Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Goose Is Cooked

This article was published in Ceylon Today on January 1 2021

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/goose-is-cooked

There has been much bluster from Boris Johnson about an ‘oven-ready deal’ for the UK to leave the EU. There was much anxiety that there would be no deal at all or that it would be a Christmas turkey. In the end, a deal was struck on Christmas Eve and there was much relief and a fatigued kind of feeling that it might have been worse. Repent at leisure. It could be that the UK’s goose is well and truly cooked not just oven-ready.

Carry on trading

A positive aspect of the deal is that there will be no tariffs on goods exported and imported between the UK and the EU. This should allow the UK and the EU to carry on trading much as they do now. This should limit price increases and prevent stocks of goods in shops from running out. Tariff-free and quota-free access to one of the world’s biggest markets goes beyond the EU’s deals with Canada or Japan. Chris Johns in the Irish Times explains what a Canada-style deal means: “The relationship between the US and Canada offers a template for what will happen next: A dominant power that periodically delivers an economic kicking to its smaller neighbour. “

There will be mutual recognition of trusted trader programmes. This means UK producers will have to comply with both UK and EU standards. However, there will be more red tape, which is bound to mean delays and extra costs. According to the Cold Chain Federation, The UK’s food chain could well be “slower, more complex and more expensive for months if not years”. 

It will make it much harder for Britain to sell services to EU countries, where they once had an advantage. The financial industry, lawyers, architects, consultants and others – was largely left out of the 1,246-page deal, despite the sector accounting for 80 per cent of British economic activity. Britain sells $40 billion of financial services to the European Union each year, profiting from an integrated market that makes it easier in some cases to sell services from one member country to another than it is to sell services from one American State to another. That will end.

Restricted freedom of movement

UK nationals no longer have the freedom to work, study, start a business or live in the EU. Visas will be required for stays over 90 days. Coordination of some social security benefits such as old-age pensions and healthcare will make it easier to work abroad and not lose any pre-existing buildup of contributions to national insurance. UK citizens wishing to travel to Europe should have at least six months left on their passport before they travel. From 2022, they will have to pay for a visa-waiver scheme to visit many EU countries. The European Commission says the choice to end free movement “inevitably means that business travel between the EU and the UK will no longer be as easy as it currently is”. People are advised to check with the member state they are travelling to.

There will be no more automatic recognition for doctors, nurses, architects, dentists, pharmacists, vets, engineers. 

They will now have to seek recognition in each member state in which they wish to practise. A framework is being drawn up to facilitate some form of mutual recognition in the future. It may well be that each UK qualification body will have to negotiate a bilateral agreement with its counterpart in each respective EU member state.

Britain’s thriving TV and video-on-demand service providers will no longer be able to offer pan-European services to European viewers unless they relocate part of their business to an EU member state.

Exile from useful institutions

Britain will no longer be a member of the European Investment Bank, which lent billions to depressed regions of the UK. Inward investment, which boomed under EU membership, and which has already fallen by four fifths since the referendum, will remain depressed. The UK will also be out of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, crucial to the fight against climate change and essential to the economics of wind farms and new nuclear power stations. The UK loses all automatic access to EU databases.

The UK will no longer be part of the European Arrest Warrant system. Nor will the UK be a full member of Europol or Eurojust. There will be “continued cooperation between the UK, Europol and Eurojust” with “strong cooperation between national Police and judicial authorities”.

Cost of chaos

I used to write regular monthly columns on Europe for two Sri Lankan business magazines. Reading those articles now, I can see that most of them were critical of aspects of the EU. A rational case could have been made for the UK leaving the EU, although it would have made more sense to stay in and reform it, while having a say on the rules.

Chris Johns again: “The British voted for Brexit but whatever they thought they were asking for, this was not it… Before the referendum, few people in the UK had strong views about Europe. Most now just want Brexit to disappear.” Get Brexit done. It will never be done. I doubt if anyone voted in the 2016 referendum for the years of expensive chaos that ensued from the decision to leave or for the deal that will surely bring more years of expensive chaos. According to the think tank the Institute for Government (IfG) the UK Government committed to spend £6.3 billion on Brexit preparations up to April 2020. That is the equivalent of buying two brand new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, or the money being spent on extending the Thameslink railway in the south-east of England.

Bloomberg Economics analysed how much the decision to leave the EU cost the economy. Bloomberg economist Dan Hanson said, “As the UK comes to terms with its new trading relationship with the EU and grapples with the productivity challenge that has hindered growth since the financial crisis, the annual cost of Brexit is likely to keep increasing,” Economists believe that, as a result of this, the British economy is still three per cent smaller than it would have been if the UK had voted to remain in the EU in 2016 – even with the slowdown of the global rate of growth taken into account. 

Meanwhile, business investments have been held back by Brexit uncertainty, they said, with the annual rate of economic growth halving to one per cent. 

An analysis by UK in a Changing Europe, a research organisation funded by the UK Government, estimated that Brexit’s ultimate economic cost to the UK would be larger than that of COVID-19. The UK economy contracted 20 per cent between April and June because of COVID-19. Some forecasters expect the UK economy to recover rapidly now that a vaccine is available, but they predict that less trade and immigration because of Brexit will have deep and prolonged effects. The UK Government’s own estimate suggests a trade deal like the one agreed to this week would leave the country’s output five per cent lower in 15 years than if Brexit hadn’t happened.

The money spent on Brexit would have helped the NHS to cope better with the pandemic. The UK goes into 2021 suffering from the incompetence of its government’s handling of COVID-19. The economy is shattered because of the virus and now there is Brexit to cope with as well. Martin Kettle commented in the Guardian about the circus leading up to the deal: “For probably the first time in human history, these have been trade negotiations that aim to take the trading partners further apart, not closer together.”

Who voted for this?

The breakup of the United Kingdom gets closer. SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford described the deal as a “disaster for Scotland”. He said the agreement was an “unforgiveable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity”.

Did anyone vote to make their lives worse? As Tom Kibasi, founder of The Institute for Public Policy Research, wrote: “People voted not to terminate our economic cooperation but to put it on a new and different political basis, with sovereignty more explicitly and firmly rooted in Westminster rather than pooled in Brussels. Instead, Britain will have the same trading arrangements as far and distant countries.”

Many people have expressed relief that the annus horribilis of 2020 is over. It is doubtful if 2021 will be an annus mirabilis. 

Ireland’s Shame

This article was published in Ceylon Today on January 29 2021

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/ireland-s-shame

There was a little flurry of ephemeral controversy when it was reported that the newly ensconced President Biden had removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. Biden knows his Irish history (his roots are in County Mayo and County Louth) and is unlikely to share an Englishman’s regard for Churchill. My father was born in County Cork but served in the British army on D-Day. The last thing he smelt was rotting corpses on the Normandy beaches. Despite taking the King’s shilling, he was a patriotic Irishman and often reminded me that it was Churchill as home secretary who sent the Black and Tans into Ireland. I recently re-watched Ken Loach’s powerful film about the Irish fight for independence, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. We see the Tans pulling out fingernails with pliers, beating a 17-year-old boy to death in front of his mother for saying his name in Irish, homes being burnt to the ground. This is what Churchill is remembered for in Ireland.

No Freedom in the Free State

Unfortunately, brutality continued after the British left. Many of the rebels dreamed of a new society guaranteeing equality and justice. It did not happen. Idealism became intransigence, brother turned against brother in a futile and bloody civil war. The fledgling state created a dark place in the process of trying to prove its respectability. The Catholic church consolidated its power; the Irish Free State lost freedom and became a totalitarian and repressive society. Writer Sean O’Faolain described Ireland in the 1930s as “a dreary Eden”. It was far from paradise for most people and it was particularly harsh for unmarried mothers.

Two men who made sure that Ireland was not free. John Charles McQuaid and Eamon de Valera. De Valera was prime minister and later president of Ireland. McQuaid was the Catholic Primate of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin between December 1940 and January 1972. He was known for the unusual amount of influence he had over successive governments. In 1937 a new Irish Constitution was adopted which acknowledged the “special position” of the Catholic Church “as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens.” From early 1937 de Valera was bombarded with letters daily – sometimes twice a day – from McQuaid.

The first report of the registrar general of the Irish Free State highlighted the appalling excess mortality of children born to unmarried mothers. A Department of Justice memorandum in 1930 said that “many unfortunate mothers are denied the shelter of their own families” and many women were subjected to  abuse, poverty, incest and alcoholism.

Bon Secours

I wrote in these pages back in June 2014 about a mass grave being found in Tuam in County Galway.

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/mass-grave/

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/the-disappeared-call-for-international-investigation/

The Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours is a Roman Catholic religious congregation for nursing whose stated object is to care for patients from all socio-economic groups. The congregation’s motto is “Good Help to Those in Need.” The congregation’s foundress, Josephine Potel, was born in 1799 in the small rural village of Becordel, France. In 1861, Ireland – which was still suffering the consequences of the Potato Famine – became the Sisters’ first foreign foundation. The Bon Secours Sisters ran the St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. The home hit the international headlines following allegations that the bodies of up to 800 children were dumped in a septic tank.

Investigation

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation submitted its final report to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration & Youth on 30 October 2020. The report was published on 12 January 2021. The Commission investigated 18 institutions and the report is 3,000 pages long. Some 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children passed through the homes during the period examined by the commission, 1920-98. 25,000 more women and a larger number of children were likely to have been in homes that were not examined by the commission.

In all, 15 per cent of the approximately 57,000 children who were in the 18 institutions investigated by the Commission died during their time there. Nine thousand children died in Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes between 1922 and 1998. 75.19 per cent of all babies admitted to or born in the home at Bessborough in Cork in 1943 died in infancy. The highest mortality rate of all of the homes was in the Sean Ross Home (1931 – 1969) at Roscrea, Co Tipperary where 1,090 infants out of 6,079 died – 79 per cent of them between 1932 and 1947.  “Sean Ross had a much higher incidence of mortality from major infectious diseases, such as diphtheria and typhoid, than any other mother and baby home.” The report attributed this to “the transfer of mothers to the local fever hospital, where they worked as unpaid nurses, and their return to Sean Ross, where they appear to have transmitted infection to their child.” The Commission said “no publicity was given to the fact that in some years during the 1930s and 1940s over 40 per cent of ‘illegitimate’ children were dying before their first birthday” in the homes.  

 “The high level of infant mortality in the Tuam Children’s Home did not feature at meetings of Galway County Council, though Tuam was under the control of the local authority and it held its meetings in the Children’s Home.” There were “many references” to the Tuam Home in meetings of the council but “none refer to the health or mortality of the children”. Between 1921 and 1961 (when it closed), 978 children died in the Tuam Home, 80 per cent under one year, 67 per cent between one and six months. Three-quarters died in the 1930s and 1940s, with 1943 to 1947 the worst years.

The report finds no single reason for the excessive infant mortality. Most of the mothers “were poor” and “their diet during pregnancy would have lacked essential nutrients, and this may have been exacerbated by efforts to conceal the pregnancy.” It was also the case the “many women were admitted in the final weeks of pregnancy, some arrived following the birth of their child.” In the homes “overcrowding probably contributed to excess infant mortality.” The “large size of most of the homes, the large infant nurseries, with cots crammed together – sometimes only one foot apart – served to spread infection. There was an absence of infection control; a failure to isolate mothers and children who were being admitted, until they were proven not to carry an infectious disease.”

The Taoiseach, in making his apology suggested that the scandal was a product of a country dead and gone, an oppressive theocracy nothing like today’s secular and liberal nation. The report is not just critical of the institutions themselves but of Irish society. Historian Diarmaid Ferriter asks: “Who engineered and promoted the culture that made ‘immediate families’ act so uncharitably? Surely there are clues in the vitriol that emanated from the altar. The violence of the language used about these women was remarkable in its unvarnished hatred. “

I can recall the coercive power of the church in the 1950s. As Fintan O’Toole puts it: “This culture of fear fused the physical and the spiritual, the social and the religious, into a single, overwhelming system of domination. Authority was so absolute because it operated seamlessly in the soul and in the world.” There was no escape.

Archbishop McQuaid was typical of the brutal bully boys of the church.  A report found that his handling of sex abuse complaints in his diocese was “aimed at the avoidance of scandal and showed no concern for the welfare of children”. In his biography of the archbishop, John Cooney relates a number of stories that suggest that Dr. McQuaid had an unhealthy interest in children. When asked in 1965 if the Irish Catholic Church was obsessed with sex, he responded: “No. There is probably a saner attitude to sex in this country than almost anywhere else. Family life is stable, women are respected, and vocations are esteemed.”

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