The Northern Ireland Protocol: The High Court has its say

Who knew constitutional law could be so dramatic? The High Court has dismissed a legal challenge to the Northern Ireland Protocol by several unionist politicians. The political ramifications are likely to carry us through July, a traditionally calm month in Northern Ireland. As always when there’s a high-profile judgment, people will take what they can and use it for political capital. You wouldn’t think the unionist claimants had lost. Others seem to think the matter is settled and we should …

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UK Secretary of State Brandon Lewis champions liberal reform to save the Union and throws down the gauntlet to the DUP

This just could be significant.   In the Sunday Times, the emergence of a pro Union liberal reform strategy acceptable across the community from the British government. It appears  to remove the last vestige  of the UK government dancing to the DUP’s tune. At  the most sensitive moment imaginable, just before  Edwin Poots nominates a still unknown First Minister, Brandon Lewis  presents a frontal challenge to the DUP.  This has been simmering for some time but I never thought it would …

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United pressure on Sinn Féin may be needed to break the legacy payments deadlock. Their own will benefit

dFM Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin Has Martina Anderson’s outburst distracted attention away from the substantive issue of the legacy payments deadlock, or given a boost to resolving it, following the court case requiring Michelle O’Neill in effect to remove her veto or exercise her option to resign? The scheme covers violence related to the Northern Ireland Troubles between 1966 and 2010, including incidents in Great Britain and Europe.. . People will get between £2,000 and £10,000 a year for the …

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Northern Ireland Centenary: This country

This is about the centenary of Northern Ireland. But first, a slight detour. In Lucy Caldwell’s, ‘Multitudes,’ one of her characters describes the heartache of watching her teenage school friend move from Northern Ireland to England. “They’ve had enough is what Susan’s mum says. She just can’t take it anymore. ‘This country,’ she says to my mum. ‘This country,’ my mum says back to her, and neither of them says anything else.” The scene has always stuck with me because …

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Alliance: Now (or never) is the time to move beyond sound bite success to real world delivery…

In earlier articles I’ve written that as someone still fundamentally pro-union. To recap, I’ve felt electorally disenfranchised for quite a long time by two unionist parties that have refused to reflect my general social outlook. Apart from a vote for David Ervine in East Belfast in 1997, I voted UUP. They lost me post-Trimble. So, I’m politically homeless. Like many on either side of the community. The Alliance Party should fill that void. But it doesn’t. Not because it is …

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“This decision is directly, but not solely, related to the issues which arose around the Bobby Storey cremation.”

As BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport said a few days ago, there is “No prospect of Stormont falling.”  That doesn’t mean there might not be casualties elsewhere… Having apologised in public for “operational decisions” around the Bobby Storey cremation at Roselawn Cemetery, the Belfast Telegraph reports that Belfast City Council Chief Executive, Suzanne Wylie, and director of city and neighbourhood services, Nigel Grimshaw, have lodged a formal grievance with the city solicitor, and have threatened to resign “if [their] …

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Why the wall of silence over north-south Covid cooperation?

Whatever the reliability of the figures, it seems possible  that the Republic has been managing  Covid 19 better – or has been luckier- than Northern Ireland. Whether this can be accounted for by the incubus of UK delay and the complexity of a bigger country with an older average population will emerge from the inevitable spate of inquiries. But north -south coordination and  cooperation over phasing out lockdown would seem to be essential. And yet so little has emerged about …

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Good time to bring merit in government back into electoral politics?

As we watch how our various ministers deal with the first genuine crisis of their careers, it seems like a good time to see if the management and emergence from Covid-19 gives us any ideas on how we can improve our overall governance in Northern Ireland. Paul Gosling uploaded an interesting article earlier this week in which he raised certain ways in which our system of devolved government could be reformed in the general interest. Paul’s focus was largely on …

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SDLP suggestion for saving the press welcome, but publishers must dig deep too

Earlier this month I uploaded two articles here asking how our local press might emerge from lockdown and sharing my concerns about the ability of some of them to do so. Since then the future of regional and local newspapers all over the UK has become a pretty hot topic, with staff being furloughed at most papers and others even indefinitely suspending publication. Local journalists – including quite a few very good ones of my acquaintance – have been tweeting …

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Is the coronavirus emergency an excuse not to implement the new abortion regulations?

Are Northern Ireland civil servants and health trusts stalling on implementing abortion regulations passed by Westminster during Stormont’s suspension because of DUP pressure? Perhaps not, they have a lot else on their plate; but it doesn’t look good.  How will GP surgeries react? Will there be a significant number of conscientious objectors to abortion referrals and  prescribing morning after pills? The Executive – wouldn’t you know it – is split. Arlene Foster has made no secret of her opposition but …

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Better news after Swann’s savaging. But we need more local reporting in depth. Urgently

We’ve now  received more positive news about the running story in the last 24 hours, like Randox is now supplying NI directly. The running story is course  essential. but  needs to be set in context  Why aren’t the regular media producing the sort of comparative analysis  just supplied by Ian James Parsley?. The political argy bargy distorts the  real story that matters. It’s amazing the Executive can’t get this act together to  produce this sort of report as  a matter …

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By all means, hold the UK government’s feet to the fire. But collaboration with the Republic is no magic bullet.

We can hardly be surprised when the fault lines opened during this emergency.  As a society still in recovery from a different sort of crisis, let’s admit we all – all –  need help to avoid reverting to the old sectarian ding dong. Social media is a virus in itself and social distancing is its incubator. The first thing to hold onto is that we really are all in this together. The second is that things can only get worse …

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How are we really doing compared to the south and GB? The public health and economic positions of coronavirus for Northern Ireland need more searching inquiry

North -south differences of approach to Covid 19 are hampering the chances of saving lives, according to an epidemiologist Prof Gabriel Scally.  He brings apparent authority to differences which have been aired politically but not as far as I’ve seen among other  experts. These differences should surely be resolved at a north-south ministerial meeting today. Scally writes in the Irish News.. The advice to someone in Lifford with symptoms of the disease is to self-isolate for a minimum of 14 …

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Varadkar is having a good crisis. This it seems, is not the time to object.

The Republic are doing things a little differently: joining an EU  initiative to procure much needed ventilators, sending an Aer Lingus plane to China for hospital workers’ PPE; the Gardai Commissioner calling for people in the streets to produce IDs, off licences to stay open  in contrast with  GB. The North at first followed the GB rules but has now fallen into line with the south. The consequences if the northern ban remained in force if a hard Prohibition border …

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Major battle likely over the UK government’s latest Legacy plans.

For those of us who don’t provide an essential service there will be time and energy  to spare for the matters I’ve  already  drawn attention to, such as  the government’s  latest Legacy proposals  produced last week. They abruptly overturned  everything that has gone before, reached after  years of tortuous  gestation and months of consultation,  concluding in July last year. They were contained in a brief statement above the name of the new Secretary of State Brandon Lewis: Reconciliation and information …

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What’s in the Coronavirus Bill?

This week the government intends to push its Coronavirus Bill through Parliament. In its “summary of impacts” document, the government states that the bill is “temporary, emergency legislation” which intends to “provide powers needed to respond to the current coronavirus epidemic.” MPs will be expected to grapple with the 300-page bill over the course of a few days. It will, for as long as it is in operation, fundamentally change our way of life. The legislation represents the biggest diminution …

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Hold it a minute. Who’s actually in charge here?

Who actually is in charge of Covid 19 measures in Northern Ireland? Just asking. The mainstream media don’t seem that interested. Health is devolved but national emergencies are reserved to Westminster.  Arlene Foster looks ahead to closing schools for 16 weeks (Why hit on 16? Why not 20 or 25? Are contingency plans for education ready to roll out? )  Michelle O’Neill with her reflexive approach to crisis thinks they should follow Dublin’s example and be closed already. Does this …

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How will they square the circle of unfettered access to Northern Ireland ports? Check it out on – Thursday now

David Frost ( no, not that one, now deceased) According to the Sunday Times we will know the approach the UK will adopt for the next stage of EU withdrawal in a couple of days, now that the country has left the organisation and we are in the transition phase of less than a year.  The UK government are taking up a position of maximum distance from the EU procedures and laws quite different from the  erratic harder no softer …

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#BrexitDay-Nothing but damage

In Jan Carson’s The Fire Starters, there is a quote: “There is never enough silence to contain all our talking…….we continue to believe that across the sea, Europe (and also the world) is holding its breath for the next chapter in our sad story. The world is not waiting.” More than anywhere else in the UK, Brexit shifted the ground beneath Northern Ireland. It threw us down on different sides, sides that were also the battle lines that came before. …

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Special Advisers face new rules when they take up their posts, but recruitment process remains in hands of Ministers

This afternoon finance minister Conor Murphy published a new Code of Conduct for Special Advisers and a code governing their appointment, and details of the paybands (which now have a lower ceiling). The Code of Conduct goes further than other UK jurisdictions, requiring the use of official email systems, outlawing leaking of confidential information, quarterly publication of gifts, hospitality and meetings with external organisations and individuals.