The bizarre story of banknotes in the United Kingdom

Over the past while we’ve been debating a number of things around “special status” for Northern Ireland. Coincident with this debate was the announcement from Ulster Bank of a plan to issue new, verticially-oriented banknotes. I found myself in rare agreement with North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, who suggested on twitter that we could look at a move to Bank of England notes. I noted again this morning that the topic on discussion on the Nolan Show, where the proprietor … Read more

Boris Johnson and the “pure millennium bug stuff”

I’m really glad Boris Johnson, in private remarks, chose to draw a comparison between the Brexit process and the Millennium Bug. I’ve often thought this comparison was apt and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs’ comments have given me a great excuse to write about my own short experiences dealing with the bug. I was working at the HQ of a large Irish financial institution between the summers of 1999 and 2000 as part of my placement … Read more

Reflections on the Good Friday Agreement

I thought I’d record some personal opinions on the passing of the 20th anniversary (more or less) of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I felt compelled to do this after reading a few exchanges on social media, one in particular declaring that Unionism had, in a manner of speaking, had its eye wiped. This is a popular, but demonstrably false, perspective that had its origins in the debate at that time, and perhaps has deeper origins … Read more

Another angle on Sinn Féin’s Westminster abstention

Any debate about Sinn Féin’s Westminster abstention policy tends to cover no new ground. It always starts with someone – most recently Polly Toynbee – suggesting that SF should take their seats to pursue some common, worthwhile objective, in this case, that of blunting the sharp edges of brexit. It ends with SF supporters asserting that (a) it is a key republican principle that can’t be easily argued away; (b) that the party has a clear mandate to abstain from Westminster; … Read more

Belfast Central Station to be renamed “Lanyon Place”

(picture courtesy “Lambert” on An interesting tidbit in the news today with Translink announcing that Belfast Central Station is to be renamed “Lanyon Place” following a programme of refurbishment due to be completed in September. From the press release : The Lanyon Place area has become a major hub of activity, with the ‘Lanyon’ name being adopted by a range of neighbouring businesses, alongside Belfast City Council’s exciting plans for the Lanyon Tunnels. ‘We consulted with a range of … Read more

How brexit is destroying NI’s centre ground – and could take the Union with it

The brexit negotations are not going well. During the course of the past few weeks, we’ve seen a sharp deterioration of Anglo-Irish relations as the Irish government found themselves with no choice other than to call out the UK government’s lack of preparation or proposals on how it would approach the sensitive matter of the Irish border in the context of the UK’s departure from the EU. Today, we’ve seen the DUP intervene to scupper an agreement that had been … Read more

The postwar ID requirement between Northern Ireland and Great Britain

Reading through some old Wikipedia articles pointed me to an interesting exchange in the House of Commons, back in 1948. Ulster Unionist MPs Conolly Gage and Major Samuel Gillmor Haughton rose during an adjournment debate to complain about the requirement for a permit or passport to be presented for travel between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Mr Gage opens by highlighting the inconvenience of this arrangement : As everyone knows, Ulster is as much a part of … Read more

On Voluntary Coalition

I note, during coverage of today’s UUP conference, that once again that Robin Swann is advocating voluntary coalition. He’s not the only advocate of voluntary coalition, and he’s certainly not the first. In fact it has been an ideal for both the  UUP and DUP, since the old Stormont parliament was prorogued in 1972, to return to the approach of government by a simple majority. Jim Allister is also well known for supporting this view. I’ve heard other Unionist spokespersons … Read more

“A way of life they have no interest in forced upon them”

With my odd contributions here on Slugger I’ve tried to steer away from the usual boring tribal political arguments that take up a lot of time in Northern Ireland – arguments about who gets what or who doesn’t; what is or is not fair; or about who did what in the past. These arguments are always the same and involve healthy doses of recrimination and whataboutery, but seldom the introspection that is required to seriously progress the issues behind them. … Read more

Sir Jeffrey’s cunning border plan

The other day, the Rt Hon Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP suggested on twitter : A country that uses electronic toll tag systems on 11 of its main roads can’t claim there isn’t a technological solution to a Brexit border Sir Jeffrey’s observation appears to be an attempt to suggest that the problems presented by a post-brexit hard border between the northern and southern jurisdictions within Ireland could be readily solved through the application of appropriate technology. I was immediately reminded … Read more

What if #AE17b happens ?

It’s been a tumultuous week, to say the least, at the end of what had been a very boring election, with a number of historic and fascinating political developments going on. There’s been plenty of analysis of the wider political configuration on Slugger for the past while, so I thought I’d have a look at what might happen closer to home, specifically if there is another Assembly election. If the March 2017 Assembly election was about the nationalist surge, the … Read more

Why a Unionist pact is almost certain

The new Ulster Unionist leader, Robin Swann, will have had rather less time than he would have liked to shape his party’s attitude to the idea of pacts and co-operation with the DUP, not least while the UUP are still licking their wounds following the disappointing assembly result of six weeks ago. Both parties face a rather stark set of circumstances. Both are financially depleted, facing their third election within 12 months and looking to the prospect of a further … Read more

Is a 60-minute Belfast-Dublin train journey time realistic ?

In the Independent today, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan floats the idea of a 60-minute Belfast-Dublin railway journey as a possible outcome of a brexit deal. This is an interesting, and indeed exciting, idea but I wonder if the Minister is aware of the size and scale of the project he is proposing. The current Belfast-Dublin railway line, whose construction began almost 200 years ago, was designed in an era when railway vehicles could not move quickly, when railways were assembled by … Read more

The Solution

After the uprising of the 2nd of March The DUP member for Lagan Valley Had leaflets distributed in Paisley Park Stating that the people Had forfeited the confidence of the the Union And could win it back only By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier In that case for the Party To dissolve the people And elect another? with thanks to Bertolt Brecht and Gerry Lynch Brendan HeadingSoftware engineer living and working in greater Belfast. Pragmatic social democrat with the odd leaning towards … Read more

Direct rule is not a solution – or even an option

At the end of last night’s Slugger Punt event (which could have easily gone on for another hour, thanks to an engaging, well-informed panel and Alan’s role as compere!) there was a brief discussion on the talks process after the election and how long it would take. There was no broad consensus for a timescale, other than that there would be no all-encompassing solution within the three week deadline specified in legislation;  some speculating 2-3 years of deadlock; others speculating a … Read more

A border poll can be held at any time

There’s widespread misunderstanding of the legal provision around holding a border poll which seems to rear its head not only on social media, but sometimes within the print media and even among the ranks of senior politicians. It’s an innocent enough situation, but it could become important in the period ahead as we start coming to terms with brexit and Northern Ireland’s relationship with Europe. The misunderstanding holds that, following the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, a border poll cannot be held unless there … Read more

Electric cars in Northern Ireland – another perspective

On Friday just past, Slugger contributor Patrick Murdoch had an interesting article about his experiment with electric vehicle ownership. Patrick’s principal observation – that the electric car charging network in Northern Ireland is not the greatest – is not entirely inaccurate, but I disagree with his implication that this makes owning an EV practically impossible. As an EV driver myself – I’ve had a Nissan Leaf 30kWh for just under a year now – I thought it would be useful to … Read more

Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – on the chopping block ?

One or two eagle-eyed observers on social media noted a development in the House of Lords which has apparently escaped the notice of the media – a new bill which, if enacted, would abolish the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. It’s worth a quick recap on the background. Until 2011, the power to dissolve Parliament was by the Queen’s prerogative, exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister. It has always been significant as it is, in effect, the power to choose a strategically optimal time to hold … Read more

Tread lightly as you pass St Patrick’s

It’s a long time since I was a practicing Catholic, and almost as long since I defined myself as a believer of any kind. I haven’t properly attended Mass, outside of baptisms, weddings or funerals, since my mid-teens. If I was ever going back to religion, I think I’d be a Quaker. Or at the very most a high church Anglican. But a part of me stirred a few years back, when the footage emerged of a band playing the Famine … Read more

The British government must seek a mandate to negotiate brexit

As the shock of the brexit result continues to reverberate (and will for quite some time) there has been quite a bit of chat, in the mainstream and online media, and among friends, about how this decision could potentially be reversed. At the outset it should be clear that there can be no political prospect of the referendum being re-run. The campaign was long, there was no shortage of reading material or debating time, and there can be no attempt … Read more