Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

ALDE Congress in Madrid

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th November, 2018

DD89ADA8-523D-4525-8A5D-316420AD1B73For the latter half of this week I have been in Madrid for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Congress. Our hosts were Cuidadanos, the still relatively new kid on the block in Spanish politics, yet according to an opinion poll published today, they are level-pegging with the conservative Partido Popular (PP), on 22%. Only a fortnight ago, ALDE had to hold an emergency Council meeting in Brussels, to refuse membership to a Catalan party, PdeCAT, for reasons too complicated to go into here, but surprisingly there was no fallout from that at the Congress. This was mainly because the central focus of the Madrid gathering was the ALDE manifesto* for next May’s European elections, which was duly passed this lunchtime. But there was a plethora of other issues discussed over the three days of the Congress. I successfully moved, on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats, an emergency motion on Saudi Arabia, which I will post on this blog on Monday, when I shall return to London and have access to a desktop computer.

9291698F-7F08-4996-8D94-E3006FA5A636There were fringe sessions on various aspects of campaigning, including social media, and it was good to have one panel that brought together not only MEPs from several EU member states but also senior executives from Facebook, Google and Microsoft. The UK Liberal Democrat Leader, Sir Vince Cable,  came over for the day yesterday, to reinforce the message that Brexit is not a “done deal” and that the LibDems are at the forefront of the campaign for a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal, with an option to remain. The resignation of Orpington MP Jo Johnson from his junior ministerial position over this very issue could not have been better timed. For the first time, the LibDems, Fianna Fáil from Ireland and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland worked as a coherent bloc in the Congress, which should be a good model to follow in future. Brexit, of course, hung like a big black cloud over the whole event, but at least we Brits left our continental colleagues in no doubt that we are doing everything we can to encourage the British people to stop it,

*The manifesto can be found on the ALDE website:

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Time for Brexiteers to Fess up

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd October, 2016

theresa-villiersIt’s unusual for banks to make the news over a weekend but social media are abuzz over reports that several major banks are considering leaving London, to relocate somewhere on the continent, to ensure that they can continue to enjoy the full benefits of being part of the European single market. During the EU referendum campaign, many of us on the Remain side warned that this might happen, but the Brexiteers poo-pooed the notion, saying that even if Britain leaves the EU it will continue to be able to trade exactly as before, whether in goods or services. Such an argument flies in the face of the realities of the single market, but alas too many Brexiteers were not prepared to engage with facts, especially if they were presented by people who actually knew what they were talking about. Similarly, also this weekend, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, announced categorically that the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Eire will not be able to function as it does now once the UK is outside the EU. I argued that point against the then Northern Ireland Minister, Theresa Villiers, at a public meeting in Barnet during the referendum campaign and she got thunderous applause from the audience by declaring that there would be absolutely no change to the open border policy after Brexit. What she said was populist codswallop, maintaining that we can have our cake and eat it.

Boris JohnsonBoris Johnson was a serial offender in that respect, making all sorts of fanciful claims during the campaign about how green the grass will be on the other side of the Brexit fence, in total contradiction to the facts. Unsurprisingly, PM Theresa May got a very frosty reception from her 27 EU colleagues at the recent EU Council, so maybe the penny is beginning to drop with her that Brexit is both economically and politically disastrous for Britain. It has already caused the pound to plummet; just wait to hear the howls of protest when inflation starts to rocket as a result of higher-priced imports.  I very much doubt that Mrs May has the courage to say, as she should, “This is madness. Let’s pull back from the brink before banks leave and the economy contracts.” But until she does, the Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Theresa Villiers should fess up and tell the British public and the more rabid elements of the national media that they lied, repeatedly, during the referendum campaign and that they are sorry, and that whatever unsatisfactory deal is cobbled together over the next two years or so should be put before the electorate to ask whether they really prefer that to staying in the EU, with all the benefits that that brings.

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Britain, Ireland and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th March, 2014

Ireland UK EUDan MulhallThe Irish in London have been in a fairly frolicking mood these last few days — perhaps not surprising considering St. Patrick’s Day. But there is more to it than that. As the (relatively new) Irish Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Dan Mulhall, put it at an event in the European Commission’s representation office, Europe House, this evening, the relationship between the UK and Eire has entered a whole new dimension by being fellow members of the European Union. That relationship has not always been easy in the past, given the resistance by certain English quarters to Irish home rule (the great Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone being a significant exception). But the combination of the Good Friday Agreement over Northern Ireland and mutual interests within the EU have brought London and Dublin closer together now than ever in living memory. The Queen made what was generally regarded as a most successful visit to the Irish Republic in 2011, and the current Irish President,  Michael D. Higgins, is due here in London on the first ever state visit ere long. Ambassador Mulhall was in Europe House this evening for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by the Irish artist — long resident in London — Bernard Canavan, and naturally mused on the subject of Canavan’s work, which is largely about the Irish diaspora in the UK, from the Irish navvies working for Murphy’s to the nurses that helped keep the NHS afloat before more exotic helpmates arrived from elsewhere. Perhaps now some Brits could learn a thing or two from the Irish expats, not least a greater understanding of our common European identity, not only in culture but on a political level. All of the hundreds of thousands of Irish resident in the UK can vote here in the European elections on 22 May, of course, but so too can the residents of the other 26 EU member states other than Britain. The EU citizens, who make up such a vibrant part of London’s economy — as well as that in the UK as a whole — need to stand up and be counted, as to why Britain needs to be at the heart of the EU, not just for their future but for ours.

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Europe Day in London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th May, 2013

European Union Youth OrchestraIt was good to see Parliament Square in London ablaze with the flags of the 27 EU member states today; I hope some of more Eurosceptic MPs in the House of Commons opposite took note of where this country rightly belongs. Europe House (headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament offices in London, in the old Tory HQ in Smith Square, hosted a drinks reception before the traditional Europe Day concert at St John’s. The theme of the latter was appropriately Irish, given that Ireland currently holds the six month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers and indeed the Irish Ambassador, Bobby McDonagh — who is sadly coming to the end of his London posting — gave a fine and pertinent, succinct address at the beginning, reminding us all of how peaceful cooperation has transformed Europe, despite current economic woes. The concert that followed, performed by the European Union Youth Orchestra, under the baton of Laurent Pillot, was the best such event I can ever remember, with an eclectic mix of classical and more modern works by Percy Grainger, Charles Villiers Stanford, William Wallace and Aloys Fleischmann, as well as the more predictable Richard Wagner and of course ending with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. The singing was particularly fine, performed by soloists from the European Opera Centre: Elsa Benoit, Daire Halpin, Martin Piskorski and Wolfgang Resch. It’s true the musicians were playing and singing to the converted but nonetheless it is on occasions like this that I am once again reminded of the wealth and depth of European culture and how we, as European citizens, in our wonderful diversity, can be united in celebration of values and heritage that make Europe a living entity that has so much to offer the world.


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Wexford Opera in Concert

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th March, 2013

Mariangela SiciliaSt John's Smith Square 1Since its founding in 1951 the Wexford Festival Opera has served as a home for lost operas, breathing new life into works that have long been gathering dust on the shelves. Although I have never been over to see the festival for myself, I have been a strong supporter of the concept and have enjoyed the tales of friends who did go and sometimes experienced its characteristically Irish organisation. In recent years it has boasted a new theatre, which has raised the professional bar for productions, though it always had a reputation for finding and nurturing new musical talent. There are many Friends of Wexford Festival Opera in the UK and there have been annual concert performances in London, but tonight’s was the first to be held in the prestigious St John’s, Smith Square, with its imposing surroundings and superb acoustics. This was doubling fitting as Ireland currently presides over the European Union and the headquarters of the European Commission Representation in the UK and European Parliament are also in Smith Square, at Europe House. Small wonder that the concert and its pre-reception were packed. In keeping with the Wexford informal spirit, there was no programme for the evening’s concert and at times it was difficult to make out what the very gifted pianist/repetiteur and in effect compere of the evening, Rosetta Cucchi, was announcing. But the music, with her on piano and the tenor Daniel Szeili and soprano Mariangela Sicilia singing, was splendid. Ms Sicilia merits special mention as she has one of the most powerful and affecting voices I have heard for quite a long time and deserves wide acclaim.


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The EU’s Next Six Months

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012

Ireland is scheduled to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 January, followed by Lithuania in July 2013 and Greece in January 2014. Whilst the third, in particular, might raise some eye-brows in fact all three governments in Dublin, Vilnius and Athens are well advanced in their plans and priorities. Here’s what the European Movement has to say about it in its latest Euro-briefing:

Euro-move header

The Programme of the next 3 EU Council Presidencies.
European CouncilLast week the next 3 Presidencies of the Council of Ministers, the so-called ‘Trio’ of Ireland, Lithuania and Greece, presented in Brussels their work programme. In the next 18 months the main priorities of the Council are to further restore the economic stability across the EU and to build strong foundations for sustainable jobs and for long lasting economic growth. The Irish Presidency, which will take over the helm on 1 January 2013, will focus on issues related to the Digital Agenda, the EU’s Single Market, multi and bilateral trade agreements (such as EU-US Trade Agreement) and the Banking Union. The new Presidency will be working closely together with the European Council and the Commission in order to set up long-term plans and operational programmes. Due to the financial, economic and sovereign debt challenges of the past three years, the EU has been working on creating the conditions for economic recovery and to re-launch growth and investment. Support for job creation and social cohesion, with special emphasis on youth unemployment, will be the focus of the forthcoming Presidencies.
EU Irish presidencyStarting off, the Irish Presidency will be working to agree on the remaining proposals of the Single Market Act (SMA I) and to progress proposals for the second Single Market Act (SMA II). The aim is to improve the competitiveness of the EU’s industry. The Irish Presidency will put a strong emphasis on supporting the development and competitiveness of the SME sector, reducing red tape, as well as facilitating cross-border trade and access to finance. This is one of the aims of the EU’s new COSME initiative (Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) and of the Entrepreneurship Action Plan (to be published on 19th December 2012), which includes proposals on insolvency and second chance and entrepreneurial education.Top priority will be given to dossiers like public procurements and moving forward on the Digital Agenda, particularly in the areas of eCommerce (e-signatures and e-Identification), Intellectual Property Rights, cyber security and low-cost high-speed broadband. The implementation of the EU’s Digital Agenda and the better functioning of the Digital Single Market offer huge potential for job creation in a yet to be fully taped area of economic activity. The Digital Agenda can foster cross-border commerce as well as new developments within the IT sector.
EMUWith regards to the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the upcoming Presidencies of the Council plan to work on completing the banking union and setting up a Single Supervisory Mechanism. The Council will also continue efforts towards fiscal consolidation and a better co-ordination of the Member States’ economic policies. The so-called ˜two pack” on economic governance will be one of the main priority areas (if final agreement with the European Parliament hasn’t already been reached under the Cypriot presidency). Ireland will steer the third European Semester of scrutiny of member states’ economic and fiscal policies and ensure that Member States, through the Annual Growth Survey process, stay on track to reach the objectives of sustainable economic growth and social cohesion as set out in the Europe 2020 Strategy.
Horizon 2020In recognition of the important role research, development and innovation play in achieving sustainable growth and improving the EU’s competitiveness, the Council aims to conclude negotiations on the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme (which is a key EU funding programme, supporting European growth and innovation efforts in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy) and will also work to advance the completion of the European Research Area.
On trade, opening new markets with third countries through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) will be a priority. Ireland will organize an informal Council in April 2013, which will focus on trade relations ahead of a formal Council in June. The Presidency would like to see a mandate adopted during the next six months to launch talks for a free trade agreement with the United States. The Irish also hope that further progress could be made towards concluding FTAs between the EU and Japan, Singapore and Canada.
Last but not least, the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 will have to be discussed again by the European Council in February or March. Implementation of many of the Presidencies’ priorities depends on adopting a 7-year EU budget that is both fit for purpose and can support economic recovery and growth by underpinning areas such as regional cohesion and development and innovation.
For more details on the Presidential Programme, please visit:

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Oh No, Not Tony Blair, Please!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st October, 2009

Tony Blair 2The story was bruited in the British Press today that if the Irish vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty tomorrow, then Tony Blair’s chances of becoming the first ‘permanent’ President of the European Council will be enhanced. Is this some fiendish rumour propagated by Declan Ganley and others who want to encourage the good residents of Eire to vote No? Wherever the impetus is coming from, the pro-Blair movement must be resisted. A Blair presidency would hardly be likely to boost the EU’s international credibility or effectiveness. Just look at his record (or lack of it) when he was Prime Minister. He was swept to power in 1997 with a mandate that would have allowed him to do almost anything, including persuading the British people to vote in favour of adopting the euro and putting the United Kingdom right at the centre of the Union. But he flunked it. It’s not as if he doesn’t have enough to do already, as the (unfortunately rather unsuccessful) Quartet’s mediator in Israel/Palestine, head of his own faith foundation and money-spinner on the US lecture circuit. The last thing we want is a half-hearted, half-time Council President. It’s not as if there is any lack of competent and potentially inspiring people to choose from.

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Brown’s Electoral Reform Package Is Too Little, Too Late

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th September, 2009

Gordon Brown 2In his speech to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton yesterday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a half-hearted attempt to seize the high ground on reforming Parliament by promising that if Labour is returned to power next year, it will organise a referendum to ask the public whether they want to stick with the present discredited first-past-the-post voting system for general elections, or switch to an Alternative Vote system (AV), such as that used in Australia.  But it would be wrong for electoral reformers to start popping the champagne corks. First, it is highly unlikely on present polling evidence that Labour will win the next election (at least with an outright majority), which makes the pledge worthless; if there is going to be a referendum held, it ought to be on the same day as the general election. Second, AV is not a huge advance on first-past-the-post. Yes, it gives voters a degree of preferential expression in constituencies in which no candidate gets over 50% of the vote. But it is still a majoritarian system, not a proportional one. And fair voting must be predominantly proportional.

So, what should we all do now? The first thing is to express disappointment at Mr Brown’s failure to tackle the problem of Britain’s political bankruptcy head-on. Then one can usefully sign up to the campaign being run by the NGO Unlock Democracy, which is calling for a citizens’ convention, which would give people the opportunity to help choose the electoral system they would like, rather than effectively imposing it from above (as New Labour loves to do). In the meantime, I shall be arguing for STV — the singe transferable vote, which gives electors a far greater chance of getting the elected representatives they want, as well as promoting greater diversity. If it’s good enough for the Irish — including the residents of Northern Ireland — why isn’t it good enough for mainland Britain’s general elections?


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Ireland Gets a Second Chance Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th September, 2009

Irish referendum posterWith just three days to go before Irish voters give their second verdict on the Lisbon Treaty in a national referendum, the polls are predicting a comfortable, if not landslide, victory for the Yes campaign. To the dismay of most of the political parties in Eire (though to the undisguised glee of UKIP and the Conservatives in Britain), the Irish voted No last year — a substantial proportion of them because they felt they didn’t know enough about the treaty. Some people, like millionaire Declan Ganley, were and still remain opposed in principle to the advancement of the European project. But many others were cajoled into voting No by being told (wrongly) that the Republic would have to allow abortion and a raft of other things which (rightly) in fact remain a matter of national, not European competence.

Irish referendum poster 2So why is a Yes vote much more likely this time? Partly it is because the other 26 member states have given Ireland a few concessions, notably guaranteeing that there will always be an Irish member of th European Commission. But mainly it is because people are better informed this time and they have been shaken by the economic and financial crisis that makes it perilous to be marginalised from the rest of Europe (a message that David Cameron and William Hague should take to heart). The Yes campaign has been much better this time, employing some strong, simple messages such as: the choice is between ruin and recovery; on October 2nd vote Yes — Put Ireland First. So despite the fact that Brian Cowen’s lacklustre government is currently deeply unpopular, and the bumptious Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has somewhat crassly offered one million free flights if there is a Yes vote, there is room for optimism that Ireland will now enable the European Union to make necessary reforms to move forward in confidence in a world in which greater European integration is needed more than ever.

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Fianna Fail to Join European Liberals?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd March, 2009

eldr-logo  Ireland’s ruling Fianna Fail is on its way to join the UK Liberal Democrats and other European Liberal parties in the continent-wide European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR), according to the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Brian Cowen. Successful integration into the ELDR — on whose governing Council I sit — would then probably lead to Finanna Fail MEPs joining the ALDE group in the European Parliament after June’s European elections.

The move has been warmly welcomed by the current leader of the ALDE Group, Graham Watson (LibDem MEP for South East England), who commented, ‘I am certain that any application from Fianna Fail to join the Liberals and Democrats will be wel -received. Fianna Fail MEPs would have no difficulty integrating into our group.’

Under Graham Watson’s stewardship, the ALDE Group has already swelled to over 100 members — the largest ever Liberal presence in the European Parliament’s history.


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