For the sake of British-Irish relations also, the backstop gap must be bridged

The urgent task now is to close the gap between Leo Varadkar’s idea of a review clause for all-UK temporary membership of the customs union and Theresa May’s. The essential first move is to discover what each means.  Both leaders are under domestic pressure for compromising already. Both sides are desperate for a deal, both economies would suffer severely from the chaos of a crash-out no deal. Both leaders would experience the bitter taste of failure affecting their own positions … Read more

Future Ireland / Nation-States Are Yesterday’s Politics – Let’s Review Our Terms and Conditions 

Global trends indicate that we are graduating from ideological party politics to voting based on personal priorities such as financial security. Trump’s America is the prime example. But, like their hurricanes, everything from the US eventually crosses the water and laps our shores. Unstoppable cultural homogeneity adds to this. With lightning speed our young people adopt the same fashion, music and patois globally. The extent to which this is manipulated by media giants, arms of government and lizard overlords is … Read more

The case for the Union is far broader than the DUP’s. But is it compatible with a good deal?

Nobody can doubt that Brexit has challenged the stability of the Union, not only in Scotland and Northern Ireland but in England too. In a lecture in London last night he entitled “The Nightmare of History, Brexit, Ireland and the English Revolution,” Fintan O’Toole warmed to his theme, familiar to Irish Times readers, of pouring scathing contempt over the Brexit case, which he dismissed as post imperial “imaginings.” If he’s right and  Brexit is creating a revolution at least in … Read more

How historians can provide correctives to “memory wars” in dealing with the past

 

The Ulster-born, Oxford-based historian Ian McBride has published what I take to be the essence of his evidence to the government’s consultation on dealing with the past. He discusses the potential role for professional historians in the proposed institutions prescribed for dealing with oral history, information retrieval and identifying themes and patterns in events.  He takes for granted that Sinn Fein are winning the battle of the narratives. This is hardly surprising. In a new era where “equality” between peoples and traditions is a legal requirement, unionists persist in playing a zero sum game they’re bound to lose, in which every nationalist or republican gain is written down as a unionist loss. The answer is not merely to provide a contrived balance but to tell fuller stories with an open mind. Thus, the exposure of collusion is complemented by an account of success in infiltrating the IRA.

While the suggested list of themes is far from exhaustive, it goes straight  to the heart of many controversies and follows the line of the best investigative journalism. However while concentrating on the causes celebres on all sides of the conflict,  he fails to mention the essential political contexts behind them, without which many of them might seem “random” or “mindless”. The absence of other than self serving insider accounts of state strategy and tactics is also  a yawning gap waiting to be filled.

McBride argues for a bigger role for historians than the  government envisages.  They have prescribed fairly tight control by government or government appointees for all the usual reasons, plus the additional one of  trying to allay fears that the local parties would lose all control over the process.

While McBride incidentally challenges  these restrictions, he is  more concerned here to establish historians’ credentials than describing the essential requirements for exercising them. His appeal is professional and non-partisan, while insisting (over- apologetically perhaps, to head off partisan retorts), that everyone brings a background to their work, consciously or not. His case can credibly  be set alongside the high reputation of the writing of contemporary Irish history. His one anxiety is that a professional approach would be too dull (my word) for the general reader and register little impact on political debate. He would redress this in part by being unafraid to make moral judgements – in other words, concluding who on the basis of the evidence in different cases bears the greater blame. Risky as this would be, it brings the themes down to human level. But it raises the fundamental question: can history, especially recent history,

Read moreHow historians can provide correctives to “memory wars” in dealing with the past

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

Can we manage the challenge to our identities created by Brexit?

There’s no doubt Brexit is creating fresh and unsought tensions over how to manage as well as express national identities. Two pieces today are vivid examples of the problems created by Brexit on these islands. Newton Emerson develops a theme raised here several times, but has  yet to reach  the top of the political agenda. How do Northern residents born and bred assert their continuing rights as EU and Irish citizens? Sinn Fein naturally want voting rights for Northerners in … Read more

The Agreement can only be amended with cross-community support

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Eyebrows were raised on the 2nd October when Arlene Foster commented that the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t sacrosanct, hinting that she would like to amend it to accommodate Brexit. Her words been praised but also widely condemned. Leo Varadkar responded by saying that “the Good Friday Agreement is not up for renegotiation” in the Dail. Anyone paying close attention will notice that Foster’s comments are very similar to statements made by her party colleagues, Jim Allister and Jamie Bryson over the … Read more

Future Ireland / Northern Ireland and the Humpty Dumpty World of Schrödinger’s Cats

Apparently you follow the rabbit down a hole and you emerge in a wonderland …. Ken Clarke – House of Commons “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” Lewis Carrol – Alice in Wonderland The … Read more

A second referendum will sadly become an orange and green issue in Northern Ireland

As the fallout from Salzburg continues, there has been a renewed focus by remain voters in Great Britain to push for a second referendum.  Campaigners want a rerun of the June 2016 referendum or a vote on the Brexit deal. Jeremy Corbyn is currently under pressure to back another vote at the Labour conference. There’s a perception that a second referendum would be relatively straight forward in Northern Ireland because it voted ‘remain’. In an ideal world, that would be … Read more

Less talking over the heads of Unionism, more recognising the political game has changed in Northern Ireland

I read with interest Micks piece earlier today on Unionist experiences and perspectives in the recent border poll debate and felt the need to offer a different view. When one of my political heroes, then Taoiseach Sean Lemass addressed the Oxford Union in late 1959 on the topic of Irish Unity he said his concern wasn’t about dwelling on the past, but rather it was about looking to the future. That is something that has always motivated me in this … Read more

My first trip to the Museum of Orange Heritage

Yesterday I ventured over to the Museum of Orange Heritage for the first time with Christopher Stalford. I have gone past this building many times without ever really desiring to go inside. Last week, Christopher very kindly expressed an offer to me to experience some parts of the culture of the Orange Order and we were able to get some time yesterday afternoon to visit the museum. Growing up, the Orange Order was something I was afraid of. I still … Read more

As another crisis hits the EU, raging against the Brexiteers is not an adequate response.

Boats with EU, UK flags sailing in opposite directions

Try as I might I’m unable to understand the appeal of Brexit for the UK, never mind Ireland north or south. I say “understand “deliberately rather than “appreciate”, as it is possible to see where people are coming from even if you don’t join them on the journey. Therefore I’m often a humble passenger on Fintan O’Toole’s train of thought. The greatly admired Fintan is among the most sophisticated critics of Brexit on either island from the high vantage point … Read more

Is an initiative imminent to restore Stormont? Are DUP and Sinn Fein ready?

Jeremy Corbyn will have disappointed any unionist hoping for a distraction from the  continuing political vacuum.  Deftly skirting the traps set for him by the DUP to meet (presumably mainly unionist) victims of the Troubles and uniquely denounce the IRA, he slipped in and out of Northern Ireland unscathed.  Instead he played a straight bat, Declining to become a persuader for unity, he would  back a border poll only  “within  the terms of the Agreement”  and he deserved unionist gratitude however grudging, by rejecting  special status for Northern Ireland within the EU.    He might have uttered hints of retribution against the DUP for keeping the Conservatives in power, but if he was tempted, he forbore. The verdict of the New Statesman bears repetition.

The longer the government’s inaction continues, the less crazy the idea of welcoming a Labour government seems. The party’s 2017 manifesto, one senior figure in the Northern Irish business community told me, was “not that mad” but “almost Blairesque” on the issues that mattered. Its propositions of extra investment infrastructure and training were attractive. There is also the fact that Labour’s vision for Brexit – if it can be described as such – offers more answers for business than Theresa May’s. Contrast this if not explicitly friendly than unquestionably receptive attitude to Corbyn with the frosty reception Karen Bradley received from businesses enraged by the NIO’s sluggish, laissez-faire approach to restoring devolution then it is clear that Labour are faced with an open goal.

The less Corbyn is seen to stir memories of Northern Ireland’s troubled past and the more he is seen to offer practical solutions to the anxieties of the future on Brexit and devolution, the more credible his Labour will become as a UK-wide government in waiting. There remains the question, however, of how credible Corbyn himself can ever be. He did not offer the unequivocal and specific condemnation of IRA violence many have asked for. On Wednesday, his spokesman said he still believed in a united Ireland as a point of principle. Labour cannot normalise its relationship with unionism under Corbyn if these running sores are not cauterised. There appears to be no plan to do so.

Perhaps- but somehow healing the running sores no longer seems so

Read moreIs an initiative imminent to restore Stormont? Are DUP and Sinn Fein ready?

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

Unionism’s “inclusiveness” must have passed me by

Born in November 1998, I am technically a “post-Troubles” baby, a child of the “new Northern Ireland”. I have never known the routine bomb scares and checkpoints that my parents knew; unlike their generation, I am unaccustomed to seeing a soldier in uniform. I became aware of politics around the beginning of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’ time as first ministers; those halcyon days. Still somewhat on a high from the Chuckle Brothers era of Paisley/McGuinness, there was an air … Read more

A border poll will not just be about the choice between the union and a united Ireland. Any border poll will be a referendum on Northern Ireland itself

Northern Irish politics has been all about polls for the past week. According to the Times, Theresa May isn’t too confident that unionists would win a border poll. The Prime Minister is that cack-handed people worried she’d triggered a border poll by accident. She hadn’t. Then, on the 21st May, two polls by ICM and MORI were released that showed support for the union, but with caveats that should keep unionists on their toes. The prospect of a border poll … Read more

Border poll recedes as polls show nationalist support for unity hinges on Brexit outcome

If two polls out today  are to be believed, pressure for  an early border poll will recede and unionists  fearing the worst, will heave sighs of relief For nationalists, while much hinges on the economic consequences of Brexit,  majority  opinion among them in favour of  unity hasn’t solidified, despite the UK government’s confused approach to Brexit and the border. The Newsletter gleefully reports Two separate polls have found no evidence that Brexit has yet caused a radical shift in public … Read more

New revelations about the Ballymurphy massacre require urgent action by the British government

The report Mick highlights of a UVF sniper firing into Ballymurphy  at the time of the massacre in 1971 for  which up to now  1 Para was believed  to be mainly responsible,  underlines the paramount importance of finding out basic facts in dealing with the past. As I argued the other day, it is not only unacceptable but self-defeating for armchair soldiers in today’s battle of the narratives to thwart the rule of law, whether they are unionists defending the … 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

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