How cold is your house?

I worked around the border for most of the past decade. I came to understand for the first time just how unnatural the border is to many people there as they go about their daily business. It gave me a very real and practical sense of their innate Irishness for the first time and I understand exactly why so many people in the border counties were so uncomfortable with Brexit. I shared their discomfort and voted to remain. But I …

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Learning to live in harmony with the legacies of Empire. Different experiences in Great Britain and Ireland

In the culture wars over shifting national identities it’s striking how nationalist Ireland is further along the road to reconciliation with its troubled past than a UK has reached in its troubled present. That is a journey that feels as if it has barely begun. Perhaps all that righteous victimhood has become easier to cope than all that tortured guilt.  BLM –  Gladstone and Churchill off their pedestals    The focus is turned on the role of Empire and in …

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Authentic British and Irish patriotisms are needed. They are entirely compatible

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader    “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, declared Dr Johnson, in a typically ringing remark that for over two centuries has been deployed against states trailing memories of  glory to repel criticism of today’s foreign adventures.  Remember though that when Johnson died in 1784, Britain was in the throes of expulsion from her North American Colonies. Parliament was divided between the Tories lamenting loss and defeat and Whigs who made no bones about …

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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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UK breakup. The vacuum where the Union case should be stands exposed

 Will the drum roll start for a border poll and  wreck the prospects for even slim collaboration for dealing with the massive and more immediate  challenges of Covid and Brexit –  and just governing ?   Or will it promote a virtuous competition  between the DUP and Sinn Fein over which of them will be the better collaborator in government, with the hope of  wooing the uncommitted to their existential cause? Will the minor parties get squeezed or flourish amid growing …

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When are the DUP going to ditch the Tories?

“What did we do to members on those benches over there, to be screwed over by this protocol,” Ian Paisley asked in Parliament yesterday, “ask your hearts, what did we do?” Oh Ian. It’s a cliché at this point to quote Edward Carson’s “What a fool I was…” speech. It’s boring. We all know it by now. I prefer the bit after that famous line: “And of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it …

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Irish unity : going nowhere fast

So how’s the Irish reunification campaign coming along ? According to Sinn Féin President, Mary Lou McDonald, there doesn’t need to be one, because it’s already been won. A few days ago, speaking to Owen Jones, McDonald said of a United Ireland : ‘We’ll do it in the next decade. We’ll do it in this decade, actually.’  This is an example of the nationalist equivalent of the ‘inevitability doctrine’ I wrote about a few months back. In my previous article, …

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Why other countries should draw inspiration from the Irish Government’s early response to the Covid-19 pandemic

When an outbreak of a virus such as Covid-19 occurs, where vaccines, drug treatments and high levels of testing do not yet exist, the communication that is delivered in the early days, both accurate and credible, is by the far the strongest medicine in any government’s arsenal. The reality is, in these early days, the capability of the virus is relatively unknown. Given the number of people infected by coronavirus around the world was minimal at the start, the data …

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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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On the doctrine of inevitability

The News Letter had an interesting article a short while back, reporting remarks by Alex Easton in respect of a border poll and the Irish reunification debate. It is not clear in which context he made his comments, but the headline is that he speculates that nationalists will “inevitably” lose a border poll, and recites a few other well-known tropes. I am not a nationalist, but I feel that his comments reflect beliefs prevalent within unionism around how people like me …

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This is the very moment to speak out against the old Wolfe Tone trope, that Britain is the source of all Irish ills

Demo in Place de la Républic, Paris   As is  only to be expected, Chris Donnelly in the Irish News plays the full anti imperialist card against the UK, without regard to variations of interpretation.  He uses a French quotation approvingly as if the  French were purely the  idealists of the Rights of Man and that the revolution  had no downside such as the ruinous attempt to conquer all Europe and the French Empire never existed. All major states were born …

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Northern Ireland Centenary: This country

This is about the centenary of Northern Ireland. But first, a slight detour. In Lucy Caldwell’s, ‘Multitudes,’ one of her characters describes the heartache of watching her teenage school friend move from Northern Ireland to England. “They’ve had enough is what Susan’s mum says. She just can’t take it anymore. ‘This country,’ she says to my mum. ‘This country,’ my mum says back to her, and neither of them says anything else.” The scene has always stuck with me because …

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John Hume the lone diplomat rather than party leader has won a special place in the history of these islands

John Hume  photo Irish News  It’s the memory of John the person that immediately springs to mind.   I believe he came to see himself with the vision and strategy of a man of destiny. But he did so without any of the aura that would have set him apart and made him vulnerable to being taken down. The near sainthood  that some have attributed to him must have made him smile. He had a great knack of friendliness even trust …

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Academic working group launches public consultation on unification referendums on the island of Ireland.

The Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland is today launching a public consultation asking people for their views on the prospect of a referendum on Northern Ireland’s constitutional future. The group is neither for nor against such a referendum – it is simply seeking to clarify the process. This post introduces the group and sets out some of the key questions it is asking. You can access the survey by clicking here. What is the Working …

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Why is the UK sleepwalking into final Brexit chaos and towards breakup?

As the notional deadline of October for final Brexit negotiations draws ever closer, the clouds if anything are growing darker. The UK’s statements on their withdrawal position and the NI protocol have clarified very little. Johnson and co seem like General de Gaulle in 1940, holding out for an impossible position of victory against the odds. But at least de Gaulle had allies. A City University webinar I linked up with yesterday confirmed growing pessimism over Northern Ireland prospects.( video …

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Shared or united island? The Greens called it right.

The new banter coalition in the Republic has got off to a dramatic start. Ministerial sackings! A tax ruling from the ECJ! Infighting! It’s everything we could have hoped for. Among the chaos of this week came an interesting titbit from Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. According to Ryan our own Clare Bailey, the party leader in Northern Ireland, was behind the decision to rename the ‘united island’ unit in the Department of the Taoiseach to the ‘shared island’ unit. …

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It would be a mistake for Unionists to seek terms for Irish unity now. There’s a bigger future to discuss

The time, therefore, has finally come for unionists, particularly those in Northern Ireland, to consider the terms on which they could tolerate, if not accept, a united Ireland… On the eve of Northern Ireland’s centenary next May, Unionism needs to form an assembly of its own to answer that question. So what should unionism demand in exchange for its tolerance of unification? First, let’s acknowledge that unionism holds a pretty decent hand should it care to play it: the knowledge …

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From united Ireland to a united island to a shared island. What’s in a phrase?

an Taioseach Micheál Martin On the grand coalition’s approach to the Irish future, the Trinity academic   Etain Tannam has noticed important changes in the final version of the Programme for Government The final version in June differed quite significantly from the draft version in April. The 2020 Programme for Government provides a detailed long-term plan and creates a new unit in the Department of the Taoiseach to ‘work towards a consensus on a shared island.. The 2020 Programme for Government provides a detailed long-term plan and …

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The curious case of the Department of Health

Abortion has been legal in Northern Ireland for over a year now. Under the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020, terminations up to 12 weeks are now lawful. Abortions after 12 weeks are heavily restricted. Terminations are available up to 24 weeks if there is a risk to the mental or physical health of the woman. There is no time limit where there is a fatal fetal abnormality. With the law firmly in place, it was expected that the commissioning of …

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Micheál Martin elected as the 15th Taoiseach…

Micheál Martin is a lesson in having patience. If you hang around long enough and play the long game you eventually get the top job. The Corkman is not exactly the most exciting politician but maybe a steady hand on the tiller is exactly what Ireland needs in these turbulent times. As I said in the Dáil earlier, being elected Taoiseach of a free Republic is the greatest honour that any Irish person could hope for. I am humbled by …

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