Unpredictable outcomes

There is a memorable photograph of loyalists off the Ravenhill Road in Belfast celebrating the fall of the Sunningdale Executive on May 28 1974. Ian Paisley of the DUP had worked successfully with loyalists during the violent 14-day UWC strike to overthrow the power-sharing executive at Stormont.

A woman is holding up the front page of the Belfast Telegraph with its headline ‘Executive Collapses’, she is surrounded by excited young people, many of them children; she is followed by a loyalist band and in the background, there are more excited people celebrating this ‘victory’.

The picture displays the excitement and joy in these loyalists’ faces. But was it a victory, or were they deceived by their own politicians who sought political advantage rather than tell their voters of the need to compromise?

Just six months after this photo the UK government were in indirect talks with the IRA at Feakle – not really the success unionism was looking for.  It took another 24 years of horrible violence and suffering before Northern Ireland reached a place where we could return to an agreement (the Good Friday Agreement) that was remarkably close to what was agreed at Sunningdale. This agreement was eventually accepted by the DUP, but only when they got to share power with Sinn Féin, rather than the SDLP they could have shared power with at Sunningdale. Why is this relevant?

Because at the moment the DUP are once more failing to tell loyalists difficult truths about the need for compromise.

Like a teenage girl who is secretly happy with the security provided by her parents’ insistence that she must be home, safe and relatively sober by midnight, the DUP pretend to be furious when overruled by Westminster on difficult issues like parades, Irish Language and equal marriage, but they always find it easy to move on and continue in government. However, sometimes their failure to be honest with supporters about the need to compromise can have consequences.

In 1974 no-one expected the loyalist show of strength which collapsed Sunningdale to lead the UK government into talks with the IRA and after 24 years of violence to see Ian Paisley share power with Sinn Féin, but that was the result.  Similarly, if the DUP do not manage the expectations of their supporters on the Northern Ireland Protocol, they may not be able to restore Stormont by Christmas and the outcome may not be predictable or to our liking.

Those who harbour a belief that the UK will reopen the whole Brexit deal to cater for the electoral needs of the DUP could find that sympathy for unionism within England evaporates after a long hot summer.


Belfast BT6

Irish state taking over academia

The plan of the Irish government for third-level education is abysmal. Firstly, there is no commitment to reducing the student fees. Secondly, the funding is less than half of what our universities need. Thirdly, the plan comes with strings attached through the HEA Bill 2022, which is essentially a government takeover to control academia. This outcome should not surprise us. Our unions asked for the minimum, and they got the minimum. Academics fear repercussions if they speak out. Our colleges stayed silent. The student movement is extremely weak in Ireland, so are the trade unions. Senior management never challenges the government either, preferring to toe the party line. Not only does the plan not include a reduction in the student fees, the state is taking over academia. In the over 300-page bill, the ‘minister’ is mentioned 356 times. He holds sway over universities’ equality policy. The same cabinet that is gifting away the National Maternity Hospital to the Church will now hold this power. The minister approves the budget of universities and the same neo-liberal government, that has decimated funding for our universities, will now be able to control its finances. He will handpick people on governing bodies of universities. The same academic, student and staff voices who are now dissenting will be finally muzzled as state, corporate and university leaders will dominate the soon-to-be butchered governing bodies. It is a crisis that the government themselves have created, and are now stepping in as saviours to fix it. They will not. Students and staff on the ground will be the most affected. The government promised no student loan system, but they cannot be trusted – they are playing the long game. Now that they will control academia, their policies cannot be stopped. We will be pushed to precarity. In line with government policy, there is not a single mention of mental health funding within the plan. Who controls the money will control the policy, small courses will be cut and programmes will be merged. Academics will lose their jobs. Our failure to challenge this all ties into a culture where we work with the system timidly, and demand the absolute minimum, in a political strategy where compromise is considered saint and confrontation is discouraged. We staff and students keep compromising, and compromising, until we compromise ourselves into a neo-liberal abyss. We cannot compromise any longer.


Students 4Change, Dublin 8

Latin blather

Trite it maybe but nothing describes the ongoing protocol debate better than it being an enigma wrapped up in a riddle. This is simply due to ignorance of the subject by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Michelle O’Neill, who have failed to present what little they do know of this complex subject to an enquiring electorate.

Just how ridiculous is a regulation that a truck crossing from northern Ireland to the Republic requires 700 pages of documentation, and as if to emphasise this absurdity some of the descriptors, especially in animal foods, have to be in Latin. Yes Latin.

Neither do our two leaders seem familiar with Article 16 of the protocol, otherwise they would have informed the electorate that if its application, “leads to serious economic difficulties that are liable to persist or to diversion of trade, the EU or the U K may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures”. Its very inclusion in the protocol signed by Britain, correctly assumed that there would be trouble ahead, with the north of Ireland bearing the brunt.

While this blight exists in the community our leaders recite their same old tired soundbites

If the Prussian officer at Sevastopol felt the soldiers were lions led by ‘donkeys’ he should have been here during the protocol debate.


Derry City

Peppa Pig for prime minister

Who could ever replace Boris Johnson? One option might be a job share, with Peppa Pig alongside Boris Johnson as UK PM. Boris could keep on doing the Ken Dodd-type comic pieces he already excels at so marvellously. Peppa Pig could handle serious PM speeches, where words of sober sense to groups like the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) were needed. Peppa Pig might even mention Boris if the CBI speech needed lightening up.


Belfast BT5