Peter Robinson urges the DUP to drop their ban on an Irish Language Act and get real about restoring Stormont

  Elder statesmen a.k.a. retired politicians often grow wiser in retirement after shedding the burdens of office and the cares of  party management. Sometimes their advice is welcome; sometimes it’s a stalking horse for a change of direction by their successors; sometimes it’s an embarrassment to them. We will soon know which it is this time. Conforming to type, Peter Robinson, for over forty years the usually steely self- disciplined deputy leader  then leader of the DUP  has offered some … Read more

“No Minister should be using any private unsecured email accounts for any official business whatsoever…”

Some, presumably, unintentionally revealing details from the former Northern Ireland Finance Minister, Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who appeared in front of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Inquiry yesterday.  This from his written statement [pdf file]  16.  The bundle of documents referred to above appears to indicate that you used the email account mairtin@newbelfast.com to discuss, share, transact, or otherwise communicate Executive business and Executive policy; and that you discussed, shared, transacted, or otherwise communicated Executive business and Executive policy with … Read more

The odds are narrowly on May surviving the week and staggering through to a withdrawal deal before Christmas

By a long way, more of the public demonstrated for a second  referendum yesterday than were threatening the prime minister in lurid language with nemesis on Wednesday. Just now though, it’s the MPs uttering the threats ( at least to journalists), who matter more. One prominent Brexiteer is making a distinctive gesture. In a further headache for May, the former Brexit minister Steve Baker yesterday tabled a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill, which is due in the … Read more

“The ministerial code says all kinds of things about what should happen…”

A couple of quick points to note from the Renewal Heat Inquiry today, where senior civil servant Andrew McCormick has been giving evidence about the lack of minute taking within Northern Ireland Executive departments.  From the BBC report On Thursday, the inquiry was told that a key meeting in August 2015, where a decision was taken to delay cost controls to the RHI scheme, had not been formally minuted. Mr McCormick said that was not unusual, as part of the … Read more

The Agreement can only be amended with cross-community support

20130410 GFA 15

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

Cabinet may be moving towards Canada. Are the DUP about to back No Deal?

Not normally the keenest of DUP watchers, the New Statesman have their eyes on Sammy Wilson, who is the DUP’s Brexit spokesman in the Commons when it isn’t Nigel Dodds. Sammy is at heart a No Deal man. While I believe Chequers has the legs to move closer to Norway (these images become more bizarre by the day), Canada is now said to be favoured by a cabinet cabal – but not by Sammy, who has spoken against it . … Read more

Women Won’t Wait: Campaigners for Women’s Rights and Equality Speak Out about the Impact of Stormont Stalemate

The results of a survey released today by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency reveal the impact of having no government at Stormont on women’s community organisations and campaign groups. 80% of those surveyed said they have continued to lobby decision makers in the 19 months since the collapse of the Executive, but the majority felt that it is now much harder to make progress on the issues that affect their organisations and communities. The 48 respondents to the survey … Read more

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