“I think we must also recognise that there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border…”

Played up is right.  Labour Party front bencher, the shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, a former NIO minister, has apologised for “informal remarks in a meeting last month“, in particular, that his “use of the word ‘shibboleth’ in its sense of ‘password’ or ‘test of membership’ gave the impression that I thought the Good Friday Agreement was in any way outdated or unimportant. I absolutely do not.”  Which is fine.  But his recorded comments, last month, during a Q&A session after a speech … Read more

The Agreement. Ten Frames. Twenty Years.

There’s going to be a lot of familiar and famous talking heads, looking back pensively, giving the ‘I was there’ definitive version of ‘what really happened’ at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago. We will note the wrinkles and the grey hair and we will see how they have changed, if only in their appearance. The usual role-call will be called. But what about artistic responses? What might an artist create that could ever contain the … Read more

“A feature of the devolved administration here has been that the two main parties have been sensitive to criticism…”

The BBC reported a telling admission from the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, during the RHI Inquiry yesterday. Mr Sterling said the practice of taking minutes had “lapsed” after devolution when engagement between civil servants and local ministers became much more regular. But he said it was also an attempt to frustrate Freedom of Information requests. Mr Sterling said ministers liked to have a “safe space where they could think the unthinkable and not necessarily have … 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

Don’t you know who I am?

As the BBC reports Sinn Féin has confirmed that one of their MLA’s has removed a clamp from the front wheel of his car, using what appears to be bolt cutters, in Belfast. In a statement, a spokesperson for the party confirmed that Gerry Kelly removed the clamp at about 07:20 GMT on Friday outside a gym. A recording of the incident has been posted on social media. The Belfast Telegraph report notes The footage was captured in the Exchange … Read more

“As with the hardest essay questions, there is no right answer but many wrong ones.”

Writing in the Guardian, “former Downing Street Brexit spokesperson”, Matthew O’Toole [no relation – Ed] has some intelligent, and interesting, things to say about “the psychology of imagined identity” here, and the task facing the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, as well as the UK Prime Minister in the next phase of the Brexit negotiations. [Definitely no relation! – Ed] From the Guardian article As Bradley will discover, Brexit has unsettled one of the most intangible but … Read more

“This isn’t an issue about the mayor, the mayor was using his democratic right to use that casting vote…”

So says the Derry and Strabane District Sinn Féin Councillor Eric McGinley, a party colleague of the mayor in question, Sinn Féin Councillor, Maolíosa McHugh.  The Sinn Féin mayor had previously declined to meet Prince Charles when he visited County Londonderry last year to meet victims of flooding.  In his place, representing the office of the mayor, SDLP councillor John Boyle, the deputy mayor of Derry and Strabane, accompanied Prince Charles during the visit. The reason for the Sinn Féin statement defending … Read more

“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

“The truth remains that Adams will only reveal his past if it suits his own agenda.”

We might never know the truth about the suggestion that Gerry Adams was responsible, directly or indirectly, for setting up the Provisional IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade for ambush as they tried to blow up a police station in Loughgall in May 1987.  Sinn Féin have dismissed the claims as “utter nonsense”, and some of the usual suspects have busied themselves playing the man – and/or the media. Meanwhile, Ed Moloney provides some useful background, and reproduces the chapter in his book ‘A Secret … 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

“The fact that all of the other parties in the Dáil rallied around to wave the green flag on Tuesday demonstrates not that the Government got it right but that it successfully pandered to populist sentiment”

In the Irish Times, Stephen Collins on the risks involved in the Irish Government’s public positioning over the ongoing Brexit negotiations.  From the Irish Times article The British government and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are the ones primarily responsible for Monday’s debacle, but the Irish Government didn’t exactly cover itself in glory. The way Tánaiste Simon Coveney jumped the gun with a premature radio interview on Monday morning and the subsequent mood music suggesting that the Irish side had … Read more

“ambiguity… appears to have led Dublin and Brussels to interpret it as a maximalist position, while the DUP believed or were led to believe that it would or could be minimalist.”

The parlous state of the Brexit negotiations has been generating more than the usual level of idle speculation, and arrant nonsense. [Including on Slugger? – Ed] No names, no pack drill… But there are some intelligent points being made, in some places, which are worth keeping in mind – if you are actually thinking about these things. Like other, usually reliable, observers, The News Letter’s Sam McBride, whilst initially a little puzzled by Monday’s developments, offered a coherent scenario yesterday. … Read more

Diarmaid Ferriter on Gerry Adams: “Many political careers end in failure; some just end in irony.”

It’s worth quoting at length from historian Diarmaid Ferriter in Saturday’s Irish Times on the ironic legacy Gerry Adams leaves for Sinn Féin. Fianna Fáil continued to invoke its republican “heritage” while determinedly staying the revisionist course; the same conclusions are likely to be reached about Sinn Féin under Adams. One of the reasons for the self-righteous defensiveness beloved of Adams was precisely to mask the revisionism, or what has been referred to as the “creative ambiguity” of peace process … Read more

Real work to restore the Executive has yet to begin. For the public to make an impact, proposals and pressure from the governments are essential

As a comparative outsider I’m struck by how most commentators are obsessed with speculating about political positioning and identity narratives. This has produced numbing negativism and  despair  rather than the energy needed to approach the daunting but practical problem of trying to restore the Executive.  Being case hardened and calloused, they endlessly refine their own explanations for obvious failure. They accept the parameters set by the DUP and SF too readily. To be fair, this is often the default caused by a … 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

Belfast man sentenced in Germany for 1996 Provisional IRA attack on army barracks

A timely lesson from the German authorities on dealing with Northern Ireland legacy issues…  Having successfully extradited 48-year-old James Anthony Oliver Corry from the Republic of Ireland in December last year, the Belfast man has now been convicted and sentenced for his role in the Provisional IRA mortar attack on a British army barracks near Osnabrück, Germany, in June 1996. From the Irish Times report A Northern Ireland man has been convicted in Germany of attempted murder for participating in an IRA attack on a British army barracks in the … Read more

Catalonia – “Propaganda thrives in a crisis.”

Guardian columnist Natalie Nougayrède is hoping for a Pedro Almodóvar inspired ending to the wild, dark comedy that characterises the current impasse between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.  From the Guardian article However, the 1 October referendum was hardly a model of sound, democratic expression. Only a minority of Catalans took part (turnout was 43%), and its organisation ran counter to Catalonia’s own legislation. The two laws that led to it were voted through without the two-thirds majority the Catalan charter (the Estatut) requires for … Read more

“One of the things the independence movement hates most is that left-leaning people are against them…”

With the separatist Catalan government claiming that 90%, of 43% of the electorate, voted for independence, and ahead of a week of further uncertainty for all of Spain, the BBC’s Patrick Jackson gives a voice to some young Catalan Spaniards – some of whose views may, or may not, sound familiar…  ANYhoo… Here’s a lengthy excerpt from the BBC report. “We feel Catalan and Spanish and I’m not going to allow independence supporters to take my culture away,” says David. … Read more