50 years on: Ulster at the Crossroads address

50 years ago tonight, the then Prime Minister, Captain Terence O’Neill took to the airwaves broadcasting an address on BBC Northern Ireland and UTV at 6pm. The address came as the Unionist government began to loose control of the escalating civil rights marches and he faced greater pressure from the British government to pursue reforms. In tandem with this, he faced growing criticism from senior members of his government such as Bill Craig and Brian Faulkner. Why a broadcast? In … Read more

UUP calls for May Deal to be voted down with an extension of Article 50

The Ulster Unionists have issued a statement on the Withdrawal Agreement, calling for its rejection. “The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between Her Majesty’s Government and the EU will erode the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom and should be rejected. “The Ulster Unionist Party warned of the potential consequences of the inclusion of the disastrous backstop in December 2017, but the DUP who claimed to be in a position of influence at the heart of UK Government were asleep … 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 it consents to the withdrawal agreement being concluded on behalf of the EU”.

DECEMBER 13-14 EU summit

At one point, before the negotiations made enough progress to allow the EU to call a special Brexit summit in November, it was thought that the bloc’s regular December summit would be the last opportunity to do a deal. The deal is now done. But if the UK parliament votes it down just before the December summit begins, Brexit may overshadow the EU gathering all the same. EU leaders insist that they have no intention of reopening the 585-page withdrawal treaty, but they might accept changing the accompanying political declaration if Mrs May comes to Brussels having lost the big vote in the Commons.


Parliament takes control? If Mrs May is defeated in a meaningful vote on her deal on December 10, the government will have to report back on its plans for next steps within 21 days, according to the EU Withdrawal Act. This may be the opportunity for parliament, in which the majority is against a hard Brexit, to take a greater role.  Following a Commons defeat for the government in December, MPs will be able to assert their point of view by amending the new plans set out by the government — whether to come out against a no-deal Brexit, call for a second referendum or recommend Norway style membership of the EU’s single market.


Deal passed into UK law If, by contrast, the Commons approves the Brexit deal in a meaningful vote, the government will put forward a new piece of legislation: the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. This would pass into law some of Brexit’s biggest issues, such as the agreement on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the details of the transition. It will be a hugely consequential piece of legislation. There may be many battles on individual details.

UNTIL MARCH 29 2019 EU ratification

Before any Brexit deal can take effect, it must also be approved by the European Parliament in a plenary vote. Any legally questionable elements of the withdrawal treaty could also be referred to the ECJ by MEPs.

There is a wild card that could disrupt even this bumpy progression.  Labour have not budged from their pledge to move a vote of no confidence in the hope of winning a general election. Conservative MPs however badly split will unite to support the government.   Jeremy Corbyn writing in the Guardian seems  unconvinced by his own case for a general election as he looks ahead to other alternatives to the May plan, hinting at a preference for a second referendum.  For this reason – or instinctive distaste perhaps? –   Corbyn has chosen to ignore the DUP’s promise to join Labour in the vote  no confidence unless the government pledges “ to get rid of the backstop”. But surely every body knows it’s impossible to meet this condition in a few days – or ever – if couched in such absolute terms. Even Norway plus requires a backstop unless the holy grail of a final deal can be  discovered that makes the backstop redundant.

Supporting the combined opposition in a vote of no confidence could well lead to turning the government out. By itself this would only  add constitutional to political chaos and increase the chances of the No Deal default very few want. To begin with, it gives the government  14 days to come up with an alternative policy that creates a new majority or if that fails, it precipitates the general election that hardly anybody really wants either. The DUP of course dare to be different: an election has no terrors for them. But other than show their bravado as a mean machine for harvesting votes back in their own little world, what would an election achieve?

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

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

The Stagnation of Urban Renewal

Late last year the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) released the updated Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measures. There were no surprises here: half of the most deprived Super Output Areas (SOAs) are in Belfast, a fifth are in the North West, and the rest are scattered in mostly rural communities. There is very little movement in and out of the top 100. The absence of a steady flow of continuous and dynamic data has contributed to stagnation and … 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

Is Your Child Green or Orange?

Children in Northern Ireland are continuing to be shoe-horned into Orange and Green identities, by the very programme set up to break down divisions. This article draws on a recent FOI request to the NI Executive, to show how children participating in ‘Together: Building a United Community’ (TBUC) Camps, ended up being designated as one community background or the other. A factor which surely makes it more difficult to break out of the cycle of polarisation in Northern Ireland, and which … 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

Theresa May’s new olive branch to the DUP is unlikely to impress

So was  there something worth hiding that’s now been exposed under duress? In my opinion, it’s not so much a smoking gun, more a blast of painful shotgun pellets.  DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was bound to describe as “devastating” the Attorney General’s full legal advice on the withdrawal agreement that the government fought  so hard to withhold yesterday – and lost. In a statement this afternoon Mr Dodds  rises  to new heights  with the description of the  backstop as … 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

Horror at the school gate…

A man was gunned down and killed in the community where I live yesterday. He was in a parked car outside his son’s school on the Glen Road at hometime, waiting to give his son a lift. While he did so a man walked up to his car and shot him 5 or 6 times. He died immediately. To put this horror in context you’d need to know the area where this murder took place. That part of the Glen … Read more

DUP are threatening May with collapse unnecessarily, even in their own cause

It looks worse and worse for Theresa May as a crucial week begins. The Times reports:   Theresa May was under fresh pressure last night as the DUP threatened to abandon her in a confidence vote if she failed to get her Brexit deal through parliament. Party sources said that they were considering the move, which would leave the prime minister without a Commons majority, over fears that her plan would create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest … Read more

Theresa May’s survival depends on cross party support for Plan B. Will she concede or quit?

First things first. Are we back to contemplating  the DUP holding the balance of power? The Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times report what they rate as exciting new moves for an already potentially fateful week. The Democratic Unionist Party will join Labour and other opposition parties on Monday in a bid to force the Government to publish its legal advice on Brexit – a move that could delay the crucial vote on Theresa May’s plan. In an explosive alliance that will rock the … Read more

Should the IFA adopt its own national anthem?

Recently we had the disgraceful but in some ways predictable behaviour of some fans (but at least it was a minority) at the Northern Ireland versus Republic of Ireland match during the playing of the National Anthems. I was always taught that no matter how you feel about a country, or its government’s policies, you should always respect the national anthem. However, at the same time – why do the Irish Football Association still continue to use God Save the … 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

An insider’s view of Northern Ireland’s first Citizens’ Assembly

Catherine Leonard is a recent graduate from Ulster University’s Master of Science degree in Communications and Public Relations and was one of the eighty members of the Citizens’ Assembly that met over two recent weekends to examine the policy area and bring forward recommendations around social care for the elderly.

Slugger TV looks at the Withdrawal Agreement

Slugger TV: Episode 20 from Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo. Latest Slugger TV where we are discussing Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement with Dr Katy Hayward from Queens University and Brendan Hughes from the Irish News. David McCannDavid McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

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

What’s the antedote to “know nothing” populism’s rejection of complexity?

Although it makes me a little nervous when people draw from Yeats’ Second Coming this is an interesting take from Bobby McDonagh, who was Irish Ambassador in London during the referendum that ended up in a narrow but telling victory for exiting the EU… Complexity has been crucial in building the structures which enable peaceful co-operation between nations, including in Europe. The more simple ways of European history involved legionaries and siege engines, tanks and bombs. The complexity of today’s … Read more