Self-confident & outward-looking, Feile An Phobail is a perfect fit for Modern Ireland

I was somewhat taken aback when I first heard that Arlene Foster had tweeted her ‘concern‘ at Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s decision to attend the opening of Feile an Phobail yesterday. Having attended many events at the Feile since the late 1980s, I was conscious of the fact that many Unionist politicians- and known loyalist figures- have been involved in its programme of events annually. In what can only be interpreted as a shockingly poor piece of research, the DUP Leader … Read more

The DUP/Loyalist flag protocol is another sign of hostility to ‘The Others’

The DUP and loyalists have announced that they have agreed a new flags protocol for the flying of loyalist flags in the mixed residential area of Ballynafeigh. They have decided, between themselves, that their flags will be flown from lamp posts in these mixed residential areas for a quarter of the year, going up and being taken down on dates that they have independently determined for the benefit of all else residing in these mixed areas. Proclaiming the good news … Read more

Cowardly attacks on female politicians’ appearance not just the work of social media’s losers

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart has today rightly highlighted the unacceptable nature of personal abuse that was directed at her on social media recently. Comments were directed at her and party leader, Arlene Foster, after the latter had posted a photograph of the pair on Twitter. Lockhart’s intervention was welcomed by Sinn Fein’s Northern Leader, Michelle O’Neill: The personal abuse meted out to high profile figures in politics can be deeply unsavoury, and is usually attributed to accounts with anonymous profiles … Read more

Women in Sport: Do we need our own Title IX?

On Boxing Day 1920, some 53,000 spectators poured into Goodison Park in Liverpool to watch a football game. What made this contest special was that the twenty-two players on the pitch were women as the match had pitted Dick, Kerr’s Ladies team against St Helen’s Ladies. The Dick, Kerr’s Ladies team had become famous for playing fixtures across Britain and Ireland, taking to the field on more than sixty occasions in 1921 (including in Belfast in January) as the women’s … Read more

Educational Underachievement: Getting a Clear Picture

% of pupils achieving 5 GCSEs including Maths and English (A*-C) NI Avg Boys Girls Prot Cath Other FSME Non-FSME 2015/16 67.7% 63.3% 72.2% 65.8% 68.7% 69.1% 44.8% 75.8% 2014/15 66.0% 61.6% 70.5% 65.2% 66.4% 66.9% 41.3% 73.7% 2013/14 63.5% 58.6% 68.6% 63.0% 64.3% 61.8% 34.9% 69.7%   % of pupils achieving 2+ A Levels (A*-E) NI Avg Boys Girls Prot Cath Other FSME Non-FSME 2015/16 57.3% 48.8% 66.1% 52.2% 61.1% 57.0% 36.6% 64.7% 2014/15 57.7% 49.5% 66.2% 54.0% 61.0% … Read more

New book on Martin McGuinness launching this week

  Martin McGuinness’ untimely death has loomed large over the suspension of our political institutions and the collapse of trust that has defined the period since. His elevation as a statesman in the post-Good Friday Agreement era surprised many and it is no exaggeration to say that he will be remembered in time as the pre-eminent figure in the early devolution period who more than anyone else kept the institutions afloat and worked power-sharing between the most unlikely partners of … Read more

Why is schoolboy football treated as a poor relation in this society?

It was the 19th April 1954, Easter Monday, when the boys of Holy Cross scaled the heights of local schools’ football competition to win the Northern Ireland Schools’ FA Senior Cup. On that occasion, the Ardoyne boys defeated Belfast Technical 2-1 at Solitude to win the school’s first and only Schools’ Cup title at that level, a remarkable feat given that the school had only begun competing in school age soccer competition six years previously (the 1948/49 team included Freddie … Read more

The cultural change now required relates to Unionism’s leadership

In 1942, the principal of Strabane Technical College was a Catholic man by the name of Thomas Carroll. In that year, his name would feature prominently in the local newspaper headlines after he was sacked by the local education authority. His crime was to introduce Irish as a subject in the technical college’s curriculum. His dismissal was wholly illegal and led to large protest meetings in the town. Those speaking in his favour included both the parish priest and the … Read more

2018 Resolution: Time to end hypocrisy over constitutional allegiances

Tuesday’s Ireland edition of The Times led with a story in which the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, was quoted as reiterating his support for Irish unity. An Irish nationalist expressing support for Irish unity. Newsworthy? Perhaps, as a holiday season column inches-filler buried inside a paper. Except for the fact that the newspaper’s editor took the angle that such a statement risked “alienating Unionists.” Here is how The Times reported the story: “In an interview that risks damaging already strained … Read more

Civic Nationalism Finds A Voice

The most significant aspect of the joint letter to the Taoiseach published in today’s Irish News is that it happened at all. That such an impressive mobilisation of northern nationalist opinion makers could be successfully orchestrated is but another indication of how, in this post-St Andrew’s Stormont & Brexit era, the professional class within northern nationalism is aligned more cohesively behind a political banner than at any time since the immediate post-partition era. The Nationalist Surge in May’s Assembly election, … Read more

The Adams Legacy

Gerry Adams’ departure is a defining moment for Sinn Fein. It will signal a changing of the guard that will be both a challenge to and opportunity for the party. Gerry Adams was the personification of the armed force Republican tradition in Irish politics- hence why many political opponents, victims and Troubles’ survivors can not look past that when considering the man and his role over the past half-century of Irish politics. Yet this is also why his achievements, when … Read more

“In some Unionist areas, it would be tantamount to erecting a Tricolour from a flagpole.”

The root cause of our current political crisis remains political unionism’s opposition to the development of a shared and equal Northern Ireland. Of course, twas ever thus. The Loyal Sons will not be rerouted on their fateful march to Ulster’s precipice in spite of more enlightened pro-Union voices regularly exposing the hypocrisy and instinctively supremacist thinking at the core of Unionist politics. The News Letter’s recent campaign rallying Protestant and Unionist opinion against an Irish Language Act has included a … Read more

Tackling Educational Underachievement: Poverty, Selection & Comparative Levels of Attainment for Poorest Boys

Last month, I wrote about the welcome improvement in the number of poorer Protestant boys (Free School Meal Entitled) who have secured 5 ‘good’ GCSEs when compared with the figures from previous years. This formed part of a broader article in which I outlined the need to recognize the existence of two underlining themes if we are to decisively address educational underachievement and make serious inroads into addressing inequalities in Northern Ireland: firstly, the disproportionately high percentage of poor Catholics … Read more

Education & Inequalities: Progress for Working-Class Protestant Boys; No Movement on Greater Catholic Inequality

In June, the Department of Education published the 2015/16 Qualifications and Destinations of NI School Leavers report, which outlines the academic performance of our pupils according to a range of criteria, including school types, gender, relative poverty and religious background of pupils. After the publication of the 2014/15 report 12 months ago, I wrote this piece on Slugger, highlighting how more than 10,000 working-class Catholic and Protestant boys (ie those entitled to Free School Meals) had left school over the … Read more

Sporting Baby Booms: From the thrill of victory to the agony of…. the labour ward

Nine months ago, the Chicago Cubs baseball team finally put a 108-year history of failure behind them to secure a World Series triumph that had eluded them, the pursuit of which gave rise to many suggestions that the team were cursed for a range of weird and wild reasons. That victory sparked scenes of jubilation in the Windy City and beyond as the club’s legion of fans expressed their delight at securing a title that had for so long seemed … Read more

Bonfires: A Story of Regulation, Enforcement & Leadership

That ‘The Twelfth’ passed off without any major issues yesterday is a direct consequence of the triumph of those maintaining that regulation and enforcement,  of universally applied principles, held the key to resolving disputes in a bitterly divided society.

The last major parade dispute, at Belfast’s Crumlin Road interface, was resolved after loyalists were effectively given an ‘out’ after having boxed themselves into a corner following the Twaddell camp protest.

The fact that mediation, arbitration and enforcement, courtesy of the Parades Commission, PSNI and others, played such a pivotal role in helping provide a framework for the resolution of many disputes points towards the necessity of regulation and enforcement as the critical elements missing in the vexed bonfire saga annually revisited across the north.

The sight of apartment block windows shattering, of boarded up homes being hosed down, of streets cordoned off due to bonfires being positioned in the middle of them, is something that should not be acceptable in this society, and that is before we discuss & deal with the nakedly sectarian and racist dimension of the 11th Night bonfires in so many areas.

There is an obvious path to resolution, and it involves strict regulation of bonfires.

Where a bonfire is sited, who is responsible for maintaining the site, what/when items are to be gathered & burned.

Organising a licensing programme for bonfires will not be difficult, and could resolve problems revisited annually in a very short time.

The problem, of course, is that the will to address the issue is absent, and the reasons for that go to the core of our current political difficulties.

Political Unionism remains ill at ease with a peace premised upon a shared and equal society.

The DUP rejected the Good Friday Agreement, and over the past few months have made clear they don’t even accept the St Andrew’s Agreement.

They oppose the very existence of a Parades Commission and reject the idea of regulating bonfires. They won’t even oppose the erection of flags in shared housing communities. The new South Belfast MP, Emma Little Pengelly, has even suggested that what the bonfire builders decide to burn atop their pyres should be viewed as merely a form of dissent.

It’s about control.

It’s about a desire to cling on to a sense of superiority.

It can be heard in the Deputy Grand Master’s charge that nationalists are ‘militant cultural imperialists’ and in the inevitably doomed campaign to silence Past narratives in conflict with the world as viewed through a Unionist prism.

We are, slowly, moving in the right direction. Stormont will eventually return. Orangeism’s 48 Hours in mid-July will inevitably be strictly regulated to the benefit of all.

But the pace of progress in this society will continue to be contingent upon the willingness of Unionist leaders ‘to lead’. The fact that unionist politicians boycotted the media to avoid having to justify their stance over the Belfast City Council bonfire injunction move to loyalist grassroots supporters speaks volumes about the distance they have yet to travel in that regard.

Read moreBonfires: A Story of Regulation, Enforcement & Leadership

The Challenge facing Sinn Fein

With the focus having switched from Westminster to Stormont, speculation will continue to grow about the nature and likelihood of any deal to deliver a return of devolved government. Yet many continue to miss one key factor which is likely to mitigate against a quick return to Stormont. The republican leaders now in the spotlight will be very conscious of the reality that the most popular and reinvigorating measure taken by a Sinn Fein leader over the past decade was … Read more

Belfast City Council’s Bonfire Scandal: The Key Questions

The revelation that Belfast City Council is involved in facilitating the storage of pallets (including stolen pallets) to be burnt on loyalist bonfires typically adorned with posters of nationalist politicians, Kill All Taigs-emblazoned Tricolours, Celtic shirts and a statue of the Virgin Mary would be remarkable on its own, but news that the stored pallets have been ‘stolen’ just as city councillors were set to agree that the material would not be returned to loyalists more than suggests that something … Read more

Arlene’s Letter, Emma’s Flags: It’s the Others, stupid.

In politics, detail is important. After all, Arlene Foster used that very phrase in a guest blog on this website last October (doesn’t that just seem like a lifetime ago? It is one high-profile- and very costly- scandal, a government collapse and two elections removed….) Arlene Foster is in a spot of bother. Again. The DUP leader claimed to not have any recollection of writing a letter to the Scottish Government arguing against the Scottish recognising Northern Irish civil partnerships … Read more

New DUP MP Pengelly faces choice: Stand up for shared housing residents or side with loyalists targeting ‘The Other’

Loyalists have erected flags in a shared housing development in South Belfast in a move which immediately challenges the new DUP MP for the area, Emma Little Pengelly, to condemn those responsible and call on the PSNI to remove the flags- an intriguing proposition, given that the organisation whose name appears on some of the flags, the UVF, was one of the paramilitary organisations publicly endorsing the DUP candidate days before the Westminster election earlier this month. The area concerned, … Read more