Belfast Rapid Transit (Glider) Phase 2 announced

This week, Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon launched the public consultation for Phase 2 of the Belfast Rapid Transit (Glider) system.  I think this is a welcome development and will improve connectivity, access to and uptake of public transport in the city.  I remember when Glider was first launched on the east/west route a few years ago. Before it got off the ground, it was fashionable to dump on it (a common pattern for public transport projects on this island). …

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Legacy: Who are we moving on for?

Northern Ireland, it seems, has a problem with moving on. Decades (centuries) of strife and conflict. The pain, the trauma, all of it passed down from generation to generation. In the year of our lord 2021, we’re still angry about it all. Still hurt, still frustrated and in pain. Step forward the Prime Minister and his Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis.  They have seen the light and taken a bold, brave step to help us move forward. The government has …

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This time, it’s the Troubles legacy. Northern Ireland opinion on a key issue, even when substantially in agreement, is being overruled by Johnson’s Conservatives

The devil will be in the detail but as a example of news management in advance, the UK Government’s plans for a Troubles amnesty could hardly be worse for opinion in  Northern Ireland Veterans who served in Northern Ireland are finally set to be freed from the threat of prosecution. In a victory for the Daily Mail, a planned statute of limitations will today be announced covering all incidents during the Troubles. The move by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is …

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How the NI Protocol protects the Agreement

To the chagrin of Unionist politicians, it’s often emphasised by the four governments (UK, Ireland, EU, and US) that the Northern Ireland Protocol exists to protect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. For reasons which are understandable when examined in isolation, Unionism feels let down by the promise of the Agreement. I can see where they are coming from. The Agreement is based on cross community consent; the Protocol does not recognise this. British citizens are asked to …

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In the final report on unification referendums on the island of Ireland, the unionist case goes by default.

   First a critical  assessment of  the Report on Referendums within the island of Ireland by an old colleague with definitive cross border credentials, Andy Pollak,  A brilliantly reasoned but not balanced exploration of future Irish unity referendums….  If a majority opts for unification, then the transfer of sovereignty must occur, whether governing arrangements [for a new united Ireland] can be agreed consensually or not.” This is the report’s central contradiction (as it may be in the 1998 Agreement itself)…  This …

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UK Secretary of State Brandon Lewis champions liberal reform to save the Union and throws down the gauntlet to the DUP

This just could be significant.   In the Sunday Times, the emergence of a pro Union liberal reform strategy acceptable across the community from the British government. It appears  to remove the last vestige  of the UK government dancing to the DUP’s tune. At  the most sensitive moment imaginable, just before  Edwin Poots nominates a still unknown First Minister, Brandon Lewis  presents a frontal challenge to the DUP.  This has been simmering for some time but I never thought it would …

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Well, well, well-#AE2022 and that Lucid Talk poll

It’s early days, minds could change later, but the Belfast Telegraph’s latest poll will send shivers down the DUP’s spine. According to Lucid Talk, support for the DUP has dropped to 16%, the same as Alliance. Sinn Fein sits at 25%. Doug Beattie will take comfort from the figure for the UUP, up two points to 14%. A Sinn Fein First Minister has been a possibility since the 2017 Assembly election. Based on these figures,  Sinn Fein will clinch the …

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If Edwin Poots tried to crash the Assembly it would open the door to a border poll

Let’s assume Edwin Poots is a shoo-in for the DUP leadership. Comfortable in his minor elder statesman role at Westminster, Jeffrey Donaldson hasn’t the stomach for a contest. He might be willing to accept  it on a plate but that’s not going to happen. With more than a hint of desperation, some of us have been foisting the Nixon goes to China model onto Poots, meaning that the hardliner in politics may be better placed to compromise than the liberal. …

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Brexit and now Covid management shows Johnson’s government is blind to the threat of UK disintegration: a new insider report

Some years ago I found myself  as one of a small team  called to the Cabinet Office to be asked to do a study of the state of the devolution because Whitehall was too busy  to do it themselves. The official in charge was Philip Rycroft who in retirement has now let fly with both barrels. Little in this report by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at Cambridge is breaking news; but it updates an absence of pan -UK …

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The latest real world effects of the protocol standoff

There’s a mixed picture of trade in and out of both parts of Ireland, some of them temporary and perverse The good news?   Via Sky News   A lot of freight, up by 4.3% in February, is now sent from British ports to  Northern Ireland  on ferries and then driven down into Ireland. More goods are now moving between Britain and Belfast because freight can now be sent from Britain to Ireland through Northern Ireland without complex customs procedures. Ferry data analysed …

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No mention of the fantasy Irish Sea link in Johnson’s plan to link up the UK. Is he quietly ditching it already?

The BBC is reporting that a feasibility study is being made into Boris Johnson’s crackpot scheme of a bridge or tunnel over the Irish Sea (with ample space for customs clearing stations no doubt).  But intriguingly   the prime minister makes no mention of it in an article he’s written for the Daily Telegraph announcing a new UK wide  transport strategy “ to strengthen the very sinews of the UK.” Very odd that he makes no mention of his current pet …

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It is intolerable that Stormont is handing back hundreds of millions of pounds to London when urgent cancer cases are being denied treatment

The news that 275 people in Northern Ireland with “red-flag” cancer have had their surgery cancelled in the past week has been followed by the tragic irony  that the  Health Service  has been forced  to hand back £90 million unspent this year to the Treasury in Whitehall . The dismal information reminds me of Irish farm produce being exported from Ireland during the Famine of the 1840s while more than a  million starved.  The theory behind it is even more …

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A border poll can be held at any time – redux

With border polls remaining a major topic of conversation, particularly following today’s Sunday Times/Lucid Talk reporting of a poll which found that a majority of voters in Northern Ireland wish a border poll to be held within the next five years, I still find that there remain widespread misconceptions around the Secretary of State’s powers to call a border poll. In particular, people still seem to think that the Secretary of State has no discretionary power to call a border …

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Is voluntary coalition reaching the end of its useful time?

In Friday’s News Letter, Claire Bailey scathingly casts doubt over the durability of our current system of government by saying “The five-party executive model hasn’t been conducive to sound decision making. The competing priorities of each of the parties means that crisis management is beyond their capabilities”. Unfortunately, she didn’t take her opening paragraph to its logical conclusion in the rest of her article. But it’s a start. This came not long after a Sam McBride article in the same …

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What next after the interim report on Irish referendums?

 A surprising initiative It’s a remarkable fact about the working group on Unification Referendums that it took an initiative led by London academics to start the process of setting rules for a possible outcome that has been the Irish obsession of centuries. The initiative was in part a reproach as to how politics particularly but not only in Northern Ireland is serving the public, partly an acknowledgement of the complexity of the issues where intensity of feeling can prevent people …

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Surely it’s long past time that we binned this unspoken “Honorary MLA” status?

Last week, following the resignation of West Tyrone MLA Catherine Kelly following the office cash controversy, Sinn Fein chose to replace her with party colleague Nicola Brogan. I’m not singling out this MLA or her party as five parties have done similar since the last Assembly election. But the word “appointed” is such an inappropriate one in any democratic process and it needs to be addressed. An MLA goes for whatever reason, but the electorate has no say in who …

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New Decade, Same Nonsense

With the four-week circuit breaker due to expire on Friday, people across Northern Ireland are looking for certainty. Businesses need to know if they can re-open at the weekend. Workers want to know if they’ll get an income over the next few weeks. All the while, six of Northern Ireland’s hospitals are at full capacity. As of this morning, the Executive still hasn’t agreed a way forward.  Robin Swann proposed a two-week extension of the circuit breaker but this was …

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What is a shared island?

I am but a mere local political commentator who occasionally gets asked to do TV and radio. Occasionally I regurgitate my annoying opinions in written form. Thanks to my involvement with an upcoming Institute of Irish Studies project, I got the opportunity to ask the Taoiseach about the new Shared Island Unit. There were scenes on Whatsapp when I told my mum what I was doing. “Martin or Wee Higgins?” she texted, getting mixed up. In his speech, Micheál Martin …

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It’s strictly dancing up to the Brexit deadline. Meanwhile “the border in the Irish Sea” takes shape in Northern Ireland

Archbishops’ letter image. FT  The  off- on- off again  dance around the final stages of Brexit negotiations is taking place against  a mounting clamour of confusion and anger over the crazy politics  including the real implications of the threatened No Deal, about which the UK government postures so insouciantly. UK in a Changing Europe think tank says their modelling with the LSE of the impact of a no-deal Brexit suggests the total cost to the UK economy over the longer …

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It looks like a deal but what sort of deal? And it’ll go down to the wire

The idea of  extended deadlines right  down to a supposed last minute  will hardly surprise anybody in Northern Ireland. We’ve lived with them for a generation. Taking a tour round comment on the Brexit cliffhanger, the prospects for a deal are  looking good. British predictions of  going to the wire for  a decision by the big beasts of Merkel and Macron look like being fulfilled. But that doesn’t mean an optimal deal for British interests. From Peston The odds of …

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