The Border Force row exposes differences between British and Irish citizenship that have to be settled

Leaving aside the delicious irony, I would guess that Sinn Fein are right: the attempt to limit recruitment for the UK Border Force to British passport holders is discriminatory and would be overthrown  in court.  Why should anyone have to produce a passport for a job in Northern Ireland anyway?  This has echoes of the malign Windrush problem. without feeling the  pain – yet,   Up to now only when you go abroad and need to produce a passport has the issue … Read more

I voted for peace, and all I got was this lousy culture war

I found this week’s 20 year commemoration of the Agreement quite surreal. Maybe it was because I was sick at home in my pyjamas and missed out on the bling of the big events. No basking in the glow of disgraced elderly politicians for me… Instead, I was more struck by how sad and stuck everything feels right now. It feels like we voted for peace, but all we got was this lousy culture war. By culture war, in this … 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

“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sense of ‘password’ or ‘test of membership’ gave the impression that I thought the Good Friday Agreement was in any way outdated or unimportant.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

Trimble rains on the GFA parade with supposed threat from loyalist paramiltaries over Brexit terms

Steve Punter's profile photo of David Trimble

David Trimble has many qualities but spreading sweetness and light is not prominent among them.   He has pricked the bubble of the GFA commemorations with a sinister warning. The one thing that would provoke loyalist paramilitaries is the present Irish government saying silly things about the border and the constitutional issue. If it looks as though the constitutional arrangements of the agreement, based on the principle of consent, are going to be superseded by so-called ‘special EU status’ then that … Read more

There is nothing republican about tying identity to a tricolour

“This decision will put back community relations…people are telling me their culture is being eroded, people are angry!” While this quote is reminiscent of the infamous flag protests of 2012, the main result of which being the increase in Jamie Bryson’s Twitter followers, the above comments are actually only weeks old and refer to a Councillor’s response to rumours that a Strabane St. Patrick’s Day parade would not allow the Irish tricolour to be flown. While Derry and Strabane District … Read more

Fianna Fail going North would be a game changer. It implies an electoral pact with Sinn Fein in a bid to out poll unionists and lead a southern coalition towards unity

Poor old SDLP! What’s the point of voting in council elections next year for a party that says it may go out of business not now but maybe later? If Fianna Fail enter the lists, it has to be big, it has to be about more than rescuing the anti- Sinn Fein tradition of northern nationalism.  It can only be to rob Sinn Fein of its role as the pacemaker for a united Ireland.  Who ought to be better placed … Read more

A revised Belfast Agreement is needed more than nostalgia for 1998

Like Magna Carta, the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement has acquired the status of icon of the constitution. This is not altogether in its favour.  A good deal of nonsense is talked about Magna Carta.  Back in 1215, no sooner had the ink dried on the vellum of the fair copy, than bad King John denounced it. But the idea of curbing the unbridled power of the monarch could not be unborn and it finally evolved into government by the rule … Read more

With or without a good deal on Brexit, EU oversight of an all-island economy is looking likely

Jim Allister QC is not the only one to spot the potential extension of north-south areas of cooperation under “the backstop”, the notorious Option 3 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, as Newton Emerson reports. There’s quite a bit more from Professor Dagmar Schiek of Queen’s University and from human rights organisations north and south. With cooperation, authority follows.  It is indeed a wonder that the DUP have not reacted more strongly. They seem to be putting their faith in  a … Read more

Transfixed by their obsessions without progress, they ignore the real politics of the future …

Following on from Peter Donaghy’s  really interesting corrective post comparing ROI/NI household income, what about the Budget then?  How did it go down with you over the tray bake or down the pub? Yes, I’ll bet you were riveted. The frustration in veteran economic commentator John Simpson’s measured prose is clear enough.  The British government know they can spin the budget without facing direct challenge.  Punch drunk civil society reacts wearily, having made similar points for years to little avail … 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

After brinkmanship, agreement on the transition period, but another fudge on the border. The ” backstop” for Northern Ireland remains

Breaking….. I had just filed a piece below headlined “brinkmanship on the border “ when the Irish Times reported that that the British had agreed to accept  a legal  draft text containing  the “ backstop” option 3 on keeping Northern Ireland in alignment with the EU after Brexit as part of transition terms for exiting the Union. RTE also has the story There is a huge provisio. Both sides want a comprehensive final deal that negates any need for special status … Read more

Brinkmanship on the Border

Another day, another doubt.   After a weekend of sherpa preparations for the EU summit on Thursday and Friday, both sides are still unsure they can reach an agreed position by tomorrow night on transition terms and duration   for the UK’s departure from the EU.  From the Irish Times preview of the David/Barnier meeting, it’s clear that the Irish government neither want nor need to  take sole responsibility for imposing a veto on a transition timetable later this week. Irish and … Read more

Dublin not expected to use their “border veto” against a transition deal for the UK

Brexit talks will become more intensive over the next six months and will feature a greater focus in the Irish border, according to the EU side.  This week looks likes providing one of those so-called crunch moments when a key Brexit decision is reached in black and white but with grey edges.  The UK are hoping for agreement on a transition period longer than December 2020 as currently mooted,  during  which the UK would pay full EU budgetary contributions. The … Read more

Taking their seats at Westminster would be a high risk U-turn for Sinn Fein

Noel Whelan  in the Irish Times  today repeats  the case for Sinn Fein to take their seats at Westminster  – but only after a general election for which the end of abstention would be in their manifesto. This differs from the plea by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee who recently wrote that ..the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, ventured to call on the party on Wednesday to take up their six – soon to be seven – Westminster seats “to make things better … Read more

“A feature of the devolved administration here has been that the two main parties have been sensitive to criticism…”

The BBC reported a telling admission from the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, during the RHI Inquiry yesterday. Mr Sterling said the practice of taking minutes had “lapsed” after devolution when engagement between civil servants and local ministers became much more regular. But he said it was also an attempt to frustrate Freedom of Information requests. Mr Sterling said ministers liked to have a “safe space where they could think the unthinkable and not necessarily have … Read more

To check Sinn Fein winning the propaganda war, a general amnesty should replace prosecutions in exchange for official disclosure, say unionist legal experts, arguing for the scrapping of the government’s Legacy Bill

“Transitional justice has facilitated republicans turning what ought to have been a hostile environment (namely, the historical record of over 2,000 attributable deaths, almost 60 percent of the total murder count, in a sectarian campaign of assassination and bombings – not to mention the accompanying litany of bloodshed, unblinking cruelty and lives destroyed) into a fertile soil allowing them to sustain a campaign of commemoration on ‘an industrial scale.  (The approach has) saturated thinking about the past to such an … Read more

Direct Rule in action: “In the light of the ongoing absence of an Executive…”

Northern Ireland Assembly Legislative Consent Motions, required by the UK Parliament to legislate on devolved matters, may have been devalued by the absence of a protest by the then NI Assembly Speaker in March 2015, but the UK Government could at least pretend that one had been passed at that time.  Yesterday there was no such pretence by Steve Brine (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health).  Welcome to Direct Rule… My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Lord O’Shaughnessy) … Read more