A week is a long time…

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“A week is a long time in politics” is a quotation usually ascribed to Harold Wilson, although there’s no record of him ever having said it; it has nevertheless turned out to be true for the island of Ireland.

I have been thinking about writing about the sudden resignation of Leo Varadkar from the office of Taoiseach just ten days ago, and his impending replacement by Simon Harris (the current Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science), but I’ve been too busy and thought I’d wait until the holiday weekend to write something.

(To be honest I didn’t have any great insights to offer, so it’s perhaps just as well that I didn’t attempt any kind of in-depth analysis, not that lack of insight prevents media pundits from having a go. I’ll just say that Harris is an energetic tinkerer who is good at doing superficial – and sometimes positive – things to attract headlines, and is clearly enormously ambitious, but I don’t think he’ll offer any significant change of direction. The biggest issue in Ireland right now is the housing shortage, and in his address to Fine Gael members (given here in full) he didn’t mention the housing crisis or rising homelessness once. We can assume that more inaction is in store as the governing coalition limps on towards the next General Election, that must take place within the next year.)

I also found it amusing how many columnists wrote, after the fact, that they had Varadkar’s resignation coming although they were all far too brave to say so ahead of the event.

Anyway, the events of yesterday turned out to be even more surprising – not to say shocking – than Varadkar’s departure. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) resigned yesterday. Nobody knows for sure why Leo Varadkar resigned (except the man himself; my best guess is that he just got bored with the job) but the reason for Donaldson’s resignation is well known: he has been charged with sexual offences, including rape. Since his case is now in the hands of the criminal justice system, further comment or speculation about the charges would be highly inappropriate. Whatever you think of Jeffrey Donaldson’s character or politics – and I don’t think very much – he is, like everyone else, entitled to a fair trial. Just as importantly, if he has committed crimes it is important not to say or do anything that may be construed as prefudicial and might prevent a conviction.

This matter is alarming however because the Northern Ireland Assembly has just returned to Stormont after a two-year hiatus. Although Donaldson was largely responsible for its suspension, he was also largely responsible for its return. A sizeable fraction of the DUP were, and presumably still are, opposed to the agreement that led to reinstatement of power sharing and there is a real danger that the Assembly will collapse again. Fortunately, both sides seem to realize what a disaster that would be for the people of Northern Ireland, but that doesn’t guarantee that another crisis can be averted.

“May you live in interesting times” is another frequently misattributed quotation, but it seems we’re in them anyway.

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