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

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

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

Transfixed by their obsessions without progress, they ignore the real politics of the future …

Following on from Peter Donaghy’s  really interesting corrective post comparing ROI/NI household income, what about the Budget then?  How did it go down with you over the tray bake or down the pub? Yes, I’ll bet you were riveted. The frustration in veteran economic commentator John Simpson’s measured prose is clear enough.  The British government know they can spin the budget without facing direct challenge.  Punch drunk civil society reacts wearily, having made similar points for years to little avail … Read more

“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

Direct Rule in action: “In the light of the ongoing absence of an Executive…”

Northern Ireland Assembly Legislative Consent Motions, required by the UK Parliament to legislate on devolved matters, may have been devalued by the absence of a protest by the then NI Assembly Speaker in March 2015, but the UK Government could at least pretend that one had been passed at that time.  Yesterday there was no such pretence by Steve Brine (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health).  Welcome to Direct Rule… My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Lord O’Shaughnessy) … Read more

Evaluating the Peace

Seán Brennan, from QUB, evaluates the state of our current peace… As the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement (GFA) approaches, much talk will focus on celebrating or condemning – in other words evaluating – our ‘peace process’. When evaluating Northern Ireland’s experience of peace, it may surprise some to learn that our experiences are not universally viewed as a success. In fact, it would be fair to say the ‘liberal peace’ – which is what we have … Read more

More than the leadership of Arlene Foster it’s about what the DUP under unprecedented pressure, is for

In “Arlene Foster’s authority is ebbing away“, Newton assesses the pressure on  her  in the Irish Times.  His fascinating analysis is  the latest example of local Kremlinology  peering into the suffocatingly tight networks that dominate these little parties.   But new outside elements are at play as never before to supplement rapid change at home , like the unpredictable fallout of Brexit and pressures for social change from London and Dublin. But for these pressures to have full effect, they must … Read more

For the sake of clarity, all sides should stop spreading myths about Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement

Ignorance and special pleading about the Good Friday Agreement and its relationship to Brexit and the border has been a feature of angry comment that has followed the collapse of the Stormont talks. The Daily Express led the pack The Good Friday agreement explicitly stipulates there cannot be a hard border on the island of Ireland, leaving Brexiteers launching impassioned arguments on the deal. It does nothing of the sort. Even Adam Boulton who speaks with the great authority on … Read more

As the 20th anniversary approaches, the contrast is glaring between the commitment and success of the Good Friday Agreement and the neglect and failures of today

Bill and Hillary Clinton may register a no-show at a conference called to commemorate  the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement on 10 April, the Sunday Times reports. Organised by the impressively branded Senator George J Mitchell Institute For Global Peace, Security And Justice at Queens University, the conference line up includes every surviving key figure from the 1998 peace settlement except the incapacitated John Hume.  If Bill and Hillary scratch, Tony Blair may follow suit. And then … Read more

Arlene and Mary Lou are at least explaining themselves. But how much does Stormont matter now?

“tiocfaidh ár lá   Pat Leahy in the Irish Times The extent to which coaxing the DUP back into powersharing is secondary for Sinn Féin was captured perfectly by McDonald’s speech at her ardfheis coronation at the RDS last weekend. If Sinn Féin was primarily concerned with helping Arlene Foster to bring her party back into Stormont then McDonald wouldn’t have rounded off her peroration with that rousing “Tiocfaidh ár lá!”Never mind that it was unscripted; it wasn’t accidental.    Arlene … Read more

Sceptical, not cynical about “the long drawn out attempt to breathe life back into the Stormont arrangement”

Whilst on Saturday Brian highlighted the question of “the prospect of Sinn Fein’s return to Stormont as Mr Adams’ parting gift”, today Ed Moloney posits another, equally plausible scenario… You know, a cynic might suspect that the whole thing, at least the long drawn out attempt to breathe life back into the Stormont arrangement, was staged or timed so that the breakthrough would happen just when Sinn Fein want to present a new, Adams-free image to the electorate down South, one … Read more

Could the DUP handle the return to Stormont as Gerry Adams’ parting gift?

The  papers are at one in running  the story that a Stormont deal may be imminent next week. But  “with more work to be done” the emphasis ranges from glass half full to glass half empty. The Irish News headlines “ speculation quelled as differences remain ” while  Suzanne Breen now bylined as the paper’s  political editor, sticks her neck out  with the quote from “sources” that, “we may not have an agreement within hours but we are potentially on the … Read more

Rising expectations? The minority parties should put them to the test tomorrow

“I’m frustrated too, “ Karen Bradley told MPs. “The negotiations are at a very  sensitive stage.. very detailed and intense.. I’ve committed to not giving a running commentary .. I’m  not going to say anything that would jeopardise the talks.. They will last weeks, not months.. She was echoing the Taoiseach in the Dail yesterday, telling TDs : … he did not want to say anything that might cause offence to anyone at such a crucial juncture in the process … Read more

A mockery of a negotiation so far

So “huge differences remain” if you’re the DUP  but “good progress” was made if you’re a novice British minister  reading off the pre-prepared NIO script. What else don’t we know that the political correspondents can’t be bothered to say? The role of the chair is unknown – co-chairs, facilitators or dynamic leaders with a cunning plan ready to view? “We do not negotiate in public” said Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy last week as if for all the world this was … Read more

Could reform of the petition of concern hold the key to surprise success in the Stormont talks?

Following up on Mick’s post on Colum Eastwood, let’s hear it for his SDLP deputy Nichola Mallon who’s called for the reform of the notorious blocking instrument of the petition of concern.  It had been supposedly been agreed in the abortive Fresh Start agreement of November 2015 that it should be used only “in exceptional circumstances,”  stating – importantly –  “the  grounds upon which it is being tabled and the nature of the detriment”.   After which nothing happened. The investigative … Read more

The extra £1 billion promised to the DUP is still a card to play in the renewed party talks

Because of the DUP’s pact with the Conservatives, Nationalists chose to believe that the DUP have the Conservative government in their pocket and write off the secretary of state as an impartial mediator. But Sam Coates, the Times correspondent with arguably the closest contacts with the Tories,  throws a  different light  to reveal a much more complicated  relationship. Relations between the DUP and the Tories are under increasing strain amid uncertainty over when the £1 billion promised as part of … Read more

Reform proposals ready and waiting must be put to the renewed party talks – and the public

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The Irish News reports that a basket of reform proposals have been withheld from public view because there are no ministers to sign them off. This is height  of exquisite absurdity. Here we have material for the agenda for the renewed party talks to get their teeth into. Once these papers have been presented to the parties to consider for a week or two,  ( if they haven’t  been already),  they should be signalled for early publication by the supervising … Read more

A new round of Stormont talks can succeed only if they focus on the need to govern. And British-Irish passivity must end

The local media are reporting po-faced that another “last chance” round of talks about restoring the Executive is about to begin. The interesting fact is that all five Assembly parties will be invited. Other than that, further comment seems redundant for now. The replies will be pored over for clues about any shifts of position. Nothing has emerged so far about the chairing role, neutral, mediating or steered, and whether the two governments or one of them will present any … Read more

Is the whole McElduff episode, the act, the debate and the resolution, the best we can do?

Alex Kane, the former UU press officer who writes for just about everyone, shared the benefits of his research on both sides with Irish Times readers this morning, before McElduff’s resignation. His point about “blind spots” was simple and deadly.

Read moreIs the whole McElduff episode, the act, the debate and the resolution, the best we can do?

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