Why does nationalism run away from Irish Unity at election time ?

Shortly after the announcement of the general election, I noted over in Scotland that both the SNP and Alba (Alex Salmond’s hardline pro-independence breakaway) were straight out of the blocks, seeking a mandate for Scottish independence. SNP leader John Swinney characterised polling day, July 4th, as “Independence Day”. In a press release which mentions the word “independence” seven times, he said : .. So let’s unite to win the powers of independence to strengthen our economy, tackle the cost of …

Read more…

Is it time to give up on power sharing as a bad job ?

A couple of weeks back I wrote about whether or not the time had come for Alliance to adopt a constitutional position (TL;DR – it hasn’t). As is typical of articles that touch on the constitutional issue, there were quite a few comments, most of which spectacularly avoided the point and tended to rehash boring talking points and clichés from the 1970s. But there were several fair remarks which merit further discussion, so I thought I’d start with the most …

Read more…

Alliance : time to get off the fence ? 

Some weeks ago I noted with interest the outcome of the University of Liverpool survey into the makeup of the Alliance Party membership base and their views on constitutional matters, finding that a larger number of members believe that Irish unity should occur in the future.  The title of this piece refers to an old cliché, which I’ve heard since 1994, that the party are a bunch of fence-sitters. More recently I’ve been hearing “constitutional change is coming and Alliance …

Read more…

The past, present and future of cross-border rail

Enterprise crossing Craigmore Viaduct near Bessbrook

Recently, to great fanfare, the Irish government announced an €800m funding package in support of its Shared Island strategy aimed at funding public spending on projects in Northern Ireland. The lion’s share of the spend is on the A5 project, and that, together with Casement, is where most of the media attention went. However, there is also an allocation aimed at increasing the frequency of cross border rail services. Before looking at this in detail we should talk a little …

Read more…

The end of free GP access in Northern Ireland is in sight

A couple of years back, I was chatting to a friend of a friend who is a GP. Like, I suspect, most of us, I had (and still have) a fairly limited understanding of the nuts and bolts of how healthcare is actually provided in Northern Ireland, and he spent a bit of time explaining it to me. I was quite surprised to discover, for example, that GP surgeries are actually private businesses. They’re almost exclusively organised as partnerships, a …

Read more…

Fix climate change and congestion with better buses

A recent job change, for me, led to a minor conundrum associated with the loss of a free city centre parking space. I could either continue to drive to work and pay for all day parking (£7 is the lowest price I’m aware of) or I could use the bus. I opted for the bus.  The Antrim Road area, where I live, is quite well served by the Metro 1 route. Using the “Belfast Bus Tracker” third party app (App …

Read more…

Why hydrogen can’t solve our climate change problems

Hydrogen

One of the conversation points that I often encounter in the debate around climate change and the move to net zero/energy independence is the role that could be played by hydrogen. Like many of the other aspects of this debate, it is poorly understood, particularly among the press and policymakers.  What is hydrogen ? Chemically, it is the simplest and most plentiful element in the universe, having one proton and one electron. It’s thought that, along with a small number …

Read more…

Nuclear Fusion power – how long will we have to wait ?

Atom

Just before Christmas, it was announced for the first time that researchers at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US had successfully achieved “ignition” within a nuclear fusion reaction. This generated a lot of excitement in the press, not all of it well-informed, so I thought it might be interesting to explore this topic in more detail. What is nuclear fusion ? Why was this news so significant ? When will we begin to benefit …

Read more…

Remembering Dr. Éamon Phoenix at St Malachy’s

This week saw the untimely and tragic passing of Doctor Éamon Phoenix, the noted historian, academic and consultant. Memories are strange. Most of the time we remember the past in terms of broad strokes. But occasionally, our minds feel it appropriate to more permanently record selected events; snapshots which we are able to recall with distinct clarity, as if our subconsciousness instinctively knows of moments which need to be preserved for posterity. Of course, we are not computers, and time …

Read more…

Pro-Unity rallies : why Alliance are right not to attend

Today, there’s a major gathering at the 3Arena in Dublin organised by a company called Ireland’s Future (CRO reg 666463), which campaigns for Irish reunification. A few days ago, the Irish News’ John Manley carried the story that Alliance had turned down an invitation to this event, on the basis that it is a rally for a united Ireland. I think Alliance made the right decision not to attend and I fully support it. I should note at the outset …

Read more…

Are border poll criteria an excuse for procrastination ?

Peter Kyle, shadow Secretary of State

This morning, on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, Shadow Secretary of State Peter Kyle made some comments during a brief interview with the BBC’s Darran Marshall on the question of the criteria to call a border poll (iplayer : interview begins at approx 18:45) which seems to have generated a frisson of excitement. The salient part of the interview is reproduced below, with my emphasis. DM : I want to talk to you about the constitutional position now. Do you think …

Read more…

Revisiting Nuclear Power : Part 3 : Can it be weaponised ?

Nuclear explosion mushroom cloud

Following on from my previous articles on how nuclear power works, and why we need to rethink the dangers posed by it, it’s time to talk about the other safety-related concerns that are often raised in the debate about the viability of nuclear power. Can a nuclear power station explode like a nuclear bomb ? What happens if a nuclear power station finds itself in the theatre of military conflict, as is currently happening in Ukraine ? To deal with …

Read more…

Revisiting Nuclear Power : Part 2 : The Danger

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a little about how governments are reconsidering their attitude to nuclear power, and talked about the mechanics of how a reactor works and how it can solve the problems of getting us to net zero carbon emissions and securing energy supply in the long term.  But we can’t gloss over the bad reputation that nuclear power has. Can’t it blow up, like a nuclear bomb ? And haven’t there been a number of …

Read more…

Revisiting Nuclear Power : Part 1 : how it works

It can have escaped few of us that the effects of the war in Ukraine and the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside the ongoing issue of climate change, have led to renewed interest in the possibilities offered by nuclear power and how it can help to solve the problems governments around the world are facing. This is leading to a re-evaluation of the case for nuclear, and, hopefully, objective consideration of its strengths and weaknesses. I believe that it …

Read more…

Pension provision in a united Ireland : redux

source : getty images

Last week I wrote an article suggesting that in the event of a united Ireland, the British government would propose that the future Irish government assume responsibility for paying the former Northern Ireland state pensions, on the basis that it would already be receiving the benefit of historic pension contributions that were invested in the form of public spending there. The article noted that this was the proposed arrangement in the event of Scottish independence (see page 139). This drew …

Read more…

Home truths : pension provision in a United Ireland

source : getty images

A topic I see coming up quite often relates to the question of pension provision in a united Ireland. For such an important topic, there seems to be a great deal of misinformation. The ongoing “civic conversation” has not really addressed it properly and, unfortunately, there have even been academic papers that have sought to wave the problem away.  Most people assume that since they’ve been paying national insurance contributions to the UK throughout their life, the UK government would …

Read more…

Brendan Kennelly 1936-2021

It’s been a sad few days for Irish literature as we note the passing of two notable Irish literary figures. Máire Mhac an tSaoi was not only a poet, but also an Irish language scholar, author and at one point a career diplomat. It is Brendan Kennelly’s passing that I feel the most, however. Coming from a scientific background I am no literary critic, but to me his work seems accessible, powerful, impactful and unpretentious all at the same time. …

Read more…

The Union will not survive the end of the NI Protocol

I’m sure everyone must be feeling as exhausted and frustrated as I am to see that once again we’re back to groundhog day once again with the European Union and the UK launching into another period of tense negotiations. I don’t want to spend a lot of time going over what is currently going on when there is plenty of fine – and infinitely more qualified – commentary available elsewhere, except to say that it sounds like the UK is …

Read more…

The Brexit Solution

After the end of the transition period The leader of Traditional Unionist Voice Stated at a fringe meeting at the Manchester Convention Centre That the manufacturing sector Had forfeited the confidence of Unionism And could only win it back By redoubled efforts. Would it not in that case be simpler To dissolve the manufacturing sector And appoint another? Brendan Headingcentre-leftish waffler working in IT and living in Belfast Alliance, but writing in a strictly personal capacity.

Belfast Rapid Transit (Glider) Phase 2 announced

This week, Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon launched the public consultation for Phase 2 of the Belfast Rapid Transit (Glider) system.  I think this is a welcome development and will improve connectivity, access to and uptake of public transport in the city.  I remember when Glider was first launched on the east/west route a few years ago. Before it got off the ground, it was fashionable to dump on it (a common pattern for public transport projects on this island). …

Read more…