John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

THE STATE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

President Juncker made a good speech to the European Parliament last week.

He stressed what he called European values.

He singled out three….the Rule of Law, Equality, and the Freedom to Voice your opinion as a citizen or a journalist.

The stress on the rule of law is important in light of what is happening in Poland. The EU is facing a long and difficult confrontation with Poland and the Polish government will whip up nationalist sentiment. But the EU must not back down.

In this context, he also stressed how important it is that the rulings of the ECJ are accepted as final, and implemented, by all member states. Without this, the EU would wither away. This being called in to question in Poland and Hungary in respect of accepting refugees.

On Equality, he stressed that there should be equal pay for equal work in the same countries. This is a concern of the French President.

I am glad that freedom of speech was stressed.

Freedom of speech is important if we are not to see democracy turned into the tyranny of the majority.

Prevailing opinions must be open to challenge, and sometimes that may give offence or be misconstrued.

Those who are offended have the right of reply, and if someone is libelled they can go to court. Apologies for mistakes in the use of free speech should, in general, be accepted.

Journalists should not be forced out of their jobs, to serve the commercial interests of advertisers, who have come under pressure from social media. That is happening in Ireland at the moment can be just as much a threat to free speech today, as state censorship was in the past.

I am glad that President Juncker mentioned a European Deposit insurance scheme to help make banks safe, but there should also be a limit placed on banks buying too many bonds of their own government, which can lead to dangerous concentration of risks.

He stressed the strengthening of Europe’s defences against cyber attacks. Apparently, 4000 ransomware attacks are made every day in the EU.

He also stressed the need for better defence against state inspired and organised cyber attacks, of the kind suffered by Ukraine and Estonia. Ireland should play its part, through the EU and the NATO Partnership for peace, of which it is a member, in working to strengthen Europe’s cyber defences. In the cyber world, the fact that Ireland is an island is no defence, and will be even less so when the UK leaves the EU.

I agree with his support for having some MEPs elected on a EU wide list. That would be a small step , through the debate it would engender, towards creating a Europe wide informed public opinion

As I pointed out in a recent speech in Cahirciveen, there are huge differences between EU states voters in their views on what the EU should prioritise, and little understanding of other countries needs and fears. An election campaign in which every voter would choose between different European parties, on the basis of their programmes, would help build a sense of ownership of the EU by all the voters of Europe, and a better understanding of what the EU is, and is not, capable of doing.

But I am not keen on his idea of merging the roles of President of the European Council, and that of President of the Commission.

The Commission is the guardian of the Treaties, whose provisions it must uphold without fear or political bias.

The Council is a political body, which, with the Parliament, must make political judgements on Commission proposals. That separation should not be changed.

Some division of powers is appropriate to a confederal Union, like the EU. The EU is not a state and is not going to become one. The fact that the UK can leave it proves that the EU is a voluntary union, unlike the USA.

I was surprised to hear him propose to move policy making on tax matters to majority voting. This would mean that big countries could set the tax policies of small countries, which is not acceptable. It would alter the balance of the EU fundamentally.

On the face of it, this would seem to require an amendment of the EU Treaties.

President Juncker seemed to suggest that majority voting on tax policy could be achieved by using a “passarelle” provision in the Lisbon Treaty, which allows some issues, currently decided by unanimity, to be moved to majority voting, by the unanimous agreement of all EU Heads of Government(without actually amending the Treaties).

I am satisfied that this unanimous agreement will not be forthcoming and that the proposal to move tax policy to QMV will not go far. In light of the 1986 Crotty judgement on the constitutionality of the  Single European Act, it is likely that demands would be made for a referendum in Ireland on a move to majority voting on tax policy.

The European Council gave the following assurance about the interpretation of the effect of the Lisbon Treaty to the Irish people in June 2009;

“TAXATION

Nothing in the Treaty of Lisbon makes any change of any kind, for any Member State, to the extent or operation of the competence of the European Union in relation to taxation.  “

The Commission would be prudent to take special note of this in pursuing this aspect of President Juncker’s agenda

 

 

 

 

 

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BREXIT, THE REFORM OF THE EU, AND IMMIGRATION

 

Cahirciveen

O CONNELL’S POLITICAL POSITIONS RELATE DIRECTLY TO 21ST CENTURY CONCERNS

I have spent the last two weeks reading a lot about the life of Daniel O Connell.

He is a man for whom I have always felt an instinctive affection.

He had a vision that extended beyond Ireland. As he said of himself “my sympathy is not confined to the narrow limits of my own green Ireland.”

In his first days as an MP, after Catholic Emancipation allowed him to take his seat, he presented a petition from Cork against slavery in the colonies.

He suggested abolishing the practice of arresting people for debt without judicial procedure, and he spoke in favour of a petition supporting the rights of Jews (who, like Catholics, had been denied the right to be MPs).

He favoured the secret ballot and the reform of Parliament. He fought against the remaining duties on Irish exports of malt, coal and paper to Britain. He would not have been a supporter of Brexit.

Although he was not familiar with Ulster, he did try to reach out to Loyalists, even going so far as drinking a toast to King William at a dinner in Drogheda, a risky thing to do at any time!

He made big financial sacrifices for the causes in which he believed. He could have taken up high legal office, forinstance as Master of the Rolls, a highly remunerative legal office, but chose to stay in Parliament, as an unpaid MP, to fight on for the Repeal of the Union.

Like any good politician, he was assiduous in answering his correspondence. At one stage he was answering up to 200 letters a day, and, before he became an MP in 1829, the postage alone cost him as much as £10 per day, at a time when a £ was infinitely more valuable than it is today.

A CONSISTENT OPPONENT OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE

He had a deep aversion to politically motivated violence, an issue on which he differed with Thomas Davis and others who romanticised the 1798 Rebellion.

He told Dublin Corporation that, for a political purpose, he would

“not for all the universe consent to the effusion of a single drop of human blood except my own”.  

On another occasion, he said,

“ Human blood is no cement for the temple of human liberty.”

It was because of his fear of the loss of life that he called off the monster meeting at Clontarf, a decision which the Young Ireland leaders consented to at the time, but subsequently criticised.

Asked  afterwards to name the act of his political career of which he was most proud, he said it was not  Catholic Emancipation, but the decision to cancel  the mass meeting at Clontarf, and thereby prevent the

“plains of Clontarf being, for a second time, saturated with blood”.

He knew violence, once commenced, soon gets beyond the control of its initiators, as we learned in the 1916 to 1923 period.

He believed in passive resistance, and was innovative in devising ways to use it. He pioneered mass meetings, and parish level political organisation. In that sense, he was ahead of the rest of Europe. He was the founder of mass political participation, and this was recognised in other countries at the time.

Late in his career, in order to promote the cause of Repeal of the Union between Ireland and Britain, he suggested setting up a shadow parliament in Dublin and an Irish system of arbitration outside the UK dominated courts system. In 1919, both ideas that were revived by Sinn Fein and the IRB.  Unfortunately, they were accompanied, at that later time, by physical violence, which defeated their purpose completely.

A PROPONENT OF JUSTICE ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE

As I said at the outset, O Connell was an internationalist.

He worked for human rights across the globe. His opposition to human slavery was not confined to the colonies of the British Empire.

He opposed slavery in the United States, unlike the Young Irelander, John Mitchell, who subsequently actively supported it.

His opposition to slavery in the United States was deeply appreciated by those agitating within the US itself, for the abolition of slavery.

He refused political donations from slaveholders in the US.

He attacked the attempt to establish Texas as an independent slave owning state seceding from Mexico.

He criticised George Washington for owning slaves.

He clashed with the, Irish born, Catholic Bishop Hughes of New York who criticised him for his “intolerable interference in American affairs”.

O Connell’s most recent biographer, Patrick Geoghegan says his declarations on slavery were a key factor in alienating the Young Irelanders, who believed the Repeal Association should only address domestic, not foreign, affairs.

I believe that, to be true to O Connell’s legacy, Irish people in the twenty first century, must take their share of responsibility for facing up to the big international moral issues of our time.  They must not confine their concern to their “own green Ireland”.

HOW HIS STANCES SHOULD INSPIRE US TODAY ON THE MIGRATION ISSUE

If O Connell could speak to us today he would remind us that we are a relatively well off country.

I read recently that if a person is earning more than 34000 euros a year, they are in the top one percent in the world in terms of income!

As in O Connell’s case with slavery, facing up to big moral questions has costs.

These moral issues of our time include climate change, and the drought, starvation and forced migration it is bringing in its wake in Africa.

Just as sophisticated and pragmatic arguments were advanced in the 19th century to postpone the abolition of slavery, sophisticated and pragmatic arguments are advanced today for postponing action on climate change.

Action on climate change, here or in the United States, could indeed damage competitiveness of some parts of the Irish or the American economies, just as abolition of slavery damaged the competitiveness of the cotton states of the US over 100 years ago. It could be argued that the labour intensive cotton economy of the southern states would have been impossible without the cheap labour provided by slaves.

Likewise the mass migration that has been caused, at least in part, by climate change will cause difficulties in the societies in which migrants arrive, just as the mass migration of former slaves to the northern cities of the US caused problems, including race riots, in the cities of the northern US from the 1860’s up to the present day.

These issues are still with us. Migration, and the challenges it can cause for countries in Europe, are issues to which  I would like to turn to now.

Let us put it in context. Europe’s population is declining. Its birth rate is 1.6.  A birth rate of 2.1 would be needed to maintain the population.

I heard it said recently that, in the next 20 years, on present trends (without immigration), Europe’s population will decline faster than at any time since the Black Death in the 14th century.

It is possible that immigration will belie that prediction. But, as we know, some ageing European countries have a difficulty in accepting immigrants with different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Germany is a notable exception. Our nearest neighbour is not.

Meanwhile, in Africa the available workforce is expanding rapidly. Over half of the prospective population growth in the world in the next thirty years will be in Africa. But the African economies are creating only one job for every three young people reaching working age. That explains the surge of emigration in Africa, a lot of which is going to other African countries.

When I was born, in 1947, Europeans were 25% of the world population.  Now, Europeans are only 7.5% of the world’s population, and by 2050 we will be just 6%. This is because the population elsewhere has risen so fast, while our population has stood still,

Europe’s population is getting older, partly because it is living longer. The average age in Europe is 40, whereas the average age in Africa is 20. By 2030, without immigration, the German working  age population was set to decline by one sixth.

MIGRATION AS AN ANTIDOTE TO THE AGEING OF SOCIETIES

I heard one economist respond recently, when people complained to him that Europe’s growth rate had not returned to the level of the 1990’s,  that present growth rates were as high as  they could reasonably  be expected to be,  given that older populations naturally produce and consume  less, than younger ones do. By 2050, the public pension systems of most European countries will go broke for lack of sufficient new contributors.

Older populations have less energy, are more risk averse, and eventually retire from work altogether. So it should not surprise us that the ageing of a society slows that society’s economic growth rate. But that obvious fact is rarely mentioned in economic commentary.  This leads to unrealistic expectations, foolish promises, inevitable disappointment, and eventually even to disillusionment with democracy.

It seems to me that the European countries that do the best job in including immigrants as productive members of the local community, are the countries that will do best economically, and will be best able to afford good health and pensions for their older citizens when they need it. I fear many older voters in Europe do not see that as clearly as they should.

Ireland is doing well in regard to providing opportunities for new immigrants at the moment. Our historic experience of emigration enables us to understand the intense loneliness of the recent immigrant.

SEEKING OUT MODELS FOR SUCCESSFUL INTEGRATION OF IMMIGRANTS

The presence of a large number of refugees from Ballaghadereen, at the recent All Ireland quarter Final between Mayo and Roscommon, is a sign of a great local effort at positive integration.  

Italy is a country that is being required to absorb a very large number of African immigrants just now. But Italy is also a country with one of Europe’s lowest birth rates and historically poorest rates of economic growth. If Italy can make the recently arrived immigrant into productive Italian citizens it may turn a problem into an opportunity.

Spain is also a country for whom immigration can be an opportunity.  We are all too well aware of the criminal attacks in Catalonia, but there are many examples of small rural communities in Spain making seasonal agricultural workers from Morocco welcome in their homes, and integrating them in local life. Immigrants have kept villages, that might otherwise have been abandoned, alive.

It is a big challenge to integrate people with radically different religious and ethnic backgrounds and build a new tolerant and cooperative society with a sense of mutual solidarity.

This is made more difficult by the segregation into ghettoes that arises because of the way the housing market operates in big cities, where people tend to live if different suburbs depending on their income and status. Rural societies may be better at integration because they are smaller scale, and segregation in daily life is less possible.

Innovative Government intervention may be needed to prevent ghettoisation, and to provide natural opportunities for people of different ethnicities and religions to meet, and have a good time together. The European Agency for Fundamental Rights deals with integration in a recent report, but its focus is on bureaucracy led action plans, and it contains  few examples of successful community led initiatives are cited. Good examples are needed to give hope.

I am convinced that, one way or another, European society will become much more multi ethnic in the next 40 years, and that integration will be a challenge that will need to be faced at every level of society, not just at the level of the state or local authorities. It will be everybody’s business.

Sports organisations and religious communities have the greatest potential to integrate new arrivals.

Some might think that religion is likely to be a divisive force as far as immigration is concerned. I disagree. Some the best work being done in Germany to integrate Muslim refugees into German life is being done by Christian organisations, whose members see the welcoming of strangers in need, as a charitable imperative of their own Christian faith. Churches have a flexibility that bureaucracies can never attain. People who are confident in their own faith have ease in working with people whose faith is different.

Of course, not everybody will become integrated.

We need to try to understand the motivation of those who left European countries to join ISIS.

I understand that a high proportion of the ISIS recruits are young people who, until recently, had not been active observant Muslims but were of another faith, of no faith at all, or just indifferent.  Many were recruited in prison. The zeal of the recent convert can be a dangerous thing.

This makes the case that proper religious education, as part of a good general education, is something socially valuable, in that it enables young people to make careful and informed judgement about religious matters, as they mature into adulthood.

THE ALIENATION OF SOME YOUNG PEOPLE

It is part of a wider problem.  Young people, of all ethnicities in some countries, have become alienated from democratic systems of government.  They may either not vote at all, or vote flippantly.

As a proportion of their income, younger people get fewer benefits from the state, and pay proportionately more taxes to it , than do older generations.

 Among the benefits used disproportionately by older people are state subsidized pensions and healthcare. For example, it is because of its generous earnings related state pension system, and its excellent health service, that the bulk of social spending in France actually goes to those with higher than average incomes!

Older people are not always wise in the political choices they make.

Older people in the UK were among the strongest supporters of Brexit, allegedly because of an aversion to immigration. Yet the largest support for Brexit was found in areas that had had the least recent immigration.

FACING THE DEMOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE IN GOOD TIME

The continuance of present levels of support for older people’s social services actually depends on the taxes and productive work of younger people, many of whom will have to be immigrants, because in most European countries there will simply not be enough native young people to pay the taxes needed to sustain the current levels of support for older retired people.

This problem is not going to ease.

Ireland’s national debt is 183 billion euros . But its eventual contingent liability for PRSI and public service pensions comes to 422 billion euros, which is not included in the national debt.

This contingent liability will be at its most onerous around 2050, which is when those now getting their first job will hope to be at the top of the salary scale. The shortfall will be three times as great in 2050 as it is today.

This may prove to be an under estimate, if life expectancy, and consequentially length of years in retirement, continues to grow at the present rate….3 months per year  

On the other hand, it may prove to be an underestimate, if we have an enlightened and workable immigration policy, and the age imbalance is rectified by an influx of non Irish born people who will, because they are working here, be paying Irish taxes.

O CONNELL AND EUROPE

Daniel O Connell was widely admired across Europe.

 In the month before he died , he set out for Rome , as a pilgrim hoping  to see the Pope before he passed away.  All along his journey through France, he was greeted by substantial crowds.

He did not make it to Rome. He died in Genoa . I was in Genoa last week and saw the house on the Via al Ponte Reale, near the port, where O Connell died.  It is now a bar.

It is a tribute to the esteem in which he was held that , not long after  his death, a fine plaque was erected, with a representation of O Connell by the sculptor Federico Fabiano.

O Connell was long remembered in Genoa because, 50 years after he died, an additional plaque was erected by the Catholics of Genoa remembering his work for religious liberty.

I doubt if any Irish politician since then has enjoyed such a positive reputation in Europe, as Daniel O Connell did.

As I expect you will hear tomorrow from Paul Gallagher SC, this was partly because of O Connell’s reputation as a lawyer, who could use the law to rectify injustice and protect liberty.

WHAT IS THE UNIQUE VALUE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION?

In essence the European Union is a law or rule based system. Common rules, interpreted and enforced consistency are the bedrock upon which freedom can be built, in trade and in daily life, between nations and between individuals.

The EU has provided its member states,  including, for the past 44 years, the UK,  with a common system for

  • making,
  • amending,
  • enforcing and
  • interpreting

common rules on matters as diverse as food safety, aviation, intellectual property protection, and consumer protection in the purchase of financial products.

The fact that the rules are now common to all, means that food can be sold, airline competition facilitated, patents respected and savings protected across the whole 28 countries of the EU. It is really important for a business that seeks to sell goods and services across Europe to know that the standards the goods must comply with will be the same everywhere and that these rules will be enforced and interpreted in a consistent way in every EU country. Without the EU, none of this would be the case.

The fact that the rules can be amended in a single legislative process for all members saves a lot of time.

So too does the fact that they will, if necessary, be enforced effectively and uniformly across Europe, under the supervision of the European Commission.

The fact that these common rules will also be interpreted, in a uniform way across the whole of Europe, under the aegis of the ECJ, also avoids all sorts of confusion, haggling and duplication. The ECJ, and the rules it interprets in a consistent way, are essential to the freedom of EU citizens to live, work and trade across the whole Union.

 Without the ECJ, the European Union would just be a temporary diplomatic expedient, of no durable value. The Brexit demands of the UK must not be allowed to change that. Without commonly interpreted rules, there is no lasting freedom.

INTERNAL CONTRADICTION IN UK POSITION ON TRADE RULES

The UK is turning its back on that.

Its position is internally self contradictory.

The recent UK Government White paper on Customs after Brexit claimed that the UK is

“a strong supporter of the rules based global trading system”.  

Yet the UK is now leaving a rules based system, the EU, supposedly because it want to “take back control”.  It wants to write its own rules for itself. That is  quite simply inconsistent with supporting a rules based global system which, by definition, means GIVING UP some control.

 As a non member of the EU, the UK will now have to negotiate a new deal on each topic now covered by an EU agreement, then agree a separate procedure for future amendments to that deal, and agree procedures for enforcing, and for interpreting the deal.  This will take up a huge amount of time, unproductively for everybody involved.

KEEPING A SENSE OF PROPORTION……THE WORLD IS BIGGER THAN EITHER THE EU OR THE UK

When the Brexit negotiations become fraught, as they undoubtedly will, UK and EU negotiators will need to remind themselves that we have more in common than divides us, and that we each live, close beside one another, in a continent whose global weight is much less than it was 100 years ago, and will become lesser still, as time goes on.

At the other end of the Eurasian land mass, China will double the size of its economy in the present decade. It adds to its GDP by an equivalent of the entire GDP of Turkey….every year.

China has ambitious plans for its global role, and China has the executive coherence and long term perspective, necessary to realize those goals.

At the moment Europe has neither the required executive coherence, nor the necessary  shared longer term  view of its future

China is thinking in ambitious geographic terms .It is promoting global connectivity through its “One Belt, One Road” concept.

The UK’s access to that Road, across the Eurasian land mass, runs entirely through the EU.

The access of Ireland to that trans Eurasian Road runs mainly through the UK.  Brexit will put roadblocks on the road in two places. Not clever.

OPTIONS FOR A REFORMED EUROPEAN UNION WITHOUT THE UK

I will now turn to the internal dynamics of the EU itself, as I expect they will evolve in coming years, without Britain.

The European Commission has produced a White Paper which sets out five, rather stylised and artificial, scenarios.

These scenarios are

  1. Continuing on as we are
  2. Doing nothing but maintaining the Single Market
  3. Allowing countries that want to go ahead with more intense integration, to do so within the EU legal order, and with the possibility for others to join later
  4. Doing less more efficiently
  5. Doing much more together.

Given that it is difficult for 27 countries to agree on new tasks (It was much easier when there were only 9 or even 15 members), I think the first option, continuing on as we are, will be the easiest to follow. This is especially the case if the EU remains unwilling to amend its Treaties

The last option, doing much more together, does not have public support at the moment, but that could change suddenly, if some external shock made it easier to overcome the normal resistance and inertia. Among the activities envisaged, under this  option, are a single European anti Terror agency and a single coast guard. These are not farfetched ideas, and indeed may be inevitable if passport free travel across member state boundaries is to continue.

The option of doing nothing but maintain the Single Market, is not very helpful in my view.  In truth, it is almost impossible to agree where the Single Market ends, and other policies begin. The Commission is correct in saying that ”Single Market Only” option would make it more difficult to conclude more or deeper international trade agreements, because differences in  some standards would persist within the EU.

The option of “doing less more efficiently” is not very different, and is meaningless in practice. According to the Commission paper,  it would involve pursuing Single Market integration vigorously, but going slow on regional policy, and on social and public health policies that do not relate directly to the Single market. This option may appeal to net contributor countries, like Germany and perhaps Ireland, but would not appeal in Central and Eastern Europe. It may appeal to outsiders like the UK, Norway and Switzerland as it might reduce the fee they would pay for access to the Single market. But it would be strenuously resisted by many poorer EU states.

The idea of allowing some countries to “go ahead without the others” is one that has been around for a long time, and is actually provided for in Title IV of the EU Treaty governing what is known as “Enhanced Cooperation”.

While this provision has not been much used, it could be said that the euro, and the Schengen border control free zone, are already forms of enhanced cooperation.

I do  not see Enhanced Cooperation  as an ideal way forward for the future, because it dilutes the democratic unity of the EU, which  is already put under enough strain by the division between Euro and “not yet Euro” members. Many will ask why  a member state should  have the same vote in the European Parliament, on  a policy in which it is taking no part and making no financial contribution, as the MEPs from countries that are doing both. The Commission saw this scenario as allowing some countries to go further ahead on defence cooperation while other members might hang back.  

Ireland will need to give serious thought to European defence questions.

It has to be recognised that influence of a member state in the EU will be commensurate with its commitment to and solidarity with other members.

A country that only wants to take part in policies from which it will gain, while going slow on things that might involve costs for it, will have less influence in the EU, and might not receive solidarity when it needs it, but it is hard to quantify this.

Too much “Enhanced Cooperation” could eventually lead to no cooperation.

Putting it another way, an EU which encourages some countries to go ahead while others hang back could quickly divide between” policy maker” countries,  and “policy taker” countries. This is why Ireland has traditionally resisted a “two tier” Europe.

All in all, I felt the Commission’s options paper, while a start, requires a lot more work.

DOES THE EU PUBLIC KNOW WHAT IT WANTS FROM THE EU?

Public opinion also needs to be taken into account, in working out the priorities of the EU. But the problem is that public opinion varies widely between countries.

 

Asked in April 2016, just before the UK Referendum, what they wanted the EU to prioritise, the public came up with quite different answers in different countries.

 Also in a poll last year, there were wide differences in the extent to which voters in different countries felt their voted counted for something in EU decision making , ranging from  70% of Danes feeling their vote counted in the EU, through 45% of Irish people, down to a mere 20% of Italians and 17% of Cypriots and Estonians.

80% of Greeks wanted the EU to do more to fight terrorism, and 69% of Italians did, but only 33% of the Dutch and 44% of Danes.

69% of Swedes and Spaniards wanted the EU to do more about the Environment, but only 28% of Estonians did .

EU action on Protecting External Borders was a priority for 73% of Greeks, but only 43% of Irish people and  35% of Swedes and Latvians wanted the EU to prioritise it.

Overall and on average, 44% of EU citizens felt the EU should be doing more about Security and Defence. But, to my surprise given their proximity to Russia, only 30% of Latvians and Estonians, and 25% of Danes, did so.

In contrast, 60% of Greeks , 56% of Italians and French, but only 41% of Germans felt the EU should do more on Security and Defence.

This would suggest that , a year ago anyway, there was not an overwhelming public demand for an EU defence policy. But that was before the election of Donald Trump.

Finally, given the low oil prices at the time, it is perhaps not surprising that so few European felt the EU should be doing more on Energy supply issues.

Yet a Single Energy market was identified as a priority issue by the European Commission even in their “Continuing as we are” scenario I mentioned earlier.

Only 36% of EU citizens felt the EU was not doing enough on the issue of Energy supply. The greatest support for more EU action on Energy supply was in Greece and Spain ( both 54%). In the Czech Republic, only 18% felt the EU should do more on Energy Supply questions

Given that Ireland is so completely dependent on, what will soon become a non EU country, for access to the international  electricity grid, it interesting to note that support for a common EU policy on Energy Supply was below the EU average in Ireland, at a mere 33%.  I expect that that will change.

CONCLUDING QUESTIONS……..ON SIX ISSUES

1.) The first big achievement of O Connells political career was winning for Catholics the right to sit and vote in Parliament in London. Remember Catholic Emancipation was not about the right to vote, which eligible Catholics already had, it was about Catholics being able to sit and vote in Parliament

+  Is it not a strange commentary on O Connell’s obtaining for Catholics the right to vote in Parliament in 1829, that none of his Irish Ulster co religionists, who are entitled to do so in 2017,  will take their seats at a time when vital legislation, affecting Ireland, is to be decided in Westminster  in a few days time?

2.) One of O Connell’s great causes, the ending of slavery, arose from his belief in the dignity of every defenceless human being.

+  As a society, do we respect that dignity today in our prisons?  Do we respect the dignity of people before they are born, as well as we respect it after they are born? At what age do human rights commence, and end?

3.) O Connell mobilised people to come together to express themselves through peaceful political agitation. He was the first leader ever to encourage all the Irish people to stand up publicly and take responsibility for their future.

+  Is collective and rational political deliberation now being replaced by mob rule through the social media? Are we protecting people’s rights to say unpopular things, and to question modern orthodoxies?  Do most voters think critically about the foreseeable consequences of their own choices for society as a whole, or do they prefer just to blame politicians if things do not work out afterwards as promised?

4.) European states have taken on substantial liabilities both to financial markets, and to their own people.

+  Should we have a national balance sheet as well as a national budget, so people will see clearly the obligations that will have to be met over the next 40 years?

5.)The Brexit negotiation could prove to be one of the most traumatic political conflicts of recent years, and could dig a physical and psychological trench between us, and our immediate neighbours.

+ Can we do more to mitigate the build up of pressure in these negotiations, by lengthening the Treaty based negotiation time line from two years to ( say) six years, allowing the UK to remain in the EU until the end of that period? If the UK was still in the EU at the time of the next European Elections in 2019, might not the Euro Elections not allow UK voters take a more considered view of their Brexit choice?

6.) I have summarised the options for the future of the EU put forward by the Commission. I am not aware that these options have been debated seriously anywhere. We are a long way away from developing a common EU wide public opinion that would support positive programme of further EU integration.

+  Does this not reveal a structural flaw in EU democracy?  Should voters be able to vote for a government of the EU,  just as they vote for a government of their own country? Is the shift in the power of initiative in the EU away from the Commission in favour of the 28 Heads of Government really helping the EU define a common policy that will appeal to voters across national boundaries?

The relentless news cycle, speeded up by instant communication, does not allow for the type of reflection and deliberation on public issues that was possible in O Connell’s time.  That is why we should stand back and ask questions, like those I have just posed, at a summer school like this.
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Address by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the O Connell  Summer School in the Library Cahirciveen at 3 pm on Friday 25th August

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DANIEL O’CONNELL

Last week I was in Genoa on holiday. I came across the house on the Via Al Ponte Reale where the great Irish democratic leader of the nineteenth century died in 1847, on his way to Rome.

Daniel O’Connell, who knew he was dying, wanted to have an audience with the Pope before he passed away. Unfortunately his death came too soon, in Genoa, where he had had to disembark because he had become so ill.

The house where he died is marked by two plaques, one in Latin erected shortly after his death, and another on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, by the Catholics of Genoa, in appreciation of his work for religious liberty.

The fact that he would be remembered in this way, fifty years after his death, is a sign of his immense international reputation.

Throughout his political career from 1800 to 1847, O’Connell had a vision that extended far beyond Ireland.

As he said of himself “my sympathy is not confined to the narrow limits of my own green Ireland.”

In his first days as an MP after Catholic Emancipation allowed him to take his seat, he presented a petition from Cork against slavery in the colonies.

He suggested abolishing the practice of arresting people for debt without 

judicial procedure, and he spoke in favour of a petition supporting the rights of Jews (who, like Catholics, had been denied the right to be MPs).

He favoured the secret ballot and the reform of Parliament. He fought against the remaining duties on Irish exports of malt, coal and paper to Britain. He would not have been a supporter of Brexit.

Although he was not familiar with Ulster, he did try to reach out to Loyalists, even going so far as drinking a toast to King William at a dinner in Drogheda, a risky thing to do at any time!

He made big financial sacrifices for the causes in which he believed. He could have taken up high legal office, forinstance as Master of the Rolls, a highly remunerative legal office, but chose to stay in Parliament, as an unpaid MP, to fight on for the Repeal of the Union.

Like any good politician, he was assiduous in answering his correspondence. At one stage he was answering up to 200 letters a day, and the postage alone cost him £10 per day, at a time when a £ was infinitely more valuable than it is today.

He had a deep aversion to politically motivated violence, an issue on which he differed with Thomas Davis and others who romanticised the 1798 Rebellion.

He told Dublin Corporation that, for a political purpose, he would

“not for all the universe consent to the effusion of a single drop of human blood except my own”.  

On another occasion he said

“Human blood is no cement for the temple of human liberty.”

It was because of his fear of the loss of life that he called off the monster meeting at Clontarf, a decision which the Young Ireland leaders consented to at the time, but subsequently criticised.

Asked  afterwards to name the act of his political career of which he was most proud, he said it was not  Catholic Emancipation, but the decision to cancel  the mass meeting at Clontarf, and thereby prevent the

“plains of Clontarf being, for a second time, saturated with blood”.

He knew violence, once commenced, soon get beyond the control of its initiators, as we learned in the 1916 to 1923 period.

He believed in passive resistance, and was innovative in devising ways to use it. He pioneered mass meetings, and parish level political organisation. In that sense he was ahead of the rest of Europe. He was the founder of mass political participation, and this was recognised in other countries at the time.

He worked for human rights across the globe. His opposition to human slavery was not confined to the colonies of the British Empire.

He opposed slavery in the United States, unlike the Young Irelander, John Mitchell, who subsequently actively supported it.

His opposition to slavery in the United States was deeply appreciated by those agitating within the US itself, for the abolition of slavery.

He refused political donations from slaveholders in the US.

He attacked the attempt to establish Texas as an independent slave owning state seceding from Mexico.

He criticised George Washington for owning slaves.

He clashed with the, Irish born, Catholic Bishop Hughes of New York who criticised him for his “intolerable interference in American affairs”.

O’Connell’s most recent biographer, Patrick Geoghegan says his declarations on slavery were a key factor in alienating the Young Irelanders, who believed the Repeal Association should only address domestic, not foreign, affairs.

I believe that, to be true to O’Connell’s legacy, Irish people in the twenty-first century, must take their share of responsibility for facing up to the big international moral issues of our time.  They must not confine their concern to their “own green Ireland” .

I will be taking up this theme in an address I have been invited to give to the O’Connell Summer School, which takes place in Cahirsiveen Co Kerry close to O’Connell’s home in Derrynane. This address will take place in the Library in the town at 3 pm on Friday 25th August 2017.

Cahirsiveen 

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THREE QUESTIONS…………….

MRS MAY;    TELL US EXACTLY WHAT SORT OF DEAL YOU WANT WITH THE EU CUSTOMS UNION

 

DUP;    TELL US WHAT SORT OF AGRICULTURAL POLICY YOU WANT IN NORTHERN IRELAND AFTER BREXIT

SINN FEIN ;    TELL US WHY YOU WILL NOT  GO INTO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS NEXT MONTH TO FIGHT FOR IRISH INTERESTS ON THE NEW BREXIT LAWS

 

It is unfortunate that the United Kingdom government decided to trigger article 50 , without first working out, around the Cabinet table, what sort of relationship the UK could reasonably expect to have with its neighbours after it had left  the EU.

It is true that Mrs May presented a wish list in her Lancaster House speech. But this list was, and is, impossible to achieve because it took no account of WTO rules, and of the fact that commerce can only be free ,if the rules governing it remain reasonably uniform.

She said that, on  the day it leaves the EU, the UK will retain all the  then existing EU rules for goods and services, but would be free change them,  by Act of Parliament or by  legal reinterpretation from then on. This implies a gradual, surreptitious, hardening of the border in Ireland, as UK standards begin to diverge from EU standards.

To the extent that the UK diverges from EU standards, the UK businesses will have to apply two sets of standards, one for the UK market, and another for the 45% of UK exports that go to the EU.

Once the UK has left the EU, goods, coming  into the EU (including into Ireland), from the UK will also be subject to checking under “Rules of Origin” requirements, to see that they do not contain impermissible non UK content. For example, there might have to be checks that UK beef burgers do not contain Brazilian beef.  These “Rules of Origin” checks will involve bureaucracy, which will be especially onerous for small firms.

One study estimated that the need to apply “Rules of Origin” checks could reduce trade volumes by 9%.  The EU/ Canada trade Agreement has 100 pages on “Rules of origin” alone.

As far as imports into the EU at Dundalk or Lifford are concerned, it will be Irish, not UK, officials who will have the distasteful job of enforcing the border. Irish officials will have to check whether EU safety, sanitary, origin and other rules have been met. This is something being imposed on us, as an EU member, by a UK decision.

It will not be done cheaply. A House of Lords Committee said that “electronic systems are not available to accurately record cross border movements of goods”. If the UK government knows otherwise, it should produce the evidence…without delay.

Even if a light or random system of checking at the border or in ports is imposed, the biggest costs will have to be met by businesses, before they get anywhere near the port or the border.

The preparation of all the extra compliance documentation will deter many smaller firms from exporting at all. For example it has been estimated that the number of customs declarations that UK firms will have to prepare and present will jump from 90 million a year to 390 million once the UK leaves the EU. Irish firms will have a similar extra burden in their dealings with the UK.

The focus on the Irish border should not deflect attention from the impact of Brexit on East/ West trade. Indigenously owned Irish exporters rely disproportionately on the UK market, and their customers are predominantly on the island of Britain, rather than in Northern Ireland. The bulk of Irish exports to continental Europe transit through Britain

MRS MAY AND THE CUSTOMS UNION

Theresa May was remarkably unclear, in her Lancaster House speech, about the sort of relationship she wanted with the EU Customs Union. She wanted bits of it, but not all of it.

This would run into immediate difficulties with the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO works on the basis of non discrimination, or the so called “Most Favoured Nation” principle.

This means that any concessions the EU Customs Union might grant to the UK, as a non EU member, would have to be extended by the EU to ALL the EU Customs Union’s trading partners. That is unless the special UK concessions cover “substantially all” trade between the UK and the Customs Union.  The UK will have to be either ”substantially in”, or “substantially out”, of the Customs Union.  Which does Mrs May want? She should be able to answer that question by now.

Many suspect the UK wants to leave the Customs Union so it can revert to the cheap food policy, that it had before it joined the common Market.  To prevent the  undermining of the EU Common Agricultural Policy that would flow from that, Ireland would then be obliged to collect the EU Common External Tariff on products like  beef,  milk, lamb, confectionary  and other food products crossing our  border, or arriving at our ports, from the UK.

THE DUP AND AGRICULTURE

Farmers, and investors in the food industry, need to know what sort of agricultural policy the UK will choose after it leaves the EU. Only then can Ireland know whether it will have to collect these very high EU tariffs at the border, and whether the entire Irish food industry (on both sides of the border) will have to be diverted to other markets.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which supported Brexit, and which now dispensing gratuitous advice to the Irish Government on EU matters, should tell us exactly what sort of UK agriculture and food policy it expects post Brexit.  It is now in a good position to get an answer to that question from the UK government. Its own farming supporters would like to know.

SINN FEIN VACATES THE FIELD

The DUP is not the only party that needs to examine its position.

In September the UK Parliament will begin debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, which will allow for UK standards of goods and services to diverge from existing EU standards, thereby deepening the Irish border.

Thanks to the abstentionist policy of Sinn Fein, there will be no Irish Nationalist MPs in  that debate able to put forward amendments  to mitigate the hardening of the border that this legislation will allow. Until this year, 3 SDLP MPs would have been there , but now, when their presence was never more necessary, the voters have replaced them by Sinn Fein MP’s, who will draw their salaries, but will stay away when decisions have to be made, leaving the field to the DUP.

Sinn Fein should remember that the Irish people, on both sides of the border, accepted the Good Friday Agreement in a Referendum  in 1998, and that removes any  “nationalist” argument  Sinn Fein might have had for not taking their seats. If Sinn Fein can shake hands with the Queen, if they can take their seats in Stormont, they can take their seats in Westminster!

There is work for them to do there now.

 

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THE IRISH CONVENTION OF 1917…..A  LAST CHANCE TO RESOLVE  ANGLO  IRISH RELATIONS PEACEFULLY……WHY WAS IT LOST?

© By Eric Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0

A century ago on Tuesday, on 25th July 1917, the Irish Convention convened in Trinity College to make what would prove be the  final, non violent, attempt to agree a basis for relations between Ireland and Britain on an All Ireland basis.

Some of the issues the Irish Convention tried to settle one hundred years ago still divide us today….

  • Should partition be temporary or permanent?
  • To what extent should education be denominational?
  • Should Ireland be free to set its own tariffs on imports, or should Ireland and Britain be in a Customs Union?
  • In a 32 county Ireland, what protection might there be for Unionist interests?

The Convention was widely representative.

The biggest group in the Convention were the Irish Parliamentary Party, and John Redmond was among the members.

It was he who had suggested a Convention, when he rejected a suggestion by  the UK government that Home Rule be introduced for the 26 counties only, with the position of the 6 counties left aside for the time being.

The Ulster Unionists were present, led by one of their MPs , JM Barrie.

Southern Unionists also had representation, and their leading figure was Lord Midleton.

There were six representatives of the Labour movement.

The members included the  Mayors of the major cities, including Belfast, the chairmen of a number of County Councils (including I noted Meath County Council), four Catholic Bishops , two Church of Ireland Bishops and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church.

The President of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, Mr Pollock, and William Martin Murphy, the Dublin employers leader and owner of the” Irish Independent” , were also among the members.

Seats were allocated to the Sinn Fein Party, of Eamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, but they refused to take them up because the terms of reference of the Convention did not allow for complete separation between Ireland and Britain.

Although Sinn Fein was not there, the Convention was a unique gathering together of Irish people of widely divergent goals.

Whereas previous attempts to resolve the “Irish Question” had taken place in Westminster in negotiations with British politicians, this was a meeting of Irish representatives, trying to resolve the outstanding issues between themselves, without direct external involvement.

In that sense, it was arguably inconsistent of Sinn Fein, with their “ourselves alone “ philosophy, not to take part, because it would have given them an opportunity to put their case to their fellow Irishmen, without what they would regard as British interference.

Although the constitutional struggle for Home Rule had been going on for 40 years, and Home Rule had passed into law three years before, the relationship between the Unionist parts of Ulster and the proposed Home Rule Government in Dublin remained a matter of deep contention.

 Ulster Unionists had, six years earlier, armed themselves to resist Home Rule and they were encouraged in this by the UK Conservative Party, who even tried, in 1911, to persuade the British Army not to take any action against the Ulster Volunteers. It could be argued that this had been a treasonable course for the Conservatives to take.

Notwithstanding this activity, the UK Parliament had passed the Home Rule Bill into law in September 1914, but its operation was postponed because the Great War had started a month earlier, and it had been felt at the time that all energies should be devoted to winning what many hoped would be a short war.

Three years later, when the Convention convened to discuss how Ulster might fit into the Home Rule scheme, the Great War was still going on. Large numbers of Irish soldiers had been killed on the Western Front and in Gallipoli.

Conscription had been imposed in Britain and in most belligerent countries , but not in Ireland. This was resented by some in Britain.

Also resented in Britain was the  Rising against British Rule, supported by Germany, that had taken place the previous year. Many of those involved were still in prison.

So the atmosphere was fraught, not just in Ireland, but in Britain too.

The Conservative Party, which had gone to such lengths six years previously to oppose Home Rule was now a predominant part of the UK government, although the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, was a Liberal.

Despite all these difficulties, Irish Nationalist ambitions were high.

Partition was rejected on principle, but no very practical ideas were advanced on how to overcome the opposition to the imposition of Home Rule from Dublin in the counties of North East Ulster.  There seems to have been an assumption that Britain would force Ulster Unionists to accept Home Rule, although the practicalities of doing this, especially during a war in Europe, were never addressed.

The new leader of Sinn Fein, Eamon de Valera, and recently elected Sinn Fein MP for East Clare offered some remarkably simplistic solutions.

He told his supporters in Killaloe that, if Ulster Unionists did not come in under Dublin rule, they would

“have to go under”

Later, in Bessbrook Co Down, during a by election campaign which his party lost, he said

“If Ulster stood in the way of Irish freedom, Ulster should be coerced”.

By attending the Convention, Mr de Valera could have tried persuasion, before resorting to the coercion he was threatening.

He apparently felt  was simpler for him to blame the British for not coercing Ulster,  than it would have been to sit down in the Convention and try to persuade his fellow Irishmen of North East Ulster to accept some form of agreed Ireland.

John Dillon, the deputy leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party warned de Valera of what attempt to coerce Ulster would entail. Speaking in Armagh, of de Valera’s idea that Ulster be forced to “go under”, he  said ;

“Against such a programme Unionist Ulster will fight to the last man living; and to all the other horrors of the situation would be added a civil war as bitter and relentless as that which reduced the country to a desert in the seventeenth century”

A similar, but less lethal, air of unreality prevailed in Southern Unionist circles. They wanted no partition, and no Home Rule.

The Convention was an attempt to reconcile these irreconcilables positions, and , given the unpromising  conditions, it made some progress.

It found a solution to the Land Question, that subsequently was enacted by the Free State government in the 1920’s.

A serious effort was made to agree some form of united Ireland. Ulster Unionists put forward a federal approach whereby an Ulster regional government would have substantial autonomy but within an all Ireland framework. Nationalists were not in favour of this. Nationalists suggested extra representation (appointed or elected) for Unionists in an all Ireland Parliament.  Unionists were not keen on this because they feared they would still be outvoted, particularly on the issue of tariffs.

Ulster industry wanted continued free trade with Britain, whereas nationalists want the power to impose customs duties on some British goods to protect Irish industries. This issue is arising again in the Brexit negotiations.  In effect Unionists wanted to be in a Customs Union with the UK, whereas Nationalists did not.

John Redmond was prepared to accept immediate Home Rule, without the power to levy customs duties, but his supporters were not and he had to back away from his proposal.

The Convention came close to agreeing a majority report with significant Nationalist and Unionist support, but this was stymied by the big German offensive of 1918 which led the UK government to propose imposing conscription in Ireland. This threat of conscription led to a crisis which destroyed any hope of agreement.

Looking back, the pity is that a Convention of this kind was not attempted in 1911, when Home Rule was first mooted. It might not have led to agreement but it might have contributed to a better understanding of the Ulster problem by all shades of Irish Nationalism.

 

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THE RULE OF LAW UNDER THREAT…. ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC

WASHINGTON

The fact that the President of the United States has suggested that he might use his power to grant Presidential pardons to shield himself and his family from possible prosecution shows that he does not understand the constitution of his own country, or the “Western Values” which he vowed to defend in his recent speech in Warsaw.
A basic tenet of the rule of law and of Western values is that justice requires that one not be a judge in one’s own case.
In autocracies or absolute monarchies, the autocrat or monarch could be the judge in his or her own case. That does not apply in a constitutional democracy.
If the President is contemplating awarding himself or his family a pardon, he is acting as judge in his own case.
The United States institutions need to show they understand and are capable of applying these basic rule of law principles. They need to show that the President is subject to the Constitution.
This is necessary , if the United States is to continue to give the sort of moral leadership to the world that its citizens believe it is capable of giving.

WARSAW

Meanwhile the European Union faces its own problems over judicial independence.

Last Thursday the Polish Parliament passed a law that will allow for the sacking, and selective reappointment by the President, of the entire Constitutional Court.

This politicises the legal system of Poland, in an unacceptable way.

It may mean that court judgements in Poland will, in future, be driven by nationalistic or other politically motivated considerations, rather than by the words of the law.

If that were to happen, it would affect the rights of individuals and firms from other EU countries in their dealing with the Polish authorities.

What can the European Union do about this?

 

Article 7 of the EU Treaty allows the Union to sanction a member state which is in “clear breach” of the values of the European Union.
The values of the Union are defined in the Treaty as

“respect for
human dignity
freedom,
democracy,
equality,
the rule of law, and
respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”.

Some of these six values are open to widely differing interpretations, depending on one’s ideological preferences.
So the EU institutions be very cautious, and maintain an objective detachment, in the use of these powers under Article 7.
Of all of the values specified, the one that is easiest to define objectively, and with least controversy, is the value of the “rule of law”.

Indeed , without the rule of law, it would be hard to see how the other values could be effectively upheld.

So the European Commission is right to use its full powers in this matter, no matter what difficulties that may cause for it.

Poland has had fair notice of all this and should not be surprised. Other EU member states will be watching. Authoritarian tendencies are not confined to Poland.

Of course, any action that is taken will be condemned as “interference from Brussels”, but sometimes interference from Brussels will be what will be needed to uphold basic values.

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UKRAINE……A KEY TO EUROPE’S FUTURE

Control over Ukraine’s fertile land and natural resources has been a source of conflict throughout modern history.

The Russian occupation of Crimea, which is part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine, is the first forcible alteration an international boundary in Europe since the end of World two.

In Eastern Ukraine, the conflict between Russian backed militias and the Ukrainian Government led to the shooting down by the militias of a passenger airline full of Dutch holiday makers returning from the Far East.

Ukraine is a democracy, but is afflicted by corruption and by constant tension between its President and its legislature under its US style constitution.

Ukraine looks to the European Union for salvation, but the EU is turning inwards and giving priority to other problems.

In an attempt to understand the challenge, I read “The Gates of Europe” by Serhii Plokhy. It  is a history of Ukraine from the earliest times. Plokhy is a Professor of History in Harvard.

At the outset of the First World War, Ukraine was divided between the Russian and Austro Hungarian Empires. The between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic Church, which is in communion with Rome but following Eastern rite, are active in Ukraine, and religious divisions have been a source of conflict in the past..

Both Russian and Ukrainian languages are spoken in the country, Russian more in the cities and in the east of the country.

The Ukrainian language is now  promoted as a badge of national identity, as Irish is in Ireland. Thanks to immigration from Russia the country is ethnically diverse, but partly because of high handed Russian actions, even ethnic Russians in Ukraine increasingly identify themselves as Ukrainian.

Plokhy traces the cultural and political influences that shaped the country in the past two millennia.

Ukraine was onn the frontiers of the Roman Empire. It came under the influence of Greeks of the Byzantine Empire from Constantinople, who introduced Christianity to the area in 989 AD

It was from Ukraine that Christianity was introduced to Russia, which partly explains the Russian view that Ukraine should not be separate from Mother Russia.

In 1240, Kiev fell to the Mongols, who ruled the area for 100 years. The Mongols were defeated in 1359 and Ukraine became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which was dominated by Poles and Lithuanians. The Grand Duchy’s Catholic religious policy was resented by Orthodox Ukrainians.

From 1590 to 1646, a series of risings by Cossacks (armed bands of native Ukrainians) weakened the Grand Duchy and oriented Ukraine towards Moscow and the Orthodox Church.

The autonomy enjoyed by the Cossacks within the Russian Empire was ended by Catherine the Great in the 1770’s, and that fuelled resentment.

Plokhy describes the tragedy of the First War, when Ukrainians fought on both sides.

At the end of the war, and during the Russian Civil War, Ukraine briefly became an independent state. That independence was ended by the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Civil War.

Plokhy shows how the Jews, who were numerous in Ukraine , became scapegoats.

Under Stalin in the 1930’s, Ukraine suffered a terrible famine because of Communist determination divert food supplies into the cities to help industrial expansion.

During the Second World War, which was fought over the territory of Ukraine, Ukrainian nationalists took up arms for the independence of their own country, against both the Nazis and the Soviets.

The pro independence fighting against the Soviet continued well into the 1950’s, but without any aid from the West.

Ukraine did comparatively well, while Stalin’s successor Khruschev, and his protégé Brezhnev, were   in charge of the Soviet Union.

Under Gorbachev, things got worse for Ukraine, especially in the aftermath of the Chenobyl nuclear disaster which affected 3 million people in Ukraine and where the risks to the population were partially covered up by the regime.

While it was the Baltic states and the Russian Federation, led by Yeltsin, which precipitated the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine took full advantage of it, and declared itself independent in 1991.

Interestingly the US, which favoured independence for the Baltic states, opposed it for Ukraine at that time. President Bush senior foresaw the effect Ukrainian independence would have on Russian opinion.

As an independent country, Ukraine shared the economic collapse in most post Soviet states caused by the stress of adjusting from a Communist to a market economy. Unlike Russia , Ukraine does not have vast natural gas reserves, but, also unlike Russia, it has remained a democracy.

This is an important book, because it deals with a country that could become a source of conflict between EU countries and the Russian Federation in the foreseeable future.

Russia feels the Ukraine should be part of its “sphere of influence”, but the EU rejects the notion of “spheres of influence”.  Many in the EU believe Ukraine could eventually be eligible to be an EU member (something that most Ukrainians would like but the Russians would hate).

In some circumstances, Ukrainian membership of the EU could benefit Russia, but nobody in Moscow sees it that way……..at least, not yet.

 

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WILLIAM T COSGRAVE…FOUNDER OF THE IRISH STATE

I recently read “Judging WT Cosgrave” by Michael Laffan.

Published by the Royal Irish Academy this is a very well written, and entertaining, account of the life of the founder of the Irish state.

It is illustrated with a great collection of photographs, of people who figured in William Cosgrave’s life, and of documents on the time, including of the death sentence passed on him for his participation in the 1916 Rebellion in Dublin.  The sentence was commuted but he did go to prison.

WT Cosgrave was born in James Street in Dublin and his family had roots in Kildare and Wexford.

He joined the Sinn Fein Party of Arthur Griffith and was first elected to Dublin Corporation for that party in 1909 for the area in which he lived.  He took a deep interest in housing policy, at a time when many Dubliners lived in terrible conditions.

Released from jail after the Rebellion in early 1917, he was selected to stand in the by election for the Kilkenny City  seat in the House of Commons, that arose from the death of John Redmond’s closest friend and Parliamentary colleague, Pat O Brien.

Such was the dominance of Redmond’s Party until then, that O Brien had been re elected unopposed in the two previous General Elections. The Kilkenny City constituency was the smallest in the country, with less than one tenth the population of the largest (East Belfast).

The by Election took place 100 years ago on 10 August 1917. WT Cosgrave defeated the Irish Party candidate, a member of Kilkenny Corporation, John McGuinness , by  772 votes to 392.

Interestingly, notwithstanding the 1917 defeat, the McGuinness family are still prominently involved in Kilkenny politics at both local and national level.

In accordance with Sinn Fein policy, WT Cosgrave did not take his seat in the House of Commons. He did continue to be an active member of Dublin Corporation.

In his book, Michael Laffan deals with Cosgrave’s work in the shadow government established by Dail Eireann in 1919. This government was illegal in the eyes of the authorities, and its members lived in constant fear of arrest.

WT Cosgrave took no direct part in the negotiation of the Treaty of 1921, which provided the legal basis for the establishment of the Irish state. But within the Dail Cabinet, his vote tipped the balance in favour of acceptance of the Treaty, much to the disappointment of Eamon de Valera, who had been close to Cosgrave up to that.

During the subsequent Civil War over the Treaty, Arthur Griffith died, and Michael Collins was killed. As the most experienced surviving political leader the role of leading the pro Treaty government fell to WT Cosgrave. He prosecuted the Civil War to a successful conclusion and built a strong and stable state, on what appeared at the time to be very unpromising foundations.

He abandoned Collins’ policy of destabilising Northern Ireland.

As early as 1922, according to Laffan, Cosgrave

argued that military or economic pressure against the Belfast government would not bring about reunification, while a peaceful policy had at least some chance of protecting Northern Catholics.

During the Civil War, pro Treaty members of Dail and Senate were targeted by opponents of the Treaty. 37 houses belonging to Senators were razed. Cosgrave’s own home was burned. His uncle was murdered.

Even after the Civil War was officially over, on one night in 1926, 12 Garda barracks were attacked by the IRA. The cost of security and reconstruction after the Civil War made austerity in other areas of government spending inevitable.

Cosgrave was a constitutional democrat who accepted the results of elections, unlike many who held power in other European countries in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

As President of the Executive Council (Taoiseach), he had less power than one might expect. Under the Free State constitution, he could not, at his own sole initiative, sack Ministers, who were supposed to serve for the life time of the Dail. He did persuade a number of them to resign.

Cosgrave wanted to stamp out jobbery in the public service, and was responsible for the setting up of the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissions, which provided for recruitment on merit rather than on the basis of political connections. This was vitally important, as recent experience in other countries, like Greece, shows.

While Cosgrave was a robust and witty election campaigner, right up to the time he eventually stood down as Fine Gael party leader in 1944, he was not much interested in the details of party organisation.

He stuck rigidly to the terms of the Treaty, and did not use it as a stepping stone to further independence as his successor, de Valera, did.

After his retirement, he served as a member of the Racing Board. He was a man of deep religious faith and counted members of the clergy among his closest friends.

This is an excellent book and well worth reading.

A Commemorative lunch to mark the centenary of WT Cosgrave’s victory in the Kilkenny City by election on 10 August 1917 will be held in Langton’s Hotel, John Street, Kilkenny  on Saturday 15 July.

The guest of honour will be WT Cosgrave’s son, Liam Cosgrave.

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To make Brexit work, Britain needs to show Europe it cares

The EU has bent over backwards for Britain during its membership. Now, during negotiations to leave, it is Britain’s responsibility to return the favour

Published in The Guardian on Saturday 1 July 2017

The British government is perhaps discovering, after the first round of negotiations, that it needs a complete change of perspective if it is to make a success of Brexit. Above all, it needs to start seeing things through the eyes of the other 27 EU members – the small nations as well as the big and powerful.

It also needs to manage the expectations of the British people so that every compromise – for example the Brexit secretary, David Davis, having to accept the timetable laid down by the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier – is not interpreted as a crushing defeat at the hands of enemies, but rather as an inevitable result of pulling out of an institution as legally and politically complex as the EU.

It is important for UK negotiators to remind themselves, every day, that Brexit is a British initiative. Because it is the initiator, the chief responsibility for making Brexit work for the 27 remaining EU countries rests with Britain. If Brexit damages the rest of Europe, Britain has a primary responsibility to find a way to mitigate that damage.

The remarkable thing about the discussion in the UK, over the past year, is that no ideas have been forthcoming on how to resolve the problems Brexit will cause for other EU countries. The only thought has been about what the UK should want for itself.

The EU is a rules-based institution, and EU membership is attractive for smaller countries, like Ireland, precisely because it is a rules- based institution, rather than one based on the exercise of raw power.
A country that has left the EU, and is no longer willing to submit to its common rules and to the jurisdiction of the court that interprets those rules, cannot expect to retain the main benefits of membership. That would undermine the EU’s essential nature.

Following the debate in the UK, one might think Brexit was something that was being done by the EU to an unwilling Britain, rather than the reverse.
It was Britain’s free decision to join the union 44 years ago, and since then the other members have done their best to accommodate British needs. It was exempted from aspects of EU policies such as the euro, the Schengen passport-free zone, justice and home affairs cooperation and, for a time, the social chapter of the EU treaties.

The UK’s budget contribution was modified through a rebate, and agricultural policy was modified.

And throughout, Britain remained a full voting member, with immense ability to stop policies it did not like. The UK was, you might say, having its cake and eating it.

Now that it is at last starting to negotiate to leave the EU, Britain may get a greater sense of what it is freely giving up. It will lose common arrangements on everything from flights taking off and landing, lorries on the roads, the safety of food, the movement of workers, and many more matters on which agreed standards have been built up over the past 44 years of painstaking work. It will lose the benefits of hundreds of treaties the EU has negotiated with other countries.

The UK will have to negotiate a new deal on every topic, then agree a procedure for subsequently amending, enforcing, and interpreting each one. This is what the Swiss, with their 120 different treaties with the EU, currently enjoy: a lot of very unproductive work. But it is the path the UK has chosen.

I told a London audience, long before the referendum, that as an Irishman I would regard a British decision to leave the EU – after four decades during which our two countries were bound together by our common EU membership – as an “unfriendly act” towards a neighbour. I have not changed my mind.

Notwithstanding that, I know Irish ministers and diplomats will use both their deep insight into British needs, and their highly developed understanding of EU deal-making, to find creative ways of reframing the difficult issues that will arise in this negotiation.

Ireland will be on the other side of the negotiating table from Britain, but I know too that it will aim to minimise the damage this divorce will inevitably cause. It will seek, for example, to use institutions, like the British-Irish intergovernmental council, as forums for creative thinking.
Even if it is not a member itself, a strong EU is important for Britain. Hard as it may seem, Britain needs to show that it is thinking about how that can be achieved, if it wants a reasonable Brexit outcome.

 

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ON TYRANNY

Recently I read

“On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the twentieth Century” by the historian Timothy Snyder.

Snyder is a specialist on the history of central and eastern Europe and has studied the origins and evolution of the genocidal policies of Hitler and Stalin. He is a Professor of History in Yale.

“On Tyranny “ is a short book and can be read in a few hours.

The thesis of the book is summed up well in the quotation

“ In politics, being deceived is no excuse”

from Leszek Kolokowski, a Polish philosopher .

The quotation, and Snyder’s book, are addressed to all citizens of advanced societies ,rather than just to politicians.

Drawing on the experience of the 1930’s and 1940’s, Snyder attempts to show how, in Germany in 1933 and in Russia in 1990, citizens conspired in their own deception.

They voted for authoritarian options because they were tired of  taking responsibility.

Snyder fears a similar development is taking shape in the United States. This is as a result of a blocked political system, and the substitution of organised partisanship for compromise. Social media add to this blockage by allowing voters to isolate themselves from points of view other than those with which they already agree.

Snyder  argues that this creates the conditions in which tyrants could take power. While he overstates his case, he is right when he says

“Post truth is pre fascism”

If voters accept lies without critical examination, just because the lie feels right, they are liable to elect the wrong politicians.

The more complex political issues become, the more likely it is that voters will give up on trying to make intelligent choices, and opt instead for emotionally satisfying simplifications. The Brexit vote in the UK is an example of this.

 Fears of outsiders or distrust of elites are easier to whip up than is support for a complex, and costed, political programme. Ill defined threats like “terrorism” or “extremism” incline voters to accept restrictions on their liberty and their privacy. Voters come to believe that they have no choice, and no responsibility.  As Snyder puts it,

“The politics of inevitability is a self induced intellectual coma”.

 

 

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