A woman in charge is not such a big deal. But two…?

When Sinn Féin announced on Saturday that Mary Lou McDonald was the sole nominee to succeed Gerry Adams as President of the party, no-one was really surprised. Over the last couple of months since Gerry Adams had announced the timetable of his retirement, it became clear that she would be the person most likely to succeed him. She was Deputy Leader of the party, after all, and what is that role supposed to be if not an apprenticeship? Let’s deal … Read more

When is a Billion quid really worth £30 million?

When it’s the amount of the deal done by the Conservative Party with the DUP, that’s when. Today the parties announced the terms of reference and the financial package that will underpin their confidence and supply agreement. There’s been widespread shock and anger amongst Parliamentarians and the great British public that these upstarts from Ulster are getting their paws on a £1 billion notes. But are they really? Is this new money at all? More importantly, is it money that … Read more

Time for Fianna Fáil to Stake a Claim in the Fourth Green Field

With the SDLP losing its three Westminster seats in the election, it would seem the time is ripe for Fianna Fáil to stake an electoral claim in the north. The party has already announced its intentions to field candidates in local government elections in the north in 2019 but it has no clear path to making that happen, no party structure and no real membership. It may just be that the SDLP is the platform that they need to take … Read more

“Arlene, tell me you did not just say that!?”

In today’s Sunday Independent, Arlene Foster is asked to play a word association game and when asked about Michelle O’Neill, her response is “blonde.” That’s what she said about her political equal, the woman she is tasked with developing political agreement with in order to re-establish the Assembly. “Blonde.” I’m scarlet for her. Yes, I realise that expression is a colloquialism, but I truly can’t think of any other way to express how wick I feel for her that she … Read more

Fake News and False Balance undermine Victims’ Human Rights

Last weekend was the second anniversary of the rightsinfo.org website. To mark the event, a panel discussion took place during which the site’s founder Adam Wagner stated that “fake news was old news in human rights” and that people “have been convinced by newspapers for years and years that human rights are a villain.” He was joined at the panel discussion by Buzzfeed Special Correspondent James Ball who said “The bigger problem is…essentially the much wider ecosystem of material which … Read more

Irish Government must be Enforcers, not Co-guarantors

The Irish government are fond of reminding us that that they and the British government are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. I’ve always understood a guarantor in financial terms as the person responsible for ponying up if the debt isn’t paid. Well, the north is going further and further into the red financially as well as dearg le fearg (red with anger) at lack of any meaningful progress and the guarantors don’t seem to be fulfilling their responsibilities. Secretary … Read more

Birmingham Bombing Inquests Set the Tone for Future Troubles Investigations

Today sees the re-opening of the inquests into the deaths of 21 people in the Birmingham Pub Bombings on 21st November 1974. The campaign has been led, amongst other, by Julie Hambleton whose sister Maxine was one of those killed on that day. She has said “all we want is truth, justice and accountability.” On 1st June this year, the Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull ruled that inquests in the case are to be reopened because she had serious concerns … Read more

How Much Does it Cost to Buy an Election?

The Electoral Commission today published the expenditure returns for the Assembly elections in May 2016. They make for interesting reading. Topping the poll in terms of spend was the Ulster Unionist Party with a declared spend of £95,855. Not surprising perhaps that a party led by a former television presenter and PR person would spend on what we can assume is primarily publicity and posters. The next highest spends came from the DUP and Sinn Féin with declared expenditure of … Read more

State Papers reveal the trouble with Deputies

Over the past few days I have been reading the newly released State papers from both the Irish and British governments. One of the main things that jumped out at me was the position of the deputy leaders of both the SDLP and DUP in the mid 1980’s and indeed their respective political fortunes thereafter. Peter Robinson had resigned briefly as Deputy Leader of the DUP in 1987 when the Task Force Report, which he had jointly written with UUP … Read more

A Little Perspective on the Spat at Stormont

On a day when the front page of most of the newspapers on these islands carried a heart-wrenching photograph of a little boy drowned on a Turkish beach, we really need to catch ourselves on and make sure our politicians do likewise. Like Jude Collins, I heard PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton on the news setting out that the IRA does not exist as a paramilitary organisation and that its members are pursuing their goals through exclusively peaceful means. You … Read more

Uncomfortable Conversations – the Chief Constable, Sinn Féin Chair and me

Tomorrow night in Derry, I’ll take part in an “Uncomfortable Conversation” that will include the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, Sinn Féin Chair Declan Kearney and Alan McBride, member of the NI Human Rights Commission and victims’ campaigner. The event, part of the Gasyard Féile, is one of a series of conversations around how we both deal with our past and build our future as communities, towns and cities and indeed islands seeking to emerge from conflict. These events and … Read more

The Key Players in Nama/Tughans Deal – who the DFP Committee want to hear from

The Department of Finance and Personnel Committee met today to schedule hearings to investigate the Project Eagle sale of Nama’s Loan Book in the north. The first of the hearings have been provisionally scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday the 15th and 16th of July The Assembly Research Team have been tasked with providing a draft of questions and timeline of events to the Committee. There was widespread support for early hearings across all the parties attending, given the level of … Read more

Just how was Project Eagle Landed?

Since last Thursday when Mick Wallace TD made a statement in Leinster House which set out concerns over the sale of NAMA’s loan book for the north, we’ve seen a steady stream of statements from a number of parties involved. It’s been a slow strip-tease, revealing a little at a time, keeping us on tenterhooks like any good burlesque act, waiting on the final reveal. Based on Mick Wallace’s comments to the house and other statements, we know a number … Read more

“Yes” campaign may need 70% Dublin turnout to carry referendum

I support Marriage Equality and I’d vote yes in the Referendum this week if I weren’t a disenfranchised Irish citizen simply because I live in the north of the island.  That’s a column for another day though… It’s a safe bet that both the “Yes” and “No” sides in this Friday’s Marriage Referendum will agree that voter turnout will be key to whether the proposal to amend the Constitution passes or fails. Having had a quick look on the Elections … Read more

It’s resignation Jim, but not as we know it

So Jim Wells has tendered his resignation. There’s something in the back of my mind about Peter Robinson threatening to resign before and withdrawing the threat when the storm had passed. Maybe I’m jumping too far ahead, though… A lot of commentators and journalists are proffering the opinion that the post-dated resignation is to allow for the outcome of the Westminster election and that Jonathan Bell, the current Junior Minister in OFMDFM, is the favourite to take up the health … Read more

1916 Centenary – Cherishing All the Children Equally?

Yesterday we saw the government reveal more detailed plans regarding the official commemoration of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Plans to mark this key event in the history of the state include a major exhibition of 1916 archival material at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks and series of commemorative events, including a parade from Dublin Castle to Parnell Square on Easter Sunday 2016 and a special state reception for the 1916 relatives. In order to … Read more

Maybe SDLP leadership “got in wrong” Alban?

The SDLP is in a bit of a pickle at the moment with its council members in Newry and Mourne appearing to have refused the party whip over the naming of a park after local man and IRA Hunger Striker Raymond McCreesh. The history of the park, the SDLP’s original support for its naming and the reaction to it has been well-documented elsewhere and I do not intend to revisit those issues in this column. What is interesting in this … Read more

Politicians must become Pro-Woman to stop further horrors

I’m not pro-choice. Nor am I pro-life. I reject both of those labels because they’ve been used in such a pejorative way for so long that they have come to denote extreme views on both sides of the debate around the rights of women and the rights of unborn children that to identify as one automatically makes you a target of hatred and abuse from the other. The recent tribulations of Dawn Purvis, Director of the Marie Stopes clinic in … Read more

A modern-day grave robbing

Niall McCracken’s story on The Detail website today exposed a practice at Belfast City Council-owned Roselawn Crematorium where jewellery, gold teeth, metal hips and other metals collected from the ashes of cremated bodies are collected into containers and sent to The Netherlands where the material is sorted, sold for recycling and any profits after costs then donated to charitable causes. At issue here is the fact that families of over 11,000 people who were cremated since the scheme began in … Read more

More hurdles in holding the State to account

The UK government once again has had a go at undermining one of the legal pillars of accountability by seeking to exert control over judicial reviews – a process which allows for legal challenge of the decisions of public bodies. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill was debated in the House of Lords today and three key amendments were introduced which put a halt to the proposed restriction of access to and limiting the findings of judicial review proceedings. The … Read more