Pleas for greater speed and transparency must be heeded if the Windsor Framework is to succeed

Photo: spoof  customs on the border The latest verdict  on the Windsor Framework   will be seized on by some  to justify  the DUP’s reluctance to re-enter the Assembly  for a long time. By how many remains to be seen,   It doesn’t help that the sharpest criticisms which are shared by NI local  business have been aired not by them but by unionists who are acute Framework sceptics.  The verdict  comes in a report by  the House of Lords sub-committee on …

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A dying government at Westminster means progress on Northern Ireland affairs looks less likely this year

This is a UK  government in decline. Its authority is diminishing among its  own back benchers. This week it’s rushing through measures before the summer break. The Illegal Migrations Bill will become law but can’t be implemented while transfer to Rwanda remains illegal. Today the NI Legacy Bill will begin its final Commons stages in the teeth of opposition from most stake holders including the DUP, although with one bright spot for unionists, an amendment carried in the Lords to …

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In Northern Ireland Westminster Rules, OK or not

Chris Heaton-Harris MP, NI Secretary While so much energy is being expended over identity issues in the Assembly’s absence (e.g.  “The Brits don’t love us anymore.” Please!)   remarkably little attention seems to be paid to actual politics which is proceeding largely without regard to the local politicians. The UK government in the person of Chris Heaton-Harris is free the play games or play for real, whichever he chooses. The UU leaning Malone House Group has just pointed out that the …

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“An 80-year-old waiting five to seven years for a hip will not get that hip replacement. A child on a waiting list waits so long that they are transferred to the adult waiting list.” This is why the Assembly must come back – now

photo: Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast When so much comment has been preoccupied with squeezing out yet another fine point about the council election results, rumbling on in the background has been another squeeze, the Barnett squeeze which has the effect of reducing the funding for Northern Ireland at the worst possible time.  (explanation later). Breaths are being held for a Westminster bailout of up to a £1billion more or less, to fill a budgetary black hole, on condition that the …

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The shape of a united Ireland is emerging – but it’ll keep

I need hardly dwell on the beating unionists have taken at the polls. In comment, the most severe on the DUP came from a critical friend  well  into his own voyage of discovery, Sam McBride of the Bel Tel. The message is Sinn Fein are always on a roll while the DUP are still circling the wagons against the inexorable pressure of demography, but able to survive if  they adopt a survival strategy.  (Come to think of it the native American …

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Westminster’s pressure on the NI parties looks like hotting up after Thursday’s council elections

Chris Heaton -Harris NI Secretary   The Northern Ireland parties are fighting on a phantom agenda for Thursday’s  council elections. Few seem to have noticed and nobody seems to mind, preoccupied as they are by the electoral struggle, the local media mostly included. This at any rate is the verdict of  our most provocative and analytically searching professional  commentator Newton Emerson who is convinced a bailout is coming. The other big change pending is  the prospect of a transformation of the …

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Phew! A rescue package for Northern Ireland may be on the way after all – but with conditions

The Secretary of State’s grim budget statement may not be the last word after all.  From a Dublin dateline, the Poltico website casts a more favourable light on it, predicting another £1 billion “bung” – but with conditions A half-dozen senior insiders in the British government and Northern Ireland civil service have told POLITICO that Westminster is mulling a £1 billion offer to boost the region’s public services if its main political parties restore a power-sharing government before the end …

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Even the civil service are up in arms about “undeliverable” cuts. But Heaton Harris shows no sign of budging

Once again the old game of slipping deadlines is being played. An NI budget was due – today? Soon?  Unprecedented pressure mounts but Chris Heaton Harris shows no sign of bending. Public servants rarely speak out publicly about their responsibilities but when they do it’s usually buried in Yes Ministerspeak. Not any more.   The tactic seems to have been to have a retired mandarin speak about the unique strain the absence of an Executive has imposed on them.  The former …

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Agreement 25 impressed. Has it shifted the political dial?

There was a glut of greatness at Queen’s and Hillsborough yesterday, so much so that even the local media could manage only a few snapshots, the BBC excepted . Nearly every big figure who brushed against Northern Ireland in decades spoke and dined.  A very heavy  UK presence of seven former prime ministers and the current  incumbent, plus the leader of the opposition, along with  the EU in force reminding us their controversially  active role  in our affairs, Ursula van …

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High tone and polite discussion will serve as the prelude to the leaders tomorrow. Can they get it together?

By its very nature with its illustrious cast , it would have been  too much to expect the great conference at Queen’s “Agreement 25”  to have conducted  a searching inquest into the strength and weaknesses of the Good Friday Agreement, or an inquiry into  the Windsor Framework as the device for returning the DUP to the Assembly. It became quickly clear that the dynamics were wrong.  Anyway it would have been one thing to talk about balancing arms decommissioning against …

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After reaching for the stars at Queen’s this week, let’s get down to earth

What do we expect to get out of this week’s conference at Queen’s to commemorate the GFA? More lofty exhortation certainly. Bill and Hillary Clinton have already begun. More sour sniping from some unionists?  Ditto.  But most of the political world will at least pass themselves, moved to courtesy and respect at the appearance of the seriously ailing 89 year old George Mitchell. Blair, Ahern  and striking a  contemporary  note, Sefcovic of the EU ( representing the  new third force …

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As the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approaches, the immediate outlook is uncertain. But reform is in the air

As the Great Anniversary approaches, unionist opinion in its supporting  press is in turmoil over whether or when to return to the Assembly. Worryingly there is talk of being resigned to loyalist violence in the event of a border poll.    Opinion is tilting against accepting the Windsor Framework. Its gaps and deficiencies are forensically taken apart in the Belfast Telegraph by Sam McBride.  In the Newsletter, the voice of sceptical unionism, the editor Ben Lowry comes down against the Framework …

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The claim that Sunak is overselling is oversold

If you object to any trace of the EU in Northern Ireland future affairs, look away now. Even Lord Frost who delivered the discredited Protocol isn’t quite with you. Sunak’s deal will help he admits “but it’s a bitter pill to swallow”. Whereas Sunak stresses NI ‘s recovery of UK sovereignty, Frost points out reasonably  that the   deal is  so called because it is indeed a framework  for applying EU law We are told that 1700 pages of EU law …

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The DUP are struggling to find reasons of principle for continuing their Assembly boycott

Photo; The Irish Sea  Many unionists are doing what unionists do, poring over a legal text. Not all of them may be clear in their own minds why they’re doing so. Looking for fresh evidence of betrayal or points that need improving?  For one, Sam McBride has delivered a glass half empty exposure of Rishi Sunak’s bouncy oversell.   The border in the Irish Sea may have been replaced by the green channel but it is alive and well in the …

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The real choices emerging: implement a Protocol deal without unionist consent; or accept a DUP veto on the UK resetting its relations with the EU

24 hours on, the chances of success for Rishi Sunak’s mission are no clearer.  Optimism however has the edge on the EU stage.  As its cheerleader the FT describes it solving the Protocol quandary presages an entire reset of the UK’s future relations with the EU, quoting for instance the veteran diplomat Kim Darroch: It will make a real, positive, difference in Northern Ireland. It will stand up Sumac’s claim to be a problem solver. It will get us back …

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The public inquiry into whether the Omagh bomb might have been prevented blows a fatal hole in the UK government’s Legacy Bill

 The decision under pressure from the courts to hold a public inquiry into whether the Omagh bomb might have been prevented blows a gaping hole in the UK government’s flailing attempts to wrap up the Troubles.  The fact that Omagh falls just outside the terms of the limited amnesty in the GFA has become a legal almost a pedantic technicality after 25 years.   As the inquiry will focus on the state’s security agencies, the trail  of evidence is no more …

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Rather than keep slagging off the DUP over the Protocol, let’s recognise their better points

Nerves on all sides are stretched like skins on a drum waiting to see what emerges from the forthcoming Protocol negotiations.  Every cautious word is parsed and construed for signs of progress or the lack of it. Make no mistake a big push is on for a positive outcome on two fronts; to end the deadlock in the relations between the UK and EU and to come up with enough to restore the DUP to the Assembly. Never mind the …

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Brilliant NHS!

purple and pink heart shaped illustration

  Here’s a happy story about the NHS- a very personal one for Christmas. In common with lots of other boomers  I know, one of my hips reached crisis point in my early 70s.  Last summer when I found it really tough to walk a mile I faced up to the fact that I had to do something serious about it. So I applied for an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant, expecting that the whole process would take a year. …

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The long and winding road to dealing with the past stretches ahead at Westminster. Will it turn out to be a dead end?

All Northern Ireland parties and groups including victims are united on one thing. They are opposed to the UK government’s NI Troubles, (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. Nevertheless the Bill began its long passage to become law – or not –in the House of Lords last Wednesday. The Lords debate presents a good opportunity to air the issues in one place in this lengthy post. A vote will eventually be held on whether to recommend scrapping the Bill entirely or heavily …

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The British and Irish governments mustn’t mess about. Time for Direct Rule by whatever name with Dublin support to tackle the cost of living crisis and move on to Assembly reform

We are teetering on a cliff edge of absurdity about calling an Assembly election “ nobody wants. ” From the DUP viewpoint Peter Robinson brilliantly  describes the contradictions in every party’s position except his own. He might have added that it was Chris Heaton Harris and his cronies in the ERG  who more than any other faction  got us into this trouble in the first place by championing a Withdrawal Agreement with the Protocol attached  under frankly false pretences. The …

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