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Vaccine politics turn poisonous

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jan 30th, 2021 at 02:05:42 PM EST

The already difficult relations between the UK and EU threatened to turn poisonous when the European Commission tried to invoke Article 16 of the Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement to prevent EU made vaccines being exported to the UK through the "backdoor" of Northern Ireland.

This went against years of EU and Irish diplomacy which has sought to prevent the emergence of a hard land border within Ireland. How the Commission could have made such a decision without consulting the Irish government on its political ramifications is beyond belief.

The now aborted move to invoke Article 16 exposes the degree of anger and vulnerability felt within the Commission at it being seen to be responsible for the EU's slower vaccination program than those in the UK, Israel and US, in particular. But as often the case in these crises, the real story is a lot more complex and nuanced.

Read more... (35 comments, 1373 words in story)

Global Britain is increasingly isolated

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 24th, 2021 at 08:31:50 PM EST

My letter (minus the last sentence) has also been published by the Irish Times here.

Read more... (32 comments, 469 words in story)

The path to a united Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 06:03:10 PM EST

Ever since the Brexit referendum in the UK, and particularly since the signing of the Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland Protocol, and the UK EU Trade and Security agreement, there has been a plethora of writing and comment on the prospects for an independent Scotland and a united Ireland. This is based partly on the fact that both Scotland and N. Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and partly due to an antipathy to the insurgence of English nationalism, which is largely what drove the Brexit project and threatens to drive the component entities of the "United Kingdom" ever further apart.

Read more... (59 comments, 2859 words in story)

A Long War?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jan 8th, 2021 at 06:10:45 PM EST

Trump Says He Could 'Shoot Somebody' and Still Maintain Support

Donald Trump said Saturday that his supporters are so loyal that he would not lose backers even if he were to shoot someone in the middle of downtown Manhattan.

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay?" Trump said at a rally in Sioux Center, Iowa as the audience laughed. "It's, like, incredible."

Trump's whole Presidency can be seen as a political experiment to see how far he could push the boat out on political extremism and still retain political support.  Indeed his approval ratings have rarely slipped below 40%, and currently stand at 42.4%. Not enough to secure re-election, obviously, but enough to make it a contest. It is worth noting that his 74 Million votes in the General Election is the highest ever attained by any presidential candidate bar Joe Biden, who obtained 81 Million votes.

So what does this say about the state of the US polity...

Read more... (77 comments, 962 words in story)

Covid-19 out of control in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jan 7th, 2021 at 12:07:33 PM EST

Having generally done a relatively good job of containing the pandemic (Ireland currently ranks 62nd. for cases/million, and 47th. for deaths/million in the world), at least compared to our nearest neighbours, the government seems to have lost its way recently. In its determination to offer some respite to the hospitality industry and allow people some semblance of a normal Christmas, it has allowed the pandemic to get out of control to a far greater extent than ever before:

Partly, this may be due to the upsurge in the much more infectious English variant of the virus, but there is no doubt the level of social mixing got out of control over the holiday season resulting in a renewed lockdown and closure of schools.

But the even more serious issue is that the vaccination programme has gotten off to a very slow start and shows no sign of accelerating rapidly any time soon. The government and its public health advisers have been very good at lecturing the public on how to behave, less good at organising what should be their primary responsibility - an efficient vaccination roll-out programme. Hence my letter to the editor published today:

Read more... (10 comments, 205 words in story)

Coup Attempt in USA?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jan 6th, 2021 at 07:56:03 PM EST

Following an incendiary speech by President Trump crowds of protestors marched from his protest meeting and breeched the security lines and stormed the Capital Buildings in Washington DC. The Senate and Congress were in joint session to certify the Presidential election results and had just heard an objection from Senator Cruz to certifying the result. Senators and Congressmen were evacuated through various tunnels carrying gas masks and Vice President Pence and others were evacuated to a safe place.

More to follow as events unfold...

Read more... (68 comments, 421 words in story)

Georgia on my mind (Part 2)

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jan 6th, 2021 at 02:13:31 PM EST

As a long haired student radical in the early 1970's I did a spot of hitch-hiking around the eastern USA following a summer working making motel beds and selling hot-dogs on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey and working construction in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

I ventured as far as N. Carolina but was warned not to go further south as the southern states of South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and especially Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia where injun country as far as long haired students were concerned. You could get beaten up or worse.

I remember being amazed at a military High School in Charlotte where young teenagers were being drilled to within an inch of their lives in the merciless heat wearing 19th. century buttoned up military uniforms that made no concessions to comfort, utility, or the heat. This was no place for anarchist idealists.

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Born to rule

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jan 2nd, 2021 at 06:17:13 PM EST

The Cummings/Wakefield family pile: Chillingham Castle and Gardens, Northumberland. Just what establishment is Dominic Cummings trying to overthrow, or to re-establish?

One of the more puzzling aspects of the Trade and cooperation agreement just signed by the UK and EU is that its focus is almost exclusively on trade in goods, an area where the EU (excluding Ireland) enjoys a massive trade surplus with the UK. Services make up 80% of the UK economy and the City of London has been the financial powerhouse of the EU. Yet curiously the trade deal does not provide for free access for UK service companies to EU markets, does not provide for mutual recognition of professional qualifications (again, excluding Ireland), and even the Erasmus student exchange programme no longer applies to the UK.

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Blaming others for England's isolation [Update]

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 31st, 2020 at 01:59:44 PM EST

Denis McShane (born Josef Denis Matyjaszek, 21 May 1948) is a British former politician, author and commentator who served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Rotherham from 1994 to his resignation in 2012. A former member of the Labour Party, he was Minister of State for Europe from 2002 until 2005. He was convicted in 2012 of submitting false invoices for expenses and was sentenced to 6 Months in Prison. He was a supporter of the Iraq war and has been accused of dishonest behaviour on a number of other occasions.

Without noting this background, the Irish Times has given him space to expound his views on how British Irish relations should develop post Brexit, He is the latest in a long line of columnists in Irish papers warning Ireland to stay close to mother England in case those perfidious continentals should take advantage of us. Apparently he has detected a rise in Schadenfreude and Anglo-phobia amongst his Irish friends. I have responded in a draft letter to the Editor below and [Update] an edited version has been published here:

Read more... (51 comments, 810 words in story)

Referendum in Ireland on EU UK Trade deal?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 02:16:07 PM EST

Draft Letter to the Editor

I'm sure most people breathed a sigh of relief that an EU UK Trade agreement was finally concluded just before Christmas, and everyone appears to assume it will be approved by the EU Parliament and ratified by governments on all sides within a matter of a few days or weeks.

But will there need to be a referendum in Ireland to approve the deal?

The Irish people gave up their territorial claim to Northern Ireland when Articles 2 and 3 were removed from our constitution by a 94% vote of the people in 1998 as part of the deal to ratify the Good Friday Agreement.

The peace process has survived for so long because the Good Friday agreement guaranteed "equality of esteem" for those who aspired to Irish unity and those who aspired to union with Britain. It was conceived in the context of both Ireland and Britain being members of the EU and of national borders and differences becoming ever less significant in the context of "an ever closer union" amongst the member states of the EU. There was no Article 50 procedure for any member state to leave the EU when the GFA was signed.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, there was to be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without approval by a majority by referendum there. In was in that context that 56% of the people of N. Ireland voted to remain in the EU in 2016.

Instead, with Brexit, Northern Ireland is out of the EU and all its people now have is a free trade deal on goods, some regulatory alignment, and a customs union with the EU. There is no agreement on trade in services, no Fundamental Charter on Human rights, no recourse to the European Court Justice. The Erasmus programme is gone too unless N. Ireland citizens opt for Irish citizenship and apply through the Irish scheme.

As the UK and EU diverge in the future, so too will Northern Ireland and Ireland - no doubt to the satisfaction of some unionists. But this is a far cry from the "equality of esteem" promised in the Good Friday agreement. Instead, a unionist minority got the Brexit they demanded, and the overwhelming majority who voted to remain in a Union with Ireland and the EU got little more than free trade in goods.

Surely this changes the relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland in quite fundamental ways and requires that the people of Ireland have the opportunity to have their say as to whether the EU UK trade deal should be ratified and become the law of the land in this state?

If it took a referendum in this state to enact the changes required by the Good Friday Agreement, surely it will take another referendum to validate a situation where Northern Ireland is no longer part of a Union with this state and other member states of the EU?

The whole basis on which the people of this state gave up their territorial claim to Northern Ireland in 1998 has been fundamentally altered. The Government should not ratify the EU UK trade deal unless it is formally approved by a referendum of the Irish people.

Read more... (18 comments, 1237 words in story)

Brexit: There's a Deal

by Bernard Thu Dec 24th, 2020 at 04:12:03 PM EST

Looks like there will be a Brexit deal for Christmas, after all.

Brexit: EU, UK clinch trade and security deal - DW

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference that the two sides "finally" reached a deal.

"It was a long and winding road, but we have a good deal to show for it," she said on Thursday.

She added that the UK and the EU will continue cooperating on areas of mutual interest, naming climate, energy, security, and transport.

"I believe, also, that this agreement is in the United Kingdom's interest. It will set solid foundations for a new start with a long-term friend. And it means that we can finally put Brexit behind us, and Europe is continuing to move forward," she added.

Frontpaged - Bernard

Read more... (51 comments, 404 words in story)

And now for some good news...

by Frank Schnittger Mon Dec 21st, 2020 at 03:01:38 PM EST

Covid-19 is still creating chaos on the island of Ireland with a third wave gathering momentum and the death rate in Northern Ireland particularly severe. Hospitals there are full to capacity and patients have had to be treated in ambulances as they queue outside hospitals.

Meanwhile the Republic, in common with some other European countries, has instituted a travel ban with the UK, as concern rises about an even more infectious strain of Covid-19 spreading in south east England. The land-bridge through Britain is closed with France no longer accepting goods traffic from Britain, so plans for increased direct sea routes from Ireland to mainland Europe have been fast-tracked.

In some ways the situation now is so severe that if a no-deal Brexit were to happen on January 1st. people would hardly notice. So where is the good news, I hear you ask?

Read more... (15 comments, 813 words in story)


by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 16th, 2020 at 10:32:54 PM EST

The Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) ratification process in the Irish Senate has been delayed following a split in the Green Party on the issue. Michael McDowell is a prominent barrister, senator, former deputy prime minister, ex-leader of the now defunct Progressive Democrats party and long term advocate for neo-liberal policies in Ireland.

He has excoriated the Irish government for trying to railroad the ratification process through parliament with only 55 minutes of debating time particularly as it contains controversial clauses allowing global corporations to sue sovereign states if their policies have adverse effects on their profitability.

The Irish Times has published a letter to the editor I have written in response:

Read more... (8 comments, 588 words in story)

No Deal?

by Frank Schnittger Sat Dec 12th, 2020 at 05:27:34 PM EST

This week-end is supposed to mark the final deadline for coming up with a post Brexit FTA between the EU and the UK. Brexiteers have always maintained they are relaxed about the prospect of no deal - if only to try and  bolster their negotiating position vis a via the EU. Boris Johnson has taken to calling it the "Australia Option" - in succession to the Norway, Swiss and Canadian options - despite the fact that ex-Australian Premier, Malcolm Turnbull has warned that Australians see their trading relationship with the EU as anything but satisfactory and are busily trying to negotiate a better one.

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The changing dynamic of the N. Ireland economy

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 11th, 2020 at 03:10:47 PM EST

Despite the likelihood of a "No Deal" in the main EU/UK trade talks, the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement will come into force on January 1st. The working party on its implementation, chaired by European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and the UK Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Rt Hon Michael Gove have agreed the details of its implementation, which includes a grace period to allow supermarkets to adapt to the new customs and quality controls that will apply.

While it was hoped the agreement would build some momentum towards a broader Free Trade Agreement, its more immediate effect is to provide the UK government with some cover to withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the UK Internal Market Bill, and not introduce any similar provisions in the Taxation Bill which were in breach of international law and threatened to de-rail relations with the incoming Biden administration in the USA.

Newton Emerson has a piece up on the Irish Times (subscriber only) discussing the DUP's confusion as to how to respond to the Protocol's creation of "a border down the Irish sea" which they had so bitterly opposed. I have drafted a letter to the Editor in response:

Read more... (11 comments, 1335 words in story)

Daisy, the Brexit Cow

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 6th, 2020 at 01:27:36 PM EST

This is the story of Daisy, the Brexit Cow. She lives on a farm in Monaghan but her milk is transported for processing to Fermanagh, from where it is transported to consumers in England via the Belfast Liverpool ferry. So far she has been unaffected by any proposed Brexit changes because her produce is regarded as British and will not be subject to any tariffs or border quality checks.

However next year Daisy will have a calf which may be processed for beef in either North or south Ireland. She may be fattened for a few weeks on a farm in N. Ireland prior to slaughter, so does this make her a N. Ireland calf, and will it matter whether she is processed in the North or south of Ireland and then sold on the British market?

Northern Ireland has insufficient meat and dairy processing plants to meet the demands of the British market - or will those demands be met by beef from Brazil or Argentina instead? 50% WTO tariffs on beef mean that meat prices in the UK will go up dramatically unless they have free trade agreements with at least some meat exporting countries.

Read more... (49 comments, 1266 words in story)

Making the UK Great Again

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 3rd, 2020 at 03:20:56 PM EST

The United Kingdom is getting a coronavirus vaccine first because it is a "much better country" than France, Belgium and the United States, a British cabinet minister has declared.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, praised the work done by the medical regulator to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use.

Mr Williamson said the United Kingdom's status as the first country to approve a vaccine is due to its superior experts.

"I just reckon we've got the very best people in this country and we've obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have," he told LBC Radio.

"That doesn't surprise me at because we're a much better country than every single one of them."

Read more... (26 comments, 369 words in story)

Rabies Brexplained

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 2nd, 2020 at 12:18:02 PM EST

British readying for Brexit: They never saw it coming, mate

Sometimes our vocabulary has to expand to encompass new realities. Covid, for example, has added "lockdown", "social distancing" and "flattening the curve" to our daily lexicon. Likewise, the UK's departure from the European Union has already given us words such as "Remainers", "Leavers" and "cake-ism" as well as, of course, the word "Brexit" itself. Phrases about "unicorns" and "cherry-picking" have been given a new resonance.

But Brexit, set to take full effect on January 1st, now requires the urgent invention of another word to capture the simple reality that the self-harm inflicted on the British people, across so many areas of their lives, is the direct effect of Brexit itself and of the hard version of it pursued by the Johnson government. Many people, of course, understand this well both in Britain and around Europe. But if this elementary reality has to be explained every time that British tabloids express astonishment at the latest materialisation of the bleeding obvious, we may lose the will to live.

Read more... (78 comments, 1390 words in story)

I don't like lawyers

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 30th, 2020 at 11:41:14 AM EST

Well, really I do, except I have to admit that none of my best friends are lawyers. My problems with the legal profession in Ireland are four fold:

  1. They are incentivised by the reward structure to mythologise, over-complicate and drag out any work they are given to do, because they are essentially private contractors paid by the hour for the amount of work they claim to have done, and much of what they do is not strictly legal work, or work for which a legal qualification should be required.

  2. They are an almost entirely self-regulated profession, resisting all attempts at public accountability, have a near monopoly of professional legal training, and are often nepotistic in character, with legal practices handed down through family members and dependent on networks of contacts rather than any extraordinary expertise in a particular field.

  3. Despite having many members of the utmost integrity and probity, I would also argue the profession is structurally corrupt, with many civil cases settled out of court for fear of ruinous legal fees, beyond the means of most litigants or defendants, who are therefore forced to settle for an agreement with little reference to the facts or the merits of a case. The lawyers in such cases are essentially acting as deal brokers, not lawyers, and virtually always extract a hefty proportion of any financial settlement for themselves.

  4. The "legal industry" as I call it, has a vested interest in self-enrichment through frivolous or exaggerated litigation, with the judges who decide cases from the same tight social circle as the lawyers representing both sides, who are incentivised to maximise the damages (for one side) and prolong the litigation and the fees accruing to both. Why throw out a case your best buddy and golfing partner stands to make a lot of money from?

Read more... (5 comments, 1639 words in story)

The economic realities of a united Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 23rd, 2020 at 03:38:24 AM EST

Newton Emerson is perhaps the leading unionist commentator in Ireland, and has a regular column in the Irish Times, regrettably generally behind a paywall. He provides a valuable insight into unionist thinking in Northern Ireland, which can often be startlingly different from nationalist, liberal or progressive perspectives.

Nevertheless he is no fundamentalist bible thumping bigot, and his political allegiance would lie closer to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) rather than the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) founded by Ian Paisley.

While appreciating his articulation of often legitimate unionist concerns, I have sometimes taken issue with his conclusions, and in fairness to the Irish Times, they have often published my critiques in response. The letter below is one such critique where I challenge his arguments that a recent Sinn Féin paper misrepresents and underestimates the true costs of re-unifying Ireland:

Read more... (18 comments, 1380 words in story)
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News and Views

 May 2021

by Bernard - May 2, 17 comments

Your take on this month's news

 April 2021

by Bernard - Apr 4, 126 comments

Your take on this month's news

 May-June Open Thread

by Bernard - May 2, 3 comments

No one is safe until everyone is safe.

 March-April Open Thread

by Bernard - Mar 14, 26 comments

Waiting for spring... and for vaccines.

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