“A feature of the devolved administration here has been that the two main parties have been sensitive to criticism…”

The BBC reported a telling admission from the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, during the RHI Inquiry yesterday. Mr Sterling said the practice of taking minutes had “lapsed” after devolution when engagement between civil servants and local ministers became much more regular. But he said it was also an attempt to frustrate Freedom of Information requests. Mr Sterling said ministers liked to have a “safe space where they could think the unthinkable and not necessarily have … Read more

New thinking at Stormont doesn’t matter if it’s not backed up by new governance

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Jonny McCormick has got a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and a Master’s degree in International Peacekeeping. Jonny writes about politics, business & anything else that pops into his head. Get in touch with Jonny on Twitter @jonnymccormick I recently moved back to Northern Ireland after 5 years living in England. I was delighted to be moving back. I’d be closer to family. I could afford to buy a house. I could access a more reliable public transport system and … Read more

“Any political party that vetoes the re-establishment of the Northern Assembly until further human rights are recognised (or not) is putting the cart before the horse.”

As Newton Emerson pointed out in Saturday’s Irish News, Northern Ireland’s first human rights commissioner, and erstwhile “father of an all singing, all dancing Northern Ireland Human Rights Bill“, Professor Brice Dickson, has had something to say about ‘red lines’ and a ‘rights-based’ society.  From the Irish News article Northern Ireland’s first human rights commissioner, Prof Brice Dickson, has penned a robust article in the Irish Times explaining that the Stormont talks issues Sinn Féin is describing as “rights” are … Read more

“Perhaps we can begin with social parity.”

Writing in the Guardian, Richard Angell, LGBT officer of the Labour Irish Society and director of Progress, has an interesting suggestion Owen Smith is right to say that if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot get their act together and restore power-sharing government then direct rule, however undesirable, must be used to make progress on LGBT and reproductive rights. But he is wrong to say that referendums are necessary to give a mandate for change. For one, thing they are not required. Unlike in the … Read more

By the weird laws of the suspended Assembly an ex MLA continued *legally* taking her £55k salary…

It turns out the Principal Deputy Speaker (don’t ask about the title, it was the product of another wee DUP/SF deal) has been quietly taking money for a job she’s no longer in a position to do (she didn’t stand in March). In contrast to her fellow (just ordinary, upper ‘caps’) Deputy Speaker Danny Kennedy, she chose not resign and to continue taking the money. [Nice work, if you can get it? – Ed] Sinn Fein seemingly hung her out … Read more

Petition of Concern status quo suits the DUP

Back in February – when we were in a different world politically – I looked at the possibility of reforming the petition of concern and whether retaining the mechanism was beneficial for nationalists. The unionist majority in the Assembly disappeared faster than many predicted. From 52% of the 108 outgoing MLAs to 44% of those elected in March. An 8% drop in less than a year and perhaps an indication that the electoral register is catching up with longer term demographic … Read more

“Women in Northern Ireland continue to be discriminated against.”

With the Northern Ireland Department of Health refusing to update guidance to health professionals here regarding pregnancy terminations, despite the changes to UK policy announced earlier this year, in the Guardian Goretti Horgan, a lecturer in social policy at Ulster University and a founder member of Alliance for Choice in Northern Ireland, argues for change to address the equality issue that failed to make it into anyone’s ‘red lines’. [Because that would break the bastards? – Ed] Probably…  From the Guardian … Read more

“it is tempting to conclude that SF has no strategy…”

From yesterday’s Irish News, Patrick Murphy, once again, making direct contact with the head of the nail. While the DUP’s future role in Westminster is far from predictable, it is easy to understand. Sinn Féin’s strategy, however, is less clear. Indeed it is tempting to conclude that SF has no strategy, other than to prolong the talks and hope for a lucky break, similar to the one the DUP received in Westminster. Sinn Féin collapsed Stormont because of the RHI … Read more

“six months later nothing seems to have replaced that philosophy beyond aggressively taking on the DUP…”

Ahead of the likely suspension of open party political hostilities briefings to the media for the summer, the News Letter’s Sam McBride has an interesting piece in search of a Sinn Féin strategy.  [There’s a strategy?! – Ed]  Just tactics… From the News Letter Long forgotten are the days when Martin McGuinness warmly recalled how he and Ian Paisley had agreed that they could run their own affairs and didn’t need English ministers in Belfast. Sinn Fein is now warning … Read more

On Brexit, the Irish are caught between two opposing forces, but at least they’re showing more invention and concern about the North than the British and northerners themselves

The ritual opening shots in the Brexit campaign must leave the Republic feeling caught in a trap in a dialogue of the deaf between two opposing forces. So much, so sadly predictable, in spite of all the warm words- although the crudeness of the exchanges is perhaps surprising. It’s pretty clear that the Irish government don’t favour the aggressive opening approach by the Commission and confirmed this morning by its chief negotiator Michel Barnier. On the detail of the FT’s … Read more

Amnesty for soldiers and police officers appears imminent after the election. And the effect on prospects for restoring the Assembly?

The government appear to be on the brink of taking the legacy of the Troubles out of the hands of the Assembly. The only  question remains if they would entertain an agreed counter proposal from the Assembly parties . You can work out for yourself  the prospects of that The Times (£) are reporting that The British government has moved one step closer to shielding British soldiers who served during the Troubles from murder prosecutions despite concerns that it could … Read more

The saving grace of electoral pacts is that they’re short lived. There’s a longer and bigger game to play afterwards

One sign of changed times is leading commentators  such as  Alex Kane Tom Kelly and Newton Emerson ranging across newspapers that not so long ago  would have stuck to simple uncomplicated messages for  well  understood and stable readerships. Times have indeed changed for us all. From my remote position in London however, Alex and Tom are making very heavy weather of the issue of electoral pacts on both sides of the divide.  They’re doing so for the best of reasons, … Read more

Left to themselves, the parties won’t agree. The time has come for the governments to bring forward solutions which involve the people directly

Observed from London, the political atmosphere at home is surreal.  The volume of comment on the talks is in inverse proportion to hard information. Expectations of agreement by Good Friday are so low that  the local media can barely be roused from torpor. Emergency action for feeding the Stormont cats occupied more space in the Belfast Telegraph the other day.  Further emergency action to fund the regional government must be taken within a week followed by the crunch decision to … Read more

Will unionists ever imagine a more generous vision than Orange culture to match Sinn Fein’s on unity?

Showing good timing and a big bunch of confidence, a warm house for Unionists in a united Ireland within the EU has been imagined once again by Matt Carthy of Sinn Fein. Political positioning, based solely on opposition to Irish unity, is unsustainable. Although he can hardly expect an immediate favourable response,  his pitch   is directed  towards  the other participants in the interparty talks. People in Belfast, Derry or Fermanagh need answers to everyday social and economic problems. As the … Read more

The Assembly crisis is costing £300 million a year in Health alone

The Belfast Telegraph has an exclusive on the depth of the health crisis. It shows the real world  gap between the obsessive zero sum game that dominates politics and the practical need for regional government  of some sort. If the RHI scandal broke the Executive, will the long-term health scandal remake it? Northern Ireland’s health service is facing a potential overspend of more than £300m this year – which will worsen already unacceptable hospital waiting lists, a former Northern Ireland … Read more

Gerry Adams dons the mantle of McGuinness and holds out his hand to unionists

  In an interview with Sky News on the eve of the resumed interparty talks, Gerry Adams addresses familiar charges levelled against him by more than unionists. In a move clearly designed to  win greater trust, the Sinn Fein president is  at pains to deny that  he is raising the bar so high as to guarantee that the talks will fail, with the  ulterior motive of abandoning the Assembly and exploiting Brexit to pursue a strategy of Irish unity based … Read more

At last! The British and Irish governments have produced an agreed plan to put to the Assembly parties from Monday 3 April

Not before time, a detailed talks plan agreed between the two governments has been presented to the Assembly parties and will form the basis of talks over a 10 day period beginning tomorrow.  Brian Rowan, former security correspondent and Assembly candidate, has got sight of it and has summarised it in EamonnMallie.com   As I’ve been arguing for weeks this is the essential move if the talks are to stand any chance of success. At worst it shifts part of  any … Read more

The political parties should not deceive themselves that the lessons from demographic change are simple and obvious

“ The morning after the Brexit vote, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party said that “the constitutional question has been reopened, and we now have people who were content in Northern Ireland thinking again about a united Ireland” Has  this development become  the new driver of politics or is it  still in the background? At this moment the answer cannot be known. Yet it has set the climate for the interparty talks which resume on Monday. The words come from … Read more

New powers for Stormont? That’ll get’em going!

James Brokenshire has solemnly warned that if Stormont is to receive new powers as result of Brexit, power sharing must be restored. This blatantly original statement puts him in line for a Nobel Peace Prize or a slot on Pointless. It’s just the sort of threat that will have them rushing to the conference table next Monday. It  puts a small cart before a big horse that is out there somewhere roaming the range. Who cares about powers when what … Read more

Do tell please DUP. What’s this about a “Culture Act”?

It would be good to hear more from the DUP about the “Culture  Act”  Gerry Adams told the Dail yesterday  was “meaningless” He’s not necessarily the best conduit for the proposal.  May we decide for ourselves please DUP?  . Most of his speech was an uncanny repetition of Michelle O’Neill’s latest. From Dail Eireann debates Regrettably, the DUP’s approach throughout the talks was to engage in a minimalist way on all of these key issues. There was no substantive progress on … Read more