Clever but not Wise: British Interests and Irish Aspirations

Review of Ronan Fanning’s Fatal Path, British Government and Irish Revolution 1910-1922

The centenary of Irish commemorations is well and truly underway. If you are interested in Irish history you have many treats in store, from the ceremonies two years hence to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Rising and all that flowed from that seminal event, to the many new histories and reassessments being published about this period.

A great place to start, or continue, is to spend some comfortable hours reading Ronan Fanning’s Fatal Path, British Government and Irish Revolution 1910-1922 (faber and faber, 2013). I have an interest to declare in that Ronan was my history professor at UCD and subsequently advisor on my Ph.D. His book echoes with what I recall as his immense interest in how the interactions of people created the events, negotiations and outcomes and that shaped our history. In class he would positively thrill to the telling anecdote or incident that revealed the human side of history making. That humanising quality shines through in this volume. His deft sketches of the characters involved – British and Irish – give enough to enliven them and their relationships with each other without unduly pausing the rush of narrative.

And it is a rush, a–hard-to-put-down story of the birth of our country. A lifetime steeped in this story, notably from the perspective of Anglo-Irish diplomacy, allows Fanning mastery of the material both original and secondary. It is a master class in selection and compression.

Fanning’s magnum opus is of course his history of the Department of Finance. Concerned that he alone would see many of the files made available to him for his research, Fanning included in the volume much original material, making it quite a hefty tome, an essential guide to one of the key stakeholders in Ireland’s story, but ultimately an unwieldy product. (As it turned out, the archives would eventually be released.)

In contrast, one of the strengths of the Fatal Path is the ruthlessness with which Fanning uncovers and directs his story. Again and again he underscores, as if etching the point in disapproving red, that the primary British interest lay in sorting out the Ulster unionists first, and only then dealing with the wearisome business of the perennial Irish question. The British Government adopt partition as the unavoidable outcome of, and solution to the Irish problem just as soon as the Ulster unionists and their Tory party allies realise there is no stopping home rule once the Great War is brought to a conclusion.

The only issue on which the Ulster unionists were not accommodated was their own status in relation to the rest of Britain. They would have preferred simple integration but London, ever mindful of Washington’s disapproving eye, felt it had no choice but to make a virtue of granting self-determination (within the Empire of course) to the whole of Ireland even if it was to be bifurcated between two local parliaments.

The converse of Fanning’s analysis holds true for nationalists and if he hovers a red pen over them it is for their unwillingness to accept what was staring them in the face – the implacable hostility of the Unionists to home rule and any accommodation within an autonomous Ireland. If London came to the conclusion that the fundamental question was how to sort out the Ulster unionists, nationalists held to the contrary view that it was no such thing, that it was merely internal housekeeping to be decided after national self-determination was granted.

There was of course nothing to gain for nationalists to concede the point of unionist implacability, but it left them open to the accusation of willful delusion. If nationalists could claim self-determination, why couldn’t the Ulster unionists do the same? Why indeed did nationalists find the UVF so inspiring? There is no gainsaying the point that the formation of the UVF directly inspired the formation of the Irish Volunteer movement and all that that portended for the future course of Anglo-Irish relations.

Fanning’s interest is the perspective from London and much of his narrative therefore is drawn from British documents and the records of British officials involved. Events shaping things on the ground in Ireland – the 1916 Rising, the impact of the prospect of conscription, bloody incidents of insurrection and counter-insurgency – come as reports from a distant land in this telling. Their value for Fanning’s purposes is how they shaped the thoughts of the members of the cabinet and their advisors who are charged with calculating and politicking their way toward a negotiated outcome, while managing to keep the coalition government intact.

No greater politician, nor greater schemer, occupies this story than David Lloyd George, and Fanning rightly accords him pride of place as the little dynamo of diplomacy and intrigue, fixated on his twin objectives of staying in power as Prime Minister and inexorably maneuvering to solve the ‘Irish question’.

Perhaps the single most consequential question for Ireland was why Eamon de Valera did not lead the delegation to London for the fateful negotiations that would lead to the Treaty. Again Fanning deftly sculpts his prose to capture the likely factors and miscalculations at play. According to Fatal Path, it was a combination of calculation and miscalculation. Of this fateful decision Fanning writes:

“De Valera knew from his own talks with Lloyd George in July of the extreme difficulty of the negotiations that lay ahead. He knew, too, that any Irish negotiating team would be callow and inexperienced compared to their British counterparts, who would also enjoy the advantage of playing at home. In theory, his strategy of denying finality to what might happen in Downing Street by insisting that that final decision be taken in Dublin seemed shrewd. In practice it was fatally flawed because of the inherent contradiction between the plenipotentiary status of the delegates and their agreement to sign nothing in London that had not been endorsed by the Dáil cabinet in Dublin. First, because de Valera failed adequately to explain his reasoning to the plenipotentiaries before the talks began; the corollary was that it never occurred to de Valera that the ultimate decision about an agreement might be made in London and not in Dublin. Second, because the bonding that took place between the plenipotentiaries on their wearying journeys by sea and rail and during their long hours in London silently corroded de Valera’s authority with consequences that proved disastrous.”

I’ve always wondered about this decision myself. (Indeed, we discussed it in depth in Fanning’s tutorials as he threw the imponderables of the vexed episode at our callow minds: I doubt we ever gave the man an original thought on it.) De Valera once said that his greatest regret was not arresting the delegation on arrival in Dublin Treaty in hand. They had defied him, the elected President, in concluding terms on the most profound issue of independence, the holy grail of eight hundred years of struggle.

Yet this was surely hyperbole on de Valera’s part, offered in hindsight and with a fair degree of awareness that he himself had contributed to the tragic events that followed the Treaty debates. De Valera had received regular reports from the delegates, including Collins and Griffith. As Fanning notes, the delegates themselves plied their weary way between London and Dublin at intervals. De Valera himself had discussed the territory of the deal with Lloyd George previously. Above all, as Fanning points out, the outlines of the deal were pregnant in the very acceptance of the invitation to talks.

One might usefully parse Fanning’s use of the term ‘disastrous’ on two counts. One because it presumes that something substantially more was on offer than the delegates secured; and two because part of the disastrous effect of the Treaty was generated by de Valera’s own reaction to and ultimate rejection of it, a response that added to the fateful momentum toward civil war.

Fanning’s analytical stare, his focus on the essential, brooks no patience with those who might quibble or equivocate, mitigate or excuse the performance of the Irish delegates; his portrait of the Irish delegates, and indeed their performance when pitted against their British counterparts, is so candid as to verge on the merciless. They arrived without a written text of their own, a disastrous ceding of advantage to the British side. In place of their chief navigator, de Valera, Arthur Griffith assumed effective leadership, his sense of honor exploited by Lloyd George at the critical hour. They had limited instructions and no worked out fall-back positions or creative proposals about the critical issues surrounding partition – its territorial extent, its relationship with the parliament-to-be in Dublin, protections for Catholics within unionist jurisdiction, not even for the mechanisms for registering local opinion in the event of a border plebiscite. (For all of these failures, de Valera must shoulder responsibility too.)

Ranged against them were some of the finest political and legal minds of the British Empire, led by a political mastermind in Lloyd George who had just spent much of the previous year honing his skills as he negotiated the postwar peace in Europe.

Fanning’s brisk account of the Anglo-Irish negotiations is fascinating and compelling. Even as he recounts the negotiations and Lloyd George’s mastery of them, he cuts back again and again to the fundamentals – that a deal on the Irish question was built on an unwavering commitment to the Ulster unionists. There appears for a time some tussle over the question of the crown and unity i.e. that the nationalist side believed a fair outcome included some semblance of unity in exchange for acceptance of the Crown and Empire. The logic of their argument was impeccable. If they were not getting unity, why accept anything less than a republic for the twenty-six counties; conversely for a semblance of unity they would acquiesce in a semblance of loyalty.

Logic does not however dictate outcomes in power politics, however, and the forces facing the delegates were overpowering – the impregnable position of the Ulster unionists, the power and influence of their allies, the utter dependence of Lloyd George on the Tories for his continuation as Prime Minister. By the time the delegates were pleading for fairness, Lloyd George knew he had them where he wanted them and the deal in the bag; all that remained was for them to sign before departure, which he accomplished with a magician’s flare.

Of Lloyd George’s triumph, Fanning quotes from the diary of Tom Jones, a key Whitehall official on Irish affairs, to devastating effect: ‘In essentials we have given nothing that was not in the July proposals.’

The scions of Empire might indeed congratulate themselves on their triumph but as one pulls back from the immediate drama and intrigue of the Anglo-Irish negotiations one must wonder at its Pyrrhic nature. Were they so really so blind to this? After all, they had not negotiated to keep Ireland but to let it go. Collins would stand in Dublin Castle the following January to assume command and see off the departing British garrison. They had conspired – and conspired is the right word in this context – to divide Ireland as definitively as the Ulster unionists dictated. For the sake of an oath of loyalty to the Crown adopted per force by the unwilling, Ireland would suffer a civil war.

Stepping even further back, Home Rule had been promised by Gladstone since 1886 yet had been undelivered, its frustration breeding an implacable seam of republican nationalism that would stage the 1916 Rising and reshape Anglo-Irish relations irrevocably. In this thirty-six year long debacle surely lies an honorary companion to Barbara Tuchman’s catalogue of inexplicable historical failures, The March of Folly.

In threatening war to seal his deal, Lloyd George was transgressing one of the laws of successful negotiations or at least those that look to an enduring outcome – that the result of all the late nights and deadlines be manifestly fair to all sides, with gains and losses accounted for equitably. My own experience of negotiation during the Good Friday Agreement talks suggests just such an outcome. For while there was much hard bargaining, the talks were undertaken by equal partners, jointly managed by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair (in what was assuredly their finest hour), and presided over by the avuncular and trustworthy George Mitchell. There was a common aim in trying to broker an historic peace deal, not a competition to win unsustainable gains.

By that measure, Lloyd George was clever but not wise. Indeed the palpable relief of Lloyd George, Churchill et al to be free of the ‘Irish bog’ would be funny if the circumstances were not so tragic. It was a measure of their partisanship, their lack of any sense that Ireland could be a valued partner in the great enterprise of a Commonwealth that they so ostensibly valued as a free one. The great divide, which Fanning does not shrink, was religious sectarianism and the fundamental problem so many in British governing circles had in regard to Catholicism.

Has the verdict of history been kind to Lloyd George’s achievement in the Government of Ireland Act and the Treaty?  Yes and no.  Lloyd George had the inestimable common sense to look at what he faced and reconcile the demands of the Ulster unionists, the aspirations of the nationalists and the needs of the imperialists.  That was no mean achievement and, aside from the tragic events of the Irish civil war, in doing so he brought about a settlement.

On the other hand, his settlement was twice unpicked.  As soon as he was in power, de Valera surgically dismembered the Treaty, mainly and substantially through his 1937 Constitution.  After three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, the Government of Ireland Act was transcended by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that recast partition not as a sundering but as an expression of self-determination that was, moreover, capable of change if a majority so decided in the future.

What is striking from Fanning’s account is how negative British attitudes toward the Irish determined so much of the approach and decisions made between 1910 and 1922. His account reminds us of how far we have travelled in Anglo-Irish relations and how firm our concord now is, resting as it does on a relationship of equality and mutual respect. Had those qualities been in greater evidence back then perhaps the path of Anglo-Irish relations might not have proven so fatal. Fanning has done good service in looking afresh at Britain’s approach to the Irish revolution. His firm divination of the sources of power directing that approach brings a welcome candour and maturity to the analysis.

Eamonn McKee

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News Round-up from Ireland Israel, Ambassador’s Message, 21 November 2014

“I condemn the horrific attack on the Har Nof synagogue in Jerusalem and express deepest sympathies to the Israeli victims” said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, in response to the attack earlier this week.  He added, “I call on all sides to avoid provocations in response to these brutal murders and to act with responsibility and restraint.”

Murder in a synagogue is both shocking and saddening.  Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.  Indeed, as headline succeeds headline about violent incidents that have left dead and injured in their wake, we must think always of all of the victims of violence and their relatives whose lives are forever blighted by loss and grief.  They are wounded just as society is by violence and this indeed must act as a spur to renew efforts to achieve peace and set out earnestly on the long road to reconciliation and the two state solution.  As Minister Flanagan said, “violence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank shows that political failure will leave a vacuum which militant voices will fill.”

How to make political progress on the MEPP was considered at a meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.  The EU Foreign Ministers called “on political leaders from all sides to work together through visible actions to de-escalate the situation” and they affirmed the EU has a “strategic interest to see an end to the conflict and is willing to play a major role and actively contribute to a negotiated solution of all final status issues.” Their conclusions cover all the key issues, from settlements to the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, and it is well worth a read here http://t.co/t6dcnLQKJ5

In Northern Ireland, the talks to resolve the impasse on such issues as parades, dealing with the past and the budget are continuing, with the pace of talks picking up.  A good BBC News snapshot is here http://t.co/Bd9AJzP2kY

Ireland continues to improve its debt situation with early repayment of IMF loans. According to the Irish Times: “Ireland plans to repay approximately €18.3 billion of IMF loans ahead of schedule. It is believed the Government is likely to follow the first repayment with a bond issue in January with a view to repaying a further €9 billion-€10 billion of the IMF debt early next year.”  Full report here http://t.co/QTEACzA8sk

The publication of documents in Irish foreign policy is always a major event for academics and foreign policy aficionados.  Volume X covering 1948-51 was published this week and was launched at Iveagh House.  According to the publisher, the Royal Irish Academy (www.ria.ie ):  “It covers Ireland’s role as a founder member of the Council of Europe in 1949 and the state’s response to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950 – the origins of today’s EU. It details Ireland’s refusal to join NATO. The Korean War (1950-53) forms a large component of the volume which sees Ireland’s foreign relations take a wider perspective and its network of overseas missions grow.”

“A century after the start of World War I and 70 years since D Day, over 2,000 Jewish former servicemen marched through London on Sunday, as they have done almost without fail for more than eight decades.” So starts a Times of Israel report that is worth a read because the contribution of Jews as fighters in both world wars is sometimes forgotten or occluded by the Shoah http://t.co/xgyDrHvMhP

Speaking of great cities, there is a wonderful New York Times video and related article on 36 hours in Dublin.  If you haven’t been there in a while, or ever, it might well encourage you to book a flight soon http://t.co/3s8wqvoM5E

Did you know that a rebel from Cork was the first to use the term United States of America, at least according to the earliest record in a letter from 1776? http://t.co/cDJTEc9ERD

Finally, I tweeted Yeats’ famous lines: “Too long a sacrifice/ Can make a stone of the heart./ O when may it suffice?” In his iconography, the stone reoccurs, sometimes untroubled in the living stream or here as an emblem of the petrifying effects of conflict and violence on human sentiment.  It is both a warning and an apt plea for our times.

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

Tel Aviv

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Ireland is Coming Back and Other News, Ambassador’s Message, 7 November 2014

Irish economic growth is looking robust and its recovery appears to be broad based with growth this year estimated at 4.6% and forecast at 3.6% next year. This is all the more impressive given that growth in the EU, our major trading partner, is sluggish and forecasts for next year at 1.2% are retreating http://t.co/5tfYdcKWnl In Ireland, unemployment has now fallen to 11% and industrial production is up. Revenues are also buoyant, greatly helping the exchequer. On top of this, the Government successfully borrowed €3.75 billion in international markets at below 2.5%, allowing us to accelerate our early payback of more expensive IMF loans, easing repayments and ultimately our debt-to-GDP ratio, the critical measure of solvency http://t.co/IYMGVDXVYE

The engine of much of Irish economic growth has been the IDA, doing a tremendous job since the 1960s in promoting Ireland as a location for Foreign Direct Investment. The IDA has helped transform Ireland. This has held true even during the challenges of recent years, thanks to its constant evolution toward commercial frontiers: as IDA CEO Martin Shanahan tells us “since 2010, over 100 high growth global companies have set up in Ireland with the support of IDA.”

In the latest development, four hundred new jobs for Cork, Dublin and Galway from 8 North American and European based high-growth companies, spread across software development, telecoms, internet, digital and social media. As the Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD said: “I told the Dublin Web Summit that Ireland is one of the most exciting places in the world to build the enterprises of tomorrow and I’m delighted to welcome eight exciting and vibrant companies to Ireland to do just that. More information here http://t.co/jof58B6EUy

The Taoiseach was referring to the big event in Dublin this week which welcomed over 20,000 guests. The Dublin Web Summit ranks as one of the world’s leading gathering of high-tech innovators and venture capitalists. This link sets the scene http://t.co/Ifotbuiotx   The spin-offs are many, including hundreds of millions of euros worth of advertising, the use of 97 venues across the city and a huge boost to local tourism. The Irish Times reported that “Companies that have opened offices in Ireland, directly as a result of the Web Summit, include Smartling, Qualtrics, Wonga, Quantcast and Nordeus.” For news of the Summit check out its blog here http://blog.websummit.net/

One of the difficulties for Ireland’s SME sector in recent years has been access to finance, fallout from the financial crisis and the self-inflicted plight of our banking sector. It is a very welcome development then that a new fund of €800 million is being made available to SMEs under the Government’s new Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI). The SBCI is a new company, initially financed by the German Promotional Bank KfW, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the directed portfolio of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF). The involvement of KfW follows directly from discussion between the Taoiseach and Chancellor Merkel following Ireland’s successful exit from the EU/IMF Programme on finding ways to reinforce Ireland’s economic recovery. Report on the launch of the SBCI here http://t.co/9Es8vL4IVx   and the Irish Times’ editorial comment on this is here http://t.co/1owuESzsHd

We were reminded of the origins of our financial crisis by the publication this week of the ECB’s letter to the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, in November 2010. Text of the letter, which pretty much insisted that Ireland apply for a bailout if the EBC was to continue emergency funding of the Irish banks, is here courtesy of the Irish Times http://t.co/2UhPKAqsO8 The letter is important confirmation of what was generally known or at least accepted but of course if it only part of a much bigger story, critical factors in which included the bank guarantee and the disaggregation of euro bond risk which made Irish borrowing punitive and eventually unsustainable.

On the current Northern Ireland talks, Minister Flanagan and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Teresa Villiers met the parties in round table discussions. The engagement was positive and the Minister said that “following these meetings, both Governments will be in a good position to assess the scope for possible agreement.” Both he and Secretary of State Villiers are due to report back to the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Cameron respectively on the talks by 28 November. Full statement here https://t.co/uPaLP7olqh

Irish emigration has been a feature of our recent history, particularly since the Great Famine. Indeed the combination of the Famine and sustained emigration has meant that Ireland has not yet recovered demographically to the pre-Famine level of population of 8 million. Given the links between population density and socio-economic development, what Ireland would have looked like without the Famine is the great “what if” of modern Irish history. One important aspect of emigration was the level of remittances sent back home, up to £100 million a year in the 1940s and 1950s – very helpful sums for those in Ireland during what were very bleak years economically. It continues to this day: Ireland’s Diaspora remitted some €9.6 billion ($12 bn) to Ireland since 1990; some reflections on this here in an Irish Times Op Ed http://t.co/yhzEcIQkSI

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv

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Ambassador’s Message, News from Ireland, Twitter Roundup 31 October

Rain clouds split open like rice-bags

(from A Robin in Autumn/Chatting at Dawn by Paul Durcan, in The Art of Life)* 

Nine Italian Banks failed the European Central Bank’s stress tests. What relevance to Ireland?  Irish banks were not mentioned in the extensive international coverage because they passed the tests, with the exception of one bank (weighed down by a large portfolio of tracker mortgages) that failed one of the tests; Permanent TSB has been making provision to rectify this.  That our main ‘pillar banks’ – the Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank – passed these tests demonstrates how far we have progressed from the banking and property crises that began to unfold in 2008.  Though singularly not responsible for these crises, the Irish taxpayer has shouldered the burden of bailing out the banks with a capital injection of €64bn.  It’s gratifying to see that investment enabling the banks to pass these critical tests. The Minister for Finance’s welcome response is reported here http://t.co/uxrPay7PKe

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan wrote an Op Ed in the Irish Times on the importance of the current talks in Northern Ireland http://t.co/77btCHuF6m   The talks have been joined by Secretary of State Kerry’s personal representative Senator Gary Hart.  The mood, noted Minister Flanagan in a statement, has been positive so far https://t.co/YgYtipVDF0

On the peace process here the Minister expressed his deep concern about the settlement announcements in East Jerusalem http://t.co/FgA5BqSCbU  Minister Flanagan urged “the Israeli Government to reverse this decision and to work with the international community in seeking to revive substantive negotiations aimed at achieving the two-State solution which offers the only realistic prospect for peace between Israeli and Palestinian people.” 

One of the great themes in the Middle East is the origin of the peoples that have come and gone over the ages. Developments in the study of ancient genetics has revolutionised our understanding of this field.  This link http://t.co/nOYnXf1huh is to a great story from the New York Times of the contribution that University College Dublin is making to our understanding of the origins of man, particularly the origins of Europeans.  The archaeologists and genetic specialists at UCD, led by Prof. Ron Pinhasi, are transecting a site in the Great Hungarian Plain going back over 7,000 years.  The story emerging is that of an original dark skinned, blue-eyed hunter-gather people,  augmented then by an ancient farming people from the Middle East and then, surprisingly, about 4,000 years ago (the Bronze Age) by a third genetic contribution from northern Eurasia.

Again on the technology front, a young Irish person we can take great pride in is nine year old Lauren Boyle, named as the EU’s Digital Girl of the Year:http://t.co/kcVR8N8EiO.  Her company www.coolkidsstudio.com   mentors young people on computer coding and, along the way, on life lessons too.

At the other end of life’s span, Fr PJ McGlinchey is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Awards by President Higgins.  I was honoured to meet Fr McGlinchey when I served in Korea.  He has made an incalculable contribution to the life of the people of Jeju Island since he arrived there in 1954.  The work of the Irish Columban Order, Fathers and Sisters, in Korea is really an untold story of quiet heroism and compassion  http://t.co/AYHKN7XA1z

In keeping with the decade of commemorations and the focus on the birth of the Irish state, I tweeted a photo from the National Library of Ireland of an admission card for the London funeral procession of Terence MacSwiney.  MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork at the time, died on hunger strike in October 1920 while interned in Brixton Prison.  A long time nationalist activist and writer, MacSwiney was protesting his internment at the hands of a military court though of course his protest was part of the struggle for independence.  The war of independence was at its height in 1920.  While his hunger strike garnered world-wide attention, the British Government would not budge and MacSwiney died on day 74 of his strike after several attempts at force feeding.  His legacy lives on in his contribution to Irish freedom and his writings as journalist and intellectual https://twitter.com/NLIreland/status/527044846561677312/photo/1

Finally, one of Ireland’s finest poets, and a personal favourite, Paul Durcan was recognised for his contribution with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.  His poetry combines acute observation, comedy and pathos about the encounters of everyday life.  This link also has embedded video of Durcan’s highly engaging readings  http://t.co/MatkMzne1k

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv

*Quoted in honour of the rain currently blessing Israel

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Ambassador’s Message – Twitter Roundup September/October

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

                                                                   (WB Yeats)

You may not be following me on Twitter, so I’ve pulled together some recent items that you might find interesting about Ireland and Israel, now and in the past, being as we’re in the decade of commemorations.

As you’ll have seen from my recent message, the economic news is positive. This link is to the ESRI’s Autumn Economic Commentary;

http://esri.ie/news_events/latest_press_releases/latest-esri-forecast-pred/index.xml

The ESRI predicts “a growth in GNP of 4.9 percent in 2014 and of 5.2 percent in 2014. Declines in unemployment are also forecast, with the headline rate envisaged to fall to 9.6 per cent in 2015.”

Our tourism sector has been doing particularly well. We got an added boost from the Lonely Planet guide which has named Ireland as one of the top places to visit; http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/travel/lonely-planet-names-ireland-as-one-of-the-top-countries-to-visit-1.1971225#.VEZD7Y-tdrs.twitter

Another major story back home is Northern Ireland.  You are probably aware that a number of issues have been dogging the peace process, specifically parades, flags, dealing with the past and domestic policy issues like welfare reform.  Talks are now underway to try to resolve these issues. Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan is representing the Government. You can read the Taoiseach’s welcome for this development here; http://www.merrionstreet.ie/index.php/2014/10/statement-by-the-taoiseach-enda-kenny-t-d-on-the-commencement-of-political-talks-in-northern-ireland

The US is strongly supportive, as ever.  Secretary of State Kerry has appointed former US Senator Gary Harte as his personal representative on Northern Ireland. Minister Flanagan welcomes this development here; https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/october/minister-flanagan-appointment-of-former-us-senator

The decade of commemorations is truly underway with the centenary of the start of World War I.  Irish engagement in the Armistice Day ceremonies marks a new level of recognition of the many Irish who fought and died in the war under a British flag.  Reflecting this, and the new level of concord in Anglo-Irish relations, Minister Flanagan welcomed an invitation from the British Government to Ireland to lay a wreath at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in London in November.  His statement ion the invitation is here; https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/october/minister-flanagan-british-invitation-wreath-laying

We are also on the countdown to the centennial commemoration of the 1916 Rising.  This is a link to a great website to keep track of developments one hundred years ago in Ireland; http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland

A hundred years ago this September, the core group of rebels who would launch the Rising had their first meeting in Dublin.  As reported in Century Ireland, seven of the future signatories of the 1916 Proclamation met in the library of the Gaelic League on what is now Parnell Square, just a few hundred yards from the GPO which would become the iconic headquarters for the rebels;   the report is here

http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/articles/coldly-and-deliberately-planned

The horrors of the Nazi regime continue to unfold as archivists and historians find new sources, notably since the fall of the Soviet Union.  This New York Times story from Poland has a particularly nightmarish quality because it concerns not just the period of the Holocaust but unremembered victims of the Soviet era whose remains are being regularly uncovered; http://t.co/Jz5PfA5uRS

This piece caught my eye from the Irish Times.  It is a commemoration of those Irish who “fought, spied and died” fighting the Nazis in France;

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/paris-honours-irish-who-fought-spied-and-died-for-france-1.1954055#.VDOJRHCbthw.twitter

Closer to home, Minister Flanagan attended the Cairo Conference on the Reconstruction of Gaza, pledging €2.5 million in support.  His statement is here; https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/october/gaza-reconstruction-conference-cairo

Juxtaposing Northern Ireland and Israel, you might be interested in this article from the Jerusalem Post about the impressions four Northern Irish visitors had of Israel and the contrasts and comparisons between the respective conflicts; http://www.jpost.com/landedpages/printarticle.aspx?id=376432

We should be very proud of this group of Irish school girls who made Time Magazine’s list of most influential teenagers in the world for their research on early crop germination; http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/cork-schoolgirls-make-time-list-of-most-influential-teenagers-1.1962294#.VD0Kk2y6JjY.twitter

So that should give you a flavour of my Twitter account; the odd bit of poetry and some spectacular photos of Ireland also crop up.  If you’re not planning to join Twitter, you’ll be able to catch up on our new Embassy website which we should be launching in the next week or so.

Best wishes and Shabbat Shalom,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

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Ambassador’s Message – Good Economic News from Ireland

I am happy to report that for the first in some years, the Government’s Budget announced earlier this month was important for what it was not. It was not an austerity budget. Consolidation is being implemented in the least growth-damaging way possible, with the majority of the adjustment on the spending side. The Budget targets a General Government Deficit of 4.8 per cent and a Primary Budget Surplus (i.e. not accounting for interest payments on national debt).

The economic backdrop to this is encouraging. According to the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland:

“In light of the recent trends observed in economic activity, we now revise upwards our growth forecasts for GNP to 4.9 and 5.2 per cent for 2014 and 2015 respectively. This improvement in the forecast is driven by a combination of better than expected performance in the net trade sector, a pick-up in investment levels and strong budgetary receipts.”

This positive economic and fiscal news is a signal achievement for Ireland and a measure of how far we have progressed since the onset of the financial crisis back in 2008. Since then, Ireland has made a budgetary adjustment of nearly €30 billion, equivalent to 18.9% of GDP.

This adjustment – heroic by any measure in peacetime – combined with resilient economic growth means that we are on target to bring the General Government Deficit down from over 30% of GDP in 2010 to 3.7% of GDP this year and 2.7% in 2015.

Export levels are at an all-time high, significantly higher than the pre-crisis peak in 2007. Our domestic economy is strengthening: Unemployment fell to 11.1% in September from a peak of 15.1% in 2012. 61,000 additional jobs were created in Ireland in 2013. In fact, 2013 saw the highest net job creation in Ireland from Foreign Direct Investment in more than a decade.

All of this has been achieved against a backdrop of global economic uncertainty and less than buoyant international trade.

This is not to say everything is rosy in the garden. Too many jobs have been lost, too much equity vanished, too much debt rests on the Irish taxpayer and too many young people have emigrated to say that. But from the low point of the bailout and concerns about our economic viability, we have climbed back to a position of real recovery.

Some milestones along the way:

• Ireland became the first Euro area country to exit an EU-IMF programme of assistance when the programme concluded on 15 December 2013.

• Full return to normal market funding, with bond yields at historic lows, our economy and exports growing, and unemployment falling.

• Balance of Payments surplus achieved for the fourth year in a row in 2013, after 10 years in deficit.

• Gross General Government Debt peaked at just over 120% of GDP in 2013 and is expected to decline to around 100% of GDP by 2018 (taking into account significant cash balances and other financial assets, net Government Debt in 2013 amounted to around 98% of GDP).

• With a recapitalisation of the banks of some €64 billion and a major consolidation, deleveraging and reduction in the banking sector, the Government and taxpayer have gone a long way in sorting out the mess the banks made of themselves and the economy (recall that during the boom, bank loan books grew from 60% (1997) to 200% of GNP (2008), catapulting average 2nd hand house price in Dublin from 4 times to 17 times average industrial wage).

Challenges of course still face us, including primarily unemployment, patent expiration, household debt and the international economic climate. But Ireland’s real economic assets remain in place to continue and develop the recovery:

An agile economy, ranked 1st in the world for the flexibility and adaptability of our people and 2nd most globalised country in the world.

We are in the global top 20 for quality of scientific research.

According to Forbes, Ireland is the best country in the world for business, 1st in the world for investment incentives and in the top 10 easiest countries in the world to start a business.

Ireland is in the top 10 most educated countries in world, 1st in the world for availability of skilled labour and we have the youngest population in Europe.

The 12.5% rate of Corporation Tax will remain as a key element supporting inward investment and export-led growth. At the same time, the Government is taking action to restrict certain complex international tax structures used by tax planners to exploit mismatches between the tax rules of different countries, which have impacted negatively on Ireland’s tax reputation internationally

In summary then, Ireland has done what the EU asked of it. For our people, it has been and remains a painful process of fiscal stabilisation and consolidation. Ireland has restored much of its lost competitiveness and secured record levels of inward investment. But Ireland is a small open economy with much of its trade focused on Europe. Attention now shifts to Europe and the Eurozone where sluggish growth and the threat of stagnation present real issues for European leaders to address at their summit in December. As the Irish Times editorialised recently, “Ireland’s diplomatic approach here is clear. The Government must support action on as many fronts as possible to try to get the euro zone economy growing again….The best option for Ireland is fiscal discipline at home, combined with as much as possible being done to support growth in the main euro zone economies.”

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee
Ambassador Tel Aviv

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Remembering 9/11

Twitter is a new medium, an immediate means of mass communication. It’s also highly personal in its subjective compression. The combination makes it the avatar of social media. Most of the time I retweet things that are interesting and relevant to Ireland and Irish Israeli relations – or just plain irresistible on occasion – but 9/11 prompted me to recall my posting to New York and my memories of that day. On the way to the Remembrance Day event in the Arazim Valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem yesterday, I tweeted a sequence of my most vivid memories and impressions of 9/11 (copied below); used like this, tweeting in its staccato brevity seemed to work like memory.

Talking about 9/11 last night, my son, who was seven years of age at the time, said he remembered the day. He was delighted that it was a half-day at school when his mother came to get him. He remembers his mother’s shocked incredulous reaction at the sight of a single tower where two had stood when she had entered the school only minutes earlier; a bystander’s laconic explanation to her that “it went down.” He guiltily wondered whether he caused 9/11 in some way because he had been hoping for something dramatic to happen to break the boredom of the return to school. It’s the kind of guilty conscience we all had as children on occasion, part of childhood innocence.

New York lost its innocence that day. This might seem a strange thing to say about a city that used to be known for its wealth, crime, ceaseless bacchanalia and iconoclastic art scene. However, there was in New York up to 9/11 a zest and love of life that made its residents proud of the city and drew so many to visit and live there. On the edge of the continental US landmass, sheltered by a vast ocean that separated it from the complications of Europe and the troubles of the Middle East, New York was a haven onto itself, Manhattan a crystalline island of success, glamour and good times. And then in a flash from some inexplicable malign force, two of those very highest crystals were shattered and some 3,000 innocents of the city lost their lives.

9/11 showed another side to New York and New Yorkers and what it made it great. If there is a broader sentiment in my memory, aside from the unreality of it all, it is the immediacy of how the city dealt with the attack. The city did not reel in shock but grappled with the immensity of the emergency head on. Firefighters did not think twice about rushing to the scene and entering the dizzy towers visibly being consumed by a ferocious living fire. Police officers and first responders did not flinch in courage or professionalism, even as bodies began to rain down from the heights above. Those leaving the area walked home with dignity, often through the night. Whoever could help did help; and more help came from all over the US.

Sometime after the event, my wife and I had dinner with a friend, Irish journalist and writer Conor O’Clery, whose apartment overlooked the site of 9/11. He had seen what had happened that day and photographed much of it. We saw his snaps of the billowing cloud of dust and debris but he reserved other photos, too dreadful to share and out of respect for those it showed in their last moments. By now, the rubble had been cleared away and we could look into the vast cavern of the excavation, arc lights creating a fog of glare around the workers in the deep and infernal pit. With undaunted energy and application, New Yorkers were clearing to build anew: Perhaps less innocent now but always resilient, always forging ahead, always New York, New York.

If you are minded to, taking a trip to the memorial in Jerusalem in the Arazim Valley is worth a visit and a pause for reflection. Beneath a sculpture of a monumental American flag a piece of one of the towers is entombed behind glass and the names of the victims inscribed around the elegant amphitheatre. Information here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9/11_Living_Memorial_Plaza

Shabbat Shalom

Eamonn

Remembering 9/11 on Twitter

Hard to believe 13 years since my family and I woke up on a beautiful New York morning and a day that would reshape our world.

After I dropped our young kids to the UN school, I recall glancing down Park Avenue and seeing a billowing grey cloud of dust.

As Press Officer, I had the only TV in the Consulate. Local staff were trying flickers to turn it on: something terrible had happened.

We stood around the TV images of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers, all of us wrapt and confused. A tower sank in a haze of thick dust.

We got a call through to HQ on a land line. We didn’t hang up for days. It was our lifeline to Dublin as comm systems crashed.

DFA cranked into gear as the SG created a crisis centre in the Grand Ballroom and assembled a consular team to fly to NY asap to support us.

My wife called. Should she get the kids out of the school? I said no, it was miles from the Twin Towers.

Rumors were flying: more planes were in the air about to strike DC: two were hijacked and flying from Heathrow heading straight for NY.

News reports came in about a plane hitting the Pentagon. I called Mary and said get the kids.

What followed was a blur of activity, piecing together what was happening, reporting to HQ, dealing with the press from Ireland.

We needed to figure out how many Irish were killed, injured or needing our help. The Irish media asked many ‘Irish were among the dead?’

But in NY how do you define Irish? Irish born? Child of Irish born? Passport holder? And what of Irish Americans going back generations?

Stairwell: Irish American firefighters going up meet Irish American financial traders going down. Story of the Irish. They died together.

As 9/11 unfolded, one of the biggest helps to the Consulate was the NYPD. Every other cop had an Irish name: the Irish pulling together.

During the crisis and its long aftermath, it felt surreal. Clichéd but true, at times it felt like a movie, not quite real.

The Consulate was manned 24/7: a great team running on adrenaline. Old friends arrived as part of the consular group from Dublin.

Our home was on East 37th St. My wife checked in when she could: kids home safe but confused by the news. People were streaming by on foot.

Evening 9/11: she said the air had a strange odor, a wretched mix of dust and burn. Save for emergency vehicles, city at a standstill. NY, city of spontaneous shrines.

We pilgrimaged to nearby Armory Building, festooned with notes, photos of those hopefully just missing.

The missing of 9/11 we knew later were dead, families forever bereft. As we remember them today, may they rest in peace.

My wife and I honoured to attend moving 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony, Jerusalem.

ENDS

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