Opinions & Ideas

Month: September 2014


Raising productivity should be Europe’s top goal for the next ten years.

A recent OECD report highlighted low productivity growth as the key challenge facing the European Union.

It pointed out that, since 2000, labour productivity in the EU countries had risen by only 0.6% per year, whereas the average productivity growth, in OECD countries not in the EU, was 1.2% per year…twice as fast. 

Lagging productivity growth is even a bigger problem than the debt aftermath of the banking crisis. Economic growth that derives from increases in property prices and associated consumer spending is inherently temporary, whereas growth derived from productivity increases will last.

If EU countries become more productive, they will generate the revenue to reduce their private and public debts to manageable proportions. But if productivity remains low, debts will accumulate.

Since the crisis, EU countries have focussed on reducing costs, but have neglected investments that might boost long term productivity. 

Germany, for example, has a low level of public investment, even though it can borrow very cheaply to invest. In Ireland, public investment is still at two thirds the level it was in 2007.

Given that most EU countries will have to have big medium term increases in Government spending to pay pensions and provide healthcare to an ageing population, it is necessary for them to curb deficits now.  Already the EU has only 7% of the world’s population, but 48% of the world’s social spending by government.

Life expectancy in the EU is expected to increase from 76 years in 2010 to 84 years by 2060, which means a longer period during which pensions will have to be paid, and healthcare provided.

But cutting deficits, by reducing investments that might generate the revenue to meet those medium term expenses, is unwise.

One concrete step that could be taken to privilege investment over current spending, would be to amend the EU Stability and Growth Pact, to exempt from the deficit calculations co financing by member states of investments being jointly financed with the EU. 

The number of employable age in the EU will peak in 2022 at 217 million. After that, the number will fall. So if tax revenues, and services, are to be maintained, productivity must be continually improved.

The productivity of an economy is determined by the efficiency of the entire economy, not just of the export sector.

If Government services, the professions, the courts, or the transport system are inefficient, that can do just as much damage, as lack of research or unduly high wages in the export sector. 

Ireland, in particular, needs to look at the productivity of its health services, of its training systems, and of its legal system, all of which appear to be performing relatively poorly, and are shielded from external competition.

In Germany, the delays in setting up a new business are big barrier to improved productivity. Full scale EU wide competition in the services sector is a key to solving this problem.


Today, Scotland is going to the polls to decide if it wants complete independence.

Whatever decision they make today, the Scots are exercising full national self determination. That came about  because, for the past number of years Scotland has had a Home Rule Government, and a Home Rule Parliament, and a majority in that parliament was later democratically won by a party that wanted complete independence. That could have happened in Ireland too…..90 years ago.

The experience of Home Rule, of making their own laws in Scotland, of administering their own services and making their own policies, has given the Scots the self confidence, and the international credibility, to freely consider moving now to full independence. All that  has happened in Scotland without loss of life, without the bitterness of war. 

Ireland was given a similar opportunity 100 years ago this week, to move  through Home rule, towards ever greater  independence, gradually and peacefully,  when Home Rule for Ireland became law on 18 September 1914.  Ireland could have followed the same peaceful path towards independence that Scotland is now considering taking.

We won that opportunity for ourselves 100 years ago, and won it by parliamentary means and without the loss of a life.

We chose, for various reasons which I will explore, not to follow that path. But the fact that we won the opportunity to take it, and won it by parliamentary methods, should be celebrated  by this parliamentary democracy, 100 years later.

Given that this IS a parliamentary democracy, one of the oldest surviving ones in Europe, one that did not descend into totalitarianism during the twentieth century, it is important that we should  celebrate parliamentary achievements. Remembering democratic, non violent achievements, should be part of the civic education of our nation.

The passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland was, as I have said, an Irish parliamentary achievement without equal in the preceding 200 years.

It granted Ireland its own legislature, something denied it since 1800. It was of comparable importance to the Land acts, also achieved by diligent parliamentary work, and peaceful agitation, and by the same people. 

I welcome the fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be delivering a speech, later on today, on Home Rule at a locally organised event in Wicklow, which I will attend. I commend the work that has been done by the Government to draw attention to the introduction of the Bill and its passage through various stages in Parliament, and the contribution to the restoration of John Redmond’s grave in Wexford.

Given that the Home Rule Act of 1914 provided Ireland with a right, a right that had been denied for the previous 114 years, the right to an Irish legislature meeting in Ireland, its centenary today should  be specially marked today in our legislature, in Dail and Seanad Eireann.

The 1916 rebellion,  the warfare of the 1919 to 1923 period that it engendered, and indeed of the Great War as well, are all to be commemorated.  That is good. But if  these commemorations  are not seen to be accompanied by a balancing and equally high profile commemoration of peaceful parliamentary achievements, like  Home Rule,  that would glorify military activity, at the expense of  less glamorous, but  contemporarily more relevant, peaceful parliamentary struggle.

As it is today, Ireland in 1914 was a divided society, an emotionally divided island, with a majority (mainly of one religious tradition) favouring a large measure of independence, and a strong minority (mainly of another religious tradition) opposing this, and favouring integration in the United Kingdom.

In emotionally divided societies, or islands, it is vital that commemorations be used  to learn useful contemporary lessons from history, not merely to celebrate one protagonist or another, or to freshen up old divisions. 


The enactment of Home Rule may have been a purely peaceful achievement, but this is not to suggest that those who obtained it, the Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond and John Dillon, were mild mannered and non confrontational.

Two previous attempts to obtain Home Rule had failed, one because it was defeated in the House of Commons, and the other because it was vetoed in the House of Lords. 

To get Home Rule onto the statute book, the Irish Parliamentary leaders had to get a majority for Home Rule in the House of Commons, and simultaneously to get  British constitutional arrangements changed to remove the House of Lords power of veto. There was a permanent majority against Home Rule in the House of Lords, and the veto could only be removed with the consent of the House of Lords itself. 

Furthermore, in the House of Commons, the Liberal party, which had been committed to Home Rule under Gladstone, had moved away from that policy under his successors, Lord Rosebery, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Herbert Asquith. In order to secure Home Rule by peaceful and constitutional methods, the Liberal Party had first to be won back to a firm commitment to pass Home Rule.

In a masterly exercise of parliamentary leverage and constructive opportunism, Redmond and Dillon achieved both goals, in a very short space of time. 

They withheld support for the radical 1909 Budget, unless and until there was a commitment to remove the Lords veto and introduce Home Rule. They also, in effect, exercised pressure on the King, because the Lords eventually only passed the legislation to remove their veto in response to the threat of the King swamping the House of Lords with a flood of new Lords.

All this was achieved from the position of being a minority party in the House, albeit a party whose votes were needed to avoid a General Election which the Liberal Government feared they would lose.  Considerable brinksmanship was needed, because, if the Liberals lost the election, the cause of Home Rule would also be lost. Redmond and Dillon did not have all the trump cards. They just played the cards they had very well indeed.

On the other side of the House, the Irish Party faced a Conservative Party that was so determined to force a General Election that they were prepared to incite Ulster Unionists to military insurrection, and to connive with elements in the British military to ensure that the insurrection would not be prevented.

In Britain itself, Home Rulers had to overcome deep anti Irish, and (as Ronan Fanning has shown in his book Fatal Path) anti Catholic, sentiment is some sections of opinion – including within the Liberal Party.
Financial gaps also had to be bridged. Unlike Scotland today, Ireland in 1914 had no oil.

Between 1896 and 1911, British Government expenditure in Ireland (including recently introduced old age pensions) had increased by 91%, whereas revenue raised in Ireland had risen by only 28%. That enduring gap between spending commitments and revenue explains why the Irish Free State had to take a shilling off the old age pension in the 1920s.

In face of all these difficulties, getting Home Rule onto the statute book, without the loss of a single life, was a remarkable parliamentary achievement.

If commemorations are about drawing relevant lessons for today’s generation from the work of past generations, this remarkable exercise of parliamentary leverage, to achieve radical reform against entrenched resistance, has much greater relevance, to today’s generation of democrats, than does the blood sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly.

The subsequent turning away, after 1916, from constitutional methods has obscured the scale of this parliamentary achievement. There may have been a fear that too much praise of the prior constitutional achievement would delegitimize the subsequent blood sacrifice.


The Woodenbridge speech of John Redmond on 20 September 1914, urging Irish men to join the Allied cause in the Great War that had broken out six weeks previously, must be seen in the context that Home Rule had been placed on the statute book just two days previously.

Home Rule was law, but the implementation of it was simply postponed until the end of what most people expected would be a short war.

Redmond’s address to the Volunteers at Woodenbridge was not a mere reciprocation of the passage of Home Rule. He also wanted to show that the passage of Home Rule had inaugurated a new and better relationship between Ireland and its neighbouring island.

He wanted to show everybody, including Ulster Unionists, that things had changed. As he was still aiming to persuade Ulster Unionists to come in under Home rule, he felt he needed to do this if there was to be any chance at all that they would voluntarily do so. He wanted to show to Ulster Unionists that, in some matters, Unionists and Nationalists were now “on the same side”.

Let us not forget that Irish men had fought in the British Army in the Boer War, notwithstanding Redmond and the Irish Party’s opposition to that war, so those many of those who volunteered to fight in what turned out to be the Great War, would  have  done so anyway, whether Redmond asked them to do so or not.

Suppose Redmond had given a different speech in Woodenbridge.  Suppose , Home Rule having been passed into law two days before, Redmond had instead vocally opposed recruitment, what would have happened then?

He would have handed a powerful argument to those who had opposed Home Rule all along, namely that a Dublin Home Rule Government could not be trusted not to undermine Britain’s international position at a time of great danger.
Carson and Craig, and their allies in the British Conservative Party, would have felt themselves entirely vindicated in their opposition to Home Rule.
The Woodenbridge speech also stood on its own merits. The unprovoked invasion by Germany of a small neutral country, Belgium,  in order better to be able to attack France, was something that many people at the time, and since, regarded as profoundly wrong and deserving to be opposed.

That said, the Great War was an avoidable tragedy, and a failure of statesmanship. But it was not a failure for which Redmond or the Irish Parliamentary Party were responsible. They had to deal with the situation as they found it.

It is right to commemorate the Irish dead of the Great War, but Home Rule’s passage into law is a separate matter.

It should be commemorated on its own merits, and separately. It is not mere addendum to the remembrance of the Great War, but a unique parliamentary achievement.

Parnell did not get Home Rule onto the statute book. Redmond and Dillon did, 100 years ago this week.

O Connell did not succeed in re-establishing by law an Irish legislature. 100 years ago this week, Redmond and Dillon did


Some have criticised the limitations of the Home Rule Act of 1914. These limitations can be explained by the fact that, although the possibility of temporary exclusion of some Ulster counties had been conceded by the time the Home Rule finally came to be enacted, the Act had been framed from the outset in terms that could apply to all 32 counties of Ireland , where there was a Catholic majority, so safeguards, and  understandable limitations,  had to be inserted to protect or reassure the  Protestant minority in Ulster and elsewhere in Ireland.

For example a provision was inserted whereby the Home Rule Government “could not endow any religion”. This safeguard was actually a worry to the Catholic hierarchy, who feared it might affect existing state funding for Catholic teacher training colleges. 

For a similar reason, marriage law was to be kept at Westminster, because the Vatican’s Ne Temere decree of 1907 on mixed marriages had caused alarm among Protestants.

Likewise, limitations on the imposition of tariffs and duties were needed to reassure the large industrial sectorin Ulster that their interests would not be sacrificed to the needs of the predominantly agricultural interests that dominated the rest of the country. 

As it transpired, these safeguards were not enough. Ulster Unionists continued to insist on exclusion from the whole system, and backed their demand with the threat of force. They were encouraged in this by the Conservative opposition in Westminster.

If John Redmond had wanted to maximise the powers of the Home Rule Government in Dublin, he could, early on, have accepted the exclusion from Home Rule of the Ulster counties where there was a Unionist majority. This is what the Irish state subsequently did in practice. Even the Conservatives would have given Redmond such a deal. Under such a deal, the exclusion might have been limited to four Ulster counties – instead of six, as in 1921.

But Redmond was unwilling to accept any open ended exclusion from Home Rule of any part of Ireland. In that sense, John Redmond was more idealistic than the republicans and physical force men who came after him.

In January 1914, at the height of the Ulster resistance to Home Rule, John Redmond was speaking at a meeting in his constituents in Waterford about the difficulty of winning over Ulster Unionists, and a heckler shouted up at him, “We are as well off without them”. Redmond replied indignantly, “No, we are not. That is an absolute fallacy”

The American historian, Joseph P Finnan in his book John Redmond and Irish Unity, 1912-1918 said that Redmond prized Irish unity more than he prized Irish sovereignty. He added
“Although he (Redmond) acceded to demands for temporary exclusion of northern counties, he never gave them up for lost. The Irish revolutionaries who negotiated the Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921 did just that. Even the anti Treaty forces led by de Valera based their objections on the loss of the republican ideal, not the loss of the northern nationalist population.”

The Cork-based supporter of the Irish Party, J.J.Horgan, said much the same thing in his 1949 memoir, Parnell to Pearse. His book concludes with these words: 

“We constitutionalists had been wisely prepared to make large concessions in order to avoid the division of our country which we believed to be the final and intolerable wrong.  The price of our successors’ triumph was Partition … They sacrificed Irish unity for Irish sovereignty .”

A sovereign 32 county State was not achieved in 1921, but the “freedom to achieve freedom” for 26 counties – no more than was available to Redmond in 1914.

Those who came after Redmond, using the gun, did not bring unity any closer than he did.

Perhaps the two communities on this island are too different, in their sense of deepest identity, for that. 


Charles Townsend put it this way in his book Easter 1916: “The Rebellion played a part in cementing partition”
Indeed, the words of the Proclamation were literally “oblivious” of the problem of resistance in parts of Ulster to any form of rule by Dublin, notwithstanding  Pearse’s professed admiration for the UVF arming itself to resist  even a modest measure of Home Rule.

The 1916 Proclamation said it was “oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, who have divided a minority from a majority in the past” 

In effect, they did not think the Ulster Unionists had minds of their own, but were simply tools of the British. Apart from rhetoric, no attempt was made to persuade them of the merits of an Irish Republic , nor thought given to how such persuasion might be done.
 Whereas Redmond had tried to talk to Carson and Craig, the 1916 leaders were “oblivious” of them.


When the decision to use physical force was made by the leaders of the IRB and the Irish Citizen Army in April  1916, Home Rule was already law. Its implementation was simply postponed for the duration of the war, but there was no doubt but that it would come into effect once the war was over, either for the whole of Ireland, or, more likely, for 26 or 28 counties.

The irreversibility of Home Rule is well illustrated by a comment that had been made by one of its staunchest opponents, the Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law.  He had admitted

“If Ulster, or rather any county, had the right to remain outside the Irish Parliament, for my part my objection would be met”.

This comment shows that Home Rule could easily have led to an ever larger measure of independence for the rest of Ireland , so long as some Ulster counties were allowed to opt out of it.

As to the irreversibility of Home Rule, the Lloyd George Coalition Government’s   re election manifesto in the December 1918 Election stated bluntly “Home Rule is upon the statute book”. There was thus no going back on Home Rule as far as the conservative and Liberal politicians who wrote that manifesto were concerned.
My belief is that, at that time, instead of launching a policy of abstention from Parliament and a guerrilla war, Sinn Fein and the IRA should have used the Home Rule Act as a peaceful  stepping stone to dominion status and full independence, in the same way as Treaty of 1921 was so used, but only after so much blood had been shed.   They might not have got more than 28 counties, but there would have been no more bloodshed.

WAS 1916 A “JUST WAR”?

Many of the 1916 leaders were familiar with Catholic teaching on what constitutes a just war. One of the criteria is that war should be a” last resort”. Another is that it should have a reasonable chance of success.
The fact that Home Rule was passed, would have come into effect at the end of the Great War, and would have been a platform for further moves to greater independence, shows that use violence in 1916 was not a genuine last resort, and does not meet that criterion for a just war.

Moreover, the 1916 leaders accepted they had no chance of military success when they marched out on Easter Monday 1916. 


Another important context in which the 1916 decision  must be judged is the Great War,  which was then in progress, in which thousands of Irish soldiers were fighting on the Allied side when the GPO was occupied by force.

The 1916 leaders explicitly took the opposite side in this war to their fellow Irishmen in the trenches. In proclaiming the Republic, the 1916 leaders spoke of their “gallant allies in Europe”. These allies were the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro Hungarian Empire.  Although their immediate target was Britain, those, against whom the Irish Republicans went to war, included Belgium and the French Republic, whose territory had been pre-emptively invaded, and occupied by force, by Germany.

The 1916 leaders were not neutral. They were taking the side of Germany , Turkey and Austria-Hungary and said so in their own Proclamation.

This greatly weakened the position of Irish negotiators, including Sean T O Kelly, who sought to get a hearing at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference for the case for Irish independence. The 1916 leader’s decision had put them on the wrong side, and had made them “allies”, in the words of the Proclamation, of the losers in the Great War.

This was complicated by the fact that the Irish Republic had already been declared any way, regardless of the Peace conference. The Irish delegation was not making a claim, it was looking for a retrospective vindication of its declaration of a Republic

As Townshend put it in his other book The Republic: the fight for Irish Independence:

“The Peace Conference would now be asked not to investigate and adjudicate on a national claim, but to recognise an already existing Republic, approving an act hostile to a great power [Britain].”

This would have been hard for Woodrow Wilson to do, even if he wanted to.
The fact that a Republic had been declared anyway in 1916, and again in 1919, made winning support for any subsequent compromise, short of the ideal Republic of 32 counties, much more difficult, as the Treaty negotiators were to find.

It would have been wiser to have had patience, avoided violence, and adhered to the Home Rule policy, and to constitutional methods. 


I concede that I do not believe that the Home Rule policy would have led to a united 32 county Ireland in the medium or perhaps even the long term – although John Redmond and his colleagues would probably not have accepted that at the time. 

The opposition to being under a Dublin Home Rule Parliament was so strong among Unionists in Ulster that, no matter how hard the Home Rulers might have tried to persuade them, at least four Ulster counties would have stayed out of the Dublin Parliament. 

The leader of the Irish Party, John Redmond himself, told the House of Commons that

“no coercion shall be applied to any single county in Ireland to force them against their will to come into the Irish Government”. 

This was a sensible policy.

Irish attempts to coerce Northern Ireland into a united Ireland, whether by the attempted incursions across the border in 1922, by the propaganda campaign in the late 1940s, or by IRA killing campaigns in the 1950s and from 1969 to 1998, have all failed miserably, because they were based on a faulty analysis of reality.

Likewise attempts to persuade the British to do the job for us, and to use their military and economic force to coerce Unionists into a United Ireland, were also failures.

Only when all forms coercion towards a united Ireland were abandoned, did progress eventually become possible, in the 1990s. 

John Redmond’s policy was one of attempting to persuade Unionist to accept a united Ireland, and his support for recruitment to the British army in 1914 was part of that.

But, under the Home Rule arrangement, if Ulster counties opted out, they would have continued under direct rule from Westminster. 

There would have been no Stormont Parliament, no “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people”, no B Specials, no gerrymandering of local government. 

Stormont was not part of the Home Rule arrangement and it came about largely because the abstention of Sinn Fein from the Irish Convention, and of its MPs from parliament after the 1918 election, created an opening for it. There was then no Irish nationalist voice to object to it in the corridors of power. 

Under Home Rule, there would have been continued, but reduced, Irish representation at Westminster, so any attempts to discriminate against the nationalist minority in the excluded area of Ulster would have been preventable in a way that was not possible under the eventual settlement.  Stormont was left to its own devices after 1921. 

The constitutional Home Rule policy would thus have been much better for Northern Nationalists than the policy of violent separatism was to prove to be. Northern Nationalists probably sensed this. While the rest of Ireland was plumping for Sinn Fein in the election of December 1918, the electors of West Belfast chose to return Joe Devlin of the Irish Party to represent them in preference to Eamon de Valera of Sinn Fein.  

The Home Rule path would also have been better because it would have saved many lives throughout Ireland. People who died between 1916 and 1923 would have survived and would instead have contributed to Irish life, rather than to Irish martyrology. 

All things being equal, in my opinion, living for Ireland is better than dying (or killing) for Ireland.

I would emphasise that the waste of these lost lives needs to be weighed, and weighed heavily, in the balance against any supposed advantages secured by the use of force. 

There is a moral issue here. Irish people today take the ending of life seriously.  1916, and the subsequent campaigns of violence it inspired, involved ending thousands of lives. Any commemorations should take those valuable lost lives, all of them, into account,
Consider the dead for a moment. 


256 Irish civilians died during the 1916 rebellion, some at the hands of the rebels and many as a result of British artillery designed to expel the rebels from the positions they had occupied. 

These civilians did not have any say in the IRB/Citizen Army action, and would all have lived if that action had not take place. They did not volunteer for the sacrifice they made.

We know of the rebels who died, and their deaths have been commemorated  by the Irish State. Each year the Irish army has a Mass to pray for the souls of those who “died for Ireland“ in 1916.  It is unclear to me whether this formula includes the civilians who did not decide to put their lives at risk “for Ireland”, but who were killed anyway because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

153 soldiers in UK Army uniforms were killed in the fighting in Dublin in 1916. Of these, 52 of the dead were Irish. These are the names of some of these Irish soldiers, many home from the trenches on leave, who were killed: Gerald Neilan from Roscommon, Francis Brennan from Ushers Island in Dublin, Abraham Watchorn from Rathvilly Co Carlow, John Brennan from Gowran Co Kilkenny, John Flynn from Carrick on Suir and many more. I hope the 100th anniversary of their deaths will not be forgotten the year after next.

Three members of the unarmed Dublin Metroplitan Police were killed, and 14 members of the RIC, including Patrick Leen from Abbeyfeale and Patrick Brosnan from Dunmanway. 

These Irish men were acting on the orders of a duly constituted Government, elected by a Parliament, which had already granted Home Rule to Ireland, and to which Ireland had democratically elected its own MPs.  Did not these men “die for Ireland” too? How should they, and their sacrifice, be remembered.  These are questions which need to be answered between now and 2016.

Consider also the dead of the War of Independence from 1919 to 1921, and the dead of the civil war of 1922 to 1923, for these deaths flowed, in some measure, from the initial decision to use force in 1916.

1200 were killed in the war of 1919 to 1921. Many of these were civilians who had not chosen the path of war. Others were policemen, who had chosen that vocation as a service to their people, and not to become participants in a war. Yet others were supposed or actual informers on behalf of either side.
 If, in response to the appeal of the “blood sacrifice” of the 1916 leaders, the executions, and the gross mishandling of conscription by the British Government at the beginning of 1918, the Home Rule party had not been rejected by the electorate in the General Election of December 1918 in favour of a policy of abstention and separatism, Home Rule would have come into effect, and all those people would have lived.

Many of those who died were very talented people, whose lives and service were a huge loss to this country.

Many families of minority religions were made to feel unwelcome in Ireland as a result of the violence, and some left.  Southern Ireland became a less diverse society as a result of the policy of violence initiated by IRB and the Citizen Army at Easter of 1916.

Around 4000 Irish people were killed in the Civil War. Like those who were killed in the 1916 to 1921 period, many of these were amongst the brightest talents of their generation. Why did they die?


Violence breeds violence. Sacrifice breeds intransigence. The dead exert an unhealthy power over the living, persuading the living to hold out for the impossible, lest the sacrifice of the dead be perceived to have been in vain. In that sense, the policy of violence, initiated in April 1916, contributed to the Civil War of 1922-3. It did so in this way. The  earlier deaths of those who occupied the  General Post Office in 1916, seeking to achieve a 32 county Republic, made it so much harder for those on the anti-Treaty side, who occupied the Four Courts in 1922, to accept anything less than a 32 County Republic. They did want to appear to “betray” the dead by accepting any compromise. Unfortunate, but understandable.

Betrayal of the sacrifices of the dead is one of the most emotionally powerful, and destructive, accusations within the canon of romantic nationalism. It exercised its baleful influence in recent times in delaying the abandonment by the IRA of its failed and futile campaign to coerce and bomb Unionists into a United Ireland.  

I believe Ireland would have reached the position it is in today, an independent nation of 26 counties, if it had stuck with the Home Rule policy and if the 1916 rebellion had not taken place. Indeed, we might have been a state of 28 counties. All that was needed was a deal on Ulster.
Like all counter factual historical arguments, this proposition is impossible to prove.

But, once the Ulster question had been resolved by some form of exclusion of areas with a Unionist majority, the path towards greater independence was wide open. The policy of the Irish Party in the 1918 Election was dominion status and I believe they would have achieved it. Perhaps they would not have achieved it by 1921, as was achieved in the Treaty of that year, but it would probably have been achieved by the end of the 1920s, probably from a Labour Government whose policy already envisaged dominion status for Ireland.

Certainly many of the parties in the Home Rule Parliament would have been demanding greater independence. Irish politics would not have stood still after Home Rule, as some historians seem to assume. Redmond’s party might have won a majority in the first Home Rule Parliament, just as Scottish Labour got the majority in Scotland’s first Home Rule Parliament. But subsequent elections might have seen more independence minded parties win majorities in Dublin in the 1920’s or 1930’s, just as happened in Scotland under Home rule 80 years later.

Once Ireland had its own legislature in Dublin , it would have been able to avail of the progressive loosening of ties within the Empire, in the same way as the Irish Free State was able to do , for example through the Statute of Westminster of 1931. Ireland could have followed Canada , South Africa and Australia’s path.

Some might argue that security and defence considerations would have made this unlikely. I doubt that.

If a Conservative dominated Government was willing, in 1938, to hand over the Treaty ports to Eamon de Valera, who, 22 years previously, had been a declared ally of Germany, it would surely have been willing to place as much trust in a Home Rule Government in Dublin, whose political antecedents had stood with Britain in its moment of greatest threat in 1914.

To say that the 1916 Rising was a mistake is not to deny the heroism or sincerity of those who made the mistake, or the heroism of those who followed them. Hindsight enables us to gain a perspective that may not have been obvious at the time.

But the reality is that, in 1916, Home Rule was on the statute book and was not about to be reversed. If the 1916 leaders had had more patience, a lot of destruction could have been avoided, and I believe we would still have achieved the independence we enjoy today.

Address by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at 10am on 18 September 2014
at a seminar organised by the Reform Group, in the Royal Irish Academy, Dame St., Dublin
marking the exact centenary of the passage into law, for the first time ever, of an Irish Home Rule Act  (18 September 1914)

Address by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at 10am on 18 September 2014
at a seminar organised by the Reform Group, in the Royal Irish Academy, Dame St., Dublin
marking the exact centenary of the passage into law, for the first time ever, of an Irish Home Rule Act  (18 September 1914)

Ian Paisley wanted to be the leader who definitely brought an end to troubles in Northern Ireland

Some say religion and politics should not mix. But one cannot fully understand Ian Paisley without understanding biblical tradition from which he sprang.  Calculation, religious conviction and the changed perception of paramilitarism after 9/11, explain why Dr Ian Paisley eventually became  “Dr Yes”
As he approached the end of his life, Ian Paisley really wanted to be the man who was seen to have brought an end to Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

Not long before the eventual breakthrough on the issues of policing and power sharing ,Ian Paisley had suffered a serious illness. He told Tony Blair, after he had recovered, that he had recently had a “near meeting with his Maker” and added that he did not want to end his life, remembered as an old man saying no to every proposal that might  bring a settlement . 

He struck the same conciliatory tone   in his final speech to the House of Commons . He said then that one must face the fact that the people of Northern Ireland are diverse, politically and religiously, and, as such, must find a way of living together. They were not a “hard people”, but a” caring and a loving people”. He recalled that, in his youth, his province was a much more neighbourly place than it later became.  Calm and peace were now being restored, he said, and the day would come, although he “might not live to see it”, when the troubles would be forgotten.

How can this transformation of a man, who stirred up so much animosity for over thirty years, be explained?

How did someone, who had campaigned for the rejection of  the Good Friday Agreement  in the  referendum of  1998, came to take office as First Minister under the same  Agreement, nine years later? 

Of course, there was an element of political calculation. Once his party became the largest Unionist party, compromise was more attractive than it would have been if David Trimble were to be  the principal beneficiary.  Similar calculations explained Sinn Fein’s change of heart, once they became the biggest nationalist party.  But I believe part of the explanation lies in Ian Paisley’s recognition of his own mortality, and in an evolution his own evangelical Protestant faith. 

Long before he finally accepted the Good Friday Agreement, he had already modified his attitudes towards Catholics.

For example, he had noisily denounced Pope John Paul as an” Anti Christ” in the European Parliament in 1988.  But when the same Pope died in 2005, his words were warm and conciliatory,  and very different from the bitter words  he had  spoken   on the death  Pope John XXIII  in 1963 .

How might such a theological evolution have come about?

While living in the United States, I was told that President George W Bush   played a part in convincing Dr. Paisley that there was a biblical justification for accepting an accommodation with nationalists.  President Bush was someone who read the bible every day, and could find the right   authority there for a change of political course .  

Ian Paisleys father, James Paisley, was Baptist Minister, and a signatory of Edward Carson’s Ulster Covenant.   Ian, born in 1926, followed him into religious ministry and trained in a school for evangelical ministers in Wales.

Returning to Northern Ireland, he quickly became involved in politics.  Before founding his own party, he was a member of an organisation known as the National Union of Protestants, headed by the Stormont MP Norman Porter. 

In 1966, he founded his own newspaper, the Protestant Telegraph, and the Protestant Unionist party, the precursor of the DUP.

In this phase of his career, he was vigorously anti Catholic, in both the political and the religious sense.  Yet, even then, he always was  a good constituency MP in the service  of his Catholic ,as well as  his Protestant, constituents in North Antrim.

He was against any involvement of the Irish state in the governance of Northern Ireland, and this was why he opposed the Anglo Irish Agreement. But he was not averse to an internal settlement with nationalists within Northern Ireland itself.  His reasoning here was one sided.  Just as his unionist constituents would feel exposed and insecure in any arrangement that had no British dimension, northern nationalists felt even more exposed and insecure in any arrangement that lacked an Irish dimension.

On other matters he was more clear sighted. He once said that it would be “naive to take the IRA at its word”. Many chose, deliberately, to be naive about the IRA, arguing mistakenly that this served the cause of peace. Two developments changed the argument.    

9/11 utterly changed the attitude of Irish Americans to all paramilitary organisations. And the Northern Bank raid, and sundry other IRA atrocities, like the McCartney murder, changed Irish nationalist and liberal opinion. Even the IRA itself realised its previous position on arms decommissioning was untenable.   On decommissioning, Dr Paisley could justly claim that others came around to his point of view, not the other way around. 
When, in 2007, he eventually took office as First Minister, he was 81 of age. When he retired as a member of the House of Commons, he was the oldest MP there. 

I last met him when, as First Minister, he visited Washington to promote investment in Northern Ireland in the company of his Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.  What struck me at the time was the genuine affection there seemed to be between the two men, although I do not think they had got around to actually shaking hands by then, if indeed they ever did!

Ian Paisley may have had a Scottish name, but he always struck me as a particularly Irish political figure.

Perhaps it was the bombast, that one could never take completely seriously. Perhaps it was the sense of humour.  Perhaps it was the twinkle in his eye, that seemed to belie the violence of his words. As a politician, Ian Paisley was an artist rather than a scientist, a man who knew that one had to appeal first to people’s emotions, before engaging with their reason. He was a master of timing.

Like a lot of Irish politicians before him, he tried out a lot of wrong paths, before he eventually found the right one.  But by the time he did find that right path, he knew for sure that he could bring his people with him.   That is why he ended his long career on a high note.


On the 1 August 1975, the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave was one of the signatories of the Helsinki Final act governing relations between European states. He signed along the United States, all other European countries (except Albania), and the USSR, which at the time encompassed both Russia and Ukraine. 

Article one of the Helsinki Final Act said that the signatory states would

 “respect each other’s sovereign equality, juridical equality and territorial integrity”,

 and that they would refrain from the
“use of force or the threat of the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

As a small militarily neutral European state, Ireland has a greater interest, even than has a state which enjoys the comfort of a military alliance, in ensuring that these clear interstate principles are respected.

The Russian annexation of Crimea by force, and its present increasingly overt invasion of Eastern Ukraine is obviously a flagrant breach of the Helsinki Final Act. It is the first of its kind since the end of the Second World War, unless one includes the NATO action against former Yugoslavia over the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which was then part of sovereign former Yugoslav territory. I argued at the time that this was a dangerous precedent.

As Taoiseach, I happened to have been invited to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the very day the Assembly was voting to admit the Russian Federation to membership of the Council. I spoke in favour of Russian accession. Russia became a member on 28 February 1996. The Council of Europe is the source of a dense and comprehensive network of treaties on many topics, including human rights. The Council of Europe, and its Treaties, only have meaning to the extent that its members are willing to abide by international law.

The European Union itself also rests on the foundation of respect for international law. The EU only EXISTS because there is an assumption that international Treaties will be respected in ALL circumstances. The EU has no force to govern its own members beyond the force of international law in the form of EU Treaties.  The European Court of Justice interprets these Treaties and its rulings are accepted by all EU states.

Dividing the EU has been a long standing Russian goal, and President Putin’s aggressive tactics appear to be succeeding in the goal of dividing the EU, in a way that previous Russian efforts have failed. At a meeting I attended last June, the new EU Foreign Representative, Federica Mogherini,  admitted that, as  then Italian Foreign Minister, she had been “advocating for Putin” within the EU. Her promotion will now encourage Putin, and is more eloquent than any verbal warning he may have been given about the EU ending its “partnership “with Russia, whatever that means. 

Within the EU, countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Italy  are relatively accommodative towards what Russia is doing, while others, like Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Latvia are alarmed and looking for resolute action. The bigger EU states are, painfully and unsuccessfully, trying to balance commercial interests against professed principles. The Russian tactics are very similar to those adopted by Hitler in his dealings with the Czechs in 1938, and the present tactics of the EU are not dissimilar to those adopted by the French and British Governments of the day.

As 28 nations, the EU will never be able to move with the dexterity of an autocracy like Russia, but if it is not to have its policies dictated in the Kremlin, as a result Russian pressure on energy supplies, it needs to make a radical change in its own energy policies. It needs to build a proper energy union in Europe, independent of Russia, with complete inter connection of its energy distribution grids. That will require a lot of (job creating) investment, and the diversion of funds from current consumption. But a long term decision like this would create a new momentum with which Russia could not ignore.

The EU also needs to reflect on the contradictory messages it is sending out about nuclear disarmament.

Libya, which had got rid of its nuclear weapons programme, was attacked by EU countries, who were supporting the ouster of the Gaddafi regime. In an agreement to encourage it to give up the nuclear weapons on its territory, Ukraine’s sovereign integrity was guaranteed, in the Budapest memorandum, by a number of countries, including Russia, the UK, and France. Against the background of what happened in Libya, more recent developments in Eastern Ukraine reduce the incentives for nuclear disarmament in a very dangerous way.

Given the vast economic superiority that EU countries enjoy over Russia, it is surprising that they have so little influence on it.

If EU countries refused to buy Russian gas, Putin would have to stop and think. But the effect of such a decision would hurt some EU countries much more than others, and that would require the EU to set up a budget big enough to compensate the countries that would suffer the most . The biggest resistance to this would come from countries, like the UK, that do not want a large EU budget. Likewise German business interests who are heavily invested in Russia.

It is really difficult to see who can now stop Putin, except perhaps an awakened Russian public opinion,  that will become sickened by the casualties Russian soldiers will suffer in a needless war against another Slav country.


I greatly enjoyed reading “Harold Macmillan” by Charles Williams, published by Phoenix books. The author is a Labour member of the House of Lords so he is under no pressure of party loyalty to be unduly kind to this Conservative politician.

Macmillan was Prime Minister of the UK from January 1957 to October 1963. Those who remember him at all these days will probably think of him as the man who was Prime Minister, when the Profumo scandal broke over the supposed intelligence risk of Defence Secretary Profumo’s affair with Christine Keeler , who was also sharing her favours with a Russian military attaché. No security breach was found, but Profumo had to go, because he initially denied the affair in the House of Commons. 
This affair was a small part of Macmillan’s life, and takes up little space in a very entertaining book.

Macmillan came from a background in publishing and his mother was American. In his youth, he was considered dull and pompous.  After service in the First World War, he married a daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, a big step up in the class conscious British society of the 1920’s.

As a member of the House of Commons in the 1930’s, he was on the left of the Conservative Party, and favoured economic planning and Keynesian economics. He was close to Churchill.

Around this time, his aristocratic wife started a long running semi public affair with another MP, and close friend of Macmillan, Bob Boothby. She wanted a divorce but Macmillan, with the support of both his mother and mother in law, refused.

His distant relationship with his wife was probably no harm when, in 1943 and already a junior Minister in Churchill’s coalition, he had to leave home on his own to act as representative for British interests in North Africa.

Here he had to work between General Eisenhower, whose American forces had ousted the Vichy forces and were about to eject the Germans, and the various French factions in North Africa. At this time, de Gaulle was not in undisputed charge, and the Americans did not like him at all. Macmillan’s diplomatic skills grew as did his self confidence as he resolved some these problems.

When the Conservatives came back to power, he became Minister for Housing, and later Foreign Secretary in 1955. As such he was involved in the planned Anglo French occupation of the Suez canal in covert collusion with the Israelis. This disaster angered the Americans and also led to a deterioration of relations with France. It led to the psychological collapse of Anthony Eden as Prime Minster, and his replacement by Macmillan.

The book deals with the British reaction to the moves, started in Messina in 1955, to form” an ever closer union” of the states of Europe. This eventually became the EU of today. From the outset this was a political as well as an economic project. 

Britain stayed away from the meeting in Messina and thus played no part in shaping the agenda in ways that might have suited Britain’s interests and its worldwide trading relationships. This was the fault of Foreign Secretary Macmillan, and of then Prime Minister, Anthony Eden.  A Minister of state in the Foreign office, Anthony Nutting, had begged them to send a representative. To Britain’s cost to this day, they ignored him.

Afterwards, Macmillan tried to forge a rival European bloc, a free trade area without political content, and tried to negotiate a deal between it and the EU.  When that did not work out he was eventually forced, as Prime Minister, to apply for UK membership of the EU.

Thus was forged the British reflex of trying to influence the EU, but as a semi outsider, not fully committed to the success of the project. Trying to place an each way bet.

This tied up with defence, where France wanted its own independent nuclear deterrent and Britain wanted one too, but found itself deeply dependent on the Americans. In his attempt to get his way, Macmillan event threatened to withdraw British force from the continent.  De Gaulle’s eventual rejection of the UK’s first application to join the EU derived from a fear that the British would in some way “Americanise” and globalise the EU, in a way that would dilute it, and deprive it of its purpose of reconciling the nations of the continent.

This is a good biography and draws on Macmillan’s own diaries for much of the personal colour, including the books he read to relieve the tension of a busy political life (Trollope and Walter Scott top the list)

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