Of Christmas Truces and Peace Deals: Ambassador’s Message, 31 December 2014

On the brink of Christmas, peace building in Northern Ireland received a major boost with agreement between the parties on how to resolve outstanding issues on the budget, parades and dealing with the past. Minister Flanagan and his team worked hard with the parties and their British counterparts to bring this about.

As the Minister said, “On one of the darkest days in the bleak mid-winter we have forged a broad agreement that will undoubtedly give rise to brighter days in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland and indeed throughout the island of Ireland.”

After twenty-six hours of continuous negotiations, the Irish Times summarized the deal thus:


Key proposals include:

  • The creation of a Historical Investigations Unit to inquire into killings during the Troubles;
  • A commission to enable people to privately learn how their loved ones were killed;
  • The creation of an oral history archive where experiences of the conflict could be shared;
  • A commission to report on flags within 18 months of being established;
  • Devolving responsibility for parades from the Parades Commission to the Northern Assembly;
  • Slimming the size of the Northern Assembly from 108 to 90 members by the time of the 2021 Assembly elections;
  • Reducing the number of Executive departments from 12 to 9 by the time of the 2016 Assembly elections;
  • The potential to create a formal opposition at Stormont.

This deal builds on a succession of negotiations and benchmark agreements, for a peace process is a living system of adjustments as conflict and mistrust is gradually replaced by concord and cooperation. The origins of this very dynamic diplomacy can be traced back to the early 1980s. The private story is being revealed thanks to the release of British and Irish archives under the thirty-year rule. Arguably it begins with the relationship between Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

What the record shows of their relationship is explored here; http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/love-hate-the-haughey-thatcher-relationship-revisited-1.2047899#.VJs1hfRCmqI.twitter …

This was of course about more than personalities. It was in effect a strategic shift whereby Dublin and London began, tenuously but necessarily, to find common ground in trying to solve the conflict in Northern Ireland. President Reagan, leveraging his own relationship with PM Thatcher, gave an important impetus to the negotiations in nudging her forward. After a decade of violence, Britain and Ireland now embarked on more or less continuous negotiations that led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, the ceasefires in 1994, the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and each successive agreement, down to the Christmas deal this year.

The first great diplomatic breakthrough was the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, negotiated by Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald, his government and senior officials from the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs. It was a major achievement: In forging a structured and agenda-driven relationship between London and Dublin which began to tackle many of the underlying causes of the conflict, the AIA laid the essential groundwork for the peace process and the1998 Good Friday Agreement. The archival material from both Irish and British sources being released under the thirty-year rule makes for fascinating reading; examples of the coverage are here:

http://www.irishtimes.com/state-papers-fitzgerald-criticised-thatcher-s-rejection-of-new-ireland-forum-report-1.2042568#.VKGQm1Wl4ac.twitter …

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/anglo-irish-agreement-a-triumph-of-persistence-and-backdoor-diplomacy-1.2043042#.VKNMruwFouA.twitter …


For more coverage, go the ‘State Papers’ section of the Irish Times here; http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/state-papers

Of course the roots of the conflict go back deep into British and Irish history. Looking back just one hundred years, against the backdrop of the Home Rule Act, the European war offered for unionists an opportunity to prove they were vital to Britain just as nationalists saw it as an opportunity to prove that they deserved a state of their own. There was too a more widespread notion abroad, tragically innocent, that the European war would be a short, even romantic opportunity for beleaguered manhood, displaced by machines and sensing the assertion of women to rights and equality, to reassert martial prowess. Ironically, the war would prove the destructive capacity of machines to kill vast numbers of even the most heroic of men while women were called upon to do man’s work at home, boosting their confidence and their claims.

These developments lay in the future as soldiers settled down for their first Christmas in the trenches. That Christmas one hundred years ago saw the famous truce between troops in the British and German armies facing each other along the Western Front. To mark its anniversary, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese gave a lecture at Iveagh House, the headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Against the background of her own pioneering peace building efforts as President, she explores the truce’s meaning, particularly for Irishmen serving with the British Army, and its implications for peace building in Ireland.

You can read her speech, thoughtful and significant, here; http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/mary-mcaleese-the-christmas-truce-1.2048413#.VJ0ydmPanac.twitter …

For Ireland, expectations that the war would be a proving ground for both traditions were doubly trumped; by a war far removed from heroic expectations, one that became in fact a gross caesura with all that had gone before; and by the Easter Rising in 1916.

Thanks to the 2014 Christmas Deal, the Northern Ireland peace process moves forward. As we look back one hundred years, and thirty years and now with this latest achievement, we can be reassured that our complex dialogue with our shared past continues to be a positive one for the present and the future as we encounter the coming anniversaries and commemorations.

On a more festive note, and perhaps because I am not a big New Year reveler, I found traditional Irish wariness about the New Year appealing. I enjoyed this charming piece from the Irish Times on Irish New Year traditions here; http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/irish-new-year-s-day-traditions-looking-to-2015-in-the-shadow-of-the-past-1.2051343#.VKOZvTdDycs.twitter

Every best wish to you and yours for 2015.


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv

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Season’s Greetings, Ambassador’s Message 17 December 2014

The Israel Ireland Friendship League hosted its annual Hannukkah lighting yesterday evening in the Shamrock Bar, Netanyah. Thanks to the Chairman of the League, the indefatigable Malcolm Gafson, for organizing the event. It’s great to meet our Irish Jewish community and hear their stories, often of childhood in Dublin and making Aliya here and raising their families.

In my remarks, I recalled that Hannukkah’s roots lie in the great victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek army that had destroyed the Temple and tried to wipe out Judaism. And that it was the recovery of this martial prowess after two thousand years by the Jewish Legion under Longfordman Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson during WWI that laid a critical foundation stone for the creation of modern Israel.

In the audience last night was the daughter of Michael Flanagan, an Irishman in the British Army who “donated” a clutch of British tanks to the Haganah at the end of WWII, thus establishing the IDF’s first armoured unit.

Another story I shared came courtesy of Murray Greenfield who I met at the recent Jerusalem Post Conference: An Irishman, Hugh McDonald, left his legal studies at Harvard to volunteer on the vessel Hatikva in 1947, part of a clandestine fleet determined to break the British blockade and deliver Shoah survivors to Palestine. Hugh painted a Shamrock under the Magen David on one of Hatikva’s funnels. (Murray, with Joseph M. Hochstein, wrote the history of this endeavor in The Jews’ Secret Fleet, Gefen Publishing House.)

Maerton Davis and his wife Beth, stalwarts too of the Friendship League, kindly gave me a monograph of the story of his family (originally Davidowitsch) and that of the Kisners, from their Shtetl in Latvia to Dublin. This is a great way to preserve oral family histories. (From Dankere to Dublin by Beatrice Sofaer-Bennett.)

Other stories have inevitably been lost but we can recover many. If you are aware of any, please let me know.

Coming as a diplomat to Israel, I was promised an interesting time. As the year winds down for us, I can look back on a talks’ process, its climax and collapse, a war and the calling of a general election. It will be fascinating to observe this election, even now as the parties here morph and evolve before our eyes, quite a contrast to the fixity of parties in Ireland since our own independence.

Back in Ireland, we continue to make economic progress, after many years of tough decisions and impositions on our public. In the end, early exits from the bailout and the confirmation of our financial reputation are invaluable: in the short run by lowering our bond yields and helping to ease the burden of servicing the national debt; and in the longer run by encouraging economic confidence and inward investment. Growth rates in Ireland are ahead of the Eurozone average, domestic demand has ticked up but real progress will depend greatly on renewed growth and demand in Europe.

Finally, I want to say goodbye to the Deputy Head of Mission and great colleague Julian Clare and his wife Siobhan. They arrived with Mary and me and they have been a pleasure to work with and to get to know over the past year and a half. They and their lovely family of three daughters are heading back to Ireland thanks to Julian’s promotion. Thanks for everything and the very best of luck.

I am heading back to Ireland myself to spend Christmas there with my family. Tel Aviv really doesn’t do Christmas so I expect to be hit by a Yuletide avalanche on arrival in Dublin of lights, decorations and carol singing, not to mention the odd hot toddy to ward off the cold. We in Ireland take our Christmas fun and festivities very seriously!

Happy Hannukkah, merry Christmas and have a great New Year.


Eamonn McKee


Tel Aviv

PS Our new website is being rolled and while it is not fully complete yet, you can follow my twitter account there, including for example a photo of the shamrock on the Hatikva, courtesy of Murray. Website here https://www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/israel


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Col. Patterson Rests Now in Israel

This morning I attended the ceremonious re-interment of Col. John Henry Patterson and his wife Frances.  The event was the culmination of efforts by his grandson Alan Patterson to fulfill his grandfather’s wish to be buried alongside his Jewish Legion veterans in Israel. Guests included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon and Minister for Tourism Uzi Landau, my colleague the British Ambassador Matthew Gould, members of the Knesset, and representatives of the armed forces and the Jabotinsky Institute, key supporters of the event.   After the re-interment at Moshav Avichail, we adjourned to the auditorium of the Beit Hagedudim Museum for a wonderfully evocative programme of music, recital and song.  Alan Patterson spoke engagingly of his commitment to the reinternment and his grandfather’s influence in the pre-state evolution of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke eloquently and movingly, clearly from the heart, of Patterson.  He asserted emphatically that Patterson was the “godfather” of the Israeli army.  Jews had had a great reputation in ancient times as fierce fighters and defenders against aggressors but this martial prowess was lost through two thousand years of wandering.  It was Patterson who instilled discipline in the Jews under his command.  And critically he instilled confidence that Jewish fighting units could distinguish themselves in battle.  Like Herzl’s commitment’s to the Zionist state and Patterson’s to a Jewish army, both notions were initially rediculed.  Yet Patterson had proved a point that Jews could and would defend themselves, fighting valiantly in the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns.  The Prime Minister spoke too of Patterson’s close relationship with his family, recounted below.  He said that his presence, along with that of his wife Sarah, was repaying a debt of honour owed to Patterson by his family and by Israel.

It is interesting to reflect that if Patterson made his contribution to the formation of Israel through his profession as a British soldier, it was Irish guerrilla fighters like Michael Collins and Tom Barry who inspired the early Zionists to take up the fight through irregular actions during the Mandate period.  Ireland had defied an Empire and won; Zionists could do the same.

In the blog below, I recount Patterson’s life, seeing in its motivation and aspiration a parallel with that other great figure of this region and this era, T.E. Lawrence.

Patterson of Ballymahon, Zionist Hero Comes Home

Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson was re-interred in Israel on 4 December. While not well known in Israel and fast being forgotten elsewhere, certainly compared to that avatar of the British adventurer in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, Patterson made an early and significant contribution to the Zionist cause. Indeed in some critical ways, both he and Lawrence shared common impulses that underlay their remarkably picaresque lives in the service of others.

Patterson’s birthplace was Ballymahon, Co Longford, son of an Anglo-Irish Protestant father and an Irish Catholic mother. The year of his birth, 1867, also witnessed the sporadic Fenian Rising that fizzled out ineffectually. Though it would be the last incidence of insurrection by Irish republicans until the Easter Rising of 1916, the Anglo-Irish lived insecurely with ominous signs on the horizon about their future. Demands by tenant farmers for rights and proprietorship, backed up by political campaigns and nocturnal violence encouraged a series of land Acts that weakened the gentry’s hold. More ominously still, Gladstone became a convert to Home Rule for Ireland in 1886.

Patterson’s mixed heritage may have given a personal edge to this sense of uncertainty, lending a certain air of mystery, even alienation that was to surround him all his life. Unlike so many scions of this class, Patterson did not join the British Army as a cadet but as a groom for a cavalry unit, working his way up through the non-commissioned and, over the years, commissioned ranks.

Patterson’s first claim to fame came when he was hired by the East Africa Company to oversee the construction of a railway in Tsavo in present-day Kenya. Local workers were preyed on by man-eating lions, sparking both real and superstitious fears, and posing a threat to the whole project. Having learned big-cat hunting skills while on service in India, Patterson eventually tracked down and killed the two male lions, manifestly huge beasts as evidenced by the trophy photographs. Patterson’s account of this, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, was published to much acclaim and fascination in 1907, becoming a best seller (and eventually a number of films, including the 1996 film The Ghost and the Darkness, with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer).

In the meantime, Patterson fought in the Boer War under General Allenby, winning the DSO and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was also involved in a scandal which drew Ernest Hemingway’s attention to his colourful life: the suggestion of an affair with the wife of a fellow soldier who died from a gunshot wound while they were all on safari. The cocktail of big-game hunting, sexual pursuit and contested machismo forms the basis for his story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. Patterson is the inspiration for the safari guide Robert Wilson, a hunter of big game, and women if the opportunity presented itself, taciturn but manifestly philosophical in a manly, rough hewn way. Being Hemingway, the prose is pruned and compressed but a psychological portrait emerges of Wilson which may not have been too far removed from Patterson; courageous, skilled, cool under pressure, tough, self-sufficient, detached.

Patterson, a committed unionist, was drawn back to Ireland during the Home Rule crisis of 1913-1914 where he took command of a unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force. However Patterson’s destiny lay neither in Africa nor even in Ireland but rather in the Levant. That Patterson did not stay to participate in the revolutionary tumult of his native Ireland but opted for the allure of the Middle East and the adventures of fighting the Ottomans says much about his inclinations and interests.

As the Ottoman Empire crumbled during the onset and course of World War I, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor formed the Zion Mule Corp in 1915 as approved by General Maxwell. Their intention was to help the British wrest control of the Levant from the Turks and stake their claim to the creation of the state of Israel. Having served in Flanders in 1914, Patterson travelled to Egypt where he met with and was evidently impressed by the young and determined Zionists. Jabotinsky made a marked impression on him as did his idea for a Jewish Legion, both as a symbol of resurgent Jewish nationalism (the first Jewish fighting unit for two thousand years) and as a statement of intent to form a nation state..

The Corps fought gallantly at Gallipoli under Patterson’s command (recounted in his With the Zionists at Gallipoli (1916). Patterson wrote: ‘I have here, fighting under my orders, a purely Jewish unit. As far as I know, this is the first time in the Christian era that such a thing has happened.’ (Quoted by Zeev V. Maizlin, in the Jerusalem Post, link herehttp://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/The-man-who-became-Lawrence-of-Judea).

After a stint back in Ireland where he commanded the 4th Royal Irish Fusiliers and fifth Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Patterson went to England where he formed and trained the Jewish 38th Fusiliers, part of what was to become known as the Jewish Legion, the sobriquet of five Jewish battalions in the British Army.

According to one account, “in February of 1918, Patterson proudly led soldiers of the 38th Fusiliers Battalion, one of the components of the Legion, in a parade in the Whitechapel Road, before they were shipped off to Palestine. They met a tumultuous and joyous reception among the Jews of London, as well as generating amazement among other bystanders….” Patterson fought with his battalion in campaigns in Palestine, notably recorded in his memoirs With the Judaeans in Palestine (1922).

Throughout his time with the Jewish Legion, Patterson encountered and resisted anti-Semitism in the British Army, an experience that came to alienate him further from his erstwhile colleagues and increase his sense of identity as one of uncertainty and flux. Increasingly, he came to admire his Jewish comrades. He was becoming a fervent advocate for the creation of the State of Israel, forming life-long friendships with Zionist leaders, including Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu. (Netanyhu would name one of his sons Yonatan in Patterson’s honour: Yonatan died in the famed Entebbe raid and his younger brother Benjamin would become Prime Minister.)

After the war, Patterson helped lay the foundations for what would become the Israeli defence forces. From his adopted home in America, he would advocate for the cause of the Jewish people and was at the forefront of efforts there to save Jews from the Holocaust. He died in California in 1947, a year short of the creation of the State of Israel.

Patterson in many ways was the Judean counterpart to Lawrence of Arabia. Patterson and Lawrence shared a common origin in both having Anglo-Irish fathers. Lawrence’s father was Thomas Chapman, born not far from Patterson’s Ballymahon. Chapman absconded from his first wife and family with the family governess, Sarah Lawrence, to Wales where T.E was born and given his mother’s surname. Both men shared ambiguous or hybridized identity and an outsider status. Both were soldiers and scholars, innate researchers as well as searchers. Both appeared to be compelled to search for inner meaning and outsized causes, Lawrence in Arab studies and Arab nationalism, Patterson in Hebrew and biblical studies and ultimately Zionism.

Patterson lived a life in tumultuous times and his wanderings progressively created a life that became a veritable palimpsest of the times and places in which he lived, stretching from Ireland, to the heart of Africa and the shores of the Mediterranean; a man of Ireland and yet not Irish per se, Anglo-Irish and not quite British enough, ambitious and independent, a tough disciplinarian and spiritual, worldly and erudite. Above all, his experience of life never dulled his capacity to strive – not for himself but for others. It is a deeply appealing quality that he shares with Lawrence (and which distinguishes him from the fictional Wilson).

Ultimately Patterson would find a sense of belonging with his Jewish comrades, outsiders like himself, looking to fashion their own home and indeed their own identity through the Zionist cause. If there is one place for Patterson to finally rest, it is surely here in Israel.

Eamonn McKee
Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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News Round-up from Ireland & Israel, Ambassador’s Message 28 November

It was great to launch our Irish Film Week to such a well attended opening reception and I understand that attendances were strong during the week.  I want to thank Cinematheque for their outstanding support.  It is a great outfit and a vital voice for cinema in Israel as a medium for art and insight.  We are looking forward to working with them for next year’s Irish film week.  Culture is one of the great bridges between Ireland and Israel and we at the Embassy are keen to develop it.

I attended two briefings this week.  The first was given by Bob Turner, Operations Director for UNRWA in Gaza.  He painted a grim picture of the situation there, with serious problems with water supplies and electricity (only available eight hours on, eight hours off).  It is particularly tough for the 17,000 families who lost their homes.  There has been some improvement on the movement of goods but nothing near the scale required to visibly improve matters.  To add to their woes, the recent rains have led to serious flooding in parts.  It was International Children’s Day on 21st November and UNRWA reminded us that children comprise half the population of Gaza.

The second was the annual diplomatic briefing by Peace Now, particularly its Settlement Watch experts. In its description of the multifaceted and continuous nature of settlements in the West Bank, it underscored why Ireland, the EU and the US are alarmed at the process and the obstacle it presents to the MEPP.  For a very good exposition of our position on the current situation regarding both the MEPP and the situation in Gaza, I would highly recommend Minister Flanagan’s speech to the Seanad here http://t.co/Za8NP4cC4y

I would also recommend that you read the Minister’s joint Op Ed with his Finnish counterpart Minister Erkki Tuomioja on the need to inject energy into the MEPP and for the EU to prioritize it, here http://t.co/z0VsGph7VM .  As they argue, “Putting an end to the conflict would bring huge benefits for Israelis and Palestinians and have a transformative effect on the entire region. It would open the way to the normalisation of relations between the Arab states and Israel, as envisaged in the Arab Peace Initiative. It would remove the excuse many use to stoke other conflicts in the wider Middle East and help bring more stability to a troubled region.”

In terms of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the talks to resolve the impasse over some key issues continue.  Minister Flanagan gave his assessment in an interview with the Irish Times here http://t.co/bpAJMwGLNj

Despite the persistence of conflict, global casualties generated by wars are at an historic low, and have been for some time.  We are, counter-intuitively, living through an era of peace. This is in stark contrast to the twentieth century which not only saw two world wars but tens of millions die as a result of ideological movements led by evil men, notably in Germany, Russia and China.

As with other instances of mass murder, sometimes the magnitude of the Shoah can overwhelm human comprehension and when it does stories can help grasp the horror.  Yad Vashem (www.yadvashem.org) regularly publish ‘untold stories’ such as this one from Duniłowicze, Poland (today Dunilavichy , Belarus ).  A brief history of the Jewish presence in the town concludes, “between November 21 and 23, 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. The majority of its inmates were shot. Those who had hidden in bunkers were killed by hand grenades, while others were burned to death in houses in the ghetto. At that time a total of 812 (or, according to another source, 979) Jews from Duniłowicze were murdered.”

There has been much comment and discussion in Ireland on our relationship with World War I which actually demonstrates that we are coming to terms with its complicated legacy for us.  Many of the Irish men who enrolled in the British Army did so at the urging of national leader John Redmond.  However, the 1916 Rising caused a paradigm shift in the Irish nationalist narrative which rendered, in the perspective of the time, their sacrifice irrelevant, even embarrassing.  The National Library of Ireland has opened an exhibition exploring how individual Irish people responded to World War I.  By looking at these personal stories, the exhibition captures the complexity of the relationship between Ireland and the war.  Some details here http://t.co/yDfciT0e5z

On a similar theme, and if you are interested in modern Irish history, I reviewed Ronan Fanning’s Fatal Path, British Government and Irish Revolution 1910-1922 on my blog here http://t.co/OVN1iYZuVe

Whether you are part of the great narrative of the Irish Diaspora and have left home, or have made aliya and come home, you might enjoy this short piece in the Financial Times on an Irish émigré’s return to Dublin, where he found a place that was both familiar and changed, http://t.co/aDKGd9Rc02 .


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador, Tel Aviv

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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 McKee


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 McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv

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