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Followers of this blog will be aware that it had been mothballed it in June last year as I launched by new blog “Northern Ireland Centre Right.” The new blog was the focus of a campaign of persuasion, directed at the Conservative Party, that the Northern Ireland Regional Conservative Party should become an independent centre-right party which took no position on whether Northern Ireland should remain as part of the United Kingdom.

In the Autumn of this year, I became aware that the regional committee of the Northern Ireland Conservatives were campaigning hard with CCHQ for a new package which would enable them to field candidates at Assembly elections, including the election of 2011. I was persuaded that if they achieved their aim, I should suspend my Northern Ireland centre right campaign and campaign as a Conservative until after the Assembly elections. I made it clear, however, that the Conservatives had to be allowed to field candidates in the forthcoming 2011 election campaign. A promise to be allowed to field candidates in future elections was not acceptable, since it was clearly necessary, as a first step towards non-sectarian, non-communal politics, that the Conservative Party put some distance between itself and the UUP.

In November, it was looking very much as though the Committee would succeed in their aims. They had elicited favourable responses from very senior members of the party, including Owen Paterson. In preparation for that anticipated success, I decided to “dust down” the Tory Story NI blog. I still was not completely sure that they would succeed. Whilst the position was uncertain, I wrote posts simultaneously on Tory Story and NI Centre Right.

Two days ago, the Conservatives made their announcement that a new package had been agreed between the regional committee and CCHQ. The package included the right to campaign in Assembly Elections in the future but not the 2011 election. The Chairman indicated that it was operationally too late to field candidates in May. This looked to me like a “smoke screen” to conceal the fact that the committee had caved in to CCHQ pressure not to field candidates in the 2011 Assembly elections. In response to that, I asked one of the committee members to confirm or deny that the regional committee had made a commitment to CCHQ not to field Assembly candidates. The response I received was that they had not.

Since it appeared that it was now the regional committee that had made a decision not to field candidates, I held out a glimmer of hope that some local Associations could be persuaded by members to field their own candidates. I then learned that the Area committee had the power to block the fielding of candidates in its local area. As far as I was concerned, that marked the end of any hope that the Conservative Party would be fielding candidates in the 2011 Assembly elections.

Since there is no Assembly campaign to support, there is now no point in me continuing to write new posts on the Tory Story NI blog. As of today, I am announcing, once again, that there will be no further posts on that blog in the foreseeable future.

I will continue to write posts on Northern Ireland Centre Right until further notice. However, I will also be reflecting on what has happened and the political route most likely to be successful to achieve non-communal, normal left-right politics in Northern Ireland.  In particular, I will be considering, very carefully, whether there is any remote possibility that the critical mass of the Conservatives in Northern Ireland might come around to my way of thinking after 2015.

UUP accuses Conservatives about breaking promises

Not promises about not putting up Assembly candidates – yet.  However, for Conservative Yoopyphobes, there is a cheering headline to a report in the Belfast Telegraph today.

David McNarry has called for Owen Paterson’s head following his stated refusal to change the rule, enacted following the St. Andrews Agreement, that the First Minister will be the leader of the largest party – not the leader of the largest party within the largest designation. The rule has made it slightly more likely that Martin McGuinness will become First Minister, following the May Assembly elections.

Nobody here is surprised by what Owen Paterson has said. His position has been consistent for a long time. There will be no changing of any of the rules regulating Stormont without a consensus from both communities.

McNarry has also suggested that there is a difference of position between Owen Paterson and David Cameron. He is quite wrong. David Cameron has spoken out about his personal feelings when dealing with Martin McGuinness.  But he has also made clear the paramountcy of maintaining peace. He said:

”I do find it painful that I now sometimes sit around a table with Martin McGuinness and I think about what that man did.

”But everyone has to come to terms with that because that is the price we are paying for peace, and it is a price that is worth paying, because peace is so much better than the alternative.”

The idea that Conservatives would introduce a measure which would be likely to bring Stormont crashing down is ridiculous. It may be worth recalling the following words of the 2010 election manifesto, which the UUP once bought into

“In Northern Ireland, we strongly support the political institutions established over the past decade and we are committed to making devolution work.”

Conservatives prepare for UUP failure but they might still be hedging

At long last, agreement has finally been reached between the Northern Ireland Regional Conservatives and the Conservative leadership on a strategy for promoting Conservativism into the future.

The Party has issued the following announcement copied by email to the membership:

“The Conservative Party in Northern Ireland has committed itself to an ongoing programme of campaigning and development and will shortly move into a new campaign headquarters in Bangor, Co. Down. A full time member of staff will be based at the headquarters and one of the Party’s most senior campaign directors has been appointed to liaise with the Party in Northern Ireland.

The Party is committed to the development of progressive centre right politics which offer the electorate of Northern Ireland the opportunity to cast their votes for and participate directly with the national Government of the United Kingdom.  The Party will continue to review how Conservatives in Northern Ireland can play a full part in the Conservative Party as in every other part of the United Kingdom and senior Conservatives in Northern Ireland will work with the Board of the Party to develop that relationship.

Central to that development will be the Party’s desire to see Conservative Associations formed in every Northern Ireland constituency and an active programme of membership recruitment at a local level.

Conservative Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi said: “The Conservative Party in Northern Ireland has the unequivocal support of the Party nationally. Politics in Northern Ireland continues to evolve and we are determined to be at the heart of that evolution. Our approach will be one of active engagement – starting with the fielding of candidates in the Local Council elections in May.”

With that issue having been settled, the regional chairman of the Conservatives, Irwin Armstrong has now withdrawn his offer to resign. So is this the end of the uncertainty for Northern Ireland conservatives?

Jeffrey Peel’s headline suggests that the Conservative Party has “dumped” the UUP. In his statement on the question of fielding candidates at Assembly elections, Irwin Armstrong has said as follows:

“Members of our Executive have agreed that we would not now be able to properly contest the Assembly elections as we will not have the necessary infrastructure in place due to the events of recent months.”

The right to field Assembly (and presumably Parliamentary) candidates in the future is very important but there will be no further elections on the horizon (except the Euros) for four years.  Furthermore, you do not need an “infrastructure” to field a candidate. Ask an Independent. You just need to be able to register and pay the deposit.

There is a very strong case for the Conservatives putting up candidates, even in the limited time and space available. Nobody would suggest that a Conservative candidate would stand much chance of winning an Assembly seat but the act of fielding candidates would make the clearest possible statement to the electorate that the party no longer has any ties with the UUP.

Last November, Conservative leaders promised the UUP that they would not be fielding candidates.  The effect of this latest declaration is that the Conservatives will not be breaking that promise.  The UUP may now be in the equivalent of a bin liner but it could be taken out of it later.  It is much too early to say that it has been dumped.

Bigotry in Britain and Northern Ireland

There is a lot of  political news at the moment and I am trying to catch my breath – the resignation of Alan Johnson, Shadow Chancellor and the announcement of a General Election in the Republic of Ireland.   As I write, Tony Blair is giving evidence to the Iraq enquiry.  Posts on those subjects will follow shortly.

Meanwhile, yesterday, TV coverage was also given to Baroness Warsi, the co-Chairman of the Conservative Party after she highlighted the problem of Islamaphobia in Britain.  It is very important Conservatives across the country show their solidarity with Baroness Warsi.  The message will be all the more powerful if senior conservatives, who are non-muslims, express their public support.    

Bigotry in Britain is not discussed as much as it is in Northern Ireland.  Nonetheless, Baroness Warsi’s public comments are to be welcomed by anybody in Northern Ireland who is interested in tackling bigotry against groups of people, whether it is sectarianism, homophobia or any other act of prejudice which is demeaning, divisive or stigmatising.

Northern Ireland’s problems are compounded by the institutionalization of some forms of bigotry.   If the leader of an institution, religion or any other body fails to take moral responsibility for the problem of bigotry, then it is so much the harder for individuals, who are members of that institution, religion or other body to tackle it themselves. 

I come across bigotry by individuals on a regular basis.  Recently, I heard somebody say, ““X” is a Prod but his shop does some very good bargains.”  This is not acceptable.  This is not some phenomenon which we can just brush aside as being a harmless conversation within a community.  At the extreme end of the continuum, somebody will be sufficiently influenced by it to commit a hate crime.  Anybody who notices it in their own community has a moral duty to clamp down upon it and set an example. 

In my various posts, I have highlighted the fact that institutions or bodies have not done enough to tackle bigotry. This includes not just the Orange Order but also the GAA and the Churches.   What Northern Ireland needs, particularly, is for leaders of those institutions to be courageous and challenge bigotry within their own community.

A very French slip of the tongue

If Martin McGuinness made a speech about his home city which began with the words “It is great to be back in Londonderry,” what would his supporters think?

OK, you all know the answer. A Nationalist or Republican would usually only say “Derry.” A unionist would usually say “Londonderry.” If Martin McGuinness made that gaffe, I suspect that his supporters would be angered and embarrassed in equal measure.

That is the nearest local analogy that I can think of to describe the gaffe make by Nicolas Sarkozy when he visited Alsace, a region of North-Eastern France on the border with Germany. Except that the gaffe was far worse than that. Firstly, the background.

In 1871, France went to war with Germany after the German States merged to become a Prussian – dominated German Empire. The French lost the war and part of its lands. The Germans annexed the territory known as “Alsace-Lorraine” which remained in their possession until the end of the First World War. In the Second World War, the region was, again, treated as part of Germany.

As the Telegraph reports:

“Mr Sarkozy made the slip during a speech in the Alsatian town of Truchtersheim, less than 20 miles from the German border.

Speaking to representatives of the agricultural industry, Mr Sarkozy said he could accepted unfair competition between China and India, but not between Germany and France.

"I’m not saying that simply because I’m in Germany," he said, before correcting himself to say: "I’m in Alsace."

The crowd immediately began jeering and then booing Mr Sarkozy, who appeared shocked by what he had said " putting his hands up in the air as if surrender. “

To be fair to Sarko, it was probably an innocent slip of the tongue. "Allemagne" (meaning Germany) and "Alsace" are phonetically very similar words of the French language.  

A large ray of light about to be shone on the Iraq war?

Tony Blair is under fire, yet again, over the Iraq war. This time, the focus is on the legality of the war. In the course of the Iraq Inquiry headed by Sir John Chilcott, currently taking place, Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, has given evidence that he was uncomfortable about the statements made by Mr. Blair to Parliament in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

After two previous public Inquiries, we were still some way away from finding out the full facts about the Government’s conduct of the Iraq crisis and the decision to go to war.

In September 2002, the Government published a dossier, which was laid before Parliament. The dossier contained allegations that Iraq held biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction and had reconstituted its nuclear weapons programme. The dossier was based upon the interpretation of intelligence available to the Joint Intelligence Committee. The findings in the dossier were used as a justification for going to war with Iraq. After the war, the allegations contained in dossier were discredited.

The first Inquiry, led by Lord Hutton, was tasked with finding out the reasons for the death of Dr. David Kelly, a former biological weapons expert and employee of the Ministry of Defence. Dr. Kelly was the source used by BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, to justify his allegation that the Government had “sexed up” the dossier. Consequently, it was alleged that Tony Blair and the Labour Government had misled Parliament. After being named as Gilligan’s source, Dr. Kelly committed suicide.

The Hutton report was published in January 2004. The report was highly critical of the journalistic standards of the BBC and Mr. Gilligan, in particular. More importantly, Hutton exonerated the Government, having concluded that the Government was unaware of the reservations, relating to the evidence about WMD, within the intelligence community.

In February 2004, the Government initiated a review into the intelligence relating to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The review also dealt with wider issues of intelligence relating to countries of concern, other than Iraq. However, the review was not concerned with the political decision-making leading up to the war. That deficit in the remit of the review forms part of the context in which this latest story is developing.

The review was chaired by Lord Butler. Lord Butler’s report was published in July 2004. The report concluded that Intelligence had not checked their sources thoroughly enough. The intelligence was flawed. Furthermore, warnings from the Joint Intelligence Committee on the limitations of intelligence were not made clear. Read the BBC’s summary of the report here.

Many were not satisfied by the report. The exemption of political decision-making from its remit left an important gap in public knowledge which had not been filled by the time of the 2005 General election.

The Chilcott Inquiry into the UK’s role and involvement in the Iraq war was announced by Gordon Brown in June 2009. It has been ongoing since November 2009.

This Friday, Tony Blair will give evidence to the Inquiry. He will presumably provide answers to the criticisms of Lord Goldsmith.  The UK has waited far too long for the full truth to come out about the Iraq war.  Let us hope that we may soon, at last, get a proper insight into what really happened. 

Munster crash out of the Heineken Cup – Ulster go marching on

The weekend’s news sent shockwaves across Ireland. No, it was not Brian Cowan’s meeting with his parliamentary party, although that story is still rather spicy. 

It was the demise of Munster and the rise of Ulster.  For the first time in 13 years, Munster failed to reach the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup, losing 32 – 16 to Toulon.  At the other end of the Irish Rugby scale, Ulster beat tournament favourites, Biarritz of France.

As a former resident of Limerick (Ireland’s rugby capital), I know how my friends down south are feeling right now. They follow Munster with passionate devotion. For them, this really is a sporting Armageddon.   Such was the blow to them that I even resisted the temptation to slag that it was the English fly-half, Johnny Wilkinson, who did much of the damage.

munster fans

Some will blame the team’s poor showing in this competition on injuries.  Certainly, that has not helped.  It may be, however, that the spine of this present team is ageing and in decline. 

Perhaps Munster needed this defeat. They have come back many times from the brink to grab a quarter final place.   Now, they can accept that they need to re-build their team.  Munster will rise to glory again.

Contrast Munster’s position with Ulster, whose fortunes in this competition are almost a mirror reversal.  Ulster are still in the competition following their famous 9 – 6 win on Saturday against Biarritz.  Ian Humphries did the business. 

If Ulster win next week against bottom-of-the-pool Aironi of Italy, they are almost certain to obtain a quarter final place.  Biarritz have a harder game against Bath but are still favourites to win that match.  Ulster will win the group if they achieve one more point more than Biarritz next week.  A weekend trip to Viadana now looks tempting.


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