Somme memories

In an Irishman’s Diary this morning, my namesake Professor Brian Walker gives a very simple and moving account of the death of a young soldier badly wounded a fortnight earlier at the Battle of the Somme, and the impact it made on his family. By the standards of the time, the story of Tom McKinney was tragically typical. What strikes me today is the serenity and faith with which his family and Tom himself came to terms with his death. … Read more

The Saint and the Secular – must they be in conflict?

In response to my post about Cardinal Newman’s imminent sainthood, Pete Baker referred me via several links to a post of his praising Richard Dawkins and rehearsing a favourite theme, the futility of Pope Benedict’s attempts to reconcile religion and science and in the process, making a sinister bid to undermine the Enlightenment. I agree about the futility but I very much doubt that what the Pope is doing amounts a full scale assault on a body of thought and … Read more

Iraq: real movement or just for home consumption?

Adds: It’s worth adding the Independent on Sunday’s version of a joint Brown-Obama approach to shift focus to Afghanistan, but no other news source goes this far. Reports of Obama and Brown on separate trips to the troubled region although confused, are important enough to attract Slugger’s attention! But first as ever, presentation is vital even in the desert. Note the difference in style between cool Barack and Gordon trussed up in his Whitehall suit, poised to fire a heavy … Read more

A new Orangeism in a Tory revival?

A cliffhanger is reported for next Thursday’s Glasgow East by-election, with the Sunday Herald reporting Labour four points ahead of the SNP and only 1,000 votes separating them. Ironically, with the SNP on the rise, the by-election climax offers yet another opportunity for London papers like the Sunday Times to eclipse the Scottish based Herald and Scotsman stables. The spin of the Sunday Times story has the SNP poised to win, in contrast with the more cautious Herald. The Times’s … Read more

Saint John Newman will affect more than Catholics

I’m normally with those who give a slight shudder at the news of the latest saint and the inevitable miracle he or she had to perform, alive or dead, in order to make the grade. But in John Henry Newman they’ll have a saint worthy of the name. No saint in the sense of a suspiciously vague creation but a big figure who did much to remove the stigma of disloyalty from English Catholics and did what he could to … Read more

Threat to Public Service Broadcasting

P.S. Worth adding that the Welsh language ( though partly bilingual) channel S4C has around £90m funding per year for an audience, hit by digital choice, of approximately 511.000 last year. Fascinating stuff from the Ofcom seminar in Belfast about the future of public service broadcasting in Northern Ireland, posted by Mick. I’ve long since left the inside track on this, so sorry not to be able to offer special insight but Here are the headlines: There’s a real threat … Read more

Alistair Darling Scoop

I know that Slugger normally follows the strange old Northern Irish custom of never talking about money- ( after all we used to have a world-class crisis to talk about). But things have come to a pretty pass when it’s news when the Chancellor states the obvious about the whatyemecall it, the turn-down, credit crunch or whatever. “We are going through a very, very difficult time,” he says in an “exclusive” interview in the Times. “You have the twin effect … Read more

The UK and Ireland: another threat to the common home

It may be dawning on the Irish north and south that one unexpected result of making Good Friday Agreement stick is the end of the British regarding the Irish as a special case. Unhindered travel without a passport under the CTA, may not be the only link that’s about to be broken. A recent report by former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, “ Citizenship: our Common Bond” has been a big influence on the draft Immigration and Citizenship Bill. An amendment … Read more

This is what justice and policing is really about, not Gerry Kelly

Is there an epidemic of knife crime or not? The red-top headlines scream “Shock new figures reveal a knife crime takes place every 4 minutes”. Dispassionate analysis offers precious little comfort ” Knives were involved in 6% of all violent incidents in 2007-08 – little change since the 7% of the year before.” 5% of young people are responsible for all youth crime” For England and Wales, a different sort of action plan from the usual knee jerk clamp down … Read more

The true heritage

What is it about bars that holds the Belfast heritage better than churches? Fantastic to see that a campaign to save the Rotterdam in Belfast’s old dockland has won at least a reprieve. Together with its ecclesiastical equivalent Charles Lanyon’s very fine Sinclair Seamen’s church it represents a last remnant of a seafaring age that shaped so much of the character of Belfast. Not so successful was the campaign to save – or even shunt elsewhere – the deeply mourned … Read more

Ryanair crisis?

Comeuppance for O’Leary? In spite of his big mouth, I hope not. Watch news sites for developments! 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; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

The clash of the dual mandate

Following up on Belfast Gonzo’s post about the performance of those public representatives who serve both as MPs and MLA ministers, for those who don’t know, two wonderful websites will be a revelation – and The Public Whip. Together they provide an ongoing record of each rep’s voting record, speeches and answers to questions at Westminster and speeches etc in the Assembly. I offer two samples. Peter Robinson voted in 40.9% of Commons divisions since the General Election of … Read more

Persuading people to behave better

How do we improve people’s behaviour, from stopping rioting in Derry to going “ green,” even to tackling obesity? Tough one, isn’t it? Too massive a question to cope with in this form ? Yet it is one of the most insistent questions we face. Generations of welfare and eleven years of relative prosperity haven’t transformed society. Economics aren’t enough. This is why in the desolate community of East Glasgow well out of his comfort zone, that sharp student of … Read more

Pressure on Ireland mounts

By next Monday night, after the visit to Dublin of Nicholas Sarkozy as President of the European Council, Brian Cowen will have been forced to declare some of his hand for persuading the Irish people to hold a second vote on the EU treaty. I say “some of his hand” because Sarkozy is unlikely to arrive in Dublin for his five hour consultation armed with a full package of sweeteners. The French President will be on the diplomatic high wire … Read more

I’ve seen the future..

Like buses, my big beasts of the British political jungle came in a pair on Wednesday, at two of my associations, the Hansard Society on parliamentary reform and the Mile End Group on contemporary history. They’re two bodies where you get to find out what’s moving. Jack Straw, fresh from his Lords reform proposals, joined a great meeting to discuss Law in the Making, the influences brought to bear on the legislative process. Here are the headlines of themes which … Read more

Orangefest footnote and the art of nudging

Long ago, I decided that the influence of behavioural psychology was a very mixed blessing indeed. In marketing, it’s applied to manipulate our desires and needs to get us to do what others want, the very essence of the soft sell. So if you want to clean up the image, say, of the clunking old Twelfth to the wider world and impress the tourists – create Orangefest. Fortunately, people in the marketing world are their own best critics. Here’s one, … Read more

Pressure mounts on both party leaders as economy dives

Update “Families’ annual food bills rocket by £1,000,” says the Bel Tel’s lead story in its better, brighter website. P.S. I wonder why it’s so much like the Independent’s? As recession looms, here is the real news: Inflation hits 10 year high. Read closely and that means well over 10% up for food and fuel. Can political leaders make any difference at all or must we simply sit it out and put up with nothing more than wrangling and platitudes? … Read more

Faint hope of Lord Adams of Ballymurphy set to disappear….

I’m in two minds about the prospect of the end to the House of Lords. Reluctantly, I’m finally having to give up the fantasy of a Lord Adams of Ballymurphy or Lord McGuinness of Brandywell and Lone Moor. ( yes, I know they would never have put on ermine and coronet: that’s the point of a fantasy). On the other hand, Jack Straw’s great scheme brings the prospect of a whole new elected House of Parliament to play with several … Read more

Abortion by web backlash begins

As reported in the Belfast Telegraph, the predictable backlash has started over the disclosure that Northern Ireland women may have been ordering abortion drugs via the Women on Web website. Apart from registering shock at being able to sign up for appropriate drugs in just fifteen minutes, neither the Bel Tel’s reporter nor any other have been able to track down a real live client. This is s surely a cue for TV to go through the whole ridiculous pantomime … Read more

Scottish Catholic Church hits Labour where it hurts on abortion

Update. Gordon Brown brushed aside the question: “Is the Catholic church trying to hijack the Glasgow East by-election”? “This is a repetition of the debate previously.. The House of Commons ( and later the Lords) made its position completely clear on a free vote and a decision (presumably keeping the abortion limit to 24 weeks), was reached. We’ve got a very good candidate and I’m not going to comment further” Plus some more background on Bishop Devine. Bishop Joseph Devine’s … Read more