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That ‘agreement’ in the North. December 23, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
18 comments

…a lot of us will be keen to parse out the details on the agreement apparently struck at Stormont today with the UK government. Welfare ‘reform’ is only the most obvious issue of controversy – I’m surely not alone in wondering what that will entail.

The Guardian notes:

Part of the £2bn aid package the parties secured will be raised through the sale of public assets such as Belfast harbour as well as Treasury loans and grants.

The agreement itself is here in PDF format. It’s kind of vague on measures…

5. The Executive will adopt in January 2015 a comprehensive programme of Public Sector Reform and Restructuring which will encompass a wide range of strategies, including measures to address structural differences in relation to the cost of managing a divided society, reduce pay bill costs, such as a reduction in the size of the NICS and the wider public sector, and the extension of shared services. An independent strategic review of public sector reform conducted by OECD will report by the end of 2015.

And…

6. Legislation will be brought before the Assembly in January 2015 to give effect to welfare changes alongside further work to develop and implement flexibilities and top-ups from the block grant as part of a package of measures to address local need.

Does this mean a replication of the pernicious measures now extant in Britain or indicate a space to diverge from same? Or is it a fudge where we’ll see a mix of both?

There’s more… for example, from the IT list of what’s been agreed…

Key proposals include: l The creation of a Historical Investigations Unit to inquire into killings of the Troubles. l A commission to enable people to privately learn how their loved ones were killed. l The creation of an oral history archive where experiences of the conflict could be shared. l A commission to report on flags within 18 months of being established. l Devolving responsibility for parades from the Parades Commission to the Northern Assembly. l Cutting the size of the Northern Assembly from 108 to 90 members by the 2021 Assembly elections. l Reducing the Executive departments from 12 to nine by the 2016 Assembly elections. l The potential to create a formal opposition at Stormont.

The Assembly one is a good way into the future, UK elections may make that moot. The departments one likewise, but more pressing. A formal ‘opposition’. Is that cosmetic or real, what powers will it have.

59.Arrangements will be put in place by the Assembly by March 2015 to enable those parties which would be entitled to ministerial positions in the Executive, but choose not to take them up, to be recognised as an official opposition and to facilitate their work. These measures will include:
a) Provision for financial and research assistance (from within existing Assembly budgets keeping these changes cost neutral); and
b) Designatedspeakingrightsincludingtheopportunitytoaskquestions and table business sufficient to permit the parties to discharge their opposition duties.

Doesn’t that seem a trifle insubstantial?

And what of the package for redundancies from the public sector?

And very noticeable that the complaints from the Alliance and SDLP aren’t over economic matters. Indeed it’s as if the latter isn’t that important in the scheme of things. Perhaps it’s not if the whole thing is cosmetic… but…

Anyhow, this doesn’t sound anywhere near as positive as the spinning this evening is painting it. Or maybe it is that this isn’t quite what is being sold, by any involved.

Playing (protest) politics over the union flag… December 3, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Northern Ireland.
2 comments

The news about the QUB report on the flag ‘protest’ is very useful. For it underlines the dangers of political parties attempting to initiate protest on such issues in the North and then seeing them slip from their control. As the report ‘The Flag Dispute – Anatomy of a Protest’ notes:

“There is no doubt that the 40,000 leaflets distributed by the DUP and the UUP had a catalytic effect in the run-up to the City Hall vote. It was this more than anything else which inflamed the mood at that point,”

And then, the inevitable…

“Following the first riot however the political parties found the campaign had slipped out of their control, and while they tried to regain the initiative by launching the Unionist Forum, their influence was very limited – indeed, many protesters began to focus their ire on the leaders of mainstream unionism,”

Nor were the paramilitaries in control of the situation:

“[they] were not executing a plan or controlling the direction of the protest…Mostly it was an unhappy time for both organisations and served to exacerbate existing tensions within their ranks.”

There’s some remarkable information on just how few were mobilised by the issue. For example:

“The numbers involved in the street protests were only ever a very small percentage of the unionist population,” said the report. “Even in the protest heartland of east Belfast no more than one per cent of the population participated in the demonstrations”

Though it does note that even despite the violence and inconvenience (” 160 PSNI officers were injured over four months of protests, 362 people were charged in connection with the demonstrations and policing the protests cost £21.9 million”) 46 per cent of unionists supported the protests continuing.

And how was it eventually tamped down?

“The criminalisation of the protesters, and the threat of a custodial sentence in particular, was a major deterrent and it played a critical part in the waning of the flag protest”

Though this wasn’t cost-free:

“This has had knock-on effects in worsening the sense of alienation that some in the community feel towards the institutions of criminal justice in post-Agreement Northern Ireland. ”

And all this over a limitation, not an abolition, of flag-flying, and one which proposed bringing it closer into line with UK norms.

Still, perhaps some reason for if not optimism, at least a less pessimistic view:

Co-author, Dr Katy Hayward, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s, said: “The causes of the flag protest are in many ways small scale versions of sources of difficulty in the wider peace process. As well as ongoing problems of poverty and marginalisation, we found familiar trends of cultural contestation and distrust of political institutions. In addition to this, powerful emotions – both uplifting and negative – shaped people’s experience of the protest and contributed to its lasting impact on individuals and the wider community.”

According to co-author Professor Peter Shirlow, this impact is notably more localised and small scale than that of similar events in Northern Ireland’s troubled past (such as the demonstrations following the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985), and descriptions of a “culture war” are misleading and unhelpful. The root causes of the protest still need to be addressed and the issue of flags and symbols must be handled with care.

And this which I think is very relevant:

For example, the report notes that the choice of a symbol for the Northern Ireland Assembly could easily have turned into a bitter argument. Dr Dominic Bryan suggests: “Instead, a piece of creative thinking resulted in the adoption of the flax motif, now accepted by all sides as an elegant symbol for the devolved parliament.

Whether it is possible to introduce new symbolism and slowly reduce older symbolism is an interesting task for the years ahead. Genuine parity would perhaps see the introduction of both flags flying, but that’s inconceivable at this point, is it not?

For those keen to read more here’s the full text.

Discourtesy and political expedience… November 24, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Northern Ireland.
6 comments

Depressing to read the following:

Gregory Campbell’s constituency office in East Londonderry confirmed it had been warned by police of a serious threat to the Democratic Unionist MP’s life.
On Saturday, Campbell repeated his mockery of Irish during a speech to the DUP’s annual conference, near Belfast. Earlier this month, he made fun of the Sinn Fйin culture minister in the Stormont parliament with the words: “curry my yoghurt can coca coal yer” – a send-up of the Irish for “thank you, speaker.”

Remarkable discourtesy, disrespect and in a sense ignorance, on his part, really, and to what purpose? Well, presumably to fire up the old base in advance of elections. Not so much a dog whistle as a bullhorn. Still, revelatory to read some of the comments underneath about this piece on Slugger on the same topic about how much of a facade this appears to be…

But not one which is free of negative impacts. And not just stupid and pointless death threats. UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has it about right when he says:

“I also regret that Mr Campbell has chosen to repeat his insult to the Irish language. I am still not clear what point he is trying to make, but the impact is crystal clear. It is highly damaging to community relations.”

That SDLP/SF electoral pact non-starter November 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland.
2 comments

…clever, in a way, of SF to pitch their call for a pact between the SDLP and themselves at the forthcoming Westminster elections in the following way:

Calling for a pact to “maximise pro-[Belfast] Agreement representation Mr McGuinness said, “If the SDLP choose to stand in these constituencies they risk handing these seats to anti-agreement unionists.”
“This would be a setback for the political process in the North. It would also add further momentum to the British government’s shift towards increasingly partisan support for negative unionism and provide allies and support for a future Tory assault on public services,” he said.

Predictable given past approaches, that the SDLP should reject it. But it does point up the contradictions of the GFA/BA. Look at it one way and the idea of a pro-GFA/BA alliance makes perfect political sense, look at it another and it can seem to reinforce ‘head-count’ politics.

Not sure about SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly’s call that:

Sinn Féin should end its abstentionist policy. “Take your seats lads,” she said.

Though it would seem from her use of language to be not entirely serious:

“The sleeveens who have approached us about tribal pacts don’t even intend to take their seats.
“Remember, they have jettisoned just about every other so-called republican principle, and they fly over to London regularly just to be filmed with a Westminster background,” she added.

To be honest I don’t see why that’s an inconsistency. They’re as entitled to sit or not sit as they see fit, just as the SDLP is entitled to do likewise.

A modest proposal on partition… well… not quite… November 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
17 comments

It’s unusual to read Dennis Kennedy (former deputy editor of the IT and unionist), a man given to asperity filled texts on matters cross-border, considering what happens on this island should Britain leave the European Union in the near to mid-term future. He notes that in the GFA/BA:

[there] is only one mention of the EU (in the preamble, where EU membership is cited as one factor in the unique relationship between the UK and Ireland), but it is the framework of EU citizenship that validates its essential core: the idea that conflicting Irish and British identities can co-exist as equals within present-day Northern Ireland, pending some future resolution of the fundamental divide.
How would the promise in the agreement to “recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose”, and accordingly to confirm their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship, be honoured if the UK, including Northern Ireland, was outside the EU, while the Republic was inside?

And he notes that in the event of an exit:

Scotland would almost certainly demand, and get, a referendum to make its own decision on EU membership, and would most probably opt to stay in the EU, not the UK. That would leave Northern Ireland painfully isolated within a UK that would be even more dominated by the 90 per cent of the population living in England, who are manifestly becoming increasingly nationalistically British or, in reality, English.

Kennedy writes that:

Northern Ireland is too small and too divided to permit the Scottish alternative of independence within the EU, so what options does it have, apart from voting No in any poll on leaving the EU and campaigning in Britain against exit on the grounds of the threat it would pose to a fragile peace?

And what then?

…is it time to revisit Conor Cruise O’Brien’s last and most controversial intervention in Northern affairs? In the late 1990s he suggested that the interests of the Protestant or unionist community in Northern Ireland were more threatened by the UK’s determination to do a deal with Sinn Féin/IRA than they would be by a negotiated deal with Dublin to unite Ireland under a federal-type arrangement that guaranteed all existing rights to all residents of the North. This community, he maintained, would be better able to defend its interests under such an agreement than it would as “despised hangers-on” and a tiny minority in the UK.

Let’s not forget that CCO’B in his one man unique reworking of Éire Nua managed to see the retention of the RUC as crucial to any future dispensation. Let us also not forget that he resigned (or was he forced to resign?) from the UKUP after delivering unto the nation this particular evidence of his genius.

But…

Would any significant section of traditional unionism even look at a federal proposal? The once great obstacle of “Rome Rule” has almost vanished, but other roadblocks remain, and the answer is almost certainly no.
But might unionists consider it if life within a very much changed UK was less agreeable to them, and particularly if they felt they were being edged closer and closer to a united Ireland, either by pressure from London or by demographic change in Northern Ireland?

That’s actually an interesting question. Is it plausible unionists might say ‘we agree to this, but not that…’. It wouldn’t be the first time given their acceptance of home rule in six counties.

So… what then would be the bill of fare?

Obviously a new constitution would be needed to accommodate the new Ireland, and some sort of devolved structure for what is now Northern Ireland.
Some things would have to go: the name of the state could no longer be Éire, nor could Irish be the “first national language”, nor the tricolour the national flag. (Though it’s not in the Constitution, a new national anthem would be needed, and we could throw in neutrality and the names of the railway stations as beyond their sell-by date.)

Anyhow, that last is a clue that Kennedy isn’t being entirely serious. He proceeds to quote Michael Sweetman writing forty years ago saying:

We [in the Republic] have got to go back to 1912 and relinquish a great deal of what has happened since in order that both parts of the country can make a new start.” He deplored “consistent attempts to impose a narrow concept of Irishness, involving the primacy of Gaelic culture, the rejection of British strands in Irish traditions, and a particular view of history which made a virtue of fighting against Britain and a vice of defending British rule”.
And he added: “It is not from that kind of Republicanism, with its glorification of violence in the past and its incitement to violence in the present, that the new Ireland will come.”

I wonder. But regardless, he takes Enda Kenny to task:

What a tragedy that a Fine Gael Taoiseach could still say last month that he was always proud to be a 1916 man and that he saw the Rising as the central formative and defining act in the shaping of modern Ireland.

The funny thing is that it’s not quite as contentious statement as he seems to imagine. One could believe precisely that, with some shading, and not see it as necessarily a good thing in and of itself. One presumes that one J. Bruton feels something along those lines. As it happens I think Kenny, if he gives the matter any thought at all (and that 1916 video tends to indicate he probably doesn’t), probably does believe it was on balance a good thing, etc. Probably. Perhaps.

And:

At this point we can probably stop fantasising. The Rising was the “formative and defining act” of a partitioned Ireland, in which one part was in many ways Rome-ruled, socially conservative (to put it mildly) and at times dangerously ambivalent towards armed republicanism. This held no attractions whatever for the “divided brethren” in the North. Much has changed in many ways, and in the minds of many of the people, but the State, and its political leaders, cling to their founding fictions.

Interestingly though, he doesn’t addresss the other part of that partitioned Ireland, does he, or not really or what happened next? Indeed, if we are going back to 1912 as he seemingly suggests implicitly is a good thing then what of that motive force of advanced nationalism, the response of political unionism to Home Rule?

Anyhow, he does ask a reasonable question:

Waking up at this point would save us from wrestling with the question of where the £9 billion London transfers each year into Northern Ireland would come from. In 1998, Conor Cruise O’Brien blithely assumed that London would be so happy to be shot of Northern Ireland, and Dublin so pleased to welcome it, and the international community so delighted for us all, that they would all stump up. Fat chance of that now. All of which leaves Northern Ireland, as ever, in the quare place.

Though, on reflection, it’s not that difficult to see a not entirely grateful UK or rUK being willing to part subsidise matters for a limited period following some sort of agreement.

But let’s put aside much of that and consider what is most telling about this. That being that people on this island are beginning to wake up to the possibility – as yet still slim, that the future shape of Britain may be very different to what it is today. And more importantly, perhaps they are waking the thought that the pressures and dynamics within and on the UK are of a much greater order than was thought previously. That, in fact, the UK as we know it may well be gone in a relatively short space of time.

Perhaps what is most curious is that in Britain this realisation doesn’t seem to have hit home. There the Tories appear near oblivious to what UKIP and euroscepticism appear to have wrought already on the union while Labour hasn’t fashioned anything close to a narrative about this. And all the while the contradictions become ever clearer as regards the structure of the UK as it is (though that, of course, does not mean that it will not persist well into the future). There’s a subtle irony in that, is there not?

SF, the IRA and another legacy of the conflict. October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Uncategorized.
33 comments

It has to be said that the testimony of Maíria Cahill is extremely compelling. The specific issue is grim in the extreme, its implications for broader processes difficult to ascertain.

The question does arise as to where this can go? It’s difficult to see a legal route forward. But that doesn’t predicate against other processes where people voluntarily come forward to assist. There’s a political dimension to this, which is worth discussing further in a different post. But it’s important to untangle politicisation (from whatever quarter) from the core issue of a woman who felt that the experiences she described were marginalised or dismissed or the processes she was subjected to were incomplete and biased.

It is areas and issues like this which have proven so troubling as the armed conflict stage has slipped into the past, as against paramilitary activities as such – which is not to say the latter haven’t been troubling. The interface between internal codes of discipline and behaviour and an external society which where the broader legal framework was – for a significant number – simply invalid has thrown up some deeply difficult contradictions even before we arrive at these events.

It speaks of issues of democratic legitimation for processes that had no societal legal element, and the dangers of relying upon those processes that were internal to organisations. Simply put internal investigations were in and of themselves flawed from the off. It also points up the isolation of those who found themselves in situations like that Maíria Cahill has outlined where there were those who abused what authority there was and there was no alternative authority to appeal to.

That Tory ‘Bill of Rights’ plan and the implications for Northern Ireland October 3, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics, Northern Ireland.
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reading this was useful. Conor Gearty in the Guardian notes that the Tories ‘promise’ to essentially derogate from the ECHR (which, needless to say they, the Tories, seem to assume is part of the EU structure), has an interesting side effect closer to home:

What of Scotland and of Wales? Neither gets a mention – just a vague reference to working with the devolved legislatures “to make sure there is an effective new settlement across the UK”. The referendum’s message of inclusivity is already long forgotten, it seems. And the Good Friday agreement, which settled Northern Ireland’s conflict – it specifically requires incorporation of the convention into Northern Ireland’s law. What will happen there?

Gearty suggests it’s effectively back of an envelope politicking, yet more reddish meat thrown to appease the unappeasable on the eurosceptic wing of the party. Indeed so. But as always there’s the sense that Cameron and Co simply don’t get, or perhaps more accurately, don’t care about the ramifications of what they do. We saw something similar in the near immediate clawback of promises made during the Scottish referendum once the vote was in.

While you’re thinking about that think about this… George Osborne decides to take a swing at the charity sector in the UK. Looks like some are going to take a swing back.

George Osborne has triggered a backlash from charities after he urged companies to defend the economy against their “anti-business views” and those of pressure groups and trade unions.

He is beyond parody. But he is also in power.

After Scotland, some implications for this island. September 29, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
5 comments

A very readable edition of the Phoenix this week, including an analysis of the left of Sinn Féin TDs currently in situ disguised as a profile of Paul Murphy of the SP – of which more later in the week. But one thing that caught my eye was a piece on Unionism in the North in the wake of the Scottish referendum. It may have offered a No in Scotland, but the Phoenix makes one very pertinent point in relation to Northern Ireland.

By linking changes for the rest of the UK to the Scottish timetable Cameron seems determined to legislate to take away voting powers from non-English MPS before next May’s general election.

It continues by noting that should that take effect then a Labour government despite having an overall majority in the UK would then be likely unable to implement policy for England unless they get a majority of MPs there. Tough for Labour, but as the Phoenix notes, there are ramifications for Unionism.

It’s worse for the DUP: their hopes of holding the balance of power were dashed last Friday. Cameron had been assiduously courting them so that their eight MPs would enable him to continue to govern as a minority government if there is a hung parliament next May. Not any more. The DUP will be surplus to requirements.

And that means they have much less leverage at Westminster. Will this come to pass? Well, I’d think we’ve a way to go yet. But Cameron will most certainly be in a hurry to do all he can to stymie Labour and it may well be that a sort of functional part/near federalisation of the UK would be precisely what he wanted.

Of course it raises difficult issues and contradictions more broadly if Scotland and Wales (and England too!) are gaining increased powers just at the point NI is trying to hand them back and refuse any further ones.

Just in the context of debates about Home Rule still circulating in the RoI, the Phoenix makes an excellent point:

Unionists do not want anything which might increase their separation from Westminster. In effect they are still opposing Home Rule.

After Paisley… September 25, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
6 comments

In a way it seems to me that the character of Paisley was in most respects so well known that it’s hardly surprising little or nothing of any great import was related these last few weeks. There may be more in the months and years ahead. We shall see. That said one quote from Tom McGurk struck me as of particularly interest in his article in the SBP the week of Paisley’s death (and it chimes with a comment that Brian Hanley made during the last week here).

It is not generally understood how powerful the class divisions were among Ulster Protestants. The plantation of Ulster created a society of wealthy grandees and their poor retainers, and right down to the end of the 20th century this division persisted among Ulster Protestants.
There was the ‘big house’ Protestant ruling class and under them their followers, either employed by them or politically subservient to them. The only show of equality was July 12 when all donned bowler hats and sashes and marched out to show just who was still boss around here.
In American socio-political terms the Paisleys were what is described as poor white Protestant trash.

Is that an overstatement? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it is not difficult to see how that sort of class dynamic informed perhaps some of what seems at this remove to have been something close to rage.

McGurk perhaps is overstating it too when he writes:

I think that without him there would never have been the Provisional IRA that emerged out of the attempted pogrom in West Belfast in August 1969 by Paisley’s followers. The IRA arose out of the smouldering remains of Bombay Street Paisley had lit the torch. For 25 years he frightened unionism away from ever seeking an agreement with the nationalist community and he cut down each unionist leader one after another.

And yet, and yet. One thing that always struck me when talking to relations in England in the 1970s onwards was how he was in a sense a personification of the North. Of course their view was filtered by many different factors, and was – understandably in some respects – very simplistic, and yet there too that personality, that rage, managed to express itself.

McGurk notes he became a big cuddly teddy bear, but he is unflinching in laying the blame for much of what happened at his feet. A harsh but perhaps necessary response to some of what we’ve heard recently.

Ian Paisley – 1926 – 2014 September 12, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
28 comments

As noted by CMK in comments… and as Gewerkschaftler notes as regards the Guardian piece by Gerry Adams about him:

Best comment on Gerry Adam’s piece on Ian Paisley.

“So what are you saying here Gerry? Hegel was right?”

A genuinely historic figure in the history of this island and the one next door. It will be educative to read the responses to his death.

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