Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

The depolarization of Northern Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 3rd, 2021 at 02:09:05 PM EST

Despite the best efforts of Lord Frost and the Tory party, there are growing signs that Northern Ireland is rejecting their polemics about the Protocol and coming to live with it as a fact of post-Brexit life. Although no one is happy with increased customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland, there is a growing realization that Northern Ireland's unfettered access to the Single Market offers it a unique opportunity within the UK to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit.

Northern Ireland hasn't suffered the goods shortages seen in Britain, trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland is booming, and British statistics have now belatedly confirmed that the Northern Ireland economy is recovering faster than Scotland or Wales. But the most remarkable change is the U-Turn currently being performed by DUP Leader, Jeffrey Donaldson.

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They think it's about Northern Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 11th, 2021 at 05:14:24 PM EST

Over the years I have made a point of reading Northern Ireland unionist political commentators in order to get a sense of what they are about. The Slugger O'Toole website is a good indicator of non-aligned or moderate unionist thinking - mostly sympathetic to the Alliance party - and Newton Emerson and Alex Kane are unionists linked to the Ulster Unionist party which ran Northern Ireland prior to the ascendency of the Paisleyite DUP. I have not yet found a politically literate commentator linked to the DUP.

Unionism in Northern Ireland is an evolving political force slowly coming to terms with the fact that they can no longer command a majority of the electorate even if that majority is still broadly in favour of the status quo union with Britain. There are many strands to unionism, from the fundamentalist protestant Free Presbyterians of the the DUP to the agnostic liberals of the Alliance Party who just want Northern Ireland to like any other part of the UK.

But they all seem to think that the world revolves around unionists and what they want and feel they need, and find it hard to comprehend that the world around N. Ireland has changed and might have other priorities. Thus the debate around the Protocol within unionism has been all about retaining as much as possible of the free trade they had with Britain while also retaining full access to the Single market. Some even think that the Boris Johnson regime shares their concerns.

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UK to trigger Article 16?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 4th, 2021 at 08:41:10 PM EST

Growing fears that British government will shortly invoke article 16 of protocol

There are growing fears in Dublin and Brussels that the British government will shortly invoke article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, a move that officials say would plunge EU-UK relations, and British-Irish ties, into deep crisis.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued an unprecedentedly blunt warning to the British government in the Dáil on Wednesday, describing any move to trigger article 16 as "irresponsible . . . unwise . . . reckless", and saying that it would have "far-reaching implications" for the relationship between Dublin and London.


However, Irish officials fear that the triggering of article 16 could rupture relations between the two sides and lead to retaliatory action from the EU, ultimately triggering suspension of the free trade agreement and the introduction of tariffs between the EU and UK.

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Off-loading the costs of climate action onto others

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 1st, 2021 at 11:06:15 AM EST

One of the privileges of going to university is that you get to know some very interesting people. One such is Alan Matthews, now professor emeritus of European agricultural policy at Trinity College Dublin. In an industry noted for its short-sighted self interest, his work shone a light on the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on third world producers faced with the price impact of large quantities of subsidised European exports being dumped on their markets.

European farmers were being subsidised to over-produce, and their surplus product was off-loaded onto third world countries with European taxpayers and third world producers facing the cost. Farmers are not alone, of course, in seeking to off-load the costs of their income and production methods onto others, but the report which the Irish Farmers Journal commissioned from consultants KPMG is a classic of the genre of ensuring a supposedly independent report only asks the questions they wanted asked.

Alan Matthew's de-construction of the report is also a classic of critical analysis, and deservers to be read in full.

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Support for Protocol grows in N. Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 28th, 2021 at 08:40:39 AM EST

The disconnect between British government policy and rhetoric and what the people of Northern actually want grows ever wider. The ground is shifting under Lord Frost's feet and he doesn't have a democratic leg to stand on in his stand-off with the EU (not that he was ever elected to anything in the first place). A survey carried out by respected pollster Lucidtalk for a Queen's University study has found that 52% of N. Ireland adults thought  the Protocol was, on balance, "a good thing" for Northern Ireland, compared with 43 per cent in a similar survey in June.

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Taxing Property

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 27th, 2021 at 10:49:54 AM EST

Tax on vacant properties could solve housing crisis

The news that Ireland has the 10th highest housing vacancy rate in the world makes for depressing reading. The 183,000 vacant homes (excluding holiday homes) could solve our homelessness problem 30 times over and dramatically reduce the price of houses on the open market for those who cannot currently afford to buy them.

Many of these vacant properties are owned by global property and hedge funds who seek to bid up rental and purchase prices by constricting supply. At least a third are owned by older people who can no longer live in them and who need to be incentivised to make them available on the open market.

The Government claims it needs more information on why these houses are vacant before it can introduce a vacant property tax.

This is a shallow excuse to continue to favour vacant and often absentee property owners over those who need homes to live in now. It's like saying they need more information on why people work before it can introduce an income tax.

If a vacant property tax brought even half these 183,000 properties to market, it could reduce house prices and solve our housing crisis almost overnight. It's time the Government showed some urgency on this issue and incentivised these homeowners to make their properties available to those who need them most.

It's not too late to include a vacant property tax in the Finance Bill for next year. If the Government fails to do so, it must be replaced by one that will. Our young people can wait no longer.

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Owning Brexit

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 20th, 2021 at 11:05:01 AM EST

A Northern Ireland newspaper, the Irish News, has published a letter critical of my letter of the 7th. October whch argued that the DUP wanted Brexit and now they must own its consequences. (Also published here in Brexit for Slow Learners).

Letters, Irish News, Octber 20th. (Third letter down)

Exhibiting an authoritarian mindset

In the aftermath of the EU referendum in 2016, two groups emerged on the losing side of the debate. There were those who voted `remain' but accepted the result of the ballot must be respected and acted upon. There are also those who voted `remain' but continue to undermine the democratic process.

Frank Schnittger's letter (October 7) is firmly within the latter camp. It exhibits an authoritarian mindset, ill at ease with democracy, and seeks to discredit those who supported withdrawing from the European Union. Mr Schnittger invokes the Good Friday Agreement yet appears to miss the part which states, quite clearly, that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom constitution. Rather predictably, Mr Schnittger seeks to apportion blame for the Northern Ireland Protocol at the DUP insisting "this is the Brexit they voted for" and "they must own the consequences". The question on the ballot paper in 2016 asked if the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union. So long as Northern Ireland continues to be governed by the institutions of the European Union then the result of the referendum has not been implemented.

The Withdrawal Agreement was agreed and ratified by those involved in the negotiations but so too was the Anglo-Irish Treaty. As former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan points out, changes were made to the Treaty at the request of nationalism in the years following its ratification. Does Mr Schnittger think it is unreasonable for unionism to seek the same regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Belfast BT7

I seem to have struck a nerve. My draft response, [update] just published (second letter down) is below the fold...

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Shaming us all?

by Frank Schnittger Sat Oct 16th, 2021 at 09:09:35 AM EST

The Irish Times: Britain, the EU and the NI Protocol

A chara, - Newton Emerson writes that "the fact that Frost is tearing up his own deal is a redundant complaint" ("Irish fury over Frost seems aggravated by London taking unionism's side", Opinion & Analysis, ,October 14th).

And yet Dominic Cummings has tweeted that the UK never intended to implement the protocol and Ian Paisley jnr has confirmed that Boris Johnson told him in October 2019 that he would tear up the protocol after signing it.

What is the point of negotiating with a counterparty which cannot be trusted to implement any deal they sign? Why is the EU still negotiating with a government which has now rejected the EU proposals out of hand before they had even been published?

Fool us once, shame on us [should read "shame on you"]. Fool us twice and the shame is all ours. The EU is demeaning itself and us. - Is mise,

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Brexit for slow learners Part III

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 14th, 2021 at 11:03:52 AM EST

Newton Emerson, the most articulate unionist political commentator, has a good piece up articulating the unionist perspective on the current "negotiation" over the protocol. (Irish fury over Frost seems aggravated by London taking unionism's side).

In summary, he thinks Lord Frost is playing a blinder and has the EU on the back foot. Having declared it wouldn't renegotiate the protocol, the EU is now busily doing just that. For him its time to push the boat out a bit further and see what more concessions the UK can get.

As usual unionists live in a small world centred on their own tribal concerns to the exclusion of all else. I have tried to put the "renegotiation" in a larger context in a comment below his article:

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Brexit for slow learners part II

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 6th, 2021 at 10:38:12 AM EST

Lord Frost is reported to be concerned that the Northern Ireland Protocol has resulted in a massive expansion of intra-Ireland north south trade to the exclusion of British suppliers. Apparently supply chains have been rapidly re-ordered and trade between Britain and the rest of the European Union has "kind of collapsed" in the first nine months of the year. Who'd have thunk?

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Brexit for slow learners

by Frank Schnittger Fri Oct 1st, 2021 at 11:55:24 AM EST

Seamus Mallon, former deputy leader of the SDLP, once famously described the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement as Sunningdale for slow learners, in reference to an earlier power sharing agreement signed in Sunningdale in 1973, and which was allowed to collapse by the Labour British government of the time due to rioting and a general strike organised by loyalists.

Jeffrey Donaldson and Jim Allister, Leaders of the DUP and TUV respectively have now penned an Op Ed published in the Irish Times in which they raise the possibility of violence and state that the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement must go. For those that have followed the "dreary steeples" of Northern Ireland politics for many years, it is like Déjà Vu all over again.

Nevertheless I felt constrained to write a letter to the Editor of the Irish Independent which is currently their most read article on the letters page and which has inspired a supportive letter in response.

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Manufactured outrage

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 17th, 2021 at 06:16:18 PM EST

The  President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, raised a storm of manufactured outrage yesterday when he decided not to attend a church ceremony in Armagh with Queen Elizabeth II to mark the centenary of partition and the creation of Northern Ireland. Chief among the outraged was DUP leader, Geoffrey Donaldson, who has recently pulled his party out of all north-south ministerial meetings as required by strand 2 of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, in protest at the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement.

It is difficult to know whether Donaldson would have been even more outraged if the President had decided to attend the event, as he typically decries southern "interference" in northern affairs. However, his claim the the President's decision is a snub to Queen Elizabeth is just another attempt by him to draw attention away from the DUP's complicity in Brexit and the Protocol. In reality unionists are desperate to normalise the creation and status quo of Northern Ireland and extremely sensitive to any suggestion it doesn't have universal support.

My thought's on the matter have been published by The Irish Times (see below).

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The chattering Irish Europhile class

by Frank Schnittger Wed Sep 8th, 2021 at 03:58:41 AM EST

Eoin Drea, a researcher at the EPP affiliated Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Brussels, has a go at the "The chattering Irish Europhile class" in his piece entitled "Ireland is no longer viewed as a credible voice on key issues in Brussels"(Sadly, subscriber only). In it he castigates Ireland's failure to sign up to the nascent OECD corporate tax reform involving a minimum 15% tax rate but totally misreads the Irish Government's reason for doing so.

Almost everyone in Ireland regards global corporate tax reform as desirable and inevitable and the proposed 15% tax rate is hardly a precipitous increase on Ireland's current rate of 12.5%. But as always, in tax matters, the devil is in the detail, and that detail will be determined in large measure by Biden's slim majorities in Congress, all the more so as many Democrats are as sceptical as Republicans about anything that might displease their major donors.

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DUP decline continues

by Frank Schnittger Sun Aug 29th, 2021 at 09:35:01 PM EST

It is not my practice to write stories based on a single opinion poll, but polls in N. Ireland are few and far between and are currently of additional significance because they give a snapshot of the parties current standing ahead of Assembly elections which must take place by next May. The next assembly is due to vote on the continuance of the Northern Ireland Protocol in 2024, and so its significance extends to Ireland and the EU in general.

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Vaccine hesitancy and public trust

by Frank Schnittger Sat Aug 21st, 2021 at 01:08:10 PM EST

Professor Dolores Cahill of University College Dublin

Anyone perusing the internet will find it littered with anti-vaxers and conspiracy theorists many of them from the extreme far right of the libertarian fringe. Fragments of scientific research become hoisted to gospel truth without reference to what may be an overwhelming mountain of countervailing evidence. All sorts of conspiracy theories involving George Soros or Bill Gates are re-purposed to support the anti-vaxer cause. One such theorist is professor Dolores Cahill of University College Dublin  who has just had a warrant issued for her arrest in London for organising a protest gathering during lockdown.

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The dog that didn't bark

by Frank Schnittger Thu Aug 19th, 2021 at 10:44:56 PM EST

For most of the summer British Ministers Brandon Lewis (N. Ireland Secretary) and Lord Frost (Brexit Minister) have been hyping up the risk of violence in Northern Ireland if the Northern Ireland protocol isn't radically re-negotiated. But strangely their dog whistles have fallen on deaf ears. So far, the marching season has passed by without major incident.

The fiasco of the election of Edwin Poots as DUP Leader and his replacement after a few weeks by Jeffrey Donaldson has kept the political focus firmly on the DUP. Even the dogs in the street know that Brexit in N. Ireland is largely the creation of the DUP and their erstwhile ally, Boris Johnson. So, who are the rioters supposed to be rioting against?

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Art for progress's sake [Updated]

by Frank Schnittger Sun Aug 1st, 2021 at 01:46:12 PM EST

The Irish Museum of Modern Art is putting on a four part programme of exhibitions to celebrate it's 30 years of existence. Funding for the arts in Ireland has always been minimal, and even more so for avant garde, innovative, or progressive modern art. And yet many Irish artists have contributed significantly to the social revolution that has happened in Ireland over the past 30 years. I must declare a personal interest as a close personal fiend, Pauline Cummins, is one such artist who will be featured in a later phase of the programme.

The Irish Times Arts and Culture Editor, Hugh Linehan, has seen fit to publish a hatchet job on the programme, having to date only seen some promotional material for the launch of the programme. Many people find the verbiage that accompanies much of modern art hard to take, but that is not a reason to condemn a whole generation of artists who have contributed so much to the development of Irish art and positive social change with very little official encouragement whatsoever.

I have sent the letter below to the Irish Times as my riposte to his vitriolic condemnation, although I doubt it will be published as the Irish Times has a track record of not publishing any letters critical of its journalism. [update 2] Letter Published 3/8/21 with a critical response published August 6th. and my riposte published August 10th. [End Update]

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No need to cheer for England

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 16th, 2021 at 09:33:09 AM EST

It's becoming tiresome reading all that guff about Ireland really being closer to England than the EU, and that therefore anyone who supports anyone but England is being hypocritical or an extreme nationalist. And yes, this is coming from an Irish columnist living in England who voted Tory last time out.

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UK Menaces Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 7th, 2021 at 12:13:56 PM EST

Draft letter to the Editor:

A Chara, - The article by [former Irish Taoiseach and EU ambassador to Washington] John Briton in response to UK EU negotiator Lord Frost and NI Secretary of State Brandon Lewis is well argued and well put. (John Bruton, UK ministers need to read the NI protocol they signed, Opinion, 7th. July). The subtitle sums it up nicely "No hint of contrition or constructiveness in article by Lord Frost and Brandon Lewis . . . just menace."

(continued below the fold)

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Sinn Féin to lead Ireland? Poots resigns

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jun 17th, 2021 at 11:50:15 AM EST

A crisis in the formation of a new Executive in Northern Ireland was averted last night when the British government agreed to bring forward legislation supporting the status of the Irish language and Ulster Scots dialect next October if the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly has not done so by then. The commitment to support minority languages had been included in the 2020 New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement which enabled the return to devolved power sharing after three years of direct rule from London caused by the collapse of Power sharing due to increasing tensions between Sinn Féin and the DUP over this and many other issues.

A failure to reach an agreement could have resulted in snap Assembly elections and/or a return to Direct Rule as the Good Friday Agreement requires the largest party in both the nationalist and unionist traditions to nominate a First and Deputy First Minister for a power sharing executive to be formed. Sinn Féin had refused to do so in the absence of progress on the issue. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin had lost votes at the last Assembly elections because of public impatience at their failure to form an Executive and operate the structures set up by the Good Friday Agreement.

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