Local Environmental & Planning Governance Under Scrutiny (Somewhat)

On the heels of another damning report on failures relating to compliance with environmental and planning rules, Northern Ireland will be subject to international scrutiny December under the aegis of the authoritative United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Aarhus Convention. The Convention – named after the Danish city where it was adopted in 1998 – grants citizens rights and imposes on Parties (including the UK) and public authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to environmental … Read more

The postwar ID requirement between Northern Ireland and Great Britain

Reading through some old Wikipedia articles pointed me to an interesting exchange in the House of Commons, back in 1948. Ulster Unionist MPs Conolly Gage and Major Samuel Gillmor Haughton rose during an adjournment debate to complain about the requirement for a permit or passport to be presented for travel between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Mr Gage opens by highlighting the inconvenience of this arrangement : As everyone knows, Ulster is as much a part of … 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

Pensions, Reparations and Reintegration: Parallel Processes for Injured Ex-Combatants and Civilians

by Luke Moffett and Kieran McEvoy (School of Law and Mitchell Institute, Queen’s University Belfast) While talks remain on-going about the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has apparently confirmed to the Victims and Survivors Forum that a public consultation on dealing with the past will go ahead in the coming weeks. It appears likely that a pension for injured victims, a controversial and important part of the dealing with the past for … Read more

On Voluntary Coalition

I note, during coverage of today’s UUP conference, that once again that Robin Swann is advocating voluntary coalition. He’s not the only advocate of voluntary coalition, and he’s certainly not the first. In fact it has been an ideal for both the  UUP and DUP, since the old Stormont parliament was prorogued in 1972, to return to the approach of government by a simple majority. Jim Allister is also well known for supporting this view. I’ve heard other Unionist spokespersons … Read more

“The Laws of Nature Need Not Apply Here” – Ophelia is a sign of things to come

  The Northern Ireland administration’s late and confused hurricane warning to school children and young people parallels local political attitudes to climate change. By failing to take climate change seriously even when the evidence is hitting us in the face we are disregarding the rights of our children and young people. The late, confused and inefficient warning on Sunday evening to students and parents is like a metaphor for the slow, confused and ineffective response that government has made here … Read more

Environmental Governance Failure in Northern Ireland: High Time to Turn Over a New Leaf

By Ciara Brennan, Ray Purdy and Peter Hjerp Recent scandals including the RHI debacle and the discovery of illegal dumping on a massive scale (most notably at the Mobuoy Road ‘super-dump’) have catapulted Northern Ireland’s environmental governance failures into the public eye. The divergence from what can be considered ‘good’ environmental governance is clear and the environmental, economic and socio-political consequences of these failures cannot be overestimated. Protecting the environment is not a one-way cost and there has been very little … Read more

“A way of life they have no interest in forced upon them”

With my odd contributions here on Slugger I’ve tried to steer away from the usual boring tribal political arguments that take up a lot of time in Northern Ireland – arguments about who gets what or who doesn’t; what is or is not fair; or about who did what in the past. These arguments are always the same and involve healthy doses of recrimination and whataboutery, but seldom the introspection that is required to seriously progress the issues behind them. … Read more

Unionists should welcome Irish Language Act with open arms

As I read the latest contributions regarding the Irish language from UUP leader Robin Swann and its echo in the Newsletter’s Morning View, it seems to me that they have tied themselves in a knot about Acht na Gaeilge.   A Gordian knot is a phrase that occurs to me.  It seems impossible to loosen but is easily unravelled with the judicious use of logic and good sense. Unionists like Robin Swann, Jim Allister and the writer of the Belfast … Read more

Lord Mayor’s dinner: but who was graceless?

Disclosure:  I’m a member of the Alliance Party.  I am also a born-again evangelical Christian. The first I heard was Naomi Long citing Matthew 6:5-6 on Facebook, concerning not praying in a manner to be seen by others.  It was later that day that I heard the full story:  Nuala McAllister had decided not to invite someone to say grace before the Lord Mayor’s dinner last Saturday night, and great was the gnashing of teeth over this break in tradition … 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

When super is better than simple in a border poll

Sometime in the future I foresee the birth of a baby fated to change the course of Irish history. At the time its nationalist parents won’t be aware of how special their child is. In fact its identity may never be known. It’s not that the young person is destined to perform some heroic action. All he or she has to do is put an X on a ballot paper. But the impact of that will be profound. Here’s the … Read more

Irishness before and after nationalism

  In the early part of the seventh century a monk got out his parchment and quill and wrote a letter to the Pope about one of the theological disputes of the day. What he said about the debate need not concern us. The modern reader is more likely to be struck about how the holy man describes himself. He goes out of his way to make it clear he is Irish. Another letter to Frankish bishops emphasises the point. … Read more

Cloughjordan Ecovillage – Another World is Possible for Belfast

Lessons for Belfast Urban Regeneration at Féile an Phobail 2017 By Peadar Kirby & Peter Doran While Ireland was living through the most severe economic collapse of its history since independence, a group of pioneering people were sowing the seeds of a new society through founding the ecovillage of Cloughjordan in County Tipperary. Seeking to model sustainable living for the 21st century, the ecovillagers conceived their project during the boom years of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger in the late 1990s and … Read more

Sir Jeffrey’s cunning border plan

The other day, the Rt Hon Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP suggested on twitter : A country that uses electronic toll tag systems on 11 of its main roads can’t claim there isn’t a technological solution to a Brexit border Sir Jeffrey’s observation appears to be an attempt to suggest that the problems presented by a post-brexit hard border between the northern and southern jurisdictions within Ireland could be readily solved through the application of appropriate technology. I was immediately reminded … Read more

Reek Sunday claims its price again

The Irish Times reports that thirteen people, including a ten year old boy, had to be rescued from Croagh Patrick yesterday during the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage. I climbed Croagh Patrick a couple of months back in aid of the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association, and in memory of one of my wife’s ex-colleagues who passed away last year. While it is within the capabilities of a slightly out of shape adult (i.e. me), it is absolutely not a Sunday … Read more

Ulster Scots, Ulster Irish, Irish Scots, Ulster Gaelic, Gaeilge Uladh

As Summer rolls on and disputes rumble regarding the possibility (or not) of the enactment of an Irish Language Act – or a Languages Act – or a Culture(s) Act,  we seem to be stuck in a labyrinth of ever decreasing circles or some Byzantine entrapment from which there is no escape. As Christy Moore once sang:  For all of our languages we can’t communicate. As an Irish speaker I’m conflicted about Ulster Scots.  It’s clearly a dialect of English … 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

A new approach to deadlock in Northern Ireland

  A unique coincidence of events Standing back, it’s easy enough to see why the latest Assembly crisis is the longest and most intractable for over a decade. Unusually in recent times and in sharp contrast to the heady days of the Good Friday Agreement, this breakdown is set against background of momentous upheaval which typically, the local politicians rushed to exploit for their own causes.  For the DUP, Brexit revives the prospect of a physical border which in whatever … Read more

And so the focus shifts…

And we’re back in Belfast with the main parties and their negotiations. The final deadline is Thursday, but substantial agreement is expected today. The DUP have obtained a deal that is extremely good for infrastructure, bringing things into the possible that were recently all but pipe dreams, although you may excuse my cynicism that the money made available for health is tinkering at the edges (will it be yet another “if you’re going to do this damn silly thing, don’t do it … Read more