This is not the way to implement meaningful #constitutional reform

This Broadsheet.ie column from June 18th looks at the Government’s plans to hold a referendum later in 2019 to extend voting rights in future Irish presidential elections to both Northern Irish voters and the diaspora. 

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A session of the Irish Constitutional Convention 2012/2013

If last week’s reports are right –  and the Taoiseach has said that they are – then all of us will be heading back to our local polling stations sometime in October or November.

No, it won’t be to elect new Dáil and a new government… well, it does yet not seem that will be the reason, but who knows what may change over Summer?

For now, it looks like Irish citizens across all 40 Dáil constituencies are about to be invited to vote in yet another referendum. This one on extending voting rights in future presidential elections. (I mention the 40 Dáil constituencies, as voters in four of them will likely be voting in by-elections occasioned by the election to the European Parliament of TDs: Billy Kelleher, Frances Fitzgerald, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace).

Confirming the reports in the Dáil last week the Taoiseach said that Cabinet has signed off on legislation to “extend voting rights for presidential elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and around the world” and that he plans to have it debated before the Dáil rises for its summer recess [planned for July 11th].

He also said that the government has produced a 100-page, detailed paper on how it is going to work.

I sincerely hope it has, but why are we still waiting to see it?

Continue reading “This is not the way to implement meaningful #constitutional reform”

Why #EP2019 had the potential to be a lot more interesting

This post first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on April 16th 2019. 

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Last week Brussels gave Theresa May six more months to sort out Brexit. They could have given her a Tardis, a Stargate and Boris Johnson’s weight in dilithium crystals and she still couldn’t do it.

Time is not May’s problem – it is authority and trust. She has squandered both putting the unity of the Tory party before everything else.

Along with their six-month gift came a poison chalice. The UK now must hold European elections on May 23. Not that anyone had any choice.

The law is quite clear, perhaps because it was drafted with this contingency in mind. If Britain is still an EU member state when the European elections are underway, then it must participate. If it didn’t, the UK would have to leave the EU without a deal on June 1st otherwise there could be legal challenge to the validity of the next EU Parliament’s mandate.

It is a mess, but hasn’t everything about Brexit proven itself a complete and utter mess?

Continue reading “Why #EP2019 had the potential to be a lot more interesting”

Trimbling in fear of #Brexit #Backstop

This column first appeared on www.broadsheet.ie on Feb 5th 2019

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British Prime Minister, Theresa May is in Belfast today to make a speech at… sorry… to give a speech to local business leaders. The speech will re-state her “absolute commitment” to avoiding a hard border, post Brexit.

Her statement of commitment is welcome, just as welcome as it was when first made over two years ago, but with only seven weeks to go to the March 29th exit and after 18 exhaustive months of negotiations, surely it is not asking too much to expect her to say how she will turn this commitment into reality?

This is a crisis of her own making. She says she is committed to no hard border, but then she also says that she is equally committed to having a Brexit that takes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland out of the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market, as well as out of the EU institutions.

The hard truth is that she cannot commit to ensuring no customs union, no single market and no hard border at the same time. You can do two out of three, but you cannot do all three.

Continue reading “Trimbling in fear of #Brexit #Backstop”

FF/SDLP: Not a merger, more an emerging

This article appeared On broadsheet.ie on Jan 29th 2019

SDLP FFIn the aftermath of the disastrous June 2016 Brexit referendum result, a result we should remember went 56:44 in favour of Remain in Northern Ireland, I started talking here about the need for the political system on this island, most particularly in Northern Ireland, to start catching up with the changing political landscape.

In a range of articles from late 2016 onwards I frequently quoted from a series of thoughtful speeches from the SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood. As well as talking about the current crisis he was also looking to the longer-term implications of the Brexit vote, in particular the difference between the results in England those in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Eastwood was repeatedly saying that Brexit had consequences for all of this island because Brexit meant that the English had chosen, albeit narrowly, a very different future from that of the Irish people, north and south.

Continue reading “FF/SDLP: Not a merger, more an emerging”

How @DublinGAA indirectly got @DUPleader to Clones… via the Somme

This Broadsheet.ie column explains how one low-key but deeply sincere Dublin GAA action did more to get the DUP’s Arlene Foster to move, than months of politicians and pundits haranguing 

192414946-a4dfa92e-086c-418c-84fd-8c7989444412Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. Though I am tempted to pretend that I recall this dusty old latin phrase from my days doing inter-cert latin in Synge St., the truth is that I only know it from watching The West Wing.

It is the title of episode two of season one and its significance is explained by the President Bartlett character when it translates it to his staff saying:

“‘After it, therefore because of it.’ It means one thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. But it’s not always true, in fact it’s hardly ever true.”

Yet another “The West Wing” truism. If only today’s real thing were as clever as Aaron Sorkin could right it. Nonetheless, the point is well made. It’s a common mistake in politics to so imagine that there is order and logic in events that we manage to project some form of order and sequencing on to them.

In politics, the cock-up theory more often applies than the conspiracy one.

Continue reading “How @DublinGAA indirectly got @DUPleader to Clones… via the Somme”

Change the record Mary Lou

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 29th 2018.

fr-billy-o-dwyer-spinmasterThere have been a few Fr Ted references here over the past few days, so let’s start off with another one. Remember that episode of Fr Ted where the lads need to raise money to fix the water leaks in the parochial house?

You know the one, they destroy the car Bishop Brennan gives them for the raffle and thus have to rig the draw to ensure that Dougal’s ticket wins it. Ted gets Fr Billy “Spinmaster” O’Dwyer to do the disco before the draw, but there’s a problem. Fr Billy has only one record with him and it’s “Ghost Town” by The Specials. Undeterred, the Spinmaster plays it over and over and over again, oblivious to the fact that the crowd have stopped listening.

I like Ghost Town. Not only is it a good song, it is a serious piece of popular social commentary, but even the loyalist Special fan would concede that forcing anyone to listen to it over and over again could turn them against it.

This is something that Sinn Féin’s “spinmasters” Mary Lou MacDonald and Michelle O’Neill could do well to bear in mind.

Continue reading “Change the record Mary Lou”

Bringing It All Back Hume #GFA20

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on April 10th, 2018

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By the time you read this I will be in Belfast attending several special events to mark 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement.

One of those, at Queen’s University entitled: Building Peace, and organized by the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at QUB, is described as

“the only one of its kind to gather together so many of the key influencers on the Good Friday Agreement to mark its 20-year anniversary”.

It is not an idle boast. The former US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, and recent star of RTÉ TV’s Ray Darcy Show, will be joined by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, as well as many other key players including: Seamus Mallon, Gerry Adams, Jonathan Powell, David Trimble and Peter Robinson. Continue reading “Bringing It All Back Hume #GFA20”

A way to stop the return of a post #brexit #border across Ireland, make the North a UK Special Economic Zone

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Tom Hayes and I have just published a document entitled: NI Special Economic Zone Proposal outlining our ‘modest proposal’ for how the U.K. government can still avoid having its pursual of the worst possible Brexit policy causing a return of the border across Ireland.

To be clear, this proposal is not our preferred outcome. We would far prefer to see the U.K. remain fully in the EU and continue to be a strong partner and ally of Ireland as part of the EU-28.

We would prefer to see the U.K. remain within both the Single Market and Customs Union and minismise the disruption and damage that exiting the institutions of the EU that Brexit will bring. Continue reading “A way to stop the return of a post #brexit #border across Ireland, make the North a UK Special Economic Zone”

In politics, timing is crucial… so too is tone – the fallout from the #McElduff and #Kingsmill saga

This column on the lingering effects of the McElduff fiasco first appeared on Tues Jan 16, 2018 on Broadsheet.ie under the headline: Fatal Hesitation 

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“The essential ingredient of politics is timing.” So said Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian Prime Minister and father of Leo Varadkar’s current favourite politician.

The former member of parliament for West Tyrone, Barry McElduff, has learned this basic lesson the hard way. But he is not the only one.

If he had resigned last Sunday or Monday, much of the pain and distress of the past week could have been avoided.

The relatives and friends of the victims of the Kingsmill massacre would have been spared the nonsense excuses and the insult of seeing the Sinn Féin leadership, North and South, imposing and then repeatedly defending its three-month non-penalty.

Continue reading “In politics, timing is crucial… so too is tone – the fallout from the #McElduff and #Kingsmill saga”

With its lame 3 months punishment for the #Kingsmill tweet @SinnFeinParty is suspending the Truth, not McElduff.

This is my Broadsheet column from Tuesday last on the fallout from Sinn Féin MP, Barry McElduff’s callous Kingmill video tweet. It was written just before DUP MLA, Christopher Stalford sent out another unwise and insensitive tweet** (since deleted at request of the families of Kingsmill victims) 

McElduffPrecisely how do you suspend an abstentionist MP?

Do you make them show up and take their seat in the House of Commons for 3 months as part of their punishment?

Eh, no… you don’t.

But, as we have learned since Sinn Féin “acted quickly” to deal with Barry McElduff’s tweet mocking the Kingsmill massacre, he will be on full pay while he is suspended from party activities for three months.

It is almost worthy of a Lewis Carroll story. “Acting quickly” means waiting two full days to gauge public reaction and decide what is sufficient to assuage any anger among the middle ground.

“Suspending” means no actual loss of definable privileges for the guilty party, just the appearance of a loss of some non-specified ones.

Continue reading “With its lame 3 months punishment for the #Kingsmill tweet @SinnFeinParty is suspending the Truth, not McElduff.”