Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said direct rule was not a viable long-term alternative to devolution. Photograph: Tom Honan

Joint authority between two governments barely speaking is an absurdity

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Three years from now Sinn Féin could be the Irish government. Does Donaldson fancy leaving Stormont reform until then? Photograph: Getty Images

The challenge is not devising reforms but getting the two largest parties to agree to them

Sinn Féin’s   Michelle O’Neill making her acceptance speech at an assembly election count centre  in Magherafelt,  Co  Derry. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

How long can the second largest party at Stormont put devolution on hold for what everyone knows is a face-saving exercise?

Growth of Alliance has raised public awareness that leader Naomi Long, above,  would not be deputy first minister even if her party were second largest. Photograph:   Niall Carson/PA Wire

Legal challenge to Stormont’s ‘designation’ system could help debate on reform

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson: Last year, he reportedly discussed joining the UUP with like-minded colleagues after he was beaten to the DUP leadership by Edwin Poots. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

Lack of options and deep dislike of Sinn Féin will probably keep party together

British prime minister Boris Johnson: 	He downplays his wrongdoing as   harmless accidents: a slice of cake here, a misunderstanding there, a fine no worse than a speeding ticket. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty

Over-reacting to PM’s unsuitability for office plays into his unapologetic hands

If there are no good reasons for Sinn Féin to reject voluntary-mandatory coalition, there are several bad ones.

Sinn Féin not only upholding DUP’s veto but pushing it to the fore in its own campaign

On these polling numbers, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill will be first minister if and when the next Northern Executive is formed. Photograph:  Liam McBurney/PA

The party will opt to ‘make Northern Ireland work’ . . . for now

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, being ushered from the room due to a security alert while he was speaking at a peacebuilding event organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation at the Houben Centre in Belfast. Photograph: Hume Foundation/PA Wire

Government’s policy means response could include carrot as well as stick

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald: In 2020, she said, “The British will have to take out their cheque book” partly because many people would “consider themselves British”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

When reform of Belfast bureaucracy fails, cutting it down is natural choice

Border row: Article 16’s power is exaggerated and controversies over it have made it difficult to use. Illustration: Getty

Upcoming changes to EU legislation will have to incorporated into Northern Ireland law

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long: Alliance’s vision is the way the Belfast Agreement was meant to evolve, with a strengthening centre enabling normalisation.  Photograph:  Neil Harrison Photography/PA

Newton Emerson: Party’s vision is the way Belfast Agreement was meant to evolve

The punchline is that Donaldson claims he only attended the talks to discuss ‘unionist unity’. Photograph: Getty Images

Best way for unionism to have a debate with itself is to have meaningful choice

President Michael D Higgins delivered a robust address in Enniskillen last week on the divisive subject of NI’s segregated system.

Is it mere coincidence that President Higgins called for an end to this ‘shameful’ segregation?

Stormont now has a six-month cooling off period if the first or deputy first minister resigns.

‘Caretaker devolution’ could last longer and have more profound effect than expected

‘Republicans ask us to wade through blood, but will not ask us to open our wallets.’ File photograph: Getty

Pinning the Bill and the blame on the Brits stirs grievance in the North

A section of Belfast’s skyline as seen from the observation dome above the Victoria Square shopping development. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

SF and PBP have no problem turning Belfast into build-to-rent mini-Manhattan

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson issued a vague warning his party will walk out of Stormont if protocol talks are ‘strung out for weeks’. File photograph: PA

Party's convoluted positioning is about hiding from its mistakes, not appealing to its voters

Belfast port. goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain rose by a fifth last year, according to the CSO. Photograph: Port of Belfast/PA Wire

Sea border inspection figures cast protocol in a gentler orange light

Everything we know about Boris Johnson indicates he will sit tight. File photograph:  Getty

In Northern Ireland the Prime Minister’s destiny is seen in the context of Brexit in particular

  Jeffrey Donaldson: the DUP leader  was scarcely believed when he first threatened to walk out over the protocol last September, and the threat has only become less plausible since. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

Collapse of Stormont would cause real damage for which party could be punished at the polls

British soldier on Grosvenor Road, Belfast, in 1981: Unionists were responsible for much of the violent public disorder of the period. Photograph: Pat Langan

From 1969 to 1981, there is no ballot box proof of nationalist sympathy for violence

Sinn Féin might bolster its reputation in the South if it called for financial discipline in the North. But it has decided too few voters in the Republic would pay sufficient attention and it is likely right. File photograph: Getty

Party's agenda North and South leaves nothing to chance – something for everyone

‘If an electronic travel authorisation is a simple online form covering all non-work trips for several years, what is the legitimate objection?’ Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

It would be outrageous to demand the UK leave Border open to half the world

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Ireland was living in the ‘dying days of partition’. Photograph: Alan Betson

Chances of united Ireland in next decade are close to zero

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Like the rest of unionism, he is a bystander in negotiations between London and Brussels and will simply have to sell whatever mitigations emerge. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Donaldson’s shameless manoeuvre shows he recognises protocol is here to stay

First Minister Paul Givan, flanked by Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Northern Ireland Minister of Health Robin Swann, speaks during a press conference at Stormont Castle on Tuesday during an update from the Northern Ireland Executive on new Covid measures. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Crisis looms but public could be shaken into finally accepting healthcare reform

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Donaldson’s two-pronged strategy appears to be reaping dividends

‘Protocol pragmatism is the only sustainable common ground for everyone on this island.’

Big group of soft-unionist protocol pragmatists exist – in other words, people like me

The new law will set a 2 per cent cap on rent increases, just as inflation heads towards 4 per cent

Experience shows constraining rent reduces supply and drives up market rates

‘The obvious suspicion is the UK government finds Stormont’s fragility useful in negotiations with the European Union.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

UK government tardiness underpins DUP and Sinn Féin threats to devolution

President Michael D Higgins at Collins Barracks in Dublin on the National Day of Commemoration ceremony in July to honour Irish people who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations. Photograph: Tom Honan

Newton Emerson: Higgins turned highbrow rhetoric into critique and controversy

UK’s Brexit negotiator David Frost:   ‘The Irish fury he provokes seems aggravated by a particular cognitive dissonance.’ Photograph:   Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty

UK’s Brexit negotiator is just doing his job – negotiating

The rail gap in the west of Northern Ireland and around the Border is a subject of political and even sectarian contention.

All-Ireland rail project may be vision shared island unit desperately seeks

 DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson: the party is   so compromised by Brexit that the tiny TUV can use the pan-unionist tactic against it. Photograph: Getty Images

Newton Emerson: Out of the pan-unionism into the fire for desperate DUP

President Michael D Higgins. In February he  condemned journalists and academics for ‘feigned amnesia’ over British imperialism as the key shaper of Irish history. Photograph: Getty Images

It is now common to hear the North referred to as a colony, with little care for what that implies

‘The medicines sea border  legally requires a complete political impossibility.’ File photograph: PA Wire

Reorienting medicine supply chains is not like a supermarket finding new sources of cheese

The basic problem Johnson  faced in formulating a national policy is that taxes are almost totally centralised in the UK while health is almost fully devolved. Photograph: Getty Images

Newton Emerson: Moving money about will not fix uneven devolutionary settlement

UUP leader Doug Beattie is luring unionist-background voters away from Alliance, mainly with his liberal stance on social issues. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Latest poll shows Alliance surge is over as UUP gathers up liberal unionist voters

There is palpable apathy in Northern Ireland as case numbers swell to some of the worst in the developed world, with double the Republic’s infection rate and 10 times its death rate.  Photograph: Getty Images

Stormont and public appear to have done all they are collectively willing to do

There are no votes for anyone who can be branded the ‘ditch the tricolour’ candidate. Photograph: iStock

Newton Emerson: Unity advocates are ‘putting everything on the table’ then ducking under it

The city centre is built on notoriously infirm ground – the silty Belfast sleech. File photograph: Getty

City’s Harbour Estate, one-fifth of the conurbation’s surface area, is on reclaimed land

‘A simple, radical policy is required to shift perceptions of a cosy nexus. But setting the rate at 50 per cent could look like dividing the spoils rather than tackling speculation.’ Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Proposed planning gain tax aims to send clear message that things have changed

File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Politicians announce ambitious plans but rail experts provide the reality check

People confront British soldiers on William Street in Derry minutes before paratroopers opened fire, killing 14 civilians on what became known as Bloody Sunday. Photograph: Getty

NI parties miles apart on contentious issue, with little prospect of common ground

British troops block the  anti-internment rally in Derry on Bloody Sunday, January 30th, 1972. Photograph: Ciaran Donnelly

Immunity for testimony is one of at least half a dozen types of Troubles amnesty

 Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis: The EU has effectively conceded his point that the protocol is “a policy document as much as anything else”.  Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

NI protocol is not immutable legal text that EU and fervent supporters proclaim

‘Sinn Féin and the DUP, despite grandstanding over the protocol or language legislation, are clearly determined to avoid another Stormont collapse.’ Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Any public concern about protocol will be focused on stability of Stormont

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

As Sinn Féin paints itself as the responsible party, new DUP leader must spot the danger

Pace yourself: Jeffrey Donaldson must play for time if he becomes next DUP leader. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Donaldson can carve himself three months to have a firm conversation with his party

British PM Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison during their bilateral meeting in the garden of 10 Downing Street in London on Tuesday. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Irish people will be torn between European and English-speaking worlds

Designated first minister and DUP MLA for Lagan Valley Paul Givan at Stormont. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

DUP leader needs to get a grip on party’s message, morale and discipline

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, refers to herself as “joint head of government”. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Unionism’s healthy internal revolution hands nationalists huge symbolic gain

Goods arriving into Northern Ireland at  Larne. Photograph: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

Separate issues of smuggling and food safety being muddied by both sides

Northern Ireland is hardly an agrarian society: agrifood is only 4 per cent of its economy. However, the region is a food exporter and considers food processing an innovative, export-focused industry.

Deal could result in best of both worlds for North’s agrifood industry

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

schools

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

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