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Poots to lead DUP - where?

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 14th, 2021 at 06:33:41 PM EST

Edwin Poots has defeated Jeffrey Donaldson 19-17 in the first ever vote for the leadership of the DUP. Previous Leaders - founder Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster had been elected unopposed. The electorate consisted of elected DUP MPs and MLAs (Members of the N. Ireland Legislative Assembly) following a campaign which consisted of no public interviews whatsoever and just a 10 minute speech to a closed meeting of the electors. Apparently this was because the DUP considered the election an "internal matter", but it confirmed just how inward looking the DUP has become.

After his election, Poots promised to reach out to other leaders of Unionism in order to see unionists working together better. There was no mention of reaching out to nationalists or the growing numbers in N. Ireland who self-identify as neither unionist nor nationalist. His political priority is to end the N. Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement because it has created a customs border down the Irish sea, although he is all in favour of such a border when it comes to not implementing UK laws on homosexuality and same sex marriages.

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Intergenerational Justice - Updated 15/5/21

by Frank Schnittger Tue May 11th, 2021 at 10:10:53 AM EST

Letter published by the Irish Times today under the heading:
Older people have never had it so good

A chara, Several of your esteemed commentators have written letters bemoaning ageism and their perceived victimisation by society at large, and yet many older people have never had it so good.

Ireland's life expectancy continues to increase, and older people are consuming an increasing proportion of Ireland's ballooning health expenditure.

Older people have been favoured by earlier access to vaccines despite many younger frontline workers being more exposed to potential infection.

Unemployment is hugely skewed against younger people in our society, with 59% of people aged 15-24 currently unemployed.

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Goodbye Arlene Foster

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 29th, 2021 at 01:49:02 PM EST

Such has been the DUP's reputation for incompetence under leader Arlene Foster that many might make the mistake of seeing her departure as a positive development. However what finally broke the back of her support within the party is not the many scandals under her tenure - the collapse of Northern Ireland's power sharing executive in 2017, the loss of the unionist majority at Stormont, or the intense scrutiny of a judicial inquiry into her stewardship of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. It was her decision to abstain rather than vote against a Stormont motion condemning "gay conversion" therapies that ensured her demise.

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Time for Unionists to grow up

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 15th, 2021 at 03:17:03 PM EST

Peter Cardwell is an author and journalist and former special adviser to two Conservative secretaries of state for Northern Ireland. He lost his job as special adviser to the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor at the Ministry of Justice in a Boris Johnson cabinet reshuffle last year, and was previously special adviser to then Tory NI secretary of state James Brokenshire between 2016 and 2018.

The Irish Times has given him space to pen his view that "Unionism [is] not emotionally ready for conversation about united Ireland" in the latest of a long series of opinion pieces it has published from British and unionist sources, most of which have received a scathing reception from the Irish Times commentariat. I have written a long letter to the editor in response:

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EU must decide if it wants to be taken seriously

by Frank Schnittger Sat Apr 10th, 2021 at 09:37:01 PM EST

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Looking for a scapegoat

by Frank Schnittger Sat Mar 27th, 2021 at 10:42:55 AM EST

The vaccine roll-out has been a bit of a disaster for the EU, so obviously somebody has to be at fault. In the infantile world of much modern politics it's all about finding a scapegoat and it looks like the Irish government has decided that Ursula Von Der Leyen would be a good candidate for the role. Former UK Conservative party Leader and Brexiteer, William Hague, has described Ursula von der Leyen's time as president of the European Commission as "among the most dismal in its existence" and he clearly has the EU's best interests at heart. I have drafted a letter to the editor as follows:

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How Green is Ireland's Farming?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Mar 21st, 2021 at 09:45:16 PM EST

In 2019 the Irish Government announced the formation of a "stakeholder committee" to develop Ireland's Agri-Food Strategy to 2030. This included the great and the good in the agribusiness community plus some public service agency heads and representatives of the Farmers and Fishermen's associations. Representatives of the "environmental and food safety perspectives" were only appointed afterwards and their contributions studiously ignored to the point where the environmental representative felt obliged to resign.  Hence my letter to the editor below:

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Irish economy disengages from Britain

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 18th, 2021 at 08:16:58 PM EST


Annualised GDP growth per Quarter

Despite Brexit and the Pandemic, the Irish economy is predicted to record the highest growth rate in the world in 2020 thanks to a heavy concentration of pharma and medtech companies in the economy. Current projections for 2021 and 2022 are for continued growth in the 3-4% range. Gross GDP figures are, of course, hugely inflated by the activities of global corporations in the economy, but these % growth rates are on a like for like basis.

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The British Empire and Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 11th, 2021 at 01:31:14 AM EST


The British Empire and Ireland

A chara, - Professor Nigel Biggar writes: "If colonialists can `other' the natives, essentialising them into contemptible stereotypes, nationalists, too, can `other' the imperialists." This is a classic case of "both sides do it" as if there is an equivalence between the actions of the oppressor and the oppressed. The slave is not equally guilty of slavery as the slaver, even if he has reconciled himself to his fate, and ends up working for his enslaver.


The Irish literary and language revival was an act of opposition to colonial rule, not an expression of it, as Prof Biggar seems to imply. The fact that there were many outstanding individuals, some earning their living as servants of the empire, who did not subscribe to the "imperial project" and indeed ameliorated its worst effects, does not alter the fact that the main thrust of UK government imperial policy was one of domination and suppression.

History is complex, with many interwoven narratives, but to try to obscure its main thrust with anecdotes about those few people who swam against the tide is hardly an "ethical remembering". It demeans the achievements of those who stood out against the worst aspects of imperialism and uses them to justify or mitigate the acts of its worst perpetrators. Far from constituting a balanced historiography, it is a shocking washing of hands by a professor of moral theology. - Is mise,

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Fool me once, shame on you...

by Frank Schnittger Sat Mar 6th, 2021 at 02:08:59 AM EST

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The UK government had already threatened to break international law with its Internal Markets Bill and was dissuaded from doing so only by the signing of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Now the UK government is trying the same trick with the Northern Ireland Protocol - announcing unilateral changes without going through the joint committee set up to oversee its operation. Apparently Lord Frost, ex UK Brexit negotiator and recently promoted to Boris Johnson's cabinet, has decided that the way to deal with the EU is to play hardball, and the EU will fold. That worked so well for him last time!

Paul Johnson, UK ambassador to Ireland, had a letter published in the Irish Times yesterday arguing that the UK approach was perfectly legal and indeed was required to deal with the "problems being experienced in the everyday life of communities" and to "ensure cross-community support."

The response of Irish Times letter writers has been to laugh him out of court, although I have tried to address the argument point by point in my letter published today:

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Those whom the gods wish to destroy...

by Frank Schnittger Tue Feb 23rd, 2021 at 11:24:58 AM EST

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy...they first make mad" is an apt description of N. Ireland unionists theses days. David Trimble, Arlene Foster and a rake of DUP luminaries are going all out to try and bring down the N. Ireland protocol - having welcomed it when Boris first announced his deal last year. Legal actions are threatened together with dark mutterings of loyalist unrest. It doesn't seem to have dawned on them that it is part of an international treaty which cannot be unilaterally abrogated, although, sadly, the European Commission may have given them that idea. The Irish Times has published my letter on the subject... (fourth letter down and see below).

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Astra Zeneca UK contract signed day after EU

by Frank Schnittger Sat Feb 20th, 2021 at 04:52:24 PM EST

CNN is reporting that the contracts signed by Astra Zeneca with the UK and the EU are essentially the same, and both contain the "best efforts" clause Astra Zeneca has used in an attempt to weasel out of its contractual commitments to the EU. But the real bombshell is that it appears that the UK contract was signed the day after the EU contract, and not 3 months before, as AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has claimed.

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National Myths [Updated]

by Frank Schnittger Fri Feb 19th, 2021 at 02:43:12 PM EST

Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland, is an old time socialist, university lecturer, sociologist, and poet from the left wing of the Labour Party. The role of President is largely a ceremonial one but he is following a relatively distinguished line of succession from Mary Robinson to Mary McAleese in taking an activist approach to the office and promoting gender and civil liberty issues. What these Presidents have in common is a rejection of simplistic nationalist myths and an abhorrence of violence for achieving political goals.

He has recently written an an op-ed in the Guardian in which he invited UK readers to share in his project of re-examining the myths of nationalism and imperialism and how they still shape our lives today. His piece provoked a vituperative anti-Irish response in the Daily Telegraph "The Irish president has a cheek lecturing Britons about history" and a chiding by Irish Times Columnist, Finn McRedmond, "Are we really entitled to lecture Britain about remembering?".

[Update]:The Irish Times has published an edited version of my letter in response under the headline Lecturing Britain about remembering?

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Submission on Irish Unification

by Frank Schnittger Sun Feb 14th, 2021 at 02:49:33 PM EST

The Constitution Unit at University College London has set up a working group comprised of 12 experts based at universities in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain, and the United States, to examine how any future referendums on whether Northern Ireland should stay in the United Kingdom or become part of a united Ireland would best be designed and conducted. They have issued an interim report and executive summary here.

Their starting point is the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which states that:

it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement is light on the detail of how such referendums should be organised, and the interim report seeks to explore the options in this regard. I have submitted a response to the interim report as follows:

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Europhilia does not equal Anglophobia

by Frank Schnittger Fri Feb 5th, 2021 at 02:09:04 AM EST

Brexiteers generally have been puzzled and annoyed at Ireland's failure to follow the UK out of the EU. They have been especially irritated at the problems the "Irish border" has created for them getting the clean break from the EU that they wanted. That problem would have disappeared had Ireland, too, decided to leave the EU. Nigel Farage even came to Ireland to campaign for "Irexit", and his ex-communications director, Hermann Kelly, got all of 2,441 votes or 0.67% of the total in the Dublin Constituency in the European Elections in 2019.

But it isn't just Brexiteers who find Ireland's apparent Europhilia irritating and annoying. Newton Emerson, a Northern Ireland unionist and Irish Times columnist who voted Remain has just written a column entitled Unionism to squander opportunity presented by EU blunder in which he conflates Irish Europhilia with Anglophobia. Apparently it is inconceivable for even a moderate unionist to think of Irish people who support EU membership as doing so for any reason other than hatred of Britain.

Naturally I felt compelled to set him straight in a letter published in the Irish Times:(fourth letter down)

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Learning from a Pandemic

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 4th, 2021 at 01:14:00 AM EST

The Irish Times: EU and vaccination

A chara,- A sub-committee of the European Commission makes a rushed decision in the middle of a crisis to try and ensure that vaccines are not being exported out of the EU in breach of the pharmaceutical companies' contractual commitments to its own vaccination programme.


When the serious implications of one aspect of the proposal are pointed out to it, it admits its mistake, and changes the decision. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, takes full responsibility for the mistake and commits to ensuring it doesn't happen again. What more can we expect of our leaders? If only it were always so.

Healthcare provision is generally a national competency within the EU, and this is the first time the commission has taken the lead role in EU-wide vaccine procurement. In doing so it has helped us to avoid the kind of toxic vaccine nationalism which has broken out between the UK and the EU also breaking out between member states of the EU.

If that had happened, you can be sure that Ireland, as a smaller member state without our own vaccine manufacturing capability, would have been paying top-dollar prices at the back of the queue.

We have all learned a lot about managing a pandemic, and still have a lot to learn. Making mistakes is part of that process. It's how you recover from a mistake that matters. - Yours, etc,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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News and Views

 October 2021

by Bernard - Oct 1, 157 comments

Your take on this month's news

 Back to school 2021 Open Thread

by Bernard - Sep 2, 30 comments

A COVID Autumn, season 2.

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