Minister for Nothing

Posted By: August 17, 2013

PETER Robinson is not First Minister for nothing. His U-turn on the Maze peace
centre is a cunning ploy that has completely wrong-footed Sinn Fein. The 12-page
‘letter to DUP MPs and MLAs’ that announced the decision was clearly written for
public consumption and mostly attacked the UUP, who will try to claim credit for
sinking the peace centre. But the peace centre is not sunk, for Robinson has simply
bumped it onto the agenda of the five-party talks to be chaired by US diplomat
Richard Haass, which were due to discuss ‘dealing with the past’ and should conclude
by Christmas. It really is terribly clever. What a pity Robinson’s tactical genius
never quite adds up to a constructive strategy.


SECRETARY of state Theresa Villiers and Sinn Fein culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin
are embroiled in a row over whether Ni Chuilin can release inquest reports from the
Public Records Office into murders during the Troubles. The argument centres on
whether the records should be referred first to the police for redaction to ensure
nobody is endangered. The obvious suspicion is that the Northern Ireland Office
wants to hide something but this makes no sense, as the records have been in the
public domain for decades and the culture minister has already redacted them to
remove police officers’ names. So this is purely a tussle over who controls
information, which speaks volumes about how jealously government guards that


AN INTERESTING legal dispute has occurred between Theresa Villiers and UUP leader
Mike Nesbitt, concerning whether Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly broke the law with his
speech at the Castlederg IRA parade. Nesbitt claimed that in praising the IRA,
Kelly’s speech glorified terrorism. Villiers said that such praise is only illegal
if it encourages emulation of past violence under present circumstances. Nesbitt
countered that dissidents consider present circumstances identical to past
circumstances. At this point the argument went from legal to political and got a bit
lost. However, neither Villiers nor Nesbitt referred to the law’s provision for mere
“reckless” regard as to whether praising past violence might encourage it in the
present, which would seem to leave Kelly on a stickier wicket. A good barrister
could make a case either way, as I find myself increasingly writing.


THERE is no question that the Castlederg parade itself broke the law by flouting
Parades Commission bans on ‘paramilitary style clothing’, ‘depictions of firearms’
and ‘bannerettes and symbols relating to a proscribed organisation’. One ‘colour
party’ managed to flout all three by wearing uniforms and carrying a banner
depicting an Armalite. The guilty should now expect six months in the slammer, as
per Sinn Fein’s insistence when loyalists do the same. Law-breaking aside, there is
something odd about Sinn Fein drawing attention to uniforms and symbols when under
the Geneva Conventions even “organised resistance movements” in “disputed
territories” must wear uniforms and display a recognised symbol openly on active
service. Failure to do so rendered every IRA operation a war crime.


WIDESPREAD reports of Northern Ireland’s housing market bottoming out are highly
misleading. The average price of all houses fell only slightly in the first half of
this year to £130,000 but this masks rising prices for detached bungalows and
terraces while everything else is still falling like a stone, with semi-detached
bungalows down 25 per cent on last year. In other words, everyone still wants to
move to the country and have a buyto-let empire but the estates, suburbs and
developments where most of us live continue to become more affordable. The housing
market will bottom out when average prices equal what a person on the average wage
can borrow, which in Northern Ireland is £80,000.


Very occasionally, small cruise ships visit Strangford and Portaferry. On this
basis, Roads Service plans to put up hideous fences across both villages’
quay-fronts, destroying the reason tourists visit them in the first place. “It is a
requirement under international shipping and port security legislation to provide a
controlled access area through which to channel these passengers,” a spokesperson
for Road Service’s sponsoring Department of Regional Development (DRD) said. This is
true but there is no legal requirement for a fence. The area can be controlled by a
security officer, who will have to be nominated regardless, working to any
satisfactory security plan. Roads Service just cannot be bothered to draft a plan
that would negate the need for a fence.


IN FURTHER DRD brilliance, Ulster Unionist minister Danny Kennedy says he is “very
keen” to restore the rail link between Portadown and Armagh, recently costed at a
cool £100 million. This would be the same minister who has replaced unmanned ticket
barriers with aggressively enforced pay and display parking regimes in both towns,
strangling what is left of their retail trade through what can only be explained as
a cynical exercise in fine generation. The amount of extra money DRD is raising this
way is trivial compared to lost rates and taxes but that is somebody else’s
department so Kennedy is unmoved by all appeals to reason. Before he commits any
further fantasy sums to linking town centres together, he really should stop trying
to kill them.