John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: John Bruton (Page 1 of 6)

TALKING ABOUT PEACE IN COVENTRY

I was in Coventry Cathedral recently to speak at “Rising”, the annual Global Peace Forum. The gathering brought together politicians, academics, lawyers and local people who are interested in how lessons, learned in a peace process in one part of the world, might assist in another one elsewhere.

Coventry Cathedral is an inspiring setting for talking about war, and its dire consequences. The original cathedral was heavily bombed in 1940 during World War Two, but, instead of restoring it, the ruins of the old cathedral have been preserved in their post bombing state, as a mute but eloquent testimony to the horror of war. A new cathedral was built beside the ruins of the old one.

Coventry was also the venue for an IRA bomb attack in early 1939.

Among the peace processes discussed at the conference were those in Liberia, Rwanda, Colombia, Bougainville, Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Libya.

Some peace processes have been more successful than others!

I spoke about the Irish case.  The core problem from the beginning was the definition of “self-determination”.

Was it to be self-determination by Ireland as a single unit, or as two or more units?

I said that the uncompromising character of the declaration of a 32 county Irish Republic in the 1916 Proclamation, and in Dail Eireann in 1919, made subsequent compromise by self-declared Republicans very difficult indeed.

As a result, anything less than a full 32 county Irish Republic, was claimed by some of them to be a betrayal of the declarations of 1916 and 1919. That gave them an excuse to go on fighting and rearming.

The solution, worked out in the 1990’s, was a new act of Irish self-determination, in the form of simultaneous, but separate, referenda on the terms of a new Agreement in both parts of Ireland.  This new Agreement, the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement, was approved in the referenda in both parts of Ireland. It has been accepted by most Republicans as a new act of self-determination, replacing those of 1916 and 1919.

The Good Friday Agreement sets up an elaborate system for protecting the minority in Northern Ireland, whether that is a nationalist minority in a Northern Ireland that is still in the UK, or a unionist minority in a Northern Ireland that might, at some time in the future, be in a United Ireland.

Either way, minorities would continue to be protected by the Agreement, and Northern Ireland, as a distinct entity with special rules, would continue to exist.

Given the trouble that was taken to craft this complex settlement, it is irresponsible of the two main parties in Northern Ireland to decline to operate the Executive and assembly which are integral to the Good Friday Agreement. The scale of subsidization of public services in Northern Ireland by the rest of UK is liable to be questioned, if this refusal to operate the Agreement continues, and there is fiscal crisis in the UK.

 

“ ONE OF US: WHY WE MUST CONTINUE TO PROTECT THE UNBORN”

SPEECH BY FINOLA BRUTON AT THE IONA INSTITUTE ON APRIL 10TH AT 8 PM IN THE ALEXANDER HOTEL DUBLIN.

May 25th may well mark a turning point for this country.

There is effectively only one question before us. Do we or do we not introduce a liberal abortion regime into this country.  This is not about some sing-song “ Repeal the eight “ day out at the polls.

For the most part, this is an agenda driven, ideologically led, media and youth focused attempt to allow for the extinction of the lives of thousands and thousands of our most vulnerable human beings before they have allowed to be born.

The rare cases upon which some pro choice advocates build their case, are really no longer the main issue. What is being proposed is beyond all expectations and has disturbed many middle of the road citizens.

Two leading female journalists, have unequivocally and chillingly stated that they accept that there is a baby in the womb but that that baby’s life must be trumped by a woman’s right to choose.

At least, one could argue, that they are accepting what many others will not accept and that is, what advances in science, have been incontrovertibly telling us for some time now. It is that we can no longer talk about a mere bunch of cells. That often, before a woman even knows that she is pregnant, there is a beating heart, and a rapidly developing little body, a little boy or a little girl.

A MORAL VISION

This referendum is therefore challenging us as a society, to look at our basic moral vision and to examine our attitude to the value of human life.

It is making us ask ourselves the most fundamental questions of all – what does it mean to be human?

Are only some humans to have the most basic of human rights?

The breathtaking proposals that our legislators are envisioning, aided and abetted by the media, are at last stirring that still small voice of conscience in many who have up to now, being slumbering in a fog of moral ambivalence and misplaced, if well intentioned, compassion.

I was taught nearly forty years ago that there were two sorts of moral vision.

The first one saw human life as a spectrum from the moment of conception to death. At every point on the spectrum life is equally sacred. There can be no exceptions or justifications or obfuscations. We cannot modify it in the interests of other values. It is, undoubtedly a difficult path to follow. And often, in the case of abortion demands a heroism that none of us can honestly guarantee we could deliver with certainty. In other words we don’t know, in spite of our genuine respect for the unborn, how any of us might react in difficult circumstances. That fact, however does not alter or take from the prolife commitment to the unborn baby which they believe is truly human.

So powerful are those commitments and beliefs, that remarkable courage -real and genuine courage-has been the hallmark of many prolife groups, here in Ireland and around the world and in particular, of the members of the Iona Institute, headed by David Quinn.

The second vision calls for compromise in moral situations. The individual, views morality as something that pertains primarily to themselves and their own situation. Some prochoice feminists will say that they wish that abortion was never necessary but that women are often the victim of circumstances. Accordingly they advocate that they must look out for themselves and if others get hurt, or die, then it is really not a woman’s fault.  To sober this thought process up, to make this sound acceptable, language is changed, new moral codes are invented. Subjective concepts and feelings, inherently vague anyway, replace the notion of basic human rights. Old wine is rebottled. And compassion is invoked to justify all and sundry. Who could ever have known there was so much of it about?

We are by now well used to these linguistic developments.  We have debated most of the arguments. We depend on a subtly biased media to put forward our simple but uncomfortable and threatening views on the sanctity of all human life and on the human rights of all unborn babies.

DIFFICULT QUESTIONS

There are some issues that I would like put out for further discussion here this evening.

These issues are difficult.

They are ones on which people have different, but often implicit and unstated, values.

But if this is to be an informed and democratic debate, these values need to be made explicit and discussed openly.

When it comes to constitutional rights, are all rights equal? Is the right to life inferior to the right to bodily integrity?

What is our understanding of humanity? Who is human and who should have human rights?

If we are a society that values life, do we accept that the taking of a life will leave emotional scars afterwards on those involved in that decision? Should we not acknowledge this openly before we change our constitution.

As a society, we proclaim our belief in equality as one of our fundamental values. So how can we reconcile that with removing the equal right to life of the unborn from our Constitution?

As a society, we agree that our policies, should” be child centred”. If so, how can we justify leaving the interests of the unborn child out of consideration to abort its life?

As a society, we insist that fathers, as well as mothers, take responsibility for the welfare of their children after birth.  If so, how can we say that fathers should count for nothing in a decision to end the life of one of their preborn children?

None of these are easy issues to discuss.  They can generate anger and hurt and sincere disagreement.

I offer my own views on these questions here ask those who take a different view to tease out the arguments with me and to share their values with me, so we can move forward in mutual understanding and respect.

There are three issues that I would like to develop for further discussion here this evening.

CONSEQUENCES FOR WOMEN AFTER ABORTION

The first issue which has been pushed out of this debate, is the long term consequences of an abortion for the mother herself.

Regrettably, some of the dismissal of these effects by professionals, Doctors and Psychiatrists, over the last few months has been patronising.  It really is a bad reflection on their profession.

Yes, it is true that some people can bury these doubts, in the long and the short term. However, for many others, the consequences have been catastrophic. When I worked as a Counsellor, I have been, for better or for worse, a witness to a number of these traumas. They are not experiences that one would wish to have repeated.

The terrible guilt, the awful grief, the desperate if futile wish that all could be reversed. If only, they could go back. Yet, at every desperate mental and emotional turning, they are told that what they did was for the best. And more harshly, that it was their choice. So, move on!

Yet, in my experience, no one can move on from something that they suspect might not have been the right decision without confronting that decision and acknowledging that they might have made a mistake.

To forbid women to do this, is to place an intolerable burden on their already heavy shoulders. And they often have to carry that burden alone, for the rest of their lives, fearing the hostile judgemental admonitions of an oppressively business like sisterhood.

Our modern culture is a harsh environment for anyone struggling to come to terms with what they sincerely believe to have been an act of destruction, however pressurised or reluctant that decision may have been.

This is a real and genuine medical and health aspect of the abortion debate. Yet, for all the talk of the health of women of women over the last few years, the often long, tortuous road that a post abortion woman has to travel is relegated to a footnote or is simply not spoken about at all. We might well ask is this not, in some respects an echo of the past?

This aspect of her mental health, this constant suppression of a guilt that she may feel, this turning away by those women who have led the prochoice argument, is, in my view, something that we as a society ought to challenge.

Its interesting that, on the one hand, we encourage women to open up about their abusive past, about the trauma of a deprived background, about the loss of their childhood. We suggest that they speak of their adoption experiences and have sought government help for them to seek out their birth mothers. We have commissions and tribunals and even a weekly television programme on lost families. But we do not want to hear from those who regret an abortion.

It seems as if all this compassion and concern is selective, and sometimes self serving, in that it suits other agendas. And we dismiss the hidden distress of those who now find themselves truly alone. Is Closure to be only for the chosen? Are the rest to be deleted from memory? Is this because it does not suit the narrative?

GENDER ISSUES – HALF THE VICTIMS WILL BE GIRLS.

The second issue that I would like to raise is the Gender issue.

Its extraordinary that our very vocal feminist journalists and academics seem blind to the fact that half of those babies they wish to allow to be aborted in Ireland are girls. How do they reconcile this with their notions of equality of treatment? Their own sisters are to be sacrificed on the altar of choice! Their mothers too? Because in time to come, this also will happen.

Drunk on the power of choice, it would seem that all human life is expendable. If we begin by extinguishing the life of the child in the womb, then, all rights ultimately fall.

Some argue that a life can justifiably be extinguished if it is not viable.

If life is not capable of being lived independently, is that a justification for supressing it?  We are getting into very dangerous waters here. What of all of us, who, one day, may not be capable of living independently? The pro abortion advocates like to dismiss this as scaremongering, but the logic is inescapable.  That debate is already underway, shelved for the moment. One step at a time.

REMOVING A HUMAN RIGHT FROM THE CONSTITUTION.

The right to life is the first and most fundamental of all human rights, without which there can be no others. One cannot exercise any other human right, if one is not allowed to exercise the right to live. We cannot say this often enough.  Without being allowed to be born, one can have no civil rights, no free speech, no right to bodily integrity.

We must not forget that this drive to repeal the 8th Amendment is about taking away a constitutional right that is there already. This is unprecedented. The history of our constitution is that additional rights have been conferred either by amendments or judicial interpretation.

This is the first time in Irish history that a constitutional right is being taken away. A profoundly utilitarian view of human life is determining our ethical and moral understanding of what it is to be human.  

THE ROLE OF MEN

The third issue concerns the role of men in the abortion debate, or, to be more accurate, the non involvement or the non engagement of the fathers of our unborn babies. And the distancing of many husbands and indeed older men from the whole issue.

Its an irony that 40 years ago, men were able to walk away scot free from any responsibility towards their pregnant girlfriends. The Feminists railed furiously against this, and with justification.

Today, in an open and free society, where women are visibly involved in every walk of life, where more than one third of all births are to single women, where DNA testing can establish the paternity of unborn babies, it seems as if men have vanished off the face of the earth.

We catch an occasional glimpse of older men, or younger husbands in newspaper reports, muttering about this being a woman’s issue. “ No, they will leave it up to the women”!

We have anecdotally heard about others in shops, pubs, the local chemist, or from their wives, no less, that its do with women’s bodies and God forbid that they should interfere.

The same women who complained all those years ago about men getting off the hook, are actively encouraging them to stay out of this and mind their own…business.” MY body, My choice. “

There are, however, sadly another group of men for whom the silence must be deafening. The fathers who wish to take responsibility for the children whom they have fathered and are as yet unborn. The fathers whose DNA makes up 50% of that of all unborn babies. The fathers, who long to hold and nurture and cherish their children are forced to stand aside, or worse, accompany their girlfriends on a life ending voyage.

For them it’s truly a question of what’s,” His baby too,” is “Her choice only”. His baby, Her choice? Where is the equality in that? Is this not discrimination? It is almost impossible for those souls to speak up as they are knocked down instantly by a battery of, by now, culturally ingrained ideologies and prejudices, that only belong in the domain of the female gender.

We need to hear those male voices. We need to support them if and when they speak. They need to know that not all females will drown them out. They too have an ownership, in so far as it goes, of what happens to that child that they helped to create. They too have rights and responsibilities.

WHAT WOULD REPEAL TELL US ABOUT IRISH VALUES? EQUALITY?

What are the basic beliefs of the Irish people?

Advocates of change in the last referendum on marriage equality, relied on two basic concepts to make their case. These were equality and opposition to discrimination. And, as we know, a majority of the Irish people agreed with them.

It is notable that, in this referendum, many advocates of change, of repeal, are not making their case on the basis of equality or on opposition to discrimination.

This is no accident. What they are advocating now are is inherently discriminatory. They want our constitution to discriminate against an unborn human life. They do not believe that an unborn human should have a right to live, ever to see the light of day, to breath air into its own lungs.

What concept of equality will the Irish people be endorsing if they vote yes to the repeal of the 8th amendment? It would seem that a very inconsistent version of equality is being granted to those who can make their voices heard but denied to those who cannot.

A CHILD CENTRED POLICY

We had another referendum recently on Children’s rights.

That referendum was child centred.

We were told our existing constitution was insufficiently child centred, and needed to be amended to make it truly child centred. We were told that this was necessary so that the Constitution would reflect the values of modern Ireland.

There has been no such ”child centred” approach in this debate to repeal to repeal the 8th amendment. It is not child centred at all. The child is a forgotten entity.

There has been no focus, no emphasis, no mention of the unborn baby at all in the Oireachtas report. It was far from child centred!

In fact, since the 8th Amendment was inserted into our Constitution in 1983, the only focus has been on the mother. Her choices, her rights, her health. That would have been fine, if it had been balanced with the beauty and wonder and health and safety and rights and sanctity of the unborn baby. Sadly, thirty years of neglect, thirty years of the active cultivation of choice over life, thirty years of talking only about the Woman, has led us to this referendum.  

LATE ABORTIONS

In light of the proposed legislation which the Government are framing, there is another question that must be asked.

What will happen when a child in the womb is on the cusp of viability at 23 or 24 weeks?

The Government has indicated that at this point the baby will be delivered alive, rather than killed in the womb first.

But is this really what a humane society does?

When a baby is this premature there is a high chance that the baby will be disabled precisely because it is so premature.

How could any government contemplate such a thing?

And who will look after this baby if the mother doesn’t want to do it?  Will the baby be put into state care, or will some heroic family step forward to adopt the baby?

What will happen just before viability, say at 20 or 21 weeks?

The Committee on the 8th amendment heard what happens in Britain. The baby in the womb is paralyzed first and then poison is injected into its little heart. How can any humane society do this?

What happens to the corpse of the baby? We know that in Britain thousands of foetuses – aborted and miscarried – have been disposed of in hospital incinerators. Will we do that? If not this, then what?  Could a mother bring the body home? What would she do with it?

I would like to know the answers to these questions.

The Irish people need to know the reality of voting Yes.

And how can it be acceptable that the baby in the womb can be a bunch of cells at 11.30 on a Tuesday night and a human being at just past midnight on the Wednesday morning?

These are some of the hard questions that the pro repeal side have not, so far, answered. But they are the questions, that we, the Irish people must all ask, on and leading up to May the 25th.

ADOPTION

I cannot conclude without making reference to another area being neglected in this debate.

That is the topic of Adoption.

Why has it gone out of fashion? Because out of fashion it has gone!

I have spoken to young people who say “OH, I could never give my baby away”.  It seems easier for many to extinguish its little life instead. Fidelma Healy Eames initiative, ‘ADOPTION INSTEAD’, that she launched very recently, is a very welcome development in this debate.

Of course, the sad reality is that it can never come back to ask why it was let die. Yet, many, as already mentioned are haunted by bitter regret after making such a decision.

An adopted child offers a peace, even if tinged with great sorrow, that an aborted baby can never offer.

Adoption exists under our law and it is a child centred, as distinct from an adult centred, solution to an unwanted pregnancy.

CONCLUSION

There are many other aspects of this debate upon which discussion is needed. Unfortunately, the media conversations have largely been in and around procedures and political fallout.  We need to insist on our being given time to deal with what essentially this referendum is all about. A baby, a defenceless little girl or boy, a human being whose life we believe is worth more than a mere choice.

This human being is truly one of us, as the Billboards from The Iona institute around the country remind us.

If the Irish people vote yes, there will be no going back. That is the history of abortion everywhere.

We ask the Irish people to vote NO, to reflect on the life ending consequences of voting YES.

There is and can be no fudge here. Its, ultimately, either YES or NO to the destruction of precious human lives.

For Ireland, this is the most important social justice issue of our times.

 

CAN WE DEAL WITH THE EMOTIONS THAT UNDERLIE BREXIT?

I find it very hard to predict where the Brexit negotiations will end, or indeed if they will ever really end.

UK public opinion is shaped by images from the Second World War era, when Britain was able to stand alone, at least until the United States entered the war on its side.

It is also shaped by a sense that, together with the US, the UK was at the centre of an English speaking world, which had shared interests and affinities that transcended economics.

But in that era, countries were much more self sufficient than they are today. Being an island conferred much more security in 1940 than it does today.

Living standards in the UK and elsewhere were also much lower than they are now, to an extent we find it hard to imagine. So expectations were much lower too. People are less patient nowadays.

The UK was a free trade advocate in the nineteenth century, whereas the US was protectionist.

It was not a golden era. It ended tragically in July 1914.

Prosperity has since made countries far more dependent on one another than they were then. And that interdependence requires a shared set of rules, and one of the rule makers is the EU.

The rhetoric that characterises the UK political debate has not adapted itself to the reality of rule based inter dependence. Nor has the rhetoric of the US debate.

My feeling is that the decision to opt for Brexit was based on a deep seated wish to assert an English sense of identity.

Just as Irish nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth century defined Irishness as being  in contrast with “Britishness”, Englishness today is being defined, in the minds of many in England, as being in contrast with continental Europe, as reflected in the European Union.

I spend a lot of time in book shops, when I am in Britain, and I am constantly struck by the number of books on the shelves about the Tudor era (when Henry XIII rejected continental dictation on who he might marry) and about the Second World War (when Britain stood alone). Books about eras when Britain was comfortable as a part of a wider European system (100 BC up to 1500 AD) seem not to sell as well, or to occupy as much shelf space.

My conclusion from all of this, is that Brexit is an emotional manifestation, rather than a rational calculation.

In the absence of a major crisis, or of an heroic exercise of political leadership in Downing Street, rational argument, on its own, will not reverse the course towards a progressively wider gulf between the UK and the rest of Europe, during and AFTER Brexit.

Part of the problem is that the UK politicians, who argued for EU membership, did so, on grounds of tactical advantage. The EU was presented just one of the many ways the UK used to exercise global influence. The UK never presented itself to itself as fully committed to, or at the heart of, Europe.

Arguments about how Britain was a truly European country, and had made supreme sacrifices to protect the European order in 1914 ,and again in 1939 ,were not presented as examples of how  Britain’s destiny is entwined with the destiny of Europe. The reality of Britain’s geography was forgotten.

The present Brexit negotiation will not be the end of the drama.

Once the UK is outside the EU, and has no vote in EU decisions, the gap between the EU and the UK will become progressively wider.

Post Brexit UK governments will find it all too easy to continue to blame the EU for any setbacks they encounter, especially as they will no longer have any vote in the EU.  If the UK could persuade itself it was a victim of the EU, when it actually had a direct say in EU decisions, it will be all the easier to blame the EU for things that go wrong when it  no longer has a say,

That will lead to constant renegotiation and friction between the EU and the UK, which will be fed by the Euro hostile press in the UK.

England needs an emotional reconciliation with Europe.

European solidarity with the UK over the Russian activities in Salisbury is an example of the sort of thing that can help Britons feel more European.

The crunch moment will come in November.

That is when the full political, strategic, and economic cost of Brexit will become clear.

If the UK is to reverse course, it will need time. An extension of time under Article 50, whereby the UK would remain in the EU while negotiations continued, might be considered. It would be much better than a Transition deal, where the UK is outside but has to apply all EU rules without any say in them.

One might also consider if there are gestures than can be made toward the UK, that do not damage the integrity of the EU, but which would make the UK feel more at home as a member.

Umbrella organisations, like the Commonwealth, may have creative uses here if there is a willingness to use them. The UK itself is a Union of different nations, with certain important unifying symbols. Can similar unifying symbols be found that would enhance England’s sense of belonging in Europe?

 

HUGE CHANGES WILL OCCUR IN THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS

Europe is getting old.

This is happening for two reasons

  • We are living longer
  • We are having fewer children.

Life expectancy in the European Union countries was 67 years in 1950, now it is 80 years. In fact, life expectancy is increasing by 3 months every year.

In 1960, the birth rate was an average of 3 children for every woman. Now it is halved to 1.5 children for every woman.

There are small variations between countries, with a higher than average birth rate of nearly 2 in France, Sweden, Ireland and the UK (in declining order). The lowest birth rate in the EU is in Portugal, followed in order by Poland, Spain, Greece and Italy.

Interestingly, the proportion of woman with work outside the home does not lead to lower birth rates, according to these international comparisons.

Europe’s declining, and ageing, population has had, and is likely continue to have dramatic effects.

Whereas Europeans made up 13.5% of the world’s population in 1960, by 2060 Europeans will only be 5% of the world population. Political perceptions have yet to catch up with this reality.

In 2016, the fastest declines in population (in order) were in Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Belgium and Romania.  But there was some growth in Luxembourg, Sweden, Malta and Ireland. These changes are due to immigration within the EU.

The number of Europeans of working age will fall by 65 million people by 2060.

Unless people retire later in future, this will mean fewer people earning and in a position to pay taxes, and more people retired and receiving pensions and health services, paid for by someone else.

With fewer young people, EU countries will have fewer local people available to work in the health services, in social care, and providing minimal military and police security for European population.

To recruit these young people into services, much higher salaries will have to be paid and/or immigrants will have to be recruited to these jobs.

Human Services, already poor in many countries, are likely to disimprove, and become costlier, unless people providing services are replaced by robots.

Older people will have different priorities to younger people.

They will tend not to be as entrepreneurial as younger people, and to be more risk averse. They will tend to spend more of their income and save less of it.

So we could have fewer innovations, and less capital from saving available to fund them. This combination is a formula for lower economic growth, at a time when demand for the fruits of growth to go on healthcare and pensions will be increasing.

These trends are not, of course, entirely inevitable.

  • European birth rates could increase. In the last few years, they have stopped falling. Women could decide to have children at a younger age. French policy on this issue is worth looking at.
  • Improvement in educational methods and efficiency could mean that young people are ready to working productively, at an earlier age, rather than at progressively later ages, as is the present trend. One must ask if vested interests are behind the ever higher qualifications being required for certain jobs.
  • Retirement ages could be increased. Some countries have already done this. It is not popular because it is seen as reducing pension entitlements
  • Cultural change could lead to greater activity rates, and innovativeness in business, among older people. This could boost economic growth and reduce dependency.
  • Rather than resist immigration, Europeans could start to encourage it, on the basis that we need immigrants, of working age, to staff our hospitals, security services, and pay taxes. Germany is thinking along these lines. But the reverse is happening at the moment.

For example, the EU is entering into deals with countries like Morocco, Libya and Turkey to keep refugees out of Europe, at least until we have figured out a way to integrate the refugees we already have. These deals are in response to voters who have fears about immigration.

Public opinion is divided.  50% of people in Hungary and Poland regard refugees as a burden. But majorities in Germany, Sweden and Spain believe the refugees will eventually make their country stronger.

If immigrants are to help EU countries to maintain a healthy and balanced population structure, we are going to have to give a lot more thought to how best to help immigrants become fully integrated into society, with good links to the native born population.

Workplaces alone cannot bear the whole burden of integrating their workforces, as we see from experience in Northern Ireland of relatively little political and cultural integration between ”Nationalists” and “Unionists”. Work places have perhaps become more specialised and solitary, and opportunities for integration between workmates may be less as a result.

Local communities, and religious, sporting and cultural organisations must play a part too. Where these organisations receive support from public funds, they should perhaps get a little extra if they have a good record of integrating immigrants.

Schools are very important, especially where the language spoken in the home is different from that of the school.

Pre school outreach to mothers of future pupils has been effective in improving literacy, and subsequent school performance, so it might also help with learning English too.

 

PADDY HARTE RIP

 

I wish to pay tribute to the life and political career of Paddy Harte.

Paddy was first elected to the Dail in 1961 and quickly earned a reputation as an original, independent minded, individual who thought for himself about the political questions of the day.

He was supportive of the late Declan Costello in promoting the ideas in the 1965 “Just Society” document, notably on social capital investment.

He was a resolute opponent of republican political violence. Working with Glenn Barr, he sought reconciliation between Nationalists and Unionists on the island, notably through the joint commemoration of the sacrifices both communities made during the First World War. This was often a lonely path for him to follow, and he showed great physical and moral courage.

Statement by John Bruton, former Taoiseach

Radio Interview with Sean O’Rourke


PETER SUTHERLAND RIP

Peter Sutherland was a brave and highly competent Attorney General of Ireland.

He remained committed to this country and helped Irish causes through his exceptional generosity.

In 1984, he was appointed to the European Commission.

Peter was especially proud of his initiative in setting up the Erasmus Student Exchange programme, which has had a profound and beneficial effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Europeans.

In the wake of the passage of the Single European Act, which allowed majority voting on measures needed to establish the EU Single Market. As Commissioner, he negotiated a new legislative procedure which allowed for this and enhanced the role of the European Parliament.

As Competition Commissioner, he was aggressive in pursuing cases of unfair state aid, an activity which sometimes brought him into conflict with the Commission President, Jacques Delors, with President Mitterand and with Mrs. Thatcher. He was unafraid and stood his ground, and vindicated the independence of the Commission.

His most remarkable achievement was, as Director General of the GATT in getting the agreement, at a meeting of 160 nations in Marrakesh in 1994, to the establishment of the WTO.

The WTO established supranational panels to arbitrate trade disputes. It built the foundation for the building of a rules-based international order, in international trade, which has contributed to a quarter century of global prosperity, because the rules protected the weak as well as the strong.

This concern to protect the weak inspired his work for asylum seekers and refugees in more recent times.

He was a man of faith, who showed, through his life, that faith and modernity can be reconciled. His talents brought him great success, but he was always conscious of his responsibility to help others and give back to society.

MANY CONTRADICTIONS REMAIN IN BREXIT AGENDA

The United Kingdom Cabinet is, at last, getting around to discussing the sort of trade agreement it wants to have with the EU after it has left.

It intends to make up its mind by mid January, according to the Sun newspaper.  

The UK Prime Minister has ruled out staying on in the EU Customs Union (like Turkey) or in the Single Market (like Norway).

Although she has ruled out these “soft Brexit” options, Mrs. May has gone much further.

She has committed, in the Joint Report of EU/UK negotiations to “the avoidance of a hard border, including any infrastructure or related checks and controls” at the border in Ireland, and also to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

Customs checks exist at the EU border with both Turkey and Norway, so Mrs. May’s promise in the Joint Report goes beyond either the Turkish or Norwegian options.

It is noteworthy that the UK has not just said that it will not, itself, ever erect a hard border on its own side.  It has committed itself to the “avoidance” of such a border, presumably on either side. That would mean that the UK has bound itself not to adopt any UK policies that would require the EU, under its existing rules, to impose such border controls.

That would rule out devising new and distinctive UK product standards, which Boris Johnson suggested over the weekend. It would also rule out Philip Hammond’s idea of the UK diverging from EU rules on certain technologies.  

HOW WILL INTEGRITY OF EU MARKET BE PRESERVED WITHOUT BORDER CONTROLS?

After Brexit, Ireland will remain a member of the EU Customs Union.

There will be no customs controls between this state and the rest of the EU, at Zeebrugge or le Havre or anywhere else. So where will the customs controls be?

As a member of the Customs Union, Ireland will remain bound by the terms of the EU Customs Code.

The EU Customs Code was agreed in 1992, when the UK was a member of the EU, and the UK will have been fully aware, from the outset, of the obligations of EU member states under it.

Article 2(1) of the Customs Code says it shall “apply uniformly throughout the Community”.

This would seem to imply that it applies right up to the Irish border on this side, unless there is a derogation for Ireland, or the UK agrees, as a non member, to apply the EU Customs Code in its jurisdiction too.

It would be difficult for the UK to reconcile doing this, with the rhetoric used in the Referendum about the UK “taking back control”.

The Customs Code is quite strict. For example, it mandates  “customs offices of entry” at which documents may be lodged, opportunities for collecting information for risk management by the Customs, opportunities to check compliance with rules of origin, and provisions for the unloading of goods to check contents and take samples.

If the UK is to keep its promise not to do things, that would necessitate such controls at either side the Irish border, it will constrain itself in ways for which UK public opinion, and both Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond, are not yet be prepared.

In preparing its proposed framework for a new UK relationship with the EU, the UK will also need to take account of the constraints under which the EU operates, in its relations with third countries.

UK WILL HAVE TO TAKE ACCOUNT OF SWISS AND NORWEGIAN PRECEDENTS

The EU would have difficulty offering the UK better terms than it would offer another European country.

For example, Norway and Switzerland have access to the EU market.  They also make ongoing financial contributions every year to poorer regions within the EU.  Those agreements with Norway and Switzerland would be undermined, if UK got a similar deal, without similar contributions.

Furthermore, any EU/UK deal will have to comply with the Interlaken principles.

These principles govern all EU agreements with third countries and were formulated in 1978, with UK participation.  They have been followed ever since.

The first Interlaken principle is that, in developing relations with non-member states, the EU will always prioritise its own internal integration. The UK cannot expect the EU to agree to anything that would cause divisions within the EU.

The second Interlaken principle is that the EU must safeguard its own decision-making autonomy. For example, the European Court of Justice, and the legislative bodies of the EU, cannot be constrained in their decision making processes by any deal made with the UK.  The idea that a joint UK/EU court might have precedence over the ECJ would run counter to this principle.

The third Interlaken principle is that any relationship must be based on “a balance of benefits and obligations”. It is not for the non-member state to choose only those aspects of EU integration it likes.

WTO RULES WILL APPLY

There is another factor the UK will need to take into account. This is the “Most Favoured Nation Principle” of the WTO, which is the foundation stone for global trade.

It requires the extension, to ALL members of the WTO, of any “advantage, favour, privilege or immunity” that is offered to one.

Cherry picking in international trade could get the UK into trouble with all the countries with which it does business.

Formulating a UK proposal, which satisfies all these conflicting criteria, will be hugely demanding task, not only politically, but intellectually and legally.

“Taking back control” and  “no hard border” are hard to reconcile, to put it mildly.

The dilemma, in which the UK in which now finds itself, may be self created, but it is real.  Irish people should wish Teresa May well, in her immensely difficult task.

Her political weakness helps her move things forward, in the short term, but it makes it harder for her to make a permanent deal that will endure in face of the disappointed expectations of those who voted for Brexit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“El Reino Unido ha puesto a Irlanda en una situación casi imposible”

El Mundo correspondent, Carlos Freneda, interviewed John Bruton for Spanish Newspaper. 

“El Brexit dañará más a la economía irlandesa que a la británica”, afirma el ex primer ministro irlandés John Bruton

Londres abonará entre 45.000 y 55.000 millones de euros como factura por el Brexit

John Bruton (Dunboyne, 1947) fue primer ministro irlandés en los “felices” 90: del mercado único que suprimió las barreras físicas entre las dos Irlandas, al Acuerdo del Viernes Santo que allanó el camino al proceso de paz. Bruton advierte ahora que los avances logrados en los últimos veinte años pueden saltar por los aires con el Brexit, que tendrá un mayor impacto económico y social en la vecina Irlanda que en el propio Reino Unido.

¿Hay alguna manera de soluciona el “problema irlandés”? ¿Se puede quedar una parte de isla dentro de la UE y la otra fuera?
El obstáculo está en la mente cerrada de la facción pro-Brexit del Partido Conservador. No entienden que los mercados abiertos requieren normas comunes, decididas democráticamente entre los países e interpretadas de un modo uniforme. Eso es lo que facilita la UE. La permanencia en el mercado único y en la unión aduanera podría ser una solución, pero los brexiteros (y los unionistas) no ven nigún valor en ello… El Reino Unido ha puesto a Irlanda en una posición casi imposible, tanto para preservar el proceso de paz como para asegurar el libre comercio entre las dos partes de la isla. Una vuelta a la frontera dura seriviría para aislar los nacionalistas del norte de una manera peligrosa… El Brexit dañará potencialmente más a la economía irlandesa que a la británica. El Reino Unido puede haber votado a favor de este acto de autolesión económica, pero los ciudadanos de la República de Irlanda no han votado, y los de Irlanda del Norte han votado por la permanencia.
El Gobierno británico ha llegado a sugerir una frontera “virtual” y sin fricciones, sin necesidad de volver a instalar aduanas y con los últimos avances tecnológicos…
Eso no es posible. Dos terceras partes de los cargamentos que atravesarán la frontera tendrían que ser inspeccionados en algún lugar, y eso crearía poblemas.
Usted ha llegado a decir que Irlanda debe hacer cuanto esté en su mano para evitar el Brexit ¿Lo cree aún posible?
Lo que creo que debería hacerse en prolongar el tiempo límite que fija el Artículo 50 y tener un margen de dos a seis años para intentar resolver las complejidades a las que nos enfrentamos. Así se daría tiempo a los británicos para cambiar de opinión si lo consideran, y eso haría innecesario un acuerdo de transición. El Reino Unido debería seguir siendo un miembro con derecho a voto durante ese tiempo.
¿Qué pasaría en Irlanda si el Reino Unido opta por marcharse de un portazo y sin un acuerdo con la UE?
Eso sería desastroso para nosotros a medio plazo, y a largo plazo dañaría considerablemente las relaciones entre Irlanda y el Reino Unido. En ese caso, Irlanda tendería los puentes económicos y culturas hacia otros países como Francia y España, como ocurrió durante los conflictos del siglo XVI y XVII (en la batalla de Kinsale, sin ir más lejos).
¿Reconocerá el Reino Unido el daño que el Brexit puede causar a sus vecinos más próximos?
Hay muy pocas señales de que quieran reconocer el daño, o que les importe lo más mínimo. En lo único que piensan es en sí mismos y en “recuperar el control”. El Brexit es un proceso más “psicológico” que económico, sobre el papel de Inglaterra en el mundo. No olvidemos que el Reino Unido es una idea puesta en marcha para asegurar y preservar los intereses estratégicos y militares de Inglaterra.
¿Qué sectores de la economía irlandesa se verían afectados por el Brexit?
El sector manufacturero sobre todo: las mercancías que no pueden ser transportadas fácilmente por avión para evitar el Reino Unido. Y también la producción de carne y de lana. La agricultura sufriría mucho si tenemos normas distintas en el norte y en el sur. El sector energético lo notará también.
¿Piensa que el Brexit puede en última instancia dar impulso a la unificación de Irlanda?
El principal obstáculo a la unificación es la hostilidad por una parte muy importante de la población en Irlanda del Norte. Las actividades en el pasado del IRA y el papel que juega ahora Sinn Féin refuerza esa falta de voluntad. Tampoco creo que la población en la República de Irlanda esté dispuesta a aceptar el peso de forzar a un millón de personas a integrarse contra su voluntad en una Irlanda unida. El coste no sería solo económico, sino en términos de sociales y de sectarismo. Por supuesto que habría mucho menos problemas si ese millón de personas cambiara de opinión, pero hay pocas señales de que eso sea posible.

CHRIS PATTEN

I have just finished reading “First Confession, A Sort of Memoir” by Chris Patten, which is published by Allen Lane.

Chris was a Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s and John Major’s governments, and was the Director of Elections for his Party in the 1992 General Election, when the Conservative Party under John Major won an unexpected victory. But Patten himself lost his seat in Bath in the same election.

Patten writes in an easy conversational style.

I particularly liked his description of his childhood, his parents, and his school years. He received his secondary education in St Benedict’s in Ealing, from which he won a scholarship to Oxford.

His father’s family came from County Roscommon shortly after the Famine, and Chris Patten, to this day, identifies strongly with his Irish and Catholic roots. His childhood was a happy one and his love for his parents shines through in this book, as does his devotion to his wife and his daughters.

Chris Patten is comfortable in his identity, and sees no need to bolster it by any form of hostility to people with a different identity. Unfortunately the Brexit vote shows that not every English person is at ease to the same degree.

He is a political conservative in the sense that he is uneasy with grand theories and overarching generalisations, whether of the left, or of the right.

He served as the last British Governor of Hong Kong, and is not flattering about China.

While its rate of economic growth continues to be remarkable, this is, in a sense, a return to the natural order of things. After all, in 1800, China was the largest economy in the world. He believes the Chinese version of Leninism has allowed the rich to get richer, and that it has had to “fall back on nationalism to justify its control of everything”.

On the other hand, he has a very high opinion of India, reminding his reader that India “had already established a rich tradition of tolerance and debate when Europeans still believed in the divine right of Kings”.This may explain why Indian democracy has survived so well.

Chris Patten served as EU Commissioner for External Relations. He argues that the UK blames the EU for failings closer to home, that have reduced British productivity below its potential, like poor second level education and unduly restrictive planning laws. But he seems to be opposed to the euro, and claims the results have been “terrible” for most members of the euro zone….a view I believe to be seriously exaggerated, if not simply wrong.

He is comfortable in his Catholic faith, and says “As a Christian, I believe in an afterlife” and that this life is not the end of the story. He says that the attempt to use science to discredit religion often assumes that science itself is infallible.

Science deals with empirical issues, whereas religion deals with values, morality and meaning. There is no necessary conflict between them, he argues. I agree.

This a good book and well worth reading.

Page 1 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)