Northern Ireland

The political A to Z of 2018 in Northern Ireland

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Media captionGareth Gordon takes a brief look at the political A to Z of 2018 in Northern Ireland

Battle lines were drawn over Brexit and the backstop, the assembly chamber remained in cold storage but the Stormont senate chamber revealed the secrets of RHI.

Will there ever be a quiet year in the political life of Northern Ireland?

A is for Agreement

Just how close did Sinn Féin and the DUP come to a deal to put Stormont back together again in February?

Very close it seems. Sinn Féin claim they had a "draft agreement" with the DUP leadership.

Then Theresa May turned up to seal it and things fell apart (a sign of things to come perhaps).

B is for Backst.....(oh forget that) is for (big) Balls

In a not very deferential way DUP special adviser Timothy Cairns told his minister, Jonathan Bell, "now you're going to listen to me, big balls" in the presence of top civil servants.

The RHI Inquiry (see J is for Judge) heard the row happened ahead of a meeting in London with the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd.

Other low points included allegations made by Mr Cairns that Mr Bell tried to break his finger and swing a punch at him (see T is for Tiffany's).

Image copyright PACEMAKER

C is for Cookbook

The now former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams no longer has as much on his plate.

But a cookbook? The Negotiator's Cookbook no less.

And if he knows as much about cooking as he does about negotiating etc...

Michelle O'Neill, Carál Ní Chuilín and Gerry Kelly all contributed recipes. Not surprisingly, some claimed it was in bad taste....

D is for Dee

Considering some of the things Arlene Foster has been accused of, ruining the "street cred" of a leading loyalist is maybe not the most serious.

Image caption Dee Stitt pictured with Arlene Foster in 2016

But considering the criticism the former first minister took for keeping Dee Stitt in place as chief executive of the organisation Charter NI it may seem a little ungrateful to say the least.

Mr Stitt hit out after resigning from the post. He also told the BBC Mrs Foster wouldn't be at the top of his Christmas card list. No doubt the feeling is mutual.

E is for e-mail

Journalists thought the Northern Ireland Office was being unusually open when they received an e-mail which contained the full briefing notes meant for Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley (see K is for Karen) before a visit.

For example, if asked about calls for a border poll she was advised to say "we continue to believe that a majority in Northern Ireland are committed to the union, and therefore the tests for a border poll have not been met".

It all seemed run of the mill but, given what Mrs Bradley later admitted to not knowing before taking up the job, nonetheless timely. A spokesperson later blamed "human error" for sending the e-mail to the media.

F is for Fianna Fáil

When is a candidate launch not a candidate launch?

When it's a Fianna Fáil candidate launch in Tyrone.

One minute former Sinn Féin councillor Sorcha McAnespy was unveiled as a future FF candidate to contest next May's council elections, the next she was not.

Image copyright David Young/PA
Image caption Sorcha McAnespy will be stand in next year's local council poll

Central office said it had made "no decision" on contesting the election and was in talks with the SDLP.

The two party figures who attended the launch that wasn't a launch - TD Éamon Ó Cuiv and Senator Mark Daly - were later disciplined. Sinn Féin must be shaking in their boots.

G is for Grubby

In one of the few claims surrounding RHI that no-one will dispute, former DUP spad Timothy Cairns said at one point during the inquiry "that's politics I'm afraid - it's a grubby world".

The inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin replied that was something of "an understatement".

H is for Hard Border

What you get if the UK exits the European Union without a deal - (oh no it isn't says the DUP and Brexiteers, oh yes it is says Dublin and various political parties who don't want the UK to go).

I is for Incinerator

In case no-one has noticed, Northern Ireland currently has no ministers to make decisions.

So a senior civil servant decided to live dangerously and make one. He approved a controversial £240m incinerator at Mallusk. The High Court then ruled he had no power to do so.

Even more paralysis followed.

The Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions Bill is meant to give civil servants "clarity". We'll see.

Image copyright PACEMAKER

J is for Judge Coghlin

A living breathing advertisement for retirement being overrated.

The former Appeal Court judge is now a cult figure as a result of the way he has chaired the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

Highlights:

  • Saying the DUP was run in a "rather unpleasant" way
  • Questioning whether the department run by the current DUP leader Arlene Foster was "dysfunctional"
  • Accusing two Sinn Féin and DUP ministers of fighting like "alley cats".

His final report may not live up to the hype. Then again it probably will.

K is for Karen

What qualifications do you need to become secretary of state for Northern Ireland?

Aside from an unhealthy interest in masochism a basic knowledge of our politics would be a help.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Karen Bradley on a pre-Christmas walkabout in Belfast city centre

Perhaps what's most surprising about Karen Bradley's disarmingly honest confession that she initially didn't understand that nationalists don't vote for unionists and unionists don't vote for nationalists, is that she admitted it.

She began trending on Twitter #ThingsKarenBradleyNeverKnew

She later said the remark was taken out of context. Without explaining quite how.

L is for Loaf

The Sinn Féin MP for West Tyrone Barry McElduff had a habit of posting online pictures of himself with unusual objects.

So when he appeared on Twitter with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head it didn't seem that off.

At first.

Then it emerged the picture appeared on the anniversary of the Kingsmills massacre in which 10 Protestant workmen were murdered by the IRA in 1976 and a storm began.

He eventually resigned as an MP and subsequently described the incident as a "quirk of his personality", claiming he had not known it was the anniversary of the killings.

M is for May

Who would be Theresa May?

Embattled from all sides, EU leaders, significant swathes of her own party and the DUP.

And if that's not bad enough, made to stand in a cowshed outside Bangor before a herd of reporters who seemed no more certain why they were there than she was.

N is for Nokes

As in Caroline Nokes, immigration minister (not to be confused with John Noakes, former Blue Peter Presenter).

Her appearance before Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was described as a "car crash" by the Shadow NI Secretary Tony Lloyd.

Highlights included admitting she never read the Good Friday Agreement as she was "probably giving birth" when it was signed, admittedly 20 years ago.

She also revealed she had never visited the Irish border.

Later in the year she visited fishermen in Kilkeel. The area's Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard accused her of snubbing him.

O is for On The Runs

The existence of so-called on the runs letters emerged in 2013 after collapse of the trial of Donegal man John Downey for the murder of four soldiers in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing.

It transpired he'd been sent a letter saying he was not wanted for arrest, questioning or charge by the police.

The legal status of the letters sent to Mr Downey and others has always been a point of dispute.

All the more so when John Downey was re-arrested in November for questioning about the murder of two UDR men in Enniskillen in 1972.

Image copyright Michael Cooper/PA
Image caption Ian Paisley and Arlene Foster sharing a laugh at the DUP conference in November

P is for Paisley

Where to start?

  • Two paid-for luxury family holidays in Sri Lanka
  • A tearful apology
  • An enforced 30-day holiday from the green benches in Westminster courtesy of the House of Commons Standards Committee
  • A petition which could have removed him (temporarily) as MP but didn't because it was not signed by 10% of his constituents

Ian Paisley later claimed "a smaller man than me would have crumbled".

It then emerged he received a second complimentary holiday, this time in the Maldives.

This journey isn't over.

Q is for Quit

Some do some don't.

Barry McElduff did (See L is for Loaf).

Ian Paisley did not after his punishment over the Sri Lanka affair.

R is for Record

Can Stormont do nothing right?

Image caption We were nearly record breakers - but it wasn't to be

There were we about to claim a global title for the longest stretch without a peacetime government when the Guinness Book of Records said we didn't qualify because it's a devolved administration rather than a sovereign state.

So Belgium keeps the title, which no doubt makes up for failing to win the World Cup.

S is for Shambles

Take your pick.

T is for Tiffany's

Hard to know what's more embarrassing.

Being accused of being so drunk you fell asleep in a New York bar.

Image copyright Paramount Pictures/getty images
Image caption Breakfast at Tiffany's - the movie that inspired the song

Or the revelation that you sang the song "Breakfast At Tiffany's" by one-hit wonders Deep Blue Something as you were helped home from said bar.

Former Economy Minister Jonathan Bell was accused of the musical misstep by his former special adviser Timothy Cairns (See B is for Balls and G is for Grubby) during evidence to the RHI Inquiry.

U is for United Ireland

Thanks to Brexit a united Ireland is now firmly on the political agenda.

Whether it happens or not is a different thing.

In the immediate aftermath of the UK's vote to leave the EU Sinn Féin called for a border poll. And they continue to do so with metronomic regularity.

Just as regularly the British Government continues to say the conditions for calling one do not currently exist.

Just how frictionless the border is after Brexit could decide if that position continues.

V is for Varadkar

At various times the taoiseach (Irish prime minister) was called a "nutcase", "vile" and accused of behaving in a way that was "despicable, low and rotten" - and that was just by Sammy Wilson.

Brexit led to a relationship which was anything but frictionless.

Image copyright Reuters

At least the East Antrim MP apologised for the "nutcase " comment saying "upon reflection, I should have said Leo Varadkar's EU policies defy logic rather than the language I used".

A rare venture into diplomacy. It didn't last.

W is for Wheel Clamp

Could as easily be B for the bolt-cutters which Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly used to cut a wheel clamp off his car before driving off.

All of this happened outside the Belfast gym he was using.

So why was Gerry Kelly carrying bolt-cutters people asked?

He wasn't, he said, but borrowed them from the gym.

He later agreed to pay a fine to the clamping company and for the damage to the clamp.

Expressing regret he added: "I shouldn't be above the law and neither should anybody else."

X is for (some elections)

With the exception of the West Tyrone by-election caused by the resignation of Barry McElduff (see L is for Loaf), 2018 was relatively poll-free by recent standards.

That will change next May when the local government elections (yes 1, 2, 3 etc ) will provide a new barometer of party strengths.

Unless, that is, there's a snap general election before then.

Y is for Yes

What a ridiculous concept. I mean whoever uses THAT word around here?

Z is for Zero

The number of days the Stormont Assembly sat last year and that doesn't look like changing any time soon.