Tag Archives: Northern Ireland Assembly

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

Pope Francis’ visit dominated the news from and about Ireland in August, but there were other developments. Here’s my regular monthly roundup:

  • Northern Ireland set a new world record on 29 August for the longest peacetime period without a government, 590 days and counting, the Associated Press reported. The Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration at Stormont collapsed in January 2017. People gathered across the North to protest that “Stormont is Dormant.”

  • The number of Irish people returning to live in the Republic of Ireland has overtaken those leaving the country for the first time since 2009. See full details from the Central Statistics Office.
  • The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland reported there are nearly 1,500 fewer pubs in the country than in 2005, a 17.1 percent decrease. Off licenses increased by 11.6 percent, and wine-only establishments increased by 3.1 percent.
  • A statue of former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled at Barack Obama Plaza, a fast-food and petrol station on the outskirts of Moneygall, County Offaly.
  • Kirsten Mate Maher of Waterford was crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee. She is the first African-Irish “Rose,” and the third mixed-race woman to win the title, according to The Irish Times.
  • Wild fires revealed a giant EIRE sign carved into the ground at Bray Head, County Wicklow. The World War II relic was created to warn Allied and Axis pilots of Ireland’s neutral status. In July, a previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, emerged as the result of exceptionally dry weather.
  • A major fire gutted the 233-year-old Primark building in Belfast city centre. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining sandstone facade of the historic five-story building could be saved.

Flames billow from the Primark store in the Bank Buildings on Castle Street, in Belfast city centre. Image from BBC.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

No sooner were the votes counted in last month’s successful repeal of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, than feminists and other liberals turned their attention to a new referendum. This time the targets are removing language about blasphemy and the women’s role in the home.

The Republic’s constitution “recognizes that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

Regarding blasphemy, the constitution says, “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

The referendum, likely in October, would be held alongside the presidential election – if one is called, Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said in a government statement. Both referendum issues are expected to cruise to easy passage with only minimal opposition.

But is the pendulum swinging too far to the left? As Father Gerard Moloney wrote in The Irish Times:

Now there is a sense that we have replaced one form of intolerance with another. Just as it was difficult to speak out against the cozy religious, social and moral consensus of 50 years ago, it is difficult to speak out against the dominant cultural mindset of today. … A new secular judgmentalism has replaced the old religious judgmentalism of yesteryear.

Also in June:

  • The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland released polling data showing that that 84 percent of the Irish population believe U.S. companies are critical to the economic future.  Over 155,000 Irish work for American companies.
  • The same week as the survey release (coincidence?), Amazon opened a 170,000-square-foot building in Dublin and announced that it will add 1,000 jobs to the 2,500 people it already employees in Ireland.
  • Another Irish-British handshake: While not the same magnitude as the 2012 palm-to-white-gloved-palm between Martin McGuinness and the Queen, Charles, the Prince of Wales, and former IRA bomber and Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly shook right mitts in Belfast.
  • This headline over a Derek Scally column in The Irish Times put a modern spin on an historic phrase: German’s difficulty could be Ireland’s opportunity.
  • For the second time in as many months, Irish Ferries was forced to cancel thousands of bookings as it postponed the inaugural sailing of the WB Yeats at least until September.
  • In case you are wondering: The impasse over restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly has reached 18 months, and debate also continues on the post-Brexit fate of the border between the North and the Republic.
  • Why both matter: Northern Ireland sends almost double the amount of trade to the Republic that it receives in return, according to a Cross-Border Supply Chain survey the by Northern Ireland Statistical & Research Agency and the Department for the Economy. (Click graphic to see more detail.)

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

I’ve spent January producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Thanks for the great reader response. Before the next post, I want to catch up with the month’s developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

Tourism poster of Innisfallen, Killarney, in County Kerry, from the 1920s.

Ophelia brings weather madness to Ireland

UPDATE:

Storm Brian brings flooding to Limerick city, disrupts rail service.

ORIGINAL POST:

Ireland’s worst storm in more than 50 years has killed three people, disconnected power to more than 360,000 others, closed schools and businesses, blocked roads and halted transit systems, plus other chaos.

The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia lashed the island’s southwest coast with winds of more than 90 mph. Surging seas pounded coastal waterfronts as rainfall created scattered inland flooding.

Nearly 20,000 additional people were left without power in Northern Ireland as the storm moved northeastward across the island. Ophelia also disrupted talks aimed at restoring the Northern Executive and Assembly, The Irish Times reported.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was due to meet the DUP and Sinn Féin in Belfast … to encourage them to end the political deadlock. That plan had to be abandoned due to the storm, although there is a possibility he could meet the parties sometime on [17 October].

Eleven people died when Hurricane Debbie hit Ireland in September 1961. The National Geographic explains “three weird impacts” from the latest storm.

On tea … Joshua Tree … Northern Assembly … and eternity

These stories are related only through their connections to Ireland:

  • While global coffee culture has jabbed at classic black tea’s popularity over the past decade as scores of java joints opened in Dublin, “demure and comforting tea has slugged back in the Irish capital,” The Washington Post reports.
  • U2 celebrated the 30th anniversary release of The Joshua Tree with concerts at Croke Park in Dublin. In The Irish Independent, Ed Power notes that Ireland has “changed utterly” over those three decades.

Divorce was still illegal in 1987, contraceptives difficult to come by. Few under the age of 30 were genuinely religious — nonetheless all felt compelled to attend Mass. Emigration, meanwhile, was a fact of life and nobody had any money. Life is never quite grim if you are young and carefree. Nonetheless, this was a grey country to which U2 had introduced a spark of color.

  • Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is on a three-day visit to Washington, D. C., and New York, to brief political and business leaders about Brexit and the collapsed Northern Ireland Assembly, the BBC reports.
  • Finally, on a bicycle ride through a local cemetery, I noticed the gravestone at left. Irish to the last … and forever:

Northern Ireland ‘Journey’ nears critical bend in road

“The Journey,” a fictional “imagining” of the real-life partnership between unionist firebrand Dr. Ian Paisley and former IRA man Martin McGuinness, recently debuted in Washington, D.C., as part of its wider U.S. release.

The movie isn’t as awful as early reviews suggested last fall, though there is merit to that criticism. It’s worth seeing for those who follow Northern Ireland politics. The long, twisted history of the Troubles, and the actors’ thick accents, are probably too much for more casual viewers.

A line near the end of Colin Bateman’s screenplay caught my attention and could prove to be prescient in the coming weeks. It is spoken by McGuinness (Colm Meaney) to Paisely (Timothy Spall) as they are about to agree on the power-sharing deal that resulted in the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly:

This is our only opportunity to build something that will last, at least for our lifetime.

The real-life duo got the Assembly off the ground and developed such a close working relationship that they become known as  the chuckle brothers. Peace and progress flourished in Northern Ireland. But Paisley died in September 2014, and McGuinness died in March.

Now, the suspended Belfast Assembly is facing a 29 June deadline to reorganize, or the north could return to direct rule from Westminster. This matter is complicated by the Paisley-founded, pro-unionist DUP entering a Tory coalition to control the London Parliament, which will put Irish republicans on the defensive. This comes as the U.K. also begins to negotiate its exit from the European Union–Brexit–which threatens the return of a “hard border” between the north and the Republic.

At the same time, the annual Orange Order marching season, in which Protestants celebrate a 1690 military victory over Catholics, is getting underway and approaching its 12 July peak. The season always raises tensions between the two cultural and political communities in the north.

What could possibly go wrong?

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.

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:

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

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.