Archive for the 'Northern Ireland' Category


If the DUP can make Martin McGuinness Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland then we shouldn’t rule them out making Corbyn Prime Minister

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

A Brexit deal that separates the Six Counties from the rest of the UK could rupture the DUP and Tory alliance for years.

Over the last few years many observers on politics, myself included, have made assumptions that turned out be very wrong. Lib Dem incumbency would save them from a catastrophic seat loss in 2015, the electorate wouldn’t vote to make themselves poorer by Leaving the European Union, and Jeremy Corbyn’s backstory & a divided Labour party would see a Corbyn led Labour party pummelled at the 2017 general election to name but three assumption that proved hugely wrong.

But I’m starting to wonder if another assumption might turn out to be similarly wrong, that assumption being the DUP will never do anything that makes Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister. I’m not going to repeat the many reasons why Jeremy Corbyn & John McDonnell are repulsive to the DUP, but then I remember the photograph above.

The DUP went into a power sharing agreement with the political wing of the IRA and made a former IRA Chief of Staff Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. If they can do that then they can easily make Corbyn Prime Minister.

They may do that if Mrs May is seen to betray Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations and see Northern Ireland more aligned with the EU than with Great Britain.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s takes his whip from Rome, will he take his whip with the DUP too?

As an agnostic someone’s Catholicism isn’t really an issue for me* but the Catholicism of the favourite to succeed Theresa May might be an issue for the DUP and for Jacob Rees-Mogg. Throughout the history of the DUP there’s been a lot of things that will alarm Catholics and make you wonder if they’ll ever make a Catholic the Prime Minister.

  1. Ian Paisley Senior said of the European Union it was ‘a beast ridden by the harlot Catholic church.’
  2. When Pope John Paul II addressed the European Parliament Paisley held up a red poster and shouted ‘”Pope John Paul II – Antichrist” and began shouting, ”I renounce you as the Antichrist!”’
  3. When the late Queen Mother visited the Pope in The Vatican he observed ‘Her visit to the Vatican was spiritual fornication and adultery with the Antichrist.’
  4. He also said of Catholics that ‘they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin.’ I wonder what the DUP think of the father of six Jacob Rees-Mogg and vice versa.
  5. Paisley also said ‘he considered all Catholics to be members of the Irish Republican Army, which he branded as a collective of terrorists.’

Whilst you can argue that Ian Paisley’s time has gone no one senior in the DUP ever repudiated Paisley’s comments, additionally you regularly still see articles like ‘Anti-Catholic bigotry of many in DUP still significant.’

Back in 1994 when the Loyalist Paramilitary the UDA came up with a Doomsday plan in the event of a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. The plan discussed taking Catholic hostages as part of creating a Protestant Homeland. The ”Doomsday” scenario recognises there would be large numbers of Catholics left within the Protestant homeland and offers three chilling options on dealing with them — expulsion, internment, or nullification.

Current DUP MP Sammy Wilson described the Doomsday plan as ”a very valuable return to reality”.  Would Jacob Rees-Mogg really want to ally himself with such a party?

With Jacob Rees-Mogg admitting he takes his whip from the Roman Catholic Church then in some DUP eyes Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister might seem the attractive option.


*Unless their opponent were a Pastafarian, that would make me more likely to vote for the Pastafarian.


An artistic solution to the Northern Ireland border conundrum

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018


If the 7 Sinn Fein MPs take their seats TMay’s future & possibly Brexit would be down to the Tory EU rebels

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Lots of talk about today of the possibility that the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, taking up its MP seats at Westminster. A call has been made by the prime minister of the Irish Republic, Leo Varadkar, who is saying that the Sinn Fein MPs should take up their seats at Westminster in order to make things better for Ireland.

On the face of it this seems simple but I’m am less sure. For a century Sinn Fein MPs who’ve been elected to Westminster have said they will not make the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and don’t take up their seats. This is fairly fundamental to them and the party will point out that at the time of standing they made clear that this is what they would do.

At the last election 7 Sinn Fein MPs were returned though one seat is currently vacant awaiting the outcome of a by-election.

Seat totals from GE2017
CON 317
LAB 262
SNP 35
LD 12
DUP 10
Sinn Fein 7
PC 4
Ind 1
Speaker 1

Given that we would assume that the DUP’s 10 MPs will go on supporting the Conservatives then on paper at least Theresa May should be able to cope with any critical vote.

The big problem, and the power, would shift to the Tory Rebels such as the former cabinet Ministers Ken Clarke. Dominic Grieve with several other names hovering in the background.

If SF turned down the request from the Irish PM then the party could be held responsible in both parts of Ireland for all ythe problems Brexit could cause. This will be a close decision.

Mike Smithson


Boundary conditions. How Brexit might be helping to lay the ground for the SNP

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Some international boundaries are easy to understand. The Pyrenees form a natural frontier between Spain and France. The Kattegat conveniently separates Sweden and Denmark. While in the past each pair of countries has seen their border shift over time, the current resting place looks very natural.

The boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland does not come in that category. There are few obvious natural boundaries along the route. Donegal is almost cut off from the rest of the Republic of Ireland. Roads snake in and out of the border. Despite or because of its fraught history, it is all rather arbitrary.

The boundary was established in some disorder at the height of the Irish war of independence. As a quick solution, the six most north-easterly counties were retained within the UK on their existing county lines. This made no particular sense on religious grounds, since substantial parts of those six counties were majority Catholic even at that time. The boundary was originally supposed to be reviewed but in the end the review proved too controversial to see through to its conclusion. So the impromptu boundary stuck.

The contrast between the border’s informal origins and its fraught history is stark. After a lot of bloodshed, a way forward for Northern Ireland was brokered through the Good Friday Agreement. Any Brexit settlement is going to need to deal with not just the way in which the EU and the UK wish to establish their ongoing relationship but also to address the hopes and fears of both Northern Irish communities.

The Northern Irish border will be the main land border between Britain and the EU (pedants will note that there will also be EU/UK land borders at Gibraltar and in Cyprus). If Britain is to be outside the customs union, as hardline Leavers are suddenly insisting is essential to honour the Brexit vote, the UK is going to need to put in place a system for monitoring the new trade boundary.

If it fails to do so, it will in substance be giving the EU preferential access over other nations with which the UK trades. It is hard to see how that is consistent with Britain’s Most Favoured Nation obligations under the WTO, under which it must offer all WTO members the terms offered to the otherwise most favoured trading partner. And it needs to do so in a way that is not going to have either the nationalists up in arms because the border has been resurrected or the unionists up in arms because the boundary of the customs union has been moved to the Irish Sea. In each case, “up in arms” has the nasty potential to be literal rather than metaphorical.

The main part of the Brexit agreement is going to require all the élan of Fred Astaire. Those aspects that deal with the Irish border are going to require the skills of Ginger Rogers, who did everything that Fred Astaire did, but in high heels and backwards.

Other better brains than mine are looking at how this might be achieved. For present purposes, I’m going to assume that a solution of some kind will be found. I’m a sunny optimist, you see.

At that point, the UK government will have provided the Scottish government with a route map to dealing with many of the trickier aspects of independence. The Irish border is longer than England’s borders with Scotland and Wales put together. The two English counties and the two Scottish counties that border each other are collectively bigger and emptier than the five Northern Irish counties that border the Republic of Ireland (never mind the Irish counties on the other side of the border).

The practical, legal and technological problems of a border between Scotland and England look far more straightforward than those of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A precedent would have been established as to the nature of the enduring relationship between the two sides after they had disentangled.

When the Scottish independence referendum was fought in 2014, one of the biggest weaknesses that Scotland faced was on the practicalities of transition to independence. In a few years’ time the Scottish nationalists may well find themselves with a manual for many aspects, courtesy of Brexit.

For now, the cause of Scottish independence has slipped back slightly from its high water mark. The unionist cause, having been in disarray, has become more organised. After an initial spasm after the EU referendum result, it seems that Scottish opinion is as-you-were so far as independence is concerned.

The SNP, however, has not given up on the cause and it will be waiting for the right moment to declare that a generation is up. When it does, it will be much better prepared on the technicalities than first time around. So Unionists are going to need to be much better prepared than they were last time round on the questions of identity. They don’t look it yet.

Alastair Meeks


The coming West Tyrone by-election would only matter if the winner took his/her seat at Westminster

Monday, January 15th, 2018


The seat will have land border with the Irish Republic and EU following Brexit

At last we have the first by-election of the 2017 Parliament. It is in West Tyrone in Northern Ireland where the sitting Sinn Fein MP has decided to resign following controversy over things that he posted on the internet.

Given that following his party’s normal practice he has never taken his seat at Westminster the margins from last June look so great that the coming battle seems largely irrelevant.

The only way that could change would be if Sinn Fein changed its boycott policy or else another Republican was allowed to stand. Clearly the numbers show that there is little potential here for the DUP or any of the protestant parties.

With Brexit getting closer by the day and the Irish issue looming large I wonder whether we could in fact see some other candidate emerge who would want to take up the seat at Westminster. Given the tightness of the Conservative position that could make things a little bit more pressured for Mrs May and her team.

It used to be that there was a range of nationalist MPs elected in Norther Ireland but over the years they have all been replaced by SF who don’t sit. The effect of this is that the Ulster Catholic community has been without a political voice in London for many years.

This could be the election to change that but I don’t think it will.

Mike Smithson


Iff this is true then the chances of a 2018 general election have increased, the DUP will bring down Mrs May’s government

Monday, December 4th, 2017



The Irish border issue has the potential to bring down Mrs May’s government

Friday, December 1st, 2017

The DUP are revolting and they could make Corbyn PM

Yesterday it was reported by several outlets

The Democratic Unionist Party has warned it may withdraw its support for Theresa May’s government if Northern Ireland is treated as a separate customs and trading regime after Brexit.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson suggested any attempt to “placate Dublin and the EU” over the Irish border could mean its ten MPs no longer prop up the Tories at Westminster.

The party ratcheted up the pressure on Thursday amid attempts to avoid a deadlock over a potential “hard border” between the north and south of Ireland.

Reports had suggested the government was preparing to agree that trading relations in some areas, such as agriculture and energy, would remain harmonised between Northern Ireland and the EU after quitting the EU. 

One of the axioms of politics is that the DUP will never make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister, but then I remember the DUP went into coalition with Sinn Féin at Stormont and made the reputed former second-in-command of the IRA in Derry the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, if the DUP can do that then they can make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister, either directly or indirectly.

As Stephen Bush notes ‘The Democratic Unionist Party are also virulently opposed to anything which weakens the connection between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. As for which they care about more, the clue is in the title: it’s the maintenance of the United Kingdom, rather than the frustration of one sixty-something political leader.’

So what are the betting implications of all this? Potentially bad news for those of us who have been laying Jeremy Corbyn as next Prime Minister. We’d also have to re-evaluate our betting position on the year of the next general election. I’d probably want more than 11/4 on a 2018 being the year of the next general election. I’m not sure I could cope with a general election next year.

Who would have thought the Tories might be the facilitators of the weakening of The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland and making Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister?


PS – Nigel Dodds of the DUP has pointed out another fundamental problem with the government’s proposals.


A New Ireland?

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

There is no word for schadenfraude in Gaelic, or English, for that matter. Still, the Irish can be forgiven for feeling more than a touch of it as their needs seem to be one of the key – and very possibly the hardest – of issues to be resolved in the Article 50 negotiations. It is probably fair to say that of all the issues which exercised voters over the years in relation to the EU and Britain’s role in it (immigration, control over laws, the right to have a free trade agreement with nameless faraway countries, the amount paid to the EU), the effect on Ireland of our EU membership and possible departure was not high on the list.

The idea that the Irish might veto the start of trade talks has triggered a bout of condescending fury amongst certain newspapers and politicians. How dare a small poorer island so dependent on Britain challenge Britain’s right to determine its own destiny in whatever way it sees fit? Such impertinence! And yet, impertinent or not, British politicians now face having to grapple with how to accommodate Irish interests and the minutiae of Irish politics, both north and south of the Irish border, a task made even harder by the government’s dependence on DUP votes for a majority.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this has come as an unwelcome surprise to many of the romantically optimistic Brexiteers, reinforced by a perception that in the 17 months since the referendum the hard thinking about how to reconcile the government’s preferred Brexit with the Northern Ireland agreement, the CTA and all the other ties that bind Ireland and Britain simply has not been done.

It is not the first time, of course, that the question of Ireland has dominated – or persisted like a recurring bout of shingles in – English politics.

From Tudor times onwards, no English government has been able to ignore Ireland. Indeed, a policy for Ireland was essential Mostly, this was for strategic reasons to protect Britain’s flank from Continental invasion, often aided by the rebellious Irish (Wolfe Tone). Sometimes it was because the very existence and legitimacy of the English constitutional settlement depended on victory in Ireland (the Battle of the Boyne).

On occasion the constitutional settlement was changed as a result of events in Ireland (the Act of Union). And ever since the Reformation, the religious question added an extra level of friction which poisoned Anglo-Irish relations in a way which it is hard for a largely secular society accustomed to a mildly apologetic Anglicanism to understand. And throughout, always, the question of land: who owned it, who benefited, who was dispossessed, who could live on it, how many mouths it could feed – or, tragically, not. A question which, together with Irish demands for a form of self-government, took up a significant amount of Parliamentary time and governmental energy throughout the 19th and early 20th century, in a way unimaginable today.

The Irish question was never a sideshow, much as some might have wished it so. A small country on the edge of a great Empire, an island whose main export was its people, almost in spite of itself, punched above its weight in its impact on the politics and culture of its dominant neighbour.

And even in the last century when Ireland (or the greater part of it) broke away, Irish nationalism continued to have an impact, though less on Parliament and more on those institutions which underpin or support the rule of law and security: the army (the Curragh Mutiny and the Tory party’s support for violent resistance to Parliamentary decisions are an ironic counterpoint to the current Labour leadership’s past support for violent Irish nationalism, though Corbyn is unlikely ever to draw attention to it.)

The police and English judiciary (whose investigations of terrorist crimes and responses to miscarriages of justice in the 1970’s were not their finest hour) and the Northern Irish authorities, whose behaviour resulted in Britain being found guilty of degrading and inhumane treatment.

It is not surprising that having finally put this bloody and neuralgic history behind it, best exemplified by a few well-chosen words by HMQ at Dublin Castle and a symbolic bow before a memorial to the dead, Ireland should feel so concerned by the prospect of a reintroduction of hard borders and all that this entails.

So. Can Britain learn any lessons from this long shared history? Might it too now become once again an island country on the edge of a large dominant polity but punching well above its weight? The romantically nostalgic Brexiteers must hope so.

Or is another Irish example its more likely future? The example set by the Ireland of the 20th century, perhaps? A country which, after barely taming its internal divisions following its messy departure, retreated into itself, played little part in world affairs, seemed content with a traditional and stifling cultural zeitgeist (recently revealed to have hidden a multitude of sins), exported its young, was seen as a problem by its neighbours (when they were wearily forced to pay it attention) and only rediscovered its mojo when it rejoined a larger stage.