One year has passed since the Northern Ireland Assembly has met, with no end in site for the Stormont Assembly to return to work. Northern Ireland Secretary of State Christopher Heaton-Harris convened leadership of the various N.I. Political Parties last month in Belfast.
In attendance were Emma Little-Pengelly MLA and Gordon Lyons MLA of the DUP, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Michelle O’Neill MLA of Sinn Féin, Naomi Long MLA and Stephen Farry MP of Alliance, and Doug Beattie MC MLA and Steve Aiken MLA of the UUP, and Claire Hanna MP and Matthew O’Toole MLA of the SDLP. Given that the most recent deadline of January 19th, 2023, to form a new N.I. Government has come and gone, legislation has been introduced at the London U.K. Parliament to extend the date to January 18th, 2024.
The Secretary of State, Mr. Heaton-Harris stated: “I’ve been encouraged by my discussions with the parties today but there is no doubt that the absence of a devolved government is having an impact on Northern Ireland with important legislation and public services impacted by the lack of an Executive.
”The Rt. Hon. Christopher Heaton-Harris, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has great power over the Six counties absent the democratically elected government in place and governing at Stormont.
“The Secretary of State has overall responsibility for the Northern Ireland Office, advances UK government interests in Northern Ireland and represents Northern Ireland interests in the Cabinet.
The Secretary of State leads on: Political stability and relations with the Northern Ireland Executive, National security and counterterrorism, Implementation of the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements, including legacy of the past, Representing Northern Ireland in the Cabinet on EU exit, including new economic opportunities, international interest in Northern Ireland, including relations with the Irish government.”
It is questionable as to how much bias Mr. Heaton-Harris as a member of Parliament with the U.K. Conservative and Unionist Party has. The name of his party alone gives doubts as to a true ability to be the managing czar for the Six counties. He was previously Chief Whip for the Conservative and Unionist Party and was first elected to the Parliament at Westminster representing the English Daventry constituency (East Midlands) in 2010. Heaton-Harris is the 18th Northern Ireland Secretary of State and is a staunch Brexiteer. The majority of the Six Counties voted against Brexit.
Northern Ireland Protocols
Unionists in the Six Counties continue to boycott the Stormont Assembly until the N.I. Protocols (Irish Sea Border) are eliminated. In reality, the Unionists are boycotting in an effort to deny Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neil the seat of First Minister of the N.I. Assembly, a position she won in last years elections. It had been hoped that the Assembly, first created under the provisions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, would be up and running in time to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the adoption of the GFA next month, in April 2023.
President Joe Biden’s State Department continues to push King Charles III’s United Kingdom on resolution to N.I. Protocol issues on multiple levels. According to State Department spokesman Ned Price: “Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State David Rutley in Washington, D.C. They discussed the importance of the UK and the EU reaching a resolution on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Deputy Secretary welcomed the UK government’s commitment to resolving this issue and protecting the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”
In addition, Price shared that Dep. Secretary also met with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tainste Michael Martin, summarizing: “The Deputy Secretary and the Tánaiste reaffirmed their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement ahead of its 25th anniversary in April.
Both agreed on the importance of the EU and UK resolving outstanding issues over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol as soon as possible. The Deputy Secretary and the Tánaiste also celebrated the five-year extension of the Ireland Work and Travel program between the United States and Ireland, noting that these exchange opportunities have enriched and strengthened the ties and shared values that bind our countries.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has lowered the temperature in the ongoing discussions between The E.U. and the U.K. regarding the N.I. Protocols; this on top of the recent ruling by the U.K. Supreme Court that the N.I. Protocols are legal. The timing is ripe to push this matter through to resolution. This will be a big test of Sunak’s leadership, is he willing to cross the over indulged Unionists by negotiating a final-final Brexit deal?
The Biden Whitehouse and the E.U. leadership have made it clear that the Irish Sea Border is not going away. Will Sunak be wise enough to embrace reality sooner rather than later and move forward? Expect decisions shortly. Ironically, working class supporters of the Good Friday Agreement are counting on Sunak’s privileged Davos and Club for Growth mentality to silence the squealing Unionists and ultra Brexiteers and get a deal done.
It’s A Great Day for the Irish
Sunday, March 12th will see The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 95th Oscar Awards ceremony on your local ABC channel. The 2023 edition of the Oscars were a triumph for Irish film, receiving a record fourteen nominations. Kevin McDonagh’s “Banshees of InisErin” received huge recognition with nine nominations, more than any Irish film in history (Belfast and In the Name of the Father previously received seven nominations).
Banshee showcases Brendan Gleason and Colin Farrell as well as Jenny the Donkey on a remote western island (filmed on Achill Island and Aran Islands). The setting is beautiful, and the acting is superb, parts of the story are rather harsh.
An Cailin Ciuin/The Quiet Girl
In addition to Banshee, Irish actor Paul Mescal received a nomination for Best Actor in “Aftersun” and Irish Editor Jonathan Redmond is nominated for the Best Editing category for “Elvis.” Richard Baneham, an Irish Animator, is nominated in the Best Visual Effects category for “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Historically, an Irish language film has been nominated for the first time: “An Cailin Ciuin/The Quiet Girl,” has been put forth in the Best International Feature Film category.
This will be a great hit for the Irish Language. And check out “The Irish Goodbye,” a black comedy set in the North of Ireland focusing on two brothers on a rural farm; it has been nominated in the Best Short Film category. Get your popcorn ready.