Brendan Halligan and the Founding of the IIEA

IIEA26th August 202012min
Tony Brown recalls the founding of the IIEA and Brendan Halligan's vision for a European affairs think tank.

Author: Tony Brown, IIEA Founding Member

Brendan Halligan said of the establishment of the Institute that it “has been the culmination of my life’s work in the service of the country in which I was born and the continent to which I belong.” 

Diary entries in the summer of 1989 refer to discussions involving Brendan and his friends and colleagues, Tony Brown and Niall Greeneabout the possibility and practicality of giving reality to his  vision of an institute devoted to the formal study of the common effort of constructing Europe and of Ireland’s place in the European Communities.   

That vision drew particular inspiration from the Instituto Affari Internazionale (IAI) in Rome, founded by the veteran socialist philosopher, Altiero Spinelliwith whom Brendan had worked closely in the European Parliament. Looking to Rome and also to London’s Chatham House, he saw the possibility of creating “a forum where we could debate European issues on a continuous basis, as objectively as one can, and provide strategic advice or raise strategic issues with the decision-makers, the policy makers.”     

Within a few weeks a brief memorandum – ‘Preliminary Note on Purposes and Programmes’  – was drafted for discussionsuggesting an initial statement of purpose along the lines of Brendan’s starting point. The memorandum underlined the importance of the independence of the Institute and rejected any ‘party political’ affiliation. It dealt with such issues as the main lines of the working methods to be followed, the guidelines for the Institute’s work programme, staffing, public relations, the establishment of external links, and a publications policy. The need to establish credibility was stressed, emphasising the importance of a good launch, “showing not alone a good concept and admirable premises but also concrete planning and achievement….” 

It was agreed at an early moment that there would be no approach to government for direct support as it was seen to be important to hold back from formal interaction with the political authorities until the Institute could demonstrate its capacity to operate as a genuinely independent and autonomous body. It was recognised as essential to seek, and find, financial sponsorship from a diverse range of sources, including in commercial and civil society circles, with the possibility of securing support from international bodies. 

The concept of  “admirable premises” arose from a comment by an early supporter of the project in Brussels, Denis Corboy, who had headed the European Commission Representation in Dublin. He insisted that even the best prepared and highest profile lectures and seminars would lack credibility if they were held in rented hotel meeting rooms.    The acquisition of the outstanding Georgian premises in North Great Georges Street ensured that credibility became a possibility. The 1997/1998 Annual Report stated that “the Institute owes a debt of gratitude to the original purchasers of 8 North Great Georges Street, Brendan Halligan and Niall Greene, who purchased Europe House to secure a premises for, and facilitate the formation of, the Institute and gave to the Institute an option to acquire the premises at the lower of cost or market value.” That option was realised in 1998 with the support of a number of supporters whose generosity is recognised by a plaque in the Insitute’s entrance hall.  

Brendan imposed order and method on the implementation of the key issues outlined in the memorandum, providing the project with a full time organiser, seconding Odran Reid from his CIPA consultancy, and establishing an organising group with commitment and credibility.   

His unique capacity to find and bring together individuals from a variety of backgrounds and experience was reflected in the membership of the initial group. It included the founding Labour Party associated trio, Brendan Halligan, Niall Greene and Tony Brown, the General Secretary of Fianna Fáil, Frank Wall; Fine Gael Senator, Maurice Manning; senior Progressive Democrat figure Stephen O’Byrnes; Labour Party TD, Ruairí QuinnUCD Professor, Brigid LaffanWUI General Secretary, Billy Attley; IFA Chief Economist, Con Lucey; Farmers Journal Editor, Matt Dempsey; CII Policy Director, Con Powersenior accountant, Derry O’HegartyRTÉ Presenter, Brian FarrellKatherine Meenan, close associate of Garret FitzGeraldMaynooth Professor, Séamus Ó Cinnéide; and TCD Professor, Patrick KeatingeOver the years since the early gatherings in 1990, the members of the group maintained their personal commitment to the Institute’s growth and development, at board or advisory level and in specialist working groups.    

Brendan then sought and readily obtained the support and endorsement of significant individuals and organisations – in Ireland, Brussels and the UK – and looked to establish good working relations with key actors in the general area of European and international relations such as the IPA, NESC and Royal Irish Academy. Leading accountancy figure, Derry O’Hegarty, took the necessary steps to ensure appropriate legal status for the Institute. The Memorandum and Articles were signed by the members of the organising committee and the Certificate of Incorporation of the Institute was issued by the Companies Office in March 1991. 

The organising committee set about preparing a work programme. Three initial projects were identified – on Political Union, Economic and Monetary Union and the future of the Common Agricultural Policy  – and Project Groups were established on those subjects with project leaders and contributors including Professors James Dooge and Patrick Keatinge, Brigid Laffan, Rory O’Donnell, Patrick Honohan, Paul Gillespie, Rodney Rice, Tomas Ó Cofaigh, Donal de Buitleir, Don Thornhill and  Séamus ÓCinnéide. A clear Mission Statement, based on a draft by Katherine Meenan, was agreed for inclusion in the Institute’s first  publication and maintained in subsequent publications and reports. 

It was decided to hold the formal launch of the Institute in the North Great Georges Street premises, now named ‘Europe House’, on 23 April 1991. The Guest of Honour was the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gerard Collins TD, who referred to the remarkably short space of time in which the project had been planned and promoted and found “so much support from so many people.” He acknowledged the central role of Brendan Halligan whose “determination, perseverance, charm and persuasiveness” had led to a situation in which “so many of those who have, in the past, contributed to the examination and assessment of European affairs and to Irish affairs in the international arena are either all here today or have agreed to participate in the work of the Institute.”     

Thus, between June 1989 and April 1991, an exercise in voluntary commitment to a shared vision had created a new and active institution in Ireland, dedicated to the advancement and spread of knowledge of European integration and of the role and contribution of Ireland within Europe.       

The Institute of European Affairs had legal status; outstanding premises in the heart of Dublin; strong financial backing; enthusiastic support across Irish politics, business and civil society; a welldesigned initial Work Programme; and a resource of incomparable value in its growing team of willing participants and contributors.     

Writing more tha twenty years later, in the 2014 Annual Report of the Institute, Brendan reflected on the evolution of the Institute: 

“The greatest challenge facing a think tank is to stay relevant. For that to be done, and done well, it has to anticipate megatrends and to be, as the Americans say, ahead of the curve. The Institute itself is an example of anticipating the future, in that the 1986 Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Single European Act turned Ireland into a referendum country when it came to the ratification of EU treaty changes – the only one of its type in Europe – and so put a premium on informed analysis of the European integration process. The creation of the Institute was a direct response to that need. 

Originally, the focus was exclusively on European affairs but the change of name in 2007 to incorporate ‘international’ into its title was recognition by the Institute of the impact of wider geographies on Ireland’s and the Union’s fortunes, and of the need to adapt its work programme to new realites, such as the reemergence of China as a global power.”  

Today the Institute of Intenational and European Affairs continues to honour Brendan Halligan’s vision, seeks to follow his participative working methods, and constitutes his great legacy. 

Tony Brown August 2020