Category: Unionist

Protocol, policing and polls.

Back after a summer with more conversation around issues hitting the political headlines, and some bubbling.  Events have moved quickly over the past week since this was recorded, but still very relevant by way of what lies behind some of the current news.

Anticipated in this podcast recorded on the 2 September, the Protocol ‘grace’ periods and delays are bumped down the road to maybe closer to Christmas. More likely more delay will then be generated going into 2022, until after the Assembly elections due in May. It would be highly embarrassing if the ‘rigourous implementation’ demanded by some were to actually happen before the election. Bad enough they’ll be eating beans on toast in Cherryvalley this Christmas.

Unremarked in that story from M&S was a warning on the likely impact of rules being applied to goods from all EU countries – the UK Government has so far not implemented import rules as it ought. Archie Norman is quoted as noting:

“This is not a one-way street. At the moment, the Irish Government is following EU guidelines and implementing their draconian controls. But by contrast, the UK has allowed EU products to continue to flow into the country, no veterinary checks, no border inspection.

“Starting in October, that is going to change when UK Government rules are set to mirror those of the EU. So in a mutual act of self-destruction, we risk lumbering French cheese producers and Spanish chorizo manufacturers with the same costs as we have faced trying to export food to the EU.”

He said “delays, driver shortages and paper mountains could be spectacular”.

A sigh of relief all round today with the extension of ‘grace’ periods in respect of the NI Protocol. That relief will be short-lived in the Republic as the full impact of Brexit on imports into the UK are to start soon, with the biggest changes in January.  From Dublin, with a very subdued Leo Varadkar commenting on UK news outlets about the delay in implementation of the Protocol: Leo of course knows that the food will hit the fan on exports Republic of Ireland to GB (East-West) around the same time as he takes back control of Leinster House.

Meanwhile, the Simon Byrne, PSNI Chief Constable, looks less and less in control of anything much. Just a week after a row about failure to address open displays by paramilitaries he finds himself ‘explaining’ when the PSNI undertook survey work, using a group associated with a convicted terrorist with whom his previous engagement wasn’t a PR success.

This can’t be a problem for the Chief Constable alone. As Suzanne Breen points out, there is an army of advisers that are either ignored or fairly useless if the path taken in this Report on policing was considered credible.

It is a presumption of incredible naivety that survey work undertaken by the Community Restorative Justice Ireland would lend credibility to determining recommendations on policing. That the Strategic Management Board of the PSNI thought this was a Report worth accepting in principle is astounding – either not knowing or not being remotely curious on what basis the recommendations were made.

Other Surveys and Polls have also been in the news. The Let’s Talk Loyalism survey is what it is, and doesn’t pretend to be anything more. The group generated a means of expressing views from within a specified community and used bit of online software to do that. The published report doesn’t hide its methodology or the limitations.

Some have been very quick to attack this on the basis that it called for the “collapsing of Stormont.” That missed the point by a mile. The survey didn’t pretend to be scientific and simply provided a snapshot on thinking with a particular community. It is a contribution on what is happening on the ground, on the street, in conversations around the country. Better trying to articulate views than have them played out on the street. The initiative should be commended and by all means address the issues raised, but don’t shoot the messenger.

Lucid Talk. If anyone had background doubts on how Lucid Talk conducts online polling in Northern Ireland the interview on the Stephen Nolan Show won’t have eliminated those questions.

At best, anyone out and about over the summer, speaking to actual people, can’t have been surprised at the headlines around the poll. They indicate what those very observant dogs in the street are all talking about. The DUP needs to show some capacity to deliver on promises, and an uncomfortable and despairing shift to Alliance by some UUP voters seem to have been reversed.

The TUV strength are no surprise. While there are many who doubt Jim Allister as a future First Minister, or would agree with policies of the TUV outside ‘Unionist’ issues, he is hugely respected as a person of principle. On the dominant issue of the day, he is head and shoulders above the others – he was one of the three instigators of the Judicial Review of the Protocol winding its way through the legal system, to which the others joined. The basis of that JR was covered in a previous podcast. Jim Allister acted while others talked.

Of course the only poll that matters is the electoral poll. The next Assembly Election is due in May 2022, which maybe sooner, or later, if ever at all.

The DUP is unlikely to roll-over between now and election, and may even endeavour to trigger one sooner than later.

Time will tell. Looks like there will be plenty to talk about with @3000Versts as we head into what promises to be a lively Autumn.

Calculating risk

The Protocol was always intended, as the backstop was before that, to tie the UK to a relationship dominated by the EU.

The tensions in NI with respect to the operation of the Protocol will only intensify while the UK Government resists the EU in efforts to lasso the UK back into the subservient relationship.

The (almost) triggering of Article 16 at the end of January showed how little the EU cared, not even with a passing thought, for the Good Friday Agreement or for its ever faithful member of the EU27 the Republic of Ireland.

Not hard to understand how those who demanded the NI Protocol be ‘implemented rigourously’ to assure NI’s Special relationship should demand a UK/EU SPS agreement to soften the Protocol; just like Switzerland? What that means, in essence, is more Europe. A step towards a sequence of agreements that would in effect take the UK ever closer back towards Brussels.


The podcast at the top of the page discusses how the Protocol was never about the Good Friday Agreement, or ‘best of both worlds’ but a desire for the EU to create a Trojan horse to be a thorn in the UK’s side , and by a Conservative leader desperate to move out of the Brexit mess he was bequeathed by the previous Prime Minister.

There is no doubt the EU believes anything entering Northern Ireland is a risk to the Single Market – a absolutist legal hold – a M&S ready meal could bring down the German economy in one thoughtless purchase at Sprucefield.

Risk, however, is relative. That idea needs to gain a lot more currency to break through what seems at present to be an impasse.

Not that the idea of absolutism is too far from the thinking of the Northern Ireland Department of Health. Despite indications that the vaccination programme is already having a positive impact on the number of over 80 year old Inpatients, the Chief Medical Officer was reported to believe that restrictions would stay in place until 2022. If vaccines are to be of little impact on restrictions, what will see an end to the confinement that is increasingly frustrating and damaging to the economy and personal sanity.

The PoliticalOD podcast is available on Podbean as well as Google, Apple, Spotify, Amazon and a host of other places – basically most places you might usually download or listen to podcasts. 

All in the message; future, present, past

Four topics in the latest episode of Political OD, in conversation with @3000Versts episode, with the common thread of messaging running through each topic.

First mixed messaging of Covid in NI. At the end of last week the morning Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster entertained the listeners with the message of doom from the Health Minister on an uptick in positive tests for Covid-19. Without downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic is the unchanged message imbuing a sense of panic from the Health Minister what we need while the Education Minster is trying to reassure parents of the safety of young people attending school? Especially when at the start of this week we have the more measured approach from the Health Department:

A health service source said peaks and troughs in the figures are “not unexpected” and demonstrate that Northern Ireland’s Test Trace Protect system is working efficiently.

Then there is the messaging on exam results which appears to have largely tripped up Education Ministers nationally and regionally. Perhaps more to do with a lack of political decision making in the mistaken believe that arms-length bodies somehow shift the blame of lack of political foresight onto bureaucrats? How did that work out?

Moving from matters of day to day Government we looked at the recent article by @3000Versts in the News Letter on what is needed to support a positive message for the Union. We discuss the three basic points he suggests as guidelines for thought and action going forward;

1. to strengthen the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And to maintain and consolidate Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

2. To ensure that Northern Ireland plays as full a role as possible in the social, political and economic life of the (British) nation.

3. To encourage positive relationships with our neighbours across the island of Ireland. And to make Northern Ireland a happy and prosperous home for people of all backgrounds.

That discussion is particularly important going into 2021 and consideration of events around the 100th Anniversary of Northern Ireland becoming a distinct part of the United Kingdom as the 26 Counties of the Free State descended into civil war and separation from the Union. A second article by @3000Versts in the News Letter is useful to read alongside the first. 

Concluding the podcast is a discussion around the new publishing site Dissenting Voices which has launched with a look at the the current debate around ‘rewriting’ history, and whether that is actually a thing at all. Using the issue of Legacy in Northern Ireland the first paper on Dissenting Voices reviews the impact of recent history becoming what is described as a ‘Black Taxi tour’ of events, people and places; where mostly nationalist slogans have become received truth and accepted ‘narrative’ (story-telling) over and above established fact.

Bit longer than usual, big issues.

PS. A bit of “you heard it here first” with this mornings BBC report on infrastructure:

Just a reminder of the earlier post on thedissenter that points out the risk to economic development on a number of different issues awaiting political decisions…. and discussed on Political OD Episode 14 which is still available on download from Podbean, iTunes, Spotify etc.

 

 

Health status, Executive stasis, and Boris’s strategic manoeuvres on Brexit.

Despite many ‘Reports’ on Health reform (2011, 2014, 2016) Northern Ireland has seen little critical or  cultural change in frontline delivery of services. While the easy option for politicians is to demand and even offer more money, the current situation has arisen because of budgetary decisions taken in 2014. If it was pay or XX in 2014 it will still be pay or XX in 2019. Though our politicians are reluctant to talk about XX.

While it might seen that a new Executive is a possibility in the New Year, there doesn’t appear to be any public confidence that an Executive would have the will (or ability) to undertake difficult decisions that will be required on Health, or any of the other issues piled up on Ministerial in-trays. Last time there were major and difficult decisions to be made, Sinn Fein insisted they be sent back to Westminster.

It is Welfare Reform and the consequential impact on welfare recipients that might mean Sinn Fein needs an Assembly far more than any other Party. Yet despite the pressures on Sinn Fein there is a worrying trend in Stormont “negotiations” that enough is agreed to keep the show on the road while setting the path for the next crisis. Everyone does everything to keep Sinn Fein on board, while it does everything it can to wreck the train.

Finally, Boris’s plans for trade arrangements between GB and NI are an enigma – somewhere between what people read in the Withdrawal Agreement pages and believe to be likely, and then Boris’s view that that is all tosh. No idea, and all to some extent subject to what is decided between now and probably July in respect of a trade agreement between the UK and EU. With NI inside the UK customs union (the major difference between backstop and frontstop) there has been a shift in the dynamic of negotiation that isn’t much discussed.

All this in a handy 20 minutes or so, on this latest PoliticalOD podcast.

Back in the New Year. Have a great break. Merry Christmas.

Continuity at provisional Remain

The latest PoliticalOD podcast is a week behind our initial schedule. Waiting a week was a good idea  to see how the electoral contests would like up. Though of course there is a risk that until all nomination papers are submitted and the campaigns are fully on ‘go’ some of the comments may quickly fall out of date.

That said, the broad sweep here should stand up. Even if the opening comment on Upper Bann might quickly age, the proposition that this is likely a DUP hold would need a political earthquake to shake.

Neither the SDLP nor UUP have made decisions that reflect well on their respective leaderships, with strategies that are neither coherent or face up to the political realities. The most they should have done is set out a stall for a future Assembly election (whenever), avoid the dangers a First Past The Post election brings for smaller parties, and been brave enough to stick to their own Party interests. Brexit was so 2017, they should have been looking ahead, not backwards.

Many of the seats where Greens and SDLP and Sinn Fein are nobly standing down are little more than a gesture, a willingness to beat the DUP, and a hope to be more transfer friendly among each other when it comes to the Assembly.

The announcement by the Greens not to stand any candidates in Belfast would seem to be a calculation that few Unionists would transfer to them anyway – or that such votes are worth discounting in the future. It marks an unwelcome point where virtually the entire political landscape can be painted green or orange. Not quite what the Good Friday Agreement anticipated, and not entirely clear what that means for the future.

Whatever is happening locally, the likelihood of influence on the Brexit debate nationally is notional should Boris win, and irrelevant if Corbyn wins. Whatever happens the Commons timetable before the 31st January is tight, and we’ll either have an unscrutinised Withdrawal Bill rushed through Parliament, or at least a year of more Brexit dither although that might be the least of the country’s worries at that stage.

if a week is a long time in politics, the next five weeks may feel like a lifetime…

We’re learning that it is hard to update a podcast so check @thedissenter and @3000Versts for comments on stuff before our next podcast.

The numbers matter

Recent days has seen analysis of the recent Local Elections in Northern Ireland almost exclusively in outlined in terms of percentages. Statistical summaries. These focused on percentage shares of the vote, and the number of seats gained/lost by the parties.

The general view is that this was an election where the centre ‘broke through’. This was the ‘Other’ face of Northern Ireland politics.

Looking at the numbers and that isn’t quite the whole story. Read more… »

Think Local 

Enough of Brexit. Avoid thinking about the UK participating in European Elections towards the end of May – might or might not happen.

What do we know with certainty? Only thing we know for certain in UK politics at this moment is that there will be Local Elections, to be held on 2 May, for 270 local councils and six directly elected Mayors in England, and the 11 local councils in Northern Ireland.

It is highly likely national politics will dominate commentary on the local elections in England, particularly on the results and what they will be believed to mean (in the Brexit context, no doubt). Read more… »

The Magical Mystery Brexit.

There’s been a Brexit post planned for ages, but things seem to change and each piece in time seems no longer relevant. So . . . time for a recap and quick look at where we are, which might seem not that much further on . . . 

There are a sequence of events that create a mystery in the whole Brexit process to date, and is important to solve going forward. In January 2017 the Lancaster House speech set out what sort of trade and wider relationships the UK might have with the EU and the world.

Read more… »

Review, refresh, re-engage.

The outcry over the attendance of Jamie Bryson at the House of Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee (NIAC) misses the point. This is a hearing as part of the Committee’s look at “Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland – dealing with the deficit.” in Northern Ireland.

The NIAC look at “dealing with the deficit” in Northern Ireland has most probably been considered timely given the seemingly on-going impasse in discussions through 2017 (and into 2018) towards restoring devolution: or not, as at present. Presumptive or with great foresight, the Review now seems of greater interest in looking forward – notwithstanding the attendance of Mr Bryson and the subsequent Alliance Party hissy fit in that regard.

Read more… »

Irish nationalism’s self-regarding single certainty.

United Ireland, inevitability and Brexit.

This long read is available as a PDF download.

In his excellent study of Ideology and the Irish Question, Paul Bew quoted a Ballymoney Free Press editorial of May 1912 at the height of the Irish Home Rule crisis. ‘The statement of Unionist Ulster’, it announced, ‘is that it merely wants to be let alone’. Unfortunately, ‘since Satan entered the Garden of Eden good people will not be let alone’.

This editorial captured a universal truth of Ulster Unionism – the desire to be ‘let alone’ – a truth with ambivalent consequences.

Read more… »