Events in Scotland show that a result as close as 50 per cent plus one does not necessarily meet the test of making a nationalist win likely. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Outcome has highlighted difficulty of judging whether a referendum should be called

“International and corporate investors could be regulated, taxed or prevented from snapping up whole developments, as Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is suggesting.” File photograph: iStock

Investors, landlords and owner-occupiers may all wish they had shared when they had the chance

Arlene Foster, who on Wednesday announced her decision to step down as Northern Ireland’s First Minister and DUP leader, outside Stormont in Belfast last week. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Foster departing deeply conflicted party as she announces decision to step down

Meeting of North-South Ministerial Council had to be cancelled at the last minute because DUP First Minister Arlene Foster had not nominated a unionist minister to attend, as power-sharing requires. Photograph: Ronan McGrade/Pacemaker Press

Boycott of the North South Ministerial Council has potential to do real harm

Nationalist youths clashing with loyalists at the Lanark Way peaceline in west Belfast: Nationalists understandably want the Irish Government to take an assertive position by their side with unionism in meltdown. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

‘Totality of relationships’ body is being turned into a controversy of its own right

A loyalist at  an anti-Northern Ireland protocol protest:  One of loyalism’s grievances is that it feels subject to more law enforcement than republicans. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Law and order not enough to halt loyalist protests driven by crime and politics

Only 65 of Northern Ireland’s 1,000 schools are integrated, teaching 7 per cent of all pupils. Photograph:  Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Only 65 of North’s 1,000 schools are integrated, covering just 7% of all pupils

Jim O’Callaghan’s argument is that partition is no longer rational, although there will still be “strong and coherent arguments made by those in favour”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Move represents brave step for a Fianna Fáil leadership contender

 Boris Johnson:   “Those who call for a new cold war on China or for us to sequester our economy entirely from China are, I think, mistaken. We have a balance to strike, we needed to have a clear-eyed relationship.” Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire

Newton Emerson: The West has internalised idea that China’s system is as legitimate as any other

As the deadline loomed, sources in Brussels were reported saying the people of Northern Ireland would hardly starve and supermarkets should simply switch to EU suppliers.

Is bureaucratic intransigence behind Brussels’s quest for border enforcement?

Northern Ireland’s  vaccine rollout has been a triumph, but the end of the pandemic does not herald getting plans back on track; it just reveals a steadily worsening underlying problem. Photograph: Istvan Filep/EPA

Faith in system could simply melt away, with profound political consequences

Belfast: It will not be necessary to seal the Border to stop infected hordes of southerners returning from northern pubs, cinemas and hotels.

Restriction differences between North and South are set to dwindle as roadmap appears

Under the Republic’s shared-equity housing scheme, a first-time buyer of a new-build home can ask the State to take up to a 30 per cent stake in the property. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Better British ideas are available to copy that would not push up property prices

Garda stop vehicles at a checkpoint at the  Border between Emyvale and Aughnacloy. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Opinion: We have come full circle on the Covid-19 politics of partition

Like journalists across Belfast, DUP representatives were hearing one message from loyalists: this was the final straw. Then, sensationally, the EU triggered article 16 itself. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

DUP will sit on sidelines instead of lobbying for frictionless sea border

Traffic on the M2 into Belfast: the people of Northern Ireland endure a daily torture of ridiculous sea border stories. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Structures put in place to govern post-Brexit EU-UK relations look unstable and confrontational

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and First Minister Arlene Foster: Stormont is united in bemusement and frustration at the Republic’s stonewalling. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The Republic has never taken cross-Border co-operation on Covid-19 seriously

“During Stormont’s three-year collapse, Sinn Féin portrayed the crisis as a choice between restoring devolution or pushing on quickly for a [Border] poll.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

A 'win' in a border poll is not likely in the next few years, so why demand one?

A truck driver drives on board the Larne to Cairnryan ferry at the port of Larne on January 1st, 2021 –  first day of the UK’s future outside the European Union. Larne harbour is one of three point of entry locations situated in Northern Ireland along with Belfast and Warrenpoint. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Post-Brexit problems likely to be aggravations rather than a big crisis

 Fountain Street in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which is  under a six-week lockdown.  Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

US diplomat Martha Pope ahead of her time with observations on excess funding in 1997

France and Britain reopened cross-Channel travel on Wednesday after a 48-hour ban to curb the spread of a new coronavirus variant but London has warned it could take days for thousands of trucks blocked around  Dover (pictured) to get moving. Photograph:  Justin Tallis / AFP via Getty Images

The question for Ireland is whether its lorries and ferries will be waved through the barricades

Unionists now face a situation that might be compared to the DeSouza immigration case, where Belfast woman Emma DeSouza contested having to acknowledge British citizenship in order to renounce it

Who will a US company give the EU sales job to, an Irish or British passport holder?

DUP leader  Arlene Foster: the pragmatic  option would be to  embrace the sea border straight away and spin it as positive. Photograph:  Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

First Minister risks highlighting splits within her own party if she lauds sea border deal

The burnt-out La Mon House hotel near Belfast following an IRA bombing in 1978. Photograph: Pacemaker

The Troubles will be seen through landmark cases such as Pat Finucane and the La Mon

US president-elect Joe Biden with secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken, who fully subscribes to the notion of Brexit breaching the Belfast Agreement. Photograph: Mark Makela/Getty Images

US president-elect did not seem like someone yearning to push for difficult change in Ireland

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty: his press release  rehashes the  claim that Northern Ireland’s subvention  is about half the official figure. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Newton Emerson: Party is peddling frustrating nonsense about the UK subvention

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster (left) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at a press conference in Stormont. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Commission is oblivious to rare show of Stormont unity

Housing associations, which provided most new social housing over the past 25 years, will be able to continue borrowing and building. File photograph: The Irish Times

Party on serious manoeuvres as its Minister outlines social housing reform in Stormont

Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking to the media after giving an address on the Shared Island initiative at Dublin Castle on October 22nd. Photograph: Julian Behal Photography/PA Wire

If Republic really aspires to unity, it needs to show North the colour of its money

The official answer to Covid-19 is the same as it has always been: lockdown and release until a vaccine is available. Photograph: Yasin Akgul/Getty Images

The Government would not be pursuing zero-Covid strategy even in a united Ireland

 First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill  speak to the press at Stormont. Photograph:   Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

System may not be ideal but aiming for all-party consensus in a pandemic is absurd

Philadelphia Democratic congressman Brendan Boyle: Tweet about Belfast Agreement caused much head-scratching as the United States is not a signatory to the 1998 peace deal, nor is it referenced in the text in any way. Photograph:  Rich Polk/Getty Images

Any reversal of US policy due to Brexit should be handled with care

Bloody Sunday survivor Mickey McKinney, Gerry Duddy, solicitor Fearghál Sheils and John Kelly at the Bloody Sunday Memorial in the Bogside in Derry. The truth or justice model  does little to satisfy the bereaved. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

Newton Emerson: Approach does not satisfy the bereaved or resolve legacy issues

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during the daily media broadcast at Stormont. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Voter behaviour is forcing two big parties to get their act together against the virus

Boris Johnson claims the European Commission has threatened a ‘food blockade’ of Northern Ireland, which is clearly incorrect in the sense of physically preventing goods arriving from Britain. Photograph:  Jessica Taylor/AFP via Getty Images

Both the EU and UK are cynically using Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip

First Minister Arlene Foster: The North could be largely locked out of the UK’s new industrial policy and find logic points  to co-ordination with the Republic.  Photograph:  William Cherry/Presseye

Boris Johnson’s government will always choose its vision of Brexit over North’s place in union

“The real objection to the interconnector is aesthetic, often from people whose house in the countryside has interrupted the view already.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Media pandering to tinfoil hat nonsense delaying new North-South interconnector

Phil Hogan: it would be a mistake to think unionists or the UK government were enjoying his troubles and now his departure. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

EU trade commissioner had shown he was able to see the issue on an Irish and British scale

(L to R) Kylie McComb, Kathleen Malone, and Ruben Hughes protest  in Belfast over grading  by algorithm on Monday. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Ditching exams at 16 could let Northern Ireland transform its faltering school system

Queen’s University Belfast: Northern Ireland students need three As at A-level to do law at Queen’s University Belfast, while applicants from Britain need only three Bs.

A policy designed to help young people get into university has had the opposite effect

John Hume entered politics in the 1960s with the intention of building a nationalist parliamentary opposition, reforming Stormont from the inside along Westminster lines – something unionists today would welcome unreservedly. Videograb: PA

The North-South Ministerial Council is where he hoped the future would be built


Middle-classes guard ‘their’ grammar schools, but a third of children leave school with few or no qualifications

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald arrives at Dublin’s Convention Centre for a Dáil session. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

It is in everyone’s interests to clean up the ‘republican movement’

Orangeman Randy Davidson celebrating the Twelfth at home, where he is isolating. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Organisation does not organise bonfires, put up flags or run flute bands but has struggled to disassociate itself from these pract(...)

The warming relationship between DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and her Sinn Féin opposite number Michelle O’Neill is back to frosty formality. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/PA

North’s parties are tired of constantly second-guessing shadowy forces behind Sinn Féin

It is unfortunate that a role was never found for Ian Marshall at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Photograph: Patrick Bolger/Bloomberg

Government’s omission is merely an understandable outworking of politics

Having two cities in separate jurisdictions creates problems and opportunities for business. Photograph: iStock

Forget well-meaning waffle, could the North and South administrations work together?

Clare Bailey, leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, with her southern counterpart, Eamon Ryan, centre, and Irish Times political editor Pat Leahy, left. Photograph: Tom Honan.

Their support will be crucial in getting the deal over the line with party members

The statue of Edward Carson outside Stormont. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

None of the city’s handful of landmark statues is now thought worth fighting over

In practice, almost every grocery item arriving into Northern Ireland from Britain is in the care of a handful of high-street names and is routed through one of just half a dozen warehouses.

Hard line on checks at odds with EU commitment to peace process

Riot police take part in a crowd dispersal operation in Hong Kong on Wednesday.  Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Assertive diplomacy with China would be more use than talk of extending nationality

Jeffrey Donaldson: as recently as last November he said Johnson’s deal would 'destabilise Northern Ireland'. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty

The unionist party has performed a reverse ferret worthy of Boris Johnson himself

First Minister Arlene Foster (R) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at Stormont on May 7th. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

SF-DUP truce at Stormont will come under pressure as pandemic measures are eased

Green Party leader  Eamon Ryan outside  Leinster House, with Stephen Matthews TD, Senator  Pauline  O’Reilly and Senator Pippa Hackett. If the party joins  a new Irish government their duality will come under scrutiny from within and without, North and South. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Newton Emerson: Greens make up significant part of new unaligned bloc in North

Brussels must share some of the blame for letting the dispute arise and get out of hand. Photograph:  John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

Row over facility to help police sea border splits along green and orange lines

The draft framework deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael  mostly repeats Irish government commitments in the Belfast Agreement and more recent deals to re-establish Stormont. Photograph: iStock

FF-FG ambivalence makes prospect of meaningful regional autonomy possible

A policewoman speaks to sunbathers in Greenwich Park in London. No model foresaw that England’s 39 police forces would corrode authority with inconsistent enforcement. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Lifting lockdowns will be contentious. What role should behavioural science play?

The M1 motorway Border area between Dundalk and Newry. The New Decade, New Approach deal promised  £75m over three years from the Republic for a cross-Border dual carriageway. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Stormont parties may soon want Dublin to put a bit more of its money where its mouth is

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at a media briefing on Covid-19 at Stormont. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Different approaches to testing North and Republic will cause political tension

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at the Stormont daily press update to the Covid-19 crisis on Monday. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes /Press Eye/PA

There is unprecedented public appetite for leadership of First and Deputy First Minister

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photograph: Alan Lewis/Photopress

Coronavirus: It makes you wonder how bad things could get if everyone really fell out

Northern Ireland’s First Minister, and leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster cancelled her trip to the United States for St Patrick’s Day, as did Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

New-found politeness in politics could be RHI report’s main achievement

Sinn Féin  president Mary Lou McDonald. ‘The party will settle on its own term for the State, or qualify its use of the official term, then wait for inflation to catch up with  everyone else.’  Photograph: Tom Honan

Twenty years of governing without saying Northern Ireland shows party is not about to change

Some are asking why Garda Commissioner Drew Harris confirmed the 2015 report when asked by a journalist, instead of saying ‘no comment’. His northern counterpart tried that and only made matters worse. File photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Report saying army council has influence over Sinn Féin came about as way to prevent collapse of Stormont

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald addressing a party meeting in Belfast. Photograph: Sinn Féin/PA Wire

The Republic has perhaps one more electoral cycle to normalise Mary Lou McDonald’s party

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said an Irish government must ‘plan for constitutional change’. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Unification is still why everyone in Mary Lou McDonald’s party gets up in the morning

 Sinn Féin supporters celebrating after the   elections in Dublin.  It is easy to see a narrative taking hold in the Republic where rather than Sinn Féin being rewarded for moving away from violence, rivals and critics are seen to be punished for daring to mention it. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/EPA

Newton Emerson: Party’s new southern supporters unaware of what they have let over the threshold

Sinn Féin’s relationship with the IRA raises serious questions North and South, one of which is whether Provisional IRA membership should still be an offence. Legalisation might help sort out the political from the criminal, which will take on a new urgency if Sinn Féin is included in a sovereign government. Photograph: Alan Lewis/Photopress

The party's record in power in the North is characterised by caution

DUP leader Arlene Foster. ‘Rather than unionism losing a constitutional argument and fading away, the DUP might foresee itself as leading a permanent ethnic minority bloc.’ Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Ulster Scots win in Stormont deal could be considered preparation for defeat

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald: Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour are campaigning on the insistence they will not share power with a party that takes orders from the IRA. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

SF has no incentive to take hard decisions until it is in power both sides of Border

UK  prime minister Boris Johnson and secretary of state for Northern Ireland Julian Smith  are greeted by First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill  at Stormont on Monday. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Opposing parties can find common cause if they can get past cargo-cult mentality

Men of the Royal Irish Constabulary under inspection in Derry city in 1913. The RIC existed across the whole of pre-partition Ireland, which makes it part of what some call ‘shared history’. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

Attempts to respect a shared history, while well intentioned, can be aggressive

Arlene Foster. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images.

Leadership changes could loom for both parties as centrist trajectories appear not to be working

 A Unison union member dressed as Santa protests at the state of the Northern Ireland health service, amid talk between political leaders at Stormont. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Sinn Féin and the DUP are ending their grandstanding in a new political era

Nigel Dodds   lost his Belfast North seat to Sinn Féin’s John Finucan. Photograph: PA

The Democrat Unionist Party lost one-sixth of its voters and Sinn Féin almost a quarter

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photograph: Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry/PA Wire

SDLP MPs could conceivably be asked to help Labour into Downing Street

No prizes for guessing what the DUP and Sinn Féin will ask for in return for a devolution deal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

DUP and Sinn Féin seem to have inability to take tough devolved spending decisions

Hands Across the Divide sculpture in Derry: the involvement of unionists in a unity debate, while desirable, cannot be a precondition. Photograph: Getty

Reconciliation is plainly envisaged in the Belfast Agreement as preceding unity

A Stormont deal by Easter is entering the realms of plausibility, yet for that very reason there will be carte blanche to extend the deadline again. Photograph:  Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Postponing Stormont elections has proved counter productive in fixing the impasse

From the beginning to the end of holding the balance of power at Westminster, Arlene Foster’s party kept its channels and options open with Jeremy Corbyn’s party. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP

Setting its face against a Corbyn government feels like one more corner the DUP is backing itself into

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, centre,  flanked by candidate John Finucane and party vice president Michelle O’Neill in Belfast on Monday. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

Emerging three-party system must be set against uncompromising acts of aggression

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds is the party’s Westminster leader, its driving force on Brexit and the defender of Arlene Foster’s leadership. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

DUP faces election threat as it is blamed for bringing disaster on union and devolution

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: he said he wanted an end to the Northern Assembly’s designation system where members must declare themselves ‘unionist’, ‘nationalist’ or ‘other’

Focus should be less on changing rules and more on driving new dynamics between parties

The DUP has a culture where decisions are decreed from the top with no serious consultation inside the party, let alone beyond it. Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA Wire

The party has laid no groundwork to brace its voters for inevitable compromise

DUP leader Arlene Foster has been christened “two borders Foster” by the Ulster Unionist Party. How much longer will her authority last?  Photograph: David Young/PA

Target of unionist veto over regulatory alignment would never go undetected

Robin Swann returned to the broad-church approach but suddenly this has run out of time. Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA Wire

Allowing the DUP to claim to speak for every unionist has led to disaster

British prime minister Boris Johnson arrives at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

MPs return to parliament 2½ weeks earlier than planned but nothing else has changed

Nobody has ever proposed that Stormont has a veto over anything – British government proposals admit its role would ultimately be consultative. Photograph: Eric Luke

EU concedes backstop needs democratic oversight and Stormont is no threat

‘People often look at the mess the DUP has made of Brexit and ask why the party did not see it coming, but it is much worse than that: the DUP saw it all coming and made a mess of it anyway.’

The party is marginalised at Westminster and its rivals in Northern Ireland are circling

US vice-president Mike Pence with Taoiseach  Leo Varadkar  after their talks at Famleigh House in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. For Pence to mention Boris Johnson and sincerity in the same sentence, on Tuesday of all days, was beyond parody. Photograph:  Paul Faith/Getty Images

Newton Emerson: Taoiseach's comments imply he is not really open to considering alternatives

Anti-Brexit protester in a Boris Johnson, mask pretends to dig a grave outside Downing Street: A backstop referendum is considered unwise in official circles because it would turn into a proxy Border poll. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

A backstop referendum is considered unwise in official circles because it would turn into a proxy Border poll

A police road block close to the scene where an explosive device was detonated in  Co Fermanagh on Monday. Photograph: PA Wire

How frequently does violence have to occur before the Troubles have restarted?

DUP leader Arlene Foster and the party’s leader in the House of Commons, Nigel Dodds, on Downing Street. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty

It must be presumed the DUP will lose its kingmaker role at Westminster

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald during Féile an Phobail’s leaders’ debate, at St Mary’s University College, Belfast.  Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Will nationalists accept Varadkar’s argument that unification requires constitutional change?

At the MacGill summer school, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said moderate unionists would look at rising British nationalism and consider a united Ireland. Photograph: Michael McHugh/PA Wire

Enough on the table for common position on departure without anyone losing face

If a language Act is imposed by Westminster, as seems increasingly possible, would that not solve everything? Photograph: Getty Images

It is only seven months since Northern Ireland last had a more liberal abortion regime than the Republic

Stormont in Belfast: Northern Ireland is careening towards direct rule regardless of the wishes of the British or Irish governments. Photograph:  Paul Faith

Without Stormont, civil servants will be unable to manage complexities of Brexit

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photograph: Tom Honan

Abortion and same-sex marriage not do-or-die issues for unionist electorate

One pertinent effect of having a second chamber might be people remaining in Stormont after Sinn Féin or the DUP walk out. File photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Having another body such as proposed civic forum could increase sustainability of institutions

Collapse of Stormont means the North-South Ministerial Council has not met for three years. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Varadkar is pushing Brexit risk to Belfast Agreement way too far

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