Friday, 9 May 2008

Bertie and Ian meet at the Boyne

Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisley met on the banks of the River Boyne, swords in hand and surrounded by Jacobite and Williamite troops. Thankfully it was not another case of history repeating itself. Paisley and Ahern, in one more hurrah for the cameras, appeared in blazing sunshine to proclaim the past as history and to commit their respective followers to a future of peace and co-operation. Orangemen greeted the Tiaoseach in Irish and Baroness Paisley preached the Gospel of peace and love.
Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Ireland’s place on the American political agenda revealed

We like to tell ourselves that Ireland – north and south is important on the American political agenda – sure with all those Irish American and Scot-Irish votes to be won they daren’t ignore us. The truth was brought home in recent times.
President Bush speaking in a recorded address mistakenly called Nigel Dodds ‘Minister Dobbs’. In the pantheon of Bushisms – and there are books (plural) of them - this is hardly his biggest faux pas. However, we are not important enough for a live address it seems and no one even thought the ‘Dobbs’ mistake was important enough to say to ‘read that line again Mr President’.
To add insult to injury Bertie Ahern’s crowning glory, his address last week to the joint Houses of Congress – the home of the world’s foremost democracy and only superpower -turns out to have been a sham! Barely a dozen of the 100 members of the Senate and fewer than 50 of the 435 congressional representatives turned up for his address. The gaps left by this 10% turnout were filled by congressional aides and over 50 pages - the young messengers who occupy the lowest rung on the congressional staff ladder.

Investment Conference

The media worked itself into a lather over the US Investment Conference. A handful of job announcements, local political leaders fawning over each other, and some marvelous weather seemed to do the trick in producing a ‘feel good’ factor. I do hope however that our visitors don’t go home thinking it’s like this all the time.
Gordon Brown apparently looked terrible and made several verbal slip ups – such as ‘the Good Friday Agreement reached at St Andrews’. He dismissed calls for a special lower rate of corporation tax from a leading industrialist (it was notable how the local politicos refused to be drawn into the debate). Mr Brown announced that if the Executive manages to sell off even more assets than it had previously planned it could keep the proceeds. Again local politicos mumbled but did not publicly criticise the PM.

Lies, damn lies and statistics?

The Belfast Telegraph has been releasing the results of an opinion poll commissioned from Ipos MORI. Ipos MORI were one of the companies left with egg on their face following the London Mayoral contest but the results of the Belfast Telegraph poll were interesting none the less. Barely one in five voters rate the Executive’s performance as very good or fairly good. Given that the Executive has yet to make many difficult decisions it could be that this rating will only decline! An incredible 72% said the restoration of devolution has yet to make any difference to them personally. On the Health Service, perhaps the area which the Assembly has most influence (and certainly the area which it spends most on) 67% reckoned the health service was ‘much the same.’
The question on party political support was perhaps the most intriguing – with approaching one third – 28% - in the Undecided/Would not vote/Did not answer categories.
Overall the poll seems to suggest a modest increase in DUP support, a slightly bigger increase for the UUP, SDLP support static and a huge drop in support for Sinn Fein?

DUP misses bigger picture?

The media carried several reports over the weekend of DUP MPs musing about a hung Parliament in which they have the balance of power. They obviously were so busy attending to MLA or MP or Ministerial business that they missed the local election results in England and Wales.
Perhaps even more bizarre was the claim in Financial Times that the DUP extracted the agreement that the Executive could keep all of the proceeds of extra assets sales in return for the DUP supporting Labour legislation on the 42 day detention of terrorist suspects.
The Conservatives, keen to work to the old maxim that the best time to kick a man is when he is down, are said to be furious. Surely the DUP would not risk offending the Conservatives in return for a financial package that may not, given the economic climate, be worth anything much at all? With the Conservatives increasingly ascent in the polls this would seem like a short sighted position for the DUP to adopt.

Global deal or giant fiasco?

Rumour has it that Sinn Fein are again suggesting one of their ‘global deals’ under which unionists get to keep academic selection in return for agreeing to the devolution of policing and justice / an Irish Language Bill / Maze Stadium.
The Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, meanwhile remains determined to live up to the Labour Government promise have policing and justice devolved in May 2008. Only Mr Woodward believes this is possible.

Cowan appoints Cabinet and treads warily in Hillsborough

Time moves rapidly in politics. Brian Cowen was heard to remark on that recently. This week he appointed his new Cabinet and traveled ‘up north’ to the US NI Investment Conference. He will no doubt be seeking to build bridges with Peter Robinson. When he was Foreign Affairs Minister he apparently told Peter Mandelson that ‘beyond the constitutional acceptance that Northern Ireland remained part of the UK, there should be no further evidence of Britishness in the governance of NI’. This week when Mr Cowen addressed the assembled audience at Hillsborough he was at pains to point out that while he wanted to see the development of an All Ireland (island?) economy he did not want to encourage a belief that he would seek to interfere with the institutions as established.
Peter Robinson, who recently remarked how Finance Minster Cowen had gone on to become Prime Minister and how Gordon Brown had also gone from Finance to PM - and how he was eager to follow in their footsteps – may now not to be quite so keen to follow Gordon Brown’s footsteps given Mr Brown’s recent political misfortunes.

UUP to appoint Director of Communications

The UUP, whose employment record has been checkered in recent years, are to appoint a new Director of Communications after their AGM on 31 May.