Friday, 30 May 2008

DUP seek concessions from Labour

The BBC is reporting that the Brown Government wants to secure the support of the nine Democratic Unionist Party MPs on its apparently watered down proposal for the 42 day detention of terrorist suspects. It has been suggested that one possibility might be that the DUP would be offered a seat or seats on the Intelligence and Security select committee. Alternatively, the Government could agree to let the Northern Ireland Executive have all the income from the sale of surplus Army land in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Politics Home Tracker Index of 100 top UK political experts and insiders now believes the Conservatives are the overwhelming favourites to win the next general election.
As the prospect of a ‘hung Parliament’ recedes, First Minister elect Peter Robinson will surely be eager not to get off on the wrong foot with Mr Cameron.

UUP reshuffle?

Rumours abound that there is to be some form of reshuffle in the middle rankings of the UUP batting order. Not everyone is likely to be smiling after this weekend’s AGM. New UUP Press Officer, Louise Scott might be thrown in at the deep end.

Making a virtue out of necessity?

The UUP managed to put a brave face on making public the fact that they are going to have to rent out Cunningham House, their Party headquarters on the Holywood Road in Belfast. The party ‘spun’ the fact that they no longer needed the space but the truth is that they have to do this for financial reasons. Word is that they looked at developing the site but unfortunately they rather missed the property boom.

DUP moves to firm up farming vote?

Arlene Foster, the DUP Environment Minister, announced this week that she will not create an independent Environmental Protection Agency. This means that Northern Ireland is the only part of ‘these islands’ without such a watchdog.

A range of environment groups and the other three parties in the Executive all supported the idea of an independent body. Some believe that Mrs Foster has acted in this manner in order to pacify the farming lobby who felt they might suffer at the hands of such an agency.

The move is undoubtedly popular with the farming unions and the vast bulk of farmers. However, when she announces very soon that the controversial rural planning policy PPS 14 is to remain in tact a small but significant number of farmers and other rural voters will certainly be displeased.

It was notably that Patsy McGlone, the SDLP Chairperson of the Assembly’s Environment Committee (who is very much against PPS 14) issued a statement last week on the ‘replacement’ of the Planning Policy Statement this week – obviously keen to get his retaliation in first.

Perhaps a case of you win some, you lose some for the DUP?

Monday, 26 May 2008

Woodward goes silent on policing and justice

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward, turned up to speak at the Mitchell Conference at Queen’s University. The Conference was another celebratory /anniversary event for the Good Friday Agreement ten years on. Strangely Mr. Woodward, who has for months been telling anyone who would listen that policing and devolution must be resolved by the end of May, had nothing to say on the subject at an event marking the beginning of the devolutionary process.

It seems reality had finally dawned on Mr Woodward – the UK Government has no means of forcing the pace on this issue. Regardless of what Mr Blair or other members of the Labour government had perhaps promised to Sinn Féin, the end of May date was a guideline not a deadline. With the DUP adamantly opposed to the idea it was bizarre that Mr Woodward seemed to be investing so much political capital in something that appeared so unlikely to happen.

Mr Woodward instead decided to talk tough about the need for Loyalist paramilitaries to hurry up and decommission their weapons. Was this to deflect attention from the fact that there is only one week of May left?

Sinn Féin promote Mary Lou McDonald

The referendum campaigns for and against the Lisbon Treaty are in full flow in the Republic of Ireland. The Republic is the only member state holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
Sinn Féin have tried to push themselves forward as the leaders of the ‘anti’ coalition – a position that sits well with their positioning as an ‘anti-establishment’ party. The most high profile person in Sinn Féin’s campaign is Mary Lou McDonald, the MEP for Dublin. Some regard her profile as tacit recognition of Gerry Adams’ failure to relate successfully to the southern electorate. In reality the truth is more mundane. She is a sitting MEP who was elected fourth in a constituency where the number of seats are being reduced from 4 to 3 at the European Parliamentary elections next year.

Sinn Féin have struggled to maintain their profile in the Republic since the General Election last year. The party have less speaking rights in the Dáil than they previously had and this, combined with seeming desire by the media largely to ignore ‘the North’ and simply to laud the achievements of Paisley, Ahern et al, have a negative impact Sinn Féin’s profile and it’s opinion poll ratings.