McGuinness, citing health, is ending his political career

Ten days after announcing his resignation from the Northern Ireland Executive, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness on 19 January said that he will not run for reelection in the 2 March elections. The former IRA commander has vowed to remain active in the republican cause. Here’s a roundup of headlines from Ulster’s three leading news organizations, with links to their top story and sidebars:

Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness stands down from electoral politics

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness is to stand down from electoral politics, signalling the closure of one of the most remarkable chapters in recent Irish history. Party president Gerry Adams has called on party members and republicans to “give him the space to get better” so that he can come back to an improved situation. McGuinness’s successor as leader of Sinn Féin in the north will be announced next week after Mr McGuinness told the Irish News that health problems prevented him from defending his Foyle seat in the forthcoming poll.

From The Irish News, nationalist

McGuinness quits and says: I’m not fit enough for election

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has announced he is quitting frontline politics to concentrate on recovering from “a very serious illness”. McGuinness resigned as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister last week in protest against the handling of a botched energy scheme, forcing a snap election. He has now revealed that after “a lot of thinking” he will not be contesting those elections due to ill health.

From Belfast Newsletter, unionist

Martin McGuinness will not seek reelection to Stormont Assembly

Sinn Fein‘s Martin McGuinness has announced he is quitting frontline politics for health reasons and will not seek reelection to the Stormont Assembly. McGuinness said it was initially his intention to stand down in May, on the 10th anniversary of the power-sharing Executive, but that his health and the current political crisis had “overtaken the timeframe”. He added that he was not “physically able” to continue in his current role.

From Belfast Telegraph, centrist

Irish history professor Ronan Fanning dies

Ronan Fanning, professor emeritus of modern Irish history at University College Dublin and the author of several books, died 18 January at age 75.

In 2015, Fanning published A Will to Power, a biography of Éamon de Valera, one of the most complicated and controversial figures of Irish revolutionary history. His Introduction included this anecdote:

By a strange coincidence my father died on the same day as Éamon de Valera, 29 August 1975, some hours before him. He was buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, again on the same day, less than one hundred yards away from where de Valera was buried an hour later in the republican plot. I was reminded on that morning that de Valera would remain as divisive a figure in death as in life. A family friend, who knew that my father was never an admirer of de Valera … said to me at his graveside as the undertaker was hurrying us out to make way for the state funeral, ‘What’s the first thing your father will say to St. Peter when he sees him? “There’s another Irishman, a long fellow, coming up after me and he’ll cause havoc if you let him in!”

Ronan Fanning is to be cremated at Glasnevin. Below, he speaks about British policy in Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising.

Northern Ireland snap elections set for 2 March

Northern Ireland Assembly elections have been set for 2 March, and the current the governing body at Stormont, elected just eight months ago, will be dissolved 26 January.

The Assembly will be reduced to 90 seats, or five member for each of the 18 constituencies, from the current allotment of 108 seats, or six representatives per district. The reduction was previously planned.

“Stamina will be required for a campaign in which many issues will be raised, including (the renewable energy scandal known as) “cash for ash”, Brexit, health, education and jobs, but, as usual, Orange versus Green will dominate,” Gerry Moriarty writes in The Irish Times.

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building.

Ringling Circus closing: the Irish connection

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the “The Greatest Show on Earth,” is closing in May after 146 years of performances. High costs and dwindling attendance following an earlier decision to remove elephants from the show were cited as reasons. A 19th century form of entertainment couldn’t survive 21st century audiences.

Brothers John Ringling North and Henry Ringling North, heirs to the five founding Ringling brothers, sold the circus in 1967 to the current owners, ending more than 80 years of Ringling family control. The brothers became Irish citizens in the early 1960s, shortly after Henry purchased Northbrook, their father’s ancestral home, at Kilconnell, County Galway.

A collection of 1,200 books belonging to Henry was bequeathed to the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway in 2014.

An elephant wears a St. Patricks Day hat during the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Pachyderm Parade in Washington on March 17, 2009. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)

Obama and Biden quote Irish poets

President Barack Obama cited W. B. Yeats in his surprise 12 January presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden.

” ‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends,’ ” Obama quoted from The Municipal Gallery Revisited.

In is acceptance, Biden used a line from Seamus Heaney’s From the Republic of Conscience:  “You carried your own burdens, and very soon, the creeping symptoms of privilege disappeared.”

Read the White House transcript, or watch the presentation:

McGuinness resignation sparks range of opinion

As the surprise resignation of Martin McGuinness from the Northern Ireland Executive continues to unspool, opinion writers in Belfast, Dublin and London have offered a range of analysis. Here’s a sample:

Martin McGuinness has earned sympathy and respect
Fionnuala O Connor in The Irish News, nationalist.

Though it stuck in many craws to admit it initially and could never have converted some, the man known first as an IRA leader of clinical ruthlessness became an able front-of-house performer. …  Sinn Féin’s best northern performer by some distance has carried too much expectation for too long. His departure ahead of Gerry Adams, now an uncertain performer who does more harm than good, is a blow to the party.

McGuinness letter of resignation was steeped in sanctimony
Belfast Newsletter, unionist.

Martin McGuinness has travelled a long way since his days as an IRA commander. Not only did he agree to share power at a Stormont parliament under the ultimate sovereignty of the UK, he has even at times seemed to be a moderate and pragmatic power at the top of Sinn Fein during previous crises such as over welfare reform. But a self-righteous, hypocritical and objectionable side to the outgoing deputy first minister was on display yesterday.

From IRA commander to political reconciler – the changing faces of Martin McGuinness, Belfast Telegraph, centrist.

McGuinness has an air of innocence about him, an almost childlike gladness in his nature, and yet he is the man who led the hard men. Many of his former comrades are so appalled by the incongruity, the mismatch between the reconciler and the old soldier that they no longer believe he was ever really on their side. He went further in his efforts to reassure unionists than they did in any effort to placate nationalism and republicanism.

Martin McGuinness’s departure represents failure on all sides, Newton Emerson in The Irish Times, Dublin.

McGuinness may be leaving office with his dignity intact, and many in Sinn Féin will relish the firmer line to come, but his departure still represents failure for all sides in Northern Ireland. Once again, unionists are about to be taught the lesson they never learn: deal with nationalism now, or get a worse deal later.

McGuinness has gone. Stability in Northern Ireland may go with him
Malachi O’Doherty in The Guardian, London.

…there is a high price to be paid for bringing down Stormont and forcing the British to restore direct rule. An obvious one is that the inquiry into the lavishly funded heating scheme will not now take place. McGuinness may have scuppered the very thing he was demanding.

T. K. Whitaker, Irish economist, dies at 100

Thomas Kenneth Whitaker, described as “the most influential public servant” in the history of the Republic of Ireland, died 9 January, a month and a day after his 100th birthday. Born eight months after the Easter Rising, a boy at the time of partition, the County Down native also was involved in Northern Ireland issues.

Read The Irish Times obituary, and “supreme mandarin and good citizen” column by Fintan O’Toole. Video below released for his 100th birthday.

McGuinness resignation sparks Northern Ireland turmoil


McGuinness is expected to make a second announcement 10 January about whether or not he will seek office again in the expected fresh election triggered by his resignation. Reporting from The Guardian.


Martin McGuinness is to resign as Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive in protest at the Democratic Unionist Party’s handling of a botched renewable energy scheme, The Irish Times and other media report 9 January. The Sinn Féin politician’s move is likely to lead to a snap Assembly election.

Obama will return to Ireland in ‘coming year or so’

Outgoing President Barack Obama will return to the Republic of Ireland “in the coming year or so,” according to U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley. “The last sentence the president said to me … [4 January] when we were saying goodbye, was ‘please tell them I’m coming’,” O’Malley told RTÉ host Marian Finucane.

While the location or context of his return is less clear than the timing, Obama is generally popular in Ireland. His May 2011 visit included a stop in Moneygall, County Offaly, the ancestral home of his great-great-great grandfather.

Since then, a service plaza was erected in Obama’s honor on the M7 motorway just outside the village. In addition to petrol and fast food, the place is packed with Obama souvenirs, plus memorabilia of popular presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. In a contemporary sense, it might be the most Irish-American spot in all of Ireland, through certainly not the most scenic or historic.

Barack Obama in Moneygall in 2011.

Obama, who also visited Northern Ireland in June 2013 for a G8 summit, leaves office 20 January, the inaugural of President-elect Donald Trump, who owns a golf resort in Doonbeg, County Clare. O’Malley will leave his Dublin post a few days earlier due to a demanded from the incoming administration that all non-career ambassadors depart immediately.

IrishCentral, citing a tweet from New York Times writer Maggie Haberman, reports the next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland will be philanthropist and businessman Brian Burns, the grandson of an emigrant from Sneem, County Kerry.  Burns, 80, and his wife, Eileen, have been close friends of Trump through the Palm Beach and Mar-A-Lago connection.

O’Malley, a St. Louis trial lawyer whose grandparents emigrated from County Mayo in the early 20th century, was appointed by Obama in June 2014 after a record-setting 18-month gap following the departure former ambassador and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

Irish passport applications surged in 2016

Ireland issued a record 733,060 passports in 2016, a 9 percent increase over the previous year.

The growth was fueled in part by a 40.6 percent jump in passport applications from Great Britain, to 64,996, and 26.5 percent bump from Northern Ireland, to 67,972.

These increases are largely attributed to “Brexit,” the June 2016 vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. (A majority of voters in Northern Ireland wanted to remain in the EU.) There are other reasons behind the overall surge in passport applications, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, said in 5 January release.

“There was a strong increase in demand for passports in the first half of the year,” he said. “This was due to a variety of factors including the fact that more Irish people traveled in the first half of the year; we also had the Euros Championships and a historical spike in applications from 2006 feeding through in the 10-year renewal cycle.”

An Irish passport confers the holder with travel and work privileges within the 27-nation EU, which the UK is now figuring out how to leave. People born in any of Ireland’s 32 counties, north or south, or those with a parent or grandparent born on the island, are eligible to apply for a passport from the Republic.

The Irish Consulate in New York had the highest single demand for passports, issuing 7,205 in 2016.  It was closely followed by Canberra, Australia, San Francisco and Sydney.

“I expect this trend to continue in the coming years,” Flanagan said.