2019 is likely to be a good deal more interesting than this year has been….

Everything else extracted, democratic politics can be boiled down to  relationships, numbers and story. Or, in the case of the last mentioned, as the late Phillip Gould once put it: People would say we need a narrative. That’s to say what we need is an explanation of what is going on that gives meaning to events. So what story does the Stormont hiatus (which still defies all reasonable analysis) relate about Northern Ireland? The vacuum has left the traditional fall … Read more

Brexit has reversed the stereotypes of Britain and Ireland

Brexit has turned British, Irish and continental stereotypes on their heads,   historian Arthur Aughey has observed in a brilliant essay in the Belfast Telegraph One long-standing explanation is that the British and continental Europeans (especially the French) approach political problems with very different mindsets… On the one hand, Michel Barnier’s style – and the European Council’s – considers British reluctance to define principles as either proof of poor preparation or as inability to clarify its objectives. That, more or less, … Read more

Why Brexit is going wrong and how it could be fixed (part 2)

This is the second of two posts here looking at Brexit through a democratic, rather than a political lens. In the previous post, I argued that the ‘cliff edge’ exit that is inevitable when leaving the EU is not sustainable for the EU, and that the UK would be doing everyone a favour by challenging it. The word “crisis” is over-used in British politics, but we are undoubtedly in one now. We have a Prime Minister who is trying to … Read more

Northern Ireland sleepwalking to an off-script unification…

Northern Ireland is sleepwalking into an off-script unification, which commands a majority in the north but not in the south, or one which Dublin has failed to prepare for. A late Aug poll says Brexit creates a 52-39% majority for unification in NI. If no Brexit, 52-35% favours stay. However, only 31% of voters to the south favour unification if this increases taxes. (This compares with 63% if taxes remain the same – 2015 BBC/RTÉ poll.) NI would lose or … Read more

Populism and publicity

Whether Peter Casey deliberately indulged in a little bit of demagoguery as a last resort to save his dying campaign, or stumbled upon it by happy accident in an unguarded moment, only Peter Casey knows for sure. But enough has been said about the particulars already, and this post will resist adding further to the noise. Given sufficient time and numbers, there will always be someone who crosses the line. The more important issue to consider is society’s response, and … Read more

Bitcoin must die

The UN this week released a report urging world governments to take immediate action to mitigate the effects of the coming climate catastrophe. It is no longer a case of whether catastrophe is coming. It is just a matter of how bad it will get. When tackling any problem two approaches can be taken, which are often complementary. The long term approach is to restructure the root causes and so lay the groundwork for lasting change. This takes political will, … Read more

DUP threaten to break the Confidence and Supply Agreement

On Friday, on Twitter, DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson referred to a News Letter article concerning the ongoing state of brexit negotiations and said the following : If [Theresa May] is rolling back on her pledge that there will be no barriers between NI and GB, then the Prime Minister should be under no illusions; we will vote against her deal and it will go nowhere. This prompted me to check the Confidence and Supply Agreement, the text of … Read more

Future Ireland / Northern Ireland and the Humpty Dumpty World of Schrödinger’s Cats

Apparently you follow the rabbit down a hole and you emerge in a wonderland …. Ken Clarke – House of Commons “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” Lewis Carrol – Alice in Wonderland The … Read more

Ireland at the Bar

During the latest of my recent (abortive) attempts to try to get involved with the works of James Joyce, I made the timely discovery of an interesting essay I’d never heard of before, “Ireland at the Bar”, written while the author was in Italy in 1907. I say “timely” because we’re in an interesting political epoch within these islands. Many of us are carefully re-evaluating our political perspective in light of recent developments, struggling to find ways to get our … Read more

Whither public hire taxis and the wider taxi industry in NI?

Wednesday came as a bit of a shock, as for the first time since, well, the early 1990s at least, I was glad not to have an Executive, as the Department for Infrastructure announced that it could no longer proceed with a proposed Experimental Traffic Control Scheme to permit Class A taxis in bus lanes in the absence of a Minister. This excellent news for cyclists and other legitimate bus lane users who will not now be swamped by Class … Read more

Moral bases for liberalism

I picked up an interesting article over on Red Letter Christians yesterday (bear with me), pondering whether the Democratic Party has lost sight of Jonathan Haidt’s five core foundations of morality: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity. Care means having compassion on the less fortunate and standing up for the underdog, even at great personal cost. Fairness means an emphasis on justice, equal rights and freedom from oppression. … Loyalty: This includes values like team play, military service, patriotism and sacrifice … Read more

The week a public transport advocate said rip out a bus lane…

Or near enough. I’ve got to be honest, last week I heard the complaints about Queens Road while on holiday in Copenhagen, and initially I thought… they’ve got to be exaggerated. But then more and more details fed through, and it became clear that the Department for Infrastructure had based traffic figures for Queens Road on seven or eight years ago, a lot earlier in the development of the Belfast Rapid Transport project, with Catalyst Inc at an earlier stage … Read more

The Beano is 80

A little look at something different! I nearly started this article by suggesting that when most readers were young, the newsagents were full of comics, but then I remember that Slugger has readers who are too young to remember Buster ending with the last issue of 1999, leaving only the Beano, the Dandy, 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine on newsagent shelves. To my shock, my generation is the last one to remember the days when you could walk into … Read more

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