Conservative Diary

Northern Ireland

29 Jul 2011 08:51:34

Other than Owen Paterson, which Tory politician do you think is under-rated?

By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter.

I don't agree with much of Peter Oborne's column in today's Telegraph. I think he greatly exaggerates how much politics will change in what he calls the post-Murdoch age. For reasons I've argued before, 'Murdochshire Central' is here to stay.

PATERSON OWEN 2009 Nonetheless I completely agree with his verdict on the Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson:

"Paterson possesses pretty well all the virtues any well-arranged society would look for in a Cabinet minister. He is hard-working, utterly conscientious and morally brave. Never afraid to speak his mind, he has quietly effected important changes in Northern Ireland’s political structures. Yet Paterson’s career has suffered from one crucial defect. There have been no press releases trumpeting illusory achievements. He does not leak announcements to a grateful media, publishing them instead, as propriety demands, in Parliament."

I, too, am a big fan of Owen Paterson. I should declare an interest. Owen was IDS' PPS when I, too, worked for Iain. Peter gets Owen's qualities exactly right. He's brave, honest and incredibly hardworking. Whether it was his networking across Europe ten years ago to build allies for a post-EPP grouping (all for which he was unpaid I should stress), his diligent work to prepare an alternative to the Common Fisheries Policy when he was an agriculture spokesman or his work on roads as a member of the transport team, he's not afraid of putting in the hours. A man of the Right he's also handsome - a not important quality in electoral politics!

Please use the thread below to suggest other names that are deserving of a better press.

PS It's not too late to sponsor Owen and his wife Rose who are about to ride in the Mongel Derby, the world's longest horse race.

2 Apr 2011 20:59:16

Cameron condemns "wicked and cowardly" murder of Ulster policeman

by Paul Goodman

It was the first murder of a policeman for over two years.  The officer was a 25-year old Catholic who's said to have graduated from police training college just over three weeks ago.  He was killed by a booby-trap car bomb placed beneath his vehicle near his home in Omagh, County Tyrone.

No terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility.  However, both the method and target suggest a republican splinter group.  The method, because such groups have tried to explode a series of car bombs recently, and the target, because sending a message to Catholics who might join the police service has long been a tactic of violent republicans.

I last wrote about republican car bombs last summer, when a small bomb exploded in Lurgan, as follows: "What's certain is that innocents in Northern Ireland have been lucky recently because terrorists haven't yet mastered the equipment they're using.  This good fortunte may not last long.  For those of us who don't live there, the province is worth keeping an eye on."

Our thoughts and prayers this evening are with the dead officer's family.

9.45pm Update: Owen Paterson has said - 

"This was an evil act, carried out by enemies of the whole community. First and foremost, my heartfeul thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and colleagues of the... PSNI officer who was murdered.

"The people in all parts of Ireland and beyond want peace and those who carried out this atrocity are in the grip of an obscene delusion if they think that by murder they can defy their will".

1 Jan 2011 18:53:28

The massive Northern Ireland state needs an effective and resourced Opposition

Tim Montgomerie

Over the last few days Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, have been working overtime to solve the water shortage that has ruined many families' Christmases in Northern Ireland. 56,000 still face access restrictions tonight.

The publicly-owned water monopoly, Northern Ireland Water, seemed unaware of its right to tap mutual aid from other UK water boards to help it cope with the crisis. That aid includes the possibility of emergency engineers and extra call centre facilities to advise desperate customers about emergency help. Because of the intervention of Paterson and Spelman that help is belatedly flowing.

A cynic might conclude that NIW - subject to close political supervision - was actually unwilling to seek help from the "English". Sinn Fein have certainly played a big role in the appointments to the Water board in recent times.

Screen shot 2011-01-01 at 18.47.32
I cannot believe that action would have been so slow if Northern Ireland had an effective opposition, calling for action and probing performance. Unfortunately the nature of the Belfast Agreement requires compulsory coalition between the main parties and all the individuals pictured above are implicated in the (mis)management of Northern Ireland Water. Owen Paterson addressed this issue in his Steinberg lecture, late last year:

"Over time we would like the institutions to evolve into a more normal system with a government and an opposition. As Bertie Ahern himself put it in an interview with Frank Millar in 2009, “there will come a time where people will say “you need an opposition, you need us and them” But I also made absolutely clear that any changes are for the future and will only come about after full consultation and with the agreement of the parties in the Assembly.”.

Northern Ireland is almost 'Soviet-ised' with the state accounting for nearly three-quarters of the economy.  A more conventional Opposition would at least help to ensure that 75% was spent more accountably.

9 Dec 2010 15:24:40

Irwin Armstrong resigns as the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives

by Paul Goodman

His resignation statement is below -

"It is no longer tenable for me to remain as Chairman after I was informed by our party Co-Chairman and N.I. Secretary of State some weeks ago that the Prime Minister had decided we would be running candidates in Northern Ireland in both Assembly and local council elections and I accepted their word, informed my Executive and key activists, and prepared press releases on that basis, I was then asked to wait until the leader of the UUP had been informed before we issued any releases.

I was then informed last night, after a meeting was held with the UUP leader and without further discussion with the Conservatives in NI, that the former relationship with the UUP was to continue and we would not be running candidates in the Assembly election. This despite the clear knowledge of both men since I became Chairman, that I would be unable to accept that decision, as I do not accept that the relationship is in the best interests of the Conservative Party, the people of Northern Ireland and our members here. The decision will effectively disband the Conservatives in NI as the sole reason for a political party is to contest elections and the recruitment of activists will be impossible if all they are offered is council elections and pacts with another party.

I had hoped we could build our party as a non sectarian party in Northern Ireland that could honestly represent all. In my opinion the Conservative party has now abandoned any serious attempt to change politics in Northern Ireland and has accepted the narrow one community politics of the UUP to attempt to gain one or two MP’s at the next Westminster election."

16 Nov 2010 18:47:46

Owen Paterson floats lower corporation tax for Northern Ireland

By Paul Goodman

Owen Paterson 2010 The troubles of the Irish Republic will obviously have an effect on Northern Ireland in particular as well as the UK in general.  I thus read Owen Paterson's Leonard Steinberg Memorial Lecture, delivered at Policy Exchange this evening, with a special eye to its economic passages.

What leapt out at me in the section dealing with the economy is Paterson's proposal for a lower Corporation Tax rate for Northern Ireland.  This would obviously raise issues of equity for the rest of the United Kingdom, and it's obviously far from certain that Ireland will maintain its present competitive rates.

Paterson said -

"Despite its current economic problems in the first six months of this year the Republic of Ireland attracted over 50 foreign direct investments, including a number of big global hitters.

There’s an obvious reason for this and it does put us at a real competitive disadvantage.

So we have to find ways of getting the private sector moving to lead the recovery and create the jobs of the future.

That’s why, by the end of the year and working with the Executive, the Government will produce a paper on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy. 

This will look at possible ways of turning Northern Ireland into an enterprise zone and potential mechanisms for giving it a separate rate of corporation tax to attract significant new investment.

I first discussed this with Sir George Quigley at the investment conference at Hillsborough in April 2008.  Since then I’ve become more and more convinced that it can be a game changer for Northern Ireland.

Rebalancing will take time, perhaps up to 25 years, though as I’ve said on many occasions to do nothing is simply not an option.  Equally, doing anything too rapid would be reckless.

But I am determined to make a start and against a background of peace and stability begin the process of turning Northern Ireland once again into an economic powerhouse."

The rest of the lecture contains a defence of the Party's stance on and involvement in Northern Ireland, an assessment of the present terror threat from republicans, and a section on dealing with Northern Ireland's past.  Paterson also defends the Government's deficit reduction programme - no surprise there.

On Party involvement in Northern Ireland, Paterson offers a robust defence of the Ulster Unionist-Conservative alliance at the last election, but casts little light on what the future may hold - probably because the election of a relatively new Ulster Unionist leader has taken the matter partly out of Tory hands.

On dealing with the past, he plainly has no time for a South-African style Peace and Reconciliation Commission, and is distinctly sniffy about a Legacy Commission.  He doesn't say that the Bloody Sunday Enquiry was a waste of time and money - and reminds his audience of the Prime Minister's apology - but certainly suggests that the Wright inquiry was better not undertaken:

The Billy Wright inquiry took six years and cost £30 million.  Yet it could not answer the most basic question as to how the guns that killed him was smuggled into what was then Europe’s most high security prison.

11 Oct 2010 17:39:16

David Cameron wants a full merger between the Conservatives and Ulster Unionist Party, according to the new UUP leader

By Jonathan Isaby

UK map with union jack flag At the end of September, the Ulster Unionist Party elected a new leader to replace Sir Reg Empey in the form of Tom Elliott, a Fermanagh farmer and former soldier who has been an Assembly Member at Stormont since 2003. 

He was at the Conservative Party conference last week and had a 25-minute meeting with David Cameron, during which, he says, the Prime Minister indicated a desire to see their two parties merge.

Mr Elliott has told his local Fermanagh newspaper, The Impartial Reporter:

"He [David Cameron] wanted to focus more on how we go forward. He’s still keen on a link, but he and I disagreed on the level of that link. He is more keen on a much higher level of a link arrangement whereas I feel the process needs to go slightly slower.

"He wants fully-blown integration where the two parties would be one but obviously I don’t believe unionist people are ready for that yet... We eventually agreed to go away and come back with options and suggestions for each other and meet again at the end of this month. I still think there’s merit in having the link between the two parties.”

I was very much in favour of the electoral alliance between the two parties at the general election and was hugely disappointed that no MPs were returned, although I believe that the results could have been very different had candidates been selected a year in advance of the election.

I am therefore encouraged that David Cameron clearly wants to pursue the relationship and look forward to hearing more about the discussions between the two parties in the weeks and months to come.

9 Sep 2010 11:52:35

What's happened to the Government's review of Sinn Fein's expenses?

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-09-09 at 11.50.51 We reported earlier today the Daily Mail's lively account of Owen Paterson's musings yesterday over Sinn Fein MPs and the oath (or affirmation) of allegiance.  The Mail said that Sinn Fein has in effect been invited to "write [its] own oath", and that Paterson's in discussion with Martin McGuinness on the matter.  His intention, clearly, is to put Sinn Fein on the spot - and issue a reminder of its MPs' unreasonableness in not taking their seats.

This isn't a new initiative by Paterson.  He was answering questions at an appearance before the Northern Ireland Select Committee, and was bound to repeat what he's said before - and other Shadow Northern Ireland Secretaries said in Opposition.

I can see that it's a logical extension of the peace process to inveigle Sinn Fein MPs to sit at Westminster, like any other person elected to the Commons.  But I'm against expending energy on the project.  They almost certainly won't take their seats, however many adjustments are made to the oath.  And it's against every Tory instinct to tamper with the oath.  Why take the oath to the Queen down when portraits of her are going up?

A more pressing matter is Sinn Fein MPs and their expenses.  David Cameron seemed to suggest in June that the matter should be re-examined.  What's happened to the review?  By the way, Paterson said last year that: "It is unacceptable for Sinn Fein representatives, who won't even sit in Parliament, to claim hundreds of thousands of pounds at the taxpayers expense".  The facts haven't changed since then.

24 Aug 2010 14:58:19

Owen Paterson refuses to condemn Willie Whitelaw for deciding not to investigate Catholic priest who may have been IRA bomber

By Tim Montgomerie

The Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman has today issued a report which concludes that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Catholic Church, the security services and the Conservative government of the time conspired to cover up a Catholic priest's suspected role in the murder of nine people in July 1972. The priest - Fr James Chesney - died in 1980 but rather than face judgment on this side of eternity he was moved south-of-the-border. It is suspected that he was a Quartermaster for the IRA.

Screen shot 2010-08-24 at 14.27.28 Just speaking on BBC TV News the Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said it was clearly wrong that justice was never done but he refused to criticise his predecessor of the time, Willie Whitelaw. He said that the security situation at the time was very serious and action against the Catholic priest might have made the violent sectarianism even worse.

Mr Paterson said he was profoundly sorry for the families affected by the bombings but he rejected a public inquiry. With most of the key people dead - including Mr Whitelaw and also the Catholic archbishop who was part of the decision - he said that little extra was likely to be learnt.

> On the Today programme last Friday Owen Paterson said that the Government would not speak to the dissident terrorist groups currently stoking violence in Northern Ireland. Listen again to what he said via this link.

14 Aug 2010 17:21:04

As the Apprentice Boys march in Londonderry, a small bomb explodes in Lurgan

By Paul Goodman

It's appalling to read that three children were slightly injured by a small bomb in Lurgan earlier this afternoon, though reassuring to gather from reports that they weren't seriously hurt.  It's the marching season, and just as July 12th was marked by riots, so today - the day that the Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry - is marred by an explosion.  This month's seen attacks by republicans in Londonderry itself, Bangor, and Kilkeel.  A bomb went off outside a police station in the first place, and explosive devices fell off cars in other two.  A child was strapped into a seat in Kilkeel.  A soldier had a lucky escape in Bangor.

Three quick points.  First, some people persist in believing that riots in republican areas during the summer months are a response to Orange parades.  This view's usually wrong, as reports from July confirm.  Second, there's been little if any recent loyalist violence.  This suggests that loyalists are reasonably satisfied with the political situation, which helps to prevent the present trouble from worsening.  Third, Northern Ireland isn't on the verge of slipping back into its recent past.

None the less, Matt Baggott, Northern Ireland's Chief Constable, warned recently that dissident republicans could inflict another Omagh bomb-style massacre, citing the Real IRA, Oghlaigh na hEireann and the Continuity IRA.  There were claims recently of secret talks between some of these republican groups and the intelligence services.  Patrick Mercer said in response that it would be "naive" not to expect this to happen.  What's certain is that innocents in Northern Ireland have been lucky recently because terrorists haven't yet mastered the equipment they're using.  This good fortunte may not last long.  For those of us who don't live there, the province is worth keeping an eye on.

17 Jul 2010 12:10:18

Claims that Conservatives have invited Martin McGuinness to speak to this autumn's Party Conference are wrong

Owen Paterson 2010 By Paul Goodman

The Irish Times proclaims this morning: "Tories invite McGuinness to speak at party conference".  The story details, as one would expect of the paper, are entirely accurate.  The headline, however, is not.  It could be read to suggest that McGuinness has been asked - who knows, by the Northern Ireland Secretary himself, or perhaps by the Prime Minister - to speak to the party faithful from the same platform from which Margaret Thatcher once addressed them.  The same Margaret Thatcher that the IRA tried to kill at Brighton when McGuinness was a senior member of it, with the same bomb that murdered five people and crippled Margaret Tebbit.

The story goes on to deflate the expectations that its headline raises.  It points out that McGuinness will appear as Northern Ireland's Second Minister on the same platform as Peter Robinson, its First Minister, and that they'll appear not on the Conference stage but at a breakfast organised by a not-for-profit organisation.  It's right to report that the occasion is a fringe event - but of course some such events are less part of the official fringe than others.  There's nothing the Party can do to prevent people holding meetings in a city at the same time that its annual conference is being held there.  The Irish Times asks whether the meeting in question will be held outside the Conference secure zone.

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