Care is needed to stop the wheels coming off the Good Friday Agreement

I suppose it was inevitable. On the fringes of Westminster politics the alignment of Leave with a Brexit Union and Remain with support for the GFA is hardening, as shown in reaction to the failure so far to restore Stormont. This is what happens when people dip into the issues and pull out again. Living with them requires steadiness. Former secretary of state, stout Brexiteer and Shropshire lad Owen Paterson tweets that the GFA “has outlived its use.” Kate Hooey, … Read more

Meanwhile on Brexit … the British fog may be about to lift a little

Don’t get too excited, but this really could be a significant week for achieving greater clarity on British government aims for Brexit. The fiercely   anti-Brexit FT reports that on an awayday at Chequers on Thursday, Theresa May will nail her ministers’ hands to  the table  (well, the FT didn’t quite put it that way) until they agree on a high level of alignment between the UK and EU rules. Haven’t we heard something like that before? Oh yes, December’s joint … Read more

The draft agreement revealed: So far but yet so near

The cats have been let out of the bag thanks to the sources of Eamonn Mallie and Barney Rowan, (Sinn Fein?). From documents of “a dozen pages or so plus annexes and separate agreements,” we pick up the story below from a week ago last Friday. The secretary of state will no doubt be questioned on the details in a statement on the talks failure  when the Commons resumes tomorrow.  The Sinn Fein leadership will meet Theresa May on Wednesday … Read more

As the 20th anniversary approaches, the contrast is glaring between the commitment and success of the Good Friday Agreement and the neglect and failures of today

Bill and Hillary Clinton may register a no-show at a conference called to commemorate  the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement on 10 April, the Sunday Times reports. Organised by the impressively branded Senator George J Mitchell Institute For Global Peace, Security And Justice at Queens University, the conference line up includes every surviving key figure from the 1998 peace settlement except the incapacitated John Hume.  If Bill and Hillary scratch, Tony Blair may follow suit. And then … Read more

Arlene and Mary Lou are at least explaining themselves. But how much does Stormont matter now?

“tiocfaidh ár lá   Pat Leahy in the Irish Times The extent to which coaxing the DUP back into powersharing is secondary for Sinn Féin was captured perfectly by McDonald’s speech at her ardfheis coronation at the RDS last weekend. If Sinn Féin was primarily concerned with helping Arlene Foster to bring her party back into Stormont then McDonald wouldn’t have rounded off her peroration with that rousing “Tiocfaidh ár lá!”Never mind that it was unscripted; it wasn’t accidental.    Arlene … Read more

London and Dublin must clear their lines for close cooperation on direct rule

Clarity rather than coyness is now needed over moves toward direct rule. Working on its  scope and duration is one more compelling reason for London and Dublin  to stick together.  On Monday at the otherwise disastrous Stormont meeting, Theresa May and Leo Varadkar pledged “to work together on a new plan on how to achieve a frictionless Irish border.” Good luck to them with that. On the continuing local stand-off, two elements are essential. Enough action must be taken to … Read more

Next time, the governments must not leave it entirely to the DUP and Sinn Fein in secret

It would have been a remarkable feat if the DUP and Sinn Fein could have  struck a deal  in secret, alone and unaided.  Secrecy may be essential for last moves to reach a compromise. But over a year none of the ground had been prepared with the public and it showed. The background was too noisy – RHI, the sudden illness and death of McGuinness, minority governments in London and Dublin with other fish to fry, including monumentally,  the throwback … Read more

For a political deal ever to emerge, mutual ignorance needs to faced and mutual respect observed

Mick has rightly just pointed out how tantalising easy the language issue could be to solve, were it not for the politics that expresses a far deeper  mutual ignorance ( in both senses) than is often recognised and which 20 years of supposed power sharing has failed to reduce.  Politically there must be limits to the management of the voluntary apartheid state we appear to be creating before cohesion collapses altogether.  That moment may not be as far off as … Read more

What would yet send them over the top? Or is it all over?

  While Mick has presented the glass half full argument that Sinn Fein have at least indicated a willingness to return to Stormont, attention is bound to be more focused on hopes dashed or at least seriously  dampened . But there’s  no point in railing against Arlene Foster for  bursting out in public with a negative message against an  Irish Language Act (“however packaged”)  or speculating that   DUP supporters with  Jim Allister perched on their shoulder were  “spooked “ by … Read more

Could the DUP handle the return to Stormont as Gerry Adams’ parting gift?

The  papers are at one in running  the story that a Stormont deal may be imminent next week. But  “with more work to be done” the emphasis ranges from glass half full to glass half empty. The Irish News headlines “ speculation quelled as differences remain ” while  Suzanne Breen now bylined as the paper’s  political editor, sticks her neck out  with the quote from “sources” that, “we may not have an agreement within hours but we are potentially on the … Read more

Irish citizenship may open the door to an extended role for Dublin and Brussels in the North after Brexit

Brian WalkerFormer BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

On the border, a cabinet split emerges and UK-Irish tensions are renewed, as negative impact assessments of Brexit options are published in full

Northern Ireland comes out third  worst in the full version of regional assessments by HM Treasury of the impact of Brexit region by region. These were leaked to Buzzfeed last week then issued confidentially  to MPs and now published by  the BBC. The assessments, discounted by Brexiteers as failing properly  to model their preferred option of a free trade deal, emerged in full as tensions rose once again over the implications for the   border both within the British cabinet and … Read more

Rising expectations? The minority parties should put them to the test tomorrow

“I’m frustrated too, “ Karen Bradley told MPs. “The negotiations are at a very  sensitive stage.. very detailed and intense.. I’ve committed to not giving a running commentary .. I’m  not going to say anything that would jeopardise the talks.. They will last weeks, not months.. She was echoing the Taoiseach in the Dail yesterday, telling TDs : … he did not want to say anything that might cause offence to anyone at such a crucial juncture in the process … Read more

A mockery of a negotiation so far

So “huge differences remain” if you’re the DUP  but “good progress” was made if you’re a novice British minister  reading off the pre-prepared NIO script. What else don’t we know that the political correspondents can’t be bothered to say? The role of the chair is unknown – co-chairs, facilitators or dynamic leaders with a cunning plan ready to view? “We do not negotiate in public” said Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy last week as if for all the world this was … Read more

The border fudge ” will not survive”

Michel Barnier’s warning that  trade barriers are “ unavoidable” if Britain leaves the single market and the customs union has been reinforced by EU briefings that  December’s  fudge on Irish border options will be difficult to  sustain. The Irish Times report puts it gently. EU and British officials are working to translate December’s political agreement – which includes guarantees from the British government that there would be no return to a hard border in Ireland – into a legal text … Read more

The British government are contemplating an all-round amnesty, claims Denis Bradley. If so, it’a too hot to handle for the local parties and should become a big ticket item for Westminster

 Denis Bradley has been spelling out a basic home truth about dealing with the past in discussion on BBC NI’s The View with his partner in the still definitive Eames Bradley report. “Tough love” for victims is overdue.   Writing in the Irish News, he has also made some startling assertions. That families should be given truth pertains to knowing what and why a death or injury happened during the four decades of the troubles. But there is something out and … Read more

Fears that justice has become politicised in the Loughinisland report case are overblown

Austen Morgan is  a Londonderry-born barrister practicing in London  who  regularly critiques NI legislation and is a former adviser to David Trimble. He has written a counterblast  to the welcome given by the families of the Loughinisland murder victims and their supporters  to the withdrawal of the judge from the judicial review  of the police ombudsman’s findings of police collusion with alleged perpetrators. Writing in the Newsletter, he joins those who find the withdrawal troubling. A key fact  in the … Read more

Could reform of the petition of concern hold the key to surprise success in the Stormont talks?

Following up on Mick’s post on Colum Eastwood, let’s hear it for his SDLP deputy Nichola Mallon who’s called for the reform of the notorious blocking instrument of the petition of concern.  It had been supposedly been agreed in the abortive Fresh Start agreement of November 2015 that it should be used only “in exceptional circumstances,”  stating – importantly –  “the  grounds upon which it is being tabled and the nature of the detriment”.   After which nothing happened. The investigative … Read more

At the sharpest end of dealing with the past, whatever the arguments, the Haggarty case takes your breath away

A Loyalist  “supergrass” who admitted the murders of five people among hundreds of offences has had a 35-year jail term reduced to six-and-a-half years for helping the police. Gary Haggarty, 45, was a former leader of an Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) unit in north Belfast. Haggarty was a paid police informer for 11 years The judgment from Belfast Crown Court indicated that the 35-year jail term was reduced by 75% for the assistance given to prosecutors and then a further … Read more

Arlene Foster may be called to court to defend blocking the funding of legacy inquests – a key issue between the DUP and Sinn Fein

With exquisite timing for the renewed political talks, a case of judicial review  in the High Court has resumed which alleges that “former First Minister Arlene Foster unlawfully blocked Executive discussion of a funding plan aimed at clearing a backlog of legacy inquests for purely political reasons.” The charge has lain at her door for almost two years and she may yet be called to court to defend it.   In an earlier session the judge dismissed Mrs Foster’s bid to … Read more