Tag Archives: northern ireland

Carmichael: Conservative ministers wrong to attend DUP Conference

Alistair Carmichael has criticised the appearance of two senior Conservative Ministers at the DUP’s annual Conference. The Conservatives are beholden to the DUP for a majority and in June agreed a deal with them which cost us £1 billion. The greater cost, though, is the damage to the sensitive political relationships in Northern Ireland.

Was is really necessary or wise for Damien Green to go for a dinner and Tory Chief Whip to be welcomed to the stage with such obvious pride by the DUP?

Alistair Carmichael says that it wasn’t?

The peace process is still fragile and has survived because British politicians have been prepared to rise above the usual partisan politics.

It is difficult to see how anyone in Northern Ireland and Ireland will see Conservative ministers as being anything other than part of the problem now. It was a mistake for them to go.

Ireland has been much in the headlines this weekend. Tom Brake had this to say on the comments by Ireland’s EU Commissioner that it is a “very simple fact” that “if the UK or Northern Ireland remained in the EU Customs Union, or better still the Single Market, there would be no border issue”.

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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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The PM is building a wall, and Northern Ireland is going to pay

Theresa May’s long awaited speech on Brexit was notable both for what she did say and, perhaps more conspicuously, for what she did not.

On Northern Ireland specifically, the Prime Minister declared that the maintenance of the Common Travel Area will be an important priority during the negotiation and that the UK will work to deliver a ‘practical solution’ so as to avoid a return to the borders of the past.

The practical solution posited by Mrs. May was subject to the caveat that the integrity of the UK’s immigration system must be protected. This, the Prime Minister suggests, is eminently achievable given that the CTA existed well before 1973 and the UK’s entry into the EEA.

This contrasts with remarks made immediately prior to the Referendum in June, when May claimed it would be “inconceivable” to imagine that there will not be any changes on border arrangements with the Republic of Ireland, if the UK were to pulls out of the EU.

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UK-Irish post Brexit relations

Malta assumes the presidency of the EU at the start of 2017. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, in setting out his priorities, has said the ‘Irish Border’ Issue must be settled before Brexit talks can begin in earnest, injecting some urgency given that talks are expected  to get underway in April next year.

Helpfully, the House of Lords EU select committee published a report this week titled Brexit: UK-Irish Relations. The report notes the special ties between the UK and Ireland and the friendship that has developed as the Northern Ireland peace process has advanced. Also noting that Ireland’s common membership of the EU has been one of the foundations of this close relationship.

The report draws attention to: the serious economic implications of Brexit for Ireland, North and South; the consequences for the Irish land border of potential restrictions to the free movement of goods and people; the
implications for the Common Travel Area (CTA) and for the special status of UK and Irish citizens in each other’s countries, including the right of people born in Northern Ireland to Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship; the potential impact on political stability in Northern Ireland; and the challenge to the
institutional structure for North-South cooperation on the island of Ireland, and East-West relations between the UK and Ireland, established under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

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“Brexit means disaster for the people of Ireland.” Do you agree?

 

We don’t see many posts on Lib Dem Voice about Northern Ireland – maybe because we don’t have many Liberal Democrat members there. So this is an invitation to discuss the increasingly worrying impact of Brexit – and the threat of Brexit – on the economy and security of that beautiful, but little known, part of the UK where 56% voted to stay in the EU.

Martin McGuiness has been telling the media that Northern Ireland should be pressing for a special status within the EU. In The Guardian article today:

“As things sit at the moment we are going to suffer big time,” McGuinness said. “Theresa May says ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but so far as we are concerned Brexit means disaster for the people of Ireland.”

He said he was encouraged that the Democratic Unionists, with whom his party shares power in Belfast, also agreed that Ireland needed to be treated as a special case by Brussels because of the importance of the potential problems – borders, trade, peace and security – presented by Brexit.

And he added that many unionists were as unhappy as republicans at the outcome of the referendum and the risk posed by the restoration of immigration and customs borders, as well as loss of easy access to EU markets.

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Identity in post-Brexit Northern Ireland

 

In the run up to the EU referendum, former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair visited Derry. With their deep understanding and appreciation for the nuances and sensitivities of Northern Irish conflict honed by their engagement with the topic for substantial periods of their respective premierships, they were both united in their bleak portrayal of a post-Brexit Northern Ireland.

During their trip, Major and Blair posed for photos on Derry’s Peace Bridge. Opened in Summer 2011, the Peace Bridge stands as an iconic focal point for the city’s cultural and artistic centre. Both a literal and symbolic bridge between the two communities (who have traditionally lived separately on either side of the River Foyle), the Peace Bridge stands as a testament to the ongoing success of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Funded by approximately €20m of the overall €1.3 billion of funds invested in Northern Ireland by the EU since the early 90s, the project is one of many in the province which has benefited from EU funding. The objective of this programme (known as ‘PEACE’) is to provide financing for projects which aim to improve cohesion between communities involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland, with a specific focus on providing shared facilities for young people. A further PEACE programme was announced in early 2016 with a promise of continued EU assistance and financing of up to €230m. Following the results of the EU referendum, this programme and the related financing for projects in Northern Ireland is clearly now at risk.

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Carmichael: Tories “hell-bent on unravelling the union”

Citing concerns raised by the Irish Justice Secretary to her Eurosceptic British counterpart, Michael Gove, Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem Home Affairs Secretary has accused the Government of being “hell-bent on unravelling the Union.”

The Irish Minister said that decoupling Northern Irish law and the European Convention on Human Rights could undermine the Good Friday Agreemment on which the peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland was based.

The Minister’s letter can be read here.

This also applies to the devolution settlements in Scotland and Wales.

Alistair said:

The devolved settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have the European convention hard-wired into them. This Tory government seems hell bent on unravelling the Union by their actions.

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An overview of the Northern Ireland elections

It was mid Saturday afternoon before the identity of the 108 MLAs who will take their seats in the Northern Irish Assembly were known. This is because the 6 members returned for each of the 18 constituencies were elected by STV (Single Transferable Vote) counted by hand not expensive machinery as some warned us about 5 years ago. However, some of the tales of this year’s election were already known before the end.

Firstly all 5 of the parties who made up the Executive at the start of the previous Assembly saw a drop in their first preference vote share. A drop of 2.9% for Sinn Féin, 2.2% for the SDLP, 0.8% for the DUP and 0.7% each for Alliance and UUP (who walked into opposition during the last mandate).

West Belfast caused excitement on both their first and final stage. On first preferences it was not Sinn Féin who topped the poll and took the first seat but Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA). At the other end outgoing MLA Alex Atwood almost became the victim of a first unionist win since 2003 trailing the DUP’s Frank McCoubrey before the final redistribution pulled him 89 votes ahead.

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David Steel on Northern Ireland abortion law

David Steel

We’ve just caught up with an interview with David Steel on the BBC Northern Ireland political show The View. (The interview starts 17:58 minutes in)

David was responsible for introducing the Abortion Act in 1967, which made abortion legal up to 28 weeks, later reduced to 24 weeks. But the law was never extended to Northern Ireland where the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 still applies. Under that law a woman who procures her own abortion is guilty of a felony and can be given a prison sentence of life, or for up to two years ‘with or without hard labour, and with or without solitary confinement’. Current regulations permit termination only if the woman’s life is at risk or if continuing the pregnancy would put her long-term health at risk.

David says:

I think they’ve got to face up to the fact that the law in Northern Ireland is simply ridiculous – 1861 – and it is time they came up at least to 1967, if not 2016.

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Bearder calls on Theresa Villiers to quit if she backs Brexit

Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder has said that Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers should resign if she wants to campaign for Britain to leave the EU. She joined Northern Irish politicians who argued that the effect of leaving the EU would be acutely felt in Northern Ireland and the peace process could be at risk.

Catherine said:

Given the disastrous impact Brexit could have on the Northern Ireland peace process, it would be highly inappropriate for Theresa Villiers to remain in her post while campaigning to leave the EU.

Leaving Europe would risk stoking sectarian tensions and undoing years of peacebuilding, much of it funded through EU peace programmes. It would also fundamentally transform the UK’s relationship with the Republic of Ireland and put at risk the open land border we currently share.

David Cameron must stop putting the interests of his party ahead of those of the country. Government ministers should not be able to campaign for an EU exit if this completely goes against their role and responsibilities.

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Opinion: Human Rights Act – when rights clash

 

As one of the many who have recently joined the Liberal Democrats, my attention has been drawn to the fight to make sure that the Human Rights Act is not scrapped by the Conservatives. In a recent email from Tom Brake MP, we were reminded of the following rights afforded to us by the Human Rights Act:

  • the right to life;
  • the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • the prohibition of slavery and forced labour;
  • the right to liberty and security of the person;
  • the right to a fair trial;
  • prohibition of punishment without law;
  • the right to respect for private and family life;
  • the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
  • the right to freedom of expression;
  • the right to freedom of assembly and association;
  • the right for men and women to marry and found a family;
  • the right to peaceful enjoyment of personal property;
  • the right to education;
  • the right to free elections;
  • and the prohibition of discrimination.

But what happens when there is friction between two or more of these rights?

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Opinion: Northern Ireland and marriage equality

On Friday the people of Ireland voted on marriage equality in their referendum. The results on Saturday showed that 1,201,607 people voted Yes/Tá to 734,300 voting No/Níl making the result 62.1% to 37.9% in favour. Only one of the 43 constituencies, Roscommon – South Leitrim, voted no but only by a margin of 1,029 votes and barely nibbled into the overall trend of the votes that were being announced. The other forty-two constituencies had all by either a small (only 33 votes in Donegal South West) to a large (27,959 in Dublin South) margin voted yes. Overall 1,201,607 people voted Yes/Tá to 734,300 voting No/Níl 62.1% to 37.9%.

But the other question is where does that leave Northern Ireland, which is now the largest region of the British Isles that does not have equal marriage in any shape or form allowing people of the same-sex to marry?

Firstly if we look at the Northern Ireland Act 1998 it recognises that the people of Northern Ireland can identify as British or Irish or both. This is key now to moving forward. Then from the same piece of legislation we also note that:

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Opinion: What’s that you say, Mr Robinson?

Peter robinson by alan in belfastThis weekend,  Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson addressed his party conference for the last time before the General Election and launched his ire at losing his seat in Westminster last time out. Talking of the DUP candidate’s chances for East Belfast next May he said:

There may be other unionists in the field, but they will only serve to divide the pro-union opposition to the flag-lowering, parade-stopping, gay marriage-supporting, pro water-charging, holier-than-thou Alliance Party.

It’s an interesting choice of words, which drew applause from his audience but needs a serious look at the implications of what they mean, for our sister party in Northern Ireland.

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Nick stands with Anna

I stand with AnnaWhen a politician says that he might trust a whole specific group of people only to go to the shops for him, you would think that would be a one way ticket to the door marked Ignominious Exit from Public Life. Sadly, Peter Robinosn, Northern Ireland’s First Minister remains in office while Alliance  Party politician Anna Lo has said she’s going to quit politics because she’s fed up at all the abuse she’s getting. She spoke to Channel 4 last night about her experience with great dignity. My pride in her was matched by my anger at her treatment. You can watch here.

When people start to be nasty about how you look, the colour of your skin, how your eyes look about your stature, then that is racism and that is wrong and that is uncalled for and that’s what I object to and many people in Northern Ireland would support me in that.

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Opinion: Should the Queen speak out on the Belfast flag issue?

Queen Elizabeth IIThe pictures of the Queen joining the Cabinet meeting were charming. They conveyed a reassuring image of a stable democracy with a historic back-stop. Almost always we want the democratic element to prevail, but there are perhaps very limited issues and occasions when the monarchy can make a difference. The Queen inviting Harold Macmillan to form a government rather than Rab Butler in 1957 is the occasion often quoted. It did actually make a political difference, since Harold Wilson was later reported as having feared that Rab Butler may well have won the 1964 election.

Northern Ireland may be another occasion when the monarchy could make a

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Opinion: Alliance holds firm against intimidation

We are now just over a week on from the infamous flag vote at Belfast City Council and whilst it is now clear that the Alliance Party will emerge from this with its credibility and reputation greatly enhanced it has come at an enormous cost to its elected members, officers and activists who have been put under intolerable pressure. Now we know what mob rule looks like. If Northern Ireland was a normal society rival politicians would have by now put differences aside and be standing shoulder to shoulder with Alliance in a united front on the side of democracy …

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Opinion: Bringing modernity to local government

‘What is the matter with these people?’ is probably the reaction of many in Great Britain when observing the escalating violence in Northern Ireland in relation to – well – just a flag.

Although it is true that it is currently unlikely that there would be mass demonstrations on English streets over what flag was flown over the town hall and when, it is remarkable how few councillors really pause to think about the symbols used in their own councils and the potential effects on the people they aim to represent.

I did a quick audit of the two councils which put …

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Individual electoral registration: Northern Ireland shows that the annual canvass must be kept

Electoral Commission logoOne of the key disputes over how individual electoral registration should be introduced in England, Scotland and Wales is whether having people join and leave the register regularly through the year, alongside better use of other information about people moving (e.g. prompting people who take out a new TV license to register), would mean that the once-a-year check on all addresses – the ‘annual canvass’ – can be dropped.

The Electoral Commission has just published the results of its research into how individual electoral registration has

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Opinion: Concern over Northern Ireland Equal Marriage Petition of Concern

There is a mechanism in the Northern Ireland Assembly that is designed to protect minority interests. It is called a petition of concern. Any 30 MLAs can call for one on any issue up for debate.

What it means that instead of simple majority the motion for debate requires 60% of the chamber and 40% of both the Unionist and Nationalist designations.

You may ask why I have highlighted this at the top of this post. The answer is to do with a debate before the Assembly on Monday 1 October, a debate on Equal Marriage, a motion largely similar to our …

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Opinion: The forgotten family member and what Nick said…

Many people think of the Liberal Democrats as a family. I know that I have often felt part of a huge family when I have been across on ‘the other off-shore island’ whether it’s at conferences – Federal Party, Scottish Party, or LDYS (oops: I’m showing my age) – or helping with elections be they local elections in Manchester with Cllr Paul Shannon and our dear friend the late Neil Trafford, or when I helped in Ipswich with all the camaraderie that …

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Opinion: A New Approach to our Union

The current approach to the United Kingdom doesn’t work.

The current approach treats each home nation as an individual, yet this approach leads to everyone pulling the centre in every direction. It leads to infighting, or to one country taking control and dictating to the others how they should be run. Neither result leads to a strong union.

We currently have the Scotland Bill going through Parliament devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament; Wales passed a referendum giving its citizens the ability to pass primary legislation; and Nick Clegg has set up a commission to address the …

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Opinion: We need a proper inquiry into Patrick Finucane’s murder

In the midst of an economic crisis, a climate crisis and a Secretary of State for Defence who seems determined to turn his life from an uplifting drama into a crisis, it’s easy to forget the sins of governments past.

But some issues shouldn’t be left to lie as footnotes in the pages of history. One of those is the case of the solicitor Patrick Finucane, and Liberal Democrats should return to their campaigning roots, within and outside Parliament, to press for a full inquiry into the case.

Finucane was a Catholic solicitor in Northern Ireland, where among his most famous clients was the …

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Northern Ireland’s Liberal Democrats start up a new blog

Excellent to see this new initiative, which is over at http://libdemsni.wordpress.com. Reading through the posts there so far I’m struck by how streaks of similarity poke through the many differences in Northern Irish politics compared to those of England, Scotland or Wales.

The blog got off to a good start with its star signing; let’s hope it prospers in the coming months.

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Opinion: Is Northern Ireland the elephant in the coalition’s room?

On the surface, David Cameron is the first Prime Minister in generations for whom ‘The Ireland Question” is down the list of priorities.

The Good Friday Agreement has been a glorious success, with the recent devolving of policing powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly the final piece of the power-sharing jigsaw and the birth of a more conventional policy rather than tribal politics in the province.

The 2010 general election saw the Alliance Party gain a seat, the moderate nationalist SDLP doing better than expected and the the failure of the anti-power sharing Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party to make gains seems …

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