Sunday, April 30, 2023


Book website
Click on any image for a larger version

Why did Nils Melzer, the UN Rapporteur on Torture, feel obliged to write this book as part of his official function? That is the question you have to ask yourself before you read it. The answer lends an authority and motivation to the book which puts it beyond challenge and ensures its place in the chronicle of the undermining of free speech and the rule of law in our times.

Let Melzer answer the question for himself:
Like any other independent expert or abiter, I conduct my investigations observing the strictest standards of objectivity and impartiality. Once I have come to the conclusion that an act of torture has been committed, however, my task is not to be impartial between torturers and victims. Instead, I must cry foul and insist on justice, reparation and the rule of law. If the state in question cooperates, all of this can be done discreetly and diplomatically. But if a government refuses to engage in constructive dialogue and repeatedly violates its obligations in a serious way, then there is a point when I must make myself unpopular and mobilize the public. Anything else would make me a traitor to my mandate. Which is precisely why I am writing this book.
It is important that I point out here that the "rule of law" does not consist solely of obeying the laws currently on the statute book. If that were the case many dictators would be technically observing the rule of law when they clearly are not.

The term has a much wider meaning and includes independent publicly accessible judicial oversight, the presumption of innocence, lack of arbitrariness, and a host of other factors. Just as the term "democracy" goes well beyond mere majority rule, as those of us brought up in the knowledge of what was going on in Northern Ireland following the foundation of that statelet know only too well.

This book is one of the few, if not the only, sources that forensically and comprehensively records the blatant, systematic and serious abuses of process by the four governments or justice systems involved in the Assange case: British, Swedish, American and Equadorian.

The best credential for this book is Melzer's original scepticism. He had totally subconsciously absorbed the public vilification of Assange and so he rejected initial appeals to look into the case. He's a seasoned investigator/reporter and, based on his own experience, sceptical of administrations in the first place. So, if he had fallen for this campaign, how must it have penetrated the consciousness of the general public. When Melzer finally acceded to appeals to look into the case he was appalled.

The purpose of the vilification involved in the campaign against Assange was to isolate him from public sympathy and leave the authorities free do what they liked to him without restraint. But at the end of the day, the persecution of Assange had the wider function of suppressing opposition to the ongoing erosion of free speech and accountability.

So who are these régimes accountable to. There do not appear to be any adequate checks within their own legal systems so we are relying on international law here. And in this area, the UN Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, is the adjudicator. He has concluded that these régimes have blatantly broken international law and he has documented this forensically. He has served notice on them and they have forcefully told him to fuck off.
Since President Trump's election a different wind had been blowing across the Atlantic. Gone was the diplomatic façade of his predecessor, along with any more pretence of multilateral equality and cooperation. American foreign policy had become blunt, crude and erratic, while the British government had settled for an increasingly uncritical position of servility - the only part left for it to play in its "special relationship".
On 16 August 2012, the day Ecuador formally approved Assange's asylum request, BBC reporter Tom Phips recommended via Twitter that the Metropolitan Police "drag Assange out of the embassy and shoot him in the back of the head in the middle of Trafalgar Square". And Hilary Clinton, then Secretary of State, reportedly asked during a team meeting, "Can't we just drone this guy?"
During his trial in early 2020 in front of Judge Baraitser, Assange's counsel made the case against his extradition to the United States. Melzer summarises these arguments as follows:
First, counsel argued that the decision to prosecute Assange was politically motivated, and that seventeen of the eighteen counts of the US indictment concerned espionage, which is the classic textbook example of a political offence. Given that the Anglo-American extradition treaty expressly prohibits extraditions for political offences, Assange could not lawfully be surrendered to the United States.

Second, during his asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange had been systematically surveilled, and notably his confidential conversations with his lawyers were recorded by agents cooperating with US intelligence services. This constituted such a serious abuse of process, that it rendered the entire extradition proceeding irreparably arbitrary.

Third, no person could be lawfully extradited to a state where such extradition would have to be regarded as oppressive. If extradited to the United States, there was a real risk that Assange would be exposed to a flagrant denial of justice both at trial and at the sentencing stage, that he could receive a grossly excessive sentence of up to 175 years in prison, and that he would be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading detention conditions, all of which set an insurmountable bar against his extradition.

Fourth, based on the requirement of dual criminality, Assange's extradition to the United States can be permissible only if the offence for which his extradition is sought is punishable in both the US and the UK. This raised the question of whether the activity Assanged is accused of - namely, "unauthorised obtaining and disclosure of National Defense Information" - can constitute a criminal offence at all, particularly in view of the public interest in having that information disclosed, and of the protection of the freedom of expression under both international and domestic law.
p292 (my reformatting)
Melzer goes on to elaborate regarding political offences. The explanation here is quite complex but as I understand it, both from this book and Craig Murray's earlier explanation in his online post on the subject, the current position is as follows: When the UK signs an international treaty it is bound by its terms in international law. The treaty is then transposed into UK law by way of a separate act reproducing its clauses. However the UK sometimes cheats by not fully transcribing the treaty into domestic law. The missing parts are not then enforceable in national law, though they remain obligations in international law. This appears to have happened in the case of the UK-US Extradition Treaty where the exclusion of political offences was omitted from the domestic law version. Judge Baraitser could therefore ignore this exclusion in a domestic UK trial even though it remained an obligation under international law. This is indefensible and, as Melzer points out, the UK is here blatantly breaking international law.

While I'm on this subject I should point out that Melzer is one of the very few people I've read who fully understood the significance of Baraitser's verdict. She implicitly accepted the US claim to extra-territorial jurisdiction over the press and all that this implied, while refusing Assange's extradition on purely personal health grounds, which refusal was easily overruled in the higher court based on assurances from the US that Assange would not be mistreated there unless they felt like it.

In a chapter called "British Torture by Attrition" Melzer makes the following statement:
The blatant failure of all three branches of government to uphold the rule of law when dealing with the case of Julian Assange seriously calls into question the stability and reliability of Britain's democratic institutions.
That is how serious this case is. We are all, well most of us, aware of failures of these institutions in other areas and I've drawn attention to these elsewhere. From the lies of the EU referendum Leave campaign to mislead the British people into voting against their own interest, through the Prime Minister lying to the Queen to get her to illegally suspend Parliament, to the daily lying in public of every single member of the British cabinet in their attempt to cover up their appalling record of more than a decade of ruinous misgovernment. These are matters for elsewhere but they do tend to support Melzer's conclusion from the Assange case.

My own feeling is that this case should be on the UK senior schools curriculum and certainly studied in detail by the legal profession in any legal course on human rights.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser

A point that Melzer covers, and that I had been wondering about, is how such a junior judge as Baraitser, who came into court every day with her script already written out for her, was put on this case in the first place. Melzer has it figured out. Her boss, Judge Arbuthnot, was compromised and so he used her to take the heat off himself, and avoid any possible appeals. I'm inclined to think that he was, however, most likely the person writing her daily script in the background.
The hearing is presided over by Vanessa Baraitser, a district judge subordinate to Senior Judge Arbuthnot who has been tasked with Assange's extradition trial - presumably in order to pre-empt further recusal applications against Arbuthnot. Despite strong objections on the part of Assange's lawyers, who demand more preparation time, Judge Baraitser confirms that the extradition hearing will begin on 24 February 2020 as requested by Prosecutor Lewis on behalf of the United States.
I do not have sufficient space here to fully detail the erratic and prejudicial behaviour of this judge in the course of the trial. If you want the grimy details you'll just have to read the book. But, believe me, she was a disgrace.

I will simply cover this particular matter as an illustration of how extreme Baraitser's perverse behaviour was. Assange was confined in a bulletproof glass box in the courtroom where he could neither hear the proceedings clearly nor confer with his lawyers, as was his right. Baraitser insisted that there would need to have been a bail hearing to allow Assange to join his lawyers outside the box.
When Assange's defence counsel protested in court that these obstructive conditions severely jeopardized due process, the arbitrariness had become so blatant the even the prosecution counsel, James Lewis, stood up to assert that he wanted Assange to have a fair trial, that he wa not convinced a bail application was repuired to allow Assange to sit with his legal counsel, and that it would be standard practice for the judge to intervene with the prison authorities in order to ensure due process. But Baraitser was not swayed. She insisted that she had no jurisdiction over the prison authorities and refused to allow Assange to leave his glass box.
Nils Melzer, Stella Assange, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning
Sculpture by Davide Dormino
'Anything to Say?' A Monument to Courage

This picture, for me, encapsulates the message I take from this book. Melzer is providing the underpinnings for the campaign for Assange's release from this political persecution and it underscores Assanges status as a defender of freedom in an increasingly hostile and authoritarian world. Assange acted as a journalist, simply publishing classified information provided, in the public interest, by whistleblowers. What these three sculpted figures have in common is their shameless persecution by the very authorities responsible for the warcrimes they have exposed.

The book will make your blood boil and you may, as I did, have to take frequent breaks and go for walks to cope with its content. It is wider than the Assange case and should alert us to the drift into authoritarianism now underway all around us.

I'll leave Melzer with the last word:
My most important message is that, ultimately, the trial of Assange is not relly about Assange. It is about the integrity of our consitutional institutions and, thus, the essence of the "republic" in the original sense of the word. At stake is nothing less than the future of democracy. I do not intend to leave to our children a world where governments can disregard the rule of law with impunity, and where telling the truch has become a crime. I have alswys understood my UN mandate as a duty to use my privileged position in order to protect human rights, to expose violations and systemic shortcomings, and to fight for the integrity of our institutions - "speaking truth to power" as it has been so aptly termed. This I have done since I was first appointed by the Human Rights Council. I have addressed issues as diverse as police brutality, the inhumanity of prevailing migration policies, psychological methods of torture, and the cruelty of domestic violence. I have also highlighted the interrelations between corruption and torture, as well as the collective patterns of self-deception without which torture and ill treatment could not be practiced with such impunity worldwide.
My objectivity as an independent legal expert then repuires me to side wit the victim of torture, with human rights and with justice. I therefore write this book not as a lawyer for Julian Assamge, but as an advocate for humanity, truth, and the rule of law.

Monday, April 24, 2023


Click on any image for a larger version

I was away, so they left a note in the porch.

I needed to sign for a registered letter so would I please call to the sorting office at my convenience.

As it was a Saturday when I got home and saw the note, I had a whole weekend to stew over what might be the contents of the registered letter. I can't remember when I last got a registered letter. My reaction was a bit like receiving a telegramme in former times. That usually meant someone had died or was in hospital and needed immediate attention. They always provoked a sense of foreboding.

In this case it led to a weekend examination of conscience. What might I have done that they, whoever they were, were targetting me in this inescapable way?

  • was it the Ulster Bank correspondence I hadn't replied to, in Ireland because they could close my empty account without any help from me, in Northern Ireland because I was fed up with bad service and didn't want to have any more to do with them? Were they taking me to court? After all, why otherwise go to the trouble and expense of registering a letter?
  • maybe I had been caught speeding? That would be most unfair as I always drive within the speed limit, or to put it another way up to the speed limit, except for the occasional temporary drift.
  • might it have been my reading matter ordered online? I have bought (and read) two books on Brexit and two more on Julian Assange in the last few months. Was this enough for some bot to throw me up on a list of subversive or protesting citizens?
  • was it some aspect of my unrestrained online activity? I mean, I had recently been bounced off for daring to link to a perfectly reasonable article in the Irish language on women's spaces and matters trans. I had also got a twelve hour suspension from Twitter for harassing, and advocating violence against, Vladimir Putin of all people.
  • maybe someone had left me an inheritance, though I couldn't think of any relation or acquaintance who might have been in a position to do so?
  • or was it another call to jury duty? When I was working I had to turn up every morning for a week for jury selection. Happily they didn't like the look of me so I didn't end up on a jury. I later refused a subsequent call on age grounds, after I retired and when I was sort of a carer.
So, this morning I set off in a bit of a stew for the sorting office.

Click on image for a more readable version

I quickly tore open the envelope, nearly forgetting to sign for it.

Jesus - DISCOVERY. And COURT. And this registered letter was asking me to cough up any papers I might have regarding the court case. Discovery is when the judge orders every relevant piece of paper to be chased up, discovered and then produced to the court.

It wasn't me Guv, and even if it was I'd never find it. And the period concerned - 1990 to 2002 for a case that has apparently been simmering away since 2001. Sure I wouldn't have a hope of laying my hands on anything that far back.

And this would only arise if I had taken home official papers and not returned them when I retired in 2006. I wasn't sure here if I was feeling like Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

Then I saw what it was about: the award of a broadband licence. I thought this had been sorted years ago but maybe that was only the Tribunal and unsuccessful bidders were still in the fray.

Then, blessed relief. Thankfully, I had nothing to do with that sad affair but it was interesting to see it was still simmering away.

I had some experience of procurement in the course of my career and, believe me, it is to be avoided where possible. I was lucky and was not challenged but it is a snake pit and often not easly to navigate. Mine were all kosher and I made sure they would be perceived as such.

Anyway, I have now mailed the Department telling them to count me out. I'm sure that will bring them some small measure of relief and I wish them well in the future in this regard.

Saturday, April 08, 2023


Sure, I was aware of Stefania Maurizi. I had seen her at a number of online webinars on Julian Assange and Wikileaks. She was the lady who made all the Freedom of Information requests on the subject. Many had been refused and most of what she did get was heavily redacted. But she is an investigative journalist and joined up what dots she could. She was committed and paid for much of this out of her own pocket.

So what was there not to admire. But how, in Gods name, did she make a book out of such apparently slender material. I was intrigued. I had pursued my own local and family histories in the past. I was aware of how much information could be gleaned from apparently incidental material in sparse sources. So I ordered the book.

When I opened it, it blew my mind. Stefania was not just poking from the outside she was a major player. She had worked alongside Julian and been the Italian correspondent in sifting through the files, not just for material to publish, but in the delicate task of redacting the material so that people would not be put in danger by its release. And this was a process that Wikileaks engaged in intensively. The organisation had been unfortunate to have suffered betrayal in this, in part, through the defection/dismissal of an employee and the subsequent disgraceful unprofessional behaviour of two Guardian journalists.

And what I had before me, in this wonderful book by this magnificent woman, was all you ever wanted to know about Wikileaks but never dared to ask. The breadth and depth of the material is stunning and it's all wrapped up in some great storytelling.

Apart from writing this excellent book about Wikileaks and participating in its work from the Italian end, Stefania had herself made a significant and contribution to the saga with her own revelations gleaned from her carefully modulated pursuit of Freedom of Information requests.

Just to recap the background here. Julian had had sex with two women during a stay in Sweden. They eventually approached the police for advice on how go get him to take a HIV test as some of the sex was unprotected. The police seized on this, egged on the women who were reluctant to collaborate, and quickly turned it into a rape case.

There were no charges, just an investigation and Julian had signalled his willingness to cooperate to the Swedish authorities. Then there was a sudden European arrest warrant, of dubious legality, issued by the Swedes while he was in London.

He was arrested and released under house arrest. The next logical step would have been for the Swedish prosecuter to question Julian. She insisted that this be done in Sweden but Julian resisted, fearing if the Swedes now get their hands on him they would hand him over to the Americans who would promptly lock him up for life for exposing their secret war crimes. The Swedes then wanted formally to extradite Julian. He appealed this up to the UK Supreme Court which found against him. He then, not surprisingly, broke bail and took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Stefania's big revelation, from her FOI requests, was that the British Crown Prosecution Service was seriously pressuring the Swedish prosecuters not to drop the case under any circumstances, and, at the same time, not to come to London to question Julian. She also compared Swedish and UK FOI replies to her requests for correspondence between these two offices. From these she determined that there was a huge gap in the amount of correspondence acknowledged by the British compared with their Swedish counterparts. When she queried this she was told that when the particular officer concerned left the job his correspondence had been destroyed. The CPS attempted to pass this off as normal, which it certainly was not. Her work here revealed serious corruption at the CPS with implications for the rest of the British "justice system.

Keir Starmer was heading up the Crown Prosecution Service for much of this time. Given the high profile of this case and the risks being taken by the CPS, it is my own firm view that he was fully kept up to speed on what was going on. The only alternative would be willful ignorance which is every bit as bad.

You can read further about how the Americans resorted to their Espionage Act to attempt to extradite Julian. The UK/US extradition treaty forbids extradition on political grounds but this was purposely ignored by the British courts. Julian is a publisher/journalist and not a hacker (in this case) and the use of the Espionage Act here is both chilling for journalism worldwide and an abuse of the Act which dates from WWI and was enacted to deal with spies and material handed over to the enemy. That's why there is no public interest defence allowed, as there is now in whistleblowing and other related legislation.

What emerges in the course of the book is the degree to which the UK has surrendered its sovereignty and effectively become a vassal state of the US, at least in its security and legal system. This includes its judicial system where judges have rendered perverse judgments in deference to their "neighbour" across the pond with whom their country has a "special relationship". Baraitser, in dealing with the US extradition request happily accepted the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the US Espionage Act and equally, by implication, its applicability to political cases despite this being forbidden by the US/UK Treaty. She said however that Julian was not fit healthwise to be extradited, which while welcome in itself, did nothing to vindicate UK sovereignty in relation to the Act. She then accepted subsequent US assurances that Julian would not be subject to their appalling maximum security "Special Admistrative Measures" (SAM) system, unless they decided otherwise when they got hold of him. Abject.

What also emerges is the complete unaccountability of security forces, particularly the US CIA who appear to be able to do what they like where and when they like. A plus for the Italian judicial system was that they tried some of these guys for involvement in a kidnapping, for special rendition elsewhere, in the heart of Italy. By then the guys had gone and the US would not give them up. Nor were Italian politicians prepared to force the matter further.

My original plan was to end by just touching on a further few aspects of the book that resonated with me. Cleary every reader will have their own selection of these. But is hasn't worked out like that.

When I finished the book and went back over my notes, there were just too many items I wanted to include so you'll just have to read the book. Take it from me you won't be sorry. You will end up with a deeper understanding of what the Assange saga is all about. You will be inspired by the courage of those who stand up in defence of free speech and for justice for dissidents. You will see why the criminals who have betrayed their people and murdered masses, in the name of so called freedom, must be brought to justice. This last category are escaping scot free while the just suffer and society continues to be undermined.

So, instead I will quote Stefania on what she stands for and why she wrote the book.

I have invested so much because I want to use my journalistic work to help unmask how the iron fist in the velvet glove operates, so that the public can be aware of it and learn to recognize it.

I want to live in a society where it is possible to reveal war crimes and torture without ending up in prison and on the brink of suicide three times, as happened to Chelsea Manning. Without being forced to live in exile, like Edward Snowden. Without losing my freedom for over ten years and risking suicide, like Julian Assange. I want to live in a society where secret power is accountable to the law and the the public for its atrocities. Where those who go to jail are the war criminals, not those who have the conscience and courage to expose them, and the journalists who reveal their crimes.

Today such an authentically democratic society does not exist. And no one is going to create it for us. It is up to us to fight for it. For those who are with us, for those who are not and even for those who are against us.
Read the book.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023


This is surely the definitive book on the EU and Northern Ireland at least for the period from the UK & Ireland joining the European Economic Community in 1973 up to pre-Brexit times with a serious concentration on the period from 1980 to 1998 when much of what is there is in this relationship was forged.

In terms of content, the emphasis, and some might say the justification, for the book lies in its theoretical underpinnings, the evolution and identification of metagovernance and its relevance in conflict situations.

For me, however, the most rewarding, and major part of the book, is the chronicling and analysis of the IRL/NI/UK/EU relationship. The value of Lagana's work here is that it is meticulously sourced and draws on a number of archives not previously in the public domain (Delors & Logue) but it is also informed by a series of intensive interviews with a carefully selected sample of the main surviving players.

Not being an academic myself and having been familiar with Northern Ireland through observation and participation, I found the theoretical aspect of "metagovernance" a tough one to come to terms with and I don't think I have yet managed a full understanding of it.

An essential element in the EU approach is its subtlety, the 'nudge' I refer to below, as the networks involved may in some instances seem to threaten to undermine the state. As the book puts it (p36)
In a way the concept of metagovernance offers a means for governments to loosen the reins without loosing control.
If you want to get to the bottom of this, you'll just have to read the book. Metagovernance takes up the first 48 pages of the book which I am not going to attempt to condense further here.

The broad idea, however, seems fairly straightforward. Where a situation has many sources and layers of governance, as in the NI situation, it involves standing back, analysing the governance strands, and then coming up with a strategy for a holistic approach to the situation nudging and drawing the various governing authorities into a consistent and constructive approach to development.

Thus, where EU programmes, such as PEACE and INTERREG are involved, the EU is the metagovernor attempting to get the biggest bang for everyone's buck. No doubt that description will have me expelled from academia for ever, but it might help the layperson's understanding of this uniquely ambitious book.

Giada Lagana & John Hume

I am on much more familiar and understandable territory once we get down to the situation on the ground and the thread of continuity here is the parallel story of John Hume.

John had serious street cred in the struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland. Shortly after the explosion of the Troubles in 1968/9, both Ireland and the UK (including Northern Ireland) joined the EEC in 1973.

John was quick to spot the neutral ground that was the European Parliament which was organised on Europe-wide party, rather than national, lines. And though the role of the Parliament was marginal at that stage in terms of EU governance, he saw it as an arena where opposing forces within Northern Ireland could be got to cooperate in the interest of the North as a whole.

He ended up cooperating with his "mortal enemies" from the Northern scene, Ian Paisley and John Taylor (followed by Jim Nicholson), in promoting the Northern interest within the EU, and in a way which made no small contribution to the eventual emergence of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998.

But none of that came easy. The stage had first to be set to bring Northern Ireland onto the EU playing field.

As those of us who ever had dealings with the EEC/EU know, if you want to do anything at Community/Union level, you have first to find a legal base for it. Making speeches and the like is all very well, and pretty straightforward, but if you eventually want to mobilise funds, that is another matter, and by the time you get to that stage you will want to have your legal base sorted out.

Hume, and Colm Larkin in the Commission, set about trying to find a way to get the Community/Union involved in some way in Northern Ireland. The NI situation in 1979 was appalling and the case would have to be strong and decisivly presented.

They finally decided that the best approach would be to present the Parliament with a Motion for a Resolution calling on the Commission to involve itself in the Northern Ireland situation. This was an approach which had been rarely used in the past and the Preamble to the draft Resolution would have to firm up the legal base if it was to get any hearing at all. For a while they were stumped and could not find anything useful in the Treaty of Rome until Larkin had a Eureka moment when he checked out the earlier Coal and Steel Community Treaty. There it was, 'A wonderful almost biblical phrase':
Resolved to substitute for age-old rivalries the merging of their essential interests; to create, by establishing an economic community, the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts; and to lay the foundations for institutions which will give direction to a destiny henceforward shared (...).
Colm Larkin

This, of course, referred to war-torn Europe after WWII, but it fitted Northern Ireland like a glove.
That phrase figured in almost every future European initiative that Hume and the EU/Northern Ireland network took over the years.


The Resolution led in due course to the "Martin Report on Community Regional Policy and Northern Ireland", published in May 1981 in the middle of the NI hunger strikes.
The report reviewed the outlook for the economy of Northern Ireland and assessed the policies and resources needed to bring the region up to the Community average as regards living standards and employment. (...) The Martin Report constituted the beginning of what became an ongoing role for the EU in Northern Ireland.
The debate on the Report in the European Parliament tesified to the unity of the NI MEPs in that forum, but it brought out an aspect of UK in NI that was not welcome to the UK authorities but which strengthened the hand of NI in maximising expenditure in the North.

The rapporteur, Simone Martin, highlighted the lack of "additionality" in current EU spending in the North. The observance of additionality is vital in EU spending and is taken very seriously by the EU. It simply means that any EU spending should be additional to that already being spent by the national authorities. This was clearly not being observed in Northern Ireland where EU spending, in whole or in part, was subsituted for national spending. Martin's observation allowed Ian Paisley subsequently to accuse Whitehall of stealing NI's EU money.

If you want to follow all the subtleties involved in the lead up to the report you need to read the book where they are clearly set out. I must remark here that the text clearly shows the value of the one-to-one interviews carried out by the author.


This report went a lot further than its predecessor which was only concerned with economic matters.
The objective was to 'explain a terribly complicated situation of conflict and strife, alienation and sectarianism to non British and non Irish members of the Parliament' and through them, maybe to a wider section of the European public at large. The explicit objective of the investigation, reflecting a belief growing in the Community, was to see if and how the institutions of the European Community (EC) could be of additional assistance to the people of Northern Ireland beyond the support already rendered within the framework of the Community's regional policy and Social Fund.

(...) the report recommended cross border cooperation at a time when regional policies were the priority of EU member states. Furthermore the report proposed that the EC assume greater responsibility for economic and social development and for improved intergovernmental cooperation on security issues. Both suggestions were in areas that related to constitutional affairs and that, some might argue, exceeded the EP's competencies.
I would think that last sentence an understatement and see why Unionists were not at all pleased. However, as the book points out, the UK authorities, despite their public protestations, were privately not at all unhappy at the prospect of additional EU funds coming into Northern Ireland.

The British Government, the UUP and the DUP refused to cooperate with the report. This resulted from a refusal to distinguish between the "political" and the "constitutional", and an ideological view of sovereignty which saw NI as an exclusively British matter.

The report is careful to point out that the conflict in Northern Ireland is not a religious war, particularly as this is often the beginning and the end of some people's understanding outside of the North.
... the conflict is one of culture and loyalties, of memories of historic struggles rather than disputes of doctrine.
This statement is set against the background of the history of the North and the observation that
it is crucial that the history of Northern Ireland is understood as a 'sequence of Irish rebellions and British suppressions'
Many people who had little understanding of doctrine and who seldom attended Protestant or Catholic services appropriated the terms 'Protestant' and 'Catholic' as badges.
It is interesting, particularly in the light of the ramifications of Brexit, that the Haagerup Report describes Northern Ireland as a "constitutional oddity" and "a place apart". That it had surely become after a half a century of repressive Loyalist rule studiously ignored by Westminister.

Lagana sums up the importance of the report thus:
The report consequently constitutes the first instance in which the architechture of the EU peacebuilding strategy for Northern Ireland was outlined. This included a territorial dimension, an active and supporting role for civil society, and a respect for the autonomous role of the two national governments involved in full conformity with the metagovernance perspective.
We will see these elements taken up later in the Peace programme.
Laying the Foundation Stone


The book also deals with the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985 although this did not directly involve the EU. It was, however consistent with one of the recommendations of the Haagerup Report stressing the need for increased cooperation between the British and Irish governments.


When looking at EU funding in Northern Ireland the temptation is to jump straight to the Peace Programme, or even to INTERREG if you're aware of it. But Northern Ireland will already have benefitted from the EU Regional and Social Funds by that stage. These, however, are funds which have EU-wide application and are not just directed at Northern Ireland. Even INTERREG applies across the EU though there was a special programme within the overall for Ireland/Northern Ireland.

However the International Fund for Ireland, which was set up in 1986 following the Anglo-Irish Agreement, focuses on the same area of operation as the later Peace Programme and includes the EU in its funders.

This Fund was project based and set the scene to some extent for the specifically NI EU programmes that followed.


Lagana refers to the evolution of the concept of a Europe of States into a Europe of the Regions. This was useful on a number of fronts and it downplayed questions of state sovereignty by concentrating directly on the regions most in need of assistance. The establishment of the Regional Fund (1975) gave expression to this and there was intensive lobbying for funds from all quarters, though certainly at the beginning there were national quotas to be divided up between the regions

The European Social Fund was established in the Treaty of Rome in 1957. It's general aim was to compensate for the effects of the abolition of national protectionism with the advent of the EEC Customs Union, but I'm mentioning it here because, in conjunction with the Regional Fund, it became a source of funding for NI programmes.

Lagana brings up an important point here. It is one I was very conscious of, particularly in the administration of funding in the Peace programme.
However, Northern Ireland, as legally part of the UK, was not directly involved in the lobbying or negotiations within the Council and was not part of the committee system. This constituted a huge issue in terms of representations of interests because the UK administration's preferences often diverged from those of the region. Irish representatives, on the other hand, shared common interests with Northern Ireland in certain economic areas and were sometimes better disposed than the UK government to protect Northern Ireland interests. This absence of adequate representation of the political interests created an additional impetus for Northern Irish groups to lobby Irish ministers for support. The lobby was facilitated by the EU/Northern Ireland public network within the European Parliament (EP).

From my own experience it was not just Northern Irish groups which were involved. The Irish administration at various points was open to observations from the Northern authorities on sectoral matters coming before the ECOFIN.


The Single European Market is the lynchpin of the EU. The freedom of movement of goods, people, capital and services, is the glue that holds the whole structure together. For a long time since its foundation the EU relied on the Customs Union and its only European policy, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and this eventually led it into some very strange territory such as beef mountains, wine lakes and green pounds. But the SEM was the major milestone in the development of the EU as an economic unit and was seen as finally facing up to "le défi américain" that I had become familiar with during my days at the College of Europe in Bruges in 1967/8 - the challeng of the huge integrated US market both in its consumer and producer aspects.

Here is Lagana commenting on its significance for Norther Ireland.
In sum the SEM provided strong economic incentives for actors in Northern Ireland to become more integrated with the Republic of Ireland. The implicit objective was to support local efforts to cooperate on both sides of the border, not only by increasing trade but also by incentivising local actors to develope business links to combat the SEM's risks. In this way, the EU strategically indirectly provided incentives for increased cross border cooperation as outlined in the 1984 Haagerup Report. The potential of the SEM to accentuate economic differences between rich and poor regions was used to argue for greater Commission emphasis on EU regional policy and to compensate these poorer regions for their losses. The consequent reform of EU regional policy in 1988 provided another good opportunity to impact on Northern Ireland.


The Regional Fund was for those regions in the EU seen to be disadvantaged, as defined by a set of statistics. The INTERREG took this a step further and concentrated on border areas within regions which were disadvantaged by their peripherality and this disadvantage applied on both sides of the border. The borders in question were national borders, so an INTERREG programme required the participation of two or more member states.

Monitoring Committees had membership comprising representatives of the national administration of the member states concerned and further membership tended to be limitied to various state departments, bodies and organisations.

Lagana sets out the problems with the IRL/NI INTERREG which included the highly centralised nature of the two administrations which stressed national rather than local priorities. This was more extremely felt in the case of NI where the UK DTI was the competent authority. There was rivalry between organisations on both sides of the border. Then, within NI, views differed as between unionist (to whom cross border cooperation was anathma) and nationalists (who welcomed it). Unionists eventually came to appreciate the benefits of the initiative.


John Hume had been intimately involved in all the efforts described above to advance the position of Northern Ireland within the EU. But in many ways, the culmination of his trajectory was the introduction of what became known as the Northern Ireland Peace Programme. This did not just emerge into the world fully formed. It was the result of a lot of carefully managed preparatory work and there were many difficulties to overcome first.

Lagana describes the gestation of the programme in great detail. I will just make a few points from my own involvement having responsibility for its implementation in the Irish border counties adjoining Northern Ireland and also as Co-Chair of the programme's Monitoring Committee.

It had a strong emphasis on cross border co-operation.

It strove to advance cross-community participation, one of the most daunting tasks of the day in NI.

It even included a Consultative Forum to cater for wider participation from among NI interests.

It did, however, suffer from some constraints. In particular, funding was provided through the Regional and Social Funds and came with all of those funds' strings attached. The preparedness of the two communities in the North to avail of the opportunities provided by the programme varied enormously, the Catholic/Nationalist side being best prepared. This often led to accusations of bias against the programme as more funding went to one side than the other.

However, looking back on the wider significance of the programme, Lagana observes:
... the first EU programme for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland was the first major EU funding initiative aimed at specifically contributing to a political resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict from the bottom up. The programme was conceived as a way to complement the mainstream political efforts at peacebuilding undertaken by private actors, supported by the EU/Northern Ireland network.


While the EU was not directly inolved in the GFA, all the work described above made an invaluable contribution to it and this has been recognised in various quarters. The EU was an important actor in sustaining the GFA both in funding underpinning initiatives, such as subsequent phases of the Peace Programme, but also in keeping open some of the channels described above.


Lagana has wisely avoided trying to deal with Brexit despite some pressure for its inclusion. Brexit is a separate and subsequent phase of EU/UK relations and at the time of publication of the book it was not clear what direction it was going in. She wisely left this to others and thereby protected the integrity of her own work.


I could do no better in conclusion than cite Lagana's own concluding paragraph.
Finally, the case of the EU role in the Northern Ireland peace process shows that any attempt to develop a strategic paradigm of peacebuilding must remember that its roots lie in the lives and the consent of real people and societies who have the capacity to make choices withing their own context and aspire to it. To maintain its integrity, any EU approach to peacebuilding on their behalf must be able to offer a form of strategic peace that is rhetorically defensible across the range of platforms. Far from pursuing a utopian agenda, this book offers a realistic and pragmatic terrain, based on a historical analysis and never before seen archival sources, into which EU peacebuilding must evolve as it practically responds to the problems that have emerged in the current worldwide political context.
And my own overall conclusion on the book.

It is a magnificent work which should gain in publicity and popularity as time goes on. It is thoroughly researched, intensely referenced, contains a raft of original material, is well written and very readable. Lagana has put blood, sweat and tears into it. She must be very proud of it and rightly so. It is bound to become the go to book for the canvas she took on. Others may write up individual aspects but it is a magnificent panorama of NI/EU relations over its period of choice.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023


Britain is currently in the last phase of a post WWII nervous breakdown.

I am reminded of an interplay from Shakespeare's Henry IV that I did in school:

Stefaan de Rynck was the EU Brexit negotiators' point man on the British. It was his job to interpret this Alice in Wonderland for Barnier. In doing so he dug deep into the British psyche and in particular that of its current ruling class and what he came up with was very unpleasant indeed.

The dominant theme that comes across are empty British threats born out of a complete lack of understanding of how the EU works and what it is about. Add these to Theresa May's original contradictory red lines and you're really on another planet, as Stefaan points out.

At the end of the day, the Brits did themselves down. And when you added in the DUP, who are a bunch of troglodytal psychos, you get a really lethal mix.

If you take a brief look back to before and during the UK referendum on Brexit, the people did not know what they were doing when they voted for Brexit, nor indeed did their "masters" who were too busy leading them up the garden path with an agenda of their own.

They were lied to and misled in the run up to the referendum and right throughout the Brexit process itself.

This was the last gasp of a former inglorious empire. The final sunset clause.

I didn't quite get this during the process itself and I was constantly surprised at how, when the various factions at home had beaten one another into submission and sort of agreed a line that frankly didn't make any sense, they thought the battle was won and the EU (Johnny Foreigner) was duty bound to accept it.

This then led to standoffs, threats, and timewasting which could have been used in productive negotiation. That the outcome was suboptimal should surprise nobody.

But enough of me. This is Stefaan's book and not mine.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book every bit as much as I did Barnier's. Different styles, different personalities, and somewhat different tasks in the same process.

Barnier's huge achievement was to hold the 27 together. This was anything but a foregone conclusion at the outset of the negotiations and it took good judgement and an enormous amount of hard work. He also had to keep a cool head in his dealings with the British. This was not a foregone conclusion either under the circumstances. Barnier came through both with flying colours but Stefaan gives us a wee peek below the sang froid.
"The repeated rejections by the UK to engage failed to test that flexibility [on a future deal] fully. It also led to a rare outburst of emotion on Barnier's side, who once raised his voice in the negotiations to announce that he was very calm. [p. 243]
Stefaan's job was to interpret the British for Barnier and his team and, to his credit, he seems to have preserved his sanity in so doing.

He did a magnificent job and I hope many Brits read it and learn from it, and that they take this learning to heart and into their own political process before it is too late, if this point has not already been passed.

I propose to give you a flavour of the book by selecting quotes which particularly struck me and grouping them, not in chronological order but in some sort of thematic consistency. I may also add some comments of my own when I lose the run of myself.

Boris the Obstructionist

Just to be contrary, I'll start with something that is not in the book at all. I'm surprised that there is no reference to Johnson's attempt, in September 2019, to paralyse the EU by refusing to nominate a Commissioner in the context of a row over extensions. I'm not sure how this was resolved. I suspect some creative interpretation of the Treaty was discovered by the ever agile teams of Commission and Council lawyers.

On reflection, there is no reference either to Johnson's attempt to circumvent the Benn (Surrender) Act which effectively obliged him to seek a three month extension in 2019. He wrote the formal request as he was legally obliged to do but also wrote another letter saying he didn't want an extension. Tusk just ignored the second letter. It was during this mêlée that a Polish Conservative MP tried to persuade the Polish Prime Minister to refuse EU agreement to an extension.

I suppose Stefaan could reasonably argue that these attempted obstructions by Johnson were outside the actual negotiations process that the Commission was dealing with, but they do, nevertheless, give us further insight into the duplicitous nature of Johnson.

Commission Mandate
"The primary focus had to be to defend EU interests, not to accommodate the UK" [p. 85]
Because the British did not understand that the EU single market was the jewel in the crown, as the CAP had been in the early days of the EEC, they did not understand why they were not allowed to shatter it, in passing, on their way out the door. They did not understand that they were now a third country pitted against a combined membership of 27.

"The unity and solidarity between EU leaders meant that individual countries, most notably Ireland, amplified their power vis-à-vis the UK. This meant the outcome on Brexit had to adjust to the Good Friday Agreement and its North-South cooperation, not the other way round." [p. 246/7]
In fact, Stefaan actually mentions Daniel Ferrie, Commission Spokesperson on Brexit, and Declan Kelleher, Irish Permanent Representative to the EU, in a most favourable light. I am aware of Dan myself from his appearance at Commission press conferences during the negotiations and I have to say he was most impressive (in other words, he answered all the questions exactly as I expected him to !).

UK Civil War

Unlike the unity among the 27 which Barnier so assiduously cultivated, the opposite was the case in the UK parliament and Tory cabinet. The internecine squabbles within the Tory party had to be seen to be believed. I'm tempted to describe it as "cut throat ignorance". As I said above, when the Tories came to a final conclusion on the bloodstained battlefield, they felt the EU was honour bound to accept it. The level of ignorance, and indeed malice, was stunning.

Stefaan is fully aware of this and deals with it in some detail. It could be said to be one of the major themes of the book.
"Immediately after the speech [May's Mansion House Speech on 2/3/2020], Gavin Barwell, a former Tory MP and the PM's Chief of Staff, spoke to the 27 ambassadors and the European Commission representative in Europe House on Smith Square in Westminster. May was a "warm and human politician", Barwell stressed, who had managed to unite her cabinet and now the EU had to seize the moment she created." [p. 87]
[The Observer Sunday newspaper, took the view in May 2020 that] many in the UK 'did not need the Commission's gratuitous, self-defeating and deliberately punitive strictures to remind them of that chastening fact' that leaving the EU had a cost. It was time for the EU 'to get over itself' and accept that 'a democratic vote has torn up the rulebook'. National governments in the EU agreed however that a vote in one country did not tear up the rulebook for the other 27." [p. 202]
As Stefaan remarks
"The UK government played a game of chicken by itself" [p. 247]"
"Barnier received letters from Tory and Labour MPs alike who wanted to come to discuss a way out as if he was a broker between warring British factions." [p. 151]
The UK Press
"Commentators like Frazer Nelson writing in the Daily Telegraph depicted negotiations as a poker game and urged May to 'call out Barnier's bluff' at a time when all his cards were laid out on the table." [p. 7]
"[Barnier's] regular press conferences and debates at the European Parliament gave him frequent venues to advance his points, and yet reporters working in London did not always pick them up. In my own work, I was often surprised to see that what I said in public debates in London made considerable waves in British media, even when my points were merely things Barnier had already repeatedly said in Brussels for reporters there, ad nauseam. [p. 97/8]
Northern Ireland
"The EU compromised more on Northern Ireland than on any other withdrawal issue" [p. 185]
"Henry Newman, the Director of the think tank Open Europe, ... wrote that the four freedoms were indivisible only 'when it suited the EU' as it had already made an exception for Northern Ireland. so why reject an exception for the whole of the UK? The EU reasoning used the opposite logic. Barnier warned member states that the UK was trying to use the EU's concession on alignment by Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip to force the EU into abandoning its principles and compromosing on the indivisibility of the four freedoms for the whole of the UK. That concession was something the EU was willing to give for the sake of upholding the Good Friday Agreement and protecting Ireland's interests, but not for the EU-UK relationship as a whole because of the risks for the single market." [p. 95]
I know the above quote is a long one but I include it because I only recently understood the extent and motivation for that concession and am glad that Stefaan has set it out so clearly.
"This being said, was the principle that these four freedoms are inseparable a legal inevitability or a political choice by the EU? Ultimately it was a political construct." [p. 22]
The original arrangement for Northern Ireland was the Backstop which subsequently became the Northern Ireland Protocol as subsequently expanded by the Windsor Framework. The Backstop effectively meant the UK as a whole staying in the Single Market for goods and as the four freedoms were indivisable at the scale of the UK, the remaining freedoms would have to be respected. As this arrangement would be permanent in the absence of being made obsolete by a better deal, it did raise some questions over why the UK was leaving the EU in the first place. Anyway Theresa May didn't get that through parliament when her solicitor general revealed that it was likely to be permanent.
"Davis contested May's new backstop proposal of a 'temporary customs arrangement' with the EU for the whole of the UK, not just Northern Ireland. It deprived the UK of its autonomous trade policy and Davis only agreed to that after obtaining a cut-off date. Barnier told him a cut-off date plunged Northern Ireland back into uncertainty." [p. 95]
In some sense a lot of this appears academic, as if GB wishes to export to NI and there is any risk of goods entering the Single Market they will have to conform to EU standards. The same effectively goes for GB exports to the continental EU even if UK is not in the Single Market as such. Hopefully the "Brussels Effect" will make much of this less of a problem as GB producers opt for EU standards anyway.
"Barnier worried that May wanted to keep Northern Ireland in reserve as a bartaining chip to opt for regulatory divergence and an independent UK trade policy, creating inevitable trade friction in the eyes of the EU, and at the same time for seamless trade with the EU, by generalising a template for the border on the island of Ireland. The UK wanted to have its cake and eat it, or 'dance at two different weddings at the same time', as Barnier said later in a translation of a similar German expression." [p. 131]
I remember Barnier's own phrase in his book, "le beurre et le prix du beurre".

Article 50 Notification
" ... a few days after May had pulled the first vote in December 2018, the EU Court of Justice issued its Wightman ruling that the UK could unilaterally revoke its intention to withdraw, against the views of the Commission and Council lawyers. Article 50 of the EU Treaty was silent on this question of revocability. EU judges resorted therefore to international law to fill a hole and affirmed the UK's sovereignty to change its mind." [p. 155]
I must say that from the beginning I assumed that the UK could withdraw its notification as long as it remained a member and I was counting the days left for it to do so. In retrospect I can now see that was a false hope. Nevertheless, it is amusing from this perspective to see the ECJ asserting the UK's sovereignty.

Boris Johnson
"[Johnson's remarks were] more appropriate for a salesperson from a foodstore than for a political leader focused on global trade being a force for public goods" [p. 196]
"Another deadline came and went. The EU refused to buy a pig in a poke, to paraphrase a tweet by Charles Michel. Johnson's focus seemed to be more on process and announcing artificial deadlines to look tough in domestic media, less on building trust and a longer-term relationship." [p. 229]
This remark well captures the shallowness of Johnson.

Bad Faith
"[On the Political Declaration] A sword of Damocles loomed over this. Off the record, sources in London told Barnier's team about a prevailing school of thought in Downing Street that these talks were not for real but simply aimed at getting Brexit over the line. The government was not genuinely commited to the words it put on paper, even though 27 national governments endorsed that paper. Cummings revelations on Twitter later in October 2021 confirmed that theses sources had conveyed an accurate reading of the situation in 2019. He acknowledged it was all window dressing to 'get Brexit done'." [p. 214]
It should be remembered that the first thing Frost did when it came to the TCA negotiations was to take issue with the Political Declaration.

UK Civil Servants
"... the political uncertainty put the UK civil service in an impossible position, forcing it to come to Brussels and keep the process going while tensions in the government were at boiling point. In such situations, the best a civil service can do is to keep as many options open until the government is ready to decide, which is what the professionals of the UK civil service did." [p. 92]
"Preparatory work by a civil service cannot make up for political indecisiveness." [p.40]
Stefaan makes quite clear he viewed the UK civil service as very competent and knowledgeable about the EU but that the problem lay with their political masters bickering among themselves, most of them being completely ignorant about what they were at.

Pig Ignorance
"Dominic Raab, as Brexit Secretary, decided to try out whether the EU was ready to accept a model of 'no controls' in the negotiation round of 20 August 2018, contradicting the line of Downing Street. ... In case of no deal, the UK did not plan to impose controls, he told Barnier. Nor did the irish government want controls, he added, so only the EU was causing this 'artificial' problem." [p. 146]
I remember reading in Barnier's book that Theresa May threatened to remove all UK controls as a solution to the NI problem. How pig ignorant can these people get. Neither Raab nor May seem to have any understanding of where the EU was coming from in this matter. And wasn't it Raab who, just some weeks earlier, had belatedly discovered the importance of the Dover-Calais route in UK-EU trade. God help us.

But the supreme example of pig ignorance and arrogance combined has to be:
" It became more surreal on the phone afterwards when he [Frost] implied Barnier should make sure someone high up overruled the European Council conclusions" [p. 233]
I hope that this post and the above quotes have given you a thirst for Stefaan's book. Whether you are an EUphile or a UKphile, I suggest you make sure to have taken your blood pressure tablets before each reading. If you descend into total incomprehension, this is not necessarily a stroke, it may well be that you have suddently found yourself inexplicably treading water in the English channel, which sadly now separates Dover from Calais.

By the way, Chris Grey has done a very good review of the book with which I agree. My one comment would be that I found both Stefaan de Rynck's book and Michel Barnier's books equally riveting.

Je suis Charlie

Monday, March 27, 2023


John Simpson

I remember John Simpson when he came south to participate in the meetings of the National Industrial Economic Council (NIEC). He was nominated to the Council, as a public interest member, by the Irish government. He was then a lecturer in Queen's to the best of my recollection.

The NIEC was set up in 1963 as part of the Irish planning process then being introduced. It consisted of representatives of employers, trade unions, and public representatives. It was chaired by TK Whitiker, the Secretary was Maurice F Doyle, with Jim McMahon and myself as members of the Secretariat which was located in the Department of Finance.

John Simpson has just died, aged 90. I have read a few pieces about him in the Northern papers today and none mentions his membership of NIEC which I would have thought very significant way back then, with Seán Lemass meeting Terence O'Neill in an attempt to thaw North/South relations.

John had a particular interest in the economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic and the interaction between them. He was virtually alone in this area in the North until Norman Gibson arrived later on the scene.

Norman made his name modelling the Northern economy (I think) and he certainly attracted attention with his calculations of what was known then as the British subsidy to Northern Ireland.

The subsidy was the UK exchequer contribution to bridge the gap between Northern Ireland's public income and expenditure, increasing the former to fund the latter. It was also a highly contested figure, particularly when the the cost of the UK military presence in the North after 1972 was included.

I used to calculate it myself in the Department of Finance over the years and that once got me into trouble with John Kelly TD, then a junior minister.

In the event, with the replacement of the NIEC in 1973 with the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) Norman replaced John as the government's Northern Ireland nominee.

Anyway, John carried on with a distinguished career and appears to have been contributing to the Belfast Telegraph virtually up to his death.

You can catch up on this to a certain extent in the Telegraph's piece on his death.

It's funny, I was just thinking of him out of the blue the other day.

May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Atgofion Hen Ddysgwr

dyfyniad o Rhwng Ffrindiau, rhif 9, Gwanwyn 2002

Nes i ddechrau dysgu Cymraeg yn 1969.

Wedi cyfarfod Gareth Howell yn Llundain fe wnaeth fy ngwahod i fynd gydag ef i'r Eisteddfod Genedlaethol yn y Fflint. "Eisteddfod," medde fi "beth yn union yw hwnnw?" "Dere i weld!" mynte fe.

Ar y pryd, m'ond deg gair Cymraeg o ni'n gwybod, rhyw stiward ar y Holyhead Mail blynnyddoedd yn ol ddysgodd y rheini i mi. Ond fe wnaeth yr Eisteddfod honno greu diddordeb ynndo i am yr iaith, y diwilliant a phobeth Cymraeg. A chofiwch, hwnnw oedd blwyddyn yr Arwisgiad, Carlo a Chreoso Chwedeg Nain …

Ar ol yr Eisteddfod roeddwn yn aros ar fferm teulu'r Blackwells yn Nregaron am bythefnos a nes i gyfarfod a Ned Thomas yn Llwynpiod. Roedd Ned yn dechrau cyhoeddu'r cylchgrawn Planet ar y pryd. Bu recordiau'r bbc o gymorth mawr i mi ddysgu ymhellach ac yn hwyrach cyhoeddwyd y llyfryn bendigedig Welsh is Fun.

Bum yn ddigon ffodus y fynd eto i'r Rhuthun ym 1973, lle enillodd Alan Llwyd y goron a'r gadair yn yr un Wyl, y tro cyntaf i hyn ddigwydd ers 1915.

Roedd grwp o Wyddelod o Conradh na Gaeilge yn bresennol a pabell arbennig gan Yr Oireachtas - Gwyl Genedlaethol Y Gwyddelod.

Bum yn bresennol yn Aberteifi yn 1976, wrth i'r goron a'r gadair unwaith eto gan ei hennill gan yr un dyn, Alan Llwyd a phrofi'r bwrlwm daeth yn sgil digymhwyso Dic Jones.

O'r diwedd, des yn ol ym 2001 i Ddinbych, ar ol bwlch o 25 mlynedd. Mae'r Wyl bellach yn fwy cenedlaethol ac yn llai brenhinol.

Am y tro cynta erioed, merch enillodd y gadair - Denbigedig yn wir.

Cododd y dadl iaith ei phen eleni eto ond gyda Cynulliad Cenedlaethol wedi eu greu y gobaith yw y bydd modd mynd i'r afael a'r sefyllfa.

Saturday, February 11, 2023


I've chosen this photo of Niamh
because she chose it herself, for her Facebook profile.
Click on any image for a larger version.

Niamh Bhreathnach died on 6 February 2023 bringing to an end a career that had been singlemindedly devoted to combatting disadvantage in education and to advancing women's rights.

You can read about all of this in the lovely tribute Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, posted on the Presidential website and in the heartfelt eulogy of her husband, Tom Ferris, at her funeral mass in Blackrock church on 10 February 2023.

I simply want to recall here some more personal memories.

In the autumn of 1967, on completing my MA in UCD, I headed off to the College of Europe in Bruges. I was only there a few days when I got the above telegramme from Tom "SHOULD I TAKE BRUGES".

The background here is that the Department of Education were willing to finance two places in the College for Irish people. I was the only one to go and Denis Corboy was trying to get a second person to take up the remaining place. He had obviously persuaded Tom to go and Tom was asking my advice. Now the College is a dual language institution - English and French. You were required to have fluency in one of the two languages and a working knowledge of the other. Many of the lectures were delivered in French and some of the texbooks were in the same language.

Tom didn't have any French, so I advised him not to come and he didn't. I wouldn't have been so sure some weeks later when I discovered the linguistic competence, or should I say incompetence, of some of the students but the damage was done and I carried a sense of guilt over this for many years.

But shortly after this exchange, Tom met Niamh, and had he come to Bruges, I wouldn't be writing this post today.

13 December 1969
Photo: Mr. Connolly, Glasthule.

And I certainly wouldn't be posting this photo. I remember the day well. Niamh was a stunner.

Niamh was very taken with red roses. So am I, particularly single stem red roses. I once took a single stem red rose to Dachau concentration camp. It's a hugely strong statement.

After Bruges, I met Niamh in Ballybrack school where I was doing a slide show for young children recounting various children's stories including the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. I was a bit nervous and mentioned to her that maybe there was too much repetition in the stories.

"That's exactly what young children need", she said, "it gives them a sense of reassurance".

I never forgot that advice and later on when it came to public speaking or debating I remember the same advice but put slightly differently. "Tell them what you're going to say, say it, and tell them what you've said". Works like a dream.

However, there is a more sinister manifestation of the same phenomenon in today's world. In both the Trump administration in the US and recent Conservative governments in the UK, the perception is that if you tell a lie, the best thing to do is repeat it and repeat it, as brazenly as necessary, and then it becomes the truth for a sufficient number of your supporters, at least, for you to be able to ignore all criticism.

I can say, with complete confidence, that none of these awful people came out of any of Niamh's classes.

Niamh, and Tom, were the cause of me once cancelling my subscription to the Blood Bank. Yes, I rang up the Bank and told them they could not use the sample I had provided earlier. I don't know if I am unique in this but if I am it's all Niamh's (and Tom's fault).

I had given blood on the day and later found out that they had both contracted glandular fever, a nasty virus, known by a big long name, but also "the kissing disease". God between us and all harm.

Tom mentioned a few things in his eulogy that I'd like to revisit.

Tom said she "didn’t suffer fools gladly, be they high or low" which reminded me of a story of hers where she simultaneously showed loyalty to her civil service and certainly did not suffer a high fool gladly.

She was meeting the EU Social Affairs Commissioner in Brussels and had along with her the Secretary General of her Department. "Get him out of here" says Pee Flynn. "He stays" says Niamh. And he did. Good on ya girl!

Tom also mentioned a little test she introduced him to which sensitised him to the extent of the existence of discrimination against women. After, or at, a meeting, she would ask him "how many women were present?". I can tell you, that is an instant sensitiser. I had the same experience myself with Brigid McManus who worked with me in the Department of Finance. She trained me to ask myself the very same question, and the results were surprising. I had never noticed the paucity of women at meetings, but I most certainly did from then on. Incidentally, Brigid went on to become Secretary General of the Department of Education, but after Niamh's time as Minister.

He also mentioned that Niamh put the Educational sector on a legislative basis. I took particular note of that. I had been aware, from when I had some responsibility for the Department of Education in the Department of Economic Planning and Development, that the Department of Education was run on the basis of civil service circulars and that it consisted of a host of barely related kingdoms. This was apparent when we were attempting to make pupil forecasts for the different sectors at a time when the community schools were coming to the fore. No sector was conceding numbers to the community schools and this would have resulted in serious overinvestment at the time. I was told that the only place the Department came together was in the Estimates Office - the money had to add up at the end of the day.

So the idea of putting all of this stuff on a firm legislative base was not a trivial matter.

If you want to get a flavour of how assertively Niamh handled her brief in Education you should read her speech in Maynooth on 16 June 2022 where she gives a good idea of the pushback against her introducing The Universities Act 1997. This was almost her last public engagement and it shows up the fighter in her.

And so to the final journey.

I have to diverge here slightly to make a comment on Niamh's death notice. The request for no flowers is not unusual but when I saw "Donations, if desired, to", I was taken aback. Was this her favourite restaurant and how come it was important enough to figure in a death notice? My head went into a tailspin of smoked salmon socialism until I clicked on the link. The entry was the choice of the family but it gave Niamh a final shot from beyond the grave. Click on it and you'll see what I mean.

Tom giving Niamh's eulogy

There is a link to the eulogy at the head of this post.

Grandchildren Tom & Alice bring up the objects,
a family portrait & a copy of the 1995 White Paper on Education.

It was a touching moment in the ceremony when Niamh's grandchildren brought up the objects symbolising Niamh's life. The White Paper was a surprise but a fitting tribute, and there is no way better to conclude this post than to quote the final paragraph of Niamh's introduction to it:
The ultimate objective of the strategies set out in this White Paper is an education system which will provide every student with fulfilling educational experiences at every stage in a lifetime of learning. As our society becomes more complex, the capacity to learn continuously will determine each individual's life chances and decisively influence the quality and prosperity of our society
Niamh's public life in a nutshell.

Short tribute from the Labour Party.

Niamh was a friend.

May she rest in peace.

Friday, January 13, 2023


Bill Clements and Tower No.7 Dublin South

I was sad to learn today of the death of Bill Clements in June of 2022. Bill was a great friend of the Killiney Martello Tower and it was he who encouraged Niall O'Donoghue to enter it for the Europa Nostra heritage competition, where it got a special mention from the Jury.

Bill was a member, and at one time President, of the UK Fortress Study Group and at one stage he organised for the group to inclued the Martello Tower in its visit to southern Ireland, which you can read about here.

Bill was a renowned authority on Martello Towers worldwide, most of which he had actually visited and photographed himself. He has written extensively on them and his most recent (2013) book on the towers is called Billy Pitt had them built: Napoleonic towers in Ireland. Sylvie Kleinman's has reviewed it in History Ireland.

Bill Clements & Niall O'Donoghue at the Dún Laoghaire battery

I recall Bill accompanying myself and Niall and a number of other afficionados on one of the most intensive day tours of my life. Niall had arranged it. It started with Niall's tower. Then on to the Harbourmaster's office in Dún Laoghaire. Followed by a visit to the battery at the end of the West Pier, where the above photo was taken,

Bill Clements on Dún Laoghaire East Pier

also this one of Bill on the pier.

l-r: Bill Clements, myself, Simone Stephenson, ??, Niall O'Donoghue

This was followed by lunch in Simone Stephenson's Bartra Tower (No.10).

Bill Clements emerges onto the crown of the Dalkey Island Martello (No.9)

Then a visit to the tower on Dalkey Island. This is the one where Bill discovered a document which showed a unique outside entrance directly to the crown of the tower itself. Now he could see the real thing at close quarters.

Simone Stephenson & ?? on the crown of the Dalkey Island Tower

The particular day we arrived there had the signs of a campaign to reclaim Dalkey Island from the King of Dalkey and reintegrate it into the Republic.

Bill has sadly left us but his presence remains in so many realms and places.