The British and Irish governments mustn’t mess about. Time for Direct Rule by whatever name with Dublin support to tackle the cost of living crisis and move on to Assembly reform

We are teetering on a cliff edge of absurdity about calling an Assembly election “ nobody wants. ” From the DUP viewpoint Peter Robinson brilliantly  describes the contradictions in every party’s position except his own. He might have added that it was Chris Heaton Harris and his cronies in the ERG  who more than any other faction  got us into this trouble in the first place by championing a Withdrawal Agreement with the Protocol attached  under frankly false pretences. The …

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The pennies are dropping: the UK government are starting to face reality over their mini Budget and restoring the Executive

By far the most important immediate question  for Northern Ireland is how to prevent the constitutional question dominating politics even more than before, at the expense of delivering government for  the people.  Apart from  threatening an Assembly election that would only increase instability, the British government has largely disqualified itself from influencing events in favour of a standoff over the Protocol, a problem they had exclusively had created.  Beyond formal courtesies the vital essential relationship  with the Republic went into  …

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Do they reelly, reelly want it? A reflection on “Ireland’s Future”

Not only in Dublin at the weekend  but for the whole series of conferences on Ireland’s Future,  the aims are first,  to add momentum to the eventual  creation of a United Ireland by convening a Citizens’ Assembly ; and two, to come up with a generous offer of unity unionists can’t refuse  – in both senses ;   impossible to refuse because so attractive, (the smiley version)  and   (hint of rough stuff)  because the numbers of nationalists North and south would …

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Houses of sand: Unionism has a problem with younger voters. A huge one.

Whither the union. I find myself becoming weary as I write this. Articles about the demise of the union, about unionist malaise and mistakes, are so common these days that they all sound the same. I stopped writing them at one point because I had nothing new to add. Even now, people write these pieces with a weird air of arrogance. They want you to know that they and they alone have figured out that unionism is in a difficult …

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The enduring question about politics from the start of the Troubles: why has the middle class been so ineffective?

  I’m using my privilege as a poster here  to try to sum up a couple of posts by Frank Schnittger and myself which are about struggling to find meaning in the chaotic and long draw out course of the Troubles. I’d better be careful as this could lead to endless exchanges but I’ll draw the line here. Eventually  we all have more urgent topics to cope with like a rudderless government during an  economic  convulsion. I suppose I was …

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An example of leadership to follow

Electricity  bills set to soar to £500  a month in October, in my own area West London the electricity grid has hit capacity  and a ban on building new homes is in prospect  to 2035, rail  strikes with no end in sight, with nurses and teachers to follow and the possibility of a general strike to come…  Health and social care services in England face “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” and the government has no credible strategy to make the situation …

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C’mon guys, the culture wars are over. Let’s make a proper peace.

The phrases “culture wars” and “identity politics ” are comparatively recent imports from America but people are using them as if they’ve been around forever. On the whole they are pejoratives, used by rightwing politicians  to denigrate or  “gaslight “ the slow march to freedom of  women however described, and ethnic and social minorities, by creating “wedge issues” to stir  up alarm and so divide and rule. Ireland as a whole was ahead of the game long ago. The rise …

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A southern truth and reconciliation process meets with inevitable northern scepticism

A brave attempt to break the deadlock between the British government’s proposal for a Troubles  amnesty and the refusal  of all other parties and groups to contemplate it  received  an airing  in a webinar  last Friday hosted by UCD academics. (TRP) is a group of southern independent great and good.. Their webinar was chaired by an Irish High Court Judge Mr Justice Richard Humphries, so presumably  they have influence . They support the implementation of a ‘Truth Recovery and Reconciliation …

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A Troubles history based on British records will not be the whole story but it’s still worth it

Irish Times columnist and distinguished historian Diarmaid Ferriter dismisses the  British government proposal for an “official” British history of the Troubles. Although it could hardly be the last word, this is a project I believe is well worth exploring if it means opening state archives to independent historians. If an amnesty of some sort is passed, greater access to state records would be part of the deal, to accompany the end of prosecutions. While such a deal  would produce furious …

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Johnson and Frost can afford another turn of the screw before retreat. The rachet is in their hands

Using the old mantra of Michel Barnier, the clock is ticking on the Protocol negotiations. Even so, picking up from Mick’s references to Irish Times commentator Ronan McCrea, it isn’t obvious to me why at this point  the EU should “play hardball.”  Granted that he fears the damage done in a lengthy arbitration period under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. ..during the lengthy period during which all of these procedures were being worked through, the EU would be faced …

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This time, it’s the Troubles legacy. Northern Ireland opinion on a key issue, even when substantially in agreement, is being overruled by Johnson’s Conservatives

The devil will be in the detail but as a example of news management in advance, the UK Government’s plans for a Troubles amnesty could hardly be worse for opinion in  Northern Ireland Veterans who served in Northern Ireland are finally set to be freed from the threat of prosecution. In a victory for the Daily Mail, a planned statute of limitations will today be announced covering all incidents during the Troubles. The move by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is …

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In the final report on unification referendums on the island of Ireland, the unionist case goes by default.

   First a critical  assessment of  the Report on Referendums within the island of Ireland by an old colleague with definitive cross border credentials, Andy Pollak,  A brilliantly reasoned but not balanced exploration of future Irish unity referendums….  If a majority opts for unification, then the transfer of sovereignty must occur, whether governing arrangements [for a new united Ireland] can be agreed consensually or not.” This is the report’s central contradiction (as it may be in the 1998 Agreement itself)…  This …

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The latest real world effects of the protocol standoff

There’s a mixed picture of trade in and out of both parts of Ireland, some of them temporary and perverse The good news?   Via Sky News   A lot of freight, up by 4.3% in February, is now sent from British ports to  Northern Ireland  on ferries and then driven down into Ireland. More goods are now moving between Britain and Belfast because freight can now be sent from Britain to Ireland through Northern Ireland without complex customs procedures. Ferry data analysed …

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Boris Johnson has refused Arlene Foster on the protocol. Both governments and the EU should now get off their high horses and fix it.

Time was when prime ministers visited somewhere they used it as the backdrop to make a substantial speech about where they stood on the policy or move things along.  Think back to Tony Blair’s “acts of completion”.  Can you imagine Boris Johnson submitting himself to questions about his post Brexit and pro Union strategies?  Nowadays it’s enough for Johnson to turn up for a box ticking exercise, high viz vested or in a white coat, elbows bumping, for a few …

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Learning to live in harmony with the legacies of Empire. Different experiences in Great Britain and Ireland

In the culture wars over shifting national identities it’s striking how nationalist Ireland is further along the road to reconciliation with its troubled past than a UK has reached in its troubled present. That is a journey that feels as if it has barely begun. Perhaps all that righteous victimhood has become easier to cope than all that tortured guilt.  BLM –  Gladstone and Churchill off their pedestals    The focus is turned on the role of Empire and in …

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Arlene must tell us if she agrees with Peter Robinson’s option of Assembly withdrawal to fight the protocol

Peter Robinson under arrest at Clontibret 1986 Arlene Foster has all but declared the DUP’s lack of confidence in the UK government’s efforts to renegotiate the protocol. From the sidelines her predecessor Peter Robinson is  tempting her to contemplate doing something more dramatic about it than protest. With his acute ear he has picked up the drumbeats not only from the DUP core but from the loyalist undergrowth. Cannily  attempting to insure against taking the blame for another “flegs” debacle, …

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Authentic British and Irish patriotisms are needed. They are entirely compatible

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader    “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, declared Dr Johnson, in a typically ringing remark that for over two centuries has been deployed against states trailing memories of  glory to repel criticism of today’s foreign adventures.  Remember though that when Johnson died in 1784, Britain was in the throes of expulsion from her North American Colonies. Parliament was divided between the Tories lamenting loss and defeat and Whigs who made no bones about …

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UK breakup. The vacuum where the Union case should be stands exposed

 Will the drum roll start for a border poll and  wreck the prospects for even slim collaboration for dealing with the massive and more immediate  challenges of Covid and Brexit –  and just governing ?   Or will it promote a virtuous competition  between the DUP and Sinn Fein over which of them will be the better collaborator in government, with the hope of  wooing the uncommitted to their existential cause? Will the minor parties get squeezed or flourish amid growing …

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Perhaps London will wake up at last- and also let us in on how the Northern Ireland Secretary would exercise his discretion on calling a border poll

From the Times. Not a lot of extra comment is needed.   By these measurements the narrowing margins should concentrate minds. Most concentration is inevitably focused on Scotland where Westminster has the constitutional veto absent in relation to Northern Ireland , where the  Northern Ireland Secretary has the discretion to call a referendum which the Republic is  obliged to follow  concurrently. Here the interim report by academics in London, Belfast and Dublin on  preparing for twin Irish referendums is well worth …

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Real world pressures are complicating neat arguments over unification

I begin with  more inexplicable partitionism from Dublin, as discussed by Newton who has a hawkeye for this subject “Genuine mystery surrounds the Irish Government’s lengthy refusal to share Covid passenger data with Northern Ireland. The Government will not explain it and nobody else can see what the issue might be. There is increasing urgency for a solution as Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland introduce negative Covid test requirements for travellers, with varying sets of self-isolation periods that cannot be …

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