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

SDLP’s future direction…

Interesting story from the Belfast Telegraph Political Editor, Suzanne Breen this morning about the potential of an arrangement between the SDLP and Fianna Fail. She writes; SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has refused to rule out “a realignment in Irish politics” that would see his party standing aside and Fianna Fail organising in Northern Ireland. Senior SDLP sources told the Belfast Telegraph that around 80% of the party supported it “leaving the stage” to make way for Fianna Fail. They want … 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

Are the terms civic “unionists” and civic “nationalists” an oxymoron?

  Over the past year we’ve heard many laments about the vacuum in decision taking but little specifically critical of politics from leaders of society. That’s par for the course for people who  have been keeping our  show on the road for decades. Few of them had little respect for political parties who in their view held society back. But now twenty years after the GFA and after a year – or many years by another measure – of deadlock, … Read more

A timely reminder that today’s unionists and other non-nationalists have as big a stake in human rights as nationalists. Further polarisation must therefore be avoided

The stale stereotype that nationalists are all for civil rights and unionists fight them tooth and nail is challenged in an open letter signed by over 100 “civic unionists, pluralists and other forms of civic leadership” published in the Irish Times.  It’s a riposte to similar letters from “ civic nationalism” appealing to the Dublin government “to defend the legal, human and language rights of Irish citizens in the North, and warning that the British government’s deal with the DUP … Read more

And man created the nation in his own image

When we say we belong to a particular ethnicity or nationality, we are implicitly saying that we share traits in common with the other members of this group. Or are we saying that the other members of this group share traits in common with us? There is a subtle but important distinction. In the popular imagination, the formation of an ethnic or national identity is an objective process whereby the members of the group find commonalities amongst themselves and thereby … Read more

Equality has arrived but the DUP and Sinn Fein have yet to face up to what it means

“Equality” has always been a Sinn Fein buzzword. As the recanted ex- IRA man Shane Paul O’Doherty lethally today quoted Gerry Adams speaking in 2014: “The point is to actually break these bastards – that’s the point. And what’s going to break them is equality … That’s what we need to keep the focus on – that’s the Trojan horse of the entire republican strategy is to reach out to people on the basis of equality.” Other views are  un-cynical … Read more

Care is needed to stop the wheels coming off the Good Friday Agreement

I suppose it was inevitable. On the fringes of Westminster politics the alignment of Leave with a Brexit Union and Remain with support for the GFA is hardening, as shown in reaction to the failure so far to restore Stormont. This is what happens when people dip into the issues and pull out again. Living with them requires steadiness. Former secretary of state, stout Brexiteer and Shropshire lad Owen Paterson tweets that the GFA “has outlived its use.” Kate Hooey, … Read more

London and Dublin must clear their lines for close cooperation on direct rule

Clarity rather than coyness is now needed over moves toward direct rule. Working on its  scope and duration is one more compelling reason for London and Dublin  to stick together.  On Monday at the otherwise disastrous Stormont meeting, Theresa May and Leo Varadkar pledged “to work together on a new plan on how to achieve a frictionless Irish border.” Good luck to them with that. On the continuing local stand-off, two elements are essential. Enough action must be taken to … Read more

“As with the hardest essay questions, there is no right answer but many wrong ones.”

Writing in the Guardian, “former Downing Street Brexit spokesperson”, Matthew O’Toole [no relation – Ed] has some intelligent, and interesting, things to say about “the psychology of imagined identity” here, and the task facing the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, as well as the UK Prime Minister in the next phase of the Brexit negotiations. [Definitely no relation! – Ed] From the Guardian article As Bradley will discover, Brexit has unsettled one of the most intangible but … Read more

“This isn’t an issue about the mayor, the mayor was using his democratic right to use that casting vote…”

So says the Derry and Strabane District Sinn Féin Councillor Eric McGinley, a party colleague of the mayor in question, Sinn Féin Councillor, Maolíosa McHugh.  The Sinn Féin mayor had previously declined to meet Prince Charles when he visited County Londonderry last year to meet victims of flooding.  In his place, representing the office of the mayor, SDLP councillor John Boyle, the deputy mayor of Derry and Strabane, accompanied Prince Charles during the visit. The reason for the Sinn Féin statement defending … Read more

Self-Determination and the Man to Blame/Credit (delete as applicable)

Exactly a century ago, an American politician, whose career seemed to epitomize the old cliche about biting off more than you can chew, had his great moment. Nine months after the declaration of war on the Central Powers, America’s president, Thomas Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress, setting out his preferred formula for an honourable peace settlement for Europe and the wider world as soon as the fighting could stop. In his 8 January 1918 speech, Wilson compared and contrasted his ideals … Read more