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.

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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.

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Three More Reasons Why The President Is Right to Decline Invitation

This week’s Broadsheet column looks at the faux controversy that has arisen from the decision by President Micheal D Higgins to decline an invitation from the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) to attend a #NI100 Church service in Armagh in October. The Church leaders also invited HM The Queen.  Here I suggest that this situation could have easily been avoided if the Church leaders, and others, had taken better heed of the advised offered back in May 2010 by then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen on the essential principles of commemorating and remembering. 

With any luck, the controversy over President’s Michael D. Higgins decision not to attend next month’s planned church service in Armagh to “mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland” will soon abate.

It is a row that does no one any credit, least of all those who claim the President has a missed opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to Unionism.

As yesterday’s Ireland Thinks/Mail on Sunday poll reported, a staggering four out of five of us believe that President Higgins is doing the right thing and for the right reason.

He is. But he has more than just popular sentiment on his side. This was not a decision made impetuously or in haste. As the President explained last week, he has been mulling over the invitation from the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) for several months. He shared his concerns with event organisers telling them that the event title was not a politically neutral and presented him with difficulties.

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This is an important week for relations across these islands

This week’s Broadsheet column examines how the week beginning Monday March 22 may be a more important one for the medium to long term future of relations on this island that the one before, even though that week featured several important set-piece speeches by An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin on the North and the relations with UK and the EU post Brexit. My argument is not that the Taoiseach said anything wrong – he didn’t. My problem is with what he didn’t say.  On Unity.  I suspect the Taoiseach believes he is far ahead of public opinion in not discussing unity or constitutional change. The reality, I fear, is that Mr Martin is perilously far behind where the centre ground of nationalist and republican opinion public is, North and South.    

Jim O’Callaghan TD delivering his Cambridge Speech on Unity

Given the week that was in it, with St Patrick’s Day and all, and the impressive number of virtual calls and speeches made by An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, you’d be forgiven for thinking that last week would have been a more important week for the future of relationships on these islands than this week. But it wasn’t.

To his credit, An Taoiseach seized every opportunity presented to him to speak in detail about what he called the “whole new category of challenges that we have had to deal with” following Brexit. He did so with conviction and belief.

In addition to his crucial virtual Oval Office face-to-face with President Biden and Vice President Harris, he had high profile speeches and exchanges with both the prestigious Brookings and Edward M. Kennedy institutes, plus a range of other important calls and engagements.

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Martin May Be Learning Lessons Of Last Week’s Mistakes

This week’s Broadsheet.ie column follows on from last week’s one, starting from it ended and hoping that the Taoiseach can take the opportunity presented by his Brendan O’Connor Show gaffe and start to abandon his seeming agnostic stance on unity, and become more of an advocate for unity and a champion of starting the detailed debate and discussion on what a united Ireland could look like, now. 

The prospect of starting the second century of Irish independence with the challenge of building a new and better Ireland is so exciting, why would any Taoiseach delay the start of that process for even one day?

To say that was not a good week for North/South relations is to understate how utterly damaging and chaotic the past seven days have been.

They started with the Taoiseach’s inopportune comments on Brendan O’Connor’s radio show (I dealt with these last week) and finished with the astonishing suggestion from Brussels that it could invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol .

While the week may have finished yesterday, the Article 16 debacle has not. It is far from over. Though the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs worked hard over the weekend to limit the damage, be in no doubt damage has been done to relations on this island. A price will be paid here and a big price must also be paid in Brussels.

Dublin must insist that those responsible for this mess are held accountable. Hailing the Commission decision not to do the wrong thing as a “positive”, may be very diplomatic, but it is neither sufficient nor proportionate.

Returning to my observations last week on the Shared Island Unit, I do not flatter myself to imagine the political crew currently occupying government buildings read any of my scribblings. I mean, why would they read them now when they paid scant attention to what I said on the odd occasion I was ever asked for my thoughts. Nonetheless, I was genuinely gratified yesterday to hear some tiny incremental movement from the Taoiseach along the lines I suggested last week.

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Putting A Shared Island In A Shared Seanad

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Nov 16th. Here I propose that the two Seanad Éireann vacancies be filled by nominees representing the two traditions in Northern Ireland. this is something that should have happened when the Taoiseach named his 11 nominees to the Seanad back in June, but didn’t. That was a major mistake, but he now has the opportunity to correct it and prove that his Shared Island project is not just about words, it is about actions.

Taoiseach Michael Martin who gave an address on the Shared Island initiative at Dublin Castle 22nd Oct 2020. Photo: Julien Behal / RollingNews.ie

A few weeks ago An Taoiseach Micheál Martin delivered a major speech to an online audience. At almost any other time the speech would have been seen as important and significant, but it did not receive a great deal of attention coming as it did between Leo the leaker, the Mother and Baby Home saga, Woulfegate, not to mention the process of moving to level 5 Covid 19 restrictions.

The speech, on a Shared Island/Ireland, was delivered live to a wide and diverse audience, north and south. It was a fine speech, though – not for the first time – Martin managed to detract from his speech and trampling over his own publicity, with a far from adroit performance at the event’s question and answer session. As Sean Lemass famously observed, it’s never the little too little that hurts in politics, it’s the little too much.

So, instead of the media focusing on the news that the Irish government was establishing and funding a substantial unit to work on developing major all island projects, it came away transfixed by Martin’s inability to unambiguously state that Fianna Fáil is committed to Irish Unity.

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