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September 20, 2019

Violence in Northern Ireland - not so far-fetched after all

A sharp reminder how things can easily get out of hand in the border regions between Northern Ireland and the Republic was the brutal assault on Kevin Lunney, the COO of Quinn Industrial Holdings, this week. He was abducted and tortured for two hours by a 12-man gang, and was lucky to survive with life-changing injuries. Security sources told the Irish Times that the attack on Lunney seemed a throwback to the era of IRA punishment beatings. They added that, even in the context of those paramilitary attacks, the torture of Lunney was on the upper end of the scale.

QIH managers had been target of violent attacks for years now. Earlier ones included an arson attack on the daughter of another executive, and the burning down of executives' cars. Sources said there had been about 70 incidents of intimidation against QIH managers since 2015.

Why? It is all about loyalty. Seán Quinn build up the QIH empire bringing prosperity and jobs to the two border regions of Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and Cavan in the Republic. He was a local hero in both regions. But in 2011 he filed for bankruptcy after a disastrous investment in the Anglo Irish bank during the Irish economic crisis. In 2014 companies of the QIH empire were bought by six businessmen including former associates of Quinn. Quinn himself continued as a consultant but left this role in 2016 saying later that he was forced out and that his family had been stabbed in the back. The end of Quinn's reign and his ousting as consultant provoked a violent outcry by locals, with poster campaigns depicting new managers such as Lunney as traitors.

Although this case has nothing to do with Brexit itself, it shows how violence is still very much a threat today, and that border issues need to be treated with extreme care. 

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September 20, 2019

German coalition fails to agree climate deal, but negotiations continue

We hoped to bring you what would have been the really big news this week - a deal in the grand coalition to set Germany on course to meet its 2030 climate goals. Early this morning, the coalition partners were still negotiating after a ten-hour marathon session, the second such session this week. The ministers were struggling through a 200-page long dossier that set out the various options. 

The news reports said there were still many big unresolved issues. What has become increasingly apparent over the last week of talks is how radical the measures would need to be for Germany to meet its goals: a CO2 tax, emissions trading, subsidies for electric cars, increases in taxes on fuel-driven cars, or an accelerated exit from coal power energy. The German way of life turned upside down.

FAZ notes that all the measures that had been agreed were biased in favour of dampening the social impact of the changes, but were not very effective in reducing emissions. This does not surprise us, given the two coalition partners’ political interests: industrial workers and the small business lobby are fighting tooth-and-nail against these policies. 

Die Welt reports this morning that all the big issues remained unresolved - especially the CO2 tax, and how to slap a price on CO2 emissions in certain sectors like construction and transport. There was no agreement on whether there should be an actual CO2 tax, an emissions trading system, or a combination of both. 

The measures now needed for Germany to meet the climate goals are much more radical than they would have been, had Germany started to prepare for the post-CO2 world much earlier. The coalition partners have found that it is impossible to achieve the following three goals at the same time: to meet the climate change targets; to compensate the losers, including commuters and companies; and not to incur any debt in the process. Something will have to give. We think the social and financial goals will trump the climate goals. Once the Greens enter the government - which we expect to happen in 2021 at the latest - there will have to be a new package to fix the many gaps in this one. At that point, even more radical measures will be needed. 

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