A regular miscellany from the North – Anton McCabe
Red Hand admires the Conan Doyle character, The Dog That Didn’t Bark, from ‘Silver Blaze’. This particular dog made an appearance during the Queen’s visit to the North. The Republican dissidents spectacularly failed to bark, let alone bite. The visit was tailor-made for a day of disruption across the North. The dissidents were unable to produce even one decent bomb scare. Meanwhile the DUP is warming to Martin. One DUP insider, who was less enthusiastic about Sinn Féin ministers generally, told Red Hand McGuinness “likes to get things done”. Didn’t he always?
Kum Ba Yah
Martin McGuinness isn’t the only public figure to have mellowed. Jim Wells used to be one of the DUP’s fire-eaters. In the Assembly he raised cudgels on behalf of the SDLP’s Dominic Bradley during the debate on funding Irish-language organisations. Sinn Féin’s Culture minister Cearál Ní Chuilín told Bradley: “Well, I have heard enough from you”. That brought Wells to his feet: “On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. That was an absolutely disgraceful remark to someone who was making a very valid point. I ask her to consider her comments and withdraw them”.
Murphy off, O’Dowd up
The fall of Sinn Féin’s former Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy, has been quiet but steep. Murphy was seen as a future leader. However, on his ministerial watch too much went wrong: the Big Freeze in the winter of 2009-10 left tens of thousands without water: he mishandled changes to the board of Northern Ireland Water: the chairman he trusted turned out to be a convicted fraudster: he was dogged by controversy over the murder of teenager Paul Quinn by IRA members: and, finally, he has been found guilty of religious discrimination in the appointment of Seán Hogan as chair of Northern Ireland Water.
Now he is being sent from the heat of the Assembly to the abstentionist political Siberia of Westminster. Meanwhile, the political star of Education Minister John O’Dowd is rising. He is increasingly seen as the coming power within Sinn Féin.
Losing and winning
It was significant that Belfast City Council erected a big screen outside City Hall so fans could watch the (Republic of) Ireland vs. Croatia game. Less than 10 years ago, this would have occasioned a riot: Loyalists would have attacked, and Republic of Ireland fans would have been prepared for them. Now, for some reason, Loyalists saw it as no big threat. Perhaps it was the quality of the football.
The Giant’s Causeway is the North’s only World Heritage Site. Last month, Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced he was granting planning permission for a major golf resort a mile and a half from the Causeway. The National Trust is considering seeking a judicial review of the Minister’s decision. It has raised a level of ire normally associated with its sister, An Taisce, further south. Baby Doc Paisley, who apparently comes from a different environmental tradition than the Trust, has thundered that the challenge is “a disgrace to Northern Ireland.” SDLP Councillor Donal Cunningham joined in, in the same vein, announcing “the National Trust appears to be trying to sabotage our tourism prospects; their timing really couldn’t be worse.”
There is a strange belief that the recent success of Northern golfers will draw large numbers of rich golfers, particularly from North America, to the course. There has to be a question mark about this. The Lough Erne Resort in Fermanagh featured a top-class golf course, targeting golfers, celebrities and high-spending leisure seekers but last year its operating company was placed into administration.
Roads collapse under weight of maladministration
There has been more bad news for the Northern environment in a damning report from the Ombudsman into the Planning Service’s handling of Ireland’s only gold mine, just outside Omagh. The Ombudsman found the Service guilty of maladministration. “My investigation has highlighted the failures of the Planning Service to effectively monitor and enforce planning control/conditions at the precious metal mine”, Ombudsman Tom Frawley said.
Despite receiving several complaints, it took the Planning Service more than a year to issue an enforcement notice telling the company to stop the unauthorised removal of 8,000 truck loads of rock. At one stage, 145 lorries per day were removing rock from the mine, along narrow country roads. Several stretches of road collapsed under the weight.
Sinn Féin’s move of Martina Anderson to their Northern Ireland seat in Europe hides an important admission: they have no candidate they see as capable of capturing the Foyle seat at Westminster in the foreseeable future. Mark Durkan of the SDLP is relatively safe, though at the last election Sinn Féin were so confident they had actually prepared a location in the city ready for a victory celebration. However, perennial candidate Mitchell McLaughlin was 6,000 behind Durkan. Wags in Derry say the Shinners forensically cleaned the celebration venue.
Ballymena Council is the DUP’s heartland. Ian ‘Papa Doc’ Paisley was raised in the town. A sign of changed times is Ballymena’s first nationalist mayor: the SDLP’s PJ McAvoy is widely acknowledged as very inoffensive, and well-liked across the community. Although the DUP has 12 of the 24 councillors, McAvoy was elected unanimously. Even the two Traditional Unionist Voice councillors did not oppose.
Craigavon and Antrim Councils are now the only two Northern councils not implementing powersharing. UUP Councillor Adrian Watson said “pigs will fly” before Antrim Council had a Sinn Féin Mayor.