On Human Rights

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the holidays the Irish Times carried a review of Omar Grech’s book on Human Rights and the Northern Ireland Conflict by Brice Dickson, first Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, who notes:

“Grech reminds his readers that during the Troubles, human-rights abuses were committed not just by the State but predominantly by unlawful paramilitary groups, especially the IRA. Most human-rights NGOs came relatively late to this realisation and even today some activists and politicians are reluctant to describe, say, the “punishment” shooting or beating of alleged juvenile delinquents as human-rights abuses.”

“Human rights are entitlements we claim not just because various international treaties require states to protect those rights. Their protection is the fundamental rationale for criminal justice systems worldwide and for civilised interaction between individuals within every society.”

Five principled points for Unionism

 

 

 

 

Sometimes we need to address the future by referencing some fundamentals.

In an article coinciding with the centenary of the Ulster Covenant, and reflecting on its place in the historical self-understanding of Unionists, Jane McGaughey observed that while it is remembered, primacy of The Covenant in the unionist ‘collective memory’ is dubious. Interestingly, McGaughey thought that this was due to its:

‘lack of stated adherence to Reformation Era Protestant principles of anti-Catholicism and literal biblical interpretation.’

That may seem a curious argument in our secular age. Her conclusion was unambiguous:

‘Sir Edward Carson once said that he would keep his covenant until his death; he was right. Since his death in 1935, the centrality of the Ulster Covenant to the unionist imagination has faded dramatically, replaced by images of battlefield heroics, religious fundamentalism, paramilitary warfare and the promise of peace. The Ulster Covenant now lies with Carson in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. His tomb is its ossuary’.

That was five years ago. Evidence is that is hasn’t been quite that forgotten. Though it would be true to say that the British Covenant (1914) largely mirroring the earlier Ulster Covenant, and signed by two million people, is rarely referenced.

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.

Unionist? Don’t be shy.

 

 

 

 

 

At a recent gathering of representatives of what could be called Unionist ‘middle Ulster’ – middle class, middle ranking, middle politics citizens – one attender made an interesting observation. She had returned to Northern Ireland after a long spell in the US and was struck by the political timidity of those Unionists she encountered.

She thought that both instrumentally – they understand the social and economic importance of the Union for the well-being of people in Northern Ireland – and non-instrumentally – they have strong affinities with what academics might call British ‘values’ – these people are solid in their beliefs and convinced of their identity.

In other words, they do not share that fashionable condition which lazy journalists or convinced nationalists think is gnawing away at them: there is no ‘crisis of identity’ (whatever that may mean); nor do they doubt their allegiance to the United Kingdom (despite being mainly supporters of the Ireland rugby team).

So why is it then, she asked, that one rarely hears these people publicly? How is it, when it comes to civil society, there is a crisis of representation? What is the reason for soft nationalism being apparently the default position of those in positions of authority?

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’.

Mind your language

 

 

 

 

 

Ever since Irish Republicans realised they had lost their so-called ‘armed conflict’ there was no doubt that culture wars would emerge to take precedence. That became apparent in the development of residents’ groups and the demonization of parading – it was no coincidence that among the first targets were parades relating to Somme Commemoration.

The latest frontier is the Irish language – rather the specific Irish Language Act,  the latest campaign on the front line of Sinn Fein’s culture war; though forays have been taking place for many years locally.

So far the campaign promoting an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland has been notable by its crude rhetorical bombardment on, and desperate frontal assaults against, logic and common sense.

The sins of memories past?

 

 

 

There is an interesting piece from the Dublin Review of Books entitled: Troubles with Remembering; or, The Seven Sins of Memory Studies.  The piece is actually a review on: Remembering the Troubles: Contesting the Recent Past in Northern Ireland, by Jim Smyth (ed), University of Notre Dame Press, 218 pp, $40, ISBN 978-0268-101749.

The past of course is entirely memory, albeit in the context of events that are fact. The review quickly becomes a wider exploration of the nature of memory, and in particular “Memory Studies”, and more particularly the seven deadly sins thereof: laxity, dualism, crudity, moralism, insularity, myopia, and overlooking forgetting.

Not spooked

 

 

 

 

 

Alex Kane increasingly sounds like the elderly Auntie who is forever telling everyone in the family how what they are doing is not the right way of doing it; and if we have heard it once, we need to hear it over and over again – maybe different words, same message.

Alex’s most recent piece in the News Letter “Why the leaders of Unionism should be well and truly spooked” is a case in point.