DUP threatening to bring the government down over a customs union – or are they?

An interview with Nigel Dodds for the PolticsHome website is headlined: DUP warns it could bring the government down if Northern Ireland kept in customs union – and let in Jeremy Corbyn? (my addition). Mr Dodds said continued membership of the customs union would “cross a very big red line for” for his crucial bloc of 10 MPs. He said: “For us there is the fact that if as a result of the Brexit negotiations for instance there was to … Read more

The media’s inability to tear Corbyn down is no surprise to people in Ireland. Our media has been failing to tear Sinn Féin down for decades.

In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn has come under an attack from the establishment media the likes of which we have never seen an opposition leader be subjected to before. Just about everything has been thrown at him, from IRA sympathising, colluding with Czech spies, anti-Semitism, to taking three hours to congratulate William and Kate on the birth of their third child. Importantly however, nothing has stuck. Corbyn continues to shrug it off, rise in the polls and remains on track … Read more

We can acknowledge Powell as a significant historical figure, without resurrecting his politics…

The decision by the BBC to broadcast Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech on Saturday was always going to be controversial. The speech, made by Powell 50 years ago on 20th April, had a long-term impact on British politics, and transformed the climate on race relations in Britain. In the speech, Powell spoke out against Britain’s liberal immigration laws, predicting dire consequences for the country if immigration was to continue unchecked. He also attacked the race relations legislation that the … Read more

The Future of Referendums: What Role Should They Play and How Should They Be Conducted?

Referendums are now established as part of the UK’s political landscape.  They are widely seen as necessary before some fundamental constitutional changes are made.  Politicians will continue from time to time to find it useful to manage conflicts by proposing to put certain decisions to the people. Yet, despite their importance, there has been little concerted thinking recently about how referendums should be conducted.  Two inquiries conducted in the 1990s – by the Nairne Commission and the Committee on Standards … Read more

Political ferment is reflected in the GFA junketings, but no sign of a breakthrough

Will the DUP and Sinn Fein pay any attention to the eloquent pleas of the elder statesmen to return to the Executive?  On the surface the answer appears to be no, unless something is going on behind the scenes we don’t know about. Local politics suffers from elder statesperson fatigue. This generation has learned how to take in their stride the high sounding generalities from popes, presidents and prime ministers past and present.  The shock of the new wore off … Read more

Clinton: “Keep the cranes up. Keep the voices free. Keep the votes fair. You’ll figure it out.” #GFA20

Political leaders of old and today gathered at Queen’s University, Belfast for a day of events focussed on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said that people “should realise that this agreement was never going to support all the problems of Northern Ireland” while former US President Bill Clinton had a triptych of advice for NI: “Keep the cranes up. Keep the voices free. Keep the votes fair. You’ll figure it out.”

“I think we must also recognise that there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border…”

Played up is right.  Labour Party front bencher, the shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, a former NIO minister, has apologised for “informal remarks in a meeting last month“, in particular, that his “use of the word ‘shibboleth’ in its sense of ‘password’ or ‘test of membership’ gave the impression that I thought the Good Friday Agreement was in any way outdated or unimportant. I absolutely do not.”  Which is fine.  But his recorded comments, last month, during a Q&A session after a speech … Read more

A noble illusion perhaps, but unity and reconciliation are not compatible

Writing in the Irish Times, Robin Wilson has eloquently identified “a cosmopolitan vista of “unification as reconciliation” among diverse individuals on the island…. as the current Tory government disappears down the Brexit rabbit hole”. Amid fears of a renewed, Brexit-induced hard Border, a plebiscite would be a blunt-instrument (and one-sided) response – less discussion, more sectarian headcount. A more sophisticated approach, less likely to lead to highly unwelcome consequences, would be to redefine the process of north-south co-operation recognised by … Read more

The Agreement. Ten Frames. Twenty Years.

There’s going to be a lot of familiar and famous talking heads, looking back pensively, giving the ‘I was there’ definitive version of ‘what really happened’ at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago. We will note the wrinkles and the grey hair and we will see how they have changed, if only in their appearance. The usual role-call will be called. But what about artistic responses? What might an artist create that could ever contain the … Read more

Reflections on the Good Friday Agreement

I thought I’d record some personal opinions on the passing of the 20th anniversary (more or less) of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I felt compelled to do this after reading a few exchanges on social media, one in particular declaring that Unionism had, in a manner of speaking, had its eye wiped. This is a popular, but demonstrably false, perspective that had its origins in the debate at that time, and perhaps has deeper origins … Read more

Thousands attend #IBelieveHer Rape Trial Rallies Across Ireland

Thousands of people across Ireland came out today to protest against yesterday’s not guilty verdicts in the rugby rape trials.  Rallies were held in Belfast, Dublin, Derry, Limerick and Cork. The Belfast rally was at the Laganside Courthouse, with about 1000 people (Talkback estimate) – women and men, young and old – cohering around messages of #IBelieveHer and #Metoo. The rally at O’Connell Street in Dublin was even bigger. It’s been a harrowing 9 week trial, and it’s raised a lot … Read more

Words from Othello, Leonard Cohen for Sean O’Callaghan

Lord (Paul) Bew, a former professor of politics at Queen’s University, Belfast, struck the right note at Sean O’Callaghan’s memorial service in London by citing Othello’s final words in the Shakespeare play. “Soft you; a word or two before you go. I have done the state some service, and they know it. No more of that. I pray you, in your letters, When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, Nor set down … Read more

Fine Gael’s constitutional sloppiness over the institutions of the GFA rooted in domestic concerns?

20130410 GFA 15

One of the effects of the poor networking of knowledge we’re getting at the moment is easily seen in the poor conceptual grasp, first of all, Sinn Fein and latterly Fine Gael, has on the institutional architecture. No matter how many times they repeat it, the BIIC cannot replace Stormont. Newton puts them straight… Last November, when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar first proposed reconvening the conference to address the Stormont crisis, he got this crucial detail wrong, telling the Dáil: “If nothing is devolved, … Read more

The next big Brexit issue- the future rights of EU/Irish citizens in the North

Another big Brexit theme has been overshadowed by the border conundrum – the future of citizens’ rights in Northern Ireland.   The contention is  that many of these will go unprotected when the UK withdraws from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the rulings of the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, a key UK government aim. The Charter has greater force than the non-EU European Convention on Human Rights which is written into UK law as the Human Rights … Read more

It has to be faced. Brexit will happen. The Irish border problem will not stop it

It’s now clear to me that we convinced Remainers must accept that Brexit is going to happen. It will not implode through the weight of its own contradictions. There is no prospect of an alternative government that will halt the process. Yesterday felt like a real turning point.  As a result of yesterday’s agreement on the transition period the EU leaders will ratify on Thursday, the UK will remain within the single market and the customs Union beyond the Leave … Read more