Viva la revolution, or not

Gerry Adams can’t have been overly happy with the analogies and eulogies to Martin McGuinness as Ireland’s Mandela – it always seemed that that was an accolade that Gerry had sought to appropriate for himself.

Of course it is still possible to question the comparison with Mandela to McGuinness, especially in relative Party contexts.

The links with the ANC go back to the efforts of the IRA to position itself politically in the trendy left lexicon of the then fashionable liberation movements such as the PLO, ANC, FSLN et al.

More recent IRA association with murderous militias has been less clear cut.

Not that the rosy comparison with other revolutionary movements has been entirely accepted by all. Here is Fintan O’Toole back in 1998:

“…though Irish republicans would like to think otherwise, the analogy between themselves and Kenyatta or Mandela is not in fact valid. The IRA’s campaign has not been a war of national liberation, waged on behalf of the majority against an oppressive minority or a foreign power. Its enemies have not been illegitimate regimes but two liberal democracies—the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland—and the majority Protestant population in Northern Ireland itself.”

The most recent iteration of Irish Republicanism likes to focus on rights, taking the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s as its chrysalis (before the butterfly). Unionists are too willing to accept that the Civil Rights movement was in its conception a republican plot. The foundation of the Civil Rights was to campaign for equal citizenship within the UK, not the destruction of the State. Sure the radical left of the period and elements of the IRA shared common cause; this endured even when the violence started.

Nor did the University students that vocalized the civil rights campaign have much to do with the working class. From that environment of leftie-chic, a nationalist middle-class was too willingly, and remains, attached to the politics of grievance and victimhood: rhetorical by nature, but ultimately alienating when responses are never enough and intentions never accepted as genuine. For Irish Republicanism this was the entry point for its Trojan horse.

The issues that gave rise to the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland were largely addressed by the early 1970s; certainly the structural reforms were complete. Whatever the grievances that were inherent to the Civil Rights campaign, they did not deny the young Martin McGuinness free education, free health care and a social welfare net if needed – not available to black South Africans living under apartheid.

Accepting the Civil Rights movement as being essentially ‘Republican’ only serves Irish Republican appropriation of a non-violent movement to justify its murderous campaign. As Dr Phillip McGarry said recently:

“…no respectable independent body has ever argued nor could argue that the violence of the loyalists and republicans was a legitimate or remotely proportionate response to those wrongs.”

That aside, there are bigger questions in the comparison of Mandela and McGuinness that perhaps Irish Republicans haven’t entirely thought through.

From the press coverage over these past few weeks of McGuinness political role in the past few decades has been portrayed as central to Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. The strategy and development of Sinn Fein as a political force, and partner in a (sort of) power-sharing Government, has been presented as the consequence of McGuinness’s vision, and broadly his alone. Like Mandela, McGuinness may in time become associated with an outcome as it might have been, rather than the actuality.

The ready comparison of McGuinness with Mandela arises from the way in which Sinn Fein has in the past placed itself alongside the ANC, such as here:

It is now clear that any vision of the violent socialist revolution, or ‘war of national liberation’, has little long-term legacy: ZANU-PF/Zimbabwe by way of example, or the PLO (now only a shadow on the West Bank, and subservient to Hamas in Gaza); and what of the less violent radical socialist movements, such as that of Chavez in Venezuela which has left the country verging on bankruptcy.

The ANC? The ANC is the Party of Government that has seen corruption and maladministration bearing down on the South African economy, on an almost industrial scale. South Africa today is in a sorry state of affairs:

The ANC is facing allegations of illegality and corruption from the top and across all levels of Government, and is falling out amongst itself. The future does not look promising. The economy is suffering under the weight of political instability caused by gross mismanagement.

Most of the above links are from just the first three months of 2017. Goodwill towards the ANC is dissipating, rapidly. It is evidence of a total lack of correlation between “delivering democracy” and any ability to actually manage an economy.

Undoubtedly this is not the ANC to which Sinn Fein would wish to be compared. Nor would it wish the current ANC to be considered as portend of its future. Sinn Fein has a much more positive view of its own future.

To which Bobby Sands is often quoted by Irish republicans as saying:

“Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”

Perhaps. But history suggests that Jacques Mallet du Pan has the more prophetic and, by the example of more recent revolutionary causes, correct turn of phrase:

“A l‘exemple de Saturne, la revolution dévore ses enfants.”

Like Saturn, the revolution devours its children.

In the past few weeks, for all the bluster, Sinn Fein has suddenly become more inward looking, self-adsorbed, smaller. Something to ponder as we enter a post-McGuinness period, with Sinn Fein less obviously focused on moving forward and more obviously lacking a coherence in how and what it actually wishes to achieve.

If Sinn Fein were to become an actual Party Government of Ireland (that it already believes it is, in Sinn Fein land) we really have no idea what that would be like. To suggest Sinn Fein is ‘like the ANC’ would seem to be an unkind dystopian allusion – setting aside incidents such as the Northern Bank robbery; and Gerry Adams’s definition of a ‘good republican’.

Selective appropriation of popular narratives are always risky, especially when stretched one continent to another. Perhaps Irish Republicans will in time decide McGuinness is best viewed as not the Irish Mandela after all, just as Sinn Fein is not the ANC.

Stop talking, start doing.

Leaving the EU is a good time to reshape the Northern Ireland economy

Following the decision of the UK electorate on 23 June 2016 to leave the EU, the Government of the United Kingdom has undertaken a great deal of work to prepare the country for triggering Article 50 on 29 March 2017.

Before the vote last year, Northern Ireland civil servants had pulled together a preliminary view on what might happen if Leave was to win the day. This seemed to be more concerned with the impact on the Republic of Ireland than on the opportunities presented to Northern Ireland if such an event should occur. Since then, other than a letter to the Prime Minister, as far as is publicly visible, the Northern Ireland Executive appears to have done little of anything in preparation.

It is time to stop talking about ‘re-balancing’ the Northern Ireland economy. The UK decision to leave the EU means there is no better time than the present to take action to gain best advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead; time to tip the scales in favour of private sector enterprise and exports. As a UK regional economy Northern Ireland faces issues around productivity, economic inactivity within its workforce, and an overbearing public sector.

In a new report, An Agenda for Northern Ireland after Brexit, local Northern Ireland business and the Global Britain think-tank have collaborated to offer a policy framework of what needs to be addressed constructively and positively by all levels of government in Northern Ireland. Most importantly, Northern Ireland needs focused leadership from the Executive.


Make your mind up time

It is make your mind up time for the Irish Republic.

Nothing new, but there has been hugely irresponsible and faintly histrionic noises coming out of Dublin, and Irish republican/nationalism generally, along with other voices (usual suspects), to the effect that Brexit means a return to violence in Northern Ireland. The only obvious return to the past is the use by the Republic’s politicians of events related to Northern Ireland as a distraction away from issues for which they are responsible, a deflection from the economic and political realities on its own doorstep.


unintended consequences?

The Renewable Heat Association (RHANI) sought a legal injunction to stop the Department for the Economy publishing the names its members, about 500 in total.

Yesterday an interim injunction was overturned in respect of those companies who successfully applied to the RHI scheme. Individuals who applied would seem to be except from their names being published, for now.

There has been lots of comment on the judgement which has mostly focused on the publication of ‘names’, and how quickly those names might be published. However, in the BBC report of the judgement it was a small comment that caught eye of @thedissenter which seemed more important to the scheme of things.

The report on the case states:

The judge ruled that the application for RHI subsidy did not amount to a legally binding contract.


He said the department had the right to vary the terms.

Why is that interesting? The argument that the RHI will cost £XXX million over 20 years rested on the premise that approval of the applications meant the creation of a legally binding, invariable contract. This judge would seem to disagree.

It might expected that legal actions on RHI are far from over. However, if the point the judge in this case goes unchallenged (improbable, but not to say he will be over-ruled on this point later) that moving forward:

  • the current 12 month fix by the Minister, Simon Hamilton, will hold, and that;
  • going forward the scheme can be altered to a controlled scheme within what funding is available from Westminster.

While seeking to protect the anonymity of its members the RHANI may well have sped up the process of revision to the grant payments of those who had RHI scheme approvals pre-2016, at considerable relief to the Northern Ireland budget.

Seems RHANI members may soon be facing the Law of Unintended Consequences.

And why are we having an election?



The Blame Game

First: Cover Your Ass.

First: Cover Your Ass.

Having been focused on travelling and/or working in the later half of 2016 the RHI story was in the background, though hard to miss the heat and noise around the issue.

At the start of 2017 it seemed that despite the heat and noise, there wasn’t much light on the subject. Nolan was on repeat. While plenty of titbits were being bandied about as if Moses had just revealed them himself, nothing seemed to be moving the story forward. The story of RHI had become left behind by the political story unraveling before us.

Worthwhile at this point to rewind. Helpfully, early last July the Northern Ireland Audit Office produced a report on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme. You can read the report here along with the summary contained in the accompanying press release.

If you want to know about the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme then you really should read the NIAO report. It provides a timeline of events, the likely immediate impact on budget finances and a series of actions that had been agreed within the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment in particular.

And it is worth listening to the short two minute item here from UTV(ITV) on the scheme, closing with the Minister, Simon Hamilton, confirming a pathway forward in respect of addressing the failures of the scheme. The NIAO summary of what was launched into the public arena back in July 2016, is easy to recognise:

The RHI scheme encouraged the installation of costly eco-friendly heating systems by paying a tariff per kilowatt of heat burned over a 20-year period. It was administered on behalf of Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM). Read more… »

The big, beautiful, election


From the UK it might have been expected that on landing at Dulles just a few days before election day there would have been a palpable air of outright ferocity, divisiveness and hostilities arising from the mutually corrosive election campaigns of Clinton and Trump.

In the event, all was calm. As were the mostly Republican friends encountered over the next few days. There was no great enthusiasm for Trump as President, but generally agreement that it should be ‘anyone but Hillary’.



Trump / Clinton

This blog piece has been a little while in the making. Earlier, in March, the effort to try to better understand what was going on in the American Presidential Primaries prompted a trip to Washington DC. Probably overdue and making good, finally, on often made promises to visit, this was a chance to meet old friends and gain a first hand sense of what was going on.

Here was an opportunity to hear the views of people involved in education, lobbying, journalism, policy and politics. With the exception of the ex-pat journalist, of whom I would not presume to ask political affiliation, everyone else was a Republican. Anyway, morning TV included CNN, MSNBC, CBS, etc, as well as FOX. Balance restored.

At the time of the visit Trump was still in the end stage battle with Rubio and Cruz, and Clinton still had some months to go of a slugging match with Sanders before getting over the line with the delegate vote required.

So in a few short days, what sense could be made of American politics generally, Presidential primaries in particular?


Where to start?


Political life can be very dull and quite predictable. For a time commentary seemed all too often no more than a variation on a theme. Then, all at once….  These past few weeks in the UK have been anything but dull, or predictable.

Except it is usually that big event merely captures what has been happening in the background, perhaps unseen, or commented upon only in the margins.

Since the Tea Party became a much talked about though little understood political movement in the USA, politics has been changing – it may have been changing before, but that was an early manifestation of a wide-spectrum revolt against mainstream politic/ians. Yes that does ignore nationalist movements in Europe, because nationalism (or race) is so often the only thing that defines those movements. The Front National is a French “Nationalist Party”, but that simple descriptor ‘nationalist’ cannot be attached to the Tea Party.

For some time, no doubt,a voice has been making efforts to be heard. Echoes of that voice were occasionally noted, in passing, in the mainstream media. Without an event it was hard to pin down, and easy for mainstream politicians to ignore.

Some such as leftie journo Paul Mason did try to pin down the change to come. He was very excited by the prospect of revolution in Arab Spring and extrapolated this to “Twenty reason why it is kicking off everywhere” back in 2011. Yet more recently he seems to have been horrified that most of his reasoning is embedded in the campaigning that ultimately delivered Brexit – the shock perhaps that the revolution has not being secured by the young, engaged and educated, but by the poor, disengaged and abandoned ‘worker’ that today’s left appreciates only for the rhetorical value they lend to the ’cause’.

Making some sense of the shifting political sands over this past year has been a challenge. Hence, the absence of posting. Instead, a trip to the Washington DC in March 2016, and in early May a meeting with friends from across Europe (politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, bankers, business people; many no longer politically active, some who now live in North America). Most recently a trip to France, for the Thiepval Commemorative Service and the opportunity to speak casually with many who attended that event from across the UK, from all walks of life. And reading widely.

So in a series of posts, time to look at the USA, Europe and politics closer to home and some observations on some common threads. That will be the summer’s challenge. Making sense of it all.