Latest Stormont political crisis has 1990s time-warp feel

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The consequences of Mike Nesbitt pulling the UUP out of government remain unclear

During the long months when the dark budget cloud hung over Stormont, the one silver lining it was possible to point to is that the nature of the problem - disagreement over welfare policy - showed how much the landscape had changed.

The parties were at loggerheads, but over social and economic issues, not paramilitaries and the border.

Not so the current crisis, that has the feel of a 1990s time-warp about it.

IRA activity, guns and government and unmasking the true identity of supposed anti-drugs vigilantes - we have seen it all before.

Last time, the pressure on the moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) led to its eclipse by the hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Intensive

Read full article Latest Stormont political crisis has 1990s time-warp feel

Budget to have Northern Ireland welfare reform impact

George Osborne with the red box
Image caption George Osborne made only a glancing reference to Northern Ireland during his budget

George Osborne made only a glancing reference to Northern Ireland and the government's hopes of delivering the Stormont House Agreement.

But his budget promises to have an impact on the chances of the Stormont politicians' extricating themselves from their current welfare reform trap.

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Greece debt crisis to have political impact in Ireland

Head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sinn Féin has close links to Greek ruling party Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras

Back in January, I noted Sinn Féin's close links with Greece's Syriza concluding that "the next couple of years should establish whether Syriza's policies represent a new radical way forward for Europe's debtor nations or lead Greece into even more dire financial straits.

"Whatever happens in Greece, good or bad, is certain to inform the debate back in both Dublin and Belfast."

Read full article Greece debt crisis to have political impact in Ireland

Brexit: Concern over possible consequences for the Irish border

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister David Cameron met in London last week for talks that addressed the UK's referendum on EU membership and other issues Image copyright PA
Image caption Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister David Cameron met in London last week for talks that addressed the UK's referendum on EU membership and other issues

Covering the talks between David Cameron and Enda Kenny in Downing Street last week, it was obvious that Irish concerns about any potential British withdrawal from the European Union occupied more of the two prime ministers' time than their discussion of what might happen next in Stormont's budgetary saga.

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny's language sounded more diplomatic than that of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Mr Ahern told the BBC any British exit from the EU would be "senseless" and set Northern Ireland back "light years". But given the close trading, social and cultural relations between Britain and Ireland, it is obvious any taoiseach will be worried about what would be a far reaching change to the status quo.

'Special position'

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The strange case of Lord Maginnis

Lord Maginnis Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Maginnis told his local paper recently that, given the challenge posed by Scottish nationalism, he had decided to side with the Conservatives

David Cameron may have secured an outright majority in the House of Commons, but in the Lords the Conservatives face a trickier arithmetical task pushing through all their policies.

So you might think they would be glad of an extra vote.

Read full article The strange case of Lord Maginnis

A hole in Stormont's welfare reform safety net?

Arlene Foster
Image caption Arlene Foster's leaked finance paper warns of a possible £2.8bn cut to the Stormont budget

Arlene Foster's latest finance paper increases the pressure on Stormont politicians as they continue to lock horns over welfare reform.

Until now the parties had been under the impression they had the benefit of a safety net that would allow Permanent Secretary of the Finance Department, David Sterling to pass an emergency 95% budget if an act has not passed through the assembly by the end of July.

Read full article A hole in Stormont's welfare reform safety net?

NI general election campaign packed with incident

House of Commons
Image caption The local race for the House of Commons was packed with incident

While it hasn't been an epic encounter like the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement or the following struggles for dominance within unionism and nationalism, I don't agree that the 2015 Westminster campaign has been lacklustre.

At times it felt disjointed as the local parties fought over different territory.

Read full article NI general election campaign packed with incident

Same-sex marriage: Should NI voters get to decide in a referendum?

Same-sex marriage figures on wedding cake Image copyright PA
Image caption MLAs have rejected the proposal to introduce gay marriage in four votes at the Northern Ireland Assembly, but should members of the public have their say on the issue?

So, if voters in the Republic of Ireland are going to the polls to give their views on same-sex marriage on 22 May, why shouldn't their counterparts north of the border get the same opportunity?

That's what Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness wants, and both the SDLP and Alliance are prepared to give the idea a fair wind.

Read full article Same-sex marriage: Should NI voters get to decide in a referendum?

Election 2015: Why would next government woo DUP?

Proposal Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Will Conservatives or Labour make a proposal to the DUP?

It looked for a while that the most remarkable aspect of a relatively low-key campaign could be two of the Stormont parties apparently breaking the rules over their manifesto launches.

First, UKIP left itself open to a dressing down from the Assembly Commission over its use of a committee room to promote its local policies .

Read full article Election 2015: Why would next government woo DUP?

Welfare and election 2015: Crossing swords over welfare reform?

Cash Image copyright PA
Image caption Sinn Féin withdrew their support for a deal on welfare reform in March

Last week, the DUP and Sinn Féin crossed swords over the wisdom of delaying finding a solution to Stormont's welfare reform difficulties until after next month's Westminster election.

The DUP leader Peter Robinson said that "by refusing to settle this matter until after the election, Sinn Féin will cause further cuts to public services. No doubt when services are cut Sinn Féin will, without embarrassment, blame everyone else".

Read full article Welfare and election 2015: Crossing swords over welfare reform?