Former Irish diplomat discusses Northern Ireland

Retired Irish diplomat John Rowan discussed the early years of the Northern Ireland peace process and other topics at a recent Irish Network DC event. Rowan joined Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and was posted to the Embassy in Washington in 1976, during some of the bloodiest days of the Troubles.

John Rowan at Irish Network DC event.

John Rowan at Irish Network DC event.

Rowan said nationalist leader John Hume was “a hero” of the earliest efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland through a strategy that “broadened the problem” beyond Ulster’s borders.

In America, it initially was tough getting much interest from the Jimmy Carter Administration, Rowan said, because the president and his top advisers had no connections or interests in Irish affairs. The U.S. State Department was dominated by those who favored the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom, while much of Irish diaspora in America supported the IRA.

Hume’s efforts soon got a boost from four prominent Irish-American politicians: Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan, Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and New York Governor Hugh Carey. They came to be known as the four horsemen.

“They visited Northern Ireland and they researched,” Rowan said. “They wanted people about a solution, not fighting for a solution.”

By 30 August 1977 Carter was persuaded to issue a key statement on U.S. policy in Northern Ireland, which signaled the start of America playing a more active role in the peace process. The statement said, in part:

The United States wholeheartedly supports peaceful means for finding a just solution that involves both parts of the community of Northern Ireland .and protects human rights and guarantees freedom from discrimination–a solution that the people in Northern Ireland, as well as the Governments of Great Britain and Ireland can support. Violence cannot resolve Northern Ireland’s problems; it only increases them and solves nothing.

“It was a game changer,” Rowan said. “We had another party interested in being our partner, a very powerful partner that would express its views. We also found that the diaspora was not monolithic in its support for armed struggle.”

Of course, it took another 21 years of incremental steps and set backs to reach the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Hume shared the Noble Peace Prize with unionist leader David Trimble. Since then the six counties of Ulster have enjoyed a level of peace and progress, if still imperfect, that was unimaginable in 1977.

Rowan said he expects to see “some derivation” of the Northern Ireland Executive created by the landmark agreement in the years ahead. “There will be some realignment on the nationalist and unions sides,” he said.

It’s possible, Rowan said, that Sinn Fein could eventually hold the position of First Minister instead of Deputy First Minister. He does not expect to see a unification referendum any time soon, nor does he believe the six counties might form their own statelet independent of Britain.

“That would not be viable,” he said, noting that Ulster is too dependent on government help to leave the U.K., which also why it’s unlikely the Republic would want to embrace the region. “The private sector is too fragile.”

O’Malley moves into U.S. Embassy in Ireland, now 50

St. Louis lawyer Kevin O’Malley has moved into the U.S. Embassy in Dublin as America’s new Ambassador to Ireland. All four of his grandparents emigrated from Westport, County Mayo.

In a welcome published in the Irish Independent, he writes:

How fortunate I feel to take up my new role as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland at this auspicious moment – and at a time when the relationship between our peoples and our governments holds such great promise. I am greatly honoured President Barack Obama asked me to represent the United States to a country I hold so dear.

Obama was criticized on both side of the Atlantic for taking 18 months to fill the position. Here’s O’Malley’s official video welcome:

He moves into the unique Ballsbridge building ahead of 50th anniversary celebrations in November. Here’s a video about embassy:

Should the Irish abroad be able to vote back home?

“The Irish abroad should be given a voice by being given a vote in our general elections, as other states allow their citizens,” writes Colum Kenny, professor of communications at Dublin City Universty and author of An Irish-American Odyssey: The remarkable rise of the O’Shaughnessy Brothers.

His op-ed in The Irish Times contends that current proposals to try such an arrangement by giving the diaspora a vote only in presidential polls are “patronizing.”

“And what of catches that deprive emigrants and their children of educational and social welfare benefits if they wish to return after living outside Ireland for some years?”

Be sure to read the lively comments about taxation and representation at the bottom of the post. An online poll was showing nearly 60 percent “yes” to allow overseas voting as of this post, Oct. 4, 2014.

A “dark year” for farm fatalities in Ireland

Farm deaths in rural Ireland have reached 23 as the year nears the three quarter mark. That’s seven more deaths than all last year and five more than the annual average of 18.

The Irish Times reports the surge of fatalities “comes at at time when there has never been a greater focus on farm safety.” The story reports that the Irish Farmers’ Association held the first National Farm Safety Awareness Day in July. A support group called Embrace Farm has also launched a video campaign called “What’s Left Behind” to call attention to the issue.

The primary causes of farm fatalities are, in descending order, tractor and other vehicles, machinery, animals, trips and falls, drowning, collapse of working platforms, wood/forestry related and electrocution, according to a May 2012 report by Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland.

The fatalities mentioned above apply only to the Republic and not the six counties of Northern Ireland. I was curious to see how these figures compared to the Ireland of 100 years ago, before partition, when more people were employed in less mechanized farming. So I uploaded the Annual Report of the Registrar-General for Ireland during the year 1914.

The statistical abstract contains nearly 200 “causes of death in Ireland,” which total 71,345 for the year, but there is not a category for farm fatalities. The report says there were 532 deaths from “injuries.” Assuming 5 percent of the total was related to agricultural work yields nearly 27 fatalities, or four more than the nine month total for the 26 counties.

I suspect the figure was likely much higher.

Letters to Ireland: Republic plans to modernize postal service

Every year I mail a Christmas card to a relation in Ireland who lives in the rural house where my grandfather was born in 1894. All that’s required for the address is the surname, the townland name, Lahardane, and County Kerry. No street name or number are required, because none exist.

That’s about to change.

The Republic is preparing to introduce postal codes in spring 2015. Each of the country’s more than 2.1 million residential and business addresses will be assigned a seven-digit mix of numbers and letter.

Some people worry the upgrade will erase a wee bit of Ireland’s small country charms. Others are happy to see the modernization. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Ireland has tried, and failed, to deliver a postal-code system before. But costs—and, until recently, resistance by postal workers—have stymied efforts. The current system comes with a price tag of $32 million and, this time, the stamp of approval of the country’s postal service. …

An Post, Ireland’s postal service, argued for years that postal codes were too expensive and complicated. There were also fears that postal codes would make it easier for private courier services to swoop in, triggering layoffs of postal workers. Supporters quietly argued that codes actually might boost post-office traffic by making it easier to send junk mail.

There are other concerns, as The Irish Times reports:

Critics say the opportunity has been missed to use Ireland’s clean-slate status to produce a technologically innovative postcode system that would be at the cutting edge globally; similar to the competitive leap that was provided when the State switched to a digital phone network in the 1980s, well ahead of most of the world. …

Because each postcode will reveal the exact address of a home or business, privacy advocates are concerned that online use of postcodes could link many types of internet activity, including potentially sensitive online searches, to a specific household or business.

Irish postal workers model new uniforms in front of the GPO in 2011.

Irish postal workers model new uniforms in front of the GPO in 2011.

The headquarters of Ireland’s mail service, the General Post Office in Dublin, was at the center of the 1916 Rising. It will be the focus of attention through April 2016 as the nation prepares to celebrate the centennial of the event. A museum on the site details “the little known story of the staff who were actually in the GPO on Easter Monday.”

I’ll look forward to sending a last Christmas card to Lahardane that doesn’t require a postal code. I know it will arrive safely.

Scotland votes ‘no’ as political waves hit Irish shores

The nationalist effort in Scotland was defeated 45 percent to 55 percent, but now a new debate begins over increasing devolved power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has wasted no time in reiterating republican calls for a border poll, while DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has rejected the idea. The Belfast Telegraph reports:

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers can call a border poll at any time, according to the 1998 Good Friday agreement that brought about peace. It also specifies that the cabinet minister shall order a referendum if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would seek to form part of a united Ireland. The proportion of Protestants has fallen to 48% from 53% 10 years ago, census data showed, while the proportion of Catholics increased to 45% from 44%.

Of course, not all Catholics would want a united Ireland, and surely some Protestants would quietly vote to break from the U.K., especially if the Irish economy continues to rebound, as discussed in my previous post.

Here’s another thought piece about some of the calculations in Northern Ireland, written before the vote, including whether London wants to keep its bond with Ulster. How strongly does Dublin want the six counties?

At the very least there is going to be a lot of discussion about devolving more power to Belfast, especially corporate tax rates. The Irish Times reports:

The big focus initially will be on whether the British government now allows the Northern Executive to bring corporation tax here in line with the general 12.5 per cent rate that applies in the South. David Cameron has already promised that he would make a decision on corporation tax soon after the completion of the referendum.

Many economists and most politicians believe that reducing the level of corporation tax from its current general figure of 21 per cent would be a “game changer” for Northern Ireland: it would boost international investment and create thousands more jobs.

The Celtic Tiger is purring again

The Irish economy is on the rebound according to recent news reports, and Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson was only to happy to talk about it during a National Foreign Trade Council forum here in Washington. Here’s my coverage in the Washington Business Journal.


Anderson would not be drawn out on the potential economic impact to Ireland if Scotland votes for independence. She also declined to speculate about the possibility of a reunification vote with Northern Ireland within the next decade.

Ian Paisley, “the ultimate Orangeman,” dead at 88

The anti-Catholic, anti-Irish republic(an) firebrand was at the center of political turmoil during The Troubles. He eventually entered a power-sharing government with a former IRA man.

BBC obit here. Coverage from Irish Central here.

Before making headlines for shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth, former IRA man Martin McGuinness entered a power-sharing government with Paisley at Stormont. They became partners, even friends, who were nicknamed “the Chuckle Brothers.”

“Our relationship confounded everybody,” McGuinness says in this video clip, followed by comments from Gerry Adams:

Scotland referendum stirs debate about impact on Ireland

The Scottish independence referendum is a week away, and one recent poll showed a swing toward the Yes side, stirred a vigorous debate the implications for Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Here’s a sampling of opinions:

Eamonn McCann writes in The Irish Times that Westminster is embarrassing itself trying to hold on to Scotland, but wouldn’t give a flip if Northern Ireland wanted to break away. “The political establishment in London couldn’t care less about the North.”

The Irish Examiner says a “yes” vote for Scotland would pose a major risk for Northern Ireland. Nothing will be the same afterward, regardless of the outcome. “Profound change will come. If the referendum passes, an immediate constitutional crisis occurs. There is no clear pathway forward, and the questions for now unanswerable, are myriad. In the event of defeat, greater devolution is now certain to follow. Like the ‘Irish Question’ the issue of Scottish independence is unlikely to go away.”

Scotland and Northern Ireland friendship flags.

Scotland and Northern Ireland friendship flags.

The Telegraph, in England, suggests that a “yes” vote could reawaken sectarian violence in Scotland similar to that in Northern Ireland. “If Northern Irish sectarianism had sprung from the dispossession of Catholics by 17th-century Protestant planters, Scottish sectarianism came from too large and fast an influx of Irish Catholics in the 19th century. … Such hatred has diminished with prosperity and with relative calmness in Northern Ireland, but there are many Scots who are terrified that independence will exacerbate old tribal resentments. An Orange order parade in favour of “No” is due to take place on Saturday in Edinburgh. It may well be counterproductive, especially if some of their less disciplined members fall out with nasty elements of the “Yes” campaign.”

The Belfast Telegraph says the “Better Together” campaign against Scottish independence “has made the same sort of mistakes that unionism has made over the years in Northern Ireland: far too much criticism of their opponents and not enough effort to set out the value and merits of their own beliefs. … If Northern Ireland and unionism are to survive, then the pro-Union lobby needs to be ready for the border poll and coherent enough to avoid the catastrophic errors and complacency of Better Together.”

Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent, details the similarities and the differences between Scotland’s nationalist effort and those of Ireland in the early 20th century. He says, “there is life after independence from the UK. The day the British left in 1922, the Union flag came down, the Irish Tricolour was hoisted over Dublin Castle – seat of their Britannic Majesties for hundreds of years – a UK Governor General (who was of course Irish) took his seat, and anyone lucky enough to receive mains electricity could turn the switch by the dining room door – and the lights came on, just as they always did.”

Ongoing research: Irish emigrants in 1912-1923 revolutionary period

I’m enrolled in an online course called “Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923.” The massive open online course (MOOC) is a partnership between Trinity College Dublin and FutureLearn. Nearly 14,000 have signed up, with slightly more than half living outside Ireland, including 27 percent in the US, according to The Irish Times.

The course is quite naturally focused on the lives of Irish men, women and children living through the extraordinary 12-year period of war and revolution that made modern Ireland, now part of ongoing centennial reflections. For me it’s reawakened a question thus far not considered by the course: What about the men, women and children who left Ireland during the period?

My maternal grandmother left Ireland in September 1912, two weeks before the Solemn League and Covenant signing in Belfast. My maternal grandfather sailed away in May 1913, shortly after the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force and just before labor strikes erupted in Dublin. Their brothers and sisters followed to America through the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and Civil War.

First I wanted to look at the raw numbers, presented here with additional notes.

Ireland’s average population at the time was about 4.3 million. The 10-year annual average emigration for 1904-1913 was 31,732.

1912: 29,344 emigrated

52.2 percent were men.
11,852 (40.3 percent) from Ulster, most of the four provinces
85.9 percent were between 15 and 35.

1913: 30,967 emigrated

53.1 percent were men
12,392 (40.0 percent) from Ulster, most of the four provinces
85.4 percent were between 15 and 35 years old

1914: 20,314 emigrated

Just over half were men. Ulster had the heaviest emigration. Nearly 87 percent were between 15 and 35 years old.
Using half the year’s annual total, more than 70,000 people left Ireland in the two and a half years from 1912 to the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. 

1915: 10,659 emigrated

More than half were men. Ulster had the heaviest emigration. Nearly 84 percent between 15 and 35 years old.
The report of the Registrar-General for Ireland notes the loss by emigration during 1915 is only 2.5 per 1,000 of the population, the lowest rate on record since statistics began in 1851.

The Lusitania is sunk by a German submarine torpedo off the coast of Queenstown (Cobh) in May.

1916: 7,302 emigrated

In a reversal, the majority to leave were women (5,559), and only 3.4 percent were between the ages of 15 and 35 years old. Ulster still had the most emigration.
Taking just one fourth of the annual total for 1916, more than 93,100 people left Ireland in the period 1912 up to the Easter Rising.

1917: 2,111 emigrated

More than half were women and more than half were from Ulster.

1918: 980 emigrated

More than half were women. Leinster had the most emigrants (567), followed by Ulster (329).
The annual emigration rate dropped to 0.2 percent per 1,000 population.

1919: 2,975 emigrated

Nearly 62 percent were females, nearly 57 percent from Ulster.

1920: 15,531 emigrated

61 percent women, more than one third from Ulster.
The annual emigration rate of 3.5 percent per 1,000 population is near the running 10-year average of 3.8 percent.

1921: 13,635 emigrated

Women and natives of Ulster continue to lead the way out of war-torn Ireland. As a summer truce leads to the Anglo-Irish Treaty at the end of the year, nearly 134,000 have left Ireland in the period 1912-1921.

1922: 19,500 emigrated

The total includes separate estimates of 4,500 from the newly created Northern Ireland and 15,000 from the Irish Free State.

1923: 29,570 emigrated

The total includes separate estimates of 9,000 from Northern Ireland and 20,570 from the Irish Free State, which ended its civil war in May.