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Killer B’s… or I hope Belfast thinks it was worth £180,000 when it looks at Blackburn (£60,000) and Barrow. July 31, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Reading the Guardian today I was struck by a strange sense of deja vu, and doing a bit of browsing I realised why.

A couple of weeks back it was reported that Belfast had a new logo. Here it is, a heart tipped on its side to make a B, and very nice too in a bland sort of a way. A cool £180,000 was spent on it.

But… coincidentally Barrow had a logo designed for it earlier this year, and as the Guardian reports today so did Blackburn. Strangely familiar I think we can see. The cost of the Blackburn logo was £60,000 according to this piece which joined the dots a bit earlier.

Nowhere is it mentioned apart from there about the three logos being identical. Indeed doesn’t it say something that in all the pieces on the Blackburn/Barrow logos nobody thought to mention the Belfast one, or vice versa.

Hmmmm…. Proof reading at the Guardian… not what it was… July 31, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Or, more likely, it certainly is if one thinks about Private Eye…

This from today…

This fun new modern diplomacy… Iran July 31, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.

From NPRs To The Point a recent discussion with Glenn Kessler author of The Confidante: Condoleeza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy (about – you guessed it – Condoleeza Rice!) and Washington Post diplomatic correspondent, about talks between Iran and the US.

Is it a real change in policy?

Yes, it’s the beginnings of a real diplomatic process between the US and Iran. The US has said up until now that it wouldn’t join these negotiations until Iran suspended it’s uranium enrichment programme. Iran has said it wouldn’t start negotiations under that precondition. What you see is a netherworld of diplomacy where Burns is at the meeting to get the response from the Iranians to the offer the major powers have made, and the Iranians, on the table is a discussion of something called a freeze for a freeze which is a period of time where the Iranians aren’t expanding their programme and the other side is not expanding sanctions. And both sides can claim a victory… the Iranians can say hey the Americans started talking before we suspended, and the Americans can say well we didn’t start negotiating until they suspended.

What’s the offer?

It’s a very rich package if Iran agrees to suspend their enrichment programme, it includes investment deals to greater political clout in the Middle East, agricultural deals, telecoms deals, a lot of money on the table they’re offering.

There’s a lot of talk publicly about the possibility that the Bush administration before it leaves office might want to attack Iran militarily. Does this bring an end to this idea?

Yes very much so. I frankly thought there was not much to any of that since the National Intelligence Estimate came out earlier this year which suggested that Iran had stopped working on building a nuclear weapon. Now it was a very controversial estimate but that took the wind out of the sails of any possibility that the US would attack Iran, because they wouldn’t be able to justify it to the rest of the world. How can you attack a country which you think isn’t working on a nuclear weapon.

What about Israel? There are Israeli’s that are saying that it’s inevitable that Israel will have to attack Iran if the US won’t do so in order to stop the nuclear threat. Has the Bush administration sent out any messages?

Yes, very strong messages to Israel. Not all of it is quite clear, but there was a recent trip by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mullen to Israel and there was reporting after that that he had sent a very strong message to Israelis that you’re not going to get a green light for this, you’re not going to be able use Iraqi airspace [to transit to Iran] for anything like this so cool down and let us try a diplomatic approach.

What should we look for after the meeting?

Well you’re not going to see any dramatic announcements… but if they issue some kind of statement that progress has been made, that they’ll continue discussions and both sides see the possibility of freeze for freeze taking hold that would be a very positive step. A positive statement afterwards would indicate that both Iran and the US are trying to feel their way off the cliff they’ve stuck themselves on.

You say it’s Condoleeza Rice who pushed for this, was there a push back by others in the administration?

….the Vice-Presidents office wasn’t particularly happy with this notion, but there aren’t many other options, the military one is one they’re not thinking of…

And the results of said meeting?

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described Saturday’s international talks on his country’s nuclear programme as a “step forward” yesterday, although western officials said the negotiations ended in deadlock.

Ahmadinejad told Iranian state radio that his government’s official response would be announced soon.

His remarks offered a glimmer of hope after talks in Geneva ended with no sign of a resolution of the nuclear standoff between Iran and the UN security council, despite the direct participation for the first time of a senior US official.

But last week comes news that…

“The Iranian nation will not retreat one iota in the face of oppressing powers,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

Iran says its nuclear programme is a peaceful drive to generate electricity so that the Islamic Republic, the world’s fourth-largest crude producer, can export more of its oil and gas.

“The Iranian nation has chosen its path,” Ahmadinejad said.

Addressing the major powers which have offered economic and other incentives in return for Tehran halting its most sensitive atomic work, he said: “If you come forward based on law, justice and logic, the Iranian nation will negotiate on important global issues and will cooperate in solving the problems of humanity.”

And then today in the Guardian:

Iran will continue its nuclear “path”, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted yesterday, just days before a deadline set by world powers for Tehran to accept a deal that could defuse the dispute over its nuclear programme.

Khamenei, who has the final word on all big issues in Iran, suggested there was no mood for compromise in Tehran, despite the threat of new sanctions or an attack by the US or Israel. EU officials announced new restrictions that would be implemented if Iran did not back down.

And the rhetoric is hardly optimistic…

“They [the west] know that the Iranian nation is after using nuclear energy to provide electricity but they say because this work gives you capability, we will not allow it,” he was quoted as saying. “The Iranian nation does not pay attention to such talk and will continue with its path.”

“Taking one step back against arrogant [powers] will lead to them to take one step forward,” he argued. “The idea that any retreat or backing down from righteous positions would change the policies of arrogant world powers is completely wrong and baseless.”

As ever the interpretations are difficult to parse:

Analysts say Iran appears to have been emboldened by divisions within the international community, signs that the US is not willing to use military action and has urged Israel to refrain from doing so.

Perhaps, or perhaps this is merely verbal sparring. Or perhaps it’s not.

So, in the light of the analysis above on NPR, is the latest statements are a case of first the bad news, then the good (at least in terms of leaving a chink of light for future progress)? You pays your money, you takes your choice.

During the Peace Process there was a certain choreography to events, perhaps as much a function of media interpretation and analysis as reality. But it certainly seemed on occasion that events played out according to pre-existing plans – and as we now know levels of cooperation between seeming adversaries was higher than might have been expected. It’s interesting to reflect on whether that is what we see now played out on this issue, much as we saw that other element of the ‘axis of evil’ (surely no more stupid term has been coined) Norther Korea brought in from the cold…

Equally it could be due to internal pressures in Iran… it’s near impossible to be sure. Still worth watching to see if events unfold in the medium term as Kessler suggests.

And speaking of that EU deal… July 30, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Union, Irish Politics.

We’re sort of thrashing around the issue in an interesting but not necessary conclusive manner here, but come the day come the news in the Irish Independent that: Our top EU post saved in new plan for Lisbon

Well, as Cian noted over on Irish Election, that may be news but it ain’t novel. For the outlines of the ‘new plan’ look surprisingly like those considered hitherto.

The Government is considering a second vote in autumn 2009 — but this time with assurances on a commissioner, abortion, taxation and neutrality.

The details? Well none really yet forthcoming, but:

The complex plan would involve extending the term of the current European Commission by several months. Irish voters would effectively be told their vote would save countries from occasionally losing their commissioner — if the Government goes down this route.

So what is this miracle of complexity?

The plan would involve:

– A European Commissioner for each country.

– A delay in the appointment of a new Commission.

– Written assurances of no interference on abortion, neutrality and tax.

– Some EU countries (not Ireland) losing even more MEPs next year.

Actually it doesn’t seem particularly complex to me, or at least no more complex than those famous one pagers that Albert Reynolds supposedly demanded on any single issue (wise man, I tend to agree despite my own wordiness that you can boil things down reasonably easily). Bar of course the delay in the appointment of a new Commission. And what about the idea that some EU countries will lose more MEPs next year. Presumably this is a function of the European elections being run under the Nice constraints rather than those of Lisbon. As regards the ‘written’ assurances, well, indeed. So reminiscent of Nice.

Still, a number of things are interesting. Firstly the timing:

After the resounding ‘No’ vote last month, Government and European figures now acknowledge the prospects of Ireland sorting out its stance on Lisbon before next summer appear remote.

And this is supported by some of the talk in Europe, as noted by Fionnan Sheahan:

When a wily old head like Jean Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister and Europe’s longest-serving leader, says as much, then his counterparts should sit up and listen.

“My sense of reality tells me that the Lisbon Treaty will still not be in force in the middle of 2009. I fear that the Irish people would view another referendum in the spring as a surprise manoeuvre,” he said in recent days.

Yeah, my ‘sense of reality’ concurs. In fact I think a referendum before 2010 would be a much better idea still, not least to give room for the Irish people to determine whether this ‘complex’ plan is sufficient to address their concerns. Which brings me to the second interesting point about it, or at least the report…

Irish voters would effectively be told their vote would save countries from occasionally losing their commissioner — if the Government goes down this route.

So, from being advised by the No campaign in the run-up to Lisbon that their vote would not merely deliver a better deal for Ireland but also send a message of solidarity across Europe the spin would be that now the Irish voter would be the saviour of representation at Commissioner level – and not merely, but also, there would be the instructive sight of the European Elections next year labouring under the Nice constraints to concentrate minds.

I don’t know. Sheahan notes:

If the Government is still going to put forward a second referendum — and it’s still a big ‘if’ — then the assistance of his European counterparts will be required.

But interesting noises from the deck of the Fianna Fáil ship. For at the Oireachtas European Affairs committee:

…former government minister Mary O’Rourke said it would be a “very foolish route we’re going if we think we can have another referendum”.

She believed that if the Lisbon Treaty was to be accepted, it would have to be “passed in some other fashion because a referendum won’t work”.

I wonder first is she on message, and if so what precisely that message is? And another intriguing comment at that forum:

Chairman of the Forum on Europe Maurice Hayes has staunchly defended the body against attempts to “scapegoat” it in the wake of the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty.

He wondered how it was that political parties could capture up to 85 per cent of the vote in a Dáil election, “but can’t get 50 per cent” in a vote on Europe.


He pointed out that the Yes campaign was 10 per cent ahead at one point. “Then the three political party leaders came out together and instinctively you would think it would go up, and the opposite happened.”

Yes, it’s a real puzzle, isn’t it? 😉

Here’s the church, and here’s the steeple, open the door and see… hey, where’s the priest gone? July 30, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Religion.

Interesting times for the Catholic Church, at least according to a piece by

David Rice in the Irish Times from a week or two back. He writes about how the French church has begun to change entirely, due in the main to…

…its shortage of Roman Catholic priests. France is also ahead in its response to that shortage. In essence the lay people have taken over the local church and run it for themselves.

In one diocese in northern France there is only one priest to serve 27 parishes. It means the priest has been reduced to the role of circuit rider who drops by on rare occasions to offer a Mass and consecrate some hosts. For the rest of the time the people run their church themselves. In 2001 the diocese of Nice had to reduce its 265 parishes down to 47.

This sounds as if the Church is on auto-pilot. But it’s not quite…

The secret is that each church has an appointed lay person, called a relais local, whose duty is to run both church and parish, and perform almost all functions save uttering the words of consecration and administering those sacraments only a priest is allowed to do.

A principal function of the relais is to conduct a Sunday Communion service in the absence of the priest – for all practical purposes a Mass without the consecration. There is frequently no priest at a funeral any more.

This is surely a stunning change in the culture of the Catholic Church. And it has intriguing implications for the future shape of it as an institution, at least in Europe…

At the Église Sacré Coeur in Beaulieu, I attended one such funeral, conducted by the relais locale for the church. She received the coffin. There were words of welcome, the singing of hymns, a short eulogy of the deceased, readings from scripture, a brief reflection by the relais, the lighting of candles beside the coffin, a blessing of the coffin with holy water, and prayers for the deceased. It lasted about half-an-hour. There was no Mass, as there was no priest. But there wasn’t a Communion service either.

Note that it is a woman who is relais local, in this example at least. Those of us with even nodding acquaintance with the RCC will know that women have provided much of the support structures across the decades. This appears to be a step forward again. Also worth noting that women do hand out Communion at Mass so the step is perhaps not quite as great as it might otherwise be.

This new de facto structure in the parish is not confined to relais locales. Marie-Anne Hosley, an energetic Frenchwoman whose mother hails from Co Down, has lately been appointed general manager of the parish with its five churches. While her official title is économe, she assures me it is more about admin than money.

And the new structures are replacing those that were traditionally the preserve of priests.

Other lay people – men and women – are equally active in many of the former roles of the priest – parish visitation, counselling, pre-marriage instruction, attending the sick, bringing communion, chaplaincies to hospitals and retirement homes and in some areas to scout and youth groups.

Also it is lay people who, almost exclusively, perform the crucial role of imparting their faith.In the neighbouring diocese of Monaco, Bernadette Keraudren gives many hours guiding catechumens – those who want to become Christian or Catholic. The catechumens go through about two years of guidance, all done by lay people.

Rice makes a central point…

None of this is stop-gap until better times come. This is for keeps, because better times are not coming. Soon there won’t be any priests at all. Or so few that it simply won’t count. So people here see a totally new church ministry evolving, which will inevitably become more formalised.

Which, of course, leads to new pressures.

…the dearth of priests means that the people will ultimately be left without the sacraments and without the Eucharist, the centre of their faith. That is why the relais, and all these other layfolk who are de facto running the church, are asking, when will the Vatican wake up to the facts of life and allow or recognise new ministries?

“Vatican Two talked about us all being priests,” Hosley says. “The priesthood of the laity. So maybe the church will soon have a new form of priest.” That could mean that, in one fell swoop, there would be women priests and married priests. Many here believe that time is not far off.

Not under this Pope, one might think. But, the logic is inescapable.

The response in the letters page has been interesting in itself. Fr. Sean Fagan writes:

There is no need to close or sell the church building. We could ordain a working man or woman or a recently retired person to celebrate the Eucharist and bring the sacraments to the sick and dying. Everything else can be taken care of by a well organised Christian community of lay people with their various gifts, as they are doing brilliantly in France. The “official” church may not be ready yet for married priests and women priests, but they will come in God’s good time.

For the first hundred years after the death of Jesus, Christianity was not recognised as a religion and there were no churches. The Eucharist was celebrated in private houses and the leader was somebody appointed by an apostle or a man elected by the community. More often the leader of the celebration would be the owners of the house, who could be a married couple or a rich widow. Only later was the leader prayed over by the laying on of hands, and only very slowly did our present notion of priesthood develop.

Kieron Woods, indefatigable supporter of the most traditional of Catholic Traditional rites sees it differently:

Since I began visiting the Abbey of Lagrasse last year, four young men have received the habit of the Canons Regular of the Mother of God, an order formed only 40 years ago (see website http://www.lagrassecanons.com). Other young men are testing their vocation with the order, which works closely with the Diocese of Carcassonne in providing an apostolate to families and young people.

The big difference between this order (and many like it in France) and the parishes of which David Rice writes is that the Canons of Lagrasse use the extraordinary form of the Mass, a rite 400 years older than the Carolingian abbey they are currently restoring to a vibrant new life.

Ah well. For every soul there is a market…

And it’s worth pointing out that, reflecting on Woods thoughts, I don’t think that the changes posited by Rice would necessarily lead to a more ‘liberal’ Catholic Church. Granted, in part, yes, a broader base of those to draw upon for such ministries could see more of a liberal tinge to those entering them. But it’s also true that the activist laity, at least in some instances, is actually as or more conservative than the clergy.

As it happens I was discussing this very issue with a Catholic priest recently and raised the issue of the activist laity. He said that in many cases this was an example of right wing feminists. My response was that surely he meant left-wing, but no, he was certain. It was right-wing. When the name Breda O’Brien came up as an example his response was that although right wing she was moderate compared to some. Now, I – and for all I know whoever reads this – may well balk at descriptions of right wing activist laity as feminist, and may indeed find (as I do) that rather self-serving coming from a male dominated institution. Still, from his viewpoint the pre-existing patriarchy may be seeing a newly vocal lobby emerge that in seeking to return the church to a more ‘traditional’ line comes in conflict with a largely ageing cohort of priests whose views while far from liberal are, perhaps, in the main a little more tolerant. Interesting times ahead there.

And watching Ruth Kelly recently on Channel 4 News and considering that she is an Opus Dei member the thought struck me that since John-Paul II arrived in the Vatican a degree of power had been ceded – quite deliberately – to organisations like OD perhaps precisely because they provided countervailing centres to any liberalisation tendencies within older more established and generally clergy based power centres inside Catholicism.

Of course, it is also possible that the impact of reality or not, changes such as a married or female clergy might simply be too much for those who take a more conservative line resulting in schism. That depends on how many are left. And the other alternative? A continuation, or expansion of the current situation with some effort to develop ministries which are close, but not quite, equal to the clergy. A messy solution fraught with contradiction and bound to cause problems, not least in inciting traditionalists. But, if the end is binding together a religion that has lasted almost two millennia perhaps it would be considered worth it.

On that note, interesting to see that rumours continue to swirl in relation to former Anglicans of the Global Anglican Futures tendency who wish to come over. This has to be one of the real curiosities of the Catholic Church. Since the steady stream from Anglicanism has allowed those who are married to remain married. This may well be seen as a reasonable trade-off by the Catholic Church in the short term, and it may assist those arriving of a ‘traditional, but married, viewpoint. Yet it can’t be sustainable if there remains a prohibition on married clergy, or women priests. The further oddity is how that stream paradoxically liberalises Rome – de facto – while also injecting a further profoundly traditionalist element.

A fascinating piece on the BBC News website last year (I found the link in the comments on Splintered Sunrise) noted that even in the North there is a certain dynamic towards Rome by those who seek to avoid the changes in Anglicanism.

Three former Anglican congregations have asked to be received into the Roman Catholic Church, a Catholic newspaper has reported.

The ex-Church of Ireland communities in Down, Tyrone and Laois, were part of the ‘traditional rite’.

A decision was made at a plenary meeting of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), the umbrella organisation for traditional Anglicans, to petition Rome for such a move earlier this month.

A bit of history…

The traditional rite broke away from the Church of Ireland in 1991, after the House of Bishops of the Church of Ireland decided to start ordaining women.

Traditionalist Anglicans described the move as a “defiance of both Scripture and Tradition.”

It is rare for entire Anglican communities to seek corporate communion with the Catholic Church whereby every member of the parish becomes Catholic and the parish effectively becomes part of the Catholic Church.

One wonders if this is merely a fallback in a broader cultural war and that ultimately their positions, ‘traditional rite’ and all, will be overwhelmed.

A further thought strikes me. Isn’t the Rice article an example of an appeal, or at least an optimism, that some hitherto silent majority will manifest itself and alter the course of the Church? It’s remarkable how that idea proliferates across political religious and socioeconomic thinking. Most political parties labour under the misapprehension that given the opportunity to make their case nearly all would follow. But again, that’s another days work.

And as to why this is of interest in broader terms? Well in part because the Catholic Church remains a power in the land and as such is worthy of analysis, in part because we see the Iona Institute and others attempting to put a social scientific gloss on what are fundamentally religious beliefs (and as someone suggested to me recently, by getting a profile it allows its members to seek membership on bioethics and other councils in the future), and in part because it’s simply quite interesting to see how this and other religious institutions come to terms with a rapidly changing Irish society. And the passing thought strikes me that its not the only entity that is seeing its power draining away – we on the left aren’t doing terribly well, now are we?

Nor does it stop changing, because on Saturday last a small piece in the news noted that:

The Bishop of Killaloe Dr Willie Walsh has asked four Co Clare priests who have reached the retirement age of 75 to continue performing priestly duties due to the shortage of priests…

Announcing his diocesan clergy appointments for 2008, Dr Walsh said the four who were stepping down as full-time parish priests had agreed to remain as “priests in residence” in their parishes and would continue to perform baptism, penance, the Eucharist, marriages and funeral rites.

The sound of one political hand clapping… or how a controversy isn’t quite a controversy until… July 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, US Politics.

While the story itself is of basically nothing more than prurient interest (which is to say not at all) the near media blackout on this is quite fascinating. The relevant wiki page is under an embargo, the mainstream media hasn’t gone live with it and it has assumed a sort of half-life on the blogs. Nor was the National Enquirer website available today when I tried to access it. What story some of you may ask. For more, read here.

…and download an enormously entertaining podcast from the Slate Political Gabfest here where tempers frayed big-time over the rights and wrongs of public figures having affairs.

I’m not much of a moralist on this issue, although I do believe that the lack of judgement aspect of it is far from beyond question.

Still, I never cease to be amazed at how people in the public spotlight manage to wind up again and again in ‘difficult’ circumstances. It’s so banal in a way – to see precisely the same behaviour patterns as one will encounter anywhere else played out in a situation where discovery is disaster. Perhaps ‘power’ is an aphrodisiac, but what a waste of time and energy. And I guess an argument can be made that if you’re running for office then it is entirely valid to wonder at the sense of someone who would have an affair, but then again. I guess context is all.

It’s interesting in a way how that hasn’t been an element of Irish public life to the degree found elsewhere. Perhaps that is indicative of a public culture that initially couldn’t believe such things could happen and where subsequently that dynamic became embedded in the discourse to the point of aversion. Either way I tend to think we’ve been reasonably well served by such an approach, although rumours have proliferated, particularly for some reason during the Haughey era, and not restricted to him either.

Isn’t that always the way?

Geese and Ganders… or the forward march of Fianna Fáil (in the North). Halted. July 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

Hard not to see yet a further example of the lack of substance of the Ahern years when one reads two entirely distinct but interlocking articles on the North in the Phoenix and the Irish Times.

In the Phoenix one reads that “Soldiers of Destiny Retreat from North” and it continues by pointing out that:

Following Ahern’s surprise announcement last September that Fianna Fáil were considering organising in the North, the party signed up a clutch of new members in the North’s third level insitutions. They then formally registered as a political party in Norn Iron in December and set up a northern strategy committee chaired by Dermot Ahern. It looked as if was only a matter of time before Fianna Fáil gobbled up what’s left of the SDLP and challenged Sinn Féin for the northern nationalist vote.

Hmmmm. Well, after the not entirely resounding success of the Lisbon campaign one might wonder what the ‘strategy committee’ were at. And indeed the Phoenix notes that:

A series of statements that have gone unnoticed in the Republic indicate a retreat of Russian winter proportions (pedant alert – do Russian winters retreat in quite the way implied here?). Visiting Belfast a fortnight ago the Taoiseach was asked what progress his marching column had made. Standing beside Margaret Ritchie, the SDLP’s only minister in the northern assembly, he told the media, ‘There is no imminent possibility of Fianna Fáil organising in the North’.

Which will as the Phoenix also records come as cold comfort to those within the SDLP who have seen the ‘Republican Party’ as the vehicle for their salvation in the context of their slow demise in the face of Sinn Féin.

And the reasons for this are obvious. The Phoenix points to the upcoming Euro-elections and asks ‘could Fianna Fáil get their act together in the North in time?’. The answer is probably not. But a more interesting and fundamental aspect of this is also suggested by the Phoenix. ‘Dermot Ahern has already said that Fianna Fáil would not stand for Westminster elections’, and the upshot of this would be entirely predictable. ‘That would automatically hand Sinn Féin seven nationalist seats in 2010 if Fianna Fáil did not allow the SDLP’s three MPs to stand. is that really conceivable?’

No, it clearly isn’t. But the result of such a ‘strategy’, if implemented, would be to further embed Sinn Féin as the de facto governing party of Northern nationalism. And even were we to see a Jesuitical division worthy of de Valera between the posited union of SDLP and FF during Westminster elections it would still leave political advantage with a Sinn Féin willing to go half the distance (to Westminster, while abstaining) and reap all the spoils in terms of political and public profile.

So where then would the supposed lustre added by FF shine? Local elections? Assembly elections? The former would be an irrelevance to Dublin, the latter, well now, that might be an equal prize. But… in the context of their unwillingness to stand up and be counted in the communalist headcount that Westminster elections tend to represent they would be continually somewhat less than fully engaged. And let’s not ignore the power of communalist thinking in all this. The support of a sponsor from the South – particularly as a means of cementing the current structures – would be a powerful political tool.

So, what’s left? The Phoenix suggests that ‘the alternative is to develop the SDLP more brazenly as Fianna Fáil’s northern wing… it’s second best but…it’s a link with Fianna Fáil which gives the SDLP the all-island dimension it craves’.

Thinking about that last sentence it is true that for the SDLP there is an increasing necessity to be able to project themselves as a more significant entity than a ‘regional’ party. In the past when Sinn Féin were beyond the pale that was easy. We all recall the procession of the great and the good North (for those of us based in Dublin) to assist the SDLP in their electoral ventures. And indeed that dynamic may have, in retrospect, turned out to be a somewhat mixed blessing, since the SDLP can point to a very mixed set of family connections with at various points FF, Labour and even Fine Gael links. Untangling them has proven difficult – and indeed impossible in terms of one obvious lash-up between the SDLP and the Irish Labour Party.

But consider another implicit aspect of the last sentence in the Phoenix. Why is it that Fianna Fáil doesn’t crave an all-island dimension? Does this not tell us some intriguing things about that party and how perception and reality are more than slightly detached from each other?

And in a way this is what I mean when I suggest that this mess, and what is it other than a mess, is entirely symbolic of the Ahern years. Because it underlines the gulf between the lofty rhetoric and the reality of having to seriously engage as an all-island, all-Ireland party. Or – to put it another way – the sort of cant that goes down well at an Ard Fhéis, and maybe gives a small fillip to poll ratings, and the real work that has to be done beyond those four walls. Now, in fairness one might say that Fianna Fáil may well be looking at the more than mixed experience of Sinn Féin, which remains stunted in the South in contrast to its buoyant performance in the North and that hard-headed pragmatism may make that particular example a source of thoughtful reflection and ultimately a decision that there is no purpose to be served by expending political capital on a project with no clear positive outcomes. I can’t help but think that that too is very telling about the realities of the contemporary North/South dispensation. And also about what is achievable in the short term.

But, as if to underline that, here comes another small piece of information that explicates another reality, that of the North/East axis. For while Fianna Fáil near-silently pulls back (and that silence is understandable – I know I’d keep pretty silent if I was them under these circumstances) other political links are being forged. As the Irish Times noted on Friday:

[David] Cameron and UUP leader Sir Reg Empey announced the formation of a working group to examine possible benefits of greater co-operation between the two parties.

“What I would like to see is the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionist Party actually come together and create a new force in Northern Irish politics,” Mr Cameron said yesterday.

“I think it would be good for Northern Ireland politics. Politics in Northern Ireland should not be just about Orange or Green and constitutional issues; it should be about national politics as well. And I’d like to give people in Northern Ireland a chance to take part in a party and politics that are about all of the issues that we care about,” added Mr Cameron.

And this wasn’t just whistling in the wind. For the leadership of both parties were both involved at a high level in proceedings (unlike the Fianna Fáil machinations).

While it will take months before the working party reports, Mr Paterson and Sir Reg were well disposed to the proposal. Were it to get the go-ahead, it is likely that the first election contested on a joint Conservative-UUP ticket would be next year’s European Elections, with UUP MEP Jim Nicholson running, Sir Reg suggested. Mr Nicholson is linked with the Conservative group in the European Parliament.

Now, early days yet. But, while I have no liking at all for this proposal and tend to think that the protestations by Cameron and the UUP that “We want the very best possible relations with the Irish Government . . . I can’t see how this could but strengthen relations.” is entertaining only because it is so clearly incorrect, at least one can say that this is the way to do things.

And here’s a few other thoughts.

[Owen] Paterson [Conservative Party spokesman – and someone worth watching I’d suspect] said “absolutely”, when asked whether it was possible that an Ulster Unionist MP or Ulster Unionist member of the House of Lords would be in David Cameron’s government, should the Conservative Party win the next general election.

“We are the only national party offering access to voters in Northern Ireland to have a real say in getting members elected, not just to Westminster but to actually getting them in a Westminster government,” he said.

For the DUP this is far from the happiest news possible. They may well claim that ‘this posed no threat to the DUP’, but on a political level even the hint that the UUP may have the option of some degree of governance at a UK national level should provide some small boost to their declining fortunes. And while it tends against the devolutionary approach of the UUP over the past decade or so it makes entirely coherent political sense. Moreover for Cameron it assists in his project by presenting him as a man of the Union – in the broader sense, a fit with the UUP that, for its many flaws, is not entirely divorced from both his supposed social liberalism and his conservatism.

And to return to the South, could one deny Reg Empey his moment in the sun and perhaps – and I assume he’s better informed on these matters than most – a little schadenfreude?

Sir Reg said the UUP also enjoyed good relations with the [Irish] Government but referred to how Fianna Fáil was considering setting up in Northern Ireland, possibly in a link-up with the SDLP. “The principal Irish Government party has decided to organise in Northern Ireland. So ‘shock horror’ we decide to look at the possibility of working together with a national party here,” said Sir Reg.

And, to add a little salt – I mean of course sauce – into the wound…

“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I don’t see any possibility of this affecting relationships at all,” he added.

It sure is. Assuming the goose is interested. Which it isn’t.

When things were up he was up, when they were down he was nowhere to be found… the woes of RyanAir and Michael O’Leary… July 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Had to smile watching RTÉ News this evening, for although the news that RyanAir faces a €60 million loss over a ‘mistake’ in forecasting fuel prices (at a time when other airlines were managing to make some fairly rational estimates of their needs) allowed an unusually critical story to lead, strangely one figure was absent from proceedings. Step back into an unaccustomed media shadow Michael O’Leary, allowing what appeared to be his subordinate to take the limelight. How odd…

The Left Archive: “People’s Voice” from Saor Éire, 1968 July 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Saor Éire.


All the following is wrong. This document is from the Cork based Maoist group Saor Éire…not the other Saor Éire, check out NollaigO’s links for a more accurate view on the group. Apologies.

NollaigO is of course completely correct and my analysis is based on… er… nothing! I blame the Summer. The clue is of course in the address on the second to last page… that said the thing that threw me completely was the letter to Republicans which claimed it was from comrades.

People’s Voice from Saor Éire was a publication from 1968. Saor Éire have to be one of the more interesting, and perhaps infamous, left-wing Irish Republican groups not least because it’s composition and attitude positioned it firmly in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was founded in 1967 by members of the Young Socialists and a number of IRA members and this wiki page gives a good overview. This inflammable mix of Trotskyist and Republican thinking coming when it did perhaps made Saor Éire one of the most activist of the small groups during this period. Their main area of armed activities was bank robberies – one of which led to the fatal shooting of Garda Richard Fallon (an inglorious act which marked the first death of an Irish Garda or Army member during the Troubles) – and as time progressed this led to assertions that gangsterism had overwhelmed the organisation. One of the problems looking in from the outside is the seeming lack of activities other than bank raids. An article by Liam O Ruairc on the Blanket [available only on Google cache] notes this. There are also further thoughts from NollaigO here on the Cedar Lounge [scroll down].

By the early 1970s it had disbanded. Yet on paper its membership was composed of apparently serious former members of the IRA which makes the lack of paramilitary activities odd, to say the least. That said, as also noted by some commentators, it was a far more disparate grouping than the wiki entry gives it credit.

In light of this one of the most interesting aspects of this publication is the “Open Letter to Republicans” which addresses the still pre-split Sinn Féin. It’s an interesting analysis which argues that the dilemma facing Republicanism is ‘parliamentarianism’. Here’s a paragraph to ring down the years…

As a movement advocating a programme of reform via constitutionalism, the Republican Movement is certainly faced with a dilemma which would not and could not arise if it were a radical movement. Apparently, the leadership of the movement has been forced by the realities of their position to recognize that the movement cannot be other than it presently is. Consequently the main question facing all Republicans is whether they wish to be parliamentary reformists in the tradition of the Labour Party; or radicals in the tradition of their own revolutionary heritage. Should they opt for the former, then it appears the only logical course lies in disbanding their movement and integrating with the Labour Party. Should they prefer the latter, then it is equally logical that they must disband their movement and join with other radicals thorughout the country in the building of a new radical effort.

On the other hand it is hard not to feel that somehow despite being entirely of their times on one axis – that of the general strands of the late 1960s in European further left political terms, they were entirely atypical and ill-suited for what was about to happen next on the island when armed struggle would revolve largely around issues of nationalism.

One may wonder whether their assertion that ‘it is impossible to have two radical movements in any country be it big or small’ is anywhere near correct, or whether their rather diffuse definition of ‘radical’ has any serious currency in liberal democracies, but the logic for reformists is interesting, and borne out eventually by circumstance.

The rhetoric does become a little overblown…

Let all radicals once more be one under the banner of Socialist struggle in Ireland; by so uniting be once more invincible in the cause of the People.

But then, Saor Éire seems, in retrospect to have been perhaps more an ideal than an actuality. Any thoughts on the document and the nature of Saor Éire would be welcomed.

Giant unknown winged creature rips hole in side of passenger jet over the Pacific… Jet lands safely… July 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Well, yeah. I know. But it’s sort of a more arresting headline isn’t it than the actual one (for anyone not on the jet of course).

And after all, this leads on the front page of an Irish Times inside of which we read William Hague writing:

No outside has any right to tell the Irish how to handle Lisbon…

…and then spoils things by going on to spend just under 1,000 words doing pretty much exactly that. Pesky foreigners – eh?

And in the not only, but also, category Jessica Lange argues that:

“They were great parts [for women actors in the 1980s] and there were enough to go around. You had this whole generation of actresses of my age and we were all working in wonderful movies for great directors. And it wasn’t limited to one or two movies a year. That’s all changed. So many movies now seem geared towards post-pubescent males.”

Nah, don’t think so. More or less the same now as then. Which isn’t great, but perhaps a little rich for her (star of King Kong, 1976) to be donning the rosy tinted retrospective specs…

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