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

“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

Brexit and the border is widening the gap between London and Dublin and depressing further the chances of a return to Stormont

It has started to happen. Will it continue?  Can it be reversed? The politics of Brexit  is openly dividing the UK and Irish governments and further polarising the DUP and Sinn Fein,  making a return to the Executive less likely than ever.  Predictably Brexit is increasingly becoming domesticated as the new big theme  in a revived unionist v nationalist struggle. What’s just happened?  The sequence was best described in a cool- headed column in the Indo by Dan O’Brien, chief … Read more

“broken promises are – sometimes – necessary for good government.”

In Saturday’s Irish Times, Fiach Kelly had some timely advice for Sinn Féin and the DUP – and their supporters. Those who seek to govern will always have to compromise, and those who do not – unless their policies are allowed absolute domination – will always decry whatever deals are made. The electorate is free to choose which type of politician it wants, but if it chooses the former, it should do so in the knowledge that compromises will be … Read more

Continued Devolution or Direct Rule? Some Scenarios

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Since 1707, Northern Ireland has had roughly 160 years of devolution/home rule and 151 years of unitary government/direct rule. The long time perspective helps to put the current difficulties over forming an Executive into context. First the history in brief, followed by some scenarios for what might happen next for the governance of Northern Ireland. Since the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement there has been one long period of ‘Direct Rule’, lasting for nearly five years, from 14 October 2002 to … Read more

Will someone spell it out. What role for Dublin under ” direct rule? “

Patrick Murphy’s apt question in the Irish News. “ Why do we think Dublin would  be any better than running the North than London?”  prompts the even more basic question:. What sort of new Dublin “input” is wanted or even necessary? Later this month, “Direct Rule” in whatever guise would  in key respects be inevitably different from the direct rule of 1972 when the two sovereign states had barely begun to cooperate. Today, the British- Irish relationship through governments and … Read more

“in just the same way that nationalists in Northern Ireland can’t permanently settle for their Irish/nationalist identity being simply recognised and accommodated in part of the United Kingdom…”

In yesterday’s News Letter, Alex Kane, in effect, calls ‘bullshit’ on Sinn Féin’s latest pronoucements on a new united Ireland…  and, perhaps, the political psychosis that underlies their thinking.  That’s without addressing the question of the authority to offer any such constitutional guarantees and/or the willingness, or ability, to deliver them.  [It’s ‘Blue Sky’ thinking! – Ed]  Of course it is…  From the News Letter article I was on a Féile an Phobail panel with Michelle O’Neill last Wednesday evening, … Read more

Are we seeing spin to reduce the scale of the RHI scandal?

It seems moves are afoot to massage  down the estimate of the RHI overspend and thus presumably the damage to Arlene Foster and her official and party advisers. The “ new” information reported by Jonny Bell in the Bel Tel dates from January and  is therefore not new but newly exposed, we’re told. (Stand by for a chorus telling us they knew it all along).  The scaling down rests on the presented fact that the costs of  installing “combined heating … Read more

“In the Autumn, Northern Ireland must have a proper Budget in place…”

As the only adult (politician) left in the room, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, has intervened, for a second time, on NI Executive business and reallocated £131 million in funding to local departments [pdf file (216kb)].  From the BBC report Health and education are the major beneficiaries of £131m in additional money for Northern Ireland. The move was announced by Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, as part of a reallocation of funds known as a monitoring round. Health … Read more