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Category: John Bruton Page 1 of 26


I am reprinting below a brilliant article published by Tony Connelly on the RTE website.

It deserves to read and read over again.  It brings out how difficult it will to resolve the present conflict. As he did on Brexit, Tony  sets out the history fairly, and gets to the heart of the problem.  The work Tony does is a powerful argument for public service broadcasting.

I am putting a few comments of my own on the issue before the full text of Tony’s article. When I was EU Ambassador in Washington from 2004 to 2009, I met as many as I could of the Think Tanks focussed on the Middle East. Serious efforts were being made to resolve the issue at that time. But, in private, the prevailing stance was one of passive pessimism.


Like everyone else, I have been thinking and worrying about the atrocious war that is going on in Gaza following the attack by Hamas on innocent civilians in Southern  Israel. 

It is difficult to say anything useful about a solution to the present situation without first having studied the history of the area going back at least as far as the Balfour Declaration on 1917. But history can also become a resource from which one can draw,   to feed one’s own prejudices. 

Irish nationalists of all hues tend to sympathise with the Palestinians. This is because a shared feeling of having been dispossessed . This happened to Palestinians in the first half of the  20th century. Something similar happened to Irish Catholics in the Seventeenth Century.. Both  jobs were done by a combination of military conquest and  legal artifices. 

Less convincingly, Anti British feeling also influences Irish Nationalist feeling on the issue , because the British are accused of favouring Jewish  over Palestinian interests in the inter war period.In fact, by the late 1930s the British leant more towards the Palestinian side.


Identity politics is also playing a part. 

People can wave their personal flag as being “pro Palestinian rights” or “pro Israel”. Once having comfortably taken a side, they often  absolve themselves from thinking about what might solve the problem, a more fifficult exercise because it would involve making or supporting concessions by ones own  “side”.

I would ask pro Israeli demonstrators the question 

    “What do you think Israel should do to give Palestinians  peace , security and freedom?”

I would ask pro Palestinian demonstrators a similar question

    “What do you think Palestinians should do to offer Israeli Jews peace, security and freedom?”

These are hard questions. But they are not trick questions. It is only by thinking oneself into the mind of one’s adversary that one can turn an adversary into a partner.  

There is an added difficulty in this case. That is that Israel wants to be a Jewish State. Palestinians, on the other hand, would accept a secular state, or an Arab state.  

A one state solution would be difficult for Israel to accept because Jews might not be a majority within such a state. There would have to be very robust minority protections in any one state system and these could prove to be difficult to enforce, in the wake of recent atrocities.



Jacksons Hole is a valley in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. It has a number of ski resorts and is one the most exclusive, and expensive, tourist resorts in the United States.

Every year if hosts a symposium in which the world’s top Central Bankers, and  its most highly regarded economists share insights on questions such  as

  •   What factors will accelerate  or slow/ economic growth? How can national economies be made more efficient?
  •   Should interest rates be increased/reduced in light of prevailing rates of inflation?

While the discussions in Jackson’s Hole do not lead to common policy positions, they do lead towards a  better common understanding of the facts.

I had a chance to look at some of the papers that were put before the symposium last month


Charles Jones of Stanford said the average growth rate of the US economy since 1880 has been 2%.

The factors that determine economic growth are capital investment, population growth and skills. These factors are predictable and the levels to economic growth associated with them are also to a degree predictable. One growth factor that is unpredictable, and does not follow any economic cycle is what Charle Jones calls IDEAS. Ideas can arise through conversation, reading, responses to crises.

The development of ideas  often , though not always, requires spending on R and D, and collaboration between places where R and D is carried out. Brexit cut UK universities off from subsidised collaborative R and D with EU universities…..a big mistake by British voters.

Jones drew attention to something called Moores Law which says a country must INCREASE its level of R and D just to maintain its rate of growth. I do not understand this,


Nela Richardson delved into the economics of caring for those who are too old or too young to care for themselves.

The average nurse in the US earns $84000 and the average teacher earns  $58000.

I am surprised at his differential.

I would have expected teachers to be paid more. I wonder what the equivalent differential is in Ireland.

Attention is only paid to care provided for pay.

Unpaid care, given out of love, or of religious or moral responsibility, is defined out of existence. So policies that might encourage unpaid care are not  even considered.


Looking at the relative efficiencies of construction in different countries,

I saw some statistics for the cost of building a mile of tunnel. The differences are startling. They are

  • Spain …………$113 million
  • Italy…………..$348 million
  • UK……………$ 676 million
  • USA…………$1248 million

These relative costs should be explored


Another presentation to the symposium was by Barry Eichengreen…. about public debt.

He was not optimistic that debt levels would be reduced because he felt voters would not allow governments to run the necessary budget surpluses.


“Checking my notes on Tom Garvins book with the help of my grand daughter, Ophelia”
“Checking my notes on Tom Garvins book with the help of my grand daughter, Ophelia”

Ireland 1760 to 1960

I have just finished reading “The Evolution of Irish Nationalist Politics” by Tom Garvin.

Tom is a distinguished Irish historian and political scientist.

The book was published in 1980, and covers the period from 1760 to 1960.

It traces the organisational development of political groups agitating for change in Ireland during that long period.

On one side ,  there were parties agitating for control  of agricultural land to pass  from the legal owners (the land lords) , to the tenant farmers (who did the actual work on the land). This struggle  for control of the land was most intense from 1879 to 1903 , ending with a victory for the tenant farmers.

 Essentially, the UK taxpayers bought out the landlords.  It was good that this issue was settled before Irish independence came in 1921. The new democratic Irish Free State, created by the Treaty of 1921, had more than enough financial and other problems on its plate in the 1920s and 1930s, without having had to deal with a huge land transfer programme as well.

In close alliance and overlapping with those looking for land reform, were those agitating for a greater degree of independence of Ireland from Britain.

Demands here ranged from

  • Home Rule (devolution) within the UK,
  • a dual monarchy (whereby Ireland and Britain would be separate states but have the same King) to a third option,
  • a completely independent Irish Republic.

In opposition to all moves towards independence this were Irish Unionists.  Irish Unionists were divided on the land issue, but strongly united in insisting that they would not be ruled by a Nationalist majority parliament in Dublin, whether it be a Home Rule Parliament, or the Parliament of an Irish Republic.


Another big controversy about acceptable methods to be used to achieve political goals.

Should the methods used be confined to peaceful and parliamentary agitation,  or should physical force ( involving the taking of human life) also be permissible?

There were strong practical arguments in favour of using exclusively peaceful methods

The Land Reforms were, after all, been achieved by exclusively peaceful by methods.

Home Rule was also achieved by peaceful methods in 1914. This is forgotten nowadays because of the subsequent, and to my mind ill advised, celebration of the violence from 1916 onwards.

Home Rule within the UK was voted into law in September 1914. Implementation was deferred until the end of the World War which had started a month before Home Rule became law.


There was one big  outstanding issue

Should Home Rule would apply to all 32 counties of Ireland as one unit , or could the  6 predominantly Unionist counties in the North East be excluded, temporarily or otherwise? 

Behind this demand   for exclusion was a threat of the use of military force by the Ulster Volunteer Force,  and even of a mutiny of pro Unionist officers in the British Army.

In this, it could be said that it was unionism which introduced the threat of violence into Irish politics, although it was a faction of nationalism that actually fired the first shots  at Easter of 1916.

Tom Garvin’s excellent book crams a range of fascinating material into 137 pages. He covers  the sociology, the competing ideologies, the role of secret societies, of mass political agitation , and organisational methods, and their cumulative impact on the course of Irish history.


Garvin also shows the impact of changes in the right to vote on who would be the MPs representing Irish constituencies in Westminster.

 The Franchise was very limited in 1860. Only significant property owners had a vote. If that had persisted, there would not have been a majority for either Home Rule or Land Reform. The successful British agitation ( by groups like the Chartists) for a wider franchise across all parts of the UK was a huge help to Irish causes.

From 1867 on the property qualification for the votes was eased. In 1872, the right to vote in secret and this stopped landlords attempting to control how their tenants voted.

These changes had immediate effects.

In 1868, 69% of the 105 Irish MPs in Westminster were landlords, but by 1874, that percentage had fallen to 49%, and proportion who came from the professional classes had risen from 10% to 23%.

Thanks to a further extension of the franchise introduced during World War One ( abolishing property qualifications and giving the vote to women for the first time) , the electorate in Ireland who had a vote in the 1918 Election was three times the one that had a vote in the previous election of 1910.


Garvin also describes the close linkage between the development of the GAA and that of physical force nationalism as represented by the Irish Republican Brotherhood (the IRB). As an oath bound secret society , the IRB was under a ban by the Catholic Church.


Garvin also compares the political parties active in the independent 26 county Ireland, at the time of his writing in the 1970s, with the range of parties active in the earlier period. 

An edition updating Garvins’s book to include changes that have occurred since the 1970’s would a very worthwhile project.


One of the ongoing problems of Irish Republicanism was a preference  for political symbols in the promotion of the ideal of an Irish Republic. The decision to use violence blotted out the time and space in which practical issues might have been explored before the shooting. The use of violence required the over simplification of the issues at stake.

Symbols got priority  over explanations of how the Republic might be structured, how relations with Britain and other countries might be organised and how minority rights might be protected .

The neglect of a debate of these questions meant that sections of the electorate was disappointed by what was actually be achieved. They were not ready for the necessary compromises.

Sean O Faolain, who took the anti Treaty side in the Civil War ,and was its Director of Publicity, admitted that in 1922

“ We had no concept of the State we wished to found” .

So Irish Republicanism tended to be defined more by what it was against ,  rather than by what it was for.

This remains so to this day.


Since Garvin finished this book, Ireland has experienced huge economic, demographic and political change.

Population had been declining up to 1960, but has been growing since then. Over 7 million people now live on the island.

 While the birth rate, which peaked in 1980, has fallen substantially, emigration had been replaced by immigration. This is how the population has risen.

Economic growth has been rapid. There were debt crises in 1980 and again in 2010, but these were overcome quickly because the the underlying productive base of the Irish economy is modern and flexible.

In terms of party politics, Sinn Fein has emerged as the largest political party, thanks to its ability to exploit the debt crisis of 2010. Its advance has been mainly, though not solely at the expense of Fianna Fail.


Sinn Fein continues to defend its support for the IRA campaign of bombing, murder and torture from 1968 to 1998.

Sinn Fein assures us that the IRA no longer exists.

But it is hard to give weight to that assurance while Sinn Fein justifies past IRA activities and the political assumptions which underlay them.


I was watching MSNBC a few days ago.

The discussion was about why the US was supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions.  These weapons are banned in the US itself. 

If Ukraine uses these munitions on Ukrainian soil, it will be endangering its own children, who may come across some of these explosives , years from now when out playing.

One of the participants on the MSNBC show, New York Times columnist David Brooks, was asked why the Biden Administration was supplying such munitions to Ukraine.  His answer really  startled me.

 It was


So, after a few months of artillery intense trench warfare, the West has run out of supplies of shells and missiles, and cannot replenish its stocks quickly enough. This reveals acute vulnerability.

How on earth did the US, and its European allies, find themselves in this situation?

If munitions have run out after a few months of artillery warfare, that does not bode well for Europe’s capacity to defend itself  in the long term in the event of a wider confrontation with Russia.

It seems as if the West has been taken by surprise by this munitions shortage. There is no excuse for that. There are ample warnings from history.  There is a clear precedent  in relatively recent history for the style of war now being waged in Ukraine …..the artillery  bombardments, followed by assaults on deep entrenchments , that characterised the Western Front in the First World War. Advances could only be made after heavy bombardment of the front line had first been undertaken.

Like the in Ukraine, First World War started out as a war of movement.

The Germans made rapid advances in 1914, until the French halted them on the Marne.  After that the war quickly became a static artillery war, where advances of as little as 100 meters were celebrated as triumphs.

These small advances involved huge casualties among the advancing forces, unless they had been preceded by  heavy artillery barrages , with a calibre of shell which destroyed barbed wire as well as larger fortifications.

 In general terms, casualties among the attacking forces were three times as great as they were among the defenders. That is probably the ratio in Ukraine now too.

It is becoming plain that Ukraine has not sufficient supplies of either the type or amount of munitions required needed to make a big breakthrough and  to preserve the lives of the brave Ukrainian soldiers sent in to attack the Russian lines. Meanwhile, Russia has air superiority, which is more important now than it was in World War One.

I do not understand why the counter offensive was announced at all, without adequate supplies of artillery and munitions already being in place. A worrying lack of strategic foresight is evident.

And the political precedents from World War One is far from encouraging.

Within a couple of months of that war starting ,there was already  an acute shortage of shells and heavy artillery in the British Army . (France and Germany were better supplied.) This situation is described by Lloyd George, in Volume one of the War Memoirs.  He described the War as a war between German  “mechanics” ( ie. munitions manufacturers) and British manufacturers, and  said that ,in 1915, the German “mechanics” were winning.

Radical action was required.  There was an acute shortage of people available to work in Munitions and Artillery factories. State enterprise had to be brought into play because private enterprise was too slow in setting up the required factories.  State owned “Royal Factories” were set up all over these islands, including in Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Galway..

There were not enough men to work in the factories .  So women had to be employed in this dangerous work. The War became an industrial war.

The West is facing similar choices today.  Notwithstanding the fact that the NATO counties, especially the US, out spends the Russians on military hardware by a large multiple, they have yet to mobilize society for the existential struggle which its chosen ally, Ukraine, is undertaking.

But even the opening of the Royal Factories, and the recruitment of thousands of women workers, was too slow in delivering the necessary shells in 1915. This was because there was an acute labour shortage then, just as there is in 2023.

The Daily Mail went on the war path.  There was a political crisis.

The Liberal Government, led by Asquith and supported by the Irish Party, which was committed to Home Rule, was replaced by a coalition of Liberals and Unionists, led by Lloyd George. We are living with the consequences of the munitions crisis of 1915 to this day.

Returning to 2023, the EU may face a similar political crisis because it has not matched its needs with the necessary resources.

 Member governments need simultaneously to ramp up arms production for Ukraine, pour money into the Green deal, provide for the healthcare for an ageing population,  and manage the debt inherited from the Covid epidemic,  while still respecting the Maastricht budgetary criteria.

And if Trump wins the 2024 Election in the US, he may stop supplying arms to Ukraine. Europe will then be alone facing Putin.


I am  sad to learn of the death of my good friend Ben Briscoe.

He was truly a lovely man, kind, open hearted and cheerful. He was admired across party lines.

He was also very courageous, a quality he displayed to the full in the
the 1980s when his independent mindedness was not welcome by his then party leadership.


A Forum is taking place on Irish Defence policy this week.

One issue being considered ids whether an Irish Peace keeping mission should require the approval of a UN Security Council which would involve a Russian of Chinese veto. I do not believe it should. This should be a sovereign decision for the Oireachtas (the Dail and Seanad)

I really do not think defence policy choices should be put before a citizens assembly, whose conclusions would  acquire an artificial authority that would inevitably hamstring the Dail. We are representative parliamentary democracy so public reps ie TDs and Senators, should take the lead….no body else, neither “experts” nor randomly chosen citizens.

I think Oireachtas approval for an overseas mission should suffice, no need to involve European Council.


Tribute by John Bruton, former Taoiseach

I wish to join with hundreds of other present and previous public representatives, of all parties and none, in paying tribute to the memory of former Senator Paul Coghlan, who died last week.
The extent of the heartfelt tributes from members of parties, other than Fine Gael, shows how Paul acted as a politician.
He had a warm welcome for everyone. He understood and valued the sometimes maligned political art of compromise.
A native of Killarney, he was active in promoting the town, and Co Kerry more generally.
He was a Fine Gael member of Killarney Urban Council and of Kerry County Council. This was at a time when Fine Gael had little political representation in Kerry, and he carried the Fine Gael flag proudly. As party leader at the time, I valued this very much especially the fact that Paul stood for
the Dail in 1992.
Paul was a founding director of Radio Kerry, and a Trustee of Muckross House, both of which, in very different ways, improved the quality of life in Kerry.
Paul would not have been able to do all this without the support of his wife Peggy, and all his family.
I extend heartfelt sympathy to them at this very sad time. I will remember him in my prayers.


The US has had a Federal debt limit since 1917.  I have no idea why it was ever introduced.

But it is only in recent times that it has been used as a sort of virility test between the parties.

A failure to lift the limit in the next week or so would have meant that the creditworthiness of the US government would be damaged, probably permanently.

It remains to be seen what the Republicans have gained through their threats and subsequent agreement in principle with President Biden. If it is voted through, this deal should mean that there will be no need to raise the limit before the next Presidential Election.

It is important to remember that the debts falling due to be repaid were used to boost spending , or to allow tax reductions, each of which were voted through by Congress.

 40% of the spending is untouchable.  This is so called Mandatory spending. This includes Medicare.

The US has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, yet much of that is excluded from consideration in the search for savings.

Social Security (pensions) is 35% of  mandatory spending,  It too is excluded from cuts

The focus has to be on so called Discretionary Spending, which comes to only to 28% of the total.

Half of Discretionary goes on the  miliary. That is hard to cut in light of the War in Ukraine. There may be room to close surplus military bases in the US itself but no member of Congress wants a base closed in his or her District.

The rest of Discretionary spending is mostly routine administration, including on agencies like Homeland Security. The deal between Biden and McCarthy seems to concentrate in this area. trimming the civil service  administration and agencies.

There is a distrust of “Government “, as such  ,among a section of the public.

 Republicans even wanted to “defund” the inland Revenue!

They also wanted to deny the authorities funds to pursue unpaid taxes

The United States needs a complete overhaul of it spending and tax policies. Tax deductions and shelters should be eliminated, and the tax code simplified. No category of spending should be exempt from economies, at least while the debt/GDP ratio exceeds 60% of the GDP. 

Given that the $ is the foundation of the global financial system, and its value under pins the world banking system, it is worrying that we will probably face another debt ceiling drama in a couple of years time.  


I took part in a two day seminar in Maynooth University discussing how Ireland fared as an EU member over the past half century. 

Many of the contributors stressed the economic benefits. 

These included a huge increase in the number of jobs in Ireland.  This happened  because much improved access to world markets flowed from EU membership. Tariffs and other barriers to trade were removed. Equally importantly EU membership  eased trade in and out of Ireland through having a single set of rules for goods and services.  

These rules 

  •    are made democratically through the European Parliament and Council
  •    interpreted consistently under the aegis of the European Court of Justice and
  •    enforced , in an even handed  and transparent way, by the European Commission.

They apply in all 27 EU states , and this has dramatically reduced the bureaucracy that would  apply if there were 27 different states each  with their own “sovereign” rules. This is something that is being discovered by the UK, now that it has left the EU.

The Single unified set of  rules in the EU has enabled Ireland to attract investment, notably from the US. 

EU funds enabled Ireland to modernise its educational system over the past 50 years . 

In my contribution to the discussion, I stressed that the benefits to Ireland of EU membership were much wider than economic. 

Prior to EU membership, Ireland was overshadowed by Britain, psychologically as well as economically. As an EU member we developed a much healthier relationship with Britain, with fewer complexes.

 That helped the Irish and British governments to work together to seek solutions to the problems in Northern Ireland. 

As an EU member we were able to defend our global interest, with the support of 26 other member states. 

Indeed one of the remarkable things about the EU over the past 50 years has been the EU’s tendency to find common EU solutions to problem, even where, legally, member states might be entitled to look for a “national” solution. This has been especially noteworthy in regard to issues like Brexit, the purchase of vaccines for Covid, climate change, and the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. By working with other EU states, Ireland magnifies its influence.

I believe we, in Ireland, must work harder to understand the needs of all the other EU states. We need, as far as possible, to understand their languages and unique histories. Like us, each EU state has its own sensitivities. 



I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of my old friend, Hugh Byrne.

In 1969, Liam Cosgrave appointed the two of us as joint assistant Whips to our Chief Whip, the late Dick Burke. 

It was a delight get to know Hugh. He had a unique sense of humour and great popular appeal. He will be missed greatly by anyone who got to know him. I extend deep sympathy to all his friends and family

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