Dramatic, urgent and intriguing: BBC1’s This Town reviewed

After conquering the world with Peaky Blinders (and before that by co-creating Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), Steven Knight was last seen on British television giving us his frankly deranged adaptation of Great Expectations. Happily, he’s now returned to form with a show that, while not a retread exactly, is definitely Peaky-adjacent. In This Town we’re back in a Birmingham – this time in the 1980s – that’s rundown, riven, violent and soul-stifling, yet that Knight presents with unmistakable love. Nor, once again, is there any escaping the overwhelming power of the family as a blessing and a curse. There’s also the same combination of apparent social realism with

Portrait of the week: Lee Anderson defects, Ireland rejects and Kate photoshops

Home Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said that Britain needed to build new gas-fired power stations to ensure energy security. GDP grew by 0.2 per cent in January. The number of people of working age classed as economically inactive rose to 9.25 million, compared with 8.55 million in February 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics. Among those aged 16 to 34, economic inactivity was rising; among those aged 35 to 64 it had fallen. Long-term sickness accounted for 2.7 million people not in work, 600,000 more than four years ago. The National Health Service employed more than two million for the first time, more than a third of public-sector workers.

Northern Ireland’s police service is weak and inept

The data breach at the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which has seen the personal details of all serving officers and just under 2,500 civilian staff accidentally released as part of a response to a Freedom of Information request, is the sort of grotesque, IT foul-up normally reserved for the realms of satire like The Thick of It.  There is a slim chance that any officers in the Province will be laughing. The attempted murder of DCI John Caldwell in front of his young son in Fermanagh earlier this year underlined acutely that dissident republicans hellbent on killing police officers ‘haven’t gone away you know’, to quote Gerry Adams.  In the

Don’t be fooled by Gerry Adams’ Christmas rebrand

Did Gerry Adams ever work for MI5? The allegations that he did are not new – even if they have been rigorously denied. But if that lurid speculation is true then his handler surely deserves a medal.  In recent years, Adams – who was never, of course, in the IRA – has undergone something of a rebrand. The incendiary former Sinn Fein leader now preens as an elder statesman in Irish politics. He also styles himself as a figure of fun, happily revealing how he enjoys trampolining naked with his dog. But even as you cannot unsee that image, don’t be fooled by the cuddly reinvention. In his most recent

Could the rise of Sinn Fein lead to a united Ireland?

The possibility of a political wing of a terrorist organisation becoming a party of government in an EU member state would normally be headline news. But that’s precisely what’s happening in Ireland.  Sinn Fein is currently enjoying a consistent lead at the top of the polls in the Republic; a recent example from the Irish edition of the Sunday Times shows it had surged by six points to 37 per cent, some distance ahead of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, currently coalition partners. Public approval of the Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald — the middle-class Dubliner who described the IRA campaign as ‘justified’ and mused that there was ‘every chance’

Why I’m going to start speaking in acronyms

‘I’ve got COPD,’ said a friend of mine, not elaborating at all as I stared at him waiting for him to explain what that stood for. I had to look it up later. His expression told me firmly that everyone was au fait with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A few hours earlier, another friend had texted to say she would be late for t/c, which, upon my enquiring, turned out to mean that she would be late meeting me to have a cup of tea or coffee. She said she was busy at GC (which turned out to be Guildford College) and had been working late at the ITA (by

Why are armed men still able to parade around Northern Ireland?

Is the Police Service of Northern Ireland equal to the task of dealing with the sour, indigestible remnants of Troubles paramilitarism? Events this weekend in an estate on the outskirts of Derry, showing yet more glorification of a terrorist by armed men firing weapons, suggests otherwise. Michael Devine, the man who was venerated by half a dozen goons dressed in black this weekend, starved himself to death in Northern Ireland’s notorious Maze prison in 1981 along with nine other republican prisoners in pursuit of political status. He was also a founder of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), one of the most viciously and overtly sectarian paramilitary death squads produced

Sinn Fein’s troubling veneration of terrorists

Sinn Fein is not a normal party. It sometimes feels impolite to point it out in the era of the Belfast Agreement. But the legal amnesty from criminal charges offered to IRA terrorists as part of the peace process does not oblige individuals to abstain from moral judgement of their political wing. Especially when it continues to venerate those terrorists. The past year offered a grim reminder of this when the party’s leadership turned out in force, in the middle of lockdown, for a show of strength at the funeral of Bobby Storey, a Provisional IRA ‘volunteer’ who spent 20 years in prison for various offences. But yesterday offered an

The Troubles amnesty and the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein

Predictably – and understandably – the Northern Ireland Office’s proposed amnesty for crimes relating to the Troubles has resulted in a backlash across both sides of the Ulster divide. Yet, while the criticism was initially uniform, rifts have already emerged in the week since they were first unveiled. The noble ideal that justice delayed is justice denied has proved relatively feeble as a unifying glue, despite the Northern Ireland Assembly voting on Tuesday for a motion rejecting Westminster’s proposals. Prior to that vote, which heard many heartfelt and worthy speeches from across the chamber about the moral and legal basis for rejecting the amnesty, a gathering took place outside the

Has Boris Johnson forgotten what he once said about IRA terrorists?

Boris Johnson’s approach to dealing with historical prosecutions in Northern Ireland has achieved that unique political feat in the Province: uniting both sides in revulsion at what is being proposed. Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis is expected to announce a statute of limitations ending prosecutions in cases which pre-date the 1998 Belfast Agreement. Reports suggest that this will apply not only to members of the security forces but also republican and loyalist paramilitaries. This was always a likely end point in Northern Ireland’s ‘process’, indicative of the British political class’ reflex instinct to wish the Province and its troubles away. Labour kicked this off with their mass release of paramilitaries and the issuing of

Troubles’ veterans on both sides deserve immunity from prosecution

The recent decision by Boris Johnson’s government to put a five-year time-bar, save in exceptional circumstances, on the prosecution of British troops for crimes committed during overseas operations, came as a welcome relief to soldiers. Those who served their country abroad now know they are effectively safe from stale prosecutions in the distant future; veterans who have long since moved on can now live in peace.  But note the word ‘overseas’. Why not everywhere? The answer is easy: the Irish elephant in the room. The government feared that any attempt to time-limit prosecutions over events during the Northern Ireland Troubles would stir a hornets’ nest. It chose instead to leave those who had

Johnny Mercer’s departure became inevitable

No Prime Minister likes a minister allowing public speculation about whether they are going to resign or not. So when reports emerged this morning about Johnny Mercer planning to resign over Northern Ireland veterans not being covered by the Overseas Operations Bill, it was inevitable that Downing Street would sack him if he did not commit to staying. Mercer was duly dismissed tonight following a tempestuous meeting with the chief whip  Mercer’s letter to the Prime Minister doesn’t pull its punches. He accuses the government of lacking ‘moral strength or courage’ in failing to resolve this issue. His letter says that this is leading to veterans ‘being sectioned, drinking themselves to

Sinn Fein’s hollow ‘apology’ for Mountbatten’s murder

Prince Philip’s death presented Sinn Fein with a particular challenge, given that the IRA murdered his beloved uncle. ‘I am sorry that happened. Of course, that is heartbreaking,’ said the party’s leader Mary Lou McDonald this weekend. But if the words sounded sincere, don’t be fooled. Sinn Fein learnt a difficult lesson back in 2011, when the Queen and Prince Philip visited, the first time for a century that a British monarch set foot in Dublin. Back then, they completely misjudged Irish public opinion and refused to participate, ending up looking like kids outside a sweet shop with noses pressed to the window. The Queen got an approval rating in

Ian Acheson

Why Sinn Fein can’t really apologise for the IRA’s atrocities

What are we to make of Sinn Fein’s latest experiment with the language of regret when it comes to the murder of Lord Mountbatten just after his nephew’s Royal funeral? It’s not hard to be cynical about the Shinners. This is after all the political party that appointed a convicted terrorist bomber as Director of ‘Unionist outreach’ not so long ago. A party that dragged its feet on pensions for victims of paramilitary terrorists in their attempt to include injured perpetrators. A party that police services on either side of the border says is run by shadowy figures in the army council of the IRA. Their uncamouflaged leader, Mary Lou

Dark days for Britain: London, Burning, by Anthony Quinn, reviewed

Not long ago, a group of psychologists analysing data about national happiness discovered that the British were at their unhappiest in 1978. Reading Anthony Quinn’s enjoyable novel set in that year and early 1979, it’s not difficult to see why. In case you’ve forgotten, strikes were spreading like wildfire. The National Front were reaching a peak of popularity. Most alarming of all, the Provisional IRA were expanding their bomb attacks on mainland Britain. There were compensations. Kate Bush’s whiny lament ‘Wuthering Heights’ was released in 1978, and there was a new Pinter at the National Theatre (Betrayal). Punk rock was going commercial. One of the characters in London, Burning turns

Northern Ireland’s sink estates are fertile ground for fundamentalists

Northern Ireland is routinely voted one of the happiest places to live in the UK. A few weeks ago, a survey revealed that Belfast was the best city to raise a family in Britain. The Province is in the top ten digital economies of the future. A world-class film production industry is transforming it into the Hollywood of Europe adding tens of millions of pounds to the local economy. It’s a stark contrast to the ugly scenes from over the Irish Sea flashing across our screens this week. Working-class loyalist communities are in a dangerously mutinous mood that is hard to square with this parallel world. Alienation and opportunity often exist in

Why is nobody talking about Northern Ireland?

It is depressingly appropriate that a weekend which started on Good Friday was one which illustrated the shaky foundations of the agreement which brought a form of peace to Northern Ireland. Twenty three years on from that landmark deal, discontent among the Province’s unionist and loyalist community is beginning to mount. Violence once again erupted on the streets of Derry last night. It was a repeat of the ugly scenes that played out over Easter weekend in Belfast’s loyalist Sandy Row area. Petrol bombs were flung and a total of 32 police officers were injured. The latest spark is mounting unhappiness among unionist pro-British groups at the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Guardian’s troubles with Roy Greenslade

Roy Greenslade’s confession last month that he was a dedicated supporter of the IRA during the Troubles has not gone down well on Fleet Street. Greenslade secretly wrote for the republican newsletter An Phoblacht and provided bail surety for an IRA man accused of involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing. He wrote in the Sunday Times three weeks ago that he was in ‘complete agreement about the right of the Irish people to engage in armed struggle’, adding: ‘I supported the use of physical force.’ The backlash from journalists and victims of the IRA alike caused Greenslade to resign his post as honorary visiting professor of journalism at City,

What Roy Greenslade gets wrong about the IRA’s bomb warnings

There are plenty of reasons to object to the journalist Roy Greenslade’s secret support of the IRA, which he now admits to harbouring during his long Fleet Street career. But as a former police officer involved in counter-terrorist search operations during the height of the Troubles, there was one thing in particular that is hard to take: his view on who was responsible for the casualties from IRA bombings. In his article republished in the Sunday Times, Greenslade said: ‘In Belfast, in discussions with republicans, I heard about the beginnings of what came to be known as “the dirty war”, the security forces’ use of collusion, the deliberate failure by the

Are loyalists plotting a return to violence?

What are we to make of Loyalist paramilitary groups withdrawing support for the Good Friday Agreement over the invidious trade border that now exists in the Irish sea? The Loyalist Communities Council, a group that represents the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Red Hand Commando, has written to Boris Johnson and Ireland’s Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, warning of ‘permanent destruction’ of the 1998 peace agreement unless changes are made to the Brexit agreement.  ‘If you or the EU is not prepared to honour the entirety of the agreement then you will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement,’ David Campbell, the chairman of the LCC, said.