Tag Archives: northern ireland

Brexit and the Irish Border

There are more road crossings on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic than on the entire Eastern border of the European Union. Actually, there are 275 Irish border crossings, compared to 137 from Finland to Greece, according to figures obtained by my Alliance colleague Stephen Farry MLA.

That emphasises why the Irish border is such an issue for Northern Ireland, for the UK and for Ireland.  Yet the Government’s “Position Paper” on Northern Ireland and Ireland is woefully inadequate, failing to deal with issues of both trade and justice co-operation.

It is clear is that this is one area where those leading the campaign for Brexit have no idea how to resolve matters.  We have had simplistic thoughts from the likes of Owen Patterson, citing TIR freight and Customs seals, while DUP MPs have suggested that automatic number plate recognition works on Irish toll motorways, so ANPR could perform border checks.  Has Owen Patterson forgotten all that he and I heard about smuggling when he was Secretary of State for NI and I was Stormont Minister of Justice?  While ANPR can identify a vehicle, can the DUP tell me how to identify who and what is in it?

Having campaigned for Remain, and horrified by all that is emerging from negotiations on an almost daily basis, I remain of the view that the people of the UK and Gibraltar should have the right to vote on the final deal.  Second to that comes the softest possible way of leaving the EU.  Ideally, the UK as a whole would remain in the Customs Union and in the Single Market.  This would avoid the need for any form of physical border controls on the land border, which would present clear targets for dissident republican groups.

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Photo feature: Ballot box goes off to Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland, a day early due to the ferry schedule

Some great photos from Getty Images (click on the arrows to see the slide show) which give a great view of the workings of democracy on “these islands” (as they say).

Mandy Hassan, an assistant area electoral officer for Antrim and mid Ulster, accompanies the ballot box on the ferry destined for Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland. There are 99 voters on the island and they usually have a 80% turnout.

Update 8/6: I changed the title upon sage advice from locals. Weather concerns were not a factor.

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Labour and the Tories are talking about the IRA but, as ever, not about Ireland

The recent revelations about Diane Abbott’s support for Irish nationalists in the 1980s have not been particularly surprising. For many old enough to remember the horrendous violence and terror the IRA inflicted on people, such support is unpalatable; but we already knew that, as a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, she was likely to have shared his rigidly anti-West approach to world affairs. Criticism of the British State’s policies can of course be healthy, and indeed must be present in a functioning democracy. But in the pattern of Corbyn‘s criticisms there seemed to be something more extreme, an apparent dislike of the State that led him to become close to IRA leaders. The claim that he was purely concerned with peace is rather belied by the absence of his reaching out to any unionists prior to the creation of Stormont in 1998.

It is not wrong for the Conservatives and the national newspapers to be pointing out these things. Many people of voting age are too young to have experienced the IRA threat. But there is another reason that people should be aware of Corbyn’s perspective, and which the Conservatives are not highlighting: understanding Corbyn’s views is relevant to the situation we find ourselves in right now.

It is noticeable that, even recently, Corbyn has only condemned the IRA in the vaguest possible terms while pointing out that force was used by the State too. He believes in a united Ireland. And that is of course legitimate, but were he to become Prime Minister it would have potentially profound implications for Northern Ireland on account of Brexit, and would change completely the dynamic of discussions around the future of a border that has extraordinary political significance.

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Tim Farron comments on Martin McGuinness’ death

We woke this morning to the news that the former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had died.

There is no doubt that he was a significant figure in the peace process. It was quite incredible for me to see him as part of the power-sharing executive after my childhood had been punctuated with disturbing news reports from Northern Ireland. I can’t underestimate how unachievable the current peace seemed to be at that time. It was a remarkable achievement which took a great deal of international effort. It’s one of the things that we can be rightly proud of both John Major and Tony Blair for.

Martin McGuinness was pivotal in bringing about that peace and persuading others on his side of the divide to do so and for that he deserves respect.

Tim Farron had this to say on his death.

Martin McGuinness, for all his past, became a statesman. One moment sticks with me, the remarkable – and unlikely – images of McGuinness when he shook the hand of the Queen on her visit to Belfast in 2012. This single picture epitomised the changes in Northern Ireland.

This is something I, and millions of others, are thankful for. Peace in Northern Ireland is down, in part, to his leadership of the Republican community.

The Leader of our sister party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, Naomi Long, expressed her sadness:

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Irish Liberal Democrats and LDV St Patrick’s Day fringe at York

Theresa May dealt a blow to Ireland in her Brexit white paper when she said she wanted in effect to leave the EU customs union, confirming Brexit poses a huge threat to frictionless cross-border trade on the island of Ireland, the mainstay of the Irish economy.

The Irish Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Mulhall said last month that comprehensive customs and border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland are not remotely possible

Northern Ireland polled more europhilic than other regions in the UK before the election. Its Remain vote of 55.7 per cent was the third strongest in the country. Nationalists wanted the UK to remain in the EU, but unionists generally wanted to leave. Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists, Alliance and the Green Party wanted to stay. The Irish government also wanted a remain vote. The DUP, the TUV and the left-wing People before Profit party backed Brexit.

As Sinn Fein and the DUP jostle for position in a new power sharing agreement at Stormont the Brexit divide has come to the fore. If the parties are unable to agree an accommodation, we may yet see a return to direct rule of the province from Westminster.

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Analysis of Northern Ireland Election results #AE17

So all the votes have been counted, the transfers shuffled and now we have up to three weeks of negotiations to see if the Northern Ireland Assembly can come together in some shape. But what was the story of the count yesterday in Northern Ireland’s second election in 10 months?

This election saw a reduction of seats in Stormont from 108 to 90, or each seat returning just 5 MLAs. The turnout was up 10% on last May at 64.8% so every party was able to claim that more people voted for them but it was how that extra 10% of voters turned out that is the real story.

The two big gainers in the vote share were Sinn Féin up 3.9% and only 1200 votes behind the DUP in the popular vote and Alliance who were up 2.1%. The SDLP and UUP had negligible shifts in vote share -0.1% and +0.3% respectively, and the DUP dropped 1.1%. But this election became a story of transfers. From the moment that the UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he would give his second preference to the SDLP things were shaping up.

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Great result for Alliance as majority of Northern Ireland votes against Brexit

The Northern Ireland election results are now  in and they show some very encouraging trends for those of us with a liberal outlook. Our sister party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, won 8 seats and got its highest vote share in 28 years. Although their number of seats stays the same at 8, in an Assembly that is 18 seats smaller, that is a major achievement. It also increased its first preference vote share by over 2%.

Voters also sent a message that they were opposed to Brexit with the biggest losers being the unionist parties, who lost 16 of the 18 seats. The DUP famously gave more than £400,000 to the Leave campaign. The impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, particularly on the border with the Irish Republic, would be devastating as Nick Clegg wrote recently.

On her Facebook page, Alliance leader Naomi Long summed up a good night for the party:

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarPaul Walter 17th Oct - 7:04pm
    Thanks for making that point, Richard. One of the things I noticed on my trip is the intensity of focus on American history in the...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 17th Oct - 6:55pm
    @ Paul Barker "Paper Candidates are the first step". Sorry, Paul, no, they're not. As is frequently said about the stable crop in Wakefield, -...
  • User AvatarDave Orbison 17th Oct - 6:30pm
    Paul Barker - "To be fair to The Tories the biggest messes, in Merseyside & The North East are more the fault of unimaginative Labour...
  • User AvatarAndrew McCaig 17th Oct - 6:29pm
    We have been doing surveys in a 3 way marginal target ward in Kirklees. There is definitely a shift in opinion and a sample of...
  • User AvatarPeter Watson 17th Oct - 6:02pm
    @Katharine Pindar "the important polls are like the YouGov one of last week which began to show a majority shift of opinion in favour of...
  • User AvatarJames 17th Oct - 5:45pm
    Ye, should have been clearer, obviously we do still have Kirsty Williams. However, as you said, a strategy of Kirsty as leader for life isn't...