Faugh a Ballagh (‘clear the way’)

PresidentHigginsThe many traditions between the peoples of Britain and Ireland date back thousands of years with for example, early forms of Gaelic documented in western parts of Britain in the 4th century AD. Clans and Kingdoms sought to continuously clear the way for trade and prosperity across the two islands, sharing culture, language, and religion. During the President’s recent state visit to the UK, he commented rather wisely on the relationship between the two countries and stated “ar scáth a chéile a mhairimíd.” He added that whilst this can translate as “we live in the shadow of each other”, it can also perhaps mean that “we live under the shelter of each other.” The President then suggested that indeed, both translations can apply and his trip to the UK this month has perhaps cleared the way for a new beginning in the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

Some have intimated that the recent Irish visit to the UK was the first such trip by a leader of Ireland since 1175, when the High King of Ireland met the King of England to sign the Windsor Treaty. It was hoped at that time that the Treaty would clear the way for helpful relations between the two islands to address in part, the various tensions arising in Ireland from the Norman settlements; which were preceded by centuries of settlements by the Vikings. Rather aptly, this month’s visit by the Irish President to the UK has further enhanced the ties, bonds, and culture between the peoples of these two islands, with additional hopes of reducing tensions in Northern Ireland.

During the centuries following the signing of the Windsor Treaty, events reflected the complexities of religious and political tensions and conflicts of the times. However, in 1914, one hundred and fourteen years after the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Irish Home Rule Bill was passed, with the support of over 80 Irish MPs in the House of Commons. With the enactment of Home Rule pending, a way was cleared to rebalance the dynamics between these two islands, whilst incorporating the connections and bounds across the Irish Sea.

However, as we commemorate the centenaries of World War One, we acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of Irishmen who followed the calls of their parliamentarian leaders, such as Willie Redmond. They joined their comrades from Scotland, Wales, England, and others to defeat Germany in the fields of France and Belgium; with tens of thousands giving their lives in the process.  We are also preparing though, for the centenary of the 1916 rebellion, in which a group of Irish people liaised with Germany to stage an uprising in Ireland for independence. As we have heard and read in recent RTE broadcasts, their actions resulted in the deaths of approximately 40 children, along with hundreds of Irish policemen and soldiers in the weeks, months, and years that followed. Indeed, an RTE documentary this month referred to the above matters and commented that instead of clearing the way for Irish unity, the most significant casualty of the 1916 rebellion was a united Ireland.

Having left the UK, it is now 65 years since Ireland became a republic. However, following years of hostility, animosity or indifference towards the Britain, the events of the last twenty years have seen peace and relative prosperity flourish across these two islands. Indeed, when the economy recently crashed in Ireland it was the UK that stepped up so prominently to help the Irish people. With billions of euro in trade between the two countries occurring on a monthly basis, there are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs dependent on UK-Irish connections. The bonds between these two islands are now being voiced openly across the British and Irish media, with inter-government collaboration now at unprecedented levels. The once jaundiced and myopic reductionism of narrow nationalism is being replaced by a balanced, respectful and congruent validation of the shared identity between the peoples of Britain and Ireland.

On the last night of President Higgins’ state visit to the UK this month, he attended a celebration of Irish music at the Royal Albert Hall, entitled ‘Ceilúiradh.’ The concert included a combined performance by musicians from the Irish Defence Forces (IDF), the Irish Guards, and the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR). The latter two of these are of course Irish regiments in the British Army, which include many Irish service members. Building on last year’s combined deployment between the IDF and the RIR to Africa, the concert perhaps illustrates the motto of the RIR, ‘Faugh a Ballagh’ or ‘clear the way.’ Indeed, is it time to clear that way for further improved relations with the UK and see an independent Republic of Ireland return to the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is a truly global association of fifty-two independent nations, thirty-two of which are republics. There are twenty-one million people of Irish descent residing in Commonwealth countries and the organization’s charter is focused on promoting human rights. Decisions are made democratically via an elected secretariat, and the Queen fulfils a purely ceremonial role. Membership of the Commonwealth would significantly recognise and strengthen the ties we have to so many countries within which the Irish have sought shelter (or ‘scáth’) over the years. It would also expand Irish opportunities for trade, as the Taoiseach emphasised at the recent meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Ultimately, with new economic, cultural, social, and sporting opportunities ready and waiting, perhaps Ireland could consider the remarks of a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, the West Indian, Sammy Ramphal, when he implored Ireland to re-enter the Commonwealth and ‘come home.’

Reform Group (c) 2014

Image: BBC.com

Commonwealth plays vital role

Kamalesh SharmaSunday Independent –  27 April 2014

Madam – Dan O’Brien (Sunday Independent, April 13, 2014), gives thoughtful consideration to the value to small states of multilateralism in general and the Commonwealth in particular.

However, there is ample evidence to counter his assertion that the Commonwealth is “not a hugely important organisation for any of the 53 countries in it”.

As he himself acknowledges, smaller, more vulnerable states have more to gain from being in to ‘clubs’ where all members are bound by the same rules.

For that reason, and many others, membership of the Commonwealth is central to those of our 31 members with populations of less than 1.5 million, the internationally agreed definition for a ‘small state’. A quarter of the members of the G20 also belong to the Commonwealth.

This offers opportunities for interface, and direct and crucial global advocacy facilitated by the Commonwealth plays a vital role in ensuring that due consideration is given to the concerns of developing and vulnerable nations when decisions are made that can have very significant impact on their trade, environment, social and economic stability, sustainability and resilience, and addressing serious capacity shortages.

Kamalesh Sharma,
Commonwealth Secretary-General,
Marlborough House, London

Sunday Independent –  27 April 2014

Image: Commonwealth Secretariat

The Queen’s speech at the Irish State banquet

banquet05_2876536cPublished on 10 Apr 2014

Her Majesty gives a speech at the State Banquet for the historic Irish State Visit at Windsor Castle. The visit, the first official State Visit by a President of Ireland, is taking place over four days in London and Windsor Castle.


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Image: Sunday World

Ireland and the UK: A new beginning

PresidentHigginsPresident Bill Clinton recently commented on the Northern Ireland Peace Process and asked the politicians involved to “finish the job.” However, he could easily be referring to the broader relations between Ireland and the UK. We are currently moving through the 100th anniversary year of the passing of the Irish Home Rule Bill, and with over half a century as an independent Republic, is it now time to take relations with our closest and strongest ally to another level?

President Higgins’ visit to the UK this week is a wonderful expression of the collective identity between the peoples of these two islands. Ireland and the UK are both integrated and interdependent. Tens of thousands of Irish people move to the UK every year. Forty percent of visitors to Ireland are from the UK and about 25% of the British population has some Irish heritage. Ireland is the UK’s fifth biggest market. There are almost 50,000 Irish Directors of UK companies, more than any other nationality in the UK. There is more than 1 billion of trade between the UK and Ireland every week and 50 Irish companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange, more than from any other overseas country.  Such links are directly associated with the establishment of approximately 200,000 jobs in each country.

Following the Queen’s recent visit to Ireland, the British and Irish governments signed an agreement that commits the UK and Ireland to work towards closer integration, in order to benefit the peoples of both islands. Since that time, we have seen the establishment of single visas for those visiting the UK and Ireland, joint British-Irish trade missions, and the formation of a new single maritime boundary for the UK and Ireland. Preparations are underway for the UK and Irish governments to exchange senior civil servants and initiatives are being developed for complementary energy policies between the two islands. Britain and Ireland are undertaking shared centenary commemorations of World War One (WWI). Also, military personnel from Britain and Ireland have combined for the first time since WWI, when they formed a single force last year and deployed to Africa.

Social and cultural life between the two islands continues to flourish. In 2012, the Olympic torch toured the UK and incorporated a visit to Dublin. Other sporting practices include the continuation of the British and Irish Lions rugby team. There is also the ongoing practice of combining British athletes from Northern Ireland with Irish athletes to form single-island teams for hockey, cricket, rowing, and rugby union. Indeed, the Garda and PSNI also now combine to form a single rugby union team. Other cultural practices are seen in entertainment, with many UK television programmes viewing the UK and Ireland as a single audience, such as the X Factor (which opens it auditions this year in Ireland), Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model, and many reality and chat shows with Irish presenters and contestants. There is of course the strong links between the premier league and Irish audiences. In addition, the British TV station “UTV” is to launch formally in Ireland over the coming year.

One hundred years ago, Ireland had over 80 MPs sitting in the House of Commons. Today, Irish politicians represent an independent nation, but do so with an appreciation of the interdependence and cultural ties with the rest of the UK. This is clearly seen within the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Enda Kenny recently addressed the Assembly in Dublin, during which he argued for further development and links between Ireland and the UK. As a result of these ties, Irish people, like their ancestors, continue to seek new lives around the world, primarily in countries with a shared connection to Britain and Ireland. These countries include New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and South Africa.

Such countries were developed largely by the efforts of Irish men and women and they all share a common heritage and link to these islands. They regularly build on these unique international links by developing markets and economic opportunities; and the connections extend to a sporting heritage too. The link for these countries is of course their membership of the Commonwealth of Nations. Since Ireland left this organization in 1949, it has developed to contain 32 Republics. Indeed, South Africa, as a Republic, re-entered in the 1990s, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. Twenty-one million people of Irish descent now reside in Commonwealth countries and the organization’s charter is focused on promoting human rights. Decisions are made democratically via an elected secretariat, and the Queen fulfills a purely ceremonial role.

At the recent British Irish Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Dublin, Ireland was encouraged to re-enter the Commonwealth of Nations. It would provide Ireland with an additional platform for trade and economic growth, allow Irish athletes to compete further on the world stage via the Commonwealth Games, promote Ireland in countries that have hitherto had limited links with the country over the past 60 years, and strengthen our connections to those countries who are strongly tied to the culture of Britain and Ireland.

Relationships between Ireland and the UK have never been better and as the President and the Queen meet this week in London, is it now time to “finish the job” in British-Irish relations and bring an independent Republic of Ireland back into the Commonwealth?

Reform Group (c) 2014

Image: BBC.com

Where next in British-Irish Relations?

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE REFORM GROUP, DUBLIN.                              

8TH APRIL 2014



The Commonwealth of Nations has radically changed since Ireland left some sixty-five years ago. It is a global organisation with fifty-two countries, thirty-two of which are Republics and where twenty-one million people of Irish descent live. It is led by an elected Secretariat, the British monarch having a purely titular role. It promotes human rights, democracy, gender equality and through the Commonwealth games, a wide range of sporting activities.

At the recent British Irish Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Dublin, Ireland was encouraged to re-enter the Commonwealth of Nations. It would provide Ireland with an additional platform for trade and economic growth, allow Irish athletes to compete further on the world stage via the Commonwealth Games, promote Ireland in countries that have hitherto had limited links with the country over the past 65 years, and strengthen our connections to those countries who are strongly tied to the culture of Britain and Ireland.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s response was positive. He said:

The question of the Commonwealth obviously is one not for an immediate decision but I do think we can build on the trade links that are there.

Kenny added that Ireland does not have the resources to have diplomatic representation in many countries where the Commonwealth exists around the world. He emphasised that the recent trade mission to Singapore, which three ministers from the island of Ireland and Britain led, opened new trade for Ireland. He emphasised that the “Commonwealth has leverage to open new markets”.

We keep being told that relationships between Ireland and the UK have never been better and that reconciliation is top of the agenda. As the President and the Queen meet this week in London, is it now time to “finish the job” in British-Irish relations and bring an independent Republic of Ireland back into the Commonwealth?




UK/Ireland: Agreement establishing a single maritime boundary

Gov.UKPresented to Parliament June 2013

Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland establishing a Single Maritime Boundary between the Exclusive Economic Zones of the Two Countries and parts of their Continental Shelves

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Image: UK Government

Nelson Mandela and the Commonwealth

NelsonMandela-atRCSPosted by Verity Sharp – Royal Commonwealth Society
6th December 2013

It is with sadness that the Royal Commonwealth Society joins South Africa and the international community in mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela. The Commonwealth has lost an extraordinary and inspirational champion of the values that are its strength. He will be remembered for his innate dignity, his compassion and his unbounded capacity to draw a quality of forgiveness out of hatred.

As we reflect on Mandela’s passing, many Commonwealth commentators will remember the association’s opposition of the apartheid movement, and its support for inclusive democratic elections in South Africa as its finest hour.

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Image: Nelson Mandela at the Royal Commonwealth Society

Kenny and Cameron make ‘poignant’ joint visit to WWI sites

Dave-Enda-WWISee letter in Irish Times correcting the error RTE made in their site. Willie redmond did not request to be buried separately from his Irish fallen colleagues because he respected the 1916 Rising but for other reasons.


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has described his visit, alongside the British Prime Minister David Cameron, to a series of Irish and British World War I memorials in Flanders as “poignant and powerful”.

During a carefully balanced schedule, the two prime ministers spent three hours visiting the most solemn and symbolically important World War I sites, with both men acknowledging the sacrifice of the war dead from the other’s country.

> Read more

> Read letter in Irish Times

Picture: RTE News

Robin Bury – Distortion of historical reality

2517376937Letters to the Editor

In the excellent TV3 documentary Sinn Fein: Who are they? (Monday, December 2), Professor Conor Gearty suggested ‘the residual feeling on the part of people’ following the bloody campaign in Northern Ireland is simply ‘you did not have to kill all those people’.

Irish politicians in Dublin have been quick to condemn the collusion of the Dundalk policeman in the brutal murders of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter have apologised to the families of the two policemen. Sinn Fein’s response was to tell us the IRA had ‘a duty’ to kill the RUC men.

Gerry Adams thinks they had it coming, breaking into French to say the men had a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards their own security. A ‘contemptible’ attitude, as the editor of the Irish Times put it.

At the heart of southern politicians’ protests, and across all parties in the Dail, I suggest is a serious distortion of historical reality. This expresses itself in self-righteous hypocritical indignation.

Denis Bradley got this message across unambiguously in the TV3 programme:

Let’s not do this southern naivety bit that our violence was OK and we will make heroes out of our violence but these evil black people in the north, their violence is not OK…1916 was good but activity up here was bad. Not true. It is as complicated up here in our age as it was in Dublin in that age.

Such a distortion of historical reality was shown by Minister of Education, Ruairi Quinn, in the same programme.

When asked by Ursula Halligan whether there was ‘any difference between the violence of the old IRA of Michael Collins and the Provisional IRA?’, Quinn said he believes the difference is ‘complete and fundamental’. Why? Because the old IRA ‘got a mandate from the 1918 general election’. But professional historians are agreed no mandate for a campaign of violence was given in the 1918 election.

The IRA started this guerrilla war with the murder of two RIC Catholic constables in 1919 at Soloheadbeg.

The historian Thomas Bartlett tells us ‘The ambush was not in any sense authorised by the Dail in Dublin’ (Ireland A History, page 401).

After these murders, from 1919 to 1921, 513 policemen were killed by the IRA, some 70 per cent being Irish Catholics.

I recently met a relative who told me he was clear that the teaching of history in the south encourages anglophobia.

I suggested this approach had changed recently but he said his son is learning the ‘same old stuff’ such as Ireland was a colony, whereas it was part of the Union with Scotland, Wales and England with over 80 Irish MPs in Westminster. Nor are students told Ireland played a major role in building the British Empire.

I would draw this to the attention of Ruairi Quinn, Minister for Education, especially with the commemoration of 1916 looming.

He might then consider the words of Professor Gearty but in a 1916 context: ‘You didn’t have to kill all those people’ including 240 civilians and 23 children.

Robin Bury

Chairman Reform Group, Ireland

Published on the 09 December 2013 11:29

Documentary on One: the Little Cross of Bronze

Victoria-CrossEvery county in Ireland, except one, has at least one winner of the Victoria Cross. But this important part of Irish history has not been acknowledged for decades – up until now.

Listen to the RTE radio documentary by Elizabeth Rice.