By Lindsay Huffman
Many people associate “international politics” with the current situation in Iraq or America’s relations with another country. But international politics cover much more than just our country; they involve the political activities of every country in the world. On Oct. 1, one man came to Eastern to talk about his experience in a specific country and his subsequent experiences in a specific region-Ireland and the European Union.
Alltech and Eastern co-sponsored a presentation by David Byrne, attorney general of Ireland from 1997 until his appointment to EU commissioner in 1999.
In his time in government, Bryne played a major role during several events in Ireland and the EU. He was involved with the creation of the Northern Ireland Peace Accords in 1998, and was instrumental in preventing the further spread of mad cow disease in Great Britain in 1999.
In the introduction, Byrne was described as a “well-rounded individual who has a lot of experience in understanding crisis management.”
Byrne began his presentation by talking about the Northern Ireland Peace Accords.
He said that he was one of five important people involved with the negotiations for the accords. The discord between Northern and Southern Ireland, as well as the discord between Ireland and England was originally about religious differences, but later changed to political disagreements about sovereignty.
These conflicts had lasted almost 400 years before the Good Friday Agreement was passed in April 1998.
“It was a propitious moment in history when change became possible,” Byrne said.
The agreement had to be approved by the British and Irish governments, as well as the various political parties in Northern Ireland. The terms of the agreement included self-determination, principles of consent, various human rights and many other provisions.
“Just listing them shows the extent of the agreement,” Byrne said.
Although most parties agreed to the terms, some people disliked the accords. Byrne said that four days before the referendum was put in effect, some appealed to the High Court of Dublin for an injunction in order to detain the referendum because it was “unconstitutional.” However, the Court ruled in Byrne’s favor and the referendum was instituted.
“After all the work we had done, it would have been difficult to go back and tell [the other legislators],” Byrne said.
The last part of Byrne’s presentation was about his time as the EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. Byrne was the first person to ever have the office. Soon after his appointment, the news of a mad cow disease outbreak was brought to Byrne.
“Confidence in safe food plummeted,” Byrne said. “As the first Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, this was my challenge.”
Byrne said that extreme measures had to be taken in order to stem the outbreak. All milk products or any food containing milk (i.e. chocolate) and all beef products had to be recalled. The EU created the European Food Safety Authority and a system in order to alert people about possible outbreaks. Overall, about 71 laws were enacted in the course of five years.
“My contribution was to ensure that food produced in the candidate countries was fit for circulation within the new integrated markets of the large EU,” Byrne said.
Byrne retired from his position in 2004. He said that the most important thing he has learned from his years as a politician is patience.
“Any conflict situation that you lose patience or you lose your temper, that is the first road to failure,” Byrne said. “Exercising patience, turning the other cheek . . . I think that’s critical to the achievement of peace.