Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Words on Wednesday...with Stephen Farry MLA

Welcome to this week's edition of Words on Wednesday here on United Irelander, a concept unique to the Irish blogosphere, which sees me interview various figures from all walks of political life.

Taking my questions this week is Alliance Party MLA for North Down, Dr Stephen Farry. My thanks to Dr Farry for the interview. So then let's begin...

You are an Alliance Party MLA for North Down and the party's General Secretary. Talk us through a typical day in your life.

Unfortunately, there is not typical day at the moment. When I was elected to the Assembly, I was serving as General Secretary of the Party. I served in both capacities until my successor was appointed. This was a challenge in itself. In June, I was elected to serve as Mayor of North Down for a year. I was fulfilling three major roles for a brief time. I tend to spend Monday and Tuesday in the Assembly for plenary business, and on Monday evening, I would frequently host a reception in Bangor Town Hall. On Tuesday evening, there is usually a Council meeting. On Wednesday morning, I sit on the Assembly’s Finance and Personnel Committee. The remainder of the week tends to be a mixture of Mayoral events, meetings with NGOs and constituents, including right through the weekends.

What prompted you to get involved in politics?

A concern for the world around me, and the need to turn Northern Ireland around, plus a desire to try to make a difference with one’s life.

You were elected the Mayor of North Down a year ago. What are some of the initiatives that you're involved in at the minute as Mayor?

My main focus as Mayor has been Good Relations. I have been working with local ethnic minority groups to build up their capacity, and we are working towards the creation of a local multicultural forum which should provide a stronger voice for dealing with all levels of government. I recently invited a large number of Polish and other Eastern European workers to the Town Hall. We are working to creating a local group for what is a present a very dispirit community. I also made the first invitation for our local Gay and Lesbian group to the Town Hall.

This year marks the the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and you yourself were involved in the negotiations that led to that accord. What are your feelings on that point in time as you reflect upon it?

I regard the Agreement as a huge missed opportunity. At the time, it only contained what could be agreed, but major issues were left unresolved, including decommissioning and policing. With hindsight, it is bizarre that no financial and economic package was negotiated – Blair would have almost certainly delivered here at the time.

Much time has been wasted in trying to implement the GFA. The Agreement has also witnessed considerable political polarisation. From the perspective of 1998, it was not anticipated that the DUP and Sinn Fein would be so dominant. The assumption in 1998 was that both parties would be inside the tent, but managed by the UUP and SDLP.

The paradox of the Agreement is that peace has come at the price of reconciliation. The Agreement essentially entrenched divisions and asked the political system to manage this. Ten years on, it should be clear that the economic, financial and social costs of this are unsustainable. This is not the case with the current DUP-Sinn Fein administration.

I understand you have spent some time in the US political scene and that you worked with the National Democratic Institute in Washington. Do you have an opinion on the US Presidential race? Is there a particular candidate that you feel would be more inclined to help out NI?

I have worked for NDI in the Balkans on a number of occasions. More recently, I spent a year in Washington as a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

I am supporting Barack Obama. I believe that he would be a breath of fresh air, both within the United States and on the international stage. I also regard John McCain to be a strong candidate for the Republicans. It is probably not going to be a Republican year, but he does stand in contrast to some of his predecessors. While I disagreed with the US invasion of Iraq at the time, I do recognise that the invasion has unleashed major sectarian tensions, something that we in Ireland can identify with. I think that there is an obligation to try to put Iraq on the course of stability, and I would be worried about a premature withdrawal. On assistance to NI, I think the challenge for us is to build a more sustainable economy.

I recall reading last year the blog by the BBC's Mark Devenport and he mentioned a debate in the Assembly involving the UUP's David McNarry about the Irish language. I remember reading the transcripts of that debate and found it amusing how you seemed to be bemused by the whole thing and of the view that it was a waste of time! Has the Irish language been too politicised north of the border in your view?

I have no problem with members of the Assembly using Irish in their comments within the chamber. This is their choice and I am happy to respect this. I thought McNarry’s motion was petty and bitter. However, I am concerned about disproportionate responsibilities being placed on public authorities to provide services in Irish. I do think that Sinn Fein is politicising the language and certain ministers play into the hands of unionists. Unionists respond in kind.

With NI seemingly becoming a more stable political environment and less reliant on extremist elements, will this bode well for the future of the Alliance Party?

Northern Ireland politics is both more moderate in the sense that tensions have been reduced and there is greater scope for co-operation, but paradoxically, it is also more polarised than every before, with the DUP and Sinn Fein in the ascendancy. Alliance does have a clear niche within the political spectrum, a strong vision and positive message. I think we are well placed in contrast to our closest political rivals who are both having somewhat of an identity crisis.

What are your thoughts on Ian Paisley stepping down as NI's First Minister?

While he was undoubtedly shafted by his own party, it was time for him to retire. While his age does not help, he is not effective as a minister and struggles with details. His performances in answering ministerial questions have been particularly telling. The big questions for historians will be whether one decision to go into government with Sinn Fein, makes up for the past four decades of political obstruction and scaremongering.

On a similar note the big news story in the Republic of late has been Bertie Ahern stepping down as Taoiseach. What is your opinion of Mr Ahern and his role in the peace process?

I rate Bertie Ahern very highly. He played a positive role and was often more straight than Blair. That said, the Irish Government institutionally did not always play as positive a role. Irish officials made a mess of the first draft of the Good Friday Agreement, meaning that the focus in the first few days of the week leading up to Good Friday 1998 were spent trying to fix problems rather than focusing on the bigger issues for the future. Also at times, the Government needed to be less a reinforcement for the nationalist parties and to make them face up to some difficult home-truths.

He also presided over what has been the most successful period in the history of Ireland. He will be missed.

What is your view of Brian Cowen and do you see him having a positive relationship with the North's political parties?

I am a little apprehensive. In my experience, he was more inflexible than Ahern in his approach to the peace process when he was Foreign Minister, but time will tell. Fianna Fail is a mirror image of the DUP.

What are your thoughts on a united Ireland? Will it ever occur in your opinion?

I have no major hang-ups about a united Ireland in principle, and will happily respect the determination of the people of Northern Ireland. My fear is that in the short-term speculation over a united Ireland will serve to further polarise the political debate and undermine political progress. A premature ‘border poll’ should be avoided. In the longer term, I do think that a united Ireland will occur during my lifetime (I am still in my 30s), but my hope is that within the context of a changing British Isles and a evolving Europe, the actual switch of formal sovereignty will be less of an issue than is often perceived. A word of caution for now is that Northern Ireland is very heavily dependent on the UK Treasury to the tune of £7bn per annum. It is much easier for a state of 60m to sustain this level of subsidy than a state of 4m people.

What are the main problems in NI that you would like to see addressed?

The biggest problems facing Northern Ireland are addressing the continued deep divisions, and problems of sectarianism and segregation. There are significant economic, financial and social costs being borne by society. These matters still remain largely unacknowledged and unaddressed. The Shared Future strategy from Direct Rule has been sidelined by the DUP and Sinn Fein, and its replacement is awaited with some apprehension.

There are also major issues relating to dealing with the relative poor performance of the NI economy, and the fiscal dependency upon the UK Treasury.

What does the future hold in store for you?

My immediate event horizon is the completion of this Assembly term and elections in 2011. I would like to complete another couple of terms in the Assembly, subject to the views of the electorate of course! In the longer term, I would like to work overseas again.

Finally I'd like to play a small round of word association. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just outline what word comes into your head when you hear the following:

Ian Paisley - Bluster
Martin McGuinness - IRA
Bertie Ahern - Pragmatist
Gordon Brown - Deceptive
David Ford – Grassroots campaigner
Sinn Féin - Stalinist
DUP - Stalinist
Alliance Party – Shared Future
Good Friday Agreement – Missed Opportunity
Stephen Farry - Commitment

Thank you once again for your time, Dr Farry. All the best.

Next week, I put my questions and concerns about the Lisbon Treaty to Dr Diana Panke, a lecturer on European Politics at University College Dublin. Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews.

Previous interviews can be found

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Top Ten Tuesday - Computer games

Today, Tuesday 24th of April, might seem like any old day to you, however if you are a computer game fan then you will be well aware that today is quite a special day indeed. For today marks the release of one of the most highly anticipated games ever - Grand Theft Auto IV.

I must confess I'm not as clued into computer games as I used to be, say ten years ago, but I've taken the time to read up about this game and it looks truly AMAZING. Admittedly I'm not a huge fan of the GTA series, although I've played all of the titles. I preferred GTA 3 which was a revolutionary game at the time it came out. My interest in the series waned as the years went by but this new release looks set to revive it. I thought someone put it best when they said that to gamers this was the equivalent of a new Harry Potter book. Needless to say I intend to get this game although it might not be easy. Several games stores across Ireland opened at midnight in order to cater for gamers eager to get their hands on the game. Should sell like hotcakes.

I think it will be a smash hit. I'm fine with that too. I'm not one of those people who lays all of the blame for society's ills squarely at the feet of games like Grand Theft Auto. At the end of the day violence existed before computer games and there's a reason why it says '18' on the box. If parents don't want their kids playing the game, don't let them have it! Simple.

With today being what it is, I thought I'd compile a list of my top ten favourite computer games of all time. So without further ado...

1. Metal Gear Solid - Released in the late nineties for the Playstation this has to be regarded as one of the greatest games ever. It's basically about a legendary soldier, Solid Snake, who must infiltrate a terrorist base and stop a nuclear bomb.

It has a captivating story and while the graphics are a bit dated, it's still an absorbing gaming experience. Feels like being in a movie!

2. Super Mario World - Released in 1992 in Europe, this is a really simple game that you can still enjoy to this day. Mario is a great character (way better than Sonic the Hedgehog for the record) and this is an all-time classic.

3. Tetris - Another classic, Tetris was released for the Game Boy in 1989 and is a falling blocks puzzle game. It's so simple to pick up and play that all ages can enjoy it. Super stuff.

4. Metal Gear Solid 2 - Can you tell I love the Metal Gear series? This was the sequel to Metal Gear Solid and hit the shelves in 2001. Beautiful to look at and really fun to play. The plot gets a bit stupid near the very end which is a shame but it's still one of my favourite games ever.

5. Super Mario Kart - My favourite racing game. Released in 1992, it's had several updates all of which have been superb. Get a few friends over and play some Mario Kart and you won't be disappointed.

6. Street Fighter 2 - It hit Europe in 1992 and for me is the best 'beat-em'up' title ever. Incidentally it was such a hit that a movie was made of it starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kylie Minogue which turned out to be absolutely APPALLING. Seriously watch that film and witness an abomination of cinema. The game thankfully is an all-time great.

7. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - Released in Europe in 2005, this was a prequel to all the others and was set mainly in jungle environments where you play as the past protagonist Solid Snake's father - Big Boss. Very creative game and because it's a Metal Gear Solid game, it is a FANTASTIC game.

8. Grand Theft Auto 3 - Released in 2001, this was dramatically different to the other GTA series and allowed players a huge degree of freedom. They got into a heap of trouble due to the adult content in the game but it is remembered as one of the most revolutionary games of recent times.

9. Pro Evolution Soccer - Released in 2001, this game converted me from FIFA to PES and is probably my favourite football game. Very fluid gameplay.

10. Football Manager 2008 - This came out this year and is the only game I've bought in 2008. The idea is that you are a manager of a football team and have to make signings, create tactics and team-talks etc. It is detested by wives and girlfriends I'm sure as it forces men into their rooms where they stare at dots on a screen playing out an imaginary football match. For some reason though it's truly compelling.

So there you have it. My top ten favourite games ever, although I should point out that my interest in games is a bit like my interest in music so this list could be quite different if I compiled it a week from now. Still, most of my favourite games would be in there I'm sure. As you can see I'm a huge fan of Metal Gear Solid and can't wait until the fourth one is released later this year. I don't know what it is about the Japanese but they make bloody good computer games.

(P.S. don't worry I will shy away from further computer game-related posts in future and will resort back to my 'Lisbon bad, Irish Unity good' posts I swear!)

Monday, April 28, 2008


What to expect...

I'm going to try and devote more time to United Irelander in 2008. As some of you know I had some problems in 2007 which severely curtailed the time I could devote to the site. Thankfully I've gotten through that and with 2008 set to be a big year for Ireland, with the Lisbon Treaty referendum in particular being the main topic of concern, I intend to try and post more regularly the way that I used to.

As a result I've made some updates to the site and I thought I'd fill you in on some of the things you can expect from United Irelander in the coming weeks and months. I've decided to reintroduce the daily features to UI although I've made a few changes. They are as follows...

Monday Movie: Yes United Irelander will be making the move to Youtube. I've become quite fond of making short movie clips and I'll try and put some stuff on Youtube as well as the site itself. I'll speak about this more eventually. Right now I'm looking to find some good movie making software which is more reliable than Windows Movie Maker since WMM seems to crash more often than a drunk driver on an icy road. If anyone can recommend some good programs to me and some prices I'd appreciate it.

Top Ten Tuesday: I used to enjoy doing this feature so I think it's worth bringing back.

Words on Wednesday: I'm proud of how this feature has developed and I hope to have plenty more interviews with political figures in 2008. There is an interview with Dr Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party this Wednesday and I'm pleased to say that it is another candid interview, much like last week's one with the SDLP's Carmel Hanna.

I also have an interview lined up with a very respectable academic who is in favour of a Yes vote in the upcoming Lisbon referendum. I raise several of my concerns about the Lisbon Treaty in the piece. Should prove interesting hopefully.

Thursday Thoughts: This feature sees me go into detail on a particular issue and I think these posts have probably been some of my better ones.

Friday Face-Off: A new feature this one. Will become clear what this involves in due course.

Weekend Words: I had originally intended this to be similar to my Words on Wednesday feature with it involving interviews with non-political figures from Irish culture. I didn't really devote as much effort to it as I had initially planned however and so far 2fm's Rick O'Shea has the distinction of being the only one interviewed! I intend to put this right in the coming weeks and months. I can't name any names yet but I hope to have some interesting interviews lined up in the future.

Some other features will pop up every once in a while also. That's about it really! I hope these features prove entertaining and worthwhile and encourage you to make United Irelander part of your daily reading habits.


Hope springs from Lisbon swing

I was very interested over the weekend to read the results of a poll in the Sunday Business Post which shows that public opinion here in Ireland appears to be moving against the Lisbon Treaty.

According to the poll, support for the Treaty has fallen from 43 per cent in February, to 35 per cent today amongst the electorate. Those opposed to the Treaty have increased from 24 per cent to 31 per cent. The number of undecided voters remains almost unchanged, at 34 per cent. The poll was conducted last week among more than 1,000 people nationwide.

RTE reports that the change in opinion is particularly marked among farmers. Irish Farmers Association President Padraig Walshe said this was not surprising as his members are very worried about the position being taken in the World Trade talks by EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

Dick Roche, the Minister for European Affairs - who you'll remember has been trying to frighten people into voting Yes by saying a No vote would damage our standing in the EU - commented that it is all "very much to play for".

Let's get play underway then, Mr Roche!

I must say I take great encouragement from these results. I had been of the opinion that those campaigning for a Yes vote would succeed in keeping the Irish people in the dark about the Treaty. It seems however that this is not the case and people are actually taking the time to read up on what this document entails and are educating themselves about it. That is to be applauded.

The results indicate to me that those of us calling for for a No vote are succeeding in winning over the people to our concerns and if we can win over some more of those who have yet to decide how they will vote, then there is the possibility of victory.

I'm not going to get too carried away because anything can happen between now and June and we must remember that all the political parties are in favour of the Treaty. Nonetheless, it shows that those of us fighting the good fight can at least be proud that not all Irish people are buying into the government's spin over this massively important issue.

A vote against Lisbon is a vote in support of Irish sovereignty. Irish people it seems are recognising that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Words on Wednesday...with Carmel Hanna MLA

Welcome to another edition of Words on Wednesday here on United Irelander, a concept unique to the Irish blogosphere, which sees me interview various figures from all walks of political life.

Answering my questions this week is SDLP MLA for South Belfast Carmel Hanna. My thanks to Ms Hanna for kindly agreeing to be interviewed.
So then without further ado, let's begin.

You are an SDLP MLA for South Belfast. Talk us through a typical day in your life.

There’s no such thing as a typical day. As an Assembly member, Mondays and Tuesdays are the busy days at Stormont for all members with plenary sessions, SDLP Assembly group meetings, lobbying, debates and questions to ministers on a rotational basis. Every second Wednesday there is a meeting of the Assembly Standards & Privileges Committee, which I chair. Thursday is taken up most of the day with the work of the Assembly Health Committee. As with any democracy, Health absorbs about 45% of the Executive’s budget and with a myriad of interest groups - there is infinite demand for medical services and only a limited budget available. Friday is devoted to constituency work and I make myself available to any constituent who wants to see me, or talk to academic researchers and the like.

I’m also a Belfast City Councillor, though not for much longer, and I sit on three committees there. I worked as a nurse in Africa years ago and I am the founding chair of the Assembly All Party Group on International Development (APGID). We work closely with the aid agencies and, I’m glad to say that we receive support from all the Assembly parties. Northern Ireland is a very small place and we could not have overcome our problems without outside assistance. It’s time to give something back to the rest of the world and the aim of the APGID is to mainstream international development in government programmes. Apart from all that, there are residents’ groups and party meetings to attend to and I’m out of the house two to three nights a week.

On Saturdays I’m either at party meetings canvassing or doing what I call PBWA-‘Politics by Walking About’, out on the Lisburn Road and Finaghy or elsewhere, doing normal things like shopping and talking to anybody who wants to talk to me. My SDLP branch, Balmoral, is the largest in the party, but it’s hard work keeping an organisation together and a major part of my work is ensuring a smooth succession. The fact that we’re a good branch means there are three or four very able people who can step into my shoes. Frankly, I wear too many hats - MLA, Councillor, two Chairs, Executive member, etc. and the SDLP must bring forward the next generation.

I understand that you worked as a staff nurse in the casualty department at the Mater Hospital in Belfast during the Troubles and that it left a big impression on you. That must have been a distressing time. Tell us a bit about your experiences.

I worked in Mater casualty in North Belfast for three years in the early seventies, the worst period of the troubles. The Mater is on the Crumlin Road and North Belfast was the epicentre of the troubles - a quarter of everybody killed in the troubles died within an area of a few square miles. Frankly, it was horrendous and it has left me with the conviction that violence never solves anything. I am almost, but not quite, a pacifist, but I can’t think of many occasions where violence is justified. Looking back on my work as a nurse, I was probably under stress a lot of the time. About 1971, around internment time, I went to a meeting to hear John Hume who said something like ‘If we don’t get this violence stopped soon, it’ll go on for 25 years’. People thought he was crazy, but John was right.

You were active in the Civil Rights campaign and this year is the 40th anniversary of Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement. How significant was the civil rights campaign in bringing change to the North?

I joined the Civil Rights Movement as a young nurse. I remember joining the Linenhall Street march in October 1968 (my staff nurse uniform under my coat - I would have been disciplined if Matron had caught me) and marches throughout 1969 and 1970 until the CRM was swamped by the escalating violence. Key demands of the CRM, such as fair allocation of public housing and the local government vote, were actually won peacefully quite early on. CR politicised a generation-the aims were wholly peaceful. Unfortunately a campaign for change and reform was mistaken by the unionist government as a challenge to the state itself. People who are now prominent Sinn Fein members had nothing to do with CR because they wanted to overthrow the state and didn’t want to reform it.

You have been the SDLP's Spokesperson on Health and Public Safety since 2003. You share your South Belfast constituency with the UUP's Michael McGimpsey, who now serves as Northern Ireland's Health Minister. How well do you think Mr McGimpsey has performed in his role?

I think Michael McGimpsey is a good Health minister. I worked with him when I was Minister for Employment and Learning and I get on quite well with him. I find him helpful and courteous with a very challenging brief and I think he is coping well.

What are some of the political issues that you are focusing on at this point in time in your constituency?

South Belfast is the most diverse and vibrant constituency in the North. Its MP is my colleague, Alasdair McDonnell, and I want to ensure that the SDLP keeps the seat. Large parts of the constituency are affluent, but there are pockets of deprivation such as the Markets, Village and Taughmonagh and there is quite a high transient population and a very significant representation of ethnic minorities.

Housing and planning are the main constituency issues. Many young families are unable to get on the home ownership ladder because of soaring prices, there is an acute shortage of social housing and this is distorting the demographic profile. Because the constituency is reasonably well integrated, people want to live in mixed areas, but the homes just aren’t available.

If you could change three things about Irish society, north or south, what would you change and why?

I would want all of us (myself included) to be less selfish and greedy and more outward-looking. I was one of nine children of a factory worker in Warrenpoint and the vast majority of people were at most a couple of generations away from the peasantry. There was no real class structure. In the South, burgeoning wealth has created class division and a lot of vulgar and conspicuous consumption, which I hate. Alcohol abuse is ruining the country and we must change people’s hearts, minds and behaviour in relation to dependency. In the North, many people can be parochial in their views and aren’t aware that the rest of the world have far worse problems than we ever had. I want better and equal access to health and education, people to put a value on their own dignity and, with that access to take the opportunities open to them. I feel that the North’s health and education system is more equitable than the South, but that young people in the South get a broader based education. Finally, some of us treat our wonderful environment very badly and I want that changed radically. Underpinning all this is the necessity to build a competitive economy.

What are your thoughts on Ian Paisley stepping down as NI's First Minister?

Politically, good riddance. He was a negative and malign influence for 40 years. I hope he has a long and quiet retirement. I’m sure he is a good husband, father and grandfather and I credit him for that. His intransigence and sheer bigotry helped prolong our troubles for decades. Observing him at close quarters it seems to me he has an overweening ego.

The big news story in the Republic has been Bertie Ahern stepping down as Taoiseach. What is your opinion of Mr Ahern and his role in the peace process?

Bertie was fully engaged and committed, especially at the time of the Good Friday Agreement when his beloved mother died. I don’t think he was any particular friend of the SDLP. He deserves the praise he is getting for his part in the process. I think both he and Blair were far too indulgent of the Provos and DUP after the Agreement on issues like decommissioning and policing. He is also friendly, modest and unassuming, an Everyman example for any politician in terms of making contact with people.

What is your opinion of Brian Cowen and do you see him having a positive relationship with the North's parties?

I don’t know him well but in meetings I’ve found him to be very astute.

What are your thoughts on a united Ireland?

I want it, and in many respects the groundwork is there but to quote John Hume, "the island of Ireland is united, it’s the people of Ireland who are divided"…"it’s a matter of those who believe in Irish unity persuading those who aren’t in favour of it."

I’ve lived for long periods in Dublin, Wicklow and Galway and I’m comfortable anywhere in Ireland. I think democratic Ireland generally has done a poor job of selling the benefits of a united Ireland to unionists. The driving force for partition was basically economic but that argument has been undermined by the Republic’s prosperity in recent decades. The thirty year violence was a setback for the cause of a united Ireland - the Provos and the DUP were constantly picking at the sore. The stereotype of the hard-working, blunt, honest northern Protestant has a lot of validity and those qualities married to Southern creativity would be a great combination.

I see that like myself you have much admiration for the United Irishmen and you are a founding and current member of the United Irishmen Commemoration Society. Would you agree that many of the noble Irish republican ideals of the United Irishmen have in many ways been lost by later generations on this island?

I was a founder member of the United Irishmen Commemoration Society and my husband and John Gray, Librarian of the Linenhall Library (a successor of Thomas Russell, ‘The Man from God Knows Where’) were the first two chairmen. Starting on 14 October 1991, the exact bicentenary of the founding of the United Irishmen in Crown Entry, Belfast, we organised commemorative events in the Elmwood Hall - a play/pageant by Jonathan Bardon, music, lectures etc. To our amazement, about 700 people turned up and they were by no means all northern Catholics. The United Irishmen were the first Irish democrats and had a great generosity of spirit.

I always remember a moment after one of the 1998 lectures by a former Presbyterian Moderator, a distinguished historian, who was asked a kind of revisionist question "well, wasn’t it a disaster, didn’t it all end in tears, tens of thousands dead etc?". He paused for a long time and then said very quietly "Yes, but you have to remember that the government was an oligarchy, Dublin Castle was defending privilege, they weren’t defending democracy. It would have been better if the United Irishmen had succeeded." That remark gave me a glimpse into the kind of Ireland we could have had and can still have. I think physical force Irish nationalism has tried to hi-jack, the good name of Irish republicanism and it’s up to democratic Ireland to reclaim the true meaning of republicanism.

What does the SDLP need to do in your mind to recover the ground it has lost to Sinn Féin in recent times?

Get organised! The SDLP has undervalued organisation. Some people got elected for thirty years because the SDLP was opposed to violence, supported civil rights and was wholly democratic. Once the Provos stopped killing people, the SDLP had problems in key areas. Sinn Fein brought the military discipline of the IRA across to politics. Look, there are 101 district electoral areas (ward groupings) in the North and even yet the SDLP has councillors in 70 of them, so we can build an organisation, but we have to be serious about it. Every elected representative needs an organisation behind them. Sinn Fein has broken no delph at Stormont, and there are opportunities for the SDLP if we organise ourselves to take them.

Where should Ireland be twenty years from now?

An inclusive, peaceful, tolerant society, aware of its place in the world and its responsibilities to the rest of humanity. A society where social exclusion is at a minimum, where people have values and ethics - the Christian ones are what I stand by, but I also believe in a pluralist society - and a high standard of education/training, and where family life is supported. A social democratic society where it’s recognised that everyone needs a helping hand at some time to get through life.

In Connemara they have a saying: ‘Faoi scáth a chéile a mhaireann muid’ - we all live in each other’s shadow, we’re all interdependent. For all our faults, Ireland still has a very strong sense of community.

What does the future hold in store for you?

I’m probably in my last term as an elected representative and happy that we have some great young people coming through in South Belfast. Time for the younger generation! Then, keeping healthy, spending more time with my family and friends, particularly in the West.

Finally I'd like to play a small round of word association. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just outline what word comes into your head when you hear the following:

Ian Paisley - Enormous vanity. Destructive. A wrecker.
Bertie Ahern - Charmer, street-wise. Electoral magician.
Gerry Adams - Vain. From the Irish side, second only to Paisley in responsibility for the prolonged conflict.
Mark Durkan - Very bright, but needs to show a ruthless streak.
Brian Cowen - Likeable. Shrewd.
DUP - Unprincipled. Power mad.
Sinn Féin - Formidable machine. Chancers.
SDLP - Good people, too often disorganised.
Irish Unity - Attainable. Big persuasion job needed.
Carmel Hanna - Down to earth, commonsensical. Wish I was younger and had been better prepared when I went into politics and that I had a fraction of the articulateness and fluency of my branch chair, Conall McDevitt.

Thank you for your time, Ms Hanna. All the best for the future.

Next week, Alliance Party MLA for North Down, Dr Stephen Farry, takes my questions. Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews.

Previous interviews can be found here.

Friday, April 18, 2008


All-Ireland economy emerging - Ahern

I welcome the comments today from outgoing Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who spoke at an SDLP themed event in Louth on "shaping an all-Ireland economy".

The Taoiseach stated that an all-Ireland economy was emerging and that this was an important step for the island's future. Ahern commented:

"In the boardrooms of the United States, Japan and elsewhere our unity of purpose is seen as a clear signal of our shared willingness to make progress."

The meeting comes a few days after Taoiseach-in-waiting Brian Cowen met with DUP's Finance Minister, and First Minister-in-waiting, Peter Robinson and announced plans to allow the Irish Financial Services Centre to locate some of its operations in the North.

Ahern's presence at the event has led to speculation that Fianna Fáil and the SDLP are about to merge, an idea that has been mentioned often in the past few years. Fianna Fáil have increased their interest in the North in recent times having established youth wing branches at Queen’s University in Belfast and the University of Ulster’s Magee campus in Derry. The party has also registered its name with the electoral authorities there.

The new chuckle brothers?

"Ya mind the odd tribunal, Mark?"

It's believed there's considerable support among the SDLP for a merger, however many in the party feel an affinity to the Irish Labour Party and as such a merger with Fianna Fáil would likely lead to a split.

So then it's hard to say what will happen but based on the Taoiseach's language, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a union. Ahern commented:

"Working together I believe that Fianna Fáil and the SDLP will dramatically enhance the economic and social wellbeing of this island.

"Building on our strong legacy of co-operation and success, the future is very bright."

"Fianna Fáil and the SDLP are two pragmatic nationalist political movements which recognised that along with the provision of improved infrastructure, we must combine and co-ordinate policies."

Regardless of what Fianna Fáil and the SDLP decide to do though, I think it is of huge importance that we concentrate on building an all-Ireland economy and integrating the two political entities north and south as much as we possibly can.

If - or should I say when - the reunification of the country occurs, we will need to have a solid foundation to build upon to avoid a troublesome experience as happened with Germany when it reunified. I don't suspect Ireland would have such problems and the more economic harmonisation we see, the better equipped we will be for the demise of Partition.

I believe Irish unity will happen through making Partition an irrelevance for everyone here and that its grip on the island, which once felt as tight as a hangman's noose, will ultimately slip off as lightly as a gentleman's tie.

In the 21st century money talks - so let's continue talking money.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


EU havin' a laugh?

'They cannot be serious', 'This can't be right', 'How are they getting away with this?' These are just some of the thoughts that came to my mind whilst going through the European Union's consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty.

Yes they finally published the treaty to their website and it's an excellent opportunity for people to learn about the agenda that the suits in Brussels have in store for all of us.

The Treaty can be read here:

Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union

It is written out in several languages. Obviously I read the Gaelic version. OK that's a lie. But I did read it in full and boy is it one heck of a read. If you get through all of it in one sitting may I commend you because I couldn't manage it. It is a tome and a half and gives credence to the claims of Kieran Allen, editor of, who told a Dáil committee of Yes supporting ministers last week that they were trying to "frighten and bore" people into voting Yes.

While it is true that the vast bulk of the Treaty's content is an insomniac's dream, significant portions of it should set alarm bells ringing for the electorate in Ireland. The Lisbon Treaty transfers sovereignty away from Ireland and gives a disturbing amount of power to the European Council. The Council is the highest political body in the EU and is made up of the heads of government of the EU member states. It gets significant powers if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. Forget the New World Order - this is the New European Order.

Here are some elements of the Treaty which concern me greatly. Firstly let's look at the language used in the preamble because you can tell a lot from a constitution, which this is, from its preamble...

RESOLVED to implement a common foreign and security policy including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence in accordance with the provisions of Article 42, thereby reinforcing the European identity and its independence in order to promote peace, security and progress in Europe and in the world

RESOLVED to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity

IN VIEW of further steps to be taken in order to advance European integration

A common defence policy? Reinforcing the European identity and its independence? The principle of subsidiarity? Advancing European integration?

It reads like a blueprint for a European Superstate. Oh wait...IT IS. Let's begin with the serious stuff. Article 5...

Article 5.3. The institutions of the Union shall apply the principle of subsidiarity as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. National Parliaments ensure compliance with the principle of subsidiarity in accordance with the procedure set out in that Protocol.

It sure does make it clear where the power lies. Not with the national parliaments, you know those places where the citizens of nation-states elect people to look after their affairs. No, instead national parliaments "ensure compliance with the principle of subsidiarity". More on this later.

Article 10.3. Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen.

This sure is a noble aspiration don't you think? But it begs the question - why then are the British, Dutch and French electorates being denied a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if all citizens have the right to participate in democracy? Surely that would be the case in a Union that talks about decision-making being as 'open' and 'as closely as possible' to the citizen, right? Could it be that they are talking out of their backsides? Let's cut straight to the rough stuff. Article 16...

Article 16. 1. The Council shall, jointly with the European Parliament, exercise legislative and budgetary functions. It shall carry out policy-making and coordinating functions as laid down in the Treaties.

2. The Council shall consist of a representative of each Member State at ministerial level, who may commit the government of the Member State in question and cast its vote.

3. The Council shall act by a qualified majority except where the Treaties provide otherwise.

4. As from 1 November 2014, a qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55 % of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65 % of the population of the Union.

A blocking minority must include at least four Council members, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained.

This is what I was talking about when I said that the Council attains too much authority. From 2014, the voting powers of Ireland become reduced and if we want to block something that we find to be objectionable, we must request other members of the Council to come to our aid. Supposing they don't want to? I guess it's just too damn bad for us then. This is sovereignty? Crawling on our bellies to other member-states asking them not to implement proposals that we might object to? Unbelievable.

Article 24. 3. The Member States shall support the Union's external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the Union's action in this area.

That seems quite threatening to our position of neutrality. We have been told that our neutral position will not be compromised by the Lisbon Treaty and that certain articles won't apply but...well, I have my doubts. I also don't like the language or tone that is used here. It's almost Stalin-esque. I thought the paragraph immediately after that was interesting from a British point of view. It reads...

The Member States shall work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity. They shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.

Such as the British decision to participate in the War in Iraq, perhaps? How would something like that fit into the equation? Article 26 is interesting from an Irish perspective...

Article 26. 1 The European Council shall identify the Union's strategic interests, determine the objectives of and define general guidelines for the common foreign and security policy, including for matters with defence implications. It shall adopt the necessary decisions.

This seems to suggest that Ireland's foreign and security policy powers will be significantly curtailed should the Treaty be endorsed. Article 28 continues on the issue of security and is very interesting from an Irish point of view...

Article 28. 1. 1. Where the international situation requires operational action by the Union, the Council shall adopt the necessary decisions. They shall lay down their objectives, scope, the means to be made available to the Union, if necessary their duration, and the conditions for their implementation.

If there is a change in circumstances having a substantial effect on a question subject to such a decision, the Council shall review the principles and objectives of that decision and take the necessary decisions.

2. Decisions referred to in paragraph 1 shall commit the Member States in the positions they adopt and in the conduct of their activity.

3. Whenever there is any plan to adopt a national position or take national action pursuant to a decision as referred to in paragraph 1, information shall be provided by the Member State concerned in time to allow, if necessary, for prior consultations within the Council. The obligation to provide prior information shall not apply to measures which are merely a national transposition of Council decisions.

4. In cases of imperative need arising from changes in the situation and failing a review of the Council decision as referred to in paragraph 1, Member States may take the necessary measures as a matter of urgency having regard to the general objectives of that decision. The Member State concerned shall inform the Council immediately of any such measures.

5. Should there be any major difficulties in implementing a decision as referred to in this Article, a Member State shall refer them to the Council which shall discuss them and seek appropriate solutions. Such solutions shall not run counter to the objectives of the decision referred to in paragraph 1 or impair its effectiveness.

This all seems very worrying and suggests that nation-states will be totally subservient to the whims of the European Council on matters of foreign policy and security. 'The Council shall adopt the necessary decisions'? Article 5 is the one I'm most concerned about. If there are concerns the matter is referred to the Council however we are told solutions "shall not run counter to the objectives" or "impair its effectiveness" which makes you wonder how useful any 'solution' would be...

The really alarming stuff for me concerns the power the European Council has with respect to voting and these issues are discussed in Article 31. The first Article outlines the powers nation-states have when abstaining on an issue that the Council is set to vote on. This is the real test of sovereignty...

Article 31.1 When abstaining in a vote, any member of the Council may qualify its abstention by making a formal declaration under the present subparagraph. In that case, it shall not be obliged to apply the decision, but shall accept that the decision commits the Union. In a spirit of mutual solidarity, the Member State concerned shall refrain from any action likely to conflict with or impede Union action based on that decision and the other Member States shall respect its position. If the members of the Council qualifying their abstention in this way represent at least one third of the Member States comprising at least one third of the population of the Union, the decision shall not be adopted.

What does it mean by 'In a spirit of mutual solidarity' the nation-state that has an issue with EU Council policy 'shall refrain from any action likely to conflict with or impede Union action'? Are they setting boundaries on how members states can object to policies? Reads that way to me. Articles 2 and 3 continue to be causes for concern...

2. By derogation from the provisions of paragraph 1, the Council shall act by qualified majority:

- when adopting a decision defining a Union action or position on the basis of a decision of the European Council relating to the Union's strategic interests and objectives, as referred to in Article 22(1),

- when adopting a decision defining a Union action or position, on a proposal which the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has presented following a specific request from the European Council, made on its own initiative or that of the High Representative,

- when adopting any decision implementing a decision defining a Union action or position,
when appointing a special representative in accordance with Article 33.

If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken. The High Representative will, in close consultation with the Member State involved, search for a solution acceptable to it. If he does not succeed, the Council may, acting by a qualified majority, request that the matter be referred to the European Council for a decision by unanimity.

The wording above seems very suspect to me. If a member of the Council, i.e. Ireland, decides to oppose something, they won't take a vote on the matter. Sounds good right? Then you read on and find out that the 'High Representative' will talk it out with the member state involved, in this example Ireland, and will "search for a solution acceptable". If no solution is found, the Council will decide on the matter. So therefore a vote WILL be taken even if no solution is found. How is this acceptable to anyone who values national sovereignty? It is worth noting that Article 31. 4 states:

Paragraphs 2 and 3 shall not apply to decisions having military or defence implications.

I'm guessing this is the bit that is supposed to reassure us that our neutrality won't be threatened by the treaty? Perhaps someone can clarify this issue for me as I'm a bit perplexed by it.

Article 36 is a notable one in light of my earlier 'New European Order' comment at the beginning of the post. If you have a read of it perhaps you'll understand why I used the term. Again I've highlighted the bits I deem to be dangerous...

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall regularly consult the European Parliament on the main aspects and the basic choices of the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy and inform it of how those policies evolve. He shall ensure that the views of the European Parliament are duly taken into consideration. Special representatives may be involved in briefing the European Parliament.

The European Parliament may ask questions of the Council or make recommendations to it and to the High Representative. Twice a year it shall hold a debate on progress in implementing the common foreign and security policy, including the common security and defence policy.

Now the European Parliament is the only directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union and yet it seems it will be reduced to little more than a talking shop. The 'High Representative' seems to have responsibility for instructing the Parliament on the Council's plans and all the E.P. can do is 'ask questions' or 'make recommendations'. I find this troubling.

There is a special Protocol designed to apply to the UK and Ireland protecting certain rights that we as close neighbours currently enjoy. Most of it is quite heavy (quelle surprise), and tough to make out, but Article 4 caught my eye as it pertains to the Council's voting powers yet again...

Article 4a

1. The provisions of this Protocol apply for the United Kingdom and Ireland also to measures proposed or adopted pursuant to Title V of Part Three* of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union amending an existing measure by which they are bound.

2. However, in cases where the Council, acting on a proposal from the Commission, determines that the non-participation of the United Kingdom or Ireland in the amended version of an existing measure makes the application of that measure inoperable for other Member States or the Union, it may urge them to make a notification under Article 3 or 4. For the purposes of Article 3, a further period of two months starts to run as from the date of such determination by the Council.

If at the expiry of that period of two months from the Council's determination the United Kingdom or Ireland has not made a notification under Article 3 or Article 4, the existing measure shall no longer be binding upon or applicable to it, unless the Member State concerned has made a notification under Article 4 before the entry into force of the amending measure. This shall take effect from the date of entry into force of the amending measure or of expiry of the period of two months, whichever is the later.

For the purpose of this paragraph, the Council shall, after a full discussion of the matter, act by a qualified majority of its members representing the Member States participating or having participated in the adoption of the amending measure. A qualified majority of the Council shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(a) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

3. The Council, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, may determine that the United Kingdom or Ireland shall bear the direct financial consequences, if any, necessarily and unavoidably incurred as a result of the cessation of its participation in the existing measure.

So it would seem to me that the Council has considerable influence over Ireland and the UK with respect to such 'measures' and the last section almost reads like a warning against taking issue with the Council's authority.

There is a section near the end of this beast of a document detailing 'Provisions Concerning the Qualified Majority'. It spells out the power of the various member's votes. Here it is...

For acts of the European Council and of the Council requiring a qualified majority, members' votes shall be weighted as follows:

Belgium 12
Bulgaria 10
Czech Republic 12
Denmark 7
Germany 29
Estonia 4
Ireland 7
Greece 12
Spain 27
France 29
Italy 29
Cyprus 4
Latvia 4
Lithuania 7
Luxembourg 4
Hungary 12
Malta 3
Netherlands 13
Austria 10
Poland 27
Portugal 12
Romania 14
Slovenia 4
Slovakia 7
Finland 7
Sweden 10
United Kingdom 29

So there you see it is abundantly clear that the power of the Council is considerable and as the above information shows, Ireland's say in the Council is minimal. If the Lisbon Treaty is endorsed it's fair to say that Irish independence, as we now know it, will become a thing of the past and we will be RELIANT UPON OTHERS to decide our own fate.

That is not what I want for my country and I suspect the majority of my compatriots feel the same. The unfortunate thing is that the Irish government and the EU are deliberately keeping people in the dark on this matter. It's hardly a surprise. The French were made very aware of the implications the EU Constitution would have. The result? Turnout was over 70% and they rejected it. Brussels doesn't want a repeat performance of that here in Ireland.

Well a repeat performance is exactly what's required. I urge people to read up on the Lisbon Treaty and come to your own conclusions. Don't be taken in by those who wish to frighten you into voting Yes for fear of 'economic ramifications' and the 'damaging of Ireland's reputation' and other such blarney nonsense.

I favour a Europe of equals but this document does not offer that. I won't pretend that I know every detail of what this treaty entails (does anyone?) but I feel I know enough about it, and about the EU itself, to know that this is not a good deal for Ireland and that it will be harmful to us in the long run. I found many admirable things in the Lisbon Treaty but the fact is they are overshadowed by the negative aspects that are also included.

The referendum on the issue in Ireland takes place in June. The British have been denied a referendum despite being promised one. The Dutch and French voters have been denied a referendum despite rejecting the EU Constitution (which is the Lisbon Treaty). How lucky we are in Ireland that we have a say on this Treaty and how bloody foolish we would be to give it the seal of approval!

I don't believe the struggle for Irish independence was about surrendering what was won to Brussels. I don't believe those brave men and women who put their lives on the line to get us out of a Union that didn't listen to us, did so in order for the current generation to sign us into a Union that likewise will not listen to us.

Make your own minds up on the matter as I have done. I shall be voting NO TO LISBON.

I welcome all opinions on this issue.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


President Hillery remembered

Today the people of Ireland have been paying their last respects to former President of Ireland Dr Patrick Hillery, who died this past Saturday aged 84.

Thousands lined the funeral cortege route in Dublin to remember "Paddy" Hillery who served two seven-year presidential terms from 1976 up until 1990.

He was a Minister for Education, Minister for Industry & Commerce, Minister for Labour and Minister for External Affairs. He was also Ireland's first European Commissioner and one of the main negotiators during Ireland's accession to what was then the European Economic Community and now known as the EU.

Typically the tributes for Dr Hillery have been pouring in with outgoing Taoiseach Bertie Ahern saying he was "a man of great integrity, decency and intelligence, who contributed massively to the progress of our country and he is assured of an honoured place in Ireland’s history."

Current President Mary McAleese remarked:

"He was involved in every facet of policy-making that paved the way to a new, modern Ireland. Today, we detect his foresight and pioneering agenda everywhere - a free education system, a dynamic, well-educated people, a successful economy and a thriving membership of the European Union, one of the single most transformative events for this country."

I suppose this kind of language is to be expected on this of all days but I must say my feelings on Dr Hillery are quite different.

To my mind he was not a good President of this country. He was in with Charles Haughey, the national disgrace himself, and part of the rotten Fianna Fáil crowd of the seventies era. While Hillery was not a crooked man like Haughey was, and while he was not as bad as others in his party were, nonetheless he was still part of that ugly scene.

The sad fact of the matter is once Haughey's crowd got their claws into Fianna Fáil that was it for the once great party. It's never been quite the same. It's been riddled by a poison ever since that time. The party's decline began in 1967 and '68 and well, you see the abomination that it is today.

So then I shan't be taken in by the spin that circulates today for Dr Hillery. I offer his family my condolences of course but I won't go down the revisionist road of McAleese and Ahern by proclaiming him something that he was not.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The myth of Articles 2 and 3

This year Ireland marks the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. It was a historic accord that allowed the island of Ireland the opportunity to move away from its troublesome history and move towards a better and brighter future.

There is one aspect of that agreement however which seems to have caused confusion. It seems to me that a lot of uncertainty and misinterpretation has arisen over alterations to Ireland's constitution, brought about by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I'd like to discuss the issue right now and what I like to call the myth of Articles 2 and 3.

Firstly the back story and I'll try not to get too heavy here. The Irish constitution (Bunreacht na hEireann) came into being in 1937 following the abdication crisis of 1936 in Britain and was the brainchild of Eamon de Valera, who was in government at the time. Edward VIII had abdicated in order to marry the American divorcee Wallace Simpson and this presented de Valera with a golden opportunity to replace the Constitution of the Irish Free State which had been around since 1922. The Free State's constitution was quite Anglo-Irish in its make-up which didn't sit well with Dev's staunch republicanism. He had systematically been picking apart the old constitution since coming to power and decided to bring in considerable changes via the new constitution. Among these changes included changing the name of the state to 'Eire' ('Ireland') and the acknowledgement of the 'special position' of the Catholic Church in Ireland (removed in 1973).

While the above articles did not go down very well with the unionist community in Ireland's north, there were two articles in particular which REALLY provoked bitterness and hostility. These would simply come to be known as 'Articles 2 and 3' and they certainly stayed true to de Valera's deep beliefs.

Articles 2 and 3 acknowledged the existence of the Irish nation and acknowledged it in geographical terms stating that until reunification came about, the powers of the constitution would apply only to the 26 county Irish state. Here is the text in full from the Articles in de Valera's 1937 constitution:

Article 2

'The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas.'

Article 3

'Pending the re-integration of the national territory, and without prejudice to the right of the parliament and government established by this constitution to exercise jurisdiction over the whole territory, the laws enacted by the parliament shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws of Saorstat Éireann and the like extra-territorial effect.'

It is not surprising that such statements aroused the ire of the unionist community although in reality all the constitution was doing was setting out standard Irish nationalist principles. That the country (or nation) is the island, and until reunification of the island takes place, Irish laws will extend purely to the Irish state. Simple really.

Unionists however did not appreciate such sentiments being openly expressed in a constitutional document and for the next sixty or so years there were repeated calls for amendments to be made to the constitution. The talks for the Good Friday Agreement allowed the Articles to be used as a bargaining chip of sorts and it was agreed that a proposal to change the Articles would be put to the electorate in the Irish Republic as part of any deal. This of course is precisely what happened and the Articles as written above were amended to the following...

Article 2

'It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.'

Article 3

1. It is the firm will of the Irish Nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island. Until then, the laws enacted by the Parliament established by this Constitution shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws enacted by the Parliament that existed immediately before the coming into operation of this Constitution.

2. Institutions with executive powers and functions that are shared between those jurisdictions may be established by their respective responsible authorities for stated purposes and may exercise powers and functions in respect of all or any part of the island.

Here is where the facts become blurred and myth sets in. The common misconception surrounding these alterations suggests that the Republic removed its claim over the North and redefined its nationalist beliefs. Wrong. Let me explain why. The 1937 constitution stated that the Irish nation could be determined in geographical terms. It was, according to the document, the "island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas".

So what's different in the amended Article 2 then? Very little in truth. Article 2 now states that "It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation."

Now then notice how the Irish nation is STILL spelt out in geographical terms. In fact, almost right down to the exact wording of the 1937 version! According to the amendments, the Irish nation continues to be defined as "the island of Ireland...its islands and seas". EXACTLY like the 1937 constitution states. The only change is that it's now said that being part of the Irish nation is an "entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island". Nothing objectionable about any of that from a nationalist perspective. If anything, you'd think unionists would find it objectionable that the Irish constitution is saying that people born in the island (which would include unionists) have it as a 'birthright' to be part of the Irish nation!

Surely such a sentiment confirms that the Irish constitution still believes the island of Ireland to be the territory of the Irish nation? Wasn't that the whole problem in the first place? You see the funny thing about all this is, rather than 'removing the original Article 2' which is a myth that you often hear, if anything the Irish constitution simply clarified things in better terms!

With regards to Article 3, this was originally meant to be purely clarification of Article 2. De Valera was simply stating that until Irish Unity took place (or as he put it 'pending re-integration'), laws would only apply to the 26 counties in the south. The recent amendment of Article 3 is an updated, more long-winded version of the original article but the essence is the same. It re-affirms the aspiration for reunification but this time acknowledges that it can only come about through the principle of consent (which we've all been well aware of for some time now). In truth it's not that different to the original which it replaced. It states that the "firm will" of the Irish nation is "to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions".

So in other words the will of the Irish nation - which is the island remember - is to unite all of the people who share the island's territory. Basically, the will of the Irish nation is for an all-island State.

These articles are more like acknowledgements than 'amendments'.

The fact of the matter is that what occurred in 1998 did not 'remove claims', or 'redefine the Irish nation' or whatever myth political commentators would have you believe. Its purpose was simply to alleviate fears within the unionist community. Fears which were groundless anyway. It did not change the way Irish nationalists/republicans viewed the North, it simply clarified this view in a manner which did not antagonise the unionist community - which was the fault of the original Articles 2 and 3.

There was an interesting report on BBC NI's Politics Show programme over the weekend on Articles 2 and 3 and while watching it I heard the same old myths being spouted - which is why I decided to write this piece. You can catch the report from the recent programme here if you are interested in seeing it. One aspect of the programme which I found very interesting though was hearing from Fianna Fáil TD Martin Mansergh, who was the party's Special Advisor on NI, revealing how he was the one who had the responsibility for redrafting the amended articles. He was asked by the reporter if he had difficulty winning consent from his party colleagues for the rewritten articles. He replied:

"It was something that had to be handled very carefully, but it turned out to be almost completely successful."

I do not disagree with his assertion. It's not often that I express admiration towards Fianna Fail ministers on United Irelander, as many of you well know, but I will pay Mr Mansergh a huge compliment because I consider his redrafting of the articles to be quite masterful. In fact I would go so far as to say that it was magnificent.

Don't forget that you're talking about articles which have provoked fury and consternation for several decades, and this man had the responsibility of wording new articles that not only adhered to his party's republican principles, but which also would prove acceptable to the unionist community. No mean feat to pull that off. But he managed it. He managed it quite majestically in fact.

In the BBC piece I felt Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin summed things up best when asked to give his thoughts on the redrafted Articles. He remarked:

"This was a change in wording ; it was not a change in intent. The obligation remains constitutionally on Irish governments to pursue Irish Unity."

That is the fact of the matter. I hope my piece has shown that.

I find it quite puzzling that the myth of Articles 2 and 3 continues to be put forward by many but, I suppose when one reflects upon the matter, the fact such myths continue to be put forward are a testament to the excellent job done on rewording them in the first place.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Ireland must boycott Olympic ceremony

I guess the big talking point around the world at present concerns the Olympic Games this year in China and the recent protests in London, Paris and San Francisco denouncing China's human rights record and their treatment of the people of Tibet.

I'd like to state that I fully support those who have protested and I think it is a disgrace that such a country has been chosen to host the games.

I was disappointed to hear the comments of Pat Hickey, Irish Olympic Council President, who said that the Irish team and its athletes would be taking part in the Olympic ceremonies regardless of any political or diplomatic boycott. What's worse is that he added the council had not yet received ANY inquiries from athletes on the matter:

"There is no talk about any boycott of any opening ceremony or anything."

Well there should be a boycott of the opening ceremony, Mr Hickey. I do have sympathy for the athletes involved as they have trained long and hard for their respective events and they shouldn't have been put into a situation like this in the first place. Still, you'd think they would come out and express some concerns.

I agree with Independent Senator Joe O'Toole that the Irish government ought to boycott the opening ceremony. I note that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will not be in attendance - and they are hosting the next games which makes that a gutsy stance in my view. I see US Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has also urged George W. Bush to join Gordon Brown in boycotting the opening ceremony.

I would personally like to see the European Union do something positive for a change and call upon all EU nations to boycott the opening ceremony. Hopefully America would follow suit as well as some other nations. It would be a wake-up call to China that western countries aren't happy with their behaviour and it would be tough to explain to their people why representatives from a huge chunk of the globe are not on parade.

Something needs to be done no doubt about it. It goes to show what a bunch of stinking hypocrites we are in this country since every Easter we pat ourselves on the back for standing up for our nationalist principles in 1916, only to ignore the plight of Tibetan nationalists - giving a hearty endorsement to the oppressive Chinese government in the process.

I visited the official website of the Beijing Olympics and shook my head in disbelief at the garbage the Chinese are coming out with. Apparently the official slogan of the games is 'One World, One Dream' (seriously) and in their own words...

"'One World, One Dream' is simple in expressions, but profound in meaning. It is of China, and also of the world. It conveys the lofty ideal of the people in Beijing as well as in China to share the global community and civilization and to create a bright future hand in hand with the people from the rest of the world. It expresses the firm belief of a great nation, with a long history of 5,000 years and on its way towards modernization, that is committed to peaceful development, harmonious society and people's happiness. It voices the aspirations of 1.3 billion Chinese people to contribute to the establishment of a peaceful and bright world."

I missed the bit where it says 'Tibet not included'. I don't want my country endorsing these liars.

Friday, April 04, 2008


'Justice' Carney strikes again

"The more things change, the more they stay the same" so the proverb goes.

In light of this week's news it seems a very true statement indeed, for the presiding judge of the Central Criminal Court, Mr Justice Paul Carney, has regrettably been up to his usual tricks - handing out joke sentences that make a mockery of the Irish judicial system and which heap further pain and misery upon victim's families.

Some of you might recall this piece I wrote on Carney a year ago where I highlighted his record as a judge, and boy oh boy it certainly is quite the CV. I personally wouldn't want this man judging a bikini contest let alone some of the most significant criminal cases in the land, yet it seems the people of this country are stuck with him.

I highlighted in that piece an article from the Sunday Business Post by Kieron Wood, himself a barrister, who recalled a conversation he had with a court reporter who had covered Carney's career for some time. The court reporter remarked:

"He always has one eye on the media, and, if he spots a reporter whom he doesn't recognise, he will often get his tipstaff to ask them who they are.

"He has a reputation for being grumpy, but I think it's more that he finds it difficult to relate to people socially. Basically, he is a shy person - though he loves publicity and always seems to be trying to stir things up. He enjoys being controversial and likes to provoke the Oireachtas into thinking about the law."

With Justice Carney's reputation then it came as little surprise to me today to learn that 21-year-old Limerick student Joseph (Jody) Buston had been sentenced to just SIX YEARS in prison for the 'manslaughter' of 59-year-old Liam O'Donovan in 2006. The jury heard that Mr O'Donovan had had been stabbed through the heart after Mr Buston had entered his house and confronted him.

Some sentence, huh? Six years for breaking into a man's home and stabbing him to death. What a country.

A disgrace

Mr O'Donovan's brother Vincent, speaking in a victim's impact statement outside the court, said he was devastated by the verdict:

"This intruder cruelly took our brother from us by stabbing him in the heart. Our lives are destroyed. Our lives are shattered. This sentence today is like another death, like another funeral for us. I don't know what the law is but the guards - they did their job. They brought it to the court..."

Commenting afterwards Justice Carney commented that the case was a great tragedy for both families. He said it was happening more frequently that young men of impeccable backgrounds and no previous convictions were losing control of their minds through drink and sometimes drugs.

Well then Mr Carney how about imposing a sentence that might actually prove a deterrent? Is that too much to ask?

My heart goes out to the family of Mr O'Donovan and it made my blood boil to see yet ANOTHER paltry sentence be dished out by Mr Carney for a crime which resulted in a man's life being taken.

The 'great tragedy' here Mr Carney is that you are allowed to remain in your position and permitted to continue handing out sentences that make a mockery of the courts. The people, and particularly the family of the victim, deserve to see justice being done. Is this to be deemed justice? Is this to be deemed acceptable?

Crime continues to be a cause for concern in Ireland and if the perpetrators of such disturbing crimes are given a slap on the wrist by figures like Paul Carney, then we will never get a hold on it.

The fact that we have here the victim's family saying that the sentence imposed is "like another death, like another funeral" is a sorry indictment of the justice system that we have in this country.

A fundamental tenet of a State like ours is its ability to protect its citizens. Clearly at present we are failing in that basic role. It is time we stood up for the victims of crime, it is time we acknowledged that Paul Carney is unfit for his position, and it is time we recognised that our justice system is deeply flawed.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Mugabe for Taoiseach?

I notice there's been a lot of talk about Brian Cowen replacing Bertie Ahern as the next Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil, but permit me to put forward another candidate. The man pictured to your left - Robert Mugabe.

Think about it. He's got tons of charisma, he might be in need of a job soon, plus he has the required personal integrity and morality that's needed to govern Fianna Fáil - none whatsoever.

You know it makes sense!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Ahern departs at last!

Thank the good Lord! My prayer got through!

The only drawback is that we'll have to put up with the 'Saint Bertie' nonsense from political commentators on this joke of a Taoiseach for the next few days and weeks. It will be worth putting up with such stupidity though.

Bye bye, Bertie. This is one voter who won't miss you one jot.

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