Good Friday Agreement ‘best thing that’s happened on this island in the last 100 years’: Coveney

Minister Simon Coveney TD, Ireland Minister for Foreign Affairs, resumed his speech that was interrupted by a bomb scare earlier this year in north Belfast. He was the keynote speaker guest as part of a series of seminars, “Building Common Ground”, organised by the John & Pat Hume Foundation for Peaceful Change and Reconciliation. After Minister Coveney’s address, there was a facilitated discussion with Claire Sugden MLA, a former Justice Minister. Father Gary Donegan reminded the audience that the event venue, the Houben Centre, is …

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Media’s role in mediating our ‘different psychic landscapes’

A set of current and former journalists shared their experiences and thoughts on the role of media and social debate across the island of Ireland. Hosted by the Irish Association, the event “Journalism without borders” attracted several dozen, including other journalists and commentators. The discussion explored what we think the public knows about society on both sides of the border, and why or why not that is the case. Indeed, Stephen Douds (president of the Irish Association) explained in his introduction a motivation …

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Do they reelly, reelly want it? A reflection on “Ireland’s Future”

Not only in Dublin at the weekend  but for the whole series of conferences on Ireland’s Future,  the aims are first,  to add momentum to the eventual  creation of a United Ireland by convening a Citizens’ Assembly ; and two, to come up with a generous offer of unity unionists can’t refuse  – in both senses ;   impossible to refuse because so attractive, (the smiley version)  and   (hint of rough stuff)  because the numbers of nationalists North and south would …

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Are border poll criteria an excuse for procrastination ?

Peter Kyle, shadow Secretary of State

This morning, on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, Shadow Secretary of State Peter Kyle made some comments during a brief interview with the BBC’s Darran Marshall on the question of the criteria to call a border poll (iplayer : interview begins at approx 18:45) which seems to have generated a frisson of excitement. The salient part of the interview is reproduced below, with my emphasis. DM : I want to talk to you about the constitutional position now. Do you think …

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Houses of sand: Unionism has a problem with younger voters. A huge one.

Whither the union. I find myself becoming weary as I write this. Articles about the demise of the union, about unionist malaise and mistakes, are so common these days that they all sound the same. I stopped writing them at one point because I had nothing new to add. Even now, people write these pieces with a weird air of arrogance. They want you to know that they and they alone have figured out that unionism is in a difficult …

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Leave futile arguments about equivalence aside. We all need to come clean about why the Troubles lasted so unforgivably long.

clock, alarm clock, watch

Belatedly I want to pick up from Mick’s treatment of Fionnuala O’ Connor’s   interesting question about origins, prompted by the inevitable controversy surrounding Michelle O’Neill. At the outset, I’m reconciled to the fact that my brief analysis, partly based like Fionnuala’s on contemporary observation, will be disputed. I want to be as fair as I can. There’s nothing more pointless than one sided polemic.   Her question relates to the present and future. To make ‘reconciliation’ possible do republicans have to …

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Politics is becoming the new religion, with all the militancy of old. But in Ireland….

A sign displayed outside McQuiston Memorial Presbyterian Church in East Belfast in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Again, the mythological symbol of the rainbow is used.

Well meaning people in Ireland often like to claim that politics and religion are separate and that religion is all about love, reconciliation and goodness. We know what they mean but of course they’re wrong.  From time immemorial politics has been about power and religion about controlling people’s minds, “the opium of the masses” But Marx’s line underestimated the powers of its ideas to create an alternative social bond against an oppressive state and finally an identity.  And so religion …

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‘The South is not ready for unification’: Andy Pollak

The theme for the 35th John Hewitt International Summer School was “Finding the national: redefining home and country for a shared future”, which asked how much “home”, “country”, “identity”, and “nation” matter, or should matter in a shared future, and the experience of those who feel excluded from existing political structures. Speaking at the Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre in Armagh, journalist and civil activist Andy Pollak presented an appropriate talk, “The South is not ready for unification”. He …

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How wise is it to play Protocol poker with a weak hand everybody can see?

What do you suppose Boris Johnson is up to with his on the face of it, kamikaze tactics over the Protocol Bill?  By pursuing the most aggressive line he seems determined to court a confrontation with the EU.  Can he be serious, even as a survival strategy? As Peston points out, where Johnson is on shaky ground is that within the Protocol there is explicit provision to suspend it, where there are ‘societal difficulties… liable to persist’ via its Article …

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The Jubilee is over. Let it go, or will it linger?

Is it really 20 years since I was present at the Queen Mother’s funeral in the Abbey and later in the year, looked on open mouthed as Brian May plucked out God Save the Queen from the roof of Buckingham Palace?  Access like that went with the job then.  This time, it was the street party outside my block of flats in Ealing. Time for an outing of  my old Henry VIII costume I rashly thought, anything to liven up …

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Come back, Ireland needs her sons!

brown building

My favourite family story concerns my uncle Frank. In the 1960s Frank swapped grey Belfast for life in sunshine-filled Jersey in the Channel Islands. At the time Jersey was a popular tourist destination and as a good looking single guy it would be fair to say he had a good time courting young ladies who came to the island looking for a holiday romance. In the family album, we have photos of him looking tanned and relaxed, invariably accompanied by …

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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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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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Behind the Paddy’s Day rituals, how deep is the Stormont crisis?

With so much guff, bluff and ritual about it, St Patrick’s Day is a poor bellwether for judging the state of affairs in Ireland remotely – and perhaps no better on the spot either. One glance at privileged youff crowding Botanic Gardens in defiance of lockdown, you might have groaned with me: “ Not the Holylands again. “ However BBCNI’s news story was encouraging. St Patrick's Day: Police clear crowds at Belfast's Botanic Gardens https://t.co/Fp6LvjTOC8 — Darran Marshall (@DarranMarshall) March …

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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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