Faith in Politics, by John Bruton

Second paragraph of third essay:

As he approached the end of his life, Ian Paisley really wanted to be the man who was seen to have brought an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In the last few years I’ve become friendly with John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU ambassador to the United States, and he kindly gave me this volume of his collected writings a few years back. Most of the pieces first saw the light of day as blog posts, newspaper articles or lectures, so it is all very digestible. Little will come as any surprise to readers who have followed Bruton’s career; he’s defensive of Ireland’s record as a nation (especially when he was in office, starting in 1973); he’s a convinced European, but troubled at the difficulty of herding cats (he has been at both ends of this dynamic, as a national leader and a senior EU representative); he takes economics seriously but is not obsessed by it.

A couple of points jumped out at me. First, his controversial but well-argued point that if there had been no Easter Rising, by 1930 or so Ireland would probably have ended up in the same place as in our time-line – a Home Rule government would have pushed for full independence and London would have been compelled to concede in the context of Canada, Australia and New Zealand getting similar powers.

I’m not so sure; part of the motivation for 1916 was the Nationalist perception that the UK had consistently failed to keep its promises to Ireland and the known risk that a post-war Conservative and Unionist government might revoke Home Rule before it was implemented, and this perception has some basis in reality. But Bruton makes a fair point that the achievement of Redmond in getting Home Rule onto the statute book in the first place deserves greater recognition.

Secondly, I was struck by the essays in his last section about Christianity and politics. It’s all fairly sensible stuff, arguing the need for an ethical framework to politics and government, and advocating the virtues of a faith background. He does not mention abortion or same-sex marriage. If church leaders were to follow his example and talk more about ethics in the broadest sense, they would have more credibility.

You can get it here. This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. (Sorry, John!) Next on that list is The Ahtisaari Legacy, edited by Nina Suomalainen.