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

More delay over a return to the Assembly needs challenging by the two governments

So  the target date for either direct rule  or an agreement to revive the Executive has slipped  for  another week at least. What a surprise!   We were told by the two governments yet again that ” progress” had been made, but this has been slapped down by the DUP. Sinn Fein’s agenda as far as I know it is not inherently unfeasible. The problem is that it’s Sinn Fein who’s running with it.  Crafty old Gerry for false-footing the DUP?  Or … Read more

A new approach to deadlock in Northern Ireland

  A unique coincidence of events Standing back, it’s easy enough to see why the latest Assembly crisis is the longest and most intractable for over a decade. Unusually in recent times and in sharp contrast to the heady days of the Good Friday Agreement, this breakdown is set against background of momentous upheaval which typically, the local politicians rushed to exploit for their own causes.  For the DUP, Brexit revives the prospect of a physical border which in whatever … Read more

The Westminster deal has a confidence building effect which should allow the DUP and SF to confront their differences honestly – and soon, in the Assembly

The DUP deal at Westminster is reasonably secure. The prospects for a Stormont deal seem up in the air and due for postponement until the autumn. The best hope for today is that Sinn Fein may feel they’ve got just enough to continue the negotiations back in the Assembly pending the creation of an Executive in the autumn. This looks like requiring a period of temporary direct rule. .On Nolan I’ve just heard Malachi O’Doherty opining that Sinn Fein might … Read more

Do we want Westminster to impose uniform UK standards? On abortion and same sex marriage? How about an indemnity for soldiers?

 Social reform – on abortion and same sex marriage – is not only a bone of contention in the Stormont talks. It’s creating a clash with MPs across party at Westminster at a precarious time for the future of both legislatures. The Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal against the decision of the Health Secretary for England Jeremy Hunt not to allow Northern Ireland women to have free abortions on the NHS in England may now become entangled in Westminster’s … Read more

The shape of a Stormont deal is emerging. Will promised public consultation seal the deal or become yet another stalling move?

So the parties are to respond to a paper issued by the two governments today. After four months of apparent lack of close engagement by the British government in particular , talks  took on a clearer shape and urgency since the Westminster general election. The paper has been seen by Barney Rowan and summarised in Eamonn Mallie’s website . The content of the the legacy section has been around for months with agreement said to be on the brink for … Read more

An SDLP future. Form a Shared Future group and put the boot into those Assembly designations

It’s  very easy for an outside observer to talk but at least I knew  the founding generation of  the SDLP pretty well  up to the mid 1980s, if a lot less well since then.  A long time ago I know.  Regardless of political opinion they were way and afar the most able bunch of politicians around, pleasant and by and large pretty well adjusted, despite the pressures they were under. Yes and good for an agreeable  jar.   To a … Read more

Brokenshire’s line on a border poll won’t do. Straight after next week’s election, it will be incumbent to spell out terms and conditions for holding a unity referendum. And Dublin cannot be left out

In their manifesto,  the SDLP have now joined Sinn Fein in calling for a unity referendum, albeit on slightly different terms. Both are linking it to Brexit. If the combined nationalist share of the vote next week reaches 40+% which is highly manageable, can a unity referendum or border poll, reasonably be denied?  If not, what is reasonable?  By one reckoning a 50% threshold would seem unreasonably high for our divided community. By another, a referendum should wait until nationalists have … Read more

The struggle over abortion reform will continue in the courts and outside the Assembly

The UK national papers have shown more interest in the case of a mother who  obtained abortion pills for her 15 year old daughter than the latest twists and turn of the RHI affair. No doubt this is because even abortion issues are more readily  understandable than RHI and they have points of comparison  to make with the permissive English regime which in their views show up Northern Ireland  once again as a reactionary backwater.  Full reports appeared in the Independent … Read more

An election would be an abuse of democracy. Knuckle down after the holiday and learn how to do modern politics.

Even with a fairer wind than we experienced since 1998 , it was always going to be difficult to reconcile  natural contention in politics with good cross community government. If all-party government worked well, the Assembly would have very little to do. If government failed, it would only amplify the differences. The select committees were supposed to supply critical scrutiny but  lacked skills and were too often the creatures of the dominant party.  In an Executive governing largely by rival … Read more

Cheer up for Christmas! Yesterday’s drama showed power sharing is working and is becoming more accountable.

Yesterday, the Assembly system did not make a bad situation worse.  Many will disagree but  I believe all emerged from it quite creditably.  While no doubt nervous of being outflanked on the nationalist side by the opposition SDLP,    Sinn Fein finally opted for Executive survival  despite the  trivial charge of kowtowing to the DUP. The choice was a no brainer, although at first cunningly  concealed behind  a critical amendment too long and off- topic to be accepted for debate … Read more

Draft of what Arlene might have said ( admittedly a bit late in the day)

“Mr Speaker, Now that I have gone through the narrative of the RHI scheme, I want to come to the heart of the matter of a motion  of no confidence.  I absolutely refute the charge that I lied about cancelling it or any other aspect of it . My party supports me. But now other parties are challenging my veracity including, in terms, our Sinn Fein partners in government. We agree that a judicial inquiry is needed to clear the … Read more

Scotland and Northern Ireland’s legal consent for Brexit is not required – Theresa May

“There is no opt-out from Brexit. And I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious Union between the four nations of our United Kingdom.” Theresa May has Scotland in mind here of course but  the uncompromising “no opt out” applies equally to Northern Ireland. The  “consultation” that is promised is therefore  to be  by grace and favour of the UK government.  But  there is still no  word on what form that consultation may take. We know now that … Read more

A cautious approach to the McKay affair is right. But for the sake of Executive cohesion, O Muilleoir needs to say more or stand aside.

So rather than buckle down to the altogether tougher demands of trying the govern the place, the politicians are having themselves a jolly crisis. Far more fun isn’t it? And the more bizarre the better. But might there just be a chance that the Executive will in the end decide not to waste a good crisis, deal with it transparently and emerge stronger as a result?  If guilt proves to be  limited as is claimed, why should we all suffer? … Read more

DUP/SF solidarity facing a formal opposition marks a new Assembly era

Yesterday’s Assembly debate on the programme for government framework showed that a new era of some sort has begun. The new government v opposition format of debate worked well, better than it might have. Even more remarkably MLAs stuck closely to the fairly dry topic under discussion.. Nobody made allegations of DUP triumphalism or complained about Sinn Fein passivity towards it. Most notable of all was DUP-Sinn Fein solidarity against Ulster Unionist/SDLP opposition . To describe her “collective approach,” Arlene … Read more

Insist on Executive solidarity. It’s the new antidote to nationalist fears and DUP over confidence

I’ve exploited  my posting rights to reply to the thread started by Chris Donnelly  which includes comments by Mick and Pete Baker. . Pete wrote: “We are long past the point of the need, or desire, for a collective approach to the programme for government.” There’s every “need” for a collective approach, Pete; it’s the only way to manage a dependent welfare state and mixed economy. “Desire?”  Right after the election the DUP FM and the SF dFM repeated their … Read more

Self effacement from Martin McGuinness is a sign of maturing power sharing, not nationalist sell-out

Was it only yesterday that conventional wisdom had it that a confident Sinn Fein were carrying all before them and that the DUP were left lumbering behind, cross and near to open rowing? The result ending in  deadlock and near-breakdown? Two subtly written articles in the Irish News this week speaking with the voice of moderate nationalism have sounded notes of alarm that the boot may now be on the other foot and it’s feeling uncomfortable. The unsubtle version of … Read more

A new shape to power sharing for Northern Ireland’s government but no clear role for opposition

First, let’s salute the continuing generational change. Apart from the lone venerable figure of dFM himself, the old warriors have all but departed and the main members of the DUP awkward squad are safely ensconsed in Westminster. In the first flush of change, it’s being said that our politics are becoming more normal. What sort of new normality will it be? What differences will emerge from the end inclusive power sharing and its replacement by a two party coalition with … Read more

Boring to say so perhaps, but a stable DUP- Sinn Fein partnership matters more than hopes for the opposition or changes in voter behaviour

While we wait on developments, our thoughts might profitably turn to a  the immediate future in which the key signifier is nearly 50:50 but the electorate is becoming somewhat more diverse than that and looking for “delivery.” What sort of cross community politics may be emerging? Which will be the more important: a better DUP/SF relationship in government than before; or the challenge from a developing opposition?  It’s pretty obvious  that the clear initiative lies with the duopoly with its … Read more

Alliance grip tightens? Or hold hands with Sugden?

Waiting for the FA Cup Final the Newsletter has made a simple inquiry to the renamed OFMDFM. Presumably they passed the information onto the office holders who will respond accordingly. My job share suggestion won’t fly apparently. Brendan Heading is not the only one interested…But how about SF  and DUP one after the other, like Israel’s Shimon Peres and Yitzak Shamir? ( a grandiose parallel I admit.).  In the 1984 elections, the Alignment won more seats than any other party but failed … Read more