Category Archives: Northern Ireland

How U.K. election outcome impacts Northern Ireland

BBC results map.

UPDATES:

This is how the UK election may destabilize Northern Ireland,” an excellent “what you need to know” piece from The Washington Post.

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“The tiny DUP, with its newly elevated status, has become an improbable factor in global geopolitics. All over Europe, dusty books on Irish history are coming off the shelves,” The New York Times reports in a story that offers the background.

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DUP cooperation in forming a new conservative government in London could come with a steep price tag, writes John Campbell, the BBC’s Northern Ireland economics editor. “One demand could be that E.U. funds, that will be lost as a result of Brexit, are replaced in full.”

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s failed election gamble has cast the Democratic Unionist Party in the role of kingmaker, giving the province an unexpected chance to have a big say in Britain’s divorce from the European Union, Reuters reports. “We will continue to work with our friends and allies in the DUP in particular,” May said.

ORIGINAL POST:

Irish nationalist Sinn Féin and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party have gained seats in Westminster, while the moderate Ulster Unionist and Social Democratic and Labor parties are now shut out of the London parliament.

Results of the 8 June United Kingdom election are still being sorted. Below is one early analysis of the impact on Northern Ireland. I’ll update with more coverage over the next day or so. MH

The election outcome  “put a huge question mark over the future of Brexit,” Pat Leahy writes in The Irish Times.

There will be an immediate period of high uncertainty, as British politics comes to terms with the shock result. The pound fell sharply on the news of last night’s exit poll, creating fresh problems for Irish exporters to the UK, paid for their goods and services in less valuable sterling.

[The DUP could be] in a strong position to soften a future May Government’s line on Brexit, at least insofar as it affected Northern Ireland. It also, however, raises the intruiging question of whether Sinn Féin might be prepared to abandon its policy of refusing to take its Westminster seats if it meant it could deny Ms May a DUP-supported majority.

The remaking of the political map of the North – the election has carved it up between the DUP and Sinn Féin – will surely clarify this question.

Ireland offers the world a bid and a bank

These two stories are related only in terms of Ireland offering itself to the world, albeit in vastly different ways. Readers are welcome to share their quips about any similarities of banking and rugby. MH

An initial public offering for 25 percent of state-owned Allied Irish Banks has opened on the Dublin and London stock exchanges. The bank was nationalized in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The government stepped in with a €21 billion ($23.50 billion) taxpayer bailout. The IPO is expected to raise €3 billion. As Reuters reports:

A successful flotation would mark another milestone in a dramatic turnaround from a banking and fiscal crisis that wrecked the country’s economy a decade ago. … One of Ireland’s two dominant banks, AIB returned to profit three years ago. It has cut its huge stock of impaired loans by more than two-thirds since then, and this year it became the first domestically owned lender to restart dividends since the crash.

Meanwhile, Ireland also submitted its bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. The “Ready for the World” proposal calls for hosting matches at a dozen stadiums on both sides of the border.

France and South Africa are also vying for the tournament. World Rugby will announce the successful candidate in November.

Here’s the slick promotional video, narrated by Northern Ireland-born actor Liam Neeson:

 

Enda Kenny to resign as party leader, taoiseach

Enda Kenny will resign as Fine Gael party leader and as Ireland’s taoiseach effective 2 June. He has served as the Republic’s prime minister since 2011. He is the longest serving taoiseach of his party, which has more often been in minority opposition to Fianna Fáil.

The Mayo-born Kenny, 66, signaled his intentions months ago, but the 17 May announcement caught Irish political observers off guard. His leadership has suffered from bumbling a plan to institute national water charges, and the handling of a long-running police misconduct scandal.

Enda Kenny and former U.S. President Barack Obama during a St. Patrick’s Day visit to the White House.

Still, Kenny leaves a solid legacy. Here’s Stephen Collins writing in The Irish Times:

His crowning achievement was to lead the country out of the financial crisis that brought it to the brink in 2010, and preside over a government that transformed it into the fastest growing EU economy for the past three years.

Kenny’s mixture of political skill, sheer stubbornness and incredible stamina enabled him to achieve what many deemed impossible, but he never managed to win the level of public popularity achieved by some of his less successful predecessors.

His successor will have to deal with Britain’s coming withdrawal from the European Union, which could mean the return of a hard border with Northern Ireland. At the same time, the Republic’s new leader will have to navigate growing calls for the island’s political reunification.

Other big issues include a potential 2018 referendum on whether to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, and whether to allow the country’s diaspora to vote in national elections.

Fianna Fáil could refuse to allow Kenny’s successor as party leader to also follow him as taoiseach. That would mean another national election. 

Remembering Bloody Sunday’s uneaten Mars bar

First, the numbers: 45 years after 13 Catholic civil rights marchers were shot dead on Bloody Sunday, 18 members of the British Parachute Regiment that opened fire on them that day in Derry may soon face charges, John Kelly, brother of one of the victims, told The Irish Times.

Kelly also repeated the story he told me in 2001, when we met at the Bloody Sunday Trust, a museum, human rights advocacy and conflict resolution center. His brother Michael, 17, was carrying a Mars candy bar in his pocket at the time he was shot.

The sweet became part of the evidence in several tribunals that explored the events of Bloody Sunday. A 2010 report determined the victims (a 14th person died later) were innocent. British PM David Cameron apologized for the 1972 military action to the surviving families and the community. As yet, however, none of the soldiers has faced charges for the deaths.

More on the background and latest developments in this BBC story.

“We will be here as long as we need to be,” Kelly told me in 2001. “What’s a couple more years, since we have waited nearly 30 [now 45] to hopefully get truth and justice?”

The 1972 civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland, that became Bloody Sunday.

E.U. would welcome the North in United Ireland

Northern Ireland will automatically join the European Union if voters on both sides of the 1921 partition agree to the island’s political reunification.

Leaders of 27 E.U. states agreed the decision at a 29 April Brussels summit called to prepare for the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc. Last June, U.K. voters approved Britain’s exit, or Brexit, by 52 percent to 48 percent. Nearly 56 percent of voters in Northern Ireland, however, supported remaining in the E.U.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged E.U. leaders for the commitment to welcome the six counties of the north. The approved statement is now being called the Kenny text:

The European Council acknowledges that the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for an agreed mechanism whereby a united Ireland may be brought about through peaceful and democratic means.

In this regard, the European Council acknowledges that, in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union.

A vote on Irish reunification is not scheduled at this time, and it appears unlikely to happen anytime soon. “In my view, the conditions do not exist now for a Border poll,” Kenny said after the E.U. statement.

Kenny

The more immediate concern is resolving what happens with the border between Northern Ireland, as part of the departing U.K., and E.U.-member Republic of Ireland.

The border has been nearly seamless since the late 1990s, when military check points began to disappear with the easing of sectarian violence in the North. The biggest difference between the two countries is the change of currency, since the U.K. never adopted the Euro. On the Dublin to Belfast train last summer, I also noticed the automatic change of data carriers on my mobile device.

The is just one part of even thornier Irish-British trade issues.

Stormont deadline extended until June 29

In a related development this week, the U.K. parliament extended the deadline to form a new power-sharing executive in the Northern Ireland Assembly until June 29. Unionist and nationalist leaders have been unable to reach an accord since the 2 March election, in which the pro-reunification Sinn Féin party made dramatic gains in the assembly.

Since then, British PM Theresa May called for a 8 June snap election in the U.K. to bolster support for the Brexit negotiations. The election, which includes Northern Ireland, provided a handy and logical rational to delay the formation of the assembly executive.

Confused? This BBC Q & A should help.

Irish republican leader Martin McGuinness dies at 66

Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in January, forcing the Northern Ireland Assembly to shut down for a new election, held at the beginning of March. It was already clear the former IRA commander was ill, and he said as much in announcing his decision not to seek to re-election. Now, his death stirs further remembrances of The Troubles, and raises more questions about the future of the province as Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists face the uncertainties of Brexit.

Here is a sample of the first wave of international coverage:

“This election is about equality and respect for all our people and integrity in the institutions. Vote SF for the politics of hope not fear.”

–Last tweet of Martin McGuinness, 1 March 2017, just before Sinn Féin‘s historic success in Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

McGuinness and the Queen shake hands in Belfast, July 2012. Probably no other photo says as much about the arc of the former IRA leader’s life.

U.S. media plays sectarian card in N.I. election coverage

News of Sinn Féin‘s big gains in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections is reaching American media outlets, and with it the usual sectarian shorthand that has virtually disappeared from Irish and British coverage.

While Jewish-Muslim tension remains fundamental to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Catholic-Protestant animosity has a shrinking role in today’s Northern Ireland political narrative. But the storyline remains catnip to many U.S. news outlets.

Here’s the top of The New York Times‘ Assembly election coverage, which appeared at the bottom of page 10 of the 5 March print issue:

Sinn Féin, the main Catholic nationalist party in Northern Ireland, won its greatest number of legislative seats ever after a snap election this weekend, creating a virtual tie with its Protestant rivals and throwing nearly two decades of peaceful power sharing into turmoil.

This is an improvement over the 16 January Times’ story reporting the pending election:

Voters in Northern Ireland will go to the polls on March 2 in a snap election that was forced by the main Catholic party, Sinn Féin, after the collapse of a regional government in which Catholics and Protestants shared power.

The newer story introduces the concept of a nationalist party — instead of simply Catholic –in the first sentence. In the January story, the word nationalist isn’t used at all. The fourth paragraph does explain: “Sinn Féin wants Northern Ireland to stay in the European Union and eventually reunite with Ireland.” The word unionism is introduced in the same graph. Both stories were written by Sinead O’Shea.

The Washington Post published an Associated Press story on its website, though none has appeared in print as of 5 March. Here’s the lede:

Northern Ireland’s snap election has left the rival extremes of politics virtually neck and neck for the first time — and facing a bruising battle to put their Catholic-Protestant government back together again in an increasingly polarized landscape. The big winner from Saturday’s final results to fill the Northern Ireland Assembly is the Irish nationalist party that triggered the vote, Sinn Féin.

“Unionist” doesn’t appear until the fifth paragraph, in the formal name Democratic Unionist Party, then a graph later as lowercase “unionists committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.”

The descriptions could benefit from modifiers such as “predominantly Catholic nationalists” or “historically Protestant unionists,” leaving room for those who do not fit the easy stereotype. We are a long way from the days of “Home Rule is Rome Rule.” Northern Ireland is increasingly diverse in its religious (or non-religious), racial and political make up. Winners of 13 of 90 seats in this election are from parties or independents that eschew traditional Catholic or Protestant affiliation. Their 14.4 percent share is up from 12.9 percent in the May 2016 election.

Think it’s impossible for U.S. media to avoid this sectarian shorthand? NPR’s coverage, by Colin Dwyer, shows how the basic political divide can be explained without using religious identifiers.

When the dust finally settled Saturday on Northern Ireland’s snap assembly election, it became clear a new political reality now awaits voters there. After an exceedingly strong showing by Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland’s government is split all but down the middle between Irish nationalists and their pro-British counterparts.

The story does not use the words Catholic or Protestant.  Only an online photo caption describes “the Catholic Falls Road” in Belfast. The word nationalist appears three times in this story, lowercase unionist four times, plus an additional reference to the Democratic Unionists.

The opening of The Irish Timeselection wrap-up is representative of how Northern politics is reported on the island of Ireland, and in Britain. Note the use of the word republican instead of nationalist:

Sinn Féin has emerged as the biggest winner in the North’s Assembly election after the party came to within one seat of matching the Democratic Unionist return of 28 seats. In a dramatic shake-up, unionists lost their long-enduring and highly symbolic overall majority in Stormont as the republican party came very close to securing more first preference votes than the DUP.

Peace walls, right, gated roads , center, and boarded windows are reminders of the lingering Catholic-Protestant divide in Belfast. Mark Holan photo, July 2016.

I’m not saying sectarian labels are never used in Irish and British media coverage, but they are becoming as sparse as people in Northern Ireland church pews. I wonder if these newsrooms have made conscious decisions to keep religious affiliation out of their political coverage.

To be sure, the “peace walls” separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast are a stark reminder that sectarianism still exists in Northern Ireland. And the U.S. media coverage does include the important contemporary context of Brexit and the Northern Ireland renewable energy scandal.

Alan Bairner wrote a chapter about international and local media coverage of the Troubles in the 1996 book, Northern Ireland Politics, edited by Arthur Aughey and Duncan Morrow. Remember, this was more than 20 years ago, and two years before the Good Friday Agreement.

Certainly the people of Northern Ireland could have no grounds for complaint about the levels of interest shown by the international media, although they were frequently uneasy about the quality of the analysis which resulted from that media interest. … There is little evidence, for example, that British or, indeed, international coverage of the Troubles had a significant impact on the views of people in Northern Ireland itself. Most Northern Irish people formulate political views on the basis of numerous factors and their reaction to media output, regardless of its aim, is more or less predetermined.

And the local press coverage?

It would be preposterous to suggest that the owners and editors of Northern Ireland’s local newspapers are responsible for the divisions in their society. It is undeniable, however, that their papers, through the choice of stories which are published and even the use of language to tell these stories, give voice to the rival perspectives of the two communities and, as a consequence, give added strength to these perspectives in the eyes of those who hold them. Therefore, local papers as well as the [Protestant] News Letter and the [Catholic] Irish News have helped to reproduce sectarian attitudes and in so doing they have become complicit in the maintenance of the politics of division.

(I added the paragraph beginning “Such descriptions … ” and made other minor revisions from the original post. MH)

Polling closed in Northern Ireland Assembly elections

UPDATES:

  • The election is set to deliver a significant boost to Irish nationalism at the expense of unionists, RTE reports. Sinn Féin could come within a seat or two of the DUP, which held a 10 seat advantage in the previous Stormont government.
  • The nearly 65 percent turnout was higher than first anticipated and the strongest since the vote that followed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
  • Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt announced his resignation.

ORIGINAL POST:

Polling stations have closed across the six counties of Northern Ireland, and counting will take place throughout the day 3 March. Results should be completed by the following day.

The Electoral Office for Northern Ireland has told media outlets that the turnout was higher than last May’s 55 percent participation rate. The BBC reported 80 percent turnout in new Sinn Féin leader Michelle O”Neill’s Mid Ulster constituency, and more than 75 percent in DUP leader Arlene Foster’s district of Fermanagh South Tyrone.

Could these two women share power at Stormont? Or will there be a return to direct rule from London? Check back for updates, and I’ll wrap up the results by 5 March.

BBC photo

Northern Ireland voters return to the polls 2 March

Only 10 months have passed since Northern Ireland voters selected assembly representatives. Now, fresh polling takes place 2 March, prompted by the January resignation of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, the former deputy first minister. His move, in protest of a troubled renewable energy scheme overseen by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) First Minister Arlene Foster, collapsed the power-sharing government. McGuinness also is in poor health and will not seek re-election.

The Irish Times says:

Power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin is challenged by a collapse of trust and respect. Since other parties are unlikely to get enough seats, a prolonged period of direct rule [from London] is probable. That would come just as the British government invokes Brexit, creating huge uncertainty about the border [with the Republic] and hence the peace process itself. This issue has not had the attention or debate it deserves in the campaign.

The election outcome is made more unpredictable due to a previously scheduled reduction of the assembly to 90 seats, or five members for each of the 18 constituencies, from the previous allotment of 108 seats, or six representatives per district. This could upset the final balance of power.

Votes will be counted 3 March, and full results should be known by 4 March. Here are landing pages for major media coverage of the election:

And here’s a full 16 February debate among the major party leaders:

Protestant memories enhance Irish folklore collection

Last summer, the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin made this public admission: “Irish Protestant cultural history is not as well represented in the archives … as that of the Catholic community.”

To address the imbalance, the special library launched the “Irish Protestant Folk Memory Project.” The effort was partially linked to the decade of centennial remembrances of the turbulent years leading to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, with the majority Protestant province of Ulster partitioned as Northern Ireland.

In the 26 counties of southern Ireland, “the social and political upheavals of this period profoundly affected the lives of many [minority Protestant] families, presenting challenges with respect to their sense of national identity and historic allegiance,” the NFC said.

So far, the NFC has interviewed over 50 people and been inundated with correspondence from Protestants who are keen to tell their stories and to record their history, The Irish Times reports under the headline, The Secret Lives of Ireland’s Protestants.

A lead researcher says there is compelling evidence that while most Protestants in the Republic saw themselves as completely separate from those in Northern Ireland, this was not always the case for those in Border areas. Also, although the Protestant community is comprised mainly of Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians, it was never homogenous.

For more political background, read the concluding chapter of the 1983 book “Protestants in a Catholic State: Ireland’s Privileged Minority,” by Kurt Bowen.