NI Assembly result was historic – just not era changing

This column first appeared on May 9th 2022 on Broadsheet and looks at the Northern Ireland assembly election results and how the two governments in Dublin and London have responded. 

AE22 results

For about forty years, from the early 1930s up to the early 1970s, many weighty academic tomes on Karl Marx and on Charles Darwin, attempted to analysis how and why Marx decided to ask the father of the Theory of Evolution if he would accept Marx dedicating one of the volumes of Das Kapital, to him – and why Darwin politely, but firmly, declined the request?

It was a conundrum which intrigued and perplexed many fine scholars from both the left and right. Each side offering complex and multi-layered interpretations about each man’s motivations.

Was Marx just seeking Darwin’s approval – it is certain that Marx admired Darwin’s work – or was he attempting to draw parallels between his and Darwin’s theories and perhaps win the great man over to his arguments? Was Darwin’s refusal driven by a deep wariness of Marx’s politics and the fear of being associated with them.

Continue reading “NI Assembly result was historic – just not era changing”

No more no-go in Dublin City Centre

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday April 25th and looks at the problem of random vicious attacks and anti-social behaviour in Dublin city centre. It is an issue which Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan and John Lahart both raised this issue in the Dáil on Wednesday night

Though the Dáil has not been in session since April 7, when it comes to political process stories the past three weeks have been far from uneventful.

There was the scuppering of Dr Tony Holohan’s Trinity College secondment; a saga which will to run and run as Deputy John McGuinness’s Finance Committee attempts to uncover who agreed what with whom… even if he must do it without the cooperation of the Secretary General at the Department of Health or his Ministerial sidekick.  

Continue reading “No more no-go in Dublin City Centre”

DUP Is Down – But Don’t Count It Out Just Yet

The column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday April 4th. Though the DUP’s support is faltering and has been on a steady decline over the past few years, it is still too early to write the party’s political obituary. It may run Sinn Féin close in the race to emerge as the single biggest party. The DUP decline in the polls, past the Robinson era, is due to internal faction fights that are based partly on personality, but primarily due to the inability of a sizeable cohort in the party to grasp the fact that Northern Ireland has changed over the past decade or more, despite the DUP’s political preeminence, and is continuing to change. 

L-R Jonathan Buckley (DUP), Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson – during an anti NI Protocol rally in Lurgan

With the Northern Ireland Assembly election exactly one month away, a great deal of the commentary has focused – naturally enough – on the damage that unionism continues to inflict on itself.

I cannot recall a time when unionism seemed in greater disarray. All due to the ill-judged decisions and actions of hard line, irridentist unionists.

This is not to deny that there is a strong and growing seam of moderate, indeed progressive, unionism. A modern unionism that is more focused on facing the challenges of the future than re-waging the tribal battles of the past. A unionism that sees the grave dangers in the rallies against the Northern Protocol being foisted on many small towns across the six counties.

Continue reading “DUP Is Down – But Don’t Count It Out Just Yet”

The Irish public 100% understands that defence costs

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday March 28th and sees me return to one of my most frequent themes… the devastation inflicted on Ireland’s national defence by the decade of political indifference shown by the two Fine Gael-led governments since 2011.  

97th Cadet Class Commissioning April 2022 via Defence Forces Flickr

“Coveney: Russian war highlights need to boost Defence Forces’ spend”.

This was the headline to a story in the Irish Examiner explaining how our part-time Minister for Defence is perhaps… possibly… on the cusp of the verge of being ready… in a few months… to signal that he just about ready to announce plans to consider the partial implementation of some of the recommendations in the final report of the Commission on Defence… if he secures the agreement of certain key people in Cabinet.

Regrettably, the words actually uttered by Minister Coveney on the day were not that much more definitive than my facetious parody, telling reporters that:

“I’ll be bringing an action plan on the back of the recommendations in the commission to Government in June and it will be a strong statement of intent from me, and I hope from government, if we can get approval, in terms of the need to quite significantly increase our investment in the Defence Forces”

Continue reading “The Irish public 100% understands that defence costs”

Why eat your words when you can delete them?

It is a few weeks since I updated this page to include my most recent blogs. This one first appeared on Broadsheet on March 14th and looks at Sinn Féin’s recent industrial strength spring clean of its online archive of statements 

“Lord, give us the wisdom to utter words that are gentle and tender, for tomorrow we may have to eat them.”

This guidance for politicians comes from the late Mo Udall, a long serving Democratic Congressman from Arizona.

It’s an approach you would hope members of today’s Oireachtas, from all sides, might heed – but as we see during the daily set pieces of Leaders’ Questions and the Order of Business, they don’t.

Instead, rather than acknowledging that they might have been wrong and correcting the situation, they double down and insist that they didn’t say what we think they said. We get obduracy and petulance in place of debate and discussion. In the more extreme cases we get some parties going the whole hog and deleting almost anything and everything they have ever said. Continue reading “Why eat your words when you can delete them?”

How Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine undid two decades work in a few days… for no gain.

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday February 28th 

German chancellor Olaf Scholz announcing radical changes to German defence policy Pic via: bundeskanzler.de/

I start this week’s column, picking up from where I left off last week, by looking at the future prospects of the Russian Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov.

Last Monday I suggested that he be sent home. I was not the first to say it. The call has echoed across most of Leinster House. At the end of last week we heard individual Labour and Fine Gael demand his expulsion. Inside Fianna Fáil, Jim O’Callaghan TD led a coordinated call by the party’s backbench TDs, MEPs, and Senators for the Ambassador to be expelled.

Sinn Féin also read the public mood and, to its credit, did a 180-degree-turn on its decades’ long stance of rarely criticising Putin or Russia by issuing a strong statement calling for both the “…expulsion of Russian Ambassador and tougher sanctions.”

The party leader Mary Lou McDonald reiterated this call on Twitter, taking time off her busy schedule of not explaining why her lone MEP, Chris MacManus voted repeatedly against a European Parliament motion last December that: Continue reading “How Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine undid two decades work in a few days… for no gain.”

A very short (pre 1975) history of Irish/Russian relations.

A very short (and pre 1975) history of Irish/Russian relations.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has expressed the sincere and understandable concern that expelling the Russian Ambassador Yury Filatov could sever Irish/Russian relations and trigger the shuttering of both the Irish Embassy in Mosco and the Russian Embassy here in Dublin.

A not strictly reciprocal development given the imbalance in size between the representations… a point well made in this Irish Times article:  https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/russia-still-plans-to-extend-dublin-embassy-s-espionage-role-say-experts-1.4814532

Relations between Ireland and Russia have been fraught at times and formal diplomatic representation only commenced in 1973.

Initially relations were cordial with the Irish giving the Soviet Union a loan of €20,000 in 1920 in return for czarist jewels (which were supposedly worth $25000 – Christies later valued them at £1600). The loan was repaid, without interest in 1949.

In 1934 Ireland voted to admit the USSR to the League of Nations, despite strong opposition from some in the League and also back home from Cumann na nGaedheal and the Catholic Church

In 1946 Ireland applied to join the newly formed United Nation, but its application was vetoed by Russia. Several times. Russia argued that Ireland was not eligible for UN membership as it was neutral in WWII and had not established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

Responding to one of these vetoes de Valera told the Irish Times on 1 Aug. 1947 that:

If Russia, which attacked Finland, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, can be regarded as qualifying as a peace-loving nation, it is difficult to see how a nation which kept the peace and scrupulously fulfilled all its obligations as a member of the League of Nations can rightly be regarded as not qualifying – but then…we have no diplomatic relations with Russia…

In reality the veto was less about Ireland and more about Cold War parity. Simple tit for tat. The west could not get an extra pro American UN vote without Russia getting one too. That said, it is known that Poland urged the Soviets to drop their specific objections to Ireland  When Russia dropped its veto and Ireland was eventually admitted to the UN in 1955, it was as part of a 15 new UN member package (including Romania Hungary and Bulgaria).

At the UN Ireland was quick, under the leadership of Frank Aiken as Minister and  Frederick Boland as ambassador, to be non-aligned on the Cold war, including backing a proposal to admit the People’s Republic of China and to advance a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. When this was eventually ratified in 1968, Russia invited Ireland to be the first to sign the treaty as recognition of the lead role Aiken had taken in its passing.

When Ireland sought to raise the developing crisis in Northern Ireland at the United Nations, it had the support of the USSR – with then Foreign Minister Paddy Hillery observing:

‘once you have dealt with the Irish bishops, the Russians are a doddle.’

Though the aim of securing a UN peacekeeping intervention failed, the Russians and others did facilitate Ireland raising the issue directly at the Security Council, though the UK was certain to veto it.

The move to formal diplomatic relations commenced informally in the early 1970s with the assignment of an official TASS representative in Dublin, a development which concerned the British as it was certain that he was a KGB officer and could use the common travel to slip quietly in and out of the UK. In 1973/74 formal relations commenced with the exchange of full ambassadors and the acquisition by the Russians of the 5-acre site that had previously housed the  Irish Management Institute on Orwell Road in Rathgar.

Putin: the Czar of false flags

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday Feb 21st, several hours before President Putin made it TV address and confirmed that Russia was recognising the two secessionist Ukrainian provinces of Donetesk and Luhansk as independent states.   

The most ridiculous and obsolete phrase you will hear in any Irish debate or discussion of the Ukrainian crisis is “… but Putin has a point.”  It is rarely uttered in isolation, but rather as the curt follow-up to an insipid denunciation of Putin’s blatant aggression. Suggesting that while Putin is doing the wrong thing, he may have understandable motives.

This is utter nonsense.

The notion that Putin’s threat to his smaller western neighbour has anything to do with NATO or the prospect of Ukrainian NATO membership is absurd. There has been no major expansion of NATO membership in recent years, indeed only two counties have joined NATO since late 2009 and both of those are well over 1400Km south west of Ukraine’s western border: Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020.

The biggest expansion in NATO’s membership happened back in 1999 and 2004 when ten countries, including three Baltic states that were once part of the Soviet Union and several former Warsaw Pact states, joined.  Are we to believe that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was so distressed by this 2004 move that it has taken him 18 years to regain his composure and respond?

Continue reading “Putin: the Czar of false flags”

The Painful Sting Of A Fading DUP

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday February 14th. This was the same day as the Irish News published results of their opinion poll, which was conducted in partnership with the Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool between January 25 and February 7.

Pictured is Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Jeffrey Donaldson with Taoiseach Micheal Martin as he leaves Government Buildings in Dublin, following a meeting between the two leaders. Photograph: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

The latest intrigues of Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP bring to mind the adage: “You can get an awful sting from a dying bee.”

We may well be watching the final throes of Unionist ascendency as the DUP struggles to deal with a fraught situation entirely of its own making.

Last year’s celebration of Northern Ireland’s centenary reminded us how the net impact of five decades of Unionist rule was to undermine the very hegemony that brought it into existence. When Northern Ireland was established in 1921, around 62% identified as Protestant and 34% identified as Roman catholic. This figure remained steady up to the late 1960s when the proportion of Catholics began to increase.

By 2011, 41% were identifying as Catholic and just 42% identifying as Protestant share. A major shift. It was one of two shifts. The other was the emergence of a third category, one where people did not identify as being from either community background, a category that measured 17%.

A decade later, the June 2020 study, Political Attitudes at a Time of Flux, found that this “neither” category was now the biggest of the three categories of political identity, with almost 40% identifying as neither unionist nor nationalist.

Continue reading “The Painful Sting Of A Fading DUP”

Irish Defence Policy – the sleeping dog that’s no longer content to stay sleeping

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday, January 31st with the much snappier title: Indefensible. In it, I explain how a decade of political neglect of both defence policy and the Defence Forces is coming back to haunt the government. Sadly, the comments of An Taoiseach and of Ministers Coveney and Ryan point to them having beither the ideas or the political will to undo the damage of thar decade of neglect. 

Active Measures – Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov. Pic via SASKO LAZAROV/ROLLINGNEWS.IE

After a decade of defence issues being pushed so far down the political agenda that you’d need a bathysphere and a decompression chamber to even spot them, they came roaring back up that agenda this week. With a vengeance.

Each day brought a new story. It started with the concern over the build up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border and the not unconnected tumult over Russia’s plans to mount naval exercises in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.

It then continued with the policy-making-on-the-hoof announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Communications Minister Eamon Ryan that they plan to come up a plan to close Cathal Brugha barracks and use it for housing.

Continue reading “Irish Defence Policy – the sleeping dog that’s no longer content to stay sleeping”