Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

‘Best of the Web’

By Geoff McGimpsey

Happy new year! So 2011 has arrived… bringing with it a fully blown water crisis, a VAT rise and the death of Gerry Rafferty. January truly is the most miserable of all months.

Despite Laurence MacKenzie’s departure, the catastrophe of NI Water is threatening to engulf the devolved Executive. The principle that a Minister cannot be removed irrespective of performance or public opinion is a source of ire among bloggers.

Jeff Peel’s Dairy is emblematic of a growing view that “… the buck should stop at the Minister. The Executive, and an unquestioning Assembly, are more responsible for under-investment in Northern Ireland’s water infrastructure than the body required to deliver such investment.”

Perhaps Conor Murphy has been foolish, but Rodney McCune’s blog feels that the system which permits foolishness needs to be recast.

“We don’t need to have second rate public services run by a second rate Executive,” he blogged. “We have capable and able alternatives and it is high time we get them in there and get them running things. Conor Murphy may be a fool, but he isn’t the only one.”

Similarly, while some blame the individual, A Tangled Web blames the state. According to David Vance: “This utility needs fundamental change and massive investment and it seems to me that only a change of ownership away from the State and into private hands will suffice.”

East Belfast Diary agrees the present system with Go-Cos needs to be reviewed. “The Minister is blaming NI Water senior management and says he has no cause to resign. Senior managers are blaming the weather and under-investment… This incident should provoke a debate about accountability in Government Owned Companies.”

But at least one twitterer bravely ponders whether the defenestration of Laurence MacKenzie doesn’t represent some cruel and unusual punishment. According to @CB_PRandPA: “I think we might have a new understanding of being ‘water-boarded’. Surely NIW CEO has rights under a UN convention?”


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Filed under: Best of the Web, , , , , , , ,

Quiet confidence…

The GPO in Dublin (image via infomatique's flickrstream)

If you were an Irish Nationalist how would you feeling as of, 1st of January 2011, at the beginning of yet another decade “under British Rule”?

How far away do you think your nirvana of the 32 County Republic is at this point?

Well, if I were a nationalist at this juncture, two things in particular would be disturbing me:

  1. the confidence of not just the Unionist elite, chattering classes and bloggerati
  2. the maturity of the pro-Union electorate (defined as only those who presently or previously voted for Unionist parties).

For the first point, check out the News Letter’s Union 2021 series. Ignore the obvious troll (aka the prospective Right Dishonourable Member for Louth), what was the overall feel, the overall atmosphere of the series?

If I had to sum it up in a phrase, I’d say “Quiet Confidence”.

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Filed under: civic unionism, Union 2021, ,

Some links…

A round up of stories from blogs and MSM over the past day or so…

Parties fight to keep financial backers secret: (Belfast Telegraph) The DUP, UUP and SDLP have made clear they want ongoing confidentiality for donors to parties here. They have voiced security concerns if names of funders …

Elliott wants Tories to shut NI branch: (Irish Times) ULSTER UNIONIST Party leader Tom Elliott has demanded that the Conservative Party close its Northern Ireland branch as the price for an electoral alliance …

Ex UVF prisoner joins DUP: (Slugger O’Toole / Turgon) I believe that the message being set out by the DUP is one which unionists of all shades can unite behind, and indeed it is a message which resonates beyond just the unionist community to everyone who wishes to see a new and better …

UUP fury over NIE takeover: (Belfast Telegraph) A PROPOSED Irish takeover of Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) has been described as “outrageous” by the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. …

DUP WELCOMES FORMER UVF TERRORIST: (David Vance) Last time I checked Jim was a member of the DUP when they were elevating Hugh Smyth to the position of Lord Mayor of Belfast when the UVF were stilling killing. Where was his indignation then or was it too politically inconvienient for …

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Filed under: some links

‘Best of the Web’

This article first appeared in the News Letter on Friday November 12…

Screenshot from Burke's Corner

By Geoff McGimpsey

This week came the declaration from George Bush that water-boarding was a good thing. As ever, George put his policy forward in the style of cowboy anti-hero Alan Ladd. So when asked at his book launch if water-boarding was okay, he drawled: “Damn right.”

In George’s world view, the sheriff gets the girl and the bad guys have it coming to ‘em. I think there’s something deeply romantic about that (if you’re prepared to set aside simulated drowning and other advanced torture techniques). But naturally, those soppy romantics at A Tangled Web were coo-ing over George’s gritty honesty.

According to David Vance: “We don’t live in utopia and until we all do then I believe George W is right.” Damn right!

BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Sunday Sequence’ has invited David on to debate the content of Dubya’s Alan Ladd impression. But ahead of that appearance (on Remembrance Sunday), I would urge David to consider this blogpost from Ultonia:

“This August Belfast saw its last Victory over Japan Day parade by 14 veterans, some who paraded with the help of family members. Allied troops who fought in that Far East campaign were subjected to the waterboarding torture by Japanese soldiers…. Perhaps those who wear a poppy but advocate torture should reflect on that contradiction.”

I’ll wager William Crawley will make precisely this point on Sunday.

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Filed under: Best of the Web, , , , , , , ,

‘Best of the Web’

This article first appeared in the News Letter on Friday November 05…

Screenshot from Ultonia

Some things are guaranteed when you get close to Christmas. Firstly, a shopping centre in Ballymena will put up a Christmas tree before anyone else; and secondly, Good Morning Ulster will respond by asking whether Christmas trees are just going up too early. Cue collective humbug and emoting about the true meaning of Christmas.

Lee at Ultonia knows where he stands in the Christmas tree debate. He blogged: “The electric light bulb is a technology that we managed to crack many many decades ago, does seeing them in different colours and predictable designs really manage to differentiate one shopping town from another?” Bah humbug Lee!

One local blog has gone further still by releasing its ‘end-of-year review’ in early November. Already 1690 an’ all thon has selected its ‘Ulster Scot o’ the Year, 2000 an 10’.

So who wins this much sought-after gong? Step forward DUP Culture Minister Nelson McCausland!

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Filed under: Best of the Web, , ,

Map first, then the route?

Both Chekov and Arthur Aughey have been ruminating lately on the future role of progressive / civic / liberal / UK / new / non-cultural* Unionism post the collapse of the Conservative-UUP project and the election of Tom Elliott as the latter party’s leader.

I deliberately included all the various descriptions because I think it illustrates one of the fundamental initial problems with trying to deal with the topic: whilst there may be overlapping between the categories, beliefs and policies may not always be common or shared between the different groups and individuals, e.g. it would seem that my thoughts on the economy (and probably following on from that attitude towards the Conservatives) would vary widely from others who might describe themselves as Progressives. Civic Unionists would not necessarily adopt the same social liberal positions as I would on such subjects as women’s reproduction rights.

Continuing on from that observation, I think before we can consider how the various brands of Unionism listed can now advance their arguments (or indeed whether there is any point in them even attempting to do so) a set of basic targets needs to be agreed upon.

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Filed under: civic unionism, liberals, unionist unity?, ,

Review: three events at the Belfast Festival…

This year’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s attracted some big names to their talks programme. Here St Etienne offers his assessment on three of this year’s big setpiece events: a talk by Lord Ashdown; a panel debate on Carson’s Legacy; and the National Anthem theatre production.

Reproduced from the Liberal Democrats flickrstream

By St Etienne

Lord Ashdown

Paddy Ashdown had his chat in a packed out Elmwood Hall – first time I’d been in the place – and as you can imagine he’s a very comfortable, but comfortable speaker. Kicked off with an excerpt from his new book! about his time in Bosnia – on the one hand containing his best achievement in life and the worst the very next day. His time in Bosnia obviously deeply affected and influences him.

I’m happy to report the Donaghadee man’s greatest smile of the night came as he recounted his days as a young officer in the Royal Marines and then again when he moved on to his time as an operator in the SBS. But what was insightful in all this, as the audience watched a man who it is assumed is now away from the frontline of world affairs, was his responses to questioning. They were not the answers you associate with someone looking back at the end of their career, which while sometimes humorous – “In your time at Westminster who do you think would make the best MP?” “ME!” – also struck me as being sincerely looking to the future, the next challenge.

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Filed under: academic, events, , , ,

Date for the diary: East Belfast Speaks Out

The East Belfast Speaks Out (EBSO) event is taking place on November 10 at Ashfield Boys’ School. It’s designed to provide the answer for anyone steadily losing heart because of the perceived lack of progressive or meaningful political dialogue in Northern Ireland.

The organisers says it’s a simple ‘town hall’ style event aimed at “bringing Stormont down from the Hill”.

Mark Devenport will MC the event and the panel will include senior figures from the NIO, Sinn Fein and the DUP, plus Sunday Times journalist Liam Clarke.

Panellists will deal with topics like:

  • What kind of Northern Ireland do we really want to see?
  • What about the stateof education, or of healthcare provision here?
  • What of the worrying fall in the numbers turning out to vote?
  • What can be done about the current democratic deficit in the province?

But it’s an open meeting with plenty of contribution is invited from the floor. Admission is free, and doors open 7 pm.

Filed under: events, , ,

Devolution: Learn How to Lead…

Guest blogger St Etienne considers that an end to what he describes as ‘the immature and irresponsible behaviour’ of devolved politicians is the one cut that could command popular public support in the post-CSR period…

Reproduced from HM Treasury flickrstream

Both the SNP and Labour have huge opportunities to tell a story not just about standing up to London and for Scotland, but taking national leadership, and telling a narrative which is about the kind of public services we want. And central to this is challenging trade unions to be constructive, proactive and imaginative in a way they haven’t been about work, jobs and organisation since the heyday of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders nearly forty years ago. Whoever can dare to move out of a bunker mentality could position themselves well for years to come, long after recession and ‘cuts’ have become part of our national folklore like the 1980s and the poll tax.

As Scottish commentator Gerry Hassan broke ranks last month to call on their regional government to display a sense of leadership in the ensuing government cutbacks, on our own Northern Irish politicians should display a similar sense of leadership.

As it stands however the regional fiefdoms are awash with non-revenue raising politicos telling us how the Westminster government is penalising our poor souls with unnecessary cutbacks, pertinently without giving any form of solution to the deep rooted issues themselves.

It’s easy to glibly shout ‘NO CUTS’ to your budget when all you do is sign off on where the money goes without thought for where it is coming from i.e. we the taxpayers. If the dire straits exhibited by Greece earlier this year weren’t reason enough to mobilise the forces of austerity, you’d think the latest in a series of economic beatings our neighbours down south have endured since would have concentrated minds on the threat lurking just under the surface.

Not so.

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Filed under: business, Coalition Government, devolution, economy, guest blogger, , ,

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