Thursday, March 29, 2007

Irish economic growth in 2006 was the best since 2002

Eoin Burke-Kennedy:

The Irish economy grew by 6 per cent last year - the highest level since 2002, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The CSO's quarterly national accounts shows Gross Domestic Product at constant prices rose 6 per cent in 2006.

Gross National Product (GNP) - which includes income arising from investment and assets owned abroad - for the same period was 7.4 per cent.

GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2006 was 5 per cent compared with the same period in 2005 while the corresponding growth in GNP was 7.5 per cent.

The CSO noted consumer spending in volume terms rose by 6.2 per cent in 2006 compared with the previous year but this represented a slight slowdown in the rate of growth.

Capital investment, at constant prices, was 3.9 per cent higher in 2006 than in 2005 while the volume of industrial output accelerated from 3.4 per cent to 6.1 per cent.

Net Exports (which is exports minus imports) in constant prices were €569million higher in 2006 than the previous year.

Separate CSO figures show the balance of payments deficit increased from 4.2 billion in 2005 to 5.7 billion last year.

This was in part due merchandise exports of €21,644m which were almost €1 billion lower than for the same quarter in 2005 but remained relatively flat throughout 2006, the CSO said.

Minister for Finance Brian Cowen said the figures confirm that economic activity remains "particularly buoyant".

Mr Cowen said: "The figures are in excess of what most commentators had been assuming. There was an improvement in our export performance last year mainly due to higher services exports."

"In terms of this year, my Department is forecasting a continuation of strong economic growth, with GDP and GNP both expected to rise by 5.3 per cent," he added.

Aid 'nothing to do with Ireland success story'

Economy growth continues - CSO

Irish 2006 GNP +7.4% On Year In 2006 Vs 5.3% In 2005

Monday, March 26, 2007

Poll indicates boost in Sinn Féin support

RTE News:

The latest opinion poll shows a drop in support for both Fianna Fáil and Labour, and a boost in support for Sinn Féin.

The Red C poll, in today's Sunday Business Post, indicates a narrowing in the gap between the current Government and the alternative coalition of Fine Gael and Labour.

Since the last in the series of monthly tracking polls by Red C was taken at the end of February, there have been a number of political developments.

Fine Gael published part of its taxation proposals for the General Election, and both the Greens and Sinn Féin held party conferences.

Sinn Féin also enjoyed a successful election in Northern Ireland and has been central to negotiations to re-establish power-sharing institutions.

This month's poll was taken before this weekend's Fianna Fáil Ard Fhéis but the party will be disappointed to be down two points to 36% support.

Fine Gael are up one point to 23%, but their partners in Labour are down two to 12%.

The Greens are unchanged at 8% and the PDs lose one point, down to 3%.

The biggest winners are Sinn Féin, up three points to 10%, while Independents and others are up one to 8%.

Funding for UDA can't be justified

Self denial at a local level only adds to the SDLP’s woes as party’s decline continues

PSNI lied over Bone shooting

SDLP slam UDA £1m funding package

UDA 'still involved in extortion'

Monaghan bombing to be reinvestigated

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It's time PSNI was accountable for its actions

Brian Feeney:

It was the French politician Georges Clemenceau who said "war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men".

It's a pity the British administration here wouldn't take that maxim on board and apply it to both the police and army.

In the past week we've had two very serious incidents involving these organisations.

First, in Ardoyne, when police blazed away in a densely populated area firing an unknown number of shots, one of which went through the glass in the door of an occupied house and embedded itself in a wall inside.

Secondly, in Crossmaglen, when a helicopter came down in playing fields yards from houses.

The pilot seems to have done an excellent job in minimising injuries to his crew and passengers and avoiding any of the nearby homes. All very well but why were four police being ferried around in a military helicopter?

Here's what Chief Superintendent Hunniford said in February as the fortifications at Crossmaglen barracks were being removed: "The police are committed to delivering an effective service to the Newry and Mourne area and are already policing in the area without military support and delivering a policing service using vehicles and beat patrols. We want to work with the community and we want to deliver policing in south Armagh in the same way that policing is being delivered anywhere in Northern Ireland."

So people can look forward to helicopters and Keystone Cops charging around housing estates firing shots into homes?

There's supposed to be accountability from the police but there isn't.

It's exactly 11 months since a policeman shot dead a man at Ballynahinch in mysterious and disputed circumstances.

The local MP Eddie McGrady called for the policeman to be suspended. He was wasting his breath. The chief constable palmed off powder-puff questions from the Policing Board. The Police Ombudsman will report this year, next year, sometime, whenever.

It's the same with last week's Ardoyne shooting. As far as we know, the ombudsman's office still hasn't even questioned the policeman who opened fire.

On the face of it, the actions in Ardoyne contravened the PSNI's own policy, supposedly at one with the European Convention on Human Rights, namely forbidding lethal force "simply to prevent the escape of a person".

Firing a gun was maximum force despite no suggestion there was any other weapon involved.

Will we ever find out what happened and why?

As for the helicopter crash, the British army will investigate that. They are a law onto themselves as we witnessed last week with the failure to convict any soldier of the murder and serious assaults of Iraqis in Basra. Oh yes, except the guy who pleaded guilty.

Contrary to Clemenceau's advice, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was allowed to do exactly as it pleased here since the day and hour British soldiers walked onto the streets in August 1969.

Despite the appalling damage military misbehaviour here caused the Northern Ireland Office never had any say in MoD decisions – still doesn't.

There's no hope of having any influence on the British army so we'll never know what happened that helicopter or why.

Is there any more hope with the police?

It's clear that so far the PSNI are still unable to see themselves as public servants.

Statements from the Police Federation attacking the ombudsman's office and the whole concept of open policing are profoundly disturbing.

It seems the Police Federation believes its duty is to protect the tawdry, discredited reputation of the defunct RUC rather than to embrace a new style of police service.

It's going to be a long haul.

Only with some prospect of local control from a minister in charge of policing is there likely to be the sea change in attitude needed to prevent the sort of scenes that terrified people in Ardoyne.

At the very least people were entitled to a police press conference to explain what police thought they were doing. Instead – silence and the excuse that it's all under investigation.

Sadly senior PSNI people still think it's OK to charge into a place, fire shots and drive away without explanation.

When will they learn that's not normal policing?

Loyalist group to get over £1m govt funding

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Irish business leaders: 74% are positive about the Irish economy

RTE Business:

A survey of Irish business leaders has found that the cost of complying with regulations is their top concern, despite high levels of optimism about the Irish economy.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers annual survey of 200 chief executives also found a fall in support for social partnership and an increased level of satisfaction with the Government.

More than 60% of CEOs thought the cost of business regulation was higher in Ireland than in other EU countries, while 90% thought reducing these costs was a priority.

74% were positive about the Irish economy, but 71% were dissatisfied with the general cost of doing business in Ireland. 78% were happy with the quality of labour in Ireland, but 75% were unhappy with its cost.

67% felt the Government was in touch with their needs, up 13 points on last year. 72% said social partnership was necessary - a drop of 10 points.

On future investment, 81% of CEOs in Irish companies said they would not re-locate existing activities abroad, while 75% of multinational CEOs said they were considering additional investment in Ireland.

Two-thirds of CEOs believed that Northern Ireland was not as attractive a location for investment compared with the Republic.

PwC's Irish CEO Pulse Survey: Controlling costs biggest challenge - 67% of 229 respondents happy with Irish Government

Financial future of the north of Ireland could be bleak

BBC News:

An economist has warned NI's financial future could be bleak if a major financial package is not secured as part of a deal to restore devolution.

Professor Mike Smyth from the University of Ulster said the government plans to slow down public spending over the next five years.

Professor Smyth said NI had become too reliant on public expenditure.

Meanwhile, SF's Gerry Adams is to meet Bertie Ahern to discuss any Irish government input into a financial deal.

The talks are due to take place in Dublin later on Tuesday.

Professor Smyth said giving Northern Ireland an increase in public expenditure would not provide a long-term solution to its economic problems.

"To give us more public expenditure is like giving a drug addict a final fix," he said.

"What we need are some self-help measures, some tools to make us competitive, and if our parties don't secure some kind of additional industrial development enhancements they will have failed."

Assembly members are also scheduled to meet later for their first debate since this month's elections.

The politicians will discuss proposals for a new ministerial code and changes to the Stormont standing orders.

Both the Irish and British governments want a power-sharing executive in place by 26 March.

If an executive is formed, it will have four DUP ministers, three Sinn Fein, two UUP and one SDLP.

The rising of the Celts

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Emerald Isle Gets Greener

Chris Edwards:

Ireland has boomed in recent years, and it now boasts the fourth-highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. In the mid-1980s, Ireland was a backwater with an average income level 30 percent below that of the European Union. Today, Irish incomes are 40 percent above the EU average.

Was this dramatic change the luck of the Irish? Not at all. It resulted from a series of hard-headed decisions that shifted Ireland from big government stagnation to free market growth. After years of high inflation, double-digit unemployment rates, and soaring government debt that topped 100 percent of GDP, Irish policymakers began to cut spending in the late 1980s in a desperate bid to recover financial stability.

Irish government spending fell from more than 50 percent of GDP in the 1980s to 34 percent by 2005. For Europe that is a triumph of restraint, given that the average size of government across 25 EU countries today is 47 percent of GDP.

And Ireland has steadily reduced its tax rates. The top individual income tax rate was cut from 65 percent in 1985 to 42 percent today. The capital-gains tax rate was cut from 40 to 20 percent in 1999.

However, the key to Ireland’s success has been its excellent tax climate for business. In 1980, Ireland established a corporate tax rate for manufacturing of just ten percent. That low rate was subsequently extended to high-technology, financial services, and other industries. More recently, Ireland established a flat 12.5 percent tax rate on all corporations — one of the lowest rates in the world, and just one-third of the U.S. rate.

Low business tax rates have helped Ireland attract huge inflows of foreign investment. Given the country’s modest size, it boosts a high-tech industry second to none. Intel, Dell, and Microsoft are among the island’s biggest exporters. Ireland also hosts booming insurance, banking, money management, and pharmaceutical industries.

US multinationals in Ireland to present Irish Government with proposals to retune the economic "growth engine"

Investing in Your Backyard: Ireland

The portrayal of Sinn Féin as a reluctant partner in peace is a fiction that did not fool the Irish voters

Ronan Bennett:

Does Sinn Féin deserve no credit for the extraordinary transformation that has taken place in the north of Ireland over the past 15 years? From Peter Mandelson's account of the prime minister's handling of the peace process, one would think that the British government had to drag a stubborn republican leadership kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, and that once there they could only be kept on board by repeated capitulation to republican demands.

The former secretary of state for Northern Ireland has played no significant part in Irish politics since his forced resignation in 2001 over the Hinduja affair, but his portrayal of republicans as reluctant partners in peace - which the British media has eagerly picked up - not only rewrites history but helps to perpetuate an atmosphere of distrust and bad faith as the March 26 deadline for the return of power sharing approaches. For this reason alone it is worth getting the facts straight.

The peace process pre-dated the advent of Tony Blair to power by almost a decade. It does not detract from Blair's commitment to a settlement to recall that in 1988 Gerry Adams and John Hume, the former leader of the nationalist SDLP, began a series of private talks in an attempt to agree a joint strategy to take the gun out of Irish politics.

When the so-called Hume-Adams document was delivered in June 1992, it was greeted not as a promising avenue but with hostility. Hume, who went on to become a joint winner of the Nobel peace prize, reacted with hurt incomprehension. A man of Gandhian commitment to non-violence, he was accused of being everything from an IRA stooge to an outright villain. Unionists reviled him, and his British allies in the Labour party deserted him. The message from John Major's government was clear: there could be no negotiation with "the men of violence", only more war, more death, more misery. If the enemy was genuine about peace, all it had to do was surrender. This may have made Major feel strong, but as a strategy for peace it wasn't going to work.

Reflecting on the response to the Hume-Adams initiative, republican leaders could have been forgiven for falling back on the old dictum that nationalists in the north of Ireland never achieved anything by politics. It could easily have been the signal to give the physical-force tradition its head. But, undeterred, the IRA called a three-day ceasefire, on December 23 1993.

The intention was to show that the IRA had the discipline and cohesion to maintain a ceasefire and that the republican leadership was serious about finding a settlement. But such was the fury provoked by the Christmas ceasefire that Adams wondered aloud if the IRA had declared an intensification of the war. The message was the same: peace had to be on British/unionist terms.

When the IRA declared a "complete cessation of military operations" on August 31 1994, the response was no less hostile. Adams in particular came in for vicious and sustained criticism, including on these pages. Gerry Adams "is a coffin-filler strategically deciding to desist from filling coffins", wrote Edward Pearce in 1994. "Even if his heart is in peace, his words and his actions suggest a man who has neither the confidence nor the courage to drive events," an Observer editorial claimed in the same year. Later Roy Hattersley reflected in the Guardian that "Gerry Adams is part of the Troubles ... by treating him as if he is essential to a permanent settlement, we glorify intransigence, bigotry and extremism". It was as though nothing whatsoever had changed from a year earlier when the Sunday Telegraph, for example, declared that Gerry Adams was "one of the ... most formidable enemies to peace in Ireland's bloodstained history".

Given subsequent events, what lesson do we take from these quotations, apart from evidence of the writers' prejudice and inaccurate judgment? It is the same one that echoes throughout Mandelson's interview, which is that the British government is a patient, reasonable, much put-upon and disinterested party to the whole sorry affair.

In this smug, patronising and valedictory view, the British government can maintain the fiction that the conflict arose of nothing, that the nationalist community never had genuine grievances, that the whole thing was - to quote Jeremy Paxman during his coverage of the recent elections - "tribal" and therefore irrational, beyond politics. Or as the former Tory MP Edward du Cann said: "The English find [the Irish] impossible to understand - why they fight each other, why they speak with such a total lack of logic. There's no reality in Ireland. It's a land of fairies, of pixies and leprechauns."

Mandelson's Ireland may be inhabited by "bloody hard" people, but he colludes with Du Cann in propagating the self-exculpating myths that allowed both Labour and Conservative governments to shore up one side - the unionists - while waging war against republicans and still claiming to be impartial.

The elections last week saw Sinn Féin register its largest vote since partition. The lesson Mandelson and those who nod so approvingly at his interview have still to learn is that the party's success is an acknowledgment by voters that the republican leadership drove the peace process, while the British government and unionists have proved - and in the case of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist party continue to prove - dilatory in pursuit of a settlement.

We want the truth over 1972 bombings

Doubters in DUP try to thwart devolution deadline

Friday, March 16, 2007

IBEC:The Irish economy will grow by about 5.5% in 2007

Irish Independent:

Growth will be boosted mainly by buoyant domestic demand, with consumer spending growing by 7pc. IBEC economist David Croughan said the economy will turn in another strong growth in 2007 of the order of 5.5pc, only a little slower than 2006.

"The impetus will continue to come from the domestic sector with consumer spending expected to grow by a strong 7pc," he said.

But he also warned that turmoil in global equity markets and greater concerns about the weakening US economy are likely to make trading conditions more difficult.

"Nevertheless we should not be too quickly influenced by the most recent downbeat indicators from the US," he added, pointing put that many US indicators are subsequently revised.

For instance, recently there were disappointing employment increases of 97,000 for the US in February, but bad weather was a big factor for construction jobs and in addition the December/January numbers were revised upwards by 50,000, Mr Croughan pointed out.

IBEC says strong Irish economic growth in 2007 will be fuelled by construction and consumer spending

Emerald Miracle

Economists predict inflation falling to 3%

Neo-Nazis and British loyalists in the north of Ireland

Owen Bowcott:

Northern Ireland's first ethnic minority lawmaker has been targeted with racial abuse and threats on a UK-based website and on the internet site YouTube.
Anna Lo was elected last week as an Alliance Party candidate in the multi-member constituency of South Belfast. She is also the first ethnic Chinese politician elected to a legislature anywhere in Europe.

Ms Lo first contacted police in January about comments being posted on a racist, neo-Nazi website called the White Loyalist Guestbook. Most of the users are from Northern Ireland or England.

According to Ms Lo, detectives said they could do little about the material and instead gave her three personal alarms for her safety. "The police haven't done anything about it as far as we can tell," she said yesterday. "Giving the victim an alarm and telling them to step up their security is a bad message for people who experience racism or domestic violence."

In one posting on the website she appears alongside naked oriental girls and is associated with prostitution. The website carries Nazi insignia. One photograph shows a figure in a balaclava giving a Nazi salute in front of a Red Hand of Ulster flag. The YouTube site showed her posters being torn down and mocked her accent. YouTube has now removed the video which was posted on the comedy section of the website.

White Loyalist Racists in Northern Ireland

A good news election story for republicans

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Results of the election in the north of Ireland reveal more than obvious conclusion

Brian Feeney:

MLAs new, old and very old have collected their passes, the keys to their offices, signed the register and designated themselves.

The dust of the election has settled and all the parties will carry on as if nothing has happened.

You could argue of course that nothing did happen, that the election merely confirmed what we all knew and expected – the DUP and Sinn Féin are top dogs.

However, the results revealed more than that obvious conclusion.

They signify a tipping point for the defeated parties, the UUP and SDLP.

True, both parties have been in decline against their rivals for some years now, in the case of the UUP a more precipitate drop than the SDLP's.

It's more though than the drop in numbers of voters and seats and percentage share that tells the tale, decisive though those figures are.

What was exposed at last week's election was the amateurishness and lack of human resources available to both the UUP and SDLP.

Neither party has enough members to mount a serious challenge to Sinn Féin or the DUP in the districts they used to contest.

The UUP's membership is tiny and mainly over 60, a bit like the British Conservative party that William Hague inherited.

The SDLP is argueably in worse shape.

In parts of north, east and west Belfast they have no members at all. The same is true in Fermanagh and Tyrone.

For both parties canvassing means the candidates, their families and a couple of friends traipsing around houses every night of the week.

It's demoralising and debilitating.

Yet both parties refuse to cut their coats according to their cloth.

They continue to pretend they are major players.

They nominate too many candidates in the wrong places and make matters worse by failing to divide the constituencies effectively.

Take the UUP in South Belfast, where in some streets each of the two candidates had posters asking voters for first preferences.

Take the SDLP in West Tyrone where they fielded three candidates with the prospect of one quota.

Who's to blame for this sort of nonsense?

That dynamic duo Sean Farren and Jim Nicholson, the directors of election for SDLP and UUP respectively.

When they saw the number of candidates selected, a cursory glance at the results in 2003 should have shown them a cock-up was inevitable. You can only divide up votes in a constituency if you have the votes to divide.

Can the party leaders escape blame?

At any stage did Mark Durkan or Sir Reg Empey step in and say, 'Whoa'? Not a bit of it.

In fact party SDLP HQ reinstated a third candidate in West Tyrone where there were neither the resources nor votes to warrant three. Empey's own campaign in East Belfast was pitiable.

How was it that SF's sharp election directorate, led by Pat Doherty and Sean Begley, and the DUP's equally effective team, led by Peter Robinson, triumphed in places like North Antrim, Strangford, West Belfast and Mid Ulster while Farren and Nicholson bombed everywhere?

First, Farren and Nicholson occupied largely titular roles – responsibility without power.

Both the UUP and SDLP are highly undisciplined parties with weak central organisation, if you can use that word. Local candidates paid virtually no attention to either Farren or Nicholson.

You might ask who can blame them?

Secondly, SF and the DUP played to their strengths. Did SF stand three candidates in South Belfast?

Did the DUP stand two in West Belfast? Why not?

It would have been stupid, that's why.

Third, SF and the DUP could stop local candidates fighting each other. SDLP and UUP couldn't.

In both the UUP and SDLP nothing will happen to change any of this. Both promised thorough-going inquests in 2003 and 2005. The result? Last Wednesday.

As Lady Sylvia Hermon said of the UUP's performance, it was "woeful". Unfortunately there is no-one in the SDLP with her stature who is critical.

This election has shown that whatever fantasies both parties entertained, there's now no way back.

They'll deny it, but next time there'll be new constituency boundaries and the results will be even worse.

The wisest course of action would be for the SDLP to merge with Sinn Fein and for the UUP to merge with the DUP. Of course, both the SDLP and the UUP are too arrogant to pursue this strategy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The election in the north of Ireland has produced the most polarized assembly there has been since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998

Brian Feeney:

There was a lot of talk during the North’s election campaign about ‘bread and butter’ issues, claims that for the first time so-called ‘real politics’ were occupying people’s minds and exercising the candidates.

As the results show, such claims were far from the truth.

The facts are that the election has produced the most polarised assembly there has been since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

This is the third election following the two held in 1998 and 2003.

the first, David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and John Hume’s Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) dominated with per cent and 21 per cent of the vote respectively.

The Democratic Unionist Party DUP) and Sinn Fein (SF) followed with 18 per cent and 17 per cent.

Seats in the executive when it was eventually established, divided fortuitously five unionist and five nationalist. Five years later in 2003, Ian Paisley’s DUP had overtaken the UUP with 25 per cent of the vote to the UUP’s 22 per cent.

On the other side of the fence the SDLP had slumped to 17 per cent, while Sinn Fein had risen to 23.5 cent. That assembly never sat and therefore no executive was ever created.

The results of Wednesday’s poll gave the DUP 30 per cent of the vote, Sinn Fein 26 per cent, the SDLP 15 per cent with the UUP bringing up the rear at 14.9 per cent. The DUP and SF now have the lion’s share of ministries in the executive: the First and Deputy First Minister offices and seven of the ten ministries, with four going to the DUP. As you read here last week, the DUP has already expressed its intention to hold the purse strings with the Ministry of Finance.

That leaves three ministries between the once dominant SDLP and UUP: the UUP will have two, and the SDLP one. How the mighty are fallen.

The d’Hondt system, which governs the allocation of ministries, favours the big battalions. Not only will the DUP and Sinn Fein take the majority of ministries, they will bag the big money-spending departments such as education and health and leave the crumbs such as culture, arts and leisure to the defeated UUP and SDLP.

The DUP’s deputy leader Peter Robinson, obviously looking forward to being Minister of Finance, pointed to a rare item of agreement between himself and Gerry Adams.

He agreed with Adams that if an executive were established it would be ‘‘a battle a day’’.

When David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were First and Deputy First Ministers it was difficult enough to get them to agree on anything, even down to the design of number plates for Northern registered cars.

They operated from opposite ends of the huge Stormont building and communicated as little as possible.

How much more improbable will communication, let alone agreement be between the putative First and Deputy First Ministers, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness? The assembly operates on cross-community consensus. However, the election results mean that the DUP and Sinn Fein control their respective community assent.

Either of them can veto any important matter affecting society in the North. In the first assembly in 1998 the SDLP needed the cooperation of Sinn Fein to exercise that power. Back then the UUP also fell short of complete control of unionist assent. It’s all different now with the DUP and SF ruling the roost. How will an assembly work with two parties, whose leaders do not speak to each other, controlling its business?

The two governments are adamant that there must be a working executive established in 15 days’ time. Peter Hain, Northern Secretary, wrote to all newly elected assembly members on Friday reminding them that the legislation requires the assembly to be dissolved if no executive is elected by March 26.

Under the governments’ timetable, by Wednesday, parties are expected to beg in discussing nominations for ministries.

Publicly at least Ian Paisley is having none of it. He insists the British government must cough up major financial concessions, including reducing corporation tax to the Republic’s level of 12.5 per cent, if the DUP is to agree to share power.

Jeffrey Donaldson has said this financial package is a deal-breaker.

Sinn Fein’s position is diametrically opposed: there can be no financial package until an executive is established and that it is the executive which should negotiate it.

Underlying the demand for a financial package is the opposition to increased domestic rates and the imposition of water charges by Hain. It is as plain as a pikestaff that these unpopular measures were introduced and timed to come into operation in April to try to blackmail Paisley into sharing power.

Only a working assembly can repeal these charges. However, without the charges, some way has to be found to fund water and rates and a raft of expenditure on infrastructure, especially roads and rail.

Hence the demand for a package from the British Treasury, a peace dividend, the DUP now calls it, conveniently forgetting there was a peace dividend nine years ago after the Good Friday Agreement which the DUP then opposed.

There will be frenetic negotiations beginning tomorrow on all these matters as both governments try to bring the DUP over the line.

However, the very fact that Paisley is concentrating on the financial aspect of a power-sharing executive and no longer objecting to sharing power in principle is a fair indication of where he’s heading.

At present the betting is that, having seen off his own dissidents on Wednesday, his increased mandate will give him the confidence to press on to a deal, though not to the full deal by March 26.

Even so, any sort of a deal is only a first step on a long journey. It took David Trimble years before he even shook hands with Gerry Adams.

The North’s divided society has thrown up a sharply divided assembly in which the daily battles will be a wonder to behold.

An Irish champion of human rights

So, Dr No, what exactly were the last 40 years all about?

St Patrick’s day snub for RFJ

Friday, March 09, 2007

Two of the most historic bastions of unionism have fallen to the inexorable rise of Sinn Fein

Noel McAdam:

The republican party siezed an Assembly seat in South Antrim for the first time — and look set to follow suit in Lagan Valley later today.

Mitchel McLaughlin topped the poll in South Antrim, the former citadel of ex-Ulster Unionist leader Lord Molyneaux.

He came in almost 300 first preference votes ahead of the DUP's Rev William McCrea, who was also elected on the first count.

Both were newcomers to the constituency but it had been widely predicted Mr McLaughlin would have to slug it out for the sixth seat.

Other parties had claimed the Sinn Fein machine was less visible on the doorsteps than they had expected, but Mr McLaughlin revealed his canvassing had even included the rather "desolate communities" of the Rathenraw and Spring Farm estates.

Mr McLaughlin generously explained his topping of the poll was more the product of other parties vote management strategies than anything else.

But he also argued his party had built on the "very strong performance" of his predecessor candidate Martin Meehan who inadvertently claimed to have been elected last time — before the count was over.

Meehan seemed to have picked up enough votes lst night but gained only 24 transfers over the next nine counts. Yesterday McLaughlin had no need of transfers.

In contrast, however, Mr Butler was kept waiting 20 miles down the road. Even after a fifth count, as exhausted election officials in the Lagan Valley Leisureplex called it a night, he was still just over 800 votes shy of the 5,976 quota.

But the elimination of his SDLP rival Marietta Farrell should put Mr Butler over the mark when counting resumes this morning.

While McLaughlin, Sinn Fein's national chairperson, had been parachuted into South Antrim from Foyle where he had failed to unseat the SDLP's Mark Durkan in the last Westminster election, Butler had slowly built on his base as a Lisburn councillor.

Back in South Antrim, Mr McCrea said: "I am sad Sinn Fein have been elected in this constituency but I am absolutely thrilled that we have two excellent candidates well positioned to join me as elected Assemblymen."

Lagan Valley: Sinn Fein secure first seat

DUP and Sinn Fein on top

Ruane tops poll and urges DUP to end excuses

Upper Bann: SF leapfrogs over Simpson

South Antrim: McLaughlin tops the poll in sweet victory for SF

Battle for the green vote: Sinn Fein just keep on climbing

Mid Ulster: Sinn Fein trio take seats in first count

SF capture record fifth West Belfast seat

Diane Dodds squeezed out of seat

West Belfast: Deeper shade of green but no Rainbow

Gerry Adams Re-Elected

Thursday, March 08, 2007

IBM has announced it is to locate a new research and analysis institute at its campus in Dublin

The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), which will bring a number of high-end jobs to the Blanchardstown area, is part of the €46 million investment IBM announced last year.

IBM said then it intended to create 300 jobs in Ireland as part of that investment but it is unclear how many of those jobs will be located in the new Blanchardstown facility.

The institute is designed to research global economic development and trends.

There are IBVs already located in the US, China, Australia, the Netherlands.

Labour TD Joan Burton said IBM's plans would come as "a welcome relief" to workers in the region.

"What is now needed by Government is a complimentary strategy to get more young people in Dublin 15 to stay on at school and go to college and more opportunities for older workers to re-train and upskill," she added.

IBM backs Ireland Inc

Demand soars for all-Irish schools

Niamh Horan:

THE demand for Irish-speaking schools has surged with one principal saying a reason for the increase was that they ruled out a "certain element" present in other local schools.

But the Gaelscoil principals deny "anecdotal evidence" that some parents are sending their children to all-Irish schools to avoid having contact with the growing number of immigrant children in the national school system.

With waiting lists for some all-Irish schools stretching as far as 2011 and 65 more all-Irish schools opening in the past 10 years, a number of principals at Irish schools have been slow to go on the record to discuss the reasons behind the upsurge in demand for places.

When asked if some parents were enrolling their children into Gaelscoileanna because of the number of immigrants in ordinary national schools, one principal said it was "very possible".

"I know it has been said to me before, not in relation to the new nationals but in relation to the general problems that would be in certain deprived areas. In that you wouldn't get the same sort of problem mix or problem spectrum in a Gaelscoil and there might be a certain element involved in sending your child to a particular school."

He went on to confirm that "it was mentioned to me in passing" that it was a way of avoiding the local school if some parents weren't happy with it.

Another All-Irish school principal said his school had been inundated with hundreds of applications from eager parents trying to enrol their children.

"We would be turning away at least one class every year. We just don't have the room. I can take in 30 people next year and I have 110 on the list for those places. And I have every class full up to 2011. I have twice as many trying to get in as the number I can take in."

Big hike in all-Irish schools as Gaeilge becomes trendy