Tuesday, 31 January 2012


I attended the launch recently in Trim Co Meath by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny of a book by local historian Noel French containing short biographies of over 500 Meath men who died in the 1914 - 1918 War.
 About five times that number of Meath people would have joined the forces , put their lives at risk, suffered greatly, but survived.
A similar story could be told about all 32 counties of Ireland, and it will be,   because Noel French’s book is part of a series.
The men who served in the Great War did so for a variety of motives.
Some undoubtedly joined for economic motives because of lack of employment, or poor employment, at home.
Others joined for adventure, and probably assumed the war would not last long.
Yet others, a  minority, would have done so mainly out of loyalty to the United Kingdom.
All were volunteers
 An important number would have done so out of rational political conviction, and out of a sense of how small nations, like Ireland itself, should and should not, be treated, and  in answer to a call to do so on that basis, from the Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond  .
 They joined the forces because they wanted to protect the rights of small countries, like Belgium, which had just been invaded in an entirely unprovoked way by Imperial Germany.
 Imperial Germany believed that going through Belgium was the best way to attack France. But the attack on France was itself unprovoked and pre emptive, because Germany feared an attack by France in response to Germany’s support for the Austro Hungarian Empire, in its completely unnecessary war on another small country, Serbia.
This was the background to John Redmond’s call on Irishmen to join the armed forces, to which so many Meath men responded.
 It is also the background against which the wisdom of the passage in the Easter Week 1916 Proclamation, which refers to Proclamation’s framers’  “gallant allies in Europe”, should be judged. These “gallant allies” were Imperial Germany, the Austro Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.  “Neutrality” was not part of Irish Republican thinking in 1916.
Because this 1916 ideology became so prevalent in Ireland until very recent times, the Irish people who fought in the Great War were made to feel outsiders in their own country for over two generations.
 It is only now, thanks to novelists like Sebastian Barry and historians like Noel French , that the memory of their sacrifice is being reclaimed, and their subsequent rejection by politically correct ideology remedied.
Reading Noel French’s book, I came across so many familiar names of Meath families I know, who lost a loved one. My own then small rural parish of Dunboyne, lost  14 men in the trenches, one of whose  relatives is now  a  local member of Meath County Council.
The Meath War Dead is published by the History Press Ireland of 119 Lower Baggot Street Dublin 2

Monday, 23 January 2012


On the basis of the  agreement at the EU Summit on 9 December, the EU is working out the details of the proposed fiscal compact which will be incorporated in a Treaty between EU members, except the UK. The latest version has been published on the Open Europe website and is herewith.
My own view is that something solemn and strong, along these lines, is needed if sovereign borrowing by European states is to regain the confidence of the markets. This a vital national interest for all euro area member states, notably for Ireland. So the Treaty must  pass. But we must also make sure it is as well designed as possible.

A few questions need to be answered.

1.)    Will this Treaty need to be put to a Referendum in Ireland?

When Ireland joined the United Nations and the IMF, no referendum was needed, even though in the former case Ireland theoretically could have been, or be,   committed militarily,  in  defined circumstances, which have not  in fact yet arisen.
One of the provisions in the Treaty , would commit Ireland to introduce a balanced budget rule into its legal system in a  binding and permanent way, preferably in the national constitution.
 A constitutional amendment would definitely require a referendum. But an amendment to the Central Fund Act or some other piece of “permanent” financial legislation, to impose a balanced budget policy, would not require a  referendum.
I wonder if  that would be sufficient?

2.)    How easy will it be to interpret is the proposed compact?

If the wording of the proposed Treaty is to subject to adjudication by the European Court of Justice and, in Ireland’s case, by the Irish Supreme Court it needs to be very clear .

The Treaty would allow a country to have a structural deficit of up to 0.5% of GDP , “in terms of the country specific medium  term objective” for that country. That objective would presumably be set by the Commission.

 Interpreting administrative objectives set by the Commission would be difficult for Courts.

Furthermore, the concept of the structural deficit itself is quite elastic. It depends on the point a country is on in its economic cycle. But there is often controversy even among top economists about when an economic cycle began or ended, and even about whether there is such a thing at all. This will bring judges into very difficult areas in which they have little expertise.
There is also a question about how binding these rules will be. A rule in Ireland’s constitution is much more  severe, than rules in constitutions in other countries, where the constitution is  seen as guidance, rather than absolutely binding regardless of circumstances

3.)    Does the compact do everything that needs to be done?

My own sense is that there is not enough in the draft Treaty about how Europe is to regain competitiveness and market share.
 This means bringing downs costs, in the way Germany did in the 1990s and Latvia did more recently. Fiscal austerity is necessary, but not sufficient, to achieve this.
Austerity is not an end in itself. It is only a means to an end, and that end needs to be more credibly and clearly defined by the Heads of Government of the Euro area.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


One of the most original books I read in the last year was “American Nations, a history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America” by Colin Woodard, a journalist living in Maine.

The thesis of the book is that  the first European settlers in a given part of the continent established the  prevailing  cultural and political norms for the  area and that subsequent immigrants, even those with  very  different ethnic and religious backgrounds,  adopted the  norms of the  original settlers. Although the original settlers may have arrived 400 years ago in different parts of  North America, their norms  can, Woodard argues, be seen in the  voting patterns of different  parts of North America to the present  day.

 During my  five years as an Ambassador in the United States, I  spent a lot of time studying the  voting patterns of  different states and reading American history, and I have to say I find Woodard’s thesis to be fully borne out by my own observations.

Among the eleven “nations” he identifies are

an internationalist one around New York city, which still has the internationalist bias of its original Dutch settlers,

a Yankee nation in New England and a northern belt going west to Chicago, which is influenced by the Puritan and statist ideas of the original settlers of New England

an Appalachian culture which is deeply suspicious of all authority in church or state
a culture of the  Deep South influenced by slavery and its resultant  class  distinction

an Hispanic culture that  straddles the US /Mexican border

Power in the United States is influenced by the shifting of the alliances between these  different “nations”.

Another very interesting book I have just completed is “Lloyd George and Churchill, Rivals for Greatness” by Richard Toye.

Churchill and Lloyd George were both Ministers in the last single party Liberal Government to hold office in Britain. It held office from 1906 until it split, and was overthrown, in favour of a National Government headed by Lloyd George during the First World War

Churchill and Lloyd George were both deeply distrusted by their Ministerial colleagues, who saw both of them as too clever by half. They were, and remained, close political friends, but were rivals as well. They did not always speak well of one another in private.

Until the 1920’s, Lloyd George was the more successful of the two. He also had more innovative thinking on economics in the 1930’s.  Churchill had a better understanding of the threat posed by the rise of Hitler. When Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, he wanted to bring a then elderly Lloyd George into his Government, but the latter was pessimistic about Britain’s war prospects and did not take up the challenge.

Sunday, 1 January 2012


Finola and I had some very good news during the autumn of 2011, the engagement of our  eldest daughter, Juliana, to  Maxence Dubois.
Max’s family live in Lyon in France and both Juliana and Max work now in London. They met originally when they were both students in Dublin City University (DCU).