Leaders recall ‘political titan’ who pushed for peace in Ireland – dpa international

The Peace Bridge spanning the River Foyle as it runs through Derry (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The smiles and handshakes among leaders from the two parts of Ireland attending a meeting last week in Dublin were arguably the legacy of the late Nobel peace laureate John Hume, who died early Monday. Shortly after Hume’s death was announced, he was remembered by Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin as “one of the towering figures of Irish public life of the last century.” Martin last week hosted leaders from both sides of Northern Ireland’s ethnic and sectarian divide at a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council, a body set up in the wake of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, a peace deal which Hume helped negotiate.  British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that “without John Hume there would have been no Belfast or Good Friday Agreement,” referring to the 1998 deal, which was also endorsed by the European Union and the United States.

Irish Nobel peace laureate John Hume dies at 83 – dpa international

The Free Derry Corner, marking the entrance to the Bogside, an Irish nationalist stronghold in the city (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Former Northern Ireland politician and Nobel laureate John Hume, who helped broker a peace deal in the region, has died at the age of 83. In a statement released early on Monday, Hume’s family said they were “deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.” Hume, who co-founded the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble, who was head of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Leaders of the two biggest parties in Northern Ireland at the time, the men were awarded for their efforts to end three decades of violence in Northern Ireland via the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. Their partnership crossed the region’s ethnic and sectarian divide, with Hume’s SDLP campaigning for the non-violent unification of Northern Ireland with rest of Ireland and the UUP seeking to keep the region under British rule.

Pandemic and Brexit discussed as all-Ireland council meets after long hiatus – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland’s government hosted Northern Ireland’s regional administration on Friday in the first sitting in over three years of the island’s North South Ministerial Council. Discussions centred on the novel coronavirus pandemic and Britain’s departure from the European Union, leaders said. Speaking at a lunchtime press conference in Dublin Castle, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said a “critical phase” lies ahead in talks between Britain and the EU, with failure threatening to stymie movement across the border between Ireland, an EU member-state, and Northern Ireland, which is British-ruled. “We don’t want to see trade barriers, either north-south, or east-west,” said Arlene Foster, first minister of Northern Ireland’s Belfast-based regional administration. Foster pushed for further discussions on handling the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 2,319 people and infected 32,000 across the island, according to official tallies.

Irish political party accused of breaching coronavirus restrictions at funeral – dpa international

DUBLIN — Leaders of Irish political party Sinn Féin were among hundreds who gathered in Belfast on Tuesday for the funeral of Bobby Storey, a senior figure in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who died nine days ago aged 64. After the funeral was criticised on social media for seeming to breaching rules meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in Northern Ireland – which cap funeral attendances at 10 people – some of Sinn Féin’s political rivals took aim. Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), said at a Tuesday press conference that “no person” is “above the regulations and guidance we have laid down on how we combat Covid-19.” Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) parliamentarian Gregory Campbell called for “police action,” claiming that Sinn Féin leaders “showed no respect” for the restrictions – which it previously said should be applied without exemption. A police spokeswoman later told The Belfast Telegraph newspaper that officers will review footage of the funeral. Though Sinn Féin shares control of Northern Ireland’s devolved administration with the DUP, the two parties are ideological rivals. The DUP – and Swann’s UUP – oppose Sinn Féin’s aim of ending British rule in Northern Ireland.

Survey suggests tilt back towards polarisation in Northern Ireland – dpa international

On the bridge between Belcoo in the north of Ireland, part of the U.K., and Blacklion in the Republic of Ireland. The signage denoting the U.K. is in miles per hour while the Republic of Ireland is in kilometers per hour (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — People in Northern Ireland are more likely to identify with either Britain or Ireland since the 2016 British vote to leave the European Union, going by the latest annual Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. A majority of the region’s 1.8 million people view themselves as either “nationalist” or “unionist”  in the latest survey, which saw 1,200 people canvassed in late 2019 and early 2020 by researchers from Ulster University and Queens University Belfast (QUB). In 2018, half of those surveyed eschewed identifying as either nationalist or unionist. Paula Devine of QUB said “it is striking that 2019 also saw a strengthening of unionist and nationalist identities and growing pressure on the so-called middle ground.”

Letter claims MI5 asked loyalists to assassinate Irish prime minister at height of Northern Irish conflict – The Daily Telegraph

DUBLIN — In 1987, at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland, loyalist paramilitaries told Ireland’s Prime Minister Charles Haughey that British intelligence wanted him dead. Among the Irish government archives released today is a letter from the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force in which they claimed to Haughey that “in 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO [Northern Ireland Office] and based in Lisburn, Alex Jones was his supposed name,” the UVF said. “He asked us to execute you.” The UVF said they turned down the request, telling the Taoiseach (prime minister) that “We refused to do it. We were asked would we accept responsibility if you were killed. We refused.”

Northern Ireland still troubled – ISN

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland MP Iris Robinson’s affair with Kirk McCambley, now 21, prompted her to announce last month that she would be stepping down from politics as she seeks treatment for depression. Robinson, 60, is the wife of Peter Robinson, first minister in Northern Ireland’s regional government and the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest pro-British political party in Northern Ireland. The couple are to be investigated by Northern Ireland’s committee on standards and privileges after Iris Robinson admitted she secured £50,000 ($81,400) from two developers to help McCambley set up a restaurant business in Belfast. The fallout from the scandal has led to Peter Robinson temporarily stepping down as First Minister, but remaining as DUP leader.

Northern Ireland: fighting a time warp – ISN

When Irish Taoiseach (or Prime Minister) Brian Cowen joins political leaders from Northern Ireland in Washington for next week’s St Patrick’s Day jamboree, President Barack Obama will hopefully show them more courtesy than he did UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week. He should, because rather than bore the new president with wonkish jabbering about the merits of the G20, the Irish will give Obama a spin on the time machine, a Tardis ride to an older Ireland assumed to be but an artifact. Given the context, that all might come off as somewhat glib. An old anecdote tells of a British pilot, making his landing announcement on a flight from London to Belfast, sometime in the early 1970s. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are commencing our descent into Belfast. Please set your watches back 300 years” – in reference to Northern Ireland’s seemingly anachronistic sectarian disputes.