New November “deadline” for agreeing withdrawal terms puts pressure on all sides

The mantra “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” may be joined  with a new one, “ nothing changes until everything changes.” This  applies in spades to the border backstop wrangle. Rather than face crunch point at Salzburg on Thursday, EU leaders have confirmed that the terms for UK withdrawal will be settled at a special Brexit summit in November. So that’s all good, then. But the backstop still nags and Theresa May has said nothing to wish it away, … Read more

Fianna Fáil and its discontents – the Eurosceptic opportunity

By Aidan Harkin At the time of writing Fianna Fáil (FF) is struggling to re-assert itself as the prominent force in Irish politics. The 2016 election was a moment of promise for FF who experienced considerable gains from its disastrous 2011 election performance, resulting in a difference of only six seats between them and the governing party Fine Gael (FG). This rise coupled with the implosion of the Irish labour party has meant both FF and FG now co-exist uncomfortably … Read more

The burning border problem. Is it a gnat or a camel?

Only two things  are sure about the Brexit arguments.  Over the border issue ’they’re hotting up inside the Conservative party. And the binary nature of the exchanges between Theresa and Boris produces only deadlock as binary arguments tend to do. In her BBC interview no doubt she believes she’s defending “the precious, precious Union” and the will of the Northern Ireland people. But as interviewer Nick Robinson might have reminded  her, they voted in favour of Remain. Does it really … Read more

Future Ireland: Writing Competition

This is an open call for submissions on our current featured topic – Future Ireland: Alternative Conversations about Unity and the Union You can read a little more about the aims of the project here, and the types of contributions that we’re seeking. Here’s an example. But we suspect that you might have some even better ideas. So we’re putting out an open call for articles on this topic.  The best three articles will win a prize (tbc – don’t … Read more

Future Ireland: Alternative Conversations About Unity and the Union

The future of Northern Ireland is deeply uncertain. Brexit, the rise of English nationalism, Scotland, Stormont deadlock and demographic change make Irish unity a realistic alternative. The polls vary greatly, but some have unity very much within sight, especially if there is a harsh Brexit and a disruptive border. People are talking about this at kitchen tables across the north. But whilst we are highly engaged about if we would like unity or the union, and many of us have … Read more

Micheál Martin: “the core of nationalism is to secure a unity of people and not just a unity of structures…”

In his recently published book, my old Slugger partner in crime Paul Evans describes the rise in the populism as a  form of anti-utilitarianism in which political gaming is gradually crowding out representative democracy. Whilst keen not to paint Brexit or the election of Trump as civilisation’s end, he highlights the capacity for hidden interests to manipulate any electorate through dark money and by sending radically different political messages even to people living under the same roof is rising. The resulting squeezing of … Read more

The EU may shoot Boris’s fox and bail Theresa out

The FT  has discovered a blink of light for Theresa May  amid the general Brexit gloom.  The Daily Telegraph is among other papers  lifting the story, labelling it, “Operation Save Theresa.”        The EU is preparing to give its Brexit negotiator new instructions to help close a deal with Britain, in a conciliatory move that will bolster Theresa May as she suffers savage attacks from Brexiters at home. An informal summit in Salzburg this month between the EU’s … Read more

When oh when will the UK government stop stalling on the backstop?

Why  is  Michel Barnier being messed about over the backstop and the border? On Tuesday he said this to the Commons Brexit  Select Committee. I am very concerned about Ireland. We need to find a solution that avoids the return of a hard border and that remains today the main obstacle on our road to an agreement between the British and ourselves. On the ground, ladies and gentlemen, it is impossible—this is nothing new—to distinguish between customs checks and other … Read more

From the London broadsheets, rare interest in Irish developing positions is to be welcomed

The criticism  is well made that  British  interest in Irish positions is generally self serving and fails to recognise their independent validity. Any slight shift in this is to be welcomed. The London broadsheets  have paid Sinn Fein the rare compliment of taking seriously the party’s think-in at Cavan. It’s worth noting that they have yet to broach the notion that a  Brexit solution would  be so much easier if Northern Ireland were to join the Republic.  Quite apart from … Read more

Brexit crisis point is arriving even faster than expected

At the opening of the Westminster season, no time has been wasted for open warfare to break out inside the Conservative party.  Theresa May’s Chequers plan is assailed from both left and right, in the old terms, between Leave and Remain.  Its main thrust – separating the authority  to lay down rules for goods from regulations for services –   is now specifically rejected by Brussels. Crying wolf is easy but this looks really serious.  Boris slaps down his challenge in … Read more

If #WeDeserveBetter, We’ll Have To Vote For It

I really want to be supportive of the #WeDeserveBetter movement. I think it’s a great thing when thousands of people come on to the streets to encourage the political compromise without which power-sharing cannot work. But really, do #WeDeserveBetter when ‘we’, the people of Northern Ireland, have collectively rewarded the DUP and Sinn Féin for taking the stances they have? Well into the period of stalemate, in last June’s General Election, the DUP and Sinn Féin were ‘punished’ by the … Read more

Rees-Mogg brazen in his ignorance of Ireland

“I don’t think my visiting the Border is really going to give me a fundamental insight into the Border beyond what one can get by studying it,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North-East Somerset. This comes from footage of a public meeting where Rees-Mogg euphemistically stated that the British government could “keep an eye on” the border, and suggested that there should be a return to the sort of inspections at border-crossings that existed during the Troubles. Historians may, by … Read more

Sustaining hope for peace: Global Conflict 2018 #GFA20

Sustaining hope for peace: Global Conflict 2018 #GFA20 by Allan LEONARD 23 August 2018 In partnership with the University of Chicago and its Pearson Institute, Queen’s University Belfast hosted a two-day conference, “Global Conflict: The Human Impact”. This report recounts the first day’s events, which focussed on sharing learning from the peace processes in Northern Ireland and Colombia. Professor Ian Greer, recently installed Vice-Chancellor at Queen’s, welcomed delegates with some explanatory remarks about the partnership between the two universities. This … Read more

Brexit Secretary tells NI businesses to ‘speak to Dublin’ if no deal…

The Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said Northern Ireland businesses trading across the Irish border should contact the Irish government for advice in the event of a ‘no-deal‘. My translation – ‘We have enough problems of our own, you Paddies sort yourselves out.’ Is it reading too much into it that the Government would happily throw NI under the bus if needed? So much for the DUP/Conservative bromance. That’s in the context of the Ashcroft Poll from June which revealed that ‘Six out … Read more

Half of NI firms postponed or cancelled investment plans due to Brexit…

A survey by AIB bank shows that half of NI firms postponed or cancelled investment plans due to Brexit. As a business person myself I know in uncertain times you keep your money in your pocket to see how the future will pan out. You put off taking on new staff, you hold off on opening new premises, you don’t buy new equipment etc. But really caution does not just apply to business people but to any sensible consumer which is why we … Read more

Is a second referendum feasible? A dispassionate view from academics

The Constitution Unit of University College London headed up by Meg Russell has posed seven questions about a possible second referendum on Brexit in a blog post. Last month the Unit published the report of the Independent Commission on Referendums which can be read here.    The summary… Would it be possible to hold a referendum in the time available? Isextending Article 50 feasible? How could a referendum be triggered? What might the options be? What form should the question … Read more

Did Peter Robinson blunder into the border poll debate too early?

Coming late to the Peter Robinson speech at Glenties and its aftermath, I’m struck by two elements of it, one of which has been hardly picked up. In the text I was offered, the discussion of a border poll which overshadowed the rest of it didn’t appear at all. Tommie Gorman of RTE has explained. I chaired the Friday evening session (27 July) in the Glenties Highlands Hotel where Peter Robinson was the guest speaker. The references to a united Ireland … Read more

Parliamentary arithmetic may provide a bulwark against a “no deal”…

So if the hard realities being expressed in Dublin are changing around Brexit, so too in Westminster, where the arithmetic remains eye-wateringly tight. An old friend once told me that with any 50/50 decision as things inevitably get harder, the slim positive majority melts and the will to carry it forward gets much tougher maintain. Very quickly. The last general election delivered just such a scenario. No one has a mandate to undo Brexit, but no one has the electoral … Read more

Is the Taoiseach trying to ‘silence’ Micheál Martin over his handling of Brexit before December?

An interesting couple of pieces in the Sindo at the weekend, regarding the confidence and supply arrangements between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the growing tensions in their confidence and supply arrangement. Before Christmas, average polling showed little difference between the two parties: both averaging around the 30% mark in November. There’s been slippage since for Fianna Fáil: the party most divided over the abortion referendum. The terms of the arrangement are such that Fianna Fáil’s support for the government should last for … Read more