What is a shared island?

I am but a mere local political commentator who occasionally gets asked to do TV and radio. Occasionally I regurgitate my annoying opinions in written form. Thanks to my involvement with an upcoming Institute of Irish Studies project, I got the opportunity to ask the Taoiseach about the new Shared Island Unit. There were scenes on Whatsapp when I told my mum what I was doing. “Martin or Wee Higgins?” she texted, getting mixed up. In his speech, Micheál Martin …

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North/South Cooperation now has a budget…

This week the Irish government unveiled their budget with an emphasis on housing and all of the social issues with flow from that most basic social need. What peeked my own interest was a commitment to providing €500 million to cross-border projects. The ‘Shared Island Initiative’ is a much publicised personal project of the Taoiseach Michael Martin. RTE are reporting that the new unit within his department will be overseeing this expenditure. In terms of the overall Irish budget this …

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#TheReset – David Gavaghan on the future of relationships on these islands in a Covid-19 world…

David Gavaghan is the founder of Aurora Prime Real Estate Ltd. He is also a Non- Executive Director of CBI NI. Read a profile here or follow him on Twitter… The after-effects of Covid-19 on these two islands is currently very unclear but one thing is certain, the impact of the past few months has been seismic. There are huge adverse consequences for all parts of Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The ramifications are potentially much more …

Read more…#TheReset – David Gavaghan on the future of relationships on these islands in a Covid-19 world…

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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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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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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#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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In 2020, the fate of the Assembly will be one of the simpler issues

In agonising over terms for  recreating a functioning Stormont, the old chestnuts of an Irish Language Act and the petition of concern could be the easy bits – which is one reason why the DUP and Sinn Fein if they have any sense  at all, should grab at a deal. Truth to tell they are still in their comfort zone. Far more difficult issues are looming just a little way down the track. And it’s doubtful if the Assembly parties …

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Northern Ireland sleepwalking to an off-script unification…

Northern Ireland is sleepwalking into an off-script unification, which commands a majority in the north but not in the south, or one which Dublin has failed to prepare for. A late Aug poll says Brexit creates a 52-39% majority for unification in NI. If no Brexit, 52-35% favours stay. However, only 31% of voters to the south favour unification if this increases taxes. (This compares with 63% if taxes remain the same – 2015 BBC/RTÉ poll.) NI would lose or …

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A warning to Leo from his base on his drift towards Mary Lou and Sinn Fein…

I didn’t get to share this piece from Sarah Carey in The Times, Ireland edition yesterday. It’s a stern warning to Leo Varadkar over his political flirtation with Mary Lou McDonald from a columnist from a committed FG family… The omens indicated something so preposterous and outlandish that I ignored them for too long, but no longer. Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Féin leader, says that she wants to form a coalition government with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Not on …

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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 …

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Trimble rains on the GFA parade with supposed threat from loyalist paramiltaries over Brexit terms

Steve Punter's profile photo of David Trimble

David Trimble has many qualities but spreading sweetness and light is not prominent among them.   He has pricked the bubble of the GFA commemorations with a sinister warning. The one thing that would provoke loyalist paramilitaries is the present Irish government saying silly things about the border and the constitutional issue. If it looks as though the constitutional arrangements of the agreement, based on the principle of consent, are going to be superseded by so-called ‘special EU status’ then that …

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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 …

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Derry’s politicians should stop playing the victim and make more friends and influence people

Steve Bradley’s chastening post on  Derry part 1 is remarkable for its detailed analysis and the volume  of  comment in response -greater I think than for any of the usual subjects I’ve seen in a long time.   Certainly it touches a nerve with me. I left my Derry home to go to school in Coleraine and never lived there again after the fateful year of 1969 when the old order quite suddenly and easily fell apart, an arresting fact its …

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EXCLUSIVE POLL: Unionist supporters content with East West post #Brexit border controls…

The dilemma facing Brexit negotiators on the ‘Irish border’ question is how to retain an invisible, frictionless, ‘soft’ North-South border in Ireland and somehow avoid the seemingly inevitable reality of the emergence of a ‘hard’ border if the UK leaves the single market and the customs union. Squaring this circle is a little tricky. It’s hard to have a border and not have a border all at the same time. Borders are a bit like boiled eggs, either hard or …

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“You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.”

With the extent of the growth of Sinn Fein in the Republic, it’s getting hard to give a convincing account of southern politics without also looking at what’s happening in Northern Ireland. Until or unless there’s a split in the way that the party organises itself in each jurisdiction, it’s hard to account for all the twists and turns (of which there’s been many just this autumn alone) by only watching the party’s activities in the north or the south. …

Read more…“You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.”

Sharper words from Varadakar but no change in substance. But here’s a new idea.

It’s hardly a surprise that the Dublin government’s latest expressions of concern about Brexit are focused  on Ireland.  But why should the Irish expect  greater clarity and urgency from London on the border when London has been so  vague about everything else?  By itself, lack of clarity needn’t  be taken as a  sign of indifference. Leo Varadkar’s comments may be a mite sharper than Enda Kenny’s, but in substance there is not an iota of difference between them. Mr Varadkar, …

Read more…Sharper words from Varadakar but no change in substance. But here’s a new idea.

Should the other Dublin parties denounce Sinn Fein if they’re gaming the Stormont talks?

The Irish Times political editor Stephens Collins enjoys an unusual dual role of senior political reporter and opinionated commentator. It’s not always clear if he’s getting a bead on emerging trends of opinion in politics or simply speaking for himself.  Perhaps what Stephen thinks today,  many of the guys in Leinster House think tomorrow?  Today, he asks the blunt questions about Sinn Fein’s real intentions towards the Assembly. While most of us were struggling with conflicting feelings, he writes off …

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NI’s post Brexit (and unpolicible) border will be dictated by the (un)generosity of #Brexit’s precise terms.

Last night, I rewatched Michael Smiley’s Something to Ride Home For, a light-hearted, three-part TV series featuring interviews and bike rides across Ulster (including Monaghan and Donegal) which was originally broadcast in the summer of 2015. There’s a section in his interview with author Dervla Murphy at Crossmaglen on the shores of what I took to be Lough Ross, which straddles the border, where he reads from her 1979 classic A Place Apart where she discovers she’s crossed the border seven …

Read more…NI’s post Brexit (and unpolicible) border will be dictated by the (un)generosity of #Brexit’s precise terms.

The gap between politics and the law is further exposed. But ruling on the clash between the Scots and Irish nationalists with the UK government will be the more momentous decision for the Supreme Court.

Brian WalkerFormer 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