Opinions & Ideas

Category: Ireland Page 3 of 8


Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at an event marking the centenary of the 1918 General Election in Ireland, in Wynn’s  Hotel, Dublin at 11 am on Saturday 15 December.



The background to this Election was the end of the Great War.

The UK Prime Minister had called the Election very quickly after active hostilities ceased, to exploit the good feelings, and relief that the War had finally been brought to a victorious conclusion by the Allies.

The War was a particular factor in Ireland because of the conscription crisis of early 1918.

Conscription applied on the island of Britain, but not the island of Ireland, from 1916. The big German offensive of 1918 created a panic in the UK government. Manpower was running short, and the Americans were slow arriving at the front. So, unsurprisingly, Lloyd George was under political pressure, in Scotland, Wales and England, to extend the same conscription to Ireland as applied in the other countries.

In March 1918 he announced his intention to do so, which caused a convulsion in Ireland.

Until this announcement, the Irish Party had been holding its own politically. Sinn Fein had lost by elections to the Irish Party in South Armagh, East Tyrone and Waterford City early in 1918. Lloyd George changed all that.

His conscription threat then drove Irish Party voters into the arms of Sinn Fein in the second half of 1918.  If the election had been held over until the Spring of 1919, and things had cooled down over conscription which didn’t happen anyway, the result in Ireland might not have been so dramatic.

At the time of the December 1918 Election, a Peace Conference was soon to be convened by the victors of the Great War in Versailles.

As far as Ireland was concerned, in anticipation of the Peace Conference, great expectations had been raised by speeches by President Woodrow Wilson, containing strong declarations in favour of the principle of national self determination. The concept of self determination acquired a quasi religious status in some quarters.

As President Wilson was to discover, when he got down to work in Versailles, this concept of national self determination was difficult to apply when people, with fundamentally different identities and national allegiances, lived together in the same geographic area, as was, and is, the case in Ulster, and in many other parts of Europe, to this day.

In the 1918 Election in Ireland, Sinn Fein got 46.9% of the votes cast, Unionists got 28.5% and the Irish Parliamentary Party got 21.7%.

For this Sinn Fein won 73 seats, Unionists 26 (including one in Dublin), and the Irish Party only 6 seats ( a poor showing for 21% of the vote).

These percentages do understate the Sinn Fein support, because 25 uncontested seats were won by Sinn Fein. If these had been contested, and Sinn Fein voters in those constituencies had to come out to vote, Sinn Fein’s overall national vote share would have been higher, probably well above 50%.

On the other hand, there are credible allegations that intimidation played a part in ensuring that Sinn Fein would not face a contest in these seats. Irish Party meetings were broken up in Cahir, Rathmines, Bohar in Louth, Jonesboro Co Armagh, Moate Co Westmeath, Clones, Gorey, and Castleblaney.  Candidates who had agreed to stand for the Irish Party backed out in face of this activity.

The PP of Kiltimagh, Dr O Hara, told John Dillon of

“young roughs going around the roads  at night saying they will burn down any house that will vote for Dillon and threatening to destroy cattle”.

On polling day, Republican “peace patrols” stood outside polling stations, and it is claimed they discouraged thousand of Irish Party supporters from going to vote.

I owe some of this information to research done by the late Proinsias MacAonghusa, published in the “Irish Times” many years ago.

I myself knew a man , a 1916 veteran, who was reputed to have voted 40 times for Sinn Fein, in the names of different people.

Indeed the Irish Party has come under a lot of pressure not to contest the election at all, from former supporters like the Bishop of Raphoe. To his eternal credit, the Irish Party Leader, John Dillon, told the bishop that “one should not abandon principles for popularity or unpopularity”

The system of election, the straight vote in single member constituencies, meant that Sinn Fein won more seats, and the Irish Party proportionately fewer seats, than would have been the case under Proportional Representation. Under PR, I guess Sinn Fein might have won 60 seats, Unionists (including Labour Unionists and Independents) 26, and the Irish Party perhaps 19.

Under PR, Sinn Fein would still have got a land slide, but the Irish Party would not have suffered a virtual wipe out.

It is also important to point out that, among the 26 seats won by “Unionists”, 3 were won by Labour Unionists (mainly in Belfast) and one by an independent Unionist. The disappearance of Labour Unionism shows that, in some respects the sectarian divide in urban Ulster is deeper now than it was in 1918.

It is also worth mention that Southern Unionists contested the 1918 Election as such, winning seats in Trinity and Rathmines. That bridge between the traditions lost its value after 1918.

I would like to look into the differences in policy between Sinn Fein and the Irish Party, and reflect on how far the victors were able to go in fulfilling their promises.


Sinn Fein said it would withdraw Irish representatives from Westminster because, they said,

“the present Irish members of the English Parliament  constitute an obstacle to be removed from the path to the Peace Conference”

As I said earlier, a Peace Conference was soon to be convened by the victors of the Great War in Versailles.

Sinn Fein condemned the Irish Party for having

“contemplated the mutilation of our country by  partition”

This is a reference to John Redmond having agreed  in 1916 with Edward Carson to a temporary opt out from Home Rule for some Unionist majority counties in Ulster, as a price for having Home Rule introduced straight away for the rest of the country with Carson’s consent. This deal did not go through because it was vetoed by the Conservative elements in the War Cabinet. Lloyd George may also have been saying different things to different people.

The Sinn Fein manifesto did not address the existence of a Unionist minority in Ireland. Instead it spoke of

“a unity in a national name, which has never been challenged”

This seems to ignore the challenge posed by Ulster Unionism to the 32 county concept of the nation. Ulster Unionism was just ignored, as if it did not exist. This form of blindness to the existence of the “other”  is reappearing now in the context of Brexit.

The Sinn Fein manifesto took a very fundamentalist view of sovereignty, which left no room for compromise.

It called for

“untrammelled national self determination”

and said it would oppose every candidate who does not accept this principle.

To its credit, it followed through on this commitment to oppose who did not agree with it, and contested seats in Belfast. It did very badly. Sinn Fein got 3% of the vote in Pottinger, 4% in Victoria, 9% in Woodvale and just 1.89% in Duncairn.

Sinn Fein’s leader, Eamon de Valera was also defeated by the Irish Party’s Joe Devlin by 72% to 27% in the Falls constituency.

Sinn Fein added that that the right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence

“rests on immutable natural law and cannot be made subject to compromise”.

This explicit “no compromise” mandate was later to prove troublesome. Some members took it very seriously in 1922 and it helps explain the Civil War. The concept of “immutable natural law” had a particular religious provenance.

As to the methods to be used to achieve its goals, Sinn Fein was fairly explicit.

They said they would use

“any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection  by military force or otherwise”

That can be construed as seeking a mandate for war, and it was interpreted as such by the IRA.

But the sentence could also perhaps be read advocating resistance British military force (passively or otherwise), rather than initiating violence, as the IRA did at Soloheadbeg the following month.

Did the majority of the Irish people know they were voting for war?


The Irish Party manifesto was published on 11 October 1918, while the Great War was still on, but rumours were circulating of imminent German collapse and of the abdication of the Kaiser.  

It said that

“ the country must be prepared for a General Election about the end of November or the first week in December. This will be the most critical and fateful in its effect for the future of the country since the Union.”

It called for national unity on the basis of the policy that underlay the “New Departure” , which brought the physical force and constitutional traditions together to win Land Reform and other improvements.

It said it

“would not hold before the Irish people an ideal and an object which it knew to be impossible”

Events were  to bear out the wisdom of this caution.

The Irish Party committed itself to be

“an independent pledge bound party in the House of Commons taking no office under any British government and whose  dominating purpose must always be the recovery of Ireland’s national rights……and a vigorous agitation on rational lines”

It defined its objects as

“the establishment of  national self government for Ireland , including complete executive , legislative, and fiscal powers”

This went well beyond the Home Rule Act, which was already on the statute book and was due to come into effect automatically one  hostilities in Europe were formally ended as they were in 1919 at Versailles. The reference to fiscal powers included , inter alia,  a right to charge customs duties on good coming into Ireland from Britain. This involved withdrawing Ireland from the Anglo Irish Customs Union, which then existed, and this seems to have been a point on which both nationalist parties agreed.

The Irish Party criticised Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy which it said would

“simply hand over  the representation of Ireland  in the House of Commons to the followers of Sir Edward Carson”.

Perhaps a similar mistake is being made today.

Like Sinn Fein, the Irish Party said it would present Ireland’s case at the forthcoming Peace Conference but added that the chance of getting a hearing would depend on the goodwill of America and the Allied dominions. This was realistic politics.

Germany was about to lose the War and the Irish Party argued that sending to Versailles people who had been allied with Germany as recently as  1916 was not best calculated to get a hearing for Ireland from the victors.

In this respect, the Irish Party Manifesto was prescient. The Irish Party might have been more successful representatives of the Irish cause in Versailles, because they had not allied themselves with the enemies of those who had won the war, at such cost.


Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, one must conclude that the Sinn Fein policy of abstention had substantial downsides.

When the Government of Ireland Act came to be introduced in 1920, providing for the permanent partition of Ireland, there were very few Irish nationalist MPs present to object to it…just six MPs with little influence.

It is important to remember that the majority rule Stormont Parliament was created by this 1920 Act, and, thanks to Sinn Fein abstention, there were virtually no Nationalist MPs left in Parliament to probe the dangers of this new Stormont Parliament.

A high price has also been paid for the fact that Sinn Fein, in its Manifesto, emphasised its unwillingness to compromise on what it saw as Ireland’s right to self determination based on natural law.

The electorate’s support for this “no compromise” approach undoubtedly made life difficult for the Treaty negotiators in 1921 and contributed to the Civil War and to much subsequent strife.

If the Irish Party’s approach, of “vigorous agitation on rational lines”, had received more electoral support, the Treaty negotiators task might have been easier.

As we cope now with the prospect of the UK leaving the EU Customs Union, it is interesting to note that one of the big differences between Home Rule and the Treaty was that the Treaty involved the Irish Free State leaving the Anglo Irish Customs Union, whereas, in deference to Ulster, the 1911/14 version of Home Rule would have kept full free trade between the two islands.

Departure from the Customs Union turned a soft partition into a hard partition.

The uncompromising nature of the Sinn Fein mandate of the 1918 Election was elevated to unsustainable heights in subsequent debates, and that made life difficult for years to come.

There are some similarities here to the over interpretation, in our neighbouring island of the Brexit mandate of 2016.

Electoral mandates, however big, do not relieve the politicians who get them of the duty to be realistic about what can actually be achieved afterwards.


The European Commission has produced a paper setting out the preparations that will have to make for a “No Deal “ Brexit, and what would have to done to deal with it.

I have extracted some of the interesting quotations from it.

It is quite explicit in some respects, but those who say there will be no hard border in Ireland in any circumstances will need to seek further clarification from the Commission.


The Commission paper says

“Member States, including national authorities, will play a key role in implementing and enforcing EU law vis-à-vis the United Kingdom as a third country. This includes performing the necessary border checks and controls and processing the necessary authorisations and licences.”

It adds

“The Commission is working with Member States to coordinate the measures they adopt to ensure that contingency preparations are consistent within the European Union”

and says that

“Member States should refrain from bilateral discussions and agreements with the United Kingdom, which would undermine EU unity”.


The Commission paper recognises that Ireland has a particular problem with Brexit.

It says its stands ready to  explore pragmatic and efficient support solutions, in line with EU State aid law and that it

“ will support Ireland in finding solutions addressing the specific challenges of Irish businesses.”

But it does not say that Ireland would be exempt from applying the EU Customs controls on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

This omission does not seem to tally with statements being made by some in Ireland.

It is unclear what sort of help the Commission will be able to give Irish businesses.


In order to assist stakeholders in their preparation for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, the Commission has published 78 detailed sectoral information notices guiding individual industries on the steps to be taken.

It would be useful to scrutinize these papers as to their application to business between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Contingency measures in the immediate aftermath of a No Deal Brexit will in general have to  be

“temporary in nature, and should in principle not go beyond the end of 2019”


In the area of air transport, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, without any arrangement in place at the withdrawal date, and without operators concluding the necessary and possible alternative arrangements, will lead to abrupt interruptions of air traffic between the United Kingdom and the European Union, due to the absence of traffic rights and/or the invalidity of the operating licence or of aviation safety certificates.

Regarding traffic rights, the Commission says it will propose measures to ensure that air carriers from the United Kingdom are allowed to fly over the territory of the European Union, make technical stops (e.g. refuelling without embarkation/disembarkation of passengers), as well as land in the European Union and fly back to the United Kingdom. This will create a really difficult situation for UK airlines


Regarding road transport, in case of no deal scenario, as of the withdrawal date, UK hauliers will have market access rights limited to the permits offered under the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) which would allow for considerably less traffic than what currently takes place between the Union and the United Kingdom.  This will have serious implications for Irish businesses using UK hauliers to get goods to the continent.

In the case of a no deal scenario, as of the withdrawal date, goods entering the European Union from the United Kingdom will be treated as imports and goods leaving the European Union to the United Kingdom will be treated as exports.


The Commission says that all relevant EU legislation on imported goods and exported goods will apply, including the levy of certain duties and taxes (such as customs duties, value added tax and excise on importation), in accordance with the commitments of the European Union under the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

The need for customs declarations to be presented to customs authorities, and the possibility to control shipments will also apply.

The Commission paper does not say that the border in Ireland would be exempt from this. This will need to be clarified.

The Commission calls on Member States to take all necessary steps to be in a position to apply the Union Customs Code and the relevant rules regarding indirect taxation on 30 March 2019, in case of a no deal scenario, to all imports from and exports to the United Kingdom. Again there is no explicit, or implicit, exemption for the EU border in Ireland.

Customs authorities may issue authorisations for the use of facilitation measures provided for in the Union Customs Code, when economic operators request them, and subject to relevant requirements being met.

Ensuring a level-playing field and smooth trade flows will be particularly challenging in the areas with the densest goods traffic with the United Kingdom. The Commission is working with Member States to help find solutions in full respect of the current legal framework.

The paper also deals with financial services and with residency rights for UK citizens living in EU countries.


The Commission says that, in the event of a “No Deal” goods will have to undergo sanitary and phytosanitary controls by Member States authorities

“at Border Inspection Posts, which is a matter of Member State responsibility”.

Ambiguity about how all this might apply on the Irish border does not help businesses with their contingency planning.



The worst possible outcome of Brexit for Ireland would be the UK crashing out of the EU, without a deal, next March because the UK Parliament cannot make a decision. The key to avoiding this disaster is in the position of the British Labour Party.

So far, the focus of discussion in regard to Brexit has been on whether the minority Conservative Government can reach sufficient consensus internally, to make a deal to withdraw the UK from the EU.

But such a deal can only come into effect if it is approved by the House of Commons.

Here the stance of the British Labour Party is crucial.

If Labour were open to supporting the deal, or even to abstain in the vote, the DUP and the hardline Conservative Brexiteers would not be able to stop it.

On the other hand, if Labour, the DUP, and the hardline Brexiteers all oppose it, the deal will not come into effect.

There would then be massive political uncertainty, the likelihood of the UK crashing out of the EU on 29 March, and a huge blow to the global economy.  One could then blame on the DUP and the hardline Brexiteers, but Labour, as the bigger party, would bear more responsibility than the others for this debacle.


The Labour Party has set six tests that it says the Withdrawal Agreement must pass, if Labour is not to vote against it in the House of Commons. On close examination, the tests seem to be designed to allow Labour to vote against any conceivable deal that Mrs. May could negotiate on a Withdrawal Treaty.

These tests that Labour says the Withdrawal Agreement must pass  are;

“Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?”

Comment. This is impossible because the future relationship will not be negotiated now, but later during the transition period.

“Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?”

Comment. This is also impossible because there would be no point having an EU Single Market or Customs Union, if, as a  non member, the UK could get all the benefits that members get. In any event, these issues will not be settled in the Withdrawal Treaty.

“Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?”

Comment.  The UK has not yet finalized its OWN future migration policy so it is unreasonable to expect the Withdrawal Agreement to do what the UK government itself has been unable to do. In any event, what would Labour’s migration policy be?

“Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?”

Comment. This is not going to be settled now. It will be the subject of the future trade negotiations and the EU will be doing its best to ensure that the UK, outside the EU, does not reduce quality, environmental and labour standards to win market share.

“Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?”

Comment.  Again this is for the future negotiation, not for the Withdrawal Agreement. The only way the UK can take part in the European Arrest Warrant is by staying in the EU and accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. National Security policy is the responsibility of member states, not the EU, and cannot be bound by an agreement made by the EU.

Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

Comment. This is a matter for the UK government, not for the Withdrawal deal from the EU.

So the Agreement cannot pass these tests, for the simple reason that none of these six matters can be finalised until later.

They are not valid tests for a Withdrawal Agreement, and the Labour Party should know that.

It is true that the Withdrawal Agreement will be accompanied by a political declaration about the framework for future relations between the UK and the EU. But, legally speaking, this declaration cannot give binding commitments on the six points raised by Labour.

In fact, on some of these matters, like security policy, are ones where the EU could not give commitments, even in a future Trade agreement, without the consent of the legislatures of each of the 27 member states of the EU.

The Labour Party knows this perfectly well.  Choosing six tests designed to give a basis for rejecting any Agreement Mrs. May could negotiate would be a legitimate and normal opposition tactic, if the government had an overall majority. But it does not. It depends on an agreement with the DUP, which the DUP has said it is prepared to break.


Let us assume Labour wins a vote to reject the Withdrawal Agreement Mrs. May makes, what does Labour do then?

Obviously, Labour would like either a General Election or a change of Government in this Parliament.

But , even if that happens, a Labour led Government could not have time to negotiate a new Withdrawal deal,  that would pass its own six tests, between now and the 29 March next year, the date on which the UK will be out of the EU, deal or no deal.

The only way Labour could pass its own six tests would be by withdrawing the Article 50 letter written by Theresa May, and seeking to keep the UK in the EU after all.

There is legal doubt as to whether the UK has the power to withdraw its Article 50 letter. The European Court of Justice would have to adjudicate on that.

Secondly, staying in the EU after all, would require a second Referendum.

A second Referendum would have a lead time of 22 weeks, from the decision to hold one to Polling Day. This is because of the requirements of the law in Britain. 

A special Bill for a Referendum would have to pass in both the Houses . This twenty-two week delay would bring us beyond the UK ‘s automatic exit date of 29 March, unless the UK had first got permission to withdraw the Article 50 letter.

All this has huge implications for the whole of Ireland, not just the border.

So, to avoid a crash out Brexit, Irish diplomacy now needs to focus on the Labour Party as well as on the Conservative Government.


The Labour Party needs to be persuaded to come off the fence and either

  •    back a realistically negotiable withdrawal deal or
  •    say clearly that it would prefer the UK to say in the EU.

Labour could then base their parliamentary tactics on whichever of those two options they prefer. Either would be less disastrous than the present fudge.


Speech by John Bruton at 4pm on Sunday 28th October 2018, at an event in the Community Centre, in Summerhill Co Meath, commemorating those from Meath who served in the First World War;

I am honoured to be asked to speak here in Summerhill at an event to commemorate the formal end of the First World War.

At least 35,000 Irish soldiers died in the War. Many thousands more suffered horrendous wounds and were handicapped or in pain for the rest of their lives.

Their sacrifice was little recognised by the new Irish state, for many years.

Indeed those who had served and survived were made to feel unwelcome when they came home.

After the War several county councils voted not to employ ex servicemen and, in some cases, even to withhold educational scholarships from their children.

In 1921, it is estimated that, of the servicemen who returned to Ireland,

 39% of those in Munster were unemployed,

 23% of those in Connacht, and

 17% of those in Leinster.



Those who volunteered to fight in the War did so for many reasons.

Some did so because they believed the cause was just.

Neutral Belgium had been invaded by Imperial Germany. Louvain had been burned and atrocities committed by German forces.

France had been attacked and many Irish people saw France as a friend, who should be defended.

Others volunteered out of economic necessity, or in search of adventure and higher purpose.

Others did so out of loyalty to the United Kingdom, in whose Parliament Ireland was represented, and which had recently granted Home Rule to Ireland.


To understand this, we should recall what had been achieved for Ireland, by non violent politics, before the War began, and which those who volunteered, would have felt were achievements worth defending.

The crowning achievement was the enactment into law of Irish Home Rule on 18 September 1914.

Other achievements were

  • the settlement on the land question, between 1881 and 1909, in a way which transferred ownership of the land of Ireland to those who were actually farming it,
  • democratic Local Government   inaugurated in 1898,
  • the Universities Act of 1908 which established NUI,  
  • the beginnings of the welfare state with the introduction of old age pension and social security in 1909, and
  • the introduction of public housing for those who could not afford to house themselves without some help.


These achievements demonstrate what Irish MPs could do by taking their seats, and using their votes,  especially when the government of the day was in a minority. This is something on which nationalist voters in Northern Ireland today should reflect.

The  famous Woodenbridge speech of the Irish Party Leader, John Redmond, on 20 September 1914, urging Irish men to volunteer, must be seen against the  background of what had been achieved, and, in particular, that Home Rule had been placed on the statute book just two days previously, on the 18th September 1914.

Its implementation of it was simply postponed until the end of what most people expected would be a short war.

At Woodenbridge, Redmond wanted to show everybody, including Ulster Unionists, that, with the passage of Home Rule, things had changed.

He wanted to persuade them to come in voluntarily under Home rule, when the War was over. To that end he wanted to show them that, in some matters, Unionists and Nationalists were now “on the same side”. 

Unfortunately for all of Europe, the War was not, as many hoped, over by Christmas of 1914.


It lasted, as a world war until November 1918, and it spawned local wars that went on until 1923, including in this country, in Russia, in Turkey and in Poland.

Europe, after the War, was very different from Europe before it.

Before the War, multi ethnic Empires operated relatively peacefully.

While the Imperial idea, and multi ethnicity, clashed with the ethnic nationalism that flourished in intellectual circles, the political arrangements worked and were adaptable.

Austro Hungary had a multi ethnic Parliament with representation from the minorities present.  23% of the Austro Hungarian Emperor’s subjects spoke German, 20% spoke Hungarian, 16% Czech or Slovak, 10% Polish, 9% Serbo Croat,  8% Ukrainian, 6% Romanian and so on. All coexisted.

The Ottoman Empire, though Muslim, tolerated large Christian and Jewish minorities.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland may have been dominated by the English, but its Parliament had large Irish and Scottish representation.

The Russian Empire contained minorities too numerous to list.

The permissive consensus, that allowed these entities like these to resolve their internal differences by generally peaceful methods, was shattered by the sacrifices and brutality of the War.

It was a war that lasted far longer, and took far more lives, than anyone expected when it started.


It is a global tragedy that the gross over reaction of Austro Hungary to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife at the end of June 1914, started a conflict, with whose consequences we still live with today.

100 years later, Europe and the EU face many crises.

  • Brexit ,
  • the refugee crisis,
  • authoritarian inclined governments in parts of the EU , and
  •  the financial crisis in  Italy.

These four crises put immense stress on the bonds of tolerance that hold the European Union together.

They can bring back to the surface long buried tensions and resentments, some of which date back to events of the 1914-1923 period.

For example, the present day fears in the Baltic States, of both Russia and Germany, can be explained by what happened between 1917 to 1923.

So too can the tensions between Poland and Ukraine, between Poland and Russia, and between Greece and Turkey.

Russian fears of encirclement, encouraged by President Putin, can be traced back to the humiliating peace imposed on it by Germany in early 1918, and to the subsequent western interventions in its Civil War.

The authoritarian and nationalistic trends in Hungarian politics can be explained by the fact that the post War settlement was much harder on Hungary, even than it was on Imperial Germany. As a result of it, large Hungarian speaking populations remain in neighbouring Serbia, Slovakia and Romania to this day.

The state of Israel, and the conflict with Arabs it has engendered, has its origin in a promise made by Britain to win Jewish support in the War.

In 1919, the First World War left much of Europe starving and desolated. Order had broken down. States were too weak to exercise their proper monopoly on the use of force.

Resentments abounded about the supposed injustice of the imposed peace settlements.

Demobilised soldiers know no other trade than war.

Minorities, particularly the Jews, were scapegoated all over central Europe, for misfortunes for which they had no responsibility at all.  Bolshevism was seen as an imminent threat.

So the turbulence experienced in Ireland between 1919 and 1923 was far from unique.

The miracle was that, after it was over, democracy survived here. It did not survive in other parts of Europe.

States and populations turned to paramilitary organisations to restore order, in these frightening circumstances, and out of an understandable desire for order, grew Fascism and the Nazis.

Both had their origin in the First World War. The Second World War grew out of the First World War.

On the other hand, if the War had not happened, there would probably have been no Rising in 1916, no executions, no conscription crisis, and no consequential Sinn Fein landslide in the 1918 Election.

Home Rule would have come into effect for 26 or 28 counties, and the remainder of Ireland, 6 or 4 counties, would have continued under some form of direct rule.

If the War had not happened, Home Rule could have evolved towards Dominion status, and eventually to full independence, but without the violence.



But why did the First World War come about?

“Sleepwalkers, How Europe went to war in 1914” by Christopher Clark, Professor of Modern History in Cambridge describes the statesmen, who stumbled into War in 1914, as

“sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the horror they were about to bring to the world”.

A web of interlocking commitments, designed to give individual countries security and peace behind their own borders, ended up tumbling the whole continent into War.

Austro Hungary had a defensive pact with Germany. Russia set itself up as the protector of Serbia. France gave Russia a blank cheque in the Balkans because it needed Russian assurances against Germany. Britain had a rather more vague understanding with France.  It feared any Russian rapprochement with Germany because Russia could then freely threaten British interests in India.

So, when Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 by assassins that had come from Serbia, the possibility that all these dominoes might fall in the direction of war opened up.

But it was only a possibility.

Serbia could have taken resolute action to root out the conspiracy behind the assassins, before Austria issued any ultimatum. Austria could have issued a more temperate ultimatum. Serbia could have given a less evasive response.  Germany could have restrained Austria.

Russia could have held back from full scale mobilization in support of Serbia, and France could have made it clear that it did not wish to get involved in supporting a Russian attack on Austria, so long as Germany stayed out too.

Britain could have said it would remain neutral in a German war with France, so long as Germany respected Belgian neutrality.

But none of these things happened.

The interlocking commitments between countries that led to war were not, according to Christopher Clark, “long term  features of the European system, but the consequence of numerous short term adjustments” made in the immediately preceding years. 

The War was not inevitable, but it suited some leaders to pretend afterwards that it was, so as to avoid facing the consequences of some their own omissions, ambiguities and evasions.


Some of the issues involved are still current.

For example, how does one pursue a criminal conspiracy launched from another jurisdiction?

If something like the European Arrest Warrant was in place, could Austria have obtained the extradition of some of the conspirators from Belgrade without threatening war?

Christopher Clark says Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia in 1914 was milder than the one NATO issued to Serbia in 1999!

Luckily, the NATO ultimatum of 1999 did not have the same dire global consequences, mainly because Russia stood aside in 1999 but not in 1914.

As we see an escalating confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the lesson I draw is that leaders must not just think of the next move, but of the likely counter move, the move after that and so on, bearing in mind that nothing is inevitable until it has actually happened. Political leaders usually have far more choices open to them than they are willing to acknowledge.

Another lesson is the value of having a structure of peace, like the European Union, to which all neighbouring countries belong, which uses rules interpreted consistently, regular meetings, and economic interdependency, to manage conflicts.

As we are learning today in Anglo Irish relations, breaking from such a Union is the ultimate folly of Brexit.



Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at a  meeting of the Westmeath Archaeological and Historical Society in the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar at 8pm on Wednesday 17 October 2018


I am greatly honoured to be invited to speak here in Mullingar on the 40th anniversary of the foundation of your society, which took place in 1978.

It is a sign that John Redmond is not, in fact, a forgotten patriot, that your society chose his life as the topic for your 40th anniversary, notwithstanding the fact that he himself died over 100 years ago, and 60 years before your society was founded.

John Redmond had a political career of 39 years, and became an MP in his twenties, in January 1881, at the height of the agitation for land reform.

Previous to becoming an MP, he worked as a clerk in the House of Commons where his father had been a member.

When his father died in 1880, Redmond hoped to contest his father’s seat in Wexford town. The new Leader of the Irish Party, Charles Stewart Parnell, ironically as events turned out, preferred to have Tim Healy (later an opponent of Parnell) contest the Wexford seat.

Not long after, Redmond did secure a seat in Parliament, representing New Ross. In 1885, he was re elected to Parliament, representing Wexford North.

In 1890, the Irish Party split, when Gladstone and the Liberal Party refused to do business with them under Parnell’s leadership, because of Parnell’s extra marital affair with Katherine O Shea.

Redmond was one of the minority of Irish Party MPs who supported Parnell. His decision appears to have been motivated by personal loyalty rather than ideology.

When Parnell died in October 1891, Redmond decided to uphold Parnell’s memory by contesting his dead leader’s seat in Cork City. He lost and was out of Parliament.

But in July 1892, Redmond, as a Parnellite, contested and won a seat in Waterford, against Michael Davitt, standing as an anti Parnellite. He was to retain that Waterford seat to the end of his life, in March 1918.

At  boarding school in Clongowes from 1868 to 1874, Redmond excelled in drama and debating. He went from Clongowes to Trinity College, but dropped out after two years. He did, however later qualify as a barrister, and was called to the Bar in 1887, while already an MP.

His parents were separated, something that was uncommon, and difficult, at that time. Redmond, as the eldest son, often had to act as a conciliator between his parents, thereby developing diplomatic characteristics, along with a certain solitariness,  characteristics that were to mark his political career.

Redmond’s mother came from Protestant and Unionist stock, although she converted to Catholicism on marrying Redmond’s father.

His life was marked by tragedies.

His first wife, Johanna Dalton, died in childbirth in 1889, after only six years of marriage.

Redmond had met Johanna, a native Australian, while fundraising for the National Land League in Australia shortly after he became an MP.

One of his daughters died as a young adult.

His brother, and close political lieutenant, Willie (MP for Clare) was killed in the Great War in 1917, at a difficult moment in Redmond’s career when his brothers presence would have been of great support to him.

John Redmond,  a widower, married Ada Beesley in 1899, ten years after the death of his first wife.  Ada was English and a Protestant.

The fact that both his mother, and his second wife, came from Protestant backgrounds may explain why Redmond took a conciliatory line in respect of differences in Ireland which had religious roots. Redmond demonstrated this broad minded view in his condemnation of anti Semitism in Limerick in 1904, whereas others, like the Fenian, John Devoy were openly anti Semitic.

The crowning achievement of John Redmond’s career was the enactment into law of Irish Home Rule on 18 September 1914.

Other achievements with which he was closely associated were

+ the settlement on the land question, in a way which transferred ownership of the land of Ireland to those who were actually farming it,
+ the achievement of democratic Local Government in 1898,
+ the Universities Act of 1908 which established NUI,
+ the beginnings of the welfare state with the introduction of old age pension and social security in 1909, and
+   the continuation of state support for denominational (Catholic and C of E) schools in England,

Apart from these achievements, Redmond played a crucial role in reuniting the Irish Party, after the Parnell split of 1891, in 1900.

John Dillon, who was on the other side of that split from Redmond, described this work, at a banquet in Redmond’s honour in 1908, as “one of the greatest works of reconciliation ever wrought for Ireland”.

Redmond’s conciliatory and consensual approach was key to maintaining unity among a talented but fractious group of men.

Redmond did not have the same control over candidate selection as Parnell had had, because of the circumstances in which he became leader of the reunited Party in 1900. So his achievement in maintaining a reasonable degree of Party unity is  all the greater.

Undoubtedly Redmond’s most important achievement was the passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland on 18 September 1914.

Before I turn to that I would like to say something about the other achievements with which he was associated.

Land Reform was crucial.
The Land Act of 1881, enacted shortly after Redmond became an MP, was the first step towards the eventual transfer of land ownership, with compensation, from landlords to tenants, giving this numerous body of people, the former tenants, a stake in the country, a sense of shared ownership of Ireland.
In retrospect, it is probably good that this was done before Ireland became independent.

Trying to solve the land question after independence would have put an immense strain on Irish democracy. It would have been either deeply divisive, or financially costly, or both. It was easier to pay for Irish land reform from the much larger UK Treasury, than it would have been if the cost of compensating landlords had to come from the much smaller Irish tax base.

Land Reform in Ireland was predominantly an achievement of parliamentary politics. But agitation for it often took more direct forms.

For example, in the period between 1906 and 1908, local agitation involved driving cattle from farms at night, so that land might be converted from grass to tillage, on the assumption that tillage would employ more people. These cattle drives were particularly common in Meath and Westmeath, traditional grazing counties.

This agitation was led by the then Irish Party MP for North Westmeath, Larry Ginnell, but strongly criticized by another Irish Party MP, John P Hayden, who represented South Roscommon, but who was also the proprietor of the “Westmeath Examiner”. The “Examiner” circulated in Larry Ginnell’s constituency.

John Redmond was a very close friend of John Hayden, so he had, as party leader, to tread a fine and difficult line to keep the peace between his friend, and his local MP here in Westmeath.

This is just one of many illustrations of the personality clashes Redmond had to conciliate in order to keep his Party sufficiently united to achieve Home Rule.

This so called “Ranch War”, here in Westmeath, Meath and neighbouring counties, was finally brought to an end by the 1909 Land Act, which gave a Land Commission power to compulsorily acquire, and redistribute, large holdings that it considered to be farmed with insufficient intensity.

The introduction of social insurance in 1907, by the Liberal government had the support of the Irish Party.  It was intended to provide for workers who could not work because of illness or lack of a job. It was very advanced for its time.

John Hayden MP said it would be welcomed by the Irish people, but the Catholic hierarchy and the “Irish Independent” were not so keen on it.  I assume the Hierarchy was not keen on the state becoming involved in matters that it felt should have been left to families and voluntary or charitable effort, and the “Irish Independent” would have been worried about the costs imposed on employers.

Old Age Pensions were also introduced at this time, and Ireland benefitted disproportionately because there were a disproportionate number of older people in Ireland by comparison with the rest of the then United Kingdom.

Of course, this posed a problem for Home Rule advocates, in the sense that the pensions could more easily be afforded if they were be paid for out of the larger UK wide tax base, and less easily affordable if they had to be met from the much smaller tax base of a Home Rule Ireland.

This same type of dilemma arises today in respect of suggestions that Northern Ireland might opt to transfer sovereignty from London to Dublin by a referendum called under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

The smaller Irish tax base would have greater difficulty, than the larger UK wide tax base, in supporting the external subvention of public services in Northern Ireland, which now brings in from outside 25% of the Northern Ireland GDP, as against the mere 7% of GDP that had to be brought in from outside to prop up NI public services in 1960.

Also in the 1906/08 period, the Liberal Party government wanted to abolish public support for denominational schools in England.  The Irish Party successfully joined with the Conservatives to oppose this, and, as a result, denominational schools continue to exist in England up to this day. The interests of the children of recent Irish immigrants to England were a concern for the Irish Party.

From an Irish perspective, the creation of the National University in 1908 was also a major achievement for Redmond and his Party. It’s very name, “National University”, underlines its importance in the progression towards economic and cultural independence.

The passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland in September 1914 was, of course, an Irish parliamentary achievement without equal in the preceding 200 years.

Redmond, as Irish Party Leader, achieved something that had eluded previous Irish leaders O Connell, Butt, Shaw and Parnell.

Home Rule granted Ireland its own legislature, something denied it since 1800. And that was obtained without violence on the part of those who worked for it, but in the face of threats of violence from those who opposed it.

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, the first because it was defeated in the House of Commons, and the second because it was vetoed in the House of Lords.

To get Home Rule onto the statute book, John Redmond had to

+ get a majority for Home Rule in the House of Commons, and simultaneously

+ get the 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 Lord Rosebery, Campbell Bannerman, and Herbert Asquith.

So to get a majority in the House of Commons 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 achieved all these goals, in a very short space of time.

He withheld Irish Party support for the radical 1909 Budget, unless and until there was a commitment to remove the Lords veto and introduce Home Rule.

He also, in effect, exercised pressure on the King, because the Lords eventually only passed the legislation to remove their own veto, as a result of a threat by a reluctant King  to swamp the House of Lords with new, Home Rule supporting, Lords.

This shows what Irish MPs can do by taking their seats, and using their votes, when the government of the day is in a minority.

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 his Party did not have all the trump cards. He 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 determined to force a General Election, and to that end, they were prepared to incite Ulster Unionists to military insurrection, and to connive with elements in the British military to ensure that such an insurrection would not be prevented.

In Britain itself, Home Rulers had to overcome deep anti Irish, and anti Catholic, sentiment is some sections of opinion.  To counter this, Redmond had toured Britain, over 30 years, gradually preparing British opinion to accept Irish legislative independence.

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

Was Redmond right to urge his supporters to volunteer to fight in the Great War?

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  just a reciprocation for the passage of Home Rule.

He also wanted to show that the passage of Home Rule into law two days before, 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 say what he said if there was to be any chance at all that Ulster Unionists would, when the War was over, voluntarily come in under and take part in a Home Rule Parliament in Dublin. He wanted to show to Ulster Unionists that, in some matters, Unionists and Nationalists were now “on the same side”.

Irish men had fought in the British Army in the Boer War, notwithstanding Redmond’s 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.

Imagine what would have been the reaction if , two days after Home Rule had been passed into law and signed by the King, Redmond had chosen instead to advise the Volunteers in Woodenbridge not to join the forces to defend neutral Belgium, which had been invaded by Germany a month previously. Those in Britain and in Ulster, who had opposed Home Rule would have felt they had been vindicated and that the Irish could not be trusted.

Some have criticised the limitations of the initial Home Rule Act of 1914.

The powers were limited, in part, because Home Rule, as initially presented to Parliament, was designed to apply to all 32 counties of Ireland, encompassing a reluctant Unionist minority.

To get around the Lord’s veto under the Parliament Act of 1911, the Home Rule Bill had to be passed in the House of Commons in three successive years, in identical terms.

Although the possibility of temporary exclusion of some Ulster counties was  conceded by the time the Home Rule Act finally came to be passed a third time, the Bill had to adhere to the  form in which it had been framed originally, when it was to apply, from the outset , to all 32 counties of Ireland.

In the hope of Ulster Unionist acquiescence to coming in under Home Rule, either immediately or later, safeguards and limitations had to be inserted to protect or reassure the Ulster Protestant minority.

Some historians, who have criticised the limitations of  the Home Rule Act of 19914, ignore the fact that it was designed for a 32 county, not a 26 county, 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, but it was put there to reassure Protestants in a 32 county Ireland.

For the same 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  in the on the imposition of tariffs and customs duties by the Home Rule Government of a 32 county Ireland were needed, to assure the minority industrial interests in Ulster, that their trade interests would not be sacrificed to those of the majority, predominantly agricultural, economy of  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.

Modern critics may claim Home Rule Act of 1914 was too limited. The Ulster Unionists of the time clearly did not think so!

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 4 Ulster counties where there was a Unionist majority.  Even the Conservatives would have given the Home Rule Parliament more powers on that basis

Redmond, unlike those who negotiated the Treaty, and the Good Friday Agreement for that matter, did not accept any open ended exclusion from Home Rule of any part of Ireland.

In that sense, John Redmond in 1914 could be said to have been more idealistic than the republicans and physical force men who came after him turned out to be in 1921.

The American historian, Joseph P Finnan in his book, “John Redmond and Irish Unity 1912-1918”, has claimed that Redmond prized Irish unity more than he prized Irish sovereignty.

He said

“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”

Redmond’s 32 county ideal has not been achieved.

Charles Townsend said in his book “Easter 1916”

“The Rebellion played a part in cementing partition”

Indeed, the words of the 1916 Proclamation itself were literally “oblivious” to the problem of resistance in parts of Ulster to any form of rule by Dublin.

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, the 1916 leaders seemed not to think the Ulster Unionists had minds of their own, and were simply tools of the British.  There was nothing in the Proclamation to deal with the fears of Ulster Unionists.  The Irish Republic was just deemed to include them. That was it.

Under the agreement by which Home Rule was passed into law in 1914,  its  implementation was 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.

There was an attempt to bring Home Rule into effect, while the War was still on, in late 1916.

Carson and Redmond were agreeable to this, on the basis that it would apply to 26 Counties initially. Unfortunately some Conservative members of the War cabinet vetoed this. They were apparently fearful, while at war with Germany and in the wake of the 1916 Rebellion which had German support, of German influence on a Dublin Home Rule government.

But, once the War was over, Home Rule was to come into effect.

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 it.   That was John Redmond’s achievement of 1914, before a shot was fired in 1916.

He had reached a position whereby all major parties in Britain accepted legislative independence for Ireland.

My belief is that Home Rule, like the Treaty, could have been a stepping stone to full independence, but without the loss of life.

Under the 1914 Home Rule arrangement, if Ulster counties opted out, they would have continued under direct rule from Westminster.

There would have been no Stormont.

When John Redmond died in March 1918, in Dublin Corporation, the Sinn Fein member and later President of Ireland, Sean T O Kelly described John Redmond as

“ an honour to his country”.

The leader of the Irish Unionists, Edward Carson, described him as

“invariably an honourable and courteous opponent”

The Freemans Journal described Redmond’s character as

“ a rare combination of  inflexible will and genial humanity”.

It emphasised that “He would have been an ideal first Prime Minister of an Irish Cabinet, skilled in bringing men and parties together”.


The Chequers proposals of the UK Government were a genuine, if belated, attempt to reconcile the expectations of the British people with EU realities.

But they ran into difficulty for the following reasons. If Chequers remained an opening negotiating position, it might have started a useful conversation.

  1. But , under the pressure of domestic UK politics,  Prime Minister May soon made it a “red line” position, and thus no longer negotiable.
  2. From an EU perspective, Chequers was problematic because it would have meant the EU giving up control of its trade borders, and subcontracting that to a non member, the UK. It would have provided for a common rule book for the quality of goods circulating, via the UK, into the EU Single Market, but the UK Parliament would still have retained the option of not passing some of the relevant legislation to give effect to this rulebook. Furthermore, it would not have been bound to accept the ECJ’s interpretation of what the common rules meant.
  3. It would have meant the UK opting into some bits of the EU Single Market, but not all, and that precedent would have created immediate demands for exceptions from other EU members and also from Switzerland and Norway.

It does not require much political imagination to see that these aspects of the UK proposal were going to be a hard sell in the parliaments of some of the 27 countries. And if just one of them said NO to an eventual EU/UK trade deal, there would be no deal. Each has a veto.


To make matters worse, a collectively responsible member of the UK Cabinet, Michael Gove  suggested that the UK might agree a Withdrawal Treaty on the basis of the Chequers approach, but later, once out to the EU, abandon it, and do whatever it liked. This would put Mrs May in a position of negotiating with the EU in bad faith. It also raised doubts that, even if the EU side accepted Chequers, the UK government could not carry it through.


Gove’s intervention also cast doubt the genuineness of commitments the UK had given on the Irish border.

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

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

When the UK declined to translate this commitment into legal language for the Withdrawal Treaty, the EU side began to wonder if the UK wanted to delay dealing with Irish border problem until the last minute, hoping to table a proposal on a “take it or leave it” basis, and that the EU would not then jeopardize the whole deal over a place as small as Ireland!

Unsurprisingly, this shifting UK approach was not accepted by the UK’s EU partners, when they met in Salzburg.

The UK should not have felt “humiliated” by this. The EU is a complex institution, with 27 different countries.


As I said the parliaments of all 27 of them will have to ratify any eventual trade deal the UK. Let us not forget that EU found it hard to ratify its trade deals with Canada and Ukraine, because of objections in Wallonia and Netherlands respectively.

But before starting to negotiate a trade deal, the UK must first agree the terms of its withdrawal from the EU.

The Irish border question is central to this.


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

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

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

The UK has also rejected joining the European Economic Area (the Norway option), which would also have minimized the Irish border problems, because it would mean continued free movement of people from the EU into the UK .

In each decision, Ireland was given a lower priority than the supposed benefits of hoped for trade agreement with faraway places, and of curbing EU immigration.  This was short sighted.

Future trade agreements that might be made with countries outside the EU are neither as immediate, nor as beneficial to the UK, as maintaining peace and good relations in the island of Ireland, or as  the 70 or more trade agreement the UK already enjoys as an EU member, which it will lose when it leaves.

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

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

Again, I believe that solving this, largely imaginary, EU immigration “problem” is less important to the UK, in the long run, than peace and good relations in and with Ireland .

If, as is now suggested, the UK moves away from Chequers, and looks instead for a Canada style deal with the EU, the Irish border problem will become even worse. Mrs May has recognized this and this is why she rejects a Canada style deal..

A Canada style deal would mean the collection of heavy tariffs on food products, either on the Irish Sea, or on the Irish border. Collecting them on the 200 mile long land border would be physically impracticable, so the only option would be to do it on the Irish Sea.

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


It is time for the Conservative Party to live up to its name, to be truly conservative, and conserve the peace we have so successfully built on the twin foundations of the Belfast Agreement and the EU Treaties, to which the UK committed itself in 1998 in the case of the Belfast Agreement,  and in 1973 in the case of the EU Treaties.


Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the Pro Life Education dinner in the Clayton Hotel, on Saturday 8th September at 8pm


I know everyone here feels a deep sense of disappointment at the decision the people took to remove the protection of the lives of unborn Irish boys and girls from the constitution.

The arguments advanced by those of us who favoured retaining the 8th Amendment were valid, and remain so.

They were philosophically coherent, and expressed a thought out value system, that protects the weak and the voiceless.

It is a value system that is based on respect for humanity and human life, and on the dignity and equality of each human person and not just on sentimentality or good feelings. It is never compassionate to end the life of an unborn baby.

There was no engagement, by the proponents of Repeal, with the question of when life begins, with when a human life should be recognised as a person, and hence when it ought to acquire human rights. That question was too difficult, too profound, so it was effectively ignored in the preparation of the abortion Referendum, in the Citizens Assembly, the Oireachtas Committee and the Dail and Seanad debates.

This is notwithstanding the fact that modern ultrasounds enable us to see the humanity of an unborn baby in ways that previous generations could not.

The pro life case recognises that there are responsibilities as well as rights, and  is, as I have said, based on a coherent value system.

Rights and responsibilities sometimes conflict with one another, and choices have to be made.

A value system is what then helps us make these, often very difficult, decisions, as individuals, and as a society. It provides the basis for a hierarchy of rights and responsibilities

In real life situations, some rights have to get priority over others.

The pro life case is that the right to life is the primary right, because, without life, one simply cannot exercise other rights. It flows from that that the primary responsibility, of the state, and of each of us as citizens, is to protect life.

Proponents of abortion either put other rights ahead of the right to life, or do not recognise a life before birth as human with human rights, at all.

A clear hierarchy of human rights is replaced by pure pragmatism. Everything is contingent, nothing is fundamental.

I do not think that is what the Irish people intended, but it is where we have arrived.


Now that the law is being changed, and the criminal law will no longer be a factor deterring abortion, we have to consider other ways of avoiding the abortion of Irish babies.

There is a positive agenda to be promoted here.

We must continue to work vigilantly at legislative level, within the new constitutional dispensation. And there is much that can be achieved in the immediate future, as I hope to show in this speech.

But, even more, if we are  reduce abortions in future, we must work to building a climate of opinion, within families and in the wider public, that  will support women in making the courageous decision to allow their child to be born.

We must create a supportive environment for life.

That can be encouraged by public debate, and by conversation with friends. People who believe unborn babies are human, and should enjoy some basic human rights, should not be afraid to take part in these conversations. Whatever their view of whether abortion should be a criminal offence, many people will agree that babies before birth are human, and that they should be allowed to be born.

Creating a supportive environment will also involve solving the housing crisis, because the non availability of affordable housing is a deterrent to bringing a new life into the world. Those who object to new housing developments in their area should ask themselves if their objections are consistent with their pro life convictions.

Creating a supportive environment for new life will also involve giving greater recognition to the cost of rearing children in both our welfare and our tax codes. Children are recognised in the welfare system, but not in the tax code. The child tax allowance was abolished many years ago, while the tax allowance or tax credit for adults living in the same household has been steadily increased.  That was perverse.

In light of the ageing of our society, and the costs that will entail for families and the tax paying public, we should regard financial supports for families with children  both as socially progressive, and as an investment in our own future.

Creating a supportive environment for life will also involve making sure that adoption is made as accessible as possible to those who feel they cannot keep their baby.

The pro Life movement here should also look beyond Ireland in its efforts to protect life.  It must be inclusive.

Scandalously high levels of infant mortality in Africa are a pro life issue too.

The Irish Pro Life movement should continue to involve itself in the debates about what constitutes a human right, in the Council of Europe and in the in UN Agencies.

At the moment, these bodies take a very narrow view, regarding life before birth as not really human, and as undeserving of protection. That can, and should, be changed by good philosophical, legal, and medical arguments.

Indeed, one way to influence Irish legislators and courts to take a more inclusive and generous interpretation of the right to life here may well be to get the UN and the Council of Europe to take a more generous and inclusive view.


Religious freedom will need to be defended in the Termination of Pregnancy legislation, prepared by Minister Simon Harris, and soon to be debated in the Oireachtas.

No person, medically qualified or otherwise, should be forced by the threat to his/her employment, or of criminal sanctions, to be involved in the ending of a human life, against his or her religious convictions.

Article 44.2.1 of the Irish Constitution guarantees, subject to public order and morality,  the “free…..practice of religion”.

I would argue that “free practice of religion” is not confined to what one does inside the walls of a church, mosque or synagogue, but extends to daily life.

So a law that forces someone to take part in, or to facilitate, an action that that person believes is contrary to a deeply held religious conviction could be in conflict with Article 44.2.1.

Head 15 of the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill recognises this, in so far as it says no doctor, nurse of midwife shall be compelled to “participate” in carrying out an abortion.

Other hospital staff are not granted any such protection for their consciences, even though their participation may be also crucial to the ending of the life of the baby.

They too could be considered to be aiding and abetting an abortion, but they are to enjoy no protection for their consciences. That aspect of the Bill should be changed.

The concept of “aiding and abetting”  is well understood in Irish law .

Head 15 of the Bill requires a doctor, who has a conscientious objection to doing an abortion herself, to “make arrangements to transfer the care” of the woman to a doctor who will do it. This is aiding and abetting the abortion, and there is no conscience clause here either.

Given the amount of information on the internet, or likely to be available there in future, I believe this transfer requirement is unnecessary. Those seeking an abortion can find a doctor who will do it, without forcing a doctor, who objects to abortion, to aid and abet them.

I fear that doctors who are known to oppose abortion will be targeted under this clause by people wishing to catch them out and put them under threat of criminal prosecution because of their religious or human rights beliefs. There have been examples of this sort of targeting in other fields, where there are strong but conflicting views in the population.

Rather than place this burden on doctors who believe abortion is wrong, it would be more sensible to publish an affirmative list of those who have no conscientious objection to doing abortions.

Head 20 of the Bill provides for a body corporate to be prosecuted, and for directors, managers and secretaries to be prosecuted and punished.

So a hospital that declines to carry out abortions in accordance with the Bill could see its directors, and managers gaoled for up to 14 years for declining to do something that may be against their religious consciences, and which was itself illegal for the last 150 years or more. Again this is of questionable constitutionality.


There are other areas where amendments to the Bill should be promoted. Here the focus should be on Head 4 of the Bill, and on the definition of when an unborn baby is “viable” and should have a right not to be killed under Head 4.

“Viability” is defined as the point in a pregnancy when the “foetus” is capable of survival outside the womb without what are called “extraordinary life saving measures”. This is a very loose definition.

“Extraordinary life saving measures” are taken successfully in hospitals every day to save the lives of babies and adults.

Under the proposed legislation,  the possibility of taking such life saving measures- even though they would be regarded as routine in the case of premature babies- must be ignored in deciding whether  an unborn child could be capable of life outside the womb. To use such a definition, as a basis for ending life, is to do violence to the ethics of the medical profession.

Under Head 4 it will be permissible to end the life of what is deemed a non “viable” baby , at any stage in the pregnancy, if allowing the baby to be born would pose a” risk” of serious harm to the mental  health of the child’s mother.

Again this is a very loose ground for ending a life.

It involves the doctors in making a prediction about the FUTURE mental health of the mother after the baby might have been born.

Whatever about adjudicating about present mental health, deciding about future mental health is completely speculative. And on the basis of that speculation, a baby’s life is to be ended.

Indeed it is arguable that having an abortion is more likely, at some stage in the future, to trigger mental problems.

Furthermore there is nothing in the Bill to say that a qualified psychiatrist would have to be involved in making this life ending decision on the basis of an alleged threat to mental health.

These examples show that there is much constructive work to be done in preparing amendments to this Bill. The government does not have the votes to use the guillotine to close off debate on this, so there is plenty of scope for people here to explain what is at stake to their TD’s and Senators in a respectful and constructive dialogue.


I would now like to look back at the recent referendum debate and see what can be learned from it.

The reaction of those who won the Referendum was not always magnanimous, or respectful of the pluralist nature of Irish society and Irish values.

For example the Minister for Health, speaking in the Dail after the Referendum, on 31 May, did not seem to me to display the balance, and attentiveness to other points of view, that one would like to see in someone who will be deciding on the detailed content of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

He spoke of the Referendum result inaugurating what he called “a brighter Ireland”. It will not be a bright Ireland for the little babies who will have their lives ended before being allowed to see the light of a single Irish day.

He talked of the Referendum result “consigning a misogynistic legacy to the history books”. He did not seem to reflect on the fact that half the babies whose lives will be ended before birth will be girls. Those little girls will face the most extreme form of misogyny.

He claimed the “Yes” campaign was built on a “coalition of compassion”.  He thus seemed to imply that those who voted “No” are not compassionate. Maybe that is not what he meant, but nothing could be further from the truth.

He spoke of the Referendum meaning that we are “maturing into a tolerant, non judgemental, inclusive Republic”.  The Minister’s own speech was rather judgemental, and not particularly tolerant of those who sincerely disagree with him on the issue of abortion.

I hope that this was just elation, in the immediate aftermath of winning a political battle,  and that he will now show tolerance and inclusiveness, when considering amendments to the legislation he has proposed.

In a mature Republic, one would listen to, and deal respectfully with, the arguments and values of the other side, on any important issue. That did not happen during the years of preparation of the Referendum, and the mantra of “Compassion” was deemed sufficient to end all argument about the basic question of when life begins, when a life becomes a human, and hence when it ought to acquire human rights.


It is unclear what the new shared values of Irish society are to be. The Referendum did not end the debate.

If life is not the primary value, what is?

To fill that vacant space, and drawing on the most modern medical knowledge, the pro life arguments will need to be made, over and over again, to the young people of Ireland and to the generations that will succeed them.

These arguments, if repeated often and courageously, will remain in people’s minds, and will influence the private decisions that Irish women, their partners, and their loved ones will make in future, as to whether to accept a new person into their family circle, with all the responsibilities, joys and sacrifices that that entails.


There are contradictions that still need to be resolved.

The recent Referendum decision sits very uneasily beside the deep and genuine concern, expressed in all quarters, for the welfare of boys and girls AFTER they have been born, and the strong laws we have passed to protect them.

It also sits uneasily beside the expressions of concern about where and how babies, who died fifty years ago in Mother and Baby homes, were buried.

Where, and how, will the supposedly non “viable” babies, who will be aborted in Irish hospital be buried? What care will church and state take to ensure that they are buried with dignity? Or will they be treated as mere hospital waste?

Human Rights organisations justly pride themselves in speaking up for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, or for those whose voices are not heard, because they are politically powerless, or simply unpopular.

But, in Ireland in the recent referendum, that did not really happen.

Irish human rights organisations ignored unborn children as if they were “unpersons”.

When the unborn child has its life deliberately ended, it is not presented as a victim.

Apparently it is only victims who survive who count.

But every abortion involves a death, a victim.  A victim that never gets the chance to become a survivor!

For me, every person counts, whether the person be born or unborn, visible or invisible, mute or eloquent, here or abroad.


If we are to use Referenda to make big decisions, we need to make sure that voters are fully equipped to do their job as citizen legislators.

What influences shape Referendum decisions, whether on Brexit , abortion, or children’s rights?

One needs to know to what degree emotion trumps rational argument.

One needs to know if people will examine each issue on its merits, or if the main driver is a desire to conform to some notion of what is modern and progressive.

There can be a conformist consensus in the media.

Professional Journalists are forced to report, under tight deadlines, on many things of which they cannot be expected to have a deep knowledge. So they write their reports to fit into the existing consensus among their journalistic colleagues.

The result is  often superficiality, one sidedness, conformity and dogmatism.

That sort of conformism contributed to development of the Celtic bubble.

It also drowned out prolife arguments in recent times.

On  social media, people tend to congregate in online communities where they only come across opinions with which they already agree. Thus social media can aggravate the tendency in the print media towards superficiality, one sidedness, conformity and dogmatism.

In these circumstances it is hard for those with unfashionable views to get a look in. This is not good for the quality of our democracy.


To say a child has full human rights after birth, and none before it, is unscientific and inherently contradictory.

How then did the Irish public come to decide to end the constitutional right to life of an unborn child in Ireland?

It came down to the question of visibility.

The mother of the unborn baby, and the dilemmas she faces, were and are visible .

The unborn baby is invisible.

But, if one puts visible suffering above invisible suffering, one is no longer applying a universal moral standard.

I believe the whole notion of universal human rights rests on the assumption that there is such a thing as a universal moral standard. That is why I found the attitude of Irish human rights organisations, in the Referendum, troubling.

I say it again. There IS a hierarchy of rights and responsibilities. The right to life should be at the top of any hierarchy of rights.



I conclude saying there is much work to be done.

There will have to be a new approach, in a new context.

Yes, in the short term, one must continue to focus on what the laws says. The law is still open to amendment and that must be pursued with vigour.

But even more important must be the influencing of public opinion, over the longer term.

In recent years the number of abortions by Irish women has been falling.

Notwithstanding the change in the law, the number of abortions can continue to be reduced, if people are convinced that there is a better and more just way.

Lighting that way forward is the real route to a brighter Ireland.






I have just finished reading “Beyond the Border….the Good Friday Agreement and Irish Unity after Brexit” by Richard Humphreys. Richard Humphreys is an Irish High Court Judge and was a legal advisor to the FG/Labour/DL government.

The book explores the meaning if the Good Friday Agreement. It explains that its terms will still apply after Brexit, and would still apply, even if Northern Ireland ceased to be part of the UK and joined a united Ireland.

The Agreement’s requirements mean that the Stormont institutions, its protections for minority interests, and its requirement of respect for both identities would continue after unity.

The author favours Irish unity, but acknowledges that there will be a continuing UK interest in Ireland even if this happens.

He presumes there would be support for unity in the Republic. In this, he relies on Article 3.1 of the Irish constitution which states this to be the “firm will” of the Irish people, if consent has also been obtained in Northern Ireland.

He argues that a 50% +1 vote majority, in a poll in Northern Ireland, is sufficient to bring this about. Legally, this may be so, but that is hardly enough.

It is really surprising that the Brexit experience, of setting out on a major constitutional change, on the strength of a narrow majority in a referendum, has not prompted some rethinking on the author’s part.

He does not explore the extra taxation that might have to be paid by the southern taxpayer to replace the current UK subsidy to Northern Ireland, in the event that sovereignty moved from Westminster to Dublin.

Nor does he even mention the potential extra security provisions that would be made by the Irish taxpayer, to enforce Irish unity of any kind in places like Ballymena, East Belfast and Portadown (unless, of course, the locals wanted it). After all, effective democratic government requires more than just the will of the majority, it also needs, at least the passive, assent of the minority.

Faced with these realities, the “firm will” for unity in the Republic might not be so firm after all.

These omissions expose the limitations of a purely legalistic approach

Judge Humphreys deals with the things an Irish government would have to do to recognise the “British identity” of Unionists within Ireland.

He argues that these things should be done, in any event, and long in advance of any border poll, and not used as a bargaining counter in negotiations with unionists.

He suggests, for example, reactivating Irish membership of the Commonwealth.

He points out that, under the Good Friday Agreement in the event of unity, Unionists should be able to retain UK citizenship while also being able to avail of all the rights of Irish citizenship.

My own sense is that active East/ West cooperation on joint projects with Britain would be a big help to mitigate a Unionist sense of isolation, whether or not Irish unity is being contemplated.

In that sense the reactivation of the British/ Irish Intergovernmental Conference this week is an important step, especially as Brexit is otherwise going to wider the gulf between us substantially, hard border or not. Ireland and Britain need to think creatively about things we can do together, post Brexit.

One also has to ask whether the fact that the Irish constitution designates the Irish language, as the first official language, and the priority language for constitutional interpretation, is a provision that accord parity of esteem to the Unionist identity.

Irish nationalists have been successful in insisting that the upholding of the Good Friday Agreement be a central part of the EU negotiating position in the Brexit negotiations.

Are nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland are showing a similar commitment to operating their own part of the Agreement?

It is worth remembering what all parties are committed to. The Agreement says

“ We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement”

Given the difficulties there were in agreeing a budget for Northern Ireland, and given the collapsing of the Executive because of disagreements about the Irish language and Ulster Scots, one has to question the commitment of both Sinn Fein and the DUP to the Agreement and their respect for their pledge.

This is a serious book, and will prompt readers to examine their preconceptions about a topic that will be with us for years to come.


James Patrick Farrell

JP Farrell was an MP for West Cavan and later for North Longford from 1895 to 1918.

In this the centenary of the end of his parliamentary career it is right that his parliamentary service be remembered.  We should remember those who, like JP Farrell, lived for Ireland and not just those who killed or died for Ireland. Why is this?


Commemorations are about shaping the future by selecting events from our past that provide useful guidance for the future.

We should reflect on something President John Kennedy once said.

He said a

“nation reveals itself  by the events it chooses to commemorate.”

Ireland today is a rule of law based, parliamentary, democracy. It has integrated itself with its European neighbours, by peaceful negotiation and compromise, without the use of force. It is militarily neutral, and the military power is subordinate to the civil power.

This is what we are.

Yet, if , year after year, we commemorate events in which people were killed, or where people took the law into their own hands,  and neglect what was achieved by non violent methods, we are ignoring President Kennedy’s advice. We are not reflecting what we are, or what we hope to be.

We are not only distorting our history, we are also providing poor guidance to future generations about how they should go about making Ireland a better and more harmonious place to live in the future.

That is why this event, commemorating a life of constitutional agitation and parliamentary service, is so important and timely.


We should instead seek inspiration from the, non violent, parliamentary  achievements of a century ago, of people like JP Farrell MP.

They include

  • the enactment of Home Rule,
  • the ending of landlordism ( a cause with which JP Farrell was particularly associated),
  • the establishment of the National University  
  • the introduction of old age pensions
  • the provision of public housing through the Labourers Acts and
  • National Insurance…

all parliamentary, and non violent achievements, in which the Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond, John Dillon,  Joe Devlin, and the man we remember today, JP Farrell played a big part.

If one scrutinises the record of debates in the House of Commons, now available on line, one gets a sense of the practical patriotism of the (unpaid) Irish MPs who travelled to London to represent their constituents and their country.

As we will hear from his great grandson and biographer, Dr Joseph Quinn, JP Farrell was a particularly assiduous MP.

He raised such issues in Parliament  as telephone connection to Longford, the division of estates by the Land Commission and the export of hay. He served this area very well.

He also had to overcome great hardships, being effectively orphaned at a very early age. As well as his service as an MP, he founded the “Longford Leader” newspapers and other business enterprises.

John Bruton, former Taoiseach, speaking  in St Mel’s College Longford after the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the  work of JP Farrell MP at 8pm on 31 May 2018




What human rights should be protected in our constitution?

Is a right to life not the primary human right, in the sense that without it other human rights could not be exercised?

Who is human? If a baby before it is born is human, ought it have human rights?

These are the issues at the heart of the Referendum on the 8th Amendment.

In 1982, Garret FitzGerald, Leader of Fine Gael, told the party’s Ard Fheis;

“All life, whether of citizens or of people of other nationalities, whether born or unborn, should be protected by our constitution”.

This carefully worded statement was one of fundamental values, going to the heart of Garret FitzGerald’s, and Fine Gael’s, political tradition.

As one of his successors, I was often asked what Fine Gael stood for, and my answer was that the party stood for three things, for a society in which “every person counts”, for exclusively constitutional politics, and for European unity. I added that “every person” included babies before birth.

These three principles were consistent with, and flowed from one another. Protection of human life necessitated the avoidance of violent conflict in Europe, and also lay behind the party’s commitment to constitutionalism in Irish politics. Respect for human life, born and unborn, foreign or native, was at the heart of our entire approach to politics.

The idea that a constitution should protect human rights is, in fact, fundamental to our western civilization. Without a right to life, one cannot exercise any other constitutional rights. The right to life is thus the primary human right.

For example, the Irish constitution also explicitly recognises a right to freedom of expression, to one’s good name, to property and to elementary education.  But none of those constitutional rights can be exercised, if one had not first had the right to be born.

The Irish courts have gone further and have decided that the constitution creates other rights, not explicitly mentioned in the constitution, so called “unenumerated rights”.  These unenumerated constitutional rights include a right to marry, a right to procreate and a right to bodily integrity. Again, it would be impossible to exercise any of those rights, if one had not first had a right to be born.

It was also in that pro life spirit, that the Irish people also decided that the Irish constitution should ban the death penalty, even for heinous crimes. Our strong public, and private, support for life saving aid to Third World countries is also derived from the same pro life convictions among the Irish people. An avoidable death of a baby in Africa is a pro life challenge too.

Indeed, at the time the 8th Amendment was introduced, there were many who argued that it was not needed, because a child before birth would be deemed by the Irish courts to enjoy a right to life anyway, an unenumerated right so to speak, because without it, it would not be able to have to exercise the other rights to which it would be constitutionally entitled.

Unfortunately, that is not the way things have turned out. The Supreme Court has decided recently that a child in the womb has no rights at all, except the basic right to life contained explicitly in the 8th Amendment. Now even that may be taken away if a majority vote Yes on 25 May.

Abortion ends a life. Once it has happened there is no going back, no recovery. It is final.

Yes, there are tragic pregnancies, and difficult consequences flow from them. But at least there is some possibility to remedy, or alleviate, some of those consequences. But no remedy is open to the unborn child whose life is ended. It is over before it has properly begun.

The taking of the life of another, without its consent, can never be a private matter, for a woman or for a man. It is inherently a matter of public policy. Indeed, if human rights are to mean anything, any denial of the human rights of another person is necessarily and always a matter of public policy.

I have to say I have a real difficulty understanding the concept of human rights espoused by the proponents of abortion legislation.

It seems that some of them believe a baby, before birth, is not really human at all. Thus it would not have human rights, including a right to life. The idea here seems to be that, because an unborn baby is totally dependent on its mother, it is therefore not yet human, and has no human rights.

But dependency is part of life, and not a sound ground for denying the humanity of anyone. Babies after birth, and older people at the end of their lives, are deeply dependent too. They could not survive on their own.

But, to date, no one is suggesting they should not have human rights. If a two day old baby is human, and has a right to life, why not little girls and boys three months before they are born? What is the ethical and scientific basis for saying one has human rights, and the other does not?

I was very disappointed that the Oireachtas Committee was not asked to explore these fundamental questions of what it is to be human, who is human, and who should have human rights, before making its radical recommendations.

Without such a discussion, the referendum is premature. As a society, we must agree amongst ourselves on the basis and scope of human rights in Ireland, before making a decision to withdraw the most fundamental of all human rights from a section of our people.  We have not done that. That is why I urge people to vote “No” on 25 May.

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