Brian Cowen: “let’s go on a journey and forget about the destination”

As the Irish Times’ Deaglán de Bréadún reports, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, picking up from where Bertie Ahern left off, has been telling  the Journal of Cross-Border Studies in Ireland that the political journey is what is important, not the destination.  And he’s not wrong.  From the Irish Times article

“The ultimate destination of any political project is a matter of time working itself out. Therefore the destination is not the thing to be talking about. That will be for other people to decide in another time maybe,” he told the latest issue of the Journal of Cross-Border Studies in Ireland.

Setting out his vision of economic co-operation between the two parts of Ireland in the era of the Belfast and St Andrews agreements, he said: “We would be working the agreements we have, recognising the legitimacy of our respective traditions – one loyal to Britain, the other looking to Irish unity as a legitimate objective, but one that will only be pursued peacefully by common consent.

“Therefore there would be no threatening, exclusivist political philosophy which would make people defensive or insular or non co-operative.

“The genius of all of these agreements is that we are all on a common journey together where we have not decided on the destination. The problem with our ideologies in the past was that we had this idea about where we were going but we had no idea how anyone was going to come with us on the journey.

“We have now all decided: let’s go on a journey and forget about the destination – the destination isn’t really important in that respect. We can all work for what it is we would like ideally to see, but this is not something that can be forced or imposed upon people on either side of the island,” the Taoiseach said.

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  • cynic2

    I am reminded of the old Marie Lloyd song “oh Mr Porter” – and it wasn’t about a train trip

    , CHORUS

    Oh! Mr. Porter, what shall I do?

    I wantee to go to Birmingham but you’ve taken me on to Crewe,

    Send me back to London as quickly as you can,

    Oh! Mr. Porter, what a naughty girl I am

    I fear that if we follow Brians suggestion we may end up in the same predicament

  • Greenflag

    If you don’t know where you are going you will end up somewhere else . There are three and only three destinations .
    In order of descending likelihood for the next two decades they are
    a) Status quo maintenance with or without the local Assembly i.e NI remains part of UK .
    b) An agreed peaceful ‘repartition’ of NI with neutral international overseers and cartographers and with UN/EU support .
    c) A UI following significant demographic change as between both population groups .

    Mr Cowen’s remarks are reminiscent of the old CIE mystery train trips where everybody knew the destination as soon as the train left Dublin but pretended not to 😉

    Economic and social and political cooperation are a given regardless of final destinations . Both political parts of the island cannot be hanged ‘separately’ except in ivory tower academia .

    Full marks to Mr Cowen for trying to dampen down counterproductive sectarian impulses . It’ll continue to be a never ending task as long as the current NI State exists in it’s present format .

    So is he playing head in the sand or realpolitik or electoral survival politics ? Probably all three if truth were known . He can’t afford to lose a general election and survive as Taoiseach . That much he’s aware of and perhaps that’s why he’s following in Bertie’s footsteps .

  • In a way all politicians are on a different journey to the rest of us. For any politician the destination seems to be the successful election to his seat. Factor the north into this and, if anything the politician gets more space and time for his journey, not less.

    I think we, if we are lucky get about three years of worthwhile effort out of politicians, after that they all begin to gear up and promote the next election, and it becomes promises, promises etc.

    To that extent Mr Cowen may well have been telling the truth.

  • Cynic2

    To be more serious, all political negotiations (whether consciously or not) are based on some form of game theory. Not knowing where you are going is anathema.

    Typical Biffo nonsense designed to have the same impact as that extra pint of Guinness your opponet buys you when you are playing poker with him.

  • “we have ensured that any unnecessary suspicions about surreptitious agendas have been dispelled” .. BC

    So why can’t or won’t the Irish government answer my question about the make-up of the Irish side of the BIIC Joint Secretariat? He seems keen on transparency – and so am I 🙂

  • Mack

    Cynic2 –

    “To be more serious, all political negotiations (whether consciously or not) are based on some form of game theory”

    They could probably be modeled using game theory to determine equilibria or optimal outcomes alright, but the real world is more complex I think. People are still capable of making surprising and / or counter-intuitive choices.

  • Cynic2


    Agree…but they all play the ‘game’

  • Alias

    It took particular Whitehall genius to convince the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs that Chaos Theory applies to political systems when it has no such application whatsoever, and nor does Complexity Theory. Still, the man without a plan, must believe in non-deterministic behaviour, butterfly effects, emergent phenomena, el at, since the part that is determined is so determined by constitutional and international law and by the political craft that designs them. The muppet’s “It’ll be alright on the night” spiel is the same one he applied when he was Finance Minister, and we all know where that magical mystery tour left us.

  • Pete Baker

    Only Greenflag seems to have addressed, fleetingly, what Brian Cowen was actually referring to – “Full marks to Mr Cowen for trying to dampen down counterproductive sectarian impulses.”

    To quote Brian Cowen, again

    “The genius of all of these agreements is that we are all on a common journey together where we have not decided on the destination. The problem with our ideologies in the past was that we had this idea about where we were going but we had no idea how anyone was going to come with us on the journey.”

  • Er, Pete, you seem to have overlooked my direct quote from Brian Cowen!

  • aquifer

    So nobody wants to go back to the builders’ tent at Galway races. Sensible enough. If violent irish separatists can let the border die its natural death we could end up in some interesting places. With Scotland out on its own Unionists sectarian petulance could get them into a lot of trouble. They are probably better to get co-operative with their neighbours early, and to give the ROI some ties back to the UK, so that they can eventually abstain from a border poll having attained arrangements that suit them well enough.

  • Err….. There is no question of doubt that I would be most supportive of Taoiseach Brian Cowen on those sort of journeys*, and would even be bold enough to posit control of the technologies and methodologies and algorithms to driver and steer them in an acceptable direction from remote bases and servers in the Cloud Layer. It is not too simple a concept to grasp, and can to many appear to be nonsense, but it is with IT and Media and Networks InterNetworking JOINT Applications, very much a Present Future Reality with Implications which are …. well, beyond measure would not be an exaggeration.

    Such developments are touched upon here, …….. …. and daily shared.

    * Magical Mystery Turing Trips, more in the Palace style of Holywood does Hollywood rather than Debbie does Dallas with Barack.

  • Alias

    “The genius of all of these agreements is that we are all on a common journey together where we have not decided on the destination. The problem with our ideologies in the past was that we had this idea about where we were going but we had no idea how anyone was going to come with us on the journey.”

    This is simply a coded declaration that the quisling government does not intend to defend the sovereignty of the Irish nation. It is coded because Article 1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann asserts this sovereignty and the Irish government could be held to acting unconstitutionally if it didn’t use weasel words to disguise its treasonous duplicity. We, the people, know where we are going even if the quislings intend to take us in a different direction without our knowledge or consent and entirely in bad faith.

    The sovereignty of the Irish nation is an ideology that is not negotiable. As the government has given sovereignty over institutions of the Irish state to the United Kingdom in a treaty between the two states, it has done so without telling the Irish nation that they have derogated their sovereignty. And because Article 5 of the Irish constitution requires the Irish nation to approve of any such derogation, they unwittingly approved it when they voted for the 19th Amendment to that constitution. If the government told them that derogated that sovereignty then they would not have approved it. It misrepresents this pooling of sovereignty with the United Kingdom as “co-operation” between “the two parts of Ireland” in the same way that it misrepresents the Unionist Veto as the “principle of consent” and glides over the inconvenient fact that it accepted the legitimacy of another state, and other nation, another right to self-determination, and another set of national rights rather than simply accepted something that was never in dispute by the Irish state, i.e. that one million people could not be forced to pledge their allegiance to a state that was different from the state to which they have pledged their allegiance.

    Now, back to Article 1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann: “The Irish nation hereby affirms its inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.”

    Contrary to more duplicity proffered by the government, the GFA declares that there are two nations of “the island of Ireland” and not one. This is confirmed by the acceptance of two separate rights to self-determination (there is only one right to self-determination per nation under international law and Irish constitutional law). However, this acceptance of the separate right to self-determination and the separate nation is mis-sold as “consent” when its significance is that nations come with competing national rights.

    Nowhere in Article 1 does it declare that another nation has a right of veto over the Irish nation. Indeed, were another nation to have such a veto then the Irish nation would no longer have a right to self-determination.

    The actual “destination” is known, and it was none by the authors of the GFA (Whitehall, the Security Services, and the British government). The Irish government is no longer defending the sovereignty of the Irish nation, and that is a position that has designed for them by those others in order to neutralise opposition to British sovereignty.

    The default position then is one where one million British people with a full set of national rights will not be required to assume Irish citizenship even if they lose a referendum poll on unity. It will require British constitutional structures to manage this group of people, i.e. a united Ireland within the United Kingdom. That is where the deterministic comes back into the system.

    The Irish government is declaring that the sovereignty of the Irish nation is negotiable since the British-designed GFA process will also require that the Irish nation will agree to convert itself into a non-sovereign nation. This conversion process is sold as “parity of esteem” and “island of equals” where British nationalism has an equal claim to Ireland with Irish nationalism and where both claims cancel each other out when the two separate nations consolidated by the GFA build their “shared future” in one state, not the two states that would be required for two nations to each have a validated right to self-determination.

    There is nothing random there at all. And there is nothing new in it either. It is all pre-determined. Indeed, the Irish nation in NI has already agreed that it has no right to self-determination and that it has no national rights and no right to live as anything other than as a non-sovereign nation within a British state. They hope to sell their own emasculation to the Irish nation that is sovereign – or, rather, that is what their handlers are selling.

    Promoting unity under this British-designed process is all about the Irish nation promoting its own self-censorship and emasculation. If the Irish nation can be successfully destroyed by this process then it is possible for its emasculated remnants to be reintegrated into the UK but this will require a return to the systematic censorship of that nation that occurred when it was last in the UK in order to keep it as a subjugated nation that no longer asserts its “inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right” as set out in Article 1 above. If that essential management is not present then the two separate nations will resent the veto that they both have over each other and this will be resolved in the old manner, i.e. a gradual resurgence of nationalism leading to a conflict with the foreign nation that censors it.

    So while this process is simply the British state seeking to dismantle the Irish state from within by hoodwinking folks into thinking they are serving their own nationalist agenda by converting themselves into a non-sovereign nation rather than the British state going its old route and seeking to undermine it by militant force, like all the attempts that said state has made throughout history, this one will also likely end in disaster. It is true that the Irish nation is “post-ideological” (whatever that means) but the vacuity of conviction that underpins that dysfunction is engineered within a generation and can only be transferred to the next generation by maintaining the engineering. I have my doubts about that even if the injection of ‘Europeans’ and of the British nation (post unity) should reduce the Irish nation to circa 60% of the population of Ireland. It’s possible that the 60% might calculate that it is too small to reassert its renounced national rights and so it will live as an emasculated, non-sovereign nation but there are no guarantees about that.

  • “what I suspect Margaret Ritchie meant to say on The Politics Show this week”

    Let’s not forget what she did say at the SDLP conference:

    “We in the SDLP remain absolutely, unambiguously committed to a united Ireland,” she said.

    “Where the border disappears and where we are no longer governed by Britain. It is, without qualification, our number one political objective.

    “Can I be any more definitive about that?

    Proposals to deal with the economic crises don’t appear to have dislodged Irish unity from the top of the list of SDLP and SF political priorities.

    Perhaps Bacon would have been critical of today’s political spin-doctors – those who “hunt more after words than matter”.