Would the DUP be any happier with a backstop, staying in the single market?

So it’s October then. The UK will fail to present its withdrawal plan to the EU summit at the end of the month and its backstop, handed in only after a cabinet crisis was averted on Thursday, would still lead to a hard border in Ireland. Lurking in the background may still be the option of some differentiation in NI’s status from GB. Such is the peculiar course of these negotiations, that the EU is mildly encouraged by the state … Read more

Processions Belfast – Pro-Choice Groups Bring Political Energy to a Commemorative Art Project

As the participants for the Belfast event of the UK-wide art project Processions gathered at Titanic Slipway yesterday, it was clear that something exciting was happening. Thousands of women were mingling, hugging, photographing each other’s banners, even dancing a little in an atmosphere of celebration and fun. Processions is a living sculpture artwork, that celebrated one hundred years of votes for women. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave the first British women the right to vote and … 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

Peter Robinson was talking about much more than a border poll. The Assembly must become boycott proof

It was Peter Robinson “pulling the pin out of the grenade” and proposing  “generational” border polls that attracted most attention. But he had a good deal more to say at Queen’s that was  more important or at least more urgent.  He kept it lofty, generalised and above all brief, to avoid getting drawn into detail or appearing to lecture his successors. But his meaning is pretty clear . While he had to say he was optimistic about the future, he … 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

Self-confident & outward-looking, Feile An Phobail is a perfect fit for Modern Ireland

I was somewhat taken aback when I first heard that Arlene Foster had tweeted her ‘concern‘ at Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s decision to attend the opening of Feile an Phobail yesterday. Having attended many events at the Feile since the late 1980s, I was conscious of the fact that many Unionist politicians- and known loyalist figures- have been involved in its programme of events annually. In what can only be interpreted as a shockingly poor piece of research, the DUP Leader … Read more

The Churches are backing themselves into a corner of Northern Ireland’s narrow ground. The laity should take over

Following on from the testimony of  Gerry Lynch and Elizabeth Nelson, it’s  hardly a surprise that the continuing revolution in faith and morals over abortion and  LGBT rights won elsewhere but not here,  is splitting the churches. True to ancient form, the leaderships of the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian Churches are treating what is actually a clash of moralities as challenges to authority.  The Catholics appeal to canon law, the Presbyterians to the Bible. And that is still that. For … 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

Well Taoiseach, Féile an Phobail is not “simply a community event”…

Little did I think on Tuesday when I wrote that precedent in politics is no guide to the future that it would take less than 24 hours for some modest proof to emerge. So the Taoiseach is coming to meet the Orange Order, but the real political interest lies in the fact that he is launching the Feile an Phobail or West Belfast Festival: one of the most richly funded community festivals in these islands. As Chris pointed out on Twitter, two … Read more

Abortion Alliances Transcending Orange and Green

One of the first things I became involved in through the Belfast Feminist Network was a short play about abortion. It attempted to tell the stories of women’s experiences accessing abortions from Northern Ireland. At the time, around 2011, it was novel. We weren’t even telling real stories, per se, but writing them based on conversations with real women. We performed it a couple of times, and then the artistic conversations moved on to telling real women’s actual stories – … Read more

Make no mistake about it, this was an important judgement for human rights in Northern Ireland

On the 7th June 2018 the Supreme Court finally delivered its judgement on Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. Activists and lawyers have been waiting for the ruling with baited breath. The decision comes a few weeks after the referendum in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment. It’s fair to say the judgement wasn’t quite what people expected. The case was, as Lady Hale said, ‘an unusually difficult case to resolve.’ In a sprawling 144 page judgement four of … Read more

Don’t overbid, Leo. This is as good as it gets – for now at least

A cabinet crisis averted and a British proposal sent at the last minute to Brussels, saying simply that the UK “expects” that any use of the backstop — which would see Britain remain part of the EU’s common external tariff and VAT area to avert a hard Irish border — would end by December 2021. It leaves intact Theresa May’s pledge and the DUP’s requirement not to allow any border down the Irish Sea. Not a new idea but in … Read more

Dementia and the pathology of leadership…

I described previously the problem of the ‘Pathology of Leadership’ (here), with a further post mainly devoted to dementia in our leaders (here). It’s not just political leaders who have health problems. I mentioned Ferdinand Sauerbruch in the second post. It’s difficult now to overemphasise just how renowned a surgeon he was in the inter-war period. From very modest origins, he rose to be the top surgeon in the top hospital, the Charité in Berlin, in Germany. He was deservedly internationally famous … Read more

The abortion laws are contrary to human rights but the Supreme Court ducked how to remedy the breach

My reaction comes from a coastal cliff in the sunshine and  so is  very provisional. The Supreme Court opined that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are contrary to human rights. That is a significant but not a definitive statement.   Because  by 4 to 3,  the court found itself unable to issue a formal declaration of incompatiblity with the European Convention on Human Rights  as the NI Human Rights Commission had brought its action on legal  principle rather than basing it on … Read more

Young People Not Immune to Political Deadlock

Paul McCusker is the SDLP Councillor for Oldpark Twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement, the ceasefire generation – for the most part – live a peaceful and prosperous life, free from the violence and the heartache of the past. There is however a forgotten generation; a generation who still feel the weight of living in areas controlled by paramilitaries, whose parents and grandparents lost their lives in the conflict, who live in communities barricaded by “peace” walls, who … Read more

An evening with Alastair Campbell #belfastbook

Once described as the third most powerful person in Britain, the still formidable Alastair Campbell was in Belfast on as part of the Belfast Book Festival to talk about his new novel Saturday Bloody Saturday. During the Q&A he confirmed his support for the Iraq War and talked about The Thick Of It.

Are we seeing the end of the DUP/Sinn Fein approach to the economy?

The Economy spokesperson for Sinn Fein, Conor Murphy had a platform piece in the Belfast Telegraph this morning about the under performance of the Northern Ireland economy over the past decade of devolution which has some interesting content in it. He argues; A proper Industrial Strategy requires rigor and an attention to detail. These are not qualities typically associated with the DUP’s decade in control of the main economic Department. DUP ministers comfortably talked the language of the business community … Read more

Why political precedent is no guide to the shape of Ireland’s political future…

One thing I will say for Sinn Fein is that they do sometimes learn from their mistakes. Last time round, they stayed out of the horsetrading for coalition on the rather implausible grounds that they would only negotiate from a position of strength. Now, they know very well that the political media obsesses about such things far in advance of the following election, but the message going out from Mary Lou is unambiguous this time about wanting to get into government. … Read more

Join us for a live event – Is a New Ireland achievable or even desirable? Tuesday the 26th of June 2018…

Since 2016 there has been renewed interest in the debate about Northern Ireland’s constitutional future.  As a community is our future better within the United Kingdom or charting a new course in a United Ireland?  Two very different paths sit in front of us and our panel of political experts and politicians aims to tease out the key issues that are central to this debate. Hosted by Slugger O’Toole in partnership with Evolve CPA Panellists;  Alex Kane – political commentator Allison … Read more

Jenny’s mother was still in touch with the Daughters of Charity, and one day a nun came to take her away…

An essential read from Deirdre Falvey over at the Irish Times – The last of the Magdalenes: ‘The nuns took my childhood’. When you hear about Magdalene laundries I am probably not the only one to have visions of 1950’s Ireland, so I was shocked to read the harrowing tale of a lady inmate of a similar age to me. The last laundry only closed in 1996. It’s a strange thought that while I was knocking down pints in the Queens … Read more