What the year ahead might have in store if we lived in a parallel universe
The year 2022 could be a dramatic one in politics. What can we possibly expect? There could be so much drama we need to break it down month by month.
January: A shock start to the year as Michelle O’Neill quits as Sinn Fein’s northern leader to become president of the Countryside Alliance.
In a statement, the alliance acknowledged Sinn Fein’s steadfast opposition to the Bill banning hunting with dogs.
Merger talks between the Clonoe Foxhounds and local Sinn Fein cumann begin. “We need more tally-ho men for the election count,” said a party spokesperson.
February: Northern Ireland stages its first international of the year at Windsor Park in freezing weather.
Several players are withdrawn due to frostbite, having had to stand for God Save The Queen, the Soldier’s Song and a new, all-inclusive anthem as the required match preliminaries.
Meanwhile, UUP leader Doug Beattie is spotted in the Celtic end at the Old Firm game as part of his party’s commitment to reconciliation and inclusion.
Beattie is seen waving across to Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney, sat in the main stand at Ibrox as part of his “understanding loyalism” precursor-to-unity mission.
March: The Assembly is dissolved in readiness for the eagerly anticipated elections.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson still threatens to collapse the (non-sitting) Assembly, though, out of daily habit.
Donaldson rejects a suggestion from party colleague Edwin Poots to stand in West Belfast and confirms he will fight Lagan Valley.
Poots responds by launching a leadership challenge.
April: Secretary of State Brandon Lewis wins the Plain English Award on two counts: his description of justice for bereaved relatives and his distinction between a statute of limitations and an amnesty.
The award is given on April 1.
At the same awards ceremony, loyalist paramilitaries win Group of the Year by promising to “disband by 2040, following a suitable process of transition and financial recompense”. Warrenpoint Town and the England cricket Test side share the Team of the Year prize.
May: The Assembly election results in a dramatic seats and votes tie between the DUP and Sinn Fein. With neither party giving way, Jim Allister emerges as the compromise candidate for First Minister. Under the new legislation, the Executive has until December to form. Westminster immediately rushes through legislation to extend the formation period by another year.
June: The Assembly collapses anyway. The Secretary of State threatens “fresh elections” to solve the problem.
Border control posts, established under the EU Protocol, are “inundated” with job applications from unionist ex-MLAs. A referendum on whether to call December 26 St Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day is announced after the Citizens’ Assembly established to resolve the matter breaks down in acrimony and recrimination.
July: The new Commission on Bonfire Building, Locating, Erecting, Regulating and Sprinkling (COBBLERS) fails to prevent the torching of numerous interface houses on the Eleventh Night.
A spokesperson for Incineration as Cultural Tradition hails a great evening. The Parades Commission announces a series of celebratory restrictions and prohibitions for 2023 to mark its 25th anniversary.
August: The New Decade New Approach deal is finally implemented with the appointment of an Irish Language Commissioner. Alternating between Ulster-Scots and Irish, Gregory Campbell promises to serve “for as long as nationalists want me in post”.
September: The Executive establishes a new commission to take forward the work of the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition.
OFMDFM promise not to release the new body’s report for years afterwards and refuse to confirm any action plan to implement its recommendations, “in line with previous approaches”. A new civic forum, comprising academics who couldn’t get the commission gig, will advise.
October: A punter attempts to place a bet that the A5, a full-size university for Derry/Londonderry, the Casement Park redevelopment and the York Street interchange project will all be completed before 2050.
No bookmaker accepts the bet. “We want our customers to at least have a chance of winning,” says a spokesperson.
November: New Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Boris Johnson proves there is political life after quitting as Prime Minister by calling a border poll. Sinn Fein is horrified. “When we said we wanted a unity vote, we didn’t mean anytime now.” Alliance wants a “too divisive at the present time” box on the ballot paper. Unionists want an “Ireland to rejoin the Commonwealth” option.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer promises to “campaign neutrally for the Union”. Starmer also promises to revive the Northern Ireland-to-Scotland bridge idea, “recklessly abandoned by a Boris Johnson who could not care less about the symbols of Union”. The DUP invites Johnson to address its party conference, “for old times’ sake”.
December: The Executive enters the festive spirit and celebrates the first restriction-free Christmas for three years by issuing £100 Van Morrison concert vouchers to every adult. The DUP applauds the move, saying “and Van will live for evermore”.
But, in a controversial move, BBC Two’s yuletide favourite, Carols from King’s, is replaced by Sammy’s Seasonal Offerings. Wilson’s Once in Robin Swann’s City makes a surprise Christmas number one, but his In the Control Freak Midwinter and Wee Three Pings are subsequently banned.
Jon Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool