Thursday, 30 June 2011

“Prince Rupert, the last Cavalier”

Another book with a German connection, which I greatly enjoyed recently, is “Prince Rupert, the last Cavalier” by Charles Spencer.  The author is the brother of the late Princess of Wales and, like Mary Kenny, he writes very well. The book is published by Phoenix Press.
Prince Rupert is best known as the leading general on the Kings side in the English Civil War of the  1640’s.
 He was the Kings nephew, but had been brought up in Germany where his mother, the Kings sister, was married to the Elector Palatine. The Elector took the wrong side at the outset of the Thirty Years War and was dethroned by the Emperor. The family had to go into exile and had no employment. So Rupert became a soldier of fortune, initially in the Thirty Years War on anti Imperial side.
 But when the English Civil War broke out he went to the aid of his uncle.  He commanded the Kings forces in most of the major battles of the war although he was only in his early 20s.
After the Kings forces were defeated on land, Rupert   led a royalist naval force, visited Kinsale during the Cromwellian wars here, was later in exile in France,  and even became  a friend of the German emperor.
 He returned to England at the Restoration of the monarchy, had an interesting private life, and founded the Hudson Bay Company that opened up Canada to British traders.
This book is very enjoyable, and tells a story of an extraordinary life, and in the process it  lights up eighty  years of European history.

"Germany Calling"

I have just finished reading “Germany Calling” by Mary Kenny.  Published by New Island Press, it is a biography of William Joyce, popularly known as Lord Haw Haw, who broadcast in English on German Radio  during the Second World War. He was captured shortly after the end of the war in hiding near the Danish border and was the last person ever to be executed for treason in Britain. 
Mary Kenny has done really detailed research, visiting all the places where Joyce lived and interviewing everyone who knew him or even had good second hand recollections of him. This is a fascinating book about a man who was highly intelligent, but unbalanced and volatile.
By any standard he was a contrarian and an extremist. 
As a 15 year old in 1922, he had to flee to England from Galway, where he had been brought up in a relatively prosperous family, because he was at risk of being assassinated because he was informing the British forces of the whereabouts of   local republicans. His father, though a Catholic, opposed Irish separation from the United Kingdom and the young Joyce took that opinion to extremes.  The family eventually followed him to England as some of their Irish properties were burned during the  Irish Civil War.
In England, he became, at first, a fanatical British patriot and anti Semite. He was prominent in various Fascist movements. He even formed a breakaway party of his own. But the British people rejected his ideas and he became disillusioned.
 Then, within days of war breaking out in autumn 1939, Joyce got a tip off that he was about to be interned because of his pro German agitation.  He and his wife then took, what was probably one of the last, trains to Germany before hostilities closed all transport links, and arrived in Berlin just as Britain declared war.
Almost by chance, he got a job in the English speaking service of German Radio.  He was a natural broadcaster, witty and sarcastic, and acquired a big following in the early years of the war. His broadcasts were also popular in Ireland where there was some pro German feeling. 


Last  week,  I visited one of Dublin’s lesser known tourist attractions, a place I had driven past  thousands of times but never stopped to see, St Audoen’s church on High Street in the centre of medieval Dublin. It is very close to the better known cathederals of  St Patrick, and  of Christchurch .
The church was built around 1190, just twenty years after the Normans conquered Dublin. A previous church on the site had been dedicated to St Colmcille, but the Normans dedicated their new church to St Audoen( or St Ouen), who had been the bishop of Rouen in Normandy in the  7th century.
The church actually took 30 years to build and has been added to and subtracted from over the centuries. In fact, in 1773 the roof was removed from the eastern section of the church because of declining congregations. I am wondering what was saved by doing this, but I suppose the roofing material was used to repair the rest of the church.
Part of the building is still used as a church by the Church of Ireland, and part houses an exhibition  about the history of the church,  and another about the different trade guilds that were active in medieval  Dublin. Beside St Audoen’s Church of Ireland church is another newer church dedicated to the same Norman saint. It is a Catholic church and is used now by the large Polish community in Dublin.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


It is hard to comprehend the fact that Myles Staunton is dead. He was always so endlessly enthusiastic, and so youthful, both in appearance and in frame of mind.
Myles Staunton, who died suddenly in the last twenty four hours at his home in Westport, played a critical role in 1973, in bringing to office the first Coalition Government   after 16 uninterrupted  years of  Fianna Fail rule.  By winning an additional Dail seat for Fine Gael along with the late Henry Kenny in a hotly contested 3 seat constituency in Mayo, he tipped the balance in favour of a change of Government, and brought Liam Cosgrave and Brendan Corish to office, in what was to prove to be one of the great Governments of the twentieth century.
Myles made an immediate impact in Leinster House.
 He was a convinced and convincing advocate of viable, commercial, and  privately run,  economic development in the West of Ireland.
 He was convincing because, unusually for a politician, he was one of those who, by deed not just word,   put his own  money at risk to help  “shout stop”, as fellow Mayo man John Healy put it, to the seemingly inexorable decline of his native province.
 He invested personally to develop the seaweed industry along the Atlantic shoreline , providing vital supplementary income to coastal smallholders.   
He went on to develop, on a similar basis, a project for local farmers collecting turf on the raised bogs of North Mayo to supply an innovative fuel product that had enormous potential, especially in the era of high oil prices.
 He was absolutely tireless, right up to the very end of his life in looking out for employment possibilities based on the natural resources of Mayo.
He was a strong supporter, in the Senate, of Knock Airport and held his own in every argument with those who questioned this vital  link for all of Connacht.
In everything he attempted, Myles was relentless in pursuing his goals and was never discouraged by the setbacks sometimes  inflicted upon him by  myopic bureaucracy. 
From the outset of his career, Myles recognised that his native county could only prosper if it developed links with, and understanding of, the problems of other parts of the world. He recognised the possibilities of globalisation almost before the word was invented.
 He was one of the pioneers, in the  1970s, of the Euro Arab dialogue. He led a visit by Irish TDs and Senators to Lebanon and Syria in 1974, in which it was my privilege to be part. He recognised the crucial role that that part of the world would play in all our lives.
 He was a founding member of the Trilateral Commission, which brings together elected politicians, academics, businesspeople and civil servants from Asia, Europe and North America. He continued to involve himself in promoting this work up to and beyond the most recent  successful meeting of that  body in Dublin last  year.
I will miss Myles greatly. Through my wife, Finola, I am his first cousin by marriage,   and I have so many happy memories of time spent with him. He was exceptionally kind and attentive to needs of all his family and extended family. He never missed an important family event, and was kind to all in their times of trouble. Finola and I extend heartfelt sympathy to his wife Marianne and to Ruth, Elizabeth, Hugh, Myles and Aoife at this time of  grief.   
Tribute to the late Myles Staunton by John Bruton, Former Taoiseach and current vice President of Fine Gael. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Centre for European Studies

The Centre for European Studies (CES) is the  think Tank of the European Peoples Party(EPP), of which Fine Gael in Ireland forms a part.
I am chairman of the fundraising and events committee of the CES.
I am happy  that this enables me to keep in touch with people with whom I worked really closely during my time as a vice President o f the EPP, and when I was on the Convention that prepared what became the Lisbon Treaty.
The CES had two very good conferences recently.
The first was in London on financial services.
The second  in Washington, was organised jointly with the International Republican Institute (IRI), and dealt with problems ranging from fiscal policy, to healthcare, to the Arab Spring, to Trade policy and the future of the euro zone.
Both events were addressed by the President of the EPP and of CES, Wilfried Martens, former Prime Minister of Belgium
Among those addressing the London Conference were, Peter Sutherland  and Leon Brittain, both former EU Commissioners, Mark Hoban MP, Jonathan Evans MP,  John Selwyn Gummer, former Agriculture and Environment  Minister in the UK Government and the Governor of the bank of Luxembourg, Yves Mersch .


Interesting points to emerge in London were
1.   1.    The banking crisis arose because of a big increase in the amount of lending by banks to one another, an activity which then stopped suddenly, leaving some fatally exposed. Borrowing was encouraged by policies that gave companies tax relief for interest payments but not  for dividends

2.     Much remained to be done fill the gaps in banking regulation on either side of the Atlantic.     Accounting standards still diverged.  There was no agreement globally on what to do about banks that had been allowed to become “too big to fail.”

3.     Europe’s business is still too reliant on banks as a source of funds,

4.     Climate change will have its first and most dramatic effect in Africa, from which come so many of Europe’s  refugees , partly because they cannot live  with effects of climate change. Food  price increases had ignited the Arab spring

5.     Financial Markets should not be seen as the ultimate arbiters of everything that is worthwhile.  They are fallible and volatile in their opinions  because they have the “heart of a rabbit, the legs of a hare, and the memory of a elephant”!

The Washington Conference brought together notable figures like the recently elected Senator for Florida, Marco Rubio, considered  by many to be an eventual Republican Presidential contender,   US Congressmen Joe Wilson and  David Dreier, and European Parliament  members  Jaime  Mayor Oreja, Mario Mauro , Antonio Lopez Isturriz , Tokia Saifi and  Mario David .


Jaime Mayor Oreja said that the economic crisis was also a crisis of values and of trust.  The illusion of unlimited credit and unlimited public expenditure growth had been exposed.  Such illusions could only have taken hold in the first place because politics had ceased to be search for truth.   There had, he  said,  to be a return to the pursuit of truth as the ultimate goal of politics, however painful that might be.
 In the boom years, there had been a false exaltation of personal freedom as the only goal worth pursuing. This had led to societies that were affluent and indolent, believed in relativism, and thus  were unable to face up to realities in a timely way. This emptiness left the way open for populist, partisan, and nihilist politics of the kind we are now seeing.
 He said there should be a return to emphasis on effort, loyalty, frugality, the right to life and a defence of family.  We needed to centre on the person as the focus of public policy.
 I  agree with what he said.  If we are to overcome the present profound and lasting economic problem, we need a  stronger sense of rootedness and a set of values that transcends  consumerism
There was much discussion on the deterioration of democratic standards in Ukraine and criticism of the failure of the leaders of the Orange Revolution to work together. Support for Moldova was essential.
The discussion on the Arab Spring emphasised that it will be difficult to manage popular expectations. The political situation would take a long time to settle.
 It was emphasised that the revolutions had started when an individual in Tunisia had been deprived of his dignity by an oppressive state.  Increases in food prices had also played a part. It was claimed that there were 60 million Egyptians under the age of 25, as against only 75 million in that age group in all of the EU.  This was our future and we needed to come to terms with it.
My own sense is that this issue of deprivation of dignity is also at the heart of Palestinian grievances.
They are deprived of the dignity of managing their own lives, of having their own state in control of its own borders, and of voting for those who really rule over them.
The more other Arabs  gain these simple privileges, the harder will it become to deny them to the Palestinian Arabs in the  west bank and Gaza.
I do not believe Israel is any longer serious about pursuing a two state solution.  Continued Israeli settlement building, in the small area left for a putative Palestinian state, suggests this.
I believe Israel is pursuing its short term security, at the expense of its long term security. The United States will not always be as powerful as it is today.  Israel should make a generous settlement while it is in a position of strength. There will not be a better time.
Israel and the United States say they will not negotiate with Hamas, until Hamas first disarms and recognises Israel’s right to exist. It is indeed essential that Hamas does these two things. Otherwise there can be no peace. 
But that is much more likely to come about as the RESULT of a negotiation, rather than as a PRECONDITION to be met by Hamas before talks with it can even begin.
These are exactly the problems we faced in the Irish peace process.  My own very strong preference would have been to refuse to talk to  Sinn Fein/IRA until the IRA had  given up its weapons and accepted that Northern Ireland’s position in the UK could not be changed by any form of coercion.  But if I, and others,   had insisted on these requirements as a PRECONDITION  for allowing Sinn Fein into talks, there would never have been a peace process at all, and no settlement.
I was surprised to have to explain to one American participant that the removal of the territorial claim over Northern Ireland and the disarming of the IRA  were the negotiated RESULTS of the Irish peace process.   Considering the extensive American involvement in the Irish peace process, I was surprised that the American, who is head of an American organisation whose very title says it is specialising in promoting peace in the Middle East , did not know these basic facts  about another peace process in which his country was so  successfully involved. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

CHONGQING......Rapid growth, but population changes may eventually pose problems.

This week I was in Chongqing, one of the biggest cities in China, to address a business conference. Chongqing has a total population of 32 million people, of whom 10 million live in the city proper. I had expected that the weather would be very hot, but in fact it was misty, humid and showery, which was much more comfortable.

Chongqing is in the inland, western, part of China. It was the capital during the Second World War, when Japan occupied all of coastal eastern China from 1937 to 1945. It was heavily bombed  and 200,000 people lost their lives.

 I had meetings with the Mayor, Professor Huang Qifan, and the Vice Mayor, Liu Xue Pu. I also had discussions with the Chongqing Financial Affairs Office, the Bank of Chongqing and with the Chongqing Rural Commercial Bank on the possibilities of closer links with Ireland and Europe. I told them about the international financial services industry in Ireland, which  services business  all over the world,  benefitting from the fact that Ireland  is the only English speaking country in  the euro currency.

Chongqing is growing very rapidly. It has the fastest economic growth rate (11% this year) in China.
It is a major manufacturer of cars and motor bikes, and is the largest producer of laptop computers in all China.  It is home to Asia’s largest aluminium plant. Electricity is provided by the nearby Three Gorges hydroelectric project, the largest in the world, whose construction required the resettlement of a million people.
The Mayor told me Chongqing is a transport hub for western China.  It is an inland port for oceangoing cargo coming up the Yangtze . It has links by rail to India, via Myanmar, and to Europe via Central Asia and Russia and a large international airport .  A pipeline is also being built bring Middle Eastern crude oil from the Indian ocean for refining in Chongqing.
All this is part of the rapid development of China.
 In 1990, China was only 4% of the world economy. Now it is 14%.
 In 2000, China contributed one tenth of all the economic growth in the world. Last year it contributed one third.
 In 1990, 60% of Chinese people lived in absolute poverty. Now only 10% do so.
The growth is unevenly spread. Urban areas have experienced rapid growth in incomes, while rural areas have lagged behind. This has given rise to wide overall income inequality. But within urban China, income inequality is less than in the United States, and no greater than in Ireland or Britain.  
Like Europe and the United States, China will eventually face a huge problem of supporting an enlarged elderly population. Age dependency in China will rise from 0.11 in 2010, to 0.24 in 2030, and to 0.43 in 2050. In this respect, China is very different to India, Africa and the Middle East which have had higher birth rates.  This difference in the rates of ageing of various  countries  will eventually change in balance of power in the world in ways that we have not yet begun to contemplate.
Chinese families are investing heavily in education. 22% of Chinese complete third level education. Only 8% of Indians do.
My major worry about the development of China is the extent to which it relies on coal to provide power. Coal burning has a very damaging effect on the climate.  Water supplies are also being depleted through irrigation and global warming.  In China, as in the United States, water from underground  reservoirs, that have been undisturbed  for millenia , are being run down  to supply  wasteful and unsustainable systems of  irrigation.
 A shortage of water  affects the price of food.
 It takes 20000 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of meat, as against  just 1200  litres to produce a  kilogram of  grain.
As people  become better off, and want more meat in their diet, this will lead to more and more competition for  water resources, and  water is one thing Ireland is not short of.....yet!

Thursday, 9 June 2011



The world is watching the political and economic situation of Greece with uncomfortable fascination. There is a widespread fear that, if Greece is unable to pay its debts, there will be a chain reaction.

The first part of the chain reaction could affect the solvency of some European and American banks who lent to Greece, and who would not be getting all their money back.  Those who sold credit default swaps with those banks could also be caught.

The second part of the chain reaction would affect other Governments, who may not have quite as difficult a situation as Greece, but who, like Greece, have to borrow to cover day to day expenses because their tax revenue is insufficient to cover their outgoings. Ireland is in this category.  Lenders who lose money they had lent to the Greek Government, would be even less willing, than they are now, to lend to other Governments. A 21st century precedent of an advanced European country defaulting on its debts would have unknowable consequences in a fragile and volatile world.  

I have read a recent publication by a German economic think tank, the Ifo Institute, about Greece.
The conclusion I drew from it was that the problems, now coming to a head in Greece, have been obvious and knowable for at least twenty years, long before Greece joined the euro.

If mechanisms were not insisted upon to remedy those problems, before Greece joined the euro, then responsibility must be shared for that by all the member Governments of the euro, who admitted   Greece into the euro. The European institutions, that were supposed to be examining the  accounts of the Greek 
Government to ensure that those accounts presented an accurate picture of Greece’s real liabilities, have to answer for their omissions too.

Greece was one of the fastest growing economies in Europe from 1950 to 1973, but thereafter it stagnated. But public spending went on growing, from 23% of GDP in 1970, to 30% in 1980, and to  49% in 1990. By 2009, it was 52% of GDP.  A lot of the money went to pensions and extra public sectors jobs.   Whenever a Greek politician arrived at an international meeting, he was accompanied by an entourage that was four times as big as any other.
But tax revenue was not keeping pace. The Government  debt level grew  especially  quickly in the  1990s when guaranteed debt of state companies  were taken onto the Governments own  balance sheet, and  money the Government borrowed from its own  Central  Bank had to be properly accounted for.  This was known before Greece was admitted to the euro.

Greece does have a tax collection problem.

This is because it has such an exceptionally high proportion of its workforce who are self employed, or who are in the non traded sector of the economy ( ie. sectors who cannot export their services, like doctors, shopkeepers etc.).  The extent to which people pay due taxes is lower than elsewhere in these two sectors.........almost everywhere in the world. Seemingly tax evasion by the Greek self employed in not much worse than by the self employed in the  US, the Greek problem is that  self employed people make up a much  bigger share of the Greek economy, than they do  of the US economy.  Greece’s tax collection problem thus has more to do with the structure of its economy, than with any uniquely Greek aversion to paying tax.

All these facts must have been  known to the European Central Bank, the Banque de France, Bafin (the German regulator), and all the other  supervisory authorities, when  the banks they were supervising  lent  vast sums to the Greek Government, during  period  since Greece joined the euro.  While its exact scale may have been concealed by accounting tricks by the last Greek Government , the fact that there was a huge problem  was knowable.
I believe that it is time to face up to the full extent of the sovereign debt and banking problem in Europe.

We need now is a ten year plan for the euro zone, not just a ten month plan!

Europe must align its income expectations to its productivity. At the moment, the first is running well ahead of the second. Productivity must catch up, or income expectations must fall back.  In some cases, the gap will take years to close.  These  social choices are unavoidable, but  have to be made in a democratic way.

Voters are able to face reality, so long as everything is laid out before them.
In the countries who lent foolishly, as much as in those who borrowed foolishly, the authorities should own up to their share in the mistakes.  That has not happened yet in every case.

Once that is done, Europe can move on more convincingly

1.)   to devise a political structure to prevent irresponsible borrowing by Governments, ( One suggestion is an EU veto on national budgets)

2.)   to increase productivity and allocate scarce resources more wisely, (This is more  difficult because it requires action by the private sector, which has  misallocated time and money in the past)

3.)  to slim down the financial sector, (This is not happening, layoffs are taking place everywhere except where the problem started!)

4.)  to make banks safe to fail, rather than too big to fail, (This requires  a much higher capital ratio) and

5.) to build a large contingency fund, by contributions from all members, that will stand behind Governments who have kept the rules, but who face temporary  difficulties beyond their control.  Until a fund is built up, standing behind weaker countries involves a risk for  countries who have good credit ratings and who have to pledge that credit to help out  the weaker countries.   

Monday, 6 June 2011


As a politician and as a judge, Declan Costello combined, in an almost unique way,  a deep and compassionate humanity , with courageous and unyielding principle.
He was eloquent and persuasive, without ever being demagogic.
More than anyone else, he inspired me to enter politics because he demonstrated, in the early 1960s, that political action could change society for the better.
 The Just Society policy document of 1964, with which his name will always be associated, was far more than an inspiring slogan. It was, in fact, the first of its kind in Irish politics up to that time, a very detailed policy programme produced by a party in opposition, objectively analysing society’s ills, and then prescribing detailed remedies.
 Its proposals   ranged from banking policy, to economic planning, to social capital investment, to health care and education.  It changed the political debate about the role of the state and, I believe, contributed indirectly to the introduction of free second level education in 1966. It also provided much of the policy ground work for the work of the 1973 to 1977 Government, in which Declan Costello served as Attorney General. In all this, Declan Costello showed himself to be a man who could work as a part of a team and inspire others without seeking limelight for himself.
As Attorney General, he was rigid in defending the legal system from politically correct or populist interference. The independence of the   office of Director of Public Prosecutions was a lasting and valuable legacy of his work. He also set up the Law Reform Commission, whose  valuable work is a fitting memorial to Declan Costello’s role  as a reforming politician .
As President of the High Court, a position to which it was my honour to propose him, he was courageous and rigorous in his judgements, as well painstaking and efficient in discharging the heavy  administrative burdens of that  busy office.
I extend  deep sympathy to his family.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


© Copyright Joseph Mischyshyn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

My son Matthew and I visited Clonmacnoise this week.
It is the site of a monastery that was founded, only a century after Ireland became Christian, in 548 AD.  It has the finest collection of ancient Irish High  Crosses anywhere in the world. These crosses have illustrations of scenes from the bible and were used to  teach the Christian faith to people who  could not read.
It is located on the banks of the River Shannon, just beside the ancient road that ran from east to  west across Ireland , along the line of the  eskers or  gravelly mounds left behind when the ice melted at the end of the ice age.
 As the Shannon was navigable, and Clonmacnoise was on the east/west road, it was in a sense the  cross roads of ancient Ireland.  Clonard , another  ancient monastic site which we visited, is  also located close to the  line of the eskers and on the  ancient east/west road too.  

Clonmacnoise was a very important European monastic site, and site of learning, from the 6th to the 12th centuries AD.
The first Christian High King of Ireland was crowned by the founder of Clonmacnoise, St Ciaran.  The last High King of Ireland, Rory O Conor, is reputedly buried in Clonmacnoise, although I could see no mark for his grave. 
St Alcuin, the English monk and bishop, who was an advisor at the court of Charlemagne, reputedly received some of his education at Clonmacnoise.  As if to underline the European significance of the site, the other visitors we met there were a large group of tourists from Narbonne in France. Pope John Paul the second visited Clonmacnoise in 1979.
There is a good interpretative centre at the site which introduces visitors to the lives of the monks and the beautiful  works to be seen there.

© Copyright Bob Embleton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence