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 …

Read more…

Is the coronavirus emergency an excuse not to implement the new abortion regulations?

Are Northern Ireland civil servants and health trusts stalling on implementing abortion regulations passed by Westminster during Stormont’s suspension because of DUP pressure? Perhaps not, they have a lot else on their plate; but it doesn’t look good.  How will GP surgeries react? Will there be a significant number of conscientious objectors to abortion referrals and  prescribing morning after pills? The Executive – wouldn’t you know it – is split. Arlene Foster has made no secret of her opposition but …

Read more…

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 …

Read more…

Deal or No Deal- and it’s looking more and more like the latter – the UK could still leave the EU on 31 October

Despite rumours to the contrary, this week will find it hard to match the turbulence of last week.  It’s pretty clear that at this point, the combined opposition majority can’t agree on a strategy to turf Johnson out of office. This could prove fatal to their main aim.  In the absence of a policy to unite around, passing a vote of confidence against him would only set a clock ticking that would defeat their essential aim of preventing the UK …

Read more…

Slugger TV looks at a future Westminster Election

Slugger TV: Episode 29 from Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo. This month we looked at some local marginal seats with Chris Donnelly and Niall Kelly David McCannDavid McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

Is Brexit A Rerun of the 1930s?

We’re living through a rerun of the 1930s. It must be so, because everyone on my social media timeline tells me so. It seems to be taken as a given that Britain, like all Western societies, is a seething pit of racist, authoritarian, sentiment, itching for an undemocratic strongman to overthrow democracy and civil liberties. So, on the subject of Brexit, the Left and the Right, Leavers and Remainers, all fear the Tommy Robinsons and the Wall of Gammon that turns up at …

Read more…

Can we set a date yet? Same Sex Marriage in NI

There’s been a lot of analysis of the Westminster vote – but not quite enough understanding of its true implications. Around this time last year I provided an update on the campaign for same sex marriage  so I’ll try and do the same again. Given that NI is still in limbo with no direct rule, but no devolved assembly the Secretary of State is constantly relying on senior civil servants or emergency legislation to keep the lights on in NI. …

Read more…

By acting on abortion and equal marriage, Westminster has changed the dynamic of the talks

One day in politics can change everything. The Northern Ireland Executive Formations Bill was, until the 9th July, an uninteresting piece of legislation. It proposes to amend the Northern Ireland (Executive and Exercise of Formations Bill) 2018, a law passed in the wake of the collapse of the Assembly. The Secretary of State introduced the 2019 Bill to extend the period in which an Executive must be formed until the 21st October 2019. There’s a clause allowing an extension of …

Read more…

Abortion is a sensitive and complex issue which is why decisions around it are devolved.

Carla Lockhart is a Lurgan based DUP MLA for Upper Bann. Here she challenges the attempt by some Westminster MPs to include a number of changes to Northern Irish law within a piece of legislation designed to push back the current deadline. Over the course of the next few days the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill will be passing through the House of Commons. This Bill is designed to amend the date by which the Secretary of State must call …

Read more…

Leading human rights expert challenges Sinn Fein on “rights” stance

Brice Dickson, normally a sober sounding academic lawyer and a former head of the NI Human Rights Commission  was first famous  for recanting on his recommendation for an  “all singing,  all dancing”  NI  Bill of Rights.  In the Newsletter today Brice has boldly entered the fray of the all party talks at Stormont to point out flaws in Sinn Fein’s starting position.   Sinn Fein has abused the concept of human rights by setting up such rights as pre-conditions for …

Read more…

Big Votes, Big Mess

According to Lenin, there are decades in history where nothing happens, and then sometimes weeks where decades happen. If that is true, then Brexit seems to have given us a third category entirely: a weekly cycle of impossible drama and contradiction that merely feeds into another baffling cycle of the same, where weeks feel like years, years sometimes like weeks, where so many things change, and yet, finally, nothing ever does. It’s like UK has sold the rights of its …

Read more…

Theresa May ponders pact with Brexiteers to quit in exchange for passing her deal

  So far from being  immediately ousted, Theresa May will only permit her  divided and supine cabinet  to get their first sight of her draft plan  to reassert control of Brexit  one hour before the cabinet meeting  at 10 o’clock this morning. The secrecy is designed to prevent the sort of leaks which have kept predicting her imminent demise and recording their own disarray.  The plan reports say contains her own series of indicative votes to rival those of the …

Read more…

Brexiteers are starting to fear that May will bend to reality

He was the unlikely hero of the hour. In the Commons last night with his voice shaking, Tory MP Oliver Letwin,   the backroom politician who was the chief policy coordinator of the Cameron coalition, made the most striking statement of the day. “I’ve actually got to the point where I am past caring what the deal is we have. I will vote for it to get a smooth exit.” On the face of it, a very irresponsible statement indeed from …

Read more…

Parliamentary arithmetic moving against a no-deal Brexit

Now that the Christmas lull in the interminable Brexit wars is over, the various parliamentary factions are preparing to do battle once again as the 29th of March draws closer. The first significant vote of 2019 is expected tomorrow, when parliament is scheduled to vote on Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the Finance Bill. The intended purpose of the amendment is to seek to prevent a no-deal Brexit by blocking tax powers if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, …

Read more…

Crisp advice to Parliament on what to ponder over Christmas

Perhaps the most celebrated of constitutional experts Vernon Bogdanor, has no doubts about what should happen next. The irony is that there is a much greater consensus among MPs than is apparent from the posturing of May’s opponents. Kenneth Clarke believes that about 80% of MPs are against a no-deal Brexit, while nearly all MPs accept that there should not be a hard Irish border, which would be incompatible with the spirit of the Good Friday agreement of 1998. The withdrawal agreement achieves …

Read more…

Does recall purdah benefit Ian Paisley? Will it end up in court?

Not only are there complaints that  three centres are inadequate  to cover the whole of rural North Antrim for recalling Ian Paisley and forcing a by election, but there are complaints about the purdah  on comment it enforces too. This twitter dialogue from two leading commentators Michael Crick of Channel 4 News and Anthony Wells of YouGov covers the point.       The 2015 Recall of MPs Act says that during the 30-day period NOBODY – journalists or anyone – …

Read more…

Arlene Foster challenges Sinn Fein to debate abortion reform in the Assembly, claiming SF support for DUP stance

Arlene Foster says some Sinn Fein supporters have told her they will vote DUP because of her party’s position on abortion. In her first interview since Ireland’s referendum on the issue, she told Sky News a lot of people were feeling “disenfranchised” by the result. “I have had emails from Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland not quite believing what is going on and saying they will be voting for the DUP because they believe we are the only party …

Read more…

Senior Conservatives are willing to defy the DUP over abortion

Perhaps the abortion issue is emerging as a new category which breaks the  rules of  conventional political wisdom.  As far as Westminster is concerned, It seems the last word has not been spoken by Theresa May. This is a devolved matter. Our focus is restoring a democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent.” It is not only Stella Creasy and mainly Labour colleagues that are …

Read more…

Do Labour MP Stella Creasy and friends have the knowledge and stamina to progress abortion reform against the odds?

You thought it had gone quiet? Not if Stella Creasy can help it.  Repealing the nineteenth century Act which ultimately banned abortion and is still on the statute book, would be a route to broadening the scope of abortion regulations in Northern Ireland. So claims Ms Creasy the Labour MP who is championing the cause at Westminster. She has set out her stall not only in the Times but the Guardian. The repeal of the 1861 Offences against the Person …

Read more…

The direct Westminster route to abortion reform is not the one to follow. It’s time for civil society to step up to the plate

Northern Ireland as a place apart over abortion rights has exposed many English MPs to the complexities of devolution for the first time over something they care about deeply, so much so that they seemed at first to dismiss them altogether. There is a precedent of a kind.  On Brexit Westminster is ignoring the SNP government’s refusal to assent to the terms of EU withdrawal on the grounds that this is a reserved matter for Westminster. Although  abortion rights are …

Read more…