Posts Tagged ‘Sinn Fein’

Their deal with the Tories is an Indian Summer. Winter is coming for the DUP

16/07/2017, 10:02:43 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘Fashions change but style remains’, Coco Chanel was said to have remarked, (somewhat incongruously for a fashion designer). The point is germane to Northern Ireland. Don’t draw big conclusions from immediate contemporaneous events. Stand back and look at the wider picture. Ignore passing fashions.

There is an emerging narrative that the DUP is on the up after the hiatus of the Renewable Heat Incentive fiasco at the start of the year, the subsequent resignation and untimely death of Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein’s surge in March’s elections to the Northern Ireland assembly.

Arlene Foster is still standing, winning two extra parliamentary seats in the recent general election and has managed to strong-arm a generous financial deal out of Theresa May’s weak and wobbly government in return for backing it on tight votes.

She is on top – so the argument goes – having wrong-footed her opponents, most notably Sinn Fein, whose policy of abstentionism and self-removal from the parliamentary fray contrasts unfavourably with the DUP’s realpolitik in making Westminster bend to its will.

It’s a fashionable argument, by which I mean it is entirely wrong.

Take a step back.

The gap between parties supporting Irish unity and those wishing to maintain the constitutional status quo with Britain was as close as 30,000 votes in elections to the assembly back in March. Unionism is in long-term decline, standing on a burning electoral and demographic platform.

Already, a majority of Northern Ireland’s under-35s are Catholic, providing Unionists with an impossible medium-term challenge in fending off Irish unity. Given Sinn Fein is not calling for a border poll for the next five years, there is ample scope to construct a majority for change by the mid-2020s, now the prospect is truly out in the open and the benefits of reunification are widely discussed.

For Unionism, winter is coming.

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The breakdown in Northern Ireland’s talks is an avoidable mess

06/07/2017, 06:29:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As they say in Belfast, the dogs in the street could see there was no prospect of a deal to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. The ‘gaps’ between the parties that James Brokenshire, the beleaguered Northern Ireland secretary told the House of Commons on Monday could be bridged have proven to be rather larger than he – and he alone it seems – assumed.

The talks have failed for three reasons. First, the Democratic Unionists’ deal with the Conservatives means there is no leverage exerted by Downing Street or the Northern Ireland Office over the DUP, which is standing four-square against the implementation of an Irish language act – the central bone of contention between them and Sinn Fein – which they claim to oppose on grounds of cost, rather than base prejudice. (Honest).

Having lavished one billion pounds in new money on Northern Ireland just last week  – and guaranteed another £1.5 billion in underwriting the costs of measures like next year’s proposed corporation tax cut – a relatively small amount of funding on the Irish language is a drop in the Irish Sea. Moreover, it’s a perfectly sensible and entirely justifiable proposition given Wales has enjoyed similar legislation since 1993.

Second, the timing was awful. Expecting a deal a week out from the 12th July shows Brokenshire doesn’t even have an elementary grasp of the physics of Northern Ireland. There will be no compromise while loyalists are piling wooden crates 60 feet high with effigies of the Pope and Gerry Adams hanging from nooses. Next week is the high point of the ‘marching season’ where bonfires will be lit in commemoration of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, where William III defeated King James I. (Nuance is lost of these occasions, as William was backed by the Pope).

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British politics needs to start planning for the day Northern Ireland ceases to exist

11/04/2017, 09:44:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Nineteen years ago this week, Tony Blair, Mo Mowlam, Bertie Ahern the Irish Taoiseach and the various political parties were in the final stages of agreeing what became the Belfast Agreement, better known, given the day it was finalised, as the Good Friday Agreement.

It was a triumph for all involved and, whatever else his critics point to, Blair’s crowning achievement; a superb piece of leadership and political tradecraft.

It was a deal that ensured cross-community power-sharing and a devolved assembly.

The end of the British Army’s presence in Northern Ireland and the release of paramilitary prisoners.

Strengthened east-west links between the Irish and British governments and north-south bodies to create all-Ireland institutions.

It is a deal that has provided two decades of relative peace and normality and become a lodestar in the field of conflict resolution.

But the Good Friday Agreement settlement is now faltering.

The collapse of the power-sharing executive in January, (following Arlene Foster’s woeful handling of a £500m heating subsidy), Sinn Fein’s strengthened mandate in the subsequent assembly elections and the current difficulty with restoring the executive are testing its resilience as a model.

The broader truth is that the Good Friday Agreement was never meant to last. It was always a stop-gap solution. An interregnum. A transition space between the conflict of the Troubles and the advent, eventually, of a unified Irish state.

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Brokenshire has been a spectator, not a participant during Northern Ireland collapse

25/01/2017, 11:23:00 AM

by Kevin Meagher

James Brokenshire has an unfortunate surname for a man who presides over the collapse of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in office for barely seven months, has not exactly covered himself in glory thus far.

Last week, he was obliged to announce fresh elections to the 90-member Northern Ireland Assembly following the collapse of the cross-community executive, triggered by Martin McGuinness’s resignation as deputy First Minister.

The row centres on Democratic Unionist First Minister Arlene Foster’s quite ridiculous refusal to step aside and make way for an investigation into the £500m Renewable Heat Incentive fiasco she was responsible for in her previous post as enterprise minister.

The ‘burn to earn’ scheme saw massive payments to encourage companies to switch to wood pellet boilers, entitling them to make vast sums for heating empty properties.

Last week, police in South Armagh raided an empty heated barn assuming it was a drug factory.

Brokenshire finds himself tasked with picking up the pieces.

Yet this crisis is the result of a classic, almost textbook slow-motion political collision.

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Corbyn and McDonnell are finding out why most politicians are all things to all people

25/09/2015, 04:07:32 PM

by Kevin Meagher

John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are a pair of Philips screwdrivers. That’s not meant as a derogatory analogy (‘a pair of spanners’ etc) but merely to point out that, hitherto, during their long years as Members of Parliament, they have performed a single, unique function.

As “campaigning backbench MPs” of a type that Labour has a long tradition of indulging, they champion causes that are outside ‘safe’ political confines. This is not to everyone’s taste, clearly, and from time to time they will say something, or be photographed or share a platform with someone that gets them into trouble with the political mainstream.

But that’s fine; political parties need to be broad churches under first-past-the-post and reach out to as many people as possible. So, every once in a while, an issue that’s deemed to be beyond the pale today graduates into everyone’s favourite cause tomorrow. In this context, MPs of the kind Corbyn and McDonnell were can have a legitimate and sometimes useful role as a conduit to bring those outside in from the cold. (That said, whether they are visionaries, or merely contrarians, is moot).

I say were because a problem arises when you try to use a Philips screwdriver on the more familiar slot-headed screw. It’s an awkward fit. Actually, it doesn’t fit at all.  Like when you take “campaigning backbench MPs” and put them into the top two positions in the Labour party. All their previous views and associations are pored over and thrown back at them. Such is the price for rebels turned statesmen.

The issue has crystallised around John McDonnell’s explanation about why he spoke to a gathering of Irish republicans back in 2003, making the case that it was the IRA’s “bombs and bullets and sacrifice” that brought the British state to the negotiating table. Speaking on last week’s Question Time, he apologised for any offence caused by his remarks, arguing it was a genuine attempt to engage wary republicans and deter them from drifting away from the peace process at a critical time.

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The idea that Jeremy Corbyn laid the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland is total fantasy

07/08/2015, 05:32:36 PM

by Anthony Breach

The other day I was informed that, along with every other person from Northern Ireland, I was wrong about the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Irish peace process. Rather than being the product of improbable, bewildering, and exhausting negotiations between at least five different parties, it was actually Jeremy Corbyn who “set up peace in Northern Ireland”. This was though I’d never heard any other Northern Irish person before last month utter Corbyn’s name in gratitude, anger, or even at all.

I was directed to an interview with Corbyn (relevant clip) where, along with mentioning his commendable work on the Birmingham Six and some dubious comments on Irish history generally, Corbyn says:

“During the 1980s… we built up regular contacts with Sinn Fein, we were condemned by our own Party Leadership for so doing… and we were proven to be right. In the end, even Margaret Thatcher recognised that there had to be some kind of political settlement in Ireland, that militarily it wasn’t going to be possible, and eventually this became the Good Friday Agreement after the 1997 election.”

How this became “Corbyn set up peace in Northern Ireland” in his supporter’s understanding remains unclear. He is however not the only one to believe this – surprisingly many people are under the impression that Corbyn’s involvement in Northern Irish politics has been not only significant but beneficial.

Corbyn himself makes a politically magical leap from Thatcher’s change in policy and the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but he does at least avoid claiming outright that his talks were the basis for the Agreement, unlike Owen Jones and other Corbyn supporters.

This was however all before a frankly bizarre interview Corbyn conducted with BBC Radio Ulster where, as the leading candidate for the Labour leadership and our potential offer of Prime Minister to the British people, Corbyn five times refused to explicitly condemn the IRA and equated the British army with a non-state terrorist organisation that murdered British civilians as a matter of policy.

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Miliband should learn from Irish Labour’s pains

07/12/2014, 09:10:51 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The dangers of being a junior coalition partner are obvious enough – ask Nick Clegg – but across the Irish Sea, the example is, if anything, even starker.

The Irish Labour party has been the junior coalition partner to Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael since 2011; administering painful austerity measures as Ireland grapples with the horrendous aftermath of its banking and property bubble explosion.

Now, the party has plummeted to just six per cent in the latest poll for the Irish Times, down from a high of 35 per cent in September 2010 before it went into government.

Along the way, Labour has lost one leader, Eamon Gilmore, a former Marxist turned moderate, who resigned as party leader, Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and minister for foreign affairs and trade, following disastrous local election results earlier this year, narrowly escaping a no confidence motion from his own grassroots.

In a Sir Humphreyish back-handed compliment, Taoiseach Enda Kenney praised the Labour party for being “courageous” in pushing through painful economic reforms, which now include household water charges. This seems to be the measure that has now galvanised the country against austerity.

So much so, that Labour’s new leader, Joan Burton, was trapped in her car for three hours last month, surrounded by slogan-chanting protestors. In echoes of the poll tax in Britain, today’s opinion poll also shows less than half the Irish public (48 per cent) intend to actually pay the charge.

All this has been grist to the mill for Sinn Fein, topping today’s poll as Ireland’s most popular political party, with Gerry Adams also the most popular politician in the republic. The Shinners are now well-placed to form part of the next government at the 2016 general election.

But the Irish Labour party’s problems are not cyclical. A pincer movement between Sinn Fein and left-wing independents has squeezed the electoral life out of them.  Even the Irish Independent, known for its aggressive propagandising against Sinn Fein, warns today that Labour “continues to struggle to avoid a…meltdown” as it loses ground in all directions.

But as Labour lies dead in the water, its coalition partner, Fine Gael, is still deemed to be the best party for managing Ireland’s relations with the EU, growing the economy and keeping spending under control.

The lesson for Ed Miliband is obvious enough: implementing austerity measures kills centre-left parties. So how does he avoid a similar fate? As he peers beyond May 2015, he needs to take a lesson from Enda Kenny instead.

He is navigating a political course through austerity by managing expectations and being realistic about the scale of the task at hand. By setting the ground early that there are no easy choices to be made, Kenny is showing that amid the howls of protest, it is at least possible to avoid cries of betrayal.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Respect for Tony Benn is right, completely rewriting history is not

10/04/2014, 02:00:16 PM

by Kevin Feeney

When any controversial public figure dies, it is both normal and entirely natural for their followers and those inspired by them to whitewash their image a little in an effort to smooth out their rough edges.

Like most of those within the Labour Party who were rather less enamoured of the legacy of the late Tony Benn than other colleagues, I was entirely prepared to overlook the rather telling gaps in his more sympathetic obituaries. It was fine that they passed over his views on Mao, fine that they ignored his practical impact on Labour’s electability in the 1980s, fine that they left unquestioned his own claims as a tribune of democracy.

These were eulogies in the heat of the moment after a figure who they admired had passed on; the time for full and balanced reflections was later. Equally fine were those seemingly obligatory lists of “Issues where they were right” which we expect with any such figure; Benn certainly many of those, from Mandela to gay rights.

Except after a while, I started noticing something else creeping into that last list in Benn’s friendly obituaries. Owen Jones celebrated him not only for all of the above but also for ‘calling for peace talks when it was controversial to do so’ in Northern Ireland; praise he has reiterated in more than one place. It may be no surprise for Jones to rewrite history in such a manner, but less stridently left-wing voices have done so too; the editor of one prominent Labour website claimed that the presence of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Benn’s funeral was a ‘reminder of the difference he made’ as though this were a positive thing.

Indeed, “Northern Ireland” has begun inexplicably to seep into several lists of the man’s positive contributions. These claims cannot be allowed to endure unchallenged; nor can they be allowed to become part of that acceptable list of “good things” we all agree Benn stood for.

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