More than words

Over the summer months, while things were/weren’t intense/deadlocked up on Stormont Hill, the News Letter published a series of letters and responses that provided an interesting distraction from an otherwise dull news agenda.

A little patience is required to run through the correspondence the series of letters between UUP and Alliance Party Councillors and MLAs; the subject matter ranging from bonfires to blitz, and of course an Irish language Act. What is interesting is the nature of the Alliance proposition across the points raised.

To begin with it might have been thought that there wasn’t much for Alliance to say in response to the logic of the letter by Belfast City Councillor Jeff Dudgeon in the News Letter on 7 July: By backing silly SF motion, Alliance has called for ‘north of Ireland’ to secede from UK.

Alliance seconded a Sinn Fein motion that lacked logic, as Jeff rightly pointed out:

“In the referendum, we voted as the UK, not as countries or regions, although the result was notified in various ways, mostly by council areas and in our case Westminster constituencies.

The unit of self-determination chosen for a vote decides the result (in this referendum it was the entirety of the UK). Alliance is declaring that the unit of self-determination is in fact Northern Ireland.

By the same logic, in the case of a border poll, Northern Ireland would not necessarily be the unit. Instead each county or constituency could choose whether to stay in the UK or join the Republic.”

And continues:

“The Alliance proposal violates the Belfast Agreement where Northern Ireland’s status is recognised to be part of the UK by the votes in referenda on both sides of the border.

By seconding this silly and undemocratic motion, Alliance has called for the ‘North of Ireland’ to secede from the United Kingdom.”

Concluding:

“That is a far cry from the party’s origins, and indicates that by allying with Sinn Fein in City Hall, it is on the road to a place quite different from the moderate centre ground it was once proud to occupy.”

Jeff has been consistent is calling out the absurd nature of Alliance’s near obsequious support to Sinn Fein, though he wouldn’t be the only Unionist to suggest that Alliance and Sinn Fein are very cosy in Belfast City Hall.

At this point Alliance remained silent. However, in August, Sinn Fein decided it needed to be seen to be pro-active on the local ‘bonfire’ cultural tradition, as it had been caught on the hop earlier in the summer with Council action that turned into a bit of a farce; an injunction intended to stop bonfire building proving to be broadly of no effect.

A special Council meeting was requisitioned by Sinn Fein, and agreed to by the Alliance affiliated Lord Mayor. A motion was duly passed by the Council which some suggested would turn the Council into a “bonfire police”.

In a letter, again to the News Letter, Jeff Dudgeon concluded:

“Naomi Long’s statement in support of the Sinn Fein motion that it was “to restore the long-standing policy of council that staff have permission to remove materials where it is possible and is the agreed course of action, as recent political disputes have unpicked that” is complete nonsense. Council has always had, and always maintained, the power to act on its own property and never had the power over anyone else’s property except in tightly controlled circumstances such as environmental protection.”

It was Jeff’s belief that:

“Belfast City Council’s debate last night on a provocative bonfire motion was needless, only making a difficult situation worse.”

This time Alliance responded. Rather petulantly, the counter was personal from Michael Long, leader of the Alliance Group in Belfast City Council (and Naomi’s husband):

“Rather than carrying out a bizarre personal vendetta against Alliance, I call on Councillor Dudgeon to accept the facts and show some leadership.”

Jeff, however, kept the focus on the issues:

“I don’t have a personal dislike for Alliance… I have political disagreements with a party that preaches consensus yet, in council, rushes to support partisan or plain dangerous Sinn Fein policies.”

Adding: That is not a vendetta. That is politics.”

Michael Long still thought it a vendetta and decided to lecture Jeff on how things work on Council, as if he had served so much longer than Jeff (both were first elected in the same year). What seemed to most irk Long was his belief that Jeff believed Alliance rushed to support Sinn Fein policies. Long stated:

“Any objective look at city hall, would show that we decide our positions based on our own principles, voting with policies rather than on a sectarian outlook.“

Facts suggested that Mr Long protested too much, with Alliance more than twice as likely to vote with SF alone than with the DUP in Belfast.

Added to which Jeff’s belief in the inappropriateness of the motion was borne out by events, when the Council was left high and dry by the only contractor that had been prepared to remove bonfire materials, and street violence.

Jeff’s summary of the Alliance approach on this, as on other issues was damning:

“As I put it in my recent interview on the blitz memorial and Michael Long sabotaging it: ‘They want conflict so they can sit above it, so they can resolve it. It’s a peculiar facet of liberal terror’.”

The theme of Alliance being cosy with Sinn Fein was again mentioned when Alan Chambers MLA later commented, on a change of topic if not change of theme, that:

“…I was somewhat surprised to see representatives of both the Green Party and the Alliance Party photographed recently alongside Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein smiling as they held aloft banners featuring a thumbs up to an ILA.”

Since:

“At a meeting I attended with Sinn Fein a few days ago they referenced a paper they produced some years ago to the executive as being more or less their current template. This document was, I understand, rejected by the Alliance members of the executive at that time.”

In this instance, Paula Bradshaw MLA responded for Alliance:

“The only thing clear is Mr Chambers and others have no interest in the greater good. Others have made it clear agreement on this issue is necessary. My colleagues and I have been working hard to push the two biggest parties towards that, so we can get on with health reform, improving education and creating jobs.”

Most noticeable elsewhere in Bradshaw’s response are the phrases used with reference to the UUP and Mr Chambers; such as ‘prejudicial rantings’, ‘pure nonsense’, ‘snipe from the sidelines’, and finally ‘condemning themselves to further irrelevance’. That was him told.

Except… Alan Chambers responded politely. Again:

“If, as Paula Bradshaw says in her letter, “any legislation based on cost and compulsion … will be bound to fail” then why was she so keen to stand smiling beside Gerry Adams, a man for whom compulsion and cost are clearly not a consideration?”

“If her party, and more importantly herself, are serious about getting the assembly back it is rather contradictory to stand shoulder to shoulder in a trophy photograph with Sinn Fein in clear support of their red line vision of an ILA.”

This long series of letters and comments in the summer’s press can sometimes just seem more of the same old parochial disagreement. However, to accept and simply dismiss this as same old political arguments would be to miss the bigger point on the underpinning of the Alliance proposition within this discourse and the defensive nature of the Alliance position with its rhetorical tautology.

In an article on the American-Spanish philosopher George Santayana, social commentator Roger Kimball refers to an interesting passage from Santayana’s The Irony of Liberalism.

For this sort of liberal, argued Santayana:

“No-[one]… can really or ultimately desire anything but what the best people desire. This is the principle of the higher snobbery; and in fact, all earnest liberals are higher snobs. If you refuse to move in the prescribed direction, you are not simply different, you are arrested and perverse.”

Deplorable perhaps?

We see this playing out in the current Weinstein saga. As Ruth Dudley Edwards notes:

“Nor did the liberal media have any problem in going easy on the Clintons while savaging Trump over what was called ‘Pussygate’, his gross 2005 comments on grabbing any woman he fancied.”

“Last week, joining the chorus of condemnation of Mr Weinstein, Mrs Clinton had the brass neck to say on the BBC that “we have someone admitting to be a sexual assaulter in the Oval Office”. When the interviewer raised the issue of her husband’s sexual misconduct as President, she said: “That had all been litigated” – whatever that meant.”

For Santayana, judgement in politics becomes a curious mixture of morality and ‘a species of pleasurable sensation’ – the feel-good factor. As Kimball notes, this would be persuasive if everyone was decent and cultured, and of the same mind (a liberalism which, in the name of diversity, demands uniformity).

This correctly identifies the great liberal error which neither evidence nor experience seems capable of disturbing. When brought to our local circumstances; it suggests that when a single culturally communal and non-negotiable demand is conceded (e.g. an Irish Language Act), that this in turn will have Sinn Fein become instantly amenable to addressing ‘bread and butter’ issues, and that everyone will join together and Northern Ireland politics will be focused on socio-economic policy for the ‘common good”.

So the measure of what is correct in the Alliance Party’s political worldview (which does sometimes stretch marginally beyond the Belfast City Limits) is feeling good about themselves as decent and cultured persons. The snobbishness in this naturally dismisses all who disagree as mentally arrested and morally perverse. Flag-waving unionists attract particular distain. The consequence of this type of ‘progressive’ liberalism tends to an inverse morality.

In the above correspondence from the pages of the News Letter it is clear that those who encounter the Alliance Party day and daily will readily recognise the association of self-righteousness and moral superiority.

There are those who may believe that an Irish Language Act is necessary. However, if talked about in terms of ‘respect’, that cannot be supported by the evidence of funding within the education budget, cultural funding and within broadcast programming. Talked about in terms of ‘parity’ with English as a matter of ‘equality’ is plainly absurd.

Take away any rational reason for the introduction of an Irish Language Act and all that remains is an idea that it should be self-evident that ‘all decent people’ must support an Irish Language Act. That idea rests on the self-delusion that in some way far from feeding the crocodile it will unlock the decency and virtue of Republicanism and – irrespective of minor issues like practicality, cost, sectarian animosity and litigation – this will allows everyone to move out of our bigoted trenches.

Jeff Dudgeon is correct. The local Greens and Alliance are “all earnest liberals” which as Santayana describes “are higher snobs”. Everyone must conform to their idea of what is best, which is an idea based on a self-righteous and moral superiority of being above ‘conflict’.

This position is one that requires two protagonists, in conflict, above which the liberal will laud. So while on the one hand Alliance wishes to distance itself from the ‘conflict’ it is the conflict that provides its raison d’être. As Jeff says:

“They want conflict so they can sit above it, so they can resolve it. It’s a peculiar facet of liberal terror.”

 

 

 

Irish nationalism’s self-regarding single certainty.

United Ireland, inevitability and Brexit.

This long read is available as a PDF download.

In his excellent study of Ideology and the Irish Question, Paul Bew quoted a Ballymoney Free Press editorial of May 1912 at the height of the Irish Home Rule crisis. ‘The statement of Unionist Ulster’, it announced, ‘is that it merely wants to be let alone’. Unfortunately, ‘since Satan entered the Garden of Eden good people will not be let alone’.

This editorial captured a universal truth of Ulster Unionism – the desire to be ‘let alone’ – a truth with ambivalent consequences.

Read more… »

False flag

The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition has been established as part of commitments made under the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements.

Given experience, and the political background to the Commission, there must be deep reservations about any final Report; and more specifically the use of that Report beyond what any might imagine or intend.

Read more… »

Stop talking, start doing.

Leaving the EU is a good time to reshape the Northern Ireland economy

Following the decision of the UK electorate on 23 June 2016 to leave the EU, the Government of the United Kingdom has undertaken a great deal of work to prepare the country for triggering Article 50 on 29 March 2017.

Before the vote last year, Northern Ireland civil servants had pulled together a preliminary view on what might happen if Leave was to win the day. This seemed to be more concerned with the impact on the Republic of Ireland than on the opportunities presented to Northern Ireland if such an event should occur. Since then, other than a letter to the Prime Minister, as far as is publicly visible, the Northern Ireland Executive appears to have done little of anything in preparation.

It is time to stop talking about ‘re-balancing’ the Northern Ireland economy. The UK decision to leave the EU means there is no better time than the present to take action to gain best advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead; time to tip the scales in favour of private sector enterprise and exports. As a UK regional economy Northern Ireland faces issues around productivity, economic inactivity within its workforce, and an overbearing public sector.

In a new report, An Agenda for Northern Ireland after Brexit, local Northern Ireland business and the Global Britain think-tank have collaborated to offer a policy framework of what needs to be addressed constructively and positively by all levels of government in Northern Ireland. Most importantly, Northern Ireland needs focused leadership from the Executive.

Read more… »

Make your mind up time

It is make your mind up time for the Irish Republic.

Nothing new, but there has been hugely irresponsible and faintly histrionic noises coming out of Dublin, and Irish republican/nationalism generally, along with other voices (usual suspects), to the effect that Brexit means a return to violence in Northern Ireland. The only obvious return to the past is the use by the Republic’s politicians of events related to Northern Ireland as a distraction away from issues for which they are responsible, a deflection from the economic and political realities on its own doorstep.

Read more… »

unintended consequences?

The Renewable Heat Association (RHANI) sought a legal injunction to stop the Department for the Economy publishing the names its members, about 500 in total.

Yesterday an interim injunction was overturned in respect of those companies who successfully applied to the RHI scheme. Individuals who applied would seem to be except from their names being published, for now.

There has been lots of comment on the judgement which has mostly focused on the publication of ‘names’, and how quickly those names might be published. However, in the BBC report of the judgement it was a small comment that caught eye of @thedissenter which seemed more important to the scheme of things.

The report on the case states:

The judge ruled that the application for RHI subsidy did not amount to a legally binding contract.

and;

He said the department had the right to vary the terms.

Why is that interesting? The argument that the RHI will cost £XXX million over 20 years rested on the premise that approval of the applications meant the creation of a legally binding, invariable contract. This judge would seem to disagree.

It might expected that legal actions on RHI are far from over. However, if the point the judge in this case goes unchallenged (improbable, but not to say he will be over-ruled on this point later) that moving forward:

  • the current 12 month fix by the Minister, Simon Hamilton, will hold, and that;
  • going forward the scheme can be altered to a controlled scheme within what funding is available from Westminster.

While seeking to protect the anonymity of its members the RHANI may well have sped up the process of revision to the grant payments of those who had RHI scheme approvals pre-2016, at considerable relief to the Northern Ireland budget.

Seems RHANI members may soon be facing the Law of Unintended Consequences.

And why are we having an election?

 

 

The Blame Game

First: Cover Your Ass.

First: Cover Your Ass.

Having been focused on travelling and/or working in the later half of 2016 the RHI story was in the background, though hard to miss the heat and noise around the issue.

At the start of 2017 it seemed that despite the heat and noise, there wasn’t much light on the subject. Nolan was on repeat. While plenty of titbits were being bandied about as if Moses had just revealed them himself, nothing seemed to be moving the story forward. The story of RHI had become left behind by the political story unraveling before us.

Worthwhile at this point to rewind. Helpfully, early last July the Northern Ireland Audit Office produced a report on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme. You can read the report here along with the summary contained in the accompanying press release.

If you want to know about the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme then you really should read the NIAO report. It provides a timeline of events, the likely immediate impact on budget finances and a series of actions that had been agreed within the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment in particular.

And it is worth listening to the short two minute item here from UTV(ITV) on the scheme, closing with the Minister, Simon Hamilton, confirming a pathway forward in respect of addressing the failures of the scheme. The NIAO summary of what was launched into the public arena back in July 2016, is easy to recognise:

The RHI scheme encouraged the installation of costly eco-friendly heating systems by paying a tariff per kilowatt of heat burned over a 20-year period. It was administered on behalf of Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM). Read more… »