John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Author: John Bruton (Page 1 of 45)

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 nineteen

th 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 3pm on Friday 25th August 2017.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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”.

 

 

IS THIS A CONFLICT IN WHICH THE WEST SHOULD TAKE SIDES?

This article by Robert Hunter, a former US Ambassador to NATO, is well worth reading

It shows the risks of current US policy in the Middle East. Under successive US Administrations a close bond has developed between the US and two countries, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

This has involved the West in taking sides in a civil war within Islam, taking the side of the Sunni  against the Shia, notably in the vicious civil war in Yemen. This is no business of the US.

These bonds have also made the reaching of an accommodation with Iran exceptionally difficult. There is a danger that the nuclear deal with Iran will be allowed to collapse.

They involve tolerating Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza which make a two state solution physically and geographically impossible.  The alternative to a two state solution is integration of the occupied territories into Israel, with equal voting rights for all, but that would change the fundamental character of Israel. So the military occupation continues, forty years after the war ended….

European countries are geographically nearer to the Middle East than is the United States, and are not self sufficient in energy, as the US is.

But the European Union seems to have no influence on US policy in this area,  which directly affect Europe’s interests.  

Traditionally Ireland took an even handed approach to these issues. It needs to assert itself on these matters within the EU.

HELMUT KOHL

I am very sad to learn of the death of Helmut Kohl.

Along with President Gorbachev, he was the most important constructive European leader of the past century.

Underestimated initially, he was a man with a deep sense of history.

I remember him  describe movingly how close relatives (including his older brother Walther) had died in both the First and Second World Wars, and said that that was one of the reasons   why he was  absolutely determined that war  should  never happen again in Europe.

He understood that the pre war system of relations between states in Europe had to be fundamentally changed, if peace was to be guaranteed.

While he was the man who achieved a united Germany, he also wanted to ensure that a united Germany would be one that would be in total harmony with its neighbours.

He saw the European Union, and the euro, as new arrangements that would tie the interests of his native Germany so closely with all its neighbours, that conflict between them would be unthinkable ever again.

He was prepared to sacrifice the independent Deutschsmark to build a European structure of peace. He understood that there are some causes that transcend economics

He came to Ireland on a state visit, at my invitation when I was Taoiseach, and I met him numerous times while he was Chancellor, and afterwards at EPP meetings during the Convention on the Future of Europe.

He was an inspiring figure, who could be frank to the point of bluntness, if he felt that was what was needed to achieve his goal of profound unity among Europeans.

 

 

AUSTIN DEASY RIP

I wish to pay tribute to Austin Deasy, long time TD for Waterford, and a distinguished Minister for Agriculture, who dies recently.

Austin was forthright in his views and worked hard for Irish farmers. He was a courageous politician and will be greatly missed.

I extend sympathy to all his family.

 

Statement by John Bruton, former Taoiseach

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