Ulster abuzz with allegations of £7m bribe to politician

The Northern Ireland Assembly is to investigate claims that a property sale worth £1.2 billion were marred by a huge private payment to a provincial politician.

The BBC reports that Stormont’s Finance Committee has drawn up a list of witnesses it wishes to see regarding allegations made in the Irish parliament by Mick Wallace, an independent TD from Wexford, that £7 million was set aside for a politician during the bulk sale of property assets by a Republic of Ireland agency to New York-based capital management firm Cerberus.

Wallace – who is apparently refusing to appear before committees either in Belfast or Dublin – hasn’t named the politician alleged to be involved. As a result speculation is rife, and even Peter Robinson, the First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, has had to deny making policy u-turns on the deal which might look suspicious.

The DUP had taken a firm stance against the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), set up by the Republic in 2009 to serve as a ‘bad bank’ to buy Irish property loans from commercial banks, conducting a ‘fire sale’ of its assets in Northern Ireland.

Yet both Robinson and Sammy Wilson, then the DUP finance minister, are said to have converted to the idea of NAMA ‘releasing assets’ in a short period of time.

Despite the allegations having been made almost a week ago the Police Service of Northern Ireland has yet to open an investigation, a fact which has attracted criticism from Jim Allister, who is both leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice and a curious example of a one-man parliamentary opposition.

Police Scotland referred to UN on stop and search

It’s been a busy week for Police Scotland, the country’s unified national police force. According to The Scotsman the Scottish Human Rights Commission has reported Police Scotland to the United Nations, claiming that its use of stop-and-search tactics are unlawful.

Professor Alan Miller, who chairs the commission, claims that Police Scotland has ignored sustained criticism and failed to put its use of the tactic into a proper legal framework. Opposition politicians have also criticised the practice.

In their turn, the police have spoken out against the Scottish Government’s new ‘named person’ scheme. They claim there is a lack of clarity regarding the force’s role in overseeing the programme, whereby the state appoints a guardian to every child in Scotland.

Chief Superintendent Alan Waddell claimed that the scheme might actually make it harder to identify at-risk children. Other organisations who would have to implement the proposals, including councils and voluntary groups, are also reported to be unclear on their role.

Wood barely tops Plaid regionalist list for 2016

The leadership of Leanne Wood, the hard-left leader of Plaid Cymru, has been cast into troubled waters after she barely managed to be elected top of her own party’s regional list.

Wales Online reports that Wood actually came second in the first round to a Cardiff councillor, and needed transfers from the third-placed candidate to win by just ten votes. About 300 nationalist members are thought to have taken part in the selection process.

Party officials reportedly thought she would win comfortably, and were shocked by the outcome. Wood is already under pressure after failing to win any new seats at last month’s general election, despite her hugely increased national profile.

Plaid have denied any unease over the result, but it will only increase the pressure facing Wood over next year’s Welsh election. Senior Welsh Conservatives suggest that another failure to make progress could spell the end of her leadership.

Sheridan to run for Holyrood

Whilst we’re on the left, so to speak, even further down that red road we find that Tommy Sheridan, the disgraced former MSP and leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, plans to try to get back into Holyrood next year.

According to The Herald Sheridan, who sat in the Scottish Parliament from 1999 to 2007 and in 2003 led the unabashedly socialist SSP to six seats, is running in Glasgow for Solidarity, the splinter party he founded after splitting from the SSP in the wake of a scandal.

He’s basically Scotland’s George Galloway (who is Scottish, I know, but he’s very much a British problem), but Sheridan seems to lack the latter’s knack for carving out niches to win elections in.

With the Scottish Greens set to perform strongly as the (very) left-wing separatist choice, it’s hard to see what point that shade of voter will find in Sheridan’s candidacy other than his personal charisma, which hasn’t proved sufficient thus far.

British plan to move Hong Kong to Northern Ireland

The National Archives at Kew are a real treasure trove, and contain many weird and wonderful things. Once, in the last hours of a hectic research weekend for my thesis, I mistyped a file request and ended up with a collection of hand-written reports which seemed to be about British military balloon testing on the Indian frontier. Thoroughly diverting, if irrelevant.

Yet few things can match for sheer imperial preposterousness the newly-released civil service chatter surrounding a proposal to transplant the population of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland. They would be settled in a new, purpose-built city on the province’s northern coast, between Coleraine and Londonderry.

The Irish Times relates that the idea, originally submitted by a university professor, was picked up by a member of the Northern Ireland Office, who then sent a memorandum to the Foreign Office commending the suggestion. The tone of the reply suggests he wasn’t taken entirely seriously.