Rather than keep slagging off the DUP over the Protocol, let’s recognise their better points

Nerves on all sides are stretched like skins on a drum waiting to see what emerges from the forthcoming Protocol negotiations.  Every cautious word is parsed and construed for signs of progress or the lack of it. Make no mistake a big push is on for a positive outcome on two fronts; to end the deadlock in the relations between the UK and EU and to come up with enough to restore the DUP to the Assembly. Never mind the …

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The long and winding road to dealing with the past stretches ahead at Westminster. Will it turn out to be a dead end?

All Northern Ireland parties and groups including victims are united on one thing. They are opposed to the UK government’s NI Troubles, (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. Nevertheless the Bill began its long passage to become law – or not –in the House of Lords last Wednesday. The Lords debate presents a good opportunity to air the issues in one place in this lengthy post. A vote will eventually be held on whether to recommend scrapping the Bill entirely or heavily …

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The British and Irish governments mustn’t mess about. Time for Direct Rule by whatever name with Dublin support to tackle the cost of living crisis and move on to Assembly reform

We are teetering on a cliff edge of absurdity about calling an Assembly election “ nobody wants. ” From the DUP viewpoint Peter Robinson brilliantly  describes the contradictions in every party’s position except his own. He might have added that it was Chris Heaton Harris and his cronies in the ERG  who more than any other faction  got us into this trouble in the first place by championing a Withdrawal Agreement with the Protocol attached  under frankly false pretences. The …

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The political class will have to work hard to prevent Northern Ireland coming off worse in the UK government meltdown

As we treasure long memories in this distinguished forum, I offer 1973-4 as  the nearest parallel  to the  meltdown in government  we face today. In the UK as a whole the miner’s strike in 1973 produced power cuts and a three day working week.  Four months into ’74. Northern Ireland suffered its own exclusive version of power cuts all over again in the UWC strike, a loyalist revolt against the first fragile power sharing Executive that had been set up …

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Do they reelly, reelly want it? A reflection on “Ireland’s Future”

Not only in Dublin at the weekend  but for the whole series of conferences on Ireland’s Future,  the aims are first,  to add momentum to the eventual  creation of a United Ireland by convening a Citizens’ Assembly ; and two, to come up with a generous offer of unity unionists can’t refuse  – in both senses ;   impossible to refuse because so attractive, (the smiley version)  and   (hint of rough stuff)  because the numbers of nationalists North and south would …

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Houses of sand: Unionism has a problem with younger voters. A huge one.

Whither the union. I find myself becoming weary as I write this. Articles about the demise of the union, about unionist malaise and mistakes, are so common these days that they all sound the same. I stopped writing them at one point because I had nothing new to add. Even now, people write these pieces with a weird air of arrogance. They want you to know that they and they alone have figured out that unionism is in a difficult …

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After the funeral of the age, back to the reality of today

The greatest public obsequies in history are over. The hangover begins now. The death of the Queen allowed millions to think of the nation as a big family which could unite at such a time.  Every nation or a distinct component of it needs an identity to survive.  For a large majority, the Queen was at the heart of it. Whether the unity survives both for the nation and- come to think of it- even the royal family- are quite …

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The enduring question about politics from the start of the Troubles: why has the middle class been so ineffective?

  I’m using my privilege as a poster here  to try to sum up a couple of posts by Frank Schnittger and myself which are about struggling to find meaning in the chaotic and long draw out course of the Troubles. I’d better be careful as this could lead to endless exchanges but I’ll draw the line here. Eventually  we all have more urgent topics to cope with like a rudderless government during an  economic  convulsion. I suppose I was …

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The real world is about the energy crisis, galloping inflation and strikes

Welcome to the real world,  far away from Irish identity neuroses and the Tory leadership race. The world of spreading strikes, galloping inflation and  energy prices. The  situation is changing so fast even the tabloids haven’t caught up with it yet.  On the Today programme this morning covered by The Times, energy  industry bosses are calling for the endless political battle to close early and emergency action  to be taken  before the next energy price cap kicks  in –  on …

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An example of leadership to follow

Electricity  bills set to soar to £500  a month in October, in my own area West London the electricity grid has hit capacity  and a ban on building new homes is in prospect  to 2035, rail  strikes with no end in sight, with nurses and teachers to follow and the possibility of a general strike to come…  Health and social care services in England face “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” and the government has no credible strategy to make the situation …

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The voice of sanity over the Protocol is drowned in Tory leadership Brexit frenzy

  Although by instinct I prefer to hunt for the substance behind political attitudes however perverse they seem, I’m reduced to calling the latest on the Protocol –   bonkers, plain and not so simple. The Tory leadership fight has tipped it into the surreal. First in a dash to complete his legacy, Johnson rushed to complete the Protocol Bill’s early Commons stages on the last full day on Thursday. Then it’s over to Lords in September and a new government. …

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If they choose anybody but Sunak, they’ll get a worse PM than Johnson

Photo courtesy ITV News  Mick may be aiming at higher things but I’m stuck down low and dirty in the Tory leadership contest. I can’t take my eyes off it.   Unusually the written press are ahead of TV thanks to social media with lots of talk about black propaganda, stalking horses and dirty dealing behind the scenes. So the first leadership debate on Channel 4 last night came as a welcome relief. Despite   overheated claims in the press that the …

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C’mon guys, the culture wars are over. Let’s make a proper peace.

The phrases “culture wars” and “identity politics ” are comparatively recent imports from America but people are using them as if they’ve been around forever. On the whole they are pejoratives, used by rightwing politicians  to denigrate or  “gaslight “ the slow march to freedom of  women however described, and ethnic and social minorities, by creating “wedge issues” to stir  up alarm and so divide and rule. Ireland as a whole was ahead of the game long ago. The rise …

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On one thing MPs are agreed: the EU need to show greater flexibility. So is the Protocol Bill only “displacement activity?”

The mouse didn’t roar as the House of Commons sent the Protocol Bill on its way yesterday. “Only if enacted” said an uncharacteristically strident Jeffrey Donaldson, would the DUP go back to Stormont, advancing the curious argument that the Protocol Bill would “give back to the elected representatives in Northern Ireland the power to take the decisions that they have not been able to take.”(It would give them to Westminster not Stormont). Most MPs including the Conservatives who spoke, were …

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Now we’ve got into an even bigger mess over human rights, courtesy of guess who?

If ever it needed reminding, the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its court in Strasbourg was underlined by the comments of the former Lord Chief Justice to MPs the other day.  As it stands Sir Declan Morgan feared that Westminster’s latest attempt at a Legacy Bill would be struck down by the Court as  in basic violation of human rights. But there is an even more fundamental dimension to this. ECHR rights are embedded in …

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Former chief justice’s frustrations boil over at deadlock over the Legacy Bill. He tells MPs : “people need a kick up the bottom.”

The former Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan allowed his frustrations to boil over at a hearing of the Commons NI Committee yesterday examining the government’s Legacy bill. The earlier draft Bill  dating back 12 years for a with a powerful Historical Investigations  Unit at its core which had been finally  endorsed by most local parties was abruptly scrapped by the British government and replaced by a radical new version for a de facto amnesty.   Not that they admit to …

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There are great dangers in Northern Ireland’s entanglement in the Tory Brexit mess. They must extricate themselves fast

From his analysis of the Protocol bill, I want to pull out Rafael Behr’s comments on how little Northern Ireland registers  in the wider media as itself, on merit . You can almost hear the groans from TV viewers,” Not Northern Ireland again”  in a situation even more incomprehensible to them than  the Troubles It isn’t every day that former prime ministers set old party enmities aside to deliver a unified message on a matter of national urgency. When John …

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Johnson sends an ultimatum to the DUP : return to the Assembly or we won’t proceed with the Protocol bill. Is the threat credible?

Political gaming  has intensified as the Times and the FT report that the UK government will not proceed with the Protocol Bill unless the DUP promises to return to the Assembly. As the bill will at best take a year to pass Parliament are the DUP being invited to buy a pig in a poke? Can this ultimatum over ride the DUP’s demands for “action not words?.  Is the briefing to the papers credible anyway except as short term pressure …

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Paras have at last told their grim stories of the Falklands War. With strong public support behind them, perhaps Troubles combatants would do the same

This week’s showing on BBC2 of the gripping  Our Falklands War: a front line story  will have forced comparisons and  contrasts with the Troubles. When I reported the Falklands War from afar in Buenos Aires I used to wonder how those spotty youths in ill fitting uniforms would fare against the elite of the British Army like the Parachute Brigade. Not well as we saw when 1000 of them surrendered to less than 100 paras at Goose Green, although the …

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How wise is it to play Protocol poker with a weak hand everybody can see?

What do you suppose Boris Johnson is up to with his on the face of it, kamikaze tactics over the Protocol Bill?  By pursuing the most aggressive line he seems determined to court a confrontation with the EU.  Can he be serious, even as a survival strategy? As Peston points out, where Johnson is on shaky ground is that within the Protocol there is explicit provision to suspend it, where there are ‘societal difficulties… liable to persist’ via its Article …

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