John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: Sinn Fein

THREE QUESTIONS…………….

MRS MAY;    TELL US EXACTLY WHAT SORT OF DEAL YOU WANT WITH THE EU CUSTOMS UNION

 

DUP;    TELL US WHAT SORT OF AGRICULTURAL POLICY YOU WANT IN NORTHERN IRELAND AFTER BREXIT

SINN FEIN ;    TELL US WHY YOU WILL NOT  GO INTO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS NEXT MONTH TO FIGHT FOR IRISH INTERESTS ON THE NEW BREXIT LAWS

 

It is unfortunate that the United Kingdom government decided to trigger article 50 , without first working out, around the Cabinet table, what sort of relationship the UK could reasonably expect to have with its neighbours after it had left  the EU.

It is true that Mrs May presented a wish list in her Lancaster House speech. But this list was, and is, impossible to achieve because it took no account of WTO rules, and of the fact that commerce can only be free ,if the rules governing it remain reasonably uniform.

She said that, on  the day it leaves the EU, the UK will retain all the  then existing EU rules for goods and services, but would be free change them,  by Act of Parliament or by  legal reinterpretation from then on. This implies a gradual, surreptitious, hardening of the border in Ireland, as UK standards begin to diverge from EU standards.

To the extent that the UK diverges from EU standards, the UK businesses will have to apply two sets of standards, one for the UK market, and another for the 45% of UK exports that go to the EU.

Once the UK has left the EU, goods, coming  into the EU (including into Ireland), from the UK will also be subject to checking under “Rules of Origin” requirements, to see that they do not contain impermissible non UK content. For example, there might have to be checks that UK beef burgers do not contain Brazilian beef.  These “Rules of Origin” checks will involve bureaucracy, which will be especially onerous for small firms.

One study estimated that the need to apply “Rules of Origin” checks could reduce trade volumes by 9%.  The EU/ Canada trade Agreement has 100 pages on “Rules of origin” alone.

As far as imports into the EU at Dundalk or Lifford are concerned, it will be Irish, not UK, officials who will have the distasteful job of enforcing the border. Irish officials will have to check whether EU safety, sanitary, origin and other rules have been met. This is something being imposed on us, as an EU member, by a UK decision.

It will not be done cheaply. A House of Lords Committee said that “electronic systems are not available to accurately record cross border movements of goods”. If the UK government knows otherwise, it should produce the evidence…without delay.

Even if a light or random system of checking at the border or in ports is imposed, the biggest costs will have to be met by businesses, before they get anywhere near the port or the border.

The preparation of all the extra compliance documentation will deter many smaller firms from exporting at all. For example it has been estimated that the number of customs declarations that UK firms will have to prepare and present will jump from 90 million a year to 390 million once the UK leaves the EU. Irish firms will have a similar extra burden in their dealings with the UK.

The focus on the Irish border should not deflect attention from the impact of Brexit on East/ West trade. Indigenously owned Irish exporters rely disproportionately on the UK market, and their customers are predominantly on the island of Britain, rather than in Northern Ireland. The bulk of Irish exports to continental Europe transit through Britain

MRS MAY AND THE CUSTOMS UNION

Theresa May was remarkably unclear, in her Lancaster House speech, about the sort of relationship she wanted with the EU Customs Union. She wanted bits of it, but not all of it.

This would run into immediate difficulties with the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO works on the basis of non discrimination, or the so called “Most Favoured Nation” principle.

This means that any concessions the EU Customs Union might grant to the UK, as a non EU member, would have to be extended by the EU to ALL the EU Customs Union’s trading partners. That is unless the special UK concessions cover “substantially all” trade between the UK and the Customs Union.  The UK will have to be either ”substantially in”, or “substantially out”, of the Customs Union.  Which does Mrs May want? She should be able to answer that question by now.

Many suspect the UK wants to leave the Customs Union so it can revert to the cheap food policy, that it had before it joined the common Market.  To prevent the  undermining of the EU Common Agricultural Policy that would flow from that, Ireland would then be obliged to collect the EU Common External Tariff on products like  beef,  milk, lamb, confectionary  and other food products crossing our  border, or arriving at our ports, from the UK.

THE DUP AND AGRICULTURE

Farmers, and investors in the food industry, need to know what sort of agricultural policy the UK will choose after it leaves the EU. Only then can Ireland know whether it will have to collect these very high EU tariffs at the border, and whether the entire Irish food industry (on both sides of the border) will have to be diverted to other markets.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which supported Brexit, and which now dispensing gratuitous advice to the Irish Government on EU matters, should tell us exactly what sort of UK agriculture and food policy it expects post Brexit.  It is now in a good position to get an answer to that question from the UK government. Its own farming supporters would like to know.

SINN FEIN VACATES THE FIELD

The DUP is not the only party that needs to examine its position.

In September the UK Parliament will begin debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, which will allow for UK standards of goods and services to diverge from existing EU standards, thereby deepening the Irish border.

Thanks to the abstentionist policy of Sinn Fein, there will be no Irish Nationalist MPs in  that debate able to put forward amendments  to mitigate the hardening of the border that this legislation will allow. Until this year, 3 SDLP MPs would have been there , but now, when their presence was never more necessary, the voters have replaced them by Sinn Fein MP’s, who will draw their salaries, but will stay away when decisions have to be made, leaving the field to the DUP.

Sinn Fein should remember that the Irish people, on both sides of the border, accepted the Good Friday Agreement in a Referendum  in 1998, and that removes any  “nationalist” argument  Sinn Fein might have had for not taking their seats. If Sinn Fein can shake hands with the Queen, if they can take their seats in Stormont, they can take their seats in Westminster!

There is work for them to do there now.

 

THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE IRISH PARLIAMENTARY PARTY ON THE 1916 REBELLION

220px-Major_William_Redmond_bust,_Wexford_cityI have been asked to address the above topic.

If one scrutinises the record of debates in the House of Commons in 1916, one can get a sense of the perspective of the Irish Party members.

The remarkable speech of Captain William Redmond, the MP for East Clare, in March 1916 gives a sense of how he and other Irish soldiers fighting on the Western front , as they saw it to defend the violated neutrality of Belgium, would have seen things.

He spoke of their terrible conditions, but also of their cheerfulness. “The harder the conditions, the more cheerful they seem to be” be said. Willie Redmond, a man in his late 50’s, and 35 years an MP, was to die of his wounds later in the year. Willie Redmond  would have been  disappointed to think that, within days of his speech, a Rebellion would have been initiated in Dublinin alliance with Germany, against whom he and other Irish soldiers, all volunteers, were fighting on the Western Front.

 That would be one perspective….before the Rebellion.

During the Rebellion itself, the Irish Party leaders were dispersed and had difficulty communicating with one another. John Dillon was in Dublin, Joe Devlin in Belfast, and John Redmond and TP O Connor in London.

After the Rebellion, on 11 May, another perspective came to the fore, this time expressed by John Dillon MP in the House of Commons.

He spoke of his opposition to the Rebellion and of how Irish Party MPs had persuaded some of their constituents not to take part. He referred particularly to Thomas Lundon MP in Limerick. He said nine out of every ten Irish people were opposed to the rebellion.

But he went on to condemn the house searches undertaken after the Rebellion was over in parts of the country where there had been no trouble at all. He said it was “insanity” to leave Ireland in the hands of General Maxwell.  He said his prime object in his speech was to stop the executions. He said the river of blood was undoing the work of reconciliation.

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. The Irish Rebellion was also undertaken in alliance with Germany so this comparison was apt.

John Redmond had also urged the Prime Minister to stop the executions the day before Pearse and Clarke were executed.

In his speech in the House of Commons, John Dillon drew attention to the stupidities of the post Rebellion repression by Sir John Maxwell.  He gave the example of the Commander in Chief of the Irish Volunteers, Eoin McNeill , who, by giving a clear military order that the the rebellion was not to take place, in Dillon’s words “broke the back of the rebellion on the very eve of it, and kept back a large body of men from joining it”. Despite this , McNeill was also imprisoned by the British.

Incidentally, given that a democracy relies on military discipline, the commemoration of actions taken in breach of orders, is inherently uncomfortable for soldiers and politicians alike.

In considering the overall policy record of the Irish Party, one must draw attention to a few important points.

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

A year and a half earlier, it had had another vital parliamentary achievement which invalidated the case for a Rebellion. The principle of Irish legislative independence for Ireland was  won from the Imperial Parliament, in September 1914, by the passage into law and signature by the King of the Home Rule Bill. That happened BEFORE any rebellion here, and, as Conservative leader Bonar Law subsequently admitted, there was no going back on Home Rule. The point of principle was won without a shot being fired.

This, along with the transfer of the effective ownership of the land of Ireland into the hands of those who were working it, were signal achievements of the Irish Party. Indeed it was the Irish Party achievement of land reform, which created an Irish rural middle class, that in turn enabled  Ireland to remain democratic in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when so many other new states became authoritarian.

The only open question was whether or how Home Rule might apply to Antrim, Down, Armagh and Derry (and perhaps Fermanagh and Tyrone). The open question was whether such 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. That could have been achieved by peaceful negotiation, if it was what the voters of the 26 or 28 counties wanted.

Indeed some of the exclusions from the powers of the Home Rule Administration(eg. Marriage law and tariffs) were only put therein the first place, to reassure Ulster Unionists, when  it was envisaged, as in the original Home Rule Bill, that  that all 32 counties would be fully included from the outset.

The same principle of legislative independence, conceded to Ireland in September 1914, was conceded b to Canada, Australia and other dominions.  We know now that they all of them proceeded to full sovereignty, without   the suffering and bitterness of war.

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

I believe the Irish Parliamentary Party would have been aware of this. 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.

Given the value Irish people place on each human life, those who take life, have the primary burden of proof to discharge. It was for them to prove that no other way was open.  I believe that the Irish Parliamentary Party would have felt that that test was not passed by those who initiated the Rebellion in 1916.

They would have felt  that Home Rule, already law, could, once brought into force have led Ireland to the same position of Canada enjoys today, if that was the wish of the Irish people.

The Home Rule Parliament would have elected under the same wide suffrage that applied in 1918. Sinn Fein would have won significant representation in the Home Rule House of Commons, as would the Irish Labour Party and the group led by Tim Healy. All three groups would have pressed for ever greater degrees of independence, going beyond Dominion status.

Home Rule was not brought into force immediately on its passage into law 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”

Home Rule could have also come into effect in late 1916, and Carson had agreed to that on the basis that the six counties would be excluded for the time being and would be administered directly from Westminster. That did not happen because some Conservative members of government, Lansdowne, Selborne, and Long, objected because of the disturbed state of Ireland in the wake of the Rebellion and the fear that Germany, who had allied themselves with the rebels, would exploit the situation militarily.

But, regardless of that Home Rule would have come into effect at the end of the war, if that was the path the Irish people chose in the  December 1918 Election. They did not do so

It would not be  credible to say that the UK would have denied to a Home Rule Ireland, the powers it freely granted to dominions like Canada and Australia, under the Statute of Westminster of 1931, if that is what the Irish people really  wanted.

The suffering of the War of Independence was, I believe, not needed to achieve Dominion Status.

In the 1918 Election, the policy of the Irish Party, led by John Dillon, was Dominion Status for Ireland.

The policy of Sinn Fein, led by Eamon de Valera was complete separation of the 32 counties from the UK on the basis of the 1916 Proclamation.

Sinn Fein won the election but, after all the killing in the War of Independence, all they ended up with was Dominion status, the very policy of their defeated Irish party opponents.

Therein lay the roots of the Civil War from 1922 to 1923. After all the deaths of the War of Independence, the separatists had to accept, in the Treaty, the exact policy of their democratically defeated  Irish Party opponents of 1918.

It is said that Home Rule would have left British forces on Irish territory. But so also did the Treaty of 1921. 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.

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 severe reappraisal , in light of what  we can see  might been achieved, and was in fact achieved by other former British dependencies, without the loss of life .

Remarks by John Bruton at a Seminar on the 1916 Rebellion, organised by the Society of Former Members of the Dail and Senate,  in the Senate Chamber in  Leinster House Dublin at 2.15 pm on Friday 22 January.

POTENTIAL COLLAPSE OF NORTHERN IRELAND POWERSHARING ADMINISTRATION….UMWILLINGNESS TO ACCEPT THAT POWER CARRIES RESPONSIBILITIES AT HEART OFCRISIS

I write about the following matter with some feeling because like others, I have devoted a significant amount of time and effort over 10 years or more to creating conditions in which, as part of a wider settlement, nationalists and unionists would share power and responsibility in Northern Ireland. Responsibility goes with power, and recent events suggest that some people want the power, but prefer to dodge the responsibility that goes with it.

The debacle over welfare reform in Northern Ireland, and the resultant severe risk that the power sharing institutions themselves will collapse, raises a doubt as to whether Sinn Fein is a serious political party, capable of exercising government responsibility in any jurisdiction. 

On 23 December last, after months of brinkmanship and suspense, Sinn Fein and the other parties agreed a package of measures in the Stormont House Agreement. Everyone knew, in those talks, that the Agreement was framed within a block grant from Westminster that was limited.

Yet three months after they made the agreement, Sinn Fein are backing off the part of it concerning welfare reform, saying the DUP did not give them the figures (as if there was no Sinn Fein person capable of doing the relevant arithmetic, notwithstanding their huge taxpayer funded staff in Stormont!), and without making any proposal as to how the funding shortfall might otherwise be bridged within the budget. 

Last December, Sinn Fein and the other parties agreed to the following, including specific figures:

“The (UK) Government has developed a comprehensive financial support package to help the Executive deliver across its priorities. The total value of the Government package represents additional spending power of almost £2 billion. Details of the financial package are in a financial annex attached to this agreement.”  

“A final balanced budget for 2015-16 needs to be agreed in January.” 

“Legislation will be brought before the Assembly in January 2015 to give effect to welfare changes alongside further work” 

“ Implementation of these welfare changes will begin to take place in the financial year 2015-16 and implementation will be complete by 2016-17.”

None of this was new. The issue of welfare reforms had been the subject of exhaustive debate in the Assembly, over the previous years, so everyone should have known the sums involved. 

For example, a Committee of the Assembly issued a final report on the Welfare Reform Bill in 2013 which said:

“While the Committee agreed the general principles and aims of the Bill it had serious concerns about its potential negative impact, particularly on vulnerable groups. Therefore, in its engagement with stakeholders the Committee specifically asked what mitigating measures needed to be put in place in order to minimise the impact on the most vulnerable in society. In drawing up these recommendations the Committee was acutely aware of the arguments relating to parity with GB and the potential cost implications. While social security arrangements are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the costs (approximately £3bn per annum) are covered by the Treasury and are separate from the NI Block Grant.
The Minister made it clear to the Committee that any deviation from parity that had an associated cost would have to be borne by the Block Grant i.e. the Treasury would not make any additional funding provision to accommodate these changes.”

That was back in 2013!

If the welfare cuts were to be mitigated, the funds would have to be found elsewhere, so those who wanted changes had two years to work out how to pay for them.

So the idea, now being peddled by Sinn Fein that they did not understand the figures involved, when they made the Stormont House Agreement last December, and now that they have been told them, even have no proposals for making up the shortfall of about £200 million, is just incredible.

It would suggest that they do not take their responsibilities seriously, and regard the whole business of government as a game, the purpose of which is to say what your supporters want to hear all the time, and blame someone else for everything. 

This is a juvenile approach to politics. It is just not serious, and voters deserve politicians who are serious about their work.

It is a mystery to me that the SDLP, which did so much in the past to bring power sharing into being ,has gone along with this exercise.

It is also a warning to any parties in the Republic who might contemplate negotiation with Sinn Fein…If you agree something with them in December, they will go back on it in March!

THE ODD THING IS NOT THAT MARTIN MCGUINNESS WENT TO WINDSOR CASTLE…… BUT THAT SINN FEIN MPS STILL REFUSE TO DO THEIR WORK IN THE PARLIAMENT TO WHICH THEY SEEK ELECTION

I was in England last week for some of the celebrations attending the State visit of Ireland’s President Higgins to the United Kingdom.


Although Ireland and the United Kingdom have lived in peace beside one another since 1921, and have both been members of the EU since 1973, this was, remarkably, the first state visit by an Irish Head of State to the United Kingdom. 

The Treaty of  1921, which brought the Irish Free State into existence, accepted the fact of continuing UK jurisdiction over Northern Ireland. The Irish constitution of 1937 also accepted this fact too, but asserted a right to reunification of the national territory which was deemed to include Northern Ireland.  My understanding is that the existence of this territorial claim, which was not pursued in any serious way as a legal claim, was an obstacle in the minds of some Irish leaders to normal state to state relations. They seem to have felt that reciprocal state visits at head of state level would have constituted full acceptance, as of right, of UK jurisdiction in Northern Ireland. 

This barrier was removed in 1998, sixteen years ago, when the relevant articles ( 2 and 3) in the constitution were removed by a referendum vote of the Irish people, as part of the package of measures that made up the Good Friday Agreement.

The coverage of the visit in Ireland was enormous and focussed on President Higgins and the queen and their many visibly cordial interactions throughout the visit.

Unfortunately, in sections of the media in Britain, much attention was focussed on the attendance of Martin Mc Guinness, a former member of the IRA, who now Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland ( which remains in the United Kingdom) at the dinner in Windsor Castle. To my mind, it is unexceptional that Mr McGuiness would receive and accept such an invitation, given the office he willingly holds.

What remains exceptional is the fact that members of Mr Mc Guinness’ party, Sinn Fein, put forward members to be elected as members of Parliament in Westminster, who then refuse to take their seats there(although they draw their pay and allowances). If they attended they could work to affect the legislation that governs their constituents. That is what MPs do. 

It seems that, in some way, Sinn Fein do not attend because they do not accept the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament (although they are happy to receive and spend money raised and voted by that Parliament).

If that is the case, they are not accepting the will of the Irish people, who accepted the Good Friday Agreement in full, including the change in articles 2 and 3 and the  renunciation of any refusal to accept UK jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, unless and until the people of Northern Ireland itself decide to join a united Ireland. 

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