Archive for the 'Northern Ireland' Category

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Cost to tax-payers of TMay’s calamitous election decision and terrible campaign: £1bn

Monday, June 26th, 2017

This gives the Tories an effective majority of 15

A deal has been done. The Tories are to be propped up in Parliament by the 10 DUP MPs who have negotiated a £1bn deal for the province.

So TMay’s party will be able to struggle on although the parliamentary arithmetic still looks tight and is nothing like as comfortable as during the 2010-2015 CON-LD coalition. We are going to see some very tight Commons votes with the opposition parties seeking to ambush the government all the time. It is not going to be comfortable being an MP.

As well as the controversial cash payment Team May has had to cut some of the manifesto commitments such as abandoning the pensior trip lock, the move against the winter fuel payment and the social care plans.

In return the DUP will support the Tories over the Queen’s Speech, in confidence motions and on budgets. The combined CON+DUP contingent is 328. My calculation is that with Sinn Fein MPs continuing their refusal to take up their seats the Tories have an effective majority of 15 for the key votes.

This should create some stability though the SNP are going to put a lot of pressure on the Scottish Tory MPs who were elected two and a half weeks ago.

The deal makes an early election much less likely which has been reflected in the betting.

Whether it secures the future of the person who created this mess for the blue team, Mrs. May, is hard to say. It was her decision to go for an election three years early and her lack of campaigning skills that lost the party its working majority.

As for where the £1bn comes from – that’s likely to be a contentious issue whenever the Tories try to bring in any cuts.

Mike Smithson




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Northern Ireland: Calls for ‘united Unionism’ simply don’t add up

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Unionism is at a crossroads. But that crossroads has a clear signpost. The signpost was the 2017 Assembly election.

Make no mistake, 2017 was a bad election, indeed a terrible election for Unionism. Of the 18-seat reduction caused by the 2016 Act, 16 were lost by Unionists.

But look at why those seats were lost. They were lost because Sinn Fein were able to tap into an angry Nationalist pool of voters, stirred up by the intemperate language of Arlene Foster and others within the DUP. The DUP leadership goaded the Nationalist voters to the polls.

The Ulster Unionist Party lost four seats because of the reduction in overall seat numbers. Additionally, it lost seats in West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and Newry and Armagh because of Arlene Foster and where the party was directly in competition with the DUP in East Antrim it gained a seat.

The DUP lost out largely because they were in such a dominant position. They were looking to hold three seats in a large number of constituencies and failed to do so in all but Strangford. They additionally lost seats in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Belfast South largely because they are a party which struggles to win over high preference transfers from smaller parties.

Vote transfers are a hot topic at the moment. But the voting system is not going to be changed any time soon. Instead of railing against the system, we have to work with it.

Which is why the call for a single, united Unionist party is crazy. It could have some limited and temporary success in Westminster elections but Nis Westminster MPs are lost in a sea of English ones. They can occasionally hold a whip hand over a government, but with Corbyn determined on a course towards oblivion for Labour, it’s unlikely that NI’s MPs will be needed by anyone for a while.

So the STV-based Assembly maths is crucial. For Unionism as a whole to seek to coalesce around the most transfer-toxic of all the political parties in Northern Ireland would be lunacy. The Ulster Unionist Party has clearly made itself more transfer friendly in recent years. In a decent number of seats, it is within shouting distance of either a first or a second seat. Seats that could at least keep the Unionist bloc ahead or on a par with the Nationalist one for a decent period of time.

If the two current larger parties again fail, there is the obvious possibility of a move to the centre. A Unionist party has to be holding ground there for that not to be a total disaster for the Unionist electoral position. So the UUP disbanding and being folded into the DUP would be an abrogation of responsibility.

It also totally ignores the fact that a number of UUP members are not unionists to the detriment of all else. Many would feel more comfortable in Alliance than in the DUP. A number of their voters would feel the same way. The crude maths that DUP+UUP = Win is moonshine.

Arlene Foster has presented herself as the vision of a strong Unionist leader. She is nothing of the sort. She has led Unionism to the edge of the cliff. It is up to the members of the unionist parties to decide which way they go down from there.

The UUP will be choosing a new leader soon. I will post again once the candidates are revealed and we get Paddy’s odds (assuming a market is opened).

One small point on the politics of the ‘other side’ in the NI equation. The SDLP recovery was based almost entirely on being transfer friendly and piggybacking on a Nationalist surge. Their vote share actually fell. While they have a talented team, they hold a number of seats narrowly.

Lucian Fletcher

Lucian Fletcher is a long standing contributor to PB who lives in Northern Ireland.



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Northern Ireland Assembly Election Result : March 2nd 2017

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Changes in seats are based on readjusted Assembly calculations

Unionist Bloc
Democratic Unionist Party 227,270 votes (28.26% -0.90%) winning 28 seats (-6 seats)
Ulster Unionists 103,314 votes (12.84% +0.28%) winning 10 seats (unchanged)
Traditional Unionist Voice 20,523 votes (2.55% -0.87%) winning 1 seat (unchanged)
Progressive Unionist Party 5,590 votes (0.69% -0.16%) winning 0 seats (unchanged)
Northern Ireland Conservatives 2,399 (0.30%, no candidates in 2016) winning 0 seats (unchanged)
United Kingdom Independence Party 1,579 votes (0.20% -1.26%) winning 0 seats (unchanged)
Total Unionist Vote: 360,675 votes (44.84% -2.62%) winning 39 seats (-6 seats)

Others Bloc
Alliance Party 72,716 votes (9.04% +2.07%) winning 8 seats (unchanged)
Green Party of Northern Ireland 18,527 votes (2.30% -0.39%) winning 2 seats (unchanged)
Independent candidates 14,407 votes (1.79% -1.47%) winning 1 seat (+1 seat)
Other Parties 2,534 votes (0.32% -1.30%) winning 0 seats (unchanged)
Total Other Vote: 108,184 votes (13.45% -1.10%) winning 11 seats (+1 seat)

Nationalist Bloc
Sinn Fein 223,401 votes (27.77% +3.77%) winning 27 seats (+2 seats)
Social Democratic and Labour Party 95,958 votes (11.93% -0.07%) winning 12 seats (+3 seats)
People Before Profit Alliance 14,100 votes (1.75% -0.23%) winning 1 seat (unchanged)
Cross Community Labour Party 2,009 votes (0.25%, no candidates in 2016) winning 0 seats (unchanged)
Total Nationalist Vote: 333,459 votes (41.46% +3.47%) winning 40 seats (+5 seats)

Party Swing: 2.34% from Democratic Unionist to Sinn Fein
Bloc Swing: 3.05% from Unionist to Nationalist

First Preference Wins on current constituencies: DUP 11 (unchanged), Sinn Fein 7 (+2)
Northern Ireland Assembly 2017 : First Preference Votes by Constituency

First Preference Wins on proposed constituencies: DUP 8 (unchanged), Sinn Fein 9 (+1)
Unionist Constituencies: Antrim East, Antrim West, Belfast East, Down West, Antrim South, Down North, Strangford, Dalriada
Nationalist Constituencies: Belfast North West, Belfast South West, Newry and Armagh, Down South, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Tyrone North, Foyle, Glenshane
Too close to call: Upper Bann and Blackwater (Unionist 47.83%, Nationalist 46.35%)



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N Ireland’s election: the road to nowhere?

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

We look to be heading back to a suspension

Normalcy does not suit Northern Irish politics. A political structure designed to overcome the legacy of the seventeenth century (with a good deal of success, it has to be said), is in severe danger of being incapable of handling the practicalities of the twenty-first.

It’s not unusual for a coalition to break down over some disagreement of policy or administration, and for elections to follow. It is, by contrast, unusual for the parties concerned to be obliged by law to work together again after the election.

Such is the situation in Northern Ireland. The St Andrews agreement means that the largest party in the largest designation – which is likely to be the DUP, as unionists should outnumber nationalists in the new Assembly – will be able to nominate the First Minister. They will nominate Arlene Foster, First Minister before the election and the minister responsible for the RHI scandal. The largest party in the next largest designation – Sinn Fein – gets to nominate the Deputy First Minister. And as this is back with the status quo ante the election, they might well not nominate anyone, which is what they did to prompt the election in the first place.

In any other legislature, discussions would then go on with the other parties to see if either of the big two could form a different coalition or govern as a minority but Ulster doesn’t have any other legislature and those talks can’t happen: the rules are prescriptive and because they’re so prescriptive, there’s probably now at least a 75% chance of a suspension of the Assembly and Executive.

And this is why Stormont isn’t any other legislature and how the shadows of the Boyne still intrude. In a normal polity, the DUP would have suffered from the RHI overspend and lost vote share either to their main opponent (Sinn Fein in this case) or a rival party occupying a similar position on the spectrum (the UUP). In fact, while the DUP share did drop slightly, the higher turnout means that they won a good deal more votes than last May. Incompetence in office remains trivial as against breaking solidarity with the community.

Which is a problem because as long as voters remain stuck so rigidly in the habit of voting on community lines, true accountability will be difficult. Even the theoretical option of switching to another party within the relevant designation is limited when the risk of doing so is that it hands the prestige of being the largest party to the other side. Indeed, as this election has shown, even attempting true accountability risks losing the whole settlement.

Does this matter? After all, Stormont has been suspended before since the end of the Troubles. It does matter. For one thing, the Troubles were never really over: the terror threat within the province is still Severe. But the other reason Northern Ireland might soon be back in the news is Brexit.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU raises a lot of difficult questions about how that will impact north of the border (and indeed, on the border). Will there be a hard border with customs? Will freedom of movement be retained, to the Republic at least? How will customs be applied if the UK leaves the customs union? And so on. The lack of a First Ministerial pair and an Executive will make those negotiations even harder.

That shouldn’t be allowed to continue. There needs to be change and pressure needs to be brought to bear on the DUP and Sinn Fein to share power, either with each other or with smaller parties.

David Herdson





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Lucian Fletcher on the latest Northern Ireland assembly poll

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Arlene Foster’s personal ratings fall through the floor, but the DUP will bank on fear of a Sinn Fein First Minister to keep their position as lead party in Northern Ireland Assembly

The first LucidTalk opinion poll ahead of the 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly election has been published and one of the most obvious headlines is just how few people are planning on switching their first preference votes, despite the calamitous collapse of the Stormont Executive.

The DUP is down to 26%, just three points lower than they received in 2016. Sinn Fein is at 25%, up one.

This poll will be immediately pounced upon by the DUP and will adorn leaflets all over Northern Ireland as they seek to hammer home their message: “Vote DUP or the Shinners get First Minister”.

In fact, leaving aside the joint nature of the OFMDFM, the current boundaries make it highly unlikely that Sinn Fein will get more seats than the DUP unless they are well ahead in vote share.

The main Opposition parties UUP, SDLP and Alliance are all seeing a small uptick in their poll positions but not to anything like the extent that they would have hoped for, given the reasons for this election.

The leadership approval ratings are interesting. Arlene Foster, former First Minister, is at 22%. The most popular leader is Alliance chief Naomi Long, at 52%. All other party leaders enjoy ratings in the 40s. That the DUP remain as the lead party suggests that the St Andrews amendment over the nomination of First Minister is acting as a firewall for DUP support.

Respected unionist political commentator Alex Kane has also suggested that this race for the First Minister being so ‘close’ on this poll could shift some voters to both the DUP and Sinn Fein. There are more polls to come before the election, which could give some indication as to how far this descends to the usual orange/green headcount.

There is more analysis to be done in terms of transfers. Indications are being hinted at by LucidTalk that there is evidence that some people are more willing to vote tactically against the Executive, rather than along community lines. If the Greens and Alliance rack up decent totals in their weaker areas, so all their transfers are at full value, this could help UUP and SDLP. That final seat in most constituencies might end up being swung for one of the smaller parties. But without a move away from the DUP to UUP to a much greater extent than this poll suggests, the damage done to the DUP will be little more than a flesh wound.

I would suggest that the UUP and SDLP will be quietly devastated by this poll. The mud is being flung at the Executive, the DUP in particular, and is sticking, but most voters are so tribal that they just don’t care. The over-riding feeling is to beat the other side. Corruption is not seen as being quite so bad, as long it’s on ‘our side’.

One staunch unionist told me last week that the money thrown at ‘community halls’ by the DUP’s Paul Givan was well-deserved because ‘the Shinners gave loads to the GAA before’. This mindset is really difficult to grasp from Great Britain. We find it shocking. But this cynical self-interest or ‘cute hoorism’ is something that people in Ireland (both in NI and the Republic) really understand.

So what are my thoughts on the politics from this poll?

I think the DUP would end up somewhere around the 30 (key Petition of Concern number) mark, SF a few back, UUP and SDLP both losing seats with the SDLP worst off. Alliance will probably hold on to their 8 and others will lap up a few.

As I say, it might all look a little better for the SDLP and UUP once transfers are taken into account, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath.Both the UUP and SDLP have internal discontent issues. An election in these circumstances which produces nothing tangible for them could be disastrous.

Lucian Fletcher

Lucian Fletcher is a long standing contributor to PB who lives in Northern Ireland.



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NEW PB/Polling Matters podcast: May trouncing Corbyn in the polls and why we shouldn’t take the Northern Ireland peace process for granted

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

This week’s podcast is split into two parts.

On the first part of the show, Keiran is joined by Nicholas Whyte to discuss the upcoming elections in Northern Ireland and the potential impact of Brexit on the province. Nicholas is an expert in politics and elections in Northern Ireland and a visiting professor at Ulster University and has a blunt warning for anyone that is complacent about the peace process there.

On the second half of the show, Keiran is joined by Leo Barasi to discuss the latest Polling Matters / Opinium survey looking at how the two main party leaders (Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn) are perceived. You can see the headline figures above. The survey poses 6 statements to respondents about the party leaders and asks whether they agree or disagree with them. The scores above indicate the ‘net agree’ score achieved, meaning the score you get when you subtract the percentage that disagree from the percentage that agree. Respondents were able to say ‘neither’ or ‘don’t know’ but those scores are not included in the net figure – which is standard practice in such surveys. The survey was conducted over the weekend – which it should be said was not a great one for May given the Trump headlines.

Podcast

Follow today’s podcast guests
@keiranpedley
@nwbrux
@leobarasi



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Lucian Fletcher on the implications of the dramatic events in Northern Ireland politics

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

The resignation of Martin McGuinness means that there is no longer any leadership in the Executive Office of Northern Ireland. The jointly-held nature of the position of First Minister/Deputy First Minister means that with Martin’s resignation, Arlene Foster has effectively been dragged kicking and screaming from office.

For those (most people, I expect) who don’t pay attention to Stormont politics as long as there’s no violence, this is all very odd. The government of Northern Ireland has effectively been brought down by a row over a minor scheme designed to encourage people to swap their boilers that burned fossil-fuels for those burning wood pellets. Seriously.

The scandal turns on the projected overspend of the scheme, which is between £400m and £600m. This stems largely from the removal of clauses that tiered and limited the amount which could be paid out when the scheme was copied from that in place in Great Britain. Why these clauses were removed is unclear and would be one of the key parts to any inquiry.

The RHI scheme was set up during Arlene Foster’s lengthy tenure at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. With much of that work outsources to Invest NI, she probably had the cushiest number in Northern Ireland. She just had to open stuff and announce new jobs. But she clearly took her eye off the ball in terms of policy detail.

Who knew what, when, is something for an inquiry to discover but in Sept 2015 someone finally realised the scheme was badly flawed and they planned to make changes to mitigate the losses. At that stage there was a huge spike in applications for the scheme ahead of any changes being made by the end of the year. Again, why this spike came and who these applicants were are questions that people in Northern Ireland want answered.

Opposition parties want a full independent public inquiry into the RHI scandal. Sinn Fein have proposed something short of this. But all parties (other than the DUP) agreed that Arlene Foster should stand aside during at least the initial stage of an inquiry as it is her actions and those of her officials that are being investigated. Sinn Fein suggested a four-week period, the UUP wanted her to resign completely.

But Arlene Foster sees herself as the Margaret Thatcher of Northern Ireland. She was not for turning. In an extraordinary interview with Sky News she played Arlene buzzword bingo, describing awful events in her childhood, her ‘strong’ leadership of Unionism and, to much incredulity, made claims of misogyny of those attacking her.

The fact that she seemed to turn her, ahem, fire on Sinn Fein suggested to me that she was laying the ground for an election campaign. They were still, at that point, in a joint Executive but I couldn’t really see how Sinn Fein would be able to fail to respond strongly to her while keeping their electorate and, in particular, their membership on side. And so it has come to pass.

Gerry Adams issued a warning at the weekend that Sinn Fein would not allow the situation to go on much longer and it appears Arlene Foster failed to respond. Having dug her trench, it was unlikely she’d climb out of it. The resignation of McGuinness means there is a seven-day period during which Sinn Fein can appoint a Deputy First Minister and keep the show on the road. However, his resignation letter is fairly clear in that they will not be doing that.

In which case, James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State, will have to call for an Assembly election. And here’s where it gets really messy. The Assembly is being reduced at the next election, which isn’t really due until 2020, by one seat per Westminster constituency. Under present boundaries, this means a reduction from 108 to 90. Theorectically, everyone is going to lose. To be honest, that prospect is almost certainly the reason parties have taken a month or so to get into election mode.

Martin McGuinness’ statement yesterday made it very clear that Sinn Fein will only return to the Executive on its own terms. I believe that neither the DUP nor UUP will be able to meet those terms fully. The SDLP should make clear to the electorate that a vote for Sinn Fein is a vote for a long period of Stormont stasis. The UUP will seek to make the Unionist election (elections in NI are largely twin event) about DUP incompetence and arrogance. But even in the unlikely event that the Unionist electorate returns to the UUP and puts Mike Nesbitt into the position of leading that bloc, I struggle to see how he could form an Executive Office with anyone other than Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader. Eastwood, in turn, surely couldn’t go into office with Arlene Foster.

For completeness, Alliance leader Naomi Long has made a very favourable impression over the previous weeks and I would expect Alliance to hold all of their existing seats. This will by nature of a smaller Assembly make them a stronger partner for either Executive or Opposition in any reconvened Assembly. But the Assembly will not stand or fall on Alliance votes. That’s their inherent problem.

Having read all this, you can probably see the conclusion I am going to make is that an election is highly unlikely to resolve the issue. If (as is highly likely) the DUP and Sinn Fein are sent back to Stormont as the largest parties, the whole circular arguments will begin again and all we will have done is lost a few weeks’ worth more money in all these overly-lucrative boilers. A five-week delay, for instance, would be another £3million of public money in the air. Indeed, the only people an election suits is those who want to delay the inquiry which is needed into RHI. And we won’t really know who those people are until we get the inquiry.

For betting purposes, and I know that this is the point of this site, I cannot see how Arlene Foster becomes First Minister again. I can’t find any markets at the moment but I will be happy to provide any insights I can once they appear, as I’m sure they will once an election comes.

Lucian Fletcher

Lucian Fletcher is a long standing contributor to PB who lives in Northern Ireland.



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The changing politics of Northern Ireland

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Alastair Meeks on the unknown First Minister

Part of the United Kingdom got a new leader earlier this month.  You probably missed this: most people did.  Following the usual tortuous process that its politics always seems to entail, Northern Ireland now has a new First Minister.  Arlene Foster took over as First Minister (the first woman to hold that role in Northern Ireland) on 11 January 2016.  She is also the first female leader of the DUP.  Perhaps it is a sign of our political progress that neither of these facts was thought worthy of very much comment.  However, with a majority of only 12, the DUP could become critical to the ability of the government to function, so we must pay close attention to them and their choice of leader.

Arlene Foster takes charge at a time when Northern Ireland’s politics are in flux and after a year where the DUP’s strategic approaches on at least three fronts have suffered major setbacks.   With a Northern Ireland Assembly election in May, she is not short of challenges.

Outside Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics seems to be comprised of sectarian bickering, leftovers from past paramilitary activity, marches and flags, Irish language in schools and gay cakes.  All this has its place; indeed, Arlene Foster has made an early start by indicating that she won’t be attending the Easter 1916 commemorations and claims not to have been invited yet to attend any GAA sporting events.

Yet Northern Ireland has the same challenges on the economy, housing, schools, health and suchlike as anywhere else.  These do not get enough attention within Northern Ireland, never mind elsewhere.  Northern Ireland is about the same area as Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire combined, but with only 60% of the population of those four counties.  Over 30% of the population live in the Belfast metropolitan area.  Beyond that, there are few big towns and a lot of empty space.  So Northern Ireland has all the problems that you expect to find in a large city and alongside those the full set of problems of very remote rural communities. Spending per head on alcohol, narcotics and tobacco is the highest in the UK, belying the province’s God-fearing reputation.

26% of the working population are in public sector employment of one type or another. While unemployment is low, more than one in eight is claiming disability-related benefits and nearly 40% of the population are claiming one form of benefit or another: in some wards of Belfast this figure rises to more than 60%.  It has been hit particularly hard by the downturn: household incomes are still below their pre-recession levels and are the lowest in the UK.  Similarly, average house prices are still over 40% off their peak (and almost exactly half the average price in England), though they are rising at present.  So Northern Ireland has much more to worry about than whether Orangemen should be marching down streets with Gaelic signage.

The DUP were among the many losers at the general election last year.  Northern Ireland was given three years’ grace before it was required to implement cuts but by 2014 its executive was playing for time, hoping for an inconclusive result in the general election to enable the Northern Irish MPs to play the two main parties off against each other for more money.  The executive’s prayers were not met and now Northern Ireland must deal with the consequences.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was an unmitigated disaster for the DUP.  As he is a long term supporter of a united Ireland and not noticeably troubled in the past by the idea of force being used to secure it, a Labour government inspired by his ideas would be a bitter enemy.  This means that the DUP are unable to perform their usual balancing act between the two main parties: everyone knows that when the chips are down the DUP will prefer the Conservatives.  This in turn means that they lack their usual leverage in Westminster.  Moreover, with few believing that Labour stand any chance of gaining power for the foreseeable future, the DUP’s bargaining power looks likely to be in abeyance for years to come.

Adding to the DUP’s annus horribilis was the completion of the SNP’s hegemony in Scotland.  Scottish independence would throw the position of Northern Ireland within the residual United Kingdom into serious question.  This throws unionists still more firmly behind the Conservatives at the UK level.

Now the DUP face an election where for the first time in a decade they do not necessarily epitomise unionist instincts.  The UUP have fought an effective insurgent campaign over the last year, stealing a march on the DUP over the revelations about the IRA’s continuing activity by withdrawing from the power-sharing executive.  Party opinion polling in Northern Ireland is rare but there is limited polling evidence that unionist voters strongly approve of the UUP’s handling of this.  Having won two seats at the general election last year (one following an electoral pact with the DUP, one won from the DUP), the UUP will be looking to make further gains at Stormont.

With one proviso, the system favours insurgents.  Unlike the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Irish Assembly is elected by single transferable vote.  The 18 Northern Irish Westminster constituencies are used, each electing six MLAs.  Accordingly, the concept of a wasted vote does not apply.

The proviso relates to the mechanics of power-sharing.  In order to ensure cross-community backing, the allocation of ministerial roles is tightly controlled.  The First Minister and deputy First Minister are nominated by the largest and second largest political parties respectively.  Departmental ministers, with the exception of the Minister of Justice, are nominated by the political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, according to their share of seats in the Assembly (calculated using the d’Hondt system).  The Minister of Justice is appointed following a cross-community vote in the Assembly.  What this means is that unionist voters can be reluctant to experiment, for fear of giving the nationalist parties greater weight than they would otherwise have got when the Cabinet seats come to be shared out or Sinn Fein might even take the First Minister role.

This particularly hampers cross-community parties like the Alliance but this fear can now be used by the DUP against the UUP also.  In theory, an improvement in the UUP seat count could imperil the unionist hold on the role of First Minister: if Sinn Fein stood still in May and the UUP took 10 seats off the DUP, Sinn Fein would have 29 seats, the DUP would have 28 seats and the UUP would have 26 seats.  In practice, the UUP are unlikely to make anything like that much progress.  That probably won’t stop the DUP using the possibility as a way of scaring unionist voters back into line.

So the Assembly election seems likely to produce a broadly similar result to last time – maybe we’ll see a few more UUP seats at the DUP’s expense, but there’s no hint of any major changes.  With the DUP lacking bargaining power with the UK government for the foreseeable future (and with Sinn Fein having a vested interest in not making life more difficult for Jeremy Corbyn than it already is), Northern Ireland might at last start to focus on the normal concerns that every other government has to think about.  What’s bad for political parties isn’t always bad for the general public.

Alastair Meeks