Opinions & Ideas

Author: John Bruton Page 1 of 63

CRUCIAL QUESTIONS FOR IRELAND’S FUTURE….

IS SOVEREIGNTY MORE IMPORTANT THAN RECOCILIATION? DOES THE IRA ARMY COUNCIL STILL EXIST?

We can best avoid conflict by ensuring that authority is exercised legitimately and constitutionally, with due regard for minorities.

For example, those pressing for an early border poll will need to reflect on whether a poll on unity, passed by 52% to 48%, might recreate conditions for conflict in the north eastern corner of this island. Precedents elsewhere suggest this is not an insignificant possibility. The possibility of such a poll taking place arises from one the provisions in the Good Friday Agreement which allows the UK Secretary of State to call such a poll id he/she thinks there is a prospect that the poll might approve unity.

But even if there was a majority for unity overall, there would be parts of Northern Ireland where the majority of residents might be strongly opposed and might reject the outcome. Policing such areas would be a major challenge, as we have seen on a smaller scale in the past.

The underlying spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is one which seeks reconciliation between people and less emphasis on territorial sovereignty. Unfortunately Brexit has brought sovereignty back to the centre of the debate.

DO ALL PARTIES ACCEPT THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT?

It was hoped by many that the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement would remove the risk of renewed conflict around sovereignty.

But many who complain that others are not fulfilling their obligations under the Agreement, are failing to fulfil some of their own obligations. 

For example,the Agreement recognises that

 “ the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish;”

By refusing even to use the term “Northern Ireland”, and also by refusing to take their seats in Westminster, Sinn Fein is , in effect, refusing to recognise the legitimacy of that part of the Good Friday Agreement.  Their abstention is a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Union for the time being.

REFUSAL TO TAKE WESTMINSTER SEATS CASTS DOUBT ON FULL ACCEPTANCE OF 1998 REFERENDA

 It has created a precedent that will not be forgotten.

 Sinn Fein should ask itself how it would feel, if after a border poll narrowly approving unity, unionists then decided to imitate Sinn Fein and refused to take their seats in the Dail, or even went further and attempted to set up a breakaway parliament in a unionist part of the North. 

Of course, Sinn Fein is not alone in its selectivity about the Good Friday Agreement.

IS THE UK GOVERNMENT IMPARTIAL?

The UK government is obliged by it to be impartial between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland on the constitutional question. The Agreement says that that 

“whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, (in a border poll) the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions “

With her talk about the “precious Union”, Prime Minister May was hardly being rigorously impartial between unionism and nationalism, and the same applies even more to the Johnson Government. 

One must also ask the question……….if unity was carried in a border poll, would the government in Dail Eireann be able to be impartial between unionists and nationalists in the North? 

 Given the growth in support here for Sinn Fein, and recent poll data rejecting possible compromises on issues like the flag, this is a legitimate, if not necessarily an urgent, question.

Legitimate authority is crucial for civilization.

The wars of the 1919 to 1923 period were about the legitimisation of the authority of this state. 

 Legitimacy was underpinned by Cosgrave’s handover of power in 1932.  It was confirmed by Eamon de Valera, on the losing side in the Civil War, obtaining the support of the Irish people in 1937 for a new Constitution, which endures to this day. 

THE IRISH CONSTITUTION IS THE SOURCE OF LEGITIMACY, AND ITS WORDS MATTER

This Constitution affirms that the only legitimate authority that can use  force on behalf of the Irish people is Dail Eireann. 

Article 15(6) of the Constitution is crystal clear.  It says

the right to raise and maintain military or armed forces is vested exclusively in the Oireachtas. No military or armed force, other than a military or armed force raised and maintained by the Oireachtas, shall be raised or maintained for any purpose whatsoever.

These words of our Constitution were very much in my mind when, as Taoiseach in the 1990’s, I pressed for the decommissioning of arms by paramilitaries as a condition for the legitimation of political parties associated with them. This was, for me, a matter of constitutional principle.

The current Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, recently suggested that his party no longer completely excludes the possibility of serving in government with Sinn Fein, a party associated with the Provisional IRA.

DOES THE IRA ARMY COUNCIL STILL EXIST?     WHEN WILL IT BE WOUND UP?

 Any TD contemplating the possibility of supporting Sinn Fein participation in government, needs to ensure that Article 15 (6) is rigorously enforceable, and actually enforced.

This is not  a trivial technicality.

An independent review, submitted to the UK Government in 2015, found that , at that time in Northern Ireland,  the Provisional IRA and its leading decision making body, the Army Council, continued to operate , “albeit in a much reduced form”, and that, while it was not a security threat, the army council continued to oversee both the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein.

Perhaps this is no longer the case seven years later?   But we will need firm evidence of that.

 I hope the Taoiseach, and the security institutions of this state, will satisfy themselves as to whether the Army Council still exists. We cannot have a party in government which is associated with an armed group, whose  very existence defies Article 15 of our Constitution. 

 This Constitution is arguably Eamon de Valera’s greatest political achievement. So Micheal Martin, as his successor as Fianna Fail Leader, should be scrupulous in ensuring that the terms of the Constitution are respected

The voters of this state should recognise the value of what we have created here on the basis of  our constitution….a state whose authority rests on  sound  and  unambiguous  democratic principles, that does not need to engage in double speak .

A CRISIS OVER THE BREXIT PROTOCOL?

The British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss is holding a two day meeting this week with the EU Commission vice President , Maros Sevcovic, in an attempt to break the deadlock on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The meeting will take place in the Foreign Secretary’s country residence at Chevening. and the EU visitors will stay there overnight.

This suggests that a really serious effort is being made to resolve matters.

The fact that the negotiations are being handled on the UK side by the Foreign Secretary, one of the most senior and longest serving  Ministers in the UK government. and an elected politician, is also a good sign. 

She has a degree of political authority independently of the Prime Minister and thus has scope to make moves that her predecessor, Lord Frost could never have made.  

On the other hand, she is a contender for the Tory party leadership, and there is no sign that she has been preparing the ground for a deal.

The expectations is the Conservative grassroots remain unrealistic and Liz Truss has stoked these expectations in an article she wrote in the “Sunday Telegraph”.

She said that

“we need to end the role of the European Court of Justice(ECJ) as the final arbiter of disputes”

between the EU and the UK on the interpretation of the Protocol.

Her language may be deliberately loose here.

Nobody is suggesting that the ECJ will arbitrate a dispute between the UK and the EU. But the EU side will have to act, in any agreements it makes with the UK, inaccordance with EU law and the ECJ has to have the final word in interpreting the meaning of the EU laws, that will apply in Northern Ireland , under the Protocol Boris Johnson and the UK Parliament signed up to .

Her article was all about what the UK needed, and she made no attempt to explain, to the Tory supporting readers of the Sunday Telegraph, that the EU is a system of rules, and these rules have to be interpreted consistently in all parts of Europe, including in regard to goods in Northern Ireland.

This failure to manage expectations could lead deep disappointments and a major crisis.

 Writing in the “Irish Times “ last week, Professor Ronan McCrea, an Irish academic based in London,  speculated that, if a compromise was not reached in the discussions between the EU and the UK on the Northern Ireland Protocol, this state might be forced to choose between imposing  customs controls on the  land border in Ireland, or ceasing to be fully part of the EU Single Market.

He did not see this arising simply from the UK invoking Article 16 of the Protocol, if that is all they do.

This is because Safeguard measures that the UK might take under Article 16 must be 

” restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation”. 

So any steps the UK might take under Article 16 would have to be narrowly focussed and temporary.  But that is not the impression being given publicly in Britain. 

Professor McCrea saw a bigger threat would arise if,rather than just invoking Article 16 , the UK just stopped implementing any controls at all, on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain. This would be a much more extreme step, but it flows from some of the rhetoric being used in Britain and among Unionists.

This , he argued, would mean, if the land border remained open, that exports from this country, to the rest of the EU could, no longer be relied upon to be compatible with EU rules on quality, safety and rules of origin.

One possibility is that, to avoid this, customs checks on goods coming from here might have to be introduced at ports in France, Belgium and the Netherlands on all goods coming from Ireland. 

This would be a nightmare scenario for Ireland and would be tantamount to the UK attempting to force Ireland out of the EU. The EU will not allow this. So the sanctions it might take against the UK would be very severe. I think Liz Truss and Boris would want to avoid that, given the supply problems already being experienced by the UK economy. So I am hopeful a compromise will be reached. But the stakes are high!

THE PEACE OF EUROPE IS AT RISK

I have visited Ukraine twice, once to observe their recent Presidential Elections, which were free and fair. It is troubling to see Russia massing its troops on Ukraine’s border.

But is is wise to fight a war over Ukraine’s “right” to join NATO? And even if one has a “right” to do something , is it necessarily right to do it!

Professor Gerard Toal of Virginia Tech has published a very sensible article in the Irish Times today. I shows how all sides are blind to the worries of others and acting as if everybody else is obliged to see them as they see themselves…..the most common mistake in politics.

Below is the text of Professor Toal’s excellent article.

Delusion on all sides has paved way for Russia-Nato standoff

It is hard to be objective about the Ukraine crisis. Russia is massing tanks and troops next to Ukraine. US intelligence reports Russia is planning a multi-front invasion involving 175,000 troops in the early new year.

Accompanying Russia’s posture of war is fevered rhetoric about Ukraine as an aggressor state. Russia decries Nato infrastructure, weapons, training and military exercises in Ukraine.

Late last week, Russia released a proposed draft treaty of what it sees as a desirable new security order for Europe. Viewing it as a gun-point demand for a Russian sphere of influence, Western and Ukrainian officials immediately rejected the proposals.

Russia is behaving like a bully toward Ukraine. But why? What happened to the dream of Europe whole, free and at peace at the end of the Cold War? How did we get from that hopeful new dawn to the sobering prospect of military invasion in 21st-century Europe? The short answer is this: security delusions on all sides paved the way, delusions that are now on a dangerous collision course.

Russia’s security delusions are easiest to grasp. Thinking military force can create genuine security and influence in neighbouring states is delusional. Recovering under Russian president Vladimir Putin after a decade of crisis, Russia began rebuilding its power capacities across post-Soviet space.

In August 2008, the Russian army invaded Georgia after a reckless move by its pro-Nato leader Mikheil Saakashvili to crush Russian backed separatists. In March 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine as violent protests overthrew Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Kremlin leader. Russian forces annexed Crimea, but proxy forces backed by Russia failed to create a large secessionist territory (Novorossiya) in southeast Ukraine. Only in part of the Donbas did Russian backed separatists succeed.

The subsequent Minsk Accords were designed to ensure that Russia’s proxies would influence the geopolitical orientation of Ukraine. It has not worked out that way. Indeed, in all instances, Russia’s military actions polarised states it hoped to influence, driving them to deepen ties with Nato. What aggrieves Moscow today about the creeping Nato-isation of Ukraine is partly of its own making.

The security delusions of the Nato West are more difficult to recognise. After the Cold War, the alliance decided to expand not disband. Nato’s “open door” policy allowed former Soviet republics like the Baltic States to join the alliance. Veteran Soviet security officials, like the conspiratorial-minded Putin, were forced to accept that their Cold War enemy was now at the border. Nato, of course, did not see it this way. It argued that all states have a sovereign right to choose their own defence orientation. Further, they claimed, Nato is not a threat to any power. Rather, it is a civilisational alliance advancing security and freedom.

Critics, most prominently an aging American diplomat George Kennan, saw Nato expansion as a fateful error and predicted it would strengthen the hand of hardliners within Russia. He was right. The insecurity that Nato expansion was designed to address only redoubled insecurity as Russia rebuilt its power and reacted.

A self-fulfilling security dilemma took hold. Nato expansion was justified by the very insecurity it produced. By 2008, Russia publicly asserted that Nato membership for Georgia and Ukraine were its defensive red lines. Nato radicalised matters when in April 2008 it declared, in defiance of Russia, that those two countries would one day become members of the alliance.

Claiming Nato is not a threat to anyone is a delusion. Nato does not get to define Russia’s security perception. Presuming that expanding a military alliance to the border of an insecure great power advances security is delusional. Unilaterally exiting arms control agreements with Russia – like the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty the US left in August 2019 – is reckless behaviour.

Admitting Ukraine into the Nato procurement system, training its troops, building Nato-standard infrastructure, and supplying advanced weapons to its forces without grasping that this may inflame Russian insecurity is also delusional thinking. It is living solely within one’s benevolent view of oneself.

The tragedy of the current Ukraine crisis is how both Russia and Nato seemed trapped within self-defeating policies. In seeking greater territorial security Russia has pursued a policy of undermining the territorial integrity of neighbouring states. Its imperialistic habits and attitudes endure.

In the past it has used separatists to advance its geopolitical goals. It now appears poised to pursue a more radical policy of direct military intervention to change facts on the ground. This can only further inflame Ukrainian sentiment against it. In no region will the Russian army be welcomed. Many Ukrainians may not actively resist but some undoubtedly will wage an insurgency against Russian occupation if it comes to that.

The West appears trapped by its fixation on the principle that all states have the sovereign right to choose their own military orientation. They cite articles from past security agreements. But they ignore other articles asserting that security is indivisible. Security requires responsibility and that begins with acknowledging collective sources of insecurity. The coronavirus pandemic has made clear the importance of qualifying individual free choice: we all have responsibilities to the collective good.

Many in the West are also fixated with Munich and appeasement, Yalta and spheres of influence. This desire for historically selective moralised analogies betrays a desire to purify the present into simpleminded categories of good and evil. More disturbingly, it also propels desire for righteous action. Violence is soon easily justified.

While the overall picture looks grim, let us hope that this crisis is a spur to serious negotiations and, out of these, a good enough compromise. Ukraine is a desperately poor country whose people have been victimized by embedded corruption and oligopoly since the Soviet collapse. They deserve better that to be a sandbox for a proxy war between Russia and the West. As we extend them solidarity and support in this hour of anxiety, let us also acknowledge the prevailing security delusions that got us here.

© 2021 irishtimes.com

Haughey

Charles Haughey’s childhood was marked by the illness and financial tribulations of his Derry born father, a retired army Officer and IRA veteran, Johnny Haughey. 

 Johnny Haughey was on the run in the South Derry countryside for much on 1920/1 and this may have permanently damaged his health. 

 He took part in the IRA Ambush at Swatragh on 5 June 1921, in which the 28 year old Catholic member of the RIC from Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, Michael Burke, was killed.

  Johnny Haughey went on the serve as an officer in the Free State Army, but seems not to have been politically involved beyond that. His wife, Sarah, had to bear an extra burden of caring for him when he contracted multiple sclerosis. 

Charles Haughey was a good student, won a scholarship to UCD and had qualified as both an accountant and a barrister by the age of 24, quite a feat. He also represented Dublin in the minor hurling All Ireland final. His hurling career ended, when he was suspended for a year for striking a linesman, when playing when for Parnells.

This book is useful in reminding readers of his early career, his struggle to be elected to the Dail, and  his nationwide role in party reorganisation.

 He was effective, as Minister  for Justice,  in enacting some of the large backlog of partially prepared legislation in the Department , notably the Succession Act, which gave greater protection to widows. He also reformed the Civil Liability Act, which, among other things,  recognized  that unborn children might be injured, and thus be entitled to redress after birth. In this, he was more enlightened, and had a larger vision of human rights, than has the present generation.

 His avoidable confrontation with the farmers in 1966 is covered rather cursorily. Things got so bad that outgoing Taoiseach, Sean Lemass had to intervene to bring this row to a diplomatic conclusion.

 Gary Murphy claims that, in this book, he is making what he calls a “reassessment” of Charles Haughey, on the basis of his unprecedented access to Haughey’s private papers.  

The facts of Mr Haugheys later career, and of his totally inappropriate financial dependency on donors to maintain an artificially extravagant public lifestyle, are so well known that this “reassessment”    is unlikely to change opinions.  Readers will just be better informed of the facts.

 Apart from some private jottings, which Haughey left in his papers, about his attitude to Northern Ireland and the Arms Trial, the private papers reveal relatively little that is illuminating about Haughey himself, or his private thoughts. 

  The private papers are full of  letters of enthusiastic praise from correspondents on the occasion of his various promotions as a Minister, and of his survivals of party heaves against him. 

Surprisingly for such a partisan figure, many of these letters he received came from senior civil servants and judges, people one might have been expected would maintain greater professional distance. 

 The fact that such people felt moved to write to him throws light on the persona that Charles Haughey had deliberately cultivated. His persona was designed   to mesmerize and hold people in thrall, and thus to enhance his power. In his manner and comportment, he cultivated mystery, awe, and to a great degree, fear.

 He wanted to be seen as the uncommon man, not as the common man.

 His exotic , and mysteriously financed, extravagant lifestyle, was part his attempt to cultivate awe and a consequent  degree of fear.

 As Donald Trump  once said to the author , Bob Woodward;

“Real power is….. I don’t want to use the word….. fear”.

This fear was an important instrument in Mr Haughey’s political repertoire.  The author says Haughey   “could be extremely dismissive of his political colleagues”, but adds , rather dubiously,  that he was never rude to his civil servants. 

From long before his own election to the Dail, Haughey had cultivated a relationship with the grassroots members of Fianna Fail all over the country, by attending Cumann functions and addressing meetings. He later harnessed this relationship to browbeat some TDs into voting for him.

He also was a master of symbolic language, of uncertain content.  

He claimed adherence to Fianna Fail’s “republicanism”, without ever defining what that meant, in terms of day to day politics in the here and now. 

 By focussing on the distant dream, he kept everyone happy. 

 He believed the” British had no more right to be in the 6 counties than in the 26”, as if the problem was the British, rather than the unionists. After his acquittal in the Arms Trial, he claimed to have a “fundamental difference” on Northern policy with Jack Lynch, but never elaborated on what that was. The author does not probe this. 

 The author describes Haugheys views on Northern Ireland as “naive”, believing, it seems, that all that was needed was to persuade the British to leave, and all would be well.

When it comes to Mr Haughey’s economic record, the author does not dig very deep at all. He claims Haughey was an “instinctive Keynesian”.  The author does not reflect on what  ”Keynesianism” could credibly mean, in a small open economy, where any debt fuelled stimulus  would quickly leave the country in the form of extra imports.

When Haughey became Taoiseach in 1979, he was warned that the solvency of the state was at risk as a result of increases in spending and reductions in the tax base, that had occurred since 1977 and before.

 In the meantime,  international interest rates had been deliberately hiked by Paul Volker of the Federal Reserve, in what proved to be a successful , but very painful ,  attempt to drive inflation out of the  international system.

 As a small country, but a big borrower for day to day spending, Ireland was very vulnerable indeed in 1979, when Mr Haughey inherited Jack Lynch’s large parliamentary majority, and could have done something about it. 

Maurice Doyle of the Department of Finance, one of his regular congratulatory correspondents, warned Haughey that the country was already at stage 2 on a 5 stage route to economic disintegration.

 Haughey then  made an eloquent television broadcast warning that the country was living beyond its means, and hinting that he would take  imminent action. But, notwithstanding his large parliamentary majority, his government did nothing. 

 Haughey pursued the illusion of an understanding with unions and employers, rather than putting the government’s own financial  house in order first,  by tax increases and spending reductions.  

 He acted as his own Minister for Finance, sidelining the real Ministers for Finance, Michael O Kennedy and Gene Fitzgerald.

 In January 1981, he produced a budget that pretended to curb  nominal spending, without taking  any of the  necessary policy decisions,  and which  artificially inflated  1981 revenue,  by bringing forward revenue from 1982 ( adding to the 1982 problem).

  As Opposition spokesman at the time, I informed the Dail of the phoniness of these budget numbers and described the budget as one of “drift and expediency”. 

Shortly after this budget, Mr Haughey, who had a large overall majority, and could have continued in office for another year, to deal  with the financial crisis, called General Election.  He lost it, and Fianna Fail was never again to regain the overall parliamentary majority that he had failed to use, and then prematurely cast away.  

 His government was replaced by a Fine Gael/Labour government which, unlike the Haughey government, was in a minority in the Dail.

 That new government had no choice, minority or not, to tackle to financial problem it had inherited head on, and I am proud to say , it did so.

 But because of the lack of a parliamentary majority, this led to the country having to endure  three General  Elections in a row, something which could have been avoided if the Haughey government, which did have a majority in the Dail,  had done its job between 1979 and 1981.

When he returned to office in 1987, with the insurance provided by the support of Fine Gael and Alan Dukes Tallaght strategy, his government  eventually made the economies he could have made in the 1979/81 period. The task was eased by the fact that international interest rates had fallen in the meantime, which reduced government spending on debt service. But he then cast that   insurance aside,  by calling a wholly unnecessary General Election in 1989, a mistake that he paid for later.

 In second order things, Charles Haughey was a very imaginative policy maker.  But on the big things, he often dodged responsibility, and showed a degree of timidity that sat very uneasily beside his carefully cultivated public image. 

 This 637 page book is more than a biography. It is a fairly full political history of Ireland, from the 1950’s to 1990, as seen from the perspective of Ireland’s then largest party, Fianna Fail. 

HOW IRISH PEOPLE HAVE SEEN THEMSELVES SINCE 1958

I have just finished reading Fintan O Toole’s latest book, “We don’t know ourselves”, (Apollo Books) which is subtitled “a personal history of Ireland since 1958”.

O Toole was born in that year and he weaves some of his family story into the broader trends in Irish life, that the book describes.

The central theme  is an exploration of Irish hypocrisy.

 Fintan O Toole sees hypocrisy in recent Irish attitudes to religious practice, abortion, the use of violence for political ends, the desirability of a united Ireland, unmarried motherhood, clerical child abuse, the United States and what it stands for, and to a host of other things.

He neatly defines hypocrisy as

 “the tribute paid by realism to piety”.

Hypocrisy is also often a survival strategy and a form of evasive politeness. There are worse sins.

O Toole describes how, in his early life, emigration was a constant feature of the Irish experience.  45% of those born in the independent Irish state between 1931 and 1936 would eventually emigrate.

For some of them, emigration was a means of escaping the constraints imposed, both by the expectations of their extended family in Ireland, and by notions of morality and respectability derived from prevailing versions of Catholic teaching.

These constraints have loosened, and O Toole admits that

“The real effect of the loss of church authority was that there was no deeply rooted civic authority to take its place”.

He does not explore this. If religion is no longer a guide, what is taking its place? Is it individual choice based on utilitarian principles, or is wokeness taking the place of faith?

This might be a topic for Fintan’s next book.

But demolishing hypocrisy, so elegantly done in this book, is an easier task than creating the ingredients for a new and sustainable social contract.

This will be a big part the task that faces the Christion churches in 21st Century Ireland.  It is their road back to social relevance.   A huge mental and moral effort will be required, and no one else is volunteering to undertake it.

PRESIDENT KENNEDY……A NEW BIOGRAPHY

“JFK”, by Fredrik Logevall, (Penguin Books) is the first volume of a two volume biography of the US President who was killed in Dallas in 1963. It covers the period up to 1956 with a lot of personal and family detail.

Kennedy was a moderate student, but one who read widely. He was serious and introspective, but he also used people without much concern for their feelings. This was particularly the case in his relations with women.

 He came from an unnaturally competitive family and displayed great physical courage, both in his wartime service, and in his battle with illness throughout his life.

While his father, Joe Kennedy, supported appeasement and isolationism in the 1930s, JFK , in contrast, supported US military activity abroad, and criticised President Truman for the  “loss” of China to the Communists.

This is a very readable, if slightly long, book.

AUSTIN CURRIE RIP

I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the death of a great Irish Democrat, Austin Currie. I am proud to have known and served with him.

As a very young Nationalist MP in Stormont, and later as a founding member of the Civil Rights movement and of the SDLP, Austin showed immense physical and moral courage.

He, and his devoted wife Annita, were subjected to grave intimidation and harassment by paramilitaries from both sides during that time.

His first cause was that of ensuring fair access to public housing in Northern Ireland. 

When he later joined Fine Gael, and contested elections on this side of the border, he brought with him the same passion for justice. 

 He was a very good Minister of State and served simultaneously in three government Departments coordinating services for families and children.

He may not have been successful in his quest to become President in 1990, but , if he had succeeded, he would have been a very good President .

MYTHS ABOUT HISTORY CAN LEAD TO FUTURE ERRORS

An unrealistic understanding of the past can lead popular opinion, and politicians, into tragic errors.

Felix Larkin has recently published a collection of essays, entitled “Living with History”, that deals the use and abuse of historical commemorations,  and of official versions  history, in Ireland. 

 Popular opinions about history frequently involve mythologizing certain events, and over simplifying  the choices that were available to decision makers at the time. 

For example, Felix Larkin robustly challenges the popular view, endorsed in his recent book  by the historian Diarmaid Ferriter, that the border was “imposed “  on Ireland, against its will, by the British in 1920.

 Larkin points out that Redmond and Carson had accepted some form of partition in principle in 1914, and again in negotiations after the Rising in late 1916. So also did the majority of TDs, who had been elected under a Sinn Fein banner,   when they accepted the Treaty of 1921 by a vote in the Dail. 

 On each occasion the Irish leaders in question shrank from the prospect of a prolonged and bitter sectarian war, and even more deaths, that would have been necessary to impose a united Ireland on a resisting unionist population. 

 They were realists, facing their unpleasant responsibilities, and realists are rarely suitable subject for romantic historical commemorations.  We are being reminded of this by recent events. I am not sure much has changed. There is still a widespread view that unionists will cease to be unionist once there is a border poll. 

As Larkin sees it, the role of the historian is to debunk myths about the past.

 The historian’s role is to recognize that nothing that happened in the past was necessarily inevitable.  History is the result of an accumulation of a series of individual decisions, each one of which could have been different.  Politicians and citizens are, and always were, the shapers of their own destiny within the constraints that existed at the time.

So the study of history, and the well chosen commemoration of past events, should enable us, by learning from the consequences of   past decisions, to make better decisions in the future.

 It should encourage the taking of responsibility, rather than undue submission to victimhood, nostalgia or the blaming of others.

Larkin’s book covers many other topics, the contrast between the ideologies that inspired the 1798 and 1848 rebellions, the successes and failures of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and the varying attitudes of the Catholic Hierarchy to political violence.

 It also explores the appropriation of the religious feast of Easter by the faction of the IRB that launched the Rising, including through the use of religious imagery and notions of blood sacrifice in the Proclamation . 

 Even to this day, in secular Ireland, the 1916 Rising is commemorated on Easter Sunday, whenever that falls under the Christian calendar, rather than on 24 April each year, which is the actual anniversary.  This purely secular commemoration should probably not be conflated with the Resurrection of Christ. Each should be recalled by modern Ireland on their own merits.

Larkin believes democracy should infuse commemoration, so the foundational event of this state should be recognised as the anniversary of the meeting of the duly elected First Dail in 1919. This was a democratically sanctioned event, whereas , as a matter of historical fact, the  1916 Rising was not.

Felix Larkin’s book deserves to be widely read. It gives a very personal perspective, and offers insights that will help all residents of this island, whatever their allegiance, shape a peaceful  future,  free of grievance and myth.

He is a former senior official in the Department of Finance and later in the National Treasury Management Agency. 

All the while, he has also been an historian writing about many topics, most notably the history of Irish newspapers, something he first took up as a graduate student as far back as 1971. 

Felix Larkin’s work on newspapers has given him a unique window into contemporary Irish public opinion, over two centuries.

AN AIRLIFT OF SURPLUS VACCINES TO POORER COUNTRIES COULD SAVE MANY LIVES

Statement by John  Bruton, Former Taoiseach

I am happy to be one of the signatories of a letter to the G20  leaders, meeting in Rome this weekend,  calling on them to  airlift surplus  Covid 19 vaccines, unlikely to be used  in high income countries,  to low income countries, where vaccine rates are dangerously low.

Gordon Brown estimates that 240 million unused vaccines will accumulate in the EU, the US , Canada and the UK, by the end of the year, and that 100m of these will have passed their  ”use by” date by then.

It is calculated that, for every 100m vaccines administered, 120000 lives will be saved.

The more vaccines that are administered in Africa, and in other low income countries, the less likely will be the development of new variants of Covid, which could spread back into better off countries.

Gordon Brown’s proposal is a sound one.

MERVYN TAYLOR

I wish to pay heartfelt tribute to the life and work of Mervyn Taylor. I extend deep sympathy to his wife Marlilyn at this time of immense loss.

As a solicitor he gave really valuable service to thousands of clients, always in his characteristic sympathetic and reasoned way.

He will also be missed by his former constituents  in Dublin South West whose interests he served with similar dedication.

He gave outstanding service as Minister for Equality and Law Reform in the Rainbow government that came to office in 1994.

 He was a pleasure to work with as a Cabinet colleague.  We worked together on the Divorce Referendum. He was dedicated and committed to his goals but had a great ability to work together across party lines.

I was surprised when he retired from politics in 1997. I believe he enjoyed his retirement and it was my pleasure to meet him from time to time.

He will be missed.

Page 1 of 63

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén