When loyalism’s loyalty is rejected

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on April 12th. It followed almost a week of disturbances and incidents across the North, though I mainly focus here on the attacks by loyalist youths along the peace wall in West Belfast, specially at the Lanark Way interface.  The cause of these riots are complex – they also have immediate and proximate causes. While there are sinister loyalist paramilitary elements who saw this as an opportunity to make trouble for a PSNI that has enjoyed recent successes in thwarting loyalist drug dealing – especially with unionist leaders attacking the PSNI over and calling for the resignation of the Chief Constable – many of the teenagers and youths on the streets will misguidedly see themselves as fighting for their community, their people and their allegiance. Though that allegiance goes increasingly unreciprocated by the State to which they declare their loyalty.    

The late David Ervine (facing camera) out canvassing

As the riots raged along the peace walls in Belfast last week, I spotted a tweet bemoaning the absence of loyalist leaders of the calibre of the late David Ervine.

David was the avuncular, savvy leader of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). He was aptly described by Northern Ireland secretary John Reid as “possibly one of the most eloquent politicians in Northern Ireland”.

Ervine died tragically young, aged just 53, of a brain hemorrhage, in Jan 2007. Speaking at the time, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern called him a “courageous politician who sought to channel the energies of loyalism in a positive political direction.”

I don’t claim to have known David well, though I did meet him several times and even debated against him in UCD before an audience of US politics students. He was characteristically witty and demonstrated a willingness to engage and debate the future of the North, that showed his confidence in his in his identity and position. This is not something you can say about many in today’s unionism.

Continue reading “When loyalism’s loyalty is rejected”

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.

Continue reading “This is an important week for relations across these islands”

Of dead cats and ducks, ‘tis of thee we sing

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday September 14th. It primarily looks at Boris Johnson’s threat to roll back on commitments made in a the Withdrawal Agreement and to undermine the workings of the Good Friday Agreement

It was a week of dead cats and ducks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed his breaking international law in a very specific and limited way dead cat on the table, in the hope that others would be so horrified they’d forget entirely that his government hasn’t the slightest clue what happens when Brexit transition ends.

As for the dead duck… well, as I discussed that at length last week, I will comment briefly on its 10% rating later.  

The dead cat drop is an old political ruse. You only do it when you are in deep trouble. You reach for the dead pussy when your back is against the wall. You hope everyone focuses on the festering, fetid, defunct feline and forgets about your bigger problems.

The “dead cat on the table” tactic is proof that Johnson and his confederate Cummings are still more consumed with campaigning, not governing.  

Continue reading “Of dead cats and ducks, ‘tis of thee we sing”

.@BorisJohnson’s Cunning #Brexit Re-Run Plan

This column predated the meeting between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. Here I look at what is behind the Brexiteer’s obsession with getting rid of the Backstop (be it Northern Ireland only or UK wide.  It first appeared here on Broadsheet.ie on October 7th. 

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Opening his Sunday morning BBC1 show yesterday, Andrew Marr wondered if Boris Johnson’s cunning Brexit plan was to pretend that he has a cunning plan to cover the fact that he doesn’t have a cunning plan.

Mr Marr has a point. Most of Johnson’s cunning plans have thus far failed. His ruse to prorogue parliament was demolished by the Supreme Court, and he has still to win a single vote in the House of Commons. He entered Downing Street at the head of a government with a majority (via the DUP) of one. Now, thanks to his handling of the grandest of the Tory grandees, it has a majority of minus 42.

Yet, despite these failures and setbacks, Johnson is doing well in the polls. The Tories now enjoy a steady lead over the Labour party of anywhere between 7% and 13% (YouGov polling). As with John F Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban missile crisis, it seems that the worse he does, the more popular he gets.

This is Johnson’s cunning plan. A speedy election putting the Tories back with a solid majority, no longer dependant on the DUP and ERG. Johnson believes in nothing as deeply as he believes in his destiny to lead.

Continue reading “.@BorisJohnson’s Cunning #Brexit Re-Run Plan”

Tackling the #Brexit Threat of #DirectRule in Northern Ireland Directly

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on September 10th 2019

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Boris Johnson came to call on us, He wanted to tell all of us, Brexit won’t put a wall ‘round us, it’s frictionless.

Not so, says Leo back to him. We’re waitin’ for some facts from ‘em, So it’s the Backstop we’ll be backing then, Athena.

Take him up to Monto, Monto, Monto…

If you listen closely you can just hear the ghost of George Hodnett groan at the thought of his comic folk song “Monto” having my pitiful new verse inflicted upon it.

Nonetheless, commemorating the visit of the reigning contender for the twin titles of worst and last ever UK Prime Minister to our fair city, in verse does somehow seem appropriate.

Continue reading “Tackling the #Brexit Threat of #DirectRule in Northern Ireland Directly”

The UK’s #Brexit politics is so bust that it even makes the #Dáil look good

This column appeared first on Broadsheet.ie

If you ever start to despair while watching Dáil Éireann live – stop, take a deep breath and think… well, at least it’s not as bad as the House of Commons.

While this may not offer a huge amount of comfort and certainly does not ease the frustration of seeing the current Dáil initiating some decent pieces of legislation, only for them to disappear into a black hole of money messages and other governmental devices designed to stifle debate, it is still something to bear in mind.

For decades I have been listening to some folks opining on how the UK political and legislative system works better than here. While some of this may have been driven by an element of cultural cringe, it was also informed by the idea that politics in the UK is more policy driven and based on ideas.

Irish politics, they argue, is just too tribal, too based around the centre. We do not have the benefits of the big policy debates and arguments between left and right as happens in the UK.

Continue reading “The UK’s #Brexit politics is so bust that it even makes the #Dáil look good”

Trimbling in fear of #Brexit #Backstop

This column first appeared on www.broadsheet.ie on Feb 5th 2019

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British Prime Minister, Theresa May is in Belfast today to make a speech at… sorry… to give a speech to local business leaders. The speech will re-state her “absolute commitment” to avoiding a hard border, post Brexit.

Her statement of commitment is welcome, just as welcome as it was when first made over two years ago, but with only seven weeks to go to the March 29th exit and after 18 exhaustive months of negotiations, surely it is not asking too much to expect her to say how she will turn this commitment into reality?

This is a crisis of her own making. She says she is committed to no hard border, but then she also says that she is equally committed to having a Brexit that takes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland out of the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market, as well as out of the EU institutions.

The hard truth is that she cannot commit to ensuring no customs union, no single market and no hard border at the same time. You can do two out of three, but you cannot do all three.

Continue reading “Trimbling in fear of #Brexit #Backstop”

#GFA20: when voting united us – Why Seamus Mallon should be honoured

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Truth and Reconciliation Platform (TaRP) event at Kennedy Institute, Maynooth University: Stephen Travers, Seamus Mallon, Eugene Reavey and Dr. Rory O’Hanlon (Pic via https://twitter.com/TaR_Platform)

In a week when a referendum campaign that has managed to divide some of us comes, mercifully, to an end; it is worth recalling that this week, in fact this day, marks the twentieth anniversary of a referendum that briefly united us across this island.

Twenty years ago today, almost 2.5 million people across this island went to the polls to vote on accepting the Good Friday Agreement. Just over 2.1 million of them said Yes to the Agreement while 360,000 voted against.

The results, North and South, endorsed what the parties had agreed at Stormont Buildings and saw Northern Ireland set to see a return of devolution based on partnership government.

Heady days. But anyone who thought that having such a sizeable public endorsement and mandate for the Good Friday Agreement was going to ensure its smooth and speedy implementation was soon to be sorely disappointed.

Continue reading “#GFA20: when voting united us – Why Seamus Mallon should be honoured”

Bringing It All Back Hume #GFA20

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on April 10th, 2018

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By the time you read this I will be in Belfast attending several special events to mark 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement.

One of those, at Queen’s University entitled: Building Peace, and organized by the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at QUB, is described as

“the only one of its kind to gather together so many of the key influencers on the Good Friday Agreement to mark its 20-year anniversary”.

It is not an idle boast. The former US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, and recent star of RTÉ TV’s Ray Darcy Show, will be joined by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, as well as many other key players including: Seamus Mallon, Gerry Adams, Jonathan Powell, David Trimble and Peter Robinson. Continue reading “Bringing It All Back Hume #GFA20”

A way to stop the return of a post #brexit #border across Ireland, make the North a UK Special Economic Zone

(FILES) File picture of  British Prime M

Tom Hayes and I have just published a document entitled: NI Special Economic Zone Proposal outlining our ‘modest proposal’ for how the U.K. government can still avoid having its pursual of the worst possible Brexit policy causing a return of the border across Ireland.

To be clear, this proposal is not our preferred outcome. We would far prefer to see the U.K. remain fully in the EU and continue to be a strong partner and ally of Ireland as part of the EU-28.

We would prefer to see the U.K. remain within both the Single Market and Customs Union and minismise the disruption and damage that exiting the institutions of the EU that Brexit will bring. Continue reading “A way to stop the return of a post #brexit #border across Ireland, make the North a UK Special Economic Zone”