Friday 13 December 2019

Commonwealth plays vital role

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


Madam – Congratulations to Dan O'Brien on his piece 'Economics is now a science almost devoid of agreement', (Sunday Independent, April 20, 2014). His account of the interaction between Mario Draghi and Christine Lagarde, and the contributions from George Osborne, Larry Summers and Robert Gordon very aptly illustrate his view of the multiplicity of variables in current economic debate.

Perhaps it is worth recalling the advice of John Maynard Keynes that in trying to forecast the market, one would be better off looking into the entrails of dead sheep, as the ancient Romans did. Indeed, "entrail-gazing" has come to be accepted as an appropriate definition of economic theorising by many commentators.

I have one quibble with Mr O'Brien's ruminations. He refers to economics as a science – a frequently expressed view by, of course, economists. Let us see. At the end of 2007, 50 highly paid American economists and analysts predicted their country would not "sink into a recession" the following year. In fact, they predicted that 2008 would be a solid but unspectacular year. Not one of them foretold the crash. That was economics.

Three hundred years earlier, Edmond Halley used the mathematics of his friend Isaac Newton to predict that the comet that now bears his name would appear in 1758, which it did. In our own lifetime, we were confident it would appear again in 1987 (it did), and we know it will appear again in 2061. That is science.

So why could a 16th Century amateur correctly predict events 350 years in the future, but a slew of computer-aided experts couldn't manage to guess one year ahead? Quite simply because one prediction is based on science, the other comes from entrail-gazing guesswork and shows how misleading it is to couple the words economics and science.

Mike O'Shea,

Killarney, Co Kerry


Madam – Declan Lynch, in his TV review (Sunday Independent, April 20, 2014), questioned the 'Irishness' of several well-known people including Katie Taylor. He made the point that Katie's father is English. Which is true, and no doubt he is also a proud one. Katie has an Irish mother and was born and raised in Ireland. More tellingly, she was Ireland's flag bearer at the 2012 London Olympics. I hope I included enough facts to put any 'uncertainty' to bed. In this country we have a tendency to categorise people as either being rabid nationalistic or one who recoils at any hint of nationalism. I suspect Declan Lynch would place himself in the latter category. I find it sad that in this day and age we still cannot celebrate our compatriots without being pigeon-holed as fervently nationalistic.

John Bellew,

Dunleer, Co Louth


Madam – Many years ago, I was ordered out of a lane in Temple Bar for busking. Dear me, how things have changed. I read with great interest Donal Lynch's item, 'City's grimy heart is flooded by a sea of tourists and boozers' (Sunday Independent, April 20, 2014). Regrettably, it reminded me of Galway city's soi-disant 'Latin Quarter,' a new historical construction, in which boozing, general mayhem, and dreadfully fashionless 'hen' parties at weekends are the main attractions.

That said, I noticed that Donal incorrectly quotes Charles Haughey as describing Temple Bar as 'Ireland's West Bank.' Before we fall over ourselves laughing, I ought to say that this description is more correctly ascribed to that most knowledgeable of political men, Bertie Ahern, and not Charlie. Bertie meant 'Left Bank,' of course. But Donal may have been having a laugh and besides, the place resembles the West Bank more than the Left Bank on some nights.

There was a time when the Temple Bar area was inhabited by penniless art students, musicians, trad-heads like myself making a bob or two and at least a sense of cultural energy. The artistic 'edginess' is long gone. Somebody somewhere decided to tart the place up and, as always, culture went out the window.

Fred Johnston,



Madam – Eoghan Harris made a glowing reference to me in last week's column for which I am grateful. However, he concludes with a direct quote from me stating that, "I think the answer to the question whether the struggle for independence was worth it is a resounding No."

As those reading the essay will see, I was referring to the struggle for independence from the perspective of my parents' generation, the urban working poor in the decades after the formation of the Irish Free State. The more general point I make is that, "It is only by turning the spotlight on those who failed to benefit from the new dispensation that we can identify and rectify at least some of the shortcomings of the Irish revolution".

I wholly agree with him on the dangerously seductive power of elitist militarism in the nationalist narrative and the way various forms of mass action and other forms of passive resistance to British rule have been virtually ignored by many mainstream historians. However I would not include Diarmaid Ferriter in their ranks. He is one of the best historians we have. This is not to say that I agree with everything he says, any more than I do with everything Eoghan Harris says, but I do welcome and value the independence and intellectual courage of both men in the debate on our past – and future for that matter.

Padraig Yeates,

Portmarnock, Co Dublin


Madam – As ever, and to his great credit, Eoghan Harris tried heroically to shed some reason and reality, based on the facts, on Irish issues, and latterly on the intricate questions of whether the Rising was necessary and whether royalty should attend. (Sunday Independent, April 20, 2014)

It occurs to one that 'necessary' may be interpreted in two distinct senses.

Firstly, was the Rising necessary in the sense that a break with Britain would be followed by a flourishing and prosperous Ireland? In hindsight we know to our cost that this was not the case.

Secondly, was it necessary in the sense that Ireland could not otherwise have achieved anything from a modicum of self-government to complete independence? Here again the answer must be a resounding no. One goes along with Mr Harris's views regarding 'civil disobedience' etc but, with respect, he omitted to emphasise, in my view sufficiently, the one crucial factor, namely democracy. By 1918 Britain had almost achieved universal suffrage which she ultimately gained in 1928. In short it was simply a matter of playing for time.

As to whether royalty should be invited, it would seem on the face of it to give succour to those who support the Rising. One has to admit to a perception of infra dig on the part of Her Majesty during some of her Irish visit.

On the other hand, if one may indulge in a little 'soothsaying', it could auger a brighter future when Ireland will fulfil her obligations in the prosperity and governance of these islands, the corollorary being an acknowledgement of her debt to Britain.

Perhaps there is a point to Oscar Wilde's remark: "The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it."

William Barrett,

Bletchingley, Surrey, UK

Sunday Independent

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