Budget to have Northern Ireland welfare reform impact

George Osborne with the red box
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.

MLAs won't have to give their approval to the chancellor's limit on child tax credits, as taxation remains a Westminster responsibility.

However other proposals, such as the planned reduction in the benefits cap to £20,000, are devolved. Because of the stand-off over previous welfare changes, Northern Ireland has not yet implemented the existing £26,000 cap.

So a £20,000 cap would either require a Stormont deal - which is hard to envisage - or direct legislation by the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

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Greece debt crisis to have political impact in Ireland

Head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras
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
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'

Read full article Brexit: Concern over possible consequences for the Irish border

The strange case of Lord Maginnis

Lord Maginnis
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
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
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
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
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
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?

David Cameron finds changed political landscape in Northern Ireland

David Cameron and his wife Samantha were shown props and backdrops from the Game of Thrones TV series during their visit to Belfast
David Cameron and his wife Samantha were shown props and backdrops from the Game of Thrones TV series during their visit to Belfast

David Cameron's Game of Thrones visit to Belfast ticked a "four nations" box for the Conservatives.

But it also emphasised how much has changed in the last five years.

Read full article David Cameron finds changed political landscape in Northern Ireland