Saturday, 26 September 2015


Residents of Northern Ireland will have a vote sometime next year on one of the most important issues to affect these islands, and indeed all the nations of  Europe, namely whether the United Kingdom is to remain a member of the European Union, or leave.


As I speak tonight, the UK government has yet even to put in writing what it wants changed in the EU.

Yet, regardless of what it seeks or what it gets, the Conservative party, which forms the government, has surprisingly said it will remain neutral in the referendum anyway. In other word, it is asking individual voters to  study, and decide upon, an issue in which their party itself is unable, or unwilling  to make a decision.

This is an example of the weakening ability of political parties in western democracies generally to lead, inform and mobilise public opinion. Rather than lead opinion, political parties react to it, a trend that is dangerous for the future. 


I expect the UK will make a presentation of its requests at the October EU Summit, and aim to wrap up an agreement at the December Summit. 

Only after December, will any  positive case for continuing UK membership of the EU be made to the public, in what, given the inevitable complexities, hypotheses, and uncertainties to be explored and explained, will be a very short  referendum campaign. Examples in Ireland show how unpredictable referenda can be, and how difficult it can be to adequately inform voters on issues which are, of their very nature, complex, hypothetical, contingent on the reaction of others,  and uncertain. 

And, even if the UK referendum decision is to remain in, will that satisfy today’s Euro sceptics?

Will the UK always remain, psychologically, on the sidelines of the EU?
After all, no other country in the EU has so far demanded new terms for itself, as a price for staying in the EU. Could the EU exist for long if every EU state adopted the UK approach?


The European Union has evolved and developed over the past 70 years. 

But its goal from the outset has been, and remains, to cultivate so much mutual dependence between European states, that they could never go to war with one another again, as they did with such disastrous consequence in 1914-18 and 1939-45.

More than any other part of this island, Ulster has suffered when European peace was shattered ....the losses on the Somme, and the repeated bombing of Belfast come to mind.

A decision by the electors of the UK to withdraw from the EU would be a huge blow to the EU. That is where the debate should start...what sort of Europe to we want? What sort of Europe will be feel safe in?

A precedent has already been set by the decision of the UK to demand new terms for itself, under the shadow of an in/out referendum.
Let us look down the road and see where it is leading, and if that is really somewhere we want to go.


The precedent  of a major European country, an EU member of 40 years standing which already decided by referendum in 1975 to stay in the EU, deciding for a second time to seek special terms for itself, with a threat of withdrawal is damaging already.

But what of the further precedent that may yet be set.

That precedent would be of a major country withdrawing altogether from the European Union, because its voters felt the special terms it got, were not good enough?

The consequences of that for the cohesion of the EU itself are unknowable, but probably would be quite dramatic.  It would most certainly weaken the EU. 
Some may shrug their shoulders at that, but should they?

The UK precedent could be immediately seized upon by Madame le Pen in France who would seek a renegotiation of the French terms of membership. 

Geert Wilders in the Netherlands would not be far behind in saying that anything the UK can do, the Netherlands can do too.


The EU, as a force that can protect and unify European interests in trade, intellectual property, environmental standards, that has already been weakened, by the uncertainty around a the UK renegotiation and a referendum, would be weakened further.  

All over the world, those who do business with the EU would begin to the EU going to break up?  Are others going to follow the UK out the door?

In a world in which Europe is becoming a smaller force, economically, politically and in population, a weakened EU would probably not be in the interests of Europeans, whether they live in Belfast or Bratislava, in Downpatrick or in Dubrovnik.

A disunited Europe, of 28 or more separate countries, pursuing their own agendas would become a playground for outsiders seeking advantage and playing one off against the other.

Vladimir Putin would be happy.

So would Europe’s small number of potentially monopolistic energy suppliers, who could then more easily play one  European customer off against the other.

Europe’s borders could again become barriers behind which criminals could hide.

So I would ask you,  you who will be deciding this consider not only how the decision will affect yourselves, or  affect your local or national community, but also to consider how it will affect Europe as a whole, and its place in the world.


Northern Ireland voters also ought to take some account of the effect of a UK exit in your more immediate neighbourhood.

A study by the Centre for European Reform said that UK EU membership boosted UK goods exports by 55% over what they would be if the UK was outside the EU. 
That is a boost of £130 billion, which is three times as much as total UK exports to China. 

The UK’s National Institute for Economic Research estimated that leaving the EU would subtract 2.25% from the UK GDP. 

The losses would not be evenly spread. Regions in the UK which rely on services exports would lose least because the EU does not impose tariffs on services imports. But regions where manufacturing is important would be hit the hardest.  

The Centre for European Reform in London has calculated that, if the UK leaves the EU and if existing EU tariffs were then to be imposed on UK exports, the North East of England, with its big manufacturing base, would lose the most, the equivalent of 0.4% of its private sector output each year.  

Northern Ireland and the East Midlands would lose 0.35% per tear of their private sector output, but London, with its big tariff free service sector, would lose only 0.1% . Northern Ireland would lose almost twice as much as Wales would.

Some might argue that this will not happen because they assume that, even if the UK left the EU, it would be able to keep full free access to the EU market.  Maybe, maybe not. 


Switzerland has indeed negotiated tariff and duty free access to the EU market for its exports, but, in return it has had to accept immigration from the EU, contribute to EU funds for poorer regions, and has had to accept EU standards, in which it has no say. 

Given that these are precisely the sorts of thing that the UK objects too now, as a member of the EU, it will be difficult for UK to agree to pay that price for access to the EU Single market as a non member.

Remember the negotiation of the UK’s exit terms, after a referendum decision, will be a time limited negotiation where others can play brinkmanship too. 
And bear in mind that an EU/UK trade negotiation will not be a negotiation of equals. 

The EU sends only 7% of its exports to the UK, whereas the UK sends 45% of its exports to the EU. One must ask if other EU states would want to create a precedent of giving terms to the UK that it has refused to Norway and Switzerland, as non member.

If the UK exit terms are too generous, the precedent might encourage other states to leave, which of course they too are perfectly entitled to do.
If the UK leaves the EU, the world will not stand still.

At the moment, UK exporters benefit from any present or future trade and investment deal made by the EU, for example the mega trade and investment deal in prospect with the US. UK negotiators have an input to the terms. Outside the EU, they would have no say.

As a Union of 500 million, relatively prosperous, consumers, the EU has clout in such negotiations.

Without the UK, the EU would have less clout.

But the UK on its own will have even less clout than a diminished EU. Both of us would lose. And our competitors in Asia, the Americas, and elsewhere will gain. 


On the positive side, UK membership is vital if the EU is to complete its Single Market, particularly in services, especially digital services. Without the UK in the EU, protectionist forces would hold greater sway, and that would be a loss for UK exporters to Europe.

The organisation “British Influence” has estimated that completing the EU Single Market could add 1.8% to the overall EU GDP, but it has gone on to estimate that completing the EU Single Market it could add 7% to the UK GDP (assuming the UK is still in the EU)! 
Without the UK, support for moving towards a full EU Single Market will be much less.

Ironically one of the reported UK renegotiating goals, a veto on EU laws for a minority of national Parliaments, would most likely be used by others to block the completion of the Single Market, from which the UK has so much to gain.

Referring to the North East of England, The CER noted that “ironically regions that have most to lose from leaving the EU tend to be the most Euro sceptic”.

So it may be impossible, in a short referendum campaign, to convey all of these complex facts and risks to the electorate, given that there is so little knowledge of the value of the EU market, and the message will have to be conveyed through the medium of a press, much of which is viscerally anti Europe anyway. 


Coming closer to home, what might be the impact on Northern Ireland itself of the UK leaving the EU, and presumably taking Northern Ireland with it?
Unless the UK can negotiate a special trade deal, like Switzerland and Norway have, and I have already indicated the difficulties with that, customs posts would have to be erected along the border again. 

That would disrupt lives, and it would disrupt business.

Many firms process raw materials originating in the Republic here, and vice versa. All that would have to be subject to customs inspection, a costly and intrusive process.

If the UK wanted to restrict EU immigration from across the land border, it would have to institute passport controls within Ireland.....something that never happened in history before.

Smuggling would undergo a revival, with endless profit making opportunities would be opened up for subversives and organised criminals.

I have attended a number of debates in London of the possibility of Brexit, and have been surprised by how little notice is taken of the implications for Northern Ireland. Similarly little notice seems to be given to the effect of the UK leaving the EU on Scotland, or to the consequent effect  on the Union itself, a matter of concern to a significant section of the population in Northern Ireland.

Given the difficulties that exist, as things stand, in applying UK budget limits to Northern Ireland, one must also wonder where funds will be found to replace the EU Single Farm Payment for Northern Ireland farmers,  the EU rural development funds coming here, as well as  the EU Regional Fund monies.

The report prepared for the Northern Ireland Assembly by the Open University Business School, which I commend, says that between 2007 and 2013, a total of £2.42billion in EU funds came to Northern Ireland, of which £1.2billion was Single Farm Payments.

Will the UK be able or willing to replace that, especially if it still has to contribute to the EU budget as a non member, to get access to the EU Single Market?

I have focussed, so far, on the problems that might face the UK if it leaves. 


But my former constituents in Meath would not be unaffected.
We would lose a friend in Europe if the UK leaves.
We would lose the common EU framework for the whole island that has contributed so much to peace, and is specifically acknowledged in the Belfast Agreement.
Our tourist industry would suffer if barriers have to be placed on the border again.
But, we, south of the border, will have little say in the decision. You will.

As I said at the outset, I hope you will think of what will be best for yourselves, but also what will be good for Europe as a whole, for the rest of the UK, and, I hope, for the rest of this small island on which we all live.

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the annual dinner of the Council of the Incorporated Law Society of Northern Ireland, in the Ulster Museum, Belfast at 10.30pm on Friday 25th September .

Saturday, 19 September 2015


I am delighted that this seminar is being held to remember the contributions of two politicians who served this country very well. Both men died young, leaving grieving families, one by assassination and the other through a road accident .


For both families the loss was, of course, equally grave. The lives of both men should inspire us to protect the integrity of the institutions they did so much the build, and the values that drove them to make such sacrifices for their country.

As Kevin O Higgins lay dying, he explicitly expressed forgiveness to his assassins. This example deserves to be reflected upon. Forgiveness is a key to a good life, and a moral obligation, no matter how severe the hurt. 

Paddy Hogan died in road accident on 14 July 1936. Although he had become somewhat removed from the front line of politics at the time of his death (His Dail contributions were few from 1934 on),  the shock felt by his family, was shared by his fellow politicians.

Eamon de Valera said “There was no member who did not admire his courage and frankness in stating his views, his energy as an administrator, and his effectiveness in debate”.

Frank Aiken, who was introducing a Land Bill the day after Paddy Hogan’s death said
“I was looking forward to his criticism of this Bill, whether we agreed or not, His keen and abiding interest in Land Laws was known to all. It was only yesterday that I received from him some suggestions for the Bill”
This shows that, only 13 years after the end of the Civil War, Paddy Hogan was prepared to help his opponents improve legislation in the interests of the country. Like his opposition to campaigns for non payment of rates to which I will return later, this patriotic spirit exemplified by Paddy Hogan is one from which present generations can learn. 

Frank Aiken went on to describe Paddy Hogan, as Minister for Agriculture and Lands as

“one of the pioneers of land legislation. His name will always be honoured for the completion of land purchase (in legislation Hogan introduced in 1923) and the provision of land for congests”.


This indeed is central to the huge achievement of Paddy Hogan and Kevin O Higgins, and indeed of their Fianna Fail successors, the consolidation of democracy. That the Irish Free State would survive to become one of the oldest continuing democracies in Europe, was not inevitable, and was a huge achievement, an achievement of Kevin O Higgins and Patrick Hogan among others. 

If there had been no prior land reform, democracy might have not survived in an independent Ireland. The tensions that would have been generated by a continuing landlord system could have destroyed it, as happened in many of the other new democracies in Europe. Instead the landlord system had previously been dismantled peacefully, and with fairness, by non violent parliamentary means.


Many new states came into being all over Europe at this time.  In the aftermath of the First World War, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and the Irish Free State all came into being as separate, initially democratic, states.

All nine started out, like the Irish Free State, as democracies.  But, by the 1930’s, most of them, except Czechoslovakia, had become authoritarian states of one kind or another.

How is this?  Why did Ireland remain democratic while the other became authoritarian or worse.

There are many reasons, but Paddy Hogan’s role in completing Land Reform in 1923 was crucial.

In doing so he was completing the work of members of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Dillon, Michael Davitt, John Redmond, and Charles Stewart Parnell. 

Their work, in doing most of the heavy lifting on land reform made Ireland a property owning democracy, a democracy in which the majority of people had a stake in the democratic order, a democracy robust enough to endure in spite of war and division, when other European democracies, built of narrower bases, foundered and fell within a few years. 

As I said, many new states came into being all over Europe at the same time as our state. By 1940, none of those other states was still a democracy, or had the luxury, which the Irish Free state enjoyed, of being able to decide for itself whether it wished to remain neutral or not.

If the State had not remained a democracy, and had become instead, as might have happened if events turned out otherwise in 1922 or in 1931, an authoritarian nationalistic government, I doubt if Britain and America would have respected Irish neutrality, as they reluctantly did in the Second World War. 

That the Irish Free State would survive to become one of the oldest continuing democracies in Europe, was not inevitable, and was a huge achievement, an achievement of Kevin O Higgins and Patrick Hogan among others. 


It is to those other challenges to democracy, that O Higgins and Hogan faced, that I now turn.

The first of these challenges was a Civil War.

The issue over which the Civil War was fought, was the Treaty of 1921 and in particular provision in that Treaty about an oath which TDs had to take.  This oath pledged “allegiance to the constitution” and of being faithful to the King “in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain”. 
Naturally people were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid Civil War over a matter like this, even to lengths that might be considered undemocratic.


The early versions of the Collins /de Valera pact of mid 1922, negotiated just before the Civil War finally broke out, would have excluded all but Sinn Fein candidates from standing in the election to the Third Dail.  This would have been hugely undemocratic because this Dail was to draft the Free State constitution in accordance with the Treaty. 
Thankfully that version of the pact did not go ahead. 

Labour and Farmers Party candidates stood, and did unexpectedly well, notwithstanding some intimidation.

It is interesting to speculate as to why de Valera or Collins could have even contemplated such an undemocratic proposal, but both were possibly anxious to try almost anything, however desperate, to avoid a Civil War.

...................DEFIANCE OF MAJORITY RULE

Then consider the issue at stake in the Civil War itself, the authority of the Provisional Government and of the majority vote of the electorate.
Liam Mellowes, Rory O Connor and others who occupied the Four Courts in April 1922, were defying a clear Dail vote in favour of the Treaty. 

 They felt justified in so doing because in Easter 1916, and again in 1919, a Republic had been declared “in the name of God and of the dead generations”. Once it was thus proclaimed,  they considered that Republic existed, as of right. As they saw it, those who agreed to the Treaty, which provided for less than a 32 county Republic, were going back on their oath.

They convinced themselves that that oath took precedence over Dail majorities or Treaties. 
I believe this problem was created by, and the Civil War had its origin in, the particular way the 1916  Proclamation was framed. 

................THE 1916 PROCLAMATION  WORDING

The Proclamation did not say that the Volunteers were going to war in Easter Week to fight to WIN a Republic by force of arms, or to force their opponents to the negotiating table, but rather to DEFEND a Republic that, in their minds already formally existed, since it had been proclaimed the steps of the GPO on Easter Monday 1916, and reiterated by the First Dail on 1919. 

The decision of the 1916 leaders to proclaim, rather than simply to seek, a Republic, may have seemed like a rhetorical flourish at the time, but arguably it sowed the seeds of Civil War.

Furthermore the oath of allegiance to the proclaimed Republic, which IRB members took, was seen by many of them as an individual undertaking given in God’s name, that was not capable of compromise.  This illustrates the risk of having members of any oath bound secret organisation in Government. What if their oath clashes with their civic duty?

That view did not prevail in 1922 and 1923. Had it done so, the country might have been governed by an Army Executive, rather than by Dail Eireann.
As Paddy Hogan put it in the Dail on 28 September 1933
“We proved we were fit for democracy because we established it here..... We established majority rule in this country”.

In the same speech, he forcefully states his conviction that laws passed by Dail Eireann should be respected by all. He said why and warned of the dangers of populism.

“If you have a wide must have a strong administrative structure” and he added 
“I agree with President de Valera that it is bad that that any section should advocate the non payment of rates” 


Undemocratic urges were not confined to the Anti Treaty side. In 1931, disgruntled Army officers, led by Eoin O Duffy and Hugo McNeill, wanted to stage a coup to prevent de Valera taking office, if he won the election. This was squashed by General Mulcahy and by the Chief of Staff, Michael Brennan. 

This approach had the strong support of Paddy Hogan. In a pre election speech to his constituents in Galway on 3 February 1932, reported in the Irish Press, Paddy Hogan said
“If we are beaten in this election, we will accept the decision of the majority of the people. The Army and the Garda will go over to the new Government”
That was crucial.

The brave decision of Kevin O Higgins to create an unarmed police force, the Garda Siochana, in place of the armed RIC, was crucial to building consensus around respect for the law by people of all political persuasions.

.....................AN ARMY MUTINY

Even more important was O Higgins role in overcoming the army Mutiny in 1924. In so doing he established beyond doubt the supremacy of the civil, democratic, power over the armed forces of the state. Many countries ceased to be democracies, because they did not have a leader of the clear sighted courage Kevin O Higgins, who was prepared to stand up to his friends, and ensure that the armed forces of the state were in all things subordinate to the civil power.


Maintaining a democracy in a deeply divided, impoverished, and disappointed, society was the signal achievement of the Free State Governments.
Disappointment was, in a sense, inevitable.

All the effort of the years prior to independence had been devoted to ending the connection with Britain, which was represented as being the source of all ills.  There had been no deep national debate on the implications of independence within Sinn Fein prior to 1918. They had few ideas on public administration, other than to replace Dublin Castle. 
Sinn Fein had fought the December 1918 Election on a platform of separation from Britain. They defeated the Irish Parliamentary Party, led by John Dillon, who had campaigned for Dominion Status (as then enjoyed by Canada, Australia, Newfoundland, and New Zealand).


Yet, following the trauma of the war of 1919 to 1921 and the Treaty, this was exactly what the new state found itself with, the Irish Parliamentary Party platform of 1918, Dominion Status.
 After all the bloodshed, they now had to prove that the policy of their defeated Parliamentary Party opponents could be made to work after all. On the face of it, not a very easy task, but one in which they succeeded so very well.

Few realised, at the time, probably not even John Dillon and the IPP which advocated it, how much potential for peaceful evolution Dominion status actually involved, and successive Free State governments were to exploit that potential skilfully, and to the full, in conjunction with the other Dominions. Indeed nobody was more skilful in building on Dominion status, and vindicating the policy of John Dillon, than the man who defeated him in East Mayo in 1918, Eamon de Valera

....................26 COUNTIES, NOT THE PROMISED 32

Another source of disappointment was of course the fact that six north eastern counties remained outside the State and within the United Kingdom.

The debacle of the Boundary Commission, set up under the Treaty to see if changes might be made to the border, must be seen against the background of the unwillingness of Irish Nationalism to think seriously or realistically about the simple reality of Ulster Unionism, concentrated geographically and unwilling to be absorbed or integrated politically with the rest of the island.  As a result of this lack of serious intellectual effort to comprehend reality and accept it, the Boundary Commission was surrounded by many unreal expectations.

Prior to independence, Sinn Fein had, according an historian of the period Donal P Corcoran, “made little effort to understand Unionists, believing them to be puppets of the British”.

That is the besetting problem of Irish nationalism to this day, as we see with the continuing flags disputes in Belfast and elsewhere, where flags are used to mark out territory rather than to bring people together.

.....................A HUGE FISCAL BURDEN

The economic conditions with which the new Government had to cope were far from ideal.

The extra cost of the Civil War was two full years normal Government spending. 

At one point, 55,000 soldiers were on the state payroll, 12,000 anti Treaty forces were being maintained in prison, and 485 police stations, numerous bridges and other infrastructure had been destroyed. All had to be paid for.

Old Age Pensions, introduced by the British in 1908, also had to be paid, and Ireland had a per capita tax base that was only half that of Britain, and had proportionately more pensioners because of emigration. 
43% of the people, who had been born in Ireland, were living and paying taxes abroad, as emigrants, as against- for example- only 14% of Scots who were doing so.

Without emigrant’s remittances, the situation would have been much worse. 
So maintaining the pension rates they had inherited from the British was never going to be easy.


Education was poor. 49% of students failed to pass a single subject in the recently introduced Leaving Certificate, when the exam took place in 1919. Illiteracy was around 10%, as against 2% in Britain, and half of the schools had only one teacher.

Agricultural output had fallen in value from £108 million in 1918/9, to only £69 million in 1924/5. Ireland had only one market for its produce, Britain, and, with the end of the war and the opening up of sea routes, that market became much more competitive. Irish Free State manufacturing industry was confined to brewing, distilling, bacon curing, and the Ford Motor plant in Cork.

Apart from the physical and financial damage caused by the choice to use of violence from 1916 to 1923, the new government also had to cope with the damage to the country’s human and psychological resources.

.................................A  FLIGHT OF CAPITAL

 A recent Civil War is not attractive to potential overseas investors.

The insecurity generated by the wars from 1916 to 1923 encouraged domestic savers to put their money safely overseas. By the mid 1920’s, residents of the Irish Free State had  almost three times as much invested abroad, as people from abroad had invested in the State.

Many former Southern Unionists, some of whose homes had been burned during the so called “truce”, left, and took their money with them.

When one considers that these departing Southern Unionists were people with   resources, and networks, which could have been used to set up new businesses in Ireland, their going was a real loss.

It is noteworthy that one of the few civil servants of the new state who promoted the idea of attracting foreign direct investment, was a 37 year old Southern Unionist, Gordon Campbell, the son of Lord Glenavy, who served the Free State as Secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce.
The Civil War divide created a legacy of distrust that also inhibited native entrepreneurialism, and cross party support for good ideas.

Even the pioneering work of promoting the generation of renewable electricity by harnessing the Shannon at Ardnacrusha attracted criticism from the opposition. 


Cosgrave, O Higgins and Hogan were determined that the Government would balance its budget.
They did not want to give the British an excuse to come back in on the basis that the new Government was not paying its debts. This was no fanciful or remote possibility.

It was exactly what happened to another dominion, Newfoundland, the year after Cosgrave left office, in 1933. Indeed that is why Newfoundland is not an independent state today.


Even as the Civil war raged, the Government introduced the Civil Service Commission to ensure that appointments to the service were made on merit, and it is noteworthy that de Valera had no difficulty working with most of the appointees of his predecessor’s administration.

The top appointees in the new civil service were recruited from the old Dublin Castle administration and from Irish people with administrative experience abroad. Newer recruits came straight from secondary school, which meant that few of them were people with outside professional or business experience.  Government policy was determined mostly by a small circle of senior civil servants and Ministers. The former were administrators, and the latter were mostly lawyers. This may explain why there was no real development focus, of the kind observed in other small countries, like Denmark, at the time.

The Government relied on agriculture to lift the economy. 

This was understandable, when one considers that, for the previous fifty years, so much of the political energies had been devoted to the simple goal of transferring the ownership of the agricultural land of Ireland from landlords to the people who were actually working it. 

But, to reach its potential, Irish land needed investment in farm buildings, drainage and fertilisers. Money was not there for that. Farmers needed education in scientific methods, and the academically dominated schools system did not provide that either. In any event, many holdings were too small to be efficient, and the trend towards mechanisation was already reducing the number of jobs a given amount of land could support, on the farm or in downstream food processing.


The Government, under the inspiration of Paddy Hogan, as Minister for Agriculture, did much to improve the quality of farm produce and to merge creameries. He was considered by many, including my own family, as the best Minister for Agriculture ever.

But to understand what a political party, and its leaders really believe in, it is good to look at the policies they would insist upon, as a condition for supporting their opponents in office while giving up office themselves. Such a situation actually arose for the party of Paddy Hogan, Kevin O Higgins and WT Cosgrave in 1927 and it was clarifying moment.

After the first Election of 1927,  in the 5th Dail, no party had a majority, and various options of minority governments were being canvassed.

One possibility was a minority Labour/ National League (Redmondite) government, the other was a minority Fianna Fail government.

WT Cosgrave outlined his conditions for possibly supporting a minority, Fianna Fail led, government. 
Four of his five conditions were

+ a balanced budget
+ a single army
+ an independent judiciary
+ an impartial administration

These conditions all concerned maintaining the authority of the state. 
That was the cause to which Kevin O Higgins and Paddy Hogan devoted their lives.....a cause in which they succeeded magnificently.

Paper by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at a Seminar on the political lives of Paddy Hogan, Minister for Agriculture, and Kevin O Higgins, Minister for Justice in the Cumann na nGaedhael  Government. In Wynns Hotel , Dublin at 1pm in 12 September 2015
Other speakers at this well attended seminar included former Minister Martin Mansergh, and historians Ciara Meehan and John P McCarthy. The seminar was opened by Pat Rabitte TD.

The seminar was attended by many members of the O Higgins and Hogan families, notably former Deputy for Galway East, an daughter of Patrick Hogan, Bridger Hogan O Higgins.

Monday, 7 September 2015


A “Daily Mail” poll,  last week, showed that, in a sudden change, 51% of UK voters now want to leave the EU, whereas 49% want to stay in.

This big change in opinion seems to be related to the refugee crisis, because the poll also shows voters strongly favour David Cameron’s unwillingness to accommodate large numbers of refugees as against Angela Merkel’s support for all EU countries accommodating a substantial quota.

This dramatic change in opinion shows how a referendum result on a particular day can turn on unexpected events, and how a permanent decision can be influenced by what may prove to be temporary phenomena

The UK already had a referendum on whether to stay in the EU in 1975.  Now it is to have another in 2017. But will this 2017 referendum settle the question?

Eurosceptics, like Nigel Farage, have welcomed the decision of David Cameron to change the wording of the question UK voters will be asked to decide on, from a “Yes” or “No” to UK membership, to one which asks whether UK voters want to “remain” in, or “leave”, the Union. 

This change was recommended to David Cameron by the Electoral Commission who felt the earlier formulation favoured those who wanted the UK to stay in the EU.

“Leave” implies action, “remain “could be construed as endorsing passivity.  “Yes” would have implied positivity, “No” negativity. Generally people prefer to be positive. So perhaps Nigel Farage is right to be happy.

The bigger risk here is not in the wording of the question. It is in the political reality  that, in a referendum, temporary considerations, like anger at some current government policy on an unrelated matter, may induce people to make a permanent decision that they would not make in normal circumstances.

That is why I prefer parliamentary democracy to referendum democracy. 

In a referendum, the issue has to be reduced to a single question decided on a single day. 
In the parliamentary system the decision is usually taken over many months, in a process which allows greater flexibility, and opportunities to change direction in light of what is learned. 

But a referendum is what we are going to have, so it behoves everyone in all the 28 EU countries to do what they can to ensure, if they want the UK to stay in the EU, that the negotiation is concluded in a way that presents the EU in the best possible light to the UK electorate.

The UK’s negotiating approach, and the frame of mind in which the UK people approach the negotiations, are important here too. If the UK gets a good deal, that is endorsed in a referendum, will UK citizens then fully commit to the EU, or will they retain an attitude of conditional and skeptical membership, waiting for the next opportunity to find fault?

In 2003, I was chairman of the committee of the Convention on the Future of Europe which dealt with Justice and Home Affairs.  Our task was to redraft the provisions of the EU Treaties dealing with cross border crimes. The UK had long been suspicious of continental courts having jurisdiction over UK citizens and wanted to limit EU activity in this field.

At each stage in the negotiation, the other parties to the negotiation went as far as they thought they could to accommodate UK concerns, only to find that once that was settled, the UK came back looking for more concessions on the same points.

The Convention’s “final” draft of the proposed EU Constitution, was not final. The UK looked for, and got, more concessions in the draft approved by the Heads of Government. 

Then, when the Constitution failed in referenda in France and the Netherlands, and was replaced by a slightly slimmed down “Treaty” in Lisbon, the UK looked for, and got, even more concessions on their concerns, including a complete opt out, with a right to opt in at will.

Will the other states go all the way to their bottom lines, in the negotiation of the “improved” terms of UK membership if they think the UK will adopt a similar tactic and keep coming back for more? They will ask themselves how an EU of 28 members would work, if every country that UK approach.

Suppose the final deal is one that satisfies UK voters by a narrow margin, will future UK governments then be likely to go on looking for further concessions afterwards, on the same issues, every time there have to be any further revisions of the EU Treaties? 

If the answer to these questions is yes, and there are many in the UK who will never be satisfied with what the EU offers, then the other 27 members may hold back from their maximum concession. 

David Cameron may then find he has raised expectations in the UK unduly, and may fail to convince UK voters to remain in the EU.

Or he may find that his electorate wants to “experiment” with leaving the EU, just as many US voters want to experiment with Donald Trump, or some UK voters seem to want to experiment with Jeremy Corbyn.

There also is the related risk that UK voters may see the referendum as an opportunity to “make a statement” about their sense of who they are, rather than make a final, fully considered, decision about the future of Europe. 

So we must prepare for the possibility of an EU without the UK.