Peter Robinson was talking about much more than a border poll. The Assembly must become boycott proof

It was Peter Robinson “pulling the pin out of the grenade” and proposing  “generational” border polls that attracted most attention. But he had a good deal more to say at Queen’s that was  more important or at least more urgent.  He kept it lofty, generalised and above all brief, to avoid getting drawn into detail or appearing to lecture his successors. But his meaning is pretty clear . While he had to say he was optimistic about the future, he … Read more

The wheeze lasted less than 24 hours…

Trouble is, if you start a hare running you may have to shoot it.  David Davis had proposed Northern Ireland have a joint regime of UK and EU customs regulations, allowing it to trade freely with both, and a 10-mile wide “special economic zone” on the border with Ireland, thus avoiding checks there. The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) declined to comment directly on the report, but also did not reject it, saying work was underway to “refine” possible customs … Read more

Senior Conservatives are willing to defy the DUP over abortion

Perhaps the abortion issue is emerging as a new category which breaks the  rules of  conventional political wisdom.  As far as Westminster is concerned, It seems the last word has not been spoken by Theresa May. This is a devolved matter. Our focus is restoring a democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent.” It is not only Stella Creasy and mainly Labour colleagues that are … Read more

Do Labour MP Stella Creasy and friends have the knowledge and stamina to progress abortion reform against the odds?

You thought it had gone quiet? Not if Stella Creasy can help it.  Repealing the nineteenth century Act which ultimately banned abortion and is still on the statute book, would be a route to broadening the scope of abortion regulations in Northern Ireland. So claims Ms Creasy the Labour MP who is championing the cause at Westminster. She has set out her stall not only in the Times but the Guardian. The repeal of the 1861 Offences against the Person … Read more

The direct Westminster route to abortion reform is not the one to follow. It’s time for civil society to step up to the plate

Northern Ireland as a place apart over abortion rights has exposed many English MPs to the complexities of devolution for the first time over something they care about deeply, so much so that they seemed at first to dismiss them altogether. There is a precedent of a kind.  On Brexit Westminster is ignoring the SNP government’s refusal to assent to the terms of EU withdrawal on the grounds that this is a reserved matter for Westminster. Although  abortion rights are … 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

MPs urge the UK government to end “untenable” inaction over the absence of Stormont after the Bank holiday. But who believes anything will happen?

The call by the NI  select committee of MPs  to secretary of state Karen Bradley to “redouble” her efforts to restart talks aimed at restoring devolution has a ritual flavour about it. There seems no appetite for action on this front while the two governments are in  stand-off over the UK’s long awaited proposals  for exit and  backstop which are due to be submitted by the EU next month and agreed in October. The MPs also said she must outline … Read more

With all respect to concerned former soldiers, Theresa May is right to see off last minute demands for a selective amnesty

After appearing to side with her Defence Secretary on Wednesday in favouring a selective amnesty for former security forces in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister has thought the better of it as the long delayed consultation on the Legacy Bill was launched. We are in the peculiar position of Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill broadly welcoming the Bill, while the  DUP leader Arlene Foster  contemplates a legal challenge to the High Court ruling that she wasn’t entitled to refuse to submit a … 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

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