Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Big milestone

Much as I dislike the dramatic language used by Tony Blur's government to manipulate and cajole, Saturday's vote by the Sinn Féin conference to mandate its executive to declare full support for policing and justice really is a Big milestone, and I congratulate them for it.

It makes Northern Ireland a safer place and marks the coming-of-age of the Republican tradition which, when that mandate is implemented by the ard chomhairle, will - for the first time in its history - be a mainstream constitutional movement seeking to change from within by using, exclusively, the process of democratic politics. Although I detest terrorism and the active and complicit support so many Sinn Féin members gave it, I take my hat off to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness for the success with which they've steered Republicanism firmly, and with a great deal of personal skill and strategic insight, into the very centre of constitutional politics.

I also agree with the DUP that there has to be delivery on the ground soon. Jeffrey Donaldson's response yesterday was the most magnanimous towards SF that I've yet heard from his party, acknowledging that it was a major step for them and an important shift. So often in the past, I've been frustrated at Unionism's lukewarm, grudging response to Republican moves, but I felt a sizeable amount of recognition and respect in Jeffrey's reaction yesterday. That said, I agree with him on delivery, because words mean nothing unless implemented. As he said, when - at some time over the next couple of weeks - a crime is committed in west Belfast or mid-Ulster we need to see Sinn Féin encourage their people to cooperate fully with the policing and justice authorities.

Milestones always point somewhere.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Equality Act

Good on the Roman Catholic church in England in making a stand against the scandalous "Equality Act" rushed through Westminster by Tony Blur and his gang of postmodernist do-gooders. And good on the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in supporting Cardinal Murphy O'Connor.
The "Equality Act" isn't about race or creed, it deals exclusively with the rights of gay and lesbian people to be treated as if they were heterosexuals. When, in most cases, they're not. When the act becomes law on 1st April - and they couldn't have chosen a better date - Roman Catholic adoption agencies will break the law if they refuse to place a child with a gay or lesbian couple. Tony Blur has said the Catholic agencies may be given a 'period of grace' during which they can choose to adapt or close.
God help us. The civilised society we have in Great Britain and Ireland was designed and built, largely, by the Christian vision and efforts of men and women transformed by God's grace and based on his morality as revealed in scripture. Like it or not, we're living in the first 50 years of Western post-Christianity, and most of us are doing nothing about it. The legislative sluice-gates are opening a chink at a time, and no one should be surprised at what's coming out.
For the record, all people are of equal value and equal potential. I'm not against gay people. I'm just against acts of gay sex because scripture tells me it offends God, and that's not the way to social betterment, happiness and personal fulfilment.
Fifty years ago, acts of buggery were imprisonable offences. After 1st April an English hotelier will face prison if he doesn't allow it on his premises. Is this what our generation will be remembered for?

The O'Loan Report

In the heat of partisan Northern Ireland politics I wanted to take time to form an impartial view of the Police Ombudsman's report on RUC collusion with loyalist terrorists in North Belfast.
Not easy. Nearly all Unionist politicians are decrying it because of sparseness of supporting factual evidence, nearly all Nationalist politicians are aghast and every Republican's crying victim. However, my politics - like most of my life - have never fitted neatly into anyone else's box. I like to be free to form whatever opinion my conscience suggests, based on Biblical Christian morals and the belief that everyone deserves respect and a decent life.
Nuala O'Loan's report is 165 pages long, and the best reading is after the Executive Summary. For me, there are two damning revelations: that RUC and Special Branch officers deliberately failed on many occasions (including 10 murders) to prosecute a major North Belfast terrorist and his cronies because they were informers, and that many retired senior police officers refused to cooperate with the ombudsman's investigation.
For as long as I can remember, the Protestant community in Northern Ireland has trusted the police force implicitly as being even-handed and fair. We've put Nationalist and Republican allegations of impropriety down to political opportunism and, to be truthful, dishonesty because our experience of the RUC was almost always different. The report suggests that such trust was misplaced. If its conclusions are correct, Protestants must now call that trust into question - as a matter of principle, but also because most of the ten murder victims were from the Unionist community.
For the same reason Nationalists and, in particular, Republicans must also question their inherited view that the RUC was sectarian. What sectarian organisation suffers the murder of its own people?
Clearly, major elements of the RUC and Special Branch operated inefficiently, negligently and to their own agenda regardless of the true needs and requirements of the people. They considered themselves above the law, and by any moral, democratic or legal standards this was scandalous.
The report tables no specific evidence to support its conclusions, and this is what Unionists are moaning about. The ombudsman says the evidence cannot be allowed to enter the public domain as that could prejudice future criminal trials. There's an obvious answer: start the trials immediately. Try "Informant 1" & co. for murder, torture, extortion and drug-dealing, and try the individual police officers for perverting the course of justice. For those still in service, subject them to full internal disciplinary proceedings as well.
As a member of the Protestant community in Fermanagh, though, I do have to swallow hard when I see Martin McGuinness, the (ex-) IRA leader, pontificating about human rights, but the RUC should have been whiter than white and it wasn't.
Hugh Orde and the UK government are quick to highlight the PSNI reforms, but I want to see full implementation of Chris Patten's proposals. I also want to see the Sinn Féin ard fheis on Sunday come down strongly in favour of full commitment to policing and justice, including "policing the police" via the local policing boards. If we'd had full community accountability in the 90's, including the able involvement Sinn Féin's highly politicised members are able to provide, this collusion may well not have happened.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Police Ombudsman's report

Going by the media reports and the governments' reactions, Nuala O'Loan's report is damning in the extreme, but I want to read it for myself. You can too.
I've reached Point 3 of the Executive Summary, and frankly I'm utterly appalled. The spelling is terrible: who ever heard of "anonomised"? It's "anonymised". And the plural of Assistant Chief Constable isn't Assistant Chief Constable's.
It's time to take the apostrophe out of Irish politics. More later.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Big foot

I see Prince Charles has cancelled his ski-ing holiday in order to reduce his 'carbon footprint'. Why doesn't he just get wooden skis, and maybe make them a bit shorter?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Oh brother!

All the media furore about racism on Big Brother make me retch, mainly because so much reporting of it includes quotes which actually aren't racist at all. Although there do seem to have been one or two remarks betraying a certain prejudice against non-Anglo-Saxons, a lot of the furore is over people being generally horrid to the poor girl. That said, calling someone a liar is not racist. Let's not get to the point where, à la Israel, you can't criticise non-European people without being branded a xenophobe.
Let me be up front: I've never watched Big Brother and I never want to. It's a stupid format designed to whip up publicity for its producers by exploiting and demeaning participants who, frankly, should have better things to do with their time (my view, and I'm entitled to it).

Adams at Ervine funeral

Who would have thought it possible - even 2 years ago - that the Sinn Féin leader (and widely assumed former chief of staff of the Provisional IRA) would venture into arch-Loyalist east Belfast to sit in a Protestant mission church and commiserate with the widow of an ex-UVF terrorist turned visionary politician?
I've criticised Republicans (and others) here, but credit where it's due: Gerry Adams did a Big thing by attending David Ervine's funeral.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Do you or don't you?

That was the message Martin McGuiness sent Ian Paisley this afternoon when he threw down the gauntlet. You could almost hear it. "So, Ian, what's it gonna be, boy?"

In the charade that is Northern Irish politics - at least among the party leaders - that great game of cat and mouse, of counter and counter-counter, what is the DUP's position? Let's remember: Paisley started this process off in Stormont with a speech that was as unequivocal as Paul Rankin is publicity-shy. Arguably, Blair has assembled all the hints, all the non-denials, and packaged them up into a statement which - I bet - was agreed with Sinn Féin from Florida as a straw man for Ian to be put under pressure to deny - or implicitly accept. Tactically, you gotta admire it.

Challenging Paisley to accept Blur's assessment or face the inconvenience of denying it, thereby implying duplicity in his own actions, also takes the heat off Sinn Féin and its undeniable difficulties in persuading its grass roots. So that too makes me smile a wry smile.

But, chess games apart, in truth I think we'd all like to know where the Doc stands. So, Ian: deal or no deal?

UPDATE: The DUP despatched Jeffrey Donaldson over the weekend to say that he reckons it's odds-on for a deal in 2007. I think we need to hear the Doc speak on this one, lest cynics see it as a watery placation by Mr Expendable.

Don't look back in anger

Nothing can bring back those who died during the 'Troubles'. It's 31 years today since ten ordinary factory workers were shot to death in the back of a Ford Transit in an event later to be known as the Kingsmill Massacre.

They were killed simply because they were Protestants - no other reason - in retaliation for the deaths of five men the night before who happened to be Roman Catholic.

Watch the video linked off this BBC news page. It should be on the syllabus in every school in Ireland. Just like Greysteel, Kingsmill makes me angry because, despite what the IRA would have us believe, this aspect of the 'Troubles' wasn't war: it was the outright slaughter of innocents in an atmosphere of pure evil.

The job of our generation is to ensure we never again slide to those depths. Much as I detest what the IRA (and all terrorists) did, it's Bigger for Unionists now to listen and try to understand the Republican psyche than to alienate them once again. And it's Big to set an example. I trust there'll be now show of weapons in Bessbrook today.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

No taunting

No, I'm not on about Saddam's execution. The Sinn Féin leadership is clearly having difficulty marshalling its rank-and-file supporters behind St Andrews. This, as I say, will take time - in fact if it didn't it would lack credibility.

Ian Paisley Jnr is in the wings shouting, "I think you can smell the panic in Sinn Fein from this latest statement. They know what republicans have to do".

Look, son, if you want them to deliver stop taunting them like a spoilt schoolchild. Give them time and show a bit of restraint and mature understanding because, believe you me, the Hell scenario here is not continued English rule, it's Gerry, Martin and Gerry saying yes while half the Republican movement splinters off into active service units.

Grow up.


D'ye know, sometimes that Tony Blur really takes the biscuit. There he is, staying at Robin Gibbs' falsetto pad in Florida when Gerry Adams coughs a bit over his intentions for an Ard Fheis on policing, and he hauls himself out of Robin's pool and jumps in a plane for London.

(Remember that he hasn't yet responded or even commented on the disgusting manner of Saddam Hussein's execution which was, in the end, little more than a sectarian lynching).

Have you ever noticed that, when under extreme stress, people always revert to type? If someone has a particular leaning towards violence, put them under a bit of stress and they'll shout and stick fingers in people's faces. Mousey people, however reconstructed through self-help programmes, will forget about self-assertion and melt into a corner. Commenting on the DUP and SF endgames, he says, "We think they both want to end up in the same place ..." and then comes out with the typical Blur-bollocks: "It's a case of finding the words to get us there".

Words will get the Irish people nowhere. We're not stupid. The issue at stake is whether Republicans are going to support constitutional law and order. Or not. Accompanying conditions can be negotiated, but not bottom-line basics. Maybe SF needs time to persuade its more hardline supporters. Fine. It'll be worth the wait, because we need four-square, unqualified commitment. Ironically, if Tony Blur had half Gerry Adams' pragmatism and political nouse we might get somewhere.

Words, words, words. When persuasion and logic flag, Tony, you insult us all by wrapping disputed concepts up in smooth words carefully spun to bridge any size of crashing chasm with silken yarns. But yarns they remain.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hope for '07

I want to wish you all a happy new year, whatever your politics.

Northern Ireland's political prospects are looking better than ever before. The Sinn Féin leadership is leading Republicanism from the front and has come down firmly in favour of supporting law and order, and the constitutional forces that preserve it. They're ploughing new fields, and they're to be praised for it. The DUP is now willing to share power and has now backed away quietly from "political lifetime" statements.

As I've said before, the biggest challenge in 2007 will be 'splinter management', the ability of the two main parties not just to carry the majority of their supporters along with them, but to minimise the militancy of the disaffected. Something to pray for there.
The four main church leaders have called for people to end sectarian thinking, and I am adding my small voice to that. Political change should be accompanied by myriad small steps taken by everyday people in their everyday lives, steps which show that people who hold different political aspirations and cultural backgrounds are nevertheless people of worth. Let's get on and do it.