If Edwin Poots tried to crash the Assembly it would open the door to a border poll

Let’s assume Edwin Poots is a shoo-in for the DUP leadership. Comfortable in his minor elder statesman role at Westminster, Jeffrey Donaldson hasn’t the stomach for a contest. He might be willing to accept  it on a plate but that’s not going to happen. With more than a hint of desperation, some of us have been foisting the Nixon goes to China model onto Poots, meaning that the hardliner in politics may be better placed to compromise than the liberal. …

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Brexit breakthrough on the protocol? Try this for size

If you’re  one of those souls who follow every twist and turn of Stormont politics, there’s one thing you shouldn’t overlook; that  sorting out the Brexit rows which are stoking division are largely  beyond local control. Another is what Newton reminded us recently, that  Stormont  boycott is now  a risky strategy. The Executive can stagger on for the best part of a year in the absence of one leading party – guess who? –  but with an election somewhere along …

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Behind the Paddy’s Day rituals, how deep is the Stormont crisis?

With so much guff, bluff and ritual about it, St Patrick’s Day is a poor bellwether for judging the state of affairs in Ireland remotely – and perhaps no better on the spot either. One glance at privileged youff crowding Botanic Gardens in defiance of lockdown, you might have groaned with me: “ Not the Holylands again. “ However BBCNI’s news story was encouraging. St Patrick's Day: Police clear crowds at Belfast's Botanic Gardens https://t.co/Fp6LvjTOC8 — Darran Marshall (@DarranMarshall) March …

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Pause a moment. Could Johnson just pull it off?

The Protocol is a pawn on a bigger game;  to remove any trace of involvement by the European Court of Justice in ruling on applications for state aid for ailing or new industries . While that would remain the rule for Northern Ireland firms, it leeches into GB firms who invest or have branches in the North. And that breaches a cardinal Leave principle, of no involvement by the Court in GB affairs. There is surely another a Leave issue …

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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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Why is the UK sleepwalking into final Brexit chaos and towards breakup?

As the notional deadline of October for final Brexit negotiations draws ever closer, the clouds if anything are growing darker. The UK’s statements on their withdrawal position and the NI protocol have clarified very little. Johnson and co seem like General de Gaulle in 1940, holding out for an impossible position of victory against the odds. But at least de Gaulle had allies. A City University webinar I linked up with yesterday confirmed growing pessimism over Northern Ireland prospects.( video …

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Stormont has just performed better than Westminster. Signs of a new era dawning for the Northern Ireland Assembly

Social distance voting at Westminster. Just as Westminster makes an ass of itself over voting against digital voting,  Stormont enters a more hopeful new era. It’s  complicated, even tortuous, but that’s a positive virtue compared  to the old familiar choice between deadlock and carve up. Correction I earlier reported the voting wrongly for lack of  information. It  was  even more complicated than I supposed. I’m  indebted to Sam McBride of the Newsletter for explaining how the DUP  and Sinn Fein …

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Abortion as an individual human right or by the will of a majority? The NI Assembly wants to “send a signal”

Heidi Crowter, anti-abortion campaigner   Do the new regulations permitting abortion in Northern Ireland extend to foetal abnormalties like Down’s syndrome or not? Behind the question is a constitutional argument over  whether Westminster had the moral right to enact an abortion law over the heads, even when they were in suspension.  But although the DUP and SF seem to be in broad agreement, they seem to be content to win two separate  majorities by designation rather  than go for an overall …

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Will the promise of light touch, low regulation for the border in the Irish Sea at our ports be fulfilled?

Larne Harbour If we have to have a border in the Irish Sea it would be great to keep it cheap and simple. That’s the powerful appeal of the British “Attitude to the Northern Ireland Protocol” available here in full. It contrasts with all the  complex thicket of  process in the EU version supported by a chorus of Europhiles.  After all the UK government should know; they will implement it not the EU. It isn’t at all clear how the …

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The suspension of Northern Ireland’s new abortion regulations under pressure from “pro-life” opinion is fake news of the UK government’s making

The Irish News story on 8 May THE British government last night withdrew controversial abortion regulations for Northern Ireland before they could be put to the vote in Parliament next week. It means that the regulations put forward by secretary of state Brandon Lewis at the end of March will not now apply. It is understood that the strength of the challenges faced by the proposed legislation, in particular at a Lords select committee, led the government to pull the …

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Update on abortion. Stormont and the medical establishment will obey the law

According to  BBC NI, Stormont has today complied with UK law.  Women will not have to travel by ferry to GB  for the procedure after all. Medical professionals in NI can now “terminate pregnancies lawfully”, the Department of Health has said. Last month, abortion laws changed to permit terminations up to 12 weeks, but this had not been put into practice. Some of NI’s health trusts had been told by the department not to proceed with temporary plans. The department has now said …

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From abortion to coronavirus, Westminster rule is still decisive – if they choose to exercise it

The situation is replete with irony.   In the absence of the Assembly a formerly inert Westminster sprung into life to enact three controversial reforms; on same sex marriage, victims’ pensions (pending) and most controversially of all, abortion. Sinn Fein which only acknowledges any legal British authority over Northern Ireland with the greatest reluctance warmly welcomed Westminster’s imposition of the most radical shift possible from the most restrictive to the most sweeping abortion regulations in these islands; while the defenders of …

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The five billion pound man made a long term case. To fulfil it, the Assembly has to show unity, leadership and competence

How was £5 billion arrived at?  Blame or praise goes to the estimable Esmond Birnie,  the PWC economist who was once a UU MLA.   Yesterday I included the media in blame for what I think of as the policy paradox: knowing full well how important  a policy is, but ducking it, or failing to give it enough attention because it’s too boring meaning incomprehensible, definitely non macho, but truth to tell, bloody scary. My point still holds good but needs …

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Not a bad start – but the Assembly needs the people’s help with the big decisions

I err on the side of optimism.  I don’t know about you but I’m constantly frustrated at how the media comment on every cough and squeak of political debate but skate over the actual details of the policies that affect real life. Political chatter is the easy bit; they’ve being doing for decades,  ever since politicians insisted they weren’t responsible for anything like the terrible issues of  life and death  which were always down to somebody else, paramilitaries or the …

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Last chance saloon…

On talkback this week there was a fair but cutting analysis of the many manoeuvrings of the 1990s to bring about the peace settlement and the near universal condemnation of how its inheritors in today’s politics have failed at the mission statement set out at this time. Brian Rowan quotes sources calling it a ‘last chance’ for Stormont to prove that it can actually work. For if an institution fails in its adoption of rules of change it becomes finite. …

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Whatever you do, don’t handle the debate on a border poll like the politics of Brexit

The decision of the two governments to publish “ the basis of an  agreement “ on a return to Stormont  next week as recommended here and by others  is very welcome. Publication will either expose to your judgement and mine the reasonableness or otherwise of whoever is holding out against agreement, or it will constitute the agreement itself.  While an atmosphere of optimism among the parties is being fostered (no pun intended) in the  sketchy reporting, there is nothing objective …

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Looking forward to an early end to the Stormont deadlock. Christmas cheer, or only a Christmas truce?

How will the parties  “reflect”  on their stance towards Assembly restoration during the Christmas lull? Will it be peace on earth, good will to all or only a Christmas truce? The finger of fate is pointed at the DUP.  Will their resentment spill over into resistance? How dare the secretary of state break precedent and single them out for blame just because all the other parties seem to have supported a deal? Even that is the wrong conclusion because as …

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The voters sense that the DUP and Sinn Fein are all at sea. What are they to make of it?

Pity the local voter, trying to discover a clear outcome in this election.  Anoraks may shiver with anticipation at the prospect of change in a couple of local seats but what are they claiming for turnout? Who could blame the people for staying away?  Voting for the Union or Remain or bringing a border poll closer doesn’t come close to guaranteeing any of these outcomes.  The secretary of state has floated the idea of deciding on an Assembly election in …

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The present state of Northern Ireland’s governance can no longer be ignored as October deadline looms, says the Institute for Government

The think tank closest to Whitehall the Institute for Government has published the most comprehensive report on the state of government in Northern Ireland since the breakdown of Stormont. Here is its executive summary. It deserves to be read in full. Here is the launch video. Not before time the IfG reminds the UK government of the perils of ignorance and neglect. Rather  generously, it attributes blame for failures as much to the  persistent and  puzzling ignorance of our affairs …

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Julian Smith’s role – to keep the DUP happy and step up plans for No Deal including direct rule

Boris Johnson being ” clapped in” by staff on  entering No 10  Julian Smith may not be a household name in Northern Ireland but his name resounds in every Conservative MP’s household and generally throughout Westminster. He was Theresa May’s last chief whip tasked with trying and failing three times to pass her withdrawal agreement. Bemoaning the scale of his task, he  told the BBC’s Laura Kunnesberg in April.. that when his party failed to get a majority in the …

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