Chris Johns: IRISH REUNIFICATION THE LOGICAL OPTION AFTER BREXIT

Time to explain to Northern Unionists that their economic future looks far rosier in the EU

Theresa May: It is bizarre that her pursuit of a hard Brexit is not seen as the biggest mistake of her premiership to date.

It is with much astonishment that we learn “the biggest mistake of Theresa May’s premiership to date” was not the plan to pursue hard Brexit at any economic cost. No, the worst decision was a rise in national insurance contributions (the UK version of PRSI) for the self-employed.

The British tax system is sometimes the mirror image of our own. We impose a heavier burden on the self employed compared to the the PAYE sector. The UK does the opposite, letting the entrepreneurial classes (or ‘White Van Man’) off lightly compared to regular workers. At least until now.

The details don’t really matter. A UK tax went up and the howls of protest have led to a climb down. That’s how it goes these days, at least in the English-speaking world: taxes can only ever go up in the teeth of a crisis or a war.

Economic policy is always about tough choices. Europe has a history of favouring politics over economics. When it comes to Brexit, the British now want them to do the opposite. Scottish economics suggests keeping the union, politics may yet provoke a split: latest opinion polls show rising support for independence. And for Ireland a dark question looms: do we have to choose between peace or prosperity?

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Raising taxes
Why raise UK taxes now? The economy is doing better, with the first positive revision to the fiscal outlook in a while. Surely the UK chancellor should give rather than take? The tax rise actually made strategic sense, even if it was a bit off both politically and tactically. The NHS funding crisis is a foretaste of demographic problems to come. The gig economy implies rising self employment with an implied cost to the exchequer if tax favours the non-PAYE worker. Raising national insurance in the way proposed is actually terribly progressive: the better off pay the most. But, like the debate over our own USC, sensible economics get overwhelmed by the politics.

Across the Atlantic, we see another example how fiscal policy making, perhaps any kind of policy making, is fundamentally broken, probably beyond repair. The leader of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, this week introduced a tax cut for rich people disguised as the Republican Party’s replacement of Obamacare. In a presentation describing his new healthcare plan, Ryan said the fundamental problem with the existing system of health insurance was the fact that ‘healthy people end up paying for the care of sick people’.

Ryan is often described as a ‘policy wonk’, somebody immersed in the arcane details of government, somebody who knows their way around the mind-numbing complexities of economic policies. He clearly doesn’t understand how insurance (of any kind, let alone healthcare) is supposed to work. I am reminded of Paul Krugman’s repeated labelling of Ryan as both a phoney and a fraud. I used to think this was a touch partisan, a tad OTT when it came to the Republican leader. Ryan has just demonstrated how spot-on were Krugman’s arguments.

Water charges
Our own fiscal debates aren’t much better and, for the most part, are focused on one issue only: water charges. Compared to the questions that will be asked of us in the years ahead, this is not just a trivial matter but also one that reveals a total lack of seriousness. Or perhaps it’s our inability to do simple arithmetic.

What if Tony Blair and countless others are right: Brexit and the restoration of a hard border on this island takes risks with the peace process? We are also told that our future prosperity depends on continued membership of the EU. If we accept both propositions there is presumably a case for choosing one or the other. Which risks do we want to run with, which to avoid? Risk the peace or risk prosperity? Let’s talk about water charges instead.

Taxes can never be raised and serious policy is too hard to bother with. Perhaps the best way to deal with all of this, domestically at least, is to finally admit the inescapable logic of Irish reunification. A reconstituted border makes about as much sense as the Republic leaving the EU. The way to avoid this most awful of dilemmas is to explain to Northern Unionists that their economic future looks far rosier in the EU rather than outside and the only way to achieve that is to accept Irish reunification. Economics over politics again, perhaps, but the logic of this looks awfully compelling to me. And the way elections are going in the North it doesn’t look like we have to persuade too many people of the economics. Maybe even the politics will swing towards Irish unity: English nationalism is getting uglier by the day with people such as Michael Gove introducing a sectarian dimension to the Brexit debate. Take a look at his recent bizarre comments in the London Times congratulating Theresa May on becoming the first Catholic British prime minister.

Fiscal dimension
Irish unity will, of course, also have a rather large fiscal dimension. Just how large is matter of fierce debate: but it’s a big number. A large bill will come the Irish taxpayers’ way. Another set of tough and unpalatable choices. Brussels will be sympathetic but rather short of cash once the Brits leave.

Like the Americans and the British, we have shown a fatal incapacity to either raise taxes in peace time or reform our tax system at any time. Until the next crisis then: as far as I can see there is nothing in the Belfast agreement that allows us to back out of an agreed reunification simply because we can’t afford it.

Brexit
Negotiations move to phase II after agreement reached on protecting the rights of citizens in both UK & EU, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement of the divorce

With many thanks to: The Irish Times for the origional story.

 

To get a measure of how sick the Tories and their bigoted DUP buddies are, consider this:

The Tories used ‘English Votes for English Laws’ rules to bar the SNP from voting against their plan to deny free school lunches to the children of some of the lowest income families in Britain, but their £1 billion bribe (paid out of taxpayers cash, not Tory party coffers) was enough to persuade the DUP to vote alongside the Tories to scrap free school meals for English and Welsh kids, despite the children of Northern Ireland being exempt from this free school lunch snatching behaviour.

Plus 1 Independent MP Lady Siliva Herman voted with the DUP bring them to 10.

The DUP know that Northern Irish kids are exempt from this cruel Tory lunch-snatching policy, but they voted to inflict it on the children of the English and Welsh regardless.

It’s still astounding that the Tories are being propped up by this corrupt, hard-right, terrorist-backed, bigoted bunch of sectarian dinosaurs, and it’s astounding that this DUP decision to vote in favour of starving low income kids in England and Wales to secure their £1 billion bribe has attracted so little negative attention in the mainstream press.

With many thanks to: Another Angry Voice for the origional story.

IS THERE ANY POINT TALKING TO ARLENE AGAIN?

There is a pattern to the politics of this place; a pattern that tells us that the process is bigger than any one individual.

David Trimble did the heavy lifting of the Good Friday Agreement, but could not carry the Ulster Unionist Party – not all of it and not enough of it.

Ian Paisley took the once unthinkable step into government with Martin McGuinness only to be replaced by Peter Robinson as DUP leader a little over a year later.

Now, there is a focus on Arlene Foster; RHI, that ‘crocodile’ comment, the Assembly Election of 2017 when unionism lost its overall Stormont majority, the negotiation that could not be closed a few weeks ago and the issue of legacy inquest funding.

BAD HEADLINES – TOO MANY OF THEM

Think about a question posed by a senior republican in recent days: “How do you deal with these people in the future?”

It relates specifically to that latest negotiation – the “draft agreement text” of February 9th that Arlene Foster and the DUP negotiators could not deliver.

It is just nonsense to suggest this negotiation was still in a phase of exchanging papers and ideas.

It had moved to fine detail, decision time: “It was down to presentation at this stage,” a talks insider insists.

The visit of Theresa May on February 12th was viewed by Gerry Adams as a clumsy intervention and, by others, as a distraction. May’s visit also forced Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to be present at Stormont.

IT BACKFIRED

The deal was not yet ready, but it was very close. Perhaps the NIO was trying to rush and push things – keep the momentum in the process.

By February 9th there was not only a draft agreement text, but draft legislation also.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann, writing elsewhere on this website, commented: “The accommodation that has been produced is significant and detailed. The fact that we have been informed that both parties had access to the Office of the Legislative Counsel during the process suggests that the yet unseen legislation contained within the annexes is not simply a wish list but has had legal testing.”

Think also of a legacy agreement on paper. Yes, in writing, and set in the context of “overall agreement”.

Funding for legacy inquests at £7 million a year for 5 years.

The consultation on the legacy structures agreed at Stormont House in 2014 – including the new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) – to begin within two weeks of the formation of a new Executive.

Within that consultation, a controversial question on a statute of limitations for armed forces was to be removed.

These are not ideas; not part of some wish list, but commitments “on-the-record” that, I am assured, can be proven.

The above detail on legacy was worked out in separate discussions involving the NIO and Sinn Fein.

Put the pieces together – this legacy agreement, the draft agreement text and the draft legislation and you see the advanced stage of this negotiation – and the deal the DUP could not sell.

Instead of facing up to the facts, that party has engaged in an unconvincing wordplay; an attempt to downplay the standing of the elements outlined above; and, in this, there is the danger of the process moving beyond Arlene Foster and further away from the devolved space that is Stormont.

A DRAFT AGREEMENT THAT FAILED THE TEST OF IMPLEMENTATION CERTAINTY

Republicans spent the latest phase in a 13 months-long negotiation trying to make this deal – and lowered the bar to make it a much easier jump for the DUP; no certainty about a Bill of Rights, no certainty that the Petition of Concern would be changed; no certainty that marriage equality would be delivered, and accepting DUP proposals to ensure greater stability within any restored political institutions.

Sinn Fein had achieved progress on the Irish language and on legacy matters – but had not delivered the implementation certainty that was set as the test for this negotiation.

The budget of recent days is another step onto the ground of direct rule.

No one should be in any doubt about that.

Is it too late to talk to Arlene? The DUP leader is not going to get a better deal – a better chance than the one just botched.

Yes the ten DUP MPs at Westminster have considerable influence – but for how long?

At some point, they will need Stormont again and need it more than others.

Listen to what Sinn Fein and the SDLP are asking for. A meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference to decide next steps, including agreeing legislation on the issues of language, legacy and marriage equality.

Stormont has become lost in its political limbo. In the here-and-now, there will be no Executive. Arlene Foster will not be First Minister. The NIO has no strategy – hamstrung by the Tory-DUP relationship at Westminster. Brexit is the bigger issue and focus.

What will Dublin and London do next?

For how long can they allow the farce of a pretend parliament?

Soon, they will have to do something.

With many thanks to: Brian Rowan & Eamonn Mallie for the origional story.

Legal ruling a stinging rebuke for embattled DUP leader

Foster ‘GUILTY’ of blocking funds for legacy inquests.

The court transcripts in full on the legal ruling against DUP leader Arlene Foster

With many thanks to: Mairead Kelly.

DUP demand change to the Good Friday Agreement as part of Tory deal

Dan O’Donoghue, Press Association
08 March, 2018 01:00
Arlene Foster DUP Jeffrey Donaldson Military covenant
THE DUP has demanded amendments to a “cornerstone of the Belfast Agreement” in a bid to give extra protections to veterans.

The party’s leader Arlene Foster watched on from the visitors’ gallery in the House of Commons as chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned the Government benches that greater protections for ex-service personnel in Northern Ireland formed “part of the confidence and supply deal”.

In an opposition day debate, Sir Jeffrey told MPs there was still a “culture of fear” among veterans in the country and proposed a number of moves to remedy this.

Sir Jeffrey, backed by his nine other colleagues, called for section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to be amended to include provision for the armed forces.

The section states that public bodies should carry out functions promoting equality of opportunity between “persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation, between men and women generally, between persons with a disability and persons without and between persons with dependants and persons without”.

Sir Jeffrey said: “I do remind the House that this was something that was part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservative Party.

“We identified that this should be a priority for the Government, full implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland.

“So in that context, I repeat our call to see the aftercare service currently operated by the Royal Irish Regiment in Northern Ireland, that welfare service, that vital support service for those who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish Home Service, to be extended.

“And that consideration be given to enhancing the level of support that is available to those veterans in Northern Ireland who did not serve in the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish Home Service but are equally deserving of welfare support.

“Secondly we want to see the Government amending section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act to make specific provision for veterans of armed forces to ensure that Government departments and agencies in Northern Ireland have to have regard to the needs of veterans in bringing forward policies and implementing those policies.”

Sir Jeffrey also called for the appointment of an “armed forces champion” in Northern Ireland.

Defence Minister Mark Lancaster resisted the calls however, saying: “Some may suggest that it’s time to introduce further statuary instruments to increase uptake, but whilst I’m ready to listen to the arguments on a case by case basis I would make the point that the problem isn’t about a lack of mechanisms.

“Let’s not forget, as has been mentioned, beside the instruments already in place there is section 75. I listened very carefully to what he had to say, but it is a cornerstone of the Belfast Agreement.”

The DUP’s non-binding motion, which asked the Commons to reaffirm its commitment to ensure the covenant is “fully implemented” in Northern Ireland, was approved unopposed.

With many thanks to: Marianne Collins – Friends of Relatives of Justice in Ireland.

Councillors claim microphones turned off at controversial Mid and East Antrim council during a debate about DUP dinners

Patrice Hardy of Sinn Féin

Councillors seeking clarity over DUP dinners in Co Antrim say they were “silenced” after their microphones were “turned off” at a meeting of a local authority.
Two councillors – Sinn Fein’s Patrice Hardy and the TUV’s Timothy Gaston – claim attempts were made to silence them at a full meeting of Mid and East Antrim Council on Monday night.

A DUP dinner with Cabinet Minister Michael Gove was hosted by the party’s North Antrim MP Ian Paisley at Ballymena’s Tullyglass House Hotel last September. At the time, the DUP described it in the Press as “an annual MP’s constituency dinner”, and denied it was “a DUP fundraising dinner”.

Controversial Mid and East Antrim Council Chief Executive Anne Donoghy

Mid and East Antrim council took a £1,500 table at the dinner, which was attended by chief executive Anne Donaghy, council officers, elected members and agri-food sector representatives.

A second event, the North Antrim DUP dinner, was held on February 23 at Galgorm resort.

It was sponsored by Belfast International Airport and featured former Cabinet minister Priti Patel, who was interviewed by Mr Paisley.

The event was described by former DUP MLA Phillip Logan as a “fundraiser” for the party’s “war chest”.

However, the invitation sent to Mid and East Antrim council did not mention the event was the annual North Antrim DUP dinner, and the council did not take a table.

The DUP’s Paul Reid

On Monday, there was a heated exchange between DUP mayor Paul Reid and Mr Gaston after the TUV representative questioned whether Mr Paisley had tried to arrange a separate meeting between Ms Patel and the council.

Following tense exchanges, chief executive Anne Donaghy stated that no such meeting occurred.

Ms Hardy then attempted to talk about the DUP dinner involving Michael Gove.

Despite being refused permission by the mayor for not abiding by standing order procedure, she continued to talk.

There were heated exchanges between the mayor and Ms Hardy and she claimed her microphone was then turned off.

The councillor revealed she had obtained an invitation to the 2017 event which shows that, while guests were asked to make cheques payable to the Tullyglass House Hotel, they were to be posted to Ian Paisley Jr’s constituency office.

She stated: “I found the mayor’s nature very aggressive.

“I believe this was an attempt to silence and gag us, and I will be asking the local government auditor to investigate further.”

Mr Gaston also claimed his microphone had been turned off.

Mr Reid insisted he “remains neutral at all times” and “would not be aggressive to anyone”.

A council spokesperson said elected members had “agreed to purchase” a £1,500 table at the 2017 dinner during a full council meeting, and that the local authority had made an electronic payment to the Tullyglass Hotel as requested.

The council “completely rejected” Ms Hardy’s claim that her microphone was turned off.

Regarding Mr Gaston, the spokesperson said it was standing order procedure for a member to cease speaking when the mayor calls a meeting to order.

The DUP did not respond to a request for comment, but a party spokesman has previously said: “Ian Paisley hosts an annual MP’s constituency dinner. The event was attended by civic and political figures from across the community. It was not a DUP fundraising dinner.”

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph for the origional story.

Arelene Foster ‘guilty’ of with-holding legacy funding for inquests and was ‘unlawful and flawed’ High Court decides

Arlene Foster was First Minister at the time the decision to block the funding was taken.

A judge has ruled that Arlene Foster’s decision to block funding for the lord chief justice’s plan for legacy inquests was unlawful and flawed. He said the former first minister was wrong to think she could postpone the decision until after political agreement on dealing with the past. However, Sir Paul Girvan said it was unlikely money would have been released if discussed by the executive. This was due to failings in the paper supplied by the Justice Department. The judge rejected a call to compel the Stormont Executive, secretary of state and others to arrange funding of legacy inquests, stating that “the court cannot direct government departments how to spend public funds”. He said the obligation on the state to investigate deaths during the conflict remained whether or not devolved government was restored.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan called for extra funding for inquests.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan has sought additional funding to complete 54 inquests into 94 deaths within five years. Brigid Hughes had challenged ongoing failure by the Executive Office at Stormont, the Justice Department and the Northern Ireland Secretary to put in place adequate funding to prevent further delays in holding legacy inquests. Her husband Anthony died in May 1987 when he was innocently caught in crossfire between soldiers and the IRA as republicans attacked Loughgall police station in County Armagh. His is one of the 94 deaths that would be covered by the lord chief justice’s proposals. Mrs Hughes said: “I am very pleased that things have worked out today the way they have but they have taken a very long time”. With many thanks to: BBCNI for the origional story.