The East-West Relationship (pre- and post-Brexit)

A lot has (rightly) been written about the effect of Brexit on the border and the economic, social and political impact this will have on North-South relations. While there has also been discussion of the East-West, British-Irish relationship, I think it merits some more analysis. There is a lot to consider: the extent of trade between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, the flow of people in both directions, the rights that have accrued over the decades as part … Read more

Continued Devolution or Direct Rule? Some Scenarios

Since 1707, Northern Ireland has had roughly 160 years of devolution/home rule and 151 years of unitary government/direct rule. The long time perspective helps to put the current difficulties over forming an Executive into context. First the history in brief, followed by some scenarios for what might happen next for the governance of Northern Ireland. Since the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement there has been one long period of ‘Direct Rule’, lasting for nearly five years, from 14 October 2002 to … Read more

Democracy Requires Another Assembly Election

In most established democracies there is only one solution when the political parties are deadlocked and cannot come to an agreement: hold another election. In Northern Ireland, for historical reasons, there has been the suspension of ‘normal’ rules with so-called ‘direct rule’ by the government in London instead of continued regional democracy. In the rules governing the Assembly, there is a short timeframe to form an Executive—just one week—after which the Secretary of State has the power to call another … Read more

Should the Republic of Ireland Stay in the EU?

Former Irish ambassador Ray Bassett has written a detailed report for the UK think-tank Policy Exchange entitled After Brexit, Will Ireland be Next to Exit? He argues that Ireland should seriously consider whether or not it stays in the European Union, and he appears to favour an Irish exit. The issues raised by Bassett certainly deserve serious deliberation. As shown in the UK’s referendum, those in favour of continued EU membership were found wanting when it came to articulating the benefits for remaining within the … Read more

The Case for the Republic of Ireland to Leave the EU

Former Irish diplomat, Ray Bassett, has written a 41-page analysis for the UK think-tank Policy Exchange, entitled: After Brexit, Will Ireland be Next to Exit? The huge choice facing Ireland is whether, given the circumstances, the country can live with the likely post Brexit arrangements and so stay a full member of the European Union; or whether a radically different relationship with the EU is required, including the possibility of an Irish departure from formal membership, an Irexit. (p. 3). The … Read more

What’s Stopping the Assembly from Operating?

David Trimble, in his current role as Conservative peer, has suggested that the NI Assembly could function in the absence of an executive (RTÉ report): Speaking as peers considered emergency legislation to extend talks on restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland, Mr Trimble said the problem at present was forming an executive. “Well, is an executive absolutely necessary?” he added. “I would look to what happened with devolution in Wales in its first phase, where there was a corporate assembly without an … Read more


There has been a lot of talk about trying to avoid a “hard” border post-Brexit, and to preserve the open, free movement of people in the Common Travel Area. So I thought I’d look for some kind of scale of border “hardness”, which really means what degree of openness exists between two countries. The World Economic Forum has come up with metrics for how disruptive borders are to travel and trade. As part of their annual Enabling Trade Report, the WEF recently … Read more

What Reward for Gibraltar’s “Loyalty”?

On page 8 of the EU’s draft negotiating guidelines, Gibraltar is mentioned as follows: ‘After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.’ A spokesperson for No. 10 Downing Street said today ‘The PM made clear that, on the subject of Gibraltar, the UK’s position had not changed: the UK would seek the best possible deal … Read more

Special Status for the ROI in the EU?

In my post on whether Northern Ireland could stay in or have “special status” in the EU, I concluded that at the very least Northern Ireland does already have special status because everyone has the option of taking up an EU (Irish) passport. I’m now considering whether Brexit may also result in EU “special status” for the Republic. To be clear, this is a think-piece, not a proposal. I’m ruling out the Republic of Ireland actually leaving the EU, as its economy is … Read more

Could Northern Ireland remain in or closer to the EU post-Brexit?

At Monday lunchtime in next week’s Belfast Imagine! Festival of Ideas and Politics, I will be hosting a session: Could Northern Ireland be an independent member of the EU, or have “special status”. I thought it was important to have a forum during the festival for people to discuss the EU. I’m not pushing any particular outcome, but I will present the case for taking this seriously—and what realistic options are available. I’m hoping that those in attendance will have plenty to say … Read more

No reason why the Assembly cannot hire in talent if the parties cannot form a workable Executive

As Soapbox recently suggested (20 January), “There is no reason for the Assembly to not be operational, just because the Executive cannot function.” Soapbox was suggesting that “direct rule ministers should be held accountable by a working Assembly.” However, there is another option, which is for the Assembly to appoint non-parliamentary ministers. There is no reason why the Assembly cannot hire in talent if the parties cannot form a workable Executive from their own numbers. And if there becomes any … Read more