Shadow NI Secretary: Westminster parties cannot ignore Northern Ireland
Speaking at the Labour conference Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary said that Republicans had to accept that Northern Ireland is British, and will remain so whilst the majority of its inhabitants wish it – whilst also urging unionists to accept the Province’s Irishness. He went on to claim that the on-going civil disturbance over flags and emblems, triggered by the decision to stop flying the Union Flag all year round on Belfast City Hall, meant that Northern Ireland could not be ignored by Westminster parties.
This claim sits uncomfortably with Labour’s continued refusal to contest elections in the Six Counties, a product in part of the party’s legacy of support for Irish nationalism and a more pragmatic need to maintain a local pact alliance with the left-wing but stridently nationalist SDLP.
A Labour member has recently written for Open Unionism on the implications of this for Labour’s Scottish stance, but even discounting that it seems strange for Croaker to talk of “building prosperity” – and accuse the coalition of “letting Northern Ireland down” – when the great majority of domestic policy is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, a chamber his own party wants no part of.
A refreshingly hands-off approach to health from the SNP (though one unlikely to last)
After this year’s raft of new anti-smoking legislation, Scotland’s public-health authoritarians appear remarkably restrained after the Scottish Health Survey showed that children were eating badly, not exercising enough, and even living in households with smokers.
ASH Scotland urged the government to inform people about second-hand smoke but didn’t call for a home smoking ban (yet, anyway). A doctor from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health called on the government to ‘act now’ about poor diet and lack of exercise, but Michael Matheson, the SNP health minister, urged Scots to “take control of their own health” – a refreshingly hands-off approach, albeit one unlikely to last.
They were responding to survey results which showed that Scottish children on average do not come close to the guideline five portions of fruit and veg, and only 70 per cent got the recommended hour’s daily exercise. The percentage of boys considered a healthy weight hasn’t improved since 2003, and girls since 1998.
Yet the survey did not just target children, and Matheson focused in on adult problems, primarily the cost of alcohol misuse to the taxpayer and the number of ‘preventable’ (postpone-able?) deaths caused by smoking each year.
Negotiations begin over Belfast UVF terror mural
Negotiations have started about the removal of a sectarian mural from east Belfast. The painting depicts a masked paramilitary fighter against the backdrop of the purple banner of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the loyalist terror group which bombed the Republic of Ireland during the Troubles.
The mural was painted over a non-sectarian one commemorating footballer George Best, which was paid for by Belfast City Council in line with a wider policy which has seen both loyalist and republican murals painted over as part of an attempt to lessen inter-communal tensions – much to the annoyance of some historians and most of Belfast’s tour guides.
Yet this policy has met resistance from the hard-line groups behind the originals – two new UVF murals have appeared in the last few years near the site of an older one which was painted over, and many paramilitary murals remain. Locals are often afraid to challenge the groups, many of which still engage in “regular” criminality to keep themselves active and funded.
As well as murals, these organisations are also usually responsible for the decking out of certain neighbourhoods with flags after the city hall protests. In many loyalist areas Union Flags and Ulster Banners – interspersed in UVF areas with their own banner – adorn every streetlight.
Tory-Nationalist alliance in jeopardy following resignations in Dumfries and Galloway
The Conservative-led administration of Dumfries and Galloway Council is in trouble after seven of the 15-strong Conservative group resigned after a ‘loss of confidence’ in their leader. The Conservatives have been governing in coalition with the ten Scottish Nationalists – who had rejected a ‘progressive coalition’ offered by Labour after the May elections.
The defections leave Labour, at 14 councillors, as the largest party group.
Labour’s leader claims – somewhat strangely, since the Tories had more councillors – that Labour were elected as ‘the largest group on the council’ in May after receiving the most votes, and is calling on the Nationalists to ‘listen to the people of Dumfries and Galloway’.
McGuinness criticises Villiers’ refusal to hold public enquiry into Omagh bombing
Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, attacked a decision by Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, not to hold a public enquiry into the 1998 bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone. The attack, which was perpetrated by Republican splinter-group the Real IRA and killed 29 people, was one of the worst single atrocities of the Troubles.
Victims’ families have been campaigning for a cross-border public enquiry into the attack, including allegations that the security services could have done more to prevent it. Peter Robinson, First Minister (and of the DUP), said that the Secretary of State’s decision did not prevent the holding of a more thorough investigation into the bombing.