Opinions & Ideas

Category: Immigrants



It is not immigration, but the political exploitation of immigration, that threatens border free movement within the EU.

Closing down legal migration routes has led to the opening up of illegal routes.

In 2010, 130,000 first time visas were issued to citizens of African countries by EU countries. By 2016, only a mere 30,000 visas were issued.

So denial of a legal immigration route is one contributor to illegal immigration.

African agriculture suffers disproportionately from climate change, but the human contribution to climate change comes disproportionately from the Northern Hemisphere, including from Europe.

Public opinion in some European countries is getting into a panic about immigration from outside Europe, yet these very countries are often the ones that have the least immigration.

A survey of public opinion, in 2016, found that the most negative opinions about immigration were to be found in Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia and Romania (all countries with little enough non EU immigration).

The most welcoming attitude to immigration, at that time, was to be found in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands (who all already have substantial numbers of non EU immigrants).

European countries have a legal obligation to provide a refuge for people who are fleeing in fear of their lives from wars. Europe has provided some shelter for refugees, but Turkey has 3 million refugees in its borders, Lebanon 1 million, and Uganda 1 million. No EU country is shouldering that sort of burden.

Europeans need to look at immigration in a different way.

Because we have decided, over the past  40 or more years, to have fewer children, Europeans will need immigration in future to maintain a proper balance between numbers at work, and numbers in retirement, unless those in retirement are to live a desolate old age thirty years from now.

In a few years time, people of working age will be in short supply.

Globally, the ratio of working age to retired, will fall from 8 to 1 today, to 4 to 1 by 2050. By 2050, the global population aged 65 or over will increase from 600 million to 2.1 billion.

This will create a huge funding crisis for governments, who will not be collecting enough tax from the diminished number of people of working and taxpaying age, to meet the promises it has made, of pensions and health care, to the increasing number who have already retired and no longer earners and taxpayers.

Opposition is principle to the arrival of young immigrants from Africa is short sighted.

This is because the working age population of most EU countries is set to decline, while its post retirement population is set to increase rapidly. Without immigration of people of working age, Europe’s diminished working age population, will imply relatively poorer health care and pensions for its ever growing retired population.

Africa has an abundant supply of what will soon be one of the world’s scarcest resources, young people.

Europe has a birth rate of 1.63 children per family. Iran and China have similarly low birth rates and the US rate is only slightly higher.

In contrast, the birth rate in Nigeria is 5.42, in Mali 5.92 and Niger 7.15.

Nigeria’s population has risen from 45 million, when it became independent in 1960, to 187 million today. By 2050 Nigeria’s population could reach 410 million. The present Nigerian economy is just not capable of finding employment for all these people.

The EU needs to work on a policy that encourages orderly and well prepared immigration from Africa, accompanied by well considered plans to integrate the immigrants into European society.

As much as possible of the preparation for European living should be done before would be emigrants leave their home countries. If Europe opens up legal routes for immigration, illegal routes will become less attractive.

Europe must develop an investment partnership with Africa.

As the European Council said last week;

“  We need to take the extent and the equality of our cooperation with Africa to a new level. This will not only require increased development funding but also steps towards creating a new framework enabling a substantial increase of private investment from both Africans and Europeans. Particular focus should be laid on education, health, infrastructure, innovation, good governance and women’s empowerment.”






I have spent the last two weeks reading a lot about the life of Daniel O Connell.

He is a man for whom I have always felt an instinctive affection.

He had a vision that extended beyond Ireland. As he said of himself “my sympathy is not confined to the narrow limits of my own green Ireland.”

In his first days as an MP, after Catholic Emancipation allowed him to take his seat, he presented a petition from Cork against slavery in the colonies.

He suggested abolishing the practice of arresting people for debt without judicial procedure, and he spoke in favour of a petition supporting the rights of Jews (who, like Catholics, had been denied the right to be MPs).

He favoured the secret ballot and the reform of Parliament. He fought against the remaining duties on Irish exports of malt, coal and paper to Britain. He would not have been a supporter of Brexit.

Although he was not familiar with Ulster, he did try to reach out to Loyalists, even going so far as drinking a toast to King William at a dinner in Drogheda, a risky thing to do at any time!

He made big financial sacrifices for the causes in which he believed. He could have taken up high legal office, forinstance as Master of the Rolls, a highly remunerative legal office, but chose to stay in Parliament, as an unpaid MP, to fight on for the Repeal of the Union.

Like any good politician, he was assiduous in answering his correspondence. At one stage he was answering up to 200 letters a day, and, before he became an MP in 1829, the postage alone cost him as much as £10 per day, at a time when a £ was infinitely more valuable than it is today.


He had a deep aversion to politically motivated violence, an issue on which he differed with Thomas Davis and others who romanticised the 1798 Rebellion.

He told Dublin Corporation that, for a political purpose, he would

“not for all the universe consent to the effusion of a single drop of human blood except my own”.  

On another occasion, he said,

“ Human blood is no cement for the temple of human liberty.”

It was because of his fear of the loss of life that he called off the monster meeting at Clontarf, a decision which the Young Ireland leaders consented to at the time, but subsequently criticised.

Asked  afterwards to name the act of his political career of which he was most proud, he said it was not  Catholic Emancipation, but the decision to cancel  the mass meeting at Clontarf, and thereby prevent the

“plains of Clontarf being, for a second time, saturated with blood”.

He knew violence, once commenced, soon gets beyond the control of its initiators, as we learned in the 1916 to 1923 period.

He believed in passive resistance, and was innovative in devising ways to use it. He pioneered mass meetings, and parish level political organisation. In that sense, he was ahead of the rest of Europe. He was the founder of mass political participation, and this was recognised in other countries at the time.

Late in his career, in order to promote the cause of Repeal of the Union between Ireland and Britain, he suggested setting up a shadow parliament in Dublin and an Irish system of arbitration outside the UK dominated courts system. In 1919, both ideas that were revived by Sinn Fein and the IRB.  Unfortunately, they were accompanied, at that later time, by physical violence, which defeated their purpose completely.


As I said at the outset, O Connell was an internationalist.

He worked for human rights across the globe. His opposition to human slavery was not confined to the colonies of the British Empire.

He opposed slavery in the United States, unlike the Young Irelander, John Mitchell, who subsequently actively supported it.

His opposition to slavery in the United States was deeply appreciated by those agitating within the US itself, for the abolition of slavery.

He refused political donations from slaveholders in the US.

He attacked the attempt to establish Texas as an independent slave owning state seceding from Mexico.

He criticised George Washington for owning slaves.

He clashed with the, Irish born, Catholic Bishop Hughes of New York who criticised him for his “intolerable interference in American affairs”.

O Connell’s most recent biographer, Patrick Geoghegan says his declarations on slavery were a key factor in alienating the Young Irelanders, who believed the Repeal Association should only address domestic, not foreign, affairs.

I believe that, to be true to O Connell’s legacy, Irish people in the twenty first century, must take their share of responsibility for facing up to the big international moral issues of our time.  They must not confine their concern to their “own green Ireland”.


If O Connell could speak to us today he would remind us that we are a relatively well off country.

I read recently that if a person is earning more than 34000 euros a year, they are in the top one percent in the world in terms of income!

As in O Connell’s case with slavery, facing up to big moral questions has costs.

These moral issues of our time include climate change, and the drought, starvation and forced migration it is bringing in its wake in Africa.

Just as sophisticated and pragmatic arguments were advanced in the 19th century to postpone the abolition of slavery, sophisticated and pragmatic arguments are advanced today for postponing action on climate change.

Action on climate change, here or in the United States, could indeed damage competitiveness of some parts of the Irish or the American economies, just as abolition of slavery damaged the competitiveness of the cotton states of the US over 100 years ago. It could be argued that the labour intensive cotton economy of the southern states would have been impossible without the cheap labour provided by slaves.

Likewise the mass migration that has been caused, at least in part, by climate change will cause difficulties in the societies in which migrants arrive, just as the mass migration of former slaves to the northern cities of the US caused problems, including race riots, in the cities of the northern US from the 1860’s up to the present day.

These issues are still with us. Migration, and the challenges it can cause for countries in Europe, are issues to which  I would like to turn to now.

Let us put it in context. Europe’s population is declining. Its birth rate is 1.6.  A birth rate of 2.1 would be needed to maintain the population.

I heard it said recently that, in the next 20 years, on present trends (without immigration), Europe’s population will decline faster than at any time since the Black Death in the 14th century.

It is possible that immigration will belie that prediction. But, as we know, some ageing European countries have a difficulty in accepting immigrants with different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Germany is a notable exception. Our nearest neighbour is not.

Meanwhile, in Africa the available workforce is expanding rapidly. Over half of the prospective population growth in the world in the next thirty years will be in Africa. But the African economies are creating only one job for every three young people reaching working age. That explains the surge of emigration in Africa, a lot of which is going to other African countries.

When I was born, in 1947, Europeans were 25% of the world population.  Now, Europeans are only 7.5% of the world’s population, and by 2050 we will be just 6%. This is because the population elsewhere has risen so fast, while our population has stood still,

Europe’s population is getting older, partly because it is living longer. The average age in Europe is 40, whereas the average age in Africa is 20. By 2030, without immigration, the German working  age population was set to decline by one sixth.


I heard one economist respond recently, when people complained to him that Europe’s growth rate had not returned to the level of the 1990’s,  that present growth rates were as high as  they could reasonably  be expected to be,  given that older populations naturally produce and consume  less, than younger ones do. By 2050, the public pension systems of most European countries will go broke for lack of sufficient new contributors.

Older populations have less energy, are more risk averse, and eventually retire from work altogether. So it should not surprise us that the ageing of a society slows that society’s economic growth rate. But that obvious fact is rarely mentioned in economic commentary.  This leads to unrealistic expectations, foolish promises, inevitable disappointment, and eventually even to disillusionment with democracy.

It seems to me that the European countries that do the best job in including immigrants as productive members of the local community, are the countries that will do best economically, and will be best able to afford good health and pensions for their older citizens when they need it. I fear many older voters in Europe do not see that as clearly as they should.

Ireland is doing well in regard to providing opportunities for new immigrants at the moment. Our historic experience of emigration enables us to understand the intense loneliness of the recent immigrant.


The presence of a large number of refugees from Ballaghadereen, at the recent All Ireland quarter Final between Mayo and Roscommon, is a sign of a great local effort at positive integration.  

Italy is a country that is being required to absorb a very large number of African immigrants just now. But Italy is also a country with one of Europe’s lowest birth rates and historically poorest rates of economic growth. If Italy can make the recently arrived immigrant into productive Italian citizens it may turn a problem into an opportunity.

Spain is also a country for whom immigration can be an opportunity.  We are all too well aware of the criminal attacks in Catalonia, but there are many examples of small rural communities in Spain making seasonal agricultural workers from Morocco welcome in their homes, and integrating them in local life. Immigrants have kept villages, that might otherwise have been abandoned, alive.

It is a big challenge to integrate people with radically different religious and ethnic backgrounds and build a new tolerant and cooperative society with a sense of mutual solidarity.

This is made more difficult by the segregation into ghettoes that arises because of the way the housing market operates in big cities, where people tend to live if different suburbs depending on their income and status. Rural societies may be better at integration because they are smaller scale, and segregation in daily life is less possible.

Innovative Government intervention may be needed to prevent ghettoisation, and to provide natural opportunities for people of different ethnicities and religions to meet, and have a good time together. The European Agency for Fundamental Rights deals with integration in a recent report, but its focus is on bureaucracy led action plans, and it contains  few examples of successful community led initiatives are cited. Good examples are needed to give hope.

I am convinced that, one way or another, European society will become much more multi ethnic in the next 40 years, and that integration will be a challenge that will need to be faced at every level of society, not just at the level of the state or local authorities. It will be everybody’s business.

Sports organisations and religious communities have the greatest potential to integrate new arrivals.

Some might think that religion is likely to be a divisive force as far as immigration is concerned. I disagree. Some the best work being done in Germany to integrate Muslim refugees into German life is being done by Christian organisations, whose members see the welcoming of strangers in need, as a charitable imperative of their own Christian faith. Churches have a flexibility that bureaucracies can never attain. People who are confident in their own faith have ease in working with people whose faith is different.

Of course, not everybody will become integrated.

We need to try to understand the motivation of those who left European countries to join ISIS.

I understand that a high proportion of the ISIS recruits are young people who, until recently, had not been active observant Muslims but were of another faith, of no faith at all, or just indifferent.  Many were recruited in prison. The zeal of the recent convert can be a dangerous thing.

This makes the case that proper religious education, as part of a good general education, is something socially valuable, in that it enables young people to make careful and informed judgement about religious matters, as they mature into adulthood.


It is part of a wider problem.  Young people, of all ethnicities in some countries, have become alienated from democratic systems of government.  They may either not vote at all, or vote flippantly.

As a proportion of their income, younger people get fewer benefits from the state, and pay proportionately more taxes to it , than do older generations.

 Among the benefits used disproportionately by older people are state subsidized pensions and healthcare. For example, it is because of its generous earnings related state pension system, and its excellent health service, that the bulk of social spending in France actually goes to those with higher than average incomes!

Older people are not always wise in the political choices they make.

Older people in the UK were among the strongest supporters of Brexit, allegedly because of an aversion to immigration. Yet the largest support for Brexit was found in areas that had had the least recent immigration.


The continuance of present levels of support for older people’s social services actually depends on the taxes and productive work of younger people, many of whom will have to be immigrants, because in most European countries there will simply not be enough native young people to pay the taxes needed to sustain the current levels of support for older retired people.

This problem is not going to ease.

Ireland’s national debt is 183 billion euros . But its eventual contingent liability for PRSI and public service pensions comes to 422 billion euros, which is not included in the national debt.

This contingent liability will be at its most onerous around 2050, which is when those now getting their first job will hope to be at the top of the salary scale. The shortfall will be three times as great in 2050 as it is today.

This may prove to be an under estimate, if life expectancy, and consequentially length of years in retirement, continues to grow at the present rate….3 months per year  

On the other hand, it may prove to be an underestimate, if we have an enlightened and workable immigration policy, and the age imbalance is rectified by an influx of non Irish born people who will, because they are working here, be paying Irish taxes.


Daniel O Connell was widely admired across Europe.

 In the month before he died , he set out for Rome , as a pilgrim hoping  to see the Pope before he passed away.  All along his journey through France, he was greeted by substantial crowds.

He did not make it to Rome. He died in Genoa . I was in Genoa last week and saw the house on the Via al Ponte Reale, near the port, where O Connell died.  It is now a bar.

It is a tribute to the esteem in which he was held that , not long after  his death, a fine plaque was erected, with a representation of O Connell by the sculptor Federico Fabiano.

O Connell was long remembered in Genoa because, 50 years after he died, an additional plaque was erected by the Catholics of Genoa remembering his work for religious liberty.

I doubt if any Irish politician since then has enjoyed such a positive reputation in Europe, as Daniel O Connell did.

As I expect you will hear tomorrow from Paul Gallagher SC, this was partly because of O Connell’s reputation as a lawyer, who could use the law to rectify injustice and protect liberty.


In essence the European Union is a law or rule based system. Common rules, interpreted and enforced consistency are the bedrock upon which freedom can be built, in trade and in daily life, between nations and between individuals.

The EU has provided its member states,  including, for the past 44 years, the UK,  with a common system for

  • making,
  • amending,
  • enforcing and
  • interpreting

common rules on matters as diverse as food safety, aviation, intellectual property protection, and consumer protection in the purchase of financial products.

The fact that the rules are now common to all, means that food can be sold, airline competition facilitated, patents respected and savings protected across the whole 28 countries of the EU. It is really important for a business that seeks to sell goods and services across Europe to know that the standards the goods must comply with will be the same everywhere and that these rules will be enforced and interpreted in a consistent way in every EU country. Without the EU, none of this would be the case.

The fact that the rules can be amended in a single legislative process for all members saves a lot of time.

So too does the fact that they will, if necessary, be enforced effectively and uniformly across Europe, under the supervision of the European Commission.

The fact that these common rules will also be interpreted, in a uniform way across the whole of Europe, under the aegis of the ECJ, also avoids all sorts of confusion, haggling and duplication. The ECJ, and the rules it interprets in a consistent way, are essential to the freedom of EU citizens to live, work and trade across the whole Union.

 Without the ECJ, the European Union would just be a temporary diplomatic expedient, of no durable value. The Brexit demands of the UK must not be allowed to change that. Without commonly interpreted rules, there is no lasting freedom.


The UK is turning its back on that.

Its position is internally self contradictory.

The recent UK Government White paper on Customs after Brexit claimed that the UK is

“a strong supporter of the rules based global trading system”.  

Yet the UK is now leaving a rules based system, the EU, supposedly because it want to “take back control”.  It wants to write its own rules for itself. That is  quite simply inconsistent with supporting a rules based global system which, by definition, means GIVING UP some control.

 As a non member of the EU, the UK will now have to negotiate a new deal on each topic now covered by an EU agreement, then agree a separate procedure for future amendments to that deal, and agree procedures for enforcing, and for interpreting the deal.  This will take up a huge amount of time, unproductively for everybody involved.


When the Brexit negotiations become fraught, as they undoubtedly will, UK and EU negotiators will need to remind themselves that we have more in common than divides us, and that we each live, close beside one another, in a continent whose global weight is much less than it was 100 years ago, and will become lesser still, as time goes on.

At the other end of the Eurasian land mass, China will double the size of its economy in the present decade. It adds to its GDP by an equivalent of the entire GDP of Turkey….every year.

China has ambitious plans for its global role, and China has the executive coherence and long term perspective, necessary to realize those goals.

At the moment Europe has neither the required executive coherence, nor the necessary  shared longer term  view of its future

China is thinking in ambitious geographic terms .It is promoting global connectivity through its “One Belt, One Road” concept.

The UK’s access to that Road, across the Eurasian land mass, runs entirely through the EU.

The access of Ireland to that trans Eurasian Road runs mainly through the UK.  Brexit will put roadblocks on the road in two places. Not clever.


I will now turn to the internal dynamics of the EU itself, as I expect they will evolve in coming years, without Britain.

The European Commission has produced a White Paper which sets out five, rather stylised and artificial, scenarios.

These scenarios are

  1. Continuing on as we are
  2. Doing nothing but maintaining the Single Market
  3. Allowing countries that want to go ahead with more intense integration, to do so within the EU legal order, and with the possibility for others to join later
  4. Doing less more efficiently
  5. Doing much more together.

Given that it is difficult for 27 countries to agree on new tasks (It was much easier when there were only 9 or even 15 members), I think the first option, continuing on as we are, will be the easiest to follow. This is especially the case if the EU remains unwilling to amend its Treaties

The last option, doing much more together, does not have public support at the moment, but that could change suddenly, if some external shock made it easier to overcome the normal resistance and inertia. Among the activities envisaged, under this  option, are a single European anti Terror agency and a single coast guard. These are not farfetched ideas, and indeed may be inevitable if passport free travel across member state boundaries is to continue.

The option of doing nothing but maintain the Single Market, is not very helpful in my view.  In truth, it is almost impossible to agree where the Single Market ends, and other policies begin. The Commission is correct in saying that ”Single Market Only” option would make it more difficult to conclude more or deeper international trade agreements, because differences in  some standards would persist within the EU.

The option of “doing less more efficiently” is not very different, and is meaningless in practice. According to the Commission paper,  it would involve pursuing Single Market integration vigorously, but going slow on regional policy, and on social and public health policies that do not relate directly to the Single market. This option may appeal to net contributor countries, like Germany and perhaps Ireland, but would not appeal in Central and Eastern Europe. It may appeal to outsiders like the UK, Norway and Switzerland as it might reduce the fee they would pay for access to the Single market. But it would be strenuously resisted by many poorer EU states.

The idea of allowing some countries to “go ahead without the others” is one that has been around for a long time, and is actually provided for in Title IV of the EU Treaty governing what is known as “Enhanced Cooperation”.

While this provision has not been much used, it could be said that the euro, and the Schengen border control free zone, are already forms of enhanced cooperation.

I do  not see Enhanced Cooperation  as an ideal way forward for the future, because it dilutes the democratic unity of the EU, which  is already put under enough strain by the division between Euro and “not yet Euro” members. Many will ask why  a member state should  have the same vote in the European Parliament, on  a policy in which it is taking no part and making no financial contribution, as the MEPs from countries that are doing both. The Commission saw this scenario as allowing some countries to go further ahead on defence cooperation while other members might hang back.  

Ireland will need to give serious thought to European defence questions.

It has to be recognised that influence of a member state in the EU will be commensurate with its commitment to and solidarity with other members.

A country that only wants to take part in policies from which it will gain, while going slow on things that might involve costs for it, will have less influence in the EU, and might not receive solidarity when it needs it, but it is hard to quantify this.

Too much “Enhanced Cooperation” could eventually lead to no cooperation.

Putting it another way, an EU which encourages some countries to go ahead while others hang back could quickly divide between” policy maker” countries,  and “policy taker” countries. This is why Ireland has traditionally resisted a “two tier” Europe.

All in all, I felt the Commission’s options paper, while a start, requires a lot more work.


Public opinion also needs to be taken into account, in working out the priorities of the EU. But the problem is that public opinion varies widely between countries.


Asked in April 2016, just before the UK Referendum, what they wanted the EU to prioritise, the public came up with quite different answers in different countries.

 Also in a poll last year, there were wide differences in the extent to which voters in different countries felt their voted counted for something in EU decision making , ranging from  70% of Danes feeling their vote counted in the EU, through 45% of Irish people, down to a mere 20% of Italians and 17% of Cypriots and Estonians.

80% of Greeks wanted the EU to do more to fight terrorism, and 69% of Italians did, but only 33% of the Dutch and 44% of Danes.

69% of Swedes and Spaniards wanted the EU to do more about the Environment, but only 28% of Estonians did .

EU action on Protecting External Borders was a priority for 73% of Greeks, but only 43% of Irish people and  35% of Swedes and Latvians wanted the EU to prioritise it.

Overall and on average, 44% of EU citizens felt the EU should be doing more about Security and Defence. But, to my surprise given their proximity to Russia, only 30% of Latvians and Estonians, and 25% of Danes, did so.

In contrast, 60% of Greeks , 56% of Italians and French, but only 41% of Germans felt the EU should do more on Security and Defence.

This would suggest that , a year ago anyway, there was not an overwhelming public demand for an EU defence policy. But that was before the election of Donald Trump.

Finally, given the low oil prices at the time, it is perhaps not surprising that so few European felt the EU should be doing more on Energy supply issues.

Yet a Single Energy market was identified as a priority issue by the European Commission even in their “Continuing as we are” scenario I mentioned earlier.

Only 36% of EU citizens felt the EU was not doing enough on the issue of Energy supply. The greatest support for more EU action on Energy supply was in Greece and Spain ( both 54%). In the Czech Republic, only 18% felt the EU should do more on Energy Supply questions

Given that Ireland is so completely dependent on, what will soon become a non EU country, for access to the international  electricity grid, it interesting to note that support for a common EU policy on Energy Supply was below the EU average in Ireland, at a mere 33%.  I expect that that will change.


1.) The first big achievement of O Connells political career was winning for Catholics the right to sit and vote in Parliament in London. Remember Catholic Emancipation was not about the right to vote, which eligible Catholics already had, it was about Catholics being able to sit and vote in Parliament

+  Is it not a strange commentary on O Connell’s obtaining for Catholics the right to vote in Parliament in 1829, that none of his Irish Ulster co religionists, who are entitled to do so in 2017,  will take their seats at a time when vital legislation, affecting Ireland, is to be decided in Westminster  in a few days time?

2.) One of O Connell’s great causes, the ending of slavery, arose from his belief in the dignity of every defenceless human being.

+  As a society, do we respect that dignity today in our prisons?  Do we respect the dignity of people before they are born, as well as we respect it after they are born? At what age do human rights commence, and end?

3.) O Connell mobilised people to come together to express themselves through peaceful political agitation. He was the first leader ever to encourage all the Irish people to stand up publicly and take responsibility for their future.

+  Is collective and rational political deliberation now being replaced by mob rule through the social media? Are we protecting people’s rights to say unpopular things, and to question modern orthodoxies?  Do most voters think critically about the foreseeable consequences of their own choices for society as a whole, or do they prefer just to blame politicians if things do not work out afterwards as promised?

4.) European states have taken on substantial liabilities both to financial markets, and to their own people.

+  Should we have a national balance sheet as well as a national budget, so people will see clearly the obligations that will have to be met over the next 40 years?

5.)The Brexit negotiation could prove to be one of the most traumatic political conflicts of recent years, and could dig a physical and psychological trench between us, and our immediate neighbours.

+ Can we do more to mitigate the build up of pressure in these negotiations, by lengthening the Treaty based negotiation time line from two years to ( say) six years, allowing the UK to remain in the EU until the end of that period? If the UK was still in the EU at the time of the next European Elections in 2019, might not the Euro Elections not allow UK voters take a more considered view of their Brexit choice?

6.) I have summarised the options for the future of the EU put forward by the Commission. I am not aware that these options have been debated seriously anywhere. We are a long way away from developing a common EU wide public opinion that would support positive programme of further EU integration.

+  Does this not reveal a structural flaw in EU democracy?  Should voters be able to vote for a government of the EU,  just as they vote for a government of their own country? Is the shift in the power of initiative in the EU away from the Commission in favour of the 28 Heads of Government really helping the EU define a common policy that will appeal to voters across national boundaries?

The relentless news cycle, speeded up by instant communication, does not allow for the type of reflection and deliberation on public issues that was possible in O Connell’s time.  That is why we should stand back and ask questions, like those I have just posed, at a summer school like this.

Address by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the O Connell  Summer School in the Library Cahirciveen at 3 pm on Friday 25th August




What have the following in common?

+ The Scottish 45% YES to break up the UK….+ The Growth of National Front in France….+ English anti EU sentiment and support for UKIP…. + The strength of Tea Party  and the polarisation of politics in the  USA and + The growing support for anti immigrant parties in Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

They have this in common. All these parties want to withdraw from some international commitment or other, and shut the doors of their nation to outside influences. 

What support for these parties shows is that an introverted and recessive Nationalism is on the rise again. This is a reaction against globalisation by those who have benefitted less from it than others did. 

It should be noted that all have benefitted from globalisation through cheaper food, clothes, and cheaper communications. But some have benefitted much more than others, and the “others” are expressing their disgruntlement through votes for these populist parties.

These parties want a repatriation of powers to the national level, and even complete withdrawal from international bodies like the WTO, the European Union, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

People supporting these parties say they do not understand how Brussels works, or how Westminster or Washington works. But do they really understand any better how their local council works ? 

This is why I am unconvinced that concession of their literal demands would actually remove the discontents that lie behind support for these parties. 

For example, I am not convinced that an elaborate system of federalism within UK, or UK withdrawal from the EU, would actually assuage the anger being expressed through UKIP votes. The experience of post Franco regional devolution in Spain is not completely reassuring.

In Scotland, the younger and the poorer sections of population   were the most alienated, and voted most strongly for Scottish independence . This is despite the fact that public spending per head, on which poorer people depend more, is already higher in Scotland than it is in England.

It is £10,152 per head in Scotland, as against £ 8,529 in England. On those figures, complete fiscal would worsen the position of poorer Scots.


I believe these vote reflect a sense of not being listened to, of not being respected, than they do a demand for particular constitutional or institutional changes. 

Do Scots feel respected, and listened to, in UK? 

Do working class voters of the National Front, UKIP, and the  Tea Party voters feel respected by metropolitan elites?

I fear the answer in “No” in all cases


Fear of what may happen in the future drives people in the direction of populist solutions, and parties.
States have made health promises and pension promises that will become unaffordable, as the proportion of the population that is elderly grows. Meanwhile, many private  pension schemes are underfunded.

Another pervasive fear is that of redundancy in mid life. In such a circumstance, it is difficult to know what new skills to go for, and it is equally difficult to move to another city to find work, after a certain age.


These fears feed anti immigrant sentiment.
Immigration disturbs bucolic image some people have of their ideal national environment….forgetting that, if they actually lived in their ideal environment, they would probably find claustrophobic and boring.

There IS  also competition for low skilled jobs, and immigration DOES drive some wage rates down
But automation and labour saving devices are devaluing all forms of low skilled work anyway, and probably are more important drivers of income inequality,


The growth in inequality in incomes is also a factor in the growth in support for populist parties.

Inequality is driven by many factors.

It is driven by technology . Technology replaces low skilled workers, while increasing the rewards of the higher skilled people, or insiders, who control the technology.
One should not ignore the importance of celebrity in causing inequality. Celebrity brings disproportionate increases in relative income. Celebrity footballers, and celebrity CEO’s, represent the same phenomenon. A firm’s stock price is driven partly by the reputation of its CEO and that means a well known CEO can command a higher salary package.
Inequality is also driven by access to financial leverage, and assets that can be used for leverage. Thus high financial sector incomes evoke particular concern.
These are all issues that need to be dealt with by national governments, through the tax system.

But they should not be used to justify turning away from the EU or from the benefits that globalisation has brought.


We are not going back to a world of Empires in which Europeans, or people of European ancestry, could make the rules of the game to suit themselves.
We can perhaps limit the pace of immigration, but we cannot stop it.
So we need updated civic education of ourselves, and of immigrants to our shores, on questions like

“What does it mean to be British?”
“Can one be British, Scottish and European all at the same time?”
“What does it mean to the Irish and European, but of African ancestry?”
” What are the values that underlie these statements?” 


We also need to work out the practical implications of reciprocity as a principle of international relations.

Let me illustrate this by reference to debates now taking place in the UK.

If EU citizens immigrating to UK to work are to have restricted access to state benefits, how might that affect the entitlement to health service of the 2m UK citizens living in other EU countries? 

If the UK want access to an EU Single market to sell its goods and services does that means accepting  common EU standards for those goods and services….even fiddling rules on thing that seem  not to matter…unless we all recognise everyone else’s standards regardless which could be bad for consumers?

In particular, the UK wants a single EU market for services…..but services are provided by people, and these people may need to travel to another country to provide those services….which gets you back into the immigration debate 
If Britain wants a veto on certain EU laws, rather than have them decided by majority, 27 other countries will also have to get that veto too.

If , as some Conservatives propose, the UK withdraws from the European Convention on Human Rights, what effect will that have on the hard won agreement on policing in Northern Ireland, which depends on access for police complainants to the EHCR? Is the plan just to take England out of the EHCR, or to take Northern Ireland out as well?


If the EU is to survive, EU citizens need a sense that they can cast a vote to change the men or women at the top in the EU, in the same way as they can change the people at the top in Dail Eireann, in Westminster, in Birmingham city council, or in their local tennis club.

It is not that citizens want to get into the details….but they do want a vote on the EU’s direction of travel

Globalisation has been taking key decisions above the level of individual states for a long time. That is nothing new. But the time has come to make it more democratic.

The International Telegraph Union dates back to 1865

The International Court in the Hague dates back to 1945

Traditionally the  rules, governing bodies like these,  were negotiated in private in the form of inter state Treaties, between diplomats, and later interpreted by judges. 
Elected people were often only involved at end of process in saying a simple YES or No to result, by ratifying the Treaty or not. 

The EU is different.

In the EU, politicians in the Commission initiate laws, and politicians in the European Parliament and the Council decide if these laws will come into effect.

In this sense, the EU is MORE democratic than virtually all other international organisations in the world….but it’s not democratic ENOUGH

I believe the direct election of the President of the European Commission by the 500 million people of the EU, not simply by the 28 heads of EU Governments, is needed. 

Only in that way will we  create a well informed democratic EU public opinion. That would be the best answer of all to the populists.


Gorbachev’s advisor Alexander Arbatov, said , in 1989 at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, to a western diplomat

“we have done you the worst of services, we have deprived you of an enemy”

Since then, the lack of perceived external threat has led to weak economic management in Europe, to an unnecessary war in Iraq,  to increasing debt,  to weakened military strength, and to the making of insincere promises that could not be fulfilled when to going got tough.

Now, that period is over. 

We now see, thanks in part to ill considered promises of eventual NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia, that those countries have suffered pre emptive annexations of parts of their territory by force by Russia. The UN Charter and the Helsinki accords on territorial integrity of states have been binned.

In Eastern Ukraine we are now witnessing I recently heard a US general describe as “a new kind of warfare”.

Meanwhile, the growing strength of China’s navy distracts US from Europe, and European and US interests are diverging because the US is  becoming energy self sufficient, whereas Europe is not.

And productivity in Europe is lagging.

According to the OECD, EU labour productivity is  growing at 0.6% pa, while productivity in the rest of the OECD is growing at  1.2% a year.


Rather than contemplating separatism, Europeans should be thinking about our precarious position in the 21st century world, and uniting to do what we can do about it.

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