First day of the 7th Northern Ireland Assembly

It was a day of firsts. First time in the chamber for new suite of legislators. Ahead of the first meeting of the new Assembly, the chairs in the chamber had been straightened and two extra tables set out to allow the 90 newly elected members to sign the Undertaking and then the Roll of Membership. Well, 89 newly elected members plus one newly co-opted member. There was a lot of handshaking and even a few hugs and jokes across …

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Zines, baggage, othering words and lots more from Second Collective at #imaginebelfast

Art is political. It can be provocative and challenging. It can help us understand society as much as reading the newspaper or reading a book … or a blog post. But do the public take it seriously? Second Collective are running a series of exhibitions, workshops and events across the week of Imagine! Festival. I recently spoke to its cofounders, Cathy Scullion and Sinead O’Neill Nicholl. Graduating as mature students, they set up Second Collective in 2017. Today it’s based …

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Cancellation & Censorship in Film – five screenings & a talk at #imaginebelfast

I recently caught up with Hugh Odling-Smee from FilmHubNI who are supporting a strand of films at this year’s Imagine! Festival that explore cancellation and censorship. Ourselves Alone is described as one of the most significant films ever made about the Troubles, a powerful story of love and conflicting loyalties set against the battle for Ireland’s independence. Set in 1921, it’s the story of a young girl under pressure, torn between loyalty to her brother (unbeknownst to her an IRA …

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Parliamentarians behaving badly? Hannah White at #ImagineBelfast on Tuesday 22 March

Lockdown parties, payments for lobbying, overseas jaunts. Hannah White reckons that MPs undermine their own credibility by acting as if the rules they set for others should not apply to them. The reputation of the House Commons is in decline. And to top if all, the Government frequently sidelines the legislature. Held in Contempt: What’s wrong with the House of Commons? is title of Hannah White’s new book. It’s also the title of her talk at this year’s Imagine! festival …

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Alliance Party Conference #APNI2022

After a two-year gap, the Alliance Party conference returned exactly two months before the Assembly election. Deputy leader Stephen Farry must have been relieved that he didn’t have to step in to deliver the leader’s speech this year! There were plenty of party stalwarts in the Crowne Plaza seats, and plenty of fresh young activists who weren’t on the scene two years ago. Yet the mood was slightly muted, at least until the leader and her deputy spoke. That can’t …

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UUP conference – a party in love with their new leader #UUP21

Doug Beattie is in a good place. His party’s one minister in the NI Executive has a level of trust and reliability second only to Father Christmas. This gives the party leader some space to manoeuvrer, reaching out in different directions, exploring which messages resonate amongst UUP voters, potential switchers from Alliance and the DUP, and perhaps most valuably from non-voters. Party members praise his chairing of internal meetings. They say he uses his ears as much as his mouth. …

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Slugger event at John Hewitt Summer School: What’s good for the economy, good for the environment and good for people?

Slugger O’Toole returns to the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh next Wednesday evening (28 July at 7pm) with a panel discussion looking at the triangle between economy, environment and people. Is Northern Ireland keeping those three aspects in balance? Are we destroying people and the planet in the name of prosperity? Can we ensure that wellbeing, sustainability and justice benefit everyone? I’ll be joined by Steven Agnew, Dawn Purvis and Joanne Stuart to mull over what’s good for …

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Lord Patten: “… the problem at heart is not the sausages you get from Sainsbury’s but the porkies that we all get … from Downing Street”

Chris Patten delivering inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture for Hume Foundation over Zoom

Lord Patten delivered the inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture this evening, organised by the The John & Pat Hume Foundation. His talk looked back at his time as a direct rule minister: “An appointment to the Northern Ireland Office was often compared with being sent by a Communist Party general secretary in the Soviet Union to manage a power station in Siberia.” He recalled some of his encounters with Seamus Mallon, wishing that there were: “more political leaders in Northern Ireland …

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SluggerTV – the DUP melodrama episode

Commentators Tim Cairns and Sarah Creighton joined Slugger O’Toole’s deputy editor David McCann to discuss the dramatic loss of a second leader and the challenges ahead for the DUP in the latest episode of SluggerTV. What tipped the balance to end Edwin Poots’ leadership? How will the next leader be different? If there’s a by-election in Lagan Valley, might Brenda Hale run for the DUP, and what about the chances of Alliance’s Sorcha Eastwood and UUP’s Robbie Butler? What’s Edwin …

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Poots announces reshuffle of DUP ministers and committee chairs/vicechairs

DUP leader Edwin Poots has announced his new team at Stormont. The changes will not come into immediate effect as Arlene Foster is expected to remain First Minister until after this Friday’s British Irish Council summit in Fermanagh. The ministerial changes will not be official until they are made in the Assembly, where the renomination of First and deputy First Ministers will also occur. First Minister – Paul Givan Junior Minister – Gary Middleton Economy Minister – Paul Frew Education …

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Robbie Butler rules himself out of UUP leadership ‘at this stage’

Robbie Butler has ruled himself out of the race to be UUP leader in a statement issued this evening. Having listened to Doug speak on the media this week and spent some time with him personally, I believe we have a candidate who possesses the skills and attributes that are currently needed and it will be my pleasure to play any supporting role in the UUP Assembly team to make Northern Ireland a place we “ALL” want to live, work …

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David O’Sullivan: The EU at 70 – still going strong?

Watch back this evening’s Hume Foundation inaugural European Spirit of Peace Lecture, delivered by David O’Sullivan (former EU ambassador to the US) which looked at the EU 70 years on and asked whether it was going strong. He had cautionary words for those conflating the Irish constitutional issue with practical aspects of the NI Protocol which he said was “unhelpful” and could “destabilise many in the Unionist community”.

Edwin Poots’ camp suggests Paul Givan could be First Minister with role split from party leadership

The process to depose and replace Arlene Foster as DUP leader and First Minister is turning into the kind of page-turner James Patterson could be proud of. This morning’s new chapter comes from Ciaran Barnes in the Sunday Life and Suzanne Breen on BBC NI’s Sunday Politics. Edwin Poots’ camp is briefing that he wants to be party leader but not First Minister. Breen suggested that fellow Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan is in line to be his pick for …

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Lecture – Rory Montgomery: ‘The Good Friday Agreement and a United Ireland’

The former Irish ambassador to the EU, Rory Montgomery, delivered his inaugural lecture as honorary professor of practice at the QUB Mitchell Institute on Tuesday evening. His topic – The Good Friday Agreement and a United Ireland – had a contemporary feel as the civic conversation intensifies around whether to and how to hold border polls. The 45 minute lecture was followed by half an hour of questions from the audience moderated by Professor Christopher McCrudden.  While Belfast Agreement …

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Edwin Poots (currently) bookies favourite to be next DUP leader

Arm wrestling

I wouldn’t know one end of a betting slip from the other, but over the years I’ve been fascinated to hear how bookmakers calculate the odds on political events. It’s never just about probability. It’s also about attracting bets, managing potential liabilities by compensating for large bets. Bookmakers are interested in profit over the actual result! Back in 2012, Paddy Power originally had Danny Kennedy (1/2) as favourite for the UUP leadership and lost money when Mike Nesbitt (who started …

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Arlene Foster to step down as leader on 28 May and as First Minister at end of June

Arlene Foster’s statement this afternoon … A short time ago I called the Party Chairman to inform him that I intend to step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on the twenty-eighth of May and as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June. It is important to give space over the next few weeks for the Party Officers to make arrangements for the election of a new leader. When elected I will work with the …

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Scottish hustings … via NUS Scotland

Election anoraks in need of a regular fix of political argie-bargie may want to dip into last night’s NUS Scotland’s Big Election Debate last night with Anas Sarwar (Scottish Labour), Carole Ford (Scottish Lib Dems), Douglas Ross (Scottish Tories), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and Ross Greer (Scottish Greens). Compared with any similar encounter with NI politicians, it felt remarkably calm and devoid of simple point-scoring.

Bill Wolsey on his idea to turn Belfast city centre into a living museum for Belfast? And the role of awkward individuals in making change happen! #imaginebelfast

Bill Wolsey outlines his idea for Belfast city centre to be a living museum with museum artefacts displayed in shop windows, bring the museum to the people. His idea hasn’t had much traction with the Ulster Museum,but he’s pitched it again as part of Imagine! Festival’s Build Belfast Back Better initiative. He also explains the role of awkward individuals in making progress happen.