John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: John Bruton (Page 1 of 4)

TWO GREAT DEMOCRACIES….VERY DIFFERENT MOODS

I visited India in the past week on business.

India is the largest democracy in the world.

The United States is the second largest.

Politics is robust in both countries, but in India the mood is one of increasing openness towards the rest of the world, whereas that in the United States is in favour of building walls.

India is a good vantage point from which to contemplate the moral content of the anti globalisation rhetoric of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and their followers.  

Given that the United States is one of the richest and best endowed countries in the world, “America First” seems to me to be a particularly selfish motto for a great country. Yet it is espoused by left wing anti trade Democrats, just as much as it is by the new President

Looking at this from the standpoint of India, one realises that it is thanks in part to globalisation, to  the opening of markets, and to the transfer of western technology to the country, that in India

  •   its economy is growing at  7.5% pa, faster than China
  •   85 million people  exited poverty in India in  the three years from 2010 to 2012
  •   life expectancy  has doubled from  31 years  in 1947 to  65 today
  •   trade represents a higher share of India’s GDP than it does of China.

India is urbanising rapidly. It is estimated that another 250 million people will arrive in India’s overcrowded cities in the next 20 years.

8 million young people enter the Indian workforce every year, many in rural areas where few job opportunities exist outside agriculture. In fact only 16% of India’s existing workforce is in waged employment.

The opportunities to invest in the development of India’s infrastructure are enormous. Sanitary services and road building are seriously deficient. Air pollution and unsanitary living conditions continue to damage the health of many Indians.

Europe needs to work with India to protect the open global economy, while enabling states to put in place robust taxation systems that can distribute the fruits of  globalisation fairly.

 

POPULISM IS A CRISIS OF ENTITLEMENT, AND HIGHER INTEREST WILL SQUEEZE SOME COUNTRIES MORE THAN OTHERS

The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States raised interest rates last December. This was the first rate rise in almost ten years. At the time three more rate increases were forecast this year. The Federal Reserve’s policy on interest rates can have a global effect.

Ireland’s fiscal squeeze of the 1980 to 1987 period, of which I had direct experience, was caused  by the Federal Reserve’s decision to tackle  US inflation by raising interest rates and restricting the money supply.

A rise in interest rates this year would affect countries differently.

If a country has a big government debt, by comparison with its annual tax revenue, it will have to make more cuts or tax increases to accommodate to a higher interest rate.

If a country’s economy is growing slowly, and it  has low future growth potential, because it has an ageing society, the effect of an interest rate rise will be even more severe.

Goldman Sachs recently compared the situations of Germany, France , Italy and Spain.

If there was a 100 basis points increase in interest rates ,

+ Germany would have to trim its budget by 0.5% of GDP,

+ France and Spain by 0.75% of their GDP, but

+ Italy would have to trim its budget by 1%.

This is because the

+ Italian government debt is 140% of the Italian annual GDP,

+  the French and Spanish debts around 100% of their GDP while

+  Germany’s is only around 75%

These effects would come about slowly. If countries have debts with long maturities , it will take a while for a rise in interest rates to have their full effect. General inflation is not a problem today, but sectors of the global economy can become over heated.

Goldman Sachs did not do similar calculations for smaller countries like Greece, which has a debt/ GDP ratio of 180%, or for the UK, whose ratio is 90%.

But both countries are facing difficult futures, partly because of their own freely taken  democratic decisions, in Greece’s case quite long ago, but in the UK’s case very recently. Euro zone countries are able to keep interest rates low because the ECB is buying their bonds, but there are prudential limits to this. If a country’s banks buy an undue amount of  their  own government’s bonds, that can create an unhealthy linkage between to solvency of the banks and the solvency of the government.

The Goldman Sachs calculations do not take full account of human factors like the lack of dynamism which can arise when countries come to believe they are “entitled “ to a certain standard of income, without taking account of the value of what they can sell to the rest of the world.

Ageing societies, with large retired populations, are particularly prone to this sense of entitlement because they feel that the work that they did in the past, entitles them to a good standard of living today. Unfortunately the money their work earned is long spent, and pensions can only be paid out of what can be earned in the future.

If that money does not come in, people will look for someone to blame. Often the blame takers are immigrants, even though these immigrants are often the ones who are paying the taxes and earning the money ,that support the entitlements of many native residents. For example , EU immigrants in the UK pay much more in taxes than they take out in benefits, but that was ignored by UK voters.

This gap between expectations and what can be afforded , is the explanation for the so called “populism” we see among ageing populations in the UK, the US and elsewhere.

Populism is really a crisis of entitlement.  

Populism will become more severe if ,  and when, interest rates rise.

We need an informed electorate that votes knowledgeably, an electorate that accepts that  interest rates, free trade, immigration and demographics are all interlinked with one another.

We need  to  find better ways of explaining the links between

+   the prospect of  higher international interest rates, and the desirability of reducing government debt levels

+   the importance of preserving open markets and overseas earnings  if we are to afford decent pensions,

+    the link  between allowing immigration, and having enough young people to work and pay taxes in future

+    the fact that  decisions, twenty years ago,  to have fewer children, are liable to  affect what  welfare  states will be able to afford , twenty years from now

 

DERMOT GALLAGHER   RIP

I wish to express a deep sense of loss on hearing of the death of former Ambassador, Dermot Gallagher, who I consider to have been a great friend and neighbour, as well as a brilliant servant of Ireland.

Dermot was Irish Ambassador in the United States during my time as Taoiseach.

On my first arrival in Washington as Taoiseach in March 1995, I was immediately struck by the depth of the links all over the United States, but particularly in policy making circles in Washington, that Dermot, and indeed his wife Maeve, had built up on behalf of Ireland.

These links extended right across both US political parties, and across all three branches of the US government.  This influence on behalf of Ireland was the result of immensely hard work and patience on Dermot’s part. He was instrumental in securing US support for the process of peace building in Ireland, and notably in securing the services of Senator George Mitchell.

He was a model Ambassador. He provided very valuable advice to me when it was my honour to fill a similar role subsequently.

Finola joins me in extending heartfelt sympathy to Maeve and his grieving family

Statement by John Bruton, former Taoiseach

CHINA TRANSFORMED …..A NEW BALANCE OF POWER

china-flag-mapThe economic transformation of China is the most important global economic event of the past forty years. It has changed the balance of power on the Eurasian landmass, in ways we are only beginning to comprehend.

The economic transformation of China happened because, since 1979, there has been lively economic competition within China, something that was not allowed in the Soviet model.  China’s economy grew, while the centralised Soviet system stagnated. This explains why Communism survived in China, but collapsed in the Soviet sphere. China also grew thanks to the opening up of global trade, under successive rounds of trade liberalisation, which allowed China to build a powerful export sector.

Now China is having to transform itself again. Its export led model has reached its limits. Labour costs are rising because the big transfer of labour from farming to industry is over, and the Chinese population is beginning to age. The working age population of China peaked in 2015 and will decline from now on. Chinese exporters are being undercut by lower wage economies like Vietnam.

The Chinese economy has also reached environmental limits. The pollution level in some cities is dreadful, and the air is dangerous to breathe, even on an apparently clear day. I  experienced  this for myself when I visited China in the past fortnight on business.  Environmental losses reduce China’s GDP by 10%.

The proportion of its population living in cities will grow from 20% in 1978, to 50% today, and to 75% by 2030. This will lead to even more pollution, unless the cities are built to a different model. China is devoting a lot of research to this and may soon become an exporter of green technology. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Meanwhile China has an increasing number of well off, high spending, consumers. The Boston Consulting Group recently estimated that what it calls the “upper middle class” ( a group that can afford regular foreign holidays) will rise from 53 million today, to 102 million by 2020. Interestingly it estimates that, by 2020, the upper middle class in will reach 73 million in Indonesia, 32 million in India, and 21 million in Thailand.

At the other end of the scale, China has not got a well developed welfare system. The income gap is very wide. Stress is high. Parents are left looking after grandchildren back in rural China while sons and daughters seek work in the cities. There is a two tier labour market, under which long established city residents qualify for social supports, but recent arrivals in cities do not, and can remain in a precarious situation for years.

Nationalism is very strong in China, and one can foresee a clash between the American nationalism of Donald Trump, and the Chinese nationalism of the Communist party.

Both can exploit suspicion of the other, to rally political support internally.

The United States should be cautious. The abandonment of the Trans Pacific Partnership, by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, will leave China in the driving seat, as far as trade policy in East Asia is concerned.  It is ironic that China increasingly sees itself as the defender of an open world trading system, while the United States adopts protectionist rhetoric.  Adding a conflict over the status of Taiwan to this mix could have unpredictable results.

If, under Donald Trump, the US moves closer to Russia, the EU may find its interests aligned more with those of China in some fields, like climate change.  This will be reinforced by the anxiety many of the central European members of the EU feel about Russian intentions, and Russia’s view that some of them should properly belong in a Russian sphere of influence, rather than being so closely aligned with Western Europe through the EU. Russian support for west European politicians like Marine le Pen is part of a strategy to undermine the EU.

Historically, China has been a supporter of EU integration, while Russia has been hostile, because it felt itself excluded from pan European security structures.  Russia feels itself hemmed in. Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, can also be seen as attempts to break out of its strategic isolation and gain access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

It is also to break out of its sense of isolation, that China has promoted its “one Belt, One Road” policy to link itself with Western Europe.

As a continuing member of the European Union, it will be in  Ireland’s economic and political interests  to play its full part in building a  balanced structure of peace on the Eurasian land mass, that protects the rights of small states, but  which also one that ensures that no great power feels itself hemmed in, or isolated. For that is how wars start.

 

THE VERDICT ON DAVID CAMERON’S PRIME MINISTERSHIP

cameron-at-10I read “Cameron at 10…the Verdict”, by Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon, over the summer, to understand how the UK came to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union, whose aftermath will bog down the UK and the EU in unproductive work, for years to come.

The first thing to say is that this is a good and well researched book.

It shows how the Liberal Democrat /Conservative Coalition came together in an atmosphere of good will and cordiality. It was bedded down by good institutional arrangements, which held it together right to the end.

But the cordiality disappeared when the Conservatives campaigned, with venom, to defeat the referendum on the Alternative Vote (PR in a single member constituency).

It is interesting to note that the Lib Dems loyally supported the austerity policies of the government, including on tuition fees which did them a great deal of electoral damage.

The reforms introduced by the Coalition, in education, health and welfare were important, and enduring. But they were not very different from what might have been done by a government led by Tony Blair. Cameron’s military intervention in Libya, for which he was a much greater cheerleader than Obama, was just as much a disaster as Blair’s intervention in Iraq. But Cameron knew what had happened in Iraq, so there is less excuse for him.

Cameron’s idea of a “Big Society”, where local communities take over responsibilities from government, never amounted to much. As one critic said “most people I know do not want to run their local library or school, they just want the service to work”.

Cameron’s problem with the European Union was not so much that he was a Eurosceptic, but that, like many Britons, he just did not find the EU interesting at all. Like his compatriots, he thought the EU was something external to the UK, with which the UK did business on an arm’s length basis, rather than something of which the UK was a full member.

He did not invest time in it, and thought that problems could simply be sorted out by a chat with Angela Merkel, as if the other countries would always do what she told them.  Merkel for her part thought Cameron was “apt to make his mind up too quickly”, and ask for more than he could ever hope to get. She preferred to start her negotiations with modest demands and build on them.

In 2007, as a newly elected leader of his Party, he had promised a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but by the time he came into office it was too late for that, because the Treaty had been already ratified. But his failure to keep that so called “promise” left him with problems with his backbenchers for the rest of his career.

The same backbenchers were also, of course, angry with him because he had not won the election in 2011, and instead had to opt for a Coalition with the Europhile Liberal Democrats.

The authors of this book think that Cameron’s position was so weak that he had no option, in 2013, but to promise an In/Out referendum. I disagree.  While there was a real threat from UKIP, I do not believe his party would have brought him down over this issue. There is no evidence that Cameron gave any serious thought to what ought to be done if the people voted for “Leave”.

When he came to fight the Referendum itself, he chose to appeal only to people’s pockets, and not to their hearts, or to their sense of self respect.

He could have pointed out that in 1914, Britain went to war, not for its Empire, but for Europe…to defend Belgian neutrality.

He could have reminded his fellow citizen that Britons went to war in 1939, also for Europe, to defend Poland.

 He did not do so.

Such an appeal to patriotism could have countered the xenophobia that occupied the emotional space,  that his materialistic campaign left unoccupied.

But then it emerges in this book that Cameron himself sincerely believed in having a cap on immigration, including from Poland, the country Britain went to war to defend in 1939.

In 2010, he had said “Kick us out in 5 years, if we don’t deliver a cap on immigration”. A well informed Party Leader would have known, even then, that such a promise was incompatible with his country’s obligations as an EU member!

REMEMBERING JOHN DILLON MP

john_dillon_1851-1927I spoke at a Seminar organised by the Reform Group in Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin on John Dillon MP , the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), who was the father of James Dillon TD, who was leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965. John Dillon died in 1927 having lost his seat in the 1918 General Election.

A soundtrack of the seminar can be accessed through the Reform Group website at

http://www.reform.org/site/2016/10/15/forgotten-patriots-seminar-15-oct-2016/

As well as Dillon, the seminar dealt with the DD Sheehan MP, who was a member of  The” All for Ireland”  League, set up by William O Brien MP, who was one of the few Irish Nationalists of the time to make a serious effort to understand the concerns of Ulster Unionists.

O Brien and Dillon, once close friends and allies, became rivals later in their careers, although both of them shared a belief in the Home Rule cause, and in exclusively constitutional and peaceful agitation to achieve their goals.

Grandchildren of both men were present at the seminar.

THE LAND QUESTION, RIGHTLY, CAME FIRST

John Dillon was first elected to Parliament in 1880 and, from the outset, he pressed the cause of land reform, which, along with the enactment of Home Rule into law in September 1914, was to be a crowning achievement of the IPP.

In looking for rent reductions, and the eventual transfer of Irish land ownership from landlords to their tenants, Dillon had to contend with claims that this involved breaching contracts and property rights, which were then, and still are, regarded as central to the market economy.

Yet, if the land question had not been solved prior to Irish independence, the resultant struggles might have been so severe as to undermine the democratic character of the state, something that happened in some central European countries ,who gained independence in the early 1920’s without prior land reform.

PARTY DISCIPLINE

Dillon, from the beginning, also believed in party discipline, and in the central control of candidate selection. In this, he clashed with Tim Healy MP and with William O Brien.

He believed, rightly, that discipline was vital if the Irish nationalist minority in the House of Commons was to achieve anything. In a parliamentary democracy, party discipline is of abiding value in achieving coherent outcomes, something Irish voters are inclined to forget nowadays.

COULD NORTH EAST ULSTER EVER HAVE BEEN COERCED INTO A UNITED IRELAND?

Like many Irish nationalists, then and since, Dillon had difficulty facing up to the reality that Ulster unionists could not, in practice, be coerced into a United Ireland.

Arguing publicly for something, that one knows in ones heart cannot be achieved in practice, is bad political leadership.

Successive Irish governments gave bad leadership on the question of how a united Ireland might come about, until the principle of consent was belatedly accepted in the 1970’s.

In Dillon’s case, he gave a speech in Belfast in March 1915 in which, on the question of a possible partition, to exclude part of Ulster from Home Rule, he said

“We will never agree to divide this nation”.

That remained the position of the IPP.

But Tim Healy claimed, in a letter to his brother Maurice in 1914, quoted in Frank Callanan’s excellent biography of Healy, that Dillon was privately of a more realistic opinion

“Dillon is going about (the House of Commons) talking to the Liberals in favour of the exclusion of Ulster “

Healy claimed Dillon was justifying this by saying

“How can we coerce Ulster with our record against coercion and that we cannot face civil war as a beginning to Home Rule”.

If Healy is to be believed, and he was no friend of Dillon, then Dillon was more realistic in private, than he was in public.

Healy, himself , thought the Ulster Unionists were only bluffing, and could be coerced. This is a nonsensical belief, but it is the unstated assumption of most modern day critics of the Home Rule  policy, including Sinn Fein and some historians.

At least in private,  John Dillon was a realist.

This gap between public rhetoric, and private belief, about the feasibility of enforcing a united Ireland, has proven very costly ever since.

This sort of self deluding rhetoric may become prevalent again in nationalist circles, if Theresa May persists in her “hard Brexit” policy.

COMMEMORATION ……WHAT CRITERIA SHOULD WE USE?

I believe official commemorations, of their nature, have to be selective.

So what criteria should guide our selection of the events to be singled out for commemoration in government ceremonies, postage stamps and public sculptures?

Commemorations cannot change the past.

All they can do is influence how we think about the future.

So government should select things to commemorate that will help us use historical event that help us manage foreseeable future challenges.

Thus I believe the focus of official commemorations on violent events, like the Howth gun running, the 1916 Rebellion and ambushes, is wrong.

These events have little of use to teach us about what we need to do in the future Ireland of the 21st century.

In contrast, the careers of men like John Dillon, his agitation, his compromises and his peaceful achievements, have much more to teach us ,about what is relevant to today and tomorrow.

WHO WILL PROTECT IRISH AND OTHER EU FIRMS DOING BUSINESS IN THE UK AGAINST DISCRIMINATION, AFTER BREXIT?

cropped-European-Union-flag-006-1.jpgMany Irish firms, and firms from other EU states, have extensive investments and trading interests in the UK. Indeed this must one of the most intense investment relationships in the world.

For the past 40 years, these investments have been protected by UK membership of the EU, which allowed firms, who might feel they were being discriminated against, in favour of British owned competitors, to appeal not only to the UK Courts, but also to the European Court of Justice(ECJ)

Yesterday the UK Prime Minister announced that , once the UK leaves the EU, the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK would be ended. Thus there will no longer be any, non UK controlled, arbiter to protect Irish or other EU investors in the UK against discriminatory laws by a future UK government. The UK has no written constitution.

Therefore it will be important that there be a robust independent investor protection disputes mechanism, capable of overturning discriminatory decisions that might be taken by the UK courts against the interests of EU owned firms.

 This must take immediate effect the day the UK leaves the EU.

It cannot wait for the longer term trade agreement the EU negotiates with the UK, which may take years to finalise. Investor protection clauses can be controversial, as we have seen with the TTIP negotiation, and are a reduction of “sovereignty” in the abstract sense.

But , given three factors

  • the highly nationalistic tenor of UK politics at the moment,
  • the dramatic ideological trends in the Labour  party, and
  • the likelihood of trade tensions between the UK and the EU,

Irish and other EU firms doing, or intending to do, business in the UK will need a very robust independent investor protection regime.  These three phenomena must be confronted realistically. We must not assume that everything will work out in the end. It may not!

Unless Irish and other European firms have concrete assurances that they will not face discrimination of any kind in  their activities in the UK after Brexit, they may have to commence disinvestment to protect their shareholders’ legitimate interests. The proposed “Great Repeal Bill”, reversing EU law in the UK, will need to scrutinised with immense care by  Irish and other European investors in Britain. Political assurances will not be good enough.

In the present atmosphere of UK politics, it is all too easy to envisage calls for discrimination in favour of UK firms in contracts with UK local authorities, in access to certain public services, and in standards for goods and services. All would be done, of course, in the name of “protecting British jobs”, or “defending British standards”.

If the ECJ is no available to protect Irish and EU firms from discriminatory practices on the UK market, alternatives will have to be agreed with the UK. These alternative mechanisms, investor courts in other words, will have to have the power, like the ECJ, of striking down UK decisions, including UK court decisions,  that they deem to be discriminatory against the interests of an EU investor.

These mechanisms are known as  an Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) or an  investment court system (ICS). They are an instrument of public international law and  grant an investor the right to use dispute settlement proceedings against a country’s government.

Provisions for ISDS are contained in a number of bilateral investment treaties, in certain international trade treaties, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (chapter 11), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (chapters 9 and 28) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (sections 3 and 4). ISDS is also found in international investment agreements, such as the Energy Charter Treaty.

If an investor from one country (the “home state”) invests in another country (the “host state”), both of which have agreed to ISDS, and the host state violates the rights granted to the investor under public international law, then that investor may bring the matter before an arbitral tribunal.

The prospect of having to use such cumbersome procedures will undoubtedly be daunting and difficult for small firms.

This will be particularly difficult for Irish firms who have been used to treating the UK as part of their “home market” since 1966 and the Anglo Irish Free Trade Agreement.

In the aftermath of the original referendum decision, soothing statements were made by British Ministers about the position of Ireland, and about there being no “hard border. But Prime Minister May’s speech to her Party Conference yesterday represents a major shift in position. She is going for a “hard Brexit”, which inevitably means a “hard border”. She offered no assurances to Ireland.

Indeed it is hard to see how the UK could offer special protection to Irish firms investing in the UK that it was not also offering to French or Romanian firms.

The Irish food industry is heavily invested in the UK market. Before it joined the EU, the UK discriminated heavily in favour of UK farmers and against Irish exports. The food industry is far more complex now than it was forty years ago, and the opportunities for discrimination more subtle and more numerous.

The European Union will need to adopt a tough line on investor protection in the forthcoming negotiations and make sure these protections apply in full from the moment the UK leaves, and are not left to a wider long term negotiation.

INDIA….A DEMOCRATIC MIRACLE

parmesh04I recently read a history of modern India, entitled “India After Gandhi” by Ramachandra Guha.

It is a very big book, about a very big country.

Although it runs to almost 800 pages, it is well worth reading in full.

India is already the seventh largest economy in the world, is growing at 7% a year, and could be the 3rd biggest economy ten years from now.

It is a large exporter of software, and it will surprise many to learn that it is also the largest producer of milk in the world.

Guha’s book shows how India survived as a democracy, and remained united, while authoritarian regimes elsewhere broke up.

Although India obtained its independence peacefully, civil disturbances after partition meant that the new Republic of India had to absorb 8 million refugees from what is now Pakistan. Democracy has taken secure root in India. Voter turnout in the first national election, in the late 1940s, was 46% and it has been increasing ever since.

Initially the Congress party dominated the political scene and pursued a socialist and protectionist economic policy. Since the early 1990’s, that approach has been reversed. Congress is no longer dominant, and political power has been dispersed among numerous parties. This has made decision making more difficult.

Like Ireland in the 1960’s, India in the 1990s, opened itself up for international investment and trade. This has contributed to the rapid economic growth in the country.

Even more rapid growth is possible because, unlike China, India has a youthful population.

It’s economy is still held back by excessive bureaucracy and corruption. If those  artificial obstacles can be removed, India can become the driver of growth for the global economy.

Understanding the diversity of India, with its numerous languages, races,  and religions, is important to anyone who wants to do business in the county.

THE IRISH PARTY RESPONSE TO THE RISING

Thomas DArcy McGee Summer SchoolHistory does not repeat itself, but it can teach us lessons.

Theresa May will face a similar problem in 2017, to the one faced by John Redmond and the Irish Party in the 1910 to 1918 period.

Theresa May is trying to gain independence for her country from a bigger Union. But a geographically concentrated minority of her people want to stay in that Union, in this case, the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

John Redmond wanted independence for Ireland from another Union. In his case, a resolute, and also geographically concentrated, minority wanted to stay in that Union. They were a majority in Down, Antrim, Derry and Armagh.

Similar problem, 100 years later.

Theresa May wants access to the market of the Union she is leaving, and to get it she may have to continue to accept some of the rules of the Union.

John Redmond had to do likewise, although he, unlike Theresa May, under the deal he won would have continued to have some input to those rules.

Each represent, or represented, smaller entity seeking separation from a larger one.

So, to get a good deal for exit, both need, or  needed, to know, understand, and work the politics of the Union they wanted to leave.  In this task, The Irish Parliamentary Party, of 100 years ago, did a markedly better job, than the British Conservative Party has done so far.

As the Brexit negotiation continues, Theresa May even may have to contemplate a partition of the UK.

This partition might exclude Scotland from some, or all aspects of UK law, if Scotland insists on remaining in the EU. This could be a price Theresa May might have to pay for willing consent by Scotland to the rest of the UK leaving the EU. Again similar to the problem John Redmond faced.

But, all in all, Theresa May’s challenge is the easier one.

Hers is a purely political problem. Her country is at peace, and the possibility of consent to Scotland going its own way has been conceded by her predecessor.

John Redmond had to contend, on the other hand, with the existence of two private armies in Ireland on either side of the debate.

He had to contend with a wider world in the midst of a World War.

He also had the difficulty that the principle of consent (the legacy of a more recent peace process) had not yet been invented.

I will explore these parallels further in this paper.

WHAT SHOULD WE COMMEMORATE?

Turning back to our own decade of centenary commemorations, we should reflect on something President John Kennedy once said.

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

This state is a rule of law based, parliamentary democracy, which has integrated itself with its European neighbours by peaceful negotiation and compromise. It is militarily neutral, and the military power is subordinate to the civil power.

 If we decide that we were to pick from our history a “foundation event”, and choose as that foundation event the 1916 Rebellion and Proclamation, does that accurately reflect, or reveal, who we really are today in 2016?

 Is the 1916 story a practical inspiration for Irish people as we navigate a process of reconciliation within Ireland, and of shared sovereignty, within Europe?

SHOULD WE NOT PRIORITIZE PARLIAMENTARY AND PEACEFUL ACHIEVEMENTS?

 Perhaps we should instead seek inspiration from the non violent achievements of a century ago,

  •  the enactment of Home Rule,
  • the ending of landlordism,
  • the establishment of the National University
  • the introduction of old age pensions and
  • National Insurance….

all parliamentary, and non violent  achievements, in which the Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond, John Dillon,  Joe Devlin, and, at times, of the North Louth MP, Tim Healy 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.

Tim Healy’s successor as North Louth MP, Augustine Roche, was particularly busy on the land question, seeking new holdings for those who had lost their farms, and looking for a larger grant for road works for Louth County Council.

His successor, the 22 year old Irish Party MP, Paddy Whitty, elected in February 1916 and  the last person representing this area to sit in Westminster, raised questions about the conditions of post 1916 detainees, the tragic collision of two ships in Carlingford Lough in 1916 because of poor wireless communications, and the poor pay rates of carpenters in the GNR railway works….not the stuff of poetry, but practical matters, still relevant today.

Constitutional nationalist politics in Louth was far from dull, because of the split at national level between Tim Healy ( up to 1910 the North Louth MP) and William O Brien on one side, and the majority of constitutional nationalists, led by Redmond and Dillon, on the other.

For example, in 1910 Healy, having been defeated in North Louth by a Redmondite, Richard Hazleton, launched an election petition, alleging bribery and intimidation of voters, and demanding his opponent be unseated.

He won this case, and a Healy supporter, Augustine Roche, won the seat in the re run.

The Catholic Church exercised a strong influence in Louth politics, usually in favour of nationalist political unity rather than on religious matters as such.

The hotly contested character of elections in Louth actually strengthened constitutional nationalism in the county, and explains why constitutional nationalism held its own here against Sinn Fein, even in the 1918 General Election and in the 1920 local elections.

I now turn to the Irish Party’s response to the Rising.

After the Rebellion, on 11 May, John Dillon MP spoke in the House of Commons of his opposition to it, and of how Irish Party MPs had persuaded some of their constituents not to take part.

 He said nine out of every ten Irish people were opposed to the rebellion.

 But he condemned the house searches in parts of the country where there had been no trouble at all.

 He said his prime object was to stop the executions. He said the river of blood was undoing the work of reconciliation on which he and his party had worked so tirelessly. His party’s success, in ensuring the passage of Home Rule into law  after 40 years of  peaceful agitation, had created a new atmosphere between Britain and Ireland, and he argued that that was being undone by the repression.

 He recalled that when the American Civil War ended, Abraham Lincoln did not execute anyone. He said Premier Botha had put down a pro German rebellion in South Africa without any executions. This was an apt comparison in many respects.

 To put the Easter Rising in its proper context, one must draw attention to a few important points.

IRSH PARTY STOPPED CONSCRIPTION, PASSED HOME RULE, AND ENDED LANDLORDISM

Earlier in 1916, the Irish Party had, by political methods, prevented conscription being applied in Ireland, while it was being applied on the entire island of Britain.

A year and a half earlier, on September 18th 1914, it had had another vital parliamentary achievement which invalidated the case for a Rebellion.  The principle of Irish legislative independence for Ireland was won, by the passage into law of the Home Rule Bill. That centenary was not properly commemorated by the state in 2014

That happened BEFORE any rebellion here, and, as Conservative leader Bonar Law subsequently admitted, there was no going back on Home Rule.

The principle of Irish legislative independence was won, without a shot being fired.

 Likewise, before a shot was fired in 1916, the effective ownership of the land of Ireland into the hands of those who were working it, and landlordism abolished. In terms of land ownership, the Cromwellian conquest had been reversed….peacefully.

 Indeed it was the Irish Party’s achievement of land reform, which created an Irish rural middle class, something that enabled Ireland to remain democratic in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when so many other new European states, where landlordism had not been abolished, became authoritarian.

 The only open questions in 1914 were whether, or how, Home Rule might apply to Antrim, Down, Armagh and Derry (and perhaps Fermanagh and Tyrone). If some counties were excluded, would the exclusion would be temporary or permanent.

 But if that exclusion was once accepted, there was no barrier in the way of the rest of Ireland progressively winning ever greater degrees of sovereignty, starting from the platform of Home Rule.  Just as the 1921 Treaty turned out to be a stepping stone to greater sovereignty by peaceful negotiation, so too could Home Rule have been, if that was what the voters here wanted.

HOME RULE APPROACH WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER FOR NORTHERN NATIONALISTS

 Home Rule, in the form passed into law in September 1914, did not guarantee a united 32 county Ireland. The question of exclusion of 4 or 6 counties from Home Rule was left open to be decided by a vote of the people in each county.

But all subsequent attempts to coerce Northern Ireland into a United Ireland, whether by the attempted incursions across the border in 1922, by the propaganda campaign in the late 1940s, or by IRA killing campaigns in the 1950’s and from 1969 to 1998, all failed, because they were based on a faulty analysis of the Ulster Unionist mind.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I do not know how Irish nationalists, of any persuasion, really thought rule from Dublin could ever have been workably imposed on Unionists in places like Antrim and North Down. Did they expect

 + the British to coerce the Unionists,

 + did they expect to be able to coerce them themselves, or

 + did they  think these Unionists were just bluffing?

All three of these scenarios are politically unreal, and building a national ideology on something unreal is not healthy. They are the great unexamined questions at the heart of Irish nationalism.

An unwillingness to accept the real answers to these questions persists widely to this day.

John Redmond’s policy was one of attempting to persuade Unionist to accept a United Ireland, not to coerce them. His support for recruitment to the British army in 1914 was part of a (probably naive) attempt to persuade Unionists that they would not be sacrificing all their loyalties by taking part in Home Rule.

But, under the arrangements being considered in 1914, if an Ulster county opted out of Home Rule, they would have continued under direct rule from Westminster.

There would, under the formula being considered in 1914, have been no Stormont Parliament, no “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people”, no B Specials, no discrimination and no gerrymandering of local government, because that would have been prevented by direct rule.

The concept of a separate Northern government and parliament only came onto the agenda in late 1919, after most of the rest of Ireland had rejected Home Rule and voted for complete separation and abstentionism in the 1918 General Election.

That closed the door on compromise, although I am not sure that all those who voted for Sinn Fein, and against the Irish Party, in December 1918 really understood all that would follow, between the opening of hostilities at Soloheadbeg in January 1919, when RIC members James McDonnell from Belmullet and Patrick O Connell from Coachford were shot, and the eventual end of the agony in 1923.If they had known or been told what would follow, would they have made the same decision?

BALANCING THE LIMITATIONS OF HOME RULE AGAINST THE COSTS OF VIOLENCE

Many of the limitations on the Home Rule powers could have been removed by negotiation. They were not of a character that justifies all the suffering that flowed from the decision to take the path of violence in 1916. That is, of course , a value judgement, but one must be able to make value judgement about history.

Some of the limitations (eg. The exclusion of Marriage law and tariffs) were only put therein the original bill, to reassure Ulster Unionists, when it was envisaged that all 32 counties would be fully included from the outset.

Other limitations would have been financially beneficial to a new Irish Administration, such as the exclusion of the financing of Old Age pensions and of Land Purchase Acts. This is because of their net financial cost, as Ernest Blythe was to discover in 1924 when he had to reduce Old Age Pensions, and Eamonn de Valera found in the economic war over land annuities.

Home Rule was not brought into force immediately on its passage into law in 1914 because it was felt that it would distract from what was expected to be a short duration war effort.

That postponement was not controversial in Ireland at the time. Indeed John Dillon had said “No rational man would expect the government to set up an Irish Parliament while war was raging”.

That said, Home Rule could have a come into effect in late 1916, and Carson had agreed to it on the basis that the six counties would be excluded for the time being, and would be administered directly from Westminster.

It did not happen because some Conservative members of government, Lansdowne, Selborne, and Long, objected because of the disturbed state of the country, a predictable consequence of the Rising, and the fear that Germany might again exploit the situation, as they had attempted to do earlier that year.

The effect of the Rising on wartime British opinion probably helped the objections being made by Long, Selborne and Lansdowne.

This disappointment, and the radicalisation brought about by the Rebellion, led to a hardening of the position of the Irish Parliamentary Party, so that by March 1917 they were unwilling to accept Home Rule involving any form of partition(temporary, indefinite or otherwise).

The  alternative path of violence, started upon by Pearse, Connolly, Clarke  and others in 1916, and followed from 1919 to 1923 by their imitators, was traversed at a terrible price.

I believe the Irish Parliamentary Party knew this, and so did the majority of the Irish people who opposed the Rising at the time, and by those who continued to support constitutionalism in the 1918 Election.

The Dundalk Democrat described the Rising as “an act of madness”.

The local authorities in Louth took a similar view. They would have realised that once violence is introduced into the blood stream of politics, it is very hard to get it out again. So it has proved.  Even those who initiated the violence began to recognise their error.

As early as 1924, a member of the IRB Supreme Council at the time of the Rebellion,  PS O Hegarty said of the decision to use violence in 1916.

“We turned the whole thoughts and passions of a generation upon blood and revenge and death; we placed gunmen, mostly half educated and totally inexperienced, as dictators with powers of life and death over large areas.” [1]

AN APPRAISAL OF THE WORDS, AND ASSUMPTIONS, OF THE 1916 PROCLAMATION

Violence, once initiated, tends to persist because of psychological as well as political factors.

Psychologically, once one has killed, or seen colleagues die, in a particular cause, it is very difficult to stop pursuing that cause, without feeling one has somehow betrayed the dead.

Politically, the absolutist wording of the 1916 Proclamation itself, made compromise almost impossible for some.

The Proclamation said the Republic existed, once  it was declared outside the GPO. The proclaimed Republic was a “Sovereign Independent State”, presumably of 32 counties.  No room for compromise there. The Rising was not to fight FOR a Republic, which would have left some room for compromise, but to  DEFEND one that had been proclaimed to exist already.

 Such a state does not even NOW exist.

Yet its existence was declared to “indefeasible” in the words of the Proclamation. That proved to be a recipe for endless conflict.

 It is on the strength, and in pursuit, of that  unqualified claim in the Proclamation, that people continue to be killed, including Adrian Ismay earlier this year.

The phrases used in the Proclamation, which our schoolchildren are now being asked to regard as the founding stone of our democracy, left little or no room at all for democratic negotiation or compromise. Therein lay the seeds of Civil War because, in politics as in life, compromise and negotiation are essential.

The men in the Four Courts in 1922,resisting the Provisional Free State government,  and those who resisted compromise in the more recent peace process,  all felt themselves sincerely bound by the absolutist and uncompromising words of the Proclamation, and the oath they had taken to defend what it has proclaimed.

Rather than the Republic being proclaimed in the name of a living Irish people, whose opinions had first been taken into consideration, it was proclaimed in the name of

“God and the dead generations”,

 neither of whom could, of necessity, be consulted about what they meant.

 The rights of the proclaimed Republic were not conditional on consent, but were

 “sovereign and indefeasible”.

 The Nation, was treated, in the wording of the Proclamation, as something separate from the people, or their views.

Many of the 1916 participants had taken an oath of allegiance to the Republic, which again made compromise difficult and conflict interminable.

THE ULSTER PROBLEM WAS CULPABLY IGNORED IN THE 1916 PROCLAMATION

Home Rule could have been in effect, possibly from the 1880’s on, were it not for the resistance to it in North East Ulster. John Redmond and other had wrestled with this problem for years, and, in Easter Week of 1916, it was the only unresolved issue concerning the implementation of the Home Rule Act.

These Ulster difficulties were fully known to the signatories of the Proclamation. But they were not addressed in a serious way in the Proclamation.

 The only oblique reference to the Ulster problem was the promise to cherish all the ”children” of the nation equally, and to be “oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government”.

 It is worth reflecting on the words used here.

Ulster Unionists were “children” of the nation, and normally children, in that era were expected to be obey.

 The wish of Ulster Unionists not to be governed from Dublin, was assumed by the Proclamation’s signatories, not to be something they had decided  themselves, but only the result of “careful fostering” by an “ alien government”. This did not show much respect for the seriousness, or the  reasoning powers, of those who had signed the Ulster Covenant, only five years previously.

 The problems of Ireland, as it was at the time, were not thought through by the authors of the Proclamation. That was a serious omission, particularly when it is followed by the taking of human life.

WAR SHOULD ALWAYS BE A LAST RESORT

Given the value Irish people place on each human life, those who take a life, have the primary burden of proof to discharge. It was for them to prove that no other way was open.  Other options must have been exhausted.

 That that test was not passed by those who initiated the Rebellion in 1916. The possibilities of Home Rule, already law, had not been exhausted ,or even tested.

 The use of force should always be a last resort.  It was not.

For every Volunteer killed in 1916 (including those executed afterwards), three Dublin civilians died.

The first casualty to die, on Easter Monday, was James O Brien, an unarmed DMP policeman from Limerick, shot in the face at the gate of Dublin Castle.

Another early unarmed DMP casualty of the Volunteers was Michael Lahiff, a 28 year old Irish speaker, from the West of Ireland, shot in cold blood on St Stephens Green.

Michael Cavanagh, a Dublin carter, who tried to retrieve his cart from a Volunteer barricade, was executed by the Volunteers.

The only casualty, on any side, in County Louth in 1916 was Charles McGee, an RIC constable, and also a native Irish speaker, who was from Donegal, who was accidentally shot dead on 24 April while a captive in the care of the Volunteers at Castlebellingham.  He is buried in Gortahork and has recently been the subject of a biography in Irish by his grand niece Madge O Boyle

 These were not “Brits”.

 They were Irishmen.

WHY HOME RULE WOULD HAVE BEEN A STEPPING STONE TO GREATER INDEPENDENCE

 The Home Rule Parliament, if it had come into being in 1916 or at the end of the Great War in 1918, would probably have been elected under the wider suffrage that applied in the 1918 General Election (all men over 21 and women over 30).

With this wide electorate, not only the Irish Party of John Dillon, but also Sinn Fein, the Irish Labour Party, and the group led by Tim Healy, would have got seats.

 All four groups would have pressed for ever greater degrees of independence, going beyond the Dominion status, negotiated after such loss of life in the Treaty of 1921.

TREATY OF 1921 ADOPTED DILLON’S POLICY OF 1918

In the 1918 General Election, which Sinn Fein won, the policy of the Irish Party, led by John Dillon, was Dominion Status for Ireland.

That was the policy on which Richard Hazleton contested the Louth constituency for the Irish Party against the Sinn Fein candidate JJ O Kelly. Hazleton lost by only a tiny margin of 1% in an electorate of 30000. That is what Dillon and Hazleton would have worked for if they had been elected

 The policy of Sinn Fein in that Election was, in contrast, immediate and complete separation of the 32 counties from the UK, on the basis of the 1916 Proclamation.

Sinn Fein won the election, on this “no compromise” agenda, but, after all the killing in the War of Independence, all they ended up with, under the Treaty, was Dominion status, the very policy of their John Dillon and Richard Hazleton in the election three years before.

It is said that Home Rule would have left British forces on Irish territory. But so also did the Treaty. It left the UK military in control of ports on Irish territory.  But these ports were handed back in 1938, through entirely peaceful negotiation.  The fact that those ports could be won back by purely peaceful negotiation on the eve of World War Two, shows that the limitations on Home Rule could also have been negotiated away, peacefully.

The use of force in 1916, and from 1919 to 1923, did not serve the interests of northern nationalists.

If a nation is to learn anything at all from history, it must be willing to examine, using all it knows now, what might have happened, if a different historical choices had been made. Otherwise there is little point studying history.

 The choice to use force in 1916, and again in 1919, must be subjected to reappraisal, in light of what  we can now  see  could have been  achieved without the taking of life .

[1] PS O Hegarty, The Victory of Sinn Fein (Dublin Talbot Press 1924) page 91

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at a Seminar on “1916 and Revolutionary Republicanism” at the Thomas D’Arcy Magee Summer School in Carlingford, Co Louth at 10 am on Monday 22 August

ITALY……..EUROPE’S NEXT BIG CHALLENGE

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 17.31.08Now that the UK has decided to leave, the next big problem facing the EU is the constitutional reform referendum in Italy later this year.

In April the Italian Parliament has passed a package of constitutional reforms.  They were designed to improve the efficiency and stability of the Italian state, and reduce the ability of the Italian Senate to bring the government down.

Although  the package passed, it did not get  the required  66% majority in both Houses  to come into  immediate effect.

The only way the package can come into effect now, is if it is approved by the Italian people in a referendum.

The Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, decided that this referendum will take place this autumn, and he has gone further and said that, unless the people approve the proposals, he will resign.

David Cameron’s recent failed  referendum gamble makes this look now to be  a more risky decision than when it was taken.

The proposed constitutional  reforms  include

  • reducing the size of the Senate
  • reducing the power of the Senate  both  to block legislation that has been passed by the Chamber of Deputies, and to bring down the government
  • reducing the power of Italian regional governments

Major reforms of the Italian state are urgent because the debt of the Italian state is 130% of GDP, and the state has to find resources for an ageing population, and influx of refugees, and bank rescue.   The Senate has proved to be an obstacle to some reforms.

Reforms are needed to increase the overall productivity of the Italian economy.  This  requires

  •  a simplification of the tax code,
  • less taxation of work and more on property,
  • simpler public administration and
  • a simpler and more efficient courts system.

State owned enterprises also need to face  more competition, as do some professions and retailers.

Before it joined the euro, Italy was able to devalue its way out of short term problems, as the UK is doing now. But devaluation  enabled it to avoid making big and difficult reforms.

Since it joined the euro, Italy has reformed its previously unviable public pension system, a task Ireland and the UK have yet even to discuss seriously. So Italy’s underlying ability to make big reforms should not be underestimated.

The polls on how Italians will vote in the referendum are very volatile.

The proportion in the “Don’t Know” category ranged from 19% to 42% in the two most recent polls.

Furthermore Prime Minister Renzi’s party lost ground in recent city elections, including in Rome.

Renzi’s main opponents are the “ 5 Star” Movement, who make their policies, and select their candidates, by polls over the internet. They reject the idea of career politicians and prefer politicians to be amateurs, who do the work on a short term basis. This sentiment is similar to the rejection of the opinion of “experts” and “elites” in the recent UK Referendum.

The trouble with amateur politicians is that, while they may have good ideas, they may lack the necessary technical ability, and staying power, to see their ideas through to full and effective implementation.

Italy is the 8th largest economy in the world. It has an excellent quality of life, and a great reputation.

Unfortunately its state system does not work well and there is not enough political consensus to put things right. This is not a weakness that Italy can afford. It needs a strong and effective state.  A rise in the price of fuel, or in international interest rates, could cause a big crisis for Italy, unless it has a state that is capable of making and fully implementing difficult decisions.

That is why Prime Minister Renzi’s referendum is so important for Italy, and for Europe.

 

 

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