Jarlath Kearney – two states, one system. A novel idea worth considering?

white boat near bodies of water

Regular readers of this blog will know that I like new ideas which go beyond the binary unionist-nationalist straitjacket which has dominated (and constrained) debate about the future of this island for most of the past hundred years. Thus over the past few years I have published the heterodox ideas of people like political scientist Padraig O’Malley, reconciliation activist Duncan Morrow, social researcher Paul Nolan, socialist writer Daniel Finn, Derry Protestant community worker Brian Dougherty, and Newry business and community …

Read more…

How are nationalists going to get unionist consent for unity if they don’t actively work for reconciliation with that community?

Rock Formations and Ocean during Day

I wouldn’t have said this seven years ago, when he first became Taoiseach, but I am sorry to see Leo Varadkar stepping down from that post. I do not agree with many of his right-of-centre policies on economic and social issues. But this straight half-Czech Irishman liked having a leader who was a gay half-Indian Irishman, a symbol of the new openness and multiculturalism of the country. More importantly, as someone from a Northern Protestant background who would one day …

Read more…

despite the begrudgers, Ireland in 2024 is a rather good country…

white and black concrete building under blue sky during daytime

Maybe because St Patrick’s Day is coming up and we’re in the middle of Seachtain na Gaeilge, I’m feeling a bit patriotic – so am going to write about why I think the Republic of Ireland is a rather good country now, despite the many begrudgers.  Firstly, there are the well-known demographic and economic indicators: in the 50 years of EU membership, life expectancy has risen from 71 to 81.5 years; incomes per head have increased fourfold; the number of …

Read more…

Why the Republic of Ireland needs a new John Bruton…

With the death earlier this month of former Taoiseach John Bruton, we have lost an important and courageous voice in the Republic of Ireland. We will need a new John Bruton to appear from somewhere: a nationalist leader who will not allow people to forget Sinn Fein’s continuing support for the murderous violence of the Provisional IRA and who goes out of his way to try to understand the concerns of unionism. Bruton bravely went even further: he criticised this …

Read more…

Book review: The Long Game: Inside Sinn Fein…

Over the Christmas holidays I read The Long Game: Inside Sinn Fein, by the former Irish Examiner journalist Aoife Moore. I was looking forward to reading this book enormously, since good books on this “strange, secretive party that stands on the brink of taking power” are few and far between. I thought that somebody like Moore, from a working class nationalist background in Derry, whose family had been “touched by British state violence” (her uncle was killed on Bloody Sunday), and Irish Journalist …

Read more…

A United Ireland: Not Guaranteed, But Possible Through Dialogue…

gray stone on green grass

What is it about passionate nationalists that when they get less than a third of people in favour of their nationalist project, they still insist they are driving on to victory? That was the situation according to the second big Irish Times/Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South(ARINS) poll on Irish unity earlier this month, which showed 51% of those polled in Northern Ireland in favour of remaining in the UK (up 1% from last year) against 30% in favour of …

Read more…

Ireland’s Openness Questioned: Anti-Immigration Violence Rattles a Nation…

Last Thursday morning I sat down to write a blog in which I was aiming to argue that Ireland (the Republic) had been hugely successful in integrating a large number of immigrants over the past 20-25 years, and that this tolerant, multicultural – and economically dynamic – society was one which open-minded Unionists should not be afraid of, and might even (in the fullness of time) consider joining. But early that afternoon a man with a knife attacked and stabbed …

Read more…

What have the British ever done for Ireland? Quite a bit, actually…

people walking on street heading towards church

One of the recurrent themes of these blogs is that if we are going to welcome 600,000-800,000 Unionists (possibly an over-estimate) into a ‘new Ireland’, we are going to have to accept and respect their passionate Britishness. And that is going to be a hard task for a society that fought a war of independence against Britain a hundred years ago, and has adopted a political and popular ethos which has been largely anti-British ever since. Occasionally that anti-Britishness has …

Read more…

A half-Jewish Irishman’s view of the war in the Middle East…

I am an Irishman from a half-Jewish background – the other half is Presbyterian, so I am utterly untypical of people in this republic. However as a person with such unusual antecedents, I feel reluctantly impelled to add my two ha’apence worth to the millions of words on the terrible disaster unfolding in the Middle East. As with so many of these blogs, I am going to borrow unashamedly from journalists and commentators who are much better-informed than me. My …

Read more…

Straws in the autumn wind around the Irish unity debate…

brown grass field under blue sky during daytime

There have been some interesting straws in the autumn wind in recent weeks as politicians get ready for the new political term and general elections in both Irish jurisdictions in the near future. Leo Varadkar doesn’t very often talk about Irish unity, but when he does he often says sensible things. He reiterated his belief earlier this month that he expected to see Irish unity in his lifetime (he is 44). More importantly, he stressed that the success of such …

Read more…

A Father’s Fate: The IRA’s Haunting Christmas Present to the Niedermayer Family…

Earlier this month I saw ‘Face Down’, a powerful and heartbreaking documentary by the Dublin film-maker Gerry Gregg about the IRA’s 1973 murder of Thomas Niedermayer, the German manager of an electronics factory on the edge of West Belfast, and the consequent devastation of his family. The script was by David Blake Knox, a former RTE TV producer who had written a 2019 book about the case.1In the words of a senior RUC investigating officer in the film, Niedermayer and …

Read more…

The Border Region as a microcosm of opinion across the island of Ireland…

I have a particular fondness for the border town of Clones; it was a place I frequently visited during my 14 years running the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Armagh. It was in the news earlier this month for all the wrong reasons. Two lovely teenage girls (one of them the daughter of Syrian refugees) were killed in a road accident at a notorious local blackspot on their way to their school’s ‘debs’ ball. Clones is a pretty place. …

Read more…

Why not a loyalist woman as the symbol of the ‘new Ireland’? Why not Bessie Burgess?

I was in Galway last month to see the brilliant production by the Druid theatre company of Sean O’Casey’s classic play set during the 1916 Rising: The Plough and the Stars. This is the tragic story of Jack Clitheroe, who abandons his young wife Nora to fight with the Irish Citizen Army: he is killed and she goes mad with grief. But it is also a fabulous comedy performed by the inhabitants of a poverty-stricken Dublin tenement, led by a raucous, drunken …

Read more…

What has really changed in Northern Ireland in the last 30 years?

a refrigerator door with magnets that say come, the change, and come

Last week I attended a reception in the Irish government’s splendid house in Notting Hill in Belfast to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the publication of the Opsahl Report.1 This landmark report, based on the views of around 3,000 people in over 550 written submissions and the opinions expressed at 19 public hearings about ways forward for Northern Ireland during a period of particular deadlock and despair, has been seen as one of the early seeds of the NI peace process. …

Read more…

Refugee crisis reveals the racism in the smug republic…

people walking on street during daytime

I don’t usually write about contentious issues in the Republic of Ireland, because – although I have lived here for many years – I feel I have little to add to the hundreds of thousands of words on television, radio and in the newspapers. I prefer to write about the North because I know it better and because it is less written about here. But this month I am going to write about the refugee crisis that has been hitting …

Read more…

How Irish media coverage of Northern Ireland fails to inform people in the south…

Earlier this week I addressed the Belfast dialogue group Compass Points on the coverage of Northern Ireland by the media in the Republic. This is a slightly edited version of my remarks. The first thing I should say is that what follows are the views of a former Irish Times journalist, a man in his seventies; a long-time resident of Dublin (although born in County Antrim), who was a Northern Ireland reporter for the BBC and that newspaper in the late 1970s …

Read more…

Talking to a cosmopolitan, community-focussed nationalist who is full of good ideas…

Conor Patterson emphasises that he is not a politician, political commentator or member of a political party – he is a businessman with a passion for community development in his home town of Newry, in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland. To use an old-fashioned and probably politically incorrect phrase, he is a working class boy “made good”. Patterson’s father was a welder (sometimes with his own small company, but often unemployed), his mother a telephonist, originally from …

Read more…

A wise, insightful examination of the perils and possibilities of Irish unity…

gray stone on green grass

If readers of this blog are looking for a book to read on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, I strongly recommend Perils and Prospects of a United Ireland, by my friend Padraig O’Malley, the distinguished Professor of Peace and Reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts. If anyone deserves such a grandiose title, it is Dublin-born O’Malley. Not content with producing a raft of books on conflicts and peace processes in Northern Ireland, South Africa and Iraq, he …

Read more…

Are we afraid of talking about Ireland’s violent past and possibly violent future?

grayscale photo of 3 men and 2 women

This is a blog about letters to the newspapers. I know it’s dangerous to generalise from the particular, and especially the particular of one’s own tiny experience. But I can’t help seeing a pattern in recent rejections of my letters to the Irish Times, and wondering whether it isn’t part of a general trend in attitudes to Ireland’s violent past and possibly violent future. In the past two and a half years I have had three letters to that august …

Read more…

Talking to a broad-minded sporting unionist who defies all the southern stereotypes…

Brian Dougherty is a unionist. This Derry community worker says he is more determined in his unionism than he has ever been. Yet in every other way he goes against the narrow stereotype that most people in the South have of unionists: he is a socialist who is hugely committed to his working class community; open to and interested in Irish music and culture; in favour of cross-cultural legislation including promotion of the Irish language; a board member of an …

Read more…