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BBC News 2019
Fianna Fail and SDLP Agree Merger:

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Westminster was stunned, but not entirely surprised, this evening to learn that the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) of Northern Ireland had agreed a merger with Fianna Fail, the current largest party in the Irish legislature. The move had been speculated for some time with talks being held and confirmed by both parties earlier this year but the buzz had died down recently, according to insiders that all changed following the 2019 General Election and subsequent opinion polling. A source in the now former SDLP said to us "we had all but wound down our talks with Fianna Fail, we couldn't really see the point of a merger with the current situation being what it was, we just wanted to get Brexit sorted (preferably cancelled) and then go from there. But then at the election Sinn Fein won the most votes by a comfortable margin and we think there's now a real chance of a border poll in 2020." It is understood that Mr Martin will remain the leader of Fianna Fail as a whole but that Mr Eastwood will become the de facto Leader of Fianna Fail in Northern Ireland, much like the situation with the SNP where Nicola Sturgeon is the leader of the SNP but Gordon Reese is their leader in Westminster. With some analysis here's our Northern Ireland Correspondent Emma Vardy:

Quote:Northern Ireland has had a long and complicated history when it comes to domestic politics. Opting to remain in the United Kingdom after the 1922 split which saw the rest of Ireland form the Independent Republic it became a fierce battleground for much of the late 20th Century when the IRA and Unionist groups waged a virtual civil war known as "The Troubles". Part of what makes the merger we've seen today so important is that it signals to many that the nationalist elements in Northern Ireland, those determined to see it reunited with the rest of Ireland, that a border poll and reunification could indeed be on the cards as early as next year. Now this puts the whole of the United Kingdom and Westminster on notice because as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, the treaty which brought the Troubles to an end, the Westminster and Dublin Governments are bound by the wishes of the Northern Irish people and so we could see a situation where Northern Ireland votes to leave the United Kingdom and the British Government (from either party) just have to go along with it.

And to finish off let's here from our political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg:

Quote:The repercussions of this deal can be felt here in Westminster as well, for many years the SDLP were the sister party of the Labour Party who have now formed a Government. Our insiders in the SDLP suggest that they were very swift in negotiations pretty much accepting whatever Labour asked of them to get into Government, at their Press Conference today Michael Martin and Colum Eastwood said that they would be supporting the current Government to finish Brexit properly and then considering their options after that time.
Protests in Londonderry, several arrests

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Several thousand people from both unionist and nationalist communities protested in Londonderry (Derry) earlier today, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) conducted 6 arrests of republican who they suspect of intending to undertake violent acts as part of the protest action.

The ad-hoc action, organised largely via Facebook and thought to originate from members of the ultra-unionist TUV party, started with plans for a protest against a potential border poll in Northern Ireland and against "Republican" influence.  The protesters were heard to chant "No Republicans At Westminster" and one carried a banner depicting the Prime Minister as a Leprechaun puppet with Leo Varadker the puppet-master, both thought to be references to recent statements by the Conservative frontbench at Westminster.

A nationalist counter-protest was also orgnaised, but swift police action kept the protests separate and several arrests were made in the runup to the protests in what the PSNI called "preventative action to prevent violence." 

Political figures in Northern Ireland, including the leader of the DUP Arlene Foster and the deputy leader of Sinn Fein Michelle O'Neill, appealed for calm and confirmed that they had been in close contact with the British Government. No10 confirmed that it had convened a meeting of the crisis management group, COBRA, this morning, and that the Prime Minister would make a statement.
Devolution Formally Restored As Power Sharing Arrangement Agreed
The Belfast-based assembly is back in business after the previous coalition collapsed acrimoniously three years ago, but issues persist.

Power-sharing has resumed in Northern Ireland, with the DUP's Arlene Foster elected first minister and Sinn Fein's Michelle O’Neill elected deputy first minister. The Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont is now up and running again after the government collapsed three years ago. Sinn Fein and the DUP restarted their mandatory coalition after talks this week managed to break the deadlock. Both parties have backed a wide-ranging deal that includes compromise solutions on disputes such as the Irish language. Peace process structures mean the assembly can only function with the inclusion of the largest unionist party and largest nationalist party. The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition government collapsed in January 2017 following a row about a botched green energy scheme.

First minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was "deeply humbled" to resume her role. "We have many differences," she said. "Michelle's (O'Neill) narrative of the past 40 years could not be more different to mine. I'm not sure we will ever agree on much about the past, but we can agree there was too much suffering, and that we cannot allow society to drift backwards and allow division to grow. Northern Ireland is succeeding in many ways. It's time for Stormont to move forward and show that 'together we are stronger' for the benefit of everyone."

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, the deputy leader, told Saturday's opening session of the Belfast assembly that it was a "defining moment". She said the parties would "co-operate in every way we can in order to rebuild public trust and confidence". Ms O'Neill added: "Our mission must be to deliver on health, education and jobs for everyone across the whole community. I see no contradiction in declaring and delivering on our firm commitment to power-sharing with unionism in the Stormont assembly while also initiating a mature and inclusive debate about new political arrangements which examine Ireland's future beyond Brexit as one nation. Similarly, there is no contradiction in unionism working the existing constitutional arrangements while taking its rightful place in the conversation about what a new Ireland would look like. "We can do this while maintaining our independent distinct political identities and working in the best interests of all of the people. That is my firm commitment."

Ireland's leader, Leo Varadkar, called it a "historic day". He added: "All parties and politicians in Northern Ireland are to be commended for their decision to put the people they represent first and make measured compromises to reach a deal." As well as the election of the first minister and deputy first minister, Saturday's session also saw the election of other ministers. Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey was chosen as Speaker. But trouble appeared to be brewing as the Ulster Unionist Party and Fianna Fail both rejected the invitation to join the Executive saying in independent statements that "The issue of the Irish Language Act has not been satisfactorily resolved and cannot be until both parties get together and thrash out a real deal", the Alliance Party joined the Executive to take up the Justice Ministry.

The UK government has promised major investment in Northern Ireland. One of the most high-profile issues is an industrial dispute that has seen nurses strike three times in the last month over pay. The additional political deal, struck between the DUP and Sinn Fein without Whitehall talks, includes further provisions to reduce hospital waiting lists, extend payments for people hit by welfare reforms, increase police officers on the beat, and resolve a dispute involving teachers.
Ap Iorweth wins Plaid leadership race

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The Deputy Leader of Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorweth, has overwhelmingly won the race to succeed Adam Price as Plaid leader. Ap Iorweth bested former Plaid leader Leanne Wood, winning 61% of Plaid members’ votes. Wood won 39% of the vote and congratulated ap Iorweth on a ‘stunning result and a brave campaign.’

The campaign followed the resignation of Adam Price, who had resigned after leaked WhatsApp chats had found him having ‘inappropriate’ conversations with a younger staffer, which included explicit messages and racist jokes. Wood and ap Iorweth both spoke from different positions, with Wood favouring coalition with Labour in the Welsh Assembly and ap Iorweth hinting he would be happy to be in coalition with the Conservatives.

Ap Iorweth, the AM for Ynys Môn, was seen to have run a strong campaign, focusing on ‘building a broad coalition’ and ‘crafting a blueprint of our journey to independence.’ He scored big hitters such as Plaid’s Westminster leader, Owaign Pugh.

In his victory speech ap Iorweth emphasised that ‘it was time for Labour’s uninterrupted reign in the Welsh Assembly come to an end’, though specified that he was supportive of the government in Westminster: “We will never see an independent Wales as long as we see a weak Wales. Let it be known that Brexit poses an existential threat on our road to a strong, self-sufficient.” He affirmed that “we will continue to support Caroline Blakesley’s government as long as it makes good on the promises it made to us.”

Ap Iorweth later hinted that he would, however, be ‘happy to review’ some policy agreements Plaid had made with the government in Westminster. This is thought to refer to the contentious issue surrounding the Wylfa Nuclear Power Station, which ap Iorweth is seen to be supportive of in contrast to opposition under Adam Price’s leadership.
Fianna Fail win Second Irish Election
Michael Martin Swept to Power

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With all the votes counted and all the seats now declared Fianna Fail have won a plurality in the second Irish Election of 2019. This election, called after the breakdown of talks between the major and minor parties two months ago, has yet again not seen a single party win a majority but it is widely expected that Fianna Fail will be capable of governing alone with the support of Fine Gael on a Confidence and Supply basis. The campaign was a strange one and marked by many twists and turns with Sinn Fein taking an early and commanding lead, at some points reaching as high as 30-32% in opinion polls before collapsing in a polling decline which seemed to mirror the developments coming out of Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein fell the other two major parties were happy to pick up the slack. It was seen as somewhat of a lacklustre campaign from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, FF gained steadily and used that trend to their advantage as Sinn Fein began to collapse while FG started slowly and fell as low as 15% in first preference polls before finally managing to find a gear and recover towards the end to become viable partners for the Taoiseach presumptive. The minor parties saw their vote shares generally improve, Irish Labour finished up with over 6% of the first preference vote a gain of more than a third in between elections this year but it was a disappointing night for the Greens whose vote share halved down to around 3.5%.

Speaking to the press after his victory Michael Martin paid tribute to his party members and candidates saying "we couldn't have done it without you" before pledging to work on his key legislative priorities which included making a success out of Brexit for Ireland and holding a border poll if the nationalist parties perform strongly in the presumed upcoming UK General Election or future Stormont Election. Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Fein, was upbeat in her concession speech pointing out that Sinn Fein had still gained seats, mostly due to the fact that they stood a full slate of candidates this time out. The results in full are below.

Fianna Fail: 55 (+17)
Sinn Fein: 45 (+8)
Fine Gael: 31 (-4)
Independents 4 Change: 18 (-1)
Irish Labour: 4 (-2)
Solidarity - People Before Profit: 3 (-2)
Greens: 2 (-10)
Social Democrats: 2 (-4)
Aontu: 0 (-1)
Election Results - September 2019

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Nicola Sturgeon Resigns

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Nicola Sturgeon has resigned as leader of the SNP after the Party’s disastrous election result. Despite winning nearly a third of the popular vote - an impressive performance by historic standards - she lost all but seven of her Westminster seats to narrow Labour and Conservative victories. It was the party’s worst performance since 2010.

Nicola Sturgeon has led the SNP since the 2014 independence referendum, leading the Party to historic victories in the 2015 general election and 2016 parliamentary elections, but the party’s performance has since stalled and support for a second independence vote has fallen.

Nicola Sturgeon will remain First Minister of Scotland until a successor is elected. Derek Mackay is the current frontrunner and is widely seen as the First Minister’s heir apparent.
Essex lorry deaths: 39 bodies found in refrigerated trailer

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The bodies of 39 people have been found in a lorry trailer in Essex. The vehicle was found shortly before 01:40 BST at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, police said.

Essex Police said the trailer has been moved to a secure location where the bodies of those inside - a teenager and 38 adults - can be recovered. The driver, named locally as Mo Robinson, 25, from Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Essex Police said the trailer arrived via ferry from Zeebrugge, Belgium, into Purfleet on the River Thames. The ship docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 00:30, the force said. It is believed the lorry then left the port about 35 minutes later.

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said identifying the victims remained a "number one priority", but was expected to be a "lengthy process". The National Crime Agency said it had sent officers to assist and identify any "organised crime groups who may have played a part".

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said the trailer appeared to be a refrigerated unit, where temperatures could be as low as -25C. He described conditions for anyone inside as "absolutely horrendous".

A spokesman for the Bulgarian foreign affairs ministry confirmed the truck was registered in the country.

"The Scania truck was registered in Varna (on the east coast) under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen," he said.
Caroline Lucas challenges Harriet Laski for the Green leadership

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At a press conference in Brighton today, the Green Party of England and Wales’ only Member of Parliament, Caroline Lucas, announced her intention to challenge the party’s leader Harriet Laski for membership of the party.

The challenge follows the Green Party’s decision to pull out of Labour’s coalition government following the previous General Election March of this year, leading to their subsequent performance in the General Election, where the party barely scraped a single percent of the vote – giving them their worst result since 2005 and losing them two of their Parliamentary seats, including Harriet Laski’s Bristol West seat to Labour.

Caroline Lucas stated that it was “time for the Greens to get back to their roots,” directly challenging Laski when she stated: “I would never opt to spend my personal time with someone whose views are as repugnant as Brigitte Allard’s, but it is worse to go down the same division lobby as her than it is to attend the same party as her.”

She made a direct plea to progressive voters, saying she “understood we let you down. That Harriet let you down,” but pledged: “elect me and we can start the work of rebuilding a strong, progressive Green movement in Britain, Europe and the wider world. As an MP I can already work with progressives in Parliament to bring real climate action and a people’s vote which gives us that vital chance to stay in the European Union. I promise I will do more as your leader.”

Caroline Lucas, who has served as the Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, is expected to win the race overwhelmingly, being seen as a voice that is well recognised on the national stage and polls well with progressives. If she wins, she would be co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales alongside Jonathan Bartley.

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