A look ahead at the key events leading the news agenda next week, from the team at Foresight News. Delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Leading the week
The ongoing political stalemate in Northern Ireland is the focus of next week’s attentions, with all sides having until Thursday (January 19) to reach an increasingly unlikely agreement to restore its power-sharing Executive. The country has been without a fully functioning government since the DUP pulled its support in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol arrangements in February 2022. Though negotiations have been ongoing ever since, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly mounted a fresh push this week to strike an agreement at the eleventh hour by hosting cross-party talks in Belfast. The result was nothing short of chaotic. Sinn Fein refused to participate after alleging their leader Mary Lou McDonald had been deliberately excluded from the talks, despite insistences to the contrary from Cleverly. The SDLP promptly followed suit before Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill launched a blistering attack on the government for acting in ‘bad faith’ and displaying ‘petulance’.
It’s fair to say, then, that Wednesday’s events have hardly put officials on the strongest footing as they look to bridge the divide facing Northern Ireland’s political parties in just a few days. Efforts will begin on Monday (January 16) as Cleverly and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris meet with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic for a stock-taking on the progress surrounding Northern Ireland Protocol negotiations. Their discussions will then be relayed to officials gathering for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Dublin on Thursday (January 19), which could give Heaton-Harris justification for an additional extension reportedly under consideration. If Thursday does indeed come and go without an agreement, Northern Ireland then faces the prospect of going back to the polls for fresh elections before April 13.
As a succession of trade union leaders filter in and out of government department offices to negotiate with ministers, the NHS – suffering already under staff shortages, shocking A&E and ambulance waiting times, and a lack of resources – faces a second RCN nurses’ strike this week on Wednesday and Thursday (January 18-19) as part of an ongoing dispute over pay. Any hopes of the strike being called off at the last minute were quashed last week after RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen walked out of a meeting with Health Secretary Steve Barclay, claiming the government refused to discuss pay with union representatives. Strains caused by the strike are likely to be exacerbated in Wales by an ambulance strike on Thursday (January 19), while health officials will undoubtedly be nervously awaiting the results of a junior doctors’ ballot on strike action for members of the HCSA union, which closes on Friday (January 20).
The World Economic Forum, better known as Davos, gets underway on Tuesday (January 17) in Switzerland. Although a couple of ‘Special Address’ slots remain to be filled (and it’s easy to imagine Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy taking one of them), there are plenty of heavyweight international figures already confirmed to speak this year. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is up on Tuesday, as is Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who may attract some extra attention as her treason trial gets underway in Minsk on the same day. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg all speak on Wednesday (January 18), while the UK press will be keeping a close eye on Thursday’s agenda, which sees interventions from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Labour leader Keir Starmer, Business Secretary Grant Shapps and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Following a flurry of announcements regarding new assistance to Ukraine and a controversy over the re-export of German-made weapons, members of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group will gather at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday (January 20) for their latest round of discussions on aiding Kyiv following Russia’s invasion last February. The meeting is once again chaired by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and discussions are likely to include preparations for the spring, when both sides in the conflict are said to be planning major offensives. NATO chiefs, meanwhile, are set to meet in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday (January 18-19). In Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds his annual press conference on Wednesday, the day before Russians celebrate Orthodox Epiphany, which has historically seen President Vladimir Putin participate in the tradition of swimming in freezing waters; failure to do so this year may fuel further speculation regarding his health.