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Seán Garland: 1934 – 2018 December 14, 2018

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Sad news this evening to learn of the death of Seán Garland. A remarkable life in Irish politics.

RTÉ’s brief overview is actually not bad.

He was on the attack on the RUC Barracks in Brookeborough in Co Fermanagh on 1 January 1957, which led to the deaths of fellow IRA members Seán South and Fergal O’Hanlon.

He became a Marxist during the 1960s and was subsequently a leading member of Official Sinn Féin and the Official IRA, following the split with the Provisional IRA in 1970.

Here is the Workers’ Party statement.

Leave, leave now? December 13, 2018

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A most interesting point in the Guardian the other day about Brexit, this in comments from readers response to May’s shenanigans. And by the by interesting how many think now the UK should leave – even remainers…

‘I think it might be better for the EU if the UK leaves’
With some regret, I think it might be better for the EU if the UK leaves. Some short term pain maybe. The reason: politics in the EU is now significantly healthier than when the UK was there. These are the murmurs in the echoes of the EU parliament.
The prospect of the UK cancelling article 50 by a referendum, or parliamentary vote, or general election is beginning to fill me with dread. The prospect of the UK delegation limping back to Brussels arguing with themselves and everyone else around does not fill me with delight.
Not least because they would get to rejoin on exactly the same terms with all these advantages and special deals they negotiated. This seems to contradict natural justice. I’m not certain, in these uncertain times. Maybe it’s best if they cancel article fifty and remain. Maybe not. What’s certain is I won’t be devastated if they slam the door. I suspect this opinion is common in the EU now. JamesValencia

That’s a thought isn’t it? We’ve had two years of absurd psychodrama, the sort of thing that has given succour and comfort to every tw0-bit far right and fascist out there and to what end? Whose benefit is this for?

I’ve long felt that for the UK’s sake a polity so divided has to leave, at least in some form or another – that all the arguments about the vote and so on, while legitimate, simple aren’t functional in the world of actual political activity.

A remain, or a second referendum, are not illegitimate, but reverting to the status quo ante with so great a divide seems likely only to inflame sentiment abroad.

I’m not advocating a crash-out Brexit, or no-deal. Anything but. As close a relationship as is politically feasible is the obvious option – though Brexit itself predicates against much of that. And granted if EEA/EFTA is not an option, well, what’s the next closest, and if that’s not an option, well, what is the next one after that?

But fundamentally it seems to me that Britain will go. That’s the logical conclusion of the political context now extant – particularly given the stance of the BLP.

And it’s interesting to note the attitude of EU state diplomats in regard to all this:

Although privately many diplomats would love Brexit to be reversed, and believe it could mark a turning point against populism, there was also a wariness about the disruption of a second referendum. One ambassador suggested the French realised that European parliamentary election campaign of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, would be damaged by the sight of furious British leave campaigners claiming they had been cheated of their democratic rights by an arrogant elite who refused to listen: “What is happening in France is potentially momentous. The social fabric is under threat, and this anger could spread across the continent,” the ambassador said, referring to the gilets jaunes protests.
Another said: “I have no idea where they think they are going with this people’s vote. Will it produce anything better or perhaps the same result, but the other way round? Does that stop the argument?
“I fear this country will be discussing Brexit for another 15 years.”

Who are these 33%? December 13, 2018

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What sort of optimists living in sunny uplands in their head could possibly be the 33% in the following cohort in a YouGov poll on social mobility in the UK?

The latest poll reveals once again deep unease in Britain about the gap between the wealthy and the poor. It also reflects concerns that the government, employers and schools are not doing enough to help the less advantaged get a fair chance.
Nearly half of those polled (46%) said where a person ended up in society was largely determined by who their parents were, compared with a third (33%) who said everyone had a fair chance to get on regardless of background.
Four out of 10 (40%) said it was becoming harder for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to move up in society, and more than half of respondents said the government should be doing more to improve social mobility.

Speaking of Irish politics December 13, 2018

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A not unsympathetic profile of Peadar Tóibín, once of SF, now busy building a new party, in the SBP. And in the course of it one will read:

He has spoken in vague terms of recruiting up to three Oireachtas members, but he coy about who they will be. Offaly TD Carol Nolan, who also quit SF over abortion is seen as most likely to join…

Who would that three be? I’m trying to think of any candidates from the Oireachtas, either house, who would fit the criteria Tóibín has set out. Any suggestions?

Confidence and supply – 2020! December 13, 2018

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Errors and omissions excepted.

Whatever about the chaos in the UK other aspects of politics continue. And none more central to the governance of this state than the current little arrangement in the Oireachtas between FF and FG.

Still and all. No appetite for an election now on the part of FF. No excuse for one either. And the polls not great for them. It makes sense to bide their time. So, other events not withstanding does this actually mean an election in 2020?


The glum faces on the FF benches tell their own story. I’d imagine a fair few of them expected the party to be in better shape now than it actually is.

One small detail. Coveney says FG ‘offered’ an election date in May 2020. Interesting that FF didn’t take them up on that generous gesture. Perhaps we’re looking at an earlier election if FF feel they can get away with it.

Not a day for soundbites – eh? December 12, 2018

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The new first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has said that the Conservative party is gripped by “madness”. Speaking in the Welsh assembly, where he has become first minister after replacing Carwyn Jones as Labour’s leader in Wales, Drakeford said:

When I was elected as leader of the Labour party [in Wales] last week I said I wanted to be a beacon of hope in a darkening world. Today is not a moment for partisan remarks …


…but the skies around us have darkened even further in the days which have followed.


A species of madness has descended on the Conservative party in which significant numbers of its members of parliament appear to believe that our country’s future is better secured by heaping a leadership contest on to the burning platform that Brexit has become.

Unity: 2 December 12, 2018

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An interesting point was made to me this week by a friend who argued that some of the dynamics apparent in unionism this last year or two on foot of Brexit where attitudes to a United Ireland have clearly softened amongst a cohort are analogous to attitudes towards Catholicism in this state in the past half century, moving from uncritical adherence to orthodoxy – for the most part, towards first criticism and then abandonment of attachment.

And the person I was discussing this with made a further point that the political effects would not be of an immediate shift to nationalism, let alone republicanism, but would be a slower movement away from traditional unionism and an openness to initially cultural forms that indicate a more pluralistic concept of Irishness and then on to de facto acceptance of a political dispensation that would lead to a United Ireland.

In this I think An Sionnach Fionn’s phrase – a reverse GFA/BA – is central. That would allow for the slow but smooth transition from one form to another and indeed by retaining some residual elements further down the line would offer the chance for the new UI to be vastly more pluralistic than the dispensation imposed on nationalists and republicans in 1920-22.

But there is a further point that for those who are sceptical that such deep rooted attachments can change there is that example of an entire state (and arguably the island as a whole) where a key pillar of identity, that being the Catholic Church moved from centre stage to marginalisation. Think about how people voted with their feet from mass engagement on a weekly basis to none at all. If that can happen in respect of such a fundamental element of human life as religion one would have to suspect that national identity might be an easier call.

And there’s an example of precisely how that is true in the context of the North itself since the GFA/BA was signed where pro-UI sentiment dipped to very low levels prior to Brexit. It wasn’t that people stopped being nationalist, but rather that they were willing to accept that that nationalism could not be active at a state level (though crucial to keep in mind the context of the removal of the border and so on).

Is anyone seriously arguing that Unionism is a deeper national political identity than Irish Nationalism and Republicanism? Or could it be that when faced with reasonable pluralistic dispensations both strands of national identity on this island (as distinct from ‘nations’) are willing to compromise and work with what is given to them? And perhaps even more so when the fundamental marginalisation of unionism within the UK is made apparent as it has been in the past twenty four months and more.

Unity… December 12, 2018

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Reading the IT comments on Brexit and Northern Ireland related issues there’s a flock of people who like to offer a very robust – to put it politely, argument that the ROI should not and would not support reunification on foot of the potential changes Brexit may bring about. The argument tends to the line that the costs would be too great, that once ROI citizens are appraised of these they will lose all appetite for unity, and that in any event there’s no polling that supports the idea ROI citizens are in favour of unity.

Interestingly an Ireland Thinks poll twelve months ago from the Irish Daily Mail (!) and Extra.ie indicated that:

Six in 10 people want the North to be part of a single state of Ireland — even if it would cost taxpayers an extra €9billion a year.
The big swing in opinion in favour of a united Ireland comes in the wake of bitter Brexit rows over the border.

This had firmed up from 50:50 earlier in 2017. So even with costs thrown in peoples views aren’t static. Granted sentiment might change in a year. Still, this does suggest that there’s a broad support above and beyond a purely aspirational one for unity even at a cost. And as to the cost one has to wonder at that:

‘We apply a rough estimate of €9billion a year, arrive at using the most recent estimates of the UK government accounts. The 2016 UK budget and forecasts for the next five years include an annual subvention from Westminster of £10billion to account for the budget deficit in Northern Ireland.’
Some of this cost, such as defence and security, would fall away in the event of a merger with the Republic, helping to explain the €9billion figure. As a result of the latest Ireland Thinks poll, the question of a united Ireland paradoxically now appears far more popular in the Republic than in the North.

But theres another point entirely which is made in comments that the GFA, which is considered the foundational aspect of the issue, at least by the ROI and EU, and rhetorically by the UK, does implicitly seem to suggest that the ROI itself has agreed to unity when a majority in the North agree.

How would it work if the ROI simply pushed back and said, ‘nope’? Of course even to frame it that way is to see how unlikely that outcome would be. More likely is a very long, a very very long, transitional period – a sort of elongated version of An Sionnach Fionn’s reverse GFA. In fact the more I think of it the more I think that’s the way it will be.

A Tory coup while May is out of the UK? December 12, 2018

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One of the oldest rules of leadership is don’t leave for foreign parts in a time of crisis. Unless you want to smoke out your opposition and have the resources and support in place to stomp on them (I’ve often wondered did Gorbachev intend that – if so his plan part worked, but mostly failed). Something that seems unlikely to be the case when we are talking about T. May.

Still, no coincidence that there (events having overtaken this post as originally written ) is to be a vote of confidence in her leadership. Striking how many Tories have indicated they will vote for her. She may lose but what if she wins?

And just on May’s travels – what on earth did she think she would achieve? So far not so great. Is this enough?

European leaders have signalled to British prime minister Theresa May a willingness to provide assurances that the Irish Border backstop is not intended to be a permanent solution, but ruled out any prospect of renegotiating the withdrawal treaty.

All that said I find it somewhat ironic that she has become the focus of complaints about the way Brexit has gone. Without question she is in part to blame, but so are those who have shouted loudest and yet offered no clear alternative – those being the proponents of a ‘hard Brexit’. And notable last night was the news that new polling suggests that such an outcome is deeply unpopular.

The research by Britain Thinks found a significant decrease in the strongest supporters of Brexit and an increase in the most pro-remain voices.

Yet, the researchers also found little consensus for a way out of the chaos. Voters were generally negative about the prime minister’s Brexit deal and became even more so when the deal was referred to as “Theresa May’s”.

However, the study also found support for a second referendum had slipped slightly since June and a majority were deeply concerned about the prospect of no deal.

In other words no one is happy with any of this. It’s quite something. Consider the political and other bandwidth that this issue has eaten up over the past two years, a major state essentially consumed by a problem for which no solution will satisfy a workable majority of its citizens. It is like a political computer virus – destroying that which is running it, bit by bit.

Small wonder there’s no end of casting around for people to blame. As with this. We Irish should know our place? Well we kind of do, which is precisely why matters are as they are. On one level it is entertaining, on another it betrays a remarkable lack of understanding of the realities on this island and the relationship this state has with the rest of the EU.

What you want to say – 12 December 2018 December 12, 2018

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

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