Ben Lowry’s piece on the future of unionism has provoked a number of responses (‘After a grim 2019, unionism faces big challenges in 2020s’, Dec 28).
I agree that the North of Ireland becoming a more secular place is a problem — the loss of a sense of identity in a community which was once united by the Ulster Covenant, a document which drew on a shared history linking us back to Scotland and untimely back to a common appreciation of the Bible, is a problem.
However, it’s also worth considering the nature of the political process over the past 20 years.
Consider the decade of what is considered as stable devolution even before the current crisis.
After a short honeymoon period of Chuckle Brothers Dr Paisley and McGuinness we had a crisis over the devolution of policing and justice with Sinn Fein preventing the executive meeting for months.
There have been numerous occasions when unionists could have said republican conduct made power sharing with them morally indefensible.
One thinks of Robert McCartney, Paul Quinn, Kevin McGuigan and the Florida gunrunning. Or even the fact that just weeks ago the PSNI confirmed that the PIRA Army Council continues to oversee the entire republican movement and that they remain weapons and departments —
something most unionist parties were tellingly quiet about.
Yet in spite of all that there isn’t a suggestion from either the DUP or UUP that they would ever give up on Stormont.
Why? Because as far as they are concerned a system which requires power sharing with the PIRA’s political proxies — whose goal is to show that the North of Ireland is a failed political entity — is as good as it gets.
That being the case unionism will continue to be seen as the ‘problem’ when it comes to any political crisis republicans choose to engineer.
A younger generation which has grown up in a Northern Ireland where flying the flag of the United Kingdom is seen as at best as impolite and at worse a deliberate act of provocation rather than something they identify with will continue, in greater numbers, to vote for parties which are agnostic on the Union.
Certainly no one now would claim, as both the UUP and DUP have in the relatively recent past, that the Union is ‘stronger than ever’.
With many thanks to the: Belfast News Letter and Samuel Morrison, Traditional Unionist, Dromore, Co Down. For the original posting.
on plans to introduce equal marriage in 2020 – civil marriage from Jan – religious marriage from April – conversion of civil partnership later in year Amnesty & Love Equality will keep working on this in 2020 to ensure no-one left behind.
The petition of concern is the key sticking point in talks to restore devolved government at Stormont, the News Letter understands.
The petition is a voting mechanism designed to protect minority rights by preventing contentious legislation from passing without adequate support from both unionists and nationalists.
The mechanism has been used in the past to block laws on controversial topics such as welfare reform and same-sex marriage, and could also be used to block the passage of an Irish language act.
Several sources have now indicated that reform of the petition of concern is the key issue holding back an agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
The UUP leader Steve Aiken, meanwhile, has suggested some form of “draft deal” between the DUP and Sinn Fin has been prepared.
Mr Aiken made the comment in response to a query from the News Letter about its position on possible Irish language legislation — a key stumbling block in previous talks.
In a statement, the UUP leader said: “The Ulster Unionist Party has not been privy to the latest discussions between the DUP and SF on the Irish language legislation.
“We have asked for papers and during the latest talks had repeatedly requested the text of the draft deal, but we are still waiting.”
Mr Aiken added: “I would once again reiterate that the policy of the Ulster Unionist Party towards the idea of an Irish Language Act remains the same. We respect it as a language, as we do all other languages, but we believe that there is simply no need for an Irish Language Act or indeed an Ulster Scots Act either.”
Sources close to the talks have also said the Northern Ireland Office had indicated extra money would be forthcoming from the UK Treasury to help resolve the current industrial dispute in the Northern Ireland health service.
On Thursday the Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said he was “deeply disappointed” that all the parties were not yet in agreement as he singled out the DUP. The secretary of state met with the DUP in London on Friday.
Speaking to the News Letter afterwards, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We had a useful and constructive meeting with the secretary of state. It was honest. Devolution has been in cold storage for three years because of a Sinn Fein boycott, yet not once did the secretary of state ever single out Sinn Fein for criticism. We have urged the secretary of state to reflect on his approach and keep focused on the long term outcome.”
With many thanks to the: Belfast News Letter and Niall Deeney for the original story
Secretary of State Julian Smith has said that a deal to restore Stormont could have been reached on Thursday night, but the DUP were not on board.
Speaking after a meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and the five main parties he said a deal was very close and that Stormont could be restored by Monday, but that an “extremely limited” number of outstanding issues were preventing an agreement.
Mr Smith said the Government were nearly ready to table a deal with “compromise and accommodation for all parties”.
The Secretary of State said he wanted to present the deal on Thursday night or Friday, but that further negotiation was needed.
“I think that can take a matter of hours and not days,” he said.
Former DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots said his party would only sign up to a “fair and balanced” deal.
Mr Smith had convened a health summit, as parts of the talks process to restore powersharing.
He said that the UK Government was ready to provide “positive funding” and asked parties to reflect on the health workers who took strike action.
Julian Smith hopes to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland
He said he was “heartened” party leaders had taken the decision to deliver pay parity to health staff and said a solution to the health crisis could be reached “well before Christmas”.
The Secretary of State said that “unfortunately, we do not have all parties on board”.
“We will allow all parties to reflect on the impact of that decision on people in Northern Ireland who are deeply affected by the lack of decision-making at Stormont,” he said.
Asked if the DUP were the party holding up agreement, Mr Smith replied “that is my understanding, that was confirmed tonight”. He indicated he believed that some within the DUP wanted to move forward.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Poots reiterated the party position that it was prepared to restore devolution immediately and address outstanding issues in a parallel process.
“There has been some effort by others to box us into a corner and force us into a position where we do not get a fair and balanced deal,” he said.
“The DUP will not be moving forward unless we get a fair and balanced deal.”
He said he would not allow “cherry picking” of the Good Friday Agreement in relation to the Assembly petition of concern.
Mr Poots added there remained sensitive issues around the Irish language. He accused the Government of not producing the figures in terms of what money it was prepared to stump up.
“We are not under any pressure, we are going to get the right, fair and balanced deal for all of the community and in particular the community that we represent, we are not going to abandon at the behest of any Government or any other political party in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said he wanted “all parties to be positively part of the new Stormont”.
“The DUP is a crucial part of that. I don’t think time is going to make any difference, I think hanging around, delay, not making decisions is not going to make any difference, it is only going to cause more heartache and problems for citizens in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“I am deeply disappointed that we have not got all five parties in agreement.”
Tanaiste Simon Coveney said the two Governments believed a “fair compromise” had been reached.
“If necessary we’ll hold back and do this after Christmas, with a view to try and close this out definitely before the 13th, which is a very real deadline,” he said.
“If we get a change in approach, from one party in particular later on this evening, we can still go for this before Christmas.
“If we don’t get that signal we’re certainly not going to be bringing parties back here tomorrow wasting their time.”
Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator Conor Murphy said his party was “deeply disappointed” that a deal had not been reached.
“It is our understanding that both governments and at least three other political parties are in this space,” he said.
“The onus is now on the DUP, once again, to tell the public why they are now holding up the restoration of the Assembly.”
UUP leader Steve Aiken confirmed his party were ready to reach a deal and said they did not know the DUP’s outstanding concerns.
“It would be interesting if we knew what the DUP’s legitimate concerns were,” he said.
“All five parties need to be involved.”
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long urged the parties to agree a deal before Christmas.
“I believe a deal could be done now, real progress has been made – unfortunately not all of the parties agree that is the case,” the MEP said.
“People now need to have the courage and lead, rather than simply wait for others.”
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon told reporters she was up for a pre-Christmas deal and was disappointed that would not be the case.
“Our nurses deserve it, our healthcare workers deserve it, our teachers deserve it and the people of Northern Ireland deserve it,” the North Belfast MLA said.
“We know what the issues are, we all have to stretch ourselves, the SDLP are up for stretching ourselves and we sincerely hope that if the DUP are going to put the interests of the people of Northern Ireland first then they will stretch themselves.”
With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Gareth Cross for the original story
DUP ex-deputy leader Nigel Dodds has lost his Commons seat as the political map inthe North of Ireland was redrawn.
In a major blow for his party, Mr Dodds was defeated in the North Belfast seat he had held since 2001.
The contest in the constituency effectively became a straight shoot-out between the DUP and Sinn Fein after the withdrawal of the Ulster Unionist Party and SDLP from the seat.
Sinn Féin stands aside in key seats in bid to boost pro-Remain candidates against DUP
Margaret Ritchie: DUP cannot be the only voice representing the North of Ireland anymore
DUP to repeat opposition to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal at party conference
His defeat was confirmed as it emerged that nationalist MPs could end up outnumbering unionist ones for the first time in the North of Ireland’s history.
Earlier, the DUP had failed in its attempt to win North Down, the seat which had been represented by the independent MP Sylvia Hermon.
The Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry won the seat by nearly 3,000 votes from the DUP’s Alex Easton.
That means the the DUP is set to see its representation at Westminster fall from 10 to eight.
With the SDLP on course to win two seats and Sinn Fein seven, it means unionist parties will only have eight MPs at Westminster.
Mr Dodds’s defeat marks a dramatic fall in the DUP’s fortunes after they helped prop up Theresa May’s minority Tory government in the wake of the 2017 election.
That gave the party a huge amount of leverage, and saw the Government agree to give the North of Ireland an extra billion pounds to spend on public services.
However, the DUP split from Mrs May over her Brexit deal, and also refused to back Boris Johnson’s re-worked agreement because it will lead to a regulatory border in the Irish Sea.
And according to Irish News reports out today party sources are saying DUP ex-deputy leader Nigel Dodds, still smarting from his defeat to Belfast Lord Mayor Sinn Féin’s John Finucane, he has told his party he will not be standing again in any future election. Instead it is expected that Mr Dodds, who was educated at Cambridge (bum boys school) and is popular with the Conservative Party hierarchy, will be called to the House of Lords and made a life peer.
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Allison Morris for the original story –firstname.lastname@example.org
With many thanks to: PoliticsHome.com and Kevin Schofield and Parliamentary House Magazine for the original story