Opinions & Ideas

Category: John Bruton Page 1 of 9

REES MOGG APPOINTMENT COULD  MAKE PROTOCOL DIFFICULTIES MORE ACUTE

 Jacob Rees Mogg has been appointed as UK  Minister for Brexit Opportunities, with a mandate from Boris Johnson  to  change 1000 regulations, now in force , which the UK adopted as an EU member.  

This mandate, if acted upon, makes a settlement of the EU/UK dispute over the Protocol  next to impossible.

The more  EU inherited  UK regulations in respect of goods, which Minister Rees Mogg changes, the more will be the frequency and intrusiveness of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain.

 This because, under the Protocol Minister Rees Mogg and his colleagues signed , Northern Ireland will continue to apply  EU regulations for goods, including food products.  

 Any new and different UK rules , sponsored by Minister Rees Mogg, will not apply in Northern Ireland .  This will mean even more checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland to ensure that the goods comply with the EU rules. 

 New and different UK rules for goods, will also mean more things to check at British ports facing continental Europe, and more traffic jams on the roads approaching these ports.

Of course, this applies only to goods. In the case of services, the UK can make whatever rules it likes without any impact on customs checks at ports.

But as far as goods are concerned, it is almost as if the Rees Mogg appointment is designed to sabotage any possibility of his colleague Liz Truss finding an agreement with Vice President Sefcovic on a lightening the Protocol. 

 If he does the job he has been given , Mr Rees Mogg’s real title should  perhaps be “Minister for Extra Trade Barriers”.  Of course this applies only to goods. 

A recent UK paper  on the “Benefits of Brexit” suggested that scrapping EU rules could bring £1 billion worth of benefits to the UK economy. This seems like a figure plucked out of the sky.  There is no detail of what rules might be changed, even though the UK has been preparing for the suppose benefits of Brexit for the past six years.

 Indeed separate and different  UK rules might actually increase costs, because of the duplication involved.

But there are strong suspicions that the “benefits of Brexit”  paper is  just for show, and that Rees Mogg will not actually be able to diverge much from EU standards at all, because UK businesses will not want  to lose markets in the EU.. 

In a way, his appointment is an expression of the confused expectations about Brexit within the Conservative Party……members want a bonfire of EU rules.   But they also want to be able to have their exports accepted in the countries of the EU as being compliant with the very  EU rules they have just scrapped!

 Businesses which trade internationally know the importance of regulations for both goods and services, and may not be so keen on unilateral UK regulatory changes that put the UK out of line with its neighbours to whom they want to export.

Whether it is product safety, or the transfer of cross-border data, domestic regulations and international agreements are a crucial element in making access to markets easier, or  making  them more difficult. Having different rules is a way of keeping imports out and making consumers pay more. 

Under Prime Minister Theresa May there was some openness in the UK government to aligning with EU rules, particularly in the area of goods, in order to facilitate trade and resolve issues around  Northern Ireland .

The arrival of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in July 2019 ended this openness.   His view was  that UK regulatory sovereignty is crucial, or at least must be made to appear to be so. 

Boris Johnson’s present political difficulties weaken his ability to reach compromises with the EU on the Protocol.

 His party is, in fact, a coalition between those who want more spending and those who want less spending, between those who want more protectionism and those who want less, and between those who want more regulation and those who want less. 

 Some problems have already arisen. The new UKCA conformity assessment mark to replace the EU’s CE mark, means greater internal regulatory inconsistency between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and hence more bureaucracy at Northern Ireland ports.

 The more Rees Mogg does  his job, the more will be the differences between Northern Ireland standards and those in the rest of the UK.

Trade Agreements may be an added complication.

 For example there are suggestions that Canada will challenge the UK’s ban on hormone treated beef, as part of the accession process for the UK to the  new Pacific Trade Agreement. 

If this were to happen, it would mean extra controls on beef products from Britain coming into either part of Ireland. It would also place beef exports from either part of Ireland to Britain  at a competitive disadvantage vis a vis hormone treated beef imported from Canada. 

 But would British consumers want to eat hormone treated beef?

Whether the UK actually diverges all that much from its existing EU standards or not, the fact that the UK is SAYING now  it  intends to diverge a lot , means that the EU has to maintain tight customs controls of British goods .

  That means insisting that the Protocol is respected to the full in Northern Ireland ports,  and continuing delays on British good going to continental Europe

 So the Protocol row may go on and on, until the UK finally settles on what EU rules it wants to change, and what EU  rules it intends to keep. 

Given how slow progress on making these decisions has been in the six years since Brexit , the Protocol  dispute could drag on for years.

 This does not  augur well for stability in Northern Ireland,  or for Anglo Irish relations.

BREXIT CRISIS LOOMS OVER PROTOCOL

Notwithstanding the positive sounds emanating from Monday’s meeting between Liz Truss and Maros Sefcovic, the talks between the European Commission and the UK government over the Protocol on Northern Ireland are probably heading to a major crisis in the next month. There has been no movement of the UK side, and immovable deadlines are approaching.


The UK agreed to the Protocol as part of their Withdrawal Treaty with the EU. The Protocol was an intrinsic part of the Treaty. The UK Parliament ratified the Treaty, including the Protocol, but now the UK government is trying to scrap it altogether, under a this pretence of “renegotiating “ it.


The fundamental problem is that the British negotiating strategy is being driven by old fashioned, populist, and simplistic notions about trade. The EU strategy, on the other hand, is driven by a legal imperative to protect the most advanced form of economic and commercial integration between sovereign nations that has ever been achieved. The clash is a clash of mind sets. The arguments of either side are based on fundamentally incompatible assumptions.


There is the added complication that the negotiations between Liz Truss and Maros Sefcovic are taking place in the midst of a political crisis in Britain, in which any compromise is liable to be used as a political weapon in a struggle to lead the Conservative Party.
Conservative Britain always pretended to see the EU as simple free trade area. But the rest of the EU members realized one could not have truly free trade, unless there were four other things

  • common rules on the quality of products
  • freedom for people and money to move from country to country,
  • common trade policies vis a vis the rest of the world, and
  • a shared set of political goals that facilitated day to day compromise.

A big segment of English opinion never accepted this latter concept of the EU. This makes it difficult for them to even to understand the necessary implications of the Protocol .


The Protocol makes Northern Ireland part of the EU Single market for goods produced in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile Britain has left the EU Single Market. Britain has no more than a bare bones trade agreement with the EU. This makes a big difference. But it is what the UK government and Parliament agreed.
Goods produced in Northern Ireland (NI) are being treated as EU goods, whereas goods produced in Britain are non EU goods.


In the case of goods made up of parts, ingredients or components coming from different countries, The parts, ingredients or components produced in Northern Ireland qualify, for rules of origin purposes, as “European”. Meanwhile parts, ingredients or components originating in Britain are of non EU origin.


This distinction can be very important in deciding whether a final product is sufficiently “European” to benefit from duty free access to the EU market. If one wants to ensure that a sufficient percentage of a final product is “European”, it makes sense to source ingredients or parts in NI rather than in another part of the UK.


Goods coming into NI will be subject to EU Customs rules and tariffs, whereas goods coming into Britain will be subject to (potentially very different) UK Customs rules and tariffs.


This gap has to be policed, if there is not to be abuse. In the Protocol the EU and the UK agreed how this gap is to be policed.
The gap will become progressively wider, if the UK seeks to exploit the freedom it won by Brexit by making new (and different) British standards to replace the old standards that it might claim had been “imposed by Brussels”.


The more the standards diverge, the more will checks be needed on goods entering the EU market through NI, to ensure that they comply with EU requirements.


Then there is the question of the European Court interpreting EU rules as they apply to NI goods circulating freely in the EU Single Market . The UK agreed to this but now is objecting to it.
For NI businesses to be free to export their products within the EU Single Market under the Protocol they have to be able to convince their competitors and customers in France and Germany that NI goods are fully compliant with EU rules. These rules are interpreted, in final analysis, by the European Court of Justice. That ensures consistency.
The rules must be interpreted in the same way for NI goods, as they are for goods produced in France or Germany. The role of the ECJ in the Protocol is the passport for NI goods into Europe, one of the biggest markets in the world.


The role of the ECJ is, of course, confined to EU rules applying to goods. It will have no general jurisdiction in NI on other matters. There the final arbiter will be the UK Supreme Court.


There is a logjam in the negotiations because the UK side keeps repeating the same talking points , pocketing EU concessions without reciprocity, and withholding cooperation with the EU authorities on access to data. It is also stalling on building installations in Belfast Port that would allow customs officials there to do their work safely and conveniently. The UK is using “grace periods” to defer indefinitely controls it agreed to. It is almost as if the UK does not want to face up to the implications of Brexit.


The UK, and some unionists, talk about using Article 16 as if this would allow the ending of checks in Belfast port. That is not legally possible. Article 16 only allows limited and temporary derogations. To use it to go beyond that would be a straightforward breach on international law.
We are facing a moment of truth.

Haughey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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