Tag Archives: northern ireland

Nick stands with Anna

I stand with AnnaWhen a politician says that he might trust a whole specific group of people only to go to the shops for him, you would think that would be a one way ticket to the door marked Ignominious Exit from Public Life. Sadly, Peter Robinosn, Northern Ireland’s First Minister remains in office while Alliance  Party politician Anna Lo has said she’s going to quit politics because she’s fed up at all the abuse she’s getting. She spoke to Channel 4 last night about her experience with great dignity. My pride in her was matched by my anger at her treatment. You can watch here.

When people start to be nasty about how you look, the colour of your skin, how your eyes look about your stature, then that is racism and that is wrong and that is uncalled for and that’s what I object to and many people in Northern Ireland would support me in that.

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Opinion: Should the Queen speak out on the Belfast flag issue?

Queen Elizabeth IIThe pictures of the Queen joining the Cabinet meeting were charming. They conveyed a reassuring image of a stable democracy with a historic back-stop. Almost always we want the democratic element to prevail, but there are perhaps very limited issues and occasions when the monarchy can make a difference. The Queen inviting Harold Macmillan to form a government rather than Rab Butler in 1957 is the occasion often quoted. It did actually make a political difference, since Harold Wilson was later reported as having feared that Rab Butler may well have won the 1964 election.

Northern Ireland may be another occasion when the monarchy could make a

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Opinion: Alliance holds firm against intimidation

We are now just over a week on from the infamous flag vote at Belfast City Council and whilst it is now clear that the Alliance Party will emerge from this with its credibility and reputation greatly enhanced it has come at an enormous cost to its elected members, officers and activists who have been put under intolerable pressure. Now we know what mob rule looks like. If Northern Ireland was a normal society rival politicians would have by now put differences aside and be standing shoulder to shoulder with Alliance in a united front on the side of democracy …

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Opinion: Bringing modernity to local government

‘What is the matter with these people?’ is probably the reaction of many in Great Britain when observing the escalating violence in Northern Ireland in relation to – well – just a flag.

Although it is true that it is currently unlikely that there would be mass demonstrations on English streets over what flag was flown over the town hall and when, it is remarkable how few councillors really pause to think about the symbols used in their own councils and the potential effects on the people they aim to represent.

I did a quick audit of the two councils which put …

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Individual electoral registration: Northern Ireland shows that the annual canvass must be kept

Electoral Commission logoOne of the key disputes over how individual electoral registration should be introduced in England, Scotland and Wales is whether having people join and leave the register regularly through the year, alongside better use of other information about people moving (e.g. prompting people who take out a new TV license to register), would mean that the once-a-year check on all addresses – the ‘annual canvass’ – can be dropped.

The Electoral Commission has just published the results of its research into how individual electoral registration has

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Opinion: Concern over Northern Ireland Equal Marriage Petition of Concern

There is a mechanism in the Northern Ireland Assembly that is designed to protect minority interests. It is called a petition of concern. Any 30 MLAs can call for one on any issue up for debate.

What it means that instead of simple majority the motion for debate requires 60% of the chamber and 40% of both the Unionist and Nationalist designations.

You may ask why I have highlighted this at the top of this post. The answer is to do with a debate before the Assembly on Monday 1 October, a debate on Equal Marriage, a motion largely similar to our …

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Opinion: The forgotten family member and what Nick said…

Many people think of the Liberal Democrats as a family. I know that I have often felt part of a huge family when I have been across on ‘the other off-shore island’ whether it’s at conferences – Federal Party, Scottish Party, or LDYS (oops: I’m showing my age) – or helping with elections be they local elections in Manchester with Cllr Paul Shannon and our dear friend the late Neil Trafford, or when I helped in Ipswich with all the camaraderie that …

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Opinion: A New Approach to our Union

The current approach to the United Kingdom doesn’t work.

The current approach treats each home nation as an individual, yet this approach leads to everyone pulling the centre in every direction. It leads to infighting, or to one country taking control and dictating to the others how they should be run. Neither result leads to a strong union.

We currently have the Scotland Bill going through Parliament devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament; Wales passed a referendum giving its citizens the ability to pass primary legislation; and Nick Clegg has set up a commission to address the …

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Opinion: We need a proper inquiry into Patrick Finucane’s murder

In the midst of an economic crisis, a climate crisis and a Secretary of State for Defence who seems determined to turn his life from an uplifting drama into a crisis, it’s easy to forget the sins of governments past.

But some issues shouldn’t be left to lie as footnotes in the pages of history. One of those is the case of the solicitor Patrick Finucane, and Liberal Democrats should return to their campaigning roots, within and outside Parliament, to press for a full inquiry into the case.

Finucane was a Catholic solicitor in Northern Ireland, where among his most famous clients was the …

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Northern Ireland’s Liberal Democrats start up a new blog

Excellent to see this new initiative, which is over at http://libdemsni.wordpress.com. Reading through the posts there so far I’m struck by how streaks of similarity poke through the many differences in Northern Irish politics compared to those of England, Scotland or Wales.

The blog got off to a good start with its star signing; let’s hope it prospers in the coming months.

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Opinion: Is Northern Ireland the elephant in the coalition’s room?

On the surface, David Cameron is the first Prime Minister in generations for whom ‘The Ireland Question” is down the list of priorities.

The Good Friday Agreement has been a glorious success, with the recent devolving of policing powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly the final piece of the power-sharing jigsaw and the birth of a more conventional policy rather than tribal politics in the province.

The 2010 general election saw the Alliance Party gain a seat, the moderate nationalist SDLP doing better than expected and the the failure of the anti-power sharing Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party to make gains seems …

Posted in Op-eds | 36 Comments

Electoral administration isn’t going quite as well as it should…

First, the good news: all the reports so far indicated a strong surge in people registering just before the deadline earlier this month. The Independent has some further figures to add to earlier reports. Thankfully, Havering Council with its hostile approach to people using the Electoral Commission’s website seems to be very much the exception. Whilst its electoral division has called “ridiculous” the number of people registering at the last moment, other councils have welcomed the surge of interest rather than criticised it.

Then the not so good news…

Allegations of postal vote fraud: the scale of the allegations, …

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Congratulations to David Ford

Congratulations go from all at the Voice to David Ford, the leader of Alliance, the Northern Ireland sister party of the Liberal Democrats. The Northern Irish Assembly has voted David in as Justice Minister as other parties failed to find cross-community support.

The BBC reports

Before appointing a new minister, MLAs passed a vote to increase the number of devolved ministries at Stormont, to include the new Department of Justice.

Mr Ford will be in charge of the department with more than 4,000 employees and a budget of nearly £1.5bn.

He is the first Northern Ireland Justice minister since Westminster took policing

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Peter Robinson’s other problem

In amongst all the political trouble for the DUP’s Peter Robinson, one other problem has been largely overlooked – an Electoral Commission investigation into donations. The problem? In public he’s talked about giving donations to the DUP which would have required declaring. But there is no trace of them in the DUP’s records of declared donations.

This is just the sort of issue which, for a popular politician at the height of their powers, rarely turns in to a big deal – apologise, blame bureaucratic details and move on. However Peter Robinson is anything but that at the moment.

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Northern Ireland residents back ending donations secrecy

From the BBC:

“Most people” are in favour of ending the confidentiality surrounding donations to political parties in NI, focus group research has suggested.

It was conducted by the Electoral Commission, which recorded the views of eight groups around NI, each consisting of between six and eight people.

Unlike the rest of the UK, details of political donors are still kept secret in NI, because of security concerns…

This confidentiality clause is due to expire on 31 October 2010.

The Northern Ireland Office is expected to consult the public on whether the clause should end or be extended further before the end of this

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Opinion: The Wisdom of Clare Short

Clare Short, in her book, An Honourable Deception?, talks about religious fanaticism. She makes the point that the Iraqi body count website calculates that between the 9/11 bombings and February 2004, there were roughly 3,500 deaths resulting from Islamic extremist attacks on Western targets. In comparison she points out that over 13,000 non-combatant civilians died as a result of the Iraq war, as well as another 3,000 in Afghanistan, and 3,000 Palestinian civilians.

Looking at these figures – and acknowledging that many more Muslims have died in violence in the Balkans, Pakistan, Chechnya – it is easy to see why young Muslims living in these countries have a view of the world that includes a sense that the world values their lives much less than those of, say, me, a typical western male…

Obviously any member of a western government would shout me down were I to make such a claim to their face. Any Western liberal democracy places the utmost value on human life, regardless of race, religion or gender. At least, so any Bill of Rights you care to read would tell you.

But that’s just the point. It’s easy to legislate for a concept, but to live up to that all the time is not easy.

We shouldn’t shy away from the fact that any democratically elected government that values its prospects for re-election jealously protects the lives and interests of its citizens. Couple this very understandable bias with the fact that none of the most powerful and influential governments in the world are Islamic nations and you get the situation that, in any multinational forum – be it the G8 or the UN – it is the interests of the richer, western liberal democracies that are put to the fore not those of the Islamic world.

Look at the Darfur genocide. Were that happening in the UK there would be an overwhelming response, not only to protect those being oppressed, but to bring the oppressors to justice. It is not outside our power to take such actions when these events occur -even in the Sudan, but our governments choose to take less action because there is no reason to take any action other than a moral obligation.

It is this narrow self-interest that is the major driving force behind every country’s foreign policy. However, it is arguably at the root of most of the problems in the world. The fact is that the ‘war on terror’ has killed far more Muslims than it has anyone else. I say that we should forgive the Muslims of the world for thinking that the world doesn’t care about them. Fair point, really. This view is borne out of a dispassionate examination of the facts over the last couple of hundred years.

It is this feeling of impotence in the face of an unjust world that is at least partly driving young Muslims into the arms of extremist recruiters. If we are to overcome these problems, we could do worse than learn lessons from the UK’s attempts over the years to resolve the sectarian problems in Northern Ireland.

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