Wednesday, 24 December 2014


There already have been two or three enquiries by outside experts into the things that went wrong in Ireland between 2000 and 2008, that led to the banking crisis.

Now that ground is being traversed again by a Committee of elected politicians.

What extra value can this Oireachtas Enquiry add to what has been found by the expert enquiries?

The crucial job to be done by the Oireachtas Enquiry is to discover whether, since 2008 and the completion of the earlier expert enquiries, the Irish state and the EU, have done enough to prevent this sort of banking crisis happening here again.

Some may think a similar property led banking crisis is most unlikely. They assume everyone has learned the lesson, and that the memory of 2008 will stay fresh for decades to come .I am not so sure.


A recent paper by Larry Summers for the US National Institute of Business Economics suggests that we may be in for a very long period of low interest rates on a global basis, with few opportunities for productive investment.
If that proves to be the case, the temptation for that cheap money again to  seek returns by speculatively lending to buy an interest in property, in the hope of a capital gain, will be very strong.


In the middle of a property led boom, it is always very hard to put on the brakes, because
so many people would lose if the boom stopped. This is because, if enough people have borrowed money on the basis of an assumption that property prices will continually rise, they will go bust if property prices stop rising. 

These borrowers will punish the politician or institution who stops the party.

In such circumstances, everyone ( including regulators) may prefer to leave the blowing of the whistle, and the blame taking for the resultant property price decline, to someone else.

A similar problem would arise for a government that decided to take the heat out of the credit and property market, by running an extra large surplus of taxation over spending, and paying down debt, instead of giving in to spending demands.

How could such a government get away with running an extra large budget surplus, which it automatically should have in a boom, if there is one family without a house , one patient untreated by the health services, or  one pay demand unmet?

Anyone who urged the  government  to do that would be shouted down, by the very people who would subsequently condemn that government for letting the bubble develop. 


That mentality can only be changed by the creation of strong and respected institutions that will lean against the wind of public opinion during a boom. If that does not happen,will have another banking crisis. 

I do not believe we have such institutions in place yet. Even the new European Single Supervisory Mechanism for banks will be subject to political pressures from member states. The recommendations of the European Commission in favour of fiscal prudence are being undermined by some governments, and much economic commentary.


In the pre crisis years in Ireland, the same intolerance of dissent existed within the banks themselves, and within the in the institutions supervising the banks. 

One of the authors of one of the expert reports, Dr. Nyberg found that, in Ireland in pre crash period,

"A minority of people indicated that contrarian views were both difficult to maintain during the long boom and unhealthy to present to boards or superiors. A number of people stated that had they implemented or consistently supported contrarian policies they may ultimately have lost their jobs, positions, or reputations. Other signs were also noted pointing to sanctioning of diverging or contrarian opinions as well as self-censorship because of this. The apparent strength of these expected sanctions is difficult to judge, but the absence of opposition, barring only handful of identified vociferous contrarians, may have made it easier for institutions to accept toning down the application of vital, tried and traditional prudential practices."

Will that be any different the next time?

The Oireachtas Banking Enquiry needs to ask itself what has been changed since 2008 the ensure that this sort of conformist response to a new bubble would not recur  in political parties, in the media, in the economics profession, in the Department of Finance, and in the banks in Ireland.

In other words, has Irish human nature, or Irish culture, changed sufficiently as a result of the experience of 2008, or, if it has not, have new institutional structures been put in place to safeguard against these weaknesses of human nature and culture.


These are exceptionally difficult questions to answer, but they are the questions that matter.

The danger is that the Enquiry, instead of asking these really difficult questions, will find itself pushed in the direction of scapegoating individuals for mistakes made. This would make better theatre, and some of the media comment already shows an inclination to follow this criterion in judging the Enquiry.

It is also important to look at the macroeconomic forces that led to the Irish property bubble.


In the years before the crash there was an almost infinite amount of credit on offer to buy into a commodity, that was in inherently limited supply, land on which property could be built. 

A situation like this will always be volatile.

If the unlimited credit was, instead, going into producing new products or new services, for which (unlike land) the market was not inherently limited, there would be a less volatile situation.
But such opportunities may be hard to find. Technology may be making it more difficult.

As Larry Summers points out 

“it used to require tens of millions of dollars to start a significant new venture, but significant venture can be seeded with tens of thousands of dollars”. 

This is because the big new ventures today are in software, which does not require big capital spending, whereas the big breakthroughs on the past were in the motor industry, steel, or aviation, which required huge amounts of capital. 

If so, this would increase the risk that all the cheap money now being pumped into the system by the Central Banks to revive the economy, will find its way into another property bubble, because it will have nowhere else to go.


Perhaps a higher risk rating should therefore be placed on that portion of a loan that reflects the value of the site on which a property is built, because site values are more volatile, and more subject to speculative pressures up and down, than any other subject of bank lending.

Monday, 15 December 2014


I recently read “The Flame and the Candle....War in Mayo 1919-1924” by Dominic Price. It deals with the fighting in one county during this grim period.

Dominic Price is a history teacher and his book is published by the Collins Press. 

Because I know the places where some of the actions in this war took place, and can recognise many of the surnames of the victims and perpetrators, this book brought home to me the horror of this civil war, in a way that a more general account would not.

I say “civil war” advisedly because most of the participants on both sides were Irish from the beginning.

The first victim was a resident magistrate, John Charles Milling, who had grown up in Westport, who was shot dead through the front window of his house on the Newport road in his home town in March 1919, when he entered a room  where the light was on to wind up the clock before going to bed.

Most of the RIC members who lost their lives were as Irish as the people who put them to death. Even after the RIC was disbanded after the Treaty was signed, its former members were killed.

For example, ex sergeant Tobias Gibbons from Westport was shot eight times in his hospital bed in Galway on 15 March 1922, as was his colleague Sergeant John Gilmartin. 

As the RIC was no longer a force that could threaten anyone at that stage, this was pure vengeance, with no military purpose. The file on this murder subsequently disappeared.

This book deals with the atrocities committed by the RIC themselves, led by District Inspector White, who was from Roscommon.

It analyses the main military actions of the war, the ambushes at Kilmeena and Carrowkennedy and other actions. 

The national politics of the time is skillfully woven into the local story. The land conflict also played its part in the background, and probably lay behind some of the local violence.

This is a sad and salutary tale of idealism perverted by the supposed “necessities” of war. It is a period to be remembered rather than celebrated.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


There is an ongoing debate about budget cutting in the world today, because revenue coming in is not matching the promise Governments made to their people of availability of pensions, unemployment support, and health services. 

This problem is particularly acute in countries whose populations are getting older faster, like Finland and Germany.

Who would suffer most if  crude across the board cuts in Government social spending were made were made? 

The table below, which appeared in a recent OECD report, shows up some surprising results.

In some countries the top fifth of income earners are the biggest beneficiaries of social supports in the form of cash payments from Government!

In fact, France, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Ireland and Spain give a higher share of their cash social supports (pensions, unemployment and disability supports) to the top fifth of their population than to the bottom fifth.

In contrast, Sweden, the UK, Finland and Belgium, and the US give more to the bottom fifth

The share of cash benefits paid to households in the lowest income fifth of the population is highest in Norway and Australia at 40%, compared to around 10% in Mediterranean countries and 5% in Turkey.

In these latter countries, social transfers often go to richer households, because these benefit payments are often related to a work-history in the formal sector, and often concern pension payments to retired workers. Earnings-related social insurance payments also underlie substantial cash transfers to the top income fifth in Austria, France and Luxembourg.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this chart is that the average OECD country distributes almost exactly 20 per cent of cash benefits to both the top and bottom fifth of the income distribution

Some governments do less “social spending” in places where the private sector fills in the gap, particularly when it comes to pensions and health insurance.

In the Netherlands, Denmark, the US, and the UK, for example, private pension payments are worth about 5 per cent of GDP each year, while American spending on private health insurance is worth nearly 6 per cent of GDP.


There are interesting contrasts in where the money goes 

Pensions paid by government are 5.3% of GDP in Ireland, and 5.6% of GDP in the UK, but they are 13.8% of GDP in France, 14.8% in Greece and 10.6% in Germany.

In contrast, income support  by Government for those of working age  are 8.3% of GDP in Ireland, as against  just 4.7% in France, , 5.1% in the UK, 3.8% in Germany and a mere 3% in Greece(notwithstanding that country’s high unemployment). 

In Ireland’s case, it is worth noting that 40% of the unemployed who receive income support from government are long term unemployed (ie.more than a year out of work). The OECD has said that their skill levels are inadequate to the modern economy, which is a big long term concern. The longer people are out of work, the harder it is for them to get a job. I heard one person describe the experience of long term unemployment as worse than losing a spouse. 

Meanwhile the number claiming various forms of illness benefit has increased by 47% in the last 14 years from 150,000 to 220,000. This is surprising in light of the improvements in spending on health services in Ireland in recent years.

Health spending as a percentage of GDP is 8.6% in France, and 8% in Germany as against 5.8% of GDP in Ireland, which is below the OECD average of  6.2%..But health spending is rising in Ireland and the  National Competitiveness Council  says that, since 2001, Ireland has had the fastest rate of inflation in health insurance costs of 17 Euro area countries.


These contrasts between countries make it harder to devise a common economic policy, even for the countries who share the euro as their currency.

They lie behind some of the arguments about immigration in the European Union and the accusations of “welfare tourism”, These accusations are mostly wrong

For example, a recent study in Germany showed that the average immigrant to that country pays 3300 euros more in taxes and social contributions than he/she takes out in benefits. In fact immigration yields a 22 billion euro surplus to the German taxpayer. Yet 66% of Germans believe immigrants are a burden! 

The same applies to the UK.

In countries where government spending goes to the well off, one can expect well placed interest groups to be particularly effective in resisting changes or reductions in expenditure.

Another conflict of interest will be between households with high debts, who are finding it hard to meet their obligations, and households who have made significant savings over the years, and who wish to protect the value of those savings. 

Household debt, as a percentage of household disposable income, is 326% in Denmark, 288% in the Netherlands, and  230% in aginst 58% in Poland, 90% in Austria,  and 94% in Germany.

For example, a policy that favoured low interest rates and inflation would benefit the debtors, but hurt the savers. The savers would also have an interest in protecting the value of the bonds issued by banks, companies and governments in which their pension and insurance funds are invested. Debtors, on the other hand, would be more relaxed about “burning “ these bondholders. 

These genuine differences of interest need to be brought out into the open because there are reasonable concerns on both sides of the argument.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


In global terms, the pull of ever bigger cities seems inexorable.

In 1970, a third of the world’s population lived in cities, more than half do so today, and by 2050, it is predicted that two thirds of the world’s 9 billion people will live in cities.

City dwellers consume more energy per capita, produce more greenhouse gases, and are more exposed to crime.

A 1% increase in the urban population leads to a 2.5% increase in energy use. Cities  often expand close to the coast line where they will be exposed to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Big cities lead to anonymous atomised lives for many....lost in the crowd. This makes big cities harder to govern democratically, because the social networks that facilitate democracy and discussion in rural areas, are often missing in big cities.

Yet people seem to prefer to live in cities.


A recent study says that , on average the bigger the city, the bigger the income per person,  and  the higher the proportion of the population with higher level degrees.  But the same study also shows that the bigger the city, the higher is the incidence of anxiety and transmissible diseases.

A study published by the Royal Society in London last month suggests, using data collected from tracking people and their mobile phones, that the  bigger the city, the more friends people have, but the more frequently do  they change their friends!

It even discovered that bigger the city, the faster people walk, probably reflecting higher stress levels! 

Attaching importance of things that can be measured in money seems to drive this rapid urbanisation of the world’s population. 

But one must stand back and ask if this sort of living is best for children growing up, if it facilitates children having enough time with their parents, and if it is good  for the quality and cost of the schooling  children receive. 

A living pattern that is not good for children may not be sustainable in the long run.

This drive to live in ever bigger cities seems also to be a function of the increased specialisation of people’s lives. 

Jobs have become so technical that fewer people understand the work that their next door neighbour does, and only in bigger cities will ne find a critical mass of people  with specific inter relatable skills.

That’s what attracts firms to big cities and may explain why property prices in Dublin are more dynamic than elsewhere.


As a small island off another island, distant from the European mainland, Ireland has done exceptionally well to develop critical masses of skilled people in sectors like pharmaceuticals, medical devices, software, certain financial services, use of big data and food technologies. 

Foreign direct investment continued to come into this country in these sectors even in the worst period of the recession.

As I work abroad for IFSC Ireland, I am repeatedly told that what attracts firms here is the ability to recruit the right people, either locally or among people who are willing to come here to live and work.

Since the abolition of exchange controls, money can come into a country quickly. But it can also leave it quickly. Money often has the legs of a hare, but the courage of a mouse! That is why confidence must be constantly maintained by steady management and consistent fiscal policy.

It is thanks to this continuing overseas confidence in the Irish economy that we have been able to meet our fiscal targets, borrow at reasonable rates, and restore economic growth. But such confidence is volatile and fragile, and prone to sudden changes in sentiment due to media headlines. We must remain vigilant.

Monday, 24 November 2014



I am attending a meeting of the Club de Madrid, an organisation of former heads of government working to promote democracy, in Florence this week. The question being addresses is whether, after the 1990’s when democracy was spreading widely in the wake of the fall of Communism, democracy and human rights are now in a phase of relative decline again.

The opening keynote speech was made by Romano Prodi, former Italian Prime Minister and European Commission President, who gave an excellent speech.

He reminded us that having a market economy, as China does, does not guarantee democratic government. The dispersal of power, which is essential for a market economy, can help democracy, but it does not assure it. The Chinese” model” could become a challenge to democracy.

He worried that, if democratic governments fail to deliver acceptable economic results, democracy itself will come to be questioned. 

This is a particular risk in the European Union, where
   +  the ageing of societies,
   +  the absence of structural reforms, and
   +  the rigidities caused by the incompleteness of the euro zone,

are contributing to slow growth and high unemployment, especially among young people.

In some countries, democracy suffers from perpetual electioneering, and from too many veto points which prevent necessary changes being implemented.  Short term thinking predominates as a result.

Romano now teaches in universities in China, and he remarked that, whereas ten years ago Chinese were constantly asking questions about the European Union, they no longer do so. Their questions focus now on the lesson to be learned from Thucdydies, the ancient Greek historian, who wrote about the risks of war when a rising power meets an established one (Sparta and Athens). Clearly the Chinese see such risks as between themselves and the US.


We have before us a series of reports on the state of democracy and human rights in different parts of the world. The reports were prepared with the help of the Bertelsman Foundation. The scope of the study includes 
+  the fairness and openness of elections,
+  the rule of law and separation of powers,
+  internal democracy in parties,
+  strategic thinking within the governmental system,
+  efficient use of human and material resources
+  anti discrimination laws

Generally speaking, the Nordic countries came out best. There were some problems in southern Europe. Among post Communist countries, the Baltic states and Poland had the best record. The situation was somewhat more difficult in the Balkan area.


The countries to come in for the most severe criticism were Hungary, and to a lesser degree Turkey. The findings in regard to Hungary are the most alarming, given that it is a full member of the EU. 
In respect of Hungary, the report says

“The government  has tried to monopolise political power by taking control of a number of independent agencies and supervisory bodies and had undermined the judiciary’s independence”

It adds that Hungary’s new media laws

“strengthened government control over the media by vesting a Media Council, exclusively composed of persons affiliated with the Government party, with control of media content  and the granting of broadcasting licences”

These matters deserve the attention from the European Union institutions.

Saturday, 15 November 2014



The European Union is a union of sovereign states, who are sovereign in that they are entirely  free to leave the EU. This freedom to leave means that the EU is not a “super state”. There is no coercive force, no EU army, to force Britain or any other country to remain in the EU. Britain enjoys a freedom, within the EU, that colonies did not enjoy within the British or other European Empires.
Britain is thus entirely within its rights in considering the option of leaving the EU, although that does not mean that such a course would be wise.

The EU does not exist on the basis of coercion. It exists on the basis of common rules, or Treaties, applicable to all, interpreted independently by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice,  that EU have so far countries freely abided by, even when particular decisions were not  to their liking. If countries started systematically ignoring EU decisions, the EU would  soon disappear.

One set of particularly important set of EU rules are the ones that apply to budget deficits and debts of EU countries within the euro zone. These rules have been incorporated in EU Treaties and in Treaties between Euro area states. One of the provisions is that if a country has an excessive deficit, it must reduce that deficit by an amount equivalent to 0.5% of GDP each year until it gets its deficit below 3%.

France and Italy, big states that were founder members of the EU, have both produced budgets for 2015 that do not comply with the rules.

Initially the European Commission objected, and both countries have adjusted their budgets a little.  But, even after these revisions, the budgets are still in breach of the EU rules.

Some will argue that it is the rules that are at fault, not France and Italy. Inflation is negative, so debts increase in value, while prices are falling.

Countries are caught in a debt deflation trap of a kind that was not envisaged when the rules were drawn up.  But that is an argument for changing the rules, not an argument for ignoring them or pretending they have been complied with when they have not been.

But changing the rules would require EU Treaty change, and nobody wants to change the Treaties, because a Treaty change would have to be unanimously agreed among all 28 EU states. Other states fear that would be an opportunity for Britain to use the lever of blocking  a Treaty change to revise the fiscal rules, with  which it might otherwise agree,  simply as a means of getting  a concession of British demands for

+  a restriction of free movement of people within the EU,  
+  vetoes for a minority of national parliaments on EU legislation and
+  the  scrapping the goal of “ever closer union” within the EU.

This is a form of blackmail, but it has happened before in EU affairs.

But if the EU is unable to change its Treaties, because of blockages like this, the EU will eventually die. Necessary EU Treaty change cannot be dodged indefinitely. The EU will atrophy if it cannot change its Treaties, in the same way that states would wither, if they could not change their constitutions from time to time.
In a recent commentary, Daniel Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies has criticised the European Commission of Jean Claude Juncker for failing to either 

a.) Insist that France and Italy stick by the existing fiscal rules or, if not
b.) Call for a revision of the rules to take account of the exceptional deflationary conditions that exist

He  is right .

Monday, 10 November 2014



"a bust of John Redmond in Ballytrent House, Rosslare Co Wexford,
John Redmond's childhood home now the home of James and Mary Ryan"

John Redmond had a political career of 39 years and became an MP in his twenties. Previously he had worked as a clerk in the House of Commons where his father had been a member. 
When his father died, Redmond may have hoped to contest his father’s seat here in Wexford town, but Parnell, ironically as events turned out, preferred to have  Tim Healy (later an opponent of Parnell) contest the seat.

Not long after, Redmond did secure a seat in Parliament representing New Ross.

Later, after the Irish Party split when Gladstone and the Liberal Party refused to do business with them under Parnell’s  leadership because of his extra marital affair,  Redmond ,as a Parnellite,  contested and won a seat in Waterford, against Michael Davitt, an anti Parnellite. He retained that seat to the end of his life in March 1918.
Redmond came from a political family. At school he excelled in drama. He went to Trinity College but dropped out after two years.

His parents were separated, something that was uncommon and difficult at that time. Redmond, as the eldest son, had to act as a conciliator between his parents, thereby developing diplomatic characteristics, along with a certain solitariness, that were to mark his political career.

His life was marked by tragedies. His first wife died in childbirth in 1889. One of his daughters died as a young adult, and his brother Willie (MP for Clare) was killed in the Great War.

The crowning achievement of John Redmond’s career was the enactment into law of Irish Home Rule on 18 September 1914, a topic with which I propose to deal extensively in this address.

Other achievements with which he was closely associated were the settlement on the land question, in a way which transferred ownership of the land of Ireland to those who were actually farming it, the achievement of democratic Local Government in 1898, the Universities Act of 1908 which established NUI, and the beginnings of the welfare state with the introduction of old age pension and social security in 1909.Redmond suffered imprisonment for his beliefs during the land struggle.

Apart from these achievements, Redmond played a crucial role in reuniting the Irish Party, after the Parnell split of 1891, in 1900.  John Dillon, who was on the other side of that split from Redmond, described this work, at a banquet in Redmond’s honour in 1908, as “one of the greatest works of reconciliation ever wrought for Ireland”.

In this address, I will concentrate how important it is to commemorate this year, the centenary of Redmond’s biggest achievement, the enactment of Home Rule.

But, first, I will say a word about commemorations in general.


" the vault in which John Redmond is buried on the occasion of a visit
there by the Wexford Historical Society"
Commemorations involve choices. We cannot officially commemorate everything, or everyone. We are not obliged to commemorate things, just because our ancestors commemorated them.  We must reinterpret the past, and, through commemoration, learn from it  for ourselves.

Commemorations  should highlight the things in our past that are helpful to us in understanding our present, and which bring to notice precedents and practices from our past, that help us shape our future, as we want it to be. 
Especially if we decide  to commemorates  conflicts in our past, we  should take the opportunity to learn from mistakes made on one’s own” side” of that conflict, not just the mistakes made on the other side. 
President John F Kennedy, a man with strong connection with New Ross-John Redmond’s first constituency, said
“ A nation reveals itself not only in the men it produces, but also in the  men it honours, the men it remembers”
President Kennedy’s yardstick should be applied to the centenaries   we will choose to highlight in what we have decided will be a decade of commemorations of 1913 to 1923.

Which centenaries, and which men and women, from that period, should we highlight for commemoration, so that we best, in Kennedy’s words, reveal the nation we are today, and hope to be in the future?

In my mind, it boils down to a very simple question.
Should the focus of commemoration be on killing, and death, or on living and working?
Given that this country is organised as a parliamentary democracy, one of the oldest surviving ones in Europe, and hopes to remain so, I argue most strongly that it is important to highlight, and celebrate, centenaries of parliamentary achievements, from the 1913 to 1923 period.

This is especially important as there is, here and elsewhere in Europe, a high degree of impatience and cynicism about parliamentary democratic politics.  I argue that we should therefore single out the centenaries of parliamentary achievements of the 1913 to 1923 era, and every other era,  and go out of our way to remind people today, that patient parliamentary politics can and does bring great dividends.

One such centenary has already passed.....the centenary of the passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland on 18 September 1914.
I commend the Wexford Borough Council and Wexford  Historical Society for remembering that centenary of Home Rule and laying a wreath on the grave here in the town, of the man to who did the most to bring it about, John Redmond.
  I commend the Reform Group for organising a seminar in Dublin on the centenary.
  I commend the” Irish Independent” for their centenary Supplement.
  I commend the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs for the references they made to it in speeches around the time. 
I commend too the Parnell Summer school in Wicklow for especially remembering Redmond during the centenary of his greatest achievement

The passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland was an Irish parliamentary achievement without equal in the preceding 200 years. 
It granted Ireland its own legislature, something denied it since 1800. And that was obtained without violence, or the threat of violence, on the part of those who worked for it. It was of comparable importance to the Land acts, also achieved by diligent parliamentary work, and peaceful agitation, and by the same people. 

Commemoration of the 1916 rebellion,  of  the warfare of the 1919 to 1923 period that it engendered, and indeed of the Great War as well, all violent episodes, without balancing commemoration of peaceful parliamentary achievements, like the enactment of Home Rule,  would glorify military activity, at the expense of  the  achievements of less glamorous, but  contemporarily  far more relevant, peaceful parliamentary struggle. It would be a totally unbalanced commemoration policy, and would fail, in President Kennedy’s words, to “reveal” this nation as it really is. It would not do us justice


The enactment of Home Rule may have been a purely peaceful achievement, but this is not to suggest that those who obtained it, the Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond and John Dillon, were mild mannered and non confrontational.

Two previous attempts to obtain Home Rule had failed, one because it was defeated in the House of Commons, and another because it was vetoed in the House of Lords. 

To get Home Rule onto the statute book, the Irish Parliamentary leaders had to get a majority for Home Rule in the House of Commons, and simultaneously to get the British constitutional arrangements changed to remove the House of Lords power of veto. 
There was a permanent majority against Home Rule in the House of Lords, and the veto could only be removed with the consent of the House of Lords itself. 

Furthermore, in the House of Commons, the Liberal party, which had been committed to Home Rule under Gladstone, had moved away from that policy under Lord Rosebery, Campbell Bannerman, and Herbert Asquith. The Liberal Party had first to be won back to a firm commitment to pass Home Rule.

In a masterly exercise of parliamentary leverage and constructive opportunism, Redmond and Dillon achieved both goals, in a very short space of time. 

They withheld support for the radical 1909 Budget, unless and until there was a commitment to remove the Lords veto and introduce Home Rule. They also, in effect, exercised pressure on the King, because the Lords eventually only passed the legislation to remove their veto, only under the threat of the King swamping the House of Lords with a flood of new Lords.
All this was achieved from the position of being a minority party in the House, albeit a party whose votes were needed to avoid a General Election which the Liberal Government feared they would lose.  Considerable brinksmanship was needed, because, if the Liberals lost the election, the cause of Home Rule would also be lost. Redmond and Dillon did not have all the trump cards. They just played the cards they had very well indeed.

On the other side of the House, the Irish Party faced a Conservative Party that was so determined to force a General Election, and to that end they were prepared to incite Ulster Unionists to military insurrection, and to connive with elements in the British military to ensure that the insurrection would not be prevented.

In Britain itself, Home Rulers had to overcome deep anti Irish, and anti Catholic, sentiment is some sections of opinion. Redmond toured Britain, over 30 years, gradually preparing British opinion to accept Irish legislative independence.
Financial gaps also had to be bridged. Unlike Scotland today, Ireland in 1914 had no oil.

Between 1896 and 1911, British Government expenditure in Ireland (including recently introduced old age pensions) had increased by 91%, whereas revenue raised in Ireland had risen by only 28%. That enduring gap between spending commitments and revenue explains why the Irish Free State had to take a shilling off the old age pension in the 1920’s.

In face of all these difficulties, getting  Home Rule onto the statute book, without the  loss of a single life, really was a remarkable  parliamentary achievement.

If commemorations are about drawing relevant lessons for today’s generation from the work of past generations, this remarkable exercise of parliamentary leverage, to achieve radical reform against entrenched resistance, has much greater relevance, to today’s generation of democrats, than does the blood sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly.
The subsequent turning away, after 1916, from constitutional methods has obscured the scale of this parliamentary achievement. There may have been a fear that too much praise of the prior constitutional achievement would delegitimize the subsequent  blood sacrifice.


The Woodenbridge speech of John Redmond on 20 September 1914, urging Irish men to join the Allied cause in the Great War that had broken out six weeks previously, must be seen in the context that Home Rule had been placed on the statute book just two days previously.
Home Rule was law, but the implementation of it was simply postponed until the end of what most people expected would be a short war.

But Redmond’s address to the Volunteers at Woodenbridge was not a mere reciprocation for the passage of Home Rule.

He also wanted to show that the passage of Home Rule had inaugurated a new and better relationship between Ireland and its neighbouring island.

He wanted to show everybody, including Ulster Unionists, that things had changed. As he was still aiming to persuade Ulster Unionists to come in under Home rule, he felt he needed to do this if there was to be any chance at all that they would voluntarily do so. He wanted to show to Ulster Unionists that, in some matters, Unionists and Nationalists were now “on the same side”. 
Let us not forget that Irish men h fought in the British Army in the Boer War, notwithstanding Redmond and the Irish Party’s opposition to that war, so those many of those who volunteered to fight in what turned out to be the Great War, would have done so anyway, whether Redmond asked them to do so or not.

Suppose Redmond had given a different speech in Woodenbridge.  

Suppose , Home Rule having been passed into law two days before, Redmond had instead vocally opposed recruitment, what would have happened then? Is that what his present day critics are suggesting he should have done? 

He would have handed arguments to those who had opposed Home Rule all along, to the effect that a Dublin Home Rule Government could not be trusted not to undermine Britain’s international position at a time of great danger Carson and Craig would have felt themselves entirely vindicated in their opposition to Home Rule. Furthermore the vast majority on Nationalist opinion supported what Redmond said at the time.
The Woodenbridge speech also stood on its own merits. The unprovoked invasion by Germany of a small neutral country, Belgium,  in order better to be able to attack France, was something that many people at the time, and since, regarded as profoundly wrong and deserving to be opposed. Gerry Adams has said that his support for recruitment makes John Redmond a “man of violence”. I do not think a willingness to defend a country that had been invaded without provocation, Belgium, makes Redmond a man of violence.
That said, the Great War was an avoidable tragedy, and a failure of statesmanship. But it was not a failure for which Redmond or the Irish Parliamentary Party was responsible. They were not party to the secret assurances Grey had given to the French, on the strength of which the French egged on the Russians to confront Austria. Redmond had nothing to do with this. He had to deal with the situation as they found it, and Belgium’s sovereignty HAD been violated.

It is right to commemorate the Irish dead of the Great War, but  I would like to stress that Home Rule’s passage into law is a separate matter. It should be commemorated on its own merits, and separately.


Some have criticised the limitations of the initial Home Rule Act of 1914.  The powers were limited only because Home Rule was initially designed to apply to all 32 counties, encompassing a reluctant Unionist minority.
Although the possibility of temporary exclusion of some Ulster counties had been conceded by the time the Home Rule Act finally came to be enacted, 3 years after it was first introduced, the Act had been framed from the outset in terms that could apply to all 32 counties of Ireland , where there was a Catholic majority. So safeguards, and understandable limitations, had to be inserted to protect or reassure the Ulster Protestant minority. Some historians, who have recently criticised is limitations, studiously ignore the fact that it was designed for a 32 county, not a 26 county, Ireland.
For example a provision was inserted whereby the Home Rule Government “ could not endow any religion”. This safeguard was actually a worry to the Catholic hierarchy, who feared it might affect existing state funding for Catholic teacher training colleges, but it was put there to reassure Protestants in a 32 county Ireland. 
For the same reason reason, marriage law was to be kept at Westminster, because the Vatican’s  “Ne Temere” decree of 1907 on mixed marriages had caused  alarm among Protestants.

Likewise, limitations on the imposition of tariffs and customs duties by the Home Rule Government of a 32 county Ireland were needed to assure the minority industrial interests on Ulster, that their trade interests would not be sacrificed to those of the majority, predominantly agricultural, economy of  the rest of the country. 
As it transpired, these safeguards were not enough. Ulster Unionists continued to insist on exclusion from the whole system, and backed their demand with the threat of force.  Modern critics may claim Home Rule was too limited. The Ulster Unionists of the time clearly did not think so! 
If John Redmond had wanted to maximise the powers of the Home Rule Government in Dublin, he could, early on, have accepted the exclusion from Home Rule of the 4 Ulster counties where there was a Unionist majority.  Even the Conservatives would have given Redmond more powers on that basis, as Bonar Law’s remarks which I will quote later will show.


But Redmond, unlike those who negotiated the Treaty or the Good Friday Agreement for that matter, did not accept any open ended exclusion from Home Rule of any part of Ireland. In that sense, John Redmond in 1914 could be said to have been more idealistic than the republicans and physical force men who came after him were in practice. 
In January 1914, at the height of the Ulster resistance to Home Rule, John Redmond was speaking at a meeting in his constituents in Waterford about the difficulty of winning over Ulster Unionists, and a heckler shouted up at him “We are as well off without them”. Redmond replied indignantly, “No, we are not. That is an absolute fallacy”

The American historian, Joseph P Finnan in his book, “John Redmond and Irish Unity  1912-1918” said that Redmond prized Irish unity more than he prized Irish sovereignty.

He added
            “Although he (Redmond) acceded to demands for temporary exclusion of northern counties, he never gave them up for lost. The Irish revolutionaries who negotiated the Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921 did just that. Even the anti Treaty forces led by de Valera based their objections on the loss of the republican ideal, not the loss of the northern nationalist population”
Redmond’s 32 county ideal has not been achieved .

Perhaps the two communities on this island are too different, in their sense of their deepest identity, for that.  What is certain is that all those who came after Redmond, using the gun, did not bring unity any closer than he did.


Charles Townsend said in his book “Easter 1916”
“The Rebellion played a part in cementing partition”
Indeed, the words of the 1916 Proclamation itself were literally “oblivious” of the problem of resistance in parts of Ulster to any form of rule by Dublin, notwithstanding Pearse’s professed admiration for the UVF arming itself to resist  even a modest measure of Home Rule.

The 1916 Proclamation said it was 

“Oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, who have divided a minority from a majority in the past” 

In effect, the 1916 leaders apparently did not think the Ulster Unionists had minds of their own, and were simply tools of the British. Apart from rhetoric, no attempt was made, by the organisers of the 1916 Rebellion, to persuade Ulster Protestants of the merits of an Irish Republic for them, or even to work out how such persuasion might be done. While Redmond had at least tried to talk to Carson and Craig, the 1916 leaders were simply oblivious of them.

Put simply, there was nothing in the Proclamation to deal with the fears of Ulster Unionists.  The Irish Republic was deemed to include them. That was it.
Let us also not forget that when the decision to use physical force was made by the leaders of the  IRB and the Irish Citizen Army in April  1916, Home Rule was already law. So a basis for proceeding towards fuller Irish legislative independence,  without use of  force was already there on the statue book, having been reaffirmed by Parliament in 1912, 1913 and again in 1914, and signed by the King as Head of State.

Home Rule’s  implementation was simply postponed for the duration of the war, but there was no doubt but that it would come into effect once the war was over, either for the whole of Ireland, or, more likely, for 26 or 28 counties. Let me underline that.


The irreversibility of Home Rule is well illustrated by a comment that had been made by one of its staunchest opponents, the Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law.  He admitted
 “If Ulster, or rather any county, had the right to remain outside the Irish Parliament, for my part my objection would be met”.

Furthermore, the Lloyd George Coalition Government’s re election manifesto  in the December 1918 Election stated bluntly “Home Rule is upon the statute book”. There was thus no going back on it.  

My belief  is that , in 1918, instead of launching a policy of abstention from Parliament and a guerrilla war, Sinn Fein and the IRA should have used the Home Rule Act as a peaceful  stepping stone to dominion status and full independence, in the same way as Treaty of 1921 was so used, but only after so much blood had been shed.  

WAS 1916 A “JUST WAR”?

Many of the 1916 leaders were familiar with Catholic teaching on what constitutes a just war.
 One of the criteria is that war should be a” last resort.”

Given that Home Rule was already passed, would have come into effect, and would have been a platform for further moves to greater independence, the use violence in 1916 was not a genuine last resort, and does not meet that criterion for a just war.
Another important context in which the 1916 decision must be judged is the Great War.


By forcibly occupying the GPO the 1916, leaders explicitly took the opposite side in this war to their fellow Irishmen in the trenches. In proclaiming the Republic, the 1916 leaders spoke of their “gallant allies in Europe”. These allies were the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian Empire.  Although their immediate target was Britain, those, against whom the Irish Republicans went to war,  included the French Republic and Belgium, whose territories had been invaded, and occupied , by Germany.

The1916 leaders were not neutral. They were taking the side of Germany , Turkey and Austria and said so in their own Proclamation. Gerry Adams who recently attacked Redmond at a meeting of  the” Irish Neutrality League” should remember this. The 1916 rebels were not neutral, they were explicitly allied with the Germans, and had concerted their activities with them.

This alliance with Germany subsequently weakened the position of Irish negotiators, including Sean T O Kelly, who sought to get a hearing, at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, for the case for Irish independence. The 1916 leaders’ decision had put them on the wrong side, and had made them “allies”, in the words of the Proclamation, of the losers in the Great War.

Sean T O Kelly’s job in Paris was further complicated by the fact that the Irish Republic had already been declared any way, regardless of the Peace conference. As Townshend put it in his other book “The Republic...the fight for Irish Independence” 
         “The Peace Conference would now be asked not to investigate and adjudicate on a national claim, but to recognise an already existing Republic,(thus) approving an act hostile to a great power” (Britain).
This would have been hard for Woodrow Wilson to do, even if he wanted to.
 The contention of the authors of the Rising was that, as of Easter Week 1916, a Republic already existed, because it had been declared outside the GPO. This   prior declaration made any compromise afterwards more difficult. Settling for anything that did not involve immediate British acceptance of a 32 county Irish Republic could be interpreted a form as a backtracking on the 1916 Proclamation. 

The absolutist decision to DECLARE a Republic, rather than just announce an intention to fight for one, should be critically appraised 100 years later.
In any event, it would have been wiser to have had patience, avoided violence, and adhered to the Home Rule policy, and to constitutional methods.


I  concede that, although John Redmond and his colleagues would not have accepted it at the time,  the Home Rule policy would not have led to a United Ireland in the medium or perhaps even the long term. 
The opposition to being under a Dublin Home Rule Parliament was so strong among Unionists in Ulster that, no matter how hard the Home Rulers might have tried to persuade them, at least four Ulster counties would have stayed out of the Dublin Parliament. 
The leader of the Irish Party, John Redmond, told the House of Commons that
 “no coercion shall be applied to any single county in Ireland to force them against their will to come into the Irish Government”. 
This was a sensible policy, a policy consistent with the principles of the Good Friday Agreement in a way that his opponent’s policies were not.

Irish attempts to coerce Northern Ireland into a United Ireland, whether by the attempted incursions across the border in 1922, by the propaganda campaign in the late 1940s, or by IRA killing campaigns in the 1950’s and from 1969 to 1998, have all failed miserably, because they were based on a faulty analysis of Ulster reality.

Likewise attempts to persuade the British to do the job for us, and to use THEIR military and economic force to coerce Unionists into a United Ireland were also failures.

Only when all forms coercion towards a United Ireland were abandoned, did progress eventually become possible, in the 1990s. 
John Redmond’s policy was one of attempting to persuade Unionist to accept a United Ireland, and his support for recruitment to the British army in 1914 was part of that.
But, under the Home Rule arrangement, if Ulster counties opted out, they would have continued under direct rule from Westminster. 
There would have been no Stormont Parliament, no “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people”, no B Specials, no gerrymandering of local government,  if Irish Nationalists had stayed on the Home Rue path, and  not taken the detour into violence in 1916.

Stormont was not part of the Home Rule arrangement and it  came about because of the threat posed by the nationalist violence of the  1919 to 1921 period, and because the  abstention of Sinn Fein from the Irish Convention, and of its MPs from parliament after the 1918 election, created an opening for the creation of Stormont. 
In contrast, under Home Rule, there would have been continued, but reduced, Irish representation at Westminster, so any attempts to discriminate against the minority in the excluded area of Ulster would have been open to immediate and vocal criticism from a large body of Irish Nationalist MPs in Westminster. Thanks to decision to abandon the Home Rule policy, those voices were not there,  and Southern Ireland turned in on itself, and towards  its own many post civil war problems, and forgot about Northern Nationalists. 
The constitutional Home Rule policy would thus have been much better for Northern Nationalists than the policy of violent separatism was to prove to be. Northern Nationalists probably sensed this. While the rest of Ireland was plumping for Sinn Fein in the election of December 1918, the electors of West Belfast chose Joe Devlin of the Irish Party to represent them in preference to Eamon de Valera of  Sinn Fein.  

The Home Rule path would also have been better because it would have saved many lives throughout Ireland. People who died between 1916 and 1923 would have survived and would instead have contributed to Irish life, rather than to Irish martyrology. 
All things being equal, in my opinion, living for Ireland is better than dying (or killing) for Ireland.

I would emphasise that the waste of these extra lost lives needs to be weighed, and weighed heavily, in the balance against any extra  advantages secured by the use of force.  What value do you put on a life?

There is a moral issue here. Irish people today take the taking of life seriously. We have abolished the death penalty. 1916, and the subsequent campaigns of violence it inspired, involved taking thousands of lives.

Any commemorations of the wars of 1916 to 1923 should take those lost lives, all of them, into account,
Consider those dead for a moment. 


256 Irish civilians died during the 1916 rebellion, some at the hands of the rebels and many as a result of British artillery designed to expel the rebels from the positions they had occupied. 

These civilians did not have any say in the IRB/Citizen Army action, and would all have lived if that action had not take place. They were not volunteers for the sacrifice they bore.

We know of the rebels who died, and their deaths have been commemorated  by the Irish State. Each year the Irish army has a Mass to pray for the souls of those who “died for Ireland “ in 1916.  It is unclear to me whether this formula includes the civilians who did not decide to put their lives at risk “for Ireland”, but who were killed anyway because they were in the wrong place.
153 soldiers in UK Army uniforms were killed in the fighting in Dublin in 1916. Of these, 52 of the dead were Irish. These are the names of some of these Irish soldiers , many home from the trenches on leave, who were killed..... Gerald Neilan from Roscommon, Francis Brennan from Ushers Island in Dublin, Abraham Watchorn from Rathvilly Co Carlow, John Brennan from Gowran Co Kilkenny, John Flynn from Carrick on Suir and many more. Three members of the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police were killed, and 14 members of the RIC, including Patrick Leen from Abbeyfeale and Patrick Brosnan from Dunmanway. 

I hope the 100th anniversary of THEIR deaths will not be forgotten in Easter Week 2016 

These Irish men were acting on the orders of a duly constituted Government, elected by a Parliament, which had already granted Home Rule to Ireland, and to which Ireland had democratically elected its own MP’s. 

Did these men “ die for Ireland”? How should they, and their sacrifice, be remembered.  These are questions we need to answer between now and 2016
Consider also the dead of the War of 1919 to 1921, and the dead of the civil war of 1922 to 1923, for these deaths flowed, in large measure, from the initial decision to use force in 1916.

1200 were killed in the war of 1919 to 1921. Many of these were civilians who had not chosen the path of war. Others were policemen, who had chosen that vocation as a service to their people, and not to become participants in a war. Yet others were supposed or actual informers on behalf of either side.

If, notwithstanding  the appeal of the “blood sacrifice” of the 1916 leaders, the executions, and the gross mishandling of conscription by the British Government at the beginning of 1918, the Home Rule policy had not been rejected by the electorate in the General Election of  December 1918 in favour  of abstention and separatism, Home Rule would have come into effect, and ALL THOSE PEOPLE WOULD HAVE LIVED.

Many of those who died were very talented people, whose lives and service were a huge loss to this country.

Many families of minority religions, or families some of whose members were  in the Crown forces, were made to feel unwelcome in Ireland as a result of the violence, and some left.  That is the sort of thing that happens after civil wars.  Southern Ireland became a less diverse society, as a result of the policy of violence initiated by IRB and the Citizen Army at Easter of 1916.

Then around 4000 more Irish people were killed in the Civil War. Like those who were killed in the 1916 to 1921 period, many of these were amongst the brightest talents of their generation. 


Violence breeds violence. Sacrifice breeds intransigence. The dead exert an unhealthy power over the living, persuading the living to hold out for the impossible, so that the sacrifice of the dead is not perceived to have been in vain.

In that sense, the uncompromising policy of  declaring a Republic unilaterally in April 1916, and backing that declaration with immediate violence,  contributed to the Civil War of 1922/3, because it made compromise harder. 

For example, the  earlier deaths of those who occupied the  General Post Office in 1916, seeking to achieve a 32 county Republic, made it so much harder for those on the Anti Treaty side, who occupied the Four courts in 1922, to accept anything less than a 32 County Republic. Those in the Four Courts probably did want to appear to “betray” the dead  of the GPO by accepting a compromise that appeared to be less than already Proclaimed Republic.

Betrayal of the sacrifices of the dead is one of the most emotionally powerful, and destructive, accusations within the canon of romantic nationalism. It exercised its baleful influence in recent times in delaying the abandonment by the IRA of its failed and futile campaign to coerce and bomb Unionists into a United Ireland.  


I believe Ireland would have reached the position it is in today, an independent nation of 26 or 28 counties, if it had stuck with the Home Rule policy, and if the 1916 rebellion had not taken place.
Like all counter factual historical arguments, this proposition is impossible to prove. So also is the converse contention by some, that Home Rule would not have led to full independence. Both arguments are counterfactual, because the Home Rule approach was never given a chance. But, given that the British Labour Party was already committed to Dominion Status for Ireland from 1918 on, and given the Labour was in Government twice in the 1920’s, I believe the burden of proof rests much more with those who claim the Home Rule would NOT have led on to Dominion status and full independence, than it does with those, like me, who contend that it would

I contend that, once the Ulster question had been resolved by some form of exclusion, the path from Home Rule towards greater independence was wide open.

The policy of the Irish Party in the 1918 Election was Dominion Status for Ireland, and I believe they would have achieved it. It was also the policy in that election of the British Labour Party and of the Asquith Liberals.  Perhaps Ireland  would not have achieved by 1921, as  it was  in the Treaty of that year, but it would probably have been achieved by the end of the 1920’s, probably from a Labour Government, whose policy, as I have said, in 1918 already envisaged dominion status for Ireland.

Certainly many of the parties in the Home Rule Parliament would have been demanding greater independence. Irish politics would not have stood still after Home Rule, as some historians seem to assume.

Indeed some of the critics of Redmond’s policy have actually put forward the best argument as to why Home Rule would have led to greater independence.....the extension of the franchise. It is arguable that the Irish Party of 1910 was a relatively conservative party because, like the rest of Westminster, it had been elected on a restrictive franchise.

But from 1918 on the franchise was dramatically widened. All men, and all women under 30, got the vote. They are the people who would have been the electorate of the Irish Home Rule Parliament.  Such an electorate would not have been satisfied by the limitations on Home Rule. They would have demanded more powers and would have elected members and parties committed to demanding more powers. And they would have got them, sooner rather than later....but peacefully.

Once Ireland had its own legislature in Dublin , it would also have been able to avail of the progressive loosening of ties within the Empire, in the same way as the Irish Free State was able to do , for example through the Statute of Westminster of 1931. 

Some might argue that security and defence considerations would have made this unlikely. I doubt that.

If a Conservative dominated Government was willing, in 1938, peacefully to hand over the Treaty ports to Eamon de Valera, who, 22 years previously, had been a declared ally of Germany, it would surely have been willing to place as much trust in, and give full powers to, a Home Rule Government in Dublin, whose political antecedents had stood with Britain in its moment of greatest threat in 1914.
To say that a decision was a mistake, is not to deny the heroism or sincerity of those who made the mistake, or the heroism of those who followed them. It is right to commemorate the bravery of the 1916  leaders, without agreeing with, or necessarily endorsing, their political judgement. 
Hindsight enables all of us to see possibilities that were not visible at the time.

But the reality is that, in 1916, Home Rule was on the statute book and was not about to be reversed. The stepping stone was there. If the 1916 leaders had more patience, a lot of destruction could have been avoided, and I believe we would still have achieved our independence.


My personal interest in Redmond is mainly a matter of personal conviction, and partly one of family tradition. 

Along with other memorabilia, all the editions of the Freemans Journal covering the death of John Redmond, at  7.45am on 6 March 1918, were carefully preserved by my  grand aunts and by my grand uncle(who was in Redmond’s National Volunteers) in the home in Dunboyne, where  I live. I read these earlier this week.

In Dublin Corporation, Sean T O Kelly described John Redmond as “ an honour to his country”, and his fellow Sinn Fein member of the Corporation, WT Cosgrave, associated himself with these sentiments. At the other end of the spectrum, the leader of the Irish Unionists, Edward Carson, described him as “invariably an honourable and courteous opponent”
The Governors of Wexford County Infirmary said the Redmond “deserved the everlasting gratitude of the Irish people”, a sentiment echoed by the then Mayor of Wexford, Alderman McGuire. 

17 members of Wexford County Council attended John Redmond’s funeral, here in Wexford, led by their Chairman, Mr John Bolger.  I am proud to say Meath Co Council was represented by its Chairman, Thomas Halligan. A Wreath was sent on behalf of the Minister for Justice of Queensland in Australia, a country Redmond had visited to promote the Home Rule cause.

The Freemans Journal itself described Redmond’s character as “ a rare combination of  inflexible will and genial humanity”.

It added that “had he deserted Irish for Imperial politics, place and title would have been open to him”. 
It emphasised that “He would have been an ideal first Prime Minister of an Irish Cabinet, skilled in bringing men and parties together”. 
Such a man is deserving of commemoration, and to adapt President Kennedy’s phrase quoted earlier, an Ireland that remembers Redmond reveals itself a country committed to peaceful change within a democratic framework, and that is the sort of nation I want Ireland to be.

Hadden Memorial lecture by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at 8PM on Friday 31 October 2014 at a meeting of the Wexford Historical Society in St Michael’s Hall. Green St . Wexford