Northern Ireland

Easy as ABC - a guide to politics in Northern Ireland

It's as easy as ABC... or is it?

In Northern Ireland, the sceptics say, we have a problem for every solution.

Political life ended in 2014 as it did in 2013 - locked in negotiation, trying to reach agreement on some of the most contentious issues.

Lots happened between those two sets of talks - here's an A-Z ... the local equivalent of the London taxi driver's guide, The Knowledge.

A is for Anna Lo - Whether expressing her desire for a united Ireland, revealing she'd suffered racist abuse, or announcing she was thinking of leaving Northern Ireland following a row over Islamophobia involving a north Belfast Pastor and Peter Robinson, it was a big year for the UK's first ever parliamentarian of Chinese origin. Add in a massive campaign of support on social media and a phone call from Nick Clegg.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Racist abuse; a united Ireland and a row over Islam: It was a big year for Alliance's Anna Lo

B is for B@$£*!"ds - Bastards isn't a word which normally appears in end-of-year political round-ups but, hey, if it's good enough for Gerry Adams etc... He is, after all, the man who once said power-sharing would be "a battle-a-day".

C is for Cake - Gay cake that is. In a big year for political foodies (see Y is for Yoghurt) Asher's Bakery provoked a storm when it declined an order from a gay rights activist. The Equality Commission, Catholic Church, irate unionists, and gay rights groups, not to mention various lawyers, are now in the mix ( -ing bowl).

Image copyright Alliance
Image caption The cake was ordered for an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia event in May, and another bakery accepted the order after Ashers declined

D is for Deal - Haunted by the ghost of Christmas past (or should that be Christmas Haass), the planet's hardest working politicians once more selflessly gave up some of their festive holidays to play their favourite game, Deal or no Deal. And what do you know - with the future of devolution, no less, riding on the outcome, they pulled it off. Or at least they did enough to keep the Treasury wolf from Stormont's door. Plaudits all round - until the nit-picking starts in the New Year.

E is for Expenses - Allegations of bogus research companies, questionable mileage claims, and excessive rental agreements played well with a public which has become cynical about Stormont. Change is on the way. Again.

F is for Fracking - And also for Fermanagh which will not now see any drilling for shale gas after Arlene Foster terminated the licence of the company involved. It is threatening legal action (see Cake)

Image caption Fracking protesters staged vigils at the site near Belcoo

G is for Golf - one thing Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness DO agree on, especially where it involves going to the Ryder Cup when the Alliance Party thinks they should be at home agreeing a budget.

H is for Horse (Trojan) - When Gerry Adams dipped into Greek mythology to make a point to an audience in Enniskillen he certainly came up with a classic. The Trojan horse in this case was "equality" and unionists everywhere said the cat was out of the bag (if that's not an animal analogy too far). He later said he "partly" regretted using the phrase.

I is for Impasse - Take your pick, we have so many to choose from.

J is for Jim (Allister) - In the absence of an official opposition the TUV leader is quite happy to perform the role on his own to the annoyance of various Assembly Speakers. His 76,000 votes in the European election mean the DUP cannot ignore him either. (See T is for Thug)

K is for Ku Klux Klan - The dogs in the street know Northern Irish lamp posts come replete with flags. But the sight of one featuring an Aryan eagle and the KKK symbol in east Belfast was a step too far. It even caused an outbreak of agreement between Peter Robinson and Naomi Long (see L is for Long). But like the offending flag that didn't last...

L is for Long: Flags are not the only thing in the Alliance deputy leader's sights. After toppling one Robinson in East Belfast she must now do it again in next year's Westminster election. That's Gavin Robinson (no relation). Could be the bitterest election contest we have seen for years.

M is for Maíria (Cahill) - The niece of one of the IRA's icons opened a major can of worms when she claimed she had been raped by a suspected IRA man as a teenager, and that the IRA later helped to cover up the alleged abuse. Sinn Féin leaders found themselves engulfed in claims that suspected republican paedophiles were moved across the border. The party said many of the attacks were politically motivated, but it has struggled to defend itself and the controversy has a long way to run.

Image caption Maíria Cahill waived her right to anonymity to speak to BBC Spotlight about how the IRA interrogated her and forced her to confront the man she claimed had raped her as a teenager

N is for NI21 - Take two inseparable media-friendly politicians; get them to form a new pro-union party for the 21st century which claims to "aspire to better" and what could possibly go wrong? Just about everything you could think of. Basil McCrea and John McCallister are no longer inseparable nor friendly (at least not with each other).

O is for On The Runs - The emergence of hundreds of secret "comfort" letters issued to republican terrorism suspects briefly threatened the devolved institutions and sparked a major political row which continues to rumble in the background. Further proof that Northern Ireland's political present is still at the mercy of its past.

Image caption John Downey said he had been given previous assurance - a so-called On the Run letter

P is for Paisley - Arguably the major unionist figure of the past 50 years died in September aged 88. His last public act, months earlier, was to eviscerate many former colleagues in the DUP and Free Presbyterian Church. His funeral was a private family affair and his memorial service as remarkable for who was not there as who was. Its often said of the dead: "We'll never see their likes again." In this case, it is probably true.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Ian Paisley, arguably the major unionist figure of the past 50 years, died in September

Q is for Queen - After THAT visit, THAT handshake, came THAT state banquet complete with Martin McGuinness. One is certainly doing One's bit for Anglo/Irish relations.

Image caption Dinner with the Queen: Martin McGuinness arrives for the state banquet at Windsor Castle

R is for Referendum - The UK came close to breaking up. And it wasn't Northern Ireland that threatened it, but rather Scotland. In the end, the result was more comfortable than David Cameron, Gordon Brown and many others at one point feared. But close enough to suggest that it is worth the nationalists trying again soon, especially if promises made are broken by Westminster.

S is for Sinéad O'Connor - We know Sinn Féin in the Republic of Ireland is evolving but allowing its newest high profile member to call for a leadership change is quite a shift for Ireland's most tightly disciplined party. As one tabloid put it: "Nothing Compares to Mary Lou."

Image caption Sinead O'Connor is Sinn Féin's newest high-profile member

T is for Thug - In an outstanding year for intemperate language, this could have won the Oscar before Gerry Adams' late intervention. Sammy Wilson's description of his former colleague caused uproar. Mr Allister, no shrinking violet himself, appeared hurt - at least he did when Gregory Campbell, full of mock sincerity, asked him if he was. The hearing of the social development committee was suspended but that was the only repercussion - unless you count the damage to Stormont's reputation.

Image caption Sammy Wilson , a former government minister, called the TUV leader Jim Allister a "thug" during the hearing

U is for Unionist unity - Hard to know which is more surprising - the fact that all the unionist parties managed to work together over the north Belfast parading impasse or that the unofficial truce lasted so long. It unravelled in December with the TUV, UKIP and the PUP accusing the two main parties of breaking a pledge not to negotiate on parades until the Ardoyne situation was resolved.

V is for Vacuum - Miraculously we haven't got one and may not be getting one anytime soon (see D is for Deal).

W is for Welfare Reform - The single biggest issue threatening Stormont's stability was finally overcome - somehow (see D is for Deal). Awkward customers, however, will wonder why it couldn't have happened much sooner, like without it denuding the executive coffers of £214m in fines.

X is for X-rated (See B is for B@$£*!"ds) - Enough already.

Y is for Yoghurt - This one is, appropriately, all about culture. Irish culture. Language in particular. Gregory Campbell claimed Sinn Féin use it in the Assembly chamber to make a political point so he dreamt up his own version - curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer- to make a political point. So good (he thought) he named it twice, this time at the DUP conference. Sinn Féin and many others didn't like it the first time. They really really didn't like it the second.

Image caption Gregory Campbell dreamt up his own language

Z is for Zzzz - As in, time to get some - before more rows over welfare reform; talks about talks not going anywhere before the General Election; and much rumination over voter apathy. And that's just January. Happy new year!