A very short (pre 1975) history of Irish/Russian relations.

A very short (and pre 1975) history of Irish/Russian relations.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has expressed the sincere and understandable concern that expelling the Russian Ambassador Yury Filatov could sever Irish/Russian relations and trigger the shuttering of both the Irish Embassy in Mosco and the Russian Embassy here in Dublin.

A not strictly reciprocal development given the imbalance in size between the representations… a point well made in this Irish Times article:  https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/russia-still-plans-to-extend-dublin-embassy-s-espionage-role-say-experts-1.4814532

Relations between Ireland and Russia have been fraught at times and formal diplomatic representation only commenced in 1973.

Initially relations were cordial with the Irish giving the Soviet Union a loan of €20,000 in 1920 in return for czarist jewels (which were supposedly worth $25000 – Christies later valued them at £1600). The loan was repaid, without interest in 1949.

In 1934 Ireland voted to admit the USSR to the League of Nations, despite strong opposition from some in the League and also back home from Cumann na nGaedheal and the Catholic Church

In 1946 Ireland applied to join the newly formed United Nation, but its application was vetoed by Russia. Several times. Russia argued that Ireland was not eligible for UN membership as it was neutral in WWII and had not established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

Responding to one of these vetoes de Valera told the Irish Times on 1 Aug. 1947 that:

If Russia, which attacked Finland, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, can be regarded as qualifying as a peace-loving nation, it is difficult to see how a nation which kept the peace and scrupulously fulfilled all its obligations as a member of the League of Nations can rightly be regarded as not qualifying – but then…we have no diplomatic relations with Russia…

In reality the veto was less about Ireland and more about Cold War parity. Simple tit for tat. The west could not get an extra pro American UN vote without Russia getting one too. That said, it is known that Poland urged the Soviets to drop their specific objections to Ireland  When Russia dropped its veto and Ireland was eventually admitted to the UN in 1955, it was as part of a 15 new UN member package (including Romania Hungary and Bulgaria).

At the UN Ireland was quick, under the leadership of Frank Aiken as Minister and  Frederick Boland as ambassador, to be non-aligned on the Cold war, including backing a proposal to admit the People’s Republic of China and to advance a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. When this was eventually ratified in 1968, Russia invited Ireland to be the first to sign the treaty as recognition of the lead role Aiken had taken in its passing.

When Ireland sought to raise the developing crisis in Northern Ireland at the United Nations, it had the support of the USSR – with then Foreign Minister Paddy Hillery observing:

‘once you have dealt with the Irish bishops, the Russians are a doddle.’

Though the aim of securing a UN peacekeeping intervention failed, the Russians and others did facilitate Ireland raising the issue directly at the Security Council, though the UK was certain to veto it.

The move to formal diplomatic relations commenced informally in the early 1970s with the assignment of an official TASS representative in Dublin, a development which concerned the British as it was certain that he was a KGB officer and could use the common travel to slip quietly in and out of the UK. In 1973/74 formal relations commenced with the exchange of full ambassadors and the acquisition by the Russians of the 5-acre site that had previously housed the  Irish Management Institute on Orwell Road in Rathgar.

Promises to keep when you have mid-terms to avoid?

In this week’s column, which first appeared online on Broadsheet.ie on January 17th 2022, I looked at the beleagured leadership of Boris Johnson and suggest that he may limp on until May when his fate could be sealed by a bad mid-term local election result. Meanwhile, the three Irish government party leaders will be happy that the next locals and european elections are not due here until 2024 and so they face no mid-term electoral test in 2022… except…   

2019: Simon Coveney campaigning unsuccesfully to persuade Cork voters to back having a directly elected lord mayor of Cork. Limerick backed the plan. But 1000 days later it is not much closer to actually electing one. Photograph: Clare Keogh

In politics, the things you don’t say, or hesitate over saying, can say more about what you are really thinking than the things you do say. You can hear a near textbook perfect example in a short clip from a BBC Radio Devon interview with local Tory MP, Simon Jupp. (I have the audio in the Podcast version of this piece).

Asked if he thinks Boris Johnson will still be Prime Minister and Tory Leader this time next month, Jupp – a former BBC journalist and senior Tory party communications adviser – responds with… nothing. There are three or four seconds of silence, before he finally struggles to say he probably will.

Setting aside the schadenfreude of hearing a former press officer who may in his time have scolded ministers on their dire media outings, delivering an even worse one, Jupp’s performance highlighted the scale of the peril facing Johnson.

Though he now holds what was once a safe Tory seat, Jupp was still a beneficiary of the Boris bounce in 2019 and is one of the new in-take of MPs, whose personal loyalty to Boris would be presumed. Incorrectly, it seems.

That said, Jupp may well be right. Though Johnson is clearly damaged goods and a potential liability to the Tory party, he will probably limp through the coming month, and several months after that, before the 54 letters needed to trigger a no-confidence motion are submitted to the famous 1922 Tory Backbench committee.

Continue reading “Promises to keep when you have mid-terms to avoid?”

Sinn Féin discovers public sector reform, a decade after everyone else… late, but still welcome

This article first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on January 10th 2022 and looks at Sinn Féin’s 10-year-wait to discover the need for public sector reform. I also examine their record on this issue, in that part of the island, where they have ministerial responsibility for public sector reform

Sinn Féin, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Something unusual, though politically significant, happened during the first 10 minutes of last Friday’s “Gathering” on RTÉ Radio 1’s Claire Byrne Today show.

We have become so accustomed to hearing Sinn Féin spokespeople sticking carefully to their talking points and holding the party line, that hearing one utter even the vaguest criticism of their leader, is jarring.

Yet that is what Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly did when she said that she “wouldn’t use necessarily the words that Mary Lou used…”. The words to which O’Reilly was referring, which she also called “inelegant”, had come from an Irish Examiner interview in which the Sinn Féin leader said of the need for public sector reform:

“But we have, in many respects, a system that is constipated, a system that is slow, and a system that needs to be jolted… “

It’s not often you hear a Sinn Féin spokesperson upbraid their leader in public and get away with it. Louise’s move was politically bold and strategically wise.

Continue reading “Sinn Féin discovers public sector reform, a decade after everyone else… late, but still welcome”

Martin and Johnson… a lot more alike than you’d think

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday December 13th. It looks at a comparison I would never have thought possible just two years ago – but I explain why the two leaders – who do not share many traits or characteristics – regrettably share one very large negative one

The famous blackboard from Derry Girls – now (a copy) in the Ulster Museum

If you haven’t seen it already, then do yourself an enormous favour and check out the glorious blackboard scene from the second series of Derry Girls. Actually, just go and watch all of Lisa McGee’s deeply affectionate and wildly funny account of life in 1990’s Derry.

In the blockboard scene, Fr Peter invites teenagers from a catholic girls’ school and a protestant boys’ school, brought together for a cross community weekend, to suggest examples of things they have in common. These are then written down on a blackboard.

While they struggle to come up with things they have in common, they have no such problem listing their differences: Catholics watch RTÉ; Protestants love soup. Catholics love statues; Protestants hate Abba. The ‘differences’ blackboard is soon overflowing. The similarities one remains bare.

While I’ve no doubt it wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny, ask a group of Irish people what Boris Johnson and Micheál Martin have in common, and they’d struggle to propose much for the similarities one. Continue reading “Martin and Johnson… a lot more alike than you’d think”

This week’s #Covid19 reopening should have gone ahead

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday Oct 18th, the day before the government decided not to proceed with its original plan to lift most of the continuing Covid19 restrictions. I think ministers are making a mistake. They should have focused instead on (a) making life less burdensome for the vaccinated and (b) placing increased pressure on the 300,000 or so un-vaxxed to folks to get vaccinated ASAP. Though I accept full 100% coverage is impossible.

Getting more people to get their shots is what drives the Italian workplace Green Pass system (which I indirectly reference below). I recommend listening to this 17-minute Podcast on the Italian system. It is from my colleagues in BEERG/HRPA.  

The idea that the way to stop folks breaking rules is to make more rules is akin to saying if two wrongs don’t make a right… let’s try three.

It is absurd to hear the government talk about not lifting restrictions only days after boasting about our being the Covid resilience world leader.

Yet that’s where we are. You cannot turn on a news show without hearing yet another minister preparing us for the October 22 re-opening not going ahead.

The Taoiseach took it a step further in yesterday’s Sunday Independent. There he hinted that the government had already decided to pause further reopening. As if to sugar coat this failure of policy, Martin sought to comfort us by saying:

“… we are not contemplating going backwards. The only issue facing us now is going forward”

If he is expecting the public to be grateful that we are not going back into lockdown, he will be disappointed.

The government is doing this the wrong way around.

Rather than passively accepting that they cannot go ahead with the October 22 re-opening, they should be proceeding with it. Rather than preparing us for disappointment, they should also be tasking public health officials with putting the necessary measures in place. Continue reading “This week’s #Covid19 reopening should have gone ahead”

Maybe We’d Believe Them More If The Numbers Were Smaller?

This column appeared on broadsheet.ie on Monday October 4th, a few hours before the launch of the government’s €165 billion National Development Plan (NDP

After weeks spent playing catch-up on the self-inflicted mess that was Zapponegate, ministers and advisers will be relieved to be dealing with real hard political issues.

And there are no shortage of them. Over the next ten days we will see the fruits of their behind-the-scenes labours delivered via two major announcements. The first comes today with the launch of the National Development Plan (NDP). The second comes next week with the October 12th Budget.

Political convention suggests that the long-term political fate of this government rests on the success of these two events, plus the Housing for All package announced last month. But political convention hasn’t been right for a while, and there is no great reason to thank that is about to change.  

Though the NDP overshadows the Budget when it comes to the amounts involved, it will be a decade before we start to see if it is working or not. The NDP is the political equivalent of planting trees in whose shade you will never sit, though here it is more of a case of politicians delivering infrastructure for which they’ll never get the political kudos. Continue reading “Maybe We’d Believe Them More If The Numbers Were Smaller?”

476 Ways to Avoid Saying “Said” – from www.proofreadingservices.com

The word “said” is everywhere, camouflaging so well that readers rarely notice it. However, what about when you want to call attention to the way a character delivers a line of dialogue?

Check out this list of 476 alternatives for “said” and spice up your characters’ speech in a range of dramatic situations.

For full list see: https://www.proofreadingservices.com/pages/said-infographic

The pubs are re-opening, so normal politics is resuming… and endgame is near

This is my first Broadsheet column in about five weeks… and what an eventful five weeks it has been. What makes it even more interesting and potentially significant is that it leads into the final steps in the re-opening of society via the relaxation of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions. This means a return to normal politics via a return to face to face meetings of the various parliamentary parties. This I believe means that the endgame is near for both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders. 

“I didn’t show up here with a speech, I came here well-resourced with material…”

At the end of July I said that come September I would be back and ready to offer my thoughts on what’s happening on the Irish political scene. 

Well, I am back, but little did I imagine we would see so much political activity in August. Like many I assumed that politicians from all sides who have – to be fair – endured a difficult 16 months, would leap at the chance of a having a calm and uneventful August.

I was wrong. I failed to the factor-in the capacity of Fine Gael’s officer class to completely overestimate their own guile and ability and to fatally underestimate the public’s impatience with the appearance of ministerial entitlement.

Though the Taoiseach and his allies, more of whom are in Fine Gael these days than in Fianna Fáil, may want to portray #Merriongate / #Zapponegate as a silly season story that is not resonating with the public, his TDs, Senators and Councillors know that’s not the case.

Voters may not be familiar the minutiae of who said what, to whom, in what text and over what platform… but who is? The stories and sequences coming from the Tánaiste and the Foreign Affairs minister seem to change every couple of days, including at today’s second attempt by the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs to establish the facts.

Continue reading “The pubs are re-opening, so normal politics is resuming… and endgame is near”

My 2021 Summer Political reading list

This list first appeared on Broadsheet on July 26th and is my 5th annual Summer Political Reading list. 

Welcome to my fifth annual summer political reading list. As the name suggests, the books on the list have a political theme or connection. All the books in this year’s selection are non-fiction and reflect my own tastes and prejudices.

I have included a few biographies, histories, and polemics on issues of domestic and wider interest. While none of the books could be said to be a light read, they are not heavy going either. They are all well-written and accessible. Most have been published over the past 6 – 12 months, which means they are mostly hard backs.

From Whence I Came, Editors Brian Murphy & Donnacha Ó Beacháin

This is a collection of original essays on the Kennedy legacy and the special political ties between Ireland and the United States. Contributors include the editors, both key figures behind the annual Kennedy Summer School, plus a stellar cast of informed and interesting writers, such as Cody Kennan, President Obama’s former speechwriter, Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Human Rights organisation and Tad Devine a former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders, Al Gore and John Kerry election campaigns. In addition to being a cracking good read, all editor royalties are being donated to the New Ross Community Hospital in memory of the late Noel Whelan.

Continue reading “My 2021 Summer Political reading list”

It’s very testing to go travelling

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday June 28th. In it I recount my experience of traveling to and from Spain on a 3-day family visit, including 3 x PCR tests and checks at Airports. I discovered after writing this piece that the PCR test required to cut your return quarantine to 5 days is free, via the HSE. Unfortunately, I discovered this information after I had pre-booked and pre-paid for one elsewhere.    

It has been about eight months since I recounted my experiences of travelling to Spain during the pandemic. Needless to add, like the vast majority of us I have not been travelling since. That is, up to last week.  

As I explained the last time, my travel was essential as I was going to visit my mother who lives in Spain, having retired there, along with my late father (who died in 2011) just over two decades ago. For reasons too personal to go into here, it was essential that I visit my mother now. 

The airport staff, the airline crew and the other passengers were extremely careful, cautious and prepared. There were a few bothersome aspects, but none so trying as to be worth commenting on here. The one area on which I will focus is testing… primarily because arranging and securing tests – particularly PCR tests – is not cheap and not always easy.

Long story short – while the journey itself was not too difficult, the bottom line is this: while my return flight to Spain for 3 nights via Ryanair cost about €250, the PCR tests required to make that journey cost €400 for PCR tests. By the way, the gap between the first PCR test and the last one was approx 9 days. 

Continue reading “It’s very testing to go travelling”