Tag Archives: northern-ireland

Do you “deserve” your rights?

Anyone who thinks our civil liberties will be any better protected by a Conservative Government should think again. Speaking in Bangor (the Northern Ireland flavour) on Friday, the News Letter reports Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve saying:

… there is “a rights culture” which is “out of control”, not just in Ulster, but throughout the UK.

It did not help that “the undeserving in society” can often use rights legislation for personal gain, he added.

The Conservatives, he suggested, intend to create a UK Bill of Rights which would have in-built safeguards to prevent those “whose own behaviour is lacking” from abusing the powers.

I’m used to people from across the political spectrum differentiating between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor when it comes to welfare but not when it comes to fundamental rights. This rhetoric even goes beyond the talk about “rights and duties.”

In fairness to Labour, even the Jack Straws of this world have fallen short of using language as stark as this. Michael Wills was arguing last month that by “responsibilities” all they are talking about is the vague rhetoric about responsibilities that you can find in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and I have heard Straw on more than one occasion insist that by “duties” he means nothing more than the riders which can be found in the European Convention. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from using loaded rhetoric whenever they want to court favour with the Daily Mail.

I suspect that tailoring your rhetoric to suit your (in this case the dinosaurs in the DUP and UUP) audience is something that Grieve himself is guilty of here but even at their best, the Tories don’t offer the same reassurances that Labour do. It is rank cowardice on their part not to call for its outright rejection, rooted in a knowledge that it would make us the pariahs of Europe (we would have to leave the Council of Europe and subsequently the EU). More to the point, he is talking tosh: when challenged, the anti-HRA brigade consistently fail to come up with concrete examples of how eeeeevil people are using it for “personal gain.”

I don’t actually think the Tories mean all this nonsense. I do fear however that if they regain control the constant undermining of the HRA that Labour are guilty of will be turned up several notches.

And let’s not forget that Grieve is a supposed “wet” – just imagine how much further his own backbenchers will want to push him? And before you carp “never mind this human rights nonsense, at least the Tories will be better on civil liberties” – nu-uh.

42, Northern Ireland and Cameron’s non-leadership

Is it me or is there a link between the government’s (possibly premature, possibly not) triumphalism about winning round the Labour rebels over the Terrorism Bill and the latest political crisis in Northern Ireland?

For weeks now, it has been well known that the Brown government has been courting the DUP with a view to persuading them to back them on the 42 days vote. If Jacqui Smith really did manage to sweet talk her own rebels last night however, then the DUP just lost their bargaining position. Cue: Sinn Fein raising the stakes and Shaun Woodward calling for devolution to be “completed“.

Obviously the arrival of Peter Robinson almost certainly is a catalyst as well, but I can’t help but feel Labour would be doing more to avoid this particular row this week if it didn’t feel confident about the terrorism bill next week.

No doubt they have also been bolstered by a breakaway group of Tories, lead by Ann Widdecombe who are planning to support the government plans. Widdecombe’s call for the act to be subject to an annual vote recalls the nonsense of the old Prevention of Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Act. Introduced by Roy Jenkins in 1974, this “temporary” measure was annually renewed until 2000 when Labour decided to drop the farce and make it permanent. That’s the problem with “temporary” security measures. You can always find “exceptional” reasons to keep them, politicians like to look tough by supporting them, and pretty soon they just become an accepted way of life.

Once again of course we appear to be looking at Cameron failing to hold discipline within his own ranks. If he calls for the vote on detention without charge to be a free vote, we know we’re really fucked. I’ve been saying this for years now, but letting your own backbenchers run rings around you like this is not leadership. I like to think that if this vote ends up being won by a small margin in which the Tory rebels are the decisive factor, the media might actually wake up to this, but I doubt it. Heaven help us if/when he becomes Prime Minister.

Finally, just a quick note to link to this letter which was published in the Guardian today. The Terrorism Bill is about a lot more than detention without charge but it looks like everything else will simply be waved through.

Will Stormont bite the LVT bullet?

An interesting article appears out of the blue:

Last night the Department of Finance and Personnel reiterated the answer they gave to Mr O’Loan when he asked what consideration the minister (Peter Robinson] was giving to the rating of agricultural land.

It said: “Under the current rating system agricultural land is not valued nor rated and there are no plans to do so.

“However as you are aware the current review of the new domestic rating system that was introduced by direct rule ministers in April 2007 is examining a wide range of options for change in the shorter and longer terms, which were included in terms of reference agreed by the Executive.

“Strand 2 of the review is addressing longer term issues including possible alternatives to the current arrangements and one such alternative is Land Value Taxation.

“I have commissioned the Ulster University to investigate the experience of other jurisdictions that have used Land Value Taxation.”

This is being presented as a scandalous attack on farmers, but Tony Vickers makes an excellent case in his recent book for the replacement of agricultural subsidies in favour of LVT.

Either way, it is interesting to see that Stormont is investigating LVT as a possible replacement of the rates – the Tory government in the 80s not having scrapped them in Northern Ireland along with everywhere else. Without being saddled with the mess that is a Council Tax that hasn’t been revalued in 17 years, it would be relatively painless to introduce there and the potential benefits would be immense. And if it could be shown to work there, it would be an easier sell for the rest of the UK.

This is all putting the cart before the horse of course – it remains to be seen if the mishmash coalition in Stormont is capable of pushing anything through. But it is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Crowns of Thorns

Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s article yesterday about what to do about a problem like Scotland, got Lib Dem bloggers in a lather for wrongly accrediting the West Dunfermline By-election victory to the SNP, but what they should have noticed is that the rest of the article is even more nonsense.

His proposed ‘solution’ is a Union of Crowns – both Scotland and England would have their own sovereign and distinct parliaments, but would be united as a dual monarchic union. He cites the example of Austria-Hungary.

There are two main problems with this idea: one anecdotal, the other rather more fundamental. Firstly, it is an inconvenient fact to this argument that Austria-Hungary was a dismal failure. It lasted 50 years, ended up splitting during one of the biggest bloodbaths the world has ever known, and if the Austrians and Hungarians I’ve spoken to about it are anything to go by, continues to poison relations between the countries to this day. It was the last hurrah of an already defunct empire. What’s more, with England 10 times larger than Scotland, it isn’t even a particularly useful comparison.

The other, more fundamental problem is where this leaves that other constituent parts of the United Kingdom, which Wheatcroft does not even name check in his article. Does Wales suddenly become part of England? I’m sure they’ll love that. And what about Northern Ireland?

The latter is an issue that I feel the SNP need to address as well. Most Northern Irish protestants are Ulster Scots and have more in cultural ties with Scotland than England. Indeed, the Unionists that I’ve known have generally been not so much pro-Union as anti-Ireland. Several have told me that they not only support Scottish Independence, but would want Northern Ireland to have some form of political union with the Scots under such a circumstance as well.

I can’t help but think that Scottish Independence is going to cause Northern Ireland some difficulty down the line. Will they be content with remaining in the UK, or will a movement for Ulster-Scots unity emerge? Or will they simply feel abandoned? Scottish Independence would potentially upset the delicate balance laid out in the Belfast Agreement. Presumably Scotland would remain in the Council of the Isles, but I would be amazed if it didn’t raise the question of whether it should have a wider role. This is a can of worms Northern Ireland could do without.

Scottish Nationalists like to wrap themselves in history, but I can’t help but feel that their self-obsessed crusade for independence means turning their back on a lot of history which is little too complicated and doesn’t fit neatly into an England versus Scotland narrative. I can’t see a United Kingdom really working without Scotland, but it does rather leave Wales and Northern Ireland in the soup.

UPDATE: Peter Pigeon has more on this and Wheatcroft gets a kicking in the Guardian letters column, including from Neil Ascherson, whose article Wheatcroft uses as the basis for his.

Funny terrorist

Is it just me and my prejudices, or is Gerry Adams writing a funny article about the trials and tribulations of being a candidate, without mentioning the Ireland question at all, utterly bizarre? This from a man who is still regarded by many as nothing more than a terrorist.

I’m not having at go at him, indeed I would encourage more of the same. For me it is significantly more symbolic than that stilted photo of him and Ian Paisley sitting together at Stormont for the first time. But the idea of Northern Irish politicians being ‘normal’ is going to take quite some getting used to. Reading it was like peering through into a parallel dimension. It’s good, but it does feel odd.

Gains for the Alliance?

Potential good new for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

According to Ipsos-Mori, they are up to 9% in the polls. Even with a large margin of error, that is good news for a party which languished on 3.7% last time, although they managed to hold onto their 6 seats.

Also interesting is the sudden appearance of the Greens, at 3%. While this could conceivably mean they get seats in their own right, it also suggests a rise in the overall non-sectarian vote which in theory should transfer.