A centenary birthday is usually a time of great celebration. For  most people and families, for organisations and for States. Irish citizens who reach 100 receive a special message from the President of Ireland and a Centenarian Bounty of €2540. The English do it differently.
Their Queen sends a personalised message with a facsimile signature. The card comes in a special envelope, delivered through the normal post system. I have chums who are like that. Some like big celebrations. Others do their celebrating quietly. No fuss. Just friends and/or families.
Monday was the birthday of partition. It was a century since the Northern State formally came into existence with the passing into law on May 3, 1921 of the Government of Ireland Act. Unionist parties, the British government and some others tried –unsuccessfully for the most part – to turn this into a birthday celebration. The British government’s colonial office in Belfast, the NIO (Northern Ireland Office), not the Executive or Assembly, was given the task of organising this. Some bright spark came up with the idea of using Seamus Heaney and Mary Peters’ images under the tagline “Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100”. It was supposed to be all about “the spirit of inclusivity, mutual respect and optimism.”
It backfired. No-one had asked the Heaney family. The NIO claimed that the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University had given its permission for the portrait to be used but this was denied. There was outrage and uproar with many quoting Seamus Heaney’s own words: “Be advised, my passport’s green/No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen.” 
Others challenged the NIO title and its use of the word “Our”. For nationalists and republicans the Northern State was never ours. It was a place apart. Respect for nationalists or others was never part of the ethos.
So no suprise that recent months were increasingly marked by strident and belligerent language from the Unionist parties angry at the impact of Brexit and especially at introduction of the Irish Protocol and the Irish Sea Border. The DUP tried to wash its hands of any responsibility for these. It sought to distract attention away from the fact that it had campaigned for Brexit, secured funding for the Brexit campaign, argued every day for Brexit, defended Brexit when the referendum was won and then fought with Theresa May and Boris Johnson when they thought the British Government was not delivering a hard Brexit! The DUP leadership lied about Brexit and the Protocol. They blamed  Sinn Féin, the European Union and the Irish Government.
Then came the Five Point Plan. The vitriol of Unionist leaders encouraged a climate in which small numbers of mostly young people from loyalist working class districts engaged in street riots and confrontations with the PSNI.  There were also attempts to ignite sectarian conflict at some interface areas which failed thanks largely to the efforts of local community workers from both PUL neighbourhoods (fair play to them) and nationalist areas and Sinn Féin activists.
Despite the very obvious fact that once again a British Government had betrayed Unionists and that Boris Johnson seems incapable of telling the truth, the DUP chose to believe him when he insisted that he didn’t like the Protocol and would change it.
Then in the midst of this uncertain political atmosphere a majority of DUP MLAs staged a right-wing coup against Arlene Foster.  There has been speculation going back several years that there were those within the DUP who wanted rid of Mrs Foster but it’s all academic now.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and her family. I know most of the plotters. To my knowledge none of them went to her privately to tell her of their intentions.That was left to the media. I remember when Martin McGuinness was resigning that he insisted in travelling to Belfast to tell Arlene and company. Because he was so ill I tried to persuade him to do it by phone but he insisted that he do them the courtesy of telling them in person. And that’s what he did. According  to Arlene she has not spoken to any of those who signed the letter demanding her resignation. But that’s politics without loyalty or good manners.

Four years ago it was all so different. In the Westminster election of 2017 the DUP won 10 seats and entered into an alliance with the Tories to keep Theresa May in power. On results day Mrs Foster told her jubilant supporters that those who want to “tear apart the Union... have been sent a clear and resounding message.” This column remembers warning that “alliances between Ulster Unionism and British Unionism have always ended in tears.”
Several weeks ago Mrs Foster abstained in an Assembly vote to block so-called gay conversion therapies. For those in the DUP who are fundamentalist and creationist this proved the last straw and they moved against her. Last Wednesday she was forced to step down as leader of the DUP and as First Minister. Since then speculation has been rife about who will replace her and what the implications are for the future of the Assembly.
At its most basic, the move against Mrs Foster is evidence of the deep resistance to positive change from within the DUP and other elements of political unionism. Those who might be surprised by these developments should remember that the DUP got rid of Ian Paisley, as did the Free Presbyterian Church which he founded.
At every turn of our recent history Unionism has been challenged to come into the modern world. Some find it difficult, if not impossible to do so. The modern world, modern Ireland, cannot wait forever on them.
On December 9, 1968 the Stormont UUP Prime Minister Terence O’Neill made a desperate appeal on television for unity. Unionism was in turmoil as it tried to come to terms with the demand for civil rights. In his “Ulster stands at the crossroads” address O’Neill warned that “an Ulster divided against itself could not hope to stand. I made it clear that a Northern Ireland based on the interests of any one section, rather than on the interests of all, could have no long term future…” They got rid of him. Just as the DUP 50 years later got rid of Ian Paisley. Just as they got rid of Arlene Foster.
The DUP  promised but did not deliver on commitments in the New Decade, New Approach Agreement, including Acht na Gaeilge. While the necessary focus on tackling the pandemic may have diverted attention from these commitments they have not gone away. Those who signed up to Acht na Gaeilge and the other commitments include Edwin Poots and Jeffrey Donaldson. The quandary for them is obvious. Will they embrace the new dispensation  and manage the changes with the rest of us, or will they repeat the folly of recent years, including support for Brexit, the  rejection of women's rights, equality and the rights of LGBTQ citizens, withdrawing from North-South bodies, failing to fully embrace power sharing. Or will they keep their commitments?
So let’s give the DUP space to select its new leader. Let’s face up to whoever and whatever emerges with a good heart and a generous spirit. One thing is for certain. The process of positive change must continue, including the possibility and potential for constitutional change as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

J’Accuse: Israel still enforcing apartheid


I make no apologies for returning again to the plight of the Palestinian people living under the yoke of Israeli apartheid laws and policies.
Last week Human Rights Watch published a 224 page report on the policies and actions of the Israeli state.
In ‘A Threshold Crossed – Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution:’ Human Rights Watch becomes the first major international human rights organisation to publicly accuse Israel of committing the crime of apartheid and of crimes against humanity.
Its critique of the failure of the international community to act in defence of the rights of Palestinians is damning: “...for too long [it] explained away and turned a blind eye to the increasingly transparent reality on the ground. Every day a person is born in Gaza into an open-air prison, in the West Bank without civil rights, in Israel with an inferior status by law, and in neighbouring countries effectively condemned to lifelong refugee status, like their parents and grandparents before them, solely because they are Palestinian and not Jewish.
A future rooted in the freedom, equality, and dignity of all people living in Israel and the OPT will remain elusive so long as Israel’s abusive practices against [them continue].”
I couldn’t have put it better.
Human Rights Watch recommends:
• The Israeli government should dismantle all forms of systematic domination and oppression that privilege Jewish Israelis and systematically repress Palestinians. 
• Israeli authorities should cease building settlements and dismantle existing ones and otherwise provide Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with full respect of their human rights.
• The finding of crimes against humanity should prompt the international community to re-evaluate its approach to Israel and Palestine. 
• The Israeli government should dismantle all forms of systematic domination and oppression that privilege Jewish Israelis and systematically repress Palestinians, and end the persecution of Palestinians. 
• Israeli authorities should cease building settlements and dismantle existing ones and otherwise provide Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with full respect of their human rights.
• The finding of crimes against humanity should prompt the international community to re-evaluate its approach to Israel and Palestine.



The DUP may have messed up their 100th Birthday ‘celebration’ but the centenary of partition was marked by Belfast activists  draping a huge banner from Divis Tower with a positive message.  A United Ireland is for Everyone. Let’s talk about it. Déanaimis le cheile é.