AS Vladimir Lenin once said, there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.
It certainly felt like momentous things were happening between London, Brussels and Belfast last weekend, not to mention the sound of glass ceilings smashing all along the West Cork coastline.
With the promotion of Holly Cairns to the leadership role of the Social Democrats, West Cork now has its first national party leader.
Regardless of your own politics, this is a hugely impressive achievement for someone who was completely unknown only a few years ago and has since risen to the top of her profession.
Cairns takes the reins of the Social Democrats after Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall stepped down last weekend and it’s a huge vote of confidence in the young TD. The move isn’t without its risks, given the inherently fractious state of the left in Irish politics, particularly the soft centre left ravaged as it is by incursions from Sinn Féin. It also doesn’t help that there have been fairly Stalin-esque redistributive tendencies shown by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the post-Covid world, by their standards at least. You can’t move for socialists in the Dáil these days, it seems.
So defining what makes the Soc Dems relevant and different at this moment, is going to be one hell of a job.
With the Soc Dems (2%), the Green Party (4%) and Labour (4%) holding a small but consistent block of the votes in recent polls, there is certainly either room for major expansion in coming election cycles, or total annihilation, depending on where the Sinn Féin transfer go.
In many ways, it’s a huge gamble by the party but given they seem relatively stuck on or around 2%, a bit of a refresh feels appropriate and Cairns certainly seems to bring with her a broad appeal, in the dare-I-say-it Jacinda Ardern mould. No pressure there, Holly…!
We’re still some way off seeing a West Cork Taoiseach but given Cairns’ trajectory to date, as a politician might say, we couldn’t rule anything, in or out, at this stage.
Green glows are all around
I TRIED my damndest to get a view of the Northern Lights from my attic Velux earlier in the week. I expected to see an emerald green extravaganza set to a soundtrack by Bjork on Monday evening but the best I got was the dull pulse of Darndale in the distance. Nothing spectacular, bar the usual symphony of gunshots and fellas shouting ‘get ourra dat garden!’.
Stargazers in West Cork had a bit more luck based on the social media posts I saw, although at one point it was hard to tell the difference between the aurora borealis and the gorse fires.
But there definitely was a ‘green glow’ emanating from the North this week. Maybe it was the quiet satisfaction of Sinn Féin manifesting itself in polar lights as the deal between the EU and the UK began to seep into the news.
I have to admit that earlier in the week, I had a dose of acute Northern Ireland Deal Fatigue (NIDF), which set in around Saturday afternoon when news of the ‘imminent’ signature of a deal between the EU and the UK began to slip into the media.
It’s been ‘imminent’ now for about a month, it seems.
In the next days, there followed a series of leaks and ‘exclusives’ in various news outlets across various capitals as it became clear that the EU and the UK were merely orchestrating announcements and state visits to make it impossible for Bojo, the DUP and the rest of the 1798 committee (or whatever they’re called) to muster a meaningful counter-offensive.
Or at least that’s my armchair reading of the situation. Of course, there’s every chance that Ulster will find a way to say ‘No’ in the medium term, or that Britain will go bananas and vote Boris back in.
But for the moment, it looks like good sense has prevailed.
And so we have The Windsor Framework, the latest effort by politicians and mandarins to sort out the post-Brexit mess.
Although it sounds more like a spy thriller than a legal text, the 26-page document will sit alongside the legally-binding Northern Ireland protocol, and sets about addressing unionist and business concerns in the North to make the protocol more workable.
It introduces green lanes and red lanes for goods inwards to enhance smooth-flowing trade in the North.
It also introduces a Stormont brake which would, on the face of it, give the DUP some comfort that they have some control over what new EU laws will apply in Northern Ireland in the future. Whether this turns into a ‘Stormont block’ is another question.
On the face of it, Northern Ireland will never have a better chance to become a global economic powerhouse, with one foot in the EU and one foot in the UK.
Obviously, Jeffrey Donaldson finds himself in a very difficult position now. He’ll have a tough time selling this to hardliners internally, but anyone with half a brain cell can see the huge opportunities there for business and the economy. Let’s hope for his sake, and for ours, that Jeffrey can swing it.
The man and the live mic
WHEN there is any prospect of a historic moment in Northern Ireland, Bertie is never far from a microphone.
You’d wonder what ‘grass roots’ Fianna Fáilers are saying about the former leader appearing on the airwaves again, given their recent significant slip in polling. Bertie’s pop-ups are like Dublin buses it seems, you don’t see one for two years, and then ten come along at once.
It’s fair enough, you may say, the man had a huge role in the Good Friday negotiations.
But with presidential elections in the near future, you get the sense that even the dogs on the streets can see what he’s up to.
It’s column 100 and we’re still in a hopeful, if weird, world
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