John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

HIGH NOON IN BUENOS AIRES

The G20 meeting in Argentina, which took place last weekend,  simply postponed a confrontation between the US and China which could prove to be as momentous for Ireland as the Brexit vote in the House of Commons on 12 December.

Will a deal be possible in 90 days time?

The omens are mixed. Some US officials say China is offering nothing concrete to bridge the gap between the countries, just promises. President Trump is particularly sensitive about imports in the wake of thousands of lay offs by General Motors last week, which he blames on import competition.

President Trump has already imposed a 10% tariff on a wide range of Chinese goods in an effort to rebalance trade between the US and China. He has said he will increase the tariff rate from 10% to 25% on 1st January, if he does not get satisfaction from the Chinese.

He has threatened further measures to follow.

His concern is about the alleged theft on US intellectual property by China, Chinese subsidization of exports through state supported companies, and the supposed under valuation of the Chinese currency to boost Chinese exports.

A full fledged trade war could start if matters are not sorted out in the next 90 days.

One might think that a dispute like this might be referred to an arbitrator, who could adjudicate on the facts and the arguments. The WTO dispute panels are there to do this. But the US is refusing to appoint judges to sit on these panels, and President Trump has even threatened to withdraw from the WTO altogether.

A Trade War between the US and China would be very bad news for Ireland.

More than any other EU country, Ireland is dependent on the US as a destination for our exports. If the trade dispute with China hits US growth, the effect of that would be felt in Ireland more than in any other EU country.

As an export oriented country, Ireland has also invested heavily in building an export trade to China. We rely on a growing Chinese middle class to consume our meat and dairy products.

We also depend disproportionately on multinational companies, who use global supply chains, which would be disrupted drastically by a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

President Trump feels that China has gained unduly and unfairly from its membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) since 2001. Since then, while still being a state directed economy, China, through its membership of the WTO, has been able to get easy access to the markets of the world under the WTO’s Most Favoured Nation principle (MFN).

MFN requires a WTO member state not to discriminate between countries, and to charge the same tariffs of goods from all WTO members, including China, unless it has a comprehensive trade agreement with that other country (in which case it is allowed to discriminate in favour of that country).  

President Trump’s deeper worry is that China is using the profits it is making from its export industries to build its military and naval strength in the Western Pacific, where the US also has bases and alliances.

The US sees its bases in Korea, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines as defensive. After all, the US has had a military presence in the western Pacific, in the Philippines, since its war with Spain in 1898. But to China, these US bases, ringed across the sea lanes China uses to survive, are a threat.

To break out of its encirclement, China has increased its own military spending substantially. But it is still spending less than a third of the US defence budget.

So this is not a simple trade dispute that can be settled easily.  

China will continue to want to break out of ring of US bases on its eastern flank. Indeed its much publicised “One Belt One Road” initiative, to develop transport links from western China all the way to Europe, could be seen as an attempt to break free of its dependence on the Pacific sea routes, where it confronts the US and which the US could block in the event of confrontation between the two countries. Japan faced a similar situation in 1941.

The growing trade dispute is already having an effect. China’s economy is showing some signs of stress. New car sales there have declined. Corporate borrowing is high and could be hit by a rise in interest rates, which might be forced on China if it needed to revalue its currency to meet one of President Trump’s complaints. The biggest increase in global debt in recent years has been in China. It is an important element in the global banking system. A slowdown in China would affect the rest of the world.

China acknowledges it has a surplus in goods exports to the US, but believes this is compensated by services exports by the US to China, and by the privilege to US enjoys because its currency, the dollar, is the world’s reserve currency.

To an extent, China and the US are talking past one another. The Americans are even complaining about having to translate Chinese trade proposals from Chinese into English!

Given the complexity of the rivalry between the US and China, the best outcome one can hope for in 90 days time is a some form of combination of minor agreements and postponements.

The really important battle for Ireland and for the EU will be that of defending and strengthening the WTO.

Arbitration, rather than confrontation, should be the way to resolve trade disputes.

GEORGE HW BUSH

I met former President George HW Bush only once, and long after he had left high office, at a private event in Co Kildare.

The characteristics I remember of him then were his exceptional politeness and humility, as well as evidence of his physical courage.

His politeness was demonstrated in the time he took with all the people he met at the event and his obvious lack of self importance.

His courage emerged when he described how, no longer a young man at the time, he was training to do a parachute jump in Texas.

It transpired that the parachute jump was intended to exorcise a tragic war time experience, when his Air Force plane was shot down in the Pacific in 1944. I understand he later fulfilled his goal without injury. He had had direct experience of war and that was why, as President, he was economical in the use of US military power.

 When Communism collapsed, George HW Bush proposed to Europe the vision of a continent “whole and free”, from the Atlantic to the Urals.

For a time, it looked as of his goal might be achieved.  It has not been, for a variety of reasons some of which have their roots in mistrust and suspicion between Europeans themselves.

The best way to remember George HW Bush now would be if Europeans could draw back from the confrontations between Russia and Ukraine, and from the authoritarian populism we see in some European countries, not only Russia.

It is not too late to devise a credible security architecture that encompasses all of the continent.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS NO BREXIT  DEAL?

The European Commission has produced a paper setting out the preparations that will have to make for a “No Deal “ Brexit, and what would have to done to deal with it.

I have extracted some of the interesting quotations from it.

It is quite explicit in some respects, but those who say there will be no hard border in Ireland in any circumstances will need to seek further clarification from the Commission.

BORDER CHECKS

The Commission paper says

“Member States, including national authorities, will play a key role in implementing and enforcing EU law vis-à-vis the United Kingdom as a third country. This includes performing the necessary border checks and controls and processing the necessary authorisations and licences.”

It adds

“The Commission is working with Member States to coordinate the measures they adopt to ensure that contingency preparations are consistent within the European Union”

and says that

“Member States should refrain from bilateral discussions and agreements with the United Kingdom, which would undermine EU unity”.

THE IRISH CASE

The Commission paper recognises that Ireland has a particular problem with Brexit.

It says its stands ready to  explore pragmatic and efficient support solutions, in line with EU State aid law and that it

“ will support Ireland in finding solutions addressing the specific challenges of Irish businesses.”

But it does not say that Ireland would be exempt from applying the EU Customs controls on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

This omission does not seem to tally with statements being made by some in Ireland.

It is unclear what sort of help the Commission will be able to give Irish businesses.

78 DETAILED PAPERS AVAILABLE

In order to assist stakeholders in their preparation for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, the Commission has published 78 detailed sectoral information notices guiding individual industries on the steps to be taken.

It would be useful to scrutinize these papers as to their application to business between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Contingency measures in the immediate aftermath of a No Deal Brexit will in general have to  be

“temporary in nature, and should in principle not go beyond the end of 2019”

AIR TRANSPORT DISRUPTIONS

In the area of air transport, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, without any arrangement in place at the withdrawal date, and without operators concluding the necessary and possible alternative arrangements, will lead to abrupt interruptions of air traffic between the United Kingdom and the European Union, due to the absence of traffic rights and/or the invalidity of the operating licence or of aviation safety certificates.

Regarding traffic rights, the Commission says it will propose measures to ensure that air carriers from the United Kingdom are allowed to fly over the territory of the European Union, make technical stops (e.g. refuelling without embarkation/disembarkation of passengers), as well as land in the European Union and fly back to the United Kingdom. This will create a really difficult situation for UK airlines

ROAD TRANSPORT DIFFICULTIES

Regarding road transport, in case of no deal scenario, as of the withdrawal date, UK hauliers will have market access rights limited to the permits offered under the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) which would allow for considerably less traffic than what currently takes place between the Union and the United Kingdom.  This will have serious implications for Irish businesses using UK hauliers to get goods to the continent.

In the case of a no deal scenario, as of the withdrawal date, goods entering the European Union from the United Kingdom will be treated as imports and goods leaving the European Union to the United Kingdom will be treated as exports.

COLLECTION OF DUTIES AND TAXES

The Commission says that all relevant EU legislation on imported goods and exported goods will apply, including the levy of certain duties and taxes (such as customs duties, value added tax and excise on importation), in accordance with the commitments of the European Union under the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

The need for customs declarations to be presented to customs authorities, and the possibility to control shipments will also apply.

The Commission paper does not say that the border in Ireland would be exempt from this. This will need to be clarified.

The Commission calls on Member States to take all necessary steps to be in a position to apply the Union Customs Code and the relevant rules regarding indirect taxation on 30 March 2019, in case of a no deal scenario, to all imports from and exports to the United Kingdom. Again there is no explicit, or implicit, exemption for the EU border in Ireland.

Customs authorities may issue authorisations for the use of facilitation measures provided for in the Union Customs Code, when economic operators request them, and subject to relevant requirements being met.

Ensuring a level-playing field and smooth trade flows will be particularly challenging in the areas with the densest goods traffic with the United Kingdom. The Commission is working with Member States to help find solutions in full respect of the current legal framework.

The paper also deals with financial services and with residency rights for UK citizens living in EU countries.

ANIMAL AND PLANT HEALTH CHECKS WILL BE NECESSARY

The Commission says that, in the event of a “No Deal” goods will have to undergo sanitary and phytosanitary controls by Member States authorities

“at Border Inspection Posts, which is a matter of Member State responsibility”.

Ambiguity about how all this might apply on the Irish border does not help businesses with their contingency planning.

 

UK LABOUR STANCE ON BREXIT WILL BE CRUCIAL

The worst possible outcome of Brexit for Ireland would be the UK crashing out of the EU, without a deal, next March because the UK Parliament cannot make a decision. The key to avoiding this disaster is in the position of the British Labour Party.

So far, the focus of discussion in regard to Brexit has been on whether the minority Conservative Government can reach sufficient consensus internally, to make a deal to withdraw the UK from the EU.

But such a deal can only come into effect if it is approved by the House of Commons.

Here the stance of the British Labour Party is crucial.

If Labour were open to supporting the deal, or even to abstain in the vote, the DUP and the hardline Conservative Brexiteers would not be able to stop it.

On the other hand, if Labour, the DUP, and the hardline Brexiteers all oppose it, the deal will not come into effect.

There would then be massive political uncertainty, the likelihood of the UK crashing out of the EU on 29 March, and a huge blow to the global economy.  One could then blame on the DUP and the hardline Brexiteers, but Labour, as the bigger party, would bear more responsibility than the others for this debacle.

LABOUR’S  “SIX TESTS” ARE BESIDE THE POINT

The Labour Party has set six tests that it says the Withdrawal Agreement must pass, if Labour is not to vote against it in the House of Commons. On close examination, the tests seem to be designed to allow Labour to vote against any conceivable deal that Mrs. May could negotiate on a Withdrawal Treaty.

These tests that Labour says the Withdrawal Agreement must pass  are;

“Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?”

Comment. This is impossible because the future relationship will not be negotiated now, but later during the transition period.

“Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?”

Comment. This is also impossible because there would be no point having an EU Single Market or Customs Union, if, as a  non member, the UK could get all the benefits that members get. In any event, these issues will not be settled in the Withdrawal Treaty.

“Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?”

Comment.  The UK has not yet finalized its OWN future migration policy so it is unreasonable to expect the Withdrawal Agreement to do what the UK government itself has been unable to do. In any event, what would Labour’s migration policy be?

“Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?”

Comment. This is not going to be settled now. It will be the subject of the future trade negotiations and the EU will be doing its best to ensure that the UK, outside the EU, does not reduce quality, environmental and labour standards to win market share.

“Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?”

Comment.  Again this is for the future negotiation, not for the Withdrawal Agreement. The only way the UK can take part in the European Arrest Warrant is by staying in the EU and accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. National Security policy is the responsibility of member states, not the EU, and cannot be bound by an agreement made by the EU.

Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

Comment. This is a matter for the UK government, not for the Withdrawal deal from the EU.

So the Agreement cannot pass these tests, for the simple reason that none of these six matters can be finalised until later.

They are not valid tests for a Withdrawal Agreement, and the Labour Party should know that.

It is true that the Withdrawal Agreement will be accompanied by a political declaration about the framework for future relations between the UK and the EU. But, legally speaking, this declaration cannot give binding commitments on the six points raised by Labour.

In fact, on some of these matters, like security policy, are ones where the EU could not give commitments, even in a future Trade agreement, without the consent of the legislatures of each of the 27 member states of the EU.

The Labour Party knows this perfectly well.  Choosing six tests designed to give a basis for rejecting any Agreement Mrs. May could negotiate would be a legitimate and normal opposition tactic, if the government had an overall majority. But it does not. It depends on an agreement with the DUP, which the DUP has said it is prepared to break.

AND WHAT HAPPENS IF LABOUR DEFEATS  THE DEAL IN PARLIAMENT?

Let us assume Labour wins a vote to reject the Withdrawal Agreement Mrs. May makes, what does Labour do then?

Obviously, Labour would like either a General Election or a change of Government in this Parliament.

But , even if that happens, a Labour led Government could not have time to negotiate a new Withdrawal deal,  that would pass its own six tests, between now and the 29 March next year, the date on which the UK will be out of the EU, deal or no deal.

The only way Labour could pass its own six tests would be by withdrawing the Article 50 letter written by Theresa May, and seeking to keep the UK in the EU after all.

There is legal doubt as to whether the UK has the power to withdraw its Article 50 letter. The European Court of Justice would have to adjudicate on that.

Secondly, staying in the EU after all, would require a second Referendum.

A second Referendum would have a lead time of 22 weeks, from the decision to hold one to Polling Day. This is because of the requirements of the law in Britain. 

A special Bill for a Referendum would have to pass in both the Houses . This twenty-two week delay would bring us beyond the UK ‘s automatic exit date of 29 March, unless the UK had first got permission to withdraw the Article 50 letter.

All this has huge implications for the whole of Ireland, not just the border.

So, to avoid a crash out Brexit, Irish diplomacy now needs to focus on the Labour Party as well as on the Conservative Government.

TWO OPTIONS…BOTH DIFFICULT

The Labour Party needs to be persuaded to come off the fence and either

  •    back a realistically negotiable withdrawal deal or
  •    say clearly that it would prefer the UK to say in the EU.

Labour could then base their parliamentary tactics on whichever of those two options they prefer. Either would be less disastrous than the present fudge.

THE GREAT WAR AND IRELAND

Speech by John Bruton at 4pm on Sunday 28th October 2018, at an event in the Community Centre, in Summerhill Co Meath, commemorating those from Meath who served in the First World War;

I am honoured to be asked to speak here in Summerhill at an event to commemorate the formal end of the First World War.

At least 35,000 Irish soldiers died in the War. Many thousands more suffered horrendous wounds and were handicapped or in pain for the rest of their lives.

Their sacrifice was little recognised by the new Irish state, for many years.

Indeed those who had served and survived were made to feel unwelcome when they came home.

After the War several county councils voted not to employ ex servicemen and, in some cases, even to withhold educational scholarships from their children.

In 1921, it is estimated that, of the servicemen who returned to Ireland,

 39% of those in Munster were unemployed,

 23% of those in Connacht, and

 17% of those in Leinster.

 

WHY DID IRISHMEN VOLUNTEER?

Those who volunteered to fight in the War did so for many reasons.

Some did so because they believed the cause was just.

Neutral Belgium had been invaded by Imperial Germany. Louvain had been burned and atrocities committed by German forces.

France had been attacked and many Irish people saw France as a friend, who should be defended.

Others volunteered out of economic necessity, or in search of adventure and higher purpose.

Others did so out of loyalty to the United Kingdom, in whose Parliament Ireland was represented, and which had recently granted Home Rule to Ireland.

WHAT HAD BEEN ACHIEVED WITHOUT WAR

To understand this, we should recall what had been achieved for Ireland, by non violent politics, before the War began, and which those who volunteered, would have felt were achievements worth defending.

The crowning achievement was the enactment into law of Irish Home Rule on 18 September 1914.

Other achievements were

  • the settlement on the land question, between 1881 and 1909, in a way which transferred ownership of the land of Ireland to those who were actually farming it,
  • democratic Local Government   inaugurated in 1898,
  • the Universities Act of 1908 which established NUI,  
  • the beginnings of the welfare state with the introduction of old age pension and social security in 1909, and
  • the introduction of public housing for those who could not afford to house themselves without some help.

 

These achievements demonstrate what Irish MPs could do by taking their seats, and using their votes,  especially when the government of the day was in a minority. This is something on which nationalist voters in Northern Ireland today should reflect.

The  famous Woodenbridge speech of the Irish Party Leader, John Redmond, on 20 September 1914, urging Irish men to volunteer, must be seen against the  background of what had been achieved, and, in particular, that Home Rule had been placed on the statute book just two days previously, on the 18th September 1914.

Its implementation of it was simply postponed until the end of what most people expected would be a short war.

At Woodenbridge, Redmond wanted to show everybody, including Ulster Unionists, that, with the passage of Home Rule, things had changed.

He wanted to persuade them to come in voluntarily under Home rule, when the War was over. To that end he wanted to show them that, in some matters, Unionists and Nationalists were now “on the same side”. 

Unfortunately for all of Europe, the War was not, as many hoped, over by Christmas of 1914.

WARS CONTINUED AFTER THE WAR

It lasted, as a world war until November 1918, and it spawned local wars that went on until 1923, including in this country, in Russia, in Turkey and in Poland.

Europe, after the War, was very different from Europe before it.

Before the War, multi ethnic Empires operated relatively peacefully.

While the Imperial idea, and multi ethnicity, clashed with the ethnic nationalism that flourished in intellectual circles, the political arrangements worked and were adaptable.

Austro Hungary had a multi ethnic Parliament with representation from the minorities present.  23% of the Austro Hungarian Emperor’s subjects spoke German, 20% spoke Hungarian, 16% Czech or Slovak, 10% Polish, 9% Serbo Croat,  8% Ukrainian, 6% Romanian and so on. All coexisted.

The Ottoman Empire, though Muslim, tolerated large Christian and Jewish minorities.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland may have been dominated by the English, but its Parliament had large Irish and Scottish representation.

The Russian Empire contained minorities too numerous to list.

The permissive consensus, that allowed these entities like these to resolve their internal differences by generally peaceful methods, was shattered by the sacrifices and brutality of the War.

It was a war that lasted far longer, and took far more lives, than anyone expected when it started.

THE LEGACY IS STILL WITH US

It is a global tragedy that the gross over reaction of Austro Hungary to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife at the end of June 1914, started a conflict, with whose consequences we still live with today.

100 years later, Europe and the EU face many crises.

  • Brexit ,
  • the refugee crisis,
  • authoritarian inclined governments in parts of the EU , and
  •  the financial crisis in  Italy.

These four crises put immense stress on the bonds of tolerance that hold the European Union together.

They can bring back to the surface long buried tensions and resentments, some of which date back to events of the 1914-1923 period.

For example, the present day fears in the Baltic States, of both Russia and Germany, can be explained by what happened between 1917 to 1923.

So too can the tensions between Poland and Ukraine, between Poland and Russia, and between Greece and Turkey.

Russian fears of encirclement, encouraged by President Putin, can be traced back to the humiliating peace imposed on it by Germany in early 1918, and to the subsequent western interventions in its Civil War.

The authoritarian and nationalistic trends in Hungarian politics can be explained by the fact that the post War settlement was much harder on Hungary, even than it was on Imperial Germany. As a result of it, large Hungarian speaking populations remain in neighbouring Serbia, Slovakia and Romania to this day.

The state of Israel, and the conflict with Arabs it has engendered, has its origin in a promise made by Britain to win Jewish support in the War.

In 1919, the First World War left much of Europe starving and desolated. Order had broken down. States were too weak to exercise their proper monopoly on the use of force.

Resentments abounded about the supposed injustice of the imposed peace settlements.

Demobilised soldiers know no other trade than war.

Minorities, particularly the Jews, were scapegoated all over central Europe, for misfortunes for which they had no responsibility at all.  Bolshevism was seen as an imminent threat.

So the turbulence experienced in Ireland between 1919 and 1923 was far from unique.

The miracle was that, after it was over, democracy survived here. It did not survive in other parts of Europe.

States and populations turned to paramilitary organisations to restore order, in these frightening circumstances, and out of an understandable desire for order, grew Fascism and the Nazis.

Both had their origin in the First World War. The Second World War grew out of the First World War.

On the other hand, if the War had not happened, there would probably have been no Rising in 1916, no executions, no conscription crisis, and no consequential Sinn Fein landslide in the 1918 Election.

Home Rule would have come into effect for 26 or 28 counties, and the remainder of Ireland, 6 or 4 counties, would have continued under some form of direct rule.

If the War had not happened, Home Rule could have evolved towards Dominion status, and eventually to full independence, but without the violence.

BUT WHY DID IT HAVE TO HAPPEN?

COULD IT HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?

But why did the First World War come about?

“Sleepwalkers, How Europe went to war in 1914” by Christopher Clark, Professor of Modern History in Cambridge describes the statesmen, who stumbled into War in 1914, as

“sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the horror they were about to bring to the world”.

A web of interlocking commitments, designed to give individual countries security and peace behind their own borders, ended up tumbling the whole continent into War.

Austro Hungary had a defensive pact with Germany. Russia set itself up as the protector of Serbia. France gave Russia a blank cheque in the Balkans because it needed Russian assurances against Germany. Britain had a rather more vague understanding with France.  It feared any Russian rapprochement with Germany because Russia could then freely threaten British interests in India.

So, when Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 by assassins that had come from Serbia, the possibility that all these dominoes might fall in the direction of war opened up.

But it was only a possibility.

Serbia could have taken resolute action to root out the conspiracy behind the assassins, before Austria issued any ultimatum. Austria could have issued a more temperate ultimatum. Serbia could have given a less evasive response.  Germany could have restrained Austria.

Russia could have held back from full scale mobilization in support of Serbia, and France could have made it clear that it did not wish to get involved in supporting a Russian attack on Austria, so long as Germany stayed out too.

Britain could have said it would remain neutral in a German war with France, so long as Germany respected Belgian neutrality.

But none of these things happened.

The interlocking commitments between countries that led to war were not, according to Christopher Clark, “long term  features of the European system, but the consequence of numerous short term adjustments” made in the immediately preceding years. 

The War was not inevitable, but it suited some leaders to pretend afterwards that it was, so as to avoid facing the consequences of some their own omissions, ambiguities and evasions.

LESSONS FOR TODAY

Some of the issues involved are still current.

For example, how does one pursue a criminal conspiracy launched from another jurisdiction?

If something like the European Arrest Warrant was in place, could Austria have obtained the extradition of some of the conspirators from Belgrade without threatening war?

Christopher Clark says Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia in 1914 was milder than the one NATO issued to Serbia in 1999!

Luckily, the NATO ultimatum of 1999 did not have the same dire global consequences, mainly because Russia stood aside in 1999 but not in 1914.

As we see an escalating confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the lesson I draw is that leaders must not just think of the next move, but of the likely counter move, the move after that and so on, bearing in mind that nothing is inevitable until it has actually happened. Political leaders usually have far more choices open to them than they are willing to acknowledge.

Another lesson is the value of having a structure of peace, like the European Union, to which all neighbouring countries belong, which uses rules interpreted consistently, regular meetings, and economic interdependency, to manage conflicts.

As we are learning today in Anglo Irish relations, breaking from such a Union is the ultimate folly of Brexit.

WHAT IS AT STAKE IN THE EU’S DISPUTE WITH POLAND?

Brexit is not the only problem challenging the integrity of the EU’s single market.

Last week the European Court of Justice(ECJ) ordered the Polish government to stop appointing new Judges.

In December the Venice Commission, a body set up by the Council of Europe (which is independent of the EU), said that elements of the reform of the judiciary being undertaken by the present Polish government  

“ bear a striking resemblance with the institutions that existed in the Soviet Union”

One of the authors of that report was the distinguished Irish barrister, Richard Barrett, who worked at one time in the Irish Attorney General’s office.

The EU is a system of rules and the EU can only survive if its rules are fairly and uniformly enforced by the courts of the 28 member states.

The European Union is a common market precisely because it has a common system for

  • making,
  • interpreting, and
  • enforcing

common rules that apply directly to the citizens of its member states. These common rules are interpreted, in the first place, by the national courts in each of the member states. So the integrity of national courts is vital for the EU.

This issue lies at the heart of the difficulties the UK is experiencing, as it tries to leave the EU, still enjoy the benefits of the EU’s common market for goods, but without taking part in the common system for making, interpreting, and enforcing the rules of the common market.

In a very different way, this same issue is at the heart of the disputes, between the European Commission and the governments of Poland and Hungary, about the independence of their judicial systems.

If one is living or doing business in Poland, the only way one can get one’s Common Market rights is by going, in the first place to the Polish courts. This course should be open to you, whether you are a Polish citizen or not, and whatever political opinions, or status vis a vis the government of Poland.

The EU insists that courts be independent so that everyone can enforce their EU rights, as equal EU citizens, anywhere in the EU, at all times.

This rigorous insistence on the rule of law is one of the reasons many European countries want to join the EU, so that they can get the EU seal of approval for the rule of law in their county, and thus be attractive to overseas investors and other visitors.

I visited Serbia recently , and heard that country’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, stress that accession to the EU was the number one priority for countries in her region. She said that the rule of law and transparent administration, demanded as preconditions for Serbian membership of the EU, are crucial to winning foreign investment and access to cheaper finance for Serbia.

So, if the Polish courts were to be allowed become politicized, and were perceived to no longer be objective in all circumstances in interpreting EU law, and Poland still tried to continue to enjoy all the privileges of EU membership, that would damage the EU as a whole, as well as Polish citizens. It would discourage investment in Poland. Worse still, it would remove part of the reason for the existence of the EU…the rule of law.

The European Commission started proceedings against Poland under article 7(1) of the EU Treaties over aspects of the restructuring of the Polish judiciary. It was on an application to it by the European Commission, that the ECJ ordered the Polish government to stop appointing a large number of new judges to its Supreme Court in recent weeks.  The ECJ feared the new appointments might politicize the Polish courts.

The Polish government is able to propose this large number of new appointments because it is compulsorily retiring up to 40% of existing judges, on the basis of newly introduced upper age limits.

The well founded fear is that it will replace these compulsorily retired judges, with judges sympathetic to the views of the present government. The age limit will not, indeed, be applied uniformly. The government will be able to grant discretionary extensions to some judges, presumably those whose judgments it likes.

This comes on top of a merger of the offices of the Minister for Justice and the Public Prosecutor. This merger creates a fear that prosecutorial decisions will also be politicized. The independence of the DPP’s office in Ireland was one of the important reforms made in Ireland in the 1970’s, and it has been carefully protected by successive Taoisigh since then.  

The Polish “reforms” also provide that the President of the Republic, not the court itself, would establish the rules of procedure for the Polish Supreme Court, determining which categories of judge would hear what sort of case. Again this is unacceptable political interference.

In the Venice Commission’s report, co-authored by Richard Barrett from Ireland, the Commission concluded that the Polish government’s proposed mechanism for an extraordinary review(and possible reversal) of past judgments was

“dangerous to the stability of the Polish legal order”

and said it was “problematic”  that the mechanism is retroactive,  and allows the reopening of cases decided  before the proposed law was to be enacted. This is an understatement.

The Venice Commission concluded that the proposed legislative and executive power to interfere in a severe and extensive way in the administration of justice

“pose a grave threat to judicial independence as a key element of the rule of law”.

It is very important for the EU that the Polish government realizes that it is not enough just to have free elections. A country cannot enjoy the benefits of EU membership, or of democracy, unless it respects the rule of law which is enshrined in Article 2 and Article 7 of the EU Treaties.

The credibility of the EU, and the integrity of the EU Single Market, is at stake in Commission ’s dispute with Poland, to an even greater extent than it is with the UK’s attempt to “have its cake and eat it” on trade!.

SEYMOUR CRAWFORD

I wish to pay tribute to the memory of my former Parliamentary colleague, Seymour Crawford, who died yesterday morning.

He was a very successful politician, securing re election to the Dail three times after his initial success in 1992.

His deep interest was in agriculture, and he brought into politics the practical approach he had learned as a farmer, and as a vice President of IFA.

Coming from a border constituency, and a Presbyterian background, he helped, in many practical and undemonstrative ways, to bridge gaps in mutual understanding that grew up between the communities on this island.  

THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY LEGACY OF JOHN REDMOND

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Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at a  meeting of the Westmeath Archaeological and Historical Society in the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar at 8pm on Wednesday 17 October 2018

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I am greatly honoured to be invited to speak here in Mullingar on the 40th anniversary of the foundation of your society, which took place in 1978.

It is a sign that John Redmond is not, in fact, a forgotten patriot, that your society chose his life as the topic for your 40th anniversary, notwithstanding the fact that he himself died over 100 years ago, and 60 years before your society was founded.

John Redmond had a political career of 39 years, and became an MP in his twenties, in January 1881, at the height of the agitation for land reform.

Previous to becoming an MP, he worked as a clerk in the House of Commons where his father had been a member.

When his father died in 1880, Redmond hoped to contest his father’s seat in Wexford town. The new Leader of the Irish Party, Charles Stewart Parnell, ironically as events turned out, preferred to have Tim Healy (later an opponent of Parnell) contest the Wexford seat.

Not long after, Redmond did secure a seat in Parliament, representing New Ross. In 1885, he was re elected to Parliament, representing Wexford North.

In 1890, the Irish Party split, when Gladstone and the Liberal Party refused to do business with them under Parnell’s leadership, because of Parnell’s extra marital affair with Katherine O Shea.

Redmond was one of the minority of Irish Party MPs who supported Parnell. His decision appears to have been motivated by personal loyalty rather than ideology.

When Parnell died in October 1891, Redmond decided to uphold Parnell’s memory by contesting his dead leader’s seat in Cork City. He lost and was out of Parliament.

But in July 1892, Redmond, as a Parnellite, contested and won a seat in Waterford, against Michael Davitt, standing as an anti Parnellite. He was to retain that Waterford seat to the end of his life, in March 1918.

At  boarding school in Clongowes from 1868 to 1874, Redmond excelled in drama and debating. He went from Clongowes to Trinity College, but dropped out after two years. He did, however later qualify as a barrister, and was called to the Bar in 1887, while already an MP.

His parents were separated, something that was uncommon, and difficult, at that time. Redmond, as the eldest son, often had to act as a conciliator between his parents, thereby developing diplomatic characteristics, along with a certain solitariness,  characteristics that were to mark his political career.

Redmond’s mother came from Protestant and Unionist stock, although she converted to Catholicism on marrying Redmond’s father.

His life was marked by tragedies.

His first wife, Johanna Dalton, died in childbirth in 1889, after only six years of marriage.

Redmond had met Johanna, a native Australian, while fundraising for the National Land League in Australia shortly after he became an MP.

One of his daughters died as a young adult.

His brother, and close political lieutenant, Willie (MP for Clare) was killed in the Great War in 1917, at a difficult moment in Redmond’s career when his brothers presence would have been of great support to him.

John Redmond,  a widower, married Ada Beesley in 1899, ten years after the death of his first wife.  Ada was English and a Protestant.

The fact that both his mother, and his second wife, came from Protestant backgrounds may explain why Redmond took a conciliatory line in respect of differences in Ireland which had religious roots. Redmond demonstrated this broad minded view in his condemnation of anti Semitism in Limerick in 1904, whereas others, like the Fenian, John Devoy were openly anti Semitic.

The crowning achievement of John Redmond’s career was the enactment into law of Irish Home Rule on 18 September 1914.

Other achievements with which he was closely associated were

+ the settlement on the land question, in a way which transferred ownership of the land of Ireland to those who were actually farming it,
+ the achievement of democratic Local Government in 1898,
+ the Universities Act of 1908 which established NUI,
+ the beginnings of the welfare state with the introduction of old age pension and social security in 1909, and
+   the continuation of state support for denominational (Catholic and C of E) schools in England,

Apart from these achievements, Redmond played a crucial role in reuniting the Irish Party, after the Parnell split of 1891, in 1900.

John Dillon, who was on the other side of that split from Redmond, described this work, at a banquet in Redmond’s honour in 1908, as “one of the greatest works of reconciliation ever wrought for Ireland”.

Redmond’s conciliatory and consensual approach was key to maintaining unity among a talented but fractious group of men.

Redmond did not have the same control over candidate selection as Parnell had had, because of the circumstances in which he became leader of the reunited Party in 1900. So his achievement in maintaining a reasonable degree of Party unity is  all the greater.

Undoubtedly Redmond’s most important achievement was the passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland on 18 September 1914.

Before I turn to that I would like to say something about the other achievements with which he was associated.

Land Reform was crucial.
The Land Act of 1881, enacted shortly after Redmond became an MP, was the first step towards the eventual transfer of land ownership, with compensation, from landlords to tenants, giving this numerous body of people, the former tenants, a stake in the country, a sense of shared ownership of Ireland.
In retrospect, it is probably good that this was done before Ireland became independent.

Trying to solve the land question after independence would have put an immense strain on Irish democracy. It would have been either deeply divisive, or financially costly, or both. It was easier to pay for Irish land reform from the much larger UK Treasury, than it would have been if the cost of compensating landlords had to come from the much smaller Irish tax base.

Land Reform in Ireland was predominantly an achievement of parliamentary politics. But agitation for it often took more direct forms.

For example, in the period between 1906 and 1908, local agitation involved driving cattle from farms at night, so that land might be converted from grass to tillage, on the assumption that tillage would employ more people. These cattle drives were particularly common in Meath and Westmeath, traditional grazing counties.

This agitation was led by the then Irish Party MP for North Westmeath, Larry Ginnell, but strongly criticized by another Irish Party MP, John P Hayden, who represented South Roscommon, but who was also the proprietor of the “Westmeath Examiner”. The “Examiner” circulated in Larry Ginnell’s constituency.

John Redmond was a very close friend of John Hayden, so he had, as party leader, to tread a fine and difficult line to keep the peace between his friend, and his local MP here in Westmeath.

This is just one of many illustrations of the personality clashes Redmond had to conciliate in order to keep his Party sufficiently united to achieve Home Rule.

This so called “Ranch War”, here in Westmeath, Meath and neighbouring counties, was finally brought to an end by the 1909 Land Act, which gave a Land Commission power to compulsorily acquire, and redistribute, large holdings that it considered to be farmed with insufficient intensity.

The introduction of social insurance in 1907, by the Liberal government had the support of the Irish Party.  It was intended to provide for workers who could not work because of illness or lack of a job. It was very advanced for its time.

John Hayden MP said it would be welcomed by the Irish people, but the Catholic hierarchy and the “Irish Independent” were not so keen on it.  I assume the Hierarchy was not keen on the state becoming involved in matters that it felt should have been left to families and voluntary or charitable effort, and the “Irish Independent” would have been worried about the costs imposed on employers.

Old Age Pensions were also introduced at this time, and Ireland benefitted disproportionately because there were a disproportionate number of older people in Ireland by comparison with the rest of the then United Kingdom.

Of course, this posed a problem for Home Rule advocates, in the sense that the pensions could more easily be afforded if they were be paid for out of the larger UK wide tax base, and less easily affordable if they had to be met from the much smaller tax base of a Home Rule Ireland.

This same type of dilemma arises today in respect of suggestions that Northern Ireland might opt to transfer sovereignty from London to Dublin by a referendum called under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

The smaller Irish tax base would have greater difficulty, than the larger UK wide tax base, in supporting the external subvention of public services in Northern Ireland, which now brings in from outside 25% of the Northern Ireland GDP, as against the mere 7% of GDP that had to be brought in from outside to prop up NI public services in 1960.

Also in the 1906/08 period, the Liberal Party government wanted to abolish public support for denominational schools in England.  The Irish Party successfully joined with the Conservatives to oppose this, and, as a result, denominational schools continue to exist in England up to this day. The interests of the children of recent Irish immigrants to England were a concern for the Irish Party.

From an Irish perspective, the creation of the National University in 1908 was also a major achievement for Redmond and his Party. It’s very name, “National University”, underlines its importance in the progression towards economic and cultural independence.

The passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland in September 1914 was, of course, an Irish parliamentary achievement without equal in the preceding 200 years.

Redmond, as Irish Party Leader, achieved something that had eluded previous Irish leaders O Connell, Butt, Shaw and Parnell.

Home Rule granted Ireland its own legislature, something denied it since 1800. And that was obtained without violence on the part of those who worked for it, but in the face of threats of violence from those who opposed it.

The enactment of Home Rule may have been a purely peaceful achievement, but this is not to suggest that those who obtained it, the Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond and John Dillon, were mild mannered and non confrontational.

Two previous attempts to obtain Home Rule had failed, the first because it was defeated in the House of Commons, and the second because it was vetoed in the House of Lords.

To get Home Rule onto the statute book, John Redmond had to

+ get a majority for Home Rule in the House of Commons, and simultaneously

+ get the British constitutional arrangements changed to remove the House of Lords power of veto. There was a permanent majority against Home Rule in the House of Lords, and the veto could only be removed with the consent of the House of Lords itself.

Furthermore, in the House of Commons, the Liberal party, which had been committed to Home Rule under Gladstone, had moved away from that policy under Lord Rosebery, Campbell Bannerman, and Herbert Asquith.

So to get a majority in the House of Commons the Liberal Party had first to be won back to a firm commitment to pass Home Rule.

In a masterly exercise of parliamentary leverage and constructive opportunism, Redmond achieved all these goals, in a very short space of time.

He withheld Irish Party support for the radical 1909 Budget, unless and until there was a commitment to remove the Lords veto and introduce Home Rule.

He also, in effect, exercised pressure on the King, because the Lords eventually only passed the legislation to remove their own veto, as a result of a threat by a reluctant King  to swamp the House of Lords with new, Home Rule supporting, Lords.

This shows what Irish MPs can do by taking their seats, and using their votes, when the government of the day is in a minority.

All this was achieved from the position of being a minority party in the House, albeit a party whose votes were needed to avoid a General Election which the Liberal Government feared they would lose.

Considerable brinksmanship was needed, because, if the Liberals lost the election, the cause of Home Rule would also be lost.

Redmond and his Party did not have all the trump cards. He just played the cards they had very well indeed.

On the other side of the House, the Irish Party faced a Conservative Party that was determined to force a General Election, and to that end, they were prepared to incite Ulster Unionists to military insurrection, and to connive with elements in the British military to ensure that such an insurrection would not be prevented.

In Britain itself, Home Rulers had to overcome deep anti Irish, and anti Catholic, sentiment is some sections of opinion.  To counter this, Redmond had toured Britain, over 30 years, gradually preparing British opinion to accept Irish legislative independence.

In face of all these difficulties, getting Home Rule onto the statute book, without the loss of a single life, really was a remarkable parliamentary achievement.

Was Redmond right to urge his supporters to volunteer to fight in the Great War?

The Woodenbridge speech of John Redmond, on 20 September 1914, urging Irish men to join the Allied cause in the Great War that had broken out six weeks previously, must be seen in the context that Home Rule had been placed on the statute book just two days previously.

Home Rule was law, but the implementation of it was simply postponed until the end of what most people expected would be a short war.

Redmond’s address to the Volunteers at Woodenbridge was not  just a reciprocation for the passage of Home Rule.

He also wanted to show that the passage of Home Rule into law two days before, had inaugurated a new and better relationship between Ireland and its neighbouring island.

He wanted to show everybody, including Ulster Unionists, that things had changed.

As he was still aiming to persuade Ulster Unionists to come in under Home rule, he felt he needed to say what he said if there was to be any chance at all that Ulster Unionists would, when the War was over, voluntarily come in under and take part in a Home Rule Parliament in Dublin. He wanted to show to Ulster Unionists that, in some matters, Unionists and Nationalists were now “on the same side”.

Irish men had fought in the British Army in the Boer War, notwithstanding Redmond’s and the Irish Party’s opposition to that war, so those many of those who volunteered to fight, in what turned out to be the Great War, would have done so anyway, whether Redmond asked them to do so or not.

Imagine what would have been the reaction if , two days after Home Rule had been passed into law and signed by the King, Redmond had chosen instead to advise the Volunteers in Woodenbridge not to join the forces to defend neutral Belgium, which had been invaded by Germany a month previously. Those in Britain and in Ulster, who had opposed Home Rule would have felt they had been vindicated and that the Irish could not be trusted.

Some have criticised the limitations of the initial Home Rule Act of 1914.

The powers were limited, in part, because Home Rule, as initially presented to Parliament, was designed to apply to all 32 counties of Ireland, encompassing a reluctant Unionist minority.

To get around the Lord’s veto under the Parliament Act of 1911, the Home Rule Bill had to be passed in the House of Commons in three successive years, in identical terms.

Although the possibility of temporary exclusion of some Ulster counties was  conceded by the time the Home Rule Act finally came to be passed a third time, the Bill had to adhere to the  form in which it had been framed originally, when it was to apply, from the outset , to all 32 counties of Ireland.

In the hope of Ulster Unionist acquiescence to coming in under Home Rule, either immediately or later, safeguards and limitations had to be inserted to protect or reassure the Ulster Protestant minority.

Some historians, who have criticised the limitations of  the Home Rule Act of 19914, ignore the fact that it was designed for a 32 county, not a 26 county, Ireland.

For example a provision was inserted whereby the Home Rule Government “could not endow any religion”. This safeguard was actually a worry to the Catholic hierarchy, who feared it might affect existing state funding for Catholic teacher training colleges, but it was put there to reassure Protestants in a 32 county Ireland.

For the same reason, marriage law was to be kept at Westminster, because the Vatican’s “Ne Temere” decree of 1907 on mixed marriages had caused alarm among Protestants.

Likewise, limitations  in the on the imposition of tariffs and customs duties by the Home Rule Government of a 32 county Ireland were needed, to assure the minority industrial interests in Ulster, that their trade interests would not be sacrificed to those of the majority, predominantly agricultural, economy of  the rest of the country.

As it transpired, these safeguards were not enough.

Ulster Unionists continued to insist on exclusion from the whole system, and backed their demand with the threat of force.

Modern critics may claim Home Rule Act of 1914 was too limited. The Ulster Unionists of the time clearly did not think so!

If John Redmond had wanted to maximise the powers of the Home Rule Government in Dublin, he could, early on, have accepted the exclusion from Home Rule of the 4 Ulster counties where there was a Unionist majority.  Even the Conservatives would have given the Home Rule Parliament more powers on that basis

Redmond, unlike those who negotiated the Treaty, and the Good Friday Agreement for that matter, did not accept any open ended exclusion from Home Rule of any part of Ireland.

In that sense, John Redmond in 1914 could be said to have been more idealistic than the republicans and physical force men who came after him turned out to be in 1921.

The American historian, Joseph P Finnan in his book, “John Redmond and Irish Unity 1912-1918”, has claimed that Redmond prized Irish unity more than he prized Irish sovereignty.

He said

“Although he (Redmond) acceded to demands for temporary exclusion of northern counties, he never gave them up for lost. The Irish revolutionaries who negotiated the Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921 did just that. Even the anti Treaty forces led by de Valera based their objections on the loss of the republican ideal, not the loss of the northern nationalist population”

Redmond’s 32 county ideal has not been achieved.

Charles Townsend said in his book “Easter 1916”

“The Rebellion played a part in cementing partition”

Indeed, the words of the 1916 Proclamation itself were literally “oblivious” to the problem of resistance in parts of Ulster to any form of rule by Dublin.

The 1916 Proclamation said it was

“Oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, who have divided a minority from a majority in the past”

In effect, the 1916 leaders seemed not to think the Ulster Unionists had minds of their own, and were simply tools of the British.  There was nothing in the Proclamation to deal with the fears of Ulster Unionists.  The Irish Republic was just deemed to include them. That was it.

Under the agreement by which Home Rule was passed into law in 1914,  its  implementation was postponed for the duration of the war, but there was no doubt but that it would come into effect, once the war was over, either for the whole of Ireland, or, more likely, for 26 or 28 counties.

There was an attempt to bring Home Rule into effect, while the War was still on, in late 1916.

Carson and Redmond were agreeable to this, on the basis that it would apply to 26 Counties initially. Unfortunately some Conservative members of the War cabinet vetoed this. They were apparently fearful, while at war with Germany and in the wake of the 1916 Rebellion which had German support, of German influence on a Dublin Home Rule government.

But, once the War was over, Home Rule was to come into effect.

The Lloyd George Coalition Government’s re election manifesto in the December 1918 Election stated bluntly

“Home Rule is upon the statute book”.

There was thus no going back on it.   That was John Redmond’s achievement of 1914, before a shot was fired in 1916.

He had reached a position whereby all major parties in Britain accepted legislative independence for Ireland.

My belief is that Home Rule, like the Treaty, could have been a stepping stone to full independence, but without the loss of life.

Under the 1914 Home Rule arrangement, if Ulster counties opted out, they would have continued under direct rule from Westminster.

There would have been no Stormont.

When John Redmond died in March 1918, in Dublin Corporation, the Sinn Fein member and later President of Ireland, Sean T O Kelly described John Redmond as

“ an honour to his country”.

The leader of the Irish Unionists, Edward Carson, described him as

“invariably an honourable and courteous opponent”

The Freemans Journal described Redmond’s character as

“ a rare combination of  inflexible will and genial humanity”.

It emphasised that “He would have been an ideal first Prime Minister of an Irish Cabinet, skilled in bringing men and parties together”.

THE IRISH BACKSTOP….HOW DIFFICULT?

The harder the Brexit, the harder will be the resolution of the Irish border problem.

In a Joint Report of 8 December 2017, the UK agreed to respect Ireland’s place in the EU and that there would be no hard border in Ireland. This was to apply

“in all circumstances, irrespective of any future agreement between the EU and the UK”.

The further the UK negotiating demand goes from continued membership of the EU, the harder it will be for it to fulfill the commitments it has given on the Irish border in the Joint Report.

If the UK government had decided to leave the EU, but to stay in the Customs Union, the Irish border questions would have been minimized.  But the government decided to reject that, because it hoped to be able to make better trade deals with non EU countries, than the ones it has as an EU member.

If the UK government had decided to leave the EU, but  to join the European Economic Area (the Norway option),this would also have minimized the Irishborder problems. The government rejected that because it would have meant continued free movement of people from the EU into the UK .

In each decision, maintaining its relations with Ireland was given a lower priority than the supposed benefits of trade agreements with faraway places, and being able to curb EU immigration.

The government got its priorities wrong.

Future trade agreements that may be made with countries outside the EU will be neither as immediate, nor as beneficial to the UK, as maintaining peace and good relations in the island of Ireland. The most they will do is replace the 70 or more trade agreements  with non EU countries that the UK already has as an EU member and will lose when it leaves.

EU immigration to the UK, if it ever was a problem, is a purely temporary and finite one.

Already the economies of central European EU countries are picking up, and, as time goes by, there will be fewer and fewer people from those countries wanting to emigrate to the UK(or anywhere else) to find work.  These countries have low birth rates and ageing populations, and thus a diminishing pool of potential emigrants.

Solving the supposed EU immigration “problem” is less important to the UK, in the long run, than peace and good relations in, and with, Ireland .

If, as is now suggested, the UK looks for a Canada or Ukraine style deal, the Irish border problem will be even worse. Mrs May has recognized this and this is why she rejects a Canada style deal..

A Canada style deal would mean the collection of heavy tariffs on food products, either on the Irish Sea, or on the Irish border. Collecting them on the long land border would be physically impracticable, so the only option would be to do it on the Irish Sea.

The all Ireland economy, to which the UK committed itself in the Joint Report, would be irrevocably damaged. The economic foundation of the Belfast Agreement would be destroyed.

It is time for the Conservative Party to return to being conservative, and conserve the peace it helped build in Ireland on the twin foundations of the Belfast Agreement and the EU Treaties.  Conservative Party members might remember that, without John Major’s negotiation of the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, there would have been no Belfast Agreement in 1998.

The proposals the UK government is making for its future relationship with the EU will run into a number of obstacles in coming days.

The first will be that of persuading the EU that the UK will stick to any deal it makes.

Two collectively responsible members of the UK Cabinet, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, have both suggested that the UK might agree to a Withdrawal Treaty on the basis of the Chequers formula, but later, once out to the EU, abandon it, and do whatever it liked. This would be negotiating with the EU in bad faith. Why should the EU make a permanent concession to the UK, if UK Cabinet members intend to treat the deal as temporary?

The second problem relates to the substance of the UK proposals.

They would require the EU to give control of its trade borders, and subcontract control to a non member, the UK. While the UK proposals envisage a common EU/UK rule book for the quality of goods circulating, via the UK, into the EU Single Market, the UK Parliament would still retain the option of not passing some of the relevant legislation to give effect to it. The UK would not be bound to accept the ECJ’s interpretation of what the common rules meant. Common interpretation of a common set of rules is what makes a common market, common.

Mrs May is not the only Prime Minister with domestic constraints.  Creating a precedent of allowing the UK to opt into some bits of the EU Single Market, but not all, would create immediate demands for exceptions from other EU members, and from Switzerland and Norway (who pay large annual fees for entry to the EU Single market). It would play straight into the hands of populists in the European Parliament elections, which take place just two months after the date the UK itself chose as the end of its Article 50 negotiation period.

It does not require much political imagination to see that aspects of the UK proposal, if incorporated in a final UK/EU trade deal in a few years time, would be a hard sell in the parliaments of some of the 27 countries.  We must remember that all that would be needed for the deal to fail, would be for just one of them to say NO.

Remember how difficult it was to get the Canada and Ukraine deals through.

THE LEGACY OF PARNELL

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU Ambassador to the United States, at the annual Parnell Commemoration, ay 11 am in the Milestone Gallery in Glasnevin Cemetery on Sunday 7 October 2018;127 years ago yesterday, Charles Stewart Parnell died, at the age of only 45.

I am deeply honoured to be invited to speak in memory of him today, for many reasons.

I admire Parnell for his parliamentary achievements, for his ability to combine popular agitation in Ireland with inter party leverage at Westminster to make concrete gains for his country.

Politics is often about timing, knowing how far to go and when to stop.

Parnell knew when to be tough and uncompromising, and when to make a deal.

As President of the National Land League but also as Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster, he exploited both offices to win land reform in Ireland.

The 1881 Land Act conceded the principle of fair rents, to be settled by judicial decision, and not just by economic or market forces.

The idea ran against many of the prevailing economic doctrines of the time. It also ran against Parnell’s own economic interests as a landlord.

It was not enough for some of Parnell’s supporters, but Parnell knew that, if it was rejected, the whole cause of land reform might have been lost.

So he devised the strategy of “testing” the Act.

He had also rejected the idea of his MP’s seceding from Parliament as he knew that this would be counterproductive, counterproductive then, as it is counterproductive now.

The Land Act was the first step towards the eventual transfer of land ownership, with compensation, from landlords to tenants, giving this numerous body of people, the former tenants, a stake in the country, a sense of shared ownership of Ireland.

In retrospect, it is probably good that this was done before Ireland became independent.

Trying to solve the land question after independence would have put an immense strain on Irish democracy. It would have been either deeply divisive, or financially costly, or both.

Parnell’s personal approach to the land question was more nuanced than one might think. Unlike Michael Davitt and most of his own party, he did not favour land nationalisation. Nor did he favour what eventually happened, the outright and compulsory transfer (with compensation) of all land from the landlord, to the farmer who was already farming it.

He proposed an amendment in 1888 which would have restricted tenant purchase to holdings where the rateable valuation(PLV) was 20 pounds, a  small farm of no more than  30 acres. Later he revised the figure up to 50 pounds  PLV.

Basically his position seems to have been that he wanted to allow the survival of small residential Irish landlords (like himself), and only wanted compulsory transfer of the  holdings of the  absentee landlords.

He argued that residential landlords were “well fitted” to “take part in the future social regeneration” of a Home Rule Ireland.

It is worth reflecting on the political methods Parnell used to persuade Parliament to take the first big step towards land reform in Ireland.

In 1879, Ireland, and the young leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, faced something, with which we have unfortunately recently had to cope with again, a sudden  fall in income, partly  due to the forces of globalization.

The heavy concentration of small holdings on the western seaboard meant that, in that heavily populated part of the country, people had a very precarious livelihood.

In the 1870’s , the immensely fertile grain growing regions of the Mid Western United States gained  access to the global market, thanks to  massive railway construction and improved shipping. 

These regions were able to supply grains to Europe at prices well below those at which Irish, British, and other European farmers could produce them.

This meant an immediate fall in farm incomes in these islands, and a fall off too in the demand for migratory seasonal labour in Scotland and the east of Ireland, on which many western farmers had come to depend to supplement their incomes and to pay their rent.

And then, in 1877, 1878 and again in 1879, there were disastrous summers in Ireland, and blight again afflicted the potato crop. Potato production plunged from 4 million tons in 1876 to only 1 million in 1879. People began to starve.

Parnell saw this crisis as an emergency, but also as an opportunity.

He went to the United States himself to raise funds to relieve starvation in Ireland , AND to finance a new National Land League founded in1879 to campaign for a  change in the basis of land ownership in Ireland.

He addressed the US House of Representatives in February 1880 on the situation in Ireland and, through the New Departure, he won Fenian support for this  land campaign, by linking it with the cause of self government for Ireland.

I might add here that the New Departure removed the gun from Irish politics for 35 years, before the Ulster Volunteers landed their arms in Larne.

Parnell’s ability to turn, what was potentially a humanitarian disaster into a vehicle  for political and economic reform, marks him out as a politician of exceptional talent. 

The ideas were not all his own, but he could fuse into something potent.

It is fair to say that the disastrous fall in incomes that occurred in the late 1870s would have happened, no matter what system of land tenure, or what system of Government Ireland then had.

It took someone of Parnell’s genius to turn it into something more far reaching, and productive.

This is, I think, something that current Irish political leaders can draw from Parnell’s career.

In a crisis, and we may soon face another externally generated crisis here around Brexit, it is possible to get people to see things differently, and to agree to changes they might not undertake in calmer and less anxious times

Parnell’s other great achievement was the introduction of the first Home Rule Bill of 1886.

Like the Land Act, this was a radical departure, when seen against the background of British opinion, at the time and since, in respect of indivisibility of the “Union”, a majoritarian Union of four nations, in which England , and English opinion, always constituted the majority

One has only to reflect on the fact that it was not until Tony Blair became Prime Minister, that Home Rule for Scotland and Wales was achieved.

The fact that, as early as 1886, a century earlier, the principle of Home Rule for Ireland became the policy of the UK’s biggest political party, the Liberals, is a measure of the force of Parnell’s parliamentary influence.

I am proud to be here for a more personal reason. Parnell became the MP for Meath in 1875, and I was one of those elected to represent the same constituency less than 100 years later.

Parnell entered Parliament as a member for Meath in 1875 in a by election.

He had previously contested a by election in Dublin county, but was defeated there, by the Conservative candidate , Colonel Taylor, of Ardgillan near Balbriggan.

Interestingly, in light of subsequent events, the 27 year old Parnell relied heavily, in securing the Home Rule nomination to stand in both contests, on a fulsome endorsement from his local Catholic Parish Priest in his home county of Wicklow, Father Richard Galvin of Rathdrum.

Fr Galvin described Parnell “up to the mark” on all the great questions of the day, which meant for him,

  • Home Rule,
  • denominational education and
  • fixity of tenure.

After losing in Dublin, in seeking the nomination in Meath, Parnell also had an animated interview with the then Catholic Bishop of Meath ,Thomas Nulty in the Presbytery in Navan.

He secured the bishops support, and the highlight of his successful campaign, according to his biographer, FSL Lyons, was a great meeting in Navan, attended, inter alia, by many parish priests and curates.

As we know, Parnell did not retain this support later.

Much of his effectiveness as an Irish leader depended on his influence over Liberal and non conformist opinion in Britain.

He lost that influence because of the O’Shea divorce case in 1890, and this loss of support, and hence of his political effectiveness, created a huge dilemma, which split the Irish Parliamentary Party.

A majority of the Party wished him to stand aside, at least temporarily.

This view was influenced primarily by political pragmatism, rather than by anything else.

Although a clear majority of the Irish Party MPs wanted Parnell to step down, partially or fully, Parnell would not accept the majority verdict, something that would not happen in any Irish parliamentary party today.

Unsurprisingly the Catholic Church in Ireland supported the majority position. Unfortunately some of the things that were said on its behalf, to discourage people from voting for Parnellite candidates, were consistent neither with Christian Charity, nor Catholic doctrine.

I remember in my first campaign in 1969 meeting a neighbour, Charlie Curley of Castlefarm, near Dunboyne, who told me his father had been ardent Parnellite, who had heard Parnell speak under the Big Tree in Dunboyne village. The tree still stands, a mute memorial to the deceased leader.

Dunboyne was a Parnellite parish, but during the split, the local parish priest preached a particularly strong sermon against Parnell.

A majority of local people decided to punish the PP by resolving not to make offerings at funerals.

As a result, until funeral offerings were finally ended in the 1970s in Meath , Dunboyne was the only parish in the diocese where  they did not take place.

The Parnell split in Meath is well described in an excellent book by David Lawlor, whose own grandfather was involved.

Reading that book, I was amazed to discover how many of the descendants of  the protagonists in the split were still active in local politics. One was the longtime chairman of Meath County Council, and close political ally of my own, the late Paddy Fullam, whose grandfather had been elected as an  anti Parnellite MP in South Meath, only to be unseated as a result of  an election petition based on some things overenthusiastic priests had said in his support.  The petition was ruinously expensive for the Fullam family, even though Mr Fullam was not responsible for the offending remarks.

What then are the lessons we can learn from Parnell’s career?

We can learn of the value of discipline and unity in a political party.

Under Parnell, the Irish Party became a disciplined pledge bound party.

Without that discipline, the Party would not have won the Land Act of 1881 or the Home Rule Bill of 1886. If the Irish representation in Westminster in the 1880’s consisted of 100 independent MP’s , they would have achieved little!

Likewise, if Dail Eireann is to make difficult decisions quickly, it needs disciplined and united political parties.

We can learn the importance of turning a crisis into an opportunity, as Parnell did with the agricultural crisis of the late 1870’s, using it win land reform. Politicians need to be imaginative, as Parnell was on that occasion.

We can learn the value of taking one’s seat in any Parliament to which one is elected, because, in Parliament, every vote counts.

Every vote will count in Westminster, when decisions have to be taken on Brexit, and on whether the people are to be consulted  again on whether they want to go ahead with it, when they know, at last, what it really means.

I commend the Parnell Society for keeping alive the memory of the great constitutional politician, Charles Stewart Parnell.

I  also thank the society for the annual Parnell Summer School, held in Parnell’s old home at Avondale, which has allowed the tremendous historical research, now being done, to reach a wider audience.  Long may this work continue to be supported.

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