My first trip to the Museum of Orange Heritage

Yesterday I ventured over to the Museum of Orange Heritage for the first time with Christopher Stalford. I have gone past this building many times without ever really desiring to go inside. Last week, Christopher very kindly expressed an offer to me to experience some parts of the culture of the Orange Order and we were able to get some time yesterday afternoon to visit the museum. Growing up, the Orange Order was something I was afraid of. I still … Read more

The old battle lines and loyalties in Northern Ireland will not last forever. Unionists should be wary.

During yesterday’s drama in the Commons Theresa May accepted four amendments proposed by Jacob Rees Mogg’s European Research Group. A few of those amendments arguably put the ‘backstop’ agreed by the UK and the EU in the Joint Report in doubt. One of the amendments states that, “It shall be unlawful for the HMG to enter into arrangements under which Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain.” This seems to conflict with the EU’s interpretation … Read more

What should I tell my kids about the 12th July?

My kids always ask me what the flags are about. They find the black ones scary. But this year they were very impressed by the bunting and fresh Union Jacks in our area. ‘It’s making me feel very British’, said my five year old. ‘Me too, it makes me proud to be British’, added the seven year old. ‘That’s interesting,’ I said, thinking about their Irish passports in the drawer. And the fact that they tried to turn bath water … Read more

How has opinion in Northern Ireland on the border question changed since the Brexit referendum?

It is perhaps ironic that, given politics in Northern Ireland has revolved around the border question since its inception, there is a significant amount of uncertainty regarding whether the people of Northern Ireland want to stay in the United Kingdom or become part of a united Ireland. There have been a number of opinion polls and surveys on the question since the Brexit referendum in June 2016, which have yielded significantly varying results on the question of support for Irish … Read more

Is an initiative imminent to restore Stormont? Are DUP and Sinn Fein ready?

Jeremy Corbyn will have disappointed any unionist hoping for a distraction from the  continuing political vacuum.  Deftly skirting the traps set for him by the DUP to meet (presumably mainly unionist) victims of the Troubles and uniquely denounce the IRA, he slipped in and out of Northern Ireland unscathed.  Instead he played a straight bat, Declining to become a persuader for unity, he would  back a border poll only  “within  the terms of the Agreement”  and he deserved unionist gratitude however grudging, by rejecting  special status for Northern Ireland within the EU.    He might have uttered hints of retribution against the DUP for keeping the Conservatives in power, but if he was tempted, he forbore. The verdict of the New Statesman bears repetition.

The longer the government’s inaction continues, the less crazy the idea of welcoming a Labour government seems. The party’s 2017 manifesto, one senior figure in the Northern Irish business community told me, was “not that mad” but “almost Blairesque” on the issues that mattered. Its propositions of extra investment infrastructure and training were attractive. There is also the fact that Labour’s vision for Brexit – if it can be described as such – offers more answers for business than Theresa May’s. Contrast this if not explicitly friendly than unquestionably receptive attitude to Corbyn with the frosty reception Karen Bradley received from businesses enraged by the NIO’s sluggish, laissez-faire approach to restoring devolution then it is clear that Labour are faced with an open goal.

The less Corbyn is seen to stir memories of Northern Ireland’s troubled past and the more he is seen to offer practical solutions to the anxieties of the future on Brexit and devolution, the more credible his Labour will become as a UK-wide government in waiting. There remains the question, however, of how credible Corbyn himself can ever be. He did not offer the unequivocal and specific condemnation of IRA violence many have asked for. On Wednesday, his spokesman said he still believed in a united Ireland as a point of principle. Labour cannot normalise its relationship with unionism under Corbyn if these running sores are not cauterised. There appears to be no plan to do so.

Perhaps- but somehow healing the running sores no longer seems so

Read moreIs an initiative imminent to restore Stormont? Are DUP and Sinn Fein ready?

Former 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

Meanwhile in Scotland, courtesy of Brexit, the long march to Indyref2 is about to begin

Tomorrow Nicola Sturgeon will unveil the SNPs economic case for  another independence campaign.  As it will focus attention on Scotland’s sluggish economic performance under an SNP government on the defensive, it’s a high risk strategy. Support for Indyref2  would first exploit resentment that the UK government has given no weight to the  big Remain majority in Scotland and will ignore  the Scottish Parliament’s  refusal to give consent to a Withdrawal Bill   that would fail to devolve powers over agriculture and fishing  … Read more

Unionism’s “inclusiveness” must have passed me by

Born in November 1998, I am technically a “post-Troubles” baby, a child of the “new Northern Ireland”. I have never known the routine bomb scares and checkpoints that my parents knew; unlike their generation, I am unaccustomed to seeing a soldier in uniform. I became aware of politics around the beginning of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’ time as first ministers; those halcyon days. Still somewhat on a high from the Chuckle Brothers era of Paisley/McGuinness, there was an air … Read more

A border poll will not just be about the choice between the union and a united Ireland. Any border poll will be a referendum on Northern Ireland itself

Northern Irish politics has been all about polls for the past week. According to the Times, Theresa May isn’t too confident that unionists would win a border poll. The Prime Minister is that cack-handed people worried she’d triggered a border poll by accident. She hadn’t. Then, on the 21st May, two polls by ICM and MORI were released that showed support for the union, but with caveats that should keep unionists on their toes. The prospect of a border poll … Read more

Reimagining the Union has begun. They have it all to do

Conservatives thinkers are hard  at work to make the long overdue case for the Union, now dubbed “the Union state,” after the unexpected shock  that still lingers (in England certainly) of discovering that devolution had whetted appetites for Union breakup and Brexit, you might think, makes their task more difficult.  So far their ideas  circumvent nationalism, described here as exaggerated “ identity politics,”  rather than tackling nationalism head on.  Although they  claim for the Union  “binding values”, they  recognise Gordon … Read more

Arlene Foster;Unionism stands for pluralism and multi-culturism. We are inclusive and welcome all.

Some of the DUP Leader, Arlene Foster’s remarks in London today; And as a unionist I see no logic or rationale for a hard border being created between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Indeed we do not want to see that at all. The only people stirring up myths of border checkpoints are those who are committed to unpicking the Union. They seek to use such imagery to advance and build support for their long-term political objective. They will … Read more

Border poll recedes as polls show nationalist support for unity hinges on Brexit outcome

If two polls out today  are to be believed, pressure for  an early border poll will recede and unionists  fearing the worst, will heave sighs of relief For nationalists, while much hinges on the economic consequences of Brexit,  majority  opinion among them in favour of  unity hasn’t solidified, despite the UK government’s confused approach to Brexit and the border. The Newsletter gleefully reports Two separate polls have found no evidence that Brexit has yet caused a radical shift in public … Read more

“Senior Unionists prepared to talk to Dublin about possible unification”

Gary Gibbon of Channel  4 News is one of few  Westminster- based  political editors to keep up a sustained interest in Northern Ireland affairs.. Who are  these  “ liberal unionists”? Do tell Gary. The source could  be  the Dublin government speaking from Sofia  Better still, unionists declare your hand! “Brexit: ‘The DUP’s hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland’” by “Brexit: ‘The DUP’s hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland’” is licensed … Read more

Deconstructing “Unionism”

Tray bakes

I have long maintained that the terms “unionist” and “Unionism” as currently used in Northern Ireland are an obstacle to discussion and understanding. Because there is much more to unionists than Unionism. Indeed, there is much more to Unionism than Unionism. What have tray bakes and soda farls got to do with the constitutional question? The same words are used for multiple related yet distinct things, and the capital letters that one can use for disambiguation in print(*) are worthless … Read more

The end of the world

Sea cliffs

In the 19th century national identity in Europe was more deeply entwined with religion than it is today. Witness the creation of Belgium in 1831 from the remains of the Spanish Netherlands, when formerly Hapsburg areas seceded from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to form a Catholic-majority, multilingual state with a French-speaking aristocracy. In the 20th century the focus of national identity shifted: the same Belgian state is now hoplessly riven between French- and Dutch-speakers, regardless of religion. The … Read more

Tell me how Alex. Please

John MacManus is a History Teacher in Northern Ireland “So, the continuing ‘rise and rise’ of Sinn Fein is not unstoppable. Irish unity is not inevitable. That won’t, of course, stop Sinn Fein’s relentless propaganda and repositioning. And nor should it stop unionism from relentless deconstruction of Sinn Fein’s arguments; or of kick-starting their own major, thought-through, broad-based, pro-Union campaign. Put bluntly, stop whingeing about Sinn Fein and, instead, counter their various strategies, policies and narratives.” So concludes Alex Kane … Read more

New revelations about the Ballymurphy massacre require urgent action by the British government

The report Mick highlights of a UVF sniper firing into Ballymurphy  at the time of the massacre in 1971 for  which up to now  1 Para was believed  to be mainly responsible,  underlines the paramount importance of finding out basic facts in dealing with the past. As I argued the other day, it is not only unacceptable but self-defeating for armchair soldiers in today’s battle of the narratives to thwart the rule of law, whether they are unionists defending the … Read more

On the legacy deadlock, equality before the law for the security forces is not moral equivalence with the IRA

Ruth Dudley Edwards has just commended “Legacy: What To Do About The Past in Northern Ireland”, a short book by Unionist councillor and redoubtable human right campaigner Jeff  Dudgeon,  edited mainly from the contributions at the conference on legacy legislation he organised in Belfast on March 3rd. As you’d expect, Ruth shares the passionately held view that the UK’s so far unseen draft Legacy Bill is based on a flawed approach developed by the traditional justice academic lawyers who to … Read more

I voted for peace, and all I got was this lousy culture war

I found this week’s 20 year commemoration of the Agreement quite surreal. Maybe it was because I was sick at home in my pyjamas and missed out on the bling of the big events. No basking in the glow of disgraced elderly politicians for me… Instead, I was more struck by how sad and stuck everything feels right now. It feels like we voted for peace, but all we got was this lousy culture war. By culture war, in this … Read more

A noble illusion perhaps, but unity and reconciliation are not compatible

Writing in the Irish Times, Robin Wilson has eloquently identified “a cosmopolitan vista of “unification as reconciliation” among diverse individuals on the island…. as the current Tory government disappears down the Brexit rabbit hole”. Amid fears of a renewed, Brexit-induced hard Border, a plebiscite would be a blunt-instrument (and one-sided) response – less discussion, more sectarian headcount. A more sophisticated approach, less likely to lead to highly unwelcome consequences, would be to redefine the process of north-south co-operation recognised by … Read more