Sunday, January 16, 2022


I wrote this Limerick way back, long before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, maybe even before he became Foreign Secretary. It was known that his life's ambition was to become Prime Minister, but as one astute journalist observed, not to be Prime Minister but to have been Prime Minister. The glory without the responsibility.

And he might have got away with that. But when he got in to the job, the glory was too seductive for him to give it up easily. Here was a full house every night with the audience hanging on his every word. The consummation of a long acting career.

Never mind that he never studied or learned the script. He was a master at winging it. He had been doing it all his life. Turn up to a celebrity function as guest speaker. Make a few jokes about pretending he didn't know what function he was at. Tell a string of the same old hoary stories in an entertaining manner. And Bob's your uncle. Collect the cheque on the way out.

Each time a different audience for whom the tired old routine seemed fresh. But now? Now it was the same audience night after night and he was fast running out of oul blather. He didn't study, or even read, the script provided. He just kept winging it. It was what he had done all his life and the rut was too deep to change.

He had spent a fair portion of his life, as a Brussels correspondent for an English newspaper, belitteling the European Project. He wrote outrageous, but hugely entertaining, lies about the European Union and its supposed malign affects on British sacred cows - imperial measures, bendy bananas, and so on.

So much so that the European Union set up a web page to rebut his outrageous claims. Unfortunately the rebuttals were duller than the lies and other papers failed to pick up on them. So his contribution to UK distrust of the EU was enormous.

He fronted a campaign to leave the EU based on lies and partial truths, and underpinned by illicit covert targetting of thousands, if not millions, of individuals.

However ruthless he may be behind the scenes, he is a people pleaser in public and he needs the approval of the masses. This in a sense is his downfall, because he makes inconsistent promises and doesn't even lie consistently.

The most obvious example is his signing up to an ag agreement with the EU which saw an economic border down the Irish Sea while at the same time assuring everybody that there would be no checks whatsoever on goods moving in either direction between Northern Ireland and Britain.

He is totally insensitive to the pain of others, as is clear from the totally inadequate response of his government in combatting the Covid pandemic. No action was taken about making schools or workplaces safe and no support was offered to those required to isolate. He allowed the pandemic to run rampant despite advice to the contrary.

He presided over what must have ranked among the greatest raids on the UK Treasury in history when he oversaw the award of massive contracts to Tory donors who were never in a position to deliver and whose failure to do so cost innumerable lives.

His fecklessness is now catching up with him as the long-suffering British public vent their anger at partying in No.10 while they could not console sick or dying relatives or friends nor attend their funerals. The most graphic illustration of this is the partying on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral at which the Queen is pictured alone in the pews observing the pandemic restrictions.

So, to the Limerick. Objectionable as it seems, the reality is a thousand times worse. It wasn't just a selfie, it was daylight robbery. He didn't go. He hung on and destroyed the UK on so many fronts. But yes, it will be up to the British people to clean up a mess of incalculable proportions.

And what should happen to Boris Johnson?

Pass the eggs and the rotten tomatoes.

Sunday, December 12, 2021


The media are currently drawing our attention to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, particularly in the light of current commemorations during the decade of centenaries.

The Irish delegation was between a rock and a hard place. They had negotiated what they thought was the best deal they could get, even if it fell short of their expectations and of those who had fought for Irish independence, particularly since the 1916 Rising.

They were threatened with immediate and terrible war if they did not sign and they did not think it worth the risk to call out the British on this at that time. They did not know if the British threat was bluff and, in any event, the limited but significant form of independence in the Treaty might be used in the future to lay claim to further degrees of independence. So they signed.

These thoughts were running through my head this morning during my daily 6km morning mental health walk along the coast of Dublin Bay.

But what provoked them was a more modern context, Irish representation within the European Union.

Our "ambassador" to the EU is known as the Permanent Representative and with colleagues from the other Member States, he attends meetings known as COREPER which prepare legislation and other matters for the Council of Ministers. The Council, along with the European Parliament, is the Union's legislative body.

Generally speaking, the Perm Rep will have kept the home front up to date on what is happening and will have, in turn, got adequate instructions for the meetings. But, there will be times when s/he has to take a flier and this is at the heart of the job.

The Perm Rep may find themselves in a position of having to take a position in the face of a deadline and without adequate time for full consultation with the home front. The considerations in play will be signalling Ireland's agreement to some compromise which allows the matter to advance to the next stage, but judging that they can sell this compromise to the home front when push comes to shove. This requires a lot of knowledge, skill, and very fine judgement.

My own familiarity with this process is one level down the chain - the Working Party of Financial Counsellors. This group deals with legislation in the field of economic policy. It meets at deputies level and prepares for the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin).

The Department of Finance has its own rep at Principal Officer level and these Counsellors form a sort of a club. The Counsellors have to be able to trust one another when they make commitments and each individual Counsellor has to be sure that what he is commiting to can be sold at home. Again a very fine judgement as specific instructions are not always available and in a dynamic discussion you never know what you are going to be faced with and you cannot, in the face of deadlines, be continuously slowing matters up while you consult Dublin.

Clearly, the implication of the above is that it is vitally important who is sent to the Permanent Representation at "ambassador" or principal officer level.

Spare a thought, from time to time, for their dilemmas.

Anyway this is what provoked my thinking of the Irish plenipotentiaries in 1921, a hundred years ago.

Monday, November 15, 2021


Felix Larkin has produced a wonderful book called Living With History. It contains a selection of his writings over the years. Some of these have been articles, others reviews, and yet others talks. They cover a stunningly wide range of material and all with that quality finish we have come to expect from Felix.

Given the range, depth, and size of the book, it's going to take me a while to get through it before I put pen to paper on my general review, but I don't think you should be denied all of it for so long. So, what I am proposing to do in this blog post is to dip into some individual contributions and comment on them. I'll tweet the entries as they arise.


Let's kick off with a bang. Scanning the contents my eye was drawn to Charlie Hebdo. This is an absolutely outrageous French version of Private Eye, compared with which the latter is more like the sermon on the mount.

In the French tradition, Charlie Hebdo knows no bounds, well, almost none. You will remember it was Charlie which published the caricature of Mohammed which ended up getting most of its staff shot to death in Paris in 2015.

So what is Felix's take on Charlie Hebdo?

Well, he's definitely with Charlie, and particularly in the Cartoon of Mohammed which provoke the fatal backlash. But he takes the opportunity in this piece to discuss a range of issues revolving around free speech and its limits. He surveys a number of cartoonists and offers a prescription for what is, and what is not, appropriate in the area of giving offence.

The piece is tightly drafted and well argued, so I am not going on any further about it. You'll have to read it for yourself, along with all the other excellent contributions in this book.

I can't leave the subject without commenting on my own favourite Charlie cover. It's all very well asking Muslims to be tolerant but when you see the sort of cover above taking the deepest swipe possible at the Catholic church and one of its hierarchy in particular, you might need to stretch your tolerance by another mile or two.

By way of explanation of the cover above (not referred to in Felix's piece) I should tell you that the Monsignor Vingt Trois referred to is actually a Cardinal and the cover is having a go at him for his opposition to same sex marriage. Charlie dishes up a same sex Trinity for the edification of the Cardinal and his church.

You can get the book in most good bookshops, from Kennys of Galway, or from the publisher.

Saturday, October 30, 2021



Following some heavy treatment for a serious medical condition at the beginning of the year, I had an evaluation consultation with the consultant, or maybe his registrar, on the phone the other day.

Apparently the treatment had turned out well and the complaint was unlikely to be a concern for a good while to come, if ever.

So we were both reassured.

But I had one question which had been nagging me:

“There's just one thing I'd like to clear up. Since the treatment, my penis has shrunk and retreated back into its foreskin like when I was young.”

“Oh, that's not unusual in these cases.”

“Well I just wondered is there anything I should be doing about it? It's not really a problem unless I am trying to aim a pee.”

“Well, you know the penis is a muscle, and like any other muscle it needs to be exercised.”

“Oh, and what does that mean, exactly?”

“Well, you have a choice. You can either use the manual method or I can prescribe you Viagra”

“I see, well, I think I'll opt for the manual method but you have to promise me not to tell the Pope.”

“That won't arise. This is purely medical.”

So we parted on good terms. The doctor was satisfied with the treatment and I had a prescription for frequent masturbation.

A win win situation.

Later, I was reflecting on how this might have played out in my youth in the course of one of my many confessions involving illicit sexual activity.

“Now, my child, before I absolve you of your sins, is there anything else you would like to confess?”

“Well, actually, Father, I masturbate every day.”

“Whaaat, you know this is wrong, terribly wrong. It is specifically forbidden in the Bible.”

“Yes Father, but I have a prescription.”

“A what?”

“A prescription Father.”

“And where did you get this 'prescription' ? Who gave it to you?”

“The doctor Father.”

“What is this doctor's name? I will have him struck off the register.”

“Her, Father, she's a lady doctor. And I could not give you her name anyway.”

“Do you not even know her name?”

“I do Father, but I am bound by professional confidentiality.”

“But this is a very serious matter. We don't know how many innocent young boys she's putting on the path to Hell. I'll have to complain her to the medical organisation.”

“You can't do that Father.”

“Why not, may I ask?”

“The seal of the confessional Father. Any way, she said it was a medical matter.”

“How can that be? Masturbation a purely medical matter. Impossible.”

“Well Father, it's probably like someone drinking whiskey for purely medical reasons.”


“What, Father?”

“I'll have you know that my drinking whiskey IS for purely medical reasons. Not at all the same thing.”

“Do you not enjoy it, Father.”


Imaginary though it was, I have to confess that I really enjoyed that conversation. I left the church with a smirk, knowing that I was probably one of the few people in Ireland with a certificate to import banned books in the mid 1960s and now with a prescription for frequent masturbation.

Life can't be all bad.

Monday, September 27, 2021


Michel Barnier (centre) with his LSE hosts,

This is how the LSE described the event:
This event is part of the LSE Programme: Brexit and Beyond, which is a dedicated series to stimulate the public debate and informed discussion about this most pivotal topic. It comprises a variety of events, targeting LSE staff and students, as well as the general public and specific categories of policy-makers, practitioners and professionals working on Brexit; with the aim of continuing to shape the discussion surrounding its complex and uncertain agenda. The Programme is organised by LSE's European Institute and School of Public Policy.
And it was all downhill from there.

Of course Michel Barnier was good. He gave a good standard EU Brexit presentation followed by a masterclass in the Q&A.

But really, the provocative, ignorant and baiting questions that were put to him were a disgrace and of an intellectual standard unworthy of what I thought LSE was all about.

Kevin Featherstone actually put it to him to consider that the British aggressiveness, including Theresa May's red lines, were part of a successful strategy in putting Barnier off his stroke at the outset. After all, we all saw how puzzled and unsure Barnier was when faced with this onslaught.

It didn't seem to occur to Kevin, that Barnier was simply trying in his own mind to rationalise the apparent stupidity of this British approach. Barnier knew well that Theresa May was not so much addressing the Union as the extreme brexit wing of the Tory party. It came across in the course of the session how much background reading and preparation Barnier had actually done.

In the beginning ... ...

The famous photo of the negotiators, with the EU side and their briefs in front of them while David Davis smirked in the absence of a single sheet of paper, proved prescient.

Yet again, Barnier had to explain the concept of the Single Market and how its protection genuinely and severely limited any concessions that the EU could make. He even had to point out yet again that entrusting non-member country British officials to implement EU law was an unprecedented concession never before obtained by anyone else.

On the UK's vain attempts to open up alternative negotiating channels behind Barnier's back and over his head, he had to point out that he was not simply negotiating on behalf of the Commission but also for the 27 member states and the European Parliament.

Kevin wondered what the EU was going to do when the UK reneged on the border in the Irish sea. Wouldn't they have to construct a new border along the track of the old one dividing the island of Ireland in two once again.

Barnier replied that the British PM and his team knew exactly what they were signing up to having intensively argued it line by line and that the EU therefore expected them to live up to what they had agreed.

To British ears, that answer didn't really solve the problem and it looked like the EU really didn't have a solution.

Barnier had to point out yet again that the existing protocol was the solution and that it needed a little more goodwill to implement it properly.

Kevin recalled that Barnier in his book compared David Davis to a child. I wondered what his mature reflection would make of the crazy stuff now playing out before our very eyes in LSE.

Barnier, at a Commission presser, pointing out that
UK had signed the Political Agreement
which they were now reneging on.

I'll jump to the concluding remarks when Minouche Shafik praised the UK/EU negotiations for how civilised they had been (couda fooled me) and Barnier was in like a shot pointing out that one aspect of civilised behaviour was honouring your signature.

As I said, a Barnier masterclass but a crap event on the whole.

And don't get me started on the technicalities. The lighting was shit. Barnier at times looked like some sort of Zombie rustled up from the local graveyard. The sound was worse. It seemed to be half picked up by a single mystery microphone suspended somewhere out of sight of the camera. And the set looked like it had been improvised at ten seconds to midnight.

Barnier seems surprised when the session was brough to an apparently abrupt halt - "it is finished ?". But the hour was up. He was probably a bit taken aback at the superficial treatment of brexit in the Q&A and was waiting for the meat.

Really, the whole thing was an insult to a man of Barnier's stature and I hope it was not his only reason for travelling to London.

Doubt if he'll be back. But then you never know with these civilised French types.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021


Ivor Browne on the crown of Martello Tower No.7 Killiney
Photos: Niall O'Donoghue

Ivor is now 92 years of age; he climbed the narrow spiral staircase right up to the crown of the Tower; he now has the photo above to prove it. In the background is Killiney Bay and Bray Head.

But another important view for Ivor is the house directly across the road. This was known as "Marathon" and Ivor lived there with his family from 1966 to 1980. Now thanks to Niall O'Donoghue's restoration of the Martello Tower he can get a decent view of his old house.

Today it is the residence of the Turkish Ambassador.

Ivor with his son Ronan and daughter in law Máire
on the crown of the Tower with "Marathon" in the background

When it came to choosing a career, Ivor opted for psychiatry. In view of his later strongly held views, his first contact with the profession was ironic. He started his internship in a neurosurgical unit, where he assisted a surgeon. He said of his work there:
Nearly every Saturday morning one or two patients would be sent down from Grangegorman to have their brains 'chopped'... this was the major lobotomy procedure... where burr holes were drilled on each side of the temples and a blunt instrument inserted to sever the frontal lobes almost completely from the rest of the brain.
I have actually seen and handled one of these little drills way back in the Grangegorman archive. It made me sick at the time and gave me nightmares for a while afterwards.

This savagery and the subsequent reliance by the greater part of the profession on medication as a solution to trauma and mental illness was something Ivor would spend the rest of his life combatting.

His view of the mechanics of trauma are very clear.
Once that shut down (through a traumatic experience) happens, then that experience is frozen. So it is not a case of a threatening memory being repressed, it is that it has never gotten in properly. Once it is frozen it is outside of time, so twenty years later this can be activate - some everyday event can trigger it – and you then experience it as if it is happening now. You don’t think about it and remember it - you feel it and experience it. And of course at that point you think you are going nuts because you look around and nothing traumatic is happening, yet you experience this traumatic feeling. That is why I called it “the frozen present”, because when it comes, it comes through as the present, not as the past. Eventually when it works its way through and you experience it a few times then it moves into the past.
This is very clear to me and it explains why when it activates in later life, as it does, it has to be worked through afresh and this means probing the trauma as new. It is a painful but necessary experience.

Many psychiatrists have funked this over the years. They have not been trained or prepared for this, or are not willing to put in the work, and they have opted for box ticking and medication, effectively postponing the evil day, leaving their patients in a state of disequillibrium, and likely as not addicting them to medication that will ultimately get in the way of their healing. I know this.

Ivor's approach was to seek the cause of the patient's current state. This requires patience and dedication and he had this in spades. He sometimes called on a little help from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to bring out the patient's story. This did not endear him to many of his colleagues but he was not a man to be put off.

I know myself the cost of not following Ivor's line.

My wife was abused as a child and the trauma did not activate until she was in her thirties when she suddently started getting panic attacks. Alcohol mitigated these for a while but then she became addicted. This was not helped by an idiot consultant prescribing her very large doses of tranquilisers. She eventually went into rehab in John of Gods where all alcohol and tranquilisers were abruptly stopped. This should not have happened. Whatever about alcohol, this is not the way to treat tranquiliser addiction.

Even worse, no effort was made to discover the source of the trauma. In fact the trauma was seen as irrelevant. You drank because you drank. Period. Anything else was just making excuses. So the boxes were ticked. But the trauma hovered in the background for the rest of her life.

She died last month and I did not hold back in my eulogy at her funeral.

She had a friend way back who had twice attempted to take her own life. Her friend had been raped and had an abortion. This was never probed nor did it arise in the course of her friend's "treatment". Needless to say, the treatment was a waste of time.

These are the reasons that Ivor Browne is one of my heroes.

Despite his "unorthodox" approach, Ivor had a very distinguished career. He has been an author, Chief Psychiatrist of the Eastern Health Board, and Professor of Psychiatry at University College Dublin.

Ivor signs the Tower's distinguished visitor's book
under the watchful eye of his daughter in law Máire

So the Tower chalks up another distinguished visitor along with Ronan and Máire.

It'll all make great reading for the French if they ever manage to come in force.

Saturday, September 11, 2021


[This year is the 20th anniversary of a significant historical event at the National Eisteddfod of Wales which was held in Denbigh in 2001. What follows is an extract from my more extensive report on that Eisteddfod published in that year on my return to Dublin.]

The competition for the bardic chair (Y Gadair), involves a poem of not more than 200 lines in very strict traditional metre (cynghanedd), and this year it had as its theme “renaissance” or “rebirth”.

This had also been the subject for the crown competition in 1972 and at that time the winning poem examined contemporary Welsh problems, drawing on the Mabinogion tale of Branwen, Matholwch, the Irish and the “cauldron of rebirth".

This year’s winning entry was more intensely personal. It dealt with the initial fulfillment of a maiden through the birth of her baby and her subsequent despair at the baby’s death. She was then “neither maiden nor mother”. It finishes with her realisation that, despite what happens to us, we still have the power of choice - to choose living over despair. This is the “rebirth”. In his adjudication, Dic Jones confessed to being “completely floored by the section dealing with the pregnancy, birth and mourning”.

Secrets are hard to keep, particularly in a close community like that of Welsh Wales, where everyone either knows everyone else, or at least knows someone else who does. There was a great air of expectancy building up around this competition during the week (some would say for the previous month).

Rumour had it that something big was going to happen and everyone wanted to be there. The BBC was finding it hard to line up people for a live studio discussion during the event. For once, no one wanted to be part of the chattering class, commenting on history as it passed them by. They wanted to be part of its making.

There are two magic moments at the culmination of the poetry and prose competitions, more so the poetry than the prose and most particularly the chair. The competitors have entered under pen-names. The Gorsedd are assembled on stage, their bardic finery a sea of gold, white, blue and green shimmering under the floodlights. They face out to a packed and eager audience of 4,000 people.

The air is electric as the adjudicator delivers the adjudication. The audience hang on every word - has he found someone worthy of the prize? Will there be a chair? There is a palpable sigh of relief as the pen name of the winner is revealed. This is the first magic moment.

The Archdruid proclaims the name from the stage asking that person, and no other, to stand. The spotlight searches over the hushed and darkened audience. Yes, someone has risen to their feet. The spotlight finds them, a lighted winner in a vast sea of darkness.

A collective gasp which slowly turns to applause. Ever rising waves of cheering and clapping roll around the pavilion. Everyone is on their feet.

This year the winner was a woman, we were part of history and the enthusiasm of the crowd knew no bounds. Pure magic. Hwyl.

This was the defining moment of this year’s Eisteddfod. For the first time in the history of the Eisteddfod, the chair was won by a woman. Women had won the crown and the prose medal in the past, though rarely. But the supreme honour had never been achieved by a woman before. And now it had finally happened in Denbigh, where nobody had ever won a chair, and, fittingly, where, at the 1882 Eisteddfod, women had first been admitted to the Gorsedd.

A further piece of history was made when the Archdruid kissed the Chair Bard onstage, a not so surprising first when one considers that these two offices have been male preserves since time immemorial. The Archdruid, whose term ends this year, also had the satisfaction that there had been no chairs or crowns withheld on this three year watch.

The winner was Mererid Hopwood. Her academic training is in languages and she was recently Head of the Arts Council West and mid Wales Office before venturing on the path of self-employment. She has been studying cynghanedd for the last six years. She handled her press conference very adroitly, dealing very firmly with the journalists.

She revealed that she had already entered this competition some years ago, and would not have done so again, were it not for the encouragement of the adjudicator who spotted her potential.

When journalists pressed her for more details she referred them to previous published volumes of adjudications with the clue that her pen-name then had not been much different from the one she used this year. She clearly felt that journalists should do a little more of their own research rather than having stories handed to them on a plate.

Friday, August 27, 2021


Charles de Gaulle

I have been making much of de Gaulle's comment about the British when he turned down their (and our) application to join the EEC in 1967. He said of the British that they drank tea.

To a British person at the time, this would have been an unremarkable remark. Of course they drank tea, what was he on about?

However, de Gaulle's remark was not a throwaway one, nor was it simply stating the obvious. He was pointing out that the British were different from the Continentals in many ways and this was just one of them.

Continentals drank coffee.

Certainly when I was young, in Ireland, we didn't really have coffee. Like the British we drank tea. The only coffee I remember was Irel coffee in a bottle. Awful tack.

Me (back left) & including three of my four boys

Not only did the Continentals not drink tea, they didn't really know how to make it either.

I was an au pair boy with a relatively well off family in France in the summer of 1963.

One of the first things Maman wanted to impress on me was that they knew how to make tea, and make it right. She proudly told me that first you boil the water in a pot. Then you turn off the heat and wait for the bubbles to disappear. Only then do you pour the water on the tea.

I hadn't the heart to tell her that that was not how we made tea. The water had to be boiling when it hit the tea.

And elsewhere on the Continent in tourist resorts you used to see signs in the windows of restaurants/cafés for "tea like mother makes it", a clear indication that the local default standard was not up to scratch.

Sad to say, in opting for the insane brexit option, the British have proven de Gaulle right.

A very perceptive and far-seeing man was mon Général in his day.

Out, out, out.

Sunday, August 22, 2021



We are used, at this stage, to a range of political and administration people producing their autobiographies, so anything new on the scene needs to be good.

Well, you won't get better than this. It's not an autobiography as such. It is Barnier's perspective on the Brexit negotiations. It's structured in the form of a diary but just including days of particular significance. Otherwise we'd be here all night. As it is, we have some 540 pages to get through.

For me it was a page turner. I followed Brexit fairly closely, including all the obscene headlines in the British tabloids and, of course, Barnier's press conferences. So, in a sense, there was nothing substantially new for me in the book. But it was fascinating to read Barnier's relatively unrestrained take on things and to appreciate the scale, intensity, and quality of EU resources which were mobilised in the face of Brexit. And, of course, on the other side the thrashing around of the British trying to square the circle, or pretending to do so.

Barnier has some respect for Theresa May, who, though a remainer, was trying to deliver a decent Brexit on foot of the UK referendum. It was clearly an impossible task, particularly given her red lines. He also respected Olly Robbins who, unlike most of the Brits, knew what was what. But his contempt for Boris Johnson and his crew shines through. I'm not surprised. Boris is a disgusting creature with no redeeming features as far as I'm concerned.

As far as this blog post is concerned, I set out with a wildly ambitious task in mind, a comprehensive review of this wonderful book. I took copious notes (20 pages) when reading the book, which unfortunately doesn't have an index, so that I would be able to quickly find those points which had particularly struck me.

Anyway, I kept coming back to the post and doing another bit until exhaustion began to set in. So I decided to call it a day at what you see below. I may be tempted to come back and tweak it, but that's for another day. In any event, my copious notes will hopefully prove useful when the book begins to be discussed in detail in these islands.

Choice of Barnier

I was not at all aware of Michel Barnier when this whole thing started, but looking back from this vantage point he was an inspired choice.

This was not a job for a civil servant, no matter how experienced. Barnier was political. He had been a young political activist - in his own words: le jeune militant gaulliste que j'étais. He had held local office in Savoie He had been a minister in the French government and a Commissioner in Brussels.

It is clear from reading his book that all of this experience stood him in good stead. He was at home with the full spectrum of people he was likely to encounter in the Brexit saga and he didn't wait for them to come to him. He reached out to people to an extraordinary degree.

All of this contributed to his task of keeping the 27 member states united in the face of vicious and malicious provocation from the British side. He worked tirelessly to keep everyone on board at all levels of the game.

He was trusted by all the players on the EU side and he repaid that trust handsomely.

I followed Brexit very closely from the beginning. I felt personally offended by it. My British friends were at the mercy of a greedy crowd of elite gobshites, and the fools who were taken in by them, even as the UK commenced its long and painful journey down the tubes. More than that, Ireland was likely to suffer serious collateral damage from this mad decision in which we had no say. When push came to shove, Ireland, North and South, was an irrelevancy to these people.

I watched all of Barnier's press conferences and marvelled at how this man, who must have been bruised and battered from banging his head off a stone wall, could appear so calm, so reasonable, and so civilised, at the end of a gruelling and fruitless round of negotiations. The EU side was putting in a huge effort with highly competent individuals giving their all and making huge personal sacrifices. On the other side were the British, farting around purportedly trying to square the circle, an impossibility of their own making.

Barnier had a phrase for achieving the calm: nous maitriserons nos nerfs. He vowed at the beginning to keep a calm face on things regardless: Depuis le premier jour, j'ai choisi de ne montrer aucune émotion ni aucune passion dans cette négotiation. Les tabloïdes britanniques en seraient friands.

He stuck to his resolve right through thick and thin, though he was getting a bit pointed towards the end of the day. The book is still an understatement but you can more clearly feel the emotion coming through from time to time, more particularly in the later stage of the negotiations..

Arising from his past, Barnier had contacts, acquaintances and friends everywhere. The range of his reach was astounding and it in no small way contributed to his success in this mission. Success, that is, in all the circumstances. Had the British been negotiating up front and in good faith, then despite the insanity of the original brexit decision, a more benign outcome would probably have been possible.


Although the book design is very plain and the reader's main interest will be in the text, Barnier has included a raft of photos, some of them very interesting indeed.

He has even included a selection of newspaper cartoons all of which are good and some of which are very pointed.

I have a favourite two photos in particular which I tweeted as soon as I got the book and checked them out.

This photo became very famous at the beginning of the negotiations. I think it was the first photo of the negotiators. You could, in a way, take it as summing up the whole negotiation. Note that the EU side do at least have some bits of paper in front of them while the UK side, and David Davis in particular, have virtually none.

This was to be the pattern of the negotiations. The EU side was always prepared up to the hilt while the Brits winged it, throwing ideological squibs all over the place.

Teatime with the Taoiseach neatly bookended the UK period of membership. When de Gaulle vetoed UK membership for the second time in 1967, one of his reasons (not the most serious) was: ils boivent du thé, whereas coffee was the norm on the continent.

Not a reason that would stand on its own surely, but it did in a funny way illustrate the difference in culture between the (then) EEC member states and the British.

I was so overenthused by these two photos that I couldn't resist a wee tweak. If you haven't spotted it you'll just have to go and compare with the originals. Buying the book would be a good way.

The Withdrawal Agreement

Clearly a major part of the narrative is taken up with the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). This is effectively the divorce settlement. It has three main concerns:
  • financial arrangements where the UK is required to settle its contingent liabilities with the Union. This is in no way a punishment payment as portrayed by much of the British media. It is simply the UK contribution to financing decisions taken by the 28 but which are now left to the 27 to implement (eg contribution to pensions of EU officials, including the British which will fall for payment by the EU.)
  • reciprocal rights of citizens where there are existing EU citizens residing in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.
  • Northern Ireland whose border with the South now becomes an external border of the EU and if nothing was done this would become a hard border where there was effectively none since the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998.
On the financial arrangements the UK hummed and hawed and threatened to leave without paying a penny but finally buckled. The reciprocal rights of citizens proved difficult as this was a matter of national competence on the EU side and the British had a hostile view of all immigrants. My impression is that though this was eventually agreed it is still up in the air to some extent, at least at the margins.

The North/South border on the island of Ireland proved tricky right up to the end, and although there was a complicated agreement giving double status to Northern Ireland re the UK and EU markets, the location of the EU external border effectively on the Irish sea is currently under strain.

Barnier has pointed out, and we all know, that there has to be a border somewhere: Les contrôles pour protéger le marché interieur doivent être mis en oeuvre quelque part. Soit autour de l'île, soit à l'interieur de l'île. Ou alors sur le continent, avec le risque d'exclure l'Irlande du marché unique, ce que nous ne voulons pas.

This last remark was clearly of concern to us Irish and in my view should still be, particularly with the UK penchant for renaging on treaties.

Just by the way, if you are put out that I didn't translate the French, you can copy and paste into Google translate which, these days, does a pretty good job.

Day by Day

The bulk of the book, some 500 out of 540 pages, is in the form of a diary, with text for significant days along the way.

I followed Brexit very closely at the time and this was like living through it all over again but from a slightly different and more detailed perspective. My sympathies all along were with the EU side.

I could see that the UK wanted to have its cake and eat it - le beurre et le prix du beurre as Barnier puts it. Unlike the UK apparently, I knew what the Customs Union and the Single Market were. The first being one of the earliest characteristics of the EEC and the second its most cherished achievement to date, no small thanks to Margaret Thatcher.

These two items effectively set the parameters for what the EU could and could not agree to. Like Barnier, I was measuring up every concession against this, and I have to say that at times I thought the EU went too far in making concessions.

You also have to remember the nature of the Union. It is a law based mixture of EU and national competencies. There has to be a legal basis for everything the EU does as EU. Hence, inter alia, the need during the negotiations for the EU side to keep producing legal texts.

On the British side, as I learned in school, the British Parliament is supreme and can effectively do as it likes. Add to this UK bad faith in the negotiations and you have a lethal mixture. No wonder the negotiations were so tortuous and went on for so long.

If you want to check out my contemporaneous reactions along the way you can go to my blog post Brexit Musings. The chronology starts at the bottom with the most recent posts on the top.

I'm not going to go seriatim through Barnier's diary entries. That would be too long and be potentially confusing. Instead I'm going to take a few themes and tap his views on them.


In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.
Article 50 of the EU Treaty on the withdrawal of a member state is very short. The only guidance in the article on sequencing is that shown above. It simply says there has to be a withdrawal agreement which takes account of the withdrawing state's future relationship (FR) with the Union.

Now, you could say that this implies parallel negotiation of the withdrawal agreement and the agreement on the future relationship. How else is the latter to be taken into account in the former. But that's not what happened.

The EU took the initiative and said the withdrawal agreement had to be concluded before any negotiations would start on a future relationship. To square this circle the Union envisaged a parallel negotiation on a political framework which would govern the detailed negotiations which were to follow on the precise terms of the future relationship. This was to become the Political Agreement (PA). Moreover the Union said it would refuse to negotiate the detailed future relationship agreement until the UK had actually left the Union and was in a state of transition. The transition would mean the UK being treated as if it was still a member [with the exception of any participation in current decision making].

All of this had been carefully thought through by the EU and it worked to the UK's disadvantage. The UK realised this and tried to change it but finally buckled.

Nevertheless, in the course of the negotiations the UK tried constantly to reclaim some ground in making parts of the withdrawal agreement conditional on agreement on the future relationship.

Barnier's succinct view on this is very clear: l'objective est d'acheter des morceaux du marché unique avec des dettes du passé.

One aim of the UK in trying to keep the WA open until the FR was being negotiated was to isolate Ireland and use it as a bargaining chip at the end. In June 2018 Olly Robbins came to town wanting to sew up a load of issues before the next Council but Ireland was not included.

La stratégie britannique est claire: isoler la question irlandaise pour que, en octobre, elle soit la seule ouverte au moment de conclure, en espérant que les 27 la renverront au débat sure la relation future. C'est précisement ce que je ne veux pas. Cette question est tellement sensible et grave pour tous qu'il faut la traiter en toute hypotèse dans l'accord de retrait.

The UK clearly needed a transition period after the actual withdrawal particularly with the sequencing set by the EU Council. But they were never happy with the Withdrawal Agreement. Barnier's answer was firm: cette période de transition devrait faire partie de l'accord de retrait au titre de l'article 50. Sans accord de retrait il n'y a pas de transition. C'est un point juridique.

No Deal?

In March 2019 as the final deadline for exit approached there was a distinct possibility of a no deal. Theresa May was at the pin of her collar before the European Council arguing for another extension in the hope of getting her WA through the British parliament. There was a general air of exasperation among Council participants and even suggestions that if UK was to go they should go now. One participant put it to May that the Council was not willing to change one line of the agreement and if UK exited with no deal Leo Varadkar would be obliged to introduce controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Theresa May répond que pendant un certain temps après un no deal en Irlande de notre coté, nous ne ferons pas de contrôles.

Which just about shows how little she understood, or cared about, what was going on.

Splitting the 27

From the beginning I feared that the UK would try to split the 27 and that they stood a fair chance of success. Brexit could be the beginning of the end of the EU. I feared that in the course of the detailed negotiations that would be required to determine the future relationship, member states would seize the opportunity to open up other already done deals and that the whole thing would fall apart. Hence the picture above of Theresa May and Pandora's Box.

It is in no small measure due to Barnier that this did not happen. The book reveals his interminable round of capitals to keep member states on board and to apprise them of the ongoing negotiations. Nothing short of a miracle in my view.

In the book Barnier reveals the many attempts by the UK to break EU solidarity and I'm reproducing a few of these below:

Je vois bien que le lobbying britannique a produit ses effets et que sur certain sujets liés aux droits des citoyens, au regroupement familial ou a la portabilité des prestations sociales, la Pologne est moins intransigeante qu'elle ne l'était au début des négotiations. Elle reste néanmoins solidaire de l'union européenne ...

At the November 2018 European Council. Finalement Theresa May, dans cette ambiance assez grave, remercie les deux équipes de négotiations. 'Il est important que les Europeéens aient été unis' dit elle, après avoir, elle et ses ministres, tout fait pour nous diviser.

Depuis le début, les britanniques jouent sur ces deux tableaux et cherchent à ouvrir avec Martin Selmayr une deuxième ligne de négotiation. Et je vois bien qu'il a du mal a résister ...

Dans la voiture le téléphone sonne. C'est Angela Merkel qui veut me rendre compte précisément de l'entretien téléphonique qu'elle a eu à l'instant avec Boris Johnson. 'J'ai exposé clairement nos positions, et dit que nous étions tous derrière toi.'

Barnier has included the above piece in a section entitled, mischievously or maliciously, LONDON CALLING.

Boris Johnson, de manière assez maladroite, évoque une rencontre qu'il souhaite avec Emmanuel Macron pour parler de la pêche et avec Angela Merkel pour discuter level playing field Ce sont là deux competences communautaires qui doivent être traitées par la Commission européenne. Ursula von der Leyen le lui dit. On apprendra quelques heures plus tard que le président français comme la chancelière allemande ont refusé de prendre Boris Johnson au téléphone, afin de préserver une ligne unique de négotiation.

Total transparency

From the beginning, Barnier made it clear that there would be total transparency of the negotiations as far as the EU was concerned. He felt this would be necessary to keep all the EU parties on board and it is in keeping, in any event, with the current Commission style - what is not published will be leaked and you lose control.

This was not the British view: Au début de ce premier round, David Frost m'a dit son souci que l'on reste très prudents dans notre communication extériere: 'Vis-à-vis de la presse, nous devons nous comporter comme des jésuites'. Je suis naturellement d'accord pour demander aux négotiateurs, de part et d'autre, d'éviter pendant les rounds les 'petites phrases' ou les briefings informels toujours un peu partiaux et jamais très productifs. Mais je tiens au terme de chaque round, à rendre compte à la presse, et donc au public, de l'avancée des discussions.

Nos discussions sont nourries de nouvelles propositions de texte envoyées par le Royaume-Uni, mais je regrette que les Britanniques ne souhaitent pas rendre ces textes publics, ce qui nous empêche de les communiquer aux États membres et au Parlement européen.

Bad faith

There is no end to the examples testifying to the bad faith of the British negotiators, or should I say the politicians in particular. I remember the remarks passed in the course of the WA negotiations when some matters needed to be agreed to pass on to the next stage. David Davis remarked that the agreement was just words on paper, with the implication that they could be ignored, and Michael Gove stated explicitly that any agreement entered into now could be reneged on later.

On the Joint Report which needed to show sufficient progress on the WA negotiation to go to the next stage, and which involved intense negotiation in its final stage: David Davis, qui n'en manque décidément pas une, indique á la télévision britannique que ce Joint Report n'est pas 'contraignant' pour le Royaume-Uni, comme si la parole de la première ministre pouivait être provisoire ou contestée.

In this process, Barnier has the measure of David Davis, who is more often absent than present when the going gets tough. He knows who to thank for agreement on the Joint Report. Je fais de même (remercier) avec les negotiateurs brittanique en mettant l'accent sur le rôle d'Olly Robbins qui a été déterminant, plutôt que sur David Davis, qui se contente de suivre et d'éviter des coups.

Again Davis is no where to be seen. Au terme d'une semaine un peu chaotique de négotiations avec les Britanniques, je retrouve la salle de presse du Berlaymont, seul puisque David Davis a fait le choix de ne pas venir cette semaine.

C'est une grande journée qui commence puisque David Davis revient enfin à Bruxelles. Il n'y est pas venu depuis le mois de décembre, et entre-temps nous ne nous sommes vus qu'une seule fois, à Londres. This in March 2018.

And a more considered analysis of Davis & his behaviour: David Davis, parce que son agenda est davantage politique et interieur, utilise une technique que j'ai bien comprise. Il se met en retrait délibérément à tous le moments de négotiation et de compromis, ne veut pas être lié par des concessions régulieres et multiples. En revanche, il accept à chaque étape le paquet des compromis réalisés par nos équipes et trouve les mots pour les habiller, les banaliser dans certains cas ou les valoriser.

When it later came to the start of the negotiations on the future relationship, Barnier is astounded by David Frost's brash opening statement. Frost clearly states that the British Government ne se sent pas lié par la déclaration politique going on to "explain" that nous n'avons pas la même lecture de la déclaration politique which makes you wondered why anyone bothered painfully negotiating it. The answer, of course, is that some agreed "piece of paper" was needed in order to have the WA adopted. The constant blatant bad faith of the British throughout the negotiations is almost beyond belief.

Striking Quotes

Some quotes to give you a flavour of Barnier.

Il y a encore aujour'hui au Royaume-Uni une réelle incompréhension des conséquences objective et parfois méchaniques du choix britannique de quitter le marché unique et l'union douanière

In November 2016, facing the press, he decided to make his opening remarks in English. Je reconnais que j'ai beaucoup de progrès à faire dans cette langue. J'ai pourtant été à bonne école !" He goes on to explain how at an earlier function where he was to give a speech as French Minister for Foreign Affairs, he once asked the Queen (of England) how he should render Vive l'Entente Cordiale in English. Her majesty replied Long live the Entente cordiale. Some of the foreign press, however, took issue with his delivery of this phrase claiming it should have been Long life to the Entente Cordiale.. Barnier was, however, happy with his delivery literally in the Queen's English. Je n'aurais cependent jamais pu rêver d'un professeur aussi eminent ...

On Tim Barrow: Son sens du devoir l'emporte sans doute sur sa conviction intime.

On Martin Selmayr: Il ait du mal à accepter les limites de sa fonction.

On Leo Varadkar: Je suis frappé par la confiance justifiée que tous font à leur collegue, le Premier ministre irlandais, Leo varadkar. In fact he goes on to quote Angela Merkel: Sur l'Irlande je suiverai ce que dira Leo.

On the UK: Il n'y a plus grand chose the rationnel ni d'objectif dans le Royaume-Uni d'aujourd hui.

On Jeremy Hunt: le ministre assez bizarre des Affaires etrangères.

Harking back to when de Gaulle died: Mon engagement quelques années plus tôt dans le mouvement des jeunes gaullistes rest une de mes principales fiertés.

On UK pulling back on the Internal Market Bill: Beaucoup de temps perdu et de polémiques pour finalement et simplement honorer sa signature et appliquer ce qui a été décidés et ratifié.

Nous n'allons pas marchander nos valeurs au bénéfice de l'économie britannique.

An Irish Angle

Dan Ferrie was a valued member of the EU task force. I almost feel I know him from his appearences, live and on screen, at the Commission's daily press conferences. He is master of his brief and presents in an understated style. Barnier holds him in high regard.

Dan Ferrie notre jeune press officer irlandais particulièrement dynamique et toujours enthousiaste ... and this, as Barnier lists the expertise available to him through individual members of his team, in January 2020 Celle de Dan Ferrie, promu porte parole, nous le sera autant en matière de communications, en équipe avec Matthieu.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Dan was feeding Barnier his Gaeilge which was always impeccable. On the other hand, this might have come from Tadhg O'Briain, a Northern Irish member of Barnier's team, the spelling of whose name might suggest some competence in the language.


There is an interesting, but grudging, review of the book by the UK's last EU Commissioner, Sir Julian King, in the July issue of Prospect.

There is a much more positive review by Jonathan Powell in the Guardian, though I don't agree with his criticism of Barnier's style nor do I agree that Barnier can't boast a job well done. Barnier accomplished the mammoth task of keeping the 27 united and seeing off all attempts by the UK to open up parallel channels of communication. It is the British who cannot make such a boast.

Rory Montgomery has a review here which critically evaluates Barnier's performance and is also a very useful and highly compressed timeline/critique of the negotiations themselves. I agree with Rory's assessment.

Monday, August 02, 2021


People often underestimate the challenge faced by the European Union in coping with a veritable Tower of Babel of languages.

All legislation not only has to be agreed at Council and Parliament meetings, serviced by a battery of interpreters, but the resulting legislation has to be translated into the Union's many languages and the results have to be very carefully screened as each language version has equal validity in law. So it must be ensured that they are saying the same thing.

Not as easy as you might think, as anyone who has dealings with multiple languages will tell you.

I would like to cite an example from the 1990s when the European Community (as it then was) was introducing a directive regulating investment services. The degree of existing regulation was patchy across the Community and Ireland was effectively the Wild West in this regard.

In Ireland, the Stock Exchange was regulated from London and investment brokers, including some tiny outfits, were regulated only with respect to their insurance business. The rest was a matter of trust between broker and client against the background of the general legal system.

A small divarsion here. This is an interesting time to be looking back at this subject as it was Dessie O'Malley (recently deceased) who had brought yellow pack insurance regulation into that corner of the Wild West, with no small push from the European Community.

Then they got round to the investment brokers, both small and big. It was interesting at the time that in the course of the negotiations the continentals were attempting to get one up on the British and steal as much of London's financial business as possible for Paris and Frankfurt. They had the advantage that it was only the UK and Ireland within the Community which was governed by common law rather than the Napoleonic version on the continent.

They didn't succeed then, but it looks like they will now after the stupid British opting for Brexit.

Anyway back to my story.

After legislation has been agreed at Council level (the European Parliament was less relevant then) it has to be vetted by a group known as the Jurist/Linguists to ensure the cross language conformity I mentioned above. At this stage there should be no policy disagreements remaining and the question is only of language equivalence and equivalence of legal effect.

Unusually, I was called back to a meeting of Member State delegations following the discovery by the above group that we had agreed to two entirely diffent things, in the Investment Services Directive, depending on which language version you looked at.

The problem lay in the word "deficiency". The English language version, on which at least we and the Brits had negotiated, said that when there was a deficiency discovered in an investment firm certain action had to be taken. The French version, on which others had negotiated, used the word "pertes" which only implied a financial deficiency, whereas the English version, in the view of the British at least, implied also a deficiency in management or the general running of the business.

It was quite amazing to me that the long, and sometimes bitter, negotiations on the directive all the while concealed this linguistic deficiency, right through the process up to the final post-agreement juridical and linguistic screening.

Sadly, I don't remember how it was resolved but I think it is an interesting and a cautionary tale.

You can see from the dictionary definition below how this could have arisen. But that it was not picked up along the way was absolutely amazing.

Click on image for a readable version

Thursday, July 29, 2021


Translation is sometime a very tricky business.

This particular sign, erected by Swansea Council in 2008, has many lessons, not for translators but for those who use their services.

I once wrote away for a booklet from a translation service which advertised its service as "the most expensive translation in the world".

I wondered how such a perverse ad could ever attract business but on reading the booklet I understood.

In business in particular, a bad translation can be costly even in purely financial terms, not to mention the delays involved in having the job redone properly, with the potential for ultimate loss of contracts.

So my booklet explained how this firm, among its many other practices, always had the translation independently and expertly retranslated back into the original language.

Had Swansea Council done that, it would have realised that the Welsh text it had been given was simply and "out of office" notification and it would not then have ended up on the final sign.

The Welsh reads
"I'm not in the office at present. Send on any material for translation."
This is a true story.

Sunday, July 11, 2021


Once upon a time, not all that long ago, a relative worked in a telecentre flogging credit cards to unsuspecting customers.

Patrick's Day was approaching and the company came up with a wheeze. A green Emerald Credit Card particularly aimed at the Irish in America. Americans with Irish sounding names were targetted.

The call to America went something like this:

Caller: Hello, I wonder if you would be interested in taking a credit card to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Response: I don't really think so.

Caller: Are you sure? It's a once off offer and the terms are good. You would be supporting an Irish company and participating in the national festivities.

Response: No, I really don't think so.

[The conversation went on a little further and the caller was still encountering resistence and impatience from the responder. So the caller resorted to the last shot in his armoury.]

Caller: Surely with an Irish name like Reilly you must really think seriously about our offer?


Well, there's clearly no coming back from there and my mortified relative hung up the phone.

Two parting remarks from me.

I know the above conversation is over simplified but then I was never trained in telecentre sales technique. I'm sure my relation was more assertive and cajoling but you'll get the drift and it does illustrate a point.

This MOPE nation needs to get its head around its complicity in Empire, subjection, and even slavery if it is ever properly to come to terms with its past. We were not always the victim. We also have our share of perpetrators, probably starting with those who kidnapped St. Patrick.

This post is intended as a contribution to the decade of centenaries where we are hopefully coming to terms with our nation's past based on reality rather than myth.

Saturday, July 10, 2021


Ruairí Quinn
Click on any image for a larger version

Once upon a time, I accompanied Minister for Finance, Ruairí Quinn, to Washington for the IMF/World Bank annual meeting.

It was a time when "third world debt" was in the headlines and the Department of Finance was under serious pressure from NGOs to support debt forgiveness.

The World Bank had a scheme running at that time which gave some debt relief to the most highly indebted poor countries (HIPCs). This scheme involved budgetary contributions from the richer member states.

The scheme was voluntary but the Bank had worked out a set of indicative contributions from the member states.

US President Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton attended part of the meeting and amid great fanfare announced a significant increase in the US contribution to the scheme.

Ruairí asked me why Ireland was not doing the same. I think the NGOs had been getting at him following Clinton's announcement.

I had to explain that Ireland had paid up in full but that this US contribution, despite the terms in which it was announced, was not new money. It was the US finally agreeing to pay up part of its arrears under the scheme.

He seemed a little dubious about my explanation. After all, Clinton was one of the good guys, was he not?

However he was finally convinced and managed to explain that to David Hanley on his morning radio programme the following morning.

I was reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

A neat piece of marketing by Clinton, I have to admit - making a virtue of necessity.

I never forgot the sheer brass neck of it.

Thursday, July 08, 2021


It used to be called "editing" but life has got a little posher since then and it now goes under the title "redacting" presumably drawing on the French word for it.

The most frequent context in which the word is now used is the censoring of material before its release for consumption by the public.

In this context it requires great skill, not just verbal competence but a full appreciation of the environment in which the material was composed and an equal appreciation of the environment in which it is to be consumed.

My favourite example of bad redaction made worse is contained in the redacting of a witness statement to the "Independent Jersey Care Inquiry" (3 April 2014 - 3 July 2017) which looked into child abuse on the island of Jersey.

Person 737
Click on image for a readable version

In his written witness statement the former Chief of Police, Graham Power, referred to a particular individual against whom serious allegations of sexual assaults against adult females, including rape, had been made.

The Inquiry's policy was to redact such references to preserve the anonymity of the person referred to. In the interest of consistency (or something?) the Inquiry gave each such person a number by which they were referred to in any published material. The person in question in this extract was given the number 737.

Now, the first problem with this piece of redaction was that the Inquiry team were not native to Jersey and were not sufficiently aware of the danger of jigsaw identification of individuals via stray and apparently harmless references left unredacted.

In the first paragraph above the individual can be assumed to have shares in "the newspaper" and is reputed to be a friend and business associate of the Chief Minister, Frank Walker. As there is only one newspaper in Jersey, this information identifies the man to anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the local scene.

The second problem was the numbering. While it might seem intelligent at first sight, there is a serious drawback to it. It not only increases the possibility of jigsaw identification as various bits of evidence about the person accumulate throughout the documentation but once you have identified the person you get to know a lot more about them. For instance, once I had identified this person, I knew from other evidence that he had been interviewed by the police under caution as a suspect but that nothing further was done about it.

Person 737
Click on image for a readable version

Now, the Inquiry was continuously messing about with the evidence, even after it was published in redacted form, and that's where they came a cropper with the third problem. They had clearly become uneasy about their original redaction and decided to have another go at it. Whether this had anything to do with me pointing out the inadequacy of the original redaction in my blog or whether it was just spontaneous on their part I don't know.

So, in the second round of redaction (highlighted here in yellow) they took out the reference to the newspaper which would make jigsaw identification more difficult, though for those who were constantly reading the stuff the damage had already been done by the inadequacy of the first redaction.

But at the same time they really put their foot in it big time. There had been a reference to John Averty in the second paragraph I quoted and this was in a very different context where the former Police Chief was speculating on who might have been behind his suspension. But when the redacter saw that name they immediately, in what was probably a reflex action, put a 737 stamp over it, absolutely confirming that person 737 was in fact John Averty.

So, as you can see, this particular piece of redaction was a complete disaster.

Mind you, there were many other aspects of the Inquiry which testified to incompetence and even serious bias on its part. But that's another story.

Incidentally, when the material was eventually turned over to the Jersey Archive for screening, archiving and re-publication, the numbering system, which should never have been adopted in the first place, was dropped.

Anyway, the lesson here is, if you're going to redact material and you decide not to obliterate all of it, you had better know what you're about.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021


Gordon Brewster, artist and cartoonist, died on this day in 1946 in my mother's shop, THE GEM, in Howth.

He was trained as an artist at the Metropolitan and he exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916 and 1917. He kept up his painting throughout his life but I have only been able to come up with one example of his fine art.

We are unfortunate to have been deprived of the bulk of his work through fire: first in the destruction of the Royal Hibernian Academy during the 1916 Rising and then through the destruction of what remained after his death by his estranged wife in a bonefire in the back garden of The Grove, where he lived in Sutton.

Gordon at his cartoon workdesk at the Indo

Fortunately his day job turned out to be chief cartoonist for Independent Newspapers and he has left us a collection of some 500 of his original cartoons which have been acquired by the National Library of Ireland and have now been digitised.

I have to record here my appreciation of the library staff, specifically Honora Faul who was responsible for the collection and who gave me access to it pre-digitisation, and Carol Maddock who invited me to do a post on the cartoons for the library's own blog.

In remembering Gordon's death, I thought I'd assemble a series of links to posts I have done on some of the themes that run through the cartoon collection. The collection, between 1922 and 1932, covers only a portion of his cartoon output and the themes reflect this.

Despite the limited period represented in the collection, much of his work remains timeless, and I am currently enjoying playing SNAP on Twitter: when a cartoon by someone else appears I dredge up a Brewster cartoon in response.

I hope you will take time to peruse some of these posts and come to the same conclusion as myself that we are dealing here with a serious artist whose output is informed and nuanced, but not lacking in fun.


Gordon Brewster - Timeless

Gordon Brewster and the Flu

Gordon Brewster and the 1916 Rising

Gordon Brewster and Censorship

Gordon Brewster and Northern Ireland

Gordon Brewster and Sport

Gordon Brewster and The Grove

Gordon Brewster and Our Oil

Gordon Brewster and the General Election

Gordon Brewster and Gender Equality

Gordon Brewster and the Man on the Bridge

Gordon Brewster and his Martellos

Gordon Brewster and Detail

Gordon Brewster on the Radio

Gordon with children Dolores & Richard c.1939


Photo: Felix Larkin
Click on any image for a larger version

All of James Joyce's fans have the opening scene of ULYSSES embedded in their brain. Its "literary merit" usually overshadows the fact that it is a mockery of HOLY MASS enacted in a FAILED military establishment.

That military establishment is Martello Tower No.11, Dublin South, in Sandycove, later to be known as Joyce's Tower.

The Martello Towers were constructed as a defence against a French invasion which never came. There is only one case on record of a Martello Tower firing on a French frigate and that was in salute rather than in anger.

That Martello was No.7, Dublin South, situated at a serious elevation in Killiney Bay, on Killiney Hill Road, now fully restored, and from where I am broadcasting today.

Before I leave the subject of the two Towers, this Killiney one and the Joyce Tower, I'd like to record a recent find which connects the two Towers.

The Joyce Tower is at a location known as The Forty Foot, named after the 40th Regiment of Foot who are supposed to have garisoned the Tower at some point. Niall O'Donoghue, who has fully restored this Killiney Tower, recently came across a military button in the course of excavations in the tower yard where the piggery and privy used to be situated.

Niall's button is on the left above. The one on the right, a 40th Foot button, is shown for comparison purposes. Clearly the 40th Foot were present at the Killiney Tower at some stage along the way.

Voilà, a further somewhat tenuous connection with James Joyce via the common regiment in both towers.

For almost a decade, Bloomsday has been celebrated at this Killiney Tower and I'm determined to carry on this tradition today, junesixteentwentytwentyone.

I am podcasting or, as Joyce might say today were he still with us, clouding a talk I gave in this Martello Tower on Bloomsday 2018. It is a sort of stretch of the imagination appropriating Joyce to Killiney Bay with a view from Dalkey Island to Bray Head, a Head which, pace ULYSSES, is NOT visible from the Sandycove (Joyce) Tower.

I am however keeping the steal to a minimum - miniscule extracts from ULYSSES raised as flags to introduce elements of the history of Killiney Bay, where I lived for twenty years and the history of which I found fascinating.

Had he wished, Joyce could have found a wealth of material in the Bay to add to his stated challenge to the exegesist professors of the future.

While this podcast will be of particular interest to the inhabitants of Killiney Bay, there are resonances reaching beyond the confines of the Bay to the wider city and the world beyond.

Photo: Sovay Murray

(47 minutes)

And finally, for the hard of hearing, the text of the talk can be read here.