I prefer good art and archaeology to bad politics

Taken from Andy Pollak’s monthly blog… Sometimes the sheer badness of politics in Northern Ireland takes my breath away (badness=bad faith, lying, incompetence, being mired in the past). Take the third week of October, for example. Peter Robinson boycotted the opening meeting of the British government initiated all-party talks he had himself called for to deal with the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Fein on a wide range of issues which has led to the North being largely ungoverned … Read more

While Britain and Europe’s tectonic plates move, we argue about Orangemen and Ardoyne

[This is taken from Andy Pollak’s monthly blog www.2irelands2gether.com] What is the strategic issue causing senior people in the Irish Department of Foreign affairs to lose their sleep these nights? In the week that Michael D. Higgins paid the first ever, spectacularly successful state visit by an Irish President to Britain, it is the possible break-up of the United Kingdom and its exit from the European Union. In September the Scottish people will vote on independence.As Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s … Read more

Would Bobby Sands have agreed with cross-border teacher training?

A republican acquaintance of mine once said that Bobby Sands didn’t die for cross-border teacher training. I’m very sorry that Bobby Sands had to die at all. I don’t believe his cause, the IRA’s armed struggle (or terrorist campaign, depending on your point of view) to unite Northern Ireland with the rest of the island, was worth one death, let alone the more than the three and a half thousand it led to between 1968 and 1998. Cross-border teacher training … Read more

A Cross-Border Gun for Hire

So, after nearly 14 years, it is time to say farewell to the Centre for Cross Border Studies – although not to this blog, which is migrating to a new site (see below). We have done some good things in our small centre in Armagh during that time, and I must pay tribute to my colleagues for their huge support and extremely hard work: incoming director Ruth Taillon, particularly for her superb work on impact assessment; deputy director Mairead Hughes, … Read more

My Top 14 cross-border co-operators in Ireland

Since this is my penultimate ‘Note’ before I stand down as director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, I am going to use it to nominate my personal Top 14 cross-border co-operators, one for every year since the Centre was founded in 1999. There is no doubt that the pioneers of cross-border cooperation are passing on: some, like the intellectual leader of the movement, Sir George Quigley, and the valiant unionist headmaster from Portadown, Billy Tate, have gone to … Read more

‘Note from the Next Door Neighbours’: a 90 second read from South Armagh

Two good news stories from South Armagh and Social Welfare In a small village in South Armagh something rather wonderful is beginning to take shape. After some difficult early years the Middletown Centre for Autism, a North/South body whose mission is to create a centre for excellence in Ireland for the education of children and young people with autism spectrum disorders, is beginning to take off. In 2009 the Centre, set up two years earlier with funding from the two … Read more


Sir George Quigley died on 3 March after a long and full life of service to Northern Ireland and Ireland. He was as near as a small place like Northern Ireland gets to a Renaissance man: head of four government departments; chairman of Ulster Bank and Bombardier; the tireless chair of numerous public bodies in both parts of Ireland; leader of the campaign for lower corporation tax; author of a mould-breaking report on contentious parades; overseer of loyalist arms decommissioning … Read more

Time to Reach Out a Southern Hand to Unionists

In a thought-provoking blog on the new 15 Years On site (http://15yearson.wordpress.com) this month, former Community Relations Council director Duncan Morrow lists all the promised reforms in Northern Ireland since 1998 which have not been realised: a Single Equality Bill, a Shared Future, the Review of Public Administration, Dealing with the Past, educational reform, youth work, parades, Irish language, flags, shared housing and cross-community development. He warns that if politicians and people in Northern Ireland ‘can’t muster the energy’ to … Read more

The Centre Roars Back with New Funding and a New Shared Blog

Nearly two years ago I wrote a ‘Note’ saying that the Centre for Cross Border Studies had 15-18 months funding left, we were starting to feel a little nervous, and were appealing to our readers and supporters for some good new ideas for cross-border cooperation in Ireland. In the event we generated most of those new ideas within the Centre’s four walls in Armagh, with my colleague Ruth Taillon coming up with a disproportionate share of them.  These ideas – … Read more

What will be the impact on the Irish border if the UK leaves the EU?

After last year’s hugely successful visit by Queen Elizabeth to the Republic and a joint communiqué of extraordinary warmth following last March’s summit between David Cameron and Enda Kenny, British-Irish relations were generally considered to have reached a closeness unprecedented in more than 90 years since Irish independence and partition. In July the Irish ambassador to Britain, Bobby McDonagh, spoke of the elements that went into this successful relationship. The first of these was Britain and Ireland’s shared membership of … Read more

An Essential Cross-Border Information Service

For the second month running I am unashamedly going to blow the Centre for Cross Border Studies’ trumpet. Because the Centre does not only write about cross-border cooperation in Ireland; it not only researches such cross-border cooperation – it also does practical cooperation between the two parts of this island. Last month I wrote about the cooperation and exchanges it manages between teacher educators and student teachers. This month I am going to write about another unique and innovative cross-border … Read more

An Incredible Achievement for Teacher Education

As a rule I try to avoid using this column as a way to blow the Centre for Cross Border Studies’ trumpet. But given the Irish and Northern Irish media’s almost total lack of interest in things cross-border, I sometimes can’t resist the temptation to tell a particular success story that the Centre is involved with. One of these is the rather clumsily titled Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South, or SCoTENS as it is more commonly known. … Read more

The Challenge of Turning Goodwill into Cooperation

Regular readers of this ‘note’ will know that I have certain obsessions which keep re-surfacing: the need to upgrade the Belfast-Dublin rail line; the exhortation to Northern Irish people to fully enjoy both their identities, Irish and British; the need for more people-to-people cooperation across the border; and the imperative for the public sectors in the two Irish jurisdictions to work more closely together to provide joint services for the benefit of both their peoples. It is to this last … Read more

Does the South really want the North as part of Ireland?

A Note from the Next Door Neighbours (72)  August 2012 DOES THE SOUTH REALLY WANT THE NORTH AS PART OF IRELAND? It is difficult to overstate the lack of interest there is among people in the Republic these days in Northern Ireland, and in relations between North and South. As somebody who works in the North and lives in the South, my experience in recent years, as the economic and financial crisis has come to dominate all public discourse, is … Read more

A Cross-Border Geopark that leads the World

A Note from the Next Door Neighbours (71)  – July 2012 Fermanagh in the 1980s didn’t have much going for it. A remote place – in European, British and Irish terms – with a declining agricultural sector and a small inflow of tourists, largely for the boating on Lough Erne, and the seemingly endless misery of the Northern Irish conflict making both everyday life and economic activity enormously problematic. Sometime in the early years of that horrible decade a small group … Read more

British-Irish relationship stronger than ever in difficult times

As we all know, sometimes newspapers overlook or underplay an important story because it doesn’t make sensational headlines. The meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in London last March – and the joint statement which came out of it  – was one such story. We in Northern Ireland, in particular, would do well to study that statement and ponder its implications closely. The statement was unusual in that it set out the parameters of a closer … Read more

Little Community Sector Interest in North-South Cooperation

There aren’t many people who get up every workday morning and say to themselves: “What can I do today to advance practical North-South cooperation in Ireland?”  I sometimes think we in the Centre for Cross Border Studies  – along with our neighbours in the North South Ministerial Council Joint Secretariat down the hill in Armagh – are among the very few. This came home to me recently when I was doing some research for the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust into … Read more

Farewell to Education for Reconciliation

Earlier this month I attended the final teachers conference in Derry of the Education for Reconciliation project, to join them in celebrating what I believe to be one of the most important cross-border education projects of the post Belfast Agreement period. 13 years ago a visionary Dublin educationalist, Aidan Clifford, director of the Curriculum Development Unit of the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee, decided that he wanted to do something to support the then still young and fragile Northern Ireland … Read more

Walking across the border for the good of your health

For those of us who live on this small island – and in this even smaller province of this small island – going to the occasional international conference is a good way of opening the mind to new ideas (and I defy the small-minded begrudgers who mutter about EU ‘gravy trains’ to tell me otherwise). I was at a conference on cross-border cooperation  in Strasbourg 15 months ago when I fell into conversation with a man from Regio Basilensis, the … Read more

A Tribute to Eugene McCabe

Does being a border writer mean that, by definition, you are going to be marginalised?  That would certainly seem to have been the case with Eugene McCabe, the Clones-based writer of at least one great play, one masterpiece of a novel and some of the most powerful short stories to have come out of Ireland in the past half-century. He deserves to be ranked up there with William Trevor and Frank O’Connor in the canon of great 20th century Irish … Read more