell to dance around a liberty pole. Being a staunch royalist by nature, he feigned lameness so he could escape the indignity.

He returned to his native land as an outlaw “priest of the heather”, enduring the harsh climate of living outdoors in the Scottish Highlands and subsisting off of meager rations in order to minister to his flock. During the Highland Clearances, he boldly tempted fate by leading his clan into Glasgow in search of work and refusing to leave them after they had found it. He even said mass in a building with no guards posted, allowing Protestants to come and watch as will. Considering that this was only a few years after the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots and other fanatical mob attacks throughout British cities, the man obviously had guts.

Eventually, he petitioned King George III to allow him to raise a regiment comprised on Catholic Highlanders to serve in the British army. The king and the priest probably would have found that they had a lot in common if they ever met. Both were very religious; both were fiercely against revolutions; both saw duty as one of the foremost principles that guided their lives; both loved the military.

But George believed that Catholicism was fundamentally opposed to the interests of the Crown and the British state, and continually opposed movements to put his Catholic subjects on equal footing with his Protestant ones. Nevertheless, George was capable of showing favor to individual Catholics, and by hook or crook, Fr. McDonell’s request to raise a Catholic regiment for the British army was granted. The determined priest even got the go ahead to serve as the chaplain for the regiment, officially called “The Glengarry Fencibles”.

During their service in Ireland during the Rising of 1798, they were one of the few regiments to come out of the war with no war crime charges, thanks in great part to Fr. McDonell’s insistence on accompanying them on the battlefield. He would encourage the terrified Irish civilians to come out of hiding so he could say mass for them, and he made sure that the wounded rebels were cared for by British surgeons. He was very much a Unionist, and saw the great potential that a united Britain and Ireland could achieve, providing that the deep-seated anti-Catholicism ingrained in the British Isles could be overcome.

When the regiment was later disbanded, McDonell approached the government and sought compensations for his clansmen in the form of a land grant in one of the British colonies overseas. Ungratefully, the officials tried to pawn off some poor property in the mosquito-infested West Indies. McDonell was not impressed, and continued to petition for land elsewhere. Finally, they were given land in the territory of Upper Canada and made their homes in what is now Ontario. The chaplain continued to serve as a tireless spiritual shepherd, traveling long distances by horse and canoe to visit the scattered settlements and Indian villages. Since he spoke their native Gaelic and English, he was often used as the collective voice for his people.

When the War of 1812 broke out and Canada was threatened by an America invasion, the Glengarries were reformed to combat the assault. Once again, McDonell was always in the heat of the action, proudly proclaiming that all the men of his clan were either “priests or soldiers.” A strapping, tall man with a booming voice, he seemed every bit a man-of-the-cloth and a man-of-the-sword. He made great strides in ecumenism in the region, working alongside Anglicans and Presbyterians as comrades-in-arms and making lasting friendship with Protestant clergymen. Some of his connections were even members of the Orange Order who learned to overcome their prejudices through interaction with the soldier-priest.

After the war, McDonell was eventually raised to the position of Bishop of Kingston and enjoyed his years of retirement by participating in the creation of a local Tartan Society to preserve traditional Gaelic culture. Again showing his Unionist sentiment, the society changed its meeting date from the anniversary of Bannockburn to the anniversary of Waterloo to promote unity and own up to the realization that Napoleon had been more of a threat to the free world then Edward II ever had been. In commemoration of his countless services to British and Canada alike, King George IV sent Bishop McDonell a ring which he proudly wore as a badge of honor. It was a symbol that Catholicism in Britain and her Empire had come a long way.

In conclusion, Catholicism and Britishness have often had a tense relationship, but also a dynamic one that brought out the best in both. Catholics have provided some of the most loyal citizens Britain has had, and it certainly would not be incongruent for us to continue to have attachments to her now, on the eve of a referendum that will decide her future as a nation.

Of course, whatever political changes happen in the British Isles, the Catholic Church will continue to minister to the souls of the inhabitants. That is our strength; we are adaptable. Like Bishop McDonell, I can say, first and foremost, that my mission is evangelism. Also like him, I can see very clearly the good aspects of the British identity and the connectivity between faith and patriotism.

So to my fellow Catholics in the UK: be patriots and flourish where you are planted. Love your country, who you have given so much to and gained so much from. You have come to far too turn back now. Help hold her together, not tear her apart. Pray for wisdom before you cast your vote.

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Feb 28

Time to shut down the Northern Ireland Office

Lucius WinslowLucius Winslow has an MA in politics, and is currently studying to be a solicitor. Follow him on Twitter @Lucius_Winslow

The failure to prosecute adequately the alleged IRA Hyde Park bomber, John Downey, has been an outrage. Justice has not been served in that case; a fair trial by jury has not passed judgment. British justice has failed in this situation. It failed because some fool or group of fools saw fit to write him a letter saying he wasn’t going to be prosecuted if he set foot on British soil.

But much more alarming has been the revelation that hundreds of people – all of them republicans, naturally – have been handed similar letters. The British Government in general, and the Northern Ireland Office in particular, have been handing out stay-out-of-jail-free cards arbitrarily, with absolutely no dialogue with Northern Ireland ministers.

Peter Robinson is right to be aggrieved, and his absolute lividity is manifest. Watching the First Minister’s BBC interview it is clear that here is a man who, in his own words, is ‘incandescent’ with anger. As is the Democratic Unionist Party. As is Unionism general. As indeed, I suspect, are the wider British public.

The incident has shown yet again that when it comes to Northern Ireland, and dealing with Northern Irish terrorists and alleged terrorists, Westminster simply cannot be trusted. Too often, and for too long, they have been willing and able to cut nasty little deals between themselves and the most dubitable of persons without due regard to the people and institutions of Northern Ireland.

A focus of particular disgust should be the Northern Ireland Office. If one goes onto the NIO’s website their mission statement is on the main page, and has three strands:

“We ensure the smooth working of the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. We represent Northern Irish interests within the UK government and we represent the UK government in Northern Ireland.”

On two out of the three of their own criteria, it is clear they are failing. They certainly represent Westminster in Ulster, but thereafter it is a cop-out. They do not ensure the smooth working of the devolution settlement – indeed, this week they have shaken it quite badly. And the NIO most certainly does not represent Northern Irish interests within the British Government. Indeed it is clear that at times they have done the exact opposite.

It used to be thought that the NIO had become a pointless department, which should be wound up in view of the inevitability of devolution and the sheer Lilliputian nature of its portfolio.  It was a shrinking bureaucracy not worthy of continued autonomy, in need of being assimilated into the Local Government brief. A harmless department, not really worthy of consideration.

But no, it seems the NIO is not pointless. Rather its point is to ensure the agenda of aloof, out of touch Westminster mandarins and (some of) the London political class is pursued. For the good of Northern Ireland, for the good of justice, and for the good of the British Government and constitutional accountability it is advisable to destroy this miserable little ministry, and perhaps dismiss a few of its servants at the same time.

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Feb 17

Something better change…

After leaving the British Army, Stephen Cooper served as an advisor to Robert McCartney Q.C., leader of the UK Unionist Party. He contributes regularly to the News Letter and is working on his latest book, which is an analysis of the ongoing appeasement of terrorism which he remains vehemently opposed to.Stephen Cooper

The open scars of Belfast laid bare in the recent television documentary by Ross Kemp show no signs of healing. The segregation and deep divisions of the conflicting communities were once more brought into focus and with it, the uncomfortable and overwhelming perception of a society festering with deep and mutual mistrust.

The marching bandsmen expressed resentment and frustration at the cultural apartheid meted out by the parades commission and overseen by the PSNI, whilst nationalists complained with equal venom about their sense of imprisonment even though the parades would take ten minutes to pass by, (not through), their estate.

The fact that resident groups were set up with the deliberate and sole intention of stirring up inter-communal strife by sfira in the nineties, as admitted to by Gerry Adams, seems to have been overlooked and conveniently ignored by successive governments and the parades commission.

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There is however, as always, a lot more to this complex issue.
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Since the Belfast Agreement, the undercurrent of the so called peace process has been one of appeasement, and mainly, if not almost exclusively, to republicans.
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This is hardly surprising as the central objective of the last fifteen years and more, has been to prevent further bombs in the city of London, and with an unwillingness to confront the reality of unprecedented polarisation in NI, the British Government must surely realise that with the middle ground all but abandoned, there is a stark danger that Loyalists, aggrieved at the one way flow of concessions, may arrive at the rather obvious conclusion that violence pays.
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The emotional blackmail used by republicans and the great and the good to anyone opposing rewarding republican terrorism further, (all in the name of peace, of course), only exacerbates the feelings of abandonment and alienation throughout loyalism.
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The precedent set throughout this process, of terrorists not engaging in wanton murder and violence being somehow justified as providing adequate grounds for rewards is utterly immoral, but bolstered by commentators and accepted by the media as par for the course, instead of the blackmail it undoubtedly is, diffused through the body politic.
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The refusal of republicans to compromise on anything of significance sits in defiance of their unjustifiable past, relying exclusively on the praise from the powers that be, for not continuing bombing and shooting human beings as somehow being adequate validation for their leading role in the on-going appeasement process.
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Many rushed to defend the Brighton bomber’s attendance to a reconciliation event in East Belfast recently, many more praised him and lauded this as more progress and looked down their collective noses at those who objected to a vile unrepentant murderer failing yet again to say sorry for his actions or condemning his IRA’s genocide in NI, and further afield.
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To gain trust and to be believed, sfira need at the very least to apologise for their barbaric and heinous crimes against humanity.
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That their president still maintains the now tiresome charade of never being in the ira only makes the likelihood of being trusted by many in the PUL community all the more unlikely, and twinned with the recently uncovered evidence that decommissioning was not completed, despite reassurances from their quarters only adds to the absence of any shred of credibility.
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Never before have the levels of trust plummeted to such depths between both communities.
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The sectarian carve up as a result of the Belfast Agreement and the undemocratic structures in Stormont from same were the catalyst and are partly, but not entirely to blame.
Unionism and Loyalism are presently in a strained relationship, like relatives sitting at the family table not speaking to each other with a frosty atmosphere enveloping proceedings as various maternal-like interlocutors try their best to cut the tension and encourage interaction.
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Big house unionism needs to address that faltering relationship, as the longer it is allowed to deteriorate, the harder it will be to blunt those sharp words which are being muttered with virulence around the smouldering embers of working class estates.
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Sfira’s refusal to deal honestly with their past remains the key impediment for an organisation steeped in hatred and violent intolerance from being taken seriously and genuinely trusted enough to be considered as being sincere about a shared future.
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However, before anyone can push for dialogue on any substantive level, the Unionist and Loyalist communities must engage from within and provide a solid foundation to build upon, and confidently set out a road map for a shared future within the UK, with appropriate legislative protection for our national flag, and expressions of our culture.
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Feb 10

It’s Adams’ vision of a greater Ireland which hangs by a thread, not the Union

Luke SprouleLuke Sproule is a politics graduate of University College London and a postgraduate journalism student at Cardiff University. He blogs on all aspects of politics, with a particular focus on Northern Ireland, Labour and post-conflict societies, and is a card-carrying member of the Labour Party.

Gerry Adams has become little more than a caricature of himself these days. He has missed the boat on ministerial office north of the border, and no matter how well Sinn Fein are doing south of the border has little chance of holding it  there either.

He knows he’ll never reside in the Aras, and is embroiled in so much personal scandal that the younger members of his party in the Republic will dump him sooner rather than later.

But although we wouldn’t expect much else, his latest ripping yarn on the future of the United Kingdom is clutching at straws.

The union, he said, is hanging by a thread, ready to be unravelled by this year’s referendum in Scotland and a potential future referendum in Northern Ireland. The irony is that the only thing hanging by a thread is Sinn Fein’s dream of Irish unity.

They have already had to accept that there will be no united Ireland by 2016, the centenary of the Easter Rising, and that Northern Ireland will reach it’s one-hundredth birthday just over five years later.

But recent polls have also shown that even most Sinn Fein voters wouldn’t back a united Ireland if a referendum were held tomorrow. Many say they would notionally back one, but that is without any firm proposals of what shape a 32-county Irish state would take.

As is often noted the Republic of Ireland can’t afford the economic basket-case that is Northern Ireland. Would their people, or indeed Chancellor Merkel, be willing to risk their slow economic recovery by taking on the huge public sector economy in the north?

In any case, Mr Adams is deluding himself if he thinks the Scottish referendum will make any difference to Irish unity.

Even if Scotland did vote to leave the UK, what impact would it have on Ulster’s unionists? They are unlikely to suddenly back Irish unity because Scotland has gone independent, and whilst it might boost the morale of nationalists they cannot alone win the vote.

Such bluster from the Sinn Fein president is only to be expected. He knows his political career is all but over, and trotting out the same old lines about Irish unity is a safe bet to appeal to core support. Mr Adams is a man who even Sinn Fein could do without.

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Feb 03

The SNP would destroy what the NHS stands for

Effie Deans is a Scottish unionist and enthusiast for Russian literature. She blogs at the Lily of St Leonards.

There’s something perverse about the SNP claiming to be the defenders of the NHS. The reason for this can be found in the letter N in NHS. When the NHS was set up in the forties it stood for something that would be available to everyone across the nation. But the nation that was being talked about was, of course, the UK. The people who created the NHS didn’t want a service that would only be available in England or Scotland. They wanted a service that would be available to everyone, no matter where they were from. It was for this reason that they called it the National Health Service.

Over time the NHS has evolved. Health is one of those areas that has long been devolved. We have a Scottish NHS, a Welsh NHS, a London NHS. These are devolved further into various trusts. But none of this really matters for the NHS is still national in the sense that it is something available to every citizen of the UK. It is available to me just the same if I’m on holiday in England or in Wales or in Northern Ireland. It still remains national in the same way in which it was created. It remains something British, something for all of us who live in Britain.

What the SNP are proposing to do is the very opposite of what the founders of the NHS wanted. They want to make the National in NHS apply only to Scotland in the same way that the National in SNP only applies to Scotland. Whereas the founders of the NHS had a vision of something that was available to every Briton, the SNP would like to break up the NHS, in the sense in which it was founded, and make it something that is no longer British but only Scottish. They want to create an NHS for the Scots, while the founders of the NHS didn’t think in those terms at all. After all, one of the reasons for setting up the NHS was that the British people had just suffered together through years of war and privation and no one cared much if you were Scottish or English, such distinctions mattered little when you had been fighting and dying together.

Had they been given the chance, would the SNP have set up a National Health Service in the forties? No, of course not, they would only have been bothered about healthcare in Scotland. But imagine if Nye Bevan had been a Welsh Nationalist and had only been bothered about healthcare in Wales. We would never have had an NHS at all. It was because he had a national vision, which extended beyond Wales that he was able to see that Britain needed a health service that would be free to everyone, no matter which part of the UK the person was from. It was because he was not a nationalist that Bevan was able to create the NHS.

It should be clear then that the SNP are not in the business of defending the ideals of the NHS, they are in the business of wrecking them. The NHS is a British institution and like every other British institution it would be destroyed by the SNP vision of independence. The Scottish NHS would of course continue, but it would no longer be part of the same whole, just as Scotland would no longer be part of the same whole. There would also be an NHS in the rest of the UK. But these organizations would share no more than the same initials. They would be separate organizations, with no more in common than the French NHS or the Australian NHS. That’s what it means when you change the meaning of the word “National” from British to Scottish.

I’ve no doubt that in an independent Scotland the Scottish NHS would provide us with excellent health care. But we would lose something and something quite special, which can be illustrated in the following way.  I heard a rather tragic story the other day about someone from Aberdeen who is really struggling with her health. She needs a transplant. Recently an ambulance took her all the way from Aberdeen to Newcastle, because there is a centre of excellence there in the type of care she needs. When a transplant organ becomes available anywhere in the UK, she will be flown to Newcastle by helicopter as will the organ.

Our NHS is interconnected in ways that most of are hardly aware of until that time when we depend on an expert or a hospital somewhere quite far away in another part of the UK. What nationalists fail to realise is that it is because Newcastle and Aberdeen are part of the same country that we can expect cooperation like this to happen automatically. The SNP may try to promise that everything would stay the same if we voted to put Newcastle in a foreign land, but independence would change all our lives in ways that are hard to predict.

At present I can expect to obtain good and largely free healthcare throughout Europe if I fall ill on holiday. Moreover there is healthcare cooperation between separate countries like Britain and France. We can hope that these sorts of arrangement would continue in the event of Scottish independence and that we would get the same sort of treatment as a Frenchman gets currently in England. But the interconnectedness of healthcare which at present obtains across the UK does not obtain between Britain and France and over time is liable to be disrupted by Scottish independence.

The reason for this is that such interconnectedness depends on our being part of one country, the UK. In all sorts of ways that we barely notice, our everyday lives are influenced by the interconnectedness that exists because we live in a single nation state, Britain. Whatever the SNP promises, they cannot promise that this degree of interconnectedness would continue for independence essentially is about creating a separate nation state. No two independent nation states are as closely interconnected as the parts of one nation state.

Once this is understood, it becomes clear that Scottish independence involves the loss of something fundamental and something that we all take for granted. We might not even notice its loss until such time as we need it.

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Jan 17

Romantic Patriotism: No enemy to unionism

Pearl of Tyburn is a Catholic from the United States and regular contributor to Open Unionism.

When combating Nationalist propaganda, Unionists often find themselves “myth-busting” romantic yarns and euphoric idealism hijacked for political gain. In the process, however, they can sometimes be seen as relying too heavily on a heady worldview devoid of emotional connectivity. This, in and of itself, can give the Nationalists a boon.

The imagination is a powerful tool, and the abstract is as real, if not more so, as the concrete. There is a balance between the right and left parts of the brain, although in the middle of a crucial contest like this, it is sometimes difficult to grasp. Traditional story-telling, language-learning, and art-forms may be manipulated by some to create a divisive front, but if the Unionists reject them because of added connotations, I fear they will also disenchant many who appreciate in the human touch.

As a romanticist and idealist by temperament, I do not feel that everything must have a direct “purpose” in order to be worthwhile. In fact, I believe that the most beautiful things in life have no trickle-down “reason” at all, but rather contain their own worth in their very existence. In my mind, such is the case with cultural gems such as the Celtic Languages. I see the veracity in the old Welsh proverb, “A Nation without a Language is a Nation without a Heart”, and I only wish that Scots-Gaelic and Irish-Gaelic were having as much of a resurgence in their respective countries as Welsh is in Wales.

As much as I believe in the Union, I also believe that the distinctiveness of al four nations contributes to its ultimate strength. Hence, Unionists should be careful not to get carried away with their ardor for similarity and neglect diversity. In addition to emphasizing common “Britishness”, the uniqueness of “Englishness”, “Scottishness”, “Welshness”, and “Irishness” should never be neglected, even at a time such as this. Perhaps I should say, especially at a time such as this. English is the main language of the UK, there is no question about that. But I do not see any incongruity in encouraging the individual nations of the UK to maintain a second language, as well.

Another area of tension is different interpretations of history and legend. I, as much as anyone else, am repelled by blatant bias and misrepresentation to a certain political or personal end. However, revision and myth-busting can be taken to the extreme. For example, I am sick of seeing so many educated brains leap all over the Legend of Robert de Bruce and the Spider. In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether it is historically verifiable or not. The crux of the tale is very real indeed, and demonstrates the courage and tenacity of Bruce as king and warrior. The same applies to the Legend Alfred and the Cakes. Whether or not he actually had toaster-trouble is non-essential. The point is that he knew what it was to suffer for his throne and learned integrity from his experiences.

The list of similar legends can go on and on. They are real because they teach our own human nature and highlight a certain aspect of historical reality using romantic embellishment. In olden days, it was the job of the bard to weave such tales as the collective “memory” of a clan or court. It was an art-form, clearly different from historical studies as we know them today, and yet no less valuable to the well-roundedness of the human experience. Besides, I’m not so sure I’ve ever heard a completely convincing case for why the stories of arachnids and crumb-buns are false, other than the fact that we have no definitive proof that they are true. The whole subject just rotates in a circle of silliness.

Then there is the related element of historical continuity, connecting the past to the present. I would say there is a fine line to be walked with it. While it is certainly counter-productive to judge a time period by the yardstick of modern standards and expectations, this does not mean we cannot get a flavor of similar beliefs, hopes, and dreams shared in common by us and our ancestors. For example, within Unionism, there is often a shock-response against the Wars of Scottish Independence. With regards to Wallace and Bruce, whose stories were disturbingly remastered by Hollywood at the cost of balance and authenticity, I understand what got the ball rolling. But this should not administer an automatic license to ignore or diminish two undeniably heroic Scotsmen.

True, they were flawed human beings in a violent and unstable age, just as their opponents were. There was no clear-cut “Celtic vs. Saxon” scenario, since both Robert Bruce and Edward “Longshanks” were of Norman French descent, trying to stake their claim to a country with a frequently-shifting border. But the war did engender a sense of national identity in the Scottish people, who came to identify themselves as “people of the lion”. There is no doubt that many felt Scotland had been wronged by England, and they were now in a fight for liberty. According to my personal sentiments, the Scots certainly deserved to win, and the English to lose.

But all this does not create an inconsistency in my mind with the story of Britain as a “united kingdom”. In many cases, continuity is only as good as its flexibility, its ability to bend without breaking. A sense of shrewd deal-making and canny compromise is what brought about the union, as well as a far-sighted vision and ideal of better days to come for a single, united people. Both the concrete and abstract desires would be realized on many fronts for the British people. And I believe they can continue to be realized within the context of “E Pluribus Unum”, which can apply just as well to the Brits as it does to us Americans.

In conclusion, while some might think that politics, by its very nature, leaves no room for romantic expression without treading the line of the ridiculous, I would say that, in their truest senses, realism and romanticism are supposed to compliment one another, like men and women are supposed to compliment each other in a marriage with their contrasting abilities, styles, and emotional make-ups. Unionists must give themselves enough room to move in both arenas if they want to fully project the truth of their cause and succeed in making others realize its worth.

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