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A suggestion on unity March 31, 2022

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Thought this was intriguing. In the SBP Ivana Bacik was interviewed where she suggested that the LP will not join a left-wing alliance but will contest the next election as a standalone party. This so that the party can ‘grow ourselves’.

Even more notably:

When she was elected unopposed as Labour’s 14th leader last week, she called for a “brave and honest” political debate about what a united Ireland would mean. While Sinn Féin wants the government to set up a citizens’ assembly on a united Ireland immediately, Bacik said this could not happen without the backing of a “fairly good” majority of politicians in both the Dáil and the Northern Assembly.

“That’s where the work needs to be done. The last thing one would want is to see the peace process being undermined because people feel their wishes haven’t been respected. Because consent is the bedrock on which the Good Friday Agreement is built,” she said.

That’s an interesting pre-condition. Look at the numbers – 90 MLAs: 26 DUP, 26 SF, 12 SDLP, 10 UUP and 7 Alliance; there’s 8 others, including 2 GP and 1 PBP. So a majority would be 46. One would almost get that with SF, SDLP and Alliance, plus a few others who, while not nationalists or republicans might be open to a discussion. But with a bloc of 40 or so unionist-tilting folk, does that former group constitute a ‘fairly good’ majority? Is 50 as against 40 good enough? Would it have to be 60 to 30? Or 70 to 20? It seems implausible that the latter figures would arise out of the political mix any time soon. But doesn’t this raise a barrier to this state considering this question on its own terms – not in isolation from the North, but in order to prepare for it?

Of course, equally implausible is the idea that the LP will have any veto on these matters in the years ahead on its current numbers. But one has to wonder is this an approach that say FG or, more likely, FF will take up?

He might be wrong, but he thinks he’s probably right… March 31, 2022

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Is the impression one might take away from this piece by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian about his take(s) on the pandemic over the past two years.

Not an epidemiologist is the line that springs to mind when he writes this:

My thinking was that we had been through this crying-wolf routine so often in the past, including from the modellers of Imperial College and perhaps their lobbyist friends in big pharma. Back in 1997 we had heard that millions “might die” from bird flu, and from Sars in 2003, and from swine flu in 2009. The scientists extracted vast sums from the government, including £560m on bird flu and swine flu vaccines that just sat unused in a warehouse. Imperial College was now terrifying Johnson with its much favoured “worst-case scenario” of half a million deaths if he refused total lockdown, irrespective of cost.

So a novel coronavirus could be treated as business as usual? Despite the reports coming from China and Italy? Right. Great. And with a hundred thousand and more dead in the UK is that IC worst case projection of no controls really looking that implausible now?

And not an epidemiologist is the line that springs to mind when he concludes with this:

This suggests that the argument is by no means over. It may yet be that Covid deaths had less to do with lockdown and more with the overall efficiency of health services in confronting serious cases and in dealing with other deaths at the same time. The evidence may suggest that what was critical was the behaviour of different economic and social cultures in responding to lockdown. Sweden’s GDP declined in that critical year of 2020 by just 2.9%. Britain crippled itself with a decline of 9.4%. Is that perhaps why more Britons died? But this brings me uncomfortably close to wondering if I should have stuck to my original guns.

The decline in GDP was the cause of deaths? Does that even begin to sound plausible.

Bringing the curtain down on NI? March 31, 2022

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It has to be said, when commentator as measured as Susan McKay asserts the following one tends to take note:

Northern Ireland is coming to an end, and unionists, having nowadays only themselves to blame, are plummeting through history, desperately seeking the security of the homeland they are convinced their forefathers built for them.


And the reason?

There will be elections to the Stormont assembly in Belfast on 5 May, but it looks as if the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), currently the largest unionist party, will refuse to return. Sinn Féin looks set to come in as the largest party, thereby winning the first minister’s role. Up to now this has always been held by a unionist. The DUP has said this is “a problem”.


And this is because as McKay notes there is a key reality:

Fifty years ago, on 28 March 1972, the British government, realising that unionism was incapable of handling the requirement to change by giving civil rights to nationalists, shut down the Northern Irish parliament and imposed direct rule. Brian Faulkner, the last of the province’s unionist prime ministers, declared it a betrayal. Tens of thousands of loyalists rallied in protest in front of Edward Carson’s statue outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont. In 1974 the Sunningdale Agreement, an attempt to set up a new regime with participation by nationalists, was thwarted when unionists and loyalist paramilitaries joined forces to stage a massive strike that brought Northern Ireland to a standstill. Direct rule continued for the rest of the years of the Troubles, only ending when the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998.
The problem in 1972 was the refusal to share power, and recognising the rights of Irish citizens in NI, and the problem today is the same. Even though the arrangements at Stormont are founded on a mandatory powersharing coalition and the first and deputy first ministers are actually joint and equal, the DUP has been pretending to itself and to its gullible voters that because the first minister’s office has always been held by a unionist, Northern Ireland essentially still had a unionist prime minister. And that it was therefore still in charge of its beloved wee country with the right to say “no”, over and over.

That this is an absolute abdication of democratic responsibility and participation on the part of the DUP seems to escape them. And so small wonder Donaldson, as noted on the site, is upping the ante, not merely to protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol but against the GFA/BA too. After all, what can he do given that this is where unionism is?

And McKay paints a troubling future – and present where the DUP footdrags on every issue and doesn’t seem to be able to countenance a way forward.

In the last days of what may be the last Northern Irish assembly for the foreseeable future, bills that had already been progressed were voted through. They included one to offer women further protections from domestic violence, one to stop anti-abortionists from harassing women outside health clinics, and one to give more parents the ability to choose integrated education for their children. The DUP attempted to stop most of them. No wonder many of those who used to vote unionist are now looking elsewhere, or not voting at all.


She concludes:

Last week, while Prince Charles and Camilla were learning Irish dancing in the Irish Republic during a congenial tour, gunmen forced a man to drive a hoax bomb to a venue at which an Irish government minister was speaking. Nationalist politicians have been intimidated, their election posters set on fire. After Ulster Unionist party leader Doug Beattie spoke out against incendiary rhetoric at anti-protocol rallies, the window of his constituency office was smashed. Thuggery. There are those with a nostalgia for violence who like to hint that the paramilitaries will rise again and save the province. They won’t. They do not have the capacity and the people do not want them. Northern Ireland never worked for all of its people. Unionism has seen to it that it never will.

Here is the essential problem. I’ve been reading Kevin Meaghar’s actually rather useful book on NI – ‘What A Bloody Awful Country’ – and he makes much the same point. Of contemporary leaders of the DUP only Peter Robinson seemed to appreciate, somewhat too late, that the only way to save the union was to reach out and embrace the CN (though presumably not R) community. That meant that their concerns, their interests, had to be taken on board and pursued. A better attitude to the Irish language, a willingness to work the GFA/BA through the all-island bodies, and as time went on an ability to compromise on the Protocol and Brexit given the antipathy towards that within the CNR community.

The irony is – for those of us who are Republican, is that this could have placed unionism in a genuinely secure position for another couple of decades. Imagine a unionism that wasn’t just comfortable with the GFA/BA but wholeheartedly embraced it. That sought meetings with Dublin through the NIMC. That actually pushed for certain limited expansion of all-island bodies. That was a strong voice for retention of the benefits of the EU and the single market. It’s impossible to countenance in the context of the DUP as is, but it’s certainly not impossible for a unionism to do that – in some ways this is precisely where Alliance (and yes, that’s no left wing party) is positioned. A rational low key and measured approach where the status quo was the GFA/BA, where there was no push by them to unity on the island, but none of the reflexive and knee jerk hostility to the reality of nationalism and republicanism. If I was them I’d have been welcoming a border poll if only to see it pushed back another generation since it would almost certainly be lost if held sooner rather than later.

And this would require a unionism that didn’t just accept an SF FM, but positively welcomed it as a sign that SF was comfortable with working the status quo, the settled dispensation of the GFA/BA. That it was not happy about the DUP losing political dominance – though not in unionism as a whole, but willing to work the structures and eager for the next opportunity to ensure that it came back out on top.

But all that, all that would require confidence, assurance, an ability to eschew short term gain for long term losses and – perhaps crucially, a certain sort of humility that unfortunately has seemed in short supply with unionism over the years (perhaps with the exception at times of loyalism).

What is most striking writing all this down is what a thoroughly useless job unionism, and the DUP in particular, has done of selling structures which it shaped as well. St. Andrews reformatted aspects of the GFA/BA at the behest of the DUP. The DUP might not have much liked the GFA/BA but it is in a very real sense one of the eventual authors of same. Yet rather than engaging with that, owning it, as it were, it has done the complete opposite, running away from the implications of its own involvement and actions.

And bizarrely, when the situation stabilised – and in truth it has been much more rather than less stable compared with the previous thirty years, the DUP then compounded matters not merely by supporting Brexit, but then not even attempting to ameliorate – with what influence it had, the shape of that Brexit but rather went for the hardest form of Brexit it could support entirely contrary to the wishes not just of nationalism but a good chunk of unionism.

If the leadership of political unionism were long-term sleeper agents for SF or the SDLP they could hardly have done a better job of destabilising the DUP and unionism more broadly.

One last point from McKay:

A rude awakening is coming and panic has set in. And so it is that Jeffrey Donaldson MP, the DUP leader, and, reluctantly, one of its candidates as an MLA, finds himself sitting miserably on lorry-pulled trailers at poorly attended anti-protocol rallies in the main streets of small towns in unionist heartlands. He has his Orange sash with him, lest anyone doubt his loyalty – and plenty do, for paranoia is the prevailing condition at these events. The Orange order is once again trying to unite the unionist family. What is being opposed is not just the protocol – it is the Good Friday agreement.

One might think that that reference to the Orange sash was hyperbole. But no, not a bit of it.

The last speaker was Jeffrey Donaldson, who had just become a grandfather, we were told by chairman John McGregor. Donaldson said he had brought his Orange collarette with him so he could join the parade.

Quiet as a whisper… March 31, 2022

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It has been almost fascinating to watch how the push by health workers over the very high numbers in hospitals with Covid-19 has gathered steam over the week. Because the latest to add their voices to this are yet more health sector organisations and unions. And now the call is for mask wearing and home working.

The President of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine has said the healthcare system is not coping with the current Covid-19 surge and steps must be taken to flatten the curve.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Fergal Hickey described the current situation in emergency departments as intolerable and unsafe.

“Emergency departments are not in a position to cope. We have large numbers of patients in hospital with Covid.

“We have wards with outbreaks of Covid. We have large numbers of people on trolleys.’

Dr Hickey, who is a senior emergency consultant at Sligo Regional Hospital, said a return to mask wearing in indoor settings and working from home where possible would lessen the risk to patients and staff.

It will not resolve the problem, he said, but it may make the difference between life and death for individual patients.

Even a push on non-mandatory wearing of masks would be something.

Elish O’Regan in the Independent asks some pretty basic questions over the lack of effort on the masking front. She notes that:

Some of the public health messaging is as quiet as a whisper.
And:

Wearing a face mask could be regarded as the most practical of measures, and while the rise in cases has led to more people using them again, clearly many are not.
The advice remains to wear them on public transport and in healthcare settings as well as indoors where there are a lot of people.
Masks are particularly important to protect other vulnerable people at higher risk if they catch Covid-19.
If there is no move to make them mandatory again, then a high-profile public awareness campaign is needed to nudge and remind people to use them more.
Why not have half-hourly public announcements on buses and trains or in shops asking people to voluntarily wear a mask for their safety and others? It would act as a reminder and also exert some peer pressure.

Yep. Why not?
The answer perhaps being that this is the ‘win’ for the government on a political level and they’re absolutely unwilling to do anything to disrupt that narrative. Take this from a Minister:

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien does not think people “need to be told through legislation” to wear masks in crowded settings.



Whereas:

Dr Emily O’Connor – based in Dublin’s Connolly Hospital – added that “thankfully the weather was very good so most people were outdoors”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, she warned that a wet Easter weekend with people celebrating indoors could “well cause problems”.
Dr O’Connor added that if a return to mask-wearing could bring this wave of Covid to an end sooner rather than later, then it would be a minor inconvenience for people.
She added that she has worked some of the worst shifts of her career in the last few weeks and that she, and a number of colleagues, have recently contracted the virus.
“The problem is that four out of six of us consultants in Connolly and emergency medicine caught Covid last week,” Dr O’Connor said. “I can’t begin to tell you how much that decimates a system which can’t reduce its inflow of patients.”

And what’s lost in all this is that any of us, with or without Covid, may need that system. Self-interest alone, even for those seemingly immune to appeals about a community interest, would make sense. So any measures that improve the situation even mildly make sense. Anemic is the right word, albeit almost too kind, for the government’s response in that context.

After the US Republicans, the Canadian Conservatives? March 31, 2022

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Interesting this from the Guardian, a piece that points to a very disturbing trend in some conservative parties.

Alberta’s premier has called fellow Conservatives “lunatics” who are “trying to take over the asylum” as a populist mutiny in his party foreshadows a bitter fight for the future of Canada’s Conservative movement.

In a leaked recording of a meeting with caucus staff on Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney warned a far-right element – skeptical of coronavirus measures and wedded to conspiracy theories – could seize control of the party in the coming weeks as the United Conservatives hold a leadership review.

“I will not let this mainstream conservative party become an agent for extreme, hateful, intolerant, bigoted and crazy views. Sorry to be so blunt with you but you need to understand what the stakes are here,” he said, before alluding to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory with a warning that “people who think I am involved in a global conspiracy to traffic children” would show up to vote for his removal.

The problem being that those like Kenney are then outgunned from the right, at least that’s the situation in the US with respect to this dynamic. It’s troubling in a sense because not only do we see so-called ‘culture war’ tropes used to fragment or disrupt polities, but they also disrupt parties and – due to the hyper-activist fringe who adopt them, they push those parties rightwards and far-rightwards.

In one way the left could rub its hands with glee. As Kenney notes:

“What’s the easiest path for me? Just to take a walk. I don’t need this job. I could go to the private sector, have my evenings, weekends off,” he said. The premier opted to stay and fight, he said, over fears that internal turmoil would hand the rival New Democrats power in the next election.

The party was hit with fresh turmoil this week after leadership made a last-minute switch to mail-in ballots, citing a record surge in party registration. The sudden shift has led to accusations of cheating by party members, some of whom called for Kenney to resign.

But the problem is these parties tend to drag, as with the Republicans, a significant tranche of voters with them. Perhaps this is largely limited to the North American continent. But I wouldn’t bet on it. 

Standing up for workers… March 31, 2022

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Thanks to JH for this…

Trinity Seanad By-Election Tally March 30, 2022

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I gather the polls closed at 11 am this morning. So counting will begin soon.

Should you be interested in the count, there’s a Tally Sheet here

Speaking of shrugging shoulders on Covid… March 30, 2022

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Mentioned recently the Tory shrug of the shoulders in the face of poverty, deprivation, any social challenges really. But there’s a not dissimilar phenomenon with regard to the rising number of those with Covid-19 in this state.

Even the IT has had to wake up to this. Jennifer Bray noted last night that, as mentioned here, there’s increasing pressure for the government to do something. The Emergency Department Taskforce of the HSE has been banging this drum, as has the NRBU and other unions.

“We need to set off the alarm bells here, we need to draw attention to how serious the situation is in hospitals,” said a source who attended.

The attendee even considered suggesting the return of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) in a sign of desperation for a clearer structure that would give guidance about the path ahead.

So. What is the political position?

Yet the Government is extremely reluctant to go back to the days of heavy-handed laws telling people what they can and cannot do.

Some Ministers believe that while hospitals are very busy, the situation is no worse than March 2018 or 2019 in terms of the numbers on trolleys.

And that’s alright then? A scandal in 2018 or 2019 is considered to be acceptable? But this isn’t 2018 or 2019, because the impact societally is much greater than that period in terms of numbers with the virus and indeed the numbers who are going sick, albeit not going into hospital.

And for a completely laissez-faire approach consider this:

They believe that the focus should be squarely on pushing the booster vaccination campaign and on reminding people of the actions they can take themselves: isolation and wearing masks in crowded settings. That should be the focus, “not laws”, one source said.

That said the Government is very aware of the drum-beat from some quarters for making mask wearing mandatory again but as one senior figure said: “the public themselves are making up their own mind. (There is) nothing stopping people wearing masks if they want to.”

There’s no effort to encourage them either. No public health campaign. No advertising, no messaging, no push at national level to get across the need to protect both those who are vulnerable and broader populations. Nothing except a few statements from the Minister for Health which are lost in the void. The irony of the above given that the Oireachtas itself has instituted more rigorous measures on its campus is difficult to ignore.

And what to make of this?

Even in the HSE, there is a belief that while mask wearing is important, focusing on this as a silver bullet at the detriment of other actions would be counter-productive.

In any event the emergency Covid legislation which has underpinned all of the restrictions is due to lapse this Thursday the 31st of March and there is little to no desire in Government to stop this. The attitude is that waves will come and waves will go, this will be a feature of life for some time to come, and the panic button should not be pressed every time things go awry.

Few would argue that masks are a silver bullet – though an emphasis on them in order to bring home the reality that individualistic indifference to the needs of others isn’t good enough. But what are the other actions contemplated? None it would appear.
Moreover, if things are going awry then surely some response is necessary.

The question was raised yesterday as to how is the current status quo of significant numbers absent from education and workplace going to be sustained given we know there is no herd immunity and reinfection is a basic fact with this virus. But it appears consideration of the future has been sparse to non-existent:

Before they wound up their work, members of the Nphet discussed the fact that cases would rise and the pressure would intensify once all restrictions were lifted.

It was inevitable.

Yet it appears no long-term modelling was done to prepare the country for what could lie ahead.

Much of this could be thrashed out by the touted successor group to Nphet, if it were set up yet.

Sources say there was no update on this, or indeed Covid generally, at Cabinet on Tuesday.

 

And for the ultimate in aversion from the central issue how about this?

There have been reports that there are disagreements between the CMO and Mr Donnelly about who should be on this group with the Minister favouring more external expertise.

Sources have also said he is very keen to ensure a better gender balance and that there has been too much talk in recent years of restrictions around, for example, golfing than on restrictions in maternity wards.

However, the events of recent days, and the meeting of the emergency taskforce on Monday, shows a desire and need for leadership which many would have expected to come from the Minister for Health.

Just on the gender balance – absolutely crucial in all this, but the reality of NPHET was that far from the caricature that it was male dominated there was this. One would expect that this would carry over into a new group. And also essential to get the new group up and running. 

And difficult to disagree with the following:

Yet the overriding sense is the car has no driver and the destination is unknown.

Avoiding a coronavirus crash is what all of the stakeholders want: how to do that is the question

 

 

Podcast – The County Monaghan Protestant Association  March 30, 2022

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Founded in 1924 , the Party was a split from Cumann na nGaedheal caused by the treatment of Army Officers in the 1924 Army Mutiny. This episode covers the Party as well as the Army Mutiny. The Group were also known as The National League and National Party
  1. The National Group
  2. The Independent Dublin Dream Team Band
  3. Post Office Candidates in Roscommon in 1991
  4. The United Labour Party
  5. Militant Labour

Founded in 1926, The County Monaghan Protestant Association represented Protestant interests on Monaghan County Council until 1999. They also backed various Dail candidates over that period with Alexander Hasslet serving three terms as a TD. 

Changing the GFA/BA? March 30, 2022

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To add to the piece yesterday about the rhetoric at Ballymoney is this from the Belfast Telegraph where notably Jeffrey Donaldson has now moved into the renegotiate the GFA/BA camp. Not a lot of that made in other media I thought, but what he has to say is very telling about the headspace of some of unionism.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has proposed changing the Good Friday Agreement saying recent court proceedings revealed that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the UK is not protected.

Writing for Unionist Voice, Sir Jeffrey referred to the Court of Appeal ruling that the constitutional guarantee, or the consent principle, in the Belfast Agreement does not preserve Northern Ireland’s status within the UK but “merely applies to a final transfer of sovereignty”.

Assuming the judgment of the Court of Appeal is not overturned by the UK Supreme Court, this means that the constitutional guarantee has never operated to prevent a change in the status of Northern Ireland.

This, he says, has served as a “wakeup call” to those who believed the consent of the people of Northern Ireland was required for any change to our constitutional status.

This, of course, is nonsense.

British courts are pointing out that the Northern Ireland Protocol doesn’t breach UK sovereignty – that it is for London to decide. That the ultimate arbiter of British sovereignty rests with London rather than with Jeffrey Donaldson or Unionism is no great revelation.

Mind you, neither is the idea that Donaldson would seek a renegotiation of the GFA/BA. After all, famously he and Foster broke with the UUP over the agreement and joined the DUP.

The problem is that in every aspect Donaldson reifies the Protocol to an absurd degree. And he ignores the reality that Northern Ireland under the GFA/BA is not the same as Essex let alone Wales or Scotland, though is closer to those last two. For a start there’s shared sovereignty with the ROI on a range of agreed matters. Which makes the following seems frankly bizarre:

 

 

The Lagan Valley MP said it is important to pursue legislative change which is a real and meaningful protection for the Union and to sustain majority support for their position.

“For example, “Any” (post 1998) change to Northern Ireland’s constitutional status within the United Kingdom should require the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for that purpose or should be subject to a cross community vote of the Northern Ireland Assembly,” he said.

He argues that provision is entirely consistent with the the government’s publicly stated position in relation to Northern Ireland and gives primacy to the people of Northern Ireland. 

But even there there are problems. Primacy over what? Brexit? The majority voted against Brexit in NI. Does that count for nothing to him?

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