France 2017: Le Pen’s Strange Definition of Secularism

I’ve written about the upcoming French presidential election in the past. Since then, free-market lunatic Francois Fillon has tanked following the revelations that he gave fake jobs to his family members. Benoit Hamon and the PS have slipped off the radar as a resurgent Jean-Luc Melenchon has just about drawn level with Fillon in polling in the high teens. Centrist Emmanuel Macron and extreme right-winger Marine Le Pen are level in the lead, both polling in the low to mid twenties. The trend as of mid-April shows Macron, Hamon and Le Pen losing support with big gains to Melenchon and a slight rise for Fillon.

Given the large number of undecided/abstaining voters and the rapidly changing trends, any two of the top four could succeed in the first round of voting on Sunday (French time). The situation in French politics is such that it was covered by British-American comedian John Oliver in Last Week Tonight. In general the segment was light on policy and highlighted the deep unpopularity of figures such as Valls, Fillon and Macron who were caught on camera getting hit with food items. Interestingly, there was no mention of Hamon which should be a signal to his voters to switch to Melenchon in order to see their interests represented.

Most of the segment covered Le Pen, who draws obvious parallels with Brexit, Trump, and now the outrageous Turkish constitutional referendum (although I can’t imagine she would like to be compared with the latter event).  Oliver pointed out that even though she has polished the FN from when her father was in charge, she still lets some unpleasant ideas slip through. One example of this was when interviewed, Le Pen stated that she would ban all religious clothing. Le Pen has also stated that she is attached to secularism. Her ban on religious clothing is no doubt inspired by her staunch secularism.

As the title alludes to, I think that a ban on religious clothing has nothing to do with secularism and in fact goes against secular principles. Firstly, let’s look at a definition of secularism from the National Secular Society (UK):

Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.

One of the misunderstandings about secularism (normally by religious fanatics) is that it is akin to compulsory atheism or involves preferential treatment for atheists. Not true, if anything the above definition is a statement of neutrality. This position of neutrality is beneficial to the most people as should be obvious to anyone capable of empathy. While a powerful group may be upset that it can’t do whatever it likes, less powerful groups do not experience oppression.

In terms of the second part of the NSS definition, I think that bans on clothing represent a deviation from neutrality and indicate a bias in favour of irreligion. While I think an irreligious society is generally better than a religious society, turning everyone into an atheist will not solve all the world’s problems (just read PZ Myers’ blog and consider some of the examples of asshole atheism that he has confronted). Bans on clothing push the widespread understanding of secularism towards the cartoon definition that religionists use to claim that secularism is persecuting them. Let’s avoid that and acknowledge that individuals should be free to wear the clothing of their choice.

It’s also interesting that in the West, non-religious and Christian people wear clothing which is generally not explicitly associated with religion. That’s probably due to privilege bias and thinking that their “normal” is the only “normal”. I can’t help but think secularism is being misappropriated by Le Pen as a tool to bash religious minorities in France. Bashing religious minorities is a godsend to terrorist organisations who will happily recruit those who have been persecuted. Terrorist organisations will find things a lot harder when the mainstream of their religion have secure comfortable lifestyles, individual rights and freedoms to participate in society and a sense of belonging. True secularism offers us all of those things. Le Pen’s policies only serve to enrage and endanger us.

My preference is Melenchon, whose concerns about economic insecurity are more credible than Le Pen’s. He recognises that neoliberal economics has underlined the noble vision of the European Union. Hamon also has some interesting policies such as a UBI, and investment in infrastructure and the environment. However he is a long shot on current polling. I was wrong to characterise Macron as a Bernie Sanders type figure in my last French post (well spotted Old Deuteronomy), it is clear now that Melenchon is deserving of this sobriquet. It’s now up to France to do what the US couldn’t: put a socialist voice in charge for constructive change.

*You may notice that I haven’t used any of the accented letters in the candidate names. That’s because I have a US English keyboard and I can’t be arsed remembering the ALT codes. This is Zeitung f­ür Katzen, not Journal pour les chats!

My Opinion on the Andrew Little Defamation Trial

On Monday, news broke that the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little has been partially cleared of defaming the owners of a hotel chain. This verdict makes writing the post easier as I know that some of Little’s statements were not defamatory and can report on them with less fear of negative consequences. Having read up on online defamation, I should be OK if I stick to verifiable facts and genuine statements of opinion. Of course that’s no guarantee. As Little has found out, you can be sued for defamation even when what you said wasn’t defamatory. The comments about the case on social media and other blogs were probably more defamatory than anything Little ever said. But I guess suing an internet random doesn’t have the same gravitas does it?

How did this all begin? The founder of the Scenic Hotel Group hotel chain donated $101,000 to the governing National Party prior to the last election. One month later, Scenic Hotel Group was awarded a government contract to run the Matavai Resort in Niue. That these two events occurred is beyond doubt, the issue is a matter of optics as to whether there is any connection between the events.

I think the timing could be described as “interesting”, or “unfortunate” as a cynical mind can’t help but wander, especially since there is history with National Party donors and unfortunately timed government contracts such as Beemer-gate. In that case, the dealer saw sense and didn’t sue anyone. With the hotel incident, Little made some comments where he alleged corruption. The Hagamans sued him for defamation prior to an investigation by the Auditor-General. Once the Auditor-General got involved and gave the process the all-clear,  Little apologised to the Hagamans.

From the reports of proceedings in the trial, Lani Hagaman said that she wanted a suitable public apology. I think that the statement on the Labour Party website was sufficient. They should not have expected an apology before the AG investigation when they sued him, why should Little apologise when the facts are yet to be determined? I found that Little was being sued for $2.3 million inconsistent with the claim that Hagaman just wanted an apology. I am unconvinced by the excuse that it is to restore Earl Hagaman’s reputation. Ironically, my opinion of Hagaman is diminished by the fact that Lani Hagaman thinks that his reputation can be restored by an amount of money that would bankrupt Little. If they didn’t want me to think poorly of them, then they shouldn’t have donated money to the National Party in the first place.

I am also concerned about the political motivations that could have been involved. National Party donors and presumably supporters suing a Labour Party politician unsettles me. Will suing for defamation under unconvincing circumstances become a tactic for the wealthy and powerful to censor dissenting voices? The integrity of our democracy is more important than the feelings of greedy multi-millionaires whose own actions do more to harm their reputation than anything Andrew Little could say. Fortunately, one of the findings of this case was that Little has qualified privilege as Leader of the Opposition to draw attention to potentially murky dealings. As noted by Antony Robins, this is good for democracy.

Unfortunately, it may not be over yet. Lani Hagaman looks to be seeking a retrial over the inability of the jury to decide whether Little had defamed Earl Hagaman. She also does not believe that Little is not protected by qualified privilege. Little has washed his hands of the issue as has the corporate media, who have moved on to other things.  By donating to the National party, companies are making a statement that they view their customers and New Zealand with contempt. However, contempt goes both ways so I will not be purchasing goods and services from Scenic Hotel Group in the forseeable future.

Another Great Kiwi Invention to not be Proud of

In my final year of undergraduate study, I worked in a group of 4 people to design a chlor-alkali process plant. One of the interesting parts of this process is that you produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide. We needed to make sure that our process was positioned such that there was sufficient demand for both the chlorine and the sodium hydroxide.We obviously went for a membrane cell design because the other main types (mercury and diaphragm) use mercury and asbestos respectively. Sad!

After the usual jokes about supplying chemical weapons to dubious customers (which doesn’t sound so funny anymore), we settled on Australia. We would sell the chlorine to a PVC manufacturer in Victoria, the NaOH to the mining industry for bauxite processing and we would use the reject stream from a reverse osmosis desalination plant. Concentrating the brine solution was one of the trickiest parts, so it seemed helpful to have the hard work done for us, and it would reduce the damage done to the environment by the desalination plant.

However, it wasn’t that simple. The RO brine wasn’t concentrated enough! Thus, we opted to bump up the feed concentration using electrodialysis (I believe the recycle brine stream was concentrated using multi-effect evapouration). Such an approach was used with a plant in Kuwait (now called Al Kout Industrial Projects Company).

Despite using an innovative and efficient set-up, the profitability was very sensitive to the price of NaOH. If the price is too low, you may as well not bother.

I was thrilled to discover that there was another application for the chlor-alkali process: Te Kiri Gold magic water of course! You don’t even need to worry about concentrating up the feed solution, just dunk your electrodes in and go! Then approach vulnerable people, who will believe that it will solve their problems. Even better, get some rugby has-been to endorse it. Then charge $100 for 2 litres.

So our Victorian chlor-alkali plant used 5.9 million t/y of RO brine . Of that, 5.2 million t/y of that was electrodialysis dilutate, with a NaCl concentration of 32 g/L which I presume was dumped back into the sea. Instead of doing this and have to pay some kind of dumping fee (which we didn’t consider in the cashflow analysis) let’s make some magic water! As a volume, that is 5.2 million L/y. Given that no separation is required, the only operating cost is that of the electricity. At $50 per litre, the plant could make $260 million/y in revenue from magic water alone! The revenue from the chlorine and NaOH was only $160 million/y, and these were also much more expensive to produce.

There are a few issues to consider. First is demand; while there are enough people to defraud to make it worth the while of the shareholders, there aren’t enough people to defraud on such an industrial scale. The second is efficacy: MAGIC WATER DOESN’T FUCKING WORK! The third is ethics: could you live with yourself if you knowingly sold ineffective products that were giving people false hope? The dumbarse who manufactures this product doesn’t have this problem as his knowledge is woefully deficient. His claims of wanting to help people would be more believable if he wasn’t charging such an extortionate amount for it. Maybe he’s just that bad at business and that is what he needs to do to cover his costs.

I’m disappointed by the media coverage. The articles are clearly aimed at the already sceptical, who will read the first few lines and snort with laughter. However the more easily misled may not pick that up. The expert criticism of the product only features at the end of the article where it’s less likely to be read. The Herald is worse, their “investigation” is a one-on-one chat with the manufacturer whose incorrect answers to the reporter’s questions go unchallenged. One Herald “article” is nothing more than an anecdote from one of the scam victims. The media has a responsibility to protect the public and needs to take a stronger view against Te Kiri Gold, which should be shut down immediately.

Dear Paul Moon, Free Speech at University is Doing Fine

The world seems to be in hysterics these days about universities being left-wing hiveminds that suppress the “free speech” of individuals or groups who hold viewpoints seen as “politically incorrect”. Much of this stems from the ignorance of the general public, who aren’t exactly familiar with universities and have no idea what they are talking about when they say “political correctness”. This hysteria is largely pushed by the political Right, who are upset that they rejected reality and are now underrepresented in academic faculty.

For some reason, some Very Serious New Zealanders are worried about free speech being under threat in NZ universities following the closure of a quasi-fascist club at the University of Auckland such that they signed a letter, led by AUT Professor of History Paul Moon. The European Students Association started out with some alarming Nazi imagery on their social media page and the claim to “promote European culture on campus” which is typical vague weasel language used by white supremacist groups. If they were genuinely interested in European cultures, they would have created multiple groups i.e. Italian Students Association, French, German etc in order to cover the vast range of cultural practices covered in Europe. Similar distinctions exist already with other international student clubs. If you actually wanted to celebrate things like French architecture or Swiss chocolate, then you would just say so. You wouldn’t hide it behind a Nazi slogan.

While we will never know what their true future intentions were because they gave up soon after, I suspect they were taking a softly-softly approach to get their foot in the door and then gradually acclimatize the student body as they ratcheted up the racist rhetoric. Of course, they used their failure as an opportunity to cry fascist oppression, gaining the attention of those who signed the open letter. It’s ironic that they don’t see the opposition to the club as being an exercise in free speech itself. Freedom of speech is not a guarantee of a platform, nor does it mean freedom from criticism. Nothing is wrong with free speech at NZ universities. For example, past incidents at the University of Canterbury demonstrate that students are free to do dumb stuff and they are free to suffer the consequences of said dumb stuff.

The signatories are claiming that there is a problem where there is none and by doing so are unwittingly playing into the hands of fascists. Fascist groups want to become more prominent without facing any opposition because they fail when they are opposed. They are trying to use claims of free speech to silence their critics (oh the irony)! Fortunately, many students, staff and the general public will continue to be rightly horrified by the attempts to normalise such an abhorrent ideology and will use their voices to discredit them.

Elite Dangerous – Long Distance Passenger Mission

I’ve been fairly absent from the blog lately, even with lots of stuff happening around the world and locally that I would have loved to offer my take on. But I couldn’t, I’ve been busy. Busy with work stuff and much of my spare time has been occupied by Elite Dangerous. In my last post about this open-world spaceship video game, I covered how I would outfit a small ship to transport rare goods.

Well, I got bored of that fairly quickly because the Adder was slow and the cabin view was very limited. So I went back to my trusty Asp Explorer, which does everything I would like to do. I then found myself taking up the Ram Tah ancient ruins mission.

There were bits of great fun with other players (in private groups; fuck open) trawling the ruins sites in our SRVs and discovering new site layouts. For the most part, it was ruined by developer bugs, such as random data being collected in multiplayer modes and messed up terrain for AMD cards which made data collection impossible. The lack of tools to find new ruins sites was a serious limitation which Frontier partly addressed later on.

So I stopped doing that and went to do passenger missions instead. The best ones are the sightseeing missions because they play to Elite’s best strength: eye candy. No I’m not talking about the passengers themselves, but where you get to take them. They want to see all kinds of beautiful planets, or features on the planetary surface. You go to a few sites, then drop the passenger off where you picked them up and get a few million credits. If you ever go to an geyser field, try driving your SRV over one and see what happens!

There are also long range passenger missions which take you across the galaxy to an unusual system. I was foolish enough to accept one of these. My target was ~13,000 LY away from my home system of Valta*. A round trip of ~25 kLY with a jump range of ~45 LY equates to ~550 jumps, each with a frame shift drive (FSD) charge-up, time in hyperspace and refueling around stars. This gets boring pretty quickly.

While travelling, you can collect exploration data from uncharted systems and sell it on to a station when you return. Some features such as stars, terraformable planets, water worlds, ammonia worlds, and earth-like worlds are rather valuable and have high payouts. Plus there’s the ego-stroking aspect of getting your gamer tag added to show that you were the first to discover it!

I found that playing things on in the backround helps boredom from setting in. I still haven’t found any podcasts that I can listen to on a regular basis. Instead, I had some recordings that I needed to listen to as part of work, so why not listen and play at the same time?

Once I had gone through the recordings, I resorted to albums by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), my favourite band of all time. Listening to the full albums was an enjoyable experience. There were many tracks that I hadn’t heard before and would have otherwise skipped since the introductions weren’t as alluring as their more popular songs. It’s also an appropriate choice given that ELO has always had a bit of a sci-fi feel to their songs; after all their logo was turned into a flying saucer on some of the album covers!

Now for the holiday snaps:

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 12_03_2017 12_00_12 PM

Three A class stars in close formation. It can be a bit of a shock to jump into these systems since there is a heightened risk of overheating.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 16_03_2017 8_50_24 PM

My first discovered Earth-like world! PRU ASECS JB-F D11-154 6.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 18_03_2017 8_07_03 PM

The night sky looks different as you get closer to the core. These are mostly B Class stars which have high magnitudes, making them more visible from this distance compared to lower star classes.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 21_03_2017 9_12_52 PM

My second Earth-like world! FLYIEDGIAE GC-K C25-18 A 6.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 23_03_2017 9_59_47 PM

Now this was neat, a pair of binary water worlds closely orbiting around each other. My notes indicate that they were GRIA DRYE SU-A B6-10 1 and GRIA DRYE SU-A B6-10 2.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 24_03_2017 11_41_19 PM

There’s a lot in this shot. On the right, there is a terraformable planet (more credits for my commander). I’m in its planetary ring. Through the ring particles, you can see the Y-class star with its own ring that this planet orbits. They orbit around the A-class star which is the bright dot in the bottom left of the image.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 25_03_2017 9_18_55 PM

My third Earth-like world! AUCOPP II-M C10-1 A 5.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 25_03_2017 10_28_25 PM

I wasn’t the first to discover this system, but it’s still cool. The gas-giant is only 30 Ls away from the star, which is really close. It makes for a unique image.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 25_03_2017 11_37_14 PM

Here you can see my bookmarks for the journey into the Milky Way. It illustrates the scale of Elite Dangerous. Just as well players are given a month to complete long range passenger missions. I’m glad that I’m now parked up in Conway Dock**, as Valta became embroiled in a civil war while I was away. Since I’m allied to both warring factions and I’m not very good at combat, I’ll sit it out.

The long range passenger missions are a bit much, but definitely give shorter ones a go. It only requires a couple of hundred LY of travel and it’s a great chance to see the most interesting planets and landscapes in the galaxy.

*This is just roleplaying. You can pick whatever system you like!
**Most stations are named after historical figures. I have no idea who Conway Dock is named after, but I like to think it was Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway. It’s just an “alternative fact”!

Ugh. NZ Retirement Age Comes up for Discussion… Again

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English got into a spot of trouble over the past few days when he stuffed up some television interviews with a non-committal approach towards the retirement age*. In what comes across as an act of political desperation, English announced that he would pass legislation post-election to implement a rise in the retirement age from 65 to 67 in 2037. I have some misgivings about the policy. It is weak. The retirement age is political poison, English attempts to minimise the blow by putting it ahead so far away. It indicates that he has no confidence in his ability to lead this issue (to be fair, I also have no confidence in his ability too).

Here is my position on the retirement age. It should stay at 65. Here are some reasons:

  • Automation. As a society, increasing amount of work can be performed without human involvement. A low-ish eligibility for superannuation will incentivise older workers to retire, creating opportunities for younger people.
  • Ageism. Talk to anyone who has lost their job who is over-50. They’ll tell you it’s tough to find more work. From territorial management types who don’t want to be shown up by more capable and experienced staff to crude assumptions about one’s digital proficiency, there are a lot of barriers to re-employment for older people. Pushing up the retirement age just exacerbates this issue. Whats the point of keeping 60-somethings miserable while giving them unemployment payments? Just give them super instead.
  • Social contract. Simply put: pay your taxes now, which we’ll use to support others now and we’ll see that you get the same support when you retire. Of course, the social contract has already been violated with GST, student loans, previous rises in the eligibility age, tax cuts for the wealthy. The answer is to restore the social contract, not to keep breaking it.
  • One-size doesn’t fit all. All this talk about age increases is framed from a white-centric, managerial class point of view i.e. that of the most privileged in society. The needs of those in manual work or those belonging to ethnic groups with a lower life expectancy (due to structural inequalities in society) are often ignored. On this point, I have warmed to Peter Dunne’s idea of a variable age with adjusted payments. You can read the discussion document here, with a rather amusing foreword by none other than Bill English himself! However, I don’t see the need to reduce payments for those who need to retire earlier because of the nature of their work or because of societal issues beyond the control of individuals.
  • Running out the clock. I once interned at an organisation whose name I won’t reveal. The group leader was in their early 60s and it was clear that they were really just waiting to become eligible for NZ super so that they wouldn’t need to bother turning up to work. Raising the retirement age would mean such people hang around for longer while not doing much work which is harmful to interpersonal dynamics and for business productivity.

I disliked English before he announced his plans, all this means is I dislike him even more. Stoking the flames of generational warfare helps rally the generally older National voters, this policy is designed to do exactly that. The timing of the age rise is curious. Far away enough that the current-day elderly will be dead and won’t care and that younger people won’t be looking far enough ahead. It won’t even affect my parents in their early 50s. This is an implicit concession by National that it is an unpopular idea. But hey, it kicks in after you retire so who cares?

Having a defeatist outlook means that I suspect many NZ voters will think exactly along these lines. It is also a test to see how wedded Winston Peters and New Zealand First are to 65. I hope Peters and NZF take a solidarity type approach and reject any change to the age of eligibility. Fortunately, Peters has shown some of his trademark intransigence and has denounced English’s proposal. National improved their outlook for a coalition with NZF if needed following Key’s surrender. Now they have made a coalition which will almost be a necessity to stay in government post election much less likely.

The self-selecting poll is scary. 70-30 in favour of hiking up the age. Some of the person-on-the-street interviews don’t hold much hope either. The obsequious younger people that were interviewed have swallowed the neoliberal nonsense about a rising age being sensible and inevitable.

The media response from some circles is infuriating. The anonymous Press editorial praised English for “starting a discussion”. Jesus fuck, the editorial writer is either 5 years old or has dementia. Labour proposed the exact same thing in 2011 and held on to it for the disastrous 2014 election (the self-selecting poll from 2013 is interesting at 50-50). Don’t praise National for something they didn’t do, your bias is showing.

I was trying to see if the MSM criticised Labour for this policy, but it looks like they selectively praised Labour at the time as part of appearing “fair and balanced”. So at least they’re consistent in shilling for neoliberal talking points.

So what’s my solution? I’ve already made some noises about unconditional incomes and NZ super is an unconditional income for everyone over a certain age. Rather than trying to limit it, we should seek to expand it as part of restoring the social contract. Perhaps Dunne’s variable payment mode could be further stretched in order to make such an initiative more palatable to the hard-of-thinking. Also, wealthy people and corporations should pay more tax in order to fund government services. If National were as courageous as their media poodles insisted, then they would propose something like this instead of promising to inflict more damage onto New Zealand.

*Note. “retirement age” is synonymous with increasing the age of eligibility for NZ superannuation payments, which is the actual subject under discussion.

Northern Ireland Assembly Election: Interesting Times Ahead

One of the areas of politics that I am most passionate about is the nature of governments. Particularly, I despise the concept of monarchy governments. Monarchy governments transfer power across generations along one family lineage. National leaders inherit their position by right of birth with no consideration of other factors. This has a few problems:

  • Administrative inefficiency. Monarchs appointed by birth may not have the expertise, interest or competence to govern society in the interest of all members of the populations.
  • Greed. Monarchs may not see it as their duty to govern in the interests of all of their subjects. Instead, they may focus on enriching themselves or their cronies.
  • God. Many monarchical systems justify themselves by claiming that the monarch is divinely appointed to rule. Given that there is no evidence to affirm the existence of any supernatural being, these claims are false.

Instead, countries should be republics where the law designates the process by which power is designated. Modern-day republics designate power according to some form of popular approval (e.g. elections), while monarchies are reduced to figurehead roles.

Being an ardent republican, I keep an eye on politics in Northern Ireland. Irish history in the 20th century was marked by conflict over the matter of British rule. Nationalists/Republicans felt that the island should be self-governed, while Loyalists/Unionists supported British rule. Republican sentiments were in part, driven by British colonial mismanagement and that the anti-Catholic values of the British monarchy.

The southern part of Ireland became a fully independent republic in 1949, while the north remained under British rule. In the north, Protestants/Unionists were favoured over the largely Catholic/Nationalist minority. During the second half of the 20th century, Northern Ireland was marred by conflict between Nationalist paramilitary groups and Unionist paramilitary groups, the latter backed by the British government.

The Troubles came to an end in 1998, following the Good Friday Agreement, where a power-sharing government between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein was established. This seems like an amazing feat to get such vicious opponents to come to the table and work together, there are some problems:

Recently, there have been some cracks forming in the NI government. First there was Brexit. The DUP supports Brexit (for some stupid reason), while the UUP, SF and the SLDP support Remain as integral to the peace process. The soft border with the Republic is an economic benefit to the North and it allows Nationalists to pretend that the island is effectively reunified.

Second there is the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI was a scheme which paid businesses to use renewable heating materials. This scheme was taken advantage of with stories of empty rooms being heated with biomass combustion. The RHI was implemented by First Minister Foster, who refused to accept responsibility for the failure. Deputy First Minister McGuinness resigned in protest. SF did not nominate a replacement, leading to a new assembly election.

That election took place over the weekend and it was interesting. The obstinate DUP were punished by effectively losing 5 seats, while SF gained 4, bringing them pretty much level in terms of seats and first-preference votes (total number of seats went from 108 to 90).

This result means that the DUP can no longer file “petitions of concern” by themselves. This opens a pathway for NI to enter the 21st century with the rest of the UK by passing same-sex marriage. The DUP can rely on the ultra-crazy TUV candidate to join them on any petition against SSM, but they will still be one vote short.

Remember how I said that the DUP were obstinate? Yeah, well it looks like Foster is going to stay on as leader of the DUP. Presumably this means she will stay on as First Minister. This is a headache for SF: do they negotiate a new government with the DUP which the DUP can then claim that McGuinness’ resignation was a political stunt after all? Or do they hold out with the risk that the UK government reintroduces direct rule?

First and Deputy First Minister are effectively co-First Ministers and each requires a majority of support from all members, Unionist members and Nationalist members. If the DUP wants Foster, then Foster will likely stay and this is probably the least worst option for SF. Even if a new government is negotiated, the power-sharing agreement could be in jeopardy again when the Brexit issue starts to really bite.

All in all, this result is good for republicans. SF and the SDLP come out of it stronger and looking more stately, while the DUP appears weakened and childish. There are also other issues at play here: SF is centre-left economically and socially liberal (except for abortion), while the DUP is a right-wing conservative party. I would have thought that SF could have drummed up support for republicanism by association with decent policies in other areas, but it seems that sectarianism in NI runs deep.

The problems facing NI before the election are still there. The distribution of power is still roughly the same. The best practical outcome for NI is for nothing to change. The trouble is that both sides want change in opposite directions. It will be interesting to see if another innovative solution is found to manage Brexit while keeping everyone happy, I sure as hell can’t see one.