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This place is in some mess.

After all of the conversations about Brexit, the border, the backstop and, more recently, about Boris, we are watching a predicted and predictable outcome.

Still a broken Britain, a broken Parliament at Westminster and, here, a broken Stormont and an escalating legacy war.

Monday’s Assembly session will change none of that. It may provide a platform for some political play, but will not lead to the restoration of an Executive; nor will it change the timetable for new laws introducing same-sex marriage and access to abortion services.



With uncertainty, comes anger and fear and danger.

Brexit, although we don’t yet know its final shape, has opened out and made louder the debate on union versus unity.

There is a developing unionist political war with regards to where the blame rests. The UUP MLA and probable next party leader Steve Aiken coined the catchphrase “two borders Foster”.

The Foster/Dodds leadership does not support the Boris Johnson deal with the EU, which is again the subject of another Westminster scrap and numbers game in which the DUP remains a significant player.



What we have witnessed in recent days looks like the beginnings of a political divorce. Or is it?

Boris Johnson is as fickle as they come.

Yes, he left the DUP behind last week and, on Saturday, told them bluntly that they will not have a veto in Stormont on the arrangements that have been agreed in relation to the latest Brexit deal.

The tail is no longer wagging the dog. That’s how it looks for now; but we know Johnson’s form – how he twists and turns to suit his needs.

So it’s not over, until it’s over.

“If the DUP should learn anything from this debacle, it is that they should never rely on the word of Boris Johnson,” UUP leader Robin Swann said in a statement on Sunday.

“They were warned on several occasions,” he continued. “While they were feting Boris Johnson on the national stage, they took their eye off the ball and he mugged them.

“In doing so the Prime Minister was able to produce a deal which is hugely damaging to the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.”



In the loyalist community, the anger is obvious.

“What are we going to do?” a senior loyalist asked on Saturday – “wreck loyalist areas to show how British we are.”

Those who hold loyalist leadership positions will meet this week and a statement is expected, but they want to make an assessment on a clear picture.

“There’s no point in saying anything for the sake of saying something,” that leadership figure added.

He told Arlene Foster in a recent meeting, that the DUP would have to explain any Brexit deal that emerged and, days later, in blunt words, he told me: “I think we’re fucked. If we get thrown under the bus, the DUP is going to be seen as the driver.”

The anger in that community is not just in relation to the implications of this Brexit deal, but also because of that escalating legacy war.

With others, I heard it and felt it on Thursday evening last at a legacy event in Carrickfergus.

It opened with the Kabosh Theatre play ‘Those You Pass On The Street’.



There was then a panel discussion, which I chaired, involving the victims’ commissioner Judith Thompson, the barrister and former DPP Barra McGrory QC, PSNI assistant chief constable George Clarke, who has lead responsibility on legacy and Brexit, the loyalist Winston Irvine and the play director Paula McFetridge.



The performance was a reminder of how small and how raw this place still is, how we walk on eggshells and how our stories and peoples intertwine.

It was a play scripted and shaped on the realities and horrors of conflict; a reminder of the questions that still linger and the struggles of those left behind – those with an empty chair.

The Past is still their Present.



As the drama unfolded you could sense the listening and the silence; but then the mood changed – changed when the evening arrived at that point of the panel discussion.

Many in the audience let their anger out; about legacy, about military veterans being investigated, about the “glorification of terrorism”, about bonfires and marching and about so much more.

This wasn’t a conversation in which they wanted to listen but, rather, they wanted to be heard. It didn’t matter what facts were offered to counter their arguments.

Someone with whom I spoke afterwards, likened it to: “the Nolan Show without the mute button”.

It gave us all something about which to think.

Add to this mood, the new conversations that have emerged in the Brexit frame, specifically that debate about the union versus a possible ‘new Ireland’.



How is that managed?

Another pantomime in a pretend parliament will fix nothing.

It might make news and headlines on Monday, but it will miss the point.

After almost three years of gridlock on the political hill, it might sound ridiculous to say that there is no quick fix; but it needs saying.

We need to go back to the drawing board; find a political system that will work, a legacy process that will work and a place for that debate and conversation on union versus unity to take place.

Scratch beneath the surface, something very unpleasant is bubbling and boiling. We ignore it at our peril.

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. Think:

    A fiscally responsible devolved Government delivering in an equitable, equal manner for all citizens, that is, sustainably implementing the Good Friday Agreement in action not just spirit or principle.

    Is it wrong to be a Citizen of this small place and desire local politicians deliver this?

    Is it wrong to expect quality of life matters, for all, to be delivered as the priority?

    Is it wrong to expect local politicians to behave ethically and with integrity?

    I don’t believe it is wrong to expect or demand these things but to date none of these things has been demonstrably evidenced, sustainably, by any Party at Stormont.

    As regards the present UK (Great Britain and Northern Ireland) constitutional position of “here”: it won’t change unless the Citizens of “here” vote to bring about that change. Whether you are pro-UK or pro-NewIreland in aspiration or political cause only the people of “here” will maintain the Union with Britain OR deliver the change management required to cooperate in forming a new Sovereign Ireland. Persuasion of the population will win ultimately in regard the status-quo with Britain or constitutional change to bring about a New Ireland.

    Then again and I add this slightly tongue in cheek: Britain could do as they have done in all Empirical (mis) adventures & simply choose to leave. If that happened then I’d personally look to that great Republic, India, as an example of experience but that’s just me!

    I’m not in doubt that BREXIT could make the English decide on such an option and in those circumstances no amount of destruction, killing or intimidation, here, will stop Britain going (yes, just like they did in India!).

    As we say in the west: “themuns need to catch themselves on, auld smokescreens and mirrors, fur coats but no knickers!”

    Personally, isn’t it sad some people don’t use the past to make them better rather than bitter?!

  2. I’d imagine that many English Brexiteers would possibly see the abandonment or jettisoning of NI as a possible solution to resolving the delay in the divorce from EU. I don’t believe this would be a satisfactory outcome for NI citizens as consent would be distinctly absent and violence would almost certainly follow a la India/Pakistan when Britain withdrew from that region. These are interesting and possibly troubling times

  3. Like the Irish Language Act the DUP whipped up Brexit hysteria in their voter base. They have no wish to ever try to cultivate a space where the 2 communities can tentatively come together and creat a new way and it all boils down to the simplicity of “What we have we hold” & “No Surrender” & their deep sense of entitlement to this awful state.
    Martin McGuiness did make a huge move in meeting the Queen and no-one and I mean NO-ONE who lives here could not have failed the see the significance of this. It was spurned by DUP in their arrogance.
    Unionist parties over the years are happy to take comfort with Unionist mob around them & if the mob has not become animated about something both UUP and DUP will inflame the. Its all too late now for this state.
    The demographics has changed and a new genie has popped out of the bottle – the new Nationalist professional class from working class families with a background in the conflict & unlike 1969 when similar happened and UUP allowed a Pogrom to start the conflict this time its not just 1Man 1Vote that’s the target.

  4. Whatever happens with Brexit, this past week saw the crossing of the Rubicon. For any unionist who still doubted it the ERG showed that there is no longer any real emotional attachment to the Union with Northern Ireland and there is no longer a unionist majority to defend it. For decades I have warned unionist leaders that every time they rejected or wrecked an attempted settlement, the next one would be worse for them. Neither they nor their electorate had the maturity or wit to appreciate that. The Good Friday Agreement was the last chance. I told DUP elected representatives repeatedly that it was they and not Sinn Fein who needed the Assembly. They would not listen, and now the game is up. Republicans have no need to use violence because they know that the drift of history is going their way and violence would delay rather than hasten their preferred outcome. Loyalists may feel angry, frustrated and betrayed, and with good reason, for the unionist leadership has indeed failed them. Had they supported Alliance policies and attitudes the outcome could have been different. Unionist politics has been a failure and the Union cannot be saved but only damaged further by Loyalist violence. It is time for unionist leaders to start negotiating the terms for the next stage, but going by past form they will fail again.

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