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Political Sectaranism in Northern Ireland today

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 11th, 2022 at 11:53:50 PM EST

Unionist sense of entitlement still exerted in UK politics

In 1933 Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough and Prime Minister of Northern Ireland said the following: "I appreciate the great difficulty experienced by some of them [Protestants and Orangemen] in procuring suitable Protestant labour, but I would point out that the Roman Catholics are endeavouring to get in everywhere and are out with all their force and might to destroy the power and constitution of Ulster."

A few days ago, in comments later endorsed by DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, former Labour minister Baroness Hoey wrote: "There are very justified concerns that many professional vocations have become dominated by those of a nationalist persuasion, and this positioning of activists is then used to exert influence on those in power".

Read more... (18 comments, 528 words in story)

Alcoholism and drink prices

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jan 10th, 2022 at 08:31:05 PM EST

Like nearly all countries, Ireland has an addiction problem with alcohol, smoking, prescribed drugs, illicit drugs and gambling the chief offenders. Many drugs addicts are "polydrug" abusers, consuming alcohol, prescribed drugs or whatever illicit drugs come to hand fairly indiscriminately. Sometimes the addiction is as much social as physiological or neurological. Sometimes the motivation is as much self-medication or self-harm as pleasure.

The Irish government has just introduced "Minimum Pricing" for alcohol for retail outlets. This will increase the minimum price of (for example) a bottle of wine from €5 to €7.40.

Many aspects of the legislation I can agree with, such as the ban on multipack or 2 for 1 promotions designed to increase purchases beyond what the consumer originally intended to buy. However the minimum pricing itself I think a poorly thought out measure, and so I had a letter published by both the Irish Times and the Independent saying the following:

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The development of the modern "Irish Pub"

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 2nd, 2022 at 08:27:08 PM EST

Being a craft brewing aficionado, Helen wouldn't have approved, but in her honour I have decided to tell a brewing related yarn...

David Gluckman's book "That S*it Will Never Sell" tells the stories behind the drinks he claims to have invented or worked on, including Le Piat d'Or, Aqua Libra, Sheridan's, Tanqueray Ten, Smirnoff Black, Bailey's and many others. The Irish Times published an extract some years ago about his involvement in the development of Bottled Draft Guinness and Guinness Light.

One of the stories I have never seen told anywhere is the development of the modern "Irish Pub" concept, surely one of the greatest marketing successes of all time, precisely because it isn't generally recognised as a marketing story in the first place.

Irish pubs have of course existed for centuries in Ireland and countries with concentrations of Irish emigrants. But it first became a commercial marketing concept in the early 1990's when Guinness sponsored a programme to encourage the development of Irish themed pubs on a grand scale. Today there are many thousands of "Irish Pubs" all over the world, and as a retail category it has become as ubiquitous as an Italian Pizzeria or an American burger joint.

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United Ireland - a marriage of give and take?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Dec 27th, 2021 at 12:40:20 AM EST

Fintan O'Toole has written a piece arguing that Believers in a united Ireland without trade-offs are as bad as Brexiteers. (Regrettably subscriber only). In it he argues that those who believe that a united Ireland will simply be a takeover of the north by the south are as guilty of wishful thinking as the Brexiteers.

So far so good. However he then goes on to compare any such union to a marriage which requires a lot of give and take to work well. I don't think that is a good analogy because there are many different strands of opinion both north and south, and unionists simply have no incentive to engage in any negotiation prior to a vote under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, as any such discussion would only make a vote for re-unification more likely.

The Irish Times has published my letter in response (see also below the fold).

Read more... (43 comments, 873 words in story)

Happy Christmas to all!

by Frank Schnittger Sat Dec 25th, 2021 at 09:52:15 AM EST

On behalf of European Tribune, may be wish all of our readers and contributors here a happy Christmas, season's greetings, winter solstice or whatever way you like to characterise or frame it yourself!  

It's been a tough year for most of us, with Covid and associated social restrictions making life difficult for many of us, and tragic, awful, or lonely for some. Here's to wishing for you that next year will offer more hope, health and happiness to all, with more effective vaccines and treatments for those who fall ill.

The pandemic has also reminded us of the importance of our social bonds as friends, relatives and citizens and the dangers of the extreme individualism, selfishness, egotism and narcissism of the few who refuse to accept any of their social responsibilities.

In an age of consumerism, perhaps the best gift we can give each other is the space and respect we need to keep well. Keep safe, good friends, until we can meet up again!

Comments >> (8 comments)

From oven ready to de-Frosted

by Frank Schnittger Mon Dec 20th, 2021 at 12:38:30 PM EST

The gradual collapse of the Johnson regime as his lies and contradictions catch up with him are a wonder to behold. First his rather splendid oven ready deal with which he achieved an 80 seat majority has been shown to have contained some rather obvious flaws. Former adviser Dominic Cummings and DUP MP Ian Paisley Jnr. have revealed that he never intended to abide by it in the first place.

Second his "levelling up" agenda has been revealed as a scam as the budget increased taxes on the lowest paid while offering more inducements to the better off. Fantasy projects such as his bridge from Scotland to N. Ireland were never intended as anything more than a symbolic commitment to closer links between Britain and Ireland and weren't even taken seriously by the DUP.

But what has probably done for him, even among his own supporters, is his rather loose association with consistency, truth and probity in office. The Downing Street parties in breach of lockdown restrictions applied to everyone else; the undisclosed, privately financed and extravagant refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment; and his botched attempt to knobble the regulator when she accused former cabinet Minister, Owen Patterson, of using his position to benefit companies paying him hundreds of thousand a year in "consultancy fees" are added to a long list of constitutional and procedural indiscretions.

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The weird and wonderful

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 17th, 2021 at 05:19:42 PM EST

The weird and wonderful ways of British diplomacy were again on display with the unexpected, unrequested, and unexplained decision by the British government to waive all checks on goods arriving from the island of Ireland "until further notice". Exports from Ireland to Britain have been booming (+20%) compared to last year, with imports from Britain slumping by 32%.

Some believe the decision is because UK customs systems are simply not ready to process this level of exports. Another theory is that the Johnson government is concerned import controls might add to the shortages of food and other goods being faced by British consumers. The UK imports almost half the food it consumes with 26% of its total food consumption coming from the EU. More food shortages would not be a good look for the Johnson government.

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Irish women's rugby

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 15th, 2021 at 10:45:31 AM EST

Irish rugby needs a ‘truth and reconciliation’ process

It's sad to see the obvious distress and discord in Irish women's rugby revealed by the letter to the government signed by 62 current and former internationals. The IRFU has rejected "the overall tenor" of the letter but must surely accept they have "lost the dressing room" as far as elite women's rugby is concerned.

The IRFU are perhaps particularly embarrassed by the letter at a time when they have just received a large subvention from the government to help them overcome their Covid related difficulties and when the men's professional game is going from strength to strength.

The lack of trust and confidence evinced by the letter signatories in those responsible for running the women's game does not bode well for the future. Perhaps it is time for a "Truth and Reconciliation" process within Irish rugby, chaired by a trusted and independent expert, to clarify the issues and map out an agreed pathway to a better future.

The many women who have given dedicated service to Irish rugby deserve no less. Irish rugby needs to rebuild the trust and confidence of a large part of its support base, and the many girls and women now taking up the sport need to be convinced they will be supported to reach their full potential. If Irish men can reach the top of the rugby world, why not our women?

Comments >> (2 comments)

Paying for Irish Unity

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 10th, 2021 at 01:06:23 PM EST

Newton Emerson writes "The truly decisive outcome of this decade will be whether voters in the Republic see through a Sinn Féin government's unity posturing, or whether their frustration is directed towards unionists." (Nationalist timeframe for unity does not stack up, Opinion & Analysis, 9th. December).  

For decades, the more extreme unionist parties have managed to shore up their voter base by scaring their voters into supporting them as otherwise "the other side" might win leading to a united Ireland. Now the boot is on the other foot and Sinn Fein are trying the same gambit, claiming a united Ireland is just around the corner if only voters would rally behind them.  

Both the DUP and SF need inter-communal tensions to remain high, as otherwise the more moderate centrist parties might grow in support. It's all a game as "those in the know" know there is no majority for a change in the status quo right now, and even in the south, voters might think twice if asked to stump up the €12 Billion p.a. subvention the North currently receives from Westminster.

The confidence that a united Ireland might be closer, post Brexit, is not based on anything that is happening in Ireland right now, but on what has happened with the rise of English and Scottish nationalisms.  If the UK government were to suffer a post Brexit economic collapse, they might think twice about paying the €12 Billion subsidy. It is, after all, greater than their erstwhile much-hated net contribution to the EU.

So, what would "soft unionist" voters do if the €12 Billion subsidy were to be substantially reduced? Would they accept an offer of €6 Billion from the south if the alternative was no subsidy at all?  Coincidentally, the NHS budget for N. Ireland is currently about €7 Billion. Would unionists vote for a united Ireland if that was the only way they could retain the NHS?

Perhaps N. Ireland voters might also ponder whether the North's economy could grow as fast as the south and become independently viable if under similar governance? Either way, for the foreseeable future, a United Ireland will only come about when soft unionists realise they have no other option, and that depends on how long Britain can, and is willing to continue the subsidy.

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The depolarization of Northern Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 3rd, 2021 at 02:09:05 PM EST

Despite the best efforts of Lord Frost and the Tory party, there are growing signs that Northern Ireland is rejecting their polemics about the Protocol and coming to live with it as a fact of post-Brexit life. Although no one is happy with increased customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland, there is a growing realization that Northern Ireland's unfettered access to the Single Market offers it a unique opportunity within the UK to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit.

Northern Ireland hasn't suffered the goods shortages seen in Britain, trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland is booming, and British statistics have now belatedly confirmed that the Northern Ireland economy is recovering faster than Scotland or Wales. But the most remarkable change is the U-Turn currently being performed by DUP Leader, Jeffrey Donaldson.

Read more... (18 comments, 1046 words in story)

They think it's about Northern Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 11th, 2021 at 05:14:24 PM EST

Over the years I have made a point of reading Northern Ireland unionist political commentators in order to get a sense of what they are about. The Slugger O'Toole website is a good indicator of non-aligned or moderate unionist thinking - mostly sympathetic to the Alliance party - and Newton Emerson and Alex Kane are unionists linked to the Ulster Unionist party which ran Northern Ireland prior to the ascendency of the Paisleyite DUP. I have not yet found a politically literate commentator linked to the DUP.

Unionism in Northern Ireland is an evolving political force slowly coming to terms with the fact that they can no longer command a majority of the electorate even if that majority is still broadly in favour of the status quo union with Britain. There are many strands to unionism, from the fundamentalist protestant Free Presbyterians of the the DUP to the agnostic liberals of the Alliance Party who just want Northern Ireland to like any other part of the UK.

But they all seem to think that the world revolves around unionists and what they want and feel they need, and find it hard to comprehend that the world around N. Ireland has changed and might have other priorities. Thus the debate around the Protocol within unionism has been all about retaining as much as possible of the free trade they had with Britain while also retaining full access to the Single market. Some even think that the Boris Johnson regime shares their concerns.

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UK to trigger Article 16?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 4th, 2021 at 08:41:10 PM EST

Growing fears that British government will shortly invoke article 16 of protocol

There are growing fears in Dublin and Brussels that the British government will shortly invoke article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, a move that officials say would plunge EU-UK relations, and British-Irish ties, into deep crisis.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued an unprecedentedly blunt warning to the British government in the Dáil on Wednesday, describing any move to trigger article 16 as "irresponsible . . . unwise . . . reckless", and saying that it would have "far-reaching implications" for the relationship between Dublin and London.


However, Irish officials fear that the triggering of article 16 could rupture relations between the two sides and lead to retaliatory action from the EU, ultimately triggering suspension of the free trade agreement and the introduction of tariffs between the EU and UK.

Read more... (31 comments, 1868 words in story)

Off-loading the costs of climate action onto others

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 1st, 2021 at 11:06:15 AM EST

One of the privileges of going to university is that you get to know some very interesting people. One such is Alan Matthews, now professor emeritus of European agricultural policy at Trinity College Dublin. In an industry noted for its short-sighted self interest, his work shone a light on the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on third world producers faced with the price impact of large quantities of subsidised European exports being dumped on their markets.

European farmers were being subsidised to over-produce, and their surplus product was off-loaded onto third world countries with European taxpayers and third world producers facing the cost. Farmers are not alone, of course, in seeking to off-load the costs of their income and production methods onto others, but the report which the Irish Farmers Journal commissioned from consultants KPMG is a classic of the genre of ensuring a supposedly independent report only asks the questions they wanted asked.

Alan Matthew's de-construction of the report is also a classic of critical analysis, and deservers to be read in full.

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Support for Protocol grows in N. Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 28th, 2021 at 08:40:39 AM EST

The disconnect between British government policy and rhetoric and what the people of Northern actually want grows ever wider. The ground is shifting under Lord Frost's feet and he doesn't have a democratic leg to stand on in his stand-off with the EU (not that he was ever elected to anything in the first place). A survey carried out by respected pollster Lucidtalk for a Queen's University study has found that 52% of N. Ireland adults thought  the Protocol was, on balance, "a good thing" for Northern Ireland, compared with 43 per cent in a similar survey in June.

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Taxing Property

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 27th, 2021 at 10:49:54 AM EST

Tax on vacant properties could solve housing crisis

The news that Ireland has the 10th highest housing vacancy rate in the world makes for depressing reading. The 183,000 vacant homes (excluding holiday homes) could solve our homelessness problem 30 times over and dramatically reduce the price of houses on the open market for those who cannot currently afford to buy them.

Many of these vacant properties are owned by global property and hedge funds who seek to bid up rental and purchase prices by constricting supply. At least a third are owned by older people who can no longer live in them and who need to be incentivised to make them available on the open market.

The Government claims it needs more information on why these houses are vacant before it can introduce a vacant property tax.

This is a shallow excuse to continue to favour vacant and often absentee property owners over those who need homes to live in now. It's like saying they need more information on why people work before it can introduce an income tax.

If a vacant property tax brought even half these 183,000 properties to market, it could reduce house prices and solve our housing crisis almost overnight. It's time the Government showed some urgency on this issue and incentivised these homeowners to make their properties available to those who need them most.

It's not too late to include a vacant property tax in the Finance Bill for next year. If the Government fails to do so, it must be replaced by one that will. Our young people can wait no longer.

Read more... (21 comments, 718 words in story)

Owning Brexit

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 20th, 2021 at 11:05:01 AM EST

A Northern Ireland newspaper, the Irish News, has published a letter critical of my letter of the 7th. October whch argued that the DUP wanted Brexit and now they must own its consequences. (Also published here in Brexit for Slow Learners).

Letters, Irish News, Octber 20th. (Third letter down)

Exhibiting an authoritarian mindset

In the aftermath of the EU referendum in 2016, two groups emerged on the losing side of the debate. There were those who voted `remain' but accepted the result of the ballot must be respected and acted upon. There are also those who voted `remain' but continue to undermine the democratic process.

Frank Schnittger's letter (October 7) is firmly within the latter camp. It exhibits an authoritarian mindset, ill at ease with democracy, and seeks to discredit those who supported withdrawing from the European Union. Mr Schnittger invokes the Good Friday Agreement yet appears to miss the part which states, quite clearly, that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom constitution. Rather predictably, Mr Schnittger seeks to apportion blame for the Northern Ireland Protocol at the DUP insisting "this is the Brexit they voted for" and "they must own the consequences". The question on the ballot paper in 2016 asked if the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union. So long as Northern Ireland continues to be governed by the institutions of the European Union then the result of the referendum has not been implemented.

The Withdrawal Agreement was agreed and ratified by those involved in the negotiations but so too was the Anglo-Irish Treaty. As former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan points out, changes were made to the Treaty at the request of nationalism in the years following its ratification. Does Mr Schnittger think it is unreasonable for unionism to seek the same regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Belfast BT7

I seem to have struck a nerve. My draft response, [update] just published (second letter down) is below the fold...

Read more... (18 comments, 741 words in story)

Shaming us all?

by Frank Schnittger Sat Oct 16th, 2021 at 09:09:35 AM EST

The Irish Times: Britain, the EU and the NI Protocol

A chara, - Newton Emerson writes that "the fact that Frost is tearing up his own deal is a redundant complaint" ("Irish fury over Frost seems aggravated by London taking unionism's side", Opinion & Analysis, ,October 14th).

And yet Dominic Cummings has tweeted that the UK never intended to implement the protocol and Ian Paisley jnr has confirmed that Boris Johnson told him in October 2019 that he would tear up the protocol after signing it.

What is the point of negotiating with a counterparty which cannot be trusted to implement any deal they sign? Why is the EU still negotiating with a government which has now rejected the EU proposals out of hand before they had even been published?

Fool us once, shame on us [should read "shame on you"]. Fool us twice and the shame is all ours. The EU is demeaning itself and us. - Is mise,

Read more... (31 comments, 738 words in story)

Brexit for slow learners Part III

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 14th, 2021 at 11:03:52 AM EST

Newton Emerson, the most articulate unionist political commentator, has a good piece up articulating the unionist perspective on the current "negotiation" over the protocol. (Irish fury over Frost seems aggravated by London taking unionism's side).

In summary, he thinks Lord Frost is playing a blinder and has the EU on the back foot. Having declared it wouldn't renegotiate the protocol, the EU is now busily doing just that. For him its time to push the boat out a bit further and see what more concessions the UK can get.

As usual unionists live in a small world centred on their own tribal concerns to the exclusion of all else. I have tried to put the "renegotiation" in a larger context in a comment below his article:

Read more... (33 comments, 890 words in story)

Brexit for slow learners part II

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 6th, 2021 at 10:38:12 AM EST

Lord Frost is reported to be concerned that the Northern Ireland Protocol has resulted in a massive expansion of intra-Ireland north south trade to the exclusion of British suppliers. Apparently supply chains have been rapidly re-ordered and trade between Britain and the rest of the European Union has "kind of collapsed" in the first nine months of the year. Who'd have thunk?

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Brexit for slow learners

by Frank Schnittger Fri Oct 1st, 2021 at 11:55:24 AM EST

Seamus Mallon, former deputy leader of the SDLP, once famously described the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement as Sunningdale for slow learners, in reference to an earlier power sharing agreement signed in Sunningdale in 1973, and which was allowed to collapse by the Labour British government of the time due to rioting and a general strike organised by loyalists.

Jeffrey Donaldson and Jim Allister, Leaders of the DUP and TUV respectively have now penned an Op Ed published in the Irish Times in which they raise the possibility of violence and state that the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement must go. For those that have followed the "dreary steeples" of Northern Ireland politics for many years, it is like Déjà Vu all over again.

Nevertheless I felt constrained to write a letter to the Editor of the Irish Independent which is currently their most read article on the letters page and which has inspired a supportive letter in response.

Read more... (3 comments, 1686 words in story)
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