Unionists – and the UN – go on attack after Nationalists block ‘British FBI’ from Ulster
The two main unionist parties have strongly criticised Sinn Fein and the SDLP after a United Nations committee warned that nationalist efforts to block the ‘British FBI’ from Northern Ireland put children at risk.
The National Crime Agency, as it is properly known, is the British answer to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation, providing a top-level criminal investigation service across Great Britain. However, unlike its US counterpart it does not currently operate across the entire country. Nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland have twice blocked efforts to extend its mandate to the province.
The nationalist concern is that a ‘super-police force like the FBI’ will not be accountable to devolved Northern Irish institutions in the way the PSNI are. Due to deep-seated resentments generated by the old, Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary, police accountability has become an important part of the devolution framework in Northern Ireland.
It is a sign of the ill-planned (or unplanned) nature of the current constitutional settlement that devolved politicians can at present exercise a veto over an explicitly ‘federal level’ agency, whose mandate is drawn from the reserved government in London. Proper provision for the operation of the NCA and other reserved institutions should be part of any post-referendum constitutional settlement. To my knowledge, not even Texas can just kick out the FBI.
Welsh Tory leader Davies accused of covering up blackmail allegation
Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly, has been accused by a party official of covering up blackmail allegations levelled against embattled Tory AM Mohammed Asghar.
Davies, who strongly denies any such thing, had the allegation put to him as he was cross-examined as part of a libel trial brought by Asghar against five “members of the South Wales Pakistani community”, who accuse him of what the BBC describes as “money laundering and other criminality”. The trial was adjourned this week and is apparently unlikely to resume until next year.
Asghar, who was the first ethnic-minority AM when he was first elected in 2007, raised eyebrows when he defected with his daughter from Plaid Cymru to the Conservatives in 2009.* He won a separate libel case, on the same charges, against an Urdu-language newspaper earlier this year, taking £135,000 in damages.
The court heard that Davies had allegedly met one of the witnesses in the case, a former vice-chairman of the Newport East Conservative Association, who then wrote to Davies to allege that Asghar had blackmailed him into withdrawing a statement pertaining to a row over a couple of local mosques.
When asked by one defendant – who is representing himself – why he had not referred these allegations to the police and the Assembly’s Standards Commissioner, Davies replied that he had referred them to an officer of the Conservative Party to handle, dismissing allegations of a ‘cover up’.
*A particularly enjoyable quote from former Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones: “It has come as a shock that he has now decided that he shares the same values as those held by the Conservative and Unionist Party.”
Sinn Fein accused of intimidating retailers in pursuit of Israel boycott
The party has been accused of attempting to intimidate shopkeepers and even major retailers in its promotion of a boycott of Israeli goods.
In a letter distributed to shop owners and supermarket bosses, Sinn Fein asks for a list of goods from Israel “or the occupied countries” they sell. The letter goes on to explain that stocking such goods gives “financial support, succour and legitimacy” to the ‘unchecked and escalating’ violation of Palestinian human rights.
The letter was sent by Daire Hughes, the party’s mayor for the Newry and Mourne district. He has come under attack for sending the message, which encourages retailers to switch to ‘alternative’ suppliers if they think it would be ‘prudent’, on official council headed paper.
The DUP claim that several retailers feel intimidated, citing historical connexions between Sinn Fein, the IRA, and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (which although reformed was formerly a terrorist outfit with whom the IRA trained). UKIP’s local councillor, Henry Reilly, also accused Hughes of abusing the mayoralty, claiming that by engaging in political activity he had ‘compromised his position as a civic leader’.
Welsh Labour MP with ‘striking’ constituency party reconsiders retirement
Earlier this month, I related the troubles plaguing the Labour Party in the Welsh constituency of Cynon Valley. Ann Clwyd, the local MP who has vexed Welsh Labour with her attacks on NHS shortcomings, was standing down from Parliament in 2015.
In response, the Labour party had decided to impose an all-woman shortlist on the seat. The local association were set on getting “the best candidate regardless of gender”, and when the central party refused to back down the local CLP went on ‘strike’.
Yet now Clywd, who was first elected in 1984, says she is “considering her options” after being contacted by constituents asking her to stay on. Apparently she hasn’t told the Labour Party officially, since they’re still making preparations for a full selection in the teeth of local opinion. Clearly if she did decide to stay, it would spare the party a nasty row.
Villiers condemns arson attack on Sinn Fein office
Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has condemned an arson attack on Sinn Fein party offices as “an attack on democracy”. Raymond McCartney, one of the republican party’s MLAs for the Foyle constituency, saw his Londonderry offices “extensively damaged.”
The cost of repairs, including replacing destroyed computers and office equipment, is estimated to run into thousands of pounds. McCartney says that it will not put Sinn Fein off from delivering constituency services. The damage was confined to one room and a ‘Book of Remembrance’ to “those who contributed to the republican struggle” is apparently undamaged. Nobody has yet taken credit for the attack.
Londonderry – or Derry – is broadly divided between the Catholic Bogside and the Protestant Waterside. A smaller Protestant neighbourhood, the Fountain, neighbours the Bogside. The city was the site of some of the worst incidents of the Troubles, including ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1972.
Referendum only lightly mars the Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games are getting lots of mainstream coverage, so it seems rather superfluous to mention them much in this column. Despite that, it is pleasing to note that there have apparently been very few referendum-related scuffles to mar the experience.
The BBC reports that one woman was ejected from the International Swimming Centre after waving – and refusing to put away – a Scottish saltire branded with the logo of the separatist ‘Yes’ campaign. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has denied allegations that he ‘forced’ the Red Arrows to use the red, white and blue of the Union Flag in place of a Saltire display.
A few nationalist blogs have kicked up a fuss about the prevalence of the Union Flag, in apparent defiance of a ban on flags from non-competing nations (although I believe that one team, a collection of small south Atlantic Overseas Territories, technically has the Union Flag as their official flag). But for all that, fears that the Games would witness some sort of tension or nasty rivalry between the Home Nations teams, or the UK, appear unfounded.