Uni’s back for the new term: the adaptability guide.

Hello all,

Uni is back for the new term (what Alice Cooper did not sing; evidently it does not promote the rebellious and celebratory mood quite like the end of a term) and with it comes modules, academic reading, coursework and the consumption of copious gallons of coffee. Coincidentally enough, today marks National Coffee Day, or so Twitter is at pains to inform me, and I think it comes at a convenient time when one considers how yesterday marked my return to university, and to entering Final Year Law.

Lecture and seminar prep, x2. The term begins!

It was a fantastic day, actually, for all that I joked about the ‘end being nigh’ to my friends and family. My seminar for Understanding Human Rights was fascinating; I think I am going to enjoy that module not only for the course content, and for the new perspectives it will afford me and the new means of thinking I will undergo, but also due to the teaching style. The module is taught as a seminar, meaning that it will be class-led, and we will share our thoughts and opinions on the readings and related current affairs. I am looking forward to the discussions and debates we will have!

I also have a feeling that I will really enjoy my Legal Theory module (essentially a Jurisprudence module). I initially felt quite bemused at my voluntary choice to study two theory-heavy modules in one semester, especially after two years of black-letter law teaching, not to mention a year away in America. But now, I am pleasantly surprised and actually excited for this semester. I appreciate how such theory-dominant modules encourage debate, challenging the student to re-consider their own views and contrast differing perspectives. I particularly am looking forward to the ‘interactive caselaw session’ during this module, where we will be examining cases from various competing legal critiques to determine how each critique influences the outcome of the case. I suppose that it is simply nice to remember that the ‘law’ dos not have a straightforward definition, and there is no one way to understand it or describe it. Even better, it goes to show that a Law degree is not just about being able to recall legislation and caselaw; it is also about being able to think, to prepare for contrasting opinions, and have the ability to put forward a reasoned argument in favour of your view, whilst respecting that of your counterpart.

So, hurrah for being back on campus, and for the new academic term. (For all that it is already causing me to drown in a sea of papers.)

Photographic evidence of my drowning.
 I must confess to being rather the keen bean student, for when I started to receive emails from the co-ordinators of my modules, I felt a thrill of excitement, knowing that I was going back to Law, and entering my final year. Of course, I greatly enjoyed my year abroad in America, studying a different course and in a different learning environment. But Law is my degree, my chosen profession. Thus, to head on back to the law textbooks and article readings was a joy, and to walk back on my own university campus was eerily like returning home. (Okay, okay. I will cease the cliché love-in with my degree right about now.)

Yet, for all that I enjoyed yesterday, and am looking forward to my new semester, I cannot deny that it can be rather the rude shock to the system to adjust to the old routine. It is difficult to get used to early mornings, the daily commute and studying when you have been enjoying the delights of a long summer. So with that in mind, I thought I would draw up a brief list of how best to get back into the swing of work/study after the holidays.

Having a positive attitude (‘I’m looking forward to doing X’/’I cannot wait to start this’) will work wonders, and help provide motivation to adapt back to the daily grind. With that, and the tips below, you can jump back into uni/work/extra-curriculars in no time.

  • Alarm-clock blues: okay, this may seem rather odd, but there is reason to the madness of this inclusion. The very first change of routine will be the early mornings – no more luxury lie-ins to be sure. I coped (whilst I returned to uni yesterday, for the past week I have been attending committee meetings amongst other things in Belfast, so I was basically in the working-day mode already) by setting several alarms, maybe two before my main alarm, to ensure I would get up. I also opted for songs in lieu of piercing shrieks, because I respond better to songs I like than the shrill ‘wah wah wah’ of a standard alarm. So, I went for Stone Temple Pilots, Twin Atlantic, and to really set the tone, this gem from the House of Cards OST. (Hear that go off on a dark morning, and it sets up for the day. If you plan on devious scheming, that is.) I recommend you choose songs you like, that also boast a strong rhythm and drumbeat. You will have to wake up, and you will be humming along in the process.
  • Breakfast: this is the most important meal of the day. How do you expect to endure the day if you are running low on energy? Even if you are not a big eater in the mornings, try to eat some fruit and a cereal bar. You’ll thank me later. (Oh, and have some herbal tea or coffee to have wake you up and prep you for the morning.)
  • Time Management: this isn’t necessarily just confined to prioritising tasks at work/uni. This also includes you. Make sure that you have some time that you can spend refreshing your mind about what you need to focus on, assess your workload, and make sure you can find a healthy balance between work and socialising with friends.
  •  Treat September as a new year: this one is easy for me, as the new academic year always commences in September. What I mean by this is consider this month as a fresh start as you go back to your job, or to university. Summer allowed you to relax and recharge yourself, so you should be raring to go. You can use ‘fresh start’ to set yourself some new goals or targets that you wish to achieve in the coming months, and/or revise your existing plans and make adjustments. Maybe you can join the gym, and take up a new hobby? If you are a student like myself, why not become involved in a student organisation? You will have fun, make new friends and be able to share your interest and enthusiasm for a subject with others.
  • Have a ‘treat’ date: following on from above, make sure you have something set aside for the future that you can be excited about. Counting down the days until your treat will help make time fly by, and motivate you to work hard so that you can reward yourself (without a guilty conscience!) Whether it is a fancy dinner date with friends, a saved-up for shopping trip or luxury purchase, or a mini-holiday – having something to look forward to on the horizon will help get you through the working week. (Myself? Oh, I have my birthday, and a Johnny Marr gig to look forward to in late October.)
  • Eating habits: when you are stuck in the uni library, surrounded by notes and textbooks, or sitting at an office desk in front of a glaring computer screen, you are always tempted to snack, whether from a sugar-fix need or from boredom. (My personal temptation is Tracker bars. Don’t ask.) Try to avoid the snacking temptation! You will only succumb to a sugar-fix, with its impeding crash, and will feel tired and/or bemoan a sore head. Stick to three healthy, balanced meals a day, drink plenty of water and consider bringing fruit or granola bars around with you. This will keep you alert and energised throughout the day.
  • Of timetables and schedules: if you know you will have to work at home, be it for a project, or for lecture prep and revision, start as soon as you are able – do not leave anything until the last minute. Write out your timetable and post it on a wall or in your diary, so that you are aware of your work for the day and can plan around it. Draw up a schedule for revision and uni prep, so that you will always have a few hours to yourself in the day for relaxation or for extra-curriculars.
  • Beauty sleep: when you return home after a long day, make sure that you set a reasonable hour for when you will go to bed, and stick to it. I know I sound akin to a lecturing parent here, but speaking from experience -I pulled far too many all-nighters in America and I was shattered at the end of the semester – your working week will go in easier and smoother if you are alert. When you get plenty of sleep, you will also feel more positive and motivated – and not feeling the urge to either sleep at your desk, or shout in a Malcolm Tucker-esque manner at the students talking loudly and walking like elephants around you in the library. (Not that that has ever been a temptation of mine. Oh no.)

The above tips are simply a guide; they may not work for everyone. But I hope that they may be of service to someone! And remember: September is nearly over! Enjoy glorious Autumn whilst it is here, and remember that a work/life balance is essential, whether you are working full-time, or still at school.


Of Women, words and the status quo.

It pays to follow current affairs and remain abreast of the news. For every so often, you will witness the beginning of a saga and its development.

I read an article yesterday morning (whatever is new there) which derived from an interview with one of the UK’s most senior members of the judiciary. It may sound rather run of the mill when phrased as such, but I can assure you that the general gist of the interview is really anything but standard. Rather, it proved to be one of the most controversial and divisive articles I have come across recently, and immediately went viral throughout social media. Allow me to elaborate, and offer my own opinion on the interview -and controversial statements – in question.

In an interview with the Evening Standard on Monday, Lord Sumption, a member of the UK Supreme Court, appeared to warn that advocates for swift change in the membership of the UK judiciary – through achieving equal gender representation – could inflict ‘appalling consequences’ on the quality of the UK justice system.

Lord Sumption also seemed to suggest in the interview that he supports the Conservative government’s proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with new legislation (the so-called ‘British Bill of Rights’) and argued that the replacing of the HRA and the implementation of new legislation would provide for greater protection for citizens. Whilst he appeared to happily tread the fine line between judiciary impartiality and party politics, it was his comments on women occupying higher positions in the legal profession on an equal footing with their male counterparts which attracted greater scrutiny and debate. I will provide my own opinion on the comments shortly, after detailing the remarks in full.

Whilst Lord Sumption said he believed the judiciary was a ‘terrific public asset’, he appeared to argue that it could be ‘destroyed very easily’ if the selection of candidates was ‘skewed’ in favour of women to achieve equal representation. He stated that equality campaigners would have to be ‘patient’ in achieving their aims in an effort to avoid damaging the system, that ‘terribly delicate organism’ of British justice and the judiciary combined. Furthermore, the Supreme Court judge suggested that it may take as long as 50 years to achieve a gender balance in the judiciary:

“These things simply can’t be transformed overnight, not without appalling consequence in other directions…

“…One has to look at the totality of these problems and not simply at one of them. The lack of diversity is a significant problem, but it isn’t the only one.”

“It takes time. You’ve got to be patient. The change in the status and achievements of women in our society, not just in the law but generally, is an enormous cultural change that has happened over the last 50 years or so. It has to happen naturally. It will happen naturally. But in the history of a society like ours, 50 years is a very short time. “

Lord Sumption then touched upon the issue of an apparent pro-female bias, arguing that by demanding equal gender representation on the Bench to the advantage of female legal professionals, their achievements would be to the detriment of their male counterparts. This, he argued, would merely reverse the problem; it would not solve it.

 “We have got to be very careful not to do things at a speed which will make male candidates feel that the  cards are stacked against them. If we do that we will find that male candidates don’t apply in the right numbers. 85 per cent of newly appointed judges in France are women because the men stay away. 85 per cent women is just as bad as 85 per cent men.

“What we have in this country is a long cultural tradition which is genuinely based on public service, people feeling that at the end of a successful career at the Bar, that [becoming a judge] it is something that you ought to be willing to do. That’s a terrific public asset.

“It’s a tradition which you can destroy very easily and never recreate, not without waiting for a very long time. It would be very unfortunate.”

Yet Lord Sumption was not quite done yet. For in further contentious remarks, he commented that the general view of the legal profession being run and dominated by a ‘old boys’ network’ was ‘rubbish’.  He offered his explanation of the lack of female judges: it is mainly due to the ‘lifestyle choice’ of women who are simply unwilling to tolerate long hours and frustrating working conditions which are the norm on the Bench.

Lord Sumption, who joined the Supreme Court in 2012 after a career as one of the UK’s most successful barristers, took pains to emphasis his support of female equality. He wants to see ‘hidden barriers to the progress of women’ removed. But, as he dismissed the claims of a ‘old boys’ network’ as the cause of the lack of female judges yet acknowledged ‘hidden barriers’, he warned the most serious factor was a ‘high attrition rate’ among female lawyers:

“The Bar and the solicitors’ profession are incredibly demanding in the hours of work and the working conditions are frankly appalling. There are more women than men who are not prepared to put up with that. As a lifestyle choice, it’s very hard to quarrel with it, but you have to face the consequence which is that the top of the legal profession has fewer women in it than the profession overall does.”

Essentially, one of the UK’s most senior and respected judges is submitting ‘qué será será’ as his reasoning

Such was the cause célèbre stoked by his remarks in the interview, that the Supreme Court was prompted to clarify Lord Sumption’s comments, and issued a statement (which it also tweeted, evidently aware of the social media storm).

The UK Supreme Court sought to issue a statement as ‘A response to some apparent misunderstandings around focus of Lord Sumption’s diversity comments’. The full statement reads:

‘Some of Lord Sumption’s comments appear to have been misunderstood. The full quotes make clear that he believes that increasing diversity at all levels of the profession is important, and that the range of hidden barriers to improving diversity – particularly of the judiciary – present a very complex problem. Nowhere did he try and reduce this to a simple question of ‘lifestyle choice’. The concern he expressed was against introducing any form of positive discrimination to the judicial appointments system without careful analysis of the full range of potential consequences.”

Lord Sumption’s position is set out in detail in a lecture he gave in November 2012.’

I shall point out that the ‘full quotes’ the statement refers to, are those which I have included in this post: how he wishes to see the removal of ‘hidden barriers’. I have already discussed my issue with this statement, and I would like to add that wishing is all very good, but falls quite flat when you also add that you advise equality campaigners to be ‘patient’ and wait fifty years. Oh, and that we must be careful ‘not to do things at a speed which will make male candidates feel that the  cards are stacked against them.’

If he was trying to warn against ‘positive discrimination’, Lord Sumption should have been clearer. As a highly sought-after and successful barrister, and a respected Supreme Court justice, I find it hard to believe that he would struggle to articulate his opinions.

I read the 2012 lecture provided by the Supreme Court statement, and found it to be well-researched and written; he argues the same theme re time: ‘selection on merit alone can be expected eventually to produce a diverse judiciary. But it will happen only over a considerable period of time.’ Yet, his so-called ‘position’ seems rather similar to the view expressed in the interview. In his lecture, at pg 11 he states again his explanation regarding the lack of female advancement into higher-tier positions:

 ‘However, although time will heal some of these barriers to professional advancement, it will not heal all of them. The major barrier to the professional advancement of women has been identified by the surveys commissioned over the years by the Law Society and the Legal Services Commission. It is that the exceptional demands which the profession makes on its most successful practitioners, in terms of commitment, working conditions and sheer hours. Not every one wants to put up with this. Those who do not, are making a perfectly legitimate lifestyle choice. Only the equal sharing of household and childrearing obligations between men and women can be expected to have a significant effect on this critical aspect of the culture of the professional workplace. It may happen, but it will involve a very profound, long-term change in social attitudes, which is beyond the reach of legislation and has, as yet, barely begun.’

Yes, basically the lack of female advancement may be attributed to men and women not sharing child-care responsibilities as per societal gender norms, and generally more women desire to start families than their male counterparts.

Lord Sumption also discusses the French model of career-judges, and again reiterates his concerns surrounding the majority of French judges being female, to the detriment of men. It also, in his conclusion, emphasises the ‘damage’ that could be suffered by the judiciary and justice system, should representation be achieved too quickly, and not over time. And on the topic of understanding why there are such obvious discrepancies between women in positions of authority and salary difference, Lord Sumption states, ‘The reasons for this pattern are beyond the scope of this lecture.’

I personally believe that appointments to any position of authority should be on merit, and merit only. I strongly believe the creation of quotas to satisfy equal representation requirements actually fails to address the traditional mindset of ‘old boys’ network’, for all that it may physically change the composition of the workplace. In addition, it essentially tells the employee in question that they were hired on the premise of satisfying a quota, not because they boast superior experience or expertise compared to the other candidates.

However, if Lord Sumption – as he did – classifies the Bar and indeed the Bench as a meritocracy, this implicitly suggests women are lacking on merit. They must be, if they only comprise 25 percent of the overall population of judges. I refuse to believe these women, successful legal professionals working in demanding jobs, cannot compete on the basis of merit alongside their male counterparts. Evidently, there are indeed talented and experienced female lawyers in the profession. The only conclusion one can readily reach is that they are being passed over during appointments in favour of men.

May I take this opportunity to remind readers of the statistics relating to female judges? Official statistics reveal that out of 106 High Court judges, only 21 are female. There are only eight women to be found among the 38 Court of Appeal judges. It is a well-known fact among law students in particular that there is only the one female Supreme Court justice, Baroness Hale (she is rather the celebrity these days.) As previously mentioned, the overall proportion of female court judges is just over 25 percent.

25 percent. Surely, surely such an obvious discrepancy cannot wholly be attributed to ‘lifestyle choices’. As I touched upon previously, there is something wryly amusing in reading how Lord Sumption breezily dismisses the ongoing existence of ‘an old boys’ network’ operating the legal profession, yet he readily acknowledges that female lawyers face ‘hidden barriers’. (But he wishes to see such barriers removed. So that’s alright then.)

I refuse to believe that the majority of female lawyers who aspire to sit on the Bench are unwilling to endure long hours and tiring working conditions to achieve that goal. These would be women who undertook challenging degrees, who searched for work experience and successfully applied for competitive mini- and graduate Pupillage. These would be women who may have had to take out loans to fund their postgraduate degrees, maybe a LLM as well as the BPTC, and work part-time to ensure they could repay such loans. These would be women, who spent hours researching and studying in libraries and at home, working on coursework and examination revision. These would be women, who learnt to juggle their social lives at university, with their degree, volunteering, part-time employment and student organisations. These would be the women who made up the greater percentage of law graduates. These would be the women who work, day in and day out, in the knowledge that their gender statistically make up the most of legal professionals, but are disproportionately unrepresented in the higher positions, whether in making partner, or making the Bench.

Please do not patronise women, Lord Sumption, by saying that ‘more women than men… are not prepared to put up’ with working long hours, or in tough conditions. Female barristers and solicitors are already doing exactly that. They expected to do so, and will continue to do so – because they wish to climb the proverbial career ladder. They wish to succeed in their chosen profession, wish to realise their goals.

My personal input? As a woman aspiring to enter the legal profession, it is marvellous to know that it is apparently ‘skewed’ in favour of women.

I truly appreciate that Lord Sumption, as one of the UK Supreme Court judges and thus one of the most senior figures in the judiciary, believes that any promotion afforded to myself or other women is detrimental to our male counterparts, and furthermore, obtained on the basis of a pro-female bias. (Not that I, or any other woman, would achieve promotions on merit.)

As a law student who has experienced university education both in Northern Ireland and America (via a scholarship), has studied Law, American Business and PR, has revised into the wee hours for her Law exams and successfully adapted to the rigorous testing system of American colleges (tests, papers and group projects every other week) I feel I could cope with lengthy working hours. I volunteer, I have tutored primary schoolchildren, I am currently working as a ‘Buddy’ to international students and acting as a Studies Ambassador for a European newspaper. I am prepared for a hectic and challenging career – indeed, it is what I desire to do, and I am committed to working diligently to achieve my career aspirations. I am a conscientious student; I am confident I will become a conscientious legal professional. My lifestyle choice is to be a successful legal professional.

Just what ‘appalling consequences’ exactly do you envisage, Lord Sumption, should more female lawyers be appointed to higher positions? An accurate representation of society within the judiciary, perhaps?

In his 2012 lecture, Lord Sumption wearily discussed how there is a contemporary view of judges being narrow-minded, aloof, and detached from society. He dismissed this as being false. But when women comprise 51 percent of the country’s population, yet comprise only 25 percent of the judiciary, this contemporary view is readily understandable. Indeed, it could be argued that this view holds truth. (I was going to say, ‘holds merit’. Highly applicable, and ironic, considering the gist of this post.)

Lord Sumption is a highly intelligent, and well-educated man, as this Guardian interview demonstrates. A gifted linguist, historian and author, he also appears to be self-effacing. He was a successful barrister and now a respected member of the UK Supreme Court. Hence my disappointment at Lord Sumption’s comments. If a man of his intellect and authority believes that the evident gender imbalance in the UK judiciary is a consequence of women having different ‘lifestyle choices’ to men and a dislike of working long hours, then the ‘hidden barriers’ to female advancement he himself acknowledges will simply be all the hardier to remove.

For Lord Sumption to express his fears that the fair advancement of women will harm the (traditional and continued) advancement of men – with the greatest respect and deference to Lord Sumption, this is fear unfounded.

In sum: It is always wryly amusing to read a person who holds an exclusive position of power discuss how such a position should remain exclusive.

News from the Pond: An American News Round-Up.

In the news today…


Hello, and welcome to a special US news round-up. Some interesting things have occurred in the US of A over the past few weeks, so I thought it would be only right to dedicate a blog post to cover some of the headlines I have enjoyed reading recently. There is a distinctive Presidential 2016 flavour with the articles of choice.

Without further ado, let’s get to it.

  1. The emergency meeting that led Walker to quit (via POLITICO)
    ~ We will start today with the breaking news from yesterday that the GOP candidate field has decreased again by one. Rick Perry previously withdrew, and now Scott Walker has joined him.This article discusses how Walker’s wife and his campaign chairman summoned longtime Walker aides to discuss the future of his struggling Presidential campaign. For Walker was struggling, from debate performances and position in the competitive and crowded GOP field, to staff lay-offs, and donors drying up. I think the below article quote very neatly sums up Walker’s situation:

Walker had just limped out of a disappointing second presidential debate. The governor had spent weeks preparing for the showdown, knowing his political life depended on it. He’d practiced giving punchier answers and making sure to use up all his allotted time.

But the reviews had been brutal. Donors were grousing, and money was drying up. It was a painful turn for Walker, who had quickly vaulted to the top of the Iowa polls, powered by a fiery January speech in Des Moines, only to drop precipitously in the summer amid Donald Trump’s rise. He had gone from frontrunner to also-ran in a matter of months.

The second GOP debate was, frankly, a disaster for Walker. His main moment of the night followed from Carly Fiorina’s discussion on Planned Parenthood. Walker raised his finger, and yet was not called upon. He would then speak only once in the next 30 minutes. After such a showing, which came after rumors of layoffs, pay cuts and office closures, it was only natural that his supporters would begin to murmur, and his donors cry out for improvement.

There would be no improvement. Only the Sunday before his withdrawal from the race, a new CNN national survey was released. The results showed Walker sitting on less than 0.5%. To put that into perspective: he had been in third place for the first debate on Fox, standing next to Donald Trump. Now, after several rocky weeks, his polling companions were the likes of George Pataki, Jim Gilmore and Bobby Jindal.

Walker’s departure emphasis the importance of a structured and planned campaign. It also reiterates that a cash-rich super PAC is no substitute for a well-funded official campaign – his super PAC’s treasury still contains millions.

2. Scott Walker’s own limitations did him in (via Washington Examiner)
~ This article argues that Walker’s own limitations as a candidate, from policy ideas to differing takes on national issues are the reasons for his withdrawal from the 2016 race.

Walker had started off strong. He delivered a strong, stirring speech in late January of this year at an Iowa Republican gathering which impressed Republicans in the crowd. His standing in polls improved markedly, and donors and endorsements followed. But so too did trouble, in the form of his lack of knowledge in national issues and key policies.

About a month after his Iowa breakthrough, Walker travelled to Palm Beach, Florida to address a donor-heavy crowd at a gathering sponsored by the conservative Club for Growth. He was asked his thoughts about the Export-Import Bank, and about the ongoing standoff in Congress over funding the Department of Homeland Security. His answers were long, drifting and lacking in detail and coherence. Walker was well-versed in Wisconsin issues, but lacked knowledge on a national level. This was ruthlessly exposed in the first GOP debate, and by the time the second came around, he barely made any screen time. His support, already weakening, passed the point of no return.

As the article concludes:

But for all this strengths at the state level, Walker just wasn’t ready for a national run. And in the end, the presidential campaign did what presidential campaigns do: it ruthlessly exposed the weakness of the man at the top.

On the subject of limitations, POLITICO has an article entitled ‘7 gaffes that helped doom Scott Walker’, which includes his refusal to discuss foreign policy.

3. Labour tap-dances on Walker’s political grave (via POLITICO)
~ One last article on the topic of Walker’s withdrawal from the 2016 race. Walker was respected by the GOP for the way he took on Labour unions in Wisconsin. He stood up to everything the Democratic/Big Labour/Liberal Establishment had to throw at him, and came out the winner. Whilst that gained him Republican respect, it also earned him the animosity of the unions, who are now celebrating his dropping out of the 2016 race.

As this POLITICO article states: ‘No one is happier than organized labour to see Scott Walker drop out of the 2016 contest.’

This is due to the double war Walker waged against unions in Wisconsin. A labour-backed plot to oust to Walker failed in 2012, after Walker pushed through a bill which drastically reduced public employees’ bargaining rights. Then in 2014, Walker won re-election after AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka declared securing Walker’s defeat had become the main priority of organised labour. Walker added perceived insult to perceived injury when earlier this year he had made Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state in America. This consequently freed public and private workers from any legal requirement to pay dues or their equivalent to a union that bargains collectively on their behalf.

Unions have been quick to point to Walker’s war on unions as being the reason his 2016 Presidential bid failed. Unions have been gaining greater public approval in recent years – even among Republicans. According to Gallup, since 2009 union approval has risen from 48 percent to 58 percent for all voters, and from 29 percent to 42 percent for Republican voters.

4. Backlash grows against Ben Carson’s comments on Muslims (via POLITICO)
~ Over the weekend, Dr. Ben Carson, a GOP 2016 candidate, stated in an interview his belief that a Muslim should not be President of the United States. He essentially said that as Muslims believe in Sharia law as the basis of a legal system, they could not fulfil the obligations of the US Constitution. He also stated that:

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that”

However, he is now facing backlash for his remarks. Yesterday, candidates and religious groups from across the political and ideological spectrum came out to condemn his remarks. However, his fellow GOP candidates were among the quickest to seize upon his comments.

Sen. Ted Cruz noted in an Iowa television interview on Sunday that the US Constitution, specifically Article VI, “specifies there shall be no religious test for public office and I am a constitutionalist.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham called on Carson to apologise, telling Reuters that the remarks were particularly offensive to Muslim members of the military.

Democrats were also swift to condemn Carson’s comments. Hillary Clinton also criticised Carson via citing Art VI of the US Constitution. And Sen. Bernie Sanders told reporters in New Hampshire he was ‘disappointed’ by Carson’s statement that a Muslim could not be President of the United States.

Religious organisations have also condemned the statements, with The Council on American-Islamic Relations calling on Carson to withdraw from the 2016 race for his ‘unconstitutional and un-American statements.’

I doubt Carson with withdraw. He has refused to apologise for his comments, and does not appear to have any plans to do so in the near future.

5. Poll: Almost half say feds are a ‘immediate threat’ (via Washington Examiner)
~ 49 percent of people asked in a new Gallup survey have said that the federal government poses ‘an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens’, and another 19 percent say the federal government is too big in general and legislates too widely and broadly.

Whilst this negative view of the federal government has generally been held by the same percentage of Americans for the past five years, fewer than a third of those asked (30 percent) held this view when they were initially surveyed in 2003.

And the statistics just keep coming.

Another 15 percent of those asked worry the federal government violates too many freedoms and civil liberties in its policies and legislative agenda, whilst 13 percent view the government as a threat to the Second Amendment.

Six percent also worry about losing freedom of speech, and the same percentage of people asked fear the federal government will take away freedom of religion – perhaps given the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favour of same-sex marriage.

6. How economic gloom is shaping White House race (via Washington Examiner)
~ This article discusses that the growing rise in popularity of 2016 campaigns such as that of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is hardly surprising. The US electorate are connecting to ‘Feel the Bern’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ slogans because of the positivity such slogans inspire, and because of the pessimism the electorate feel regarding the direction of the US.

The article mentions how the American electorate haven’t felt optimistic about the direction of their country for at least seven years, which is an unprecedented consecutive streak. Hence the popularity of Sanders and Trump – when such pessimism is combined to fears for the future and children and the growing belief that the federal government is not listening, the electorate will turn to campaigns which promise drastic change.

David Winston, a Republican pollster who is not affiliated with any of the 2016 contenders, undertook a survey of 1,000 registered voters nationally in both this past August, and in February of 2013. They were asked the following: “In thinking about the role of people like you in the political and public policy discourse about issues, do you think your voice is heard effectively?”

In August, only 28 percent answered in the affirmative, whilst 71 percent said no. The results were virtually identical to those in Winston’s 2013 poll.

Furthermore, according to recent Gallup research, 75 percent of American adults perceived government corruption as widespread, up from 66 percent in 2009. It is not just the politicians people are unhappy with – it is the political institutions which they serve, too.

All of this negativity has helped Sanders and Trump connect to those in electorate who think negatively because they, more so than the other candidates in their respective primaries, have acknowledged it and given voice to it.

7. Hillary Clinton is now viewed unfavourably — in New York (via The Washington Post)
~ This is the news that Hillary Clinton would win the state of New York if the Democratic primary were to be held tomorrow. She leads Vice President Biden, a potential challenger, in the state by 21 points, and Sanders by about the same margin. However, what makes for interesting reading is that of her polling figures in that state.

Despite her having represented the state in the Senate for nearly a decade, her favourability in the state has mirrored her favourability nationally, i.e. rather shaky and in decline.  In April of this year, Clinton’s net favourability  in New York state was plus-20. In the new poll, it stands at around negative-five. That’s quite the decline.

Whilst Democrats view her favourably, albeit with a slight decline, the drop can be attributed to a decline in positive views from Republicans and independents. Whilst you would expect the drop from the former, the latter’s sheer decline must be disconcerting for Clinton’s campaign staff. In the April poll, independents were split on Clinton, viewing her neither positively nor negatively. In the new poll, she is now some 33 points down in their eyes.

Intriguingly, New York’s other front-running candidate for the Presidency is one Donald Trump. His own trajectory has been the reverse of Clinton’s in the state, which reflects his national trend. What must cause a twinge of concern for Clinton is that Trump, for all his controversial comments, is actually viewed more favourably by Democrats in New York state than Clinton is by Republicans. He is also viewed more favourably than Clinton by independents.

This polling comes as there is a suggestion that Clinton may not find the female vote as easy to take as her campaign staff may otherwise expect.

Have a comment or two? Fire away in the section below, or why not send a tweet my way?

Crown him Corbyn, King of an unstable Labour.

There are times in politics, so I have noticed, that breaking news is not really news at all. More a confirmation of the expected, if anything. This is exactly what occurred on Saturday the 12th of September, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected to Labour leadership victory by a landslide result. After months of hustings, press coverage and live debates, we saw it coming, knew it was coming. We were merely waiting on the official confirmation, and to determine the exact margin of his victory.

The Islington North MP, secured the leadership in the first round of voting after receiving 59.5% of the vote (a higher share than even a certain Mr Blair enjoyed in 1994). Andy Burnham received 19%, while Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall trailed with 17% and 4.5% respectively.

Corbyn said that the leadership contest:

“showed our party and our movement is passionate, democratic, diverse and determined in our quest for a better society that is possible for all”.

Yet what an ironic tale this is. The veteran left winger, who had only been included on the ballot list at the last minute after several MPs ‘lent’ him their nominations in an effort to kick-start actual discussion and scrutiny, was only ever expected to scrape last place. But after putting in unexpectedly strong performances in leadership hustings, he began to win over large numbers of activists – and was well on the way to winning the position. His principles and his proposed policies spoke to grassroots Labour activists and members, for all that they are in stark contrast to the winning ways of New Labour (Tony Blair always insisted that he positioned himself to the Centre Left; he always appeared to be closer to the moderate Conservatives than the radical Left of his own party.) But Corbyn has connected where Miliband failed to do so in May, and this connection with the ‘ordinary’ Labour voter meant he was preferred to his leadership rivals.

I wrote several posts on the subject of Corbyn and the leadership campaign, primarily discussing how it was simply another woe for Labour to contend with on the back of a dismal General Election. Back in the summer, on the 16th July, I wrote about how the Indy covered The New Statesman report that one survey gave Corbyn a lead of 15 points plus, whilst a second private poll put him on course to win after building up a ‘commanding position’. Whilst this was breaking news at the time, with hindsight it should be have been obvious that such a result would be recorded. The three other leadership candidates were not particularly inspiring, with Ms Cooper being too close to ‘old’ Labour politics through her own standing and positions and through her husband. Andy Burnham had the most to lose, having been touted as the frontrunner, yet he never could muster enough support in the face of Corbyn and his radical views, especially his anti-austerity platform. And poor Liz Kendall’s campaign was effectively over the moment she was branded as a ‘Tory in disguise’ – she would have struggled against Burnham, but never had a chance against Corbyn. Corbyn cut such a different figure, right from the beginning of his campaign launch, that people were always going to be interested in what he had to say, which tended to be so vastly different from other politicians and such old-school Labour that he obviously was going to spark excitement and generate interest.

On the 21st July, I wrote about how the Budget division and welfare reform revolt within Labour was evidence of a chaotic split in the party, from which leading figures such as Chuka Umunna emerged to complain how his party was acting akin to a ‘petulant child’. Acting leader Harman had ordered the Labour MPs to abstain from voting on the welfare reforms, yet 48 rebels voted against.  Labour’s woes were doubled (or rather, quadrupled) by the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionists and Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, all voting against the bill. These four parties were apparently eager to exploit Harman’s decision to abstain and to prove that Labour had forsaken its ideological roots. Corbyn was one such rebel, which prompted Umunna to criticise Corbyn’s foreign policy, particularly national defence. Corbyn, however, was able to prove that he represented the Labour party of old along with the other 47 rebels at a time when Labour was accused of turning its back on the working class due to Harman’s order of abstention on welfare reform.

Umunna had argued that Corbyn backed ‘more generous social security payments for people who can work but refuse to work’ through his rebellion. Given the scale of Corbyn’s victory, it is evident that a majority of Labour politicians perhaps underestimated the scale of their members’ frustration regarding Labour’s abandonment of traditional principles such as support of the working class and support of the welfare state. Politicians such as Umunna and Harman believed the party could not promote further welfare spending, when a majority of the electorate believe subsequent Labour governments are to believe for the current economic mess. Cue Umunna’s comments regarding Corbyn’s rebellion. Conversely, Corbyn stuck to the old Labour line of protecting the welfare state, and his continued rejection of austerity meant his actions resonated with Labour members, who reject ‘Tory austerity’ and demand that Labour goes back to the old days of opposing Tory cuts to welfare.

Any wonder, then, that I wrote of the nightmare unfolding in Labour regarding potential splits? On the 22nd July, I wrote:

It is clear that there are real fears within the Labour party that Corbyn’s radical left views could alienate moderate Labour voters. (Fears made all the more real when you consider how many moderates or ‘flirty’ voters switched to the Conservatives during the General Election.) The thought of Corbyn in charge brings back memories of Michael Foot’s leadership – a ‘blast from the past’ normally stirs nostalgia, but for Labour, remembering the heavy defeat under pure political theorist and academic Foot, this is something that must be avoided.

Should this not be a nightmare scenario enough, it also has cultivated new bitter splits within the party.

Splits beginning with those who ‘lent’ their votes: Ex-Labour Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett for one described herself as a ‘moron’ for nominating Corbyn. Splits continuing with Labour stalwarts, who openly admitted they would encourage MPs to topple the next Labour leader, should they not perform. (My money would be on Mr Campbell’s success at plotting a coup, to be fair.) Then splits within the current sitting Labour MPs, who in summer were beginning to weave webs of plots and coups in preparation for Corbyn’s ascent. One Labour MP said at the time that this group of would-be plotters would be able to acquire the 47 names needed to trigger a coup if Corbyn became leader, arguing that they cannot sit back and watch if the Labour party was ‘hijacked’ after a ‘summer of madness’. Now that Corbyn has won, it remains to be seen whether these would-be Guy Fawkes resume their plans.

The rumblings of dissatisfaction, from both Labour MPs and political observers alike were heard clearly following on from Corbyn’s reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet during the weekend of his victory. The initial names being confirmed appeared run of the mill – Vernon Coaker as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, evidently of interest for me, was expected – or perhaps slightly intriguing – Andy Burnham as Shadow Home Secretary raises questions of being ‘paid-off’. However, two little issues soon emerged in quick succession: firstly, of the lack of women in the ‘big five’ positions, and secondly of the appointment of one John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor.

gaby tweet

helen lewis tweetIt must be stated that Corbyn promised to promote women, and have a gender-balanced Shadow Cabinet. It must also be stated that the Shadow Cabinet, upon the conclusion of all appointments, actually can boast of a majority of women (52 percent, an increase on the 47 percent under Miliband/Harman.) In addition, Corbyn actually created the new position of Shadow Minister for Mental Health, which will be occupied by Luciana Berger MP. However, it cannot be ignored that the ‘big five’ are all occupied by men. And this does not exactly reassure women MPs of being taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and nor has it pleased female Labour supporters and activists.

After his appointments concluded, Corbyn said:

“We have delivered a unifying, dynamic, inclusive new Shadow Cabinet which for the first time ever has a majority of women.

“The Shadow Cabinet is a strong combination of change and continuity that will now come together to hold this government to account.”

Unifying? Not when many new Shadow Ministers hold political views which are further to the Left than the majority of sitting Labour MPs. Inclusive? Not when, as stated above, many women feel that they have been used as a box-ticking exercise, as men occupy the ‘big five’ posts. Corbyn himself has not handed the fallout from his appointments particularly well from a PR standpoint, as he refused to justify his appointments. (Especially in a memorable encounter with Sky News.)

On the appointment of John McDonnell – I must confess that initially I did not know a great deal about the man, and instantly researched him. Given my Northern Irish nationality and residency, imagine my surprise to uncover his now infamous 2003 speech, in which he praised the ‘bravery’ of the IRA and sympathised with IRA hunger strikers, amongst other controversial opinions.

my tweet re Shadow Chancellor appointment

Now, I firmly believe that we are all entitled to our opinions, and have the right to express our thoughts. Yet surely, surely it is one thing to express sympathy with the Nationalist cause (as I do), another to express solidarity with the use of violence, and the murder of innocent civilians (it goes without saying that I do not). I was not at all impressed to hear Corbyn’s repeated refusal to condemn the IRA’s use of violence when being interviewed live on air, so to read of his appointment of a man with similar views was disappointing and sickening.

On the topic of splits, it is evident that McDonnell’s appointment is not helping such matters. After DUP MP Nigel Dodds criticised McDonnell’s statements (to loud cheers in the Commons) during Corbyn’s first week at PMQ’s, Labour looked sullen – they knew it was an own goal in the making. And McDonnell himself has recently had to apologise for his comments on Question Time -presumably at a PR advisor’s urging – yet it will take a long time indeed for the damage to be repaired. According to another DUP politician, Ian Paisley Jnr, the Shadow Cabinet were apparently so incensed at the appointment of McDonnell and the revelation of his comments, that they were considering demanding his resignation if he did not apologise. (In an interview with the Guardian, McDonnell excused his remarks due to his being from the North of England, ‘ You can take the boy out of the north but you can’t take the north out of the boy. I’m a plain speaker.’ I am a girl from the North (albeit of Ireland), and also pride myself on being a plain speaker – amazingly, however, I appear to avoid causing controversy, hurt and insult. A word of advice for any other English politicians, when considering wading into NI politics and history by sympathising with murderers from either side of the community divide, and lacking in informed knowledge: just don’t.)

Many senior figures, and some in the unions, wanted Corbyn to appoint Angela Eagle to the post of Shadow Chancellor, safe in the knowledge that she at least is a less divisive figure. Corbyn, however, used his vast mandate of 59.5 per cent of the vote on the first round to ensure the appointment of McDonnell. Eagle instead was appointed Shadow Business Secretary, as Labour MPs begin to fear  that the McDonnell appointment will in fact make it even harder for the party to regain economic credibility.

Since then, it has hardly been a honeymoon period for Corbyn as leader. The threatens of splits and instability to Labour continues. This time, it is from within his Shadow Cabinet.

Following on from his reshuffle and the chaotic aftermath of same, Labour MPs have apparently confronted Corbyn and demanded assurances over his defence and economic policies. During a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, many MPs challenged new leader Corbyn to effectively rule out his opposition to the Trident nuclear deterrent, and to desist in his calls for withdrawal from NATO. Furthermore, Corbyn was warned that he would only have the loyalty of his MPs if he did not cross a number of policy ‘red lines’. He was criticised over his new shadow cabinet and was accused of having a ‘women problem’ after failing to appoint any females to the most senior positions. Finally, he was accused of ‘lying’ over his assurance to his new team that he would never campaign to leave the EU, until he admitted he had voted to leave in the 1975 referendum. (Phew, quite the heavy list of grievances. It all feels rather King John v Barons.)

Such dissatisfaction does not end there. Following on from concerns of Labour MPs that Corbyn would bring back mandatory reselection, the new leader had to move to reassure his moderate Labour MPs that his left-wing allies would not launch a purge aimed at deselecting them. The process gave local constituency parties the right to select sitting MPs prior to each General Election, and was used by hard-Left activists to oust moderate MPs during the 1970s and 1980s.

Lord Falconer recently criticised essentially every proposed policy of his new leader, saying that he has ‘no idea’ if Jeremy Corbyn can win the next election.

Nor is dissatisfaction now confined to Labour politicians and members. After failing to sing the National Anthem during a Battle of Britain anniversary event, he provoked public outrage. Herein lies a problem. The public can accept his Republican credentials and rejection of the Monarchy. But the public cannot forgive what has been branded a snub to those who died defending their country during WWII. For those moderate Labour MPs and activists who dreaded Corbyn’s far-Left principles, this must have been an all-too real nightmare.

According to The Times, Corbyn’s stance was met with fury among Royal Air Force veterans, former military commanders and politicians. Former wing commander Tom Neil, who flew 141 combat missions during the Battle of Britain was reported as saying that Corbyn’s Anthem omission ‘just shows how bigoted he is and how small-minded.’

The new Labour leader must have known that his is a hard task, made all the more difficult when he compares his own political ideologies to that of many of his MPs. It has been a tough ride, yet it is one which does not look set to soften soon. With a divisive Shadow Cabinet, a majority of MPs who did not support his campaign and  the press watching his every move, Corbyn will have to devise a means of achieving balance and peace – between his friends as well as his rivals.

Crown him Corbyn, King of an unstable Labour. For he won the popular vote and now Labour will have to realise their new political landscape. But uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. There will be factions and splits at play.

How do you solve a problem like Stormont?

Well, what ever can I say? Obviously I would be writing a blog post on the subject of recent antics in Northern Ireland, but as an exasperated citizen – what is there to say, really?

What a series of events that has recently unfolded in my home province of Northern Ireland. I prefer to deem it as being a comedy of errors, for to be honest, every resident of Northern Ireland is too wry and cynical to term the recent political drama as being anything else. Truth be told, we are simply too used to this endless merry-go-round of tit-for-tat politics, the media soundbites, the calls for Westminster and the call to arms (by this I mean elections; goodness knows that during The Troubles that would have meant something completely different.)

'The Hill', or as the NI electorate refer to it: 'the headache'.
‘The Hill’, or as the NI electorate refer to it: ‘the headache’.

It seems as though it was ages ago that I caught sight of a BBC Breaking News tweet, stating that a man had been shot dead in Short Strand, meaning there was a strong implication of paramilitary involvement. Indeed, that was basically par for the course – stop and ask anyone on the street, and they would have said it was rival paramilitary factions on the prowl, marking their territory or sending a message. We all imagined, no doubt, that we would hear the usual: statements from both local Nationalist and Unionist politicians in the area, stating that this kind of violence was archaic and had no place in modern NI society, perhaps a follow-up on the news weeks later, discussing how there had been arrests made and suspects questioned. Eventually, in time, it would be discussed only in courtrooms and police stations, not to be heard again in the public realm until sentencing, etc. August news would fade away, along with the summer itself.

But that did not happen this time.

For the murdered man, Kevin McGuigan, was an ex-IRA man. His murder was an apparent revenge killing, as allegedly he had been involved in the revenge murder of Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison. Moreover, the murder of McGuigan was apparently ordered and carried out by none other than the IRA. This was according to the PSNI itself – Det Supt Kevin Geddes said in late August that a major line of inquiry was that members of the PIRA were involved in the killing.

Geddes went on to state:

‘Action Against Drugs as you may be aware made a public statement on 6 August that they would execute anybody who had any involvement or they believed had any involvement in the murder of Jock Davison… It is my assessment that Action Against Drugs are a group of individuals who are criminals, violent dissident republicans and former members of the Provisional IRA.

‘My assessment is that this is a separate group from the Provisional IRA. A major line of inquiry for this investigation is that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in this murder.

‘I have no information at this stage to say whether that was sanctioned at a command level or not and I’m not prepared to speculate on that.’

Regardless of his appeal for information, and emphasis that AAD is considered by the PSNI as being a separate organisation from the Provisional IRA, this was the beginning of what would become the biggest media storm I can remember of recent times in Northern Ireland.

Merely two days later, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, George Hamilton, lit the proverbial touchpaper when he publicly stated that the Provisional IRA ‘still exists’. He further commented that some Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan. Even as Hamilton stated that there was currently no evidence to suggest that the killing was sanctioned by the Provisional IRA, and even though Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams quickly made a public statement of his own, insisting that the IRA has ‘gone and [is] not coming back’, it poured fuel on the flames of Unionist anger. Political paralysis and paranoia was about to set in.

The weekend prior to this revelation, the main Unionist and Nationalist parties had met with Hamilton to discuss the murder investigation, and address rumours that were beginning to emerge relating to the paramilitary-style hit. In addition, DUP politician Gregory Campbell had stated how his party was planning to meet with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, in relation to the alleged role of IRA members in the killing. (He also could not seemingly resist the NI politician-equivalent of ‘I told you so’ as he added that there was no surprise within the DUP at the circulating suggestions of IRA involvement in the killing.)

To top off the feeling of Unionist anger, after the UUP’s respective meeting with Hamilton, party leader Mike Nesbitt afterwards claimed that Sinn Féin’s credibility was ‘in tatters’ and it needed to ‘accept some responsibility’ for McGuigan Sr’s murder:

‘They continue to insult our intelligence by claiming no IRA involvement in this latest murder.’

The Nationalists, meanwhile, scrambled to recover lost PR ground. Whilst Sinn Féin consistently denied the allegations of both PIRA involvement in the murder and the organisation’s continuing existence (remember that the PIRA was supposed to have decommissioned back in 2005), the SDLP met the PSNI Chief Constable -such a popular man in August, as you may imagine. SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell stated that whilst there was evidence to suggest that the “skeleton” of the IRA remains in existence in NI, it was not substantial enough to collapse the NI Assembly.

Why the need for such remonstrations? Well, remember that Unionist anger I mentioned previously? The flames had started when First Minister Peter Robinson, leader of the DUP, had warned about the political repercussions that would reverberate throughout NI, including in the Executive, if it it were to be determined that the Provisional IRA was involved in McGuigan’s murder. Speaking prior to his party’s meeting with the Chief Constable, Robinson stated that his party would:

‘…speak to the PSNI to see what their findings are in terms of the involvement of any organisation.

‘But let’s be very clear, there will be repercussions if that was found to be the case.’

He elaborated upon these ‘repercussions’ as he added that it would be ‘totally unacceptable for any organisation which is involved in violence to be part of the Executive of Northern Ireland.’ And in case that was not spelling out the message clearly enough for the citizens of Northern Ireland, Robinson referred to the potential political consequences for his fellow power-sharing Executive co-workers: Sinn Féin, the main republican party in Northern Ireland and the second biggest party in the Assembly.

Evidently considering the political aftermath should such PIRA involvement be confirmed, Robinson commented that there were those who would step into a ‘void’ to ‘exploit political difficulties’. (Translation: see those Sinners? Yes, keep your eyes on them.) Warning that,

‘the collapse of the assembly will feed that kind of activity we have seen over the last number of weeks from dissidents in our society’

Robinson said he how he would potentially discuss the prospect of excluding Sinn Féin from the Executive with other Northern Ireland parties – an act which would obviously prevent full power-sharing, lead to calls of discrimination and dismissal of a democratic mandate of the largest Nationalist party in the Assembly. Consequently, devolution itself could be threatened – but was it not already under threat, and not just from these revelations regarding the ongoing existence of the PIRA?

If we are truly honest with ourselves, Stormont has been on the brink since December 2014.

Cast your minds back to the Stormont House Agreement, that agreement which was hurriedly signed at the eleventh hour. The agreement, signed by the five main political parties in NI, was a wide-ranging deal that addressed some of Stormont’s current financial difficulties, after a reduction in its block grant from Westminster. Yet, in order to actually cajole Sinn Féin to sign the agreement, due to its protestations about cuts, the DUP became so frustrated that Robinson threatened to resign as First Minster if it were not signed before Christmas. However, this apparent multi-party agreement was short-lived. In March, Sinn Féin withdrew its support for the bill – because of a row over the implementation of welfare reforms (ostensibly due to its anti-austerity message in the South and its need to ensure consistency in political message as an all-Ireland party). Ironically – now that we have the benefit of hindsight – Robinson had warned of the danger faced by the political institutions in Northern Ireland if the situation regarding the long-standing welfare impasse was not resolved.

‘If Stormont House is not implemented, we are still in the situation where Stormont is not fit for purpose and is capable of collapsing.’

The ongoing row over the need for budget cuts, and the opposition to welfare reform was the simmering flame in Stormont. The revelation of the existence of the IRA was merely pouring oil on the flames, and parties who have been spoiling for a chance to be at each other’s throats are seizing their moment.

This is not simply a case of Unionist parties versus Nationalists parties, either. Oh no. You must consider the rivalry present within each division, most especially within the Unionist faction. See, this is how the chaos which erupted last week truly came to be – Unionists turning on each other.

Over two weeks ago, the UUP saw a chance, and they took it. The UUP, the Unionist party who had for so long dominated not simply the Unionist scene, but indeed the political scene in Northern Ireland, and who had lost their power to their rival, the DUP, obviously thought they could use their unexpected surge after the General Election in May to force the DUP into a corner. For apart from Robinson’s threats of exclusion and warnings of political repercussions, no real action was taking place. Enter leader Mike Nesbitt.

Nesbitt’s proposal was simple, yet effective and strong in symbolic gist. In the last week of August, he announced the UUP’s intention of withdrawing from the power-sharing Executive, instead seeking form an unofficial opposition of sorts in the Assembly. (Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the legislation which implemented the Good Friday Agreement of the same year, there is to be no official opposition at Stormont, only power-sharing in an effort to prevent Unionist dominance and to ensure both communities are fairly represented within government.)

I remember watching the live television broadcast as Nesbitt stated before the press:

‘In 1998, the Ulster Unionist Party stretched itself very close to breaking point to secure the return of devolution, because it was the right thing to do…

Seventeen years on, we are told the IRA still exists, and that it has a command structure, at a senior level. We are also told members of the IRA have committed a murder on the streets of our capital city, working with another criminal gang, Action Against Drugs.

And in response, Sinn Féin trot out their single transferable speech of denial. That speech is threadbare. It has put a hole in the fabric of the agreement.’

Evidently, Nesbitt was arguing that the UUP were taking the high ground, by demanding answers and solutions. The evidence of frustration within the Unionist faction and the sense of political opportunism was telling, however:

 ‘Since 2007, the DUP and Sinn Féin have been leading our government. That’s over eight years. We need wait no longer for further proof of their inability to deliver those goals. In sadness more than anger I recognise they cannot deliver positive outcomes for our people.

We hear what people are saying. They need and deserve and yearn for a party that is willing to stretch itself today – stretch beyond its own self-interests to what’s right for the people of Northern Ireland – all of them.

The Ulster Unionist Party is ready to stretch itself again.’

The UUP’s decision to move into opposition via the resignation of their sole representative minister in the Executive, Danny Kennedy, was a clear attempt to add pressure on the DUP. This would leave the DUP with two options: either make good on its threat to exclude Sinn Féin from government, or else itself resign from the administration, thus triggering fresh elections.

The political stalemate did initially continue. The DUP accused their rivals of blatant hypocrisy, with Nigel Dodds, the North Belfast MP and leader of the DUP at Westminster arguing that the UUP had previously worked alongside Sinn Féin prior to decommissioning, at a time when the PIRA was active. He accused the UUP of attempting to rewrite history, which was ‘misleading’. Furthermore, Dodds argued that if anyone should be excluded from Stormont/withdrawn from the Executive, it should be Sinn Féin.

Conversely, Sinn Féin leaders lined up to denounce Nesbitt’s recommendation to his party executive regarding withdrawing from the power-sharing Executive, claiming that it was prioritising political gain above the Peace Process. The local political commentators were in a flurry, discussing how the metaphorical ball was in the UUP’s corner, how we had to wait to see how their ruling executive voted at the weekend. All this, with Northern Ireland having the dubious honour of making the ‘breaking news’ yellow roving band on Sky News, as I recall exchanging looks with my family watching the news. Would this be yet another episode of ‘call my bluff: Stormont edition’, or was this a legitimate threat to devolution? I allowed myself to remember when Stormont last collapsed, and devolution suspended, back in 2002, following raids on Sinn Féin offices as a part of ‘StormontGate’ which involved an alleged IRA spy-ring. Unsurprisingly, Unionists withdrew in anger at an apparent IRA-Sinn Féin link and the continuing existence of the IRA (you can sense a real theme developing here.) Direct Rule followed, from 2002 to 2007, when Stormont was restored following elections provided by the The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. I can remember the chaos suspension caused, and the sense of frustration felt at our local politicians – nothing compared to the feelings of embarrassment and bitterness at having to be subjected to Direct Rule.

So whilst Direct Rule v shambolic Stormont was debated by various political journalists in the press, we waited for the weekend.

Then came the news that Saturday – the UUP’s ruling executive voted overwhelmingly in favour to back Nesbitt’s exit strategy from the regional government. This in turn increased the already intensive pressure faced by the DUP to pull out of the power-sharing administration itself. Doing so would trigger the collapse of the devolved regional government and prompt early assembly elections – or restore Direct Rule from Westminster once more.

The following week was a blur of political standoffs, soundbites, and countless photo ops – why our politicians feel the need to surround themselves with fellow party members, I have no idea. As Sinn Féin kept reiterating that the IRA no longer existed, any violence occurring now was lawless and must cease, the DUP proposed talks with both the Secretary of State for NI, as well as Prime Minister David Cameron at Number Ten. It became increasingly evident that an actual legitimate standoff was being cultivated. This was emphasised when the DUP delivered their bottom line: either Westminster would step in and suspend Stormont, or the party itself would seek the collapse of power-sharing.

After the conclusion of talks in London, when it became increasingly obvious that neither Ms Villiers nor Mr Cameron would permit the implementation of Direct Rule (Cameron clearly has enough to contend with: the current migrant crisis, EU referendum, proposed military intervention in Syria, why ever would he add NI to his plate?) the DUP sought to take matters into its own hands.

First came the announcement that there would be no future meetings of the Executive, unless the DUP deemed there to be ‘exceptional circumstances’. Then came the recalling of the Business Committee, to consider the DUP motion for adjournment – essentially calling for the Assembly to vote to adjourn, or ‘shut down’, Stormont voluntarily. On the 10th September, no doubt after a heated discussion, the DUP lost the adjournment motion, with only themselves and the Alliance party voting in favour. As the media started to digest and then cover this news, the episode unfolded yet again.

First Minister and leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson, called a press conference and announced he was ‘stepping aside’. All other DUP ministers were to resign from the Executive, with only Arlene Foster remaining as Finance Minster. She was also to take over as First Minister in a temporary capacity.

Robinson stated that

‘As someone who invested many hours trying to bring devolution to Northern Ireland, and to maintain it, I have tried to create space to allow these critical unresolved matters to be dealt with in a structured manner…

‘The failure of the SDLP and Sinn Fein to implement the Stormont House Agreement together with the assessment from the Chief Constable of the involvement of IRA members in murder, the continued existence of the IRA and the arrests that followed has pushed devolution to the brink.’

Following Robinson’s announcement, Secretary of State Ms Villiers acknowledged that whilst the situation was ‘very grave’, she still would not suspend the devolved institutions. She instead urged for the parties to engage in talks in an effort to save power-sharing.

Meanwhile, it became obvious that the DUP was skillfully adhering to governing legislation in its efforts to bring Stormont to a standstill. For example, Robinson insisted he was not resigning, merely ‘stepping aside’. This is significant: if he had resigned, this would have resulted in Deputy First Minister McGuinness having to resign, as per the Northern Ireland Act 1998. As such, again according to the 1998 Act, the vacancies of the offices of First and Deputy First Minister would have triggered a six-week election, the conclusion of which would be the same political landscape, and same political stalemate. By ‘stepping aside’, Robinson prevented the election, and ensured Stormont continues to wander into limbo, with local governance paralysed. The plan was evidently to force Westminster to step in, and suspend Stormont. By placing Foster at the helm inside the Executive as acting First Minister and Finance Minister, devolved government remains alive, albeit in ‘zombie form‘, and buys the talks process proposed by Ms Villiers and Cameron around six weeks worth of time.

But what about the here and now?

Robinson had pointed to the arrest of Sinn Féin’s Northern chairman, Bobby Storey, in connection with the McGuigan murder as a key reason why Unionists had lost faith in power-sharing with their Republican counterparts. In a twist of irony not uncommon in NI politics, Storey and two other Belfast republicans have now been released without charge – with Storey’s solicitor saying he would be suing the PSNI for unlawful arrest.

In addition, today saw Ms Villiers take to the floor in the Commons, where she proposed the establishment of a new body to monitor paramilitary activity as a means to save the Peace Process, and put forward of the need for multi-party talks. Predictably, the DUP and Sinn Féin disagreed. The DUP again reiterated its stance, that it is only prepared to attend more talks ‘in the right circumstances’.  Sinn Féin warned the government against preconditions for the talks, arguing that such talks need to occur immediately in order to save Stormont and the Peace Process.

Robinson’s ‘stepping aside’ potentially marked the beginning of the end for the House of Cards on the Hill. Yet it is merely another episode in the ongoing comedy of errors in NI politics. I note with interest at the reporting of events in the mainland, as many political commentators fear a return to violence and political strife not witnessed since The Troubles. In Northern Ireland, we merely grow restless and weary with our local politics and local politicians, but there does not appear to be a consensus clamouring for Direct Rule. As a working-class student, and a proud NI citizen, I fear the implementation of Direct Rule. The most obvious danger that springs to mind lies in budget reform, and the forced implementation of austerity. The ever-present danger is that of losing the will and the ability to govern ourselves.

I conclude this post on a hopeful note. Yesterday (Monday 14th September) a young, independent Unionist MLA, Claire Sugden, tabled a ‘Matter of the Day’ in the Assembly, concerning the future of Northern Ireland’s political institutions. It was a bold move, and her contribution to the debate was bolder. She spoke without seeking political opportunism, without succumbing to tit-for-tat politics.

‘This House of cards is falling Mr Speaker. The only good that will come out of this is if the jokers at the top coming crashing down too and do not get up again. I am concerned because we have so much to lose. Not just the message that Northern Ireland has failed, but the prospect of being governed by people who don’t know us; understandably are fed up with us and won’t fight for the people or sell our country for the potential it has like we can.

Events that unfolded on Thursday make me very sad.

My constituent, Mr Watton and I know he won’t mind me saying his name, has been waiting for a disabled parking bay for over six months. Mr Watton is very ill, it takes him all strength to walk several feet and he is certainly entitled to this space. He is entitled to a public service that will make his life a little bit easier while he focuses his strength on his day-to-day struggles. He won’t get his disabled parking bay, because the Minister and then the Committee need to sign it off. The first one doesn’t exist.

Mr Watton is only a small piece of the puzzle of Northern Ireland. The bigger picture is ruined, however, when one piece is missing. The collapse of our institutions are being felt from the people up while politics is being played badly from the top down.’

After making the important point that real lives are being affected by the Stormont impasse, brought about by politicians who had been entrusted by voters to represent them and who were now letting them down, Ms Sugden continued:

‘My interpretation of what is really happening here is deflection and election. Mr Speaker there are people bleeding this country dry and the current events are providing a very convenient smoke screen. I see it in my own constituency. Our drug problem is often hidden by the contentious issues. But Mr Speaker these people will be caught and I look forward to the day, because the people of Northern Ireland deserve better and I trust they will realise this come next election.

Whether in a month or May next year we have an election. Mr Speaker there is nothing wrong with electioneering. But electioneering should begin the day after you are elected to earn the Mandate you were given, not in panic to get one over on your competitor. As an Independent, I probably have more than most to lose in an early election, but it’s not about me, it’s about the people I represent. If losing my seat and never speaking a word in this Chamber again means that we will move forward positively, then by all means, bring it on.’

(You can read the full transcript here.)

Ms Sugden made the most important, obvious point of all: Stormont’s current operation is flawed, and needs to be rectified. This can only be achieved by ending the current impasse through calling an election. Stormont, for all its antics, is preferred to Direct Rule. The ability to govern oneself is sacred, and should be preserved.

Furthermore, the days of old party politics are fast disappearing, and it is about time that a majority of NI politicians realise this.

So, how do you solve a problem like Stormont? Perhaps Stormont as an institution is not actually the problem which needs to be solved.

Dates for the diary: calling all EU students!

Hello all,

As one of my blog posts from this summer details, I was very fortunate to have been selected as an ambassador for POLITICO EU’s annual EU Studies Fair. It promises to be an exciting role, especially over the coming months as the date of the Fair draws nearer. I am already planning how to best promote the Fair on campus and social media, and I am gathering names and email addresses of staff on campus who I think will be willing to help spread the word too.

This is simply a post to garner the attention of any interested students, and provide additional information. Expect more posts soon, as I begin my promotional work on campus and social media!

Students of EU, unite: are you interested in studying at renowned universities? If so, and you are aspiring to pursue a career in Law, EU affairs, International Relations, Business or Economics – then this is why you should certainly consider POLITICO EU’s Studies Fair.

The two-day EU Studies Fair in Brussels is a unique opportunity for students and young professionals to discover new academic and career opportunities. Both graduate and postgraduate careers and degrees are discussed. Not only can you learn more about excellent universities, there are also career seminars, personalised career counselling, and guided tours of EU institutions.

Dates for the diary:
Mid-October, 2015 – online registration for attendance for interested students.
5th-6th (inclusive) February, 2016 – The 17th annual EU Studies Fair occurs in Brussels, Belgium.

See here for a list of confirmed participating universities and exhibitors – this list includes universities such as LSE, King’s College, John Hopkins HEC Paris and KU Leuven. (Additional information about each participating university is provided on the Studies Fair website link provided.)

Photographs and videos from previous Studies Fairs can be viewed here.

The world is bigger and yet closer than you think – make the most of it, with an international education! Start now, by researching and networking with renowned universities at the 17th EU Studies Fair 2016.

See the world, and learn in a new environment and culture. Study abroad!
See the world, and learn in a new environment and culture. Study abroad!

Farewell to the summer, and hello to the new academic year.

Hello all,

Well, what can I say? Summer is behind us now, and the new academic year is just on the horizon for returning university students such as myself. I find it rather surreal to consider that this is my final year at university, and at how rapidly summer appeared to pass me by. It seems as though it was only yesterday that I arrived home from Iowa, rather jet-lagged but urgent, as I pleaded with my parents to just drive home from Dublin so that I could vote and then settle down to await the General Election results. But here we are. A couple of weeks into September, and a new year to dive on into. Time flies when you are enjoying yourself, so the saying goes, and I can readily confirm this to be the case when I reflect on my study abroad year and the summer months which followed.

I must say that I am feeling rather excited to go back to university, and back to studying Law. It was a long year away from Queen’s, but I will be back walking around the courtyard, sitting in the lecture halls and studying in the lovely McClay library next week. It has been a year of Business and Finance classes for me, bar two legal modules, and I am eagerly awaiting pouring over new textbooks and case-law. At least, that is how I feel currently. We shall see if I feel so enthusiastic and inspired after a few weeks!

Speaking of new textbooks and new classes: I can say with great excitement that I successfully enrolled into all the modules I had wished to study this year. It was quite the arduous wait until that moment of realisation yesterday, however.

I had had such a struggle to initially receive the module information booklet which soon-to-be final year law students receive by email in the summer prior to the commencement of their final year. As I had been studying abroad for the year 2014/2015, I was no longer registered as a student at the School of Law at my university; I was categorised as am Erasmus student instead, meaning I was not on the School of Law’s mailing list. I was not informed of this until my return in the summer, and only after I emailed around with enquiries. My nerves were further shredded when I was informed by friends in the year below me (who will now be my year group, seeing as my own year group graduated in the summer) that they had received the email and information booklet and choice form. Fortunately, a very kind Director of Education at the School of Law managed to set matters to rights, and I received all the required documentation that very same day. I eagerly began reading about the modules on offer, how they were assessed and what they entailed. This also marked the commencement of my friends having to endure my wails of frustration at having to narrow down my choices. Eventually however I completed my form and submitted it on the designated day in June, content that what would be would be and I would find out sooner or later what I was to study.

I heard nothing, until late in the afternoon on the last day in August. An email was sent out (at least I received this one, I remember thinking wryly) to inform all soon-to-be final year Law students that as there had been three new staff appointments within the School, new modules were to be offered and old ones replaced. You guessed it – we had to resubmit our choices. Well, there was nothing to do but read the new booklet, and consider whether this was secretly a blessing in disguise. (When we submit our preferred options, this is not a guarantee that we will be successfully placed into those modules. Nor does it mean the module will be taught; under-subscribed modules are cancelled and those students are filtered into other options.)

It fell to the first weekend in September for me to make my mind up once more. I was torn between trying to select a variety of modules to keep my career pathway open, or going with my heart and opting for those modules I have an inherent interest in. After consulting many graduate friends, I realised that it would be better for me to select modules I genuinely wanted to study, that interlinked with one another, rather than try to be someone I am not in my interests. (Let that be a lesson to all Law students out there: choose your modules for you, not for anyone else. You are the one who will study them, and be examined in them.)

I opted for Understanding Human Rights and Courts and Judicial Power for first semester, with the compulsory Legal Theory module. For the second semester, I went with Contemporary Issues in British and Irish Human Rights, and Reshaping the NI Constitution: The Transition from Conflict to Consensus (which seems rather ironic now, does it not). I also went for Evidence, as this is a compulsory module in NI to secure a QLD (Qualifying Law Degree). I had initially toyed with the idea of forgoing Evidence, ergo a QLD for Northern Ireland, but then decided against it. I would rather keep my options open in terms of career and practice area. If I should end up moving to work abroad, I can easily adjust my QLD by studying the required components, which will happen regardless of where I move.

Well, to yesterday. It marked the commencement of online registration via QSIS, and as any Queen’s student can inform you, it is always rather the adventure. Even though this was my third round at it, and after a year away from the process, it never fails to surprise.

Firstly, you should consider yourself fortunate if you are able to successfully log in to QSIS – due to the sheer volume of students attempting to register and enrol, the servers have an alarming tendency to crash, with the result being students may fail to even log in. Should you be one of the lucky few to log in, you may fall at the second hurdle, that being actually clicking on the registration button – many who reach this step fail, as the server crashes and they are unceremoniously logged out. Once you commence the registration process, you may find that your screen freezes, you are logged out and so have to fight the good fight to log back in, or you constantly have to resubmit information. I generally end up resorting to threatening my laptop and/or the QSIS programme. It really is the Hunger Games of university registration, I kid you not.

Anyway, I eventually managed to confirm that my name, DOB, address etc have not magically changed after a year, and that all the other information on file was still accurate. I flexed my fingers, for the next step is that of ‘Academics’, otherwise known as ‘Supermarket Sweep: module edition’. (As a toddler I adored that zany programme, for reasons I have yet to fully comprehend. Should you not know of this veritable gem, please do Google it.)

I essentially lost track of time as a concept yesterday, as I tracked down the modules I wish to study, tried to devise a halfway decent working week schedule and basically hope that what I was doing was the right method. Bearing in mind that the previous two years of this entailed me merely selecting tutorial classes, as I had no say in module choice. (First and second years at Queen’s study the ‘core’ legal modules, which are required for a QLD.) After cajoling and threatening with QSIS in equal measure, I eventually came away with the completed works – and all the modules I had desired to study in the first place. I was overjoyed. Of course, there had to be another moment of black humour in that I noticed I was only going to be charged £648 for the year, which evidently was incorrect. Cue me having to ring Reg Help, wait in a queue and chat to two lovely and helpful staff members who genuinely had no idea why I suddenly was £3,200-odd out of student debt. God obviously took pity on me, as the system sorted itself out in the end.

After a process lasting easily three hours, I was registered and enrolled, with a working timetable in hand.

First week, here we come.
First week, here we come.

I cannot help but smile in anticipation whenever I log into QOL (Queen’s Online, essentially Aladdin’s Cave for Queen’s students) and see my new modules for each semester staring back at me.

modules 15-16

They were worth the wait and stress, most definitely. I am simply so happy that my love of Constitutional Law, current affairs, politic and Human Rights law have perfectly come together in time for my final year. I cannot wait until the respective syllabuses (syllabi? My Latin teacher from secondary school is most likely hanging his head in shame at me) become available, and the reading lists. Final year will feel very real indeed when I hold my new textbooks and files in my hands, with graduation suddenly feeling very tangible too, no doubt.

Finally: proving that I was always destined to be a student – when I am in my Sixties, I will probably be still attending conferences and courses – I have just enrolled into two QUB Open Learning courses, which I am very excited about. I cannot wait to get started.

Open Learning fun

‘Commemorations, Parades and Symbolism in Northern Ireland’ runs on a Thursday afternoon for two hours, and commences next week, running until December. It will focus on the role of symbols, parades and commemorations in NI/Ireland, naturally of topical relevance when considering that 2016 marks a ‘decade of centenaries’. This course promises to discuss the key themes and debates surrounding such issues, thereby providing greater understanding of the role of symbols, parades and commemorations throughout Northern Ireland’s history, with a key focus upon the present day. I thought this would be a suitable course for myself, as I am studying Contemporary Issues in British and Irish Human Rights in the Spring semester, which will focus particularity on freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly.

The second course, ‘The Trials of the Troubles’ will examine the most significant cases arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland. They include the ‘Arms Trial’; interrogation policy in Ireland v. UK; the ‘Supergrass’ trials; Death on Gibraltar (McCann v.UK); Miscarriages of Justice (Judith Ward, Gilford 4, Birmingham 6); the issue of collusion still before the Courts; extradition; the Omagh bomb litigation and so on. The course will explain the legal issues in the individual cases and seek to place them in historical and political context. It will commence in late January 2016 and run until May, so I hope it will complement the two NI-centric modules in my Spring semester.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 16th) marks the commencement of the International Buddy Scheme which I am going to be participating in, and this Thursday (17th) will be the first meeting of the QUB Children in Crossfire Society, which I am excited about. Also a tad nervous too, as I have been awarded a committee role and will be Executive Secretary, so fingers crossed that my scribing skills keep me going. I cannot wait to meet the international students at QUB tomorrow at the first event. As I detailed in another blog post, I think it is a privilege to work alongside other students to represent Queen’s, as I have had a wonderful time here. I cannot wait to get to know the new international students, to hear about their respective countries, to learn from them and to introduce them to student life on campus at QUB.

Basically, this year promises to be illuminating and interesting, and I cannot wait to get started. It may be my final year of my Law degree at dear old QUB, but that merely means it has the potential to be the best year yet.