Displaying items by tag: Northern Ireland
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern have been working behind the scenes to get the UK and EU back to the negotiating table over Brexit and the Stormont government collapse. Hard Brexiter Steve Baker has been transferred to the Northern Ireland office, replacing Conor Burns, who went to the Department for International Trade. UK-EU protocol talks were paused when Russia invaded Ukraine. The already strained relations deteriorated further in June when Liz Truss introduced a bill enabling the UK to remove some Northern Ireland Brexit protocol. Hopes of a thaw in UK-EU relations have been fuelled by the absence of Lord Frost from Truss’s new cabinet. Burns met Europe’s Marcus Šefčovič at the weekend and had ‘constructive and prolonged talks’. He told MPs, ‘I am convinced that if the appetite exists, we can find a way to a negotiated solution to the Northern Ireland protocol.’
On 3 August thirty police officers and immigration officials raided two properties and detained a 40-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man, both originally from Somalia, on suspicion of offences linked to people-smuggling. The pair have lived in Northern Ireland for ten years; authorities believe they are part of an operation being run by an organised crime gang transporting people into the UK. Officers also searched the addresses for cash. Immigration officials say that individuals can pay gangs between £2,500 and £15,000 to be brought into the UK, often exploiting the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland. Priti Patel said the operation showed expertly-trained officers working tirelessly to keep our country safe by disrupting suspected criminal activity. An immigration enforcement officer said this was just one of the ways they worked with the police to act against people-smuggling.
France and Germany are pressuring Brussels to take the hardest possible line towards the next Tory leader over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Both Tory leadership candidates have pledged to press ahead and scrap goods checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Brussels says the Northern Ireland Protocol bill is illegal and will retaliate with lawsuits and import tariffs to strategic UK exports. Senior EU sources said the bloc would prefer to restart talks with a fresh face rather than Liz Truss, who has been running the negotiations. Ms Truss initially adopted a conciliatory approach after taking over as the UK’s chief negotiator from combative Lord Frost. But her position has hardened recently as she became frustrated at the lack of movement in the talks. EU insiders believe she dropped her friendly approach when it became clear that Boris could be ousted over partygate.
Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, has warned Boris Johnson against any move to change the Northern Ireland protocol. He said, ‘What we can’t do is accept that the British government would act unilaterally, they would pass legislation to effectively breach international law, to set aside elements of a treaty that this prime minister designed and put in place. That would cause more problems than it would solve.’ Foreign minister Liz Truss, announcing a new law to change the post-Brexit trade deal for Northern Ireland, insisted it would be legal under international law. She said the proposed legislation would make changes to the deal - rather than scrapping it - to resolve ‘the grave situation in Northern Ireland’. But in response, the EU said it would ‘need to respond with all measures at its disposal’ if the UK went ahead with the legislation. Pray that all decisions will be according to God’s plans.
The attorney general has been advised that it would be lawful to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the post-Brexit arrangement which requires some checks on goods between Britain and NI. This angers both Unionists and the EU. There has been no power-sharing executive for several months after the DUP withdrew in protest against the protocol. In the recent election Sinn Féin, whose goal is for NI to become one country with the Republic of Ireland, won the most seats and needs to form a government. It cannot take up the office unless the DUP nominates a deputy first minister. The DUP's leader said his party would respect the election result, but changes needed to be made to the protocol. Boris Johnson has said the most important treaty is the Good Friday Agreement, which established a cross-community power-sharing government to end decades of violence.
A County Antrim GP practice will only be able to open a branch clinic two half days a week because of a Department of Health (DoH) funding cut. The practice can no longer cover the costs of a full-time service which opened in 2017 to take 1,400 new patients. DoH said additional payments between 2017 and 2021 were temporary, ‘to support the practice for a period of three years to enable them to manage the registration and complete an initial clinical review of these additional patients.’ Dr John McSparran, from the practice, disagrees vehemently. ‘We were never under the impression it was for three years, otherwise we would never have entered the agreement in the first place. We've tried to address this, continuing the service at our own cost. But financially the practice is unviable and can no longer cover the costs of a full-time service.’
A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report published on 16 March tells us that as Northern Ireland entered the pandemic, nearly one in five people lived in poverty, including over 100,000 children. 1 in 14 households are in food insecurity, and the recent spike in energy prices, and wider inflation. People in workless families, disabled people, carers, and people in ethnic minority households have much higher poverty rates. So people across Northern Ireland need the new Executive to focus on whether to reverse or partly mitigate the impact of the £20 per week cut to the basic rates of Universal Credit. It could also match benefit up-rating more effectively to the cost of living. A targeted payment, such as the Scottish child payment, would reduce child poverty. The Executive could also consider the role that DLA/PIP can have in helping disabled people into the labour market, including considering how the administration of payments could be redesigned with dignity and poverty reduction at their heart.
Attempts to overturn the Supreme Court ruling in a case against a Belfast bakery have been rejected. Seven years ago, Christian-led Ashers Baking Company refused to write ‘support gay marriage’ on a cake. Gareth Lee sued Ashers, then lost his case at the UK Supreme Court. He took the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the UK had failed to protect his human rights. Before the Supreme Court ruling, a Belfast county court and an appeal court had both ruled that the bakery had discriminated against Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Lewis Keogh’s suicide note revealed a secret gambling addiction that he could no longer cope with. After his death his parents wanted to do something to prevent other such tragedies. They and other bereaved families designed a ‘Gambling With Lives’ teaching programme, telling 15- and 16-year-olds the risks of compulsive gambling. The programme pilots in 15 Northern Ireland schools and then across the UK. Its hard-hitting film tells the story of a teenager who starts gambling on arcade machines - as Lewis did. The film shows him becoming addicted and trying to cover up what is happening to him as his mental health worsens. Gambling With Lives is campaigning for tighter laws on gambling advertising, particularly in relation to televised sports events. An estimated 340,000 adults are ‘problem gamblers’, and 55,000 people aged 11-16 have a harmful gambling habit. Gambling compromises, disrupts, and damages family, personal and recreational pursuits.
Former first minister Arlene Foster has spoken out against those who say that religion and politics should never mix. When speaking at the St Patrick Centre to a live audience, she discussed her own faith as well as her political career. Expressing her frustration she said, ‘Christianity doesn’t call you to be neutral. It calls you to be salt and light about what you believe in. It does annoy me when people say you have to take religion out of politics and leave it at the door, or like it only happens at the weekend. It is part of who you are. Your Christianity and your faith is something that is with you all the time. You can’t just leave it at home on Sunday night and go out without it on Monday.’