Meascra na mblaganna

It’s a good long while since we’ve done a blog roundup here, which in itself is a good enough reason to do one now. Here are a few stories from around the interwebs that have caught my eye in the last week or so.

The big news has been Mr Tony Blair’s demonstration of ham acting at the Chilcot Inquiry. A big shout out to the indefatigable Madam Miaow for being able to sit through it all and give us a balanced assessment; George Pitcher’s reflections on this have been genuinely excellent; and Chris has a thought on sincerity and egotism.

Locally, the P&J negotiations are ongoing, but there has been consternation at Reg Empey dipping his toe into the “unionist unity” quagmire. Mark has an assessment, whilst Chekov says Reggie’s got some ‘splainin’ to do. Meanwhile, Daithí reports that Ballymoney council are still hostile to erecting street signs as Gaeilge.

I was just mentioning a few days ago Pope Benny’s call on priests to get blogging. Via Father Z, the Catholic Herald takes this opportunity to big up priestly bloggers, in particular His Hermeneuticalness. Elsewhere in the world of religion, the Salvadorean hierarchy is campaigning to get Archbishop Romero beatified; Sandro Magister has details on Catholic-Orthodox unity discussions; young Damo points us to this wonderfully bitchy pisstake of the ageing hippies behind “Stand Up For Vatican II”; and while Cranmer is unamused by the latest outburst from Pope Dawkins, George is a bit more sanguine:

Dawkers is a great recruiting officer for faith. He repels tolerant atheists and inspires uncommitted inquirers to look further into what he so ludicrously and entertainingly misrepresents. I think he should be made an honorary bishop.

Yesterday was Ken Livingstone’s big Progressive London hootenanny. Sunny and Andy were there and give us reports, while Adam is droll on the matter. Elsewhere on the left, the RCN has a thought-provoking analysis of perspectives for the Scottish Socialist Party.

The PFLP has a tribute to Dr George Habash on the second anniversary of his death, while Phil at Progressive Alaska reflects on how difficult an issue Palestine is for American progressives. Tabloid Watch does a brilliant deconstruction of how the Daily Star uses reality shows to manufacture lurid front-page splashes that turn out to be complete bollocks. And in fashion news, Tesco bans the Lower Falls Tracksuit.

Finally, in tune with this blog’s unerring instinct for the lowest common denominator, I couldn’t resist this story, via Jamie:

Australian Classification Board (ACB) is now banning depictions of small-breasted women in adult publications and films. They banned mainstream pornography from showing women with A-cup breasts, apparently on the grounds that they encourage paedophilia, and in spite of the fact this is a normal breast size for many adult women.

Now, sophisticated journalistic techniques (Google) reveal that this isn’t quite true. The Aussie censors are in fact cracking down on the “barely legal” genre featuring actresses who are over 18 but look younger. In any case, the only Aussie porn star I can think of is Angela White, and given her proportions she has nothing to worry about. In fact, she’ll probably be in the inevitable Fosters ad about how everything’s bigger in Australia.

Did the spooks have a hand in bringing down our First Family? The Phoenix thinks they might have done…

If you don’t get the Phoenix regularly – and you really should – the latest issue has some stories that make it well worth picking up. As a connoisseur of western politics I’m particularly interested in the reports on page 10 from the feuding warlord clans of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (aka Donegal). But what’s really caught my eye is the report on page 7 of the ongoing travails of the Robinson family. Goldhawk detects the spoor of MI5:

They had plenty of Robinson material to work with. On the sex front alone, they would have known that Iris was having intimate meetings in secluded spots in the back of the former Shah of Iran’s blue armoured Mercedes. Some of Peter’s “business friends” had bought it as a present for him.

This is true. I kid you not, Peter is the proud owner of the Shah’s motor, which has kind of a nice piquancy. What we really need, of course, is a local analogue of Ryszard Kapuściński to write a portrait of these fascinating characters.

Long before Iris was leaving black lingerie on the four-poster in her chandeliered bedroom for Suzanne Breen to note in the Sunday Tribune, MI5 would have logged in their Registry details of her drives around London in her MG sports car with a fun-loving DUP politician.

Crikey! Did I say Kapuściński? Maybe he would have to co-author it with Jackie Collins.

Indeed, someone in that 400-strong army of spies based at Palace Barracks, Holywood, may have also paid attention to more boring property transactions involving an office block in Newtownards, presently being investigated by the Serious Organised Crime Unit, according to a statement pointedly issued by the PSNI.

It’s long been rumoured that senior paramilitaries on both sides of the fence were involved in property deals in certain places outside the immediate conflict zone, of which Ards is one. This is to say nothing of the intimate relationships between councillors and developers. I tell you, if there’s a serious investigation of dodgy property deals in the north, there will be an awful lot of red faces, and not only in the DUP.

Goldhawk concludes with a significant reference to “the enigmatic evangelical Dublin preacher turned RAF officer-chaplain turned gay-converting psychiatrist Selwyn Black”, and by speculating that, with Robbo putting a stymie on the policing and justice negotiations before Christmas, the spooks decided to do the first minister over.

Well, perhaps. The record of spookery in the north of Ireland is such that it’s foolish to ever rule it out. I would add a caveat, though, that one of the things bringing forward the transmission of Spotlight – the timing of which the Phoenix finds so significant – was a level of discreet murmuring from quarters not a million miles removed from Sinn Féin about an impending scandal involving the DUP leader. One may further speculate that some republicans might have both felt frustrated at the DUP’s behaviour in the P&J talks, and simultaneously anxious to deflect attention from Gerry Adams’ family problems. (And that’s without even getting into possible spookery in the Adams saga.)

In the end, I’m not sure the provenance matters that much. Norn Iron is a small and incestuous place, where the proverbial dogs on the street retail inside stories far too scandalous to make it into print. Many, even most, of them may be apocryphal, but it holds true that nothing in this place stays secret very long.

Rud eile: I notice from my Roman Martyrology that today is the feast day of St Francis de Sales, patron saint of Catholic writers – and, by extension, Catholic bloggers too. It’s a good time then to give a shout out to Red Maria, in the hope of much entertaining polemic to come.

Arrest this man!

With fascinating stuff going on locally, I haven’t been paying much attention to the Iraq inquiry over in Britland, except to marvel at how remarkably uncurious the panel are. Anything of interest seems to have aris from witnesses’ desire to unburden themselves – or, in Campbell’s case, to continue acting out this weird psychodrama where he attaches himself to a father figure (Maxwell, Blair) and then defends them to the death.

Anyway, Mr Tony himself is giving evidence tomorrow. Apropos of which, Madam Miaow not only gives us a pen portrait of the inquiry panel – not only establishment to the core, but not a lawyer or military man among them – but also draws attention to George Monbiot’s appeal to raise a bounty for anyone willing to make a citizen’s arrest of Blair as a war criminal. I’d be very careful about trying it – make a grab for the Vicar and you run the risk of getting shot – but in publicity terms this is a very good idea on George’s part, and deserves to get more of an airing in the left blogosphere. Just remember when Peter Tatchell made his splendid attempt to arrest Bob Mugabe, and the massive impact that had.

I’d like to finish with a bit of a moan, but only a mild one. I’m sure Stop the War, despite being banned from protesting outside the QE2 Centre tomorrow, are putting in a lot of energy and organising plenty of events. But I do get the feeling there’s a trick being missed in terms of all the media interest. There are antiwar voices on the news, to be sure – some of the military families have been brilliant, and the aforementioned George Monbiot has just performed well against Nick Cohen on the wireless – but I’m not hearing much from the antiwar movement as such. Now would be a nice time to show some flair and imagination, and I really hope they do.

Much more on this story on a regular basis from the indefatigable Craig Murray.

The master tactician

I’m not going to write anything about the current discussions at Hillsborough until something emerges – and even when something does, it’s likely to be a holding operation. Rather, I want to focus on these secret Tory-Unionist talks two Sundays back.

There were two things that immediately struck me about the Hatfield House talks. One was to ask, “Why on earth would the Tories and Unionists hold a top-secret summit in a pub on the Ormeau Road?” Then I realised the reference was in fact to Lord Cranborne’s stately pile. The second thing was that it was a bit cheeky of the DUP to tell the Shinners they wanted a break from the policing and justice negotiations, on the grounds that they didn’t negotiate on the Sabbath, only to head off to a get-together with Reg Empey and Owen Paterson.

Little detail has emerged from the Hatfield talks except that electoral matters were discussed. This would appear to have three dimensions – an electoral arrangement to maximise the number of unionist MPs returned to Westminster; an arrangement to support the Tories in the event of a close or inconclusive result at the general election; and some sort of wheeze to prevent Martin McGuinness becoming first minister after the next Stormont election. But there’s some unpicking to be done here in terms of what’s in it for Peter, what’s in it for Reggie, and what’s in it for Dave.

To begin with Rankin’ Dave Cameron, his reasoning is absurdly transparent. With the polls pointing to either a hung parliament or a slim Tory majority, what he wants is to gain the assured votes of ten or so unionist MPs. This is of a piece with his thinking on UCUNF in the first place, which as far as I could see had more to do with Scotland than the north – the big selling point being the rash pledge to run eighteen Forza Nuova candidates over here, thus underlining his dispositional unionism with a low-overhead gesture of his pan-UK credentials. It all confirms my view of Rankin’ Dave as a perishing lightweight, and not just because of the question of whether he can be an honest broker in government, something that an attempt to recreate the UUUC would naturally undermine – he should really go and have a talk with John Major about what it’s like to have to rely on unionist votes. Any Tory grandee with a bit of sense could have told him that getting mixed up with the Unionist Party would be more trouble than it was worth. Since Andrew Bonar Law stood with Carson a century ago and incited armed insurrection against the elected British government, the Unionists have always meant trouble.

Peter’s motivation is easy to understand. His primary concern is Jim Allister, his secondary concern is to spook the Shinners. If he manages to get an electoral pact, well and good – such a pact would work to the DUP’s advantage given its incumbency advantage, higher-quality cadre and the fact that it can easily sacrifice candidacies in South Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone, seats the DUP wasn’t going to win anyway; if he doesn’t… well, he’s no worse off that he was to begin with, and he knows that any raising of the “unionist unity” banner, with him managing to inveigle Reggie into discussions on the matter, raises a fatal question mark over the logic behind the UCUNF boondoggle. This proves once again that Peter is smarter than Reggie, or indeed Dave.

Which brings me to the question of what the fuck Reg Empey thinks he’s doing. I think you have to look at this in terms of the schizophrenic strategies pursued by the OUP in recent years. At Stormont, they’ve alternated between hankering after the old coalition of the centre – that is to say themselves, the SDLP and Alliance, with the Dupes and Shinners relegated back to the margins – by forging a close working relationship with the SDLP; and on the other hand, flirting with Jim Allister and trying without much success to outflank the DUP on the right.

This all has to do with the confusion of a party that used to be a monolithic catch-all party for Prods, trying to reinvent itself in an environment where the DUP has outpaced it. Hence the Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force, which may be a dopey idea, but that’s not to be scorned in a party that’s been bereft of ideas for a very long time – and indeed, never used to need them.

The ever readable Turgon had some interesting thoughts on this over on Slugger:

The battle between the UUP and DUP has been going on for years. It must be remembered that forty years ago Dr. Paisley was a marginal figure and when the unionist monolith began to fracture the likes of Bill Craig were actually much more senior and significant figures within unionism than the Big Man. However, the DUP prospered more than any of the other pretenders to the UUP throne of lead unionist party. Any attempt by the UUP to move “leftwards” (as an aside I find the designation of hard line unionism as right wing and its opposite left wing irritating and inaccurate but it is a useful shorthand) resulted in segments of unionism moving towards the DUP or else the UUP splitting and moving back rightwards.

Hence, I would argue, Jim Allister. As long as unionist politics exists there will be a DUP or something like it – indeed, the TUV now is more or less a functional equivalent of the DUP as it was forty years ago.

Although comparisons with Nelson are spectacularly inapt, the unionist leader who managed to do a Battle of the Nile on the DUP, was of course Jim Molyneaux. Molyneaux used to say that he had contained Dr. Paisley because he had “out righted” him. That was not, however, entirely accurate; rather what Molyneaux achieved was to have a broad church party which managed simultaneously to be more right wing than the DUP (e.g. Willie Ross) but had many members much more liberal to hoover up the more moderate unionist vote (Ken Maginnis). It also appealed to the Orange vote (Rev. Martin Smith) and had proper fundamentalists (Nelson McCausland); yet had a few Catholics (John Gorman); was right wing (Enoch Powell) and yet socialist (Chris McGimpsey) and even with working class roots (Harold McCusker). This eclectic mix allowed Molyneaux to offer a party which had members who could resonate with practically all unionists and for a significant time he reaped the electorate rewards, steadily eroding the DUP vote in all save the European elections where Dr. Paisley gained a huge personality vote.

Old Lemonsucker was a smarter man than he was given credit for, and understood better than anyone since Brookeborough the nature of leadership in unionism. Brookeborough, you’ll recall, was prime minister for twenty years, during which time his usual routine was to spend one morning a week at Stormont dealing with correspondence, and the rest of his time hunting foxes down in Fermanagh. Jim Molyneaux famously once issued a statement to say that he wouldn’t be issuing any more statements for the foreseeable future. That’s why he could hold his anarchic party together, while the more dynamic David Trimble couldn’t.

Since that the UUP have largely tried to regain their position by being more moderate than the DUP and have gone on a long, largely fruitless quest for that mythical beast: the garden centre Prod along with the apparently equally unicorn like unionist Catholic. By the tie up with the Conservatives they seem to think that they had created a formula which would attract both sorts of unicorn and tame them to become the white chargers they needed to reclaim their rightful place as lead unionist party. To be fair they have gained some Catholic members and increased their profile. However, at their first outing in the European election, they owed their relative defeat of the DUP more to the TUV’s slicing off approaching a half of the DUP’s vote than to any huge increase in their own support. The ogres of the TUV had had more effect on the victory than the unicorns.

Well, neither of these creatures is entirely mythical, and UCUNF did bring a few of them out of the woodwork, as well as energising the OUP’s Toryboy wing, who have seized on the idea of pan-UK non-sectarian civic unionism with a link to Cameron as the magic formula that would outflank the Dupes while somehow persuading nationalists to become unionists. But there’s also the call of the jungle drums, which is where the unionist unity drive comes in. Reggie’s problem is that these two impulses are contradictory.

You see this with the candidacy problems. The New Force has a tortuous candidate selection process; but beyond that, the Unionist part thereof has still not sorted out its selections, thanks largely to the situation in North Down where Lady Sylvia is not for UCUNFing. As a result, the tiny Ulster Tories have got utterly pissed off at the Unionists’ failure, a few months before an election, to have candidates in place. Their mood has not been improved by this dalliance with the DUP, after they’d been assured by both Dave and Reggie that UCUNF would be contesting all eighteen seats here. So now we’ve seen the withdrawal of three Tory candidates, two of whom – Peter McCann and Sheila Davidson – are Catholic. Reggie swears blind that he’s not shafting Catholic Tories for the sake of a pan-Prod electoral stitch-up, but the Hatfield talks don’t provide the best backdrop.

There is another factor, that of UCUNF’s supposed appeal to the Garden Centre Prod and the Catholic Unionist. You may object that, to the extent that these creatures exist, most of them are in the Alliance Party, but that’s not the point. The point is that they have some significance for candidate selection, and the latter have a disproportionate significance. Peter McCann, the Catholic Tory from west Belfast, was a totemic figure for UCUNF not because he was going to win over loads of Catholics to the unionist cause; his role was to be our local analogue to Shaun Bailey, the black Tory who’s standing in Hammersmith. Now, black Londoners remain in their huge majority loyal to Labour, and most of them seem to regard Shaun Bailey as a chancer on the make, but Shaun isn’t being heavily promoted for the benefit of black Londoners. If he wins a few over, well and good, but Shaun has to be put in the context of Cameron’s detoxification of the Tory brand. Thus, Shaun is being targeted at white middle-class Londoners of liberal disposition who want to be reassured that the Tories aren’t racist any more; Peter McCann could have appealed to Garden Centre Prods who otherwise would abstain or vote Alliance, as a reassurance that UCUNF wasn’t sectarian.

It goes further than that, of course. Word is circulating that Reggie is headhunting Trevor Ringland to stand in East Belfast, and TV’s Mike Nesbitt to stand in Strangford. These boys, should they run, would be aimed squarely at the Garden Centre Prod vote; but they would be good candidates for a non-sectarian, middle-of-the-road politic, and probably wouldn’t be interested in anything that looks even vaguely like an exercise in sectarian headcounting. And then, look at Sylvia Hermon herself. She’s presentable, articulate, moderate in her politics and a transparently decent human being – she also has the advantage of being a Chief Constable’s widow in a constituency full of cops who served under Sir Jack. She’d actually be an ideal “civic unionist” candidate, if it wasn’t for her unfortunate refusal to stand as a Tory under any circumstances. Then again, she’d be equally plausible as an Alliance candidate, and even as an independent should certainly not be written off.

Beyond the implications for the OUP, there’s a broader peace process implication. If your strategy is based on the coalition of the centre, or voluntary coalition (and we know which party that’s designed to exclude), you need a cross-community partner. Specifically, you need a substantial SDLP. Now, the SDLP as is may be beyond help, but you should be wary of taking steps that actually hammer more nails into its coffin. The first effect of a unionist electoral pact would be to knock out Alasdair McDonnell, the man best placed to revive the SDLP. Secondly, even if you manage to knock out Michelle Gildernew – and, given her popularity with Fermanagh farmers, that’s no certainty – in the process Michelle would squeeze the SDLP in Fermanagh/South Tyrone into oblivion, with a likely knock-on effect for neighbouring constituencies. More generally, anything that looks like a revival of UUUC politics is a huge incentive to nationalists to rally behind the party that promises to most aggressively represent Catholic rights – and that ain’t the SDLP. What price a coalition of the centre, if the SDLP is too enfeebled to be of any use?

Finally, the hard fact is that seats at Stormont are more important by far than seats at Westminster. The big prize is a unionist bloc at Stormont that would prevent Marty being elected first minister – which is entirely symbolic in terms of the actual joint powers of the OFMDFM. Then again, if I read the d’Hondt system correctly, that may actually cost unionism in terms of Executive ministers, and McGuinness would still hold a position in the joint presidency that meant the FM couldn’t do anything without his consent.

Did I say Peter was smarter than Reggie? It could be that Reggie, in his chasing after short-term tactical advantage, is being too clever for his own good.

I could have told you, nothing good ever comes of Austrians going to Bosnia

Now, here’s a welcome shot in the arm for the blogosphere. In his annual message for World Communications Day, Pope Benedict is urging priests to get blogging, and take advantage of new media in a more general sense:

The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.

Obviously, there are already quite a few priestly bloggers, writing to a pretty high standard, but it must be nice for them to get approval from the boss. This follows on from Benny’s past statements on the same occasion in the last few years, and, together with his practically ecosocialist new year’s message, demonstrates that even a crusty old traditionalist need not be completely at sea in the modern world. This will also have the bonus effect of winding up the honchos at Eccleston Square, who are already convinced that the Pontiff pays far too little attention to the English hierarchy and far too much to bolshy traditionalists on the internet.

Now to other interesting happenings in the world of religion. In Belgium some feathers have been ruffled in connection with the retirement of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who seems to have been the primate forever. His successor at the see of Mechelen-Brussels is Bishop André-Joseph Léonard of Namur, which is worth noting in that he’s by far the most traditionalist of Belgium’s eight bishops. Yet the Namur diocese apparently provides a full 35 of the current 71 seminarians in Belgium, which may tell you something about where the vitality is at the moment. Meanwhile in Germany, there’s an entertaining little spat developing between B16’s Christian Unity czar Cardinal Walter Kasper and recently elected Lutheran president Bishop Margot Käßmann. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to go south of the border, down Vienna way.

Yes, it’s the ongoing row about Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s little jaunt to Medjugorje. Say what you like about Schönborn, he’s an absolute gift to the sketchwriter. A sort of holdover from the Holy Roman Empire, he comes from one of those aristocratic Austrian families that specialised for centuries in providing dignitaries to both the Catholic Church (as the man himself says, he’s the eighth bishop in the family) and the House of Habsburg. While it may be reassuring for the Austrian Church in a time of upheaval to have a member of the Schönborn family in the top job, Christoph nonetheless has quite a record of saying daft things – dallying with intelligent design, to take one example. It’s a mystery to me why someone with such a history of shooting from the lip should hold a position in the CDF, unless it’s to keep an eye on him – which shouldn’t, however, be discounted as a possibility.

Now, Medjugorje. You’ll already be aware that institutional Catholicism tends to be quite suspicious of lay visionaries claiming to bear messages from Our Lady. Priests down in Limerick have been derisory of local culchies worshipping tree stumps; and that wee man in west Belfast who’s been running pilgrimages to Medjugorje for years is always giving off about the hostility of the Irish clergy. This is not only priests maintaining a trade unionist line of demarcation against charismatic laity; it also can get doctrinal, in terms of visionaries’ tendency to say mad heretical stuff. Moreover, there are other issues that, as they used to say in JAG, go to credibility.

There was an interesting reflection on this recently from Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, former prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and, as a Portuguese cleric, someone who knows a thing or two about the Fátima phenomenon. An excerpt:

Let’s turn to the “seers”. Some people accuse them of having invented everything, and of having economic interests, and some think that in reality, the demon is appearing to them in the guise of the Madonna in order to bring divisions into the Church, even at the price of some conversions, Do you not think so?
“I don’t know if these apparitions were invented or if they have economic interests; for sure, in cases of this sort, the devil’s paw may be here. But God is so great that he knows how to make even the evil one serve for the good of humanity: in this way, it is possible to explain the benefits which many people maintain they received at Medjugorje.”

Again in reference to the “seers”, none of them, in contrast to the overwhelming majority of other seers recognized officially by the Church, has chosen consecrated life. One of them has even married an American model and lives in the USA in a mega-villa with a swimming pool.
“Consecrated life would have been a beautiful testimony on the part of these people, but I see that there is a great difference from Fatima, where the three little shepherds chose to be even more little and humble than even they already were, in order to live in fullness the great gift of the apparitions.”

On this subject: the “seers” assert that the apparitions of Medjugorje are the natural successors of the apparitions of Fatima.
“I don’t believe that they are. I see too many differences. As I said before, the little shepherds of Fatima made themselves humble and chose silence; at Medjugorje, I don’t know if that is going to happen; Sister Lucia entered the cloister, at Medjugorje, no one has chosen consecrated life; the same Sister Lucia put into writing the secrets entrusted to her by the Madonna, while at Medjugorje they continue to keep them for themselves. No, I see nothing in common between Fatima and Medjugorje.”

Eminence, in some of the apparitions, the Virgin is said to have asked the six “seers” of Medjugorje not to obey the prohibitions of their diocesan Bishop, such as, for example, to not speak publicly any more of the alleged “visions”.
“The Madonna could not, in any case at all, be anti-hierarchical and incite disobedience, even if the Bishop of Mostar were wrong. This is another element on which to reflect.”

The Fátima point is a telling one. Those visionaries were humble peasant children who did not seek to aggrandise themselves. And, after Jacinta and Francisco had died young in the post-WWI flu pandemic, Sister Lúcia not only entered the cloister but withdrew totally from the public gaze for decades. Regardless of whether you believe in the reality of Marian apparitions, this self-effacement enhanced their credibility immensely. And there is a very obvious contrast with the noisy hype of the Medjugorje entrepreneurs.

The point is not lost on the local hierarchy in Bosnia. Although there are powerful vested interests in Medjugorje, which has become a massive Catholic tourist trap clearly modelled after Lourdes, which generates lots of revenue and which continued to receive huge numbers of pilgrims throughout the Bosnian war – nonetheless, this has not convinced the ranking clerics, who retain the scepticism expressed by the then Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia back in April 1991, which declared that there was no evidence of anything supernatural at Medjugorje, and gave its support to the hostile Bishop Pavao Žanić of Mostar. The hostility has been continued by Žanić’s successor, Mgr Ratko Perić, who seems to spend most of his time trying to cope with aggravations from Medjugorje, and by the highly respected Cardinal Vinko Puljić of Sarajevo, who has made this position very clear in Rome.

Which brings us back to Schönborn’s ill-fated trip to the shrine. This has been covered in exhaustive detail at the invaluable Te Deum blog, but here’s a brief recap. On 29 December, Schönborn pitches up in Medjugorje and remains there over the new year. Of itself, that’s not so remarkable – plenty of clergy have been there before, but bishops would be expected to keep a low profile, blending into the crowd, when visiting a shrine that hasn’t been certified by the Vatican and remains as controversial as Medjugorje. Schönborn, however, doesn’t really do low profile. In September he’d met one of the entrepreneurs, Marija Pavlović-Lunetti; his visit had been heavily trailed in the Austrian press and the Catholic newswires; Schönborn had made a number of positive statements about the Medjugorje phenomenon; and when he did arrive, he did so with media in tow, made himself very visible around the village, and celebrated Mass in the parish church, where he gave a talk flanked by Franciscan friars. (Given the historical record of the Croat Franciscans in the region, a German-speaking prelate should have thought better of the symbolism that would be involved in that.) For all that Schönborn protested that his was a private visit, it didn’t look very private, and a very public visit from such a high-profile churchman, and a member of the CDF to boot, could hardly be taken as anything but a signal of approval.

Bishop Perić, it would be fair to say, was not amused. Not only was this an undermining of his work in the diocese, it was a blatant breach of Church etiquette when it comes to visiting a brother bishop’s patch. And it seems that his displeasure communicated itself up the line, where it may have coincided with a desire to give the loose-cannon cardinal a rocket. In mid-January, Schönborn travelled to Rome for the annual plenary assembly of the CDF. It was noted by astute Vatican observers that the Pope’s published itinerary for the morning of 15 January included a private audience with Schönborn, and rumours began mounting that Christoph was going to get a rap over the knuckles. (Actually, Benny’s style is more to have a quiet word in the erring cleric’s ear, which is effective enough in its own way. Any serious knuckle-rapping tends to get delegated to Vatican super-apparatchik and de facto vice-pope Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.) This theory gained credibility when it emerged that on the afternoon of 15 January Schönborn had sent a conciliatory fax to Perić, which the Mostar diocese thoughtfully made public.

And now, back in his Vienna fastness, Schönborn has confirmed to a friendly outlet that yes, his discussions with B16 did indeed revolve around Medjugorje. A nice little bit of Church politics, this. What’s more, the tone of Schönborn’s interview isn’t exactly what you’d call chastened, so it’s likely he’s going to be venturing forth into controversial waters quite soon. For the satirically minded observer of Catholic politics, he is the gift that keeps giving. And while we’re on the satirical, I’d like to draw your attention to this article in the Suppository; Father Z does one of his inimitable fisks here.

Finally, let’s take a brief glance at the Anglican side of the fence. It’s a pity that the Church of Ireland Gazette only publishes a small selection of its articles online, but the print version may be worth a look this week. National treasure Senator David Norris is interviewed, giving his thoughts inter alia on Iris Robinson; but, as Will reports, there’s also the continuation of the delightfully off-message Gazette‘s guerrilla war against Bishop Michael Jackson of Clogher. Wacko was in charge of the C of I’s response to the Eames-Bradley Report, which may seem like a boring matter, but around such things does the C of I’s internal politicking revolved. The News Letter has more on the interview-shy bishop.

Ten for Orwell

I don’t usually bother with this sort of thing, but I’ve just stuck an entry into the blogging section of the Orwell Prize. Not that I’m getting my hopes up, but it never hurts to promote your work – and thanks to Madam Miaow for cajoling me into it in the first place. Here’s the blurb for the prize, setting out Orwellian values for political writing:

Entries should show:
Political purpose Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after (Why I Write)

Clarity Good prose is like a windowpane (Why I Write)

Intellectual courage Intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face… If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear (Proposed Preface to Animal Farm)

When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink (Politics and the English Language)

Freedom of the intellect means the freedom to report what one has seen, heard, and felt, and not to be obliged to fabricate imaginary facts and feelings (The Prevention of Literature)

Critical thought To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment (Proposed Preface to Animal Farm)

Artful writing Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed (Why I Write)

Entries should avoid:

staleness of imagery… [and] lack of precision… by using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself (Politics and the English Language)

Above all, entries should share Orwell’s ambition:

to make political writing into an art.

Well, I’m not making any great highfalutin claims for my own writing, but it’s not a bad standard to aspire to. Personally, if I manage to entertain readers, that’s enough; if I sometimes provoke you to thought, that’s even better. And best of all is when you kickstart a really good debate.

The specs for the prize involved submitting ten blog posts from the 2009 calendar year. Sifting it down to ten, from the couple of hundred written in the year, was tough and some randomness inevitably creeps in. Those I’ve selected, exclusively from the second half of the year, are not necessarily the most popular (I’m not convinced there’s a huge audience out there for deconstructions of Sammy Wilson), and some of the selections may surprise regular readers, but they’re posts that I liked as pieces of writing, that I think demonstrated some depth of knowledge, and gave some sort of an idea of the cross-section of issues covered here. You’ll note a strong bias towards the local and historical, but then the local aspect of this blog is very much its USP. It’s not all Irishry though – there are a few others in there – and feel free to give these a look if you missed them the first time around.

The ten I eventually picked were:

Democratic Unionist party reptile
A note on cognitive bias
Aaro’s Voodoo Histories, and a few words on conspiratology
The Lost Revolution: a sketch on republican geography
The Lost Revolution: the Intercontinental
Reggie and his malcontents
The fall of the House of Paisley
Fixed and consequent
That would be an ecumenical matter
No sex please, I’m the commissioning editor for drama

And best of luck to all comrades from the left blogosphere who’ve gone in for this.

The dead past keeps on coming back

Over at Slugger, amongst much discussion of this issue, Brian asks why the Adams story isn’t getting quite the media play of the Robinson story:

On Adams, Suzanne has been doing much of the grind work and much of the rest of the press have been riding on the back of it, just as everyone seized on BBC Spotlight’s exclusive whistleblowing. Although restraints have been cast aside, some caution is still needed on Adams, if only in the interests of fairness, as Mick has rightly warned. The Sunday Tribune have been taking considerable risks over defamation, confidentiality and reporting detail that could prejudice a trial. The Cahill case goes very far indeed, as if the paper believes there’s little chance of a prosecution or need to shield the victim, despite her voluntary testimony. Note too the police’s warning to Gerry Adams over his own persistent attempts at self-exculpation. That line may actually have been crossed some time ago, albeit arguably in the public interest…

I think this is basically correct and, as Dave knows, being online is no protection against the defamation laws. In criminal cases you enter much dodgier territory, which is why I’m being extremely careful on this – and not only on this issue, it’s not as if I don’t have thoughts on the Tommy Sheridan case but I’m not going to open a discussion thread on it until the legalities are resolved. There is the further element of prejudice – certainly, Liam Adams’ defence team would be remiss if they didn’t make reference to some of the more sensationalist media coverage in the north. It seems to me too, and here I must enter the caveat that I Am Not A Lawyer, that the Tribune has indeed been running some risks. AFAIK there is no public interest defence for naming a sexual abuse complainant who has not voluntarily waived her anonymity, and withholding names while providing more than enough detail for close-knit communities to identify individuals looks like thin ice to me.

But let’s return to Brian:

How do I rate the Adams affair as a story? Cumulatively gripping, but quite a slow burn which could yet ignite. The long fuse partly consists of Gerry Adams himself under pressure. The allegations against both Adams brothers may well be about a greater immorality than anything Iris Robinson committed. But news judgements are essentially amoral although moral judgements may figure. The painstaking trawl through newspaper records about who said what and when, if at all, lacks the punch of the Iris affair, particularly for broadcasters. Moreover the political fallout has been conspicuously less so far. Almost certainly Adams’s exposure would have been greater had he been deputy first minister. But those still on the hunt can take comfort: this is surely a story that hasn’t peaked yet.

Up to a point. Actually, the Robinson story still has legs, in terms of the business connections of the Developers’ Unionist Party, not least in the Strangford constituency. Plus, even if you’re primarily interested in the sex angle, it’s entirely possible that an enterprising journalist can turn up one or more trouser-dropping DUP reps for our collective entertainment. If even a tenth of the rumours floating about are true, the Wee Frees are going to have conniptions.

But back to Gerry. It’s becoming very easy to lose sight of the actual issues – although see this for a sobering reminder. There are, as I’ve said, lots of people who don’t like Gerry, often for very good reasons, and it’s understandable that some folks are very excited at the prospect of bringing down Gerry and some of his honchos. It’s also unsurprising that Gerry himself is capable of being deeply manipulative even during what’s evidently a personally very difficult time – although his efforts to keep the party out of this seem to have had the opposite effect. There are, though, difficult questions for him to answer in the longer term.

But don’t underestimate the extent to which Gerry is bulletproof. There’s nobody about to launch a putsch against him internally, and there’s no external foe with the stature to seriously challenge him electorally. West Belfast is a virtual one-party state, and is so by popular demand. Who are his external opponents? Alex Attwood? The Workers Party? The small dissident formations? None of these are going to sweep the broad masses any time soon.

That’s why it wasn’t surprising that, listening to the vox pops earlier today at the Kennedy Centre, most of the punters seemed inclined to give Gerry the benefit of the doubt. There was, it’s true, a little graffiti calling on him to resign, presumably the work of some dissident youth, but it’s been painted over already. It’s quite possible, indeed almost certain, that some people have been leaned on, but you always have to keep in mind that the west Belfast para-state rests on a serious base of popular support. Not only that, but any shit that could conceivably have been thrown at Gerry already has been, multiple times.

Take, for example, the anticipation of the Dark’s posthumous memoir, which the media have been telling us Gerry is deeply worried about. But, Gerry’s denials notwithstanding, everybody knows he was in the Provos, and everybody knows he was leading the Provos in Belfast at a particular point in time when some very bad things happened. Unless the Dark knew (and recorded) something really sensational – and only Gerry really knows what Brendan knew – it’s unlikely he’ll tell us much we either didn’t know or couldn’t have guessed. It’ll be worth finding out, anyway.

Mind you, these abuse cases do point up something worth commenting on. When we talk about the high level of rape and sexual abuse in Irish society, we always have to bear in mind that the perpetrator is usually someone known to, and most often related to, the victim. The exposures of clerical abuse since the Brendan Smyth case are more than just a drop in the ocean – and clerical abuse rightly attracts particular odium because of the breach of trust involved and the fact that the clergy are expected to set a higher standard – but the iceberg is what happens in families.

That said, there are good reasons why, in all the advances our society has made in dealing with sexual abuse, it’s been much easier to train one’s fire on institutions. From the point of view of a victim coming forward after 25 or 30 years, it’s often easier to do so when you’re taking to task a priest who may be dead or an industrial school that may be long since closed, than taking on a family member, with all that that implies. The pressure on the victim is greater when it’s a family matter. And let’s not forget that institutions can be reformed – the reform of the Irish Catholic Church may have been painfully slow and overwhelmingly driven from Rome, but it is taking place – while reforming families is a much bigger ask, and not something you can put forward a large-scale solution for.

So it is in this current situation in the north, that while the abuse has been internal to families – although republican families – it’s an institution, in the form of Sinn Féin, that finds itself in the spotlight. One may ask, without supporting the party, whether this is entirely fair. I don’t think that republicans are more likely to be abusers than anyone else in our society, but if we’re talking about what went on in nationalist Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s there are a number of factors to be borne in mind. One was a policing vacuum, and a police force seemingly more interested in recruiting victims as informers than getting them justice. Also, a social services infrastructure that was a lot less clued up in these matters than it is today. You have a Provisional movement that valued discipline, loyalty and secrecy above all else – which allows you to see how republicans who’d been guilty of quite serious crimes could escape the movement’s rough-and-ready policing regime. And all this in the context of a society dislocated and brutalised by the effects of the Troubles.

And now? Today, the party has a policy that says any member suspected of sexual abuse is immediately suspended without prejudice and reported to the statutory authorities – authorities the party now recognises, which it used not to. This policy dates from as recently as 2006, which tells you how rapidly ideas are changing on this issue, and changing for the better. As far as the more distant past goes, the potential damage will be determined by the significant distinction between an active cover-up (as in the McCartney murder) and a failure to act; and, not least, by how straight party reps are on the matter.

And as for Gerry – well, it’s possible he’ll just get tired and jack it in. But my instinct is still that he’ll jump when he wants to jump and nobody is lining up to push him. In that sense, he’s better placed than Peter.

Rud eile: For those of you who like lefty trainspotting, the Real SWP were out leafletting in Cornmarket on Saturday. Given that they’ve taken the guts of the branch, my instinct is that they’ll be pursuing a tack of doing what the branch was doing, only without the national party. And since the aggravation from the centre often outweighs any material support you might get, they may even make a go of it.

Robinson round-up

Memo to Kirk McCambley: Max wants to talk to you. And, if you look at how well Levi Johnson has done for himself, the Max option is well worth considering.

Our local scandal shows few signs of abating, in the meantime. Yesterday’s Telegraph carried a massive feature interview with Peter Robinson, whereby the embattled first minister got to do the human interest bit. He performed reasonably well under the circumstances, and did get to show us a side of the hard man’s personality that we aren’t used to, but then he wasn’t facing an aggressive interrogator like Jeremy Paxman, or Karen from Outnumbered. The interviewer was Gail Walker, which means that not only were some of Robbo’s intriguing hints not followed up, but Gail larded in lots of editorialising on behalf of the interviewee. The interview seems slightly truncated in the online version, and moreover the print version of the Tele contained a sidebar where Gail batted once again for Peter, and another sidebar where Rebekah Robinson put in her two cents in defence of Dad.

You can’t fault him for trying, and although Mark notes a little discrepancy, it wasn’t an ineffective show from Peter. However, the British press pack, much less deferential than the Norn Iron media, have been sniffing around – the Mail has been lapping it up – and there are all sorts of rumours flying about what might be in the Sundays. We’ll know in a couple of hours. But in the meantime, I note some chancerism from the Sunday World. Tsk tsk, Hugh.

As I keep saying, the important thing is to follow the money. Sexual peccadilloes may yet claim a couple more high-profile DUP scalps, but the local government corruption angle has very wide repercussions and could have a really big long-term effect. Castlereagh council, grudgingly giving up more info on the Lock Keeper’s Inn, has had to institute an external investigation by Deloittes. Meanwhile, the Newtownards Chronicle has an interesting angle. You remember the Beverley development in Ards apropos of which Iris was lobbying for Ken Campbell at the same time Ken wrote her that cheque? According to the Chronicle, this has been rather unpopular with local residents, who’ve had an action group going for quite a while, and local Traditional Unionist councillors are trying to interest the Local Government Auditor.

I was also struck, in today’s Tele, to find a rare public appearance from Paul Berry, the former DUP wunderkind whose political career was abruptly cut short three years ago after a close encounter in a hotel room with a masseur of the homosexual persuasion, who then went straight to the Sunday World. Paul has always vehemently denied there was any hanky-panky involved, only a massage for an old sports injury – and to be fair, the Worst is not known for being terribly concerned about accuracy – but that didn’t prevent the DUP terminating him with extreme prejudice. In his interview, Paul is forgiving and understanding towards the Robinsons while still being quite pointed about his treatment, which seems to me the right tone for him to strike.

Party politics at Stormont comes into this too, of course. One reason for the Spotlight programme getting bumped up two weeks in the schedules was that, what with Gerry coming under pressure about his dealings with the brother, some discreet words were dropped to the media from circles not unadjacent to the Shinners that there was something juicy in the works about the DUP. And now we see Ian Paisley Jr trying to get the Assembly ombudsman to take an interest in the Liam Adams case. Not that Gerry doesn’t have questions to answer, though he may be doing so in court soon enough, but it might have been a bit better had this not come from someone with Baby Doc’s track record on matters ethical.

Now, what lessons can be drawn from the Lurgan by-election? Given the 24% turnout and the fact that the DUP didn’t stand (which is a story in itself – when did the DUP ever run away from an election?), it’s hard to draw any obvious lessons. What’s more, infighting in the local TUV and the fact that David Calvert wasn’t an especially popular candidate, even in TUV circles, must be taken into account. I think Sir Reggie is engaging in a little forgivable hyperbole when he talks about the great strides being made by UCUNF. But I’ll concede his point in a narrow sense, that even in a council by-election in January, the Official Unionists managed to turn out their vote, and that by itself will give David Simpson pause for thought. When I hear the paperboy quoting Lord Acton, I know things are bad for the DUP.

Finally, over at Slugger, the ever readable Turgon has a reflection on the DUP’s deployment of Arlene Foster. I vaguely remember her when she was still Arlene Kelly, and she didn’t terribly impress me then, but she’s grown into her position somewhat. And she’s surprisingly popular with the DUP rank and file, especially given that she’s a defector from the OUP and moreover not a fundamentalist but a member of the Church of Ireland, which is nearly as bad as being an atheist. Still, she’s the safe pair of hands now – if Sammy had become acting first minister, we’d really be in trouble.

Stranger than fiction

Here’s a vignette from our local scandal that you may have missed. Well, I laughed:

A best selling crime writer has appealed for people to stop emailing him about the Northern Ireland Robinson scandal.

Last week it emerged that Iris Robinson, the wife of First Minister Peter Robinson, and an MP herself, had cheated on him and tried to take her own life.

She also obtained £50,000 from two developers so her lover could set himself up in business, which she failed to declare to a parliamentary authorities.

There has been phenomenal interest in the story, which Yorkshire author Peter Robinson has found himself distantly connected to.

More used to writing about the adventures of Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks on the streets of the fictional town of Eastvale, Mr Robinson has been sent condolences about his wife’s behaviour.

And I’m sure the bestselling crime author appreciates the sentiment?

Writing on his website Mr Robinson, the pen behind the Inspector Banks novels, thanked people for the offers of sympathy, before stating the obvious.

“I must stress that I AM NOT Peter Robinson the politician, Northern Ireland’s First Minister,” he wrote.

“I would have thought would be the first clue, as would even the most cursory glance at the site, but I guess people who send rude and insulting emails or push religion at the vulnerable were not, alas, at the front of the queue when the brains were handed out.

“Please, cease and desist!”

One can empathise with his position. Indeed, it’s an occupational hazard for the Norn Iron fan of crime fiction to carry around a Peter Robinson novel, because you have to keep explaining that, no, the first minister hasn’t developed another string to his bow. Even people you might have expected to know the Inspector Banks stories get confused:

Mr Robinson is not a stranger to Northern Ireland and has appeared at the Belfast crime bookshop No Alibis.

Owner David Torrans said that there had been confusion among some clientele when he visited then.

“He was here 18 months ago and he is the only crime author we have had to include a photograph of on the flyer.

“People were phoning to ask if Big Ian (Reverend Ian Paisley) was appearing as well.”

It doesn’t help, either, when your books have titles like this:

Anyway, it’s a common name. I wonder if this guy is getting any similar mileage out of it.

Place your bets now!

Today there was a council by-election in Lurgan, and the DUP must be thanking their lucky stars that they decided to duck the test in advance. The results tomorrow, with the effective contest being between UCUNF and the TUV, will be worth a look, but the absence of the DUP means it’ll be hard to draw any lessons from it. If there’s a by-election for Iris Robinson’s Castlereagh council seat, which seems likely, that will be the really telling one.

In the broader sense, the British government, in the person of Proconsul Woodward, is deeply concerned about both the Robinson affair and the ongoing wrangle about devolution of policing and justice. The fear is expressed that, if things aren’t hammered out on P&J or if Robbo falls and a successor ticket has to be nominated to the Assembly, Martin McGuinness might collapse the Executive and precipitate a snap election.

I’m not altogether sure why a snap election would be so terrible. There’s a Stormont election due next year anyway, and the most likely outcome would be another round of peace processing before another fudge is arrived at. It would, at most, be a dreadful inconvenience for London and Dublin.

But there are some people who are quite keen to have an election. I was struck by this from Chekov, who of course is representing the UCUNF interest in all of this. Chekov has an intriguing schema, which I think I can summarise thusly:

p1 The scandals surrounding the DUP present UCUNF with a golden opportunity to retake the leading role in unionism;
p2 The Liam Adams affair is generating lots of bad headlines for Sinn Féin, and a revitalised SDLP under Alasdair McDonnell ought to make hay out of this;
p3 We can expect Alliance, with their proven transfer magnetism, to once again do well in the later counts and so probably hold their own;
c This situation allows us to replace the dysfunctional Paisleyite-Provo Executive with an Executive whose centre of gravity would be firmly rooted in the centre ground, like the Trimble-Mallon Executive only better.

Intriguing, as I say, with the only small hitch being that Chekov is relying on rather a lot of contingencies to all go the same way, and it’s not at all clear that they will. Firstly, he’s relying on Martin McGuinness being considerate enough to collapse the Executive. It’s by no means certain that he will.

Secondly, as we saw at Dromore and in the Euro-election, the mass defection of DUP voters to the TUV can allow UCUNF to come through the middle into first place without actually increasing its vote. But if we’re talking about UCUNF not just being the slightly larger of three comparably sized parties, but rather becoming the hegemonic party in unionism, it will need to substantially up its vote. That would mean disillusioned DUP voters switching to UCUNF rather than the TUV, as they have done up to now. Possibly, but Jim Allister is very good at speaking to the disillusioned DUP voter, and I’m not sure there’s much evidence of punters on the Newtownards Road saying, “Hmm, I like the cut of Dave Cameron’s jib. I think I’ll give the New Force a try.” That’s even before you get around how to square the Cameron-approved “Vote For Change” slogan with having Reg Empey’s face on your posters.

Thirdly, although the Liam Adams affair is certainly generating hostile headlines for Gerry, and has the potential to harm him further down the line, it’s not clear that this is happening at the moment. My instinct would be that it would hurt him more in the south than the north (although more in the sense of capping the vote rather than any exodus of the core vote), and that if it got really damaging Gerry would make way anyway. In any case, the SDLP is currently leaderless and directionless; though it’s stemmed its decline, it seems to be flatlining rather than recovering; and a lot depends on whether Alasdair McDonnell really can pull a miracle out of the hat. Remember that there are quite a few constituencies where the SDLP has seats but is below or only just above a quota.

Finally, the coalition of the centre was the wet dream of London and Dublin governments for decades, before electoral mathematics made it impossible. I’m not going to claim that the present Executive functions like a proper government in a mature democracy would, but it’s visibly more stable than the Trimble Executive was. And that’s not just a question of Bobby Storey behaving himself – the DUP love devolution, and they definitely don’t want a return of direct rule if they can possibly avoid it.

But Chekov is not the only man with a schema. Jim Allister also has a cunning plan, and he’ll outline it to anyone who will listen:

p1 The TUV will inflict serious damage on the DUP, and the unionist vote will be shredded three ways;
p2 Sinn Féin will maintain or increase its lead over the SDLP;
p3 The shredding of the unionist vote, as at the Euro-election, will make Sinn Féin the largest party;
p4 Under the St Andrews Agreement, the largest party nominates the first minister;
p5 No unionist politician would be prepared to be deputy first minister to Martin McGuinness;
c The Assembly will collapse, there’ll be a renegotiation, and the GFA mandatory coalition system will be scrapped in favour of voluntary coalition.

This looks a little more plausible to me, with only a couple of possible glitches. One is that, as Martin McGuinness will remind any hapless DUP MLA who refers to him as “the deputy”, the OFMDFM is a joint ministry where neither minister can operate without the other’s consent. In effect, the two are equal, although the FM has a sort of diplomatic precedence. The first minister position is therefore mostly of symbolic significance. David Trimble has made the same point in recent days, possibly flying a kite for Reggie.

The other glitch in Sunny Jim’s plan is that the renegotiation would issue in voluntary coalition. That may be the TUV’s bottom line, but, as Jim knows, the DUP went into the negotiations culminating in St Andrews with a position of voluntary coalition, or at least some arrangement that would allow the Provos to be excluded – and we know how that ended up. It ended up with the Chuckle Brothers.

Actually, if I were in Martin McGuinness’s position, I’d be sorely tempted to go for the snap election, if only for the purposes of naked partisan advantage. Seeing the unionist vote shred whilst once again beating the crap out of the SDLP could only strengthen the PSF hand ahead of yet another round of peace processing. That, and not an Executive of the centre ground, would be the almost inevitable outcome. By 2020, when we have a TUV-éirígí Executive, you’ll see that this is how the dynamic works. No matter how hardline you may be, you’ll always be drawn into the process; and there’ll always be somebody there to call you a lundy and gazump your hardline credentials. There ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but dead hedgehogs.

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