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The Northern Irish Question

Why is the proposed Tory DUP link disturbing to many people?  It is all to do with the history of Northern Ireland and “The Troubles”.  See here for a useful resume: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles

A big milestone in the Northern Irish peace process was the signing of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, signed in Belfast on Friday 10th April 1998 (Good Friday), which laid the foundations for power sharing and for rule by peaceful and democratic means.

It is noteworthy that at this time Ian Paisley’s (senior) DUP party rejected the whole process and voted against the agreement although they subsequently took their seats in the resulting Northern Ireland Assembly.

There are two points of special interest within the text of this Agreement; first the implications for the British / Northern Irish relationship in the proposed DUP, Conservative Party coalition (however informal).

 Second the UK and its connection and commitment with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

 1 Why the DUP coalition may endanger the fragile nature of the Agreement is contained in Clause 1 which begins:

CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES

“The participants endorse the commitment made by the British and Irish Governments that, in a new British-Irish Agreement replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they will  1 (v): affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities.”

2 ECHR is specified as one of the safeguards to ensuring “all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of these institutions —“

Under one section RIGHTS, SAFEGUARDS AND EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY the Agreement specifies the following:

United Kingdom Legislation

  1. The British Government will complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the Convention, including power for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency.

This clause in itself puts paid to the more extreme talk of some politicians who in the past have said they want to limit the ECHR in the UK and also the ultimate jurisdiction of the supra-national European Court of Human Rights.

Following the Good Friday Agreement came The Northern Ireland Act 1998 which was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which established a devolved legislature for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly, after decades of Direct Rule from Westminster. (19th November 1998).

After a few years of disagreements, walk outs, suspensions, return to Direct Rule of Westminster, further discussions, negotiation, smoothing out difficulties and refining, the St Andrew’s Agreement was settled and accepted.  

The UK Government stated this was an:
“Agreement reached in multi-party negotiations held in St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, from 11 October to 13 October 2006, between the two governments and all the major parties in Northern Ireland, including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin.”

It was advertised as “Part of: Northern Ireland Political stability” on the UK Gov’s website. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-st-andrews-agreement-october-2006
It was crucial to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and giving effect to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Par 3 of the Agreement states:
3. Both Governments remain fully committed to the fundamental principles of the Agreement: consent for constitutional change, commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, stable inclusive partnership government, a balanced institutional accommodation of the key relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South and within these islands, and for equality and human rights at the heart of the new dispensation in Northern Ireland. All parties to this agreement need to be wholeheartedly and publicly committed, in good faith and in a spirit of genuine partnership, to the full operation of stable power-sharing Government and the North-South and East-West arrangements.

Some are saying the proposed Tory/ DUP alliance completely flies in the face of the stated aims and principles of both the Good Friday Agreement as well as the “balanced institutional accommodation of the key relationships within Northern Ireland” as stated in the St Andrew’s Agreement.

For me a very interesting thing is the absolute commitment to the cementing of ECHR into the peace process. It does not look likely that the UK will be able to reject that fundamental commitment to ECHR as overseen and adjudicated by direct access to the courts and ultimately the European Court of Human Rights.

Some Irish comfort food is called for now.

Irish Soda Bread – easy to make, satisfying to eat

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Ingredients

  • 450g (1lb) plain white flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 400ml (14fl oz) buttermilk

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 230º Centigrade/400º Fahrenheit /Gas Mark 9 and grease and flour a baking tray
  • Put the dry ingredients into a bowl stir together and make a well in the centre
  • Add the buttermilk in the well
  • Mix together using your hands. Bring the dry stuff into the centre and squidge it together with your fingers until it is all combined. (This is a bit messy)
  • Keep kneading until it forms a soft rubbery ball (the surplus dough will come off your fingers at this stage and join the larger whole)
  • Put it on a well-floured working surface, knead some more and then shape into a round
  • Put it on the baking tray
  • Cut a deep cross into the round then with a fork prick each quarter a couple of times
  • Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 200ºC/370ºF/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 35 minutes.
  • To check if it is done turn it upside down in your hand (using a clean tea towel to hold) and tap the bottom. It should sound hollow. If it sounds dull pop it back in the oven upside down for and keep checking every 5 minutes or so.
  • Cool on a wire tray and eat the same day (preferably whilst still warm)

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References

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles

http://education.niassembly.gov.uk/post_16/snapshots_of_devolution/st_andrews

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/136652/agreement.pdf

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/47/introduction

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-st-andrews-agreement-october-2006

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/136651/st_andrews_agreement-2.pdf

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