“I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” Theresa May in Brussels? Answer. Worse: humiliation

What was Theresa May actually expecting  from the EU 27 leaders in Brussels? There was always the desperate hope for one of those last minute rush to settle against the declared odds. Instead… headlines… Daily Telegraph ( Brexiteer) Theresa May was humiliated once again by EU leaders last night as her attempts to improve her Brexit deal were thrown back in her face. The Sun (Brexiteer) and coiner of  dreadful puns BRUSSELS ROUT  Theresa May told to get stuffed by … Read more

Keep your eye on the glimmer of light in the Big Picture. But first we need to re-examine the backstop, sooner rather than later.

Although the sight of it is darkly occluded, the shape of things to come is emerging through the fog. Whatever immediate  political strategy  Theresa May chooses today, the dream of the hard line Brexiteers is in process of disintegration.  Whatever the political turmoil today, the UK will retain some sort of close relationship with the EU.   In Northern Ireland, unionists will have a closer relationship with the Republic and with nationalists generally – and I would argue with only slightly … Read more

The DUP would be fools to vote for no confidence in the government and boost the chances of a No Deal default

Politics is in a vortex of fast moving events over which the government has little control. According to the likely scenario, Theresa May will lose the meaningful vote badly next Tuesday night.  What happens next is in uncharted waters. But this is how  the meaningful vote fits into the prescribed  timetable, courtesy of the FT: The vote is a legal obligation under the UK’s 2018 EU Withdrawal Act, which says such a vote must take place “before the European Parliament decides whether … Read more

‘A New Ireland: a ten year plan?’ Book launch…

‘A New Ireland: a ten year plan?’ is being launched at events in Dublin and Belfast tomorrow (7th December). The book considers the prospect for Irish reunification in the context of the impact of Brexit and demographic changes in Northern Ireland, alongside the economic strength and increasing social liberalism of the Irish Republic.  Things are changing in Ireland, north and south. But the problems associated with the Brexit referendum result demonstrate the danger of having a yes/no vote without considering … Read more

A riposte to David McWilliams

Out of interest… It was surprising that the Financial Times should publish a long triumphalist critique of Northern Ireland by the economist David McWilliams without comment from other economists (“ The final frontier”, Life & Arts, December 1). Mr McWilliams claims that most people in Northern Ireland want to stay in the EU. It is true that 56 per cent voted for the UK to remain in the EU. He echoes Sinn Féin in claiming that this meant many unionists … Read more

If demographics is destiny, it’s up to us to decide the sort of destiny we want

I was intrigued by my friend David McWilliams’ warm and typically human account of Northern Ireland’s constitutional prospects in the FT. David has always had an abiding commitment to exploring the possibilities and the advantages of a single polity living on our island. In the naughties, he invited me to speak on a panel on his RTE show, which looked at the prospects of a united Ireland. On the bus down I rang one of my oldest small ‘u’ unionist mates … Read more

Game of chicken is hotting up

Brexit tensions are rising towards fever pitch. The Times story puts it neatly : If you step back from the noise surrounding Theresa May’s struggle to get her deal through parliament there are really only four Brexit options left on the table: Mrs May’s deal (possibly tweaked); no deal; a second referendum; and a Norway-style soft Brexit. Each option has its advocates in the Commons but none yet has enough backing to command majority support in the House. Ultimately MPs … Read more

Fr Gerry Reynolds’ Anniversary & his 1994 Sermon on Forgiveness after the Ceasefires

I am writing a biography of Fr Gerry Reynolds, a Redemptorist who served 32 years in Belfast’s Clonard Monastery. His ministry encompassed some of the most difficult days of the Troubles; and he dedicated himself to praying and working for an end to the violence. So I am perhaps more aware than most that today is the third anniversary of his death. I also am aware that while I began the biography a few months before he died, it is … Read more

Northern Ireland’s business community has united as never before to make sure it is heard and the consequences of crashing out of the EU next March are understood.

Stephen Kelly is the Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI, he writes for Slugger about why the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union should be supported. A community has found it voice. Reluctant, yet determined, Northern Ireland’s business community has united as never before, to make sure is heard, and that the consequences of crashing out of the EU next March are understood. Some may have been frustrated that Northern Ireland’s businesses and their representatives have been too quiet, but we … Read more

Why Brexit is going wrong and how it could be fixed (part 2)

This is the second of two posts here looking at Brexit through a democratic, rather than a political lens. In the previous post, I argued that the ‘cliff edge’ exit that is inevitable when leaving the EU is not sustainable for the EU, and that the UK would be doing everyone a favour by challenging it. The word “crisis” is over-used in British politics, but we are undoubtedly in one now. We have a Prime Minister who is trying to … Read more

“This is the “Canada-plus” option the EU at one point said it would never agree to…”

The Irish Times today carries the view of, the always worth reading, FT columnist Wolfgang Münchau on the withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU. First he makes a quick point on the opposition on both sides of the House of Commons… When British cabinet ministers resigned hours after the publication of the withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU, they could not conceivably have read it, let alone digested its finer points. Many of the MPs who denounced the … Read more

Why Brexit is going wrong and how it could be fixed…

This is the first of two posts here in which I’m going to look at Brexit through a democratic, rather than a political lens. I’d argue that Representative Democracy is humanity’s single most valuable invention. It has provided government that fosters a level of prosperity and a standard of justice that all of our ancestors could only dream of, and it has hosted history’s greatest period of innovation. Representative Democracy is a robust system. It has an internal logic – … Read more

The DUP are waking up to the idea that Fortress Ulster has no future. They should be encouraged, not abused

They are still talking in euphemisms.  They are desperate to avoid finding themselves suddenly on the losing side without any notion of the outcome. Goodness knows what Theresa May can offer to sell the withdrawal agreement when she visits Northern Ireland  on her nationwide tour. Experience of local negotiations argues strongly against side deals and the arguments have been so well rehearsed already. Entirely wisely, the DUP are for once hinting at a solution to the backstop conundrum other than … Read more

Future Ireland / Healthcare in ‘A New Ireland’

In producing the report – now a book – ‘A New Ireland’ this year, I conducted lots of interviews asking people about the prospect of Irish reunification.  The issue of healthcare in a united Ireland was consistently cited as a major concern. Northern perceptions of the southern system are very negative.  Views within the Republic are not that positive either, for sound reasons.  But it is only fair to point out that the NHS in Northern Ireland is in crisis.  … Read more

Too many are unconvinced by Theresa May’s claim of alternatives later to the backstop. And some are prepared to ditch Northern Ireland

What matters next has changed.  Summit signing on Sunday apart, the next real stage of Brexit is not about Brussels but how MPs will react to what’s in front of them. The political declaration published today was full of warm words for a deep and meaningful relationship but it is clear that British options for striking out independently are constrained by the legal terms of the withdrawal agreement featuring the backstop. Try and she might to hint at a different … Read more

Northern Ireland sleepwalking to an off-script unification…

Northern Ireland is sleepwalking into an off-script unification, which commands a majority in the north but not in the south, or one which Dublin has failed to prepare for. A late Aug poll says Brexit creates a 52-39% majority for unification in NI. If no Brexit, 52-35% favours stay. However, only 31% of voters to the south favour unification if this increases taxes. (This compares with 63% if taxes remain the same – 2015 BBC/RTÉ poll.) NI would lose or … 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

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