John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: Ireland (Page 1 of 5)

WHAT DOES THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT REALLY MEAN?

HOW MIGHT THE CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS OF NORTHERN IRELAND BE CHANGED?

HAVE THOSE WHO CALL FOR IRISH UNITY REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT THEY MEAN?

 

I have just finished reading “Beyond the Border….the Good Friday Agreement and Irish Unity after Brexit” by Richard Humphreys. Richard Humphreys is an Irish High Court Judge and was a legal advisor to the FG/Labour/DL government.

The book explores the meaning if the Good Friday Agreement. It explains that its terms will still apply after Brexit, and would still apply, even if Northern Ireland ceased to be part of the UK and joined a united Ireland.

The Agreement’s requirements mean that the Stormont institutions, its protections for minority interests, and its requirement of respect for both identities would continue after unity.

The author favours Irish unity, but acknowledges that there will be a continuing UK interest in Ireland even if this happens.

He presumes there would be support for unity in the Republic. In this, he relies on Article 3.1 of the Irish constitution which states this to be the “firm will” of the Irish people, if consent has also been obtained in Northern Ireland.

He argues that a 50% +1 vote majority, in a poll in Northern Ireland, is sufficient to bring this about. Legally, this may be so, but that is hardly enough.

It is really surprising that the Brexit experience, of setting out on a major constitutional change, on the strength of a narrow majority in a referendum, has not prompted some rethinking on the author’s part.

He does not explore the extra taxation that might have to be paid by the southern taxpayer to replace the current UK subsidy to Northern Ireland, in the event that sovereignty moved from Westminster to Dublin.

Nor does he even mention the potential extra security provisions that would be made by the Irish taxpayer, to enforce Irish unity of any kind in places like Ballymena, East Belfast and Portadown (unless, of course, the locals wanted it). After all, effective democratic government requires more than just the will of the majority, it also needs, at least the passive, assent of the minority.

Faced with these realities, the “firm will” for unity in the Republic might not be so firm after all.

These omissions expose the limitations of a purely legalistic approach

Judge Humphreys deals with the things an Irish government would have to do to recognise the “British identity” of Unionists within Ireland.

He argues that these things should be done, in any event, and long in advance of any border poll, and not used as a bargaining counter in negotiations with unionists.

He suggests, for example, reactivating Irish membership of the Commonwealth.

He points out that, under the Good Friday Agreement in the event of unity, Unionists should be able to retain UK citizenship while also being able to avail of all the rights of Irish citizenship.

My own sense is that active East/ West cooperation on joint projects with Britain would be a big help to mitigate a Unionist sense of isolation, whether or not Irish unity is being contemplated.

In that sense the reactivation of the British/ Irish Intergovernmental Conference this week is an important step, especially as Brexit is otherwise going to wider the gulf between us substantially, hard border or not. Ireland and Britain need to think creatively about things we can do together, post Brexit.

One also has to ask whether the fact that the Irish constitution designates the Irish language, as the first official language, and the priority language for constitutional interpretation, is a provision that accord parity of esteem to the Unionist identity.

Irish nationalists have been successful in insisting that the upholding of the Good Friday Agreement be a central part of the EU negotiating position in the Brexit negotiations.

Are nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland are showing a similar commitment to operating their own part of the Agreement?

It is worth remembering what all parties are committed to. The Agreement says

“ We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement”

Given the difficulties there were in agreeing a budget for Northern Ireland, and given the collapsing of the Executive because of disagreements about the Irish language and Ulster Scots, one has to question the commitment of both Sinn Fein and the DUP to the Agreement and their respect for their pledge.

This is a serious book, and will prompt readers to examine their preconceptions about a topic that will be with us for years to come.

 

James Patrick Farrell


JP Farrell was an MP for West Cavan and later for North Longford from 1895 to 1918.

In this the centenary of the end of his parliamentary career it is right that his parliamentary service be remembered.  We should remember those who, like JP Farrell, lived for Ireland and not just those who killed or died for Ireland. Why is this?

WHAT SHOULD WE COMMEMORATE?

Commemorations are about shaping the future by selecting events from our past that provide useful guidance for the future.

We should reflect on something President John Kennedy once said.

He said a

“nation reveals itself  by the events it chooses to commemorate.”

Ireland today is a rule of law based, parliamentary, democracy. It has integrated itself with its European neighbours, by peaceful negotiation and compromise, without the use of force. It is militarily neutral, and the military power is subordinate to the civil power.

This is what we are.

Yet, if , year after year, we commemorate events in which people were killed, or where people took the law into their own hands,  and neglect what was achieved by non violent methods, we are ignoring President Kennedy’s advice. We are not reflecting what we are, or what we hope to be.

We are not only distorting our history, we are also providing poor guidance to future generations about how they should go about making Ireland a better and more harmonious place to live in the future.

That is why this event, commemorating a life of constitutional agitation and parliamentary service, is so important and timely.

SHOULD WE NOT PRIORITIZE PARLIAMENTARY AND PEACEFUL ACHIEVEMENTS?

We should instead seek inspiration from the, non violent, parliamentary  achievements of a century ago, of people like JP Farrell MP.

They include

  • the enactment of Home Rule,
  • the ending of landlordism ( a cause with which JP Farrell was particularly associated),
  • the establishment of the National University  
  • the introduction of old age pensions
  • the provision of public housing through the Labourers Acts and
  • National Insurance…

all parliamentary, and non violent achievements, in which the Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond, John Dillon,  Joe Devlin, and the man we remember today, JP Farrell played a big part.

If one scrutinises the record of debates in the House of Commons, now available on line, one gets a sense of the practical patriotism of the (unpaid) Irish MPs who travelled to London to represent their constituents and their country.

As we will hear from his great grandson and biographer, Dr Joseph Quinn, JP Farrell was a particularly assiduous MP.

He raised such issues in Parliament  as telephone connection to Longford, the division of estates by the Land Commission and the export of hay. He served this area very well.

He also had to overcome great hardships, being effectively orphaned at a very early age. As well as his service as an MP, he founded the “Longford Leader” newspapers and other business enterprises.

John Bruton, former Taoiseach, speaking  in St Mel’s College Longford after the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the  work of JP Farrell MP at 8pm on 31 May 2018

 

WHAT IS THE IRISH DEFINITION OF HUMAN RIGHTS?

ARBITRARY LIMITS BEING SET IN ABORTION  REFERENDUM DEBATE

What human rights should be protected in our constitution?

Is a right to life not the primary human right, in the sense that without it other human rights could not be exercised?

Who is human? If a baby before it is born is human, ought it have human rights?

These are the issues at the heart of the Referendum on the 8th Amendment.

In 1982, Garret FitzGerald, Leader of Fine Gael, told the party’s Ard Fheis;

“All life, whether of citizens or of people of other nationalities, whether born or unborn, should be protected by our constitution”.

This carefully worded statement was one of fundamental values, going to the heart of Garret FitzGerald’s, and Fine Gael’s, political tradition.

As one of his successors, I was often asked what Fine Gael stood for, and my answer was that the party stood for three things, for a society in which “every person counts”, for exclusively constitutional politics, and for European unity. I added that “every person” included babies before birth.

These three principles were consistent with, and flowed from one another. Protection of human life necessitated the avoidance of violent conflict in Europe, and also lay behind the party’s commitment to constitutionalism in Irish politics. Respect for human life, born and unborn, foreign or native, was at the heart of our entire approach to politics.

The idea that a constitution should protect human rights is, in fact, fundamental to our western civilization. Without a right to life, one cannot exercise any other constitutional rights. The right to life is thus the primary human right.

For example, the Irish constitution also explicitly recognises a right to freedom of expression, to one’s good name, to property and to elementary education.  But none of those constitutional rights can be exercised, if one had not first had the right to be born.

The Irish courts have gone further and have decided that the constitution creates other rights, not explicitly mentioned in the constitution, so called “unenumerated rights”.  These unenumerated constitutional rights include a right to marry, a right to procreate and a right to bodily integrity. Again, it would be impossible to exercise any of those rights, if one had not first had a right to be born.

It was also in that pro life spirit, that the Irish people also decided that the Irish constitution should ban the death penalty, even for heinous crimes. Our strong public, and private, support for life saving aid to Third World countries is also derived from the same pro life convictions among the Irish people. An avoidable death of a baby in Africa is a pro life challenge too.

Indeed, at the time the 8th Amendment was introduced, there were many who argued that it was not needed, because a child before birth would be deemed by the Irish courts to enjoy a right to life anyway, an unenumerated right so to speak, because without it, it would not be able to have to exercise the other rights to which it would be constitutionally entitled.

Unfortunately, that is not the way things have turned out. The Supreme Court has decided recently that a child in the womb has no rights at all, except the basic right to life contained explicitly in the 8th Amendment. Now even that may be taken away if a majority vote Yes on 25 May.

Abortion ends a life. Once it has happened there is no going back, no recovery. It is final.

Yes, there are tragic pregnancies, and difficult consequences flow from them. But at least there is some possibility to remedy, or alleviate, some of those consequences. But no remedy is open to the unborn child whose life is ended. It is over before it has properly begun.

The taking of the life of another, without its consent, can never be a private matter, for a woman or for a man. It is inherently a matter of public policy. Indeed, if human rights are to mean anything, any denial of the human rights of another person is necessarily and always a matter of public policy.

I have to say I have a real difficulty understanding the concept of human rights espoused by the proponents of abortion legislation.

It seems that some of them believe a baby, before birth, is not really human at all. Thus it would not have human rights, including a right to life. The idea here seems to be that, because an unborn baby is totally dependent on its mother, it is therefore not yet human, and has no human rights.

But dependency is part of life, and not a sound ground for denying the humanity of anyone. Babies after birth, and older people at the end of their lives, are deeply dependent too. They could not survive on their own.

But, to date, no one is suggesting they should not have human rights. If a two day old baby is human, and has a right to life, why not little girls and boys three months before they are born? What is the ethical and scientific basis for saying one has human rights, and the other does not?

I was very disappointed that the Oireachtas Committee was not asked to explore these fundamental questions of what it is to be human, who is human, and who should have human rights, before making its radical recommendations.

Without such a discussion, the referendum is premature. As a society, we must agree amongst ourselves on the basis and scope of human rights in Ireland, before making a decision to withdraw the most fundamental of all human rights from a section of our people.  We have not done that. That is why I urge people to vote “No” on 25 May.

BREXIT…AN ONGOING SOURCE OF FRICTION

“The problems of Brexit will not end, but will intensify, after Brexit day.

It is unclear in what the direction the UK is setting sail, but clearly it will be moving further and further and further away from its closest neighbours. This will have cultural and political, as well as economic, consequences.

The Withdrawal negotiations, and the negotiation of some kind of replacement UK/EU relationship, will divert limited talent and time from constructive purposes, in the civil services and parliaments of  all of Europe for years to come.

That is a tragedy, inflicted on all of Europe by one country, notwithstanding that country having had a voting say in the EU for the last 44 years.

It is not as the EU has not already enough to do, apart from Brexit, on issues like

  • migration
  • rule of law,
  • eurozone governance reform,
  • relations with Russia,
  • defence policy, and
  • the completion of the single market.

Ireland must contribute vigorously to EU action on all these questions.

We cannot just talk and think about Brexit, however tempting that may be.

I fear the negotiation of a new Agreement, which will take years, is liable to generate new sources of friction between, and within, both the EU and the UK. 

EU unity in the negotiations, and the initiative power of the Commission which underlies that unity, should be supported”

 

MRS MAY’S SPEECH

My first reaction, watching Theresa May’s speech, was that The UK is going to put itself, and all the other EU countries, to a lot of trouble, so that it can leave EU, and then simultaneously rejoin it in selected areas.

It wants a partnership with the EU on Customs, on state aid and competition, on transport, on energy, broadcasting, financial services, atomic power, aviation,  on the enforcement of court judgements and a long list of other fields.

As an EU member today, it already has a partnership with the 27 countries of the EU on all these things. This was worked out painstakingly over 45 years of UK membership of the EU. It now wants to tear that up and negotiate a new partnership on all these different questions. And it wants to get the job done within two years.

All this is being done in the name of “taking back control”, but it looks to me that, in many areas, control is being taken back, only to be given away again immediately. A lot of work, for very little product!

Just as Gordon Brown had five “tests” for joining the Euro, which were so loose that he could interpret them any way he liked, Theresa May has five tests for an acceptable Brexit outcome, which will mean different things to different people. In fact, they sounded more like the introduction to an election manifesto, than a prism through which to measure the success of a negotiation on some of the most technical and specialist of legal topics.

Originally the UK was promising a frictionless border in Ireland. Yesterday, Mrs May seemed to retreat from that, speaking of a border that would be

“as frictionless, as possible”.

Her idea of a Customs Partnership, to avoid a hard border in Ireland, seemed like a smuggler’s charter.

She envisages the UK having different rates of tariffs on goods entering the UK, to the tariffs charged on goods entering the EU.  That is the whole point of leaving the Customs Union. She then suggests that the UK would charge the UK tariff on goods “intended” for the UK, and the EU tariff on goods passing through the UK but “intended” for an EU country (most likely Ireland).

In this way, she hopes no customs checks would be needed at the Irish border, or in Irish ports. The scope for abuse, and exchanging of goods, seems to be unlimited here.  Consignments could be substituted for one another, and there would be no check on them when they crossed the Irish border. Such an arrangement would very difficult to police, and is unlikely to satisfy the EU Customs Code.

If the EU and the UK are to have different rates of tariff,  her idea of exempting what small businesses along the Irish border from any control at all seems like an invitation to smuggle.

Presumably, Mrs May will want the EU Customs Code amended to take on her ideas. But if that is done, similar concessions will be demanded along all the other borders to which the Customs code applies, such as the EU borders in Eastern Europe. Mrs May should not forget that whatever she negotiates will have to be approved by all 27 EU countries

The most valuable test that Mrs May wishes to apply to a Brexit agreement is that it should be one that would endure, and not require constant renegotiation.

But she said things elsewhere in her speech that will make it very difficult to pass that test.

She stressed that any Trade Agreement with the EU could be changed afterwards by the UK Parliament. That is a recipe for instability. At the moment the UK Parliament cannot over rule an EU rule to which the UK had previously agreed. After Brexit, that would longer be so, and, as result, business would know that everything about any future UK/EU trade agreement would be subject to the vagaries of British politics. British politics has already forced the UK to renege on 45 years of Treaty based agreements with the EU. So a mere Trade Agreement in future will not be a solid base for investment.

Every time the UK Parliament tries to go back on something in the Agreement, there will have to be a new negotiation.

Furthermore, Mrs May ruled out the UK Courts accepting the decisions of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on many disputed matters. The best she could say is that the UK Courts would “look at” ECJ rulings, before making their own British decisions.  That means that UK interpretations will gradually diverge from standard EU/ECJ interpretations. When that happens, renegotiation will be inevitable.  

She advocated, instead of accepting ECJ jurisdiction, the idea of an “arbitration mechanism” that would be independent of the EU and the UK. That might work for a country which trades a limited number of products with the EU.  But Mrs May herself said that she wants an agreement with the EU that would cover more subjects that any trade agreement anywhere else in the world.

An arbitration mechanism, covering the vast range of EU’s dealings with the UK, if it is to be truly independent, would soon become a rival to the ECJ. It could develop a different interpretative philosophy to the ECJ.  That would undermine the common legal order of the EU, and is unlikely to be accepted.

One of the tests that Mrs May set for an acceptable Brexit, was that it would be one that would strengthen the Union between the four “nations” that make up the UK.

But the process of Brexit itself is having the opposite effect.  In the way the referendum was set up, a majority of English and Welsh “leave” voters were allowed to overrule “remain” majorities in the two other “nations”, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Brexit Referendum was a crude exercise for English power, to satisfy a purely English political agenda.

There is growing dissatisfaction in the devolved Assemblies, including even in Wales, about the way Westminster is making decisions on EU related matters, that are the prerogative of the Assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

It is good that Mrs May’s speech, at last, got into some detail in her speech. This will have had some educational value for her Party. But the text of the Withdrawal Treaty is not yet agreed, and that must be done before the substantive negotiation can begin.

But the fact that the UK has not come up with a legal text of its own, to reflect the agreement Mrs May made in December  on the Withdrawal Treaty with Michel Barnier, but is still criticising the EU version virulently,  shows that we have long way to go on this unproductive and time wasting road to Brexit

 

The EU vote ignored Ireland, but the UK can still change its mind

Let me first try to explain why the handling of Brexit by the UK led to a crisis in Anglo-Irish relations. Treaties between nations are like contracts between individuals. They influence how each party behaves, towards one another and towards the rest of the world. While a contract or a treaty can be withdrawn from, there is a legitimate expectation that this will only be done with careful advance consideration of how this will affect the other parties to the treaty or contract. This is not just a legal expectation, but an expectation of the sort of civility that should apply in relations between people and nations.

One also takes for granted that, if the withdrawing party to a contract wants a new or different contract with the same parties, it will say in advance what it wants that new relationship to be. Even now, Ireland has no clear idea what sort of relationship, compatible with the EU rules the UK helped make, the UK wants with the EU, and hence with Ireland. As the country most affected by Brexit, there is thus deep disappointment in Ireland that our neighbour the UK has not been able, in respect of Brexit, to live up to the normal expectations I have just outlined.

Forty-four years ago, Ireland and the UK signed the same contract with one another, and with the seven other countries that then made up the European Common Market. We each renewed that contract several times, in the UK’s case with the sovereign approval of its parliament. We each expected that the others would continue to honour the contract and we shaped our institutions and our economies on that basis. In particular, when Ireland and the United Kingdom negotiated the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements, to resolve the ongoing conflicts in and around Northern Ireland, we each did so on the unquestioned assumption that the UK would continue to be an EU member.

We each assumed that the freedoms created by membership of the EU could continue to be used to strengthen relations between the two communities in Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Ireland and Britain.

The renegotiation and referendum process that was initiated by David Cameron, which has led to Brexit, seemed to us in Ireland to have been designed in a way that took no account of the obligations and expectations the UK had created in Belfast and at St Andrews.

During the renegotiation phase, the Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, supported Cameron’s attempt to improve the special status the UK already had in the EU, even though some of the concessions the UK were given weren’t in Ireland’s interest.

Irish people saw other problems with the process that led to Brexit. The complex UK/EU relationship was reduced to a simple “Leave” or “Remain” choice. While it was clear what “Remain” meant, no effort at all was made by the government sponsoring the referendum to say what sort of “Leave” it would choose. So “Leave” became a vehicle for fantasies and wishful thinking of the most egregious kind. Explanations of the choices between different forms of Brexit – such as on whether to stay in the customs union and the single market – were left over until the people had already voted.

There was no deliberative process to inform public opinion, something one would have expected of the UK parliament, one of the oldest democratic deliberative bodies in the world. The referendum was not preceded by detailed green and white papers. In the absence of authoritative information, there was no informed debate about the impact of Brexit on the Irish border, and on hundreds of issues.

It is only in the past week that the UK government has started to consider the sort of post-Brexit relationship it will ask for. In doing so, it will have to take account of the fact that the EU works because it is a single legal order, with a single system that makes, implements and adjudicates on the meaning of shared EU rules. The UK has a sovereign right to decide what it would like, but it cannot expect the EU to change its very nature, just to accommodate a country that is leaving.

In preparing its proposal, the UK will need to take into account the Interlaken principles that govern EU relations with third countries, and the EU community customs code, both of which UK ministers helped to draft. When it has done this, the UK government can then compare the special position it already enjoys as a voting EU member, with what the EU will be in a position to offer it as a non-member. Then it can make an informed decision. We are each allowed to change our minds in our private lives if the issue is important enough. Nations might sometimes allow themselves the same privilege.

Opinion @ The Guardian by John Bruton

HOW THE IRISH CONSTITUTION OF 1937 CAME ABOUT, AND WHY IT HAS PROVED SO DURABLE.

A study of all constitutions promulgated since 1789, by the Chicago Law School, found that the average constitution lasted a mere 17 years before it was replaced. By that measure, the Irish Constitution, which will be 80 years old next month, has been a remarkably durable document. Indeed it is now one of the world’s oldest written constitutions.

Eugene Broderick, the author of this book on the subject, attributes the durability of the Irish constitutions to the fact that it can be amended by referendum and reinterpreted through court judgements. In that sense, the present constitution lives up to the standard set for a constitution by Eamon de Valera, in 1933 before he started preparing it, that it should be “not a cast iron constitution, but a flexible constitution”.

According to Broderick, most of the actual drafting of the articles of the constitution was done by the then legal advisor to the Department of External Affairs, John Hearne.

A REDMONDITE WHO WORKED WITH DE VALERA

Hearne is an unusual character. A native of Waterford City, he was a strong supporter of John Redmond, and helped his son, William Archer Redmond to defeat the Sinn Fein candidate in the Bye and General Elections of 1918. Hearne was a prominent public speaker in the campaigns, and earned a name as “the boy orator” of the Irish Party. He was one of a generation of young men, who would have risen to prominence in a Home Rule Ireland, but who had to find another way forward when Home Rule was buried by the violence initiated in Easter Week of 1916.

Hearne’s way forward was initially as a barrister, and then as a legal officer in the Free State army. In 1924, he joined the civil service and remained a civil servant until he retired in 1960. His first post was as Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman in the Office of the Attorney General. He became an expert in international constitutional law, and helped Free State Ministers, like Paddy McGilligan, and Kevin O Higgins, to loosen the bonds set in the Treaty and thereby move Ireland towards full independence, by exclusively constitutional methods. Many of the issues Hearne dealt with in the 1920’s, like the court that should decide final appeals, are coming up again, as the UK tries to unravel its 40 years of legal commitments with its EU partners.

When de Valera won power in the 1932 Election, he admitted that he was surprised by the amount of progress he found had already been made by his predecessors in enhancing the sovereignty of the Irish state.

DE VALERA FELT A NEW CONSTITUTION NEEDED TO A  SOVEREIGN, AND PURELY IRISH, ACT

But he still adhered to his Civil War opinion, that the Free State Constitution, under which he had come to office, was something imposed on Ireland by the threat of force.

Therefore he saw a new constitution, freely adopted by the Irish people in a referendum, as the ultimate expression of sovereignty.

When de Valera sat down to prepare a draft constitution, he did so within a very narrow circle of advisors, and the principal one was John Hearne.

This is surprising given Hearne’s political antecedents. But Hearne had unequalled expertise in the constitutions of other countries, and fully accepted de Valera’s goal of shaking off the remnants of British influence. De Valera and Hearne worked into the late hours, often in Hearne’s home, drafting and redrafting the articles of the proposed constitution.

Broderick deals with the external influences brought to bear on the draft. Ministers, other than de Valera himself, seem to have played little part. De Valera preferred to work with civil servants over whom he had more control, rather than Ministers.

RELIGIOUS ASPECTS SHOULD NOT CAUSE SURPRISE, GIVEN THE VIEWS OF IRISH PEOPLE AT THE TIME

Religious thinking about social matters influenced the constitution for the simple reason that it influenced the Irish people in their daily lives. In the 1930’s, Ireland was a very religious country. In the destructive and nihilistic aftermath of War of Independence, the Catholic faith was seen by many as a better expression of the people’s distinctive identity. That is why it influenced the constitution. Fianna Fail, and all the other parties in the 1930’s, were profoundly influenced by Catholic Social teaching ,so it is not surprising at all that this teaching would have been taken into account.

As a practical politician, de Valera did not want the Catholic Church to oppose the proposed constitution.

This explains the Constitution’s acknowledgment of the Catholic Church’s special position. Some  Catholic church leaders wanted the constitution to say that the Catholic Church was the one true church, but de Valera resisted this.

Broderick says the ban on divorce was not controversial with other Christian churches at the time.

John Charles McQuaid, not yet a bishop but the Headmaster at the time of De Valera’s old school in Blackrock, played little part in drafting the constitution.

BUT THE CONSTITUTION DID NOT ACCOMMODATE THE POSSIBILITY OF A UNITED IRELAND IN ANY PRACTICAL WAY.

This was a constitution written for the 26 counties which de Valera actually governed. It was not designed for a 32 county Ireland. If it was it would have been drafted differently.

As Broderick puts it “Sovereignty took precedence over reunification”. This was realistic, and therefore right, in the circumstances.

Unrealistic aspirations, like reunification and the restoration of the Irish language, were included in the constitution in order to garner support for it in the referendum. The difficulties with these aspirations were ignored and this inevitably led to disappointment and cynicism.

One fault I would find with this book is that it tells us little or nothing about John Hearne’s subsequent career, as Irish Ambassador to Canada, and to the US, and his time as legal advisor to the new Nigerian government in the 1960’s. Apart from the fact that his wife provided sandwiches for Dev for the late night drafting sessions, Hearne’s marriage is hardly mentioned. It is almost as if his life stopped, once the constitution was adopted.

That criticism aside, anyone who wants to understand the genesis of our constitution, should read this important and well-written book.

It is entitled  “John Hearne, Architect of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland” , the author is  Eugene Broderick and the book was published by the Irish Academic Press.

This review appeared in last week’s  “Irish Catholic “ newspaper.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IRELAND, AS DIVISIONS OPEN UP IN WESTMINSTER ON BREXIT……. BUT SINN FEIN STILL STAYS AWAY

Very slowly, the UK public is beginning to learn the implications of the decision they took to leave the EU.

Some of the realities were revealed in the contrasting evidence given last week by the Brexit Secretary of State, David Davis, to one Committee of the House of Commons, and by Sir Ivan Rogers, recent former UK Ambassador to the EU, to another Committee.

The contrast in the two testimonies was remarkable.

David Davis said that he believed the UK could wrap up a Customs and Trade deal with the EU before March 2019.

DUP WOULD TOLERATE A NO DEAL SCENARIO

Pressed by the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, he said that “No Deal” was still an option. “No Deal” would involve the immediate imposition of severe border controls in Ireland from 1 April 2019. Sammy Wilson gave the strong impression that he did not particularly care about this and that he wanted “No Deal” to remain a live option, presumably in the hope that it could be used b the UK as a threat.

There was no Nationalist MP present to point out the devastating effects “no deal” would have on border communities, both unionist and nationalist. This is because elected Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take their seats.

Their absence leaves “No Deal” tolerant MPs, like Sammy Wilson, a clear field to present a false impression of the true interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein ought also ask themselves if the issues on which they are delaying the re-establishment of the Northern Executive are more important to their people than Brexit.

Since the Good Friday Agreement, abstentionism is an out of date policy and undemocratic policy. It deprives the nationalist inclined people in Northern Ireland of a voice or vote when key decisions on Brexit, affecting their livelihoods, are being taken in Westminster.

BREXIT WOULD DEEPEN PARTITION AND SINN FEIN ARE NOT THERE TO VOTE AGAINST IT

Sinn Fein MPs are staying away, even though their votes could swing the decision on key votes in Westminster on the Bill that will take their constituents out of the EU, and deepen the partition of Ireland.

Sir Ivan Rogers, in his testimony, told the MPs that a “no Deal” scenario would be very bad for the Irish economy. This was because 80% of Irish exports go to market either through, or to, the UK. A hard Brexit, that involved heavy controls at ports and border posts, would be devastating for Irish trade.

In contrast to Secretary of State Davis, Sir Ivan Rogers said in his testimony that, far from a UK/EU trade deal being wrapped up by March 2019, negotiations on the detailed contents of such a deal could not even START until the UK had actually left the EU, in other words not until April 2019!

He went on to point out that the “Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement” that the UK would have to negotiate, in substitution or EU membership, would probably have to run to thousands of pages, every line of which would have to be haggled over with the Commission and with the 27 remaining EU states.

This negotiation of a detailed Trade Agreement would have to be foreshadowed in Framework for future relations document, to be agreed between the UK and the EU, alongside the divorce agreement.

UK GOVERNMENT CANNOT EVEN DECIDE WHAT SORT OF FINAL DEAL TO ASK FOR

But the UK government is not in a position to agree within itself on what it would want that Framework to contain. It cannot even discuss the question at Cabinet meetings because it would split the Tory Party irrevocably.

Sir Ivan speculated that, because of this, it would, therefore, be the EU side that would draw up the first draft of the Framework, on which the eventual Trade Deal would be based. But even that can only happen if the UK had agreed to pay its share of all bills incurred by the EU while the UK was still a voting member. That would add £13 billion to UK liabilities.

There is likely to be a big bust up over this money issue in December.

Assuming that is overcome, Sir Ivan said that there was a huge difference between the sort of trade agreement that might eventually be offered to the UK, and the access the UK would have had if it stayed in the Single Market.

The Single Market covers standards as well as tariffs. It has, embedded and agreed, mechanisms for making, enforcing, and adjudicating on the meaning of, those standards. Once the UK leaves the Single Market, the compliance of UK originating goods and services with EU standards could no longer be assumed by EU countries, like Ireland.

This would create immediate new barriers to commerce of all kinds. It could even apply to acceptance of the safety of aircraft owned by UK based airlines.

UK court judgments would no longer be automatically enforced in the EU, and extradition would become more difficult.

This makes the casual attitude of the DUP and Sammy Wilson to the possibility of “no Deal” all the harder to understand, given the DUP’s long standing concerns about paramilitarism.

IMPLICATIONS OF BREXIT BEING HIDDEN

In his testimony, David Davis said that his Department had done studies of the impact of Brexit on 57 different sectors of the UK economy. He said he would not publish these because to do so might “weaken the UK’s negotiating position” with the EU. This means that the UK Parliament and the public are being kept in the dark about the known consequences of decisions they are taking, or are being taken on their behalf.

And there is no MP, and no Executive, from Northern Ireland there to challenge this!

The EU 27 are now beginning work on the sort of Framework agreement it might offer the UK, if the UK first comes forward with adequate proposals on money, EU citizens rights, and the Irish border.

Drawing up the Framework to offer the UK is going to be exceptionally difficult work for the EU, including Ireland. Preserving the integrity of the EU Single Market, and all the investment our continuing membership of it has brought to Ireland, will have to be balanced against access to the UK market and making practical arrangements to take account that the UK and Ireland are beside one another and have a long and porous border.

The trade offs will be really difficult, but it would appear Ireland is better prepared for the discussion than are our neighbours in the UK.

A RECKLESS GOVERNMENT, INFLICTING DAMAGE ON ITS OWN PEOPLE, AND ON ITS NEIGHBOURS

Tony Connelly begins this book about Brexit,

“Brexit and Ireland, The dangers, the opportunities and the Inside Story of the Irish response”

with an apt quotation from the recently deceased American novelist, James Salter, describing a passenger leaving home on a liner pulling away from the quay:

“ a fatal space has opened, like that between a liner and the dock, which is suddenly too wide to leap; everything is still present, visible, but it cannot be regained”.

In 2017, the UK has decided to leave, but is still fully in the EU. We are living the past, but it is over.

Since June 2016, a fatal space between the UK and the EU has opened, and is getting wider every day. The captain of liner feels obliged by a majority of the passengers to leave port, but she is unclear where her ship might dock next. The decision of the majority of the passengers is all that matters to her now.

Tony Connelly’s book thoroughly explores all the possible consequences of Brexit, with particular reference to Ireland.

These will, in some measure, affect every country in the EU. The book deserves to be read in every one of the 28 EU capitals and by everyone whose livelihood depends on trade relations with the EU or the UK. But the effects of Brexit will, of course, be most intensely felt in Ireland.

Geography matters. After Brexit, Ireland will be geographically isolated from the rest of the EU.

Ireland has to export 90% of the food it produces, and 43% of that food goes to the UK. Meanwhile, Ireland imports virtually all its energy via pipelines and cables coming through or from the UK. As Connelly puts it, Ireland feeds Britain during the day, while Britain keeps Ireland warm at night!

All this interdependence would not be possible without agreed standards, and agreed systems for enforcing and adjudicating upon, those standards. These all emanate from the EU and the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The same applies to cross border arrangements for chemicals, aviation, the sale of television programmes, and even transporting horses to and from race meetings.

Once the UK “takes back control” from the EU, and rejects a common adjudication system under the ECJ, the basis of this profitable, and uniquely convenient, mutual traffic between the UK and Ireland, will erode.

Tony Connelly examines how this process will affect every part o the Irish economy, from medical device makers whose UK suppliers will no longer be EU certified, to the mushroom exporters whose perishable products could ace fatal delays getting to UK supermarkets in time.

This book is particularly good in describing the effect of Brexit on the dairy and beef sectors.

It is no mere desk exercise. The author has spoken directly to those involved in each sector. Half the “at risk” jobs in the food sector are in parts of Ireland where incomes are well below the EU average, even though Ireland itself is above that average. In Ireland, the effects of Brexit will aggravate existing inequalities.

Outside the food sector, there is more room to adjust. Connelly cites the example of a Wicklow software business which has been able to reduce its export dependence on the UK market from 70%, to a mere 15%…in just one year.

Meanwhile, based on numerous interviews, he traces the reaction of the Irish government to Brexit.

Initially, there was a focus on discussions with the British, but it soon became clear that there was a limit to the usefulness of this.

The UK did not have a plan.

The collective mind of the UK Civil service did not fully grasp the relationship between the Good Friday Agreement and membership of the EU Single Market by both Ireland and the UK.

This gulf, between the agreed Tory rhetoric about Brexit, and the realities on the island of Ireland was worsened by UK General Election called by Theresa May. Virtually all the MPs, elected by Northern Irish constituencies, either refused to take their seats or are now committed to a deal to support the Tory government on all Brexit issues. Although legally still part of the UK, Northern Ireland has no effective voice or vote, in Westminster, on the Brexit legislation.

The Irish government has inevitably turned to its fellow EU member states, and to the European Commission, to find a way to mitigate the damage of Brexit.

Connelly describes the intense contact between every Irish interest group and the Barnier negotiating team. Barnier understands the Irish issues thoroughly. But that does not mean he can provide reassuring answers.

This is because, as Tony Connelly puts it,

“Everything about the reality, from the EU’s non negotiable Customs Code, to Britain’s determination to do trade deals around the globe, to the phyto sanitary (disease control) requirements, all scream “hard border”.

According to Theresa May, It remains “overwhelmingly and compellingly” in Britain’s interest that the EU succeed.

But the EU is a voluntary Union, and it can only continue to exist if there is willing implementation of agreed rules. As this book shows, the UK Brexit policy is testing that, in a reckless way.

I am convinced that the only way to avoid a really hard Brexit is for the time for the negotiation under Article 50 to be increased from 2 to 6 years.

Yesterday in Parliament, the UK Prime Minister said that a transition period only made sense if there was an agreed concept of what one was transitioning towards. It is impossible for an agreement to be reached on that concept in the next twelve month, especially as there is no agreement within the UK government on what they are looking for! Her statement evoked surprise on the part of people who should have known better.

It was fundamentally reckless of the UK Government to write its legally binding Article 50 letter, without having first agreed within itself on the outline of a viable deal for the UK, that would enable to EU to maintain the integrity of the EU Single Market.

Instead, the UK wrote the letter, and then proceeded to rule out all the viable options that might achieve this, like the Norway model, or the UK remaining in the Customs Union. All ruled out without proper examination or public debate. Meanwhile, studies that the UK Government itself has done on the impact of Brexit on individual sectors of the UK economy are being concealed from the public.

This recklessness of the UK Government will inflict immense collateral damage on Ireland, as Tony Connelly’s book shows in painful detail.

 

 

 

 

 

Liam Cosgrave put country before politics

Article on The Irish Times

His election slogan in the 1973 general election campaign sums up what Liam Cosgrave’s political career was about.

It was: “Cosgrave puts the nation first”.

Before ever he became taoiseach, he had lived up to that claim . . . twice.

In 1970, he obtained information that some ministers in the government led by Jack Lynch had been involved in the illegal importation of arms into the State with a view to their supply for use in Northern Ireland, and that public funds were involved.

It was sensational information, with which he could have gone public to his own advantage, as leader of the opposition and would-be taoiseach. He could have brought the matter to the floor of the Dáil, precipitating a full-blown political and constitutional crisis, and possibly a general election.

He did not take that course. He realised that the institutions of the State are inherently fragile. This was especially so in 1970, when nationalistic passions and political violence were on the increase. Cosgrave wanted this dangerous situation to be dealt with in the most orderly possible fashion, by a government in place.

So he decided privately to notify Lynch of what he had learned, and allow him some space to take action, which he did.

It is impossible to know exactly what might have happened if Cosgrave had never brought this information to Lynch’s attention, but it is certain that the interests of the State would have been put at grave risk.

The second occasion on which Cosgrave put his country’s interests before his own was even starker. This was when, in 1972, he was determined to support the Offences Against the State legislation, promoted by the Fianna Fail government, but opposed by a majority of Fine Gael TDs.

The Fine Gael deputies preferred the approach of the party’s justice spokesman, Pat Cooney, who argued that the legislation involved too great an incursion into basic civil liberties. Cosgrave was on the brink of being ejected as party leader on this issue when public sentiment was altered by a bombing in Dublin which highlighted the risk of subversion. Fine Gael rowed in behind its leader and his position was vindicated.

Cosgrave was not a conventional, consensus-hugging politician. As in the case of the Offences Against the State Act, he was prepared to take great risks on issues on which he held strong beliefs.

He also stood out against his own party in the matter of the electoral system. He did not like proportional representation, believing it led to weak government.

He may have come to this view because of his experience as chief whip of the interparty government of 1948 to 1951, which consisted of five parties and several Independents.

While open to criticism, his decision, in a free vote, to vote against the contraception legislation introduced by his own government showed he was willing to step outside convention on matters on which he held a firm position.

Yet he was a very effective chairman of government.

He was meticulous in ensuring that the commitments given to the LabourParty to induce it to form the coalition with Fine Gael were honoured. He had a good relationship with Labour leader Brendan Corish, forged during their long prior years together as parliamentary colleagues, and their shared interests, particularly in horse racing.

He was a deeply religious man, attending Mass every day, and he believed this life was a rehearsal for something greater.

His stances in 1970 and 1972 showed that had a strong sense of the integrity of the State and its democratically controlled institutions, such as the Army and the Garda. He had no time for paramilitarism of any kind. The State alone had the right to use force. He understood that chaos would arise if that was brought into question. This probably derived from the experience in 1922 of his father, WT Cosgrave, when, before the Free State was properly established, order broke down completely in many parts of the country.

As Fine Gael leader, Cosgrave was tolerant of free speech, dissent and debate within the party, to a degree that would be surprising to modern eyes, which expect political parties to present a smooth veneer of unity at all public party events.

I remember being involved, as secretary of the Fine Gael youth group in the 1967- 1968 period, in tabling publicly controversial motions, with others, seeking to change the name of the party and promoting slates of candidates to oppose outgoing officers supported by the leadership, and then having these matters openly debated and voted upon at the party ardfheis. No attempt was made by Cosgrave or the leadership to close down such debates, presumably because he felt strong enough not to have to do so – very different from the careful message management prevalent today in all parties.

Undemonstrative

Cosgrave’s undemonstrative, matter- of-fact style of leadership was one I sometimes sought, as best I could, to emulate.

But it was the private aspects of his party leadership that I admired most of all. He was exceptionally kind to less experienced colleagues and understood the human vulnerability that is part of political life. I can testify to this from one personal example

In 1976 I had had a particularly torrid day at parliamentary questions, when I was standing in, in succession, for two senior ministers, Dick Burke and Justin Keating, who were away .

My performance was roasted in the following morning’s newspaper by John Healy, then parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times. I was sitting disconsolately in my office reading this bad review when I was told the taoiseach was on the line. My immediate thought was that he was going to tell me he had found someone who could do my job better that I could. I was wrong. Cosgrave had seen the paper, knew exactly how I would be feeling, and phoned be just to tell me not to worry about “all that stuff” and keep on with my work. I have never forgotten that kindness.

Something else is lodged in my mind. It is the pride and togetherness he was able to engender among his followers when he rose to address a party meeting. He gave voice to their thoughts and made them proud to be part of Fine Gael. There was a timeless quality to his oratory. It was almost as if one was listening to history. He was his father’s son, and his father had founded this democratic state. There was a deep continuity.

But there was nothing predictable about his oratory. He could be biting and funny in the same sentence. He was indiscreet and sharp sometimes, but, fundamentally, you knew where you stood with Liam Cosgrave.

For me, and those like me who came into political life under his leadership, there is a deep sense of loss today.

For Mary, Liam T and Ciaran, the loss is all the more intense. To them, to his grandchildren, and to all the extended Cosgrave and Osborne families, I extend heartfelt sympathy.

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