John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Tag: Ireland

THE IRISH BACKSTOP….HOW DIFFICULT?

The harder the Brexit, the harder will be the resolution of the Irish border problem.

In a Joint Report of 8 December 2017, the UK agreed to respect Ireland’s place in the EU and that there would be no hard border in Ireland. This was to apply

“in all circumstances, irrespective of any future agreement between the EU and the UK”.

The further the UK negotiating demand goes from continued membership of the EU, the harder it will be for it to fulfill the commitments it has given on the Irish border in the Joint Report.

If the UK government had decided to leave the EU, but to stay in the Customs Union, the Irish border questions would have been minimized.  But the government decided to reject that, because it hoped to be able to make better trade deals with non EU countries, than the ones it has as an EU member.

If the UK government had decided to leave the EU, but  to join the European Economic Area (the Norway option),this would also have minimized the Irishborder problems. The government rejected that because it would have meant continued free movement of people from the EU into the UK .

In each decision, maintaining its relations with Ireland was given a lower priority than the supposed benefits of trade agreements with faraway places, and being able to curb EU immigration.

The government got its priorities wrong.

Future trade agreements that may be made with countries outside the EU will be neither as immediate, nor as beneficial to the UK, as maintaining peace and good relations in the island of Ireland. The most they will do is replace the 70 or more trade agreements  with non EU countries that the UK already has as an EU member and will lose when it leaves.

EU immigration to the UK, if it ever was a problem, is a purely temporary and finite one.

Already the economies of central European EU countries are picking up, and, as time goes by, there will be fewer and fewer people from those countries wanting to emigrate to the UK(or anywhere else) to find work.  These countries have low birth rates and ageing populations, and thus a diminishing pool of potential emigrants.

Solving the supposed EU immigration “problem” is less important to the UK, in the long run, than peace and good relations in, and with, Ireland .

If, as is now suggested, the UK looks for a Canada or Ukraine style deal, the Irish border problem will be even worse. Mrs May has recognized this and this is why she rejects a Canada style deal..

A Canada style deal would mean the collection of heavy tariffs on food products, either on the Irish Sea, or on the Irish border. Collecting them on the long land border would be physically impracticable, so the only option would be to do it on the Irish Sea.

The all Ireland economy, to which the UK committed itself in the Joint Report, would be irrevocably damaged. The economic foundation of the Belfast Agreement would be destroyed.

It is time for the Conservative Party to return to being conservative, and conserve the peace it helped build in Ireland on the twin foundations of the Belfast Agreement and the EU Treaties.  Conservative Party members might remember that, without John Major’s negotiation of the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, there would have been no Belfast Agreement in 1998.

The proposals the UK government is making for its future relationship with the EU will run into a number of obstacles in coming days.

The first will be that of persuading the EU that the UK will stick to any deal it makes.

Two collectively responsible members of the UK Cabinet, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, have both suggested that the UK might agree to a Withdrawal Treaty on the basis of the Chequers formula, but later, once out to the EU, abandon it, and do whatever it liked. This would be negotiating with the EU in bad faith. Why should the EU make a permanent concession to the UK, if UK Cabinet members intend to treat the deal as temporary?

The second problem relates to the substance of the UK proposals.

They would require the EU to give control of its trade borders, and subcontract control to a non member, the UK. While the UK proposals envisage a common EU/UK rule book for the quality of goods circulating, via the UK, into the EU Single Market, the UK Parliament would still retain the option of not passing some of the relevant legislation to give effect to it. The UK would not be bound to accept the ECJ’s interpretation of what the common rules meant. Common interpretation of a common set of rules is what makes a common market, common.

Mrs May is not the only Prime Minister with domestic constraints.  Creating a precedent of allowing the UK to opt into some bits of the EU Single Market, but not all, would create immediate demands for exceptions from other EU members, and from Switzerland and Norway (who pay large annual fees for entry to the EU Single market). It would play straight into the hands of populists in the European Parliament elections, which take place just two months after the date the UK itself chose as the end of its Article 50 negotiation period.

It does not require much political imagination to see that aspects of the UK proposal, if incorporated in a final UK/EU trade deal in a few years time, would be a hard sell in the parliaments of some of the 27 countries.  We must remember that all that would be needed for the deal to fail, would be for just one of them to say NO.

Remember how difficult it was to get the Canada and Ukraine deals through.

WHY I BELIEVE THE UK SHOULD STAY IN THE EU

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Stonyhurst College

THE EU IS A VOLUNTARY UNION

The fact that the British voters are free to have a referendum, and free to decide to leave the
European Union shows that the European Union is a voluntary Union.
It is not an Empire, which something a country would not be free to leave.
Nor is it a Federal Union like the United States, which does not permit its member states to leave either.
The EU’s voluntary character is one of the reasons why a number of states are still looking to join the EU.

THE FIRST TIME IN 60 YEARS ANY COUNTRY HAS CONSIDERED LEAVING

The 23 rd of June 2016 will, however, be the first time in the EU’s 60 year history, that any state has contemplated leaving.
This is a serious matter not just for Britain, but for all the countries of the EU.
So British voters, acting as as citizen legislators on 23 June, ought to think of the risks, that a British decision to leave might create for neighbouring countries in the EU, like Ireland. Voters here in Lancashire need to think about the consequences for peace in Ireland of the deepening of the border in Ireland that would flow from a Brexit decision on 23 June.

They also should consider the risk that Britain deciding to leave would create a precedent that would weaken the bonds that hold the remaining 27 countries together. The Parliament in Westminster has passed to voters the responsibility for deciding if a possible breakup of the EU would really be good for Britain, and for Europe too. It is a big responsibility.

STABILITY IN EUROPE HAS ALWAYS BEEN IMPORTANT TO BRITAIN

Stability in Europe has been a long term British goal.
Edmund Burke in the 1790’s favoured a Commonwealth of Europe.
Castlereagh worked for a Concert of Europe, with regular Summit meetings like the EU now has, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Winston Churchill, in 1930,advocated a United States of Europe.
These statesmen did not advocate these ideas out of some sort of dewy eyed sentimentalism. No, they had a hard headed appreciation of the fact that stability on the continent meant greater security for Britain, and they made their suggestions to achieve that end.

Now it is British voters, not British statesmen, who must decide what is best for Europe,

+ a Union with Britain on the inside, or
+ a fractured Union, which Britain has left of its own free will.

BREXIT COULD DOUBLE THE REGULATORY BURDEN

We hear much about EU Regulations and the burdens they impose. But even if Britain left the EU, it would still have regulations of its own on things like the environment, financial services and product safety.

In fact, to the extent that a Britain that had left the EU wanted to sell goods or services to Europe, it would have to comply with TWO sets of regulations,

+ British regulations for the British market, and
+ EU regulations for the EU market, including Ireland.

Arguably the duplicated post Brexit regulatory burden on British business would be greater than the present one.

A UK/EU TRADE DEAL COULD TAKE YEARS TO NEGOTIATE

Some believe that the UK could leave the EU, and then quickly negotiate a free trade agreement which would allow British firms to go on selling in Ireland and the other EU countries.
I am sure an agreement of some kind could eventually be worked out, but it would not be quick.
Switzerland negotiated trade agreements with the EU, but that took 9 years.
Canada negotiated a Free Trade agreement too, but that took 7 years.
The British Agreement would be much more complicated than either of these, because it would involve new issues like financial services, and freedom of movement ,and access to health services, for example for Britons in Spain. It would have to cover agriculture.
Even with maximum goodwill from the European Commission, a post Brexit EU trade agreement with Britain would become prey to the domestic politics of the 27 remaining EU countries, each of whom would have their own axes to grind.
There would be a lot of uncertainty, over a long period.

STAY IN, AND MAKE EU BETTER

I believe British people should accept that entities like the EU, which provide a structure, within which the forces of globalisation, can be governed politically are essential, if the prosperity that flows from globalisation is to be shared fairly.
Rather than leave, Britons should consider how they can make the EU better than it is, and there is plenty of scope for that.

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach of Ireland, in Stonyhurst College, near Clitheroe in
Lancashire on Sunday 29 May at 5pm

EVE OF ELECTION PROGNOSIS

cropped-irish-flag.jpgThe possibility of a Dail being elected tomorrow, where no feasible combination of parties will be able to form a government, is unfortunately quite high.

Party leaders were incessantly pressed, by the media and others during the campaign, into ruling out coalition options.
There was no space allowed for “constructive ambiguity”, although Irish people know well that, without “constructive ambiguity” in the short term, we might have had no peace process in the long term. Media interest and public interest are not always identical.

The questions asked by moderators, in the leaders’ debates, seemed to focus heavily on catching leaders out about things they said, or did, in the past, rather than on their thoughts about the future, which is what is really important now.

Some of the issues pursued were trivial, like the appointment of a member to the board of an art gallery

It is almost as if the moderators, in the debates, wanted to ask questions about the past, because they were, themselves, uncomfortable dealing with challenges about the future, like

+ the ballooning cost of health services, relative to resources available
+ the looming pensions crisis, where numbers at work will decline relative to numbers on pension
+ the changes required of Ireland to meet its climate change obligations
+ what the leaders would do, next June, if the UK leaves the EU
+ the shape of the 2017 budget ( all the focus was on what might be possible in 2021!)
+ what the leaders would do if, when the Dail meets, no combination of parties, willing to coalesce with one another, could attain a majority
+ how long could we go without a government, if one is not elected on 10 March

These are not very original questions, but they are the ones voters should be thinking about.

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.

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