John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

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CAN THE BREXIT IMPASSE BE RESOLVED?


This week I am speaking in the Sciences Po University in Paris at the invitation of the Dean, Enrico Letta, a former Italian Prime Minister .

A member of the Scottish Government, Fiona Hyslop will also speak and we will be discussing the dilemmas posed by Brexit with a number of academics and their students.

Later this week, I will attend the Ideas Lab, organized by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS),  in Brussels. I am a member of the board of CEPS.

This meeting will consider the possibility of the trade war between China and the US going global, integrating climate and trade policies, and the vision for the EU for the next 5 years. Brexit, as such, is not on the agenda.

Interesting ideas on resolving the Brexit impasse have been put forward by Andrew Duff, a former MEP, and by Professor Kenneth Armstrong of Cambridge University.

Andrew Duff suggests a series of detailed amendments to the Political Declaration that would bring the UK closer to the EU in some respects.

Professor Armstrong suggests a new protocol that would give greater legal force to the Political Declaration.

His core idea is that there would be that a set of criteria be negotiated, as to how and when the backstop might  be implemented, or be modified or replaced.

Procedurally, his proposal would de dramatize and postpone the issue. But it would not solve it.

It remains to be seen how it could avoid a hard border,  either in Ireland or on the Irish Sea, if, at the end of the day, the UK insists on pursuing an independent trade policy.

It is also unclear whether a majority could be obtained in the House of Commons for any of this.

Until that is clearer, it is hard to say whether the EU has a credible interlocutor in London with whom it can negotiate. The UK Parliament has yet to reconcile its desires, with the essential needs of the European Union. It has to accept the tradeoffs involved.

Professor Armstrong’s approach would avoid a No Deal crash out on 29 March.

I have no doubt that customs controls will have to be introduced by Ireland, as a continuing EU member, in the event of a No Deal crash out.

I feel that public opinion has not been prepared for that legal reality.

Being in the EU has been very advantageous for Ireland in every way, especially in attracting investment and jobs.

So Ireland must implement EU law. The EU is a system of rules, and if its rules are not respected, it ceases to exist.

“NO DEAL”, AND FARMING…WHERE ARE THE CREATIVE SOLUTIONS?

The shocking consequences for Irish farming of a No Deal Brexit have been spelled out in graphic detail by Phelim O Neill in successive editions of the Irish Farmers Journal.

The beef sector will be worst hit, with a 350kg Irish beef carcass, worth 1295 euros, facing a 780 euro tariff on the UK market, if the UK applies WTO terms.

If, instead, the UK adopts a zero tariff approach, Irish beef would face unlimited Brazilian competition.

The emergency support measures, that the EU might introduce to deal with a No Deal crisis, would buy time for the sheep, pig and dairy sectors. This would allow them to develop alternatives to the UK market.

But alternative markets for Irish beef, at anything near the returns to be found on the British market, do not exist.

A No Deal has become increasingly likely because Mrs May has decided that her priority is to avoid a split in the Conservative Party.  She has calculated that, if she tried to get her Deal through with Labour support, in return for modifications that would satisfy Labour, such as staying the Customs Union or softening her stance on EU immigration, her Party would break up. She would lose 50 or 100 MPs, and would cease to be Prime Minister.

Should, or could, the EU make concessions that would help out Mrs May?

Even if the EU side wanted to make concessions to the UK on the terms of its Withdrawal, it has no way of knowing if Mrs May would have the political authority to get any such modified deal through the House of Commons.

When one contrasts what leading Brexiteers, like David Davis, were saying a few years ago about what might be acceptable, with what they are insisting on now, it appears that nothing will satisfy them, and that every concession will be met by a new demand. It is catharsis, rather than compromise, they are after.

This is the point that needs to be addressed by those in the Irish media who are already laying the ground work for blaming “brinkmanship “ by the EU, and  particularly by Ireland, if the UK crashes out of the EU on 29 March.

What guarantee can these critics offer that any conceivable “alternative” to the backstop would pass in the House of Commons?

These critics, and the UK government itself, have so far been shy in coming forward with practical ideas that would get a majority in Westminster, and also respect the integrity of the EU market.

One person who has come forward with ideas to break the deadlock is the UCD economist, Karl Whelan.

He says that one of the reasons advanced by the DUP for rejecting the backstop, namely that the backstop would place a barrier in the way of Northern Irish exports the Britain, is without foundation.

 He says that under the backstop, exports originating in Northern Ireland would go through a Green channel at Belfast port with no checks or controls. Only goods originating in the Republic of Ireland , or further afield, would have to go through a red channel where there might be checks.

And, at the same time, NI exporters would have free access to the EU across the open land border in Ireland… They would have the best of both worlds.

Karl Whelan goes on to suggest that, to get the Withdrawal Deal across the line in the House of Commons, the EU side might consider two extra concessions.

 The first is an option that, at some future point after the end of the transition period, Britain could leave the joint Customs Union with the EU, on condition that Northern Ireland  remained in the Customs Union and aligned with EU goods regulations. This would deal with the Brexiteer fear that the EU is trying to “trap” Britain in the Customs Union, which is not the case.

The second part of his proposal is that voters in Northern Ireland try out the backstop for a few years, but that, after (say) five or more years, they could have a referendum, in which Northern voters could decide to opt out of the backstop.

He thinks they would opt to stay in it because by then they would , over the five years , have experienced the “best of both worlds”  that the backstop gives the Northern Irish economy.

There are two problems with this idea. The suggested referendum could further deepen the Orange/Green split, and the very possibility of a referendum would introduce a new element of uncertainty for business. Referendums are inherently risky and influenced by extraneous issues. But the delay would allow time for the supposed technological fixes for a hard border to be road tested.

That said, his proposal would be far less divisive than an outright border poll, which could flow from a “No Deal” Brexit.

Opinion polls in NI suggest that a  majority there would opt to stay in the UK if the UK were to remain in the EU, opinion would be equally split under the backstop, but would spring dramatically against staying in the UK if the there was a No Deal Brexit.  In those circumstances a border poll would be hard to resist. Brexiteer “Unionists” in Britain are foolishly playing with fire.

Another idea for breaking the deadlock has come from the German Ifo Institute, in a paper published only last month.

This proposal would involve dumping the entire EU negotiating approach so far, and instead offering the UK membership of a newly constituted European Customs Association, through which the UK would have influence on EU trade policy and vice versa. It suggests that Turkey might also be invited to join this European Customs Association. The Customs Association idea might mitigate the “vassal state” objection to the UK joining the EU Customs Union as a simple rule taker.

But  I would question the wisdom, and perhaps the motivation, of bringing forward such a proposal at this impossibly late stage, as a possible solution to the present crisis.

It  might have been helpful, if it had been published when Theresa May wrote her original Article 50 letter in 2017, but it has little value, as a way of averting a No Deal crash out on 29 March.

 If the UK accepts the Withdrawal Treaty, or if it decides to withdraw its Article 50 letter, the Ifo proposal might be considered then. But to have any traction, it is an idea that would have to come from the UK side.

Both the Whelan and Ifo proposals are designed to help the UK clarify what it wants.

The problem is that UK opinion on Brexit has become so polarised, and so tied up with questions of identity, and political party discipline has been so damaged, that it is hard to see the House of Commons assembling a political will to deliver anything, except slipping into a chaotic No Deal.  I hope I will be proven wrong.

Brexit Conviction Is “Fragile”, Says Former Irish Prime Minister

A former Taoiseach said that conviction to leave the European Union is “fragile” and that fears of a second referendum show ‘distrust’ in support for Brexit.

THE LEGACY OF PARNELL

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU Ambassador to the United States, at the annual Parnell Commemoration, ay 11 am in the Milestone Gallery in Glasnevin Cemetery on Sunday 7 October 2018;127 years ago yesterday, Charles Stewart Parnell died, at the age of only 45.

I am deeply honoured to be invited to speak in memory of him today, for many reasons.

I admire Parnell for his parliamentary achievements, for his ability to combine popular agitation in Ireland with inter party leverage at Westminster to make concrete gains for his country.

Politics is often about timing, knowing how far to go and when to stop.

Parnell knew when to be tough and uncompromising, and when to make a deal.

As President of the National Land League but also as Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster, he exploited both offices to win land reform in Ireland.

The 1881 Land Act conceded the principle of fair rents, to be settled by judicial decision, and not just by economic or market forces.

The idea ran against many of the prevailing economic doctrines of the time. It also ran against Parnell’s own economic interests as a landlord.

It was not enough for some of Parnell’s supporters, but Parnell knew that, if it was rejected, the whole cause of land reform might have been lost.

So he devised the strategy of “testing” the Act.

He had also rejected the idea of his MP’s seceding from Parliament as he knew that this would be counterproductive, counterproductive then, as it is counterproductive now.

The Land Act was the first step towards the eventual transfer of land ownership, with compensation, from landlords to tenants, giving this numerous body of people, the former tenants, a stake in the country, a sense of shared ownership of Ireland.

In retrospect, it is probably good that this was done before Ireland became independent.

Trying to solve the land question after independence would have put an immense strain on Irish democracy. It would have been either deeply divisive, or financially costly, or both.

Parnell’s personal approach to the land question was more nuanced than one might think. Unlike Michael Davitt and most of his own party, he did not favour land nationalisation. Nor did he favour what eventually happened, the outright and compulsory transfer (with compensation) of all land from the landlord, to the farmer who was already farming it.

He proposed an amendment in 1888 which would have restricted tenant purchase to holdings where the rateable valuation(PLV) was 20 pounds, a  small farm of no more than  30 acres. Later he revised the figure up to 50 pounds  PLV.

Basically his position seems to have been that he wanted to allow the survival of small residential Irish landlords (like himself), and only wanted compulsory transfer of the  holdings of the  absentee landlords.

He argued that residential landlords were “well fitted” to “take part in the future social regeneration” of a Home Rule Ireland.

It is worth reflecting on the political methods Parnell used to persuade Parliament to take the first big step towards land reform in Ireland.

In 1879, Ireland, and the young leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, faced something, with which we have unfortunately recently had to cope with again, a sudden  fall in income, partly  due to the forces of globalization.

The heavy concentration of small holdings on the western seaboard meant that, in that heavily populated part of the country, people had a very precarious livelihood.

In the 1870’s , the immensely fertile grain growing regions of the Mid Western United States gained  access to the global market, thanks to  massive railway construction and improved shipping. 

These regions were able to supply grains to Europe at prices well below those at which Irish, British, and other European farmers could produce them.

This meant an immediate fall in farm incomes in these islands, and a fall off too in the demand for migratory seasonal labour in Scotland and the east of Ireland, on which many western farmers had come to depend to supplement their incomes and to pay their rent.

And then, in 1877, 1878 and again in 1879, there were disastrous summers in Ireland, and blight again afflicted the potato crop. Potato production plunged from 4 million tons in 1876 to only 1 million in 1879. People began to starve.

Parnell saw this crisis as an emergency, but also as an opportunity.

He went to the United States himself to raise funds to relieve starvation in Ireland , AND to finance a new National Land League founded in1879 to campaign for a  change in the basis of land ownership in Ireland.

He addressed the US House of Representatives in February 1880 on the situation in Ireland and, through the New Departure, he won Fenian support for this  land campaign, by linking it with the cause of self government for Ireland.

I might add here that the New Departure removed the gun from Irish politics for 35 years, before the Ulster Volunteers landed their arms in Larne.

Parnell’s ability to turn, what was potentially a humanitarian disaster into a vehicle  for political and economic reform, marks him out as a politician of exceptional talent. 

The ideas were not all his own, but he could fuse into something potent.

It is fair to say that the disastrous fall in incomes that occurred in the late 1870s would have happened, no matter what system of land tenure, or what system of Government Ireland then had.

It took someone of Parnell’s genius to turn it into something more far reaching, and productive.

This is, I think, something that current Irish political leaders can draw from Parnell’s career.

In a crisis, and we may soon face another externally generated crisis here around Brexit, it is possible to get people to see things differently, and to agree to changes they might not undertake in calmer and less anxious times

Parnell’s other great achievement was the introduction of the first Home Rule Bill of 1886.

Like the Land Act, this was a radical departure, when seen against the background of British opinion, at the time and since, in respect of indivisibility of the “Union”, a majoritarian Union of four nations, in which England , and English opinion, always constituted the majority

One has only to reflect on the fact that it was not until Tony Blair became Prime Minister, that Home Rule for Scotland and Wales was achieved.

The fact that, as early as 1886, a century earlier, the principle of Home Rule for Ireland became the policy of the UK’s biggest political party, the Liberals, is a measure of the force of Parnell’s parliamentary influence.

I am proud to be here for a more personal reason. Parnell became the MP for Meath in 1875, and I was one of those elected to represent the same constituency less than 100 years later.

Parnell entered Parliament as a member for Meath in 1875 in a by election.

He had previously contested a by election in Dublin county, but was defeated there, by the Conservative candidate , Colonel Taylor, of Ardgillan near Balbriggan.

Interestingly, in light of subsequent events, the 27 year old Parnell relied heavily, in securing the Home Rule nomination to stand in both contests, on a fulsome endorsement from his local Catholic Parish Priest in his home county of Wicklow, Father Richard Galvin of Rathdrum.

Fr Galvin described Parnell “up to the mark” on all the great questions of the day, which meant for him,

  • Home Rule,
  • denominational education and
  • fixity of tenure.

After losing in Dublin, in seeking the nomination in Meath, Parnell also had an animated interview with the then Catholic Bishop of Meath ,Thomas Nulty in the Presbytery in Navan.

He secured the bishops support, and the highlight of his successful campaign, according to his biographer, FSL Lyons, was a great meeting in Navan, attended, inter alia, by many parish priests and curates.

As we know, Parnell did not retain this support later.

Much of his effectiveness as an Irish leader depended on his influence over Liberal and non conformist opinion in Britain.

He lost that influence because of the O’Shea divorce case in 1890, and this loss of support, and hence of his political effectiveness, created a huge dilemma, which split the Irish Parliamentary Party.

A majority of the Party wished him to stand aside, at least temporarily.

This view was influenced primarily by political pragmatism, rather than by anything else.

Although a clear majority of the Irish Party MPs wanted Parnell to step down, partially or fully, Parnell would not accept the majority verdict, something that would not happen in any Irish parliamentary party today.

Unsurprisingly the Catholic Church in Ireland supported the majority position. Unfortunately some of the things that were said on its behalf, to discourage people from voting for Parnellite candidates, were consistent neither with Christian Charity, nor Catholic doctrine.

I remember in my first campaign in 1969 meeting a neighbour, Charlie Curley of Castlefarm, near Dunboyne, who told me his father had been ardent Parnellite, who had heard Parnell speak under the Big Tree in Dunboyne village. The tree still stands, a mute memorial to the deceased leader.

Dunboyne was a Parnellite parish, but during the split, the local parish priest preached a particularly strong sermon against Parnell.

A majority of local people decided to punish the PP by resolving not to make offerings at funerals.

As a result, until funeral offerings were finally ended in the 1970s in Meath , Dunboyne was the only parish in the diocese where  they did not take place.

The Parnell split in Meath is well described in an excellent book by David Lawlor, whose own grandfather was involved.

Reading that book, I was amazed to discover how many of the descendants of  the protagonists in the split were still active in local politics. One was the longtime chairman of Meath County Council, and close political ally of my own, the late Paddy Fullam, whose grandfather had been elected as an  anti Parnellite MP in South Meath, only to be unseated as a result of  an election petition based on some things overenthusiastic priests had said in his support.  The petition was ruinously expensive for the Fullam family, even though Mr Fullam was not responsible for the offending remarks.

What then are the lessons we can learn from Parnell’s career?

We can learn of the value of discipline and unity in a political party.

Under Parnell, the Irish Party became a disciplined pledge bound party.

Without that discipline, the Party would not have won the Land Act of 1881 or the Home Rule Bill of 1886. If the Irish representation in Westminster in the 1880’s consisted of 100 independent MP’s , they would have achieved little!

Likewise, if Dail Eireann is to make difficult decisions quickly, it needs disciplined and united political parties.

We can learn the importance of turning a crisis into an opportunity, as Parnell did with the agricultural crisis of the late 1870’s, using it win land reform. Politicians need to be imaginative, as Parnell was on that occasion.

We can learn the value of taking one’s seat in any Parliament to which one is elected, because, in Parliament, every vote counts.

Every vote will count in Westminster, when decisions have to be taken on Brexit, and on whether the people are to be consulted  again on whether they want to go ahead with it, when they know, at last, what it really means.

I commend the Parnell Society for keeping alive the memory of the great constitutional politician, Charles Stewart Parnell.

I  also thank the society for the annual Parnell Summer School, held in Parnell’s old home at Avondale, which has allowed the tremendous historical research, now being done, to reach a wider audience.  Long may this work continue to be supported.

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


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