Friday, 31 January 2014


I am really sorry to hear of Ted Nealon’s death. In addition to his service as a Minister and Deputy, he was a talented press spokesman for Gael.
Acting as spokesman for a party, especially when it is in opposition, is one of the most stressful and thankless jobs in politics. In this and every other capacity, he was both good humoured and incisive, both generous and honest.
He will be missed, especially in his native Sligo, which he loved so much

Monday, 27 January 2014


“Capitalism is not a form of spontaneous order or the embodiment of a basic structure of human rights, but one of the great constructions of the human mind”, so says David Sainsbury, former UK Minister in the Blair Government, in his book “Progressive Capitalism, how to achieve economic growth, liberty and social justice” published last year by Biteback Publishing.

Inevitably, the book does not fully live up to its unrealistically ambitious title, but it makes some really important points, and goes beyond putting forward a critique of what wrong, but also some constructive solutions.
Capitalism will only work, if politics works.

Capitalism allows resources, human and material, to be constantly allocated, and reallocated, in a way that meets people’s needs, as they express those needs by way of the relative price they will pay for different goods and services.

Without stable money, in which to set those prices, the system would not work. Money is a promise.  One must have a stable political system, to underpin those promises, if one is to have stable money.

Without order and security, and laws to prevent theft, fraud, and unsafe products, capitalism would collapse. Again one has to have a stable political system if these requirements are to be met.

If capitalism leads to outcomes that are socially, financially or environmentally unstable, or are perceived as grossly unfair, the stable political order, on which capitalism itself rests, will fail.

These are some of the things that David Sainsbury tackles in this book
He points out that 

  1. In 1965, the average CEO earned 24 times as much as the average worker. But by 2007 he earned 300 times as much. That is not socially sustainable.
  2. UK pension funds earned a 5% return on capital between 1963 and 1999. But between 2000 and 2009, they earned only 1.1% return. That’s not financially sustainable.
  3. Between 1950 and 1973, the western economies grew at twice the rate they had grown during the period from 1800 to 1950. That was not economically or environmentally sustainable. But the West built welfare states, during thatperiod, on the premise that the 1950-1973 growth rates were permanent.

These problems can only be tackled if the rules governing capitalism are updated. Sainsbury makes some useful suggestions.

Company law and taxation should be changed to require CEO’s to be paid on the basis of longer term goals and achievements, rather that short term  share price movements. 

Remuneration of fund managers should be restructured to reflect a similar philosophy of long term returns. 
The threat of takeover, to the extent to which it incentivises pursuit of purely short term share price gains, may have to be mitigated.

Firms should have incentives to use scare materials, like energy, water, clean air, metals and chemicals extracted from the earth sustainably and renewably

These things cannot be done by one country, acting on its own. They need to be tackled at international level, in the European Union and/or between the EU and the US.

This book may not have all the answers, but it asks all the right questions.

They are questions that could usefully be tackled in the forthcoming European Elections which are, after all, the only multinational elections that take place anywhere in the world.

Friday, 17 January 2014


“Indian Summer, the secret history of the end of an Empire” by Alex von Tunzelmann (Pocket Books) is a parallel biography of three people, whose lives became intimately entwined.... Nehru,  Lord Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten.

It is also an account of the messy, and ultimately tragic, process that transformed the patchwork of princely states and territories that was Britain’s Indian Empire, into an independent India, and an independent, but truncated, Pakistan.

The affair between Nehru and Lady Mountbatten was connived at by her husband, who saw political utility in it, and did not want to lose his wife completely. It undoubtedly led Lord Mountbatten, as India’s last British Viceroy, to take Nehru’s side against the Muslim League interest, in some of the difficult calls he had to make, as he oversaw a bankrupt Britain’s disengagement from an Indian Empire it no longer had the will, the money, or the moral authority to manage.

Britain had long used the divergences between Hindus, Muslims, Untouchables, Sikhs, and the princely states to prolong its own position in India. But when these conflicts developed a life of their own, Britain could no longer control them.

Churchill comes poorly out of this account. A long time opponent of Indian Independence, he contributed to the war time famine in Bengal, by restricting food shipments to India, and he later conspired in favour of Pakistan breaking away from India.

Gandhi  is portrayed as having overplayed his hand by emphasising the (Hindu) religious inspiration of his struggle, even though he was personally strongly and courageously opposed to sectarian politics.

Nehru was a more realistic politician than Gandhi, but his unreasonable stance in opposing a plebiscite that would have allowed Kashmir to join Pakistan, has created one of the most insoluble conflicts of the modern world.

Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League of India and later founder of Pakistan, was originally in favour of Muslim/Hindu unity in an independent India, but his evolution towards partition was due to a number of factors, not least his bitter hatred of Nehru, and his distrust of the Mountbattens and their unduly intimate, semi clandestine, relationship with Nehru.

This is the first book by von Tunzelmann and she weaves the personal and romantic element into the political narrative in a very readable way.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


It is disappointing that the talks between the parties in Northern Ireland, chaired by former US diplomats Richard  Haase and Meghan O Sullivan, achieved no agreement.

These two people are professionals of the highest quality, with wide experience of conflict situations. I worked with both of them during my time as EU Ambassador in Washington. 

The fact that they would devote so much time to the remaining problems of Northern Ireland is testament to their spirit of public service. They were invited to devote this time by the parties in Northern Ireland themselves, which makes the failure of the parties to take the opportunity to agree all the more dispiriting.

Of course, the three issues to be settled...flags, parades, and crimes of the past... were not easy ones. 


The Irish tricolour, and Union Flag of the UK, were both explicitly designed to express unity, not division.

In the case of the Irish tricolour, the aim was to symbolise peace between nationalist and unionist communities in Ireland. 

The Union flag of the UK incorporates three Christian crosses, the cross of St Patrick, the cross of St Andrew, and the cross of St George, symbolising harmony between Ireland, Scotland and England.

On the face of it, it is perverse that these symbols, of themselves alone, should be offensive to anybody. In fact the flags could be interpreted to represent two of the three strands that underlie the Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement....the tricolour, with its idea of peace between Orange and Green, symbolising the North/South strand, and the Union flag, merging the three allegiances on the two islands, representing the East/ West strand of the peace process.

But, of course, that is not how they are regarded on the streets and flagpoles of Northern Ireland. Both are used by some, and resented by others, as party or sectarian symbols. They are used as a means of marking off territory, and of indicating welcome for some people and exclusion for others. They are left flying day and night until tattered and torn by the wind, to a degree that shows scant respect, by those who put them up , for what the flags represent.

National flags are expressions of the sovereignty of states. As such they could, and perhaps should, be seen as the political equivalent of the business concept of a “trade mark”.

A trade mark indicates the origin of a product and can only be used with the consent of the originator of the product. A national flag is similarly the expression of the sovereignty of a state, and should be reserved for use by the state itself or with its consent. It should never be used for a commercial, sectarian or party political purpose.

If the Union Jack could only be flown, at home or abroad, when, where, and in conditions of  which the London Government approved, and if  the  Irish tricolour could   only be  flown when, where and in a way of which the Dublin Government  similarly approved, that, if enforceable,  could eliminate the use of either flag  as a  sectarian symbol.


A legal remedy of this nature does not address the underlying problem, which is the emotional response that particular flags evoke in particular groups of people.

That arises, in part, from the contested and provisional nature of Northern Ireland. 
It is part of the UK, as long as a majority there wants that, but if a majority once changes its mind, it is irrevocably absorbed into a united Ireland, and there is no provision for that question being revisited. 

That is the current expression of what is known as the “principle of consent”. In a sense, the “principle of consent” is a one way street, and that contributes to a sense of insecurity in the Unionist community.

That sense of insecurity is added to by the doubts about whether the United Kingdom itself will long remain united, and by a gradual change in the religious balance within Northern Ireland itself.

Flag waving would be less important, if the future was clearer and more secure.


Parades have been a divisive factor in the life of Northern Ireland for a very long time.
They are debated nowadays in the context of rights....the right to free expression, the right to use of the highway, and the right not to be gratuitously offended by parades by others. 
Rarely is the language of responsibility in the exercise of these same rights used.......the responsibility not to abuse others through public speech, or through parades, and the responsibility to turn the other cheek, and keep a sense of humour, even if offended.  
Common sense is not exercised about parades because of the burden of the past.


Part of the problem is that some of the terrorist organisations have never apologised for the deaths and injuries they caused. In one case, this is because they consider their “armed struggle” to have been justified, even though it never received any sanction from the people on whose behalf it was supposedly being waged. An apology would be seen as an admission of a lack of legitimacy. 

The other difficulty is the modern conception of victim’s rights. A victim of a crime is frequently presented in the media as having a right to see the perpetrator of the crime against him or her punished, and is assumed to achieve “closure” when this happens. 
I have always had doubts about this concept of the purpose of criminal justice. It is too close to vengeance for comfort.

As I see it, it is society, not the victim as such, that has an interest in the punishment of crime, because society needs to deter or prevent future crimes, and that justifies and requires, a system of punishment. Society is entitled to make pragmatic judgements on something like this, and if an amnesty for past crime of a particular type is in the interests of the greater good of society, then  it is probably  better that victims  be recompensed in some other way.
It may be that the Irish and UK Governments now need to assist the Northern Ireland parties by clarifying the wider context in which the Haase/O Sullivan process might be resumed.