Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's a jungle out there

Every now and again I sometimes wonder how this mundane little chunk of land, barely larger than Yorkshire, was ever the centre of international attention. How things change. Today, as the residents of Crossmaglen and Derry thankfully slide their way into the same sort of relevant obscurity as that enjoyed by people in equally mundane locations such as Huddersfield or Doncaster, the news from Northern Ireland is - I am pleased to say - not what it used to be. No bombs. No shootings. No mortar attacks. No massacres. No riots. Nothing. In fact, it appears when you remove the troubles from this wee province we're left with a place in which virtually nothing really happens. Immigration isn't really a big issue for people here (well, at least it isn't to people outside the Village area of south Belfast). We don't even seem to have the kind of crime rate that our middle England neighbours get so worked up about.

Take this story I came across on the UTV website for example. Now, bear in mind that this article is not an item from a local newspaper such as The Armagh Observer or The Londonderry Sentinel. Incredibly this is considered in the present day media to be news important to all the 1,710,300 citizens resident in Northern Ireland. Be afraid. Be very afraid:

Deodorant cans stolen in Portrush

Several cans of Lynx deodorant have been stolen from premises in Portrush. The items were discovered missing from a display in a shop at Eglinton Street on Saturday January 22. Anyone who can help police with their investigation into this crime is asked to contact them on Coleraine 028 7034 4122, or Crimestoppers in complete confidence on freephone 0800 555111.

Chilling, isn't it? It's like something from Boyz n the Hood. I'm off to lock all my doors and barricade myself in the house this weekend armed only with a copy of Peter Hitchens' A Brief History of Crime. See you on Monday.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mark E. Smith - 1 Ray Stubbs - 0

Possibly the greatest thing you’ll ever see on BBC television - Mark E. Smith reads the football results. Captivating. What can’t every Saturday afternoon be like this?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Back for good

Mike Edgar, back in the days when he was the presenter of Radio Ulster's alternative music show Across the Line, had a strange habit of saying the words "back, back, back" upon the return of any band or artist following an absence (eg, "Neil Hannon is back, back, back").

Yesterday I received an email announcing that Elemental Soup is back, back, back. I must be honest and say - probably due to my total uselessness when it comes to all things online - that I don't actually remember much about this satirical website first time round but I do recognise some of the characters (Spideman for instance) from many of those heavily circulated emails you get from people at work and college who clearly have far too much time on their hands.

So, I look forward to keeping an eye on it over the coming months and, hopefully, years. And as Noreen at Elemental Soup was kind enough to put a link to yourfriendinthenorth on her site then I shall duly reciprocate. Bloggers of Ulster unite! Check it out:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What’s in a flag?

Flags and emblems aren’t just a burning issue for people here in Northern Ireland. It appears the people of Iraq are just as divided when it comes to this subject as we are in this part of the world. The big issue at the moment concerns the design of the new Iraqi flag (pictured left).

The eagle eyed amongst you will probably have noticed that this flag isn’t that far removed from the old Saddam era one. That banner contained three stars representing the Baathist principles of unity, freedom and socialism and the inscription ‘God is Great’ written in President Hussein’s very own handwriting (something you should perhaps point out the next time some StWC-type fool tries to tell you that Saddam was a ‘secular dictator’). In the new flag the three stars are gone and the ‘Allahu Akbar’ slogan is now written in ordinary script rather than the scrawl of a genocidal maniac. So, not a big change then though the parliament in Baghdad are saying that this is only an interim flag until a permanent one can be agreed on.

A flag that will definitely not be up for consideration is the pictured to the left of this paragraph. This was the design put forward back in early 2004 by the Iraqi Government Council. It was designed by Rifat al-Chaderchi, a London-based Iraqi artist. According to the gospel of truth that is Wikipedia:

The flag was white, with parallel blue-yellow-blue bands across the bottom quarter or third; the blue bands represented the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, and the yellow represented Iraq's Kurdish minority (the reason for this symbolism was unclear, but the flag of Kurdistan does feature a yellow sun). In the middle of the white field was a large Islamic crescent which was, unusually, depicted in a shade of blue. The design marked a notable break with the colours used in other Arab flags, which have lengthy histories – green and black are used to represent Islam and red is used to represent Arab nationalism. Islamic crescents are usually depicted in green or red in Arab heraldry. The new flag's predominantly blue-on-white appearance immediately led to controversy in Iraq because of its resemblance to the flag of Israel, with whom Iraq has had considerable antagonism.

I thought that bit at the end was nicely put - “considerable antagonism” existed between Israel and Iraq. That’s one way of putting it! I actually thought that the flag both looked good and contained symbols that represented all the communities of Iraq. Though if you are former Baathist with an irrational hatred of Israel I suppose you could find a way to object to virtually anything with a bit of white and blue in it.

Good luck to all Iraqis with your new flag. And good luck with the flag that will be coming along soon to replace that flag. Beyond that, good luck.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Antichrist Superstar

Congratulations to The Irish News for non-story of the day. Wallace Thompson, an advisor to DUP enterprise minister Nigel Dodds and evangelical Christian halfwit, appeared on yesterday’s Liveline show on RTE Radio One to declare that the Pope was the “Antichrist”. Thompson also stated that he “couldn’t go to a funeral in a Roman Catholic church…The priest makes blasphemous claims where he turns the bread into body and the wine into the blood and those things to me are anathema.”

I won’t defend Wallace Thompson on anything other than his right to hold these ridiculous views. Clearly the man is an arsehole but what are we meant to do? Burn him at the stake? And what exactly is there contained here that we didn’t know before? An evangelical Christian and DUP member considers the Pope to be the Antichrist? Come off it. We’ve been here before many, many times. Its not a story, and it certainly isn’t the front page news that the Noel Doran appears to think it is.

The SDLP MLA for Upper Bann, Dolores Kelly, said that Mr. Thompson’s remarks were a throwback to “what the Catholic population had to listen to during 30 years of conflict.” What? 30 years? Dolores, these religious views have been around for centuries and if you think they’re going to disappear as a result of the Good Friday Agreement or the St. Andrew’s Agreement then you really more stupid than I thought you were originally (which was extremely stupid).

Had The Irish News really been on the ball of course they could have asked Dolores Kelly whether she really considered her own Roman Catholic Church to be “the one true Church”. They didn’t, probably because that would have highlighted the irrationality of both faiths and undoubtedly have offended the very people who read the newspaper. Not to mention the fact that The Irish News quite happily advertises those bizarre trips to the religious rackets in Lourdes and Medjugorje which rob the elderly, the disabled and other vulnerable groups in society of whatever cash they have.

And when you look at it like that, is Wallace Thompson really all that mad?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

From underneath Ardwick Bridge

I take no pride at all in saying that I haven’t listened to The Fall now for a good few years. Anyone claiming to have the slightest interest in music should devote time to one of the greatest bands ever to come out of Manchester (and John Peel's favourite band of all time, which may come as a surprise to anyone reading this from Derry). Wings, the track featured below, was emailed to me by a comrade at work on Monday. The video is great too, a real authentic DIY punk job which probably didn't cost much more than the pint Mark E. Smith was sitting over in the pub. Needless to say it brightened up what was supposedly the most depressing day of the year.

Incidentally, is it just me or was Mark not that bad looking in his day?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The cup overfloweth

I genuinely thought it would take a lot to top Pootsy’s display of pettiness last week in Newry. I mean, engineering a ten minute delay so you could avoid the bother of being offended by the Irish national anthem prior to a football match was so petty it almost bordered on being an act of sheer genius. However, Mary Kenny’s article in today’s Irish Independent (which I came across thanks to David Vance over at ATW) points to goings on in county Derry that make Poots look like a glowing example of tolerance and sanity:

A coffee mug bearing the image of Princess Diana and Prince Charles at the time of their wedding is to be forcibly removed from a town council at Limavady, Co Derry. Sinn Fein councillors have called the mug "offensive" - because of the connections with British royalty. The Sinn Fein representatives say that it damages a "neutral working environment". Do the words "petty" and "small-minded" spring to mind?

Yes, you read it correctly. The mug was “offensive”. An offensive mug. A provocative cup. Monty Python would have killed for this sort of material. Unfortunately for the people of Limavady the people at the centre of the mug fiasco aren’t comedians but members of their local council.

Coming next week: DUP councillors in Antrim offended by hurling stick in sports shop window.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

“Mervyn Storey! Get to the front of the class.”

I never considered a career as a science teacher and I very much doubt I’m going to change my mind at this stage in life. Still, if you are a member of the Democratic Unionist Party’s team up at Stormont you may find the following to be of help. Don’t bother thanking me lads. The pleasure is all mine:

Friday, January 18, 2008

The continuing saga of Dumbo (Part 2: Darwin was an eejit)

Yesterday I wrote about Edwin Poots (pictured left), the man who we are unfortunate to have as Culture Minister here in Northern Ireland. Perhaps it was because it wasn't relevant to the article, but I missed an opportunity to tell you about Pootsy's enlightening religious views.

Now I know that I've mentioned this story here before but I don't care. A threat in certain parts of the United States now for sometime, the growth of a creationist lobby in the province is a major development and signals the opening shots in a battle which I feel is going to get bigger. A few weeks back I highlighted DUP MLA Mervyn Storey and his own bizarre creationist beliefs. On closer scrutiny it became clear that Storey wasn't alone - a huge chunk of the Democratic Unionist Party are opponents of evolution and, more worryingly, organisations seem to be popping up now to advocate having anti-scientific views incorporated into everything from tourist sites like the Giants Causeway to the school curriculum for children.

Poots too is a believer in the so-called 'young earth' story. For a long time Poots and his DUP colleagues have remained quiet on this issue. Now some of them are seemingly going out of their way to actually raise it in Stormont and Wesminster. The following is a transcript of an interview between the BBC's William Crawley and the DUP man on Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence back in December. Amusing? Yes. Alarming? You better believe it:

William Crawley: You talk about your faith in public meetings.

Edwin Poots: I would talk about it when I'm asked about it, but I don't generally seek to impose it upon people. And I think where Tony Blair is wrong - and I personally came through this when I was a lad at school, in that I hid my faith whenever I was in secondary school…It wasn't until I left school and went to college that I was prepared to stand up and tell people that I was a Christian and I found that I didn't grow in my Christianity until I was able to tell others in a confident way that I was a Christian.

William Crawley: What about when you become a minister, representing the government? Does your role then change, and the things you can talk openly about then change? Is that a new dynamic you've faced?

Edwin Poots: I haven't found that to be the case. In fact, since I've been a minister, I've been questioned in public fora about it, and I've reponded to those questions. Interestingly enough, in Armagh, I was actually approached after one such forum, and this guy says, "I'm a Roman Catholic. I'm from Newry. I send my kids to Irish language schools. If there was a vote for a united Ireland in the morning, we'd be voting for a united Ireland. But, he says, we're actually depending on you guys to stand up for the moral issues in Northern Ireland."

Then, when the conversation turned to Richard Dawkins' claim that religious believers are "mentally ill", the culture minister intervened:

Edwin Poots: He (Dawkins) wants to indoctrinate everyone with evolution. And whenever people suggest that you can teach something other than evolution, and that there might be others theories about how this earth actually came to be, such as intelligent design, Richard doesn't want children to have the option of actually hearing those things and making their own minds up. So it's very interesting that evolutionists are very dictatorial in what they suggest.

William Crawley: Matthew Parris, you've just heard the culture minister in Northern Ireland speak, Matthew. Would a politician in Britain ever use words like that? A minister in government?

Matthew Parris: Absolutely not. No. And I would use the word "nutter" - not of Edwin, obviously. But I do use the word 'nutter' of people who think that what informs them religiously entitles them to say that evolution is a form of indoctrination. I mean, there's absolutely no question where science points, and it can only be some feeling that you've got a direct line with revelation with the Almighty that could lead you to stop wanting children to be taught that evolution is the best available explanation of where we are now.

Edwin Poots: Matthew, you're telling me that cosmic balls of dust gathered and there was an explosion. We've had lots of explosions in Northern Ireland and I've never seen anything come out of that that was good. And you look at this earth and you tell me that there was a big bang and all of a sudden all tat is good about this earth came out of it?

Matthew Parris: Good heavens! You're the culture minister and you don't believe in evolution?

Edwin Poots: Yes, absolutely. And you're telling me that all of this evolution took place over billions of years, and yet it's only in the last few thousand years that Man could actually learn to write?

William Crawley: How old is the earth?

Edwin Poots: My view on the earth is that it's a young earth. My view is 4000 BC.

As I said, all very entertaining but this is a man in a position of power here in Northern Ireland. He's going to have to do more than turn up at a Gaelic football match to win me over. Not that I want him to win me over. I want to see Poots and his fellow thinkers out of politics, voted out, defeated, humiliated. It's time for voters in Lagan Valley, North Antrim and in other constituencies around the north to take a long hard look at themselves and ask if they want these goons representing them. If the answer is no then its time to redirect their vote to elsewhere on the ballot paper at the next election and kick out these dinosaur denying crackpots. If the answer is yes then, well, god help us.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The boy done good

There couldn't be a better time to be in the political business if you happen to be an elected representative in Northern Ireland. It appears to be getting easier with every day that passes to win the praise of just about everyone in this easily impressed part of the world. Just turn up at an event organised by people who attend a different church to yourself and all kinds of praise will be heaped on you.

Take the recent example of Edwin Poots. Our uncultured Culture Minister last night attended the football match between Down and Donegal in the McKenna Cup (that's a GAA competition for those of you not interested in sport). TV reports and newspaper articles throughout today have featured GAA spokespersons, nationalist politicians and members of the public praising the efforts of the Minister. It was "a landmark occasion" said GAA President Nicky Brennan. Oh, please. Pass the sick bag when you're done with it.

However, for all his gargantuan efforts Edwin made a big error in my book. The noble act of reconciliation was smeared somewhat by the Minister's decision to arrive ten minutes late for the game in order to avoid having to stand for Amhrán na bhFiann. In one sense I can sympathise. I attend GAA matches regularly and find the playing of the national anthem embarrassing. Like all anthems, The Soldier's Song is a fine and rousing old tune and because of this I always found the GAA's insistence on playing it before every single county match in the country to be an insult. Played in front of 80,000 spectators at Croke Park it maintains the stirring aspect. Played in front of 1,000 people on a wet Wednesday night in the middle of winter to open a McKenna Cup tie in Newry only really serves to keep people out in the cold for an extra minute or two. Perhaps the GAA should consider keeping the anthem for showpiece occasions such as the All-Ireland finals in September, something like what the Football Association in England do with God Save the Queen whereby it is only played prior to the FA Cup final.

The fact of the matter is Edwin Poots did not decide to avoid the Irish national anthem on the grounds that he has strong opinions on GAA internal reform. He most likely dodged the opening formalities at Páirc Esler in order to a) avoid dissent from Neanderthals within the DUP and b) avoid criticism from any growing rejectionist elements such as Jim Allister's TUV. But that's no excuse.

On hearing about this at first I wasn't surprised by his late arrival but on thinking about it again I really had to ask myself what his objection could have been. Couldn't he have easily fought off criticism from the 'no brigade' of unionism by accusing them of being stuck in the past and portraying himself as a shining beacon of hope and progress? Wouldn't he have won more kudos for standing for the anthem and, in a more cynical way, outmanoeuvre the Shinners who played it crafty by not making a fuss when God Save the Queen was played at the Dublin stadium prior to Ireland's clash with the auld enemy in the RBS Six Nations (and we all know the history that particular piece of turf had with the British)? His explanation that he would feel "uncomfortable" just wasn't good enough. The Minister can have no firm political objections. He can't blame the Provos on this one. This isn't their song. And anyway, he's in government with them. He can't use the old chestnut of Articles 2 and 3. The Irish people chucked them out of the Constitution long ago. As far as I know the current government in Dublin have no immediate plans to send troops across the border. So, what's the big deal?

Only Edwin Poots knows what the deal is, but what we do definitely know is that a Minister in a devolved administration in a part of the United Kingdom has failed to respect the anthem of a fellow member state of the European Union and the United Nations. Can you imagine the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in Britain snubbing the national anthem of Germany at Wembley and then saying that he felt uncomfortable? No. Grow up, Mr Poots. You are 42 year old adult in an important position of power. Start acting like it.

I have absolutely no doubt that, not wanting to be outdone by the big eared one, this morning Sinn Fein officials will be sat around a table at Connolly House on the Falls Road wracking their brains in an attempt to think of something that could be seen as them 'reaching out' to the other community. If you do happen to be a member of the Loyal Orders don't be too surprised if Martina Anderson turns up at your local Orange hall (arriving ten minutes late to avoid the opening prayer session) and begins to tuck into the tea and sandwiches at some stage in the next week or two. This patronising game of cross community gesture tennis is far from over.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ware did it all go wrong?

Did you take the time to watch No Plan, No Peace - the Inside Story of Iraq's Descent into Chaos on BBC Four last night? If you opted to watch Signs or even the Brit Awards Launch Party on ITV2 don't be too concerned. You didn't miss much. To be brutally honest you probably made a better choice.

Narrated by former Sun journalist John Ware, it looked and sounded like Michael Moore only with less staged scenes and a slightly more refined accent. I had hoped (this being the BBC and all that) for some form of constructive criticism of American and British post-war planning in Iraq. In the end what we got was an overindulgent two hours of I-told-you-so arrogance.

After the opening few minutes of the programme it was clear what we were about to get hit with. The voice of President Bush speaking prior to the invasion about the coming "democratic revolution" ran alongside images of the subsequent bloodshed and turmoil in Iraq. Showing the viewer the idealistic objectives of the leader of the world's only superpower and then contrasting them with the eventual reality of the occupation is hardly what you would call subtle. Definitely clichéd, but not subtle.

There was very little in the way of balance thereafter. Don't get me wrong, I can think for myself. I don't need balance when I view a news programme or read an article from a newspaper. If anything I want someone to have an opinion. I'm actually a secret Bill O'Reilly fan, just don't tell anyone. However, as the Beeb is a public service broadcaster that cherishes impartiality as one its main "hallmarks" (their words not mine) Ware's documentary on Mesopotamia certainly failed to live up to stated corporation policy.

Guest after guest was wheeled on to make his or her own personal criticism and then wheeled off again to make way for yet more images of destruction (just in case we hadn’t yet got Mr Ware’s point about bad planning leading to disarray). True, Paul Bremer was brought on but then I don't think anyone who supported the liberation of Iraq would necessarily have considered Bremer to be the best person to choose to defend it. Try as he might to explain some of his questionable decision making, Bremer looked a bit like how you would imagine Harold Shipman to look had the notorious Yorkshireman been hired a few years back to take part in a promo campaign for the National Health Service.

From start to finish this pointless documentary attacked the logic behind the war, the planning in the run up to the war, the execution of the invasion and the attempts to reorganise Iraqi society thereafter. There was no mention of any of the positive aspects of the intervention and I will let no one tell me that there has not been progress.

There was no mention of the capture of Saddam Hussein. No mention of the abolition of the old regime and the execution of the thugs who led it. No mention of the elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. No mention of the capture and executions of other terrorist leaders. No mention of the total failure of al-Qaeda or any other elements of the insurgency to take and hold territory anywhere in the country. No mention of the continuing fall in the number of murders in Iraq today. No mention of the fact that Iraq had held its first ever democratic election and achieved a turnout of almost 80% - a turnout most western nations would be envious of and that in a country where voters where literally putting their lives at risk to put their ballot paper into a box. Actually, I tell a lie. The election was mentioned but peculiarly only in a negative sense. According to Ware this was yet another disaster for the coalition as Iraqis had the temerity to vote for the United Iraqi Alliance, not the favoured choice of Washington and London. Still though, not a bad step forward from the position we were in at the start of the decade in which Saddam Hussein gained 100% of the on a 100% turnout.

Ware's quoting of Napoleon at the end of the programme ("never take the first step without planning for what comes afterwards") may have had some relevance but by that stage I could no longer give a damn. The question of whether or not mistakes were made in the wake of the intervention is a no brainer. Of course there were. Everyone acknowledges that. However, one gets the feeling that this documentary could have got its point across in a lot less time than 120 minutes. Quite who the BBC considered the target audience for this documentary I don’t know, but I would hazard a guess it would be the kind of people whose bookshelves are filled with Morgan Spurlock DVDs and unread trash politics books picked up in Waterstone’s to impress their pool of equally one-dimensional friends. You’ve probably come across them; deluded undergrads incapable of making it past the first page of Capital whose political insights amount to making tedious references to President Bush’s intelligence.

Nevertheless, No Plan, No Peace will give the ranks of the 'no blood for oil' brigade something to chat about in the pub on Friday night. And if John Ware ever reads this perhaps he'll appreciate, ex tabloid journalist as he is, my oh-so witty title which both fitted into the story and was also a play on words on the header for the previous article on this website. 'Ware' did it all go wrong? Get it? Maybe not.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Where did it all go wrong?

It may be hard to believe looking back now but a little more than ten years ago the future looked extremely bright for the parties of political loyalism. Today marks the first anniversary of the death of David Ervine, the shining light of loyalist politics for more than a decade. In the twelve months that have gone by since the east Belfast man's passing it has become clear that he was perhaps the only light that movement had left.

In the early to mid nineties a small group of working class Protestant spokesmen sprang up on the fringes of unionist politics. In contrast with their nationalist counterparts, members of the pro-union community in Northern Ireland have generally been represented in the councils and at Westminster by people from the professional and business classes (as well as, I am sad to say, quite a few men of the cloth). The emergence of the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party as reasonably significant electoral forces in the nineties represented a challenge to orthodox unionist forces.

Both parties had been around for a considerable period of time prior to their breakthrough in the 1996 Forum Election, an election in which they received a combined vote just short of 6%. The PUP had been formed in the 1970s but didn't seem to be treated seriously as a potential vehicle for forwarding loyalist aims and objectives until the peace process reared its head. It seems odd now but during the troubles most observers would probably have guessed that if any of the Protestant paramilitaries were going to achieve success in the political arena that success would most likely have been engineered by the UDA. In the seventies they could boast of having the likes of trade union figure Glenn Barr in their ranks. Throughout the eighties they ran a number of short-lived political projects and think thanks during a period when loyalist violence had subsided to a large degree. The UDP grew out of the old Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party and its representatives became prominent figures over the course of the peace process.

The politics of the two parties was intriguing. The UVF aligned Progressive Unionists bucked the trend of unionist politics by adopting a left of centre of position. In a political scene crowded with unionist parties who separated by very little in an ideological sense the PUP stood out. They were pro-European and at one point contemplated alignment with the Party of European Socialists. They were also pro-choice on the issue of abortion and to this day remain the only party in Northern Ireland that officially support giving women control of their own bodies. PUP conferences were also often fascinating meetings. I recall reading details of one from some years ago at which the meaning of socialism was discussed, as was the position of the British monarchy. Alongside Ervine were capable speakers such as Billy Hutchinson, who was also elected to Stormont in 1998, and Billy Mitchell, a regular newspaper columnist and community activist from Carrickfergus.

The UDP were less remarkable politically although they did base their principles on Common Sense, a document drawn up by the John McMichael chaired Ulster Political Research Group. In Common Sense the UDP advocated a system of power sharing government in Northern Ireland combined with a bill of rights and a written constitution. Like the PUP they had a small but capable pool of talent. Another similarity which they had with the PUP was that much of this talent had spent time at Her Majesty's Pleasure or, in the case of their young leader Gary McMichael, had the right relatives to gain promotion.

It was, ironically enough, after the Good Friday Agreement where it all went wrong for these parties. The first Assembly election in 1998 was something of a disappointment. The PUP won two seats while the UDP won no seats at all. With no political clout to speak of the Ulster Democratic Party began to disintegrate. Under the Agreement loyalist prisoners like the dim thug Johnny Adair returned to the streets, uneducated and unable to do anything constructive. With no war to fight against republicans, many prisoners simply turned their old terrorist units into mafia gangs. Loyalist paramilitaries became embroiled in turf wars with each other with disputes not being ideological in nature but rather grubby criminal clashes over cash and macho reputations.

In the summer and autumn of 2000 this exploded into all out violence in Protestant areas across the north. Many people with links to both the UDA and UVF were murdered. Hundreds were driven from their homes. Loyalist housing estates became partitioned into pro-UVF and pro-UDA camps. And the feuding didn't end there. Over the next five years the UVF would get drawn into a feud with the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force. The LVF would feud with the UDA. In 2003 a feud erupted inside the UDA itself with one its most senior members, John Gregg, being shot by people from his own organisation. In the middle of all this the Ulster Democratic Party, by now having little more than a handful of representatives on a few local authorities in the greater Belfast area, was dissolved by its members. The PUP stayed intact as an organisation but the writing was on the wall for it as well when Billy Hutchinson lost his Assembly seat in North Belfast. After a promising ten years between 1988 and 1998 the decade since the Good Friday Agreement has been a nightmare one for loyalists.

Political loyalism is now dead. It no longer has a future.

Beyond drug dealing and extortion rackets it is hard to envisage the Ulster Defence Association having any time for politics even if they do persist in pretending that they do. The UPRG was rehabilitated a few years back to give a political veneer to their crime gangs. Head mafioso Jackie McDonald said at the UDA's Remembrance Day commemoration (yes, they have the audacity to have one) last year that loyalists had to begin looking at how they "use" their vote, which is not exactly a profound political insight from a man who has for several years supposedly been involved in some kind of political research. In one of the most hilarious developments in recent times McDonald announced on the same day that the UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) would be disbanding. A positive move you may think, though not really when one takes into account the fact that the UFF was a covername for the UDA during the years of violence. Disbanding a covername? Surely a first.

In a totally predictable development the UPRG and UDA also displayed the amazing capacity to split once again with some of its members in south east Antrim splitting off to form an apparently pro-peace group called Beyond Conflict. Currently the UDA is attempting to wangle a £1.2 million Conflict Transformation Initiative grant from the Department for Social Development, so far with no luck. With a mumbling buffoon like Frankie Gallagher as their spokesperson they don't have a hope in hell.

As for the PUP life is a bit better, but not all that much. They may not yet be dead but one gets the feeling the wider family (ie, the UVF) may soon be having a chat as to whether the life support machine be switched off. While it may sound mean the election of Dawn Purvis to the Northern Ireland Assembly last year did have the ring of a sympathy vote to it. The death of David Ervine was still fresh in people's minds and although the party does have a traditional base of support in the east Belfast area it is still true to say that its vote has been in decline in that constituency over the past ten years. Outside east Belfast the PUP is virtually non existent as the results in the last Assembly election proved.

The passing of David Ervine was one of the saddest moments in 2007. With his death went one of the great characters of Northern Irish politics and one of the few working class intellectuals to emerge from the troubles. He had his flaws though, not least his odd attempt in 2006 to realign with the Ulster Unionist group in Stormont. Quite what the future holds for the Progressive Unionists is unclear though I would be willing to bank on Dawn Purvis losing her seat at the next Assembly election. And with that the death of political loyalism would finally be official. With no seats the PUP would then face a stark decision: ask their members to voluntarily dissolve the organisation or follow the path of their one-time close friends in The Workers Party and continue on against all good advice stubbornly putting up candidates at every election to go through the humiliation of electoral rejection. If you don't know what I mean Google the words "John Lowry".

After all the promise and potential offered by the PUP and the UDP it has been an anti-climax to see both groups slowly fall to pieces. While David Ervine has probably done enough to earn himself a place in this history books (a biography has already been published) future students of history will most likely find the loyalist parties as being worth little more than a place in the footnotes to their work. Salvation for working class communities in Northern Ireland will not be found by the formation of 'Catholic socialist' parties or 'Protestant socialist' parties. The fringe loyalists and the Stickies have taught us that much. Now all we have to do is learn.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Nothing changes

Let’s start the year with a clichéd choice of music. Here’s to 2008: