Slugger O'Toole Conversation, politics and stray insights Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:41:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Some thoughts on the Economics of Unity. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:41:44 +0000 Within Republicanism I am definitely on what I call the Diana Ross wing of thinking which says ‘you can’t hurry love’ That is why I have consistently opposed Sinn Fein’s move for a border poll right now, as I have always thought Republicanism needs to move off the notion of territorial lines on a map and simply quoting events that happened a century ago.

It has long been a criticism of Irish nationalism that we lack a coherent economic argument for reunification. To the average punter why on earth would you want to leave the 7th largest economy in the world and throw your lot in with Southern Ireland? There are benefits to be sure of being part of the UK, this isn’t an issue of ‘what have the romans ever done for us?’ We receive a good health service, plenty of subsidies to fund our other needs from our brothers and sisters across the water.

However, I would just submit to you another proposition that I feel in the long run would be even more beneficial for our future and that’s economic unity with the Irish Republic.

One thing I have noticed about the debate surrounding this issue is the lack of knowledge that people on both sides have about the Irish economy. It always amazed me that in Northern Ireland; people still carry around this ‘blue skies of Ulster, Grey mists of the Republic’ mentality. There are a lot of myths going around about the Irish economy and the biggest one going is that Northern Ireland is better off than the Irish Republic.

Let’s take a look at some facts. 1) Job creation in the Irish Republic, despite one of the biggest economic crises to ever hit the Irish state is still better in the South than it is here. In fact, Southern Ireland now leads the OECD in job creation. Our leaders regularly go off to the United States in order to lure investment, yet the Irish Republic has successful put itself in the position where it receives more FDI from the USA than China, Russia, Brazil and India combined.

Irish workers typically earn more too, with the average worker taking home £8,000 more per year than someone in Northern Ireland. This figure is even more impressive when you consider that the cost of living in Ireland has fallen steadily since the recession began in 2008.

Now, it isn’t all on the up and there are problems, but when you hear the hysteria from some quarters up here, you could be forgiven for thinking that we were proposing an economic union with Zimbabwe, rather than Ireland.

The Irish Republic successfully lures the wealth creating jobs that will stand them in good stead for years and let their people get ahead. While we languish in Northern Ireland, waiting for the next call centre announcement, with wages that barely allow people to get by.

My argument is that we can do a lot better than this. An all island economy based on solid principles of investment and job creation would allow more of our people to enjoy a standard of living that we have for decades been denied through economic policies that are designed to suit the South-East of England, rather than our own needs. I also believe that like any new relationship, we have things to teach the Irish Republic in the areas of public service provision and maintenance of those services into the future.

In my view Republicanism is merely scoring own goals, with language like ‘failed state’ and ‘new republic.’ What we need to be focusing on is selling the country we have at the moment and how much better it can be if we were united. We need to drop the gimmicks and take the long view of articulating a reformed economy. For those who say it cannot be done I would urge them to look at New Zealand and Australia in the early 80s, two of the most closed economies in the OECD, both of whom within the space of 6 years opened up and liberalised their markets and who are now reaping the rewards of taking brave economic decisions.

I don’t take a black arm band view of my country, on the contrary, I am just fed up of being in a position where on Budget day we sit waiting for the next hand out from George and we simply have to make do with what is available. A united Ireland will not be a one way bet and yes, some people will lose out, we have to be upfront about that. Republicanism will go nowhere if it attempts to create a European version of Cuba with another bearded leader as El Presidente!

We need to take the economic arguments head on, accept the problems and highlight the positives.  I am not looking for a panacea or a fairytale ending, all I want is something better than the current ecomomic arrangements offer us. Yet it’s up to Republicanism to do the work and make the case. In writing this article I hope I am making a small contribution to this endeavour.


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About ‘that’ crossroads: Moderate Unionism at Twaddell, April 2014 Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:05:19 +0000 The illegal loyalist protest camp at Twaddell (hitherto rebranded ‘A Camp Called Malice‘) has been the site for regular parades, rallies and political speeches from the full range of loyalist and unionist representatives since last summer.

Last Saturday, it was the turn of the Ulster Unionist Party’s Belfast councillor, Chris McGimpsey.

His speech is worth watching and listening to in its entirety, for it effectively encapsulates all that is wrong with the political leadership of mainstream unionism- never mind the purportedly moderate wing.

“The Ardoyne brethren…have not had a dignified return to their homes yet.”

Chris begins with the guff about the ‘Brethren’ not having yet completed their walk home past the catholics since last summer. This is a lie. I should imagine that every one of the loyalists who took part in last 12th July parade that descended into vicious rioting actually made his way home that night, and have managed to sleep in their beds quite peaceably at a time of their choosing. Alas, the good people- catholic and protestant- who reside close to Twaddell have unfortunately not been provided that opportunity as the noise from the bands parading into late evening has denied many children of school age the opportunity to get an early night’s sleep.

The second falsehood in this assertion is that it ignores the fact that numerous loyalist parades have continued along the stretch of Crumlin Road in the interim period of time, including last Monday.

“We have an administration that is afraid to stand up to lawbreakers.”

In the irony-free world of political unionism, this statement hardly stands apart. But, given that Chris McGimpsey was speaking in support of an illegal (erm, ‘lawbreaking’) protest camp this takes some beating. And that’s before we even consider how the PSNI have been rightly criticised for failing to consistently stand up to the lawbreaking loyalist protesters since the flag and parade protests were launched in December 2012.

“Our leadership betrayed us.”

A blood and thunder speech to the beat of the Orange drum is never complete without a reference to a Lundy figure, and in the Belfast leadership of the Apprentice Boys, Chris found a handy Lundy. Poor Chris and the other 24 Apprentice Boys of Clifton Street are being betrayed, and Chris felt able to draw parallels between their plight and that of the 13 Apprentice Boys in Derry all those years ago to drive the point home. And what was this betrayal, you ask? The Lundy leadership decided to talk to catholics.

“We have a situation now where major criminals get bail and walk out of court but members of the protestant, unionist and loyalist community are going through those courts like a conveyor belt.”

This one deserves to be highlighted and follow up questions from the media brought to the UUP leadership. It suggests that the Ulster Unionist Party is objecting to protestants, unionists and loyalists being brought to court for criminal offences, and also appears to suggest that members of said PUL ‘tribe’ are somehow facing harsher court treatment than others. Again, a baseless assertion without the slightest trace of evidence.

“We’re losing everything in this city. We are now in a society where the protestant, unionist and loyalist community is suffering, they are being treated like 2nd class citizens not only by the police, and the courts but by the whole government.”

Again, this one warrants further probing by the mainstream media as it very clearly involves a senior Ulster Unionist Party politician alleging that the police, courts and indeed government are anti-PUL ‘tribe’. Furthermore, McGimpsey invokes a sense of being oppressed (‘suffering’) and facing defeat (‘losing everything.’)

It is a speech which mixes fear, loathing and downright lies with the clear objective of cultivating a heightened sense of communal/tribal awareness and antipathy towards The Other. It is what Twaddell is all about- hence the banners positioned to face The Other and the regular marches to the point of interface.

Loss and fightback are the major themes. The speech can essentially be summarised accordingly:

We are losing. The Taigs are getting everything. The police, courts and government are against us. They’ve gerrymandered to take our city from us. We must stand together to win- like the 13 Apprentice Boys in Derry & the 25 in Clifton Street.Vote protestant, vote unionist, vote loyalist. No other criteria should be applied to voting preference. Nothing else matters, now or ever!

Indulging the fraudulent assertions perpetuating the loyalist grievance narrative (here and here)has brought unionism to the low ebb that Camp Twaddell has become a metaphor for, whilst allowing a public profile to be developed for absurdly incoherent and vacuous individuals like Willie Frazer and Jamie Bryson.

Nothing that has been said or done by the mainstream political leadership of unionism suggests that the right lessons have or are in the process of being learned.

Moderate Unionism was once said to be at a crossroads. If that is so, it is clearly travelling in a different vehicle now.

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Election Posters Everywhere, but very few seem to be staying up in some areas Thu, 24 Apr 2014 07:45:35 +0000 I have always resented people trying to infer whether it is through silly diagrams trying to promote how progressive they are or commentators telling me to return leaflets put through my door by a legitimate political party. My immediate reaction is, thanks, but I can really make up my own mind without you telling me who to vote for.

Likewise, I get equally annoyed when I see tweets like this issued from a political party so frustrated that their posters are being taken down.


This is not just happening to Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP too, have reported this

And this…


This happens at election times, people take posters and they usually end up on some ‘expression of culture’ over the summer. But, when you remove a poster, it comes across to me at any rate, like you’re trying to silence on point of view over another. I know it’s debatable just how effective posters are in swaying votes, but let’s be clear, political parties spend a lot of money on them to promote a message to us, the electorate. I don’t want to have them hidden from me at election time, only to see them providing fuel for some bonfire two months later.



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What makes for a successful and thriving democracy? Thu, 24 Apr 2014 07:06:20 +0000

I picked up this gif on Google Plus a few days ago. If you look at the detail you’ll see there’s plenty to argue about, but it seems to me that’s what makes it worth sharing. What do we consider needs to be present to consider a country to be democratic?

The first and most obvious are the settled condition under which people are happy to offer themselves for public service:

But what else?

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Gerry Adams: “I have no recollection of that whatsoever.” Wed, 23 Apr 2014 22:13:04 +0000 A couple of points to note about the BBC report of the interview with former Provisional IRA member Peter Rogers.  From the BBC report

An ex-IRA man has made new allegations about Gerry Adams, in which he raises questions about the Sinn Féin leader’s claim to have never been in the IRA.

Peter Rogers has alleged that Mr Adams and his Sinn Féin colleague Martin McGuinness ordered him to transport explosives to Great Britain in 1980.

Both Sinn Féin men declined interviews but their party issued a statement saying the allegations were untrue.

Firstly, whilst the allegations may be new to the BBC, and they have interviewed Peter Rogers here, the claims emerged for the first time earlier this year.   At the start of February, around the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Wexford, Peter Rogers spoke to the media [9 Feb 2014] about the events leading up to the murder of Detective Garda Seamus Quaid in Wexford in 1980 for the first time.

[Peter Rogers] told the Sunday Independent last night that he felt forced to speak out because of what he saw as the insensitivity of holding the Sinn Fein ard fheis at the Wexford Opera House, where a plaque commemorating Garda Quaid had been erected in 2008 on the anniversary of his murder. Garda Quaid’s family asked for the plaque to be removed in advance of the ard fheis.

As for the Sinn Féin response, the Irish Times report has a fuller quote.

Sinn Fein said today that Mr Rogers’s claims were untrue. “There is no truth in these allegations. Gerry Adams has already publicly refuted these claims,” said a spokesman.

[Publicly refuted?! - Ed]  Apparently…  Fortunately, there is an Irish Independent report, updated 2 March 2014, which gives more details of the actualité.

Sinn Fein refused to respond to a series of detailed questions arising out of Peter Rogers’s claims over the past three weeks.

Last Tuesday morning the Sunday Independent approached Gerry Adams – who has denied ever being a member of the IRA – on the plinth of Leinster House as he concluded a press conference over the controversy on claims made by garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe in relation to An Garda Siochana.

When asked to respond to the claim that he and Martin McGuinness met with Rogers two days before Det Gda Quaid’s murder, Mr Adams said: “I have no recollection of that whatsoever.”

When it was put to Mr Adams that he had given Rogers the order to transport those explosives, he replied: “That’s not true.” When the question was put to the Sinn Fein president again, he repeated: “That’s not true.”

At that point, Mr Adams brought the exchange to an abrupt end and went inside Leinster House.

Under the regulations set down by the House of the Oireachtas, members of the media are specifically prohibited from conducting or attempting to conduct interviews with politicians inside Leinster House without first obtaining permission.

We were reminded by Sinn Fein party press officers of this rule as we attempted to pursue him through the door of the Leinster House 2000 annexe which houses the offices of TDs and senators.

Repeated efforts by the Sunday Independent to elicit a response from Martin McGuinness in relation to Mr Rogers’ claims through contacts with his private office at Stormont proved to be unsuccessful.

There are a lot of events of which Gerry Adams has no, or a poor, recollection.  But then, he’s been a very busy man…

As the BBC report notes of Peter Rogers

Mr Rogers, now 69 years old, is a former IRA prisoner who escaped from the Maidstone Prison Ship in 1972.

Eight years later, he was jailed in the Republic of Ireland for the IRA murder of a Garda (police) officer.

Detective Garda Seamus Quaid was shot and killed after his police patrol stopped a vehicle in County Wexford on 13 October 1980. Another officer was injured in the attack.

[Peter Rogers] was originally sentenced to death but it was commuted to a 40-year jail term for capital murder.

Nine years into his sentence, which he served in Portlaoise prison, County Laois, Mr Rogers left the republican movement and the republican wing of the jail.

He was later released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He wrote letters of apology to the families of Garda Quaid and his injured colleague, but his apologies were not accepted.

And the details of the alleged meeting with Adams and McGuinness

At the time of the shooting, Rogers says he had been working as a “logistics” man for the IRA, moving weapons and “personnel” between Rosslare, Wales and France.

He worked for a while on the Brittany ferry before setting up his own parcel delivery service, partly as a cover for his IRA activities.

In October 1980, he became concerned that explosives he was ordered to transport to England for a bombing campaign were in a dangerous state. After he refused to move the explosives because of his concerns, Rogers says he was ordered to come to Dublin, where he met with Adams and McGuinness.

Rogers told the Sunday Independent: “I was summonsed to Dublin as to find out why there was a delay in moving stuff. It was the stuff that I was caught with.

“I was extremely unhappy about it. The explosives was weeping and there was a heavy smell of marzipan off it. You daren’t touch it, but your hands were soaking wet with the nitroglycerine coming off it. It was dangerous, highly dangerous.

“I didn’t want to move it for the simple reason I was afraid, number one, of losing the route into England and I was also afraid that if it was compromised that the active service unit might have been caught in England.

“It was supposed to have been gone on a couple of occasions but different circumstances didn’t allow for it and one of the main ones was the condition the explosives was in.” During the Seventies almost 100 IRA members were killed while moving or making bombs, and Rogers would have been well aware of the dangers.

Rogers said he was summoned to meet Adams and McGuinness because “they were in charge of operations”.

He recalled: “It was the afternoon. There was a rugby match going on at the time. It was October. I let them know I wasn’t happy. The reason that the stuff hadn’t been moved before then was that I wasn’t happy with the condition of it and I was looking for it to be replaced.

“They stepped back from me and they had a bit of a conflab and I was out of earshot. Then they came back and said it wasn’t feasible to get any new stuff.”

And from the new BBC report

Mr Rogers has claimed that during the same year as Garda Quaid’s murder, he was summoned to a meeting in Dublin with Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness, because of his reluctance to move explosives to England for a bombing campaign.

He had complained that the liquid explosives were “unstable” and feared he would either be killed in a premature explosion or caught by police in possession of the substance.

“When I met with them, Gerry wanted to know what the delay was,” Mr Rogers told the BBC.

He claimed that Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness listened to his concerns and held a brief conversation out of his earshot, before coming back to him with a decision.

“Gerry said ‘look Peter, we can’t replace that explosive, you will have to go with what you have and as soon as you can get it across, the better’, so as far as I was concerned, I was given a direct order,” Mr Rogers said.

[Does the NI deputy First Minister have a better recollection than the Sinn Féin president? - Ed]  Probably not…

Adds  Here’s Shane Harrison’s BBC Newsline report

And As Ed Moloney points out

There is an intriguing but unexplained aspect to the Peter Rogers story and it is that his disenchantment with the Provo leadership appears to be fairly recent. In 2002 he gave two lengthy interviews about the Maidstone escape with that most leadership-friendly of figures, Jim Gibney for what was still called An Phoblacht-Republican News which you can read here and here. The falling out seems to happened after this but exactly why is not clear.

The 2002 interviews with Jim Gibney in An Phoblacht-Republican News are even more intriguing given that, by his own admission, Peter Rogers left the republican movement and the republican wing of Portlaoise prison nine years into his sentence. He spent the next nine years serving time with, as he has put it, “ODCs – ordinary decent criminals”, before his early release on licence in 1998.

But then again, until February this year, he hadn’t spoken to the media about the events in 1980…

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Cartoon – Selective abstentionism Wed, 23 Apr 2014 19:59:57 +0000 Sinn Fein, Abstentionism, Brian John Spencer

This cartoon was inspired by a piece over on where Slugger’s David McCann writes that the State Visit means no end to Sinn Fein abstentionism. Though I’ve heard a few lone voices say otherwise. Hand-shaking, soup-taking and toasting were long abstained from. Thoughts?

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NI21 launch a diverse squad of 47 council candidates – will any get elected? Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:43:04 +0000 NI21 launched their council candidates in The MAC this morning.

ni21 and mark h durkanJust before 10am, a lost-looking Mark H Durkan walked through the MAC’s downstairs foyer. He hadn’t come to throw his lot behind Tina McKenzie, but was instead early for his appointment with Alex Attwood at the Electoral Office around the corner!

Chatting to NI21 candidates, it was clear that this was their first foray into politics. Most I spoke to were driven by a frustration and a desire for political change in Northern Ireland.

After a warm up by deputy leader John McCallister, leader Basil McCrea spoke for 15 minutes on the challenges ahead. He answered some questions that he suspected candidates would face on the doorstep.

Why does NI12 exist? … Because the other parties are utterly, utterly, useless.

ni21 council candidatesWhile in one breath he lauded the gather audience for being the “most impressive bunch of candidates” he’d seen in any party, he also warned that NI21 “will not sweep to victory”.

Covering 8 of the new councils, the vast majority are running east of the Bann. Declan Someone obviously didn’t make it through into the final list of 47 candidates!

Of the 47,  a third of NI21’s candidates are women (7 out of 13 in Belfast). They were also diverse in terms of age, occupation, disability, ethnic background. Both keen and perturbed by the next four weeks of campaigning and political activity, some seemed eager to get out and knock doors while others were more reluctant about that kind of campaigning.

Four candidates addressed the audience: Pete Wray (Lisnasharragh), Jayne Olorunda (Ormiston), Jonathan McCarthy (Lisburn North) and Eileen Chan-Hu (Botanic).

You can also listen to five Lisburn & Castlereagh candidates talking to me later: Colin McCord & Jonathan McCarthy (Lisburn North), Christina Dobson & Glenn Wilson (Downshire East), and Elizabeth McCord (Castlereagh South).

Euro candidate (and council candidate for Balmoral) Tina McKenzie also spoke.

ni21 council candidate launchIt is clear that organisationally running 47 candidates on top of a Euro candidate is a stretch for the party which is less than a year old. Candidates will spend time fundraising as well as canvassing for votes over coming weeks.

Few stand any realistic chance of winning a seat, though there could be some interesting races. Could David Honeyford and his twin appeal to GAA and rugby club votes in Killultagh squeeze into the last seat?

There is certainly a realism within NI21 that getting no council candidate’s elected is more than a mere possibility. But the party candidates hold a hope that the electorate – both those used to voting and those who are out of practice – will translate anecdotal support and opinion polling into results. We’ll know if they’re right in a month’s time

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#IndyRef: “Nationalism breaks things and they are things not easy to fix.” Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:03:03 +0000 On the subject of Scotland and the clear failings of the No campaign (such as it is) Hugo Riftkind’s column in yesterday’s London Times is worth looking at (if you have a subscription).

He deals with the impossibility clause currently being pushed by Labour, up front…

…as we all know really, an independent Scotland, would be mostly fine. Poorer than now, perhaps, both culturally and economically, but no great disaster. But more damaging than its prospect, for all of us, is the fact that so many want it.

Say the polls ossify roughly where they are now and independence loses buy a ten per cent margin. That’s still more than 4 out of every 10 in Britain’s largest minority the wanted out. What sort of victory is that?

In something of a reprise of Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France mode, he concludes…

Nationalism is a dangerous affair. It breaks things and they are things not easy to fix. What the referendum has broken already is a consensus that was utterly and vitally British. It was both a product of three centuries of union and its cause.

It gave us the multiculturalism that has forged our post Empire identity an is the faith on which the United Kingdom was buitt. It is the core idea that people who want different things can still get along.

But he’s most interesting towards the end whilst assaying what he thinks will be lost if Britain were to lose its status as a country:

Britain without Scotland becomes a country in which multiculturalism has failed. It would become England with Welsh and Irish afterthoughts. The umbrella of Britishness – which allows us all to be British-thisish or British-thatish – would be lost.

We would become country not only with the majority White-English identity (which we are at the moment) but with a dominant one. And if you don’t see the distinction maybe that’s because for you it wouldn’t make much difference.

It would for me. These past years I have found the looming possibility of Scottish independence affecting my politics in the most unexpected of ways. Perhaps it’s the ancestral rootless Jew in me, but I find myself struggling how to curb the faint stirrings of a Ralph Milibandesque dislike of the concept of the nation state all together.

Being unable to square my unionism with even mild euro scepticism, I have also found, almost without thinking about it, that I’ve stopped being Eurosceptic at all.

Most of all, I find that I have become newly appreciative of the scrambled, multi-ethnic, multilingual, hotch-potch that is my new home in the British capital. London like britishness itself, is a messi, porous and cacophonous affair, with a little interest in keeping people out.

As a mere English capital, the city would be adrift. How baffling I find it when those in Scotland – a land with almost no ethnic minorities at all – champion independence on the smug and entirely untested basis that it would make their small Utopia the antithesis of Nigel Farage’s Little England. As far as i’m concerned, that’s what my London is already.

The Scottish no campaign has rightly been derided for its negativity, and on surprisingly, because alistair darling is not a man how to make you whoop. Ultimately though it is Scottish nationalism that is the far more negative creed.

Scots are not today subjective or oppressed. Post devolution, they are not even overlooked. In no sense at all can the campaign for scottish independence be defended as the urge to put right any great wrong.

Instead it is the campaign to stop talking; to ditch the obligation to engage with the folks next door. In the end, obviously, I hope it fails. From a British perspective, it’s a terrible failure that it even began.

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“Lesson One. Never, ever, agree to take over from a legend. Someone is bound to end up disappointed.” Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:58:34 +0000 So Manchester United let go their decent man manager David Moyes after just ten months in the job. And with him goes the myth that somehow United where above the petty desperation that has infected other Premiership clubs (he’s the tenth to lose his job this season).

Like the idea that the club was founded on a base of home grown players, the generous time of grace Alex Ferguson had was rooted in the past and a completely different league system where taking the lion’s share of the prize money was not the only key to success.

The contrast with Moyes hasty defenestration is remarkable, especially when some people are giving him stick about not developing the youth side of the team.

This appointment by anointment failed because Ferguson failed to take account for the fact the climate change that he exploited so well requires not another young him, but the multidirectional skills of a modern CEO.

Simon Kuper pretty much nails the reasons (£) for the success of the UK’s most high profile PLC success which may also now constitute some of its biggest problems:

…United’s golden age may be over. From 2008 through to 2011, the club enjoyed statistically its best period: three English titles and three Champions League finals, one of which was won. Those days aren’t coming back, not even if the Glazers meet expectations by spending close to £200m on new players this summer.

Given the inflation at the top end of the transfer market, and United’s need for several world-class players, even £200m might not be enough to match Chelsea or Manchester City. Ferguson could compete with them despite United’s lower spending, but then Ferguson was an almost unmatched overachiever.

Money buys success in football and several clubs now have more money than United. From 1997 through 2004, United topped the consultancy Deloitte’s “rich list” of European football clubs ranked by revenues. In 2012-13, United dropped out of the top three for the first time since Deloitte began compiling the list. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich now have higher revenues.

Moreover, Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have oil-rich owners who pump money in rather than sucking it out. By the logic of the market that means there are six clubs in Europe more likely to win the Champions League than United.

In the domestic league, by the same logic, the club’s natural position is now third behind Chelsea and Manchester City. (Less wealthy Liverpool will probably win this season’s Premier League, but their overachievement is probably unique in recent English history.)

United’s biggest problem isn’t David Moyes. It’s money.

Andrew Hill follows up with a few bullet point lessons from ‘Assistant Professor Moyes’:

Lesson One. Never, ever, agree to take over from a legend. Someone is bound to end up disappointed. (Just ask Jeff Immelt at General Electric – and he’s had nearly a decade and a half to convince shareholders it doesn’t matter that he’s not Jack Welch.)

Lesson Two. If you must take over from a legend, do try to make sure that said legend is either dead, distant or otherwise unable to turn up every week to watch how you’re doing your job. (Chief executives whose predecessor was recently elevated to the chairmanship may sympathise.)

The road back to the European cash cow is now at least 18 months away. Unprecedented in the recent history of the club. Yet they can ride the loss of earnings easily enough. The trouble is the whole business model is based on cleaning debt and allaying the anxiety of shareholders.

That’s a lot of expectation for any new manager to take on.

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Women candidates and Political Parties in the 2014 Republic of Ireland local elections by Claire McGing Wed, 23 Apr 2014 07:11:36 +0000 Claire McGing currently lectures political geography at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. She has published research nationally and internationally on gender in Irish politics, north and south. She can be contacted at

Local elections are due to be held in the Republic of Ireland on Friday, May 23rd. Compared to the last contest in 2009 the electoral landscape is rather different: 774 town and borough council positions have been abolished and the number of county/city councillors has risen from 883 to 949. Constituency geographies have also been altered, with average district magnitude (number of seats per constituency) up from 5.2 to 6.9 seats.

Like every aspect of electoral democracy, it is important that these elections be analysed in light of gender. Despite the use of proportional representation (PR-STV) at local and national level, the south of the island has consistently lagged in terms of women’s representation. Presently, the lower house of the national parliament, Dáil Éireann, has only 25 women TDs (Dáil representatives) – a record high of 15%.

The local scale is little better, with women comprising around 17% of city and county councillors. This figure is worrying given the majority of TDs start their career in local politics, working up the electoral ‘pipeline’. Indeed, it has been found that local experience is even more significant for women than for men. Thus, to get more women elected to the Dáil, it is crucial they are selected to run for their local councils.

My own research suggests that conservative party cultures best explain women’s underrepresentation in ROI politics, not the electoral system nor the voters. Once women are on the ballot paper and incumbency is controlled for (as in most democracies incumbent candidates overall tend to poll higher than new names), they are as likely as men – in some cases even more likely – to win seats. Historically, political parties in a position to win multiple seats per constituency, mainly the ‘civil war’ Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have tended to be the least likely to run women candidates.

The main left-wing parties, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, have a better track record of nominating women members but have too fallen short of genuine parity in the past. This is why gender quota legislation enacted in 2012 by the Irish government was seen by the women’s movement as a considerable achievement. Modelled on quotas in Belgium and France, the Act requires political parties to run at least 30% women and 30% men candidates in future general elections, rising to 40% after seven years.

Failure to meet this will see a party lose one-half of its state funding drawn annually under the 1997 Electoral Act – quite a considerable sum. Although the legislation applies only to the Dáil, it was hoped that parties would voluntarily apply the model for the 2014 local elections as it would give them a healthy supply of seasoned women candidates for the next general election (due to be held no later than 2016). Higher district magnitudes were also expected to encourage more women candidates as this allows selectorates to nominate women without displacing too many incumbents or ‘favoured sons’.

So, 30 days ahead of polling, how does the field currently look? Overall, 17% of candidates (party and non-party) are female, the same as five years ago. There are considerable differences between political parties in the likelihood of selecting women. Fine Gael, who is currently the largest party at local level but can expect seats losses, is running 107 women (the highest number of any party), or 23%.

This is an increase of 5% on the 2009 level. Although some commentators, myself included, were optimistic about Fianna Fáil using their ‘green field pastures’ to promote new women nominees, the party’s performance has proved disappointing. Only 17% of their candidates are female, which is no statistical improvement on the last election.

As usual, left tickets are proving more gender-balanced. The Labour Party has had a one-third target for many years and 30% of their candidates are women (up 7%). The Sinn Féin figure is 32% (up 9%), while the Green Party’s is 31% (also up 9%).

After the election, a subsequent analysis of gender and electoral success will prove interesting. I would estimate that no more than one-fifth of councillors elected will be women, if even, though only time will tell.

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Cartoon – Loyal to whom? Tue, 22 Apr 2014 19:28:33 +0000 Martin McGuinness, Queen Elizabeth, Brian John Spencer

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Scotland Essays: Proud declaration of lack of vision is the hallmark of a failing No campaign Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:13:32 +0000 Just a week after John McTernan tried mightily to sound upbeat about about the No campaign’s relentless negativity and it’s almost universal condemnation by campaign analysts and the Scotsman writes:

Alex Salmond is on the brink of securing a historic victory in the referendum, according to an exclusive poll suggesting Yes Scotland needs a swing of just over 2 per cent to win independence.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. In fact none of this was supposed to happen, not the SNP victory in 2007 or 2011, not votes for under 16s, not the referendum itself.

McTernan is locked into a Blairite orthodoxy, and a cultural cul de sac marked by the essential, immutable laws of this world:

  • opinion polls don’t change in Scotland (ever);
  • there is no support for progressive politics in Scotland (or anywhere);
  • and there is no difference between Scotland and England (at all).

John is what we might call ‘evidence resistant’. His commitment to campaign miserabilism is admirable: ‘You have to beat an untruth to death. It’s not pretty, but it is effective in the long run’ may already be collapsing before him.

The reality is that the trajectory of the opinion polls is clear and momentum is with the Yes campaign. Despite McTernan’s assertions to the opposite, there’s substantial support for re-nationalisation of the Post Office and the railways and massive support for the moves the SNP government have taken to defend the NHS.

There’s evidence too that the real problem with Ed Miliband’s leadership lies with his inability to break cleanly with the Blairite past and create an alternative narrative beyond the discredited New Labour project.

Support for public ownership is higher than anywhere else in the UK. 87% of people polled support public ownership of the NHS, 75% of the Post Office, 69% of the railways and a huge 71% of energy (Source YouGov Nov 2013).

McTernan’s blithe optimism (if we can call it that) is supported by his fellow traveller Brian Wilson who has written “Vision is a word beloved of those with nothing much to say.” This proud declaration of lack of vision is a hallmark of the failing No campaign, which can be reduced neatly to a four letter evocation: ‘UK:OK’. In other word’s: ‘Everything’s fine’.

It’s a shrink’s fantasy, a paean to denialism and a manifesto for inertia. Such deep-seated conservatism can win elections if it can be backed up by a reassuring patrician voice, a dream of a better tomorrow or a shrill scare story to put the fear of god into people.

Several problems emerge for those backing this approach.

First, this isn’t an election. Turnout is likely to be in the high 80% low 90%. It’s not the self-satisfied No campaign that’s out in Easterhouse registering voters.

Secondly, all of the fear factor tactics have been tried, and failed. If anything they now make the No campaign just look ridiculous, undermining legitimate issues they might want to present.

Thirdly, the No campaign lacks leadership and seems incapable of articulating a story about a future Britain. If Wilson is to be believed even to attempt to do so is somehow a bad thing in itself.

As the policy merger between the three main parties at Westminster becomes complete under a hand-stitched banner that could read plainly ‘Austerity Unionism’ there is a real difficulty for the Better Together’s cheerleaders infused with hubris, dead certainty and a grand sense of self-entitlement.

In the absence of any real alternative or prospects from Labour, a progressive movement is emerging across Scotland to create a better future. People are realising that we have a parliament, now we need a democracy.

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“Poll: Scotland on the brink of independence” Time to panic? Tue, 22 Apr 2014 10:55:53 +0000 For Scotland on Sunday to strike such a headline shows it’s time to panic says the Speccie.

“Mr Darling and his allies in Better Together have to wake up to the fact that they have managed to blow a 20-point lead in a few months and the gap between the two sides looks like it is now within the margin of error for polling companies.

Not only does the Yes camp have the momentum, it has the foot soldiers on the ground in numbers the No camp can only dream about.”

A landmark ICM survey for today’s Scotland on Sunday reveals a decline in the No vote from 46 per cent to 42 per cent over the past month. Over the same period, the Yes vote has remained steady at 39 per cent, resulting in a significant tightening of the gap between the two sides.

When the 19 per cent “don’t knows” are excluded from the equation, the No vote stands at 52 per cent, with 48 per cent in favour of Scotland going it alone. This is the highest level of Yes support to be recorded by an independently commissioned opinion poll.

Polling analyst John Curtice confirms the trend and gives it a gender twist

..the gender gap matters. If we ignore those who do not yet know how they will vote, then Yes Scotland appear within a hair’s breadth of persuading a majority of men to support independence – across recent opinion polls an average of 48% of men indicated they would vote Yes. But just 37% of women who have made up their minds say they plan to do the same. Women account for 52% of the Scottish population aged 16 and over, so it is clear from these figures that unless the Yes campaign can persuade women to change their views in substantial numbers, a majority yes vote is likely to remain out of reach.

However, and perhaps fortunately for Yes Scotland, what polling figures also show is that women are less likely to have made up their minds about how they will vote in September. On average across the most recent opinion polls around one in five women say they remain undecided, compared with around one in eight men.

Today the old lion king of Scottish politics joins the No campaign at last with a contribution about how the ageing population of Scots benefit greatly from sharing the cost burden of pension contributions with the English. Problem is , Gordon Brown’s is mainly another negative and it hardly makes the heart sing does it?

Scotland pays 8% of UK National Insurance but receives “upwards of 9%” of the benefits

the “extra benefit” Scotland receives in terms of pensions (the gap between contributions and returns) will rise from £425m to £700m per year over the next 20 years

the UK will “underwrite” Scotland’s estimated £100bn public sector pensions bill. He will say this is 10% of the UK total – while Scotland has just 8% of the UK population

it would cost about £1bn for Scotland to administer the first years of a separate pensions and benefits system once IT costs were included – which Mr Brown will say “makes no sense”

Mr Brown will say it is “fairer and better” for the UK’s “faster-rising” working-age population to cover the cost of the rising number of elderly people in Scotland.

So, do you follow all that?

Hugo Rifkind, the witty Times columnist and son of  wishful thinking Malcolm is the latest London based Scot to lament the rise and rise of nationalism (£) and the trend in the polls.

Scottish nationalism doesn’t make me angry. It only makes me sad. It will go on making me sad whether the “yes” vote turns out to be 40 per cent or 60 per cent. Because, as we all know really, an independent Scotland would be mostly fine. Poorer than now, perhaps, both culturally and economically, but no great disaster. But more damaging than its prospect, for all of us, is the fact that so many want it. Say the polls ossify roughly where they are now and independence loses by a 10 per cent margin. That’s still more than four out of every ten in Britain’s largest minority who wanted out. What sort of a victory is that?

Nationalism is a dangerous affair. It breaks things and they are things not easy to fix. What the referendum has broken already is a consensus that was utterly and vitally British. It was both a product of three centuries of union and its cause. It gave us the multiculturalism that has forged our post-Empire identity and is the faith on which the United Kingdom was built. It is the core idea that people who want different things can still get along.

In the end, obviously, I hope it fails. From a British perspective, it’s a terrible failure that it even began.

This  passive sentiment needs to turned into a positive appeal to Scottish hearts. Counting the beans doesn’t seem to be cutting it.


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NI21′s ‘tús maith’ ! Tue, 22 Apr 2014 10:31:20 +0000 One swallow doesn’t make a Summer and one bilingual billboard can’t erase the generations of anti Irish language unionist politics – but the bold initiative by NI21 to include the Irish language in its election campaign has to be hailed as a breakthrough of sorts. Look at any of the unionist party websites and you will note the absence of any Irish language content and, on top of that, any reference to the Irish language is invariably hostile.   The UUP website, for instance, has a section on culture which doesn’t include any reference to the Irish language.  This is surprising given that Michael McGimpsey, the party’s culture spokesman, was viewed to be reasonably disposed to the language and his brother, Chris, was a member of the board of ULTACH Trust, a body soon to be culled by Foras na Gaeilge, which carried out a thankless task of promoting Irish within the Protestant community. The DUP website has a similar section on Culture and, again, there’s no mention of the Irish language, just a token nod to Ulster Scots.    If either main unionist party aspires to garner the votes of Catholics – or the North’s growing Irish identity minority – it needs to acknowledge that their/our culture exists and is as worthy of policy at least as Ulster Scots culture. There’s no specific mention of the Irish language on NI21′s website though Cultural Identity leads the policy section. This statement is of interest – though I find it difficult to see that it will appeal to many Irish speakers i know in the north – many of whom have given up on a Northern state which refuses doggedly to acknowledge their Irish identity.   It does this by refusing to allow Irish to be used in the courts in line with 18th century legislation and by other refusals – for instance the recent decision by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to insist on English only tourism signage in Down.

Northern Ireland needs a sense of ‘We’ to replace ‘Them and Us’. In the absence of such a shared identity, the emotional ‘pull’ of ‘Them and Us’ politics will almost certainly be stronger and more compelling than that of a progressive politics which flees from any sense of identity.A shared Northern Ireland identity – with appropriate symbols – is not an artificial product, the result of abstract social engineering. It reflects the unique interplay of Irish, Scotch-Irish and Anglo-Irish cultures in this part of these Islands. It flows from a shared space, a shared geography – the sense that Belfast, Derry-Londonderry, Armagh, and Enniskillen belong to us. The cultural figures and achievements produced by this region should not – cannot – be neatly divided into ‘Them and Us’: they reflect that sense of ‘We’.

That statement appears to require its own translation.   The best and most meaningful translation, however, has been provided by the decision by NI21 to feature the Irish language in some of their billboards.   The report in the Belfast Telegraph bizarrely has Basil McRea ‘defending’ his party’s decision to go with ‘Gaeilge’ on their billboards.   The quotes attributed to the NI 21 candidate, Tina McKenzie, and the party leader, Basil McCrea, are very encouraging:

Party leader Basil McCrea denied the decision to put their slogan ‘This is Fresh Politics’ in Irish could backfire.

“As far as I know we are probably the first pro-UK party to use the Irish language in our election campaign,” the Lagan Valley MLA said.

Ahead of the party’s expected launch later this week of more than 50 candidates for the 11 new councils, he said: “We are taking a stand as conviction politicians.

“We are an inclusive party. We believe Northern Ireland should be a place where everybody can celebrate their own culture.

“Although we believe that NI is better off remaining part of the United Kingdom we do not see why we should not be pluralist and diverse.”

The former Ulster Unionist, who resigned from the party along with South Down MLA John McCallister, said his party was not against the Irish Language Act which Sinn Fein is demanding at Stormont.

“But what we do not want to see is for the language to be politicised and that is where Sinn Fein has got it wrong in hijacking the language and attempting to have it imposed rather than agreed,” Mr McCrea added. The party has already tweeted in Irish and was involved in a Stormont Christmas event at which carols were sung in Irish.

Mr McCrea added it was only because the still-fledgling party has limited resources that it did not also include some posters in Ulster Scots or other minority languages.

Ms McKenzie said, however: “Of course we are making a point. We have a simple message – the Irish language belongs to everyone in Northern Ireland and we should all celebrate it.

“We have to stop using the constitutional question to place people in divisive boxes of religion and culture – this is the politics of the past and it is the tribal politics which is stopping us from becoming the modern pluralist democracy we should be.”

Ms McKenzie argued that in 1905 Douglas Hyde, the future president of the Republic of Ireland, said ‘The Irish language, thank God, is neither Protestant nor Catholic, it is neither unionist nor separatist’. She said: “Politicians of all hews and many others have abandoned those sentiments. “We have politicised language, sport and culture in the most unsavoury manner, and the past year has proven that despite it being 16 years after the (Good Friday) Agreement the political establishment here is still bitterly divided. “Northern Ireland needs more normal politics which will help deliver a more cohesive society. “We hope in future campaigns to celebrate other minority languages, however, the Irish language has been used as such a political football of late; we thought this is the best way to send a clear message. “For me our political establishment is asleep to the fact that we are in the 21st century – NI21 wants to wake it up,” she added.
I’m not sure whether the reference to Irish being used ‘as such a political football of late’ includes the Lá Dearg march and Sinn Féin’s participation therein but what this initiative indicates is that there is a new team on the field of play and that has to be welcomed because now Irish speakers have a wider choice about which party they should support.   Previously it was a choice of Sinn Féin and the SDLP and as the latter party was eclipsed by SF it became  less and less of a choice as people flocked to the party which became ever more powerful. NI21 faces a difficult task in attracting both nationalist and unionist voters at a time when tribal politics appears to be becoming an ever more powerful force.
This isn’t likely to abate this side of the upcoming elections.  At the same there’s a growing disaffection among people with the traditional politics of NI – and this is a gap into which NI21 may fit.   There’s no indication yet that NI 21 is attracting significant support – but it’s early days yet. I see this latest move boosting NI21 from an also ran as far as Irish speakers are concerned to among the top three preferences.   This is unlikely to result in an MEP seat for Tina McKenzie but it may be enough for the party to make a better than expected showing which could ensure its survival until the next electoral battle.   The widely reported internal problems of NI 21, however, will also be a factor and if voters get a sense that their preference will be wasted, then the party could be over for Ni21 and for this potential breakthrough in identity politics in NI. But, as we say in Irish, tús math, leath na h-oibre.  A good start is half the work.
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Women in Politics in Northern Ireland Tue, 22 Apr 2014 10:25:21 +0000 The issue of women in politics, or lack of them to be more accurate has been an issue pondered by academics, pressure groups and political parties alike for years.

In September 2013, Michael Potter prepared a research paper on this topic for the Northern Ireland Assembly and his findings make for sobering reading as he states;

The Northern Ireland Assembly currently has 21 female Members out of a total of 108 (19.4%), although 20 women were elected in 2011, the net increase being due to one more female than male co-option by parties replacing Members since the election. 38 female and 180 male candidates stood in the 2011 election (17.4%). No female candidates stood in Newry and Armagh. Historically, there have been 47 female MLAs (of 218 total, 21.6%) since the current institutions were established in 19984. No women have been returned in East or North Antrim since 1998.

We rank well below our Scottish, Welsh and Westminster counterparts for bringing women into the Assembly.

Likewise, we appoint very few women into positions of power when they make it to the assembly. Since 1998, just 9 women have been appointed to the Executive; 5 of these are from Sinn Fein  (This rises to 6 if you include Jnr Ministers) while 3 have come from the SDLP, 1 from the DUP and the UUP have the record of appointing 7 men and no women.

In fairness, the UUP have had a pretty poor record in their previous tenure from 1921-72 as they appointed just one female minister, Dame Dehra Parker, compared to the more than 40 men that sat around the cabinet table during that 50 year period. It was not uncommon for all male cabinets to exist in those days, but the party today does not seem to be doing much to rectify this problem.

The fact that Northern Ireland can say just 10 women in our 90 year history have exercised full ministerial power is not something for us to boast about.

So, why do I bring this up now? Well, during my visits around the party conferences and actually going out and meeting many of the female candidates that are standing, what you see are incredibly serious, determined and capable people. They exist across parties and many of them will be serious contenders for the assembly if not in 2016, perhaps the election after. I cannot help think that as a society we have seriously missed out by persisting with an environment that has allowed so many women to opt out of our process.

How we solve this problem? I am sure many people have their own views about possibility changing the electoral system, gender quotas and other measures like childcare etc, but we do need to continue the debate.

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The Easter Rising: romance and regret but no barrier to reconciliation Mon, 21 Apr 2014 23:18:10 +0000 in response to David McCann’s very personal and sincere post, I must say that the Rising is part of my history but not part of my cause. I approach it with fascination and regret. Regret for the delayed victory for physical force it represented. But how could it not inspire? The world was in turmoil; nothing would do but for the “Army of the Irish Republic” to start their own little war too. And of course the Jesus parallel and the martyrology still works.” Oh death where is thy sting, oh grave thy victory.. “the fools the fools they have left us our patriot dead..” and all that. Great stuff if you’re a believer, still terrific propaganda for the detached and the sceptic.

The Rising is safely far enough back in the past to appreciate the element of nobility while shaking one’s head at the quixotic. But don’t let’s overdo the nobility. What nobility was there to open the engagement by shooting the unsuspecting sentry at Dublin Castle in the head and bear main responsibility for almost 500 dead,  80% of them Dublin citizens?  I must admit I enjoy Kevin Myers’ fiercely detailed revisionism that must wind up even the mildest Irish patriot. Nevertheless I admire the many glimpses of humanity seen on all sides, such as the solder escorts of the surrendered of the GPO, held after a cold night in the open at the Rotunda, telling some of the younger ones to eff off home.

It’s the character of the leaders that’s most fascinating. I’m with Yeats in admiring Mac Diarmada and Mc Donagh who I think it was rejected the idea of seizing Trinity because its destruction would have been * a national catastrophe”. Pearse comes across to me as an Irish Rupert Brooke type and a gay hysteric. I wonder what the old toughie Connolly really thought of him. I’m tickled by the story that Dev had a nervous breakdown at Boland’s Mill and could hardly hold himself together – but that could be later Fine Gael propaganda.

It was Collins on the fringes in 1916 who learned the tough lessons of how daft it was to barricade themselves in buildings and wait to be shelled out of them. He must have thought Pearse was a total bollocks as a general, as was milady Markievicz  for trying to dig trenches in the Green rather than seize the commanding heights of the Shelbourne. Pearse the theatrical propagandist and sacrificial lamb and Collins the effective terrorist and pragmatic politician. That was the sequence that delivered success.

Collins impresses precisely because of his pragmatism. Ruthless but not romantic, he wrapped the whole thing up in four years, unlike our lot who think he’s their model . Perhaps there’s a social class point to make here ; Collins had no illusions and was rural working class. The executed leaders of 1916 were mainly middle class and romantic. Collins only became romantic after he was assassinated . I like to think it exasperated  his shade in purgatory to become one of sainted martyrs. He surely didn’t mean for that to happen.

Another impressive figure is largely forgotten because he lacked the gift of the gab. Richard Mulcahy was the only man of 1916 to win any sort of victory when he led an ambush of the RIC at Ashbourne and inflicted 18 dead at a cost of 2 volunteers. It was Mulcahy probably more than any other who steadied the ship of state after Collins’s assassination in August 1922. It was who gave the order as Irish Army chief of staff to carry out reprisals against Irregulars in the civil war, earning undying bitterness from what became  Fianna Fail. Strange how ruthlessness impresses and political romanticism irritates at this distance.

This 1971 RTE recording of veterans assessing Mulcahy’s career just after his death shows vividly how that generation of leaders aspired to be revolutionaries only temporarily. How lucky that generation was compared to ours. Listen carefully at how they glide over the reprisal executions, still so sensitive in 1971  (after the Arms Trial, remember) and  far more ruthless than what the  British inflicted.

l marvel that even in 1916, much British opinion led by the prime minister Asquith feared that the 15 executions by court martial were excessive and too hasty.  What other country would have been so lenient against rebels who also invoked “ gallant allies in Europe” in time of desperate war?

Then there is my counterfactual. If the militants had waited a bit and accepted the feeble Home Rule parliament, how could the British have  prevented it acquiring the same powers it had acquired by 1922 after almost three years of guerrilla war and over 3000 dead? But politics are only partly rational. Like so many others in emerging states, Irish militant nationalists had to have their fight. It’s pointless to begrudge nationalism its dramatic foundation myth. With respect to Kevin Myers, it’s no more nonsense than most and is no excuse against reconciliation today.

And yet … standing in those lovingly preserved terrible cells and the execution  courtyard of Kilmainham gaol , I lament the terrible waste of time and lives across most of the century which Easter 1916 inspired. But yes you’re right; it wasn’t all their fault. I haven’t started on the Brits and the northern unionists yet.

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If you want change, this is not the election to boycott: a response to Alex Kane Mon, 21 Apr 2014 10:07:42 +0000 IMG_3033

An empty Belfast City Hall council chamber. (CC image from Flickr)

In today’s Newsletter Alex Kane argues that by not voting, he’s sending a message: “the Assembly isn’t working, the Executive is dysfunctional, we have farce rather than government, the parties don’t care.” This is a really strange argument against voting in council elections—especially since this is an election about the transformation of local government. As the Northern Ireland Local Government Association says, “On Thursday 22nd May 2014 the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls to elect this local council in the greatest shakeup of local government in more than 40 years.” If you want change, this is not the election to boycott.

The local government reforms we are about to see will create structures designed to empower communities at the municipal level. So if, like Kane, you’re “mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore” (i.e. the inertness of the Assembly), well, this is actually the election for you. Planning powers, local economic development, urban regeneration; these powers are being devolved down to the local level. Abstain in 2016 if the Assembly is the rock in your shoe, but by all means, if you want to shape your community and drive regeneration, don’t stay home in May.

Kane’s argument against voting in upcoming elections is structured on a folk argument that I’ve heard plenty of times back in America: “don’t vote, it only encourages them.” This is the idea that by not voting, you are refusing to prop up the people and institutions that you see as failing to deliver for the electorate. “Why vote for parties who either don’t want change or are too weak and dithery to deliver change?” asks Kane.

Why vote? For one, if in the elections less than 50 percent of the electorate don’t vote, which Kane is hoping for, you are surrendering political mandate to the street. In Northern Ireland, this is a dangerous place to be in; it will call into question the legitimacy of everything from council decisions to the PSNI. Forgive me for being the blow-in who set up my life here during peace-times, but from the horror stories I’ve heard from grieving friends about the past, a “voting is not the answer” argument seems frankly reckless.

Middleclass commentators, since the start of flag protests, have simultaneously lamented loyalist disenfranchisement, and derided the re-emergence of the PUP. Back in 2012, at the beginning of the flag protests, Alex Kane argued,

They need to organise. They need to construct a socio-economic platform. They need to create an agenda. They need to engage and enthuse potential voters. They need to field their own candidates with their own manifesto. They need to stop self-appointed, self-interested spokesmen from speaking for them.

There is room for a party which is prepared to engage unionist/loyalist working classes. So instead of being manipulated by mainstream unionism or whipped up by loyalist paramilitaries the new voices of the unionist/loyalist working classes need to be focussed on earning influence and respect where it matters and then winning seats at council and Assembly level.

Now that council elections are almost here, he is telling loyalists their votes don’t matter, and that it won’t make a difference whatever happens in these elections. In fact, for working-class people at the interfaces, if voter turnout is less than 50%, they are likely to experience negative changes, including a decline in community relations that could lead to greater violence and tension—something most middle-class people can avoid simply by getting in the car and going home.

I agree with Kane that if the Assembly isn’t working, there isn’t necessarily a moral case to be made for voting, though as I’ve just argued, low voter turnout could lead to a rapid decline in political stability, affecting working-class communities the worst. Jason Brennan, political philosopher at Georgetown University, argues in The Ethics of Voting, “Institutions that hinder our ability to live well, regardless of what they symbolize or the good intentions of their creators, give us little reason to support them.”

But these elections aren’t about the Assembly. They are about councils and Europe. They are also about sending a message that we want our society’s problems solved through conversations rather than on the street—something Kane also argued for at the beginning of the flag protests.

So why vote? I think David Swanson at Daily Kos has two really strong arguments that are applicable here in Northern Ireland.

Because there is a real value in not allowing things to get any worse than they have.

Because progress will not come from greater crisis but from greater space to maneuver in.

If you want to take hold of the reigns of your community, the elections in May are your chance. If you really can’t find someone to vote for, why not just stand yourself?


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1916 Rising and how it inspired me 78 years later. Sun, 20 Apr 2014 14:23:19 +0000 There are a lot of pieces going around today looking back at the Rising and its subsequent impact on the direction of Irish politics. But, I wanted to tell a different story of how the Rising inspired me and impacted on my future direction and beliefs. I don’t claim that this story is indicative of anything, other than my own political values, nor do I believe it is more valuable than other stories, which I hope commentators will share in the comments section below. This is just my story, of learning about the Rising and how it has impacted on me.

In 1994, I was six years of age, taking the annual family visit to Dublin to do some Christmas shopping. We would always take in the sights and do the normal things that people did on a weekend trip, but for me this visit was different. Being so young, I was aware but didn’t really understand what was going on in Ireland at that time. My parents typically tried to play down the soldiers on the streets and news reports of bombs (I was always the child in family who questioned everything).

But, on this trip to Dublin, my Dad decided to break at least one of the taboos and tell me the story about the Easter Rising. Here, I should mention something about him, a diehard Republican with a love of Irish history, who in his twenties met an English lady (my mother) and settled down. This contradiction is something that still provides a great source of slagging from me to this day.

This visit to Dublin stands out for me, as I remember him taking just me and none of my siblings.

We began with the GPO, as he regaled me with the words of the proclamation and where it was read out to the people, my imagination wondered trying to visualise it all. He told me about the bravery of men who withstood shelling from the British for a week straight and the now infamous story of James Connolly’s execution. Fully animated at this stage, my Dad had even been able to gain the interest of some American tourists, who like me were hanging off his every word.

While many of the minor details of the event escape me now, remembering him putting my fingers in the bullet holes along the columns outside the GPO will be a lasting memory for me.

This event because I shared it with someone I cared about, ignited my love of Ireland and my path towards Republicanism. Gradually over the years, I learned more about the Rising and its consequences, and while I naturally departed somewhat from the ardently pro-1916 view that my father had, it was this experience that instilled in me the idea that everybody no matter what they did or who they were should be able to participate in the running of a nation.

I did not embrace Republicanism, out of hatred or a fear of someone else. Rather, it was a love of something and being totally captivated by its ideals and hopes. I am a Republican, because I believe that this form of government can deliver progress and prosperity for all of our people.

The 1916 Rising inspired my Dad, who then passed on his passion to me. That for me while it’s not recorded in any history book is a huge part of its legacy. The values that still guide me today began to take shape by hearing this story.

Other people have their own stories, I am sure that people reading this could recall a similar experience. But, as I pause to think about the Rising and what it means to me, I cannot get away from that day with my father in 1994. This is my story and I thought I would share it with you all today. I would love to hear yours.

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Polls: Ireland’s two party system dead as four blocks slip into their electoral trenches Sun, 20 Apr 2014 06:58:36 +0000 So, two Irish polls this weekend. Not sure what to make of either of them to be honest, since there’s a divergence between them in FG’s rating of some 9%. The B&A poll in the Sunday Times has Fine Gael dropping like stone from 30% to 21%, whilst Sindo/Millward Brown has them on 29% (no change).

Here’s the adjusted figures:

  • Sunday Times/B&A poll: FG 21 (-9 since end Feb), FF 20 (+1), SF 20 (+2), Lab 9 (unchanged), Greens 4 (+1), Inds/others 26 (+5). Poll 6-16 April
  • Sindo/Millward Brown: FG 29 (-2 since end Feb), Lab 6 (-2), FF 22 (+1), SF 20 (-1), Inds/ors 23 (+1).

Core support in the B&A poll is a few points lower in each case with FG and Independents both on 18, Fianna Fail on 17 and Sinn Fein 16 (a virtual three way tie). Undecideds account for 24%.

It’s hard to know what to make of the anomaly other than there’s a softness in FG’s vote after a nightmare run in to next month’s local elections. B&A don’t measure as often as Red C who had them on 26% at the end of March.

Arguably the party in biggest trouble remains Labour, not least in its Dublin stronghold, where SF is poised to make substantial gains from that quarter:

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 01.57.49

In Dublin the independent figure comprises strong preferences for parties of the left. The number of Dublin councillors of the 2009 intake who left to take up seats in the Dail or the Seanad indicates how important these elections are for seeding new talent.

One of the things to look out for on the day are the changes to Dublin City Council, and the region more broadly. As Adrian Kavanagh noted last September:

There currently are 130 councillors in the four different local authorities covering the Dublin region, with Dublin City (52 councillors) being the largest of these followed by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (28), South Dublin (26) and Fingal (24). The number of councillors in this region will increase significantly at the next local elections, with the number of councillors increasing by 16 in Fingal (a 67% increase), 14 in South Dublin (54%), 12 in Dun Laoghaire (43%) and 11 in Dublin City (21%).

This notable increase in overall councillor numbers (53) in the Dublin region does offer a “political opportunity space” to allow different candidates and political parties to make notable gains at the 2014 local elections.[emphasis added]

Looking at the overall results from five years ago you can see just how profoundly the political landscape changed both in 2011 general election and in the polling subsequent to that:

FG, then on the way up, polled 34.7% of the first preference vote (FPV), FF on the way down were at 25%, Labour pre Gilmore Gale got 14.2%, SF were squeezed a little at 7.8%. Independents took 15.6% in City and County councils with none of the left parties taking more than a full percentage point each.

If there was any doubt before the landscape of Irish politics has already changed, and changed profoundly. The two party system of old is gone, and there are now four blocks roughly of equal size all slugging it out in hundreds of contests across the country.

All we need now is an electoral poll to shake out all the speculation.

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Was Ireland fatally wounded in 1916? Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:45:26 +0000 Every July 4th Americans celebrate their independence. Tools are downed, friends and families gather, and across 50 states and my own taxed yet unrepresented district, the skies are painted with an assortment of red flairs imported from China. I’m assured that the value of viewing this spectacle from my roof deck on D.C.’s Connecticut Avenue is worth the transatlantic airfare.

Ten days later Paris’ Montparnasse neighbourhood baths under a brief sea of light and fire, a show replicated in miniature but no less enthusiastically across countless French villages and town squares, all briefly united in celebration of how their greatest asset, their shared national identity the values and ideals it embodies, was forged in a rebellion that reached its symbolic zenith on the grounds of the Bastille Saint-Antoin prison.

Ireland has no comparable national celebrations of this nature. Not yet.

Undeterred, various Irish groups – some official, some anything but, none large – will congress this weekend to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916, an aborted, vaguely ludicrous, and ultimately catastrophic (especially for today’s northern nationalists) attempt to replace London-based rule in Ireland with a new island-based national parliament -and to hell with any Irish that preferred the status quo. Where the Irish rebellion lacked the popular support or storming success of their French forerunners, they did share some prison drama of historical significance.

The gaol-centered events that created such contrasting fortunes for today’s unified France and partitioned Ireland are not unrelated to the details that shaped both dramas in real time.

The birth of France’s liberty is timed, in part, at least symbolically, to the moment Bastille Prison’s then Military Governor, Bernard-Jordan de Launay, made a catastrophic miscalculation. In a futile attempt to calm the passions of the baying Parisian crowd, de Launay revealed to their representatives that his canons were in fact unloaded; his level-headed restraint only encouraged the mob’s confidence further and the Ancien Régime’s last Bastille Governor’s head was soon resting on a spike.

In fairness, what was the man to do? De Launay’s misjudgment surely hastened rather than caused his own demise since no alternative decision that could have altered the broader historical trajectory and terror unfolding all around him.

By contrast events in Kilmainhaim in Dublin 127 years later were much less inevitable and unavoidable. There’s a strong argument that General Maxwell’s confirmation of the death sentences handed down to 15 of the originally 90 condemned Irish rebels was much more historically significant than anything the rebels achieved or represented themselves. Had Maxwell opted for a touch of de Launay’s restraint, he may have ended a small rebellion instead of igniting a much larger one.

Whether one considers Ireland’s soon-to-follow War of Independence, its amputation, the entrenchment of ancient sectarian divides and suspicions, its civil war, the creation of a paranoid and repressive Orange State, and the disastrous economic policies that kept the newly Free State free of prosperity for most of the rest of the twentieth century, a good return on the Easter Rising or not, one thing is hard to dispute: After 1916, far from a united and liberated nation, Ireland spent most of the last century collapsed in on itself.

Despite official talk to the contrary, Ireland is more divided – borders tend to have that effect – than it was in 1916. Where modern America and France can date their births to 1776 and 1789 respectively, the sad truth is that Ireland suffered a death of sorts in 1921. Partition was a tragedy and national disgrace, directly attributed to the immediate consequences of the 1916 Easter Rising. Irish Nationalism has largely wasted the intervening decades treating this death as reversible, as though the project of the Rising is simply comatose and in need of resuscitation. This is not true and this approach will never work.

There are many reasons to imagine why a new Ireland, at peace with itself, its past and its neighbour could at some point emerge as an independent state designed to reflect and benefit all its people. But such a vision requires more than politics, policy and statecraft; this is the work of nation-building.

Bastille Day and July 4th represent national holidays – this is obvious to anyone surveying the post-political, jovial and mass participatory character of both festivals. Claims that 1916 ushered in a movement towards a comparable national liberation cannot be sustained by citing a few annual party political speeches at Bowdenstown.

Ireland’s best days should lay ahead but they will not be carved from the ashes of a failed and divisive rebellion that was smothered almost a century ago.

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