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Will the DUP lurch to the right following Foster’s departure?

Voice Of EU



Is the coup within the Democratic Unionist Party that has brought down Arlene Foster a lurch by the party to the right?

She survived the collapse of Northern Ireland’s power sharing executive in 2017, the loss of the unionist majority at Stormont, and the intense scrutiny of a judicial inquiry examining her stewardship of the flawed Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. However Arlene Foster’s leadership of the DUP could not survive her decision to abstain on, rather than vote against, a Stormont motion condemning highly controversial “gay conversion” therapies. Even allowing for the Paisleyite origins of the DUP, this seemed a surprising straw to break the DUP camel’s back.

Does this presage a lurch to the right, as the party tries to reconnect with its grassroots? Maybe: a letter from DUP councillors challenging Mrs Foster’s five years of leadership demanded a “return to the unionist and Christian values of our party”. The Free Presbyterians who formed the core of the DUP founder Ian Paisley’s political base never fully trusted the Church of Ireland Fermanagh MLA when it came to issues like abortion or gay rights, suspicious that, given the chance, she would jettison the DUP’s evangelical baggage in pursuit of unionist centre ground voters. That distrust was compounded when the party which championed the “Save Ulster From Sodomy” campaign back in the 1970s returned its first openly gay councillor in the May 2019 local government elections.

But others warn that it’s incorrect to view this anti-Arlene coup as a moral crusade. One former DUP insider told me it was “disastrous” that a debate on gay conversion had proved the “final straw”, but predicted that “some of the issues used to remove Arlene will fade into irrelevance once the party works out who it wants to take things on from here”.

Another senior DUP veteran insists the pressure on the leader had been “building up for some time”, as she became increasingly detached from both her Assembly team and wider unionist grassroots. The party rules make provision for a leadership election every April 30th (normally a formality). This concentrated minds, alongside many MLAs’ irritation over Mrs Foster’s handling of the gay conversion vote.

The veteran insists “the big issue was the Northern Ireland protocol” the element of the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU that has angered many unionists by creating a new economic border down the Irish Sea. Alongside concerns over policing, anxiety about the trade protocol helped fuel the recent serious disorder in loyalist areas.

During the riots Arlene Foster’s “name was not good on the ground” the veteran explains. There was a perception Mrs Foster “was turned over by (Boris) Johnson, and didn’t see it coming”. The DUP leader initially talked about making the best of the opportunities the protocol afforded to Northern Ireland businesses, before switching to demand it must be scrapped. Then she appeared to endorse a short lived boycott of north-south meetings in protest over the protocol, before apparently succumbing to pressure and approving the attendance of her Economy Minister Diane Dodds at just such a meeting.

One MP believes the chance to elect a new leader, deputy leader and First Minister will be a “liberating experience” for the DUP. However the former party insider fears that “whoever takes over now will have a terrible inheritance”. DUP fears were raised by an opinion poll published in the Belfast Telegraph in February which suggested the party was haemorrhaging support to both the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice and the centre ground Alliance party. The DUP nightmare is that next May, when a fresh Assembly election is due, unionists will remain in the minority at Stormont and Sinn Féin will become the biggest party, with Michelle O’Neill poised to become First Minister.

The names on most people’s lips to replace Mrs Foster are those of the Environment Minister Edwin Poots, the Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and the East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson. Mr Poots ticks the right boxes for the DUP’s Christian right, although the TUV leader Jim Allister has been quick to label him as the protocol’s “chief implementer” because of the role his departmental officials played in setting up import controls at Northern Ireland’s ports. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson quit the Ulster Unionists at the same time as Mrs Foster and has long been assumed to harbour ambitions not only to lead the DUP but also to unite unionism. Gavin Robinson would represent a generational change, but may be considered too liberal to benefit from a coup associated with a return to the DUP’s fundamentalist values.

There is increasing talk of dividing the leadership responsibilities between Westminster and Stormont, with a leader in one place and a First Minister in the other. With that in mind, both Mr Poots and Sir Jeffrey are used to working together as fellow representatives in the Lagan Valley constituency. But Lagan Valley is a place where, in December 2019, the Alliance candidate Sorcha Eastwood took a massive chunk out of the DUP’s majority. If this coup is viewed as taking the DUP back to its fundamentalist past, Ms Eastwood senses another electoral opportunity. She thinks Lagan Valley will not back “people who have prided themselves on denying rights to others” and her DUP rivals will be chasing a “diminishing pool” of voters.

The politician who succeeds Arlene Foster is more likely to frame their leadership as taking on the trade protocol than leading a moral crusade. When it comes to Brexit, Ms Eastwood says the experience of the referendum, and its aftermath “left a bad taste” in her Lagan Valley constituents’ mouths because they “saw the DUP backed the wrong horse and instead of admitting they messed up the party came back full of bombast”. Whether battle is joined over the Brexit protocol or wider social, cultural and moral issues, the next Stormont election (currently scheduled for May next year) looks set to be a stiff test for whoever the DUP chooses as the party’s new leader.

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Courts Service contradicts Garda declaration journalists were barred from court

Voice Of EU



The Courts Service has openly contradicted An Garda Síochána’s declaration that journalists were barred from a court sitting in Waterford earlier this month on the orders of a district justice.

Former Fianna Fáil election candidate Kieran Hartley appeared before Judge Brian O’Shea at Dungarvan District Court on October 13th on a Section 6 public order charge for allegedly committing an offence against a family member of a local garda.

Journalists Eoghan Dalton and Christy Parker were barred for more than three hours from entering the court chamber by two gardaí, who said they had been told the judge had directed that no press be allowed in.

The decision to bar the press – the second time that this has happened to a court hearing where Judge O’Shea was sitting following an incident at a Dublin hearing in 2017 – has now been raised with Garda management.

During exchanges with the reporters, who questioned the decision, one garda said “no one is allowed in this morning”, and while they “honestly” did not “know any details of it” they had been “directed by the court to not allow anyone into it”.

The Garda Press Office later that day insisted “the presiding judge had directed that the court be cleared of persons not involved in the case” as a “voir dire” was in operation.

A voir dire normally occurs when a judge seeks to determine an issue in the course of a trial rather than in advance of one, and very rarely applies at District Court level. Journalists may witness proceedings but not report the details.


Questioned later, however, the press office said: “The court garda cleared the court as requested by the judge”, and that “it is understood that members of the media who so arrived after that point were inadvertently prevented from accessing the courtroom”.

The Courts Service on Friday said: “At no stage did Judge O’Shea or Courts Service officials issue a direction that the case should be held otherwise than in public”.

“The court sitting at Dungarvan District Court on Wednesday, October 13th, was a public hearing. It involved the hearing of certain arguments in a case, before the ‘substantive’ matter might be heard at another time,” the spokesman said.

“In the absence of an order the law requires that the proceedings take place in public: we are committed to that principle. The alleged actions of gardaí in not allowing access to some media is a matter for Garda management.

“These issues have been raised with Garda management,” said the Courts Service, which is understood to have checked its own records carefully ahead of making its public statement.

When the case came to court on September 22nd, solicitor Paddy Gordon, acting for defence solicitor Frank Buttimer, questioned the legitimacy of statements presented by An Garda Síochána. Mr Gordon claimed they were “not our statements and we want them examined forensically”.

Deferring the matter to the October 13th sitting of Dungarvan District Court, Judge O’Shea instructed that investigating Garda Tom Daly be present, along with his notebook and all original statements.

The judge also asked that Tramore District Superintendent Paul O’Driscoll attend the hearing, which would commence at 10am prior to the main court business.


Mr Hartley unsuccessfully contested the 2014 European elections as Fianna Fáil’s Ireland South candidate. He resigned from the party acrimoniously in 2018 following his criticism of its handling of matters related to convicted paedophile Bill Kenneally, whose cousin Brendan was a former Fianna Fáil junior minister.

Judge O’Shea did not issue a written verdict on the present case against Mr Hartley, but it is understood the Garda testaments will stand as presented when it is heard.

Mr Buttimer said he was “not in a position to comment at present”.

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Martin Kenny said it was “highly unusual” and that he would be writing to Garda headquarters seeking an explanation. “Justice has to be seen to be done as well as being done, and I find it quite alarming that we’d be in this situation.”

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Darlington is cheapest for homes, London’s Kensington most expensive

Voice Of EU



We all know about the North-South divide. We all know about the Prime Minister’s attempt at ‘levelling up’. We all know about the crumbling Red Wall.

But when it comes to property, the facts of the matter tell their own story. According to Churchill Home Insurance, Darlington in County Durham is the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot.

Which is staggering when you compare it to the most expensive — Kensington in central London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721. 

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham - the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham – the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Music giants Robbie Williams and Eric Clapton have homes in this exclusive royal borough home, as do entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson.

But here’s the twist: anyone looking to take advantage of Darlington’s prices might have to move fast because there are plans to turn this market town into the hottest property in the north.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is opening up a smart new division of the Treasury there over the next five years, moving about a quarter of the department. 

That’s about 400 people, many of whom will be local recruits. ‘We’re giving talented people in the North-East the opportunity to work in the heart of Government, making decisions on important issues for our country,’ explains Sunak.

So what are the draws of these polar-opposite locations?

Kensington is one of the crown jewels of London neighbourhoods featuring not just top museums but also a host of chic cafes, boutique shops, and even Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live with their children.

There are three Zone 1 underground stations and several independent schools, and you’re a stroll away from the West End. 

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Top restaurants include Daphne’s and Launceston Place — both favourites of the late Princess Diana — and the iconic Bibendum with two Michelin stars.

There’s no surprises when it comes to property values in this area; they’re stellar. The cheapest property in Kensington for sale on Rightmove in the middle of October was priced at £40,000 and that was just a space in a car park. 

The most expensive listing, by contrast, was a seven- bedroom semi, with an eye-watering asking price of £30 million.

Of just over 510 property sales in the past year, the average price was a slightly more modest £2,169,235, according to Zoopla, but that’s after prices took a 4 per cent knock as fewer people bought in London during the pandemic.

It’s a different story in Darlington, which has a modest average property price of £172,724, according to Zoopla. 

But things are changing; there have been more than 1,600 property sales in the past 12 months and prices have gently risen 4.5 per cent. The most expensive home on sale is a four-bedroom detached house with grounds, for £700,000.

However that’s still an exception, with many more at the other end of the scale, where there are several two-bedroom terrace houses for sale at £45,000.

If you’re moving in, bone up on railway history — the world’s first steam train service began here almost 200 years ago. 

Otherwise, look out for a twice-weekly street market, the revamped Hippodrome theatre and the odd tribute to comic Vic Reeves and businessman Duncan Bannatyne, both brought up in the town.

Darlington is brimming with well-preserved Victorian buildings while you can stroll in the beautiful South Park. If you’re after the best of local food, the two-Michelin starred Raby Hunt Restaurant is the place to go.

The town has the buzz of a place on the move — there are modernisations under way at both the railway station (2 ½ hours to London, 30 minutes to Newcastle) and the indoor market.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak’s Treasury initiative is already putting Darlington on the map. ‘I know of several people from London who have moved here thanks to working remotely,’ says estate agent Henry Carver of Carver Residential. 

On the market: North-South divide 

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

Voice Of EU



Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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