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Friday, 16 February

22:54

The relationship between the two governments hasnt been everything it should have been Slugger O'Toole

 

Cue Arlene saying it is all over, in our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an executive being formed. Her Majestys government, to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

As the UUP leader pointedly noted Tuesday, the no deal came after 402 days of deadlock. From what I can figure, the idea for three interlocking acts came from a senior civil servant, possibly the same one who decided to call the British PM and (at very late notice, it seems) the Taoiseach before the DUP had had time to share the idea with their officers never mind the wider parliamentary parties.

As you can hear from the pledge made by Arlene Foster that there would be no Irish Langauge Act, had it carried through, that would have been political suicide for the DUP. Questions are now being asked internally of Simon Hamilton the most senior of the negotiating team, but there are also questions to be asked about why the party appeaqrs not to have even had a contact group for them to report to.

However close the DUP negotiation team thought they were to a deal, it hadnt passed muster by the time it got back to the officer team never mind the wider party (almost all of whom had been kept in the dark throughout negotiations).

By the time it had come into headquarters, the DUP signalled to the British PMs office that it would not be worth her while coming over. Regardless of that, Mrs May came, and insisted on Leo coming too only to see the deal crumble before their very eyes.

It begs huge questions about the amount of time a resources being put into this issue by both governments. Brian is right argue that direct rule must mean much closer co-operation between the two governments, not in order to make the arrangements greener, but so that someone has a grip on the drift in Northern Irish relationships.

It fell to the leader of the Irish opposition to point out the bleeding obvious yesterday on Morning Ireland

I think going back to David Cameron and Enda Kennys time in office I think there was a bit of the foot off the pedal.

There was a view it should be left to the parties in Northern Ireland, but we now know from bitter experience that the dysfunctional relationship between the parties in In the north, particularly between Sinn Fein and the DUP, would not produce the results that are required.

We do need to maintain the broad sets of relationships between the British and Irish governments, between all parties in the north to nurse and sustain the institutions to were created by the Good Frida...

21:52

London and Dublin must clear their lines for close cooperation on direct rule Slugger O'Toole

Clarity rather than coyness is now needed over moves toward direct rule. Working on its  scope and duration is one more compelling reason for London and Dublin  to stick together.  On Monday at the otherwise disastrous Stormont meeting, Theresa May and Leo Varadkar pledged to work together on a new plan on how to achieve a frictionless Irish border. Good luck to them with that.

On the continuing local stand-off, two elements are essential. Enough action must be taken to prevent the interests of Northern Ireland going by default. And in doing so the two governments must consolidate  the GFA relationship, avoiding like the plague a line up that identifies Westminster only with the range of DUP and general unionist interests and  the Oireachtas  likewise with nationalism.

Too much  moaning about the Conservative-DUP pact is humbug and usually partisan-inspired. It was a natural consequence of the Westminster arithmetic after the disastrous election result  for the Tories.  For all the present inhibitions, who doubts that a similar result would benefit Sinn Fein in the Dail  in similar circumstances? A disposition in favour of the  Union need not be any more of  a violation of  impartiality than its nationalist reflection.

More frequent and frank intergovernmental contacts however should have headed off  the  unacceptable floating of an amnesty for security forces alone which so damaged the British governments impartiality at a critical time. It seems  their own antennae, once so acute, had fallen into disuse. They need to be re-activated, if necessary with Dublins help. The risk of breaching the DUP pact can be exaggerated. They have nowhere else to go and careful management should avoid  the risk of self-harm. The Northern Ireland Secretary should be included in the pact management co-ordination group, from which her  predecessor  was unwisely omitted.

Its conceded that Westminster will have to pass a Northern Ireland budget when Parliament resumes next week.  Being sensitive to claims that the pact with the DUP compromises their impartiality within GFA definitions, the UK government will not want to ruffle Dublin and Northern nationalist feathers.  But the next stage, implementation of a budget plan, is another matter. Sensitivity is all very well but it must not become an excuse for impotence and inertia.

The British seem alone in divining signs of hope for reviving inter party negotiations anytime soon.  Stalling for diplomatic reasons would be an abdication of responsibility and a complete surrender to the identity politics as defined by the warring local parties. This can easily be avoided.

If one is really necessary, there should be no problem in adopting the grand term of  British Irish Intergovernm...

21:33

By defending Russian journalist Ali Feruz, we defend ourselves. Now we need to repeat it openDemocracy

The solidarity campaign for Ali Feruz, who faced deportation to Uzbekistan, has been successful. What can we learn from it?

A column in support of Ali Feruz at the 19 January anti-fascist march in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. CC BY 4.0 Dmitry Horov. Some rights reserved.This article originally appeared in Russian on Socialist News.

For almost a year, people have campaigned in support of Ali Feruz, a journalist with Russian independent media Novaya gazeta. He was first detained in March 2017 on suspicion of breaking Russian migration legislation. This came after the refusal by the Russian authorities to grant him asylum after he fled Uzbekistan, where he had been arrested and tortured by the brutal Karimov regime. For the last six months, after a Moscow court decided to deport him back to Uzbekistan, Ali has been held in a special prison for foreign citizens on the outskirts of Moscow.

Yesterday, at 11.10am, Ali Feruz flew to Germany. The story of this journalist and activist, a friend and colleague, has caused a stir in public discussion for the most part, thanks to the active campaign in support of Feruz. It goes without saying that Alis release is a victory for everyone who took part in the #HandsOffAli campaign

Until his arrest in August 2017, Ali covered the exploitation of immigrants in Russia and the crimes of Uzbekistans regime. He volunteered for human rights organisations, was an LGBT activist and a member of the Independent Trade Union of Media Workers. It was precisely because of these connections that when a Russian court threatened to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan where Ali faced the threat of further imprisonment a huge campaign was mobilised. Rights activists, trade unionists, LGBT activists everyone joined in. And Socialist Alternative was one of the driving forces behind the public campaign in defence of Ali.

Freedom for Ali is a victory, but a better outcome would have been to allow Ali to stay, live and work in Russia

It...

21:09

Combating fake news: an impossible feat? openDemocracy

The recent explosion of fake news around the world has serious real life consequences in the political sphere. How will Latin America approach this in the light of upcoming elections? Espaol

Los Angeles International Airport, Source: Wikimedia Commons. All rights reserved. We are currently immersed in an era of informational misrepresentation. Fake news (#Fakenews), as it has been referred to, has become a type of political tactic used to manipulate public opinion that has been highly criticised but has also proven highly effective.

In Latin America, the cases reported have been numerous: in Argentina the web page Chequeado is collecting information regarding recent incidents, and a similar project is underway in Colombia called ColombiaCheck. 

This issue is distressing for countries of the region considering many will experience two years of intense electoral campaigning. In 2018 alone there are 14 confirmed electoral processes, and a similar quantity is expected for the year 2019.

This issue is distressing for countries of the region considering many will experience two years of intense electoral campaigning.

These processes will be carried out in a context of significant political polarisation that can easily turn into a breeding ground for manipulation of information for political purposes.

However, as many Latin American organisations have already denounced in an open letter, fake news is not a recent phenomenon, but a strategy of media monopolies against independent and community based forms of media.

The desire to control information and to construct the truth has always existed, the difference is that now the network of digital technologies enables the fabrication of information and its publication on the net. It is for these reasons that it is important to deal with not just the perspectives of fake news but also to approach disinformation, manipulation, and the concentration of the media in few hands.

Manipulation of information in the digital age

The media has always been critici...

20:21

Despite the political stalemate, are most of us neithers? Slugger O'Toole

More people in Northern Ireland identify as neither, than as unionist nor nationalist. I did a double take when I read this in Katy Haywards Guardian piece yesterday. It doesnt feel like it right now. It couldnt possibly be true?

Its true.

Here are the latest figures.

This isnt reflected in the way we vote though. So, does this mean the neithers are secretly at loggerheads? Probably not. In Katys words,

The electoral dominance of Sinn Fin and the DUP is not an expression of passion for hardline nationalism and unionism it is a consequence of moderate voters fear of what hardline nationalism and unionism would mean for the fragile stability of this place. So centre-ground voters end up gaming the system and voting for the party best placed to block the hardline position that they most fear. And as they do, the complexity, the messiness, the nuances of Northern Ireland is wiped over by the simple narrative of distrust and division and blame.

As we navigate our way through this mess, which surely we will, its worth remembering that there is more to us than a simple binary. Most of our entangled lives make a mockery of it on a daily basis. Nowt wrong with being a unionist or a nationalist. Its just that we usually forget about the huge swell of people in between. Maybe one day our politics will reflect this. Until such a time, Im going to pin this graph to my bathroom mirror to remind myself that things are rarely as stark as they seem.

19:00

Whom should I marry? Genealogical purity and the shadows of slavery in southern Senegal openDemocracy

Hard choices are made when arranged marriages collide with a slave past.

Photo by author. All rights reserved.

It is early morning. Demba is driving Mamadou, Ndilla and me towards the Senegalese town of Velingara, on the eastern side of the Kolda region. All of a sudden, Ndilla cries the jiyaabe! and points to a troop of Guinean baboons that has appeared in the fields beside the road. A small joke, as Fulfulde, the majority language for this part of Senegal, uses the expression black monkeys (baadi mbaaleji) to talk of that part of the population consisting of jiyaabe (sing. jiyaado): people of alleged slave ancestry. Baboons are black, big and sturdy: these three qualities are stereotypically associated with slaves in Fulbe communities throughout West Africa. In contrast red monkeys (baadi mboodeji) attaches to the rimbe (sing. dimo), people like Demba, Mamadou and Ndilla who are of free (or noble) ancestry. In addition to be smaller and leaner than baboons, red monkeys, which are actually green monkeys, sport a clear and red-flashed fur.

Ndilla called my attention to the baboons beside our car because the oral history we have been collecting in the Kolda region uses the metaphor of the black and the red monkeys to describe regional political conflicts, as well as collaborations between the jiyaabe and the rimbe that have taken place since the second half of the nineteenth century. In popular wisdom, the physical signs of rimbe ancestry include long limbs, light-coloured skin, and curly, soft hair, which men and women of past generations styled in braids. The marker of the jiyaabe is blackness, although there are dark rimbe and light skinned jiyaabe. Stereotypes address also intellectual and moral qualities. People look at the intelligence remarked Ismailou, another of my rimbe friends. The rimbe tend to consider their own children brighter than the jiyaabes ones.

Racism in Senegal?

Is the metaphor of the black and red monkeys a clue to undergoing racial arguments? Government, media and public opinion confine racism to the lives and experiences of Senegalese abroad (either in the colonial homeland of France, or in the many destinations of the Senegalese diaspora), while Muslim piety and republicanism underplay intern...

Hidden in plain sight: forced labour constructing China openDemocracy

Invisible coercion through withheld wages, lack of employment contracts, and discrimi-nation of migrant workers is widespread in China's construction sector.

Construction Worker on Bamboo Scaffolding in Xingpingzhen, Guangxi, China. Chris Goldberg/flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

To most people, the Chinese New Year equals colourful parades and amazing fireworks, but at year-end construction workers in China are above all concerned about the question: do I get paid this year?

Thousands dont. Hundreds of thousands receive something not even close to the promised salary. Wage arrears protests have been booming in the months leading up to the New Year on 16 February. Far from every protest gets violent, but when they do, losses are bigger than just the annual pay. Many bloggers show photos of workers beaten to a pulp.

Attacks on employers happen too, although less commonly, such as when the 31-year-old construction worker Cato stabbed his employer in an argument about his pay in November 2017. Multiple cases of worker suicides and employer homicides are registered each year, and a local court counted 18 murders related to wage arrears within the last year in Beijing alone. Approximately 70% took place in the two months before New Year. Wage arrears and debt have become one of the most common motives in murder cases according to Beijing Intermediate Court no. 3.

Living on IOUs

Wage arrears in the construction sector account for over one-third of all protests in China registered and published online by China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong based organisation. Many reports have documented the massive scale of withheld wages and lack of payment. A 10,000 questionnaire survey by Little Bird, a Chinese labour NGO, concluded that over 75% of construction workers received, or expected to receive, salaries less frequent than half-yearly. Most hoped to get paid eventually by year-end, despite legislation stipulating that salary must be paid on monthly basis.

Chinas construction sector accounts for 55 million workers according to official statistics. Rural migrants comprise the vast majority. Half of all construction workers are estimated to have been deprived of payment at least once in their lifetime according to Chinese scholars and labour groups.

...

18:06

The need for an agreed history Slugger O'Toole

History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. Oh Mr. Daedalus, if only you had been in Northern Ireland in 2018. History is everywhere in our political reality, and also somehow nowhere. It is slippery and vague, not unlike the content of a nightmare the moment the dreamer jolts awake.

I turned 18 a few weeks before I voted for the first time, and that vote was on the Belfast Agreement. It was, to me, a no-brainer. I was excited to vote, turning up at the polling station before it even opened with my father who was on his way to work. It felt like an important moment, like a milestone, like surely now the only direction was forward. A few months after that, I started university. I had decided on Politics and History well in advance, and the mood seemed buoyant throughout that time; Northern Ireland was studied with optimism. Students flooded in from abroad to learn the lessons of peacemaking and compromise. There was surely no way back. By the time an Executive actually sat, with Paisley and McGuinness cast as the Chuckle Brothers, it honestly felt remarkable. If those men could work together given their respective pasts, surely anyone could. Right?

But here we are in February 2018 and, in the same week as talks to restore the Assembly collapsed, Jamie Bryson has been invited to Westminster to contribute innovative ideas to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Earlier this week, I had a sobering moment that I have been turning over in my head ever since. I teach some courses to adult learners, and in one of those courses we recently discussed the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s. My students are all grown adults, educated, accomplished, and mostly old enough to remember that time. Some of them honestly did not know that before 1969 one (wo)man one vote did not apply in Northern Ireland. One told me that she mentioned this to an older relative. He told her thats propaganda.

The popular adage says that history is written by the victors, but in the case of Northern Ireland we simply cannot afford to be glib or dismissive about how our story is told. We cannot trust politicians to pronounce on the history of this place and its many bloody episodes; their interests are far too vested, their own knowledge and interpretation far too mired in the us and them narrative at which they excel. Whataboutery, the national sport.

One example of this is the Irish language, appropriately enough. While the DUP, Mr. Bryson and others claim that they object to an Irish Language Act on the grounds that it is effectively a move by Sinn Fin to impose cultural supremacy, that they have somehow weaponised the language and hoodwinked other parties into supporting the Act. To claim this requires either a literal or tactical ignorance of the past; with access to Google and the will to learn anyone can find out about the ways in which the language was deliberately suppressed both before part...

08:24

The fundamentals: why we need to  talk about place and populism Newsnet.scot

Commentary by Christopher Silver

What does it mean to live a life tied to a particular place? To feel your fate inescapably tied to it? Is it to be trapped? Is a need to linger just a quiet fear of the great beyond? Or is to bravely embrace that deep human impulse, to have a place to stand?

The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh once noted parochialism is universal; it deals with the fundamentals. As place and our relationship with it becomes an increasingly controversial issue in a world once again on the move, wed do well to remember this nuance.

Christopher Silver

We are living in a new era of migration set in motion by planetary changes that we cannot control. As a result, we the politics of place has become a constant theme in the emergence of the new unruly presence of right-wing populism taking hold in Europe and North America.

A new divide?

At the same time, the initial wave of excitement and energy unleashed by ever expanding globalisation at the end of the 20th century is starting to ebb away. The winners and losers pace around each other awkwardly, desperately trying not to address the fact that the promises made at the birth of this new hyper-connected world were often disingenuous.

That much should be obvious, but given the ideological commitment of the political centre to deregulation and the free flow of capital, liberal elites need stories that identify the problem in cultural rather than economic terms. In the wake of Brexit the British political classes have become entrance by the story told to them by David Goodhart in the The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, an account that explains all by naming the two competing tribes behind the new political upheaval.

Essentially, it claims that there is a new divide in Britain that transcends the old class politics of left-right on one side are the Somewheres (the lumpen half of the population stuck in a particular locale who value tradition) and on the other the Anywheres (the mobile, educated elite).

Goodhart and other centrists see the new angry politics of emboldened Somewheres as the inevitable product of mass immigration, mass higher education and a social liberal consensus determined to pursue change at breakneck speed. For the author, this is underlined by surveys which find substantial numbers feel that their home country is now foreign to them.

Today, everywhere, the crises were experiencing are about the exploitation of that basic anxiety writ large the Somewheres are encouraged to fear both migrants, with nothing, and the global elite, with everything. In co...

07:32

The fallout continues Slugger O'Toole

Todays developments, starting off with Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald (I have highlighted key bits);

The DUP leader brought this phase of negotiations to a close and said there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.

It is up to Arlene Foster to explain this given that the DUP and Sinn Fin leaderships had achieved an accommodation across the issues involved.

In fact we had a draft agreement by the end of last week. At that time we advised the DUP leadership that the deal should be closed before those opposed to it could unpick what we had achieved.

We made it clear that if there was a delay there was every chance that the package would unravel.

The DUP failed to close the deal and went on to collapse the talks process.

The first point I want to make is an obvious one; this phase of the negotiations is over.

Sinn Fin has worked diligently with the governments, the DUP and others to restore the political institutions.

We did so because the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are in the best interests of all our people, our economy, our public services and building reconciliation.

However, these institutions must operate with respect, equality and integrity.

That was Sinn Fins approach and that remains our approach.

There has been a lot of speculation about what was in the draft agreement between us and the DUP.

There have been calls for it to be published.

Sinn Fin at this time will not be publishing the draft agreement.

This is in keeping with our obligations to ensure that any future phase of negotiations has the best chance to succeed.

However, this will not happen unless the unionist parties embrace the need for a rights-based society and for citizens here to enjoy all those rights available across these islands.

In keeping with our commitment to transparency we will provide copies of the draft agreement text to the two governments and we will brief the other parties in the Assembly and the Oireachtas.

Let me also say that a lot of mistruths and inaccuracies have been peddled about the content of the draft agreement

For the record the draft record included an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and a Respecting Language and Diversity Act.

The Irish Language Act included provision for official recognition of Irish, the creation of an Irish Language Commissioner. The repeal of the ban on Irish in the courts was also to be legislated for.

It did not involve at any stage making Irish compulsory or applying quotas to public services. This was not a consideration.

There has been no meeting of minds on Marriage Equality.

...

03:57

Syria's wars: a new dynamic openDemocracy

The Israel-Iran antagonism risks fusing with the Russia-United States one.

Fire and smoke rise after a mortar shell hit an electricity generator in Syria, on Feb. 10, 2018. Ammar Safarjalani/PA Images. All rights reserved.Israel's aerial strike against Iranian and regime targets in Syria on 10 February reinforces concern that a new front is opening in the Middle East's many-sided conflicts. The risk of outright confrontation between Israel and Iran has increased, even as Turkey, Russia, Kurdish forces, and the United States are engaged in further action to the north. That so many combatants are involved, with different agendas, means that further escalation is an ever present possibility.

The details of the Israel-Iran episode show how unsteady the strategic situation now is. It began when Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces launched a drone from Tiyas airbase, which is about 100 kilometres east of Homs in west-central Syria. The drone was tracked across the Israeli border, then shot down by an Israel airforce (IAF) attack-helicopter. Eight Israeli strike-aircraft retaliated almost at once by destroying the command-centre deep inside Syria. A Syrian anti-aircraft missile hit one of these F-16 planes as it returned to Israel, seriously injuring one of the crew. 

This incident, the first time that the IAF has admitted losing a plane since the large-scale invasion of Lebanon (Operation Peace for Galilee) in 1982, helps explain the decision to launch multiple raids on the Syrian air-defence system. Even so, these fell short of Israel's usual policy of massive retaliation against any attack, an approach sometimes explained with reference to Israel...

Syria's wars: a new dynamic openDemocracy

The Israel-Iran antagonism risks fusing with the Russia-United States one.

Fire and smoke rise after a mortar shell hit an electricity generator in Syria, on Feb. 10, 2018. Ammar Safarjalani/PA Images. All rights reserved.Israel's aerial strike against Iranian and regime targets in Syria on 10 February reinforces concern that a new front is opening in the Middle East's many-sided conflicts. The risk of outright confrontation between Israel and Iran has increased, even as Turkey, Russia, Kurdish forces, and the United States are engaged in further action to the north. That so many combatants are involved, with different agendas, means that further escalation is an ever present possibility.

The details of the Israel-Iran episode show how unsteady the strategic situation now is. It began when Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces launched a drone from Tiyas airbase, which is about 100 kilometres east of Homs in west-central Syria. The drone was tracked across the Israeli border, then shot down by an Israel airforce (IAF) attack-helicopter. Eight Israeli strike-aircraft retaliated almost at once by destroying the command-centre deep inside Syria. A Syrian anti-aircraft missile hit one of these F-16 planes as it returned to Israel, seriously injuring one of the crew. 

This incident, the first time that the IAF has admitted losing a plane since the large-scale invasion of Lebanon (Operation Peace for Galilee) in 1982, helps explain the decision to launch multiple raids on the Syrian air-defence system. Even so, these fell short of Israel's usual policy of massive retaliation against any attack, an approach sometimes explained with reference to Israel...

03:11

Whats to be done with Oxfam, part 2? openDemocracy

Is it gratuitous to link the scandal engulfing Oxfam with the need to transform NGOs and foreign aid?

Credit: Wikimedia/Chris ReynoldsCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Tensions between reform and transformation are hardwired into the NGO community and look set to continue, unless or until some large scale shock arrives to force through more fundamental changeslike the end of foreign aid, or the removal of public credibility in the wake of some massive scandal, or a blanket ejection of foreign organizations by Southern governments. But those prospects seem remote. Whats to be done with Oxfam? August 1 2016.

Well, be careful what you wish for. Eighteen months after I wrote these words that scandal has come to pass, though exactly how massive it is a matter for debate. As allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by a small number of Oxfam staff in Haiti, South Sudan and Chad, and in some of its shops in the UK have exploded around the charitys head, there have been many forceful and legitimate demands to tighten up procedures, make reparations and strengthen accountability so that such instances are prevented wherever possible and dealt with decisively when they do happen. Case closed, you might say.

Except that critics have used this opportunity to castigate Oxfam, NGOs and foreign aid in much more general terms. What has occurred proves that charities are corrupt and incompetent, they say, that they have no ethics or moral value, and that aid should therefore be abolished. Even friendlier critics like Larry Elliot,...

Whats to be done with Oxfam, part 2? openDemocracy

Is it gratuitous to link the scandal engulfing Oxfam with the need to transform NGOs and foreign aid?

Credit: Wikimedia/Chris ReynoldsCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Tensions between reform and transformation are hardwired into the NGO community and look set to continue, unless or until some large scale shock arrives to force through more fundamental changeslike the end of foreign aid, or the removal of public credibility in the wake of some massive scandal, or a blanket ejection of foreign organizations by Southern governments. But those prospects seem remote. Whats to be done with Oxfam? August 1 2016.

Well, be careful what you wish for. Eighteen months after I wrote these words that scandal has come to pass, though exactly how massive it is a matter for debate. As allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by a small number of Oxfam staff in Haiti, South Sudan and Chad, and in some of its shops in the UK have exploded around the charitys head, there have been many forceful and legitimate demands to tighten up procedures, make reparations and strengthen accountability so that such instances are prevented wherever possible and dealt with decisively when they do happen. Case closed, you might say.

Except that critics have used this opportunity to castigate Oxfam, NGOs and foreign aid in much more general terms. What has occurred proves that charities are corrupt and incompetent, they say, that they have no ethics or moral value, and that aid should therefore be abolished. Even friendlier critics like Larry Elliot,...

00:18

UK diplomats met, talked Brexit with Trump aide linked to Russia probe openDemocracy

More details emerge of controversial meetings between UK foreign office officials and George Papadopoulos.

George Papadopoulos, LinkedIn, fair use.

A Trump aide who has admitted lying to the FBI about his Russian links met a Foreign Office minister and discussed Brexit with a team leader of the British Embassy in Washington, just weeks before the US presidential election.

George Papadopoulos had three separate meetings with British Foreign Office officials in September 2016, we can reveal for the first time. Last October it emerged that Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his Russian connections.

On September 10 2016, Papadopoulos discussed Brexit, UK/US relations, US foreign policy and the presidential campaign during an official meeting with an unnamed team leader of the British Embassy in Washington.  

Less than a week later, on September 16, the head of the UKs then North America Department met the Trump aide at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London. The meeting covered a number of current affairs issues but no minutes were taken or briefing prepared, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) response from the FCO.

The FCO disclosure reveals further details of the extent of Papadopouloss contacts with senior UK officials. Also, in September 2016, Papadopoulos met with Tobias Ellwood, at the time a Foreign Office Minister, while Ellwood was in New York for the UN General Assembly. The FCO describes the meeting as informal and says it has no further information. Ellwood has since been appointed as a Minister for Defence.

Tom Brake MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Brexit, called for the UK government to publish a complete account of the meetings.   

With investigations into Mr Papadopoulos' contacts with Russia of global interest, anything less than total transparency about UK meetings with him will leave a nagging doubt about their purpose and impact, said Brake.

The meetings further undermine Trump campaign claims that Papadopoulos was a just junior aide and also raise questions about the extent of contact between Papadopoulos and British officials in the run-up to the...

UK diplomats met, talked Brexit with Trump aide linked to Russia probe openDemocracy

More details emerge of controversial meetings between UK foreign office officials and George Papadopoulos.

George Papadopoulos, LinkedIn, fair use.

A Trump aide who has admitted lying to the FBI about his Russian links met a Foreign Office minister and discussed Brexit with a team leader of the British Embassy in Washington, just weeks before the US presidential election.

George Papadopoulos had three separate meetings with British Foreign Office officials in September 2016, we can reveal for the first time. Last October it emerged that Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his Russian connections.

On September 10 2016, Papadopoulos discussed Brexit, UK/US relations, US foreign policy and the presidential campaign during an official meeting with an unnamed team leader of the British Embassy in Washington.  

Less than a week later, on September 16, the head of the UKs then North America Department met the Trump aide at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London. The meeting covered a number of current affairs issues but no minutes were taken or briefing prepared, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) response from the FCO.

The FCO disclosure reveals further details of the extent of Papadopouloss contacts with senior UK officials. Also, in September 2016, Papadopoulos met with Tobias Ellwood, at the time a Foreign Office Minister, while Ellwood was in New York for the UN General Assembly. The FCO describes the meeting as informal and says it has no further information. Ellwood has since been appointed as a Minister for Defence.

Tom Brake MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Brexit, called for the UK government to publish a complete account of the meetings.   

With investigations into Mr Papadopoulos' contacts with Russia of global interest, anything less than total transparency about UK meetings with him will leave a nagging doubt about their purpose and impact, said Brake.

The meetings further undermine Trump campaign claims that Papadopoulos was a just junior aide and also raise questions about the extent of contact between Papadopoulos and British officials in the run-up to the...

00:05

Speaking truth to power is dangerous: the violence perpetrated against Armenian political activists openDemocracy

The womens protest became dangerous and a threat to the status quo when they questioned and criticized these mens ability to fulfil their proper role.

open Movements
The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

lead lead Screen shot: scenes at Yerevan Municipal councillors' meeting, February 13, 2018.As the world watches the latest incidences of sexual assault and abuse being exposed through the #Metoo campaign, in Armenia violence against women appears to be the socially accepted norm. 

On 13 February shocking scenes unfolded at a Yerevan Municipal meeting when two female city councillors, wearing surgical gloves and masks, brought a jar of polluted sewer water to the council meeting.  Councillors Marina Khachatryan and Sona Aghekayan, of the Yerkir Tsirani party, brought the glass jars full of sewer water to the council session to highlight the situation of residents in Yerevans Nubarashen district. They felt compelled to take such an extreme measure because complaints of the areas residents protesting that sewage from Nubarashen prison had been seeping into their neighbourhood had been repeatedly ignored.

When the two female councillors entered the hall with the jars to highlight this problem, they were brutally attacked by several men at meeting. The men who attacked them, primarily members of the ruling Republican Party, were angry that the women dared to bring the revolting water into the council chamber. 

This violent attack on the women was caught on camera, leading to an outcry on social media and a protest later in the day as activists against the violence perpetrated on Khachatran and Aghekayan. The incident is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it illustrates the normalization and social acceptance of violenc...

Speaking truth to power is dangerous: the violence perpetrated against Armenian political activists openDemocracy

The womens protest became dangerous and a threat to the status quo when they questioned and criticized these mens ability to fulfil their proper role.

open Movements
The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

lead lead Screen shot: scenes at Yerevan Municipal councillors' meeting, February 13, 2018.As the world watches the latest incidences of sexual assault and abuse being exposed through the #Metoo campaign, in Armenia violence against women appears to be the socially accepted norm. 

On 13 February shocking scenes unfolded at a Yerevan Municipal meeting when two female city councillors, wearing surgical gloves and masks, brought a jar of polluted sewer water to the council meeting.  Councillors Marina Khachatryan and Sona Aghekayan, of the Yerkir Tsirani party, brought the glass jars full of sewer water to the council session to highlight the situation of residents in Yerevans Nubarashen district. They felt compelled to take such an extreme measure because complaints of the areas residents protesting that sewage from Nubarashen prison had been seeping into their neighbourhood had been repeatedly ignored.

When the two female councillors entered the hall with the jars to highlight this problem, they were brutally attacked by several men at meeting. The men who attacked them, primarily members of the ruling Republican Party, were angry that the women dared to bring the revolting water into the council chamber. 

This violent attack on the women was caught on camera, leading to an outcry on social media and a protest later in the day as activists against the violence perpetrated on Khachatran and Aghekayan. The incident is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it illustrates the normalization and social acceptance of violenc...

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Thursday, 15 February

23:32

#HeartUnions - why young workers need trade unions more than ever openDemocracy

Can't book medical appointments because of unpredictable shifts? Can't book leave because your boss doesn't like you? The reality of modern work doesnt have to be this way.

Image: McDonalds workers striking last year.

The world of work is getting tougher for almost everyone, but younger workers are having a particularly bad time. And many young workers dont even know how badly theyre being screwed over theyre just grateful to have a job.

This week its the TUCs our annual Heart Unions Week, and part of our activity is focused on supporting young workers.

From care workers who dont get paid for all the hours they work, to retail workers who get abuse from customers and no support from management young workers all deserve better.

Many young workers will rush to cover a shift they were only get told about on the day - but never get any flexibility back when their childcare falls through. And all too often, they dont get decent training and cant see a way forward to a better job.

When we spoke to young workers, it was no surprise how many were worried about interpersonal issues like rude and abusive customers or clients, or managers playing favourites. Lots were worried that there are few opportunities or support to get ahead. And of course, many were worried about how to cope with low pay and unpredictable hours.

We heard some real horror stories too. Like the man working in retail who rarely gets any leave approved because the manager doesnt like him. We heard from workers who get no training to do their jobs and have to pick it up from colleagues. And we talked to a woman who cant go to the dentist because she never knows her shifts far enough in advance.

These stories werent isolated examples and they show just why young workers need unions. We know that when workers come together in a union, they can change their workplace for the better helping stop unfair treatment, campaigning for equality, and pushing for better pay and decent conditions. Unions are also a great way to get ahead - helping more than 250,000 people each year to get the learning and training opportunities they need to get on in life.

The...

#HeartUnions - why young workers need trade unions more than ever openDemocracy

Can't book medical appointments because of unpredictable shifts? Can't book leave because your boss doesn't like you? The reality of modern work doesnt have to be this way.

Image: McDonalds workers striking last year.

The world of work is getting tougher for almost everyone, but younger workers are having a particularly bad time. And many young workers dont even know how badly theyre being screwed over theyre just grateful to have a job.

This week its the TUCs our annual Heart Unions Week, and part of our activity is focused on supporting young workers.

From care workers who dont get paid for all the hours they work, to retail workers who get abuse from customers and no support from management young workers all deserve better.

Many young workers will rush to cover a shift they were only get told about on the day - but never get any flexibility back when their childcare falls through. And all too often, they dont get decent training and cant see a way forward to a better job.

When we spoke to young workers, it was no surprise how many were worried about interpersonal issues like rude and abusive customers or clients, or managers playing favourites. Lots were worried that there are few opportunities or support to get ahead. And of course, many were worried about how to cope with low pay and unpredictable hours.

We heard some real horror stories too. Like the man working in retail who rarely gets any leave approved because the manager doesnt like him. We heard from workers who get no training to do their jobs and have to pick it up from colleagues. And we talked to a woman who cant go to the dentist because she never knows her shifts far enough in advance.

These stories werent isolated examples and they show just why young workers need unions. We know that when workers come together in a union, they can change their workplace for the better helping stop unfair treatment, campaigning for equality, and pushing for better pay and decent conditions. Unions are also a great way to get ahead - helping more than 250,000 people each year to get the learning and training opportunities they need to get on in life.

The...

22:49

Sri Lanka local elections: the return of Rajapaksa openDemocracy

After his recent win, Mahinda Rajapaksa urged his voters not to attack the losing side, saying: No matter what they did to us we must set an example.        

lead Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa greets supporters after landslide victory in the Local Government Election, February 12, 2018. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved. Sri Lanka celebrates its seventieth year of independence in 2018 in a country where ethnicity has been a deadly factor, and local elections can turn violent. This years election, held on 10 February, however, has been one of the most peaceful the country has known. The turnout was over 75%, which shows that people are keen on exercising their right to vote.

The current government attributes the nonviolent character of the election to a new election system. As Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, of the United National Party (UNP), explained: "the reason is that the most competitive and conflicting preferential voting system that was in the previous elections is not seen in the new system we introduced.  

Wickremesinghe added that introducing the new election system would give the current administration an advantage in the upcoming general election. Sri Lanka suffered from a protracted civil war between 1983 and 2009, so a peaceful election is certainly a welcome blessing t...

Sri Lanka local elections: the return of Rajapaksa openDemocracy

After his recent win, Mahinda Rajapaksa urged his voters not to attack the losing side, saying: No matter what they did to us we must set an example.        

lead Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa greets supporters after landslide victory in the Local Government Election, February 12, 2018. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved. Sri Lanka celebrates its seventieth year of independence in 2018 in a country where ethnicity has been a deadly factor, and local elections can turn violent. This years election, held on 10 February, however, has been one of the most peaceful the country has known. The turnout was over 75%, which shows that people are keen on exercising their right to vote.

The current government attributes the nonviolent character of the election to a new election system. As Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, of the United National Party (UNP), explained: "the reason is that the most competitive and conflicting preferential voting system that was in the previous elections is not seen in the new system we introduced.  

Wickremesinghe added that introducing the new election system would give the current administration an advantage in the upcoming general election. Sri Lanka suffered from a protracted civil war between 1983 and 2009, so a peaceful election is certainly a welcome blessing t...

22:43

Evangelicals in South Africa are 'broadcasting hate masked as morality' openDemocracy

Christian right groups are adding to an already dangerous environment for women and LGBTQI individuals, by pushing 'family values'  but not for everyone.

"Giving homophobia a red card," reads a poster for the 2012 Soweto Pride march. Charles Haynes/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0). Some rights reserved.The website of the Family Policy Institute (FPI) in South Africa greets you with a large banner photo of a man, woman and child on the beach. The woman is holding her pregnant belly with one hand as the couple play with their son on the sand. This is, supposedly, perfection. Utopia encapsulated in a picture.

Founded a decade ago by a man named Errol Naidoo, FPI is a fervent opponent of reproductive choice and LGBTQ rights. It describes itself as protecting family values but apparently only the values of certain, so-called 'traditional' families. It calls for the defense of faith, family and freedom and has a number of international allies.

Last year, Naidoo travelled to Budapest, Hungary for the 2017 World Congress of Families summit of ultra-conservative movements. There, he claimed that all kinds of wickedness came into South Africa in the 1990s, after the end of the apartheid regime, when the doors were thrown open and an ultra-liberal constitution was imposed on us.

In response to this supposed crisis, FPI says it has the single-minded objective of making the restoration of marriage and the family the cornerstone of South African social policy. As such, it aims beyond influencing its own supporters at impact...

Evangelicals in South Africa are 'broadcasting hate masked as morality' openDemocracy

Christian right groups are adding to an already dangerous environment for women and LGBTQI individuals, by pushing 'family values'  but not for everyone.

"Giving homophobia a red card," reads a poster for the 2012 Soweto Pride march. Charles Haynes/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0). Some rights reserved.The website of the Family Policy Institute (FPI) in South Africa greets you with a large banner photo of a man, woman and child on the beach. The woman is holding her pregnant belly with one hand as the couple play with their son on the sand. This is, supposedly, perfection. Utopia encapsulated in a picture.

Founded a decade ago by a man named Errol Naidoo, FPI is a fervent opponent of reproductive choice and LGBTQ rights. It describes itself as protecting family values but apparently only the values of certain, so-called 'traditional' families. It calls for the defense of faith, family and freedom and has a number of international allies.

Last year, Naidoo travelled to Budapest, Hungary for the 2017 World Congress of Families summit of ultra-conservative movements. There, he claimed that all kinds of wickedness came into South Africa in the 1990s, after the end of the apartheid regime, when the doors were thrown open and an ultra-liberal constitution was imposed on us.

In response to this supposed crisis, FPI says it has the single-minded objective of making the restoration of marriage and the family the cornerstone of South African social policy. As such, it aims beyond influencing its own supporters at impact...

22:38

If young, and in Mexico, you are forever at risk of forced disappearance openDemocracy

In Mexico, whether guilty or innocent, victim or victimizer, everybody knows that it is best to stay as far away as possible from the police. Espaol

On January 23, a picture of a young man who had been hit by Mexico City police officers and thrown into a patrol car, and whose whereabouts since then were unknown, began to circulate on Facebook.

It all started when Marco Antonio - the missing young man - and a friend of his were getting back from a visit to a museum. They were walking along a street in the north of Mexico City when they came across a wall with a graffiti that caught their attention and Marco Antonio asked his friend to take a picture of him standing in front of it.

As he was posing for the picture, a couple of policemen passing by apparently thought that the young man was about to assault someone and jumped on him trying to nail him down. In Mexico, whether guilty or innocent, victim or victimizer, everybody knows that it is best to stay as far away as possible from the police, so Marco Antonio ran to a Metrobus station to avoid being arrested.

But the two police officers caught up with him, knocked him down, beat him and requested a patrol car to move him. As he lay on the ground and was being beaten, a passer-by managed to take a picture of him that was the picture which circulated on social networks to denounce what had happened and spread the word that, since then, his whereabouts were unknown. A call for help went out, asking people to contribute any information that could lead to him.

The image of the young man on the ground was a powerful piece of evidence of the abuse and enforced disappearance which he had been subjected to by the police, even though he had committed no crime.

The image of the young man on the ground was a powerful piece of evidence of the abuse and enforced disappearance which he had been subjected to by the police, even though he had committed no crime. Indignation through the social media increased when it became known that he was under age - 17 years old -, a healthy and sporty 8th...

If young, and in Mexico, you are forever at risk of forced disappearance openDemocracy

In Mexico, whether guilty or innocent, victim or victimizer, everybody knows that it is best to stay as far away as possible from the police. Espaol

On January 23, a picture of a young man who had been hit by Mexico City police officers and thrown into a patrol car, and whose whereabouts since then were unknown, began to circulate on Facebook.

It all started when Marco Antonio - the missing young man - and a friend of his were getting back from a visit to a museum. They were walking along a street in the north of Mexico City when they came across a wall with a graffiti that caught their attention and Marco Antonio asked his friend to take a picture of him standing in front of it.

As he was posing for the picture, a couple of policemen passing by apparently thought that the young man was about to assault someone and jumped on him trying to nail him down. In Mexico, whether guilty or innocent, victim or victimizer, everybody knows that it is best to stay as far away as possible from the police, so Marco Antonio ran to a Metrobus station to avoid being arrested.

But the two police officers caught up with him, knocked him down, beat him and requested a patrol car to move him. As he lay on the ground and was being beaten, a passer-by managed to take a picture of him that was the picture which circulated on social networks to denounce what had happened and spread the word that, since then, his whereabouts were unknown. A call for help went out, asking people to contribute any information that could lead to him.

The image of the young man on the ground was a powerful piece of evidence of the abuse and enforced disappearance which he had been subjected to by the police, even though he had committed no crime.

The image of the young man on the ground was a powerful piece of evidence of the abuse and enforced disappearance which he had been subjected to by the police, even though he had committed no crime. Indignation through the social media increased when it became known that he was under age - 17 years old -, a healthy and sporty 8th...

21:54

Next time, the governments must not leave it entirely to the DUP and Sinn Fein in secret Slugger O'Toole

It would have been a remarkable feat if the DUP and Sinn Fein could have  struck a deal  in secret, alone and unaided.  Secrecy may be essential for last moves to reach a compromise. But over a year none of the ground had been prepared with the public and it showed. The background was too noisy RHI, the sudden illness and death of McGuinness, minority governments in London and Dublin with other fish to fry, including monumentally,  the throwback of the border issue due to Brexit.  The UK governments protestations that they were working hard behind the scenes lacks both conviction and result.  In defence they might add that Sinn Fein rejected them as a honest broker for too close an alignment with the DUP even before the pact with the Conservatives. And the DUP does not recognise a role for Dublin in Strand One of the GFA, the internal arrangements for government at Stormont.

Nevertheless both parties did accept a convening role for the government with Dublin on hand and talking. The claim that the British government is a player not a referee has some force and they should have been on the field.  More openness earlier and more active participation by the governments would have carried other risks  but might have made the difference. After all, SF has shown they were prepared to return to Stormont and the DUP to contemplate a clearer role  for Irish in  context. If not a trade- off within culture, then a deal linking Irish with reform of the petition of concern and greater stability for the Assembly with built-in reviews involving the two governments should have been considered. That approach would have needed and will still need active London and Dublin involvement. The complexities of Brexit  make it all the more essential.

Back to the ILA. I know its raking over the embers but the St Andrews Agreement did say clearly..

 

  • We will establish a forum on a Bill of Rights and convene its inaugural meeting in December 2006.
  • The Government believes in a Single Equality Bill and will work rapidly to make the necessary preparations so that legislation can be taken forward by an incoming Executive at an early date.
  • The Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.

But there was slippage when it came to framing the Northern Ireland ( St Andrews Agreement) Act.  The UK government quietly washed their hands of it and tossed it over to the Assembly. This may seem entirely appropriate from a detached  position in London with little institutional memory available on Northern Ireland. There can surely be no better example of a devolved subject.

Why then w...

19:00

The multiple roots of Emiratiness: the cosmopolitan history of Emirati society openDemocracy

The UAE, like many other Arabian Gulf States, claims to be home to a homogenous Arab population. In doing so it assimilates rather than acknowledges the regions slave past.

'The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque's design and construction "unites the world", using artisans and materials from many countries including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates. More than 3,000 workers and 38 renowned contracting companies took part in the construction of the mosque.' Andrew Moore/flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

A quick glance at the faces of Emirati citizens as I walked down in a busy shopping mall made me think I could easily be back in London. The only major outward difference was that all the locals were wearing the national dress, or rather what has become the national uniform: abaya and dishdasha. A more important but less obvious difference, however, was that despite Dubais creole past and the ethnic, linguistic and racial diversities within the Dubaian Emiratis, Emirati national identity has been officially and popularly racialised as Arab since the founding of the United Arab Emirates in 1971.

With the aim of cultivating this presumed collective identity, the regions and its inhabitants links to, and origins from, various parts of the Indian Ocean, Yemen, Baluchistan, Southern Persia, the Arabian Gulf, Zanzibar and other parts of Africa has been elided. Yet for Emirati citizens, there are many clues to determine an Emiratis ethnic, sectarian, cultural, linguistic, and geographical origins. These range from surname, accent, and dexterity in spoken Arabic to physical characteristics, such as skin colour and even shape of eyebrows, as I was told. For example, Emiratis associate white skin with Persian origin, and darker skin with those with Baloch or Zanzibari origin, even though there are great phenotypical differences within these groups (i.e. Afro-Iranians).

However, one particular group, the Dubaians with slave ancestry, is surrounded by silence. Awareness of the regions involvement in Indian Ocean slave trade is made conspicuous by the absence of acknowledging any...

17:46

Palestine in Black and White Jonathan Fryer

5B3889E2-D8DB-4D45-B59D-55D7F70692F4Art can be a form of resistance, especially for an occupied people, whether it is in the form of graffiti on walls, paintings or cartoons. So there is little wonder that the 50 years of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing blockade of Gaza have been the subject of many works of art as well as biting political cartoons, both inside Palestine as well as in the wider Arab world and beyond. Most Arab newspapers feature black-and-white cartoons attacking dictatorships, corruption, the perceived evils of the United States and the West, not least in relation to Israel and Palestine. Many of those cartoons are deliberately simple, to put across a clear message not just to the literate elite but also to the less educated poor and marginalised. But some Arab cartoonists opt for more complex styles and messages. That is the case of Mohammad Sabaaneh, whose work is featured in the book Palestine in Black and White (Saqi, 10.99).

...

17:00

What we've discovered in a year investigating the dark money that funded Brexit means we can't stop now openDemocracy

On the first anniversary of our dark money...

Leave campaigners in Edinburgh - picture, Adam Ramsay

The first question was the one Id asked the two Brexit campaigners outside Edinburghs Waverley station.

They began by talking about democracy. But when I pressed, their rage switched to refugees. And it was then, in the middle of a question about an Afghan family Id met in Belgrade, that I spotted the imprint.

The small text at the bottom of the poster they were holding said printed and promoted by J Donaldson, Democratic Unionist Party.

Do you know who the DUP are? Do you know who Jeffrey Donaldson is?.

As I walked home, the second question occurred to me:

Why is a Northern Irish party paying for campaign materials in Edinburgh?.

And, as I unlocked the door to my tenement stairwell, the intriguing answer replied: there is no donor transparency in Northern Ireland. Someone is using them as a front to funnel secret money into the referendum campaign.

The next day, a few journalists tweeted a photo of a wrap-around Metro advert, also paid for by the DUP. Most treated it as the kind of odd thing that those strange parties in Northern Ireland do. Most didnt ask any more questions. But then, the Democratic Unionist Party, the pro-UK, anti-abortion, anti-LGBT biggest party in Northern Ireland has long benefited from the British medias two decade omert about Northern Ireland.

There was one exception. The Glasgow based Irish journalist Peter Geoghegan had picked up a copy on a trip back from Sunderland. Sharing a photo in a Facebook post, he expressed the same worry as me.

---

Six months later, I had my first one-to-one with my boss, Mary Fitzgerald, since shed come back from maternity leave. The meeting consisted of a long list of utterly vital tasks I hadnt done. And, at the end, as she was calmly trying to get me to prioritise, I said, oh, and there is one more thing an itch Id like to scratch.

I explained about the DUP posters and the dark money loophole...

13:50

We are back online Newsnet.scot

By Russell Bruce

The Newsnet website has been down for a few days and we apologise for our temporary absence. A plug-in was causing a problem but our back room IT expert also found a bunch of unexplained code. You may know him as Lindsay Bruce of ayeMail. When the mass of unwanted code was removed the site came back online instantly. It does look as if Newsnet is an inconvenience to someone somewhere. If the stories we carry are upsetting to our opponents then it is obvious the threat posed by our narratives are undermining their own ingrained bias.

Newsnet is one of the oldest indy blogs and we intend being around for the longterm. To this end we are expanding our team of writers and plan to bring more to add to the two recent additions.

Stay with us. Together we have a country to reclaim and place firmly on the world stage and at the very centre of European politics.

 

The post We are back online appeared first on Newsnet.scot.

09:31

Was an Irish Language Act really a bridge too far? Slugger O'Toole

What a week.

The DUP Leader, Arlene Foster has brought the curtain down on the current round of talks. It is commonly assumed that selling a stand alone, Irish Language Act is just something that would be a bridge too far for any Unionist leader.

However, just taking a stroll down memory lane I wonder is this actually a fair representation of where Unionist voters actually are.

Do I think they want an Irish Language Act? No.

Would it be difficult to sell? Yes.

But this does not make it an impossible sell for a party as accomplished as the DUP. There is a working majority in the current Assembly for an act. Only issue is the Petition of Concern (which is another issue in itself).

However, it needs to be highlighted that one of the reasons the demand for an act is so loud is due to the actions of the DUP in the final weeks of the Executive and the comments made during the election campaign.

Part of the problem facing the DUP is one that is of their own making, it wasnt any of the Irish Language bodies who urged Paul Givan to cut Liofa funding, nor did any of them make any reptilian references during the campaign.

Unionist leaders have in the past been slow to adapt and change. Fight like hell against something and it merely grows, we are witnessing this right now with the Irish Language Act. Had this been acted upon a few years ago, we would likely have something that would be in place in Scotland (Nationalist parties have failure here too).

Look at issues from One man, one vote, power-sharing, reform of policing and North-South institutions, all of which were fought against and ended up happening anyway. The notion of either youre at the table or youre on the menu seem to have gone out the window.

Unionist voters might not have liked all of the changes, but they responded and adapted. Remember when a DUP politician wouldnt even sit with a Sinn Fein politician in a TV studio? Did they suffer when this approach was changed? No.

Remember when going into government with Sinn Fein could see the new TUV take the DUP place within Unionism? Aside from the 2009 European Election, the DUP decisively beat the TUV at every poll since.

This would have been hard for the DUP, not impossible. They have a loyal/resilient voter base, whom have rewarded the party in the past for taking risks, but now the party is left to the mercy of the confidence and supply agreement that it negotiated at Westminster. History shows, this does not always work out well for Unionist leaders.

The DUP could have shaped an Irish Language Act and a wider Culture Act. I am not sure, where this all fell apart but an opportuntiy has been missed here to really kick start a proper conversation about culture. Nationalists will see a route for this change as lying in Dublin and London and this could see something imposed at a future stage.

Ill lea...

09:01

Arlenes Valentines Day Massacre Slugger O'Toole

Today could not have turned out any bigger a mess for the incumbent DUP Leader and would-be First Minister.

If sources are to be believed the Fermanagh MLA was ready to sign off on a deal which would have seen 3 Bills introduced :

  • An Irish Language Bill
  • An Ulster Scots Bill
  • A Joint Respect Bill

What has happened since the weekend to put the Stormont train off the rails? A DUP Group meeting on Monday morning, 3 days of wild exaggerations about what an Irish language Act would entail and an opposing statement from the leader of the Orange Order among other things.

All was not well within Camp DUP come today. Brian Rowan on EamonMallie.com has outlined how a senior DUP politician contacted him this morning to outline how the talks were going nowhere:

On Wednesday morning, a senior DUP politician described these talks as dead totally dead, he told me.

Hours later, he sent me a text two words: Told you

Senior members of the DUP are now openly undermining their leader. This is something we have all suspected for some time but such a public slapdown as outlined by Tommie Gorman in his RT report is quite extraordinary.

The other parties to the process will be asking themselves a number of questions tonight. One is whether or not there is any point in spending weeks and months making a deal with the current DUP leader if her MLAs or MPs are going to shoot down deals she agrees to in talks again and again.

What should worry us all is that it may be some time before we have a unionist leader that can carry a deal and restore the Assembly.

With the former First Ministers appearance before the RHI Inquiry due in the coming weeks and the British Cabinet due to take a firm position on the future of the border post-Brexit it may be some time before politics stabilises again and a deal to restore the Assembly can be made.

The question has to be asked will Arlene Foster still be party leader when that happens? After today it is certainly a little less likely.

06:52

The balance underpinning this place is that Nationalism and Unionism must work together Slugger O'Toole

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood on the breakdown of the talks

For 13 months the public have been without a government, without any change and without any power. Despite interventions from the SDLP, the DUP and Sinn Fin have kept people here entirely in the dark.

It appears this negotiation has now failed.

There is only one way through which the public can judge this failure the details of this deal must now be published.

As the party most centrally involved in coming to the accommodation that was the Good Friday Agreement, as its leader I want to make clear that this is a dangerous and difficult moment for the future of this part of Ireland.

After years of trying to bridge our deep historical differences, we are in danger of retreating from each other once more.

This is a failed negotiation which now threatens to hand power to a Tory/DUP Government. The SDLP is clear that this cannot be allowed to happen.

The balance underpinning this place is that Nationalism and Unionism must work together. Thats a reality that some still fail to face. We need to get back to the spirit envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement, that both traditions on our island are accommodated and respected.

The absence of a devolved institution means that the Irish and British Governments need to establish the Intergovernmental Conference so that all that we built up in our peace process is not lost.

03:27

For a political deal ever to emerge, mutual ignorance needs to faced and mutual respect observed Slugger O'Toole

Mick has rightly just pointed out how tantalising easy the language issue could be to solve, were it not for the politics that expresses a far deeper  mutual ignorance ( in both senses) than is often recognised and which 20 years of supposed power sharing has failed to reduce.  Politically there must be limits to the management of the voluntary apartheid state we appear to be creating before cohesion collapses altogether.  That moment may not be as far off as the more complacent elements of civil society appear to believe.

The controversy over a sustainable statutory role for the Irish language shows the impossibility of achieving a perfect balance.  Nobody  I take it expects equal treatment for Ulster Scots and marching bands. (Incidentally Id love to know what are Arlenes other elements of British culture). How then should unionists be compensated?  Or can the very idea of compensation be questioned at last, to be replaced by merit?  That seems too tall an order.

And yet the zero sum game has been tested to destruction. It makes everybody unhappy, crosser and more suspicious of the other.  Incrementalism is better. Instead of either or  we need more of   both and to acknowledge  the degree of  common purpose  essential for running an area  with a large dependent welfare state.

We cannot rely on equality and other rights alone.  However equitably constructed, democracy means making choices collectively and sticking to them by agreement. Somebody loses but essential rights and mutual respect limit the impact of loss. Winner- take- all is long dead although some on both sides havent clocked it yet.

Where is civil society in this?  For a wee place where everybody is supposed to know everybody elses business, there is monumental ignorance of the other side.  The role for education  not goody goody indoctrination is massive. It is a truism that of themselves, Irish culture and language represent no threat to the Union while promoting a sense of civilised Irishness. Something for everybody if they make the choice.   Culture  British or Irish has no final border beyond the self-imposed  if you have the language.  The caricatures of rival politicians have for too long  dominated general awareness.

But how is that apolitical ideal to be reconciled with their  background in  the Irish nation building of a century  and more ago  that the contemporary Sinn Fein would love to recreate?   We cant duck this.

The support of unaligned educators for a civil society is essential to begin to neutralise the toxic political content. The  problem has been that too few are  interested in the language on merit while  too many care about  it as  the current political symbol of respect. It cannot carry the weight of a proxy in  the continuing war by political means.

The confusion over Brexit has greatly inflamed  tensions. Sinn Fein were bound to  seize on  the re-emergence of the...

03:20

I respect the Irish language and those who speak it but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street Slugger O'Toole

So now we know. Sinn Feins refusal to countenance the three-Act solution means no deal is possible. No deal means Sinn Fein will continue their boycott of Stormont.

Heres the DUP Leaders statment from this afternoon

For almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn Fein. We have attempted to find a stable and sustainable basis for restoring devolution. Those discussions have been unsuccessful.

Despite our best efforts, serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Fein especially on the issue of the Irish language.

I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand-alone or freestanding Irish Language Act. Sinn Feins insistence on a standalone Irish Language Act means that we have reached an impasse.

As far back as last summer, I outlined my partys willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues.

However, I indicated that any such accommodation must be fair, balanced and capable of commanding support on all sides of our community. At the moment, we do not have a fair and balanced package.

After the Assembly election, I embarked on an engagement exercise with those who love and cherish the Irish language. I respect the Irish language and those who speak it but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street.

Respect for the unionist and British identity has not been reciprocated. In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.

It is now incumbent upon Her Majestys Government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Important decisions impacting on everyone in Northern Ireland have been sitting in limbo for too long.

I had dearly hoped that we could have restored an Executive and local Ministers could have taken those decisions. That is not possible at this time. Northern Ireland is best governed by local Ministers who are accountable to local people.

Restoring a sustainable and fully functioning devolved government will remain our goal but we will not accept a one-sided deal.

Any agreement to restore the Executive must be on a sensible basis. We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over thirteen months.

01:08

Much poison to drain from what should have been a very simple piece of business Slugger O'Toole

So does anyone know whats in this putative Acht na Gaeilge? Not yet, but if we look for precedents in Wales and Scotland, they have Acts which radically diverge because they reflect needs in each place.

In Wales, the language remains central to community life in vast swathes of the country. Its religious Baptist tradition put Welsh at the heart of a language-driven form of worship. This is the only place where the Act confers justiciable rights.

In Scotland which contains a number of intensive and historically well established Gaeltachtai in the islands and highlands, the Act is largely programmatic and draughted in such a way as to avoid the granting of extra rights.

Any putative Northern Irish Act (ILA) would be proportionate to the strength of the language strongly in revival, but with few geographically delineated speaker communities and its contested nature (often on false lines) would be just as modest.

Despite Concubhars spirited (but completely erroneous) assertion that DUP red (white and blue) lines are holding everything up, reasonable Unionist grounds for an ILA have been pretty clear since last March.

To a purely programmatic Irish Act, they want one for Ulster Scots and another for Culture. The current objection appears to be to the additionality of the other two for reasons that remain very poorly articulated.

That said, we can only presume that if this is all that remains to be settled then the other more problematic issues around dealing with the past and marriage equality have been dealt with or agreed to be long-fingered.

It may be that, as Brian hints, that this is just my Pollyanna instinct to see half full glasses, where they might actually be half empty. But what is regrettable is the unnecessary poison this whole episode has inflected into the discourse.

The sense that SF is merely using the issue as cover for the break in the first place, was amplified by that odd moment when the new party President deferred to the party Chair, Declan Kearney

Theres now a lot of poison to drain from what should have been a very simple piece of business, done over a whiskey or two in Stormont Castle. But apparently thats not how the puritan instincts of the DUP and SF operate

...

00:54

Neoliberalism and Irans protest movement openDemocracy

The protests in Iran, like those elsewhere, are the outcome of discontent in our circumstance and the present situation in the world.

Demonstrators in Iran on December 30, 2017. Picture by SalamPix/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.On the 1st of January, and the fifth day of protests in Iran, President Rouhani decided to pursue a course that the security and military officials had pursued before him. While speaking of the importance of attention to economic and political realities and the peoples right to protest, Rouhani overlooked the true reality of the situation when he proclaimed: There is a minority, a tiny group, who would come in and do something: to chant slogans against the law and the will of the people, to insult the sanctities and values of the revolution, and to destroy public property. Our country will round them up good. 

There is no doubt that government any government - is in the business of rounding up. It is in the essential working of government to round up collective wealth, to gather subjects, and to stockpile power. At times, such an act takes on a harsher form. Banks and prisons, two important institutions in the modern Iranian order, are crystallizations of the ultimate form of this gathering up. These two entities may help us understand what took place in Iran in the last few months.

Iranian neoliberalism

Since the moment privatization and the economy of an eastern neoliberalism was rolled out in Iran during the administration of Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) through its ripening in the Rouhani years, they have, beside their other results, created a class of poor and destitute people who have viewed their own meager prospects as being bound to the very government which in fact saps their lifeblood. Owing to their dependence on government aid, these people have always been the greatest supporters of those in power. Because of economic challenges posed by various administrations' adjustment policies and international sanctions, this burgeoning class has widened to include the classical middle class and is now at the end of its rope, in just the fashion Fyodor Dostoevsky describes in his Notes...

00:11

Adams appeal against Long Kesh escape convictions fails Slugger O'Toole

Odd wee story this one. Former President of Sinn Fein has failed to overturn two former convictions for escape from internment on a technicality. [A lot of trouble just to avoid US Homeland security control checks on one time felons Ed]

As for the stories behind the convictions, pure boys own stuff, with a comic twist..

[Adams] was among hundreds of people held without trial during the early years of Northern Irelands Troubles.

On Christmas Eve 1973, he was among four detainees stopped by wardens while allegedly trying to cut their way through the perimeter fencing.

All four made it through the wire and had been provided with clothing and money in a well planned escape bid when they were caught.

Mr Adams tried to escape again in July 1974 by switching with a kidnapped visitor who bore a striking resemblance to him, the court heard.

A man was taken from a bus stop in west Belfast to a house on the Falls Road where his hair was dyed and other changes were made to his appearance.

He was then driven to the prison where an attempt was made to substitute the man in place of Mr Adams.

So what were the grounds for the appeal? The BBC, again

Their bid to overturn the convictions was based on government papers recovered from the National Archives in London.

They said that a junior minister had signed the necessary document in 1975, when it should have been the Northern Ireland secretary.

However, counsel for the Public Prosecution Service argued that a long-established legal doctrine allowed other ministerial figures to lawfully authorise Mr Adams internment.

The appeal with Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Sir Reg Weir and Sir Ronald Weatherup.

Sir Robert said: We are satisfied that the decision to make the ICO (Interim Custody Order) could have been made by an appropriate person on behalf of the secretary of state.

We are satisfied that the minister was an appropriate person.

He added: This court has been satisfied as to the validity of the ICO made by the minister on behalf of the secretary of state.

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Wednesday, 14 February

19:50

The Middle Easts new donors: rogues or team players? openDemocracy

Turkey and the Gulf monarchies in their savvy, if reactionary, use of aid have become important players in the international donors club.

Participants pose for a group photo during the extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, on Dec. 13, 2017. Picture by Anadolu Agency/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.With his bullet-proof limousines at hand, and an entourage of 1500 conveyed from Riyadh in six jumbo jets, Saudi Arabias King Salman bin Abdulaziz visited Indonesia in March 2017. A pledge of a billion dollars for various development projects was among the mega-deals signed. The monarchs other promise of aid, probably of higher priority, was for education centers to promote Islamic teachings consistent with Saudi preferences. At the same moment, in Pakistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was calling attention to Turkeys aid during a summit of Economic Cooperation Organisation, a group of Muslim-majority states (several with Turkish cultural affinities) jointly committed to building a Central Asian common market like that of the European Union.

Such events highlight concerns, voiced for many years In western chancelleries and think-tanks, about rogue aid wielded by autocrats. Overtly developmental and humanitarian, such aid is regarded as covertly political. Where aid is supposed to adhere to technocratic good practices such aid is patently bad practice, and poses geo-political risks. Rogue donors include the usual suspects: China, Venezuela and Iran. But some of them lurk in the wests own camp, notably Saudi Arabia and others in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, Turkey, where a faith-based political party has steered foreign aid for nearly 20 years, is by no means above suspicion.

The Gulf monarchies and Turkey are increasingly welcome in the western-led aid congregation

Especially awkward for the United States whose military and diplomatic protection of the Gulf monarchies and of Turkey has never wavered was those states covert promotion of Islamic fundamentalism, the ground from which so many troubles for the US an...

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