Move over Darling?

His words can make stock markets quake. They pushed house prices down further when he failed to quash rumours of a cut in stamp duty. Yet here is that flinty character Alistair Darling confessing all to one of the most winsome women in the interviewing business, Decca Aitkenhead of the Guardian. Confesses the Chancellor: “We knew the economy was going to slow down.” But he hadn’t the faintest inkling of the financial crisis about to unfold before him? “No, no … Read more

Update on Robinson upping the ante

It’s wonderful how a little detail can scale down a story as a day develops…UTV and The BBC’s Mark Devenport report that changes to the “massive” strategy development document Conor Murphy failed to bring back to the Executive for clearance amounted to around “150 changes, many involve references to “Northern Ireland” being changed to “the north”.” Are you being serious, First Minister? The air is going out of this story’s balloon. Sinn Fein ministers may well have a case to … Read more

Northern Ireland health service comes in second

Northern Ireland comes second among the four parts of the UK in the amount spent per patient, according to a breakdown just published by the respected Health Service Journal. “Huge contrasts found between UK nations. Patients in the UK’s four nations have dramatically different experiences of the NHS.” Scotland came highest in spending per patient at £1262, compared to NI at £1214, Wales at £1186 and England £1,086. NI has the second highest ratio of GPs per 1.000 patients, 0.63 … Read more

Robinson ups the ante

Breaking news… The Belfast Telegraph is selling hard the story of deepening crisis in the Executive, although as I type, nobody else seems to have picked up this latest twist. Peter Robinson’s charge is constitutionally a serious one, that the Regional Development minister SF’s Conor Murphy breached the code of office by failing to bring a ” massive” regional strategy to 2025 before an Executive meeting. “Mr Robinson said he wanted an immediate Executive meeting to deal with the issue … Read more

Cut rates as recession gloom deepens, Bank man demands

Have you ever heard of Blanchflower ? You have now. To most of us, the name conjures up fond memories of two great Belfast footballing brothers of the 1950s and 60s. But now there’s a new Blanchflower – David. (no relation as far as I know). David Blanchflower moves into history as the first member of the Bank of England monetary policy committee (MPC) to break ranks and give a stark warning of deep recession – in public. You aint … Read more

What did Iris say?

Three cheers for that bureaucratic pain, but first defence of human rights section 75 for taking Gay Rights to the top– even creating a ruffle in the Robinson household perhaps? And two cheers for the Belfast Telegraph for digging out the story under FoI ( great headline guys, you kept it simple). And to Pink News for, well, celebrating the news. “First Minister to authorise grants despite wife’s outspoken comments 80,000 to gay groups within the next seven months — … Read more

Forces of inertia

In his column in the Irish News today, the always stimulating Brian Feeney raises one of the major issues emerging out of the population study I referred to frivilously on Tuesday. He in effect poses a 64,000 euro question: should government ( whatever that is these days ) abandon the fiction of one community and break it down into a range of different social and sectarian profiles? “What is needed from the devolved administration at Stormont is a set of … Read more

Ballymoney on top of the world

Great to see that Ballymoney is right up there almost with Japan in the world tables of life expectancy. It’s not a comparison we’re used to, but we can make the link if we compare World Health Organisation figures out today with Irish Public Health institute results last week. Their quality of life is so high in the north Antrim Shangri-la that men can expect to reach an average age of 78.1 years; while women live, on average, to the … Read more

Aer Lingus wings clipped

The fate of Aer Lingus ‘s Belfast hub, launched with such a fanfare only a year ago in a highly controversial move from Shannon must now be in the balance as the airline posts frightful losses of 22 million euros. And with a “3-figure” million loss possible for 2009, as chief financial officer Sean Coyle admitted today.He added that the company’s cost per passenger is roughly double that of rival Ryanair. With fierce competition raging between all airlines flying in … Read more

God’s Irish executioner and English political hero

Here’s a topic to stir the blood.. Oliver Cromwell is the subject this week of a major reappraisal by Irish historian Micheál O Siochrú and the main feature of the BBC History magazine. I can do no better than let the excellent Fintan O’Toole introduce him, quoting his Observer review: “Even in these times, when all the talk is of putting history behind us, the easiest way to tell the difference between the Irish and the English is to utter … Read more

Upping the ante or calling the bluff

Last year, only weeks after a nasty confrontation between the Estonians and the Russians ostensibly over the resiting of a Russian war memorial, I took a rickety train, the only one of the day, up the Gulf of Finland from the Estonian capital Talinn to St Petersburg. Just before passing by an empty rusty watch tower on an eerily deserted border, I couldn’t help thinking that we’re pledged to defend these guys now. And that was before.. The “casus belli” … Read more

End of an era on Ireland – Obama

Barack Obama’s decision to review the need for a special envoy to Northern Ireland may be overdue on our side of the pond but it’s “completely unacceptable” to the influential Irish-American lobbyist Niall Dowd. Firmly Democratic Irish America is not happy, it seems – suggesting Obama was either bold or rash to raise the issue at the very moment when party unity is everything. This issue exposes a split from the Clinton camp at exactly the wrong time. In March, … Read more

No Biffo ban

How good of the Republic’s Broadcasting Complaints Commission to strike a bold blow for freedom and decide not to punish RTE and News at One Sean O’Rourke for asking the harmless question: “Did Biffo Blink?” At least he didn’t use the f-word version of the big fellow from Offaly’s nickname. What a crisis it would have provoked had they found against the broadcaster. Instead of solemnly poring over the case the way such bureaucrats do, they should have dismissed the … Read more

Higher still and higher shall thy bounds be set?

The most populous country in Europe in 50 years, bigger than Germany. 77 million compared to only 71 million! “605,000 long-term immigrants arriving in the year to mid-2007. The EU projections show that the wave of migration to Britain, boosting both the workforce and fertility rates, is out of step with many other European countries where deaths are expected to overtake births after 2015”. And with Ireland (Rep) growing even faster by 50%? Eurostat says it expects Ireland’s population to … Read more

National Trust plan to buy land around Causeway

Good news! Surely it’s high time for Seymour Sweeney to back off with dignity? Enough damage and delay have been caused. (In any comment about Mr Sweeney or another party, please remember the laws of defamation.) See here for a look at the development plans for the reception area. Brian WalkerFormer BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; … Read more

candy apples, hard green pears, conversation lozengers

David Hammond singer, film maker, celebrant, mentor and muse, has died in Belfast after a long illness. A Belfast man to his fingertips, he nevertheless took on the character of the whole island as a folk singer and collector of the purest quality and rigour. He sang everywhere and knew everybody from Tommy Makem and Donal Lunny to Jean Ritchie and Pete Seeger. His approach was that when simplicity conveys the essence, go for simplicity. His first audience was children. … Read more

Church v State clash likely as second referendum is floated

The battle lines are being drawn up already inside the Dublin establishment for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It’s becoming clearer what the results of a shorter than expected “period of reflection” will be when Brian Cowen reports to the EU Council of Ministers in October. “No rush” and “up to a year” may boil down to just four months before making a new commitment. The kite was flown at the Humbert summer school at Killala, when the … Read more

Olympic Goldenballs

Strictly frivilously and of no relevance whatever to NI politics and culture, I thought I’d hand out some medals of my own for comment and reporting on the wind-up (double meaning intended) of the Olympics and the hand-over to London. The pops have played a straight bat so far, careful not to resist the surge of patriotic fervour believed to be seizing their readers as the Boys and Girls arrive home this afternoon. So it was mainly up to the … Read more

IRA wrongful convictions campaign begins

The redoubtable correspondent Henry McDonald has a notable scoop with his report that “up to 300 IRA members are to attempt to have their convictions overturned and sue the British government for compensation for wrongful imprisonment… The move follows the success of Danny Morrison, Sinn Féin’s former publicity director, in overturning his 1991 conviction for the false imprisonment of IRA informer Sandy Lynch a year earlier”. “The Criminal Cases Review Commission recommended that his case go back to the court … Read more