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.
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.
This post was originally posted on Broadsheet.ie on January 6th 2020. I have written about unity many times here in the years since the Brexit referendum. This piece was written in the heat of the Government’s RIC commemoration fiasco. While some saw that episode as proof that we are not yet ready for a constructive debate on unity, I believe that any moves to quash or stymy open discussion now on how unity might work are wrong-headed – just a wrong headed and counter-productive as charging towards holding unity poll within five years
This may come as a shock to some, but it is entirely possible to want a united Ireland and not favour holding a unity poll within the next five years. Indeed, I would suggest that it is axiomatic that wanting to see Ireland successfully reunited means having reservations about holding a referendum in the next five or even ten years.
The sensible position for anyone who thinks unity is more than just a political slogan is to not consider holding a unity poll until there is a more than a reasonable chance of it being passed. Surely this is evident? Is this not a lesson we have taken from the whole Brexit vote fiasco?
For clarity: when I say “passed” I mean backed by a simple majority: 50% plus one. Just as retention of Northern Ireland’s existing status as a part of the United Kingdom requires a simple majority, then so does any process leading to unity require a simple majority.
This is not just a core principle of the Good Friday Agreement it is the fundamental basis of democratic process: every vote is equal. An individual unionist’s determination to remain in the Union is as legitimate and valid as any republican’s desire to see a United Ireland. The idea of weighted majorities requiring a 55 or 60% threshold for change, as some have suggested, is not just denying parity of esteem it also denies parity of representation.
While making unity work in practical terms would doubtless require a greater public buy-in than just a bare 50% plus 1, the principle of one person, one vote – of equal value, cannot be up for grabs.
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.
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.
This Broadsheet.ie column from June 18th looks at the Government’s plans to hold a referendum later in 2019 to extend voting rights in future Irish presidential elections to both Northern Irish voters and the diaspora.
If last week’s reports are right – and the Taoiseach has said that they are – then all of us will be heading back to our local polling stations sometime in October or November.
No, it won’t be to elect new Dáil and a new government… well, it does yet not seem that will be the reason, but who knows what may change over Summer?
For now, it looks like Irish citizens across all 40 Dáil constituencies are about to be invited to vote in yet another referendum. This one on extending voting rights in future presidential elections. (I mention the 40 Dáil constituencies, as voters in four of them will likely be voting in by-elections occasioned by the election to the European Parliament of TDs: Billy Kelleher, Frances Fitzgerald, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace).
Confirming the reports in the Dáil last week the Taoiseach said that Cabinet has signed off on legislation to “extend voting rights for presidential elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and around the world” and that he plans to have it debated before the Dáil rises for its summer recess [planned for July 11th].
He also said that the government has produced a 100-page, detailed paper on how it is going to work.
I sincerely hope it has, but why are we still waiting to see it?
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.
Tom Hayes and I have just published a document entitled: NI Special Economic Zone Proposaloutlining 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.
Here is my Broadsheet column from December 12th – apologies for the delays in posting these columns on here… hopefully I will have my site updated completely later today (Friday).
Though I did a bit of leaflet dropping for Fianna Fáil in the 1977 general election, the first election campaign in which I really canvassed was the 1979 European and Local elections.
There I learned the skill of ‘marking the register’. This involved writing a letter after the voter’s name as it appears on the electoral indicating, after you had canvassed them whether you thought they were for Fianna Fáil (F), against us (A), doubtful (D) or where you got no reply (NR) or CB for call back.
In 1979 there a lot of ‘A’s to mark on my sheet. These fell into two categories, the first were the people who voted FF two years earlier and were now very angry at how the country was going. The second were the group who had never and would never stoop to vote for “your shower”.
When encountering a person from this second group, usually after walking up a long gravel driveway and climbing a flight of granite steps to reach the ornate front door, one of fellow canvassers, a very nice woman, several years my senior, would call out “NOCD”.
Amid all the analysis and commentary on Brexit, might I suggest you check out the Beerg Brexit Blog written by an old friend of mine, Tom Hayes.
Originally from Dublin, but now based in the North of France, Tom is one of the most experienced and skilled employer relations negotiators in Europe, something reflected in his Brexit Blog.
Whereas most look at the hard politics of Brexit, especially from the British side, and I tend to look at it solely through the prism of how it effects relations on this island, Tom looks at the process as a negotiator.
While you are never in any doubt, reading any of his blog posts, that Tom thinks that Brexit is a massive folly, each week he examines developments and tests them for how the progress, or hamper, a negotiated outcome that would serve the interests of both sides.
This column: Leo in the Spotlight appeared on Broadsheet.ie on October 24th
Though it has appeared to slip by without much political comment, the Taoiseach’s BBC TV interview last Tuesday (16th Oct) showed that he is not quite the master of the medium that his friends would have us believe.
He was being interviewed as part of a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme profiling our neophyte Taoiseach. It looked at his life and his rise to high office, with a focus on how he has approached the North and Brexit over the four months since becoming Taoiseach.
It was a fairly standard profile format. A 40-minute programme featuring a one on one sit-down interview, interspersed with archive clips and packages on specific issues.
Though it was no fawning hagiography, neither was it the most demanding or probing of interviews. The interview section took up less than 50% of the show, with questions on current political issues only taking up about 40 – 50% of that portion: about 8 – 10 minutes.
But for a good portion of those 10 minutes the Taoiseach struggled. But, worse than that he also demonstrated a blissful ignorance of a key element of relations both on and between these two islands.
This is my most recent Broadsheet.ie column – it appeared on Monday September 4th – you can view the original online here
Much to his own delight Gerry Adams was once again grabbing the headlines last week. Ignore the fact that they were not the headlines that other political leaders would relish – for Adams, a headline is a headline, even if it contains more than a whiff of cordite.
It came on foot of the furore following Adams telling his local LMFM local radio station that jailing the provo murderers of the innocent Co Louth farmer, Tom Oliver, would be “totally and absolutely counterproductive”.
It was an outrageous statement to make, only made worse by Adams added assertion that the 1991 crime was “politically motivated killing”. It was not.