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

And man created the nation in his own image

When we say we belong to a particular ethnicity or nationality, we are implicitly saying that we share traits in common with the other members of this group. Or are we saying that the other members of this group share traits in common with us? There is a subtle but important distinction. In the popular imagination, the formation of an ethnic or national identity is an objective process whereby the members of the group find commonalities amongst themselves and thereby … Read more

Is it time for the churches to become more Christian?

Cathal O’Hagan is a Monaghan native and law graduate, currently doing an MA in Conflict Transformation at QUB. Just like there isn’t momentum for a re-prohibition on contraception; or mood for re-implementing a ban on divorce, the penny will soon finally drop that debates over marriage equality and abortion are not the way for churches to regain influence in Ireland. Churches can either continue with the prominence they give to so-called “moral” issues, or they can refocus on the core … Read more

Who Benefits from the Collapse of Power Sharing?

We’re unlikely to know for a long time exactly why talks on restoring devolved government collapsed in such spectacular fashion last week. It’s always worth asking, in those circumstances, ‘cui bono?’ A long-term collapse in devolved arrangements, and a return to Direct Rule, whether or not it is acknowledged as such, would seem at first blush to benefit the DUP, at least in the short term. It also represents a significant shift in power within the DUP, away from Foster … Read more

Blind spots in cultural terminology

One long-standing problem in Northern Ireland is the fact that many things have multiple names, the choice of which can be both revealing and controversial. Derry/Londonderry is the most well-known example, and the name of Northern Ireland itself (or the avoidance of it) can also cause friction. However, such problems can be glossed over by simply ignoring the speaker’s choice of terminology, as it does not introduce ambiguity into the discussion. Less obvious are those things that do not have … Read more

Shibboleth and sibhialtacht

The Irish-language issue is back in the headlines again. Despite the best efforts of campaigners such as Linda Ervine, it is still the case that most ethnic-unionists define themselves at least in part by their rejection of the Irish language. Never mind that some of their ancestors must have spoken it, as evidenced in many cases by their own surnames. Unionists have abandoned the mother tongue of their ancestors in much the same way that German-descended Americans have abandoned theirs. … Read more

Two Irelands, One Planet: Thinking Like an Eco-System Can Help Bind New Executive

While the North continues to languish as one of Western Europe’s ecological backwaters a gap has begun to open up with the Republic of Ireland when it comes to policy innovation. Two recent developments may prove to be tipping points in legislating for climate justice and environmental rights in Dublin. The most recent came just last week in the Oireachtas with the successful passage to Committee Stage of an opposition-sponsored initiative, the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) Climate Emergency Measures … Read more

Belfast Central Station to be renamed “Lanyon Place”

(picture courtesy “Lambert” on geograph.org.uk) An interesting tidbit in the news today with Translink announcing that Belfast Central Station is to be renamed “Lanyon Place” following a programme of refurbishment due to be completed in September. From the press release : The Lanyon Place area has become a major hub of activity, with the ‘Lanyon’ name being adopted by a range of neighbouring businesses, alongside Belfast City Council’s exciting plans for the Lanyon Tunnels. ‘We consulted with a range of … Read more