Andrew Madden’s weekly political spin: From a Belfast nightmare to Jim Allister’s ‘protocol endorsement’

Lord Frost said triggering Article 16 – which allows either side to take unilateral action if the implementation of the agreement gives rise to negative consequences – may end up being the “only way forward”.

In turn, an EU spokeswoman said they would not comment on Lord Frost’s remarks, “however lyrical or aggressive they may be”.

At the monthly Belfast City Council meeting, a Sinn Fein motion calling for a strict application process for bonfires in the city fell at the final hurdle. Needless to say, Sinn Fein’s Ciaran Beattie was not happy that the Green Party did not back the plans.

“It is also absolutely bizarre that the Green Party on the eve of COP26 have refused to back a motion which would have brought the burning of toxic materials in the city to an end,” he said.

“This despite a pollution survey carried out on the 11th of July in Belfast which showed that potentially lethal pollutants were as much as five times higher on that day.”

Green Party councillor Aine Groogan also tabled a motion calling for a ‘Tsar’ for the Holyland, to help tackle anti-social behaviour in the area. Cllr Groogan assured members she was not calling for a “full Bolshevik revolution”. Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl joked she was disappointed there would be no such revolution.

A motion was also on the agenda urging the establishment of an ambassador to boost the city’s night time economy. What title would this ambassador have? The ‘Night Mayor’. Yes, that’s right, some councillors wanted to create a nightmare for the city.


Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots made some stark comments on labour shortages facing the sector during minister’s question time on Tuesday. UUP MLA Roy Beggs asked how urgent the situation is and how is it going to be addressed in the short term and the long term.

“It is extremely urgent. We have engaged extensively with the industry, we are actively looking at our options. Some of the options are to actually slaughter pigs at birth so that this backlog which is building up isn’t something that continues unabated, another one is to slaughter animals on farm at some stage,” he said.

“But that doesn’t deal with the instantaneous problem because we have a back up now, and one of the other areas we could look at is putting pigs into cold storage. The problem is not the capacity for slaughter, the problem is the capacity for butchery.”

Elsewhere, the owner of an Northern Ireland garden centre chain warned that global pressures on the availability of containers for shipping goods have led to delays in supply chains. Robin Mercer of Hillmount Garden Centre said this has caused a shortage of Christmas lights this year. However, I suppose with rising energy costs this might actually save people a few quid.


Wednesday saw UK Minister of State Conor Burns state that the Westminster government is prepared to listen to alternative proposals on dealing with Troubles legacy cases, suggesting Stormont’s political parties should find a consensus first.

This did not go down too well with many, including Stephen Travers, who was seriously injured in the Miami Showband massacre.

“With all due respect Mr Burns please do not task victims with finding an alternative to an obscene and immoral law when one has already been signed and agreed, i.e. The Stormont House Agreement,” he said.

Meanwhile, unionists were up in arms after Dr Adam S Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said he believed a united Ireland was five to ten years away, because the “economic forces at work just aren’t going to be reconcilable with the political situation.”

He said for Northern Ireland to have the “best of both worlds” under the NI Protocol, it required “political maturity”. Political maturity? Wouldn’t hold my breath.

During a meeting of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, members discussed an Independent Report on the Review of Opposition Entitlements. Stormont does not currently have a formal opposition. Jim Allister spoke about information sharing between a hypothetical opposition and the government and said there could be some sort of memorandum of understanding or “protocol” between the two sides on the issue.

Committee member Colin McGrath quipped: “I knew there would be a day when me and Jim Allister would agree on a protocol and that day has arrived much earlier than I thought it would.”

Meanwhile, DUP MP Sammy Wilson suggested Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “deeply embarrassed” about the Protocol, after he made just one passing reference to NI in his Conservative Party conference speech. Northern Ireland was mentioned just once in the 45-minute address.

Mr Wilson said the PM didn’t want to “remind his audience it was one of the many promises he has broken to the people of Northern Ireland”.

“It doesn’t surprise me, he is probably deeply embarrassed about Northern Ireland and the protocol promises he made and broke,” he told the BBC.

During a briefing by the Commission for Victims and Survivors, spokesperson Mary Moreland was asked by MLAs about a meeting the group had with NI Secretary Brandon Lewis and it didn’t go exactly swimmingly.

Ms Moreland, a former UDR member, said the meeting was “unproductive” as he seemed to have “other things on his mind”. That’s reassuring.

It appears Jim Allister has coined a new phrase for engagement in north/south bodies. In a statement announcing his party’s election readiness, he said “when some thought the answer to the trashing of our east/west links was more ‘north/southery’, we called it out for the dangerous absurdity it was.”


Sammy Wilson hit out at the comments on a united Ireland from Dr Adam S Posen earlier in the week, stating: “He might be an economist but he’s not much of a politician.” Bear in mind Mr Wilson himself taught economics in another life.

“I think the second thing I would say to him if he knew anything about economics — and I doubt if he’s looked very closely at the economics with Northern Ireland and our inter-relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom — if he knew anything about that he would know that our economy is more tied to the UK economy than the Irish economy,” Mr Wilson added.

Meanwhile, Health Committee members discussed abortion services during a meeting on Thursday, with Green Party leader Clare Bailey highlighting the plight of women being harassed while seeking access to such services.

Ms Bailey said she is aware of one incident in which a young woman was approached by protesters who claimed “they were from the BBC and this would be reported on tonight’s news”.

“One young woman who ran into oncoming traffic, four lanes of oncoming traffic to try and get away,” she added.

Following the news the EU is to bring forward new proposals on the NI Protocol, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he didn’t think the proposals would be acceptable. How about waiting to actually see the proposals before casting judgement?

Former DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed her successor as Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, Deborah Erskine, on taking up the role. She wrote on social media: “It’s been an ‘interesting’ year, but I am so pleased that FST has this wonderful, hardworking, capable woman as their new MLA. @deborah_cheryl. Thanks to all who have supported me over 18 years of being your MLA – it’s been my huge privilege and btw I haven’t gone away you know!” An unceremonious ousting, three DUP leaders, slights thrown back and forth between erstwhile friends and colleagues – an ‘interesting’ year indeed.


Friday saw some interesting comments from DUP MLA Jim Wells – who is known for his ‘traditional’ views, to say the least – regarding the Ulster Unionists’ latest political broadcast, which was released on Thursday and features Gaelic games and a same-sex couple.

Mr Wells spoke to the BBC, claiming it would be “very unlikely” that someone who plays hurling or a same-sex couple “would be attracted to vote for the UUP”, adding the broadcast was “proof” the Ulster Unionist Party were “fixated with the Alliance Party vote”.

“The vast majority of those who would partake in [Gaelic games] would be from the nationalist tradition, particularly Sinn Fein,” he added.

“Therefore, it is highly unlikely they are going to leap across the SDLP and Alliance and get to some form of unionism.

“DUP voters understand the nature of Gaelic sports, they are very much from the republican/nationalist tradition.

“I can’t see many people who would be playing hurling on a Sunday voting for the DUP or the UUP. What we really both have to aim for is the large number of unionists who don’t turn out at all.”

Mr Wells later admitted he had never actually seen the broadcast.

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