Another angle on Sinn Féin’s Westminster abstention

Any debate about Sinn Féin’s Westminster abstention policy tends to cover no new ground. It always starts with someone – most recently Polly Toynbee – suggesting that SF should take their seats to pursue some common, worthwhile objective, in this case, that of blunting the sharp edges of brexit. It ends with SF supporters asserting that (a) it is a key republican principle that can’t be easily argued away; (b) that the party has a clear mandate to abstain from Westminster; … Read more

BIPA and the ramping up of Anglo-Irish relations

This weekend fifty parliamentarians from Ireland, Britain and other parts of the archipelago are meeting in a hotel in Sligo for the 56th plenary of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. The BIPA rarely attracts much media attention except by accident such as when a geographically challenged MP drove to Newcastle, County Down rather than Newcastle upon Tyne for a plenary. But the BIPA is assuming greater importance thanks to Brexit, although the assembly plays no formal role. One of our most … Read more

So we just have to be smart. Apparently.

We are assured that technology will fix our borders (quite often by certain politicians, actually).  All we need are CCTV cameras at the border and no checks will be required according to a a report by Lars Karlsson, President of KGH Border Services, Former Director of World Customs Organization and Deputy Director General of Swedish Customs, so we are told by the DUP. Indeed, that’s what the Abstract says: This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ … Read more

Surf and turf

Boats with EU, UK flags sailing in opposite directions

As blogger David Allen Green has pointed out, whoever produces the first draft of a legal document has the advantage. While the EU has been criticised for its backstop-Brexit draft, the UK has conspicuously failed to produce any draft at all, and shows no signs of doing so. The final transition agreement is thus unlikely to differ from the EU’s draft in anything other than some finer details and cosmetic language. This was of course predicable and widely predicted back … Read more

EU document is the equivalent of a government white paper, so the telling detail is yet to come…

With the tensions getting high over the EU’s release of a well leaked draft of the EU’s terms for the UK’s exit, the speculation around its intentions as much implications could prove to be as damaging as any actual outcome. The UUP’s response this afternoon quotes a piece of text in Article 4, regarding the free movement of goods: “…the territory of Northern Ireland, excluding the territorial waters of the United Kingdom (the “territory of Northern Ireland”), shall be considered … Read more

“where reconciliation is a selective process, healing a pernicious and destabilising past remains as a challenge to us all.”

It’s had a muted response, both here on Slugger and in the wider media but this intervention from a group of Civic Unionists and unaligned others makes some senior points about the way NI politics is conducted as though they did not exist. I hope we’ll have a direct contribution from the group here on Slugger, but for now here’s the text… “We the undersigned desire a transparent and inclusive debate concerning rights, truth, equality and civil liberties and in … Read more

The East-West Relationship (pre- and post-Brexit)

A lot has (rightly) been written about the effect of Brexit on the border and the economic, social and political impact this will have on North-South relations. While there has also been discussion of the East-West, British-Irish relationship, I think it merits some more analysis. There is a lot to consider: the extent of trade between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, the flow of people in both directions, the rights that have accrued over the decades as part … Read more

“And as the tired old joke says, you wouldn’t start from here; cue deep breaths all round.”

Very nice (and honest) summation from Fionnuala O’Connor, in which she lauds the fine work of Barney Rowan and Eamonn Mallie, who have… …performed a real service to politics, history and the people they live among, by producing documentation that filters fact from fake fact. It’s a DUP characteristic to rubbish journalists. Sinn Féin are good at it too. But Rowan’s cool reporting and the Mallie website have been impossible to dismiss. If the DUP had signed off on the … Read more

“Northern Ireland to become an EU province” after a Brexit breakdown. Did we not know that already?

Tomorrow the EU will publish its legal version of December’s joint Report or Withdrawal Agreement that was supposed to guarantee against a hard border. The intention is to remove any idea of a fudged   political deal that could be changed later. It  will however become the EU’s law not the UK’s. Britain will argue that Withdrawal Agreement will be superseded as a result of a final free trade agreement. However as has been well trailed,  it will omit the guarantees … Read more

“The Irish language is just the latest in a list of tribal provocations by the Pied Piper of Sinn Fein”

You have to hand it to Sinn Fein, they do seem to understand narrative better than most of their rivals. They managed to dump democratic powersharing (and the Stormont institutions to boot) with one that too many nationalists cannot resist. That is that whatever goes wrong, it’s always “the fault of the Unionists.” It’s genius is that its still plays very well in the most un-Provisional parts of Irish society, north and south. It even features in that 1994 memo … Read more


William Ennis, an east Belfast loyalist and PUP member, pays tribute to sex worker, rights campaigner and activist, Laura Lee. It was just before midnight when my phone rang. It was a dear friend. As soon as she spoke, I knew something was wrong.  Her voice was broken, and she demanded to know if I was seated. I assured her I was. “Laura’s gone”, she wept. “Laura’s gone.” My voice simply failed me, and I could only listen to her sobs. When I finally could make a sound, I … Read more

A timely reminder that today’s unionists and other non-nationalists have as big a stake in human rights as nationalists. Further polarisation must therefore be avoided

The stale stereotype that nationalists are all for civil rights and unionists fight them tooth and nail is challenged in an open letter signed by over 100 “civic unionists, pluralists and other forms of civic leadership” published in the Irish Times.  It’s a riposte to similar letters from “ civic nationalism” appealing to the Dublin government “to defend the legal, human and language rights of Irish citizens in the North, and warning that the British government’s deal with the DUP … Read more

Time for Sinn Fein to stand up for the Irish National Interest over Brexit at Westminster?

No doubt the Sindo isn’t making this suggestion for the sake of Sinn Fein’s good health, but it actually does make sense that an Irish party – wishing to represent the nation’s interest at home and abroad – should make its seven seats in Westminster available alongside Tory rebels in a crucial vote over the UK’s customs arrangements post Brexit… Members of the Conservative Party who wisely support the UK remaining in the customs union intend to vote against Mrs … Read more

Picks of the Week – First Communions, Protestant Gaels, Squaddies and Stuckness

There’s a lot of highfalutin political goings on at the moment. But what are the ordinary humans talking about? Here are some media magpie treasures from the last week… RTÉ Documentary on One rebroadcast the gorgeous 2014 doc, Mairead’s First Communion. It follows two culturally Catholic, but non-religious, parents’ experience of their daughter’s First Communion. They didn’t like the idea of her doing it, but 8 year old Mairead really wanted to, so they let her. There’s so much to … Read more

And man created the nation in his own image

When we say we belong to a particular ethnicity or nationality, we are implicitly saying that we share traits in common with the other members of this group. Or are we saying that the other members of this group share traits in common with us? There is a subtle but important distinction. In the popular imagination, the formation of an ethnic or national identity is an objective process whereby the members of the group find commonalities amongst themselves and thereby … Read more

Does Brexit threaten rights protection for Irish citizens in the North?

What happens to a raft of human rights when we leave the European Union and the European Charter of Human Rights no longer applies? The question is raised by the leading constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor.  Successive UK governments (and I!) thought we had opted out of it for years, but the European Court of Justice ruled in 2013 that we hadn’t. Inevitably there is an Irish angle to this that may be of  particular concern to Irish-EU citizens in Northern … Read more

A St Patrick’s Day Grand Slam showdown at Twickers? Probably.

Ireland last won a Grand Slam back in 2009. In odd years, like 2009, Ireland play England and France (the 2 traditional heavyweights) at home – and odd years were therefore deemed Ireland’s best chance of winning a 6 Nations Championship and particularly a grand slam. But in more recent times, France’s form has fallen off a cliff and Ireland has taken to beating them both home and away. In contrast to France, Ireland has moved up the pecking order … Read more

Congratulations are due to the DUP and Sinn Fein negotiators. How can the DUP be persuaded to implement it in their own long term interests?

After rubbing our eyes several times, the first thing  to do about the 13 pages of  the Draft Agreement published  in full by  Eamonn Mallie is to have it recognised for what it claims to be.   As Sinn Fein has already insisted on its authenticity, the initiative now lies with the DUP.  Clearly the document was the hymn sheet the secretary state Karen Bradley was working off in her Commons statement yesterday , although she understandably  refused to publish it, … Read more

Is it time for the churches to become more Christian?

Cathal O’Hagan is a Monaghan native and law graduate, currently doing an MA in Conflict Transformation at QUB. Just like there isn’t momentum for a re-prohibition on contraception; or mood for re-implementing a ban on divorce, the penny will soon finally drop that debates over marriage equality and abortion are not the way for churches to regain influence in Ireland. Churches can either continue with the prominence they give to so-called “moral” issues, or they can refocus on the core … Read more

Whatever happened to the ‘designated parents’ role in the Belfast Agreement?

As ever, the breakdown of Stormont, and the inability of the two main parties to agree on anything substantive is being treated as a novelty. In fact, when you put two ideologically rigid parties in a rigid system breakdown is merely the status quo. As Siobhan Fenton recalled with admirable clarity on Monday, the Belfast Agreement was the product of a liberal rather than the fanatical mindset that presently dominates thinking in both the DUP and Sinn Fein: The Good … Read more