Northern Ireland’s ruling freeze is showing signs of a thaw

Good morning. To wrap up my week in Northern Ireland reporting on the region’s budget crisis – watch out for my story next week – I’ll look at the initial initial signs. . . Dare I say that? . . . From the initial thaw after more than a year of political paralysis in Stormont.

Unionists care deeply about Northern Ireland’s status as part of the UK, of course, but for many on the mainland it’s not mutual. We’ll review a recent poll on the subject and see why London’s legislation to deal with the legacy of the Troubles and memorialize the IRA is causing outrage. Stephen is back on Monday (when it’s my turn to go on vacation!).

Stormont – Cracks in the Ice?

DUP leader Geoffrey Donaldson pushed to freeze Stormont last year running over post-Brexit trading arrangements. In February 2022, he withdraws the first minister in the region, blows up the executive branch and leaves temporary ministers in their posts. Four months later, in the aftermath of the defeat of the pro-Irish Unity Party Sinn Féin in the Assembly election, he refused to return to Stormont, and the caretaker ministers ran out of powers at the end of October, leaving the civil servants in charge. Since then, London, Dublin and all other political parties have urged Donaldson to get the executive back up and running. He refused – a position that did him no political harm in the recent local council elections.

But yesterday, after the parties held a meeting with Northern Ireland’s chief civil servant Jane Brady, Donaldson sounded more positive than he had in months. He said the discussions had reached an “important stage”. Doug Beatty, leader of the tiny Ulster Unionist Party, was more enthusiastic: “The pace of returning to Stormont has picked up,” he said.

All in contrast to MP Ian Paisley Jr’s hawkish assessment earlier this year, when London and Brussels agreed on a Windsor framework to iron out issues around post-Brexit trading rules, Paisley’s unflattering reaction was to “don’t cut the mustard”. . Last week, he predicted power-sharing in Stormont could remain a “distant ice age” as he downplayed talk of a return to executive power by the fall.

The UK government still hopes that the DUP will soon clarify exactly what it wants in order to return to it. But on June 19, British and Irish officials will meet in London for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Could that provide a high-level way to announce a breakthrough? It is too early to tell, but London is crossing its fingers as it expects in July to introduce a promised legislative amendment to Westminster aimed at reassuring trade unionists that their place within the UK is safe. No date has been set yet, but at least the required choreography appears to be emerging. July is also the high season for traditional Unionist parades to celebrate the victory of the Protestant King William over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. High is the word. A huge fire is already under construction which builders hope will surpass even last year’s tallest bonfire, although last year saw one of the fire’s builders, John Steele, fall to his death at a nearby site.

Getting Stormont back by the end of the summer will still require bargaining with London over a financial package that all sides now accept and must be part of the solution. Given Stormont’s worsening financial crisis, a check alone wouldn’t cut it – any deal would likely be part of a deeper look at how the region is funded. The DUP may want a deal to return to Stormont, while everyone else wants to return to Stormont in order to make a deal. But there is one thing that might help focus minds: the prospect of a US investment conference backed by Joe Biden in Belfast in mid-September. After all, what politician wouldn’t want to be able to attract significant investment in their constituency?

In short: There are still plenty of challenging yards ahead on the long road to Stormont. But we may be witnessing the first steps on tiptoe.

never give up

Unionists may enjoy their British identity but do Britons cherish it? Not so much: The stark finding of a YouGov poll last week was that Northern Ireland was the place the Brits were least interested in keeping. In fact, the number of respondents would be partly less Northern Ireland’s loss than Gibraltar’s (32 per cent vs 33 per cent).

Addressing the Westminster Commission this week, former DUP first minister Arlene Foster gave Ireland a short shrift after it changed its constitution to sacrifice its territorial claim to Northern Ireland, saying “for many Unionists, myself included, it was illegal claim . . . It shouldn’t be there to begin with. . . It’s a bit like, ‘When did you stop beating your wife, something like that'”. (For more information on the so-called “constitutional question”) This old drawing but goodFrom a pro-reunification Irish comedian worth watching).

Meanwhile, the issue of dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past was also making waves. This week a Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe took London to task, noting with “grave concern the lack of tangible progress” to allay concerns about the UK’s bill on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles conflict and its compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. rights.

Victims’ groups, political parties and Dubliners all called on London to drop proposals that would add to pardons for atrocities and halt new investigations; London said late yesterday that it had introduced “significant” amendments that it says directly address some key concerns. Rights groups were not immediately convinced: Amnesty International said it treated the victims with “contempt”.

The committee also asked London why, four years after the UK Supreme Court ruled there was no CHR-compliant investigation into the 1989 death of barrister Pat Finucane, no progress had been made. Finucane has been shot by loyalists in front of his family, including his son John, now an MP from Sinn Féin, who has angered unionists and has been criticized by Dubliners for his plans to attend an IRA celebration this weekend.

Sinn Féin says that all parties have the right to respect their dead; Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin insists the party “needs to ask itself some tough questions in terms of legacy”. If agreeing on the present and the future is hard enough in Northern Ireland, the past doesn’t seem any easier. . .

Try this now

I’m waiting for my vacation to catch up once upon a time in Northern Ireland, a BBC series that has been hailed as one of the best trouble documentaries ever made. Watch it here. If anyone has any excellent holiday reading recommendations for me (fictional or not), I’m all ears!

The most important news of the day

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top