John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Author: John Bruton (Page 2 of 52)

UK politicians need to put country before party

Former Prime Minister of Ireland John Bruton says it is time for all politicians in the U.K. to put the interests of Britain and Europe before the interests of any particular party.

THE 1918 ELECTION IN MEATH, EAMONN DUGGAN, AND THE FIRST DAIL

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at an event marking the centenary of the 1918 General Election and the meeting of the First Dail,  in St Nicholas Primary School Longwood , Co Meath on Monday 7 January 2019 at 8pm.

 

 

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FROM WAR STRAIGHT INTO AN ELECTION

The background to this Election was the end of the Great War on 11 November 1918. A General Election, for the entire UK of Great Britain and Ireland, was called ten days later.

The UK Prime Minister, Lloyd George, had called the Election very quickly, after active hostilities ceased, to exploit the good feelings, and relief that the War had finally been brought to a victorious conclusion by the Allies.

This tactic worked. Lloyd George’s coalition of Tories and some Liberals won a landslide in Britain. The landslide went the other way in Ireland.

The War was a particular factor in the Irish election because of the conscription crisis of early 1918.

Conscription had applied on the island of Britain, but not the island of Ireland, from 1916.

The big German breakthrough of early 1918 created a panic in the UK government. Manpower was running short, and the Americans were slow arriving at the front. So, unsurprisingly, Lloyd George was under political pressure, in Scotland, Wales and England, to raise troops numbers by extending the same conscription to Ireland, as applied to them.

In March 1918 he announced his intention to do so, which caused a convulsion in Ireland.

Until this announcement, the Irish Party had been holding its own politically.  It had defeated Sinn Fein in by elections to in South Armagh, East Tyrone and Waterford City early in 1918.  Then Lloyd George’s threat of conscription changed all that.

It drove Irish Party voters into the arms of Sinn Fein in the second half of 1918. It forced the Irish Party to temporarily abandon Parliament in protest, thereby seeming to validate Sinn Fein’s long held policy of abstention. But then the war ended, and the threat of conscription disappeared.

 If the election had been held over until the Spring of 1919, and anger had cooled about the conscription threat, the Election result in Ireland might not have been so dramatic.

WHO COULD BEST REPRESENT IRELAND IN VERSAILLES?

At the time of the December 1918 Election, a Peace Conference was soon to be convened by the victors of the Great War in Versailles.

In Ireland in anticipation of the Peace Conference, great expectations had been raised by speeches by President Woodrow Wilson, containing strong declarations in favour of the principle of national self determination. The concept of self determination acquired a quasi religious status in some quarters. It was the core message of Sinn Fein in the election, and of its candidates here in South Meath, Eamon Duggan.

But, as President Wilson was to discover, when he got down to work in Versailles, this concept of national self determination was difficult to apply when people, with fundamentally different identities and national allegiances, lived together in the same geographic area, as was, and is still, the case in Ulster, and in many other parts of Europe, to this day.

What happens if people, who live together in the same area, self determine two contradictory outcomes?

It was not until the Sunningdale and Good Friday Agreements, of 1973 and 1998 respectively,  that an attempt was made to answer that question and a partial answer provided.

THE CAMPAIGN

In South Meath, the Sinn Fein campaign got off to a flying start. Eamon Duggan was selected early on, and was already actively campaigning while the Irish Party was still trying to find a candidate.

He launched his campaign here in Longwood at a meeting presided over by Laurence Giles, and addressed by the local PP, Father Rooney and by a JH Dixon BL.

Meanwhile, the Irish Party (or United Irish League) held its convention in the Courthouse in Dunshaughlin, attended by its outgoing MP, David Sheehy, who was an uncle of the late Conor Cruise O Brien, to select their candidate. Sheehy had been unopposed in the previous three General Elections.

The Dunshaughlin Convention was presided over by Fr Dillon, the PP of Duleek, who later went on to serve on the Irish Party campaign committee for South Meath.

It seems there was reluctance on Sheehy’s part to stand again, and there was also perhaps a wish by some of the delegates to find a younger candidate.

The convention resolved to select Lorcan Sherlock, the city Sheriff in Dublin, as its candidate and sent him a telegram inviting him to stand. He had obviously not been notified in advance, he refused to stand, and a week or more of campaign time as lost.

So a new Irish Party meeting had to be convened a week later in Kilmessan, which did not come up with a candidate either. The Kilmessan meeting asked the Party Leader, John Dillon to name a candidate for them, and he came up with Thomas Peter O Donoghue, who had no prior connection with Meath. He was from Kerry and was a native Irish speaker. But he proved to be an active campaigner in the short time available.

While the Irish Party was making up its mind, Eamon Duggan had already held successful meetings in Trim, Longwood and Kilmessan.

Duggan’s meeting in Trim, in front of the courthouse, where many election meeting have been held since, was attended by 300 people and presided over by Martin O Dwyer from Dunboyne.

In North Meath, the Irish Party had no similar difficulties getting a candidate and their candidate, Dr Cusack, was in the field early.

His opponent was Liam Mellowes of Sinn Fein.

Dr Cusack came from a Longford family.

Mellowes, like Eamon Duggan, had taken part in the 1916 Rebellion. He had been reared in England and his father had served in the British Army. Eamon Duggan’s father had served in the RIC.

In South Meath , O Donoghue’s nomination papers were signed by Thomas Halligan of Rathfeigh, Patrick Mulvaney of Ballinlogh, Dunshaughlin,  Father Dillon of Duleek, and Laurence Delany of Rathfeigh.

Duggan’s nominators were all from Trim and included Bernard Reilly of Market Street and Andrew Daly. The two opposing candidates shook hands and chatted cordially when handing in their papers.

On a national level, the campaign was lively and some intimidation and impersonation took place.

Irish Party meetings were broken up in Cahir, Rathmines, Bohar in Louth, Jonesboro Co Armagh, Moate Co Westmeath, Clones, Gorey, and Castleblaney.  Some Candidates who had initially agreed to stand for the Irish Party backed out in face of this activity.

During the campaign itself, the PP of Kiltimagh, Dr O Hara, told John Dillon of

“young roughs going around the roads  at night saying they will burn down any house that will vote for Dillon and threatening to destroy cattle”.

On polling day, Republican “peace patrols” stood outside polling stations, and it is claimed they discouraged thousands of Irish Party supporters from going to vote.` In contrast, a large procession of voters from Ross and Ballinacree was led by their local curate into to the polling station in Oldcastle to vote for Liam Mellowes.

The Irish Party candidate in North Meath, Dr Cusack, had to abandon a public meeting in the Market Square in Navan because of barracking from a hostile crowd.

A fight broke out in Rathkenny, where rival after Mass meetings were taking place, and an Irish Party supporter, Councillor Michael Monaghan was injured. On that occasion the Sinn Fein meeting was chaired by Larry Rowan and the Irish Party one by Cormac Rowe.

On the other hand, Eamon Duggan and his Irish Party competitor TP O Donoghue each addressed meetings at the fair in Athboy in peaceful conditions, notwithstanding Athboy’s reputation as a strong Sinn Fein area.

I myself knew a man, a 1916 veteran, who was reputed to have voted 40 times for Eamon Duggan and Sinn Fein, in the names of different people. I suspect this is an exaggeration.

THE  RESULTS

At national level, Sinn Fein got 46.9% of the votes cast, Unionists got 28.5% and the Irish Parliamentary Party got 21.7%.

Here in South Meath, Eamon Duggan of Sinn Fein got 70% of the vote and his Irish Party opponent, T P O Donoghue got 30%.

In North Meath, the result was slightly closer, Liam Mellowes of Sinn Fein won 65% to Dr Cusack’s 35%.

For its overall  46.9%, Sinn Fein won 73 seats, Unionists won 26 (including one in Dublin), and the Irish Party, with 21.7%,  won only 6 seats……a poor outcome for a substantial vote.

These percentages do, however, understate the Sinn Fein support, because 25 seats were uncontested and won by Sinn Fein candidates unopposed. Some were uncontested because the Irish Party, in the short time available, could not find a candidate willing to stand in the heated atmosphere that had been generated.

Indeed the Irish Party has come under a lot of pressure not to contest the election at all, from former supporters like the Bishop of Raphoe. To his  credit, the Irish Party Leader, John Dillon, told the bishop that “one should not abandon principles for popularity or unpopularity”

 If all these 25 seats had been contested, and Sinn Fein voters in those constituencies had had to come out to vote, Sinn Fein’s overall national vote share would have been higher, probably well above 50% of the total national poll.

The system of election, the straight vote in single member constituencies, meant that Sinn Fein won more seats, and the Irish Party proportionately fewer seats, than would have been the case under Proportional Representation.

Under PR, I guess Sinn Fein might have won 60 seats, Unionists (including Labour Unionists and Independents) 26, and the Irish Party perhaps 19. Sinn Fein would still have got a land slide, but the Irish Party would not have suffered a virtual wipe out.

It is also important to point out that, among the 26 seats won by “Unionists”, 3 were won by Labour Unionists (mainly in Belfast) and one by an independent Unionist. The subsequent disappearance of Labour Unionism shows that, in some respects the sectarian divide in urban Ulster is deeper now than it was in 1918.

It is also worth mention that Southern Unionists contested the 1918 Election as such, winning seats in Trinity College and Rathmines.  That bridge between the traditions lost its value after 1918.

Here in Meath, the Irish Party did slightly better than it did nationally.

Speculating before the count, with the help of party informants, the Meath Chronicle reckoned that, in North Meath, Sinn Fein got its best result in the Oldcastle area, winning by a margin of 7 to 1, and very well in Navan winning by 6 to 1. According to these pre count estimates, the Irish Party won in Wlikinstown and probably in Drumcondrath and Slane. We have no tallies from the actual counts.

Sinn Fein contested seats in Belfast, never contested by nationalists. It did very badly. Sinn Fein got only 3% of the vote in Pottinger, 4% in Victoria, 9% in Woodvale, and just 1.89% in Duncairn.

Sinn Fein’s leader, Eamon de Valera was also defeated by the Irish Party’s Joe Devlin by 72% to 27% in the Falls constituency.

This is one of the most interesting results in the whole election. It shows that northern nationalists saw more value in having MPs in Parliament in London to look after their interests, than did southern nationalists, who backed the ideal of complete separation without much thought as to where, in practice, that might leave their northern fellow nationalists.

WHAT THE PARTIES PROMISED

I would like to look into the differences in policy between Sinn Fein and the Irish Party, and reflect on how far the victors were able to go in fulfilling their promises.

SINN FEIN

As I said earlier, a Peace Conference was soon to be convened by the victors of the Great War in Versailles.

Sinn Fein said it would withdraw Irish representatives from Westminster because, they said,

“the present Irish members of the English Parliament  constitute an obstacle to be removed from the path to the Peace Conference”

Eamon Duggan, speaking in Athboy, also defended abstention from Parliament as

“a denial of the moral right of England to govern us”.

Sinn Fein condemned the Irish Party for having

“contemplated the mutilation of our country by  partition”

This is a reference to the fact that John Redmond  agreed in 1916 with Edward Carson to a temporary opt out from Home Rule for some Unionist majority counties in Ulster, as a price for Carson’s support for having Home Rule introduced straight away for the rest of the country.   

This realistic compromise between Redmond and Carson did not go through, because it was vetoed by the Conservative elements in the War Cabinet. Lloyd George may also have been saying different things to different people.

The Sinn Fein manifesto did not say how they would avoid some form partition, or how they would enforce Dublin rule in Belfast or Portadown. In a sense, the Sinn Fein Manifesto did address, or deal seriously with, the existence of a Unionist minority in Ireland.

Instead it spoke of

“a unity in a national name, which has never been challenged”

Of course , it had been challenged, by Ulster Unionism as recently as 1911.

Ulster Unionism was either to be over ruled, or just ignored, as if it did not exist. Sinn Fein probably thought Ulster Unionists were just bluffing.

In one of his speeches, Eamon Duggan referred to Carson’s “threat of insurrection”, which he claimed

“everyone knew would never take place”.

The Sinn Fein manifesto also took a very fundamentalist view of sovereignty, which left no room for compromise afterwards.

It called for

“untrammelled national self determination”

and said it would oppose every candidate who does not accept this principle.

Sinn Fein added that that the right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence

“rests on immutable natural law and cannot be made subject to compromise”.

This explicit “no compromise” mandate was later to prove troublesome. Some members took it very seriously in 1922, and it helps explain the Civil War. The concept of “immutable natural law” had a particular religious provenance.

In the minds of some it excluded the sort of practical political compromise that Eamon Duggan himself, as a key negotiator of the Treaty of 1921, made in agreeing to that Treaty three years later.

But by this decision , Eamon Duggan saved thousands of lives.

As to the methods to be used to achieve its ambitious goals, Sinn Fein had a carefully phrased formula in its 1918 Manifesto.

It said it would use

“any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection  by military force or otherwise”

That can be construed as seeking an electoral mandate for war, and was so interpreted by the IRA.

But it could also be construed as  simply advocating resistance British military force (passively or otherwise), rather than initiating violence, as the IRA did at Soloheadbeg the following month.

Did the majority of the Irish people know, in December 1918, they were voting for war? It is not clear.

Reading the speeches made here in Meath during the campaign, one gets no sense that the people voting for Sinn Fein knew, or were told, they were voting for a war.

I think Sinn Fein voters probably felt they were endorsing some sabre rattling, rather than the assassinations and killings that were initiated a month later.

One thing is clear, Sinn Fein regarded the proposed form of Home Rule as inadequate.

Eamon Duggan criticised the Home Rule Act of 1914, which was already  law and was due to come into force when hostilities in Europe were formally ended, as

“a travesty of Home Rule”.

Home Rule should have meant, in his view, at the very least, the return of Grattan’s Parliament.

THE IRISH PARTY

The Irish Party manifesto was published on 11 October 1918, while the Great War was still on, but rumours were circulating of imminent German collapse and of the abdication of the Kaiser.  

It said that

“ the country must be prepared for a General Election about the end of November or the first week in December. This will be the most critical and fateful in its effect for the future of the country since the Union.”

It called for national unity on the basis of the policy that underlay the “New Departure” of 1879, which brought the physical force and constitutional traditions together to win Land Reform and other improvements.

It said it

“would not hold before the Irish people an ideal and an object which it knew to be impossible”.

Wise words.

The Irish Party committed itself to be

“an independent pledge bound party in the House of Commons taking no office under any British government and whose  dominating purpose must always be the recovery of Ireland’s national rights……and a vigorous agitation on rational lines”

It defined its objects as

“the establishment of  national self government for Ireland , including complete executive , legislative, and fiscal powers”

This went well beyond the Home Rule Act, which, as I have said, was already on the statute book and was due to come into effect automatically, once  hostilities in Europe were formally ended, as they were in 1919 at Versailles.

The reference to fiscal powers included , inter alia,  a right to charge customs duties on good coming into Ireland from Britain.

This involved withdrawing Ireland from the Anglo Irish Customs Union, which then existed, and this seems to have been a point on which both nationalist parties agreed. Both Sinn Fein and the Irish Party wanted to leave the custom union and be free to impose tariffs on British imports (and vice versa).

But the Irish Party manifesto criticised Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy which it said would

“simply hand over  the representation of Ireland  in the House of Commons to the followers of Sir Edward Carson”.

A  similar mistake is being made by the MPs , representing  the nationalist voters in the north this month.

Like Sinn Fein, the Irish Party said it would present Ireland’s case at the forthcoming Peace Conference but argued that it would have a better chance of getting a hearing from the victorious allies than Sinn Fein would.

This was realistic politics.

Germany was about to lose the War. Sinn Fein was perceived as having been allied with Germany in 1916. The reference to “our gallant allies in Europe” in the 1916 proclamation was a reference to Imperial Germany.

The Irish Party argued that sending to Versailles, Sinn Fein people, some of whom had been allied with Germany as recently as 1916, was not the best tactic.  Sinn Fein’s recent favouritism towards the defeated Germans did not enhance their chances get a hearing for Ireland from the victors, especially from President Wilson and the US delegation.

This point was underlined everywhere in South Meath by the Irish Party candidate TP O Donoghue.

He campaigned throughout the constituency in a green motor, car adorned by a green flag representing Ireland, and by the Stars and Stripes, representing the US. He was symbolically demonstrating the Irish Party’s belief that it would get a better hearing from President Wilson.

At a meeting in Slane, the Irish Party candidate in North Meath, Dr Cusack told his audience that the Irish Party had already sent its representative, TP O Connor MP to meet President Wilson.

TP O Donoghue, in his campaign, also stressed the importance and value of taking seats in Parliament.

He said that the only way to defeat Carson was for Nationalists to take their seats , and  be there to vote against objectionable proposals from Carson.

He told voters in Duleek that Parnell had never advocated abstention from Parliament. Taking seats in Parliament was “an important weapon” in the hands of the Irish people and ought not be given up, he said.

HINDSIGHT

Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, one must conclude that the Sinn Fein policy of abstention had substantial downsides.

When the Government of Ireland Act came to be introduced in 1920, providing for the permanent partition of Ireland, there were very few Irish nationalist MPs there to object to it…just six  Irish Party MPs with little influence.

The majority rule Stormont Parliament did not exist prior to 1920. It was created by this 1920 Government of Ireland Act , and, thanks to Sinn Fein abstention, there were virtually no Nationalist MPs left in Parliament to probe the dangers of this new Stormont majority rule Parliament.

A high price has also been paid for the fact that Sinn Fein, in its Manifesto, emphasised its unwillingness to compromise on what it saw as Ireland’s absolute right to  32 county self determination based on natural law.

The electorate’s support for this “no compromise” approach undoubtedly made life difficult for Eamon Duggan and the other Treaty negotiators in 1921 and contributed to the Civil War, and to much subsequent strife.

If the Irish Party’s approach, of “vigorous agitation on rational lines”, had received more electoral support, the Treaty negotiators task might have been easier.

As we cope now with the prospect of the UK leaving the EU Customs Union, it is interesting to note that one of the big differences between Home Rule and the Treaty was that the Treaty involved the Irish Free State leaving the Anglo Irish Customs Union, whereas, in deference to Ulster, the 1911/14 version of Home Rule would have kept full free trade between the two islands.

Departure from the Customs Union in 1921 turned a soft partition, into a hard partition.

The uncompromising nature of the Sinn Fein mandate, in favour of an all Ireland Republic,  in its 1918 Election manifesto, was elevated to unsustainable heights in subsequent debates, and that made life difficult, even up to the present time.

There are some similarities here to the rigid interpretation, in our neighbouring island, of the Brexit referendum mandate of 2016.

Electoral mandates, however big, do not relieve the politicians who get them of the duty to be realistic about what can actually be achieved afterwards.

CONCLUSION

Neither Sinn Fein nor the Irish Party fully faced up to the Ulster problem in 1918.

Neither fully faced up to the implications of the fact that, for past four centuries, two communities, with different allegiances, have lived together, geographically intermingled, in the Irish province of Ulster.

One community feels a sense of allegiance to Britain, its monarch, its historic narrative and it flag. The other feels an allegiance to Ireland and identifies itself with different historic narrative and different symbols. The two communities have different religious allegiances too, but the disagreements between them are not primarily about religious matters, they are all about national identity.

For centuries, the contest between these two identities was a zero sum game.

 Either the British identity had to win, or the Irish identity had to win.

That zero sum approach led to wars, threats of wars, or uprisings, from 1641 right up to 1998.

For the past forty years, British and Irish political leaders have been trying to find a new and different way forward.

Rather than a zero sum game, where if one identity won, the other had to lose, we sought to create conditions in which both identities could coexist comfortably together in North East Ulster, without either of them winning or losing.

Neither should feel cut off from their focus of their emotional allegiance.

The nationalists should not feel cut off from Dublin, and Unionists should not feel cut off from London or the “mainland” as they would call it.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 achieved this. Crafted between Ireland and the UK it built structures to create a comfort zone for both communities.  This was done through three interlocking structures of cooperation, namely

  1. power sharing within Northern Ireland,  
  2. cooperation between North and South and
  3. cooperation between Dublin and London.

Preserving the Belfast Agreement  is the vital task of this generation, and  succeeding in that task would be the best possible way to commemorate the 1918 Election and the First Dail, and in particular to honour the memory that  great peace maker, Eamon Duggan.

 

WHY IS THERE AN IRISH BACKSTOP?

It puzzles many people in Britain that something known as an “Irish backstop” should be at the heart of an increasingly bitter dispute. The dispute is about the Deal the UK Government has made with the EU on the terms for the UK leaving the EU.

Most people understand that, when the UK leaves the EU, the only land boundary between the UK and the EU will be the 300 mile long border in Ireland.

Some do understand that if the UK leaves the EU there will have to be border controls.

After all, leaving the EU was supposed to be about taking back “control”, and, given that countries can only exercise control in their own territory, there is a logical necessity to have controls at the border of a country’s territory,  at its ports and on its land boundary.

This is not something made up by the EU to annoy Brits, but is a logical consequence of Brexit, which is, as we all know, something Britons have chosen for themselves, and not something imposed on them by the EU.

The proposed backstop in Mrs May’s deal with the EU  involves the whole of the UK staying in a close customs arrangement with the EU.

The original idea was that the backstop would be confined to Northern Ireland, but the UK government itself preferred a backstop arrangement that would cover the whole UK, so as to minimize the controls that would otherwise have to be imposed between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The object of the entire exercise is to avoid having to have controls at the 300 crossing points between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Some in Britain think that the UK should be free to leave the EU, and that the UK and Irish governments should then just decide, between themselves, that they were simply not going to have controls on the Irish border.

That would not work because Ireland would still be in the EU, and would be breaking EU rules if it failed to control its portion of the EU land border.

Apart from being illegal, it would be impractical.

The UK, once outside the EU, would immediately go off and try to make trade deals with non EU countries. These would inevitably involve agreeing to different standards, and different tariffs, on goods coming from these non EU countries to the ones that the EU (including Ireland) would be applying to these countries.

So, if there were no controls on the Irish border, goods from these non EU with which the UK had made its own trade deals could enter the EU via Northern Ireland, without complying with EU standards or paying EU tariffs.

That would destroy the EU Single Market, which is based on common rules and tariffs, made, enforced and interpreted in the same way for all 27 EU countries (including Ireland).

TRADE DISCRIMINATION BREAKS WTO RULES

Outside of the EU, under WTO rules, the UK would also have to impose tariffs on its side of the Irish border, unless it wanted to collect NO TARIFFS AT ALL on goods coming into the UK from any country in the world!

This is because of a WTO rule which, says that, in the absence of a broad trade agreement, a country cannot discriminate between WTO member countries in the rate of tariffs it charges on goods coming from those countries (the most favoured nation rule).

So, in the absence of a trade deal with the EU, the UK must charge the same tariffs on Irish goods as it would  charge on goods coming from any WTO members, with whom it has no trade deal, which, on the day it leaves the EU without a deal, would be every WTO country!

If it attempted to discriminate unilaterally, the UK would be bound to be taken to the WTO court by some or all of the WTO countries who would not be getting the same concessions.

The UK is a trading nation. As such, it benefits from a rules based world trading system. So it would not be in the UK’s interest to start breaking WTO rules on the day it left the EU, just to solve a problem that is of its own making.

SAVING LIVES BY GIVING RESPECT TO THE TWO ALLEGIANCES IN IRELAND

The other big reason for having an “Irish” backstop”, and for avoiding a hard border, is about human beings, rather than just about commerce.

For the past four centuries two communities, with different allegiances have lived together, geographically intermingled, in the Irish province of Ulster.

One community feels a sense of allegiance to Britain, its monarch, its historic narrative and its flag. The other feels an allegiance to Ireland and identifies itself with different historic narrative and different symbols. The two communities have different religious allegiances too but the disagreements between them are not primarily about religious matters, they are all about national identity.

For centuries, the contest between these two identities was a zero sum game.  Either the British identity had to win, or the Irish identity had to win. That zero sum approach led to wars, threats of wars, or uprisings in 1641-51, 1689-1691, 1798, 1867, 1911, 1916, 1919-23, 1939, 1956-7, and 1969-1998. These conflicts caused many casualties in Ireland, and in Britain too.

British and Irish political leaders have for the last 40 years been trying to find a different way forward. Rather than a zero sum game, where if one identity won, the other had to lose, these leaders sought to create conditions in which both identities could coexist comfortably together within Northern Ireland, without either of them winning or losing.

The aim was to ensure that neither would feel cut off from their focus of their emotional allegiance. The nationalists would not feel cut off from Dublin, and Unionists would not feel cut off from London or the “mainland” as they would call it.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 achieved this. Crafted between Ireland and the UK, when both were members of the barrier free EU, it created structures to create a comfort zone for both communities.  This was done through establishing three interlocking structures of cooperation, incorporated in an over arching international Treaty, namely

  1. power sharing within Northern Ireland,  
  2. cooperation between North and South and
  3. cooperation between Dublin and London.

On the strength of this Agreement, Ireland changed its constitution to remove a  territorial claim it had on Northern Ireland.

Now, 20 years later, the UK’s decision to leave the EU puts these structures at risk, because, for the reasons I explained earlier, Brexit requires barriers to go up between the UK and Ireland, where previously there was free exchange.

This is why, at a meeting in London, long before the Referendum, I described Brexit as an” unfriendly act”  by the UK vis a vis my country.

The backstop is simply an effort to mitigate the damage. It is a second best option…… and a bad second best at that.

The only option that will not damage the structure of peace, we have so painstakingly built between Ireland and Britain, and within the island of Ireland, would be for the UK to decide to stay in the EU after all.

THE 1918 ELECTION IN IRELAND

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at an event marking the centenary of the 1918 General Election in Ireland, in Wynn’s  Hotel, Dublin at 11 am on Saturday 15 December.

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A DECISIVE RESULT……….WHAT THE NATIONALIST PARTIES PROMISED

The background to this Election was the end of the Great War.

The UK Prime Minister had called the Election very quickly after active hostilities ceased, to exploit the good feelings, and relief that the War had finally been brought to a victorious conclusion by the Allies.

The War was a particular factor in Ireland because of the conscription crisis of early 1918.

Conscription applied on the island of Britain, but not the island of Ireland, from 1916. The big German offensive of 1918 created a panic in the UK government. Manpower was running short, and the Americans were slow arriving at the front. So, unsurprisingly, Lloyd George was under political pressure, in Scotland, Wales and England, to extend the same conscription to Ireland as applied in the other countries.

In March 1918 he announced his intention to do so, which caused a convulsion in Ireland.

Until this announcement, the Irish Party had been holding its own politically. Sinn Fein had lost by elections to the Irish Party in South Armagh, East Tyrone and Waterford City early in 1918. Lloyd George changed all that.

His conscription threat then drove Irish Party voters into the arms of Sinn Fein in the second half of 1918.  If the election had been held over until the Spring of 1919, and things had cooled down over conscription which didn’t happen anyway, the result in Ireland might not have been so dramatic.

At the time of the December 1918 Election, a Peace Conference was soon to be convened by the victors of the Great War in Versailles.

As far as Ireland was concerned, in anticipation of the Peace Conference, great expectations had been raised by speeches by President Woodrow Wilson, containing strong declarations in favour of the principle of national self determination. The concept of self determination acquired a quasi religious status in some quarters.

As President Wilson was to discover, when he got down to work in Versailles, this concept of national self determination was difficult to apply when people, with fundamentally different identities and national allegiances, lived together in the same geographic area, as was, and is, the case in Ulster, and in many other parts of Europe, to this day.

In the 1918 Election in Ireland, Sinn Fein got 46.9% of the votes cast, Unionists got 28.5% and the Irish Parliamentary Party got 21.7%.

For this Sinn Fein won 73 seats, Unionists 26 (including one in Dublin), and the Irish Party only 6 seats ( a poor showing for 21% of the vote).

These percentages do understate the Sinn Fein support, because 25 uncontested seats were won by Sinn Fein. If these had been contested, and Sinn Fein voters in those constituencies had to come out to vote, Sinn Fein’s overall national vote share would have been higher, probably well above 50%.

On the other hand, there are credible allegations that intimidation played a part in ensuring that Sinn Fein would not face a contest in these seats. Irish Party meetings were broken up in Cahir, Rathmines, Bohar in Louth, Jonesboro Co Armagh, Moate Co Westmeath, Clones, Gorey, and Castleblaney.  Candidates who had agreed to stand for the Irish Party backed out in face of this activity.

The PP of Kiltimagh, Dr O Hara, told John Dillon of

“young roughs going around the roads  at night saying they will burn down any house that will vote for Dillon and threatening to destroy cattle”.

On polling day, Republican “peace patrols” stood outside polling stations, and it is claimed they discouraged thousand of Irish Party supporters from going to vote.

I owe some of this information to research done by the late Proinsias MacAonghusa, published in the “Irish Times” many years ago.

I myself knew a man , a 1916 veteran, who was reputed to have voted 40 times for Sinn Fein, in the names of different people.

Indeed the Irish Party has come under a lot of pressure not to contest the election at all, from former supporters like the Bishop of Raphoe. To his eternal credit, the Irish Party Leader, John Dillon, told the bishop that “one should not abandon principles for popularity or unpopularity”

The system of election, the straight vote in single member constituencies, meant that Sinn Fein won more seats, and the Irish Party proportionately fewer seats, than would have been the case under Proportional Representation. Under PR, I guess Sinn Fein might have won 60 seats, Unionists (including Labour Unionists and Independents) 26, and the Irish Party perhaps 19.

Under PR, Sinn Fein would still have got a land slide, but the Irish Party would not have suffered a virtual wipe out.

It is also important to point out that, among the 26 seats won by “Unionists”, 3 were won by Labour Unionists (mainly in Belfast) and one by an independent Unionist. The disappearance of Labour Unionism shows that, in some respects the sectarian divide in urban Ulster is deeper now than it was in 1918.

It is also worth mention that Southern Unionists contested the 1918 Election as such, winning seats in Trinity and Rathmines. That bridge between the traditions lost its value after 1918.

I would like to look into the differences in policy between Sinn Fein and the Irish Party, and reflect on how far the victors were able to go in fulfilling their promises.

SINN FEIN

Sinn Fein said it would withdraw Irish representatives from Westminster because, they said,

“the present Irish members of the English Parliament  constitute an obstacle to be removed from the path to the Peace Conference”

As I said earlier, a Peace Conference was soon to be convened by the victors of the Great War in Versailles.

Sinn Fein condemned the Irish Party for having

“contemplated the mutilation of our country by  partition”

This is a reference to John Redmond having agreed  in 1916 with Edward Carson to a temporary opt out from Home Rule for some Unionist majority counties in Ulster, as a price for having Home Rule introduced straight away for the rest of the country with Carson’s consent. This deal did not go through because it was vetoed by the Conservative elements in the War Cabinet. Lloyd George may also have been saying different things to different people.

The Sinn Fein manifesto did not address the existence of a Unionist minority in Ireland. Instead it spoke of

“a unity in a national name, which has never been challenged”

This seems to ignore the challenge posed by Ulster Unionism to the 32 county concept of the nation. Ulster Unionism was just ignored, as if it did not exist. This form of blindness to the existence of the “other”  is reappearing now in the context of Brexit.

The Sinn Fein manifesto took a very fundamentalist view of sovereignty, which left no room for compromise.

It called for

“untrammelled national self determination”

and said it would oppose every candidate who does not accept this principle.

To its credit, it followed through on this commitment to oppose who did not agree with it, and contested seats in Belfast. It did very badly. Sinn Fein got 3% of the vote in Pottinger, 4% in Victoria, 9% in Woodvale and just 1.89% in Duncairn.

Sinn Fein’s leader, Eamon de Valera was also defeated by the Irish Party’s Joe Devlin by 72% to 27% in the Falls constituency.

Sinn Fein added that that the right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence

“rests on immutable natural law and cannot be made subject to compromise”.

This explicit “no compromise” mandate was later to prove troublesome. Some members took it very seriously in 1922 and it helps explain the Civil War. The concept of “immutable natural law” had a particular religious provenance.

As to the methods to be used to achieve its goals, Sinn Fein was fairly explicit.

They said they would use

“any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection  by military force or otherwise”

That can be construed as seeking a mandate for war, and it was interpreted as such by the IRA.

But the sentence could also perhaps be read advocating resistance British military force (passively or otherwise), rather than initiating violence, as the IRA did at Soloheadbeg the following month.

Did the majority of the Irish people know they were voting for war?

THE IRISH PARTY

The Irish Party manifesto was published on 11 October 1918, while the Great War was still on, but rumours were circulating of imminent German collapse and of the abdication of the Kaiser.  

It said that

“ the country must be prepared for a General Election about the end of November or the first week in December. This will be the most critical and fateful in its effect for the future of the country since the Union.”

It called for national unity on the basis of the policy that underlay the “New Departure” , which brought the physical force and constitutional traditions together to win Land Reform and other improvements.

It said it

“would not hold before the Irish people an ideal and an object which it knew to be impossible”

Events were  to bear out the wisdom of this caution.

The Irish Party committed itself to be

“an independent pledge bound party in the House of Commons taking no office under any British government and whose  dominating purpose must always be the recovery of Ireland’s national rights……and a vigorous agitation on rational lines”

It defined its objects as

“the establishment of  national self government for Ireland , including complete executive , legislative, and fiscal powers”

This went well beyond the Home Rule Act, which was already on the statute book and was due to come into effect automatically one  hostilities in Europe were formally ended as they were in 1919 at Versailles. The reference to fiscal powers included , inter alia,  a right to charge customs duties on good coming into Ireland from Britain. This involved withdrawing Ireland from the Anglo Irish Customs Union, which then existed, and this seems to have been a point on which both nationalist parties agreed.

The Irish Party criticised Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy which it said would

“simply hand over  the representation of Ireland  in the House of Commons to the followers of Sir Edward Carson”.

Perhaps a similar mistake is being made today.

Like Sinn Fein, the Irish Party said it would present Ireland’s case at the forthcoming Peace Conference but added that the chance of getting a hearing would depend on the goodwill of America and the Allied dominions. This was realistic politics.

Germany was about to lose the War and the Irish Party argued that sending to Versailles people who had been allied with Germany as recently as  1916 was not best calculated to get a hearing for Ireland from the victors.

In this respect, the Irish Party Manifesto was prescient. The Irish Party might have been more successful representatives of the Irish cause in Versailles, because they had not allied themselves with the enemies of those who had won the war, at such cost.

ASSESSMENT OF THE RIVAL MANIFESTOS

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, one must conclude that the Sinn Fein policy of abstention had substantial downsides.

When the Government of Ireland Act came to be introduced in 1920, providing for the permanent partition of Ireland, there were very few Irish nationalist MPs present to object to it…just six MPs with little influence.

It is important to remember that the majority rule Stormont Parliament was created by this 1920 Act, and, thanks to Sinn Fein abstention, there were virtually no Nationalist MPs left in Parliament to probe the dangers of this new Stormont Parliament.

A high price has also been paid for the fact that Sinn Fein, in its Manifesto, emphasised its unwillingness to compromise on what it saw as Ireland’s right to self determination based on natural law.

The electorate’s support for this “no compromise” approach undoubtedly made life difficult for the Treaty negotiators in 1921 and contributed to the Civil War and to much subsequent strife.

If the Irish Party’s approach, of “vigorous agitation on rational lines”, had received more electoral support, the Treaty negotiators task might have been easier.

As we cope now with the prospect of the UK leaving the EU Customs Union, it is interesting to note that one of the big differences between Home Rule and the Treaty was that the Treaty involved the Irish Free State leaving the Anglo Irish Customs Union, whereas, in deference to Ulster, the 1911/14 version of Home Rule would have kept full free trade between the two islands.

Departure from the Customs Union turned a soft partition into a hard partition.

The uncompromising nature of the Sinn Fein mandate of the 1918 Election was elevated to unsustainable heights in subsequent debates, and that made life difficult for years to come.

There are some similarities here to the over interpretation, in our neighbouring island of the Brexit mandate of 2016.

Electoral mandates, however big, do not relieve the politicians who get them of the duty to be realistic about what can actually be achieved afterwards.

HIGH NOON IN BUENOS AIRES

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

Will a deal be possible in 90 days time?

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

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

He has threatened further measures to follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEORGE HW BUSH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS NO BREXIT  DEAL?

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

I have extracted some of the interesting quotations from it.

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

BORDER CHECKS

The Commission paper says

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

It adds

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

and says that

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

THE IRISH CASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

78 DETAILED PAPERS AVAILABLE

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

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

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

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

AIR TRANSPORT DISRUPTIONS

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

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

ROAD TRANSPORT DIFFICULTIES

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

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

COLLECTION OF DUTIES AND TAXES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANIMAL AND PLANT HEALTH CHECKS WILL BE NECESSARY

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

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

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

 

UK LABOUR STANCE ON BREXIT WILL BE CRUCIAL

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

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

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

Here the stance of the British Labour Party is crucial.

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

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

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

LABOUR’S  “SIX TESTS” ARE BESIDE THE POINT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND WHAT HAPPENS IF LABOUR DEFEATS  THE DEAL IN PARLIAMENT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TWO OPTIONS…BOTH DIFFICULT

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

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

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

THE GREAT WAR AND IRELAND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 39% of those in Munster were unemployed,

 23% of those in Connacht, and

 17% of those in Leinster.

 

WHY DID IRISHMEN VOLUNTEER?

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

Some did so because they believed the cause was just.

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

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

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

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

WHAT HAD BEEN ACHIEVED WITHOUT WAR

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

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

Other achievements were

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

WARS CONTINUED AFTER THE WAR

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

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

Before the War, multi ethnic Empires operated relatively peacefully.

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

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

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

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

The Russian Empire contained minorities too numerous to list.

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

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

THE LEGACY IS STILL WITH US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demobilised soldiers know no other trade than war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT WHY DID IT HAVE TO HAPPEN?

COULD IT HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?

But why did the First World War come about?

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

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

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

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

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

But it was only a possibility.

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

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

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

But none of these things happened.

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

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

LESSONS FOR TODAY

Some of the issues involved are still current.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • making,
  • interpreting, and
  • enforcing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“dangerous to the stability of the Polish legal order”

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

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

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

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

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

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