How #RHI disappeared down a rabbit hole and the real pretexts for our Election to Nowhere…

So on Wednesday night, I gave this round-up presentation on the Northern Ireland Assembly election to the Wales Governance Centre at the University of Cardiff. It has a fairly bleak title, for which I begin by laying out the pretext. It also contains a slide in which I look in detail at the RHI story and how strangely most of the key matters relating to it were resolved well before the election took place (including the source of the leak: … Read more

New powers for Stormont? That’ll get’em going!

James Brokenshire has solemnly warned that if Stormont is to receive new powers as result of Brexit, power sharing must be restored. This blatantly original statement puts him in line for a Nobel Peace Prize or a slot on Pointless. It’s just the sort of threat that will have them rushing to the conference table next Monday. It  puts a small cart before a big horse that is out there somewhere roaming the range. Who cares about powers when what … Read more

Slugger’s video round up of views from around the UK regions and Ireland…

Lots to take in the day after Article 50 was triggered. I’ve been busy trying to roster up videos which contain various viewpoints from within the UK and Ireland. The first being a very useful interview of Theresa May by Andrew Neil: The David Davin Power on maneuvers with the Taoiseach in Malta where Enda Kenny was attending an EPP conference… Then here’s our local guys kicking things around in two separate rounds… The Newsline report from last night has … Read more

Is London’s Anglo centric unionism fundamentally at odds with unionism in the devolved territories?

If you read nothing else this week, try this fascinating insight from Richard Wynne Jones, director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University (where I’ll be speaking in few weeks), into what may turn out to be one of the key drivers in pushing the United Kingdom apart: English nationalism is a curious concoction, combining a rather unlikely sense of grievance about how England was treated within the devolved UK with a sense of entitlement and even superiority about the UK’s place in the … Read more

Theresa May challenged over her “tin ear” to the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Theresa May is in Swansea today at the start of a four nation tour to the devolved administrations , declaring; “I want every part of the United Kingdom to be able to make the most of the opportunities ahead.” As the Guardian reports she’ll face demands from the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones  to radically rethink her approach to the union. as she begins a four-nation tour before beginning Britain’s exit from the EU “Theresa May to visit Wales as … Read more

Theresa May’s fightback to support the Union through Brexit is only work in progress. The Irish are creating a benign vision of a United Ireland. Do the British want to match it?

The imminence of triggering Article 50 has at last woken up the British government to the reality of the threat to the Union. In a reported forthcoming tour of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to explain a negotiating  position that has seemed to ignore them,  propping up support for her “beloved Union” has become  Theresa May’s priority. Her first line of defence  will be  to  convince the massed ranks of critics that a “hard Brexit” is a misnomer which  does … Read more

Scotland and Northern Ireland move centre stage, says Downing St. ” Save the Union” is the mission

Well what do you know? At the beginning of a very busy news week, the Times leads with a real revelation from right under their noses. After months of  patting the wee Celts on the head with bland assurances that Brexit will be fine all round, “sources “ now say that  “concerns about Scotland and Northern Ireland were discussed at last week’s cabinet.. and the impact of Brexit on the UKs devolution settlement is the government’s greatest concern about the exit … Read more

Welsh language to be allowed in the Commons

The Times (£) has more than one echo today.. After a six month campaign.. The government confirmed yesterday that it would bring forward a motion to allow MPs to speak the language when the Welsh grand committee meets in Westminster, despite rejecting the change last year on cost grounds. The committee, made up of all 40 MPs representing Wales, meets every two months. Chris Bryant, who campaigned for the change when he was shadow leader of the Commons, said he … Read more

Tony Blair has made the case for a rethink on Brexit and Northern Ireland will need a new financial deal. Is anybody listening?

Hurtling at us like a comet but unnoticed by the local worthies is the prospect for repatriating powers direct from Brussels to Stormont, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay. Among them are powers over agriculture and energy, which in Ireland are linked or integrated north and south. How they’ll be divvied up is  hasn’t  even been examined. The British government retain a substantial interest in these areas where powers currently rest with Brussels as it  negotiates new trading arrangements to replace membership … Read more

For our uncivil politics, an Irish Language Act is part of the solution


Among Sinn Fein’s list of grievances claiming lack of unionist respect is the failure to introduce an Irish Language Act. It is an important but seemingly not a red line issue. Oddly enough this may make it more amenable to settlement. It is among the SDLP’s desirables. It looks as if Enda Kenny will back it in whatever happens after the Assembly election.

At first glance the chances of any sort of development are unpromising. It raises all the hackles and is easy campaign fodder.   As David has reported below, with her familiar lightness of touch Arlene Foster has borne down on the language issue in her undiplomatic reply to Sinn Fein’s “diplomatic offensive.” We need not take this as the last word after 2 March.  As she knows, Mrs Foster misses the point while  Ms  O’Neill has declined to lock horns on the issue.

We know how on this as in many others, rival parties make a battlefield out of the fine print of legal entitlements and equality impact assessments. This gets us precisely nowhere.

Read moreFor our uncivil politics, an Irish Language Act is part of the solution

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

Is the Catholic Church Losing the Irish People? Reflections on Tony Flannery & the Church of England

On Sunday, Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery celebrated mass publicly for the first time in five years, defying a Vatican ban on public ministry dating from 2012. Fr Flannery is being disciplined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for expressing views contrary to official church teachings on matters like clerical celibacy and the ordination of women. Fr Flannery insisted the public mass was a one-off event, to celebrate his 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary of his … Read more

The Supreme Court rules that devolved assembly consent is not legally required for Brexit. But the political battle is only just beginning

. So  the Westminster Parliament must vote on triggering Article 50 – but on what exactly and how often until Brexit is achieved?  The battle has only just begun. It’s  bad news for nationalists everywhere.  The Court ruled that the consent of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly is not legally required.  The argument put forward by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and in the courts by Raymond McCord that under the GFA the … Read more

UK exports have boomed since the Brexit referendum, but mostly to the EU

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union on the 23rd of June 2016, the pound fell sharply against other major currencies. At the time of writing, £1 will buy €1.19 or 1.25 US dollars, down 8.5% and 14.7% respectively $1.47 and €1.30 on the eve of the referendum. It has been claimed by various sources that a fall in the pound, whilst obviously bad news for importers and holidaymakers, will prove a … Read more

The gap between politics and the law is further exposed. But ruling on the clash between the Scots and Irish nationalists with the UK government will be the more momentous decision for the Supreme Court.

Brian WalkerFormer 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

Brexit or Flexit, for a time UK politics will take sole control of the stage

There’s a plethora of speculation around Brexit and how it might affect Northern Ireland. For all the heartfelt nature of Brian Feeney’s attack on Arlene Foster highlightly the fact that she doesn’t represent majority opinion in NI – her Euroscepticism is aligned with majority opinion in the UK. And for the foreseeable future, so far as internal politics are concerned, it’s the only opinion that counts. UK Labour under their ingenue and (if news from their last regional bastion is … Read more

Theresa May is risking the future of the British Union if she fails to recognise that Westminster is no longer “in control”

Scottish nationalism is on the defensive for the first time in over a decade. On the other hand, English nationalism could give it second wind if it thinks it can a score an easy victory without acknowledging its enduring power.  At this juncture, it’s  true that one  early outcome of the Brexit confusion leaning towards a hard Brexit is that Nicola Sturgeon’s calculations have become more complicated. On the eve of the SNP annual conference former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill … Read more

English nationalism drove Brexit and now supercharges the Tories. What about the UK?

Interesting presentation from Richard Wynne Jones at an event in Birmingham yesterday on how English nationalism is driving UK politics… He said: “We are entering a new era in UK politics in which the traditional textbook understanding of the nature of the UK is basically wrong – and actually England [and] Englishness is coming into play in ways which we haven’t seen before.” Prof Jones said there is now a “great deal of unhappiness as to how England is treated within … Read more

Scotland and Northern Ireland’s legal consent for Brexit is not required – Theresa May

“There is no opt-out from Brexit. And I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious Union between the four nations of our United Kingdom.” Theresa May has Scotland in mind here of course but  the uncompromising “no opt out” applies equally to Northern Ireland. The  “consultation” that is promised is therefore  to be  by grace and favour of the UK government.  But  there is still no  word on what form that consultation may take. We know now that … Read more

Reflections on the British-Irish Association in Oxford

 A tale of two Unions: can circles be squared by a new devolution settlement?   This was written for the blog of the Constitution Unit of University College London. In the wake of the Brexit vote there has been much discussion about the possibility of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where there were Remain majorities in June, preserving closer relationships with the EU than the UK as a whole. The idea that Scotland and Northern Ireland could be entirely exempted from … Read more

An answer to Rentoul. Referendums like terrorism can shape events, but not always in the ways expected

Alerted by Mick on the thoughts on referendums by the Independent’s political commentator John Rentoul, I took in his part 2 “Should Referendums be banned?” This is a rhetorical question which is really in  support of Rentoul’s  contention  that they make very little difference to the course of political  events. His pieces prompted my following thoughts. Referendums like terrorism typically make considerable differences but not necessarily as intended. It is not true they never settle anything. It depends on the … Read more