Opinions & Ideas

Category: John Bruton Page 2 of 26


I wish to express heartfelt sympathy with her husband Tom, with her two children and with her colleagues in the Labour Party on the death of Niamh Breathnach.

She was a Minister for Education who made a real difference to the lives of Irish people, and the benefits of her work endure to this day, notably the abolition of third level fees and the upgrading of Colleges of Technology.

She was an empathetic colleague at the Cabinet table and took  full account of the views of others.


Brexit is not the only problem challenging the integrity of the EU’s single market.
Last week the European Court of Justice(ECJ) ordered the Polish government to stop appointing new Judges.
In December the Venice Commission, a body set up by the Council of Europe (which is independent of the EU), said that elements of the reform of the judiciary being undertaken by the present Polish government 

“ bear a striking resemblance with the institutions that existed in the Soviet Union”

One of the authors of that report was the distinguished Irish barrister, Richard Barrett, who worked at one time in the Irish attorney General’s office.
The EU is a system of rules and the EU can only survive if its rules are fairly and uniformly enforced by the courts of the 28 member states.
The European Union is a common market precisely because it has a common system for

  •  making,
  •  interpreting, and
  •  enforcing

common rules that apply directly to the citizens of its member states. These common rules are interpreted, in the first place, by the national courts in each of the member states. So the integrity of national courts is vital for the EU.
This issue lies at the heart of the  difficulties the UK is experiencing, as it tries  to leave the EU,  still enjoy the benefits of the EU’s common market for goods, but without taking part in the common system for making, interpreting, and enforcing the rules of the  common market.
In a very different way, this same issue is at the heart of the disputes, between the European Commission and the governments of Poland and Hungary, about the independence of their judicial systems.
If one is living or doing business in Poland, the only way one can get one’s Common Market rights is by going, in the first place to the Polish courts. This course should be open to you, whether you are  a Polish citizen or not, and whatever political opinions, or status vis a vis the  government of Poland.
The EU insists that courts be independent so that everyone can enforce their EU rights, as equal EU citizens, anywhere in the EU, at all times.
 This rigorous insistence on the rule of law is one of the reasons many European countries want to join the EU, so that they can get the EU seal of approval for the rule of law in their county, and thus be attractive to overseas investors and other visitors.
 I visited Serbia recently , and heard that country’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, stress that accession to the EU was the number one priority for countries in her region. She said that the rule of law and transparent administration, demanded as preconditions for Serbian membership of the EU, are  crucial to winning foreign investment and access to cheaper finance for Serbia.
 So, if the Polish courts were to be allowed become politicized, and were perceived to no longer be  objective in all circumstances in interpreting EU law, and Poland  still tried to continue to enjoy all the privileges of EU membership, that would damage the EU as a whole, as well as Polish citizens. It would discourage investment in Poland. Worse still, it would remove part of the reason for the existence of the EU…the rule of law.
The European Commission started proceedings against Poland under article 7(1) of the EU Treaties over aspects of the restructuring of the Polish judiciary. It was on an application to it by the European Commission, that the ECJ ordered the Polish government to stop appointing a large number of new judges to its Supreme Court in recent weeks.  The ECJ feared the new appointments might politicize the Polish courts.
 The Polish government is able to propose this large number of new appointments because it is compulsorily retiring up to 40% of existing judges, on the basis of newly introduced upper age limits.
 The well founded fear is that it will replace these compulsorily retired judges, with judges sympathetic to the views of the present government. The age limit will not, indeed, be applied uniformly. The government will be able to grant discretionary extensions to some judges, presumably those whose judgments it likes.
This comes on top of a merger of the offices of the Minister for Justice and the Public Prosecutor. This merger creates a fear that prosecutorial decisions will also be politicized. The independence of the DPP’s office in Ireland was one of the important reforms made in Ireland in the 1970’s, and it has been carefully protected by successive Taoisigh since then. 
The Polish “reforms” also provide that the President of the Republic, not the court itself, would establish the rules of procedure for the Polish Supreme Court, determining which categories of judge would hear what sort of case. Again this is unacceptable political interference.
In the Venice Commission’s report, coauthored by Richard Barrett from Ireland, the Commission concluded that the Polish government’s proposed mechanism for an extraordinary review(and possible reversal) of past judgments was

 “dangerous to the stability of the Polish legal order”

and said it was “problematic”  that the mechanism is retroactive,  and allows the reopening of cases decided  before the proposed law was to be enacted. This is an understatement.
The Venice Commission concluded that the proposed legislative and executive power to interfere in a severe and extensive way in the administration of justice

“pose a grave threat to judicial independence as a key element of the rule of law”.

It is very important for the EU that the Polish government realizes that it is not enough just to have free elections. A country cannot enjoy the benefits of EU membership, or of democracy, unless it respects the rule of law which is enshrined in Article 2 and Article 7 of the EU Treaties.
The credibility of the EU, and the integrity of the EU Single Market, is at stake in Commission’s  dispute with Poland, to an even greater extent than it is  with the UK’s attempt to “have its cake and eat it” on trade!


The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, warned last week that in  respect of  the War in Ukraine

 “if things go wrong, they could go horribly wrong”

 and could eventuate in a full fledged war between NATO and Russia.

This is an alarming statement from a man who is not given to alarming statements.

While this is a war of aggression by Russia, the aggression was  driven, at least in part, by fear. 

Russia feared being encircled by NATO and EU countries, that were hostile to it. Yet these same countries  had clamoured to join NATO because of their fear of Russia.

 For its part, the US   pushed the expansion of NATO into central Europe,  because it feared a China/ Russia alliance dominating the Eurasian land mass.

 My direct experience is that security issues dominate diplomatic thinking in Washington DC,  in a way that they do not dominate thinking in Brussels. 

The loss of life that has already taken place as a result of the Russian invasion is enormous. The physical infrastructure destroyed by Russian missile will take 10 years, and tens of billions of euros, to replace.

There are 8 million Ukrainian refugees in EU countries, and that number is bound to increase. The EU is directly helping a country at war, something it never did before in its 70 year history.

 The war could widen. The possibility of Russian forces using Belarus as jumping off point for a new front in Western Ukraine is being discussed. This would bring the fighting much closer to NATO members, Poland and Lithuania. It could set off a chain reaction.

The preparedness of EU countries for such a wider war is not great. EU countries have significant and well equipped forces, but getting these forces to the front, where they would be needed, is something for which Europeans rely on America. Airlift capacity is a major European weakness.

 The road and rail systems in Europe have not been designed for the swift transportation of heavy military equipment. 

There is a lot of duplication and waste in European armies. 

Between them they have 170 different (national) weapons systems,  whereas the US, with a much bigger military, has only 30 different systems.

 Meanwhile the weapons that have been supplied to Ukraine from European stocks have not all been replaced. Money has been allocated but orders have not been placed.

The war has penetrated every aspect of daily life in Ireland. 

The dramatic increase in food prices, and in the price of inputs necessary to produce food ( fertilizer and energy),  is a direct consequence of the Russian invasion. Over 10% of the world population is already facing hunger. The FAO estimates that the number of people facing “acute hunger” has multiplied 2.6 times since 2019. 

Wheat prices will stay at 250 euros per tonne for the next two years, as against an average of  175 euros per tonne over the previous 20 years. The price increase for cereals since 2004 has been almost twice that for meat and dairy.

The world is facing an escalating, war driven, food price crisis.  What can Europe do?

I would make a few suggestions to the EU

  •  It should reconsider the policy of subsidizing leaving arable land lie fallow. 6 m hectares of land are lying fallow for this reason
  •  It should not encourage the use  of land , that could produce food, to produce biofuels. 9m hectares are currently in use for this purpose
  •  It should encourage farming systems that maximize the efficient conversion of sunlight into consumable calories. 
  •  It should discourage food waste. 17% of food is wasted , mostly by house holds,  because of  over purchasing and poor meal planning.

Meanwhile a concerted effort must be made to identify the fears that are fanning the war like atmosphere in the world today. While it may be impossible to do business with the current regime in Moscow, Russia will still exist when the war is over. The West needs to think through the sort of post war relationship it might have with a Russia that was willing to respect the territorial integrity of all its neighbours.


Latest predictions suggest the Republicans will narrowly win control of the United States House of Representatives but that Democrats will have a one seat majority in the Senate.

This is a significant win for President Biden because many expected a large Republican victory in both Houses of Congress.  That said, the Democrats seem to have lost their majority in the House, which will make it harder for the Administration to pass its favoured legislation.

 Counting is continuing in many places and there will be a run off election for a Senate seat in Georgia. Having won Senate seats  in Arizona and Nevada, Democrats have a Senate majority, even if the run off in Georgia does not go their way.

 It is not surprising that the Democrats lost some ground in the House of Representatives. In the past half century, the party opposing the sitting President has made gains in the Mid Terms three times out of four.

The 8% annual rate of increase in the cost of living in the US also drove voters towards the Republican Party. Inflation is wiped out some of the advantage Democrats should have got from record rates of job creation, and from the passage of some important infrastructure legislation. On the other hand, the abortion issue increased the turn out among women voters and this worked to the advantage of Democrats.

 While voters may rank inflation as their number one issue, it is unclear what Congress can do about it. Indeed some of the fiscal stimulus, given by Congress last year to mitigate the effects of inflation, may have actually over heated an economy that was already running up against capacity limits.

 Not for the first time in history, anti inflation measures have probably added to inflation.

 Donald J Trump played an outsized role in the Republican campaign

He personally endorsed individual Republican candidates in 200 individual races. These candidates did not do particularly well.

  It appears that Donald Trump can mobilize parts of the Republican base, some of which may not have voted at all in past elections.  But meanwhile he has driven away centre ground voters by his divisive rhetoric.

While he has suffered a setback last week, Trump is a formidable, spontaneous, and instinctive campaigner, who gives a voice to deep seated anxieties and prejudices shared by many Americans.

 His ideas will probably shape the Republican message in the 2024 Elections. That would hearten President Putin of Russia. It would encourage him to persist with his war of attrition in Ukraine.

 The bulk of the military aid to Ukraine has come from the US, rather than from Europe, even though Europe has more to lose from Russian success in Ukraine.

President Biden has said he intends to run for a second term. If so, we can expect a Republican majority in the House to launch hostile enquiries into his administration, which will absorb a lot of time unproductively. Already to legislative output of Congress is half what to was 30 years ago.

Rather than seeking a second term, President Biden might be better off seeking to promote his legislative agenda for the next two years, and  devoting time to healing the deep ideological divisions that are weakening the Democratic Party.

A change of control in the House will  lead to some modest changes in US Farm policy.

Climate change mitigation will take a lower profile, but commodity price supports will continue, as will nutrition support programmes for poorer families, which provide a market for US farm products. Indeed more than half of the so called US “Farm Budget” goes on nutrition supports for poorer people living in urban areas.

 One area where Republicans will be conflicted is immigration.

The majority of US farm owners are Republicans. The Republican party nationally takes a hard line against immigration. But 75% of the hired workers on US farms are immigrants, and half of these are illegal.

If Republicans were to implement their rhetoric on immigration, many farms would have to close their present operations

The new Republican Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee will probably be Glen Thompson for Pennsylvania. Interestingly, he does not come from a farming background. He worked in the health sector before being elected to Congress in 2008.

The Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee will be Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat. She is Senator from Michigan, and a career politician, standing for election for the first time while still in college, and has served at every level of government.

The results of the Mid Term elections have been so close that neither Party has a mandate for radical change, which may be reassuring for America’s allies.

RIP Brigid Hogan O Higgins

I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Brigid Hogan O Higgins. I extend deep sympathy to all he family.
Brigid was a warm and engaging person and preserved  her youthful enthusiasm to the end of her life.
She was a brave and effective representative of the people of Galway in the Dail , carrying on a tradition established by her father . Had she had the opportunity to serve in government, she would have done so with the same spirit of selfless service, as he did as Minister for Agriculture.
Her family can be very proud of her


The Report of the Commission on Tax and Social Welfare contains some proposals that would have a dramatic effect in rural Ireland.

 The Commission, which reported last week,  was set up in fulfilment of a commitment in the Programme for government. It was given a very tight deadline to complete its work, and this may explain the gaps in its analysis.


The Commission was chaired by an academic. It had two civil servants in its membership, a tax consultant, an accountant, two members from economic research institutes, one person from a homeless charity, a businesswoman, one from an environmental charity, someone from IBEC…..but NOBODY representing agricultural or rural interests!

In addition, it received at least 28 submissions, mostly from other civil servants, state agency employees and academics but not one, as far as I can see, from the food and agriculture sector. This is surprising.


The terms of reference of Commission seem to assume that a steadily rising level of spending by government in Ireland will be necessary, equitable and inevitable.

Its task, as it saw it, was simply to

“ensure sufficient resources would be available to meet the cost of public services” as if that cost was a given that could not be altered.

More “resources” in the form of more taxes are simply assumed to be required.

 Deciding on the details of the tax changes the Commission recommends, as a consequence of this assumption, is to be left to elected representatives.

 The Commission offers them a long , and  unpalatable,  menu of tax changes from which they may  choose.

 But the Commission does not look at the expenditure side of government at all!

 Over the last fifty years, the functions taken on by government have steadily increased. Child care, Free GP services, subsidised elder care, and insurance against use of defective building materials, are examples of responsibilities being shifted onto the shoulders of the general taxpayer in recent years.

 We are also about to substantially increase our armed services, and  to increase benefits for those affected by the energy cost squeeze.

 Do we have an agreed basis for prioritizing these expenditures? I do not think so.

 Should a Commission have provided politicians with advice on how to prioritize spending, before advocating tax increases? Yes, I think it should.

A more balanced approach by the Commission would have started with a rigorous analysis of present and future spending commitments, on the basis of explicit criteria.

 Such an approach might not necessarily have meant the rejection of the Commission’s tax proposals, but it would have made them more understandable.  Ideally, the Commission should have identified different levels of government spending relative to GDP, and what each would have meant in service and taxation levels. 

Unfortunately the tight time limit set for the Commission would not have allowed the time to do an exercise like this.

In fairness to the Commission, it does suggest that our ageing population will mean increases in present levels of health and pension spending. It says adapting to climate change will cost a lot of money. Corporation tax revenues will fall from their presently artificially high levels.


The Commission report contains a number of unpalatable proposals .

Below are some examples

  • It says a tourist tax should be imposed on accommodation.
  •  PRSI should be extended to incomes below 352 euros per week.
  •  Pensioners should pay PRSI.
  • Capital Gains tax should apply to gains made on the sale of family homes.
  •  The Local Property Tax on houses should be increased and a higher rate of tax applied to second homes.
  • The lower rate of VAT should be increased and zero rate VAT restricted.
  • Parking spaces should be taxed and road use charges introduced.
  • It advocates this on the basis of what it calls the principle of equity.
  •  It defines equity as treating people in similar situations similarly.


But it  favours the infamous principle of “individualisation” in the income  the tax code, which does the exact  opposite. A taxpayer on 50000 euros a year with a dependent spouse and 5 dependent children is not in the same position as a single person on 50000 euros a year. But under individualisation they would be treated for income tax purposes as if they were in a similar position.


Turning to Agriculture, all land, including agricultural land remote from towns, should be subject to a Site Value Tax according to the Commission. This Site Value Tax would eventually be merged with Commercial Rates.

Obviously agricultural land. that had little prospect of being needed for housing or roads , would be valued and taxed at a lower level than agricultural land near a town. .

But land that had the POSSIBILTY of being needed for housing, might go up in value and thus  in tax liability, even though the housing development might never take place .

This proposal amounts to a reintroduction a centrally administer red form of agricultural rates.

Let us not forget that the Site Value tax would have to be paid  out of after tax income, by borrowing or by selling of  land or stock.

 I can see a Site Value Tax becoming the subject of a lot of litigation between landowners, the Valuation office and the Revenue.

 The Commission gives no idea of the likely rate of Site Value Tax….would it be 1%, 2%,  or 0.5% per annum? How might the rates be altered and by whom?

It is impossible to assess the social effect to this proposal without having answers to these questions.

As well as paying the is annual Site Value Tax, the Commission recommends that holders of agricultural land pay substantially more Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT) on the transfer of the farm to their children.

 The CAT exemption limits for transfers to children would be reduced.  Again the Commission does not say by how much .

 Again the “experts” on the Commission leave that unpalatable task to the politicians!

 The present system, whereby agricultural land is valued at less than market value when it is being passed to a child, whose main assets after the inheritance are agricultural land, is also to be curtailed.

The inheriting child would have to be active in the business to qualify for the relief.

 Again, this additional CAT would have to be paid by the inheriting child by borrowing, by selling property, or out of income saved and not spent in past years.

The combined effect of these proposals, affecting farms, would reduce the value of agricultural land in Ireland quite substantially. The suggested restrictions on livestock production in the interest of reducing methane emissions will push land values down further.

It is unlikely that recommendations of this Commission will be acted upon in the near future. The government has enough on its mind.

 But they will be used in negotiations for the formation of future government. They may also be turned to if a Minister for Finance finds herself short in a particular year.

 Given that the farming community had no input at all to the Commission, their representatives should go through the report with a fine comb to be ready for the arguments of the future.


The European Union is facing some pretty severe challenges this autumn. 


 The biggest one is the high price, and insufficient supply, of natural gas.

This will have a disproportionately damaging effect on Germany and Northern Italy, which are the manufacturing hubs of western Europe. Both countries have already been hit by the recession in China and the loss of export markets that that has entailed.

I have always been of opinion that, without Germany, there would  be no such thing as a real European Union. ,

Germany provides the financial backstop on which all the EU’s ambitious plans, including the Green Deal, and the recently acquired capacity of the EU to borrow, rest. Without a healthy German economy, and a Germany that is prepared to think of its neighbours as well as of itself, the EU would wither. Other EU states need to show energy solidarity with Germany during this winter, when its economic model is under particular stress.

Meanwhile, the EU is facing other threats that could also become existential.

One is from Poland, and the other is from the United Kingdom.


In the Polish case, the courts system there has been politicised, to suit the agenda of the ruling Law and Justice Party.

 In effect, Polish Courts are rejecting the primacy of EU over Polish law, in disputes around issues that are within the competence of the EU under the Treaties.

This principle of the primacy of EU law, to be authoritatively interpreted by the European Court of Justice, is not new.

It dates back to European Court of Justice (ECJ) decisions of 1964 and 1970.

 By having a single ultimate interpreter of EU law, namely the ECJ, we have been able to create a Single market with consistent rules, consistently interpreted, and  more or less consistently applied, across all 27 countries of the Union.

The Polish government has interfered with the independence of its Courts by putting in place a Disciplinary Tribunal for Judges, one effect of which has been to encourage a nationalistic and Eurosceptic interpretation of the position of Polish law within the EU.  Some Judges, disliked by the government, were sacked.

Cases on the interpretation of EU laws, as applied in Poland, are not being referred to the ECJ for authoritative interpretation, as is the normal procedure in most EU countries. Thus the primacy of EU law in Poland is being slowly eroded. If a big country, like Poland, gets away with this, there will be many imitators (like Hungary which is an even worse case), and the European Union will begin to decay.

Notwithstanding all this, Poland was, in June 2022, allocated 36 billion euros in EU funds, even though it has not yet dissolved the Disciplinary Tribunal, as required to by previous EU decisions , and had not addressed the primacy of EU law issue at all.

 In a split vote the Von der Leyen Commission voted to release the funds, on the understanding that Poland would meet certain “milestones”, including the abolition of the Disciplinary Tribunal , but not the affirmation of the primacy of EU law.

 Obviously the burden being borne by Poland in aiding Ukraine influenced this decision. But the trade off is fundamentally damaging. The rule of law is one of the EU values for which Ukrainian people are giving their lives, and one the reasons Ukraine and other countries want to join the EU as a full members.

The advantage of the EU, for a small country like Ireland, is that it makes its decisions based on clear rules, and not on the basis of raw power. Ireland should not be indifferent to what is happening in Poland. That said, the EU should also be conservative in asserting what comes within the legal competence of the EU.

Meanwhile the integrity of the Single Market, and the primacy of EU law, is also being challenged, albeit in a less fundamental way, by British tactics over Brexit. 


 Under the Protocol, and to avoid the need for customs controls on the Irish land border, Northern Ireland is to be allowed unfettered access to both the EU and the UK Single markets.

But the UK says it does not want the ECJ to be the final interpreter of EU rules, as applied in Northern Ireland, and it also wants NI exempted from EU State aid and VAT rules. Such a precedent for a territory within the EU Single Market, if set,  would , like the one the Poles are attempting, undermine the level playing field that is  essential to the EU Single Market.

The incoming UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss, appears willing to provoke a major crisis with the EU on these matters.

 She seems to believe that, if she is strong, the EU will cave in. In a way, the problem is that UK has never taken the EU very seriously and takes a patronising attitude towards it.

So the EU should not wait until the UK has started to disapply the Protocol, to outline to the trade sanctions it would impose on the UK. Once the Protocol disapplication Bill reaches Committee Stage in the House of Lords, the EU Commission should publish the full list of its proposed trade sanctions, to come the day the legislation is implemented. That  advance notice would give time for cooler heads to assert themselves in London.

Meanwhile, I have no doubt that practical compromises can be reached on the implementation of the Protocol.

 In July,  the Europe Committee of the House of Lords published a very interesting report, with the evidence it received, on the Protocol.

It was balanced. It showed that the Protocol had adversely affected the retail sector in NI, but had advantaged manufacturing investment there

I drew two conclusions from reading the report and the evidence.


The UK will lose the Court cases it is facing, for attempting to walk away from the Protocol. Under the Vienna Law on Treaties, the UK would have to show it had been suffering from “coercion”, or “improper process”, when it signed and ratified the Protocol. Given that the negotiations had been going on for more than a year, the UK will not be able to do that.,


The other conclusion I drew was that the best way to find solutions to practical problems thrown up by the Protocol would be for UK and EU officials jointly to meet the various sectors of the NI economy. Each have had separate meetings with the sectors, but that cumbersome format is not conducive to constructive thinking or to problem solving.

One of the advocates of Brexit, Michael Gove, suggested in February 2021 that there be a joint EU/ UK Business Consultative Group of officials,  who would to talk, together in the one room, with all the relevant economic actors in NI. If Liz Truss wants to keep open the option of a negotiated agreement, as she says she does, she should activate this proposal of Michael Gove this week.

Otherwise we are all heading for unnecessary trouble, when we have so many other problems to deal with.




uk flag on creased paper

While visiting relatives in London , I was invited to give an interview to Times Radio yesterday .

It was a great chance to speak to to an English audience.

The subject was the stated policy of Liz  Truss  not only to enact , but to implement , the legislation that would unilaterally disapply a Protocol , that the  UK freely agreed to in an international treaty , signed and then ratified by the UK Parliament.

This extraordinary and damaging course , for the UK , is being justified on the grounds that it is good for the Union, by which is meant in this case the union of Britain and Northern Ireland.

Indeed it is being pressed forward by a  self described “Conservative” and supposedly “Unionist” party.

My argument to Times Radio listeners was that this  radical , and deeply unconservative,  attempt to break a solemn treaty , is actually DAMAGING to the Union, for the following reasons

1. It is opposed by a majority in Northern Ireland. A majority there would like changes to the Protocol alright , but do not favour such a radical course as Truss is insisting upon. Adopting a course , in defiance of a majority view in Northern Ireland,  politically weakens “unionist” sentiment there. That should be fairly obvious.

2. Northern Ireland has prospered disproportionately under the Protocol.  

From being one of the worst performing regions of the UK before the Protocol, Northern Ireland has become second best after London , under the Protocol.

Prosperity in Northern Ireland, as part of the UK and under the Protocol , is objectively good for the Union. Business in Northern Ireland knows this. The “ Conservative and Unionist” party in Britain does not seem to care.

Incidentally, the more Northern Ireland prospers under the Protocol, the less subsidisation will it require from London, which also would strengthen the Union.  

3 . Unilaterally ditching the Protocol will initiate a a major trade war between the UK, including Northern Ireland, and the EU. Liz Truss, a former Trade Secretary, knows this.

This trade war will inevitably be disproportionately severe on Northern Ireland , because it is a region  directly on the UK/EU frontier. Again this is obvious.

The consequences of this UK initiated trade war will  thus be bad for the Union because it will hurt the people of Northern Ireland more than anyone else in the UK. Again, that is bad for the Union.

Incidentally, this UK initiated trade war will also weaken the western alliance economic and political capacity to support Ukraine, a concern for democrats everywhere.

4 . Ditching the Protocol will not restore the  economic status quo ante  for Northern Ireland that preceded the Protocol, when it was lagging behind the rest of the UK.

The new situation will be much worse than that for Northern Ireland. This is because the economy there will be engulfed in  new duplicative bureaucracy of a kind never seen before.

Long existing links will be broken.
Supply chains will be destroyed.
Expensive investments will be rendered valueless.

This is because the ditching of the Protocol will allow the UK to impose increasingly different product regulations in Northern Ireland , to the ones it uses at the moment and which allow it free access to the EU market, the only market in the world to which Northern Ireland has  unimpeded road access.

The damage will be be felt especially severely by Northern Ireland’s dairy sector.

 One third of Northern Ireland milk is processed in the EU  ( in Ireland).  There are 5400 dairy businesses in Northern Ireland and the business generates 1.5 billion sterling every year.. This cross border processing  of Northern Ireland milk have to stop if  the milk is longer produced to EU standards. This will be massively disruptive .

 To get around that ,  a special supply chain would have to developed, separate from the one for supply  for milk destined for the NI/ UK .  Northern Ireland Farmers will be forced to choose to be EU or UK suppliers, whereas they can be both at the moment.

 Massive duplication and additional expense would the thus be imposed on dairy producers in Northern Ireland , most of whom  probably vote for “unionist” parties,  and who are enterprising people , and vital contributors to their neighbourhoods. They do not deserve this.

 So ditching  the Protocol will not only be bad for the Union, it will be bad for unionists.

For all these reasons Liz Truss’ policy is not only unConsrvative, it is anti Unionist !

Maybe some her friends listened to Times Radio!

Frank Crowley RIP

I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Frank Crowley . His formidable vote getting ability was vital to enabling Fine Gael to get into government.
Frank loved North Cork and spoke up for it with deep conviction.
He was very popular with colleagues.


illustrations by @liuzishan

There is more to worry about in the world today than in any time in my memory.

I remember the Cuban missile crisis, a very dangerous moment. It was defused by secret diplomacy between the Soviet Union and the US , and the willingness of the US to accept a Communist state in the Western Hemisphere , and of the Soviets to turn their ships back.

If a similar issue arose now , does a basis exist in which Russia and the US could even talk to one another to defuse it?

The US/China confrontation will be more long lasting.

China has dramatically increased its military spending. Confronting China is almost the only thing on which Democrats and Republicans in the US can agree.

The US is pledged to support Taiwan remaining politically separate from China, even though it is part of China, and the US is theoretically prepared to to go to war to defend that position.

 But the US position is ambiguous.  So is the Chinese position.

Ambiguity is often the enemy of peace. World War One arose from ambiguity in the pledges the powers had given to one another in the event of attack. If the pledges had been clearer, the risks might not have been taken.

Inflation , and an artificially induced recession  to cure it , are increasingly expected. Higher interest rates would be the tool used.

 The political effects of this could be very serious , because public opinion is unprepared for it, and the hardships will not be evenly spread.

Inflation hits everybody, though not equally.

High interest rates  are more selective.  

They hit over borrowed states , like Italy,  hardest. They also cause unemployment which hits people with marginal jobs, but leaves those in secure employment with  savings  or low borrowings  unaffected. That is what happened in the 1980s. This leads to political tensions.

The idea that we should tackle inflation by extra state spending ( which can only be paid for either  by taxation now, or by borrowing , which is taxation of our children) does not seem sensible to me. Yet everyone is advocating it.

 The current inflationary surge has come from outside. It has made energy and food importing countries poorer. Attempting to redistribute this poverty through state action raises expectations that cannot be fulfilled , and that will damage democracy. Increasing demand adds to inflation. Increased supply is the cure , but that is not in the gift of any western government.

It is important that voters understand the gravity of the problems we are facing. Populism confuses facts with emotion. Anger is not a policy. Blame is not a policy either.

We need to think things through carefully.

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