Former First Minister calls for Stormont to lose welfare powers
David Trimble, formerly the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first First Minister of Northern Ireland, has suggested that welfare powers be stripped from the Northern Ireland Assembly and transferred back to Westminster.
Lord Trimble, who is now a Conservative peer, spoke as the Northern Irish government faced a £5m a month fine for delaying the implementation of the Coalition’s new welfare measures, including the Universal Credit.
He claimed to speak not as a partisan in favour of government policy, but in favour of the ‘principle of parity’ – that Ulster cleaves to the same policies, and enjoy the same benefits, as the British mainland. This, he argues, is necessary for a ‘nationally integrated’ tax and benefit system and an integral part of being part of the United Kingdom. He further argued that the ‘anomalous’ situation of welfare being devolved to Belfast but not to Cardiff or Edinburgh was only acceptable while Stormont governments had stuck to the parity policy.
Lord Trimble also pointed out that, no matter how strong the temptation to strike a populist pose over special treatment for Northern Irish welfare, once regional variation became an accepted part of the devolutionary framework it could be applied to all sorts of areas that Stormont would like left well alone, not least public-sector pay.
Labour finally selects a candidate for Falkirk
It has been a long and very painful road for the Falkirk Labour Party. They’ve had to see off attempts by the Unite union – in direct collusion with Ed Miliband’s office – to stitch up their selection process. They’ve also had an all-woman shortlist imposed upon them to restrict their choice further. In what is truly a Labour heartland seat, local members are a dwindling, angry tribe.
Yet one local chairman and a whole set of candidates later, their choice has finally been announced. Karen Whitefield was the former MSP for Airdrie and Shotts from the inception of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 until 2011, when she fell victim to the SNP landslide. The Labour majority over the nationalists in Falkirk is approaching 8,000, so presumably that is not an indignity she’s in line to repeat.
After all the drama and scandal, the selection of a perfectly normal-seeming candidate feels rather under-whelming. Ah well.
Fears of violence in Belfast as loyalist rift deepens
A split has developed in the Ulster Defence Association, one of the largest of the loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. Expelled members in North Belfast, apparently supported by figures in West Belfast, are apparently trying to expel current North Belfast leader John Bunting due to his hard stance on drug-taking.
The UDA, alongside the Ulster Volunteer Force, was one of the most prominent loyalist groups to emerge in response to the rise of the Provisional IRA during the 1970s, as loyalist shooters began to wage an irregular campaign which terrorised both of Northern Ireland’s communities. Now the PSNI are concerned that the split could develop into violence and street fighting between the two camps, with the South and East Belfast ‘brigades’ supporting Bunting against renegade elements.
Celtic close down nationalist ‘green brigade’
Celtic FC have taken measures to disband the so-called ‘Green Brigade’, a group of ultras, after a recent string of misconduct and political provocation. The group describes itself as ‘anti-fascist’ – and anybody who has encountered ‘anti-fascists’ can tell you that the word can cover, and be used to justify, all manner of sins – whose recent actions include throwing a gas canister into their own goal at a recent game as well as vandalising seats, daubing IRA slogans on them, and lying to the club about bringing in banners with political content, including one featuring Bobby Sands and William Wallace.
Of course, Celtic aren’t the only Scottish team to have a problem with sectarian ultras. Hopefully Celtic’s decision to tackle the Green Brigade head on will work, and serve as an example to other teams about how to deal with this sort of behaviour – ideally without recourse to the SNP’s authoritarian football-crowd legislation.
BBC News readers suggest some post-Union Jacks
Last week, I wrote about the suggestion that Northern Ireland be granted a new flag, to replace the old Ulster Banner as a way to represent the province without direct reference to its status within Ireland or the United Kingdom.
One of my principle concerns was that Ulster not end up with a horrible flag – good flags aren’t easy to design, and especially not by committees trying to appease two wildly divergent groups of opinion.
The BBC heroically stepped up to demonstrate this when they invited user submissions for another potential ‘new flag’ – a flag for the United Kingdom remnant if Scotland should vote for independence – a sort of ‘Post-Union Jack’. You can find the gallery here. Brace yourself.