A New Deal for Northern Ireland

Politics needs to change in Northern Ireland. How we govern needs to change. Our political culture must transform or our future will be at best no different to our present – political stalemate with a sluggish, dependency economy; limited investment and failing public services. Optimistically our current zombie government will continue to tick over, at worst we descend into a sectarian spiral and we all know where that can lead if unchecked.  We need politics to work. But it can’t … Read more

An odd turn of affairs for Mary Lou on what should have been a celebratory day for women in the Oireachtas…

Yesterday Mary Lou finally met with Máiría Cahill. But first, both women were included in a group photograph taken in the Dail chamber of current and former Oireachtas members for the centenary of women being able to vote and stand for election. What then passed was bizarre. Miriam Lord, colour and sketch writer for the Irish Times captured the brittle strangeness of the proceedings: It was a happy occasion, with many blasts from the political past lining out for this special … Read more

DUP take care. Unionism needs UK support to develop a viable vision

Alex Kane’s position as the voice of reasoned unionism is confirmed by the remarkable fact that he’s invited to write for all the main papers which are read in Northern Ireland. He has just delivered the latest version of his message to encourage the creation of Unionist Unity (my caps) to meet the challenges of special status for Northern Ireland with the EU against the background of the coming potential nationalist majority.  If that means killing off the last illusions … Read more

Eastwood criticises Jeremy Corbyn over backstop claims

The SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood has criticised the comments of the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn about the Withdrawal Agreement potentially putting a border down the Irish Sea. In his statement he says; Jeremy Corbyn’s continued opposition to the draft Withdrawal Agreement, based on the myth that it would create a border down the Irish Sea, is not only wrong, it is disingenuous. “To be clear, this deal does not involve a customs border in the Irish Sea. There will be … Read more

Theresa May is in there, in the general jostling for last minute gains

What a mad rush to the tape it’s turning out to be!  Theresa May will be in Brussels today ahead of Sunday’s summit  to squeeze the last scrap of advantage  out of the withdrawal agreement as they all look ahead to the future. The EU states on the other hand are equally determined that as the price of leaving, Britain will be denied advantages she enjoys now. Last minute objections are being raised by the Spanish over the status of … Read more

What sort of game are the DUP playing in Westminster over Brexit…

Above is a highlighted version of a conversation with Allison Morris and Malachi O’Doherty on Stephen Nolan’s ‘biggest show in the country’ this morning on the DUP’s dissension from Theresa May’s deal towards a deal. Draw your own conclusions, but I have made three basic assumptions : Politics in Northern Ireland conditions people into believing every big issue ends in a clear winner and a clear loser, and that at some point we will hit a final result. For the most part, democratic … Read more

Is May suddenly beginning to take seriously an alternative to the backstop?

Who’s the bloke in the flat cap with IDS and Peter Lilley? Yes! It’s our very own David Trimble leaving Downing St last night after this gang of three veterans made a last minute pitch for a different border solution to that agreed between the EU and Theresa May. Lilley, a Thatcher disciple and former trade secretary refused to reveal what went on  the Today programme this morning. Now No 10 tells us that May listened and the cabinet discussed … Read more

For all its flaws, Theresa May’s direct appeal to Northern Ireland should prompt the DUP to stop playing a loser’s game

Theresa May has taken her campaign to win support for the Withdrawal Agreement direct to the people of Northern Ireland.  Adopting May’s authentic voice for an article in the Belfast Telegraph, her script writer weighs in   with “the best of both worlds” argument couched in the usual boilerplate, ticking all the boxes but failing to  frame the choice as between the withdrawal agreement and the DUP’s negativism. Keeping it general, there is only a feeble attempt to “de-dramatise” Northern Ireland’s … Read more

The DUP fired a shot against the government’s bows, taking care to miss

The headliner at Ronnie Scott’s looks crap tonight Tweet of the day  from jazz buff Ken Clarke followed by.. I’ve been sat up in bed for hours, whisky on the bedside table, soft jazz playing in the background, trying to think if I’ve ever worked with a more idiotic bunch of self centred bastards in my nearly 50 years as a MP. Nope, still can’t think of any. Time for another bottle. Gently reminding Nigel Dodds across the floor of … Read more

Mrs May drives on with her deal of “impossible things”…

It’s been a funny week. [Yeah, another one. We know. – Ed.] On Sunday, Fianna Fail’s Lisa Chambers noted the strangeness in a commemoration in Cork of the old IRA commander and government minister Seán Moylan, like this: It seems strange to stand here beside a patriot who fought British tyranny and say “Brits In”. But these are strange times. The British decision to leave the most successful transnational organisation in history is an unprecedented act of national self-sabotage. Our … Read more

The border in the Irish Sea… the future of north-south cooperation.The devil is in the detail.

RTE News’s Europe editor Tony Connelly has published two extremely useful stories on  essential detail. Does the Ireland/NI Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement threaten north-south cooperation? Does the proposed customs arrangement for Northern Ireland amount to a border in the Irish Sea that threatens its constitutional position? How the rules would actually work is explained. This new customs territory would therefore be a combination of the EU’s customs territory, set out in EU law, and the UK’s customs territory. But … Read more

The prime minister may not have the numbers but options are running out for the DUP and the Tory Brexiteers

  With a week to go before the hoped for ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, Nigel Dodds has grabbed  Dominic Raab’s reading of the Withdrawal Agreement  as a lifeline.  It  may  confirm his worst fears coming from someone who only four days ago was in the inner circle, but now, much good may it do him.   In his Sunday Times article, Raab is withering about the European Commission’s approach to the talks and accuses Brussels of deliberately trying to wound … Read more

The New Hong Kong

It’s just under 19 weeks until Brexit Day and the potential introduction of a hard border in Ireland. It remains a very frightening prospect indeed. Theresa May’s proposed deal with the EU has been greeted with fury by DUP MPs & hardline Brexiteers alike as a ‘threat to the union’. Of course the May deal that is being presented as a threat to the union can be flipped on its head. There is also the possibility that the north could … Read more

Future Ireland / Protestants and Unity: Moving Beyond Tokenism to Deeper Engagement

“Want to write an article for Slugger about being a Protestant in an all-Ireland?” “Aye, no sweat.” What was at first a very easy ‘yes’ to what seemed a very simple question. But I sat down to write this article a few times and just had nothing to say. For the last few weeks I’ve struggled to come up with a single thought and couldn’t understand why. Then it hit me that the discourse I’d been engaging in, about ‘not … Read more

“We will get through #Brexit, but will still have to address the erosion of North/South relations…”

There’s an air of unreality about politics in Northern Ireland these days, and it is not clear when or even if it is likely to return anytime soon. Everyone seems to be waiting for Brexit to happen, but Brexit is a process that appears to be becoming more uncertain with every twist. It may be that no one is clamering for Northern Irish democracy to return, but the democratic has been weakened by the displacement of serious journalism for sensationalist coverage … Read more

Over three days, sport will show that Ireland can divide or unite to the mutual benefit of all…

In a short three day period in sport, we’ll see how two conflicting (paradoxical) dynamics can work well on the island of Ireland. By all accounts, the atmosphere in the ground was warm in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin between the Republic and Northern Ireland last night. Neither team has been showing great form against other teams, so both are adrift of their ambitions. The internationalisation of the EPL means they’re not picking from the top. But it was a lively game … Read more

The DUP made little difference to the withdrawal agreement. And now they are only 10 among May’s many critics

The DUP have already started to polish up their narrative of victimhood.  Ian Paisley jr has been recalling his Dad’s roars of “Never, Never, Never,” at Thatcher’s betrayal of unionism in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. The Brits have done it again! The Shinners were right all along.

“Back then we were on the edge of the union, there were major atrocities ongoing and all of that was feeding into the mood. We also didn’t have the political engagement we have had over the last 15 years, the IRA were the IRA then, things were black and white, with the emergence of Sinn Féin that changed things in terms of political engagement.

“However, I do think in terms of relations with the Republic of Ireland we are in similar territory, largely because Leo Varadkar has changed the dynamic, he has ostracised and angered unionists to a similar level.

“Enda Kenny forged positive relationships, Leo and (Simon) Coveney (Tánaiste) on the other hand have managed to create angst, and that wasn’t and hasn’t been the case for many years.

“That makes it similar politically, in that Dublin is acting as the enemy instead of a passive neighbour, but we must always remember this is a political crisis not a security one which is what we had back then.

But glee at the DUPs discomfiture should be resisted. Paisley jr had the grace to acknowledge differences.

The DUP didn’t ask to hold the balance of power; and when they did, the script was already mainly written. Their exposed position encouraged  a false sense of security. But behind the veneer of confidence, they had their suspicions from the moment Arlene Foster hauled Mrs May out of a lunch with Commission president Juncker to approve the first draft of what became the backstop and required her to insert “no border in the Irish Sea.”

Undoubtedly, the DUP won tactical victories. Would the insistence of no border in the Irish Sea have been quite so effusive without them?

Today they appear to have strength in numbers among the unholy alliance that is the massed ranks of May’s critics. But those very numbers mean that their edge has lost its sharpness. Who can identify the real assassin if so many are willing to plunge in the dagger?

In the marathon three hour battering Theresa May took in the Commons today, the DUP spoke more in sorrow than in anger – nothing like their old lord and master. The exchanges show how the prime minister and the DUP have been talking past each other. They spoke as if they knew that by their own standards they‘d failed and half expected to.

Sammy Wilson DUP

The Northern Ireland protocols make it clear that Northern Ireland will stay under EU single market law and will also be economically separated from the rest of the United Kingdom. Articles 7, 9 and 12 show that, even if the EU allows the UK to leave the single market, Northern Ireland will remain under single market arrangements, and any border down the Irish sea will be subject to the willingness of the EU to allow that to be avoided. How can the Prime Minister give us an assurance that Northern Ireland will not be constitutionally separated from the United Kingdom and economically separated from GB? Or is this not a case of Northern Ireland being put on a platter and abject surrender to the EU?

The Prime Minister

No, that is not the case. Throughout this discussion and these negotiations, the interests of Northern Ireland have been one of the key issues that we have put at the forefront of our mind, because of the particular geographical circumstances of Northern Ireland and its land border with Ireland. Northern Ireland will leave the single market with the whole of the United Kingdsom. There will be specific regulatory alignment, which I recognise is uncomfortable. It will be in that portion of the single market acquis that relates to matters that ensure that a frictionless border can take place between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are already some regulatory differences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There is a question in the future, which I know has raised a concern, as to whether there will be regulatory divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in relation to that issue—because we are talking about a temporary period—of no regulatory divergence. The checks and controls actually relate to the degree of regulatory divergence, so if there is no regulatory divergence, obviously, that has an impact on reducing the necessity for any checks and controls. Crucially, the EU wanted to say that it would determine whether a good that was produced in Birmingham could be sold in Belfast. We were very clear that the EU could not determine that in the future. It will be the UK Government who make those determinations.

Hard to follow, isn’t it? This is the kind of nuance the DUP refuse to take in. She’s saying the less the regulation the harder the border, adding that there will be no disruption to trade in either direction across the Irish Sea. Is this really the slippery slope to Dublin rule? Should we not wait and see and complain if need be to the new oversight body?

If the DUP had never existed the  draft withdrawal agreement  would have been much the same. In truth whatever outcome is finally reached, there will always be pressure to avoid a physical  border  between the UK’s only land frontier and the EU.  And it is a basic error to assume the pressure comes only from the south.

Now they are looking a No Deal in the face that would guarantee new barriers no one wants by next March and risk serious damage to the whole island.

Apart from no Brexit, the practical alternative is to make the common customs area and regulatory alignment within the island a success and revive the moribund relationships of the Good Friday Agreement. If the DUP refuse the opportunity, the two governments should fulfil the pledges in the Withdrawal Agreement and do so themselves.

What do the DUP hope to rescue out of the present mess? We can hear a note of caution in their condemnation of the prime minister.  But the argument that a hard Brexit need not mean a hard border was lost a long time ago. Do they really believe they can muster the ranks for one last heave under her or  another Tory leader?

There will be mixed feelings at Westminster if the confidence and supply pact really does come to an end.  When it was concluded, many rank and file Conservatives felt a certain fastidious distaste  at the idea of dependence on what they regarded as reactionary “backwoodsmen” in the old term of  1912, whose idea of the Union was very different from theirs. Although  usually personally courteous, the DUP were never thought of as ” one of us.” I remember  being invited to an end of session DUP party for lobby journalists to find myself the only person present. These are Tea Party unionists who had no chance of dictating  events.

The essential difference between the cause and its advocates  was only  emphasised by their outright opposition to abortion and same sex marriage when an ad hoc cross party coalition of women MPs  rode to the rescue  to recognise a distinction between the  people of Northern Ireland and its representatives, a distinction which of course  includes the absent Sinn Fein.  Pact or no pact, that distinction has been maintained over defending the “precious Union.”  In this arena Northern Ireland has  been treated generously in spite of, rather than because of, the people they elect.

It’s a fallacy to suppose that there’s no such thing as gratitude in politics. When the dust has settled, the majority in the Commons that eventually emerges may ask themselves – why were the DUP  so ungrateful  when we’d gone through the contortions of an all- UK barebones customs arrangement whether it survives or not, in order to protect Northern Ireland’s position  in the Union? Not entirely fair and not the whole story. But a little acknowledgment and graciousness would go a long way.



As her Ministers start to quit over Brexit, is this the end of Theresa May?

About 8am this morning Shailesh Vara a NI Junior Minister quit over the Brexit deal (I never heard of him either). At 9am this morning the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab quit. At 10am, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey also quit. It seems the Ministers unhappy with the Brexit deal are spacing out their resignations for maximin impact. Who will go at 11am? Get your popcorn ready and enjoy the show. You can follow the BBC live feed to keep up to date…