Monthly Archives: November 2014

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

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 .  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

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 ( 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

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

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, .


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

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

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

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 ( ):  “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

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

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?

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 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

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

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   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

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   and the Irish Times’ editorial comment on this is here

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 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

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


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv

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