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Dublin is to Blame

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 18th, 2018 at 12:33:21 AM EST

As Brexit day looms ever closer some things are gradually becoming clearer to even the most delusional of Brexit supporters. It is not the EU which is quaking in it's boots at the prospect of Britain leaving, it is the UK.

Having realised that leaving the customs Union and Single market puts at risk all the benefits the UK derives from trading (and integrating it's production processes) with its largest trading partner, the British government is desperately trying to salvage what it can while still delivering on its formal promise of Brexit.

All the debate in British government circles between "a customs partnership" and "Max fac", or maximum facilitation of EU trading rules and tariff collection is essentially a debate between two options the EU has already dismissed as unworkable.

But it is the Irish border question which has, almost single handedly, unravelled the UK government's negotiating position, and N. Ireland Unionists are, very slowly, coming around to realizing it. The DUP are panicking, and desperately casting around for a bogeyman to blame.

Read more... (16 comments, 2076 words in story)

Support for abortion in Ireland slips

by Frank Schnittger Fri Apr 20th, 2018 at 09:29:16 PM EST

The Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC) was founded in 1981 to campaign for an amendment to the Constitution to ban abortion as there was concern in conservative circles associated with the Roman Catholic Church that the Supreme Court in Ireland might make a similar ruling to Roe vs. Wade in the USA. For a more detailed account of the history of abortion in Ireland see my article here.

In 1983 the people of Ireland approved the 8th. amendment to the Irish Constitution by a margin of 67% to 33%. It inserted the following text into the Irish Constitutuion:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Abortion has never been legal in Ireland unless the women's life is in immediate danger, and women suspected of being pregnant have sometimes been refused urgent treatment for cancer or other medical conditions on the grounds that the treatment might harm the unborn child. Savita Halappanavar died following complications arising from a septic miscarriage after being refused an abortion "because her life was not in imminent danger" and because her inevitable miscarriage was not sufficient reason to carry one out.

Read more... (10 comments, 1650 words in story)

Britain offers to unite Ireland in exchange for Brexit deal

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 30th, 2018 at 02:15:05 AM EST

Theresa May has long been offering to construct an innovative and imaginative solution to the problems raised by Brexit in return for a good Brexit deal for Britain with the EU. So far details of what precisely this might entail have been scanty, especially when it comes to defining how the "Irish Border" might continue to be invisible and friction free. However details have started to emerge in the fine print of the draft Brexit deal much to the consternation of Northern Ireland Unionists. Unionists have just discovered that the proposed text promises to expand the 12 areas of joint cooperation between North and South to 18.

Worse still, in terms of the integrity of the Belfast Agreement, two new oversight bodies are created. A Joint Committee of London and Brussels will keep North-South co-operation under "constant review" and set up a Specialised Committee to make recommendations for further areas of co-operation.

With the North-South Ministerial Council suspended due to the lack of Stormont ministers, these committees could be the only show in town.

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Bonfire of the Vanities

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 21st, 2018 at 09:25:53 PM EST

The Irish Times has been running a few opinion pieces by Northern Unionists highlighting their annoyance at recent political developments: The fall of the Northern Ireland Executive, attempts to promote the Irish language in N. Ireland, and the Irish response to Brexit. The latest is by academic John Wilson Foster who has written a book on Irish Novels, 1890-1940, and is entitiled: United Ireland campaign is based on a delusion. He begins as follows:

Open the pages of the Ulster Tatler and there they are. The Northern Irish in their glad rags, grinning for the photographer at birthday bashes, firms' dos, award ceremonies, book launches, restaurant openings.

Theirs are authentic faces of everyday unionism, a promiscuous display of high spirits by those wanting a good time, politically and religiously uncategorised by the camera. In other words, a Sinn Féin nightmare.

After all, Catholics must be constantly reminded that they are an oppressed minority who should be striving for a united Ireland. Unionists must be harried without term and reminded that Sinn Féin's day is coming.

---<snip>---

My suspicion is that Sinn Féin cannot abide such normalisation of social relations. And since they exhaust almost all the oxygen on the matter of nationalism (the SDLP is gasping for air), those relations must not find ordinary, much less political, expression.

Notice how the Northern Irish, "religiously uncategorised by the camera" suddenly morph into the "authentic faces of everyday Unionism." the supposed focus of Sinn Fein ire. It is as if having a good time in Northern Ireland implies you must be a unionist. In those few sentences the self acclaimed authority on Irish novels not only manages to do what he claims Sinn Fein supporters do - categorise people by their religious/political identity - and project some remarkable attitudes onto Sinn Fein.

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Novichok: Cui Bono?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 16th, 2018 at 12:24:33 AM EST

Oui has written an interesting account of the Novichok story here. I am always wary of encroaching onto a political story where there are so few disinterested actors, reliable sources, and so much scope for disinformation. You are either a specialist with inside information, or a potential dupe. The topic is ripe for every conspiracy theorist in town, and yet it is a troubling story with potentially grave political implications for us all.

To begin with, it seems a strange coincidence that the Salisbury attack took place only eight miles away from the UK Chemical weapons research institute at Porton Down. Presumably some workers there would have access to nerve agents. It raises the possibility of an accidental exposure, or perhaps an attempt to sell the material for private gain gone wrong, although it is surely not coincidental that the primary victims were a Russian double agent and his daughter.

In the absence of conclusive evidence, one also has to ask Cui Bono:"who benefits"? A Russian scare is always a good diversionary tactic for a Conservative government in trouble. Putin's ascendency appears to be maintained, in part, by a Russia against the West narrative, especially at election time.

Read more... (74 comments, 1091 words in story)

International Women's day

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 8th, 2018 at 09:53:07 PM EST


President McAleese opening the Muriel Boothman Centre.

The office of President of Ireland is a largely ceremonial one and not directly involved in day to day government decisions. Nevertheless, as the only directly elected national office, it carries with it considerable influence and prestige. The President is an embodiment of how Irish people see themselves and want to be seen abroad. The last three Presidents - Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese, and the current incumbent, Michael D. Higgins have performed their duties with considerable aplomb and have also been ardent feminists.

When my late wife, Muriel Boothman, was having considerable difficulties with her then employers, Wicklow County Council, because the information centre in the Community Education Centre she managed included leaflets from agencies which did not specifically rule out the possibility of abortion referrals abroad for women in crisis pregnancy, she heard that President Robinson was to visit our then small rural town to open a new Credit Union building. Muriel was at that time also the chair of the local women's group, which with 600 members was nearly as large as the town itself and perhaps the largest local women's community group in Ireland.

The women's network drumbeats started to roll and President Robinson was prevailed upon to also officially "open" the Community Education Centre information centre after she had been at the Credit Union. I still remember marching down the main street of our town with President Robinson and our children and several hundred supporters from the Credit Union to The Community Education Centre where Mary Robinson gave an inspirational address. Wicklow County Council was not best pleased. Some members wrote to the Attorney General asking him to prosecute my wife and information centre volunteers.

Some years later President McAleese presided at the opening of the Muriel Boothman Centre (Pictured above), named in honour of my late wife by the Clondalkin Addiction Support Programme where she had become manager following her constructive dismissal by Wicklow County Council. Her comments then on the scourge of hard drug addiction in Ireland were apt and well informed. I mention these occasions to illustrate how influential recent Presidents have been in the ongoing development of Irish society. Ireland is about to vote on the removal of the constitutional ban on abortion, a development which would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.

Read more... (16 comments, 1895 words in story)

BMW = Brexit Made Wonderful

by Frank Schnittger Wed Feb 28th, 2018 at 05:09:38 PM EST

Fintan O'Toole has an interesting take on why the Brexiteers think they can ultimately force the EU to give the UK what it wants in the Brexit deal:

Marxism is alive and well in British politics. The irony, though, is that its strongest influence is not in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party. It is on the Tory right. Perhaps the oddest thing about the Brexit zealots - though there is a great deal of competition for this title - is that they cling to a particularly crude form of Marxist economic determinism.

Their whole project is predicated on the belief that a cabal of capitalist bosses can issue orders that the entire European Union would rush to obey. The all-powerful clique in question is made up of the principal shareholders of Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Opel, Porsche and Mercedes.

It would be hard to overstate just how large these German industrialists have loomed in the consciousness of the Brexiteers and their media cheerleaders. They were to be Britain's saviours. It was they who would ensure that the EU would be forced to give Britain all the benefits of the single market and the customs union even after it departed from both. It was they who would provide the lubrication for the zipless, frictionless Brexit of the Leavers' dreams.

Read more... (115 comments, 1985 words in story)

European Trumps

by Bernard Sat Feb 24th, 2018 at 06:05:50 PM EST

Frank has posted a diary on the triumph of Trumpism across the Atlantic. But Trump and his tactics have inspired a number of politicians, or even entire parties, in Europe as well.

Since DJT's election, many European politicians have been nicknamed "the <insert country name> Trump". One such example is Laurent Wauquiez, aka "the French Trump", who has succeeded Nicolas Sarkozy at the helm of the LR (Les Républicains) mainstream right wing party in the wake of humiliating defeats for Sarkozy (in the primary) and Fillon (in the general election). Wauquiez's "strategy" is one that others have tried before him: emulating the Front National's themes, especially the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, while keeping a plutocrat-friendly "pro-business" agenda, despite some vague (pre-election, obviously) protectionist noises.

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Sad announcement

by Colman Wed Feb 7th, 2018 at 12:12:50 PM EST

I am sad to announce that Lenny Poryles, known here as LEP, passed away yesterday. He was an active and wise poster here in ET's prime and a regular attender at meet-ups.

Comments >> (22 comments)

The Case for Irexit

by Frank Schnittger Mon Feb 5th, 2018 at 09:26:59 PM EST


Nigel Farage was in Dublin over the week-end making the case for Ireland to exit the EU along with the UK at a conference organised by the Ukip-led Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the EU Parliament. Some of the participants wore "Make America Great Again" hats and also expressed support for Donald Trump.

Read more... (10 comments, 1448 words in story)

The May, The Mop, or The Mogg?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Feb 2nd, 2018 at 11:50:40 PM EST


Theresa May, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Boris.

As Theresa May flaps about aimlessly in the wind there is much talk within Conservative circles of deposing her. An unnamed cabinet Minister has apparently threatened to resign in a bid to force her out. Boris is continually trying to both distance and define himself by making speeches about his vision for Brexit and the wonderful opportunities it will bring. Jacob William Rees-Mogg has recently been elected Chair of an influential group of pro-Brexit Tory back-benchers and leads a poll of Tory party members of whom they would like to see succeed Theresa May - ahead of both Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.

Read more... (54 comments, 548 words in story)

The EU as a transformative economic force

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jan 29th, 2018 at 07:01:27 PM EST

John Fitzgerald is the son of former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald and a distinguished economist in his own right. Now semi-retired, he writes the occasional commentary of the performance of the Irish economy. He has an interesting take on the transformative effect of EU membership on national economic performance generally.

The economic crisis that began in 2008 affected EU members in many different ways. One of the most important was a loss of confidence among many citizens in the ability of the EU to improve their living standards.

However, even a cursory examination of the data shows that membership of the EU has helped transform the living standards of a huge number of its people.

Beginning with the 1973 accessions of Ireland, the UK and Denmark, successive waves of EU enlargement have shown similar patterns of impact for members. Initially, significant adjustment costs may have arisen. However. in the long run, access to the EU market has allowed new members to grow rapidly and to gradually catch up with the living standards of existing members.

Read more... (36 comments, 1765 words in story)

Divide and Conquer?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 21st, 2018 at 09:02:11 PM EST


Britain's favourite tactic in gaining and running an empire was to divide and conquer: There was always some local comprador bourgeoisie willing to give their loyalty in return for immediate financial gain. So long as you had a superior military presence and at least some local elites on your side, subduing or marginalising those opposed to you could become a relatively straight forward process. Even a huge and populous country such as India could be governed as long as you had most of the Maharajas on your side. The fact that India, as a whole, was impoverished by the process did not detain the Imperial office unduly.

Britain  seems to think that employing similar tactics with the EU could pay similar dividends. Theresa May's recent visit to Poland with a full ministerial entourage at a time when the EU and Poland are at loggerheads over the latter's alleged violations of judicial independence sent a none-too-subtle message to Brussels: We can make a lot of trouble for you if you don't give us a good deal. Eastern European countries have an interest in remaining as close as possible to the UK's belligerent attitudes to Russia and nuclear deterrent capabilities. Boris Johnson and David Davis' "charm offensive" in Germany sought to highlight some German Industries' dependence on the UK market.

It will certainly be much more difficult for the EU to maintain the unanimity it displayed in Phase I of the Brexit negotiations when the differing national interests come into play in the trade negotiations. Germany, France, Holland, Luxembourg, Ireland, Eastern European and Mediterranean countries will all have different priorities. Macron has just become the first major European leader to visit 10 Downing St. in a long time. You know you are in trouble when even Trump displays no enthusiasm for a state visit with all the royal bells and whistles.

Read more... (39 comments, 1144 words in story)

Europe's Frontier: A Rusted Iron Curtain

by Oui Sun Jan 7th, 2018 at 09:58:35 AM EST

"Europe faces a threat to its cohesion. But this time it's on the eastern front, not the western"

The Observer view on the EU's eastern bloc | Editorial - Jan. 7, 2018 |

European leaders have been at pains over the past 12 months to emphasise that Brexit is not the only or even the biggest issue confronting the EU. They do so, in part, to keep the British in their place. But they also speak the truth. Whether it is eurozone reform, the rise of xenophobic extremism or growing pressure exerted by Russia ...

Yet the EU's biggest challenge in 2018 may be none of the above. It comes from within. It has been slowly emerging along the bloc's central and eastern flanks since the so-called Visegrád Group of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic acceded in 2004.

More below the fold  ...

Front paged - Frank Schnittger

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In international trade, there are no best friends

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 31st, 2017 at 04:29:43 PM EST

John Bruton is a former Irish Prime Minister and EU ambassador to the USA. Like Leo Varadker, he was leader of Fine Gael, the most conservative and arguably the least nationalistic party in Ireland. Indeed he was the leader of the least nationalistic and most conservative wing of that party. So much so, that that he was dubbed "John Unionist" by his rival, Fianna Fail leader and then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, for his willingness to crack down on IRA violence and to accommodate Unionist demands on almost everything.

I give you this background to emphasise that there has been no more conservative and Anglophile figure prominent in Irish politics, and one sympathetic to both UK Conservative and DUP Unionist concerns. And yet he has some dire warnings for the UK about the difficulties they are likely to encounter in phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations:

Read more... (32 comments, 1359 words in story)

Those dreary Steeples, again.

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 21st, 2017 at 10:44:17 PM EST

As Brexit rapidly recedes from the front pages of European newspapers I imagine that problems specific to N. Ireland will induce an even greater yawn in everyone outside Ireland and nerdy political and diplomatic circles.  Never mind that problems specific to the Irish border have already effectively meant that the UK has had to concede continued regulatory alignment with the rules of the Single Market and Customs Union post Brexit in phase 1 of the Brexit talks. This in turn rules out the Canada plus, plus, plus option and means the UK will effectively remain within the European Economic Area, whether it realises or not.

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Admitting a mistake

by Frank Schnittger Tue Dec 19th, 2017 at 02:24:56 PM EST

Admitting a mistake, in life as in politics, is, for many people, one of the hardest things to do. An Independent opinion poll now shows "Remainers" with a 10% lead over Brexiteers and this rises to 11% if don't knows are excluded or pushed for an answer. However most of the change of heart is amongst those who didn't actually vote in the referendum.

BMG Research head of polling, Dr Michael Turner, said: "The last time Leave polled ahead of Remain was in February 2017, and since then there has been a slow shift in top-line public opinion in favour of remaining in the EU.

"However, readers should note that digging deeper into the data reveals that this shift has come predominantly from those who did not actually vote in the 2016 referendum, with around nine in ten Leave and Remain voters still unchanged in their view.

"Our polling suggests that about a year ago, those who did not vote in the referendum were broadly split, but today's poll shows that they are now overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU, by a margin of more than four to one."

So the bottom line is that Brexit remorse is predominantly among those who didn't actually vote in the referendum. Few who actually voted for Brexit have changed their minds.

Read more... (41 comments, 1218 words in story)

The changing balance of power

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 13th, 2017 at 02:10:18 PM EST

Brexit talks to be suspended if Britain goes back on its word

Brexit discussions will be suspended if British commitments in phase one talks are reneged on, EU ministers have warned.

Ministers yesterday worked, as one senior EU official put it, to "David Davis-proof" the so-called divorce commitments agreed by the UK last Friday.

In a sharp diplomatic putdown to the UK, they backed proposals which will prevent what Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and others called "backsliding" by the UK.

This was a response to weekend suggestions from Mr Davis, Britain's Brexit secretary, later repudiated, that the deal was not legally binding but aspirational.

There's a determination that what has been agreed in phase one would be properly protected and seen through and there would be no backsliding

Guidelines for the next round of talks on transition arrangements for the UK will contain explicit warnings that phase two talks will be suspended if commitments in phase one are reneged on or not "faithfully" enacted in legislation.

Never has there been a clearer indication of how the balance of power has changed in these negotiations. Ireland has plenty of historical experience of being the weaker, supplicant, party in a negotiation, and the many humiliations one has to endure in that role.

The UK may have experienced similar emotions in dealing with the USA post WWII, put if so, is still in deep denial. Having to deal with individual EU27 nations on equal terms, as part of the EU, may have been part of the motivation for Brexit. Brexiteers fondly imagined that the UK could deal with the EU27, taken as a whole, from a position of strength as it retook its place among the major independent powers in the world.

Read more... (34 comments, 1494 words in story)

Lessons learned from Phase 1 Brexit negotiations

by Frank Schnittger Mon Dec 11th, 2017 at 03:24:55 PM EST

I have just received a copy of a leaked internal EU negotiating team memo entitled:

"Lessons learned from Phase 1 Brexit negotiations":

  1. Never compromise. Stick to your opening negotiating position and the UK will come around in the end.

  2. It doesn't matter how ambitious or even ridiculous our opening demands, the UK is desperate for a deal.

  3. Keep May in power. She needs a deal to stay in power and the UK pro-Brexit papers will praise ANY outcome as a magnificent achievement by her.

  4. Waffle on about general principles in the talks, and then slip a lot of important detail into the actual text at the last moment. Davis is so disinterested in detail he probably won't read it anyway.

  5. Praise the UK negotiators in public as being incredibly tough opponents across the table.  The Tory press will lap it up and chalk up the results as a great victory for Britannia.

  6. Even if we get 100% of what we want, yammer on about the difficult compromises we had to make to get a deal.

  7. Set artificial deadlines whenever it suits us. The Brits will travel through the night to meet them.

  8. Keep the Irish on side. They have 100 years experience of negotiating with the Brits. Garret Fitzgerald got the Anglo-Irish deal through even after Thatcher had said "out, out, out" to every option on the table.

  9. If talks break down, blame it on the Irish.  They have form in that regard and that explanation fits neatly into existing media narratives in the UK.

  10. If the Brits threaten a no deal Brexit, call their bluff. Oh wait, we already have...

PS If we have to concede something in the negotiations to get a deal we don't really like conceding, we can always say that provision was never legally enforceable anyway and can be safely ignored. Davis has said that's ok.

Comments >> (29 comments)

Media narratives on Brexit (Phase 1) deal

by Frank Schnittger Sat Dec 9th, 2017 at 07:04:18 PM EST

I'm beginning to wonder whether we have over-estimated the power of the Brexiteers and associated media.  Here is a selection of front page headlines in UK media:

THE TIMES: "May bounces back" - May's position actually strengthened??!!?

FT: 'May's triumph blunted by Tusk warning on tough choices ahead'  ... Triumph???

Daily Mail: "Rejoice! We're on our way" - little indication that a hard Brexit has been all but ruled out

DAILY MIRROR FRONT PAGE: 'Mrs Softee' - mildly critical

DAILY TELEGRAPH: "The price of freedom" - some indication of the compromises made

The Independent highlights just how much work there still is to be done on the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU

Guardian:"Deal is done but EU warns of more delays"

EXPRESS: "Huge Brexit boost at last" 'nuff said

i:"Britain sets course for soft Brexit"

Saturday's Sun:  leads on an attack on EastEnders star Jessie Wallace - "Glass attack on TV Kat" - with a minor headline "Champagne Brexfast" welcoming an historic agreement

STAR: "Jungle `bully' Dennis gets record complaints" - no mention of Brexit

Read more... (13 comments, 654 words in story)
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