Monthly Archives: September 2009

The debate over global warming is over and every scientist, and even Sammy Wilson, accept that as a concrete reality. The debate about global warming being fought now in the arena of the cause of the temperature rises. The majority of scientists now agree that the greenhouse efect is a man made phenomenon, and that unless we attempt to reverse the effects, all of us including Sammy are in a lot of trouble.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, which since 1990 has worked to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that sustains us, the scientific evidence is compelling: “To gain an understanding of the level of scientific consensus on climate change, a recent study examined every article on climate change published in peer reviewed scientific journals over a 10-year period. Of the 928 articles on climate change the authors found, not one of them disagreed with the consensus position that climate change is happening or is human-induced.”

These findings contrast dramatically with the popular media’s reporting of climate change. One recent study analysed coverage of climate change in four influential American newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and the Wall Street Journal) over a 14-year period. It found that more than half of the articles discussing climate change gave equal weight to the scientifically discredited views of the sceptics.

This discrepancy is largely due to the media’s drive for balance in reporting. Journalists are trained to identify one position on any issue, and then seek out a conflicting position, providing both sides with roughly equal attention. Unfortunately, the “balance” of the different views within the media does not always correspond with the actual prevalence of each view within society, and can result in unintended bias. This has been the case with reporting on climate change, and as a result, many people believe that climate change is still being debated by scientists when in fact it is not.

This is clearly not Sammy Wilson’s view. On the Politics Show 9/2/2009, he claimed that 43% of climate change scientists agreed with his view. Where this study was published he did not say, and he again used that figure on Channel Four News later that day. I have looked for this report on the internet for weeks and cannot find it. However, most climate change sceptics will point to the most well know theory of non man made climate change is that of “solar forcing”, and it appears through his two appearances on the TV that Sammy Wilson supports that view.

Of the climate change sceptics not funded by the oil lobby, the most reputable are Knud Lassen of the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen and his colleague Eigil Friis-Christensen. They did some research in 1991, and found a strong correlation between the length of the solar cycle and temperature changes throughout the northern hemisphere. Initially, the used sunspot and temperature measurements from 1861 to 1989, but later found that climate records dating back four centuries supported their finding. This relationship appeared to account for nearly 80% of the measured temperature changes over this period. Two other scientists, Damon and Laut from the US, however, showed that when the graphs are corrected for filtering errors, the sensational agreement with recent global warming which drew worldwide attention, has totally disappeared. Despite this, the well funded sceptic propaganda is still using this discredited data.

So the reality of the debate that is happening within the worldwide scientific community is that there are no credible theories to support the view that the increase in temperature change since 1980 is anything other than a man made phenomenon. Any attempt to do so is intellectually bogus and needs to be backed up by referral to scientific papers that informed that view (quite difficult as there are none which have not been systematically refuted).

For most people this lead on to a larger question. What would induce the Environment Minister to back a thoroughly discredited view? The answer lies in politics rather than science.

Politics for the Alliance Party is about telling the truth, and trying to persuade people to change. Politics for Sammy Wilson is about getting his name in the paper. The DUP gutlessly stood behind him when the Environment Committee and the Executive wanted to call him to account, hiding behind tribalism. That was a disgrace and it shows the failings in a non-accountable system.

However, I believe that we must keep this pressure on and continue to expose the fallacy of the arguments that climate change deniers continually spout. Not for political gain but so our future generations can look us in the eye without scorn or shame.

Alliance first citizens in Belfast and North Down
Alliance News
September-October 2009

After a day of high drama at Belfast City Hall and low politics from some other parties, Naomi Long was elected Lord Mayor of Belfast and has hit the ground running as a high-profile Lord Mayor who gets things done. Naomi is the fourth Alliance Lord Mayor of the city, after David Cook, David Alderdice and Tom Ekin, and only the second woman to hold the post in 112 years!

Bangor West councillor Tony Hill was elected Mayor of North Down, thanks to the three-party power-sharing arrangement between Alliance, the UUP and DUP on the council. Following Stephen Farry, Tony is the second Alliance first citizen of North Down in this council term.

The Alliance Party: How it began
Brian Eggins (Alliance News)
September-October 2009

The Civil Rights Association (CRA) was formed in 1967, protesting about discrimination against Catholics. In November 1968, Prime Minister Terence O’Neill proposed reforms intended to meet their grievances. This led to dissension in the Stormont cabinet, with Bill Craig calling for tough action against the CRA, who themselves were not satisfied with O’Neill’s package. On 9 December, O’Neill appealed to the people in his “Ulster at the crossroads” speech, in which he asked, “What kind of Ulster do you want?”

He called an election in February 1969, but ten unionist MPs were against him, so in April he resigned.

In January 1969, the New Ulster Movement emerged, which aimed to develop cross-community politics with moderate and non-sectarian policies involving both Catholics and Protestants. An active organisation was built with thousands of members drawn from all sections of the community. It issued many influential papers. But its more radical members wanted a new political party.

Denis Loretto recalled, “A sixteen-strong group was formed late in 1969, consisting of some NUM members plus representatives of the ‘Parliamentary Associations’, which had formed around pro-O’Neill candidates in the February 1969 election. Behind the scenes it worked on the logistics of forming a political party from the ground up.”

Then on 16th April 1970, there were two by-elections. David Corkey backed by NUM obtained 25% of the votes in South Antrim. So, as Denis Loretto said, “In a hectic weekend we wrote a declaration of intent signed in 19th April by sixteen people, containing the founding principles of the party plus all the supporting documentation for a press launch on Tuesday, 21st April.”

The first Alliance Party conference was held in 4th July 1970, attended by 90 committee members. An acting Executive Committee was formed, with Oliver Napier and Bob Cooper as joint political chairpersons. In October was the first Alliance Party Council. Further Party Conferences were held in the Ulster Hall, attended by about 2,000 people.

Alliance leaders were soon involved in talks with British Government Ministers. In October 1971, Basil Glass, Oliver Napier and Bob Cooper met with Home Secretary Reginald Maulding, and in January 1972, Glass, Napier and Cooper had talks with Prime Minister Edward Heath.

Early in 1972, Alliance acquired a parliamentary party when the Stormont MPs Phelim O’Neill (Unionist), Bertie McConnell (Independent Unionist), and Tom Gormley (Independent Nationalist) joined the party. In April 1972, seventeen Aldermen and Councillors announced that they would be sitting as Alliance Party members henceforth.

A conference was held at Darlington in September 1972, to examine the options for Northern Ireland government. The new Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused to go, and only the Faulkner-led Official Unionists, Alliance, and the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) attended.

Phelim O’Neill (now Alliance Party Leader), Oliver Napier and Bob Cooper regularly met Secretary of State Willie Whitelaw for lunch. They convinced him that PR elections were needed. He pushed it through the cabinet against the advice of others. In November, a Green Paper was published which contained most of the ideas put forward at Darlington. The “Irish Dimension” was clearly going to be the most contentious issue.

In 1973, Stratton Mills, Westminster MP for North Belfast, joined the Alliance Party, but did not stand in the next election in 1974. Robin Baillie, Stormont MP for Newtownabbey, also joined.

A Government White Paper, “Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals”, was published in March, which was supported by Alliance and the NILP, but the SDLP gave only qualified support. The UUP refused to reject it. The DUP and William Craig’s new Vanguard Unionist Party were opposed. However, the proposals went ahead and two Bills were published in May.

Alliance was ready to contest its first elections. Expectations were high as 238 candidates stood in the Local Government elections in May and 35 candidates in the Assembly elections in June, both using the Single Transferable Vote system as proposed by Alliance. Alliance obtained 13.7% in the Local Government elections, winning 63 council seats. In the Assembly elections, the vote was 9.2%, yielding eight Assembly seats. This gave Oliver Napier a seat in the power-sharing Executive (as Minister for Law Reform), together with Bob Cooper (as Minister for Labour Relations).

A conference was then held at Sunningdale about the Irish Dimension. Although a Council of Ireland was agreed, different parties had different perceptions of it. The unionists considered it an advisory body, whereas the SDLP thought it was the route to a united Ireland. Oliver Napier asked, “Do you really want a Council of Ireland? The Council of Ireland hangs by a thread … If you do nothing in the next few weeks, history will judge you and its judgment will be harsh and unforgiving.”

Unsung heroes: David Young
Ian Williamson (Alliance News)
September-October 2009

Those of you who have been in touch with the Alliance office at Parliament Buildings will no doubt have been greeted by the cheery tones of David Young, our Press and Policy Assistant. David combines an encyclopaedic knowledge of parliamentary procedure with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema! Alliance News caught up with him at Stormont.

Tell us about your background?
I am orginally from Portstewart where I went to Coleraine Inst., but I have been living in student digs in Belfast for the past five years. I went to Queens, where I studied history and politics for three years. Then four days after my graduation ceremony, David Ford rang me up to say that I got this job.

You did work experience with Alliance before you started working for the party. Tell us what made you get involved with the party?
I have always supported Alliance, but it is really two family connections that got me involved in the party. Stephen Farry married my aunt a couple of years ago, so you could say I am continuing the family business. He was the General Secretary for the party during the last Assembly election, so I just asked if he needed any help at headquarters, which he gladly said yes to. The other reason why I got involved in the party is that David Ford and his wife are old friends of my parents, so I have known him most of my life.

What type of work does your daily job entail?
I do pretty much everything and anything under the sun up at Stormont. My main press work entails me writing press releases, organising interviews for the media and arranging photo calls. I also do Stormont related policy work, such as research for MLAs for Assembly debates. I am also in charge of drafting questions to Ministers, as well as looking after Assembly plenary business, such as amendments to motions and legislation.

What has been the most stand out experience of your time working for Alliance?
It was probably last May, when the Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai visited Belfast to attend a Liberal International conference. We were only told the day before the conference that he was coming, so Ian Williamson and myself spent several frantic hours trying to get as many journalists as possible to attend. I heard him speak of the unrest that was happening in his country, which I had only previously seen on the news, so to hear it first hand was something else. I got to shake his hand, which I was very proud to do, and I have massive respect for him as someone who worked to bring peace to their country while their life was under threat.

Do you have any ambitions to become an elected representative?
At the minute I would have to say that I probably would not want to become a politician, but I am only 23 years old, so maybe in 10 or 15 years I might have a go.

I know you are into films — what are your top ten all-time favourites?

  1. The Dark Knight
  2. The Departed
  3. Batman Begins
  4. Capote
  5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  6. Blades of Glory
  7. The Matrix
  8. Once Upon a Time in America
  9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  10. Nochnoy Dozor

What are your other hobbies?
I enjoy running with my housemates. I have to keep fit if I want to be able to chase after MLAs in Stormont! I also play rugby and cricket with my friends. And nothing beats a good book. As well as watching films, I do a lot of computer gaming on the X-Box 360 and Playstation.

What would the Tories mean for Northern Ireland?
EDITORIAL (Alliance News)

September-October 2009

There are now probably only seven months to go before a General Election and the Tories are currently enjoying a comfortable poll lead. It is not certain that a Tory government will actually take power — those who think that David Cameron has “closed the deal” with the British public would do well to remember that after Party Conference season in 1991, it seemed certain that Labour would win the following General Election. However, it is more likely than not that David Cameron will be the next Prime Minister of the UK, so it seems an opportune moment to review what a Conservative government might mean for Northern Ireland and for the UK as a whole.

The striking point about the contemporary Conservative Party is how light on policy it is. Cameron’s own aides admit to how little substance is being produced by their own leader, sidestepping the questions raised by saying the upcoming election is about character rather than policy.

This lack of substance is disquieting in the middle of a serious economic crisis. One either liked or disliked Mrs Thatcher — and Alliance News had a long record of disapproving of her policies — but at least there were things she clearly believed in. Thatcher entered power with the aim of uprooting the postwar consensus in British politics — and she succeeded in implementing that aim, albeit with more ups and downs than are usually remembered today. Cameron on the ohter hand seems to have no great political principle other than the idea that he and his colleagues from the Bullingdon Club have a divine right to rule.

That begs the question of how a Tory government under an ideologically disinterested leader might govern. A point insuficiently made is the degree to which the Conservative Parliamentary Party has shifted to the right over the past generation. Thatcher’s agenda faced considerable opposition from within the Conservative Party. Although the Tories’ shift to the right arguably began as early as 1968, even the Conservative Party of the 1990s contained many “big beasts” on the Tory left — Patten, Clarke and Heseltine were all powerful figures within the party. Over the past three general elections, the “wets” have tended to retire and have been replaced by younger MPs from an identikit Thatcherite mould. Kenneth Clarke, the last of the wet grandees, is clearly head and shoulders above the callow George Osborne in ability, and should by rights be the current Shadow Chancellor, but is unacceptable to many Tory backbenchers.

To the degree that Cameron is a social liberal, this is largely a product of generational change — British society is vastly more liberal on issues like race, marriage and sexual orientation than it was a generation ago, and the Tory party is no more immune from that change than any other social group. But on issues of economics, Europe, social justice, law and order and Middle East policy, the Conservatives have moved sharply to the right. And following the agenda set by that now unchallenged right-wing consensus will provide the path of least resistance for any future Cameron premiership.

As far as Northern Ireland goes, the clumsily named electoral pact between the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionist Party (rejoicing in the snappy title of “UCUNF — Ulster’s Conservatives and Unionists: New Force”) has not exactly been shy in promoting itself as the saviour of Northern Ireland politics. Rhetoric is currently a long way short of reality.

There is an old Turkish folk saying: “If one sticks a silver saddle on a donkey, it is still a donkey.” And the Ulster Unionist Party remains the Ulster Unionist Party, even after a generous helping of Tory money, Tory election expertise and advice from metrosexual Tory spin-doctors. The UUP and the Tories were organically linked from 1906 until 1972 — this did not prevent the dreary, bigotry-laden, lost decades of Unionist misrule from Stormont nor did it prevent the outbreak of violence in the late 1960s.

If anything the UUP have tacked to the right, aiming to make hay from the DUP’s internal difficulties, since they announced their shiny new pact with the Tories in February. Reg Empey has stated publicly that in his book, no nationalist need apply for the post of Justice Minister. David McNarry thinks that BBC NI showing an all-Ireland GAA semi-final involving Tyrone is part of a devious popish plot to bring about a united Ireland. In South Belfast, the UUP are so obsessed with getting rid of Alasdair McDonnell that their membership is seeking a pact with the DUP; one that might get them out of supporting the Catholic already selected to fight the seat for the Tories. New force? We’ve heard these tribal drumbeats many times in the past.

If the UUP are determined to go back into their tribal box, at one level that is no problem for the Alliance Party. Alliance has always done well when the UUP has veered off to the extremes, and always done well when it has retreated into navel-gazing fratricide. Currently, it seems intent on doing both at once. If the UUP weren’t now organically linked to a Tory party potentially in power within the year, the antics of the UUP would be music to Alliance ears.

However, the Tory-UUP deal was predicated on the idea that 2007 marked the end of history for Northern Ireland, that there would be no further need of crisis interventions by British Secretaries of State. This year has shown much work still to be done to make this a normal democracy: the Sinn Féin-DUP coalition is still extremely fragile; Jim Allister’s siren voice still calls from the wings as, tragically, do the guns and bombs of dissident Republicanism. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that a future Secretary of State will once again need to take an active, direct, role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, and may once again have to try and hold the ring between the political parties here. It is difficult to see how that can be done by a Secretary of State organically linked with a UUP intent on undermining the current political settlement for cheap kicks.