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

Statement by John  Bruton, Former Taoiseach

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

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

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

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

Gordon Brown’s proposal is a sound one.

AFGHAN LESSONS FOR THE WORLD

(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Leslie Angulo)

The collapse of the western backed government in Afghanistan is a shock. It has shaken confidence in democratic countries, and changed the balance of power somewhat, as between the United States and China.

 It shows that efforts from the outside to topple regimes, and  to replace them with friendlier ones are more difficult than anyone thought 20 years ago, when the western allies first overthrew the Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11. The aim of capturing Osama Bin Laden was not achieved until much later, and then it was achieved  in Pakistan (an ostensible ally of the United States) , and not  in Afghanistan at all. 

The end of the US intervention in Afghanistan has lessons for those who might wish to undertake similar exercises in Somalia, Libya, Syria, Cuba, Mali or Venezuela. The objectives need to be clear and limited. Local support must be genuine. If one is seeking out terrorist suspects, invasion is not the best way of achieving extradition! Nation building is best done by locals.

 Existing regimes may be oppressive or corrupt, but if they are home grown, and have developed organically from local roots,  they survive better than anything , however enlightened, introduced from outside. 

Conventional military power-boots on the ground and targeted bombing- is of limited effectiveness against networks of fanatics or mobile guerrillas.

 Western countries will now need to reassess their military spending priorities in light of the lessons of the interventions in Iraq, Libya and now Afghanistan

 On this occasion, it is the US and NATO that have the hardest lessons to learn, but I suspect that if China were to attempt a similar exercise in nation building from the outside (say in Taiwan) they would have the same experience.

 The fact that China has had to adopt such extreme measures in Sinkiang to integrate that province into the Chinese social system is a sign of weakness rather than strength. 

Afghanistan is an ethnically diverse society which, despite its diversity and disunity, has been able to resist rule from Britain, the USSR and, most recently, from the US and NATO.  Religion was a unifying factor is an otherwise very divided country.

It seems the Taliban have been more effective in building an ethnically diverse coalition than was the former government in Kabul.  It is not yet clear whether the Taliban will be able to hold that coalition together.

It does seem that the Taliban has, in the past, been able to impose a degree of order in Afghan society, and has been able to punish corruption. It created a form of order in a brutal and misogynistic way, but it did so. Order is something the outgoing government  in Kabul could not provide, even with generous outside help.

 Order, after all, is a prerequisite for any form of stable existence. Furthermore without order there can be no rule of law, and no democracy. Without iy, civil society breaks down. This applies in the West as much as it does in Central Asia.

Order is created by a combination of three essentials- loyalty, acquiescence and fear.  All three elements are needed to some extent. Hamid Karzai could not command these three essentials, it remains to be seen whether the Taliban will do any better

It is hard to assess the effect the Afghan debacle will have on the United States, which has by far the most elaborate and expensive military forces in the world. 

Will there be a change in US strategy? 

There is a strong temptation to turn inwards and reduce commitments to the defence of other countries, including the defence of European countries. From 1783 until 1941 the US tended to remain neutral and rely on the oceans for protection against its enemies.  

The countries of the European Union will also need to work out what their practical defence priorities are, in light of the Afghan and other recent experiences.. This is a political task of great difficulty because the 27 member states have very different views and geographic imperatives.

LEGAL CRISIS IN EU MUST BE RESOLVED;

EU AID TO POLAND SHOULD BE STOPPED, 

GERMANY SHOULD ACCEPT ECJ RULINGS AS FINAL.

The Courts in Poland and Germany have recently challenged to legal foundation of the European Union. 

The essence of the EU is that it is a system of rules, agreed democratically, enforced consistently and interpreted in a uniform way.

The uniform interpretation of EU rules has been ensured by the acceptance by  member states that the final word on what an EU rule or law means, is made by the European Court of Justice, and by it alone.

This is put into effect by Article 260 of the EU Treaty which says;

“If the Court of Justice finds that a Member State has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties, the State shall be required to take the necessary measures to comply with the judgement of the Court.”

The European Court of Justice recently found that recent moves by the Polish Government were in conflict with the principle that the judiciary should be independent of politics.

 Last week the Polish Supreme Court decided that it would defy the European court’s ruling.

This is the road to chaos, and to an end to the EU’s Single Market.

 Poland’s independent Ombudsman put it this way;

“If every EU member state interprets EU law in its own way, we would not have a free flow of goods, capital and services, and much more”.

In a more limited way, the German Supreme Court has also questioned the finality of judgements of the European Court of Justice in the matter of bond buying by the European Central Bank. 

The German Court has long challenged the principle of the primacy of the European Court, but so far has avoided the matter coming to ahead. This ambiguity provides cover for Poland and for others, like Hungary, who might be tempted to defy European Court rulings. Germany should sort this out.

If these Polish and German positions are allowed to stand, they undermine the basis on which the EU is undertaking ambitious joint borrowing for economic recovery, and is setting equally ambitious joint rules to combat climate change.

 If the financial and legal obligations being created by these initiatives cannot be guaranteed to be interpreted consistently across all 27 member states, the initiatives should not go ahead.

At the very least, the proposed EU recovery package for Poland should be suspended. 

Meanwhile, Germany should amend its Basic Law to ensure that it accepts the primacy of European Court rules in matters that come within the competence of the EU. 

All EU states should take this matter up.

In the wake of Brexit, Ireland is making significant sacrifices to stay in the EU Single Market. So Ireland should make it clear it will defend the legal basis of the Single Market in every way it can. 

Countries that do not accept the primacy of the European court of Justice in matters of EU competence should leave the EU.

THE LIFE, AND AFTER LIFE, OF A SPY

I have enjoyed reading “The Happy Traitor, the extraordinary story of George Blake” by Simon Kuper.

Kuper writes regularly in the Financial Times and it was my sense of his talent as a writer, rather than the subject , that initially drew me to this recently published book. 

Blake, although portrayed as a traitor to Britain, was not really British by allegiance. He was Dutch, with a Dutch mother and a father who came from an Egyptian Jewish family. Behar, not Blake was his real surname.

He was brought up as a Calvinist and retained the strict outlook of that faith throughout his life.

Aged 20,he escaped from Nazi occupied Holland to Britain in 1942, via Belgium , France and Spain.

In Britain he joined the Royal Navy and, because of his talent for foreign languages, he was assigned to the intelligence services. He served on Korea during the Korean War, and was captured and imprisoned by the Communists.

It was there, in a North Korean prison, that he began to transfer his allegiance from Calvinism to Communism. 

After his release and return to Britain, he returned to the British intelligence services, but made contact with the Soviet Embassy and stated copying large quantities of top secret material and handing it over to the Soviets. As a result of his activities, hundreds of British informers in the Soviet Union were identified and executed.

His activities were eventually uncovered in 1961 and he was sentenced to 42 years in gaol, a much more severe punishment than that suffered by more upper class traitors like Blunt, Philby and McClean.

As Irish readers will recall he was helped to escape from prison in 1966 by an Irish man he had come to know in prison, Sean Bourke.

He got to Russia via East Berlin and was provided with accommodation and a pension by the KGB.

According to Kuper, in old age, Blake 

“acquired something he had lacked in his youth; the ability to find happiness in the here and now, beyond either power or ideas.” 

He died late last year.

AN ULSTER LOYALIST TELLS HIS STORY

Billy Hutchinson is the leader of the small Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and represents it on Belfast City Council. He was, for a time, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.  He has recently written an autobiography entitled “My Life in Loyalism”, published by Merrion Press.

Billy Hutchinson  played an important part, while in prison in the 1980’s and later on, in encouraging the Loyalist paramilitaries towards political accommodation, instead of violence. 

 Brexit creates a new, and potentially difficult, relationship between  Ulster Loyalism and the rest of Ireland.  So understanding Loyalism is more important than ever. This book is timely.

 Hutchinson contributed to the peace process.  As the leader of the UVF prisoners in Long Kesh, through   his contacts with Pat Thompson, his IRA counterpart,   he helped get  Catholic and Protestant clergy involved in exploring political ways forward.

 The UVF had been founded in 1965, and was a violent response to the  IRA threat in the late 1960’s. It  was one of a proliferation of Loyalist paramilitary groups. It was a rival of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The UVF was the more disciplined than the UDA and operated through a cell structure, whereas the UDA tended to hold  public parades, and provide an umbrella under which several  Loyalist groups could shelter.

 The PUP, formed in 1975, became the vehicle the UVF used to move into politics and away from violence .

Billy Hutchinson had been born in 1955. He was a native of the Shankill Road and intensely proud of his locality. His father was a NI Labour supporter, with numerous Catholic friends, but his mother was a more traditional unionist.

 Billy was first drawn onto political activity through soccer.

 He was a supporter of Linfield FC. To get to Linfield’s ground at Windsor Park, Shankill supporters of  the club   had to cross the Falls Road  and walk past the nationalist Unity Flats. This fortnightly procession of Linfield supporters, before and after home games, became an occasion for mutual provocations between the two communities. 

This became especially acute when the sectarian temperature rose in the late 1960’s.

Hutchinson, then a tall teenager, older looking than his years, took a leading role in managing these confrontations.  He saw himself as defending his locality. He also saw the Civil Rights movement as a front for the IRA, and the IRA as attempting to force unionists into a united Ireland.

As he admits, the crude view of the UVF was that, if they killed enough Catholics, the Catholic community would pressurize the IRA to stop. 

This sort of thinking also had echoes in more “respectable “  unionism. Former Home Affairs Minister, Bill Craig, told a Vanguard rally in 1972, to 

“build up the dossiers on the men and women who are a menace to this country, because if the politicians fail, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy”. 

Of course, the IRA was equally brutal and indiscriminate. For example, Protestant families were being forced to abandon their homes in the New Barnsley estate when Catholics were forced out in other parts of the city.

Hutchinson and his friends felt that the RUC and the British Army were not protecting the Loyalist community from IRA intimidation. 

 Still a teenager, he  became an armed bodyguard for the UVF leader Gusty Spence. He also undertook offensive operations, and gave weapons training, while also holding down a day job.

 This book gives an insight into the life, and the infighting, within Loyalist paramilitarism.

 Many people were shot on the basis of suspicions, often unfounded.

 Hutchinson is a teetotaller, but much of the social life of Loyalism took place in pubs and clubhouses. 

The reader is introduced to many unusual characters. One was a Catholic, Jimmy McKenna, whose brother Arthur had been killed by the IRA. Jimmy was determined to get revenge. So he offered his services to the UVF. After some hesitation they accepted him.  He proved very useful because of his knowledge of republican areas. McKenna was eventually found to be working for the security forces.

 Although there was much indiscriminate violence, there was also some political thinking taking place among Loyalists as early as the 1970’s.

 For example, in January 1974, the UVF gave cautious support of a proposal by Desmond Boal, a former Unionist and DUP MP, for a federal Ireland , with autonomy for Northern Ireland . Boal had worked on the idea with Sean McBride, a former Irish Minister for External Affairs.

  At the time, Hutchinson did not dismiss it, but asked a reasonable question. How could concessions to republicans be considered, while the IRA was still in existence, and people were being killed?

THE AMORALITY OF ARMED STRUGGLE

 Then, at only 19 years of age, in late 1974, the law caught up with Billy Hutchinson. He was convicted of the murder of two Catholics, Michael Loughran and Edward Morgan. 

As he puts it;

“ Even though the evidence was pointing toward my involvement in the shooting, I tried to maintain an air of defiance,”

and  disingenuously added 

 “Loughran and Morgan had been identified as active republicans. How accurate the information was, I don’t know”. 

This amoral detachment about the ending of two young lives is chilling. 

 But this sort of amorality is intrinsic to all “armed struggle”. 

 If one does not want that form of psychological and moral deformation to occur, one should not start armed struggles at all, especially if other potential remedies had  not been exhausted.  One should never retrospectively justify or glorify such killings.  That applies equally to the events of 1916, 1919, and 1970. It applies as much to Kilmichael , as it does  to Greysteel  or  Narrow Water .

Billy Hutchinson spent a long period in jail in Long Kesh for his crime, from 1975 until 1990. 

PRISON LIFE

He gives an interesting account of prison life. 

Gusty Spence was the commander of the UVF prisoners and military discipline was maintained among them. A similar regime applied among the IRA prisoners. 

Hutchinson maintained a high level of fitness while in gaol, running 15 miles a day inside the perimeter of his compound.

 He had left school at 14 years of age but, while in prison , he passed his O levels and A levels, and got a degree in town planning,  a useful qualification for someone who is now a member of Belfast City Council!

After his release in 1990, he was involved with Gusty Spence and others, in the peace process which  led to the announcement, in October 1994,  by the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) , of a ceasefire. This acknowledged the hurt suffered by victims  of Loyalist violence, something the IRA has yet  to do fully. 

THE DEMOCRATIC ROOTS OF LOYALISM

One of the principles set out by the CLMC in this announcement was that 

  “there must be no dilution of the democratic procedure through which the rights of self determination of the people of Northern Ireland are guaranteed”.

 This vital issue of democratic procedure will take on a new relevance after Brexit. 

 Under the  Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Treaty, many  of the laws to be applied  the Northern Ireland will emanate from the EU, but without  a democratic procedure involving  elected representatives  of  the people of Northern Ireland . That will call out for a remedy.

In his treatment of the peace process, Billy Hutchinson gives much praise to the late  Irish American businessman, Bill Flynn, for his support for Loyalists on their journey. 

On the other hand, he is dismissive of Ian Paisley, quoting his late father as saying that Paisley “would fight to the last drop of everyone else’s blood”. 

Billy is self consciously a socialist in his political opinions, although this seems to signify as much a badge of identity as it does a precise political programme. 

He may not have won a large number of votes in recent elections, but Hutchinson represents a strand of Unionism that is open to change. 

The aftermath of Brexit will increase the importance of  understanding  the thinking of  people like him.  

While he acknowledges the help of Dr Mulvenna in preparing this autobiography, the text is very much his own, and will be of interest to future historians. So it is unfortunate that the book contains no index.

Latest development in Brexit Talks

VALERY GISCARD D’ESTAING

Valery Giscard D’Estaing, who died last Wednesday, can truly be said to be the architect of the constitutional arrangements under which the EU works to this day.

He was President of the Convention of the Future of Europe, a very large and diverse body, which produced a draft EU Constitution of immense detail . 95% of the content of the present  EU Treaties are drawn from this draft Constitution.

 It was thanks  to his personal leadership and natural authority that consensus, on inherently contentious matters, was achieved.

 I observed his  political skills at work , as one of the nine member Praesidium of the Convention which agreed the drafts he presented.

TOM O’DONNELL RIP

I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn in the last few hours of the death of my close friend, Tom O’Donnell, former Minister, MEP and TD.

Tom was a man of great warmth and conviction. He retained a youthful enthusiasm for all the causes in which he was involved, right up to end of his life. He never wavered.

To his wife Helen and his son Tomas, and all the O’Donnell family including his nephew Kieran O’Donnell TD, I extend my deepest sympathy.

Tom O’Donnell was born in Limerick on 30 August 1926 and was the eldest of eight children of Patrick and Josephine O’Donnell of Bulgaden, Kilmallock .

 He came from a family with strong political traditions, constitutional nationalist on his father’s side  and  old Sinn Fein on his mothers’ side . Her brother Dick O’Donnell was a Cumann na Gaedhael TD until 1932.

Tom was educated in Cappamore NS, Crescent College, and CBS Charleville. 

He obtained his BA in UCD. He taught in a number of post primary schools in Dublin before returning to Limerick to pursue a political career.  He was active in Muintir na Tire and Macra na Feirme.

Tom O’Donnell was nominated to contest the 1961 General Election on behalf of Fine Gael and was elected to the Dail in October of that year. He was re elected in the 1965 Election doubling his previous vote. In 1969, he headed the poll.

 Again re elected in 1973, he was appointed Minister for the Gaeltacht in the government led by Liam Cosgrave.

He was an outstanding success in this role. He inspired great affection among the people of the Gaeltacht and brought unprecedented attention,at the highest  level,  to them and their needs. He acquired a mastery of the language and conducted all the official business of his Department in Irish.

In the previous 50 years, the Gaeltacht had lost half its population. 

Tom O’Donnell’s  motto as Minister was that   ” without people there would be no Gaeltacht,”. 

So he prioritized bringing employment to the Gaeltacht.  During Tom O’Donnell’s  term of office employment in the Gaeltacht doubled and the infrastructure was dramatically improved, 

In 1979, he was elected to the European Parliament  and served as the spokesman on regional policy for the Christian Democrat Group (now EPP).  He cooperated with John Hume, also an MEP, on a report on  coordinated regional investment  by the EU in both parts of Ireland.

He also served on the transport committee of the European Parliament and was active throughout his career in promoting Shannon Airport.

He stood for the Dail in the 1981 General Election, helping Fine Gael to win two seats in the constituency. He helped the party to hold those two seats in both the General Elections of 1982.

He was re elected to the European Parliament in 1984 and helped bring in his running mate Tom Raftery. 

He retired from politics in 1989.

Tom told me that the “most important and happiest event” in his life was in 1984 when he married his wife Helen. Like Tom, Helen has a deep interest in politics and was active in Young Fine Gael . Tom was very proud when Helen was named Limerick person of the year in 2013 in recognition of her work for tourism.

TRUST ON GOVERNMENTS VARIES WIDELY ACROSS THE WORLD. SOME DEMOCRACIES TRUSTED, OTHERS ARE NOT

Democracy rests on trust. So do all other forms of government to some degree. 

I came across the 2020 Edelman Trust Report. It contains some startling and worrying findings.

 It can be found here

It  is worth reading in full.

If the world is to cope with Covid and the economic situation, it needs leadership that people are prepared to trust. 

The Trust Report tells a truly alarming story for those of us who believe in liberal democracy. 

The average level of trust in government in the world is only 49%, but the alarming thing is that there is more trust in government in some autocratic states than there is in democratic ones. 

Against a global average of 49% trust in government, 90% of Chinese and  78% of Saudi Arabians told Edelman that they trust their government.  In Europe the trust in national governments ranges from a high of 59% in Netherlands to 45% in Germany, 41% in Ireland , 36% in the UK,  35% in France, 33% in Russia, down to a mere 30%. Interestingly in India, also a democracy, trust in government is 81%.  Interestingly 61% of Irish people trust the EU, which is well ahead of the level of trust in their national government,

The Survey results suggest that income inequality contributes more to a loss of trust than does insufficient economic growth. But levels on income inequality in India and China are quite high so that is not a sufficient explanation.

There is a slightly higher level of trust in institutions among those with more education. 

But it is not just government that is distrusted in western countries. On average overall, 49% of global respondents say they trust the media, but trust in the media is only 37% in Ireland and France. Yet 80% of the Chinese trust their media!  Given that the Chinese trust their government so much, perhaps it is not surprising that they also trust their government controlled media.

Business is trusted somewhat more than either governments or media are- 58% as against 49%. But again there are stark contrasts. 

82% of Indians and Chinese people trust business, as against only 35% of Russians, 48% of Germans and Irish, and 57% of Italians.

It would be worthwhile to dig more deeply into Edelman’s findings!

SIGNPOSTS TO A NEW AND VERY DIFFERENT EUROPE

Last week’s video conference Summit of EU Heads of Government was important.

BREXIT

The leaders received a report on the meeting of EU Presidents Von der Leyen, Michel and Sassoli with the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They noted his decision not to seek any extension of the transition period.

Significantly, the EU leaders decided to make no change to the negotiation mandate given to the Commission for its negotiation with the UK on a future relationship with the EU. There had been suggestions in the UK media that the EU should loosen the mandate to facilitate the talks.

If a “No Deal” is to be avoided, the UK will now need to do some creative thinking about how it can give legally enforceable commitments to meet the concerns highlighted by the EU side on issues like

  • guaranteeing fair competition, if the UK is to have access to the EU Single Market, especially on state to business and quality and environmental standards
  • access for EU travelers to UK fishing grounds, if there is to be access for UK fish exporters to the EU consumer market for fish
  • human rights guarantees, if the UK is to have access to police cooperation with the  matters like the EU Arrest warrant
  • an overall partnership structure to govern the future EU/UK relationship.

If there is a “No Deal”, the relationship between the UK and its neighbours could deteriorate quite dramatically. There will be bitterness on both sides. This will not be confined to economics, but will affect every aspect of life.

POST COVID 19 ECONOMIC RECOVERY PROGRAMME FOR EUROPE

The post Covid 19 economic recovery proposals put forward by the European Commission are really ambitious.

For the first time, the EU itself will be borrowing substantial sums on its own account and passing the money on to member states.

Detailed allocations of funds for each country have been suggested. These allocations are based on an analysis of which countries, regions, and economic sectors that have been hardest hit by Covid 19.

It is interesting to note that there are wide differences in the economic impact of Covid 19 within countries. For example two regions of Italy are much worse hit than the rest of the country.

The analysis of need, on the basis of which the Commission proposed allocations have been prepared, takes no account of the impact of Brexit. Even if there is an EU/UK Deal, Brexit will do a lot of additional economic damage from 1 January 2021 onwards. The allocations will have to be revisited at that stage.

If fully implemented, it is estimated that the Commission proposals could, by 2024, add 2% to the overall GDP of the EU.

Member states will design their own programmes for spending the money.

There will be equity supports for viable companies.

It is important that the money be spent in ways that will enhance the sustainability and efficiency of the EU economy.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the Commission has developed expertise in identifying what works and what does not work.

The judgement as to what is a “viable” business, that should get help, will not be an easy one. Objective criteria should be used. Some will be disappointed. There will be controversy and accusations of favouritism.

Eventually, borrowed funds will have to be repaid, or rolled over into new borrowing.

Interest rates will not always be as low as they are today, especially if the global economy recovers and there is an increased demand for funds in other parts of the world. So rolling over debts may not be wise.

Keynesian economics is not easy to implement in democracies.

Keynesianism encourages governments to run deficits and borrow, when times are hard. But that requires them to run budget surpluses and to pay down debt, when times are good.

 Politically, the first part is easy, but the second part is really difficult.

In good times, the expectations of the electorate of what governments should provide are very high and rise incessantly. There is no  electoral appetite for using the good times to pay off debts. We need to keep that in mind.

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