Friday, March 30, 2007

A truly historic hotel bill

£391,783 for St Andrews, says the NIO.

I know everything costs, but should the taxpayer really be buying £7,506.13 worth of food for journalists? And how the heck do you spend 85 grand on just travelling to the event?

The St Andrews conference was necessary, sure, but these guys really vamped it up. I can hear it now. More greens, Gerry? And Ian, how's yer duck à l'orange, big mon?

Yesterday's game

The IRA should be disbanded pronto because, in the new Republican world, it serves no purpose. Republicans say they've turned away from violence for good, and retaining the IRA structures and potential capability is nothing but a large flappy albatros around Sinn Féin's neck as it enters government.

In short, put it in the museum. My Big challenge to the SF leadership: start by disbanding the Army Council before 8th May. It'd be a big reconciliation move at no cost to your cause and it makes perfect sense. May the UVF, LVF, UDA, INLA, CIRA, RIRA and all the other private armies then do likewise.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Well would you believe it?

Not four weeks after I suggested it would be pretty far-out to have someone called "Sir Bono", guess what's happened? Yep, the U2 frontman has gone and been done-to at the British embassy in Dublin. Still, we can't call him "Sir Bono" of course because he's not a UK citizen, but what of it?

He said something I've been thinking for a few months now: "It does feel like this country and Great Britain are closer than they have ever been". If you live south of the border, do you agree?

"I wasn't even going to have a bit of a do ... but when I saw Big Ian sitting down there with Gerry Adams I just thought this is the end of an era, but the beginning of a much better one".

Well said.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Steady as he goes

As predicted, Jim Allister has resigned from the DUP over its decision to share power with Sinn Féin. This sort of thing is normal and natural. As any party with over 20% of the electorate's votes commits to any major political line there will be disaffected who reach for their coats. But the broad - worldwide - applause Ian and Gerry have had has been unmistakeable, and it's time to keep the ship on an even keel and press on through the waves.
As Monday's political frenzy gives way to specific coalition talks, let's remember that coalitions are marriages of convenience, not meeting of minds. This is especially so of two parties on opposite sides of, well, everything really. As coalition experience shows in Germany, Italy and most recently the Netherlands which has three parties in government, you don't have to agree on what you believe, you have to agree on what you're going to do.
The coalition talks are going to be the toughest imaginable at a time when neither party has any real experience in government. But if God has brought us this far he'll take us the rest of the way. The Big Thing is to trust and move on with a spring in our step.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Monday, March 26, 2007

A good decision

Well, there we have it. For the first time ever, the DUP and Sinn Féin have held a joint press conference, actually it's the first time there's been a joint anything.

The agreement to go into devolved government on a joint, equitable basis is a really Big decision, and I congratulate Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams on the success of the work they and their people have done to bring us this far. Well done, and may it herald a new era in Irish politics.

The terrorism I saw on the news as a young lad destroyed thousands of families. While it's partly true that IRA terror helped get Sinn Féin to the top table, it's unseemly for anyone to revel in it. Let's remember all our dead with honour and thank God with bowed heads for the political progress both communities will now benefit from. Only with His blessing will we muster the compassion and courage to make it.

As Paisley said, we may "loathe the hurts of the past", but we mustn't allow them to stop us building a great future together. Let's go for it.

Weak leadership

The UK government has said all along that unless power-sharing is agreed locally TODAY Stormont will be suspended, MLA pay stopped and joint authority imposed. Paisley stalls until May but prepares to meet Sinn Féin this morning, and what does Peter Hain say?
"I am not worried about a deadline going over a few weeks, if we have something that has never happened before".
But the deadline's set in UK legislation, isn't it? Isn't it?
Hain is a weak appeaser, and the sooner we have Ulstermen running their country the better.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Insane or just plain stupid?

What a dipstick Ian Paisley can be. We know he likes running things right up to the wire - no surprises there - as I predicted last year when the March 26 deadline was set. But he's displaying little short of clinical madness today, saying he's prepared to share power with Sinn Féin in 6 weeks' time but not now because exra time is needed to "instil a positive attitude towards devolution and local control". Tripe. The citizens of Northern Ireland have just voted overwhelmingly in favour of devolution and local control!

This is brazen delay tactics without one shred of political justification. And the only reason for the delay is, I believe, to provide a six-week window for the DUP to find Sinn Féin lacking in some form of active support for policing and justice, thus giving them a good excuse for "told you so", running off into the wilderness with their electoral mandate and scuppering devolution for another five years. Which means five more years for direct rule, five more years of sponging and five more years of toffee-nosed English accents in Stormont.

I really hope all this is wrong. But I'm not a Unionist insider, and I'm guessing. Ulster has voted for devolution, we've voted for power-sharing, we've voted for a new future together, and it'll be a sad day tomorrow if Ian Paisley uses it to pervert the course of democracy here. Hasta mañana.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bob Kerr

I see Bob Kerr (r.), the former chairman of the Irish Cricket Union and founder of the North Fermanagh Cricket Club, has died suddenly in Jamaica while accompanying the Irish team on its successful tour.

Bob will be remembered by a lot of Co Fermanagh folk as ex-headmaster of Jones Memorial Primary School in Enniskillen, but my memories are of the indoor cricket practice he used to organise for young lads from both communities in the 1970's. Much as I enjoyed messing around in the nets at Enniskillen High School, the combined efforts of Bob and Frank Day never managed to make a cricketer out of me though.

Bob was a really nice man who'll be remembered kindly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Spent a great hour in front of the TV this morning catching up on all the latest gismotronics being touted at CeBIT, the big hi-tech trade fair in Hanover, Germany. Hard to believe CeBIT started as an office automation show with stuff like tabulators - remember those? Even in the early 80's, most companies still had at least one old fart nestling in the depths of the accounts department, hands poised above a strange keyboard and jabbing down urgently on selected keys with 8 fingers all at once. I never figured out how they worked, but they must've done some good. Mind you, that was in the days before we discovered shareholder value.

Today's CeBIT is about mobile communications, miniaturisation and something called convergence. Heavy! And there I am using my mobile phone for, according to my latest bill, 14 minutes of phone calls and 22 text messages per month, wilfully eschewing the benefits of downloading Hollywood blockbusters, taking photos, checking emails, surfing the web or GPS-ing my way around strange out-of-town business parks. My ears began to bleed this morning as they filled with weird TLAs (three-letter acronyms) and longer stuff like UMTS, GPRSS and others I can't remember.

Then one of life's defining moments hit me. For the first time ever, watching the glittering phone displays with icons I've never seen and doing things I don't ever need, I knew in my heart that the world is now dictated, guided and destined by people forming the generation after mine. Yes, the people who grew up with Deep Purple and pubesced with the Bay City Rollers are now passé. I now know how my dad felt when he parked the car after a trip to Dungannon in 1977 and declared that he wasn't safe on the roads any more (something I'd known for years actually). Yup, in each life there comes a time.

And yet - technology is only useful if it enriches our lives, even in a small way. As the shiny mobile phones unleashed their seductive powers on me, I paused to wonder how one of them might make my life easier or more comfortable. Do I really want to receive Viagra ads "on the run" (excuse the phrase) or watch grainy TV on a bus? No! I'm Mr Boring of the has-been generation. I want to use my phone to talk to friends and send the odd text message to people I care about.

I'll tell you what my biggest technological life-enrichment in the last 12 months has been: a proper-sized coffee jar. I used to have one not quite big enough for a standard packet of ground coffee. I'd half-fill it, stamp it down with a glass and repeat a couple of times before pressing the lid on and wiping up all the stuff that went on the floor. Last month the Big Ulsterwoman blew in with a real, full-size coffee jar. All shiny and with a fancy metal clip. It really looks the biz. Now when it gets a bit low I just shake in the contents of a new pack. There's even an inch to spare at the top - pure decadence. And no bending over to sweep the floor either. As befits a modern-day old fart whose hands, as I write this, are poised over a keyboard my voice-activated grandchildren will probably laugh at.

Aye well, that's progress.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Is God a DUP member?

There's a great letter in yesterday's edition of the world's greatest newspaper, Enniskillen's very own The Impartial Reporter, offering some sanity and perspective. Unfortunately the writer is anonymous. As it's in the public domain I include it in full here ...

"Dear Sir, I noticed DUP Assembly woman Iris Robinson was quick to thank God for the election results.

It is, of course, very laudable for Christians to thank God for any blessing they receive. But on this occasion, Iris certainly started me thinking about the role the Almighty plays in politics in Northern Ireland. The implication that God is so closely aligned to the DUP made me wonder about a lot of things.

I wonder, for example, how all the other Christians feel who voted for the other parties. I even wondered why God didn't go the whole way and smash Sinn Féin. Or did He deliver a massive vote to Sinn Féin and deliver their enemies, too?

I even wondered about all those evangelical Christians who couldn't bring themselves to vote for the DUP because they didn't see it as God's will that Ian Paisley will share power with Martin McGuinness.

As a matter of fact, I then got to wondering about much more; if God is prepared to intervene in a secular matter such as a Northern Ireland election, why doesn't He intervene in so many other things.

There are millions of people starving across the world; why would God allow that to happen while He ensures that Peter, Iris and 106 other MLAs get a nice little salary on top of what they already have.

God does, indeed, work in mysterious ways.

I thank God every day for the blessings He gives me and my family. I try to thank Him by living out a Christian life, thinking of others when I can. To my shame, I don't always succeed.

But I think when my life on this earth is over, I will be asked if I repented of my sins, if I followed Christ, if I fed the hungry, visited the prisoners, loved my neighbour as myself.

I don't think I'll be asked how many first preference votes I got

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Out of the darkness (nearly)

Things are looking good for a devolved coalition government by 26th March. Ian Paisley Jnr is optimistic, Martin McGuinness is optimistic and so are the Taoiseach and the British PM. In politics you never celebrate until the ink is dry - and even then only moderately lest it appear you've had too many concessions - but maybe we should dream a little of what might be.

For the first time ever, all of Ireland would be self-governed by inclusive administrations. The two jurisdictions would continue, but real Irish unity is not about national borders, it's about our attitudes to one another - respecting the other tradition, celebrating the good bits of our heritages, eschewing the bad bits and agreeing that the best future is a shared one - without voluntary apartheid.

Here are nine sample photos from a current exhibtion on in Belfast. Whatever your tradition, see which one stirs you most. Union Jack or Tricolour, I know Number 9 is why I write this blog.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


"I believe that democracy and terrorism can never co-exist in government, but clearly the electorate takes a different view" ... the words yesterday of Robert McCartney, former MP for North Down and breakaway Unionist standing on a no-engagement-with-Sinn-Féin ticket, issued before (presumably) shuffling off to spend more time with his family.

Electoral choices forty years ago were easy: Unionist or Nationalist. Then the Nationalist Party gave way to the newly-formed SDLP, and the IRA hunger strikes attracted the more radical nationalists into Sinn Féin. Meanwhile, Unionists became ever-more distrustful of the Ulster Unionist Party and, latterly, have left it in droves for the more radical politics of Paisley's DUP. Politics polarised in the late nineties, and Wednesday's Assembly elections showed that this shift has continued.

Today's parties of choice are the DUP and Sinn Féin, occupying the very opposite ends of the political spectrum, and to many people a vote for anyone else is a vote wasted. For the teens and twentysomethings they're the sexy places to be, the parties with clear messages and burgeoning followings. Notably, the radicalism of each feeds the radicalism of the other.

As we move into the coalition-building process - assuming there will be one - the unhealthy nature of this tribalism will be put into sharp relief. Can the DUP and SF really be expected to work together, or are we going to have Italian-style coalition crises every six months? We'll see. Interesting how Ian Paisley mooted yet another power-sharing hurdle yesterday, saying that Sinn Féin now had to repent. (As a Christian I agree - Republicans have a history of murder and insurrection of which they should repent before God - who will forgive instantly - but Unionists also need to repent of the 50 years of subjugation of Roman Catholics here).

This polarisation feeds itself and is unhealthy. I'm hopeful, though, that by giving more political power than ever to the radical wings they will see the need for constructive dialogue - and for making concessions - and so, in the end, become less radical. Again, we'll see.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is Sinn Féin backsliding?

Gerry McGeough, and independent republican candidate in the Assembly elections and a self-confessed active member of the Provisional IRA was arrested by police today after leaving the Omagh count in connection with the attempted murder of a UDR soldier in 1981.

You can read Gerry McGeough's blog here. He did an interview on Slugger O'Toole a while back, and I have to say I enjoyed listening to him. He made a good case for his political goal of a united Ireland. He seemed a nice, personable guy, and I found it hard to imagine him aiming an AK47 at any children's daddies. Only he knows if he's ever done anything like that, but as a member of PIRA he would have been under oath to undertake any act of terrorism instructed by his 'superior officers'. He's certainly been on the run from the German, British and US authorities and has done time for terrorist offences. What a pity that a sociable guy like that, with political aspirations to which he's absolutely entitled, got caught up in the evil world of terrorism. Let's work to make sure coming generations don't.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. The point is: the PSNI arrest him, and literally five minutes later Gerry Adams and Michelle Gildernew cry "political policing" and demand his immediate release.

What makes them so sure he wasn't involved in the alleged crimes? Cos if they aren't absolutely 100% sure, their duty as supporters and active shapers of police policy in Northern Ireland is to assist and support the PSNI in its work. They should welcome the arrest and interrogation of any crime suspects, and if they're sure a suspect is being wrongly suspected they must explain why and convince the policing and justice authorities of their view. That's politics. That's democracy.

The PSNI is now accountable to Sinn Féin, inter alia, and a consequence of this is that political policing is no longer possible. And if Gerry McGeough's innocent, there's a system in place to enable him to prove it.

The Big thing for Sinn Féin now that the Assembly elections are over is not to slide back onto the sidelines of democracy but to remain at its centre, joining the other main parties in assisting and shaping the fine work our police service needs to do for us.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Flicking around the BBC news website just now, trying to avoid election reports, and the best news item this year so far leapt from the screen and slugged me in the chops.
Apparently, a man called Robert Boyd (45) from Carrickfergus has been had up for robbing ladies' underwear from a shop in Belfast whilst disguised in a hat, wig and glasses.
It's his defence that's brilliant. He claims he was involved in a role-play game at the time and was in reality a female elf named Beho. He has denied robbery but admits it may be possible that Beho stole the lingerie. Pathetic, it would've been far too big for her.
Actually, before going into the slammer, this guy should be given a medal for brightening up the dull existence of court judges so used to fuel launderers and urban gangsters.
But it raises a worrying question. Whilst I'm fairly sure I'm not, in reality, a hermaphrodite hedgehog, what actually makes me so sure? Could it be that some of our top politicians are merely fronting up as humans? Any ideas?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Knight times

Listen, just a quick observation on how things change down the years. (If you're of a Republican bent, forego the urge to score political and cultural points - please).

In the 70s and 80s British honorary titles were used only in conjunction with the most high-fallutin' - often ridiculous - names like Sir Marmaduke and Sir St John [sinjin]. Now, call me a snob, but Sir Terry, Sir Mick, Sir Bob and Sir Elton sound more like children's cartoon characters than knights of the realm. After all, would you follow a Sir Mick into battle or bend the knee for a Sir Elton?

You know what they say: if you want to see the future, look to the past.
Will this trend continue? Will we spend our twilight years, if God spares us, hearing TV reports on Sir Bono (assuming he has, or takes, UK citizenship) or, heaven forbid, Sir Snoop Dog?

Maybe "Sir Marmaduke" wasn't so bad after all. Have a good weekend.