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27 March 2007

A Big Surprise in Northern Ireland

Political events are normally so depressing these days, and so yesterday was a pleasant surprise not just for me, but all those people who have spent most of their lives despairing about the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland: the hate-filled rhetoric, the shootings, the bombings, the knee-cappings, the terrorist acts perpetrated on British cities, the control of whole communities by self-styled armed militia belonging both to the Republican/Nationalist communities in pursuit of a united Ireland and the Unionist communities in pursuit of remaining firmly entrenched as a part of Britain.

In the middle of all this there were so-called "moderates" represented by the Social & Democratic Labour Party, the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionists, but their efforts in conjunction with the UK Government over 40 years or more came to nothing. It is ironic that in the end it took the figureheads from the two most extreme wings of the political spectrum to walk the thorny path from armed struggle to the ballot box: on the IRA side, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness (acknowledged past terrorists) of Sinn Fein; on the unionist side, Dr Ian Paisley (hell fire & brimstone protestant preacher) of the Democratic Ulster Unionists.

Credit where credit is due - the last Conservative Prime Minister, John Major took the courageous step of starting behind-the-scenes talks with the IRA. We didn't know it at the time, but the IRA were already coming to the conclusion that the armed struggle was not actually yielding results. When Tony Blair swept to power in 1997 he took up where Major had left off and he and his colleagues relentlessly pursued the goal of a peaceful settlement.

Now at last, and almost unbelievably, we have seen Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley (representing the two largest Parties in Northern Ireland after the last Norther Ireland Assembly elections) sitting at the same table and acknowledging they had signed an agreement to work jointly in a new devolved Northern Ireland Government with effect from 8th May this year.

Sorry to be slighly cynical, but I have to point out that a few weeks back, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, laid down an ultimatum for the politicians across the water: if agreeement could not be reached, the Assembly would be closed down, the Province would be ruled directly from London for the forseeable future, and - here's the rub - all payment of salaries to elected members would be stopped.

Wonderful what can be achieved by threatening the pocket! I also suspect that Dr Paisley - for so long considered to be such a religious and unionist extremist - also relishes the imminent prospect of becoming Northern Ireland's First Minister to such an extent that he might have been prepared to sit at the same table with anyone!

I believe that Sinn Fein will ultimately achieve their stated aims, since their popular support at the ballot box has been steadily increasing with every election held, and I suspect that their core support, being staunchly Roman Catholic will tend to increase over time merely by virtue of their particular take on birth control. The time may well come when they form a majority and so can re-unite the "Six Counties" with the Republic of Ireland.

I have no feeling about that one way or other so long as the end result is reached by democratic means and represents a majority view.

Tony Blair will be not a little pleased and relieved to have a large-scale positive achievement attached to his legacy to counter the Iraq millstone around his neck.

Let us hope this is a new dawn for Northern Ireland.

21 March 2007

Spring turns to Winter

On 10th March this was my front garden (left). The grass had already been cut (twice) in warm sunshine. Today, eleven days later, winter has returned with icy north winds, snow and temperatures below freezing (right). (Spot the photographer).
At least the sun is shining! I just thought I'd brighten up this Blog, as a change from ranting and raving about international politics.

13 March 2007

With Allies like these ... (Part 2)

The Oxford Coroner finally got to show in court the US Air Force video footage from the incident in which Lance Corporal Matty Hull was killed when his convoy was shot up by an American aircraft.

Now there's a new twist: the other day the Coroner asked for the details of the American Rules of Engagement and his request was denied by the US Military. From this it transpired that the UK's own Ministry of Defence does not have this information either!

So it appears we have a bizarre situation in which British forces are fighting alongside American allies whilst having no knowledge of their Rules of Engagement.

Just how much madder is this Iraq debacle going to get?!

06 March 2007

One man went to mow...

This must be some kind of record: the first few days into March and I've had to mow all our lawns! Had I left it any longer it would have been totally unmanageable by the Spring. In truth the grass was so long that it was more like tackling a lush meadow. Yet another phenonomen related to our changing climate. Britain has enjoyed yet another very benign winter, with very few prolonged periods of below-freezing temperatures, and just two or three days of significant snow. The biggest problem has been periods of intense rainfall causing local flooding.

Still on garden-related matters, we now appear to have a pheasant permanently in residence. He's a fine fat specimen and no doubt would make a pretty good meal, but I have resisted the temptation to catch it and strangle it. (Actually, not being a huntin' shootin' fishin' kind of guy I doubt if I could bring myself to do it, and I get some pleasure from watching him strut about, picking up tit-bits that have fallen from the assorted bird feeders hanging in the plum tree.)

He's a very wise bird confining his life to the local gardens. Out in the woods with his friends he would be fair game for some shooting party or other.