Tag Archives: Northern Ireland Assembly

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

The new year got off to a fast start with the restoration of the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, successful U.K. and E.U. Brexit votes, and announced Feb. 8 elections in the Republic of Ireland.

In the North, the Assembly’s three-year dormancy has laid bare “a state of deep crisis across the territory’s neglected public and political institutions,” The New York Times reported Jan. 22. Residents “wonder whether and how the regional government will be able to overhaul public services like health and education that have declined to the point of near collapse.”

Brexit Day is Jan. 31. Britain and the E.U. approved the separation and now begin negotiating a trade deal. Prospect, a U.K. publication, speculates on How Northern Ireland could use Brexit to its advantage.

With less than 10 days before elections in the Republic, polls show that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party has fallen 7 percentage points to 23 percent since November, while rival Fianna Fail is up 2 points to 26 percent, according to a Jan. 26 roundup by Reuters. Sinn Fein was up 8 points to 19 percent and may play a role in deciding the eventual coalition government. Visit The Irish Times‘ “Inside Politics” podcast.

I’ll have more election posts in February. Now, other January news:

  • In America, the Jesuit Review, Ciara Murphy writes Ireland is fine with fracking—as long as it happens in Pennsylvania. Her piece hits close to home for me: the project site on the River Shannon estuary in North Kerry is near where my maternal grandparents lived before they emigrated to … Western Pennsylvania, center of the U.S. fracking industry and my birthplace. “For the Irish government to continue with the L.N.G. terminal on the basis of energy security for Irish people is to disregard the harm caused to people in Pennsylvania,” Murphy writes.

North Kerry LNG site.

  • Maps comparing Ireland’s island-wide rail networks in 1920 to 2020–the former being more robust–went viral on social media. The images came from a report by Irish and U.K. business interests to highlight the value of a shared all-island economy between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
  • There were 67 victims of paramilitary-style assaults in Northern Ireland in 2019, up from 51 in 2018, Foreign Policy reported, citing Police Service of Northern Ireland data, in a story speculating about a post-Brexit return to sectarian violence.
  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might have revving her 2020 reelection campaign, has been appointed chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, a largely ceremonial role. She is expected to hold the post through early 2025.
  • Marian Finucane, a longtime RTÉ radio journalist, died Jan. 2, age 69. She was “one of a small number of people instantly recognized in Ireland by their first name only … [a] testament to the intimacy of her relationship with listeners,” The Irish Times obituary said.
  • Former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, died Jan. 24, age 83.

Deal Announced to Restore Northern Ireland Assembly

UPDATES (Newest at top)

  • Reports indicate all parties are now on board. The government appears ready to reopen midday Jan. 11. [I’ll have a new post as details–and opinions–become more clear.]
  • Sinn Féin has announced it will accept the deal and rejoin the power-sharing government at Stormont. The DUP has given tentative support. The Northern Assembly’s smaller parties – the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance – are still holding internal discussions, the BBC reports.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, trade union and industry groups are urging Northern politicians to accept the deal.
  • Northern Ireland is facing a fierce story amid the political drama.

ORIGINAL POST

The Irish and British governments late Jan. 9 announced a deal to restore the three-year-dormant Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. Northern political parties are expected to meet Friday, Jan. 10, to approval the proposal, called “New Decade, New Approach.”

Irish Tánaiste and British Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Northern Secretary Julian Smith said the framework will transform public services and restore public confidence in the devolved government, with gives Northern Ireland a measure of autonomy from London, and also provides cross-border initiatives with Dublin.

The two government officials said reforms to the health service, education and justice will be prioritized, along with improvements in transparency and accountability, and in how civil servants, ministers, and special advisers conduct themselves. Their statements and key elements of the draft agreement can be found in this Irish government release.

The Assembly was shuttered in January 2017 after Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister to protest the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) handling of a botched renewable energy scheme. Then, citing health problems, Martin announced he would not run in the elections triggered by the closure. He died two months later. Sinn Féin and DUP have been at loggerheads ever since.

Catching up with modern Ireland: November

November began with more than 1,000 people from the academic, arts, business, community, education, health, labor, law, media, and sports sectors; on both sides of the Irish border, and the diaspora in America, Canada, and Australia; signing an open letter calling for a “new conversation” about the constitutional future of the island of Ireland. The “Ireland’s Future” group urged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to establish a citizens’ assembly to pave the way for a united Ireland. By the month’s end, Varadkar and opposition party leader Micheál Martin had rebuffed the request.

“In recent decades Irish nationalism has moved beyond slogans like ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ into an appreciation that co-operation rather than conflict is a far better route to an agreed Ireland. Attempting to take advantage of the Brexit confusion to pursue a united Ireland is little more than a reworking of that tired old cliché,” Irish Times columnist Stephen Collins wrote.

Other News 

  • A new round of talks to reopen the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, dormant since January 2017, is scheduled for Dec. 16, four days after U.K. elections that will impact the fate of Brexit.
  • Results of four by-elections in the Republic of Ireland were still being determined as I publish. Turnout was low. A national election is expected before May.
  • The Republic launched a Rural Broadband Plan to address the lack of digital coverage in black spots that cover 80 percent of its land mass. Varadkar hailed the project as the “most important since rural electrification.”
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s Doonbeg golf course reported a $1.7 million loss for 2018, the fifth-straight year the County Clare club has failed to make a profit, The Washington Post reported, citing Irish government filings. In October, the Clare County Council approved the Trump Organization’s request to build 53 homes on the site; but a request to build a rock barrier to shield the seaside resort from erosion remains pending with Ireland’s national planning board. 
  • Irish and U.K. media outlets have reported more anti-immigrant, alt-right activity in the Republic, which previously prided (or fooled) itself that it avoided the racism and xenophobia that plagues Europe and America.

Book News

  • Laying it on the Line – The Border and Brexit, a collection of 26 essays by “informed voices” (Only one woman!) from the Republic, Northern Ireland, the U.K., and the USA was released late in the month.
  • Caitríona Perry, RTÉ’s former Washington correspondent, published, The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics. My friend Felix M. Larkin’s review in The Irish Catholic.
  • Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland was selected for The Washington Post‘s “10 Best Books of 2019,” and The New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2019.” It was not included in The Irish Times‘ “What Irish Writers are Reading” list.

NOTE: I’ll publish my seventh annual “Best of the Blog” near the end of December. The monthly roundup will resume in the new year. MH

From my morning walk through the Belfast Botanic Gardens in early November.

Two found books about Northern Ireland

Since the current troubles in Northern Ireland began in 1968, there has been an explosion of research on the area. Hundreds of books and an even larger number of articles have been published. … It is quite possible that, in proportion to size, Northern Ireland is the most heavily researched area on earth.
–John Whyte, in the Preface of Interpreting Northern Ireland, January 1990

It’s now two years since the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed in a feud between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, an unfortunate anniversary overshadowed by concerns about how the impending Brexit will impact the north’s border with the Republic of Ireland.

My neighborhood book kiosk.

By coincidence, two books about Northern Ireland just arrived at my reading chair, both published before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. My wife plucked them from the “Little Free Library” outside the Episcopal church near our apartment building.

Maybe you’ve seen one of these literary kiosks, typically emblazoned with the motto: “Take a book. Leave a book.” We’ve done both.

In addition to Whyte’s 1990 Interpreting Northern Ireland is The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland by Sean McPhilemy, which was published in February 1998, two months before the historic peace accord.

Both books are among over 18,800 reference materials relevant to the Northern Ireland “Troubles” listed in the CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) Bibliography, last updated in April 2016. Entries mainly refer to books, but also include journal and newspaper articles, pamphlets, and dissertations. (Allow me to link to my own 2001 piece for the Mobile (Ala.) Register, written as part of a German Marshall Fund journalism grant.)

At 21 and nearly 30 years old, the books are dated, thought not rare or antiquarian. As should be the aim of any good journalism (McPhilemy) and scholarship (Whyte), each attempted to provide the fullest picture of reality with the best information available at the time. 

Whyte’s bibliography stretches 27 pages. His concluding chapter includes a subtitle: “Has Research on the Northern Ireland Problem Been Worth While?” He notes there was not nearly as much academic attention to revolutionary Ireland in the period 1916-1923.

Yet the people muddled through to some kind of settlement. From Irish experience one might deduce that research actually does harm: that the more work is done on a problem, the longer it takes to solve it. I do not put that forward altogether seriously–there were other reasons besides a mere absence of academics why the last round of troubles proved easier to bring to an end. But it could be argued from Irish experience that research does not seem to do much good.

Whyte died in May 1990, just a few months after his book was published; felled by a heart attack at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on his way to a conference in Virginia. He was traveling with Garret FitzGerald, the former Fine Gael Taoiseach, who two months later wrote the Forward of Interpreting Northern Ireland:

It is a tribute to the comprehensive and objective character of this work that one can say with assurance that no one is likely to be able to write intelligently about the Northern Ireland conflict in future without having first taken account of John Whyte’s last book.

McPhilemy’s 1998 book is based on his 1991 “sensation documentary” for British television. Both alleged to reveal that Unionist members of the Northern Ireland business community, Protestant clergy, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and British security forces colluded with Loyalist terrorists to murder Irish Republicans and other Irish nationalists.

Irish America magazine publisher Niall O’Dowd and U.S. Congressman Peter King each qualified their promotional blurbs on the dust jacket with “If McPhilemy is right…”, and “If McPhilemy’s allegations are true…” , respectively. 

As it turned out, the book has spent more time under the noses of judges and juries than regular readers. Its post-publication history is a long docket of libel cases based on its central allegations and due to complexities that emerged in the then new “age of the Internet and global book publishing,” as The New York Times reported in 1999

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, alleged to have assisted the secret loyalist committee, was the most high-profile plaintiff. He won two judgements against online retailer Amazon.com for distributing The Committee via its online platform. The book was published in America by Roberts Rinehart Publishers, which also was sued and settled.

It probably didn’t hurt Trimble’s case(s) that he co-won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Good Friday Agreement. He also became the first “first minister” of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1998-2002.

Online sales of The Committee were supposed to have stopped, but the book is still available from Amazon. The full text can be viewed on the Internet Archive. Here in Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress has a copy; as does the Ralph J. Bunche Library at the U.S. Department of State; and most university libraries. Digital and print versions are also available at Queen’s University Belfast, and at the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.

I understand that reputations can be damaged by shoddy or malicious reporting or scholarship. I respect libel laws, but suspect they too often are used as a cudgel to suppress information. I am encouraged that it is difficult to disappear books; whether recently created or a little aged; whether posted online; sold in a store; shelved at a library; or placed in the neighborhood book kiosk.

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?