The nightmare scenario

Both the British and Irish Governments have this week warned their people of the dangers (however seemingly remote) of a no-deal Brexit. No doubt there have been junior staff on both sides beavering away in basements to plan for the possibility, whether or not their superiors took them seriously. And the probability of those contingency plans being dusted off has surely increased in the last few days. But we must also entertain the even smaller chance of a perfect storm, … Read more

Uniting Ireland means tackling the huge social debt generated by the Troubles before not after…

IThe uncertainty surrounding the Brexit process is driving what often comes across as feverish talk of a United Ireland. Make no mistake, Brexit (even a soft one) will change relations on and between these islands for good. But island unity is no foregone conclusion. In his column for the Irish Times week before last, Noel Whelan picked up the same United Ireland issue our Slugger panel will be discussing this Tuesday evening (still a few tickets left). He usefully puts his finger … Read more

The Union in Revolutionary Times

There may never be a United Ireland. But, equally, there could be one very soon. Historical inevitability is a fallacy best left to ageing Marxist university lecturers. So ubiquitous is forecasting the fate of Northern Ireland through the glacial process of demographic change, we forget that in revolutionary times, previously robust assumptions can crumble in a day. The night the Berlin Wall was accidentally opened, a panel discussion on West German TV discussed the stunning events of the previous hours … Read more

The bizarre story of banknotes in the United Kingdom

Over the past while we’ve been debating a number of things around “special status” for Northern Ireland. Coincident with this debate was the announcement from Ulster Bank of a plan to issue new, verticially-oriented banknotes. I found myself in rare agreement with North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, who suggested on twitter that we could look at a move to Bank of England notes. I noted again this morning that the topic on discussion on the Nolan Show, where the proprietor … Read more

The Opioids of the People

The United States government has launched a new anti-opioid campaign featuring true stories of people so desperate that they inflicted gruesome injuries on themselves to get another prescription. Such stories have already been more effectively told in poetry. The epidemic’s most searing skald is William Brewer, a son of Oceana, West Virginia, a post-industrial town so gripped by addiction that it is nicknamed Oxyana. We were so hungry; Tom’s hand on the table looked like warm bread. I crushed it … Read more

Boris Johnson and the “pure millennium bug stuff”

I’m really glad Boris Johnson, in private remarks, chose to draw a comparison between the Brexit process and the Millennium Bug. I’ve often thought this comparison was apt and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs’ comments have given me a great excuse to write about my own short experiences dealing with the bug. I was working at the HQ of a large Irish financial institution between the summers of 1999 and 2000 as part of my placement … Read more

Presbyterians, Salvation, and God

We cremated my friend James on the freakishly warm Friday before St Patrick’s Day, between the two bouts of even freakier snow. We did this after a celebration of the Supper of the Lord Jesus Christ who was his Saviour and the anchor of his life. The daffodils bobbed in the sunshine as we took his coffin through the traffic from the church in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral to the crematorium in East Finchley, his terminus ad quem … Read more

The Rorschach Test

inkblot

I argued in an earlier piece that the word “Unionism” should be handled with extreme care, because it has become overloaded with far too many overlapping yet inconsistent meanings. For slightly different reasons, we should also avoid using the phrase “United Ireland”. “Unionism” refers to a collection of existing things that can, with effort, be distinguished from each other. “United Ireland”, or its modern euphemism “New Ireland”, means nothing much at all, because it refers to a hypothetical something that … Read more

The great Shibboleth

I have a confession to make. As a card-carrying letsgetalongerist and liberal Eurotrash it feels like an admission of failure, even treason. But after reading this article in the National Geographic (an advertorial, but even so), the spirit moves me. I despise “Derry~Londonderry”. Not the place, of course. I have nothing against the buildings, streets or burghers of the city, and even if I did the old saying “people who live in Portadown shouldn’t throw stones” comes to mind. No, … Read more

Deconstructing “Unionism”

Tray bakes

I have long maintained that the terms “unionist” and “Unionism” as currently used in Northern Ireland are an obstacle to discussion and understanding. Because there is much more to unionists than Unionism. Indeed, there is much more to Unionism than Unionism. What have tray bakes and soda farls got to do with the constitutional question? The same words are used for multiple related yet distinct things, and the capital letters that one can use for disambiguation in print(*) are worthless … Read more

The end of the world

Sea cliffs

In the 19th century national identity in Europe was more deeply entwined with religion than it is today. Witness the creation of Belgium in 1831 from the remains of the Spanish Netherlands, when formerly Hapsburg areas seceded from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to form a Catholic-majority, multilingual state with a French-speaking aristocracy. In the 20th century the focus of national identity shifted: the same Belgian state is now hoplessly riven between French- and Dutch-speakers, regardless of religion. The … Read more

Meet the Box-Setts: the Demographic that Will Decide Britain’s Future

David Box gives his partner Seema Sett the dorky, Mr Bean-ish look, with the back of his tongue poking out of his gob that he knows always makes her smile when she’s had a rough day. The kids are asleep and they’re in bed too, sprawled on top of the duvet. The tablet is streaming one of their favourite series: Babylon 5. Season 2, the episode where the Technomages first appear. Pure nostalgia for their student days. They’re both a … Read more

Reflections on the Good Friday Agreement

I thought I’d record some personal opinions on the passing of the 20th anniversary (more or less) of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I felt compelled to do this after reading a few exchanges on social media, one in particular declaring that Unionism had, in a manner of speaking, had its eye wiped. This is a popular, but demonstrably false, perspective that had its origins in the debate at that time, and perhaps has deeper origins … Read more

The Good Friday Agreement: A Milestone, not the Finish Line

Twenty years on since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and it is now being called into question, but not for the right reasons. The agreement’s fitness for purpose has been challenged in recent weeks as it is perceived as standing in the way of the hard Brexit that some desire. Rather than question the agreement because Northern Ireland is currently without an assembly or because even whilst there was an assembly in place its legislative record was pitiful, … Read more

Clean hands

Nato Conference Room

FitzJamesHorse pithily describes the formality that Irish is the “first national language” as Ireland’s “first national hypocrisy”. But Ireland is not short of hypocrisies. Its second national hypocrisy has long been the pretence that Ireland is somehow free of the sin of abortion. And to this list we should add a third, the conceit that Ireland is a “neutral country”. The second and third national hypocrisies are remarkably similar. In both cases Ireland has dodged a controversial issue by washing … Read more

Interesting point on the EEA

This is apparently old news, but does the UK Government need to give notice of leaving the European Economic Area or not? Until five minutes ago (HT the roads fans on SABRE), I would have said no.  Then I read the preamble of the agreement of the EEA, specifically the contracting parties. The contracting parties are not the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The contracting parties are the EU, the members of the EU in their own right, Norway, Iceland … Read more

The vast, terrifying vista of boundless possibility.

Storm clouds approaching

The slippery slope argument is a well-known logical fallacy for two reasons. Firstly, it is almost universally wrong. Secondly, it is almost universally believed. This is because human beings are innately loss-averse, preferring the certainty of the here and now (however imperfect) to the unknown possibilities of change. It is only when the here and now crosses a significant threshold of imperfection that uncertainty begins to look inviting. The mildly discontented compare the known and the unknown and say “don’t … Read more

So we just have to be smart. Apparently.

We are assured that technology will fix our borders (quite often by certain politicians, actually).  All we need are CCTV cameras at the border and no checks will be required according to a a report by Lars Karlsson, President of KGH Border Services, Former Director of World Customs Organization and Deputy Director General of Swedish Customs, so we are told by the DUP. Indeed, that’s what the Abstract says: This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ … Read more

Surf and turf

Boats with EU, UK flags sailing in opposite directions

As blogger David Allen Green has pointed out, whoever produces the first draft of a legal document has the advantage. While the EU has been criticised for its backstop-Brexit draft, the UK has conspicuously failed to produce any draft at all, and shows no signs of doing so. The final transition agreement is thus unlikely to differ from the EU’s draft in anything other than some finer details and cosmetic language. This was of course predicable and widely predicted back … Read more

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