John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

THE EU SUMMIT AND BREXIT

Brexit is only one of the topics this weekend’s EU Summit has had to address.

Approving the massive 1.8 trillion budget, ensuring that the rule of law is respected by Poland and Hungary, agreeing a line on how to deal with Russia and Turkey, and giving teeth to its climate action plan are also on the agenda. Vital issues are at stake here for all 27 members. 

This reduces the time that can be devoted to the seemingly interminable Brexit negotiations.

On paper the issues to be sorted out on Brexit are manageable. Sharing fishing rights, and policing state subsidies to industry, should not be deal breakers.

The real problem is lack of trust in the seriousness of any commitments the UK might give. There is a sense that the UK is more into the short term optics than the long term substance.

A Trade Agreement between the EU and UK would not be worth the paper it is written on, unless both sides have the same understanding of what the words in the Agreement mean. There also has to be a robust system for mediating and arbitrating disputes, that is consistent with the EU’s global trade policy..

Nobody wants a disruptive “No Deal”.  But a poorly drafted, last minute, Agreement that, within a year, breaks down in a multitude of legal disputes would be no use.

This explains why France is looking for provision for rapid retaliatory action, if the UK backslides on the Agreement. 

It also explains why European Commission is so promptly taking the UK to Court over the Internal Market Bill. 

This Bill, passed by the House of Commons, gives the UK government power to break the Irish Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement. The EU is suing the UK even though the Bill is not yet law, and the powers have not yet been used. This again illustrates a lack of trust.

The Commission objects a provision in the Internal Market Bill, which gives UK ministers powers to breach the Northern Ireland protocol on state aid and customs duties. Even taking the power to this is seen, in itself, as a breach on the Withdrawal Agreement.

The UK is still be subject to EU law, although no longer an EU member, up to 31 December 2020. During this period, the Commission has the power to use EU remedies to enforce the Withdrawal Agreement. This is what the Commission is doing by taking this case.

It has decided to act straight away, because it believes the UK needs to be made to understand that the EU takes the literal meaning of words in Agreements very seriously.. 

The UK has one month to reply to the notice of proceedings and if its answer is not satisfactory, the Commission can take the next legal step. The end game would be a lump sum and/or penalty payment by the UK imposed on the UK by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The EU target is not the detail of the Internal Market Bill, it is the breach of good faith.  Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement requires the UK , in good faith,  to take

 “all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising from this agreement and  refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this agreement”.

The offending portions of Internal Market Bill do the direct opposite. They take powers to allow the UK NOT to honour Article 5! 

The Commission also  is acting because it has to be seen to enforce Treaty obligations on members and ex members alike. 

Some EU member states (eg. Hungary and Poland) are threatening to breach the rule of law in other matters. So the Commission cannot be seen to let the UK get away with the same thing . It has to be seen to be consistent.

There is another issue that could lead to a problem with the UK Conservative government when it gets down to finalising the text of any Free Trade Agreement with the EU, and having it approved on the Tory backbenches.

This is the continuing role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after 1 January 2021.

 The rule of the ECJ will still apply to the UK, in the following matters  

  • cases pending at the end of the transition period and  relating to events that took place before that, 
  • cases to do with citizens’ rights, for which the ECJ will remain partly competent;
  • EU budget legislation (‘financial settlement’), that is financial commitments  to which the UK committed when it was an EU member state, 
  • parts of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland  and
  •  UK army bases in Cyprus 

For Brexiteers, any continuing role for the ECJ is allergic. It is the sort of thing Jacob Rees Mogg railed against when Teresa May was Prime Minister.

In addition, the ECJ will have a role, albeit indirect, in any settlement mechanism  designed to resolve disputes under the Trade Agreement, if there is one.

If there is a dispute, either the UK or the EU may bring the dispute to an arbitration panel. If that does not work, and the interpretation of EU law is at issue, then the ECJ will have to make that interpretation.

This is normal under EU Trade Agreements. It is in Agreements the EU signed with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

 This provision is there to ensure that EU law is interpreted in a consistent way across all agreements involving the EU. There cannot be one law for the UK and a different one for Ukraine.

Although logical in its own terms, this will be a hard sell for Boris Johnson.

His political authority has been reduced by Covid and the restrictions it is imposing on some parts of the UK. Despite his large parliamentary majority, he may even have to seek Labour support to get a compromise with the EU through Parliament.

But, with the UK economy in difficulty, he may have no choice. The stakes are high.

HOW THE RULE OF LAW EMERGED FROM REVOLUTION AND CIVIL WARS IN IRELAND 100 YEARS AGO

Judge Mary Kotsonouris’ book “Retreat from Revolution, the Dail Courts 1920 to 1924” shows how the rule of law, arguably one of the better inheritances from Ireland’s period as part of the UK, survived the revolution of the 1916 to 1923 period.

Her book shows that Ireland did indeed undergo a revolution in this period.

From 1919 on the old courts system  was progressively undermined, delegitimized, and eventually overthrown. But it was not fully and formally replaced until the enactment of the Courts of Justice Act , under the Free State Constitution,  in April 1924.

For almost five years, the legitimacy of the courts and law enforcement was contested, as one civil war was by followed another. There were Irish people on both sides in both civil wars.

The first civil war , started in 1919 with attacks on Irish born RIC members and Resident Magistrates , was a military struggle, but it was  also a struggle for legitimacy. This war ended with the Truce of July 1921, and the Treaty of December 1921.

The second commenced, after failed attempts at conciliation between pro and anti Treaty forces,   on 28 June 1922, with the shelling of the Four Courts. It ended with the dumping of arms by the defeated anti Treaty forces on 24 May 1923.

The existing legal order, established under the Crown, had worked, more or less effectively, up to 1919.

 But it ceased to function for normal civil cases as early by the end of that 1919. Attacks on Crown appointed magistrates, and on the RIC, meant that Crown system could no longer make and enforce decisions in civil matters. Without an accepted police service to enforce its decisions, no courts system can work.

 The RIC came under such attack that it had to devote all its efforts to its own security and had neither the time, nor the public acceptance, needed to do normal police work effectively.

 But civil war or no civil war, disputes continued to arise about property rights, non payment of debts, wills and many more minor matters.  Some system had to be found to enable such disputes to be resolved. Otherwise people would take the law into their own hands.  For example, many areas of Clare were subjected to martial law because of cattle being driven off land and a general defiance of law during 1919.

 The Dail Courts, whose story is told my Mary Kotsonouris, filled this vacuum for much of the period between 1920 and 1923.

The first step was taken by the Dail , itself technically an illegal body at the time, when it appointed a judge to arbitrate on disputes over land ownership in Mayo in August 1919. In June 1920, it initiated a hierarchy of parish, and county courts with a Supreme Court to hear appeals. While the senior positions in this hierarchy were filled by lawyers, at parish level the Dail Courts were often made up of local clergy and  other citizens of good standing who had no legal training.

 These Dail Courts decided thousands of cases although they were in constant threat of being closed down by the RIC or others who wanted to take the law into their own hands. Its decisions were enforced by the IRA Volunteers.

But then the Dail and the IRA split over the Treaty in 1922.

 The new Free State government wanted to establish a new court system, that respected the constitution of the Free State, and whose decisions would be enforced by the newly created  Garda Siochana and by no one else. Many of those involved in the Dail courts did not accept the Free State constitution based as it was on a Treaty with Britain they rejected.

The Dail Courts had decided thousands of cases and these could not all be reopened. After much debate, a system of registering these decisions under the laws of the new state was devised.

This story is populated with many vivid characters, some now forgotten.  Kotsonouris brings them back to life and could indeed have given us more biographical colour about the individuals involved  here.

  She shows how order based on law in Ireland was painfully re established  after a bitter conflict, and how the institutions we revere today came into being.  It is well worth reading this book to remind ourselves how fragile in the rule of law in any country.

TOM O’DONNELL RIP

I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn in the last few hours of the death of my close friend, Tom O’Donnell, former Minister, MEP and TD.

Tom was a man of great warmth and conviction. He retained a youthful enthusiasm for all the causes in which he was involved, right up to end of his life. He never wavered.

To his wife Helen and his son Tomas, and all the O’Donnell family including his nephew Kieran O’Donnell TD, I extend my deepest sympathy.

Tom O’Donnell was born in Limerick on 30 August 1926 and was the eldest of eight children of Patrick and Josephine O’Donnell of Bulgaden, Kilmallock .

 He came from a family with strong political traditions, constitutional nationalist on his father’s side  and  old Sinn Fein on his mothers’ side . Her brother Dick O’Donnell was a Cumann na Gaedhael TD until 1932.

Tom was educated in Cappamore NS, Crescent College, and CBS Charleville. 

He obtained his BA in UCD. He taught in a number of post primary schools in Dublin before returning to Limerick to pursue a political career.  He was active in Muintir na Tire and Macra na Feirme.

Tom O’Donnell was nominated to contest the 1961 General Election on behalf of Fine Gael and was elected to the Dail in October of that year. He was re elected in the 1965 Election doubling his previous vote. In 1969, he headed the poll.

 Again re elected in 1973, he was appointed Minister for the Gaeltacht in the government led by Liam Cosgrave.

He was an outstanding success in this role. He inspired great affection among the people of the Gaeltacht and brought unprecedented attention,at the highest  level,  to them and their needs. He acquired a mastery of the language and conducted all the official business of his Department in Irish.

In the previous 50 years, the Gaeltacht had lost half its population. 

Tom O’Donnell’s  motto as Minister was that   ” without people there would be no Gaeltacht,”. 

So he prioritized bringing employment to the Gaeltacht.  During Tom O’Donnell’s  term of office employment in the Gaeltacht doubled and the infrastructure was dramatically improved, 

In 1979, he was elected to the European Parliament  and served as the spokesman on regional policy for the Christian Democrat Group (now EPP).  He cooperated with John Hume, also an MEP, on a report on  coordinated regional investment  by the EU in both parts of Ireland.

He also served on the transport committee of the European Parliament and was active throughout his career in promoting Shannon Airport.

He stood for the Dail in the 1981 General Election, helping Fine Gael to win two seats in the constituency. He helped the party to hold those two seats in both the General Elections of 1982.

He was re elected to the European Parliament in 1984 and helped bring in his running mate Tom Raftery. 

He retired from politics in 1989.

Tom told me that the “most important and happiest event” in his life was in 1984 when he married his wife Helen. Like Tom, Helen has a deep interest in politics and was active in Young Fine Gael . Tom was very proud when Helen was named Limerick person of the year in 2013 in recognition of her work for tourism.

TRUST ON GOVERNMENTS VARIES WIDELY ACROSS THE WORLD. SOME DEMOCRACIES TRUSTED, OTHERS ARE NOT

Democracy rests on trust. So do all other forms of government to some degree. 

I came across the 2020 Edelman Trust Report. It contains some startling and worrying findings.

 It can be found here

It  is worth reading in full.

If the world is to cope with Covid and the economic situation, it needs leadership that people are prepared to trust. 

The Trust Report tells a truly alarming story for those of us who believe in liberal democracy. 

The average level of trust in government in the world is only 49%, but the alarming thing is that there is more trust in government in some autocratic states than there is in democratic ones. 

Against a global average of 49% trust in government, 90% of Chinese and  78% of Saudi Arabians told Edelman that they trust their government.  In Europe the trust in national governments ranges from a high of 59% in Netherlands to 45% in Germany, 41% in Ireland , 36% in the UK,  35% in France, 33% in Russia, down to a mere 30%. Interestingly in India, also a democracy, trust in government is 81%.  Interestingly 61% of Irish people trust the EU, which is well ahead of the level of trust in their national government,

The Survey results suggest that income inequality contributes more to a loss of trust than does insufficient economic growth. But levels on income inequality in India and China are quite high so that is not a sufficient explanation.

There is a slightly higher level of trust in institutions among those with more education. 

But it is not just government that is distrusted in western countries. On average overall, 49% of global respondents say they trust the media, but trust in the media is only 37% in Ireland and France. Yet 80% of the Chinese trust their media!  Given that the Chinese trust their government so much, perhaps it is not surprising that they also trust their government controlled media.

Business is trusted somewhat more than either governments or media are- 58% as against 49%. But again there are stark contrasts. 

82% of Indians and Chinese people trust business, as against only 35% of Russians, 48% of Germans and Irish, and 57% of Italians.

It would be worthwhile to dig more deeply into Edelman’s findings!

ALL TRADE RESTS ON RESPECT FOR TREATIES

The fact that the UK government is now saying it will pass legislation that will break an international Treaty it signed and ratified little over a year ago, is very serious. It undermines Britain’s aspiration to be a globally trading nation.

All trade between nations rests, ultimately, on respect for Treaties and contracts.

Deliberately breaching commitments, freely given in a Treaty, undermines the whole structure of global relations between states.

 If one cannot rely on a commitment in a Treaty, nothing is reliable.

The EU only continues to exist because its member states respect the Treaties that set it up ( as some seem to have forgotten in another context recently).

If the UK, by its breach of the Withdrawal Treaty commitments it gave  on checks on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland, forces Ireland to introduce checks on the Irish land border,  in order to protect Ireland’s status as a fully complaint EU member, it will undermine the structure that has brought peace to these islands. 

We could be living with the consequences of this long after Boris Johnson has passed from the political scene.

A FAILURE TO PROTECT THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION

LACK OF FAIR PROCESS, OR OF RESPECT FOR THE EU TREATIES

I have always believed that the independence of members of the European Commission was a keystone of successful European integration.

 Commissioners are obliged by their oath of office to seek a European solution to problems, rather than just seek a balance between conflicting national interests.

 Since 1958, they have done so, and this is why European integration has succeeded, while efforts at integration on other continents have failed, under the weight of national egoism.

The larger the membership of the European Union became, the more important did the independence of Commissioners from national politics become.

Some believe the Commission is too large. From an efficiency point of view, they have a point. 

But Ireland, among others, has insisted that, despite this, each member state should have one of its nationals as a member of the Commission at all times. 

But if the “one Commissioner per member state” rule is to be kept in place, as the Union enlarges, Commissioners, from all states large and small, must demonstrate that they put the European interest first, and are not subject to the vagaries and passions of politics in their country of origin. 

In other words, European Commissioners must be independent, and be seen to be so. All member states must be seen to respect this.

This is why I am so deeply troubled by the attitude take by the Irish government, and then  by President Von Der Leyen of the European Commission, to calls for the EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan to resign.

 Both of them failed in their understanding of the European Union, and of one of its vital interests….. namely the  visible independence of members of the European Commission from the politics of any one EU state, large or small. 

I was genuinely shocked by what happened.

 Late in the evening of 22 August,  the leaders of the Irish Government called on the EU Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan to “consider his position”. Those words mean resign.

 They piled on the pressure thereafter, with a further statement, on 23 August, containing a political determination that he had broken their Covid 19 rules. 

Phil Hogan did resign on 26 August.

 That was his decision and one he was entitled to make.

LESSONS FROM THIS PRECEDENT

But there are profound lessons to be learned by President Von der Leyen, and by the Commission as a whole , as to how, and to whom, Commissioners should be held accountable,  and a need to understand what this precedent means for the future political independence of Commissioners from their home governments.

 Separately, there are also questions to be asked about the internal management of, and the collegiality, of the Commission.

I will set out my concerns here, drawing on the words of the EU Treaty, which I helped draft as a member of the Convention on the Future of Europe.

On the 26 August, President Von der Leyen clearly withdrew any active support from Commissioner Hogan, and unquestioningly accepted the line of the Irish Government. This influenced him to resign his position.

 In this action, I contend that she did not fulfil all her responsibilities under the Treaties.

 I know she faced a genuine political difficulty. But the Treaties were framed do deal with fraught political situations, while preserving the independence of the Commission and due process.

 The Commission is guardian of the Treaties, and should be seen to defend the rules laid down in the Treaties in all circumstances, even when it is politically difficult. 

Article 245 of the Treaty requires member states to respect the independence of Commissioners. Ireland is bound by that article having ratified it in a referendum.

 One should note that Article 245 refers to respecting the independence of Commissioners individually, not just to the Commission as a whole.

 It is for the Irish government to say whether publicly demanding a Commissioner’s resignation, for an alleged breach of purely Irish rules, is compatible with the Irish government’s Treaty obligation under Article 245 to respect his independence, It had other options,

If any Commissioner is visiting a member state for any reason, he or she is subject to the laws of that state, on the same basis as any other citizen. A visiting Commissioner would not be above the law, but nor would she be below it either. 

If she breached the law, due process in the Courts ought to be applied, as to any citizen.

 This what would have happened if the visiting Commissioner was from any country other than Ireland and had had the difficulties which Phil Hogan had….due process would have been followed. 

 The statements of the Irish government, and the unsatisfactory explanations by Phil Hogan, did create political problems for the President of the Commission.

 She had to do something, but not necessarily what she did do.

 But there were options available to her which, inexplicably, she failed to use or even consider.

RULES IGNORED

 Commissioners are subject to a Code of Conduct, last updated in 2018. Under that Code,

 there is an ethics committee to determine if the Code has been breached. If the matter was urgent, there is provision for a time limit  to be set for a report by the Committee.

 But a reference to the Ethics Committee would have allowed for due process, and a calm and fair hearing. More importantly using this process would also have asserted the independence of the Commission as an institution.

 The Code says that it is to be applied “in good faith and with due consideration of the proportionality principle” and it allows for a reprimand. where the failing does not warrant asking the Commissioner to resign. 

Now, because of the course followed, we will never know if there was any breach at all of the Code at all by Phil Hogan. 

President Von der Leyen’s failure to use these mechanisms seems to be a serious failure to defend due process and proportionality, and to protect  the independence  of individual Commissioners, as she was required to do by the Treaty.

 The Commission and the Parliament should enquire into why she did not do so.  There are consequences now for the viability of the Code of Conduct, if it is not to be used in a case like this. 

CRITERIA NOT APPLIED

Was what Phil Hogan did a resigning matter anyway ?

Article 247 allows for only two grounds for asking a Commissioner to resign. There are that he or she is

“no longer being able to fulfil the conditions for the performance of his duties”

Or

” has been guilty of serious misconduct”.

I do not think either condition was met in this case.

Phil Hogan would have been fully capable of carrying out his duties while the Ethics Committee did its work. Instead his position is now effectively vacant.

Most people I have spoken to do not think the breaches committed by Phil Hogan, while foolish, amounted to “serious misconduct” within the meaning of Article 247.

 Failure to recollects all the details of a private visit over 2 weeks, or to issue a sufficient apology quickly enough, may be political failings, but they hardly  rise to the level of “serious misconduct”. Any deliberate and knowing breach of quarantine should have been dealt with in the Irish courts without fuss. 

 In any event, President von der Leyen would have been far wiser to have got an objective view on all these things from the Ethics Committee, before allowing Phil Hogan’s resignation.

WHY DID THE COMMISSION NOT MEET?

Another issue is the President’s failure to call a Commission meeting, if she was considering that a Commissioner should resign.

Under article 247 it is the Commission, not the President alone, who may compulsorily retire a Commissioner, and even then, they must have the approval of the European Court of Justice.  These safeguards were put in the Treaty to protect the independence of the Commission. They were ignored in this case.

The resultant weakening of the institutional independence of the Commission is very damaging to European integration and to the interests of smaller EU states. This should be of concern to the European Parliament.

WE NEED A FULL STRENGTH TEAM ON THE PITCH AS BREXIT REACHES THE ENDGAME

It is increasingly likely that, unless things change, on 1 January 2021,  we will have a no deal Brexit. The only agreement between the EU and the UK would then be the already ratified Withdrawal Agreement.

 There are only 50 working days left in which to make a broader agreement. The consequences of  a failure to do so  for Ireland will be as profound, and even as  long lasting, that those of Covid 19.

A failure to reach an EU/UK Agreement would mean a deep rift between the UK and Ireland.

 It would mean heightened tensions within Northern Ireland, disruptions to century’s old business relations, and a succession of high profile and prolonged court cases between the EU and the UK dragging on for years.

 Issues, on which agreement could easily have been settled in amicable give and take negotiations, will be used as hostages or for leverage on other issues. The economic and political damage would be incalculable.

We must do everything we can to avoid this.

Changing the EU Trade Commissioner in such circumstances would be dangerous.  Trying to change horses in mid stream is always difficult. But attempting to do so at the height of a flood, in high winds, would  be even more so.

The EU would lose an exceptionally competent Trade Commissioner when he was never more needed. An Irishman would no longer hold the Trade portfolio. The independence of the European commission, a vital ingredient in the EU’s success would have been compromised…a huge loss for all smaller EU states.

According to Michel Barnier, the EU/UK talks , which ended last week, seemed at times to be going “backwards rather than forwards”.

The impasse has been reached for three reasons.

THE MEANING OF SOVEREIGNTY

Firstly, the two sides have set themselves incompatible objectives.

The EU side wants a “wide ranging economic partnership” between the UK and the EU with ”a level playing field for open and fair competition”. The UK also agreed to this objective in the joint political declaration  made with the EU at the time of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Since it agreed to this, the UK has had a General Election, and it has changed its mind. Now it is insisting, in the uncompromising words of it chief negotiator, on

 “sovereign control over our laws, our borders, and our waters”.

This formula fails to take account of the fact that any Agreement the UK might make with the EU (or with anyone else) on standards for goods, services or food stuffs necessarily involves a diminution of sovereign control.

Even being in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) involves accepting its rulings which are a diminution of “sovereign control”. This is why Donald Trump does not like the WTO and is trying to undermine it.

The Withdrawal Agreement from the EU (WA), which the UK has already ratified,  also involves a diminution of sovereign control by Westminster over the laws that will apply in Northern Ireland (NI) and thus within the UK.

 The WA obliges the UK to apply EU laws on tariffs and standards to goods entering NI from Britain, ie. going from one part of the UK to another.

This obligation is one of the reasons given by a group of UK parliamentarians, including Ian Duncan Smith, David Trimble, Bill Cash, Owen Patterson and Sammy Wilson, for wanting the UK to withdraw from the Withdrawal Agreement, even though most of them voted for it last year!

Sovereignty is a metaphysical concept, not a practical policy.

Attempting to apply it literally would make structured, and predictable, international cooperation between states impossible. That is not understood by many in the UK Conservative Party.

THE METHOD OF NEGOTIATION

The second difficulty is one of negotiating method. The legal and political timetables do not gel.

The UK wants to discuss the legal texts of a possible Free Trade Agreement first, and leave the controversial issues, like level playing field competition and fisheries, over until the endgame in October.

The EU side wants serious engagement to start on these controversial issues straight away .

Any resolution of these controversial issues will require complex legal drafting, which cannot be left to the last minute. After all, these legal texts will have to be approved by The EU and UK Parliaments before the end of this year.

There can be no ambiguities or late night sloppy drafting.

The problem is that the UK negotiator cannot yet get instructions, on the compromises he might make , from Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson is preoccupied instead with Covid 19, and with keeping the likes of Ian Duncan Smith and Co. onside.  He is a last minute type of guy. 

TRADE RELATIONS WITH OTHER BLOCS

The Third difficulty is  that of making provision for with the Trade Agreements the UK wants to make in future with other countries like the US, Japan and New Zealand. Freedom to make such deals was presented to UK voters as one of the benefits of Brexit.

The underlying problem here is that the UK government has yet to make up its mind on whether it will continue with the EU’s strict precautionary policy on food safety, or adopt the  more permissive approach favoured by the US.

Similar policy choices will have to be made by the UK on chemicals, energy efficiency displays, and geographical indicators.

The more the UK diverges from existing EU standards on these issues, the more intrusive will have to be the controls on goods coming into  Northern Ireland from Britain, and the more acute will be the distress in Unionist circles in NI.

Issues that are uncontroversial in themselves will assume vast symbolic significance, and threaten the peace of our island.

The UK is likely be forced to make side deals with the US on issues like hormone treated beef, GMOs  and chlorinated chicken. The US questions the scientific basis for the existing EU restrictions, and has won a WTO case on beef on that basis.  It would probably win on chlorinated chicken too.

 If the UK conceded to the US on hormones and chlorination, this would create control problems at the border between the UK and the EU, wherever that border is in Ireland.

Either UK officials would enforce EU rules on hormones and chlorination on entry of beef or chicken to this island, or there would be a huge international court case.

All this shows that, in the absence of some sort of Partnership Agreement between the EU and the UK, relations could spiral out of control.

Ireland , and the EU, needs its best team on the pitch to ensure that this  does not happen!

PADDY SHEEHAN RIP

I was deeply shocked to learn of the death of my friend, and long time colleague, Paddy Sheehan of Goleen, Co Cork. Paddy was a Fine Gael public representative in West Cork from 1967 to 2011.

Paddy lost his wife, Frances, only last week. This was a huge blow because Frances was central to every aspect of Paddy’s life. Although he bore this loss with great fortitude, it must have taken a great toll.

Paddy first entered public life when elected to Cork County Council in 1967.

He contested the General Elections of 1969, 1973 and 1977 without success, but he persisted and was elected  to the Dail in 1981. In so doing, he won a second seat for Fine Gael in South West Cork, an immense achievement in a 3 seat constituency.

He held the seat, with one interval, until his retirement from politics in 2011.

Paddy was a great advocate of the interests of rural Ireland and especially of  those who lived on the western seaboard. He was in constant contact with his electorate, running in Goleen what is now the only surviving general store and supermarket on the Mizen peninsula.

His journey to Dail Eireann each week was longer than that of almost every other TD, but he made himself heard in the Dail Chamber frequently and strongly.

 He had a great sense of humour and was beloved across all political divisions.

On behalf of all my family, I extend heartfelt sympathy to, his children, Diarmuid, Deirdre, Eucharia and Maebh in  the huge double bereavement they are suffering.

THE IRISH TRAPPED IN FRANCE BY THE SECOND WORLD WAR.

I had a personal reason for wanting to read “No Way Out, the Irish in Wartime France 1939-1945” by Isadore Ryan (Mercier Press).

This is because my aunt, Hilda Delany (1916-1956) from Culmullen was one of the Irish trapped in France, when the German Army  quickly over ran, and occupied the country in the summer of 1940.

Hilda had joined the Bon Sauveur Order of nuns in 1938 and was sent to France for training.

She spent the entire war in France, only returning to her convent in Holyhead in Wales in September 1945.

She died when I was only 9 years of age, so I did not get to know her well, although I do remember my mother bringing me to visit her in Holyhead on the Mail Boat. Conditions seem to have been very difficult in occupied France and food was scarce, and these privations may have contributed to her death at such an early age.

While my aunt is not mentioned in Isadore Ryan’s thoroughly researched book, there are many stories of other individual Irish individual people (including nuns), who found themselves trapped in France with minimal means of communication with, or receipt of support from, their families or communities back in Ireland.

The Irish Legation in Vichy France did its best to provide support but there were limits on what it could do. There were advantages in having a neutral Irish, rather than a British, passport at this time. The British passport holders were liable to be interned, whereas the Irish enjoyed some internal freedom of movement.

But the only way the Irish could get home to Ireland was by land to Spain and then by air or sea from Portugal to Britain. This was expensive, slow, and hazardous so very few attempted it.

Isadore Ryan ‘s book provides glimpses into the lives of many of the Irish, some of them well known like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. He also describes the lives and troubles of others who were priests, businessman, teachers of English, governesses, entertainers and nurses.

Some, like Beckett and Janie McCarthy were active in the French Resistance. A small number fraternized with the Germans, to the extent that they were suspected of collaboration with them. 

Interestingly, very few returned to Ireland when the war was over, a sign of straitened condition of this country in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

Many Irish readers will find mention of families they know in this book.

It gives a glimpse into a more difficult time, which will put in proper proportion some of the constraints now imposed by the battle against Covid 19.

JOHN HUME RIP

John Hume was the pivotal figure of the twentieth century in the development of thinking about Ireland’s future.

 He reframed the problem from being one about who held sovereignty over land, to being one about people, and how they related to one another.

 Thus reframed, the issue became one to which violence and coercion became completely irrelevant. This was the intellectual basis of the peace process.

The issue was no longer one about winning or losing, but about sharing or choosing not to share.  

In practical terms, he won the argument. That is why we have peace today. 

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