Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writerHe is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Father of Dunblane victim attacks SNP drive toward armed police

The father of a five-year-old girl slain in the 1996 Dunblane school shootings has attacked the Scottish Government’s to routinely arm the Scottish police.

Mick North, whose daughter Sophie was killed in Thomas Hamilton’s rampage, has specifically criticised Police Scotland chief Sir Stephen House’s claim that armed police might have prevented the tragedy, which prompted the prohibition of civilian handguns throughout mainland Great Britain (and one of the largest Tory rebellions of recent decades).

House has cited Dunblane as proof that ‘nowhere in Scotland is immune to violence’, and thus to justify a dramatic expansion in the number of Scottish police routinely carrying sidearms. At present, only specially-trained firearms officers carry a handgun when performing their normal policing duties, but this will change if the Chief Constable has his way. BBC Scotland’s Home Affairs correspondent provides a good overview of the current policing situation.

Sir Stephen has been coming under increasing attack for his ‘secret’ expansion of police firearm use, including the arming of over 300 officers with Glock 17 handguns. He maintains that armed patrol officers could dramatically quicken police responses to firearms incidents. He cites both Dunblane and the 2010 Cumbria shootings as evidence that officers should not have to waste “an extra 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes” arming themselves.

Yet Dr North points out that the Dunblane shooting was over in a matter of minutes, long before the first police reached the scene.

Sir Stephen maintains that the public support his position, although the Daily Records disputes this claim. Kenny MacAskill, the SNP’s Justice Secretary, a few days ago performed a ‘humiliating u-turn’ and agreed to explain to Holyrood why the measures were necessary. In a statement yesterday he supported the policy, and backed Sir Stephen’s view of public perceptions, arguing that the Scottish people ‘accept’ the need for more armed police on the streets.

At present the only routinely armed police force in the United Kingdom is the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whose regular officers all carry a sidearm on patrol. This is both due to the unique nature of the security situation in Ulster and the force’s status as the successor to two other unique police forces: the Royal Ulster Constabulary and before that, the Royal Irish Constabulary. Both the RUC and RIC were somewhat militarised police forces, routinely armed and stationed in barracks rather than stations (a slang term in Northern Ireland to this day).

Villiers’ proposal to resolve parades dispute ‘sunk’ by nationalists but ‘thrown a lifeline’ by unionists

There has been some confusion over the condition of a proposal by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, to resolve the ongoing dispute over parading in north Belfast.

Villiers had been expected to announce this week the creation of an independent panel whose sole purpose was to examine the issues raised by the Northern Irish Parades Commission to block the return leg of a Twelfth of July parade through Ardoyne. This decision led the unionist parties to collapse cross-party talks on the issues of ‘flags, parades and the past’ and has been the source of ongoing rancour.

However, nationalists have been ‘scathing’ in their response, with the SDLP rejecting Villiers’ proposal before she had even explained it, according to the Belfast Telegraph. The BT’s own proposal – of an enquiry led by a British judge – is supported by unionists. Despite this, sources insist that Villiers’ proposal is still viable, with DUP MLA William Humphrey describing a working group as ‘workable’.

Independent complaints regulator needed to counter NHS ‘defensiveness’ in Wales

A review by the Welsh Assembly has recommended that complaints about the NHS should be handled independently, rather than by Health Service staff.

This change is apparently needed to combat a ‘defensive’ attitude towards complaints by the service. AMs claim that there is a ‘lockdown’ culture in place over complaint handling and that ordinary staff feared victimisation if they raised concerns.

The committee’s findings follow a report, entitled ‘Putting Things Right’, by an ex-Panasonic boss which strongly criticised the current NHS complaints procedures and made over one hundred recommendations for improvements. These included the introduction of an independent regulator.

The NHS in Wales has become a political battlefield in recent months, after the Conservatives alighted on its shortcomings to attack the reform-averse Labour administration in Cardiff Bay.

North and South commemorate the advent of the Great War

The First World War occupies a strange space in Irish historical memory. To northern Unionists, the loyal service of Ulster regiments – many manned by members of the Ulster Volunteer Force – is totemic of their determined loyalty to the United Kingdom.

It was historically a much more complex issue for Nationalists (see below), but despite that Northern Ireland joined the rest of the UK in remembering the advent of hostilities this week, with a candlelit procession to the Belfast Cenotaph, located in the grounds of City Hall.

Yet plenty of southerners signed up as well – and for decades afterwards Ireland’s WWI veterans would prove a thorny issue for Republicans, and many were abused and ostracised. The voluntary service of hundreds of thousands of Irishmen in the British army, at the very time of the Easter Rising, proved difficult to accept.

These days, after the Queen’s visit to the Republic, that is less the case, and the President of Ireland, joined by Theresa Villiers and the Duke of Kent, led a ceremony of commemoration this week. Music was provided by bands from both the British and Irish armed forces, and Ireland’s very first ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ was unveiled. The Cross of Sacrifice is a veterans’ symbol designed shortly after the War, although it has taken almost a century to see one in Ireland.