John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

populism

WHAT TRUMP, SANDERS AND OTHER POPULISTS ARE NOT TELLING YOU ABOUT GLOBAL ECONOMICS

globalThe integration of the global economy is under threat. Not only is the UK considering leaving the EU, but all four US presidential candidates want to renounce President Barack Obama’s Pacific trade deal. Borders within the EU are being closed, and Donald Trump even wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

Meanwhile, political parties have become empty shells, unable to sustain support for long-term policies through more than one election. This is evident all over Europe, including in Ireland.

These two factors are linked.

The globalisation of the economy is at risk because its benefits have not been understood or explained clearly enough, or shared widely enough.

Globalisation happened because once capital controls were removed, capital could flow freely from one country to another. Trade barriers, quotas and tariffs were reduced or eliminated.

Advances in information technology have empowered consumers everywhere, including in the poorest and most remote parts of the world. ‘Containerisation’ enabled goods to be transported more cheaply over long distances. In terms of the number of hours one had to work to afford them, food, clothes and consumer goods became much easier for ordinary people to afford.

Political developments accelerated the process. The entry of China into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and the gradual opening up of the Indian economy, have meant that the global capitalist economy that, in 1990, was the preserve of about one billion people in the developed world, is now open to at least four billion or more people. China’s economy is six times as large as it was 30 years ago. Competition for work has become intense. In many senses, there is now an over-supply of available labour to produce the goods and services that cautious and indebted consumers are willing to pay for.

This explains why, in the developed world, we have a low or zero inflation rate, but also high levels of unemployment.

It also explains why, while in the developing world millions of people have been rescued from extreme poverty by globalisation, in the developed world, perceived living standards are stagnating. Cash may buy more, but hourly cash incomes have not risen.

In countries with high levels of legal protection of existing jobs, like France and Spain, the burden is falling on the young, who cannot find work at all, while older workers hold onto their jobs.

In countries with less job protection, the burden is falling on older workers who have seen their incomes stagnate, as young people are recruited to replace them at lower salaries. Males in the US with only a high-school level of education have seen their incomes fall in real terms since 1970.

Globalisation is being abused by some tax avoiders. Rent seekers are capturing too much of its benefits for themselves, because of inadequate competition or undue regulatory protection.

Meanwhile, technological change is putting many existing jobs at risk, and accentuating inequality of incomes between insiders and outsiders. In the future, drivers may be replaced by driverless cars and textile workers by robots, just as dockworkers were replaced by containerisation, and filing clerks by computers.

I heard an experienced American business leader claim at a conference recently that the extra value, to his or her employer, of a really top software engineer over a merely adequate one was 500 to one, whereas the comparable difference between a top accountant and an adequate one was only two to one. The resultant competition for the top talent is one of the factors increasing income inequality.

At the other end of the income scale, people with low skills are falling further and further behind when forced to compete with goods or people coming from lower-cost countries. Immigration and imports have the same political effect.

These realities explain the support for Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US, but also the support for Podemos, UKIP, and the National Front in Spain, the UK, and France respectively.

There is a naive desire to turn back the clock, economically speaking, to the simpler world that existed before 1990, when the global capitalist economy was in the hands of the one billion people in the “West”, rather than of the four billion or more that are now able to compete in it.

The advocates of this reversal of history are not explaining what it would cost.

It could only be done by the closing in of national economies. It would require the reimposition by Western countries of high tariffs and quotas and restrictions on people’s ability to move their money to other jurisdictions. The result would be a dramatic rise in the cost of consumer goods in the developed world, and a fall in living standards in both the developing and developed world. This is the logical destination of the trade policies of Trump, Sanders, UKIP , the National Front and the Trotskyite Left.

Superficially attractive, but dangerous, policies like these are gaining support because structural factors within technology are undermining disciplined political parties, which were, in the past, the means of mobilising public opinion, and of maintaining support for more considered and realistic policies.

Twitter lends itself to the expression of strong emotion, but not to the careful explanation of a policy platform. The anonymity of the blogosphere has replaced dialogue with diatribe. Opinion is polarised. Anger becomes a policy.

Information is so plentiful now that people must be more selective in what they read, but their selections reinforce their existing views rather than question them. Society is becoming a series of self-enclosing and polarised information communities, which do not listen to one another.

This atomisation of society means that voters think increasingly as consumers rather than citizens, picking the candidates they “like” in a personal capacity, rather than the ones that have a programme that will work for the whole of society.

Ideological politics is being replaced by identity politics. This is why global economic integration is under threat. Political institutions are not strong enough to explain, manage and control global economic and technological forces.

This is the challenge facing the European Union. The EU must show the public that it can regain control of globalisation so as to preserve all its benefits, while curbing its abuses.

John Bruton is a former Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael

Published at Irish Independent

UK-EU

OVERCONFIDENCE CAN LEAD TO POLITICAL, AS WELL AS FINANCIAL, MISTAKES

The-UK-and-EU-flags-010A ballooning current account (or balance of payments) deficit, and an explosion in household borrowing.

These were the two signs of impending difficulty, that Ireland ignored between 2005 and 2008.

 In 2008, Irish public opinion was so optimistic that it felt it could afford to reject an EU Treaty in a referendum, notwithstanding the disproportionate benefits Ireland got from EU membership. It reversed this decision in a subsequent referendum in 2009.

The UK is exhibiting some of the same symptoms of overconfidence at the moment.

The UK current account or balance of payments deficit for the last quarter of 2015 was 7% of GDP – the deepest deficit since 1955.

The UK is spending more abroad than it is earning there.

It is making up the difference with borrowing. A country that is borrowing more abroad must be particularly sensitive to the volatile opinions of foreigners.

UK households now owe almost £1.5 trillion overall, up 4% on a year ago. The vast majority of that debt is in the form of mortgages, where lending growth has been climbing steadily since the start of 2015. Much of that has been driven by the buy-to-let sector.

And now the UK is about to have a referendum on whether it should leave the EU altogether. And in the UK case, unlike Ireland, the government has said firmly that there will be no second referendum

UK voters should be wary of overconfidence. They should remember what happened in Ireland.

The UK needs its neighbours to prosper, just as its neighbours need the UK to prosper.

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COMMEMORATIONS REVEAL WHAT WE BELIEVE TODAY

cropped-irish-flag.jpgPresident John Kennedy once said that a “nation reveals itself “ by the events and people it chooses to commemorate.

This state is a rule of law based, parliamentary democracy, which has integrated itself with its European neighbours by peaceful negotiation and compromise, which is militarily neutral, and where its military power is subordinate at all times to the civil power.

If we decide that we were to choose from our history a “foundation event”, and chose as that foundation event the 1916 Rebellion and Proclamation, does that accurately reflect, or reveal, who we really are in 2016?

That is the argument I would like to explore today.

I believe our democratic state of today in fact came into being as the result of a process, not of one event.

A PLATFORM THAT LEFT NO ROOM FOR COMPROMISE AFTERWARDS

The Rebellion of 1916 was launched on a platform that left no room for compromise.

The Proclamation, which our schoolchildren are now being asked to regard as the founding stone of our democracy, left no room at all for democratic negotiation.

Therein lay the seeds of Civil War because, in politics as in life, compromise and negotiation are essential to a civilized life.

Rather than the Republic being proclaimed, on the steps of the GPO, in the name of a living Irish people, whose opinions had been taken into consideration, it was proclaimed in the name of

“God and the dead generations”,

 neither of whom could be consulted about what they meant.

 The rights of the proclaimed Republic were not conditional on consent, but were

 “sovereign and indefeasible”.

By definition, the Irish people would thus have no right to compromise the “sovereign and indefeasible” rights of the Nation, which was treated, in the wording of the Proclamation, as something separate from the people.

IGNORING THE ULSTER PROBLEM

The fact of fierce resistance in North East Ulster, even to Home Rule Administration, let alone to a Republic, governing Ulster from Dublin, was fully known to the signatories of the Proclamation

But in what they wrote in their Proclamation, this political reality was swept aside, as if it did not matter at all. This was politically irresponsible and showed no understanding of Irish history.

The only oblique reference to the Ulster problem in the Proclamation was a promise to cherish all the ”children” of the nation equally, and to be “oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government”.

It is worth reflecting on the assumptions being made here. Ulster Unionists were “children”, and normally children were in that era expected to be obedient, whatever they might think themselves.

The wish of Ulster Unionists not to be governed from Dublin, was assumed by the Proclamation’s signatories, not to have been a conclusion that they had come to freely themselves, but only the result of “careful fostering” by an alien government”.

At the very least, this did not show very much respect for the seriousness, or the  reasoning powers, of those who had signed the Ulster Covenant, only five years previously.

INCONSISTENT WITH MILITARY NEUTRALITY

The Proclamation acknowledged the support received from “gallant allies” in Europe, namely the German, Austrian and Ottoman Empires. It was not neutral in the war. It took the German side.

The Proclamation sits oddly beside the present Irish policy of inflexible military neutrality, one that requires a UN Security Council resolution, for Ireland even to allow it forces to go overseas defend another EU country that might be attacked.

THE NATURE OF THE SUBSEQENT STRUGGLE PREORDAINED

It is important also to stress that the 1916 Rebellion was not launched just to fight FOR, or to obtain, an Irish Republic.

The Republic was proclaimed already to exist, once declared outside the GPO, and to exist as a “Sovereign Independent State”, of 32 counties.  No room for compromise there.

Such a state does not even now exist. Yet its existence was declared to “indefeasible” in the words of the Proclamation. A recipe for endless conflict.

It is on the strength of, and in pursuit, that unfortunately absolute and unqualified claim, that people continue to be killed, including Adrian Ismay a couple of weeks ago.

Those who declaim the Proclamation, as many have been doing at pageants in recent weeks, should think about what its words mean, and what they led to.

That is aptly described in a 1924 quotation, from a member of the IRB Supreme Council at the time of the Rebellion , about the what  1916 led to, right up to until 1923 in this part of Ireland, but much longer, in the other part.

 PS O Hegarty said

“ We turned the whole thoughts and passions of a generation upon blood and revenge and death; we placed gunmen, mostly half educated and totally inexperienced, as dictators with powers of life and death over large areas. We derided the Moral Law and said there was no law but the law of force….Every devilish thing we did against the British went it’s full circle and then boomeranged and smote us tenfold”[1]

That is what the decision to initiate military action in 1916 led to, in the opinion of one of those who took it. He faced up to the consequences of that decision, while his memory was still fresh.  He knew what he was talking about.

As well as reading the Proclamation, Irish schoolchildren, 100 years later, should be invited to read PS O Hegarty’s words.

 WE SHOULD REMEMBER THE FIRST VICTIMS

And it needs to be said that it was not just “the British” who were killed as a result of the decision to start a Rebellion in a heavily populated, built up, area in 1916.

For every Volunteer killed (including those executed afterwards), three Dublin civilians died as a result of the fighting the Volunteers’ leaders had initiated.

The first casualty to die, on Easter Monday, was James O Brien, an unarmed DMP policeman from Limerick, shot in the face at the gate of Dublin Castle.

Another early unarmed DMP casualty of the Volunteers was Michael Lahiff, a 28 year old Irish speaker, from the West of Ireland, shot in cold blood on St Stephens Green.

Michael Cavanagh, a Dublin carter, who tried to retrieve his cart from a Volunteer barricade, was executed by the Volunteers.

 These were not “Brits”.

 They were Irishmen.

 They were the first to die.

 Their pictures adorn no public building, this Easter in Dublin, but they should.

The prominent display of the pictures of these men, 100 years after they were killed, would have reminded future generations of the real cost of 1916. Unfortunately that opportunity has now been lost. It seems that , even after 100 years, to have done that would have been  too much of a challenge to ancient myths, too much of a challenge to our ability to reimagine things.

O Brien, Lahiff and Cavanagh are still being treated by official Ireland as mere “collateral damage”, as they were treated by the people who killed them.

One must indeed ask the question of whether killing unarmed people is ever justified in war.

JUST WAR PRINCIPLES MUST BE APPLIED, TO THE PAST, AS WELL AS TO THE FUTURE

One must also ask the question whether this particular war was justified.

When it comes to taking life, moral questions always arise. Such questions should be at the centre of any commemoration, especially one we have decided to hold the commemoration on the same day as the great Christian feast of Easter.

Was the decision to take up arms in 1916 in accordance with “the Moral Law” in O Hegarty’s simple and clear words?

It is especially important to ask that question now, because the Irish State has chosen to place such a huge emphasis on enthroning the 1916 Rebellion, as the supposed foundation event of our democracy, in the uncritical minds of today’s schoolchildren.

Given that one of the purposes of education is to pass on a moral sense to the generation, it is vitally important that the morality of the decision, to initiate killing and dying in 1916, be examined by, and for, these schoolchildren.  That is a responsibility of the Irish State, and if it fails to discharge it, it is failing the next generation.

Let me cite an example of the sort of moral blindness that pervades the current commemoration of 1916.

I read a history professor, in a Sunday newspaper recently,[2] say that to have expected those who started the rebellion to  have sat down beforehand and examined

 “whether what they were planning met the criteria for a just war, makes no historical sense”.

Really!  “Makes no historical sense”?

That is like saying that moral considerations ought have no weight,  in the taking other people’s lives.

Of course the leaders who initiated the Rebellion should have examined whether the course they were embarking upon conformed to morality. I am sure some of them actually did so

To say that it “makes no historical sense” (whatever that means!) to use moral considerations, in judging the past, is dangerous nonsense.

We study history is to learn lessons that are valuable to the future…so that, drawing on past experience, we can better weigh up, in the most informed way possible, in light of evidence from the past, what is right and what is wrong.

It is that moral sense, in my view, that makes us human. It is the mark of a civilised man or woman.

The decision of the IRB, Irish Volunteer, and Citizen Army leaders to initiate military action in 1916, was a FREELY TAKEN decision, it was not taken in self defence, so must be examined against  the criteria for a just war

These criteria for a just war include the following.

 WHO IS ENTITLED TO LAUNCH A WAR?

“Only a competent authority or popular representatives has the right to start a war or insurrection”.

Interestingly the IRB’s own constitution of 1873 made exactly this point.

It said

 “The IRB shall await the decision of the Irish Nation as expressed by the majority of the Irish people as the fit hour of inaugurating a war against England.”

 By no stretch of the imagination could that criterion be said to have been met, before the killing was started on Easter Monday.

RESPECT FOR MILITARY DISCIPLINE REQUIRED

Furthermore, as far as the Irish Volunteers were concerned, the rebellion was initiated in direct contravention of the orders of their military commander, Eoin McNeill.

 This is a serious issue for today and for the commemoration of what happened a century ago, given the prominent involvement of the Irish Army in this centenary commemoration .

 An orderly state, and the proper civilian control of the army serving such a state, is vital to civilization.  The maintenance of an orderly state requires scrupulous respect for military discipline, and careful respect for the chain of command, when it comes to the taking of life. Both were seemingly ignored when violence was initiated in Dublin 100 years ago

 The contravention of military orders of Eoin McNeill in 1916 should not be celebrated, without serious and well explained reservations.

A JUST CAUSE?

Another criterion for a just war is

“War requires a just cause: armed aggression or governmental policies (eg genocide) threatening the civilian population”

Ireland was not being attacked in 1916. In fact the Volunteers were allowed by the authorities to drill freely, something that would not be allowed nowadays.

 Governmental policies, in the previous years, had, [i] in many respects, been particularly beneficial to Ireland

 Old Age pensions and social insurance, from which Ireland was a net financial beneficiary, had been introduced.

 The landlord system had been completely overturned.

All that had been achieved by democratic methods.

Furthermore, the principle of legislative independence for Ireland had already won from the Imperial Parliament, in September 1914, by the passage into law, and signature by the King, of the Home Rule Bill.

 All that happened BEFORE any rebellion here, and, as Conservative leader Bonar Law subsequently admitted, there was no going back on Home Rule.

 The point of principle was already won without a shot being fired.

A LAST RESORT?

Another criterion for a just war, is that war should be a last resort, not a first recourse. All other methods of redressing grievances ought to have been first exhausted.

 Given that the principle of Irish legislative independence had already been conceded, in a Bill passed into law only a year and a half previously, it is hard to argue that starting a rebellion in 1916, and the War of Independence of 1919 to 1921, were, either of them,  a “last resort”. In fact much of what was being sought had already been conceded in principle and in law. Home Rule was law and there was no going back on it.

 For example, Home Rule was accepted even by the Conservatives as a “fundamental fact”, the only issue outstanding being that there be no “forcible coercion of Ulster” to go in under it.[3]

 The only open question was whether, or in what conditions, Home Rule might apply to Antrim, Down, Armagh and Derry (and perhaps Fermanagh and Tyrone which had narrow nationalist majorities).

 I believe the Home Rule government would not have got jurisdiction over all those counties. But, after all the killing and dying of the 1916 to 1923 period, and the Treaty of 1921, the Free State did not get jurisdiction over those counties either!

  Nor after the “Armed Struggle” from 1970 to 1998, does this State have such jurisdiction today. Indeed, under the Good Friday Agreement, we no longer claim it, but respect the right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own future in that regard.

WOULD 1916 METHODS EVER HAVE ACHIEVED A UNITED IRELAND?

 If we ever do have a United Ireland, it will not be achieved by the methods used in 1916. Our centenary Commemorations should realistically acknowledge that

But, under Home Rule, if the exclusion of some Ulster counties was once accepted, there was no barrier in the way of the rest of Ireland progressively winning ever greater degrees of sovereignty. That could have been achieved by peaceful negotiation, if it was what the voters of the 26, or 28, counties wanted.

Further, the 4 or 6 counties , if excluded from Home Rule, would have been under direct rule from Westminster. There would have been some continuing southern Irish representation in Westminster too. This would have meant much better protection for the northern nationalist minority than there were under the Stormont arrangements,  that were set up in response to the Armed Struggle initiated in 1916.

 Indeed some of the powers withheld from the Home Rule Administration in the first place were only withheld , to reassure Ulster Unionists, because  it was envisaged,   in the original Home Rule Bill, that  that all 32 counties would be fully included from the outset.

 The same principle of legislative independence, conceded to Ireland in September 1914, was conceded b to Canada, Australia and other dominions.  We know now that they all proceeded to full sovereignty, without   the suffering and bitterness of war.

 The path of violence, started upon by Pearse, Clarke and others in 1916,and followed from 1919 to 1923 by their imitators, was traversed at a terrible price .

 Given the value Christians place on each human life, those who take life, have the primary burden of proof to discharge. It was for them to prove that no other way was open.  I believe that burden of proof was not discharged.

TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT

Some may seek to justify the 1916 Rebellion on the ground that the UVF had threatened violence in 1911. That is to claim that two wrongs make a right, not a view I accept.

Others may justify it because there was a war on anyway, the Great War. Again this is an argument that two wrongs would or could add up to a right.  The Anglo Irish War, started in 1916, was a separate conflict and, as such, it must be justified or not, on its own merits.

I believe it was not necessary or justified.

WHY HOME RULE COULD HAVE LED PEACEFULLY TO INDEPENDENCE

Home Rule, already law, could, if it had been allowed to do so and had not been derailed by the 1916 Rebellion and the 1918 Election result , have led this part of Ireland peacefully to the same position of Canada enjoys today, if that was the wish of its people.

 I say this for a number of reasons.

 Home Rule Parliaments would have elected under the same wide suffrage that applied in 1918.

 Sinn Fein might have won significant representation in the Home Rule House of Commons, as would the Irish Labour Party and the group led by Tim Healy. All three groups would have pressed for ever greater degrees of independence, going beyond Dominion status.

It is not credible to say that the UK would have denied, to a Home Rule Ireland, the powers it freely granted to dominions like Canada and Australia, under the Statute of Westminster of 1931, if that is what the Irish people really wanted.

The suffering of the War of Independence was not needed to achieve Dominion Status.

 In the 1918 Election, the policy of the Irish Party, led by John Dillon, was Dominion Status for Ireland. So also was the policy of the Asquith Liberals and the Labour Party. The policy of the Coalition Government remained the implementation of Home Rule, on the basis on which it had been passed into law four years earlier.

 The policy of Sinn Fein, led by Eamon de Valera, was complete separation of the 32 counties from the UK on the basis of the 1916 Proclamation.

 Sinn Fein won the election but, after all the killing in the War of Independence, all they ended up with was Dominion status, the very policy of John Dillon, and their other defeated Irish party opponents.

Therein lay the roots of the Civil War from 1922 to 1923.

 After all the deaths of the War of Independence, the separatists had to accept, in the Treaty of 1921, the exact policy of their democratically defeated Irish Party opponents of 1918.

It is said that Home Rule would have left British forces on Irish territory. But so also did the Treaty of 1921. It left the UK military in control of ports on Irish territory.

 But these ports were handed back in 1938, through entirely peaceful negotiation.  The fact that those ports could be won back by purely peaceful negotiation on the eve of World War Two, shows that the limitations on Home Rule could also have been negotiated away, peacefully.

TO LEARN FROM HISTORY WE MUST ASK” WHAT IF?”

If a nation is to learn anything at all from history, it must be willing to examine, using all it knows now, what might have happened, if different historical choices had been made.

 The choice to use force in 1916, and again in 1919, must be subjected severe and honest reappraisal, in light of what we can see now might been achieved, without the loss of life .

 If we fail to do that, we are passing on to the next generation, through  “indoctrination by commemoration” , a  dangerous misunderstanding of history.

 The focus on  the  1916 Rebellion and particularly on its uncompromisingly worded  Proclamation, is a worry at a time when  there is such a level of disdain for” politicians” and for the compromises that are a necessary part of democratic  politics.

WE SHOULD INCULATE RESPECT FOR POLITICAL COMPROMISE…AND AVOID IMPLACABLE PROCLAMATIONS

 Redmond and Dillon, whose achievement of getting Home Rule finally passed on 18 September 1914, a feat that eluded O Connell and Parnell, were “politicians”, who achieved what they did by tough but peaceful parliamentary methods. That centenary, two years ago, of an achievement by these mere “politicians” was almost completely ignored by the Irish State.

 Like WT Cosgrave and Eamon de Valera after them, those “politicians”, Redmond, Dillon and Devlin, LIVED and worked for Ireland .

 But that’s apparently not romantic enough to “re imagined” by our poets and seers.

 But THEY got the job done. They got Home Rule passed into law, they won back the land

 In contrast, the 32 county Republic, proclaimed at the GPO in 1916, never came into existence.

 This was for reasons that were knowable at the time, namely the implacable resistance of Ulster Unionists. These reasons were knowingly ignored because they did not fit into the ideology of the Proclamation, and of those who drafted it.

 That needs to be explained to Ireland’s schoolchildren, too.

[1] PS O Hegarty, The Victory of Sinn Fein (Dublin Talbot Press 1924) page 91

[2] Souvenir Supplement of the “Sunday Times” 13 March 2016, page3

[3] “Irish Times “ , 18 November 1918

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JEREMY THORPE

41S4Lg8J1+L._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_I recently read a biography of the former leader of the British Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, written by Michael Bloch and first published in 2014.

Thorpe was an old Etonian and a member of a circle of friends who were used to having enormous influence in the political, legal, and economic destiny of Britain. He was a barrister.

The Thorp family were originally from Wexford, where they had settled as part of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

His great grandfather, William, joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police in 1856, as a constable. He rose through the ranks to become a Superintendant by the time of his retirement in 1890.

He had nineteen children, one of whom, Jeremy’s grandfather, became a clergyman in the Church of Ireland. Later he moved to England where he rose to become an archdeacon in the Church of England .

One of the clergyman’s sons, Jeremy’s father,  John Henry Thorpe, became (briefly) a Tory MP in 1919, before Jeremy was born.

Jeremy’s parents were close friends of the Lloyd George family, and it was through that connection that Jeremy, who always saw himself as a future Prime Minister, gravitated towards the Liberal Party and a political career.

He became involved with the Liberals at a time when the Party was in a very weak condition, where all but one of the seats  were held, only because the Conservatives did not contest the constituency at all, and allowed the Liberal MP a free run against Labour.

Jeremy was a flamboyant campaigner and had a knack for attracting publicity. He employed this to good effect put the Liberal Party back on the political map. He won several by elections.

He came close to power when Edward Heath contemplated coalition with Liberals, led by Thorpe, as a way of staying on a Prime Minister after an Election in which the Conservatives had lost seats.

Thorpe, although a married man, was apparently being blackmailed, through a good part of his political career, by a former homosexual lover. This was at a time when homosexual acts were illegal. He was later accused of conspiring with others to have his blackmailer murdered.

He was acquitted but never recovered politically from this scandal, which provides the most interesting material in this biography of an otherwise shallow and insubstantial political figure.

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DICK BURKE R.I.P.

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Dick Burke pic by Tom Burke

Dick Burke was a successful European Commissioner on two occasions. He was responsible, after the 1982 Greek Elections, in the negotiation with the new Greek government, of terms whereby Greece remained a member of the European Union.

He also was involved in the exceptionally complex negotiations whereby Greenland, although remaining part of Denmark, was allowed to leave the EU, while Denmark proper remained within. His courtesy and ability to listen were key factors in his success as a Commissioner.

Dick Burke was also a very successful, reforming, Minister for Education, with concrete achievements to his name.

 He introduced the Transition Year and School Management Boards.

To have persuaded the various “establishments”, that dominated education in Ireland at the time, to accept, and  to successfully operate, these major reforms was a big negotiating achievement.

He was able to do this because he won the trust of existing institutional interests. While he wanted change, he was able to make it happen because he also showed respect for what the existing institutions had achieved for the children of Ireland in times when resources were more scarce  .

He relaxed the “compulsory Irish” system in  education, and introduced Irish Studies, as a way of promoting a more inclusive understanding of what it is to be Irish. His thinking on this was ahead of his time.

He was a pleasure to work for. He delegated responsibility, but was always accessible for advice. He was supportive without being intrusive. I can never recollect him being angry, although he would have had reason to be sometimes!

We were elected to the Dail on the same day in 1969.My first political responsibility was to act (with Dr Hugh Byrne) as one of his two Assistant Whips, when Dick was appointed to be Chief Whip of the Fine Gael Party by Liam Cosgrave.

 I was subsequently his Parliamentary Secretary when he was appointed as Minister for Education in 1973.

In ideological terms, Dick Burke was proud to be a Christian Democrat. As a student of Christian and Catholic Social teaching, he fully understood this political tradition. When Ireland joined the European Common Market, he was particularly happy to have been one of those who persuaded the Fine Gael party to associate itself with the European Christian Democratic movement, now the European Peoples Party.  This was a far seeing decision that continues to enhance Ireland’s influence in Europe to this day.

After the first of his terms as a European Commissioner, he was able to return to  win a Dail seat for Fine Gael,  in a  completely different constituency to the one he had first represented. This was a remarkable and almost unique political achievement.

To the end of his life, he continued to take a deep interest in the Fine Gael party and attended party events to show support for current leaders of the party. I extend to Mary, and his entire family, to whom he was deeply devoted, my heartfelt sympathy.

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THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN IRELAND

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The new Dail is entering unknown territory. No party, or group of parties that is willing to coalesce, has a prospect of forming a majority government, or even of coming close to a majority. Minority governments existed before, but they were only a few seats short. Any minority government that might be formed now would be up to 20 votes or more short.

IS DAIL REFORM THE ANSWER?

In response to this, a case is being made for radically altered political practices in the Dail.

A loosening the whip system is envisaged by some. If this is confined to well defined conscience issues, this would be good, but if it is to be extended to economic and social policy, coherent government policy implementation would become exceptionally difficult.

If there is to be no government with a majority in the Dail, this will require a moving of power away from the government itself towards shifting majorities of groups of deputies in the Dail, who would decide, for themselves on a case by case basis, whether to pass, amend, or reject government legislation.

The government could make pacts, with particular parties or groups, to pass individual pieces of legislation, but, if the whip system had also been relaxed, these pacts might not hold. Devising a legislative programme would be very difficult. Nothing would be predictable on a day to day basis.

The loosening of the guillotine on debates has been suggested.

The present rigid arrangements for speaking in the Dail have removed spontaneity from ordinary Dail proceedings, and have meant that what we have in the Dail is so much debates, as a series of scripted recitations of pre set positions. So a change here would be welcome.

But some time limits have to be set, or legislation will never be passed!
Rather than remove the guillotine, it might be better to give the Ceann Comhairle some independent power to overrule the government and provide extra speaking time on a case by case basis for particular topics at his/her own initiative.

THE SCENARIO FOR A MINORITY GOVERNMENT

There would be shadow boxing all the time. Miscalculations would occur. Bluffs would be called. The result could be another election.

That scenario of a second election needs to be carefully analysed.

The parties would be faced,, in such a second election with exactly as they faced during the last election. They would face the same questions about who they would and would not refuse to coalesce with.

If they ruled out the same coalitions again, the election would probably resolve nothing.

But if they opened up new coalition possibilities during the second campaign, that they had refused before, voters would ask why they had to have a second election at all!

HOW LONG MIGHT A MINORITY GOVERNMENT SURVIVE? PASSING A BUDGET WILL BE THE KEY HURDLE.

Suppose, to avoid an election, we had a minority government. How long could a minority government survive?

The new EU mandated rules for budget preparation allow some leeway.

The new Government, if we have one, will be obliged to present proposals for the 2017 budget in October 2016.

When the 2016 budget proposals were presented in October 2015, I believe a defeat on one of the financial resolutions associated with it, would, at the time, have been treated as a confidence issue, requiring the resignation of the government. But this need not necessarily be the case this year because the actual budget for 2017 does not need to come into effect until 1 January 2017, almost three months after it will have been presented in October of this year.

The EU rules do, on the other hand, require that the budget be passed in final form by December.

Between October and December, the proposed budgets of each EU state are to be the subject of review by the EU authorities and by the other EU states. This is to ensure that the budget policies of all states are consistent and are not of a kind that might undermine the euro itself.

So, if other countries are to have a say on our budget between October and December, there is no reason why the parties in the Dail might not propose changes, so long as these are consistent with the overall budget arithmetic and with the Stability and Growth Pact, which the Irish people approved by referendum.

Thus a minority government could be simultaneously negotiating its budget, with BOTH the Dail, and its EU partners, over the two months from October to December.

The requirement on the opposition parties, if they object to a minority government’s October draft budget measures, to put forward alternative cuts or revenue raising proposals, could be challenging and uncomfortable for them. This process could educate the public about the choices to be made, and would severely limit the ability of parties outside the minority government to make unrealistic promises

But, once December arrived, there would be no more time for haggling and transferring money from one place to another to satisfy opposition parties. In December, there will have to be an up down vote on a final package. And if the government fails to win that vote, it would have to go.

I hear that the Fianna Fail Leader has been making suggestions that he might , from opposition, seek changes in the government’s budget, but still vote against the negotiated budget in the final vote. This suggestion is unrealistic because the only reason the government would have for accepting changes would be that to do so might enable the budget to pass.

The big problem with these imaginative scenarios is that we have no idea how they might work in practice.

Would opposition parties abandon the practice of a lifetime, and negotiate seriously with the government on alternative ways of cutting or taxing, to replace measures they have objected to?

Would the civil service be able to cost accurately the alternative proposals? This is not a trivial question. Unless one can rely on the figures, political agreement is impossible.

POLICY MAKING PARALYSIS LIKELY

Take the example of the health service, where it seems we are spending more to get less in return than most comparable EU countries. Although most government Departments have been able to produce reliable estimates, this has not worked in Health, where the cost of the service has been consistently underestimated. Would a government, that had to negotiate every change it wished to make, with an opposition which had no executive responsibility for anything, really be able to make coherent health reforms, that would give the people value for money?

In this scenario, the possibility of an early election would also have to be taken into account, and this would increase the risk of insincere or opportunistic negotiating tactics by both minority government and the majority opposition.

A minority government, in the present Dail, would lead to policy paralysis, and the reign of local and vested interests. It would not be a reasonable response to the recent electors wanted the government to do more, not less
There is also the possibility of unforeseen events.

An increase in international interest rates caused for example by the burning of sovereign bondholders in another jurisdiction cannot be ruled out. A vote for Brexit in the UK, or a failure of economic reforms in France could dent confidence in the euro. In such circumstances, a minority government could find itself in acute difficulty.

For all these reasons, every effort should be made by the parties in the Dail to negotiate the formation of a government with a majority.

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PARTY RHETORIC, AND MANIFESTO SPECIFICS, TOLD VERY DIFFERENT STORIES………

irish-flagLITTLE REAL DIFFERENCE ON SPENDING AND TAX

The economist Jim O’Leary has circulated a postscript on the Irish General Election.
It is very good, says something new, and I am republishing it here so it gets a wider readership.
It shows that the description of the relative economic and fiscal policy positions of the two main parties, as set out in their manifestos, is completely different from the characterization of their policy stances during the campaign by the media and by one another.
It would appear that neither the media, nor the politicians themselves read, and added up the cost of, their own, and opposing party, manifestoes!
Here is what Jim wrote:
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“I’ve just been doing a bit of digging into the election manifestoes of our two largest political parties in order to get a handle on how difficult it might be to bridge the ideological chasm between them. After all, Fine Gael is a party that sits firmly on the right of the spectrum and wants to slash taxes even if it means compromising standards of public service provision, while Fianna Fail has reinvented itself as a social democratic party with a more measured approach to reducing taxes and a much stronger commitment to the public sector. Or, at least, that’s how the narrative of the last few weeks would have it.

Well, the thrust of that narrative receives some slender support from the respective parties’ plans for government current spending.

FF proposed to devote €4.8bn to raising current spending over the next five years; the corresponding FG figure is €4.2bn. The difference between them hardly amounts to a whole hill of beans however, equating as it does to just about 1% of the current expenditure base. (Indeed, by this standard, the Sinn Fein plan to raise current spending by €6bn by 2021 doesn’t look dramatically out of kilter.)

On the other hand, FG is the more ambitious party in relation to investment spending having proposed an extra €4bn for the capital budget for the 2017-21 period, compared with FF’s €2.7bn.

So, if we just add current and capital together (and ignore their differential impact on the dreaded ‘fiscal space’), FG’s plans would result in higher public spending than FF’s. A slightly surprising conclusion when set against the prevailing narrative.
Much more surprising (indeed ‘surprising’ is an understatement of how it struck me when I discovered it a few days ago) is the comparison of the cost of the two parties’ proposals in relation to taxation.

The cost of the FF proposals? Just over €2.9bn.

And FG’s? A bit less than €2.5bn.

In other words, FF was proposing to devote almost €0.5bn more to tax cuts over the next five years than FG. If you don’t believe me, check the two sets of numbers in their respective manifestoes.

So much for FG being the ‘tax slashers’. The cost of their commitment to abolish USC, at  almost €3.5bn over the 2017-21 period, was to be offset by a net €1bn of increases elsewhere, including a 5% levy on incomes over €100k, a range of base-broadening measures for high earners, a steep hike in cigarette duties and a new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. In contrast, FF’s more modest plans in respect of USC, costing €2.6bn, were to be accompanied by a net €300m of tax reductions in other areas.

It seems to me that FG’s proposal in relation to a single tax, the USC, was adopted as shorthand for its overall position on taxation (and was taken as emblematic of its attitude towards public service provision), and the rest of its tax platform was pretty well ignored.

Lazy analysis perhaps, but what else would one expect from hard-pressed(!) political commentators (not to mention political opponents).

What is bewildering is that FG made no serious attempt during the election campaign to counter what proved to be a damaging narrative.

Not once did a FG spokesperson say; ‘Hold on folks, Fianna Fail are actually proposing to cut taxes by more than we are!’ Or am I missing something?  “

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Meath History

 

meathIt is a privilege to have been invited to speak at the launch of this enormously important publication about the history of Meath.

Meath people have a deep interest in their heritage. As is pointed out in the book, of 1000 or so voluntary societies active, some 500 are related to its heritage.

I am very pleased that the book starts with a major chapter on the Hill of Tara, recalling its symbolic importance as a unifying symbol for Ireland. Meath people tended to gather in Tara on important occasions, such as during the 1798 rebellion, the monster Repeal meeting there in 1843, and the major parade of John Redmond’s National Volunteers in 1915, at which my grand uncle John led the Dunboyne contingent.

The chapter by Eoin O’Flynn on the High King Mael Sechniall gives a valuable insight into an important, but neglected, historical figure.  Meath had its own Brian Boru.

The chapter ASK Abraham on the major landholders of the 15th century in county Meath is fascinating. It is interesting to note that some of the families he mentions survive to this day on their original holdings, but others have disappeared.  It would be interesting to study the reasons why some families survived, in prominent positions, while others did not.

This chapter also explores how the castles of these families served as a means of demonstrating their local political influence, as well as providing a residence for family members.

Meath, although on the border of the Pale, seems to have been a much more peaceful place in the 15th century than one might have thought.

Brendan Scott’s chapter on the failure of the Reformation in Meath in the 16th century deals with a subject that remains at the heart of Irish political history to this day.

Although Meath was under strong control of the Royal authorities in Dublin, and was dominated by Old English families, efforts to replace Catholic by Protestant belief failed, in contrast to experience in Britain where Royal control was not that much less than it was within the Irish  Pale. Why?

It seems that there were divisions of approach between the Archbishop of Dublin and the Bishop of Meath, both of whom were promoting the Reformation for the King, but could not get on with one another, and these divisions contributed to the failure of their efforts.

Another explanation may be that the church reforms, which were initiated in England by parliamentary legislation, were introduced in Ireland by Royal Decree. This lack of local involvement probably sealed the failure of the effort.

But this subject would reward further study.

Again, the chapter by Annaligh Margey, on the Wars of 1641-1654, brings out similarly fascinating questions.

The nationwide making of common cause between the old English gentry in Ireland, who had remained Catholic, and the Gaelic Irish gentry who were also Catholic, took place at open air conferences at Crufty and Tara in Meath.

The attacks that took place, when the rebellion was initiated in 1641, on the Loyalist community in Meath are explored considerable detail.

The author draws victim statements given afterwards, about their sufferings, by what the author describes as “British settlers” in the county

Looking through the names of some of those made depositions; I have to say many may have been descendents of people who would not appear to be “British Settlers”, but rather natives who had conformed to the Established Church.

For example, surnames  like Grace, Dowdall, Barnewall, O’Loughlan, Prendergast, Nangle, O’Gowen, o’Fanegane and Molloy, which appear among the deponents, seems like surnames of people whose ancestors  had been in Ireland for a long time. So perhaps Meath society in the 16th century was even more mixed than one might have thought.

The dramatic story of Elyn Ni Kelwey of Castlejordan, executed in 1647 for killing the infant child she had by a married man,Tirlogh O Doran, is one that could be taken up by a playwright with a sense of 17th century history.

I really enjoyed Padraig Lenihan’s chapter on the battle of the Boyne. He brings out the fact that the French were advising King James not to fight at the Boyne at all, to burn Dublin, and retreat behind the Shannon. It is to his credit, that James did not take this advice.

At the outset of the battle, William was very nearly killed, and it that had happened, the course of history might have been very different.

King William’s plan was to encircle and destroy James’ much smaller army by crossing upriver. In this William failed because James countered effectively,  and, while it was defeated, James’ army was able to retreat in relatively good order, and was not trapped by the Nanny river in Duleek, as it might have been.

But James’  retreating Army seems to have failed to make its appointed rendezvous in Dunboyne, and dispersed after that. It was a defeat, but not a terminal disaster, as it might have been.

Kevin Mulligan’s chapter on the big houses of the 18th century, shows that many of the families, who were on the losing side of the Battle of the Boyne, still were significant Meath land owners 100 years later, and some of them had not been required to change their religious belief.

Ruan O’Donnell’s chapter, on the lead up to the 1798 rebellion, describes a society in Meath that was in deep internal conflict over land, power and religion. Crime was rampant.

On the one hand, the Catholic Church, which had recently won the right to establish a National Seminary in Maynooth, wanted to adhere to a path of peaceful negotiation with the authorities. It was supported by many Catholics in this stance

On the other hand, the United Irishmen and the Defenders, inspired by the French Revolution, wanted to prepare for, and support, a French invasion of Ireland.

Given the way in which the French revolution had treated the Catholic Church in France, only a few years before, it is surprising that there was so much support for Revolutionary France in Meath, including among some Catholic priests. It would be interested more about why this was so, and how Catholic priests in Meath thought about the treatment of rebel Catholics in the Vendee by the French Revolutionary authorities.

There seems to have  been a lot of organised violence in Meath long before the 1798 rebellion, notably a major conflict between the Defenders and the militia at Coolnahinch in 1793.

It is interesting to discover that  Free Masons seem to have been involved in both the United Irishmen and the Orange Order.

There is a chapter on the War of independence by Ultan Courtney.

There is no entry on the effect of the Parnell split in Meath, where the county played a national central role. Meath’s role in the Home Rule agitation from 1900 to 1914 might also be covered in a future book, as well as the sufferings of the county during the influenza of 1919 and the Farm Workers Strike of the same year. The 1919 flu killed more people globally than the First World War.

I am delighted to note, and look forward to reading, chapters in the book dealing with

Agriculture (including material drawn from my great grandfather Edward Delany’s farm accounts!),

 the activities of the Land Commission,

 the Famine(from which some parts of Meath suffered gravely),

 the Human impact of the landscape of the County, and on

Church building

Literature and Learning in Mediaeval Meath

Lord Dunsany and Francis Ledwidge

Dick Blake

Jim Connell

The Naper family estate in Oldcastle

 as well as many more contemporary topics.

I commend Geography Publications, and Meath County Council, and all the authors, for a tremendous piece of work.  Well done, and Thanks!

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and Deputy for Meath from 1969 to 2004, at the launch of Meath History and Society, Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county (Dr Francis Ludlow and Dr Arlene Crampsie, editors) On Wednesday, 2 March 2016, at 7pm in Meath County Library, Railway Street , Navan

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EVE OF ELECTION PROGNOSIS

cropped-irish-flag.jpgThe possibility of a Dail being elected tomorrow, where no feasible combination of parties will be able to form a government, is unfortunately quite high.

Party leaders were incessantly pressed, by the media and others during the campaign, into ruling out coalition options.
There was no space allowed for “constructive ambiguity”, although Irish people know well that, without “constructive ambiguity” in the short term, we might have had no peace process in the long term. Media interest and public interest are not always identical.

The questions asked by moderators, in the leaders’ debates, seemed to focus heavily on catching leaders out about things they said, or did, in the past, rather than on their thoughts about the future, which is what is really important now.

Some of the issues pursued were trivial, like the appointment of a member to the board of an art gallery

It is almost as if the moderators, in the debates, wanted to ask questions about the past, because they were, themselves, uncomfortable dealing with challenges about the future, like

+ the ballooning cost of health services, relative to resources available
+ the looming pensions crisis, where numbers at work will decline relative to numbers on pension
+ the changes required of Ireland to meet its climate change obligations
+ what the leaders would do, next June, if the UK leaves the EU
+ the shape of the 2017 budget ( all the focus was on what might be possible in 2021!)
+ what the leaders would do if, when the Dail meets, no combination of parties, willing to coalesce with one another, could attain a majority
+ how long could we go without a government, if one is not elected on 10 March

These are not very original questions, but they are the ones voters should be thinking about.

Richard Bruton

CAMPAIGNING IN THE IRISH GENERAL ELECTION

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 20.31.20I have been doing quite a bit of door to door canvassing in the Irish General Election, mostly for my brother , Richard, in Dublin Bay North, but also for the 4 outgoing Fine Gael TDs in Meath, Damien English, Ray Butler, Regina Doherty and Helen Mc Entee.

Tonight I am speaking at a rally in Carrick on Shannon in support of Gerry Reynolds and his running mates, John Perry and Tony McLaughlin.

There is widespread committed support for all the five candidates I have canvassed for. They are well known for their consistent local work rate…..not just at election time.

There is also a high level of recognition of the fact that, in the past five years, 135,000 people have been added to the number at work, and that the growth rate of the Irish economy is now the highest in Europe. On the other hand, there is not enough recognition of the fact that keeping high economic and employment growth rates requires that we maintain competitiveness.

Some voters question whether the extra 135,000 jobs are well paid enough, and my answer is that many of them are well paid, and that the taxation contributed by all these extra workers is essential if there is to be an improvement in health and education services. Without that extra tax revenue, planned service improvements would be impossible.

Other voters complain that services in hospitals and schools are not good enough and mention particular cuts that have taken place. But these restrictions were the logical and necessary consequence of gradually getting the government’s budget back into some sort of balance. This was essential, if the country was not to follow the path of Greece.

Even as things stand, this year the government is still spending slightly MORE than it is collecting in taxes.

To reduce the debt to the sustainable level of 60% of GDP, we need to reach a point where revenue is growing faster than spending. Unless we do this, we are simply financing today’s services at the expense of tomorrow’s taxpayers.

A government that did that on an ongoing basis would eventually get into trouble.

WHY A MAJORITY GOVERNMENT IS NEEDED

The risk of political instability is not an abstract concept. If the government formed in the new Dail does not have a secure majority, that brings the possibility that annual budgets would not be passed, or could only be passed if all sorts of vested local interests, associated with “independent” TD’s, were bought off.

Lenders would worry about lending to a government that was in that situation.

Eventually that would lead to higher interest rates.

That would in turn feed through into mortgage and over draft rates, which are already too high for some borrowers.

Political instability, and uncertainty about budgetary policy of the Portuguese government, has already led to an 100 basis point increase in Portuguese bond rates.

Interest rates are currently being kept very low by the ECB……artificially so.

That policy is helping us, as a borrower nation, but it is also making it difficult for pension and insurance funds to invest profitably enough, to protect the interests of their policy holders and future pensioners.

We cannot count on that lax ECB policy lasting forever, so we should try to get our debts down to manageable levels, while the going is still good.

That is why it is right that the two government parties are emphasising fiscal prudence, and why a Dail full of independent TDs, pursuing sectional rather than national policies, could be a dangerous luxury for the country.

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