Category Archives: Commentary

Legacy – a series of essays







The News Letter has sent an email to registered readers providing a summary of its recent series of essays on the Legacy proposals currently the subject of “consultation”.

The premise in publishing the series has been simple: has been a scandal the way in which the whole weight of the British state has, at great expense to UK taxpayers, turned in on its own security forces who prevented civil war here in Northern Ireland (the introductory stories to the series list the current imbalance against security forces).

It is “Time to stop the terror legacy scandal” (August 20th). The series was backed with a strong Morning View editorial.

While for many years there have been many reports of, or documentaries on, claims of ‘collusion’  etc the News Letter has made space for a neglected but important alternative viewpoint on the past.

The News Letter essays have been a reminder of the avalanche of grief and misery as the consequence of a ‘Troubles’ that was dominated by a republican terrorist campaign that (our contributors all believe) was wholly lacking in legitimacy. The republican campaign was a full frontal assault on the economy and on democratic society, and to which the RUC, army and other branches of the state reacted with obvious restraint, despite knowing all the ring leaders.

Now all the essays are bundled together in a single section on the News Letter website.

Contributors have ranged from ex police, army and other state officials who helped prevent civil war in the Province, as well as by essays by academics, victims, commentators and lawyers.

Politicians have contributed essays too, although in the first weeks of the series the paper sought out other voices who are less political in outlook.

The contributors have examined issues such as the way in which the processes have turned against the security forces and its impact on those who served their country, victims of terror and its possible impact on future generations who are often being led to the view that terrorism was necessary.

All contributors are unpaid, and are writing because of their concern at what has been happening.

While some contributors are open to the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) structures as a way out of the current mess, and others not, and while some contributors back a statute of limitations for ex security forces and some not, all agree the present system is unfair: the introductory Morning View listed some of the imbalance against state forces in current investigations.

At the same time the News Letter has run a counter view on legacy, that of Stephen Farry MLA of Alliance, who is supportive of the SHA bodies and who does not think that the current situation is a scandal. Also Rev Norman Hamilton of the Presbyterian Church wrote a piece which we deliberately kept out of the series, because the church’s view is that the current response to legacy is unsatisfactory but not a scandal, and a reformed SHA is the best way forward with a new definition of a victim.

But this series is mainly providing a vehicle for a viewpoint that the News Letter believes is often overlooked in much of the media and academic worlds, where there is heavy focus on allegations against state forces.

The essays were launched by Colonel Tim Collins, who said that veterans must be protected from a witch-hunt to appease the IRA. He is urging such veterans to send letters to the authorities to ask if they are being pursued for past actions in the Troubles.

Major-General Julian Thompson described as “monstrous” the prosecution of elderly veterans of Northern Ireland after schemes such as On The Run letters to placate the IRA.

The victims campaigner Kenny Donaldson said that innocent victims of terrorism do not back the plans to tackle past as they stand now.

But the Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann MLA is among those, including Jim Allister MLA, who think the plans are so flawed and so favourable to IRA terrorists that they must be scrapped entirely.

The solicitor Neil Faris also said that the plans were so flawed they should be scrapped, although he acknowledged how painful a further delay would be to victims.

But in one of the most important contributions to the series, spread over two days, Mr Faris said that he feared that victims of terrorism were being led into a trap in which they would think that perpetrators would be named when in fact only police officers would be ‘named and shamed’ for alleged misconduct.

Even the moderate reconciliation activist Trevor Ringland wrote about how the plans to deal with the past “favour dividers and terrorists”.

Among the victims in the series to have given moving testimony of the impact of IRA murder and mayhem is Kathryn Johnston, who explained how her mum was dead from “a broken heart” within six months of the murder of her RUC father, which left Kathryn an orphan. The deaths of five other relatives were hastened by the murder, she said.

In a similar personal piece, Ishan Bashir told how the murder of his brother Inam in the 1996 Canary Wharf bomb caused their father to die of a broken heart.

Mary McCurrie, whose father was shot dead in the Short Strand, urged victims to sue “Sinn Fein-IRA”.

The former MP and ex guardsman Danny Kinahan wrote about how most politicians at Westminster are unaware of how one-sided the approach to the past has become in favour of republican terrorists.

The former RUC chief superintendent Norman Baxter said that there is a victim hierarchy in which victims of terror are at the bottom. He also condemned the fact that the deaths of some terrorists, including the “serial killer” Jim Lynagh, would get a greater level of scrutiny than that of their many victims.

The ex Special Branch detective and author Dr William Matchett in his essay said that “republican conspiracy nonsense” about collusion had been indulged by the state, and the RUC trashed, something which would if anything worsen in the SHA structures.

The academics Professors Arthur Aughey and Henry Patterson criticised insufficient historical context in the mooted legacy proposals.

Another academic, Dr Cillian McGrattan, wrote about some of the ‘transitional justice’ mindsets on legacy that assumed inappropriate comparisons between the UK’s response to the Troubles and gangster states and how they responded to security issues. He said that Northern Ireland was on the verge of fostering a pro terrorist view of the past.

A further academic, Dr James Dingley criticised the ‘useful idiots’ such as some human rights activists who had helped the IRA put the UK state on the defensive over the past.

The Orange Order chief executive Iain Carlisle said that republicans are relentlessly blackening the security forces to re-write history.

The barrister Austen Morgan, who wrote a book about the OTR scandal, said that Sinn Fein wants to push on from that success “to wherever it can in its Brit bashing”.

Canon Ian Ellis examines the controversial definition of a victim and said that there is “an immense difference between a bomber killed by his own bomb and his victim”.

The series will continue until after the October 5 close to the legacy consultation.







In the imagination of remainers, the Tory European Research Group is a cadre of irreconcilable Brexit ultras, determined to wrench the UK from the EU in chaotic fashion. It’s ironic then, that the ERG’s latest paper is one of the calmest contributions to the Irish border debate, delivering low-key, rather technical solutions to practical problems raised by the frontier, rather than overheated rhetoric. 

Foundering on the Rocks of Reality







Republicans and nationalists call for a United Ireland, yet the thinking on what that might look like has to date seems crude, naïve, or non-existent. Irish mist-ical aspiration is preferred to the harsh realities of rational thinking. Philip Larkin asks some uncomfortable questions.

A crude reality

With increased discussion in social and political circles on the topic of the inevitability or otherwise of a united Ireland, the central object of this article is to examine what the true ramifications of creating a new state of Ireland will be, specifically from the viewpoints of northern nationalism and the population of the Republic of Ireland.

Gerry Adams twirling around the Northern Ireland public spending numbers






The former Sinn Fein leader, Mr Gerry Adams was recently arguing how Irish unity had become more an issue of “when” rather than “if”.

A critical plank of his argument was that Northern Ireland is not in fact as heavily subsidised by the UK Exchequer as many of us think: he believes the actual level of spending here is lower and as a result the gap or deficit between public monies spent and revenues raised by taxes in Northern Ireland is smaller than we are often told.

Amongst other things, if he is right, Irish unity could become more affordable. Mr Adams’s argument becomes something of a fiscal dance of the seven veils. With each sentence a few more billions come off!

Bold statements, bald facts





According to Brian Feeney: “Reality is that a century of partition has left the north much poorer than the south.” (£)

No one can deny Brian Feeney loves a sweeping statement: “Irish unity will be beneficial to all on the island” – everyone’s a winner  – he says, based supposedly on a report by Paul Gosling and Pat McArt. This may be the same as the report reviewed earlier on This Union, as the claims are as strange as ever. Or it could be from A New Union: A New Society – Ireland 2050 which does credit Pat McArt and appears on Gosling’s website in June, using the earlier report for economic points.

In fact, that The economic impact of an all-island economy published earlier this year assumed unity would be accompanied by quite a major reduction in public sector jobs and spending in Northern Ireland – despite the significant impact that could be expected on the NI economy from this cut, there was no accompanying indication on how the private sector might be able to compensate as local spending power diminishes, significantly. Besides…

Blue sky thinking?








In a recent report, The Economic Impact of an All Island Economy, the journalist Paul Gosling argues the case for unity. He summarised his point of view in an article in the Belfast Telegraph; 22 February, “Unionists are facing a perfect storm of Brexit and demographic shift”.

His arguments are in some ways strange.

The DUP prioritised The Union. Unionists do that.






The whole point of the DUP is to safeguard Northern Ireland’s position within the UK. As unionists, they believe in the nation state and see the UK as the rock on which our prosperity, security and identity is built.

It is unsurprising that these views have lead them into a strongly pro-Brexit stance, though even then there is a pragmatism to their politics that is sometimes missed. The government would have known what the DUP’s red lines were before the latest round of talks hit the buffers.

The Irish government denies the charge that it asked that Monday’s Brexit paper be kept from the DUP, but the reality is that the DUP had received only an emollient verbal briefing and had been asking for days to see a paper. It was passed to them only as Theresa May was going to lunch in Brussels; the frantic phone calls that followed stopped the deal in its tracks.

The issue of the Irish border is important, but not as challenging as the Irish government has made it.

The UK is trading just fine, together.







This is a brief response to Ed Conway “The UK is becoming a disunited Kingdom”writing in The Times (£) on 8th December. 

Mr Conway – Sky News Economics Editor – argues that the various UK regions do not constitute an “optimal currency area” and should not be sharing a single UK market and common currency.

Normally questions of single markets and currency areas would be the stuff of arcane economics – the sort of thing I’d be teaching to second and third year university students. However, it is pretty clear how commentary like Mr Conway’s could play into some current debates.

An intuitive presentation of what an optimal currency area might go something like this- because Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Newcastle-under-Lyme and Newcastle County Down do a lot of trade together it makes most sense that they share a currency: the pound sterling.

But imagine a town called Neuburg in Germany, the flow of trade between Germany and any of the UK Newcastles would be much smaller. Also, many other economic conditions would vary between the UK and Germany. Therefore, it makes sense for the UK to use the pound and Germany to use a different currency (the Euro, at the moment).

But, back to Mr Conway.

His argument that the UK-wide single market and currency area is breaking up is rather exaggerated.

He claims, for example:

 “…Northern Ireland is edging closer to its immediate neighbour”

However, the most recent data show that 86% of all of the sales of the Northern Ireland economy stay within the UK – 66% to Northern Ireland itself and the rest to GB – compared to only 5% to the Republic of Ireland.

Other UK regions are also trade dependent on the rest of the UK.

The UK optimal currency area/single market still has a strong economic rationale.


Dr Esmond Birnie – Economist

That was the deal that wasn’t.






What might have been the economic impact on Northern Ireland if the Prime Minister had in fact accepted the deal which was proposed by Brussels on the morning of Monday 4 December? Here are some key points:

  1. In order to ensure regulations continued to be aligned between Northern Ireland and the EU notwithstanding any changes in the rest of the UK, this deal implied a substantial increase in the extent of devolution to Northern Ireland.

That begs several questions. Even if we assume devolution can be restored, would it be sensible to give Stormont extra powers when we’ve seen just how erratic the progress of devolved government has been in its almost 20 years 1999-2017?

  1. If regulatory harmony between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (plus the other 26 EU members) is obtained at the price of opening up a regulatory gap between Northern Ireland and Great Britain that will imply a very large economic cost.

A sensible deal on the Northern Ireland border is very achievable






Brussels and Dublin should stop playing games.

Hell hath no fury like a Commission scorned.

Since the UK is breaking up the European Commission’s cherished Union, the Commission retaliates by supporting those wishing to break up the UK.

The first attempt was Jean-Claude Juncker’s wooing of Nicola Sturgeon when she visited Brussels to drum up support for Scottish independence. The hugs and kisses to camera signified EU support for her efforts, but it all came to nought as falling oil prices rendered an independent Scotland financially unviable.

The second attempt will be equally futile but could cause trouble along the way. This is the suggestion in a Commission document ‘Dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland’, leaked last week, that ‘it is essential that the UK commits to avoiding a hard border by remaining part of the EU customs union, and continues to abide by the rules of the EU single market and customs union’.